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Archive for October, 2015

Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

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Stars – Michael Murphy, Donna Anderson, Roger Perry, Robert Quarry, Michael Macready
Director – Bob Kelljan

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The title we see at the start is, Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire which harks back to the original intention to produce a soft core vampire film. Upon being offered the starring role in the picture Robert Quarry pushed for doing a straight ahead horror film. He got his way. The film did very well at the box office, too. The film begins with a séance. Yorga is entertaining three couples but becomes irritated when they interrupt him and do not take the activity seriously. He seems like a phony medium or at least not who he seems to be. When the party breaks up Erica (Judy Lang) and her boyfriend Paul (Michael Murphy) agree to drop the Count off at his home. Afterward they get struck in some mud and decide to roll around in the back of the van rather than deal with the trouble. Later that night the Count attacks. He tosses Paul aside and puts the bite on Erica. Neither gets a good look at him.

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Paul then spends a good deal of time walking and talking with his friend the doctor. After a while the doctor suspects that Erica has been turned into a vampire. Horror fans will catch on quick that she is turning when we see her chow down on the family cat.  It’s a gruesome scene that was either trimmed or cut from other releases. The version here is uncut. There are several scenes with the women that border right on the edge of brinkmanship. Open dresses are a fraction of an inch from getting an R rating. Needing to reach the widest audience possible the producers made sure they got a GP rating (later PG). The attack on the Count turns out to be a well set trap. Yorga has a small collection of vampire ladies downstairs that swarm the good doctor leaving Paul to have to figure out another way to dispatch him.

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The cast is pretty small here. Much of the film has a very flat and uninteresting look to it.  Despite being set in California during the height of the counter culture movement the film fails to take advantage of that. There are no hippies to be found. The film looks like a porno film that took a left turn down the horror highway and left the sex scenes out. Robert Quarry’s performance is the best thing going for it. He’s lots of fun to watch. When he is relaxing at home he’s costumed like a sort of Hugh Hefner type with cool threads and evening robes. However when he is on the prowl as The Count he has the typical vampire costume with elongated fangs and white pancake make-up as if he has undergone some kind of transformation. The final attack on his house at the end has some good action to it. The last moments of The Count show a bloody staking and a creatively fun sandy demise.

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We don’t get a lot of suspense scenes though. The pace is on the slow side due to some lackluster direction. One of the best shots in the film is a kind of preface before that séance where we see a large wooden casket picked up at the docks. We follow it along a highway as it sits in the back of a pick up truck. That was very cool. Quarry’s performance is largely what makes the film enjoyable. There was one line that cracked me up. While Paul and his doctor friend are chatting, the doctor suddenly becomes convinced of his theories. He turns to his friend and asks, “How would you feel about driving a wooden stake through somebody’s heart?” Paul replies, “Marvelous” . Running at 93 minutes the film carries a PG-13 rating updated from the theatrical GP it received on its original release. You can see where some scenes could get quite scandalous as if the producers were slightly hedging their bet on making a full on horror film. Make sure you hide the family cat when you watch this one.

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Video – 1.85:1
The presentation offered here looks fine. The fact that much of the film has a very flat look to it is down to the original shooting. Once in a while during the interiors there is a shot of Yorga that features good composition and strong black levels.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear and easy to follow.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score and effects track, Commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan, My Dinner with Yorga: The Robert Quarry Rue Morgue Interview, a Reading by David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan, Fangirl Radio Tribute to Robert Quarry with Tim Sullivan. Still Gallery: The MGM Archives, Still Gallery: The Tim Sullivan Archives, Original Theatrical Trailer

Listening to Tim Sullivan and David Del Valle recreate a conversation with Robert Quarry from notes since the original tape was lost is a hoot. Quarry seems to have had a great time with his fans and those that got a kick out of the films.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Fair/ Good

Black Sails The Complete Second Season Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

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Stars – Toby Stevens , Luke Arnold, Hannah New, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Tom Harper, Zach McGowan, Toby Schmitz, Clara Paget
Series Creators – Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine

Released by Anchor Bay / Starz

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The second season of this pirate adventure holds true to the same elements that made the first one such a unique enjoyment. Many of the characters in the series are based on real buccaneers. The time period is just before Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Indeed the two prime shakers in the story are Captain Flint and Long John Silver before they became enshrined in Stevenson’s classic tale. It’s fascinating to see just what a pirate does with all that booty they steal on the high seas. They come back to their home base of Nassau and fence it. Hannah New as Eleanor  Guthrie runs an operation that takes the stolen goods and sells them off for a fair percent. Naturally a full scale bar and brothel has grown up around the business. There is also a very sturdy fort with cannons facing off into the bay for protection. It’s a combination port of business, hideout and vacation home for the pirates. All of this balances very delicately on a few key relationships.

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We also get a good look at how the pirate ships were run that is far more than how they sail. Several times during this season the job of captain of a particular vessel is put to a vote. Yes, there was democracy on board these ships. Luke Arnold as Silver does not fight well nor can he sail. He does however tell a very good story and has the ability to sway men’s minds. Several times he takes to the main deck and stomps his booted foot for silence. All the men gather around. They stomp their feet in response and fall quiet to listen. Without a sword or a threat or a lick of navigating skill he changes the course of the ship. He controls the voting. The partnership that evolves between him and Captain Flint is at the crux of much of this season.

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There is action to be sure. Ships are boarded and battles ensue. There is plenty of man to man combat. The ladies of the brothel display their wares but never does the mayhem go on without a purpose. Someone is always conniving or plotting something. That sense of lethal maneuvering gives the narrative a nice urgency. It also helps that the production design carries on with a fine eye for detail. The sets, the costumes, the weapons, and the ships all look terrific and legitimate. We ever see how one character’s glasses are held on his ears by two circular bits of wire rather than they way the hook behind the ears now.

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There are three main story threads this season. Flint and Silver know where the Urca ship ran aground and spilled a huge treasure trove of gold across the beach. They mean to get every once of that gold come hell or high water. They’ll need a big war ship and a fierce crew to do it but they’ll have to keep the agenda a secret. Eleanor Guthrie is having trouble maintaining her business on the island. The brutal pirate Charles Vane has taken up residence and wants to control the whole shebang. She loves him and she fears him.  The other thread that unravels is very nicely tied to a young girl that is found on a ship that was pillaged by pirates. She is the daughter of a very high ranking government official in the nearby Carolinas and the ransom will be handsome. As we learn more about her we discover that Flint and this official share a history. This gives over to a fascinating back story of how a civilized man came to be the dreaded Captain Flint. We also learn the reason why the pirates were feared and how important it was to maintain that image.

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Toby Stevens is excellent in the lead as Flint. He shows that these are not monsters but men. Luke Arnold as Silver has plenty of charisma. He is easily likable as you root for him to get out of any number of scrapes and troubles. In this season he moves just that much closer to his future persona as Long John Silver. The supporting cast does a splendid job with some minor quibbles. For some reason the writers have decided that Hanna New simply can not have any dialog without her constantly saying the word fuck. We get that she is tough but it looses it’s pungency with the overuse. Zach McGowan is suitably feral as Charles Vane but he has a habit of mumbling that renders some of his lines inaudible or very difficult to understand. Jessica Parker Kennedy is Max the woman who runs the brothel. It is difficult to buy that she would not have been pitched out a window by any number of the pirates from whom she has her hooker girls pry secrets from. Secrets are valuable in that world but the tactic is used so often it’s tough to believe she still gets away with it. Clara Paget plays Anne Bonny who was ever bit as real any many of the other vicious hooligans brought to life in the series. We see the dual nature of her sexuality here as well as a return to her deadly fighting skills. She is so cool and sexy looking with that leather hat dipping down to cover one eye.

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This is a rousing adventure with solid production values and strong characters. The fact that the show is populated with real life pirates adds a nice sense of realism. If you have not yet seen this season a word of warning. The first disc opens with a preview for season three. This is the kind of show that may kill off some characters and you don’t want that spoiled by knowing who stays around for the third season. The recent trend in producing series with an ongoing continuous narrative spread out over one season that you can binge on has allowed some terrific shows to surface. Black Sails is adult entertainment however it seems wonderfully suited for the adult who read Treasure Island as a child.

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Video – 1.78:1
The image is presented with strong detail and bold colors. Black levels are solid. There is creative lighting throughout and some very nicely distressed sets that look terrific here. The ships at seas are always s carried off with a professional look.

Audio – TrueHD 7.1in English with Dolby Surround 2.0 in French and Spanish. Subtitles are offered in English SDH and Spanish.
Music and effects come through nice and clear. All dialogue is understandable although there is one mumbler in the cast whose lines can get lost. I found myself rewinding back to catch a phrase here and there.

Extras – Inside The World Of “Black Sails, The Man O’ War, Expanding Worlds, High Seas Action, History’s Influence .

The featurette on the history that the creators and writers drawn from is well worth seeing. The slipcase cover has a lenticular 3-D image.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Army of Darkness Collector’s Edition (1992) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

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Stars – Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Richard Grove
Director – Sam Raimi

Released by Shout / Scream Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Sam Raimi created the poster child for cult movies of the nineties with this one. Well before his mega success with the Spiderman films and following on the heels for Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (19870 and Darkman (1990) Raimi found a near perfect combination with this one. Army of Darkness is filled with the kinds of things that a movie obsessed kid would have grown up with in the sixties and seventies. His love of Ray Harryhausen’s fantasy films is evident throughout. Raimi’s familiarity with medieval flicks, sword and sorcery tales, action heroes and a very healthy dose of slapstick is on display right from the first sequence. He made films on the cheap as he grew up. The creative solutions to special effects in this film are just a joy to behold. You can almost hear him cheering or giggling with the crew as these effects come together in so many scenes. Somehow that love of films and special effects is easily shared with the audience that watches this film. The other element that makes this film work is the inclusion of his childhood buddy Bruce Campbell. As an actor he heartily embraces this tongue in check approach to the action hero, Ash. In one of the many futurities a technician says that Campbell can do bits of action backwards better than anybody in the business. The part calls for plenty of wise ass character acting but also an heroic amount of special effect scenes to be pulled off.

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The plot is straightforward, sort of. Ash works at the S-mart store, in housewares. Somehow he is transported back to medieval times. He is able to bring along with him a shotgun and his 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. He’s also got a chainsaw that fits over the stump of one of his hands. He had to sever the hand in a previous film. Like Dorothy all he wants to do is to go home. But he gets involved in uniting two opposing armies to fight the legions of Deadites that he unleashed by mistake. Ash also has a new girlfriend to rescue. Raimi gives us a spin on Mark Twin’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Ash must also go on a quest just like in Jason and the Argonauts but he must remember the magic words, Klaatu Barada Nikto. These are from the science fiction classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Naturally he screws up the words thereby unleashing the titular army of darkness. Ash messes up a lot. He’s kind of an idiot.

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The parade of special effects are a treat. Ash has to fight a group of mini-Ashes. They look just like him but are smaller and evil. At one point they tie him up just like the Lilliputians did to Gulliver in his travels. It’s a marvelous bit. Campbell also has to fight off his double that grows out of his own shoulder. There are so many effects shots in this film that Campbell acts with as many things that are not there as he does with actual actors. All of this plays to genre films fans of all ages. The Deadites are made up of lots of stop motion effects combined with life sized puppets. The actors do complex ballet to intact with all of this. We get a magnificent flying witch that screech into the castle and takes off with a victim in hand. The Deadite skeletons get blown up left and right by explosions. There is a boyish excitement that runs rampart in almost every scene. Ash is also given a stream of either clever or obnoxious one-liners to toss around. Campbell pulls them all off, even the purposely dumb ones. The whole film plays to us as if we are in on the joke and part of the fun at all times. Big credit goes to director Sam Raimi for establishing and maintaining this tone.

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Now about this new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. It’s got three discs and four different versions of the movie. There is an incredible amount of extras, shorts and featurettes. The highlight is a brand new 96 minute documentary, Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness. Almost everyone involved takes part in this. Director Raimi does not contribute a new interview but you can still see some fun shots of him. He does some playful voice-overs for the Deadite puppets. The international version of the film is presented in a new 4K transfer, however the theatrical cut which may be the most familiar is not. Scream Factory has stated, “Unfortunately, we were not able to do a new transfer of the theatrical cut (which was provided by our partners at Universal). However, we did do additional color correction. Our original intention was to do a new 4K scan on the director’s cut, so we started with elements that were available in the MGM vault. Unfortunately, we could not find all of the additional footage (film and audio) for the 96 minute Director’s Cut.” The theatrical version gets its own disc as does the Director’s Cut. The international version and television version are on the third disc.

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It’s easy to appreciate Bruce Campbell’s character Ash. The multitude of special effects are a hoot. This is a very easy film to like. If your favorite version is the theatrical one there is bound to be some disappointment that it did not get a full on restoration. You may want to temper your expectations or start with the spruced up 4K international version. My favorite Ash quote is this one – Gimme some sugar, baby.

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Video – 1.78:1
The theatrical version has good color and while the scenes are outside in sunlight looks pretty darn good. Black levels in the exterior shots hold their own well enough. When we get to some of the darker interiors detail suffers. There is a general softness and even some haze to these scenes that can be frustrating. Those scenes really could have used some work. However when we are outside, which is most of the film things show a definite improvement over the older presentations. This is not a remarkably sharp film anyway but a good amount of the close ups clearly benefit in this area. There are some moments when there is either a bit of DNR or excessive brightness on some faces, but this is not a constant occurrence. Keep in mind that the large amount of process effects shots will lessen the picture quality due to the nature of that method. Overall this looks good, not great.

The 4K treatment of the international version offers a better presentation just as you’d expect. I went to some of the more problematic interior dark scenes and found an increased level of brightness which seemed to cure some of the problems in the images found on the theatrical version. Though it may be a bit cleaner with less grain than some prefer this new 4k scan delivers the goods. The TV Version looks poor by comparison. Some of that may be due to having it sit right on the same disc as the superior 4K transfer. The director’s cut looks good, at times very good but not in the same realm as that international cut.

One can’t help but notice the differences when you compare back and forth. However the film has more than enough energy and humor to carry your through regardless of which version you view. The theatrical cut is 81 minutes. The director’s cut which was Raimi’s initial finished presentation runs at 96 minutes. The international version sits in the middle at 88 minutes and features the S-mart ending. I prefer the return to the S-Mart for the ending coda. If you are a big fan of the film it’s hard to knock having a boatload of extras including a very well done new feature length documentary and four different versions of this film in one package. (The pictures used in this review were not taken from this Blu-Ray edition)

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Audio – DTS-HD 5.1, DTS 2.0 with subtitles offered in English
Most importantly you can hear all of Ash’s funny one-liners and his asides. There’s one in particular that he hurls at one of the skeletons that is very funny. Music plays well. The effects do not slam around the room but everything is clear enough in either mix.

Extras – Disc One – Medieval Times: The Making Of “Army Of Darkness” (96 min.),
Original Ending, Original Opening with Optional Commentary By Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary By Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Home Video Promo
Disc Two – Commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Actor Bruce Campbell, and Co-Writer Ivan Raimi, Additional Behind-The-Scenes Footage From KNB Effects (55 min.),
Vintage “Creating The Deadites” Featurette (21 min.), Vintage “Making Of” Featurette,
Extended Interview Clips With Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert.
Disc Three – 4K Scan Of The International Inter-positive, Television Version With Additional Footage (90 min.,(1.33:1), Theatrical Trailer, Still Galleries With Rare Behind-The-Scenes Photos (Over 200 Stills), Still Gallery Of Props And Rare Photos From The Collection Of Super Fan Dennis Carter Jr., -Storyboards For Deleted Or Alternate Scenes, Vintage “The Men Behind The Army” Featurette (19 min)

The new Medieval Times is thoroughly enjoyable. Bruce Campbell gets a lot of screen time as do many of the effects team. There are many fun and interesting behind the scenes stories. The fun they had making this film clearly comes through in the finished product.

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On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent (This takes into account the overall presentation with the extras and multiple versions offered. It is not meant to represent the transfer of one film)

Movie – Good / Excellent

Tales From The Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

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Stars – William Sadler, Billy Zane, CCH Pounder, Dick Miller, Thomas Haden Church, Jada Pinkett-Smith
Director – Ernest Dickerson

Released by Shout / Scream Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

EC comics’ legendary horror series Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear were loved and hated in the 1950s. Kids loved them and parents of good stature were horrified. Publisher Bill Gaines went on to create the enormously successful Mad Magazine where he continued to irritate those same parents and thrill legions of young fans. Gaines knew the value of a host to draw fans in. Tales of the Crypt had the Crypt Keeper and Mad had Alfred E. Newman. All of them feature incredible artwork and illustrations from a whole slew of talented artists. You could get lost in the lurid and graphically detailed panels. Tales from the Crypt was at its heart a horror anthology. Each issue had several tales full of things like revenge from beyond the grave and unearthly demons. Kids who grew up in the sixties saw similar illustrated horror magazines with Creepy and Eerie. Those books also had their hosts in Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie. In the seventies The British film company Amicus put out two movies adapted from the original run of EC comics : Tales From The Crypt (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973). George Romero and Stephen King had their own homage to the illustrated horror anthology with Creepshow (1982). Soon thereafter HBO launched their own half hour horror anthology, Tales From The Crypt which ran from 1989 till 1996. All of these are anthologies, collections of short stories held together by a creepy host who exhibits a friendly albeit monstrous sense of humor.

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Due to the popularity of the series HBO set its sights on the big screen. Demon Knight the first of three proposed theatrical movies is presented as a single tale. That decision breaks the format of the anthology series. All three were intended to be stand alone movies. It’s worth pointing out that these were the only ones to make this choice.  Demon starts off with a marvelous introduction. We see a woman murder her husband who comes back from the dead to drown her in a bathtub. Then we learn that this is a movie being directed by the series host The Crypt Keeper. He’s dressed up like a tyrant director from the 1930s. It’s a fun bit and sets the right tone for the film. John Kassir’s high pitched voice is a delight to hear as he tosses off a litany of terrible puns.

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The film starts with a nighttime car chase that ends in a fiery crash. Brayker (William Sadler) makes his way to a desolate hotel where he appears to hide out. Billy Zane (Dead Calm, The Phantom) emerges from the crash in a very cool manner and continues to stalk his prey. The local cop on the scene is dumbfounded. In fairly short order Zane and his army of demonic figures lay siege to the house. There is some mumbo jumbo about Brayker having to hide the seventh key from Zane otherwise the world will be lost to the dark side. This key resides in a ornate vial he carries with him. The vial is filled with holy blood which when smeared on a threshold will prevent the demons from crossing through. He tries explaining all of this to genre regular Dick Miller. He says he is not making this stuff up as he goes along, yet it sure seems like the screenwriters are. There are flashbacks that show this vile going all the way back to the book of genesis. None of that plotting worked for me. It came across as half baked. All we need to know is that Zane is some kind of satanic guy or Satan himself and he will do anything he needs to to get that vial. Everyone holds up in the rooming house to fend off the demons. Zane also does lots of mind tricks to gain control of the folks inside.

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The is a great deal of special effects. We see the skeletal like demons who are covered with various piercings. They walk on their tip toes like possessed dancers on pointe. CCH Pounder (The Shield) looses an arm. There are lots of violent deaths. There’s a bit of a lag to the film about halfway but then it picks up speed. This would be only be a passable horror film were it not for the performance of Billy Zane. We learn in the making of doc that director Ernest Dickerson gave the actors a free hand in how they played their characters. Zane made a decision about his character that serves the film wonderfully. In fact for me it carries the whole picture. Zane elected to play it over the top and to have some fun with it. However he’s got such a soft spoken seductive demeanor here that it never feels like he is overplaying his hand. He grins and charms at every turn, often putting bits in that enhance his evil presence in a very entertaining ways. When Dick Miller gets thrown into a room full of tempting babes who are clearly up to no good, there’s Billy Zane as the bartender offering up a delicious concoction. While Demon Knight is certainly not the best of the EC Comics inspired films Billy Zane makes it a fun ride. The long form doesn’t serve the tales near as well as the shorter half hours in the Tales of the Crypt HBO series did.

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Video – 1.85:1
This is a very pleasing presentation. Colors looks fine. Black levels hold their own nicely.

Audio – DTS-HD 5.1 with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is clear. You can hear every one of Dennis Miller’s quips and asides.

Extras – Commentary with Director Ernest Dickerson, Commentary with Special Make-up Effects Creator Todd Masters, Visual Effects Supervisor John Van Vliet, Special Effects Coordinator Thomas Bellissimo, and Demon Performer Walter Phelan
- Under Siege: The Making of “Tales From The Crypt presents Demon Knight”featuring interviews with Director Ernest Dickerson, Co-producer A.L. Katz, Screenwriters Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, and Mark Bishop, Stars Billy Zane, William Sadler, Brenda Bakke, Charles Fleischer, John Schuck and Dick Miller, Editor Stephen Lovejoy, Special Make-Up Effects Creator Todd Masters, Special Make-Up Effects Artists Scott Coulter and Scott Wheeler, and Demon Performer Walter Phelan (40 minutes), – Panel Discussion from the American Cinematheque featuring director Ernest Dickerson, actor Dick Miller, and Special Effects maestro Rick Baker, – Still Gallery, -Theatrical Trailer

The Making of featurette, Under Siege is very well done. You get a solid feel for what went into this film by many of the actors and some of the crew. It’s fun to hear Billy Zane comment that when he first saw the finished film he wondered if he hadn’t gone too far, but then the audience seemed to love it.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good