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Archive for September, 2016

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

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Actors – Dee Wallace, Susan Lanier, Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Martin Speer
Director – Wes Craven

Released by Arrow Films

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Film historians say that horror films tend to go in cycles. That’s true but a new kind of freedom and expressionism blew through the seventies like a blow torch. Lots of conventions were knocked on their collective ass. In 1974 a grainy gritty tough film came out that redefined the horror film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was scary as hell and took no prisoners. It broke taboos left and right. A few years later another one came along. The Hills Have Eyes hit theaters in the summer of 1977. It took months even years to really find its audience. When you listen to the cast and crew talk about working on the film they cover the tough conditions in the desert and the low budget nature of the production. Most of them though admit to being floored by how genuinely disturbing and scary a movie this turned out to be. Both Texas Chainsaw and Hills Have Eyes became films you just had to see. They were a rite of passage. Real horror fans knew that they were in another league with this kind of film and they loved it.

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The set up is purposefully simple. A traditional family – mom, dad, three older kids in their late teens to early twenties, the young athletic husband of one and their baby – rides across the desert in their car and trailer. After stopping for directions and fuel at a dilapidated gas station they head deep into the sun scorched desert. In short order they run themselves off the road and break the axle on the car that pulls the trailer. While dad walks back down the road for help we are shown this crazy dirty looking cannibal family that lives in a cave out there. The mom, dad, three boys and a girl are all named after planets. The cannibals attack in an extremely savage manner and it is up to the Carter family to fight back or die. The Carter family also has two German Shepherds named Beauty and Beast. Beast more than lives up to the name.

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Wes Craven who had previously only done one other film, The Last House on the Left (1972), shows a terrific ability to ratchet up the tension. The way he orchestrates the attacks both in the daytime and nighttime keeps you always off guard. Rather than the expected attacks under cover of darkness there is plenty of terror in broad daylight. He also gets the Carter family fighting back bit by bit until you’re not really sure which of these families will prevail. The cannibals’ kidnapping of the baby after a brutal rape scene turns the tide of the battle. As an audience though we are put way off balance with this. This is the guy who did Last House on the Left. At any moment he could really overstep his bounds here.

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The cannibal family talks intelligently on military Walkie-Talkies with long antennas. They are dressed in a kind of clash between punk and native American costuming. Sometimes they look really crazed while a few of them look a bit ridiculous. However they keep making allusions to eating the baby and how tender and sweet it will be. They live in a cave strewn with bones and filth. Janus Blythe plays Ruby the girl of the family. She’s different like Marilyn was in The Munsters. We’ve seen that she wants to runaway from the tribe. Will she help the Carter’s get their baby back before it is too late. The violence escalates. The action amps up with some very neat booby traps and explosions. Man’s best friend Beast the dog figures into the action in scenes that are easy to cheer on and rile up the blood lust as we root for the family. Both sides go to extremes here. The families are set up almost like a mirror of each other.  One is clearly  the more aggressive and bad one. However as the battle rages on and each side tears into the other perhaps that difference blurs a little.

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The Hills Have Eyes is a raw horror film that works remarkably well. A young Dee Wallace shows that she can elevate any scene she is in. Susan Lanier‘s look in the film bears a strong resemblance to Sally Struthers in All in the Family. The iconic image though is Michael Berryman as Pluto. There is a good collection of extras here including Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes. The documentary allows most of the cast and crew to recall their time on the set and the impact the film had on them We get a lot of Wes Craven. He comes off very well. The man went on to have a very well deserved career in films, most of them horror.

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Video – 1.85:1
“Brand new 4K restoration of the film, supervised by producer Peter Locke”  Eric Saarinen the director of photography shot this in 16mm. They shot out in the dessert with a minimal amount of crew and equipment. On release theaters showed prints blown up to 35mm that looked grainy as hell. 16mm prints also had a real down and dirty look to them. Subsequent home video and TV releases had some scenes that were tough to make out exactly what was going on in. That is not the case here at all. Detail is in much better shape, as far as it goes. There has been some clean up but nowhere near enough to get upset about. This is still one gritty looking movie. Arrow’s release is faithful to the look and spirit of the film.

Audio – Mono with subtitles offered in English SDH
This has always been a kind of muddy track. The eerie music works very well though it does not sport any kind of separation or high fidelity. The times when actors had to dub their voices in are obvious, yet that does not take away from the overall look and feel of the film. It is a scruffy hardscrabble movie as it should be.

Extras -
Brand new commentary with actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer, Brand new commentary by academic Mikel J. Koven, commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke, Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes – making-of documentary featuring interviews with Craven, Locke, actors Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier and director of photography Eric Saarinen, Brand new interview with actor Martin Speer, The Desert Sessions – brand new interview with composer Don Peake, Never-before-seen Outtakes, Alternate ending, in HD for the first time, Trailers and TV Spots, Image Gallery, Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM Content).
Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Paul Shipper, 6 postcards and fold out poster.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Tony Rome (1967)/ Lady in Cement (1968) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

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Stars – Frank Sinatra, Raquel Welch, Richard Conte, Simon Oakland, Jill St. John, Dan Blocker, Lainie Kazan, Sue Lyon
Director – Gordon Douglas

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Tony Rome opens with a pop title song written by Lee Hazelwood and sung by Nancy Sinatra the same team that had a hit single the year before with These Boots Are Made For Walking. We know right away that this is a hip film made by friends, pals and relatives of Frank Sinatra. There is this cozy feeling of I’m a friend of Frank’s that permeates the whole picture. The soundtrack is done by Billy May the genius arranger who was responsible for Frank’s hit album Come Fly With Me. Sinatra plays a detective who lives on a house boat. Naturally he used to be a cop so he still has friends on the force. He drives this beat up old Ford convertible around the streets of Miami Beach. The plot is no great shakes. Basically Frank has to find Simon Oakland’s missing daughter. Someone is more than likely after Oakland’s massive fortune but it takes almost two hours to get to the big reveal at the end. Forgot the story though, what makes Tony Rome work is Frank Sinatra.

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The man made a large amount of movies. There was no doubt that he could act and hold his own in a quality drama like Suddenly (1954) and The Man With The Golden Arm (1955), He could play a world weary cop just barely hanging onto the world believably as in The Detective made with the same director in between these two Tony Rome films. But let’s be clear. The Tony Rome films are a holiday. Sinatra played his nightclub gigs at night and made these film during the days with his friends. He even got parts for buddies of his that owned local restaurants. Depending on how much you like Frank and his sixties styled cool and sense of humor will determine how much fun you’ll have with these. There are lots of wisecracks, sexually charged remarks and inside jokes.  Tony Rome begins and ends with a zoom shoot of a lady’s swinging backside as she strolls by. It’s just that kind of film. At ten minutes shy of two hours the film is too long. Some of the light and breezy fun takes a few too many sidetracks to flesh out a plot that is fooling no one in the theater. However the supporting actors are all good. The music swings. The exteriors outside the big hotels and restaurants along the beach look gorgeous. There is an effort to get some of the sordid nature of the Miami low level crime scene into the film that works very well. Sinatra’s Tony Rome goes into his fair share of clip joints and strip clubs.

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Lady in Cement had an advertising campaign that featured a nude women on the ocean floor with her feet stuck in a block of cement. It’s fair to say that the film absolutely delivered on that promise. When Tony Rome discovers the body while scuba diving for treasure we can all see that she is as uncovered as advertised. This was pretty damn risqué for a mainstream film in 1968. There is some discrete seaweed placed in strategic places. Rome circles her body a few times giving everyone a good look at this fetching but dead blond. The movie has several racy sequences that flip by likes the pages of a Playboy magazine from the era. Richard Deacon (Dick Van Dyke Show) is seen as an artist painting a nude model. The lady clings to small towel repeatedly asking for a bathroom break in her scene. When we first see Raquel Welch she hoists herself dripping wet in a skimpy bikini from a swimming pool. It is a helluva entrance and works just like it was designed to. Rome gets to visit a strip club with a bad reputation and a vivacious lady for him to interview played with nice style by Lainie Kazan.

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This one has more action and moves quicker at 93 minutes. Dan Blocker who was a big hit on TV’s Bonanza at the time plays a variation on the Raymond Chandler type of heavy that just lost his vampy girlfriend and can’t seem to find her. He has a catch phrase, “Stay loose” that he tells Rome each time he takes on multiple opponents in a fight. The fights are done well with policemen smashing through car windows and getting thrown across the set. Richard Conte who appeared in so many great film noirs in on hand in both movies as Rome’s contact in the police force. His character has always had it up to here with Rome. Director Douglas also gives us a certain restrained level of sleaze to balance out the good natured humor. There are sordid characters and clubs full of debauchery. He’s got scenes with homosexuals and lesbians that are used like peeking through a taboo curtain. They are done in the typical poor taste of the era. Wherever it came from, the script or studio suggestions, there is a decided effort to push that ratings envelope. It may have been to give the film a more current edge at the box office.

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The Tony Rome pictures are not quite the same kind of fun that Sinatra had with his Rat Pack buddies in films like Oceans 11. The level of cool is very high though. Hugo Montenegro who had a big chart hit with his version of theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly did the soundtrack for Lady in Cement. There are plenty of times in both films when we see frank bombing around town in his Ford with the top down. There is a big stain on one of the doors where the pain has come off. He’s got his hat cocked to one side and a smoke going. The sun is glinting off his sunglasses and he is flashing a wicked grin. The brass section on the track swings as the rhythm hits a groove. It’s a moment in time that may be long outdated but if you can dig it then sit back in your Castro Convertible sofa, kick off those loafers, light up a Winston and have a Gin Martini with the man. How’s your bird?

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Video – 2.35:1
Both films look fine. Colors look good, even very good in the exteriors. The wild pastels and textures in the costumes all come across well. You can even see good detail in the selection of paisley ties that Rocky Graziano offers in one scene. The fancy hotels and grand lobbies look great. Lots of eye candy here.

Audio – DTS HD MA 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. You’ve got two very bright and stylish soundtracks on these films. Billy May and Hugo Montenegra exhibit plenty of flashy style. It is very sixties and may remind you of the kind of arrangements that Doc Severinsen would play as Johnny Carson went to a commercial. They are easy to like.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary on Tony Rome with film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Anthony Latino, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo, Essay by Julie Kirgo in booklet.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good (more than that if you are a Sinatra fan)

Theatre Of Blood (1973) Blu-Ray Review

Monday, September 5th, 2016

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Stars – Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Robert Morley, Jack Hawkins, Robert Coote, Ian Hendry
Director – Douglas Hickox

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Raise up a toast to Vincent Price. It can be an elegant wine in a long stemmed glass, a beer in a stein or straight from the bottle. It can even be a soda pop. But whatever it is get those drinks up there and raise up a cheer for Vincent Price. Theatre of Blood is his toast to his fans and he deserves one back. Price started out as a serious actor. Character turns in films like Laura (1943) and Leave Her to Heaven (1946) kept him in high demand. Without a doubt he is desevedly most well known for a plethora of starring roles in horror films. But as far back as his cameo as the voice of the Invisible Man in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) there was evidence of a real comedic talent. One look at the fun he has playing an over the top ham actor in His Kind of Woman (1951) shows his willingness to poke fun at himself. Price even took time out from his famous Poe cycle to make a couple of films for Roger Corman with Peter Lorre that were pure over the top fun. The Abominable Dr. Phibes films (1971- 1972) gave that humor some campy class courtesy of director Robert Fuest (The Avengers TV series). The Phibes films work like act one and act two for this one that lets Price use his eloquent voice this time around. The performance lets his comedic talent and love of acting truly shine together.

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Every year the top theatre critics in London bestow an award on the actor that has done the most brilliant work on stage the past year. This year Edward Lionheart who has devoted his entire career to the works of William Shakespeare is passed over for a younger actor. At the ceremony held at a posh high rise penthouse Lionheart delivers a grand standing speech expressing his grave disappointment. He continues talking as he takes to the terrace. The critics gather around the large windows as if watching another performance. In conclusion Lionheart pitches himself over the railing to his death. However we know better. One by one the critics are found dead. They are killed in ways that are expressly detailed in the works of Shakespeare. With the help of his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg)  and a nefarious group of homeless people Lionheart traps a critic and then unveils an incredible performance just for them.

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No detail is spared for these presentations. Lionheart is in full character make up and costume. The location is dressed just like a theatrical set complete with appropriate props. Each critic realizes who is behind this at the opportune moment before their dispatch. The killings while they are bloody and grotesque are done fully in the Grand Guignol theatre tradition. Diana Rigg is dressed like a man for these shows. She’s got a fake Fu Manchu mustache and a huge rock star wig that makes her look like she is in the Mott The Hoople band. The critics are played by a host of acclaimed British actors. It is a clever bit of casting and contributes to the overall classiness of the production. Robert Morley with his two dogs and penchant for gourmet food seem as over the top of Price does. However everyone plays it straight to the hilt. No one breaks character and all are firmly in on the joke. The droll style may put off some not used to this approach but it will win you over if you give it a chance. The pacing also steps up about halfway through.

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Price gets to show off his truly fine dramatic style of reading. The lines are true to the Bard yet go gleefully beyond what any stage actor could get away with. Again though he plays it seriously. Edward Lionheart may be leaping tall buildings he is so over the top yet his heart is firmly in it. We believe it. He should have won that award. The critics be damned – which they are. Theatre of Blood is whole lot of fun. If you are fan of Price and love the man’s work whether he is in a horror film, a noir or having a lark this will hit the spot. He was an actor whose persona tended to overshadow his efforts sometimes. Here Vincent takes it all in stride and has a blast with it. Like some of the better stage actors he has this way of inviting you along for the ride. Here’s to you, Mr. Price or shall we say Mr. Lionheart.

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Video – 1.66:1
Everything looks fine here. Colors are good. Black levels maintain without any distortion or crush.

Audio – DTS HD MA 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
This is a dialogue heavy film and the actors’ voices are presented strongly as they should be. My only quibble would be that in some of the scenes where the actors had to dub in their voices later Price’s voice in particular does not sit well. We’re so used to looking at him and feeling the nature of his delivery that it stands out when we are deprived of that experience. That’s the way it done in 1973 and not a knock on the transfer. This was, and still is, a common practice but it’s just that much more noticeable due to Price’s distinctive voice.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with film historians David Del Valle and Nick RedmanTrailer, Essay by Julie Kirgo in booklet. .

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Hardcore (1979) Blu-Ray Review

Monday, September 5th, 2016

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Stars – George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Season Hubley, Dick Sargent
Director – Paul Schrader

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

In his second outing as a director screenwriter Paul Schrader plants our feet firmly in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is Thanksgiving time. It is cold. The opening montage is full of images from Schrader’s childhood. He grew up there. We see George C. Scott as the conservative Calvinist family man. He’s got a lot of friends and family. At one point as he is carving the turkey he ducks down behind it to imitate the bird as small children giggle with delight. At his furniture factory we see him interact with some of the long haired guys that work there. He appears to treat them fairly, the same as anyone else. Scott gets into a playful debate over the color of a trade show exhibit with the woman who chose it. He manipulates her to get his way and she knows it but forgives him with a smile. Jack VanDorn is after all a well respected man, a family man.

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When his daughter disappears from a religious retreat over the holiday Van Dorn’s world beings to slowly unravel. The police are no help. He hires a private investigator. Peter Boyle plays Andy Mast as a direct contrast. He is slovenly. He offends VanDorn by cursing at their first meeting. He keeps referring to him as pilgrim. Eventually he shows VanDorn a porno film with his daughter. VanDorn breaks down when he sees this. They travel to sunny warm California, the home of the adult film industry. When VanDorn catches the investigator with a young girl in a motel he’s reached the breaking point. What’s worse is the large case file we see on the table stuffed with too many manila envelopes, each one a missing girl.

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Both the script and direction go to great lengths to set up a huge dichotomy between the deeply religious family based values in the cold home town of Grand Rapids and the sun-drenched morally bankrupt city of Los Angeles. There are lots of scenes of VanDorn looking like an embarrassed fish out of water as he goes into various peeps shows and sex shops. Schrader seems to delight in the contrast. Schrader is the brilliant writer of Taxi Driver and many others. He had to get there from here somehow. His background is as much a contrast with the content of his scripts as we see portrayed here.

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Two things drive the second half of the film. The first is VanDorn’s decision to impersonate a porn film producer. He holds casting sessions so he can locate the guy who was in the film with his daughter. He wears a mustache and a ridiculous wig. Without those two funny scenes with the turkey and the color debate we saw early on this aspect of VanDorn’s personality would come completely out of left field. As it is it’s still hard to believe this pilgrim could pull it off. The other driver is Season Hubley (Escape From New York, Vice Squad). As Niki the young porn actress she helps VanDorn navigate his way through the adult film world as he follows his leads. She becomes his surrogate daughter as they talk. He tries to understand her but really wants to set her straight, rescue her. They talk about life and religion. The scenes with the two of them are nicely touching. Sure it is a bit forced but the dialogue between them, polar opposites unable to find common ground until they just like each other works well. The ending did not work for me when I first saw this and it still rings false.

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What ultimately make this film work as well as it does in the performance of George C. Scott. His talent is immense. His gravely voice can go from weary defeat to a threatening howl. He does a slow boil magnificently. The scene where we see him alone in the theater watching his daughter in the film is a tour de force of acting. He’s barely got a line so he communicates with facial distortions, twisted body language and these sounds of heart rending pain that just seem to seep out of him. It’s painful to watch.  The scene is critical to the film. If we do not experience that gut wrenching punch nothing that follows will succeed.

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Video – 1.85:1
Exteriors all look strong. The early scenes in Grand Rapids have a very naturalistic look. It even feels cold. Black levels are fine. Skins tones are rendered in normal fashion. There is a bit of over lighting in some of the interiors that occasionally looks harsh but that is the way it was shot.

Audio – DTS HD MA 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is understandable. Jack Nitzsche’s score sounds fine. It is nice to catch bits of recognizable songs from Neil Young and Buck Owens. There are a couple of Mink DeVille songs that fit remarkably well.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, New 2016 Commentary with Writer-Director Paul Schrader, Commentary with film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo, Trailer, Essay by Julie Kirgo in the booklet.

In the new commentary Paul Schrader complains about the ending to the film quite a few times. He’s right each time be brings it up. A nice touch is when he points out all the actual places from his childhood that are seen in the opening montage. He’s very articulate but does not seem to enjoy revisiting the film.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent