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Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Torture Chamber: DVD Review

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Torture Chamber (2012)

by Troy Howarth

torturechamber

Directed by Dante Tomaselli

Starring Vincent Pastore, Christie Sanford, Richard D. Busser, Carmen LoPorto, Lynn Lowry, Ron Millkie

A deeply religious woman inflicts psychological scars on her two children.  The older of the two, Mark, goes on to become a priest, while Jimmy is horribly burned in an accident and inflicts terror on everybody who encounters him.  The child is locked away but displays an ability to start fires and inflict harm without lifting a finger.  When he escapes, Dr. Fiore and Mark must attempt to find him before he succeeds in his mission of destroying his mother and anybody who gets in his way…

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Beginning with Desecration (1999), independent filmmaker Dante Tomaselli has established himself as a distinctive voice in the modern horror film.  Working on small budgets and outside of the studio system, Tomaselli explores deeply personal neuroses and obsessions in the context of commercial horror subjects.  Over the course of several films – Horror (2003), Satan’s Playground (2006) and now Torture Chamber – the filmmaker has grown in style and ability while refusing to compromise his very personal and very idiosyncratic vision.

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On the surface, it would seem fair to suggest that Tomaselli has learned much from the dreamy Italian horror films of the 1960s and 70s, but it would be unfair to suggest that he is a mere imitator.  Tomaselli’s approach is deliberately stylized but while he doesn’t shy away from visceral shocks, he doesn’t go in for the type of over the top grand guignol effects that one would expect to see in a film by, say, Lucio Fulci or even the latter-day Dario Argento.  The violence is rough when it occurs, but the film is more of a mood piece on the whole, juxtaposing the dreamworld with reality in such a way as to erase the boundary between the two altogether.  Tomaselli’s characters don’t act like real human beings simply because they’re not functioning in a realistic milieu dictated by concerns of logic.  If anything, they are pawns in a nightmarish dreamscape where anything can happen – and very often does.

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Torture Chamber builds upon the director’s earlier work and emerges as his most consistently accomplished film to date.  Production values are very good.  Makeup and effects are kept practical and old school, which is a major plus, and the various shock sequences are handled with a flair for the tactile which proves all the more effective in context.  The performances are quite good here, in contrast to the sometimes stilted performances found in, say, Desecration and Horror.  Child actor Carmen LoPorto does an impressive job as the monstrous Jimmy, while Christie Sanford is convincing as the religious zealot mother unknowingly causes the tragedy.  Name value is provided by Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos) and Lynn Lowery (I Drink Your Blood), both of whom give depth and gravitas to their characters.  Tomaselli’s excellent use of sound adds to the claustrophic, nightmarish vibe.  Viewers looking for a more straight-forward, linear approach to storytelling may find Tomaselli’s elliptical approach a little hard to warm to, but in a genre currently overloaded with bland remakes and endless sequels, Torture Chamber offers a refreshing alternative.

Video:

Torture Chamber makes its home video from Cinedigm.  The region 1 disc is presented in the appropriate 1.85 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for widescreen TVs.  The transfer is clean and colorful, with strong detail and no distracting authoring defects to report.  It’s a shame that they didn’t elect to give the film a Blu-ray release, as well, as the striking colors would have looked particularly impressive in that format, but even so – this is a handsome presentation.

Audio:

Audio options include a 2.0 stereo track and a 5.1 surround track.  Both tracks are in excellent shape, with the latter in particular having an added kick that really shows off Tomaselli’s intricate sound design.  Captioning options are included.

Extras:

This is where the release really falls down: Tomaselli has recorded some very good commentary tracks in the past, but for whatever reason he does not get a chance to do a commentary for this one… there isn’t even so much as an interview featurette.  All you get is a still gallery.

Film: ***1/2 out of *****

Video: ****1/2 out of *****

Audio: ****1/2 out of *****

Extras: * out of *****

Crawlspace (1986) Blu-ray Review

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Crawlspace (1986)
Director: David Schmoeller
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Barbara Whinnery & Sally Brown
Released by: Scream Factory

Reviewed by Mike Kenny

The Criterion of Cult, Scream Factory, is back yet again to deliver fans with a much needed injection of some Empire Pictures goodness! The maestro of creepiness, Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu the Vampyre), takes center stage as a murderous landlord with an obsession of peeping on his female tenants. This supremely scary flick was helmed by David Schmoeller, responsible for other cult gems such as Tourist Trap and Puppetmaster. Curious minds want to know how well this Kinski creepfest holds up so let’s not dawdle any longer…

Crawlspace focuses on Karl Gunther (Klaus Kinski), a quiet landlord who happens to be the son of a Nazi. Gunther has an obsession with sneaking through the crawlspaces of his apartment building in order to spy on his female tenants. Gunther can barely contain his need to kill and with every new tenant comes a new object to fixate on. Will the arrival of a new female tenant put a stop to Gunther’s heinous acts or is the fun just getting started?

MOVIE:
With such an abundance of films released, Empire Pictures was a well-oiled machine that knew how to keep horror fans occupied. Due to the scarcity of the film, I feel ashamed to admit that Crawlspace evaded me for so many years. Crawlspace is a criminally forgotten flick that hits all the right notes in sending chills down your spine. Klaus Kinski’s terrifying performance is what makes this film so appealing with his ice cold eyes and devilish grin. The decision to make Kinski the son of a Nazi adds a depth to his character unlike most madmen found in films of its ilk at the time. He has been fueled with a believable motivation that drives him mad to the point that only murdering can calm him. In order to settle the score with his conscience, Gunther constantly plays Russian roulette to give faith a chance to punish him for his sins. Another dimension to this maniacal character that made watching this film such a treat. When he’s not spying on his next set of victims, Gunther is devising weapons of torture amongst his pet rats and a female prisoner locked away in a cage. In addition, as the film reaches its finale, Gunther applies makeup that resembles Robert Smith of The Cure for an added level of weirdness.

As a product of its time, Crawlspace does right by the audience for including beautiful female actresses and some nice T&A moments for a tantalizing effect. Talia Balsam (The Kindred) and Tané (Death Spa) both make appearances in the film. Making great use of budget, Empire Pictures shot the entire film on an apartment complex set which works well and adds a nice claustrophobic layer. Pino Donaggio (Carrie, Blow Out) serves up an incredibly spooky score that sets a disturbing tone with its echoing chorus chants. Director David Schmoeller orchestrates the tight 80 minute runtime with suspense and precision that paved the way for more collaborations with Empire Pictures such as Catacombs and Puppetmaster. Crawlspace is a disturbing and creepy diamond in the rough that is driven home by Kinski’s frightening performance. The film’s breezy runtime leaves no room for shenanigans and keeps you firmly on the edge of your seat. To say that I enjoyed Crawlspace would be an understatement, this is a wildly entertaining flick that is without a doubt, one of Empire Pictures’ greatest accomplishments.
RATING: 4.5/5

VIDEO:
Scream Factory presents Crawlspace in a 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1) transfer that looks remarkable. It surprises me just how good a film from Empire Pictures‘ canon translates to HD and in the case of Crawlspace, it truly shines. Colors, most noticeably in the red carpet in the apartment complex’s halls, comes across bold while nice detail is showcased in facial features with skin tones looking very natural. Instances of flakes and speckles are barely existent on this transfer that boasts clear black levels and a great filmic layer of grain. Another fine job by Scream Factory!
RATING: 4.5/5

AUDIO:
Crawlspace comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix that is very satisfying. Dialogue comes across clearly even at times with Kinski’s soft-spoken lines. Pino Donaggio’s haunting score really shines with intense scenes pushing the levels of the mix nicely. A rewarding audio presentation for such an effectively moody flick!
RATING: 4/5

EXTRAS:

- Audio Commentary with Director David Schmoeller: Schmoeller touches upon the atmosphere and unique process of how Empire Pictures‘ films were created. In addition, Schmoeller doesn’t get shy when discussing the tense nature of dealing with Kinski who could be ruthlessly uncooperative at times. Originally, Kinski’s character was meant to be a Vietnam POW but Charles Band questioned whether audiences were ready for a film dealing with the war. The decision was then made to make him the son of Nazi which, to this reviewer, was far more effective. There are some dry spots to this commentary, but overall Schmoeller offers plenty of insight into the making of the film.

- Tales from the Crawlspace: An Interview with John Vulich: Makeup-Effects Artist, Vulich, sits down for an interview where he discusses his early career highlights traveling the world and working on Empire Pictures films. Vulich also touches upon his encounters with Kinski and hails them as an unforgettable experience.

- Please Kill Mr. Kinski: Director David Schmoeller’s short documentary film that details the unpredictable and intense temper of Kinski which resulted in several on-set physical altercations.

- Theatrical Trailer

- TV Spots

- Reversible cover

RATING: 3.5/5

OVERALL:

Crawlspace is a disturbingly intense and creepy flick thanks to the unforgettable performance of Klaus Kinski. There’s no denying that this film is one of the best offerings from Empire Pictures and one that has gone far too unnoticed throughout the years. The depth and insane motivations driven by Kinski’s character make this a film that will leave you questioning the late actor’s sanity. Scream Factory has accomplished another victory by resurrecting this frightening flick with a wonderful video and audio presentation as well as a satisfying assortment of supplements. For what it’s worth, winding down on a wildly successful year for the horror label, Crawlspace walks away as one of my most revered non-Collector’s Edition releases from Scream Factory to date!
RATING: 4.5/5

The Beast Within (1982) Blu-ray Review

Friday, December 13th, 2013

The Beast Within (1982)
Director: Philippe Mora
Starring: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, L.Q. Jones & R.G. Armstrong
Released by: Scream Factory

Reviewed by Mike Kenny

From deep within the swampy marshes of Mississippi comes a beast like no other! Scream Factory proudly presents, for the first time on Blu-ray, The Beast Within. A diverse cast of seasoned vets all guided under the watchful eye of the director of Mad Dog Morgan come together for this story of man becomes beast. After flopping at the box-office during its original release, a cult following has emerged over the years for this terrifying flick. It’s hard to believe that 30 years have passed, but does this beast still have what it takes to gnaw your soul? Let’s find out…

The Beast Within centers on Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens), the offspring of a woman who was savagely raped by a swamp beast. 17 years have passed since the incident and Michael has grown into a fine, young man. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before the inherited evil consumes him and forces his hand to feed amongst unsuspecting victims. The supporting cast is rounded out by Ronny Cox (Beverly Hills Cop), Bibi Besch (Tremors), L.Q. Jones (Casino) and R.G. Armstrong (Dick Tracy). Philippe Mora (The Howling II:… Your Sister Is a Werewolf) directs from a screenplay by Tom Holland (director of Fright Night and Child’s Play).

MOVIE:
There’s no denying the similarities The Beast Within holds with the monster flicks of the 1950s. Even down to the title, The Beast Within feels like a 50s concept updated for a modern 1980s audience. In addition, like much of the golden era of monster pictures, some were entertaining, others missed their mark and some were just downright awful. The Beast Within falls somewhere in the middle. The film kicks off intriguing enough, albeit cliché-ridden, with newlyweds making a wrong turn before the wife is savagely assaulted and raped by a monster of some sort, deep within the woods. Shortly after, we skip ahead 17 years and learn that the teenage son of that couple is experiencing some abnormal changes. Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens) has been holed up in hospitals as experts imagine he is on the verge of death. Nightmarish images haunt Michael before he awakes with a yearning to return to the town of his mother’s assault. From this point on, the film has trouble staying interesting. Sure, there are moments of Michael’s abnormal behavior returning resulting in the murders of several townsfolk but just as the going gets good, the film hits the brakes again. The film has issues staying afloat with a spotty narrative that leaves the viewer unclear as to what’s occurring at times.

While it seems harsh, there are plenty of quality merits that come along with The Beast Within. Les Baxter (The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven) provides an incredibly haunting and satisfying score that sets a wonderful tone for the film. The supporting cast is littered with genre performers ranging from Ronny Cox (Robocop) to L.Q. Jones (director of A Boy and His Dog) giving it their all. Michael’s full-fledged transformation scene, which tediously takes the majority of the runtime to reach, pays off in spades. Special Effects maestro Thomas R. Burman (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Goonies) accomplishes a truly nasty and painful looking transformation for our leading actor which showcases Michael’s head blowing up realistically like a ballon. While, the final result of the swamp cicada-esque beast is quite laughable, it makes for entertaining eye-candy. Make no mistake about it, The Beast Within is not a bad film, it just never swayed me the way it has other cult enthusiasts. The film is filled with good intentions but spends far too much time digging itself out of a muddy plot that gets away from its fun concept. The Beast Within has its moments and perhaps one day I’ll view it as something greater but for the time being, it still falls somewhere in the gray zone.
RATING: 3/5

VIDEO:
Scream Factory presents The Beast Within in a 1080p High-Definition widescreen (2.35:1) transfer. The film looks decent with nice detail in facial features but black levels never reach their full potential. For a film with tremendous night scenes, there always seems to be a little too much speckling in the shots. Then again, this was a film that wasn’t shot on a tremendous budget which can be marked for most of the blame. In addition, exterior shots during the day appear to have a softness to them which can also be attributed to the amount of fog in said scenes. The Beast Within has never been a tremendously colorful film but the few instances such as Michael’s baby-blue varsity jacket pop nicely. While it seems mediocre, Scream Factory’s treatment is definitely an improvement on previous DVD editions and most likely the best the film will see for the foreseeable future.
RATING: 3/5

AUDIO:
The Beast Within comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo 2.0 mix that is quite sufficient. Dialogue comes across with no noticeable hitches while Les Baxter’s terrific score is striking and robust at particular key moments. The Beast Within is not a film with a grand sound design so there aren’t many standout moments that make this mix anything more than serviceable.
RATING: 3/5

EXTRAS:

- Audio Commentary with Director Philippe Mora & Actor Paul Clemens: The two get along famously, at times even talking over each other in excitement. Both men discuss a variety of topics including Les Baxter’s wonderful score, shooting on location in Mississippi, the H.P. Lovecraft references found in the film and the studio’s insistence to tone the film down due to test audiences being too terrified.

- Audio Commentary with Writer Tom Holland: Moderated by Rob Galluzzo of Icons of Fright, Holland stays talky for the duration of the commentary touching on many different aspects including his unique origins of landing the job. Apparently, Holland was tasked with adapting the title of a book that was yet to be published. Oddly enough, the book wasn’t even published until after the film was released. Holland cites his references and nods to H.P. Lovecraft as well as the uniqueness of the story that he believes still feels fresh. The original failure and later rebirth of the film as a cult favorite has astonished Holland and he believes the film has aged well.

- Theatrical Trailer

- Radio spots

- Reversible cover

RATING: 3.5/5

OVERALL:
The Beast Within is the story of a man turned beast that originally tanked at the box-office before being re-birthed into a cult hit. The film consciously stays close to horror clichés and monster movies of the 1950s, but never manages to knock it out of the park in the long run. The effective score and genre-seasoned actors do a fine job with the task at hand. The transformation scene is the highlight of the film that is most impressive and unfortunately not as hailed when compared to other films of the time such as An American Werewolf in London and The Thing. The beauty of a cult flick like The Beast Within is that only a select grouping take the greatest appreciation from it. I’d like to consider myself an acquaintance of that group, The Beast Within is far from perfect but definitely has its fair share of entertaining moments. Without question, Scream Factory should be applauded for bringing yet another cult favorite into our HD libraries with sufficient visual and audio specs as well as informative and nostalgic supplements. Unleash your inner beast and add this into your Scream Factory collection now!
RATING: 3.5/5

Night Train to Terror (1985) Blu-ray Review

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

“Night Train to Terror” (1985)
Director: Jay Schlossberg-Cohen
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, John Phillip Law & Byron Yordan
Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

Reviewed by Mike Kenny

By the sight of the 1-sheet poster, most would assumed that “Night Train to Terror” is another chip off the slasher block from the bitchin’ 1980s. As fitting as it may seem, this is an entirely different beast. When the topic of horror anthologies is brought up, there is a steady list of favorites to choose from such as “Creepshow”, “Trick ‘r Treat” and “Tales from the Crypt”. But, somewhere in the cobwebs lies “Night Train to Terror”. Presented for the first time on home video and it its original aspect ratio, Vinegar Syndrome bring this horror oddity to your growing collection in a Blu-ray / DVD combo pack. How odd is this flick, you ask? Well, get ready to throw logic out the window and let’s find out…

“Night Train to Terror” kicks off with God and Satan aboard a train headed to the friary underworld as they decide the fates of three unfortunate souls. In “Harry”, a killer keeps body parts of his victims in a twisted torture chamber. While, in “Gretta”, a young woman obsessed with death takes part in a risky game of Russian roulette. Finally, “Claire” finds a young woman and a Holocaust survivor terrorized by the son of Satan!

MOVIE:
There’s much to admire in a film that kicks off with an 80s-centric band playing to the camera while on board a train to Hell. The catchy tune and the lead singer, who looks like a mix of Loverboy and “Flashdance”, sets the tone for the odd film you are about to witness. The wrap-around segments of God and Satan deciding the fates of each of the victims was a welcome touch that opened the stage for some humorous moments. The film itself is an insane collage of horror presented without too much narrative in mind and a tongue firmly planted in cheek. Demons, dismemberment, nudity and nazis all make entertaining appearances that are provided by a halfway decent cast and a synth-happy score. “Night Train to Terror” takes lightning speed shifts telling its story while pushing moments of blood and horror leaving you with a “what the hell is going on?” attitude more than once. In addition, the film deserves great praise for their usage of stop-motion effects that are less Harryhausen and more “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” but just as charming and fun. Overall, the film succeeds in throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the viewer in terms of horrific elements while weaving a very “unique” kind of anthology tale. There’s nothing quite like “Night Train to Terror” and by my calculations, that’s a fantastic thing!
RATING: 4/5

VIDEO:
Vinegar Syndrome presents “Night Train to Terror” for the first time on home video restored in 2K from 35mm elements and in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The film certainly has its fair share of inconsistencies with debris and scratches with colors popping nicely when they can. Skin tones appear natural and detail is quite sharp in close-ups. Grain levels look terrific while blacks can be a hit or miss. It sounds mediocre, but in truth, this film has never looked better and probably never will. Vinegar Syndrome’s treatment is the definitive one for a film that has only seen ratty bootlegs before its release. Consider me satisfied!
RATING: 4/5

AUDIO:
“Night Train to Terror” hurls into your living room courtesy of a 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix. Scenes of dialogue are clear and hissing is hardly present while moments of horror and carnage are loud and robust. The score and catchy opening tune impressed my ear drums as they were loud even at a relatively lower volume. Well done!
RATING: 4/5

EXTRAS:
Vinegar Syndrome presents a healthy dose of supplements that are spread across both the Blu-ray and DVD on this release.

On Blu-ray:
- Interview with Director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen (offered as an audio track over the film)

- The Hysteria Continues Commentary: The bloggers offer plenty of laughs and interesting anecdotes about the film and the players involved.

- Theatrical Trailer

On DVD:
- “Gretta”: The full-version of “The Case of Gretta Conners”, a unique and welcome extra as one can see and appreciate the differences from its shorter counterpart found in “Night Train to Terror”.

- Interview with Assistant Editor Wayne Schmidt (presented as an audio track)
RATING: 4/5

OVERALL:
“Night Train to Terror” is quite unlike any horror anthology you’ve ever seen. The chaotic pace and horrific imagery at every turn will certainly send you for a loop which makes it never boring. Vinegar Syndrome have preserved and presented the film in the best possible manner with a welcome dose of extras that offer as much behind-the-scenes information as possible on this horror oddity. “Night Train to Terror” is an absurd execution in horror anthologies with enough blood, demons and stop-motion to peak most genre fans’ interest. Looking for logic? We’re all out on “Night Train to Terror” but that’s exactly where most of the charm comes from.
RATING: 4/5