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Posts Tagged ‘Lucio Fulci’

Cat In The Brain (1990) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

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Actors – Lucio Fulci, Brett Halsey, Robert Egon, Paul Muller, Maurice Poli
Director – Lucio Fulci

Released by Grindhouse Releasing

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Fulci doles out the blood and gore like an all you can eat buffet on 14th Street. The very first image is of a cat hand puppet having his way with a bunch of pasta in a heavy tomato sauce. That’s the title cat in the brain. Fulci stars in his own film as a director of horror films. The excessively gruesome death scenes are staring to get to him. Fluci states that he feels like there is a cat in his brain. He sees a psychiatrist who listens and then apparently decides to stage a series of over the top killings which he will try to blame on the unstable director. That’s about all the plot there is but the narrative is really not the focus here. There is a constant parade of killings. Some are from the movies that the director has done and some are the work of the doctor killer. To make it more fun Fulci grabs scenes from some of his own previous movies in a kind of greatest hits frenzy. He also adds a few bits from films weren’t even directed by him. When you add this to the stuff that was actually shot for Cat in the Brain there is barely time to pause during the onslaught of horrific images.

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Fulci repeats some of these sequences a few times including the beheading of a young boy. However even though the gore is excessive and way over the top none of it comes across as a realistic depiction. Everyone seems to have a chainsaw nearby that is all gassed up and ready to go. Throat slittings, gratuitous nudity and the dismemberment of random body parts is a constant on the menu. The opening of the movie though is devoted to the way a well dressed man very calmly goes about his dinner. He saunters into the next room where he has a dead woman’s body tied to a table. He slices out a nice section of thigh and takes it back to his state of the art mini stove where he prepares it like a nice piece of steak. The film is full of this kind of stuff. For punctuation we get to see director Fulci looking more worried or approaching the deep end. His style of acting is as over the top as the special effects. Meanwhile the crazy doctor seems to always be chasing women. He chased them in the countryside. He chases them in the city. There are times where he wears and adorable little blue ski hat.

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At one point we rejoin the troubled director when he is in a terrible state. As he is driving down a country road he hits someone. His reaction is to back up over the poor guy. Fulci, who goes by the his own name in the film gives the shifter a good workout as he goes back and forth over the guy about three or four times. Despite the man being driven deep into the ground he’s not there when Fulci comes out to inspect the damage. This is par for the course as the director, the real one seems to be having a lot of fun with the concept. Fulci pulls off a clever ending that lets him wink his eye at us at the end.

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With a title like Cat in the Brain and Fulci at the helm you get pretty much what you expect here. This is not top tier work for Fulci but a quick fast food snack that will be very entertaining for his fans. Grindhouse has included a cornucopia of extras and features with this release. You even get a CD soundtrack and a cardboard keepsake portrait of Fulci suitable for display at home or at work. The one extra that really stood out for me was an in depth interview with Brett Halsey. He talks about Jack Benny giving him his start in the business. Halsey also has a funny story about finally seeing this film and not even remembering doing it until he realized that Fulci merely cut his performance out of another film he did for him and stuck it in this one. No hard feelings though. He speaks highly of Fulci and their friendship.

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Video – 1.66:1
The source materials for this are no great shakes to begin with. There is quite a bit of grainy 16mm footage. However the colors look decent and while there is not a lot of sharp detail the transfer will do nicely for those who enjoy the film.

Audio – DTS-HD Mono in English and Spanish with subtitles offered in English
The tack is full of the kind of dubbed conversation and dialogue you come to expect from this genre. The soundtrack is amusing and like everything else in this stew so over the top that you just have to go with it and have a good time.

Extras – In-depth interviews with director Lucio Fulci and star Brett Halsey, New interviews with composer Fabio Frizzi, screenwriter Antonio Tentori, cinematographer Sandro Grossi and poster artist Enzo Sciotti Lucio, Fulci’s heroic appearance at the 1996 NYC Fangoria Weekend of Horrors, Original Italian theatrical trailer & gallery of stills and poster art, Liner notes by Antonella Fulci, David J. Schow, Eli Roth and Martin Beine BONUS CD – the original soundtrack by Fabio Frizzi! Chilling GLOW-IN-THE-DARK slip cover – limited to first 3000 copies, Mini portrait of Lucio Fulci – suitable for framing – limited to first 3000 copies

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good

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 *****

Reel Zombies: DVD Review

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Reel Zombies (2008)

by Troy Howarth

reel

Directed by Michael Masters and David J. Francis

Starring Michael Masters, David J. Francis, Stephanie Hawkins, Stephen Papadimitrou, Sam Hall, Paul Fler, Andrew Fruman, Steve Curtis, Lloyd Kaufmann

A no-budget, no-talent film crew sets out to make a zombie film; the gimmick: they’re using real zombies…

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This indie offering from writer/co-director Michael Masters and co-director David J. Francis is more of a spoof of the trials and tribulations involved in making low budget films, guerilla style, than a straight zombie film.  And thank goodness for that.  While the subgenre of zombie films has resulted in bona fide classics like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Jorge Grau’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead and John Gilling’s Plague of the Zombies, the market has become, shall we say, overcrowded with zombie films.  Even the granddaddy of the modern zombie film, Romero, has been painted into the corner of being able to make nothing but zombie films in recent years – and quite honestly, most fans are a little sick of it.  As such, Reel Zombies manages to have its cake and eat it, too: it’s a zombie film, all right, but it’s one that gets to poke fun at the tropes and clichés while focusing on something other than flesh munching and the like.

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The film is basically one long joke about the sleazier and less talented end of the low budget indie film scene – complete with cameo from Troma kingpin Lloyd Kaufmann, himself – but the problem is, it’s a joke that can only sustain itself for so long.  For every joke that really works – for example, an actor reacting with crocodile tears when a co-star dies, only to cheer up when it’s announced that this means that they will be getting a meatier role - there are an equal number which fail to come off.  The film is also burdened with a collection of characters who are so cynical and/or thick headed that it’s hard to really care about what happens to them.

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The cast enters into the spirit of things with enthusiasm but even at a lean 89 minutes, the film still feels padded and drawn out.  Zombie buffs will be disappointed to note that there’s relatively little zombie action on screen and gore effects are crude and kept to a minimum.  Ultimately, Zombie Reel falls under the heading of a harmless time-killer.  It doesn’t quite manage to properly explore (or exploit) its central concept, but it has enough smile-inducing moments to make it worth a look.  If nothing else, it’s at least preferable to sitting through the latest no-budget, no-inspiration Romero or Fulci knockoff.

Video:

Synpase brings Zombie Reel to DVD with this region free release.  The transfer is very satisfying.  The 1.78/16×9 image looks stable and colorful throughout.  This being a relatively new film - and shot digitally, to boot – it doesn’t suffer from any kind of print damage or age-related defects.  There are no mastering defects to report.

Audio:

The 2.0 stereo soundtrack is clean and easy on the ears.  Dialogue is clear and distinct, while music and sound effects have ample punch.  No subtitling or captioning options are included.

Extras:

Extras include approximately 40 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes, a trailer and a commentary by Masters, Francis and actor/co-producer Stephen Papadimitrou.  The cut scenes have some decent bits scattered throughout, but the film doesn’t lose anything from losing this material; the commentary is lively and full of production detail and trivia.

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

Video: **** out of *****

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

Extras: **** out of *****

Jess Franco On Blu Ray: Review of The Awful Dr. Orlof, Nightmares Come at Night, and A Virgin Among the Living Dead

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

An Appreciation by Troy Howarth

 

On April 2nd, 2013, Jess Franco (real name, Jesus Franco Manera) died at the age of 82.  For fans of his deeply idiosyncratic brand of cinema, it was a very dark day indeed.  Happily, the months following his passing have seen a number of his best films emerging on blu ray and DVD, sometimes for the first time in any “official” form.  Kino and Redemption first hopped on the Franco-in-HD bandwagon with Female Vampire (1973) and Exorcism (1974), but they have outdone themselves with their most recent trilogy of Franco titles.  For a company that has admittedly dropped the ball when it comes to presenting truly definitive editions of the films of Mario Bava, they are more than compensating with the love and attention they are giving to “Tio Jess.”

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962)

Starring Howard Vernon, Diana Lorys, Conrado San Martin, Perla Cristal, Maria Silva, Riccardo Valle

In an ill defined European city, a series of kidnappings involving street walkers has the police baffled.  In time, it is revealed that the women have been abducted by the deranged Dr. Orlof (Howard Vernon), who is attempting to graft their skin on to the horribly disfigured visage of his beloved daughter…

The Awful Dr. Orlof (aka Gritos en la noche) was Franco’s first international hit.  More than any other film in his filmography, it remained the most visible and popularly quoted – a fact which grated on the director’s nerves after a while.  For all its charms and innovations, this is ultimately a rather conservative and old fashioned film – and Franco himself would later dismiss it as a “museum piece.”  Truth be told, Franco was being a little harsh, but given his desire to explore his personal obsessions in more and more experimental fare, it’s easy to see why this film’s continued popularity would rankle him somewhat.  Regardless, The Awful Dr. Orlof also remains a “go to” title to prove to doubting dissenters that, yes indeed, Franco really could deliver a polished, well crafted film when he felt like it.

This is a film of many firsts for Franco – his first horror film, his first collaboration with the Swiss-American actor Howard Vernon (who would go on to ratchet up around 40 titles with the director), his first to introduce elements of kinky sexuality, etc.  If it lacks the sheer frisson of his most outré works, it still holds up as a lovably endearing throwback to the medical-themed horror films of the 1930s and 40s, many of which would cast Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff in the Vernon role.  Franco would later deny any connections to Georges Franju’s masterpiece Eyes Without a Face (1959), but this was likely his own little joke – the similarities are clear, and mention must also be made of the Bela Lugosi potboiler Dark Eyes of London (1939), which was based on a book by Edgar Wallace, and featured Lugosi as… Dr. Orloff.

With its elegant, refined black and white cinematography and atonal soundtrack, The Awful Dr. Orlof manages to mix the conservative with the over the top in a most enjoyable fashion.  It may not be Franco’s finest, most mature work – but it remains a solid starting point for anybody who is looking to explore the Franco universe.  Franco would continue to reference Dr. Orlof (later spelled as Orloff) in a series of progressively demented pictures, and his 1976 Swiss production of Jack the Ripper was basically a semi-remake, albeit with Klaus Kinski subbing for Vernon.

Nightmares Come at Night (1970)

Starring Diana Lorys, Paul Muller, Colette Jack, Soledad Miranda, Jack Taylor, Andre Montchall

A young woman (Diana Lorys) begins to blur reality with fantasy when her salacious and violent dreams begin spilling into reality….

Nightmares Come at Night was made while Franco took a breather from his heavy workload with writer/producer Harry Alan Towers.  The Towers films had afforded Franco (comparatively) lavish budgets and access to name stars, but the restrictions imposed upon his creativity caused the director to pine for a less structured environment.  Thus, Nightmares Come at Night – which the director largely financed himself – emerges as one of his most loose and improvisational outings.  It’s a film in which not very much actually happens – and for this reason, it is likely to be something of a litmus test for fans who may be on the fence when it comes to embracing his work.

Leading lady Diana Lorys had already played the damsel in distress in The Awful Dr. Orlof, but this is a very different proposition – she’s required to play many scenes completely or partially nude, and she’s at the center of much of the action.  A hastily grafted-on subplot involving a jewel robbery disrupts the mood somewhat, but the film offers up the type of lysergic, drugged out ambience that one associates with Franco’s most free spirited works.  Indeed, for a director whose work so often was labeled as drugged out and psychedelic, Franco himself was never much into the drug scene or its culture – he viewed it with distaste and disdain, and the times he referenced it explicitly tended to be through a heavy filter of irony.  Regardless, Nightmares is one spacey film – it contains long stretches in which nothing much happens… and yet, the combination of Franco’s obsessively probing camerawork and Bruno Nicolai’s alarmingly discordant soundtrack produces a weird dream state which can be most intoxicating.

The film isn’t necessarily in the top tier of Franco’s best realized work, but it does offer some set pieces which show him working at the top of his game – and Lorys gives a passionate, committed performance, making one regret that she populated so few of the director’s pictures.

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971)

Starring Christina Von Blanc, Britt Nichols, Anne Libert, Howard Vernon, Paul Muller, Jess Franco

Christina (Christina Von Blanc) is summoned to her father’s secluded mansion for the reading of his will; while there, she succumbs to strange fantasies…

This is one of the key titles in Franco’s imposing body of work.  It also remains one of the most heavily tampered-with.  Originally made as Night of the Shooting Stars, it was a dreamy, elegiac tone poem about death and mourning.  Franco was cognizant of the need to introduce commercial elements, so he wasted no opportunity getting his photogenic starlets (including Christina Von Blanc, Britt Nichols and Anne Libert) to strip down and show off their assets… but beyond this, it offered no violence, no overt horror and very little genuine eroticism.  The film was a flop, and the producers enlisted another director to add in some sexy inserts, rereleasing the film as Christina, Princess of Eroticism.  Years later, with the success of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), they decided to trot the film out once again – this time, hiring French genre auteur Jean Rollin to add in some new footage featuring the living dead and a young girl doubling none too convincingly for Von Blanc.  The end result of all this tinkering is that Franco’s director’s cut was lost to the mists of time.  Happily, an attempt at reconstructing the film was launched later on, and Franco would later say that this new edit – bearing the Christina title, but sold under the more commercial moniker of A Virgin Among the Living Dead – was about 90% of what he originally had in mind.  One can only regret the loss of that other 10%, as what we have left is unquestionably one of the finest, most imaginative films of Franco’s career.

The film was made after the death of Franco’s star discovery Soledad Miranda, a gifted Spanish actress who graduated from playing supporting roles to carrying such essential Franco titles as Eugenie De Sade (1970) and Vampyros Lesbos (1970).  Miranda was killed in a car crash, aged 27, and the devastated filmmaker sought to come to grips with the emotions he was feeling by making this particular film.  The end result is unlike anything else in his filmography, even if it is recognizably a part of his overall cinematic vision.  The film’s melancholy fixation on death and dying anticipates Mario Bava’s brilliant Lisa and the Devil (1972), another masterpiece of “EuroCult” cinema which suffered terribly from post production tinkering which nearly deprived audiences of the filmmaker’s original vision.  There’s also a droll line of dark humor evident in the film, especially in the performance and characterization of Franco himself, who casts himself as a moronic handyman who may know more than he is letting on about the strange residents of the secluded mansion.

The final impact is underscored most effectively by Bruno Nicolai’s exceptional soundtrack.  It’s one of the gifted composer’s finest works and works perfectly in tandem with Franco’s impressionistic visuals.  The camerawork mixes Franco’s typically chaotic, zoom-happy camerawork with some effective, roving shots, and there are many striking and beautifully composed images to admire throughout.  Viewers with little patience for slow pacing and elliptical storytelling may want to pass this by – indeed, they may want to just bypass Franco altogether! – but for those with the patience and disposition to appreciate what the director has on his mind, A Virgin Among the Living Dead is part of a select group of Franco’s films which manage to completely transcend whatever production imperfections are on display; it remains one of his finest, most beautifully rendered work.

Video:

Kino/Redemption have remained true to their policy of not subjecting these films to extensive restoration.  The print elements are in good shape on the whole, however, and while there is ample dirt and splicing on display, it can be said that this approach is preferable to the trend displayed by other companies towards digitally scrubbing the detail away from the image.  Of the three films – all presented in 1.66/16×9/1080p – it’s ironic to note that the “best photographed” of them looks the worst.  Dr. Orlof’s image ranges from the dull to the sharp, and it’s hard to say whether this is a product of the original photography or if the elements used for this transfer simply weren’t up to par. The image is never so muddy as Kino/Redemption’s release of Bava’s Black Sunday, but one would have hoped for a better, sharper presentation than this.  Nightmares looks remarkably good for a film that was long considered lost – there are obvious imperfections in the elements (including a tear printed on the left hand side of the frame, which is visible throughout) but much of it looks sharp and detailed.  The imperfections are present in the original photography, as this was a very cheap film, shot on the fly in often less-than-optimal conditions.  Virgin looks better than ever before – again, the print shows signs of wear and tear, but the colors are vivid, and the increased detail is obvious to anybody who has revisited the old PAL-sourced Image DVD release.

Audio:

All three films are presented in their original French language, with removable English subtitles, or in the inferior English dubs.  The English dub on Orlof is of interest as it preserves Vernon’s vocal performance, but his voice is also present on the French track – and it truly comes off so much better in that language.  Some hissing is evident here and there on all three tracks, but overall the tracks – especially the French ones – are in good condition.

Extras:

All three films are stuffed to the gills with great bonus materials.  All three are kitted out with audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, and all three have additional featurettes, as well.  “Jess! What are you doing now?” is a nicely produced tribute to the late director, with friends and admirers hypothesizing on how Franco is getting on in the afterlife; this is presented as a bonus on all three films.  Orlof and Virgin both have interviews with Franco – some of the last the director ever granted… and seeing him looking frail but still fiery about the cinema he loved so much can’t help but be a bittersweet experience.  All three films have featurettes on the making of the films, with various contributors providing insight into Franco’s process.  A featurette on the restoration of Nightmares is also included on that film, thus enabling the producers to explain some of the defects evident in the transfer.  The scholarly liner notes written for the back cover are marred only by the misidentification of Jack Taylor (who plays a different role than the one cited) in Nightmares Come at Night.  Trailers are also included, and Virgin includes not only the “90% director’s cut” of that film, but also the “zombified” version with Jean Rollin inserts, and five minutes of sexy inserts not shot by Franco, which are included as deleted scenes.

Film:

Awful Dr. Orlof: *** out of *****

Nightmares Come at Night: *** out of *****

Virgin Among the Living Dead: ****1/2 out of *****

Video:

Awful Dr. Orlof: **1/2 out of *****

Nightmares Come at Night: *** out of *****

Virgin Among the Living Dead: ***1/2 out of *****

Audio: *** (all three films)

Extras: ***** (all three films)