Thursday, July 20, 2017

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (Blue Underground Blu-ray Review)


Italy/1996
Directed By: Dario Argento
Written By: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Starring: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi
Color/119 Minutes/Not Rated
Region FREE
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Blu-ray/2x DVD

The Film
There's no shortage of great films in Dario Argento's filmography. While he did not invent the giallo he is certainly one of the main reasons the genre rose to prominence in Italy during the early to mid 1970s. Half of the maestro's output fits in to the giallo genre and he has made at least one in every decade since he began directing films with the exception of our current decade, though he does have one in the works titled The Sandman. The popularity of gialli began declining in the late 70s giving way to more gore oriented horror films (not that gialli didn't have their fair share of gore) but Argento found ways keep his gialli fresh enough that they worked even when the genre wasn't in vogue. By 1996 horror and what was popular in the genre was very different from when Dario Argento directed his debut feature film The Bird With The Crystal Plumage in 1970 and the giallo was a mostly forgotten part of horror and Italian film history but Argento was able to craft a film centered around a beautiful protagonist who played the tough role of a police detective but who was also quite fragile and flawed and blended psychological horror, bloody violence and the giallo to create one of the best horror films of the 1990s.

Asia Argento stars as Anna Manni, a beautiful police detective on the case of a serial rapist and murderer named Alfredo. She follows a tip that the killer will be at an art museum at a specific time and while there Manni falls victim to the Stendhal Syndrome, a real disorder that causes adverse physical and psychological reactions when viewing pieces of art of great significance. Manni faints, smashing her lip on a ledge and her purse spills out across the floor, including her gun. She's helped to her feet and back to her apartment when she realizes her gun is missing. Soon after Manni is attacked and raped by Alfredo but escapes with her life. Eventually the two encounter each other again as Manni is abducted by Alfredo but is able to turn the tide on his attacks and badly injures him and kicking him into a river. The police believe Alfredo to be dead but Anna begins receiving phone calls from Alfredo when she meets a young French man named Marie who she falls in love with. Anna's world quickly spirals out of control and everyone closer to her including her psychologist and Marie are in grave danger.


THE STENDHAL SYNDROME is a giallo based in the psychological horror and thriller world but also takes cues from the rape/revenge exploitation films such as I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House On The Left at times. Anna's moment of vengeance against Alfredo is a powerful one that will leave you cheering her as she leaves him a bloody mess. This is Anna's first moment of overcoming everything she had taken from her by him earlier in the film. Sadly that isn't to last as the terror starts again and she again has everything ripped away from her. Asia Argento's character is written in three stages. She stats out as a feminine police officer with long hair, a skirt and attractive blouse. It's immediately evident that her confidence and femininity is taken from her after the initial rape as she chops her hair off in the hospital leaving a more masculine look complete with baggy pants and oversized flannel shirts. There comes a moment when you can see that she wants to reinvent herself, she begins wearing a long blonde wig and finding a new interest in art which is how she meets Marie while shopping for art prints. It's no coincidence that art again plays a major role in her transformation as she is still deeply affected by it but now, at least on the surface, she loves it and surrounds herself with it, even creating her own paintings.

Anna Manni was a brave role to take on. Obviously the physicality and mental suffering the character is exposed to will take its toll. A rape scene is never fun to play and being involved in multiple such sequences only multiplies the intensity of the experience. It goes even deeper for Asia Argento who portrays a character that was named for her sister Anna who died in a motorcycle accident shortly before production began on THE STENDHAL SYNDROME. While this probably doesn't affect your on screen performance I can only imagine that it would be a little voice in the back of your head telling you that you have to do your best in a tribute to your sibling and that can be an emotional weight to bear. Thomas Kretschmann co-stars opposite Asia Argento as Alfredo. Kretschmann had previously appeared in La Reine Margot (1994) with Asia Argento and the pair would reunite for Dario again in 2012's Dracula 3D as the infamous Dracula and Lucy. Kretschmann has had a long and successful Hollywood career for good reason - He's a fine actor and he shows it here. He has limited screen time but is effectively menacing and brutalizing. The perfect mix for a nasty serial rapist and murderer.


Dario Argento wrote the majority of the film with only changes in small details such as Manni being a cop instead of a lawyer being made by co-writer Franco Ferrini. Argento's story and script are gripping and have just a touch of that "what the fuck?" aspect that gave so many gialli their identity. The reveal of the killer's identity is bloody and gruesome but also emotional and heartfelt. Argento's style is on display here with locations reminiscent of 1985's Phenomena and using locations across various Italian cities to give a natural cityscape and maze of streets and alleyways. The scene of Anna entering a painting and crossing through a waterfall is a beautiful image that you could read into her washing herself of her previous traumas that is juxtaposed against a film full of intense violence. There's a mix of practical effects which smear bloody reds across the screen numerous times but he also mixes in CGI effects for the first time in his career for effects such as paintings melting, scenes of a pill following the esophageal tract and a bullet penetrating flesh. These effects are badly dated and stick out like a sore thumb. I admire what Argento was going for on two out of the three (I don't see the purpose of the pill swallowing scene) and in 1996 we'd judge these effects much less harshly but bad effects are bad effects. Thankfully Argento doesn't rely too heavily on this new found "toy" and keeps things grounded with practical storytelling techniques.

A discussion on THE STENDHAL SYNDROME would not be complete without mention of the brilliant score done by the legendary Ennio Morricone who has worked with Argento five of his films, most recently 1998's Phantom Of The Opera though it had been nearly 25 years between collaboration for Argento and Morricone who prior to STENDHAL hadn't worked together since Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971). Morricone's theme on THE STENDHAL SYNDROME elicits an emotional response from the viewer, with a dark and almost sad string movement accompanying a haunting woman's vocal cries of "la la la". It is the perfect piece to pair up to Anna Manni's dark journey.


THE STENDHAL SYNDROME gets lumped in to a period of time where fans have harshly critiqued Argento's output often saying he was on the decline or going as far to say that his films were not good by this point. I have to harshly disagree with both of those opinions. Not only do I feel Argento was still putting out very good films in the 90s (Trauma is vastly underrated, even more than STENDHAL) but I feel THE STENDHAL SYNDROME not only fits right in with the classic giallo films of the 70s but is among the best horror films of the 90s. It blends graphic violence with psychological horror and mystery very well while giving us a lead we can immediately get behind and care about all wrapped up in a stylish package that while flawed at times is really quite well made. It's time to for audiences to stop judging THE STENDHAL SYNDROME on what it isn't and appreciate what it is.

The Audio & Video
Blue Underground has delivered what I consider to be the definitive version of THE STENDHAL SYNDROME on home video. Their brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative shines in the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are crisp and vibrant, while detail levels are high. Skin tones are natural and not waxy. The overall picture is quite sharp and suffers from only the rare imperfection dealing with artifacting. There are several audio options available including a 7.1 DTS-HD mix, a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX mix and a 2.0 DTS-HD mix all in English or Italian with optional English subtitles. French and Spanish subtitles are also available. The sound quality is rich, letting Ennio Morricone's score envelop you while never interfering or overpowering the dialogue. The levels are mixed brilliantly and I didn't find anything in the way of background noise or damage while watching the film. It's an extremely pleasant listening experience. This is a noticeable step up from Blue Undergrounds previous 2008 Blu-ray release of the film.

NOTE: The screen grabs do NOT represent the new 2K restoration picture quality


The Extras
The previous Blu-ray release of THE STENDHAL SYNDROME had a healthy selection of special features but this new limited edition release blows it away by porting over all of the old extras and introducing some brand new material as well spread across two discs.

Disc 1 Special Features:
-Audio commentary with Troy Howarth, author of the giallo film book series So Deadly, So Perverse
-"Three Shades Of Asia" - 20 minute+ interview with Asia Argento
-"Prisoner Of Art" - Interview with co-writer Franco Ferrini
-"Sharp As A Razor" - Interview with special effects artist Franco Casagni
-Theatrical Trailer
-Poster and Still Gallery

Disc 2 Special Features:
-Interview with Director Dario Argento
-Inspiration: Interview with Psychological Consultant Graziella Magherini
-Interview with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti
-Interview with assistant director Luigi Cozzi
-Interview with Production Designer Massimo Antonello Greleng

Also included is a booklet with a brand new essay by author Michael Gingold


The Bottom Line
THE STENDHAL SYNDROME film is a powerful mix of psychological thriller, horror and giallo and is deserving of being revisited by its harsher critics and there's no better way to watch this later Argento classic than this new Blu-ray from Blue Underground.

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME is available HERE

Monday, July 17, 2017

RAWHEAD REX 4K Restoration Trailer and Poster


The fine folks at Kino Lorber have done God's work and restored RAWHEAD REX, the cult classic film written by Clive Barker and based on one of his short stories, in 4K. This film has long been sought after by horror fans and fans of schlocky "what the fuck did I just watch" films alike. It hasn't seen a release domestically since the days of VHS and collector's have driven the price of those tapes up drastically and the region 2 DVD releases it received weren't much of an upgrade over the old analog releases we were left with here in the States.

That is all in the past and we get to see director George Pavlou's rubber suit opus of an ancient Irish demon in glorious 4K resolution. And that's not all as Kino has set this thing up for theatrical exhibitions as well. Click HERE for more information on the restoration and for booking inquiries for. And for now check out the new 4K restoration trailer (it's stunning!)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Memories Of A Legend: Saying Goodbye To George Romero

News broke earlier today that George A. Romero, the creator of the modern zombie with his timeless film Night Of The Living Dead, passed away at the age of 77 from lung cancer. That news not only hit me hard but it hit the entire horror community hard. I didn't need to take a look at my Facebook feed which was filled with friends, acquaintances and people I only know as an picture of someone that isn't them on a computer screen sharing their memories and feelings about Mr. Romero's passing, all very similar to the same memories and feelings that I have.


George Romero seemingly broke ground with each new film he made for a time and was never short on poignant and important commentary within his films. His films were not only means of entertainment, which they were, or means to scare you, which they did, but they were intended to make the viewer to take a step back and come out with a better version of themselves. From casting a black man in the lead in Night Of The Living Dead to commenting on the frightening power of addiction in Martin, to the commentary on consumerism and capitalism in Dawn Of The Dead. It is an injustice that Romero's films are rarely looked at beyond being horror films, even if they're considered "great" horror films, there is a stigma to horror where it is viewed as less of an art form. That is a great injustice to George Romero who is an artist in the truest sense of the word. He refused the standard studio system of filmmaking for many of his films even if it meant a smaller budget and tighter production.

I had my first chance to meet George Romero about a decade ago, forgive me if I don't remember exactly which year it was, at a horror convention called Horrorfind Weekend. This particular event was being held in College Park, Maryland a bit outside of Washington D.C. but I saw he had a line that was about half an hour long so I decided to come back later in the day. Later in the day the line was significantly longer and I was tired so I said to myself "next time". I regretted not waiting in that half hour line for years as that wait really isn't too bad at a horror convention for an absolute legend of the genre. That regret would follow me for years as I had a couple more opportunities to meet the man but this time at a more popular and busy show which had lines extending 2 or 3 hours. I decided not to wait in those lines either. Then a few years ago a rumor circulated that Mr. Romero was retiring from the convention circuit due to problems with his hand that made signing autographs difficult. I was lucky though because shortly after that announcement he was actually being announced for more appearances and in October 2015 George was signing at Monster Mania Convention just a short 20 minute drive from me in Hunt Valley, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. I finally got to meet George and picked a poster of Martin, my favorite of his films and a film that is vastyl underrated and overlooked in his filmography. George was incredibly friendly and warm, and my choice of poster brought a smile to his face and we talked about Martin briefly. He mentioned how much he loved making it and that he doesn't get to sign too many autographs for it. And now less than two years later he's passed away having lived 77 years filled with creativity, love, and art but I will miss him. I will miss hearing of new projects that he's working on that may or may not ever come to fruition (please let Road Of The Dead happen now as one last Romero hurrah) and I'll miss seeing his genuine smile and huge signature glasses in all of the pictures he takes with fans.


                                                       George and I


Cinema has lost a legend today and not just horror. George Romero's importance to the art form of movie making transcends genre and it is a crime that his legacy was not more widely regarded outside of the horror community while he was alive. Horror fans certainly let him know how important he was though and he definitely felt that love. If you've ever heard the saying "Don't meet your heroes" ignore that. Sure, some of them might let you down but if I listened to that, or if I kept procrastinating I would never have met George Romero and I would have cheated myself of a moment and memory I cherish. Let them know you appreciate their work and the genuine ones will make it worth your time. George did.

I wish I could say something more poignant or gripping or important but I didn't know the man personally. Our meeting was made up of no more than two minutes among a long line of people that would have a similar meeting with him but if this is to be my lasting tribute to an important film maker that I am a shameless fan of than I'm glad to share my memories of the man and briefly discuss  the importance of his contributions. Now go watch Martin, for George.

                                             George A. Romero 1940-2017


Saturday, July 15, 2017

THE DARK TAPES (2017) (DVD Review - Epic Pictures)


USA/2016
Directed By: Michael McQuown, Vincent J. Guastini
Written By: Michael McQuown
Starring: Cortney Palm, Brittany Underwood, Aral Gibble
Color/98 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: Available Now

The Film
THE DARK TAPES is a found footage anthology film based around the idea of proving the existence of creatures that we can only see during our REM sleep cycle, when we're at our deepest sleep. This segment is called "To Catch A Demon" and serves as the main wraparound for the film and something we come back to intermittently between segments. The story itself isn't incredibly long and really didn't need to be broken up but I can see and understand why they used it as a tool as such. I think the best parts of this segment are at the end when they finally show the goods we've been waiting for. Up until the appearance of these creatures it's feels quite pedestrian and familiar.

"The Hunters And The Hunted" is the first solo story to play out entirely in one shot and it was something that left me wanting more. The story starts out with a newly married couple facing strange things in their new home. Doors slamming, furniture shifting, physical encounters with these seemingly paranormal inhabitants. Call in the paranormal investigators and we're all set up for the painfully cliche Paranormal Activity style jump scare snooze fest. And then the story spins a most welcomed 180 and drastically turns the whole thing on its head. Without spoiling it I can say it not only saved the segment but left me wanting more of it. I think this was something that could be used as a set up for a feature length film using this story. It's flawed but I really liked where it ended up.

"Cam Girls" is next and sets up a pair of attractive roommates who run a sexy webcam show for money. They decide to give Gerry, a frequent viewer and all around nice, but very shy guy, a free show. This ends up feeling longer than it is and ends up being quite predictable and aside from one interesting moment in the background I think was a bit of a waste, despite some solid acting. This leads us to the final segment "Amanda's Revenge" which I think is the best production from start to finish as a totally enclosed product. The acting and characters drive this one as we are finally given characters to care about and they're well rounded and very likable. Amanda is forced to deal with strange unseen forces that torment her at night after a very traumatic event at a party. This helps Amanda unlock the deeper and greater powers of her mind but could also prove the existence of some beings that she'd rather not see. The effects in this one get a bit bonkers at the end and I really enjoyed it. This is another entry that could have benefited from a longer runtime and budget to give those effects a stronger presence and look less processed.

Found footage films remain a staple in the horror genre because they require less in the way of crew and equipment in most cases. They can be made cheaper than traditional films and even using lower quality equipment can easily be worked in to the story itself and remain believable. The sub genre has seen its ups and downs since its inception but the entries into the sub genre of late tend to be stale retreads that are far from exciting and new. THE DARK TAPES may not shy away from many of the found footage tropes but it does try to play with some of them in ways that we don't often see and even if it was an uneven film with ideas that were better than their execution it was nice to see something different out of a found footage film.

The Audio & Video
Epic Pictures releases THE DARK TAPES with a nice looking and sounding DVD. The anamorphic widescreen transfer has deep black levels of which there are many, a strong color palette and a solid overall sharpness and clarity. The 5.1 surround audio mix comes through loud and clear with no background noise or damage. Levels are steady throughout.

The Extras
Special features include being able to individually select a tape to watch and the original trailer.

The Bottom Line
THE DARK TAPES is a noble attempt at making a better found footage horror film that I don't think lives up to its potential. I recommend the film to found footage addicts as I think there's a lot they'll like either way.

THE DARK TAPES is available HERE

Friday, July 14, 2017

Comet TV July Giveaway and "Godzilla Get-down"!

Another month and another awesome lineup (and giveaway!) from the fine folks at Comet TV - check out the info below for the schedule and how to enter to win the cool prize pack. 

I hope you’re feeling Con-tastic because it’s July and you know what that means… It’s Convention season!
To celebrate the madness and fun of convention season, we’ve put together an awesome Con Survival Kit! It’s the perfect thing to get you prepared to tackle any convention! Whether you’re heading down to the madness of San Diego, checking out the Disney adventures in Anaheim, or just getting ready for the multitudes of conventions this summer our Con Survival Kit will get you prepared for anything.


The Con Survival Kit includes:
1 Limited Edition Comet Cosplay Shirt - It doesn’t matter if you dress up as an out of this world creature or just head down to your favorite convention in street attire, our limited edition Comet Cosplay shirt will help you make a statement.
1 Comet 2GB USB Lanyard - You need something to hold your badge in place, heck it might have taken blood sweat and tears to get it! This isn’t just an ordinary lanyard though, it’s also a 2GB USB drive, perfect for holding music, photos and anything else you can fit on there!
1 Collapsable Flexi Water Bottle - I… Crave… Water… You know you’re going to be practically parched running from panel to panel but fear not! We have the perfect flexi bottle to keep you safe and hydrated. Ah… It makes you feel better already doesn’t it?
2 Granola Bars - Look, we all need a little bit of a pick me up right? We have a couple bars to keep your inner Godzilla at bay and a smile on your face!


Also, don’t forget about The Godzilla Get Down airing on Comet TV in July! Some rip roaring Godzilla Goodness is about to take over Comet TV!
Check out the full list and the embeddable gifs to share below. If you don’t mind mentioning it in your giveaway post and include some of the embeddable assets that would be awesome!

TO ENTER
1. Email celluloidterror@yahoo.com and include your full name and address
2. Tell me your favorite movie from Comet TV’s Godzilla Get-Down lineup shown belown
3. Tell me your favorite thing about going to conventions

Giveaway open to the U.S. 
Winner will be selected on July 28! 


About COMET TV - July 2017
GODZILLA GET DOWN has arrived! In one of our BIGGEST programming events ever, COMET will be airing two classic Godzilla movies back-to-back every single Saturday in July.

Rodan (1956) 
Saturday, July 8 at 10P/9C
Godzilla: King of Monsters (1956) 
Saturday, July 8 at MIDNIGHT/11C
Mothra VS. Godzilla (1964) 
Saturday, July 15 at 10P/9C
Ghidorrah: Three Headed Monster (1964) 
Saturday, July 15 at MIDNIGHT/11C
Godzilla VS. Monster Zero (1964) 
Saturday, July 22 at 10P/9C
Godzillas Revenge (All Monsters Attack) (1969) 
Saturday, July 22 at MIDNIGHT/11C
Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) 
Saturday, July 29 at 10P/9C
Gojira (1954) 
Saturday, July 29 at MIDNIGHT/11C
----------------
Soylent Green (1973) 
Friday, July 14 at 8P/7C 
Saturday, July 15 at 8P/7C 
Sunday, July 23 at 4P/3C 
Friday, July 28 at 10P/9C
Marooned (1969) 
Friday, July 7 at 8P/7C 
Saturday, July 8 at 7P/6C 
Sunday, July 16 at 4P/3C 
Monday, July 24 at 6P/5C
Rain of Fire (AKA Holocaust 2000) (1977) 
Friday, July 21 at 8P/7C 
Saturday, July 22 at 8P/7C 
Wednesday, July 26 at 6P/5C 
Sunday, July 30 at 4P/3C
Sometimes They Come Back (1991) 
Friday, July 28 at 8P/7C 
Saturday, July 29 at 8P/7C 

Sunday, July 30, at 2P/1C

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Killing Ground LA Premiere Pics


KILLING GROUND recently had its LA premiere in a very cool outdoor screening with appearances from the cast and crew. Below are a few shots from the event.




SYFY Films To Relesae REALIVE

SYFY FILMS RELEASES ‘REALIVE’ 


In Theaters September 29 and on VOD and Digital HD October 3
NEW YORK, NY – July 12, 2017 – Syfy Films today announces the release of the upcoming sci-fi film REALIVE, in theaters on September 29 and on VOD and Digital HD on October 3.  The film is written and directed by Mateo Gil (“Vanilla Sky,” “The Sea Inside”). The cast includes Tom Hughes (“About Time,” “London Town”), Charlotte Le Bon (“The Walk,” “The Hundred-Foot Journey”), Oona Chaplin (“Taboo,” “Game of Thrones”) and Barry Ward (“The Fall,” “The Journey,”). REALIVE premiered at the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal followed by official selections of the FrightFest Film Festival in the U.K. and Sitges International Film Festival in Spain.

In REALIVE, Marc Jarvis (Tom Hughes) is diagnosed with a disease and given a short time to live. Unable to accept his own end, he decides to freeze his body. 60 years later, in the year 2084, he becomes the first cryogenically frozen man to be revived in history. Marc discovers a startling future, but the biggest surprise is that his past has accompanied him in unexpected ways.
REALIVE is produced by Ibon Cormenzana and Ignasi Estapé of Arcadia Motion Pictures, in coproduction with Jérôme Vidal of Noodles. Marina Fuentes of Dreamcatchers acted as associate producer. 
For more information on the film, please visit https://www.facebook.com/RealiveMovie/
About Syfy

SYFY is a global, multiplatform media brand that gives science fiction fans of all kinds a universe to call home. Celebrating the genre in all its forms, SYFY super-serves passionate fans with original science fiction, fantasy, paranormal and superhero programming, live event coverage and imaginative digital and social content. The brand is powered by SYFY Wire (www.syfywire.com), the premier portal for breaking genre news, insight and commentary. SYFY is a network of NBCUniversal, one of the world's leading media and entertainment companies. NBCUniversal is a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.