Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sweetwater (DVD Review)

Directed By: Logan Miller
Written By: Logan Miller, Noah Miller
Starring: January Jones, Jason Isaacs, Ed Harris
Color/95 Minutes/Rated R
Region 1

The Film
In the late 1800s Sarah Ramirez (January Jones), a former prostitute, has a new life growing crops with her new husband Miguel (Eduardo Noriega). Despite some lean times they're happy and peaceful until a dispute with their only neighbor, the Prophet Josiah (Jason Isaacs) leaves Miguel dead. Sarah deals with her husband's death until she is pushed too far and blazes a trail of blood across the town for everyone who has used her, judged her or wronged her and it is up to the new sheriff Cornelius Jackson (Ed Harris) to find out who is behind the killings and why. 

SWEETWATER is the latest in the line of the recent on-going western movie renaissance which has given us quite a few fine films such as The Proposition and the remake of 3:10 To Yuma. SWEETWATER stands among them on its own feet. Director Logan Miller, in only his second time in the director's chair, gives us a heart felt piece of vigilante justice with love at its core. January Jones performance in the lead role, along with the rest of the supporting cast, are fantastic and carry the simplistic script that we've seen done before and make it something special. There's nothing wrong with simple ideas that have been done before but the film making team has to do something to make it stand apart and they've done so here. Jason Isaacs is extremely unlikeable as the Prophet who is a total dickhead and truly believes he has the word of God guiding him while we are rooting for Jones to find the peace and solitude she was robbed of.

The CGI blood bothered me. It is no secret that I hate CGI blood and would much prefer practical effects be used. The repeated use of CGI gunshot wounds and blood spray look pretty terrible and for a split secnod take me out of the film. It isn't a good thing to be taken out of the movie to think "man, those effects are bad". Fortunately the movie is strong and doesn't need to rely on the effects for merit. This is a good, almost great modern western that I'll certainly be revisiting again.  

The Audio & Video
Unfortunately for me, Arc Entertainment provided me with the DVD version of the film and not the blu-ray because I'd have loved to see SWEETWATER in HD. As it is the region 1 DVD looks good with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There are some vibrant colors present such as Sarah's purple dress, but the film is largely set in overcast exteriors and darkly lit interiors. The black levels are handled with ease and there's no problems to really speak of. The 5.1 Dolby Digital is more than capable of handling the soundtrack and dialogue mix. There isn't anything in the film to really push the limits of your receiver but everything sounds good and is crisp and clear. 

The Extras
You wouldn't know it judging by the DVD packaging but there are some special features present on the disc. The first and most important feature is a brief 10 and a half minute "making of" that features interviews and moments with just about all of the main cast members and the Miller brothers. Brief but enjoyable. There's also a trailer for the film and an option to listen to the song heard in the closing credits in its entirety. 


The Bottom Line 
A familiar plot with a great cast. It isn't the best western of the 21st century but it is quite good and is worthy of a purchase. 

SWEETWATER is available HERE 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Voodoo Possession (DVD Review) - Image Entertainment

Directed By: Walter Boholst
Written By: Walter Boholst
Starring: Ama Amoafo-Yeboah, Devante Bell, Tomas Boykin
Color/94 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1 

The Film
Sometimes good horror films get stuck with painfully generic titles by their producers. I don't know if this is good for business because when I see these movies with these basic titles that sound like a million other straight-to-video movies I immediately think of how bad it probably is. Once in a great while you may be surprised that the movie is actually good despite it's lame ass title. That is not the case with VOODOO POSSESSION. Hell, even the title screen tried to make it a little better by calling it A VOODOO POSSESSION but no, the official title dopes the A and becomes just that much more boring. 

A cheaply made story about a bunch of young unlikable turds of a news crew travels to Haiti to find out what happened to an American doctor who went down there to help after a devastating earthquake and disappeared with all of the donation money. The crew includes his estranged brother who was blamed by the doctor for their mother's death. While their they learn that these patients may not be sick or injured, but under a voodoo spell, possessed by spirits. The further they dig into this lead the deeper they into Haitian voodoo hell they find themselves until they can't turn back. 

Good lord what a flaming pile of dog shit. In fact, I'd rather have had to deal with a flaming bag of dog shit outside my door than watch this. The writing is atrocious, uninspired soap opera dreck and the entire cast fails. They just plain fail. Even Danny Trejo, who despite having his name plastered on the DVD cover gets about 5 minutes of screen time, couldn't have gone through the motions any lazier. If he had they'd have a hologram of him like they did for Tupac. In fact, that would have probably been better. If Trejo wasn't reading his lines off a cue card while seeing them for the first time I'd be surprised. The effects are something you'd see out of Windows Movie Maker, the scares are nonexistent and there is nothing redeeming to this film at all. There are some great films about voodoo that get the atmosphere, the terror and the Haitian culture right, The Serpent And The Rainbow obviously comes to mind immediately... this is no Serpent and this is no Rainbow.

The Audio & Video
The DVD from Image Entertainment is okay. The movie seems to have been shot with cheaper cameras so it isn't going to look great no matter what the DVD authoring did. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is fine, it won't blow you away but it is clear of any hiccups. The majority of the film is in dark and dimly lit hospital areas and the disc handles the black levels fine. The audio fares just as well, it won't blow you away but there's no background noise, no pops, crackling or hissing. Dialogue comes through loud and clear and the score is mixed well in this 5.1 Dolby Digital track. 

The Extras
A Behind-The-Scenes featurette is the lone feature on the disc. 

The Bottom Line
You can take a pass on this one.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Whip And The Body (Blu-ray Review) - Kino

Directed By: Mario Bava
Written By: Ernesto Gastaldi, Ugo Guerra, Luciano Martino
Starring: Christopher Lee, Daliah Lavi
Color/87 Minutes/Not Rated
Region A

The Film
Daliah Lavi stars as Navenka, the beautiful woman tortured by Kurt Menliff (Christopher Lee), who returns home to his castle at the dismay of everyone else there. After he's found dead the torment continues as Menliff's spirit is vengeful and full of anger. 

The surface level plot of  THE WHIP AND THE BODY isn't anything you haven't heard before. It is the subconcious, the atmosphere, the sadomasochism that the film is steeped in that make it special. The gorgeous photography and excellent staging that make it one of Bava's best films. Christopher Lee is excellent as the Count and Daliah Lavi is so gorgeous and tormented that you feel awful for her, despite how much it drives her actions. THE WHIP AND THE BODY is possibly Mario Bava's cruelest film but it is also one of his most beautiful. This is truly one of the best horror films of the 1960s, a decade filled with incredible horror films.

The Audio & Video
Kino Classics deliver THE WHIP AND THE BODY on Blu-ray for the film's first ever treatment in HD. The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer keeps the film's original aspect ratio in tact and it looks gorgeous. Skin tones are natural and healthy while the colorful lighting and gorgeous gothic castle setting look incredible. Textures are detailed, black levels are deep and inky. The audio side of the disc fares just as well. With 3 separate audio tracks available, English, Italian with English subs and French with English subs. I prefer the English track as there was no live sound recorded and all of the actors were speaking English, either naturally or phonetically, on set The only downside is that another actor was used for Christopher Lee's voice.

Please Note: Images do NOT represent Blu-ray quality

The Extras
Extra features include an older commentary track from Tim Lucas that was ported over from the old VCI DVD release. Also included is the theatrical trailer and several other Bava trailers. 

The Bottom Line
One of horror's greatest director's best films gets a fantastic looking and sounding Blu-ray. Do I really have to say that this one is essential? I shouldn't but I will. This Blu-ray from Kino is essential.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Vic - A Short Film By Sage Stallone

Directed By: Sage Stallone
Written By: Will Huston, Sage Stallone
Starring: Clu Gulager, Tom Gulager, Miriam Byrd-Nethery
Color/35 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1

The Film
Film is perhaps the most powerful medium of art. At least it is for me, quite easily. No other form of creative nature moves me the way movies do. The emotional response I get from movies, from Ingmar Bergman to Troll 2, is something I cherish. From tears and sorrow to laughter and joy movies move me. And it doesn't always take a 3 hour sprawling epic to bring about the strongest emotional responses. Sometimes it happens in a 35 minute short film from a first time director. 

Vic Reeves (Clu Gulager) is an aging actor, long passed his prime struggling with day to day life. That is, bills, the search for work that he only finds in bit parts in low budget horror flicks, putting food on the table and in his beloved dog George's bowl and perhaps most of all, growing old. Vic receives a phone call late one night from a director, very interested in having him read for a part in a new film. Vic takes offense to the call as he hasn't had to read for a part in many years. The next day Vic finds a package on his doorstep containing the script, after reading the script and being moved to tears, partly from the script itself but more so that this was a real acting role and that someone had thought of him for it after such a long time, Vic calls the director and apologizes for his actions the night before and agrees to read for the part. While staring into the mirror, and at an old photo from his glory days, Vic becomes extremely unsettled by his advanced age and appearance. He walks George to the local store to buy some makeup and hair color but while inside George disappears. Completely distraught by his missing dog, Vic drives like a maniac to the audition where he has a complete meltdown in the meeting and all of his fears and feelings come pouring out. Vic returns home, sitting alone in the backyard, and night falls on the fading star. 

VIC is a moving piece of cinema. This would be Sage Stallone's sole directing credit of a narrative piece. This is 35 minutes of complete sadness as we are forced to sit in total helplessness as this sweet, proud man totally falls apart in front of us. Vic Reeves simply cannot deal with the later parts of the cycle of life and his world crumbles around him in a depressing tale of the last day's of a once beloved star's life. Art imitates life, and life becomes art. VIC proves it. 

The Audio & Video
The DVD of VIC looks absolutely fantastic. The crisp, clean picture is one of the nicer DVD presentations I have seen in some time. The audio is also strong, with no background noise or hiccups. While the film doesn't really push the boundaries in terms of visuals or sound direction, it handles what the film gives us perfectly. 

 The Extras
The main feature is a 15 minute+ interview that Sage Stallone conducted with Clu Gulager in 2009. This interview is touching and really gives us an in depth look into how Gulager feels about the film and what it means to him. Also included is a VIC montage, and cast/crew bios.

The Bottom Line
VIC is a fantastic film. One that I'm glad has finally received the wide release it deserves. Sage Stallone proved he was a more than capable director here as he captures Gulager's moving performance with excellent skill. This is a film you should see.

VIC is available HERE

Monday, December 23, 2013

Big Ass Spider (Blu-ray Review) - Epic Pictures

Directed By: Mike Mendez
Written By: Gregory Gieras
Starring: Greg Grunberg, Clare Kramer, Lombardo Boyar
Color/80 Minutes/PG-13
Region A

The Film
Cheesy, Syfy Channel quality movies have become all the rage of late. Whenever the newest one is released,whether on that specific channel, or to home video or even the rare trip the the theater, the internet explodes in all sorts of discussion, memes and love/hate for these movies. These movies are not fine art or high brow by any means. They are generally made on a low budget, with questionable CGI, ridiculous plots and hammy acting. Some of them gain cult movie status and are beloved by cheesy movie fans. With a title like BIG ASS SPIDER you already know what kind of movie you're in for... but does it suck? Or is it able to cross the line into "grab a beer and some friends and have a blast" territory?

When a local exterminator is bitten by a Brown Recluse spider he heads to the hospital for treatment. While there the mortician is bit by an unidentified spider, with nasty results. The exterminator works a deal to handle the hospital's problem in exchange for paying off his medical bill. It quickly becomes apparent that this spider is nothing he's ever seen. He teams up with Jose, the security guard who helps navigate him through the air ducts where he first catches a glimpse of this beast of a bug. While in the ducts a team of U.S. Army members comes in and takes control of the hospital. The spider escapes and the exterminator and the military are forced to join forces to stop this fast growing, murderous arachnid as he terrorizes downtown Los Angeles. 

BIG ASS SPIDER is a laugh riot. The exterminator Alex (Greg Grunberg) and Jose (Lombardo Boyar) are simply fantastic together. Their comedic timing is spot on and they seem like they're absolutely comfortable in their work together. Their effortless comedy really helps make the movie. Add in Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) as the Army Major and an appearance by Lin Shaye early on in the film and the cast really works. They're funny, and good. Better than you'd expect. Yes, the dialogue is corny and the movie itself is cheesy as fuck but director Mike Mendez and writer Gregory Gieras knew exactly what kind of movie they were making and played into its hands brilliantly. BIG ASS SPIDER is a chance to escape for 80 minutes, laugh, cheer and have a blast.   

The Audio & Video
The Blu-ray release of BIG ASS SPIDER from Epic Pictures looks and sounds great. The anamorphic widescreen transfer of this digitally filmed movie shines, as you'd expect. Yes, the CGI is a bit on the cheap side but it is better than most of these types of movie. The spider always looks decent, even when it is moving quickly. Beautiful L.A. weather allows for some gorgeous photography in the exterior scenes. The soundtrack sounds great as you'd expect with dialogue and music being mixed nicely and never having to compete with each other. Overall this is a very nicely produced disc.

Please Note: Images DO NOT represent Blu-ray quality

The Extras
On top of the movie, the disc features a solid lineup of extras including:
-Interviews with the cast
-SXSW Festival Featurette
-TV Spot
-Multiple trailers
-Additional featurettes with the stars and director

The Bottom Line
BIG ASS SPIDER lives up to it's name and potential of being a Goddamn blast. It is cheesy, funny and just plain fun. On top of the movie being great, the disc features some extra features that are also funny and entertaining. If you're a fan of cheesy Syfy Channel esque killer animal fare you're going to love BIG ASS SPIDER.

BIG ASS SPIDER is available HERE

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fanny Hill / The Phantom Gunslinger (Blu-ray Review) - Vinegar Syndrome

USA/1964, 1967
Directed By: Russ Meyer, Albert Zugsmith
Written By: John Cleland, Robert Hill, Blair Robertson, Albert Zugsmith
Starring: Leticia Roman, Ulli Lommel, Miriam Hopkins, Troy Donahue, Sabrina
B&W, Color/203 Minutes/Not Rated

The Films
Russ Meyer is best known for his love of women, more specifically, beautiful, big breasted women. He wasn't shy about it. He put them front and center of his films making them the stars. Whether it was a comedy, or a piece of exploitation he is known for his love of women and their boobies, without being a misogynist. FANNY HILL features some beautiful women, but this period comedy is a bit different than the likes of Supervixens and Faster Pussycat Kill Kill.

FANNY HILL is the story of a cute, shy girl named Fanny who has moved to the city from her country upbringing looking for employment. It doesn't take long for us to realize how naive this girl is. She seeks work and lodging at the local brothel where the den mother gets the idea that she can make a fortune off this fresh, untouched beauty. What ensues is a series of pretty damn funny slapstick, innuendo filled fun, while Fanny grows up and finds her true love. If nothing else FANNY HILL shows how good of a director Russ Meyer truly was. The sleepwalking chase scene is fantastic, as is Fanny's back and forth with an equally shy man who is looking for a women to sleep with that understands him. Beyond Meyer's direction, the performances are damn good, never crossing the line to being hammy or over the top which is incredibly easy when dealing with content and style such as this. This is a great little film that I'm amazed found its way to Blu-ray considering the strangle hold the Russ Meyer estate has over his films since his death. It is a crime, and while I can't say whether this film was part of the estate or not it is great to have some Russ Meyer material in HD.

If there is one thing in the world of film that I absolutely cannot stand it is hokey comedy westerns. I was never a fan of the western genre until I discovered the Italian productions that made the movies dirty, gritty and violent. There were no singing cowboys (which is the only thing this film is missing), there was no "injins" and there was no John Wayne. Oh how I hate John Wayne. THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER is pretty much everything I hate about the old American western wrapped up into a single package. There are the slow talking natives, the slapstick comedy routines (over and over and over) the jail with rubber bars, nonsensical and outlandish fight scenes, and an overall feeling of "try-hard" (if you don't know what that means, look it up). There were 2 things I got a laugh at, the banker character who is a caricature of Hitler (I'm a sucker for making fun of Hitler with random characters in films) and in that same scene a flask the size of a grown man's torso. I can handle a small dose of comedy in my westerns, the Euro westerns of the 70s did this and kept the movies quality. I cannot take heavy doses of ham fisted cornball writing. It is entirely possible if you're open to totally off the wall slapstick comedies that you'll enjoy this, I certainly see how one would. For me however, it is an attempt at a comedic western and that is something I just do not enjoy.

The Audio & Video
FANNY HILL's black and white photography shines on this Blu-ray presentation from Vinegar Syndrome. The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks great with excellent levels of detail in skin and textures along with deep, stable black levels. The audio is free of any background noise or popping, crackling or otherwise intrusive annoyances. 

For as much as I didn't care for the film, THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER looks fucking fantastic. The transfer keeps the integrity of the movie's shot on film look with a natural grain structure. It has been cleaned up a bit it seems but the image is far from waxy or overdone. This is a colorful film and the colors really pop. Whites never burn too hot and black levels are deep. If all westerns on Blu-ray looked this good we'd be in good shape. The DTS HD mono track sounds great. It comes across loud and clear without a trace of background noise. All of the bonks and bops of the fight scenes are pleasing on the ears.

The Extras
Bonus features on this 3 disc set include:
-"The Zugsmith Connection": featurette with FANNY HILL star Ulli Lommel
-Video interview with film historian Eric Schaefer
-Reversible cover art for THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER
-DVD copies of each film

The Bottom Line
Vinegar Syndrome has brought this pair of Albert Zugsmith productions together in a near pristine Blu-ray release. Perhaps more importantly is the fact that we get to see some of Russ Meyer's work in HD, something I wasn't expecting anytime soon. Despite my personal distaste for the 2nd film on the double feature, the very high overall quality of this release, and the quirky charm of FANNY HILL make this disc highly recommended. 


Monday, December 16, 2013

Bible! (DVD Review) - Vinegar Syndrome

Directed By: Wakefield Poole
Written By: Wakefield Poole
Starring: Bo White, Caprice Couselle, Georgina Spelvin
Color/76 Minutes/Not Rated
Region FREE

The Film
A nuclear explosion signifying the beginning. A fetus being formed. A naked man exploring a cave, emerging on to a beach. He collapses. A naked woman emerges from the sea like a siren temptress to the man. Wakefield Poole's BIBLE! has begun.

There has been no shortage of biblical stories being adapted for film. From The Ten Commandments to Passion Of The Christ, some of the most respected names in the business have worked on such films. None are quite like Wakefield Poole's BIBLE! though. BIBLE! is pure 1970s midnight theater, the more weed you've got to smoke the better, weirdness. Taking on three separate stories from the bible, Wakefield Poole creates a piece of work unlike anything I can think of. Largely absent of dialogue and having actors movements choreographed to music as many films from the silent era did, BIBLE! moves from scene to scene in a weird fever dream of mesmerizing nudity and color. From Adam and Eve to Bathsheba and even Samson and Delilah, we're exposed to sex, seduction, murder and infidelity (and much, much more). You need not be overly familiar with the source material, a very brief idea of the stories would suffice and really none at all and you'd be okay just to follow along with the images on screen that will surely make you dizzy with delight. How this didn't become some sort of cult phenomenon when it was released is beyond me.

The Audio & Video
Vinegar Syndrome has released this DVD of BIBLE! with a damn fine A/V presentation. The visuals play excellent job here. The dream like atmosphere is present in every color filled shot that looks solid with only such an important role in this film thanks to the almost complete lack of dialogue and VS has done an a bit of dirt and speckling from the original negative present. BIBLE! is presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The 2.0 audio track sounds great and comes across loud and clear. There's no background noise, cracks or pops to speak of. While there's very little dialogue there is an important classical music score that sounds great.

The Extras
BIBLE! features a nice array of special features including Myrrh, frankincense, and gold... actually not. But it does include:

-Audio commentary from the director
-Video introduction from the director
-Women Of BIBLE!: New interviews with Georgina Spelvin and Gloria Grant
-Emerald City Interview: Wakefield Poole talks about BIBLE on public access TV in 1977
-Screen tests
-Stills gallery
-Theatrical Trailer

 The Bottom Line
From the way the film caught me totally off guard to the fantastic presentation and a wonderful collection of special features, I have to recommend this to any fan of weird, midnight movies from the 70s.

BIBLE! is available HERE

Voices From Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1991) Director Of The Month Series 1.2

For the second week of Lucio Fulci month I decided to watch a film I recently purchased and had never seen. I've been cautious of Fulci's later films as frankly, they aren't well liked and aren't very good and I find those sentiments to ring true. I suppose I was cautiously optimistic that, maybe, just maybe, VOICES FROM BEYOND would help my overall opinion of Fulci's latter works. It didn't.

When a wealthy man dies a suspicious death from hemorrhaging, everyone around him is happy to see him go and to line their pockets with his money. Only his daughter Rosy still loves him and, with the help of her father's ghost, will discover the truth behind his death. What ensues is a lot of family drama, some corny and annoying voice over work from the ghost and one pretty damn cool scene that has nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie and ends up just being a dream sequence.

VOICES FROM BEYOND is lame, even by TV movie standards. It is impossibly slow, with wooden acting and a whole slew of unlikable characters. Hell, I'd go as far to say that the only interesting part aside from the one aforementioned dream sequence is the end credits which has a dedication from Fulci that reads "This film is dedicated to my few real friends, in particular to Clive Barker and Claudio Carabba." Now it is no secret that Fulci was difficult and unpleasant at times, more so than most other directors it seems but reading that dedication is sad in the fact that he seems very bitter in it and that the last years of his life weren't particularly nice to him, it seems that by the point this film had been made he was quickly becoming fed up and it shows in his work. VOICES FROM BEYOND is neither good nor interesting, it is something that only Fulci completists need to bother with and even then, you'd be better off not wasting your time.

See you in week 3 when a completely underrated Fulci film is the subject of discussion!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sanitarium (DVD Review) - Image Entertainment

Directed By: Bryan Ortiz, Bryan Ramirez, Kerry Valderrama
Written By: Evan Boston, Crystal Bratton, James Hartz, Scott Marcano, Bryan Ortiz, Kerry Valderrama
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Lou Diamond Phillips, John Glover, Robert Englund
Color/108 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1

The Film
SANITARIUM is an anthology film set inside of a hospital where Malcolm McDowell is a doctor who tells us three tales of the most disturbed patients he has. The first story revolves around an eccentric artist named Gustav who sculpts clay dolls with which he frequently talks to and argues with. His friend and manager Sam (played by Robert Englund) gets him a deal in New York City but Gustav's dolls have driven him mad and he starts murdering everybody he is friends with. The second story involves a shy student with an abusive father who has started seeing visions of a large hooded figure with ragged clothes. As time goes on the figure gets more physical with the boy and his teacher (the lovely Lacey Chabert) assumes it is the father and steps in. They attacked by this monster hobo, shark toothed, nasty giant guy. Finally the last story revolves around a college professor (Lou Diamond Phillips) who has ended up in the asylum because of his obsession with the December 21st, 2012 doomsday theory. Through flashbacks we see him lose his job, family and mind when everything in his world begins to revolved around preparing for an alien invasion on this day. He installs a fallout shelter and begins living in it, listening to music, working out and doing more studying on the subject until the day comes and his mind slips a little further away with each passing day. 

SANITARIUM is another entry in to the resurant anthology film format. It is uneven and doesn't have a very good or compelling wrap around story. Malcolm McDowell is little more than a name to slap on a poster, or DVD cover in this case, as his narration and limited on screen time does very little to add to the film. He isn't bad in his role, it is just that he has nothing to do. The first story is just okay. The payoff is taken away from us in one shot, and after that it doesn't make up for it. We rarely get to hear what the dolls are saying to the artist so the arguments don't really make sense to the viewer. The second story features the incredibly attractive Lacey Chabert but the girl can't act her way out of a paper bag. I'd love for her to be my school teacher but I don't want her anywhere near my movies unless she plans on getting naked. The story is what it is, the monster thing has lame design and the boy kind of ends up like a shitty Michael Myers rip off. The final story is by far the best, with an excellent performance from Lou Diamond Phillips. He owns the role and carries the story which is the longest of the three. I wouldn't mind seeing this one fleshed out more and being a full length psychological horror feature film. The rest of SANITARIUM is very pedestrian. From the direction and editing to the score, there isn't anything that really stands out.  

The Audio & Video
The DVD presentation of SANITARIUM from Image Entertainment looks and sounds very nice. The different settings of the various stories all look great, perhaps best within the final story in the fallout shelter. From the sun shining exteriors to the drab and dreary interiors of the hospital and a fallout shelter the image performs well. Colors are lively, white levels are never too hot and black levels are handled pretty well with only a moment or two of the blacks blocking up. The stereo audio track handles the dialogue and soundtrack mix with ease and is a joy to listen to. 

The Extras
Bare bones. 

The Bottom Line
SANITARIUM is worth checking out for the last story alone even though the first two stories are nothing special. Give it a rental.

SANITARIUM is available HERE

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cassadaga (DVD Review) - Tombstone Distribution

Directed By: Anthony Diblasi
Written By: Bruce Wood, Scott Poiley
Starring: Kelen Coleman, Kevin Alejandro, Rus Blackwell
Color/102 Minutes/Rated R
Region 1

The Film
Lily is an art teacher and student looking to further her knowledge of her profession. After the sudden and violent death of her younger sister she moves to an area known as Cassadaga, "The Psychic Capital Of America", to further study her art. She moves into the guest house of a family that sponsors students for an award at the local college. The pot smoking grandmother and her strange and quiet grandson are the only others that live there with the occasional visit from the groundskeeper. When Lily goes on a date with on of her student's dad they end up at a psychic seance on a bet and Lily has brief contact with her deceased sister until another ghost interrupts and takes over. 

The unidentifed ghost has attached itself to Lily, attacking her and showing her images in order to help her put together the pieces of a puzzle about her own disappearance that could end up saving Lily's life. Lily, with the help of her new man, has to dig deep into her art to find the answer of this haunting and the strange people she lives with. 

CASSADAGA is the second feature film from director Anthony Diblasi, with the overrated Dread from 2009 being his first and is a solid step forward for him. CASSADAGA could have been nothing more than a bad version of the torture porn film's that were so popular a decade ago, and most of those were bad enough as it is. Instead, the writers added in the supernatural element which helps keep things a bit fresh and moving forward but it is a bit of a crutch to lean on. Luckily we are graced with a pair of very likable characters in Lily (Kelen Coleman) and Mike (Kevin Alejandro). Their chemistry together is good and it helps bring a bit of a personal level to the film. There are some good and gross special effects moments as well. CASSADAGA suffers from spotty writing and jumpy editing that early on really takes the viewer out of the groove of watching the film. These crucial elements being poor drag the movie down but I don't think anyone will find this movie offensively bad but at the same time, I don't think too many people will find it exceptionally good.

The Audio & Video
Tombstone Distribution has done a nice job with this disc. The 5.1 surround soundtrack sounds great and is crisp and clear. There are no digital hiccups or any background noise. The video quality looks as good as a modern film should look on DVD. The 16x9 anamorphic widescreen transfer features healthy, vibrant color palettes and a crystal clear presentation. 

The Extras
The lone special feature is a trailer for the film.


The Bottom Line
I love supporting new horror films when they're worth supporting. I want new faces and fresh ideas to breathe new life into the genre. While CASSADAGA doesn't exactly do that it at least had it's ideas going in the right direction. I'd give the film a rental before deciding on buying it. 

CASSADAGA is available HERE

Friday, December 6, 2013

Massacre Time (Lucio Fulci, 1966) Director of the Month Series 1.1

So yes, this is the first entry in what I hope becomes a weekly feature on Celluloid Terror, the director of the month series. In this I hope to pick a director each month and discuss one of their films each week. These directors will range from well known horror directors to modern day guys with a lot of hype surrounding them and even art house type fellas. If will be a good chance for you, the reader, to possibly discover some films from a director whose work you enjoy that you may not have known about (and this is great for me to as it will inevitably force me to dig deeper into director's filmographies) and it will help me keep up an (hopefully) interesting feature. I chose Lucio Fulci as the first director, not because he's my favorite director or that I love all of his work. I chose Fulci because he's well known and widely loved but has a wide array of films that many of his fans have overlooked along with having dabbled in many genres.

The spaghetti western became an international phenomena after the success of Sergio Leone's A Fistful Of Dollars in 1964. 2 Short years later Lucio Fulci made his debut in the genre with MASSACRE TIME (aka THE BRUTE AND THE BEAST) from a screenplay by Fernando Di Leo, king of the Euro-Crime genre. Starring Franco Nero who was fresh off the set of Django, the film that would make him a star, MASSACRE TIME is a story about vengeance and the meaning of family. Nero stars as Tom Corbett a gold prospector who returns home when a sadistic land owner, Mr. Scott, takes over his families ranch.

Upon returning home, Corbett finds his brother Jeff (George Hilton) is a lousy alcoholic who is on the bad side of many and his mother is distraught and wants nothing more than Tom to leave and return to safety. Tom confronts Mr. Scott only to be badly beaten by his son Junior and bloodied badly with a bull whip. Later that night tragedy strikes the family and the brothers Tom and Jeff vow vengeance on the Scotts until Tom learns of a rift in the family bloodline, one that will forever tie him to the Mr. Scott and his despicable son, Junior.

MASSACRE TIME is a well made if albeit predictable western that doesn't try to reinvent the mold that was still being formed when it was released. This film features the classic "stranger" character, the bar fight scene, a comic relief coffin maker (that was obviously taken straight from A Fistful Of Dollars and the movie that it was a remake of, Yojimbo, from acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa. Franco Nero dons all black on more than occasion which obviously makes the viewer think of Django. Nero is solid in the lead role, as would be expected but not seeing him as the most experienced gunslinger in town is a bit hard to look passed.

Lucio Fulci would go on to make a handful of westerns, some of them are better and more interesting than MASSACRE TIME but for a director still forming his style, in a genre still forming its style, MASSACRE TIME will go down as a respectable entry into the genre with a good cast and a typically satisfying score and a memorable soundtrack. Fans of Fulci's gore soaked horror works of the 80s will find plenty of blood and violence to enjoy here as well. Do yourself a favor and check out the beloved horror directors first western. 


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How To Seduce A Virgin (DVD Review) - Mondo Macabro

Directed By: Jess Franco
Written By: Jess Franco, Alain Petit
Starring: Lina Romay, Alice Arno, Robert Woods
Color/87 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1

The Film
The beautiful and rich Countess Martine has just been released from a stay in an asylum after castrating her former lover. Upon returning home to her coast-side villa, she enters the basement, home to her sexual fantasies and statues of human victims, giving us small but powerful glimpse into this woman's deranged world. Her husband plays into her sick desires as he is well aware that she is the money of the relationship and living his luxurious life style without her. 

He devises a plan for her to seduce Cecile, the teenage virginal daughter of their equally rich neighbors. They offer to let Cecile stay at their home while her parents go away on a business trip, to which Cecile's parents reluctantly agree. Cecile is certainly not innocent, as she regularly pleasures herself with her windows wide open, she is perhaps a bit of an exhibitionist but she is far from experienced and Martine wants her. As their plan begins to unfold Cecile gets in close with Martine's husband and the plan doesn't quite go as planned. 

Jess Franco is a director who may be equally loved and maligned, and the quality of his film definitely run the gamet from garbage to great. HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN is an erotic horror film, that relies heavily on it's eye candy from star Alice Arno and Franco's own lover and frequent collaborator Lina Romay as the silent (and weird) servant, of course along with Tania Busselier as Cecile who would also work with Franco on The Countess Perverse from 1974. HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN features a typical jazzy score that Franco loved to use and plenty of nudity. It is a simple story that makes for an entertaining piece of Euro-sleaze, and I love my Euro-sleaze and few do it as good as Franco did it.

 The Audio & Video
 HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN is delivered on DVD by Mondo Macabro in an attractive and clean 1.33:1 full screen transfer. Picture quality is strong with natural skin tones and gorgeous color reproduction, specifically the scenes with heavy doses of colored lighting. There is a single instance of wobble from the picture towards the end of the film. Audio is also strong with a 2.0 mix in French with optional English subtitles which have been newly created. Overall the A/V presentation on this disc is quite good as you can readily expect from Mondo Macabro.

The Extras
Special features include:
-Interview with writer Alain Petit
-Introduction by film critic Stephen Thrower
-Production notes
-Mondo Macabro previews  

The Bottom Line

Mondo Macabro commonly does great things with their releases, bringing largely forgotten titles back to the masses in attractive packages and they've done so again here with HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN. More Jess Franco on DVD is not a bad thing and this movie is a good one. If you find yourself a fan of Euro-sleaze you'll find this release as a great addition to your collection.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Toad Road (DVD Review) - Artsploitation Films

Directed By: Jason Banker
Written By: Jason Banker
Starring: Sara Anne Jones, James Davidson
Color/76 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1

The Film
I love urban legends. I think they're an important part of growing up in any given town, they create a mystique and provoke imagination. The city of York, PA, an area not far from where I live and one that I'm pretty familiar with has an urban legend about the seven gates of hell. As with any urban legend details will vary slightly from person to person but the general idea is that an insane asylum existed on a road called Toad Road and there were gates erected to trap the inmates and now each gate represents a lair of hell. That is the very basic gist of it anyways, and if you're more interested in it there are plenty of resources t o check online. When I heard of a film featuring a drug fueled trip through the gates on TOAD ROAD I was very excited.

TOAD ROAD features a group of friends, heavy into their recreational drug use who spend their time playing music, dropping acid (or heroin, or meth, or E, etc...) and living their shitty lives but loving it nevertheless. One of their newest friends, Sara is new to the area, and drugs and wants to experience what her friends experience. As she gets deeper in to the drug use she falls more in love with it, as her apparent boyfriend is beginning to fall a bit out of favor with the crowd and drugs.

Sara finds out about the legend and wants to experience it despite the naysaying on her boyfriend James. They ride their bikes to the entry point of the first gate, where the psychological, and possibly physical, horrors begin, and James life falls to pieces.

I don't know where to begin with TOAD ROAD. The film is well acted, and when you learn that lead actress Sara Anne Jones died of a drug overdose shortly after it's premiere in 2012 it becomes a bit eery. TOAD ROAD wants to be a horror film filled with psychological turmoil. Instead TOAD ROAD stays in it's own skin, failing to become more than it simply is, which is a glimpse into the downward spiral caused by rampant and abusive drug use. The urban legend is only a catalyst for more drug use and never truly becomes a part of the story which severely hurts TOAD ROAD and holds it back. The director handles his duties capably but this cautionary tale of drug use, which sadly transcended cinema into the real world, is not the brilliant drug induced, trippy, psychotic horror tale i had deeply hoped for. 

The Audio & Video
Artsploitation Films delivers TOAD ROAD with a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that brings the director's stylistic choices to life. This film was largely filmed like a documentary of sorts and it looks as such. There are no real issues with the disc. The audio is great, clear and balanced with no distortions of any kind. The soundtrack and dialogue tracks are perfectly mixed.

The Extras
This disc features a pretty impressive lineup of special features including:
 -Audio commentary with the director and cast members
-Deleted scenes
-Behind the scenes featurette 
-Audition tapes
-Additional footage (DUI story, Shotgun a beer)
- 8 page booklet
-Reversible cover art


The Bottom Line
TOAD ROAD isn't a bad film, far from it in fact. It is a bit indecisive however and that ends up being a disappointment for me. It does hit like a punch in the gut by the time it is over and if you temper your expectations of what you want the film to be you should find TOAD ROAD to be a solid film.

TOAD ROAD is available HERE