Blu-Ray Review: PULP

PULP_BRFinally seeing PULP was a bit of a revelation for me. This tonally almost polar opposite of 1971’s Get Carter brings together writer/director Mike Hodges, Michael Klinger and star Michael Caine in a pretty unusual black comedy/crime story, newly restored by Arrow Video with a few nice special features. You’ll also get to see Mickey Rooney in his underwear (eek!), some fine supporting roles from Lionel Stander, Al Lettieri, and Nadia Cassini, with a too brief appearance by Lizabeth Scott in her final film role.

Caine plays Mickey King, a writer of pretty tawdry crime novels who gets the call to ghost write the life story of Rooney’s pint-sized Preston Gilbert, a former movie star with organized crime connections that come back to bite him hard. With his cheap, bland corduroy suit and middle-aged dad body, King still gets by with the ladies and his writing is so terribly risqué even the male owner of the typing pool churning out his latest novel slips him his home number. Mickey is thrust into the film’s events after he gets that Gilbert gig and things start falling apart as a few bodies fall before the credits roll.

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Blu-Ray Review: J.D.’s Revenge

JDR_AV110Automatically calling Arthur Marks’ J.D.’s Revenge a mere “blaxsploitation” film before viewing the end result actually puts it in the wrong category because it works a bit more outside that box you’ve put it in. Sure, it’s got a mostly black cast, some violent bits, blood and some nudity to draw in genre fans. But it’s also a supernatural revenge flick that kind of makes sense despite a few plot elements that fall on their faces. I wouldn’t call it a “pure” horror film per se, but I can see some folks who tend to freak out over mysticism in their movies falling for the film’s attempts to frighten them whenever it gets the opportunity.

That said, you do have to feel sorry for poor Isaac Hendrix (Glynn Turman), a law student in New Orleans who ends up getting hypnotized while out on a night of fun with his wife Christella (Joan Pringle) and another couple. That hypnosis somehow summons up the spirit of the late J.D. Walker (David McKnight), a not so nice street hustler type with a scar on his face and a penchant for straight razors as a means of protection. J.D. wants in on Ike’s scrawny body so he can finally take revenge on the man who killed him and his sister, Betty Jo. Naturally, vengeful spirits tend to not care much about collateral damage, so Christella is the first victim to Ike’s possessed form as she’s in the wrong place when J.D. materializes and takes over.

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Blu-Ray Review: Whisky Galore!

Whisky Galore_AF004If the great Ealing Studios’ 1949 version of Whisky Galore! didn’t exist, director Gillies MacKinnon’s excellent 2016 version would be an even better film than it is. That’s an odd compliment, I know. But the original film’s boozy aroma lingers heavily in the corners of this newer version, smiling down on MacKinnon’s capable cast as it plops down on a bar stool with a sigh of contentment. This newer film has a fine cast and some absolutely gorgeous cinematography (it’s enough to make you want to consider a move to wherever in Scotland it was shot just for the rocks alone), as well as humor that goes down smooth with a bit of water added.

While not exactly laugh out loud funny through and through, there’s one early scene that had me doubling over with a good belly laugh. As soon as it’s announced that the small village is completely out of whisky, one old chap gets up, walks out of the pub he and his friends inhabit daily, walks over to a his home and promptly drops dead outside as it begins to rain. For some reason, I found this hilarious as well as the following scene where his friends gather around his coffin to send him off. I’m guessing it’s because I’ve heard people say they’d “literally die” if they didn’t have a particular guilty pleasure handy, but seeing it happen was actually amusing and made me think how many real-life friends would drop like that over booze, chocolate, or bacon if they were suddenly taken away.

Hey, I’m a practical man. Less friends means less gifts to buy this holiday season, folks.

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Blu-Ray Review: Blood Feast/Scum of the Earth

Blood Feast_AV107So, officially (to me, at least) Blood Feast isn’t a “Halloween” movie at all – it’s more of a big, plump Thanksgiving Day turkey surprise. Under-cooked enough to give you a terrible gut-ache, but stuffed with tasty treats for those willing to push on and make it to that pumpkin pie and ice scream. And yeah, you’ll scream maybe a few times too many if the late H.G. Lewis’ classic 1963 gore-fest isn’t up your alley, but it’s the film’s campy pull wrapped in that grue brew that makes this one entertaining.

Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) just so happens to be the caterer chosen by wealthy suburban mom Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton) to cater a party for her pretty young daughter, Suzette (Connie Mason). Little does Mrs. Fremont know she’s hired a somewhat criminally insane man with a bit of a strong desire to chop up a bunch of nubile young ladies and use their body parts as sacrifices in order to resurrect the Egyptian goddess, Ishtar. Mua-ha-ha-haaa! I’m telling you, though – those damned eyebrows Ranses has would make me NOT want to hire him because they look like chalk-outlined squished caterpillars on his face. Now, go drink some recently cooled molten iron to coat your stomach while I spill out some more gory details on this gem.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Legend of the Holy Drinker

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Based on Joseph Roth’s 1939 novella, Ermanno Olmi’s 1988 film, The Legend of the Holy Drinker is about as good as it gets if you’re looking for a bottle of melancholy to sip and sit with that’s also a fine whine of meditative work featuring a flawless performance by Rutger Hauer as the titular homeless drunkard, Andreas Kartack. The film’s somewhat romanticized but still realistically grimy Paris (which looks lovely that way) works well as a character of its own with a solid cast that helps create some of the drama and dilemmas Kartack faces after a stranger gives him 200 francs with the simple request that he repay it by donating the money to a local shrine.

Kartack ends up running into what could be called a run of really good luck for a homeless guy who sleeps under a bridge as in no short order he finds a temporary job, affords himself a few necessities such as a shave, decent food, and the company of women. But his drinking gets in the way of his quickly repaying the loan as does part of his past when he meets up with the lovely Gabby (Sandrine Dumas), a woman he’s got a particularly messy past with. Saying more would ruin the film’s quiet surprises, but Olmi’s assured direction flows along with the wine and supporting actors as Kartack’s luck swings in a few directions.

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Blu-Ray Review: George A. Romero: Between Night And Dawn

GARBNADWhat do you do after making one of the most influential horror films ever? Given that George Romero really didn’t have much of a clue that his first film, Night of the Living Dead would become such an essential genre masterpiece, the director went on to make a few different films between 1971 and 1975 that were either interesting failed experiments or more polished but flawed films all worth a look. Arrow Video has restored and collected three of Romero’s post-NOTLD works in George A. Romero: Between Night And Dawn and yes, it’s a set worth adding to your library.

The three films include the somewhat disappointing romantic comedy There’s Always Vanilla, the surprising, mature drama Season of the Witch and a return to horror of a different yet similar kind in The Crazies. While the grim, brilliantly disturbing horror flick Martin is missing in action here (the set’s sole flaw), with these three films you can see a director learning and growing into an even more confident artist. Interestingly enough, in interviews included on the special features, Romero states his total dislike for There’s Always Vanilla on a few fronts and yes indeed, the film is his weakest effort.

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Blu-Ray Review: Children of the Corn

COTC_AV106Back in 1984, I didn’t see Children of the Corn because if I’m not mistaken, I believe I was “Stephen Kinged Out” by so many adaptations of his work popping up in theaters and not being all they could be. Amusingly enough, when this screener of the nicely restored 2K version popped up from Arrow Video in my mailbox, I’d actually been thinking about films made from King’s novels and short stories thanks to the recent arrival of IT into theaters.

I’d read a long time back that King wasn’t too fond of director Fritz Kiersch’s film partially thanks to the rewritten script by George Goldsmith altering and adding elements to King’s original short story. Let’s just say that the end result is a mixture of good intentions and lousy cost-cutting and leave it at that. Well, okay – that would mean this review would end at that last sentence, so I’ll elaborate if you care to read any further.

The best things about the film are the principal actors giving it their all, a few very effective shots and a nice reliance on “less is more” when it comes to onscreen violence. The worst things are some truly crummy visual effects that weren’t good back in 1984 (and really stink now), the abrupt ending that feels as if was added in post-production and the addition of two annoying kid characters (and a voice over narration) that give the film a sappy gloss that lessens the horror factor geometrically.

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Blu-Ray Review: Don’t Torture A Duckling

DTAD_AV099Toss the name Lucio Fulci into a decent horror film conversation and it’s quite possible it may turn into some sort of cranky debate about a few of his more outrageous films that feature copious amounts of gore and violence (often against female characters). There’s an excellent video essay by Kat Ellinger called Hell Is Already In Us included on the fantastic Arrow Video restoration of Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling that drives home the point that the director was merely holding up a mirror to some of society’s madness and letting his camera do the dirty work. While not as relentless as his later work, what’s here is a pretty effective blend of thriller and pointed social commentary that’s still got a mean bite all these years later.

Considered by the director to be one of his personal favorites, Duckling’s blend of Italian countryside setting, shocking (off-screen) child murders and handful of suspects where everyone has either a direct motive or abnormal/amoral proclivities that can be seen as motives makes for a pretty unsettling experience. Adding to the film’s grim tone, Fulci also skewers his faith but good here with some knife-twisting fierceness and a killer finale that’s either going to make you cringe or crack up laughing (or preferably, both). This is a film that’s tough to watch, but extremely well made and even thought provoking in its own manner.

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Blu-Ray Review: Erik The Conqueror

Erik_AV102Mario Bava, again. Watching his films or more precisely, rediscovering them after a few decades is turning into a revelation on how insanely creative he was as an all-round filmmaker. Writing/co-writing, directing, designing and a special effects whiz working on limited funds and more. While not all of his work is great, there’s a lot of greatness to see in how well a lot of it came together.

1961’s Erik The Conqueror might in spots be a too-close for its own good reworking of Richard Fleischer’s 1958 hit The Vikings. But Bava makes it well worth watching thanks to great use of color, a more fantastical tone and yep, that Bava touch that gets one smiling because the illusions created onscreen do a fantastic job in transporting one into the past (albeit a past that never took place as shown here). Arrow Video’s recently released 2K remastered Blu-Ray/DVD combo is a great way to check out this colorful near-epic, although it’s light on special features.

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Blu-Ray Review: Django Prepare A Coffin

DPAC_AV085Some years ago I made the big mistake once of looking up how many Django films were made after Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 original and I think I had a headache for the better part of half a week from sifting through all those titles and trying to figure out if there was an actual sequel made or if any were worth tracking down for the bucket list. Eh, I survived that project by tapping out and concentrating on stuff that was less mentally taxing.

The same can’t be said for most of the folks who violently buy the farm in Ferdinando Baldi’s 1968 film, Django Prepare A Coffin (aka Preparati la bara!), a pretty good kinda-sorta sequel/prequel that’s nowhere as brutal or unsettling as the first film, but certainly has its interesting and amusing moments. Arrow Video has a fine and dandy restored version that’s been out for a bit, but I’m finally getting to some of the deep backlog stuff in my library, so here you go.

Filling in for Franco Nero is the great Terence Hill (aka Mario Girotti) and he does a pretty darn good job playing Franco Nero being Django. The script he’s saddled with (pun intended) is a bit of a mess, though. Then again, you’re very likely not watching this for the importance of the script, right? Right. That out of the way, the film still works well as a good way to kill 92 minutes and leave you with what should resemble a wry grin or its equivalent.

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