Blu-Ray Review: Deep Red

Deep Red ArrowI clearly wasn’t ready for Dario Argento’s Deep Red way back when I saw it on a somewhat beat-up rented VHS tape back around 1990 or ’91. While the 1975 film had some primo scares (such as that freaky clockwork dummy scene and the genuinely gory brilliance in its stylized murders), the story seemed to be a bit chopped up to the point of distracting me a wee bit too much. Hey, I often tend to pay attention to the plot more than the violence in most horror films, so sue me. Flash forward to Arrow’s 2016 UK restoration (finally getting a North American release) which adds back in scenes that was cut and makes one of Argento’s best early films even better. Granted, it’s not going to be for everyone (yes, it’s quite violent), but as with many gialli, you more or less know what you’re getting and you’re going to get it but good (and in both eyes, at that).

David Hemmings plays Marcus Daly, a British jazz pianist who ends up being the target of a killer after he sees said killer killing the hell out of some hapless victim. During the initial police investigation, Daly’s photo is snapped by snippy, snoopy reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), who inadvertently puts Marcus in grave danger after posting his handsome mug in the newspaper. As in his earlier The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails, you get leading men who get in well over their heads once they try to do a bit of extracurricular detective work and yes indeed, Daly gets put through the wringer but good. This is also another Argento film where a woman saves the lead from certain death, with Nicolodi’s Brezzi making a strong impression as a gal who’s no screaming wallflower at all.

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Not So Random Film of The Weekend: The Zero Boys

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Ooh, it’s my first entry in this soon to be never-ending series. Be gentle!

The Zero Boys Arrow

While it’s certainly an entertaining popcorn and beer-worthy flick with great camerawork, direction and an appropriately 80’s blend of synth-heavy and orchestral scoring courtesy of Stanley Myers and Hans Zimmer, there’s something a wee bit “off” about Nico Mastorakis’ 1986 film The Zero Boys  that keeps it from total greatness. Don’t get me wrong, folks: It’s certainly got just about everything it needs to be a perfectly fine cheesy action flick and even adds in some mildly disturbing  moments that lend it a solid horror vibe. However, there’s very little in the way of gore here and you certainly don’t want to go in expecting a ton of exploitative nudity even though you’d think a film such as this made at this point in time would include a moderate heaping of both as par for the crowd-pleasing course.

In fact, according to an interview on the Arrow Video Blu-Ray, Mastorakis deliberately made the film this way as a sort of counterbalance to his far more brutal 1976 film Island of Death. If you take away the expletives and make a few minor edits, you pretty much have a PG-rated flick that you could easily show on a regular network or basic cable channel these days. Amusingly enough, by comparison, an average episode of Gotham has a load more violence than what you’ll see here (I kind of liked the first two seasons, but the show’s gotten a bit too grim as a alternate world take on its source material, but I digress…).

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Let’s see now: Bandanna? Check. Attitude? Check. Gun? Check. I think that’s everything, but you know how these things go (until they don’t go the way you think).

That’s not to say the film is totally tame, mind you. It moves from high action and a slightly comedic tone at the start into those more moody and serious scare scenes with relative ease and works well enough on that level. In general, Mastorakis’ films tend to go in all sorts of directions as they blend drama, comedy, action, sexy stuff and lots of suspension of disbelief common to genre films. Of course, if you pay too close attention to the writing, some parts don’t click as well as they should because the story needs to move along, damn the continuity consequences or assorted logic fails. In other words, this is one of those films where any sort of overthinking makes it a lot less fun.

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Blu-Ray Review: Killer Klowns From Outer Space

Killer Klowns BRIf ever there was a film where the title tells you everything you need to know while also telling you it’s a film you kind of need to see out of sheer curiosity, it’s Killer Klowns From Outer Space. yeah, yeah, I know a lot of you hate clowns in real life and nope, this film probably won’t be the one to endear you to the red nose and greasepaint cause. That said, if you love great practical effects, practical jokes, bits of stop motion creativity, 80’s gore FX and one damn catchy main theme song, this one has all those and more.

Arrow Video has once again pulled out all the stops with this restoration, adding a ton of special features that add to the big top thrills and chills. If you’ve never seen this one before, it’s worth checking out because it’s great for a few laughs and still works as one of those films that didn’t need a sequel (although there have been a few rumblings about one over the years).

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Blu-Ray Review: Scalpel

Scalpel BRJohn Grissmer’s 1977 film Scalpel is a pretty neat psychological thriller that also works as an entry level ‘light’ horror flick for those skittish types not quite ready for gore galore, but who won’t mind a tiny bit of depravity in the plot.  Arrow Video has not only put out a stellar restoration, they also got respected cinematographer Edward Lachman to supervise am equally gorgeous second transfer that’s been color corrected back to his original theatrical version.

While there are some flaws in the storytelling, it’s a solid enough film to recommend thanks to the no-nonsense performances and relatively brief 95-minute running time.  Having the choice to see both versions on a single disc along with some very nice bonus features makes this yet another Arrow you’ll want to add to your quiver.

When plastic surgeon Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Richard Lansing) encounters a badly beaten stripper with a completely ruined face, he comes up with a plan to reconstruct her to look exactly like his missing daughter (Judith Chapman) in order to claim the $5,000,000 inheritance denied him, but given to her by her grandfather.  He’s also got more disgusting designs on his mind, but you’ll have to see how that plays out.  After the young woman is out of surgery and healing up, Reynolds takes her out of the hospital and to his home, eventually telling her his plan and offering to split half the money with her.  After some weeks of coaching, the girl is ready for her close up with Reynolds’ extended family.  While their ploy succeeds to some extent, things get a wee bit complicated when Reynolds real daughter (also played by Chapman) shows up shortly thereafter. Oops, and yep, the plot thickens.

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Blu-Ray Review: BASKET CASE

Basket Case_LE_AV119“What’s in the basket? Easter eggs?”

Absolutely, lady, absolutely. Wow. Sometimes you get hit in the head by a fly ball you didn’t see coming and it’s actually a good thing. I didn’t know Frank Henenlotter’s still hilarious and unnerving 1982 feature BASKET CASE had gotten a superb MoMA restoration last year until I overheard two guys talking about it and I just had to walk up and ask if it was true. It indeed was and now thanks to Arrow Video, you can get yourself a copy of this cult horror hit and see what the fuss is all about. Or just see it again as a fully restored masterpiece of low-budget movie making madness.

If memory serves me correctly, I actually saw the film for the first time way back during its initial 1982 run at the Waverly theater, but I think it was the disappointing edited version that came off as a bit crueler and cruder. I say “think” because it was a midnight showing and I recall falling asleep at one point and missed about 10 or so minutes. Oops. A few years later, upon renting the unrated version on VHS (I think it was from one of the legendary Kim’s Video locations in NYC), I was shocked to see footage I hadn’t recalled and the film was actually much funnier than I’d remembered.

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Blu-Ray/DVD Review: The Aftermath

The Aftermath VCIThere’s a great bonus on the BR/DVD version of The Aftermath that’s well worth watching before you see the main event. That would be the 1973 student film, The Night Caller, directed by Dan Gilbert and inspired by Ray Bradbury’s short story, Night Call, Collect. The same guy who co-wrote and stars in that main event, Steve Burkett, also plays the lead in this short and it seems the plot is something of an expansion of a few ideas from the short as well as some of Burkett and co-writer Stanley Livingston’s own work.

That said, this shot in 1978/released in 1982 film was also something of a passion project for Burkett, as it was made for not a whole lot of money (and it shows), features a few of Burkett’s friends and family members along with the always fun to watch Sid Haig as the film’s main, mean villain. On one hand, it’s not the greatest action film you’ll ever see. However, it’s a case of a killer “B” flick with an oddly effective sting that happens to wear its battered heart on its bloody sleeve.

Burkett plays Newman, an astronaut returning to Earth after a lengthy journey with two others, Mathews (Larry Latham) and Williams (Jim Danforth!). They can’t contact anyone on the planet and after an explosion, the ship crash lands in the water somewhere near Los Angeles. Williams is killed and initially, Newman thinks he’s the sole survivor until Mathews washes up shortly thereafter. The men spend a harsh night outdoors where they’re attacked by crazed and somewhat violent (zombie-like?) mutated savages and it’s only when the dawn breaks they find out there’s been a big ol’ nuclear war while the men were away that’s wiped out a good chunk of humanity.  So much for that homecoming parade, right?

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Blu-Ray Review: Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso_AA001Movies that make you want to see lots of other movies are a very good thing, especially if those movies you end up seeing are plenty you’re going into cold knowing you’re going to like them thanks to that one film that introduces you. Speaking of cold, guess who’s laid up with a bad one and is banging out his work from a partially prone position? Anyway (*cough!*), Cinema Paradiso is one of the all-time greats for such a cinematic education because it’s such an excellently crafted film that it’s worth watching a few times because of all the note taking you’ll very likely end up doing. I’ll save you a tiny bit of time and point you to this IMDB listing which should open up quite the rabbit hole to disappear into for a bit.

Arrow Academy’s solid restoration of the original 124-minute Cannes cut and the extended 174-minute Director’s Cut will fit nicely into your collection and as you can probably tell, is absolutely worth a purchase. Writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore’s film is one where every shot is effortlessly composed and there are moments where you’ll find yourself mildly to moderately in awe at the perfect camera placement that fits in flawlessly with the music (by Ennio and Andrea Morricone). The film is mostly told in flashback as a famous director Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) returns to his childhood home after 30 years away upon hearing an elderly friend has passed away. We learn that Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) was a projectionist at the titular theater as well as a mentor to the younger Salvatore (or Toto, as he’s called) from the age of six (Salvatore Cascio) to his teens (Marco Leonardi).

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Blu-Ray Review: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno

Inferno_AA023Sometimes, life can be a mystery… and sometimes, you kind of know what you’re getting into but still step into that trap door straight to hell.

In 1964, stoked after the huge box office success of Dr.Strangelove, Columbia Pictures was poking around the film world looking for something guaranteed to be the next big movie and had the wild idea to extend unlimited funding to a new project directed by the great Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear, Diabolique). Based on some striking test footage, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno was, for all intents and purposes, going to be an innovative and mature film that had the potential to make millions for the company while making an even bigger star out of Sissi trilogy star Romy Schneider. Three weeks into production and 185 cans (about 14 hours) of film later, one of the main cast members quit, three production separate teams of 150 people were out of work, and Clouzot had a heart attack that ended up shutting production down for good.

Those cans of film were sitting somewhere in France for decades thanks to the insurance company that ended up with them, but thanks to the obsessive persistence of Serge Bromberg and a meeting with Clouzot’s second wife in an elevator, we have this somewhat spectacular documentary (co-directed by Ruxandra Medrea) that sheds a bit of light on the destined to fail project. While the documentary is quite amazing, you’re in no way getting anything close to a completed version of Inferno despite all that footage that was shot. Most of it was camera tests of actors, loads of exterior tests, and visual effects shots galore in assorted states of completion. All of it was silent, although parts of a separate soundtrack were found and added into the documentary along with parts of the script read/reenacted by Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin. That said, there’s a lot to absorb here, but the overall takeaway seems to be “Here’s what happens when you throw money at a problem and it doesn’t solve itself, folks.”

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Blu-Ray Review: Animal Factory

Animal Factory_AV115Way back around in oh, 2000 or 2001, I was working in a small independent game shop in NYC when in walks Edward Furlong wearing dark sunglasses with some woman I didn’t recognize in tow. I think he popped in to get away from a few fans who recognized him on the street (this sort of celebrity sighting thing happened a lot on St. Mark’s Place) and if I’m not mistaken, I think one or two other people in the shop knew who he was within a few seconds of him popping in.

Long story short, he hung out for a few minutes and didn’t say much (and I don’t recall if he bought anything), but he eventually left, leaving his sunglasses behind. I do believe my boss ended up keeping them after a few days when they weren’t reclaimed. Anyway, that’s the shortest celebrity story I know, but I have a few more that may pop up if and when the time comes. Living in this city, one tends to stumble into the occasional interaction that’s more than the usual fan on the prowl experience. Oh yeah, we’re supposed to be doing a movie review now, right?  Let me get my review hat on. A minute, please… there we go.

Steve Buscemi’s Animal Factory is a pretty darn good prison flick based on the Eddie Bunker novel and yep, the Arrow restoration is pretty solid overall. It features Furlong, along with Willem Dafoe, Danny Trejo, an unrecognizable Mickey Rourke and a few other surprises (for example, Tom Arnold in a somewhat short cameo). Furlong plays young Ron Decker who ends up getting 10 years on a drug conviction. He ends up meeting with Earl Copen (Dafoe), a long time convict who decides to keep Decker close and under his protection for a few reasons (and not the ones you might be thinking, you dirty birds). While Ron is seemingly safe from harm, he ends up getting on the bad sides of a few other cons as well as some prison officials and you get a pretty impressive mix of drama and violence with plenty of tension as the glue holding things together.

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Blu-Ray Review: Zoology

Zoology_AA018Sometimes, being way, way out of the loop on a film is the best thing that can happen because when you miss all that buzzing and screeching, you get to go in totally cold and be nicely surprised by the results. This is exactly what happened when I finally sat down to watch Ivan I. Tverdovsky’s wonderful, bleak deadpan fantasy Zoology, another solid Arrow Academy release (also available on DVD). This is one of those films with a standout role for a “woman of a certain age” that’s somewhat remarkable until you realize your going into the film with that sort of prejudice might also make you not enjoy it if you think too hard about stuff like that.

Anyway, right off the bat, you’re made to feel sorry for poor Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova), a sad-looking middle-aged put-upon employee at a dreary Russian zoo. Her somewhat nasty co-workers openly make fun of her frumpy looks and lack of a social life, she lives with her elderly mother and a dying old cat and just as you’re about to throw yourself out the window from the gloom of her daily routine, she faints at work one day and later finds out she’s grown a tail. The doctor she sees sends her off to get an X-ray and Natasha meets radiologist Peter (Dmitriy Groshev), who initially seems nonplussed about her extra appendage. The pair strike up a fast friendship which leads to more, but that’s (almost) all you’re going to get out of me because you kind of need to see how this one plays out.

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