Blu-ray Movie Review – Tenebrae (1984)

Tenebrae
Directed by Dario Argento
Courtesy of Synapse Films
Original Year of Release: 1984
Blu-ray Release Date: September 13, 2016

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When conversation turns to masters of horror, several names immediately come up: Romero, Fulci, Gordon Lewis, Carpenter, and many more. But one would be remiss to forget Dario Argento. His filmography reads like a Greatest Hits compilation, and most horror fans can name several of his films because they are so well known.

For me, TENEBRAE is one of his lesser known titles; I had heard it discussed every now and then over the years, but most focus when it came to Argento was usually on SUSPIRIA or DEEP RED. So when Synapse and CAV Distribution released the film on Blu-ray, I was excited to give it a look. And just as I had hoped, TENEBRAE is top-notch thriller with some unique killings and scads of fine suspense.

If you are not familiar with TENEBRAE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Synapse Films:

American mystery author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) comes to Italy to promote his newest novel, TENEBRAE. Unfortunately, a razor-wielding serial killer is on the loose, taunting Neal and murdering those around him in gruesome fashion just like the character in his novel. As the mystery surrounding the killings spirals out of control, Neal investigates the crimes on his own, leading to a mind-bending, genre-twisting conclusion that will leave you breathless!

Featuring an amazing synth-music score from Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli and Massimo Morante (formerly of Italian progressive-rock band, Goblin), this all-new TENEBRAE release was created from the original uncut camera negative. Also stars John Saxon (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET), Daria Nicolodi (Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA) and John Steiner (CALIGULA).

One of the best attributes of this film is the soundtrack. It is a solid testament to the time period of the film’s release, but it fits the movie surprisingly well. I wasn’t sure what to expect when the press release stated, “Featuring an amazing synth-music score…”, but I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed.

TENEBRAE is shot well, in Argento’s signature style, and the HD transfer looks great. I never saw a VHS or DVD copy of the film, so I do not have anything to compare the Blu-ray with, but the images are crisp and there’s barely a grainy shot anywhere in the movie.

Speaking of shots, there’s an interesting yet lengthy scene where the camera starts outside of an apartment and then slowly moves up and over the roof, only to descend to another window on the other side of the house. When I say lengthy, I mean, “Wow…this is taking forever!” I didn’t clock it, but the shot felt like it lasted several minutes. This might not sound bad, but wait until you’re sitting there, waiting for something to happen. This is the only detractor I found in the storyline.

And speaking of the plot, TENEBRAE offers an intriguing whodunit that keeps you guessing until the end. Argento is in fine form with this film, offering misdirection and clever deception to keep the viewer in a constant state of uncertainty. I enjoyed the big reveal, as I didn’t see it coming, nor did I guess the identity of the killer. I won’t give anything away, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

TENEBRAE is a big win for me, and it’s another excellent addition to the Synapse Films library. I highly recommend adding this one to your collection. In addition to the great HD picture and sound, the Blu-ray offers some slick Special Features that include:

• All-new Synapse Films supervised color correction and restoration of a 1080p scan from the original camera negative, presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1
• Dual English and Italian language options with newly-translated English subtitle tracks for both
• Audio commentary track featuring film critic and Argento scholar, Maitland McDonagh
• Rare high-definition 1080p English sequence insert shots, playable within the film via Seamless Branching
• Feature-length documentary, YELLOW FEVER: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GIALLO by Rising Productions, chronicling the Giallo film genre from its beginnings as early 20th century crime fiction, to its later influences on the modern slasher film genre
• Original UNSANE (U.S. version of TENEBRAE) end credits sequence
• Alternate opening credits sequence
• Theatrical trailers

MSBibraryhe

Movie Review – ClownTown (2016)

ClownTown
Directed by Tom Nagel
Courtesy of ITN Distribution
Release Date: October 4, 2016

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The horror genre is filled with movies about clowns. From demonic clowns to slasher clowns to alien clowns, there’s not many aspects of this category that have not been fleshed out in some form or fashion. Some of these films are classics, such as KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, however many of them are just rehashes of the same tropes we’ve seen over and over. And while this is not always a bad thing, the concept can be driven into absurdity.

CLOWNTOWN, a recent offering from ITN Distribution, is an interesting subject because it is fun and entertaining, yet it brings nothing new to the table in terms of originality. And while we’ve been down this road before, the film still has merit for entertainment value. So even though I personally enjoyed this title, I imagine this will be one you’ll have to see (and judge) for yourself.

If you are not familiar with CLOWNTOWN, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of

A group of friends get stranded in a seemingly abandoned town and find themselves stalked by a violent gang of psychopaths dressed as clowns.

Reusing existing concepts in horror is certainly not a new idea, nor has it been for decades. Many successful and fan-favorite films are simply remakes or reboots of existing franchises. But if a relative newcomer to the genre is going to venture into well-traveled territory, their success will depend on how entertaining the result is deemed.

CLOWNTOWN is shot fairly well for a low-budget picture and looks pretty good onscreen. I have to give a particular nod to the production team on their use of lighting. Many minimally funded pictures usually suffer in the lighting and sound departments because the budget is spent on acting talent or special effects. Interestingly, the opposite is true here. While the lighting looks great, the acting is mediocre and the special effects are just decent.

Speaking of acting, I could not find a single standout performance from anybody in the cast. Granted, they all do a decent job…but this film certainly cannot boast the emergence of any new “scream queens” or action stars. I did, however, enjoy the performance given by David Greathouse who plays the Baseball Clown. Greathouse is absolutely chilling when he is onscreen, and he’s a definite asset to the film.

Also, as mentioned above, the special effects are ok. I would have preferred much more gore in a slasher like this, however I certainly understand how budget restrictions can reduce the amount of carnage seen onscreen. The little gore we do get is pretty good, however nothing to write home about.

As for the story in CLOWNTOWN, it is the teens-getting-chased-by-maniacs concept rewarmed yet again. But even so, the film is still fun. Director Tom Nagel does a good job of building tension, and his well-placed jump-scares made me smile a couple of times. Add in a nifty ending (I love the final scene), and the Good slightly outweighs the Bad here. The resulting film is one you’ve seen many, many times before, but it still offers a good time.

Despite its shortcomings, I do recommend CLOWNTOWN, but only to those hardcore fans of the horror genre. If you thrive on originality, then steer clear of this one, as you will be disappointed. Otherwise, grab some popcorn and some makeup remover, and dig in.

CLOWNTOWN hits select theaters this Friday, September 30, and will be available next week on VOD and DVD.

MSB

TV Show Review – Hawaii Five-0, Season 6

Hawaii Five-0, season 6
Courtesy of CBS Home Entertainment
Release Date: September 13, 2016

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Ok, I have to confess: until about a year ago, I had no desire to watch HAWAII FIVE-0, and a large part of why stemmed from my dislike of the opening theme music. Yes, yes, I know it’s a staple of pop culture (after all, who doesn’t know that tune?), but for some reason I was dissuaded by it. My lovely wife, who is way more level-headed than me, prompted me to watch the pilot episode because she had recently seen it at her parents’ house and greatly enjoyed it. So, with trepidation, I gave it a shot.

Boy, talk about a misperception. The pilot episode was a blast, and the show was NOTHING like I expected. After binge-watching six episodes that night, I admitted to my better half that I loved the series. Needless to say, we scarfed up season-after-season over the past 10 months, and when I was presented the opportunity to review season six, we were both stoked.

HAWAII FIVE-0 Season 6 is an excellent continuation of this hit show, and I am foaming at the mouth to see what happens next!

If you are not familiar with HAWAII FIVE-0, here is the plot synopsis courtesy

The heat’s on as the Hawaii Five-0 team takes on some of the Aloha State’s most notorious and baffling criminal cases involving murder, the Mob, espionage, and kidnapping. With McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Danny (Scott Caan) at the helm, the team interrogates members of a renegade stunt-bikers gang, pursues a rogue Russian spy with access to NSA secrets, and partners with an autistic child in a murder investigation. Chin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Kono (Grace Park) are held at gunpoint by two killers who don’t know they’re cops, and Grover (Chi McBride) – and his family – are haunted by a 15-year-old Mob investigation. Meanwhile, Catherine (Michelle Borth) returns to the islands and McGarrett prepares to take their relationship to the next level. Season 6 is 25 high-caliber episodes that prove, once and for all, that crime definitely does not pay.

I think one of the best aspects of this show is how it grabs you by the throat in the pilot episode and then keeps a firm grip throughout the course of each season. The intrigue and the suspense remain in the air as each episode progresses, and the viewer is given just enough information to stay on the hook. Some shows fizzle after three of four seasons, but HAWAII FIVE-0 just gets better and better.

Each episode in Season 6 is shot well and looks great onscreen. The series does a fantastic job of highlighting the beauty of the Hawaiian locale by incorporating scenic backgrounds into the shots and lingering on some of the more picturesque areas of the islands. This natural paradise-like quality is one of the big draws for me, as I favor tropical locations over my landlocked home state.

The acting in HAWAII FIVE-0 is top notch, with Alex O’Loughlin, Daniel Dae Kim, Scott Caan, and Grace Park comprising the core characters. They are joined by a great supporting cast of bother semi-major and minor characters.

The storyline is interesting and intriguing. Each season usually has a singular, over-arching plotline that peeks in and out of each episode, while accenting (in some form or fashion) the episode plotline itself. I like how the two weave a strong story fabric on which the events unfold. This keeps existing viewers immersed and new viewers enthralled enough to go back to the beginning.

If I were forced to find a flaw with HAWAII FIVE-0 Season 6, I simply could not. The show is just that good. I highly recommend giving this series a look. In addition to the complete season, the DVD set comes with Special Features, such as a stunt featurette, behind the scenes action, deleted scenes, and a gag reel.

MSB

TV Show Review – Limitless, season 1

Limitless, season 1
Courtesy of CBS Home Entertainment
Release Date: September 6, 2016

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Much to my wife’s chagrin, I will confess I have not seen the movie LIMITLESS, on which this show is based. She has been wanting me to watch it for months, however I have always found an excuse to keep from it. I’m not sure why, either, because she assures me it’s a great film. But, when I had the opportunity to review the TV show on DVD, I figured I could start with it and then move on to Bradley Cooper’s big screen version.

I’m really glad I gave it a look, too. LIMITLESS season 1 is an epic show, and I’m very surprised it was canceled. It has solid writing, a great cast, and an intensity that rivals THE BLACKLIST. From what I understand (as of today’s date), Netflix is still trying to decide if it will pick LIMITLESS up or not. I hope they do…I’d love to see this series continue.

If you are not familiar with the LIMITLESS television show, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of CBS Home Entertainment:

After an old friend introduces him to a dangerous new pill called NZT-48, aimless twenty-something Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) is able to use every part of his brain, making him the smartest person alive when he is on the drug. Utilizing his enhanced abilities, Brian helps FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter, Dexter) with her caseload, as well as attempting to track down the deadly drug’s manufacturer and figure out why Brian is the only person immune to its fatal side effects. Making matters more complicated is the involvement of mysterious U.S. Senator Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper, American Sniper), who may have more at stake than expected. Based on the hit movie, this action-packed first season continues the film’s pulse-pounding story and never lets up!

If the movie is half as good as this TV show, then I’m going to have to watch it soon. I knew from the pilot that I was going to enjoy the series, and sure enough, I’m hooked. I guess I should use this review as an open platform on which to beg its continuance.

LIMITLESS is shot well and appears to have a high production budget. Each episode is intense and interesting; I am impressed with the diversity of topics in the episodes as well…the premises never get stale. I also like how the main character is not the same one from the movie. I never like how TV shows usually don’t get the same actors to portray the characters from the film versions; it throws me off for some reason. But that’s not an issue here. The story incorporates the film character in an indirect way, but otherwise it’s basically a stand-alone series.

The acting is very good, with Jake McDorman portraying the lead, Brian. McDorman plays a great “everyman”, which is what this role needed. He is joined by a great cast that includes Jennifer Carpenter, who made a big splash with me in DEXTER, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Hill Harper.

LIMITLESS is a great show, and I hope, hope, hope another network (or Netflix or Hulu) picks it up. The season finale was great, and I would love to see where the series could go from there. For now, I’ll have to suffice with season 1. I highly recommend this show, and I suggest you check it out. Even if it only stays with a singular season, it’s great nonetheless.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Set Review – Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection

Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)
Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972)
Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973)
Directed by Shun’ya Ito
Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701’s Grudge Song (1973)
Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Original Years of Release: 1972 & 1973
Blu-ray Set Release Date: August 9, 2016

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I continue to be impressed with the titles Arrow and MVD are releasing in these Blu-ray sets. Although I consider myself somewhat well-versed in film, I have to admit I had never heard of the FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION series prior to receiving the release notice. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Revenge flicks usually rate pretty high with me, so I was eager to see how good these vintage gems might be.

I’m very happy to report Arrow and MVD have scored yet another major hit with this collection. If you are any kind of fan of grindhouse films or if you simply like female-revenge-flicks, then this is the collection for you. Crammed full of special features and clad in beautifully rendered packaging, this Limited Edition set is a must-have for film fans and collectors alike.

If you are not familiar with FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution:

Starring the iconic and beautiful Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood, Stray Cat Rock) in a role that came to define her career, the four-film Female Prisoner Scorpion series charts the vengeance of Nami Matsushima, who assumes the mantle of “Scorpion,” becoming an avatar of vengeance and survival, and an unlikely symbol of female resistance in a male-dominated world.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion introduces Nami, a gullible young woman unjustly imprisoned, who must find a way to escape in order to exact revenge upon the man who betrayed her. The visually avant-garde Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 sees director Shunya Ito and star Meiko Kaji re-unite as Nami and six other female convicts escape prison once more. The Gothic horror-inspired Beast Stable finds Nami branded public enemy #1 and on the run. She soon finds refuge with a sympathetic prostitute, but runs afoul of a local gang. The final film in the series, #701’s Grudge Song (from director Yasuharu Hasebe, Retaliation, Massacre Gun), shows a gentler side of Nami as she falls in with Kudo, an ex-radical suffering from physical and psychological trauma caused by police torture.

Spiritual kin to Ms. 45, Coffy and The Bride Wore Black, the Female Prisoner Scorpion is the pinnacle of early 1970s exploitation cinema from Japanese grindhouse studio Toei, and one of the greatest female revenge sagas ever told.

This collection has an astounding number of Special Features, which are listed at the end of my review, and they are a real treat for those who enjoy such things. There is an obvious absence of behind-the-scenes footage, but that is probably due to the fact that none exists; these films are so old I’m sure none of it was preserved. But the SF we do get are cool nonetheless.

Each film in the FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION collection is shot well and looks good overall onscreen. I’ve read critiques online that claim the HD transfers are subpar for the Blu-rays, however I have never seen previous versions of any of these films and cannot, therefore, attest to any other quality. I personally think the transfers look pretty good; there are several grainy scenes interspersed throughout the series, however I’m sure this is due to the quality of the original film negatives.

The acting is excellent, with Meiko Kaji portraying the titular role in each movie. I find Kaji to be a stellar actress, and I regret I have not seen her in anything else that I can recall. The supporting cast in each film does a good job as well, however I cannot single out a particular performance that shines.

The special effects in the films are well done and look good. In addition to the blood, we get some decent carnage as well. One particular gruesome scene that threatened to haunt me shows a naked man with a bloody tree stump rammed into where his genitals should be. I cringed when I saw this, and I doubt the image will leave my mind anytime soon.

The stories are all separate, however they relate to each other as a continuation of the plotline. Surprisingly, they do not get old, and they really don’t repeat each other. I was expecting to see a rehash of the previous film as I continued to watch the series, however that didn’t happen. Instead, I found myself continuously engaged as the storyline unfolded.

The FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION complete set is a big win for me, and it’s another tally-mark on a big list of excellent releases from Arrow Video and MVD Distribution. I highly recommend this collection, and I can’t wait to see what obscure classics they come up with next. The FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION is available now.

The Special Features include:

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (3000 copies)
• Brand new 2K restorations of all four films in the series presented on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
• Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays) for all films
• Optional English subtitles for all films
• Double-sided fold out poster of two original artworks
• Reversible sleeves for all films featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan
• Booklet featuring an extract from Unchained Melody: The Films of Meiko Kaji, an upcoming book on the star by critic and author Tom Mes, an archive interview with Meiko Kaji, and a brand new interview with Toru Shinohara, creator of the original Female Prisoner Scorpion manga

FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION
• Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Gareth Evans (The Raid)
• Archive interview with director Shunya Ito
• New interview with assistant director Yutaka Kohira
• Theatrical Trailers for all films in the series

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41
• Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kier-La Janisse
• Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Shunya Ito
• New interview with production designer Tadayuki Kuwana
• Original Theatrical Trailer

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE
• Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kat Ellinger
• Archive interview with director Shunya Ito
• New visual essay on the career of star and icon Meiko Kaji by critic Tom Mes
• Original Theatrical Trailer

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: #701’s GRUDGE SONG
• Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts)
• Archive interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe
• Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Yasuharu Hasebe
• Visual essay on the Scorpion series by critic Tom Mes
• Original Theatrical Trailer

MSB

Movie Review – The Neon Dead (2016)

The Neon Dead
Directed by Torey Haas
Courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing
Release Date: September 13, 2016

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I rolled my eyes when I first read the title of this film. I thought, “Really? THE NEON DEAD? We’ve gone from the “living” dead to “walking” dead, and now we have the “neon” dead?” I wasn’t impressed. But, since I’m a sucker for a good low-budget horror jaunt, I decided to give it a shot anyway. Wild Eye Releasing rarely steers me wrong, and I figured maybe I was judging a book by its title (I can’t say “judging a book by its cover” here because the artwork for this DVD is wickedly cool).

Sure enough, I got way more than I bargained for with THE NEON DEAD. Chocked full of quirky humor and admirable special effects, this is a film reminiscent of THE EVIL DEAD and DEAD ALIVE. And while it’s not an excellent movie, it’s still a lot of fun to watch.

If you are not familiar with THE NEON DEAD, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing:

An unemployed recent college grad hires two freelance paranormal exterminators to combat a monster infestation in her new home. But their prodding into the new evil found in the home unleashes an ancient demon and his army of monsters, intent to possess any human they make contact with.

I’m happy to report this film is better than I thought it would be. Director Torey Haas has a lot of talent, it seems, and I’m eager to see what he has in store for us next.

THE NEON DEAD is shot well and looks pretty good onscreen. The production value appears high for a low-budget film, and the production team does a good job of utilizing their funds.

The acting is surprisingly very good. Usually with low budget fare, the money is reserved for special effects and off-camera talent; not so here. I can’t speak to what the actors were paid, but they do a great job in their roles. Marie Barker shines as the headstrong monster-infested damsel, Allison, while Greg Garrison and D. Dylan Schettina give believable performances as the goofball “exterminators”.

The special effects are nice and edgy. I particularly like the use of black-lighting and digital effects to make the monsters neon bright. My sole complaint about the effects is that some of the camera shots seem to fail in hiding the fact they are being shot in black-light. I didn’t like how evident that came across, as it sort of took me out of the film.

The story in THE NEON DEAD is pretty good, and I have to tip my hat to Haas again here; the story is original, but its execution overshadows the concept. The resulting film is hokey but intense, a nice combination that reminded me of my first time watching ARMY OF DARKNESS. I can’t say THE NEON DEAD is as good as Sam Raimi’s work, but it’s a solid effort nonetheless.

THE NEON DEAD is schlocky fun, and I think horror comedy fans will enjoy it. Don’t go into it expecting to be amazed; just buckle in and enjoy the film for what it is.

MSB

TV Show Blu-ray Review – Twin Peaks: The Original Series, Fire Walk With Me, & The Missing Pieces

Twin Peaks: The Original Series, Fire Walk With Me, & The Missing Pieces
Courtesy of Paramount Home Media Entertainment
Original Year of Release: 1990-1991
Blu-ray Release Date: September 20, 2016

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Today, I have the privilege of reviewing one of my most anticipated titles ever: TWIN PEAKS. I have been a big fan of David Lynch for many years, however I was never able to watch TWIN PEAKS for some reason. When I could find one of the VHS tapes, I could never find the rest; same with the DVDs. But now Paramount has released the entire series on Blu-ray, along with FIRE WALK WITH ME (the prequel movie), and a slew of extra features. Thus, this is a Lynch fan’s dream!

I have to say: the show is definitely worth all of the hype. I daresay it is now one of my Top Ten TV Shows of All Time. Full of intrigue and dark humor, this murder mystery goes WAY beyond the boundaries of normalcy and offers a vastly entertaining experience. If you’re new to the show like I was, this is the definitive collection to pick up. And if you’re a veteran “Peaker”, then you’ll want to snatch this up as a collector’s item. Regardless, make sure this set is on your To Buy List.

If you are not familiar with TWIN PEAKS, here is the plot synopsis:

The body of a young girl (Laura Palmer) is washed up on a beach near the small Washington state town of Twin Peaks. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is called in to investigate her strange demise only to uncover a web of mystery that ultimately leads him deep into the heart of the surrounding woodland and his very own soul.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to start the first episode. I have seen FIRE WALK WITH ME a couple of times in the past decade or so, but it pales in comparison to the TV show. When the somber opening theme music started on the pilot episode, my arms broke out in goosebumps. And when the final episode finished, I almost cried. “More!” my brain screamed.

Thankfully, this set includes just about everything PEAKS related that is available. In addition to the complete series (including a foreign pilot that is a bit different than the U.S. version) and the prequel movie, this contains several extras that will satiate even the heartiest of fans.

Each episode of TWIN PEAKS is shot well, in typical Lynch fashion. The cinematography does a magnificent job of capturing the picturesque Pacific Northwest landscape, and every detail can be accounted for onscreen. The HD transfer for the Blu-ray looks great, although the episodes are still in Fullscreen (I was hoping for Widescreen). This is not a detractor at all, just an observation.

Likewise, the sound quality is excellent. I enjoyed hearing the rushing water of the waterfall and other ambient sounds in my surround sound speakers, as it immersed me even deeper into the show.

The cast is stellar, with an all-star ensemble of Who’s Who in Hollywood today. Kyle MacLachlan does an outstanding job as the quirky Agent Cooper; Laura Flynn Boyle and Sherilyn Fenn shine as classmates of the deceased Laura Palmer; Dana Ashbrook is the gruff and wild Bobby Briggs; Joan Chen sizzles as Jocelyn Packard; and so on. I could go on, but my review would get a bit monotonous pretty quick.

This TWIN PEAKS Blu-ray collection is a huge win for me, and I highly recommend it. If you’re not already a fan, now is the perfect time to get on the bandwagon (new episodes of the show will air next year, 2017, on Showtime!); if you’re an existing fan, add this set to your library and enjoy knowing it is there. The collection is available now.

MSB

Movie Review – Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977)

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun
Directed by Jess Franco
Courtesy of Full Moon Features
Original Year of Release: 1977
DVD Release Date: August 18, 2016

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If you’ve followed my reviews at all over the past few years, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Grindhouse flicks. Interestingly, this genre of film can fall into several categories: Exploitation, Blaxploitation, even Sexploitation. But up until recently, I had never heard of Nunsploitation. I should have known, however, that infamous director Jess Franco would be involved. Franco is responsible for some of the best known exploitation films ever, and LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN is no different. When it comes to Grindhouse films, Franco is a master.

If you are not familiar with LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Full Moon Direct:

16-year-old Maria is forced into Serra D’Aires convent, secretly run by Satanists. Her confessor is in collusion with the Mother Superior. Maria is tortured, forced into sex with men, women, and the horned Devil, and told that it’s all a bad dream. She writes a letter to God, and a Knight rescues her, only to fall into the hands of the Inquisition, put on the rack, and condemned to death like Joan of Arc. Susan Hemingway, William Berger, Herbert Fux and Ana Zanatti star in a movie so confronting that censorship bans prevented its release for two years. The other releases in the Jess Franco Collection can be purchased at Full Moon Direct. Collecting the entire series of Franco films will result in the building of an exclusive Jess Franco painting on the spines of the DVDs.

I’m very glad Full Moon has many of Franco’s films available to purchase. Distributors like Full Moon keep the exploitation genre alive and well, and they allow new generations to see and appreciate them.

LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN is shot much like Franco’s previous films. The cinematography captures the details of the sets, while focusing mainly on the characters (and the nudity) in each scene. And speaking of flesh, this film is a bit toned down from many of Franco’s other offerings. Not that this detracts from the movie at all, but I was surprised to see as little nudity as there was.

The acting in the film is above standard for a Franco film. Actress Susan Hemingway makes her acting debut as Maria, the young girl forced into the convent. Hemingway does a fine job in her role, and I’m surprised she didn’t go on to bigger and better things; surprisingly, she was cast in six more Franco productions, but then ended her acting career in 1983, after VOCES DE MUERTE.

The special effects in LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN look like typical Franco fare; the blood looks like paint, and there’s no real gore to speak of. Still, this doesn’t detract from the film…if anything, it makes the tongue-in-cheek aspect more fun.

The plot is interesting to me, and I would love to see a more serious movie made from it. The concept of Satanists running a convent back in medieval times is very intriguing, and I have to wonder if it hasn’t been fleshed out before. If not, I tip my hat to Franco for his ingenuity.

LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN is a win for me, and fans of Franco and/or exploitation films should find it enjoyable. The film is available now on DVD.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)

The Bloodstained Butterfly
Directed by Duccio Tessari
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1971
Blu-ray Release Date: August 23, 2016

bloodstained

Thanks to author John Grisham, I enjoy a good legal thriller, whether in book or film form. Even so, horror will always be my favorite genre in either media. So when I received the press release for THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY, which is touted as a giallo-styled legal thriller, my curiosity was instantly piqued. Could two vastly different genres be fused into an entertaining film?

The answer is yes. THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY is not your everyday giallo, nor is it an actual horror movie per se. But regardless of how you classify it, the film is vastly entertaining and very worthy of a look.

If you are not familiar with THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution:

Directed by Duccio Tessari (Death Occurred Last Night, A Pistol for Ringo), The Bloodstained Butterfly melds the lurid giallo traditions popularized by Dario Argento and Mario Bava with courtroom drama, resulting in a film that is as concerned with forensic detail and legal process as it is with grisly murders and audacious set-pieces.

When a young female student is savagely killed in a park during a thunderstorm, the culprit seems obvious: her lover, TV sports personality Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia, Death Rage), seen fleeing the scene of the crime by numerous eyewitnesses. The evidence against him is damning… but is it all too convenient? And when the killer strikes again while Marchi is in custody, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s more to the case than meets the eye…

Starring 70s heartthrob Helmut Berger (Dorian Gray, The Godfather: Part III) alongside genre mainstays Evelyn Stewart (The Psychic, The Case of the Scorpion s Tail) and Carole André (Colt 38 Special Squad), and featuring a score by Gianni Ferrio (Death Walks at Midnight), The Bloodstained Butterfly is presented uncut and in a sumptuous new 4K restoration that allows this unique and haunting thriller to shine like never before!

I think the uniqueness of this film is a big part of what makes it so entertaining. It’s not really a horror movie, although it does have the “slasher” element to it. Instead, it’s more of a crime-drama with bite. Granted, some of the court scenes seem a bit long, but they are important to keep the story moving. In the end, I think even seasoned horror fans will enjoy this one anyway.

THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY is shot very well, and the HD transfer looks excellent. I don’t know what previous DVD and VHS versions look like, but the quality of the Blu-ray makes it look like the film could have been made in recent years. Likewise, the sound is great as well; the surround sound is crisp and clear.

The acting is very good, with Helmet Berger headlining alongside Evelyn Stewart and Carole Andre. The whole cast meshes well, and the chemistry between them is evident onscreen. I particularly like how there’s no “over-acting” in this film; some of the giallos I’ve seen in the past are overloaded with Captain Kirk-esque characters, and they get old very fast. Not so here, thankfully.

The story is interesting and inventive, however as I mentioned earlier, it’s not really a horror piece. Instead, the plot unfolds into a murder mystery. The audience is given clues as the storyline progresses, which allows a deeper immersion into the film. The end is satisfying and fun, a worthy conclusion to a great film.

THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY is a great flick, and I recommend it. Don’t go into it expecting a lot of gore or intensity. Just accept the fact it’s a legal thriller with some giallo aspects, and you’ll be in for a treat. In addition to the HD picture and sound, the Blu-ray comes with a host of Special Features, including:

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
• High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray (Region A) and Standard Definition (480p) DVD (Region 1) presentations
• Original Italian and English soundtracks in DTS-HD MA mono 1.0
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary with critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman
• Murder in B-Flat Minor, a new visual essay on the film, its cast and crew by author Troy Howarth
• New career retrospective on director Duccio Tessari
• Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
• Gallery of original promotional images
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
• Limited edition 36-page booklet illustrated by Tonci Zonjic, containing writing by James Blackford, Howard Hughes and Leonard Jacobs

MSB

Movie Review – Warcraft (2016)

Warcraft
Directed by Duncan Jones
Courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: September 27, 2016

warcraft

I have to confess: I did not have high expectations for WARCRAFT. When I saw the trailer, my first thought was, “This movie is going to bomb.” I’ve been burned way too many times on film adaptations of video games, therefore my defenses went up, and I just shook my head. But part of me hoped the film would be decent, especially after I heard director Duncan Jones was at the helm. Jones has directed a couple of excellent science fiction forays in the past (particularly MOON and SOURCE CODE), so maybe he could eek out a worthwhile picture.

Lo and behold, Jones not only exceeded my expectations with this film, he blew them out of the water.

While the credits rolled, I sat in stunned silence as I processed what I had just seen. The epic adventure I had just witnessed in all of its color-bursting splendor literally left me awed. I checked the clock; how had two hours flown by without me realizing it?

My mind has forever been changed about video game adaptations. They CAN be made, and they CAN be entertaining. Put aside your previous assumptions about games going to the big screen and watch WARCRAFT. Even if you’re not a fan of the game, you’ll still enjoy yourself immensely and have a great entertainment experience.

If you are not familiar with WARCRAFT, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment:

The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, an unlikely set of heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their families, their people and their home. So begins a spectacular saga of power and sacrifice in which war has many faces, and everyone fights for something.

I have not personally played the game, however I’ve watched my buddy Brian immerse himself in it many times. As such, I feel confident in saying director Jones truly captured the spirit of the World of Warcraft. But this is only one reason why the film so good.

WARCRAFT is shot very well and looks absolutely stunning onscreen. This is the first film I’ve seen that seems to push the limits of 4K HD. The colors are vibrant and electric, making the world of Azeroth and the Orcs jump off the screen as if alive. CG has truly come far, and as a result, it’s hard to tell where the real world ends and the animation starts.

The acting is very good, with the whole cast giving wonderful performances. I was particularly pleased with Paula Patton’s portrayal of Garona, the half-breed. She does a great job of bringing a human presence to the Orc race. I also enjoyed Ben Foster as Medivh. Foster once again shows his diverse acting talents, and he tackles this role with fervor.

The story in WARCRAFT is engaging and fun. But even more impressive is that viewers do not need to be familiar with the World of Warcraft video game in order to understand the plot. A brief history is given at the opening of the film, and it sets the stage on which the rest of the movie is based. As the story unfolds, the viewer is given just enough knowledge to follow what is happening. The pacing is perfect, and the movie moves at a nice clip.

WARCRAFT is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend giving it a look. Be sure and check it out in 4K for the brilliant HD and outstanding Dolby Atmos sound. The film hits store shelves next week, so make a note now.

MSB