Blu-ray Movie Review – Madhouse (1981)

Madhouse
Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis (aka Oliver Hellman)
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1981
Blu-ray Release Date: June 13, 2017

MADHOUSE is one of those films I’ve heard about for years, but never got the chance to watch until now. And I’m glad I finally got to see it. To quote one of the video store employees I used to talk to about horror movies way back in the day, the movie “takes sibling rivalry to the extreme,” and he’s not kidding. If I had a brother or sister that treated me like Mary does Julia, I’d probably have wound up in a mental institution! MADHOUSE is a gut-wrenching trek into insanity, and although it’s not perfect, it’s still a lot of fun.

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

MANY PEOPLE VISIT … NO ONE EVER LEAVES.
Helmed by legendary producer/director Ovidio Assonitis, the man behind such cult favourites as The Visitor and Piranha II: The Spawning, Madhouse is a crimson-soaked tale of sibling rivalry taken to a terrifying and bloody extreme.

Julia has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the torment she suffered at the hands of her twisted twin Mary… but Mary hasn’t forgotten. Escaping hospital, where she s recently been admitted with a horrific, disfiguring illness, Julia s sadistic sister vows to exact a particularly cruel revenge on her sibling this year promising a birthday surprise that she’ll never forget.

An Italian production shot entirely in Savannah, Georgia, Madhouse (aka And When She Was Bad and There Was a Little Girl) fuses slasher elements with the over-the-top excess of 80s Italian terror resulting in a cinematic bloodbath so gut-wrenching that the British authorities saw fit to outlaw it as a video nasty.

Director Ovidio Assonitis shot this film under the name Oliver Hellman, but I’ve never discovered the reason as to why. Of similar interest is the fact this film is an Italian work, however it was filmed entirely in the southeastern United States. No explanation was given for this either, however. These aspects don’t change my opinion of the movie…they are just interesting facts to plug into your brain.

MADHOUSE looks great from a cinematic standpoint. The camerawork is simply used to tell the story, and does not have any sort of artistic appeal, which is fine. The production value appears fairly decent, which makes the overall look of the film to be that of a higher budget work.

The acting is pretty good as well, although I don’t think anybody will win any awards for their performances. Trish Everly does a fine job as Julia, while Allison Biggers is convincing as her psycho-sister, Mary. Dennis Robertson is probably the best of the cast as he portrays the messed up Father James.

The special effects in MADHOUSE are very good for the time period, and the film boasts some nice carnage in the gore department. I particularly like the scene where the Rottweiler is killed with the drill; this effect is well done and very convincing.

The plot is the main problem with this movie. It is simply too slow paced for the film to ever achieve a true sense of suspense. Clocking in at around 92 minutes, the film would have probably been even more potent it they had shaved at least 10-15 minutes off it. Still, if you can look past the dragging parts, the movie is quite entertaining.

MADHOUSE is definitely worthy of watching, and I recommend giving it a shot. It’s a hybrid film, combining a semi-clever mystery (I caught on pretty quick) with a taut slasher flick. Be ready for some interesting scenes, but also be ready to sit through a bit of lag as well.

MADHOUSE is available now.

Special Features

• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition presentations
• Original Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
• Brand new interviews with cast and crew
• Alternate Opening Titles
• Theatrical Trailer, newly transferred in HD
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
• FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring new writing on the film

MSB

Movie Review – Voodoo Passion (1977)

Voodoo Passion
(aka Call of the Blonde Goddess)
Directed by Jess Franco
Courtesy of Full Moon Features
Original Year of Release: 1977
DVD Release Date: June 15, 2017

I’ve seen several of Franco’s films now, and I have to say: the man definitely likes to diversify his softcore premises. No idea what I’m talking about? Let’s break down Franco’s films: he does just about every type of exploitation subgenre available: Sexploitation, Nunsploitation, Goresploitation, etc. There are not many angles he won’t use to show flesh in his films, which is why many fans call him the Eurosleaze King.

VOODOO PASSION is one of his better films, in my opinion. While this one has just as much skin as any other Franco flick, it comes across as less hokey, and the plotline builds more tension than in previous works. I’m not sure why this one stands out from the rest, however it is evident that this is more of a horror flick and less of the softcore variety.

If you are not familiar with VOODOO PASSION, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Full Moon Features:

Eurosleaze maverick Jess Franco and producer Erwin C. Dietrich team up again for Voodoo Passion (aka Call of the Blonde Goddess and Porno Shock), a voyeuristic, sex-soaked thriller that veers wildly between reality and fantasy.

Actress Ada Tauler stars as Susan, who arrives in Haiti to live with her new husband Jack (Franco regular Jack Taylor from Female Vampire), who has an apparently unhealthy, possibly incestuous relationship with his sister Olga. Getting lost in a fever dream of sexual delirium, Susan suddenly finds herself lost in a weird world of black magic, clandestine couplings and bloody voodoo rituals, all the while her possibly sinister housekeeper (Muriel Motosse) looks on lustfully. More coherent then many of Franco’s dream-state erotic horror films, Voodoo Passion also stars frequent collaborator Karine Gambier and features a groovy score by Walter Baumgartner (Franco’s Jack the Ripper).

The film is presented fully uncut and digitally remastered from Dietrich’s original negative.

I’ve mentioned before, but I’ll reiterate: I’m glad Full Moon has many of Franco’s films available to purchase. They are doing a great job of keeping exploitation films alive and well, for existing fans and future cinema lovers alike.

VOODOO PASSION is shot very much like Franco’s previous films. The cinematography does a great job of capturing the details of the sets, while still focusing primarily on the characters (and the nudity) in each scene. And speaking of skin, this film has plenty of it. Fans of Franco’s love of the female form will certainly be entertained here.

The acting is not great, however it doesn’t really detract from the film. Nobody gives an outstanding performance, however neither does anybody suck bad enough to take away from the plot.

The special effects in VOODOO PASSION are again minimal but still look decent enough. A couple of chickens have their heads cut off, and I’d swear they are real…however I cannot confirm that. The blood looks semi-realistic, at least.

The plot is truly tension-filled, and I like how quickly it moves along. Some of Franco’s films tend to drag, however this one does not. The flow is nice and steady, offering up plenty of terrifying moments and some truly stressful situations.

VOODOO PASSION is a big win for me, and it ranks up at the top of my list of Franco films. It won’t be for everybody, but if you’re a fan of Eurosleaze or Franco in general, you should definitely check this one out. It is available now.

MSB

Movie Review – Feed the Light (2017)

Feed the Light
Directed by Henrik Moller
Courtesy of Intervision Picture Corp. & CAV Distribution
Release Date: June 27, 2017

I’m sure I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I’ll state this once more: if a project is inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s work, chances are good that I’ll check it out. Such is the case with Swedish horror flick, FEED THE LIGHT. When I read in the press release that it was based on a Lovecraft short story, I knew without a doubt I had to watch it. I’m glad I got the opportunity to do so because, although it is low budget, it’s a nice and chilling jaunt into cosmic horror.

If you are not familiar with FEED THE LIGHT, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of

From producer/director/co-writer Henrik Möller comes a new landmark in underground Swedish horror, inspired by equal parts H.P. Lovecraft, David Lynch, and something far more disturbing: When her daughter is abducted by her ex-husband, a young mother will track the missing child and its father to a mysterious institution. But once inside, she will find herself trapped in a hallucinatory netherworld where reality turns amorphous, survival becomes parasitic, and an infested darkness lives and feeds in the light.

I guess I should clarify that FEED THE LIGHT is only loosely based on a Lovecraft story. This film is a modernized take on THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE, but the influence is definitely evident.

FEED THE LIGHT is shot decently, although the picture is very grainy and the tone is in a dull greyscale (not even really black-and-white). Interestingly enough, this low-budget look and feel really works for the film. It helps the industrial setting look even darker, and it even makes the tension in the film more palpable. This is hard to explain…it’s more of something you have to experience to understand. Even more interesting is the fact that, per the film’s IMDB page, director Henrik Moller originally shot the film in color but didn’t like the result. He switched over to black-and-white in post-production.

The acting is pretty good as well. Lina Sunden does a very convincing job as Sara Hansson, the main character. She is supported by Martin Jirhamn, who plays Vaktmastaren, and Patrik Karlson, who portrays her ex-husband. Nobody really gives a standout performance, but the acting does not bog the film down at all.

The special effects in FEED THE LIGHT are minimal, but they are done well and a few are even offered in color, lending a lot of credibility to the tension inside the film. I particularly like the black “blobs” that are used for the unknown entities. I didn’t think they would work at first, but as the film progressed, I found them more and more terrifying. Not knowing the true shape of a creatures is almost just as scary as actually seeing it!

FEED THE LIGHT won’t be for everybody, but I really enjoyed it. This is low-budget fare, therefore many folks will probably shy away from it. But if you give it a look, I bet you will be entertained. The conclusion is quite vague, so there are many things left to question. But you don’t have to have answers to enjoy this film. FEED THE LIGHT is available now.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – Terror in a Texas Town (1958)

Terror in a Texas Town
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Courtesy of Arrow Academy & MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1958
Blu-ray Release Date: July 11, 2017

I have to confess: when I first got the press release for TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN, I thought it was for a horror movie. You have to admit, the title does fit perfectly for a fright flick. But when I realized it was a Western, I launched it to it nonetheless. After all, Arrow and MVD have rarely ever steered me in the wrong direction.

And sure enough, they produce the goods once more.

TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN is an excellent, albeit different, genre film, and it’s one I recommend you give a look soon. This is not TOMBSTONE or SHANE remade…no, this is a nice little B-grade Western that offers an intriguing storyline, interesting characters, and even a social commentary or two.

If you are not familiar with TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Academy & MVD Distribution:

For his 41st and final feature film, Joseph H. Lewis was able to combine the two genres in which he had excelled. The man in the director s chair for My Name is Julia Ross, Gun Crazy and The Big Combo, Lewis was one of the all-time greats in film noir. But he was also a fine director of Westerns, having made A Lawless Street, 7th Cavalry and The Halliday Brand, all of which especially the last remain underrated. Terror in a Texas Town would bring his noir sensibilities to the American West, resulting in one of his finest works.

McNeil (Sebastian Cabot, The Time Machine) is a greedy hotel owner who wants to take control of Prairie City, the Texas town of the title. Keen to drive the local farmers of their land, McNeil hires a gunman, Johnny Crale (Nedrick Young, who would pen the Oscar-winning screenplay for The Defiant Ones the same year), resulting in the death of a former whaler. The dead man s son, George Hansen (Sterling Hayden, The Killing), arrives in town to inherit the farm and set the stage for revenge armed with only his father s old harpoon…

Terror in a Texas Town was written by Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten blacklisted by the film industry and forced to write under pseudonyms or to use fronts . Two years before he helped break the blacklist with on-screen credits for Otto Preminger s Exodus and Stanley Kubrick s Spartacus, his work was credited to Ben Perry, but it demonstrates a psychological depth and political dimension that is undoubtedly that of Trumbo.

I think the unusual aspects of this film are a big part of what make it so good for me. For example, the hero is not a traditional Western good guy; he’s a Swedish whaler’s son. Also, the weapon he chooses to use: a harpoon. Who ever heard of using a harpoon in the Old West? But it totally works for this film!

TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN is shot well and looks great onscreen. The picture is in black and white, but you barely notice because the story is so gripping. I though the b&w aspect would throw me off, but it did not in the least.

The acting is very good. I read other reviews that stated the B-grade quality of the acting was lacking. I disagree completely. Everybody in the cast does a great job. Sterling Hayden, who plays the main character, George Hansen, does a stupendous job as a Swedish immigrant, from the way he talks down to his mannerisms. And Sebastian Cabot shines as the bad guy, McNeil.

The story in TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN, as mentioned, is very interesting and, despite the fact we’ve seen it numerous times, it is well done and engaging. The basic plot reminds me a bit of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which is another reason I found the film so much fun. But don’t let its familiarity dissuade you from seeing this film; you’ll greatly enjoy it regardless.

TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN is a big win for me, and it’s a definitive feather in Arrow Academy and MVD’s cap. I love the fact Arrow Academy is preserving films like this with the Blu-ray treatment, and I can’t wait to see what’s on their title list for the future. TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN is available now. In addition to a great picture and sound quality, the Blu-ray offers special edition contents that include:

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
• Brand-new 2K restoration from original film elements produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM Audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Introduction by Peter Stanfield, author of Hollywood, Westerns and the 1930s: The Lost Trail and Horse Opera: The Strange History of the Singing Cowboy
• Scene-select commentaries by Stanfield
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Vladimir Zimakov
• FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing by Glenn Kenny

MSB

Movie Review – The Fate of the Furious (2017)

The Fate of the Furious
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: July 11, 2017

I’ve been a fan of director F. Gary Gray for a long time without even realizing it. Gray is responsible for the classic 90’s comedy FRIDAY, which is one of my favorite laugh-out-loud films. He dabbled with music videos and a few other films for a while afterward, until 2015, when he once again gained notoriety with STRAIGHT OUTA COMPTON, the biographical adaptation of rap group NWA. Now, Gray has moved into action territory with the most recent installment of the FAST AND THE FURIOUS series, THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS.

I have to admit: I wasn’t sure the franchise could keep the storyline fresh with an eighth film. After all, you can only do “fast cars save the day” so many times. But thankfully, Gray and his production team came up with a unique and entertaining plot that fans of the series should love. Granted, it’s a bit over the top, but we could argue that every film in the collection shares that trait. THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS is a fine addition to the franchise’s canon, and I can’t wait to see where things go with the next installment.

If you are not familiar with THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment:

Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Michelle Rodriguez lead an all-star cast as the global blockbuster franchise delivers its most action-packed, high octane adrenaline rush yet in The Fate of the Furious. Now that Dom (Diesel) and Letty (Rodriguez) are married and Brian and Mia have retired from the game—and the rest of the crew has been exonerated—the globetrotting team has found a semblance of a normal life. But when a mysterious woman (Oscar winner, Charlize Theron) seduces Dom into the world of crime he can’t seem to escape and a betrayal of those closest to him, they will face trials that will test them as never before. From the shores of Cuba and the streets of New York City to the icy plains off the arctic Barents Sea, our elite force will crisscross the globe to stop an anarchist from unleashing chaos on the world’s stage… and to bring home the man who made them a family.

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS is shot well and looks great onscreen. I had the pleasure of watching the film in 4K Ultra HD, and the picture is stunning. The detail is precise, and the dynamic color range forces the picture to burst off the screen. I definitely recommend the 4K format, if you have the capability to utilize it.

The acting is very good, with the film boasting an all-star cast. Vin Diesel once again reprises his role as Dom, and he is joined by fan favorites Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Tyrese Gibson. This veteran group is accented by newcomers Charlize Theron, Kurt Russell, and Scott Eastwood.

The action is swift and intense, and the storyline moves at a nice clip. As I mentioned, things get a bit over the top, especially when the team winds up in the Arctic, but you’re having so much fun with the film by that point, it’s easy to forget just how Ludacris things are getting. And when the film really gets going, it’s like a huge jolt of adrenaline was just injected into the script with a syringe. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be ready for a cool towel and a cold drink.

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS is a big win for me, and I recommend it. If you’re new to the franchise, you’ll probably want to give the previous films a look; but if you’re already in the thick of things, then you’ll love the direction in which director Gray takes the plot. Buckle up before you watch, though…the film might just give you whiplash. The film hits store shelves tomorrow.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
Directed by Dario Argento
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1970
Blu-ray Release Date: June 20, 2017

I think every horror filmmaker has a single work that most audiences associate with when they hear his or her name. When folks hear George Romero, I’ll bet most think of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; when they talk about Lucio Fulci, they think ZOMBIE; and when the discussion turns to Dario Argento, they think SUSPIRIA.

But when I personally hear Argento’s name, I immediately think of the film that put him on the map: THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. This movie helped launch the giallo genre into the mainstream public’s eye, and it also introduced a master filmmaker to the world. Thanks to the fine folks at Arrow and MVD, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is available now on a special edition Blu-ray that offers a slew of extras in addition to an HD version of the movie. Horror fans and thriller buffs alike will want to add this to their libraries immediately!

If you are not familiar with THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution:

In 1970, young first-time director Dario Argento (Deep Red, Suspiria) made his indelible mark on Italian cinema with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage a film which redefined the ‘giallo’ genre of murder-mystery thrillers and catapulted him to international stardom.

Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante, We Own the Night), an American writer living in Rome, inadvertently witnesses a brutal attack on a woman (Eva Renzi, Funeral in Berlin) in a modern art gallery. Powerless to help, he grows increasingly obsessed with the incident. Convinced that something he saw that night holds the key to identifying the maniac terrorizing Rome, he launches his own investigation parallel to that of the police, heedless of the danger to both himself and his girlfriend Giulia (Suzy Kendall, Spasmo)…

A staggeringly assured debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage establishes the key traits that would define Argento’s filmography, including lavish visuals and a flare for wildly inventive, brutal scenes of violence. With sumptuous cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) and a seductive score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone (Once Upon a Time in the West), this landmark film has never looked or sounded better in this new, 4K-restored limited edition from Arrow Video!

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Argento a few months ago at Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas (don’t believe me? Click here to check out the pics!), and the guy is a class act. I found it very humbling to be in the presence of such a horror genius, and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity. Interestingly, Arrow Video was also in attendance at TFW for the first time ever, and they show the restored version of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE as one of the weekend’s film features. This was obviously a major treat, since Argento was a featured guest.

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is shot very well, and the cinematography shows Argento’s trademark style of stark color schemes and a bizarre patterns. I love this aspect of his films, especially those seen in SUSPIRIA, because it draws the eye to unusual places on the screen. The HD transfer is fantastic, and the Blu-ray gives both the picture and the sound a major upgrade to previous DVD versions.

The acting is very good, although I’m not familiar with most of the cast. A couple of names, like Suzy Kendall and Tony Musante stick out, but only because I’ve heard them discussed within the context of this film.

The special effects are pretty good for the time period. Many of the films I see from around this era contain paint-like blood, which are blood effects that are thin, runny, and overly bright. The blood in THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is actually darker than most, and therefore looks fairly realistic.

The plot is a slick “whodunit” with a nice twist at the end that I confess I did not see coming. Argento is to be commended for his directing as well as his writing; he creates a clever serial-killer mystery that leaves you guessing until the end.

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is a major win for me, and I’m extremely happy with how Arrow and MVD handled it. This Limited Edition set has beautiful cover art and a host of special features. Pick this one up soon, before they sell out!!

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study
• New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger
• New interview with writer/director Dario Argento
• New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
• Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook

MSB