Wednesday, July 13, 2016

HARLOT / TIJUANA BLUE - Vinegar Syndrome (DVD Review)


USA/1970, 1971
Directed By: Howard Ziehm
Written By: Howard Ziehm, Frank Cozart
Starring: Fran Spector, Marsha Bishop, Bill Pruner
Color/156 Minutes/X
Region FREE
Release Date: May 31, 2016

The Films
This double feature fro director Howard Ziehm is an interesting pair of early 70s smut that takes us to opposite extremes of the early days of porn. HARLOT plays out in an almost episodic manner, following the sexual exploits of best friends Mary and Melody as Melody plays catch up to her far more sexually open friend. We see each adventure get a little crazier than the last, including a scene where a man carries her around in powerbomb position (non pro wrestling fans should Google what a powerbomb is) while eating her out. I can't say in good faith that I'd never thought about that but seeing it played out was as ridiculous as I had pictured.


TIJUANA BLUE adds a rougher and dirtier element to the double feature, as we follow a man named Jamie on his quest to complete a drug run to earn money to pay for an abortion for his girlfriend but gets caught up in much seedier and violent things in the underbellies of Tijuana and Los Angeles. There's some serious hot and heavy action going on mixed with a competent story that adds a certain grit to the sticky feeling beneath your shoes. It's a mix of everything exploitation films can offer.

The Audio & Video
Vinegar Syndrome has restored and scanned both films in 2K from original 16mm vault elements. They're still rough around the edges at times with speckling and scratches but both films have a nice quality overall that is fitting for porn from the era. I can't say the image is pristine or that it shines but I'm more than happy with how things look in the 1.33:1 full frame transfer. The Dolby Digital English mono audio tracks sound fine as well despite some slight instances of background noise. Otherwise the tracks are perfectly listenable and mixed well.


The Extras
Director Howard Ziehm provides audio commentary for both films.


The Bottom Line
This entry into Vinegar Syndrome's Peekarama Collection is an unassuming double feature that gives us a wide range of sexy fun and entertainment from the light hearted to downright dirty and mean. There's something for every fan of vintage X rated fare.

HARLOT / TIJUANA BLUE is available HERE

Sunday, July 10, 2016

CHILDREN OF THE CORN Franchise Retrospective Part 2: Urban Harvest & The Gathering


Before I get in to the next two chapters of the CHILDREN OF THE CORN SERIES let me admit that I'll be writing about Urban Harvest on memories close to two months old. I watched the movie in anticipation of writing this entry into the franchise retrospective and simply forgot to write about it. I honestly don't want to sit through the movie again this soon after having just watched it.


Eli and Joshua who know nothing but life on the farm are adopted by a couple from Chicago after the death of their father at the hands of Eli and have a hard time adjusting to life around the big city, especially the younger brother. They dress weird and talk weird and even packed a suitcase full of corn to bring a taste of home to their new family. During his first night at the new house Eli sneaks out of the house to an abandoned factory on the other side of the fence and plants corn seeds while praying to He Who Walks Behind The Rows. Almost instantly a field of corn has grown which gathers the attention William, his adopted father, for the massive profits it could bring. Unfortunately for William this corn will turn any child who eats it into brainless followers of He Who Walks Behind The Rows and they turn on the adults of the school which would be bad enough but then He Who Walks Behind The Rows rises from the soil of the cornfield in the form of a giant monster that looks like a giant deformed penis and it's up to Joshua and the remaining normal kids to destroy the monster and send him back to where he came from.


CHILDREN OF THE CORN III: URBAN HARVEST was released in 1995 and was the first film in the series to be produced by Dimension films and Mirimax and is largely a dud. While there are some unintentionally funny moments including the reveal of a suitcase full of corn and the mom thinking her Eli is not only a bratty little bastard but also a weird kid she wants nothing to do with and I do think the monster was a nice change for the series that up to now has only had unseen forces paired up with the killer children to do the evil. Yes, the giant dick shape that it's head has gave me the chuckles because sometimes I'm still a 12 year old boy who thinks farts and dicks are hilarious, but it was actually a well designed creature that didn't look cheap or fake which is no surprise since Screaming Mad George (Nightmare On Elm Street 3, Society) worked on the special effects and makeup. The imposing monster is easily the best thing about the movie because otherwise it is dull, full of cookie cutter characters and offers little in the way of anything redeeming. It's worth noting that this film is the debut feature film for Charlize Theron who plays one of Eli's followers.

Late edit: After viewing the end monster battle again I have to say that if the whole movie was as entertaining as that 10 minutes this movie would be fucking awesome. It's a death filled, giant monster video game boss battle and it's a lot of fun to watch. Too bad the rest of the movie stinks.


1996 brought CHILDREN OF THE CORN IV: THE GATHERING, the first in the series to go straight to video. The film centers around Grace Rhodes (Naomi Watts in her starring role debut), a pretty young college student who returns home to help her mother June (Karen Black) who suffers from Agoraphobia take care of her younger brother and sister. June has been stricken with nightmares of being attacked by children and her condition is only getting worse. While home Grace takes on her old job as the assistant to the local doctor and a serious and widespread illness has hit the children of the town, giving them dangerously high fevers and their teeth falling out, similar to June's nightmares. The children all begin calling themselves different names - all dead children of the town's past. The children seem to be following a decades old child preacher named Josiah who was murdered by the townsfolk and now Josiah is using the blood offerings of the children to regain power and life.


THE GATHERING actually surprised me. I found myself engaged in the movie, caring about Grace and her family, and being mildly entertained. The movie has its shortcomings including questionable effects and plenty of overacting but it also expands on the mythos of He Who Walks Behind The Rows in a manner that is believable (believable in the Children of the Corn universe anyways) and carries a mean spirit to it as we watch the kids degrade from normal happy go lucky kids to near death with their fevers reaching 105 degrees and higher and then finally seeing their teeth fall out before they finally become servants of Josiah.


The fourth entry of the series rivals part 2 as being the most violent as there's no shortage of farm equipment flying around impaling people here. Unfortunately much of the violence happens just off screen and we only see the aftermath. THE GATHERING is a darker film, making the violence feel more intense than part 2 however, where much of the violence, while entertaining, feels corny (ha!) and humorous as opposed to scary or horrifying. There's also a serious Freddy Krueger and Nightmare On Elm Street influence on this movie as there are more than a couple of scenes involving special effects makeup that strongly resembles Freddy's burns and the entire plot line that Josiah haunts June's dreams. It's not a direct rip off but there's a strong influence.


And it's not that the fourth entry into the CHILDREN OF THE CORN series isn't also cheesy because it definitely is. Karen Black doesn't exactly turn in the same award winning performance that she did for Five Easy Pieces and a young Naomi Watts doesn't seem comfortable in her own shoes carrying the picture but she gets the job done. There's nothing stylish or overly imaginative about the direction or design of the film but that probably shouldn't be expected from the fourth entry of a mediocre horror franchise, especially when it is the first to not get any sort of theatrical run.

Film Scores
CHILDREN OF THE CORN 3: URBAN HARVEST - 3.5/10
CHILDREN OF THE CORN 4: THE GATHERING - 5/10

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Unkindness Of Ravens World Premiere Date Set!



The Unkindness of Ravens Set to Premiere at FrightFest 2016
The Unkindness of Ravens, the much anticipated second feature from Lawrie Brewster will have its world premiere at London's FrightFest which runs from the 25th to the 29th of August.

The film tells the story of Andrew, a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD. Haunted by flashbacks of a traumatic event he witnessed while serving in the armed forces, Andrew travels to a retreat in the remote Scottish Highlands. There, he hopes to overcome his fear of ravens, the dark creatures that trigger his visions, but, in the bleak wilderness, his nightmares take a form more terrifying than he could have ever imagined. He must battle these monsters as well as his own inner demons in order to keep his life, and reclaim his sanity.

Starring Jamie Scott Gordon, the film blends the psychological with the supernatural, taking cues from films like 
Jacob's Ladder and The Witch as it depicts one man's nightmarish journey into hell. Featuring a slew of practical and visual effects, the film has an epic scope that defies its indie credentials.
Lawrie Brewster's first film 
Lord of Tears, a slow-burn gothic chiller also penned by writer Sarah Daly, received critical acclaim and earned the duo an avid fan base. With this, their second feature, they want to push the boundaries of the genre further. 


According to Brewster, the film 'is an unsettling, visceral commentary on the mental turmoil that war leaves in its wake. It's brutal, it's relentless but it's also thought-provoking. Expect to be traumatised.' 
Back in December 2015, the film broke records when it became the most-funded UK horror ever on Kickstarter with 635 backers pledging over £44,000 to help complete the project. Following the premiere, backers can look forward to a real treat in the Special 3-Disc Edition of the film, set to include hours of behind the scenes action, interviews, deleted scenes, short films and more. 
This Special Edition is available to pre-order now at: http://www.theunkindnessofravensmovie.com/

An international co-production between Hex Media and Dark Dunes Productions in association with 3rd Monkey Productions, Lights Out Productions and Zoghogg Studios, 
The Unkindness of Ravens is set for release later this year.


Also on the line-up for this year's horrorchannel-backed FrightFest are Adam Wingard’s eagerly anticipated The Woods and the latest Stephen King adaptation The Cell. Sang-ho Yeon’s Cannes title Train To Busan will close the festival. 

Horror Channel FrightFest is the UK’s biggest, best and most renowned genre festival and its seventeenth year sees yet another enhancement of its core mission to bring the finest in home-grown and international fear to the dark heart of London, between 25 - 29 August. 

BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS (2015)


USA/2015
Directed By: Brian James O'Connell
Written By: Dr. God, Ryan Mitts
Starring: Fran Kranz, Pedro Pascal, Joey Kern

Evan (Fran Kranz) works in a sales office with his slacker friends, his recently ex-girlfriend and a boss that isn't sure he deserves a big promotion. Things begin to look up when Evan is told by his boss Ted (Joel McMurray) to tell everyone of a meeting that he's positive will be the announcement of his promotion but it all falls apart when Ted announces a former college rival of Evan's as the new manager. Bad goes to worse when Evan realizes that the new manager has turned almost everyone in the office in to vampires.

BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS was just another horror comedy that I didn't have any expectations for. I'd estimate that at least eight out of every ten horror comedy I see these days are nothing special. Sure, there may be some laughs or some fun to be had but when the credits roll there's little to set itself apart from the pack. There's plenty of cliches and tropes in BLOODSUCKING BASTARD. Slacker and stoner humor is as popular as it has ever been in TV and film, and that is the back bone of the comedy in this movie. Joey Kern plays Evan's friend Ted and is perhaps the laziest guy in the bunch and brings the laughs time and time again. It's a perfect compliment to the performance Fran Kranz gives as the quiet and reserved Evan who probably cares too much about his job. Evan's relationship with Amanda (Emma Fitzpatrick) is a classic way of getting the audience to root for a couple of genuinely likable characters on more than a surface level. The writing is good enough that we not only want Evan and Amanda to survive the vampire outbreak but we want them to rekindle their love after Evan didn't give a very good response to Amanda dropping the "L" bomb. It's important that the script make Amanda a character to sympathize for and not hate for being a cold bitch about it. Emma Fitzpatrick plays the character as beautifully as she really is.

Pedro Pascal is excellent as the arrogant and appropriately cocky Max who is instantly unlikeable from the second he's introduced with his over the top "We sell dreams" sales pitch to the office that almost anyone can relate to in one way or another. His act is phony and everyone knows it but you have to deal with it for the paycheck. Pascal not only nails it but he also proves to be a formidable opponent to the young couple as the head vampire.

BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS strongest point is probably its characters because there are so many memorable ones beyond the main stars already mentioned. Joel Murray is always a pleasure to see and he is again here as the head of the office.  Marshall Givens plays the tough security guard who also has a soft side for Kelly Clarkson and his repeatedly calling Evan "Colonel Sanders" was hilarious. Marshall isn't given much screen time until the end but he makes the most of it. Then there's the janitor, the stereotypical office cat lady and others who make a lasting impression without needing much screen time to do so.

So yes, BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS is a well written comedy that provides laughs from start to finish but does it satisfy the horror side of things? Yes dear readers, it does. The makeup job for the vampires is on the simple side but they look great and properly menacing with just a set of fangs and well done undead makeup. The laughs are still a major part of the film and they don't stop even during the more horrific parts of the movie as the vampires explode into a bloody mess whenever they die covering everything in the office in red colored corn syrup.

It could have been just another time waster good for a single viewing but BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS is a mashup of The Office, Workaholics and Fright Night that I can see myself watching over and over. Come for the vamps and stay for the laughs. Bam snap!


Friday, June 24, 2016

FEVER - Artsploitation Films (DVD Review)


France/2014
Directed By: Raphael Neal
Written By: Raphael Neal, Alice Zeniter
Starring: Martin Loizillon, Pierre Moure, Julie-Marie Parmentier
Color/81 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: May 24, 2016

The Film
A pair of high school students commit a murder with no motive and for no real reason and have gotten away with it until a neighbor makes a possible connectino to them. The teens now have to worry if she really has proof it was them but their own conciesnce may break on them first.

FEVER is a psychological drarma/thriller partially based on the Leopold and Loeb case from the 1920s but frankly the film is never as interesting as the story of that case or other works that used the famous case as a foundation. While the film is technically sound, including straight forward and competent direction from Raphael Neal and performances from the entire cast that don't have a real weak spot it's simply a boring film. I never felt a deep connection to either of the boys and again, it wasn't due to their acting, it was just that there was never anything in the script to connect the audience to them.


When the film starts the crime has already been committed, we only see with them as they handle it over the passing days as their time in high school is coming to an end and there's never a key moment that could be seen as more important than any other. It's just time passing, saying they'll never break until one of them possibly does. It's a waste of a good cast that is capable of putting on good performances because the script doesn't give them anything to do.

I wish I had more to say about FEVER but I really don't. It is what it is.

The Audio & Video
Artsploitation Films gives FEVER an attractive DVD release for it's North American home video debut. The film has a strong, sharp look with vivid colors and a nice overall clarity that I think could only be improved upon with a HD scan and presentation. The French language audio is handled through a crisp sounding and crystal clear 5.1 surround mix that is stable and well mixed throughout. English subtitles are included and are timed perfectly and read naturally.


The Extras
A trailer is included with a small selection of trailers for other Artsploitation releases.


The Bottom Line
The idea behind FEVER is an interesting one but the film didn't strike a visceral chord or an emotional note with me which left me feeling distant and uninterested from the characters and their story.

FEVER is available HERE

Monday, June 20, 2016

THE HUMAN TORNADO - Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray Review)


USA/1976
Directed By: Cliff Roquemore
Written By: Jerry Jones
Starring: Rudy Ray Moore, Lady Reed, Jimmy Lynch
Color/96 Minutes/Not Rated
Region FREE
Release Date: May 31, 2016
Blu-ray/DVD

The Film
It's bigger badder and blacker! It's THE HUMAN TORNADO!

After a successful stand up comedy tour Dolemite returns home and wants to have a party to celebrate. The party grabs the attention of the local hick sheriff because any gathering of black folks just can't be good! Upon breaking up the party the sheriff finds his wife making love to Dolemite which leads to the sheriff shooting his wife and pinning the blame on Dolemite who's now on the run and looking for solace with Lady Bee until he finds out that some local gangsters have taken control of Lady Bee's strip joint and making her girls work for them. Dolemite is now fighting battles on two fronts as he tries to elude capture from the honky sheriff and take down the dirty gangsters who are roughing up his friends.


THE HUMAN TORNADO (or as Dolemite repeatedly calls himself "The Human Tornada") is an action packed, "don't give a fuck" whirlwind of blaxploitation goodness. While this movie wouldn't exist without the first Dolemite film which is a classic of its own, THE HUMAN TORNADO is just a crazier take on what made the first film great. One liners, bad martial arts action that is sped up to cover up the lack of choreography, Ernie Hudson, Ernie Hudson's brother in a bald cap playing Ernie Hudson's character, explosions, titties, sex tornados, torture dungeons and more. It's all here and you have to ask yourself where else you'll see an entire bedroom get smashed to the ground in a sex tornado of Dolemite's sexual prowess. Nowhere!

Director Cliff Roquemore creates a picture that is still rough around the edges as this is still an exploitation film despite having a slightly larger budget. Roquemore's debut film shows more style and natural ability than you may expect as he uses different tricks and techniques to cover up some of the film's technical shortcomings. The cast is good from Rudy Ray Moore on down to karate champion Howard Jackson who lends the the film's lone sense of martial arts credibility. Jackson isn't asked to do much besides show up and kick ass so he's successful in what was asked of him.


THE HUMAN TORNADO is a rollercoaster of emotions - you'll laugh, you'll cry, and you might just discover yourself. Nah, who the hell am I kidding? Grab a 40, pack a bowl and grab some buddies to watch this incredible piece of 70s blaxploitation cinema.

The Audio & Video
It is going to be hard to not compare the transfers of the Dolemite movies as they're released by Vinegar Syndrome so I'll do my best to keep that to a minimum. THE HUMAN TORNADO is presented in a new 16x9 anamorphic widescreen transfer taken from a new 2K scan and restoration from 35mm vault elements. Now, I said I wouldn't compare but it's definitely worth mentioning that you shouldn't expect the damn near pristine PQ that was delivered in the first Dolemite film's Blu-ray. THE HUMAN TORNADO's elements were obviously in far worse condition than that of the first film and where Dolemite was restored from an original negative this film isn't quite as fortunate. The picture quality is decent, with some areas looking good and having really solid detail and sharpness while others show just how rough the elements were. And that of course shows just how much work Vinegar Syndrome put in to this release to make it look as good as it does. There's still scratches, speckling and various other damage but overall this is a big improvement over the decade old DVD that was bordering on unwatchable.

The English audio comes through a DTS-HD mono track that sounds good. The audio was in far better condition than the video and while it isn't the sharpest sounding audio mix you'll ever hear it is clear and mostly free of any damage. The mix is stable and steady and you won't have any issues listening along. Optional English subtitles are available.


The Extras
VinSyn has put together a nice collection of extras including:

-"I, Dolemite part 2" - More documentary interview footage with Rudy Ray Moore and others involved in the Dolemite series. - I really hope these continue through the rest of the Dolemite releases.
-Audio Commentary with Rudy Ray Moore Biographer Mark Jason Murray and Co-star Jimmy Lynch
-Audio Interview with Director Cliff Roquemore and Howard Jackson
-German dubbed version of the film "Der Bastard"
-Soundtrack
-Radio Spot
-Theatrical Trailers
-Promotional Still Gallery
-Reversible Artwork


The Bottom Line
THE HUMAN TORNADO fits right in line with Dolemite. It's rough and tough and wild as hell! Highly Recommended!

THE HUMAN TORNADO is available HERE