Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Guest (Blu-ray Review) - Universal Pictures

Directed By: Adam Wingard
Written By: Simon Barrett
Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Sheila Kelley
Color/101 Minutes/R
Region A
Release Date: January 6, 2015

The Film
A family is surprised when a soldier named David Collins (Dan Stevens) arrives on their doorstep with a story of how he promised their son who died in combat that he would check in on his family. Instantly welcoming the handsome and charming young man the family quickly learns to love everything David has to offer until his true nature is revealed and David is a huge threat to anyone that comes in contact with him.

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are the duo behind the 2013 horror film You're Next which received huge praise but failed to come anywhere close to the hype as far as I'm concerned. Seeing their name attached to this film did temper my expectations a bit despite seeing universal praise for THE GUEST among people that have my trust in their taste. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett went from a director/writer duo that made a movie that I didn't understand the priase for to a duo that will now have my interest piqued when I hear their names attached to a project because I know what they're capable of making.

THE GUEST is a tense horror film, driven by strong performances from top to bottom that bring Simon Barrett's script to life. Dan Stevens is perfect in the lead role as he is endlessly likeable despite his obvious underlying menace. Adam Wingard's direction is tight, especially during the finale which takes place in a school gymnasium that is decorated like a haunted house. The score and soundtrack are among my favorite of any movie from the past several years. A pulsing synth driven soundtrack almost acts as its own character at times and is much more than just a mood setter. It manages to get under the viewer's skin and into your mind as you watch the film.

There's also a lot of violence on display as David Collins is every bit the soldier he claimed to be and much more as an entire squad of Military Police are dispatched to bring him in and blood and bullets fly. THE GUEST is not a particularly long movie, clocking in at a rather average 101 minutes but it is a film that builds tension within the viewer with each passing moment and it gets stronger and stronger until it erupts and you see why THE GUEST is one of the best films of 2014.

The Audio & Video
Universal Pictures takes a film that was gorgeously shot and uses that photography to turn out a gorgeous Blu-ray. THE GUEST shines in HD with vibrant colors that almost jump off the screen without popping too much. Skin tones are fleshy and natural with excellent detail in tight shots. Detail remains strong throughout in various surfaces and textures. Black levels are handled skillfully with no compression issues or blocking and they're deep and inky. There's no DNR or edge enhancement. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5. 1 track sounds wonderful. The mix is robust and the excellent score/soundtrack pounds through the speakers almost as a character of its own. The mix between music and dialogue is perfect and overall quality is crystal clear. You really can't ask for a better A/V presentation. 

The Extras
-Audio commentary with director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett
-Q&A with star Dan Stevens
-Deleted Scenes with option commentary by the director

The Bottom Line
Plenty of movies get hyped to the max every year but few are deserving of the praise. THE GUEST is absolutely deserving of all the hype and praise it has received and you absolutely should go pick up the Blu-ray release and see this awesome movie for yourself.

THE GUEST is available HERE

Friday, December 12, 2014

Slaughter Hotel (Blu-ray Review) - Raro Video

Directed By: Fernando Di Leo
Written By: Fernando Di Leo, Nino Latino
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Rosalba Neri, Monica Stroebel
Color/94 Minutes/Not Rated
Region A
Release Date: December 9, 2014

The Film
A killer is on the loose at a retreat for wealthy women to get over their problems, whatever they may be. Usually it's just a case of beautiful well-to-do women not knowing what to do with all of their money and it drives them mad in their day to day life. Draped in black from head to toe, the killer stalks the usually scantily clad and often nude women with various medieval style implements that he finds have decorated this castle turned asylum. Everything from axes and flails to an actual Iron Maiden itself are used to dispatch the women and none of them are off limits.

Klaus Kinski stars in this slightly off beat, totally insane and properly sleazy horror affair from director Fernando Di Leo who is best known for his legendary work within the Euro crime genre. SLAUGHTER HOTEL is ripe with giallo vibes and sometimes gets lumped in with the genre. I wouldn't call this a true giallo but I won't argue it being discussed among other ones either. Di Leo's direction is trippy and surreal at times, acting more like a lucid dream (or nightmare) than any sort of cohesive straight forward narrative. From wild zooms to hard camera angles and overflowing with blood and skin including plenty of closeups on masturbating vaginas, Di Leo doesn't hold back on the excess or style.

Strangely enough, Klaus Kinski, who was as psychotic in his real life as this film is, does hold back. He gives a strong performance without feeling the need to overdo it or have his presence be known every time he enters a scene. His role, that of a doctor who has taken a strong interest in one of the patients who has taken an even stronger liking to him, provides enough room to show his skill without making him the focal point. The beautiful women here including Rosalba Neri (Lady Frankenstein, French Sex Murders) and Margaret Lee (Venus In Furs) provide endless eye candy but aren't really asked to do much besides look pretty, shed their clothes and die. That's just how it is sometimes and SLAUGHTER HOTEL doesn't try to be anything it's not.

The Audio & Video
Some good and some bad in Raro Video's transfer of SLAUGHTER HOTEL. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer has a pretty good sharpness overall with good color representation. Detail levels are generally high as well. Unfortunately the transfer suffers from a heavy hand with DNR, at times making the picture look overly waxy. There is also a thin layer of digital noise over the picture throughout. It only gets to annoying levels a couple of times though but if they were trying to recreate the look of natural film grain they failed big time. Overall I think the picture quality is a step up from what standard DVD would offer even with its faults.

Raro provides us two audio options, English and Italian, both with 2.0 Stereo HD tracks. The Italian option has nice clarity and is largely free of any popping, crackling or other disturbances. Unfortunately I only found this out after watching the film in English where on a couple of occasions the audio drops out totally. This happens at one particular murder scene where the entire reaction to the killing is silent. I can only figure that English audio was never recorded for this segment but Raro should have plugged in the Italian audio for the duration and cut back to English when it came back. That is the standard practice and makes much more sense then just letting the audio drop out completely. The English track does sound good otherwise, as with the Italian track it has good clarity and no background noise. It just seems like a lazy oversight on Raro's part to let that happen.

The Extras
-A pair of newly discovered deleted scenes
-"Lady Frankenstein's Memoirs" featurette (18 minutes)
-"Asylum Of Fear" featurette (15 minutes)
-Booklet by Chris Alexander of Fangoria

The Bottom Line
While this isn't a perfect release by any means there is plenty here to enjoy and is still worthy of a purchase. Recommended!


Thursday, December 11, 2014

You Can't Kill Stephen King (DVD Review)

Directed By: Ronnie Khalil, Monroe Mann, Jorge Valdes-Iga
Written By: Monroe Mann, Ronnie Khalil, Bob Madia
Starring: Monroe Mann, Kayle Blogna, Ronnie Khalil
86 Minutes/Color/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: December 9, 2014

The Film
A group of friends take a summer trip to the lakeside hometown of horror author Stephen King. This diverse group of friends, including one die hard King fan, make their way to the town and quickly discover this quiet community is a bit odd when their stop for some food at the town diner ends with a little girl and her mother getting kicked out for accidentally breaking a glass and later being told by the local police to not have too much fun while on the lake. Unfortunately for the group someone is killing them off in situations that are eerily close to the stories of Stephen King. The group tries to survive long enough to discover who is killing them and hopefully make it out alive. Could Stephen King himself be responsible for the grisly murders?

YOU CAN'T KILL STEPHEN KING is a pretty entertaining slasher film overall. The characters are largely likeable despite some quirks in their personalities and the locals are weird enough to be convincing. There's a proper amount of camp and cheese here but it all boils down to being a solid homage to the horror author himself. While King may have never written a standard slasher he is the focal point to a decent one here that is full of blood and gore. The only thing really missing was nudity, not that we're short of babes running around in bikinis.

YOU CAN'T KILL STEPHEN KING but I can say that this movie will probably divide horror fans. There will be some that think it is a substandard body count film and others will appreciate the King references and the genuine energy put in to the making of this. I'm with the latter.

The Audio & Video
The DVD looks pretty good. The 16x9 transfer has vibrant and lively colors, while handling dark levels pretty well. Skin tones look good and it is reasonably sharp. The English audio track is crisp, clear and free of any background noise or damage. It is interesting to note that the packaging and the disc itself both note this as "DVD-R" format but it is quite obviously a factory pressed disc and not a burn.

The Extras
A trailer is the lone extra

The Bottom Line
YOU CAN'T KILL STEPHEN KING is not breaking new ground and it won't become any sort of classic but it does make for an entertaining viewing and a heartfelt love letter to the master of horror fiction. Recommended and a bit more highly recommended for big fans of Stephen King's works. 


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

186 Dollars To Freedom (DVD Review) - Blairwood Entertainment

Directed By: Camilo Vila
Written By: Monty Fisher
Starring: John Robinson, Michael DeLorenzo, Alex Meraz
Color/101 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: December 9, 2014

The Film
Wayne Montgomery is a teacher and surfer who relocates to Peru in 1980 for the amazing waves. While there he makes a few friends and even finds love before he's picked up by local authorities for working on an expired work visa. This minor offense quickly turns into something more serious when Wayne flees custody due to fear and the cops plant a large amount of cocaine on him which could land him in prison for a long long time. Refusing to pay off the corrupt authorities, Wayne is sent to the infamous El Sexto prison where he meets a group of men who do their best to make their time in the prison a home and productive including a fellow teacher and a Hare Krishna. Wayne is beaten, tortured and violated until he's sent to a more secluded confinement and has only one chance to escape after a giant prison riot breaks out, mimicking the social unrest on the streets of Lima.

186 DOLLARS TO FREEDOM is based on the true story of Wayne Montgomery and from what I can tell is pretty faithful. The protests and unrest in the country of Peru at the time of Montgomery's incarceration were based around an upcoming democratic vote, their first in 15 years, and a lengthy strike by public school teachers. This film comments on the corruption and general uneasiness of the country as they try to take a step forward into a more stable society. It is also a much more personal story of a man that refused to admit guilt to a crime he didn't commit or to drag his family in to the situation learning just how nasty the world can be while also learning the love and beauty the people inside the nasty world can give. 

This film features some great performances and memorable character interactions and is definitely worth your time.

The Audio & Video
Blairwood Entertainment give this 2011 film a deserving home on DVD. The anamorphic widescreen transfer has a specific gray look to it that lends a hand in keeping a damper tone. Other colors looks good in objects such as clothing and flowers. The print is clean and damage free. A solid looking DVD overall. The audio, which is a mix between English and Spanish features English subtitles for the Spanish speaking parts and sounds good overall. The audio is very clear and without any popping, crackling or other annoying damage. The subtitles are nicely translated and perfectly timed.

The Extras
Despite the back cover not listing any special features the disc actually has a pretty impressive array of them...
-Audio Commentary with the writer and director
-Deleted scenes
-Story boards
-Stills gallery
-Original casting
-Original trailer
-Promo reel

The Bottom Line
186 DOLLARS TO FREEDOM is at the very least an entertaining and well performed international prison drama film akin to movies like Brokedown Palace. It never quite reaches the level of political and social commentary that it strives for which is perhaps due to the filmmakers cutting out almost the entire true first act for the sake of a tighter and possibly altogether better film. It would be interesting to see the full cut of the film to see if the commentary is stronger and the film more powerful but an extra hour in length would have certainly dragged this one out.

186 DOLLARS TO FREEDOM is available HERE

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Evil (Blu-ray Review) - Vinegar Syndrome

Directed By: Lewis Jackson
Written By: Lewis Jackson
Starring: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull
Color/94 Minutes/Not Rated
Region FREE
Release Date: November 18, 2014

The Film
Santa comes down your chimney to deliver a sack full of gifts under the tree and to stuff your stocking with candy and toys. He notices you watching and gives you a friendly little wink. Shortly after you catch the big guy from the North Pole putting the moves on your mom and he has his face buried between her legs. Can you think of anything seedier? Well CHRISTMAS EVIL goes there and beyond.

As a child Harry witnesses that raunchiness happen and years later, as a full grown man he's obsessed with Christmas. His apartment is covered in holiday decor, he spies on neighborhood children keeping detailed "Naughty" and "Nice" books just like Santa would and even works in a toy factory. Harry's fragile mind suffers a bit of a meltdown when he is used for free labor by a co-worker and realizes everyone thinks he is a bit of a nut job. Harry goes into full "Santa Mode" by painting his work van like a sleigh, donning the outfit and fulfilling his lists of "nice" and punishing the "naughty" before he escapes in one of the most surreal ending ever committed to film.

CHRISTMAS EVIL is a brilliantly disturbing piece of holiday cinema. Director Lewis Jackson fully captures the darker side to the holiday where adults party, get drunk and sort of hate their lives while they wait for the cold months to pass. He also captures the innocence of the child's mind as the children love the happy-go-lucky, whimsical Harry who is obsessed with Yuletide cheer, and even defend him as he is in the middle of his murderous rampage. Santa Claus is a symbol of innocence and happiness and it is easy for the kids to see nothing but that in the obviously disturbed face of Harry. You don't have to look beyond that to see the sheer brilliance in this film.

The acting, including Jeffrey DeMunn who plays Harry's brother and went on to be an alumni of the hit TV series The Walking Dead, is pretty damn spot on. A first time viewing of the film should leave the audience with a somewhat bewildered smile on their face that shows their appreciation for not quite knowing what they've just watched. Yes, CHRISTMAS EVIL is a horror film, but You Better Watch Out (original title reference/pun!) if you think that is all it has to offer. The ending is quite obviously a trip in to the mind of our deranged antagonist Harry, but it serves well on more than one level.

The Audio & Video
Vinegar Syndrome keeps the film's original aspect ratio with their 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, 4K transfer. The transfer is an overall improvement to even the best DVD releases this film has received but could be stronger. The image quality is on the softer side for much of the film, leaving the sharpness and overall detail quality a bit below exceptional quality. That isn't to say that the transfer is weak, because with improved detail in skin tone and closeups on faces and textures along with colors that pop just enough without burning too hot the Blu-ray is an upgrade. It just doesn't bring the "wow factor" that VS has become known for, especially given this disc's 4K treatment.

The lone audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that sounds excellent. There's no issues with distortions, hiccups or other damage to the track here. The dialogue and score compliment each other nicely and the audio side to this disc probably couldn't have been handled any better.

The Extras
There's no new features here to the Synapse disc but it does port over everything...
-Audio commentary with director Lewis Jackson
-Audio commentary with Lewis Jackson and cult icon John Waters
-Archival interview with Lewis Jackson and Brandon Maggart
-Deleted Scenes
-Original theatrical trailer
-Actor screen tests
-Vintage test screening comment cards
-Storyboards gallery

The Bottom Line
I don't know if it is the Baltimore in me or what, but like John Waters, CHRISTMAS EVIL has been my favorite Christmas movie since my first viewing of it years ago. My love for this movie only grows stronger with each viewing as it somehow manages to get a little bit stranger with each viewing. This Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome may not be a mind blowing revelation for the film but it is the best the movie has looked on home video and features artwork that reminds me of the Krampus (which is always a good thing) and ports over all of the extras from previous releases. This is the best release on the market for this strange, seedy and special holiday film.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Day Of The Mummy (DVD Review) - Image/RLJ

Directed By: Johnny Tabor
Written By: Garry Charles
Starring: William McNamara, Danny Glover, Nimi
Color/80 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: December 9, 2014

The Film
Danny Glover made out like a bandit on this movie even if his payday was only $100. His entire role is him sitting in a chair delivering the same 4-5 lines over and over, and quite lazily at that. Good for him. What we have is a shitty mix of Charlie's Angels without the sexy women and Danny Glover as the Bosley character and a broke ass Indiana Jones ripoff filmed through some lame Google Glasses type POV. There's a giant diamond, a mummy and some pretty boring set design.

The high point of the film is that the special effects makeup isn't bad and the mummy has a decent look. The rest is a lot of shitty acting, cheap point-of-view filmmaking, Glover chiming in every few minutes through the glasses and running around caves that look nothing like the inside of a pyramid. I'll end this review with my thoughts upon the film's ending - "Well... that was a movie. That's gotta be worth something."

The Audio & Video
The DVD from Image/RLJ looks good with nice sharpness and detail level for a standard def release. The desert exteriors make for a nice backdrop and the dark interiors are handled decently. The DVD has a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The audio is much of the same with a clear and stable Dolby 5.1 track without any damage or background noise.

The Extras
Bare bones.

The Bottom Line
Don't waste your time. 

DAY OF THE MUMMY is available HERE

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Minions and Painkiller - 2 Short Films By Jeremiah Kipp

I have reviewed and enjoyed short films by Jeremiah Kipp in the past so when he contacted me with screening links for a pair of his newest shorts I was excited to check them out. Though it took longer than I'd want to just to get around to viewing them (sorry man!), I can't say I was let down by either film.

THE MINIONS is a subtle and largely subdued creeper clocking in at eleven minutes. It is a very uncomfortable eleven minutes for the viewer though, as we watch a man named William help a stranger get her drunk friend home as the drunk girl screams at the man to "kiss me" and "love me". William is reliving this account while a voice known as Abigail speaks to him, almost taunting him that he has walked down "The Witches' Path" and that the two women were minions of the witches. This psychological and more mystical horror only heaps on the creepiness as William gets more and more physically attached to the woman he is supposed to be helping and her friend watches helplessly as William takes control.

A minimalist approach benefits the film here as there is nothing excessively graphic about THE MINIONS but what is left to the imagination only makes the situation that much worse. Knowing what William was capable of was horror enough, but flip the page over and look at it that it was all a set up by the witches to seduce William in to portraying a heinous act is just as hair raising. I can't complain about anything here as the photography on the city streets looks great and performances are spot on. The sequences of the film with William talking to Abigail are haunting and beautifully done.

While THE MINIONS took the "less is more" track, PAINKILLER certainly opted to go with the feeling that more is definitely more. The story here pertains to a pair of scientists who are in love and are trying to develop an organism that can live in a symbiotic relationship with its human host. In this case the host would be a terminally ill cancer patient. The organism would be placed into the spinal column of the patient and would feed off of the patient's pain while releasing pleasurable endorphins into the bloodstream effectively replacing the dying patient's pain with pleasure. Since this organism was designed specifically for human use there's no way to test it on animals so the girl lets the man use her as the Guinea Pig and they quickly find that it works very well. The only problem is that the organism survives on pain and it is now in a healthy patient so pain has to be administered. The woman devolves into a state of addiction, and withdrawal when she isn't beaten and tortured enough to get the high she craves from the endorphins being released. Even a dominatrix can't do the trick. Eventually the man calls in another man who will do the dirty work for him but only a price he may not be willing to pay.

PAINKILLER takes a page out of the David Cronenberg book of body horror. There's a good bit of blood and gore packed into the 15 minute runtime and even a good look at the nasty little organism. The acting is strong from top to bottom and the story is one that really hits home in a time where cancer is running rampant and relatively so little progress has been made in fighting it. PAINKILLER is a totally different vibe than THE MINIONS but Kipp handles the direction on both films with grace and skill, getting the most out of his limited run time. I'd love to see a feature length version of PAINKILLER.

PAINKILLER is available HERE 
You can find out more about Jeremiah Kipp HERE

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Device (DVD Review) - Image/RLJ

Directed By: Jeremy Berg
Written By: Jeremy Berg, John Portanov
Starring: Angela DiMarco, Kate Alden, David S. Hogan
Color/90 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: December 16, 2014

The Film
After a long period of not seeing each other, sisters Abby and Rebecca get together at their childhood cabin to scatter their mother's ashes along with Abby's fiancee. While there they stumble upon what appears to be some sort of crash wreckage and find a baseball sized metal ball and bring it home. The ball is seemingly indestructible and unlike anything they've ever seen. Shortly after discovering the ball the sisters begin having strange dreams and traumas find their way to the surface again tearing relationships apart. Things get worse when secrets about the family's history with alien abduction are revealed and the nightmares the girls have been having become reality.

THE DEVICE is another middle of the road film in a genre packed with middle of the road films. The "grey alien abduction" horror/sci-fi genre is seriously lacking in great films. THE DEVICE does have some positives going for it the acting is good and the aliens have a creepy appearance until they're fleshed out too much and look a bit clunky. While they're shrouded in foggy lighting they look terrific though. The film becomes a let down when the alien horror takes a backseat to relationship drama, even if it may all factor back to an abduction.

It boils down to THE DEVICE just doesn't have enough interesting moments to be something great. I think it is a big step up from director Jeremy Berg's previous feature film The Invoking and shows that Berg can progress and hopefully continue to grow. I wouldn't be opposed to Berg revisiting this type of film down the road and hopefully he can knock it out of the park.

The Audio & Video
The DVD from Image/RLJ looks decent at its best and rather crappy at its worst unfortunately. There are constant instances where the image suffers from pixelation and blocking up, even in scenes that aren't particularly dark. The image is never exceptionally sharp, even for DVD. The best moments look like an average DVD release and nothing more. Luckily the Dolby 5.1 audio track sounds good and has a nice quality mix. The dialogue and soundtrack don't compete for the foreground and they compliment each other.

The Extras
THE DEVICE comes with a trio of commentary tracks:
-Director, writers, producers
-Tracy Torme: Screenwriter of Fire In The Sky and The Intruders

The Bottom Line
THE DEVICE ends up being a mixed bag but overall it's worth a viewing for fans of alien horror films.

THE DEVICE is available HERE