Monday, December 30, 2019

THE MAGIC SWORD - Kino Studio Classics Blu-ray Review

Directed By: Bert I. Gordon
Written By: Bernard Schoenfeld
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Estelle Winwood, Gary Lockwood
Color/80 Minutes/Not Rated
Region A
Release Date: December 3, 2019

The Film
By 1962 Bert I. Gordon had already made several fantasy, sci-fi and horror films and worked on the special effects on a number of them as well so it comes as no surprise that THE MAGIC SWORD is a competently made medieval fantasy tale that has some well done special effects for its time.

Gary Lockwood stars as George, a handsome and cunning young man approaching his 21st birthday when he falls in love at first sight with the princess who has been kidnapped by the evil sorcerer Lodac, deviously played by Hollywood legend Basil Rathbone. George tricks his stepmother, a lesser sorcerer in her own right, into giving him a magic sword and he unlocks a half dozen knights trapped inside a picture to aide him on his journey but the king saddles them with Sir Branton, a rival knight who has plans of his own with the princess. They set off to battle through the Seven Curses that Lodac has protected the trail to his castle with including a giant ogre, an evil hag, dangerous swamplands and a fire-breathing two-headed dragon.

Bert Gordon knows how to make an entertaining film and does so despite a weak screenplay which is the film's weakest link. Characters blend into each other and fail to stand out making the extra knights little more than fodder for the cannon. The story is one we've seen before and while it is only 80 minutes long it is really stretching out its runtime by the end. Thankfully the restrained runtime keeps things fun and the film never feels like a cheap stage play. Gordon gets the most out of what he has to work with to make this odyssey as sprawling and epic as he can. He mostly suceeds but the very pedestrian screenplay would never allow THE MAGIC SWORD to be much better than what it turned out to be. Still, this story of a young man grabbing his own destiny is light hearted camp entertainment and that's all I needed out of it.

The Audio & Video
Kino Lorber gives THE MAGIC SWORD its high definition home video debut as part of its Studio Classics line which I am a big fan of. The new transfer has been taken from a new 2K master and it looks good throughout but I feel is softer than would be ideal. The source material wasn't pristine with light instances of dirt and speckling however that's the extent of the imperfections and it does give way to an array of vibrant colors in the picture. Detail is strong but the aforementioned softness takes away from the finer moments. That said this Blu-ray is a vast improvement over the old MGM DVD release.

The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix sounds fantastic and is free of any background noise, distortions or imperfections. The mix may not sound especially impressive but that's the design of the film's sound stage production. What the mix does do is not allow the audio to sound thin or allow for any echo and while it may not be bass heavy it is a very nice presentation of the how the film should sound.

The Extras
The special features include a commentary track by film historian Tim Lucas and filmmaker Larry Blamire and a theatrical trailer for this film along with a small selection of other Kino releases. Tim Lucas is one of the best at researching and planning out his audio commentaries making for an enjoyable and informative listen that will never leave you with too much down time. It is a welcomed addition to this release.

The Bottom Line
THE MAGIC SWORD overcomes its own shortcomings to be more fun than having the dunk-tank wench bully you at the local renaissance faire. Oh that doesn't sound like fun? Well I assure you it is.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

THE HOUSE - Artsploitation Films DVD Review

Directed By: Reinert Kiil
Written By: Reinert Kiil
Starring: Sondre Krogtoft Larsen, Marte Saetern, Jorgen Langhelle
Color/88 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: March 5, 2019

The Film
Set during the second World War, a pair of German soldiers are escorting a POW through a Scandinavian Forest when they find a seemingly abandoned house to rest in, seeking refuge from the harsh winter weather. Shortly after entering the house they quickly begin to see things, hear things and feel like they're being attacked

THE HOUSE looks like a million bucks. Reinert Kiil's direction paired with the cinematography of John-Erling H. Fredriksen gives the movie a visual quality that raises it above the standard independent horror look where you can usually tell that equipment and/or budget wasn't there. The frozen landscape and eerie, shadowy interiors of the house have a moody atmosphere that does provide a bit of foreshadowing to more sinister events that may lie ahead.

Those events do come. Sort of. The horror is held back, with quick bursts giving the audience a glimpse of what could be until the big sequence which is just rather unimpressive and feels like a retread of things we've seen countless times before. And all of this meandering around the house between the occasional shot of shock or scare simply wastes a couple excellent central performances. Even big budget Hollywood horror films struggle to find performances at this level but they're just not given anything to do for the majority of the film. That is the long and short of THE HOUSE, it has a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera but the script is lacking anything even resembling interesting.

The Audio & Video
This DVD release from Artsploitation Films look very good for a standard definition offering. The anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer features whites that are bright without ever appearing too hot while black levels are deep. The picture is clear but maintains that overcast wintry look that makes up so much of the movie. The 5.1 Dolby Surround audio mix is presented in a mix with optional English subtitles. Optional English subtitles are presented for the film as it features a mix of German, Norwegian and English. The audio is well mixed and sounds pleasing to the ear while the subtitles are translated and timed well.

The Extras
Special features include a short behind-the-scenes featurette, short film from director Reiner Kiil, an audio commentary track and an interview with writer/director Reinert Kiil.

The Bottom Line
I think THE HOUSE is skillfully shot and features great performances but is simply and sadly boring as sin.

THE HOUSE is available HERE