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Scream Factory Double Features

The Outing

(1987)
An ancient genie is released from a lamp when thieves ransack an old woman's house. They are killed and the lamp is sent to a museum to be studied. The curator's daughter is soon possessed by the genie and invites her friends to spend the night at the museum. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Tom Daley’s The Outing is one of many B-movies/cult films that are more interesting in concept and production history than execution/final product. The concept, as developed by Daley and screenwriter Warren Chaney (a respected Vietnam veteran, author, business consultant, and filmmaker, who acted as second-unit director and has a Wikipedia page about a mile long), is an original twist on common classic and modern horror formulas. Four Wishmaster movies and Alex Turner’s Red Sands (2009) notwithstanding, we live in a world with a severe lack of killer genie/djinn movies. The production history is also a slant on a common tradition. Daley’s original cut, under the title The Lamp, was released in foreign territories with a 105-minute runtime. When The Movie Store distributed it stateside, they hacked off 18 minutes (most of it from the beginning of the movie, some of it for the sake of an R-rating) and changed the title to The Outing, presumably to evoke a Friday the 13th vibe. Many movies are altered/re-edited for international release (since censorship standards and general taste differs between regions), but it’s not often that an American-made movie is released unchanged in other countries, then cut to ribbons and retitled for its premiere back home.

For the record, Scream Factory has not been able to get their hands on the 118-minute cut of The Lamp or even the slightly longer version that was released on DVD in Japan. I’m not sure what exactly was cut or how it might have helped or hindered the film, but suspect the shorter version has its advantages, despite some jagged editing and obvious cuts to the gorier sequences. Even shorn of 18 minutes, the development of the likable, but forgettable characters is devastatingly slow. Even when the drama and comedy works – and it should be mentioned that the acting and characterization is above par for type here – the sequences driven by high school politics could’ve probably been pruned a further 18 minutes. The Outing’s strengths are in its basic plot structure, which plays well with popular conventions, and Daley’s use of interesting/dynamic camera angles. I’m sure that the filmmakers preferred to appeal to the same teenagers that made Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street hits, but the Djinn doesn’t have the personality or presence of a Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger (he’s literally invisible for most of the movie). Instead of focusing on then-modern sensibilities and the slasher fad (some of the kills are creative, but the rape scene is really out of place), Daley and Chaney would’ve had better luck recreating the more timeless tradition of scientists discovering and experimenting with ancient evils beyond their control or understanding.

Reportedly, all DVD versions of The Outing, including Scream Factory’s own as part of a four-movie set, featured 1.33:1 cropped, VHS quality transfers. So, even if they weren’t able to secure a fully (or even partially) uncut version, Scream Factory has found a decent HD scan – in widescreen (1.85:1). ‘Decent’ is a relative term in this case, because, if we’re honest, it leaves a lot to be desired. The occasional basic print damage – including some pretty heavy black grain, sizable scratches, and major stability issues – is a completely forgivable offense, based on the film’s age and history of bad treatment. What is more problematic are the fuzzy edges and some scenes that are so dark it’s impossible to see what we’re supposed to be looking at. Some of this appears to be a side effect of Herbert Raditschnig’s purposefully dark and soft photography (which, by the way, was often completely black on VHS versions) and doesn’t apply to the entire transfer. Many scenes are clean enough to discern and sharp enough to qualify the HD transfer as ‘useful.’ The colour quality is also much more vibrant than expected, especially the neon greens that represent the djinn’s powers/presence. Some shots are hampered by mesh patterns, but overall blocking artefacts are surprisingly low – especially considering that this is a two-movie set, squeezed onto one disc.

The Outing was reportedly mixed for stereo and is presented here in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. The track was clearly produced on a low budget, including a lot of not great ADR and weird volume discrepancies in the foley effects, but it has relatively impressive depth and clarity. The dialogue and effects tracks aren’t too tinny and are only slightly distorted during the loudest moments. The djinn attack sequences and storm effects offer minor and enjoyable stereo enhancements. Bruce Miller and Joel Rosenbaum’s electronic musical score is sparingly used, but offers more delicate bass and tone to the ‘actiony’ sequences.

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

The Godsend

(1980)
When a strange woman has her baby at the Marlowe's house, then disappears, Kate Marlowe is forced to keep the baby, Bonnie. She loves the child, but, when her own children are systematically killed, suspicion turns to Bonnie. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Of the two movies on this particular double-feature set, Gabrielle Beaumont’s The Godsend (not to be confused with Nick Hamm’s 2004 movie of the same name) is closer to a ‘studio’ feature. But, even though it was distributed by Cannon Films and was made on a significantly larger (yet still modest) budget, its quality definitely dictates that it sits at the bottom of this bill. Former Dr. Who writer Olaf Pooley’s screenplay (based on Bernard Taylor’s debut novel) is an indistinguishable and stuffy variation on The Omen with shades of Rosemary’s Baby thrown in for good measure. It was Beaumont’s feature film debut, following years of episodic television experience. She applies all of the lessons she learned from speedy and cheap TV direction well enough, but her efforts begin and end with only adequate operations and she fails to capture any truly distinctive visuals. On the list of trashy evil child movies, it sits somewhere beneath more badly made pictures, like Max Kalmanowicz’ The Children (1980) or Mik Cribben’s Beware: Children at Play (1989), because it lacks even the minor charms of watching an amateur trying and failing. There’s precious little to sink one’s teeth into, outside of maybe some attractive photography of the British countryside and the accidental comedy of a baby slowly offing her adopted siblings at the beginning of the story – all between scenes, of course.

From what I understand, The Godsend was not released on DVD in any region until it appeared on the same four-film Scream Factory set as The Outing (Chris Walas’ The Vagrant and an edited version of Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, under the title Schizoid, were also included). Unlike The Outing, it was an acceptable anamorphic transfer. This 1080p. 1.78:1 version isn’t a huge upgrade, but certainly looks better without SD compression. The HD scan has left behind quite a bit of telecine noise, which is compounded by the fact that cinematographer Roger Webb shot so much of the movie in soft focus with diffused lighting sources (at one point, he even films through some kind of wetted, broken glass filter). There would be fuzzy edges regardless of the scanning efforts, but the digital grain certainly doesn’t help. Overall clarity in the less diffused shots and the sharpest close-up details are up to standards of other Scream releases, minus a bit of edge enhancement. Black levels are slightly crushed, though not enough to damage the clarity of important elements.

This uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix reproduces the original mono mix faithfully, including all of its limitations. Dialogue has a slight tinny quality, but is generally consistent and understandable. Incidental effects and foley are scratchy, while the more stylized sounds reveal decent dynamic range. Roger Webb’s romantic music is pretty classy with its sweeping symphonic orchestrations and eerie synth additions. The flute, clarinet, and oboe melodies are sharp without distortion and the underlying strings tend to swell without being piercing.

At the end of the film’s proper climax, the image fades dramatically to black & white, then fades back into colour for a coda. However, the fade-in is really sluggish and the sound follows suit, which doesn’t seem right, considering the presence of dialogue. This might mean that the footage has been damaged, but it’s such a tonally off-putting movie that I can’t be sure.

The only extra on either feature is a trailer for The Godsend.

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features


Scream Factory Double Features

Cellar Dweller

(1988)
The promising career of a horror comic book artist ends in a fiery death when he confronts the bloody carnage of his own imagination in his studio. Years later, an ardent devoteé of the artist's work becomes a resident in his house, now an art academy, unaware that her imagination has revived the grotesque murderer of the past...and that she may be the next victim. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

John Carl Buechler’s Cellar Dweller is a prime example of a Charles Band-produced, late ‘80s creature feature. Rubbery, yet somehow still convincing creature effects? Check. Supporting role from a cult favourite actor who Band himself had a hand in ‘discovering’? Check (it’s Jeffrey Combs). Colourful, evocative photography from Lucio Fulci’s favourite cinematographer, Sergio Salvati? Check. Just enough violence to please horror fans, but not too much as to put future basic cable syndication rights in jeopardy? Check. A storyline seemingly built around available props and sets? That’s a check (posters from other Empire productions line the walls of the main character’s studio).

Following a delightfully campy prologue that would’ve fit in beautifully with an anthology production (Combs is firing on all cylinders), Cellar Dweller is pulled thin over a barely feature-length runtime (77 minutes, including substantial opening and closing credits) and suffers from a real lack of focus. The storyline juxtaposes fantasy and reality without really committing to either. However, it’s difficult to actively dislike a film with an original concept, Salvati’s gorgeous photography, and a troupe of genuinely likeable characters. At the very least, Cellar Dweller serves as good practice for special effects artist-turned-director Buechler and first-time screenwriter Don Mancini. Unfortunately, Buechler’s directing career more or less peaked in ’88 when he made both this film and Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood for Paramount, but Mancini endured, due to fact that he created the Child’s Play series as writer, then escorted it through two soft reboots (including directing roles on Seed of Chucky and Curse of Chucky). Cellar Dweller is tuned to support both men’s strengths – from the charmingly slimy full-body creature effects to the occasional wit and savvy of the dialogue (‘Aren’t you a little old for comic books?’ ‘Aren’t you a little young to be so critical?’). Given their histories, the art academy setting and subplots might even have arisen from autobiographical influences.

Cellar Dweller was released on solo DVD in the UK via 101 Films, then more recently via Scream Factory as part of a four film set with David Schmoeller’s Catacombs (see below), Fabrizio Laurenti’s Contamination .7 (aka: Crawlers, 1993), and the multi-director-made The Dungeonmaster (aka: Ragewar, 1985). Both releases were cropped to 1.33:1 and had been more or less VHS quality transfers. This new Blu-ray opens with a title card that states the HD transfer was created from the only surviving element – a film print from the MGM vaults. It warns that ‘some video and audio anomalies may be present.’ With that warning in mind, I expected a disaster, but this might actually be one of the better MGM scans I’ve seen from Scream Factory. The grain structure is a bit flat and shows signs of less than perfect telecine scanning, but the clarity is impressive, the details are tight without haloes, and Salvati’s smoky layers and thick shadows are very nicely maintained. The colours are quite vivid, including the softer skin tones, neutral interior hues, and the hyper-bright late-‘80s pop art influences. There is some substantial print damage throughout the transfer – some chemical stains, some scratches, and even a tear or two – but it isn’t a consistent issue.

As far as those threatened ‘audio anomalies’ go, it’s honestly difficult to care. The original stereo mix is nicely preserved in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, including a number of overtly stylized sound effects that I suppose might be off-cue, but don’t seem problematic to my ears. In fact, the directional enhancements seem to have worked pretty well, aside from perhaps the stereo spread sounds of the creature growling. The dialogue has a consistent volume levels and isn’t lost in the effects. Carl Dante’s music is underutilized and a bit quiet on the track, but certainly fits the Empire/Full Moon template.

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

Catacombs

(1988)
For over 400 years, the curse of the Abbey at San Pietro was kept a secret. Buried deep beneath the monastery lies the Beast of the Apocalypse. The power of evil is unleashed when an American priest and a beautiful young schoolteacher uncover the unholy terror of a diabolical spell cast centuries ago. Now, it will take the ultimate sacrifice to stop the curse that will not be denied. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Writer/director David Schmoeller’s Catacombs is another Empire/Charles Band special and was produced around the same time as Cellar Dweller while using some of the same staff, including Sergio Salvati. It is somewhat more lavish than the average Empire release, but was not released for nearly five years (likely due to studio’s bankruptcy problems, though Band would regroup with Full Moon Pictures shortly afterwards) under the misleading title Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice (note that none of The Curse films have anything in common). Schmoeller had developed a solid reputation in the horror community, following his feature debut Tourist Trap (1979), a unique spin on the slasher and Texas Chainsaw Massacre motifs that were popular around the time. He also directed a studio-backed thriller, The Seduction (1982), before joining forces with Band and Empire for the underrated psychological horror character study, Crawlspace (1982). That was followed by a relationship that lasted through the Full Moon years, including Catacombs, Puppet Master (1989), and Neatherworld (1992). Like fellow Empire/Full Moon director, Stuart Gordon, his films tend to be characterized by slick, colourful photography and an ironic sense of humor.

Gordon makes a good point of reference in this case, because he also made a gothic horror for Band (under the Full Moon banner). His film, The Pit and the Pendulum, was completely set in the medieval era and was more of a comedy, but the budgets and location shooting models are very similar. Schmoeller arguably comes out ahead in terms of visuals, thanks largely to Salvati fantastic photography. His screenplay, on the other hand, though ambitious, is not up to Gordon’s high standard. However, the plotting nonsense is quite entertaining at times, on the level of some of the gothic horrors coming out of Italy a few years earlier. Again, Salvati’s influence and experience on Fulci masterpieces (namely City of the Living Dead, 1980) is probably a key component. The gore doesn’t approach the same level of absurdity as the early ‘80s spaghetti terror flicks (there’s actually almost no gore here), but the overall craft is stronger than one could expect from Italy in 1988. The one exception would be Michele Soavi’s The Church (aka: La Chiesa), which would be released a year later and which has quite a bit in common thematically and visually with Schmoeller’s movie (though Soavi’s superior technique wins out in this case).

Catacombs made its DVD premiere with the aforementioned Scream Factory four-movie set. That version was anamorphically enhanced and looked half-decent. There was also a Netflix streaming version that seems to have been available in SD. This time, there is no warning of the print’s condition and I have to say that I’m pretty impressed. There are some minor signs of compression, including some inconsistent clarity levels and slightly fuzzy edges, but the overall image is shockingly clean. Grain hasn’t been digitally scrubbed, yet remains fine and is never abrasive. Print damage is quite minimal, aside from some small black and white flecks here and there. Details are tight enough for those Salvati smoke and dust effects to work and the depth of field is better maintained than the previously mentioned DVD version. The palette is mostly natural with lots of earth tones, grays, and brown clothing, but there are standout hues, such as the green of the countryside and orange of the candle-lit interiors.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo soundtrack is, like the Cellar Dweller track (as well as other Scream Factory-released Empire efforts) amusingly overwhelming at times. Most dialogue and incidental effects are modest and centered, while all of the more outrageous ‘canned’ and foley effects are ridiculously widely spread, not to mention considerably louder than the more natural sounds beneath them. Italian composer Pino Donaggio supplied the sumptuous keyboard, string, and choral score (possibly his first for a Band production and his third with Schmoeller). The music also overwhelms the dialogue and effects, but one gets the feeling this was an intended effect.

The only extra on this double-feature set is a Catacombs commentary with Schmoeller. It’s an underwhelming track in terms of the writer/director’s energy levels and endurance, but there is considerable (often not screen-specific) information about the super-low budget production.

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

 Scream Factory Double Features

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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