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Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

White of the Eye

(1987; November 17th street date):
If you're a wealthy, attractive woman, stay out of Arizona, because you are fair game. A twisted killer is on the loose and he tortures and dissects his beautiful victims as part of a primitive Indian ritual. All the clues lead to one man, who is clearly innocent. But nothing is as simple as black and white. (From Scream’s official synopsis)

When I first discovered Donald Cammell’s semi-obscure thriller, White of the Eye, I was confronted with a film that appeared to have been made with my interests and experiences in mind. The first shock is that it was shot in and around my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, and I was shocked to be confronted by landmarks that I hadn’t thought about in years (the opening credits run over helicopter shots of the construction of the UniSource Energy Tower – the tallest building in the city). Then I realized that White of the Eye was, in effect, a reaction to Dario Argento’s increasingly stylish and ‘80s fashion-friendly gialli. An American gialli written and directed by a British filmmaker and one-time collaborator with Nicolas Roeg? That seemed too good to be true. The last straw was co-lead David Keith’s (who made his directorial debut the same year with The Curse) in movie profession as an audio/video specialist. The character impresses girls by finding the aural center of a room and pointing to the perfect corners for speaker placement.

Oddly specific nostalgia aside, White of the Eye really is an underrated gem in the quarry that is ‘80s horror. Sold largely as a slasher movie, Cammell’s film is an intoxicating blend of romantic melodrama, hyper violence (reportedly, the MPAA had originally tagged it with an X, before Marlon Brando himself wrote an appeal on Cammell’s behalf), surrealistic imagery, and existential dread. The best way to sum it up would be an Ingmar Bergman-influenced version of Argento’s Tenebre as directed by a Miami Vice/ Manhunter era Michael Mann. There are plenty of thrills, including super-slo-mo murder scenes and a nerve-shredding, Coen-esque hide and seek sequence at the onset of the climax, but Cammell isn’t interested in the entertainment value of violence that defined conventional slashers – he had been more interested in contemplating violence as an abstract metaphysical subject. He achieves this via flagrantly artistic filmmaking techniques and by aligning the audience with the murderer very early in the film, before his identity has even been officially revealed (the murder mystery aspects of the first two acts end up serving little purpose beyond perhaps referencing the slashers and gialli that the director is occasionally evoking). Not surprisingly, it was a box office flop. Cammell was a notoriously eccentric and difficult filmmaker and he only managed to produce four feature-length movies as director – the other three being Performance (co-directed with Roeg, 1970), Demon Seed (1977), and Wild Side (1995) – before committing suicide.

White of the Eye’s only official DVD release came via Mælström home video in Holland. That version was highly coveted, despite featuring no extras, because it was, for a time, the only way to see the film in widescreen. In 2014, Arrow Films UK released the first Blu-ray edition (technically a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack) and that 1.85:1, 1080p transfer was recycled for Scream Factory’s RA BD version (the film even begins with a disclaimer, stating that Arrow did the 2K restoration). I do have access to both discs and started gathering screen caps from both for comparison, but realized that the minute differences in compression were rendered moot after the images were compressed into a JPG format. White of the Eye is not intended to look entirely immaculate. Cammell, cinematographer Larry McConkey, and ‘lighting cameraman’ Edward A. Gutentag take pains to create a dreamy atmosphere, which includes a lot of foggy focus and diffused lighting. This leads to considerable grain, cross-colouration effects, and inconsistent detail. The extreme close-ups are all quite sharp, but the textures and patterns of medium and wide-angle images are understandably fuzzy. In addition, the flashback sequences were heavily altered using the bleach-bypass process, which pushes the contrast and desaturates the image to the point that it is nearly monochromatic. I assure viewers that these are purposeful artefacts and that there is still plenty of complexity in the image.

Scream Factory’s disc includes both the original 2.0 soundtrack and a new 5.1 remix in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. In comparison, the Arrow disc only features a 2.0 LPCM soundtrack. Though the dialogue track is better-centered and the discrete LFE gives a minor boost to some of the music, I found little difference between the two tracks. The rear channels are barely involved in either case, clarity is similar, and I actually prefer the wider stereo spread of the 2.0 track (the remix tries to make music and incidental sound effects are more ‘natural’ by centering them in the viewing room). The prog-rock/electronic soundtrack, by session guitarist Rick Fenn and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason, is another of the film’s many highlights.

Extras include:
  • Commentary by Donald Cammell biographer Sam Umland – This same track appears on Arrow’s release. Umland delves into every aspect of the film, from its production history, to Cammell’s career, the careers of the actors, differences between the movie and Andrew Klavan’s source novel ( Mrs. White), and even the history of the film’s Arizona locations (a nice easter egg for a guy that grew up in the area). His most valuable additions are his views on the film’s heavy social and psychological subtexts. The Freudian themes are obvious enough for a novice like myself to notice, but Umland’s descriptions of tribal and psychological motifs are far beyond my station. This is a highly recommend track.
  • Into The White (11:00, HD) – This retrospective interview with cinematographer/steadicam operator Larry McConkey first appeared on Arrow UK’s Blu-ray. In it, McConkey covers the bulk of the production, but focuses mostly on the conflict that Cammell purposefully created on set.
  • Into The Vortex (17:50, HD) – A new interview with actor Alan Rosenberg, who has surprisingly fond memories of what was, by all other accounts, a very difficult shoot. Though, he does credit China Cammell (née Chong), the co-writer and Cammell’s widow, as keeping the production ‘grounded.’ Eventually, he begins to recall some of the production problems, too.
  • Eye Of The Detective (15:40, HD) – Another new actor interview with Art Evans (who many may remember from Die Hard 2). Evans, who was shooting Ruthless People at the same time, begins the interview very thankful for the concessions Cammell made to keep him in the movie. This colours the rest of his memories, even the negative ones, and offers contrast to McConkey’s horror stories.
  • Deleted scenes with Sam Umland commentary (5:30, HD) – These scenes were discovered by Arrow without audio, so our friendly Cammell expert describes what we are watching.
  • Alternate credit sequence (2:30, HD)
  • Footage from the flashback sequences prior to the bleach bypass process that makes them so gritty and high contrast (11:50, HD)

Arrow’s UK version does not include the Rosenberg and Evans interviews, but does have an exclusive documentary on Cammell’s career ( The Ultimate Performance) and a 1972 short film ( The Argument).

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up


Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie

(1987, December 8th street date)
When Dodger (Mackenzie Astin) accidentally releases the Kids from their magical trash can prison, all smell breaks loose. Despite their offensive personal habits – and attitude problems – Dodger soon becomes fond of the Kids. But when Messy Tessie, Foul Phil, Valerie Vomit and the whole misfit crew join his fight against thuggish bullies, their efforts just might land them behind bars at the State Home for the Ugly! (From Scream’s official synopsis)

I’m sure it’s difficult for anyone under the age of 30 to understand how something as odd as Topps Chewing Gum’s original Garbage Pail Kids trading cards could become a pop culture juggernaut. I lived through the phenomenon and even I’m flabbergasted. Somehow, within the span of only a couple of years, a trading card series became so popular that it spawned a major motion picture. They advertised it as a special aside during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! But I digress. I don’t think I have to say that Rod Amateau’s The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is a horrible movie. Its reputation precedes it and every bad thing you’ve ever heard about it is a well-deserved insult. Like most bad movies, it has a loyal fanbase, but, unlike most cult movies, its bizarre back-story and weird fact that it was made at all are its only notable hallmarks. It’s difficult to even enjoy its ineptitude on an ironic level, because its failures are meant to be funny. All of Amateau and co-writer Melinda Palmer’s choices are bad ones, beginning with the impetus of the movie: bringing live-action Garbage Pail Kids into the real world via a Gremlins-like junk/antique shop. I’m not sure why screenwriters were obsessed with sticking high-concept characters in real-world settings during the ‘80s, but they did it a lot and the process connects three of the most hated films of the decade, including this one, Willard Huyck’s Howard the Duck adaptation (1986), and Gary Goddard’s Masters of the Universe (also 1987). Here, the trope is built upon a fairly respectable underlying message that attempts to teach children that it’s okay to be different, but it’s all lost in bad jokes that don’t go far enough to be as offensive and barely functional animatronic effects. At best, this is a Troma release with a bigger budget and PG-worthy T&A (well, PG, until you consider that Katie Barberi was only 13 or 14 during filming, then it becomes creepy).

In 2005, someone at MGM realized that Garbage Pail Kids had a growing fanbase that was willing to spend money to own the film on DVD; seemingly so they could subject their friends and family to its special ‘charms.’ This new Blu-ray debut should be reason for those fans to celebrate. Now, they can share the snot, vomit, and piss in 1080p, 1.85:1 HD. This transfer is typical no muss, no fuss MGM scan. Details are sharp in close-up and a bit mushy in wide shots. The elemental separation is decent, aside from some slight haloes and other minor compression issues. Grain ebbs and flows and is at times coupled with discolouration noise, especially in the really dark scenes – and there are plenty of really dark scenes. Either Amateau or cinematographer Harvey Genkins either wanted the movie to look sinister or they didn’t know what they were doing. Colours are relatively rich, though, again, the overriding darkness dulls them from time to time. There hasn’t been much clean-up, so scratches and dirt are a minor issue. The original 2.0 soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. Sound quality is fine. Dialogue is clear and understandable, sound effects are well-layered, despite minimal directional enhancement, and volume levels are consistent. Michael Lloyd’s score, which is much better than the film deserves, is divided between ‘80s pop and synthesized symphonic melodies, all of which sound relatively rich.

The disc’s entirely new extras include:
  • The Effects Of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (11:50, HD) – This featurette includes interviews with special makeup effects creator John Carl Buechler and makeup effects artist Gino Crognale. Buechler (who, as the director of Troll and Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood, was original approached as a possible director), has plenty to say about the early production as well as the technical aspects of the effects. Crognale is a bit more bemused by his memories, but also takes the discussion seriously.
  • On The Set (6:20, HD) – First assistant director Thomas A. Irvine whines about modern film technology for a bit, complains about the Topps cards being gross, then says relatively nice things about the cast & crew.
  • The Artful Dodger (27:20, HD) – Star Mackenzie Astin, now an adult, obviously, talks about his experiences as a child actor on the set of the film as well as his earlier career. He also levies a decent defense of the film and has wonderful things to say about his co-stars.
  • The Kids Aren't All Right (21:20, HD) – The extras close out with a series of interviews with actors Arturo Gil and Kevin Thompson, two of the seven actors that were crammed into the Garbage Pail Kids suits. They also have very nice things to say about everyone.
  • Trailer


 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up


Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

Women’s Prison Massacre

(1983, December 8th street date):
Sultry reporter Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) is on the verge of breaking a big story about a corrupt politician when she gets framed and sent to a women's prison. There, incarcerated women face unspeakable cruelty and inhumane conditions — and that's before a quartet of dangerous men are temporarily transferred to the facility! When the felonious four overpower the guards and take over, it's up to Emanuelle and her fellow inmates to take control of the prison — and their very lives. (From Scream’s official synopsis)

Women’s Prison Massacre (aka: Emanuelle Fuga Dall'inferno and Blade Violent) is what we call an Italian grindhouse three-fer. First, it is directed by Bruno Mattei – the very bottom of the barrel when it comes to Italian exploitation – alongside frequent collaborator Claudio Fragasso ( Troll II, 1990), who, guess what, co-wrote Women’s Prison Massacre. Second, it is a prime example of Italy’s Women In Prison (WIP) cycle, which gained popularity following the American WIP cycle (kicked off in part with future Oscar winner Jonathan Demme's Caged Heat, 1974) and a run of more disturbing Nazisploitation flicks. Thirdly, Women’s Prison Massacre is the final film in the long-running Black Emanuelle series (its Italian title translates to Emanuelle Escapes from Hell). The Black Emanuelle films began as a collection of softcore porn cash-ins on Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle (1974) and (usually) starred Laura Gemser as an investigative journalist that engages in sexual exploits all over the world. As extreme horror became more popular, Emanuelle uncovered a snuff film ring (Joe D'Amato’s Emanuelle in America, 1977), discovers a hidden tribe of savage cannibals (D’Amato’s Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, 1977), and she escaped corrupted women’s penitentiaries on two occasions – Violence in a Women’s Prison and Women’s Prison Massacre. Her prison exploits were shot back-to-back by Mattei and the two films are often confused, because distributors renamed them over and over. At one point, both were known as either Emanuelle in Hell or Emanuelle in Prison.

Mattei’s half-assed auteurship (there’s a decent car chase that I attribute entirely to the talents of the stunt drivers) and Fragasso’s ‘eh, whatever’ storytelling is firing on all cylinders here. Even though the overall effect is sort of tame for an Italian WIP flick (the title ‘massacre’ comes so close to delivering on its gory promise, but stops just short of real mayhem), sleaze and singular ugliness oozes from every razorblade-filled orifice of the celluloid, and the one-liner-only brand of dialogue is a barrel of laughs. The laughably avant garde stage play/slam poetry diatribe that runs between the opening credits even promises a weird streak that would fit a Jess Franco movie, but, alas, it is a one-time event. Perhaps if there was more of this and fewer generic WIP stereotypes, Women’s Prison Massacre would stand ahead of the pack. In its current state, it sort blends into a dozen other movies (including Violence in a Women’s Prison), though, I suppose this more easygoing brand of exploitation makes it a decent entry point for burgeoning WIP fans. As is often the case, Gemser’s performance is a major plus. Her exotic physique and willingness to be nude before cameras wasn’t the only reason her career endured throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s – she was a genuinely compelling screen presence. Her innate abilities appear all the more naturalistic when framed by the high camp performances that surround her. Unfortunately, the audiences unaware of Emanuelle’s previous adventures will be even more confused by the nonsensical plot, which assumes we’re aware of her ongoing story.

Women’s Prison Massacre was first released on North American DVD by Retro Shock-O-Rama. There were two versions: a single disc anamorphic release of the R-rated cut and a double disc set that included the R-rated cut and the unrated cut in 1.33:1. Though it’s not one of Scream Factory’s more high-profile December releases, Italian cult enthusiasts should rejoice, because this new 1.85:1, 1080p HD transfer has been culled from an uncut 35mm source. The upgrade from censored anamorphic DVD and uncensored pan & scan DVD is substantial including tighter image separation, and no substantial compression side effects (the DVD versions are pretty edge-enhancey). Many issues with clarity can be easily blamed on Mattei and cinematographer Henry Frogers’ run-and-gun shooting style and an utter lack of budget. On the more negative side of things, this is yet another Italian-based transfer from Scream Factory that suffers from substantial DNR and signs of telecine machine noise. This leads to more mushy grain levels, posterisation effects, and disappointing texture. The colour timing also skews a bit blue, but the overall palette fares better than the previous couple of examples ( Exterminators of the Year 3000 and Ghosthouse, in particular).

The original mono sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Scream has only included the English language dub, but it isn’t a problem, considering that the film was shot without sound and dubbed into multiple languages (including Italian) for international release. Besides, the bad lip-sync is half the fun. The sound quality is about as flat and rigid as you’d expect from this type of release, but there isn’t a lot of high end distortion. Electronic artist Luigi Ceccarelli’s score is pretty great and has a far deeper aural layering than the dialogue and effects, and a decent bass response. The occasional aural warble is excusable.

There are no extras. For more information on Mattei, see my review of Blue Underground’s  Hell of the Living Dead/ Rats: Night of Terror double feature Blu-ray.

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up



Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

The Dungeonmaster/Eliminators double feature

(December 15th street date):

The Dungeonmaster

(1985):
Paul, a young computer ace, is forced to pit his physical and mental skills against unimaginable odds when a hulking wizard looking for formidable opponents picks Paul as his next challenger. Paul faces a series of seven spectacular and death-defying challenges and must survive not only to save his life, but that of his girlfriend's, too! (From Scream’s official synopsis)

Once upon a time, I spent five weeks in a sterile hospital room that I wasn’t allowed to leave. I was on a lot of medication, hadn’t slept a full night in several days, and was suffering from minor hallucinations. The only good news was that I had access to Netflix and, in a fit of delirium, I decided to watch Empire Picture’s The Dungeonmaster (aka: Ragewar: The Challenges of Excalibrate and Digital Knights). I listed in and out of consciousness, unable to parse the bizarre patchwork production, but fascinated by its near incoherency. Years have now passed and I hesitate to tarnish the foggy memories of that fateful day by re-watching Dungeonmaster. Would it be as ‘special’ through wide, unmedicated eyes? Did my enjoyment depend on desperate cabin fever? Could the movie possibly make sense following a full night’s sleep?

It turns out that my fears were unfounded. Dungeonmaster is every bit as joyfully goofy with a clear head. What I didn’t understand the first time I fumbled through it was that it is, effectively, an anthology piece, anchored on the better-than-average performances of Jeffrey Byron as the film’s hero and Richard Moll as the shiny-eyed villain (doing the same voice he’d use half a decade later as Two-Face on Batman: The Animated Series). Inspired by Steven Lisberger’s Tron, Empire head Charles Band decided to make a movie in which a protagonist is challenged by a number of different video game scenarios, each conceptualized by a different filmmaker. The writer/directors involved included Band himself, Dave Allen ( Puppet Master II, 1990), John Carl Buechler (again, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, 1988), Steven Ford (an actor by trade, most recently seen in Transformers, 2007), Peter Manoogian ( Eliminators, 1986, see below), Ted Nicolaou ( TerrorVision, 1986), and Rosemarie Turko ( Scarred, 1983). It’s an uneven and often indefensibly dreadful mix-and-match, but, like a Ramones album, it’s hard to resent the film for very long, because downturns are quickly forgotten every time a new environment is introduced. Though still technically an Empire production, Dungeonmaster initially spent years in purgatory as the studio folded and emerged as the more franchise-driven Full Moon. It fits Full Moon’s business model better and, given the breadth of the talent involved, acts as a sampler of the studio’s movies. There’s also an early appearance by shock-rock band W.A.S.P., assuming anyone reading this is into that kind of thing.

The only official DVD release of Dungeonmaster came from Scream Factory as part of a four-movie collection that included David Schmoeller’s Catacombs (1988), Buechler’s Cellar Dweller (1988), and Joe D’Amato/Fabrizio Laurenti’s Crawlers (aka: Contamination .7, 1993 – the only movie in the set not to have been reissued on a Blu-ray double-feature). That same SD anamorphic transfer also showed up on Netflix streaming (hence me watching it in the hospital). This new 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer is an almost shocking upgrade over the artefacty and fuzzy SD version, even if the image quality is inherently inconsistent between chapters. Still, a single cinematographer, Mac Ahlberg, is credited and lends the film a bit of visual cohesion. The biggest problems arise due to process shots and other effects, which can appear blotchy (beyond the usual diminished details), and the soft focus employed during some sequences, which creates diffusion and posterisation. The darker sequences tend to be grainier as well. Details are sharp overall, especially in close-up, with strong black level separation and only minor signs of DNR enhancement. The colours are quite vivid and the palette is very eclectic.

The original mono sound is preserved in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and sounds great. There’s very little distortion in the dialogue or its simple sound design. The music is credited to Richard Band and Shirley Walker. Band, the brother of producer/co-writer/co-director Charles, is an Empire and Full Moon mainstay, so his presence is expected, but I wasn’t aware that Walker (the future collaborator of Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, and the future Batman: The Animated Series musical mastermind) had worked with the Bands (it turns out that she is also credited on Ghoulies). The music is huge and rich on this otherwise unremarkable mix.

Like Scream’s DVD, this Blu-ray includes the unrated version of the film. The key difference between it and the PG-13 original video release is the opening section, which features brief full-frontal female nudity.

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up


Eliminators

(1986):
A mandroid – part man and part machine – seeks revenge on the evil scientist who created him. Enlisting the help of a beautiful woman and a mysterious ninja, he pursues the scientist in hopes of stopping him before he can be further harm to humanity.(From Scream’s official synopsis)

Peter Manoogian’s Eliminators is another Empire Pictures/Charles Band production, one that enjoys a much larger cult following than Dungeonmaster. Most recently, it served as the inspiration behind Steven Kostanski’s Astron-6-branded parody Manborg (2011). Eliminators, another typical pre-Full Moon Band flick with a dash more ambition. It pays pleasant homage to bygone B-sci-fi and readily acknowledges its own silliness on a number of occasions (there’s a cute moment where the Mandroid and S.P.O.T., the little scout robot, fight over which TV station to watch), yet also does its best to maintain a straight face when it comes to its most fantastical elements. Like other Empire sci-fi actioners and their Italian-made counterparts (both of which tended to snag inspiration from the likes of Mad Max and Escape from New York), Eliminators sets out to entertain, not to make fun of subgenre conventions. And it is the respectable failures, not the jokes at its own suspense, that make it so entertaining. It’s too earnestly stated to dismiss. Manoogian keeps the film moving, where lesser B-silliness may have bided time with expositional filler. Writers Paul De Meo & Danny Bilson, who were better known for their comic book and pulp inspired output – stuff like The Rocketeer (1991) and the Viper TV series (1994) – do their part by steadily introducing enough concepts (they aren’t original concepts, but there are plenty of them) to facilitate Manoogian’s pacing. The performances are above par, including an early leading role from future Star Trek: The Next Generation favourite Denise Crosby, and Mac Ahlberg’s colourful photography is top notch. The optical and make-up effects are typically wonky Empire junk (Manoogian reuses a lot of explosion footage in an effort to save money), but the Mandroid costume and functions are genuinely impressive, even comparable to Rob Bottin’s far more budget-endowed work on RoboCop the next year (his off-road legs at the beginning of the movie are spectacular).

Once again, the only official North American DVD release of this film came in the form of a Scream Factory quadruple-feature DVD collection. Eliminators was grouped with David Engelbach’s America 3000 (1986), Brian Hannant’s The Time Guardian (1987), and Peter Manoogian’s Arena (probably the best of the four, 1989), and was presented in cropped 1.33:1. The box art for this new Blu-ray debut announces an ‘all-new transfer,’ which seems like an accurate statement to me. Even without having seen the previous DVD versions, I can’t imagine they had a stitch on this surprisingly clean and sharp 1080p, 1.78:1 image (side note: I did find a widescreen TV rip, but it was not HD). The darkest sequences suffer from a minor case of the mushies, but daylight scenes and close-ups are swimming in fine detail. Grain is relatively consistent, gradations are mostly even, and shapes are neatly separated without obvious edge enhancement. There are some minor signs of DNR in the wide angle shots, but this was really only something I noticed while looking at still frames – it wasn’t obvious in motion. Some of the colours appear a tad washed-out to my eye, though this usually occurs during process or optical effects shots (which is also when print damage and grain tends to kick-up).

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is fine. Sound is clean with very little crackle or pop, but it’s also a generally under-mixed track that includes only the most basic sound design. The natural, set-recorded noises work well, but, given the outrageous physique of the central character, you’d think that there’d be more wacky and zippy sci-fi noises. All we really get is the occasional burst from Mandroid’s lasers. Once again, a Band production stands out from its competition due to a fabulous soundtrack. Bob Summers’ electronically-based underscore is underwhelming, but the symphonic action cues are big and rich.

Extras include:
    An interview with director Peter Monoogian (32:30, HD) – The man behind The Eliminators and the Cave Beasts sequence in Dungeonmaster discusses his career working for Charles Band and the production of these two wacky B-movies.
  • Trailers


 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up


Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

The Car

(1977, December 15th street date):
The peaceful tranquility of a small Western town is disturbed when a murderous car wreaks havoc by viciously mowing down innocent victims. The new sheriff, Wade Parent (James Brolin), may be the only one who can stop this menace in its tracks. But what Wade Parent doesn't realize is that the driver of this indestructible vehicle is far more dangerous than any man... because it is driven by pure evil. (From Scream’s official synopsis)

The killer car/automobile subgenre hasn’t exactly disappeared over the last couple decades, but it certainly reached a peak in the ‘70s and ‘80s with such classics and non-classics as Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971), George Bowers’ The Hearse (1980), Juraj Herz’ Ferat Vampire (1982), John Carpenter’s Christine (1983), and, somewhere in the middle of the pack, Elliot Silverstein’s The Car. Screenwriters Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack (both of whom both went on to write The Gauntlet and Pale Rider for Clint Eastwood), and Lane Slate (who worked mostly in television) don’t have a lot to offer to the greater killer car pantheon, but they populate The Car with enough colourful characters, quirky dialogue (love the ill-fated hitchhiker’s self-talk), and slice-of-life plot details to overcome quite a bit of the mediocrity. The basic ‘cops vs. supernatural threat’ superplot is underscored by a number of familial and domestic themes. The most obvious is the main character’s (seemingly a widow) courtship of his daughters’ teacher (Kathleen Lloyd) – an unusual kind of love story, given B-horror’s tendency to pair up teenagers and twenty-somethings, rather than lonely adults. Beneath this is an even more incidental subplot about an abusive marriage and an even more incidental subplot about an alcoholic that threatens to destroy his marriage when the stresses of a murderous car knock him off the wagon. Few related films would explore these motifs at all and fewer still would be so ruthless with character deaths. Silverstein experience in television rears its head here on occasion in the form of bland, but serviceable expositional scenes. Fortunately, he also manages to break from his comfort zone with densely packed Panavision widescreen image (this movie must’ve sucked in 1.33:1), especially where the title antagonist is concerned. The opening sequences, in which the car stalks and murders a young couple on the highway, sets the stage for some really evocative and suspenseful lead-ins that (occasionally) disguise the incredible silliness of the actual vehicular attack sequences (A+ stunt driving, notwithstanding).

The Car was released twice on 2.35:1, anamorphic, barebones DVD in North America via Universal and Anchor Bay Studios. It made its Blu-ray debut via Arrow Video in the UK, though I don’t believe Scream Factory is recycling that HD transfer like they did with White of the Eye, based on the fact that there isn’t a title card explaining as much. This 2.35:1, 1080p image is probably directly from MGM. There are very few signs of restoration, but it’s okay, because there’s also very little significant print damage, so fans can expect a natural, film-like appearance, including complex, deep-set details and natural textures. There are some minor digital artefacts, like slight DNR effects (which usually appear during the widest wide-angle shots and might just be focal inconsistencies in the original material) and edge haloes that come and go. Silverstein and cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld follow the lead set by other American low-budget genre filmmakers of the era and shoot for a very neutral, understated palette. These pleasantly consistent natural hues are then starkly interrupted by the evil car’s vivid and almost monochromatically orange-tinted point-of-view. Strong blacks help support texture and elemental separation.

The original mono soundtrack is presented in 2.0 alongside a brand new 5.1 remaster. Both tracks are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. This is another tasteful and largely unnecessary remix, but it does offer significantly more stereo movement than its single channel counterpart. The surround channels are rarely engaged. The mono version is a bit louder and features more consistent dialogue volume, while the 5.1 stretches the more stylistic extremes of the evil car’s engine and horn. Leonard Rosenman’s score, which borrows extensively from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” and pays homage to John Williams’ Jaws music, is a definite plus and gets a decent LFE bump on the remixed track. Again, I’m torn between the original mono and 5.1. The music is a bit louder and crisper on the former, but the latter helps to minimize messy overlap.

The mostly new extras include:
  • Mystery Of The Car (9:20, HD) – Director Elliot Silverstein immediately verifies that the producers wanted to make Jaws on Land. He then discusses his various attempts at conceptualizing that assignment with a car in the desert, as well as the technical challenges of the car attacks.
  • The Navajo Connection (12:10, HD) – Actress Geraldine Keams talks about her career and Native American heritage.
  • Just Like Riding A Bike (11:50, HD) – The final new interview features actress Melody Thomas Scott, who played one of the two victimized bike riders at the beginning of the film. The title of the interview is a reference to the fact that she couldn’t really ride a bicycle when she got the part.
  • Trailer, TV spot, and radio spots
  • Still gallery


 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up


Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

Nightmares

(1983, December 22nd street date):
Following a sort of ‘Golden Era’ during the ‘60s and earliest ‘70s, horror anthology films briefly fell out of favour in mainstream cinemas. But, almost as if the zeitgeist itself demanded it, the practice popped up again in quick bursts throughout the ‘80s, including George A. Romero’s genuine hit, Creepshow (1982), Lewis Teague’s studio-financed releases, like Cat’s Eye (1985), and independent films, like Jeff Burr’s From a Whisper to a Scream (1987), Eddy Lawrence Manson’s Night Train to Terror (1985), and Daniel Boyd’s bargain-basement near-classic Chillers (1987). Between the major and minor releases was Joseph Sargent’s Nightmare (not to be confused with John D. Lamond’s naughty Ozploitation slasher from 1980), which was distributed by Universal to little fanfare and tiny box office. Originally planned as a pilot for a TV series and partially culled from unused episodes of ABC’s Darkroom (a horror series that only lasted 16 episodes), these four shorts were relegated to the less restrictive likes of movie screens.

Episode One: Terror in Topanga – written by Eddy Lawrence Manson:
Terror in Topanga is a sort of Halloween rip-off by way of Tales From the Crypt that sets the tone with a truly brutal stabbing murder, before biding its time with tepid family drama. In true E.C. Comics fashion, the unassuming protagonist, played by a pretty unassuming Cristina Raines (a few years from her appearance in The Sentinel in 1977), is torn between her paranoid fear of an escaped madman who is roaming the Topanga canyon area and her crippling addiction to cigarettes. One careless decision leads to another. Sargent does a decent job wringing as much suspense as he can from these amusingly mundane situations. Anyone who read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a kid can guess the twist ending.

Episode Two: The Bishop of Battle – written by Eddy Lawrence Manson:
In The Bishop Battle, Emilio Estevez plays a prototypical version of Otto the punk from Alex Cox’s Repo Man (he even listens to some of the exact same Fear and Black Flag songs!) named J.J., who is basically a card shark, only he plays ‘80s arcade games instead of poker. He becomes obsessed with a specific game called ‘Bishop of Battle’ and reaching its fabled thirteenth level, to the point that he breaks into the arcade to play it. But he gets more than he bargained for when the video cabinet breaks open and the vector graphic antagonists begin attacking him. Episode two is colourful and a bunch of silly fun, enough to overlook its bargain basement Tron ambitions. It has sort of a punk rock Amazing Tales feel and, as a huge fan of Repo Man, I had a blast with the similarities (it could practically be a prequel!).

Episode Three: The Benediction – written by Eddy Lawrence Manson:
With its nightmare imagery, impressively dreadful tone, and a typically outstanding performance from Lance Henriksen, The Benediction is probably the best chapter in this mostly mediocre exercise. Henriksen plays a New Mexican priest who leaves his church after a crisis of faith. While on the road, he is menaced by mournful memories and a mysterious black truck. That’s right – I was secretly covering two[/] killer car movies for this review! [i]The Benediction succeeds where The Car fails thanks to more focused themes, more intense action (even though Sargent does a terrible job disguising Henriksen’s stunt driver), and, of course, its shorter runtime.

Episode Four: Night of the Rat – written by Jeffrey Bloom:
Episode three may be the best episode, but Night of the Rat is wacky enough to make it the superior finale. A good horror anthology needs to end with a burst, rather than a fizzle. Veronica Cartwright, the wide-eyed queen of the cry-scream, is cast to type as a neurotic housewife who hears a rat in the walls of her suburban home. The situation grows dire as the rat eats her daughter’s beloved cat, rips up the electric wiring, and dribbles slime all over the house, eventually leading to an epic showdown. Night of the Rat is maniacal, energetic, spooky, and, ultimately, kind of touching. It is also notable because Richard Masur plays Cartwright’s controlling, cheapskate husband. That’s right, supporting cast members from Alien and The Thing once co-starred in a monster rat movie.

Because it was originally conceived as four episodes of a television series, Sargent and cinematographers Gerald Perry Finnerman (first and second segments) and Mario DiLeo (third and fourth segments) designed Nightmares to work on a 1.33:1 TV screen. However, because it was released theatrically, it was matted to 1.85:1. The old Universal DVD was full-frame, but, assuming there would be fans arguing for either framing, Scream has split the difference here by supplying both a 1.33:1 and a 1.78:1, 1080p transfer. The basic image qualities are close enough that I’m specifically reviewing the widescreen version (in part because it is the first time the film has been available in this aspect ratio). This isn’t the cleanest transfer discussed on this page, but it also doesn’t suffer from blatant DNR enhancement. Details and patterns are tight, despite the consistent grain and soft focus, which, combined, lead to some clumping/print damage issues. The constant diffusion leads to some foggy lighting, but the neon and pastel colours are vivid enough to overcome a bit of bleeding and softening. The mostly pure black levels are somewhat weak on a couple of occasions. Head and foot room is a bit tight, because of the widescreen matting, but not enough for me to say that the full frame version is preferable.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is plenty expressive with only minor distortion and crowding issues. Dialogue and incidental effects sound a little flat, but not lumpy. The second episode is the highlight and is endowed with oodles of arcade noise, which alternates between generalized fuzz and more pinpointed beeps and laser blasts. The third episode is the weakest due to unusual discrepancies in clarity and strange echo/doubling effects. Composer Craig Safan (who worked on another video game-related flick called The Last Starfighter a year after Nightmares’ release) alternates musical styles between chapters admirably, creating four distinct scores in the process. The music tends to be the strongest audio element in most cases.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with executive producer Andrew Mirisch and actress Cristina Raines – This new commentary is moderated by Hill Place web blogger/critic Shaun Chang (who previously appeared with Raines on Scream Factory’s The Sentinel Blu-ray). Thanks in large part to Chang’s dogged interviewing tactics, the track quickly gets down to the brass tacks of the production, from conception through casting, filming, and post-production. Since she only appears in the first episode, Raines tends to take a back seat for most of the run time.
  • Trailer
  • Radio spots


 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up

 Scream Factory Holiday Wrap-Up


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