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Scream Factory July Releases

Robot Jox

(1989, 7/7/15 Release)
In a future world where war has been outlawed, international disputes are settled in a single winner-takes-all fight between two ultimate killing machines. Massive, menacing, and made-to-destroy, these human-piloted combat 'bots square off to determine global supremacy. But, when tragedy strikes during a crucial battle and treacherous espionage raises the stakes, will veteran robowarrior Achilles (Paul Koslo) walk away from the game for good… or take his revenge against his rival pilot, the homicidal Alexander (Gary Graham)? (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Writer/director Stuart Gordon earned such a massive cult following with his feature debut, Re-Animator (1985), and its similarly Lovecraft-themed follow-up, From Beyond (1986), that he didn’t need to make a mainstream hit. Unfortunately, the spectre of his early success has outweighed his post- From Beyond career. His brief fling with sci-fi adventure movies has been particularly overlooked. The first of this otherwise unrelated trilogy, which includes Fortress (1992) and Space Truckers (1996), was Robot Jox. It was also an unusual case of Empire Pictures chief Charles Band attempting to break into mainstream, family-friendly entertainment and a massively expensive endeavor for the little B-movie studio. The experiment proved futile as audiences virtually ignored the film on its eventual release in 1990 (Thanksgiving weekend, as a matter of fact), but none of that mattered to me and a number of other pre-teen boys that had a hankering for live-action versions of our favourite giant robot cartoons (I still distinctly remember the trailer with Gary Graham shouting ‘I’m gonna get in this thing and I’m going to kick your [final words censored by explosion]’).

I feared revisiting the film with adult eyes – adult eyes that had been jaded by four terrible live-action Transformers movies and Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (which, yes, has an awful lot in common with Robot Jox) – but Gordon’s buoyant direction, his penchant for ‘smart’ camp, and the charming stop-motion special effects stand the test of time. As an adult, I can appreciate the more intricate mechanics of the robo-battles and all the little nods to Cold War-era politics. The story has plenty of clever, mostly child-friendly twists on old sci-fi conventions (all of the plot-points concerning the genetically engineered Jox is straight out of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game), though it’s difficult to argue with screenwriter (and Forever War author) Joe Haldeman when he insists that Gordon dumbed-down the premise too much for a wider audience approval. Since its release, many ‘mechsuit’ stories have delved much deeper into the sociopolitical and emotional ramifications of giant robot fights. These comparisons might not be applicable, though, since Robot Jox is more akin to the spirit of Paul Verhoven’s satirically slanted futuristic action movies than post-modern mecha cartoons, like Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion.

For the record, this is technically the international cut of the film, despite the PG-rating on the box. A couple of bloody scenes have been reinstated. Also, Charles Band produced a series of semi-sequel/follow-ups to Robot Jox, including Crash and Burn (1990), which he directed himself, Albert Band’s Robot Wars (1993), and Ian Barry’s Robo Warriors (1996). None are as enjoyable as Gordon’s film, but would make a fun triple-feature release someday.

Robot Jox had just enough of a following to garner a 2005, barebones anamorphic DVD release from MGM (via Sony). It makes its North American Blu-ray debut (there was a German release from Explosive Media) with a 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer that probably came directly from MGM’s vaults. It’s not an outrageously great transfer, but it is certainly an upgrade over the washy DVD and most of the major ‘problems’ seem to be inherent in the material. Gordon and cinematographer Mac Ahlberg shot a lot of the movie in haze and soft focus (supposedly to represent ‘the future’) with relatively shallow depth. This wreaks havoc with some compositions, creating considerable fuzz and grain. The slight compression of the image sometimes leads these scenes to be a bit noisy as well, though I don’t think it is a case of bad HD scanning. The special effects sequences that require compositing tend to show more signs of damage, but, again, this is probably not due to mistreatment of the source material (basic print artefacts are about average for type, otherwise). Edges are supported and tightened even during these hazy/shiny sequences, thanks to much better gamma levels and harder contrast than the DVD release. Colours are rich and full-bodied with only minor bleeding issues.

The original stereo soundtrack is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and is more impressive than I was expecting from the material. The dialogue tracks could’ve benefited from a discrete center channel (since there is some ghosting in the stereo spread) and are keyed softer than other elements, but the aggressive and cartoonish sound effects are big and brassy. The robo battles feature plenty of directional movement and a decent sense of depth. The lack of a discrete LFE is not a problem, as explosions are still very bassy. Frédéric Talgorn’s slightly obnoxious, rah-rah musical soundtrack is a little thin beneath the action, but doesn’t completely fade into the background.

The mostly all-new extras include:
  • Commentary with director Stuart Gordon – Ever the reliable commentator, Gordon does a good job filling us in on the facts of the production, including the major hardships that bankrupted Empire Pictures. The track is moderated by Blu-ray producer/director Michael Felsher and he does a good job keeping the track focused.
  • Commentary with associate effects director Paul Gentry, mechanical effects artist Mark Rappaport, and stop-motion animator Paul Jessel – This more technical track is more uneven and unfocused than the director’s commentary, but still holds plenty of value for Robot Jox fans.
  • Looking Back with Paul Koslo (10:10, HD) – A new interview with the actor that plays Alexander, the main villain.
  • Archival interviews:
    • Stuart Gordon (7:30, SD)
    • Pyrotechnic supervisor Joe Viskocil (8:00, SD)
    • Associate effects director Paul Gentry (7:10, SD)
    • Stop-motion animator Paul Jessel (7:50, SD)
    • Animation & effects artists Chris Endicott and Mark McGee (9:30, SD)
  • Raw video footage from behind-the-scenes (14:20, SD)
  • Still galleries
  • Trailer and TV spot


 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases



Scream Factory July Releases

Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf

(1985, Release 7/14/15)
After newscaster Karen White's shocking on-screen transformation and violent death (in the original The Howling), her brother, Ben (Reb Brown), is approached by Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee), a mysterious man who claims that Karen has, in fact, become a werewolf. But this is the least of their worries... to save mankind, Stefan and Ben must travel to Transylvania to battle and destroy Stirba (Sybil Danning), the immortal queen of all werewolves, before she is restored to her full powers! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Movies – sequels in particular – are often burden with the brunt of audience expectations. For years, there were many accepted truths about horror franchise films. In those days, any deviations from a formula (Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning [1985], for example) were to be avoided and chided at all costs. Slowly, but surely, these films tend to find their audiences, thanks in large part to the fact that they break with the formulas that inspired them. Scream Factory and other boutique, genre-centric labels are very good at ignoring years of poisonous word-of-mouth when re-releasing cult titles to new audiences. Philippe Mora’s Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (aka: Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch) is what they refer to in the home video industry a ‘hard sell.’ Originally belonging to that class of sequel that was hated simply because it didn’t follow the formula set by the film(s) before it, Mora’s film is so weird, so badly conceived, so anarchically stupid that its horrible reputation has endured for decades. But these are also the ingredients for a new cult classic, which begs the question – is Howling II unique and entertaining enough to deserve revisiting, like another once-hated horror sequel, Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)?

The short answer is that I don’t think Mora can make a movie entirely bereft of entertainment value. His entire career is defined by movies that are crummy in broad strokes (bad editing and inconsistent photography are his trademarks), but amusing in fine details and solitary sequences. The ‘best’ Mora movies are eccentric, genre-bending blobs brimming with colourful imagery and comfortably horrible jokes. Howling II definitely fits the mould, but anyone that has seen the more Aussie culture-flavoured Howling III: The Marsupials, knows how much further into madness Mora could take the franchise (despite its lack of R-rated sex & violence). Comparatively, Howling II is a disappointment – both as a sequel to Dante’s film and as a full-bore Philippe Mora movie. It’s just too tedious. There are oddball additions worth revisiting (the script is strange by anyone’s standards), it just so happens that most of the enjoyment is ironic. Laughing at the antiquated, MTV imagery (Mora seems to have been more inspired by John Landis’ “Thriller” music video than Dante’s film), hideous mid-‘80s clothing, and Christopher Lee’s inability to hide his disdain for the project outweighs any genuine and intended enjoyment.

Howling II was released on barebones anamorphic DVD stateside via MGM and is making its unlikely Blu-ray debut here. There is less print damage (i.e. some white flecks and vertical black scratches here and there) and the overall image is cleaner than expected from this 1080p, 1.85:1 MGM scan. Unfortunately, there are also some signs of DNR enhancement, which leaves some of the otherwise tightly separated details flat and grain levels suspiciously soft. Close-up textures are well-preserved, while wide-angle images suffer fuzziness and slight banding – both of which might be a side effect of soft focus photography. This may be due to compression, though other compression artefacts are minimal, aside from slight sharpening haloes around the harshest highlights. The colours are pretty vivid, but also show signs of post-scan tinkering. The night scenes have a modern blue/grey tone and suspiciously poppy pink skin tones. Blacks are inconsistent and gamma levels appear pretty flat.

The original mono soundtrack has been preserved in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Despite the lack of a stereo mix (which would be unusual for a studio film at the time, but not for a foreign production), the dialogue and incidental effects are clear (if not a little thin) and the more aggressive sounds are nicely layered. Steve Parsons’ ‘wee-woo-wee-woo’ keyboard and drum machine soundtrack is an enjoyable addition, but doesn’t crop up often enough to make a difference. The score and a song from obscure pop band Babel called, appropriately enough, “The Howling,” are warm and punchy when cranked loudly enough, but tend to be pushed into the aural background.

The mostly new extras include:
  • Commentary with director Philippe Mora – This pleasantly honest discussion with the director is actually the preferred way to view the film, despite some loss of focus as it drones on. His Christopher Lee stories, though brief, are golden, as is the extended conversation about shooting behind the Iron Curtain in the Czech Republic. Michael Felsher once again acts as moderator.
  • Commentary with composer Steve Parsons and editor Charles Bornstein – This technical commentary moves quickly, in part because Parsons and Bornstein don’t stick to Howling II – they instead take the chance to discuss their entire careers with each other. It’s a pleasant track, though it may have worked better as a podcast interview.
  • Leading Man (13:50, HD) – An interview with actor Reb Brown, who covers his career in television (including Captain America TV movies) and B-movies, and shares fond memories of Howling II.
  • Queen Of The Werewolves (17:00, HD) – Actress and sex icon Sybil Danning is dressed to the nines for this new interview. Her opinion of the film and the role are also affectionate, not to mention incredibly specific. She also has good Christopher Lee anecdotes to share.
  • A Monkey Phase (15:30, HD) – Special make-up effects artists Steve Johnson & Scott Wheeler humbly discuss the film’s cheap yet charming physical effects work.
  • Behind-the-scenes footage from Mora's personal archive (3:50, HD)
  • Alternate opening and ending (10:30, 9:50, HD)
  • Trailer
  • Still gallery


 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases



Scream Factory July Releases

I, Madman

(1989, Release 7/21/15)
After a spine-tingling paperback catches the imagination of bookstore clerk, Virginia (Jenny Wright), she seeks out the author's second book, ‘I, Madman.’ But, once she opens the cover, its eerie tale of obsessive love comes to life, catapulting a disfigured, scalpel-wielding killer from the world of fiction onto the streets of Hollywood with one demented goal: to win Virginia's love, one murder at a time! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

While not quite a ‘lost classic,’ Tibor Takacs’ I, Madman is one of many creative, entertaining, medium budget, late ‘80s horror movies that deserve a second look. Before enjoying a long career in television (everything from softcore cable porn series The Red Shoe Diaries to child-friendly sit-com Sabrina, the Teenage Witch), Takács made I, Madman between two kid-centric horror fantasies, The Gate (1987) and The Gate II: Trespassers (1990). Both of these early films are rough in terms of plotting and pacing, but are more visually arresting than the average B-horror release. This stylistic edge really serves the ‘reality vs. nightmare logic’ of David Chaskin’s ( Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and The Curse) reasonably clever script. The ‘in-book’ scenes are shot like EC Comics with inky shadows and hyperactive acrylic colours, which then bleed into the more neo-noir ‘real-world’ sequences. It’s not quite as baroque as the Dario Argento and John Carpenter movies that Takács is drawing inspiration from, but the essence of the pulp literature is beautifully represented.

Takács’ visual strengths and the cast’s easy-going, old fashioned likeability don’t quite make up for the fact that Chaskin’s concepts don’t really fit the expectations for a then-modern, post-slasher horror movie. Intriguing metaphysical and metatextual ideas (besides the book leaking into the real world, the main character is a struggling actress) are constantly interrupted with bland exposition, ineffective cop boyfriend subplots, and even an awkward sex scene worthy of the director’s future in made-for-cable pseudo porn. The slasher motifs also seem to be shoe-horned into the story, but are so enjoyably executed in terms of suspense and gore effects that they fit the off-kilter tone (I would’ve preferred more of the fantasy violence that crops up all too briefly at the end, though). It often seems that I, Madman would’ve made a better short subject, where it could stick to Virginia’s interactions with the book and its fictional murderer, rather than wasting time on developing her day-to-day life. At the very least, this good-looking, well-acted, sometimes cleverly-scripted thriller deserves credit for doing the ‘what if horror novels could manifest themselves in the real world’ thing before John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1995) – even if Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992) does a better job romanticizing the strange relationship between its heroine and supernatural killer.

I, Madman was released on DVD via MGM, but with a cropped 1.33:1 image and zero special features. This isn’t only its Blu-ray debut, but its widescreen home video debut (assuming you don’t still have the MGMHD premiere sitting on your DVR). This 1080p, 1.85:1 HD image features a slightly better than average MGM scan. Print damage is minimal (there’s some instability and some white flecks) and grain structure appears pretty natural, minus the digital noise effects that mar some of the studio’s rougher efforts. Cinematographer Bryan England’s comic-noir colours are strongly represented and don’t accidentally bleed into each other as they do on the Howling II and Robot Jox discs. The expressionistic shadows are plenty deep and consistent, which helps facilitate tight details during even the darkest sequences. However, this transfer is the victim of over-sharpening, which creates edge-haloes and other digital artefacts throughout the otherwise handsome images.

For whatever reason, Scream Factory has supplied a 5.1 remix option alongside the original stereo soundtrack, which is pretty rare for the label. Both are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The remix offers a nicely centered dialogue and incidental effects track, as well as more subtle noise-reduction effects (it seems that many scenes were recorded on noisy sets, because there are some major up-ticks in background sound when characters speak), but has little to offer in terms of directional movement. The stereo track has a slightly tinny quality, but is louder and more full-bodied than its 5.1 counterpart. Michael Hoenig’s classically-tinged synth soundtrack is present to constantly remind the audience of the differences between the more heightened fictional world and the more romantic ‘real-world.’ The richer sound quality of the music is another reason to prefer the original stereo over the 5.1, where the score is spread a little thin.

The all-new extras include:
  • Commentary with director Tibor Takács and actor/artistic supervisor Randall William Cook – Takács runs out of steam early on in this commentary, but Cook, who was in charge of a lot of the production design and effects, and moderator Rob Galluzzo (of the Icons of Fright website) pick up the slack and keep the discussion moving. Still, the bulk of the information is found in the first 40 minutes, at which point the commentators just sort of react to the on-screen action.
  • Ripped From The Pages (33:20, HD) – A retrospective featurette that includes interviews with Takács, Cook, screenwriter David Chaskin, and actors Clayton Rohner and Stephanie Hodge.
  • Raw behind-the-scenes video with audio commentary by Cook (11:10, SD)
  • Trailers
  • Still gallery with optional commentary by Cook


 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases



Scream Factory July Releases

Ghost Town

(1988, Release 7/28/15)
When a modern-day sheriff's deputy is lured to a desolate, spooky ghost town in search of a missing woman, he comes face-to-face with a malevolent spirit from the town's past. The spell of death and suffering over the undead townspeople must end to set them free from eternal pain. The horrors of a possessed outlaw in a time-suspended dimension are only the setting for a frightening battle for the mind, nerves and flesh. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Not to be confused with Ricky Gervais’ Sixth Sense-inspired comedy from 2008, most of us likely remember Richard Governor’s Ghost Town from its iconic home video art, which promised some kind of skeletal cowboy showdown. Those that did plunk down the cash for a rental were likely disappointed when such a scene never occurred. Hopefully, they were still entertained by this Charles Band-produced entry in the all-too-rare western horror subgenre. Ghost Town is a quaint and enjoyably typical entry in the pre-Full Moon Band canon. Like its counterparts, it is a bargain basement vestige of hammy Hollywood traditions that is pretty much aimed at 13 year-olds. The characters are comic book archetypes, the story is easy to follow, and the violence is just R-rated enough to please budding gorehounds without offending parents. Unfortunately, the Brigadoon-tinged plot is not enough to maintain a feature-length release. The middle act is a repetitive mess that wastes time on romantic subplots, exposition, and other non-supernatural narrative filler. It might have been perfect as part of an anthology or an episode of Tales from the Crypt.

Still, Ghost Town is a pretty handsome movie. Like most Band production from the era, it has an odd visual respectability and slickness beyond the Empire/Full Moon counterparts at Troma. As a former resident of Tucson, AZ, I do appreciate revisiting the Old Tucson Studios locations and the surrounding Sonoran Desert. Most of the original studio sets burned down in 1995 and this is one of many pictorial memento moris of a place I have some nostalgia for. Governor and his team (including uncredited co-director Mac Ahlberg, who took over when Governor stormed off set, and probably Band himself) gets a lot of production value out of these ready-made sets, which they decorate like a county fair haunted house attraction. Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg does impressive things with lighting, smoke, and dust, which is no small miracle, considering how blazingly bright it probably was outdoors.

Ghost Town

never saw a DVD release in any territory, as far as I know. The film’s small cadre of fans has been forced to contend with ugly 1.33:1 VHS quality torrent files. Scream Factory is not releasing a DVD alongside this new Blu-ray, nor is this a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, which means that Ghost Town will likely never appear on the format. This 1.78:1 (slightly reframed from the theatrical 1.85:1), 1080p transfer fits the MGM scan mode, but features more digital artefacts than its counterparts on this page. The problem here is either DNR, telecine noise, or (more likely) a mix of the two. I do assure readers that the results are much more acceptable when the images are in motion, but the occasional noise and fuzziness is pretty apparent in my screen-caps. Actual print damage and film grain is uneven – some shots are caked in prominent grit and water damage (usually effects shots), while others are as clean as a major studio remaster. Colour quality is pretty consistent, however, which helps to quell the inconsistent contrast qualities. Strong black levels and sharp close-up details also help.

The original Ultra Stereo soundtrack is preserved in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and sounds pretty impressive for a film of its age. The pre-Pro Logic system should probably have a better ghost center channel (the sound editors get carried away putting vocals in the right and left channels when characters are just barely standing to the right or left sides of the frame) and the LFE response is a bit over-wrought, but the enticing sound design still delights far beyond the normal expectations of STV horror. Directional and immersive effects include a number of zippy gunshots and a series of echoing storm and horse noises. There are some weird discrepancies in volume between dialogue and incidental effects at times, but I suspect these were always a problem for the mix. The underwhelming keyboard score is credited to Harvey Cohen, but most of the music was apparently made up of existing Empire Pictures cues.

There are no extras, not even a trailer.

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases

 Scream Factory July Releases


* 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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