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Scream Factory Review Round-Up

Bad Moon

(1996; BD Release Date: July 19)
Full, crescent, quarter...each is a Bad Moon for Ted Harrison. By day, he's a photojournalist visiting family in the Pacific Northwest. By night, he transforms into a horrific half-human - a werewolf. Dead men tell no tales, so Ted's sure he alone knows about his vile double life. The secret, however, may be out. The family dog, Thor, devoted to defending the household, has his suspicions. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Following fantastic, genre-bending screenplays for Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher (1986) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987), Eric Red began his brief career as a writer/director, including underseen thriller Cohen and Tate (1988), ill-fated horror movie Body Parts (its release unfortunately coincided with news of the Jeffrey Dahmer murders, 1991), and a werewolf tale entitled Bad Moon. Bad Moon was panned by critics, but, like most genre movies with any kind of brand recognition, it earned a cult following. Critics and the fans both have valid opinions in this case. The screenplay, based on the novel Thor by Wayne Smith, does bear some of Red’s hallmarks and approaches werewolf lore from referential perspective about a month before Wes Craven’s Scream made it cool. On the other hand, it is a pretty sloppy adaptation, rife with unnecessary and repetitive sequences that might have fit the broader confines of a novel, but don’t work within the tighter structure of a film. Red stretches a very small amount of story thinly over an already brief run-time and, despite loads of expositional breaks, the non-dog characters are banal archetypes. Red’s cinematic instincts are solid and Bad Moon is a slick, classy-looking production, but he fails to effectively blend creature horror with familial melodrama. At a certain point, it feels kind of like Carroll Timothy O'Meara has been forced to cull footage from three different versions of the story – one that revolves around the dog, one that revolves around the boy, and one that is an actual horror movie.

Perhaps driven by the modest success of Mike Nichols’ Wolf (1994), there was small resurgence of werewolf movies in the mid/late ‘90s. The medium-budget Bad Moon sat between the likes of Alessandro de Gaetano’s high-concept B-movie, Project Metalbeast (a movie Scream Factory should really look into releasing, 1995), Clive Turner’s attempt at rejuvenating the Howling series ( Howling: New Moon Rising, 1995), and Anthony Waller’s belated American Werewolf in London semi-sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris (1997). Red’s film, along with New Moon Rising and American Werewolf in Paris, also had the dubious honour of being the first werewolf movies to feature CG-assisted transformation scenes. Even today, CG werewolf morphs tend to be reviled by the horror fans, but, at the dawning of the technology, such imagery became a joke. I note this for posterity and because Red is aware of the problem. He developed a new ‘director’s cut’ version exclusively for this release, but, unlike most director supervised recuts, this one doesn’t include any new or previously deleted footage (though there was some sex and violence cut to avoid an NC-17 rating, see the extras). Instead, Red has tightened some of the editing and almost entirely expunged the digital transformation at the beginning of the climax. Those that like the CG (which is certainly not the worst of its kind) can still watch the theatrical cut.

Warner Bros. released Bad Moon on barebones, 2.35:1 anamorphic DVD in 2000, then, when that went out of print, they offered the same transfer as part of their manufactured-on-demand Archive Collection. It also ended up in HD on television at some point. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray debut comes fitted with both the R-rated theatrical version (seemingly from the same scan as the HD broadcast) and the brand new director’s version. Since there is no additional footage in the DC, the two transfers are identical. The upgrade in detail is fantastic, especially the complex textures of well-lit, wide-angle shots. Some of the darkest sequences still appear a bit muddy, but there’s not a lot that an HD remaster could do to fix this without softening the otherwise strong black levels. Colour quality is punched up and vivid with reds and natural skin tones popping neatly against the lush green and blue backdrops. It’s definitely not a perfect transfer – there are some haloes along the more harshly contrasted lines and some notable blocking (see the last screen-cap, for example) – but fans should still be very happy.

Bad Moon was produced after Dolby Digital and DTS formats existed, but I’m not sure if it was mixed in 5.1 for its initial release. Regardless, Scream Factory has included 2.0 and 5.1 lossless DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks on both the director’s cut and original theatrical cut versions. Thanks to its discrete center and LFE channels, the 5.1 version comes out ahead. It is a bit louder, even though the majority of the directional effects tend to mostly be limited to the left and right speakers. Environmental ambience is nicely situated and the werewolf roars are booming. Daniel Licht’s score is about as pure middle-’90s as you can get, in terms of tribal drums, wild tonal shifts, and overall production. The familiarity is actually kind of soothing, even if the melodramatic cues are the most obnoxious thing about the entire movie. Note that the trims made to the director’s cut have created awkwardly abrupt transitions in the score during the man-to-wolf transformation.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with writer/director Eric Red (director's cut) – For the first commentary, Red is solo and clearly working from a sort of ‘lesson plan,’ and his statements have been edited (he seemingly took breaks), which is good from a preparation and information standpoint, but makes for a sort of dry listening experience. It’s still a valuable track that compares the film to the book, discusses the casting processes in depth, and breaks down the thematic structure well. Unfortunately, Red dumps on Mariel Hemingway a little too freely and rarely accepts responsibility for the film’s many, many shortcomings. He loses steam about an hour into the track and leaves a lot of blank space.
  • Commentary with Red and actor Michael Pare (theatrical cut) – The second track is moderated by Arrow in the Head’s John Fallon (who seems to be on speaker phone). There is a lot of overlap, but the tone of the track is more lively. Again, Red falls back into complaining about everything, but his performance as writer/director and Fallon’s buddy-buddy interview tactics magnify the problem.
  • Nature of the Beast: Making Bad Moon (35:17, HD) – A brand new retrospective featurette that includes interviews with Red, actors Michael Pare and Mason Gamble, special effects make-up artist Steve Johnson, and stunt coordinator Ken Kirzinger. The subject matter covers the original novel, locations, casting, training/working with dogs, physical FX design, digital effects issues, making cuts for the R-rating, and release.
  • Unrated opening scene (6:07, HD) – The completely uncut footage is here, but has been sourced from VHS, so it looks a bit rough.
  • Three storyboard sequences (6:30, 9:40, 4:15, all HD)
  • Trailer


 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up


Scream Factory Review Round-Up

The Boy Who Cried Werewolf

(1973; BD Release Date: July 26)
Richie Bridgestone’s parents are getting a divorce, but that’s the least of his problems at the moment. Richie is hoping his parents will reconsider and on a visit to his father’s secluded cabin, he witnesses his dad being attacked by a werewolf. Much like the tale of the boy who cried wolf, no one in the town will believe Richie’s claims that his father will change into a werewolf during the next full moon. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Following an Academy Award-winning stint as an art director, filmmaker Nathan Juran made a name for himself heading up special effects-driven adventure/sci-fi/fantasy movies and television shows. The most celebrated of these included collaborations with special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen ( 20 Million Miles to Earth, 1957) and/or actor Kerwin Matthews ( The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, 1958). Juran’s final film (which, not surprisingly, featured Matthews) was a cute, but minor ‘all-ages’ monster picture called The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. It’s a peculiar film that doesn’t quite belong to any particular genre or era. It’s a bit too old-fashioned and ‘gee wilickers’ to appeal to adult horror or dramatic audiences, it’s too wrapped up in the emotions of a post-divorce relationship to appeal to kid audiences, yet rarely fully establishes the central “lycanthropy = divorce” metaphor, and it rarely ever attempts to be funny, despite the absurdity of its premise. Strangely enough, actor Bob Homel’s (he plays a small supporting role here) screenplay is sort of appealing in its structural deficiency. After establishing the familial situation, the story stops, so that the local sheriff can investigate an impromptu hippy commune (it turns out that they’re Jesus freaks, led by the writer himself). Later, as the plot is finally settling, Richie hangs out overnight with a young, bemused couple that happens to be camping in the wilderness near his weredad’s house. To Homel’s credit, these side plots do eventually pay off, even if they’re completely wasteful, narratively speaking. Weredad’s penchant for vehicular damage – chasing cars off of the road and rolling a motorhome down a cliff – is also quite amusing. Again, the whole movie has a very antiquated quality for a 1973 release and looks like it was shot specifically for television. It’s as if it were planned as an episode of The Outer Limits and expanded into a feature a decade after its planned broadcast. Juran’s direction is efficient, but never lives up to the memories of his flashier, effects-driven adventure flicks.

The Boy Who Cried Werewolf was never released on DVD and was even a rare find on VHS, but it did get regular play on television since its not-so-spectacular theatrical release. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray represents the film’s first widescreen, digital, and high-definition release, which is a pretty exciting prospect for fans, especially those that have worn out their taped-from-TV Svengoolie special. This 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is pretty typical for a straight studio scan. There aren’t many signs of colour correction, DNR, or restoration, which is just fine, considering the old-fashioned vibe of this particular film. Details are relatively tight with a couple of smudgy exceptions and some stiff gradations. Grain levels can appear heavy, but not unnatural and rarely snowy. The otherwise naturalistic palette tends to skew blue, which is likely a sign of age. Again, the real problem is slight over-compression, specifically halo effects. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is cleaner than the video quality. The issues here are likely all found in the original material, such as the flatness of some effects work and the inconsistencies that noise-reduction and ADR cause (i.e., background noise disappears and reappears between words and some dialogue was clearly added after the fact). Ted Stovall’s music is delightfully over-the-top in the way that it treats this minor B-movie like a full-on Walt Disney opera. The score alternates between brassy and delicate moments without any major distortion.

Extras Include:
  • Double-feature trailer with Sssssss (1973)
  • Still Gallery


 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up


Scream Factory Review Round-Up

Hellhole

(1985; BD Release Date: July 26)
Having witnessed her mother’s brutal death, Susan (Judy Landers) gets amnesia from a fall while being pursued by the killer, Silk (Ray Sharkey). Awakening in Ashland Sanitarium, she is once again terrorized by Silk, disguised as an orderly. To pry an incriminating secret from Susan’s brain, Silk forms an uneasy alliance with Dr. Fletcher (Mary Woronov), a psychotic scientist who has been testing a new lobotomy technique using helpless inmates as her guinea pigs. These vicious experiments are carried out in the "Hellhole," a torture den awaiting Susan as its next victim. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Last year, Scream Factory released Italian trash-merchant Bruno Matei’s Women’s Prison Massacre (Italian: Emanuelle Fuga Dall'inferno; aka: Blade Violent, 1983) and, with it, began a somewhat uncharacteristic foray into the women in prison (WIP) genre. I say uncharacteristic, because few WIP movies really qualify as horror, despite their violent and incendiary content. The company’s second WIP release or WIMW – Women in the Mental Ward, as the case may be – Pierre De Moro’s Hellhole (not to be confused with Cirio H. Santiago’s Hell Hole, 1978, or Jess Franco’s 1981 WIP ‘classic’ Sadomania, aka: Hellhole Women) has enough dark corridors and evil scientific experiments to fit almost any discerning fan’s definition of horror. It was one of only a handful of movies distributed by former American International Pictures co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff’s Arkoff International Pictures and was likely conceived to compete with both the rising tide of slashers as well as former partner Roger Corman’s own series of WIP movies (though the stateside value of the genre had cooled greatly since the ‘70s). So, Hellhole was created specifically to fill a particularly slimy double-niche market and, in this regard, it is reasonably successful. The plotline is asinine and the content is inexcusable, but these crimes are committed in the name of vulgarity, which is reason enough for certain viewers to eat it up. It delivers the sleaze goods at a respectable clip (not a droning slog, like most ‘80s WIP movies) and crams oodles of communal showers, hard-R sex, brutal catfights, and even a mudbath into its 90-minute runtime. It also features appearances from cult favorites Marjoe Gortner, Edy Williams, Robert Z'Dar (can’t miss that jawline!), and everyone’s favourite rock ‘n roll hating principal, Mary Woronov (she steals the movie, of course). De Moro’s only other credits as director are a pair of kid-friendly flicks written by actor/writer Mark Miller ( Christmas Mountain, 1981 and Savannah Smiles, 1982), which implies that bad reactions to Hellhole may have actually ended his career.

Hellhole has never been released on DVD (at least not officially), but there was a non-anamorphic, 1.33:1 Laserdisc version. Scream Factory’s 1.85:1 Blu-ray debut opens with a title card stating that the negatives were missing, that the only existing inter-positive was missing scenes, and that those scenes (deleted for pacing and content) were sourced from a printed source. Warnings aside, it looks like one of the company’s typical ‘B’ products. The picture is a bit dingy, grain structure is slightly flattened, and compression is higher than one might expect from a remastered Collector’s Edition release. That said, there’s very little DNR enhancement, black levels are relatively crisp, and, despite the occasional yellowing of whites and the discolouration that the digital noise causes, Steve Posey’s saturated neon lighting schemes are quite vivid. There is a notable difference where those censored scenes are concerned, mainly an uptick in grain, more print damage artefacts, and boosted contrast. The original mono sound is presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. There are some surprisingly sloppy ADR issues throughout the film (like, bad even by dumb exploitation movie standards), as well as inconsistent volume levels, but the layers of sound are pretty well-separated for a single channel track. There aren’t any notably distorted elements (besides rare crackles and choppy scene transitions), even during the reinstated sequences. As one of the movie’s greatest assets, Jeff Sturges’ poppy synth music is plenty bassy and smooth.

Extras include:
  • New interview with Mary Woronov (4:54, HD) – The wonderful actress remembers random factoids about Hellhole in this all-too-brief little chat. I could easy watch an hour of outtakes, because she is a gem.
  • Trailer
  • DVD copy


 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

 Scream Factory Review Round-Up

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray 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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