Severin Films Ozploitation Bonanza (US - DVD R1 | BD RA)
Gabe has a wacky evening with three Aussie horror shows & a trailer collection
A brutal killer is targeting the teenagers of the peaceful town of Galesburg, Illinois. As the bodies pile up, Sheriff John Brady (Michael Murphy) suspects the killer may be connected with the local school’s experimental psychology department. There is something sinister about the school ‘research’ program on behavioral control and Brady is determined to uncover the truth. But he better find the answers fast before his own son (Dan Shor) gets drawn into the strange experiments himself!
There aren’t many slasher films co-written by a future Oscar winner. Nevertheless, Dead Kids (titled Strange Behavior the first time I reviewed it) was co-written by Bill Condon, the future writer/director of Gods and Monsters (the one that won him that Oscar), Dreamgirls, Kinsey, and, in less prosperous times, the last two Twilight movies. Dead Kids is not a typical slasher or even a typical Ozploitation experience. It takes its cues from the vicious, teenage-murdering violence of Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, but also owes a debt to the oddball humour of ‘80s cult movies, like Alex Cox’s Repo Man and the pulpy paranoia of pod-people movies, like any version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Gary Sherman’s Dead & Buried ( Dead Kids and Dead & Buried also both feature show-stopping hypodermic-needles-into-eyes moments). Stylistically speaking, director/co-writer Michael Laughlin keeps things deceptively low-key. He doesn’t draw attention to himself while still doing a very good at impression of John Carpenter in full Halloween mode (he balances the 2.35:1 frame very well and sneaks in a handful of complex tracking shots). The wry dialogue, likable characters, and low-key performances play in to Laughlin’s surrealistically subdued and anachronistic tone. Dead Kids turns truly bizarre when this tone is contrasted with occasional scenes of brutal, frankly stated violence.
Like all three movies in this review, Dead Kids was last released on DVD by Synapse films and that disc re-used Elite Entertainment’s original anamorphic transfer. Severin has done some remastering for this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer (which claims to be sourced from a brand new transfer of the original negatives), because the colour timing is notably warmer – there’s a yellow/orange tint to the entire film that does not appear on the older versions. That said, grain levels and print damage effects mostly match the SD versions, though the increase in detail sharpens these artefacts up significantly (nothing has been done to deplete the pulsing issues that effect the grainiest scenes). Viewers probably shouldn’t expect the textures and patterns to be as tight as newer, pricier releases, but can take comfort in the DVD’s compression noise being done away with. The warmer tint damages the purity of some of the deeper blacks and harsher whites, both of which helped the film’s sanitized appearance during certain scenes, and washes out the blues. Other colours remain relatively punchy and do not bleed like they did on the DVD releases. The no-frills, original mono sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. It’s technically uncompressed, but still soft and inconsistent. I suspect that the original tracks were a bit more ‘hissy’ and that someone got a little carried away with noise reduction, because the dialogue and incidental effects have a round quality. The important stuff is still plenty clear, aside from maybe Tangerine Dream’s score, which is just too quiet on the track for my liking. The extras include a new commentary with Laughlin, The Effects of Strange Behavior with FX artist Craig Reardon (20:30, HD) an older commentary with Condon and lead actors Dan Shor & Dey Young, an isolated score (2.0 DD mono), the U.S. trailer, and an international trailer.
Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) is a successful executive who leads a pretty charmed life until she’s kidnapped by a bloodthirsty cult and taken to a remote village. While there, she’s mostly treated like royalty, because, according to the cult’s prophecies, she must fulfill her destiny by marrying their leader and helping them quench their eternal thirst for blood.
Not to be confused with Park Chan-wook’s inexplicably underrated 2009 film, Rod Hardy’s Thirst is one of the oddest and most ambitious vampire movies ever made on an Ozploitation budget. John Pinkney’s dense screenplay references other vampire lore and borrows its basic concept from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (an innocent, somewhat meek modern woman finds herself pursued by a supernatural cult and undergoes escalating mental tortures and physical trials), but there are too many uniquely Australian and late ‘70s elements at play for us to ignore its place in the genre. Similar to Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Thirst skewers the Me Generation’s obsessions with spas, private clubs, and holistic self-improvement by comparing such activities to cultish behavior. Both films, along with Rosemary’s Baby, frame the social satire against an oppressive, horror movie backdrop. Hardy’s film isn’t as frightening or potent as his forerunners – a deeper look at the narrative intricacies of the ‘Eloy and Morlock’ relationship between the modern vampires and their ‘cattle’ would be nice, as would a better explanation of exactly why the descendant of Bathory is a necessary recruit – but he’s no slouch, either. The Polanski influence extends to the Repulsion-esque, dreamy imagery and off-kilter editing, which, when mixed with the kitschy ‘70s production design, gleefully hammy performances (including lead Kate Davis, Henry Silva, and David Hemmings), and genuinely disturbing scenes of vampires ‘juicing’ their cattle, makes for a compelling experience, even during the film’s slower moments. I ended up enjoying the film more now than I did when I reviewed it on DVD and think it may be my favourite in this loosely connected trilogy.
Again, both Synapse and Elite Entertainment previously released Thirst on anamorphic DVD, but Severin has done some substantial remastering for this 2.35:1, 1080p Blu-ray release (I’m definitely buying the new transfer claims on the press release this time around). This is a bigger overall upgrade than the Dead Kids disc, including a generally cleaner presentation and sharper overall details. Wide-angle shots are more complex, with crisper, halo-free edges (it helps that Hardy and cinematographer Vince Monton have better control over the focus of their anamophic lenses) and close-ups contain a flurry of natural textures. The grain levels appear accurate without becoming overbearing or creating pulsing effects and the dreamy, soft focus scenes are pleasantly plush, without any dramatic banding effects. On the less positive side of the coin, contrast levels are cranked high enough that white levels bloom and the colour-timing skews notably warmer and more yellow than the DVD versions. This warmth is problematic, but does not flush the more subtle blue and green tints (some of which are more teal), making it an improvement over the Dead Kids disc. The soundtrack is presented in the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono and is also more impressive than the occasionally over-processed Dead Kids disc. Dialogue and incidental effects are consistent and well-balanced, the more stylized effects, like the sterile hums and beeps of the ‘juicing’ facility, have decent depth for a single channel track, and Brian May’s (the Australian film composer, not the guitarist from Queen) classy score is warm and rich with a decent bass impact (despite the lack of a discreet LFE channel). The extras include a commentary track featuring director Hardy and producer Anthony I. Ginnane, another isolated score, a trailer (one that rips off Suspiria’s American slogan), and TV spots (all of which appeared on the Synapse DVD).
A comatose killer is seemingly unresponsive in a small private hospital. But, when a hot new nurse (Susan Penhaligon) begins to question his condition, Patrick (Robert Thompson) will unleash a waking nightmare of psychokinetic carnage. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
Richard Franklin’s Patrick is probably the most well-known and popular of the films normally grouped under the ‘Ozploitation’ heading and is one of the better-made movies to earn the distinction. It is also, sadly, one of the more conventional. Franklin’s pre- Patrick work was in TV and softcore sexploitation and followed its (eventual) success with two brilliant, post-slasher thrillers, Roadgames (1981) and Psycho II (1982). Patrick isn’t as good as either of those films and suffers from some long stretches of blandly-shot exposition (dare I say that I prefer the edited version?), but is overall quite stylish, including a number of adept homages to Alfred Hitchcock. The opening sequence, where a still mobile Patrick murders his mother and her lover by tossing a portable heating unit into their bath, is especially well-constructed. Everett De Roche’s screenplay wasn’t necessarily written in response to Brian De Palma’s Carrie, but that didn’t stop critics from drawing comparisons to Patrick and Carrie’s psychokinetic powers and mommy issues. Besides these superficial similarities, some more character-driven ‘horror,’ and a shock scare ending, the two films don’t have a whole lot in common. Patrick is a refurbished version of a typical, melodramatic ghost story, not a rumination on the dangers of adolescent cruelty. Franklin’s film didn’t do much business in Australia, but did very well in other countries. It was particularly popular in Italy, where it featured a new score by Goblin, the progrock group that Dario Argento made famous when he used them for Deep Red and Suspiria. Its popularity actually spawned a much gorier, much more sexually explicit Italian-made ‘sequel,’ Patrick Still Lives, directed by Mario Landi and released only a year after the original (Franklin’s film holds back on the red stuff, but does feature more full-frontal male nudity than the average PG-rated movie).
For whatever reason, I never received a review copy of Synapse’s DVD version of Patrick when it was originally released alongside Strange Behavior and Thirst, but I assume it must’ve been the most substantial upgrade in that set – mainly because it was the only anamorphic upgrade of a non-anamorphic source. Despite not being able to directly compare Severin’s Blu-ray to that release, I think it’s safe to assume this is another upgrade. This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is the weakest of the three in terms of overall print damage and heavy grain (it comes down in sheets at times and clumps up between some scene changes), but it’s still a substantial clarity and detail upgrade. There are no notable bouts with digital compression effects and the limited colour palette is consistent, well-separated, and punchy (especially reds and blues). The tinting appears a bit warmer than I recall, but not as yellow/orange as the Dead Kids or Thirst. Skin tones still feature plenty of pink. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is relatively rich for a 35-year-old, low budget feature, including nicely layered crowd noise during the party sequence and the subtle hiss and hum of the contraptions that keep Patrick breathing. Dialogue is natural and Brian May’s score has a thicker tonal sense than it does on the Thirst disc. Besides the upgrades of HD video and lossless audio, this release is particularly exciting for including the original Italian audio track (also in 2.0 Mono, though compressed in Dolby Digital). This means that stateside audiences can finally hear Goblin’s pounding electronic score in its proper context. The Italian track has more audible damage than the English track, specifically high-end distortion and crackle, but is still plenty crisp and a welcome inclusion for any Goblin fan.
The extras include an audio commentary with Franklin (recycled from the Synapse disc), informative new interviews with Franklin, de Roche, producer Anthony Ginnane, and stars Susan Penhaligon and Rod Mullinar (1:01:10, HD), a vintage TV interview with Franklin (20:30, SD), the original theatrical trailer, TV spots, and two Easter eggs – a trailer for Patrick Still Lives and a CBS television promo. There are a number of different cuts of Patrick, including a 112-minute international cut, a 100-minute Italian cut, a 96-minute US cut, and 140-minute ‘original cut’ that I’m pretty sure is just a rough cut and not available anywhere to own. Despite the 96 minutes listed on Severin’s site, this disc features the same 112-minute version that appeared on the Elite and Synapse discs. However, because the Italian version was shorter, the Italian track does default back to English a couple of times.
Ozploitation Trailer Explosion!
If the supplements appearing on these discs weren’t enough for you, Severin is also releasing a DVD collection of additional Ozploitation trailers under their InterVision sub-label. This 165-minute bonanza is divided by genre (there is also a ‘play all’ option) and includes:
Sexploitation and ‘Ocker’ Comedies:
- The Naked Bunyip
- The Adventures of Barry McKenzie
- Alvin Purple
- Barry McKenzie Holds His Own
- Alvin Rides Again
- The Love Epidemic
- Eskimo Nell
- The Box
- The Great McCarthy
- Eliza Fraser
- Don’s Party
- Fantasm Comes Again
- The ABC of Love and Sex: Australia Style
- Dimboola: The Movie
- Pacific Banana
Horror and Thriller:
- Night of Fear
- Inn of The Damned
- End Play
- The Last Wave
- Long Weekend
- The Night, The Prowler
- Harlequin (released as Dark Forces by Elite and Synapse – the only movie in those collections not included in Severin’s Blu-rays)
- Nightmares (an incredibly sleazy giallo/slasher sexploitation flick already released by Severin on DVD that is also available on Netflix instant)
- The Survivor (a surprisingly potent supernatural drama directed by Blow Up and Deep Red star David Hemmings, available on DVD from Scorpion Releasing)
- Dead Kids
- Road Games (a suspenseful slasher variant, available on OOP DVD from Anchor Bay)
- The Killing of Angel Street
- A Dangerous Summer
- Next of Kin (a smart and stylish thriller, aka: Hell House and only available on foreign market DVDs)
- The Cars that Ate Paris
Cars and Action:
- Stone (one of the better biker movies I’ve ever seen, available on DVD from Severin)
- The Man From Hong Kong (a kung fu/Bond spoof hybrid that is only available on foreign market DVDs)
- Mad Dog Morgan (starring Dennis Hopper and available on Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime instant video and various budget DVDs)
- Raw Deal
- Journey Among Women
- The FJ Holden
- Money Movers
- Stunt Rock (an occasionally awesome, often stupid series of basically plotless stunt scenes and concert footage, available on two-disc DVD from Code Red)
- Chain Reaction (a stylistically superior radiation disaster movie only available on foreign market DVD)
- Race for the Yankee Zephyr
- Attack Force Z (a little too prestigious for an exploitation compilation, if you ask me…)
- Turkey Shoot (aka: Escape 2000, one of the best and purest exploitation films to ever come out of Australia, available on OOP DVD From Anchor Bay)
- Midnight Spares
- BMX Bandits (the only children’s film to make the cut, available on DVD and Blu-ray from Severin and streaming on Netflix)
- Captain Invincible (I had no idea that this was an Australian production)
- Sky Pirates
- Fair Game (one the best rape/revenge movies ever made as far as I’m concerned, although actual rape never occurs, so I guess it’s more of a misogynistic humiliation/revenge movie and only available on foreign market DVDs)
- Dead End Drive-In (one of the smarter films highlighted, available on DVD from Anchor Bay and on Netflix streaming)
- The Time Guardian
* Note: The Dead Kids and Thirst 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. The Patrick disc was pushed back a couple of weeks after Severin encountered an encoding error. My screener played just fine in my Blu-ray player, but I was unable to get it to load on my computer for the sake of screencaps. The trailer images are taken directly from the InverVision DVD.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 11th March 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish and Italian (Patrick Only)
Extras: Filmmaker Commentaries, The Effects Of Strange Behavior, Isolated Scores, Cast and Crew Interviews (Patrick), Vintage Featurette (Patrick), Trailers, TV Spots, DVD Copies
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Laughlin, Rod Hardy,
Cast: Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher, Dan Shor, Fiona Lewis, Chantal Contouri, Max Phipps, David Hemmings, Christopher Milne,
Genre: Drama, Horror and Thriller
Length: 458 minutes
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