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Severin May Review Wrap-Up

Blackenstein


A black soldier named Eddie Turner (Joe De Sue), who was mortally wounded in Vietnam, is accidentally transformed into a rampaging monster by his physicist fiancé (Ivory Stone) and a mad scientist (John Hart) working out of his L.A. home. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
 
Frank R. Saletri’s Blackenstein has been overlooked for generations, merely because it’s a terrible movie. Sure, it might have been an opportunistic attempt to scoop up some of the boffo grindhouse box-office scrounged by William Crain’s Blacula (1972) and its superior sequel, Bob Kelljan’s Scream Blacula Scream (1973), and, yeah, it might not be as clever or well-made as Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess (1973) and Paul Maslansky’s Sugar Hill (1974), but what it lacks in good filmmaking, smart storytelling, and strong allegories, it makes up for with its stranger than fiction behind-the-scenes tale. Now that the wacky pre & post-release story can be told in its entirely and firmly attached to the mythology of the film, I assume that the decades of cruelly negative reviews will be overturned. I’ll save the specifics of the story for those who are interested enough to buy this disc, but here’s the short version: writer/producer Frank R. Saletri was a criminal lawyer, who dreamed of horror movie stardom. After his struggle to release Blackenstein, he planned two ambitious sounding sequels, titled The Fall of the House of Blackenstein and Black Frankenstein Meets the White Werewolf, as well as unlicensed Sherlock Holmes adventures – Sherlock Holmes in the Adventures of the Werewolf of the Baskervilles and Sherlock Holmes in the Adventures of the Golden Vampire (supposedly an acting vehicle for Alice Cooper) – and something called Black the Ripper. Unfortunately, none of these grand plans came to full, theatrical fruition, as he was murdered with a single gunshot to his head. His body was found in his mansion, which once belonged to none other than Bela Lugosi. The crime remains unsolved.
 
Obviously, it makes sense to compare Blackenstein (full title: Blackenstein: The Black Frankenstein) to its blaxploitation horror counterparts, but it has very little in common with them. For one, race isn’t really an issue, here – with minor caveats, almost any character could be race-swapped without any impact on their personality or the storyline. If it wasn’t for the title, Blackenstein’s colour-blind casting might’ve even qualified as ‘woke,’ had it been released today.’ In the end, it has more in common with the DIY early gore movies of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. It would fit nicely on a double or triple-feature with Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein] (1971), T.L.P. Swicegood’s [i]The Undertaker and His Pals (1966), Marc B. Ray’s Scream Bloody Murder (1973), or David E. Durston’s I Drink Your Blood (1970). And it’s not just the cheap appearance or the presence of dollar store violence that drives the comparison – it’s also the complete lack of pacing, the doe-eyed amateur performances, and the completely uncanny tone that countless nostalgic filmmakers have tried and failed to reproduce. Apparently, such off-kilter style can only be achieved by accident. One’s enjoyment of will likely hinge on that person’s appreciation of/affection for similar films (I, for instance, enjoyed myself). Blackenstein is at least trying harder than some of the other movies I mentioned, for what that’s worth. Levey (who is also credited as editor) actually went on to make movies well into the 1990s, including the bland, but decently made US/South African co-production Hellgate (1989). Obviously his general skill level improved in the interim.
 
Blackenstein was actually very hard to find on VHS. In fact, my local store carried a bootleg tape, seemingly dubbed from the Media Entertainment Beta Tape. As far as I know, the only DVD release was a non-anamorphic, 1.33:1 R1 disc from Xenon in 2003. That lack of availability makes Severin’s new Blu-ray (and its same-day DVD edition) a pretty big deal for collectors. On top of that, they’ve included two versions of the film: the original theatrical release cut, which has been unavailable for quite some time and runs 78 minutes, and the video release cut, which runs 87 minutes. Unfortunately, only the theatrical release was sourced from original film elements, meaning that the extra video footage was taken from a 1” master tape. Both versions are presented in 1080p, 1.78:1 video and the overall quality is relatively consistent, outside the obvious quality drop for the tape-based shots (these images are darker, grainier, and have analogue tape artefacts). Putting those shots aside, the transfer is most impressive in terms of its colour and general vibrancy, which is important, because vivid colour is one definitive plus in this film’s corner. Details are pretty soft, especially during the darker, wide-angle shots, but the fine grain and mostly clean gradations tell me that this is mostly an issue with the original photography. That said, there are some noisy bits and low-level blocking that could signify compression on the part of the Blu-ray.
 
The film is presented in its original mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound. There’s a bit of fuzz and some huge volume/tone discrepancies, but this is more likely a case of ADR and foley work being manhandled into a particularly cheap movie. The musical score is a mix of stock music and original songs written and performed by Cardella Di Milo and Lou Frohman. The bluesy, soulful songs actually sound fantastic for a single-channel track, as if they were lifted directly from a record, rather than a ratty 35mm strip (with the exception of the live-recorded sequence, which is overpowered by bass). The catalogue score is comparatively flatter and similar to what you’d hear from any other mono-mixed library mix (in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, for instance).
 
Extras include:
  • Monster Kid (19:02, HD) – Saletri’s sister, June Kirk, talks about her brother, their childhood, his education and military service, his ‘Bela Lugosi house,’ his horror fandom/collection, his writing (including those unfinished screenplays), and his death.
  • Archive news broadcast on Saletri’s murder (6:17) – This is presented in its entirety after appearing in parts during the previous featurette.
  • Ken Osborne And Robert Dix Remember Frank R. Saletri (6:36, Hd) – During the shooting of a documentary on filmmaker Al Adamson (who I didn’t realize had a real-world connection to Saletri!), Osborne (an actor/director whose credits include trash western Cain’s Cut-throats, 1970) and Dix (an actor who appeared in B-movie bit parts and as a lead in Adamson’s films) discuss their friendship and professional relationships with Saletri.
  • Bill Created Blackenstein (9:15, HD) – The final interview is with creature designer Bill Munns, who describes his prosthetic/make-up work. The interview was conducted via telephone and is set to behind-the-scenes stills and production artwork.
  • Trailer

 
 Severin May Review Wrap-Up

 Severin May Review Wrap-Up

 Severin May Review Wrap-Up

 Severin May Review Wrap-Up

 Severin May Review Wrap-Up
 
 
Severin May Review Wrap-Up

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD


Great Britain, end of the ‘70s: Thatcher is in power, the Yorkshire Ripper is on the loose, punk rock is on the rise, and shite comics are widespread. But, with the birth of indie upstart 2000AD, fans were introduced to visionary talent, like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Mark Millar, and legendary characters that included Rogue Trooper, Halo Jones, and Judge Dredd. Yet, what happened next to this nihilistic, ultra-violent universe may be the biggest shocker of all. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
 
I imagine that, like myself, many Americans comic fans between the ages of 25 and 45 were weaned on mainstream superheroes and only became aware of the wonderful world of European sci-fi/fantasy comics due to their ‘mature’ reputations. My child/teenhood memories of the French-based Heavy Metal (Metal Hurlant) and UK-based 2000AD magazines all revolve around sneaking behind partitions where comic book store staff couldn’t see me thumbing through their forbidden content. I certainly wasn’t allowed to purchase them. But, in their countries of origin, these stories were every bit as vital to pop culture as Superman and the X-Men. Unbeknownst to many young Americans, their creative staffs went on to help redefine maturity in superhero comics throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. 2000AD was a particularly heavy source of talent and inspiration for the ongoing DC Vertigo line, in particular, and its impact is still being seen in mainstream superhero and sci-fi movies/television.
 
Paul Goodwin’s feature documentary, Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD, charts the course of the studio – from the counter-cultural movements and stories that influenced its writers & artists, to the controversy it drew and the various media they would later influence themselves. He and his cohorts do this with humor and more style than one would generally expect from a talking-heads affair, especially one without much archival video/film footage to draw from. Interview subjects are a who’s who of British comic book royalty, as well as the entertainment industry fans that worshiped at the altar of 2000AD in their youth, including Neil Gaiman (writer of Sandman and American Gods), Pat Mills (co-creator of 2000AD), Alan Grant (writer of Judge Dredd and Batman: Shadow of the Bat), John Wagner (writer of various 2000AD titles and A History of Violence), Grant Morrison (writer of The Invisibles, Animal Man, All-Star Superman), Dave Gibbons (artist/co-creator of The Watchmen), Geoff Barrow (producer/songwriter/leader of Portishead), Bryan Talbot (creator of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright), Emma Beeby (current writer of Dr. Who comics and others), Kevin O’Neill (artist/co-creator of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra (artist and writer/co-writer on a number of 2000AD and DC comics titles), Gary Erskine (artist on The Filth and Knights of Pendragon), Andy Diggle (writer on Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, and The Losers), Scott Ian (guitarist/songwriter for Anthrax), Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later and Dredd; writer/director of Ex Machina), and Karen Berger (executive editor of DC’s Vertigo line of comics). My only real complaint here is that the subject matter could’ve served a six or seven-part series and that Goodwin and his co-filmmakers cover some topics with a bit too much haste. Judge Dredd alone could sustain a feature-length documentary.
 
Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD is presented in 1080p, 1.78:1 HD video on this, its North American Blu-ray debut. The image quality is as impressive as you’d expect from any modern media documentary with a half-decent budget and access to HD digital cameras. The animated sections and photo/illustration montages are poppy and crisp with tight edges and a solid sense of image separation. The interviews are sometimes limited by their environments – some are clean and bright, while others are dark enough to lead to minor noise issues. For the most part, there is a consistency to the photography, including sharp foregrounds and artfully blurred backgrounds. The uncompressed, LPCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack also gets the job done with understandable and relatively regulated dialogue. There’s plenty of music on the track as well (usually between chapters), all written and performed by Justin Greaves of Crippled Black Phoenix fame (with the exception of a bit of Anthrax’s “I Am the Law”).
 
Extras include:
  • Four extended sequences (15:11, HD):
    • 2000AD vs the USA – More on the magazine’s lack of crossover in America and the artist/writer exodus to DC comics.
    • Dredd 2012: True In Spirit – A deeper look at Alex Garland’s Dredd and how it relates to the original comic.
    • Judge Dredd Extended sequence – Dredd’s creators describe their character’s political genesis.
    • Cheap Entertainment – A catchall discussion about the appeal of comics.
  • Behind the Strips – Short rundowns of some of the series that aren’t covered more substantially in the movie:
    • Bad Company (4:50, HD)
    • Future Shocks (8:01, HD)
    • Rogue Trooper (7:30, HD)
    • Slaine (11:28, HD)
    • Strontium Dog (5:33, HD)
  • Art Blast – Jock & Henry Flint (4:03, HD) – A timelapse illustration demonstration.
  • Blooper reel (2:04, HD)
  • Pat Mills Visits King’s Reach Tower (5:55, HD) – The magazine’s originator and original editor hangs out at the old publishing office building.
  • Soundtrack – Behind the Scenes (3:47, HD) – A mix of filmmaker interview and video footage of Justin Greaves performing/recording the heavy metal score.
  • Festival teaser and UK release trailers
  • Extended interviews with Grant Morrison, Karen Berger, Pat Mills, Neil Gaiman, and Dave Gibbons (34:14, HD) – Between these, the extended sequences, and behind the strips sections, this disc includes the full-bodied experience the subject matter deserves.

 
 Severin May Review Wrap-Up

 Severin May Review Wrap-Up

 Severin May Review Wrap-Up

 Severin May Review Wrap-Up

 Severin May Review Wrap-Up
 
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then 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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