Scream Factory Wrap-Up (US - BD RA)
Gabe has a Scream-A-Thon with Eve of Destruction, Horror Show, & Saturn 3...
Eve of Destruction
Shout Factory gets the most credit for releasing high definition versions of major cult favourites, but they’re also putting considerable effort into releasing forgotten genre films that define the era in which they were made. Duncan Gibbins’ Eve of Destruction is, along with Roland Emmerich’s Universal Soldier and Craig R. Baxley’s I Come in Peace (aka Dark Angel), a perfect representation of early ‘90s action/sci-fi hybrids. Like those films, it gathers gimmicks and concepts from more popular movies and mashes them into an entertaining, but unquestionably dumb motion picture stew. This particular genre goulash includes the greatest hits from The Terminator, Predator (more specifically Predator 2, I suppose), and just about every post- Lethal Weapon cop movie ever made. The story follows Eve VIII (Renee Soutendijk), a sophisticated and deadly android created in the image of her inventor, Dr. Eve Simmons (also Soutendijk). When an unexpected mishap during testing sends Eve VIII into a sudden, irreversible rampage. Now, it's up to terrorism expert Jim McQuade (Gregory Hines) to find and deactivate her before she realizes her ultimate capability: nuclear annihilation.
Its Derivative nature and outrageous seriousness aside, Eve of Destruction isn’t entirely devoid of clever moments. In fact, the entire first act runs on impressively efficient storytelling that comes this close to covering the inherent ridiculousness of the concept (especially the part where Eve VIII has a nuclear reactor in her that can only be turned off if she’s shot in the eyeball). The idea of Eve VIII enacting her human counterpart’s most deep-set sexual urges and violent desires is a borderline brilliant exploitation concept, but this is where its mainstream aspirations become a major hindrance. If it had been made about five years earlier, Eve of Destruction might’ve been a grindhouse classic – a sci-fi-laced female empowerment/revenge fantasy. But Gibbins is working on a studio budget that demands action spectacle, not a shoestring that allows for the kind of sex and violence exploitation filmmakers would use in place of funding. Gibbins doesn’t skimp on the gore when it comes to Eve VIII’s anatomy, but the more exploitative violence (Eve VIII biting off a man’s penis, for instance) is merely implied. The film’s dependence on mainstream success also gives it a false air of legitimacy that keeps rearing its head as dopey melodrama. On the other hand, the straight-faced sincerity of the execution is definitely preferable to lacing the material in irony. I recall Renée Soutendijk’s performance being the butt of many of the movie’s negative reviews. She’s not transcendent, but she’s relatively convincing as two different versions of the same person and even has a couple of real standout dramatic moments. Hines is woefully miscast and tries to compensate with an angry face and perpetually gruff demeanor. He shouts almost every one of his lines and even his glib one-liners are delivered with all the pep of an old man telling kids to get off of his lawn.
This is a typical ‘low-grade’ transfer from Scream Factory, which isn’t to say it’s at all unattractive – it just hasn’t been as heavily digitally remastered as the company’s A-list releases. The majority of this 1.85:1, 1080p transfer’s imperfections are film-based, including minor disparities in grain levels and occasional flecks of print damage. Cinematographer Alan Hume’s photography is understated, but there are plenty of standout images where rich, deep shadows and aggressive neon highlights make the upgrade from UK and Aussie anamorphic releases worthwhile. The more vibrant the palette and the higher the contrast, the better this disc looks. The vivid hues have nice pop without macro-blocking effects. Scenes with murkier lighting, such as a smoky bar, suffer the most digital-specific issues, including slight edge enhancement, banding, and cross-colouration effects.
The film is presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio sound and its original 2.0 stereo surround. The track is relatively clean, but there are discrepancies in its volume and clarity throughout. Some of the incidental sound effects are a little tinny and the dynamic ranges are a smidge inconsistent, but the stereo spread isn’t particularly flat and action beats have punch. Of all the era-appropriate elements, Philippe Sarde’s electronic-infused symphonic score is the most perfect. The opening title track sounds like the bastard love child of Mike Post’s Law & Order theme and Basil Poledouris’ Robocop score. The music is almost exclusively represented in the right and left channels, which makes it sound a bit off-balance when it comes to the percussion effects. The only extra is a trailer.
The Horror Show
Now a seemingly innocuous entry in the late ‘80s slasher cycle, The Horror Show was once a very troubled movie. It represents producer Sean S. Cunningham at his huckster peak. Following his part in starting the Friday the 13th series, Cunningham spent the later part of the decade producing ‘accidental’ rip-offs of Hollywood genre productions. This happened not once, but twice in 1989; first when he released DeepStar Six alongside Leviathan and The Abyss, then again when he released The Horror Show after Wes Craven’s Shocker. The two films have a lot in common. The Horror Show begins with a serial killer named ‘Meat Cleaver’ Max Jenke (Brion James) vowing revenge on the cop that caught him, Detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen). Unfortunately, the electric chair (and a deal with the devil) makes Max more powerful in the afterlife and he turns McCarthy’s life into a living hell. Shocker, on the other hand, features a serial killer who gains supernatural power from the electric chair (and a deal with the devil) who kills people and tortures his estranged son from beyond the grave *. To further convolute the issue, The Horror Show was sold in other territories as House III to cash-in on the success of Cunningham’s other horror franchise. This became more confusing when they made a real second House sequel and had to title it House IV. Additionally, the House series was tied to the Evil Dead series in Italy, where The Horror Show would be known as La Casa 7.
Needless to say, The Horror Show is kind of a mess. It began life under the direction of David Blyth, who likely got the job following his underrated Kiwi action/horror hybrid Death Warmed Up. Blyth was fired and replaced with Cunningham’s go-to surrogate, James Issac, which probably signifies that Cunningham himself was behind the camera for most of the production. Like Eve of Destruction, it has a stupefying serious streak that generates more accidental laughs than bouts of real drama (the funniest bit is when Henriksen’s ill-fated partner whines that he ‘did his best’ as he lays dying). Unlike Eve of Destruction, The Horror Show isn’t particularly entertaining in its tone-deafness. More often than not, it’s downright tedious, trapped between character-based melodrama and gory, nightmarish violence – the most graphic of which was edited out of the film at the behest of the MPAA. It’s likely that Cunningham and writers Allyn Warner (who had his name taken off the film) & Leslie Bohem weren’t actually trying to get to the Shocker concept before Craven – they were trying to beat him to the punch on a new Freddy Krueger. This is most obvious when Henriksen is haunted by surreal visions of his enemy. Sadly, Meat Cleaver Max is no Freddy Krueger and Brion James is no Robert Englund. James surely had his strengths, acting as an omnipresent murderer just wasn’t one of them. Poor Lance Henriksen is acting on a different level than everyone else in the film. He was likely operating under the impression that The Horror Show would become a franchise for his character (fortunately, he had the superior Pumpkinhead to fall back on).
This appears to be The Horror Show’s first North American release on any digital format and is certainly its first Blu-ray release. Like many Scream Factory releases, it first appeared in HD on Netflix streaming, where the picture was an improvement over SD releases, but still suffered minor digital compression due to streaming limitations. This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer corrects most of those problems, so only some vague macro-blocking remains. This is a generally cleaner print than Eve of Destruction as well with very few print-based artefacts (a few black streaks and shutter effects). A handful of optical zooms and particularly dark images appear a bit gritty, but, for the most part, grain levels are thin. Details are only as sharp as Isaac and cinematographer Mac Ahlberg’s shallow focus allows them to be, but there are no outstanding issues with fuzzy patterns or blooming edges to report. The colours are natural and clean without being particularly vivid at any moment. Blacks are deep, but don’t crush the details in darker sequences.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is presented in the film’s original 2.0 stereo surround. It’s a pretty thin track, which is typical for modestly-budgeted genre films from the era. Dialogue is clear and consistent, while the incidental effects tend to settle pretty quietly beneath words and music. Standout moments include a bevy of punchy startle scare moments, the stereo-enhanced electrocution and resurrection sequences, and any scene where Henriksen has a flashback (these are signified with a popping sound that sounds like a pneumatic drill). Composer Harry Manfredini, who had been working with Cunningham since his Friday the 13th days, does a solid job turning his limited keyboard arrangements into genuinely theatrical pieces and this track does a good job filling the stereo channels with music. The extras include a commentary track with Cunningham, The Show Must Go On, an interview with stunt coordinator (and popular Jason Voorhees) Kane Hodder (11:10, HD), House Mother (10:50, HD), an interview with actress Rita Taggart, and a trailer.
* Of course, this discounts the fact that Robert Kirk’s Destroyer and Renny Harlin’s Prison both got to the ‘supernatural serial killers done in by the electric chair’ angle a year previous, in 1988.
At first glance, Saturn 3 – the story of a scientist couple (Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett) stationed beneath the surface of Saturn’s third moon that has their idyllic little space Eden sullied when a jerk with a killer robot (Harvey Keitel) arrives and starts bossing them around – is just another generic grab-bag cash-in on the popularity of Alien, Star Wars, and the rising slasher genre. You could easily assume it was just another AIP cheapo, like Galaxy of Terror, but you’d be wrong. Saturn 3 is a ‘real’ movie, made by a name director, co-written by a popular novelist, and starring major, established actors. It is one of the great mysteries of motion picture history. The name director in question here is Stanley Donen, the choreographer/director (sometimes co-director) of Singin’ in the Rain, Funny Face, Charade, and dozens of other great movies that bear zero resemblance to Saturn 3. The popular novelist is Matin Amis ( London Fields, The Information), who would never personally work on another screenplay ever again (even if some of his books were made into movies/TV series). Donen was originally just going to act as producer (as if merely producing such a film would be any less weird). He reportedly replaced the original writer/director, superstar production designer John Barry, following disagreements with one of those established stars, Kirk Douglas. Barry was fresh off, you guessed it, Star Wars. More tragically, Barry died suddenly on the set of The Empire Strikes Back before either film was released.
So then, Saturn 3 was originally tailor made for an exploitation market hungry for a post- Alien, R-rated space thriller, but, to secure Farrah Fawcett and Kirk Douglas, the special effects budget had to be scaled back, as did the more exploitative elements (Fawcett is scantly-clad/slightly naked throughout and Douglas wrestles Keitel in the nude, but there’s not a lot going on in terms of ultra-violence). This leaves the final product in the unfortunate place of trying to be everything for everyone, which almost never works. The script is tonally confusing, mistaking misogyny and social retardation for horror and drama. The tiny cast seems just as confused as I was in this regard, a problem only exasperated by the fact that Keitel’s voice was dubbed. On most ‘regular movie’ levels, it is a failure. However, Saturn 3 is also an odd enough movie to be entertaining (especially the first act), charming, and, like Eve of Destruction, a largely forgotten relic of its time. The story is secondary to an almost music video-like series of brief vignettes made to show off the gorgeous (or at least interesting) production design and physical effects. This arthouse structure owes a debt to Ridley Scott, but the imagery itself is pure Kubrick. This is no mistake, since Barry made a name for himself on Clockwork Orange. Viewers that are willing to ignore its lack of sense, sit back, and accept Saturn 3 for what it is – a production design experiment wrapped in an Alien rip-off – are in for some really attractive imagery at the very least.
Saturn 3’s only R1 DVD release was cropped to 1.33:1 and this Blu-ray represents the only HD disc available in any region. Scream Factory’s press release boasts that this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is ‘new,’ so I suppose that indicates some remastering on the studio’s part. Or at least that MGM had an unused HD scan sitting around somewhere. This is a very strong transfer and only the age of the material holds it back from total perfection. The grain levels are relatively even, save a handful of process shots/fades and film-based artefacts are limited to small scratches and minor shutter effects. Donen/Barry and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Billy Williams (yet another A-lister) blend the smoky, hyper-dark of Scott’s Alien with the punchy clean colours of 2001: A Space Odyssey, establishing a particularly dynamic image quality. The blacks and steely greys cut sharply against vibrant and eclectic acrylic hues without any major bleeding, macro-blocking, or edge enhancement. It’s too bad the movie isn’t better/more popular, because this is one of the studio’s best looking transfers.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack is also fantastic and much bolder than expected. Aside from the obvious lack of discrete center or surround channels, it easily stands up against major studio remixes. It’s so loud at times that I was forced to turn down my receiver, yet I only noticed hints of distortion at the highest volume levels. The wacky, analogue sci-fi sound effects (robot noises, unspecified space sounds, unmotivated echoes) move briskly throughout the stereo channels, making for an immersive directional experience. The soundtrack’s biggest draw, however, is Elmer Bernstein’s musical score (seriously, there are four Oscar winners involved in this production), which sounds massive, wide, and rich. Even without an LFE channel, the brassy sound vibrates the room, tricking the viewer into thinking they’re watching a film worthy of the Star Wars and Alien mantels.
As far as I know, there have never been extras on any DVD release of Saturn 3, so I guess that means everything here is new and exciting for fans. Special features include a commentary with Greg Moss (of the Saturn 3 fan site) and film critic David Bradley, an interview with actor Roy Dotrice (who dubbed Keitel, 6:30, HD), an interview with special effects director Colin Chilvers (16:00, HD), additional scenes from the network television version (10:00, SD video blended with HD footage), an insanely strange extended scene (3:30, HD), a trailer, TV spots, and a still gallery.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 19th November 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English
Extras: Sean S. Cunningham Commentary (Horror Show), The Show Must Go On, House Mother, Fan and Critic Commentary (Saturn 3), Actor Interview, Special Effects Director Commentary, Deleted/Extended Scenes (Saturn 3), Image Galleries, Trailers, DVD Copies
Easter Egg: No
Director: Duncan Gibbins, James Isaac, Stanley Donen, John Barry
Cast: Gregory Hines, Renée Soutendijk, Kurt Fuller, Lance Henriksen, Brion James, Rita Taggart, Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 282 minutes
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