Hatchet coming to Blu-ray

hatchet bd
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HATCHET (2006) – writer-director Adam Green’s gleefully gory homage to slasher films of the 1970s and ’80s – is coming to Blu-ray on September 7. The new disc will feature the unrated director’s cut, not the R-rated cut released briefly in theatres in 2007. Bonus features from the previous DVD release (reviewed here) will be ported over, and add a new audio commentary will be added, featuring Green and actor-stuntman Kane Hodder, who plays the unstoppable menace Victor Crowley.
More info below:

Street Date: September 7, 2010
Pre-book: August 11, 2010
Cat. #: BD21841
UPC: 0 1313 21841-9 7
Run Time: 84 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
SRP: $29.99
Format: 1.78:1 / 16×9 1080p
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles: Spanish, English SDH
Bonus Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary with Co-Producer/Writer/Director Adam Green and Star Kane Hodder
  • Audio Commentary with Co-Producer/Writer/Director Adam Green, Co-Producer/Cinematographer Will Barratt and Actors Tamara Feldman, Joel David Moore and Deon
  • The Making of Hatchet
  • Meeting Victor Crowley: An in-depth look at the creation of a new horror icon
  • Guts & Gore: Go behind the scenes of Hatchet’s special makeup and prosthetic effects
  • Anatomy of a Kill: Witness the “jaw-breaking” birth, design and execution of a death scene
  • A Twisted Tale: Writer/Director Adam Green recounts his decades-long friendship with “Twisted Sister” front man Dee Snider
  • Gag Reel
  • Theatrical Trailer


Class of Nuke ‘Em High (Blu-ray Edition)

click to purchase
click to purchase
The unrated director’s cut of Troma’s cult classic is back on a Blu-ray disc loaded with bonus features.

Aahhh Troma movies! The Spirit of guerilla filmmaking lives on to this day with Troma Entertainment films (don’t believe me, go watch POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD). Troma, and its co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, provide the last bastion of independent, fun, over-the-top, gory genre flicks. Troma has given us such classics as THE TOXIC AVENGER, TERROR FIRMA, TROMEO AND JULIET, and TROMA’S WAR; produced such cringe-inducing flicks as MOTHER’S DAY and IGOR AND THE LUNATICS; and distributed such groaners as SURF NAZIES MUST DIE and KILLER CONDOM. Troma Entertainment movies, especially those written and directed by Lloyd Kaufman, are not for everyone. If you hate toilet humor, excessive gore, lesbians, crazy plot lines, borderline acting, and general gonzo craziness, then you will definitely want to stay away from Troma films. But if you enjoy such delicacies – well come on in, have a seat, and let’s talk.

Ok, enough of that. If you’re reading this, then you probably already love Troma Films and Uncle Lloyd. Let’s get to the reason you’re reading this posting: The new Blu-ray Edition of Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986), released on June 1, 2010. Right off the bat, I’ll tell you that you’re not getting a different version from the “Unrated Director’s Cut” that was released on DVD back in December 1997. Both versions have an 85-minute running time, so the only difference is upgrade in video quality that this new Blu-ray release allows. (Oh, and the Blu-ray has no region coding, so you can enjoy the disc worldwide!)

I have a special place in my heart for Class of Nuke ‘Em High. The was the first Troma flick I ever saw. I rented it back in the days (before Blockbuster Video cornered the market on movie rentals) when all the Ma and Pa corner video stores were competing with each other. The successful places had the goriest movies, and that’s the kinda place I found this gem. I rented it based solely on the video cover art, which showed a half-naked chick in leather being hugged by some mutant-goon with a picture of a monster in the background. I love it (and they kept the same cover art for the Blu-ray edition)!! And unlike most other video cover art, this one had all these elements in the movie – and more! What more could a 16 year old boy ask for??

The story  begins in Tromaville. Tromaville, NJ is for Kaufman what Castle Rock, ME is for Stephen King. It seems the local nuclear power plant has sprung a leak, and toxic waste is absorbed into the ground, finding its way to the (very) nearby high school. The water is contaminated, and we see students drinking the thick, green jello-like polluted gunk out of the fountain. The effects of are pretty mild and barely noticeable (yeah, right!!). The honor society, once the preppies of the school, are now a vicious and violent gang of mutants who make everyone’s lives at school miserable. And don’t even ask about the AV Club!! Even some teachers become seduced to the mutant side, which leads them to dress and act slutty (all for our entertainment, of course).

Amidst all these bizarre characters are Chrissy and Warren, white-bread high school sweethearts a little on the “goody-goody” side. They’ve been dating for a while, and when their friends realize they haven’t banged each other yet, they step in to help the two lovers out. Warren’s buddy buys some weed that was grown at the contaminated power plant and gives it to the cute couple to help “grease the gears.” The weed works all too well and gives them an “Atomic High” that turns Warren’s load into “super sperm.” Within days Chrissy gestates a little mutant baby that she vomits into the toilets at school and which gets flushed. Oh yes folks -we’re into some truly bizarre territory here. As weird as it sounds, the fast paced-direction, the collection of odd-ball characters, and the actors involved make this really fun.

We even get a brief homage to Kaufman’s Toxic Avenger (1985), when we see one of the side effects of the Atomic High turning Warren into a mutated vigilante. He confronts a few of the honor society mutants in an alley and pretty much turns them into goo. Just wait to see the effects of Warren punching one of them: Gives new meaning to the term “fisting”!

Say what you will about Troma and Uncle Lloyd, but that man knows how to find and cast young, cute, and very innocent looking girls in the lead roles. Don’t believe me? Check out actress Kate Graham (the lead in Poultrygeist) and Jane Jensen (the lead in Tromeo and Juliet). And here Janelle Brady, who plays Chrissy, is a true 1980s babe. She’s cute and a bit of a bimbo, but underneath the surface there is a bad girl bubbling to get out.

The story takes a lot of truly bizarre twists and turns. The mutant ex-honor students get expelled from school and decide to come back, heavily armed of course. They blame Warren for their expulsion, so they kidnap Chrissy to lure him into the evacuated school. Oh, but wait: remember that little mutant tadpole Chrissy puked up? Well it’s all grown up now. This has an ending that must be seen to be believed!!

Like all Troma releases, this movie never for one second takes itself seriously. It’s full of toilet humor, bodily fluids, and tons of gratuitous gore. Good family fun if ya ask me. If you haven’t seen this one in a while (or even worse, haven’t seen it at all), then this is the prefect time to upgrade to the Blu-ray Edition. Call some buddies over, make some green jello shots, grab your favorite bong, and have a blast! Don’t miss this one.


After you’re threw with the movie, if you haven’t knocked back so many beers you’re unconscious, you can check out these bonus features:

  • Nuke ’Em High School Sweethearts: New interview with Robert and Jennifer Prichard, stars of Class of Nuke ’Em High
  • Audio commentary by Troma president and former Nuclear Power Commissioner Lloyd Kaufman
  • Audio commentary by Class of Nuke ’Em High special effects and miniatures creator Theo Pingarelli
  • Deleted Scenes originally thought lost during the Chernobyl disaster
  • The original theatrical trailer for Class of Nuke ’Em High and other Tromatic classics
  • Includes the hilarious episode from the Tromaville cafe

CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH (a.k.a. ATOMIC HIGH SCHOOL, 1986). Directors: Richard Haines, Michael Herz, & Lloyd Kaufman (as Samuel Weil). Writers: Lloyd Kaufman, Richard W. Haines, Mark Rudnitsky, Stuart Strutin. Cast: Janelle Brady Gil Brenton, Robert Prichard, Pat Ryan.

Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)

The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)Not since the brilliant French film MARTYRS (2008) has a movie come on the scene, grabbed you by the throat, and essentially dared you to watch it without flinching. This is what was promised with THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE, which is gaining quite the cult following and is now in limited release around the country in midnight shows and can be found on MOD/VOD (check with your local cable company). Does it deliver? In a word, not even close. This film is full of bad acting, pacing problems, and it is a victim of being over-hyped so much that it couldn’t possibly deliver what it promises. But who’s fault is this?

As THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE opens we join Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser, resembling the bastard love-child of Lance Henriksen and Udo Kier) who is sitting in his car in the shoulder of the road. He’s staring fondly at a picture of a canine centipede in which he joined three dogs to make one long creature. The opening ends with the good doc drugging and kidnapping a fat trucker. Flash to our heroines, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), two American tourists traveling across Germany. They’re getting ready to go to a party that is apparently in the middle of nowhere (judging by the roads they’re traveling on). On the way, their car gets a flat tire on a very remote road and after an encounter with an older, very creepy German guy they decide to walk and find help. Guess which house they end up at?

Is any of this sounding familiar? It should – it’s the set up for about 1,000 flicks. The “strangers lost in a strange land” is nothing new. But those who’ve bought into the hype will remain patient. I did. Unfortunately, this patience will be rewarded far too soon.

In case you haven’t already noticed, it becomes obvious that there’s something very wrong with Heiter. We learn that he’s a world-renowned surgeon who specialized in separating Siamese twins. Now retired, he’s doing “research” in his home lab – that’s never a good sign. He’s obsessed with creating a three-segment human centipede in which three subjects are connected mouth-to-anus, sharing one digestive track. Heiter sees the arrival of Lindsay and Jenny as a windfall opportunity. He already has the fat trucker, so he does what any good host-mad scientist would do: He slips the girls some roofies, chains them up in his basement operating room and preps them for surgery. It turns out the trucker’s tissue samples don’t match the girls, so Heiter kills the trucker and then kidnaps a Japanese tourist. Perfect match.

Now THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE has all his pieces in place, and you can just feel a sick combination of dread and anticipation welling up inside as Heiter explains to his subjects what he’s going to do to them: remove their teeth, remove the ligaments from their knees, and alter their anuses in order to connect them mouth-to-anus. Then just as he starts the procedure the scene fades to black, and bam, the operation is over.

Where’s the horror we were promised – the stuff that was supposed to challenge us to keep our eyes glued on the screen? Presumably, that was left on the cutting room floor in order to rush to reveal the titular abomination about 30-40 minutes into the running time. We see the human centipede, yawn, and then watch as Heiter trains – that’s right, trains – his new pet.

This is a huge problem; after writer-director Tom Six blows his wad in a most anticlimactic way, you quickly find yourself losing interest. There’s just nothing to keep our attention after the human centipede is revealed. The entire film suffers from a very slow and lumbering pace, and let’s be honest here, there’s barely enough material to fill a short film let alone a feature length movie.

And is this material all that original? I seem to recall a novel written by H.G. Wells called THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU – in 1896!! . Yes, there are a lot of differences in the two stories (Dr. Moreau is turning animals into people rather than people into animals), but if Tom Six focused on the story, characters, and social commentary more than trying to make a disturbing and graphic film, he would have had more success.

The only interesting character is Dr. Heiter. There’s no doubt he’s bat-shit crazy, but what makes him so dangerous is that he’s focused, intelligent, and determined. He doesn’t look at his prisoners as people; they’re simply subjects to help him with his research and are no different than a lab mouse. It’s also pretty clear that Heiter doesn’t like people and seems to have grown tired of the human race. People, to him, are subjects to be experimented on.

Laser plays the part beautifully – the one shining performance in this otherwise annoying cast. The girls, at least after being captured, are whiny and annoying. During one of cinema’s most epic-failed escape attempts, Lindsay goes full retard (and everyone knows you don’t go full retard), making so much noise you just root for Heiter to capture her. (At one point she actually tries to hide under water while Heiter stands by the side of the pool.) There’s not one second when you think she’ll succeed – the entire escape feels tagged on in order pad out the running time.

For an allegedly disturbing flick, with a totally twisted premise, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is actually rather blood-less. One tag-line for the film is “100% Medically Accurate,” and that’s the main problem. The approach is so clinical that there’s no over-the-top mayhem that could have catapulted it to cult classic status – or at least made it a midnight movie favourite. In fact, all the the “disturbing” imagery is included in the trailer. So if you saw the trailer you’ve essentially already seen the entire film. Besides Dieter Laser’s performance, there’s nothing here to recommend, and on top of everything else, the sound quality is terrible.

Apparently, there’s already a part two in the works with a 12 segment human centipede. Meh. Skip this one and go watch Martyrs again.

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE (2009; VOD release on April 28, 2010; USA theatrical distribution starting April 30, 2010). Written and directed by Tom Six. Cast: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlyn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura, Andreas Leupold, Peter Blankenstein.


SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD and MICMACS: Horror/Fantasy Interview Podcast

Y’know, people probably shouldn’t be this gleeful about issues of mortality, but in the cases of the movies being discussed in this episode, we’re kinda glad they are. This episode features interviews with Jean-Pierre Jeunet and George A. Romero, both of whom have previously addressed matters of life-and-death in their own, unique ways, and have decided that there’s still more sport to be had from the subject.

Twisted Love: Dany Boon (left) and Julie Ferrier meet peculiar in MICMACS.
Twisted Love: Dany Boon (left) and Julie Ferrier meet peculiar in MICMACS.

In MICMACS, Jeunet gives us a cockeyed protagonist in the person of Bazil (Dany Boon), a man who quite by chance winds up at the precipice of the eternal when a stray bullet gets lodged in his brain. This makes him not so charitably inclined towards the manufacturer of said bullet, a matter only exacerbated when he discovers that the land mine that killed his father in the Middle East was created by a neighboring company. His only recourse: Take down both corporations, with the help of a ragtag assortment of unusually talented junkyard misfits. For such a dire theme, the film turns out to be quite a lighthearted adventure, with Jeunet deploying all his powers of visual invention into the narrative, while also making copious nods to film history, particularly to the works of silent comedians and Sergio Leone.

Home on Deranged (Sorry): Joris Jarsky (left) wrangles Kathleen Munroe in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.
Home on Deranged (Sorry): Joris Jarsky (left) wrangles Kathleen Munroe in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.

George Romero is also taking a few pages from cinema history, most specifically from classic westerns. In SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, the group of renegade guardsmen we met in DIARY OF THE DEAD — led by Alan Van Sprang — decides they’ve had enough of zombies, and aim themselves for a respite on an island off the coast of Delaware. Problem is: Not only is the place already infested with the walking dead, but they’ve become a rather peculiar stake in a kind-of range war between waged between two feuding clans. As always, Romero mixes zombie assaults with some particularly vivid death scenes — for both living and dead — along with some trenchant observations of our current, fractious times. Turns out the departed still have something to say to their survivors, and it has nothing to do with moving into the light.

Click on the player to hear the show.


Tom Six on THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE – Horror Film Podcast

Turn Your Head and Scream: The Inimitable Dieter Laser as Dr. Heiter in THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE
Turn Your Head and Scream: The Inimitable Dieter Laser as Dr. Heiter in THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE

There are some films that you’re either for or agin, and wow, does THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE fit into that category. A vivid little bit of Grand Guignol wherein a couple of hapless tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) stumble upon the lair of the prototypical mad doctor (Dieter Laser) who proceeds to stitch them (and a Japanese guy played by Akihiro Kitamura) together to form the titular medical abomination — and yes, that means mouth-to-anus and, yes, we do get to watch them experience the subsequent digestive process — this offering from Dutch director Tom Six is the kind of thing that seems expressly designed to test the will of the die-hard horror-lover.
And I surprised myself: I like it. Yeah, I turned off the playback about a half-hour in, but once I steeled my nerves enough to resume, I found that, after reaching about the halfway point, a certain grand absurdity begins to take hold of the proceedings. It helps that the good doctor’s creation, once unveiled, is patently ridiculous, and that Mr. Laser has no problem chewing the scenery with a ferocity that suggests that director Six kept him away from the craft services table for the length of the shoot. The film still pushes all kinds of buttons (the tag line reads, “100% Medically Accurate,” after all; and the young actors seem to have been cast for their capacity to sob and groan), and some will style this as yet another sign of the coming fall of civilization. If so, at least we’re having a laugh as we go down the drain.

Tom Six and I had an opportunity to talk about how the film was born from a rather creative notion on the meting out justice, as well as what it takes to wardrobe the modern mad scientist and what the audience might expect from the upcoming sequel (danger, Will Robinson). Click on the player to hear the interview.


SHUTTER ISLAND Press Conference – Horror Film Podcast

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of SHUTTER ISLAND
Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of SHUTTER ISLAND

The embargo on the SHUTTER ISLAND press conference has lifted, so I’m putting it out for your entertainment and enrichment. However, I believe the embargo on criticism is still in place, so I can’t really set this up in the way that I’d like. You’re just going to have to wait for the BRAND NEW Cinefantastique Podcast to get my opinion (as well as that of editor Steve Biodrowski) on the film.
Suffice it to say that SHUTTER ISLAND is Martin Scorsese’s latest work, a dark exploration of the human psyche that has Leonardo DiCaprio’s U.S. Marshal going to the titular island to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from a hospital for the criminally insane. There, he discovers more than a smattering of sinister doings, and a couple of doctors — played by Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow — whose ministrations may or may not figure in the conspiracy. Curiosity piqued? The film opens on February 19th.
Click on the player to hear the New York press conference that featured Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ben Kingsley.

2009 San Diego Asian Film Festival – Fant-Asia & Asian Extreme – Freakeh

Talk about being disarmed
Talk about being disarmed

With this past year’s economic climate, most of America’s major Asian Film Festivals in the United States have drastically cut their programs, showcase fewer films and run for fewer days. The New York Asian Film Festival, which has been around for almost 30 years scaled back their program from last year’s eight days, to this year’s two and a half days. Even the powerhouse Los Angeles Asian Film Festival had major cutbacks. But the only Asian Film Festival in the country to go beyond the call of cinematic duty to support Asian made films and Asian filmmakers is the San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which started in San Diego, CA, October 15th, and still has one more week of fantastically far-out and freaky frightening Fant-Asia films to go. So essentially, this festival is running for a whopping 14 days and is featuring 200+ films from 20 countries. This says a lot about the organizers and their passion to not bow to the economy but to put themselves out there to show the world that Asian film is worth the time and effort.
A new program added this year is the SDAFF Extreme series, four fantastically far-out and freaky frightening films (not a typo folks, but a wee bit of déjà vu) that is worth getting out here just for this quartet that will be music to the ears for Fant-Asia film fans. First off there’s the “What? Are you kidding me?” Japanese ALF meets HELLO KITTY, an a-mews-ing feature NEKO RAMEN TAISHO (aka PUSSY SOUP). If you’ve heard of the 1960s FELIX THE CAT cartoon, then please sing the following to the same cadence of the famous TV animated series. “Taisho the cat, the wonderful, wonderful, cat, whenever he gets in a fix he reaches into his ramen bowl of trix. Taisho the cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat, you’ll watch the noodle contest, your eyes will freak, your mind will squint with “huh?”, watching Taisho fall in love with a…cat?” The Taisho cat puppet living in the real human universe is so pathetically bad, up there with the pets.com dog puppet, that it’s really just rip-roaring to watch.
Part blaxploitation, part spaghetti Western and part chambara (samurai sword fighting film), AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION is all Japanese anime as Afro Samurai and his mudslide brother Ninja Ninja (both voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) are en route to find the holder of the second head band. In the wacky samurai world of Afro, whoever owns the second headband can challenge the holder of the first headband, and not before. The holder of the first headband is Sio (voice of Luck Liu), a deranged, sexy femme fatale trying to resurrect Afro’s dead father and use the father to kill Afro. What is engaging about the film is picking out the various Japanese samurai films that have perhaps influenced AFRO SAMURAI. Parallels from the LONE WOLF AND CUB, WICKED PRIEST and HANZO THE RAZOR series came to mind. But the one that even the director Leo Chu and producer Eric Garcia did not see, was that Ninja Ninja sounded like Donkey from the SHREK cartoons. Jackson undoubtedly “burro-ed” the voice to prod at Eddy Murphy’s Donkey character but did so without being an ass.
DETROIT METAL CITY, is Japan’s interpretation of over the top Fant-Asia ecstasy of action milieued into a surreal social environment of death metal and head bangers as Soichi (Ken’ichi Matsuyaama) accidentally goes into a music audition to sing songs about pop tarts and rainbows and get challenged by Gene Simmons to hell-spawn himself into dark music to destroy all bands. Will it be the KISS of death or the kiss of success?
The final SDAFF Extreme is for “surreal” a blood-gore fest for a feast at the festival full of frenetic and frantically fearful feeding frenzies as the title says it all, VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL. Filled with blood-lusting sucking vampires, a frazzled and freaky Frankenstein girl, hip hopping homicidal nurses, insanely insane mad scientists, and new and improved Japanese ways to disembowel and dismember puny humans, it’s just a simple but crazzzzy love story gone awry.
Lee Ann Kim, a first generation Korean American and the executive director of the San Diego Film Foundation, which she founded in 2000 with the Asian American Journalists Association of San Diego, talks about the challenges of doing the banner year 10th anniversary and why during such difficult economic times it was decided to go all out when film festivals globally are cutting back. “At the beginning of the year we had to make a decision,” Kim shares, “Doing a 10th anniversary with so many films and with the economy being so hard, we had to decide on whether we keep it small or go all out, balls to the wall. Although all the other festivals scaled back big time, we have a reputation and because this is our milestone year, the 10th year, we decided to go two weeks.”
Besides the SDAFF Extreme program what other ways are there to indulge yourself with the latest and coolest Asian cinemateque creations in horror, anime and more, at San Diego’s hippest film festival? If you thirst for more femme fatale vampire there is THIRST, a South Korean dark comedy about a priest turned vampire. Zatoichi returns to the big screen, or should I say Zatoichi-ette in the form of ICHI, an ERA (equal right amendment) version of the classic Japanese chambara film series Zatoichi. But instead of burning her bra like the women in the 1970s ERA movement, Ichi will be burning her opponents with some slice and dice, human vegematic swordswoman ship.
Oh yeah, beware of STRANGE BREW. Although it is the title of a very famous song, one of the Cream of the crop from the 70s, this is a collection of twisted tales from the cream of the crop shorts submitted to the festival. There’s also the southern California premiere of K-20, a Japanese fantasy actioner with a $20 million price tag that stars Takeshi Kaneshiro as Hikichi Endo who is approached by the mysterious K-20 to do a job that puts him in harms way where he must hunt down K-20, before the police gun down Hikichi. MUSHI-SHI is about a “bugcatcher” who heals victims of supernatural creatures, a character who could have been useful to the astronaut who discovers the truth about clones in the Japanese futuristic angst driven story THE CLONE RETURNS HOME.
Although the SDAFF is an international film festival with a yearly increase in non-Asian audiences, they have held on to their identity as an Asian Film Festival rather than switch their name as Kim offers a few parting words. “For me,” she beams with glee, “I really appreciate it when I walk into a film and see lot of non-Asians watching the films. Many people have asked me change the name of the festival, saying you can’t grow if you don’t change it to the International Film Festival. They feel that this is just for Asians, and I say not. I feel if I change the name we are giving in to what they want us to do. What is wrong with it being Asian? Asian encompasses such a vast amount of the world. I feel it is our purpose to open ourselves up to the largest community possible, because our mission is to connect them to a human experience, regardless of who you are or where you are from.”
For information in regard to the films, dates and times, how to get to the Ultrastar Cinemas Mission Valley Hazard Center where the films are being shown, and other cool stuff about the SDAFF please visit www.sdaff.org
Furthermore, for those who can’t get out to the festival, many of these Fant-Asia films are available for purchase at www.hkflix.com, as well are many of the martial arts films that are also being featured at the festival such as Donnie Yen’s YIP MAN and John Woo’s RED CLIFF, both films having their West Coast Premiere at the festival.  (Check out the Film Festival program guide for the complete martial arts film listing.) 
 Three final cool notes about the festival that are totally impressive: Perhaps a small thing, but I’ve noticed over the years that audiences often bring their own kinds of snacks into the films, now that is something you never see in movie theaters; this year the festival offers for the first time an interactive booth, where filmgoers can get a free “Qi Reading” for their health and well being; and a final important thing, each year the SDAFF raises awareness and supports worthy causes during the films’ screening, this year their causes being Water Conservation and the Fold a Prayer Cancer Awareness Campaign. Bravo, bravo and bravo.

The New York Ripper – Blu-ray Review

A film that fulfills both the positive and pejorative definitions of “sleaze,” Lucio Fulci’s THE NEW YORK RIPPER arrived – believe it or not – on Blu-Ray last week courtesy of the 21st century keepers of the exploitation flame, Blue Underground. The disc easily outstrips all previous foreign and domestic editions of the disc, and should be an essential purchase for fans of both the wildly uneven filmmaker and European exploitation of the ’70s and ’80s in general – for all others, here be dragons. The film is obscenely violent, sexually degrading, and bitterly misogynistic, but it has problems as well.
The story follows NYPD Detective Williams (featuring another staple of the genre, the slumming British thespian, personified here by Jack Hedley) as he tracks a serial killer who is brutally slashing women across Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry to a live sex show on 42nd St, all while speaking in a high pitched, duck-like voice. Williams reluctantly accepts the aid of a Columbia University psychiatrist, Dr. Davis (Paolo Malco) to help form a profile of the ripper, just as the maniac takes to calling Williams both at the station and at the home of his hooker/girlfriend, Kitty (Daniela Doria.) When young Fay Majors (the gorgeous Almanta Keller) survives a nighttime assault, she describes the killer as having a deformed hand – the very same man who was also at the scene of the sex show murder on the ‘duce (Renato Rossini, here billed as Howard Ross, an Italian exploitation fixture whose Tony Musante-looking mug and steely gaze can also be found in WEREWOLF WOMAN and THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE.) Once the man is identified as Mickey Scellenda – a two-bit punk with a history of sexual assault and an apartment literally filled with drugs and porn – he becomes the prime suspect; the pleas of Dr. Davis, who doesn’t believe that Scellenda fits his profile, are not enough to convince he police that they’ve got the wrong man, especially after Scellenda attacks Fay in her home during the abscence of her physician boyfriend Peter (Andrea Occhipinti, billed here as Andrew Painter, who went on to work with Fulci again in 1983’s CONQUEST only to learn what real on-screen humiliation means the next year in John Derek’s snore fest ode to wife Bo, BOLERO).
Glanced at objectively, THE NEW YORK RIPPER is a careless mess of a thriller. While the film nominally carries on the tradition of the Italian giallo, a genre whose name comes from the lurid yellow covers that graced the crime and thriller paperbacks on which the films drew their inspiration, it’s also very abusive of the genre’s founding principles, throwing the trace elements of grace and logic out the window in favor of a tour of humanity’s gutter. While there were certainly great giallos being made featuring strong elements of violence and sex (see Sergio Martino’s TORSO) they were made with a degree of care and artistry that is wholly missing here. Fulci earned his paycheck aboring on Italian fart comedies and nondescript westerns before a creative spark and the script for DON”T TORTURE A DUCKING arrived simultaneously in 1972 producing a taught suspense yarn containing actual eroticism rather than simply copious amounts of T&A. Fulci’s real breakthrough would come in 1979 with the vivid, gut-munching undead epic, ZOMBI. What began as a DAWN OF THE DEAD rip off morphed into an outright horror classic, with Fulci exhibiting a firm control of his Technovision frame, and boasting an uneasy, dread-fueled pace and the outrageous gore effects of longtime Fulci collaborator Gino De Rossi.
Fulci found himself the toast of the exploitation world and struck while the iron was still hot with the New England-gothic infused CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. In between those two came THE BEYOND, probably the director’s finest hour in any artistic sense, mixing his familiar doses of sexuality and violence but bolstered with a haunting, ethereal quality that seemed to indicate the beginning of an exciting new phase of his career.
THE NEW YORK RIPPER certainly signaled a new era for Fulci, but after the release of four noteworthy films, this effort felt like the work of a desperate magician whose hand had reached into the sticky bottom of the tricks bag. The film is artless, ugly, deeply cynical, and it proudly displays a misogynistic attitude that is utterly breathtaking. At the head of the pack of WTF moments is the head scratching decision to have the killer taunt his victims and the police with a grade-school Donald Duck impression that is neither scary nor funny and nearly takes the mickey out of the otherwise effective murder sequences (even if there is a justification revealed late in the film.)
And good Lord, what sequences! De Rossi’s makeup team worked overtime to devise what have to be among the most grisly onscreen deaths ever seen, from the business end of a broken whisky bottle delivered angrily to a sex performer’s privates to an agonizingly slow razor blade death (featuring one ultra-disturbing shot of the actress staring in horror directly into the camera, almost as if she were pleading with Fulci to stop the scene).
 That nearly all the film’s violent deaths are reserved for women is nothing new in the annals of horror history, but accusations of Fulci’s reported dislike of women can find no easier purchase than this film. Whether it’s the pathologist reporting that one victim had a knife “rammed up her joy trail” (thank you Dr. Giggles!) or the profoundly unappealing Det. Williams’ casually degrading treatment of both his own girlfriend and the husband of a ripper victim who was murdered during a motel room tryst. We’re not the least bit surprised to see a cop in a Fulci film flinch at the notion of an open marriage, but watching Williams strongly imply that she got just what she deserved while her grieving husband is on the verge of tears always catches us off guard.
Anyone even remotely familiar with genre conventions will know whom to instantly rule out as a suspect, as well as spot the real killer about ten seconds after they appear onscreen. Still, there is lip service paid to the notion of a ‘who done it’ – enough to keep the picture at least technically in giallo territory. But in Fulci’s world, unlikely coincidence reigns as the supreme story element; the mysterious man with the deformed hand appears at the scene of so many sexual assaults in the greater metropolitan area that you wonder why the police don’t simply follow him around! A search of his apartment (located in the Same Chelsea building that contained at least one of the area’s notorious S&M leather bars – you half-expect him to run into Al Pacino while shooting CRUISING) turns up a king’s ransom in pornographic magazines, shots of oiled bodybuilders, at least a dozen syringes, a penis-shaped hash pipe, and the coup de grace, a theatrical poster-sized print of himself – naked – pressed up against a giant image of Marilyn Monroe.
However, it’s these very outrageous elements that confirm the film’s status as a cult favorite (not for nothing is the screenplay credit buried halfway through the end crawl). There’s a scent of rapidly fading glory that permeates RIPPER and informs our appreciation almost 30 years later. Fulci (who cameos as a vague NYPD authority figure) was still regarded as an exciting filmmaker on a rapid rise up the exploitation food chain, but post-RIPPER his career nosedived into a mix of embarrassing trash that would make Jess Franco take an Alan Smithee credit (SODOM’S GHOST) or sad, faint echoes of prior glories (VOICES FROM BEYOND.)
One pleasure that does grow stronger in retrospect is the unprecedented tour of the fleshpits and grindhouses in and around 42nd St. THE NEW YORK RIPPER’s Manhattan has changed quite a bit since Italian directors like Fulci and Enzo Castellari scuttled about the island, using its natural grime and urban decay as gratis art and set decoration. It’s also hard not to get a little wistful at the numerous shots of the World Trade Center towers, reminding us of how often filmmakers used them as a means of instantly fixing a location. We’re still trying to figure out exactly where Det. Williams’ apartment actually is, with its distinctive circular fire escape (poor Hedley seems like he’s on the verge of cardiac arrest after climbing to the top floor), and those familiar with Greenwich Village will note that Peter and Fay’s apartment is located in the bucolic Grove Court, making for a surprisingly good match with the Rome-shot interiors. Of course, the city has changed quite a bit since then (a fact lovingly documented on a new extra on the new Blu-Ray edition) and how amazing is it that a loose team of Italian exploitation artisans would wind up as the prime chroniclers of New York’s bleakest 20th century period?
Very few low budget European films of this vintage were shot with live sound, particularly those with the sort of extensive location filming that THE NEW YORK RIPPER showcases. The bigger British and American stars were almost always contracted to provide their own voices during the dubbing process (as Richard Johnson had done in Fulci’s ZOMBI a few years earlier), but apparently Jack Hedley was not considered a big enough star to make it worth going outside the usual pool of voice over talent. Hedley’s résumé consisted largely of small roles in large productions (he appears in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA as the reporter outside St Paul’s and a has a featured role in the Bond picture FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), and it’s unlikely that schlepping permit-less around New York for Lucio Fulci did much for his subsequent career. It doesn’t help that ‘Detective Williams’ is one of the most unlikeable protagonists in eurosleaze history (a huge statement), whose character building moments consists mostly of stress smoking and calling his prostitute girlfriend a “stupid bitch”. Much better is Paolo Malco – a minor genre staple in the early ’80s who already appeared for Fulci the previous year in HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and for Sergio Martino in SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS – whose Columbia professor is far more sympathetic (even though Fulci tries to pull the rug out from under him as well by showing him secretly buying gay porn mags from a newsstand – a hateful no-no in the director’s oddly Catholic world view).
Blue Underground presents THE NEW YORK RIPPER in a staggering 1080p image on the newest edition to their Blu-Ray catalog. Long consigned to the domain of fuzzy VHS bootlegs, the film was previously available domestically on a non-anamorphic (and out of print) DVD edition from Anchor Bay, which presented the uncut version in the US for the first time. The amount of detail revealed here will be a revelation to fans, occasionally even revealing some EFX makeup inconsistencies that had always escaped us. The image might be a bit too bright at times, though this could also be due to flat lighting playing havoc with inexpensive Technovision lenses. The negative also has instances of dirt that show up just often enough to remind you what a miracle it is that this nearly 30-year-old, low-budget Italian offering has no business looking as good as it does here.
As if the image upgrade wasn’t enough reason to quack like a duck, there are two new featurettes (presented in HD, no less.) Aside from the aforementioned “NYC Locations Then and Now short,” there is also a brief interview with actress Zora Kerova, who played the female half of the couple performing the live sex show.

The Grudge 3 – DVD Review

Remember how scared you were when you first saw THE GRUDGE? Want to feel that way again? Well, it’s a good thing home video allows you to pop the 2004 film in the DVD player, because watching THE GRUDGE 3 is not going to invoke any of the atmospheric, irrational thrills you recollect from the older movie. In fact, THE GRUDGE 3 – a low-budget, direct-to-video sequel shot in Bulgaria – is such a dismally spiritless affair that it almost seems deliberately designed to make the disappointing THE GRUDGE 2 look good by comparison.
In case you don’t remember the ending of the aforementioned GRUDGE 2 (and really, why would you want to?), it relocated the action to Chicago with the obvious intention of setting up future sequels that could abandon the Japanese origins of the story. Living up (or down) to that unpromising premise, GRUDGE 3 is set entirely in Chicago except for one brief scene in Japan that introduces us to Naoko (Emi Ikehata), who in the grand tradition of pointless revelations turns out to be the unlikely sister of Kayako, the angry spirit responsible for the lethal “grudge.”
The great thing about the JU-ON films (the Japanese originals on which THE GRUDGE was based, particularly 2003’s JU-ON: THE GRUDGE) was the way that writer-director Takashi Shimizu abandoned traditional plot structure, offering a series of vignettes that tied together like a twisted tapestry, avoiding the exposition, characterization, and plot mechanics over which so many horror films stumble. THE GRUDGE 3 abandons this lesson in favor of telling a story about an apartment building where the manager is slowly turning homicidal thanks to a ghostly influence; in effect, it has as much in common with THE AMITYVILLE HORROR as THE GRUDGE.
Fortunately for our American victims, after sitting out the events of the previous two films (six, if you count the four Japanese JU-ON titles), Naoko has finally decided it’s time to take action and put her sister’s restless spirit down for good. Why the change of heart? Apparently, as long as Kayako was limited to Japan, it was okay, but it’s a shame on the family for the ghost to be messing with Americans overseas.
What is Naoko going to do? Perform an exorcism, that’s what. This undermines the overwhelming terror of the orignal JU-ON/THE GRUDGE concept – which was that the curse was unstoppable; one you were exposed to it, your fate was sealed. It also moves the already conventional story in an even more conventional direction, with a stranger riding into town to solve the problem.
This disappointing scenario was written, surprisingly enough, by Brad Keene, who scripted two of the best entries in the annual After Dark Hororfest. You really would be better off watching either FROM WITHIN (2008) or THE GRAVEDANCERS (2006). Presumably, executive interference undid him here.
Keene’s writing certainly wasn’t helped by Toby Wilkins’ direction. Having helmed a few “Tales of the Grudge” webisodes to promote THE GRUDGE 2, Wilkins does a poor job of stepping into the director’s shoes. The omnipresent dread that filled Takashi Shimizu’s JU-ON and GRUDGE films is missing from THE GRUDGE 3, replaced with the cliches of bad American horror movies. Even worse, the uncanny, irrational scares have been abandoned in favor of cruder shocks, including a few moments of gratuitous gore. Completely ineffective, these bloody moments merely underline how desperate the director is to deliver anything approaching a scare.
The cast of is mostly forgettable. Genre names Shawnee Smith (SAW) and Marina Sirits (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) show up just long enough to get killed off. Aiko Horiuchi, replacing Takako Fuji as Kayako, does a passable imitation, but newcomer Shimba Tsuchiya is too old to play ghost-boy Toshio, who has been recast  twice previously to prevent the character from aging on screen. It’s a sign of how careless the custodians of the franchise have become that such an obvious mistake was allowed to slip through.
Perhaps the most perplexing cinematic mystery of the new millenium is why and how Ghosthouse Productions (Sam Raimi’s horror-oriented production company) managed to run their GRUDGE franchise into the depths of the direct-to-video abyss so quickly, going from a blockbuster hit (THE GRUDGE) to a disappointing theatrical sequel (THE GRUDGE 2) to a total DTV disaster (THE GRUDGE 3) in just three easy steps. Really, they couldn’t have failed any more badly, or any faster, if they had tried. (Maybe someone from the Bush administration is working for them?)
Of course, even popular trends can fade fast, and America’s J-Horror remakes and sequels have been waning for awhile now, so it’s tempting to theorize that Ghost House is merely the victim of fading audience interest in a genre that has lost the ectoplasmic power to spook. Has J-Horror given up the ghost? Perhaps.
Or perhaps not. Two new JU-ON sequels made their debut in Japan last month, JU-ON: SHIROI ROJO (“The Grudge: The Old Lady in White”) and JU-ON: KUROI SHOJO (“The Grudge: The Girl in Black”). JU-ON writer-director Takashi Shimizu merely supervised these follow-ups, but the deliciously creepy trailer suggest that the angry spirits of Japanese horror films still have a few scares left in them.
THE GRUDGE 3(2009, direct to video). Directed by Toby Wilkins. Written by Brad Keene, based on characters created by Takashi Shimizu. Cast: Matthew Knight, Shawnee Smith, Mike Straub, Aiko Horiuchi, Shimba Tsuchiya, Emi Ikehata, Takatsuna Mukai, Johanna Braddy, Marina Sirtis.

Friday the 13th (2009) – "Killer Cut" Blu-ray Review

It’s a testament to the outrageous lengths that New Line Pictures had taken the FRIDAY THE 13TH series after acquiring the rights to the Jason character from Paramount, that there was nowhere to go but back to the beginning. JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY transformed the summer camp-lurking mass murderer into a non-corporeal life form that takes possession of various bodies via a dark, viscous fluid. JASON X found Jason, unable to be executed using conventional means, being awoken from cryogenic stasis 500 years in the future by students on a science expedition from humanity’s new home, Earth 2. And the self explanatory JASON VS. FREDDY had New Line showcasing their two top in-house horror icons in a battle royale with each other, in a largely successful attempt to renew interest in both sagging franchises. Jason had long since become a bit of a joke, little more than a delivery platform for the creative output of makeup FX designers. It hadn’t mattered for a long time whether or not he had motivation for killing, or even if he was actually human; screenwriters twisted the legend like Silly Putty in order to suit the latest outrageous adventure.
In 2003, the same year that the case of Jason vs. Freddy was heard in cinemas, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company released its debut effort – a commercial-slick remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The company’s unofficial mission statement has it dredging up our ’70s horror heritage and purchasing remake rights whenever available, and as unappealing as this sounded, their Chainsaw remake wasn’t all that bad. While the young cast seemed like little more than a bunch of WB starlets filling up their summer hiatus (though we enjoy leering at Jessica Biel as much as the next fella) and it had to stoop to gore and extended scenes of torture to move its audience where the original relied on atmosphere and inference, original cinematographer Daniel Pearl returned to beautifully ease his sun-blasted, 16mm classic into the 21st Century tent of Michael Bay World, and whoever thought of bringing in R. Lee Ermey (whose character was a relatively new invention) deserves major praise.  A string of less successful remakes followed: a grim version of The Hitcher and a deadly dull Amityville Horror remake, wasting a too-young Ryan Reynolds in a role that he could have hit out of the park a few years down the road, were universally panned but smartly marketed (even the ultra-dopey Chainsaw prequel made a profit.)
It was probably inevitable that Platinum Dunes would set its sights on Friday the 13th as a remake-friendly project; for better or worse, it’s got one of the most iconic killers in horror film history and enormous name recognition, and the various films in the series are also notable for having little or no plot, and, frankly, when it was bad (and it was bad pretty often) it circled the nadir of modern horror. This all to say that we approached the recent remake – helmed by Marcus Nispel, late of Platinum Dunes’ Texas Chainsaw reboot – with as open a mind as is possible.

What’s good?

Unfortunately, one common factor in the Friday cannon is pretty bland cinematography. Things got more interesting once the series shifted to New Line (particularly Ronny Yu’s beautiful shot Freddy vs. Jason) but there’s something wrong when even the spaceship-set Jason X is shot as blandly as a Sci-Fi original series. Nispel made his bones in the commercial & music video world where his work is rightfully acclaimed. His Friday the 13th is richly colored, with deep forest hues creating a nicely creepy atmosphere.
We also liked the approach that the screenwriters took when it came to which aspects of the series would be carried over; we get some of the creepy, mongoloid Jason from the first film (though only in the “Killer Cut”, but more on that later). We get some of the canvas bag-wearing Jason from Part II (the most frightening, in our opinion) and, of course, the ubiquitous hockey mask.
Nispel is also quite good at creating suspenseful set-pieces, particularly a very disturbing kill early on involving a sleeping bag and a bear trap. We also liked the opening gambit involving what can best be described as a decoy group of hikers, which leads us to…
What’s not so good? (Spoilers ahoy)
The film opens on a group of kids who unknowingly tread onto Jason’s turf while looking for a magical forest of marijuana (not kidding.) It is a bit shocking when nearly the entire group is killed off after 20 minutes and we get the title card, which was a nice touch.
The problem is that the second group – gathered for a weekend party at the luxury cabin of ultra douche bag, Trent (Travis Van Winkle) – is far less interesting than the first group. Stopping off for supplies, they meet Clay (Jared Padalecki, from the WB’s Supernatural) who’s searching for his missing sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti) who had been among the first group. Also along for the weekend are fun-loving Nolan (a Mathew McConaughey lookalike), his girlfriend Chelsea (Willa Ford), the slutty Bree (Julianna Guill) and, for the sake of racial diversity, Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta) and Chewie (Aaron Yoo).
The inclusion of the latter two perfectly represents the fatuous notion behind too many studio decisions, which allow marketing reports to trump realistic casting decisions. And, though this might fall under the ‘personal preference’ column, we strongly disliked the notion of underground tunnels running beneath Crystal Lake. Now, maybe we missed the scene where the existence of these was explained, but unless there was a large precious mineral find in the Crystal Lake area, their presence seems highly suspect. Its obvious purpose was to give Jason’s seemingly miraculous comings and goings a practical explanation, but it doesn’t do much for Jason’s mythic status to imagine him carefully scaling up and down decades-old mining company ladders (and come to think of it, wouldn’t this just take up more time than less?) It also allows for a dungeon of sorts in which Jason can keep Whitney captive – an odd, unusual plot point that simply does not fit in the Friday world. This dubious machination comes courtesy of director Nispel, for whom its inclusion was the only requirement in screenplay submissions.
There are doubtlessly fans who love the notion of Jason setting the sort of elaborate booby traps that would make Wile E. Coyote jealous, but we always felt that his presence was most terrifying when he was just a garden variety, mass-murdering backwoods mongoloid without an ACME charge account.


New Line’s Blu-Ray is quite lovely to look at, featuring deep, inky blacks that really bring out the woodsy atmosphere. The color scheme is a bit more muted than some might expect, but that was clearly the intent of the original cinematography and reproduced faithfully here.
There’s a 9 minute difference between the theatrical version and the “Killer Cut” on DVD and Blu-Ray. It appears to be mostly a matter of scene extensions, with several gorier kills (particularly the aforementioned sleeping bag scene) and quite a bit of added nudity, which significantly extends the screen time of Julianna Guill and her breasts. There are also a few isolated moments with Jason, including a shot of him sharpening his machete that was included in the trailer but dropped from the theatrical cut, and a few glimpses of him witnessing the beheading of his mother in the opening scene, which reenacts the conclusion of the original film. (Sharp-eyed fane of Deep Space Nine will recognize Nana Visitor as Mrs. Voorhees.) The makeup on young Jason in this scene is kind of silly, and it was probably a smart cut.
The disc also features 3 additional scenes, including an alternate version of the moment where Jason first finds his hockey mask that is demonstrably better than what wound up in the film.
The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees discusses the work that went into the redesign of Jason for 2009, including clothing, makeup and masks.
Exclusive to Blu-Ray are Hacking Back/Slashing Forward, which is little more than the cast and crew talking about how much love and respect they have for the original film, along with a collection of seven mini-featurettes on the death scenes.
Making up for the absence of an audio commentary is something called a Terror Trivia Track which runs concurrently with the film.