Laserblast: Jason lives on DVD – again

This year the remake stars finally aligned and the Michael Bay-produced remake of Friday the 13th opens nationally on, fittingly, Friday, February 13th. Cashing in on the free publicity, Paramount has re-released the first 3 Friday films from the ’80s on DVD, with the original also getting a Bluray release. There is also a new documentary and a box set of “Jason” sequels produced at New Line Cinema after aquiring the character from Paramount.  Paramount has previously released their Friday titles on individual DVDs, in two-movie sets, and in a large box set (the first release to include any value-added content). What makes the new release of the original special is that it represents America’s first chance to see the film in its complete, unrated version, restoring roughly 10 seconds of bloodshed. We had so much to say on the topic that our comments have been sliced off into a separate stand-alone review of the film and its new incarnation on Bluray disc, which you can read here. For the rest, read on below…
Friday The 13th: Part 2: Deluxe Edition (Paramount DVD)
Paramount hadn’t even finished counting the profits from Friday the 13th when a sequel was ordered. The directing chores for Part II went to Steve Miner who had worked for Cunningham as an editor as far back as Last House on the Left, and apparently Paramount liked what they saw, because Miner remained on board for the third installment as well. Though of less historical import than the original, 1981’s Friday the 13th Part II is actually superior in many ways; the production budget was significantly higher allowing for more shooting time, a larger cast, and a generally more polished look. Since we all saw Mrs. Voorhees decapitated at the end of the previous installment, a new killer was found in her not-really-drowned-after-all son, Jason. The ‘Jason dream’ was a last minute addition to the first film to give it a Carrie-style closing moment shock and never with the intention to hand the reigns over to him as the killer in a subsequent film, but the idea that a fully grown monster would be looking to kill anyone in the area that reminds him of the young girl that killed his mother makes for a nice reverse dovetail with his mother’s revenge motive in the first film. And since Jason wouldn’t get his ubiquitous hockey mask until Part III, the producers decided to hide his hideously deformed visage under a burlap sack for the majority of the film. I’ve not heard too many comments on exactly how much more frightening this particular image is than the aforementioned mask; it lends Jason a raw, backwoods savagery that is missing from the rest of the series (it’s likely that the idea came from the real-life mass murderer depicted in Charles B Pierce’s southern fried docudrama The Town that Dreaded Sundown).
Speaking of idea theft, the film’s bravura moment – when Jason simultaneously dispatches a lovemaking couple – is also “borrowed” from Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve. The philosophy of Part II seems to be ‘more of the same, in higher quantity’: more kids, more kills, more nudity, etc. Unfortunately, the MPAA had the final say and much of the blood hit the cutting room floor to secure an ‘R’ rating, and unlike the Friday the 13th deluxe edition, nothing had been restored to the new DVD (it’s possible that the deleted footage from this, along with all the Paramount Fridays, has been lost). Picture-wise, the new DVD appears to be the same transfer used on the previous edition, and save for a multi-million dollar, “call in Robert Harris” restoration, this is just about the best that the title will look in standard definition. Extras include “Inside Crystal Lake,” an interview with “Crystal Lake Memories” author Peter M Bracke. “Friday’s Legacy: Horror Conventions” is exactly what it sounds like – more panel discussions. “Tales from Camp Blood-Part II” is a continuation of the same baffling short found on the Friday the 13th disc, and there is another lengthy panel discussion from a horror convention, “Jason Forever.”
Friday The 13th: Part 3 – 3D Deluxe Edition (Paramount DVD)
The very next year, Paramount lowered the bucket into the well once again for a third go-round, this time with the added attraction of 3D. The early ’80s saw the emergence of numerous unusual trends in the entertainment biz, but few were as unusual as the brief resurgence of 3D films. Dismissed as a fad in the ’50s, only the occasional genre title like The Stewardesses in ’71 appeared to remind people of the memorable gimmick. Comin’ at Ya!, an Italian-made western is generally credited with restarting the trend in 1981 by comin’ at exhibitors with an inexpensive-to-show 3D process that wound up grossing a tidy sum against its low budget. In very short order came Parasite, Metalstorm, Treasure of the Four Crowns, and several major-studio genre efforts like Jaws 3D and Amityville 3D for a slice of the profits. Friday the 13th Part III 3D proves why horror movies have always best utilized the process: of all genres, horror films will traditionally have the least amount of shame in regards to 3D presentation. The recent 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine is a perfect example of application and technique, and though Valentine’s 3D process is light years ahead of what was being used in the early ’80s, the makers of Friday the 13th Part 3 also knew how to have fun with it. Scene after scene throws everything imaginable at the screen, from eyeballs to spear guns to errant Jiffy Pop kernels – all to superb effect. Jason himself would pick up more than just his famous hockey mask in this installment, as the third film showed the character moving beyond being merely a murderous mongoloid into something supernatural, surviving dozens upon dozens of mortal wounds. The series lost something here; audiences stopped rooting for the victims and began rooting for Jason himself – faceless mayhem wins out over actual human feeling. This isn’t to say that the Friday films were the only perpetrations, but I never witnessed cheering for Michael Myers. The new DVD release does contain one very special feature: a 3D version of the film (with two sets of logo-embossed glasses) is included along with the standard, 2D edition, featuring what seems like the same transfer as the previous editions. The 3D effect is decent enough – and gets better depending on the size of the monitor – but it can be a bit headache-inducing if viewed for extended periods.
New Line Jason Slasher Collection (New Line DVD)
Nothing new here, just a box set of the 3 previously-released films produced by New Line after acquiring rights to the Jason character: Jason Goes to Hell, Jason X, and Jason vs. Freddy. The discs, image, and extras are identical to the previous DVD editions. You’re unlikely to find horror fans without a solid opinion on these films, one way or the other: some feel that they’re little more than over-produced cash-ins, devoid of what popularized the character in the first place; others are happy for the new blood injected into a series that was growing stale on the Paramount lot. Jason Goes to Hell is the closest in structure to a traditional Friday film, retaining the familiar setting, and Jason vs. Freddy is certainly the most handsomely produced film of either series with Hong Kong ace Ronny Yu at the helm. Sometimes we feel like that only person who liked Jason X, which might as well change its name to “The One in Space;” if there’s a scene half as clever as the one where the crew of the ship try to distract Jason by placing him in a virtual Crystal Lake (circa 1980, hairstyles and all), I haven’t seen it. If you haven’t already invested – and you have more than a passing interest in the series – it’s an extraordinary value.
His Name Was Jason: 2 Disc Splatter Edition (Starz/Anchor Bay DVD).
The centerpiece of this expansive release is a feature-length documentary on the Friday the 13th phenomenon, which also features numerous mini-docus on the actors who’ve played Jason over the years, along with the directors and screenwriters, in addition to more than a half-dozen other featurettes. The completist will find much of interest here, but one can’t help the feeling that much of this should have been presented as supplemental features on disc for actual Friday films.
Assault on Precinct 13: Restored Collector’s Edition (Image Bluray/DVD)
John Carpenter’s first real artistic statement after the student film, Dark Star, Assault is a near perfect example of a stripped-down, lean exploitation film directed with style and wit by a filmmaker schooled in the past but with both eyes trained on the future. Cherry picking elements from Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, Carpenter’s film finds Ethan Bishop (a magnetic performance by Austin Stoker) getting command of an L.A. precinct the evening before it will be closed down forever. With only a skeleton crew on board to answer phones and direct people to the new location, a man staggers into the station after killing a gang member who had murdered his young daughter. Within moments, the station (actually Precinct 9, Division 13) is under siege from the rest of the gang. Cut off from outside aid, and refusing to hand the man over to the gang, Bishop turns to prisoner Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) for help in defending the crumbling station. Carpenter lays his cards on the table during the opening credits, by giving himself the editor pseudonym “John T. Chance”, which was John Wayne’s character in Rio Bravo. Assault is, at its heart, more than just an homage to westerns, but a breakdown of their very essence made at a time when the genre was in deep public disfavor. Filmed in long, slow, deliberate takes to make the most out of the insanely limited 20 day shooting schedule, the show never drags, and watching Carpenter create a tension-filled action scene with little but flying debris and the ‘snip…snip’ sound effect of silenced automatic weapons is exhilarating. This new edition of Assault arrives on both DVD and Bluray this week sporting a new high def transfer which we are very much looking forward to getting our grubby mitts on. We assume that the commentary is the same one recorded ages ago by the director (how long ago? It was originally for the Laserdisc release) but it’s still fun to hear how appalled he is by the leisurely pacing. Assault on Precinct 13 was the warm-up for Halloween, and the makings of Carpenter’s visual vocabulary are well on display. Highly recommended.
Brainstorm: Deluxe Edition (Warner Bros DVD)
An interesting Sci-Fi effort that would unfortunately be forever linked to the drowning death of star Natalie Wood. Filmed in 1982 at Duke University, the film stars Christopher Walken (long before entering into the knowing, self-mockery phase that he seems stuck in now), Louise Fletcher (back when her Cuckoo’s Nest Oscar could still open studio doors), the always dependable Cliff Robertson, and the luminous Miss Wood. The second directorial effort of special effects master Douglas Trumbull following 1972’s Silent Running, Brainstorm uses extremely convincing electronic machinery to convey a device through which one individual can transmit senses remotely – everything that the wearer of the device sees, feels, hears, etc., can be transmitted directly to another person or even recorded onto a special tape. For scientist Dr. Brice (Walken) it’s also a window unto himself when he experiences the memories of estranged wife Karen (Wood) which include all the tense domestic moments that led to their separation. Things turn south when a scientist on the project suffers a fatal heart attack, and manages to record the experience, convincing the powers that be that the device has some decidedly juicy military applications. Brainstorm was meant to christen an expensive new IMAX-like process (seen in the ‘brainstorm’ sequences, which appear much sharper than the rest of the film because they were filmed in 70mm at a higher frame rate) but after sitting on the shelf for 2 years following the death of Natalie Wood, the studio was no longer interesting in making a heavy investment in new technology. We may be no closer to the sort of technological breakthrough seen in the film, but Trumbull manages to wrangle a difficult-to-sell concept, and with the help of a fine cast, give it some emotional resonance. The packaging of Warner Bros new DVD of Brainstorm labels it as a “Remastered Edition” that preserves the multiple aspect ratios of the theatrical showings, and it will be a treat to see this film on a decent sized monitor. Of all the films that get drudged up for a remake, redoing Brainstorm in IMAX 3D would actually make sense.
Also appearing this week:

  • Dragonslayer: I Love the ’80s Edition
  • Five (Sony DVD)
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 14 (Shout Factory DVD)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (Unrated, 2007) on Bluray
  • Oliver and Company 20th Anniversary Edition
  • Paura – Lucio Fulci Remembered, Vol 1
  • Space Buddies
  • The Wiz 30th Anniversary Edition
  • Xanadu

Friday the 13th – Bluray Review

Has it really been nearly 30 years since Friday the 13th came out? If, in 1980, you had asked me to watch a film from 1950, I’d probably have wondered why you were forcing such an old movie on me. Maybe Friday doesn’t seem that old because I actually saw it in a theater during its initial release. Now, I couldn’t tell you how it came to pass that I actually managed to convinced my father to take me: I was way, way too young to fake my own way into an R-rated movie – perhaps he was under the impression that it was a modern spin on “10 Little Indians,” but it’s more likely that he simply didn’t know anything about it at all and I had been badgering the poor man to take me ever since seeing the first ads on TV. And what ads they were – who can forget the memorable ‘body count’ trailer that was later adapted into television spots? In NY it seemed like the ad played on channels 5, 9, and 11 around the clock; I was already flirting with disaster by staying up on Saturday nights watching Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, and seeing that ad during the breaks had me absolutely petrified with fear – and things didn’t get any easier in the theater. Even now, while driving by a heavily wooded area, I think back on poor, doomed Annie’s flight from the unseen killer after an unwise attempt to hitchhike to her new job at Camp Crystal Lake. I wasn’t much of an outdoors-man back then, but after that fateful matinee in 1980, I’ve managed to successfully avoid being in any sort of camping or hiking situation. I absolutely cowered in my seat, afraid to look at the screen or admit defeat and leave the theater (an offer that was made several times by my parent and guardian). Does that make Friday the 13th a masterpiece? Nope – but it’s damn effective, and that’s enough.
After failing to recapture his early success producing Last House on the Left by directing a pair of ill-advised family comedies (the just-above-execrable Manny’s Orphans and Here Come the Tigers) Sean S. Cunningham decided to return to familiar territory with another horror tale. Halloween had proved how lucrative the genre could be for a low-budget picture that was smartly advertised and slickly presented, and in true exploitation tradition – without money, cast, or even a script – Cunningham placed a striking ad in Variety for “The most terrifying movie ever made” featuring bold block letters shattering through a pane of glass and spelling out “Friday the 13th.” In short order, he had investors lined up and a script written by Victor Miller that took a more maternal outlook on the traditional killer, giving the film a relatively unique twist in its closing moments. The story follows a group of teens attempting to re-open a long-closed summer camp that is rumored to have a “death curse” ever since the drowning of a young boy several years previous; the camp counselors are killed off in graphic fashion until only one remains to see the face and learn the motive of the murderer. Filming took place at an actual Boy Scout camp in New Jersey, giving the production access to lots of young, hungry, and (except for Betsy Palmer) mostly unknown acting talent in nearby New York, including the fetching Adrienne King as the virginal “final girl” Alice; Bing Crosby’s son, Harry, as future archery target, Bill,\: and a 22 year old Kevin Bacon as Jack, who doesn’t check under the bed.
While filming on a shoestring budget in the middle of Jersey, it’s a safe bet that the notion of creating a franchise that is still going strong three decades hence didn’t occur to anyone, least of all its director. Cunningham’s reputation as a genre producer in the Roger Corman mold is secure, but directing isn’t his strong suit; the success of Friday got him a more prestigious directing gig adapting Mary Higgins Clark’s suspenseful A Stranger is Watchinginto a tepid mess a few years later. But Cunningham kept to a very simple filming style on Friday, relying heavily on a stalking, subjective camera simulating the killer’s viewpoint. But the final key to Friday’s success was composer Harry Manfredini’s iconic musical score, featuring the indelible “ki, ki, ki, ma, ma, ma”, whispered throughout the score and inspired, according to Manfredini, from Mrs. Voorhees repeating “kill her, mommy…kill her!” during the conclusion (though what remains is a near libelous lift from Hermann’s Psychoscore). And while that conclusion along with its last act reveal might seem trite and overly familiar today, it played beautifully before the horror market was over-saturated with out-of-left-field twist endings (thank you, Sleepaway Camp).
Though often cited as the tipping point for the modern “body count”-style horror movie, it was far from the first. Cunningham was smart enough to steal from the best, namely Mario Bava’s 1971 Twitch of the Death Nerve – a film to which Friday’sfirst sequel would owe an even bigger debt. Bava’s violent thriller was basically a chamber mystery – revolving around a pricey parcel of land and the motley crew of fortune-seekers that assemble to vie for its inheritance (which itself is an extension of what Bava began 7 years earlier in Blood and Black Lace, setting a black-gloved killer loose in an Italian fashion house) – that reveled in the method of murder over motive. I’ve sat through Twitch at least twice and I’d be hard pressed to tell you much about the plot; what I do remember are the inventive and graphic (for the time) murders, which generated some unusually negative press for the acclaimed director.* This is particularly true of a section that has a group of twenty-somethings drop in near the estate for some general teen-type partying. This passage always had a different vibe from the rest of the film – almost as if spliced in from another movie – but it’s this segment that marks the true beginning of the modern slasher film.
Friday the 13th’s attractive cast is also genuinely like-able; not that the characters are memorably written (bluntly put, they were written to be killed), but the actor’s performances are effective. After a 1958 prolog in which two counselors at a seemingly thriving Camp Crystal Lake are murdered during a make-out session, we flash forward to the “present day” (present in this case being 1980) and meet Annie, an attractive young girl hitchhiking her way to a job at the very same camp, about to reopen for a new season after several abortive attempts over the previous 20 years. After shrugging off the warnings of locals in a diner that anyone attempting to reopen the camp will be “doomed,” Annie continues on and accepts a ride for the final leg of the trip from an unseen driver of a Jeep. Now, you don’t have to have seen the movie to know that Annie’s life expectancy clock has hit the under 5-min mark; in fact, she doesn’t even make it to the camp! In the typical modern horror movie, female characters almost always fall into one of two categories: supermodel hot or eyeglass-wearing bookworm that eventually takes off her glasses to reveal – a supermodel. Annie is played by actress Robbi Morgan, an attractive, curly-haired brunette (probably no older than 19 when the film was shot) who appears very much the normal girl. Perky, a bit tomboyish (in a non-sexually intimidating way) and utterly believable in a flannel shirt and backpack on her way to a summer job, we’re instantly engaged and feel a genuine affection for her, making her inevitable fate surprisingly tragic. The waif-like WB castoffs that typically populate horror films today seem even more plastic by comparison, weighing down every scene with phony ennui that can only come from having a cadre of assistants constantly telling you how tough your job is.
Equally strong is Adrienne King as Alice, pigeonholed after the film’s release as the archetypal ‘final girl’, a term proposed by feminist authors in the ’80s to support the notion that the men who wrote and directed these films thought of most women as either virgins or whores, with the latter deserving of a grisly end, elevating a single girl – typically both virginal and somewhat masculine, conforming to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode in the original Halloween – to survive and face the killer. Though Alice is somewhat dowdy in comparison to her fellow counselors, it’s sexism of a different color to assume that she’s a virgin simply because she doesn’t sleep with Kevin Bacon or tie the tails of her oxford shirt over her bellybutton. Alice is in the midst of an affair with one man when the film begins, and doesn’t flinch at the suggestion of strip Monopoly. Empathy is what’s important here, and King is particularly good at allowing the audience in, even as the cinematography puts us in the place of the killer.
The completed film was picked up for distribution by Paramount Pictures, who invested heavily in its advertising and were rewarded with both a huge moneymaker, and a string of sequels that could each be counted on to bring in many times its meager budget before finally losing the character (and Cunningham) to New Line in the ’90s. Though New Line could have continued to use the Jason character as much as they wanted, the participation of Paramount would be required to use the very marketable title, and this year the remake stars finally aligned and the Michael Bay-produced remake of Friday the 13th opens nationally on, fittingly, Friday, February 13th.
Kicking up a bit of publicity, Paramount has re-released the first 3 films in the series on DVD, with the original also getting a Bluray release. Now, Paramount has already put out DVDs of the series individually, in two-movie sets, and in a large box set (the first release to include any value-added content). What makes the new release of the original special is that America will finally be able to see the film in its complete, unrated version, restoring roughly 10 seconds of bloodshed. But anyone expecting a gore-fest will be sorely disappointed; Friday came out at a time when the MPAA was being particularly tough on horror, routinely targeting genre filmmakers like Wes Craven and Brian DePalma and insisting on myriad cuts from most slashers before passing with an all-important ‘R’ rating. The level of tension that Friday so deftly maintains throughout makes the film seem – like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre before it – much more violent than it actually is. Only Kevin Bacon’s demise is noticeably augmented by the extra bloodletting, but it has the curious effect of calling attention to the Tom Savini-created effect and actually detracting from the moment; however, Paramount should be congratulated for finally making the footage available. The new edition also features a commentary track cobbled together from separate interviews (a practice we’re not fond of, but understand the need for) with Cunningham, writer Victor Miller, Crystal Lake Memoriesauthor Peter M Bracke, actresses King, and Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees), editor Bill Freda, assistant editor Jay Keuper, and composer Manfredini.
Featurettes include “A Friday the 13th Reunion,” which is actually a panel from a horror convention (featuring Palmer, as ever, wearing that famous cable-knit sweater).”Fresh Cuts: New Tails from Friday the 13th” is a more formal collection of interviews featuring many of the above participants, including our favorite victim, Robbi Morgan. “The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S Cunningham” features an interview with same. Also available is the famous original trailer and the inexplicable “Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 1,” a short film about a couple who hear noises in the middle of the night, go out into the hallway of their home to investigate, and are killed in short order by a masked, Jason-like figure. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Friday the 13thexcept that the creator is most likely a fan; its inclusion is somewhat baffling. If it appeals, the story continues on the new disc for Part 2. The 1080p Bluray picture brings out clarity and detail in the image that I wouldn’t have thought possible, and is well worth the upgrade if you’re so equipped. Midway through the film, Ned (Mark Nelson) calls out to a hooded, shadowy figure in a cabin doorway where it’s clear for the first time since the original theatrical prints that it’s actually Betsy Palmer, making the most of her 10 shooting days. Paramount also gets high marks for including the original mono soundtrack in addition to a newer surround mix. Highly recommended.
Read about this week’s other Friday the 13th DVD releases in this edition of our weekly Laserblast column.
FOOTNOTE:
*Writing in the Fall 1975 issue of Cinefantastique, Jeffrey Frentzen called TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE Bava’s most “complete failure to date” and accused the director of having an “obnoxious eye for detail” in regards to the violent murders.

Laserblast: Dead & Buried, Zodiac Bluray, 42nd Street Exploitation & TV Terror

This week’s interesting DVD and Bluray releases are few and far between. A slew of generic DTV titles are hitting shelves, but we separate the wheat from the chaff for discriminating fans of cinefantastique.

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Dead & Buried (Blue Underground Bluray)
Director Gary Sherman’s debut feature, Raw Meat (known under his preferred title, Deathline) was an absolutely chilling film about a tribe of cannibals living in the London Underground after a cave-in trapped dozens of workers over a century ago. Featuring brilliant performances from Donald Pleasence (in full impish elf mode and pulling 10 pounds of quirk out of 5 pound bags, as a beleaguered Scotland Yard inspector) and Hugh Armstrong as ‘Man’ (an all too believable byproduct of what would greet you after 100 years of disease and inbreeding in near total darkness). In fact, wringing both fear and pathos from the grisly material in equal measure, his performance can be comfortably placed beside the best of Lon Chaney as one of the great “monster” performances of all time. Unfortunately, the low budget picture drifted into relative obscurity until it finally resurfaced on Showtime, and finally on DVD several years ago.
Amazingly, it would be nearly a full decade before Sherman’s next feature, an atmospheric shocker that found notoriety in the UK as part of the BBFC’s infamous “Video Nasties” list. Set in the fictional New England town of Potters Bluff (imagine the Maine equivalent of The Fog’s Antonio Bay), the story (by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon, of ALIEN fame) follows Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) as he investigates a series of grisly killings that seem decidedly out of place in the idyllic surroundings. The case takes a decidedly unusual turn when the murder victims begin reappearing in the town, walking and talking and being very much a normal member of the community. To reveal anymore could potentially ruin a satisfying Twilight Zone-like twist at the show’s conclusion, even though most experienced genre aficionadas will see it coming like a slow-moving train. The show has solid performances from a good cast that included Farentino (a dependable actor seen the previous year in another quality Blue Underground Bluray release, The Final Countdown); Jack Albertson – in his last feature role – as local undertaker, Dobbs; the gorgeous Melody Anderson, fresh from setting young geeks hearts aflutter in the previous year’s Flash Gordon; in addition to supporting turns from Barry Corbin, Lisa Blount, and a young Robert Englund.
What still seems out of place, however, are the gory on-screen murders, which were actually the result of reshoots forced on the production by investors who obviously wanted more of a horror show than Sherman had in mind. In fact, many of the problems that Sherman had with D&B were also faced by John Carpenter on The Fog two years earlier. Both attempted a more genteel approach to the material, only to be faced with the reality that the horror industry was now driven by the body count. Dead & Buried didn’t get a particularly luxurious run in theaters, and until Blue Underground finally released the title on DVD a few years back, it existed in the US only as a long out of print VHS tape and inferior imports. Their two-disc set, which featured 3 commentary tracks (one with director Sherman, a second with co-star Linda Turley and producer Ronald Shusett, and the third with DP Steve Poster) and 3 featurettes on FX creator Stan Winston, then-unknown supporting player Robert Englund, and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. With all the video supplements on the second disc, there was plenty of room for a high bit-rate on the feature, resulting in the best transfer the film has ever had (but does reflect some of the low-budget conditions under which the film was shot) along with several elaborate audio options. Blue Underground’s Bluray release appears to be from the same HD master as the SD DVD, and ports over all the original extras. Highly recommended.
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Zodiac: Director’s Cut (Paramount Bluray)
The best film of 2007 and the best disc release of 2008 (the HD-DVD release if you’re curious) finally makes it to Bluray in an attempt to continue the streak in 2009. Zodiac heralded the return of the much missed ‘police procedural’ genre – in stark contrast to the forensics procedurals that we’ve been flush with since the ’90s. Refreshingly free of CSI double speak about bullet trajectories, body gasses, and splatter patterns, Zodiac instead concentrates on the nuts and bolts of investigative work – immersing the viewer in decades worth of interviews and testimony of witnesses, victims, and even suspects.
The ‘Zodiac’ terrified the Bay Area of Northern California with a series of shootings in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but like Jack the Ripper, only found true infamy after sending a series of letters and coded ciphers to major San Francisco newspapers, creating a climate of fear and paranoia similar to NYC’s own Son of Sam case. The letters promised more victims (including school buses), taunted the police for not finding him, and even claimed credit for random crimes that he had nothing to do with. Nobody was ever officially charged with the murders, and with the exception of the police assigned to the case and the journalists who wrote about it, the Zodiac nearly faded from public memory by the end of the 1970s. It was the publication of Robert Graysmith’s book “Zodiac” in 1986 that helped to re-ignite interest in the case; in the book, Graysmith accuses Arthur Leigh Allen on the basis of an enormous amount of circumstantial evidence gathered by the former cartoonist during his years at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Fincher’s film concentrates on the toll that years of chasing down dead end leads took on the men closest to the case – SFPD Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), columnist Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr), and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and deftly juggles each character in what must have been a logistical nightmare to structure at the screenplay level. The film covers more than a decade and throws enough names, dates, and alibis to make even the most attentive audience feel woozy, yet any patience exhibited is rewarded. Visually, the film has an amazingly exhilarating style yet never drifts too far from the docudrama approach that grounds the film in reality. When Fincher does dip into his bag of digital trickery to lock onto a yellow cab from above and follow it through the streets of downtown San Francisco, or show the passage of a year with a time-lapse recreation of the construction of the landmark Transamerica building set to Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues, it always flows naturally from the narrative and never feels like the “showing off because we could” camera shots in Fincher’s previous Panic Room.
Paramount’s new Bluray appears identical to their previous HD-DVD release – and that’s a very good thing. We thought that release worthy of disc of the year status on our Best of ’08 list, and their new Bluray carries over both the image quality and extras of the HD-DVD. Our highest recommendation.
Re-written from an earlier review.
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42nd Street Forever Vol. 4 (Synapse DVD)
Synapse Films has always been one of the premier independent DVD labels, producing superb editions of genre classics like Thriller, Lemora, and Blue Sunshine with a yeoman’s attention paid to image quality and supplements. As the once bountiful well of unlicensed cult titles dwindles, forcing once formidable companies like Blue Underground and No Shame into stasis, Synapse soldiers on, currently specializing in wonderfully obscure Asian titles like Rug Cop and Executive Koala and the ever burgeoning 42nd Street Forever compilation line. The previous volumes each feature 2 hours of fabulous exploitation trailers, running the gamut from Euro-sleaze, to Hollywood slashers, to Italian cop thrillers, to Hong Kong martial arts epics and back again. All trailers are mastered in high definition, and look still wet from the lab. Among volume 4’s rogues gallery are the impossible-to-see Canadian Deliverance knockoff Rituals, a pair of Charles B Pierce classics The Legend of Boggy Creek and the superb The Town that Dreaded Sundown, the grisly Tender Flesh, better known as Welcome to Arrow Beach (the final film of Lawrence Harvey, who finished editing the film from his deathbed), the Rudy Ray Moore-Yaphet Kotto blaxploitation team-up Monkey Hustle, and the one we most look forward to, the race-hate drama The Klansman starring Lee Marvin, Richard Burton and OJ Simpson!.
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Door Into Darkness (Mya Communications DVD)
A limited-run series created by Dario Argento for Italian television in 1974, Door Into Darkness finally gets a stateside release this week, courtesy of Mya Communications. The series consists of four 1-hour episodes: “The Tram”, about a woman killed on a crowded train (directed by Argento under a pseudonym); “The Neighbor”, about a couple with a young child and a suspicious upstairs neighbor (the directorial debut of Luigi Cozzi, whose 1980 Contamination would be a prime inspiration for Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror); “Eyewitness”, about a woman who witnesses a shooting but can’t convince the police once the body disappears (credited to one Roberto Pariante, though apparently featuring numerous Argento reshoots); and “The Doll”, featuring one escaped lunatic and lots of stalking (directed by Mario Foglietti, with an assist from Cozzi). This was previously available as a now out-of-print German import DVD, and we look forward to seeing what Mya Communications can do with the title
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Dead of Night (MPI DVD)
Another made-for-TV film gets its debut on DVD, this time from producer-director Dan Curtis, writer Richard Matheson, and composer Robert Cobert – a creative team whose genre output in the ’70s includes Dracula, The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, and Trilogy of Terror – to name just a few. Dead of Night came in 1977, just as the golden era of the telefilm was ending, and even if this 3-story omnibus doesn’t represent the best work of anyone involved, it’s still a reminder of the class that men like Curtis brought to genre pieces on the small screen. The first story (featuring Ed Begley, Jr and a time traveling car) and the second (a vampire tale with eyes bigger than its budget) aren’t all that special, but the third, with Joan Hackett as a mother grieving the recent death of her son who gets decidedly more than she wished for once her son arrives shivering at her front door, is a minor masterpiece of suspense, owing much to “The Monkey’s Paw.” MPI’s disc features a very welcome isolated audio track of Cobert’s fabulous, jazzy score, deleted scenes from the second segment, and a real treasure – the 1969 “A Darkness at Blaisedon”, an hour long, shot-on-video pilot that was actually a go at a weekly Dead of Night series that wasn’t picked up by the network.
Other releases this week include:

  • a 45th Anniversary Edition of the Disney classic MARY POPPINS.
  • The second and final season of the classic TV show THE INVADERS, along with a box set including both seasons.
  • SHARKS IN VENICE (from First Look Home Entertainment DVD). A previous Sci-Fi Chanel Original Movie, and tangible proof that Stephen Baldwin’s love for God isn’t reciprocated.
  • An “Exploitation Cinema” double bill of NIGHTMARE IN WAX and THE BLOOD OF DRACULA’S CASTLE, which gives you a chance to see Cameron Mitchell and John Carradine, respectively, slumming.
  • CLASSIC SCI-FI TV – 150 Episodes

All of these discs are available below, or check the CFQ Online Store for more.

Laserblast: The Best Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror DVDs and Blu-ray Discs of 2008

Unlike choosing from the year’s theatrical releases, when we’re bound to new product, going for DVD and Bluray releases allows us to reach as far back as 75 years for Criterion’s Vampyr, or just a single turn of the calendar for Paramount’s Zodiac. The criteria varies from selection to selection, with some (like Criterion’s White Dog and Sony’s Icons of Horror set) chosen for their rarity and “Wow, I never thought that would come out!”-excitement, while others (like Fox’s Apes Evolution box) were chosen to single out for praise the efforts of major studios who do something special for catalog titles.

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1. Zodiac – Director’s Cut (Paramount HD-DVD)
The best film of 2007 quickly became 2008’s most watched disc (at least at our house). Fincher’s blends his own ice-cool shooting style with a vintage 1970’s police procedural to create an unfailingly watchable portrait of the epic (and ongoing) search for the Zodiac killer. Although the HD-DVD format didn’t live to see the end of the year, this disc can’t be faulted; the 1080p picture presents Fincher’s vision (beautifully shot on digital video by Harris Savides, who will likely be robbed of an Oscar for Milk in much the same way as he was for Zodiac) in what amounts to a lossless hard drive transfer from the 1080p Viper digital camera. Accompanying the feature are two commentary tracks; an informative solo track with the director and a second featuring Fincher, producer Brad Fischer, writer James Vanderbilt, actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr., and author James Ellroy, clearly on board out of shear admiration for the project. Equally impressive are the supplemental features on the second disc, all presented in HD, discussing the gorgeously subtle visual effects, and the previsualization process. But the stars are the three long-form documentaries – His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen (42min) discusses the now deceased prime suspect in the case, Zodiac Deciphered (54min) that focuses on the making of the film, and the best of the bunch, This is the Zodiac Speaking (101min) an exhaustive – but not exhausting – trip through the case, featuring interviews with many surviving victims, police, and investigators. This is class ‘A’ stuff all the way, beautifully fleshing out the film, while standing tall as informative documentaries on their own. Zodiac is the disc of the year. NOTE – we’re choosing the Bluray edition for the purchasing link because it’s virtually identical in terms of quality to the HD-DVD – and because HD-DVD doesn’t exist anymore.
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2. Icons of Horror: Hammer Films (Sony)
As of this writing, there are no Hammer films available on Bluray and that’s a potent reminder of how long it took for obscure catalog titles (that’s studio-speak for ’old’) to begin appearing on this new format. Sony’s second ‘Icons’ set of Hammer product – the first featured a quartet of little-seen swashbuckling tales – features four titles not yet released domestically. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) stars Paul Massie as a cuckolded husband and frustrated scientist and Christopher Lee (in a fabulous turn) as a sleazy friend of Jekyll who finds much more in common with the rakish Mr. Hyde. Scream of Fear (1961) was made when Hammer was turning out an interesting stream of B&W psychological shockers that bore a heavy Psycho influence, and Scream runs a close second behind the superb Paranoiac (available in Universal’s Hammer set). The Gorgon (1964) reteamed director Terence Fisher with stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (in a fun, heroic turn) in a show that’s heavier on character than the typical Hammer monster tale. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) is a colorful, scope production but a bit lead-footed in terms of plotting. All the films look great, with vibrant colors that wash away the memories of the 2nd and 3rd generation bootlegs that fans have had to satisfy themselves with previously.
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3. Vampyr (Criterion)
Another masterful restoration from Criterion. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr, a film that had previously existed on video only in cobbled together versions with burned-in subtitles, is one of the last notable European stabs at horror before the influence of Universal’s 1930s monster films drifted across the Atlantic. Straddling the line between the silent and sound eras, Vampyr retains a hallucinatory power to disturb more than 75 years after its release, and Criterion’s extras (which include a reproduction of both the original screenplay and the novel “Carmilla” on which the film is loosely based) help put the film into context.
4. Rodan/War of the Gargauntuas (Classic Media)
This is thelatest in Classic Media’s line of Toho’s Kaiju Eiga films, with Godzilla taking a powder and giving Rodan and the Gargantua brothers a turn in the spotlight. It’s amazing what a caring presentation can do to aid a film’s reputation – Toho’s monster shows (along with Toei’s Gamera series) have become commonly thought of as juvenile jokes in their cropped, dubbed US editions. Seen in its complete form, Rodan is a revelation – a serious, at times suspenseful film that even manages to wring some pathos out of a SXF bombardment of a sweaty Japanese guy sealed in a rubber bird costume. War of the Gargauntuas is another matter entirely – a batcrap crazy show featuring weirdly disturbing monster suits that resemble feral children with a Frankenstein head and a dead-eyed ‘how did I get here?’ performance from Russ Tamblyn. Classic Media’s two disc set features both pictures in their original Japanese forms (with English subs) and their dubbed American versions.
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5. Grindhouse (Japanese import)
An expensive Japanese import that is the only way (of this writing) to get the theatrical version of Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino’s epic salute to genre programmers of the ’70s and ’80s. Domestic SD-DVD and Bluray editions separate the films into individual extended editions, and omit the fabulous phony trailers by Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth. The double feature aspect is integral to the Grindhouse experience, and the Japanese import features that, along with the extended cuts and all the supplemental features from the US releases.
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6. Planet of the Apes: 40 Year Evolution (Fox)
The feeling that you get revisiting a favorite film year after year to find that it hasn’t dated a bit is nothing short of thrilling –and that’s just what happens each and every time the original Planet of the Apes gets a showing at our house. From VHS, to Laserdisc, to DVD (twice!), and now – and probably not finally – to Bluray, Apes remains that rarest of beasts – a massively entertaining Sci-Fi actioner that’s also chock-a-bloc with imagination and wit. While this Bluray set isn’t quite the comprehensive behemoth that the previous Caesar-head box was (no TV series or already forgotten Tim Burton remake here, just the original 5 features), it includes the holy grail of the franchise, the original edit of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes featuring an outrageously bloody coda unencumbered by Roddy McDowell’s conciliatory words in Caesar’s final speech, enforced by a nervous 20th Century Fox after the violent and revolutionary-friendly film had its first uneasy test screening. All previous extras are present, with several new ones to boot, including a handsome hardcover book.
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7. Dr. Syn – The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (Disney)
It’s easy to boo & hiss at the creatively bankrupt, self-cannibalizing corporate behemoth that the once beloved Disney has turned into in recent years, but damn if they don’t have the ammo in their vaults to shut us right up. Filmed at Disney’s British studio, Dr. Syn took advantage of the top UK acting and production talent and the studio crafted a superb adventure tale (many boomers actually remember the film as a horror tale because of the admittedly creepy scarecrow mask worn by star Patrick McGoohan and his henchmen) that has never been available on video until now. Both the original 3-part television and theatrical versions are available on the set, and both are presented in 1.66 anamorphic widescreen (those seeing it on TV in the US had to deal with slight cropping, so this release is also the first time that the complete television version has been seen anywhere) with spectacular color for a nearly 50 year old film. Extras include a thorough (though a bit pie-eyed when it comes to the parent company) documentary on the production.
8. James Bond Bluray sets vols. 1 & 2 (MGM/UA Bluray)
While Volume 2 is the clear winner in terms of quality, with Thunderball, From Russia with Love, and For Your Eyes Only, and volume 1 pins the series wellspring, Dr. No, beneath the layers of EFX heavy Die Another Day and the downright silly but still fun Live and Let Die, the breathtaking restoration from Lowry Digital makes even the nearly half century old Dr. No virtually pop off the screen with a vitality that borders on 3D. Though also sold separately, the 3 disc sets were priced to move on the major online retailers, prompting the beginning of a large scale double dip.
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9. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Criterion)
Without question one of the most (purposefully) unpleasant films ever made, Pasolini’s Salo still retains its pungent power to disturb more than 3 decades after its original release – a despondent artist’s final, brutal statement on the banality of evil (making its second appearance on this year’s list!) Criterion’s second go at the title – the original was one of their big first DVD releases and traded at the $500 level for years after it went out of print – is still missing a brief scene that is present on foreign releases (see DVD Beaver for a comparison and a still from the scene) but the extras make this the most desirable North American release yet.
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10. The Man Who Fell to Earth (Criterion Bluray)
Nic Roeg’s hallucinogenic masterpiece landed its third Criterion edition (behind two-disc DVD and laserdisc editions) in 2008 in a sparkling Bluray disc for which this visually sumptuous film has been crying out. Criterion’s laserdisc of many years ago led many to rediscover the film, which had been shorn of nearly 20min and its widescreen photography cropped to near unintelligibility. Each of Criterion’s 3 editions has been a high watermark for the corresponding format, and while we’re sad to see the reprint of Walter Tevis’ book missing, it does make folks who are prone to double dipping (like us) feel a little less burned.
11. The Boys From Brazil (ITV Bluray)
Another vintage Bluray from ITV, thoughtfully pressed without region coding to be enjoyed by those of us in the Colonies. Boys has been the victim of unfairly negative reviews that have followed the picture over the years since its release in 1978. Both Lawrence Olivier, as a Simon Wiesenthal-like Nazi hunter and Gregory Peck as Josef Mengele, chew the scenery with wild abandon, while the stellar supporting cast, including James Mason, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, and Bruno Ganz work quietly to keep the ship from slipping entirely off the edge. ITV’s Bluray is simply outstanding, utterly blowing away the previous, pitiful DVD issuances and demonstrating the quality that can be drawn out of a 30 year old film when proper care is taken.

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For those of you interested in extending your horizons beyond science fiction, fantasy, and horror, here are a handful of non-genre DVD and Bluray releases that rank among the best that 2008 had to offer.
How the West Was Won (Warner Bluray)
Wow! It’s incredibly encouraging to see a major studio lavish this kind of attention on an older title – particularly one without the greatest reputation. HTWWW is one of a half-handful of pictures that were actually filmed in true 3-panel Cinerama (shooting essentially 3 separate frames of film with cameras physically linked together). Shown correctly, the film literally wrapped around the audience, covering – as long as you were sitting in the plum seats – your entire field of vision. Previous editions haven’t been able to convey so much as a fraction of this experience at home; presented in a normal letterbox mode, the image would have an aspect ratio of nearly 3:1 and that’s a lot of blank screen for the average home theater enthusiast to deal with. Warner Bros found a truly ingenious way around this by offering both a standard widescreen version and what they’re calling a Smilebox presentation, a more-successful-than-not attempt to have the image wrapped around you. Both versions have also had the frame marks that separate the camera negatives digitally removed. And even though the Smilebox version has trimmed some of the far sides of the image, it’s a small price to pay for the impressive effect – watching both versions (or, at least, flipping between them) makes for an interesting experience. There’s also a beautifully done long-form documentary on the process itself, Cinerama Adventure, which makes you appreciate the enormous effort that went into the few narrative features photographed in the format. The simply awesome 1080p picture on the Bluray disc showcases the staggering amount of detail captured by the oversized negatives – it’s the home theater demo disc of the year.
The Naked Prey (Criterion)
Another Criterion save from near obscurity, this masterful adventure tale from actor/director Cornel Wilde was made at a time when ‘white man in Africa’ clichés ran wild and free, and Wilde’s film (nearly wordless in the second half) shows an unheard of respect for both the audience, and the African tribe who pursues his character. Previously available only on a bargain VHS, Criterion’s DVD features the first widescreen transfer of the film on video and their usual superb array of supplemental features.
White Dog (Criterion)
Poor Sam Fuller really got the business end of it in his final Hollywood film. Brought aboard by a studio that wanted an exploitable horror tale about a German Sheppard trained by racists to attack black people on sight, Fuller hoped to make a meaningful statement on the nature of racism couched in familiar genre trappings. But the film was buried by Paramount after a ridiculous story was circulated that the film itself was actually racist and Sam spent the rest of his days working on television and little-seen features in Europe. Previously available only as a grey-market bootleg, Criterion shamed White Dog’s home studio by issuing a remarkably colorful and sharp transfer along with a fabulous documentary on the film’s troubled post-production period.
Dirty Harry Collection (Warner Bluray)
While it’s great to see Eastwood rightfully lauded whenever a new directorial effort arrives, it’s a shame that it’s typically at the expense of his action hits of the ’70s. Don Siegel’s original is still the best police thriller ever made, mining a vein of droll humor in Eastwood and successfully bringing his screen persona into a modern context far better than the dull Coogan’s Bluff. And though the sequels exhibit the same diminishing-return issues faced by all films forced into franchises, only the last – The Dead Pool – displays a bored lack of caring. No such lack was displayed in Warner’s Bluray box set, however, featuring sparkling 1080p transfers of all 5 films, and new commentaries (our favorite – writer John Milius on Magnum Force) and featurettes. A very welcome catalog release packaged with style.
High and Low (Criterion)
Criterion’s second go at Akira Kurosawa’s magnificent police procedural (based on a very American novel by Ed McBain) brings an improved anamorphic transfer and extras. One of Kurosawa’s best and most readily accessible pictures, and the prototype for nearly all kidnap dramas that followed. It also provides a textbook on the use of widescreen photography to intensify, rather than alleviate a feeling of claustrophobia.
Nixon (Warner Bluray) – JFK (Warner Bluray)
Yes, yes, we’re aware that it’s actually two separate releases, but Oliver Stone’s first two entries in his loose Presidential trilogy are the best modern examples of the sort of layered melodrama that Otto Preminger once cornered the market on. Both pictures perfectly suit Stone’s strengths as a filmmaker – each features broad political canvases populated with masculine, yet finally insecure characters. JFK’s chief weakness is in making the Garrison character such an iron willed do-gooder (a problem not aided by the casting of Costner), whose only real fault is naiveté, but it seemed like Stone learned his lesson and left Nixon virtually devoid of heroic characters. Both discs feature the extended cuts of the films, which is a particular strength of Nixon, as it restores the brilliant, chilling scene between Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) and CIA chief Richard Helms (Sam Waterston, having a ball playing ‘the banality of evil’). Each disc also carries over the voluminous extras from previous sets.
A Passage to India (Sony Bluray)
Just being the only David Lean film available on Bluray should secure A Passage to India automatic placement on the list, even with a disappointing transfer. However, Sony eschewed the trend with certain catalog titles to over apply DNR (digital noise reduction) in order to give older films a more modern sheen – a practice that typically winds up with characters taking on a waxy appearance and leaving the entire show looking like it was shot on digital video. The Passage Bluray simply looks like film – a very, very good film.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Criterion)
On the spy-realism ladder, James Bond occupies the highest rung in the rarefied air of invisible cars and jet packs. Harry Palmer – in whose personage Michael Caine so deftly mixed charm with National Health Service glasses and crap assignments – sits comfortable in the middle. But keeping a shaky, alcohol-soaked grip on the bottom rung is John le Carre’s Alec Leamas, as played by Richard Burton in an understated, shattering performance. Director Martin Ritt crafted just about the least glamorous spy tale ever produced; a heavy, B&W actors piece that’s nearly devoid of humor and utterly devoid of the traditional escapist trappings of the genre. Criterion’s two disc set offers a superior transfer than the previous Paramount edition, in addition to the usual Criterion bells and whistles, including superb BBC archival interviews with le Carre and Burton.
The Ipcress File (ITV Bluray)
Though neither the picture nor audio quality is likely to set aflame the hearts of tech savvy home theater enthusiasts, the arrival on Bluray of Sidney J Furie’s superb adaptation of Len Deighton’s first Harry Palmer novel is still cause for celebration. Palmer, as played magnificently by Michael Caine, is an unrepentant thief forced into government service and frequently finding himself caught between murderous fellow spies and agents of one uncaring bureaucracy or another. From the beautifully Dutch angled shots of ’60s London to Michael Caine at his most charismatic to John Barry’s lush, jazzy score, Ipcress is an exhilarating show that never gripped the turf in the states the way it did in the UK. Currently, this Bluray is available only as an import, but the disc is not region coded and plays normally on our PS3. Though the difference between the SD DVD and ITV’s Bluray isn’t as drastic as some of their other releases (see below) there’s a pleasurable amount of detail added.

Laserblast – January 20th DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Saw, City of Ember, Max Payne & More

What’s new on DVD and Blura this week? A few theatrical releases, a couple DTV titles, and a cancelled television series…

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Saw V
Back in 2004, Saw was something of a novelty, introducing a relatively unique twist on the stale serial killer genre with a genuinely uncomfortable conceit – the placing of characters in the center of macabre traps where a moral, ethical, or sometimes merely brutal choice is required to survive. We could have done with less melodramatic serial killer shtick (the dummy on the tricycle does little but recall other, better movies), but at least Jigsaw refrains from cracking wise – droll and imperious, maybe, but thankfully not a jokester. Though the Saw series are certainly the standard-bearers in the trend towards cruelty in modern horror, there is certainly something to be said for making viewers truly uncomfortable – no easy feat, that. We also have to commend the timeliness of the Saw film series release dates. One poster last year had the tagline “If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw”, and at a time when horror releases are so often spread indiscriminately around the calendar it’s nice to see a studio remember when October is. We missed the latest installment last year, but are looking forward to catching up shortly. Saw V hits home video like buckshot from a shotgun, in no less than 4 separate editions. Single disc widescreen and fullscreen editions (really, why?) feature a pretty full plate of extras, including 2 commentary tracks featuring director David Hackl and, possibly for the first time, the first assistant director on one and a handful of producers on the other, and assorted featurettes, each concentrating on specific traps within the film. The “collector’s edition” features the same disc as the standard widescreen edition, but with elaborate packaging that plays a threatening message from Jigsaw himself while a circular saw whirrs in the inner package, reminding us of a 21st century take on the old “Wanna date?!?” chip in the old Frankenhooker VHS box. The second disc of the 2-disc Bluray set contains a digital copy of the feature.
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City of Ember
Walden Media continues its string of family friendly titles with a fantasy tale that evaporated upon contact with the box office last year. The story of an underground city, initially built to house a human population in the event of disaster for 200 years. When the story opens, however, the city’s power source has been steadily fading, and the safety and security that its inhabitants have been enjoying is in jeopardy. The show has an unusually eclectic cast for a “family” film, including Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Toby Jones, and Martin Landau. Fox appears to have washed their hands of the title, forgoing a Bluray release (at least for the time being) and issuing only a feature-free SD DVD. Read a review of the film here.
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Max Payne
An attractive cast gets put through the CGI boot camp to no apparent avail in Max Payne, an adaptation of a video game of the same name, produced back in 2001 (a slightly inferior sequel appeared 2 years later). The game was a polished, atmospheric 2nd-person perspective shooter about an NYPD detective who arrives home to find his family murdered by junkies high on a virulent new drug called Valkyr. Max spends the next few years undercover inside the crime family responsible (or so he thinks) for the drug’s distribution. What follows is mostly shooting. Lots and lots of shooting. But shooting surrounded by beautifully designed, excitingly rendered gameplay. Director John Moore’s film adaptation, like nearly all cinematic versions of video games, places the audience in the curious position of watching someone else playing a video game. If that appeals, then the half-bored performance of Mark Wahlberg isn’t likely to bother either. Fox is releasing the film on single and double disc SD DVD sets; the single disc features both the theatrical and “unrated” cuts of the film and commentary with director John Moore with other production personnel. The two-disc set also includes something called an “animated graphic novel” in addition to a digital copy of the film. The Bluray features all of the above, plus several picture-in-picture documentary features.
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King Kong
Peter Jackson’s follow up to the effects heavy Lord of the Rings trilogy, was an almost equally huge remake of one of the definitive classics of genre cinema, King Kong. Running very nearly twice the length of the 1933 original, the 2005 version is the very definition of a film’s whole being less than the sum of its parts. Individual sequences, such as depression-era recreation of Manhattan at the front and rear-end of the film, Kong’s battle with multiple T-Rexes, the ultra-creepy spider pit sequence (a famous “lost” scene cut from the ’33 original prior to release, but recreated by Jackson for this version) just to name a few. But at 200min, we got the familiar feeling of “too many notes” – Jackson’s love for the material is obvious and infectious, but he wound up creating a confection too rich to eat in a single setting. If that sounds harsh, let it be said that we wish more films had that problem. The cast is game, with Jack Black in particular being a pleasant surprise as Carl Denham, offering a very different take on the character than former caretaker Robert Armstrong. Kong had been issued by Universal previously on an impressive HD-DVD (the disc that shipped with Microsoft’s HD DVD add-on player for the Xbox 360) that only made the theatrical version available. The Bluray offers both theatrical and extended versions, in lovely 1080p transfers, in addition to commentary with Peter Jackson and longtime writing/producing partner Philippa Boyens and various cast and crew interviews interspersed throughout via picture-in-picture.

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Vacancy 2: The First Cut
A direct-to-video sequel to 2007’s effective chiller, which featured Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson as a young couple experiencing a higher than usual degree of marital distress who stop at a very Batesian motel after some suspicious car trouble. The quality cast, which also featured a nicely creepy performance from the underused Frank Whaley as the motel proprietor, is absent here (along with about 9/10th of the original’s production budget) but the concept, about a motel that sidelines in using its guests as the unwilling stars of snuff films, is solidly icky. Sony’s DVD features a cast and crew commentary track, deleted scenes and several featurettes.
Boogeyman 3
Ghost House releases the second sequel to their presumably successful Boogeyman series. Shot in Bulgaria, where film production, if not life, is cheap, Sony’s DVD includes deleted scenes and several featurettes.
Moonlight – The Complete Series
We missed Moonlight’s aborted run last year, in spite of its People’s Choice Award for “Favorite New TV Drama”, but we’re glad to see to see shows that failed to catch on get a second chance on DVD. Featuring all 16 episodes on 4 discs. Read a review of the pilot episode here.
Repo: The Genetic Opera
Darren Lynn Bousman’s filmization of the cult movie musical received only a contractual obligation theatrical release last year, in spite of positive word of mouth. For those of you who missed it on the big screen (meaning nearly everyone), here is your chance to view it on disc. It is available on both DVD and Bluray.
Also out this week: a Special Collector’s Edition of the 1990 fantasy film hit GHOST.
This week’s DVD and Bluray releases are available below, or look for more in the Cinefantastique Online Store.

Laserblast: Mirrors & My Bloody Valentine on Disc

The New Year is nearly two weeks old, but we’re still waiting for Hollywood to start churning out some exciting DVD and Blu-ray releases. Maybe they are taking things slow in the wake of 2008’s declining DVD sales, but we hope the release of exciting science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles speeds up soon. In the meantime, here are a handful of interesting titles that might – or might not – tide you over.

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Mirrors – Unrated
The director hierarchy in Hollywood can be extremely tenuous, and the slightest misstep can send a promising career directly into the crapper. Hopefully, Alexandre Aja will survive to fight another day, as his most recent effort flops DOA on DVD and Bluray this week. France doesn’t have the horror cinema tradition that many other European countries do, so the emergence of Aja with the brutally riveting Haute Tension in 2003 came as a very welcome surprise. Word that his next film would be Fox’s remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyesfrustrated many as another attempt to import expensive truffle powder just to sprinkle over Frankenberry, but Hillswas surprisingly good, carrying over much of the ferocity of his earlier picture, creating an uneasy atmosphere in which no character can be presumed safe. On the page, Mirrors may have seemed an interesting departure from Aja’s previous work – the story of an NYPD detective Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) on the skids following a shooting that the film sheds little light on, who accepts a rent-a-cop job in the burned out husk of a department store in the center of midtown Manhattan, abandoned for several years after a devastating fire. After just a few days on the job, Carson begins to see nightmarish images reflected in the myriad mirrors that adorn the building, images of fire and horribly burned bodies that lead to hideous distortions of his own image and that of his family – images that soon take on a murderous life of their own. This disheartening enterprise’s main achievement seems to be the ability to bore both artists and audience simultaneously. From the lazy set up (you don’t have to be a New Yorker to laugh at the geographic liberties taken with 6th Avenue’s layout) to the listless pacing, the film seems to run curiously against Aja’s strengths as a director, and Sutherland – looking to fill time after a listless season of 24 – appears utterly bored and dead-eyed throughout. Both DVD and Bluray editions include the “unrated” version, contributing a few moments of gratingly tacked-on gore that’s as out of place as anything else. (Read another review of the theatrical release here.)
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My Bloody Valentine: Special Edition
The following was previously published last year on our blog and we find it still holds true:

Most shot-in-Canada pictures do everything they can to fool you into thinking that they were filmed in the states, but My Bloody Valentine is a proud maple leaf production through and through. Every facet of production, from cast to costume screams CANADAwith a zeal that only true patriots could muster. Unfortunately, the film’s reputation is built on what was removed rather than what’s actually there. The MPAA was dealing with a big media backlash against ‘slasher’ horror in 1981; led, not just by misinformed feminist groups, whose notion of the Pavlovian response of horror fans to violence was none too complimentary, but by mega-influential critics Siskel & Ebert, who devoted an entire program to their derision. My Bloody Valentine was famously cut by 9 minutes in order to secure an ‘R’ rating, and the restoration of the missing gore has since become a cause celeb among fans. Laudatory web notices can be found here and here, and they are far from alone in their praise for the film. It would be a fun bandwagon to jump on, but the picture just isn’t that good. The cast consists entirely of that early ’80s variant of the hot comb and down coat crowd – as if culled by random lot from the cheap seats at the Toronto curling finals. Some of the murder set-pieces are well done, and you can lament their edits to your heart’s content, but gore alone does not a horror classic make.

Well, it seems that Hell has indeed thawed a bit, as Lionsgate, under license from Paramount, is purportedly releasing the unrated version of the film as part of a Special Edition designed to support the soon-to-be released 3D remake. The marketing copy touts the ability to play the film either with or without the cut footage, though the running times on both this package and the previous Paramount edition are roughly the same. We’ll have received our copy by the time you read this, and are looking forward to giving the uncut version a fair shake.
Speaking of cashing in on upcoming theatrical releases, Sony Pictures is releasing a two-pack DVD of UNDERWORLD and UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION to support the upcoming prequel, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, which hits theatres on January 23.

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Yeti
In the hearts of genre fans, two inclinations will battle for superiority while watching Yeti(as we did during its recent premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel). We’ve reveled in B-moviedom’s rich history of Abominable Snowman/Bigfoot pictures, from Hammer’s 1957 The Abominable Snowman to Charles B Pierce’s Boggy Creekfilms from the mid ’70s and welcome their return in the overstuffed DTV world. Yet at the same time, every fiber of being inside us screams out for the Sci-Fi Channel to once and for all discontinue their snake-oil salesman ways and abandon narrative features entirely. The not-without-promise plot of Yetifinds an American football team (coached by the quickly dispatched Ed Marinaro, who brings a wistful reminder of superior work with him) stranded in the Himalayas and set upon by the legendary creature. If one distracts themselves with thoughts of what a true exploitation master like Rene Cardona might have done with the plot – or which character Hugo Stiglitz may have played – there is the enjoyable spectacle of one team member using an amputated arm as a splint for a broken leg, or the not entirely awful creature design (when not rendered with bargain CGI). The DVD from Genius Products arrives as part of their “Maneater Series” and is billed as “unrated” which speaks less to the forced deletion of gore and more to an unwillingness to pay the fee to submit the film to the MPAA.
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Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Bandai Entertainment is putting out two versions of this DVD, one of them encased in a limited edition steel case (pictured). Mamoru Oshii’s film (reviewed here)was previously released on disc by DreamWorks, but some buyers found that version unsatisfactory, thanks to a weak picture transfer. Also, it was Japanese only, with English subtitles handled like closed captions, meaning the lettering was larger and more intrusive. Bandia’s new release features a director’s audio commentary, a making -of featurette, new English subtitles (as opposed to captions for the hard of hearing), and three Dolby 5.1 soundtracks: the original Japanese, the Region 2 English dub, and a new English dub for the U.S. release.
Tokyo Gore Police
We haven’t seen Tokyo Gore Police yet, but we have heard that it pushes the already tattered limits of violence in Japanese genre cinema – and that is no small statement. That it comes from Synapse Films, one of the great independent DVD labels, speaks to its potential quality and we’re looking forward to sampling it.
Stargate: The Ark of Truth
Take our surprise at the absence of Richard Dean Anderson as an indicator of how outside our radar flies the Stargate phenomenon. For those more inclined, this release arrives on both SD DVD and Bluray with identical features.
Supercop: Two Disc Ultimate Edition
Last, we take a look at a non-genre title that may appeal to cinefantastique fans disappointed by the dearth of high-quality sci-fi, fantasy, and horror on disc this week. The last great Jackie Chan picture arrives this week in the form of another feature packed 2-disc set of the third film in Jackie’s Police Story series from Dragon Dynasty. It’s a sobering thought to imagine that Jackie’s best days are long behind him; perhaps less so for those who only know him as Chris Tucker’s less funny co-star. It would be almost impossible to overstate his importance, not just to the legacy and world-wide acceptance of Hong Kong cinema, but for, along with contemporaries like directors John Woo and Tsui Hark and stars like Chow Yun-Fat and Chan’s Supercop co-star, the estimable Michelle Yeoh (billed here as Michelle Khan) administering a forced goose to the lethargic state of American action films in the 90s. Sadly, if the back of the box is to be believed, this particular version appears to be the edited 91min version prepared for the film’s North American release (the original HK version released in 1992 should run approx 110min). This version is to be scrupulously avoided, not just for the deletions, but because the Americanized edition replaces the original score with a deadly concoction of hip hop beats, and dubs over the Cantonese track with an English track which features both Chan and Yeoh’s actual voices, though the latter’s command is distractingly more formidable than the former’s.* Though it takes a fair share of nose-holding to make it through the deletions and altered sequences, the disc is still recommended for being, along with 1994’s Drunken Master II, the final statement on the cinematic greatness of Jackie Chan and the closing of a golden age of Hong Kong action cinema.
*UPDATE: We’d like to thank Gwendolyn Royer for some clarifications regarding the Dragon Dynasty disc of Supercop.  Though the disc is the shorter version of the film, it does offer the choice of the original Cantonese language track along with appropriate musical score, contrary to the impression left in the review that only the dubbed track was available. 

Steve Biodrowski contributed to this article

Laserblast: Battlestar Gallactica, Dexter & More DVD/Blu-ray Releases

Looking for something to buy with that Amazon gift certificate you got for Christmas? The New Year launches with a handful of interesting science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles on Blu-ray and DVD. Read on to see which ones are worth your holiday dollars.

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Battlestar Galactica Season 4.0
The second half of the final season of Battlestar Galactica is set to air on the Sci-Fi Channel in a few weeks, giving enough time for a mini-marathon of the first half on DVD. This reincarnation of the clunky but beloved series of the late ’70s leapt beyond nearly everyone’s expectations when it first premiered in 2004. Recasting the Cylons as having been created by humans – rather than just an evil, conquering race of machines – the show took a page from Frank Herbert and came up with a backstory that had the Cylons rebelling against their human inventors and beginning a bloody war. The ’04 Galactica opens with a decades long truce between the humans and Cylons broken when Gaius Baltar (a huge performance by James Callis) unknowingly betrays Caprica and the other 11 Colonies with a very un-robotic Cylon agent (Tricia Helfer). After the Cylons launch an apocalyptic nuclear attack, the handful of survivors gather on the last remaining Battlestar commanded by the just-about-to-be-scrapped-along-with-his-ship Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) which was saved from destruction because its antiquated circuitry resisted the crippling Cylon computer virus. Other character holdovers from the previous incarnation include Apollo (Jamie Bamber), the brash Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff, who finally toned down the macho posturing of the early shows to create a more fully realized character) and the sensible Boomer (the stunning Grace Park) and the McCain lookalike Col. TIgh (Michael Hogan). New characters include President by default Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell, finally looking comfortable in a role), the dependable Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), and a host of Cylon agents that are able to take convincing human form. From that point 4 seasons ago, showrunner Ronald D. Moore has crafted the most exciting, intelligent Sci-Fi shows ever produced. Thanks to a gritty, documentary style that definitely owes a debt to the industrial-dark look of Alien, the show’s futuristic touches are made easier to swallow by couching them in familiar surroundings (mechanics fix the ships with wrenches and metal welders rather than magic beams of light). The space combat scenes effectively utilize a Bourne-style panning and zooming that combine with an unusually complex sound mix to create a stunning experience when viewed with a decent home theater setup. The only disappointment in the new SD DVD is that there is no HD version being released as well; the first season was released on the now defunct HD-DVD format and if ever a show cried out for the HD treatment it’s this one. No word on extras yet, but typically the Battlestar Galactica season sets include Moore commentary tracks and webisodes.
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Dexter: The First Season (Showtime Blu-ray)
Showtime’s first real (and frankly, only) “watercooler” series gets a Blu-ray upgrade this week. We weren’t able to sample the quality of the discs themselves, but the show – shot on digital video on location in Miami – has always looked fabulous in HD (even in the artifact-rich world of compressed cable broadcast) and the Blu-ray should look even better. Dexter is currently in its third season and is sustained by consistently sharp writing and a top-notch supporting cast, but it’s Michael C Hall in the title role that holds the difficult premise (that of a forensics expert who moonlights as one of the very serial killers that he is supposed to be catching) together. The Blu-ray carries over the commentaries from the SD edition and adds several BD Live features, including “Academy of Blood – A Killer Curse,” “Witnessed in Blood – A True Murder Investigation,” the first episode of Season 3 (though the first episode of season 2 would have been somewhat more helpful), and the first two episodes of another Showtime series, The United States of Tara.
Babylon A.D. (Fox Bluray double/single disc)
Diesel. Depardieu. Babylon A.D. $70,000,000 budget. Greenlit by 20th Century Fox. No kidding.
For some reason, this week sees a trio of previously available classic horror films released – in some cases for the umpteenth time – on DVD: HAXAN, CITY OF THE DEAD, and THE WICKER MAN. The first two of these, from A2ZCDS.com, violate the traditional Tuesday release date for home video, in that they will not be available until Saturday, January 10.
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Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages/The Witches (Remastered Edition)
This is the classic silent documentary from writer-director Benjamin Christiansen, which uses dramatic recreations to depict belief in witchcraft over the centuries. The film is already available on an excellent Criterion Collection DVD from 2001, which included the original silent version, titled HAXAN, and the shorter sound re-edit, re-titled WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES (for which the subtitles were replaced with narration read by  author William S. Burroughs). The film was re-issued last year by Triad productions, so a new edition is not exactly a necessity. Amazon.com lists a 77-minute running time for A2ZCDS.com’s new disc, indicating that this is the shortere version of the film. Perhaps the only selling point for the new release is that it is is an all-region disc.
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City of the Dead/Horror Hotel(Remastered Edition)
A2ZCDS.com’s second all-region remastered classic is the moody 1960 film starring Christopher Lee as a professor of witchcraft who sends a beautiful blond student to a strange little town to to research, resulting in a plot twist that parallels PSYCHO. Released in its native England as CITY OF THE DEAD, the film was retitled to HORROR HOTEL for distribution in American, where it was shorn of a few minutes of footage. Both versions have previously been released on DVD, but the only one currently still available is VCI’s restoration of the original CITY OF THE DEAD, complete with some nice bonus features, including on-camera interviews and two audio commentaries (one with Lee and one with director John Moxey, who went on to direct THE NIGHT STALKER for TV). Click here to read our review of the film and VCI’s DVD presentation.
The Wicker Man
Last of the three cult-classic re-releases is is the original 1973 version of THE WICKER MAN, starring Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward. This is at least the second DVD release for the title since since Anchor Bay put out a wonderful two-disc limited edition set back (packed ina  wooden box) in 2001. Anchor Bay’s subsequent two-disc special edition was timed to tie in with the release of the remake starring Nicolas Cage, but this latest single-disc release from Lions Gate has an almost random quality to it. The only possible reason for releasing this movie again would be to give fans a chance to own the film as it appeared when released in U.S. theatres in 1979. Unfortuantely, the DVD listing is for an 88-minute running time, indicating that this disc contains the shorter version, trimmed from the original 99-minute cut. Although identified as “theatrical,” this shorter version never really saw release, at least in the United States; it test-screened in a handful of theatres at most before going into distribution limbo. When the film finally received a genuine U.S. release in 1979, it was served up in a third cut that restored some key scenes but wisely omitted unnecessary filler that had been deleted from the 88-minute version. Both the 88-minute and the 99-minute versions were provided on the earlier two-disc DVDs, but the 1979 compromise – probably the best version of the film – remains unavailable.
Speaking of Nicolas Cage remakes brings us to a film from the makers of the original version of THE EYE. Although their latest effort is not horror, fans may be interested, so we include it here…
Bangkok Dangerous (Lionsgate Bluray, double/single disc)
The Pang Brothers, Danny and Oxide (who probably walked away very unhappy from the personalized license plate rack at Disney World) were one of the higher profile HK poaches – filmmakers whose breakneck, take no prisoners style earned them the attention of Hollywood, only to have that same style muted by studio notes and test screenings. Bangkok Dangerous is actually a remake of the brothers’ own 1999 Thai language film of the same name; however, the presence of producer-star Nicholas Cage ensured that the deaf-mute assassin would now be in possession of his full array of senses – robbing the story of the very plot point that differentiated it from the massive number of HK shooters made each year. Bangkok Dangerous is available in both single and double disc SD DVD sets and a two disc Blu-ray edition (the second disc on both sets is identical, holding a free digital copy of the film). Other extras on the two disc sets include an alternate ending, a pair of production featurettes and a trailer, all presented in HD on the Blu-ray set.
Righteous Kill (Starz/Anchor Bay Blu-ray, single disc)
When Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino finally appeared onscreen together in Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece, Heat, there was some rather ridiculous grumbling that the actors only shared the screen for a few moments. The ads for Heat touted the pair as “America’s two most electrifying actors” and 13 years ago is would have been hard to disagree with that. But the ensuing years have seen DeNiro either selling out in groaners like The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle and Meet the Parents, or lower profile duds like 15 Minutes or Hide and Seek. And while Pacino has been somewhat more selective, efforts like S1m0ne and The Recruit haven’t done much for his leading man mystique. We missed Righteous Kill during its brief theatrical run last fall, and it was sad to see that the re-pairing of these two giants of contemporary cinema couldn’t generate a ripple of interest. DeNiro and Pacino play, respectively, “Turk” and “Rooster” (I know, I know), a pair of NYPD detectives who fear that they may have put the wrong man in prison years earlier when a local pimp is found dead and a telltale clue is found next to the body that ties the murder to their previous case. The serial killer storyline puts this on the borderline of the horror genre, but the film mostly aims for a hard-boiled police procedural tone, and the screenplay’s sole reason for existence seems to be its attempt to provide an unguessable twist ending to the mystery (although if you manage to keep your eyes open through the whole running time, it should not be hard to figure out). The SD DVD and Bluray case feature the same bored looking images of the two stars as the original theatrical posters and resemble a low-res bootleg more than a major studio release.
The Last Emperor (Criterion Bluray)
This is totally off-topic for Cinefantastique Online, but we could not resist opening this particular can of worms. What should be the week’s premier release unfortunately carries over a blemish from the previous Criterion DVD issue. The Last Emperor was shot by director Bernardo Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro in the Technovision ratio of 2.35×1, and that’s how it was shown in theaters the year that it won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1987. While the previous DVD release from Artisan did contain the longer 220min edit, the colors were dark, poorly saturated, and the disc was non-anamorphic. Fans rejoiced in 2007 when it was announced that Criterion had acquired the rights to the film and would issue a mammoth 4-disc set that would feature both the 163min theatrical edition and the longer cut in a brand new transfer approved by Storaro. But when the set arrived last February, the ratio of the film had been altered by Storaro to 2.0×1, his now preferred format for the viewing of widescreen films at home. And while it was certainly true that back in the 80s and early 90s when we were watching non-enhanced, letterboxed movies on 4×3 tube sets (William Friedkin insisted that Sorcerer be presented full frame on laserdisc and DVD for the same reason) in the era of widescreen HD televisions and 1080p resolution, that argument becomes an epic fail. We give Criterion credit for respecting the intentions of the artist, but that doesn’t salve the burn of losing a sizeable chuck of picture information. What picture remains, however, is absolutely stunning. The Bluray uses the same sparkling 1080p master used for their previous DVD edition and ports over the same set of comprehensive extras, but does not include the 220min cut (and while we prefer the roomier version, Bertolucci has stated the theatrical cut was indeed his final cut).

Steve Biodrowski contributed to this article.

Laserblast: Blu-ray Releases of Serenity, Truman Show, Ghost, Event Horizon

With Blu-ray having won the High-Def war against HD-DVD, more and more familiar titles are re-emerging on video store shelves, this time in the new format. Although the number of science fiction, fantasy, and horror films released on disc is low this week, the few that are available offer worthwhile examples of this phenomenon.

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Serenity (Blu-ray)
It’s a measure of the power wielded in Hollywood by Joss Whedon that he was able to orchestrate the resurrection of his own television show – Firefly – cancelled by Fox after airing only 11 of the 14 filmed episodes. Using the admittedly strong sales of the series’ DVD box set, Whedon was able to convince Universal to gamble on a modestly budgeted feature, Serenity. Firefly took place 500 years in the future and centered on the crew of the vessel Serenity, smugglers who skirt the authority of the Alliance, the governing force that exerts a fascistic control over the planets in the central area of the solar system. To stay out of reach, the Serenity keeps mostly to the outer-rim planets that exist somewhat outside the authority of the Alliance in a futuristic version of the American Wild West, conforming to Whedon’s goal of creating a Stagecoach-like drama with a sci-fi backdrop. Firefly’s brief 2002 run was critically praised and generated a voracious fan base that quickly developed separation anxiety for their beloved show following its cancellation. But unlike Star Trek fans, they would only have to wait 3 years for their favorite show to move to the big screen – Serenity picked up only months after the final episode of the show with the crew (all of whom are reunited for the feature) once again caught between the Alliance and the dreaded Reavers, a group of mutated humans that resemble a cross between Orcs and the cannibal family from The Hills Have Eyes. While those not familiar with the series will have to hit the ground running to keep up with all the characters and situations, writer-director Whedon does an admirable job in making the show accessible to newcomers (the full-series set has recently become available on Blu-ray as well).
Serenity was one of the earliest HD-DVD releases, and was probably enough to sway numerous early adopters into backing the wrong horse. It was one of the better looking 2007 releases and it appears that the new Blu-ray doesn’t disappoint more than a year later – the transfer is fully faithful to the original cinematography (both Serenity and Firefly were designed to have a rougher look than most space operas) and the temptation to boost the many dark sequences has been resisted. Happily, Universal has attempted to make further amends by including not just the supplemental material previously available on the DVD and HD-DVD releases (included here in space saving SD format), but also throwing in several new features that are exclusive to Blu-ray. The highlights of the previous releases include 2 audio commentary tracks, one featuring Joss Whedon solo and the second paring Whedon with Firefly crewman Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Ron Glass (Boy, The New Odd Couple was a long time ago, wasn’t it?) and Adam Baldwin along with the requisite deleted scenes, gag reel, and better than usual production featurettes. Exclusive to Blu-ray features include an optional PIP version of the Whedon & cast commentary track, an introduction by Whedon, more featurettes, extended scenes, and several more accessible through Universal’s clumsy “U-Control” technology. Recommended. [EDITOR’S NOTE: You can read a somewhat less favorable review of the old DVD release here.]
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The Truman Show (Blu-ray)
Remember back when the worst you could expect from a “serious” Jim Carrey feature was The Truman Show? Carrey was riding high on a string of ‘anything for a laugh’ movies, including Ace Ventura and The Mask when he took his first chance on edgier material with the Ben Stiller-directed The Cable Guy in 1996. The film did okay, but didn’t generate half the repeat business of Carrey’s earlier efforts. The Cable Guy is actually a pretty interesting show, even though it seemed to be hedging its bets by not letting Carrey’s obsessive (and clearly dangerous) character dwell too long in the darkness, leaving most audiences with a neither-here-nor-there feeling. It’s quite possible that Carrey was smarting from the experience when he signed on for The Truman Show two years later. The alarmingly prophetic tale of Truman Burbank (Carrey) adopted by a television network and raised – without his knowledge – on a hit reality show seemed farfetched 10 years ago, but with primetime television choked with Survivors, Bachelors, and Nannies, it seems almost quaint in 2008. Director Peter Weir was an inspired choice to helm – a sensitive filmmaker whose best work (Gallipoli, Witness, The Year of Living Dangerously) far outweighs a single misstep (coughGreen Cardcough). He knew exactly how to reshape Carrey’s rubber-faced screen persona into a sensitive, likeable leading man. The Blu-ray carries over the same set of supplemental features as the previous DVD release, including a two-part ‘Making Of’ feature, deleted scenes, and 2 theatrical trailers (the only supplements presented in HD)
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Ghost (Blu-ray)
For those trying to get their wife and/or girlfriend interested in HD media, this is probably the best place to start – a movie so hardwired into the central nervous system of American women that it granted an unconditional career extension to Whoopi Goldberg (admittedly good in her Oscar winning role) that we’re still forced to live with today. Wipe away the weepy, Lifetime Network moss that has stuck to the film in the nearly 20 years since its release and you’ll find a genuinely sweet and well filmed story of banker Sam Wheat (the always watchable Patrick Swayze) who is taken from young bride Molly (Demi Moore, whose newly cropped hair and gamine look became one of the most successful image makeovers of the decade) after being fatally shot during a mugging. Sam, however, won’t pass on to the “other side” until he can warn Molly that the mugging was actually planned – a botched robbery attempt that has left Moll in great danger. The crowd-pleasing comic scenes of Sam attempting to communicate to Molly through a phony spiritualist (Goldberg) are still quite funny, and you’d have to be a pretty sour Sue to not get a little teary during the show’s final scenes – just don’t start TiVo-ing The View, or there will be blood. This “Collector’s Edition” carries over the commentary track from director Jerry Zucker ( who went from Airplane and Top Secret! to Ghost and First Knight) and writer Bruce Joel Rubin (JACOB’S LADDER) that was recorded many moons ago for the initial release, and adds a new retrospective featurette that includes new interviews with Swayze, but only stock EPK footage of Moore and Goldberg (who really ought to pull out of anything short of major surgery to help sell this film).
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Event Horizon (Blu-ray)
An impressive calling card for director Paul W. S. Anderson when first released in 1997, Event Horizon was an impressive blending of Sci-Fi space opera with a haunted house horror film. Set only a half century in the future (and showing lots of faith in an accelerated space program), the film follows the crew of the “Lewis and Clark” on a rescue mission to find the “Event Horizon”, lost 7 years prior on its maiden voyage. Once found, vague life form readings are detected, though no sign of the ship’s crew or any hint to their fate is evident. But as the crew spends more time aboard the derelict craft they find their own deepest fears being played upon while the mental state of scientist and Horizon designer Dr. Weir (Sam Neill in full eye-rolling mode) degenerates amid ramblings about the nature of Hell. It seems that the Event Horizon has brought something back from the edge of the universe. Watching Event Horizon today gives the viewer a keen sense of the debt owed to Ridley Scott’s Alien in the way outer space is depicted on screen. From the industrial design details of the ship itself to the familiar blue collar crew, it’s almost impossible to imagine what subsequent Sci-Fi shows would look like without Scott’s film to be used as a visual template. The horror elements of Event Horizon have an equal part share in the body-horror works of HP Lovecraft and Clive Barker, but without the thematic depths of either. What’s left is a visually sumptuous but intellectually hollow interstellar ghost story – albeit one with a fine cast, including a post-Larry, pre-Morpheus Lawrence Fishburn, the always interesting Jason Isaacs, and an underused Kathleen Quinlan. The Blu-ray is the first HD go-around for the title, and all the extras present on the previous disc release have been ported over, including a commentary track with director Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt and several featurettes.
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Hellbound: Hellraiser II (20th Anniversary Edition)
Anchor Bay once again raids their vaults and re-releases another of their horror mainstays for its 20th Anniversary. In 1987, Clive Barker adapted his own work to the screen and managed to craft one of the most effective and profoundly disturbing horror films of the decade. The first (of many) inferior sequels makes the mistake that so many other sequels do, and makes its subject the instrument of death (the truly horrific looking Cenobites) instead of the humans whose moral weaknesses allow them entry into our world. Spotting a franchise in the making, director Tony Randel – presumably with the complicity of Barker – took the first step toward making head Cenobite ‘Pinhead’ (the wonderful Doug Bradley) into a wisecracking horror icon in the mold of Freddy Kruger (a move that would come to fruition in Hellrasier III: Hell on Earth). This special edition SD-DVD retains the earlier edition’s commentary track with director Randel, writer Peter Atkins, and star Ashley Lawrence and throws in several new featurettes.
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Gamera the Brave
The 12th film in the Gamera series (released in Japan in 2006) arrives on domestic DVD this week – the first from the Kadokawa studio since purchasing of the rights to the series from Daiei several years back. We have no details as to video quality or supplements, but arriving from the dependable Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock (excellent product, but a virtually un-viewable website), the best can be expected.
Also out this week: An American Carol, a failed attempt to lampoon Michael Moore, arrives on DVD after its quick exist from theatres. And if you do not already own E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial, it is being released on DVD again in full screen and widescreen “Movie Cash” versions, which include passes that will get you into theatres to see your choice of Milk or Frost/Nixon.
All of these titles – and more – are available in the Cinefantastique Online Store.

Laserblast Blu-ray & DVD Releases: Fear & Loathing, Eagle Eye, Ghost Town

The last few weeks of December are traditionally a bone-dry stretch for DVD, which always struck us as odd – wouldn’t you want tempting new releases on the shelves when people have to go in the stores for refunds and returns? Anyway, the releases for the next few weeks consist largely of repackaged catalog titles, but there are still a handful of major releases and a few interesting surprises.

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The week’s highlight release unfortunately comes at such a ludicrous price point that we’re almost tempted not to recommend it. Almost. The adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had been kicking around Hollywood for years before winding up in the lap of the obvious choice, Terry Gilliam. Trying to film gonzo columnist Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-fuelled, psychedelic (and occasionally rambling) road trip through the paranoid Americana wasteland of the early ’70s sent many filmmakers packing, but the heavily refracted lens of Gilliam was an inspired choice. A previous attempt at bringing Thompson to the screen, 1980’s Where the Buffalo Roam, features a better-than-remembered performance by Bill Murray as Thompson and an exhausting turn by Peter Boyle as Lazlo but was sunk by Art Linson’s flat, uninspired direction. 19 years later, Gilliam’s film followed the exploits of literary stand-ins, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) as they tear through the bat-plagued desert into Las Vegas to write a freelance article on a motorcycle race. What follows is likely the closest that any film will ever get to transposing Thompson’s saber toothed prose to a narrative film. Depp is absolutely mesmerizing, embodying Thompson’s mannerisms (even wearing his clothes!) and managing somehow to pull the essence of the man out through the artifice. Del Toro, in an early high profile role, gained a substantial amount of weight for his role, completely altering his appearance in a Raging Bull-esque fashion. Like Depp, he effectively disappears inside his character. Many viewers, unaccustomed either to Gilliam’s exaggerated visual sense or Thompson’s jagged approach to traditional journalism are likely to be put off by the admittedly (and necessarily) episodic structure. But anyone familiar with the literary or cinematic waters will be rewarded with a constantly rich, often fragmented, thoroughly funny film. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had previously been issued on the now defunct HD-DVD format. It’s unknown whether or not the same transfer (which, even with instances of digital artifacting and compression issues, was a clear improvement over both Universal’s and Criterion’s standard-def DVD releases), is being used. What is known is Universal’s outrageously high $49.95 list price – a good $10 more than the highest rate going for a standard, non box-set release and without any special features of note (compare to Criterion’s cheaper, feature-rich 2-disc DVD edition). Fans of Depp, Gilliam, or Thompson will have to decide for themselves if the image upgrade is worth the price.
Also for fans of Depp, this week sees the release of a Johnny Depp Triple Feature box set, which includes two of his genre films, the heart-warming fantasy EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and the grim horror offering FROM HELL.
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In the interest of full disclosure, we believe that the appeal of Shia LaBeouf is highly suspect. We first saw him on the second season of “Project Greenlight”, where his presence in the lead role of The Battle of Shaker Heights was considered quite a coup for the fledgling production. Everyone on the set seemed to be sure that young Shia was destined for very big things, very soon, and it seems that their foresight was indeed correct. Shia’s first time out at the helm of a major feature (without Indiana Jones or giant robot co-stars) arrives on SD DVD and Blu-ray this week. Eagle Eye is a late entry in the techno-paranoia thriller category that also boasts the far superior 1998 vehicle, Enemy of the State, and can be traced as far back as 1995’s The Net. This is not to say that paranoia was born with the age of the personal computer – the very best film of this type is actually Francis Coppola’s The Conversation from 1974. It’s no coincidence that Gene Hackman was cast as the burnt-out, old school surveillance expert helping Will Smith in Enemy of the State; his character is an only slightly more ‘hinged’ version of The Conversation’s Harry Caul. Though modern tech gear is apparent in The Conversation (modern for 1974, anyway), Coppola focused on the inner life of Caul and the affect that his work had on his soul. And though Enemy of the State can hardly be called cerebral, director Tony Scott was smart enough to populate the film with enough terrific character actors to make you forget that the smoke-to-fire ratio was alarmingly high. Eagle Eye offers no such distractions (Shia is a decent enough actor, but he’s in a bit of an awkward stage of being too young to convincingly play adults and too mature for college-age roles) and, like the self-destructing tape in Mission: Impossible, seems to evaporate in memory only moments after exposure. Once Shia’s character, Jerry Shaw, arrives at his apartment to find a cache of weapons he’s never laid eyes on before and the FBI minutes from breaking down his door, he receives a call from a mysterious woman who tells him that he’s moments from being arrested and instructs him to get out as fast as possible. What follows is an endless parade of expensively filmed close calls and action set pieces as Jerry gets bounced around the city, one step ahead of just about every government agency except Control. What was designed as edge-of-your-seat thrills becomes quickly tiresome, as nearly every electronic circuit is hijacked and used as a means to spy on the protagonist. Director D. J. Caruso worked on several awfully good television shows, including Michael Mann’s sadly overlooked Robbery Homicide Division and The Shield, but there’s little evidence of the rough-hewn acumen of those shows here. The film is available on SD DVD in a single disc edition, featuring only a set of deleted scenes and a featurette, and a double-disc set featuring an alternate ending, a gag reel (glad someone had fun) and all manner of EPK making-of hullaballoo. The Blu-ray (preferable, in that the film seems to have been designed to show off home theater systems) includes all of the above, but presented in HD.
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Ghost Town succeeds largely through the efforts of star Ricky Gervais, the creator-writer-star of the original UK version of The Office. Gervais brings his trademark brand of laconic contempt for the world around him to the role of a New York City dentist who finds that he can now hear and see the recently dead (and they him) after dying for a moment during a routine surgical procedure. He becomes the focal point of NYC’s sizeable deceased community, unable to move on to the afterlife because of bits of unfinished terrestrial business that a living person could be particularly helpful with resolving. Gervais is an inspired choice to play someone quietly, utterly exasperated with the world around him, as unwilling to help a neighbor with an unwieldy parcel as he is to help an undead philanderer (Greg Kinnear) guide his former wife (Tea Leoni) out of the arms of the 21st century’s romantic comedy villain du jour – a smug, self-impressed attorney. Gervais admirably underplays the comedy – no goose eyed double-takes at the sight of “ghosts” or similar tomfoolery – and winds up faring far better than fellow countryman Simon Pegg did in the spectacularly unfunny Run, Fatboy, Run. The DVD and Blu-ray editions feature the identical special features, although the Blu-ray renders the featurettes in HD. The highlight is a commentary track with writer-director David Koepp (last seen helming the effective Stephen King adaptation Secret Window) and Gervais. Anyone familiar with Gervais’ hysterical podcasts will find much to love here (and won’t have to wait long for one of his infectious, high-pitched laughs).
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For those still clinging to the J-horror craze, hang on to your Macarena t-shirt, because Pulse 3 is also out this week. For those playing along at home, this would be the direct-to-video sequel to a direct-to-video sequel to a remake of one of the seminal Japanese horror productions of the last decade, Kairo (known outside Japan as “Pulse”). And while there’s every chance that Pulse 3 will be superior to the bewildering Pulse 2 (filmed almost entirely via the “green screen” method as a cost saving device), and we certainly can’t already be at the point where all the suspense has been wrung out of the ‘evil spirits entering out world through our own technology’ genre already, can we? Approach at your own risk.
The only other offerings this week are RESIDENT EVIL: DEGENERATION, a direct-to-video follow-up to the RESIDENT EVIL franchise, available on DVD, Blu-ray, and UMD; and a DVD release of BAGHEAD, “a mumblecore horror film about people making a mumblecore horror film,” according to Cinefantastique’s Dan Persons, who interviewed the film’s creators here.
You can purchase these disks below, or look for more in the Cinefantastique Online Store.

Laserblast DVD & Blu-Ray: Mummy 3, Death Race, Grindhouse & Man Who Fell to Earth

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Since the heady days of the laserdisc era, the Criterion branding had made cineastes everywhere breathe easier when forking out big bucks for their lauded special editions of classic films. After a shaky transition to DVD production (with more than a few non-anamorphic, recycled transfers) they regrouped rather masterfully, showing an amazing ability to come up with exhaustively detailed supplemental material (it takes about as long to sift through their 3-disc set of Mr. Arkadin as it did for Orson Welles to complete the film) to compliment a beautifully rendered feature. When Criterion announced earlier in 2008 that they would begin issuing their catalog on Bluray disc later in the year, there was much excitement – even from those of us who could host a month-long tag sale featuring double dipped DVDs. Among their first wave of HD discs appearing this week are Nicholas Roeg’s delirious, kaleidoscopic, and ultimately tragic The Man Who Fell to Earth. More than 30 years after its original release, Roeg’s film about a visitor from another planet (David Bowie, in the best and bravest performance of his career) who arrives on Earth and sets up a corporate behemoth that will allow him to build a ship to bring his people back from their dying world. Fans of the film will understand that any attempt at a plot description is folly; this is no simple Sci-Fi tale, nor was Roeg content with a Rod Serling-esque attempt to use genre elements to hold a mirror up to the human condition – the Peckinpah-influenced editing rhythms combine with the breathtaking cinematography and sound design to create a sensory experience, that, unlike other “trip” movies of the era, still holds up beautifully today. The extras replicate those found on Criterion’s standard-def DVD release, with the unfortunate exception of the handsome reprint of the Walter Tevis novel on which the film is based, otherwise they are as follows:

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Nicolas Roeg
  • Audio commentary by Roeg and actors David Bowie and Buck Henry
  • New video interview with screenwriter Paul Mayersberg
  • Performance, new video interview with actors Candy Clark and Rip Torn
  • Audio interviews with costume designer May Routh and production designer Brian Eatwell
  • Audio interview from 1984 with author Walter Tevis, conducted by Don Swaim
  • Multiple stills galleries, including Routh’s costume sketches; behind-the-scenes photos; and production and publicity stills, introduced by set photographer David James
  • Gallery of posters from Roeg’s films
  • Trailers

Also appearing in Criterion’s first wave of Bluray releases this week are Carol Reed’s The Third Man, Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, and Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, each replicating the plentiful extras of their SD counterparts.

The Mummy Trilogy
The Mummy Trilogy

Has it really been nearly a decade since Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy opened? We vividly remember being wowed by the picture during its initial theatrical release, enjoying the melding of cherry picked horror elements with a Raiders of the Lost Ark-like affection for the adventure serials of the 30s and 40s, and infused with an orgy of (at the time) state of the art digital effects. But most of all we enjoyed the lead performance of Brendan Fraser, who’s chiseled, leading man visage sits easily with an open, engaging sense of humor. Fraser had to work a bit harder in the sequel, The Mummy Returns, which tried hard (with some success) to hang on to the air of pure fun that the original achieved so effortlessly. And if the show leaned a bit too hard on the accelerator for fear of boring its perceived audience of young children, it also wisely retained nearly all of the engaging supporting cast of the first film, including the always stunning Rachel Weisz, and the formidable Arnold Vosloo. Unfortunately, this past summer’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor jettisoned the majority of the supporting cast from the previous films and shifted the action to China. We’ll look forward to spinning the Bluray and hope that some of the original film’s goofball adventurism remains. (Note – not to be confused with 2008’s other underperforming, effects heavy, vaguely Victorian-era period film starring Brendan Fraser, Journey to the Center of the Earth).
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Universal is releasing lots ‘o Mummy this week, with 5 separate releases choking the shelves. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor arrives in single-disc widescreen and fullscreen editions (presumably to sell at supermarket checkout lines) and a 2-disc edition featuring deleted and extended scenes alongside the standard EPK-style making of documentaries and featurettes. The Bluray release has all that, plus several HD exclusives, including an interactive trivia game and a visual commentary track with director Rob Cohen (that appears to be the same track utilized in audio-only form for the SD releases). Dragon also joins its forbearers for a Bluray 3-pack featuring all three films of the franchise, excluding The Scorpion King.
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Director Uwe Boll has long been taking advantage of certain labyrinthine German tax laws that generously reward investors with a 100% write-off for their investment in a German film production. Fair enough, but there has been no such explanation for why his films, once completed, actually manage to get released. Hating Uwe Boll has turned into a cottage industry in the last few years, with his incompetently shot, incoherently edited string of video game adaptations continually enraging unknowing renters, critics, and gamers alike (according to Wikipedia, a recent video game industry award show had the category “Game Most Deserving of a Uwe Boll Adaptation”). Uwe’s latest, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, hits Bluray this week in an “unrated director’s cut” and clocking in at a mind bending 162min! According to the back of the box:

When a bloodthirsty legion of half-man/half-beast Krugs rampages through his village, one man picks up a sword and undertakes a quest of vengeance… and honor. Haunted by the memory of his son’s death and the kidnapping of his wife (Forlani) by the Krugs, Farmer (Statham) ignites a duty-call for others to join his crusade to stop the campaign of terror waged by an evil sorcerer (Liotta) whose ruthless quest for the crown could spell doom for the entire Kingdom.

The show had been previously released on DVD in its PG-13 theatrical length of 127min, and while we haven’t had the chance to view the film yet, it would be impossible to say that the thought of seeing evil sorcerer Ray Liotta share the screen with Burt Reynolds and Matthew Lillard wasn’t tempting. I’d also be interested to know how top billed Jason Statham wound up in this particular gutter, as he generally finds himself in the somewhat more rarified air of a Transporter picture, or at the very least a…

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Death Race. Those of us charting the progress of the remake train were a bit surprised that it took them this long to get to the Roger Corman station. Corman, a producer who didn’t so much pinch pennies as grind them into a fine powder, has a mile-long list of exploitable titles that he’s more than likely thrilled to sell the remake rights to – terrific stories that could be enhanced by a more luxurious budget. This remake of 1975’s Death Race 2000 gives us the near ubiquitous Jason Statham in David Carradine’s former role of ‘Frankenstein’, this time forced along with other inmates to participate in the titular race by a for-profit prison authority. We haven’t had the chance to see the picture yet, but are holding out hope – particularly since Stephen King named it as one of his favorite pictures of 2008 – that the modern update can take director Paul Bartel’s bare-bones concept of a cross country race across a economically devastated American landscape (watch for hysterical background bits like a hospital-sponsored euthanasia day) where points are awarded for killing innocent people and retain its madcap spirit. Classing it up with slumming thespians Joan Allen and Ian McShane certainly helps, and we’re always hopeful that director Paul W.S. Anderson’s story telling sense will one day match his visual flair. Available in the requisite unrated versions in both SD DVD and Bluray, which features the enticing “My Movie Commentary” feature, that apparently allows the viewer to record their own race commentary.
Also debuting on Bluray are the extended editions of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, once known as the two halves of Grindhouse. Released to lukewarm business in 2007, Grindhouse was a labor of love for the two directors; two separate films designed to show as a double feature and featuring a quartet of faux trailers for other genre offerings and vintage theatrical title cards. Tarantino and Rodriguez even went to far as to digitally scratch-up their films (which works much better for Planet Terror) so as to better represent a battered print that has been playing in seedy ‘grindhouses’ all over the country. It’s not hard to imagine why more people didn’t turn out to see the film; aside from a hardcore audience that would relish the idea of returning to the days when you could wander down to 42nd street and sit through hours of kung-fu pictures, blaxsploitation epics, and Euro-sleaze vampires, while counting how many trailers for New World Pictures contained Roger Corman’s famous exploding helicopter shot, most in the younger set could barely grasp the concept of a double feature. This led to Miramax splitting the two films up (and extending the running time for each) for foreign theatrical and domestic DVD release. Fans in the US were bitterly disappointed when they weren’t given the option of seeing the Grindhouse edit on video, particularly because the brilliant trailers by Eli Roth (Thanksgiving), Edgar Wright (Don’t) and Rob Zombie (Werewolf Women of the SS) were left off both DVD releases.
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While still massively irritating, the separation of the pictures has been kind to our favorite of the two, Planet Terror. While the directive was to make a film that embraced the grindhouse experience, only Rodriguez seems to have fully committed himself to that end. Planet Terror is a lovingly raucous ode to the Italian zombie/infection sub-genre (see Luigi Cozzi’s 1982 Contamination for a clearer example) that perfectly captures the gooey thrill ride of a film unencumbered by a moral compass. Death Proof, however, is another story. Though there are few complaints about the huge performance from Kurt Russell as the mysterious Stuntman Mike or the thrilling car chase that caps the show, the picture almost doesn’t recover from the endlessly chatty first half. As of this writing, the only place to secure the feature as shown in theaters is a pricey Japanese DVD release (available via Amazon Japan) that contains the theatrical edit along with the individual cuts. As both films were designed to look absolutely ravaged, Planet Terror and Death Proof might appear at first to be unusual candidates for HD disc. Planet Terror features all of the extras from the previous DVD edition, including a typically engaging commentary track from Rodriguez, a fun audience reaction audio track (their reaction to Rodriguez’s own fake trailer for Machete is priceless), and several featurettes including 10 Minute Film School that concentrates on the special effects, and The Friend, The Doctor, and the Real Estate Agent detailing some unorthodox casting decisions. But also present (and in HD no less) is a “newly discovered” scratch-free print of the film, which basically removes all the digital manipulation used to age the film, rendering it in spotless 1080p glory – it makes for an interesting viewing, if only to further appreciate the level of commitment Rodriguez had for the project.
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Death Proof also ports over the extras from the previous release, including Introducing Zoë Bell, a tribute to the endearingly plucky stuntwoman/actress, and Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, which reiterates that Kurt is the coolest guy on the planet. No scratch-free version this time around, as Tarantino apparently didn’t feel like he needed to bother scratching his half of Grindhouse up all that much to begin with. As long as there’s cash to be made, count on the Weinsteins to run the string of separate releases out to the very end before giving fans what they’ve been asking for – in line behind me, lemmings!
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Also showing up this week with a surprisingly low profile is what ought to be one of the most eagerly anticipated genre titles on Bluray, Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Warner Bros (through subsidiary New Line) has been cancelling and postponing this for months now, with some copies having already leaked out through online retailers. Craven’s film has attained the status of an unquestioned masterpiece, as important to the 80s as Halloween was to the 70s and Night of the Living Dead to the 60s, and though it regrettably ushered in the era of the wisecracking, crowd pleasing serial killer, it’s also a wholly original, artistic triumph. And while the picture on the Bluray is a substantial improvement over New Line’s older Infini-Film edition, the lack of any extras for such a historically important film tells us to prepare for a deluxe Bluray somewhere down the line.