Category Archives: Movie Lounge

DVD Review: PLANET OF DINOSAURS (1977)

61AcYJnZXvLPLANET OF DINOSAURS (1977)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

My only memory of this movie is when this Styracosaurus chases this guy up to the edge of a cliff, impales him on its horn and throws him over. This is one of two movies I remember where I was shocked to see a stop-motion monster kill someone. Most of the stop motion movies I watched when I was a kid were from Ray Harryhausen and the most violence they ever had was having some monster fall onto a person in it’s death throes and crush them, or in the case of the Cyclops from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958) pick up a tree and squash them with it. No blood, just out of sight and you get the impression they were killed.

Equinox (1970) and Planet Of Dinosaurs (1977) were different. The former had a gigantic simian demon pick up someone, whale them against a tree and slam them against the ground with an audible splat. Towards the end of the film a stop-motion Satan swoops down and embeds his talons into this poor chick, it then reverts to human form showing it’s human hands embedded in her flesh. In the latter flick we see the Styracosaurus’ horn impale a human being, and then we see that human lying at the bottom of the cliff, stomach covered in blood, blood gurgling out of his mouth.

For a young kid who was heretofore brought up on G-rated monster movies seeing something Ray Harryhausen may have had a hand in creating shedding bloody violence was traumatizing. And because they were those two movies became cauterized into my wounded mind thus making them “memory movies” in the extreme. And for me most of my “memory movies” are my favorite ones.

I don’t believe I ever watched the rest of Planet Of The Dinosaurs, though having just seen it again, the second time since childhood, the giant spider attack suddenly brought back memories, and that occurred after the Styracosaurus attack. It’s possible now I may have seen more of it afterwards.

Planet Of The Dinosaurs is about a group of humans aboard a spacecraft in some unnamed, far-flung future, when the rector goes belly up they jump into the escape ship and get away just as their mother ship vaporizes. Lucky for them they were near an earth-like planet. They crash land and that’s when the fun begins.

None of them know what they are up against until one of the surviving chicks tells the others she forgot to bring the escape transmitter to shore. See they crashlanded in a lake and had to evacuate right quick before the ship sank. She says it’s probably floating out there somewhere. One of the guys takes off to get it and the chick jumps in to help; within seconds an aquatic dinosaur gobbles her up.

Hottest chick in the movie and she gets offed right in the beginning.

It’s not long before they all realize they’ve crashed onto some kind of planet of dinosaurs and it’s not long before they are fighting moments of melancholy for their earth home, each other, and, yes, the dinosaurs themselves.

For a B-movie I found myself noticing the subtext of future man with all his technology being rendered nearly inoperable the instant it gets taken away and then thrown face first into a survival of the fittest situation he’s never been, or even evolved to have been, prepared for.

What is man without his technology?

Answer: a caveman.

But no one watches a 1977 B-movie titled, Planet Of The Dinosaurs, for the subtext, you watch it to see humans battling, ah, dammit, what’s the word I’m looking for, oh yeah… DINOSAURS!! Especially when someone who knows what the fuck they are doing animates those dinosaurs expertly in stop-motion fashion. Enter Doug Beswick who’s done stop-motion work on When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970), Ticks (1993), Evil Dead 2 (1987), Beetlejuice (1988), A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1986) and even that Sunday morning religious series we all loved back in the day, Davey And Goliath (1971-1975).

Before putting this on I was a little worried it wouldn’t hold up. Not the stop-motion, but the movie around the FX. I have encountered a few “memory movies” from childhood that have shockingly not held up to the memories I had of them (i.e. The Eye Creatures, Zontar: The Thing From Venus), but I was relieved I was able to fall right into the story once they crashed on the planet. It’s pretty much hard not to identify with any stranded-on-a-desert island scenario, or in this case a stranded-on-an-alien-planet scenario no matter how low or high budgeted the movie is. We can all relate to the feeling of never seeing home again and trying to survive on nothing more than our own wits.

Dammit, there I go with the subtext again.

The stop-motion FX is integrated very well into the live action and Jim Danforth’s matte paintings. The movie reminded me of Equinox (Danforth worked on it, too) and I swear I saw a similar location used in that movie, as well. Checking the filming locations on IMDB for both indicated, however, they were shot in two different places.

Okay, so, I was wrong.

Inevitably the cast is whittled down and the ending is pretty much what you can guess it is. No one makes it off the planet, despite their previous attempts to set out some beacons a rescue ship might see when scanning the planet. We shoot ahead to an indeterminate time, enough to show how the survivors have chiseled out a niche in their alien-familiar ecosystem, built a domicile, created a farm, rid themselves of their futuristic clothing in favor of more caveman-like attire and started a family evident by the presence of a 3 year old now.

Ever since I got on the net on a regular basis (from 2010 on) and gotten integrated into the collecting movies community, especially those in the horror and science fiction genre, I’ve noticed there are some “memory movies” whose 35mm elements have been either deliberately/accidentally thrown out, not properly stored and taken care of (I’m looking at you Roger Corman) or have gone just MIA, resulting in sub-par DVD transfers from whatever remaining elements have been left behind.

Retromedia’s The Jitters (1989) DVD was mastered as perfect as Fred Olen Ray could get it from it’s only surviving source, a professional grade VHS tape. On the commentary the director even states all the original elements of this film are just no longer in existence.

Roddy McDowell once said Hollywood has no sense of history. That may be true but I can’t totally blame them. Who could have foreseen DVD technology, HD televisions or the DVD collecting community that would arise and demand high-grade transfers, deleted scenes and everything else we love that comes with these celluloid special edition memories.

Who could have foreseen there’d me a market for any of this?

I remember being a kid and having a brief moment of wonder about the shows I was watching. I am now 45 and my God there’s a couple of channels in existence that actually cater to old TV series. I never could have foreseen those shows would have had any kind of long lasting shelf life.

So it was of no surprise that when I popped Planet Of The Dinosaurs on this disclaimer comes up before the movie begins:
Due to time and circumstances the original 35 mm elements of PLANET OF DINOSAURS are no longer fit for transfer. This presentation has been created from one of the few remaining 35 mm prints and is reconstructed in the most distressed areas from the producer’s 16mm film element.

I’d say 95 % of the transfer is pretty damn good looking though. But even with those less than perfect frames on display it’s still very much watchable.

This particular release Retromedia made is actually a re-release. They originally released this DVD back in 2007, and after a while it went out of print. The old specs have been transferred over which contradict the new specs on the right. I’m talking about the aspect ratio. The old specs say it’s a 1.85:1 transfer but the new specs have it listed as a 1.78:1. The difference between the two, I believe, is minimal and shouldn’t impact your viewing pleasure. It would have had the old transfer been 2.35:1. There’s a big difference there. But have no fear the current transfer is anamorphic (aka enhanced for 16×9 televisions).

The audio is also the same, English Dolby Digital mono, and it sounded just fine to me.

There are no subtitles.

Extras from the old release have been ported over as well. To date all of Fred Olen Ray’s commentaries have been great. Here he moderates, asking all the right questions, to Director James K. Shea, Writer Jim Aupperle, Executive Producer Steve Czerkas and stop-motion animator Doug Beswick. Listening to it I became aware of the all the nods to stop-motion artists Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen they inserted into the film.

Speaking of O’Brien you also get two silent shorts titled, Ghost Of Slumber Mountain and Dinosaur And The Missing Link. Last but not least you also get two TV spots for Planet Of The Dinosaurs.

I missed this release when it first came out, but have obviously rectified that travesty. I think what we need now is a sequel that uses good ol’ fashion stop-motion again. It’s too bad that FX is now a lost art. Well, at least, we still have these memory movies to bask in.

Blu-Ray Review: TOURIST TRAP (1979, US Blu-Ray)

83676_frontTOURIST TRAP (1979, US Blu-Ray)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

(WARNING!! THERE ARE SPOILERS CONTAINED WITHIN! WARNING!!)

The only memory I retained of this movie was an early scene where this guy was trapped in a room while all this poltergeist-like phenomenon was happening all around him. He was trying to get out when this pipe flies across and impales him in the back. He then throws his head back in a silent scream as blood trickles out the end of the pipe.
Yeah, that freaked me out.

Having just seen Tourist Trap last night it’s plain to see that I never watched the movie all the way through. If I did, my ability to recall it has been stunted for it did not strike one familiar cord in me. Before I get deep into its review I just want to say I liked the movie. It was weird, creepy, grimy and descended into this dream logic vibe the longer it went on. Similar to Phantasm (1979) it felt like I was watching someone’s nightmare slowly and painfully unfold.

If you’ve never seen it and have a mannequin phobia I would not recommend watching it. I personally don’t have one but it nevertheless made me fear mannequins just a little bit. Parts of it fall into the ambiguous category but with this movie that was all right. Fear of the unknown is a deep-seeded phobia for most of the human race. We hate and fear those things that we cannot form a rational explanation or theory for and the origin of the psychic phenomena I mentioned prior is hazy at best and because of that I was additionally bothered. But I’ll get into that more in a bit.

From the description on the back cover you can get a feel what this movie is about, and you’d be half right: a group of young people, 6 to be exact, is menaced at this roadside tourist trap by this “crazy guy” who runs it. That’s basically true, but what throws you for a loop upon first viewing is the aforementioned fate of that guy who started out just looking for a place to get his tire fixed. His untimely end at thisabandoned gas station is what sets up the “weird” aspect of this plot.

After Woody (Keith McDermott) fails to return, Jerry (Jon Van Ness), Molly (Jocelyn Jones), Eileen (Robin Sherwood) and Becky (smoking hot Tanya Roberts) drive around looking for him and this is how they end up in the clutches of a Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors) of Slausen’s Lost Oasis, the tourist trap of the title.

The girls first encounter him while skinny-dipping in a nearby watering hole. He seems benevolent enough, offers to house the girls and Jerry in his museum (Slausen’s tourist trap seems to specialize in mechanized mannequins of historical figures) as night comes, and even offers to help Jerry fix their jeep, which mysteriously died the moment he drive it onto his property.

Most of the menace in this movie is played out at night and begins after Slausen accompanies Jerry back to the jeep to fix it. The camera does not follow so we never know what transpires between the two. Eileen noticed a nearby house sitting in the back in the distance, but Slausen told them to stay away from it, to stay put in the museum, until they get back.

If his warning was heeded we might not have a movie. Actually, now that I think about it, I think, we still would have a movie, the “menace” would just come to them. In that house she hears voices, one of them sounds like Woody, she enters and finds a creepy abode full of junk and many, many mannequins…. and a homicidal individual wearing a blond wig and a creepy mask meant to look like missing Woody.

This individual kills the girl with his telekinetic powers, tightening the scarf around her neck until she suffocates. One by one the kids are stalked, menaced and captured by this person, who talks in a very unsettling tone and keeps them all bound in the basement of that house while he goes about making the kids “part of his collection.”

This person tells his captives he’s Slausen’s brother and the mask is supposed to stay on his face because Slausen thinks he’s better looking. This person does not remain a mystery throughout the whole movie. Eventually Molly discovers its Slausen himself either suffering from some kind of split personality or just using it to consciously terrorize them. Take your pick. Both theories are troubling.

As the movie progresses we learn telekinesis may just be the tip of the iceberg. No explanation given but just from what’s visually presented it seems Slausen can make people think the mannequins are real, that they can utter words and tones and make them sound like people they know thus baiting them into situations no other person might put themselves if it wasn’t anyone other than a friend in need.

Very clever.

He’s obviously turning his victims into mannequins for his display, but towards the end something unexplainably weird happens where we learn Jerry is a mannequin. When that happened we have no idea, since he was in view of others throughout the movie. The only time he’s out of sight of anyone, including the viewer, is towards the end when he and Becky finally escape the house and both flee in separate directions.

The ending is clearly downbeat.

This isn’t a gory movie at all. In fact it’s rated PG, yet feels very R-rated due to the intense nature of the story and the menacing atmosphere maintained through out from the moment Eileen visits the house in the beginning right to the maddening nightmarish conclusion. In that regard it reminded me of The Frighteners (1996) which was rated R but should have been rated PG-13. There’s no gore in that movie at all, but the intense nature of the story makes it feel very R-ish. Not that I’m a prude and am turned off by gore, sure I have my threshold namely that being anything Lucio Fulci has ever made sans The Beyond (1981), but I do admit I have a little more respect for a horror flick that can deliver the horror without making frequent to infrequent departures into gore. That probably goes back to my age-old love for H.P. Lovecraft who was able to deliver serious frights without spilling an ounce of blood or torturing it out of anyone.

One Dark Night (1983) is another horror movie that got a PG and is very unnerving, all done without spilling one once of blood.
But I digress.

The transfer is a little bit problematic. It’s got very good color, very crisp but in the last act it suffers from some infrequent frame jumping. Normally this would annoy me to no end, but given the nightmarish quality of the story the infrequent moments of frame jumping kind of made the movie a little weirder. This is probably the only flick where I can say a defect in the transfer acted as a kind of borderline advantage. Don’t get me wrong, if given the option to own it without the frame jumps I would be all over it, but for this particular one I wasn’t as put off by it as I normally should have been.

The two final scenes, however, exhibit some serious print damage, yet oddly the color is really good.

Not until recently did I learn Tourist Trap had been out once before on DVD from eOne (E1) Entertainment in 2005 with a commentary by Director David Schmoeller, then Full Moon themselves re-issued it on DVD last year without the commentary. The commentary that’s on this new blu-ray is in fact a new one. I had not gotten that previous eOne DVD so I can’t do a comparison but this new one hits all the right notes covering everything you ever wanted to know about the production, the director himself, the actors, the technical side of the filmmaking and most importantly the story itself.

Concerning the story it was interesting to learn Schmoeller initially wrote the story without the telekinesis angle but was persuaded by Charles Band to include it. This explains a lot of the “weirdness” within the movie for it can be interpreted in one of two ways according to Schmoeller. Way one is what I set forth previously in this review, but according to Schmoeller all the strange phenomena you see with the mannequins is really only happening in the mind of Slausen. This goes a long way in explaining the scene at the end where Jerry shows up out of the blue and is revealed to be a mannequin. This secondary interpretation does make the movie even more unnerving, for you’re really getting an inside view as to how insane Slausen really is.

He still has telekinetic powers Schmoeller says, but in his view his only display of it is when he slides the key away from Tanya Roberts.

It was also fun to learn that Jack Palance and Gig Young were approached before Connors was about being Slausen. And this was right before Young died in that murder/suicide of his.

General specs go like this, since there is no mention of the movie’s aspect ratio I hit up IMDB and they say it’s a 1.85:1 movie so I’m just going to assume that’s the size of the transfer I’m looking it.
It’s also anamorphic.

You have two choices for the audio, a stereo 2.0 track or a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround one. Both sounded fine to me.
There are no subtitles.

As for other extras you get a documentary titled, ‘Exit The Chop Shop: The Making Of Tourist Trap (24:35), which is David Schmoeller talking about the conception, the filming, and the release of the movie. Some of the topics he covered in the commentary but there is new stuff here that makes the doc worthwhile.

You also get a very nice Stills Gallery (3:35) set to the films music that showcases some documents Schmoeller wrote during production, lobby cards, behind-the-scenes stills, posters and VHS covers.

There’s a 2005 movie in existence called House Of Wax that I saw parts of at one time. Having now seen Tourist Trap I dare say this House Of Wax might be viewed as some kind of unofficial remake, just without Schmoeller/Band’s psychic powers and mannequin fetish.
Without out those two “gimmicks” I don’t think this movie would be as treasured, or as feared, as it is today. Without them you’d have just another “slasher” flick, albeit one with great atmosphere, but still just a movie about an ordinary madman with a very particular obsession, which ironically is what that House Of Wax movie is.

Blu-Ray Review: PATRICK (1978)

83992_frontPATRICK (1978, DVD/Blu-Ray Combo)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

I half remember seeing a commercial for this movie back when I was a child. I also half remember being creeped out by it, which was the primary reason I decided to review Severin’s new blu-ray, but alas the movie left me wanting.

Like Thirst (1979), another recent release from Severin, I was initially into it for about an hour then it started to lose me. The premise is solid, it’s about a kid named Patrick, who killed his mother and her boyfriend by tossing a heater into the bathtub they were in; it’s never clear what happened to him, but when we see him again he’s been in a coma (eyes open) for the past three years and being taken care of in a home, but the entire movie moves at a snail’s pace. Not that I have anything in general with this kind of pacing, The Vulture (1965) and The Strangeness (1985) come to mind, and they too move leisurely through their plots, and I adore them, but there are some movies that move at a snail’s pace that really feel like they’re moving at a snail’s pace and unfortunately Patrick felt like it.

As I mentioned the concept at the heart of Patrick is one that fascinated me. Being in a coma for so long Patrick has learned to develop his “sixth sense.” He can move objects with his mind, take brief control of others and move about astrally to other locations. The protagonist here is a new young nurse the home hires to care for him. Patrick takes a shine to her and decides to affect her life in such a way that I supposed to make her love him. He makes her soon-to-be-ex-husband disappear for a while, kills off a nurse who was threatening his life and finally reaches the point where he needs to defend himself from the doctor who heads up the home who performs tests on him on a daily basis.

No one else knows of Patrick’s powers except the new nurse, so it was never quite clear why this Doctor performs these tests, or why no one at the home as turned off Patrick’s breathing machine and let him die. They stress how problematic and expensive it is to keep him in this state and that only “fear” hasn’t gotten any of them to flip the switch. This “fear” is never quite explained.
As I said the pacing was what killed this movie for me. It never gets as scary as it could be either.

A remake was made and is set to hit disc in June and I plan to review it in hopes it’s got more flesh on it’s bones than the original.
It initially hit DVD in 2002 from Elite Entertainment, then in 2008 from Synapse Films now on March 25th, Severin Films releases it as a combo as it hits blu-ray for the first time ever. The 1080p 1.77:1 anamorphic high definition transfer looked as crisp and clean as Severin’s other two Aussie flicks (Dead Kids, Thirst) they just released. Audio-wise (English, French, Spanish and Italian, all 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo) the movie was just as good.
There are no subtitles.

As far as extras are concerned carried over from the 2002 and 2008 editions are the Richard Franklin commentary and the Trailer and TV Spots. Added to this Severin version but not new is a Vintage TV Interview (20:24) with Director, Richard Franklin that’s a little bit biographical as well as touching base on the movies he’s been involved with, and Not Quite Hollywood (Extended Interviews) (1:06:00), with Richard Franklin, Screenwriter Everette de Roche, Producer Antony Ginnane and Stars Susan Penhaligon and Rod Mullinar. These interviews were done for the 2008 documentary, Not Quite Hollywood; I’ve never seen it, but judging by the “Extended Interviews” label I assume there’s more here than what made it into that doc.

It’s an interesting set of interviews. Since I knew nothing of the movie’s history I learned Hollywood dubbed all the voices in it when it was first shown over here and that the Italian “sequel,” Patrick Still Lives (1980), isn’t much of an actual sequel where no one from the first movie was ever involved and is pretty much hated by director, Franklin.

Blu-Ray Review: THE STUFF (1985, UK Blu-Ray)

88767_frontTHE STUFF (1985, UK Blu-Ray)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

Ever have a favorite film that reminds you of a specific person?
I do.

Got lots of them.

This one here reminds me of Gerry, my best friend from high school. It came out in 1985 when I was a sophomore and he was a freshman. I remember first hearing about the film through where else Fangoria magazine. I was jealous when I heard Gerry’s family had rented it and he had seen it before I did. I remember him specifically talking about the kid who had to feign being a stuffie by pretending to eat shaving cream, then puking it back up in the backseat of Michael Moriarty’s car.

We were at the drive-in one weekend waiting for Invaders For Mars (1986) to start when my mother asked us if there was any specific movie we were interested in for she was going to hit up the rental store the next day. I said The Stuff and I may have also mentioned Troll (1986).

I honestly can’t remember if I first saw The Stuff through that rental or from its cable airing later on, either way I enjoyed the movie and it became an instant favorite.

This is the second movie of director Larry Cohen’s that actor Michael Moriarty starred in Their first collaboration was Q, The Winged Serpent (1982) and after The Stuff they paired up again for It’s Alive III: Island Of The Alive (1987) and A Return To Salem’s Lot (1987). They did one more pairing on a Masters Of Horror (2005-2007) episode titled, “Pick Me Up.” That one I didn’t much care for but I’m a big fan of their three B-movies collaboration.

In The Stuff Michael Moriarty plays an industrial saboteur who’s hired to solve the mystery of this popular new “yogurt.” People just love it, but from an earlier scene we see The Stuff may be some kind of sentient organism, able to think and move about like The Blob.
David “Mo” Rutherford (Moriarty) ends up tracking down some leads that has him visiting Stader Virginia, where they originally test marketed The Stuff, but Stader is now a dried up little burg with its remaining residents having been turned into “stuffies.”
What are stuffies?

Humorously coined by Rutherford and his partner in crime, Chocolate Chip Charley (Garret Morris), who was pushed out of his Chocolate chip cookie business by stuffies, they what’s left of you after the stuff has digested you from the inside leaving nothing but a hollowed out vessel for the Stuff to use. Animals can be stuffies too, as we see when Rutherford visits former employee of The Stuff, Vickers (Danny Aiello), and his Doberman, whom he’s mysteriously afraid of. After Rutherford leaves we learn why that is. The damn dog is a stuffie and it makes Vickers one soon after.

Eventually, Rutherford and his girlfriend, Nicole, (Andrea Marcovicci), the ad exec who marketed The Stuff to the masses and even came up with it’s name, trace this mystery to a mining facility in Midland, Georgia. This where The Stuff originated. It seeps up from the ground in vast pools in this quarry and what all the stuffies do is siphon it off into tanker trucks and transport it around the country. There’s a big confrontation at this facility that reminded me of Quatermass II (1957) with all the huge cylindrical stacks containing the organism. A similar scene exists in that ’57 Hammer Film where these alien creatures are contained in similar storage devices.

Paul Sorvino shows up near the end playing the head of a militia that ends up helping Moriarty.
The FX are obviously practical since we didn’t have CGI back in the mid-80s and you get some cool fake heads with mouths that open up way too far to allow the thing to crawl out of, plus a punched off face and a stuffie that gets cut in half after a semi runs him over; miniatures and copious amounts of whatever that doubled as The Stuff as it moves and drowns and kills like all good blob-like monsters excel at.

All good stuff in my book.

The movie first hit DVD from Anchor Bay back in 2000 when Anchor Bay was still at the top of the cult movie distributor food chain. It came with a commentary by Larry Cohen, the trailer, was widescreened and looked pretty good. Then Image Entertainment acquired the rights and put the disc back in circulation in 2011 As far as I know it was the same transfer Anchor Bay released. Now Arrow Films in the UK has decided to release it but on blu-ray for the first time (a DVD/Blu-ray combo to be precise) and the 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks really good. The English 1.0 Mono (PCM uncompressed) sounded good, too. You also get English subtitles only.
In the extra features department you get a documentary titled ‘Can’t Get Enough Of The Stuff’ (52:10) that Arrow could not get the star of the movie Michael Moriarty to participate in. He had to have been asked. I think the doc suffers a little because of it, but just a little, you still have the director, Larry Cohen, discussing it at length, and they did at least manage to get co-star, Andrea Marcovicci, to talk up the movie as well. FX artist Steve Neill, producer Paul Kurta and film critic Kim Newman are also on hand to give their two cents/perspectives.

You also get a commentary on the trailer by Darren Bousman as well as the trailer sans any commentary. Unfortunately, the US commentary Larry Cohen did Anchor Bay had on their version, which was not ported over to the subsequent Image release, was not ported over to Arrow’s version either.

The Stuff is a nice mesh of The Blob, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and the dark side of consumerism that like Brian Yuzna’s Society (1989) and John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) is still relevant today.

DVD Review: THE VENTURE BROTHERS, SEASON 5 (2013)

918rMFk7QvL._SL1500_THE VENTURE BROTHERS, SEASON 5 (2013)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

I never saw The Venture Brothers when it first aired. I seem to recall catching the whole first season on repeats either late in 2004 or a year later. I just recall seeing a lot of weird commercials for it and I liked the animated style. It wasn’t until I took in one of the episodes that I saw it was a comic riff on Jonny Quest, with swearing, sexual overtones and over-the-top violence.
It made me laugh and I loved it.

If you’re not familiar with this toon it’s about this scientist, Rusty Venture who had has two kids, Dean and Hank. On a certain level, all three are kind of idiots, which is part of the gag. They have a body guard named, Brock Samson (voiced by Patrick Warburton), who’s the Race Bannon of the show. The Venture family also has a robot named, H.E.L.P.eR, who has some funny moments throughout the series.
The show also spoofs the superhero genre and the Venture’s arch-villain is known as The Monarch. His motif is a butterfly. He uses it for his costumes, his weapons, his henchmen, his airship, etc. You get the picture.

Some major turns the characters have had throughout the series involves the revelation that Dean and Hank are clones. When they are killed on occasions, Rusty goes down to his cloning chamber and activates two more. The boys had no idea they were clones. And Brock who used to be by the family’s bodyguard for so long now has branched out on his own becoming a member of O.S.I., an anti-villain task force. An ex-villain called, Sergeant Hatred, has replaced Samson as the Venture’s bodyguard.

Did I mention he’s a child-molester? He keeps it “in check” with some kind of drug.
Here we are in 2014 and on the fifth season of the show.

It consists of 8 episodes that break down like this:
What Color Is Your Cleansuit?: The Doc is tasked with creating a ray shield for his brother’s space station and as usual everything goes horribly awry. The rampant radiation of the shield mutates all the extra help he hired and they in turn become a society unto themselves with hopes of mutating the world with the ray shield. This was a particular hilarious episode. It also ran 60 minutes when it debuted.

Venture Libre: What Jonny Quest excelled in was high adventure in exotic locales. This episode is a high adventure in an exotic locale. The Doc is sent to an island to stop Venturestein any way possible. Hank and Sgt. Hatred tag along. What they discover is an island of Dr. Moreau kind of situation; Hank gets jacked up on coffee beans and assumes the crime-fighting persona of “The Bat,” and begins taking out Venturestein’s henchfreaks Dark Knight style. Turu The Terrible makes a cameo, the giant pteranodon of that Jonny Quest episode of the same name.

SPHINX Rising: There are two really good episodes this season. This is one of them. Gary decides to resurrect SPHINX and sends out an email invitation. Several ex members heed the call and sign up, but they have ulterior motives. This whole episode is simply hilarious.
Spanakopita!: The Doc takes his annual vacation to the island of Spanakos for the festival of Spanakopita. Unwilling joining him is Billy, Peter (an albino) and Hatred. Once their Billy and Peter’s arch-enemy, Augustus St. Cloud, shows up and cheats on all the Spanakopita games and generally makes everyone’s vacation a hell. Nice twist at the end of what Spanakopita really is.

O.S.I. Love You: This is the second and probably the best episode done this season. It’s mostly a flashback. After OSI nabs Monstroso and Molotov Cocktease it flash forwards days later and we learn through an interrogation of Brock, his team, Hank, Dean, Doc and Hatred that Monstroso and Cocktease have escaped. How that exactly happened is slowly unveiled.

Momma’s Boys: Dean takes off to the Dunwich Asylum Of The Criminally Obsessive to meet his supposed mother. In the meantime, a trick played on the Doc using a “Teddy Ruxpin” teddy bear complicates Hank and Dermott’s lives to the extent that they feel that have to get themselves committed to Dunwich Asylum to find the dude who voiced the bear. The boy’s mother is crazy and intends to put Dean back insider her so she can give birth to him all over again. Oh, yeah, Doc and Hatred find themselves on death’s door and he confesses that Dermott is his illegitimate son. My least favorite episode of the season.

Bot Seeks Bot: A directly connected episode to O.S.I. Love You (in the beginning anyway) as the lead Monstroso gave OSI (before he “magically” fell out of the helicarrier) ends up suspiciously dead. But they find a robot named Vendeta to use as a pawn to see if they can learn the identities of the Council Of 13. All this leads Brock, Shore Leave and a disguised robot to an underground nightclub exclusively for villains. To make things even harder for the OSI agents the Doc and Rusty crash the nightclub thinking it’s just some kind of costume party. The episode ends when a giant disco ball seemingly crushing and killing the Doc.

The Devil’s Grip: Don’t worry the Doc ain’t dead, he’s been captured by The Monarch though. Hatred and Gary try to rescue him. Meanwhile, Hatred has sent Dean and Hank to go live with their godparents, which leads to some expected shenanigans within their respective homes. The A plot here was more interesting than the domestic B plot. Being a season finale Dean finally tells Hank they’re clones, but Hank sees it all as a glass half full revelation. It appears Gary has returned to the Monarch’s side as Henchman 21. Hatred feeling betrayed destroys Monarch’s cocoon and their home.

All in all even though this was the shortest season on record, with only one episode I didn’t care for, I thought it was a solid one.
Warner Brothers releases The Venture Brothers: Season 5 in separate DVD and blu-ray editions with the same extras on both.

Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen—English Dolby Digital 5.1—English only subtitles. (This review is for the DVD, not the blu-ray; despite that both audio and video looked and sounded pristine to me).

This release comes with 2 episode specials: The Very Venture Halloween and the pseudo biopic, From The Ladle To The Grave: The Shallow Gravy Story. The Halloween special was aired in October of 2012 and connects up with Season 5, which came later in June of 2013.

The Venture Halloween special sees Hank, Dean and Dermott wanting to do something daring for Halloween so they decide to visit the Old Potter place. The Doc always told his kids to stay away from it when they were young. Dean ventures in and meets scientist Potter who tells him he and his brothers are clones. Elsewhere on the compound Doc, Hatred, Billy and White are placing bets on which trick-or-treaters can make it past the security and which ones can’t. The funniest subplot of this special is Dr. Orpheus and his Halloween gathering of magic-users. A nice ode to Hellraiser (1987) pops up; a funny as hell one, too. Oh, and the group inadvertently raise up a legion of zombies.

The Shallow Gravy biopic only runs 11:45 and is played out exactly like one of those band biopics, chronicling how Dean, Dermott and H.E.L.P.eR formed the band Shallow Gravy. Included is the music video for their song, Jacket. Short but quite humorous. This where the Doc learned Dermott is his illegitimate son.

As for extra features you get commentaries on all the episodes with Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, Deleted Scenes (5:52), audio is complete but the animation was not, and something called, Fax My Grandson (3:15), which appears to be the extended audio on a particular scene from the SPHINX Rising episode. Moderately funny.

Blu-Ray Review: BENEATH (2013)

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BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

(Warning!! This review contains spoilers!! You have been warned!!)

Back in the early 2000’s I bought a book called, ‘Mysterious America: The Revised Edition’ by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman. Chapter 10 is titled “Giant Catfish” and this is where I learned that there are supposed to be GIANT catfish in existence. I also learned they’re more than legend in parts of Asia and around the world, but they aren’t supposed to grow GIANT in North America. Just to put that in perspective in May of 2005 a world record was broken when a giant catfish weighing 646 pounds and measuring 9 feet in length was caught in the Mekong River in China.
Google it.

The photo is impressive
The first movie I can recall to touch base on these legends is Frankenfish (originally titled Bayou); made in 2004 by special effects artist, Mark Dippe. I saw it when it was on the SyFy channel and almost skipped it due to that comical title. Yes, Bayou is generic and not much better but it doesn’t bring to mind some kind of comedy/horror. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. Good story, relatable characters and the CGI fish looked like someone actually spent some money on making them look real, sans a few shots of them swimming under the water which looked like the usual SyFy hokey.

After watching it I quickly hit up Amazon and ordered it.

Still got it, too.

I just wish Sony would blue the damn thing now.

Then in 2009 the Discovery Channel debuted a show called, River Monsters, where world-renowned fish hunter, Jeremy Wade, ventureed the globe to find some of the biggest fish you’ve never seen. The first two seasons were the best. Wade was actually finding and catching enormous fish I never knew existed. Some were even big enough to conceivable kill a human being but the ones legend says can engulf a man whole were never seen only speculated about in a few episodes.

Now we come to the second movie ever made that delves into these giant freshwater killers and this one comes courtesy of director Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, Wendigo, Fear Itself episode, “Skin And Bones”).

Here we have 6 kids who just graduated from high school and before they depart for places unknown, probably never to see each other again, they want to have one last get-together at a place called Black Lake.

I wonder if this is a nod to the 1976 Killer Squatch flick Creature From Black Lake? Until I listen to the commentary I won’t know for sure.

And just like in that movie this Black Lake has a legend connected to it. This one is known for having a giant man-eating fish in it. One of the characters, Johnny, (Daniel Zavotto), who appears to be Native American knows about the legend, but then again all the kids seem to, but it’s only Johnny that seems to actually believe it. Even going so far as to want to give Kitty (Bonnie Dennison) a fishtooth necklace as protection against it. All of these kids are friends to a degree and Johnny appears to have been and is still smitten with Kitty even though her boyfriend, Matt (Chris Conroy), is with her on this trip. Also tagging along is Matt’s younger brother, Simon (Jonny Orsini), and a chick named, Deb (Mackenzie Rosman), who seems to be best friends with Kitty. Then we have a film geek director wanna-be named, Zeke (Griffin Newman) who’s passion is movies and who’s heading off to film school in the fall. So passionate is he the kid comes equipped with a GoPro digital camera around his wrist to record as much of the trip as possible.

An old man abruptly makes an appearance. Mr. Parks (Mark Margolis) is his name and he knows Johnny. And he’s intensely curious as to why he’s hanging around these kids down here at this lake. It’s obvious he’s thinking something is going to go horribly wrong but Johnny assures them they’re just heading to the other side of the lake to camp out.

In a nutshell this movie has a lot in common with Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever (2002), except here the kids aren’t stuck in a cabin in the woods, but in a rowboat and instead of being eaten away by a flesh eating disease, they’re eaten away by a giant fish.

I was actually liking this movie for a while, and starting out the kids are pretty likable, as they’re meant to be, but as the movie progresses we slowly find out the dynamics of their friendships were fairly messed up before hand, making it fairly easy for their tenuous bonds to disintegrate in the face of adversity.

All would have been find had eldest brother, Matt, not decided about half way through their trip to the other side to take a dip in the lake. And the girls just have to follow suite. Johnny tries his damndest to get them back in the boat, but you know how kids are.
This is where it all goes bad.

The giant fish shows up and through either a series of happy accidents or sentient pre-planning by the actual fish itself, the kids manage to lose both oars, and have all their ideas for escape thwarted. Making matters worse the fish has bashed a crack in the bottom of the boat and soon they are all going to be in the water whether they like it or not.

This is where the fragile friendships breakdown and the kids come to the unthinkable conclusion that if they distract the fish with some kind of bait they’ll be able to shove their hands in the water and paddle themselves to shore.

What kind of live bait you may ask?
Themselves.

Voting takes place throughout the movie. Who’s the least crucial person needed to help get the boat to shore? The person who wins, I mean, loses, gets tossed into the water. From the moment this lame ass plan was hatched you can see how utterly useless it is. They’d never be able to paddle fast enough before the fish gets done eating.

Obviously the kids become less and less likable as their dark sides come to the surface, until at the end you’ve got brother against brother.

I enjoyed the creature feature aspect with the practical FX of the giant fish looking really damn good. There is a vague supernatural angle in the movie concerning the necklace tooth. Wearing it seems to make the fish uninterested in you. But I shall say no more.

Incidentally, Zeke deserved to get tossed in. You’ll find that kid is the most unsympathetic bunch when the shit hits the fan. And I do kind of blame Johnny for not telling everyone what might happen. But they all knew the legend and who the hell would actually believe it would show up and start killing them. So I guess I was conflicted as to how much of the real blame he should be saddled with. He was the most heroic of the bunch. Not a douchy bone in his body.

God rest his soul.

Never forget, people.

Never forget.

Shout! Factory brokered a deal with the Chiller Channel some time ago making Shout! the sole distributor of all films Chiller and they have released Beneath through their horror sub-label Scream Factory.

Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p high definition anamorphic 1.78:1—English 5.1 DTS-MA/English 2.0 DTS-MA—English subtitles only.
Both the video and the audio were superb.

As for extras, first up is a commentary with Director Larry Fessenden and Sound Designer Graham Reznick that’s pretty damn informative. Fessenden didn’t write this one. He was at Chiller Films pitching some ideas when they said, ‘well, we’ve got this one already to go.’ He read it and loved it. There was no indication this Black Lake was a nod to Creature From Black Lake. I was also surprised to learn CGI was indeed used in the movie, but in such a way you would never notice it. Case in point—all the “eye action” from the fish was CGI.

‘Behind Beneath: Making The Fish Movie’ (1:00:00) is a really nice in depth look at the making of the movie from FX, to cast rehearsals, to sound design, to red carpet premiere and everything in between which is behind the scenes on the set of how it was all put together and filmed.

The next major extras that will definitely add to your movie viewing experience are the webisodes, What The Zeke? (18:32) and What’s In Black Lake (11:42). In the beginning of the movie there’s brief mention of Zeke’s flick called, Zombies vs. Werewolves vs. Ninjas and then later on during his desperate and cutthroat breakdown in the boat in an effort to save his own ass he makes mention of video he secretly recorded, and afterwards Matt casually mentions the football game Zeke recorded. All this can now be viewed in What The Zeke?
It also shows that Matt was not a big fan of Zeke, which now makes me wonder why he was even invited. In fact Zeke and Johnny come off as the “geeks” while the others come off as the “popular kids,” again making me wonder why these two were even allowed to come along. Generally those two social types don’t mix.

In What’s In Black Lake Larry Fessenden takes the role of a weird obsessive who can’t get enough of the legends and mysterious disappearances that surround the lake. These webisodes are him talking to the camera. There’s also a moment where he tracks down Johnny as he’s walking home from either school or heading somewhere and tries to get the kid to come clean about the tooth he wears. You also get an epilogue of sorts to the movie where “Crazy Larry” hears on the news that 5 or 6 kids went missing and bodies were found. He heads down to Black Lake and videos the Do Not Cross Police tape all over the place.

Other extras are some Outtakes (14:39), these aren’t bloopers but more behind-the-scenes action and the Poster/Premiere (2:06), which is just a montage of the poster actually being pressed and video from the premiere set to the creepy music of the movie.

Finally there’s Fessenden On Jaws (17:07). In 1982 Larry and some other dude did a spoof of Siskel and Ebert. Here it’s called, “Brief Previews” and they’re reviewing the “remake” of Jaws, which is a stop motion segment of Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw on the boat at the end of the movie. We then can cut to present day where Larry and his bud show us the miniature of the boat he made that’s still in one piece and the attention to detail is astounding.

Finally there’s Beneath’s trailer.

The creature feature aspect worked me but the let’s-murder-each-other angle did not.

Blu-Ray Review: THIRST (1979, Blu-Ray)

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BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

Until Severin announced they were bluing this movie, I had never heard of it before. Trailer and TV Spot looked pretty good and the TV Spot actually looked familiar, not that I had ever seen the movie but I may have seen the commercial for it.
It gave me that déjà vu feeling.

Anyway the movie starts out promising enough with this woman coming to in a coffin, sitting up in horror and screaming her lungs out. We then flash back to how she got to be in that coffin and are introduced to Kate Davis (Chantel Contouri) living a normal life with her boyfriend, Derek (Rod Mullinar), when suddenly she’s kidnapped right out of her home and put into this “facility.”

The Brotherhood tells her she’s a descendant of Elizabeth Bathory and seeks to mate her with one of her own to make their “society” even stronger. You see The Brotherhood is made up of vampires. Modern vampires. They can walk around in the day and pretty much look like you and I, except when they get hungry. Then they’re eyes glow and they have to put in false fangs to tear flesh.

Kate denies any urge to be a vampire but they won’t have any of that. They’re plan is to brainwash her to make her come to grips with the vampire lineage within her DNA. She remains on their “farm,” where they keep humans to use essentially as cattle. Milking them of their blood and putting it into this special milk that’s sent out into the world for all the vampires to drink.

It’s a very strange take on vampirism with similarities to True Blood and a subplot in Blade 3. I was actually into this movie until Kate descends into madness during her conditioning and we get to see all the weird pseudo-realities she thinks she’s experience, and then I lost interest and was bored to tears.

Henry Silva appears briefly in the movie.

From what I can gather Synapse Films released this movie on DVD back in 2008, now Severin Films owns it and they have released it in a DVD/Blu-Ray combo for the first time. The 1080p 2.35:1 anamorphic high definition print looks as gorgeous as their Dead Kids blu-ray did. The English DTS-HD mono audio was perfect, too.

Concerning extras the only ones not ported over from the Synapse DVD are the Photo Gallery and Cast And Filmmaker Biographies. What got ported over is the audio commentary with Director Rod Hardy and Producer Antony I. Ginnane, the Isolated Music Score By Brian May, a theatrical trailer and 3 TV Spots.

Blu-Ray Review: DEAD KIDS (1981, aka STRANGE BEHAVIOR)

71fIyZcKcgL._SL1500_DEAD KIDS (1981, aka STRANGE BEHAVIOR)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

Stating the obvious here…being a Fangoria reader for several decades has made me aware of many genre movies, even the ones I have no interest in. But as time progressed and I grew older there are now a lot of movies I knew of that I never wanted to see that I know kind of want to see. Dead Kids is one of them. Though I’ve always known this movie under its alternate Strange Behavior title.

I thought I had a vague memory of seeing it on cable back when I was a kid, but that scene I thought belonged to the movie was not in it when I saw it last night for the first time. Oh, well. I did enjoy the flick though. Lately I’ve been seeing many movies that remind me of other movies due to the subject matter either being intentionally or unintentionally copied, and Dead Kids is no exception. I was unexpectedly reminded of an episode of Batman Beyond that mined a similar concept and there was another film, 1998’s Disturbing Behavior that could almost be called an unofficial remake.

Dead Kids has a nice mix of mystery, slasher and science fiction elements that worked beautifully for me. And speaking of beautifully the cinematography was just that, taking place in the Midwest, Illinois, I think, to be exact, but actually being filmed in New Zealand.
The movie starts right off with an eerie bang as we see the stabbing murder of a teen in his house after the lights have gone out and his parents have left for the evening. The mystery element isn’t about who the killer is since we actually see who did it, but why the kids are making other select kids so dead.

Before we start understanding this part of the flick we are introduced to head of police, John Brady (Michael Murphy), his son, Peter (Dan Shor) and Peter’s best friend, Oliver Myerhoff (Marc McClure). Eager to make some extra money Oliver persuades Peter to undergo some experiments at the local college, which they’re willing to pay students for. Here we meet a Gwen Parkinson (Fiona Lewis) giving a lecture about what she’s been working on for so many years and her dead mentor Dr. LeSange, who’s on video interacting with the lecture.

Peter takes part in these mysterious experiments that revolve around controlling the mind, and the sales pitch Parkinson gives Peter is full of benevolence and the helping of mankind, but we the audience no how full of shit she probably is.

Peter strikes up a romance with Caroline (Dey Young), the secretary in the Psychology Department Peter visits everyday for his “treatments.” During the course of events two more kids are murdered. Each one by a different kid. What we learn from casual conversation from one of the murderers is that he may be just as much a victim as his victim, with no memory of having done anything untoward.

Our mystery elements set in as we learn from John and his girlfriend, Barbara Moorehead (Louise Fletcher) that his wife died from Asthma, that she used to work for this LaSange, and that John blamed him for her death. By the end of the movie this mystery ties in perfectly with all the killings and is capped off by a nice character twist for one of the main characters.

Dead Kids has been released twice prior here in the US (DVD only); once by Elite Entertainment in 2003 and once by Synapse Films in 2008, both under the Strange Behavior title. Severin Films has now gotten a hold of it and has decided to release it again this time under it’s original moniker, Dead Kids, remastered and in blu-ray for the first time ever. The release is actually a DVD/Blu-ray combo.
The 1080p anamorphic high definition 2.35:1 transfer that was done is absolutely breathtaking. It compliments the cinematography perfectly, especially the landscape shots. The Audio is English DTS-MA mono only but sounded perfectly fine to me.

As for the extras, ported over from the previous DVD editions is the commentary with co-writer/associate producer Bill Condon and actors Dan Shor and Dey Young, the Isolated Music Score By Tangerine Dream and the US and International Trailers. Not ported over are the deleted scenes, photo gallery and filmographies. What Severin Films as added is a second commentary with director/co-writer Michael Laughlin (recorded on Skype) and The Effects Of Strange Behavior—An Interview with Makeup Effects Artist Craig Reardon (20:32).

I chose the cast commentary to listen to, as I prefer those to solo director ones. Generally the cast ones are more entertaining, while the director ones are more educational. Yes, I prefer entertaining over educational. Not all the time, but most times. This one was pretty good and I learned Dan Shor was a major horn dog hitting on anything with a heartbeat, even engaged Young.

The Craig Reardon FX featurette was my favorite extra as Reardon discussed how he did the gags for the film, a little bit about his career and the other movies he worked on, which included some nice behind-the-scene photos from The Funhouse (1983), which I don’t think I have ever seen before.

Blu-Ray Review: ROBOCOP (1987, Remastered Blu-Ray)

89781_frontROBOCOP (1987, Remastered Blu-Ray)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

1987 was a hell of a year.

The biggest event was my graduation from high school that spring.

In regards to movies that were a lot of releases, which have now become either classics or cult classics nowadays—Predator, The Lost Boys, Creepshow 2, The Gate, The Princess Bride, Hellraiser, Lethal Weapon, Extreme Prejudice, Evil Dead II, The Monster Squad, The Running Man, Near Dark and the list goes on. Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is also one of those movies.

I first learned of the movie from a TV commercial and for some reason I remember really liking the instrumental music they used for that particular TV spot. Music that was not in the movie, I might add. I also remember reading the novelization of it, like I used to routinely do back then with whichever summer movies got their own books.

I remember seeing it more than once, too. Again something else I used to do when I was a teenager. Any big budget movie that struck the right chord my friends and me saw countless times. We saw Predator the most. I think I saw Robocop only twice, but I loved it just as much.

I believe Robocop was Paul Verhoeven’s first shot at the big time and his style for the movie’s violence is clearly a hard, violent, in your face R. Something he would be renowned for thereafter with Total Recall in 1990, Basic Instinct in 1992 and Starship Troopers in 1997. Incidentally Basic Instinct is the only one of those mentioned movies that has not gotten remade. As of this writing there is a PG-13 planned remake of Troopers on the horizon. Len Wiseman’s remake of Total Recall and the just released PG-13 rated Robocop remake are clearly not as violent as their originals, but that’s a conversation for another time.
Most really good science fiction, be it in film or in print, tends to make predictions of the future which inevitably end up coming true to some degree. Robocop is set in a future where Detroit has basically gone under. It’s gone bankrupt, it’s full of corruption and crime and normal law bidding citizens don’t want to live there any more.

Sound familiar?

The OCP (Omni Consumer Products) corporation thinks they have a damn good idea on how to rid “Old Detroit,” as it’s now called, of its scum. Oily, OCP employee, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), has invented a bipedal death machine dubbed ED 209. Problem is during it’s unveiling in a boardroom meeting the machine malfunctions and blows away a co-worker. This is when oily, OCP employee #2, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), steps in with an alternate plan that’s been stewing on the backburner for a while, all it needed was for a fuckup like this to happen to put it into action.

The Robocop program entails “moving around” candidates into key positions that will eventually turn one of them into a contender. Learning of this from a conversation between Morton and head of OCP played by Dan O’Herlihy (Halloween III) shows you how Detroit cop, Alex Murphy’s (Peter Weller) was fated to be that contender. When we first meet him it’s on his first day of being transferred into the trenches of Old Detroit’s worst police department (worst as in a department that loses more cops to death by crime than any other) by OCP who now owns the law enforcement of the entire city.

I reiterate this is Murphy’s first day in his new precinct and it’s going to be the worst day of his life. Before he’s assigned a partner and a car, we meet Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) as she metes out a serious case of kick ass to the perp she was bringing in who goes nuts and gets loose. Coincidentally, this is his new partner, and before you can say Clarence Boddicker they are out cruising around Old Detroit waiting for crime to slither there way.

As fated it eventually does and Murphy and Lewis find themselves chasing a non-descript panel truck and engaging in a fire fight with Clarence Boddicker and his group of cop killers. Ah, Clarence Boddicker, one of the most iconic bad guys ever to grace the cinema, played brilliantly by Kurtwood Smith. When I first saw the trailer I initially thought he was Jack Nicholson, for he kind of looks and talks a little bit like him. Can you believe he ended up playing a Dad on a TV series decades later? (That 70s Show—1998-2006)

There are a few other familiar faces in his band of psychos; the second most notable is Ray Wise playing Leon.
‘Hey, that’s the guy from Swamp Thing!’ I thought when I saw him.

You might also recognize Paul McCrane as Emil, the thug who terrorizes that poor kid at that convenience store before Murphy shows up to stop him. The only other flick I instantly equate him with his The Blob (1988). He’s the deputy who gets broken in half by the blob and dragged away as he and the rest of the town try to hole up in a church. He also did an episode of the X-Files titled “Leonard Betts.”

The only other face that’s familiar to me is Jesse D. Goins who plays Joe. I remember him from that series The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983).

Murphy and Lewis track Boddicker’s gang to a steel mill and this is where he shot to death, getting his hand and arm blown off in the process. OCP brings in his body and turns him into a hulking, silver plated cyborg. His face being his only human feature that was retained, but for most of the film it remains hidden behind his helmet, with only his lower jaw exposed.

From here Robocop is a mix of Frankenstein and a revenge flick as OCP’s newest creation bumps into Emil by sheer chance and through his interaction begins to realize he had another life as someone else. Memories of a wife and a son are reawakened as well as the memory of his murder and those who murdered him.
For the first time anywhere the Unrated version of Robocop hit DVD in 2001 through Criterion, it eventually entered the age of blu-ray in 2007. At some point there was, I believe, two other editions (DVD only?) with a ton of extra features that surpassed Criterion’s version.

From what I can gather that first blu-ray transfer left a lot to be desired. MGM became aware of this and reissued a new remastered one last month. I never bought anything other than Criteron’s DVD so I don’t know how bad MGM’s initial blu looked. All I know is the Criterion transfer was at a 1.66:1 ratio and this 2014 blu-ray is in it’s original ratio of 1.85:1. I don’t even have my Criterion one anymore to see how they compare because one day I felt like watching it, put it on and the DVD froze up in the middle of the movie and refused to play. Had to throw it out.

This new blu-ray is also the Unrated Cut, and for those who aren’t aware the death scene of that guy in the boardroom where ED-2009 blows him away and Murphy’s death at the hands of Boddicker and his thugs were both trimmed. Here we get to see how over the top that OCP employee’s death was and in the case of Murphy’s demise we get to see his arm actually blown off and a longer shot of the moment when Boddicker puts a bullet in his head. Personally, the restoration of the violence makes it a more potent flick.

The 1080p high definition transfer of this 2014 version is remarkably good looking and I have never seen this movie look any better. Audio seems to have every base covered (English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish: DTS 5.1, French: DTS 5.1, German: DTS 5.1, Italian: DTS 5.1, Russian: DTS 5.1, Polish: Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese: DTS-HD, Master Audio Mono, Japanese: DTS 2.0, Japanese: DTS 5.1, Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1, Thai: Dolby Digital 5.1, Czech: Dolby Digital 2.0, Hungarian: Dolby Digital 2.0) as does the subtitles (English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Cantonese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Italian, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Slovenian, Swedish, Thai).

From what I can tell the extras on the Criterion version were ported over except for a memorable TV spot, the one I mentioned earlier with the catchy music. The rest are from the previous special editions:
First up is the 2001 commentary with Director Paul Verhoeven, Writer Ed Neumeier and Producer Jon Davison. From what I remember it’s a pretty good one. Most of the commentaries Verhoeven does are.

Q&A with the Filmmakers (2012) (42:36): This took place in 2012 at UCLA’s James Bridges with a portion of the crucial players lined up on stage and taking questions from the audience who just watched the movie. Apparently other actors from the movie were in the audience as well, only Peter Weller and Nancy Allen were on stage, along with Paul Verhoeven, Jon Davison, Ed Neumaier, Michael Miner and FX artist, Phil Tippett. Wow, has it really been that long? I was shocked to see how aged Allen looked.

Flesh and Steel: The Making of RoboCop (36:55): A nice retrospective on how the movie came about. Apparently it was stressful as all Hell making it. It seems everyone was at each other’s throats during production.

These two—1987 Featurette: Shooting RoboCop (7:59) and 1987 Featurette: Making RoboCop ( 8:01)—are period pieces, and I always enjoy these kind of featurette’s. Interviews with Weller, Ferrer, Verhoeven and writers and various others on the actual set.

The Boardroom: Storyboard with Commentary with Animator Phil Tippett (6:02): Tippet narrates as the scene in the boardroom with ED-2009 plays out in slow motion with the comparable storyboards playing in the corner.

Deleted Scenes (2:51): Scenes that had yet to reach post-production. None of them are really noteworthy.

Villains of Old Detroit (16:59): This was a nice featurette with Ray Wise, Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer waxing nostalgic on their roles.
Special Effects: Then and Now (18:22): A look at how the matte shots and stop motion FX were done and how antiquated they are now compared to CGI.
RoboCop: Creating a Legend (21:09): This is yet another modern day (2006) feature about key personalities reminiscing about it’s making.

Paul Verhoeven Easter Egg (:38): Until this moment I never knew Verhoeven had a cameo in the movie. A split second one in the club scene where Murphy nabs Leon.

And finally the Theatrical Trailer and a TV Spot.

It was interesting to learn they were initially thinking about casting Michael Ironside as Murphy but they said he was too big and the Robocop costume would have made him look even bigger. Also Stephanie Zimbalist (Remington Steele series) was already cast as Lewis but pulled out a week before it was to be filmed.
Not quite sure now where this movie falls, classic or cult classic. Originally I always thought cult classic, but after taking in all those extra features and hearing how successful it was at the box office, coupled with how iconic the Robocop character is, I think it’s more likely a cinema classic. Paul Verhoeven casually mentions in one of the extras he thinks this movie is the best American flick he’s ever done. He might be right. Though Starship Troopers comes in a photo finish second.

Blu-Ray Review: THE SHADOW (1994)

74769_frontTHE SHADOW (1994)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Checking out the release date for The Shadow on IMDB I see it was released on July 1st 1994. I saw this one in a theater, and I assumed this was going to be a summer blockbuster that would result in a Shadow franchise. Man, was I wrong. And I remember liking it a lot, but apparently I was in the minority. Unfortunately I have no other specific memories. It came and went that summer and now here we are in 2014 and in the intervening decades I think this movie has garnered cult status. I admit it’s not one that readily comes to mind on any kind of regular or semi-regular basis, in fact, I hadn’t thought about it until I heard Shout! Factory had acquired it and was planning to put out a new blu-ray. When I heard that I got this warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

Before there was ever a Batman there was The Shadow!

Based on the 1930s pulp hero, Alec Baldwin plays Lamont Cranston who when we first see him is some kind of Tibetan warlord drunk on violence and evil until one day he is kidnapped by a monk who redirects his evil and teaches him to use his powers for good of mankind. Seven years later he moves to New York and begins to do just that.

Cranston’s power as The Shadow is the ability to alter his image and make himself invisible by clouding men’s minds. With his Jedi-like powers he can also control a person’s thoughts to make them do whatever he wishes. Mostly with Cranston he uses it to make people forget who he is or redirect someone from doing something stupid, like his uncle, Wainright Cranston (Jonathon Winters), who’s a police captain, from investigating these strange accounts of The Shadow.

Cranston’s main villain in this movie is Shiwan Khan, the last descendant of Genghis Khan. He was also trained by the same monk Cranston was and so has all the same powers, except in this case Shiwan killed the monk after learning all he could.
I had forgotten all the other famous faces in this movie. Aside from Winters there’s Penelope Ann Miller playing Cranston’s (telepathic) love interest, Margo Lane. We also have Ian McKellan playing scientist/Lane’s father; Tim Curry playing a nutty assistant to scientist Lane; Peter Boyle playing Cranston’s chauffer, and John Lone playing Khan. There were also some famous faces playing bit parts like James Hong and Al Leong who were both in Big Trouble In Little China (1986); Hong playing omnipotent villain, Lo-pan, and Leong a lowly Wing Kong thug.  I also saw Steve Hytner (The Prophecy, ’95) as a Marine Guard and Ethan Phillips (Benson, Star Trek: Voyager) as a security guard Khan forces into suicide.

I will say I’m relieved this movie still appeals to me, despite the flare-up of odd bits of comedic dialogue. The 1930s are elegantly recreated, the action is good, the FX still holds up and seeing Baldwin in his prime when he used to be an actual movie star is most welcome. I think he would have made an excellent Bruce Wayne.

Universal released The Shadow onto DVD in the late 90s, then finally onto blu-ray summer of 2013. Now Shout! Factory was able to acquire it from them and release their own blu-ray. I can’t say how both blues compare, but the Shout version (1080p 1.85:1 anamorphic high definition transfer) is very good looking as I have come to expect all blu-rays from that company to look. No complaints whatsoever. Audio options you get are 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio or a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Both sounded fine to me.

Extras include the 23-minute featurette, ‘Looking Back At The Shadow’ which manages to interview (new ones I might add) the two leads, Baldwin and Miller, the director, Russell Mulcahy, the production designer, writer and director or photography. It’s a typical making of which pretty much does what it sets out to do—educate you, to a degree, about the film and the subject matter’s source material.

Other extras include the Theatrical Trailer and a Photo Gallery (99 photos) that include production photos, behind-the-scenes photos, posters and stills.