Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Edge of the Axe 1988 Arrow Video Blu Ray Review

Edge of the Axe (1988) Arrow Video Jan 28th 2020

Directed By:Jose Ramon Larraz

Starring: Barton Faulks, Patty Shepard, Page Mosely, Jack Taylor

      Jose Ramon Larraz died in 2013 at the ripe old age of 84 and was known within the horror community but sadly not as well as he should have been. That seems to be changing however as Arrow has been crushing it with  re-releasing his films. In 2019 we got a nice Larraz boxset of three previously unleashed HD films from his back catalog. And we are kicking off 2020 with the much hyped late '80's Larraz film Edge of the Axe. I for one find Jose's films to be highly interesting and so its always great when more films are slowly coming out onto Blu Ray. Its also worth noting that Mondo Macabre also released Jose's Symptoms (1974) which is very much worth seeking out.

       Maybe it was the high hopes but I gotta say this one was a bit of a let down.  By the late '80's the slasher genre devolved into more comedy than scares with films like Doom Asylum and April Fools Day being prime examples of the tonal shift to a more light fare. With Edge of the Axe I had hoped that Larraz would bring his unique bland of international flare to breath some new life into the sub genre. And the film starts out on a rather high note with a brutal killing within the first few minutes and then lays out some nice tension filled moments. Early on we also get a nice shock moment with a pigs severed head and I thought we might see some more nice surreal imagery but nope, we do not. The film plays with this idea of two tech geeks using computers to solve the murders which is a novel idea to update the slasher genre but it feels like Larraz doesn't understand how to work this into the plot in a satisfying way. The result is kind of Meh. I might have been able to gloss over this had the film not been incredible dull at times. This for me is a unforgivable sin in film. What adds to the lull in the action is the tacking on of a romantic subplot which as you might expect is clunky, awkward and only adds to stop the plot dead in its tracks. I'm not a huge fan of these sub plots in a lot of movies, especially slashers as I feel like it slows down the film whilst trying to pander to a more mainstream audience.

      The mystery itself is pretty luke-warm at best and unlike the giallos that clearly inspired the film we as the audience dont really get many clues to the identity of the killer. The kills themselves are not especially gory though I will give props for the sheer level of brutality it showcases though each death is incredibly short. I have to wonder if there is an uncut print that is gorier as these scenes just kind of end weirdly.

Despite a great looking killer and some decent gore moments I was left with a pretty routine film which is a shame as it had the makings of something truly interesting within the slasher sub genre. The cyber aspect could have been really cool but it feels almost like an after thought rather than a nice addition. And if I am being totally honestly dont feel like it wasnt that memorable. Even something like Nail Gun Massacre (1985) while incredibly bad is at least so bad-its enjoyable. Part of why a film like that, as well as a film like Pieces (1982) is they are clearly in on their own joke and they walk a fine line between earnest horror and semi-parody, all wrapped up in an over-the-top almost cartoon level of outrageousness. This is why I find both of those films so endearing and have no problem giving them a re-watch from time-to-time. This film is the polar opposite however and takes itself far too serious and sadly doesn't really have any stand out moments, even if its just  for being so weird or outrageous. Overall I had a hard time getting fully invested in this film and I had wished it would have pushed the boundary but also had a bit of fun with the genre. I'm still a huge fan of Jose Ramon Larraz who as I said above seems to be left out of the conversation when it comes to European horror directors. If you are new to his work I suggest taking a deep dive with films like Black Candles, Symptoms and Vampyres probably his most notable horror film.

If are you a fan of this film Arrow has you covered with an incredible release!

    Arrow has pulled out all the stops in giving us a release that looks stunning. The picture is scanned in 2k and I compared this to a VHS and obviously the difference is night and day. Speaking of night scenes probably benefit the most from this new transfer as details are finally visible. This release also features a nice clear 2.0 Mono track. Extras are also on point and we get not one but two full length commentaries: The first being Barton Faulks and Matt Rosenblatt two stars of the film and the second with the Hysteria Continues crew. Both are wildly entertaining and it was worth the multiple watches as each commentary brings something refreshing and fun to the table. The other features includes new interviews with Barton Faulks and Page Mosley and a new interview with special effects artist Colin Aruther. The features rounded out with a gallery and trailer. Justin Osbourn does a wonderful new cover and of course features reversible sleeve. A nice booklet is included with info on the cast and crew as well as a new essay by Amanda Reyes which is very much worth reading.

 I know I was harsh on this film but the release is really something special. It looks amazing and its choked full of extras that in a way helped me like the film a little bit more after multiple viewings. If you are a slasher fan this is worth putting into your collection.

Arrow will also be releasing one of Larraz's last film Deadly Manor (1990) next month and I couldn't be more excited!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Black Angel (1946) Arrow Academy Blu Ray Review

Black Angel (1946) Arrow Academy Jan 28th 2020

Directed By: Roy William Neil

Starring: Peter Lore, June Vincent, Dan Duryea, Wallace Ford, John Philips

Black Angel opens with an impressive camera shot that establishes on a apt building then swoops up and into the window. Its really a masterful piece of cinema and thus opens up a sadly neglected Noir at the height of the genre. Club singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) is found murdered in her upscale apartment. Kirk Bennett (John Philips) who was having an affair with Mavis and found the body is arrested for the crime. The slain wifes husband Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) and the wife Constance (June Vincent) of the accused team up to find the real killer lurking in the night. 

      In the dark and gritty world of Noir, Black Angel is a film that is good but sadly never gets talked about. But thankfully Arrow Academy hopes to change all that with their wonderfully restored Blu Ray. Roy William Neil is probably best remembered for directing a number of the Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes movies. Neil helps elevates a B-Noir with some skilled camera work, tight direction and some clever twists that keep you glued. The cast includes some fine character actors like Dan Duryea, Wallace Ford and June Vincent. Vincent sadly died young and its a shame that she didnt become a bigger star as she shines in this film. As great as the cast is, its Lore who kills it as the heavy. Maybe its a safe casting choice but its great none the less. He effortlessly plays like a sleazy creep and he honestly steals every scene he is in. While the movie is entertaining it never reaches the heights of other Noirs that are more polished. The twists are good but on a bit predictable and I wish that Neil would have double downed on the films odd love affair and dirty grit of other films in the genre. I wish it had been a bit more nihilistic in its worldview. I also found myself bored at times which is never great especially for a movie thats only eighty-one minutes long. Overall fun but not nearly as good as it could have been. It felt like it played it a little too safe and lacked the perversion and bleakness of other Noir outings.

     Arrow Academy has provided a stunning new 2k restoration that is incredibly sharp, crisp and removes any artifacts. It honestly looks like Criterion quality here. The sound is great with a nice 2.0 Mono soundtrack which really highlights Oscar nominated composer Frank Skinner's great score.  The extras are great. The main feature is an interesting interview Neil Sinyard film historian and author.  Mr. Sinyard gives some great context behind the film. It honestly made my second viewing even better. If you want further context behind this film you are in luck as you get a feature length commentary by historian Alan K Rode. Much like Sinyard, this is highly interesting and really helped me like this movie more on my second viewing. This commentary is worth taking the time to listen to. Rounding out the features is an original trailer and stills and promotional material. The other treat is a booklet with an essay by Philip Kemp, a low down on the cast and crew and some of the original reviews for the film. AA does an amazing job of highlighting worthy genre films in an in depth way. Noir fans or those new to the genre will find this a must add to their film collection.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Big Little Lies Season Two Blu Ray Review Warner Archives

Big Little Lies Season Two: Warner Archives Jan 7th 2020

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Adam Scott

        Unless you've been living under a rock you've no doubt have at least heard of HBO's sizzling comedy drama Big Little Lies which follows a group of powerful women and the series of events that spiral into a night none of them will soon forget. I'm being vague because the first season does an incredible job at presenting a harrowing crime and then working its way backwards, filling in all the who whats why's and where's. The creators and show writers are extremely clever in giving us just enough information to keep us hooked into seeing how it all unfolds. And the build up has a satisfying ending. And that really was suppose to be the end...as in the end of the series. However the show was insanely popular and it was decided to bring it back for a second season. Fans were even more excited to hear that not only is everybody from season one returning but they would be joined by the legendary multi-Oscar winner Meryl Streep.  Spoilers Ahead....

  Big Little Lies Season Two picks up where season one ends with the death of Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) wife of Celeste (Nicole Kidman). Now the women are bound with a secret as Perry's Mother Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) enters the picture asking questions about his death. Its hard to believe that the first season was meant as a standalone as while it ties everything up it still felt like it had places to go and the show-runners delivered. Of course the cast is simply incredible and it feels like with Streep in the mix everyone is especially on their A-game. Much like season one the dialogue snaps crackles and pops of course brought to life by an amazing cast of actors. The great thing about both seasons is it truly is a ensemble piece. I thought it was smart bringing in a brand new character to mix things up and Steep's Mary Louise is genius. Her interaction with Kidman's Celeste going at it is pure television gold. Its so fun to hate her but wisely she brings a lot of pathos to the role so its not a one note villain. Shes complex. Some filler episodes abound and honestly the build up to the finale doesn't have that same punch as season one. Its still highly entertaining and it feels more like a fitting end to the series overall. I think the one thing that is impressive is how the writers mange to walk a fine line between being outrageous and crazy without getting too carried away. It really finds that brilliant sweet spot. HBO is rarely off with their shows and with a mesmerizing cast, great writing and production values this show is tailor made to indulge in this bitchy, harrowing and darkly funny at times guilty pleasure.

      Honestly I`d love a third season but i`d also be OK with this as the ending. Either way Warner Archives has you covered with the Complete season season on Blu Ray. Picture wise BLL's looks incredible with colors that pop and skin tones looking natural. Having been sourced from  high def digital the outcome is stunning. Sound wise its also great with dialogue and score coming in clear. and we get a impressive HD Digital 5.1 track. Extras include: The Lies Reveled A Conversation with the cast of Big Little Lies.  Im a huge fan of this series and this is a great release. Worthy of owning especially if you are new to the series.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Anthony Mann's Cimarron (1960) Rides Onto Blu Ray from Warner Archives

Cimarron (1960) Warner Archives Jan 21st 2020

Directed By: Anthony Mann, Charles Walters (uncredited)

Starring: Glenn Ford, Anne Baxter, Maria Schell, Russ Tamblyn, Robert Keith, Harry Morgan

       Not all remakes suck! Yes, be virtue they usually are inferior to their original counterparts, 1960's Cimarron remade from a 1931 film of the same name is a rare exception to the rule. Anthony Mann tells the epic story of a young couple as they fight to thrive in the newly settled Oklahoma in 1889. We witness the joys, the struggles to carve out a place in this new world that is both beautiful yet brutal and unforgiving. I'm not a huge western fan, but I do like Anthony Mann who I always thought was a sorely underrated director -I also love Glenn Ford so i thought i`d give it a chance. Color me pleasantly surprised. Cimarron was a film that was pretty much the last of its kind, a western when the genre was hanging on by a thread (and almost gone by the latter part of the decade) and a big budget Hollywood epic in the style of Gone with the Wind (1939), Cleopatra (1963) and Ben Hur  (1959). But actually it being a period drama keeps it from feeling dated and in fact the film is at times pretty brutal and frank, something you could never do in the early '30's. The film feels like there are real high stakes at play and you cant help but root for the main characters. It helps that the storytelling is compelling and utterly engrossing from start to finish. The acting is great and its one of those movies were big stars bring a lot of weight to their roles. Glenn Ford never disappoints and in Cimarron he gives one of his finest performances of his film career. Maria Schell and Anne Baxter also prove they can hold their own and like Ford turn in star worthy performances. And with all these movies, they are populated by great character actors such as Henry Morgan,  Russ Tamblyn, Vic Morrow and Royal Dano who acted in nearly two hundred films and television shows in his long career.  Cinematographer Robert Surtees won 3 Oscars in his prolific career and Cimarron is among his finest work in my opinion. The stark wide open scope and depth he brings to the film and how he shots the great wide and wild wilderness adds a layer and makes for the perfect backdrop to this epic remake. Then you have a score by Oscar winning composer Franz Waxman (Bride of Frankenstein, Sunset Blvd.) that ties this film together. I was really impressed with the depth in story telling, the epic scope and the mega talented in front of and behind the camera. Warner Archives provides a brand new transfer and it showcases the richness that Surtees brings. The colors really pop but aren't overly blown out. Skin tones are natural and small production details stand out. Waxmans score sounds great with the new healthy 2.0 Mono soundtrack. Stunning job all around with this release. Sadly no new features are included besides a trailer. A must own. 

Two on a Guillotine (1965) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

Two on a Guillotine (1965) Warner Archives Jan 28th 2020

Directed By: William Conrad

Starring:  Connie Stevens, Dean Jones, Cesar Romero, Virginia Gregg

      William Conrad is probably best remembered for his work as an actor, having played the titular character of Jake in Jake and the Fatman as well as Frank Cannon in the show Cannon. He was even leaded his voice for Dudley Do Right on Rocky and Bullwinkle -talk about a varied career. Besides acting he actually had over thirty directing credits, including this low budget Neo-Gothic outing. Cassie (Connie Stevens) is the daughter of a famous magician known for his macabre tricks. Her Mother, an actress with the show mysterious ran off with her whereabouts unknown. This left the young Cassie to stay with her Aunt. She would soon return when her father passes away, with an ominous last message that he would return from the grave. At the will reading she learns that she has inherited the entire estate at the tune of three-hundred thousand dollars. But of course there is a proviso that she spend seven days in the family’s creepy mansion. Now along with a reporter friend she must figure out if what is haunting her house is supernatural or someone after her fortune.  

    Despite a garish title like Two on a Guillotine this film is sooo Dull! At nearly two hours the pacing is glacier level and I found myself checking the time on several occasions. This is such a shame because the first act sets up a promising premise, and I love these old mansion/ will reading, possibly supernatural, more likely criminal kinds of movies. But this soon falls apart when the second act is largely uninteresting and doesn’t give us clues to what’s actually driving the plot and the end. An ill-advised love story is thrown into the mix which only further slows the film down. For the first hour nothing note worthy really happens. In fact, Guillotine feels like it would have worked much better as a Twilight Zone episode or a short film rather than a feature length film. I think worst of all, unlike the films of William Castle, Conrad forgets to just have fun with the film. What we are left with is a heavy-handed snooze fest, a tepid love story and fairly predictable finale. If you think I forgot to mention the horror, well its almost non existent which is sad because the title, the poster and the set up suggest something fair different than what we actually get. Conrad had up until this point only directed television and he seems woefully out of his depths. Considering some very bold and interesting movies were being made in the 60’s this movie feels like its from another era. Bland and boring. Warner Archives new print of looks great. The black and white photography is sharp and crystal crisp looking. Small details really pop and showcases the films great production design. The sound is also great with a healthy Mono 2.0 track. Dialogue comes out clear and shows off an underrated score by three time Oscar winning composer Max Steiner. No features are included on this release.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Tammy and the T-Rex Roars onto Blu Ray from Vinegar Syndrome

Tammy and the T-Rex (1994) Vinegar Syndrome Jan 28th 2020

Directed By:Stewart Raffill

Starring: Denise Richards, Paul Walker, Terry Kiser, John Franklin, Buck Flowers

*Please note I am reviewing the 'Gore' cut. Also included is the PG-13 version.

        Tammy and the T-Rex is a movie that I heard about and in hushed whispers among the cult film circles. It was that crazy dinosaur movie starring future Fast and Furious star Paul Walker and '90s It girl Denise Richards. I had always wanted to see it and now thanks to Vinegar Syndrome I can do so in glorious HD and Ultra HD! What a time to be alive. Tammy (Denise Richards) and Michael (Paul Walker) are two star crossed lovers but sadly due to a random lion attack Michael is left in a coma. To make matters worse a mad scientist and his henchmen transplant his body into a giant mechanical  T-Rex. A tell as old as time. The plot as you no doubt can tell feels like it was developed by doing a Mad-Lib's with random describers. Somehow though it actually works. Thankfully what saves this film is that clearly everyone is in on the joke and it plays out like a gory over-the-top cartoon. The other thing that helps is a great cast of both veteran and up and coming actors. The obviously its draw is Paul Walker who sadly died way too young. Walker has a natural ease in this movie and with his charm and good looks its no wonder he became a big star. Tammy is also notable for an early role by Denise Richards. Wisely Ms. Richards plays her scenes with the titular T-Rex with some pathos and it helps ground the silliness at least a little bit. She has a smile that lights up every scene she is in and commands the spotlight, even with a giant dinosaur next to her. Veteran character actor Terry Kiser is less subtle in the role as the mad doctor and even though he chews every bit of scenery he's a great deal of fun to watch. I always said that Kiser is an underrated actor and this further proof of his zany talent. This movie is packed with cult actors in supporting roles.  John Franklin (Children of the Corn), Sean Whalen (People Under the Stairs, The FP) Buck Flowers (They Live, Back to the Future) and Efren Ramirez better known as Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite has a small cameo as the pizza delivery guy. 

At a scant ninety minutes the film goes by quickly and it a whole ton of teen-age T-Rex fun. Its silly, its mindless and I cant think of a better way to spend some free time then watching Denise Richards and a dinosaur. This movie of course isnt without its issues. I think certain storylines could have been explored and I would have even pushed some of the action even more over-the-top. But I think my biggest complaint would be the pay-off isnt nearly as satisfying as it could have been. Like it just ends without any kind of clear resolution and you know I need this in my acid laced dinosaur teen-age love story-dammit

     Vinegar Syndrome is already starting off 2020 with a bang with this release. First off I have to say the restoration is possibly the best thing Vinegar has ever done and thats really saying something as their work is typically incredible. The film is restored in 4k on Blu Ray and also a pristine 4K Ultra Blu Ray. The picture is stunning looking and you can tell a lot of time went into it. The sound is equally good with a 5.1 HD Master soundtrack which sounds amazing. And as you might expect they have also pulled out all the stops with its bonus material. This includes a wildly entertaining directors commentary as well as a director interview. Other interviews include actor Sean Whalen, who played Weasel in the film as well as George Pilgrim who plays Billy. Probably the coolest thing though is the brand new interview with Denise Richards who shares some fun memories about the film. As mentioned above both the R-Rated Gore cut and the PG-13 edition is included.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Roberta Findlay's Justine (1980) Arrives on Blu Ray from Vinegar Syndrome.

Justine (1980) Vinegar Syndrome Jan 28th 2020

Directed By: Roberta Findlay

Starring: Hilary Summers, Vanessa del Rio, Ashley Moore

        Roberta Findlay should be a name that EVERY cult horror and exploitation fan should know by heart. Her horror films include Prime Evil (1988), Tenement (1985) but before that she made adult films. Vinegar Syndrome has released one such film on stunning HD.  So, um. I have never reviewed an adult film before in my entire writing career. Its not that I look down on the genre but um, they dont exactly have compelling stories and visuals especially for someone who, if your like me is gay and straight porn has very little appeal. But Vinegar Syndrome was great enough to send me Justine and I figured lets give this a world. With an open mind I popped in the movie.

     Justine is the touching story of a legal aged school girl and soon to be heiress who for the first time is discovering all about life and love. lots of dirty filthy double penetration love. Justine soon goes from innocent virgin to knowing the ways of sex between both men and women.I find it pretty interesting this film was directed by a woman and Findlay is one of the few female pornographers in the age of XXX films. Does this movie add an interesting female perspective on adult films? Well I find it refreshing that, as the title suggests the film allows Justine to take center stage. The thing I found odd was the full on rape scenes -which seems like the very opposite of what you`d expect a woman to want in an adult film. It also straddles a weird line of young school girl fantasy that is acceptable because she's of legal age. Fans of adult films will be pleased with the nearly nonstop sex squeezed within the films perky eighty-four minute run time. Adult film buffs will also be pleased that the erotic scenes are thankfully pretty varied so there is never a dull moment if this is your bag. Again I didnt find it sexy as heterosexual sex doesn't excite me and also I think growing up with Internet access has made me terrible jaded when it comes to this kind of film. Non fans this movie is frankly just Meh, had it been over-the-top or really leaned in on the perversion it might have been a fun watch. I guess these movies still sell well is because of the retro and charm that vintage porn brings but its really hard for me to see the appeal. But clearly this movie was made in a different time and I am also very much not its target demo. Whatever I may think about it Vinegar Syndrome provides smut fans with a very nice Blu Ray and the new 2k restoration looks great. When compared to the non restored trailer you can see just how good this new print looks. The moans and screams are crystal clear with a nice HD audio master. VS provides a brand new commentary with Findlay herself and its wildly entertaining. She talks about the film and also about her career with the help of film historian Casey Scott. This alone is worth buying the movie as im a huge fan of her horror and cult films and im always interesting in hearing her talk about her career.

For fans of Findlay and adult films this is a good way to kick off the Nude year.