Saturday, November 30, 2019

KILLER CROCODILE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Belatedly following in the footsteps of fellow Italian director Sergio Martino’s enjoyably ambitious THE GREAT ALLIGATOR (1979), which was shot in the jungles of Sri Lanka ten years earlier, producer / director Fabrizio De Angelis travelled to the tropical island of Santo Domingo to helm his very own giant monster movie, KILLER CROCODILE (1989), this time featuring another semiaquatic reptilian: a crocodile. And while we’re on the subject of giant crocodilian killers here, it’s difficult not to mention Sompote Sands’ Thai-produced CROCODILE (1979), for which, in Dick Randall’s extensively reworked U.S. version, an atomic explosion—’50s creature feature-style!—was included at the outset to help account for the croc’s inordinate size. 

Directing under his usual anglicized pseudonym of “Larry Ludman”, De Angelis was, first and foremost, a successful, cost-efficient producer (he produced most of Lucio Fulci’s gore-soaked films from the early ’Eighties), who began his directorial career with the Rambo-inspired rip-off, THUNDER (1983) and its two sequels, all three of which enjoyed healthy domestic home video exposure via Trans World Entertainment Betamax / VHS videocassettes. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, KILLER CROCODILE has remained stubbornly unavailable for years, but thanks to Severin Films, this entertaining ‘nature-strikes-back’ flick finally makes its official North American debut on digital disc.

Audaciously stealing the entire template from Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975), if bringing a distinctively ’Eighties flavour to the proceedings with its toxic waste scenario, KILLER CROCODILE follows a group of ecology students led by Kevin (Richard Anthony Crenna, son of late American actor Richard Crenna [1926–2003]) who, in an unnamed tropical country in the Caribbean, quickly discover that someone has been irresponsibly dumping barrels of radioactive waste into one of the area’s many rivers. In a fitting nod to Godzilla, arguably the greatest movie monster of all time, which was also spawned by nuclear fallout, one of the environmentalists equates this hazardous waste to “Leftovers from Hiroshima!” After one of their party inexplicably goes missing, only to later turn up horribly mauled (making for a nice shock-scare), the gang head into town to see the Judge (token American name actor Van Johnson), who advises them to (quote) “keep away from that swamp!” In the one of the film’s many JAWS-inspired moments, in order to avoid a panic locally, the coroner is coerced into falsifying his findings by blaming the death on a (quote) “boat prop.” Eventually, the town’s venerable croc-hunter Joe (Enio Girolami [1935–2013]) vows to kill the actual perpetrator—a gigantic (quote, as per the title) “killer crocodile”, natch!—while Kevin, ordinarily ever the pacifist, has a sudden change of heart and decides that this (quote) “beast from hell” must die!  

Granted, the film may be highly-derivative, but it is never dull. De Angelis really makes the most of his meagre budget, and KC’s greatest production value—as you might understandably be expecting—is unquestionably Giannetto De Rossi’s full-scale animatronic croc mock-up. While better-known for his splattery makeup effects on many of Fulci’s latter-day shock/gore films, such as ZOMBIE (1979), De Rossi does an admirable job given the poor working conditions he was afforded in Santo Domingo (as heard elsewhere on one of this disc’s many extra features). Even though it’s clunky, De Rossi’s fiberglass reptilian ravager never ceases to entertain with its relentless dubbed-on roaring (!) and cavernous mouth bloodily chomping-down on its human victims. As with most of these ‘last gasp’ Italo-horrors, many of the characters aren’t given much to do and likewise fall victim to the weak script they have to work from, with only Crenna and Italian actor Pietro Genuardi showing any real enthusiasm towards the material. Veteran Italian actor “Thomas Moore” a.k.a. Enio Girolami (the late big brother of Enzo G. Castellari) also does his darnedest to imitate Robert Shaw’s cantankerous shark-hunting sea salt Quint from JAWS. And, speaking of Spielberg’s film yet again, Riz Ortolani’s John Williams-influenced score keeps things moving along efficiently in spite of its highly-imitative nature. 

Scanned in 2K from the original negative, Severin’s new disc looks mighty fine indeed, accentuating the lush jungle foliage and bloody croc attacks very nicely and, unlike the French double-DVD set from Neo Publishing (that included both KILLER CROCODILE and its 1990 sequel KC II), which was slightly squeezed to an incorrect 1.66 aspect ratio, Severin’s disc also reinstates the film’s proper 1.85:1 framing, thus increasing the pictorial data on either side of the frame. Severin’s disc contains both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio tracks, both of which sound very good given the inherent limitations of the film’s original recordings. Unfortunately—and quite surprisingly—though, no English subtitles have been included for the Italian track. Most viewers will likely prefer to go with the English audio anyway, which not only features Van Johnson’s familiar real voice, but also those of a number of voice talent veterans (such as Pat Starke and Frank Von Kuegelgen) as well. English closed captions for hearing-impaired are also included.

Along with Federico Caddeo’s Freak-O-Rama Productions, Severin Films produced a number of admirable special extras for this release, beginning with In the Jaws of the Crocodile (13m47s), an on-camera interview with Giannetto De Rossi wherein he talks about Fabrizio De Angelis and how he viewed making films as a (quote) “business opportunity” and nothing more, which meant he always kept costs low on all his productions. Apparently, the input of De Rossi’s F/X shop on the present film was especially feeble, with only (quote) “a few trainees” on set to assist him. De Rossi can also barely keep a straight face when he speaks about KILLER CROCODILE 2 (1990), his rather bland directorial debut, which he calls the (quote) “least-professional project” of his life and freely admits he is a (quote) “terrible director.” In The Fearless Crocodile Hunter (23m23s), Pietro Genuardi speaks with great candour about his three months on location in Santo Domingo and how De Angelis was (quote) “full of character… a bulldozer”; while, in Of Crocodiles and Men (14m34s), yet another on-camera interview, his co-star Richard Anthony Crenna, talks about his first leading role and how, as a first-timer, intimidated he felt on-set. In the final interview, DP “Frederick Hail” / Frederico Del Zoppo talks about the brass tacks of low-budget filmmaking, especially when allotted such little money and limited time constraints. He also refers to director De Angelis as a “cobra”, who was quiet but (quote) “knew when to use the stick against us.” And finally, the film’s spoiler-laden trailer (3m08s) is also included, which first-time-viewers might want to watch after the movie rather than before it! 

As with Neo Publishing’s aforementioned double-disc set, Severin Films also offer both films in a 2-disc Limited Edition (allocated to a healthy 4000 copies) set, which houses the film’s sequel (also scanned in 2K!) on a separate Blu-ray. In spite of this much-appreciated gesture, however, KC II itself is inferior in every way. It spends waaaaay too much time detailing the efforts of a multinational conglomerate nefariously scheming to build a Caribbean vacation resort, while a pesky reporter (Debra Karr) arrives to investigate possible radioactive fallout in the area, only to discover not only a conspiracy of cover-ups but also that—once again—a giant croc is terrorizing the local river system. While exceedingly slow on the uptake, the film does at least feature a number of hilarious, laugh-out-loud attack scenes, which will certainly go far in appeasing more tolerant viewers. For the most part, though, this soggy sequel possesses little-to-none of the first film’s trashy verve, and is, at best, only sporadically entertaining. In what turns out to be a tribute disc of sorts to De Rossi, Severin have also seen fit to include Naomi Holwill’s feature-length documentary, The Prince of Plasma: The Giannetto De Rossi Story (82m), which focuses on the life and career of this celebrated—and highly prolific—makeup effects guru, making for one of the true highlights of this entire set. A short deleted scene from KILLER CROCODILE 2 (4m13s) plus the film’s equally-spoiler-laden trailer (2m44s) are also included. In addition, the Limited Edition includes a colourful slipcover, which, in keeping with the film’s blatantly copycat nature, includes slightly-reworked artwork from the U.S. one-sheet poster for Sands’ aforementioned CROCODILE.  

In spite of KILLER CROCODILE’s many obvious imperfections, it nevertheless remains an engrossing and wholly satisfying film and, what with the crisp new transfers and all the plentiful extra features, Severin Films have provided Italo-horror fans with plenty of reasons to grab themselves this 2-disc Limited Edition! Order it from Severin Films here or as part of the Severin Films August Bundle

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

THE PREY - BLU-RAY REVIEW

A well-made, low-budget slasher film, Edwin S. Brown’s THE PREY (1980) hasn’t been available on home video since its domestic 1985 Betamax / VHS videocassette from Thorn/EMI, and, since then it has quietly disappeared into slasher movie oblivion. Thanks to Arrow Video (and above all Ewan Cant, one of Arrow’s acquisition gurus, whose unflappable determination made this release a reality), this neglected and highly-distinctive woodland slice ’n’ dicer has made its worldwide Blu-ray debut in grand fashion with this extraordinary Limited Edition 2-disc set.  

Produced in 1980, but not released until 1983, THE PREY’s rudimentary premise handily prefigures many of the key slasher films of its decade, and while it may be lacking in visceral punch, the film does possess a markedly different tone, one that is similar to that in Jeff Lieberman’s unsettling slasher / survivalist film JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980). Amidst the Keen Wild National Park, a number of disappearances have been occurring in Northpoint, one of the park’s least-explored areas, which back in 1948 had been the site of a devastating forest fire that left a number of nomadic gypsies (quote) “burnt to a crisp.” As dictated by the genre’s well-worn machinations, three young couples set out for Northpoint for a weekend of hiking and climbing, but, unbeknownst to them, hidden among the scenic surroundings teeming with fauna, a predator of a very different kind begins stalking the group…

While exceedingly straightforward in their basic set-up, the filmmakers most certainly do take a more novel approach to the proceedings, a fact which is most obvious in the inclusion of abundant wildlife footage that is liberally interspersed throughout the narrative (including some striking macrophotography of numerous insects). According to Ewan Cant’s and Amanda Reyes’ excellent audio commentary, which accompanies the theatrical version of the film, these scenes have been a (quote) “sticking point” for many viewers. But, as the commentators also point out, the concept for THE PREY did originally come about during a (quote) “cultural moment with the environment”. Indeed, the film does take an active, respectful stance towards the natural ecosystem seen in the film, successfully making the very wilderness milieu itself into a character in its own right, and this unique ‘ecocentric’ perspective remains just as prescient today as it was forty years ago. In what would become a virtually obligatory staple ingredient of many an out-in-the-bush slasher film from the period, the campfire scene (“Are you ready? I wanna tell you a curious story…”) is here juxtaposed with the campers preparing and eating their dinner while, simultaneously, indigenous carnivorous Animalia hunt and devour their prey; all the while, heard coming from off-screen are a series of overlapping campsite conversations (including a retelling of W.W. Jacobs’ classic short horror story, The Monkey’s Paw [Dodd Mead, 1902]). Not unlike some lower-budgeted Robert Altman film, this wonderfully mesmerizing sequence not only stresses the primal ‘survival-of-the-fittest / only-the-strong-survive’ hierarchical behaviours to be found in both Man and Beast, but also illustrates their (i.e., our) innate predatory nature, instinctive behavioural traits which are further underscored by numerous shots shown from the killer’s point-of-view as he stealthily stalks his own prey (…humans, natch!).  

For the most part, THE PREY is languorously—and eerily—paced, with convincing imagery of the region’s various animal life providing the necessary otherworldly atmosphere. When Gail (Gayle Gannes), the most urbanite of the hikers, suddenly starts blaring her portable radio while preparing for bed, Greg (Philip Wenckus), her somewhat-too-submissive boyfriend, politely remarks, “Come on, Gail. Turn it off! Let’s listen to the woods [instead]”. This is a rather witty, humorous touch on the filmmaker’s part, since it was Gail who, earlier in the film, had thought (quote) “Something was out there!” Although thinly-sketched, as per the usual formula, much of the narrative strives to humanize and help us to identify with the characters, and the (quote) “likeable” cast commit themselves sincerely to the material, the noteworthy standouts being Debbie Thureson and Lori Lethin (the latter later seen in Ed Hunt’s BLOODY BIRTHDAY [1981], yet another unique slash-’em-up). As largely laconic, lovingly benign Forest Ranger Mark O’Brien, Jackson Bostwick (who is probably best-remembered as Captain Marvel in the short-lived TV series, SHAZAM! [1974 – 1975]) features in some of the film’s more memorably eccentric scenes, one of which involves an extended joke about “wide-mouthed frogs” (!), but Ranger O’Brien is nevertheless fully cognizant of the potential dangers of venturing out to the Northpoint (“Not too many go up there!”). Also worth mentioning is Jackie Coogan (a former Hollywood child star whose career dated back to cinema’s silent era who later became re-familiar to many as Uncle Fester on THE ADDAMS FAMILY [1964-1966]), who here appears in a cameo / bit part as Lester Tile (his final film), O’Brien’s boss at the Ranger Station, who vividly recollects the horrific aftermath of the (quote) “worst mother fire in history!” 

A true labour of love, Arrow Video’s new 2K restoration, which was scanned from the original camera negative, looks spectacular on their new Limited Edition Blu-ray, especially when compared to Thorn/EMI’s faded and muddy ol’ videocassette. Revealing all sorts of previously-unseen details (e.g., look closely for a man burning alive in the film’s opening forest fire, a detail which was completely obscured on Thorn’s ancient analog tape!), Arrow’s highly-attractive new transfer is a real godsend for fans of the film, which finally enables viewers to better appreciate the early makeup F/X work by John Carl Buechler (GHOULS [1984], TROLL [1986], etc.), as well as better showcasing the crisp cinematography of João Fernandes, a prolific and talented DP, who also lent his considerable talents to such films of interest as Armand Weston’s THE NESTING (1981), Joseph Zito’s THE PROWLER (1981 [another iconic slasher]) and Gerard Damiano’s horror-tinged “porno chic” effort, MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE (1974). The LPCM 1.0 audio also sounds quite robust and well-balanced, oscillating nicely between Don Peake’s sometimes piercing score and the film’s sometimes quietly hypnotic wildlife footage, which allows you to both look at and “listen to the woods.”

As with Arrow Video’s previous extras-packed Blu-ray releases (also produced and coordinated by Cant) of other lesser-seen slasher films, such as John Grissmer’s BLOOD RAGE (1987) and J.S. Cardone’s THE SLAYER (1982), THE PREY is also chock-full of extras which would put most other video labels to shame. As mentioned earlier, extras begin with an easygoing, fact-filled audio commentary from Ewan Cant and Are You inthe House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999 (Headpress, 2017) author Amanda Reyes. Since Cant managed to obtain its original shooting script, the two discuss much of the film’s original shooting dates and its magnificent Idyllwild locations; also themes of (quote) “urbanoia”; the significance of The Monkey’s Paw story; the alternate International Cut featuring the ‘gypsy flashback’ (more on that later); the film’s connection to the many eco-horror films of the ’Seventies; other (quote) “crispy killer” movies; plus many of the THE PREY’s cast and crew members are just a few of the discussions stuffed into a swift 80 minutes.       

Acting very much like audio commentaries themselves, the disc also contains a pair of separate audio interviews with director Edwin Brown (57m39s) and his wife Summer Brown (74m05s), the film’s producer and co-writer, both of which are conducted once again by Ewan Cant. In the first, director Brown discusses many of his early gigs, including his stint as writer-producer on Gregory Goodell’s HUMAN EXPERIMENTS (1979); his working relationship with João Fernandes (“He had a great eye!”); his candid admission to adding some extra insert shots of insects to pad-out THE PREY, a decision which he deems (quote) “legitimate” in this instance, since their inclusion logically corresponds with one of the film’s main themes; his collaboration with Summer, who helped put his script into more (quote) “comprehensible verbiage”; and, last but by no means least, we have producer Joe Steinman, who may have been involved in the alternate cut involving the (quote) “gypsies, the fire and all that bullshit!” In the second lengthy interview, Summer Brown talks about the origins of the film inspired by the (quote) “incredible success of HALLOWEEN” (1978); her embarrassment about the unnecessary gypsy flashback version; as well as the finished product’s distribution woes. And on yet another separate audio track, audience reactions were recorded from the film’s restoration premiere at this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend convention.

A number of on-camera interviews also accompany the disc, including Gypsies, Camps and Screams (27m01s), with Debbie Thureson; Babe in the Woods (13m45s), with Lori Lethin; Gayle on Gail (11m49s), with Gayle Gannes Rosenthal; The Wide-Mouthed Frog and Other Stories (18m20s), with Jackson Bostwick; and Call of the Wild (7m13s), with Carel Struycken, who played the towering so-called “Monster”. Everyone discusses most of their early acting stints, including plenty of television work and commercials (even including some vintage clips from Ms. Thureson’s own TV commercial work) and in addition discussing the (quote) “easy and comfortable” atmosphere on set. Most everyone also discusses the spectacular locations of Idyllwild and how much of the dialogue was at times (quote) “improvisational”, and which, according to Ms. Gannes, “…all felt very natural.” And speaking of Gayle, be sure to check out Gayle’s Original Sweet ’n’ Sassy Barbecue Sauce! Other extras on the first disc include In Search of The Prey (13m58s), a fun visit to the Idyllwild locations with Debbie Thureson, Ewan Cant and cinematographer Jim Kunz, who even re-enact some of the film’s more notable scenes, and lastly, there’s a Q&A session involving Lethin and Bostwick during which Struycken also turns up, in footage shot following a screening at the above-cited Texas Frightmare Weekend. A VHS-sourced trailer (1m24s) finishes off the extensive extras.

Limited to 3000 copies, the second Blu-ray contains the now-legendary International Cut (95m37s), featuring the incredibly obtrusive gypsy flashback, which stops the film dead in its tracks and quite frankly sticks out like a sore thumb. Unfolding during the film’s aforementioned campfire scene, this nearly 20-minute sequence was shot well after the fact (by different filmmakers, no less, and without the Browns’ knowledge). It even features a number of softcore sex scenes with adult film stars of the era, including John Leslie and Eric Edwards, who are heard to utter such typically inane skinflick talk as, “Think of the last time he gave you a gentle touch.” Regardless of how one may feel about this alternate version, it’s a fascinating (and much-appreciated) extra just the same, which was likewise (quote) “scanned in 2K resolution.” In an even-more-confusing state of affairs, both cuts of the film each contained footage that was unique to one another, so a Composite “Fan” Cut (102m34s) utilizing footage from both the U.S. Theatrical and International Cut was also meticulously constructed. In a fortuitous circumstance, Severin Films’ David Gregory also succeeded in locating a reel of rare outtakes (45m48s), which helps to set the record straight regarding THE PREY’s once-confusing production history. 

As usual, Arrow’s packaging is absolutely superb, featuring reversible cover art of the film’s original U.S. one-sheet poster, as well as all-new artwork care of Justin Osbourn anda slipcover featuring the film’s U.K. video artwork too. A 27-page booklet includes essays by Ewan Cant on the film’s previously nebulous production history, and there’s a terrific—verrrry detailed!—look into the laborious patchwork reconstruction of those alternate cuts by OCN Labs’ and Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin. To top it all off, Arrow have even included a replica of a Day Use Permit for the Keen Wilderness shooting location. A very nice touch, indeed! Stunningly restored and lovingly put together, this BD package easily ranks right up there among Arrow Video’s finest, most surprising releases of the year. Order it from DiabolikDVD.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

ZOLTAN... HOUND OF DRACULA - BLU-RAY REVIEW

It’s a cryin’ shame that this terrific and appropriately-atmospheric take on the oft-tapped Dracula legend has been routinely criticized as a ‘dog’ (pun intended) by many who have seen it. In actuality though, Albert Band’s ZOLTAN… HOUND OF DRACULA (1977) is an inventive, affectionate tip-of-the-hat to vampire films, a horror subgenre which, during the ’Seventies, was definitely going through some changes, adapting to more contemporary tastes of the time, as seen in such memorable genre entries as Stephanie Rothman’s THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971), William Crain’s self-explanatory-titled BLACULA (1972) and, of course, Bob Kelljan’s Yorga duology, COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) and THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971). Also known as DRACULA’S DOG, the present film’s rather-less-appealing and sillier-sounding alternate title, ZOLTAN has been lovingly resurrected thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ wonderful new Blu-ray release.  

Randomly—if effectively—jumbling-together elements from both B-grade war movies and vampire lore, ZOLTAN’s jam-packed opening sees the Romanian Army accidentally uncovering Dracula’s tomb during a routine training mission. Just one soldier (played by Dimitri Logothetis, the future director of SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK [1988]) is ordered to stand guard at the gravesite for the night and—you guessed it!—this lone sentry foolishly decides to remove the immobilizing wooden stake from Zoltan, Dracula’s omnipresent pet Doberman pinscher, who, albeit for centuries, proves to be merely ‘playing dead’ (pun intended). In turn, Zoltan diligently raises Dracula’s creepy undead slave Veidt Smit (Reggie Nalder), who is intent on bringing his long-dead master Dracula (Michael Pataki) back to unlife (not coincidentally, Pataki had previously sported fangs in John Hayes’ drive-in/grindhouse fave GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE [1972]). With the help of the perceptive Major Hessel (Arlent Martel), determined Inspector Branco (José Ferrer), who is an expert in such matters (“In this part of the country, everytomb interests me!”), quickly deduces that Dracula’s last living descendent, Michael Drake (Pataki again) is now living in Los Angeles with his young family. Since Smit and Zoltan (quote) “cannot exist without their master”, Inspector Branco also travels overseas to try and stop Veidt Smit at (quote) “all costs!”

While vacationing at Lake Arrowhead with his wife (Jan Shutan), two children (John Levin and Libby Chase) as well as their pet German shepherd dogs Samson and Annie and their new litter, Michael is keen to escape the city life. However, he quickly discovers that something is amiss at their usually serene lakeside campsite… Here playing the sinister Veidt, Reggie Nalder is appropriately menacing (he even travels in an ominous black hearse, which houses Zoltan’s specially-designed coffin) as he quietly enables a number of local dogs to fall victim to Zoltan’s fanged bite (“Now he’s one of us!”); a succession of canine victims that also includes an unfortunate human tourist, in what amounts to the film’s goriest and most alarming scene. As the ‘undead’ dog-pack steadily multiplies in numbers, Band’s genre-hopping film also takes on similarities to any number of ‘nature-run-amok’ films, as the vampirized and increasingly powerful animals terrorize the entire National Park, and it’s easy to imagine that both Burt Brinckerhoff’s DOGS (1976) and Robert Clouse’s THE PACK (1977) were some sort of an influence on Band’s film.

Written by Frank Ray Perilli—who, tellingly enough, also wrote Byron Ross Chudnow’s matinee favourite THE DOBERMAN GANG (1972)—ZOLTAN… HOUND OF DRACULA also focuses much of its attention on its four-legged co-stars. This, of course, means plenty of intimidating insert shots of Zoltan baring his elongated eyeteeth while snarling ferociously into the camera (often with his eyes diabolically glowing!) while he licks his bloodied chops. Portraying a genuinely vicious servant of Dracula, the film’s ‘mad dog’ scenario is actually closer in spirit to Stephen King’s much-celebrated novel Cujo (Viking Press, 1981) and Lewis Teague’s superb 1983 filmic adaptation, and the present film’s action also includes a couple of nail-biting sieges during the film’s finale (one of which even takes place in a car, as in the ’83 CUJO filmization). While never allowing it to interfere with its many classic horror tropes, the film can also be read at the subtextual level as a condemnation of man’s narcissistic tendencies and all the innocents (i.e., children and animals) that suffer because of it, sometimes for generations to come—a point which is further stressed by the predictable if brilliantly dire twist whammy ending.

Released through their licensing deal with StudioCanal, Kino’s disc features a (quote) “brand new 4K master”, which is a definite improvement over Anchor Bay Entertainment’s no-frills 2002 DVD (which, truth be told, was an excellent release for the time). The pictorial detail of Kino’s new transfer is now virtually flawless, and this is especially evident during many of the film’s nocturnal sojourns at Lake Arrowhead, as well as in the numerous attack scenes. Equally, the DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track also sounds perfectly fine, with no noticeable issues. For those that need them, the disc comes with SDH subtitles for the hearing-impaired.

As with their excellent audio commentary on Kino’s earlier Blu-ray of William “One-Shot” Beaudine’s much-maligned BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA (1966), authors and film historians Lee Gambin and John Harrison return for another highly entertaining commentary, which is brimming with their usual enthusiasm and crammed with interesting and relevant factoids. The pair freely admit that ZOLTAN is a “multi-genre” film, yet another take on (quote) “vampires in the modern world”; they are also both impressed with the (quote) “organic and real” canine performances. Of course, much of the discussion revolves around renowned animal trainers Karl Lewis Miller and Lou Schumacher, whose various training techniques get the most out of their canine actors. In an interesting bit of trivia, that same year, both German shepherds also co-starred in Wes Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and Clouse’s aforementioned THE PACK. They also go on to talk about animals seen in other supernatural chillers, such as Curtis Harrington’s made-for-TV’er DEVIL DOG (1978) and Richard Donner’s theatrical blockbuster THE OMEN (1976); lastly, much of the film’s interesting cast and crew are thoroughly discussed including Nalder’s future roles as Dr. Van Helsing in Phillip Marshak’s porno parody DRACULA SUCKS (1978) and his terrifying turn as the Nosferatu-like Kurt Barlow in Tobe Hooper’s two-part TV film, SALEM’S LOT (1979), and in addition Gambin and Harrison both give special, well-deserved praise to Andrew Belling’s superb score, which brings a suitably (quote) “otherworldly, eerie effect” to the proceedings. Great work from both gentleman, so let’s hope they have more commentaries planned for the future!

Other extras include ZOLTAN’s lengthy theatrical trailer (3m21s), plus those for a number of other horror movies in the Kino library, including Sutton Roley’s CHOSEN SURVIVORS (1974) and Brice Mack’s JENNIFER (1978), a pair of other animal-centric films (the former involves vampire bats and the latter killer snakes). The disc also contains reversible artwork that highlights this thoroughly-engaging film’s alternate DRACULA’S DOG poster, all of which amounts to yet another terrific Blu-ray from the fine folks at Kino! Order it direct from Kino Lorber or from DiabolikDVD

Friday, November 8, 2019

THE MUMMY'S REVENGE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Late, great Castilian horror king Paul Naschy (a.k.a. Jacinto Molina) was at the very height of his popularity when he wrote and starred in Carlos Aured’s THE MUMMY’S REVENGE (1973), an atmospheric and grisly take on Karl Freund’s pivotal Universal horror classic, THE MUMMY (1932). Never one to shy away from a challenge, Naschy takes on the dual roles of Amen-Ho-Tep (in both his human and monster forms) and also plays Assad Bey, his cursed descendent, who, in the interests of attaining (quote) “power, riches and eternal life” resurrects the exceedingly cruel Amen-Ho-Tep. Although this film was once readily available on Betamax/VHS videocassette during the ’80s, Unicorn Video’s master was taken from a censored, heavily-cropped TV print. And now, thanks to Scorpion Releasing’s timely Blu-ray, Naschy’s lone mummy movie has risen mightily to stride the Earth once again.

Ruling with an iron hand alongside the equally-cruel Princess Amarna (Rina Ottolina), the tyrannical Amen-Ho-Tep’s (quote) “savage rule” is vividly displayed in the film’s opening sequence, set during Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. Through the use of some solemn-but-clunky voiceover narration (at least in the English-dubbed version), we learn that the land was thrown into a (quote) “eternal nightmare of blood and horror”. However, Am-Sha (Fernando Sánchez Polack), the wily high priest of Amon-Ra, leads a plot to overthrow the despotic ruler, who is then mummified alive, to (quote) “wander in the world of the unknown forever.” This seemingly-endless length of time is efficiently rendered through the use of some simple time-lapse photography, a well-worn, but still effective technique, which segues nicely into the discovery of Amen-Ho-Tep’s tomb centuries later by archeologists Nathan Stern (Jack Taylor) and his wife Abigail (María Silva). Upon transporting their find to Sir Douglas Carter (Eduardo Calvo) at the Landsbury Foundation in London, the senior academic is elated at this (quote) “important archeological discovery”. On the downside, it also attracts the interest of the sinister Egyptian Assad Bey and his partner Sanofed (Helga Liné), who, for nefarious purposes, intend to raise Amen-Ho-Tep from the grave via the ritual sacrifice of (quote) “three young virgins”. Unfortunately, once the long-dormant mummy has arisen anew, Bey and Sanofed are then obliged to murder still another seven virgins more in order for the (quote) “dominion of the Pharaohs” to rise to full power again. But the mouldy mummy also has his eyes set on Sir Douglas’ nubile daughter, Helen (Ottolina again), who is—not unexpectedly, as per the hoary ol’ trope—a dead ringer for Amen-Ho-Tep’s long-dead beloved Amarna… 

As helmed by Carlos Aured, THE MUMMY’S REVENGE turned out to be the last film he made with Paul Naschy, capping a fruitful collaboration which had begun with HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1973), another ‘vengeance-from-beyond-the-grave’ shocker that shares quite a few similarities with the current film under review. Unlike most of Naschy’s long list of filmic monsters, which were always approached with a certain empathy (best exemplified in Javier Aguirre’s COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE [1973], starring Naschy as the lonesome, lovelorn Count), Amen-Ho-Tep on the other hand is a 100% unadulterated murderous monster whose sole motivations are revenge and, ultimately, global domination (“The world will be ours!”). Sporting quite eye-catching makeup, Naschy’s mummy is also one of the most memorably gruesome creations to be found in the star’s entire monster canon, whose ruthless, violent nature is made all-the-more obvious when he viciously—and gorily!—squashes the heads of local virgins he believes are unacceptable for his use.  

While competently lensed across the boards and making the most of its humble origins, this is one of Aured’s best-looking films, which takes full advantage of its familiar London locations, and according to Troy Howarth’s excellent audio commentary, also utilized a number of leftover sets from Charlton Heston’s ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA (1972) as well; all of which are handsomely captured by Francisco Sánchez’s exquisite scope photography. The wonderful cast also includes a number of Naschy regulars, including the ever-reliable Jack Taylor and María Silva (who was last seen as Countess Elizabeth Báthory in Carlos Aured’s CURSE OF THE DEVIL [1973]), as well as the always-superb Helga Liné, who gives one of the film’s strongest performances. Strikingly beautiful newcomer Rina Ottolina also does a fine job as both Amarna and her reincarnation Helen, and she definitely gives the gorgeous Zita Johann (who played Helen in Universal’s original 1932 version of the oft-told tale) a run for her money as the stunning love interest (much like Johann’s, Ottolina’s own movie career also proved to be short-lived when she retired in the late-’70s). 

Although THE MUMMY’S REVENGE bypassed DVD altogether in North America, Scorpion Releasing’s BD now presents two versions of the film in their attractive edition, one of which includes a scene (missing from the Spanish HD master) involving a newlywed—soon to be newlydead!—couple who get violently offed by the mummy, which was reinserted from an inferior source. Although both versions of the film retain the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this (quote) “extended composite cut” also includes both DTS-HD MA mono audio tracks in both English and Spanish languages, with the benefit of properly-translated English subtitles for the latter. While it is nice to have both audio tracks available, it should be mentioned that the Spanish track has far-superior audio fidelity to the tinny—and exceedingly hissy—English audio track, which was probably overdubbed from an old VHS source. The (quote) “shorter version” only comes with English audio.

An audio commentary from Human Beasts: The Films of Paul Naschy (WK Books, 2018) author Troy Howarth is the disc’s sole significant extra, but as usual, it’s a very welcome one. He goes over plenty of details related to the production, including its now-almost-mythic ‘unclothed’ version, which hasn’t turned-up anywhere as yet; the English dubbing on many Spanish films from the era and how they were (quote) “rather difficult to stomach”; much of the film’s pilfered score from the CAM libraries; the obvious onscreen chemistry between Naschy and Liné (this was their final collaboration); Miguel Sesé’s impressive makeup F/X; Carlos Aured’s solid understanding of the (quote) “basic innerworkings” of the genre, and how most of his films with Naschy are (quote) “smoother and refined” compared to the work of Leon Klimovsky; and finally, some background about the film’s distribution woes. It’s most certainly an engaging listen, loaded with plenty of insight into this film and Naschy’s work in general. Excellent stuff, indeed! The film’s rarely-seen Avco Embassy trailer is also included (“A jarring shock every moment!”), as are trailers for José María Zabalza’s THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1972, coming soon from Scorpion) and José Luis Madrid’s THE HANGING WOMAN (1973). In addition, the inner sleeve contains informative liner notes from Naschy expert Mirek Lipinski, who also provides some interesting background info on the mysterious Ms. Ottolina. 

Polished and technically assured, it’s great to have this once-difficult-to-see Naschy title finally available on Blu-ray, which can be ordered from Ronin Flix and DiabolikDVD, both of which include a limited slipcover.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

THE TOUGH ONES - BLU-RAY REVIEW

One year previous, Maurizio Merli had starred in “Franco Martinelli”/Marino Girolami’s highly-profitable Italocrime meller VIOLENT ROME (1975), but despite his immediate popularity with audiences in such films, his initial casting was solely based on his similar-looking appearance to Franco Nero from Enzo G. Castellari’s (Marino Girolami’s son Enzo) HIGH CRIME (1973), one of the trailblazers of the entire Italocrime genre. In their review of the present film from April 1976, Variety reported: “The market in Italy is being partially glutted with crimeland action pix where either a tough but honest police commissioner takes justice into his own hands or the private citizen does.” While Umberto Lenzi had already explored gritty urban settings with a quartet of modern-day, film-noir-inspired films—GANG WAR IN MILAN (1973), ALMOST HUMAN ([1974] featuring a truly scene-stealing role for its star, Tomas Milian), MANHUNT IN THE CITY (1975) and SYNDICATE SADISTS (1975)—it was the director’s THE TOUGH ONES (released in Italy under the memorably defiant title ROMA A MANO ARMATA / trans: “Rome Armed to the Teeth” [1976]) that really solidified his reputation as a master of the genre. Following their initial press announcement from what seems like a decade ago, Grindhouse Releasing at long last released this Italocrime classic earlier this year in a staggering 3-disc Deluxe Edition, which was obviously well worth the wait. 

In the wake of his career-defining role as Inspector Betti in Girolami’s aforementioned VIOLENT ROME, Merli this time stars as Inspector Leonardo “Leo” Tanzi, a virtually interchangeable hot-headed, no-nonsense cop, who is once again frustrated by the current sorry state of affairs within the criminal justice system (“If we stick to the book, we’ve had it!”). Tanzi, who is part of the Anti-Gang Squad, is obsessed with capturing Ferender, an exceptionally elusive French criminal mastermind, who controls most of the Eternal City’s underworld, and with the help of Sgt. Pogliana (Aldo Barberito) and his trusted, far-more-composed partner, Caputo (Giampiero Albertini), they attempt to arrest—in the process even going so far as to break the law themselves!—some heavyweight associates of his, including Savelli (Biagio Pelligra), who’s been involved in a number of violent bank robberies, and Vincenzo “The Hunchback” Moretto (Tomas Milian), a belligerent, smart-assed gangster (unforgettably dubbed in the English version by veteran voice-actor, Frank von Kuegelgen), who, after numerous highly-colourful interrogations, vows revenge (“He’s gonna crap in his long-johns before I kill him!”) as he precipitously rises among the criminal ranks. 

As with most of Lenzi’s successive Italocrimers, the crux of the film is offset with a number of intermittent, almost cursory set-pieces involving a tight-knit group of bank robbers; an illegal gambling-den; purse-snatching teenagers; a rather disturbing gang-rape (“Hey boys, how ‘bout a big wooden dildo?!”); and a protracted scene involving Tony Parenzo (Ivan Rassimov), a heartless drug pusher who injects his girlfriend (Gabriella Lepori) with a lethal overdose of heroin; all of which illustrate the far-reaching span of the underworld’s Octopus-like tentacles. Swiftly-paced and culminating with an extensive, elaborately-choreographed car chase involving a stolen ambulance, Lenzi’s film rarely lets up, and whenever it does, Tanzi is seen (and heard!) angrily voicing his opposition to the impossible odds he is facing (“They make us sweat to bring ’em in, but before the ink’s dry, some idiot says they can go!”), anger which is mostly directed at his CO, Police Commissioner Ruini (Arthur Kennedy), who merely reaffirms that “The Law is the Law!” 

While Merli is his usual laconic best in a typecast role he continued to play virtually verbatim for the better part of his career, it’s Tomas Milian as the hunchbacked Moretto – known as il Gobbo on Italian prints – who steals every scene in which he appears. Beyond his frequent appearances as Nico Giraldi in a number of latter-day – and increasingly comedic – polizieschi, the ‘hunchback’ is one of Milian’s most eccentric, over-the-top characters to ever grace an Italocrime film. So much so that Lenzi and Milian both returned for BROTHERS TILL WE DIE (1977), an unrelated follow-up, which featured a dual role for the actor where he also played Monnezza (trans: “Trash”), yet another recurring (and incredibly popular) character. First seen gutting a large steer at a slaughterhouse, Moretto’s smart-ass rhetoric is quickly silenced when he’s unfairly kicked in the balls courtesy of the impatient Tanzi (“It ain’t enough I’m a hunchback, you ruin my eggs as well!”), who, adding insult to injury, plants some smack in his shiny lime-green Porsche. It’s here, back at police headquarters, that Moretto’s true psychosis manifests itself (“Miserable sons-of-bitches! I piss on you! I piss on you! Pigs! Pigs! Pigs!!!You sons-of-whores!”) as he angrily slashes his own wrist to avoid further interrogation. Looking for payback, Moretto has a couple of his ‘men’ (stuntman extraordinaire Riccardo Petrazzi and veteran character actor Luciano Pigozzi) abduct and scare the hell out of his girlfriend Anna (Maria Rosaria Omaggio), a government social worker who is the film’s sole politically left-leaning character and who becomes the constant victim of Tanzi’s sociopathic scorn.  

Perhaps even surpassing the established sounds of Guido and Maurizio De Angelis’ energetic scores for both HIGH CRIME and VIOLENT ROME, Franco Micalizzi’s tremendous score here is surely one of the film’s many highlights: a dynamic, brass-infused work of dazzling intensity, which not only underscores the fast-paced, turbulent mean streets of Rome, but became – as did most of Micalizzi’s subsequent polizieschi scores – synonymous with Italocrime in general. 

Those even slightly entertained by the genre will have a hard time containing their excitement with Grindhouse Releasing’s exhaustive Blu-ray set, which is as much a celebration of Umberto Lenzi’s four-decades-long career as it is of the present film. Spread out over two Blu-rays, disc one includes a stunning 4K scan of the film itself, an incredible bit of restoration that is sure to leave you gobsmacked after suffering through International Video Entertainment (IVE)’s long out-of-print Betamax/VHS videocassette (released under the auspices of Sybil Danning’s popular ‘Adventure Video’ series), which was edited, grainy and heavily-cropped. Retaining its original – and absolutely integral – 2-perf scope compositions, Grindhouse’s flawless transfer is well-defined and surprisingly vibrant. Of course, as with the immaculate visuals, the DTS-HD mono audio also sounds right-on-target in both the English and Italian versions, and while it’s no surprise that the Italian version is a more accurate representation of the vernacular (which once again features Tomas Milian’s Italian voice actor of choice, Ferruccio Amendola), the English version is, as demonstrated by the quotations above, likewise undeniably entertaining. 

The comprehensive extras begin with a feature-length audio commentary from Mike Malloy, director of the essential doc, EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILM THAT RULED THE ’70s, who commends the (quote) “Eurocrime triumvirate” of Lenzi, Merli and Micalizzi, and for the uninitiated, he gives a brief overview of the genre’s history; how Merli (quote) “pounded his fist on a lot of desks” during his career; and just how many of these films were directly or indirectly interconnected through their various characters, follow-ups and sequels, which he believes could even use a handy (quote) “flow-chart”. After listening to his enthusiastic, well-informed commentary, you’ll want to check-out or even revisit a number of the genre’s key titles. The other significant extra on disc one is Calum Waddell’s All Eyes on Lenzi – The Life and Times of the Italian Exploitation Titan (84m04s), which covers the late director’s career from the late-’Sixties onwards via archival interviews with Lenzi himself, as well as a number of new interviews with contemporary film critics and historians (who pay special attention to many of his giallo and horror titles), but the doc also includes some choice bits about this (quote) “cinematic chameleon’s” Italocrime career too. In Murder for Mayhem (33m12s), an on-camera interview recorded on July 26th, 2010, Lenzi and Micalizzi reminiscence about their extensive collaborations, which is, as expected, a wonderful listen. In the archival Full-Frontal City: The Urban Geography of Rome Armed to the Teeth (22m01s), many of the film’s locations are revisited for the purposes of ‘then-and-now’ comparison. An extensive collection of trailers for all of Grindhouse Releasing’s current and upcoming product finishes-off disc one’s extras.

Packed-to-the-hilt with even more substantial extras, disc two begins with Freak-O-Rama’s Umberto (55m31s), yet another overview of Lenzi’s wide-ranging career, which compliments the doc from disc one rather nicely, as it focuses a lot on Lenzi’s early beginnings. In the exhaustive Tomas Milian: The Rebel Within (88m50s), Milian discusses his entire career, including his early, complicated life in Cuba before immigrating to the U.S., getting his start at the famed The Actor’s Studio, and eventually making his way to Italy, where he remained for the better part of his career before returning back to the U.S. and (quote) “starting all over again”. Inspirational and funny, yet at times quite melancholic, this is an utterly fascinating, must-see interview. In the archival doc The Merli Connection (44m39s), his son and a number of actors and directors who knew and worked with him talk about Maurizio Merli’s career and huge influence on the genre; in the short Back Story (5m54s), Milian once again discusses his outrageous Gobbo / Hunchback character. For the remaining interviews, Federico Caddeo and his production company Freak-O-Rama Productions truly outdo themselves with a number of terrific interview segments, including: Beauty and the Beasts (29m31s), in which Maria Rosaria Omaggio talks about both her start in the business and Lenzi’s (quote) “sweet Tuscan toughness”; in the lengthy Corrado Armed to the Teeth (45m17s), character actor Corrado Solari talks about his impromptu audition for Lenzi’s aforementioned MANHUNT IN THE CITY, as well as his excellent working relationship with Milian and how Lenzi was (quote) “distrustful, cautious and careful”; the once-popular Maria Rosaria Riuzzi turns up in Brutal City (14m12s) to discuss her career, with a particular emphasis on Dino Risi’s PROFUMO DI DONNA (1974); in The Rebel and the Bourgeois (19m05s), costume designer and sometime actor Sandra Cardini talks about her time working on the film; and then prolific screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti gets his turn in front of the camera in Vodka, Cigarettes and Burroughs (39m31s), and also discusses his collaboration with Lenzi; plus, in The Godfather of Rhythm (36m14s), famed composer Franco Micalizzi also goes into details about his lengthy career. Of course, the disc also comes with a few Easter Eggs, which are well searching out.

In addition to packaging this impressive BD set in an eye-catching slipcover, Grindhouse have also seen fit to include a wonderful 12-page booklet (whose cover reproduces the film’s U.S. one-sheet poster, retitled BRUTAL JUSTICE [which screams, “Inspector Tanzi makes Dirty Harry look like Mr. Clean!”]), containing a superb, nicely-illustrated, in-depth essay from genre expert Roberto Curti. As an added bonus, the package also includes the film’s entire soundtrack CD, and for those still lucky enough to locate a copy, the first 2500 copies even come with a collectible ‘bullet-pen’! An absolutely incredible release, Grindhouse Releasing’s extraordinarily thorough Blu-ray is not only a perfect introduction to the addictive pleasures of the Italocrime genre, but is, hands-down, absolutely one of the finest releases of the year. Order it from DiabolikDVD 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Definitely a good deal more engaging than its usually-slandered and vilified reputation would lead you to believe, Wes Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II (1984) is far from Craven’s best, but, if taken as an undemanding ’80s slash-’em-up, it works just fine. Thanks to Arrow Video, this oft-derided sequel has finally been given some much-needed appreciation care of their new Limited Edition Blu-ray.

Attesting to this film’s hastily-structured status, it opens with Bobby (Robert Houston) – one of the few survivors from Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) – discussing his ordeal from eight years previous with his psychiatrist (David Nichols), which sets-up a rather-too-convenient flashback to the rousing finale from THHE. As the charge-by-the-minute shrink glances at his watch impatiently, he offers Bobby a vote of confidence by suggesting, “Go thumb your nose at the desert. The boogeyman is dead!” Attempting to do just that, Bobby plans to test his newly-developed ‘Super Formula’ fuel for his motocross team in an upcoming race. However, unlucky for him, this event takes place at a remote desert location. Suffering a complete breakdown at the thought of venturing out into these desolate wilds yet again, he is unable to heed his psychiatrist’s advice to confront and conquer his fears, so Bobby’s girlfriend Rachel (Janus Blythe) reluctantly volunteers to escort his team to compete in this all-important competition. 

Comprising many of the ‘usual suspects’ to be found in any number of slasher films – including Cassandra (Tamara Stafford), a blind girl with possible psychic abilities – the teammates excitedly pack their makeshift school bus and head off to the race-site. Naturally, while en route to their final destination, Harry (Peter Frechette), the group’s mandatory smartass prankster, ‘entertains’ everyone with urban legends of the first film’s dreaded cannibal clan and, as Rachel dozes-off, the sequel’s second lengthy flashback occurs. Recycling additional pre-existing footage from Craven’s original THHE, it comes as no surprise to us at all that the so-called “Rachel” is in actual fact Ruby, who, all those years before, had turned against her own (quote) “wild family of cannibals” to help the previous protagonist Bobby and his remaining family members escape; even Beast, the heroic German shepherd from the original film is, once again, also along for the ride. Sure enough, through a succession of highly-contrived yet somewhat forgivable sets of circumstances, our new group of characters wind up taking a shortcut across the open desert, thereafter coming to the grim realization that some of Ruby’s cannibalistic clan may still be alive… and are hungry for more tender city-slicker flesh! 

Unlike Craven’s grim-’n’-gritty originator, this cut-rate sequel is quite the departure in both tone and style. Whether this stylistic change was entirely intentional or simply a fortuitous evolutionary development, this time around Craven’s approach to the timeworn material is much more playful and, quite frankly, this different approach is actually quite refreshing (it was made seven years later, after all, so perhaps the director just felt like a change of pace?). Hurriedly-developed following his entertaining-if-poorly-received DC Comics adaptation SWAMP THING (1982), and originating as it does from the tail-end of the ’80s slasher boom, THHE 2 is so cliché-ridden that it might easily be read as Craven’s sly attempt to poke good-natured fun at this once exceedingly overcrowded horror subgenre. Despite the script’s trivialities, it’s great to have Michael Berryman return as Pluto, who, in keeping with his familial devotion and psychotic tenacity, provides the strongest connection to the original THHE, and he easily overshadows the towering John Bloom (BRAIN OF BLOOD [1971], THE DARK [1979], HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS [1987], etc.) as “The Reaper”, the present film’s new clan-leader, who it turns out is none other than the late Pluto’s long-lost uncle (!?), a revelation which makes for one of THHE 2’s numerous enjoyably silly developments.  

While it’s fairly certain that, even in this optimal new presentation, THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II won’t convert too many of its legion of vehement detractors, the team at Arrow Video nevertheless give it their best shot with this Limited Edition Blu-ray, which not only looks terrific but also includes a number of highly-substantial extras to help put everything about this financially-troubled production into their proper context. THHE 2 has been kept regularly available ever since its initial Thorn/EMI domestic Betamax/VHS videocassette release in 1986, and for their BD edition, Arrow utilized a (quote) “brand new 2K restoration from original film elements”, and even though this transfer still features some minor dirt and light scratches inherent in the original elements (which is especially evident during the opening credits), quality-wise this new edition appears sharply-detailed with excellent, true-to-life colours; and for once, the claustrophobic climactic scenes in the abandoned mine reveal more pictorial details than ever before. The (quote) “original uncompressed mono audio” also sounds fine, and it gives further prominence to Harry Manfredini’s all-too familiar FRIDAY THE 13TH-styled score. 

Commencing with a feature-length audio commentary from those knowledgeable folks at The Hysteria Continues, our (quote) “slasher-loving movie” podcasters leave no stone unturned in their discussion of this (quote) “controversial” film, including its (quote) “perceived use of excessive flashbacks”; THHE 2’s exceedingly limited U.S. theatrical run; the superb desert locations, which they feel are (quote) “ripe” for a comeback; a broad selection of the cast and crew members; how The Hysteria Continues all appreciate slashers that don’t stray too far from the (quote) “tried-and-tested rules”; as well as, of course, how the film can—and indeed should be—regarded as (quote) “more of a black comedy”. Complementing the easygoing-yet-admirable commentary, the most-significant extra herein is Red Shirt Pictures’ superb making-of doc, Blood, Sand and Fire: The Making of The Hills Have EyesPart 2 (31m16s), which includes interviews with producer Peter Locke (or, as he jokily refers to himself as, the (quote) “reluctant financier”); star Michael Berryman; unit production manager/first assistant director John Callas; production designer Dominick Bruno; the score’s composer Manfredini; and star Janus Blythe, all of whom, first and foremost, discuss the film’s really low budget (“Two nickels and a quarter!”) and the various issues this caused. They also praise the wonderful Joshua tree locations, what an asset they were to the production, also mentioning how many of the young cast members had to (quote) “learn their trade on his [i.e., Craven’s] dime”. A quite extensive stills gallery (6m52s) and THHE 2’s theatrical trailer finish off the extras.

Beautifully packaged in one of Arrow Video’s sturdy slipcases, this Limited Edition set includes a two-sided fold-out poster, 6 collectible postcards, reversible cover art and a wonderful 40-page booklet featuring an essay by the talented Amanda Reyes on the merits of this neglected film and a vintage on-set report from Johnny Legend taken from an early issue of Fangoria magazine. All this adds up to another marvellous release from Arrow Video and proves—as the original theatrical trailer boldly proclaimed—that Wes Craven’s minor career-blip does in fact still have eyes. Order it from DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video