Tuesday, December 29, 2020


As we continue to grapple with the on-going global pandemic, several boutique home video labels this past year continued to unearth, preserve and release a cavalcade of cinematic riches on disc week after week. Labels such as 88 Films, AGFA, Arrow Video, Blue Underground, Camera Obscura, Cauldron Films, The Criterion Collection, Dark Force Entertainment, Garagehouse Pictures, Kino Lorber, Mondo Macabro, Scorpion Releasing, Scream Factory, Second Sight, Severin Films, Synapse Films, and Vinegar Syndrome need to be praised and applauded for their unwavering dedication to what was, undoubtedly, one strange year. The vast array of titles released in 2020 have once again been incredible, to say the least. So, let’s take a look at some of my favourite releases and honourable mentions.  

AL ADAMSON: THE MASTERPIECE COLLECTION [1960 - 2019] (Severin Films) – Anchored by David Gregory’s superb documentary BLOOD AND FLESH: THE REEL LIFE AND GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON (2019), Severin Films have lovingly assembled all 32 of Adamson’s credited films in what is perhaps one of the most impressive collective undertakings on any one film director. Spread out over 14 discs (!) with far too many extras to even mention here; this already jam-packed set also includes The Blood and Flesh Files, a wonderful 120-page book with writing from Amanda Reyes and Bill Ackerman, who discuss each film at length. An unparalleled accomplishment in both content and packaging. 


AMERICAN RICKSHAW [1989](Cauldron Films) – One of the loopier and truly unforgettable Italian films you’re ever likely to encounter, Sergio Martino’s genre mash-up made its North American HD debut earlier this year thanks to Cauldron Films, an exciting new specialty label. Featuring an eye-popping new transfer, several worthy extra features (including a fantastic audio commentary from Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan) and very cool packaging, Cauldron’s new disc is absolutely first-rate and comes highly recommended. Read the review.


BAHIA BLANCA [1984] (Severin Films) – One of the more obscure and criminally undervalued titles in Jess Franco’s exhaustive filmography, this was nearly impossible to see outside of shoddy, grey market bootlegs. In Alain Petit’s book, Jess Franco ou les Prosperités du Bis, Franco said this was (quote) “one of my best-looking films,” which Severin shows off in grand style thanks to their new 4K transfer and several illuminating special features.


CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE [1980] (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) – Here making its worldwide HD debut, Antonio Margheriti’s hybridization of Vietnam-themed war pictures and Italian cannibal gut-crunchers arrived on Blu-ray looking better than ever, and with a whole gutful of worthy extras to boot, including an excellent audio commentary with Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas. Read the review.


COME AND SEE [1985] (The Criterion Collection) – An agonizing, nightmarish vision of cruelty, this is one of the most devastating anti-war films ever produced. Filled with unforgettable, hallucinatory images (Aleksey Rodionov’s camerawork is without peer) and a haunting performance from then-unknown actor Alexsey Kravchenko, COME AND SEE is a war film like no other. Previously released by Kino Lorber as a 2-disc Special Edition DVD, Criterion’s very welcome HD upgrade includes a brand new 2K restoration provided by Mosfilm, along with a host of archival interviews, making-of documentaries, and a recent interview with ace cinematographer Roger Deakins who acknowledges its many influences on his work. 


THE COMPLETE LENZI BAKER COLLECTION [1969 - 1972] (Severin Films) – Usually regarded as a journeyman director, Umberto Lenzi has, thanks to brilliant collections such as this, been finally getting the recognition he so richly deserves. Gathering together four of his collaborations with ex-pat Hollywood star Carroll Baker (which for the record include ORGASMO [a.k.a. PARANOIA, 1969], SO SWEET… SO PERVERSE [1969], A QUIET PLACE TO KILL [1970] and KNIFE OF ICE [1972]), Severin has rightly given prominence to this quartet of sexually-charged gialli, which all look uniformly outstanding in this new set. Lenzi’s once difficult-to-see ORGASMO is a particular revelation as it not only preserves the film’s original 2.35:1 Techniscope framing but includes both the Italian and very different US release version as well! On the extras front, Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger, Troy Howarth, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and Nathaniel Thompson all provide very engaging audio commentaries as they delve into plenty of detail for each film. As if this set wasn’t exhaustive enough, Severin has also included a pair of soundtrack CDs, which even consists of the heretofore unreleased-and complete-Piero Umiliani score for ORGASMO


DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS [1971] (Blue Underground) – A popular title within BU’s catalogue, Harry Kümel’s marvelous, one-of-a-kind and dreamy take on the Elizabeth Bathory legend has been beautifully packaged in a new three-disc edition, which not only features a stunning 4K UHD, but a new Blu-ray, and soundtrack CD as well. All of the extra features from previous releases have been thoughtfully ported over, but BU has also included a pair of enticing new trailers, an extensive artwork gallery, and a brand-new audio commentary with Kat Ellinger, who leaves no stone left unturned in her expert, fact-filled talk. 


DAWN OF THE DEAD [1978] (Second Sight) – George A. Romero’s masterpiece is the definitive zombie film, and this highly-anticipated 4K UHD box set should now be considered its definitive home video presentation! Supervised by DoP Michael Gornick, all three versions have been immaculately restored from their original camera negatives and are, to put it mildly, stunning in their clarity. Lavishly designed and over-flowing with special features both new and old, Second Sight also adds three separate soundtrack CDs featuring Goblin’s iconic score and the complete De Wolfe library tracks! And to top it all off, a beautiful 160-page (!) hardcover book with all-new writing on the film is also included! This new box set is sure to keep even the most jaded fan entertained for hours on end. 


DEADLINE [1980] (Vinegar Syndrome) – Popular horror novelist Steven Massey (Stephen Young) is beginning to lose his grip on reality through a series of vivid and often gory hallucinations, which sinks him further and further into a world of self-delusion and tragedy. Mario Azzopardi’s effective, Canadian-produced shocker never did make the jump to DVD, but thanks to VS, this new 2K scan (taken from the producer’s personal 35mm print) is a significant upgrade in every way, far removed from Paragon Video’s muddy old VHS tape. Extras are limited, but Henry Lass and DoP Manfred Guthe appear in separate on-camera interviews, who discuss the Canadian tax shelter years and working alongside director Azzopardi.

DEMONIA  [1990] (Severin Films) – Despite the film’s litany of production woes, Lucio Fulci’s low-budget Gothic horror film still possesses flashes of style and imagination, but thanks to Severin Films’ major HD overhaul, it’s now an altogether more satisfying viewing experience. As for the extras, Severin includes many newly-produced interviews, but the highlight is a superb and very informative audio commentary from Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (FAB Press, 2018), who not only sheds light on the present film but Fulci’s less-talked-about latter-day career as well. Read the review.


DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE [1970] (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) – Coming at the end of their fruitful collaboration, which began with DAVID AND LISA (1962), Frank and Eleanor Perry’s domestic drama focuses on Tina Balser (Carrie Snodgress), a Manhattan housewife who is alienated by her indifferent, socially-minded husband (Richard Benjamin). In the hopes of finding solace in another man’s arms, she begins an affair with a brash young writer (Frank Langella), who turns out to be a lot less than she initially hoped. Based on Sue Kaufman's novel, the film’s themes of isolation, materialism, and misguided ambition are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago. Bypassing DVD altogether, Kino offers a fine transfer of the film, which is nicely complemented by a rewarding audio commentary with screenwriter Larry Karaszewski and film historians Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell, who, as usual, find plenty to discuss, including some of the differences between Perry’s film and Kaufman’s book. 


FORBIDDEN FRUIT: THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE EXPLOITATION PICTURE (Kino Lorber / Something Weird Video) – Initiated with William Beaudine’s, Kroger Babb produced sex hygiene picture MOM AND DAD (1945), Kino and SWV have embarked on a series of ‘cautionary’ films, which, to date, consist of eight volumes. Of course, each Blu-ray comes loaded with a number of interesting, rarely-seen extras in which SWV is famously generous.


FORGOTTEN GIALLI - VOLUME 1 [1973 - 1978](Vinegar Syndrome) – A most welcome box set, this first volume certainly lives up to its title, which contains León Klimovsky’s unusually violent TRAUMA (1978), Javier Aguirre’s Ten Little Indians inspired thriller, THE KILLER IS ONE OF THIRTEEN (1973), and one last, head-scratching obscurity, Helia Columbo’s THE POLICE ARE BLUNDERING IN THE DARK (1975). Loaded with numerous extra features, informative audio commentaries (from the likes of Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger and Troy Howarth) and a substantial audio essay from Rachael Nisbet, this impressive collection needs to be on the shelf of every self-respecting Eurotrash fanatic! Read the review.


FRIDAY THE 13TH COLLECTION [1980 - 2009](Scream Factory) – Readily available throughout home video's history, this hugely popular slasher franchise has been much-loved among collectors. Yet, it has never received the red-carpet treatment many fans have craved over the years. Well, thanks to Shout Factory’s Scream Factory line, this impressive “Deluxe Edition” box set brings together all twelve films and a huge assortment of special features spread out over 16 Blu-rays! The first four films all come with new 4K scans, while the New Line Cinema titles outside of Ronny Yu’s FREDDY VS. JASON (2003) are all given new 2K scans. While the rest of the films don’t receive the same facelift, at least they are properly restored to their original 1.85:1 framing, which should count for something. Despite the missed opportunity to properly remaster all the films, this is sure to remain the definitive box set for years to come.


THE FU MANCHU CYCLE, 1965 – 1969 (Indicator) – This brilliant collection includes all five Fu Manchu adventures (all beautifully remastered from the StudioCanal vaults) and a mountain of extra features, including several audio commentaries, interviews, documentaries, alternate title sequences, and a 118-page (!) booklet, which also includes more fine work from Tim Lucas. Beautifully assembled and incredibly thorough, this easily ranks as one of the best releases of the year!


THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN [1972] (Scorpion Releasing) – A troublesome production with a very scattershot home video release history, Scorpion tried their very best to remedy this situation with their much-improved Blu-ray. Although the transfer still has some damage and speckling, this heavily-flawed Paul Naschy / Waldemar Daninsky werewolf picture has never looked better than it does here. Along with a pair of separate audio commentaries from Troy Howarth and Mirek Lipinski, Scorpion has also included both the theatrical and export versions, the latter of which contains some lesser-quality SD inserts. While not perfect, I can’t imagine this getting a better release anytime soon.


GAMERA – THE COMPLETE COLLECTION [1965 - 2006] (Arrow Video) – Much like their earlier, equally impressive Herschell Gordon Lewis SHOCK AND GORE box set, Arrow Video have outdone themselves yet again with this monstrous set dedicated to everyone’s favorite fire-eating giant turtle. Featuring all twelve films comprising both the Showa Era (1965-1980) and the Heisei Trilogy (1995-1999) and then finishing off with Ryuta Tasaki’s rather spineless GAMERA THE BRAVE (2006), Arrow’s oversized¾and beautifully packaged¾rigid slipcase is one very imposing collection. Because of the wide assortment of special features (including intros by genre expert August Ragone) contained herein, it would be virtually impossible to list everything. Still, it’s worth mentioning that an 80-page book with writing from Patrick Macias and a 130-page hardbound book containing reprints from a four-issue Gamera comic book are also generously included. It’s a stunning, incredibly obsessive set that’s well worth your hard-earned cash.


GRAVEYARDS OF HONOR [1975 - 2002] (Arrow Video) – Based on Goro Fujitu’s book on real-life post-World War II gangster Rikio Ishikawa, this unflinching, extremely violent portrait unfolds as a typical rise and fall gangster story, but director Kinji Fukasaku’s stylistic flourishes and kinetic pacing are bold and unique with style to spare – it’s a gangster film like to other. Although following a similar storyline, which is just as violent, Takashi Miike’s 2002 remake is an altogether different beast setting the film in then-contemporary ’90s Japan. Housed in one of Arrow’s sturdy slipcases, this 2-disc set also encompasses several immersive extras, including audio commentaries from Mark Schilling and Tom Mes, visual essays from The Projection Booth’s Mike White and Diabolique’s Kat Ellinger, several archival interviews with the cast and crew, and an informative book written by genre expert Jasper Sharp. 


THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE        [1974] (Synapse Films) - Released under many alternate titles and numerous different versions, Jorge Grau’s seminal Euro zombie shocker has been steadily available in several ‘special editions’ throughout the digital age thus far. However, the recent 3-disc Limited Edition Steelbook from those perfectionists at Synapse Films easily eclipses every single other release that preceded it. Without going into too many specifics, the image is virtually flawless. Synapse has also commissioned several new special features, including a pair of enthusiastic and highly-enjoyable audio commentaries from Troy Howarth and a co-commentary from Cinema Arcana’s Bruce Holecheck and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson. Other extras include a couple of on-camera interviews with Gianetto De Rossi courtesy of Eugenio Ercolani, and a feature-length documentary on director Jorge Grau. Enclosed in an eye-catching Steelbook featuring original cover art by Wes Benscoter (and a slick slipcover), this exemplary set also includes a DVD copy of the Blu-ray and a 15-track (29m59s) soundtrack CD of Giuliano Sorgini’s memorable score. Read the review.


LUCIO FULCI 4K X 3 [1979 - 1982] (Blue Underground) – Having re-visited Fulci’s gore classics innumerable times on DVD and Blu-ray, BU has truly outdone themselves with their most recent 4K UHD releases. As impressive as their 3-disc Limited Editions of ZOMBIE (1979), THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), and THE NEW YORK RIPPER(1982) were, these new upgrades are truly remarkable in their clarity and detail without ever sacrificing their natural film-like structure – they are simply stunning. You need these!


MACABRE [1980] (88 Films) – Without a doubt, this remains Lamberto Bava’s best film, a languorous Gothic melodrama of obsession and madness, which has finally garnered a very handsome HD upgrade. Touted as a (quote) “new 2K restoration from the original camera negative”, 88 Films’ transfer provides a generous boost in details than earlier DVD releases. As for extras, director Bava appears in an excellent on-camera interview, cheekily entitled, Don’t Lose Your Head. However, the most significant bonus is an audio commentary from author Troy Howarth and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson, who provide another one of their absorbing and very entertaining look into the film. 88 Films have also seen fit to include a 12-page booklet with liner notes written by Rachael Nisbet. 


MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH [1976] (Synapse Films) – Not so much a slasher film as the title implies, this oddly fascinating film is more of a thought-provoking examination of social class structure, albeit a very violent one. Proving difficult to see since its 1981 VHS release from Electric Video Inc., Synapse’s new Blu-ray is a real sight for sore eyes, which features yet another one of their stellar restorations and a host of newly-produced special features.


THE McPHERSON TAPE [1989] (AGFA) – Long before directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez popularized the ‘found-footage’ film with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), Dean Alioto did much the same with this SOV (shot-on-video) production, which he shot for a paltry $6500. Even though it contains all the usual staples associated with found-footage cinema, such as overlapping dialogue, video glitches, and shaky camerawork, it’s the film’s backstory, which proves to be far more fascinating than the film itself. Securing a distribution deal after the film had wrapped, all the master tapes burned down in a warehouse fire, only for the film to mysteriously reappear a few years later where it was traded among UFO conspiracy theorists and pawned off as the real deal! All of this and much more are thoroughly discussed within the numerous special features included on AGFA’s disc, which also includes Alioto’s 2017 director’s cut, UFO ABDUCTION


POLIZIOTTO SPRINT [1977] (Camera Obscura) - Unfortunately, outside of second or third-generation bootlegs, Stelvio Massi’s anarchic high-speed smash-’em-up was never easy to see, so Camera Obscura’s newest HD restoration is a much welcome release, indeed. Starring Italocrime icon Maurizio Merli without his trademark ’stache, this is much more of a showcase for the talents of veteran stunt arranger Rémi Julienne and his extraordinary stuntwork. As usual, CO’s all-region Blu-ray is yet another gorgeous release, boasting a beautifully-detailed and colourful image, with no digital enhancement of any sort. Although extras are limited, CO does include an excellent—and highly-appreciated—interview with author Roberto Curti. Read the review.


RUBEN GALINDO JR. X 2 [1985 - 1989] (Vinegar Syndrome) – Previously released on DVD in less-than-satisfactory condition via BCI/Eclipse, Ruben Galindo Jr.’s CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985) and GRAVE ROBBERS (1989) are a pair of latter-day Mexican horror films, which have never garnered any real attention. Thankfully, VS has come to the rescue of these scrappy—and at times very gory—films with brand-new 4K scans and some fantastic restoration work. Of course, VS doesn’t skimp on the bonus features as well, with numerous audio commentaries and interview featurettes. 


SHINING SEX [1975] (Severin Films) - A hypnotic, often bizarro melding of an experimental softcore sex film with science-fiction trappings, Jess Franco’s wholly unique film remains one of the director’s more unapologetically voyeuristic efforts. Only sporadically released on videotape, Severin’s edition of SHINING SEX boasts an all-new transfer taken directly from Eurociné’s original camera negative, which is very impressive. Beginning with a thorough audio commentary from Franco expert Robert Monell and NaschyCast’s Rodney Barrett, Severin also includes many fascinating interviews (including Gérard Kikoïne and Eurocine’s Daniel Lesoeur) and In the Land of Franco Part 3, which documents many of Franco’s shooting locations. The limited-edition release also comes with In the Land of Franco Vol. 1, a very welcome soundtrack comp CD (14 tracks, 54m) featuring music from several Jess Franco films, the present one included. Read the review.


SINS OF THE FLESH [1974] (Mondo Macabro) – Rarely-seen outside of France, it’s distinctive titles such as this that makes me better appreciate the work everyone does at MM. Directed by iconoclast Claude Mulot (here employing his familiar Frédéric Lansac pseudonym, which he used for most of his subsequent adult titles), this is a twisted, erotically-charged, exploitation picture, which focuses on Benoît (Francis Lemonnier) and Jean-Pierre (Patrick Penn), a pair of ne’er-do-well’s always on the lookout for trouble. Considering its relative obscurity, MM’s Blu-ray looks terrific and includes a wealth of extra features, including several interviews with many of Mulot’s colleagues, who discuss his career and effectively summarize the burgeoning world of French sex films at the time. Unfortunately, the Limited ‘Red Case’ Edition (which included a set of postcards and a booklet with an essay from Pete Tombs) has since sold out, but the standard retail edition contains the same transfer and extra features.


TRAILER TRAUMA 5: 70s ACTION ATTACK [2020] (Garagehouse Pictures) - Yet another contribution to Garagehouse Pictures’ exciting Trailer Trauma series, their latest colossal undertaking is a magnificent, lovingly-put-together tribute to ’70s action pictures, which veers from badass blaxploitation to messily-dubbed, gimmicky martial arts films and everything in-between, even including big-budget Hollywood classics in amongst all the expected “B” and “Z”-grade trash. Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger also provide a fantastic, comprehensive audio commentary and never fail to wax enthusiastic for each and every film. Read the review.


WAR OF THE WORLDS [1953] (The Criterion Collection) – Beautifully restored in 4K, Byron Haskin’s sci-fi classic has never looked better than it does here on Criterion’s spectacular Blu-ray, and it's loaded with tons of bonus features as well. Nuff said!


YETI, THE GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY [1977](Dark Force Entertainment) – Made hot on the heels of Dino de Laurentiis’ KING KONG (1976) remake, Gianfranco Parolini’s laughably awful giant monster movie has always been a personal ‘bad movie’ favourite. Usually relegated to inferior quality bootlegs, Dark Force’s new Blu-ray looks mighty impressive, and even though it’s a bare-bones affair, the fact it was released at all is cause for celebration. Plus, it’ll look good next to my 14-year old Beat Records CD of Sante Maria Romitelli’s disco-themed score. 





THE ALEJANDRO JODOWORSKY COLLECTION (Arrow Video / ABKCO), BEYOND THE DOOR (Arrow Video), THE BLACK CAT (Severin Films), BLUE MONKEY (Dark Force Entertainment), BRIDES OF DRACULA (Scream Factory), BRIGADE OF DEATH (Film Art), CISCO PIKE (Indicator), CRASH (Arrow Video 4K), DANGEROUS CARGO (Mondo Macabro), DEATH WISH 3 (Scorpion Releasing), FLASH GORDON (Arrow Video), THE GHOST BREAKERS (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), HE CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE WILLIAM GREFÉ COLLECTION (Arrow Video), HUSBANDS (Criterion Collection), AN IDEAL PLACE TO KILL (Mondo Macabro), KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (Scream Factory), MALABIMBA (Vinegar Syndrome), MR. NO LEGS (Massacre Video), MOTHRA (Eureka!), NIGHT TIDE (Indicator), PATRICK STILL LIVES (Severin Films), SHIVERS (Vestron Video / Lionsgate), SLEEPLESS (Scorpion Releasing), THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (Severin Films), SOLDIER BLUE (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), THE TENANT (Scream Factory), THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (M Square), UNIVERSAL HORROR COLLECTION VOLUMES 4, 5 & 6 (Scream Factory), THE UNTOLD STORY (Unearthed Films), WHODUNIT? (Vinegar Syndrome).


Unfortunately, I could not obtain Vinegar Syndrome’s most recent Black Friday releases to review them in time. There’s no doubt that FADE TO BLACK (1980), THE BEASTMASTER (1982), DON’T PANIC (1988), FORGOTTEN GIALLI – VOLUME 2, and SILENT MADNESS (1983) would have probably snuck onto this list as well.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


Brought to life as a direct result of George A. Romero’s now-seminal NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), Jorge “Jordi” Grau’s highly-atmospheric zombie shocker THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974) is perhaps best known for its scenes of gruesome gut-crunching. And, like its primary source of inspiration, Grau also succeeds in generating a potent aura of claustrophobia and mounting paranoia, and it’s this atmosphere of unease—augmented by a bleakness and overlying sense of morbid dread that’s almost palpable—which remains one of its most memorable assets. Released under many alternate titles and in numerous different versions, THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE has been steadily available in several ‘special editions’ throughout the digital age thus far. However, the recent 3-disc Limited Edition Steelbook from those perfectionists at Synapse Films easily eclipses every single other release that preceded it. 

Ray Lovelock plays George, an art dealer from Manchester, England who is eager to escape the polluted and congested city for a weekend getaway in the country. While zipping through the English countryside on his big, fat, black Norton motorbike (with stylin’ leather biker jacket to match), by pure—if fateful—happenstance he crosses paths with Edna (Cristina Galbó) at a gas station. After she accidentally backs into his parked bike with her car, the understandably angry George coerces her into taking him the rest of the way to his final destination Windermere. However, the flighty Edna explain that she needs to get to the town of Southgate in order to visit her ill-and-ailing sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre) instead. After getting lost along the way, Ray and Edna stop to ask for directions at a farm, where the highly-opinionated George becomes openly critical of a new insect-exterminating gizmo the Department of Agriculture is testing, which uses low-level ultrasonic radiation as a potentially ‘eco-friendly’ alternative to conventional chemical pesticides. As George and Edna soon find out, however, this machine also ‘just happens’ to cause recently-deceased human corpses to rise from their graves and walk the earth anew… 


Still-topical in its ecological concerns, THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE is an upscale and highly engrossing Euro-horror from talented Spanish director Jorge Grau, who, a year earlier, had given us the equally-fascinating gothic horror film, THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE (a.k.a. BLOOD CEREMONY [1973]). Executed with great professionalism across the board, TLDAMM’s measured narrative takes it time to develop via a succession of believable dramatic interactions between its protagonists. In what is undoubtedly one of his most memorable leading roles, Ray Lovelock is excellent as George, the staunch—not to mention exceedingly frustrated and antsy!—eco-activist, who is viewed with surly distrust by most of the locals, as well as by Edna herself in the early stages of their unwitting ‘relationship’. As more and more people are besieged—and brutalized!—by the living dead, leaving a trail of mutilated corpses in their wake, George (thanks to the ever-fickle finger of Fate) falls victim to several unlucky coincidences. Much to his misfortune, he becomes inexorably caught up in the personal machinations of the detective assigned to the case, gruffly played by the great Arthur Kennedy. 


Much like in Romero’s NOTLD, the uglier side of human nature proves to be as big an obstacle to overcome as the living dead themselves. The short-sightedness of Kennedy’s character combined with George’s deep mistrust of the police (“The cops never like to admit they’re wrong!”) results in a number of clashes between the two men from opposite ends of the political spectrum. During one particularly heated moment, Kennedy relishes the opportunity to espouse his unfettered opinion about George and his ‘kind’ when he emphatically declares, “You’re all the same! The lot of you! With your long hair and faggot clothes! Drugs. Sex. Every sort of FILTH!” That said, as the order-barking dick of a detective, Kennedy is such a nasty, stubbornly vindictive character that you just hope he gets his much-deserved comeuppance sooner than later.


Shot almost entirely in England, give or take a few interiors lensed in Spain and Italy, TLDAMM makes the most of its beautiful authentic locales (including Castleton, Derbyshire, which stands in for most of the fictional town of Southgate), many of which are eerily-deserted, and this stark seeming under-population only adds to the impending horror. The opening sequence, which follows George on his motorcycle through the bustling streets of Manchester (including a busty female ‘streaker’ [that quaint social trend of the ’70s!] momentarily jiggling across the road between heavy traffic), initiates this interesting juxtaposition of encroaching industrialization. Set to composer Giuliano Sorgini’s excellent title theme “John Dalton Street,” Grau and his editor Vincenzo Tomassi effectively showcase a civilization teetering on the brink of environmental ruin, cross-cutting between the suffocating, garbage-strewn city streets and the lush open countryside. While NOTLD merely alluded vaguely to the origins of the zombie outbreak, Grau and his writers Sandro Continenza and Marcello Coscia herein directly blame unchecked technological advancement for detrimental effects on our natural ecosystem (“They tampered with nature, and now they must pay the price!” declared U.S. taglines). When George first encounters the aforementioned experimental prototype ‘ultrasonic bug-zapper’, which kills insects and parasites by attacking their nervous systems, he’s quick to dismiss it as “just another machine to pollute the Earth!” But nevertheless, as the film ends, humanity’s inevitable march towards ‘progress’ proves to be unrelenting and unstoppable...   

In addition, Grau's film includes several inventive (if unexplained) touches. Besides their unnerving, star-shaped and exceedingly bloodshot eyes, the living dead are also given an inexplicable ability to transmit ‘unlife’ to one another, which they do by dabbing the eyelids of their fellow dead with the blood of the living (i.e., that of their freshly-dead victims). As the film’s primary zombie (a recently-drowned tramp named Guthrie), Fernando Hilbeck fulfills much the same function as Bill Hinzman had in his infamous turn as the first zombie seen in NOTLD. Like Hinzman, Hilbeck’s imposing presence in the present film has also gone on to become iconic. Having earlier appeared in Narcisco Ibáñez Serrador’s superb THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969), pretty Spanish starlet Cristina Galbó (credited here as “Christine Galbo”) also adds immensely to the film as the understandably distraught Edna as she too witnesses the visceral violence perpetrated by the living dead. 


Meticulously photographed by Francisco Sempere, the DP’s work herein looks truly splendid on Synapse Films’ new Blu-ray, which boasts a stunningly sumptuous new 4K restoration taken from the original camera negative. Without going into too many specifics, the image is virtually flawless. Without compromising the film’s natural grain structure an iota, this new transfer is unparalleled in its clarity, with richer colours and deeper blacks; it’s all so impressive, you’ll never need (or want) to re-watch it in any other form! The disc provides two DTS-HD MA audio options, including the film’s original 2.0 mono track and a 5.1 remix, both of which, depending on your set-up, sound excellent, giving further prominence to Giuliano Sorgini’s memorable score and unsettling sound design.


Extras on Synapse’s disc commence with two separate audio commentaries, starting with author Troy Howarth, who has plenty to discuss. He gets underway with the film’s genesis, then goes into the significance of NOTLD on the genre, addresses TLDAMM’s still-prescient ecologically-conscious themes, as well as how the filmmakers went through a sort of (quote) “checklist” in order to ensure they had all the necessary commercial aspects covered. Howarth also provides an excellent primer on the once-problematic Spanish film industry under Generalisimo Francisco Franco’s (1892-1975) regime, Grau’s lengthy career, Kennedy’s sojourn within European cinema, and much more, making for a well-informed and thoroughly engaging commentary. For the second audio commentary, Cinema Arcana’s Bruce Holecheck and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson provide another of their highly-entertaining discussions, which is crammed chock-a-block with tons of invaluable info, plus several fascinating anecdotes too. Both participants are eager to point out that Grau’s film is one of (quote) “the high points of European horror,” then proceed to enthusiastically discuss TLDAMM’s (quote) “surreal, dreamlike quality,” its unique locations, Sorgini’s impressive sound design, the superb cast, special make-up effects artist Gianetto De Rossi, and also some of Grau’s other work, including his vastly-underrated rape/revenge shocker CODE OF HUNTING (1983), as well as his extremely misleadingly-titled crime drama VIOLENT BLOOD BATH(1972). A great listen all round, indeed!


Unfortunately, a trio of featurettes (including the great location doc Back to the Morgue) from Blue Underground’s 2009 Blu-ray have not been carried-over on Synapse’s new disc. Making up for that, they have included several other new extras instead. In the first, Catalonia’s King of Cult (88m58s), Jorge Grau gives a career-spanning interview, most of which (natch!) focuses on this his living dead opus. The doc also includes observations on the film from Kim Newman, Rachael Nisbet, John Martin and others. In the following extras, beginning with Scene of the Crime (15m24s), Eugenio Ercolani interviews special makeup-man Gianetto De Rossi, wherein he discusses his (quote) “perfect artistic relationship” with director Grau, his thoughts and apprehension regarding ‘eyeball violence’ in such films as Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE (1979), and his opinions (“Fuck! What I am doing!?”) about his gruesome work on Joe D’Amato’s EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (1976). In the final extra, Ercolani is once again on hand to moderate a very lively Q&A with De Rossi at the (fittingly enough!) Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films (44m29s). In it, they relate interesting—and at times hilarious—stories centered around De Rossi’s time working within the U.S. film industry, his contributions to Fabrizio De Angelis’ KILLER CROCODILE (1989) and its woeful sequel, plus his unexpected return to the fore with Alexandre Aja’s HIGH TENSION (2003). The film’s cool European trailer and an assortment of TV and radio spots conclude the extras.


Enclosed in an eye-catching Steelbook featuring original cover art by Wes Benscoter (the package comes inside a slipcover illustrated with some of the promotional artwork used on TLDAMM’s foreign releases), this exemplary set also includes a DVD copy of the Blu-ray as well as a 15-track (29m59s) soundtrack CD of Sorgini’s memorable score. An 8-page booklet with an essay from Nicholas G. Schlegel, Ph.D., and extensive restoration notes from Synapse’s very own Don May, Jr. is also included, as is a poster reproduction of Benscoter’s artwork. As greatly appreciated as the beautiful packaging is, though, it’s Synapse’s superior restoration, which goes far above and beyond all usual expectations, that makes their edition of this Euro-horror gem one of the year’s absolute finest releases! Order it from Synapse Films or DiabolikDVD

Monday, October 12, 2020


Miami just got hotter...” Academy Entertainment’s humdrum tagline for their 1991 VHS videocassette.

Released directly to U.S. videotape as AMERICAN TIGER during the early ’Nineties, this movie was readily available as commonplace ‘shelf-filler’ in most North American video stores. However, Sergio Martino’s AMERICAN RICKSHAW (1989) is anything but conventional. One of the loopier and truly unforgettable Italian films you’re ever likely to encounter, Martino’s genre mash-up now makes its North American HD debut thanks to a new specialty label on the block, Cauldron Films.


As he tries to get through college, Scott Edwards (Mitch Gaylord) ekes-out a living as a part-time rickshaw runner in the affluent Miami, Florida suburb of Coconut Grove. But his life is turned completely upside down when one of his fares, a slinky red-headed stripper named Joanna (Victoria Prouty), tricks him into making a sex tape aboard Jason Mortom’s (Gregg Todd Davis) swanky boat. In his haste to get off the boat, Scott gets into a fight with Jason and inadvertently steals the wrong videotape. Unaware that Jason is the son of a famous and influential TV evangelist named Reverend Mortom (Donald Pleasence), this sudden mix-up sets-off an utterly bizarre chain of events that jams together Chinese mysticism, an old witch, a megalomaniacal preacher, a seemingly unstoppable hitman, a ghostly Siamese cat and a hissing cobra snake, the last of which safeguards our frequently-confused hero. 


AMERICAN RICKSHAW is a tantalizingly engaging bit of Italian hokum, that no simple synopsis of its plot can adequately convey. Still, despite the ridiculous, anything-goes premise, it all works surprisingly well, given the usual by-the-numbers approach of most Italian exploitation movies during the late ’Eighties and beyond. Check out Umberto Lenzi’s generic crime actioner COP TARGET (1990)—or better (i.e., worse) yet, Bruno Mattei’s hilariously out-of-whack COP GAME (1988)!—for further confirmation of the rapidly declining state of Italy’s commercial cinema at the time. The opening sequence of AR is a particularly oddball attention-grabber: vividly shot in super-slow-motion during a sudden torrential downpour, Scott picks up Madame Moon (Michi Kobi), a frail old Chinese lady who becomes instantly enamored with his gallantry (and his tiger tank-top!). Later, when Scott gets embroiled in a possible murder rap and Reverend Mortom unleashes a black-clad hitman (Daniel Greene) to dispose of him, Madame Moon and her exotic ‘guardians’ watch over him during a succession of wacky encounters. Despite making very little sense whatsoever, the story largely revolves around a mysterious (quote) “stone of evil in the shape of an ugly boar”, which everyone is clamoring to get their hands on. However, thanks mainly to Martino’s energetic direction, Giancarlo Ferrando’s solid camerawork and Eugenio Alabiso’s offbeat cutting, the, um, ‘eccentric’ narrative moves at a satisfying clip while conjuring-up a strange, verging-on-surreal atmosphere.


Following his lead in Albert Magnoli’s AMERICAN ANTHEM (1986), ex-U.S. Team Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord commits himself with the proper panache required of the role, while the alluring Prouty also fares fairly well, given her one-dimensional part’s lack of substance. In contrast, in one of the film’s more pivotal roles, Martino alumnus Daniel Greene plays the deadly hitman with cool detachment, adding extra dynamism to much of the film. Although his screen time is limited, Donald Pleasence is memorably over-the-top (even more so than usual!) as the swaggering preacher who displays less regard for the sanctity of human life than a Florida gator. Whether it was a deliberate stylistic choice or not, his southern accent veers around wildly throughout, which only adds to the film’s schizophrenic nature; a fact best exemplified in the head-scratching, eye-popping finale.


Presented here in a brand new 2K transfer taken from the original 35mm camera negative, Cauldron Films’ Blu-ray looks superb, with excellent detail and colour-saturation throughout, which brings out all the retro ‘Nineties kitsch on display. Compared to Austrian Cinestrange Extreme’s earlier Blu-ray, which featured some digital noise-reduction tinkering and a slightly different colour scheme, Cauldron’s new edition is a noticeable improvement in every way. The LPCM English mono track also sounds well-balanced and quite lively. In addition, the disc includes English SDH subtitles.


Kat Ellinger, author of All the Colours of Sergio Martino (Arrow, 2018), and writer and film critic Samm Deighan take part in an audio commentary wherein they share their adoration for Martino’s (quote) “joyful, gleeful and entertaining film.” They have plenty to say about the film itself, including regarding many of its (quote) “confusing plot points” and the (quote) “constant madness” that unreels on the screen. Of course, they also discuss Martino’s varied career at great length, including how he frequently broke conventions and just how (quote) “adaptable” he is as a director, even when working in the United States. They also talk about much of the film’s cast and crew, including prolific if rarely-discussed makeup effects man Rosario Prestopino. A long-time veteran of the Italian film industry (he also lent his talents to such Italian gut-crunchers as BURIAL GROUND and DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. [both 1980]), Prestopino provides some brief-but-effective gore effects herein.  


Eugenio Ercolani’s interview with Sergio Martino and production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng (18m30s), which first appeared on Cinestrange’s BD, is thankfully ported-over onto Cauldron’s disc. Focusing on his early beginnings, Martino discusses how he entered the film industry, as well as the financial crisis that adversely affected Italian film production during the ’Eighties. He also relates his experiences working on AR and opines how American crews lack an ability to improvise on set. Geleng, a prolific production designer, speaks warmly about Martino and his versatility as a director, equating him with a (quote) “orchestral conductor.” In the next significant extra, an entire episode of Mike White’s The Projection Booth (65m30s) dedicates their full show to Martino’s (quote) “bonkers” film. Guests include Cullen Gallagher and Kat Ellinger, both of whom delve into AR’s nuttier aspects in what turns out to be a detailed and delightful look at its numerous endearing qualities. Extras conclude with the brief Miami: Now and Then(2m52s) location tour, plus a thorough image gallery (1m04s) that showcases much of the film’s promotional artwork and various videotape releases from around the world. Cauldron’s original Limited Edition pressing also includes a colourful 8-page booklet of liner notes with an essay from David Zuzelo, as well as a nice sturdy slipcover. 


Unlike anything else in his extensive and diverse filmography, Cauldron Films have given Sergio Martino’s colourfully outrageous AMERICAN RICKSHAW a first-rate HD presentation, which, of course, comes highly recommended! Pre-order the standard edition here

Thursday, October 1, 2020


With minimal variations, the basic plot of Lucio Fulci’s DEMONIA (1990) is pretty much interchangeable with most of the director’s first modern-day gothic horror films from the early ’Eighties. Films such as CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) and THE BEYOND (1981) are aped for ideas in an attempt to reinvigorate signor Fulci’s sagging career. While DEMONIA is less ambitious, it does at least still possess some flashes of style and imagination, which is far better displayed via Severin Films’ superb new Blu-ray.

Sicily, 1486: a group of devil-worshiping nuns is attacked and then crucified by angry townsfolk in the catacombs below their monastery. Moving forward to Toronto circa 1990, a young adept named Liza (Meg Register) has a violent premonition and faints during a séance. After cautioning her about participating in these silly activities, she and Professor Evans (Brett Halsey) leave for Sicily and there meet up with a team of archeologists in Santa Rosalia, the very same town from the opening. Of course, the residents take none-too-kindly to these intruding outsiders, who promise (quote) “the worst is yet to come”—especially after Liza begins poking-around at the old accursed monastery... 


Although blandly-earnest female lead Meg Register is certainly no Catriona MacColl (matchless Italo scream queen and star of Fulci’s gothic triptych CITY OF THE LIVING DEADTHE BEYOND and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY [1981]), much of DEMONIA’s narrative takes great pains in attempting to emulate the atmosphere of those particular Fulci classics. With its languid pacing, dreamlike flashbacks, superstitious townspeople, and a heroine who seems to be in a continuous state of distress, this latter-day Fulci effort does nevertheless still manage to conjure-up a rather uncomfortable ambiance. In view of its less-than-exorbitant budget, DEMONIA is bolstered by a number of spacious and impressive Sicilian locations, which add considerable value to the production. Real-life crypts and catacombs are utilized to fine effect between the multitude of gory, garishly-lit set-pieces. These include one of the villagers having his tongue nailed to a butcher’s block, and, in what many fans consider to be the pièce de résistance, another man is vividly torn in half. Unfortunately, one of the film’s biggest detractors is Giovanni Cristiani’s lackluster score, which does very little – if anything, quite frankly – to enhance the onscreen action. 


Following his rather outlandish roles in Fulci’s S/M psychodrama THE DEVIL’S HONEY (1986) and his gory, darkly comedic take on the Bluebeard folktale, TOUCH OF DEATH (1988), this was to be Brett Halsey’s final appearance in a Fulci film (not counting his ‘repurposed’ scenes in Fulci’s A CAT IN THE BRAIN [1990], for which the actor never received payment). Beyond his skeptical character’s calculated defiance of the supernatural, Halsey, despite being DEMONIA’s name-value American star, is sadly given very little to do. Still, when Dr. Porter (Al Cliver), one of his former colleagues, turns up dead, a wholly-unnecessary subplot emerges when Halsey becomes a potential prime suspect in the eyes of local carabinieri. As ‘The butcher of Santa Rosalia’, Lino Salemme, a familiar  character actor, is suitably over-the-top in his efforts to ward-off uninvited outsiders. Continually scowling and treating everyone with scorn, Salemme amounts to one of the film’s numerous memorable highlights. Lucio Fulci, meanwhile, allots himself a larger-than-normal supporting part as an inquisitive police inspector.


While it was initially intended for theatrical exhibition, the film’s litany of production woes resulted in it going straight-to-video instead. Most English-speaking viewers first caught the film via Nikkatsu’s VHS videocassette from Japan, a nice-looking transfer for the time (English-dubbed, but with burnt-in Japanese subs) that also retained the film’s original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. This edition remained the gold standard throughout the ’Nineties until, in 2001, Media Blasters inaugurated their Shriek Show line with the DEMONIA’s first-ever official North American DVD. Although a welcome release, Shriek Show’s disc did leave plenty of room for improvement, but fans would have to wait another nearly twenty years for Severin Films’ new Blu-ray. Well worth the wait, their new disc shows off a brand-new 4K scan taken from the film’s original camera negative, which features far more pictorial and audio detail than any previous home video incarnation. Luigi Ciccarese’s somewhat problematic cinematography, which features several over-exposed scenes and is inundated with a general haze for much of the film, likewise fares much better on Severin’s disc. For anyone put-off by the awkward English dubbing (prolific voice talent artist Ted Rusoff dubs at least three [!] different characters), Severin has also included the film’s Italian audio, with optional English subtitles. Sounding altogether more fluent, the Italian audio also consists of some alternate music cues, for those who care. Both audio options are DTS-HD master audio 2.0 mono tracks and sound equally good, so it comes down to personal preference on which option to choose.


The copious extras begin with a superb, highly-detailed audio commentary from Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (FAB Press, 2018). He thoroughly discusses the production and its many connections to his earlier, more successful films and its many unique, picturesque Sicilian locations. To help give DEMONIA’s opening sequence some historical context, Thrower provides a brief history of the Spanish Inquisition. He also points out many of the inherent flaws, including some of the poorly-executed special effects that you just have to (quote) “roll with”, given the inadequate budget. Exhaustive background info on many cast and crew and some of the film’s odd stylistic choices are also discussed at length. A real highlight, indeed. Mr. Thrower’s work herein comes highly-recommended, which not only sheds light on the present film but on Fulci’s career at a time when Italian exploitation movies were steadily losing their box office luster. 


Severin has also included two newly-produced docs, beginning with Holy Demons (33m17s), an interview with uncredited screenwriter and assistant director Antonio Tentori. Appearing via Skype (due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), he talks about his long relationship with Fulci, which began when the director appeared as a guest on Tentori’s entertainment and culture show on Radio 2 Rai, which eventually led to his first opportunity within the film industry. Of course, Mr. Tentori also talks about his experiences working with Fulci on DEMONIA and its many production woes, the authentic locations, and inherent potential. In Of Skull and Bones (14m59s), camera operator Sandro Grossi discusses his start in the business and how he came about collaborating with Fulci, whom he affably refers to as a (quote) “bulldozer”. Fulci Lives! (4m29s), a VHS-shot interview (that originally appeared on the aforementioned Shriek Show disc) from the DEMONIA set and the film’s trailer (1m05s) conclude the extras. The Severin edition’s first pressing (limited to 2000 copies) came in a collectible slipcover, which has since sold out.


Regardless of DEMONIA’s many flaws as a film, Severin’s major upgrade of it on BD makes for an altogether more satisfying viewing experience. Needless to say, it comes highly recommended! Order it from Severin here.