DVD/BLU-RAY

Blu-ray Review - The Jigsaw Murders

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1989's "The Jigsaw Murders" (where only one titular killing takes place) is positioned as a crime story with occasional interruptions by the demands of exploitation cinema. Some nudity remains, and a few ghastly encounters are detailed, but director Jag Mundhra prizes characterization first and foremost, bending the Roger Corman-released project in a way that explores psychological issues, not just a body count. It's a valiant attempt to do something different with bottom-shelf production values, and while "The Jigsaw Murders" isn't completely victorious, there's some grit and excitement to hold attention, and the picture's gradual evolution into camp isn't entirely unpleasant. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Savage Attraction

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There's a reason why 1983's "Savage Attraction" (titled "Hostage" on the print) insists on reminding viewers on multiple occasions that it's based on a true story. Otherwise, it would be easy to fault the filmmakers for committing such melodramatic nonsense to the screen. To buy into this world of abuse and manipulation, it takes a substantial leap of faith, as director Frank Shields (who scripts with John Lind) details a tremendous amount of stupidity without the psychological depth to back it up. Marital violence is no laughing matter, but the way it's presented in "Savage Attraction," one finds themselves checking the lead character's head for signs of a recent lobotomy. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Don't Go in the House

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Reworking elements from "Psycho" to manufacture a new tale of damaged childhood and motherly worship, co-writer/director Joseph Ellison goes deep into the psychological abyss with 1979's "Don't Go in the House." Already an uneasy picture due to its horror content, the feature takes aggression to the next level with its depiction of abuse and murder, fulfilling a genre obsession with the torture of women. While decidedly low budget, "Don't Go in the House" is effective in spurts, winning points for its bizarre depiction of violent appetites and Ellison's mild style, which puts in a noticeable effort to sell frights and repulsion without breaking its concentration on the nightmarish story it's trying to sell. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Anatahan

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After a lengthy, celebrated career in silent and sound features, director Josef von Sternberg elected to close out his filmmaking interests with 1953's "Anatahan," a picture he continued to tinker with long after its initial release. Dramatizing the true story of Japanese soldiers stranded for six years on an island after their home country's surrender (eventually confronted with the allure of the lone woman living there), "Anatahan" takes a strange story of isolation and delivers it with a docudrama approach that finds von Sternberg assuming narration duties, becoming a personal guide to a war story trapped in time. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - A Game of Death

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The 1924 short story, "The Most Dangerous Game" (by Richard Connell), has been adapted on multiple occasions over the last 90 years, but in 1945, it was still fresh creative ground, arriving on the big screen as "A Game of Death." Changes were made to accommodate a new creative perspective, but director Robert Wise sticks to the essentials of the macabre horror story, pitting strangers against a madman on a remote island, where the sport of hunting takes on a whole new level of intensity once man is made the target. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Electric Chair

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1976's "The Electric Chair" offers a haunting title and an initial scene of corpse discovery that promises something macabre to come. However, it's unwise to trust drive-in cinema, which often uses every trick in the book to sucker audiences in to see something they'd otherwise avoid like the plague. Instead of a chiller, "The Electric Chair" is a particularly terrible episode of "Law & Order," taking the action to North Carolina, where lawyers and cops attempt to figure out the motive behind a double murder and bring someone to justice for the crime. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Daughter

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"The Daughter" is an adaptation of "The Wild Duck," an 1884 play written by Henrik Ibsen. The Norwegian playwright is not known for his cheery study of character, instead working to find behavioral and emotional authenticity in everyday interactions, building tensions from within. Writer/director Simon Stone (making his directorial debut) is determined to protect Ibsen's solemnity in "The Daughter" while modernizing the story to fit more relatable concerns of heart and home. It's a penetrating family saga, which braids together dysfunction and secrets to create a series of hidden betrayals uncovered as the film unfolds, and Stone confidently manages each horrific unveiling. He also sustains Ibsen's uncompromising plotting, which ranges from cracks in the concrete to all out war, generating a wild ride of anger that brings the material to full attention. It's dark work, but satisfying in the way it values these personalities and their individual approaches to strife. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - A Great Wall

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Co-writer/director Peter Wang makes a very unassuming picture with 1986's "A Great Wall." While its claim to fame is the distinction of being the first U.S. production permitted to film a Chinese story in China, Wang doesn't wear the impressive access with arrogance. Instead, he creates a family dramedy that explores disparate cultures with sensitivity and remarkable insight, making a movie about characters, not just previously forbidden locations. While it has elements of humor, "A Great Wall" is best in meditative mode, simply taking in the sights and sounds of a newly welcoming country. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Dakota

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1945's "Dakota" isn't remembered as a particular bright spot in the massive filmography of screen legend John Wayne, but for a man who rarely turned down anything, it's a surprisingly buoyant western that gives the actor a chance to be more playful than his average steely ways. Director Joseph Kane (a seasoned genre helmer) provides a journeyman touch to the picture, but his professionalism serves it well, creating an amusing romp with Wayne and co-star Vera Ralston. While it doesn't offer anything new to the western tradition, its meat-and-potatoes approach is agreeable, keeping the chases, clashes, and banter rolling along. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Wanderers

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Embracing a newfound hunger for nostalgia, the 1970s provided an endless stream of retro entertainment, with specific emphasis on the celebration of the late 1950s to the early 1960s. The creative and financial triumph of George Lucas's "American Graffiti" and the longstanding ratings dominance of the T.V. show "Happy Days" created a demand for this type of storytelling, allowing something like 1979's "The Wanderers" to enter production. Based on a respected novel by Richard Price, the movie adaptation strives to deliver the same glow of memories and mischief as "American Graffiti," but provides the grit of The Bronx, its vivid setting, to help squelch any dewy depictions of adolescent life. "The Wanderers" hits a few sweet spots in period recreation, with co-writer/director Philip Kaufman unafraid to submerge the effort in pop music and era attire, but the picture isn't a cohesive endeavor. Kaufman masterminds a grab bag of incidents and emotions, delivering an episodic look at a time in American culture when cartoonish expressions of masculinity were about to be flattened by the harsh realities of the larger world. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Invisible Ghost

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In the autumn of his film career, Bela Lugosi used his genre reputation to participate in a few off-kilter productions. 1941's "Invisible Ghost" is one of many Lugosi projects to embrace oddity, finding the screen star struggling to transform a bizarre possession story into a proper chiller, using wonderfully intimidating looks and his own industry reputation to generate some frights in a feature that's almost exclusively invested in prolonged stalking sequences just to get the picture up to its current 64 minute run time. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Chamber of Horrors

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1940's "Chamber of Horrors" is saddled with fairly misleading title. Sure, some chambers are present, but horrors are few and far between in this murder mystery (which was titled "The Door with the Seven Locks" internationally), which is more dialogue-driven endeavor than a chilling one, almost coming across as a filmed play instead of a suspenseful genre offering. Director Norman Lee keeps to the basics in whodunit cinema here, arranging a full "Clue" game of suspects and motivations, and every now and then, something macabre will sneak into the frame to keep the effort rolling along to an energetic finale. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Z.P.G.

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The 1970s were a fertile time for dystopian adventures. Reflecting an increasingly hostile and hopeless world rife with political upheavals, terrorism, and pollution concerns, world cinema took notice, producing a great number of films throughout the decade that attempted to turn societal ills into mass entertainment, often granted a license to be as depressing as possible, to best brand audiences looking to grab a peek at the dark side of life. Think "Soylent Green," "Logan's Run," and even "Planet of the Apes." Offered early in this revolution is 1972's "Z.P.G." ("Zero Population Growth"), which examines life in an overpopulated futureworld where the air is choked with smog and babies are outlawed to preserve global control, pitting the few against the many as free will fights to survive. Directed by Michael Campus ("The Mack"), "Z.P.G." has all the ingredients for a vivid examination of oncoming misery, delivering impressive production achievements that sell the sterility of a society built on complacency. While not precisely satiric in nature, the feature has some fun with era-specific concerns between bouts of depression as the end of the world is recreated for the screen. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Witchtrap

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After achieving a cult hit in 1986's "Witchboard," director Kevin Tenney returns to the dark side with 1989's "Witchtrap" (titled "The Presence" on the Blu-ray), which isn't a sequel, but displays a similar fascination with dangerous supernatural terrain. Although it's a low-budget feature shot on the quick, Tenney's work here is surprisingly effective, putting in noticeable effort to jolt a tale of a rather specific haunting, using inventive special effects and lively performances to secure entertainment value. "Witch Trap" has its limitations, but its genre adulation remains endearing throughout, gifting viewers a scrappy, snarky, low-wattage take on a demonic uprising, offering enough carnage and panic to cover a few dramatic and technical potholes found during the journey. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - They're Playing with Fire

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Perhaps trying to reignite the flames of teenage lust, co-writer/director Howard Avedis returns diminutive actor Eric Brown to the screen in 1984's "They're Playing with Fire," which follows his success in 1981's "Private Lessons." Once again casting Brown as boy experiencing a sexual awakening at the hands of an older woman, Avedis makes a wise choice in casting. Not with Brown, but co-star Sybil Danning, who possesses a pronounced aura of sexuality that turns certain sections of the film into 3-D, making an appealing focal point for the picture, which often needs all the distractions it can find. A curious combination of Hitchcock and "Friday the 13th," "They're Playing with Fire" arranges vivid excursions into sex and violence, playing up its soft-core attitude with gore zone visits and a screenplay (co-written by Avedis's spouse, Marlene Schmidt) that goes from appealingly straightforward to bewildering as the story unfolds, requiring Danning to disrobe just to maintain cabin pressure in this weirdo thriller tailor-made for late night cable showings. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - China Girl

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Adult cinema visits the superspy genre in 1974's "China Girl," which delivers a 007-ish take on global threat, evil organizations, and erotic enticements, executed with a certain cinematic flair not always found in such saucy endeavors. Director Paul Aratow is tasked with completing the basics in coupling and naughty interactions, but he also takes time with performances, helping to bridle the potential outrageousness of the "China Girl" world of spying with some unexpectedly effective turns, including a primary villain played by James Hong, from "Big Trouble in Little China" fame (credited here as "James Young"). Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Karate Girl

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2011's "Karate Girl" was marketed as a celebration of true fighting prowess, even repeatedly declaring in its trailer that the picture was made without the use of CGI. Bravo to the producers for attempting to restore some organic aggression into their action endeavor, but did the package as a whole have to be so dull? Spending time on martial arts choreography but not on sets, locations, and actors, "Karate Girl" is a fairly banal feature, doing shockingly little with its revenge scenario and magical treasures. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - I Am Not a Serial Killer

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Adapted from a novel by Dan Wells, "I Am Not a Serial Killer" is one of the better chillers I've seen in recent memory, using an enticing sense of mystery to act as glue for macabre events occurring in a tiny Minnesota town. It's the new film from burgeoning genre moviemaker Billy O'Brien, and he gives his latest work some serious thought, trying to balance the needs of unsettling characterization with slightly damaged people and a grander arc of horror that takes more than a few unusual directions. "I Am Not a Serial Killer" works best without a full understanding of what lies ahead, so the spoiler-sensitive (and you know who you are) should walk away from this review now, preferably straight to a Blu-ray of the picture, ready to appreciate the dramatic subtleties and indie production achievements of the feature, which offers much more than predictable shock value. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Tower

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While the 1966 University of Texas Tower Shooting certainly isn't the first act of gun violence in America, it's largely recognized as a preamble to the world we live in today, where aggression and displays of armament feel like a weekly event. While it was far from an innocent time, occurring during the Vietnam War, the event, where Charles Whitman situated himself on the top floor of the University of Texas Tower and began shooting at students and staff with a small arsenal, joined various motivated murders to erode America's innocence, commencing a new dawn in anytown-style catastrophe. "Tower" is a bold examination of the day's events, but instead of strictly employing talking heads to understand increasing anxiety as Whitman commanded the area for 96 minutes, director Keith Maitland uses rotoscoped animation to replicate intensity and explore the scene, putting focus on those on the ground trying to survive a nightmarish and seemingly never-ending experience. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Lovers on the Bridge

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Leos Carax doesn't make many movies, but when he does, he tends to go all-out with his endeavors, searching for ways to wake up cinema as his explores universal themes of love and time. 1991's "The Lovers on the Bridge" is largely considered the ultimate Carax experience, combining his interest in the theatrical and his obsession with heartache, cooking up a wild viewing experience that bends reality and celebrates oddity, but remains achingly human at its core, showcasing an impressive balance of tone while highlighting all types of impulsive, self-destructive behavior. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com