DVD/BLU-RAY

Blu-ray Review - C.H.O.M.P.S.

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There was something about the 1970s and movies interested in exploring the canine experience. Dogs were involved in robbing banks, saving families, and, apparently, becoming high-tech robots meant to dominate the home security industry. 1979's "C.H.O.M.P.S." endeavors to take the cute and cuddly ways of a pet and turn it into a slapstick comedy with some action beats. It's one of the few ventures into live-action filmmaking from animation titans Hanna-Barbera (coming off their work on "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park"), who retain their cartoon instincts for the feature, which is directly aimed at 5-year-olds in need of aggressive music cues and broad antics to understand the entertainment value of the picture. "C.H.O.M.P.S." isn't made for adults, but it's not exactly a shining example of family entertainment, as the simplistic screenplay and unrelenting goofiness of the supporting cast wears thin in a hurry, even for the target demographic. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Beware! Children at Play

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1989's "Beware! Children at Play" isn't a well-known film, but those aware of it tend to have mixed feelings about the endeavor. Writer Fred Scharkey and director Mik Cribben attempt to create their own "Children of the Corn" experience with the feature, wading into Stephen King waters with their take on cult horrors involving ruined kids and the adults trying to make sense of madness. Viewers aren't treated to a polished understanding of taboo villainy, with Cribben acquiring a small budget for the effort, trying to win over genre fans with moments of body-blasting gore and a finale that's all about violence toward children. Naturally, this all ties into "Beowulf," right? Well, according to Scharkey, it does, working to give "Beware! Children at Play" some distinction beyond its vision for slaughtering little ones. This is a supremely weird picture, and one that visibly struggles to fill its run time. However, for some, the journey to its splatter conclusion might be worth enduring extreme dramatic flatness to get there. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Alligator II: The Mutation

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1980's "Alligator" was a minor hit in theaters, but it managed to attract significant viewership when it made its television debut, bringing the strange ways of a "Jaws" riff to a home audience. "Alligator" was no major dramatic or technical achievement, but it was decent, which is no small feat, offering competent actors, smart writing, and careful editing to conjure a horror story that managed to do something interesting with the ridiculousness of a monster alligator on the loose in the big city. Producer Brandon Chase, perhaps not aware of the whole "strike while the iron is hot" theory, waits an astonishing 11 years to resurrect the brand name, hoping to tap into a similar sense of low-budget thrills with 1991's "Alligator II: The Mutation." Unfortunately, the creative team from the original film are long gone, replaced with less interesting moviemakers who try to craft what's essentially a remake, moving the action to Los Angeles without any noticeable upgrades in thespian talent or alligator puppetry. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Drop Dead Fred

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I saw "Drop Dead Fred" in 1991, and I didn't care for it. I revisited the feature in 2011 for an anniversary piece, and I didn't care for it. However, over the last decade, the film has evolved from a forgettable, incorrectly marketed comedy into something that means quite a bit to certain viewers. "Drop Dead Fred" has become a cult favorite, though not for its sense of humor, instead managing to reach people who view the endeavor as a subversive study of psychology, using wacky jokes and manic spirit to provide a thin layer of merriment over a profoundly dark tale of mental illness. It's definitely one way to read the picture, as bits and pieces of such analysis are present in the final cut. It's the rest of the effort that's remains abrasive and unfunny, with the production betting big on co-star Rik Mayall's big screen appeal, which is mostly missing from the endeavor. Third time should be the charm, but I still don't care for it. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Bilitis

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David Hamilton was a famous British photographer who loved to take pictures of young girls in various stages of undress. He was a controversial figure, inspiring intense debates about the definition of pornography. Eventually, he made his way into the director's chair, bringing his love of underage pursuits to the big screen in 1977's "Bilitis," which offers a coming-of-age story about an adolescent girl trying to understand her sexuality. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hamilton isn't a decent storyteller (working with a script co-written by fellow provocateur, Catherine Breillat), using the moment to…well, photograph young girls in various states of undress. He certainly has his fetish, and crafts a movie that makes one feel as though they're on some type of watch list when it's over. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Tragedy Girls

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There's going to be a generational divide when it comes to the audience for "Tragedy Girls." There will be those who understand, possibly even relate to the modern depiction of teenagedom, which is showcased here as a marathon of social media anxiety, bullying, and insincerity. Older audiences will likely spend the viewing experience being grateful they are no longer adolescents, forced to compete in a ferociously connected world. Thankfully, "Tragedy Girls" isn't a documentary, but a horror comedy, offering satiric touches and exaggerated performances to help viewers ease into the challenges of juvenile life, which, for this endeavor, include murder. Co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre pulls off a bit of a miracle here, finding ways to connect to unpleasant characters, while the rest of the movie speeds ahead with macabre twists and turns, and shares a love for bloody mischief. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


4K UHD Review - Dracula Sucks

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I'm sure if author Bram Stoker was made aware of what the future held for his 1897 novel, "Dracula," he would be delighted. There have been movies, T.V. shows, comic books, video games, and entire state fair midway rides devoted to his creation, keeping the brand name going for over a century of horror escapism. Perhaps less appealing to Stoker would be the creation of 1979's "Dracula Sucks," the adult film industry's take on the novel, which transports the gothic, nightmarish tale from Transylvania to the dry, sunny surroundings of rural California, adding bits of comedy and blindfolded editing to summon another take on Stoker's vision of terror and seduction. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy

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Canadian sketch comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall found their way to producer Lorne Michaels in the late 1980s, with the "Saturday Night Live" honcho helping to bring the sharp talents of Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, and Dave Foley to a different kind of late-night program. The Kids in the Hall offered a strange sense of humor that toyed with the surreal and the silly, making funny business that always felt like it was presented solely to entertain the performers, with audience response a happy accident. The troupe managed to bang out 102 episodes of their original show, attracting a passionate fanbase for their specialized appreciation of oddball topics and performance capabilities. The series ended in 1995, paving the way to a film production, with Michaels and Paramount Pictures hoping to bring The Kids in the Hall to the masses with 1996's "Brain Candy." While the creation of the endeavor didn't go swimmingly, leaving the final cut scattered at times, "Brain Candy" remains quite entertaining, keeping The Kids in the Hall busy with multiple characters and ideas as they work to find some shape to their take on the burgeoning world of pharmaceutical corporation domination. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


4K UHD Review - The Howling

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After experiencing a breakthrough success with 1978's "Piranha," director Joe Dante remain committed to genre entertainment, determined to resurrect werewolf cinema with 1981's "The Howling," which joined "Wolfen" and "An American Werewolf in London" during a particularly busy year for wolf-based entertainment. Dante plays to his strengths in the feature, which gathers a colorful cast of B-movie regulars to articulate the dangers of a monstrous threat, but the picture isn't explosive, with the screenplay by Dante and John Sayles aiming for a more deliberate tone of character and threat exploration, looking to milk the mystery of it all instead of simply pounding on viewers with violence. "The Howling" is superbly atmospheric at times, and it's hard to beat such a bizarre collection of actors, but this isn't Dante's most energized offering, finding the story lacking in dramatic power, which doesn't help the sluggish pace. Ghoulish highlights are present, but horror is limited as the production tries to figure out what kind of tale it wants to tell. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - 200 Cigarettes

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The ensemble picture is one way for any filmmaker to help guarantee audience interest, especially when the thespians collected are young and hungry for work, accepting roles to help their careers and limit their professional obligation, playing a small part in a larger puzzle of personalities. For 1999's "200 Cigarettes," the professional mission was to support the directorial debut of Rise Bramon Garcia, who made her mark on the industry as a casting director, filling movies such as "True Romance," "Uncle Buck," and "Born on the Fourth of July" with noted talent and future stars, making her popular with actors. "200 Cigarettes" provides ample opportunity for the talent to display some charm, with screenwriter Shana Larsen (this being her one and only credit) providing a tale of mismatched lovers, accidents, and smoking with the endeavor, which imagines the tangled ways of neurotics as they make their way to a New Year's Eve party, ringing in 1982 while stomping around New York City. Garcia wallpapers the feature with soundtrack selections and tries to summon a period feel for the comedy, which maintains a flow of mental health issues, but laughs and heart at a little harder to find. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Curfew

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Gary Winick (who passed away in 2011) was never a consistent filmmaker, but he found his way into the Hollywood machine, delivering entertainment offerings such as "Charlotte's Web," "Letters to Juliet," "Bride Wars," and his best endeavor, "13 Going on 30." He was a vanilla helmer working with simplistic screenplays, but it wasn't always that way for Winick. He started his career in exploitation, following the career path of many by focusing on the sellable power of horror. 1989's "Curfew" is Winick's directorial debut, and he takes on the basics in awful business with this "Funny Games" and "Cape Fear"-style exercise in revenge and torture, pitting a family held hostage against captors who have a little more on their mind than standard criminal activity. "Curfew" is crudely constructed and performed, but that seems to be what Winick is going for, sustaining the aesthetic of drive-in cinema to the late 1980s, though he's not seasoned enough to deliver enough shocks and suspense, making the viewing experience more wearisome than worrisome. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Killing Spree

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Writer/director Tim Ritter has a promising idea for bottom shelf entertainment with 1987's "Killing Spree," exploring one man's vicious way with jealousy when he decides to murder those he believes have made a move on his wife, getting his evidence from her diary. It's a Penthouse Letter mixed with splatter interests, with Ritter trying to use such unbridled dumb guy rage to inspire a shot-on-video slasher endeavor that often takes its sweet time to get to the ugly stuff. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Arabella Black Angel

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Cuckolding takes a dark turn in 1989's "Arabella Black Angel," which turns the secret desires of a married couple experiencing renewed vigor in their relationship into a grisly murder mystery. However, the spooky ways of a killer out to collect fresh victims is largely of secondary importance to director Stelvio Massi, who's mostly here to create a softcore erotic thriller, keeping his main character mostly unclothed as the story attempts to find some clarity as it unfolds. "Arabella Black Angel" is sleazy stuff, but that's the primary appeal of the endeavor, which isn't too concerned with creating as puzzle for viewers to solve. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Killer is Still Among Us

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The rituals of Lover's Lane activity are forever ruined by a merciless murderer in 1986's "The Killer is Still Among Us." The material is reportedly based on a true crime case, but co-writer/director Camillo Teti isn't that motivated to make a gritty understanding of investigative procedure, going the giallo route instead, with a gloved madman taking advantage of specific vulnerabilities involving sexual interactions in the middle of the woods. "The Killer is Still Among Us" hopes to be a bit more psychological than the competition, but Teti is as vicious as can be at times, visualizing the extremity of punishment facing victims, even after their death. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Sister of Ursula

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Sex and death come to resort life in 1978's "The Sister of Ursula," which functions as a murder mystery, but also shows potential as possible training tool for psychotherapists. Giallo touches are present in the endeavor, with a killer favoring black gloves on the loose, but writer/director Enzo Milioni doesn't seem particularly taken with the whole whodunit atmosphere, gradually turning "The Sister of Ursula" into a softcore offering periodically interrupted by frantic displays of mental illness. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


4K UHD Review - Alligator

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1980's "Alligator" is a little late to the party, but it remains a direct riff on the monster success of 1975's "Jaws," contributing another natural world menace to help jolt audiences still interested in this particular danger zone. Director Lewis Teague ("The Jewel of the Nile," "Cujo") is no Steven Spielberg, but he has John Sayles, a respected screenwriter who attempts to bring something different to the challenges of a reptile rampage endeavor, working to give material that's usually so simple some degree of character complication. The effort is noticeable, offering "Alligator" something more to work with during the long stretches of stillness that occur between stalk-and-kill sequences. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Lipstick

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Release during the heyday of exploitation entertainment, 1976's "Lipstick" attempted to bring something a little different to theaters. It's a tale about a sexual assault and the psychological fallout from such a devastating experience, and the script by David Rayfiel strives to use such a heinous act of violation to inspire a sincere discussion of the legal system and the way it favors aggressors, putting the weight of responsibility on victims. This take is certainly most welcome, and the picture is mostly interested in courtroom events as a case of violence is torn to shreds by practiced legal minds. However, the production can't help itself, and instead of following through on the cruelty of the legal system to best disturb viewers, "Lipstick" goes the B-movie route, offering a blunt sense of justice for a complex situation of shame and fear. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Surf Nazis Must Die

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"Surf Nazis Must Die." That's one amazing title. It basically promises a prime exploitation event with the weirdest of screen elements. The 1987 endeavor most certainly does not live up to those expectations, and while the feature does contain Surf Nazis, and many of them most certainly die, most of the picture is devoted to the painful ways of pure filler. Director Peter George and screenwriter Jon Ayre have an idea to update B-movie entertainment with their vision of revenge and tasty waves, but they refuse to do anything with it. Watching "Surf Nazis Must Die" is an exercise in frustration, as the film basically farts around for 66 minutes while vague conflicts and extended scenes of nothingness unfold, waiting for the moment to unleash its concept of maternal fury. And even that is a drag. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Unknown Man of Shandigor

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1967's "The Unknown Man of Shandigor" is an incredibly strange take on the spy genre, with director Jean-Louis Roy harnessing the avant-garde power of the 1960s to examine the ways of the Cold War world. He merges elements of James Bond, "Dr. Strangelove," and New Wave efforts to generate an impressive study of danger involving an unhinged character who's discovered a "Canceler" formula, capable of disrupting atomic weapons. Naturally, world powers want to possess this information, inspiring various enemies to hunt for the prize, and Roy is ready to provide a wild ride of filmmaking imagination. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Sinistre

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1996's "Sinistre" (R.I.P. spell check) ultimately arrives at a horror destination, dealing with spooky incidents and menace from beyond, but it commences as a sort of "Reservoir Dogs" riff highlighting bad guys dealing with big mistakes. Director Ronnie Sortor more interested in criminal activity at first, which gives "Sinistre" a bit more severity as a shot-on-video endeavor. However, it doesn't take long before genre demands take over the picture. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com