DVD/BLU-RAY

Blu-ray Review - Beyond Evil

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Hoping to participate in the supernatural horror craze of the late 1970s, co-writer/director Herb Freed delivers 1980's "Beyond Evil," which takes soul- possession horrors to the Philippines. However, such a location is the only exotic element of the production, which offers a fairly routine chiller about an evil spirit infiltrating a fresh body. Freed tries to fill the endeavor with some new age magic, but scares are limited here, as Freed often goes the pedestrian route when exploring a household haunting. Thankfully, there's a cast assembled here that works very hard to inject some life into the endeavor, but blandness tends to win out in the end, even with the presence of some slightly goofy B-movie violence. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Artik

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Writer/director Tom Botchii Skowronski is aiming to put his own stamp on comic book cinema with "Artik," merging the brute force of a serial killer story with a fantasy face-off, only here the opposing forces are a murderer and a straight-edge soldier trying to do something right in his life. It's stylish picture, doing so much with very little in the budget department, and when approached in the right mood, "Artik" engages to certain extent, with Skowronski trying to remain creative and aggressive with the little room he's given himself to explore this showdown between light and dark. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Great Waldo Pepper

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Director George Roy Hill was in a rare industry position in 1975. Two years earlier, he delivered "The Sting," which went on to collect a fortune at the box office (ending up the second highest-grossing feature of the year) and multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 1973. Hill could suddenly do whatever he wanted, and with the power of multiple hits (including 1969's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), he elected to bring a personal project to the screen, funneling his own experiences as a pilot into "The Great Waldo Pepper," his valentine to the world of early aviation, with all the dangers and glory it contained. It's inspired work from the helmer, who secures strong characterization from screenwriter William Goldman, but absolutely dives into aerial sequences, which provide the production with genuine moments of suspense and some jaw-dropping stunt work. "The Great Waldo Pepper" has some issues with pacing consistency, but Hill gives the effort a wonderful specificity, providing viewers with a peek into the psychology of daredevils gradually being denied the thrill of danger. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Pledge Night

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Fraternity life doesn't need much embellishment to become perfect fodder for horror entertainment, and screenwriter Joyce Snyder sets out to be as authentic as possible when exploring the humiliations of a New Jersey university's Hell Week in 1990's "Pledge Night." Snyder has divided the viewing experience into two parts, examining frat house rituals and a supernatural terror, working to blend the different tones into a one scary event, playing into genre expectations while adding enough realistic grotesqueries to unnerve viewers who may be only prepared for a traditional haunt. "Pledge Night" doesn't strive to upset expectations, but it's better film when exploring the reality of fraternity terrors, with Snyder's effort to transform the movie into a sequel-ready production getting in the way of some genuinely disgusting moments. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Secta Siniestra

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A Spanish production from director Ignacio F. Iquino, 1982's "Secta Siniestra" is the kind of picture that is so focused on what it wants to be, it forgets how to actually be. It's a clumsy endeavor with all kinds of technical sloppiness and an overall disregard for production polish, but the feature is determined to be a scary experience, and for some viewers, such magical filmmaking will just might be enough to pass. Approach it as refined cinema and "Secta Siniestra" is going to bring on a headache in the hurry. Enjoy it as B-movie nonsense, and there's some amusement to be had with Iquino's habitual refusal to acknowledge his creative limitations. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Vineyard

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James Hong has enjoyed an incredible acting career dating back to the 1950s, playing a wide variety of characters in nearly every genre around. However, in 1989's "The Vineyard," Hong strikes gold as a wicked vintner who uses the blood of youth and the power of black magic to secure eternal life, which is not a character one comes around often enough. Co-directing (with William Rice) and co-writing the endeavor as well, Hong tries to do everything for "The Vineyard," which has its rough B-movie movements and iffy assembly, but also manages to be immensely entertaining, with moments of horror, sleaze, and flashes of camp helping to generate an amusing sit with an awfully strange endeavor. Hong understands what the work needs, and he gives it all he's got to secure cult appeal. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Itsy Bitsy

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With a title like "Itsy Bitsy," there's a promise made for a lighthearted killer spider picture. It suggests something cheeky is on the way, with co- writer/director Micah Gallo chasing the gleeful mischief of 1990's "Arachnophobia," or perhaps trying to match the B-movie release of 2013's "Big Ass Spider." Gallo is in no mood for laughs with his feature-length helming debut, presenting a more sobering take on arachnid hellraising, coming close to making the starring spider more of a supporting part in the effort, which focuses instead on the ravages of addiction, the struggle of parenthood, and the chest-caving grief of loss. "Itsy Bitsy" is a bad title for the endeavor, as it offers no joyful horror release, remaining closer to the pains of the wounded heart than matinee thrills, trying to be a gritty, aching take on eight-legged intimidation. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Piercing

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A few years ago, writer/director Nicolas Pesce made his filmmaking debut with "The Eyes of My Mother," which displayed the helmer's command of style and mood, along with his fascination with prolonged violent encounters. Instead of trying something different for his follow-up, Pesce returns to the land of grime and bloody with "Piercing," attempting to adapt a 2008 novel by Ryu Murakami. Once again, Pesce doesn't take it easy on his audience, delivering a picture that savors suffering and observes madness as its leaks out of the characters, often at the worst possible moments. "Piercing" boasts fine technical credits, but the feature's quest for atmosphere is often more interesting than the actual story unfolding in slow- motion, finding Pesce too wrapped up in the particulars of Murakami's world, keeping the viewing experience more about shiny surfaces and gaping wounds than macabre drama. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Everybody Knows

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Writer/director Asghar Farhadi is primarily known for his Iranian dramas, scoring major critical successes with efforts such as "The Salesman," "A Separation," and "About Elly." Ready for more global awareness, the helmer takes baby steps toward the mainstream with "Everybody Knows," which utilizes a sampling of star power to nab attention, finding Farhadi teaming with actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem to help carry a kidnapping mystery. However, "Everybody Knows" is not a nail-biter with chases and whiplash turns of fate. It remains in line with Farhadi's previous work, with primary attention placed on the internal churn of decision-making and the troubles that come with longtime relationships and secretive connections. Those expecting something more explosive from the filmmaker this time out might be disappointed, but slow-burn tension is there, realized through accomplished performances from the entire ensemble. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The New Kids

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While finding his greatest career success in horror, helming 1980's "Friday the 13th," director Sean S. Cunningham wanted a break from the genre, returning to his comedy roots with 1983's "Spring Break," delivering a beach party raunchfest without actually providing any raunchy business. While the feature was another hit for Cunningham, the lure of fright films proved to be powerful, returning to suspense and violence with 1985's "The New Kids." This isn't a slasher picture with careful attention to the destruction of bodies, but a juvenile delinquent tale from the 1950s juiced up with era- specific aggression. Cunningham isn't big on style and doesn't really know how to measure performance, but the man knows his exploitation, clearly defining good vs. bad while utilizing an interesting setting for this gradual escalation of high school bullying. "The New Kids" is often ridiculous, but it's entertaining, with Cunningham keeping up pace and intensity as he tries to skate past absurdity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Country Music

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For his latest long-form documentary, director Ken Burns tackles the world of country music, which is not a subject I'm sure many expected him to give his traditional in-depth treatment. After recently exploring the life and times of The Roosevelts, Jackie Robinson, and filing through the history of The Mayo Clinic, Burns delivers a surprise with "Country Music," which gifts itself 16 hours of screen time to detail the history of American folk music and the scores of artists who helped to put it all together over the course of 60 years. "Country Music" is a traditional Burns behemoth (scripted by Dayton Duncan and narrated by Peter Coyote), and it deals with its fair share of tragedy and psychological darkness, but there a brighter sense of exploration as Team Burns works through musical history, spotlighting all the fantastic artists and extreme personalities found in the genre, which has welcomed some extraordinary talents. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Prodigy

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"The Prodigy" is yet another attempt to master the Killer Kid subgenre of horror, trying to generate a fright film with a basic push to depict the corruption of innocence, making nastiness emerging from a wee one all the more disturbing. Typically, these endeavors swan dive into bad taste, aiming more for shock value than genuine scares, getting off on the concept of a child committing murder, with very little effort put into the rest of the production. Thankfully, "The Prodigy" isn't ugly, going the supernatural route when detailing the rampage of an 8-year-old monster, whose body is being commanded by a fortysomething serial killer. Screenwriter Jeff Buhler (the "Pet Sematary" remake, the "Jacob's Ladder" remake, and the upcoming "Grudge" remake) deserves some credit for keeping the movie less icky than its competition, but that doesn't mean there's a story to tell here. While it manages some faint level of restraint, the feature remains a fairly brain-dead viewing experience, while director Nicholas McCarthy ("The Pact," "At the Devil's Door") doesn't sharpen the potential for terror, keeping matters largely routine when it comes to jumps and jolts, which eventually take command of the snoozy picture. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Fear No Evil

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What writer/director Frank LaLoggia is reaching for with 1981's "Fear No Evil" is an epic showdown between demonic threats and heavenly forces. It's an antichrist tale, exploring the arrival of evil in the form of a teenage boy, tapping into industry Satanic Panic trends of the 1970s as LaLoggia figures out a way to bring a complex religious story to the screen on a tiny budget. To help entice potential ticket-buyers, LaLoggia elects to pair biblical fury with a high school saga about a bullied kid. The merging of genres isn't ideal, and "Fear No Evil" often struggles to balance both sides of the screenplay, which always plays like a first draft that lucked its ways into production. The helmer has some intriguing ideas to share on the state of Godly might, and a few B-movie ideas are appealing, but this isn't cohesive effort, often playing like two separate features competing for screen time. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Love Letters

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In the early 1980s, actress Jamie Lee Curtis found herself in a difficult career position. She broke through with 1978's "Halloween," and continued to collect work in horror, starring in "Prom Night," "Terror Train," "The Fog," and "Halloween II," becoming a "scream queen" to many, developing her screen presence in a typically permissive genre. For 1983's "Love Letters," Curtis elects to step away from maniacal pursuit, testing her dramatic chops with a dark tale of romantic obsession, written and directed by Amy Holden Jones, who was also dealing with reputation issues, having previously helmed "The Slumber Party Massacre." Curtis visibly works on her dramatic potential in the picture, doing well with Jones's writing, which imagines a crisis of the heart when a woman in need of magical love finds a partner who denies her everything except pleasures of the flesh. Stalker cinema eventually receives a workout in the third act, but "Love Letters" is a surprisingly effective take on desperation, with Curtis offering a welcomingly reserved take on a nervous breakdown. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Case of Hana & Alice

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2015's "The Case of Hana & Alice" is actually a prequel to 2004's "Hana and Alice," which tracked the developing friendship between the titular characters as they experience love, obsession, deception, and ballet. Aiming to revisit the pair from a slightly earlier time in their lives, director Shunji Iwai elects to combat the ravages of time by turning to animation, more specifically rotoscoping, which works as a time machine of sorts, permitting stars Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi a chance to return to their youthful roles without revealing how many years have passed between installments. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase

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The history behind the young detective Nancy Drew is vast, dating back to her literary debut in 1930. Every now and then, Hollywood endeavors to revive the franchise, with many television and film adaptations striving to update the character for modern audiences, giving old-fashioned sleuthing a trendy twist. "Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase" is no different. The production works to keep things current to best engage an easily distracted audience, and they have a special star in Sophie Lillis, who contributed greatly to the monster success of 2017's "It." Lillis picks up the flashlight and unstoppable curiosity for this fresh round of clue gathering, and she's the brightest thing in the feature, which is best appreciated with lowered expectations, offering mildness for the target demographic, while Lillis comes ready to play. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Hell Comes to Frogtown

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One might expect 1988's "Hell Comes to Frogtown" to be an irresistible mix of the violent and the bizarre. It's a ready-made cult offering that's blessed with an unmissable title, a wacky premise, and the bruised charms of its leading man, the great pro-wrestler, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (who sadly passed away in 2015). While Piper brings his wildman attitude to the endeavor and screenwriter Randall Frakes does his part by inventing a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated with mutant frogs, director Donald G. Jackson (shadowed by R.J. Kizer) practically refuses to transform the effort into an unstoppable showcase of the absurd, struggling to overcome what appears to be a painfully underfunded production that doesn't do enough to secure a rip-roarin' pace with plenty of unusual encounters. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Decoder

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Credited to director Muscha, 1984's "Decoder" is a look at the ways of West German society as it struggles with issues of surveillance and unrest, doing so by examining the behavioral control aspects of muzak. The production endeavors to become experimental cinema, working closely with abstract imagery and loose storytelling to immerse the viewer in the sights and sounds of the time and place, playing games with underground cinema techniques and interests. If Dieter from "Sprockets" had a favorite movie, it would be "Decoder," which doesn't particularly care for mainstream execution, doing whatever it can to be visually striking and thematically elusive. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Mary Magdalene

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Director Garth Davis won accolades and reasonable box office for his last feature, "Lion," which detailed a young man on a special emotional and spiritual journey. Now Davis tackles unfinished business with the Bible, examining a more famous story of self-inspection, giving the saga of Jesus a special spin with "Mary Magdalene," which sets out to right the titular woman's wronged reputation, isolating her origin story, giving her a modern appreciation in line with current filmmaking trends. Davis doesn't do explosive, keeping this drama extremely mild, aiming more for poeticism and reflection than prolonged suffering, approaching familiar stories from the Bible with a more artful perspective. "Mary Magdalene" isn't a fiery collection of characters and their struggles to define faith, with Davis keeping the effort crawling along, electing to make something visually appealing and insular than traditionally dramatic. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - I Trapped the Devil

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Writer/director Josh Lobo doesn't have many professional credits to his name. He's a newcomer who's taking the same path as many first-time helmers, turning to horror to figure out his big screen vision, trusting in a genre that's typically very kind to such low-budget ambition. Thankfully, there's little to forgive about "I Trapped the Devil," which is accomplished work from Lobo, who bathes the feature in mood and style to dress up traditional suspense in different ways, pulling up a handsome effort with pockets of genuine unease. Labeling the movie slow-burn is being kind, but Lobo on a mission to make his contractually obligated run time, moving through the Christmastime nightmare inch-by-inch, making sure every corner of the endeavor is tended to. "I Trapped the Devil" takes its sweet time to get where it's going, but the reward is a chance to see an obviously talented director take his first step with an eerie endeavor. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com