DVD/BLU-RAY

Blu-ray Review - Fade to Black

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1980's "Fade to Black" offers a fantastic idea for a serial killer story, examining the mental fracture of a film fan who's been rejected by his one true fantasy, taking out his rage on those who've wronged him, becoming screen icons to psychologically deal with his capacity for vicious violence. Writer/director Vernon Zimmerman only manages to get halfway with the concept, but the weirder side of the feature is quite interesting, hinting a wonderfully bonkers picture if Zimmerman paid a little closer attention to structure and casting. What's presented here has its moments, but it barely feels like a completed movie. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Don't Panic

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After making some noise with 1985's Mexican horror film, "Cemetery of Terror," writer/director Ruben Galindo Jr. tries to deliver something more Americanized for 1988's "Don't Panic." Unfortunately, the helmer doesn't have a game plan for the picture, which slaps together teen romance, family issues, and pieces of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," presented as a random ride between dimensions of reality featuring teen characters. The unintentional laughs come fast and furious with "Don't Panic," finding Galindo Jr. struggling to make sense of anything in the feature, fumbling with scares and unavoidable silliness as he attempts to pay tribute to the genre gods with this sloppy effort. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Rental

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The company Airbnb has done a remarkable job transforming the vacation rental marketplace, and it's even more impressive how much it's influenced genre entertainment. Over the last few years, terror from the depths of luxury living has been explored in "Trespassers," "Welcome Home," "Tone- Deaf," and the recent "You Should Have Left." And now there's "The Rental," which also examines an unfolding nightmare facing a group of travelers looking for the perfect getaway, only to come up against an insidious enemy. The effort marks the feature-length directorial debut for Dave Franco (who co-scripts with Joe Swanberg), and he's done his homework, endeavoring to provide a spooky ride of mysterious events while gently working in a greater appreciation for character connections. He's making a relationship movie with a body count, and it's effective, more so when dealing with people and their problems than acts of murder. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Cemetery of Terror

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1985's "Cemetery of Terror" represents the directorial debut for Ruben Galindo, Jr., and he keeps it simple for his first at-bat. It's a tale of resurrection and mayhem involving a large cast of young actors, and most of the feature involves looking for trouble and finding it in increasingly graphic ways. It's not a roller coaster ride, but "Cemetery of Terror" overcomes initial stasis to provide some excitement and gruesome events for genre fans, with the helmer finding his groove late in the movie, suddenly aware he has to offer a little more than banal conversations to delight the audience. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Rest in Pieces

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Director Jose Ramon Larraz ("Vampyres," "Deadly Manor") tries to put together a haunted house experience with 1987's "Rest in Pieces." It's an admirable quest, but quite a difficult one to pull off without a decent budget or a professional cast. It's an uphill climb to frights for the production, which tries to generate some murderous events, but only between scenes of people unpacking luggage. It's difficult to understand what was going through Larraz's mind with "Rest in Pieces," which plays like a movie that had a screenplay, but still scrambles to find things to do to fill the run time, while the helmer's choice of a lead actress is downright bizarre, putting a lot of faith in Lorin Jean Vail and her complete inability to act. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Other Side of Madness

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There have been many movies and television programs devoted to the exploits of the Manson Family. Just last year, for the 50th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca Murders, the film industry issued three pictures about the event, with two compelling overviews ("Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and "Charlie Says") and one that was compete garbage ("The Haunting of Sharon Tate"). The particulars of cult power and ghastly crimes has been catnip to the storytellers for decades, but 1971's "The Other Side of Madness" is unique due to its timing. Director Frank Howard and producer Wade Williams jumped at the chance to explore the grim ways of the Manson Family before trials were even completed for the killers, giving them a shot to capitalize on a gruesome story, giving the gods of exploitation cinema an offering of in-the-moment horror. Of course, Howard and Williams forgot to create a screenplay for their endeavor, making "The Other Side of Madness" more of a curiosity than a compelling sit, with the feature mostly wandering around the era, going procedural without getting too specific about anything. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Summerland

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Playwright Jessica Swale makes her directorial debut with "Summerland" (also scripting the effort), and she remains within the theatrical realm with the period British drama. Swale aims to examine characters as they react to hardships and surprises, using a fractured sense of time to dig up compelling motivations for the players as they embark on complicated tests of courage and responsibility. "Summerland" tries to be big, dealing with World War II survival challenges and the open world of the English countryside, but Swale is more successful with intimacy, tapping into silent fears as her personalities struggle to confront a few unthinkable turns of fate. It's a satisfying feature that ultimately takes on a bit more than it can handle, but Swale keeps the film sincere, also supported by a capable cast who makes certain the heart of the material is protected. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Relic

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In 2014, writer/director Jennifer Kent created "The Babadook." It was a tale of a demonic presence, and while Kent was very clear with her spooky intent, she was also painting a portrait of parenthood, which is often an experience of unrelenting horror. It was a sharp, stunning feature with a delicious claustrophobic atmosphere. The type of viewing experience is found in "Relic," which turns its attention to the various challenges of dementia and how the personal experience of such degeneration greatly taxes all those involved. Co-writer Natalie Erika James impressively merges the real- world agony of aging with a haunted house story, coming up with a complex film that's richly detailed and performed, reaching above and beyond a simple ghost story to tap into deep emotions involving the nightmarish decline of a once vibrant loved one. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


UHD 4K Review - Deadly Games

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1989's "Deadly Games" (also known as "36.15 code Pere Noel" or "Dial Code Santa Claus") offers a roughhouse take on the kid-defends-castle subgenre, which found worldwide popularity with 1990's "Home Alone." There was a point in his life where writer/director Rene Manzor wasn't happy with the John Hughes production, believing it lifted more than a few elements from his picture. Who knows the truth, but the reality is "Deadly Games" isn't "Home Alone" in story or tone, with Manzor going deeper into the darkness with the endeavor, offering a lighthearted first act before things turn serious for a boy hero, who's forced to confront some bitter realities about life while taking on violent home invader. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Last Rites

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1988's "Last Rites" has the title and aura of a picture that takes the trials of priesthood seriously, suggesting a tight character study of a man of the cloth caught up in an unwinnable situation that tests his faith and his life. Instead of introspection, the effort announces its true intent in the opening scene, where a philandering man had his penis shot off by his vengeful wife. "Last Rites" emerges from the mind of writer/director Donald P. Bellisario, and it's exactly the type of film that comes from the man who created "Airwolf," "NCIS," and "Magnum, P.I." There's no room for subtlety in Bellisario's world, giving his big feature helming debut all the depth of a trashy novel, pitting a conflicted priest against his desires, allowing the desires to win. It's probably not the best movie night choice for die-hard Catholics, but the awfulness of the endeavor manages to transcend religion, becoming a grand test of patience for all. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - I Start Counting

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The ways of the teenage heart take a few disturbing directions in 1969's "I Start Counting." An adaptation of a novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop, the story concerns a young girl coming into contact with her maturity and sexuality growing fixated on an elusive man during a time of serial murder in the community. It's a tale that covers a lot of psychological ground during its run time, and director David Greene ("Rich Man, Poor Man," "Fatal Vision") seems ready to explore it all with the endeavor. It's a tonal tightrope walk Greene gracefully navigates, offering more adventurous viewers a touch of a whodunit to go with offerings of juvenile obsession. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Twins

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"Twins" is a 1988 endeavor from director Ivan Reitman, and it's the king of high concept comedies. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito play twin brothers. Boom, done. One doesn't need much more than that to sell the picture to the masses, but the screenplay (credited to four writers) is certainly in the mood to provide a full buffet of tones and gags to help support the display of sheer star power. What initially appears to be a gentle offering of brotherly love somehow turns into semi-violent study of crime, blended with something of a love story and frosted with parental concern. "Twins" is all over the place, but it remains a charming offering from Reitman, who understands that all he really needs is time with Schwarzenegger and DeVito, with their natural screen presence and different thespian skills making a little magic for the helmer. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - I Spit on Your Grave

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"I Spit on Your Grave" has spent the last 40 years growing into a divisive film for genre admirers and critics, sustaining a remarkable hold on film history. It's an offering of ultraviolence from writer/director Meir Zarchi, who details the undoing and rebirth of a woman brought to the edge of sanity by vicious (and ridiculously cartoonish) Connecticut goons who spend a day sexually assaulting her. It's rough content with rougher technical achievements, finding Zarchi limited by a tiny budget and his own lack of helming finesse. "I Spit on Your Grave" isn't pleasant, but that appears to be the idea, at least for a small stretch of the endeavor. The rest delights in the possibilities of drive-in entertainment, stroking revenge cinema highlights to best revive a traumatized audience. Your mileage may vary with this title, but the cult longevity of Zarchi's Z-movie is impressive. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Marona's Fantastic Tales

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There was a persistent run of dogsploitation movies in American theaters for a few years a short time ago, with Hollywood trying to deliver sappy stories of canine misery and redemption for audiences hungry to cry over cute pooch antics. Mercifully, "Marona's Fantastic Tales" doesn't join the trend, with director Anca Damian attempting to avoid maudlin impulses, presenting an animation examination of a dog's POV as it experiences life with multiple owners. There's sadness here, of course, but Damian is more interested is capturing the world as a canine sees it, using screen artistry to develop a wonderland of exploration for viewers to study. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk

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Unlike many documentaries about filmmakers, "Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk" offers extraordinarily little biographical information about the subject. Director Kuba Mikurda has limited interest in the life and times of the Polish director (who passed away in 2006), preferring to provide more of a grasp on his artistic interests, featuring interviews with collaborators and admirers. "Love Express" remains elusive, but that's the idea, with Mikurda turning his movie into a Borowczyk production in many ways, delivering an idiosyncratic look at an avant-garde mind, supplying a general understanding of the man's professional demands and his textured appreciation of screen eroticism, especially when offered an opportunity to take his vision wherever it needed to go. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Valley Girl (2020)

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When is a remake not exactly a remake? I give you "Valley Girl," which is a reworking of the 1983 cult hit. What was once a gentle but textured look at a developing romance between opposites in L.A. (a riff on "Romeo and Juliet") has now been turned into a jukebox musical that's all about soundtrack hits, candied cinematography, and broad performances. To bring "Valley Girl" back to the screen, the producers have made several changes to the tone and approach of the original film, aiming to reach a much younger audience with a simplified tale of love as it works through cultural and social challenges, and is frequently expressed through song. Director Rachel Lee Goldenberg (a veteran of schlock-meisters The Asylum) isn't trying to find dramatic grit with her vision, she's striving to generate a party atmosphere for sleepover audiences, delivering a pleasingly fluffy, high-energy offering of teen exuberance. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Director Stephen Weeks is apparently a massive fan of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," a 14th century offering of Arthurian storytelling the helmer initially explored in 1973's "Gawain and the Green Knight." Previously taking a more respectful route of interpretation, Weeks tries to crank up the blockbuster possibilities of the material with 1984's "Sword of the Valiant." For his second pass on this tale, Weeks goes the Cannon Films way, with producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan ordering up a low-budget riff on John Boorman's "Excalibur" (with a bit of "Conan the Barbarian" thrown in for good measure), hoping to thrill audiences with a fresh helping of heavily suited knights, sword battles, and quests for peace and love. And there's Sean Connery in here too, showing up to collect a nice paycheck and class up the joint with his take on the trickster fury of the Green Knight. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - War of the Colossal Beast

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In 1957, director Bert I. Gordon found a hit with "The Amazing Colossal Man," his submission for the giant creature subgenre sweepstakes, riding a trend with a supersized human twist. The picture has some credible drama to fuel its weirdness, with the screenplay trying to create a sympathetic character out of a 60-foot-tall man, understanding his frustrations before a city-threatening rampage began. For 1958, Gordon returns to the well for "War of the Colossal Beast," which isn't sold as a sequel, but it tries to be, catching up with the newly alive abomination as he struggles with a fresh round of scientific prodding and military hostility. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - How to Make a Monster

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Trying to stretch a trend as far as possible, American International Pictures aimed to keep the money train rolling with 1958's "How to Make a Monster," which is a follow-up to studio hits "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" and "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein." However, instead of dreaming up another fantasy, the writing turns self-referential, transforming AIP into a villain of sorts with tale of horror set inside a movie studio. The idea has the potential to be outrageously fun, but the material only gets so far before it grows exhausted, offering a talky nightmare instead of something more energized. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

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"Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda" isn't a traditional documentary providing a linear overview of career achievements for the celebrated Japanese composer. Director Stephen Schible takes viewers into a few different areas of life with the subject, exploring personal philosophy and interests, but it's focused primarily on the balance of life and nature, with Sakamoto sharing his experiences over the years as he battles with cancer and immerses himself in work to keep his mind moving. "Coda" jumps all over the place to tell Sakamoto's story, but it remains concentrated on his artistic voice, exploring its development and ability to reach the beyond as the composer reflects on a lifetime of success, influence, and experimentation. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com