DVD/BLU-RAY

Blu-ray Review - Robot Ninja

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After dealing with zombies in his previous film, "The Dead Next Door," writer/director J.R. Bookwalter takes on the world of comic books in 1989's "Robot Ninja." Such a title promises an outrageous camp-fest, but Bookwalter isn't in any mood to screw around, getting past a case of the giggles in the first act of the movie, moving into fairly dire psychological areas as the story unfolds, ending up with an incredibly heavy endeavor about a costumed vigilante. There's tonal bravery and a desire to do something gritty with no-budget entertainment, but consistent tonality eludes the production, which does remarkably well with introductions, but soon doesn't have anywhere interesting to go. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Body Snatcher

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1945's "The Body Snatcher" (based on an 1884 short story by Robert Louis Stevenson) is remarkable in many ways, offering a slow-burn but effective chiller concerning blackmail, dead bodies, and moral corruption. It's also an early offering from director Robert Wise, who would go on to helm many large-scale classics (including "The Sound of Music" and "West Side Story"), but here he's dealing only with paranoia and the singular force of star Boris Karloff, who delivers an absolutely sensational performance, portraying the key figure in a terrible scheme of medical experimentation and dormant secrets. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Skin-Flicks

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Writer/director Gerard Damiano has long strived to bring some sense of artistry to his early adult entertainment, even testing the limits of darkness and sophisticated storytelling. With 1978's "Skin-Flicks," the helmer creates a commentary of sorts on the creation of erotica, writing a scattered but pointed assessment of life in the trenches of adult cinema, where psychological abysses are everywhere, money men remain in control, and a pure creative vision is impossible to achieve. "Skin-Flicks" isn't a cheery overview of the business, as Damiano purges a few demons with the work, which grows increasingly hostile as it goes. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Green Card

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In 1989, writer/director Peter Weir made "Dead Poets Society" for Disney. A somewhat intense drama, the film was released during the summer season, with the company scrambling to find a way to get audiences to see it, focusing intently on the star power of Robin Williams, emphasizing his few comedic scenes in the picture. The actor's change of pace and pure, uncut word-of-mouth turned "Dead Poets Society" into a major hit (the 10th highest grossing movie of the year), giving Weir a chance to make whatever he wanted to. And he chose "Green Card" as the follow-up, returning to the comfort of Disney and their willingness to take a chance on the American screen debut of French actor Gerard Depardieu, giving him a shot to portray warmth and mischief in a romantic comedy. While a respected actor, Depardieu is not easily tamed, giving Weir the unenviable task of softening a hardened screen presence. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Robot Holocaust

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1986's "Robot Holocaust" is a B-movie that's not terribly concerned with protecting storytelling balance. The first half of the feature is one long exposition dump, with writer/director Tim Kincaid laboring to create a futureworld where the Earth is ruined, robots rule, and a new hope is offered with a band of warriors trying to defeat a series of villains. There's much world-building to sort through, necessitating a narrator to help with the heavy lifting, as Kincaid has no throttle when it comes to the speed of new information whipped at the viewer. The second half of the picture is almost completely devoid of storytelling, with the helmer trying to pay off patience with his extended identification game by issuing battle sequences and lengthy shots of travel around a single location. One side of "Robot Holocaust" has everything, the other has nothing. It's a bizarre effort to begin with, but such top-heavy filmmaking disrupts the obvious fun factor of the low-budget extravaganza. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Curse III: Blood Sacrifice

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"Curse III: Blood Sacrifice" isn't really "Curse III: Blood Sacrifice." According to the main titles, the picture is actually called "Panga," with the whole "Curse" connection cooked up by shady producers looking for anything familiar to horror fans to help sell their dismal African monster movie. Those expecting a return to the world of "The Curse" are going to be disappointed in the second sequel, which joins the first sequel ("Curse II: The Bite") in a weird display of industry chicanery, where three features bearing the same title having nothing to do with one another. Such a situation of marketing three-card Monte would be more amusing if "Panga" was any good, but director Sean Barton (in his one and only helming gig) doesn't do much with the basics of supernatural and reptilian frights, assembling a largely uneventful chiller that sets some kind of record for most chases in a sugarcane field. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Angel Unchained

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In the grand scheme of biker cinema, 1970's "Angel Unchained" is one of the few to present the conflicted nature of a motorcycle-riding menace who finally, after years of troublemaking and violence, just wants to experience life as a hippie. It should be a complex characterization, following one man's desire to leave his past and embrace something of a future, and Jeffrey Alan Fiskin's screenplay almost gets there, helped along by an invested lead performance from Don Stroud. "Angel Unchained" doesn't stay within the boundaries of intense introspection for long enough, often distracted by the needs of the subgenre, which demands lots of roaring motorcycles, dangerous dudes in leather, and, for some reason, a healthy dose of destructive mischief. The picture could use stronger concentration on primary dramatic elements, but as steel westerns go, the effort has a fiery temper and a sense of tragedy, slipping in small offerings of horror between broad action and reactions. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Manitou

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"The Manitou" is based on a 1976 book by Graham Masterson, giving the screenwriters some guidance when exploring a completely bizarre premise. For some, the prospect of making a movie about a growth developing on the back of a woman that turns about to be the reincarnated spirit of a malicious Native American shaman would be daunting, perhaps impossible. Co-writer/director William Girdler shows no such hesitation with the project, moving full steam ahead with the wacky story, happily forgetting that perhaps Masterton's imagination was best left on the page. "The Manitou" is an extremely serious take on extremely silly matters of spiritual danger, with Girdler doing his best to transform an odd point of stress and doom into a functional horror feature, and one with a trend-chasing sci-fi finale. The helmer strives to juggle such tonal changes, but the sheer effort to bend his weirdness into cinematic shape proves to be too difficult for Girdler to manage. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Bucktown

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In 1975's "Bucktown," director Arthur Marks gives star Fred Williamson room to do exactly his thing, which is to project attitude, remain cat nip for the ladies, and suck down a few of his trademark cigars. There's no algebra here, with the star settling easily into the hero role, portraying a tough black guy putting himself up against the might of law enforcement, which is staffed by racist white boobs. "Bucktown" does try to avoid the norm by contorting the story's vision of villainy, but the basics are prized by Marks, who keeps up the action and posing as he makes a sturdy, exciting entry in the Blaxploitation subgenre. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Superstition

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1982's "Superstition" (also released under the title, "The Witch") heads into some bizarre directions with its tale of a household haunting. The screenplay (credited to Galen Thompson) seems to be aiming for simplicity, using an appreciation for formula to set-up a showdown between humans and a particularly nasty witch, finding a way to tap into industry trends of the day as chills turn into gore, giving the production a slasher-style tilt. During the ride, the material takes some oddball detours with ill-defined characters and limited sleuthing, but the primary push of the macabre is handled capably by director James W. Roberson, who strives to delivering the basics of genre entertainment when overall cinematic construction is faulty. "Superstition" is engaging, mostly due to its velocity and graphic content, with Roberson wisely inching away from logic as the material takes on more personalities than it can handle. Time periods as well. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - What Keeps You Alive

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To help explore "What Keeps You Alive," I have to expose a bit of its plot, which, for some, is situated in spoiler territory. I have no interest in ruining the picture for others, so here's a mini-review: it's terrific. It's a wicked, somewhat surprising chiller from writer/director Colin Minihan, who impressed mightily with "It Stains the Sands Red" a few years back, now newly energized to offer another slice of horror cinema that's genuinely frightening at times, also doing much with very little money. Minihan's got a special vision for "What Keep You Alive," and his execution is confident, perhaps too much so at times. In short, it's an impressive feature, and one that will likely delight those in the mood for something merciless and feral. If you're sensitive to story information, this is a good place to stop reading. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Then Came You

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Teen melodramas are big business these days, with Netflix finding ratings gold with tales of sad but snappy kids in problematic relationships, trying make sense of the world they're inheriting. "Then Came You" joins the pack, presenting two characters handed the challenge of cancer survival to help complicate their still-forming lives, trying to capture the essence of youth while dealing with the crushing realities of mortality. Writer Fergal Rock isn't breaking fresh ground with "Then Came You," but he's not trying to avoid formula either, presenting a clich├ęd take on friendship, longing, and loss, trusting the warmth and quirk of the endeavor will be enough to capture interest in the characters. He needs more than familiarity to get by, as the movie never rises above mediocrity, unwilling to put in the effort to make something special out of working parts already on view in dozens of other films. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Fleshpot on 42nd Street

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1973's "Fleshpot on 42nd Street" offers a sympathetic view of an unsympathetic character, asking audiences to go on a journey with an unpleasant woman as she experiences struggle for some level of normalcy and safety. In other hands, perhaps the movie could do something with the basic set- up of a lost soul trying to survive in the big city, but "Fleshpot on 42nd Street" is an Andy Milligan picture, with the prolific helmer (of such films as "Bloodthirsty Butchers," "Torture Dungeon," and "The Man with Two Heads") mostly interested in creating an awful environment for awful people, trying to touch bottom when it comes to depicting human behavior while still tending to hardcore material, some of it violent in nature. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Dominique

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After achieving some level of box office popularity with his work on 1976's "Logan's Run," director Michael Anderson quickly moved on the next big thing, hoping to sustain career momentum. That feature was 1977's "Orca," a "Jaws" clone that tried and failed to cash-in on moviegoer hunger for deadly aquatic creatures. Such a fumble inspired Anderson to retreat, commencing work on 1979's "Dominique," which is as far from the future and the ocean as possible, offering a horror tale set inside a single English estate. Reducing pressure to perform at blockbuster levels, Anderson takes his sweet time with the material (an adaptation of a short story by Harold Lawlor), but he manages to find his groove here, keeping actors grounded and frights enigmatic to best preserve the eerie mood of a possible haunting. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - The Suckling

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It's amazing that 1989's "The Suckling" isn't a Troma film. For whatever reason, the tiny studio that lives to release garbage/cult cinema passed on or perhaps wasn't even offered the feature for release, which seems like a distribution crime. Writer/director Francis Teri appears to have the Troma mood in mind for this endeavor, which explores the rampage of an aborted fetus infected with toxic waste, growing into a monster that sets out to kill everyone inside an abortion clinic/brothel. While I'm sure such a premise seems like bottom-shelf gold for some audiences, Teri, making his directorial debut, is way out of his depth with "The Suckling," which looks cheap and plays dumb, trusting in the little shock value it has to keep viewers entertained. The effort never had a shot at being fun, but exciting and amusing were on the table, and Teri doesn't bother to get the material to a place of B-movie insanity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Deadly Mantis

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In the giant movie monster craze of the 1950s, "The Deadly Mantis" must win some type of award for longest wait for total destruction. The 1957 production isn't one to swiftly arrange a cinematic war zone with its insect invader, with director Nathan Juran ("Attack of the 50 Foot Woman") tasked with filling 80 minutes of screen time without overdoing interactions with the titular creature. It's a sluggish endeavor, but "The Deadly Mantis" has a curious concentration on military procedure, with Juran perhaps understanding the absurdity of the threat, working to create a cinematic space where mayhem involving a massive praying mantis could look plausible, highlighting the latest in weaponry and surveillance techniques. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - In the Cold of the Night

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Two months ago, I reviewed "Blind Date," a 1984 thriller from director Nico Mastorakis. The plot concerned a young man who lost his sight, regaining it through help from electronic equipment, but also inheriting an ability to see horrible visions of murder. For 1990's "In the Cold of the Night," Mastorakis returns to a similar plot, exploring the mental breakdown of a man who's cursed with visions of homicide, setting out to decode exactly why he's experiencing such horrors. For the prolific helmer, such recycling is to be expected, but with a return to a familiar premise comes less adventurousness, as Mastorakis is aiming "In the Cold of the Night" in an erotic chiller direction, striving to pack in as much sex and nudity as possible (the picture is rated NC-17), with thrills and spills a lesser priority for the production. Mastorakis isn't a refined cinema architect, leaving polish and dramatic consideration a pipe dream, but for those who prefer plenty of skin to go with mild suspense, this feature delivers, showing more enthusiasm for bedroom antics than anything else it covers. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Deadly Force

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Hollywood is always on the hunt for new action stars. The industry loves to get in on the ground floor with a fresh hero, presenting the chance to grow with the actor, making a small fortune as popularity blossoms. Such a spotlight was positioned on Wings Hauser for a little while in the 1980s, sending the actor through numerous genres to see what he's capable of, reaching thespian limits quickly. His supercop phase included 1983's "Deadly Force," which puts Hauser behind the wheel of his own starring vehicle, tasked with projecting toughness as an ex-lawman chasing after a serial killer prowling the corners of Los Angeles. Hauser comes ready to play, delivering a performance that's 100% committed to the cause, going all wild-eyed and big-nostriled for the film, which doesn't always reward such impressive concentrated on leading man authority. "Deadly Force" doesn't maintain steady thrills, instead pausing often to deal with a central mystery that's not as profound as the production hopes. Hauser doesn't necessarily deserve better, but this kind of movie is always best with its brake lines cut, and director Paul Aaron doesn't trust the wonders of such cinematic velocity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Born in East L.A.

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According to Cheech Marin, "Born in East L.A." was put together in a hurry to complete a 1985 Cheech & Chong album without Tommy Chong. The tune was a hit, thanks to a popular video that visually sold the story of a California man accidentally deported by steely immigration officers. And that MTV-staple video inspired a movie, with Marin breaking away from Chong to mastermind a cinematic elongation of his original idea, creating 1987's "Born in East L.A." That's quite a journey from initial inspiration to multiplexes, but Marin finds plenty of inspiration to fill up the run time, intending to blend commentary on immigration issues with broad bits of slapstick comedy, positioning himself as a Chaplin-type with this border-hopping adventure. Chong isn't missed here, as Marin has something of a vision for his helming debut, trying to find the funny as much as possible without slipping into preachiness or melodrama. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Man's Best Friend

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It's not easy to make a movie that involves a killer animal. Certain viewers are quite sensitive to violence committed against creatures, forcing filmmakers to maintain concentration on a proper tone while exposing horrors to helpless animals. For 1993's "Man's Best Friend," writer/director John Lafia ("Child's Play 2") seems well-aware of the problems he's facing with the material, which pits a genetically modified Tibetan Mastiff vs. several people who choose abuse over care, triggering the dog's killer instinct. Instead of crafting a grim survey of pain, Lafia goes bright and somewhat silly with "Man's Best Friend," which emerges as an enjoyable genre exercise in good taste with problematic material. It's not exactly lighthearted, but the picture has a ripping pace and plenty of savage moments, with the helmer largely understanding when to play the severity of the moment or just give in to the absurdity of it all. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com