Monday, 5 September 2016

The Dead Next Door

Made over the course of several years during the late eighties, The Dead Next Door finally spluttered into VHS life by 1989, and has since gone on to evolve a minor cult reputation over the decades since.  An ode to the zombie films of the seventies and eighties, it's an ambitious tale of an uprising of the dead that sweeps across America.  Sounds unoriginal now, in the wake of millions of such films, but back then such films were comparatively infrequent.  Here the film follows a government appointed 'Zombie Squad' as they tour the countryside surviving whilst searching for what promises to be a cure for the epidemic.

Back in the nineties I picked up a dupe tale of the film, as it was not easy to get hold of at the time in the UK, and was for a while of the opinion that it had actually been shot on VHS (I'd seen a few features of this ilk around the period, like Redneck Zombies and the fuck-awful Zombie 90).  The reasons for it resembling a video-made item are now clear (explained indirectly through some of the extras that have materialised on disc since), however, it was indeed shot on film (Super 8mm to be specific).  That makes it even more ambitious for what was essentially a group of amateurs with little experience behind them.  There are some decent gore effects throughout, with a story that spans a variety of locations, populated by many extras.  Sam Raimi became involved from a production point of view, and Bruce Campbell ended up helping with the looped sound as well as voicing one of the characters - the location-recorded sound at the time proved to be unusable so the whole film had to be redubbed in post-production.  Overall J R Bookwalter did an impressive job under the circumstances, although casual modern-day viewers may be left a little cold.
As mentioned, I used to view this as a hopeless quality tape for a few years until Anchor Bay released a much better (though shorter, due to damaged footage) edition on DVD in the mid-noughties.  This came packed with quite a few extras too, and was the definitive release for some time.  Ten years or so after that Bookwalter decided to go through a fundraising campaign to restore the film properly, given the fact that technology had moved on quite a bit and the world was now blessed with the home cinema phenomenon that is Blu-ray.  Out of this came an Ultimate Edition in the US, while the UK got a stripped-down (though not bare) equivalent, courtesy of 88 Films.  The latter includes the remastered film (which was evidently a painstaking process, as outlined by the Restoration of the Dead featurette), commentary, featurette, and some deleted scenes as well as a booklet.  Being much cheaper than the UE I deliberated for some time over which version to get, but eventually decided to pay the extra and get the full deal.  It's certainly a great package overall, with multiple viewing options to start with:: the full frame (as shot) remaster, a (cropped) widescreen remaster, the DVD version that Anchor Bay released, and the original VHS version (all on two discs).  The reason he's decided to include all three is because the differences are not down to quality alone, for example the new edit corrects some issues with elements accidentally photographed that should not have been visible, as well as locating sources for the footage missing from the DVD version, whilst furthermore colour correcting the image and fixing unavoidable flaws that could not be sorted out ten years prior.  In terms of video and audio quality, the new remaster looks really good, especially when you think about the very small frame size of 8mm film (i.e. a fraction of the detail of 35mm).  There's plenty of grain along with much more detail than I'd seen before - the restoration has clearly been done with great respect.  One of the big sells for the UE is that you can choose to view with the 'classic dub' audio, featuring Campbell et al, or the newly restored on-location recordings, which are now usable thanks for technological progression.

There are also several of J R's pre-Dead short films, which show surprising promise considering he was just a boy at the time (these have commentary tracks by J R and his son!).  Aside from new featurettes the discs collate the extras from previous releases, plus have some trailers for various things.  There is also a CD of the soundtrack for used and unused material, plus a booklet, a reversible cover with unique number (for the 1000-limited print run).  Pleasingly it's also signed by J R himself.

Whether you want to pay a much larger sum for the UE will depend on a) how much you like the film, and b) how much of a collector you are, but it is truly an ultimate and very complete package, on the whole a loveletter to the film itself.  Alternatively you get the main transfer plus some of the extras for a much lower price from 88 - the choice is yours.  Either way, I think this film deserves a place in the discerning horror fan's collection.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Vampires' Night Orgy

A 1972 Spanish horror directed by the king (in my opinion, naturally) of the genre, Leon Klimovsky, the title is somewhat misleading - there is a little sexual activity but certainly nothing approaching an orgy, unless it refers to the periodic flocking of the undead over human meat.  In a similar fashion to several of the Italian go-go Gothic chillers of the sixties, the film starts with a busload of people travelling through the European countryside.  After assuring the crowd that the 'crate' of a bus will make the journey, the bus driver himself finds that he doesn't quite have the same longevity - he has a heart attack at the wheel.  The enervated group decide to take a detour (corpse lying across back seat) to the nearest village for a rest, there finding the place relatively deserted and quite creepy.  After meeting up with another traveller and one or two locals they are all invited to wine with the resident countess, who insists they are welcome to stay.  The next day their newly adopted driver appears to be acting a little strange, which is put down to alcohol consumption, and the bus now won't start!  They are forced to stay longer than expected, however, to their peril the locals are not entirely your normal collective of villagers...
Overlooked by the majority of horror fans unfortunately, this - as with many other Spanish horrors of the period - is something of a minor classic in my eyes.  The isolated rural village has a great look, an air of the uncanny persistently underpinning the proceedings.  The undead creatures themselves are very spooky - through the use of odd angles, misdirected lighting, and sudden wide angles, Klimovsky had a knack for shooting the supernatural with a distortion that really gives certain scenes some punch.  Amidst all of this, however, are some great lines that mix amusement with horror to great effect.  For example I love the scene where one of the guests screans at a human finger in her dinner (certainly trumps a fly in the soup).  Unbeknownst to the travellers humans are being butchered to get the meat, hence the missed appendage during the mincing.  But to cover up the truth they say that the cook had an accident whilst preparing the food, as if that's supposed to comfort everyone!  Said cook then materialises from the kitchen carrying a new dish and one missing finger...
I used to view this film via the old UK Pagan DVD, but Code Red have since put it out on Blu-ray.  Being one of my favourites I decided to import.  It's definitely a significant step-up from the old Pagan disc: the Blu features a much bolder, more vivid image compared to the washed-out, blurry, low resolution mess that was the (non-anamorphic) DVD.  It's nothing format-smashing objectively speaking, and the colour grading is a bit of a mess, but I guess we have to keep expectations in check for such a niche title where the original elements may no longer exist (which would be tragic), hence I suspect this Blu was taken from a (fairly battered) 35mm print - there's certainly a lot of wear/scratches.  Both discs run the film for approximately the same length, the DVD around four minutes shorter due to PAL speed-up, but the Blu features the unclothed version (about three sequences, including sexy Helga Line, containing nudity that is covered up by night dresses in the alternate version found on the DVD.  The other difference is the fact that the Code Red utilises an English print, whereas the DVD has credits in Spanish (although both only feature English language audio).  Sound is shrill on both, the Code Red featuring deeper vocals with a more distinct music track, though a fair bit of hiss too.

In terms of extras, the Code Red actually loses to the old UK DVD, though not by too much: we're talking about a very rough VHS quality trailer versus notes on the film and crew plus stills.  One day I hope for a restoration from superior materials and the option to view this film in Spanish with English subtitles, until then the Code Red Blu, whilst far from perfect considering the price, is a very welcome upgrade of a fantastic Spanish chiller from what should now be thought of as a golden era.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Emmanuel and the Last Cannibals

Released in 1977 and directed by the notorious Joe D'Amato (Aristide Massaccesi) this is an attempt to mix the bloody cannibal sub-genre with, inappropriately enough, erotica.  Typically a group of westerners head out to the jungle (the Amazon in this case) in search of what is believed to be the sole remaining tribe of true cannibals in the world.  The team is headed up by hot reporter Emmanuel, who demonstrates her hungry need to report on anything in the prologue when she is revealed to have spent time in prison in order to uncover abuse and corruption.  Once hooked up with a famed academic anthropologist and a small team of helpers (including a nun!) they head off for an adventure where most of them won't survive, and those that do will be changed forever.

Surprisingly for a cannibal film this one features minimal violence towards animals, therefore it is somewhat more bearable even though it might not be classed as up there with the 'best'.  There is of course some fairly nasty violence and gore, often of a sexual nature, that I'm surprised was left intact for the 88 Films release.  On top of that, there's a lot of nudity and sex which should please fans of Laura Gemser.  If women aren't fingering themselves they're fingering each other, or enticing men to mate with them.  Lurid material then but at least it helps prevent boredom.  The adventure aspect is, as with many of these films, the factor that makes or breaks the storyline itself, and this one summits with a grand escape from the island by the survivors after a hellish journey that claims almost everyone.
There is an underlying ineptitude to this production that's exemplified by the English language audio track (some great lines for your amusement), which can be overlooked by viewers wishing to immerse themselves in such a sleazy but periodically fun (and gruesome) adventure.  Interestingly the film reminds me in a number of ways of 1980's Zombi Holocaust, feeling very much like the same sort of territory.  In fact both films also share some of the same (beautiful) music (composer Nico Fidenco was involved in both) and happen to have been screenplayed by Romano Scandariato.  Gianfranco Couyoumdjian also produced both films, and Dr Butcher himself, Donald O'Brien, appears in both in nefarious roles.  A lot of coincidences then, it's no wonder they feel like they're both taking place on the same island at times.

As mentioned, surprisingly 88 Films have got this film through apparently without any cuts for a UK Blu-ray release.  It runs around 92 minutes, longer than the previous British cinema release and its subsequent video counterparts, albeit a few seconds shorter than the old Shriek Show DVD (I understand none of the gore is affected).  It looks pretty good for what it is, in widescreen and with a choice between Italian or English language audio (unfortunately you have to choose between them on the main menu rather than being able to switch in film, but at least the option is there).  English subtitles are available while extras are limited to trailers, alternate credits, a postcard (in the pack) and reversible cover.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Death by Invitation

The prologue depicts a young woman, suspected witch, being flayed by a horde of medieval people, themselves in some cases decorated in almost a devilish fashion.  In the present day someone who resembles the woman, possibly her ancestor, infiltrates a family consisting of the killers' descendants, the intention apparently being one of cross-generational vengeance.

A little known film by Ken Friedman from 1971, Death by Invitation is an intriguing study of a psychologically disturbed woman driven to kill by events that may have occurred aeons previous.  I say 'may' because I feel there are elements of ambiguity in all of this - either she is the descendant of a witch that was killed by Catholics (and, indeed, there is a brief hint that the religion has been passed down to the family in the present day), or she is deluded into thinking this is the case by her own paranoia and misandry.  Or perhaps she is the actual witch herself, who has survived for hundreds of years to now finally discover or locate her opportunity to end an extended lifetime of bitterness.
It's a plodding piece, underpinned by an air of feminism that I wouldn't ordinarily have much sympathy for in the post-millennial Western world, however, the concept overall is not without its interest.  Moreover, the lead character - the first known role of actress Shelby Leverington - is fascinatingly sexual and disturbed.  Leverington is quite incredible, both for her mysterious, acute portrayal of Lise, and for her alluring sultry persona.  She may not appeal to all but I found her to be hypnotic throughout, especially during her intense pre-murder delivery of a historical monologue that her character may have been witness to in some way, or have an obsessive belief in - despite this being pure talk it is a captivating and vivid sequence.

Having had very minimal exposure to the public in the past via home video (and possibly a brief theatrical run?) Vinegar Syndrome unearthed this for what could be its final lease of life, a double bill DVD, part of the Drive-in Collection, with Dungeon of Harrow (previously it was doubled with 1979 slasher Savage Water before that ran into trouble and was quickly withdrawn from circulation - a handful of copies are out there but you can guess what people are asking for them).  Death... is presented on DVD at 1.85:1 from a fairly scratchy print, battered, but looking better than it ever has (and, shamefully, possibly ever will).   It comes with an audio commentary from the Hysteria Continues pod-casters.  Unfortunately this does not offer a great deal of useful information about the film, sometimes consisting of the commenters merely passing thoughts about the décor or fashion (yes, people, this was 1971 - the stuff that you're wearing will no doubt also look like a joke in forty years!  Or possibly less).  Justin Kerswell comes off as an intelligent chap, often bringing things back on to track.  Aside from the occasional amusing comment or slice of insight, the commentary is not how I'd like to remember the film.  On the other hand, the sitting-with-one's-mates-watching-a-film type of scenario might appeal to some.  In summary though, this is a good disc to own and one much appreciated from the stellar organisation that is Vinegar Syndrome.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Lovely Molly

The beginnings of a potentially happy marriage are lashed after the temporarily elated couple move into the parental home of the bride.  Elements of the father's death and relationship with his daughter remain a mystery - this may or may not have anything to do with the events to come.  Molly's husband, Tim, works away from home frequently and it's during these absences that unusual activity in the house begins to occur, possibly of a supernatural origin.  Molly reverts to a former drug addiction, beginning to psychologically deteriorate under the stress of matters.
Underpinned by a poignant performance from Gretchen Lodge as Molly, I wouldn't say the film is an enjoyable experience, but it does function effectively.  The source of the trouble remains under an ambiguous cloud, which may not suit everyone - is it the spirit of her dead father returning to deliver otherworldly torment, could it be the diminishing grasp on reality of a fragile mind, or is the Devil tearing through to the physical world to claim a broken soul?  Or something else?  I personally like the fact that the viewer has to make up his or her own mind about the proceedings.  Many Paranormal Activity-type occurrences outline possible traditional haunted house goings-on, and in this alone it could be said there is a lack of originality, but the film saves itself through its descent into very disturbing territory.  My blood was chilled for some time after viewing, though I'm not sure if I'll be rushing to go through this anguish again.

I'm not a fan of the digital video look, exhibited here.  There is banding and unattractive chromatics alongside reasonable levels of detail, probably captured as-is by the UK Metrodome Distribution Blu-ray.  Image is 1.78:1, surround sound almost having too much impact.  The disc contains a number of featurettes about the production along with a trailer.  Directed by The Blair Witch Project helmer Eduardo Sánchez, Lovely Molly (2011) can certainly not be criticised for leaving its viewers in an overly cheery state - watch at your peril...

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Sender

After attempting to take his own life a young troubled man winds up incarcerated in a mental institution under the care of an inquisitive psychiatrist.  Trying to help, she is traumatised once she finds that his subconscious chaos is projected on to others in times of stress, causing vivid, undesirable hallucinations in those around him.

Exhibiting shades of Patrick, The Sender (1982) is not exactly directed in an urgent fashion, plodding along without eliciting too much excitement along the way.  Having said that, I did experience one or two moments of unease, plus there is a standout sequence where mayhem explodes during quite a perturbing attempt to 'cure' the young man of his problems.  The female lead, Kathryn Harrold as Gail Farmer is also extremely appealing, combining a subtle, striking beauty with intellect and maternal instinct.
Olive Films, who have released this on Blu-ray in the US, are both greatly appreciated (for the fact that they put catalogue films out on Blu that many other companies wouldn't be bothered with) and in equal measures frustrating (because those films often come without any bells).  The film is presented 1.78:1 and has all the markings of an old transfer - looks reasonably good in many broad daylight sequences, often a bit drab during darker moments.  Overall it's okay, the benefits of a complete overhaul probably not on the horizon.  The sound exhibited a lot of hiss and weakness that I'd associate with an inadequate source.  I suspect the whole thing is taken from an aged 35mm print, and scanned some time ago, although please correct me if you know otherwise.  Still, it's a little better to view this movie here on Blu than either the old DVD that Legend Films put out in 2008, or the concurrent DVD that Olive themselves have released.  On the extras side there is nothing (aside from menu and chapter selection) - it's like going back to the VHS days!  If you're picking up the film for the first time you may as well go with the Blu, however, if you already have the Legend DVD then Olive have not done a huge amount to persuade you to upgrade.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Raventale: Dark Substance of Dharma

I stumbled across Raventale quite by accident recently, whilst browsing Spotify.  I tend to have a trawl through random tracks occasionally in the hope of discovering something great that I've not heard of before, although this is with the intention of buying if I actually like something rather than taking something for nothing (I'm one of those old fashioned individuals who is willing to actually contribute something to an artist who creates work that I'm happy to enjoy...).  Anyway, there was this, which I expected little from given the overwhelming mass of largely derivative Black Metal acts that have appeared over the last quarter of a century.  To be fair to them it's quite difficult not to be derivative if you're a Black Metal act because the genre operates within very narrow parameters by its own definitions and principles.  Raventale, however, somehow managed to catch my attention.  So I bought the CD, Dark Substance of Dharma, which they released in 2015.  It's available to download also (legally) but admittedly I did find the CD very difficult to get hold of, something that adds to its esoteric, underground nature for me, but surely wouldn't do sales much good (this Ukraine act has been going a number of years with plenty of albums behind them it turns out, so I think some improved marketing should be on the cards personally).
Opening track Intra-Mantra is a moody introduction that leads directly into the positively explosive and epic Destroying the Seeds of Karma, I think the track that grabbed me when I initially stumbled on them online.  But this album is no one-hit wonder - the track is immediately followed by the groove-filled riffs of the title track, nicely progressing into some very speedy and again epic metal to monumental effect - between them those two tracks run to over fifteen minutes, but their combined beauty never gets boring.  Following that is the shorter, more chaotic and aggressive Kali's Hunger.  Then we are treated to the unusual Red Laugh's Walking, again a shorter track (this is not a band who creates long, repetitive songs just for the sake of it - looking at you, Maiden and Exodus!) with some urgent riffing mixed in with more mellow segments.  Next up is I am the Black Tara, again returning to epic, fast-paced material with a distinctive melodic edge.  Raventale keep things interesting with tempo changes and a creative drive alongside pleasingly solid production.  ...Black Tara also features quite a beautiful mellow piece of clean guitar giving away hints of Bathory's range of Black and Viking Metal over the years.  The Hecate Enthroned feel is evident on this album, with echoes of the better tracks from Slaughter of Innocence, albeit with a heavier production (something I always thought that album could have benefitted from).  ...Dharma leaves the listener with Last Moon Fermata, a mid-paced closer with some chunky riffs.

I don't frequently buy Black Metal albums these days, even though the genre was a big part of my music history and enjoyment, getting into Bathory early on, then the so-called 2nd wave when all that kicked off at the beginning of the 90s, but I tend to reserve the buying nowadays for stuff that's a bit special.  This is really because there's far too much similar material out there to have hundreds of discs and remain interested.  Raventale is an act that's refreshed my interest and I've listened to this album quite a few times now - thoroughly enjoying its twists, turns, and perceptive approach to Black Metal.  I'm now looking into buying their entire back catalogue (they've released seven albums including this one!).

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Burial Ground

The movie itself you're either going to have a great time with or loathe - Burial Ground (or Nights of Terror, or Zombie 3, etc., 1981) exists in its own microcosm and creates its own rules, despite being triggered by the whole zombie craze that was given birth by Dawn of the Dead towards the end of the seventies, especially in Italy where this oddity was born.  A group of weirdos head out to a mansion for weekend activities, a place where the owner has been toying with supernatural forces resulting in the rather large number of rotting corpses buried on the grounds returning to life before the opening credits have even got under way.   Before anybody even has chance to become impregnated (seeing as most of the characters get down to making out at the first opportunity upon arrival) the onslaught begins and these ugly mothers (the corpses that is) are tearing just about anybody to shreds who lingers in their path for more than a minute or so (which the denizens of this world frequently do).  Thus the rest of the film is a desperate bid to survive and escape for the gradually decreasing number of survivors.  What makes this film quite amazing is the sheer insanity of some of the goings-on - lightbulbs explode for no reason, bear traps seem to have been laid on the grounds for no apparent reason, the dialogue is priceless (child to mother: "mamma, this cloth smells of death"), and there's the boy, Michael, who looks like a forty year old man, and sounds like a forty year old man trying to be a boy - this chap has to be seen to be believed, and particularly notable for his jealousy towards anyone offering his mother any attention (i.e. new and unwanted step dad).  This jealousy leads to a rather bizarre incestuous encounter that ends with his mom slapping Michael and him running off upset crying, "but mamma, I'm your son!"...  It's hilarious like few American comedies can match.  The monsters are UGLY, and these things have real maggots crawling over their heads.  They're burned, shot, stabbed, but there is no end to their destruction.  They even don tools to break into the house for their victims - smart creatures despite probably being in possession of half rotted brains.  The electronic music really boosts the appeal too - it's in turns zany and melancholic.  This world may be funny at first, but it only leads along a path of gore and hell to utter doom.  Love it!
Having seen this a few times on VHS tape and a few more times on DVD, I was interested to witness how its Blu-ray incarnation turned out.  Upon originally picking up the Shriek Show Blu the first thing I did was flip out the older DVD from the same company (Shriek Show was the horror-devoted banner of Media Blasters) to compare shot-to-shot.  Initially the SS Blu-ray looked a little messy to be honest but comparison with the DVD revealed a better composition first and foremost - previously closer to 1.78:1 it was now framed at 1.66:1.  This is likely to be the accurate ratio as many Euro films were shot/screened in this manner around the period and before.  The DVD was interlaced whereas the Blu-ray was progressive (at 24fps), reducing jagged edges.  Detail and contrast was improved by a small amount in the Blu-ray though grain consequently also increased, quite a bit.  The main problem with the visuals was an ever-present turmoil of chromatic noise, not reflective of how you would expect natural film grain to appear.  Of note on the audio side was the fact that the sound (DTS-HD stereo) was a little fuller on the Blu-ray disc, the DVD sounding a tad tinny after going back.  So whilst it didn't look great, direct checks between the SS DVD and Blu discs revealed improvements, modest though they may have been.  The DVD was rendered almost unwatchable after sitting through the original HD version (though see the point about the running time below).

Media Blasters (i.e. Shriek Show) also exhumed from somewhere a number of outtakes that I'm surprised even exist!  For someone who's seen the movie around fifteen times this is quite fascinating material, depicting various further interactions between the characters and even a bit more undead mayhem.  This piece runs nearly ten minutes albeit without looped dialogue or sound effects - instead it simply plays against the movie's music track.  Given that it's in good condition (in HD too) it's a shame the footage is missing its intended audio because some of this would have slotted nicely back into the main feature for an 'extended' version.  My favourite segment is with Michael sitting in the back seat of the car that his mother is driving to the mansion, and clearly pi**ed that she and his new stepdad are having a nice time chatting.  There's also an interview section with actress Mariangela Giordano and producer Gabriele Cristani - pity nothing with director Andrea Bianchi could be found (the same man who bestowed Strip Nude For Your Killer upon the world), but nice to have anyway.  A trailer and gallery padded out the SS Blu further.  These and the interviews were present on the old US DVD but the outtakes had never been seen before.  Priceless stuff.

It may have taken some flak for a grainy presentation - this is not entirely unwarranted as the grain looked unnatural/digital as aforementioned, but a direct look at the same footage on the DVD shows that the SS Blu-ray was a small-to-medium step up in almost every respect.  HOWEVER, somehow Shriek Show inexplicably used a shorter cut for this presentation - about 1 minute 45 seconds shorter to be more precise.  Oddly it was not a clear cut case of scenes being simply excised, in fact there was some footage in the newer SS version that's not in the previous versions.  It looked like a lot of the missing footage was down to frame removals at the edge of shots as well as a few seconds of stuff here and there.  This version is a curiosity to say the least.

2016: After a long wait UK-based 88 Films put out another Blu after managing to locate some decent elements for a new scan, partly funded through the Indiegogo campaign that was initially there to restore Zombi Holocaust.  The new Blu is framed again at 1.66:1, but now presents for the first time (to my knowledge) an option to view the film in Italian with English subtitles - don't worry though, the famed English dub is still there for one to enjoy.  Extras are improved, the disc containing an audio commentary, a half hour documentary about the mysterious Bianchi, the same deleted scenes mentioned above, and a couple of trailers.  The package is really neat, giving you the option of two covers (i.e. a reversible sleeve), and having a booklet plus artcard inside.  If you contributed to the restoration through Indiegogo you also get an extremely limited slipcase, something that I will never let go of.  The disc itself is the same either way.

The audio quality has reached its limit as far as I'm concerned, considering its source, and sounds comparable to the Shriek Show Blu - both a little beefier than the film's former incarnations on DVD and VHS.  The Italian track is an intriguing curiosity, though I think it would be difficult to pry me away from that wonderful English dub.

88 have thoughtfully provided two versions of the film to watch:  an HD scan of the original 16mm negative (done in Italy) with audio transferred at 24 bit, and also a 'grindhouse' version, which is essentially a battered old 35mm projection print.  Good news with the running time in the case of this Blu-ray: the 16mm version runs at what I believe is the most uncut version we know and love: 85m 11s.  The grindhouse print is slightly shorter at 84m 21m.  As way of comparison, the SS Blu ran 83m 24s.  I'm also pleased to say that the OCN version in particular looks excellent, with a more natural representation of grain (rather than the chromatic noise of the SS disc), and noticeably improved levels of detail (bear in mind the 16mm source, however).  I can't imagine it ever looking better in all honesty.  The grindhouse version is very rough with a crackling soundtrack - a nice bonus but it won't be my preferred means of viewing the movie considering the option is here to view the much superior scan of the OCN.  Well done, 88 Films.

The likes of this film will never be made again and for some of us who have 'acquired' the taste (and a very strange taste it is, admittedly), Burial Ground is an awesome experience.  The new 88 Films Blu-ray is now the definitive edition.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Anihilated: Created in Hate

1988 was an incredible year for thrash, with essentials being produced by Slayer, Metallica, Artch, Bathory, Holy Terror, Megadeth, Testament as well as a slew of other bands springing up across the globe.  Oddly, almost as soon as its popularity peaked, so did the genre virtually wane and die.  Thankfully the millennium brought with it revived interest and it seems as alive today as it ever was.  Arising from punk origins Anihilated were one of the virtually underground groups that chugged along in the background at the time, and Created in Hate was something I stumbled across on vinyl on one of my many record-store trips back in the day.   Sometimes cheesy, its groovy heaviness was unexpectedly addictive, and I'm pleased that Marquee Records in Brazil have in recent years remastered it for a special CD release.
The music is heavy with a 'bassy' guitar sound and has a distinctness that is refreshing; overall I'm pleased with the audio performance of the remaster.  There's a myriad of fantastic riffs on this disc, songs like Slaughter, and Anihilated exhibit a bucketful of great ideas - for something that on the surface may sound a touch corny and derivative, the album is in reality brimming with delights.  I also appreciate the fact that the song structures vary from the boring and conventional verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus tradition that all too many bands adopt, particularly in today's risk-aversive times.

It's pleasing that the booklet contains both the lyrics and an essay about the band in addition to Created in Hate's inception, helping to put the whole thing into a context that remained unknown for years to me.  The original track list is also suffixed with four additional live tracks.  If you have an interest in 80s thrash at all then this may well prove to be a nice buy for you.  The band also seem to be still going strong, which is great news.

My personal opinion of each track from the original album:
Chase the Dragon **
Slaughter ****
Power is the Path ***
Anihilated ****
Final Dawn ***
Nitemare (instrumental) ***
Aftermath ****
The Seventh Vial ***

Bonus tracks on the CD are live versions of  Slaughter, Final Dawn, Seventh Vial, and Nitemare.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A Blade in the Dark

The second feature from Mario Bava's son, Lamberto, takes a stab (sorry) at the giallo, a genre which his father had dabbled in a few times.  The protagonist is a composer by the name of Bruno, who becomes suspicious that murders have taken place on his property, but nobody seems interested in listening to his suspected mistaken ramblings.  There is no mistake, however, and murders are most definitely taking place as a string of women visit the property for various reasons.  Bruno thinks that the answer may lie in the reel of a film that has been kept hidden away by its director, but getting to see the contents is not as easy as he'd like.

Almost all of the activity here takes place in an Italian villa, with the killer prowling around the site and becoming increasingly violent each time a woman shows up.  It plods along slowly (running almost an hour an fifty minutes) and would have benefited from some trimming here and there, but overall this is quite a solid offering to the crowded giallo arena.  It moves along almost carefully, possibly in effort to give the murders more impact - admittedly they are quite brutal and sadistic, with a couple of bits quite hard to watch even by today's much more violent standards.
I've previously seen this on VHS, and watched the Anchor Bay DVD a few times over the years.  88 Films' Blu-ray (part of their lovely Italian range) frames the film at 1.66:1, which I believe provides a little more breathing space at the top and bottom while being more appropriate for a European film from the era of A Blade in the Dark's making (1983).  There is omnipresent grain though I don't feel that it is overly intrusive.  Edges are fairly soft, while detail fluctuates from scene to scene - one has to remember that this was shot in 16mm so it will never be especially sharp in any format.  Colours are not particularly vibrant but as I grew accustomed to the visual style of this new presentation I found it to be pleasing viewing, and possibly closely representative of the source (something we will never actually know until another Blu-ray appears for comparison).

Previously it was not possible for English speakers to enjoy the Italian language version of this film, so it is highly appreciated that 88 have supplied the option to watch in either English or Italian with English subtitles (although please, 88, start allowing us to switch languages mid film without having to go back to the main menu!).  Personally I think Blade plays much better in Italian, but at least the option is there whatever your preference.  Audio is DTS-HD MA (mono) either way, and very clear throughout.

Extras consist of a fifty minute low video quality Q&A session with the director, a twenty minute interview with the cinematographer, and the Italian opening/closing credits.  The cover of the case is reversible (with original Italian title (La Casa con la Scala nel Buio)/artwork on the other side) and inside the case is an extra piece of film art on a slip.

I'm not sure about the running time because it appears to be a minute or so shorter than what I believed the film ran to on the Anchor Bay disc.  However, the gore/murder sequences seem to be intact so I'm not sure if there is anything missing without going through frame by frame.  Even if that proved to be the case I think the benefits of this new edition outweigh anything else, and the 88 Films release is now the definitive edition (until someone else gives it another shot on Blu, but they'll have to put some effort in I think!).