In an era where physical media has been all but declared dead, it's fans of more niche genres both in music and film that seem to be keeping it alive. Labels are, of course, working to cater to those audiences, and one of the labels working hardest to do so currently is Scream Factory, the horror branded off shoot of famed nostalgia label Shout! Factory. Since their inception just a handful of years ago they have brought excellent and plentiful editions of horror titles to the market for waiting fans to devour them. This month (February 2016) sees the label truly pile it on with 4 releases that will be of interest to fans of horror and cult cinema. During the latter part of February the label will release The Curse and the Curse II: The Bite on a double feature Blu-ray, Wes Craven's late 80's zombie film The Serpent and the Rainbow in a long awaited special edition release, the 80's Sci-Fi Double feature Millennium/R.O.T.O.R. and the third and perhaps final volume of the iconic Vincent Price collection.
The Serpent and the Rainbow
Director- Wes Craven
Cast- Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Scott MacDonald
Wes Craven is a director who is very hit or miss in my personal opinion. Aside from creating Freddy Kreuger and unleashing one of the most iconic of horror franchises upon the world, I never quite understood his designation as a master of horror. He did have a late career boom with the Scream franchise, but those seemed like post-ironic horror for those that didn't really like horror to begin with. That being said he did have some great films throughout his career like the Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street (and later Wes Craven's New Nightmare), and crammed in the middle of that a little zombie film that went unnoticed except by the most hardcore of fans The Serpent and the Rainbow.
The Serpent and the Rainbow is adapted from the non-fiction book by Wade Davis and sees Bill Pullman star as Dennis Alan an anthropologist who discovers a drug that makes the user appear dead for a period of 12 hours before waking up, thus a zombie. He goes to Haiti to find the source of the drug in the hope that it can be used for medical purposes. Of course, his presence in the country is unwanted, and he finds himself involved in a situation involving voodoo, zombies, and government conspiracies.
When I was younger I thought of Serpent and the Rainbow as a quality entry into Craven's filmography, but didn't return to it much. Coming back to it now for the first time in about 15 years I see it effectively blends the stark realism of his earlier Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, but applies that formula to the real life situations affecting the Haiti under the Duvalier regime. This is blended with the surrealism elements he began to strongly develop with such films as Nightmare on Elm Street and Shocker, the end result is a truly wild ride, and one of Craven's true masterpieces of horror.
The last time I saw Serpent and the Rainbow was a full screen TV broadcast, and Joe Bob Briggs might have been hosting, so anything would have looked better to my eyes, but Scream Factory's Blu-ray edition was nothing short of a revelation. Colors are natural, yet bright when they need to be, flesh tones are accurate, blacks are inky and deep and there is a nice natural grain structure at play here. The audio is presented with a DTS-HD MA stereo track in English that offers no complaints as well. The extras are limited as Wes Craven passed on just as the Blu-ray was going into production, but what's her is solid. We get a commentary track by Bill Pullman. This is followed by a 24 minute making of. The disc is rounded off by a theatrical trailer and still gallery.
The Film (5/5)
R.I.P. Wes Craven
The Curse/The Curse II: The Bite
Director- David Keith/Frederico Prosperi
Country of Origin- U.S./Italy/Japan
Reviewer- Scott MacDonald
Since I was a kid I've been a pretty big Lovecraft reader, and once I had read his numerous short stories, I began to seek out cinematic adaptations of his work. This was pretty easy to do. because starting around the mid-1960's Lovecraft became pretty popular in the cultural lexicon, and directors from Roger Corman to Stuart Gordon and beyond began to adapt his works en masse. One of Lovecraft's finest longform works was The Colour Out of Space, the first adaptation of which would come in 1965, and be directed by Daniel Haller as Die Monster, Die! and star Boris Karloff. Coincidentally, this version of the story was already released to Blu-ray by Scream Factory a few years back. The second adaptation of the film is the Italian Produced film The Curse.
The Curse stars Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Zach Hayes a young man who grows up on a farm with his Mother, Stepfather, sister, and stepbrother. One night a giant egg shape meteor crashes into the ground at the farm, and begins melting into the ground. The contents of the meteor begin to infect the water and the crops. This in turn begins to turn most of the family (minus Zach and his sister who avoid eating and drinking) into weird mutations due to exposure to the food and water. It drains them of their sanity, and they begin to turn on one another, and they didn't get along that well to begin with!
The film is a decent affair that manages to cover the major story beats of Lovecraft's tale quite well. That being said it seems to be a mostly grotesque special FX extravaganza with not much else to recommend it on. The young Wil Wheaton gives a solid central performance as a young boy trapped in a situation that he has almost no way out of.
There are I believe 3 films in the Curse series, the third film not included here PANGA was released to MOD DVD by MGM last month. There is no common running theme in this series. They just share a title. The first film was a success, and thus the title was used to get attention for the second and third.
Curse II involves a young couple who end up taking a detour through a nuclear testing facility, which has become the breeding area for killer snakes (they're in the middle of a desert). Of course, things don't do well for the pair, and Clark, the boyfriend gets bitten and begins turning into a snake-handed hybrid creature. The film is a decent little Saturday afternoon time waster, with some pretty awesome effects by Screaming Mad George to recommend it by, but it gets pretty bizarre as the film races toward it's conclusion. Technically, the first film in the series was the better overall film, but I had more fun with the weirdness on display with Curse II.
Both films get solid Blu-ray presentations from Scream Factory. Previous DVD editions saw the films shown in their wrong OAR, well that has been corrected by Scream for this release. The Curse (which fares better as far as visual quality is concerned) is presented in a 2:35:1 as is Curse II: The Bite. Both films are 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The first Curse film has a nice stable image, solid color reproduction, fine detail, and nice black levels. The source material for the Curse II appears to be more beat up or from a lesser source (maybe an uncut print). Either way this one still looks quite nice, but is much grainier, has a bit of damage from the source present, but overall looks decent overall. There is DTS-HD MA Stereo tracks in English for both, and they sound quite good with dialogue, and score coming through nicely. I did not detect any issues with the track. The lone extra on the Blu-ray is a trailer for the first film.
The Films (3/5), (3.5/5)
Audio/Video (4/5), (3/5)
Director- Michael Anderson/Cullen Blaine
Cast- Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Ladd (Millennium)/Margaret Trigg, Richarrd Gesswein (R.O.T.O.R.)
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Scott MacDonald
It's these cheap blast of weirdness that get my attention quite quickly when they are announced by most labels. Both Millennium and R.O.T.O.R. are two slices of 80's science ficiton that I had not heard of prior to Scream announcing them. Now that I have them I can say I am quite pleased with the result.
Millennium is a bizarre little time travel film starring Kris Kristofferson (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) as Bill Smith. As the film begins a pair of planes crash in a mid-air collision causing Bill to investigate the cause of the crashes, as they did not appear quite as they seem. As he is to find out people from the future are traveling into our present, and rescuing the doomed before they are to die in order to repopulate an Earth on the verge of extinction due to the fact that pollutants have caused the population of their future Earth to become sterile.
I don't think anyone will mistake Millennium as top shelf sci-fi cinema, but it is a film that has big ideas, and an interesting execution that plays out like a lo-fi conspiracy thriller. I am a sucker for this stuff so I was glued to my seat. The film does feel a tad long at 108 minutes, but for fans of weird time travel cinema like The Final Countdown there is much to like here.
R.O.T.O.R. which stands for Robotic Officer of the Tactical Operations Research/Reserve is the second feature on this Blu-ray set, and arguably the real crowd pleaser of the pair. The film is sort of an amalgam of The Terminator, Robocop, and 2000 A.D. comic staple Judge Dredd. The film is basically the opposite side of the coin from Robocop.
R.O.T.O.R. follows a corrupt police chief who demands his lead scientist create, and get out on the street a robotic officer to take some of the pressure off of his human cops. The science officer explains that his current model is years from proper working order, but the prototype is put out into the streets anyway, where he begins to enact an extreme form of justice and even the smallest infractions get torture and death.
The film is a cheesy affair, no doubt, but for the right type of viewer (myself included) it is cinema gold. I don't think anyone watching it will mistake R.O.T.O.R. for a well made affair, but even the makers of the film knew what they were doing, and I believe had a lot of fun with it.
Both films have quite decent restorations for films of this caliber on Blu-ray. Millennium is presented in a 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer while R.O.T.O.R. is presented with the same only 1:78:1. Millennium looks solid for the most part with solid colors, blacks, and fine detail, and only some minor instances of damage to complain about. R.O.T.O.R. also looks excellent, with fine color reproduction, accurate flesh tones, and solid blacks. There is only a few minor instances of damage from the source here. Millennium has a DTS-HD MA Stereo track and R.O.T.O.R the same in mono. Both sound quite decent with dialogue, score, and ambient effects coming through nicely. The only extras on the disc are theatrical trailers for both, and an alternative ending for Millennium.
The Films (3/5), (3.5/5)
Audio/Video (3/5), (3.5/5)
The Vincent Price Collection III
Cast- Vincent Price
Country of Origin- Various
Reviewer- Scott MacDonald
So we've already gotten through the first 5 films that Scream Factory are releasing in February 2016. So how about 5 more, and not just pairings of B movies, but the latest addition to their Vincent Price Collection?
The Vincent Price Collection III sees Scream Factory pretty much reach the end of what they can do with their licensed Price material. The first 2 sets pretty much released all of the AIP material Price starred in, and more. This included all of the Corman-Poe films, and such treats as The Witchfinder General, Last Man on Earth, and Return of the Fly. So what is left isn't quite all horror, but it is all distinctly Price, and should certainly be of interest to genre fans and fans of the late icon overall.
The set kicks off with the Jules Verne adaptation Master of the World. In this one Price plays a man named Robur, who has invented a powerful flying machine with superior military capability. With his machine he plans to force peace upon the world, by using his own domineering militaristic presence. The film is a nice breezy watch and Price gives a truly fine performance backed by an excellent Les Baxter score.
Following up on this we have the 53 minute An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe. This is an interesting little oddity in the Price filmography. It sees Price essentially give straight readings in costume of Poe tales and poetry. For an actor frequently associated with Poe's work, it shows him dilute the works down to their essence and still show how he can bring drama and terror to each.
We then get Tower of London. This is not an AIP film, though it does feel like one at times. It does have an AIP connection being produced by Roger Corman's brother Gene. In it Price plays Richard III who kills his younger brother, as his older brother, the then King is dying so he may usurp the throne. Unfortunately, for Richard to keep the throne as his own he must continue murdering, but with each death he becomes filled with more madness, until he becomes consumed by a mix of guilt and madness.
I had never seen this one before, and it blew my mind. I have the Criterion of Olivier's Richard III, and recently watched the 1990’s version with Ian McKellen in that role. Now granted those 2 were adaptations of the play by Shakespeare, and this is from a different source, but regardless Price plays a fine Richard III full of arrogance and deluded by madness. If it weren’t for the next film this would be the highlight of the set for me.
That being said the true highlight of the set would have to be Cry of the Banshee. The film was presented by Scream in 2 different versions an uncut British version featuring all the nudity, violence, and Terry Gilliam animation a film fan could possibly want, and also a cut down U.S. version released by AIP that doesn't flow as well, but does have another solid score from Les Baxter. The film is directed by Gordon Hessler who would work with Price in films like Scream and Scream Again and the Oblong Box. The film plays as a solid companion to Price's earlier The Witchfinder General like that one Price plays an individual (in this case a magistrate) that is tasked with hunting down and putting to trial potential witches.
The set is rounded off with another solid chiller Diary of a Madman (I can't type that without getting the Ozzy song stuck in my head). As in Cry of the Banshee Price plays a magistrate, however, in this film he becomes possessed by a dark spirit called the Horla after visiting with a prisoner on death row. When Price is possessed by the Horla, which turns him evil and insane, his eyes turn a creepy glowing green. The film is a solid affair with an excellent turn again by Price and solid direction by Reginald Le Borg.
OK, so reviewing this set is a tad more complicated than the others. Master of the World, Tower of London, Cry of the Banshee, and Diary of a Madman are presented in HD 1080p AVC encoded transfer in their respective OAR's. They look quite better than they have ever looked before with nice stable color reproduction and excellent fine detail, and only hints of damage throughout. An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe is presented on a Blu-ray, but in a 1:33:1 and in SD. It looks fine for what it is, but temper your expectations as it is not a film per se, more like a TV special. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono tracks all the way except for Master of the World which is 2.0. All tracks are solid with dialogue, score, and ambient effects coming through nicely, and I did not catch any pops, cracks, or hissing on any of them.
As far as extras are concerned the set is fully loaded with interviews, commentaries, documentaries, trailers, radio spots, multiple cuts, still galleries, and more. There is also a booklet of liner notes included.
The Films (4/5) Master of the World, (5/5) An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, (4/5) Tower of London, Cry of the Banshee (4.5/5), Diary of a Madman (3.5/5)