As a young horror hound (waaayyy back around 1985 or so to give it a date), I was inundated with stills and stories about an upcomin’ zombie bomb that was sure to make all of us Evil Dead lovin’ psychos positively explode with gorish-glee! That flick, The Dead Next Door never seemed to materialize. Well flash forward four years, and ol’ TDND sails through a stormy sea of financial and production woes to reach its completion, with a gentle nudge from Sam Raimi’s wallet (Master Cylinder my arse), in 1989. Finally gore-mets were served their bloody buffet!
And what a smorgasbord it is my fiends! We follow the adventures of a government sanctioned zombie kill squad in a walking dead ravaged apocalypse as they travel to Ohio in search of a cure for the bitey plague. Well, before you can say “Kool-aid” they run afoul of a Jonestown like cult hell bent on creating a new world via the preservation of the zombies. All of this leads to more splat-tastic practical gore and make-ups than seems possible from a film of this budget; you get geysers of arterial spray, severed digits, decapitations, body melts…hell there’s even full-on zombie puppets for the more desiccated members of the gut-munchin’ marauders!
Now that’s all fine and good, and more than likely a lot of you creeps own this flick in one format or another, but I’m going to tell you; you don’t own sh*t unless you have this release! First of all, you get a new HD remaster all fancy like on a Blu-ray, you also get the original DVD release on a separate disc. Not enough? You also get: three commentaries with writer/director J.R. Bookwalter (along with special guests on each), a featurette on the film’s restoration, some live Q&A sessions, archival behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes and outtakes, an ass-load of still galleries, the film’s trailer, storyboards, video pre-shoots, cast auditions, a music video, a convention reunion of cast and crew, the original un-dubbed dialog (the film’s audio was completely re-recorded before it’s release), and a brief retrospective of the film’s production. Additionally you get a few new features (the bonus material described above was ported over from Tempe Video’s previous limited edition Blu-ray release from early 2016); an interview with actor Scott Spiegel, and a tour of the film’s locations with James L. Edwards. Seriously you’re going to lose every ounce of feeling in your ass as you sit through all of this, so you better get Ass Insurance…that’s a thing right? It is.
Simply put this is one of the most in-depth and thorough releases of any film I have ever seen (it’s only equal is the latest release of Army of Darkness from Scream Factory…which is fitting given this film’s pedigree). While the majority of folks who pick this up are going to already be fans of the flick, I can’t recommend this enough to anyone with an interest of making their own low budget film…writer/die-rector J.R. Bookwalter went through a ton of hardships to bring this baby to the screen, and he details it all throughout the special features…it’s an invaluable learning tool! Ya know, J.R. should sell this edition to film schools, and when he’s sittin’ on a mountain of cash from that deal, he should give ol’ XIII eleventy million dollars for thinking it up. O.k., that’s a tad ludicrous…but really, you should buy this edition of The Dead Next Door right now!
-Guest Review by Shane Migliavacca
In New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Miyoshi (Bunta Sugawara) is a lowly thug in the Yamamori gang who ends up in prison after a hit goes bad. While he’s rotting in a cell there’s a power struggle in the gang. Upon leaving the joint Miyoshi is caught between the two factions, but which ever side he chooses, there will be blood.
The second film, The Boss’s Head concerns Kuroda ( Sugawara again). A drifting gambler who takes the fall for the Owada family, when a hit goes south. They promise him money upon his release…a promise they don’t keep. This prompts Kuroda to take out the family heads seeking bloody revenge.
In the final film, Last Days of the Boss, Nozaki (Sugawara again? Yup!) a dock worker befriends a sympathetic yakuza boss. When the boss is killed, Nozaki finds himself elected the bosses successor and of course starts plotting revenge on his rivals.
Having never seen the Battles Without Honor and Humanity films, I was unsure of what to expect from these follow ups, but man oh man are they good. Each one of these film’s is a bloody crime epic that would put Martin Scorsese to shame. Full of savage hits, double crosses, car chases, and power plays; they take place in a world devoid of innocents…everyone is a power hungry bastard, and violence can erupt at any second.
Speaking of violence. I love the way director Fukasaku films the violence in these films. It’s clumsy, bloody, savage and never glamorous, and it feels real…like you’re a bystander, witnessing a yakuza hit. The films all have a gritty, hard-boiled, noir feel, and Bunta Sugawara is perfect as the lead in all three films; he looks tough, and has insane amounts of presence and swagger. Additionally, the insanely funky scores by composer Toshiaki Tsushima are everything you’d want in a ‘70s crime film.
Along with all three of the excellent films contained in this set, Arrow has included a bevy of top-shelf bonus content including: an appreciation of the series by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane, interviews with screenwriter Koji Takada, about his work on the second and third films in the trilogy, original theatrical trailers for all three films, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist, and an illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films, the yakuza genre and Fukasaku’s career, by Stephen Sarrazin, Tom Mes, Hayley Scanlon, Chris D. and Marc Walkow!
All three of the New Battles Without Honor and Humanity films are top notch crime films (with The Boss’s Head being my favorite of the group), and this set is definitely the best way to check them out. Highly recommended to fans of Japanese crime cinema!
Hell up In Harlem (the sequel to Black Caeser released the same year) begins where the first flick left off (well around 10 minutes before it ended actually as the conclusion of Black Caesar plays pretty much in it’s entirety) and finds our hero the Black Godfather Tommy Gibbs (played to the hilt by Fred “The Hammer” Williamson) stumbling along the streets of ol’ Manhattan Towne with a gut full of lead courtesy of corrupt city officials and cops and a fist full of ledgers that will reveal the dirty dealings of the city’s higher ups. Well, Gibbs is soon rescued by his pops Big Papa Gibbs (played by Julius Harris and accompanied by his own, gloriously over-the-top theme song) and nursed back to health (by that I mean operated on while under no anesthesia while his seedy pals point guns at the Doctor’s head). Anyway, soon Gibbs is back on the streets and itchin’ for sweet revenge which he enacts with a staggering amount of violence (my favorite is a “storming the beach” sequence where Gibbs and his men emerge from the water, guns blazing to take down a mafiaso with the help of fully armed maids who smile with glee as they fill mobsters full of lead…oh, and there is bikini clad karate in there as well…pure grade-A awesome!!!). Will Gibbs be able to survive his quest for vengeance as his organization unravels around him? Oh, and there’s animated blood in one scene for reasons.
Hell Up In Harlem is one of the most fun exploitation flicks I have ever witnessed; the acting is strong (Fred “The Hammer” Williamson is as cocksure and battle ready as they come), the violence plentiful and absurd, the stuntwork at times heart stopping (a taxi barreling down a NYC side walk filled with people is a sight to behold), and of course it has it’s fair share of full on shock value (the black on white lynching is a real jaw dropper in these sensitive times). Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Stuff) is a master of genre film making, and he knows just what it takes to give an audience just what they crave from Drive-In fare.
If there is a negative to be had with Hell Up In Harlem it’s that being a sequel there are multiple references to characters and events in Black Caesar; so if you haven’t seen that picture, I heartily recommend you do so before checking this flick out.
As for extras, they are almost non-existent, and that ain’t no jive baby, but you do get an information dense,brand-spankin’ new commentary track from writer/director Larry Cohen (accompanied by film maker Steve Mitchell), where you learn just how crazy the shooting of this film was (it took place on weekends, on both the East and West coast to accommodate “The Hammer”‘s schedule…and all of that ludicrous action that takes place on the city streets…including that taxi biz mentioned previous…was filmed without permits, and without the knowledge of the citizenry present when shooting was going down!!!). You also get the film’s trailer, and that’s all she wrote.
Hell Up In Harlem comes highly recommended to anyone that is a fan of Cohen’s other work, blaxploitation flicks, or guerrilla style film making…it’s fast paced, action packed, and at times gob smacking…just the way I like ’em!
Normally I’d plop the movie’s trailer here, but this time I’m going to change things up and leave you with Edwin Starr’s kick-ass theme song for the film which sets the tone better than any trailer ever could!
Andrew Braddock is the lucky sole survivor of a shipwreck who washes up on an island paradise. Sounds great right? Well, there is a slight problem…the island is inhabited by a Dr. Moreau; a man that has the nasty habit of using his perverted science to change animals into half human hybrids…and most of them are amazingly pissed (probably because the ol’ Doc has set them up with a primitive society where if they break any tenant they get sent to the pleasant sounding House of Pain where they are whipped…literally…back in line). Anyway, Moreau gets the bright idea to turn Braddock into a beast which goes over about as well as a fart in a submarine. Revolution ensues!
I have always had a soft spot for this version of The Island of Dr. Moreau to be honest with you creeps. This flick played on regional channels regularly during my misspent youth, and I would catch every showing I could. Nostalgia factor aside; this is a pretty damn solid telling of H.G. Well’s classic tale. To start things of, the acting is absolutely top-notch with Michael York delivering an emotional performance as Braddock (in particular the scene where he begins to forget his humanity as he changes into a beast is played perfectly), legendary thespian Burt Lancaster delivering a morally dubious yet dangerously curious Moreau (with a God complex thrown in for good measure), a sensuous yet innocent turn from the stunning Barbara Carrera as Maria, and Richard Basehart essaying the role of Sayer of the Law, a near religious zealot, half man, half goat, who attempts to preach the laws Moreau has set forth for his creations. Also of note are the fantastic appliances on the man-beasts provided by Planet of the Apes effects artist John Chambers. These creatures truly come alive under the skill of Chamber’s hand with the more human of the bunch able to emote perfectly through the expressive make-up.
The only negative I will point out with this film is that it eschews the more horrific implications of the source material (or those present in the first filmed version of the story 1932’s Island of Lost Souls) in favor of a more “high adventure” pulp aesthetic that just so happens to have monsters thrown in. I personally loved this take, but some of you horror hounds want shit grim n’ grizzly which this picture simply is not.
On the beastly bonus front, things are a tad light on this release with the main attraction being an audio commentary by paranormal author Jeff Belanger and horror host/actor Dr. Dreck. Neither of these gents had jack F-all to do with the production of the film, but they give an information packed and engaging commentary all the same which I thoroughly enjoyed. Also included are an essay on the story’s theological implications by author and professor Gorman Beauchamp, and the film’s trailer.
For me this rendition of The Island of Dr. Moreau is my favorite cinematic telling of the tale; it’s fast moving, monster packed, and loaded with great acting, cinematography, and scenery…and this version from Olive presents it all vividly!
Kay is a hot mess; she’s a true Debbie Downer to all of her family and friends (with a failing career to boot), is plagued by dreams of some sort of monster on a kill crazy murder spree (which she turns into paintings because she’s an artsy-fartsy type o’ gal), and has a preposterous mop of hair that brings chuckles whenever it is on screen (which is quite frequently). Anyway. imagine said family and friend’s delight when thy get to go on a week long vacation with ol’ K-dog to a secluded house located on a remote island. After a visit from that hoary ol’ ’80’s fright flick chestnut The Doomsayer™, things begin headin’ south rather quickly (okay “quickly” is a bit of a stretch…before any real killing occurs we get a few more dreams, more bitch-snark from our cast of cut-ups, and a good ol’ thunderstorm set screw sesh) as the members of the group keep disappearing (well, our heroes think they simply vanished, we get to see they were murdered). Just who or what is causing such mayhem is the question of the day as tensions flare between the group, and Kay’s troubled past is revealed.
One thing The Slayer has going for it is an almost Gothic thriller sense of mood and atmosphere. We have a sensitive, near waif-like heroine with terrible dreams feeling vulnerable in a strange house, the crashing waves of the angry ocean, dark hallways, constant thunderstorms…this is some Edgar Allen Poe or Dark Shadows level of ambiance right here folks. Another mark in the “plus” column are the grizzly kill scenes, that while not over abundant, are different and don’t skimp on the gore n’ grue (a man getting his head severed by a trap door is a real standout). Also refreshing is the cast comprised of adults, rather than the teenage stereotypes so often the center of these stalk n’ slay affairs…it’s not a huge deal, but it does help to make the flick stand out from it’s brethren in the golden-age of slasher pictures. Speaking of “standing out”, the island locale with it’s lone beachfront house and dilapidated movie theater is unlike the usual forest and cabin settings of your standard slasher pic, and the element of the monster adds to the uniqueness. Oh, and the heroine that must stay awake to keep the dream creature at bay predates A Nightmare on Elm Street by two years!
On the flip side of the positives, if you look at the art used to promote this Blu-ray you would be led to believe that this is a balls out creature feature, but that is a bit of a complete fucking lie, as that monster is present in the film for roughly 5 seconds out of a near ninety minute run time. Also, this film is more of a slow burn rather than the high body count/constant murder biz type of picture fans of the slasher genre are accustomed to. If you look past those two things, you will however be left with a nice little thriller with heaps of atmosphere.
As for the extras on this release, Arrow Video has once again gone completely apeshit. Kicking things off are two audio commentaries; one featuring writer/director J.S. Cardone, production executive Eric Weston, and actress Carol Kottenbrook, and the other with The Hysteria Continues podcast. Both tracks are a great listen with the former filled with anecdotes of the film’s production, and the later relating personal experiences viewing the film. Following that is a nearly fifty minute audio interview with composer Robert Folk, as well as isolated tracks from the film’s score that play over the feature (so yeah, like a partial third commentary), as well as one of those super annoying (and completely pointless) audience reaction tracks from a screening of the flick. Moving on we have a nearly sixty minute, brand new “making of” documentary that covers all aspects of The Slayer‘s history in detail, a look at the film’s locations as they stand today, a feature on the premier of the remastered version of the film at the Tybee Theater (which served as the ruined theater in the film…and from which that audience audio track was culled), a stills gallery, and the film’s trailer.
Bottom line; if you are in the mood for a slasher with more atmospherics than hysterics (and with a tinge of nightmare logic thrown in for kicks)…then The Slayer is the fright flick for you!
-Guest Review by Shane Migliavacca
Last season we meet Lucifer Morningstar, retired ruler of Hell, just chilling in L.A. at his swank nightclub Lux. Over the course of the season he went to therapy, became a police consultant (working with his partner Chloe…a woman who’s presence makes him mortal), and contended with his older brother Amenadiel (who thinks ol’ Big L belongs back in Hell). At the end of Season One, Lucifer briefly returned to Hell and discovered that his mother had escaped her imprisonment there and was now on Earth.
Season Two starts with Lucifer searching for the presence of his mother while still talking to a shrink and solving crimes with Chloe (who is dealing with the struggle of being a single parent). Lucifer’s brother Amenadiel (now on Earth and losing his powers) joins his brother’s quest for Mommy Dearest…and when she finally does show up (inhabiting the body of a recently murdered woman no less) it’s not what they’re expecting, as she apparently just wants to reconnect with her sons. But there’s other trouble afoot, as another member of their family arrives…namely Uriel, who wishes to return their mother to hell (which he hopes to do by threatening Chloe’s life to force Lucifer’s cooperation).
Lucifer Season Two does what every good second season should; it raises the stakes for our main characters, expands the cast, and further explores it’s mythology. Speaking of expanding the cast, the character of Lucifer’s mother is played perfectly by new cast member Tricia Helfer…she’s both scheming and caring, and her main goal, getting back into heaven to overthrow God, really helps expand the scope of the show. This season’s other standout new character is Ella Lopez played by Aimee Garcia. Ella is a newly arrived forensic scientist who helps Chloe and Lucifer on cases. She a bit nerdy, fun loving, and has a strong spiritual faith that never seems forced…a nice dichotomy for the established cast to play off of.
Along with the two new cast members the series had some cool guest stars this go around as well. The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli as Uriel, Buffy and Angel star Charisma Carpenter, action star Mark Dacascos, and “Marvin” himself, Phil LaMarr.
As with last season Tom Ellis is incredible as Lucifer Morningstar. He can be a bit of a snarky jerk, but he’s charming and narcissistic as well. This sounds off-putting, but he can be very caring when it comes to Chloe and his family. While we are on the subject of Chloe, we learn why her presence makes Lucifer mortal this season. It was handled really well, but I have to admit I wasn’t expecting the show to revel that secret so soon in the series.
Along with all of the excellent episodes, we also get some bonus material in this collection including: the Lucifer: 2016 Comic-Con Panel, a featurette on the show’s mythology, deleted scenes and a gag reel.
To sum up; I highly enjoyed Season Two of Lucifer…it successfully builds on what came before while adding new elements, new characters, and expanding the world of the story.