Author - Michael Lisenberry

Frankenstein’s Daughter Special Edition Blu-ray Review

The 1950s were a hell of a time for aspiring filmmakers. Seemingly anyone with a few dollars in their pocket, access to a generic laboratory set, and mediocre make-up skills could make a sci-fi horror movie and cash in on the wave of atomic age hysteria sweeping the United States. In 1958, “seemingly anyone” was B-movie director Richard Cunha and his cash-in was teen horror movie Frankenstein’s Daughter. In 2021, classic film distributor The Film Detective has gifted us with Frankenstein’s Daughter on blu-ray and DVD. Did The Film Detective create life or is this disc dead on arrival? Read on and find out.

Feature

Pop quiz! Did Victor Frankenstein have any children? If you answered “no, of course not, unless you count his monster which of course you should because parenthood is just one of many themes you could infer into Mary Shelley’s original work,” you’d be wrong. Victor Frankenstein not only had a child but his children had children and in the oddly misnamed Frankenstein’s Daughter we meet not his daughter, but his grandson Oliver Frankenstein, a mad scientist hell-bent on recreating his family legacy with the help of his loyal aide Ig— er, I mean Elsu.

Living under the impregnable alias “Oliver Frank” and working as assistant to noted scientist Carter Morgan, Frankenstein inserts himself into the lives of Morgan’s teen niece Trudy and her impeccably 1950s named friends Suzie, Johnny, and Don. Starting with spiking Trudy’s fruit punch with an immortality serum, causing her to transform at night into an Edward Hyde-esque beast, and eventually working his way up to full-blown attempted rape and murder of Suzie in order to get an obedient female brain for his home-sewn monster, Oliver spends the film’s 85 minute runtime living up to the family name.

There’s also a seven minute long nightclub scene in the middle of the movie featuring the singing talents of Harold Lloyd Jr., so there’s that.

Frankenstein’s Daughter is a time-capsule of a time and place in American horror. Much like other films of the time to their varying successes, Frankenstein’s Daughter was produced as little more than a vehicle to put teens in theater seats and bring in whatever profits it could for its distributors. This movie wears its $60,000 budget and week-long production schedule on its sleeve and you’ll either love it or hate it for that.

Picture and Audio

Frankenstein’s Daughter features a brand new 4K restoration from the original film negative. The resulting image is strong with consistent tone and rich contrast throughout. The 16-bit DTS-HD dual-mono audio is clean and in my viewing never produced any distortion or muffled sounds.

Extras and Packaging

Frankenstein’s Daughter lands on the lighter side of bonus features, although what’s present is rather decent quality. In its standard blu-ray case you’ll find a booklet with a short making-of essay by historian Tom Weaver. On disc you’ll find a commentary by Weaver as well as two short documentaries. Weaver’s commentary is excellent. The man comes prepared and over the course of the film’s runtime you’ll feel like you’re sitting in on a film history class as taught by a guest lecturer. His remarks are well thought out, appropriately paced, and supplemented by pre-recorded remarks sourced from his peers (including B-movie aficionado and director of the parody/homage Lost Skeleton of Cadavara, Larry Blamire). This commentary track is well worth a listen.
John Ashley: Man From the B’s is a ten-minute long career retrospective on the film’s leading man, tracking his career from B-movie actor to producer with credits ranging from Apocalypse Now to Walker, Texas Ranger.

The stand-out feature on this disc is Richard E Cunha: Filmmaker of the Unknown, a thirty minute long piece on the life and work of the film’s director. What sets this bit apart from other career recaps is the incredible footage shot by Cunha himself as in the 1980s he received a bit of fan-mail with a list of questions that he decided to respond to by shooting an interview piece with himself full of wit, anecdotes, and a personal tour of the video store he owned and operated. Cut together with archival footage by producers of this disc, Filmmaker of the Unknown is a must-watch bonus on this release.

Overall

We are currently living in a renaissance of under appreciated genre movies getting their due in the form of boutique home media releases and the fact that The Film Detective has put together a decent release of a public domain movie currently floating around on any number of websites, let alone YouTube, is a testament to that fact. Can I recommend this movie? Depends on your personal tastes. If you can laugh at the cringe idea that the biggest failure of Victor Frankenstein was not making his monster submissively feminine enough, call over some friends and pour the stiffest drinks you can and enjoy a trip down the weird side roads of so bad-it’s-good independent cinema.

Synapse Films Demons & Demons 2 Blu-ray Two-disc Limited Edition Review

What do you get when you combine the masters of Italian horror, twin tales of cursed movies, pre-reunification Germany and a heaping dose of 1980’s charm? Demons and Demons 2, of course! Widely regarded as two of Italy’s finest horror movies, Synapse Films is bringing Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava’s masterpieces to 4K blu ray just in time for Halloween. Is a ticket to this double feature of the damned worth it? Read on and find out!

FEATURE

By the 1980s, there was only one name to know when it came to the world of Italian horror: Dario Argento. Having long since established himself as a master of the slasher proto-genre Giallo, Argento found himself taking a break from directing to write a pair of screenplays for Lamberto Bava, the son of Argento’s contemporary and occasional collaborator, Mario Bava. The end result? Demons and Demons II, two of the most insane horror movies to come out of the ‘80s.

In Demons, a masked mystery man gives out free movie tickets to unsuspecting pedestrians on the streets of Germany. When a prostitute foolishly puts on a mask on display in the cinema lobby, she finds herself cursed to become an infectiously demonic beast, mirroring the plot of the movie showing in the theater. What follows is a night full of blood, gore, cocaine, and switchblade-wielding pimps as the theater-goers band together to fight off a growing number of demons before they get attacked and become demons themselves.

In Demons II, the cursed movie airs on broadcast TV and spreads the demon infection through an apartment building. What follows is a night full of blood, gore, birthday cake, and tiny child demons as the tenants band together to, um… fight off a growing number of demons before they get attacked and become demons themselves.

Italian pulp horror was never known for plot and the Demons duology is no exception. A cursed movie causing an outbreak of zombies demons is little more than a plot device designed to get us to as much horror and 80s heavy metal as we can stomach. The set pieces are bonkers and the gore is plenty and that’s all we need from these films, especially with each barely clocking in at 90 minutes. These movies have it all- Demon hookers, samurai swords, 80s punks, motorcycle chases, rebar impalements, demons bursting from the corpses of demons, and all the bile, blood, and more pus than you can shake a squib at proving that sometimes all a movie needs to be good is to be a whole hell of a lot of fun.

PICTURE AND AUDIO

Both features are presented in all new restorations from their original 35mm negatives by L’Immagine Ritrovata. Images are clear and the color pops, especially in the neon soaked streets of mid-80s Germany. Black ares hang together well with no noise and there are only a few faults in the image for Demons II owing to technical difficulties in the original filming process.

Demons also features Arrow Film’s recreation of the US cut from the new 4K remaster and both films feature English 2.0 tracks remastered by Synapse Films.

EXTRAS AND PACKAGING

Demons 1 & 2 comes in a standard clear two disc case with all new artwork on both a limited edition slipcover and a reversible sleeve that can be flipped around to showcase the films’ original art. Inside the package you’ll find reproductions of the movie ticket from Demons and a birthday invitation from Demons 2, each featuring technical information about the transfers, as well as a fold-out poster featuring art from Demons by heavy metal airbrush artist Wes Benscoter.

Moving on to the discs’ bonus features, this release is packed, apparently licensing and maintaining the majority of features from Arrow Films’ stunning UK releases for the benefit of American audiences while adding new content of their own.

You’ll find three audio commentaries across the two discs in this set. Commentary by the hosts of the Hells Belles podcast on Demons and the track by film critic Travis Crawford on Demons II are definitely worth a listen but its Demons’ commentary track by director Lamberto Bava and other choice crew members that stands apart. In his commentary, Bava dives deep into the meanings and metaphors in his film, often talking about it in the same reverance you’d expect if Fellini ever had a chance to record commentary for La Dolce Vita. To hear Bava speak about the meaning behind the aforementioned samurai sword, lining up the film-within-the-film with plot twists in the main narrative, or why the choice to feature demons and not the then-popular Italian zombie is a thing of beauty and highly recommended. In addition to the commentaries are a pair of lengthy visual essays. “Produced by Dario Argento” by critic Michael Mackenzie places Demons I and II within the larger scope of Argentos work. “Together and Apart” by critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas explores the themes of technology in the Demons films. Rounding it all out you’ll find the typical archival interviews, trailers, and festival appearances that tend to get collected for boutique releases like this. All in all, a meaty collection of extras that will satisfy anyone interested in these films.

VERDICT

Demons and Demons II are widely regarded as some of the best that Italian horror has to offer. While the films may not always make sense and lack what most people would call a story, its hard to argue against them. There’s something special in Italy’s answer to The Evil Dead and the passion these movies were made with is evident from the start. While these films have already been released on 4K UHD overseas by Arrow Video, Synapse’s new transfers give American audiences the chance to experience the best versions of these movies without paying extra to get them through customs. Add in hours worth of bonus content and you’re left with one of the stand out boutique horror releases of 2021 and an easy recommendation for any horror hound.

The Green Knight 4K and Blu-Ray Combo Disc Set Review

The Green Knight, or, “Sir Gawain and the Gorgeous 4K Transfer”. At least, that’s what I would title it! Written by an anonymous poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the best known works of Arthurian romantic poetry. Directed by David Lowery, The Green Knight is the latest screen adaptation of the poem, a visual feast, and one of the best films of 2021. Does Lionsgate’s 4K home release do the film justice? Read on and find out.

Feature

The Green Knight tells the story of Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew and a man with no stories of honor to call his own. When the eponymous Green Knight appears one fateful Christmas Day and challenges the Knights of the Round Table to a game of blows, Gawain eagerly accepts and foolishly seals his fate to return to the Knight the following year to present his neck and be struck down. What follows is an introspective and oftentimes phantasmagoric journey from the civilized trappings of chivalric, Christian England to the depths of Druidic woods as Gawain learns the definition of honor.

The Green Knight has found itself a deeply divisive home in cinema audiences. While many have come to this film expecting the traditional sword and sorcery epic of traditional Hollywood what you’ll find here definitely fits more with the film’s A24 label mates as a work of modern mid-budget independent cinema. It is poetic and at times obtuse but it is director David Lowery’s vision through and through.

Lowery’s work tends to be about characters and the stories they tell about themselves and The Green Knight follows well in that trend with a protagonist whose sole goal is to earn a story he can call his own, all the while presenting himself as who or whatever he needs to be to survive whatever situation he finds himself in. While the film is colored in at the edges by fantastic performances by Joel Edgerton, Alicia Vikander in a double role, and Ralph Ineson as the the Green Knight himself, it’s Dev Patel who carries this film from start to finish. His Gawain is a man full of sorrow for the mistake he’s well aware he’s made and he wears a general aura of uncertainty throughout the whole film as you feel his tension between wanting to find a way out of his predicament while having the primal need to fulfill his bargain with the Knight.

This is a captivating film, if you’ll allow it. The performances are rich and the cinematography is stunning. Special effects are largely captured practically in-camera and there’s a real weight to the visuals that stands apart from the CGI weightlessness that modern fantasy can often suffer from. This is a thoughtful and gorgeous journey through Arthurian legend and easily one of my favorite films of the year thus far.

Picture and Audio

The Green Knight is presented in an absolutely gorgeous 4K transfer mastered in both HDR10 and DolbyVision. The film was shot in native 6.5K and that clarity transfers beautifully to this release. Colors pop and textures are rich with detail. Whether it’s the mustard yellow of Gawain’s cape and the deep greens of the forest or individual leaves rustling in wind swept trees and the knotty details of the Knight’s face, this film earns a place as a go-to disc to show off your set-up.

The Dolby Atmos and Dolby 7.1 audio is just as impressive. Ralph Ineson’s deep voice reverberates through the mix and yet individual sounds are easy to isolate and pick out. Individual strings plucked in the score, creaking wood, footsteps echoing through castle halls- This mix is clear and sounds are easy to track.

Extras and Packaging

At first look, The Green Knight’s extras seem a bit on the lighter side, three making-of features and a theatrical trailer. They are as follows-

  • Boldest of Blood and Wildest of Heart: Making The Green Knight
  • Practitioners of Magic: Visual Effects
  • Illuminating Technique: Title Design

That may not seem like a lot but with a combined runtime of almost an hour, these three features represent a fairly meaty look at the making of the film. Boldest of Blood and Wildest of Heart is the longest of the three, clocking in at 35 minutes and taking you through all areas of production with cast interviews and plenty of on-set footage. Practicioners of Magic is a look at the special effects and how a number of them were accomplished in-camera and Illuminating Technique showcases how the many title cards in the movie were designed.

Notably absent from the extras is the fantastic oral history trailer that was produced to introduce people to the story but it is easily found on A24’s YouTube page. I highly recommend checking it out and wish this release had more features exploring the history of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.

The Green Knight is a standard release, packaged in the typical black 4K blu-ray Scanavo case. The first printing includes an embossed sleeve but aside from that the packaging is fairly normal. The Green Knight is packaged with a digital code and Blu-ray disc of the film.

Overall

The Green Knight was one of my most anticipated movies of 2020 and unfortunately it fell victim like so many other features to the delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that it has come and gone from theaters it is here to stay with a wonderful 4K home release. A beautifully designed and shot film, The Green Knight is a highly recommended 4K disc to add to your library.

Arrow Video Unveils October 2021 Releases Including DEEP RED

October officially marks the start of spooky season and Arrow has the movies to make sure it’s frightfully fun! The party starts on October 19, Arrow switches gears to Japanese folklore with the release of Yokai Monsters Collection. This limited edition 3-disc set brings the complete monster trilogy from Daiei Film (100 Monsters, Spook Warfare, Along With Ghosts) together on Blu-ray for the first time. Despite not gaining much attention outside of Japan, the films have developed a legacy for their use of special effects and puppets. This new set will look to introduce a new generation of fans to this spectacular world of Japanese monsters and ghosts. Also included is the 2005 film The Great Yokai War from legendary director Takashi Miike. The Great Yokai War was Miike’s attempt at rebooting the series. Miike’s film received a sequel, The Great Yokai War: Guardians, earlier this year.

Also releasing on October 26 is perhaps the month’s highlight, as Dario Argento’s landmark classic, Deep Red, comes home with a snazzy new 4K ultra HD Blu-ray. Deep Red is one of the most iconic Italian films of all time and arguably Argento’s masterpiece. The opening scene of a brutal axe murder is one of the most grisly death scenes ever depicted and the pulsating score courtesy of Goblin is top shelf. This 2-disc set includes both the 127-minute original Italian version of the film and the full 105-minute export version, including the scenes that were never dubbed in English. This limited edition release includes a collector’s booklet, double-sided foldout poster, 6 lobby cards, and more.

And last but not least, He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection is coming on October 26. Renegade filmmaker William “Wild Bill” Grefe has bravely explored the dark depths of the Florida everglades in a way few filmmakers have. This 4-disc set includes seven different films from the independent director, all of which have been restored using the best remaining film elements. This set is a standard issue release of a special edition set released last November. The special edition sold out quickly but continues to get rave reviews, with Quentin Tarantino recently praising it on the New Beverly podcast.

 

Cold War Creatures: Four Films by Sam Katzman Ltd Ed Blu-Ray Review

The 1950s were nothing if not an interesting time for horror. Coming out of WWII, America took its first steps into both the Atomic Age where everything held the promise of futuristic wonder and the Cold War where anyone could be the enemy and no one could be trusted. This shift in the zeitgeist dragged horror along from its roots in the gothic romance overtones of the Universal classics to a science fiction explosion of aliens, monsters and ray-guns of tomorrow.

“B-Movies, A+ Box Set”

No man was better positioned to ride this wave than producer Sam Katzman, a man who started in the film business at age 13 and had well over a hundred production credits by the time the 50s rolled around. Here, Arrow Video revisits four of Katzman’s works from the end of his sci-fi period in a set that is sure to be a treat for everyone from fans of schlock to students of film history.

FEATURES

Cold War Creatures covers four of Katzman’s productions.

  • The Creature With the Atom Brain (1955) – Merging the sci-fi and crime genres, The Creature With the Atom Brain follows American mobster Frank Buchanan as he forces a Nazi mad scientist to reanimate the dead to off those that betrayed him.
  • The Werewolf (1956) – One part lycanthropy, one part 50s paranoia, The Werewolf takes your typical Wolfman story and flips it on its head by swapping a mystical curse for radioactive wolf serums intended to help mankind survive the nuclear apocalypse.
  • Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) – A tale of cursed treasure and the undead who are destined to protect it, Zombies of Mora Tau spins a treasure hunting story set on the coast of Africa and features underwater zombie action a full two decades before Fulci’s famous zombie/shark fight.
  • The Giant Claw (1957) – Goofy monster bird puppet. Need I say more?

Overall these films present a wonderful look back at the kinds of films that dominated theaters in the 50s. Katzman worked in the studio system and these films were all Columbia productions, bringing with them the quality and budget that would afford. These movies were quick productions, designed to put people in seats and shock their audiences. That being said, none of these films are particularly long watches either- The longest is The Wolfman at 80 minutes. These are brisk, fun watches perfect for late night viewing.

PICTURE AND AUDIO

The four films are each presented in their original aspect ratios and latest restorations by Sony Pictures. The images are crisp and clear with very few spots of dirt or scratches left. All four films are in black and white and with consistent tone throughout, natural grain structure and very little flicker. All in all a better set of restorations than one would expect from most seventy year old B-movies.

Each film is presented with its original mono sound.

EXTRAS AND PACKAGING

Cold War Creatures is packaged across four discs, one for each film. Each disc is housed in its own slim case and everything fits into a sturdy cardboard sleeve similar to what Arrow’s previous limited edition box sets are packaged in. Each film has, as is standard these days for boutique releases, reversible sleeves featuring original poster art on one side and new art painted by – – – on the other.

Each film has an optional introduction by Arrow stalwart Kim Newman and each has their own commentary track by a range of academics and historians. Of them all, Emma Westwood and Cerise Howard’s commentary on The Giant Claw is a stand out as my personal favorite as they have a healthy sense of humor about the quality of the film and approach it from a sense of unconditional love.

One standout set of extras are the Super 8mm versions of Creature With the Atom Brain, The Werewolf, and The Giant Claw. Long before the days of video, some studios would release condensed versions of their films on 8mm to play in the same projector one would use to play back home movies and here you get those shortened versions of Katzman’s films complete with narration and new scores to make the films make sense in an eight minute runtime.

Spread across the four discs are video essays starting with Before and Beyond the Cold War Creatures, a feature length documentary/lecture on the life and work of Sam Katzman by film critic Stephen Bissette. Following on the next three discs are shorter video essays that each take a look at a specific facet of Katzman’s films. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas brings us Beyond Window Dressing, a deconstruction of the role of women in Katzman’s films. Atomic Terror: Genre in Transformation finds Josh Hurtado discussing the blend of the mythic and science fiction. Finally we have Family Endangered!, which as it sounds finds critic Mike White taking a dive into family issues in Katzman’s work. These features together give a holistic look at the output of Katzman that is, thankfully, par for the course in these kinds of releases.

Rounding out the extras are trailers and image galleries for each film, two double-sided posters, both an art book and a book of essays on the legacies of each film, and the standard lobby card recreations Arrow packs in with many of its limited edition releases.

VERDICT

Once again, Arrow has knocked it out of the park with a filmmaker retrospective box set to rival previous releases like Weird Wisconsin or He Came From the Swamp. From the deep breadth of extras that place these films into perfect context to the fun of the movies themselves, Cold War Creatures is a lovingly produced set that deserves a home on the shelves of sci-fi geeks, horror nerds, and film history buffs everywhere.

The Sergio Martino Collection from Arrow Video Review

Giallo. The Italian thriller genre named for the yellow covers of the pulp novels that birthed it. A niche interest by current standards but one whose influence can be felt on filmmakers from Quentin Tarantino to Edgar Wright today. Alongside Spaghetti Westerns and Poliziotteschi it stands as one of the pillars of Italian cinema of the Sixties and Seventies.

The name Giallo likely brings directors Dario Argento and Mario Bava immediately to mind for film students and genre enthusiasts everywhere but there is another name worthy of being circulated alongside them – Sergio Martino, a journeyman director who less put his own stamp on cinema as he disappeared into it. Here, UK boutique label Arrow Video collects three films from Martino’s foray into the proto-slasher genre.

Feature

The Sergio Martino Collection repackages three of Arrow’s previously released titles of his – The Case of The Scorpion’s Tail, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, and Suspicious Death of a Minor.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail was Martino’s second Giallo and shows the mark of a director comfortable in this genre right from the start. When a woman’s husband dies in a plane crash and a killer murders her for the insurance payout it’s up to an investigator played by Spaghetti Western star George Hilton and his journalist love interest played by genre starlet Anita Strindberg to get to unravel the mystery. Featuring gorgeous locations, this film is a breezy watch and instantly transports you to the jet-setting culture of late Sixties/early Seventies Europe.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, aside from having an absolute banger of a title, is the darkest of the three movies and a worthwhile adaptation of classic Edgar Allan Poe work The Black Cat. Aside from its previous standalone release, Your Vice has also been collected alongside Dario Argento’s adaptation of the same work in the aptly named Black Cats collection. In her third work with Martino, Edwige Fenech – Giallo star and namesake of Lt. Ed Fenech in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds – stars as Floriana, niece to a failed writer whose cat, Satan, seems to be at the center of a string of grisly murders. A progressive film that often condemns the misogyny and sexism of the Swinging Sixties that preceded it, Your Vice is a visual treat and the highlight of this set.

Rounding out the set is Suspicious Death of a Minor, one of Martino’s final Gialli and notable for its mash-up with the Poliziotteschi – Italian police drama – genre. Suspicious Death of a Minor marks the first work between Martino and repeat collaborator Claudio Cassinelli who stars here as a police officer investigating the horrific murder of a young prostitute. An uneven film with odd stabs at humor, Suspicious Death of a Minor earns a place in this set as a bookend to Martino’s work in the genre.

All in all, two worthwhile entries into the genre with a third film as a bonus curiosity. Each of these films have a place for fans of Italian cinema and packaged together give a good, if incomplete, look at a single director’s work in Giallo.

Picture and Audio

Each film here is presented in 2K scans from their prior releases. The colors pop and the picture on each disc is clean with very few scratches or blemishes left in the prints. Each film also features uncompressed Italian and English mono tracks.

One particular item of note – The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail and Your Vice is a Locked Room each feature their full English versions, swapping titles and credits to English when the language is selected from the disc menu. This option is not present in Suspicious Death of a Minor.

Extras and Packaging

Each film is presented with the same features from their previous release.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail and Your Vice is a Locked Room are the more robust offerings here. Between them you’ll find multiple video essays and interviews with experts on Martino’s career. Being that the discs were not originally intended to be packaged together, it’s interesting that the retrospectives are frequently at odds with one another with historian Mikel J Koven characterizing Martino as a journeyman gun for hire in the features on Scorpion’s Tail while Hostel director Eli Roth professes his love for Martino and takes a deep dive into his genius in his interview on the Your Vice disc. By accident these contrarian takes put together a broader image of the director than you may get in a collection produced all at once, making for a happy accident here. It makes you almost wish more career retrospectives would seek opposing takes like we have here.

Case of the Scorpion’s Tail and Suspicious Death of a Minor each have commentary tracks by experts in the genre. The real standout here are the lengthy interviews with Sergio Martino on each disc. All in all you’re treated to a full feature’s worth of insight from the director and it’s a treat to sit down with the man himself and let him talk at length about a period in his decades long career that he still carries a deep fondness for.

On the packaging front, there’s nothing much new save for some new art on a simple card stock sleeve. Each film is packaged with the standard reversible sleeve we all know and love from Arrow’s releases, each with original art and the previously commissioned covers for the films’ original releases with Arrow.

Overall

The Sergio Martino Collection comes together to give a decent, if incomplete, look at one director’s contribution to one of Italy’s most beloved exports to the world of cinema. That being said, there isn’t anything new for current owners of these releases. It’s a simple repackaging job with no reason for anybody to buy these films a second time. Stranger still, being a collection of Arrow’s previous Martino releases it leaves out Torso, one of Martino’s bloodiest films and another previous Arrow disc. If you don’t already own any of these films, however, this is a worthy buy for both fans of Giallo and anybody looking to dip their toes into the genre for the first time.

Arrow Video Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Blu-ray Collection Review

Independent filmmaker, international raconteur, Reform Party gubernatorial candidate… Who is Bill Rebane? Even if you’ve seen his work, chances are you don’t know his name. Arrow Video is out to change that with Weird Wisconsin – The Bill Rebane Collection, a celebration of a man endlessly fascinated by Hollywood and eternally working outside of it.

Much like last year’s He Came From the Swamp – The William Grefé Collection, Arrow Video has come through with another comprehensive look at a true grindhouse auteur with a level of care and craft usually reserved for Criterion’s art house box sets.

Feature

Let’s talk movies…

I’m going to get this out of the way up front- These are not good movies. But that’s okay! Movies like these, you know deep down if they’re for you or not. If these are your thing then chances are you’re not looking for “good” anyways.

Featured in this set are six films, just over half of Rebane’s body of work. Here are the descriptions from Arrow’s website:

Monster-A-Go-Go
American astronaut Frank Douglas returns to earth as a ten-foot-tall radioactive humanoid monster! Independent filmmaker Bill Rebane’s first attempt at a feature film began life as Terror At Halfday but was abandoned when funds ran dry. It was then bought by legendary exploitation pioneer Herschell Gordon Lewis who shot extra footage, added a voice over and released it to drive-ins as MONSTER A GO-GO! Rebane himself called it “the worst film ever made”, but it’ll still give you the wim-wams!

Invasion from Inner Earth
In the Canadian wilderness a group of pilots listen to reports of planes crashing, cars stalling and a deadly plague gripping the planet. As it becomes clear that the Earth is amidst an invasion, they barricade themselves in a cabin in the woods and wait for impending doom.

The Alpha Incident
A space probe returns from Mars carrying a deadly organism that could destroy all life on Earth! While being transported across country by train the micro-organism is accidentally released, resulting in the quarantine of an entire train station. Those trapped inside must wait for the government to find a cure while trying not to sleep, because that’s when the organism strikes!

The Demons of Ludlow
The population of a small, quiet town prepares to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of its founding, but the town of Ludlow has a very dark past and when a piano arrives at auction, the ghosts its past return to seek retribution.

The Game
Three bored millionaires gather nine people at an old mansion to play “The Game” … if they can meet and conquer their fears and they’ll receive a million dollars in cash. But all is not as it seems!

Twister’s Revenge!
An action-comedy-smash-‘em-up in which three bumbling criminals repeatedly attempt to steal the artificial intelligence control system of Mr. Twister, a talking Monster Truck.

What you’ll find here is a collection of genre work of mostly community theater and public access television quality. Broadly speaking, the acting is bad, the writing is meandering and expository at best, and the camerawork is little more than non-existent and that goes for all six movies. Bill Rebane was a businessman, however, and part of a group of filmmakers who didn’t so much set out to make good movies as make entertaining ones and these films definitely are entertaining in their own MST3K way (who not coincidentally happened to riff on two of Rebane’s films, Monster-A-Go-Go being one of them). There’s something great about seeing the seams in independent productions and Bill Rebane was a king of the DIY set. None of the films overstay their welcome either, with the shortest clocking in at just over an hour and none of the others cracking much more than the 90-minute mark. Grab some popcorn, crack a beverage of choice, and enjoy six-ish hours of so-bad-it’s-good weirdness.

Click me. I dare you!

Picture and Audio

Each film here is a brand new 2K scan off of best possible elements. The transfers are as good as they’ll likely ever look, all things considered, and definitely better than any other home video releases you may have seen of these films before. Everything is in largely decent shape save for the odd scratch, hair, or discoloration that couldn’t be corrected in the transfer. The films are all presented in their original aspect rations, Monster-a-Go-Go in 1.33:1 and everything else in 1.85:1 with The Game giving the choose of either.

The audio is all original uncompressed mono, save for the stereo presentation of Who is Bill Rebane? Everything is clean and audible for the most part with any hissing or popping laying at the feet of the source rather than Arrow’s transfer.

Bottom line is you know what you’re here for and the quality of the source material adds to the charm of the films themselves.

Extras and Packaging

Now this is where the set truly shines…

Weird Wisconsin hosts its six films and a feature length documentary across four individually packaged discs housed in Arrow’s standard high quality cardboard slipcase found in all of their usual limited releases. As per usual, each disc’s case has a double sided insert, although rather than the usual reversible new art/original art here you can choose which film to feature on the cover of each case. Finishing the set is a double sided poster and a hardbound book showcasing movie posters, original art, and From Latvia to Wisconsin: The Song Remains Rebane, an essay by Stephen Thrower.

Across all four discs are a comprehensive set of bonus features starting with trailers and still galleries for each film. Spread across all four discs are Straight Shooter, a series of interviews with Rebane himself where he offers insight and anecdotes into the making of each film. You’ll also find video essays by film historians Stephen Bissett and Richard Harland, short and industrial films from Rebane’s commercial work, and of course what Arrow release would be complete without an interview with Kim Newman?

The crown jewel of this set, however, is Who is Bill Rebane?, a feature length documentary occupying its own disc. Who is Bill Rebane? is a comprehensive look at his life, from a post-war Eastern European childhood to learning English by watching musicals at Chicago movie theaters, that puts his body of work into context. When diving into this set, I dabbled in the individual films here a bit before watching this documentary on its own. After watching Who is Bill Rebane?, I came back to the films with a new understanding and appreciation for Rebane’s creative output. With stories told by the people that worked with him, critics and historians, and the man himself, I’d recommend that anybody interested watch this first before taking on the rest of the set.

One thing of note- The documentary and many of the special features spend a great deal of time speaking of films not found in this set, The Giant Spider Invasion being most notable. These films do have quality releases from other distributors if you want to seek them out.

Overall

It’s rare that a collection of movies comes along that, while you’ve never heard of them, you know is one hundred percent your jam. I’ve been fortunate enough that Arrow Video has released two of them in the last year between this and last November’s excellent William Grefé collection.

Even though some of Rebane’s more notable films are conspicuously absent, this set more than goes the distance for low-budget genre enthusiasts, film history completists, or anyone whose curiosity gets tingling at the mention of haunted pianos and sentient monster trucks.

If this seems at all like your thing- trust me, you know if it does- don’t sleep on this labor of love for Bill Rebane, an unsung hero of the Midwest.

Hood: Outlaws and Legends Review

I’m going to get this out of the way up front- Hood: Outlaws and Legends is a decent premise wrapped up in a deeply unsatisfying game. It really pains me to type that. I try my best to look for redeeming qualities in just about everything I play but I struggled to even want to play this game after my first few matches. If you’re looking for an unbalanced cheese-fest, this game is for you. If you want a rewarding multiplayer experience, however…

Hood: Outlaws and Legends is a PvPvE heist-em-up published by Focus Home Interactive, AA peddlers of oddball titles ranging from original ideas to public domain idea grabs that all run the quality scale from mediocre at best to surprisingly great (I’m looking at you, Plague Tale.) Falling into the “public domain” category, Hood finds you playing as a member of Robin Hood’s band of merry men, stealing treasure in four on four matches where you compete against… an identical group of Robin Hood’s merry men? And that’s it. Over and over again.

The basic pitch is this – You are tasked with infiltrating a castle in Sherwood Forest and pickpocketing a key from the Sheriff. Once you have the key you must stealthily find your way to the treasure hidden somewhere on the map, steal it, and make haste to an extraction point where you will use a rudimentary crane to hoist the treasure to freedom. Of course, as you do this you’ll be watching out for the other team who is out to accomplish the same goal and kill you in the process. Think of it as a treasure focused Hunt: Showdown without any of the things that make Hunt an interesting game.

In a game industry facing the waning days of character based shooters such as Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege, Hood enters the fray with approximately four characters to choose from. Robin, Marian, Tooke, and John. That’s it. This, I think, is emblematic of Hood’s problems writ-large. In Hood you’ll choose from four characters to play one game mode in one of four maps that all feel like pretty much the same castle over and over again. There’s no variety in this game and it’s painful. Each character does have a simple upgrade path but that doesn’t matter much if the game couldn’t keep me interested long enough to want to unlock the small handful of perks each had to choose from.

Here’s my typical experience with Hood- Boot up and get dropped into the game’s equivalent of a social space – a mostly empty campsite with generic looking tents to manage upgrades and a few unlockable extras – jump in to matchmaking, wait around and check Twitter while the game scrapes together enough players for a match, try and fail to follow basic strategy because nobody in this game is using headsets, lose miserably because the other team has four tanks and beat everyone’s head in while your team decided on basic squad composition, rinse and repeat.

Hood isn’t a great game. The problem is that it isn’t even necessarily a bad one. It just… IS. The game is stable and everything works the way it was designed. There just isn’t enough of it. There are a number of things that could fix this experience, variety being the first. Give me more than four characters to play as. Give me more than one game mode. Just give me more.

As it stands, Hood feels like a late in development add-on multiplayer mode for a better single player experience. The exact kind of multiplayer mode that the review for a better game would completely ignore. What we have here is a lackluster title that I wouldn’t recommend anybody spend $30 on.

That being said, if it ever comes to Game Pass…

The Big Bang Theory Set is WB Studio Tour’s Latest Addition

**knock knock knock** Penny! **knock knock knock** Penny! **knock knock knock** Penny!

On Thursday, June 27th we were welcomed to a reception at the Warner Bros Studio lot to celebrate the addition of The Big Bang Theory to the Studio Tour. In attendance were actors Wil Wheaton (Wil Wheaton) and Brian Thomas Smith (Zack Johnson), show creator Chuck Lorre, and Executive Producers Steve Holland and Steven Molaro.

Fans taking the Studio Tour will be able to knock on Penny’s door, visit Sheldon and Leonard’s living room, and even sit in Sheldon’s coveted spot. The Big Bang Theory set is a permanent addition to the tour and joins the Stage 25, now renamed the Big Bang Theory Stage, in honoring the twelve season run of the smash-hit show.

“We are thrilled to invite fans of The Big Bang Theory to step into these iconic sets from such a beloved show,” said Gary Soloff, Director of Marketing, WBSTH. “There is nothing like being in the very spot that legendary film and TV shows were created and seeing authentic sets up close and personal. It’s a truly emotional experience especially with a memorable show that has such a broad global following.”

“For twelve seasons and 279 episodes, the cast and crew of The Big Bang Theory found their home away from home on these sets on Stage 25,” says Chuck Lorre, co-creator and executive producer of The Big Bang Theory, “We’re thrilled that Apartment 4A and other Big Bang locales will remind visitors of all the laughter that took place on our show.”
Bonus fun fact- Stage 25 neighbors Stage 26, the Two and A Half Men Stage, both named after shows created by Chuck Lorre.

The Big Bang Theory set will be open to fans beginning Friday, June 28th. Tickets to the WB Studio Tour are available at the official website.

The 17th Door 2018 Review

Full disclosure: I only went to The 17th Door once before and I absolutely hated it. It was opening night of their first year and I don’t know if it was inaugural jitters or my own jaded, freshly-retired from Knott’s Scary Farm perspective but nothing about it clicked for me. The talent was uneven, the interactive elements were annoying, and the entire tone reeked of a Midwest hell house. I warned all my friends to stay far away from it.

Imagine my surprise thoroughly enjoying the event this year!

The 17th Door tells the continuing story of Paula, a perennially down-on-her-luck young lady trying to navigate life after college. A scary prospect on its own, never mind the fact that Paula has been subject to mental and physical abuse, an unwanted pregnancy, committing infanticide, and finally prison. (Insert “and I thought my student loans were bad” joke here.) This makes for a wholly unique concept in the realm of seasonal haunted events. Can you keep an audience through a years-long serialized experience? The answer is… I think?

I was in a unique position walking into this year’s event. Being there for a review, I was treated to a recap of the two years that I missed, something that your average lapsed or first time guest will not get. Thus, going into this year’s installment I was able to keep up and understand where we are in Paula’s story and the motivation behind some of the scenes contained in the maze. Will your average non-repeat guest understand? Probably not. Will it matter? I highly doubt it.

The overall theme of this year’s installment is the psych ward of a prison. The cast and crew of The 17th Door do such a wonderful job of bringing this to life that Paula’s story almost feels like an Easter Egg for the keen eyed fan at this point, weaving its way in and out of the experience over the twenty-ish minutes it will take to see the entire show. In the rooms that have little to do with Paula, things are at their best. The event opens with a new and updated VR experience and will eventually see you facing cell-block riots, electric chairs, and the most thrilling encounter with a stilt performer I’ve had in my life. These are the scenes that everyone, newcomers and old alike, can enjoy. It’s when we slow down to spend time with Paula that things can feel a disjointed as the momentum stops for anybody who isn’t familiar with the ongoing story. Luckily for the uninitiated these scenes are few and far between (at the time of this writing I can only recall two or three scenes entirely dedicated to Paula’s story) before you’re whisked off to the next room.

Story aside, in this attraction visitors are treated to experiences unlike anything else I’ve been a part of at a Haunt. Gone are the pseudo-“hardcore” moments from past years. No more locker full of pig corpses, no water effects or head shaving. I’m not sure if there was feedback that lead to the decision but anything that would have been included for “shock value” in the past is gone. Instead you have an attraction full of unique uses of special effects all leading to a finale unlike anything I’ve experienced before. And if it sounds like I’m being vague, I am. I hesitate to spoil anything inside because this has grown from an event that I outright hated in its first year to one of the more unique Halloween events I’ve had the pleasure of encountering.

The 17th Door deserves a lot of recognition for turning itself around. In a few short years it has grown from a painfully awkward hell house to something that I would gladly recommend to anyone looking for something new out of their Halloween events. The 17th Door has come into its own and I eagerly look forward to what comes next.