September 23, 2018

The Cold Perfection of THE DAY OF THE JACKAL

https://arrowfilms.com/brands/arrow-video/
Starring Edward Fox, Tony Britton, Cyril Cusack, Michael Lonsdale, Eric Porter, Delphine Seyrig, Derek Jacobi. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. (1973/143 min).

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM

Review by Mr. Paws😼

The Day of the Jackal is another one of those "perfect" films.

There's been scores of great films, of course, and perfect films are usually great by default (though not always). For me, the greatest film of all time has always been Jaws, but grudgingly acknowledge it ain't perfect.

A perfect film, though? A perfect film is technically, conceptually & creatively flawless. No throwaway scenes, redundant characters or questionable casting decisions. The direction, performances, pacing, editing, writing, cinematography and score are all spot-on. The i's are all dotted; the t's are all crossed. By that reckoning, I can't think of a single aspect of The Day of the Jackal that doesn't meet the criteria.

This is all-the-more impressive when one considers the film intentionally minimizes two aspects that often contribute to a movie's greatness: complex characters and a discernible music score. I never read the original Frederick Forsyth novel, but the only truly intriguing character in the film is the Jackal himself (Edward Fox). Even then, all we really know about him are his cold-blooded, calculating methods. And while music is present in the film, it's used very sparingly, enhancing the docudrama directorial style utilized by Fred Zinnemann.

Not only that, the film speculates a 1963 assassination attempt on France's real-life president, Charles de Gaulle. Since that never actually occurred, we already know the Jackal - hired by the French military underground - is destined to fail, making the ending a foregone conclusion. But as they say, the journey is more important than the destination, and the journey this film takes is intricate, consistently fascinating and surprisingly suspenseful. A remarkable feat, when you think about it.

"Sorry, Mr. Jackal, but we're simply not hiring right now."
The characters exist simply to serve the plot, which presents the Jackal's patient, meticulous methods as he carries out his plan, and the British & French governments' equally complex efforts to stop him. Unlike the flamboyant 1998 remake, The Jackal, at no time does this film rely on stupid characters to drive the story forward. In that respect, The Day of the Jackal manages the impossible...manipulating the audience to be invested in both sides of the conflict, despite knowing almost nothing about anyone involved.

Speaking of the remake, I must confess I consider The Jackal a good (and under-appreciated) film in its own right. But aside from the basic concept and a few key scenes, it bares little narrative or stylistic resemblance to the original.

One might question how The Day of the Jackal could go this long before getting its first American Blu-ray release, but at-least its finally here with a great transfer from Arrow Video. For such an influential film that's rightfully regarded as an all-time classic, the bonus features (outlined below) are relatively sparse. Still, the movie itself is worth revisiting again and again, making this one of the best discs of the year.

REVERSIBLE COVER WITH THE ORIGINAL ART!
EXTRA KIBBLES
NEW: "IN THE MARKMAN'S EYE" - A lengthy Interview with author Neil Sinyard, who wrote a book about director Fred Zinnemann and discusses the film from book to screen.
ARCHIVAL PRODUCTION FOOTAGE
ARCHIVAL FRED ZINNEMANN INTERVIEW
TRAILER
KENNETH ROSE'S ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - BD-ROM feature (not reviewed)
SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET - Featuring two detailed essays.
REVERSIBLE COVER - I prefer the original art to the new one.

KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! LIKE TAUNTING A MOUSE TO DEATH

September 21, 2018

OCCUPATION and the Road More Traveled

http://www.lionsgate.com/
Starring Dan Ewing, Temuera Morrison, Rhiannon Fish, Stephanie Jacobsen, Tryston Go, Zachary Garred, Felix Williamson, Aaron Jeffery, Bruce Spence. Directed by Luke Sparke. (2018/120 min).

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM

Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Stop me if you've heard this one...

Aliens arrive on Earth in massive ships around the world to annihilate our cities and enslave humankind. In the aftermath, several survivors begin to fight back, leading a growing rebellion to free their loved ones and take-back the planet...or die trying-

The deja vu you're sensing right now is valid. Hailing from Australia, Occupation travels a familiar road taken by countless other sci-fi movies and TV shows. That all of the action takes place in and around a small farm town suggests writer/director Luke Sparke didn't quite have the same resources at his disposal as Roland Emmerich, but we won't hold that against him. If an advance species capable of interstellar travel wants to kick-off their invasion by attacking a rugby match in the middle of nowhere, who are we to question their motives?

"Hey, guys...I think Roy Neary's back."
Still, a little spark of imagination would've been nice. Originality doesn't cost $100 million. Occupation isn't badly made or anything. For budget-conscious sci-fi, it's pretty well constructed. As a checklist of familiar tropes, it covers all the bases...the ominous arrival, the unprovoked attack, survivors who go from zero-to-freedom-fighters in a single montage, adversaries who put their petty differences aside, almond-eyed aliens, pew-pew-pew laser battles, more lens-flares than a hundred J.J. Abrams films and an overwrought music score that makes every scene play like President Whitmore's Independence Day speech. And at the end, we are reminded that the fight has just begun.

An optimistic denouement, to be sure, but despite offering absolutely nothing new to an already overcrowded subgenre, Occupation remains fairly watchable. It's the kind of film that's sort-of fun in the moment, neither great nor terrible, with proficiently-shot action, adequate special effects and decent performances. None of it will linger in the memory for too long afterwards, like that mildly-amusing joke you once heard, but forgot about until some else starts to tell it.

EXTRA KIBBLES
DIGITAL COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.

Spike Lee's BLACKkKLANSMAN Available on Digital 10/23 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & DVD 11/6

From visionary filmmaker Spike Lee comes the incredible true story of an American hero. In the early 1970s Ron Stallworth (Washington) becomes the first African-American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a difference, he bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. He recruits a seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Driver), into the undercover investigation. Together, they team up to take down the extremist organization aiming to garner mainstream appeal. BlacKkKlansman offers an unflinching, true-life examination of race relations in 1970s America that is just as relevant in today’s tumultuous world.

Packed with bold and provocative moments from beginning to end, BlacKkKlansman on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray™, DVD and Digital comes with exclusive bonus content that will take viewers deeper into this timely and moving true story.



ANT-MAN & THE WASP Blu-ray Giveaway!

FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE is giving away a Blu-ray copy of Marvel's ANT-MAN & THE WASP to one lucky reader. 

TO ENTER: Simply drop us a message using the 'KITTY KONTACT' form at the top of our side column. CONTEST ENDS 10/16.

ON BLU-RAY 10/16
Moviegoers are still buzzing about Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and The Wasp, the follow-up to 2015’s Ant-Man and the 20TH consecutive Marvel Cinematic Universe film to debut at No. 1 opening weekend and ranked in the box office top 10 for six consecutive weeks this summer. On Oct. 2, fans can instantly watch the laugh-out-loud super hero adventure Digitally in HD and 4K Ultra HD™, and on Movies Anywhere; and on Oct. 16, take it home on Blu-ray™ and Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD.


September 20, 2018

THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF and the Things We Do for Love

http://flickeralley.com/
Starring Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall, Lisa Howard, Harlan Wade. Directed by Felix E. Feist. (1950/82 min). 

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM
FLICKER ALLEY

Review by Mr. Paws😺

I'm relatively late to the party when it comes to film noir. Sure, I've seen the indisputable classics, but wasn't until doing Blu-ray reviews that I've come to love this dark new world. Well, it's new to me anyway.

Part of my growing appreciation for the genre might stem from personal experiences. As a teacher in the real world, I've seen more than my share of hopelessly whipped teenage boys engaging in a variety of dumbass behavior for the sake of a girl. I seem to recall being guilty of such actions in my own youth, as well.

Isn't that the modus operandi of most film noir?

Here, the dumbass in-question is Edward Cullen (Lee J. Cobb), a hardnosed San Francisco cop whose married girlfriend, Lois (Jane Wyatt), shoots and kills her estranged husband. Accidentally? Hmm...that's debatable, but in true twitterpated teenager fashion, Cullen dumps the body near the airport, makes it look like a mugging, then tosses the gun into the bay. Ironically, his younger brother Andy (John Dall) is assigned the case. New to the force and eager to make a good impression, Andy looks to Edward for assistance and advice. This sets up a wonderfully complicated quandary for Edward: mentoring his brother through the investigation of a crime he took part in. Naturally, circumstances begin to spiral wildly out of control.

"Admit it...you're lost."
Lean, mean and economically made, The Man Who Cheated Himself is a solid example of classic film-noir on a limited budget. The casting is interesting, as well. Cobb displays an outward cynicism that's perfect for the character; even as his plan begins to unravel, it's almost as though part of him expected them to. I've always admired John Dall's work in Rope and Gun Crazy, and he's equally interesting here, playing against-type as someone who's actually likable and sympathetic. However, I do concur with the general consensus that Jane Wyatt is out of her element. Fortunately, most of the film focuses on the Cullen brothers' increasingly adversarial relationship.

This neglected gem has a new lease on life on Blu-ray with a terrific restoration from Flicker Alley. It includes an outstanding 20 minute retrospective documentary featuring TCM's "Noir Alley" host Eddie Muller, author Raymond Feist (the director's son) and a few other film experts. A fascinating look at the film's production background, it's difficult not to appreciate what director Felix Feist was able to put together in five days with almost no budget.

Seldom mentioned among the great noir classics of the era, The Man Who Cheated Himself is nevertheless a lot of seedy fun, with a perfect final shot that speaks volumes about the genre's enduring appeal without using a single word. As this and countless other noir films continue to demonstrate, some guys never stop acting like teenagers. It's a theme that never gets old.

EXTRA KIBBLES
"THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF REVISITED"
"THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF LOCATIONS" - A montage comparing locations as they appeared in the film and how they look today.
TRAILER
SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET
DVD COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

September 19, 2018

THE SWARM is Here! (to coin a tagline)

https://www.wbshop.com/collections/warner-archive
Starring Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke, Brasdford Dillman, Fred MacMurray, Cameron Mitchell, Alejandro Rey. Directed by Irwin Allen. (1978/156 min).

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM

Review by Mr. Paws😼

Forty years later, The Swarm continues to fascinate me...

In the 1970s, impressionable kids like me were conditioned to fear a plethora of things...the Bermuda Triangle, the Amityville house, Great White sharks, kids named Damien, spider eggs in Bubble Yum, exploding Pintos and Oakland Raiders fans, just to name a few. Of course, those fears were mostly fueled by sensationalistic media that tended to be embellished or reinterpreted once the news made its rounds on the playground. 

Then there were the dreaded African killer bees, buzzing our way from South America with a singular purpose: to kill us all.

Legendary "Master of Disaster" Irwin Allen, still flying high from the one-two punch of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, knew a good concept when he stumbled onto one: Killer bees! So deadly they can cause people to hallucinate, passenger trains to crash and nuclear power plants to meltdown! Running Arthur Herzog's more scientifically plausible novel through the reliable Sterling Silliphant machine, Allen had his latest all-star catastrofest. Trumpeted by a masterfully histrionic ad campaign that touted, "Not just speculation...a prediction," the film was destined to be his magnum opus.

Scooby and the gang make a U-turn.
It didn't turn out that way, of course. Not only did The Swarm completely tank at the box office, it's often cited as one of the worst big-budget movies of all time. Even at my young age, sitting in a nearly empty theater during the summer of 1978, I knew I was witnessing the nadir of the disaster genre's glorious reign.

Is The Swarm that bad? Well, yes...and no.

Despite costing more to produce than The Towering Inferno, The Swarm looks cheap, rushed and slapped together, as if each scene was being made up on the spot. The dialogue isn't just bad...it often makes Twilight sound like the prose of Tennessee Williams. And in an era when melodramatic epics with "all-star casts" were fast-growing passé, this one is overstuffed with so many past-their-prime celebrities that half of them are regulated to glorified cameos. With the possible exception of Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, everyone either sleepwalks through their roles or overacts horrendously. It was clearly obvious that a producer as woefully out-of-touch as Irwin Allen had no business directing it himself.

"Say hello to my little friend."
Still,The Swarm is far from the worst disaster movie ever made (Airport '79 gets that dubious honor). Sure, it's often unintentionally funny and no one has ever been able to effectively explain how a bunch of insects can cause a nuclear reactor to explode, but the film is loads of fun. Often at its own expense, but fun nonetheless. It was fun in '78, it's fun now, and I must confess I still watch The Swarm at least once a year without ever getting bored. Furthermore, the film isn't without its truly great qualities. Consider this:
  • The Swarm wastes no time killing people. The first scene is of the aftermath of a bee attack, and within the first ten minutes, two choppers meet a fiery demise. In fact, the film's total body count might be higher than every other disaster movie of the 70s...combined.
  • The scene where Dr. Krim (Henry Fonda) tests his anti-venom on himself is genuinely gripping.
  • Even though he's saddled with some of the worst lines, the late, great Richard Widmark rises above the material with a truly sincere performance. He's often the only one who appears to be trying. A true professional.
  • That's a shitload of real bees buzzing around these famous actors.
  • You know the perky, obnoxious kid who pops up in all these movies, the one you wished would die but never does? That kid bites the dust here. And the little bastard deserves it because he just had to taunt the bees, causing the deaths of hundreds. Actually, lots of little kids die in this movie.
  • Train crash! YEAH!
  • And let's not forget Patti Duke as Rita, a pregnant woman who falls in love with her doctor during labor, even though her husband just died from a bee attack! Nice to see someone can bounce back from tragedy so quickly.
  • Olivia de Havilland gets to resurrect her Melanie Hamilton character from Gone with the Wind. I didn't know there were any southern belles living in the Southwest in 1978.
  • On a related note, who doesn't love de Havilland's slow-motion, meme-worthy reaction to the dead children in the playground?
  • Slim Pickens is essentially playing the same character for the 146th time (really...I checked!).
  • Michael Caine has always looked like killer bees would shoot from his eye if he stared at you long enough.
  • My favorite scene: During the climax, the man flees in panic from one room, trots down the hall, then darts through the next door...hands above his head and on fire.
  • In the long, dubious history of killer bee movies, you still have to admit this is the best one.
  • The Swarm is Irwin Allen's last watchable film, and Citizen Kane compared to his next, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.
"F**k you, Olivia."
But, alas, I suspect even if The Swarm ended up being a masterpiece, it never stood chance in the wake of modern blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars. In many ways, the film was the last of its kind. The reign of the star-studded disaster movie was already over and nobody ever bothered to inform Irwin Allen. But you know what? Misdirected as it may be, the unabashed, infectious enthusiasm he brought to The Towering Inferno is still evident throughout this film. And though The Swarm is ultimately a scattershot ensemble of the same disaster trappings he had a hand in creating, he never lost his sense of fun, something we couldn't say about some of his imitators. 

Those damned killer bees never did make it to my neck of the woods, but The Swarm is finally on Blu-ray in all its kitschy glory. While it may have been one of the nails in the 70s' disaster coffin, this beautiful trainwreck is a treasure trove of massive destruction, whacked-out ideas and daffy dialogue. Worth watching again and again.

EXTRA KIBBLES
"INSIDE THE SWARM" - An archival documentary, originally airing as a TV special. It maybe old, but it's full of great behind-the-scenes footage.
TRAILER
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! MORE FUN THAN WATCHING THAT DAMN DOG BEGGING TO COME INSIDE WHILE YOU'RE PERCHED COMFORTABLY IN THE WINDOWSILL (during a snowstorm).

September 18, 2018

The Original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is Coming 10/16

https://olivefilms.com/product/invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-olive-signature-blu-ray/
ON BLU-RAY FROM OLIVE SIGNATURE
Limited to 5,000 units.

“They’re already here! You’re next!” With these chilling words, Invasion of the Body Snatchers sounded a clarion call to the dangers of conformity, paranoia, and mass hysteria at the heart of 1950s American life. Considered one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, Invasion of the Body Snatchers stars Kevin McCarthy (Academy Award® nominee, Best Supporting Actor, Death of A Salesman – 1952) as Miles Bennell, a doctor in a small California town whose patients are becoming increasingly overwrought, accusing their loved ones of being emotionless imposters. They’re right! Plant-like aliens have invaded Earth, taking possession of humans as they sleep and replicating them in giant seed pods. Convinced that a catastrophic epidemic is imminent, Bennell, in a terrifying race for his life, must warn the world of this deadly invasion of the pod people before it’s too late.

OLIVE SIGNATURE FEATURES
  • New High-Definition digital restoration
  • Audio Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith
  • Audio Commentary by actors Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, and filmmaker Joe Dante
  • “The Stranger in Your Lover’s Eyes” – A two-part visual essay with actor and son of director Don Siegel, Kristoffer Tabori, reading from his father’s book A Siegel Film
  • “The Fear is Real” – Filmmakers Larry Cohen and Joe Dante on the film’s cultural significance
  • “I No Longer Belong: The Rise and Fall of Walter Wanger” – Film scholar and author Matthew Bernstein discusses the life and career of the film’s producer
  • “Sleep No More: Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited” – An appreciation of the film featuring actors Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, along with comments from film directors and fans, John Landis, Mick Garris, and Stuart Gordon
  • “The Fear and the Fiction: The Body Snatchers Phenomenon” – Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, along with film directors John Landis, Mick Garris and Stuart Gordon, discuss the making of the film, its place in history, and its meaning
  • 1985 archival interview with Kevin McCarthy hosted by Tom Hatten
  • “Return to Santa Mira” – An exploration of the film’s locations
  • “What’s In a Name?” – On the film’s title
  • Gallery of rare documents detailing aspects of the film’s production including the never-produced opening narration to have been read by Orson Welles
  • Essay by author and film programmer Kier-La Janisse
  • Original theatrical trailer

September 17, 2018

The Real DEEP RED (PROFONDO ROSSO)

Starring David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavla, Macha Meril, Clara Calamai, Eros Padni, Giuliana Calandra, Glauco Mauri. Directed by Dario Argento. (1975/127 min).

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Revisiting Deep Red for the first time in...Jesus, 30 years...I've come to the realization that Suspiria may not be Dario Argento's best film after all.

I didn't always think that way. When first I brought it home from my local Mom & Pop video store, I thought it totally sucked...bad dubbing, choppy editing and little of the stylized bloodshed that made Suspiria such weird-ass fun. It played more like a Lucio Fulci film and I considered rage-quitting every ten minutes or so.

Though I didn't know it at the time, what I saw was the truncated, full-screen, English version on VHS, with over twenty minutes shaved from its original length. It meant, of course, that I hadn't really seen Deep Red at all.

This new Blu-ray from Arrow presents Profondo Rosso the way it should be seen, in glorious widescreen with a 4K restoration and the original Italian audio track. For me, watching it was revelatory. This might be the most visually interesting and aesthetically gorgeous horror movie I've ever seen. Even the masterful murder sequences achieve a level of artistry - and savage beauty - Argento only hinted at in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

A Christmas Story II: Ralphie's Revenge.
One time I purchased a compilation CD by Goblin (the band who scored several Argento films), mainly because it contained the hypnotic title tracks from Dawn of the Dead and Suspiria. Heard out of context, most of the other music sounded like discarded ELP outtakes. But this disc's audio renders the Profondo Rosso tracks absolutely chilling, the perfect soundtrack for murder. And if the ominous title tune doesn't raise a few goosebumps during the opening credits, you're obviously not in the mood for a horror film right now.

And who knew the movie was actually funny? Besides some of the violence, much of what was cut from the English release were scenes of the relationship between the two main characters, pianist Marc Daly (David Hemmings) and reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), as they try to find out who's behind a series of brutal murders. Their interplay is often humorous and charming, offering a nice contrast to the more intense sequences. In fact, it's this attention to character detail that renders the film more narratively compelling than Suspiria or Inferno.

But Profondo Russo is still primarily a masterful exercise in style over substance (or logic). It remains the quintessential Giallo film, which justifiably established Dario Argento as one of horror's great visual geniuses. Though it's been released on Blu-ray before, this one boasts one great new bonus feature (outlined below) fans will want to check out. And if Profondo Russo is new to you - or you were perhaps once duped into renting Deep Red - you just gotta see this.

EXTRA KIBBLES
NEW: "PROFONDO GIALLO" - This is a lengthy, informative and interesting "video essay" by Michael Mackenzie. The best of the bonus features.
INTRODUCTION BY CLAUDIO SIMONETTI
"ROSSO RECOLLECTIONS" - Interview with Director Dario Argento.
"THE LADY IN RED" - Interview with Daria Nicoldi.
"MUSIC TO MURDER FOR" - Interview with Goblin's Claudio Simonetti.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Thomas Rostock.
ENGLISH AUDIO OPTION
ORIGINAL ITALIAN TRAILER
REVERSIBLE COVER ART
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! LIKE TAUNTING A MOUSE TO DEATH

SOLO Bonus Clip

SOLO - A STAR WARS STORY Coming to 4K, Blu-Ray & DVD 9/25. Now available on digital. 

DIGITAL AND BLU-RAY BONUS MATERIAL (may vary by retailer):
           Solo: The Director & Cast Roundtable
Sit down with director Ron Howard and the stars for an intimate and entertaining discussion of the film’s making.   
·            Team Chewie
See what it takes to bring your favorite Wookiee to life in this lighthearted look behind the scenes. 
·            Kasdan on Kasdan
Iconic Star Wars screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and son Jonathan share what it was like to write the movie’s script together. 
·            Remaking the Millennium Falcon
Track the transformation of the most famous ship in the galaxy, from Lando’s swank and impeccable pride and joy to Han’s stripped-down hot-rod freighter with “special modifications.” 
·            Escape from Corellia
Get behind the wheel for the making of this high-octane chase through the streets of Corellia. 
           The Train Heist
Explore the challenges and thrills of creating this action-packed sequence, including its remote location and spectacular effects. 
·            Becoming a Droid: L3-37
Meet the newest droid—and the talented actor who helps bring her to life. 
           Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso
Take an in-depth tour of the rough-and-tumble bar where strangers mix and gamblers risk all in the legendary card game, Sabaac. 
           Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel Run
Join Han and Chewie at the controls of the Millennium Falcon to see how this legendary moment in Star Wars history unfolds. 

September 16, 2018

There's Fun Inside THE TOYBOX

Starring Mischa Barton, Denise Richards, Jeff Denton, Brian Nagel, Greg Violand, Malika Michelle, David Greathouse. Directed by Tom Nagel. (2018/95 min). 

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM 
SKYLINE ENTERTAINMENT

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

More often than not, the synopsis of a horror film makes it sound a lot better than it really is. Here, the opposite is true. While The Toybox is indeed about a possessed RV with a taste for blood, the film isn't nearly as stupid as it sounds. In fact, it's actually pretty good.

A perpetually bickering family feels obligated to go on a road trip with the two brothers' recently-widowed Dad, who just purchased a beat-up old motor home for the occasion. After picking up two other stranded motorists, they detour from the highway onto a dirt road, at which time the RV takes over the driving duties. It speeds miles into the open desert, killing one poor rube along the way, then abruptly stops in the middle of nowhere. Unable to restart the vehicle and too far from the highway to get help, they're trapped. One by one, people start dying in a variety of awful ways.

Unlike the vehicular villains in Christine or The Car, there's a backstory behind this RV's rampage. We learn its previous owner was notorious serial killer Robert Gunthry, who used the motor-home as a traveling torture chamber. Though he was caught and executed, Gunthry's spirit now possesses the vehicle in order to keep on killing.

Another wrong turn at Albuquerque.
Despite its inherent comic possibilities,The Toybox takes the premise more-or-less seriously, maintaining a oppressively dark tone throughout, which is punctuated by several brutal deaths. It even manages to generate a fair amount of tension and suspense, with tight direction by Tom Nagel, a claustrophobic atmosphere and characters just interesting enough that when one dies, we sort-of feel it. You couldn't accomplish that with a cheeky, self-aware attitude.

That's not to say the film doesn't have its share of goofy moments. Why is it whenever someone flees from a pursuing vehicle, they run straight ahead instead of dodging left or right? The last time I checked, a lumbering RV doesn't exactly turn on a dime. It's also gotta be said that Gunthry's eventual appearance might elicit more unintended chuckles than fear. The guy looks like a demented copy machine repairman from the 1970s and grunts like a grizzly bear, defusing some of the dread. The film might have been better off never showing him at all. And whatever became of the family dog, who simply stops showing up after awhile?

Despite all that - as well as an underwhelming resolution - The Toybox is mostly a pleasant surprise. No classic, but certainly a lot of good, violent fun. It's fast-paced, atmospheric and not nearly as stupid as the concept suggests.

EXTRA KIBBLES
AUDIO COMMENTARY
BEHIND THE SCENES FEATURETTE
TRAILER
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS