April 25, 2019

Blu-ray Giveaway: MISSION OF HONOR

FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE is giving away a Blu-ray copy of CINEDIGM'S MISSION OF HONOR to one lucky reader.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD 4/30

Mission of Honor is the story of Squadron 303, a group of heroic pilots who fought in the skies over England in the Battle of Britain during WWII. These brave men were not just fighting to keep Great Britain free from the Nazis, but also to keep alive the memories of their own countries; which had been caught in the crossfire as Germany tore across Eastern Europe. Equipped with nothing more than obsolete RAF planes and second-hand uniforms, they flew for all of those who had become casualties in one tyrant's quest for power.

TO ENTER: Simply drop us a message at freekittensmovieguide@gmail.com. CONTEST ENDS 5/7.

April 24, 2019

FRANKENSTEIN 1970 and the Grand Opening

Starring Boris Karloff, Tom Duggan, Jana Lund, Donald Barry, Charlotte Austin, Irwin Burke, Rudolph Anders, Norbert Schiller, Mike Lane. Directed by Howard W. Koch. (1958/83 min).

Review by Mr. Paws😼

In the opening scene of Frankenstein 1970, a terrified young woman is being pursued through the woods by a murderous monster. After wandering into a pond up to her hips, she stands helplessly and repeatedly screams until the monster eventually catches up and drowns her. If this was any indication of what was in-store, I was in for a phenomenally stupid ride.

Then somebody off-screen yells cut, and it’s revealed to be the set of a horror movie being directed by Douglas Row (Donald Barry). That amusing bit of deception may not seem all that unique today, but back 1958, it was quite a creative way to begin a horror film.

It’d be great if the rest of Frankenstein 1970 lived up to its premise, or was at-least as clever as its opening scene. Disfigured, disgruntled and cash-strapped Victor von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) grudgingly agrees to let Row’s crew shoot a movie at his famous castle in exchange for an atomic reactor he needs to reanimate a new monster. Since he’s also short a few organs & body parts, his new houseguests come in handy.

"What you need, my friend, is a good apricot scrub."
Though 1970 was indeed the future at the time this was made, the only futuristic element of the story is Frankenstein’s use of atomic energy to spark his creation to life. Elsewhere, it’s a pretty-much your standard, low-wattage fright flick set in another old castle. Karloff is always enjoyable to watch and has some highly amusing moments hamming it up as the title character. However, there are also too many scenes featuring the film crew that feel like they exist to pad out the running time.

Considering the obvious low budget, Frankenstein 1970 is competently made and a passable time killer. But with the exception of that creatively deceptive opening scene, it isn’t all that memorable. As an interesting side-note, however, Howard W. Koch would soon abandon the director’s chair to achieve considerable success as the producer of such classics as The Manchurian Candidate, The Odd Couple and Airplane. A wise decision from which we've all benefited.

AUDIO COMMENTARY – By co-star Charlotte Austin and historians Tom Weaver & Bob Burns.

Rest in Peace, Terry Rawlings

April 23, 2019

Prrrfect Trailers: MAGIC (1978)

Released November 8, 1978
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith.
Directed by Richard Attenborough.

This 30-second TV spot gets my vote for the creepiest teaser trailer of all time, which used to terrify my little sister out whenever it popped up on TV. In fact, the sinister little rhyme spoken by Fats turned out to be scarier than anything in the actual film.

SCARED STIFF (1987) and the Mother of All Power Ballads

Starring Mary Page Keller, Andrew Stevens, David Ramsey, Josh Segal, Jackie Davis, Nicole Fortier. Directed by Richard Friedman. (1987/83 min).

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😾

Unlike the classic Martin & Lewis vehicle or an identically-titled Hong Kong film released the same year, 1987’s Scared Stiff is not a horror-comedy. Not intentionally, anyway.

I know a lot of older horror fans consider the 1980s some kind of renaissance period for the genre. But aside from a handful of bonafide classics,
any resurgence in popularity was mostly thanks to the VHS boom. Along with porn, most low budget horror found its audience on home video, where undiscriminating fans were willing to watch just about anything with a great title and suitably lurid cover art.

So while there were probably more horror films released in the ‘80s than previous decades combined, most were derivative, forgettable or just plain bad. Still, strolling out of your local Mom & Pop with an armload of atrocities was a great way to spend a weekend. Few have really stood the test of time, and any enduring appeal of most of them is purely nostalgic.

Case-in-point, Scared Stiff simply reeks of the decade from which it sprang, from the synth score down to Mary Page Keller’s Sheena Easton mullet. Some of you might recall this one, in which pop singer Kate (Keller), psychiatrist/boyfriend David (Andrew Stevens) and her weird kid, Jason (Josh Segal), move into an old southern home that is haunted by the ghost of George Masterton (David Ramsey), a sadistic slave owner. Strange shit starts happening, which only Kaye seems to notice. And of course, David doesn’t believe her, even after two 100-year-old corpses turn up in the basement. A few other unfortunate rubes die, such as the detective investigating the case and a guy repairing their roof (the latter is hanged and literally dangles from the house for days, yet nobody notices!). George eventually possesses David, though it’s hard to tell at-first because acts like a dick throughout the entire movie.

Kate's own song gets stuck in her head.
Scared Stiff liberally rips-off better recent films of the same era, its dull story further hampered by dumb dialogue, bad acting and shoddy special effects. Hence, there’s some unintentional humor to be found in this daffy debacle, especially with such a dead-serious tone. The scenes establishing Kate’s musical career are a real hoot, namely the video shoot of her latest song, “Beat of the Heart,” which sounds like a parody of every ‘80s power ballad you’ve ever heard (and we get to hear it twice!). Then there’s Andrew Stevens, whose attempts at dramatic intensity have always been good for a few chuckles. The story takes a welcome turn toward the surreal during the climax, and admittedly, the demon’s eventual appearance is kind-of cool. However, unless having fun at a movie’s expense is your thing, getting there is pretty tough sledding.

While hardly a cult classic, Scared Stiff undoubtedly has its share of fans, most of whom probably haven’t seen it since they were kids. Arrow Video earns its usual high marks with a first-time Blu-ray release that should spark plenty of nostalgic warm fuzzies, including a retrospective documentary that paints the film as some kind of milestone (for screenwriter Mark Frost, who’d go on to write Twin Peaks, I suppose it was).

The faithful few will certainly enjoy Arrow’s 2K restoration and great supplementary material, but the film itself is unlikely to appeal to anyone else. A silly movie from a silly decade, time has not been kind to this one. Scared Stiff is good for some unintended chuckles, which I suspect a good number of its fans already know. No one else should bother.

MANSION OF THE DOOMED: THE MAKING OF SCARED STIFF” - An enjoyable retrospective documentary which includes interviews with various cast & crew, including director Richard Friedman, producer Dan Bacaner, FX artist Tyler Smith, Andrew Stevens (who amusingly suggests he took the role to hang out in Florida) and Josh Segal (the kid, all grown up).
INTERVIEW – With composer Billy Barber.
SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET – Includes a new essay.

April 21, 2019

Cloning Around with REPLICAS

Starring Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz, Emjay Anthony, Emily Alyn Lind, Aria Leabu. Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff. (2018/107 min).

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

Though it eventually takes some narrative wrong turns and is somewhat hampered by the limitations of its star, Replicas isn’t nearly the dumpster fire some critics have suggested. The basic premise is pretty solid and, for awhile anyway, raises some interesting moral questions.

Keanu Reeves plays William Foster, a brilliant researcher on the verge of transferring human memories into an artificial brain, though so far, his subjects have violently rejected their new robotic bodies. Tragedy strikes one night when his wife and three kids are killed in a car accident. Fortunately – and quite conveniently - his colleague, Ed (Thomas Middleditch), has been experimenting with cloning in the same facility. But unfortunately, he only has three cloning pods, meaning William must choose which family members to resurrect. Poor little Zoe loses out. In the film’s most affecting sequence, William is not-only forced to come-to-grips with losing a child, he has to get rid of all evidence she ever existed, which includes erasing her from the memories of his "new" family.

Naturally, there are complications. Despite attempts to cover his tracks, which includes disposing of his family's old bodies and accounting for their disappearance while the clones are incubating, William is ultimately unable to hide the fact the Fosters are one-kid-short. The dilemma creates some intriguing, occasionally suspenseful scenarios where William’s personal grief clouds his logic. Sure, the viewer is asked to accept some narrative implausibilities, but up to this point, the stage is set for an exploration of the moral – and legal – consequences of his actions. Had Replicas continued down this path, it could have been something special.

Keanu always brings his own personal sneeze-guard when visiting a salad bar.
Instead, the third act descends into a standard thriller where the Fosters are on the run from those who want to kill them and use William’s scientific breakthrough for more nefarious purposes. The film remains watchable, though grows increasingly far-fetched and predictable...lots of action and a few obligatory twists, but its chosen path is already well-traveled, so the resolution will surprise no one. I also need to take issue with Reeves as the main protagonist. Based on his interviews in the bonus features, Replicas was sort-of a labor of love. While I like Reeves and he certainly isn’t terrible here, I think the emotional desperation required for such a role might be beyond his abilities.

Still, Replicas remains fairly enjoyable, perhaps more so at home, where the viewer is less likely to feel short-changed by the unfortunate decision to dumb things down toward the end. Until then, the film offers-up some interesting ideas, even raising a few moral questions we might feel compelled to ask ourselves if forced to make similar decisions.

IMPRINT COMPLETE: THE MAKING OF REPLICAS” - A 25-minute featurette featuring cast & crew members, including Reeves and director
Jeffrey Nachmanoff.
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By director Jeffrey Nachmanoff & executive producer James Dodson

April 17, 2019

A Curmudgeon’s Guide to THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING

Starring Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Rebecca Ferguson, Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart. Directed by Joe Cornish. (2019/120 min).

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😸

I hate using the term, “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” a phrase mostly used by grumpy old curmudgeons to express their contempt for anything with mass appeal to generations other than their own. I suppose I am a grumpy old curmudgeon in some ways. Sorry kids, but your music sucks. The latest Metallica album, though? Man, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

But while that adage kept popping into my mind while watching The Kid Who Would Be King, it wasn’t out of longing for the good ol’ days. But in point of fact, the film is quite unlike what generally passes for family entertainment these days. It isn’t animated, nor is it based on a book series, comics character, video game or line of toys. There’s no questionable language, scatological gags, overt slapstick or any other pandering attempt to garner giggles. Though it’s often quite funny, the film earns its laughs through the characters’ interactions and the situations the story puts them in.

Updating the Arthurian legend with modern kids is a great concept. Writer-director Joe Cornish wisely opts to create a straightforward fantasy-adventure, cleverly acknowledging the more familiar elements of King Arthur’s tale while spinning a fresh story of his own. After drawing Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, from a stone at a construction site, 12-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis...yeah, Andy’s kid) is tasked to stop Arthur’s evil half-sister, Morgana, from returning to wreak havoc on the world. After Merlin (Angus Imrie) arrives to gravely inform him what’s at stake, Alex must recruit both friends and enemies to aid him on his journey, which will take them across England.

"We saw what you did, and we know who you are."
Despite running two full hours, the film is consistently engaging and fun, with believable characters performed by an able young cast. Though Patrick Stewart shows up as an older version of Merlin and Rebecca Ferguson plays Morgana, the rest of the adults are peripheral characters. Even Merlin is primarily presented as a 16-year-old who assists and advises Alex and his “knights” in their quest to thwart Morgana. None of the characters come across as composites or broadly-drawn caricatures. Even the two bullies of the film are pretty well-rounded.

Though the film starts a little slow, once things get rolling and they begin their quest, The Kid Who Would Be King is a rousing adventure with some great action sequences bolstered by imaginative special effects (Morgana’s army of demons is particularly impressive). The climactic battle at the kids’ school is genuinely thrilling and often pretty damn funny. Like all family films, there’s an underlying message, of course, and considering the tumultuous state of the world right now, the one presented here couldn’t be more timely. A lot of adults could stand to be reminded of it, too.

Best of all, there isn’t a cynical moment in the entire film. Despite the title – a play on Kipling’s unrelated novel – this isn’t so-much a kiddie flick as it is an epic adventure that just happens to be suitable for the entire family. It’s a damn shame we live in a world where this tanks at the box office while The Emoji Movie rakes in millions (oops...I’m letting the curmudgeon in me show again). On the other hand, Willy Wonka and The Iron Giant were initially bombs and now everybody loves them. Maybe The Kid Who Would Be King can find the audience it deserves on home video, too, or else they might not make ‘em like this anymore. Highly recommended for everybody.

BEHIND-THE-SCENES FEATURETTES - “Origins of a King” (primarily featuring writer/director Joe Cornish, who conceived the idea when he was 13); “Young Knights” (focuses on the four lead actors and their characters); “Knight School” (how the kids trained for the action scenes); “The Two Merlins” (featuring Angus Imrie & Patrick Stewart); “Meet Morgana” (featuring Rebecca Ferguson); “Movie Magic” (location shooting, set design and visual effects).
4 SHORT PROMOTIONAL SPOTS (featuring the Merlin character).
MUSIC VIDEO - “Be the King,” by Lay Lay (I don’t know who that is, because your music sucks, kids).

April 16, 2019

THE POOP SCOOP: Super '70s Edition

The Original ANDROMEDA STRAIN Coming to Blu-ray 6/4 from Arrow Video
Before he created Westworld and Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton first blurred the line between science fiction and science fact with his breakout success The Andromeda Strain. Two years after the novel’s publication, Robert Wise (The Haunting) directed the film adaptation, a nail-biting blend of clinically-realised docudrama and astonishing sci-fi visuals that ushered in a new subgenre: the “killer virus” biological thriller. A government satellite crashes outside a small town in New Mexico – and within minutes, every inhabitant of the town is dead, except for a crying baby and an elderly derelict.  The satellite and the two survivors are sent to Wildfire, a top-secret underground laboratory equipped with a nuclear self-destruct mechanism to prevent the spread of infection in case of an outbreak.  Realising that the satellite brought back a lethal organism from another world, a team of government scientists race against the clock to understand the extraterrestrial virus – codenamed “Andromeda” – before it can wipe out all life on the planet. Aided by innovative visual effects by Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running) and an unforgettable avant-garde electronic music score by Gil Melle (The Sentinel), Wise’s suspense classic still haunts to this day, and is presented here in a stunning, exclusive new restoration from the original negative.

THE UNCANNY on Blu-ray 5/28
In 1977, legendary Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky (ASYLUM, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS) teamed with Canadian producer Claude Héroux (SCANNERS, VIDEODROME) for the anthology shocker CelluloidDiaries.com calls "highly entertaining…the best killer cat movie there is!" Peter Cushing, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence, Samantha Eggar (THE BROOD), Susan Penhaligon (PATRICK), John Vernon (POINT BLANK) and Alexandra Stewart (GOODBYE EMMANUELLE) star in this grisly portmanteau about a paranoid writer (Cushing) who must convince his publisher (Milland) that all cats are unholy fiends based on three tales of kitty carnage. Directed by Denis Héroux (NAKED MASSACRE) from a screenplay by Michel Parry (XTRO) with cinematography by Harry Waxman (THE WICKER MAN), THE UNCANNY is now scanned from an inter-negative recently discovered in a London vault.

Including a new transfer of the extended television version with over 35 minutes of added footage! Charlton Heston leads an all-star cast in an epic film about ordinary citizens who must come together in the face of an unstoppable natural disaster! When the most catastrophic earthquake of all time rips through Southern California, it levels Los Angeles and sends shockwaves through the lives of all who live there. Now strangers must become saviors as the city struggles to get to its feet before the next terrifying aftershock hits! Also starring Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Victoria Principal, Geneviève Bujold and Richard Roundtree, Earthquake combines outstanding performances with Academy Award-winning sound and groundbreaking special effects.

ALIEN Arrives on 4K Ultra HD April 23
The terrifying sci-fi adventure, ALIEN, celebrates 40 years with an all-new 4K Ultra HD master. A limited edition 4K UHD steelbook of ALIEN 40th Anniversary Edition will also be available exclusively at Best Buy. The film was restored in 4K in 2018 by 20th Century Fox at Company 3/Deluxe Entertainment Services Group, supervised by Ridley Scott and Pam Dery, with the 4K scans were done at EFilm.

April 15, 2019

MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS: The True Tale of a TV Titan

Narrated by Ian McShane. Featuring Roger Davis, Barbara Steele, Lara Parker, Kathryn Lee Scott, David Selby, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Cross. Archival Interviews with Dan Curtis, Jonathan Frid. Directed by David Gregory. (2019/87 min).

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

Dark Shadows was a supernaturally-themed daytime soap opera which ran on ABC from 1966-1971, ending its run only after creator Dan Curtis more-or-less ran out of ideas. Though cheaply produced and often haphazardly shot, the show amassed a huge cult following over the years, spawning books, tie-in merchandise, movies, radio broadcasts, conventions and a television reboot. Anyone who fondly recalls spending weekday afternoons with the creepy Collins family will certainly enjoy this documentary.

Master of Dark Shadows is also about Dan Curtis, a former ad exec who sort-of stumbled into producing by selling the concept of televised golf tournaments. But beginning with Dark Shadows, Curtis became synonymous with TV horror, prolifically cranking out a variety of small screen screamers, a few of which became enduring classics, like Trilogy of Terror and The Night Stalker. Loftier ambitions had him eventually directing The Winds of War, still considered one of the greatest TV miniseries ever made.

When dust bunnies go unchecked.
Curtis died in 2006, but is prominently featured in archive interviews where he discusses his long, colorful career. New interviews include people he worked with or knew him well - actors, writers, his surviving family – painting a pretty vibrant picture of a guy who garnered a lot of respect and admiration, but was also pretty headstrong. A majority of the film, however, is dedicated to Dark Shadows...how it was created, the challenges of producing a daily horror series and a slew of entertaining anecdotes from various cast and crew members. In addition to plenty of clips from the show itself, the cultural impact of the Barnabas Collins character (Jonathan Frid, who passed away in 2012) is highlighted.

Dark Shadows was a little before my time, so I was unaware of its cultural impact and found this film to be an interesting piece of TV history. Master of Dark Shadows is entertaining, informational and a great supplemental disc for anyone who reveres those old episodes. It's also a fitting belated epitaph for a TV titan.

FEATURETTES -Dark Shadows in Hell’s Kitchen: Visiting Studio 16” (Guided tour of the studio by Kathryn Leigh Scott); “Dark Shadows in Print”
JONATHAN FRID: POE & SHAKESPEARE IN THE SHADOWS” - The actor recites “The Tell-Tale Heart” & an excerpt from Richard III. Originally aired on a New Jersey PBS station.
BARNABAS AT THE WHITE HOUSE” - Frid visits a White House Halloween party as part of a fundraiser. From 1969.
THE HOUSE” - A 1954 episode from The Web, which pre-dates Dark Shadows by 10 years.
DAVID SELBY: LIGHT & SHADOWS” - The actor performs a song at a convention.
DARK SHADOWS AUDIO DRAMAS” - This is just a promotional cast list with snippets of dialogue. No actual episodes.
PROMOS & TRAILERS – Dark Shadows-related merchandise, as well as TV boxed sets, that are (or were?) available from MPI.

Rest in Peace, Bibi Andersson