July 31, 2021

SEANCE and the Chatty Cathy

SEANCE (Blu-ray Review)
2021 / 93 min


Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

The late, great Roger Ebert coined the “Fallacy of the Talking Killer,” a time-honored trope where the villain has the hero trapped or cornered and all he has to do is shoot him. Instead, he takes the time to either explain his nefarious plans in detail, or point-out where the hero screwed up. This gives the hero ample opportunity to plot his escape or be rescued by a sidekick.

Seance features a doozy of a talking killer, spending a good portion of the final act explaining the previous 75 minutes. And despite the title, it’s more of a slasher film than a ghost story.

At a private girls school, several students led by mean-spirited Alice (Inanna Sarkis) “summon” the Edelvine Ghost, a former student who died at school and allegedly haunts the halls. Their ritual is actually a ruse to scare classmate Kerrie, but she ends up dying in her dorm, leaving only cryptic clues as to what happened. Then a new student, Camille (Suki Waterhouse), is admitted and quickly earns the wrath of Alice’s clique (mainly because she doesn’t put up with their shit). 

But later, Alice talks everybody - including Camille - into conducting a seance to contact Kerrie, hoping to learn what killed her. Instead, whoever they summoned tells them they’ll be next. And sure enough, schoolgirls start dropping like flies, meeting untimely deaths in a variety of nasty ways. It might be the work of the Edelvine Ghost, but the girls are made to suspect Camille.

Hungry Hungry Hippos is about to get real.
For the most part, Seance walks a familiar path, right down to the characters. Though earnestly performed, we’ve seen the outcast protagonist versus the bullying bitches in countless films since Carrie. Still, writer-director Simon Barrett does a decent job putting them through the paces, including some well-staged death scenes. The revelation during the final act is kind-of underwhelming, since once everything is explained - at-length! - the story loses some of its plausibility.

However, Seance does come to a lively - and gory - conclusion, which helps us forgive lapses in credibility. The rest is unremarkable slasher horror, though slickly-made and certainly watchable. If only the killer knew when to shut up...not everything needs to be explained, especially to the one person who can stop you.


FEATURETTES - “Behind the Scenes of Seance”; “Decapitation Pre-Viz”

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By writer-director Simon Barrett





July 30, 2021

MOMMIE DEAREST (Paramount Presents #17): Faye...Back in the Day

MOMMIE DEAREST (Blu-ray Review)
1981 / 128 min


Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

Whether she wants to admit it or not, Faye Dunaway’s legacy is likely gonna be defined by three films...Bonnie & Clyde, Chinatown and Mommie Dearest. While the first one made her a star and the second cemented her greatness, the last one arguably had the biggest impact on her career, both positively and negatively.

Though certainly a big hit at the time, Mommie Dearest was critically reviled and considered by some to be an even bigger hatchet job on the late Joan Crawford than the book it was based on. That, coupled with quotably-laughable dialogue & Dunaway’s histrionic performance - both which undermined the overall serious tone - gave the film a trainwreck quality that was almost immediately embraced in cult circles. Even Paramount itself started playing-up the campier aspects in subsequent ad campaigns. 

Dunaway’s portrayal of Crawford ended up being as iconic as Bonnie Parker, though for more dubious reasons, exacerbated by the irony of a notoriously-difficult star being played by someone with a similar reputation. Her career never fully recovered, either. After Mommie Dearest, her days as a bankable leading lady were essentially over. 

The reviews are in.

At this point, 40 years later, any critical re-evaluation of Mommie Dearest seems pointless and redundant. Those who found it ugly, overwrought and disjointed back in ‘81 will never change their minds. Conversely, those who laughed, shouted back at the screen and revelled in its excesses will still find a lot to love. There’s never been much middle ground. One thing is certain...love it or hate it, few have ever been truly bored by it.

Which means, of course, that Mommie Dearest is a fitting choice for inclusion in the Paramount Present series. Just because it’s legendary for all the wrong reasons doesn’t make it less legendary. Nicely remastered for Blu-ray, the film comes with a smattering of new & archival bonus features, most of which focus on its legacy as a camp classic (though Ms. Dunaway's conspicuous absence underscores her ongoing dismissal of the film). For those who’ve always embraced the badness - or anyone merely curious - it’s a disc well-worth checking out.


FILMMAKER FOCUS - A new seven-minute interview with Frank Perry biographer Justin Bozung, mostly focusing on his work directing Mommie Dearest.

VINTAGE FEATURETTES - “The Revival of Joan”; “Life with Joan”; “Joan Lives On” (All three feature interviews by producer Frank Yablans, actors Diana Scarwid & Rutanya Alda, while “Joan Lives On” also includes interviews with filmmaker John Waters and a Crawford impersonator).

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By drag queen Hedda Lettuce (new); 2) By John Waters (archival).




July 28, 2021

Go Coach on Your FLIGHT TO MARS

FLIGHT TO MARS (Blu-ray Review)
1951 / 71 min


Review by Mr. Paws😺

“Welcome to Mars, ladies and gentlemen, where the men look like partners in a law firm and the women have legs like Betty Grable. Enjoy your stay, but please don’t touch anything because the sets might topple over.”

Sci-fi cinema was just getting into high gear when Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures put out Flight to Mars, with a budget so low that Cameron Mitchell earned top billing. But even though this ain’t exactly a George Pal production and its depiction of what awaits us on the angry red planet was probably chuckleworthy even in the ‘50s, it’s a fun little film.

On the first mission to Mars, a five person crew - including intrepid wise-cracking reporter Steve Abbott (Mitchell) - crash lands. They meet its leaders, who are outwardly congenial and offer to help repair the ship. But in reality, their society is dying and they plan on using the ship to create their own fleet and conquer Earth. A gratuitous romantic subplot is also introduced, mostly an excuse to exploit Marguerite Chapman’s considerable visual assets...mee-ow!

Speaking of visuals...considering the budget, the film features some interesting special effects. The scenes of the rocket in-flight are goofy as hell, but the underground Martian city - a combination of forced perspective, matte paintings and colorful set design - is pretty impressive, drawing obvious inspiration from the 1939 British classic, Things to Come.

Today, Flight to Mars is mostly of historical interest. Aside from being one of the earliest sci-fi films to depict a voyage to Mars, it’s also one of the earliest produced by Walter Mirisch. Back then, he was an eager young man trying to break into the business. Later, Mirisch was not-only instrumental in Monogram Pictures’ evolution into Allied Artists, he’d go on to produce some of the most beloved films of the 1960s. And as of this writing, I’m happy to report Mr. Mirisch is still alive and kicking!

Appropriately, the supplements included here focus mostly on the movie’s place in cinema sci-fi history, as well as its legendary producer. Like a lot of oddball relics rescued from obscurity by The Film Detective, the bonus features are arguably more engaging than the movie itself, which has been beautifully restored. 




AUDIO COMMENTARY - By author/historian Justin Humphreys

SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET - Features an essay, “Mars at the Movies,” by Don Stradley


July 27, 2021

THE POOP SCOOP: Shawshank, Scarlett & Shrinkage

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION Arrives on 4K Ultra HD and 9/14
The Shawshank Redemption, which received seven Oscar® nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Score and Best Screenplay, will be released on Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack and Digital on September 14, it was announced by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Released in 1994, the film marked the feature directorial debut of its screenwriter, Frank Darabont. The Shawshank Redemption, the emotionally moving portrayal of a friendship between men under the harshest of circumstances, stars Academy Award® winning actor Tim Robbins (Mystic River, Bull Durham) and Academy Award® nominee Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy, Unforgiven, Bruce Almighty).  Based on Stephen King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” the movie won Frank Darabont an Oscar® nomination for his adapted screenplay and critical acclaim for his directorial debut.  Mr. Darabont is one of only six filmmakers in history with the unique distinction of having his first two feature films receive nominations for the Best Picture Academy Award:  1994’s The Shawshank Redemption and 1999’s The Green Mile.


Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW Lands Early on Digital 8/10 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD 9/14
Marvel Studios’ Black Widow arrives early on all major digital platforms on August 10 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on September 14. Black Widow fans can enjoy the film in stunning Ultra HD quality and immersive Dolby Atmos audio along with never-before-seen bonus footage, including nine deleted scenes, bloopers and featurettes. In Marvel Studios’ action-packed spy thriller Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff — aka Black Widow — confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Natasha/Black Widow, Florence Pugh stars as Yelena, David Harbour portrays Alexei/The Red Guardian, and Rachel Weisz is Melina. Black Widow — the first film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — is directed by Cate Shortland and produced by Kevin Feige.

SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT arrives on Blu-ray 8/17
The road to Purgatory is paved with good intentions, and Count Mardulak (David Carradine) wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s seeking atonement for centuries of human carnage, which is why he’s instructed Purgatory’s vampire residents to slather on SPF 100 sunblock, pursue daytime activities…and drink only synthetic blood. But some vampires don’t agree with Mardulak — they want the real thing — and if that means wooden bullets flying in a vampire civil war, so be it! This wild horror-comedy also stars Bruce Campbell, Maxwell Caulfield, M. Emmet Walsh, and John Ireland. A new edition to the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, the tongue-in-cheek vampire film Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat arrives on Blu-ray™ (plus Digital) August 17 from Lionsgate.


THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN on Blu-ray from Criterion Collection on 10/19
Existentialism goes pop in this benchmark of atomic-age science fiction, a superlative adaptation of a novel by the legendary Richard Matheson that has awed and unnerved generations of viewers with the question, What is humanity's place amid the infinity of the universe? Six months after being exposed to a mysterious radiation cloud, suburban everyman Scott Carey (Grant Williams) finds himself becoming smaller . . . and smaller . . . and smaller—until he's left to fend for himself in a world in which ordinary cats, mousetraps, and spiders pose a mortal threat, all while grappling with a diminishing sense of himself. Directed by the prolific creature-feature impresario Jack Arnold with ingenious optical effects and a transcendent metaphysical ending, The Incredible Shrinking Man gazes with wonder and trepidation into the unknowable vastness of the cosmic void. This Criterion Collection release has been given a 4K restoration and features a variety of new & vintage bonus features.

July 26, 2021

SKINNED DEEP Goes Off the Deep End

SKINNED DEEP (Blu-ray Review)
2003 / 98 min


Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

I’ll give Skinned Deep props for one thing...the mask worn by “Surgeon General” (the most homicidal member of a psychotic backwoods family) is one of the coolest I’ve ever seen in a horror film. With black goggles and a bear-trap jaw, he looks like a monstrous version of the Iron Giant.

If it was available as a Halloween mask, I'd scare the living shit out of every kid in the neighborhood.

There’s demented imagination behind all the antagonists, including “Plates” (Warwick Davis), a pasty-white dwarf whose weapon-of-choice is fine china, and “Brain” (Jason Dugre), with his horrifically huge head. Then there’s the muscle-bound maniac who has no actual head. Finally, we have family matriarch Granny (Liz Little)...outwardly kind while directing her boys to commit a variety of atrocities on tourists and strangers.

Skinned Deep is the brainchild of writer-director Gabe Bartalos, mostly known for doing make-up & special effects on various low budget films - including a few cult classics - for over 30 years. Hence, his directorial debut - released in 2004 - is full of bizarre, grungy production design, outlandish violence, gushing gore and freaky faces. While the film’s visuals reflect a pretty low budget, it’s obvious every dollar Bartalos was able to scrape together is up on there on the screen.

"The hell you say!"
He sure didn’t spend much on casting, though. With the exception of Davis, the performances are uniformly awful - like, high school theater awful - undermining the frequent stabs at black humor. And while there’s a considerable amount of visual creativity, Bartalos demonstrates that writing is not one of his strengths. Not only is the dialogue often cringeworthy - sometimes laughably pretentious - what begins as a Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-off quickly dives head-first into deliberate campiness more akin to TCM Part 2. Later, some truly-bonkers sci-fi elements are inexplicably thrown into the mix without any previous context or foreshadowing. 

Skinned Deep ends up as a hodgepodge of tenuously-connected sequences, like the director had a lot of cool individual scenes in-mind, then built a story around them. But that ain’t necessarily a deal-breaker, since the budget-conscious make-up and SFX keep things from becoming dull. Just don’t expect much in the way of originality, decent performances or a well-structured narrative.


“DEEP CUTS” - A new retrospective doc, featuring interviews with writer-director Gabe Bartalos, actors Jason Dugre (“Brain”) & Karoline Brandt (“Tina”) and weapons machinist Jake Lee.






July 25, 2021


2021 / 100 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😾

I used to be a big Bruce Willis fan, even enjoying some of his less revered films (such as The Jackal...not a masterpiece, but a lot of fun). Although his lengthy resume has always been wildly inconsistent - to say the least - at least we had the impression he gave a damn. 

But with a few notable exceptions, the last decade has been one direct-to-video clunker after another, his roles consisting of glorified cameos in exchange for a paycheck and prominent billing. Say what you will about John Travolta’s recent career...at-least he’s the actual star of the movies he sells his name to. As much as it pains me to say, I just don’t trust Bruce anymore.

With Willis given second billing for Midnight in the Switchgrass, my first thought was...uh-huh. Sure enough, he has maybe 15 total minutes of screen time. Not only that, his character is 100% inconsequential to the plot. As the aging partner to ambitious FBI agent Rebecca Lombarti (Megan Fox), his character’s sole purpose is to act exasperated by her recklessness (and doing a piss-poor job at it, I might add). 

"I'm here to save your movie. When's lunch?"
Fox and Emile Hirsch (playing local cop Bryan Crawford) are the actual stars, teaming up to track down a truck-driving serial killer (Lukas Haas), who's something of a zealot that preys on wayward young girls. Haas was always kinda creepy, even as a child actor. Here, playing a middle-aged family man with a dark secret, he’s downright disturbing. Attacking his role with gusto, Haas delivers a cheerfully chilling performance.

He deserves better, though, because when he’s not creeping us out on-screen, Midnight in the Switchgrass is a rote checklist of familiar conventions, not helped by bland direction, generic writing and superficial attempts at characterization (such as the case’s strain on Crawford’s marriage, a subplot that’s touched-on but quickly dropped). The novelty of Fox sharing a few scenes with real-life boy-toy Machine Gun Kelly (in an uncredited cameo) might amuse the tabloid crowd, but neither she nor Hirsch can do much to save the film from mediocrity. 

But at least they appear to be trying. In the handful of scenes he appears in, Willis makes his indifference painfully obvious with a performance so lackadaisical that it’s actually a distraction. Worse yet, he gives the impression he’s doing everyone a favor just by showing up. Instead, his appearance is a sad reminder that Midnight in the Switchgrass is little more than derivative video fodder. Sorry, Bruce, but I've lost all faith in you.


AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Randall Emmett





July 24, 2021

SIEGE and That Can-Do Spirit

SIEGE (Blu-ray Review)
1982 / 84 min (Theatrical Cut) / 93 min (‘Cannes’ Cut)


Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

Sometimes you gotta admire a movie’s can-do spirit, even when the filmmakers obviously lack the budget to fulfill their ambitions.

A Canadian production, Siege is an early film written & co-directed by Paul Donovan, who went on to earn a bit of notoriety outside his native Canada with Def-Con 4 and the sci-fi series, LEXX. Like John Carpenter’s similarly-grassroots Assault of Precinct 13, the film’s protagonists are protecting themselves against an ongoing attack by heavily-armed thugs. 

In this case, it’s a hate group calling itself the “New Order,” who decide to establish their own set of fascist rules during a citywide police strike, which includes rousting a gay bar. When they accidentally kill the owner, the leader decides the witnesses should all die. However, one of them, Chester (Daryl Haney), escapes and finds refuge in a nearby apartment building. When the half-dozen tenants - fronted by de facto leader Horatio (Tom Nardini), - refuse to turn him over, the New Order begin their attack, which comprises a majority of the narrative.

It’s a solid premise, perhaps unexpectedly timely in light of recent events. An action film about protecting the rights and safety of a gay man against a hate group is somewhat unique for its time (this was 1982). Additionally, the New Order themselves aren’t too far removed from the mobs of mouth-breathing morons proliferating the news today. Throw a MAGA hat on these ignoramuses and it’s easy to imagine them storming the Capitol building.

"Hey, I thought it was Ladies Night."
However, there’s only about five of them. Some New Order. In fact, Siege is often hampered by its overall smallness. From the get-go, it’s obvious Donovan & friends lacked even Carpenter’s meager financial resources to convincingly pull-off an action movie. Still, the film isn’t without merit. It’s conceptually simple, yet intelligently written. There are stupid characters, of course, but only because the story necessitates them, not because they’re written stupidly. After all, who wants to watch a movie featuring clever, resourceful homophobes?

So despite the pedestrian performances, low-wattage action and anemic special effects (including the sound), Siege is an interesting curio. Not entirely successful, the film is nevertheless a result of sheer determination, budget be damned. And though it’s highly doubtful anyone involved was forward-thinking enough to concern themselves with posterity, certain thematic aspects of the film remain surprisingly relevant. 


AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Paul Donovan and filmmaker Jason Eisener (Mr. Hobo with a Shotgun himself).


LIMITED EDITION SLIPCOVER (Actually different from the box art)



July 23, 2021

I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES: Forgettable But Fun

1948 / 71 min


Review by Mr. Paws😼

Typical of Monogram Pictures’ Poverty Row quickies, I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes has been mostly forgotten over time. Lacking the kind of budget and production values that attract big stars and directors, there’s nothing particularly memorable about the film. Still, this briskly paced, efficiently directed little slab of film noir is a fairly entertaining way to kill 70 minutes. Just don’t go into it expecting another Dark Passage.

The film opens with Tom Quinn (Don Castle) on death row, due to be executed in a few hours. In flashbacks, the man recalls the events leading up to that point. He and Ann Quinn (Elyse Knox) are a down-on-their-luck husband & wife dance team living in a tiny apartment. He’s unemployed, while she makes a few extra bucks as a dance teacher. One night, a frustrated Tom throws his shoes out the window at a howling cat, but when he goes out to retrieve them, they’re gone. The next day, their luck appears to be taking a turn for the better. Not only have his shoes been mysteriously returned to their doorstep, Tom later finds a wallet containing $2000. 

"Yeah...I'm in a band. Lead tambourine."
Meanwhile, in another nearby apartment, an old man with a shady past has been murdered. The word around the neighborhood is that he had thousands of dollars stashed in his place. Later, the police match an imprint with one of Tom’s shoes, then identify bills spent by the couple as belonging to the victim. Tom is arrested, convicted and sentenced to die, though Ann insists he’s innocent. She implores Inspector Judd (Regis Toomey) to help her find the real killer. Since he’s somewhat enamored with her, she offers to marry him if he can prove Tom’s innocence. 

While the performances are perfunctory, Tom & Ann are likable enough to keep us invested in their predicament. Direction by journeyman William Nigh never rises above proficient, but he keeps things moving along with little muss or fuss, which tends to gloss over some lapses in plausibility. Though no one’s gonna walk away thinking I Wouldn’t be in Your Shoes is a lost classic, it’s never boring, wasting none of its brief running time with superfluous details. Anchored by a nifty twist ending, this is an enjoyable second-tier film-noir.


SHORT - “The Symphony Murder Mystery”

LOONEY TUNES SHORT - “Holiday for Shoestrings”