November 30, 2022

HEARTLAND OF DARKNESS: Linnea the Legend


HEARTLAND OF DARKNESS (Blu-ray Review)
1989 / 102 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Heartland of Darkness is a low-budget horror film completed in 1989. Like a lot of homegrown fright flicks back in the day, it was regionally produced (in Ohio) by a cast & crew armed with more ambition than resources. Still, they managed to snag the lovely Linnea Quigley to boost its marquee value.

Unfortunately, the title never did grace any marquees, nor did it end up fighting for shelf space at Blockbuster or any other video store. In fact, Heartland of Darkness is just now being released for the first time. In the interim, it sort of became the stuff of cult legend as Linnea Quigley’s lost film. Though not actually appearing in too many scenes, she definitely leaves an impression…for the same aesthetic reasons that made her a B-movie scream queen in the first place. If nothing else, watching this film today is a vivid reminder of her uncanny ability to stir impressionable young hearts (among other things). 


Purrr.

As for the movie itself, Heartland of Darkness is neither the best nor worst budget-conscious creepfest from the era. The story features a journalist who moves to a small town and investigates a series of gory murders, which turn out to be the work of a satanic cult led by the local pastor. It’s standard stuff and somewhat derivative. Like all small towns in 80s horror flicks, most of the population belongs to the cult. 


Still, it’s well made on a limited budget, with a bonkers final act that throws in car chases, snipers and a psychotic body-builder. But hey, if you can’t go big, you might as well go a little crazy, which probably explains casting Quigley as a History teacher while still tarting her up like a Hollywood chainsaw hooker. Elsewhere, the performances are generally pretty pedestrian, but overall, the film is fast-moving, efficiently directed and occasionally atmospheric, with some good, bloody kills here and there.


But even if one doesn’t agree, this Blu-ray is packed with goodies and the movie’s backstory (and its long, hard road to finally being released) is fascinating and discussed at-length in some of the bonus features. In addition to a few amusing bits of swag, the mixture of new and vintage extras conveys a charming can-do spirit on both sides of the camera. None of those involved had any illusions about the type of film they were making - or its quality - but we’re certainly able to appreciate what they accomplished. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

“DEEPER INTO THE DARKNESS” - A great 40-minute retrospective documentary featuring varios cast & crew, including director Eric Swelstad and actor Nick Balasare. Easily the most entertaining of the bonus features.

2 LINNEA QUIGLEY INTERVIEWS - One is brand new, the other is an archival interview done for a local Ohio TV show.

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) by director Eric Swelstad, and actor Nick Balasare, cinematographer Scott Spears & composer Jay Woelfel; 2) by Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop magazine.

“FALLEN ANGELS” - The original 1990 workprint of the film (includes an optional commentary track by director Eric Swelstad).

“THE MAKING OF FALLEN ANGELS” - Archival interview from back when this was titled Fallen Angels.

BLOOD CHURCH PROMO VIDEO - Another alternate title.

TRAILERS & TV SPOTS

IMAGE GALLERY

“DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT" - Text excerpt from Fangoria magazine.

INSERT - Includes an essay, “The Devil Went Down to Ohio,” and tech credits.

HEARTLAND OF DARKNESS ‘PRAYER CLOTH’ - Fun little piece pf promo swag.

VHS STICKERS - Sheet of the type of stickers you used to see on rental boxes.

LINNEA QUIGLEY MINI POSTER - Mee-ow!!!

REVERSIBLE COVER - The other side features Blood Church title & artwork.


November 29, 2022

A KNIFE IN THE HEAD...But Not Really


A KNIFE IN THE HEAD (Blu-ray Review)
1978 / 114 min

FROM COHEN MEDIA GROUP

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

Actually, Berthold Hoffmann (Bruno Ganz) takes a bullet to the head. The “knife” of this German classic is metaphorical.

He’s shot while running through the headquarters of a radical left-wing group, presumably by the cops raiding the place. Not only does he suffer brain damage, but he’s also lost most of his motor skills. Doctors are hopeful for a full recovery, but it could take a long time. The police, led by Anleitner (Hans Christian Blech), suspect he’s faking his condition and is actually the leader in a conspiracy against the government. Meanwhile, Hoffman’s estranged wife, Ann (Angela Winkler), and her new lover, Volker (Heinz Hoenig) - who are radicals fighting police brutality - are certain he’s being set up.


The bulk of the narrative features Hoffman’s slow recovery. As his physical abilities begin to return, so does his memory, though he may never recover fully. At first, neither he nor the audience is certain about the events that night, but as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that he’s something of a pawn for both sides. Hoffman himself grows distraught, angry and determined to find out why he was shot in the first place.


Ganz does Brando.
Other than repeatedly establishing Anleitner as infuriatingly ruthless, the plot surrounding the shooting is seldom particularly involving, nor do we ultimately care about Ann. However, we certainly sympathize with Hoffman and all he’s lost because of the incident. He was once a successful doctor and we suspect he still loves Ann. There’s nothing left of his old life and Ganz conveys that despair brilliantly. In fact, his remarkable, harrowing performance is the main reason A Knife in the Head remains so involving. 

Though the overall story arc is somewhat perfunctory, it does lay the groundwork for an emotionally-charged climax. By this time, we’re invested enough in Hoffman’s painful road to recovery that no one could blame for going postal on those who’ve wronged him. Instead, we’re somewhat blindsided by a haunting denouement.


EXTRA KIBBLES

INTERVIEWS - 1) With director Reinhard Hauff; 2) With executive producer Eberhard Junkersdorf.

TRAILERS


November 28, 2022

DON’T WORRY DARLING: Pretty and Pretty Familiar


DON’T WORRY DARLING (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 123 min

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽

While the highly publicized behind-the-scenes turmoil surrounding Don’t Worry Darling is ultimately more intriguing than the actual movie, it isn’t completely without merit. With tempered expectations, the film is an eye-pleasing way to kill a couple of hours.

Those tempered expectations should definitely apply to the derivative story. Florence Pugh plays Alice Chambers, the loyal and loving wife of Jack (Harry Styles). They live in an idyllic, ‘50-style community - called Victory - that resembles an ultra-conservative’s idea of paradise: cul-de-sacs, palm trees, immaculate homes, shiny cars and neighborhood barbecues. The men all work for the town’s founder, Frank (Chris Pine), on something called the ‘Victory Project” while their wives remain dutifully at home, cooking, cleaning and supporting their husbands.


Anyone who’s ever seen The Stepford Wives or The Truman Show will certainly know what’s coming: Victory isn’t the perfect community it seems, nor is Frank the inspirational leader he appears to be. After venturing outside of the town’s safety zone - the location of the so-called Victory Project - Alice slowly learns why (and how) all the wives are conditioned to be submissive, unquestioning and subservient. Though Frank knows she’s onto him, he convinces everyone she’s simply paranoid, and maybe a threat to the community. 


Looks like the chicken came first this time.

So yeah, Don’t Worry Darling is a glossy update of The Stepford Wives, which isn’t necessarily a big problem. A similar theme of toxic masculinity may be a lot more heavy-handed here, but is certainly still timely in light of recent sociopolitical upheavals. But unlike Stepford, which kept the viewer guessing until its shocking finale, we suspect right way that something ain’t right in Victory. All we’re waiting for is to see how long it takes Alice to figure it out, and when she finally does, there’s still an hour left to go.

There’s some fun to be had in the meantime. The film looks great, with plenty of dreamlike imagery and beautiful production design (though the latter is also the first obvious clue we don’t trust what we’re seeing). Overall, the performances are good, especially Pugh, who carries most of the film on her shoulders, and Pine, obviously enjoying the chance to play an antagonist. As for the story itself…it holds no surprises, but until the convoluted final act - which doesn’t bear a ton of scrutiny and descends into a gratuitous chase -  the journey is sporadically interesting. 


Though we suspect Rod Serling could have had the whole thing wrapped up in a tidy 30 minutes, Don’t Worry Darling is certainly watchable. If nothing else, director/co-star Olivia Wilde has put together a film that’s always aesthetically interesting, but I think most of us would happily trade some surface gloss for a surprise or two.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTE - “The Making of Don’t Worry Darling.”

DELETED SCENE - “Alice’s Nightmare”

DVD & DIGITAL COPIES


November 27, 2022

THE OFFER: The Godfather's Big Backstory


THE OFFER (DVD Review)
2022 / 541 min
Review by Carl, the Couch Potato😺

The making of a single movie hardly sounds like a compelling story for a nine-hour miniseries. However, we’re not talking about just any movie. And since the history & people behind it have become somewhat legendary themselves, The Offer is a great-looking, entertaining dramatization of the movie business during a tumultuous time in one studio’s history.

The Offer chronicles the making of The Godfather, based on the personal experiences of producer Albert S. Ruddy (Miles Teller). Possessing little more than ambition and audacity, he falls under the tutelage of Paramount’s head of production Robert Evans (Matthew Goode), who entrusts him to oversee adapting Mario Puzo’s suddenly-hot and incendiary novel to the big screen. 


The stakes are pretty high for Paramount, which has been struggling so badly that parent company Gulf + Western, headed by profit-obsessed Charles Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman), is considering selling it off. Getting The Godfather off the ground is a seemingly insurmountable task for a neophyte producer. Throughout the production, Ruddy is forced to deal with penny-pinching corporate lawyers, Evans’ unpredictability, headstrong director Francis Ford Coppola, clashes over casting, mafia threats and the toll on his personal life. As shown here, it’s a minor miracle the film ever got made at all. 


"I know what this scene needs, Francis...a T-Rex!"
Most of the main characters are pretty engaging. Ruddy is a likable protagonist, even when making questionable decisions. His assertive secretary, Bettye (Juno Temple), is not only an unsung behind-the-scenes heroine, she ultimately serves as Ruddy’s moral compass. Since the real Bob Evans had a pretty notorious history, his fictional counterpart is highly amusing. On the other hand, the antagonists are all broad, one-note caricatures, especially mafia don Joe Columbo (an irritating performance by Giovanni Ribisi), bug-eyed gangster Nicky Barnes, Frank Sinatra, Bluhdorn and his uptight lawyer, Barry (Colin Hanks).

Though one doesn’t need to be familiar with the film to enjoy the story behind it, there are several scenes that intentionally mirror classic Godfather moments, a creatively clever touch sure to amuse fans. And while we continually suspect some of the narrative and characters are simplified, embellished and romanticized, The Offer is compulsively watchable throughout its 10 episodes. Do we believe everything is depicted exactly as it happened 50 years ago? Of course not, nor do I think we’re expected to. The Godfather’s backstory is simply a springboard for an epic tale in its own right. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - “No One Can Refuse: Making The Offer”; “Meet Al Ruddy”; “Parallels: Art Imitates Art”; “The Offer: Sending a Message”; “Directing The Offer.” 

“BACKSTORIES” - Short behind-the-scenes bits on every episode.

“CRAFTING THE OFFER” - Additional short pieces on production design, costumes, music, hair & make-up.

DELETED SCENES


November 25, 2022

EMERGENCY DECLARATION is High-Flying Fun


EMERGENCY DECLARATION (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 141 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

I can’t resist a good disaster movie. But to be completely honest, I can’t resist a bad one, either. Fortunately, the nerve-jangling Korean thriller, Emergency Declaration, ranks highly among the former.

Frequent fliers of airliners-in-crisis movies will find the plot irresistible. Disgruntled bio-engineer Ryu (Im Si-wan) sneaks a lethal virus (inside himself!) on-board a flight bound for Hawaii. Established as clearly psychotic right from the get-go, he chooses that flight because it’s crowded and he wants to kill as many people as possible. Sure enough, once the bug is released, passengers and crew start getting infected. Some die almost immediately, others linger for hours (depending on their importance to the story).


On the ground, Detective Gu In-ho (Song Kang-ho) not-only learns of Ryu’s plan, his wife is on the same flight, giving him a personal stake in the government’s efforts to land the plane. Unfortunately, both the United States and Japan refuse to let it enter their airspace. Through some strong-arming by Gu and the Korean minister, the company which first-created the virus reluctantly provides a vaccine, but it may no longer be effective because the bug has mutated (which means the plane might not even be allowed to return to Korea). Meanwhile, the plane is running low on fuel and its captain is incapacitated, leaving it up to PTSD-stricken ex-pilot Park (Lee Byung-hun) to save everyone.


The flight attendant is sure taking her sweet time with that drink cart.
With a concept similar to John J. Nance’s novel (and subsequent TV movie) Pandora’s Clock, Emergency Declaration is grand, epic entertainment, striking the right balance between gritty intensity and the endearing melodrama of old school disaster movies. Hence, the effects of the virus are gruesome and unnerving (not-to-mention timely) while the subplots, such as Gu’s wife or the tumultuous past shared by Park and the captain, are tropes straight out of an Airport movie (or Airplane!, for that matter).

Elsewhere, Emergency Declaration benefits from earnest performances, engaging characters - some well-developed, others deliberately broad - and plenty of suspenseful set-pieces, the highlight being a scene in which the out-of-control plane begins to roll, as seen from inside the cabin. And despite its length, the film is tons of high flying fun, seldom slowing down long enough for us to question its less plausible moments.


EXTRA KIBBLES 

FEATURETTES - “Making of”; “The Characters”; “The 360 Shot”; “Cannes Film Festival Interviews”

ENGLISH LANGUAGE OPTION

TRAILER


November 23, 2022

5-25-77 is an Affectionate Piece of Nostalgia


5-25-77 (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 132 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

The title refers to the date the original Star Wars was released. The film, of course, was a cinematic milestone. For better or worse, it changed how movies are made, marketed and watched. To truly appreciate its massive cultural impact - especially on us impressionable kids - you really had to be there.

Writer-director Patrick Read Johnson was there. In fact, as a teenager, he was apparently the first person allowed visit ILM and see an actual workprint of Star Wars. How cool is that? While that moment is the lynchpin of this semi-autobiographical film, it isn’t what drives the narrative. In a way, Star Wars could be viewed as this film’s MacGuffin.


Instead, 5-25-77 is a whimsical recollection of an awkward, teenager whose obsession with watching and making films isn’t appreciated - or understood - by his peers. This was back when being a sci-fi geek tended to make one sort of a pariah in certain social circles. Star Wars would go a long way in changing that perception, but until then, Pat Johnson (John Francis Daley) feels somewhat isolated. Though he has friends, they're typical of everyone else in his tiny hometown, content to spend the rest of their lives doing the same thing every weekend. No one can relate to his aspirations of being a director. To them, making movies is simply a hobby Pat should have outgrown by now.


Dave Bowman's morning commute.
Though it apparently took him several years to complete, Patrick Read Johnson has put together a perceptive, charming love letter to a bygone era and packed it with a shitload of film/TV references old school sci-fi fans are sure to get a kick out of. But what makes 5-25-77 somewhat unique among coming-of-age films are the technical aspects. Scenes are frequently enhanced by iconic vehicles, spaceships and objects from films which influenced the main character (such as 2001, Duel and Silent Running), symbolizing the many narrative turns and Pat’s tumultuous headspace. While the intentional ‘phoniness’ of the special effects reflect the technology of the era, they also help the film achieve an almost dreamlike atmosphere.

The film is wonderful during those sequences. Elsewhere, it tends to drag at times, particularly Pat’s interactions with a few haphazardly-realized supporting characters (not helped by some pedestrian performances in key roles). And at 130 minutes, it’s way too long. You could easily trim a half-hour - including an entire teen party sequence - without adversely affecting the narrative. But for the most part, 5-25-77 is a congenial, affectionate piece of nostalgia about how a pivotal moment in movie history changed a kid’s life. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

2013 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL Q&A - With writer-director Patrick Read Johnson.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By writer-director Patrick Read Johnson, moderated by Seth Gavin.

CAST/CREW GALLERY

LOCATION GALLERY

MINIATURES GALLERY


Forgotten Filmcast Ep 168: THE CASSANDRA CROSSING


We recently participated in a podcast at Forgotten Filmcast to discuss the 1977 disaster film, The Cassandra Crossing. Thanks to host Richard Kirkham for having us on the show.

Click HERE to listen to the episode.


November 20, 2022

PANTHER and the Unfair Comparison


PANTHER (Blu-ray Review)
1995 / 124 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😾

This might be an unfair comparison, but because Judas and the Black Messiah was such a sweeping, intense and emotionally harrowing film (which should have won the Best Picture Oscar that year), 1995’s Panther seems quaint and simplistic. 

It has nothing to do with age. Panther may be pushing 30 years old, but its depiction of late-60s San Francisco looks and feels authentic. And though the subject matter of both films is similar, the plots are somewhat different. Panther chronicles of the evolution of the Black Panther organization from peaceful protesters to a more militant group, as seen through the eyes of Judge (Kardeem Hardison). He’s initially reluctant to join, but after witnessing injustice and police brutality in his neighborhood, Judge sides with the Panthers and is especially loyal to Huey P. Newton (Marcus Chong), the most dangerous member of the party (in the eyes of the establishment anyway).


The glaring difference is in the direction, writing and characters. Director Mario Van Peebles structures it similarly to his best film, New Jack City, complete with plenty of observational commentary. But whereas Judas and the Black Messiah is complex, thought-provoking and features rich, dynamic characters, Panther has the subtlety of a mallet. Whether or not it takes considerable creative liberties with facts isn’t really the problem (I don’t generally watch movies for a history lesson). However, the film boils its themes down to simple good vs. evil, which may indeed be true, but from a dramatic perspective, such an approach renders the narrative pretty rote, as do the frequent montages used in lieu of real story development.


When pigeons turn homicidal.
Most characters are one-dimensional and speak in preachy statements that seem more intended for the audience than anyone else on-screen. This includes the film’s numerous antagonists, all of whom are mere caricatures. Additionally, Panther is often glaringly stagy - almost choreographed - such as numerous shots of a Panther standing defiantly against the opposition while his/her crew - arranged like a pop star’s back-up band - glare menacingly behind them.

Some of the blame must go to Mario’s dad, the late Melvin Van Peebles, who wrote the screenplay (based on his novel). While his heart may have been in the right place, the heavy-handed dialogue sounds like the writing of an angry high-school journalist. However, Mario himself bears most of the responsibility. Panther looks great, has some undeniably effective scenes and features a killer soundtrack. But considering the subject matter, the film is ultimately too histrionic, repetitive and shallow to have any lingering impact. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

TRAILER

REVERSIBLE COVER


PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES in 4K...with Extra Stuffing


PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (4K UHD Review)
1987 / 92 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽

This is sort of a perplexing release from Paramount. 

Though it was a respectable hit back in 1987, Planes, Trains and Automobiles has since become a perennial holiday classic. For many, the film is as much a Thanksgiving tradition as A Christmas Story is during the yuletide season, so I’m not sure why it wasn’t selected as part of the Paramount Presents series (with all the aesthetic trimmings). That should have been a no brainer. 


This one features the film only on 4K, whereas recent remastered releases, such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Blue Hawaii, offered the films in both formats. And while the 4K transfer is certainly watchable, the overall image falls far short of the standards we’re used to seeing from Paramount. The sound quality is good, but not an improvement over the 10 year old Blu-ray.


It does come with a Blu-ray, but it’s essentially a bonus disc of deleted or extended scenes. However, it’s also 75 minutes long, chock full of recently discovered material and the main reason for anyone to upgrade, especially for fans. Sure, one can see why certain scenes were deleted or trimmed up, but others are quite revealing and funny. A few of them might have the viewer wondering why they were left on the cutting room floor. 


Candy seizes the opportunity for a quick 50 points.
Elsewhere, Planes, Trains and Automobiles remains John Hughes’ most mature film and arguably the last decent one he directed himself. But with all due respect to the late John Candy - who’s charming but doesn't really play against type - it’s Steve Martin who truly shines. In a way, the film marks sort of a turning point in his career, when he begins to demonstrate he is arguably funnier as an exasperated, beleaguered straight-man than playing broad caricatures. 

One can see why it’s annually revisited by so many fans, and It’s for them that I think this release is intended. With a lengthy collection of previously unseen footage, it’s more of a love letter to a modern classic than any kind of significant technical upgrade. Videophiles needn't bother, but those who can’t get enough of the movie itself will consider this a second helping of stuffing to cap off their holiday feast.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES (4K) - “Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles”; “John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast”; “John Hughes for Adults”; Tribute to John Candy.”

DELETED / EXTENDED SCENES - Running well over an hour, this collection of scenes are the main reason for fans to upgrade.

DYLAN BAKER AUDITION FOOTAGE

DIGITAL COPY