October 30, 2023

THE DEVIL DOLL: Tod Browning's Most Entertaining Film

1936 / 79 min
Available at www.moviezyng.com
Review by Mr. Paws😺

Tod Browning’s penultimate film might be one of his most underappreciated. But despite its premise and the director’s reputation, I don’t believe The Devil Doll really qualifies as horror.

It is, however, an enjoyable piece of sci-fi tinged revenge featuring a great performance by Lionel Barrymore as Paul Lavond, a former banker wrongly convicted of robbing his own bank (killing a man in the process). After serving 17 years, he and ailing scientist Marcel escape from prison and hide out in a remote cabin owned by the latter and his wife, Malita (Rafaela Ottiano). This is where Marcel shows him the experiments he’d been working on for years, which reduces people in size, thus increasing the world’s food supply. And because it also reduces their ability to think independently, those who are shrunken are subservient to the will of others.

Maybe Malita shouldn't have had that second cup of coffee.
When Marcel dies, Paul decides to use the experiment for revenge against the unscrupulous ex-partners who framed him. With Malita’s help, he goes to Paris disguised as a kindly old woman and opens a toy shop to put his plan in motion. His disguise not-only allows him to avoid police - who are engaged in a citywide manhunt - it allows him the opportunity to see estranged daughter Lorraine (Maureen O’Sullivan). But since she still hates him for what his incarceration did to their family (Mom killed herself), Paul doesn’t reveal who he is.

Never as stylish as Dracula or disturbing as Freaks (Browning’s most lauded films), The Devil Doll is arguably more entertaining than both. It’s certainly faster-paced, with Paul wasting little time using shrunken minions to either kill those who framed him or force them to confess. These sequences are a lot of fun, with visual effects that are quite striking for an 87 year old movie and certainly more engaging than the needless subplot involving Lorraine and her boyfriend. 

And despite his violent intentions, Paul himself is an amiable, sympathetic character who never comes across as particularly unstable or angry, so we get a lot of vicarious pleasure watching him get even. A minor cult classic, The Devil Doll isn’t Tod Browning’s most accomplished film, but it might be his most enjoyable. It’s also been given a great picture & sound restoration for Blu-ray, with a few bonus features thrown in (outlined below).


2 LOONEY TUNES SHORTS - “Milk and Money” (featuring Porky Pig); “The Phantom Ship.”

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By film historians Haberman & Constantine Nasr.


October 29, 2023


2023 / 163 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

Check out that running time. Wow. 

But despite clocking in at damn-near three hours, at no point does Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning ever feel that long (something I can’t say about John Wick 4). As for the dreaded “Part One” in the title - a marketing practice I generally resent - this one is still a complete movie experience, concluding with a sense of closure while making us feel like May 2025 (when Part Two is scheduled to be released) can’t get here soon enough.

Elsewhere, Mission: Impossible continues to buck the franchise trend. Sequels nearly always grow steadily worse with each trip to the well. Usually by the third or fourth film, they are creatively-bankrupt, cynical products kept alive for the sole purpose of squeezing every last dollar from a brand name. But the Mission: Impossible series is actually doing the impossible. With the exception of the godawful John Woo-directed MI:II, each film has actually been better than the last one. It ain’t supposed to happen this way.

So far, Dead Reckoning Part One is the best entry in the entire franchise (I’ll save final judgment ‘till 2025). Not only does it contain the prerequisite amounts of “Tomsanity” - Cruise doing action scenes that could have just as easily been performed by a stuntman - but brings back and expands characters from previous films in a way that never seems contrived. Through an additional new character, Grace (Hayhey Atwell), we even learn how one becomes a member of the IMF, something I don’t remember the original series ever explaining.

Tom directs traffic.
The fate of the world is once again at stake, but this time, the implications seem more ominous, perhaps even plausible despite the sci-fi trappings of the basic concept. A rogue AI simply known as ‘The Entity’ has infiltrated all of cyberspace, demonstrating its ability to manipulate every aspect of technology. No one knows its origins, or if there’s even a central location, but two halves of a key exist that can potentially control it (though no one is 100% sure of their actual function). Naturally, every nation wants the completed key. 

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team are the only ones bent on destroying the Entity, meaning he once-again goes rogue…pursued by various new and familiar enemies, including those in his own government. Storywise, Dead Reckoning is fairly straightforward, but the narrative is loaded with intrigue, double-crosses and character revelations. And no Mission: Impossible movie would be complete without jaw-dropping action sequences, of which Dead Reckoning has plenty, including an extended chase through Rome and a thrilling climax on-board (and on top of) the Orient Express.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One more than justifies its length. In addition to delivering all of what we’ve come to expect from the franchise, we’re increasingly invested in its characters and curious about the nature of the Entity itself. The only downside is that we have to wait almost two years to find out. Still, I find it hard to imagine anyone walking away feeling like they only watched half a movie.


6 FEATURETTES - Most of these are fairly short and focus on the action scenes, locations and stuntwork, with lots of behind-the-scenes footage.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Christopher McQuarrie & editor Eddie Hamilton.


October 27, 2023

BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE & SKI TROOP ATTACK: Roger Corman Goes to South Dakota (on purpose)

1959 / 65 & 72 min (2 movies)
Review by Mr. Paws😼

A couple of early titles from the Roger Corman stable make up this two-disc set. They don’t rank among his few classics, but certainly demonstrate that nobody was better at getting two movies out of the same cast, crew and location (the snowy South Dakota mountains).

The first film, Beast from Haunted Cave has a gang of criminals trying to escape their latest heist by skiing through the mountains with the help of unwitting guide Gil Jackson (Michael Forest). Unfortunately, a nasty, spider-like critter starts hunting them down, cocooning his prey to snack on later. Though directed by Monte Hellman (his first), this one has Corman’s stamp all over it…cheaply made, but after a laborious first half, there’s some goofy fun to be had.

When you don't bring enough gum for everybody.
Corman immediately turned right around (directing this time) and cranked out Ski Troop Attack with most of the same guys and ski gear used in Beast from Haunted Cave. Atypically for Corman, it’s a WWII action drama featuring a small group of soldiers trekking behind enemy lines to battle Germans and blow up a bridge. Considering the meager budget and ample use of stock footage, we obviously ain’t exactly talking Bridge on the River Kwai here, but the movie ain’t half bad. It’s briskly paced and features decently written characters & performances. 

Both films are nicely restored and come with a few supplements, though pretty light on substantial bonus features. As for the movies themselves…no one watches Corman expecting great (or even good) cinema, but this set does show the man certainly knew how to get the most bang for his buck…if he even spent that much.


SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Includes an interview with Chris Ronison, who design and played the title creaure in Beast from Haunted Cave, and an essay about Ski Troop Attack.



AUDIO COMMENTARY - By author Tom Weaver and filmmaker Larry Blamire.





AUDIO COMMENTARY - By author C. Cortney Joyner and filmmaker Hoard S. Berger.


October 25, 2023

AIR: Well Played, Mr. Affleck

AIR (Blu-ray)
2023 / 112 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

Just in case one hasn’t noticed, Ben Affleck has turned into a pretty damn good director. Air might be the best evidence of that. That’s not to say it’s his best film. If not near-masterpieces, both The Town and Argo rank among the greatest adult thrillers of the past 20 years. But it takes a special talent to turn signing a shoe deal into an engaging film.

Taking place in 1984, Air recounts the true story of Nike talent scout Sonny Vaccarro (Matt Damon), who risks his career trying to sign college superstar Michael Jordan. Unlike big guns such as Adidas and Converse, Nike was mostly known for running shoes and put little financial effort into their basketball department. But Sonny sees greatness in Jordan and goes all-in in his efforts to snag him, which includes breaking professional protocols and defying Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck).

"I just asked Ben if his refrigerator's running."
Of course, everybody knows how things turn out. Nike’s now the biggest sports brand in the world, much of that success kickstarted by the Jordan brand. I don’t know if things actually went down as depicted in the film, but Affleck, screenwriter Alex Convery and a terrific ensemble cast turn the story into a hugely entertaining triumph-of-the-underdog movie. Sure, it’s about hucksters at a shoe company, but for a short time, we feel like the fates of nations are at stake.

Not every director has the chops to create a compelling film out of a business transaction, especially one where the outcome is a given. However, Air is an enjoyable, occasionally very funny look back at this historic deal, with great characters, insightful moments, authentic period detail and even a fair amount of tension. Well played, Mr. Affleck.

THE POOP SCOOP: Modern Masters Edition

😺The Great William Friedkin’s Last Film, THE CAINE MUTINY COURT-MARTIAL, Arrives On Digital November 24th
from Paramount.
Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Clarke, and Jake Lacy star in this gripping WWII drama, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and stage play by Oscar®-winning director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist). Amidst a violent storm aboard the USS Caine, Commander Queeg's (Sutherland) erratic behavior sparks revolt. Now, those who challenged him face a high-stakes court-martial where the line between valor and duty blurs, and the fate of their careers and reputations hang in the balance.

😺THE EXPENDABLES FRANCHISE Exclusive SteelBook Collection Available Nov. 21 from Lionsgate.
The mercenaries return looking better than ever in a Walmart exclusive SteelBook collection in 4K Ultra HD (+ Blu-ray + Digital) when The Expendables, The Expendables 2, The Expendables 3 and Expend4ables arrive November 21 from Lionsgate. The Expendables films star Sylvester Stallone (who also directed the first entry in the series) along with the greatest action heroes of all time, contained within one franchise. The Expendables series follows a group of combat vets turned mercenaries delivering justice the only way they know how. THE EXPENDABLES: Sylvester Stallone stars as Barney Ross, leader of The Expendables, a tight-knit team of skilled combat vets turned mercenaries. In THE EXPENDABLES 2, the team signs on a mission that looks like an easy paycheck for Barney and his band of old-school mercenaries. But things quickly go wrong. In THE EXPENDABLES 3, Barney (Stallone) faces off with an old enemy and must fight old blood with new blood, bringing in a new era of Expendables who are younger and faster. Finally, in EXPEND4BLES, a new generation of stars is added to the adrenaline-fueled adventure of The Expendables as action legends Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture are joined for the first time by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Megan Fox, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, and Andy Garcia.

😺Christopher Nolan's OPPENHEIMER Available On 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital Nov. 21 from Universal.
As it continues its dominant global box-office run, OPPENHEIMER will be available to own just in time for the holidays on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-rayT, & Digital on November 21, 2023 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Delve deeper into the unparalleled filmmaking behind OPPENHEIMER with an extensive collection of special features, including the global debut of “The Story of Our Time: The Making of Oppenheimer.” This 70+ minute immersive piece showcases exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and extensive interviews with Nolan and his creative collaborators, offering unrestricted access inside the process, performances, effects, music and artistry responsible for this extraordinary film. Additional features include the NBC News companion documentary, “To End All War: Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb,” as well as a “Trinity Anniversary Panel Discussion” featuring a panel moderated by Emmy-winning journalist Chuck Todd, with Christopher Nolan, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Kip Throne; world-renowned physicist Dr. Carlo Rovelli; Dr. Thom Mason, director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Kai Bird, the Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, on which the film is based. The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray discs are uniquely designed to include mixed 2.20 and 1.78 aspect ratios that enables viewers to experience the shift in aspect ratio as viewed in select theatrical locations, for the ultimate in-home viewing. 

😺Steven Spielberg's THE COLOR PURPLE Arrives on 4K Ultra HD December 5 from Warner Bros.
As part of the year-long centennial celebration for the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros. Studio, the epic coming-of-age period drama The Color Purple from Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) will be available for purchase on 4K Ultra HD Disc and Digital for the first time this December. On December 5th The Color Purple will be available to purchase on Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc from online and in-store at major retailers and available for purchase Digitally from Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu and more. The film was directed by Spielberg from a screenplay by Menno Meyjes and is based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The Color Purple stars Danny Glover, Adolph Caesar, Margaret Avery, Rae Dawn Chong, Whoopi Goldberg in her breakthrough role, and Oprah Winfrey in her film debut. The film was produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Spielberg, and Quincy Jones. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Whoopi Goldberg), Best Supporting Actress (Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey), Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song.

October 24, 2023

THE GOLDSMITH: A Twisted Tale of Comeuppance

2022 / 89 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

What exactly is torture porn, anyway?

The term is certainly subjective. Personally, I think films like Hostel qualify, since it exploits the gory, agonizing deaths of hapless characters who simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Conversely, I don’t believe the Saw franchise constitutes torture porn because the underlying theme behind the nasty gore and elaborate traps is poetic justice. Jigsaw’s victims are (mostly) terrible people who deserve a violent reckoning, which renders the prolonged death scenes a tad less sadistic.

So as gleefully twisted as it gets, The Goldsmith is not torture porn. The prologue establishes its three main characters as coldblooded and irredeemable since childhood. As the story itself unfolds, they’re planning the home invasion and robbery of an elderly couple’s secluded home, where the husband, Antonio, designs high-end jewelry. 

Some folks take ping pong pretty seriously.
However, this couple ain’t quite as helpless as they appear. Not only does Antonio trap them in his work lab, he already knows a lot about them personally and anticipated their arrival. All along, they've been set-up as unwitting subjects in a gruesome artistic endeavor through which he applies his craft. I won’t reveal what it is, but will say the film definitely expects us to root for this old couple…batshit crazy as they might be.

Though not nearly as bloody as one might expect, the violence still packs a wallop, mainly because it reflects the workings of a pretty sick mind. Still, it’s nothing I’d consider torture porn. A strong argument could even be made that The Goldsmith is more of a black comedy than a horror film, much of the humor stemming from the dialogue and actions of Antonio and his wife, Giovanna. Even when committing a variety of horrific acts, they appear gentle, earnest and sweet-natured.

With a well-conceived story and lively pace, The Goldsmith is a great Italian shocker with plenty of narrative surprises, especially during the outrageous final act. Anchored by amusingly creepy performances by Giuseppe Pambieri (Antonio) and Stefania Casini (Giovanna), this one's for those who appreciate horror with a vindictive streak.


THE GOLDSMITH BACKSTAGE RAW FOOTAGE - Running over an hour, this is an extensive look behind-the-scenes.


October 23, 2023

TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD: A Relic Resurrected

1971 / 101 & 83 min (2 cuts)
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Though comparatively obscure on this side of the pond, director Amando de Ossonio’s Blind Dead series (consisting of four films), was hugely popular and had a significant influence on Spanish horror cinema of the ‘70s. 

The first, 1971’s Tombs of the Blind Dead, is kind of interesting from a historical perspective, with a tone and aesthetic that would be emulated (if not flat-out ripped-off) by many other directors. However, the narrative is sort of dull and disjointed, not helped by certain gratuitous elements that haven’t aged too well.

The story has two girls and a man taking a train for a weekend in the country. In a fit of jealousy, one of them, Virginia (Maria Elena Arpon), jumps off the moving train (!) and finds an abandoned old castle to hold up for the night. Later, a bunch of ghouls rise from their graves, chase Virginia on horseback and then kill her.

The next day, the other two, Betty (Lone Fleming) & Roger (Cesar Burner) worry about their missing friend. They see the castle in the distance, thinking Virginia may have gone there, but none of the locals are willing to talk about it. For good reason, it turns out. The place is populated by the undead Knights Templar, who were executed centuries earlier for heresy and sacrificing virgins, their eyes eaten by crows after being hanged (hence, the whole blind dead thing). 

"Guys...I think I scared off our DoorDash driver."
The police think people are being murdered by a smuggler named Pedro to scare off nosy locals. Conversely, Betty and Roger enlist Pedro’s help to prove the Templar Knights are real, leading to a gruesome climax at the castle. In the interim, Virginia comes back from the dead, killing a coroner, but before anyone thinks a zombie outbreak is at-hand, this is the only scene that suggests some kind of infection, but that plot point is never revisited. For the most part, the Knights do all the killing.

Tombs of the Blind Dead is very atmospheric and the Knights themselves are wonderfully creepy creations. The deliberately-paced sequence in which they first emerge from their graves is truly chilling, as is their initial slow-moving relentlessness. However, there are ultimately way too many of these scenes, which grow increasingly laborious as the film progresses. Elsewhere, some unintentionally humorous moments tend to undermine the tension, such as characters who suddenly can’t move while being stalked or refuse to get back to their feet after falling down. The goofy climax on-board a train is particularly chuckleworthy.

Ossonio also inserts leering scenes lesbianism and rape, neither of which serve any narrative purpose, as well as a flashback sequence which shows the Knights whipping a nude woman to death before sucking on various parts of her body. Not only are these scenes glaringly gratuitous, the rape scene in particular might leave a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth, since the entire story is put on hold just to show it.

But hey, those were different times, when such scenes were likely a genre expectation. And if nothing else, Tombs of the Blind Dead is a great looking film filled with haunting, sometimes disturbing imagery. In a lot of ‘70s European horror - not just Spain - style and tone often trumped logic or plausibility, so in that respect, the film is pretty successful. 

Whether one likes the film or not, Synapse Films has put together a nicely restored Blu-ray release with enough substantial bonus material for us to at-least appreciate its impact on the genre. One feature-length documentary thoroughly explores the history of ‘70s-era Spanish horror, which was pretty-much jump-started by Tombs of the Blind Dead


2 CUTS OF THE FILM - Original Spanish version and U.S. theatrical version (the latter is severely truncated).

MARAUDERS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN - An excellent feature-length doc covering the history of Spanish zombie films, all essentially arriving in the wake of the original Night of the Living Dead. The Blind Dead series is prominently featured.

AWAKENING OF SPANISH HORROR CINEMA - Another interesting historical retrospective.

3 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By author Troy Howarth; 2) By actor Lone Fleming; 3) By Rod Barnett & Troy Guinn.

ALTERNATE U.S. OPENING SEQUENCE - When it was hilariously re-branded (and re-plotted) as Revenge of Planet Ape.

MUSIC VIDEO - “Templar’s Tears,” by Salem Pop (features segments from the film).