Halloween Scene Blu Review: Scream Factory’s Body Bags (1993)

body bags I love seeing horror movies that I’ve heard about over the years but never actually seen. I also love the TLC that Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint gives to films like that as far as presentation and special features go. So, as you might expect, I loved Scream Factory’s recent Body Bags Blu-ray.

Originally conceived as a Tales From The Crypt-like horror anthology series for Showtime. Body Bags features director John Carpenter as The Coroner, a creepy, pun-loving ghoul who opens various black bags in the morgue and tells the person’s tale. Carpenter directed the first two installments, “The Gas Station” and “Hair” while Texas Chainsaw Massacre mastermind Tobe Hooper came in and did “The Eye.” As with most of the horror anthologies I’ve seen — like Cat’s Eye or Creepshow 2 —  this one features two solid stories and one weaker one.

I loved “The Gas Station.” It’s about a young woman named Anne (Alex Datcher) working over night in a gas station in one of those small booths so she can take money and sell cigarettes. While there she encounters a few creepy regulars, a few nice guys and a bum-murdering adversary who wants to add her to his kill list. Carpenter does a killer job of making this whole thing feel tense and dangerous. There’s a scene where Anne locks herself out of the booth and has to go find keys in the main building. I got super nervous during this portion of the short. Then you’ve got the end where she actually faces the killer. It’s great how Carpenter never leaves the gas station and makes it seem both cramped and huge depending on the scene.

There are a lot of fear elements here, many of which are simply related to work. She’s new, wants to prove herself and also make herself seem super capable. This seems like less of a pride thing and more a need for cash to keep putting herself through school, which is super important to her. You’re also dealing with the claustrophobia of the booth which goes from safe zone to cage and the seemingly expansive space between it and the main building.

Sometimes with anthologies or shorter form horror stories, they feel like truncated films, but I thought this story was perfectly suited for this format and used the timing well. Too much longer and it would be filled with too many fakeouts and lose suspense, which it has in spades.

SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH I want to talk a bit about the killer reveal in this one. Carpenter set up several possibilities for the killer in the forms of various customers — including a super-creepy Wes Craven — but I’ve got to say, I never once thought it was going to be Anne’s fellow employee played by Revenge Of The Nerds star Robert Carradine. He got me there. Even though I didn’t recognize Carradine right away, I knew he was a nice guy and didn’t even think about him again  I also liked how Carpenter included a few nods to his other films like when Carradine’s character does the background sit-up Michael Myers style with Anne in the foreground.

I wasn’t nearly as interested in “Hair” which stars Stacey Keach as an aging rich business guy who becomes obsessed with his thinning hair. I understand that this is something that does get into peoples’ heads, but it’s not really on my radar. Anyway, Keach goes to Doctor Lock whose method for hair growth seems to work really well, so well in fact that hair starts growing everywhere. I won’t get into the end reveal, but I’ll say it didn’t do much for me. I’ve actually gone back and watched this segment with an eye for the satire of it all and enjoyed it a lot more. 

Thankfully, I enjoyed the third installment, “Eye” starring Mark Hamill and Twiggy. Hamill plays baseball player Brent Miller who gets into a car accident that leads to the loss of an eye. He gets a transplant, but soon comes to realize that this new organ might be a bit defective as he begins seeing morbid scenes some of which are genuinely spooky. As it turns out the new eye came from a misogynistic killer who starts taking over his body which doesn’t work out so well for his wife. This is definitely the darkest, most intense entry in the series as Hamill struggles for his sanity.

It’s funny, while watching the movie again with audio commentary, “The Gas Station” whizzes by. The first time I watched, I was so absorbed and freaked out that it felt like a feature. Carpenter also points out that he used a station out in the middle of nowhere so it would feel even more remote and lonely. He also pointed out a number of shot set-ups that add to the feel of the picture. Carradine also joined in on the fun. The pair caught up a bit and talked about a few other things, but mainly stuck to the story at hand offering lots of insider details.

Keach comes on and does the same for “Hair” and it’s a ton of fun listening to these two longtime pros talk craft. More than that, Keach says that this story was very personal for him because his parents always told him to wear his hairpiece in part because his dad thought he didn’t make it as an actor for being bald. They even went off on a bit of a tangent about zombie movies after pointing out effects artist Greg Nicotero in a quick shot which was a lot of fun. Listening to this track actually framed the story in a better light for me which will definitely make repeated viewings more fun.

For “Eye” Hooper wasn’t available, so producer (and Carpenter’s wife) Sandy King and Justin Beahm talked about not only his segment, but also some of the goings on behind the scenes that went into filming the various segments and how the movie came to be. This one’s a bit more dry, but still really interesting.

The last major bonus feature on the disc is a doc called Unzipping Body Bags. Carpenter and King get a little more into the background of the show, which started out as an anthology script that they presented to Showtime who bit. So, they decided to do the first one without much thought to anything beyond this first offering. Carradine and Keach also joined in on the doc, which adds a lot of depth to the proceedings.

I’ve been on a John Carpenter kick lately and this movie just continues to build my feelings of affection for this director who has such weird, great sensibilities that have resulted in some of the most fun, creepy and adventurous films around.

Dolph Double Feature: Dark Angel (1990) & The Punisher (1989)

dark angel scream factory Over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of fun diving into the action movies of the 80s and 90s focusing on stars like Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. As it turns out, Lundgren and his films have turned out to be a lot more impressive than I would have imagined. Not only does it turn out that he’s a brilliant man, but what I’ve learned about his life has been pretty fascinating. He also makes really fun movies with lots of kicking and explosions.

One such movie is Dark Angel (a.k.a. I Come In Peace) which I’d never seen and only started hearing about in the last two or three years. Shout Factory recently released the film on Blu-ray and a buddy of mine sent me a copy. I jumped at the chance to start watching the week before last, but fell asleep and then found myself in a place without a Blu-ray player so I had to hold off on finishing until last night. But, I will say the movie about alien drug dealers running afoul of Lundgren’s Detective Jack Caine and his new partner Special Agent Smith (Brian Benben) was worth the wait. While investigating the murder of a police officer, Caine and Smith become more and more aware of the intergallactic threat which they fight in an abandoned warehouse, as you do.

The disc comes with a retrospective that scored Lungren, Benben and director Craig R. Baxley (Action Jackson) to talk about the movie. It was really interesting learning that Baxley was tight with stunt people, so he was able to really beef up the explosions and other action elements, all of which look great in Blu-ray. Lungren also points out an interesting aspect of the story that I didn’t think about, but it’s cool to see a sci-fi movie that’s on a relatively small scale. This isn’t an alien invasion movie with a few people fighting them off, which is what you tend to get. From story and explosions to actors and ideas, I dug Dark Angel and am glad to have it in my collection for repeated viewings.

The Punisher 1989 poster Moving from Dark Angel to The Punisher seemed like a pretty natural move for me. Not only did they come out a year after each other, but they both feature a bad ass Dolph sporting uncharacteristic dark hair! Plus, it helps that the latter has been in my DVD collection for years.

A lot of people complain about how bad comic book movies were for so long and, compared to the effort put in these days, it’s fairly accurate. But, I think The Punisher — directed by Mark Goldblatt (Dead Heat) — is an overlooked gem. Frank Castle is actually one of the easiest comic book characters to bring to film which makes him a good choice for a lower budget, street level movie concept. His wife and kids were killed so now he’s driven by the desire to kill all criminals. There’s no flying or lasers or superpowers, just lots of shooting, punching and explosions which were right up Lungren and company’s alley in the late 80s.

This movie finds Castle living in the sewers, befriending weird rhyming guys like Shake (Barry Otto) who give him information and avoiding cops on the hunt for him like Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.) and Sam Leary (Nancy Everhard, who was in Trial Of The Incredible Hulk that same year too!). Castle’s after a mobster named Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbé) who’s on the ropes after years of the Punisher taking out his men compounded with the recent appearance of Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori) who’s trying to take over by kidnapping all the mobsters’ kids. To save the kids, Punisher teams up with Franco to get his boy back.

The film features several great fight scenes, but there are two particularly fun ones. Castle heads to Coney Island in an attempt to get the kids back and faces off a ton of gun-toting ninjas in an amusement park ride. How rad is that? The end of the movie also features Castle and Franco storming Lady Tanaka’s skyscraper, taking on all kinds of threats as they climb towards their adversary. For some reason, many of these scenes are tinged red, but I still really enjoy this high body count explosion of violence. This is one of the few comic book movies that also fits right in with that great 80s/90s action aesthetic and I love it.

For Your Home Viewing Pleasure: September 24th, 2013

iron man 3 combo packThis week’s biggest release is none other than Iron Man 3 (Two-Disc Blu-ray / DVD + Digital Copy), the latest Marvel Studios film to hit home video complete with all kinds of special features for you to comb through until Thor: The Dark World comes out.The Dark Knight Trilogy Ultimate Collector's Edition

On the other side of the comic book movie side of the fence, Warner Bros. unleashed their The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition [Blu-ray] which includes Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises as well as plenty of previously unseen special features.

What are the odds that two Explosions Are Rad favorites not only have straight to video movies debuting on the same day, but also feature the same word in both titles? Apparently pretty good as Jason Statham’s latest Redemption (also known as Hummingbird in the UK) dropped today…

As did Dolph Lundgren’s clunkily titled Blood of Redemption. This one also stars Billie Zane and sometimes-Statham collaborator Vinnie Jones. So many connections!dollman blu-ray

Dollman starring Tim Thomerson and directed by Albert Pyun (Cyborg) isn’t exactly a lost classic, but we’d definitely be interested in checking out the recently released Blu-ray from Full Moon.Movies 4 You - Timeless Military Film Collection

War movie buffs will jazzed to hear that Shout and Timeless Media have Movies 4 You – Timeless Military Film Collection available now. The set includes Hell Raiders, Lost Battalion, Tank Battalion and Go For Broke.

Scream Factory Announces Assault On Precinct 13 Features

assault on precinct 13 blu-rayThe Scream Factory imprint over at Shout Factory generally sticks to horror films, as is fitting of their name, but every now and then they get their hands on a classic action film and give it the awesome special features treatment they’re known for. Just today they announced the full slate of special features on the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD release of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. Usually we’d condense everything for you, but this is worth a read as-is. You can pre-order the disc right now.

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray™

Delivering more terrifying perils and action suspense, John Carpenter’s acclaimed pre-Halloween thriller ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 all-new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray™ hits home entertainment shelves everywhere on November 19 from Scream Factory. This definitive edition release of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 boasts a bounty of all-new special bonus content, a collectible cover featuring newly rendered retro-style artwork, a reversible wrap with original theatrical key art and much more!

Isolated and cut off from the city inside a soon-to-be-closed L.A. police station, a group of police officers and convicts must join forces to defend themselves against the gang called Street Thunder, who have taken a blood oath to kill someone trapped inside the precinct.

From John Carpenter (HalloweenThe Thing and Prince Of Darkness), Assault On Precinct 13 combines the elements of a classic western and a modern thriller to create a riveting cult classic.

A CKK PRODUCTION “ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13”

Starring AUSTIN STOKER

DARWIN JOSTON, LAURIE ZIMMER

Executive Producer JOSEPH KAUFMAN

Produced by J.S. KAPLAN

Written and Directed by JOHN CARPENTER

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray™  Bonus Content:

Audio Commentary with writer/director John Carpenter
NEW Audio Commentary with Art Director & Sound Effects Editor Tommy Lee Wallace
NEW interview with actress Nancy Loomis Kyes
NEW interview with actor Austin Stoker
Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker
Theatrical Trailer
Radio Spots

A new John Carpenter commentary is probably worth the price of admission along, but there’s an awful lot of other goodness on there that will surely appeal to fans of Carpenter’s and film in general. Scream Factory’s Assault On Precinct 13 hits stores on November 19th.

Blu Review: Futureworld (1976)

futureworld blu-ray I realized while watching the copy of Futureworld on Blu-ray that Shout Factory sent me for review that I’ve actually seen this sequel to Westworld more times in the past few years than the original Yul Brynner robot film. As I said when I briefly reviewed Westworld back in 2008 (can’t believe I’ve been blogging that long!) the original film has a special place in my heart because I remember my dad getting really excited about renting it when I was younger and it being a crazy cool movie.

The follow-up doesn’t necessarily have that same emotional resonance with me, but I’ve got to admit, I really enjoyed this film as well. Taking place after the events of the first film, this movie features reporters Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner going back to the re-opened theme park Davos and trying to figure out if they’ve worked out all the bugs or the place and its robots still hold a danger for humanity. You might expect the movie to get back into “killer robot” territory like WestWorld, but it actually goes a really interesting route by using their technology in an effort to make robotic copies of world leaders and other important people in an effort to secure the company’s interests. I thought it was a clever way to go about the story that didn’t feel like just a rehash of the original (in fact, the dream sequence where Brynner returns feels really odd and a little shoe-horned), but I guess viewers and critics weren’t interested in that and the film is only considered a cult classic which is too bad because I thought it was well done.

An aspect of this movie that I really fell in love with — and one I find myself falling for in a lot of well made movies from this time period like At The Earth’s Core which came out the same year — is how cleverly some of the special effects-heavy ideas were cleverly portrayed. This film has holographic chess which cuts between a board of static figures and people dressed up like said figures on a giant board game fighting one another. There’s also a whole bit about skiing in space where they simply shot people skiing in space suits and tinted the whole thing red! These are pretty simple ways of getting around ideas that modern filmmakers might use CGI for or simply excise from the script for an easier shoot. I appreciate that level of skill and ingenuity being put into a film. I’ve said it plenty of times, but I’d rather see a practical effect that doesn’t look so great 20 years later instead of a bad CGI one that never looked good.

Which brings me around to the look fo the film. I’m still fairly new to this whole Blu-ray thing and have a basic understanding that modern movies shot digitally look best on BR, but am not quite sure what to make of older movies presented in the format. I know some companies go through and remaster everything to utilize Blu-ray’s better visuals and Shout is definitely one of those companies as this movie looks fantastic. I don’t remember having any complaints when I watched the DVD version I got through Netlflix when I saw the movie the first time, but everything looks so crisp and bright that you can tell they really put a lot of effort into updating these movies. It helps, of course, that the original film was well shot by director Richard T. Heffron and company. I’ve seen a few Blu-rays that look really bad when there’s a lot of black on screen, but they’re mostly 80s horror movies that probably didn’t start their lives on the best of terms. There’s a few instances of graininess, but I don’t really know how much that can be avoided from a technical standpoint. The general brightness of the film takes over pretty quickly in most of those cases.

I will also note that Shout didn’t go into full-on special features mode with this disc. It’s pretty bare bones in that regard, featuring only the trailer, some radio spots and a still gallery. At the same time, the MSRP is around $20 — $16.98 if you want to buy directly from Shout in time for the March 26th release — so it’s not like you’re paying what you would for one of their more robust offerings.

I’m giving Shout Factory’s Blu-ray presentation of Futureworld a big old double thumbs up not only for unearthing a classic film and cleaning it up, but also for presenting it in such a way that doesn’t feel like it will break the bank to check out.

Revisiting Beast Wars Season 1

Anytime I go back and watch a cartoon from my childhood, I’m wary. You never know if the show was actually good or you didn’t know any better and just thought all the bright colors and explosions were cool. Unlike some of the classics I watched as a little kid like Masters Of The Universe, Transformers or M.A.S.K., I was a bit more discerning when Beast Wars came on in 1996. I was 13 of course and I really dug this show.

And thankfully, I enjoyed it again after watching Shout Factory’s collection of the whole series. When I wrote about M.A.S.K. I noted that I was surprised that it was still pretty funny, but overall really goofy, for the most part though Beast Wars is just plain good. The set-up is like this, thousands of years in the future (same continuity as the 80s toon), Decepticons have evolved into Predacons while Autobots are now Maximals. Megatron (not the same one) takes off in a spaceship with Optimus Primal and his crew giving chase. They hit a space/time warp that crashes them on a planet inhabited by animals. There’s a ton of Energon around which is bad for Transformers apparently, so they wrap themselves in animal or insect bodies. From there it’s what you might expect, the Predacons are bad and the Maximals are doing what’s right and keeping them from spreading their terror across the galaxy.

But, it’s not all that simple, thankfully. Sure, you’ve got some pretty basic cartoon plots like “all the good guys go blind!” or “the good guy in the bad guy’s headquarters!” but the creators also did a lot of new and unexpected things. As soon as the Predacons land and get their alternate forms, Dinobot starts giving Megatron a bunch of shit for being incompetent. You think this is pretty general Starscream territory and are kind of waiting for it to be over and then Dinobot just bounces and becomes a Maximal. Better yet, he stays one (at least through the first season, I can’t remember what happens in 2, 3 and Beast Machines). That’s not the kind of thing you’d see in a cartoon from the 80s, something like that would last an episode and wind up coming off as super corny.

There’s also a pretty clever plot device where, before crashing, a bunch of protoforms were released. Theses are basically blank Transformer bodies waiting to be booted up. I believe they’re Maximals, but we see pretty quickly that Predacons can reprogram them, which raises a lot of philosophical questions that I’m going to tackle in another post. This not only gives them something to do other than fight over Energon and also gives the potential for new characters for either side. As much as I dug the main characters (from Cheetor who reminds me of my cat and I like how he pronounces his name “Cheater” most of the time to Terrorsaur who screams “Terrorize” like he’s in a black medal band), it’s always fun to see what new TFormers will be coming up and which side they’ll be on. Really fun stuff.

The most practical praise I can give this set of DVDs is that I watched all four discs of the first season in relatively quick time. After getting through the first disc of the M.A.S.K. set, I enjoyed the experience, but figured I could take a break before moving on since there’s no real through line to the episodes. With Beast Wars, though, I was always interested in what was going to happen next. What’s happening with the Energon? Are they going to get off planet? What’s with that strange floating island? Who’s going to get the next protoform? There’s a lot going on and I’m excited to move on to the next season. Not only that, but it got me interested in watching the Transformers animated movie again, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid, as well as the G1 animated series. I’ve got Transformers fever, gang!

Revisiting MASK

As a kid, I was absolutely taken with MASK. Not only did it have colorful heroes each with their own super-powered helmet, but also a series of vehicles that all looked normal before turning into far more deadly modes of transportation. What’s not to like? I loved the cartoon and went nuts for the toys. I was recently checking out a website (can’t remember the link) with a list of the different toys and vehicles only to discover that I had roughly half of the output from Kenner. I remember staging hugely complex battles between good guys and bad all over my living room, even posting one hologram version of a character up on a lamp, only to discover he had completely melted! Oops.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, MASK is a team of good guys run by Matt Trakker. Their main enemies come in the form of a terrorist organization called VENOM run by Miles Mayhem. While Miles seems to have a pretty stock group of goons to choose from, Scott hand picks operatives depending on their skill set. Everyone on both sides has a mask/helmet that has a unique ability AND a transforming vehicle.

When I got to college and later started working for Wizard, I noticed that MASK was one of the huge blank spots when it came to cartoon DVDs. Transformers, G.I. Joe and Thundercats were all available in one clunky form or another (and in far, far better sets today thanks to Shout Factory), but you had to go with bootlegs or old VHS tapes if you wanted to view the war between MASK and VENOM.

Until today that is! Thanks to the valiant efforts of Shout Factory, the company that has routinely put out stellar collections of classic animation for fans. I haven’t had a chance to go through the pair of behind the scenes features on the DVD yet, but I did get through the first two discs. The episodes look great! The menus are fun and detailed, with nods to the show, but without getting in the way of your viewing experience (like, say, those awful Buffy menus that take forever in their efforts to show off how “cool” menus can be). The overall presentation is also pretty darn good. I’ve got a basic DVD player and a high def TV, but the images all looked very crisp and sharp (as crisp and sharp as the original animation would allow). As always, Shout did an awesome job.

The real question is how the show holds up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to beloved shows from my childhood only to cringe at a ridiculous premise or find that my young mind remembered a lot more action and intrigue than was actually on the screen. There was a little of that with MASK, but I actually had a good time watching the first two discs. Sure, there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense. Why does Matt Trakker’s son Scott know about his dad’s super secret organization? Who makes those awesomely powerful helmets? Why does Miles Mayhem hire such dummies? How did VENOM get MASK’s tech? And most importantly, what the heck is VENOM’s goal? They steal all kinds of weird stuff, from mystic artifacts to bleeding edge science, but never for any real ends that we know about.

I can get past all that though because, for all its goofiness the show is still fun. Plus, I’m nostalgic, so I’ll allow for such things. I’ve also learned a thing or three about animation from that era since I was a good. For instance, animation studios usually reused motions whenever possible or huge cut scenes because it was cheaper. Watch a few episodes of He-Man and notice how many motions you recognize or how many times they use the transformation sequence. It’s a lot. With MASK, I was expecting such things and while they did use the “put the masks on” sequence every episode, the rest seemed pretty fresh. That includes the brief scenes showing the MASK team members as Trakker calls them to arms. One dude is a dog groomer, another a rock star, you get the idea. I kept expecting them to reuse these bits, but on the eps I watched, they were all knew and actually pretty funny. That might not be the case as the series progresses, but I’m definitely interested in working my way through the series to see!