Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!

PIRANHA (1978)

Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy

After the blockbuster that was JAWS came out, everyone wanted a piece of that “terror from the depths” pie. There were movies about killer alligators, killer crocodiles (because crocs are so different to gators), killer octopus, and ORCA about an actual killer whale. But one of the best, in not the funniest, was the Roger Corman’s 1978 production; PIRANHA. As a Corman picture, this movie has just been released in a special edition from Shout! Factory as part of their Roger Corman’s Cult Classics line. But after over thirty years, does this movie still have bite (heh)? Well let’s dive in and find out.

To start off, you’ve got to give this movie credit. After a couple of typical teens go swimming where they shouldn’t, and thereby become fish food, the film starts off with the plucky heroine of the piece playing a JAWS video game. That right there sets this JAWS rip off head and shoulders (that’s a JAWS joke that I hope you get) above all the other JAWS rip offs. This movie knows exactly what it is, it’s fine with it, and it’s just here for a good time. And a good time is exactly what PIRANHA provides.

A bickering man and woman go looking for the two missing teens up at a largely abandoned military test facility where the government was doing odd experiments with aquatic things. The pair encounters the kooky scientist, played with panache by Kevin McCarthy, and inadvertently let loose a whole school of genetically altered super piranha into the nearby river. These little eating machines can survive in cold, fresh water and breed like rabbits, and they are making their way down the river, munching on anyone and everyone they encounter along the way. That includes not only a vacation resort filled with tourist but a summer camp full of little kids. Can our two heroes save the day from not only the deadly fishies but the military who wants to cover everything up, the stereotypical cops who won’t listen until its too late, and the greedy resort owner who won’t close the beaches down no matter what?

One notable piece of trivia about this movie is that it marks the directorial debut of Joe Dante, who would later go on to make the movies; THE HOWLING, GREMLINS and INNERSPACE. Even at this starting point of his career, much of Joe’s trademark style is evident, as is his love for veteran character actor, Dick Miller.

Shout! Factory once more puts out a stellar collection of extras for both the DVD and BD. There’s a commentary with director Dante, a making of featurette, bloopers and outtakes, trailers, a still gallery, a poster gallery, radio and TV spots, and a nice addition of extra scenes that was used to pad out the time, not to mention replace some of the bloody bits, of this film when it was aired on network TV.

PIRANHA is another throwback to the era of drive-ins and fun exploitation flicks, the kind of movies that just aren’t made today, and the kind of movies I greatly miss. It is a good addition to the Corman Cult Classic line of videos and a great movie to have in your collection for whenever the mood hits you for some watery, bloody, good times.


Director: Barbara Peeters
Cast: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow

Shout! Factory is fast becoming my new favorite DVD and BD company, largely with their awesome ROGER CORMAN’S CULT CLASSICS line. This latest addition to the line is no exception to the great collection of exploitive, drive-in, cult, and just fun as all hell movies that haven’t been out on DVD for far too long, and never out at all on BD. But does this killer, horny, fishmen flick from 1980, the golden age of horror movies (at least in my opinion) deserve the special edition treatment?

In four words; hell yeah it does! I love this movie. It’s got High Priest of the Church of the Eternal Drive-In, Reverend Joe Bob Briggs’ big three (blood, breasts, and beasts) well covered, with the special effects handled by makeup maker Rob Bottin and lots of cute girls rocking the 80s look that I miss so much. No really, I do. Anyway, the music is top notch, provided by James Horner, who would one day soar high above his humble Corman beginnings by scoring movies like TITANIC and AVATAR. The direction is competent, but not particularly noteworthy. The acting is vintage 80s horror movie, which once again I love to death. The story is a riff on H.P. Lovecraft’s excellent story, “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (whether the filmmakers admit to it or not). The titular Humanoids walk the fine line between being cheesy and badass. Best of all, this movie falls firmly into the camp of “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” and that is easily the best thing about it.

What do I mean when I say that? Well despite all the wonderful nudity and bloodshed (two things many modern movies fail to combine), and the awesome look of the 80s era film stock, it dares to do things that filmmakers just wouldn’t do these days. And I’m not even talking about the gratuitous fishman raping women scenes (more on that in a sec). No I mean this movie kills little kids and dogs! Now in real life I’m not an advocate for either, honestly I’m not, but if the story calls for it, especially in a horror movie, then you have better have the ba…I mean guts, to do it. Yet every time I watch a modern American horror flick and they put either pets or children in jeopardy in an attempt to ratchet up the fear factor, I just yawn because I know for a fact that Hollywood is so afraid of offending anyone that there’s no way any harm will befall the little critters. Hell even Jason Voorhees never killed a dog (the only dog of note was in Part IV and it wisely jumped out of a window to get away from Jason), and the big masked maniac never killed anyone under the age of, say sixteen, or more accurately someone in their mid-twenties pretending to be sixteen. Well this movie says screw all that. Back then there were no PC police ready to pounce on them for the slightest infraction of the “Everyone’s Guide to Good Morals” playbook. Also, if you are looking for a more serious reason I applaud the filmmakers for doing this, then how about this: by having the monsters eat a kid at the start of the movie, the next time the humanoids menace a little girl you wonder if she’s going to be alright. You actually feel a sense of unease, and perhaps even fear, at the scene. You know that these monsters aren’t playing by the rules. I mean, it worked for Jaws, right? Hey fright filmmakers, you paying attention?

As for the story, it’s your typical tale of a small seaside town invaded by a bunch of horny fishmen that slaughter the dudes and make icky fishy sex with the ladies. There’s a nice subplot about the nearby Native Americans and the white townspeople disagreeing about if their town needs a big fishing cannery being built in it, but really, does anyone watch a Corman production for the subplots? No you go to watch a groovy flick packed with gore and naughty nudie bits. Corman knew that, and that’s why his movies, while low budget and more than a bit dated, are still a great movie watching experience for any true horrorhead today.

To further cement their place in my cold, black heart, Shout! Factory has released this movie with a nice selection of extras. There’s a bunch of never before scene deleted scenes that they just found in the MGM vault, most featuring lots more blood and boobies that really should have been in the movie. There’s pretty good and longish making of featurettes, interviews with lost of people behind the movie, including Corman, a separate interview with Corman about the movie by Leonard Maltin, and the usual trailers and TV spots. One thing the presentation was sadly missing was a commentary track, but I guess nothing is perfect. Lastly, I was lucky enough to see this movie both on DVD and Blu-ray and both editions not only look great, with a few exceptions where the film still has some scratches on it, but have the same amount of extras on them and I really liked to see that. So many movie companies now days (like Universal, MGM, and Paramount, just to name a few) put out rather barebones DVDs and save all the good extras for the BD, well not Shout! Factory. So no matter what format of player you have, you can get a great copy of HUMANOIDS for it.

As if you couldn’t tell by now, I really loved this movie and I’m betting you will too. If you love 80s horror, if you love monster movies, if you love movies with Lovecraftian overtones, and you can stomach fishman rape, dogs getting killed, and a child getting murdered off screen, then this is the movie for you. It’s a great late night, popcorn munching, man do I miss drive-ins kind of movie if there ever was one.


Director: B. D. Clark
Cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Robert Englund, Sid Haig

Ok, let’s get this out of the way at the top of this; if you’ve ever even heard of this movie then you’ve heard about the infamous maggot raping scene. If you never have heard of this 1981 cult classic ALIEN rip-off, then be warned, there’s a gratuitous maggot raping in it. No, not a guy raping a maggot, but a huge, slimy space maggot raping a woman. If the thought of that really turns you off, and who could blame you if it did, then this might not be the movie for you. However that would also be sad as GALAXY OF TERROR is chock full of early eighties, low budget, cheesy goodness. It’s the kind of midnight movie I love to watch, but I’ll be the first to admit that this flick is an acquired taste to be sure. So keep reading and see if you’ve got the palette for this movie or not.

In the future there’s a guy called the Planet Master who has a glowing red ball of light for a head and despite just sitting around playing chess all day people seem to worship him like a god. So when he orders a ship full of people to explore a far off world, the crew all go happily. Once there, they find a dead and abandoned alien city and then their deepest fears begin to become true and murder them. A guy who “lives and dies by the crystals” dies to his own crystal weapons, a man who was afraid of getting old is killed by tentacle-leach-things (yeah, that one didn’t make any sense to me), someone else must face an evil version of himself in combat, and then there’s the woman who hates maggots…well you know what happens to her.

Yes, the story is as simple as that, and at times it’s rather silly, but it does have some truly unique moments and at least one twist on who lives and who dies that I didn’t see coming. Essentially GALAXY OF TERROR is a mixture of good and bad, the corny and the creative. Most of the video special effects are laughably bad such as laser blasts, animated spaceships moving over mat paintings, and the glowing face of the Planet Master, all of which got me chuckling, but the makeup is passable and sometimes pretty groovy. And yes the acting is questionable at best, with Sid Haig chewing up the scenery as he throws crystal Chinese stars at everything, and the always stellar Erin Moran, of JOANIE LOVES CHACHI fame, showing off the skills that made her such a “TV star”, but some of it is great fun, like watching the always entertaining Robert Englund ham it up towards the end of the film. So yeah, this film has a lot of bad but there’s also enough goofy, gory fun to be had by fans of such things to keep them entertained throughout its 120 min runtime.

As with the other Roger Corman’s Cult Classics that Shout! Factory has put out, this Blu-ray comes packed with extras. There’s an entertaining commentary with the cast and crew, a documentary called “New Worlds” about the production company Corman started to bring his “classics” to the masses. “The Crew of the Quest” is a collection of interviews with some of the cast of this movie, with genre fan favorites Robert Englund, Sid Haig being the stars of the show. Additionally there are featurettes on the film sets, one on the mechanical effects, a third about the movie’s post production, one about the movie’s composer, and one last one on then co-production designer James Cameron. Yes, that James Cameron. There’s he nice addition of the original screenplay as a PDF file and the usual trailers, posters and still galleries to complete the package.

If you are a fan of cult films then you’ll probably love this movie as it’s the cult-iest I’ve seen in a long time. If you saw this movie years ago and have been waiting to see hot maggot raping action in glorious hi-def…then ewww…but also you’re in luck as this movie has never looked, or sounded, this good. For those with a taste for the cheesy and the bizarre I highly recommend this movie.


Director: George A. Romero
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross

You know, if I wasn’t getting these BDs from across the pond to review, I would have a jealous hatred of Brits for all the kick ass discs they get as opposed to the BDs and DVDs we get here in North America. While that is common for many titles and companies, Arrow Video from the UK seems to take some sick pride in outshining the discs Hollywood puts out. Take this one for example. American based Anchor Bay has a great little Blu-ray of this, the best zombie movie ever made, the original DAWN OF THE DEAD. As far as looks and sounds, this one from Arrow matches but doesn’t best it. Where this Arrow Video release does excel is in the area of extras and special features.

All the usual Arrow goodies are once again present. Double-sided sleeve art which gives you four options for BD cover. A double-sided wall poster and a 15 page collector’s booklet round out the non-disc extras. As for the discs, they are region free so they can play on any player in the world, and this time around there’s three Blu-rays to choose from, each containing a different cut of the film. There’s the original theatrical cut, the director’s cut, and the Italian Argent cut. Not enough for you yet? Well there’s the usual commentary with Romero and special effects guru Tom Savini, a second commentary with the film’s producer, trailers, TV and radio spots. What is far than usual is the feature length documentary “Document of the Dead” that even has its own extras like interviews and deleted scenes that didn’t make it into the doc. And as if THAT wasn’t enough, there’s yet one more featurette, “Fan of the Dead”. So with all that, it looks pretty obvious that those devious Brits are trying their best to make this the One Disc to Rule Them All when it comes to DAWN OF THE DEAD.

As for the movie, as I’ve done with other must see horror classics, I’m not going to get into it here. Come one, it’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, I know you’ve had to have see this. But just in case you haven’t, it’s got zombies, a shopping mall, clever social satire, groovy seventies fashion, some early but still wicked gore effects, and an admittedly silly ending. If you look up “horror classic” in the dictionary, this movie will be staring back up at you.

Sure this luxury import will cost you more than the perfectly good domestic Blu-ray, so you’ve got to ask yourself is all the extra content and goodies worth it? Well only you know the answer to that, but as for me, I highly recommend them.


Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo

I love this movie. If it’s not my favorite Italian gore flick, it’s right up there. The story is bizarre, the special makeup effects are gag-inducing, and it’s all around 80s horror gold. Now if you live in North America and love this movie as much as I do and want it on Blu-ray, then chances are good you’ve already got an excellent copy of it on BD from Blue Underground. However if you live anywhere else in the world, or your just an unabashed fanboy of Britain’s Arrow Video, then this just might be the disc you’ve been waiting for because happily it’s region free (something I think all discs should be) so you can play it anywhere. That means you, as a true horrorhead, now have more choices in how you get your CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD fix, and that’s always a good thing.

Now just in case you are not familiar with this movie, I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version. There’s a city called Dunwich (no relation to infamous town created by H.P. Lovecraft) where a priest hangs himself, thereby cracking the gate to hell open. Soon the priest, or zombie, or whatever of the dead priest is popping up all over town, leaving horribly mangled bodies in its wake. Oh and did I mention the zombies? Yeah, can’t forget about them. Just like you can’t forget some of the most memorable gore scenes ever committed on film. Guy getting a drill through the head? Check. Another guy getting his brains squished out by a zombie-thing’s hand, and lets not forget the epic girl-puking-out-her-own-guts-in-proper-anatomical-order scene. Well that’s it for the two cent tour. The rest I leave for you to discover, and besides, if mentioning a woman barfing out her insides in glorious color isn’t enough to convince you to get this movie, then nothing I write here will convince you.

On to what Arrow Video does best; the extras. Once more there’s the double-sided sleeve art, and the double sided wall poster, not to mention a fifteen page booklet about the movie, and a set of six poster art postcards. In addition to those wonderful goodies, there are plenty of extras and featurettes included with this package. Ten of them to be exact, so I won’t be going into all of them here. Let’s just say that they cover pretty much all aspects of the movie and are unique to this edition of the movie. There’s also an audio commentary with legendary genre actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice, and another with lead actress Catriona Macoll. Topping things off are the usual trailers and still galleries.

This is a great addition to the library of any horror fan, and since it can be played in any and all BD players, that alone might be reason enough to pick up this disc. I, however, am just a huge fan of all the extras, attention to details, and overall great quality that Arrow punts into all their discs. For all those reasons, I can highly recommend an extended visit to this CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD.

--Brian M. Sammons