Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!

CAT O’ NINE TAILS (1971) Blu-ray review

Director: Dario Argento
Cast: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak

The fine folks over at Blue Underground have been on an Argento tear lately, releasing a bunch of the Italian horror maestro’s movies oin HD for the first time, which makes me very happy. Their latest Argento Blu-ray is actually one of Dario’s first movies. Ok, technically his second. That means a few things to the Argento aficionado. First, it’s part of his unconnected “animal” trilogy, along with the films; THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) and the awesomely titled, FOUR FLIES ON GRAY VELVET (1971). It also means that the movie is more Hitchcockian than the weird, trippy, splatterific movies he would become famous for later on. Also, for those really in the know, Dario Argento has often said that while this movie is “fine”, it is his least favorite of all the movies he’s done. Now for the record, and right off the bat, I don’t agree with Argento on that. He’s made more than a couple of films what was worse than this little CAT, but does that mean this movie should be a buy or a rental? Well let’s find out.

In CAT, Karl Malden plays a retired and blind newspaper reporter living in Italy who, while walking with niece one night, overhears two people talking in a car about blackmail. This gets the old reporter’s curiosity tingling and when one of the men from the car, identified as such by his niece, winds up murdered later, he starts to look into the matter (ha, get it, he’s blind) with the help of a younger, eager, but capable reporter. The trail soon leads to a pharmaceutical company's experimental research into double Y chromosome males. In case you don’t know, the double Y stands for incredibly violent. Hmm, I wonder if there’s a connection to the murderer?

Along the way the crusading duo run into more bodies, explore the taboo (at the time, at least) world of homosexuals, investigate graveyards at night (always a great idea in murder/horror movies), and collect a list of nine leads to follow. Yes, that is the very slim thread that connects the film with its title. If you’re expecting the favorite flogger of sailors and those in the S&M scene, or perhaps a weird mutant cat, to show up in this movie then you’ll be disappointed.

Also if you were expecting the usual giallo goodness you have come to expect from Argento, then you also might be disappointed. You see some out there consider CAT to be a giallo film, while others think it’s more of a straight up, Hitchcockian murder mystery. Due to the lack of gore and rather mundane murders, I also fall into that latter group. That doesn’t make it a bad movie, but it was a somewhat disappointment when I went into this movie expecting something like DEEP RED (1975) and instead got TORN CURTIAN (1966). So the morel of this story is know what to expect before watching this movie and you’re sure to get more out of it.

Now while the picture and sound on this disc are great, and that’s what really matters for any movie, the extras do leave a little to be desired. The big draw is a collection of interviews with Argento, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, and composer Ennio Morricone that runs about 14 minutes. In addition there are the usual trailers, TV and radio spots, and two short audio only interviews with stars James Francisco’s and Karl Malden.

While CAT O’ NINE TAILS wasn’t really my cup o’ tails…er…tea, I can recommend it to mystery lovers, Argento film fanatics, those looking to complete their home library’s “Master Directors: A” section, anyone with a Karl Malden fetish (ewww), or if you want to see a sort of giallo-light movie. It’s definitely worth a watch, I just can’t say for certain that it’s worth a buy, and for me I rarely say that about Argento films. So take that how you will or as a moderate recommendation with a few provisos sprinkled on top.

THE TERMINATOR (1984) Blu-ray review

Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn

A) Yes this is not a horror flick.
B) Who cares, sci-fi and horror are kissing cousins and besides, it’s one of the coolest movies ever.
C) It’s out on Blu-ray.
D) Yes it was out on Blu-ray before, but that edition kind of sucked.
E) Does this version suck? Let’s find out.

Do I really have to explain the plot of THE TERMINATOR to you? Is there anyone alive over the age of five that doesn’t know what these movies are all about? Ok, future world, robots rule, mankind fights back and wins, but as a last ditch effort the evil machines send a killer robot wrapped in human skin back in time to the rocking 80s to kill the mother of the resistance leader so that the leader will never be born. Enter Arnie (hey is that thing moving, then let me stick my penis in it) Schwarzenegger as the titular death machine, the role that would make him a certified box office sensation. Luckily the human resistance of the future also sends someone back in time to protect the mother of the century and so begins a lethal cat and mouse game all over LA with two metallic fists full of action, groundbreaking (at the time) special effects, and a story so influential that it’s been mentioned, parodied, or out and out ripped off in dozens of movies since then.

Oh and it also gave birth to Arnold’s signature line of, “don’t worry, I’ll use a condom.” No wait, sorry, I meant, “I’ll be back.”

THE TERMINATOR is a must watch movie for anyone, and I mean anyone. I know people who don’t like horror movies (and I pity them). I know people who don’t “get” sci-fi. Some people (mostly women) don’t like action films and others don’t like modern comedies…not that I can fault anyone for that last bit. Most people don’t dig musicals, some think dramas are just boring, and others don’t like foreign films if they have to read subtitles, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like, if not outright love, THE TERMINATOR. God’s honest truth, I’ve never met anyone who does not like this movie. Now naturally there’s got to be some folks out there who don’t like this film. Hell, you might not like it and if so, that’s fine. It also means that I would not want to meet you and therefor my statement above would remain true.

However with all that said, this hugely famous, much loved, and amazing movie has been getting very little respect for the last couple of years. You see an action/sci-fi flick like this was what Blu-ray was made for. You don’t need High-Def to get anything more out of REMAINS OF THE DAY or the like, but a film like this; hell yeah you do! Unfortunately when this movie first came to Blu-ray it got some mixed love at best and this time around it only gets a brief, one-armed hug better.

The video quality was not all that great. Sure it was better than DVD but not by leaps and bounds and not up to the high standards of many top tier Blu-ray releases now. Yes it’s 1080p but it could have been cleaned up a lot better as there are lots of bips and cracks to be seen on screen along with some compression noise. Is it a horrible transfer? No. But is it worthy of a film like THE TERMINATION? Again I would have to say no. Luckily the audio is the same as it ever was, which means its fine.

The real downer is still the lack of extras. Sure it has a spiffy new digibook which includes photos, trivia, and a good smattering of info, but the actual extras on the disc are slim pickings. The years old DVD release was well packed with goodies, including an over hour long documentary called “Other Voices”. Well for some unfathomable reason only one small, 12 minute part of that doc about the visual effects and music has made its way onto this disc. What the hell, did the other parts get lost? There are 7 deleted scenes and an 18 minute interview with James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger called “Terminator: A Retrospective”. And, well that’s it. They couldn’t even be bothered to put on a trailer, not that anyone really watches those. Oh and no director’s commentary, but then I don’t think there ever was one.

So if you already have the Special Edition DVD then you don’t need this unless you want a slight picture improvement. If you already have the previous Blu-ray then you really don’t need this new edition unless you want a cool new booklet. If you don’t have either of those, then what the hell? This is THE TERMINATOR, we’re talking about. So in that instance I can recommend this new edition of the classic Schwarzenegger film, but only in that one, highly unlikely instance.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE SEASON 4 (1959) Blu-ray review

Created by: Rod Serling

TWILIGHT ZONE, the fourth complete season to be released on Blu-ray, with incredibly polished picture and a ton of extra features. That should be all you need to hear before deciding to run out and buy this today. But just in case you’re one of those weirdoes that don’t instantly start drooling at the thought of the ZONE, keep reading and I’ll give you all the info you’ll need to start Pavlov Dogging it.

This new Blu-ray set by Image has all 18 episodes from season four. Now admittedly, this season of TZ isn’t the strongest of that show’s run and at just 18 episodes, it isn’t the longest, but just like pizza, even when TWILIGHT ZONE isn’t great, it’s still pretty darn good. So why only 18 episodes? Well TZ was used as a midseason replacement for another show that got the axe. Oh and even though there’s only 18 episodes, they were lengthened to an hour long each to fill the timeslot, so that’s sort of like getting 36 episodes, right? Oh and I don’t want to totally dismiss these ZONEs out of hand as there are some good episodes to be found here, like “Mute” and “Death Ship” both penned by Richard Matheson or the Serling-written "The Thirty-Fathom Grave" that combine the horrors of war and the mystery of the TWILIGHT ZONE perfectly. All I’ saying is that there is no "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" or the like to be found here. No, “Nightmare” doesn’t appear until next season.

As for the extras, there’s a ton to choose from. There are brand new audio commentaries for 13 out of the 18 episodes. If that wasn’t enough jabbering, there even more commentaries from the old DVD release. There are interviews with a handful of behind the scenes people. Seven radio dramas are present featuring the vocal acting talents of Jason Alexander, Lou Diamond Phillips, Blair Underwood and others. All of the episodes have their soundtracks isolated, just in case you want to listen to the music of the ZONE and each has promos for next week’s episode from Mr. Serling himself. There are bloopers, classic commercials, a promo for a famous writers school, and even a pretty funny skit from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

This is TWILIGHT ZONE, people. If you love horror, sci-fi, mystery, and just plain weird stories then getting this is a no brainer. The ZONE has never look or sounded this good or had this many extras. Simply put, this is the best version of this classic TV show ever produced. So stop reading already and go, get it today and you can be scaring yourself silly tonight. Consider this on highly recommended.

--Brian M. Sammons