Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Jesse Vint, June Chadwick, Dawn Dunlap
Directed by Allan Holzman
Distributed by Shout! Factory
Forbidden World has been absent from the world of home video for so long that it had all but slipped from memory. When Shout! Factory announced the 1982 Roger Corman sci-fi/horror hybrid for DVD and Blu-ray, I couldn’t recall much more than the slimy antagonist’s wide-mouthed and razor-sharp grin. It was an enthralling experience for an eleven-year-old kid – what with all the nudity and gore involved – and I was eager to see if it held up to a theoretically mature adult viewing.
It’s awfully hard to hate a movie that’s rife with so many pleasing genre elements: a nefarious lab experiment on the loose, nymphomaniac scientists who lust after the most futile Bounty Hunter of all time, a lecherous voyeur who spends his evenings spying on the nubile ladies and, of course, a general array of terrible decisions (“Let’s try to reason with the bloodthirsty mutant alien!”). It’s all here, and if this sort of thing sounds like a good time at the movies, then there’s no better way to kill 77 minutes.
Director Allan Holzman works wonders with a film consisting almost entirely of recycled sets and props from other Corman offerings – most notably Galaxy of Terror (review here) – but Forbidden World manages to come away with its own look and feel. The almost desolate laboratory on Planet Xarbia is a convincing alien setting and there’s an impressive scope to the proceedings (something that’s lost in modern low-budget filmmaking). Holzman is perhaps keenly aware of the repetition of the story (think Alien with more nonsense) and rarely allows the pacing to come up for air as a result. The opening credits aren’t yet over before our hero is attacked by a vengeful enemy spaceship and before you can say ”hey, that looks like stock footage from other Corman movies!”, we’re already being introduced to the sinister Subject 20. This sucker moves!
And considering this was little more than a quickie cash-in shot in twenty days (!), the special effects are actually all kinds of awesome. John Carl Buechler cut his teeth on this production with some memorably messy make-up effects including melting people and dissolving aliens. And the creature effects, while a bit hokey, succeed thanks in part to smart editing choices and some memorable – if crude – designs. The intent here was to obviously amp the H.R. Giger design of the Alien and that’s exactly what they did. If Forbidden World’s Subject 20 isn’t a trailblazer, he’s at least memorable and somewhat disgusting.
Even the acting fares much better than expected. While this sucker doesn’t have half the amazing cast that ran the sci-fi gamut in Galaxy of Terror, the actors hold their own. Jesse Vint is amusing as the world’s worst Bounty Hunter (second, actually, I forgot about Gerard Butler), and his sleazy tendencies to seduce every woman in the cast adds to his charm. As his lovers June Chadwick and Dawn Dunlap both bare their breasts while serving as effective mutant fodder in the truest of exploitation fashions. Hard to say if they make convincing scientists, but who cares? They shower together!
And one doesn’t talk about Forbidden World without mentioning the amazingly effective New Wave-y score by Susan Justin! Oddly enough, it sets an ominous tone from the get-go and really gives the movie some extra oomph once our doomed cast begins wandering the facility looking to capture the elusive Subject 20. Justin’s score is obviously a relic of its time but it fits this stuff like a glove.
This one does have it all – which is why Shout! Factory was right to pack this sucker to the nines for its digital debut! For starters, the Blu-ray presentation is really going to raise an eyebrow or two. Keeping in mind the source material, Forbidden World is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and it looks great. Skin tones are natural while the black levels offer some impressive depth. Grain structure remains intact, allowing more detail than expected. There’s some occasional print damage to be found, but nothing that distracts from the quality of the transfer. It’s a jarring experience when one pops in the second disc, which is the Mutant cut of this film (a director’s cut running five minutes longer). It’s a DVD presentation presented in 1.33:1. This is a muddy transfer, most likely culled from a VHS copy – but it’s not unwatchable. The real reason to view this cut is for the humorous moments that were excised by Corman himself after a dismal test screening. On the audio front, the DTS 2.0 mix sounds pretty good. Dialogue is almost always clear (overpowered by sound effects on occasion) and the music sounds fantastic. There is certainly no better way to experience this one than in the technical package that Shout! Factory have put together.
And then there’s the extras! First off, special mention must be made of the aesthetics of the packaging itself. This is the kind of material that will satisfy even the most ardent collectors. As is the case with every Shout! Factory Corman release, there’s always reversible cover art for fans to choose from and, more importantly, the satisfying inclusion of a fantastic booklet. Remember when most DVD companies gave a damn? Collecting DVD used to be so much more rewarding when there were cool liner notes, lobby card replicas or something along those lines in every box – but it’s a rapidly dying practice. In this sense, I applaud our friends at Shout! Factory for going the extra mile. Just know that when you plunk down your hard-earned cash for any of these Corman titles, you’re getting the most for your money. Shout! Factory seems intent on making collecting cult flicks fun and exciting again!
As for the actual supplements, there’s a fantastic treasure trove of stuff to digest. The aforementioned Mutant director’s cut is the crown jewel (with director’s commentary!), but we’ve also got a thirty-minute documentary titled The Making of Forbidden World. An awesome piece that showcases interviews with the cast and crew while leading to a few frank observations. Beyond that there’s a solo interview with Corman that runs six minutes, a fourteen-minute talk with John Carl Buechler about his FX work on the film, a poster and still gallery, a gallery of concept art and a barrage of theatrical trailers. No shortage of extras and best of all, it’s all fun stuff!
There’s plenty of great titles hitting Blu-ray and DVD between now and the end of the year, but Shout! Factory’s Roger Corman discs are going to be some of the best releases out there – no matter what happens. With rock solid A/V (better than you’ve ever seen these movies) and worthwhile bonus material, it doesn’t get any better than this. When you consider that Forbidden World is a worthy combination of the ridiculous and the delightful, you’ve got yourself a must own. Subject 20’s high definition bow is comin’ at ya highly recommended!
4 out of 5
5 out of 5
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Ruby Blu-ray Review – ’70s Drive-In Psychic Shocker From VCI
Starrign Piper Laurie, Janit Baldwin, Stuart Whitman, Roger Davis
Written by George Edwards and Barry Schneider
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Distributed by VCI Entertainment
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and director Curtis Harrington’s Ruby (1977) is paying it to a few of the ‘70s most notable horror films. Cribbing liberally from such better pictures as The Exorcist (1973) and Carrie (1976), this is a picture that could have worked well despite being a pastiche because it begins with a decent setup and the elements for something interesting are present. Unfortunately, nothing ever gels like it has to and Ruby loses focus early on, dashing from one death scene to the next and allowing for little salient connective tissue to tie it all together. The big mystery presented early on should be easy enough for horror fans to deduce, and the film never brings the scare factor. A few of the deaths are novel in their inventiveness, especially the use of the drive-in theater surroundings, but a couple kills do not a movie make and Ruby spends too much time middling and being weird to be of any note.
Florida, 1935. Low level mobster Nicky Rocco (Sal Vacchio) is gunned down by a lake as his pregnant girlfriend Ruby watches on in horror. Just before dying, Nicky swears vengeance on whoever did this to him. Cut to sixteen years later and Ruby (Piper Laurie) runs a drive-in movie theater and lives in a home nearby with her daughter, Leslie (Janit Baldwin). Ruby is a tough broad, quick-witted and foul-mouthed; able to hold her own with the guys. But those guys are beginning to vanish one by one as the bodies start piling up at the theater. Ruby suspects there’s something off with Leslie, so she brings in her own psychic doctor, Dr. Paul Keller (Roger Davis), to examine her daughter. Leslie, as it turns out, is acting as a conduit for the wayward soul of Nicky, who blames Ruby for his ultimate demise. Possessed and programmed for vengeance, Leslie and Ruby have an all-out battle in a search for the truth.
The second half of this film is where things go right off the rails, with scenes aping The Exorcist so much it feels like a knock-off. This isn’t always such a bad thing because knock-offs of better films can always turn out great (see: most of the post-Gremlins little creature features), but Ruby never makes a clear case for introducing these fantastical elements in the third act. This is a story that could have worked better by exercising restraint, playing closer to something like J.D.’s Revenge (1976), a similar gangster-soul-out-for-justice film, than a wild, possessed ride.
What does work, for me, are the drive-in theater setting (I’m a sucker for movies that also involve the craft of film in some way) and the kills, a few of which make great use of the theatrical setting to deliver fitting fatalities. One employee winds up stuffed into a soda machine, with his blood getting pumped into a dark, syrupy drink and served up to guests. Another meets his end on the screen, impaled by the pole on which car speakers are kept. Harrington does inject this picture with a strong sense of atmosphere, too. The locale is woodsy and feels remote; the countryside is dark and foggy, the perfect setting for something grim to occur. None of these elements are enough to fully save the feature, though they do bring enough production value to ease to burden of a poor script.
Personally, I’m a sucker for almost any horror from bygone eras – especially the ‘70s and ‘80s – so, deficiencies aside, Ruby is still worth a spin if you enjoy reveling in this particular era. This is far from an unheralded gem or little-seen treasure, but it does, at the least, rip-off good pictures in spectacularly bad fashion.
This is a rough film and every bit of work done for the 2K restoration still can’t do much to polish it up any better. First, a note: there is a video drop-out for approximately ten seconds around the 21-minute mark. VCI is offering replacement discs via their Facebook page, so check there for further details. Future copies will be corrected, and those should already be on “shelves” now, so consider this an FYI. The 1.85:1 1080p image is frequently soft and murky, darkly shot and poorly lit. Shadow detail is virtually non-existent. The color temperature looks a bit on the warm side. Film grain is noisy and occasionally problematic.
An English LPCM 2.0 track carries a clean & balanced audio experience. Voices sound a touch muffled at times, though nothing too severe. The murders scenes are accompanied by creepy ambient sounds, adding a slight chill. The film’s closing theme song is awesome cheese that must be heard. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
There are two audio commentary tracks; the first, with David Del Valle and Nathaniel Bell; the second, with Curtis Harrington and Piper Laurie.
The film’s original trailer is included in HD.
Also included are a few interviews with Harrington, conducted by David Del Valle, including “2001 David Del Valle Interview with Curtis Harrington”, and “Sinister Image Episode Vol. 1 & Vol. 2: David Del Valle Archival Interview with Curtis Harrington”.
- NEW 2K RESTORATION from the original camera negative
- Original theatrical trailer
- Audio Commentary with Director Curtis Harrington & Actress Piper Laurie
- New Audio Commentary with David Del Valle and Curtis Harrington historian Nate Bell
- Two Interviews with Curtis Harrington by Film Critic David Del Valle
- Photo Gallery
- Optional English SDH subtitles
A simple plot becomes wildly unfocused but Ruby does have intermittent camp value fans of ’70s horror cinema should dig. VCI’s Blu-ray is no beauty by any means, though it’s likely to be the best this poorly-shot feature will get.
The Midnight Man Review – Don’t Hate The Game, Hate The Players
Written by Travis Zariwny
Directed by Travis Zariwny
Travis Zariwny’s The Midnight Man is largely a robotic hide-and-seek slog, yet if dissected in butchered chunks, smaller bites range from delicious destruction to utterly incompetent character work. Judging by the bloodthirsty opening sequence alone, you’d think Zariwny is about to blow our morality-siding minds. A sad misconception, I’m afraid. After our hopes skyrocket, mechanical plot devices are pinned to a storyboard with the utmost lack of exploration. The Midnight Man’s game is afoot, but these players would barely compete against an opponent crafted from brick and mortar. Can someone calculate a handicap for them, please?
Gabrielle Haugh stars as Alex Luster, a caring granddaughter to Nana Anna (Lin Shaye). One night, upon the request of her not-always-there relative, Alex rummages through attic trunks for a silver-backed hand mirror. Instead she finds a nondescript wrapped box with what appears to be a game inside. Her crush Miles (Grayson Gabriel) has arrived by now, and after an incident where Anna requires medical attention from house-call doctor Harding (Robert Englund), the two friends begin playing whatever it was that caused Anna to screech in disapproval. You know, the only rational decision.
At the risk of sounding like a smug CinemaSins video, The Midnight Man would surely bomb any horror IQ test. Zariwny’s *first* piece of introduced information after discovering Midnight Man’s altar is quite simple – DANGER. DO NOT PLAY. IT JUST CAUSED A WOMAN TO FAINT. Nevertheless, our braindead sheeple follow careful rules to summon Mr. Midnight Man into their house – because, as horror movies have proven, tempting occult fates is buckets of fun! At least the characters don’t confess romantic feelings and makeout while another friend who joins the game late – “Creepy Pasta” obsessed Kelly (Emily Haine) – could already be in the Midnight Man’s clutches, that’d be – oh, right. That happens.
Senile Anna is another story altogether – Zariwny’s grey-haired red herring in the worst way. Lin Shaye injects so much destabilized madness into this energetic, midnight-perfect role, elevating herself into a stratosphere well above The Midnight Man itself. Whether she’s screaming about Alex’s disgusting blood, or ominously whispering dreadful remarks through a housewide intercom, or beating Robert Englund to a pulp with wide-eyed psychosis – well, if you’ve seen Dead End, you *know* the kind of batshitery Shaye is capable of. Her genre vet status on display like a damn clinic here.
Shaye – and even Englund – aside, scripting is too procedural to salvage any other performances. Kelly doesn’t even deserve mention given her “bring on death!” attitude and enthusiastic late entry INTO AN URBAN LEGEND’S DEATHTRAP – a poorly conceived “twist” with less structure. This leaves Grayson Gabriel and Haugh herself, two thinly-scripted cutouts who couldn’t find a more repetitive genre path to follow. There’s little mystery to the gonigs on, and neither actor manages to wrangle tension (even when staring our Midnight friend in the face…thing).
Scares are hard to come by because Zariwny opts for a more “charismatic” villain who talks like Scarecrow and appears as a dyed-black, cloaked Jack Skellington. He can form out of clouds and is a stickler for rules (candles lit at all times, 10 seconds to re-ignite, if you fail he exploits your deepest fear). Credit is noted given this villain’s backstory and strict instructions – which does make for a rather killer game of tag – but the need to converse and expose Midnight from shadows subtracts necessary mysticism. He’s a cocky demon with masks for each emotion (think woodland death imp emojis), but never the spine-tingling beast we find ourselves hiding from.
This is all a bummer because gore goes bonkers in the very first scene – with underage victims no less. One young player gets decapitated, another explodes into a red splattery mess (against fresh snowfall), but then a vacuous lull in process takes hold. It’s not until Alex’s fear of blood and Miles’ fear of pain that we get more eye-bulging squeamishness, then again when Kelly’s bunnyman appears. A no-bullshit, bunny-headed creature wearing a suit, which plays directly into Kelly’s deepest fear. When Zariwny gets sick and surreal, he scores – but it’s a disappointing “when.”
I take no pleasure in confirming that any small victory The Midnight Man claims is negated by kids who should’ve been offed for even thinking about a quick playthrough of Anna’s old-school entertainment. Invite him in, pour your salt circles and try to survive until 3:33AM – sounds easy, right? If the demon plays fair, you bet! But why would ANYONE trust a demon’s word? Makes sense given Alex and Miles’ ignorance of more red flags than a Minesweeper game, and a thrilling chase these bad decisions do not make.
The Midnight Man begins by striking a meteoric horror high, only to plummet back down towards repetitive genre bumbling once the game’s true – and less enticing – plot begins.
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
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