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Phantasm (Blu-ray/DVD)

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PhantasmStarring Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury

Directed by Don Coscarelli

Distributed by Well Go USA


There is no horror series as ambitious and enigmatic as Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. Beginning with the original Phantasm in 1979, the series has spawned four sequels – the most recent, Phantasm: Ravager, seeing release just this year – and yet phans will agree we are no closer to answers now than we were nearly 40 years ago. Odds are Coscarelli never planned for such a long, confounding journey when he undertook the job of writing, shooting, editing, co-producing, and directing his first horror feature. It was only meant to be an auspicious stepping stone into the greater world of Hollywood; instead, it became his legacy. Unlike the films of horror’s A-list icons – Freddy, Jason, Michael, Leatherface – the Phantasm films can be watched ad nauseum and scrutinized with extreme care, yet the events unfolding still won’t be any clearer. It rewards with each viewing because it is a great film and it challenges audiences to think long after the credits have stopped. What is real? What is illusory? That is the true genius of Phantasm.

After the death of their friend Tommy (Bill Cone), longtime buds Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) meet at the Morningside mortuary to attend his funeral, while Jody’s kid brother Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) spies on the services from afar. While inside Jody has a brief, bizarre encounter with the mortician, who is eventually referred to as the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Mike, meanwhile, catches a glimpse of this Tall Man picking up Tommy’s casket, unaided, and loading it into his hearse. Chilling as this Tall Man is, Mike’s has a bigger concern: Jody leaving town. Mike and Jody’s parents were killed in a car wreck years ago, and with all the bad memories surrounding the town Jody would just as soon up and leave, ditching Mike in the process. And this terrifies Mike. He sees a town psychic who assuages his anxiety, reminding him that the real killer is fear itself. Mike needs to be brave.

Some clandestine investigative work by Mike reveals that the Tall Man has sinister plans for their small town, though what those plans are no one is ever sure. A late night trip to the mortuary nearly gets Mike killed as a flying sphere, equipped with razor-sharp prongs and a drill, chases him down before burying itself in the head of a character whose only purpose is to show off the sphere’s abilities. Mike is confronted by the Tall Man and escapes, taking with him a piece of still-moving severed finger he chopped off the Tall Man’s hand during his flight. Armed with this evidence he is able to convince both Jody and Reggie that something evil is happening at the mortuary and the three of them are the only ones who can do anything to stop it.

The success of Phantasm can be attributed to one word: mystery. Just when it seems like the story is progressing linearly Coscarelli throws a wrench into the mix that causes viewers to question nearly everything they have just seen. There isn’t much doubt the Tall Man is real, since, you know, we have sequels, but what pieces of Mike’s story are authentic and what came straight from his imagination? And even if viewers are able to ascertain the fate of Mike, Jody, and Reggie then what of the Tall Man and his endless horde of minions? An all-too-brief visit to the Tall Man’s home planet produces a modicum of answers that, again, only raise more questions. Phantasm plays with fantastical elements constantly, giving viewers just enough information to maintain interest while consistently keeping them behind the ball (sure, pun intended). I’m of the opinion that the success here is part long term planning – the film shot for over a year – and part happy accidents – actors were often given pages at a time; Reggie Bannister says he never received an actual, complete script.

Although none of the lead actors are particularly great, they work well as a trio. Individually, limitations are apparent. Reggie fares the best, probably because in reality he isn’t too far removed from that laidback dude who just wants to get his work done so he can get back to cranking out tunes on the guitar. Bill Thornbury is mostly one-note as Jody, whose primary interest throughout the film is figuring out a way to leave town. Even once Mike comes to him with evidence of evil deeds, one gets the sense that Jody is willing to help him out simply to end the mystery and then move on. So, most of the acting onus is placed on Mike and, well… “A” for effort? I’ve always thought Mike was the weak link in the series, truth be told, although he actually did a wonderful job in the second film…

Mystery and that fear of the unknown are what drive Phantasm, not jump scares. Questions are raised and almost-but-not-quite answers are given. Because Coscarelli didn’t wrap everything up in a neat package by end credit time, nor does he really answer lingering questions left by further sequels, the mystery of the Tall Man and his ultimate purpose remains unanswered – and the series, especially the first entry, is all the better for it.

Phans have been clamoring for years to get Phantasm on Blu-ray and now, thanks to a shiny new 4K remaster courtesy of JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, it’s here from… Well Go USA? I guess Scream Factory and Arrow don’t have such deep pockets… Honestly, it doesn’t matter who got the rights because the transfer work was already done and it is indeed spectacular. The 1.78:1 1080p image is a revelation. Period. Anyone familiar with previous home video releases will immediately recognize the level of care and consideration that has clearly gone into making this 37-year-old picture shine. Color saturation, fine detail, contrast, black levels… everything across the board is as meticulously restored as possible. Coscarelli even went the extra mile and made some very minor revisionist changes, like removing wires on the spheres. The video quality speaks for itself, right from the first frame.

Similarly, the new English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track is superb. Purists and the surround-sound challenged can opt for either the original mono track or a 2.0 stereo offering but the multi-channel track is the clear winner on all fronts. Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrove’s perfectly chilling score sounds tremendous in lossless, soaring at all the right moments and completely captivating at every cue. Dialogue is perfectly prioritized and comes through clear and free from hiss. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

Now, here’s where the issue with Well Go releasing this comes into play: bonus features. Where a company like Scream Factory or Arrow would have collected all previous bonus features in one tidy package, Well Go has included a few legacy features along with exactly one new supplement that gets little mileage.

The audio commentary track, featuring director & writer Don Coscarelli, Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, and Bill Thornbury returns here.

“Graveyard Carz” – A shop that customizes cars remakes the old ’71 Hemicuda for an audience composed of Coscarelli and Baldwin. Meh.

“Interview from 1979 with Don Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm” – Taken from footage on an old talk show, this is a cool chat with the guys right around the film’s release.

Several deleted scenes, along with a “1979 Phantasm Trailer” and the film’s remastered trailer are also included.

Special Features:

  • NEW 4K Restoration
  • Audio Commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and cast members Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, & Bill Thornbury
  • Graveyard Cars
  • Interviews from 1979 with Don Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm
  • Deleted Scenes

BUY IT NOW!

  • Phantasm
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.36 (14 votes)
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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.5 (14 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.1 (21 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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