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Freakmaker, The (DVD)

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Starring Brad Harris, Tom Baker, Donald Pleasence, Julie Ege

Directed by Jack Cardiff

Released by Subversive Cinema


Freaks. For years, filmmakers have chosen actual physical anomalies, people with deformities or odd skin conditions, to terrify the rest of us “normal” looking people. The reasoning is apparent: They can serve as a physical representation of all of our fears of societal exclusion, but usually these “freaks” are more mellow and down-to-earth than most of the people I work with.

That’s why I’m glad Cardiff and his producers took the high road with The Freakmaker and showed the freaks within as normal people born into extraordinary circumstances. The titular madman, Professor Nolter (Pleasance, playing the mad scientist role just a bit too subdued), is more interested in creating the next jump in human evolution, giving nature a kick in the ass so to speak, than with torturing bearded midgets or anything like that. That was a fear I had going in, that it was just an updated, exploitation-heavy remake of Tod Brownings’ Freaks, but that fear was put to rest pretty quickly. Instead, Nolter believes that our next leap forward will be to become more like the plants, living in harmony with the Earth.

Good intensions notwithstanding, Nolter is a nutjob. After creating a few animal/plant hybrids, namely a Venus flytrap with a taste for large bunnies, he decides he needs to start testing it on humans. Unfortunately for a few of Professor Nolter’s students, he’s not gotten that whole photosynthesis thing worked out yet, so his “creations” still have the base desire to eat meat. And lots of it.

His first human experiment goes very badly, the end result looking like an anorexic Greedo, but he’s just crazy enough to keep going. He sends out Lynch (Baker) to use his brute strength and hideous facial deformity to bring him fresh young victims, but since he’s dipping into the same pool of friends, eventually they become suspicious.

The film as a whole really is something remarkable. It utilizes time lapse photography to show Nolter’s plants growing far faster than they should, the production designer created some pretty nasty looking plant/animal/human hybrids, and the fashion and color scheme scream of an era we can (hopefully) never duplicate. People keep talking about bringing back the grittiness of the 70’s, but I want to see more 70’s horror films like this one, what with its jaunty, sometimes ear-splitting musical score and all those…damn…colors!

And of course, Subversive’s cleanup job with the disc really helped to make it work so well for me.

The new anamorphic transfer looks great, not that I had seen (or heard of) the movie before this disc was put out; but seeing the quality of it, I can only imagine what how it used to look back under its original title, The Mutations. The sound has both stereo and the original mono mixes, both of which work fine. I’m actually glad they didn’t attempt a 5.1 mix; that score alone would’ve probably led me to kill. It gets loud at times, folks.

The most prominent extra is the 25-minute documentary “How to Make a Freak,” which features interviews with director Jack Cardiff (in his 90’s and still sharp as a tack), producer and writer Robert Weinbach, and co-star/associate producer Brad Harris. The information contained within is great, which is good because to watch the feature is actually pretty boring from a visual standpoint. The interviewees are static with the same background behind them the entire time. Weinbach in particular is a bit scary in that his eyes never move and his posture almost never changes no matter what he’s talking about. It would have benefited slightly from having some movie or behind-the-scenes footage thrown in to mix it up, but like I said, the info is cool, and that’s really what’s important.

The film has two commentary tracks: One is with DVD producer Norm Hill moderating with Weinbach and Harris, and the other is…well, the other one is strange. Apparently Dust Devil director Richard Stanley interviewed Jack Cardiff for this track, but Stanley’s voice had to be removed due to technical reasons. In his place is Hill, asking the questions that were answered by Cardiff when Stanley asked them. Like I said, it’s a bit odd but worth a listen because Cardiff’s recollection is great, though you should be warned that it’s far more sporadic than the other track. For behind-the-scenes entertainment value, the track with Hill, Harris, and Weinbach if far more on the money, and there’s hardly ever a break in their conversation. Lots of good anecdotes, especially from Harris who, previous to taking his role in Freakmaker, was a huge star in Germany from some action movies he helped make.

Rounding out the disc are some trailers for Freakmaker as well as other Subversive titles like The Candy Snatchers and Metal Skin and a gallery of lobby cards, the music over which skips every time a new card dissolves onto screen. Just thought you should be warned, but it’s only 5 minutes long so I doubt it’ll annoy you.

Finally, there is the packaging, which is great. The DVD case itself is clear, so the inside is lined with production and behind-the-scenes stills, and it comes with a mini poster and a set of four lobby card reproductions. Why can’t all DVD producers give the inside of the DVD as much attention as the disc itself like Subversive does? Good stuff.

All in all, a solid DVD release for a very offbeat, one of a kind horror/sci fi film from a bygone era. I really don’t see a movie like this being made again any time soon, so I’m glad Subversive was able to bring it out of obscurity and give it its due respect.


3 ½ out of 5

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Desolation Review – The Joy of Being Rescued and All the Surprises That Come With It

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Starring Raymond J. Barry, Brock Kelly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido

Directed by David Moscow


It’s those random, once-in-a-lifetime encounters that only a select few get the chance to experience: when we as regular participants in this wonderful thing known as The Rat Race, stumble across a soul that we’ve only witnessed on the big screen. I’m talking about a celebrity encounter, and while some of the masses will chalk the experience up as nothing more than a passing moment, others hold it to a much larger interior scale…then you REALLY get to know the person, and that’s when things get interesting.

Director David Moscow’s thriller, Desolation follows shy hotel employee Katie (Lorido) and her “fortuitous” brush with Hollywood pretty-boy Jay (Kelly) during one of his stops – the two hit it off, and together they begin a sort of whirlwind-romance that takes her away from her job and drops her in the heart of Los Angeles at the apartment building he resides in. You can clearly see that she has been a woman who’s suffered some emotional trauma in her past, and this golden boy just happens to gallop in on his steed and sweep her off of her feet, essentially rescuing her from a life of mundane activity. She gets the full-blown treatment: a revamped wardrobe, plenty of lovin’, and generally the life she’s wanted for some time.

Things return to a bit of normalcy when Jay has to return to work, leaving Katie to spread out at his place, but something clearly isn’t kosher with this joint. With its odd inhabitants (a very creepy priest played by Raymond J. Barry), even more bizarre occurrences, and when one scared young woman cannot even rely on the protection from the local police, it all adds up to a series of red flags that would have even the strongest of psyches crying for their mothers. What Moscow does with this movie is give it just enough swerves so that it keeps your skull churning, but doesn’t overdo its potential to conclusively surprise you, and that’s what makes the film an entertaining watch.

While Lorido more than holds her ground with her portrayal of a woman who has been hurt in the past, and is attempting to place her faith in a new relationship, it’s Barry that comes out on top here. His performance as Father Bill is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t exactly chill you to the bone, but he’s definitely not a man of the cloth that you’d want to be stuck behind closed doors with – generally unsettling. As I mentioned earlier, the plot twists are well-placed, and keep things fresh just when you think you’ve got your junior private investigator badge all shined up. Desolation is well-worth a look, and really has kicked off 2018 in a promising fashion – let’s see what the other 11 months will feed us beasts.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Got your eye on that shining movie star or starlet? Better make sure it’s what you really want in life – you know what they say about curiosity.

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Wolf Guy Blu-ray Review – Sonny Chiba As A Werewolf Cop In ’70s Japan

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Wolf Guy UK SleeveStarring Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Nami, Kyosuke Machida

Directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

Distributed by Arrow Video


As virtually every American adaptation has proven, translating manga to the big screen is a job best left to Japanese filmmakers. There is an inherent weirdness – for lack of a better term – to their cultural media that should be kept “in house” if there is to be any hope for success. Ironically, the stories are often so fantastical and wildly creative that a big American studio budget would be necessary to fully realize such a live-action vision. But I digress. Back in 1975, Toei Studios (home of Gamera) adapted the 1970 manga series Wolf Guy into a feature of the same name. Starring the legendary Shin’ichi Chiba (a.k.a. Sonny Chiba), who at that time was in his prime, the film combines elements of crime and psychedelic cinema, delivering less of a werewolf film (despite the title suggesting otherwise) and more of a boilerplate crime caper with a cop who has a few tricks up his hairy sleeve. I should stress it is the story that plays fairly straightforward, while the film itself is a wild kaleidoscope of strange characters and confounding situations… mostly.

An unseen killer, known only as “The Tiger”, prowls the streets at night slashing victims to death and leaving behind no trace. Beat cop Akira Inugami (Sonny Chiba) is on the case, and he has an advantage over his fellow brothers in blue: being a werewolf. As the opening credits flashback shows, Akira is the sole survivor of the Inugami clan of werewolves after a slaughter wiped out the rest of his kind. Now, as the last of his brethren, he uses his acute lycanthropic skills, under the auspices of the moon, to track down underworld thugs and solve cases uniquely tailored to his abilities. As the lunar cycle of the moon sees it growing fuller Akira’s powers, too, increase to superhuman levels.

Searching for this mysterious “Tiger”, Akira is led into a subterranean world of clandestine government organizations, nightclub antics, and corrupt politicians. One night, Akira is attacked and taken prisoner by a government research lab that wants to use his blood to create werewolves they can control. Only problem is – which they don’t realize – Akira’s blood cannot be mixed with that of a human; the only end result is death. Miki (Etsuko Nami), a drug user with syphilis, comes to Akira’s aid and proves to be quite useful. She holds a secret that has the potential to vastly change Akira’s world but, first, a showdown with the criminal underbelly looms on the horizon… as does the fifteenth day of the Lunar Cycle, when Akira will be made nearly invincible.

First, some bad news: Sonny Chiba never attains full werewolf status. This is not that movie. Sure, he growls and snarls and sneers and possesses many of the traits of a werewolf but in terms of physical characteristics he more or less remains “human” the entire time. Yes, even during “Lunar Cycle Day 15”, a.k.a. the moment every viewer is waiting for, to see him turn into a wolf. Instead, he just winds up kicking a lot of ass and taking very little damage. To be fair, a grizzled Sonny Chiba is still enough of a formidable presence, but, man, to see him decked out as a full-on kung-fu fighting werewolf would’ve been badass. The film could have done better at tempering expectations because it builds up “Day 15” like viewers are going to see an explosion of fur and flesh, instead it’s just plenty of the latter. Aw, well.

Lack of werewolf-ing aside, the film plays out a bit uneven. The opening offers up a strong start, with The Tiger attack, wily underworld characters being introduced, and a tripped-out acid garage rock soundtrack (which I’d kill for a copy of). But Second Act Lag is a real thing here and many of the elements that may have piqued viewer curiosity in the first act are scuttled, and although the third act and climax bring forth fresh action and a solution to the mystery it also feels a bit restrained. Then again, this is Toei, often seen as a cheaper Toho. Wolf Guy serves as a good introduction to Akira Inugami and his way of life, which makes it a greater shame no sequels were produced.

Presented with a 2.35:1 1080p image, Wolf Guy hits Blu-ray with a master supplied by Toei, meaning Arrow did no restorative work of their own on the picture – and it shows. Japanese film elements, especially those of older films, are often notorious for being poorly housed and feebly restored. This transfer is emblematic of those issues, with hazy black levels, average-to-poor definition, minimal shadow detail, and film grain that gets awfully noisy at times. The best compliment I can give is daylight close-up scenes exhibit a pleasing level of fine detail, though nothing too eye-popping. This is a decidedly mediocre transfer across the board.

The score fares a bit better, not because the Japanese LPCM 1.0 mono mix is a beast but because the soundtrack is so wildly kinetic, exploding with wild garage rock and fuzzy riffs right from the get-go. Dialogue has a slight hiss on the letter “s” but is otherwise nicely balanced within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.

“Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts” is a September 2016 sit-down with the film’s director, who reflects on his career and working with an icon like Sonny Chiba.

“Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master” is an interview with Yoshida, a former producer at Toei who oversaw this film and many others.

“Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 1” covers the man’s career up to a point, with the remainder finished on Arrow’s other 2017 Chiba release, Doberman Cop.

A theatrical trailer is also included, as is a DVD copy of the feature.

Special Features:

  • Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts
  • Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master
  • Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 1
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Wolf Guy
  • Special Features
2.8

Summary

While the film might be a bit of a letdown given what is suggested, fans of bizarre Japanese ’70s cinema – and certainly fans of Chiba’s work – should, at the least, have fun with this title.

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Inside (Remake) Review – Is It as Brutal as the Original?

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Starring Rachel Nichols Laura Harring

Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas


While the directing duo of the cringe-inducing and original 2007 French grand guignol thriller Inside have gone on to refurbishments of their own—Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo recently helmed a retread of Leatherface’s origin story—their flick now has an American stamp on it with the release of the remake, also titled Inside.

A cheerless Christmas eve sets the stage for heavily-pregnant widow Sarah’s (Rachel Nichols) oncoming ordeal. It’s a frigid and snowy night. She’s got a huge house to herself, following the accidental and violent death of her husband. She wants to sell the home that was meant to hold a family, to forget the nascent memories it once held. But she’s got to ride it out until the baby is born. While Sarah is lonesome, she won’t be alone. She’s got her genial gay neighbor nearby, and her mum is going to come and stay with her for a few days. Oh, and there will be an unexpected visitor too.

When a shadowy, seemingly stranded stranger (Laura Harring) knocks on the door pleading to be let inside, Sarah instinctively balks. She even calls the cops. But the woman leaves and all seems well. Crisis averted. Sarah puts the housekeys in the mailbox outside for Mom, and goes to bed. Big mistake.

Mystery Lady shows up at Sarah’s bedside armed with chloroform, an IV bag, and a case full of sharp-and-pointies (sorry, ’07 fans… those implements do not include a pair of scissors). The horror unfolds and the expected yet lively game of gory cat-and-mouse ensues. Then the tete-a-tete becomes a body-count chiller featuring one shocking moment after another.

Nichols is fantastic in the role, giving it her all. When the original Inside came out eleven years ago, she was starring in another French-helmed horror, P2—also set on Christmas eve—and she stole the show. She does the same here but with a less-intense adversary. Harring’s killer character, unlike her European counterpart, has a lot to say—which takes away from her initially mysterious manner as the minutes tick off. Still, the girl-on-girl action is a welcome change from the usual gender dynamic one sees in these things. Both deserve kudos for their performances.

While Inside isn’t a died-in-the-wool “Hollywood” remake (Miguel Ángel Vivas directs, while [REC] co-creator Jaume Balagueró wrote it) it feels like one. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end). However, Inside is still a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it.

  • Inside (Remake)
3.0

Summary

Inside is a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end).

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