HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"THE BATES HAUNTING" from Uncork'd Entertainment - on Digital and DVD August 6


LOS ANGELES, CA –Uncork’d Entertainment proudly announces the multi-platform release of  Byron Turk’s (Storm Chasers, Flipping Boston) The Bates Haunting, dubbed by the director as “Scream meets Scooby Doo”.  The indie thriller was shot in rural Pennsylvania, at Arasapha Farm’s original Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride:  one of America’s top Halloween attractions.  The Bates Haunting will be available August 6 for rental and digital, and available for sale on DVD a few months later.

“I’m a huge fan of the many Haunted House attractions around the country,” commented Uncork’d Entertainment’s Keith Leopard.  “When I saw The Bates Haunting and discovered that it was actually filmed at a real haunted house and hayride in Pennsylvania, I wanted to be a part of getting this film out to the public.  I think everyone will enjoy this movie as it reminds me of the fun horror films I saw in the theaters growing up before the advent of home video.”

Agnes Rickover (Jean Louise O’Sullivan, Valley Peaks, Bullrun) visited the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride looking for some Halloween fear and fun.  Instead, she witnessed a tragedy:  the fiery death of her best friend Lily making her dramatic debut on the Hayride.    After a year spent obsessing over the horrible accident, Agnes takes a job at The Haunted Hayride, hoping to face her trauma and to exorcise her demons.  She thinks this could be an investigative opportunity as well, and when her new co-workers end up victims of mysterious accidents, she knows it is.  With her new sidekick Clyde, Agnes must figure out whom – or what – is behind all of this mayhem before more people die.

The film co-stars Zachary Fletcher in his debut starring role as Junior Bates and the late Ryan Dunn.  Featuring a wild cast of characters ranging from ghouls and goblins to an overzealous chainsaw wielding theater actor, The Bates Haunting is part haunt, part hunt, full of spirits and the spirited!  Agnes and Clyde are facing certain death – their only escape route through a crowd of entertained customers who think it’s just a show, but for them it’s a scary, shocking showdown!

About Uncork’d Entertainment
Uncork’d Entertainment was founded in 2012 by Keith Leopard, a home entertainment industry veteran with more than 23 years of experience in purchasing, acquisitions, merchandising, marketing and analysis of major studio and independent supplier to the home entertainment market.  The Company focuses on distribution in four areas: Theatrical, Physical Home Entertainment, Digital Media and Television, and has secured relationships across all platforms to ensure your film reaches the widest audience possible. Uncork’d’s latest releases include The Dinosaur Project, The Depraved and Frostbite!, and future releases Cold Blooded and Stalled.  For more information, visit

For more information about The Bates Haunting, please visit:

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

FALCÓN -- DVD review by porfle

Detective fiction oftens takes the main character for a pretty rough ride on the rollercoaster of  life, and this is rarely more true than in Acorn Media's 2-disc DVD set, FALCÓN.  Noir doesn't get much darker than this--in fact, the various physical and spiritual ordeals suffered by Spanish chief homicide detective Javier Falcón (Marton Csokas) in these two grueling feature-length episodes almost makes "The Maltese Falcon" look like an episode of "Three's Company."

Csokas (LORD OF THE RINGS, PAWNROMULUS MY FATHER) is an intense, somber sort of an actor, making him ideal for the lead role in these grim, disturbing,  and often nightmarish stories.  Indeed, once you get used to the murky photography and jittery camerawork, you get the feeling that what we're seeing isn't an objective account of events but rather how Falcón himself interprets them through the prism of his deeply troubled psyche. 

On one hand, he's a brilliant cop who's upright and reliable, though emotionally distant, but on the other hand he's so on the verge of falling apart it's as though his life is held together by wheat paste and chicken wire.  His impending divorce from wife Inés (Emilia Fox) is a daily pain,  made more so when she starts having an affair with his boss.  And his younger partner José Luis Ramírez (Charlie Creed-Miles, who played young apprentice monk David in THE FIFTH ELEMENT) is after his job, not only because he's ambitious but because he has a needy family and a sick child to support.  And to top it off, Falcón is a drug addict, haunting back alleys for his daily fix.

The first story, "The Blind Man of Seville",  plunks us down in the middle of all this before we've had a chance to acclimate ourselves to the inside of Falcón's head, so it all seems rather dreary and unpleasant at first.  Our hero investigates the murder of a wealthy restauranteur who's been tied up and forced to watch something--his eyelids having literally been "peeled"--which, as  fate would have it,  ends up being connected in a deep and very personal way to Falcón and his own family, including sister Pilar (Carla Sánchez), aspiring bullfighter Rafa (James Floyd), and, most importantly, their late father who was a nationally-beloved painter.

The way in which the case is linked to his family continues to deepen until each new revelation becomes almost unbearable to both Falcón and those caught in its wake.  People he knows personally become victims forced to see and hear things before dying, and even the childhood memories which haunt him seem to implicate him as well.  The one bright spot is a desperate liason with a beautiful suspect,  the restauranteur's wife Consuelo (Hayley Atwell), but the most devastating twists lay ahead as Falcón suffers a series of shocks that will put him right out of action and threaten his future on the police force.

By the time we get to story number two, "The Silent and the Damned", we know the score and are ready to settle right into the surrealistic nightmare that is Javier Falcón's life.  How screwed up things are for him and how he wades through it all become a fascination once you're attuned to the dirgelike rhythm and oppressive ambience of this show.  The murder mystery, involving the lethal fallout from an oppressive regime in South America, isn't even all that interesting until, like everything else, Falcón's personal life gets wrapped up in it like a shark in a fishing net.

The gore factor is ratcheted up a few notches right off the bat, with a tongue cut out during the initial murder and, later, a closeup of a cadaver's eyeball being removed from its socket (to gain entry into a locked room guarded by iris identification).  The latter is just one sign that Falcón, having been barred from official duties after uncovering a cesspool of corruption involving his own superiors, is past the point of fooling around.  Just how far he'll go before this episode's over is a continuing source of surprise and delight.

The series is set in Saville, Spain and features some beautiful locations along with a generous view of the city's gritty underbelly, all filtered through the main character's off-kilter perceptions.  (And dark--did I mention dark?)  As in the "Maigret" series with Michael Gambon as a French police detective, these non-English characters all have British accents, but that didn't bother me.  Both lead and supporting performances are top-notch, with some nice guest turns from Bernard Hill (TITANIC, LORD OF THE RINGS), Rosie Perez as a tough-as-nails mystery woman, and "Deep Space Nine" alumnus Alexander Siddig.   

The 2-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and English subtitles.  Extras include "Blind Man of Seville: Behind the Scenes", a tour of Seville with Robert Wilson (author of the novels), and photo galleries.

I didn't like FALCÓN at first--its unrelentingly downbeat atmosphere and uber-noir quality took some getting used to.  Once a taste is acquired for it, though, this is terrific stuff--powerful, hard-hitting, and very engrossing,  gradually taking us farther and farther down the rabbit hole to the point where I found it downright mesmerizing.

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"HALLOWEEN 35th Anniversary Blu-Ray™" -- John Carpenter's Classic Arrives Sept.24th

Michael Myers is back...and he’s never looked better!


Featuring all-new HD transfer supervised by Dean Cundey, New 7.1 Audio Mix, New Commentary Track by John Carpenter & Jamie Lee Curtis and Never-Before-Seen Bonus Features--Coming Home Again September 24th

Beverly Hills, CA – In 1978, Compass International Pictures released an indie horror film by an up and coming director and a largely unknown cast. Presented by the late Moustapha Akkad, the film cost $325,000 and ended up not only becoming one of the most successful independent motion pictures of its time, but single handedly created the genre of the modern horror film along with the first iconic (via a painted-over William Shatner mask) cinematic slasher!

Its global success spawned seven sequels, a reboot directed by Rob Zombie and a sequel-to-the-reboot, as well as created generations of grateful fans. The director’s name is John Carpenter and the film was Halloween. This year marks the 35th Anniversary of the timeless thriller and to celebrate, Anchor Bay Entertainment is bringing back the terrifying original as it’s never been seen or heard before!

Anchor Bay Entertainment and Trancas International proudly announce the September 24th release of the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray™ release of Halloween. For this very special release, Anchor Bay and Trancas went back to the vaults to present this legendary terror classic as never before, including creating an all-new HD transfer personally supervised by the film’s original cinematographer, Academy-Award® nominee Dean Cundey (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Apollo 13, the Back to the Future trilogy), a new 7.1 audio mix (as well as the original mono audio), a brand-new feature length audio commentary by writer/director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis, an all-new bonus feature with Ms. Curtis, as well as selected legacy bonus features from previous ABE releases. Available in a collectible limited-edition book-style package (available only for the first printing) with 20 pages featuring archival photos, an essay by Halloween historian Stef Hutchinson and specially commissioned cover art by Jay Shaw, SRP is $34.99 and pre-book is August 28.

“Anchor Bay Entertainment has been home to Halloween for almost 20 years,” noted Malek Akkad, President of Trancas International Films and son of Moustapha Akkad. “I’m so happy that we’re partnering with them to present the definitive edition of what is widely acknowledged as one of the seminal horror films of the 20th century.”

Halloween stars Jamie Lee Curtis (A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies) in her debut role. Anyone who’s ever watched a horror film in the last 35 years knows the story of Michael Myers, who as a child, butchered his sister with a kitchen knife. Committed to a mental institution and watched over by Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance, Halloween II, IV & V, Fantastic Voyage), he engineers his escape 15 years later, returning to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night to terrorize anyone who gets in his way, including babysitter Laurie Strode (Curtis).

Co-starring P.J. Soles (Carrie, Stripes, Rock ‘n Roll High School), Kyle Richards (The Watcher in the Woods, Eaten Alive), Nancy Loomis (Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13, The Fog), Charles Cyphers (Escape From New York, The Fog) and Brian Andrews (The Great Santini, Three O’Clock High), Halloween also cemented the careers of many behind the camera including Carpenter, Cundey, producer Debra Hill and film editor/production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, “It”).

Bonus features on Halloween 35th Anniversary Blu-ray™ include:

--All-new commentary track with writer/director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis;
--“The Night She Came Home” new featurette with Jamie Lee Curtis (HD);
--On Location;
--TV & Radio Spots;
--Additional Scenes from TV Version

About Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment is a leading home entertainment company. Anchor Bay acquires and distributes feature films, original television programming including STARZ Original series, children's entertainment, anime (Manga Entertainment), fitness (Anchor Bay Fitness), sports, and other filmed entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray™ formats. The company has long term distribution agreements in place for select programming with AMC Networks, RADiUS, and The Weinstein Company. Headquartered in Beverly Hills, CA, Anchor Bay Entertainment has offices in Troy, MI, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Anchor Bay Entertainment ( is a Starz (NASDAQ: STRZA, STRZB) business,

John Carpenter’s Halloween 35th Anniversary Blu-ray™
Genre: Horror
Rating: R
Languages: English
Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1; Original Mono
Year: 1978
SRP: $34.99
Street Date: September 24, 2013
Pre-Book: August 28, 2013
Length: 92 minutes
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
UPC: 0 1313 26063-3 0
Cat#: ZBD60633

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Thursday, July 18, 2013


Ever wonder what kind of TV shows Agent Mulder might watch on his day off?  If he's by himself, he'll probably tune into the sensationalistic "In Search Of" with Leonard Nimoy.  But if his ever-dubious friend Agent Scully happens to be visiting,  it's more likely they'll be watching Arthur C. Clarke, whose forays into the unknown, while stoking our sense of wonder, remain firmly but unobtrusively on the skeptical side.

ARTHUR C. CLARKE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, an 8-disc DVD set from Visual Entertainment Incorporated, brings us all three of Clarke's thoughtful, carefully-produced TV series from the 80s and 90s--52 half-hour episodes in all--offering viewers interested in the unexplained approximately 22 hours worth of baffling and sometimes jaw-dropping mysteries from around the world and beyond. 

From his idyllic ocean-front retreat in Sri Lanka,  where the distinguished author of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and inventor of the communications satellite has succeeded in getting away from it all, the laidback Clarke introduces a different specimen of  unexplained phenomena to be examined in each episode.  These range from the earthly to the cosmic,  from the real-life to the paranormal,  and from historical puzzles to fantastic flights of fancy. 

Unlike "In Search Of",  however, which tended toward giving the most outlandish theories the benefit of the doubt, Clarke's style is to present both sides in a rational,  even-handed manner that allows us to make up our own minds,  and then present us with his own conclusions.  While these are usually tinged with skepticism, Clarke rarely allows himself to be overbearing or smug when dismissing something he believes is insufficiently supported by the evidence.  Thus, the viewer rarely feels manipulated to think one way or the other.  "I've always tried to steer a course between skepticism and credulity," Clarke tells us at one point.

The first 13-episode series, "Mysterious World" (1980),  is a compelling overview of the wonders that can be found all over our own home world.  On these two discs are riveting explorations of such mysteries as monsters of the deep, lake monsters, elusive apemen from the Yeti to Bigfoot, Easter Island's great stone heads, advanced technology in the ancient world,  baffling accounts of fish,  frogs, and other objects raining from the sky, and,  of course,  UFOs. 

Clarke presents a wealth of eyewitness accounts, historical records, drawings, photographs, and motion pictures either to support or discount according to his own rigorous scrutiny.  The famous Bigfoot footage is studied, as are numerous fascinating films purporting to show the Loch Ness Monster and other lake creatures.  My favorite is the UFO episode, which not only features the one and only Kenneth Arnold (whose eyewitness account in the late 40s kicked off the "flying saucer" craze) but carefully examines much evidence including startling films and photographs.

Discs three and four contain another 13-episode series, "World of Strange Powers" (1985), which focuses more upon the paranormal.  Clarke's skepticism comes to the fore here, but not so much as to spoil the fun for those of us who halfway believe in a lot of this stuff.  He does give such things as premonitions,  mental telepathy and other forms of ESP, stigmata, water divining, fire walking, and reincarnation serious consideration as is warranted by much of the evidence. 

Ghosts,  spirit photography, and other things that go bump in the night are taken with a grain of salt but presented without ridicule.  Even something as patently fake as those famous fairy photographs featuring sweet-faced little girls surrounded by dancing imps gives us an entertaining look into how the gullible can buy into the most outlandish of stories if there is photographic "proof."  Best of all, Uri Geller and his metal-bending nonsense is dismissed outright, as (in my opinion) it should be.

The final four discs comprise Clarke's 1994 series, "Mysterious Universe", whose 26 episodes do their best to cover everything left unexplored in previous shows while revisiting a subject or two.  Some of the subject matter almost approaches the lurid, as in "Zombies,  the Living Dead."  This one may give you a nightmare or two as it tells  of people who have been poisoned into a state of apparent death, buried, and then exhumed to be revived and enslaved as mind-addled zombies. 

Other subjects in this grab-bag of weird tales include "Snake Charmers, Wolf Children and Holy Men", more "Mysteries of the Sea", the Bermuda Triangle,  the fate of the dinosaurs, big cats loose in rural England, psychic detectives, spontaneous human combustion, crop circles, near-death experiences, phantom buildings, curses, alien abductions, ancient codes, runes, and riddles,  visions of the Virgin Mary, more spirits and spectres,  and much more. 

The only drawback to all of this interesting stuff is that,  at times, the show tends to get a little too non-sensationalistic, with some  episodes becoming downright dull as we watch scientists impassively studying specimens or droning on about things that are, despite their historical or scientific significance,  dry as dust from an entertainment standpoint.  Fortunately,  this doesn't occur too often.

The 8-disc DVD set from Visual Entertainment Incorporated is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby 2.0 sound.  English only.  No subtitles or extras.

With a knowing smile and a subtle sense of fun, the venerable Clarke leads us through the funhouse of mystery and magic that is our own weird world.  "I don't pretend to have all the answers," he tells us, "but the questions are certainly worth thinking about."  And with ARTHUR C. CLARKE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION,  he does so in a way that should please both the Mulder and Scully in all of  us.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

BIG BOOBS, BLONDE BABES, BAD BLOOD -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: I reviewed a VHS tape of this movie by Shane Ryan of AMATEUR PORN STAR KILLER fame several  years ago for, and thought our readers might find it to be of interest as it was a pretty strange flick.  A search of the title will reveal places where it may be available online.)

If you're searching the video store shelves for the perfect exploitation flick to watch during a beer-fueled night with the guys, you can't go wrong with a title like BIG BOOBS, BLONDE BABES, BAD BLOOD (2006), right?  Wrong. 

There's plenty of bad blood, which we'll discuss later.  There's a couple of pretty big boobs for a few moments at the very beginning (covered with blood, that is--the owner of said boobs is knifing an unseen victim to shreds), which we never see again.  I kept expecting to see that particular short pop up somewhere along the way but it never showed up. 

Blonde babes?  There's a couple of ditzy blondes (Vanessa Ross, Rebecca Elizabeth Stevens) who appear intermittently as "hostesses" and wear out their welcome really fast.  Even shedding their tops and dropping their pants later on don't make Vanessa and Rebecca any less irritating, and you may find yourself fast-forwarding through the only thing resembling a "blonde babe" in the whole movie.  There are a couple of other unnecessary presenters as well (such as DAY OF THE DEAD:CONTAGIUM's April Wade) whose segments are equally unimportant.  Shane Ryan introduces most of the shorts himself anyway, so all that other fluff should've been trimmed.

It becomes pretty apparent right away that this should have been given a more descriptive title such as THE SHORT FILMS OF SHANE RYAN.  That way, less beer-fueled guys would be sitting perplexed in front of their TV sets saying "Gott in himmel, vas ist das?" and grabbing for the latest "Girls Gone Wild" DVD, and more people who appreciate watching imaginative short films by a talented indie director might actually end up watching it. 

If you're one of those people, you'll probably find a lot to appreciate in this grab-bag of shorts by Shane Ryan, who clearly loves filmmaking more than just about anything else.  There's a wide range of stuff here--some films have engaging stories, some are simply impressionistic montages of images, and some are just toss-offs where the closing credits appear about a minute after the titles and you say "huh?"  (I think Shane Ryan likes to make people say that.) 

The first one, "Lucifer's Mind", features a naked woman smearing herself with something (blood?  chocolate?) for about a minute in a frenzy of speeded-up shots intercut with clips of a rock band playing a driving tune (Boneshin provides some cool music for many of these shorts).  The titles pop in and out; when it says "Lucifer's Mind", there are a couple of shots of clouds, and then "The End."  Huh?  Okay, that was a pretty good mini-rock video. 

Next comes "Poison Cure", a high-school film which was shot in under 24 hours in order to reach a film festival deadline (it was rejected).  Ryan plays a strung-out, lovelorn teen throwing up in a bathroom while being comforted by his sympathetic gal pal.  She finally sticks him in the shower and turns on the cold water to keep him from passing out, then climbs in fully-clothed to snuggle and comfort him, and it's over.  Not much of a story--several of the films here are just brief, sometimes sensitive studies that leave you with a general impression, and it's pretty hit-and-miss--and a good example of why, despite the title, this isn't something that drunken frat guys will want to whoop it up to. 

Next up is "Sane:The Story Of The Boredom Killings", which is pretty self-descriptive, as two disaffected teens (Ryan and co-director Jeremy Williams, who call themselves "The Cousin Brothers") decide to relieve their boredom by killing people, which is seen from the POV of their video camera as they tape each other disposing of a few victims until they're caught and imprisoned (a postscript informs us of their eventual fates). 

I guess there's a message here, like "sometimes conscienceless kids horrifically kill people just for giggles", or something--Ryan claims it's about reality TV, though I didn't quite catch that--but, like many of these films, it's mainly an exercise in cinematic style (which seems to come almost effortlessly to Ryan, who can make just about anything interesting to look at) and shock value, mainly in the sequence in which the two rape and then gorily murder a young woman in her apartment.  Bad blood, indeed.

"Pinata" is one of eight short films (seven are in this collection) that Ryan salvaged from an aborted feature film project of the same name.  A shaking, drooling boy sits smoking a cigarette while a girl whacks baseballs in a batting cage, the end.  All together now--huh?

More bad blood and shock value are on hand next in another "Pinata" offshoot, "So, We Killed Our Parents", my personal favorite of the bunch.  Donnie and Denise Harris are brother and sister, and they're very close.  (Wink.)  Big Man is their big, mean, musclebound dad who looks and sounds like a cross between Popeye and a rabid bulldog, and his major joy in life is heaping all kinds of mental and physical abuse upon his kids all the time (the aptly-named Rex Cobalt is terrific, and somehow hilarious, in the role).  Their mom, "Bitch" (as in "Damn, bitch, git my belt!") wearily fetches Big Man's belt for him when he needs it to abuse the kids, complaining, "F*** you, why don't you WEAR one, a**hole?" 

That is, until one night when Donnie and Denise decide to grab a couple of baseball bats and turn the tables on Big Man and Bitch in a big way, gleefully pounding them into ground round right there on the livingroom rug as the dog looks on with a "what the hell?" expression.  Shane Ryan has a cinematic field day with sequences like this, combining regular, slow, and fast motion with quick cutting, wild camera angles, and cool music. 

Covered with blood, the newly-liberated teens celebrate by ecstatically going at each other like a couple of human ice-cream cones in an orgy of writhing, hot-blooded incest that ends up with a naked tongue-wrestling match in the shower.  Shocking!!!  (You might call the guys in for this scene, then dismiss them to return to "Where The Boys Aren't #13" or whatever.) 

Shane Ryan plays Donnie (no surprise), and Vicky Rodriguez is wonderful as Denise.  She may not be a "blonde babe", but she's more my type, anyway, and she swings a mean baseball bat, among other things.  Again, this was my favorite film in the collection, which shows you how twisted I am, I guess.  After another short or two there's a series of bloopers and outtakes from it, highlighted by Rex Cobalt in a long-hair wig and bandana, playing a guitar very badly and croaking a song in which he complains about his unattentive wife ("Dumb cow won't scratch my nuts") and boasts, "I'm gonna be me the next Elvis Presley."

Skipping over a few more toss-offs from the unfinished "Pinata", we get to the two darkest and most finely-rendered of Ryan's shorts, both shot in black-and-white, a medium in which Ryan excells.  The first, "Isolation", is a painful portrait of a lonely, introspective boy named Billy (Ryan) who stalks the dreary streets of his hometown, forever yearning for the unconditional love of his mother who died shortly after giving birth to him in an alley.  Rex Cobalt appears again as the abusive father, a role he was apparently born to play. 

This film is followed by a "making of" documentary by Jason "I've never been more miserable in my entire life" Freeman entitled "More Than 15", which illustrates the grueling and often thankless effort put forth by everyone involved in the production ("Isolation" was screened at less than ten festivals but rejected by almost 100), and also lets us in on some of the cool ideas Ryan came up with to get certain shots (an overhead close-up of him lying in bed as the camera swirls in circles was done with a stationary camera shooting down on Ryan as he lay spinning on a merry-go-round in the park).

And finally, there's "The Cold Heat", which opens with a man and woman having joyless sex in a room that could very well be right next to Henry Spencer's apartment in ERASERHEAD.  Where "So, We Killed Our Parents" is light, colorful, and fun, despite the subject matter, "The Cold Heat" is nightmarish and disturbing.  The noirish black-and-white photography here is gorgeous and surreal--some of the images are rather stunning--making it, visually, the tour de force of the collection.  Ryan turns in one of his best performances here and Michiko Jimenez (AMATEUR PORN STAR KILLER) is memorable.  I won't tell you how it ends, but it's pretty cool.  This is Shane Ryan at his best, with imagination and style to burn.

I'm docking BIG BOOBS, BLONDE BABES, BAD BLOOD a tad because of the crappy hostess segments, misleading title, and shorts that weren't all that great.  But it easily scores three-and-a-half boobs for "So, We Killed Our Parents", "Isolation", "The Cold Heat", and other flashes of brilliance scattered here and there within this collection, which clearly show an exciting and wildly-imaginative cinematic talent at work.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

HONEST -- DVD review by porfle

Fans of Amanda Redman (D.S. Sandra Pullman of the delightfully quirky cop series "New Tricks") will probably derive a good bit of fun watching her wrestle the 2008 single-season British TV series HONEST (now a 2-disc DVD set from Acorn Media) into submission with her brassy, no-nonsense acting style.  Others, however, may have to slog their way through a distinctly unlikable episode or two before the show, and especially some of these characters, start to grow on them.

The marvelous Danny Webb, for example, plays crooked dad Mack Carter, who's perfectly happy to raise his kids to be scummy lowlifes like him.  At least until he ends up in prison--for several years this time instead of the usual short term--which means that his harried wife Lindsay (Redman) must now run the household and pay the bills while keeping all of the Carter family's budding young felons in line.  But what makes this really difficult is her decision to do all of this without resorting to crime.

How Lindsay and her criminal charges make the painful transition from larceny to honesty drives this raucous mix of comedy and drama with wildly varying results.  At first, characters such as teenaged dork Vic Carter (Matthew McNulty) and his butthead pal Reza (Amit Shah) provide little mirth as they engage in burglary and other crimes in bumbling fashion.  It isn't until they get caught redhanded by aging Triad boss Mr. Hong (venerable Burt Kwouk of the PINK PANTHER series), who forces Vic to atone by being his virtual slave, that we begin to warm up to Vic as he gradually gains a tentative sense of responsibility. 

The fact that Mr. Hong's granddaughter Vicky (Maye Choo) is a knockout who enjoying tormenting Vic during his labors by parading around in a bikini helps make the series more watchable at times.  And when she finally decides to "do the nasty" with Vic, it helps that she's actually doing it with Vic's twin brother Taylor (also McNulty), filling in for Vic in more ways than one.  Taylor, it turns out, is a lawyer and is thus the family's biggest success story,  although this hardly means he's above some occasional dishonesty himself. 

Kacie Carter (Laura Haddock), a dumb blonde obsessed with becoming a model, is a virtual clone of Kelly Bundy of "Married With Children."  Her character doesn't really become interesting until late in the season when she gets hooked  up with a lecherous TV personality and starts using him to get her face (and other body parts) splashed all over the tabloids.  Sister Lianna (Eleanor Wyld), one of the show's less annoying characters, is the smart one who has enough savvy to be a success in whatever she pursues but still finds herself doing a balancing act between right and wrong.  Michael Byrne (INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, BRAVEHEART) plays Grandpa Carter,  a crusty old reprobate who isn't as senile as he lets on.

Amanda Redman, of course, easily dominates the proceedings by virtue of her sheer presence and robust acting talents, and HONEST is pretty much first-rate whenever she's on the screen.  Besides the aforementioned Danny Webb (a favorite of mine since ALIEN 3), another oasis of "good" is the always fine Sean Pertwee (SOLDIER, THE MUTANT CHRONICLES) as D.S. Ed Bain, a world-weary cop who likes Lindsay even though he's forced to spend most of his time arresting members of her family.  Their tentative relationship will provide some nice moments throughout the show's six episodes.

The series gets off to a shaky start as the first episode or two are a cacophony of  empty freneticism and bad one-liners, rushing from one gag situation to the next before we can reflect on how unfunny it all is.  Again, the Carters and their fellow felons initially come off not as charming rogues or scoundrels, but simply low-lifes whom I found wholly unlikable.  It doesn't help that the incessantly cutesy musical score prods us to find it all amusing.

Gradually, though, I began to build up a tolerance and finally a measure of affection for the Carters and their silly antics, along with occasional moments of actual funniness as when Lindsay and D.S. Bain catch Constable Harrison ( Thomas Nelstrop) gratifying himself in his car to a picture of aspiring model Kacie, whom he happens to be stalking.  Outstanding dramatic moments include an attempt on Lindsay's life after she's accused of being a "grass" (snitch) and her continuing struggle to keep her marriage to Mack from falling apart as her feelings for D.S. Bain grow harder to deny.  Lindsay's misadventures in the work force, including clashes with some  of her supposedly "honest" employers, also provide some of the show's most riveting situations.

The 2-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of a photo gallery, text interviews with some of the lead actors, and production notes.

If you find yourself watching HONEST and not liking what you see at first,  you might want to hang in there and give it a chance.  By the third episode or so, I found myself actually getting into it and, dare I say, caring about these characters and their foolish yet earnest attempts to go straight.  Even the unfunny parts began to seem kind of funny, which is a sure sign that a TV series has managed to tweak my "likability" nerve. 

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THE KILLER SHREWS -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review was originally posted several years ago at CONTAINS SPOILERS!)

A shrew is a tiny, rat-like animal that smells sort of like a skunk. A killer shrew, on the other hand, is a large dog with fake hair and fangs stuck on it. At times, it's also a hand-puppet that someone shoves at your face while making a "skick-ick-ick-ick!!!" sound.

But before we are introduced to these exciting creatures in the low-budget horror film THE KILLER SHREWS (1959), we meet Thorne Sherman, the captain of a small cargo boat, and his first mate, "Rook" Griswold, who are currently delivering supplies to an island where a group of scientists work in seclusion on some mysterious research project which concerns overpopulation and which, yes, turns out to have something to do with killer shrews.

Thorne is played by James Best, whom you may know better as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrain on "The Dukes Of Hazzard." Here, he's younger, slimmer, and slightly less goofy -- more of a poor man's macho adventure hero -- although he still has sort of a prissy way of pursing his lips when he's vexed. "Rook" is portrayed by an actor named Judge Henry Dupree. I don't know if the guy was really a judge in real life or if his parents just decided that "Judge" would be a cool name for a baby. Maybe their other children were named "Bailiff", "Stenographer", and "Defendant."

Anyway, when they get to the island they're greeted on the dock by the leader of the scientists, Dr. Marlowe Craigis from Sweden, who is played by Baruch Lumet, the father of well-known film director Sidney ("Network", "Dog Day Afternoon") Lumet, who probably never went around saying "Guess what? My dad was in 'The Killer Shrews'!" very much. Dr. Craigis is accompanied by his daughter Ann (1957 Miss Universe winner Ingrid Goude, whose talent in the competition probably wasn't "acting"), and his really creepy and weaselly assistant Jerry (Ken Curtis, who produced THE KILLER SHREWS and went on to portray Marshall Dillon's deputy Festus Haggen in "Gunsmoke"). Until recently, Ann was engaged to Jerry, which makes one wonder how desperate she is for a man. There must be something really wrong with her -- I'm guessing it's her breath.

Dr. Craigis is eager for Ann to leave the island with Thorne for some reason, and Jerry is carrying a shotgun and peering around nervously. Hmm...could something be amiss? Something that might have to do with...killer shrews? Well, too bad because there's a hurricane coming and Thorne isn't going anywhere until it blows over. Grudgingly, the three researchers return to their remote island hideaway with the captain in tow. "Rook" stays behind to watch the boat and to be the first character eaten by the -- oops, getting ahead of myself.

Soon they arrive at the secluded house, which is surrounded by a thick wooden fence. Here's where THE KILLER SHREWS becomes one of the best drinking games ever. From this point in the story onward, throw back a shot whenever someone in the movie takes a drink or mentions drinking. You'll get sloshed in no time, because this is the most booze-happy bunch of research scientists in cinema history. When their servant-slash-handyman Mario appears to let them in, Ann begins the festivities by saying, "Fodder, perheps de captain vould enjoy a drink." Dr. Craigis responds, "Of course. Vill you join us in a cocktail?" and Thorne, naturally, is delighted. "Well, I've never been known to turn down a drink yet," he candidly admits. "Fine," says the doctor, "in dat case we'll heff martinis. Mario?" "Si, senor?" "Mix dem, please."

When they enter the house, everyone gathers around the fully-stocked portable bar that will become the most frequently-used prop in the entire movie. Here, Thorne is introduced to Dr. Radford Baines, an absent-minded nerd who thinks shrew research as a means of combatting overpopulaton is so utterly wonderful that when he isn't in the lab researching shrews, he wanders around the house thinking about it until someone stops him. He's so dedicated, in fact, that if, say, a killer shrew bit him in the leg, thus giving him a lethal dose of its deadly venom, he would hustle to the nearest typewriter and catalogue the various symptoms he began to experience for as long as he could before he keeled over dead. I'm not saying this actually happens, of course. But in this movie, it certainly could happen.

Meanwhile, the hurricane is getting closer, and Thorne advises Dr. Craigis to get some doors and windows open. "Dere are ventilators on de roof," he assures him. "And if you'll freshen Ann's drink, I'll go and check dem." Now that's an attentive dad! "Got dem opened, all right," he announces upon his return. "Vell, Captain...let me freshen your drink. One for de road." But Thorne has decided not to return to his boat just yet, because -- in a scene in which Ann and Thorne light up a couple of cigarettes on the couch, and Jerry eavesdrops suspiciously on their conversation as he smokes his own cigarette, and the three of them puff away like there's no tomorrow -- Ann has let it slip that the house is surrounded by killer shrews that will eat him if he goes outside. Apparently, their research has gone a bit awry. Later, Dr. Craigis graphically describes how a victim of the shrews would be stripped to the bone, and Ann, upset by this, springs to her feet and shouts "I could use another martini!" "Of course, my dear," responds her father. "I'll get you one." At this rate, somebody's going to have to get her a new liver, too.

Meanwhile, the killer shrews are chewing their way through the walls, trying to get at the only food source left on the island -- the people. While discussing their next move, Thorne grabs the drink that Jerry has just poured for himself. Jerry pours himself another one, and they both toss their drinks back at precisely the same time. (MST3K referred to this dazzling dual display of dexterity as "synchonized drinking.") As the perilous night wears on, two members of the household are killed by invading shrews. I won't tell you who they are, but since I'm going to stop talking about them from now on, you can probably figure it out.

When daylight returns at last, Thorne and Jerry venture through the forest toward the dock to check on "Rook", who may or may not have been eaten by killer shrews the night before. Jerry deems this the perfect opportunity to point his shotgun at Thorne and warn him to stay away from Ann. But Thorne has about as much intention of doing this as he does of turning down one of Mario's martinis, and a fight ensues. Suddenly, the killer shrews attack! The two men hightail it back to the house, but Jerry reaches the gate first and locks Thorne out. Thorne climbs over the wall and proceeds to beat Jerry brutally. He then hoists him over his head, climbs up on a box, and threatens to throw him over the fence and feed him to the creatures. If this sounds familiar, it's because George Romero later wrote an almost identical scene in the script for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, in which Ben is locked out of the house by Harry Cooper. Even the library-derived music is the same.

Finally, the shrews begin to turn the walls into swiss cheese and everyone is forced out of the house and into the compound. In spite of his alcohol-soaked brain, or perhaps because of it, Thorne hits upon the bright idea of lashing a bunch of inverted metal drums together, cutting eyeholes in them, and then having everyone climb in and duckwalk to the beach. That's right -- duckwalk. I don't know about you, but I don't recall very many action/horror films in which the thrilling climactic escape from the terrifying creatures had a whole heck of a lot to do with duckwalking, but here it is.

Of course, it's all shown in close-up, so you don't actually see their knees pumping against their chins or their feet waddling up and down, which is a shame because I would like to have seen that. But it's enough just to know that they really are duckwalking all the way to the beach in their makeshift tank as a horde of ravenous killer shrews, portrayed by dogs with fake hair and fangs stuck on them, struggle to eat them.

I'm not going to tell you whether they make it or not -- you'll just have to see for yourself when you watch THE KILLER SHREWS, which of course you're going to want to do immediately after reading this. But I will say that if they did make it back to the beach and swim out to the boat and head safely back to the mainland, then Thorne Sherman might possibly slide his arms around Ann and come up with one of the best closing lines in bad cinema history, and it would probably have something to do with the fact that he's not quite ready to start worrying about overpopulation just yet.

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Read our updated review of the Film Chest DVD here


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

NORTH AND SOUTH -- DVD review by porfle

Looking back now on the premiere of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", it's funny now how little some of us realized what a coup Gene Roddenberry had scored in getting British thespian Patrick Stewart to star as Captain Jean Luc Picard. Back then, I thought this short, bald guy whom I didn't recall ever seeing before was about as much captain material as my Aunt Fanny, but time certainly proved me wrong about that.

Interesting, then, to rediscover Patrick Stewart's earlier TV and film accomplishments back when he was a sturdy young up-and-coming actor with a full head of (fake) hair. The four-part "BBC2 Serial" presentation NORTH AND SOUTH (1975), now available in a 2-disc DVD set from Acorn Media, catches him with his robust theatricality in full bloom in a part he can really sink his incisors into.

The actual star of this adaptation of the Elizabeth Gaskel novel is Rosalie Shanks (Aunt Mimi of "John Lennon: A Journey in the Life") as Margaret Hale, a young Victorian-era woman who has been living the high society life in London with her aunt and cousins for ten years but now yearns to return to her pastoral home in Southern England. As fate would have it, though, her clergyman father (Robin Bailey) has just broken ties with the church and is moving the family to a Northern factory town filled with noise and soot, which horrifies not only Margaret but her reserved, delicate mother ( Kathleen Byron).

Mr. Hale begins to earn extra money as a tutor, and one of his students is a young cotton mill owner named John Thornton (Stewart). When labor vs. management issues begin to heat up and a strike looms, bleeding heart Margaret sides with the poor workers while Thornton brings in Irish laborers, which leads to a confrontation in which Margaret is injured while shielding Thornton from harm.

Her impulsive act is seen as a brazen display of public affection that will lead to her shame unless she marries Thornton. The idea appeals to him since he happens to be in love with her, but she can't stand him--at least, she claims she can't (although we know better, now don't we?)

What promises to be a complex story actually turns out to be quite simple and, while engrossing enough, seems a bit padded over four 50-minute episodes. The deliberate and non-sensationalistic storytelling style is at its most intriguing when dealing with Thornton's labor problems and the tribulations of some of his downtrodden workers, such as the unfortunate Higgins (Norman Jones) whose daughter Bessy is dying from breathing in cotton fibers in what is known as the factory's dreaded "carding room." Rosalie Crutchley is a strong presence as Thornton's iron-willed mother, who considers her son too good for Margaret, and their scenes together are interesting.

The romantic stuff, however, wears thin after awhile and is resolved in a seemingly cursory manner as the story itself offers few surprises--even the fact that several key characters die off one by one eventually loses its shock value. After awhile it even begins to seem as though new players are being introduced simply to give the story someone else to knock off so that poor put-upon Margaret can be sad again.

As Margaret, Rosalie Shanks is theatrical and affected, but earnest, and somewhat reminiscent of a young Julie Andrews although at times her oddly over-expressive face makes her resemble a Nick Park character. Margaret gains some depth as the determinedly charitable young woman takes on an increased empathy for those beneath her station, yet we never really care all that much about her. Stewart, on the other hand, brings such a restrained vigor to his role that the film lights up when he's on the screen. In relation to his dreary surroundings and the dour people he must constantly deal with, his character is likable and appealing.

The 2-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in full screen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles. No extras. Image quality is good despite the age of the production.

Veering at times toward sheer melodrama, there's a theatricality to NORTH AND SOUTH that sometimes makes it seem as though it's being recited rather than acted. On the whole, however, it's a pleasant enough viewing experience that fans of old-style BBC Victorian drama will want to make it a point to see. And Patrick Stewart with hair--whether it's actually his or not--is always a novelty.

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

MXC VOLUME THREE -- DVD review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at in 2007.)

I haven't had cable TV for almost three years, and I don't really miss it--with a few notable exceptions. One of these would have to be Spike TV's irresistibly amusing and often downright delightful "Most Extreme Elimination Challenge" (or "MXC"), which debuted in 2003. It's so watchable and funny, you'd have to be an inflamed zit on Andy Rooney's left buttock not to enjoy it.

That's why I was so pleased to receive a screener for the DVD release of MXC VOLUME THREE. While the actual DVD will be a 2-disc set containing 13 half-hour episodes, the screener only came with two of them. But let's face it, if watching just five minutes of MXC doesn't tell you whether or not this is your cup of warm sake, then you should probably go to a proctologist and have your head examined.

Originally a silly, but genuine, Japanese game show from the 80s called "Takeshi's Castle", these episodes have been redubbed to transform them into the most surrealistic and frequently hilarious fake game show imaginable. The two lovable play-by-play announcers are now named Vic Romano and Kenny Blankenship--Kenny's the featherbrained cut-up, while Vic is the straight man who is so serenely unfazed by Kenny's ridiculous antics that his usual response is an earnest "Right you are, Ken" or a simple "Indeeed!"

Other characters include contestant wrangler Captain Tenneal, who gets the players whipped into a semi-frenzy before unleashing them upon the field of battle with the words "Let's get it on!", and field announcer Guy LaDouche, a cackling pervert whose contestant interviews are gleefully lecherous.

The competition always involves two opposing teams of reckless idiots--one of whom invariably sports the last name of "Babaganoosh"--partaking in ludicrous games that often result in them either being attacked from the sidelines by wild men or dunked in various kinds of "fluid" such as trucker man-gravy or toxic biological waste.

The two episodes I got to review featured the following teams squaring off against each other: Organized Crime vs. Weight Loss, and the Novelty/Gift Industry vs. the Death Industry. Needless to say, Organized Crime has the edge over their competition as they resort to the use of snipers, death threats, and other creative tactics. And as always, each episode ends with a recap of the most cringe-inducing spills known as "Kenny Blankenship's Most Painful Eliminations of the Day."

As the box copy aptly states, MXC is like a cross between Woody Allen's redubbed Japanese comedy WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? and "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Each cleverly-scripted episode is total giddy fun all the way--low-brow humor and non-stop sexual innuendos fly fast and furious, while the new dialogue fits hilariously with the images of smarmy announcers, hokey costumed characters, and wildly enthusiastic contestants throwing themselves into each challenge with little regard for their dignity or physical well-being.

Rarely does a live-action TV show get this cartoonish and totally silly, and if that's the kind of thing that makes your inner disturbed child do double backflips, then you should run headlong through a wacky-but-dangerous obstacle course over a vat of rich, trucker man gravy to get your mitts on a copy of MXC VOLUME THREE.

And remember: "DON'T...GET...ELIMINATED!"

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