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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Underrated '87 - Arik Devens

Arik Devens is the proprietor of Cinema Gadfly (, an ongoing project to try and write about every film in the Criterion Collection. He recently launched A History of Jazz (, a podcast exploring jazz history, from 1917 to the present.

Baby Boom (1987; Charles Shyer)
We had this film on a VHS tape when I was growing up. Actually, I'm pretty sure my parents still have it. Anyway, I must have watched it a million times. So many scenes are permanently imprinted in my brain, and it's definitely where my lifelong dream of living in a Vermont farmhouse comes from.
(On Blu-ray from Twilight Time)

Ernest Goes to Camp (1987; John Cherry)
In general, I'm not a devotee of the Ernest does X film series. But this one, this one I absolutely love. There are so many quotable moments and hilarious bits. Is it a dumb film? Of course it is, but really that's most of the point.
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G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987; Don Jurwich)
Perhaps the single greatest action movie ever made. Seriously, there's almost no moment in this film where nothing is happening. The closest is a short meeting where the characters literally shout and run out of a room. The last twenty minutes are so intense the screen flashes to white every other frame. So great.
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The Living Daylights (1987; John Glen)
Many, many people will find this heretical, but Timothy Dalton is my favorite Bond. This is, not coincidentally, my favorite Bond film. He's just so grim and serious, and Maryam d'Abo is such a great Bond lady. The whole film is wonderful, especially John Rhys-Davies as a KGB general. Oh and the soundtrack is phenomenal.
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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New Release Roundup - March 28th, 2017

THE WANDERERS on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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BLOW-UP on Blu-ray (Criterion)
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WITCHTRAP on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)
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WORLD WITHOUT END on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)
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WISHMASTER COLLECTION on Blu-ray (Lionsgate)
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WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)
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Z.P.G. on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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SEPTEMBER STORM on 3-D Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
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ANOTHER MAN'S POISON on Blu-ray (ClassicFlix)
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THE CREEPING GARDEN on Blu-ray (Arrow Academy)
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SAINT JACK on Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)

20TH CENTURY WOMEN on Blu-ray (Lionsgate)
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SILENCE on Blu-ray (Paramount)
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A MONSTER CALLS on Blu-ray (Universal)
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Vestron Video - THE WISHMASTER COLLECTION on Blu-ray

I was in college and working at a Video Store when the first WISHMASTER film came out in 1997. I remember it being a huge renter for us, but I never bothered to see it. You see, years of seeing tons of crappy, straight-to-video horror movies land on our shelves had soured me on taking many chances on movies that looked silly and second rate. I also didn't know who Robert Kurtzman was at the time, despite being a big fan of horror films in general. I didn't realize that he was the "K" in K.N.B. EFX - along with Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. Had I known that, I certainly would have given the movie a look. For whatever snooty reason I might have had back then, I just never watched the movie and all these years later it had continued to elude me until this Blu-ray set. As I was watching the cast credits roll by I immediately that the film would be a good time. Robert England, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, and Buck Flower alone were enough to get my attention. Between this fun ensemble (which also includes small parts for Ted Raimi and Reggie Bannister), a Harry Manfredini score and the amazingly gory opening set piece, I was definitely on board. The first sequence in ancient Persia that sets up the the Djinn character is still a remarkable demonstration of practical effects goodness. It's truly a calling card scene in that it features so much disgusting insanity and mayhem as to call your attention to the fact that this film was made by special makeup effects wizards. It's a scene that very much says, "hey look at what we can do!" In the best possible way. And the movie has not one but two scenes of bloody utter chaos like this and that really makes it pretty memorable.
Beyond the excellent effects, WISHMASTER has another thing going for it in a great villain (especially when he's in human form) by Andrew Divoff. Divoff has the perfect malevolent face, pock-marked, but with menacing eyes that burn right through you. He's a bit over the top, but not in a way that takes away from his scariness. His smile is like the Grinch's own.
In the second WISHMASTER film, he becomes a bit more quippy and starts to grow into more of a later-series Freddy Krueger type. The sequel also takes on a seemingly even more mean-spirited (and more juvenile) nature - although that is obviously a huge part of the character himself. WISHMASTER 2 is directed by the underrated Jack Sholder who also brought us one of the greatest science fiction films of the 1980s in THE HIDDEN. He's also behind NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 and ALONE IN THE DARK. He's one of those directors that I always give a chance to when I run across a film of his I've yet to see. WISHMASTER 2 does make an interesting choice in that the Djinn doesn't go straight after the person who freed him, but instead gets himself thrown in prison to mix with inmates and collect fresh souls. This is a funny scenario in that he still acts like a weirdo and speaks in cryptic questions so he's not very popular with his fellow convicts. It's pretty entertaining to watch him navigate a prison movie while still being his bad-natured all-powerful self. It is quite amusing that such an almighty character can only use his magic when someone wishes him to do so. This makes for a silly but enjoyable series of attempts by the Djinn to trick people into making wishes so he can do awful stuff to them. This film even has a scene where the Djinn speaks through Tiny 'Zeus' Lister and it's pretty great. Vestron takes it one (actually two) further and also includes the third and foruth entries in the WISHMASTER series. This is a franchise overall that I wish I would have gotten into sooner, but am happy to have been able to experience via the nice Vestron Video Blu-ray set.
(Disc 1)
-*NEW* Commentary with director Robert Kurtzman and screenwriter Peter Atkins
-*NEW* Commentary with Kurtzman and actors Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren
-*NEW* Isolated score and interview with composer Harry Manfredini
-*NEW* Out of the Bottle — Interviews with Kurtzman and co-producer David Tripet [21:55] 
-*NEW* The Magic Words — Interview with Atkins [13:55] 
-*NEW* The Djinn and Alexandra — Interviews with Divoff and Lauren [25:57] 
-*NEW* Captured Visions — Interview with director of photography Jacques Haitkin [12:43] 
-*NEW* Wish List — Interviews with Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and Ted Raimi [12:04] 
-Vintage making-of featurette [24:45]
-Vintage EPK [5:39]
(Disc 2)
-*NEW* Commentary with writer/director Jack Sholder for WISHMASTER 2.
(Disc 3)
-*NEW* Commentary with director Chris Angel and actors Michael Trucco and Jason Thompson for WISHMASTER 3.
-*NEW* Commentary with Angel and actor John Novak For WISHMASTER 4.
-Wishmasterpiece Theater featurette [7:13]

Buy the WISHMASTER Collection set here:
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Monday, March 27, 2017

Underrated '87 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer, editor and trash cinema enthusiast living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His Letterboxd account is a document of a life poorly spent. You can find his writing all over the place, and especially at, and @irabrooker.
Born of Fire (Directed by Jamil Dehlavi)
I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the greatest film ever to climax in a “Devil Went Down to Georgia” style flute duel with the Earth’s core temperature at stake. Peter Firth and Suzan Crowley star as a haunted flautist and a concerned astronomer who travel from England to the mountains of Turkey in search of, respectively, a long-missing father and an explanation for abnormal solar activity. They wander into a ruined city populated by a cryptic Muslim cleric and a silent young man with osteogenesis imperfecta who happens to be the flautist’s half-brother (Nabil Shaban in a colossal performance). From then on it’s a surreal waking nightmare full of seductive djinns, snake handcuffs, giant moth-babies, and a naked musician/demigod with dominion over the world’s volcanoes.

As near as I can tell, this movie has little to no cult following. That is inexplicable. For starters, it’s gorgeous. The location filming in the Turkish mountains ranks among the most spectacular I’ve seen, and nearly every shot is a composition of bizarre beauty. The story is perhaps a little thin, and grounded in a lot of myth and metaphor that I only barely grasped, but it’s such a dreamlike experience that it hardly matters. Just being an Islamic arthouse horror film from the late ‘80s should be enough to give “Born of Fire” a higher profile, but this deserves reverence even without the curiosity factor.
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Zuma II: Hell Serpent (Directed by Ben Yalung)
An excavation crew unearths and quickly re-buries a vengeful blue-skinned snake demon named Zuma, who promptly resurfaces and sets out on a mission to slaughter every virgin in the Philippines and bring about a new age of snake supremacy, pausing only long enough to impregnate a random young woman who births a dimwitted snakeboy that follows its father’s bidding. Meanwhile, Zuma’s rebellious daughter (who wears her hair long enough to hide the snake protruding from either shoulder) just wants to settle down with her husband and raise their new babies, one human and one serpentine.

So yeah, even by the standards of obscure Filipino action-horror flicks, this one is bananas. I mean that in the very best way. Based on a presumably equally wild comic book series, this is a sleazy, noisy, occasionally incoherent conflagration of all things weird, wicked and wanton, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I haven’t seen the original “Zuma” - they’re both pretty hard to come by, especially in an English dub - but I feel safe in saying that it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this sequel one iota.

The Purple Ball (Directed by Pavel Arsyonov)
A group of Soviet space explorers stumbles upon a ghost ship formerly operated by an ancient death cult with a penchant for planting world-killing time bombs on unsuspecting planets, Earth included. It’s up to teenage adventurer Alica and her four-armed giant friend to travel back to mythological times and defuse the threat, but first they’ll need to contend with gigantic birds, forgetful magicians, and a supergroup of the most infamous cannibals of Russian folklore.

The sequel to a highly popular TV miniseries, “The Purple Ball” is a peculiar blend of grim sci-fi and deliriously macabre fairy tale, and somehow those two halves cohere into something rather lovely. It’s a great-looking film, full of spooky futuristic sets and charmingly rickety puppetry that ‘s fun to watch even when the story meanders. Natalya Guseva is delightful as Alica, who’s apparently a beloved kid-lit hero in the Pippi Longstocking vein in her homeland. It’s perhaps not the weightiest of adventures, but it’s a singular experience all the same.

Tales from the Quadead Zone (Directed by Chester N. Turner)
“Black Devil Doll from Hell” is always going to be the crown jewel of Chester N. Turner’s legacy, and deservedly so. That film is a bottle of demented lightning built around a once-in-a-lifetime lead performance by Shirley L. Jones, and any follow-up was going to pale by comparison. But that doesn’t make “Tales from the Quadead Zone” any less astonishing.

This horror anthology is a more conventional film in a lot of ways, but being more conventional than “Black Devil Doll from Hell” is a very relative thing. Despite the “quad” implied by the title, we get three stories here: a poverty-stricken family resorts to desperate methods to put food on the table, a man defiles his estranged brother’s corpse and lives to regret it, Shirley L. Jones reads a story to a ghostly child while battling domestic abuse. Everything here is bare-bones, handmade, and deeply invigorating. Turner’s direction could charitably be called rough, but he’s gotten a little more sure-handed since “BDDFH,” and his score is an even more delirious masterwork of squalling synthesizers and cackling chants. None of the movies on this list is for everybody, and this one is for a very select few. But for those who can dig this sort of thing, it’s some revelatory stuff.
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Mutant Hunt (Directed by Tim Kincaid)
Two flamboyant crime bosses/genius inventors go to war with armies of beefy, drug-addled sunglass-sporting androids (alternately known as “mutants” for whatever reason), and it’s up to a mildly boorish soldier of fortune to set things right. This is just plain trash that skews slightly more campy and self-aware than my usual tastes, but it has the good sense to wallow in its own filth and even manages to pull off some grotesque poignancy here and there. I found the sequence with the damaged android who achieves just enough sentience to beg for death much more moving than anything I’d expect to see from the director of “Robot Holocaust.”
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The Black Cobra (Directed by Stelvio Massi)
The ‘80s cinema landscape is littered with shameless Dirty Harry knock-offs, but not many had the chutzpah to include a beat-for-beat reworking of the famous “Make my day” speech. Watching Fred “The Hammer” Williamson detail the firepower of his handgun, speculate on whether he has any bullets left, declare that he feels lucky, and call his audience a punk is a strangely transcendent experience, the kind of brazenness you only get with bona fide trash cinema.

The rest of this cheap Italian quickie is an equally bold-faced riff on Stallone’s “Cobra” and various Dirty Harry flicks, riddled with misogyny, plot holes, Bruno Bilotta’s world-class sadistic smirk, and The Hammer’s indifferently furious line readings. It’s pretty great, obviously.
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