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Blu-ray Reviews for August 28, 2018

Selections from this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of reviews. Click on any of the following titles to navigate directly to that review. This week’s releases include: the Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dolph Lundgren team-up action flick Black Water, the Blaxploitation western Boss, the ridiculous semi-slasher flick Brainscan, Kino’s 20th anniversary release of sea monster epic Deep Rising, Ethan Hawke’s tremendous Taxi Driver counterpart First Reformed, the neo-noir/western Pickings, John Carpenter’s obscure Someone’s Watching Me!, AMC’s terrific survival thriller/horror series The Terror, and Leigh Whannell’s action/horror hybrid Upgrade. A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end.


Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Action-movie icons Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren deliver a double shot of adrenaline-fueled excitement in this heart pounding undersea thriller. After a failed mission, deep-cover operative Wheeler (Van Damme) is imprisoned in a CIA black site on a submarine. The CIA agents will to go to any lengths to get information from Wheeler—but nothing can prepare them for the storm of violence that erupts when he joins forces with a fellow prisoner (Lundgren) as deadly as he is mysterious.

If you’ve followed my writing with any regularity (and I pity you if you do), then you should know I have sort of a thing for Jean-Claude Van Damme, and I’ve spent much of my “career” writing about him. I once said of the aging action star that he exercises much better judgment over all his other aging action counterparts when it comes to picking his projects that, generally, go right to video. I rattled off titles like Assassination Games and Enemies Closer, among many others, to bolster my point. But after having suffered through the triple threat of Pound of Flesh, Kill ‘em All, and now Black Water, I’m starting to think I should retract that before it comes back to haunt me.

That’s not to say that Black Water is as bad as either of those two other worse titles because it’s not, but boy, you slap the faces of both Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren on one cover and somehow expect me not to immediately manifest certain expectations: one, that Black Water will be fun, and two, that it will actually make good on pairing these two titans together for a respectable amount of time.

Neither of those things happened.

I’ve researched Van Damme enough, and performed enough interviews with people who have worked with him, to know that he isn’t a paycheck kind of guy. He won’t do a movie if he thinks there’s a chance it’ll be bad. Which is what makes the handful of his recent titles so disappointing. Sadly, he knows he can’t just Bruce Willis it and agree to appear in garbage, because the last two decades of Willis’ career choices have already called that bluff. Unless he suddenly explodes into some racist rant, Willis will always be in demand, and no amount of quietly terrible direct-to-video releases will change that. Van Damme doesn’t enjoy that same career safety net. He exists solely in the DTV market, whereas Willis can at least rest in knowing he’ll still be fielding calls for mainstream theatrical projects. Considered somewhat of an eccentric figure who is constantly traveling the world, studios are still willing to work with Van Damme but only in very specific ways — read: low budget productions destined for the DTV/VOD market.

Black Water is not going to transform any casual filmgoers into Van Damme fans. It’s a very rote, average, okay-made film that is probably treating things way too seriously for its own good. The film doesn’t really come to life until it introduces Lundgren’s character, who spends nearly the entire time locked inside his own cell by himself, trading dialogue with Van Damme’s Wheeler through the wall. If these guys share ten minutes of screen time, if that, I’d be surprised.

The action is decent, the acting is not. The plot is very silly and the twist (there’s always a twist) is incredibly predictable. Patrick Kilpatrick is generally good for a villain or villainous character, but in this he just looks bored. I’m not sure I blame him.

Van Damme and Lundgren have appeared in five films together. Four of those have been surefire entertainment, even if the masses would never allow me to call them “good.” Black Water is their first film since 2009’s Universal Soldier: Regeneration where they actually shared scenes, but it’s also their first real stinker together. The studio’s effort to ride that Universal Soldier/Expendables goodwill will result in nothing more than fooling action aficionados into an accidental rental all while inadvertently helping to prove the scourge of direct-to-video action mediocrity that other better titles and filmmakers have attempted to stave off over the last decade. Black Water looks cheap, feels cheap, and by its end, is almost wholly forgettable.

The best praise I can offer Black Water is that it’s better than Van Damme’s last two garbage titles and certainly Lundgren’s best since Skin Trade. Do with that praise what you will. Meanwhile, I’ll be optimistically looking to the next project that each of them may have in the works in hopes for some DTV redemption.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

  • None


Distributor: Kit Parker Films via MVD Visual

Two black bounty hunters ride into a small town out West in pursuit of an outlaw. They discover that the town has no sheriff, and soon take over that position, much against the will of the mostly white townsfolk. They raise hell, chase women, and milk the locals for cash, while waiting for the opportunity to get their man.

Boss, also known as The Black Bounty Hunter and its original/credits title Boss Nigger (the one and only time I’ll use that particular title, and for search engine traffic/posterity only), was released less than one year after Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Both films saw a pretty similar plot, though the latter was played for much broader comedic effect: a black sheriff presides over a white town in the Old West and shakes up their culture — along with their women. And while Boss is a comedy, it’s not nearly as on the nose as its most immediate colleague. Being a Blaxploitation title, it also endeavours to upset the status quo by deviating away from the comedy to revel in darker aspects of humanity’s ugliness. Much of this comes from the hugely offensive exchanges that Boss (Fred Williamson) and his deputy, Amos (D’Urville Martin) engage in as they first arrive in town. (The n-word is thrown around more liberally than Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and that’s saying something.) But it also comes from the violence, the tragedies faced, and in the generally despicable way that the white town treats black and Mexican characters. The Blaxploitation sub-genre could do this like no other, and though it’s a cinematic movement not taken all that seriously due to some of the dubious titles that were released and the unintentionally amusing tropes that became legacy, always hidden within some heinous concepts was an important, and sometimes smartly rendered, morality tale. (Williamson’s Black Caesar is the best example of this.)

Williamson, who wrote and produced Boss, sometimes falls victim to too broadly showing whites as offensive — even those who aren’t trying to be. “Our family in Boston had black people working for us,” begins the white Miss Pruit (Barbara Leigh), and already you begin to cringe — openers like this equate to “I’m no racist, but..” in real life. “They were good people. They used to sing and dance a lot. I used to love to watch them.”

Cut to this face:

In fact, there’s exactly one white character — Pete the Blacksmith — who is a decent man right off the bat; he doesn’t start off as horrid and bigoted before learning the error of his ways. Williamson’s script suggests that, in a town of, maybe, a hundred citizens, one of them isn’t racist.

Yikes.

Though not taken very seriously (Blaxploitation might rank even below horror, which I never thought was possible), the sub-genre was instrumental in doing one main thing: exposing white audiences to black culture, in a effort to humanize them, by sneaking it into otherwise mainstream concepts for films. It’s no mistake that Blaxploitation was launched and enjoyed a nice long successful run following the turbulent fight for civil rights during the 1960s. It was a direct response and reaction to uncertain times and deeply rattled communities. Super Fly is one of the best examples of this covert exposure to black culture, during which the film stops the action several times as its main cast of characters visits a club to watch entire song performances by the film’s soundtrack contributor, Curtis Mayfield. Boss doesn’t follow this same approach, forgoing a look at black culture and more so focusing on the black experience; even when its black characters are in positions of power, specifically law enforcement, they still suffer the indignities of being treated like human garbage by the townsfolk. It’s just that, now, they’re in a place where they can do something about it; you’ll note, amusingly, that when they begin posting new ordinances all around town about what’s now considered illegal, and what kinds of fines those infractions incur, none of them rank more than a $5 fine — unless, of course, someone uses a racial epithet against someone else. That ranks a solid $20 fine or a day in jail.

Much of Boss is very funny, but it’s that kind of humor where you feel conflicted for laughing, even though that’s what was intended. Williamson knows there’s humor to be found in casual offense; I can’t even imagine what the pearl-clutchers of today’s easily-outraged populace would think as they watched. The strongest point of Boss’ use of humor is that the viewer becomes more easily disarmed during the moments that are genuinely dramatic. You spend so much time laughing about how Amos likes to pursue “fat women,” or at how obliviously terrible the town can be to Boss and Amos, that once a young boy is trampled in the street by the film’s villain, it’s not something you’d expect and it packs a surprising punch.

Blaxploitation very rarely infiltrated the western genre, even though the idea to do so harks back to 1938 with Two-Gun Man from Harlem, but with Williamson as the lead/co-writer/producer and veteran Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon — irony!) at the helm, it’s doubtful any other duo could have pulled off a more entertaining and even poignant film.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Original Theatrical Trailers
  • A Conversation With Fred, The Hammer, Williamson with Joel Blumberg
  • A Boss Memory with producer Myrl Schreibman
  • A Jack Arnold Tribute to Producer by Myrl Schreibman


Distributor: Shout! Factory

Synopsis: When Michael, a lonely teenager (Edward Furlong, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), orders the latest interactive video game, the new high-tech wizardry penetrates his subconscious, where his darkest impulses lead him through a deadly maze of murder, deception and desire. Pursued by homicide detective (Frank Langella, Dracula) and prodded by “The Trickster” (T. Ryder Smith) who materializes into his room, Michael is torn between the worlds of good and evil, of reality and fantasy and, ultimately, life and death.

You can tell just from watching Brainscan that its makers were desperate to create their own money-printing Freddy Krueger slasher villain. Considering that Brainscan ultimately comes off sillier than Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, the nadir of that series and ultimately the end result of a softening/sillying of its lead boogeyman that eventually killed the franchise, it’s no surprise that audiences weren’t eager to see Brainscan’s lead techno-monster come back for additional installments.

Besides, it’s difficult to generate any real fear when your villain, called Trickster, resembles the lead singer of ‘80s wunderkind band Silent Circle:

The ‘90s were a ripe time for film exploring mega-overblown concerns about computers. Just ask Brainscan lead boy Edward Furlong, who put himself on the map as the very first John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But for every major title like that, there are dozens of B-movies that were begging audiences, “Be afraid of your personal computer!” The Ghost in the Machine explored similar tactics, as did an outlandish sequence in the otherwise sex thriller Disclosure, during which Michael Douglas, while VR-ing into a private network, is pursued by a Michael Myers-like 2D avatar of Demi Moore. Then there was Hackers, The Lawnmower Man, Johnny Mnemonic, Virtuosity, and more than one episode of The X-Files. And let’s not forget The Net, which, to its credit, started out as unbelievable tripe but eventually became sadly prophetic in our new age of rampant identity theft.

Brainscan stands head and shoulders above these titles as being the absolute stupidest, but I’ll be — the filmmakers seem to be taking this concept seriously. I don’t know what’s stranger: that a humanoid manifestation of a murderous video game begins stalking an underage boy while simultaneously eating all his bananas, or that Frank Langella is in this at all.

If Brainscan has anything going for it, besides how hilariously dated it already is, it’s the grisly violence, which can come off at-odds when juxtaposed against a silly concept (and sillier villain). I almost wish it had been a box office hit because I’m dying to know what a Brainscan 6: Virtual Mortality would look like.

If you yearn for ‘90s horror cinema, you’re weird, but you’re also in luck, because Brainscan is the most ‘90s horror title there is: the computers are just blocky enough, the soundtrack Butthole Surfers enough, and the visual effects just terrible enough to make you stand up and scream, “the ‘90s are back! Someone get me my cordless phone!”

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

 

  • NEW Audio Commentary with assistant to the director Tara Georges Flynn
  • NEW A Virtual Debut – an interview with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker
  • NEW Talking With Trickster – an interview with actor T. Ryder Smith
  • NEW Merging Realities featuring interviews with special make-up effects supervisor Steve Johnson and special make-up effects artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson
  • NEW Musical Virtuosity – an interview with composer George S. Clinton
  • Trickin’ With Trickster: Vintage Behind-the-Scenes Fun on BRAINSCAN
  • Deleted Scene
  • Behind-The-Scenes Footage
  • Teaser Trailer
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spot
  • Still Galleries


Distributor: Kino Lorber

Buckle up for edge-of-your-seat excitement with the explosive hit Deep Rising! A band of ruthless hijackers seize the most luxurious cruise in the world only to find that all the passengers have mysteriously disappeared, but they are not alone. Something terrifying is lurking just out of sight – behind every deck and passageway: a deadly force from the unexplored depths of the ocean that begins to snatch the horrified intruders one by one. Treat Williams (Prince of the City) and sexy Famke Janssen (X-Men trilogy) lead a group of survivors who must overcome incredible odds in their breathtaking battle to escape the doomed ship alive. Written and directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) and featuring a stellar cast that includes Anthony Heald (The Silence of the Lambs), Kevin J. O’Connor (Color of Night), Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans), Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), Cliff Curtis (Live Free or Die Hard) and Djimon Hounsou (Amistad).

Man…remember Deep Rising? If you’ve seen it, of course you do. And if you haven’t, I pity that you’ve lived the last 20 years of your life without it.

Not that director Stephen Sommers went on to a career of critical darlings, but he did godfather Universal’s pre-Dark Universe reboot of The Mummy, which saw him direct the initial film along with The Mummy Returns. Though The Mummy series went on to make billions of dollars and even inspire a theme park ride, none of them managed to contain the same level of charm and unpretentious big-screen thrills of Deep Rising. They contained the same sense of adventure as was present in Deep Rising, along with the same wise-cracking hero. But with Deep Rising also being an R-rated affair, we also got a healthy dose of beautiful violence.

Deep Rising is an amalgamation of a great many inspirations: the films of Ray Harryhausen, disaster flicks like The Poseidon Adventure, a twist of Die Hard, and fun monster titles from the atomic age such as the original Godzilla and It Came from Beneath the Sea. And Treat Williams’ Finnegan is clearly modeled on The Evil Dead’s Ashley J. Williams, from the drab, makeshift, army/navy surplus wardrobe, to the shotgun strapped to his back, to his sardonic and cynical take on life. Williams (Treat, not Ash) rarely enjoys the lead role, as he’s done mostly character work throughout his career, but he sinks every tooth he has into John Finnegan, imbuing him with life and creating an absolutely lovable hero in the mold of not just a chainsaw-wielding Ash but also Indiana Jones.

Deep Rising boasts a solid supporting cast of character actors, including Last of the Mohicans’ Wes Studi as the leader of the mercenaries along with Silence of the Lambs’ Anthony Heald, who, to my knowledge, has never not played a dick. I like to think he and William Atherton grab drinks every so often and have a literal dick-measuring contest as they debate all the dick characters they’ve played over the years. Beyond them, there’s also the early on-screen appearance of a gorgeous Famke Janssen (The X-Men), playing the con-artist/grifter/femme fatale (because every sea monster flick needs one).

Horror films are rarely fun anymore; now it’s all slight teen thrillers about how scary the internet is. And that’s boring. Deep Rising is fun. And this reisse from Kino for the film’s 20th Anniversary is excellent. It’s the perfect time for you to catch up on all you’ve missed.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary by Director Stephen Sommers and Editor Bob Ducsay
  • Interview with actor Wes Studi
  • Interview with actor Kevin O’Connor
  • Interview with actor Anthony Heald
  • Interview with second unit director Dean Cundey
  • Interview with VFX John Berton (ILM)
  • Interview with VFX Van Ling (Banned from the Ranch Entertainment)
  • Interview with Brad Proctor (SFX/Make-Up)
  • Interview with Doug Morrow (SFX/Make-Up)
  • Interview with Cinematographer Howard Atherton
  • ILM Behind-the-Scenes Extras (Animatic Sequence/Creature/Tests/Etc.)
  • Newly Commissioned Art by Jacob Phillips
  • Animated Image Gallery (Stills and Behind-the-Scenes)
  • Reversible Blu-ray Art
  • Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase
  • 5.1 Surround and Lossless 2.0 Stereo Audio
  • Theatrical Trailer


Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary, middle-aged parish pastor at a struggling church. When a pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) asks the reverend to counsel her husband, Toller is plunged into his own tormented past-and equally despairing future-until he finds redemption.

From its very first minute, First Reformed, from the longest-working man in show biz, Paul Schrader, is never not engaging. The filmmaker responsible for writing Taxi Driver, Hardcore, and Raging Bull may not have made a film this engaging since 1997’s Affliction. It’s also very unusually made, with the director choosing a 4×3 aspect ratio, a direct call back to a primitive era of film, and very very rarely moving the camera. Except for the gorgeous opening shot, which slowly tracks from the bottom of red-brick steps to the front doors of an old Dutch Colonial church, every shot is static, and they can go on and on without a break in action or dialogue. Oftentimes, if someone calls a film “point and shoot,” that person means the film lacks identity or style, and that the director is workman-like without a sense of making the story come to life with visual flourish. First Reformed purposely goes for the point and shoot aesthetic, but Schrader uses the style to maximum effect, manifesting Father Toller’s growing indifference, isolation, frustration, and severe battle with his faith.

Speaking of, Ethan Hawke has gone from being an actor that I was too quick to dismiss to one of my absolute favorites. Interviews with him (like the one included on this release) show him to be a very pensive, thoughtful, and likable actor who enjoys genre-hopping in an effort to play different kinds of characters in different kinds of situations. For a long time I held high that his work in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy was his best, but then First Reformed came along and left me in total awe of his talent. It’s his work in this that’s made me realize the actor doesn’t receive nearly the amount of accolades he deserves. His work here is staggering, and an absolute career high. The archetype of the priest struggling with his faith isn’t a new concept, but when you’ve got Paul Schrader behind that archetype’s tweaking and finessing, turning him into a somewhat of a Travis Bickle character, it absolutely opens up the character into something new. In a sense, First Reformed is a fantastic companion piece to Schrader’s Taxi Driver: two men, at odds with society, become seduced by the idea of shaking up that society and putting an end to the evil and sickness that plagues our world at large. Travis Bickle drives taxi cabs and Father Toller presides over thinly attended masses and is forced to serve as a surrogate tour guide for his famous Underground Railroad church, but both men suffer the same disillusionment and horror with their world and both men, perhaps not all there, want to do something about it. The film also contains aspects of Calvinism, to which Schrader subscribes, and which also appeared in a more obvious form throughout Schrader’s Hardcore. Given its religious themes, one might assume that Schrader is lampooning or satirizing religion at large, but that’s not really the case here. Schrader, instead, is telling a story similar to ones he’s told in the past and imbuing a lot of shared themes of loneliness to the point of mental detriment, but this time it just so happens to be a priest. That sounds like Schrader side-stepping a larger potential, but just the opposite: he’s smart enough to not take the easy bait.

First Reformed is very unusually made, and its very pro-environmental message, even though it has a great deal of reason to be there given its story, will probably turn off some audiences, as they don’t mind being preached to up to a certain extent. First Reformed willfully and purposely ups the preaching levels, and for dual purposes: to enhance and justify Father Toller’s descent into radicalism, and to enforce upon the viewing audience: we’re very very close to being eternally fucked. First Reformed will scare you in more than one way, and regardless of how you feel about the film by its end, it’s a long-term unshakeable experience.

Paul Schrader is 72, and has just delivered among the best films in his directorial career.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Paul Schrader
  • “Discernment: Contemplating First Reformed” Featurette


Distributor: Dark Passage Films

This neo-noir meets Spaghetti Western crime drama pushes the boundaries of style and takes the viewers on a thrilling ride into the story of Jo Lee Haywood – a single mother and neighborhood bar owner who spent years trying to escape her violent past. But when a local mobster and his gang of thugs come knocking on her door, Jo is forced to embrace her inner demons and confront her deadly history in order to protect her family and property. Still waters run deep in this stylistic, neo-noir crime saga.



Pickings is a difficult film to categorize because it’s trying to be so many different things: it’s a noir, and then a western, and then mafioso crime story, but take all that, add the impromptu musical interludes, the brief frames of animation, the comic book scheme, and lord knows what you’re left it. Having said that, whatever it’s trying to be is engaging. I’m just not sure it all comes together as one cohesive story.

Pickings is very twisty and turny, and there might be just a hair too many characters to maintain a fluid story, but it’s undeniably well made. The direction by Usher Morgan helps to camouflage its obvious low budget, and the various visual choices that some viewers could point to as being style over substance (the main villain appears in black and white amidst an otherwise color picture) are still, at least, attractive to look at. The brief animated sequences (along with the one extended sequence) are impressively presented, though I’m still not entirely sure of their purpose.

The cast of unknowns do admirable work, with Elyse Price as Jo, the lead, coming out as the strongest. The performances fall on the typical side when it comes to the films’ villainous supporting cast, with Joel Bernard’s Boone Pickens, a shadowy cowboy type, buying into the western ourve just a little too much. There isn’t a single performance I’d call out as being weak or distracting, but it’s doubtful any of the performances would merit such post-credits conversations.

Films like Pickings clearly wouldn’t exist were it not for Quentin Tarantino, but then again, the films of Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t exist were it not for Martin Scorsese. Films are stories, and stories get passed down from one generation to their next. That’s the point of stories: to be told, and often, retold. Sure,Pickings isn’t a patch on any of those filmmakers’ works, but it’s trying at least. This couldn’t have been an easy project to shoot just in terms of logistics so I give writer/director Usher Morgan a lot of credit. I’d be interested to see what he does next, but would hope that the story is a little more focused and refined. Blending genres always has the potential to lead to new great stories and ideas, but there’s also such a thing as too much. Pickings isn’t quite too much, but it’s too uncomfortably close for comfort.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Behind the Scenes Featurettes
  • The Filmmaker’s Commentary
  • “Pickings” – The Short Film
  • The Way it Goes – Music Video


 Distributor: Shout! Factory

Los Angeles newcomer Leigh Michaels moves into a chic high-rise apartment building. She loves the view. So does the Peeping Tom who lives somewhere in the adjacent tower. John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) writes and directs this thriller where the breath-catching suspense starts at the moment Leigh (Lauren Hutton, American Gigolo) is framed in the lens of a telescope. For Leigh, it’s the beginning of terrors that escalate from anonymous calls and gifts to lights that mysteriously flicker to prove that someone watches every moment of her life. Leigh fights back, matching her tormentor’s obsession with her own relentless drive to uncover his identity. The prey is now predator – and that escalates the stalker’s game to a deadly new level. Someone is watching.

The success of 1978’s Halloween wasn’t immediate. It opened in just one region at a time, as distributor Avco Embassy, who didn’t have the studio money of, say, a Warner Bros., could only afford to strike a few prints. Over the course of several months, Halloween slowly spread across the country, and then the world, as its distro-tour unfolded. John Carpenter would actually be on set of this early, obscure television effort, Someone’s Watching Me!, when he would find out that Halloween was seeing unprecedented success, and would eventually hold the record for most profitable independent film of all time until The Blair Witch Project over twenty years later.

Someone’s Watching Me! is a very different kind of Carpenter film — one that lands squarely in thriller territory; it features absolutely no blood and just a handful of non-squeamish violent scenes. When Halloween was released, film critic Roger Ebert gave it a very favorable review, comparing it to Psycho, so it’s appropriate that Someone’s Watching Me! slyly plays around with Hitchcock conventions by fashioning a sort of reverse-Rear Window: instead of a homebound city dweller using a pair of binoculars to spy on his neighbors in the apartment building across the courtyard and discovering one of them might be a murderer, Lauren Hutton’s Leigh is a homebound city dweller being spied on by someone living in the high-rise building across the street — someone who watches her with a high-powered telescope, and who begins stalking her by leaving gifts, making threatening phone calls, and entering her apartment — all in an effort to drive her crazy before trying to kill her and staging her suicide.

Much of Someone’s Watching Me! is a one-woman show, with Hutton (who is still acting today, and seen as recently as this year’s I Feel Pretty) spending most of her screen time alone in her apartment having conversations with herself as she deals with the increasingly strange attention from her anonymous neighbor. For the most part, Hutton shoulders this burden well, although some of the dialogue Carpenter wrote for her, when heard with 2018 ears, can sometimes be corny, or the least bit…off color. (There’s a joke in there somewhere about her being raped by midgets and it makes me wince every time I hear it.)

Someone’s Watching Me! starts off somewhat slow; Carpenter takes his time introducing Leigh, allowing her affability and subtle painful emotional history to earn the audience’s sympathies — this so Carpenter can methodically turn on the creep and raise the stakes a little at a time. He wrings genuine suspense during several key moments, one of which takes place in a desolate parking garage. Though Leigh falters a handful of times, coming close to emotionally surrendering to her tormentor, she refuses to be run out of her new home. Someone’s Watching Me! isn’t a slasher flick, but Hutton is definitely a final girl, and she’s one of the strongest the genre has ever seen (and she’s got the ultimate bad-ass line, which ends the film).

Though this was still very early on in Carpenter’s career, and he was working with a cast and crew outside of his usual repertoire (no Carpenter score for this one, and no D.P. Dean Cundey), Someone’s Watching Me! still manages to feel like a Carpenter film, especially when it comes to the camerawork. Also, look for an appearance from Len Lesser, Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo himself (“Hello!”) as one of the film’s handful of suspects.

And with this Blu-ray release, the entirety of John Carpenter’s filmography is now available in high-def. For years I was convinced no company would ever bother putting this particular obscure, low-frills thriller on Blu-ray (or Elvis, for that matter) — but this was before Shout! Factory’s miraculous deal with Warner Bros. If you’re counting, Carpenter has directed twenty-one feature films, three for television, throughout his career. That means twenty-one Blu-ray releases. Shout! Factory is responsible for thirteen of those, with a fourteenth, a new edition of Starman, slated for 2019. God bless them.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER – in both 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 aspect ratios
  • NEW audio commentary with author Amanda Reyes (Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999)
  • NEW Adrienne Barbeau: Looking Back at Someone’s Watching Me
  • NEW Carpenter’s Enforcer – an interview with Charles Cyphers on his career in John Carpenter’s films
  • NEW Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – a look at the film’s locations today
  • John Carpenter: Director Rising
  • TV Promo
  • Still Gallery
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature


Distributor: Lionsgate

A crew of a Royal Naval expedition is sent to find the Arctic’s treacherous Northwest Passage but instead discovers a monstrous predator, a cunning and vicious Gothic horror that stalks the ships in a desperate game of survival, the consequences of which could endanger the region and its native people forever.

The Terror is not quite the series you’re expecting it to be, if you’re only going by the studio-provided synopsis and by the fact the network on which it aired, AMC, is known primarily for The Walking Dead and its spinoff. As a whole, AMC has been reveling in their critically lauded series over the last decade, from Mad Men to Breaking Bad, but their genre entertainment has left a lot to be desired. The Terror is, very surprisingly, a mature and classy effort that just so happens to feature monsters and very grisly violence.

As I like to point out whenever possible (and which, sadly, doesn’t happen often), The Terror is horror for adults – or, at least, those with the ability to enjoy material not skewed toward that 12-17 demographic that’s been slowly dismantling the film industry as a whole. The cast is adult actors – scratch that: adult British actors – who are known more for lending themselves to higher brow entertainment than normally appears in genre titles. Ciaran Hinds, for instance, brings instant gravitas and legitimacy to the production, as does Mad Men’s Jared Harris.

Having said that, and at risk of completely undoing my above point, The Terror isn’t strictly a slice of horror entertainment. In fact, once the men become trapped on the ice, the series delves far more into the psychological and emotional aspects of the men’s ruination than of the monstrous thing that hunts them across the ice. The monster is hidden in darkness and blinding snow – at least at first – which offers it an intensely eerie presence, but as the series goes on, the monster stalking them is finally shown in all its glory. While the CGI that constructs it is impressive, the actual design of the creature leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, as the series progresses, the creature becomes demythologized, rending its strong supernatural undertones as either weaker or as misdirection in general. The Terror is primarily about the men, their relationships, their culture of life on the ice – not to deaden the enthusiasm of a viewer looking for a more horrific experience, but the creature which haunts the men shows up just a handful of times. To be accurate, The Terror is more of a drama/thriller with elements of horror and grisly gore, and this balance only aids the show’s true mission, which has been a paramount one in the horror genre since the early 1950s: people are always worse than monsters.

The Terror can be difficult to follow at times, as there is never just one location on which to set the action: during the season’s first half, there are two ships, and during the second half, there are two camps, and the action is constantly darting back and forth, so there are times when the viewer doesn’t quite know where they are. Not to mention that, as the men’s situation becomes more and more dire, and their faces become dirty and their facial hair overgrown, it can actually be difficult to keep track of who’s who. But regardless of which ship or camp you might be seeing, or which overgrown, dirty-faced character who might have the next line, the series is consistently beautifully photographed and extremely well-acted. There isn’t a single weak performer among the ensemble; the Charlie Hunnam-ish Adam Nagaitis as Cornelius Hickey, especially, turns out a wicked performance – one of unmasked contempt, boosted by his almost Hannibal Lecter-ish sense of egomania and delight in human suffering.

The Terror proved enough of a hit with critics and audiences that a second season has been announced, though as has become the TV rage, the new season will be an entirely different story, this one set during World War II. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • “A Look at the Characters” Featurette
  • “A Look at the Series” Featurette
  • “Ridley Scott on The Terror” Featurette


Distributor: Universal Pictures

Upgrade is a thrilling and hyper violent vision of the future from the producers of Get Out and The Purge, and the creator of Saw and Insidious. After his wife is killed during a brutal mugging that also leaves him paralyzed, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Prometheus) is approached by a billionaire inventor with an experimental cure that will “upgrade” his body. The cure–an Artificial Intelligence implant called STEM–gives Grey physical abilities beyond anything experienced, and the ability to relentlessly claim vengeance against those who murdered his wife and left him for dead.

I say time and time again: movies set in the future never have promising, optimistic visions of the future. Upgrade won’t do anything to change that — “fear the future!” it’s bellowing from the rooftops — and on top of all that, it offers the added reminder that technology, as it becomes more invasive in our lives, will be our downfall.

Upgrade, it’s safe to say, is the most well-made, satisfying, and entertaining film that Saw co-creator Leigh Whannell has been involved with, possibly, since Insidious. It’s a fast-paced, at times grisly, at times funny futuristic techno-thriller that calls back to other body-enhancement sci-fi flicks from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s like Robocop, The Terminator, Universal Soldier, and even the newest entry in that latter series, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning — in terms of both the violence as well as the notion of being “awoken” as a bad-ass deliverer of death and destruction.

Grey, the aforementioned death dealer (Logan Marshall-Green, who is one terrible Bane voice away from being Tom Hardy), embodies an analog-minded auto mechanic resistant to the charms of the future at every turn. So when he turns into a capable killing machine courtesy of STEM, the new operating system that lives inside him, he’s just as surprised as the audience is delighted to see him lay to waste all the people responsible for the death of his wife. Marshall-Green is more than capable when playing the strong and silent type — even bemusement suits him — but he somewhat struggles during scenes that call for dramatic bombasticness. His physicality is impressive, and the action choreography is more so, although Whannell falls victim to the modern action director’s credo of quick cutting to allegedly enhance the intensity of a scene, which I’ve really grown to detest over the years. (I always say: if you’re going to pay someone to teach fight choreography, and you’re going to pay your actors to learn it, let the cameras roll and record the fucking thing — don’t obscure it in the editing room.)

It’s hard to say if Whannell has grown as a director since his debut, Insidious 3, especially since Upgrade is only his second film and an entirely different genre, but except for the chopped up fight scenes, Upgrade is impressively and slickly rendered. Flourishes of The Matrix (minus bullet time), the moodiness of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and Annihilation, and even some fancy camerawork a la Darren Aronofsky’s work on The Fountain make for an impressive looking feature, but also one going out of its way to offer its viewing audience a less typical experience.

On a personal note, let me say this: it’s bad enough that Universal has issued Upgrade on Blu-ray without a single special feature — not even its trailer — but it’s even worse that an apparently very informative and very entertaining director’s commentary with Whannell is available…only on digital platforms. And this isn’t the first title to suffer that kind of mistreatment. If studios want to keep supporting the physical format, then what possible choice could have led to the studio deciding to nix an existing special feature from their disc releases? Note to studio execs who make those kinds of decisions: stop doing this to your consumers. If you want to end the era of physical format, just stop producing them right now, overnight; don’t make them so lacking that consumers tire of the half-assed treatment and choose to stop buying them on their own. It didn’t work when you made DVDs purposely less intensive than Blu-rays, and it’s not going to work now. All you’re going to do is piss people off and force them to shady means of obtaining the films and supplements they want. Fear the future, indeed.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • None


Also Available This Week:

Distributor: MVD Visual

The world’s finest athletes have once again gathered for the summer games. Security is airtight as world leaders set aside global conflicts in order to celebrate the purity of sports. Just before the competition begins, a deadly team of terrorists mounts a precision attack on the swimming complex, holds the Womens’ swimming team hostage and unknowingly traps a janitor (Linden Ashby, Resident Evil: Extinction), within the sprawling compound. The terrorists wire each competition venue with deadly fission explosives and the uplink to a global satellite to announce their plans to a stunned international audience.Totally unprepared for an assault of this magnitude, a desperate President and the F.B.I. enlists the brilliant Interpol counter-terrorism expert “Leo” (Rutger Hauer), who coordinates his efforts with the trapped janitor to contain this volatile situation.

Special Features:

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Distributor: MVD Visual

A demon is summoned to take the soul of a young boy, who has the potential to become a saint. If the demon succeeds, it will open a doorway to Hell, blazing a terrifying trail of destruction, possession and mayhem and destroy humanity. Now the fate of the world hinges on the final outcome of a renegade priest’s battle with the soul eating SHADOWBUILDER. From the mind of the master, Bram Stoker, the creator of “Dracula” comes the epic struggle between good and evil in SHADOWBUILDER, featuring an all-star cast that includes Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy), Leslie Hope (Crimson Peak), Kevin Zegers (Dawn of the Dead) and Tony Todd (Candyman).

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary from Director Jamie Dixon
  • NEW! ‘Making of Shadowbuilder’ featurette (HD, 33:22) (featuring director Jamie Dixon, writer Michael Stokes and stars Andrew Jackson (The Shadowbuilder) and Tony Todd (Covey)
  • NEW! ‘Shadowbuilder: Visual Effects’ featurette (HD, 13:26)
  • NEW! ‘Shadowbuilder: Kevin Zegers’ featurette (HD, 5:00)
  • Reversible, 2-Sided Artwork
  • Spanish Subtitles
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Collectible Poster

Distributor: MVD Visual

The Eastern Bloc has fallen and Communism is dead. In its place has come new opportunity – but not without a deadly price. Powerful Mafia families have emerged from the anarchy to vie for control of the lucrative underground weapons and technology trade. Crazy Six (Rob Lowe, The West Wing) and Dirty Mao (Mario Van Peebles, New Jack City) are the leaders of two rivaling mob families, who agree to form an uneasy alliance in order to overthrow Raul (Ice-T, Law and Order: SVU), the head of one of the largest crime cartels in Europe. But when the mission goes awry, the place turns into a deadly battleground with three world class gangsters fighting each other to death.

Special Features:

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Buckle in and prepare to surrender yourself to an exhilarating and wildly entertaining ride. Cult classic Mind Game is an explosion of unconstrained expression – gloriously colorful images ricochet in rapid fire associations, like Masaaki Yuasa’s brain splattered onto the screen in all its goopy glory. Audiences will begin to grasp what they are in for early on as loser Nishi, too wimpy to try to save his childhood sweetheart from gangsters, is shot in the butt by a soccer-playing psychopath, projecting Nishi into the afterlife. In this limbo, God – shown as a series of rapidly changing characters – tells him to walk toward the light. But Nishi runs like hell in the other direction and returns to Earth a changed man, driven to live each moment to the fullest.

Special Features:

  • Director’s Commentary
  • Feature-Length Animatic

Distributor: Arrow Video

One of the preeminent figures of Iranian cinema, Mohsen Makhmalbaf has written and directed an impressive array of acclaimed films, winning accolades at international film festivals and the admiration of world cinema audiences. This collection presents three of Makhmalbaf’s most lyrical films which the director has termed his Poetic Trilogy. Gabbeh tells of an elderly couple who stop by a stream to wash a vividly woven traditional Persian rug (‘Gabbeh’). A beautiful woman, depicted in in the rug’s elaborate design, suddenly appears and tells a heart-rending story of love and loss. A film imbued with the ideas of Sufism, The Silence tells of Khorshid, a young blind boy from Tajikistan who earns rent money for his family by tuning rare instruments but becomes enraptured by the sonorous music he hears on his way to work each day. The Gardener is an imaginative documentary which follows Makhmalbaf, and his son Maysam, to Israel to investigate the Bahá’í Faith, a religion with 7 million followers, which originated in Iran 170 years ago. As well as presenting a wealth of extras, this collection boasts stunning new restorations of Gabbeh and The Silence which truly bring the films’ rich colours and imagery to life.

Special Features:

  • Brand new 2K restorations of The Silence and Gabbeh from the original camera negatives
  • Audio commentary on Gabbeh by critic Godfrey Cheshire
  • Poetry in Motion: An Interview with Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an in-depth conversation between the Iranian auteur and film critic Jonathan Romney, newly produced for this edition
  • Mohsen with Closed Eyes, an imaginatively filmed archival interview with Makhmalbaf on The Silence
  • Original trailers
  • Stills and collections gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by film academic Negar Mottahedeh and Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Distributor: Unearthed Films

Mary witnesses the brutal suicide of her Father. His death unleashes the savage forces of demonic possession in his daughter. The End of Days is upon the world, famine, drought, looting and chaos are ripping the world apart and the Catholic Church is trying to save an innocent soul from the ravages of satanic possession. Wave after wave of holy men are sent to confront the possessed but what is the Holy Church actually doing? The City on Seven Hills is working on the Second Coming of Christ but before He comes back – the Antichrist must rule for seven years. The Song of Solomon’s true nature is to unleash an evil the world has been waiting for since the beginning of time.

Special Features:

  • Commentary with Stephen Biro & Jessica Cameron
  • Commentary with Stephen Biro, Marcus Koch & Jerami Cruise
  • Behind the Scenes/Making of
  • Outtakes
  • Photo Gallery
  • Video Interview with Actress Jessica Cameron
  • Video Interview with Writer/Director Stephen Biro
  • Video Interview with Special Effects Artist Marcus Koch
  • Video Interview with Director of Photography Chris Hilleke
  • Video Interview with Actor Gene Palubicki
  • Video Interview with Actor David McMahon

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Film legend Joan Crawford gives a terrific performance in this chiller from pioneer horror movie producer William Castle. Crawford plays Lucy Harbin, a woman who goes berserk when she finds her husband in bed with another woman. With her three-year-old daughter accidentally witnessing the grisly act, Lucy axes the couple to death. She spends twenty years in a mental institution for the double murder. After she is released, she moves in with her brother (Leif Erickson), his wife and her own daughter (Diane Baker), now twenty-three. Her nightmare is over … or is it? When a spate of axe murders start occurring suddenly in the neighborhood, police think Lucy has reverted to her old ways. The truth is finally revealed in a rousing, blood-chilling finale.

Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historians Steve Haberman, David J. Schow, And Constantine Nasr
  • NEW Joan Had Me Fired – An Interview With Anne Helm
  • NEW On The Road With Joan Crawford – An Interview With Publicist Richard Kahn
  • Battle-Ax: The Making Of Strait-Jacket
  • Joan Crawford Costume And Makeup Tests
  • Ax-Swinging Screen Test
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Vincent Price stars as an obsessed doctor who discovers that fear manifests itself as a parasitic creature, which grows on the spinal cords of terrified people. If they scream, the Tingler can be destroyed. If they don’t, it will sever the spinal column and kill them. He successfully isolates and removes the Tingler from a deaf mute (Judith Evelyn) who has been scared to death by her devious husband. Once captured, the Tingler escapes and runs amok in a crowded movie theater. Terror is loose, but can it be stopped?

The Tingler is legendary horror director William Castle’s magnum opus. After the success of House On Haunted Hill, Castle devised a new gimmick called “Percepto.” Participating theaters would wire seats so that random moviegoers would get a tangible electric shock during climactic moments in the film. Another novelty used to maximum effect is the short color sequence depicting blood pouring from a faucet and filling a bathtub. Castle went on to direct more cult classics like Homicidal and 13 Ghosts and later produced the mainstream hit Rosemary’s Baby.

Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary By Author/Historian Steve Haberman
  • NEW I Survived The Tingler – An Interview With Pamela Lincoln
  • NEW Unleashing “Percepto” – An Interview With Publicist Barry Lorie
  • Scream For Your Lives! William Castle And “The Tingler” – Vintage Featurette
  • William Castle’s Drive-In “Scream!” Audio
  • Original “Scream” Scene
  • The Original 1959 Theatre Lobby Recording
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Virtuoso filmmaker David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) brings his singular vision to the screen once more with Wild At Heart, an incendiary tale of love, violence and snakeskin jackets. Adapted from the novel by Barry Gifford, Wild At Heart stars Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation) and Laura Dern (Inland Empire, Jurassic Park) as Sailor and Lula, a pair of young lovers on the run from Lula’s mother Marietta (Dern’s real-life mother Diane Ladd, in an Academy Award®-nominated role). Sailor and Lula’s journey takes them into the dark heart of America, where dangers and temptations lurk … and where only their love can truly protect them. But even their all-consuming passion may not withstand the sinister presence of Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe in an unforgettable performance).

Special Features:

  • NEW Interview With Novelist Barry Gifford
  • Extended And Deleted Scenes (76 Minutes)
  • Love, Death, Elvis And Oz: The Making Of Wild At Heart
  • Dell’s Lunch Counter: Extended Interviews
  • Specific Spontaneity: Focus On David Lynch
  • Lynch On The DVD Process
  • Original 1990 Making Of EPK
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Image Gallery

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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.