Well, another year has passed and we can now sit back and reflect on all the fantastic offerings that 2015 brought us. It was a particularly strong year for genre cinema. I mean, how many other years can you think of that had a genre film included in nearly every top 5 list out there (Mad Max: Fury Road. Additionally, the low budget indie darling It Follows managed to crush all expectations, grossing over seven times its budget in its theatrical release and burrowed its way into the hearts of audiences worldwide. But more than anything, 2015 was a year for physical media. When all mainstream signs point to the inevitable demise of physical media, genre circles are only growing stronger. While Arrow Films and Video probably take the cake in terms of the best balance of quantity and quality, their friendly rivals in the US, Scream Factory, have had, inarguably, their best year to date. Nearly doubling their overall output in a single year, Scream Factory ran the gamut of titles: from trash to class, from cult classic to soon-to-be-cult classic; if 2015 is a sign of the future for the company, we are excited to see what is in store.
Nightmares in the Women’s Dungeon
Of all the releases Scream put out this year, Nightmares may have been the most anticipated. Released originally in 1983, this anthology became something of a collector’s item when the 1999 DVD went OOP. Since then, genre fans have been clamoring to obtain it, paying sometimes upwards of 100 dollars for the disc. Collector mentality can be insufferable, so when a new release comes around that will minimize the ability for flippers to capitalize it is always a good thing.
As a film, Nightmares is charming but it’s a bit hard to see why it would fetch so much money on the after market, short of that beloved OOP tag. Compiled of four stories, Nightmares is directed proficiently (although rather anonymously) by Joseph Sargent (famed director of the most absurd of Jaws films: Jaws: The Revenge — this time its personal”). Yet penned by The Last of the Mohicans’ scribe Christopher Crowe and Blood Beach’s Jeffrey Bloom, Nightmares is a far cry from the lunacy of Jaws: The Revenge, rather the film is an earnest attempt at the Twlight Zone ala a horror stye. Like most anthology titles, however, it fails to resonate as a whole.
Nightmares began its life in network television. When TV execs decided the film was too dark for television broadcast, Universal pushed it to a theatrical release. Those who are acquainted with the film know that this seems quite shocking in terms of modern television, because the film is rather light with very little in terms of graphic violence or gore. Yet, what the film lacks in violence, it makes up for in plot (especially the second installment, which features Emilio Estevez..but I’m getting ahead of myself).
The first segment is pretty paint by numbers. Borrowing from a very famous urban legend about a woman driving around with a murderer in her back seat, Crowe does very little to move beyond the central conceit. So while it is a well crafted segment, it falls short of really doing anything novel, and kicks off the film in a rather poor form.
If the open is somewhat lacking, the second segment pushes the film into overdrive. Harping a lot from the kind of narrative development of Twilight Zone, “Bishop of Battle” stars a young Emilio Estevez as an angsty punk with a penchant for arcade games. Driven to beat the segment’s titular game, Estevez breaks in the arcade shop in the middle of the night, only to learn that the stakes are a great deal higher than he believed. It is probably in this segment that Sargent best reveals his talents, taking the stagnant shots of Estevez in the arcade and imbuing them with a sense of urgency. It’s a fun and enthralling piece, easily the highmark of the film. The remaining two segments deal, respectively, with a priest with waning faith (Lance Henriksen) being followed and harassed by a mysterious black vehicle (ala Duel or The Car) and a family terrorized by a mammoth rat. Both segments are serviceable but tend to overstay their welcome by a few minutes.
Sadly, the disc by Scream Factory, while offering a serviceable transfer is fairly bare bones. The sole special features include an audio commentary with executive producer Andrew Mirisch and actress Cristina Raines, a trailer, and radio spots. The commentary is a nice addition, but is meandering at times and a little hollow. All in all, Nightmares is a welcomed release that does the film justice and we for one are happy to see it finely widely available once again.
Let’s be honest: Bruno Mattei is one of cinema’s worst directors, and yet that has not stopped him from making numerous films that are just so inept that they become infectiously entertaining. Unlike Umberto Lenzi’s foray with Eurocrime, Mattei didn’t really have a legitimate cycle of Italian exploitation that he thrived in. He worked in all of them in the same sort of clumsy style, latching onto what he could and offering his best (schlocky) rendition of it. At his best, Mattei has produced some pretty great (albeit still awful) works, like Zombi 3 (thanks more to Fulci), Rats, Hell of the Living Dead (probably my favorite of his for nostalgic reasons), and his post-Rambo masterpiece Strike Commando (if you haven’t yet seen it, please do). Women’s Prison Massacre aka Emmanuelle Escapes from Hell was Mattei’s attempt to capitalize on the Emmanuelle films, which was filmed back to back with another Black Emmanuelle-Mattei title, Violence in a Women’s Prison, and shares many cast members (and plot points) including Black Emmanuelle herself, Laura Gemser.
The plot is rather simple. Reporter Emmanuelle is sent to prison when she gets close to uncovering political corruption. Once inside, Emmanuelle works against the torture and ridicule of the prison, making enemies of the prison’s de facto leader, Albina, until a group of escaped male inmates show up and complicate matters more. Written by Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2), Women’s Prison Massacre has the same sort of ineptness bordering on near glimpses of intellect as Troll 2, however, Mattei is sure to muck it up a great deal. The film’s open is probably the best piece of directing that Mattei ever crafted, fit with stylish lighting and an interesting editing structure.
With heaps of nudity, low budget gore, schlocky dialogue, and sadism, Women’s Prison Massacre is exactly what you’d expect from a Mattei WIP film; in fact, it maybe better than you’d expect. The film’s real problem, however, is its drab pacing. At a short 89 minutes and with scene after scene of nudity, sex, death, or all of the above, there is no reason that any bit of this film should be dull, but it tends to feel that way. Mattei fans will know what to expect and should be quick to hop on this release — after all, most of his titles will probably never see the light of day on Blu-ray— but those who are not so hot on the Italian director are best to avoid this film. Its fun but its certainly not everyone’s cup of tea — and the complete lack of extras leave little to help in that department.
The Dungeonmaster/Eliminators (1985/1986)
I’ve made my outright adoration for Empire Pictures no secret around here. In the short time that the company was releasing films before Charles Band would reform as Full Moon, the company probably had more vision and imagination than any of their contemporaries — and they were making films for a fraction of the budget. The Dungeonmaster and Eliminators is a fitting double feature and probably one of the more logical pairings to be released as part of Scream’s collaboration with the late studio. Neither film offer the best of Empire’s output but both are amusing romps.
The Dungeonmaster is another reflection of society’s growing interest with Dungeons and Dragons, supplanted by a quasi-virtual reality meets sorcery narrative. The real novel aspect of the film is that it is a hybrid anthology but one that (unlike Nightmares) seamlessly blends the tales together into a singular, cohesive narrative. Directed by slew of Empire mainstays including Band himself, the film is shockingly consistent throughout and does not suggest even begin to suggest that there are multiple creatives behind it. As could be expected, however, the series-of-games narrative does becoming grating and too repetitious by the film’s conclusion. So, while the seven challenges serves as an excellent framing device for the film, it harms as much as it helps. The film, as expected, is filled with great imagery and design but a lack of character development, mediocre acting, and a understandably nonsensical plot do keep the film from becoming top tier Empire material.
Eliminators is probably the better of the two films. The film is basically a riff on Indiana Jones and Robocop — and you can see how it was a major influence for Astron-6’s Manborg. The transfer on this film in particular looks stunning, and the utilization of many outdoors scenes only puts the transfer’s best qualities (great color representation, clean image) on display. Once the film moves beyond its copious expository scenes, the film gets into action and plays out mostly as a man on a mission/revenge flick. While the story itself is fantastically imaginary — when its not pilfering — the script is quite poor, but that’s half the fun. Andrew Pine as sleezy but charismatic Harry Fontana steals the show, but the entire cast all turn in fine performances. Really, Eliminators is good fun; it’s a film that has a bit of everything: science fiction, action adventure, ninjas, etc.
One film that Scream Factory introduced me to this year was the eccentric psychodrama Blood and Lace. Predating Black Christmas by three years, this film is certainly an important piece to the development of the American slasher, even if its lasting legacy has not been as fruitful. Without a doubt, the opening of this film is not only one of the best aspects of the film, its one of the most stunning opens in horror history. Shot in POV (much like Halloween), the opening tracks a killer equipped with a hammer into the bedroom of an unexpected couple before taking the hammer to their slumbering bodies. It’s a very dark, disturbing scene that is expertly directed by Philip Gilbert — sadly his own directorial effort.
There does appear — much like the title may suggest — to be a strong giallo vibe but beyond the open (and a few sporadic scenes), most of the film plays out closer to a melodrama than anything else. As is, the movie is well paced but if you go in expecting a shocking and thrilling horror film (as the cover may suggest) it will most definitely disappoint. But if you have an appreciation for melodramas, you will find a great deal to love here. Beyond the melodramatic tendencies, the film is just a bit of an oddball, and its quirks are very attractive. There aren’t a lot of films quite like Blood and Lace; so even at its most uneven, the film is a treat.
Blood and Lace is a release of particular note for Scream Factory because, prior to this Blu-ray, the film has been famously difficult to track down. I could be wrong, but I believe that the sole release before this Blu-ray was a DVD-R produced on demand, so, needless to say, Scream Factory have really done the film a great justice. You could probably suspect that, given the film’s paltry distribution life, the print may not be top notch and you wouldn’t be wrong, but what is provided is still a nice looking representation of the film, and certainly looks better than anything released prior.
The Car of Darkness
What can be written about Sam Raimi’s 1992 Army of Darkness that hasn’t been said? Not a lot, unfortunately. Part loving ode to Ray Harryhausen and part continuation and expansion on the Evil Dead franchise (which took the series on a decidingly more comedic departure), Army of Darkness is the most audacious but also the most silly Ash film. However, Army has its undeniable charm and that is 100% thanks to Bruce Campbell and the Raimi’s steadfast dedication to their craft.
Visually, Army of Darkness is both visually a marvel and somewhat cheap looking all in the same breath. This was, at least in part, intentional in its throwback stop motion aesthetic but also is due to the fact that Dino de Laurentiis was cutting the production down at every turn. ‘Why shoot 100 deadites, when you can shoot 10?’ That was the logic that de Laurentiis brought to the set; and for all the famed producer’s glory, it is sad knowing Raimi had to fight him to get the film made the way he wanted it.
It is these stories that make Army of Darkness so fascinating and thanks to Scream Factory, this package is loaded with a wealth of anecdotes from the set. For some reason, more than any of the other Evil Dead films (which have all had their fair share), Army of Darkness is a film of numerous releases. Fans have often had either the pleasure (or, in the case of collectors, maybe pain) of being granted numerous different copies. Scream Factory’s release marks the second release of the film on Region A Blu-ray, and at least 18 other releases worldwide. Finding which is the definitive releases would be a nightmare, but its safe to say if not the best on the market, Scream Factory are damn close. The real selling point of the release is that this marks the first time ever that the director’s cut (the longest available cut of the film) is available on Blu-ray. In addition, the 3-disc set includes the Theatrical Cut, a 4K scan of the International Cut, and a SD transfer of the Television Cut.
Of course, the collection is also packed full of extras, including the new 96 minute behind-the-scenes featurette Medieval Times: The Making Of “Army Of Darkness. There is also the fantastic Director’s Cut commentary track with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Ivan Raimi — that may be more fun than the film itself. By now, the problems faced on this package are both well-known as well as addressed and fixed by Scream Factory/Anchor Bay. It’s a shame that the disc was released with two errors intact but things happen when companies work together and it is good to see Scream own up to the mistake and rectify it rather quickly. Honestly, this is probably one of the best releases Scream has put out of this year. It’s a definitive collection that features hours and hours of entertainment and a great overall release.
Out of all the genre films I saw this year, The Car may just be one of the best first time viewings. It’s a film that had been on my radar for a great time but, for some reason, it is one that I always pushed back viewing. So when the disc arrived, it is needless to say that I was happy to finally dig in. Much has been said about the film’s homage (putting it lightly, although some would go as far as to call it a rip off) to Jaws, but this has become a gross overstatement in my opinion. In fact, anyone who has seen Duel would know that it is probably more in honor of that Spielberg film than the former, although, Duel certainly informed his later work. Either way, Jaws-esque or not, The Car is really a special piece piece of 70s genre fare.
One of the defining features of a great deal of the decade’s genre output can be described through the decade’s interest in well rounded characterization. This is certainly the case for The Car, a film that is completely driven (pun not intended) by the stellar cast. As the lead, Sheriff Wade Parent, Josh Brolin shines bright. Brolin is probably one of the most overlooked actors. Despite turning in numerous outstanding performances, he never got the spotlight that many of his contemporaries did. I contest that both in presence and talent, he could easily stand up to the likes of Burt Reynolds or Clint Eastwood. Alongside Brolin, the entire cast, including John Marley, Ronny Cox, R.G. Armstrong, and Kathleen Lloyd all hand in top-notch performances.
Its not just that the cast is competent, their characters are also fantastically sketched out. One of the things I lament about 80s cinema is that for as much as horror brought to the table in terms of playing with depictions of on-screen violence and gore, the absence of likeable and 3-D characters is very clear. The 70s was often a breeding group for complex and charismatic roles. Almost every character in this film — even the vile, wife-beating — are given a complex arc and chance to really perform for audiences, so when a character inevitably perishes to the ominous car, their death is felt.
The Car is another solid release by Scream Factory. Not only does the disc feature a really stunning 2.35:1 1080p transfer, there are a handful of newly commissioned featurettes (differentiating it from the earlier release by Arrow). Those features include new interviews with director Elliot Silverstein, actress Geraldine Keams, and actress Melody Thomas Scott. I really wish there would have been an interview with Brolin, as it would have been interesting to see his take on the film and his performance, but sadly he is absent.
These releases represent only a fraction of the overall output of Scream Factory this year, proving that the company can be both prolific and remarkable. Its been exciting to see the company grow, and with their line taking on more original and or new releases (The Editor, Harvest, and Bloodsucking Bastards), there is only room to grow and improve. With hope, 2016 will see the company continuing to release high caliber collector’s editions (we are all waiting to The Serpent and the Rainbow) as well as improved original releases, and Diabolique is certainly excited to see what is in store. There is room for the company to improve, and hopefully their expansion will not also usher in more QC problems and there are less instances like Army of Darkness, but, with that said, their ethics have always seemed to be in line with their customers’ desires and they’ve been quick to respond to errors, and that’s what counts.