This clever variation on “High Noon” stars Casey Siezmako as an average high schooler who runs afoul of the new class bully, and is coerced into a fight in the parking lot right after school ends at 3 o’clock. Siezmako’s attempts to get out of his predicament makes for a hilarious, even suspenseful high school yarn that’s stylishly directed by Joanou and filled with deft comedic touches.
The Richard Christian Matheson-Thomas Szollosi script is a cut above for the genre, but the movie’s style and presentation put it over the top as one of the better teen comedies of the ’80s. Joanou was unfairly criticized for “over-directing” the film when it was first released, and it’s his visual panache that separates “Three O’Clock High” from the works of John Hughes and so many other youth comedies released in the last 30 years.
“Three O’Clock High” was produced by Steven Spielberg and set up through Amblin Entertainment, as it was Spielberg who matched his protégé Joanou with the screenplay. Rumors abound as to why Spielberg’s name doesn’t appear on the film — some anecdotes claim that Spielberg didn’t “get” the film’s humor, while others state that he was outright embarrassed by it. Joanou here states that Spielberg “ghost produced” the movie because mogul Aaron Spelling owned the script and wouldn’t relinquish the material without receiving full credit, forcing Spielberg to go uncredited for contractual purposes. Matheson and Szollosi, however, offer a different story in the disc’s supplements, recalling that Spielberg had complained about Joanou’s camera set-ups and general direction while visiting the set – suggestions that went unaddressed, much to Spielberg’s alleged displeasure.
Without Spielberg’s name on the production – for whatever reason – “Three O’Clock High” struggled to find an audience in theaters, grossing a paltry $3 million, and Joanou never worked with his mentor (for whom he directed an “Amazing Stories” episode previously) again.
Time, though, has enabled the film to become a minor cult classic, and the title is perfect for Shout’s Select Blu-Ray line. The affordably priced disc (currently under $15 at Amazon, in fact) boasts a 1080p (1.85) AVC encoded transfer with more detail and crisper colors than the movie’s earlier, DNR’d HD master, which first appeared on Blu-Ray in a German multi-film release. The film has nicks and scratches popping up here and there, but it’s an unblemished and satisfying transfer with 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound.
The movie’s soundtrack was also the subject of much discussion. Joanou here discusses working with Tangerine Dream and heading to Germany for the scoring of the picture – a process which didn’t entirely go as planned. The director is quite amusing as he recalls “working” with the group; suffice to say, the eventual score was augmented with additional music by Sylvester Levay, who apparently remixed some of the Dream’s overly maudlin tracks, and a bouncy title song from one of Joanou’s friends that opens and closes the project.
Shout’s extras include a commentary from Joanou and a half-hour interview with the director; a 15-minute talk with Matheson and Szollosi; a conversation with costume designer Jane Ruhm; a still gallery; and a trailer that seems to have been culled from an MCA Home Video tape.
DAWN OF THE DEAD Blu-Ray (**½, 2004, 101/110 mins., R/Unrated; Universal): I have to be honest — I was originally a little too harsh on Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of the George A. Romero zombie classic. My original review netted only a star and a half, and truth be told, a fresh viewing of the 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” cleared my mind and at least made me realize this remake is an energetic piece of filmmaking with several effective set-pieces, plus a solid, understated performance from Sarah Polley at the film’s center. While some of my initial reservations hold firm (like Mekhi Phifer’s “zombie baby” and the unneeded, should’ve-quit-while-you-were-ahead end credit “shock sequences”), there’s enough juice in Snyder’s film to satisfy zombie fans and horror buffs, especially given the amount of genre junk we’ve seen in recent years – and it’s also infinitely preferable to most of Snyder’s output since.
Scream’s Blu-Ray boasts new HD masters from the 2K Digital Intermediate, with HD Inserts spliced in for Snyder’s 110-minute unrated cut. This is just about as satisfying a presentation as one could imagine, capturing the flavor of Matthew F. Leonetti’s cinematography and Snyder’s sometimes intentionally-grainy visuals splendidly. The DTS MA audio is finely engineered, with new extras including fresh interviews with writer James Gunn, stars Jake Weber and Ty Burrell, and VFX artists, plus behind-the-scenes footage. Carried over from prior Universal releases are commentary from Snyder, deleted scenes, numerous mini-film featurettes and more.
“Dawn”’s financial success lead Universal to bring George Romero back for another follow-up, LAND OF THE DEAD (** ½, 97 mins., 2005, R), a mostly robust return to the genre from its director, short on character development but satisfying in its depiction of a world where humans attempt to survive by alluding the dead that lurk outside their guarded metropolis.
In this future — set some time after Romero’s then-most recent zombie predecessor (the disappointing “Day of the Dead”) — Dennis Hopper essays a Trump-like megalomaniac who provides a luxurious living for wealthy inhabitants in the “living” city’s tallest buildings, while all others attempt to survive on the streets below. All, though, share a distaste for the dead, who continue to mope around outside the city but are showing gradual signs of evolving into….well, something more than simply brainless zombies. Rebel leader Simon Baker attempts to cool off brash mercenary John Leguizamo by telling him the enemy isn’t as clueless as before, but Baker’s attempts are futile as our hero joins hooker Asia Argento and others in a last-minute run for the Canadian border.
Poorly marketed by Universal and ill-timed as a summer release, “Land of the Dead” now makes for an ideal Scream Factory Blu-Ray. Romero coaxes solid performances out of his able cast, adds a bit of subtext to the story (asking who’s worse — the zombies or the calculating Hopper?), and doesn’t forget to include humor and some fresh narrative touches. Mostly more entertaining than the overpraised Snyder film, this one isn’t overwhelmingly gory or as predictable as you might anticipate, and even ends on a strangely optimistic note.
Shout’s double-disc Collector’s Edition of “Land of the Dead” includes a 2K scan of the theatrical cut with new extras like cast interviews with John Leguizamo, Robert Joy, Pedro Miguel Arce and others. Copious extras carried over from previous releases run the gamut from commentary to deleted footage, Romero’s “Dream of the Dead,” a 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack and a new commentary on the Unrated cut by a slew of “zombie performers.”
Shout Select Blu-Ray New Releases: Also now available in Shout’s Select line are a completely contrasting pair of titles. HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (103 mins., 1995, G-13) is director Jodie Foster’s “anti-Christmas movie” starring Holly Hunter as a woman who loses her job and reluctantly flies home for a Thanksgiving with her parents (Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning). The resulting gathering of disparate types includes her gay brother (Robert Downey, Jr.), his friend (Dylan McDermott), her sister (Cynthia Stevenson) and her stuffy husband (Steve Guttenberg). W.D. Richter’s scripts are often offbeat but “Home For the Holidays” is strident and not especially funny, with Hunter annoyingly sneezing through most of the film and bad ‘90s haircuts on-hand for nearly everyone else. Though a Paramount release, MGM retains home video distribution through their ownership of much of Polygram’s film catalog, and Shout’s 1080p (1.85) transfer is in good shape throughout. An older commentary by Foster, the trailer, still gallery, and 5.1 DTS MA sound – which goes to great lengths to not include the usual holiday standards – round out the disc…Coming October 10th from Shout is a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of DUDES (90 mins., 1987, R), the extremely strange road-trip movie that sends a trio of punks (Jon Cryer, Daniel Roebuck, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea) on the open highway where they meet up with – and cross – a gang led by a psycho (Lee Ving). Catherine Mary Stewart, with an especially terrible late ‘80s chop-cut, helps them out in Penelope Spheeris’ film, a release from the New Century/Vista label which has entertained some cult movie buffs over the years, despite it being hard to find. I personally found the punk soundtrack grating – but if you gravitate towards that music, “Dudes” is likely to hold some appeal at least. Shout’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo includes all-new interviews with Spheeris (who went on to helm “Wayne’s World”), writer J. Randall Johnson, producer Miguel Tejada-Flores, and Cryer, Stewart, Roebuck and Flea; a vintage featurette, the trailer, still gallery; a 1080p (1.85) transfer in decent shape and 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound. Could “Fright Night: Part 2” be next from the Vista catalog? One can only hope!
Also New From Shout Factory: “Loved Ones” director Sean Byrne returns with THE DEVIL’S CANDY (80 mins., 2015, Not Rated), out this month from Scream Factory on Blu-Ray. This short but effective thriller sends a metalhead dad (Ethan Embry), his wife (Shiri Appleby) and daughter (Kiara Giasco) to a small Texas town, unaware that the home they now inhabit was (and still is!) the home of a psycho killer (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who has a connection with the devil. Plenty of metal tracks populate the soundtrack of “The Devil’s Candy,” a movie that works quite well but seems a bit underbaked, especially given its overly-thrifty running time. Shout’s Blu-Ray boasts a commentary with Byrne, a VFX featurette, “Advantage Satan” short film, music video, art gallery, trailer, 1080p (2.40) trailer and 5.1 DTS MA stereo sound…JACKALS (87 mins., 2016, Not Rated) is a nasty, sadistic thriller about a family trying to get their kidnapped son back from a ruthless cult and hiring Stephen Dorff as a specialist to help. Things, naturally, go wrong in a relentlessly downbeat affair that offers scant surprises and doesn’t satisfy at all. A commentary with director Kevin Greutert and writer Jared Rivet, a 1080p (2.39) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound comprise Scream’s Blu-Ray…Finally, the grizzly THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (86 mins., 2008, R) at last nets a wide release after languishing in the MGM vaults for nearly a decade. John Erick Dowdle’s faux-documentary profiles a fictional serial killer in upstate New York and how he captured, mutilated and killed a series of victims, from a teenage girl to a slew of young prostitutes. The subject matter isn’t pleasant and perhaps that’s why MGM kept toying with releasing this admittedly well-made indie, only to yank it back from wide distribution a couple of times over the years. Either way, Shout’s Blu-Ray includes new interviews with Dowdle and actress Stacy Chbosky, along with the trailer, a 1080p (1.85) AVC encoded transfer, DTS MA mono sound and an accompanying DVD...Coming October 31st is the elaborate Blu-Ray box-set HALO: THE COMPLETE VIDEO COLLECTION (6 hrs.), a dynamite anthology that includes “Halo Legends,” “Halo 4: Forward Onto Dawn,” “Halo: Nightfall,” and “Halo: The Fall of Reach,” all adapting in CGI rendered video form some of the more popular storylines from Microsoft’s long-running video game franchise. 1080p transfers and either Dolby Digital 5.1 (Legends, Fall of Reach) or 5.1/7.1 DTS MA mixes (Dawn, Nightfall) adorn the package along with ample extras. These include a bonus disc with four all-new commentaries from the “Halo” creative team and a smattering of featurettes. Perfect for Master Chief fans both now and later on this holiday season.
Also Available From Shout Factory: Newly available in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack is THE SURVLVAIST (104 mins., 2017, Not Rated). Stephen Fingleton’s film set in a post-apocalyptic world where a lone survivor (Martin McCann), protecting his small amount of property from intruders, forms an uneasy reliance with a mother (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter (Mia Goth). This low-budget UK import includes a Making Of featurette, bonus short films, the trailer, 1080p (2.40) AVC encoded transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound and a DVD copy…Werner Herzog’s latest, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (128 mins., 2017, PG-13), stars Nicole Kidman in the true story of a British woman in turn-of-the-century England, who leaves her life behind for an Arab adventure beginning in Tehran. Her encounters with a British officer (James Franco) and T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson) mark this well-shot drama debuting in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Shout. The 1080p (2.35) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound sports a Klaus Badelt score, and a DVD copy is also on-hand.
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