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The purveyors of the offbeat and eccentric, sometimes gloriously weird and occasionally wild – Vinegar Syndrome – have a full run of eclectic new titles in-store for Blu-Ray and UHD owners this summer. They’re highlighted by a dynamic three-disc UHD/Blu-Ray package of THRILLER “A Cruel Picture” (108 mins., 1973), which (like the other titles covered below) can now be ordered through Vinegar Syndrome’s site and goes “retail” at the end of this month. I previously reviewed Synapse’s BD of this movie a couple of months back, but VS’ release is a far more features-packed presentation with tons of extra content and a superior transfer, making it the more complete package for fans.
Speaking of them, Quentin Tarantino is one of the admirers of this shocking Swedish ’70s import. Christina Lindberg plays a farm girl who’s sold into prostitution, beaten up, mutilated, and also sickened by the news of her parents’ death. Undaunted, she becomes an eyepatch-adorned killing machine who goes off to exact revenge in a gory picture that’s long been deemed a “Grindhouse” favorite.
Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K UHD includes a slew of supplements and two cuts of the movie, starting off with the “uncut festival edition,” restored exclusively from its 16mm original camera negative with full HDR. This version (1.66) with some hardcore material includes both an English dub and the movie’s original Swedish audio, along with a commentary by critic Alexander Heller-Nicholas. We also get the picture’s English language version, “They Call Her One Eye,” which sports some alternate and extended sequences (plus a reduction in the explicit sexual content) that haven’t been seen since the movie played in American theaters.
There are also tons of extras here, including a 43-minute Making Of sporting narration by writer/director Bo Arne Vibenius and interviews with Christina Lindberg, stuntmen Bo Sunnefeldt and Lasse Lundgren along with co-star Gunnar Palm. There’s also a 2017 interview with Lindberg and filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano; a 2015 Paris interview with the actress; an Alamo Drafthouse Q&A with Lindberg from 2017; a behind-the-scenes still gallery, publicity images, artwork and press galleries, radio spots, Vibenius’ SAAB commercial, even rare music tracks From Lindberg’s 7” single. In all, this robust package should come as a must for fans of the film, even those who might have dropped some coin on the Synapse set.
The film career of songstress Pia Zadora may have been short-lived, but she did bestow upon us bad movie fans the likes of “The Lonely Lady” and VOYAGE OF THE ROCK ALIENS (96 mins., 1984, PG). This intentionally “cult” item seems to have had “Rocky Horror” type aspirations but fell short due to bland music and a pokey pace – yet if you’re a Pia fan, this at least good-natured relic from the mid ’80s offers just enough entertainment to get by.
Zadora plays a teenager who, along with her boyfriend (Craig Sheffer, who certainly had a very strange career, veering from this to Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” and then back to B-fare), encounters a group of aliens who get in the way of their local town’s social life. Before we get there, we’re treated to a built-in music video between Zadora and Jermaine Jackson, “When the Rain Begins to Fall,” which also (weirdly) was the movie’s original title – and still is in the 35mm interpositive Vinegar Syndrome utilized here for their Blu-Ray presentation.
“Rock Aliens” needed a dose of manic energy and more comedy – director James Fargo (of the Clint Eastwood monkey pictures) was in the midst of re-homing his career for television when he helmed this movie, which was shot by Gil Taylor (“Star Wars”!). Zadora tries hard and her admirers will mostly be satisfied, yet you just wish the music was more tuneful and the picture better executed than it is.
Making its first genuine HD transfer debut (1.85) with stereo sound, “Voyage of the Rock Aliens” has been exclusively scanned and restored in 2K by Vinegar Syndrome and graced with all-new extras. These include “Embarking on a Voyage: The Making of an Alien Dance Rock Opera,” a documentary sporting interviews with co-star Michael Berryman and numerous crew behind the scenes; an extended featurette with members of the band Rhema; and two different artworks to choose from.
Director William Malone’s credits include the cult favorite “Creature” (already a Vinegar Syndrome title) and the Dark Castle late ’90s remake of “House on Haunted Hill.” Before he hit his stride, Malone helmed the 1980 “Alien” clone SCARED TO DEATH (97 mins., 1980), a slow-going though ultimately watchable genre exercise that’s been relegated to inferior (also scant) home video treatment – at least until now.
The plot is overly familiar and offers few surprises, with a Giger-esque beast, a DNA experiment-gone-wrong, stalking its prey in the L.A. sewer system. Before we get to most of the creature antics, though, “Scared to Death” eats up time with detective John Stinson working with scientist Diana Davidson to track the creature. Most of the human interest angle is pretty bland, but Malone does execute a solid climax that should put the movie over the top for hardcore genre buffs.
“Scared to Death” has never been remastered until Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-Ray, which boasts a 4K restoration (1.85) of the original 16mm camera negative. Though the movie is still gritty, grimy and low-budget, this transfer makes it much more watchable than VHS releases that did it no favors at all. Extras include a commentary with Malone, Davidson and co-star Bryce “Kermit” Eller; a Making Of doc featuring the same participants and other cast/crew members; a location featurette with Malone; music video; and reversible sleeve artwork.
A new Vinegar Syndrome double-feature Blu-Ray celebrates the spirit of independent horror cinema from the 1970s, both in new 2K restorations.
HORROR HIGH (1973) is director Larry Stouffer’s high-school take on “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” as smart but timid student Pat Cardi is harassed and bullied by not just his fellow students but his teachers as well. After downing a chemical serum, he exacts revenge in an at-times horrifying, sometimes ridiculously silly drive-in favorite that’s been here restored (1.85) from the only known, fully uncut 16mm lab print. The disc includes a commentary with Cardi and a new interview with the actor, plus conversations with screenwriter J.D. Feigelson, actress Michelle Flerne, actor Jon Nitand, and an older interview with Cardi – plus multiple TV spots and the trailer.
The Blu-Ray is capped with William Grefe’s STANLEY (1972), the story of a Seminole (Cliff Robinson, who later starred on “General Hospital” for over 30 years) whose pet snakes are ruthlessly hunted by poachers. He subsequently utilizes his serpents to take revenge in a mostly by-the-numbers Grefe effort, but Robinson’s performance plus the presence of character actor Alex Rocco raise the bar a little bit. “Stanley” also debuts here in a new 2K restoration from its original camera negative, while supplements include a commentary with writer Gary Crutcher; an extensive Making Of; a Q&A from a New Beverly Cinema screening; and a locations featurette with Grefe (here’s hoping Grefe’s hilarious, mid ’70s psycho-thriller “Impulse,” featuring one of the looniest of William Shatner’s performances, gets a similar restoration on Blu-Ray one day!).
Vinegar Syndrome’s partner labels have also rolled out a wealth of intriguing Blu-Ray fare this month. Here’s a rundown:
In NIGHT RIPPER (86 mins., 1986; Culture Shock Releasing), director Jeff Hathcock staged a shot-on-video slasher about a serial killer on the loose, ripping up beautiful models and mutilating their corpses. Despite the minuscule budget, there’s some style, at least, to this genre offering, which debuts on Blu-Ray this month from Culture Shock in an HD (1.33) transfer upscaled from standard definition. Extras include interviews with Jeff Hathcock and stars Larry Thomas and April Audia; a commentary with podcasters; extended gore shots; and a behind-the-scenes still gallery.
THE TIME-BENDING MYSTERIES OF SHAHRAM MOKRI (Deaf Crocodile): Four films by Iranian filmmaker Shahram Mokri are compiled here in their premiere U.S. release by Deaf Crocodile. Included are “Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories” (92 mins., 2008, 1.78, 2.0); “Fish & Cat” (134 mins., 2013, 1.78, 5.1); “Invasion” (102 mins., 2017, 2.35, 5.1); and “Careless Crime” (139 mins., 2020, 2.35, 5.1). The four-disc set includes a brand-new multi-part video interview with the director (225 mins.!) plus a half-hour of behind-the-scenes footage on “Careless Crime” with Mokri’s commentary (both that and the interview are in Persian and English subtitled).
Erin Vassilopoulos’ SUPERIOR (99 mins., 2021; Factory 25) is a psychological thriller wherein a woman returns to her home and meets her estranged sister, with tension in abundance and a few twists in store. Director Vassilopoulos provides a commentary on Factory 25’s Blu-Ray (1.66), which also boasts the short “Valeria,” a post-screening Q&A, and a 28-page booklet…Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s AIR DOLL (116 mins., 2009; Dekanalog) follows a life-sized female air doll who magically comes to life, wondering about the world she’s now a part of along with the middle-aged man for whom she’s been his only companion. Hirokazu’s gentle fable is presented on Blu-Ray with a 1080p (1.85, 5.1) transfer, Cannes footage, a Q&A from the Japanese premiere, outtake montage and the trailer.
FORBIDDEN LOVE: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (85 mins., 1992; Canadian International Pictures) is an interesting Canadian documentary with scripted segments, looking at the birth of “lesbian bar culture” with interviews that are contrasted with a discussion of noirish pulp fiction from the ’50s. This acclaimed effort from directors Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman has been remastered, scanned and restored in 2K (1.33) for Blu-Ray, with extras including a commentary with the filmmakers; another commentary featuring six crew members; an interview with Ann Bannon; a 2015 Q&A session with the cast and crew; 1992 EPK; and a 19-minute “Afterword” plus booklet notes….POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHE (96 mins., 2021; Utopia) chronicles the life of Poly Styrene, a “key influence on the riot grrrl and Afropunk movements” and the first woman of color to lead a popular UK band. This journey into her troubled past is narrated by Ruth Negga with a specific focus on Styrene’s daughter, Celeste. Utopia’s Blu-Ray (1.77) includes a SXSW panel from 2021 and selected scene director’s commentary…Wes Hurley’s autobiographical POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA (97 mins., 2021; Darkstar Pictures) follows a Russian woman and her gay son who aspire to become Americans and eventually find it by way of her decision to be a mail-order bride. A commentary from Hurley is included in Darkstar’s Blu-Ray (1.78, 5.1) along with behind the scenes featurettes, actor interviews, deleted scenes and outtakes, a mini documentary, short films, and Season 1 from the “Capitol Hill” web series.
New From MVD
THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS Blu-Ray (114 mins., 1989, R). THE MOVIE: Sterling performances from Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff and Beau Bridges sell writer-director Steve Kloves’ acclaimed 1989 romantic character study about a pair of lounge performers whose lives change when they add a sexy young singer into the mix. Atmospherically shot by Michael Ballhaus and backed by a jazzy score by Dave Grusin, “The Fabulous Baker Boys” provides a first-class arena for the talents of Pfeiffer (whose career got a real shot in the arm thanks to this picture) and the Bridges boys, whose strained relationship boils over once Jeff’s character takes a shine to their female ingenue. MVD TECH SPECS: Back on Blu-Ray for the first time since Twilight Time’s out-of-print 2015 release, MVD’s Blu-Ray reprises the same MGM master (1.85, 2.0 PCM stereo) as that disc while including its pair of commentaries: one featuring Kloves joining TT’s Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, while an older DVD commentary with Ballhaus is also on-hand. MVD’s disc includes a full run of deleted scenes and adds a number of 1989 EPK segments/interviews which haven’t been seen since the DVD era. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: An actor’s showcase, “The Fabulous Baker Boys” was an acclaimed, if not commercially successful, late ‘80s sleeper that’s aged gracefully and remains worthy for its trio of lead performances.
VAMPIRE’S KISS Blu-Ray (103 mins., 1989, R). THE MOVIE: “Vampire’s Kiss” has been a cult fave for a certain crowd but it’s a film I’ve frankly never cared for – a nasty and unpleasant chronicle of a New York City literary agent (Nicolas Cage) who descends into madness after being bitten by a “vampiress” (Jennifer Beals). Director Robert Bierman’s film isn’t funny enough to work as a comedy, isn’t sharp enough to function as a satire, and isn’t horrific enough to pass as a horror film – it’s a cinematic no man’s land that might be worthwhile for Cage fans to check out his first post-“Moonstruck” role but little more. MVD TECH SPECS: MVD’s Blu-Ray includes the same 1080p MGM master (1.85, 2.0 PCM stereo) that graced Shout Factory’s out-of-print BD, a double-feature shared with Neil Jordan’s “High Spirits.” A commentary with Cage and Bierman, photo gallery, and trailer are reprised from past releases. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: “The Cage Factor” gives this oddball Hemdale production some appeal but it’s likely to be a love it or hate it type of experience for many. I know which camp I fall in!
ONE ARMED BOXER Blu-Ray (93 mins., 1970; Arrow): Martial arts star Jimmy Wang Yu jumped from Shaw Brothers to Raymond Chow’s Golden Harvest for this 1970 hit wherein Yu also wrote and directed this story – more an awesome array of fight scenes – featuring a fighter who crosses a mob boss, leading to his entire martial arts school being massacred. Now Yu’s hero gets to take out dozens of bad guys in endless confrontations – it’s kung fu insanity with lots of energy that some fans rank with their favorites. Arrow’s 2K restoration (2.35) looks nifty on Blu and includes the English dub plus two Mandarin soundtracks. Extras include a commentary by festival programmer Frank Djeng; a career retrospective with Wang Yu, shot in 2001 and never before released; trailers and TV spots, an image gallery and collectible slipcover.
Also New From MVD: An early performance from Lisa Rinna adds some interest to writer-director Don Murphy’s sole directorial outing MONDAY MORNING (105 mins., 1988, R). Murphy would go onto become a prolific Hollywood producer but he never helmed another movie after making this indie about a young man (Noah Blake) who gets wrapped up in an accidental shooting at his new high school, leading to him being pegged as the culprit. Blake’s efforts to clear his name result in a decently performed high school picture better known by VHS renters under its alternate title, “Class of Fear.” MVD here serves up a another Rewind Collection special edition with a collectible slipcover and mini-poster; a 1080p (1.85) transfer with mono sound, struck from the original negative; a near hour-long interview with Murphy; a 25-minute profile of Murphy’s career as a producer; and a copy of the VHS transfer…Noah Baumbach fans may want to revisit his unfinished 1997 movie HIGHBALL (110 mins., R), a picture about the relationship between numerous party-goers spread across multiple holidays at a couple’s home. There are amusing moments and a capable ensemble cast (Chris Eigeman, Eric Stoltz, Ally Sheedy, Annabella Sciorra, Peter Bogdanovich and Rae Dawn Chong among them), but Baumbach wasn’t able to finish the picture, leaving the producers to edit what was there and remove Baumbach’s credit in favor of writer “Jesse Carter” and director “Ernie Fusco.” MVD’s Special Edition (1.78, 2.0 PCM) includes a feature-length doc on the making of the troubled shoot and the trailer.
GOD TOLD ME TO 4K UHD/Blu-Ray (90 mins., 1976, Not Rated; Blue Underground): One of cult director Larry Cohen’s most controversial outings stars Tony Lo Bianco as a cop investigating a series of nonsensical murders – a father killing his family, a sniper shooting down a dozen people – in New York City. Where the case takes him involves the second coming of Christ, alien abductions, and (of course) Richard Lynch, in a nutty film that’s best admired by Cohen devotees.
Blue Underground debuts “God Told Me To” on 4K UHD July 19th. This is yet another sterling 4K transfer from the original camera negative, raised another step further by Dolby Vision HDR grading and Dolby Atmos sound. The net result shines even further than the Blu-Ray, though it too has been sourced here from that new restoration and looks quite excellent even without the benefit of Dolby Vision.
The two-disc set includes a new commentary by critics Steve Mitchell and Troy Howarth, plus other extras from the label’s 2015 Blu-Ray. These include a commentary from writer/director Cohen; an interview with Tony Lo Bianco; a conversation with effects artist Steve Neill; a New Beverly Q&A with Cohen; Lincoln Center question and answer session also with Cohen; plus trailers, TV spots and a poster/stills gallery.
New on 4K UHD
Described quite accurately in its earliest blurbs as a sci-fi variation on “Groundhog Day” – and later (kind of) retitled LIVE DIE REPEAT in the wake of the film’s mediocre box-office – is the Tom Cruise futuristic adventure EDGE OF TOMORROW (113 mins., 2014, PG-13; Warner), a sturdy, entertaining addition to the star’s mostly reliable roster of genre outings.
The plot, concocted by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterowrth and John-Henry Butterworth (based on a Japanese young adult novel), stars Cruise as a U.S. military PR person who’s improbably swept up in the battle against an extraterrestrial invasion. Despite having no combat experience, the international “United Defense Force” commander (Brendan Gleeson) assigns Cruise’s William Cage right to the battlefront in an effort to blitz the aliens through France. Unfortunately, the military’s plan is squashed from the outset, and Cage seemingly dies in the fight after encountering an advanced “Mimic” (tentacle-laden creatures that burrow through the ground) – only to wake up and relive the exact same day over again. Cage ultimately discovers that he’s gained the extraterrestrials’ upper-hand – the ability to consciously relive time, thereby adjusting to its enemy’s behavior – and seeks out the help of a decorated soldier (Emily Blunt) who once had the same ability.
“Bourne Identity” director Doug Liman seems right at home in “Edge of Tomorrow,” which offers the regulation battle sequences and special effects, albeit with a twisty, if straightforward, story that truly does mimic (no pun intended) the 1993 Bill Murray comedy. Cage relives each day, remembering every moment and attempting to adjust his actions accordingly, while trying to persuade – often futilely – his superiors that he knows how the enemy is able to consistently win each battle. He – much like Murray’s beleaguered weatherman – also runs the gamut of emotions, from fascination to depression over being unable to advance the clock forward, though his connection with Blunt’s Rita Vrataski ultimately gives him just enough motivation to keep going.
It’s a film that’s naturally repetitive, but Liman does a good job mixing up the various scene reprisals with an effective alteration in camera work and good humor. This isn’t a comedic film by any stretch, but it’s also one that doesn’t take itself overly seriously. Cruise is engaged and charismatic as his character grows from a pampered official to a genuine force on the battlefront as believably as such a premise allows, while Blunt is likewise strong as humanity’s only prior victor against the creatures.
Eventually, “Edge of Tomorrow” wears itself out with a dreary climax set under the Louvre where our heroes have just one chance at saving the planet. With the action taking place in a dank, murky setting, I lost count – and interest – in the resolution of Cage and his team, as Liman’s shaky-cam and excessively rapid-fire editing pushed this viewer’s tolerance level one too many times. It’s a bit of a disappointment, but not enough to put a damper on what’s an otherwise well-constructed and satisfying piece of summer escapism.
Warner brings “Edge of Tomorrow” to 4K UHD in an HDR10 presentation that looks great and sounds even better: this Dolby Atmos track is packed with LFE activity, enough to easily shake your walls and anything loose on shelves. Special features include several featurettes (Storming the Beach, Weapons of the Future, On the Edge with Doug Liman), deleted scenes and an Ultraviolet HD copy plus the Blu-Ray.
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (101 mins., 1995, R; Criterion): Richly atmospheric, if not completely satisfying, studio-produced thriller finds Denzel Washington comfortably inhabiting the role of “Easy” Rawlins, a private eye in post-WWII Los Angeles hired to find a missing woman (Jennifer Beals). Intended to launch a franchise based on the books by Walter Mosley, “Devil in a Blue Dress” unfortunately fizzled at the box-office in the fall of 1995, nixing Sony’s future hopes of having Washington reprise the character, which is a shame, because this Jonathan Demme production – helmed by Carl Franklin, who also scripted – is beautifully shot (by Tak Fujimoto), acted (Washington is joined by Tom Sizemore, Maury Chaykin and a young Don Cheadle who’s just terrific) and scored by Elmer Bernstein. Even if the central mystery isn’t as appealing as its characters, this is a fine picture worthy of a revisit (or first-time view).
“Devil in a Blue Dress” was previously released on Blu-Ray by Twilight Time but here makes its 4K UHD debut from Criterion. Available July 19th, this is a dynamic Dolby Vision HDR transfer, supervised by the director, with 5.1 DTS MA sound (the accompanying Blu-Ray is derived from the same 4K master). Colors and contrast levels are all impressive, enhancing the already exquisite technical attributes of the production. Extra features include Franklin’s audio commentary; a new interview with Franklin and Don Cheadle; a new interview between novelist Walter Mosley and screenwriter Attica Locke; a 2018 on-stage conversation from Chicago’s Noir City Film Festival featuring Franklin and historian Eddie Muller; and Cheadle’s screen test.
MONSTROUS Blu-Ray (92 mins., 2022, PG-13; Screen Media): Intentionally stylized drama has a horrific premise, wherein a mother (Christina Ricci) and her son leave his abusive ex-husband behind, only to run into seemingly supernatural occurrences in the rural California farmhouse that they flee to. Director Chris Sivertson is reasonably effective at establishing time and place, as well as an eerie mood, throughout “Monstrous,” but Carol Chrest’s script plays its hand just a little too obviously, to the degree where seasoned viewers are likely to guess the “twist ending” in advance. Still, Ricci does some good work here, and the film is well-produced on its modest budget. Screen Media’s Blu-Ray (1080, 5.1/2.0) is now available.
Film Movement New Releases: Three stories from Yoshida Kota mark SEX DRIVE (70 mins., 2022), an offbeat exploration of three characters and their respective relationships to food — and sex. Not for every taste (perhaps literally?), “Sexual Drive” debuts on DVD this month from Film Movement (1.78, 2.0 stereo, Japanese with English subtitles)…Also coming July 12th from Film Movement, POPPY FIELD (81 mins., 2022) follows the relationship between two gay men in Bucharest, where their reunion is thwarted by far-right groups. Filmmaker Eugen Jebeleanu’s film debuts here on DVD (1.85, 5.1/2.0, Romanian/English/French with subtitles) with George Dogaru’s short “A Normal Guy” included as an extra feature, plus a New Romanian Cinema Festival interview with Jebeleanu.
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