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Vinegar Syndrome has launched a new imprint, Cinematographe, whose first two releases impressively restore a pair of cult favorites – one of which has long been absent from home video. In fact, the last time LITTLE DARLINGS (94 mins., 1980, R) appeared on a legitimate format came via a Paramount VHS release with “some music” having been altered on the soundtrack. Those pricey song licenses, alas, were the reason this box-office hit from 1980 never made it to DVD or Blu-Ray, making this inaugural Cinematographe release a sensational restoration that preserves on both 4K UHD and Blu-Ray a highly entertaining coming-of-age picture with a sensational premise that’s sensitively handled.

And it’s not as if “Little Darlings” wasn’t a big hit, either. Paramount’s early 1980 film was, along with Bill Murray/Ivan Reitman smash “Meatballs” (released just a few months earlier), the first of many “summer camp” movies that would hit theaters throughout the decade. Making nearly $35 million unadjusted ($130 million today, or 5X times the amount of the similarly-themed Jodie Foster teen flick “Foxes”), “Little Darlings” was an immediate success, even with its R-rated, provocative premise – seemingly more aligned with “Porky’s” or a later ‘80s teen sex comedy – that a $100 prize is on the line for virginal campers Tatum O’Neal (the rich “uptown” girl) and Kristy McNichol (rougher-edged tomboy) for whichever girl can go “all the way” first.

The duo set their sights on a pair of targets: camp counselor Armand Assante and Matt Dillon, playing a young but still “experienced” camper from across the lake, respectively – and the first half of “Little Darlings” plays as you’d anticipate, with the girls and their bunkmates (including a young Cynthia Nixon) engaging in the usual camp shenanigans. From kayaking around the lake for a look at the nearby boys to commandeering the camp bus in order to steal contraceptives in town, Kimi Peck and Dalene Young’s script is something of a standard bearer for a whole cinematic sub-genre to follow.

However, things get much more interesting in the movie’s second half, where director Ronald F. Maxwell ratchets up the dramatic stakes and enables O’Neal and especially McNichol to give superb performances. Their final scene together is lovely, and the movie’s late shift towards genuine feeling and warmth, amplifying the seriousness of the girls’ respective experiences, comes as a welcome surprise.

“Little Darlings” is a great deal of fun but it’s never been an easy film to find. I remember coming across it on Cinemax years ago but other than a recent master that turned up on streaming, it’s been something of a “lost” movie for nearly 30 years. The reason for this was the movie’s soundtrack – offering both a supportive Charles Fox score plus songs from the likes of John Lennon – that was a licensing nightmare (fortunately, the movie’s original soundtrack is intact here for the first time on home video). As if that wasn’t bad enough, the picture’s anamorphic cinematography was ill-suited for the days of pan-and-scan TV, with Maxwell and cinematographer Beda Batka staging many shots that made good use of the widescreen frame. Even if you could find “Little Darlings,” it wasn’t in a state that represented how it truly looked or sounded.

The Cinematographe mediabook release, then, gives both Blu-Ray and 4K UHD owners the long-overdue, definitive version of “Little Darlings” any viewer could want. The Paramount licensed 4K restoration (2.35, 2.0 mono) from the original camera negative is just superb, the richness of the Georgia-lensed locations captured vividly in both transfers but obviously more so the UHD with its HDR10 enhancements.

Housed in a hardbound, book-styled package, Cinematographe has also included several informative extras including a commentary from Ronald F. Maxwell and deleted scenes from the TV version, with or without his thoughts. A second commentary from podcaster Millie De Chirico, a video essay by Samm Deighan, and an hour-long video interview with Maxwell put the finishing touches on what’s already one of the year’s most exciting catalog releases.

Cinematographe’s second release likewise corrects another oversight, offering the first-ever (and long overdue) U.S. Blu-Ray release of John Dahl’s terrific, modern film noir RED ROCK WEST (98 mins., 1993, R).

“Red Rock West” was one of the best films from Dahl, whose other genre offerings include the excellent “The Last Seduction” and underrated Ray Liotta thriller “Unforgettable.” This effort, which Dahl wrote with his brother Rick, is arguably his most satisfying though, playing out like a modern day western as well-intentioned drifter Nicolas Cage finds himself worming his way into a group of lunatics. These include small-town bar owner J.T. Walsh, who mistakes Cage’s character for Dennis Hopper’s hitman and promptly sends him on a mission to take out his wife (Lara Flynn Boyle).

Things get even more complicated from there for Cage, who gives a finely tuned performance in a thriller with satisfying twists and turns – and a particularly satisfying ending – despite the film having been tossed away by its production company, Propaganda Films. In fact, the movie’s domestic rights were sold to Columbia TriStar Home Video and the film ended up debuting on HBO in 1993 before critics propelled it onto the art-house circuit a year later. Favorable responses – in stark contrast to bad test screenings – led to “Red Rock West” becoming a critical darling, with numerous major critics praising Dahl’s writing and the performances of Cage, Walsh and Boyle especially.

“Red Rock West” has been issued outside the U.S. on Blu-Ray numerous times but there’s no doubt Cinematographe’s brilliant new 4K scan of the movie (1.85, 2.0 stereo) trumps any previous home video master. Details are crisply delivered without noise reduction or other encoding issues the movie’s previous HD masters typically displayed, making this the definitive release of the movie on home video.

Every release of the film seems to have its own set of unique extras and Cinematographe’s limited edition is no different. New interviews with John and Rick Dahl are included along with a Chris O’Neill visual essay and a commentary with historian Alain Silver and fimmaker Christopher Coppola. Two previously-released extras are also present – an archival interview with editor Scott Chestnut and a video essay from Petro Patsilvas which appeared on the Signal One UK edition.

It’s all enclosed in another rock-solid case with new artwork, a limited edition (6,000 copies vs. 8,000 for “Little Darlings”) that’s available to order right from Vinegar Syndrome’s website. Highly recommended!

New From Shout! Factory

In the early ’90s, “Withnail & I” director Bruce Robinson traveled to the U.S. to make what he envisioned would be a “commercial” studio picture. Fresh off the success of “The Silence of the Lambs,” the serial killer genre was enjoying a major resurgence at the box-office, and Robinson’s JENNIFER 8 (125/129 mins., 1992, R; Shout! Factoryhad all the needed ingredients for success: a strong cast, beautifully textured cinematography from the great Conrad L. Hall, and one of Christopher Young’s finest scores.

Unfortunately, editorial issues on the part of the studio and Robinson himself ended up making “Jennifer 8″ a great looking but fatally flawed thriller with a story line missing huge chunks of exposition. The movie’s opening fares best, with L.A. cop Andy Garcia (somewhat over-the-top in a role clearly written for an older star) having moved to northern California for peace and quiet, but soon plunged right into the middle of a murder investigation involving a killer preying on blind women. Uma Thurman co-stars as a young sightless woman – the sole witness to the most recent victim – whom Garcia falls for, Lance Henriksen appears as a fellow cop who’s also Garcia’s brother-in-law, and an uncredited John Malkovich jazzes up the convoluted final third as an FBI investigator.

The picture, unquestionably, looks great – Hall’s cinematography adds nuance to every scene, with snowy mountains, rainy streets, smoky interrogation rooms and even the fading sun pouring into Thurman’s room lending enormous atmosphere to the picture. Young’s elegant scoring refuses to travel down the standard thriller route as well – making the film’s odd lapses in pace and seeming focus all the more regrettable, not to mention a ridiculously abbreviated climax that saw its original ending chopped off. When I saw the movie in theaters back in November of ‘92, you just knew meddling hands were in the editing room, as end credits flew up up the screen in an effort to finish the movie as quickly as possible.

Robinson obviously tried to put his “stamp” on “Jennifer 8,” offering richly detailed characters throughout the movie, at the same time Paramount was hoping to release a solid box-office product – and those seemingly conflicting interests result in a movie that just isn’t satisfying in spite of how good it looks and how well it’s acted. Sections of the picture function brilliantly, Garcia and Thurman develop strong chemistry together, but then the movie remembers it’s still a “serial killer thriller” (in spite of a near total absence of on-screen violence, much less gore) and the picture fades off. It’s a frustrating viewing experience because what does work lingers in the mind long after it’s over.

Shout Factory’s Blu-Ray offers viewers the chance to see “Jennifer 8” in a 129-minute extended cut that restores its original climax from a workprint, complete with John Williams’ “Presumed Innocent” score attached from the temp track. It’s a predictable “he’s not dead yet!” extension to what was on the theatrical version, but at least the film isn’t as ragged with it present. The 125-minute theatrical version is also available as a viewing option (as is the longer ending by itself) and the transfer is spectacular across both presentations: a 4K remaster (1.85) with brilliant detail and encoding. Shout has upped its game with some of their recent remasters and that can clearly be seen here with a disc that does justice to Hall’s outstanding cinematography. Audio wise, the 5.1/2.0 DTS MA soundtracks are both superlative, the movie’s rainy environments enriching the sound field throughout.

The disc’s main extra is a 42-minute documentary sporting new interviews with Bruce Robinson, Andy Garcia and Lance Henriksen. All three discuss the movie’s production, working with Hall, and the assorted issues involved with finding the right balance between the director’s voice and struggles in the editing room. Robinson also takes a shot at an unnamed Maurice Jarre, stating that the studio had forced “another composer” onto the movie and that, when test reels were viewed with his ultimately rejected score attached, they were happy to let the director go back to his first choice, Christopher Young.

WILLY’S WONDERLAND 4K Ultra HD/Blu-Ray (88 mins., 2021, Not Rated; Shout! Factory): “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and its worldwide popularity seems to have spiked a whole genre of oversized, demonic puppets stalking their prey – often in Chuck E. Cheese styled surroundings. Case in point is this blah 2021 release wherein Nicolas Cage’s new job as a janitor at a recently condemned kids theme restaurant – where its animatronics turn out to be bonkers as opposed to benevolent — turns out to be a lot more hazardous than he anticipated. There are a couple of expected gory kills for horror fans but “Willy’s Wonderland” is mostly by-the-book with a phoned-in Cage performance to match. Scream Fatory’s 4K UHD (2.35, 5.1/2.0 DTS MA) preserves the movie in Dolby Vision with featurettes, the trailer and image galleries present on the supplemental side.

Post-Holiday Frights

THANKSGIVING Blu-Ray (106 mins., 2023, R; Sony): Director Eli Roth expands upon his joke trailer from “Grindhouse” in an intermittently amusing slasher that ends up somewhere between a spoof and an actual genre exercise. Granted, the Thanksgiving-oriented gags and Massachusetts setting provide some fun, but at an elongated 106 minutes, “Thanksgiving” feels like leftovers more than a fresh course of terror, even of the black comic variety. Still, it’s not bad. Sony’s Blu-Ray (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) includes deleted/extended scenes, outtakes, commentary, featurettes, a Digital HD code, and even Eli Roth and friend/co-wrtier Jeff Rendell’s early movies.

SILENT NIGHT Blu-Ray (104 mins., 2023, R; Lionsgate): Master action director John Woo returns to Hollywood for this disappointingly leaden tale of a revenge-driven father (Joel Kinnaman) who seeks retribution from the gang that cost him his son’s life, as well as his own voice. Told mostly minus dialogue, Robert Archer Lynn’s script is predictable in its layout and Woo – while still being able to stage the occasional action scene with his patented, slick panache – is mostly unable to jazz up what’s ultimately just a pretty dreary genre outing. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray (2:1, Dolby Atmos) includes a featurette, trailer, and Digital HD code.

A CREATURE WAS STIRRING Blu-Ray (96 mins., 2023, R; Well Go USA): “This is Us” star Chrissy Metz deserves better than this underwhelming yuletide-set thriller wherein two burglars (Rob Zombie “Halloween” vet Scout Taylor-Compton and Connor Paolo) choose the wrong house to rob on Christmas, stumbling into crazed mom Metz and her highly troubled teen daughter (Annalise Basso) harboring a potentially supernatural secret. While the performances keep “A Creature Was Stirring” in check for a while, Damien Leveck’s movie goes for a wretched “it’s all a ___” ending that totally sinks the entire picture. Well Go’s Blu-Ray (1080p, 5.1 DTS MA) is out February 13th.

Also New & Noteworthy

A DAY AT THE RACES Blu-Ray (111 mins., 1937; Warner): One of the Marx Brothers’ best – if a bit overlong – this 1937 MGM favorite finally gallops onto Blu-Ray at long last from Warner Archive. Sporting a sensationally crisp, remastered transfer (1.37 B&W, mono), “A Day at the Races” finds Groucho up to his eyeballs in zaniness as Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush and the boys supporting a musical-comedy storyline that remains an all-time fan favorite for Marx enthusiasts. The Warner Archive Blu-Ray also features plenty of extras in this newly-available disc, including commentary from historian Glenn Mitchell; an archival featurette; a Robert Benchley short (“A Night at the Movies”); three classic MGM cartoons; the trailer; and audio outtakes including Grucho performing the song “Dr. Hackenbush,” which was written for the movie but ultimately unused.

MY SAILOR MY LOVE DVD (108 mins., 2024; Music Box): James Cosmo stars as a widowed sailor who falls for Brid Brennan’s local grandmother, hired as a caretaker by his daughter (Catherine Walker). Their relationship blooms at the same Walker struggles with it in Klaus Haro’s lovely little character drama, newly released on DVD from Music Box (2.39, 5.1). The disc includes a featurette and TV Ireland Film Premiere footage.

UNDER THE FIG TREES DVD (93 mins., 2024; Film Movement): Tunisian drama is set in a fig orchard where a group of women gossip and work alongside an older generation more attune to the labor. The well-reviewed “Under the Fig Tree” is an engaging slice of life picture from director Erige Sehiri, premiering on DVD this month from Film Movement (2.39, 5.1/2.0 Arabic with English subtitles)...Michelle Savill’s MILLIE LIES LOW (100 mins., 2023) follows a young New Zealand archiecture student who’s about to head to New York – at least until she has a panic attack and misses her plane. Millie subsequently hides out in Wellington, pretending over social media that she made it to NYC, in this funny, insightful comedy with a strong performance from Ana Scotney in the lead role. Savill’s short “Ellen is Leaving” and a commentary by the director are included in Film Movement’s DVD (1.78, 5.1/2.0).

UNDER THE FIG TREES DVD (93 mins., 2024; Film Movement): Tunisian drama is set in a fig orchard where a group of women gossip and work alongside an older generation more attune to the labor. The well-reviewed “Under the Fig Tree” is an engaging slice of life picture from director Erige Sehiri, premiering on DVD this month from Film Movement (2.39, 5.1/2.0 Arabic with English subtitles)…Michelle Savill’s MILLIE LIES LOW (100 mins., 2023) follows a young New Zealand archiecture student who’s about to head to New York – at least until she has a panic attack and misses her plane. Millie subsequently hides out in Wellington, pretending over social media that she made it to NYC, in this funny, insightful comedy with a strong performance from Ana Scotney in the lead role. Savill’s short “Ellen is Leaving” and a commentary by the director are included in Film Movement’s DVD (1.78, 5.1/2.0).

NEXT TIME: Finally, the great Jan/early Feb Kino Lorber wrap, promise! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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