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Growing up in the ‘80s, Saturday afternoons on local Boston affiliate WLVI TV 56 used to include a “Creature Double Feature” of Godzilla fare, followed sometimes by an Abbott & Costello movie or, occasionally, a kung-fu adventure. These often didn’t star Bruce Lee but “Bruce Li,” and would offer cheap genre action with limited dramatic engagement – it was all about the martial arts, and these quickly-paced genre exercises are now the centerpiece of one of the year’s best Blu-Ray box sets. Severin’s THE GAME OF CLONES: BRUCEPOLITATION COLLECTION VOL. 1 streets next week and provides no less than a full dozen wild and woolly kung fu flicks with ersatz Bruce Lee stand-ins, mostly low budgets but lots of energy to spare, plus fantastic extras which put this entire, bizarre filmmaking era into proper historical context.

Following Bruce Lee’s untimely passing, Hong Kong cinema tried to keep his audiences coming for a wide variety of pictures featuring a number of de facto Lee stand-ins. Sometimes these actors looked like Lee; sometimes they only punched and kicked like him. At other times, only the titles and wide scope compositions resembled Lee’s famed, but all too brief, filmography. Story lines likewise ran the gamut from traditional kung-fu fare to tales of Lee grasping with his own celebrity, or even his death itself – with crude biographies of Lee’s rise to fame provided that are far less accurate than even his widow Linda’s “official” Hollywood 1993 biopic “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.”

The dozen features included here showcase that diversity, kicking off with THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE (90 mins., 1980), a hysterical tale of Lee clones duking it out after they’re created by a mad scientist, backed to tracked music from a number of popular ‘70s soundtracks (“The Warriors,” even John Williams’ “Earthquake” score!). The insanity continues in ENTER THREE DRAGONS (87 mins., 1978), ENTER THE GAME OF DEATH (90 mins., 1978), GOODBYE, BRUCE LEE: HIS LAST GAME OF DEATH (83 mins., 1975), BRUCE AND THE IRON FINGER (89 mins., 1978), CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER (89 mins., 1980), CAMEROON CONNECTION (91 mins., 1984), SUPER DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY (93 mins., 1974), THE DRAGON LIVES (87 mins., 1975), THE DRAGON, THE HERO (87 mins., 1980), and RAGE OF THE DRAGON (90 mins., 1980).

My favorite of the lot was THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (91 mins., 1977), which sort of brings the flavor of all of these disparate pictures together. Here, Bruce Leung Siu-lung plays Lee, who enters the afterlife and fights alongside (get ready) Popeye and the One-Armed Swordsman against the underworld king, who has employed (here we go again) James Bond and Dracula to exert his influence on all the kind folks sitting around purgatory. References to The Exorcist, The Godfather, even Emmanuelle all appear as Lee fights to return to the earthly realm in a crazy concoction of comedy and ‘70s pop culture references, again laced with familiar music on the soundtrack.

Severin has meticulously scoured the globe to not only resurrect these movies but also restore them in proper widescreen. 2K and 4K masters grace most of these transfers, even if the source elements are in less than top quality – yet given how obscure these pictures were (and have become), it’s a testament to the label’s restorative work that these pictures can live and breathe again, most in their 2.35 aspect ratios. Plus, it’s not as if the splices are a hindrance to the entertainment – all of it adds to the “grindhouse” appeal of this entire box.

Capping this set is the wonderful documentary ENTER THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE, where David Gregory has put together a marvelous look at the surviving Bruce Lee “clones,” placing these pictures – as well as the actual Bruce Lee phenomena itself – in proper historical and pop-culture context, especially from a Hong Kong perspective. This feature-length doc is also available separately outside this box, but it’s a good bet that if you’re interested in it, you’ll also want to have the entire set with its abundant extras available to peruse at your leisure.

Severin’s box-set offers Michael Worth’s highly enjoyable introductions to each movie, setting the proper scene for casual viewers and fans alike, while commentaries from Worth and other HK historians like Frank Djeng and Chris Poggiali grace many of the films in the set. Roundtable discussions, interviews with directors like Godfrey Ho, deleted scenes (at times sourced from international versions) and a full color, 100-page booklet make this first volume an absolute must for martial arts fans.

And speaking of those Bruce Lee (or is it Li?) buffs, Severin’s web-exclusive set does this release one better: Severin’s store-sold package includes a bonus Blu-Ray with the long-lost sequel THE BIG BOSS PART II (91 mins., 1976) included alongside the less-obscure, but still entertaining THE BLACK DRAGON VS. THE YELLOW TIGER (88 mins., 1974). Hi’yah is right!


Version 1.0.0

Imprint New Releases

Kicking off the latest releases from Via Vision’s Imprint label is a special edition of Lewis Allen’s THE UNINVITED (99 mins., 1944), one of the earliest on-screen supernatural thrillers and a film that still manages to captivate the viewer some 80 years since its original release. Previously available as a Criterion disc, Imprint’s release offers the same transfer with all-new supplements, plus the Blu-Ray format debut of Allen’s follow-up, “The Unseen,” which offers another plum role for its predecessor’s breakout female star, Gail Russell.

In “The Uninvited,” Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star as Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald, London siblings who decide to buy a beautiful seaside house on the Cornwall coast. Its owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), seems content to give the home away at a very reasonable cost, one which becomes apparent when the Fitzgeralds hear the whimpering, disembodied cries of a woman flowing through the house in the hours before dawn. Their investigation of the haunt leads to Beech’s granddaughter, Stella (Gail Russell), who feels a connection with the property and believes the ghost of her late mother haunts its hallways. Along with the town doctor (Alan Napier, two decades prior to essaying Alfred in “Batman”), the Fitzgeralds discover that Stella’s father had an affair with Carmel, a Spanish gypsy, around the same time that Stella’s mother perished after being pushed off the cliffs in front of Windward House.

“The Uninvited” has long enjoyed a reputation as being not only one of Hollywood’s first true ghost stories, but also one of its finest. The film, directed by Lewis Allen and adapted from a novel by Irish author Dorothy Macardle, offers a plot that’s at times more convoluted than it needs to be, but otherwise this is a grandly realized film filled with atmosphere: its black-and-white cinematography captures the beauty of the English coast (really northern California standing in for Cornwall) and the dark, creaky hallways of Windward House while ocean breezes cascade through it. The movie laid the groundwork for so many cinematic ghost stories that followed that it’s impossible to overstate its influence – from the scenes of Milland and Hussey’s protagonists moving to a quiet countryside, only to encounter something they don’t quite understand, to the first manifestation of the haunting itself (flowers die, a mysterious odor fills the damp artist studio that the Fitzgerlads unlock), “The Uninvited” is in many ways the grandfather of innumerable haunted house films.

Much more than a cinematic milestone, however, “The Uninvited” is a top-flight, classy studio production that can be appreciated far beyond its importance to the genre. The performances are engaging, from Milland’s initially skeptical reaction to the haunting to a weary acceptance of its reality, to Russell’s luminous appearance and a scenery-chewing turn from author Cornelia Otis Skinner as the nurse of Stella’s late mother, who harbors more secrets than she’s letting on (in an ironic turn, Russell would end up basically playing Skinner in an adaptation of her book “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay” later in 1944). Add in Victor Young’s marvelous score, with its classic “Stella by Starlight” composition, and you have an exemplary slice of Golden Age studio filmmaking that’s still thoroughly captivating.

Imprint’s Blu-Ray reprises what appears to be the same 2K scan (1.37 B&W, mono) of a 35mm duplicate negative transfer seen in the Criterion disc, but it one-ups the latter with superior supplements. These are led by Alan K. Rode’s informative, highly enjoyable commentary, an exclusive to the Imprint release, that’s filled with great historical tidbits. An interview with Imogen Sara Smith looks at the all-too-short career of Gail Russell with Kat Ellinger providing a visual essay. The trailer and a pair of radio adaptations, seen in the Criterion release, are also reprieved here.

Allen’s next film for Paramount was THE UNSEEN (81mins., 1945), less a supernatural tale than a noir-esque thriller with ample atmosphere and Russell given another superb role. It’s a bit silly and not nearly as cohesive a package as “The Uninvited,” but it’s nevertheless a compelling companion piece, and one that hasn’t been given much play over the years in a decent home video release. Imprint’s transfer here hails from a new 2K scan (1.33 B&W, mono) of the OCN with another superb Alan K. Rode commentary and a Imogen Sara Smith/Max Evry video essay putting the cap on this Imprint double-feature, housed in a glossy cardboard box.

Roger Moore’s personal favorite film, THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF (94 mins., 1970, PGImprint), was not a success at the time of its original release. An EMI production with Moore starring as a businessman who finds himself haunted by a doppleganger after a near-fatal car wreck, director Basil Dearden’s movie is a moody, downbeat affair, based on the same short story, “The Case of Mr. Pelham,” that was made into an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” back in the mid ‘50s.

Imprint’s Blu-Ray not only includes that episode as a bonus but a slew of supplements, some culled from the 2002 Network BD, including a commentary with Moore, uncredited writer/producer Bryan Forbes, and writer Jonathan Sothcott. There are also new interviews with Moore’s longtime talent agent/friend Gareth Owen; actor Freddie Jones and assorted crew members; the documentary “Roger Moore, A Master of Class”; a mini reproduction of the original pressbooks; and, like the older Network Blu-Ray, an isolated track of Michael J. Lewis’ score.


New on 4K UHD

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE 4K UHD/Blu-Ray (115 mins., 2024, PG-13; Sony): Sequel to 2021’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” isn’t completely terrible and, with a solid rewrite or two, may have proven to be the first franchise sequel to measure up to Ivan Reitman’s 1984 classic.

Alas, I think we’ve by now seen the best efforts of writer/producer Jason Reitman and his cohort, Gil Kenan (here stepping into the director’s chair), and they’re simply not capable enough to deliver a satisfying comic fantasy of this sort.

Their plot kicks off stumbling out of the gate, by having the “Afterlife” Spengler family (Mom Carrie Coon, kids Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace, plus Paul Rudd’s “Gary Grooberson”) already established as the new NYC Ghostbusters, working with the old guard hanging around (i.e. whenever time permits for a Bill Murray or Ernie Hudson cameo).

A better idea for this movie might’ve been actually showing that transition from farm country to the big city, but Reitman and Kenan press the fast-forward button instead, and have to spend more than half of this film on exposition. Endless exposition at that, introducing new characters, old characters, side characters, over half of which serve no purpose — it’s so over-written and over-populated with people that it’s surprising another writer wasn’t brought in to clean up the script, which has the gang taking on a new menace that eventually breaks free and causes havoc — albeit only in the movie’s final half-hour.

With an unmanageably large cast, it’s not just “the old folks” who really don’t have much to do — even Carrie Coon serves no purpose being in this movie. A smarter rewrite might’ve had Coon and Rudd’s characters relegated to cameos as they “dropped off” the juvenile “Afterlife” cast to a “Ghostbusters” internship program, which would’ve enabled the younger players from its predecessor to be more effectively integrated with Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz and crew.

Yet an opportunity like that goes by the wayside here, so Finn Wolfhard gets a couple of scenes with Slimer but that’s it as they throw all the focus onto “Phoebe Spengler” and her relationship with a sassy female ghost. The other returning Afterlife kids are “along for the ride” but pretty much the movie has too many players and not enough heft to any of it, with most scenes functioning like a “spot the actor” game where characters come and go as they please, often completely arbitrarily.

What’s more, all the set-up is a lead-in for a, no pun intended, busted climax, where a lame looking CG’d demon walks around for a few seconds and then is beaten in a matter of minutes. All of the “spectacle” the movie has to offer is shown in the trailers and confined to an underwhelming, too-little-too-late climax.

At least there’s more of an attempt at humor in “Frozen Empire” over the previous movie — the weepy element of “Afterlife” is thankfully absent pretty much — but only Kumail Nanjiani nails it, bringing the comic energy this movie desperately needs, as an “everyman” who gets swept up in the adventure (shades, if only a bit, of Rick Moranis’ role in the original movie). If anything there should’ve been more of him — and less of everyone else — which is disappointing because even with a few good scenes here and there, “Frozen Empire” just doesn’t come together, while also tossing in some poorly judged PG-13 jokes (what’s a “sex dungeon” reference doing in a film clearly marketed towards family audiences?).

While the series is obviously “aging,” this time it’s just bad writing that sends this sequel into the pit of mediocrity along with all the other follow-ups in this franchise.

Sony serves up one of their customary superlative 4K UHDs here with Dolby Vision HDR (2.39) and Dolby Atmos sound. Everything looks the part at least, with extras including a few deleted/extended scenes, easter eggs, featurettes, commentary from Gil Kenan, the Blu-Ray and a Digital HD copy.

TWISTER 4K UHD (110 mins., 1996, PG-13; Warner): Available a few weeks shy of the by-now inevitable “re-quel” “Twisters” is this welcome 4K remastering of the 1996 smash “Twister,” especially since its original Blu-Ray was a bit-starved VC-1 encode.

Few summer blockbusters have embodied the oft-utilized “rollercoaster ride” term better than this Michael Crichton-penned tornado movie that’s thoroughly mindless but highly entertaining just the same. You get Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz, and in the role of his life (at least circa 1996), Philip Seymour Hoffman, as storm chasers risk their lives to get a tornado to “suck up” a new scientific device so forecasters can learn more about predicting the formation of the nasty twisters — not to mention flying cows and plenty of debris along the way.

Jan DeBont directed from Crichton’s script (penned with his then-wife Anne-Marie Martin, co-star of “Sledge Hammer”), but the real star of the movie are ILM’s tornadoes, which steal the show much the same way that the dinosaurs ripped “Jurassic Park” away from Sam Neill and Laura Dern. In fact, the film’s tremendously effective use of special effects marked another major milestone in the evolution of CGI during the ‘90s, and its visuals still hold up for the most part, turning what could’ve well been just another disaster film into a thrilling and great-looking piece of escapist entertainment. The story is still ridiculous (the “bad guys” drive black trucks!), but it’s quickly forgotten once the sound and effects start to swarm around you.

I rewatched “Twister” just a few months ago and its Blu-Ray presentation was severely lacking — a dated presentation riddled with noise-reduction, likely the result of a mediocre master (please don’t dig up my old review, I think I might have needed glasses even back then!). Warner’s 4K UHD offers a brand-new HDR1O (2.35) presentation with Dolby Atmos sound and the result is as substantial an improvement as you’d anticipate. DeBont apparently tweaked some of the colors in the storm sequences, as he had for the previous home video releases, trying to capture a greenish hue that occurs during severe thunderstorms and tornadic activity. There’s more detail here also, which is no shocker given how low the bar was set by the previous Blu-Ray.

The disc includes a new featurette, “The Legacy of Twister,” which is a fresh interview with DeBont, plus the DVD-era doc “Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited," HBO First Look “The Making of Twister” and “Anatomy of a Twister” featurette. A Van Halen music video and digital HD copy are also included.

“Twister” ranked behind only “Independence Day” as the top grossing film of 1996, and it’s still an enjoyable, if silly, blockbuster with an improved new 4K transfer and still reference-quality soundtrack now with Dolby Atmos enhancement on UHD.

ANCHORMAN 4K UHD/Blu-Ray (94/98 mins., 2004, PG-13/Unrated; Paramount): One of Will Ferrell’s funniest films hits UHD with a stellar, new Dolby Vision HDR transfer, packed with all the extras from a myriad of previous Blu-Ray releases.

After a memorable co-starring turn in Todd Phillips’ “Old School,” Ferrell took the lead (and reaped some $84 million in domestic box-office) in “Anchorman,” the occasionally hilarious, offbeat 2004 comedy from Ferrell and co-writer/director Adam McKay, starring Ferrell as a smug newsman at a San Diego TV station in the 1970s. Packed with cameos and some truly hysterical moments (including a “West Side Story”-esque showdown between rival Bay Area anchormen!), this Judd Apatow production is inspired lunacy in spite of its occasional unevenness, with a brilliant supporting cast (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Kochner, Christina Applegate) as adept at the zaniness as Ferrell.

“Anchorman’’s theatrical cut is included on the 4K UHD side and it looks phenomenal with high clarity, rich colors and contrasts (1.85, 5.1 DTS MA). The accompanying Blu-Ray platters house three different edits of the picture: the original theatrical version, the extended unrated cut, and the “Lost Movie,” dubbed “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy,” which is comprised of discarded material from the film (excised subplots, alternate takes, etc.). All three versions are on-hand in splendid 1080p transfers with 5.1 DTS MA audio, while extras include all the goodies from the original video release of the film (25 minutes of bloopers/deleted scenes; interviews; a commentary track; and the unforgettable “Afternoon Delight” music video) with additional supplements on the second disc (cast audition footage, a table read, Comedy Central footage, intro to “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy”). A Digital code and collectible slipcover make this three-disc set a must for fans.

PURPLE RAIN 4K Ultra HD (111 mins., 1984, R; Warner): Prince didn’t have much of a big-screen career in dramatic features, leaving behind one certified box-office hit with 1984’s “Purple Rain” and two big misfires: “Under the Cherry Moon” (1986) and “Graffiti Bridge” (1990), a sequel to “Purple Rain.”

The chances of us ever seeing the latter movies remastered is basically nil, but Warner has produced a welcome, and great looking, 4K UHD of “Purple Rain” with dazzling HDR, in time to celebrate the movie’s 40th Anniversary. Now available from Warner, “Purple Rain” offers splashes of vivid color and dynamic contrasts, all accentuating the slick, ‘80s styled visual trappings of director Albert Magnoli – a novice director who hit it big here but directed only a pair of features thereafter, spending most of his time toiling with music videos.

“Purple Rain” will play as dated for some, no doubt, but it’s a solid and well-crafted mix of music and backstage drama, intended to get Prince’s movie mojo going as “The Kid,” an aspiring Minneapolis club musician with a rough home life. Apollonia (Kotero) is his sexy squeeze here in a script by Magnoli (rewriting William Blinn’s original, apparently “darker” original draft) that recycles genre cliches in a framework that entertained mass audiences, not just Prince devotees, back in the crowded Summer of ‘84.

Warner’s UHD (1.85) is one of their best catalog releases to date thanks to its strong colors, with 5.1 and 2.0 DTS MA soundtracks offering a broad stage for the many Prince songs that adorn the soundtrack. Extras include a commentary with Magnoli, cinematographer Donald E. Thorin and producer Robert Cavallo; an archival featurette; digital copy; and no less than eight Prince music videos.

UHF 4K UHD/Blu-Ray (97 mins., 1989, PG-13; Shout! Factory): “Weird Al” Yankovic’s tenure as a leading man lasted almost as long as Prince’s reign at the box-office, but UHF has remained a cult favorite due to Yankovic’s fans and the simple fact that the movie is actually, surprisingly funny in spots. Yankovic is joined by Michael Richards, SNL’s Victoria Jackson (one of my fave SNL performers), comic Emo Philips, and a pre- “Nanny” Fran Drescher in a plot that provides a flimsy excuse for a film (Yankovic takes over his uncle’s UHF station and tries to drive up ratings by airing his own programming) but a good one for a series of sketch-comedy spoofs. The Yankovic-Jay Levey script has some amusing gags and the movie — while obviously filled with dated references to ’80s pop culture — provides an amiable good time for 90 minutes. Shout Factory’s 4K UHD (1.85, 2.0) offers a brand new 4K scan of the 35mm OCN with extras from the label’s previous releases – deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, audio commentary (featuring Weird Al, Richards, Philips and Jackson), promo materials, Weird Al’s music video and a panel from the 2014 San Diego Comic Con. A similarly remastered Blu-Ray is also included.

TAXI DRIVER 4K UHD Steelbook (114 mins., 1976, R; Sony): Martin Scorsese’s controversial 1976 depiction of urban NYC hell remains a conversation starter amongst cinephiles even years after its release, with its first 4K UHD appearance coming in one of Sony’s lavish “Columbia Classics” box-sets back in 2020.

Much like “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Taxi Driver” is too hot a commodity to not generate its own separate UHD edition, which it has this month in Sony’s deluxe new Steelbook. For those who didn’t pick up the Classics box or prefer the Steelbook packaging, Sony’s UHD offers the same, dynamic Dolby Vision HDR presentation as its box-set appearance (1.85) with 5.1 DTS MA remixed sound or the original mono track. Extras on the UHD platter include the “Making of Taxi Driver” doc, photo galleries, and storyboards with Scorsese’s intro. The accompanying Blu-Ray boasts much more in the way of extras, including a 2016 Tribeca Q&A with stars Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster, plus Scorsese; the Criterion commentary track with Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader; additional commentaries with Schrader solo and professor Rober Kolker; extensive featurettes; and a Digital HD copy.

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT Blu-Ray (123 mins., 2023, PG-13; MGM/Warner): Well-crafted, old-fashioned drama about the University of Washington rowing team, which proved their mettle at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Rousingly edited and presented by director George Clooney with excellent cinematography from Martin Ruhe that captures the rowers at work, “The Boys in the Boat” met with solid critical notices but only lukewarm commercial returns – probably signs this adult-oriented sports drama was a little out of step with the current “blockbusters or bust” box-office mentality, yet it’s a well crafted picture that harkens back to both another era and filmmaking time as well. Warner’s Blu-Ray (2.39) is bereft of extras but does include a fine 1080p transfer with Dolby Atmos audio and a Digital HD code.

AMERICAN FICTION Blu-Ray (117 mins., 2023, R; MGM/Warner): An incisive script, adapted from Percival Everett’s book by director Cord Jefferson, and a uniformly excellent cast led by Jeffrey Wright – as a novelist tired of being boxed in by “Black” entertainment – make “American Fiction” well worth checking out. Wright’s performance is funny and relatable as his “Monk” decides to hash out a cliche-ridden, stereotyped book under a pseudonym that becomes, expectedly, all too successful; less predictable is Everett’s wide-ranging commentary on the heavy-handed elements of “the black experience” which offers ample substance to go along with the terrific performances of Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Sterling K. Brown. Warner’s Blu-Ray (2.39) is out this month featuring a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.


Super-Heroes, Giant Monsters & More

THE FLASH – The Original Series Blu-Ray (1088 mins., 1990-91; Warner): After “Batman” smashed box-office records in 1989, there was a brief blast of super-hero action that was propagated by Hollywood – albeit more on the small screen than theaters.

The most exciting of the fad was “The Flash,” a Warner Bros. TV production that CBS paid quite a bit to broadcast. Created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, who wrote the then-filming “The Rocketeer,” “The Flash” brought the DC comics hero into his own prime-time adventure via John Wesley Shipp’s Barry Allen – a police forensic investigator given the powers of speed after a lab mishap. Donning the hero’s familiar red and gold costume, The Flash tends to fighting Central City crime with the help of medical researcher Amanda Pays (“Max Headroom,” “Leviathan”), with a few villains like The Trickster (a mugging Mark Hamill) popping up throughout the course of the show’s 21 episodes, which reportedly had a budget well over $1 million a-piece (a lot for 1990).

Those bad guys tend to appear later in the season, which turned out to be a problem for “The Flash.” Despite the sky-high production values – Danny Elfman wrote the theme, giving it an appropriately “Bat”-like flavor – ratings were just “meh” for the series, a reflection of too many episodes early on that find Barry just taking on regular o’l crooks and not DC villains. The cast is appealing and the writing isn’t bad, but “The Flash” fell too quickly into a formula that failed to retain its audience. CBS moving the show around from one time slot to another, of course, didn’t help either, and by the time the series brought in the likes of The Trickster plus Captain Cold, too much viewership had eroded which the program never recovered.

Restored in high-def by Warner Archive on Blu-Ray, “The Flash” makes a smashing debut in 1080p with crisp 1.33 transfers and 2.0 DTS MA stereo soundtracks. The presentation highlights the high quality of the series, which ended in Spring 1991 after just a single season. Fans have long carped that it deserved better – a fate you can now debate thanks to this superior Blu-Ray release.

Right at the same time “The Flash” was running around the CBS prime-time schedule, producer Brian Yuzna unleashed an American version of Japanese manga THE GUYVER (93 mins., 1991, R; Unearthed/MVD).

A popular title on the VHS rental circuit for my friends and I back in high school – at least for a couple of weeks – “The Guyver” was both an early entry in the genre as well as one of the first Hollywood adaptations of Japanese comic material. Those attributes give “The Guyver” some historical value, though the movie itself is…well, it’s just alright, provided you meet it on the low-budget, independently-made level it was produced on.

FX specialists Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang not only handled the abundant practical effects on “The Guyver” but also directed the film as well, with Jack Armstrong playing the college student who “bonds” with an extraterrestrial power, turning him into a de facto super-hero. Mark Hamill nabs a supporting turn – and also top billing – as a CIA agent who’s eventually morphed into a giant crab creature (don’t worry, it’s not exactly Cronenberg’s “The Fly”) while Armstrong fights a nefarious corporation wanting his powers. Supporting turns are chipped in by cute Vivian Wu as the Guyver’s girl and Jimmy Walker, who, like Hamill, was on a downward trajectory in his respective career when the film was made.

A product of its era and an interesting precursor to the genre’s explosion later in the decade, “The Guyver” has been remastered in a sensational new 4K UHD by Unearthed. The 4K restoration offers an HDR10 (1.85) transfer leaps and bounds ahead of its old, dusty home video releases, with 5.1/2.0 stereo sound. Extras include loads of new extras: commentary by Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang; another commentary with actor/SFX artist Evil Ted Smith and fellow FX artist Wyatt Weed; interviews with Brian Yuzna, Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang; a gag reel; outtakes with commentary; a production/artwork gallery; the movie in a similarly remastered Blu-Ray; and a copy of the CD soundtrack by Matthew Morse. A collector’s booklet caps a must-have for “Guyver” buffs.

CROCODILE Blu-Ray (92 mins., 1979-81, R; Synapse Films): One of the many “Jaws” knockoffs from the ‘70s eventually turns into a bona-fide laugh riot.

This Thai-produced rip-off finds two doctors having to take on a giant, mutated crocodile that’s on the loose after it’s stirred up by a hurricane (stock footage from a different movie made by the film’s Thai producer); the beast claims their respective others, even one’s daughter, sending the duo on a quest for vengeance at any cost.

The downside in “Crocodile” – certainly not to be confused with the far superior “Alligator” – is how long the film takes to get to “the good stuff.” When it does happen, the “Jaws” inspired climax – with the two protagonists joined by a nutty photographer – mixes familiar angles of an Orca-type vessel waging war on a terrible model, alternating shots with a real crocodile that can be seen rubbing against a bathtub toy. These hilarious special effects truly do deliver the goods for creature feature (and bad movie) fans, and at least the entire production is actually pretty well shot, in full scope, despite its obviously limited production budget.

Synapse’s Blu-Ray delivers “Crocodile” on disc in a great looking 1080p (2.35, DTS MA mono) presentation. This is the movie’s dubbed U.S. release and it looks just fine, with extras including an array of deleted/alternate scenes from other versions released around the world; an interview with the director, Won-se Lee, whose original version was titled “Crocodile Fangs”; and a commentary from the late Lee Gambin.

HATCHET – The Complete Collection Steelbook Blu-Ray (2007-17; Dark Sky/MPI): Adam Green’s indie horror series receives a glossy Steelbook limited edition, exclusive from MPI.

Green’s series started back in 2007 with the original HATCHET (84 mins., Not Rated), produced when Anchor Bay was still around, with Kane Hodder (frequent portrayer of Jason Vorhees) essaying swamp killer Victor Crowley. The movie was meant to evoke ’80s horror and turned into a hit on home video, with the movie’s lack of pretension and well-executed kill sequences (no pun intended) hitting the mark with fans. Sequels followed with HATCHET II (86 mins., 2010) and the Green-written — but not directed — HATCHET III (81 mins., 2013), the latter two sequels starring Danielle Harris and other genre faves like Zach Galligan and even Tom Holland (director of “Fright Night”). The fourth entry (83 mins., 2017) brings back Hodder and frequent series star Parry Shen with Green returning to direct the sequel.

All four movies are included in this Steelbook package from Dark Sky featuring 1080p (1.78 on the first two films; scope 2.35/2.39 on III & IV) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Each is presented in its bloodier, uncut version with an exclusive bonus disc included that features over two hours of brand-new supplements: Production Journals and the “Hatchet: Swamp Tales” Making Of.


Warner Archive New Releases

THE MAN I LOVE Blu-Ray (96 mins., 1947): A later influence on Martin Scorsese’s “New York, New York,” Raoul Walsh’s late ‘40s Warner Bros. melodrama follows a similar premise: Ida Lupino plays Petey, a night club songstress who gets mixed up one Christmas with Robert Alda’s mobster, in a WWII-era set story by Catherine Turney, adapting Martita Wolff’s book. Well-performed and filled with music (though not, per se, a musical), “The Man I Love” has been fully restored here by Warner Archive, reincorporating six minutes of material that had been cut from the film, in a superb 1080p (1.37 B&W, 2.0 DTS MA mono) transfer with two bonus WB cartoons (Roughly Squeaking, Slick Hare) and the trailer on the supplemental side.

Another tale of a night club performer who gets involved in heavy dramatic fireworks sparks the 1938 MGM offering THE SHINING HOUR (76 mins.), with Joan Crawford starring as a big-city dancer who moves to rural Wisconsin where she marries a rich farmer (Melvyn Douglas). Alas, Joan has her designs on his younger brother (Robert Young) despite forming a bond with his wife (Margaret Sullivan). This Joseph L. Mankiewicz production, helmed by Frank Borzage, received mixed reviews but does have a literally explosive finale that’s worth the (relatively short) wait to get there. Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p (1.37 B&W, 2.0 DTS MA mono) transfer with three classic cartoons (Love and Curses, Porky’s Five and Ten, The Sneezing Weasel), the trailer, and the vintage MGM radio show “Good News of 1939” which incorporates “scenes” from “The Shining Hour.”

MR. & MRS. SMITH Blu-Ray (95 mins., 1941): One of Alfred Hitchock’s earliest American films, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” finds Hitch temporarily trading suspense thrills with screwball comedy. The net result has never been deemed a classic by the critics – or a movie you typically see fans mentioning – but it’s still a highly enjoyable farce with married couple Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery finding out their union wasn’t officially legal. Longtime comedy specialist Norman Krasna’s script provides the forum for Lombard and Montgomery to craft solid chemistry in this entertaining RKO release, debuting on Blu-Ray at long last from Warner Archive. In addition to an excellent 1080p (1.37 B&W, 2.0 DTS MA mono) transfer, the disc includes two vintage radio shows; two classic cartoons (Holiday Highlights, Stage Fright), one short subject (“Cinderella’s Feller”), and retrospective featurette “Mr. Hitchcock Meets the Smiths.”

ACT OF VIOLENCE Blu-Ray (92 mins., 1949): Taut and exciting drama features Van Heflin and Robert Ryan in director Fred Zinneman’s showdown between an injured GI (Ryan) who goes after the then-POW (Heflin) who betrayed his unit during the war. Stark B&W cinematography and powerhouse performances (Janet Leigh and Mary Astor anchor the female support) make this short but effective MGM production a recommended view. Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray (1.37 B&W, 2.0 DTS MA mono) hails, as do the other Archive releases this month, from a 4K restoration and looks superlative; extras include a commentary by Dr. Drew Casper, the trailer, and retrospective featurette “Act of Violence: Dealing with the Devil.”


Quick Takes

MANIFEST – The Complete Series DVD (2018-23; Warner): NBC series carries a compelling premise – what happened to a missing flight and its passengers from the night it disappeared through its sudden reappearance five years later, with none of its occupants having aged – yet struggled to develop a coherent drama in the span of its first season. However, bits and pieces of the supernatural (“Lost”) melded with a government conspiracy plot and “Touched by an Angel”-esque drama in a show that held onto its central mystery long enough to maintain its core audience for some four seasons, ending in a Netflix-funded final season that wrapped up in 2023.

Even the hardest-core fans felt “Manifest” went way over the edge in its last year or two, but somehow the goofiness was also part of the series’ charm for some viewers. It all wraps up in what most buffs felt was a satisfying finale, all of it – the good, the bad, and the positively odd – contained in Warner’s new Complete Series DVD boxset. This slipcover-adorned release features every episode of the series with 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 sound, capturing the complete adventures of Flight 828 from its first mysterious disappearance to its apocalypse-fueled final shows.

NEXT TIME: OCN June/July rundown! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Have a great 4th of July everyone! Cheers!

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