Perfect for Halloween: The Killing of Satan!

If you're anything like me, you know you need this movie in your life just from the cover.  Now, does the movie actually live up to that picture?  Well actually, surprisingly, pretty much, yes.  Does a guy in jeans contend with a giant snake, a lady who shape-shifts into a killer dog, a zombie and a red devil?  You bet!  This is The Killing of Satan, a 1984 Filipino horror adventure that delivers all of that and plenty more.  Not since Coffin Joe went directly to Hell in This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse has Old Nick come to such vivid on-screen life.  It's a perfect creature feature for Halloween night.
So how to begin explaining this film?  Well, it's a bit like Harry Potter in that our hero, Lando (you'll remember his name by the end of this movie, that's a promise), comes from the average, everyday world.  But he's brought into a different world early on where everybody around him and just about every character we meet from then on is some kind of wizard.  He has to quickly learn to use the magical powers he never knew he had as he fights the bad guys.  See, Lando's uncle is one of the top wizards in his little village, but the evil Prince of Magic and his thugs mortally wound him.  So he has to use the last of his powers to summon Lando from the city to come to his peoples' rescue.  In classic hero's journey-form, Lando refuses the call, but then some other thugs shoot him and his son, and the uncle uses the last of his magical life force to save him, so then he's really obligated to go.
full frontal nudity in all its interlaced glory
So Lando goes to the village and just as he's finding out that his uncle is dead and that he has hidden magical powers, the prince attacks again!  I've just seen the new Dr. Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch, and this is kind of like the low budget Filipino version of that.  Magic spells back and forth, ray beams, gushing winds, and an awesome spinning spell you just have to see for yourself.  This time the prince capture's most of the villages women, who he keeps trapped naked in a cage with magical bars and forces them to do his bidding with some magical neckbands.  Lando and his buddy race off to save them, but before they can reach the prince and his men, they has to face a whole collection of weirdos in their path, including a naked snake man, evil seductresses and a mysterious mute child who can lead them on their way.  I won't spoil the second half, but all that stuff on the poster happens and Lando not only confronts the prince, but works his way up the chain to fight one on one with Satan himself.
If you want overly ambitious 80s special effects, this is your Christmas morning.  Yeah, it's all cheap, horribly dubbed and clearly poorly acted even underneath that dubbing.  But that's just part of the charm.  One of the things that really keeps this film entertaining is that there's always something new.  A cavalcade of monsters and constantly varying special effects.  Sure, sometimes they shoot rotoscoped beams at each other, but other times it's a super-imposed pinwheel or an on-set wind machine blowing people over.  If they'd managed to squeeze in a little stop-motion, this would be a full-blown Harryhausen adventure, always ready to throw you a curve ball.  The film seems somewhat old school and chaste until you hit the scenes of extreme gore and full frontal nudity.  I mean, don't get me wrong, the film's terrible in all the traditional senses - it's the kind of movie my mother can't understand why I would ever want to watch it.  But it's also a kind of wonderful that very few movies can ever begin to live up to.  It could have made a perfect episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (and after the kickstarter, who knows, it still might), but most of those movies, taken without their riffing, are deathly dull.  This one's a blast all on its own.
Unfortunately, The Killing of Satan is pretty much M.I.A. on the home video front.  It's one of those titles desperately in need of a cult label's attention.  But it's not completely unavailable.  There is a grey market DVD from Substance, the same label that brought us that crappy Monster Dog DVD.  And this DVD lives down to those standards of crappiness.  Full screen?  Of course.  Soft and smeary?  Just like melting ice cream.  Sourced from a video tape?  Looks that way.  Seriously interlaced?  Oh yeah!  Buzzing sound?  Check.  Bizarre vertical line of video noise running up the right-hand side of the picture through the entire movie?  Why yes, now that you mention it.
And what about extras?  The director, Efren C. Piñon, has made almost fifty cult and exploitation films, and its writer is an award winning filmmaker who's still in the business to this very day!  The cast and crew is full of successful Filipino actors and effects artists with tons of film and television credits.  Do we get to hear from any of them?  Ha ha ha!  This is a Substance release, there isn't even a trailer.  The only thing we get is a "Gallery" which just consists of still shots taken from the exact same video transfer the main film plays in.  Although, I have to admit, their menu screen is pretty cool.
The devil takes many forms, or at least two, in The Killing of Satan!
Yes, this film is badly in need of an HD restoration, and the good news is: it's possible!  Apparently Drafthouse has been known to screen this natural crowd pleaser on 35mm.  So if just a couple of the right people make the right phone calls, we could conceivably have an amazing looking 2k scan of this film in HD widescreen!  Seriously, this and Spookies, those guys need to get off their butts and put this out on their own label or let somebody like Arrow get hold of it.  But in the meantime, at least there's the Substance.

Back To Burial Ground, Severin Imports Another 88 Films Restoration (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

It's been long delayed, but 88 Films' restoration of Burial Ground has finally landed in the USA! If you contributed to their indiegogo campaign at the end of 2014 (it was DVDExotica's very first tweet!), you should be getting your copies now. And if you didn't, it's in stock and shipping. So it's available for all. Now, I suppose, the only question is... was it worth it?

Update 10/27/16: And now it's time for another blu-ray edition of Burial Ground, this time from Severin Films. This isn't the first time they've followed closely on 88 Film's heels with a US release of one of their Italian restorations (for that, see Zombie Holocaust, which was in the same Indiegogo campaign). That time, Severin won a lot of fan favor for their improved color timing, alternate cut of the film and impressive set of special features (though disappointingly, they lost the Italian subtitles, forcing Western audiences to stick to the English dub). But can they snatch the crown a second time?
Admittedly, Burial Ground is a B-movie. I mean, even within the realm of horror movies and 80s zombie films, it's a B. No one's ever going to refer to this film's taste or class. But it's such a fun flick. It's an Italian film that doesn't shy away from the blood and guts, provided by Fulci effects regular Gino de Rossi, and it's shot in a castle! So it's got that European Gothic flavor, including a creepy little incestuous subplot, sprinkled over essentially another Zombi knock off sequel. In fact, it was released in Japan as Zombie 3. Burial Ground's a little on the cheaper side - some of the zombies look a little more mask-y than Fulci's undead - but this film certainly delivers the mayhem, giving it a replay value many of its peers lack, even if they're maybe technically, objectively better films.
So, Andrea Bianchi's Burial Ground's been around the home video block. There are lower quality DVDs from your usual suspect labels like Vipco and Laser Paradise, as well as a non-anamorphic Italian Shock DVD. At least pretty much every release has been uncut. But probably the first really respectable release was Shriek Show's 2002 DVD, which was an anamorphic widescreen special edition, which I've got here for comparison. Shriek Show bumped it up to blu-ray with a new but mildly received transfer in 2011, and about two minutes worth of controversially missing frames. Essentially, damaged frames were removed whenever the picture cut, similar to the issue we saw on Blue Underground's blu-ray of Hell Of the Living Dead. And as in that case, the loss of visual frames is less the issue itself than what it does to the synced audio. So I held off on upgrading to that disc.

And my patience was rewarded - we hope! - with 88 Film's fresh restoration in 2016.  Their blu-ray features two transfers: a new 2k scan from a 35mm print done in the USA, described as their "alternative grindhouse version," and a new HD master taken from the original 16mm negative in Italy.  Severin's blu-ray uses that same, latter master.  Fingers and toes are crossed that this latter version fixes all past issues; I'm almost afraid to look.
One of the many frames missing from Shriek Show's blu, restored on 88's.
Before we even get into the comparative picture quality, let's talk about the trims. I can't even think about the other stuff until I answer these questions for myself. 88's running time is 85:11, as opposed to Shriek Show's 83:24, and there's no 88 Films logo or anything at the beginning padding it out; so that's a very promising sign. Unfortunately, the review that detailed all of the missing shots between the DVD and blu-ray is gone. The whole site, has closed.  :(  But the post on Kentai's blog lists a few of them, and shows some of the missing frames, so I'm checking the new blu against the time codes there. And... oh thank goodness! The missing frames are there at 14:25. You do hear the chandelier exploding at 16:09, and see the shot of the zombie starting to emerge from the planter at 25:51. 88 Films came through!
Shriek Show's 2002 DVD first; 88 Film's 2016 grindhouse blu second;
88 Film's 2016 restored blu third; Severin's 2016 blu-ray fourth.
hehe  Look how some form of scratch removal
removed Mariangle's flowing white scarf in this frame.
Boy, I even prefer 88's "grindhouse" version to Shriek Show's DVD, even though the contrast is through the roof. The grindhouse version has lots of dirt flecks, especially in the beginning; but at least it preserves the film's 1.66:1 ratio. The DVD is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, mostly cropping the top of the image. It's also faded, soft and washed. Plus, the DVD is interlaced.
Shriek Show's 2002 DVD.
On the other hand, The new 1.66 version from the negative is clearly the best this film's ever looked. Of course, the deck was stacked against the other versions I'm showing here - in fact, the whole reason 88 included the print version may've just been to make the other look better by comparison - but no matter what context you put it in, I'm surprised the 16mm footage could look this good. It's crisper than I was expecting, and the grain looks natural and un-tampered with. I was a little nervous when I read the second transfer was coming from Italy, as opposed to the scan of the print, but I think even cynics will be pretty pleased with the results.
88 Film's 2016 restored blu left; Severin's 2016 blu-ray right.
But now in October, the question of the day is which 1.66:1 16mm negative transfer is better: 88's or Severin's?  Severin has again done some more re-timing, going for some slightly more vivid colors and higher contrast. This is definitely going to come down to personal preference, as it's essentially the same root transfer.  Myself, I like the richer colors, but the increased contrast does begin to give very slight crush to the details in extreme whites and shadows in select shots.  It's still my pick, but you really can't fault anyone for preferring either, since the margins, as you can see in the enlargement above, are pretty slim for the most part.

More good news: 88 Films has provided both the English and Italian audio tracks in LPCM 1.0, with optional English subtitles. Past releases, including Shriek Show's DVD and subsequent blu, only featured the English audio and no subtitle options. And this time, Severin has wisely followed suit, including not only both audio tracks, but this time they remembered the English subtitles!
Now let's talk extras. This is where I said hang onto your Shriek Shows, because they had a couple exclusive interviews not on 88's release. There are roughly 10 minute talks with producer Gabriele Crisanti, and actress Mariangela Giordano. Besides those Shriek Show also has a photo gallery, the trailer, some bonus trailers and an insert with liner notes by AV Maniacs' Charles Avinger and European Trash Cinema's Craig Ledbetter. Plus, on their 2011 blu-ray - but not their original 2002 DVD - they have 9+ minutes of outtakes without sound.

88's blu does not have those interviews, but they did make their own new extras, just with experts rather than any of the filmmakers. There's an audio commentary by UK critic and author John Martin, who's surprisingly negative about the film and spends most of the track ignoring it to talk about his own personal history. And there's a nearly half hour on camera interview with Mikel Coven, who wrote a book on Bianchi's films, which has a lot of interesting information. Coven really gets into Bianchi's other films, and I'm glad to have these extras (though you can really skip the commentary); but you can't top the people who were actually there.
Now so far, Severin has been running neck and neck with 88 Films, but here's where they really pull ahead. They have a bunch of new special features, and they've actually got people who worked on the film.  Most excitingly for most fans is an interview, recorded before an audience at a 2013 screening, with the one and only Peter Bark!  They show clips from some of his other work, and it's definitely a fun, if a little brief (7.5 minutes) piece fans will want to see.  There's also a nice interview with actor Simone Mattioli, and a pretty in-depth featurette about the film's dramatic villa, filmed on location.  It turns out there's a ton of film history there.  All these new extras are great, and you should definitely check them out.

And Severin has also imported the Shriek Show extras... mostly, kinda sorta.  Where Shriek Show's on-camera interviews with Crisanti and Giordano were nine and a half, and eleven minutes long, respectively, Severin has made an odd choice. They edited them together into one nine minute and twenty second featurette that cuts back and forth between them.  And it's not even like they cut out all the clips from the film; those are still in there, plus about 30 seconds worth of newly added credits.  So, on the one hand, it is a more tightly edited piece, which some viewers will prefer.  A lot of what was cut was the interviewer asking his questions.  But on the other hand, we lost about 12 minutes, which is more than half of the interviews, including a lot of the subjects' thoughts; and that's a little bit disappointing.  Now it's like, uh, do I still hang onto my Shriek Show disc?  But if you've got the Severin disc, I'd say really don't go back and double-dip for the complete interviews unless you're a super fan with a poster of Mariangela up on your wall.
from the outtakes on 88's 2016 blu.
Happily, all the blu-rays also include the outtakes, albeit without sound. They've each got the theatrical trailer, too, and 88 includes a bonus trailer for their other indiegogo restoration, Zombie Holocaust. Severin also includes the alternate Italian opening credits, which 88 has on their "grindhouse" version. 88's disc includes a postcard with alternate artwork, a 16-page booklet with liner notes by Calum Waddell (who also moderated the audio commentary), reversible cover art and an exclusive slipcover if you're one of the people who donated to the campaign.  Meanwhile, the first 3000 copies of Severin's blu come in a slipcover, and all copies have reversible cover art with the traditional giant skull face or lumbering zombie images.
And one more thing about the Severin blu-ray!  It has an alternate set of Italian language opening and closing credits tucked away on the disc.  I suspect maybe the idea was that if you selected the Italian language option in the Set Up menu, it would also branch out to give you the Italian language credits.  However, the menu is mis-programmed, so that when you select either language option from the main menu, it just leaves you stuck on the menu with no power to navigate, and playback still defaults to the film with English credits.  If anyone can get this to work on their player, let me know in the comments; but I tried it in several with no luck (in fact, my Seiki refuses to play this disc at all).  But, even if it doesn't work at all on any player, you can still get to the Italian credits by jumping to the appropriate title, so you can at least consider them another extra.
I'm quite happy with the restoration. I was confident this would give us the best version of Burial Ground to date back when I donated, but I wasn't at all sure how much better. I was prepared for just slightly less noise. Thankfully though, all of the issues seem to have been fixed, the picture's a nice upgrade and we get some fresh extras and the Italian track, all in an attractive package. I'm glad I donated.  Either of the restored blus is definitely worth upgrading to.  Which one, though?  Well, if you care about special features, then I'd say definitely Severin.  If you don't watch extras anyway, though, then the difference is so minimal and academic, I'd say just go with whichever is more local to you (88 is B locked, while Severin is all region); save yourself the import costs and region changing hassle.  It's essentially the same restoration on either disc.

Welcome To Manhattan Baby

Welcome to Lucio Fulci's most unfairly maligned horror film.  1982's Manhattan Baby seems to get even more flack than his real clunkers like Voices From Beyond or Door Into Silence; fans just seem to love putting this one down.  I mean, sure you can say that Manhattan Baby is silly, poorly dubbed, un-scary and illogical... you know, like all of Fulci's greatest works.  But it's got some cool production values, another nightmarish "anything goes" plot, various gruesome kills, and one of his best soundtracks.  No, it's not on the level of The Beyond or City Of the Living Dead, but I'd put it about even with The Black Cat.  I mean, the pros and cons are very different for this and Black Cat, but in the final tally they come up about the same for me.  And now, maybe this fancy, new special edition from Blue Underground will scare up some more favorable reappraisals from you guys, too.
So what's this one about?  Well, a happy American family go on vacation to Egypt, where their daughter is given a mysterious amulet.  They go back home (to Manhattan, hence the title), and naturally it turns out that the amulet brought a bunch of evil supernatural problems with it.  The father goes blind, the son gets pulled through a dimensional gateway into the ghost world a la Poltergeist, people get possessed, animals attack. peoples' eyes bleed.  It's almost everything you want from a Fulci film.  Predictably, there's an older gentleman who can tell the family about the evil they've inflicted with and try to tell them save themselves from this ancient Egyptian curse.
I've already weighed most of the pros and cons.  It's kind of like an Egyptian-themed Exorcist with some extra Fulci-madness layered on top.  But it does have slower scenes of exposition that slow it down, and again, it never reaches the heights of The Beyond, and falls a little short of the consistent atmosphere of House By the Cemetery.  But Fulci lovers should be delighted by the return of Bob!  I mean, it's not actually the same character, but it's the same kid dubbed by the same woman.  The fact that Fulci seems to have actually shot at least some exterior scenes with the cast in both Egypt and Manhattan certainly gives this film some 'scope, not to mention his usual, excellent widescreen cinematography.  It is lacking one or two great gore highlights to really place it in the history books alongside his most famous work, and the father does look ridiculous wearing his glasses over his big eye bandages, but this is still a solid entry in his oeuvre as far as I'm concerned.
Manhattan Baby debuted on DVD in 2001 with a nice, anamorphic widescreen transfer from Anchor Bay.  I've still got that disc, so we'll be looking at it today.  They repackaged it as an appropriate double-feature with The New York Ripper in 2002.  Then, in 2007, Blue Underground acquired the rights and reissued the same disc.  But now, finally in 2016, we have an actual new edition, as Blue Underground takes the film into the HD age with their new "3-Disc Limited Edition."  I put that in quotes because I'm literally quoting the case, and because I think it's a stretch to call this a 3-disc edition, although technically, yes it is.  Nightbreed, Army of Darkness?  Those are real 3-disc special editions, where each disc includes important, unique video content: extras, different versions of the film.  This set is a combo-pack, so disc 2 is exactly the same as disc 1, except that it's a DVD copy of the blu-ray.  And the 3rd disc is a CD.  So advertising like it's on par with a proper 3-disc edition, well; we all know what Judge Judy says about peeing on her leg, right?  But don't get me wrong, it's still a pretty awesome single-disc blu-ray special edition, as we're about to see!
2001 Anchor Bay DVD 1st, 2016 BU DVD 2nd, 2016 BU blu-ray 3rd.
2001 Anchor Bay DVD left, 2016 BU blu-ray right.
Blue Underground's new transfer comes from a fresh 2k scan taken of the original camera negatives.  The HD is much sharper and clearer than the old DVD with kosher grain and more natural colors.  The framing has been corrected slightly from 2.35:1 to 2.39:1, and in addition to that, we're also zoomed out a little farther so we get more picture info on all four sides.  Admittedly, that does open the door for some dirt and debris along the very top that we'd never seen before, but overall I'd definitely call it an improvement.  We're talking more than the usual sliver here; look at the mirror on the left side of Tommy's room.  But don't try to look for it on the AB disc; it's not there.  The old DVD was actually a pretty solid transfer for it's time, so it's not a whole world of new detail, but as you can see in the close-up, it is a lot less grainy and soft.  And the new DVD version?  It kind of bridges the gap between the two, giving us the new scan, but still has a soft look to it compared to the blu.

Audio-wise, The old DVDs gave us the original mono in Dolby 2.0, with no subs.  Blue Underground gives us the choice between a modern 5.1 mix and the original mono, both in DTS-HD.  The Italian track might've been a nice addition, especially since they're already including subtitles in English, Spanish and French; but as long as we have the mono, I'm happy enough.
For extras, we've only had a brief but interesting interview with the writer, Dardano Sacchetti, plus the trailer.  Curiously, it also had hidden notes by Michael Felsher on the reverse of the cover [pictured right], even though it came in a solid black case so most owners probably never even found them.  Anyway, thankfully, Blue Underground has preserved the interview and trailer, so you can go ahead and chuck your old DVDs.  And they've also given us a bunch more.  Finally, Manhattan Baby has a special edition.

Now, the music seems to be the one aspect of Manhattan Baby that everybody can agree on, so we get a lot about that.  They talk to Fabio Frizzi for just about an hour, not only about this film but his entire career and collaboration with Fulci.  Then we get another featurette of him performing a Manhattan Baby suite.  Next, moving out of the music, we get on-camera interviews with Cosimo Cinieri, who played the mysterious Mercato, and special effects artist Maurizo Trani, plus a poster and stills gallery.  And that CD?  It's the official film soundtrack.  Like I said, the music is the main thing with this film.  Blue Underground also includes a nice 20-page booklet with extensive notes by Troy Howarth, and we get cool reversible art showing us the film's alternate title, Eye Of the Evil Dead.
If you're a Fulci fan, I recommend you give this film another shot.  And this terrific new Blue Underground release is the ideal way to do it.  If they come out with a non-limited single disc edition, though, I'd say that would be every bit as good, unless you're really into these soundtrack CDs.  Personally, I never listen to 'em, and redundant DVDs?  No thanks.  But the single blu-ray is pretty kick-ass.

Titled Woody Allen Project 2016: Café Society (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Once again, it's that time of year... the new Woody Allen is here!  It's a great, reliable traditional.  Each summer we get a new Woody Allen film in theaters, and each Fall/ early Winter, we get it on DVD and blu-ray.  Even this year, when he paused production to write and direct a (quite good!) mini-series for Amazon "television," he still delivered another top quality film right on time.  And just to bring home how impressively consistent this is, Allen hasn't missed his one-film-a-year schedule since 1976!  And you bet, "Untitled Woody Allen Project 2017" is already listed on the imdb as filming, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  What's our movie for 2016?  Café Society!
So let's start by answering what we all want to know about a new Woody Allen picture?  Is he starring in it?  No, though he does narrate.  Instead we have Jesse Eisenberg (To Rome With Love) essentially in the Woody role.  He starts definitely giving a Woody-like performance, though the character evolves into something I don't think Allen could really play as the film progresses.  In our story, Eisenberg leaves Manhattan for California with dreams of hitting it big in late 1930s Hollywood.  That's not as unrealistic a goal as it might seem, because his uncle, Steve Carell (in a role originally cast with Bruce Willis, who got replaced), is a big shot film agent.  So he gets a job doing small jobs for his uncle and swiftly falls in love with his secretary, Kristen Stewart, not knowing that she's having a secret affair with Carell.  When she chooses Carell over him, he moves back to New York to go into the nightclub business with his gangster brother and Blake Lively.  But of course you know their paths will cross again...
This is a beautiful looking film, shot by the Academy Award winning DP of Reds and Apocalypse Now, Vittorio Storaro, and full of long, sharp tracking shots.  There's a great cast, also including Parker Posey and a cameo by Twin Peaks' Sheryl Lee.  Even Stewart, though not exactly a surprising scene stealer, was more than capable and certainly superior to her time in those Twilight movies.  The old Hollywood stuff lends itself to some nice moments and costumes, but this movie doesn't get caught up in tribute like Midnight In Paris; it's just focused on the effective, if familiar, story.  You've seen all these themes in Allen's work before; but it's still an excellent execution.
I was a little worried that Amazon acquiring Allen's latest film for distribution meant it would be trapped in streaming-only limbo or something, or just an MOD thing like they did with Wiener-Dog.  But no, they promptly issued DVD and blu-ray releases through Lions Gate.  In fact, the blu is a combo-pack, so I can give us an SD/ HD comparison, too.
2016 Lions Gate DVD on top; 2016 Lions Gate blu-ray on bottom.
2016 Lions Gate DVD right; 2016 Lions Gate blu-ray left.
Let Allen start shooting digitally, and he gives us a film in 2.00:1.  Unusual, but the compositions look great, so no complaints.  And the image quality looks terrific in HD, with lots of excellent detail and color.  It's sharp and looks filmic except for the lack of grain.  In SD, though, you get a lot of compression smudginess and you lose a lot of small detail.  If you're a viewer who only sometimes springs for blu-ray and other times still picks up DVDs to save a few bucks, you'll find it's worth the extra cost on this one.  Audio is a nice 5.1 mix in DTS-HD on the blu, and we're given English, English HOH and Spanish subtitle options.
It tells you how starved we've become for extras on Woody Allen releases that I'm actually excited for the tiny little promo featurette they've started including on Allen's last couple releases.  This one is the shortest yet, clocking in at two minutes and thirteen seconds.  At least it's not padded with film clips!  It's just very brief interview clips with Posey, Stewart and Lively on the red carpet before the film's premiere.  There's also a stills gallery of promotional and behind-the-scenes photos.  No trailer.  It does come in a nice slip cover, though.
Lions Gate has given us an excellent release of a very good film.  Sure it's light on extras, but it's Woody Allen; that's par for the course.  So besides that, there's not much more you could ask for than what we've got.  Now, hopefully they'll give us a physical release of Crisis In Six Scenes.  If not, I'll see you all here next year for Untitled Woody Allen Project 2017.