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Blu-ray Review:: The Prey (1984)

October 2nd, 2019 · 6 Comments

Woodsy slasher flick THE PREY is finally on Blu-ray! I once caught this slippery fish on YouTube and reviewed it way back HERE. The gist of my take was that THE PREY is unquestionably lackadaisical in spots (it’s famous for an over-reliance on nature footage) but kind of charming and adorable anyway and I’d certainly give it another shot when a superior release was available. Well, I have to say, Arrow’s new release is all kinds of superior and THE PREY cleans up real good. Having only seen a hazy, washed-out, zillionth generation version before, my peepers were more than pleased to take in some bright rich colors. Sadly I have no means to screen-grab images from my Blu-ray player but check it out; the picture is so vibrant that I was able to directly take photos off the TV with my ancient phone! Picture quality can’t save all of THE PREY’s quirky issues but it certainly does help.

I know THE PREY isn’t up there with the higher lords of campfire terror like FRIDAY THE 13th and THE BURNING. It’s not even up there with middle level also-rans like THE FINAL TERROR. It’s more stuck in the trying–to-keep-up zone of THE FOREST and DON’T GO IN THE WOODS and that’s fine. In my opinion, all eighties-era wood-set slasher movies have value. I might even say that out of the many underachievers, THE PREY is the most fetching to me. Sure it tries your patience on many occasions but it’s not mean-spirited (if you skip over the implications of the dour denouement), it’s got a healthy respect for mother nature (it features more critters than a TALK TALK music video) and I’m basically going to love any movie with a park ranger who plays banjo and tells jokes to fawns (and if these scenes are improvised padding, I’m all for it).

Arrow Video’s snazzy new package includes three (!) versions of the movie; there’s the zippy (80 minutes that feel like 100) jam we all know and love, a European cut that includes a back story involving gypsies, and finally a go-for-broke integrated combination of the two. Now in most cases, you’d want to gravitate to the version that serves up the most meat but I wouldn’t say so here. Turns out the gypsy backstory version does not consist of scenes edited out for time that were part of the original vision but scenes directed by a gun-for-hire that were added in by a producer who thought the movie needed more boobs. It’s not so much a lost, Holy Grail complete version, as it is a bastardized alteration that the director didn’t approve of. I’m still grateful to have all three (the more the merrier) but I think I’ll be sticking with the O.G. for future watches.

Perhaps the greatest attribute of this release is that it sports a commentary from our old pal Amanda Reyes of MADE FOR TV MAYHEM fame (if you haven’t gotten her book ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? yet, I suggest buying as many copies as financially feasible because they make great Christmas gifts and the holidays are just around the corner!). Let me tell ya, I have experienced the joy of watching a movie with Amanda firsthand on several occasions and it’s always an unmitigated treat. I can’t think of anyone who is as knowledgeable and entertaining at the same time. Here’s she’s joined by fellow THE PREY super-fan Ewan Cant and their rallying adoration for the flick is infectious. You’ll also find some informative interviews with cast members and crew, a return visit to some of the locations and a slew of never-seen-before outtakes.

Since my first viewing, I took THE PREY to be sort of a lovable underdog but this package has kindled new respect in the movie for me. Even though it will forever suffer from amateurish editing and dubbing issues, it has a genial heart that many of its better-made cohorts lack. It’s really too bad this early to the gate (filming started in 1979!) slasher got tangled in distribution woes and didn’t hit the track until interest in what it offered was beginning to wane (1983). I’m guessing it’s more influential than its given credit for as WRONG TURN (2003) features a scene that seems lifted straight from it (although the concept of a deranged mutant cutting a climber’s rope so that they fall to their death was surely a cinematic inevitability). In any case, THE PREY will always be the one and only movie to feature my childhood heroes Shazam! (JACKSON BOSTWICK) and Uncle Fester (JACKIE COOGAN, in his last film) discussing the merits of cucumber sandwiches and for that alone, I must stand and give it some long-deserved applause.

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Tags: Amanda By Night · Blu-ray Review · General Horror

Blu-ray Review:: Madhouse (1981) (Arrow Video)

August 2nd, 2017 · 3 Comments

I don’t always upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray but when I do, it’s for a movie that I especially enjoy on a visual level. MADHOUSE is just such a film. I’ve already fawned all over this underrated gem way back HERE so I’ll try not to repeat myself by focusing on this particular release from the always impressing folks at ARROW VIDEO. Not surprisingly, the movie (and its star TRISH EVERLY) looks more gorgeous than ever before thanks to a brand new restoration from the original camera negative (I usually don’t remark much on something as superficial as an actress’s looks but EVERLY is the most beautiful lady I ever did see and her character Julia should be sainted for the sweet way she delivers bad news to deaf children). My eyes can barely handle all of this candy: MADHOUSE’s nights are darker, its stain glass windows shine brighter and suddenly tiny details I’ve missed before are popping up like daisies.

All of this beauty comes to a head in the film’s final scene; the strings of glowing Christmas lights at Julia’s gruesome birthday party look positively stunning and suddenly I’m spying a shelf of creepy baby dolls that I’ve somehow never noticed before. This is why I love MADHOUSE so much; it really digs the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, the sacred and the profane, the cheery and the dismal. Plus I think it has something interesting to say about how organized religion may not always be rooting for the righteous team and how family ties can be excruciatingly difficult to sever. It rather neatly falls into the Kindertrauma spectrum since Julia was cruelly abused in her youth and no matter how she tries to spin a positive life for herself, that original bite continues to gnaw. I can almost see Julia’s plagued twin sister Mary as a less scary precursor to PET SEMATARY’s twisted Zelda as she is able to conjure up feelings of familial guilt and pity along with the terror.

Plus there’s a commentary from the THE HYSTERIA CONTINUES! I usually shy away from commentaries because I hate to demystify a favorite film but this particular commentary was more like watching the movie with fellow horror fan friends. Actually, I was left with a strong feeling of camaraderie because they went and mentioned our old pal Amanda (buy her book HERE!), referenced my current new wave obsession CHINA CRISIS and spent time discussing their distaste for onscreen violence towards animals and their relief that MADHOUSE’s dog death is clearly realized through puppetry. I’ve read they’ll also be providing the commentary for ARROW’s upcoming release of THE SLAYER and now I’m looking forward to that even more (if that’s possible).

There is also an anecdotal interview with charming character actress EDITH IVEY (who went on to work with DAVID FINCHER), cinematographer ROBERTO D’ETTORRE PIAZZOLI who delivered MADHOUSE’s sleek, glossy look and an informative short featuring producer/director OVIDIO G. ASSONTIS who reveals his three main inspirations were THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and THE SHINING. In addition, there’s an alternate opening sporting OVIDIO’s preferred title, THERE WAS A LITTLE GIRL. I do seem to appreciate this movie more than some of its creators (it’s certainly not PIAZZOLI’s cup of tea) but that’s what being a fanatic is all about.

And finally I have to give a special shout out to MARC SCHOENBACH’s fetching new cover artwork! It’s usually a fool’s errand to try to improve upon the classic eighties poster art that we’ve all grown fond of but somehow he did it. Am I just a sucker for dark silhouettes with glowing eyes? I love this illustration! It reminds me of the poster art for THE CHILD (1977) or CHILLERS (1987). If MADHOUSE had this artwork on its VHS sleeve, I’m sure it would have been difficult to keep on the video store shelves. It really does do a superior job of conveying the movie’s mood over previous attempts. I’m so glad I indulged myself with this ultimate upgrade. Now I can visit my lovely Southern Gothic MADHOUSE in its best possible condition whenever I like.

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Tags: Blu-ray Review · General Horror