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Poor Pretty Eddie  
USA | 1976
Directed by: Chris Robinson
Written by: B.W. Sandefur
Starring: Leslie Uggams, Michael Christian, Shelley Winters, Ted Cassidy
| 86 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

In an attempt to take a bit of a vacation away from the spotlight, popular singer Liz Weatherly takes off in her fancy wheels without telling anyone where or what she’s doing. Of course all doesn’t go as planned, and she breaks down in the backwoods of America’s south. After hiking it a bit, she stumbles onto Bertha’s Oasis, a bit of a bed and breakfast lodge run by a fallen (and quite delusional) former starlet, her Elvis-impersonating, perpetually grinning beau Eddie, and scarred caretaker Keno. She feels quite out of place so far from home, and the oddball characters she’s surrounded with don’t help her feel very comfortable. Eddie says he’ll have her car back up and running in the morning, but he has a lot planned for her in the meantime during her overnight stay in horny redneck hell.

There’s no better way to start this review than by saying Poor Pretty Eddie is by far one of the most bizarre cult films I’ve ever stumbled across. A hodge-podge of genre ideals including Blaxploitation, Hicksploitation, rape-revenge and black comedy, it’s no wonder the film was nearly impossible to market in its hey-day and become something of legend on the underground circuit. The ultimate goal of the film is nearly impossible to discern; it’s a toss-up as to whether the backwoods folks, who all seem to think it’s just fine to force yourself onto a woman, or Liz herself, who only starts to fight back in the final act of the film, come out looking the worse for wear when all is said and done. It’s hard to root for our heroine when she just sort of goes along with things and allows herself to be pushed around for the bulk of the running time; would it really take anyone in their right mind, even being in the middle of nowhere, multiple rapes and a couple beatings before they tried to make an escape on their own? I think not.

But it all plays in perfectly with just how off-the-wall everything here is. Shelley Winters nails it out of the park as the aged burlesque star Bertha, equal parts seething jealousy and insecure naivety. It’s always surreal seeing her in something exploitive, and this one may very well take the cake in that regard. There’s also the sheer insanity in which the film is edited and filmed, which includes wonky camera angles, flashes of dead squirrels, rabbits and raccoons for no good reason, and lingering close-ups. But what truly takes the cake is what has to be the most perverse rape scene ever put to celluloid: as Eddie rapes Liz to rather pleasant-sounding country music, scenes of a bunch of grinning hillbillies standing around a fenced-in area watch on in glee as dogs get it on are inter-cut for the sheer hell of it. Nowhere else are you going to see shit like this. Throw in Ted Cassidy as Keno (Lurch from The Addams Family), a sheriff that draws pictures of nude women as he takes rape reports (and asks the hard hitting questions like “did he bite your titties?”), and an ending that delivers the goods wholesale, Poor Pretty Eddie adds up as one of those rare “word of mouth” underground cult oddities that when you’re finally able to track down a copy actually delivers the goods. Can’t say that very often.

Poor Pretty Eddie is another HD Cinema Classics’ Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack release from their Cultra line, and it sees the film presented on home video for the first time (at least in the states) in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Now, I’ve never see this film before, and I don’t doubt this is the best it’s ever looked on a home format, but that still doesn’t make it anymore appealing. The source print used was obviously in bad shape, as evidenced in the restoration demo, but the clean-up process has scrubbed all detail out of almost everything. There are some outdoors scenes that look quite good, but all inside shots, especially in the main lodge where a lot of the film takes place, are really murky, especially shadows which tend to just look like big blobs of black. There’s also a weird greenish-black bleed around corners of objects (even faces) on certain scenes, particularly evident in the second half. Check out the 3rd shot I’ve included at full resolution to see what I mean (look at the edges of the rear-view mirror). This was clearly evident even on my 40” 1080p. The print is good enough so no action is ever lost, but of Cultra’s latest batch of releases, this is definitely the least impressive; sometimes, maybe just a DVD would suffice. As much as some of us can temper our expectations, there’s always somewhat of a standard when it comes to a Blu-Ray release, and this doesn’t really meet any of them. Audio is available in a compressed Dolby Digital 2.0 track (the box says 5.1; that isn’t so) and is devoid of any issues. Featuring a little weightier selection in the extras department, we’re served up with a commentary from cinematographer David Worth, who has a pretty solid memory and serves up a lot of interesting bits of info on his time spent on the film; it being his first, I can’t imagine what kind of gonzo world he thought he had gotten himself wrapped up into! Also included is a damn good text essay that covers the lineage of the film and features some quoted interviews from stars Michael Christian (Eddie) and Leslie Uggams (Liz), both of which seem to remember the filming like it was yesterday and provide a ton of killer stories; definitely take a few minutes to read this if you pick up the disc. Rounding out the extras is the aforementioned restoration demo, a couple of production shots, a trailer for the film, and a postcard insert with the film’s original artwork.

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Dementia 13  
USA | 1963
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola & Jack Hill
Starring: William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Mary Mitchel
| 75 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

In an unhappy marriage, Louise Haloran is sticking things out with her husband John simply because of the wealth of his family. She’s aware that if he’s to die before her mother-in-law, she’ll get a big fat goose-egg when it’s time to divvy up the family fortune. So isn’t it just a shame that not only is John saddled with a bad heart, but he has a heart attack while out boating and he’s all out of his pills. Louise doesn’t let this slow her down however, and tosses old John overboard and forges a letter saying he’s off on a business trip, excusing him from the upcoming family get-together. Louise sees it as a fine opportunity to travel there herself, to maybe butter up her wealthy in-laws. Once there she finds out the reason for the reunion: seven years earlier John’s youngest sister Kathleen accidentally drowned in the family pond and every year they get together to honor her memory. Little does Louise realize that this is a bizarre ritual that this year will lead to murder, insanity, and lots of mayhem.

While Dementia 13 is probably best known in the annals of film history as the first real feature-length film from director Francis Ford Coppola (his other films before this were simple Nudie Cutie flicks), most horror fans realize the film is amongst the earliest crop of films that sparked the modern slasher, along with the likes of Psycho and Blood Feast, although Dementia 13 falls in line more with the former than the latter. And that’s not surprising considering Roger Corman produced the film, a man not too proud to exploit whatever new film was popular at the time. But this is where Dementia 13 shines most brightly: it’s completely competent all on its own. It may have been inspired by Hitchcock, but Coppola, still refining his talents, had enough raw creativity and passion to infuse the film with a feel unique unto itself, especially for its time. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Coppola got a hold of a few krimis before helming Dementia 13, as it feels far more like one of those or even a giallo, which was yet to even emerge at the time this was being filmed, than anything remotely American. That could also be thanks to Jack Hill’s involvement, who was part of a second unit crew Corman sent in after Coppola wrapped in order to ramp up the violence factor, something that exploded with the Italian take on these types of stories.

The stark black and white cinematography works wonders for the atmosphere of Dementia 13, as do a couple of pretty killer underwater shots that look great and appear almost too “upscale” for such a cheap production. The barren landscape and Haloran mansion also evoke a strong feeling of isolation and dread. The story isn’t going to win any awards, but the sheer style on display as well as an excellent use of lighting and its setting makes Dementia 13 well worth a look. Certainly required viewing for fans of slashers, gialli and krimis. HD Cinema Classics's Blu-Ray release (paired with a DVD in a combo pack on their Cultra sub-label) sees the film presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen (can anyone confirm if the original AR is 1.66:1 instead?) and while it’s not going to win any awards, this is definitely the best the film has ever looked on home video. I need to stress again, like with The Terror, that I’m comparing this to every other presentation I’ve seen of this film on home video. I’ve never seen it in a theatre; I’ve only seen the countless public domain releases the film has been used for over the years. Yes, the Blu is DNR’d, yes, there’s some ugly ghosting at times, yes, sometimes the contrast is out of whack, but it completely trumps every other option you have of purchasing this film. The softness factor shouldn’t even be brought up, as even the other copies I’ve seen of the film that clearly had zero restoration work done were extremely soft; it’s always looked a mess, and this is by far the best choice on the market today. It should be noted that it’s been rumored that the original print of the film was lost years ago, so who knows what sort of source elements are left to work with. Audio is available in both 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital, and the 2.0 track is definitely the winner here. The 5.1 track is full of echo and just not pleasant to listen to at all. It would be nice if the 2.0 tracks on these releases were lossless, though. Extras include the usual trailer, restoration demo, and postcard insert featuring the film’s artwork.

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The Terror  
USA | 1963
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Leo Gordon & Jack Hill
Starring: Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Knight, Dick Miller
| 79 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

In the early 19th century, French soldier Lt. Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) is separated from his regiment and finds himself aimlessly wandering a shoreline dehydrated. Lucky for him a beautiful young woman named Helene appears and shows him where to get a drink of fresh water, although she quickly disappears before his eyes and is then attacked by a hawk and swept out to sea. Andre awakes in a shack, and learns he was dragged back to shore by an old woman and her mute servant. The lady has a hawk too, and oddly enough its name is Helene, yet the woman doesn’t know of any actual woman around going by the same name. Andre is convinced what he saw was real, and while out and about looking for her, the mute man informs him that there is indeed a woman on the island, and if he’s looking for answers, he should go up to the immense castle on the hill where Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff) resides. Once there he’s reluctantly welcomed by the Baron, but before he can blink twice Andre starts hearing, seeing, and feeling all sorts of weirdness all about him, and he refuses to leave until he gets to the bottom of things.

The Terror is an odd duck of a film, mostly because it’s more well-known due to outside factors than the actual quality of the film itself. First off, there are more than a few people that know of The Terror simply because it’s the film playing at the drive-in in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets. But most notably, the film is infamous for its crew of uncredited directors: Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter), Jack Hill (Coffy, Spider Baby), Francis Ford Coppola (do I really need to tell you?), and an eager to learn Jack Nicholson. Due to Roger Corman’s hectic schedule, he shot the majority of the film’s scenes with Karloff in a mere four days, recycling the sets from his just-wrapped film The Raven. Over the following nine months (that has to be an in-production Corman record), the camera was passed around to the other directors who shot bits and pieces, the majority of which being improvised, and the footages was then cut together into, you guessed it, The Terror. Because of this, the film has often been panned for being a mess, and while it’s not the high-point of storytelling in Corman’s career, there honestly isn’t anything wrong with the film (other than being a bit uneventful), and it fits quite snugly with the rest of his films from his gothic Poe-inspired period, albeit as one of their lesser brethren. If anything, it does shine a light on what a genius Poe was; without one of his stories for inspiration, a gothic setting and incredible lighting only goes so far.

The sets, locations, are lighting are the film’s strongest points, with brooding, derelict castles, crashing waves along a seashore, and drab dungeon walls bathed in garish red and green lighting. Karloff shines as always, Nicholson turns in a restrained but respectable performance, and Sandra Knight (of Blood Bath fame) is extremely effective as the ethereal ghost that says she’s one person but may really be another and sometimes moonlights as a hawk. Yeah, it really is a mess when I think about it, but it’s a charming mess, and any fans of gothic horror or Boris Karloff should make The Terror essential viewing. HD Cinema Classics has released The Terror on Blu-Ray (in Blu/DVD combo pack) on their Cultra sub-label, and I gotta say this is a keeper. First off, the film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, so it’s already light-years ahead of any other release on the market. Most importantly however is the restoration process done here. For years, we’ve had The Terror in murky, washed-out, beat-to-death versions that literally look like they were taken from a print someone rescued out of a trashcan. Here, The Terror is restored to its original glory, drenched in amazing color reproduction and dark scenes where you can actually see what’s going on without having to artificially brighten the image; the color timing done here is excellent. Now, I’ve seen some people complain that an HD version shown on MGMHD looked better, and I don’t doubt it; MGM likely has the best print at their disposal. But the sad fact is, with a public domain film where the market is already saturated with numerous releases, MGM likely doesn’t see any financial gain in releasing the film themselves. So this is what we have to purchase, and while there is some obvious DNR present and some consistency issues in the print’s quality (most notably at what I’d think are reel changes), this is by far the best release the film has ever seen. I’m a harsh critic of heavy DNR usage, but when I bitch about it, it’s always over a film I’ve seen previously look better on a home release. That cannot be said about The Terror, and dare I say this release borders on revelatory when held up to every other way you can own this film. Audio comes in both 2.0 and 5.1 flavors, and while the 5.1 track has zero directionality, it sounds fuller in the front than the 2.0 track, and I preferred it overall. Extras include a trailer for the film, a short restoration demo, and a postcard insert with the film’s original artwork.

Please feel free to discuss "The Terror" here, in our forums!

USA | 1975
Directed by: Steve Carver
Written by: Howard Browne
Starring: Ben Gazzara, Harry Guardino, Susan Blakely, Sylvester Stallone
| 101 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

An exploitive take (not surprising, given Roger Corman’s involvement) on the life of Al Capone, Capone begins during the early days of the budding gangster as he’s accepted into the inner-circle of the mob world when top-tier Johnny Torrio sees something special in young Alphonse Capone. Looking to own the city during the prohibition era, Torrio and crew attempts to round up the various families in Chicago to make his dreams a reality. Capone has big ideas, and doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with Torrio on a handful of subjects, most notably handling any problems with as much violence and bloodshed as possible. It isn’t long before Capone runs the entire operation (through dubious means), and life is good with a flapper in his bed, the cops on the take, and a bottomless well of wealth. Unfortunately for Capone however, he’s become blind to the threats around him, and his reliance on his personal bodyguard Nitti may soon mirror that of his original relationship with Torrio. As they always say, the bigger they are…

With 20th Century Fox behind him instead of Corman’s usual New World Studios (a short-lived return to the studio that made him famous that would also produce films such as Fighting Mad and Moving Violation), Capone shines in both production values and casting, although the story itself comes off a bit half-baked, rushed, and screams Godfather cash-in. Corman loved to play in 1930’s America, especially if it dealt with gangsters (famous or otherwise), so it’s not surprising one of the film’s he wanted to tackle with a larger budget at his disposal was a film focused on Al Capone himself, playing as a bit of a complement to his own St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but the story here is a bit too sprawling for its own good. It’s rather grandiose in wanting to tell the entire story of Al Capone, from New York City street-hood to “The King of Racketeering” to his eventual tax-evasion downfall, in a mere 101 minutes, and because of that it feels far too rushed for its own good. So many characters come in and out, so many jumps in time take place, that it’s easy to get lost and feel as if everything is just speeding by; if you blink, you’ll miss something. In reality, this is better suited to a 2-part mini-series, and reduced to a 101 minute film, Capone feels like there’s nothing more to see than the next mob shoot-out; and that really is the formula for the film: a new year, a confrontation, someone gets shot. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat. It all gets quite tiresome, which just isn’t something that should happen in a biopic for one of the most notorious gangsters in history.

All of that pushed aside however, you’re likely to keep on watching for the impeccable set design and pitch-perfect recreation of 1930’s Chicago, which never breaks the illusion of being a period piece. The cast is also extremely strong, featuring Ben Gazzara chewing up scenery as the titular title character, a young Sylvester Stallone, a year away from Rocky glory, as Capone’s heavy Nitti, Harry Guardino, best known as the police lieutenant that Dirty Harry himself has to answer to, as Torrio, a young (and quite hot) Susan Blakely, hot off of The Towering Inferno, as Capone’s love interest, and quite possibly the most surprising of all, director and actor extraordinaire John Cassavetes, taking a quick acting job in-between helming his two strongest directorial outings, making a cameo appearance as mob boss Frankie Yale. Sadly such sound scenery and a wonderful cast of actors can’t quite overcome a messy script that holds Capone back from entering the upper-echelon of Corman-produced gangster flicks, but it’s a fun time waster and worth a look for fans of pretty much anyone involved in front of or behind the camera. Shout! Factory’s release of Capone (not under their Roger Corman’s Cult Classics banner, likely due to the Fox connection) sees the film presented in a fairly nice 1.85:1 anamorphic print that handles the strongly red-tinted visuals well, although the inter-spliced scenes from The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (yep, Corman was at it again!) stick out like a sore thumb. The print isn’t perfect, but I feel confident in saying this is definitely the best the film has ever looked. The Dolby Digital mono track is a bit on the muffled side, and there are a handful of moments where English subs would have been helpful, especially the way Gazzara mumbles some of his lines to stylistic effect, but for the most part the quality is fine. Extras include the film’s original theatrical trailer and TV spots, as well as a commentary from director Steve Carver, who looks back on the film (and for once a nice, long shooting schedule) with fondness and provides some anecdotes on his career working with Corman.

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Kansas City Confidential  
USA | 1952
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: George Bruce & Harry Essex
Starring: John Payne, Coleen Gray, Preston Foster, Lee Van Cleef
| 99 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

Being an ex-cop has taught Tim Foster to pay attention to the details, which makes him the perfect man to orchestrate a million dollar robbery. After casing the bank for a week and locking down the time in which the money is delivered, as well as noticing a flower deliver man next door that makes his rounds at the same time, he gathers up three other men to work the job with him. None of them know who Tim is however, as he wears a mask as he recruits each of them, and none of them will know each other as they’ll be forced to wear masks during the heist. After getting a dummy car that matches that of the flower delivery man, they pull off the robbery perfectly. Tim tells them the split will come in a few weeks or months once the heat dies down, and sends them abroad until he contacts them to collect. As calculated and cunning as Tim was, the one thing he didn’t take into account was the flower deliver man he framed, Joe Rolfe. He’s an ex-con attempting to build a new life, and he doesn’t take kindly to having his road to rehabilitation derailed. If the cops think he’s their man, he’ll do everything in his power to prove otherwise.

Sometimes it sucks that for a review to be considered valid, it needs to be of a certain length with explaination on the reviewers point of view, as I could sum up Kansas City Confidential just as well in a few short words: it’s truly amazing. Maybe I’ve missed the praise for the film, but I know when I see film noir brought up in articles, online, TV, and other media outfits, I’ve never heard Kansas City Confidential mentioned alongside the go-to heavyweights such as Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, Touch of Evil, The Big Heat and so on. And that’s a real shame, because Kansas City Confidential is every bit as good as they are in every respect. The twists are flawlessly orchestrated (everything ties up and nothing feels forced), the performances are nuanced, the direction courtesy of the underrated Phil Karlson (probably best known to non-noir fans as director of the original Walking Tall) is fantastic and the story is wonderfully engaging. Sure, across all genres of film we’ve seen countless “framed man” stories, but Kansas City Confidential pulls it off with an amount of grace and ingenuity that’s rarely seen anymore.

I think one of the strongest aspects of the film is that it has aged remarkably well. I can’t count the times I’ve watched a Hollywood film from the 40s or 50s and found myself rolling my eyes at some aspect of the plot or character motivations and then have to catch myself, remembering that sensibilities and filmmaking techniques were quite different all those years ago and then reminding myself to set my mind into that era of film. That sort of thing isn’t present whatsoever in Kansas City Confidential; there’s no deus ex machina ending so the good guy prevails, no marriage proposals between people that have known one another less than a week, no dated crime investigation tactics that lead to the bad guys getting away; I honestly think (but I don’t encourage it at all) that this film could be reshot today, with the exact script (and competent players in front of and behind the camera, obviously), and it’d resonate just as well with a modern audience without having to be updated to take into account said-era’s sentiments. The film is just that well written. Throw in an ending that’s as white-knuckle and expertly directed as they come, and Kansas City Confidential is one of those rare pitch-perfect noirs that is absolutely ageless. The good folks over at Virgil Films have sparked up a collaboration with Film Chest to release some classic cinema onto Blu-Ray (in a combo pack with DVD, which the screenshots are taken from), and Kansas City Confidential is among the first batch being unleashed. The film is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio, and looks fairly decent. Being a public domain film, there’s a ton of prints floating around, and while it would seem MGM has the best copy when it comes to grain structure, what is used for this release isn’t too shabby, although it’s a shame grain is pretty much lost here. For once, I don’t think it’s DNR to blame, as there’s a restoration demo included, and the before images don’t look grainy either. I just think this is a case of a lesser source being used, not going crazy in the authoring studio. There are a couple of instances where a characters face looks a touch waxy, but it’s not often, and overall the black and white levels are pleasant. Audio is available in both 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital, and while generally 5.1 tracks are useless on films like this, it does make the score sound more robust and I swear I heard a bit of ambient noise in the rear. Sadly, both tracks are not lossless. Extras include the aforementioned restoration demo, the film’s trailer, and a postcard featuring the film’s original poster art inside the keepcase.

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