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Mystery Science Theater 3000 XX  
USA | 1990-1993
Directed by: Various
Written by: Various
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, Jim Mallon
| 600 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

More craziness abounds as the space experiment continues with Joel Robinson and his buddies Crow and Tom Servo trudging through four epic film train-wrecks in Shout! Factory’s 20th volume of Mystery Science Theater 3000. First up is an episode from the KTMA days, which includes two episodes of the god-awful Commander Cody serial and the main-event, Richard Talmadge’s mind-numbingly terrible Project Moon Base. I have to be honest here: I’m not the biggest fan of Joel’s stuff, as I find Mike Nelson far more amusing, and adding that to not digging the KTMA episodes all that much (the guys were still getting into the groove of things, and because of that things move along slower and the jokes just aren’t as good, let alone they’re beginning to show their age a bit), I didn’t find this episode very enjoyable. The film itself is a blueprint of every bad 50s sci-fi film, and since the crew riffed many more films just like it in later seasons, and in much funnier form, there’s not a whole hell of a lot to recommend when it comes to this outing.

Fear not however, as swooping in to save the day is two hilarious episodes, taking on Master Ninja and Master Ninja II. Before you even get to the quips of Joel and company, these two films are a bad film fan curiosity. Both are spliced together from two episodes of a mid-80s TV series called The Master, and starring Lee Van Cleef as, you guessed it, a master ninja. Think Walker: Texas Ranger, but with an actor who was actually respected at one time, and you’ll get an idea of what to expect here. But that’s not all: the first “film” features a young Demi Moore. All of these elements provide more than enough fodder for the fellas, and there’s a lot to laugh about as they rip on the grossly overused slow-motion techniques and TV-esque establishing shots, shit action sequences (such as a roof collapse before Cleef’s character even kicks high enough to hit it), a hamster wheel that’s mounted to the dashboard in one of the character’s van, and just the absurd nature of Cleef being cast as a ninja from Japan. These two episodes are without a doubt the gems of this collection, and if you’re a fan of the series but haven’t seen these, they're a must see.

Finishing out the collection is The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, originally a Russian fantasy film entitled Sadko, until Roger Corman’s Filmgroup bought the rights, changed the main character to Sinbad, and had a young Francis Ford Coppola re-write the dubbing script to make it more US-friendly. This is one of those odd episodes that I’d rather have gotten rid of the crew and just watched the film straight-up; it’s just that over-the-top and bizarre. It could very well be the Corman lover in me saying that, but this film has everything from a ludicrous underwater dance scene to a laughing horse, and I found myself actually ignoring the snarky comments and focusing on the film itself. All in all, if you’re like me and more of a Mike Nelson fan (all four of these episodes feature Joel), MST3K XX may not be your cup of tea, but the inclusion of the riotous two Master Ninja episodes makes this worth a look regardless. Shout! Factory presents all four episodes in their original full frame aspect ratio, and all look just about as good as you’d expect a show that has some episodes that are over 20 years old now to look. The silhouettes in Project Moonbase look pretty fuzzy, but that’s inherent in all of the KTMA episodes. The Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks complement the PQ just fine, with all of the riffing coming through nice and clear. A decent array of extras span the discs, the biggest of which is the “Tom Servo vs. Tom Servo Panel at Dragon-Con 2010”, a 45-minute piece featuring both voices of Servo, J. Elvis Weinstein and Kevin Murphy, talking about all sorts of things likely to make the hardcore MST3K fan happy. Also included is an interview with Master Ninja guest star Bill McKinney, an interview with director of photography Jeff Stonehouse, a new introduction courtesy of Trace Beaulieu (the first voice of Crow), a trailer for Project Moonbase, and a few Mystery Science Theater Hour wraps. As far as off-disc extras go, four mini-posters for the four episodes from artist Steve Vance are packaged inside the box.

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USA | 2010
Directed by: Adrian Santiago
Written by: Adrian Santiago
Starring: Christopher Dimock, Jack Pinder, Scott A. Mollette, Jason Ramirez
| 96 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

Nicolas Grim has had a hard life. While still a child, he witnessed a group of men running a Texas Militia (the UAF) murder his parents and leave him to fend for himself. Luckily he’s found by a local former lawman, and he and his wife raise Nicolas as if he’s their own. Fast-forward 10 or so years, and Nicolas is a grown man. His adoptive parents believe he’s now ready to be told that their lives were shattered as well by the UAF when they murdered their son. Unfortunately while Nicolas and his adoptive family may have moved on from tragedy, the UAF is still holding the area in a vice grip, and while Nicolas is away on an errand, they show up at his homestead and kill the people he’s called mom and dad for the second half of his life. Upon returning, Grim realizes he’ll never be able to escape the evil reign of the UAF unless he takes up arms and deals with them personally.

Grim is definitely a showcase for Adrian Santiago in many respects; he’s the director, the writer, the editor, the cinematographer and the producer. That’s a lot of things to be juggling, especially when it’s your first film, and Santiago does an admirable job. I should get the good out of the way first here: the film, which was shot for a pittance of $2500, looks absolutely incredible. The framing and composition of shots, the quality of the production (it looks far from cheap), and the contrast between the lush and searing primary color palate and the dark nature of the narrative is all pulled off well with skill and precision. Santiago obviously realized the limitations he had with such a small budget, and made the most out of everything he had, not trying to do anything fancy that was likely out of reach for the production. However, where the film completely stumbles is the script and acting.

It’s pretty obvious that Santiago has a love affair with Sergio Leone, as Grim has numerous scenes with stationary cameras and character close-ups that feature long portions of dialogue. The thing we need to realize here is Leone was able to do this because he not only had amazing dialogue to work from, but he had actors the caliber of Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Robert De Niro and Henry Fonda delivering it. Santiago doesn’t have that luxury, and we get actors that convey little emotion, and that added to dialogue that isn’t the least bit engaging leaves you with a film that while it looks quite beautiful, is mind-numbingly dull. The story itself is fine, but the execution is quite dire; this isn’t laughably bad, it’s just boring, and that certainly isn’t something you want a film to be, as it’s all anyone walking away is going to remember. Santiago could seriously be a player in the indie film scene, showing amazing skill behind the camera, but before he can rise out of the trenches his best move would be to work together with a more seasoned writer, because with the right formula, the sky’s the limit. Unfortunately unless you can appreciate the act of giving something your all, even if it's a failure, you're not likely to find much enjoyment here. Troma’s DVD release of Grim does the film’s visual polish justice, presenting the film in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen that is pretty much devoid of flaws; one could argue the whites are too intense, but that definitely looks intentional. The included Dolby Digital 2.0 track is fine, although the film’s miniscule budget shows through at times when dialogue seems a little too low. Extras include the usual Tromatic extras (vintage Troma footage, The Radiation March, a Lloyd Kaufman intro, etc.), a commentary with jack-of-all-trades Santiago that I’d say may very well be required listening for budding filmmakers, a short slideshow of the film’s production, and the original trailer.

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The Prowler  
USA | 1951
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Dalton Trumbo
Starring: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes, John Maxwell, Katherine Warren
| 92 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

After calling in a report about a prowler around her yard, Susan Gilvray is reacquainted with police officer Webb Garwood, who she went to school with back home. These days Webb laments his lost days on the football field, while Susan tends the house alone overnight while her husband’s radio show is broadcast all through the suburbs. Even though she’s married, Webb fancies her and starts using routine “prowler checks” as an excuse to stop in now and again. Before long, Susan’s evening loneliness gets the better of her and she falls for Webb, the two carrying out an affair while Susan’s unsuspecting husband toils away at the station. Before long Webb can’t live without her (or that big inheritance Susan’s due if her husband happens to kick the bucket), so he prowls the yard himself, waiting for it to be called in so he can report to the scene and “accidentally” shoot her husband (who's also out looking to see who's lurking the yard) as the wrongly identified prowler. You’d think with the husband out of the way and duping Susan into thinking it was indeed an accident would mean easy street, but the trouble has only really begun…

While I won’t pretend to be an expert on film noir, I have seen a number of films from this early period in the genre’s life-cycle, and The Prowler is among the more dark and taboo I’ve seen. Think about it: it’s 1951, and you’re watching a film that not only deals with adultery but pregnancy out of wedlock (although to not be too shocking, couples are still stuck sleeping in separate beds), and you have to imagine there were more than a handful of people that were taken aback by the boldness of the film. Of course this is noir we’re talking about, so dark and gritty was surely expected from fans, and The Prowler falls right in line with those films that feature anti-heroes as leads; with Susan, you get a woman that you’ll eventually feel for but more times than not are appalled over how easily she's manipulated by Webb, and then Webb himself, who has a hell of a personality but can flip a switch at the drop of a dime and become a conniving, borderline mental case that’s only out for his personal gain and will do just about anything to achieve it.

Big kudos should be given to both leads, Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes, who pull these roles off in a way that almost has you rooting for them until the moments roll around where you’re reminded of all of their past sins. Credit also goes to the script courtesy of Hollywood 10 victim Donald Trumbo and the exquisite direction of Joseph Losey, The Prowler probably being among his top two or three American ventures. One word of warning for modern viewers is required though: you’ll have to suspend a hell of a lot of disbelief for the final act, which will have you scratching your head wondering how either Susan or Webb would be dumb enough to think their plan would ever work, but if you can place your mindset 60 years in the past, there’s very little to nitpick about in this above average slice of subversive noir. The Prowler gets a great restoration courtesy of VCI (for those that have questioned the quality of some of their releases, there is absolutely nothing to worry about here; THIS is an excellent release), with an amazing-looking 1.37:1 full frame transfer that has wonderful contrast and black levels, no sign of print damage, and a very nice grain structure. This looks so good its sad VCI hasn’t ventured into the realm of Blu-Ray yet. Note that the video is interlaced, but with good equipment you won’t even notice; I didn’t until I went to take screens for this review on my PC. The Dolby Digital mono track is clean and clear and free of any issues. Extras include three featurettes: First up is “The Cost of Living: Creating The Prowler”, a 25 minute look at the film that includes interviews with James Ellroy, Christopher Trumbo, Denise Hamilton, and Alan K. Rode. Next up is a 20 minute interview with Bertrand Tavernier (director or ‘Round Midnight and Coup de Torchon) entitled “Masterpiece in the Margins” in which he talks about the brilliance of Dalton Trumbo and Joseph Losey and how much he loves the film. Lastly is a 9 minute piece on the restoration of the film by UCLA and the Film Noir Foundation. Rounding out the extras is audio commentary courtesy of genre expert Eddie Muller, a pressbook photo gallery, and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Noir fans shouldn’t think twice about snagging this.

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Alien from the Deep  
Italy | 1989
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti
Written by: Tito Carpi
Starring: Daniel Bosch, Marina Giulia Cavalli, Robert Marius, Luciano Pigozzi
| 92 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

Eco activist Jane and her cameraman are headed to an island that houses a corporation called E-Chem that’s suspected of underhanded practices when it comes to how they get rid of their waste. Once they sneak onto the island, their suspicions are confirmed and they get some pretty damning footage of the facility dumping all of their toxic waste into the island’s volcano. As noble as the two may be, they sort of overlooked the idea that a place as secure as this may have cameras, and they’re quickly spotted, the cameraman being caught but Jane hauling ass into the jungle. Much to her luck, she stumbles into a native of the island that makes his living selling snake venom, and he’s not one to leave a pretty woman on the lam, so he helps her escape and is quickly talked into going back to help the imperiled camera dude. As they embark on their rescue mission, back at E-Chem, some of the radar’s are showing some crazy activity out in the ocean. Their about to find out it’s not of this earth and it’s very hungry…

A mish-mash of ideas from a countless amount of films, including Predator, Tremors, Godzilla (with full-on miniature work!), The Abyss, Aliens, and more, Alien from the Deep follows the 80’s Italian blueprint of ripping off Hollywood blockbusters to a T, and is marginally entertaining in the process. Although you have to wonder if this wasn’t all thrown together just to get a long-dormant script from the vaults produced. You see, even though the film whores out alien imagery in every bit of promotional materials, the alien plot doesn’t even begin until nearly an hour into the film. Up until that point this is nothing more than a jungle adventure flick with an eco-friendly angle. Considering Margheriti spent much of the 80’s making exactly those types of pictures (The Ark of the Sun God, Jungle Raiders, Hunters of the Golden Cobra), I’d lay money down that this was originally written in that vein and when the box office started to slow for that style of film, they injected the alien angle in an attempt to make some money off of it.

And all in all, it’s a good thing they went this route, because otherwise the film would have been pretty damn dire and probably should have been left in a file cabinet somewhere. You can easily start the film 50 minutes in and get the same amount of enjoyment as if you watched from the start; hell, maybe even more so. The fun begins the second the alien pops up, first from underwater, melting people’s faces off, then burrowing underground a la Tremors, and when it finally shows itself, it’s only an enormous black claw. Yep, the alien (or whatever the hell it is, it looks like the love child of The Guyver and H.R. Giger, a cybernetic crab monster astronaut) is massive and ready to lay waste to anything in its path in order to get to that sweet, delectable toxic waste. The creature is without a doubt the star of the show, and for it alone any respectable Italian trash fan needs to see the flick at least once, preferably at midnight with beer firmly clutched in hand. Alien from the Deep sees its first official American release courtesy of One 7 Movies, and with the stigma that’s attached to them right out of the gate thanks to their connection with MYA, I believe more than a few people will be pretty surprised at the quality here. The colors are vibrant, there’s hardly any print damage to speak of, and while it’s full-frame it doesn’t appear to be incorrectly framed. Some of the darker scenes show a few signs that this likely wasn’t mastered from film elements, and rather a digital backup of some sort, but for a film as obscure as this (and likely one with little demand), there’s not very much to complain about. The Dolby Digital 2.0 English track is free of hiss or background noise and all dialogue comes through loud and clear. An Italian language track is also included, but there are no English subtitles to go along; fear not, as pretty much everyone here speaks in English and for the most part come complete with their own voices. Extras include a stills gallery of globe-spanning promotional materials and Italian opening and ending credits.

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The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff  
Spain | 1973
Directed by: Jess Franco
Written by: Jess Franco
Starring: William Berger, Montserrat Prous, Edmund Purdom, Loreta Tovar
| 76 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

Wheelchair bound Melissa Comfort is plagued by nightmares of her dead father by night, and by day is unwittingly the target of her greedy sister and aunt, whom dote on her happily, but behind her back want her out of the picture so they can collect the family fortune. As the nightmares continue to get worse, the family calls in Dr. Orloff, who seems to know a lot about her and her family, yet Melissa has never met him. His treatments don’t seem to be working however, as Melissa starts to dream about other family members dying; and then they actually do. Between her sister and aunt who’d like her out of the picture and a doctor that practices hypnosis over practical treatments, Melissa may be in more danger than she realizes.

As everyone surely already knows, Jess Franco is a director that you either love or hate, and I don’t mean he has fans and detractors; no, even his fans love him sometimes and hate him during others. Personally I’m a big fan of his 60s and early 70s work, so you’d think The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff, being from 1973 and revisiting a character that he had some success with, would be right my alley. Sadly, the film lacks pretty much every thing that makes a Franco film interesting. There’s no crazy zooming, funky soundtrack, naked chicks, copious sex, or inane characters. Of all of the Franco films I’ve seen, this is without a doubt the most pedestrian I’ve come across, to the point where if his name wasn’t in the opening credits, I’d be hard pressed to believe he was behind the camera. The narrative is extremely dry, with nary a note of originality to be found. Imagine She Killed in Ecstasy or Vampyros Lesbos without the sex, nudity, stylish camera techniques or loud set design. Yeah, they’d be pretty damn forgettable in the trenches of Euro-trash, and The Sinister Eyes of Orloff is just that. It’s not surprising that this film has been largely forgotten, even by Francophiles.

The entire cast seems just about as uninterested as Franco does, with William Berger, who’s normally pretty memorable (his role as Banjo in Sabata immediately jumps to mind), turning in arguably the most non-compelling mad doctor ever put to film. Let’s not even bring into the equation the subtlety in which be plays the role, which would work, but his actual motivations and experiments are so underdeveloped and non-existent that it takes more than half the film to even figure out what his whole agenda actually is. All of the women are totally forgettable, and with chicks like Kali Hansa (Night of the Sorcerers), Loreta Tovar (Return of the Evil Dead), Montserrat Prous (Sinner), and freakin’ Lina Romay (who needs no introduction and looks crazy hot here), I don’t know what Franco was thinking injecting only a split-second of nudity in the entire flick. Franco is a guy that can take a camera, a few hot chicks, and artsy cinematic tricks and make something while not always good, at least mildly interesting. The Sinister Eyes of Orloff doesn’t even get that far. Intervision Picture Corp’s inaugural release sees them presenting the film via the only know copy in existence, and it’s not too pretty. We get a full-frame transfer (that’s likely cropped from 1.66:1 when taking into account some of the cut-off credits at the end) that’s murky and soft, but it is watchable. If you have Troma’s release of The Hanging Woman on your shelf, you’ll sort of know what to expect visually. It should also be noted that black bars have been added to the left and right of the full-framed picture (I cropped them out), so if you still have a 4:3 TV, this is going to look like a square floating in the middle of your screen. The Dolby Digital mono track (in Spanish) is just fine, but the English subs leave a lot to be desired and is hopefully just a stumbling block for the new company and not a sign of things to come. The timing is lazy, featuring many instances where a character's full dialogue is presented all at once, ignoring pauses in speech. There’s also an odd portion towards the middle of the film where there are no subtitles for a good 3-4 minutes. This is a key scene too, so there’s no excuse. The sole extra is a 20-minute interview with the legendary Franco (in English with no subs, so don't expect to understand every word), who is animated as always, but fairly nice about the entire film and all involved; no, we won’t get any Franco trash talk on this release.

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