Category Archives: Film

“SAVANNAH SMILES”—Crooks on the Run

“Savannah Smiles”

Crooks on the Run

Amos Lassen

“Savannah Smiles” is about a little girl running away from home and falling in with two felons and it as wacky a film as it is heartwarming. It is a sweet film about how the love of innocent children is more powerful than greed or ambition. The plot is predictable, the characters are not deep, the action is not realistic yet there is a nostalgia here that is charming.

Savannah (Bridgette Andersen) is the precocious six-year-old daughter of a busy politician who is consumed by his re-election campaign so she decides to run away from home and sneaks into a car driven by two escaped convicts, Alvie (Mark Miller) and Boots (Donovan Scott) and what develops is a comedy of errors. Hiding in an abandoned house, the two crooks try to hold Savannah for ransom, hoping to obtain a hefty reward for her return, but an unexpected bond grows among Savannah, Alvie and Boots. They create a surrogate family they have never known before. Their relationship is tested when the convicts, who are regarded as kidnappers, must choose between their freedom and their new friend. Written and produced by Mark Miller, “ Savannah Smiles” features an all-star supporting cast and a brand new 2K transfer from a 35mm print from the Library of Congress.

The film had quite a following among kids and those kids who are now adults, will want to nostalgically go back and relive the experience.   Shot on location in and around Salt Lake City, Utah, the film opens with Boots, a chubby, lame-brained ex-con named breaking his buddy out of prison even though his buddy only has a little bit of time left on his sentence.  Boots and Alvie go on the lam and steal a broken-down jalopy of a getaway car as they attempt to make their escape.  Their plans are complicated when the two incompetent crooks find little 6-year-old Savannah hiding in the back seat of their car.

 Once the ex-cons discover that a $100,000 reward is being offered in exchange for Savannah’s safe return, Alvie and Boots decide they’ll delay Savannah’s return in an attempt to obtain the reward money.  Savannah adores Boots and  Alvie as much as  adore her.  As the parents worry, a professional negotiator (Peter Graves) and a family priest (Pat Morita) are called in to help resolve the situation, but Savannah is having too much fun with her kidnappers to want to go back home.

Bonus Materials

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of the main feature in 1.78:1 aspect ratio
  • Original Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • ‘The Making of Savannah Smiles’ brand new documentary about the making of this classic comedy featuring writer / producer Mark Miller, star Donovan Scott, Teresa Andersen (mother of Bridgette Andersen) and composer Ken Sutherland (HD)
  • ‘Memories of Bridgette Andersen’ featuring all-new interviews with Teresa Andersen (Bridgette’s mom) along with writer / producer Mark Miller and actor Donovan Scott (HD)
  • ‘The Songs and Music of Savannah Smiles’ featuring brand new interview with composer Ken Sutherland (HD)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (SD)
  • Collectible Mini- Poster

“MIDNIGHT COWBOY”— Everybody Will Be Talking About This Criterion Re-release

“Midnight Cowboy”

Everybody Will Be Talking About This Criterion Re-release

Amos Lassen

“Midnight Cowboy (1969) was the first and only “X” rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is a very dark and disturbing movie but it is also quite fascinating. John Schlesinger, the director, gives us a very grim portrait of New York City and the people that live there. It is the story of Texas hustler, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) who arrives in New York hoping to score big with wealthy city women and it is very simple and direct. The plot is basically about the friendship between Joe and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman as a sleazy swindler with a bad leg with a fantasy of escaping to Florida. Together the two men try to survive and get out of the city and movie to Florida. There is an implication that the two may have been lovers (the MPAA saw their relationship in a “homosexual frame of reference”, but the movie is really just a portrait of two damaged men attempting to survive in the cold urban jungle.

Schlesinger uses flashbacks, color which turns to black and white, flash forwards, weird sound effects and many other tricks and they all work quite well. The acting exceptionally fine and the characterizations are well formed. Schlesinger is an inventive director and he handled the relationship between Buck and Rizzo with sensitivity.

Schlesinger did not give into censorship but instead concentrated on the energies of the importance of a strong human connection in life without regard to sexuality.

The movie is entertaining and depressing at the same time. It looks at cultural change and shows how we have been changed from the age of innocence of the 1950’s as we moved into the age of Aquarius of the 60’s.

We get a poignant and beautiful explication of the themes of loneliness and the deprivation of humanity. The characters exist beyond the law and we find ourselves liking them. Jim Buck is endearing because of his optimism and his naiveté even if he tries to be a gigolo and Ratso Rizzo is the common man who we pity as the film progresses. The characters and the motives of the two are interesting.

An interesting fact is that the “X” rating was later changed (in 1980) when it was re-released. That certainly says something about us and how we think. Technically this is a wonderful film and it was revolutionary while being not much more than a simple and sentimental story. The film is no longer the shocking tale it was when first released and it has become a nostalgic look at the way we once thought as it captures the naiveté and upheaval of society in the midst of change. Jon Wright and Dustin Hoffman were legendary screen losers. The complex and tender relationship between Buck and Ratso hints at a homoerotic attraction but that is never explicitly developed.

Although the film has had several DVD releases, this new special edition from The Criterion Collection includes a new 4k digital restoration, multiple interviews and documentaries, screen tests, video essays, audio commentary and much, much more

 

DVD Features include:

New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack

Audio commentary from 1991 featuring director John Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman

New selected-scene commentary by cinematographer Adam Holender

The Crowd Around the Cowboy, a 1969 short film made on location for Midnight Cowboy

Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey, an Academy Award nominated documentary from 1990 by Eugene Corr and Robert Hillmann

Two short 2004 documentaries on the making and release of Midnight Cowboy

Interview with actor Jon Voight on The David Frost Show from 1970

Interview from 2000 with Schlesinger for BAFTA Los Angeles

Excerpts from the 2002 BAFTA LA Tribute to Schlesinger, featuring Voight and actor Dustin Hoffman

Trailer

PLUS: An essay by critic Mark Harris

“ABOMINABLE”— “Some Things Are Better Left Unfound”

“ABOMNIABLE”

“Some Things Are Better Left Unfound”

Amos Lassen

Preston Rogers (Matt McCoy), a wheelchair-bound paraplegic mountain climber, returns to the scene of his wife’s death on a weekend when a ravenous Yeti attacks the wooded community. Bigfoot is a creature which goes by many names and has been spotted numerous times by credible witnesses. He is once again on the prowl and as Rogers attempts to track the beast’s movements and convince his neighbors of their danger, events become even more complicated by the appearance of two hunters (Lance Henricksen and Jeffrey Combs), and a simple headed police chief. Bigfoot lurks around the forest, brutalizing whomever he finds and wreaks havoc.

Using several classic B-movie themes, “Abominable” renews the old by crafting a story that supports its bold scares and dark atmosphere with real characters and believable conflicts in a modern folk tale that lends belief to the supernatural/monstrous element. Not only Bigfoot is a threat and source of both confusion and fear, but also so are humans.. Director Ryan Schifrin constructs a story wherein the bizarre is intimately interwoven with the moments of everyday. As a result, the audience celebrates the cosmic awe and mystery of the Yeti (and all the dangers/thrills it represents) while taking a closer look at mature philosophical ideas. Schifrin brings some impressive moments of tension and characterization with a small budget. His style is both crisp and engaging as is his penchant for charging scenes of seemingly everyday reality with true sinister atmosphere. There is an undeniable sense of hiding malignance and while Yeti is in the shadows for the first quarter of the film, the pay off, when the beast appears, is well worth the weight — easily the most effective Bigfoot to ever terrorize the screen. In “Abominable”, looking out windows is really frightening. “Abominable” makes the night scary again!

I love a good monster movie and if we see horror films as a form of escapism then we realize that it is fun to be scared by a supernatural monster of some kind. We let our imaginations run wild and become taken into a completely unbelievable situation. “Abominable” gives us an hour and a half of a good horror flick: silly dialogue, gore, cameo appearances from a few genre vets, a dash of nudity, and yes, a guy in a monster suit.

Matt has returned to his former home in the wilderness for the first time since a terrible accident that took both his wife and his ability to walk. On the night of his arrival, Preston is left alone and spends his time looking out the window at the cabin next door where a group of girls has arrived for the weekend. Soon, when one of the girls goes outside alone, she is attacked by a giant monster. Preston spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out how to warn the other of the situation and how he can get out of it. The use of paralysis amps up the suspense as the character needs to come up with inventive ways of getting the attention of the girls while also planning an escape. As he thinks about this, we meet a trio of hunters who are out to find the monster.

The Abominable Snowman himself is pretty cool other than his fact that his face was a little hard to take seriously. Director Schifrin is obviously a horror fan and it shows. He knows how to deliver a fun ending and he throws in a nude scene when necessary to keep with b-movie tradition. This modest thriller delivers some gross-out gore in the last third, but most of its running time is spent building up a tidy atmosphere of mounting dread.

In cameo roles we Dee Wallace Stone in the opening scene as the farmer’s wife, Rex Linn from “CSI: Miami” as the farmer and Paul Gleason as the sheriff.

Bonus Materials include:

  • Brand-New 2K High-Definition transfer from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of the main feature
  • 1 Surround Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Ryan Schifrin, Actors Matt McCoy and Jeffrey Combs
  • ‘Back to Genre: Making ABOMINABLE’ featurette (SD)
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (SD)
  • Outtakes and Bloopers (SD)
  • “Shadows” Director Ryan Schifrin’s USC Student Film (SD)
  • “Basil & Mobius: No Rest For The Wicked” (16:28, HD) Short film written and directed by Ryan Schifrin featuring a score by legendary composer Lalo Schifrin and starring Zachari Levi, Ray Park, Malcolm McDowell and Kane Hodder
  • The original 2005 version of “Abominable” (Blu-ray only, 94 minutes, SD)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Poster & Still Gallery
  • Storyboard Gallery
  • Collectible Poster

“MERMAIDS”— Recognition and Sympathy

“MERMAIDS”

Recognition and Sympathy

Amos Lassen

“Mermaids” is a story told by a teenage girl whose mother avoids becoming known as the town tramp only because she changes towns so often. The mom in “Mermaids” goes by the name of Mrs. Flax, and is played by Cher with perfect makeup and a flawless body that seems a bit much to hope for, given the character’s lifestyle and diet. Mrs. Flax has a personality trait that leads her to look for and find love affairs with hopeless men that are doomed and then move to another town when her life falls apart. She is hardly and she and the other characters exhibit a tacky trait of consumerism that is exaggerated and out of proportion.

Mrs. Flax has two daughters; a teenager, Charlotte (Winona Ryder) and a grade-schooler, Kate (Christina Ricci). The movie opens with Kate practicing her swimming and trying to match the world record for holding her breath underwater. That supplies one of the movie’s many clues to the symbolism of its title, as well as suggesting the desperation Mrs. Flax inspires in her children. The older daughter, Charlotte, has been driven nearly mad by her mother’s incessant moves (18 by last count). She’s never gone long to the same school, or made many friends, or experienced much normal life. After another romantic disaster, the family moves again, to Massachusetts, where Charlotte makes friends with a young man named Joe (Michael Schoeffling), a kind of handyman job at a Roman Catholic convent. Charlotte is attracted to the nuns, to their quiet ways and cheerful encouragement, but she is more attracted to Joe, who perhaps possesses the secret of exactly what it is adults do when they’re alone (what her mother does with all those men, for example).

The director, Richard Benjamin, tells the story of a strange world in which the realistic and the bizarre exist side by side. Mrs. Flax’s life begins to change, however, in Massachusetts, after she is discovered by Lou (Bob Hoskins), a hefty, salt-of-the-earth type who sizes up the situation and decides that what Mrs. Flax and her daughters need is normality. He tries to contribute some balance to the family routine and has luck on the days when Mrs. Flax is not at war with him. Meanwhile Charlotte is kissed by Joe and becomes convinced that she is pregnant.

Suddenly I understood that as preposterous this movie is, I was enjoying just that. After all, we look at movies to learn lessons and see life reflected back at us. However, sometimes we simply sit there in the dark, amazed by the spectacle. “Mermaids” is not what I would call a good movie but it is fun and not boring.

“BLOOD AND GLORY”— War as Drama

“Blood and Glory” (“Modder en Bloed”)

War as Drama

Amos Lassen

Sean Else’s “Blood and Glory” is a war drama that begins with a bloody skirmish on the mainland where we meet Willem Morkel (Stian Bam), a hard-working Boer family man who loses much when he makes a desperate attempt to save someone important He is eventually captured by the British Army, along with thousands of others. The Boer are not a truly organized military but a collection of farmers and blacksmiths, speaking Afrikaans, struggling to keep hold of their land. Seen as worthless and less than human, they are horribly mistreated when taken to Saint Helena, the largest of the internment camp for traitors. There, Morkel faces off against the ruthless Colonel Swannell (Grant Swanby), a contemptible leader with nothing but hatred for the Boers.

Headstrong and proud Morke refuses to submit to the vicious rule of Swannell, who treats his inmates with a brutal hand. Along the way though, sport becomes the marker for manhood, and it’s not long before rugby is the new battleground. Swannell already has a top-notch team and is looking to take on the Boers, with Morkel forming his own opposing crew.

We see plenty of the conventional human atrocities committed at the camp, as the men are put to hard labor and all sorts of belittlement. Then we head to the pitch per se where the men take to hard hits in a game of honor and survival. Both of these elements, while based on reality even though they are hard to watch and conversely often inspiring. Else builds a great sense of authenticity with the setting and direction and the film always feels genuine and has some terrific performances. It’s a dual language movie and the impassioned words of these men in their native Afrikaans are stirring. The only prominent female in the cast is Charlotte Salt, who has some small but effective presence, even if she is somewhat sidelined (sometimes literally) by it all.

Naturally, watching these men endure the worst Swannell can give out is uncomfortable to sit through, even if it’s all built on tropes of the genre. Beatings and horrific punishments are part and parcel of movies like this. There is a bit of a tonal shift as the film moves into its second half and the story becomes more centered on the sport giving these men what they need to keep going.

The “Blood” part has a gritty edge, not shying away from its ruthlessness.

Morkel is an upstanding “every-boer” with nothing to lose. After being captured and unceremoniously welcomed to the island by the psychotic Swannell himself, he adjusts to the oppressive new circumstances and finding a place among the dislocated prisoners. He is almost immediately

pitted against the smug and sardonic Colonel Swannell, an imperialist and bully, whose position of power make him a proud and dastardly monster. team. Charlotte Salt is a breath of fresh air in the male-dominated ensemble, offering an outsider’s perspective and spiritual dynamic.

They may be browbeaten, but they don’t lose their sense of humor because of a wonderful performance from Patrick Connolly as Finn Kelly, a plucky Irishman and fellow inmate. Just as the oppressive war drama settles in, the film reinvents itself as a sports drama. The team selection and formation are amusing and the performances certainly add to the charm of the sports drama as the prisoners take on the Colonel’s pride and joy.

The film pulls off a seemingly impossible genre-balancing act. The historical backdrop holds its own interest as the triumph-of-the-human-spirit drama carries the story forward. While the tonal shift from bleak war drama to optimistic sports drama is welcome, it does leave the film off-balance.

Rugby fans and history buffs will enjoy the curious genre mix and range of characters. While “Blood and Glory” is somewhat uneven, it’s filled with passion and remains ambitious, spirited and entertaining. enough to keep you rooting for the underdogs through all their trials.

“BLACK VENUS”— An Uncompromising Work about Racism

“Black Venus” (“Vénus noire”)

An Uncompromising Work about Racism

Amos Lassen

Saartjie Baartman leaves Cape Town in 1810 for London, along with her master, Pieter Caezar, who intends to put her on show in a traveling fair. London audiences are fascinated by the young woman’s physical deformations, which are typical of Khoikhoi women: steatopygia (hypertrophy of the buttocks) and Sinus pudoris (greatly enlarged labia minora). She is then transferred to Paris and handed over to another master, bear tamer Réaux, and Saartjie wins over a new audience in high-society drawing rooms, serves as inspiration for a comic opera and attracts the curiosity of scientists, in particular well-known anatomist Georges Cuvier.

When her popularity wanes, Saartjie is forced to prostitute herself and in the end dies of pneumonia and venereal disease. Cuvier dissects her body, preserves her organs, takes an impression of her body and publishes the conclusions of his research which condemns “those races with depressed skulls” to eternal inferiority.

Abdellatif Kechiche directed this biography of Saartjie, whose remains were returned to South Africa and buried in her native region on South African Women’s Day, on August 9, 2002.

“Black Venus” explores the different stages of the degradation and oppression inflicted upon the Saartjie (Yahima Torres), including the vile and macabre details that may leave viewers feeling uneasy.

Kechiche puts emphasis on all the ambiguities and nuances of the historical episode. Saartjie is not a “slave”, she wasn’t forced against her will to display her body and to pretend to be a dangerous savage. Rather, she was instead the victim of a moral violence which is as intolerable as the physical kind. Saartjie aspired to be an artist and dreamed of expressing herself one day and making her name as a singer, musician and dancer.

We see the racism of the colonial era, the hypocrisy of the cultured classes, the intellectual dishonesty of the scientists who justified the exploitation of African people, power relations between men and women and sexual humiliation. We see the complexity of the relationship between people in show business and those who watch.

Kechiche subliminally describes how when he started out as an actor he found it hard to deal with people’s feeling caged in like Saartjie. Today, as a director, he is caged in by the aesthetic responsibility of directing the viewer’s gaze. He is now like Saartjie’s managers, Caezar (Andre Jacobs) and Réaux (Olivier Gourmet), and even scientist Cuvier (Francois Marthouret), who are concerned with giving audiences what they expect.

The film simultaneously celebrates and critiques sexualized racist exploitation, and, in effect, generates minor friction from its two-facedness even though its goal is punishing the audience. This is the true story of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman aka the “Hottentot Venus,” a South African slave who became a European sensation as an exotic, animalistic dark-continent freak. The film begins after Saartjie’s death as a doctor discusses Saartjie’s uniquely protruding vaginal “apron.” From the very beginning Saartjie is reduced to a bizarre genetic anomaly, setting the stage for the flashback account of her life when she is forced into a life of humiliating performance, growling from a cage or on a leash. White audience members were granted the opportunity at each show’s end to touch her gigantic rear.. Kechiche’s distended staging of these events is meant to implicate the viewers as complicit voyeurs responsible for the crimes. The director’s own role in orchestrating them for cinematic view also incriminates him. However, this goes against the story’s damnation of Saartjie’s subjugation. The repetitiveness negates its critique since the film is part of the nastiness it derides with such gusto, and to such unnecessarily protracted lengths, that the effect is like being screamed at, about the same solitary subject, for two-and-a-half hours.

The film debates itself less than midway through. A performer’s handler stands accused of exploiting her, with a crowd of moral citizens howling epithets from the galleys. The man’s attorney steps forward and looks directly into the camera, addressing both the crowd and the viewer saying that we go to a performance with a different level of reality in mind, and we therefore watch with a dual consciousness. We both accept the reality of the performance and know that what we watch is not real.

We are shown events while understanding that what we watch is a representation of events. The film is a limited dramatic representation of real life. We don’t just react to the fictional Saartjie’s torments, but grow repulsed with the thought of how much worse her real suffering was. When Kechiche, however, applies this to history, there are problems.

To tell history is to interpret history, in other words. One could claim, perhaps rightly, that Kechiche’s absorption of this idea provides an honest telling of Baartman’s story. While history books falsely claim to tell the truth, Kechiche’s film honestly says it is fiction.

In the courtroom scene we see how manipulative Kechiche’s subjectivity is. The film presents those clamoring for Baartman’s divorce from her manager as a well-meaning, somewhat puritanical, somewhat hypocritical group simultaneously concerned for Baartman’s safety and well-being yet they are titillated by the sexuality of her act, and unaware of her status as a consenting paid employee. But the film downplays and/or ignores the facts that slavery had been abolished in England in 1806, four years before the trial took place, and that many of those calling for the trial were abolitionists concerned that the act’s popularity would give the government incentive to reinstate slave laws. By removing the crowd’s potential political motives, Kechiche opts to make the trial’s subtext sexual subjugation rather than legal slavery, and thus devalues the importance that slavery had not just in England, but also in the entire British Empire, at that time. The film suggests that she asserts herself in court out of loyalty to her accused manager, but it’s equally possible that she spoke in favor of him knowing that she risked enslavement and/or disease were they to be separated.

Bonus Materials

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Optional 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Brand-new appreciation of Black Venus and the cinema of Abdellatif Kechiche by critic Neil Young
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Will Higbee, author of Post-Beur Cinema: North African Émigré and Maghrebi-French Filmmaking in France Since 2000

“THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING”— Swamp Thing Falls in Love

“The Return Of Swamp Thing”

Swamp Thing Falls in Love

Amos Lassen

“The Return of the Swamp Thing” is the sequel to Wes Craven’s “Swamp Thing” and is based on a series of comic books that are highly regarded. I found the film to be super-camp and tongue in cheek. I do not think that anyone associated with the film has nay idea just how ludicrous it all is as I see it winking at the viewers affectionately as if to say to come and join the fun. This is a very bizarre, moving, and unsettling comic book movie. The problem is that it is impossible to make a guy dressed up as a green giant a plant not appear ridiculous. One reviewer has said that this is “a cross between Little Shop of Horrors and The Incredible Hulk, with a light spritz of Hairspray.”

Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) is still up to no good with his experiments and when his stepdaughter Abby (Heather Locklear) shows up at his swamp side mansion she becomes his obsession as her blood may be the key to restoring his youth. Fortunately for Abby, the Swamp Thing (Dick Durock) is on hand to do battle with Arcane’s creations, his henchmen and Arcane himself.

I suppose the film follows the first movie (which I have not seen) except that the villain, an evil doctor who is experimenting with mutations various life was apparently irrevocably mutated himself at the close of the last film and is now back to human form with no explanation. The film is set in some swamp where the evil doctor’s lab is. There is a big evil slimy beast in the swamp. In the lab there are several mutant experiments, including a half-man-half-elephant and a very bizarre and somewhat creepy half-man-half-cockroach. (Yes I am serious).

Heather Locklear is Abigail Arcane, the stepdaughter of the evil doctor. She is introduced as being quite psychotic in a scene in which she carries on a long discussion with her plants-which turns out to be foreshadowing. She decides, for no apparent reason, to go visit her stepfather down at the swamp, believing that this will help her “figure out her life.” It is not long before she meets security guard Gunn, who has a goatee, wears an orange jumpsuit open to his navel to showcase his hairy chest, and has straps around his inner thighs, giving his crotch an appealing plumpness. After Gunn threatens Abby with physical harm, she runs away. Somehow this soon becomes two guys coming very close to raping Heather, before she is saved by Swamp Thing. Then they escape in a jeep while 20 guards shoot at them with machine guns, but don’t hit them, while Heather, armed with a shotgun, takes out a guard with every shot. They go to Swamp Thing’s lair, where their love blossoms. Their romance continues to develop and we see that Swamp Thing can disintegrate into a streak of muck that can ooze through a faucet and reintegrate in the bathtub.

THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING, Heather Locklear, Dick Durock, 1989, (c)Millimeter Films

“The Return of Swamp Thing” is easy to follow as you have a bad guy in Dr. Arcane, a good guy in Swamp Thing and Abby being the focus of both men. Louis Jourdan as Arcane looks like he doesn’t want to be in the movie whilst Heather Locklear is there because it was a simple paycheck. Dick Durock is entertaining as Swamp Thing and delivers plenty of humorous poses as he spits out some foolish dialogue. But hey, it is all in fun.

Bonus Materials include:

  • Brand-New 2K High-Definition Transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition (480p) DVD presentations of the main feature
  • Original 2.0 and 5.1 Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • NEW Audio commentary from Director Jim Wynorski, Composer Chuck Cirino and Editor Leslie Rosenthal
  • Audio commentary from Director Jim Wynorski
  • NEW Interview with Director Jim Wynorski (HD)
  • NEW Interview with Editor Leslie Rosenthal (HD)
  • NEW Interview with Composer Chuck Cirino (HD)
  • NEW Interview with Lightyear Entertainment Executive Arnie Holland (HD)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (New HD Transfer from original 35mm materials)
  • 6 Promotional TV Clips (SD)
  • 2 TV Spots (SD)
  • 2 Greenpeace Public Service Announcements (SD)
  • 1989 Promo Reel (SD)
  • Photo Gallery (accompanied by Chuck Cirino’s film’s score)
  • Collectible Mini- Poster

“FOLLOWERS”— The Horrors of Social Media

“Followers”

The Horrors of Social Media

Amos Lassen

2.3 billion people use social media every day, and the average person has 5.54 social media accounts. 83% of stalking incidents start online. So, what will you do when your “friends” turn your future into terror? This is the premise at the heart of “Followers”. Thirty-something Brooke Marie (Amanda Delaney) is a fitness vlogger, brand ambassador, yoga enthusiast, and YouTube personality with a million-strong following. Brooke has recently found love (via the Internet) with a fellow YouTube personality and fitness guru, Caleb (Justin Maina). They record nearly every moment of their relationship, from Caleb jumping into bed to wake Brooke to Brooke’s seeking revenge with a bucket of ice water. So, what are two fit, young vloggers to do to celebrate their one-year anniversary? Well, camping, of course.

In a concurrent story, documentarians Nick (Nishant Gogna) and Jake (Sean Michael Gloria) are looking to shed some light on the exposure inherent in social media, and how free we have become with our personal information online. They have selected a random, local YouTube celebrity to follow in order to take their online ‘Likes’ into the real-world and meet their star face-to-face, thereby proving that everything you give away online can lead to your real-time locations. Most of us know this but ignore it.

Caleb and Brooke have gone camping to celebrate a year together and they are without Wi-Fi. They drink some champagne and wine to celebrate, before retiring to their tent for sexual fun. Somewhat predictably, Brooke awakens in the middle of the black night to footsteps around their camp and she wonders what is lurking in the woods. And yes, I am stopping my summary here.

“Followers” is a curious, multi-faceted film that never quite plays out as horror and actually feels more like a solid social commentary. The commentary is largely directed at our technological world, especially social media. Some of the film’s most benign lines give a sharp-witted view of our modern world. It is a clever and insightful view of social media from, ironically, behind yet another lens. As a world of voyeurs, we have become numb to the ramifications of our own interactions: we simply continue to blindly follow an electronic trend that leaves us open and vulnerable. It is important to understand the mindset of the film since the ensemble cast’s acting furthers the film’s underlying message; while the actual story here takes a back-seat.

As Brooke and Caleb, Delany and Maina have a solid, believable chemistry on-screen: they appear to truly enjoy being in one another’s company and even their awkward, tension-filled moments feel sincere. Director Ryan Justice paid careful attention to casting two personalities that jive in a realistic sense besides depicting their individual tropes well.

“Followers” fails completely at offering up much in the way of horror but it succeeds smartly as social commentary. It has a bizarre, twist ending that seems to inject a religious commentary into the mix.

Shot entirely on hand-held cameras, “Followers” says a lot with very little, and for this, you cannot help but find a certain level of appreciation for Director Justice’s talents.

“ENIGMA ROSSO”— Investigating Murder”

“ENIGMA ROSSO” aka (“RED RINGS OF FEAR” aka “TRAUMA” aka “VIRGIN TERROR”)

Investigating Murder

Amos Lassen

Young police detective, Di Salvo, is investigating the discovery of the body of a 16-year-old schoolgirl, found mutilated and brutally sexually assaulted on the outskirts of the city. His investigations lead him to a luxury villa where wealthy businessmen enjoy entertaining themselves with the murdered girl’s friends from school.

There is an unspoken bond of silence between the girls that comes out of the fear of being silenced by being murdered themselves. “Enigma Rosso” is a disturbing and explicit portrayal of the lengths that people will go to, to protect their name. Alberto Negrin’s film begins with a pre-credits sequence of a corpse, zipped up in a body-bag, is tossed over the side of a cliff from the back of a distinctive looking car. The body is that of a sixteen-year-old girl is later found and Inspector Johnny Di Salvo (Fabio Testi) is called in to investigate. He discovers that she had been violated with a blunt instrument.

The girl (named as Angela Russo) was a student at the exclusive St. Theresa’s girl’s school- St. Theresa’s. Di Salvo speaks to Angela’s mother (Helga Line’) hoping to shed some light on the girl’s death, but finds that Angela’s little sister, Emily (Fausta Avelli), who also boards at St. Theresa’s, has lots of information to share. She tells him that Angela was part of a clique at the school, a group of friends who call themselves ‘the inseparables’, and who never did anything without the others knowing about it. Di Salvo visits the school and meets the girls who are headed by a prim head mistress. He manages to come away with Angela’s diary, which Emily gets for him.

Meanwhile the murdered schoolgirl’s friends- the surviving members of ‘the inseparables’ (Franca, Paola and Virginia), have been receiving menacing notes from someone referred to as Nemesis. Then Virginia (Brigitte Wagner) nearly collapses from medical problem and the girls find themselves in real danger—– one of them nearly breaks her neck after a bolt is fired at the horse she’s riding. Di Salvo realizes that he has to employ underhanded ways to solve Angela’s murder, protect the schoolgirls of St. Theresa’s and dodge attempts on his own life while unraveling a seedy underground of deadly vice.

Alberto Negrin’s film works well as a giallo and the central mystery unfolds nicely with a shocking ending that makes perfect sense in retrospect.  It turns out that the girls have been moonlighting for an organization of rich businessmen, and have been attending various orgies in return for large amounts of cash and free clothing from a fashion shop owner.  At one of these orgies, one of the girls was assaulted with a huge dildo, and this event was the catalyst to the string of murders…..

Fabio Testi, as Inspector Di Salvo, is excellent in this film from his dogged determination in tracking down the murderer to his rage at the seeming indifference of the schools teachers who are more concerned about the reputation of the school than they are about the case being solved. 

“MABEL, MABEL, TIGER TRAINER”— Mistress of the Tigers

“Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer”

Mistress of the Tigers

Amos Lassen

Because she was so talented at training big cats, Mabel Stark was known as Mistress of the Tigers, so adept was she at training the big cats. Mabel was born into a poor family in 1889 but she found her way out of poverty by learning to tame tigers. By the 1920s, she was famous in her field and traveled all over this country with the circus. I am fairly sure that she was unknown to most of us but that all will change with director Leslie Zemeckis’ “Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer” in which we are taken into Mabel’s world. That world included several marriages, fame, and multiple maulings by the tigers that she card so much for. In fact, Mabel has a love for animals that she suffered broken arms and legs broken, part of a deltoid muscle torn out of her right shoulder; she has a plate in her head, she had no elbow in her right arm and no flesh on her leg. She often stated that her only wish was “to be killed by my animals.”

Zameckis came across Mabel’s story while doing research in burlesque and learned that Mabel worked briefly in a “cootch” show before going on to train tigers. She was an independent woman who took up training the tigers after being told, “no woman could train tigers” and she fell in love with the animals and absolutely devoted her life to tigers. Mabel’s story is one of love and bravery with love being the stronger of the two. Even with having been mauled several times, she never blamed the cats—– it was always the trainer’s [her] fault.

Mabel found a place for herself with the circus at a time when woman had little influence. The circus was very hard work but she managed to find not just acceptance but love as well working there. The circus was a different world and she was well established there. She became the person that studios went to when they needed a double for films. She doubled for Mae West and others. What is important is that she forged her way and did what she did completely on her own terms.

She didn’t do it for fame and she worked with tigers because she was passionate and had found purpose. And when that was taken away . Zameckis wants us to see how much Mabel loved these animals. We also see the value of the circus as entertainment and education.

Mabel was a complicated, dedicated, and often tragic woman with humor and heart. She had had to deal with childhood abuse, a bad marriage, and she had to escape literally escaped a Kentucky asylum after commitment by her husband. In 1911, she found tigers at the Barnes Circus quarters and her life changed. She then made her way into male-commanded wild animal training, and became the star woman tiger trainer of her industry even before women were allowed the vote.

Mabel entertained millions of people with her death defying acts inside the cages of wild animals and we really see that the real story here is her love for the animals. Tigers were her career for 57 years and she handled 22 tigers at one time. When American circuses stopped having big cat acts in the 1940s, Mabel went on tour to Europe and Japan before she returned home and worked at Jungleland a wild animal theme park in California and she performed daily there into her 70s.

I was totally intrigued from the beginning to the end by both Mabel, the person and her passion and devotion for her tigers.