Blu-Ray Reviews

Blu-Ray REVIEW: Wes Craven’s ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’


Frank Ford

Wes Craven’s ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’ Blu-Ray Special Edition from Shout! Factory released this week.  As thrilling as it is to have one of the ‘master of horrors’ greatest cinematic achievements on a Special Edition Blu-Ray, I was left a little wanting on this release.

Note: this is a review of the Blu-Ray Special Edition disc only; not a review on the film.



Shout announced late last year that they were planning on putting out a Special Edition to ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’, to be released in late January – that date was pushed back until late February. This marked the second Wes Craven film to be released on Blu-Ray Special Edition since his passing last August.  The first was ‘Shocker’, released merely days after his death.  Serpent’s releasing on Blu-Ray completes the trilogy of films he did for Universal starting with ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’ (1988), followed by ‘Shocker’ (1989) and finally ‘The People Under the Stairs’ (1990).  I thought the date had been pushed back to punch-up the extras on the Blu-Ray, or to pay respect to Wes Craven with an outstanding Blu-Ray that would leave fans drooling honoring the late director.  On paper (or computer screen) the extras looked fantastic, but in reality…meh.


My biggest gripe is the commentary track with Bill Pullman and Rob Galluzzo (Icons of Fright) who moderates the film with him.  Don’t get me wrong, the commentary is good between the two of them and they have a very good rapport, but the commentary abruptly ends because Pullman has to leave in the middle of the film do to other obligations.

Okay, Bill Pullman couldn’t stay to finish the film’s commentary track – not his fault and not a problem in my opinion, I get that work comes first, as well as commitments  – but that leaves us with only half of the film with a commentary track now.   Why didn’t the track continue with just Rob Galluzzo? Or get someone else to talk about the film along with Galluzzo and Pullman, so when Bill left there would still be a completed commentary track to finish out the film?  Maybe Shout! had reached out to other people who were connected to the film for commentary but were unable to get them? I don’t know.


The extras are very sparse on the Blu-Ray too:

A new making of featurette that includes interviews with: Author: Wade Davis, D.O.P: John Lindley, and Special Effects Artists: Lance and David Anderson.  A Theatrical Trailer. And a still gallery, which is quite good.


The making of featurette says that it contains new interviews with Bill Pullman.  This is true, yet untrue, as what he says in the featurette is pulled directly from his commentary track (questions asked by Galluzzo on the track) and laid into the video featurette.  Still, the featurette is decent with the participants reminiscing about Wes Craven and what a pleasure he was to work with, as well as the history of Wade Davis’ book of the same name, voodoo ceremonies they attended, the special effects of the film, and shooting on location in Haiti.


Yet, one of the biggest problems is the lack of Wes Craven’s commentary on the film or interviewed in the featurette.  I do believe if his insight would have been on one or both, my opinion would be vastly different about this releasing.  Craven had done commentary to almost all of his films, and if you have ever listened to his commentary tracks, you already know they are some of the best tracks to listen to.  Craven was both funny and incisive, and you couldn’t help but be enthralled by listening to him talk about the making of his films.

But I have to send compliments to Shout! Factory for dedicating the Blu-Ray releasing in memory of Wes Craven.  That shows a lot of class from Shout! Factory and the impact the filmmaker had on so many people in the business of movie making and distributing, and to his fans around the world.  This small gesture has a huge impact when you see it on screen, and it brings tears to your eyes knowing the master is gone…



As for the Blu-Ray 1080p transfer, Shout! Factory did a fantastic job restoring the film as they always do.  The colors are bright and vibrant and the darks are desolate and moody, which really enhances the whole voodoo madness feel of the film.  The sound in DTS is perfect and really puts you in the middle of the movie. I especially took notice to this when Pullman’s character, Dennis Alan, is being dug up from the grave after he’s been zombified; felt like someone was digging me out of a grave too, putting me right there with his character.


I know it sounds like I’m bashing this releasing, but really I’m not.  I’m glad that Shout! Factory put Serpent out on Blu-Ray Special Edition, especially since ‘The People Under the Stairs’ and ‘Shocker’ both got fantastic Shout! treatments – a great trilogy (unofficial) to have of Wes Craven’s films.  But this releasing just left me wanting more and a little bummed that we didn’t get what we should have.  For a film like ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’ and the recent passing of a horror icon, Shout! should have put more effort into this disc.  Much lesser films, with a less notable director and stars, have gotten better Blu-Ray releases than ‘The Serpent and The Rainbow’ has.


7 out of 10 stars.


Halloween Returns with the Producer’s Cut of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers


Frank Ford

With Halloween 6: The Producer’s Cut finally getting its own Blu-Ray release it should make hardcore fans happy to finally have this lost version of the film in HD.

Previously the only way one could get their hands on a copy was to buy a bootleg DVD off the internet.  Let’s face the facts here, the bootlegs were not great.  They were hard to see, grainy, the sound was terrible, making one feel as if they were watching something filmed off a movie screen in the late 90s when pirated VHS were flooding the streets.

The only other way, until now, to get your hands on a Blu-Ray HD copy of Halloween 6: The Producer’s Cut was to shell out eighty-some dollars for the 10 disc Halloween Collection, or over one-hundred dollars for the 15 disc Deluxe Edition; both contained the Producer’s Cut of the film.  This was a rip-off in my opinion; Anchor Bay has been milking every last cent from the Halloween series for years, sometimes putting out crap copies like the Blu-Ray editions of Halloween 4 & 5 with limited special features (less than what their DVD editions had) and with a twenty dollar price tag.  Though one could argue that they were Blu-Ray HD, but I still find the price outrageous!

But this week brings the solo copy of Halloween 6: The Producer’s Cut, and I must say that I was impressed with how the film looks and sounds.  The 1080p Letterbox HD transfer is crisp, vivacious, and clear, really giving one the impression that the film takes place during Halloween.  The sound is great in 5.1 DTS-HD and helps give the film the mood and feel The Producer’s Cut needs to tell its story.  The one down side to owning the disc is that there are no special features on it, which would have been a lot of fun to have.  That being said, the film is still a must own for any true Halloween fan.

Now that I have some of the technical issues out of the way, it brings me to the part of my review about The Producer’s Cut of the film.   But before I dive into the movie, I want to bring anyone who doesn’t know the story behind The Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6 up to date.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was written by Daniel Farrands, a die-hard Halloween fan who had the ugly task of trying to figure out who the man in black was in Halloween 5 and what that symbol tattooed on Michael Myers’ wrist meant.  What he did in his script was admirable; setting out to explain Michael Myers and the mythology around Halloween, a huge task while trying to tie all the films together.

Everyone liked Farrands’ idea and the script, including the producers and director, Joe Chappelle.

So they set out to make that film – somewhat.

Dimension sees the movie and lets a test audience see how the film’s playing, as is the model for a studio film.  The test audience does not like the movie, and Dimension wants to do re-shoots because they fear the film isn’t working in its current state.  They want more energy, more MTV-style music and editing, and more brutal killings in hopes to cash-in on the kids of the era going to see the movie – you have to remember this was the mid-90s, and underage kids getting in to see R-rated movies wasn’t really a big deal, unlike nowadays in our overly worried, PC world.

The re-shoots were ordered and over a third of the film was re-shot and edited.  The cult angle of the film was almost completely dropped, cutting a lot of Dr. Loomis’ and Dr. Wynn’s scenes in the process as well as changing major plot points in the film.  But there was a HUGE problem now.  Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis) had passed away and they had to come up with a way to save the film and the more ambiguous ending was worked into the movie.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers came out on September 26 1995.  Though it had the biggest opening in franchise history to date, it was still a critical failure.

I will try to sum up the differences in the two versions of the film like this –

Theatrical version of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers:  chaotic, incoherent, mean, nasty, flashy, and fun.

Producer’s Cut version of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers: story driven, more in-line with John Carpenter’s Halloween tone and feel, a thinking man’s Halloween.

To really compare the two is hard, as they are vastly different movies to one another.

I have always liked the theatrical version of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.   After Halloween 5, which is my least favorite, I found the new take on this movie refreshing and the flashy psychedelic cuts and music gave the film a breath of fresh air.  It was fast moving, yet very suspenseful at the same time.  To this day I still like the film, even though it has plot holes you can drive a dump truck through, and things are not fully fleshed out nor understood about the cult and Michael’s connection to them or Thorn in the theatrical version.

The Producer’s Cut solves a lot of these questions and gives backstory to Michael’s relation to the cult, Thorn, (the tattoo on Michael’s wrist) and why he’s unstoppable and wants to kill his entire family – starting with his sister Judith back in 1963.   The Producer’s Cut is very story driven, gone are all the flashy cuts, the gorier scenes (the exploding head, Jamie’s impalement) the whine of the guitar strings, and the fast pacing.  What we get is a fully enriched story that not only gives more insight to Michael and his actions, but dives into the mythology of Halloween itself – some of this is touched upon in the theatrical version of the film but it is just glossed over to quicken the pacing and get to the next suspense, action or kill scene.

The major difference in the two films is the aspect of the cult.  In the theatrical version of the movie, the cult is almost like a side note; you are never given a reason why the cult is in the movie or their agenda.  In the Producer’s Cut you find out how big of a role they played in Michael’s actions over the past four movies.

Sadly, dropping this aspect from the theatrical version of the film lost a lot of Donald Pleasence’s wonderful last performance.  He is truly astounding in this movie and has a lot of screen time.  In the theatrical cut of the movie, it’s almost like Loomis was a guest character – he has very little screen time and when he shows up in scenes they seem almost out of place.  Whereas in the Producer’s Cut, there is a reason for why he’s there – this is notable when Tommy runs into him at the hospital; in the theatrical cut it makes no sense that Loomis would be in the hospital the same time as Tommy.

Still the Producer’s Cut isn’t without its flaws.  As I’ve come to understand this was a working print of the film (first watchable cut) and when it was delivered to Dimension, the executives were told that work still needed to be done with the editing and some scenes needed to be tightened and fixed.  These flaws can be seen in the Producer’s Cut.  There are a few scenes that feel unfinished or out of place in the context of the film, and some plot details are still not fully fleshed out in this cut and leave you scratching your head in wonderment.

Do I think this version of Halloween would have made fans happier had they went with it for the theatrical release at the time?


I believe had they released The Producer’s Cut of the film, people would still have been upset with the outcome.  The hardcore fans may (I use ‘may’ very loosely) have liked it, but I seriously doubt that.  The pacing and tone of the movie are far too slow for the average horror movie watcher, and anyone coming into the series at this point would be wondering what the hell is going on?  For a horror movie, and especially a horror movie in 1995, there is way too much story, making you feel like you are watching Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen than a Halloween movie.

Had they been able to combine both the theatrical cut and The Producer’s Cut of the movie (and I’d love to see someone tackle this) into one coherent piece, we would have gotten one of, if not the best, Halloween sequels to date, and it could have really saved the franchise at that point.

All-in-all Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers: The Producer’s Cut is a really good, story-driven horror film that relies heavily on mood and tone, rather than flashy cuts and gore like its theatrical counterpart.  I highly recommend seeing it if you have not.  And even if you have seen one of the bootleg versions, I suggest picking up a copy on Blu-Ray and watch the film as it was meant to be seen.

8 out of 10

Invasion USA (Blu-Ray) Review


Frank Ford

Who do terrorist have nightmares about?

Chuck Norris!


With the recent events in Belgium and France, and the nations battling terror around the world, I write this article with the utmost respect towards all countries, the families affected, and those who protect us and keep us safe from terrorism on a daily basis.  No, I’m not getting political in this review, but since Invasion U.S.A. deals with terrorism head-on (even if it’s in a Chuck Norris movie) I didn’t want to come across as unsympathetic towards the subject in my review of the Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray just released from Shout! Factory, and wanted to pay my respects to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice around the world.

Back in 1985 when Invasion U.S.A. was produced, there wasn’t the slightest thought that terrorism would hit the United States.  America had not seen a mass invasion since the war of 1812, even though the attack on Pearl Harbor was in 1941, Hawaii was not yet a state. America had thought their borders were secure from such an attack.  Even the tagline for Invasion U.S.A. reads: No one thought it could ever happen here…America wasn’t ready…but he was.


But the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and later the 9/11 attacks changed America’s perception of terrorism forever.

It’s kind of strange to watch Invasion U.S.A. now and realize what is happening on the screen (though far-fetched; it is still an action movie and meant to entertain after all) is similar to the events that are taking place not just in America but in countries around the world as well.

As fun as it is to watch Invasion U.S.A. and recall the fond memories I had as a kid watching Chuck Norris dispatch as many bad guys as he could, I can’t help but feel a little sad that the world is actually facing a problem of this magnitude.

But with all that said, it should not deter you from enjoying the highly entertaining action flick with Chuck Norris at the height of his career.


Invasion U.S.A. was Chuck’s second biggest box-office success, only second to Missing in Action which came out just the year prior.  Strangely, both of Chuck’s biggest hits were directed by Joseph Zito (The Prowler, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and Red Scorpion) and produced by Cannon Films.


Chuck Norris in Missing in Action (1984)

The movie has a pretty straight forward plot: the terrorists group led by Soviet, Rostov, (the always excellent Richard Lynch) rage war on America by attacking shopping malls, churches, suburban streets, and major U.S. Cities in guerilla warfare style.


But there is one man standing in Rostov’s way that he must kill before he can carry out his plan fully on America: ex-CIA agent, Matt Hunter, (Chuck Norris).  Big mistake!


As serious as terrorism is in today’s culture, and the more realistic films we have gotten about the subject over the last several years, Invasion U.S.A. is a rather fun film to watch.  You can indulge in a ‘what-if scenario’ there was a guy like Matt Hunter out there going around cowboy-style protecting the innocent from the bad guys with no one to reign him in.


This is a Cannon film after all.  Cannon films were always meant to be pure entertainment and nothing more – that’s what makes them so AWSOME! Movies like Invasion U.S.A. are meant to be enjoy on a fantasy, escapism level; to watch good overcome evil and not to be taken too literally even if the subject matter is real.

There are a lot of great actions sequences in the film, all done by real people on camera, no CGI here folks. They blow up real houses in a suburban neighborhood, totally destroy a real mall, and drive a pickup truck through a window while a human is hanging off the side – ah 1980s actions films were the best.  The scale and scope of the movie feels big (with only a budget of around 10 to 15 million, director Zito really maximized his money for the screen) and you get the sense that America is being overrun by a group of well-supplied terrorists who will stop at nothing until they see their plan come to fruition.


Surprisingly though, Chuck Norris who’s known for his martial arts, does very little hand-to-hand fighting in this movie.  And, out of all of Chuck’s films, Matt Hunter is probably the darkest character he’s ever played. Hunter’s a no nonsense guy who tortures his victims for information, shoots firsts and ask questions later, and doesn’t blink an eye when it comes to taking out the bad guys in the film.


Also Chuck Norris delivers one of the best lines ever captured on celluloid – don’t worry I won’t spoil it here, but it’s worth the price of the Blu-Ray for this line alone.


Richard Lynch is cast perfectly as the unhinged Rostov; he chews up every scene he’s in as the ultimate bad guy.  Rostov is such a nasty

dude that he jams a cocaine hooker’s face down into a metal straw as she snorts blow, and shoots not just ONE, but TWO men in the crotch in anger. Priceless!



Little known fact: Invasion U.S.A. was going to have a sequel, but when Chuck Norris was uninterested, they reworked the script into Avenging Force (also produced by Cannon) and starred Michael Dudikoff as Matt Hunter.  Though the characters in both movies share the same name, the films have no connection to one other.


The Blu-Ray Collector’s Edition disc from Shout! Factory is well done with Commentary track from Director Joseph Zito (which is informative, fun, and entertaining).  New interview with writer James Burner.  New Interviews with Special Effects Masters Tom Savini, Howard Burger, and Greg Nicotero.  Theatrical Trailer, and TV Spots.

The Blu-Ray transfer looks great in 1080p and the sound in DTS puts you in the middle of the battles and fights.


8 out of 10 stars.

If you’d like to pick up a copy you can order one here at The Crimson Screen.