Monday, July 21, 2014

Movie Review: BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT



BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT
1971, Retromedia Entertainment #RMED009, DD-2.0/LB/+, $14.95, 83m 29s, DVD-0

By John Charles

Originally published in  slightly different form in Video Watchdog #89


One evening in 1946, army deserter Joseph Langdon (John Ashley) is wandering aimlessly through a Philippines jungle. Exhausted and bedraggled, he manages to elude his pursuers, only to encounter a strange little man (Vic Diaz) who knows of Langdon's predicament. Wanted for rape and murder, and feeling the effects of some poisonous berries he ate, a delirious Langdon accepts the man's offer of restored health and safety -- providing he also agrees to eternal servitude. The film picks up in the present day and we learn that Langdon took over the identity of a Filipino man, who has just passed away. His spirit now transfers to the body of Phil Rogers (also Ashley), an American who was presumed dead following an industrial accident. Ordered to awaken the latent evil in those whose identities he has assumed, Langdon proceeds to screw over Phil's business partners and seeks to alienate the man's wife, Julia (LOVE ME DEADLY's Mary Wilcox). She, however, is not ready to give up on her husband and Langdon finds himself developing feelings for her himself. Previously seeking death as a means of escaping from the whims of his supernatural overseer, Langdon now begins to experience a change of heart. Unfortunately, as a by-product of his unholy pact, he frequently transforms into a vicious, werewolf-like creature that horribly mutilates its victims (with the mask-like make-up, it is never entirely clear if Ashley is the one portraying the monster in these bits).


New World Pictures' premiere release (toplining a double bill with Alfred Vohrer's superior CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND), this Four Associates production from writer/director Eddie Romero is more attentively scripted than the director's other horror pictures (particularly the sequences with Ashley and Diaz, the latter portraying a personable tempter intrigued by the philosophical aspects of human nature). While the sex and gore (including a bit of implied cannibalism early on) are contemporary, BEAST is rooted in traditional horror with several familiar situations. In addition to the variation on lycanthropy (which is sometimes triggered by arousal), our increasingly sympathetic protagonist experiences horror upon seeing his transformed face and, in an obvious nod to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Langdon receives care and solace from a destitute blindman (THE BIG BIRD CAGE's Andy Centenera, as a former bandit chieftain whose acts of kindness are an atonement of sorts for the evils of his youth). The performances are a bit stiff and the film tends to meander (there is at least one dialogue sequence interrupted by a blunt "Roger Corman edit") but the picture remains an interesting entry in the Filipino horror cycle and was Ashley's first outing as a producer, a role he specialized in until his death in 1997. Leopoldo Salcedo and Eddie Garcia co-star (as the police officers investigating the killings), along with Ken Melcalfe, who plays token Americans in many Filipino productions.


THE BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT (on-screen title) was released on tape by Charles Band's Cult Video and United/VCI and, while we do not have those versions available for comparison, Retromedia's presentation likely offers a moderate improvement. The 35mm source material (which bears a video burned 1994 copyright date) has light wear throughout and the telecine operator tends to brighten night sequences far too much, but the colors are fairly robust (if not always accurate) and details levels are passable. The image has been matted to 1.80:1 and looks a little tight in spots, but the framing is generally effective. Light hiss and crackle can be heard throughout, though the audio (evidently the optical track of the print) is okay. In addition to the usual vintage drive-in promos and Retromedia intro with Fred Olen Ray and Miss Kim, the disc includes New World's theatrical trailer (in considerably worse shape than the feature), and a congenial salute to the film's star. "Remembering John Ashley" (20m 51s) offers an overview of Ashley's career and features interviews with the actor's wife, friends Fred Olen Ray, Andrew Stevens, and Steve Stevens (who co-starred with Ashley in HIGH SCHOOL CAESAR). No great revelations here, just a group of admirers sharing memories of a man whose friendship they treasured and who loved making and talking about his movies, even the ones other actors would like to have seen vanish from the face of the Earth. The disc concludes with a photo gallery that, in a nice touch, is accompanied by one of Ashley's old rockabilly 45s. A modest 7 chapters are provided on the DVD, which was authored by Fat Cat Post and lacks time functions.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Movie Review: REDLINE (1997)




REDLINE

aka ARMAGEDDON
aka DEATHLINE
1997, Nu Image/Image #ID6314NGDVD, DD-2.0/SS/+, $9.99, 96m 6s, DVD-A

By John Charles

Originally published in slightly different form in Video Watchdog #74

In the near future, Moscow is a hotbed for smugglers dealing in black market cybertoys and partners Wade (Rutger Hauer) and Merrick (Mark Dacascos) are set to hit paydirt with a planeload of the newest pleasure chip. After successfully downing a government patrol ship out to seize their cargo, Merrick doublecrosses Wade and fatally shoots him in the head. Looking for a new way to combat the increasingly powerful Troika crime syndicate, Special Prosecutor Vanya (I, MADMAN's Randall William Cook) has Wade brought back to life via a new brain regeneration procedure. Although he is supposed to terminate the subject once interrogation is complete, Vanya decides to let Wade track down and eliminate his former partner, who is becoming increasingly influential in the Troika. With the help of beautiful prostitute Katya (Yvonne Scio), Wade is eventually able to confront his nemesis but he has every right to be suspicious of his new allies' true motives.

Beyond the obvious Rutger Hauer connection, REDLINE also invokes BLADE RUNNER in the way it introduces high tech gadgets into the decaying squares, hotels, churches, and bathhouses of olde world Hungary (which stands in for Russia here), providing a consistently remarkable milieu. There are a few other less inspired allusions, like a shootout among various ruined and discarded statues of Communist icons, copied from GOLDENEYE, and a throwaway parody of the Odessa Steps sequence from BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. Co-writer/director Tibor Takacs (THE GATE I & II, I, MADMAN) also remains true to the exploitation roots of the project by incorporating barely motivated gunplay at every turn and nudity so gratuitous even Andy Sidaris would be hard pressed to justify it. The storyline also becomes more and more hackneyed as the film progresses, culminating in an especially uninspired finale that doesn't so much tie up loose ends as whisk them away as an annoyance. Regardless, REDLINE remains above the direct-to-video norm, offering enough visual élan and modest diversion for it to be worth considering.

The Canada/Netherlands co-production is presented in fullscreen and looks to have been produced with video in mind. The image is sharp and colors are strong, with some mild grain (probably intrinsic to the cinematography) popping up on occasion. The Ultra Stereo mix is sufficiently dimensional, though most viewers will be wishing the track would go dead during the awful end title theme. A seemingly incomplete trailer is the only extra.  

(This disc is out of print. A 2005 DVD re-issue from Allumination also appears to be no longer available)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Movie Review: THE BREED (2001)




THE BREED

2001, Columbia Tristar Home Video #06470, HF/SS/CC, $14.95, 91m 4s, VHS

By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #87

Out late one evening investigating a kidnapping, NSA operative Steven Grant (THE BIG HEAT's Bokeem Woodbine) is overcome by a superhuman creature, that proceeds to tear out his partner's throat and scale the side of the building like an insect. Grant is informed by his superiors that a 4000 member race of vampires has made itself known to authorities and seeks to peacefully co-exist with humans. The being that attacked him the previous evening is a deviant that both sides want to destroy, so Grant is partnered, very much against his will, with suave undead detective Aaron Gray (Adrian Paul, from the HIGHLANDER TV series) to see that this is carried out. A synthetic blood substitute has removed the vampires' need to prey upon humans, so the killer's actions are apparently intended to prevent the planned integration and force his counterparts to continue their ghettoized existence. It becomes obvious to Grant that Gray is not revealing everything he knows about their quarry but the two gradually develop a mutual trust. Grant also has his own secret: the human authorities have come up with an airborne virus that is virtually harmless to them but lethal to vampires, a back-up plan that some higher-ups are very anxious to put into action.

Set in a semi-satirical future filled with BRAZIL-style production design and Eastern European architecture (courtesy of some magnificent Budapest locations),  THE BREED equates the vampires with the similarly persecuted Jews of WWII. It is an interesting analogy (Gray is actually a Polish Jew whose family perished as a result of the Nazi round-ups; he chose to become undead as a way of avenging their deaths but soon lost control of his bloodlust) and there are some worthwhile riffs on the usual vampire edicts (an exchange of blood must take place for a victim to turn and 20% of all humans are immune to the effects of the contagion). The film does follow convention in some regards, however. The trendy depiction of vampires as sado masochists who love to party in underground clubs is here (stunning Mainland Chinese actress Bai Ling does little more than parade through the movie modelling patent fetish outfits), along with the over-edited action sequences so commonly found in American movies nowadays (though the vampires' ability to fly does make for some amusingly offbeat shootouts). We also get the usual barrage of in-jokes, with characters named "Graf Orlock," "Seward," and "Barbara Steele," along with Bai's seductive "Lucy." The creatures' leader (Peter Halasz) is also right out of the Max Schreck/Reggie Nalder school of rat-faced grotesquerie but, that said, the vampires are far more interesting than their warm-blooded counterparts. The brutish Woodbine is poorly cast and his insipid, profanity-ridden dialogue undermines the script's better moments (when Grant tries to delay the inevitable by having his would-be killer reveal who is behind everything, the person denies his request with a welcome "You are not James Bond and I am not Blofeld"). The production's indebtedness to buddy cop movie cliches is also unfortunate, but there are enough modest thrills and baroque visuals here for this to be worthy of a modest recommendation. Veteran character actors James Booth and William Hootkins (as a frustrated vampire actor channelling Lorre and Brando) have supporting roles.



The opening credit sequence unfolds at 1.85:1, with the balance of the picture presented in fullscreen. The compositions do not look seriously compromised but the smoky, stylized cinematography would benefit from the clarity DVD affords. Surround channels are utilized extensively and the mix is almost as aggressive as the visuals. The closed captioning is thorough. A double-sided, Region 1 coded DVD ($24.95) is also available, offering fullscreen and anamorphic 1.85:1 editions, 5.1 sound, and an audio commentary featuring Adrian Paul and director Michael Oblowitz (THIS WORLD, THEN THE FIREWORKS). A Spanish subtitled VHS edition is also available for $14.95.

[Currently out of print, but possibly among the 600 titles Sony subsequently licensed to Mill Creek]