Now On Blu-ray: Scream Factory Knocks 'Em Dead With DEADLY BLESSING, PRISON, THE NEST, TERRORVISION/THE VIDEO DEAD

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
It's only been about six months, but Scream Factory have made a serious impression on genre film fans with their impressive line up of high quality Blu-ray releases. Starting with  Halloween II & III, the company has grabbed numerous films from the "must own" lists of serious horror fans everywhere and given them a hero's welcome into the future with high definition upgrades.This dispatch covers their releases for the first two months of 2013, and they show no signs of slowing down.

Deadly Blessing:
First up is the undisputed king of Hittite-sploitation horror, Wes Craven's overlooked Ernest Borgnine vehicle, Deadly Blessing. This film has the honor of featuring one of Sharon Stone's earliest performances on screen and one of the spookiest dropping-a-spider-in-an-actress's-mouth scenes ever committed to celluloid. Deadly Blessing was brought back into the horror spotlight thanks to an excellent DVD release from Arrow Video in the UK (who are currently prepping a Blu-ray of their own), but it is Scream Factory who've won this horse race. Here's the synopsis from Scream Factory:
When a former member of a religious cult dies in a mysterious accident, his wife Martha (Maren Jensen, Battlestar Galactica), who now lives alone and close to the cult's church, begins to fear for her life and the lives of her visiting friends (Susan Buckner, Sharon Stone). Strange and deadly events begin to happen... Could she be the target of the evil cult and its fanatical leader Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine)?

Directed by Wes Craven (Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street) and starring Jeff East (Pumpkinhead), Lisa Hartman (The 17th Bride) and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), this consistently terrifying film delivers "unpredictable plot twists" (Time Out) and visual shocks galore.
The film looks pretty damned solid on Blu-ray, I'll not repeat my lamentations regarding 80s film stock, but it's probably about as good as it'll ever get. The disc also boasts a lossless audio track that captures the atmosphere pretty damned well. Along with the HD upgrade is a director commentary with Craven, and exclusive interviews with star Susan Buckner and writers Glen M. Benest and Matthew Barr. A very solid package overall. It is yet to be seen how the Arrow Blu will stack up, but if you're Region A locked, this is an excellent choice!


prisonblu.jpgPrison:
People tend to give Roger Corman most of the credit for the state of independent film today, but not enough people talk about Charles Band and Empire Pictures as the bullpen to Hollywood that they really were. Case in point: Renny Harlin's Prison. Prison is the story of a haunted house of corrections featuring a very young Viggo "Aragorn" Mortensen in what was his first leading role. The film isn't great, but it was good enough to get the attention of the guys at New Line, who picked up Harlin for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. We've all got to start somewhere? Scream Factory's Blu-ray release of Prison is not only its HD debut, but its digital debut, as the film never appeared on US DVD until now. Here's what they have to say about it:
Creedmore Prison becomes a supernatural battleground when the specter of Charlie Forsythe, a man executed for murder, returns seeking vengeance from the brutal guard, Ethan Sharpe, who was aware of his innocence. The lives of the inmates hang in the balance as Forsythe and Sharpe lock in demonic combat. Directed by Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Deep Blue Sea). Starring Viggo Mortensen (A History Of Violence, Eastern Promises), Chelsea Field (Dust Devil, The Dark Half) and Lane Smith (Red Dawn).
Again, Scream Factory acquits themselves nicely with this HD presentation. While it's no Lawrence of Arabia, there is definitely a HD sheen to the film and a nice thin layer of film grain that works to its great advantage. The audio is iffy, with Scream Factory supplying a DTS-HD 5.1 surround track that isn't as robust as it could be. However, it's a minor quibble in the overall scheme of things. We are graced with a director commentary from Harlin as well as a 40-minute making of from the good people at Red Shirt Pictures. These retrospective featurettes on the Scream Factory discs are almost worth the price of admission on their own. All around, a very solid release.


nest blu.jpgThe Nest:
The Nest was the only one of these films with which I was completely unaware. The story revolves around a small island town with a roach problem, a bad roach problem. The island is infested with genetically engineered super roaches that decide, yes decide, to start killing and eating bigger and bigger prey. They start with cats and dogs, move onto slightly bigger prey, and eventually begin to pose an existential threat to the island's human population. However, that's not all, they continue to evolve at an exponential rate, creating some really fantastic roach hybrids that are nearly indestructible. Can the local exterminator and small town sheriff find a way to control these pests, or will they fall victim to The Nest?

The idea behind The Nest is pretty solid (and would be refined further a few years later in Guillermo del Toro's Mimic), however, the film falls a bit flat when it comes to acting and execution. As a production of Roger Corman's Concorde Pictures, director Terence H. Winkless was at the mercy of his producers when it came to delivering the exploitable elements that Concorde demanded. This results in some less than exceptional moments in the film; however The Nest has enough strengths that it is still worth your 90 minutes. The biggest item in the "pro" column for The Nest are a lot of really exceptionally gooey practical FX, including massive herds of real roaches guaranteed to make anyone squeamish.

Scream Factory's Blu-ray of The Nest is okay, but not great. Again, I don't blame the film, but the film stock that was available to the crew. Much of the daytime footage looks fine, but the evening and low light shots are pretty ugly; this is simply due to the fact that the team didn't have access to high speed film on the shoot. The audio is also okay and I'm sure it matches the original tracks, but the film used a lot of ADR, and it shows in some shaky sync issues. The only extra provided on The Nest is a director commentary, however, Winkless is brutal in his reassessment of his film and the challenges that accompanied the production. Overall, this is probably a better edition than The Nest deserves, but I know there are folks out there with love for this weird little insect terror. If you fit in that category feel secure in your purchase of this disc.


videodeadblu.jpgTerrorVision / The Video Dead:
Finally, we have what is probably my favorite of the bunch, the themed double feature of high camp gem TerrorVision and sloppy no budget zombie feature The Video Dead. While both films feature creepy crawlies coming from television sets, they couldn't be more different otherwise. TerrorVision knowingly approaches its content from an extremely artificial point of view, to the point that it even stars the queen of camp, Mary Woronov, as a swinging mom who eventually falls prey to an alien poop monster. The Video Dead, on the other hand, plays its cards much closer to the vest, not quite serious horror, but a bit too serious for its own good and/or the talent involved. Obviously the former film is my winner of the set, but The Video Dead has its moments, and its fans, and they should be happy.

TerrorVision is a film written and directed by Ted Nicolau for Charles Band's Empire Pictures. This is one of those cases where being involved in a relatively low budget film greatly helped the director, as his financial and stylistic risks were minimal, allowing him to do whatever crazy shit he wanted. This tactic paid off big time, and the result is a great, super-campy piece of 80's ephemera that could only have been made in 1986. The cast is full of b-movie vets beyond Woronov, including John "King Vidiot" Gries as burnout punk/metal hybrid cliche O.D., one of the biggest child stars of the 80s Chad Allen, one of the 80s cutest babes, Diane Franklin (Better Off Dead, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Last American Virgin), and as the voice of the poop monster, voice acting legend Frank Welker. This motley cast was bathed in stylized light that would've made Mario Bava wince, and filmed on a set that would've made John Waters cringe. It's perfect. I don't know that I could enjoy a film more than I enjoyed TerrorVision, a perfect pick me up!

I couldn't quite get into The Video Dead the same way. Whereas the campy acting in TerrorVision was all part of the package, in The Video Dead, the acting is just bad for no good reason. When you add an unnecessarily complicated plot to the mix, you have a recipe for disaster. It's not all bad, though. The Video Dead does feature some pretty solid creature effects, but they are too few and far between and muddled among too much exposition. When you have to explain every little thing out loud, it's the sign of a lazy script, and when you combine a lazy script with bad acting, well, it just becomes boring. I know the film has its fans, I'm just not one of them.

Both films share a Blu-ray disc, but at 80ish and 90ish minutes each, that's no great challenge. Of the two films, TerrorVision looks pretty incredible on Blu-ray while The Video Dead is riddled with heavy grain and what looks like video noise. The disparity between the video transfers seems very telling, but I'd imagine it's mostly to do with the available elements. Both features include director commentaries and behind the scenes featurettes which are very informative. I particularly enjoyed the TerrorVision documentary, as it explored every aspect of production from concept to finished product, hitting on everything from casting to FX to music, really excellent work. The Video Dead featurette, to its credit, focused on one of the film's strong points, the FX work, which was a wise move and almost made the documentary more enjoyable than the film. This set is worth the asking price for TerrorVision alone; think of the rest as bonus.
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  • EugeneRushmore

    TerrorVision... too many laughs... i miss the 80s

  • TheGhostOfGriffinMill

    Shout/Scream and Arrow are both doing amazing stuff. Depending on the title, I'll even double-up on occasion for the extras and some of the slight transfer differences those two companies do (done that with some of the Arrow Bava stuff Kino put out). Great column!

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