Archive for Blu-ray

Keanu Reeves Is Ortiz the Dog Boy In Alex Winter and Tom Stern’s FREAKED!

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2016 by Robert Morgan

freaked

Alex Winter and Tom Stern‘s fantastically demented 1993 comedy Freaked is one of those rare films whose existence is nothing short of a miracle. It went into production as Hideous Mutant Freekz (also the title of the Parliament-Funkadelic theme tune that underscores the end credits), but the directors, who also wrote the script with Tim Burns, had the new title forced upon them by the inefficiently supportive execs at 20th Century Fox who green-lit the project thinking that Winter’s involvement was tantamount to getting the next chapter in the exciting time travelling adventures of Bill Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan. That turned out to be the least of Freaked‘s behind-the-scenes troubles.

I’m old enough to remember seeing some B-roll production footage on some E! Channel show back in the early 90’s when it was still being referred to as Hideous Mutant Freekz, but a year or so later I was in a neighborhood supermarket when I found a young adult novelization of the film that bore the replacement title. The labor of Winter and Stern’s love was granted something approximating a theatrical release, of that I am sure. Studio suits screened it for preview audiences who were under the assumption they were about to check out another dumbass comedy to please the undemanding youth market and were horrified to find out that….GASP….they had a potential cult film on their hands. That’s not exactly the kind of truth you want to face when you have $12 million invested in this peculiar business endeavor.

As the old saying goes, Freaked wasn’t released…it escaped. It wasn’t until late-1994 when I finally received the opportunity to check Freaked out for myself during an after-school viewing on HBO. I laughed my ass off then, but the best part is that the film’s oddball, offbeat humor (honed to perfection by its creators through years of making short films and their lamented MTV comedy series The Idiot Box) holds up well after more than two decades since it was unveiled for the world to see. This is in spite of the fact that Freaked is very much a product of its time, from its spazzy, in-your-face visual style to the aggressively cool and catchy soundtrack featuring Henry Rollins and Butthole Surfers. Oddly enough, Winter and Stern first conceived of Freaked as a gruesome horror film starring the Surfers. I haven’t even mentioned yet the prominent roles both Brooke Shields and Mr. T play in this big screen madhouse. Whoops, I just did.

Had Freaked been made a decade earlier, it likely would have been treated the same way by whatever studio was unfortunate enough (from their perspective) to bankroll its creation. It was destined to be unloved by all but the true freaks and geeks who once spent their weekends running through the aisles of their local video store like a human pencil line on a restaurant place mat maze looking for the latest craziest flicks from all over the world and now plan their lives around the double feature picture shows at the New Beverly Cinema.

Cable airings and video rentals and sales helped keep Freaked alive and breathing as its cult following grew. Anchor Bay Entertainment acquired the rights to the film as part of a package of 20th Century Fox titles the studio had zero interest in further exploiting and released it on DVD for the first time in the summer of 2005 in a splashy two-disc set that contained a brutally honest and hilarious directors’ commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, two of Winter and Stern’s early short features (one of which I’ll include below) and best of all, a feature-length rehearsal version of the film performed by most of the cast (Shields and T are the most notable absentees) shot on videotape with the actors wearing nothing but their street clothes.

One of the most unusual things about Freaked is the uncredited casting of the one and only Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy, the charming leader of the Freaks. It’s difficult to recognize the future star of The Matrix and John Wick underneath the impressive mutant make-up created by a gifted effects team that included horror/sci-fi cinema vets Tony Gardner (Army of Darkness) and Screaming Mad George (Society), but Reeves is pretty easy to spot in the rehearsal footage. Say what you will about the man’s acting abilities, but his performance as Ortiz doesn’t require the stage fur and phony dog fangs to convince. Reeves is hilarious and clearly having a blast going way over the top with a hearty laugh that Errol Flynn would admire just as soon he stopped banging his latest teenage girlfriend.

There’s a video assembly of Reeves’ highlights from the Freaked rehearsal I’ve posted below. The Anchor Bay DVD is sadly out of print and copies are currently commanding high prices on the online auction market. It was released on Blu-ray in August 2013, and though it featured upgraded picture and sound quality it was completely devoid of supplements for some fucked-up unexplained reason. Maybe one day the rights will fall into the hands of a video distributor that actually gives a shit about respecting this bizarro laugh riot of an old school horror spoof. Until then you can order that Blu-ray HERE. If you manage to track down a copy of that OOP DVD, give the rehearsal version a watch just to see both a young Reeves and John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Winter’s Bone) in action.

Here’s Winter and Stern’s 1985 short film Squeal of Death, a film noir parody starring Winter that they made during their sophomore year at New York University. It was selected to be shown on an episode of USA Network’s 80’s series Night Flight, and after being seen by both an executive at Columbia Pictures and filmmaker Sam Raimi, Winter and Stern were on their way to Tinseltown to start their careers. Read more about it HERE.

Screw it. Here’s the Freaked theatrical trailer.

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THIS IS SPINAL TAP, Mark 2: The Elusive 4.5 Hour Workprint

Posted in Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2015 by Robert Morgan

this-is-spinal-tap

Once a film is finished shooting, the post-production team begins to assemble most of the printed footage into what is often termed a “rough cut” to give them a better idea of the editing task that lies ahead. The next step is usually to create a “workprint”, which pares down the rough assembly a bit and adds in cards indicating missing scenes and special effects footage and utilizes a “temp track” of music taken from other films for the soundtrack. From there the director and their team really go to work to whip the film into its final shape as the time counts down to its premiere.

Workprints are occasionally shown at test screenings so that audience reactions to what has been assembled so far can be used by the studio to impact the final cut in ways that can sometimes be positive, but are more often that not detrimental to the vision of the filmmakers. Sometimes, in the case of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a workprint for a major Hollywood tentpole blockbuster wannabe gets leaked to the Internet days or weeks in advance of its theatrical release.

Even with the advancement of cutting edge home entertainment technology that allows deleted scenes to be included as extra features on DVDs and Blu-rays of the films they were cut from, these alternate cuts are highly sought out by collectors and hardcore film buffs for the footage they contain that has never been publicly released. You can typically find workprints for many a classic work of cinema hiding out on the web among the torrent sites and bootleg DVD retailers.

Every so often, a workprint manages to find its way onto a legitimate video release, such as the collector’s edition DVD and Blu-ray editions of Blade Runner. But most of the time you have to search high and low to find one that is snatched from the clutches of the studio that financed it, digitized, and set free for all eternity online. Case in point….the four-and-a-half workprint of This is Spinal Tap.

Few filmmakers make their directorial debut with a bonafide masterpiece, but that is exactly what Rob Reiner did when he made Spinal Tap. It was released to critical acclaim in 1984 and over the years became a highly quotable cult classic. There are good comedies, great comedies, and comedy classics. Spinal Tap is all three and then some. It was truly a collaborative effort between Reiner and his stars/co-writers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. The characters had been developed for years even before the film was made, and by the time cameras the actors were so ensconced with their respective creations that they were able to ad-lib most of their dialogue.

Comedies, especially ones that rely heavily on improvisation, are often the most difficult kinds of films to edit unless they are rigidly scripted and performed from the very beginning. The final running time of Spinal Tap is 82 minutes, but there was enough material resigned to the cutting room floor to make a pair of sequels. None of the deleted footage ever saw the light of day until the 1990’s when the Criterion Collection released Spinal Tap on a special edition laserdisc that included about an hour of outtakes among their generous selection of supplements. This material also made the cut when the laserdisc extras were ported over for the DVD edition, one of Criterion’s earliest on the format. Both the Criterion laserdisc and DVD releases of Spinal Tap went out of print and became collector’s items that fetched high prices on sites like Amazon and eBay.

When MGM unveiled a digitally-remastered edition of Spinal Tap on VHS and DVD in 2000, both versions featured cut scenes from the film as a bonus feature. The VHS edition only contained around ten minutes’ worth, but you could find over an hour on the DVD. The same outtakes ended up as special features on the subsequent Blu-ray edition. To this day, no home video release of Spinal Tap has included all three hours (and change) of the deleted, extended, and alternate scenes from the rarely-seen workprint, but you can find a few excerpts floating around the web somewhere (I’ve included a few uploaded to YouTube here below). You may even be able to find the whole bloody thing.

I’ve seen it and it’s a shapeless mass of celluloid that only resembles the legendary comedy at the rarest of moments. There are plenty of moments that work, scenes that go on far too long, and jokes that land with a deafening thud. But a workprint is always far different than the final product. Watching one such as the 4.5 hour Spinal Tap gives you an insight into how crucial the editing process is when it comes time to reach deep into a miasma of improvisational comedy and pull out a classic of the genre that anyone who sees it will quote to their grave.

Just think of the workprint as the film equivalent of “Jazz Odyssey”.

This is Spinal Tap is now available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment. Purchase your copy HERE.

TAKE THE….Dadgum Elephant?!: The Godawful DARKMAN Television Pilot

Posted in Crazy Shit, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, TeeVee, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2015 by Robert Morgan

darkman

When Sam Raimi came to Hollywood in the early 1980’s following the release of the original The Evil Dead, one of his dream feature film projects was a big screen version of the classic pulp magazine/radio/comic book crime fighter, the Shadow. Unfortunately for Raimi, the rights had been purchased by powerhouse producer Martin Bregman (Scarface), who would ultimately oversee the production of a Shadow film for Universal Pictures under the direction of Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) that was released in the summer of 1994 to middling reviews and box office and failed to spawn a new franchise.

After making Evil Dead II in 1986 for the legendary Dino De Laurentiis, Raimi signed on with Universal to develop a film project based on a superhero idea of his own – a tale of a scientist who develops a revolutionary formula that can repair damaged skin for only for a maximum of 99 minutes and must use that formula in a complicated revenge plot against the gangsters that destroyed his laboratory and left him burned beyond recognition and for dead. Incorporating elements of the Batman comics, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Phantom of the Opera among many other influences, Raimi teamed up with four other screenwriters – including his own brother Ivan Raimi (with whom Sam wrote Army of Darkness and Spider-Man 3) and Chuck Pfarrer (Red Planet) – to flesh out his amalgam of ideas into the story he titled Darkman.

darkman

Raimi initially cast Bill Paxton, the future star of his celebrated adaptation of A Simple Plan, in the title role of Dr. Peyton Westlake, the disfigured scientist hellbent on brutal vengeance, and a young up-and-coming actress by the name of Julie Roberts as the girlfriend he inadvertently places in harm’s way as a result of his actions. Due to scheduling conflicts the roles had to be recast hastily; Roberts went on to star in the movie that kicked her career into overdrive, Pretty Woman, but in the process Raimi gained two future Hollywood heavyweights in the form of Liam Neeson (replacing Paxton as Westlake) and his old friend and former roommate Frances McDormand as Westlake’s besieged lady love.

Darkman was not the first time Raimi and McDormand had worked together; after playing the female lead in the Coen Brothers’ classic film noir debut Blood Simple, she popped up briefly as a nun in the opening sequence of Raimi’s post-Evil Dead stab for Tinseltown legitimacy, the frenzied, failed screwball comedy Crimewave.

Released in the final days of the summer of 1990, Darkman wasn’t an instant smash hit as Universal and Raimi had hoped. However it did manage to dethrone the season’s reigning box office champ, the supernatural romance Ghost, and with a final domestic gross of $33 million it earned a tidy little profit since it only cost $16 million to make. Five years after Darkman‘s theatrical release, excellent video rentals and sales and the film’s status as a modest ratings success on network television convinced Universal execs to green-light a pair of sequels to be produced for the studio’s home video division.

Since they weren’t going to have but a fraction of the budget Raimi had at his disposal the first time, Neeson was replaced in the role of Westlake by South African actor Arnold Vosloo. Vosloo had previously appeared as a secondary villain in John Woo’s first American action feature, the Raimi-produced, Pfarrer-scripted Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Hard Target. Bradford May, a veteran cinematographer who worked mostly in television but also shot the 1987 kid-friendly horror-comedy The Monster Squad, was drafted to direct the sequels which were released on VHS and laserdisc in 1995 and 1996 and enjoyed a fair amount of success with critics and fans of the original.

After Darkman III: Die Darkman Die the franchise ceased to exist. A remake/reboot has been hinted at over the years, and it may likely happen, but there hasn’t been any movement for quite some time. Let’s hope it stays that way. The original was released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory in February 2014 in a jam-packed special edition package. You can order that disc HERE.

In between the release of Darkman and the two direct-to-video sequels, Universal commissioned a pilot for a half-hour television series loosely based on the original in 1992. Raimi and his producing partner Robert Tapert lent their names and credibility to the questionable endeavor, while Christopher Bowen (Tomorrow Never Dies) took over for Neeson as Dr. Westlake and Kathleen York (Crash) was drafted to play a new character named Jenny. For some odd reason, the only actor from the movie to appear in the pilot was Larry Drake, so memorable in Darkman as the odious villain Robert G. Durant, the exact same role he was playing in the much cheaper TV version.

The pilot cannibalized the movie for stock action footage, and even a shot from the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner makes a jaw-dropping appearance in the beginning. The movie footage looks terribly out of place when you consider the lower-budgeted scenes shot for the pilot. Everything is barely held together by Bowen’s ponderous narration. For that part we can place the blame on Robert Eisele, who wrote the pilot script and served as an executive producer alongside Raimi and Tapert, and the direction was handled by ace music video helmer Brian Grant. The 22-minute final product never made it to air.

I have included two separate embeds from Dailymotion and YouTube for your viewing displeasure. Enjoy….or don’t.

UPDATED: Astron-6’s BIO-COP Trailer In Hungarian (And English Too, If You’re Into That Weirdo Shit)

Posted in Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2014 by Robert Morgan

Bio-Cop

Astron-6, the Canadian filmmaking group responsible for some of the craziest and goriest homages to exploitation cinema of the 70’s and 80’s in recent memory, never fail to impress me. Except for that time they made Manborg, a high-spirited but annoyingly brief pastiche of indie sci-fi schlock classics like Eliminators and 1990: The Bronx Warriors among many others. Though I was amazed that they made that flick for less than the price of a sensible used car originally purchased in 1992 it failed to be anything close to the sum of its parts. I still recommend it as a decent slice of self-aware genre cheese.

The best part of Manborg came once the end credits concluded rolling and it’s a fake trailer for a much better feature that remains frustratingly unmade: Bio-Cop. In the span of six glorious minutes we get a brilliant short film that mashes together every awesome action, sci-fi, and horror classic of the VHS era’s better days but with the kind of diabolical twist Astron-6 is known for springing on their unprepared audiences.

What has really endured Astron-6’s creative aesthetic to me is their devotion to recreating the experience of watching one of their movies like Manborg or the insanely fun Father’s Day on home video or on cable late at night. As much as I love 2007’s Grindhouse I always thought that Astron-6’s movies and Jason Eisener’s fantastic Hobo with a Shotgun were more faithful in treating audiences to an authentic night at the local drive-in theater. Their movies are true exploitation flicks because they’re made with extremely tight budgets, grand imaginations, and an honest and infallible love for the art of creating memorable celluloid sleaze.

Bio-Cop will be familiar to anyone who ever took a trip to their neighborhood Mom & Pop video shop on a slow Friday evening and took home a stack of the movies that had the bloodiest and most lurid box art (which is how a lot of seriously awful flicks got noticed in the first place), then hit the 7-11 on the way home for a few cases of cheap beer and a few bags of Combos. It’s like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup but only if it was a Maniac Cop cup with a rich filling of Street Trash and The Incredible Melting Man. To talk about what this trailer contains would be to spoil the riches that await you once you click the play button.

Finding a good quality copy of the Bio-Cop trailer online has been a pain in the ass that not even marriage could equate, but recently I found one on YouTube….in Hungarian.

I’ve also included the trailer in English if you must absolutely insist on understanding the dialogue. The quality of this video is a few step downs visually from the Hungarian language version due to the uploader recording it straight off of the television screen.

UPDATED! Here’s a much better version of the trailer in English.