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Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits
page added: 11/23/05



Six from Synapse Films

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Synapse. You've come a long way baby.

Think about it. How many small, independent, mom & pop DVD labels are there? Labels that specialize in B-flicks, Asian extreme and straight horror? Labels that have been around since the first couple of years of the format? Labels that still release quality stuff and don't resort to pumping out bargain basement titles, with bargain basement audio and video quality, just to fill out their catalog?

My answer: one. Synapse Films.

Okay... so, I'm in man-love with Don May, Jr. Everyone knows this. It's no secret. But I've neglected my friend like I've neglected everyone else recently as I took my long-ass sabbatical. And while I know this hardly makes it up to anyone, here's a look at six Synapse titles that have come out in the last few months (including a couple that came out this week).

Additionally, Bill will be reviewing the Synapse title Effects, as well as interviewing that film's producer, John Harrison (interview coming soon).

Nail Gun Massacre is also available, but since I haven't reviewed any of Don's stuff in a while, I fell off his list and didn't get a copy to look at. Serves me right. Prick.

Me, not Don. Don's the best.

Anyway, here's to Synapse...



Long Weekend

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Long Weekend
1977 (2005) - Dugong Films (Synapse)

Peter and Marcia are trying to save their marriage, so in the hopes of rekindling that which has long ago dimmed, they head out to a very remote part of the Australian coast for a romantic getaway. Right there you just know this is going to be a Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes riff... but instead the film gets all Food of the Gods (or more apropos The Birds) because, you see, Peter and Marcia are careless people who don't respect nature. They accidentally run over Earth's creatures, pollute their campsite and potentially set small brush fires with tossed cigarettes. And nature don't play that. Nature's had enough... and it's payback time.

Once you figure out what you're in for, Long Weekend pays off as a nice, creepy and ultimately solid late-70s thriller. It really works for what it is. It's got some great pacing, excellent sound design and the two human leads really are quite engaging, though a bit soap operatic. Long Weekend's not a super great film. It's a bit heavy handed in its environmental message. But it certainly doesn't suck either.

Directed by Fantasm's Colin Eggleston, Long Weekend looks and sounds very good on DVD. Being a Synapse release, you'd have to expect that. We get a very sharp, anamorphic widescreen image (2:35:1) with good color and solid blacks. There's some noticeable grain here and there, but you want that.

Sound is available in both the original Dolby Digital mono and a really nice, and newly created, Dolby Digital 5.1 track.

Extras include audio commentary with the executive producer and cinematographer, who discuss the film in-depth. There are also a collection of production stills set to an audio interview with the late actor John Hargreaves, and the film's original theatrical trailer. It's a nice little package of a very good, ultimately unknown horror flick that's well worthy of your time.


Thriller: They Call Her One-Eye - Vengeance Edition

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Thriller: They Call Her One-Eye
Vengeance Edition - 1974 (2005) - BAV Film/United Producers (Synapse)

With a run time of 104 minutes, the main question with Thriller (aka They Call Her One Eye, aka The Hooker's Revenge) has to be: What's the difference between this DVD and the Limited Edition released last year? This one has a yellow cover, silly. No, I'm kidding.

Actually, there's a big, huge difference. This version matches the AIP theatrical cut, thus we don't get any of the hardcore sex (oh, you didn't know the other version had hardcore sex?) and Frigga's (Christina Lindberg) eye violence scene has been cut. There's still nudity and plenty of violence and... well, the film isn't any the worse for wear for these excised scenes. In fact, it works just as well in my opinion.

Thriller (I'll just call it Thriller to save time) follows a girl who gets raped at a very young age, and thus goes all mute and loner, living with her parents. One day, she gets abducted by a pimp and drug dealer, who turns her into a drug-addicted whore. Through the art of revenge, she slowly weans herself off the drugs, saves her money, becomes an expert in weapons and martial arts and goes after those who wronged her. Rough life. It's a fantastic film, and one any exploitation film fan should own... in both versions.

Now, I could be jaded and complain that this is a double dip, and hang Don out to dry for it. But, maybe because I know the realities of this business, I don't see it as a double dip. There was a good business reason for this second release and honestly, for completeness sake, it makes sense to have both versions of this film available on disc. It might have been nice to have the original DVD release include both versions of the film at one price, with this as a second stand-alone release... but in the world of double dips, this is minor offender. Since Synapse isn't in the habit of doing this, I'll cut some slack.

The video and audio on this disc are the same as the previous release. It looks and sounds great, with anamorphic video (1.78:1) and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (in both the original Swedish and an English dub).

The extras on the Limited Edition are not here. All we get with this one is a new liner note booklet and the theatrical trailer. But hey, this version is like $10-15 cheaper depending on where you get it, so who's really counting?


Street Trash

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Street Trash
1987 (2005) - Street Trash Joint Venture (Synapse)

Here's a cult fave if there ever was one. And F'in-A, does this movie open my eyes. The only time I ever saw Street Trash before this was when I was working at a video store in New York. I took the movie home one night to check it out... and I hated it. It looked like ass, and I just didn't get it. Over time, I began to appreciate the film differently, but never really shook the fact that the film looked like ass. In my defense, the film did... on VHS video. On DVD, it's a whole other story. One word: Wow. The makers of this film owe Synapse a lot of praise, because this film is really gorgeous on DVD. It's like a totally different film.

The story is straight B-grade. It focuses on a couple of homeless brothers taking up in a junk yard, and their homeless buddies. Or does it? Maybe it focuses on a liquor store that discovers a surplus of Tenefly Viper, the rottenest rotgut liquor you'll ever find - a liquor that literally rots your gut (and everything else). Hey, maybe it focuses on a former Vietnam Vet who rules over the homeless denizens with an iron fist. No, no... it focuses on a cop trying to uncover the mystery of why the homeless are suddenly bursting into piles of multi-colored goo. Hell, let's just say this film doesn't focus. But it bursts at the seams with some of the best cheap-ass special effects ever recorded on film. It's a cheap gore film with some really good gore... and thanks to the new transfer, the gore looks really, really good.

The video is available here in a brand new, anamorphic, hi-def transfer (1.78:1 aspect). That's not bad for a film that looked like ass on video. Colors are crisp and clear. Blacks are solid. Grain... well, there's grain. But shit, it's a low-budget flick. The audio is a nice, clear, open Dolby Digital mono track. It's good and it supports the film well.

The extras are where this disc is going to loose points. On board is nothing but a liner notes booklet, the film's trailer and a sticker so you can make your very own bottle of Tenefly (melting not included). Synapse has a big, two-disc special edition of this film coming a few months from now. As such, this one is priced to move at below $20 bucks. If you just can't wait to see this schlocky piece of eye-candy, you can't go wrong picking it up now. But if you have patience, a better edition is coming soon to a DVD store new you.


Cyclone

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Cyclone
1978 (2005) - Corporación Nacional Cinematográfica (Synapse)

This one's been on DVD before... but never with this transfer or this very creepy cover art.

Cyclone is one of those late 70s disaster flicks, not too far removed from Poseidon or Towering Inferno, except here there's no budget and the cast isn't made up of Hollywood royalty. It was directed by Rene Cardona, Jr., who seemed to specialize in low-rent disaster flicks like Survive and The Bermuda Triangle.

The story is quite simple. You have three separate angles: A fishing boat, one of them "three-hour tour" boats and a plane are brought together because of a cyclone coming into the coastline. The fishing boat is ravaged and the survivors take to a small lifeboat. The plane crashes into the water and more than half of the survivors drown. The tour boat is where everyone ends up.

The cast here is made up of the requisite survivor characters. You've got your burly men, a rich lady, a pregnant woman, the wounded and the dying and oh... a dog. Did the creators of Lost find inspiration from this film, I wonder?

And did I mention that this motley crew is surrounded by blood-thirsty sharks? No? They are.

The film is pretty good for what it is. It's very watchable, which helps to explain why it's been released on DVD a few times before this. Cyclone is a very tense thriller, with some wicked cool set pieces (the plane crash works, as do the sharks). The acting is here and there, but this is the type of flick that's generally not hurt by over the top or understated performances.

In terms of how it looks on DVD, this is the disc to beat. Presented in a newly created 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the blacks are thick, the colors are bright and overall detail is spot on. Audio is a serviceable Dolby Digital mono that does what it's supposed to do. Extras include liner notes, an alternate credits sequence and trailers for Tintorera and Danger Girls (two Cardona films not on DVD from Synapse) as well as The Deadly Spawn, Thriller, Bizarre, Olga's Girls and God Has a Rap Sheet (DVDs that ARE available from Synapse).

All in all, Cyclone is a good B-grade flick to while away an hour and a half or so. It's never looked this good, probably even in theaters. Check it out.


42nd Street Forever - Volume One

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42nd Street Forever - Volume 1
Trailer Compilation - Various (2005) - Various (Synapse)

There's really not a lot to say about this DVD, aside from this: It's a cool thing to have if you love grind house flicks. Considering Tarantino and Rodriguez will be making a film honoring this genre, with faux-trailers cut together in the fashion of the trailers found on this disc, it's a bigger curiosity piece than you'd expect.

So what is 42nd Street Forever? It's a very fun trailer compilation featuring the grind house gamut: bloody horror, kung-fu, soft-core porn, mondo docs, Eurotrash comedies... it's all here. It's like a good friend pulled a bunch of great trailers together, restored them to the best of their ability, dropped 'em on a disc and sent them to you.

Want a list of the trailers on this disc? No problem.

You get The Undertaker and His Pals, Flesh and Blood, Show Women and Bloody Terror/Night of Bloody Horror, I Dismember Mama/The Blood Spattered Bride, Corruption, The Butcher of Binbrook, Ginger, Italian Stallion, Creampuffs, The Three Dimensions of Greta, Hard Candy, The Centerfold Girls, Panorama Blue, Wicked Wicked, Teenage Mother, Charlie and the Hooker, Matango, The Green Slime, Destroy All Monsters, The Crippled Master, Werewolves on Wheels, The Pink Angels, The Depraved (aka Exposed), Thriller (aka They Call Her One Eye), Maid in Sweden, Behind Convent Walls, Secret Africa, Shocking Asia, Chappaqua, Welcome Home Brother Charles, The 44 Specialist, The Bullet Machine, Death Drive, The Raiders of Atlantis, Star Crash, Confessions of a Summer Camp Counselor, Sunset Cove, Superfuzz, Death Will Have Your Eyes, Death Has Blue Eyes, A Black Veil for Lisa, Ironmaster, The Deadly Spawn, The Legend of Nigger Charlie, Boss Nigger, The Rape of the Sabines and The Devil's Nightmare.

That's a lot of stuff, over two hours worth in all... so take it in small douses. And it all looks really good. Sure, there are some source problems here and there, but ultimately, it all looks good. Most of the trailers are presented at 1.78.1, with a few trailers shown at 2.35.1. Audio is okay in Dolby Digital mono and serves the video just fine. Extras are non-existent. But you weren't looking for extras on something like this anyway, were you?

I think a lot of people will be hunting this DVD down after the Grind House movie Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are working on makes a splash. So beat 'em to the punch. Grab this one now and check it out.


Stillwater

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Stillwater
2003 (2005) - ITN Distribution (Synapse)

I should take this moment to mention that Synapse (and Don in particular) has always been a friend to fans of, and makers of, indy genre flicks. He's taken great pride in exposing the masses to some great films that wouldn't have been widely available otherwise. Check out Deadbeat at Dawn, Cold Hearts and A Better Place for proof of that. Stillwater definitely follows in that same tradition.

Stillwater's a slow tale - not a brilliant tale, but a good one. Andrew, a glum 26-year old, finds a beat-up red wooden box in his parents’ basement that holds a collection of items that unspool a past... not quite his, but definitely one connected to him. Each item Andrew chases down the history of seems to unlock a new item that's even more mysterious. Mystery number one: paperwork he finds tells him that the parents he knows aren't his birth parents. So Andrew writes a letter to the woman he's told is his birth mother, and upon receipt, before he can learn anything from her... she kills herself.

Directed by first-timer Adrian Kays, Stillwater is an interesting, stylish and moody thriller. It's creepy in its sound design, it's well shot and most of the acting is pretty damn good. I don't quite get it, as the film jumps around in time and shows us stuff that we're not quite sure is really happening (so we're never sure what any of it means), but the film still sucks you in. It also doesn't end on a frustrating note... more of a huh-with-a-period-not-a-question-mark sort of ending. I liked it overall.

Synapse gives us Stillwater on DVD in anamorphic widescreen, at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There are a few points here and there (mostly night scenes) where the grain takes over the image, but it looks more like a film stock issue than a mastering issue. Colors in general are quite strong, with tight detail and subtle flesh tones. Audio is given to us in two fashions: Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. Both sound equally good, with no complaints coming from me.

Extras are light, but include an audio commentary by Kays, cinematographer Lyn Moncrief and actor Andrew Hulse. It's a very friendly and informative track, where they talk about the shoot, locations and various issues that affected the production. All in all, a solid commentary. Also on board is the film's trailer, a production still gallery (it seems that Kays is an accomplished photographer as well) and Kays' biography.

If you enjoy quirky films that few others have seen, you could do a lot worse than to check this one out.


Okay... that will do me for this time out. I know better than to make promises on when I'll return again with more, but Bill's giving me the stink-eye so it'll more than likely be sooner rather than later.

Have a safe holiday everyone. Keep spinning those discs!

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com


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