Silent Night, Deadly Night - Scream Factory

It’s A Christmas Miracle. Silent Night, Deadly Night Is Out On Scream Factory Blu-ray!

Silent Night, Deadly Night is not necessarily one of the “must sees” for the casual horror fan looking for a campy thrill. It’s savage, violent and punishing. The story opens with young Billy Chapman whose dreams of a white Christmas are obliterated when he witnesses a deranged criminal, dressed in a dime store Santa suit, brutally murder his father and mother on Christmas Eve. Orphaned after the killing of his parents, Billy and his little brother are raised under the oppressive arm of a devout nun who teaches Billy the consequences of being naughty, which mostly ends up with him being tied to his bed or beaten.

Silent Night, Deadly Night - Old Man Peabody

Old Man Peabody sharing the bad news to young Billy about Santa Claus.

When Billy turns eighteen, he half-wittedly gets a job at a toy store around (wait for it) Christmas and ends up having to play (wait for it) Santa. Needless to say, the years of pent up anger and confusion surrounding the death of his parents at the hand of jolly St. Nick rip loose the fractured wiring in Billy’s head and off he goes hacking up anyone he deems is on the naughty list, which is pretty much anyone he meets. Nothing is left to the imagination as Billy dices his way through a blood splattered winter wonderland and the film’s conclusion shares very little with the Capra’esque triumph of George Bailey – it is inevitably not a wonderful life.

Silent Night, Deadly Night - Snowman

“Snowmen were absolutely harmed or injured during the making of this film.”

I LOVE this movie. Like many kids of the 80s who remember the TV commercial, I was terrified and mesmerized at the same time. The image of Santa pulling the gun from his red velvet pocket was burned in my brain, etched there to this day. The film’s poster of an axe wielding Santa sliding down a chimney is macabre and brilliant marketing. However, all this violent Santa imagery didn’t sit well with parents and they pressured TriStar Pictures for the film’s removal from theaters. At the Beyond Fest screening of the film a few years back, the producers discussed this controversy and explained the money trail : Tri-Star Pictures (the distributor), Columbia Pictures (partnered with TriStar) and Coca-Cola (owned Columbia). Coca-Cola has a long advertising history with Santa Claus and the stirrings from angry parents didn’t sit well with the family friendly soft drink company. Mind you, this anger was all based on commercials only! It’s not like the film was meant for kids. Regardless, it was yanked from theaters.

Silent Night, Deadly Night - Poster

“Maybe he’s just a fireman?”

I finally discovered the film on VHS in the 90s and immediately started having Silent Night, Deadly Night parties that consisted of four guys sitting around my dumpy Miami apartment drunkenly watching the film. Those humble beginnings turned into a full blown event in Hollywood that lasted for several years. I’ve owned the film on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD. I’ve got the Death Waltz vinyl signed by the cast and crew. The film’s eerie Doo-wop styled Christmas carol “Santa’s Watching” becomes my ringtone every December. Setting aside the conventional slasher fare of numerous creative kills, Silent Night, Deadly Night adds a very rich backstory to why Billy becomes a killer. Instead of a five minute flashback origin story, the filmmakers treat us to twenty five minutes of set up. I think that’s what separates it from the rest of the Halloween/Friday the 13th knockoffs and why I think we are still talking about the film 30+ years later.

Silent Night, Deadly Night - Laserdisc

“My new Scream Factory Blu-ray along with my signed Death Waltz Vinyl, my Laserdisc and a bloody axe hand crafted by my wife as a prop for our former SNDN/Die Hard Christmas Party.”

This year, it’s a Christmas miracle because Scream Factory has released Silent Night, Deadly Night on Blu-ray, and it’s the best I’ve ever seen it! Scream Factory has done their established awesome job of loading the release up with fun extras (notably a “then and now” locations tour), but the centerpiece is the disc’s HD transfer from the original camera negative. How these guys at Scream Factory dig up the bones of these classics is beyond me, but thank goodness they do. Now, this two disc set also comes with the un-cut version, which has been available on Laserdisc and DVD. Sadly, the original camera negatives from the extended scenes could not be found, so Scream Factory used the best available standard definition versions and cut them in with their new mastered footage. It’s a bumpy contrast, but they did the best they could and the serious fan will enjoy it. Honestly, after having seen both versions over the years, you aren’t missing much in those extended scenes – some blood, guts and the occasional added sleaze – but to view the crispest version would be to watch the theatrical release. One thing I wanted to shine the Retroist spotlight on is the incredible shots from Ira’s Toy Store.

Silent Night, Deadly Night - Toy Store

“Ira’s reminds me of Cut-Rate toys on Devon Avenue in Chicago.”

The store is featured heavily in the film’s second act and showcased some big toys of the era. These days that would be problematic and tricky with licenses and clearances, but this was the 80s man! Greydon Clark’s Joysticks features every popular coin-op game of the era, think he got the licenses to use Pac Man? Think again, internet lawyer troll. Now, for full transparency, I had spent time doing a bunch of screen grabs to curate a collection of stills from the movie but then I thought, ‘Hey, I bet some other toy nerd has already done this.” Lo and behold, a quick Google search turned up a few sites that have done a marvelous (and probably better) job cataloging and identifying the toys in Ira’s. One was written by the supremely talented John Squires (aka @FreddyInSpace) and he’s got a nice post you can read over at Bloody Disgusting.

Also, here’s a funny post from 2010 by writer David W. About how disorganized Ira’s shelves are.

I will add one more to the mix. Seen behind the shrewd Mr. Sims is the Zaxxon board game. I had that game, but for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you how to play it. In doing some research, I had no recollection of the board or pieces. My guess is I didn’t play it much, but I do love that artwork!

Silent Night, Deadly Night - Zaxxon

“Mr. Sims is nobody’s friend.

So, grab your milk and cookies and get your copy of Silent Night, Deadly Night on Blu-ray here!
Silent Night, Deadly Night - Scream Factory - Blu Ray

One last thing, I started my review stating that “Silent Night, Deadly Night is not necessarily one of the “must sees” for the casual horror fan looking for a campy thrill.” Please take that to heart. It’s not a goofy slasher romp. With the right audience, it’s totally entertaining. But with the wrong audience, you might get a few raised eyebrows. Definitely not for the faint of heart and certainly not for anyone who might take offense with a raging, axe throwing, homicidal Santa Claus. Before you share with your loved ones this holiday season, consider your audience.

Silent Night, Deadly Night - Patrick J. Doody and Patrick Brian Wilson

Meeting Billy Chapman himself, Robert Brian Wilson. The Egyptian Theater, Hollywood. 2014.”

Willard

Tear Into the Original Willard – Out On Scream Factory Blu-ray & DVD!

I’ll be totally honest with you dear reader, I’d never seen the 1971 horror film Willard until I received my review copy of this Blu-ray. Sure, I knew it was about rats. Yes, I guessed the rats committed some violent acts. That was it.
Willard - Bruce Davison

After watching, I admit it’s not the movie I thought it was. I imagined it being a dark, gruesome horror film from top to bottom. It isn’t. It’s an oddball drama about a socially awkward man named Willard who doesn’t have many friends. His home has become infested with rats, but instead of obeying his mother’s orders to kill them, he saves them. In fact, he shares some of his birthday cake with them! Then, the rats become his friends. He gives them names, talks to them and even brings them to work. Eventually, they become the only friends he can trust. This friendship Willard has with his rats doesn’t extend to some of the other people in his life, namely Willard’s cavalier boss, Mr. Martin. Like me, you can assume how the film ends, but it is truly spectacular and worth the lean 95 minute runtime.

The title character of Willard is played by Bruce Davison, an actor who’s been in everything – no really, he has 244 acting roles listed on his IMDB. Davison solidly walks a tight rope between Willard’s macabre loneliness and momentary charm. Sondra Locke, Elsa Lancaster and Ernest Borgnine fill in the other major roles and each performance is planted firmly within their reality. Even with the camp factor, the all star ensemble plays it up just enough to keep the movie grounded, but quirky.

Equally as interesting as the film is its history, which you can learn all about thanks to the wonderful release Scream Factory has put together. The audio commentary with star Davison is full of facts and anecdotes, and he shares a real passion for this movie. Davison explains that this release is a big milestone in Willard because it was a box office hit when it came out, yet due to legal issues, fans had a hard time finding many home releases and certainly nothing in HD. Until now!

I don’t know how the transfer compares to any of the limited previous releases, but knowing Scream Factory I would imagine they found the best version available. For my money, it looked and sounded great. And Scream Factory has also released Ben, the sequel. If rats are your thing, then they’ve got you covered.
Willard - Ben Poster

Friends, Patrick was kind enough to let me chime in on his article. When he submitted his latest review I kind of freaked out. As I have been wanting a proper release of Willard for quite some time. In fact the only way I have been able to watch this cult classic besides the occasional television airing is thanks to my VHS copy. If you will pardon the pun I would point out that its certainly become rather ratty.
Willard

I would add that the equally awesome 1972 sequel Ben also provided the late Michael Jackson an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song! – Vic

[Via] Oscars

Session 9 On Blu-ray

Scream Factory has been a blessing to horror movie fans. The past few years, they’ve been passionate about creating a library of beautiful high definition releases of our favorite films, ranging from John Carpenter’s The Fog to the freshly dropped Buckaroo Banzai. They make their best efforts to fill the disc with extras that only a geek could love. In many cases, these versions will be the best version of the movie available at this moment. You get quality, quantity and craftsmanship all in one place.

Many of the films are beloved. Some are random and weird. But every once in a while they release a film that unfortunately was missed the first time around, but is worthy of their five star-treatment.

Session 9 is one of those films. It is one of my favorite horror movies ever made – a truly serious thriller with incredible writing and storytelling. The cast delivers top notch performances and are slightly upped by the film’s other star, its location – the Danvers State Hospital just outside Boston. And the filmmakers waste no time in plunging you into the creepy, crawly, hair-raising edifice.

I’m not going to assume you have seen the film. You may have. But because I adore this film so much, I will not go near any spoilers. I will merely give you a back of the box description directly from Scream Factory.

“Donning protective gear, the men of the Hazmat Elimination Co. venture into the eerily vast and vacant asylum that is filled with an evil and mysterious past.”

That’s all you’ll get from me. Of course, you can check out the trailer. But if you have not seen the film, I urge you not to seek out anything about the movie before you view it.

Scream Factory has done another stellar job with this release. I’ve never seen the film look as good as it does here. Session 9 was made in 2001 and is an early example of a movie shot on video. At that time, that was not the standard practice as it today and while it does have that video sheen to it, it still holds up. The photography is stunning and any way you aim a camera in that location, you’re going to get a hauntingly beautiful image.

The Blu-ray has solid extras. Headlining is a brand new set of interviews with director Brad Anderson, actor/co-writer Stephen Gevedon along with other cast and crew. It’s very insightful and well done. Of course my favorites, Sean Clark and Buz Wallick are back with another Horror’s Hallowed Grounds! Now, a majority of the location at Danver’s State Hospital is gone and a very ritzy condo has taken over. However, Sean Clark visited the location in 2004, so he uses a mix of old footage and new footage to create a great episode. Ported over from the DVD are the audio commentary with Anderson along with a great EPK made during filming. For the Session 9 fan, this is the release you need. And for the newly admitted, this is the best way to be introduced.

Do what Simon says. Click and order Session 9.
Scream Factory

Return Of The Living Dead On Blu-Ray!

My big brother was lucky enough to see Return Of The Living Dead in theaters. I was 12 years old at the time and obsessed with renting R-Rated zombie flicks, but hadn’t made the crossover of sneaking into films for the over 17 crowd. I do remember hanging on his every word as he raced me through the story. Brain eating zombies? Punk rock music?? The dead can talk??? This movie had to be awesome. And when I finally saw it on VHS, my notion was confirmed – it was totally awesome. Now after 30 years, it feels just as fresh as Tina’s brains.

Now I would never say that ROTLD was better than Romero’s trilogy. Romero’s films sit firmly on a shelf in my head as the Living Dead Bible. But, director Dan O’Bannon does give the Romero-verse a swift kick in the pants and turns the whole genre upside down. First of all – to many horror fans ire – it made the undead fast moving! In a post 28 Days Later world that seems like old hat, but at the tail end of the flesh eating zeitgeist in the mid 80s, it was very different. O’Bannon also had clever zombies, who could talk. And in one of horror film’s greatest moments, we hear a zombie describe the pain of being dead and reveal its only cure – to eat brains. It is not a coincidence that she tells this to a mortician who is stunned at this revelation. That is one of the many clever moments in O’Bannon’s script, which delicately balances crazy action, gross out scares and slapstick comedy. Tonally, the film is pure 80s, kick-ass rock & roll from start to finish. It has killer make-up effects, great looking zombies and snappy writing scene after scene that keeps the story moving at a fast-spreading virus pace. Some may brush off the humor as a low brow attempt to appeal to less sophisticated horror fans, but I disagree. The film’s humor only adds to the fun and keeps you hooked from start to finish. And the incredible cast brings it all to life.

[Via] Movieclips Trailer Vault

Now Scream Factory has brought us the best version of this movie ever released. I’ve owned several copies over the years, and this Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic. The 2 disc set packs the extras in for the most ravenous fans. Not only included are features from the previous 2 DVD releases, it oozes with new commentaries and interviews. And of course, my favorite part of these Blu-rays is Sean Clark and his Horror’s Hallowed Grounds video tours of the shooting locations. He does another excellent job, albeit short due to a small amount of locations. But for anyone living in Los Angeles, it’s fun to see how so much of downtown LA has changed since 1985. And even with the massive overhaul of the city center, Clarke manages to still find what’s left of the ROTLD world.

So, what are you waiting for, it’s party time! Get on the radio, order the Blu-ray, and tell them to SEND MORE PARAMEDICS! Return of the Living Dead is available now!

Watch The Man Who’s Watching The Rollercoaster!

Rollercoaster is on my “must watch around the 4th of July” list. The reason is that the main action of the story takes place on 4th of July when a madman devises a plan to extort money from five major amusement park corporations by threatening them with homemade bombs he plants on…rollercoasters. What perfect timing for Shout! Factory to release the film on Blu-ray!

The film stars George Segal as Harry Calder, a safety inspector who gets wrangled into the story by the extortionist, who trusts Harry after overhearing him gush at his engineering smarts and cunning ability. Segal is in perfect form as a wise cracking city employee stuck in the middle of a dangerous situation. Some of my favorite scenes in the film are the back and forth between Calder and the cold blooded saboteur, played with eerie calm by Timothy Bottoms.

Aside from a fun thrill ride, the film is a wonderful way-back machine to the 1970s heyday of amusement parks. I grew up in Chicago where Marriot’s Great America in Gurnee was the gold standard in Illinois. Rollercoaster has some beautiful scenic shots of Ocean View Park, King’s Dominion and Six Flags Great Adventure, where the film’s climax takes place on the opening day of The Great American Revolution rollercoaster – a ride which still stands and has since been renamed The New Revolution. I also love the sights and sounds of that Americana look the parks had in those days : a throwback to old times, but washed over in a 70s gloss of stripes and pastels. In one scene, there is a barbershop quartet of trippy animatronic mushrooms, and apparently they are still in King’s Dominion.

In doing some research for this review, it’s easy to start going down an insane amusement park history rabbit hole. Many other films and shows of the 70s used these locations. Most notably, KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park was also shot in Magic Mountain. And even though I’ve seen Rollercoaster dozens of times, I never once noticed that Fleegle from The Banana Splits makes a brief appearance. I learned this makes sense as King’s Dominion featured many Hanna-Barbera characters.

Fleegle

The cast is rounded out by heavy hitters Peter Fonda and Richard Widmark, and look for small appearances by Helen Hunt and Steve Guttenberg. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 fans can spot Craig Wasson – the man who helped John Saxon bury Freddy – in a bit part as a stoned hippie who takes a ride on a bomb laden rollercoaster. I couldn’t end this review without mentioning the fabulous score by Lalo Schifrin, which manages to collide theme park instrumentals and thriller music into a soundtrack full of tense strings and calliope.

I’ve owned the film on DVD for years and finally we have this beautiful version on Shout! Factory Blu-ray. I did see that there was an Italian Blu-ray release, but I have not seen it to compare. This disc is also presented in Sensurround, a technology with a rich history that is a post in itself. Used by Universal, Sensurround was an audio technique for enhancing the low frequency in the theaters to make the seats “rumble”. It was specifically created for Universal Studio’s feature Earthquake, which helped its box office success. It was then adopted for other films, including Rollercoaster. I don’t have a system at home that can take advantage of the added bass, but I would be curious to know how it works for anyone else who does. Aside from a trailer, stills and a handful of radio spots, the disc is lacking any meaningful extras. It does have one interesting interview with associate producer Tommy Cook, who wrote the film’s original treatment. He shines some light on how the film was made and where he felt it could have been stronger after it strayed from his original idea. Disappointing on the extras, but I always like to point out that if Shout! Factory had access to more materials, they would have put them on here. This Blu-ray’s picture and sound quality alone are worthy of your summer job money.

Make sure you get a ticket and get in line, Rollercoaster hits the tracks June 21!