Scream Factory Blu-ray Review Round-up: “THE HARVEST”, “THE SENTINEL”, more…Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
Now that their second Summer of Fear is coming to a close, Scream Factory is bringing Halloween early to Blu-ray collectors with an impressive line-up of cult classics and new horror offerings. Luckily, FANGORIA has the latest releases from the specialty distributor, and in this review round-up, fright fans can better decide which Scream offerings are best suited for their home media collection.
With HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, John McNaughton crafted one of the most harrowing and emotionally complicated serial killer thrillers ever brought to screen, and put Michael Rooker on the map as a performer to watch. Since then, McNaughton’s output has gone from campy to erotic and even non-genre crime thrillers, but with his latest film, THE HARVEST, McNaughton offers the same cold, reserved horror as HENRY but with a less explicit edge. In fact, THE HARVEST almost plays as a love letter to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King at times, putting the drama ahead of the horror yet ramping up the thrills late in the game. For those who like their thrillers with a bit of brains and a whole lot of disturbing undertones, THE HARVEST is among the stronger options out there.
One of the few independent efforts shot on film nowadays, Scream Factory gives this IFC Midnight release an impressive transfer that really adds to the somewhat soft cinematography of the piece. The video transfer is top notch, with the image retaining some of the natural film grain while containing the clarity and sharpness of a digitally-shot film transfer. And Scream gives their expectedly fantastic audio mix, which is dynamic without necessarily overloading the senses.
Unfortunately, the features here are quite lacking; aside from a single commentary track with McNaughton (who seems articulate and on-point regarding the film) and producer Steven A. Jones, THE HARVEST only features a trailer. So while those who love the film, or at least Michael Shannon & Samantha Morton’s powerful and, at times, chilling performances, might be interested in this release, feature-friendly collectors won’t find much substance outside of the film.
The first of two classic chillers on Blu-ray this week from Scream Factory, THE SENTINEL is- in a nutshell- completely insane. Seemingly a rip-off of ROSEMARY’S BABY, Lucio Fulci and FREAKS from the director of DEATH WISH, THE SENTINEL isn’t quite as scary or terrifying as it is immensely interesting and strange, filled with tons of odd, bizarre sequences other films would rightfully question including in the final cut. Nevertheless, THE SENTINEL sticks with its craziness from top to bottom, and what results is a fun, if familiar, cult classic that can also double as a “Where’s Waldo?” of recognizable actors, with cameos from Jeff Goldblum, Jerry Orbach, Tom Berenger, Beverly D’Angelo, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken and more.
Fans of THE SENTINEL (and there are many) will firstly appreciate the new HD transfer, stricken from the original Interpositive. Though there are brief pieces of evidence of natural wear-and-tear, this transfer is otherwise gorgeous and surprisingly clear, even through a somewhat heavier grain than some might anticipate; if anything, it all adds to the vintage appeal of the film. Likewise, Scream knocks it out of the park with the audio transfer as well, mixing it perfectly for those even without top tier home theaters.
And THE SENTINEL also makes for an excellent addition for Blu-ray collectors, with the film containing two brand new commentary tracks as well as a healthy amount of ported-over extras as well. While the previously released and notoriously candid commentary from Michael Winner still may be the best presented here, both new commentaries (one with actress Cristina Raines, the other with writer Jeffrey Konvitz) are extremely informative, loose and entertaining. The disc also features a 20+ minute chat with assistant director Ralph Singleton, as well as trailers, tv spots and several picture galleries. So for fans of truly bonkers ‘70s horror and die-hard horror Blu-ray collectors, THE SENTINEL is not a terror title to pass on.
Out of the two ‘70s-based horror titles recently released by Scream Factory, one would think nothing could be goofier or more indecipherable than THE SENTINEL. But then THE LEGACY comes along to prove this writer wrong once again, although THE LEGACY clearly has a firmer grasp on its own ridiculousness and, in the right light, could be perceived as a dark horror comedy. It’s may be less sensational and transgressive as THE SENTINEL, but it’s certainly no less forgettable as midnight movie fare.
Also sporting a new high-def transfer from the interpositive, this release is very similar to that of THE SENTINEL in terms of quality. There is an equal (if not, a bit more) wear and tear from the interpositive on display, but the transfer is mostly clear and well-defined, and is certainly miles better than any release before this. And THE LEGACY even improves on THE SENTINEL in terms of audio mix, with the 2.0 lossless track making all the difference between watching the film and being immersed in its nightmarish world.
While not as stacked with features as THE SENTINEL, THE LEGACY certainly doesn’t skimp on the releases either. The interview with editor Anne V. Coates is easily the most impressive of the set, while the interview with FX make-up artist Robin Grantham is informative but over far too quickly. The set is rounded out by a TV Spot, Theatrical Trailer and Photo Gallery. Overall, the set is likely to please fans of the film as well as newcomers, although pickier Blu-ray collectors may have their objections.
Perhaps the strongest film this week comes from frequent Eli Roth-collaborator Guillermo Amoedo, who offers a compelling vampire thriller with the Roth-presented THE STRANGER. Much more reserved and contemplative than what normally comes from the Roth camp, THE STRANGER is a genuinely great film about a guilt-ridden vampire who has tracked down his long-lost half-vampire son, who is currently embroiled in a deadly small-town drama with a corrupt local sheriff and his sadistic son. Featuring Roth’s muse Lorenza Izzo in a small role and a hopefully star-turning performance from Cristóbal Tapia-Montt, THE STRANGER balances style and substance perfectly, pacing its artistic sensibilities as well as its horrific elements in a confident manner.
In terms of the video transfer, THE STRANGER looks absolutely gorgeous, and the digital cinematography really allows for some entrancing imagery with astounding clarity. In fact, THE STRANGER seems a bit more sharp than Scream’s normal “newer” output, but is likely attributed to the means of the film’s production. Outside of the very impressive and sharp video transfer, the film also provides a rich audio mix, which works for the film in a big way considering how many quiet gaps are filled with mood music.
THE STRANGER also includes more special features than comparable newer Scream Factory titles, the crown jewel of the set being Amoedo’s short film THE FOURTH HORSEMAN. The disc also contains a fairly interesting documentary featurette called “Welcome to Chilewood”, which features many of Roth’s post-AFTERSHOCK collaborators. Beyond that, THE STRANGER features two trailers (a U.S. trailer and Chile trailer) and a still gallery. Overall, THE STRANGER is an above average vampire movie with an above average transfer and above average features, and this writer can’t see many horror fans regretting this purchase.
In short, Scream Factory has a nice balance between crazy fun and affecting psychodrama for their beginning-of-Fall fare, and while each set has their perks and drawbacks, most seem to be worth their weight for the horror collector’s market. Though THE HARVEST could have benefitted from more features, almost every film here is certainly worth a watch, and considering the high-definition transfer Scream has provided for each, these sets will outdo anything you can find elsewhere.