November 16, 2023

As much as some The Tortured Soul Trilogyshot-on-video filmmakers tried to stretch the boundaries of the horror genre back in the '80s and '90s, others realized you could sell your product just as easily with just a camcorder, some fake blood, and a few aspiring actors willing to strip in front of a camera. Such is the case with the Minneapolis-based saga of The Tortured Soul Trilogy, part of a spate of '90s quickies from director and star Michael W. Johnson in the spirit of '80s films like Maniac and Don't Answer the Phone. The gore itself is standard stuff and not all that shocking (mostly slashed throat gags and the occasional eye popping), but the wrinkle here is the addition of unsimulated female masturbation scenes to justify the opening disclaimers about sexually explicit material. Some softcore sex scenes get thrown in, too, mostly to pad out the running time. In 1992's VHS-shot Tortured Soul (51m49s), playable with new or archival intros by Johnson (31s The Tortured Soul Trilogyand 1m22s), things start off with a woman getting strangled on a mattress while diddling herself, which pretty much sets the tone of what's to come over the course of the entire trilogy. The threadbare plot involves Stevie (Johnson), who also shoots a woman to death in front of posters for Body Parts and Dario Argento's Creepers, and his brother, Ike (Kevin K. Smith), who basically terrorize a neighborhood via home invasions and murder. That's pretty much it apart from a bit of a plot turn near the end when a victim's relative comes gunning for justice. Then in 1994's Tortured Soul 2: Ike & Mike (77m4s), we get some recycled footage from the first film integrated into more female solo acts and murders, with Ike now going on a one-man rampage after (spoiler!) his brother has died and become either a ghost or part of his cracked psyche. Relatively speaking, this one works on a broader canvas with some elaborate scenes set in parking garages and outdoor spaces that give it some variety, not to mention a fun little spooky graveyard scene and a really nutty fight finale in a creek. Finally in 2004's Tortured Soul 3: The Willing Flesh (73m14s), aspiring criminologist Vanessa (Stephanie Beaton) decides to research the homicidal brothers (exactly how would give away the ending of the prior film) -- which sets the stage for more murders, explicit female nudity, and plentiful recycled bits from the previous two films. Johnson continues to improve here with a more playful and intricate storyline, relatively speaking, and he has a sense of humor about all this absurdity as well.

Barely circulated upon completion, all three films have been given the blood-red carpet treatment on Blu-ray from Saturn's Core in a stacked two-disc edition that must surely be the final word on these films. As expected, they're reliant on the original video formats with the first one looking the roughest and the remaining ones shot on S-VHS faring a bit better. They're also all uncensored, apart from a bit of video blurring over a TV apparently showing some unlicensed porn movie footage. The first two titles are housed on the first disc, with Johnson providing commentaries for all the films. "Capturing the Underbelly of America" (15m49s) is a hilariously candid new interview with Johnson about his cinematic influences (starting with William Castle and Tobe Hooper) and the process of mounting these microbudget labors of grungy love after cutting his teeth on Super 8 with the aid of plentiful cow parts. "God Forbid….Tortured Soul 2!" (12m59s) is another new chat with Johnson, this time focusing in entirely on the second film -- which is also covered with a reel of archival cast party coverage and outtakes (8m56s) and a trailer. Disc two features the third film and two additional Johnson films, 1990's suburban cannibal opus Meat's Meat... and Man's Gotta Eat (36m16s) and 1993's Bruno Mattei-esque The Smell of Death (41m55s), plus a making-of for the third film, "Everything Old Is New Again" (10m26s), a tour of Johnson's horror memorabilia room (7m11s), and bonus trailers for The Devil's Playground, Possessed by Evil, The Smell of Death, Meat's Meat, Tales from the Cannibal Side, Sixteen Tongues, Ravage, Sinistre, Red Spirit Lake, We Await, The Good Book, Red Cockroaches, and No Resistance. The package also comes with an insert booklet featuring new essays by Vincent Albarano, Art Ettinger, and Johnny Dickie. Buy here or here.

After establishing himself as a name to watch on the indie horror scene in 2015 with the still underseen They Look Like People, director Perry Blackshear has been quietly building up an impressive body of work exploring psychological issues within the framework of supernatural horror. His most recent variation with his familiar stock company of actors, When I Consume You2021's When I Consume You, followed the path of his first film by hitting DVD first in a stripped-down edition and then getting the deluxe Blu-ray treatment, in this case a 2023 release from Yellow Veil Pictures. (For some reason his second film, The Siren, is still stuck in DVD and streaming purgatory.) Again he reveals a keen eye and a knack for building interesting characters in a limited setting, this time focusing on literally fighting your demons via siblings Daphne (Libby Ewing) and Wilson (Evan Dumouchel). Dependent on each other after When I Consume Youwhat was apparently a very rough upbringing, they're trying to get their lives stabilized -- her by trying to adopt a child, and him about to interview for a teaching job. When a horrifying turn of events upends their bond, both of them are forced to confront a demonic secret from their past, albeit from very different perspectives. To say any more would ruin things, but this is a surprising and lacerating viewing experience if you go along with it and very much a progression of what Blackshear and the actors had laid out in their prior two films. The writing and performances are excellent, and the spare but effective use of horror elements builds up to an emotionally resonant finale that lingers quite a while once the credits roll. The Blu-ray presentation looks as pristine as you'd expect from a recent digital production, and in addition to a video intro from Blackshear, it features two commentaries with the director going solo and then with the three leads together. The film isn't terribly long (87 minutes) so both tracks pack in a lot, including thoughts on how to build an affectionate bond between the brother and sister, the physical appearance choices, their interpretations of the psychological issues at hand, and plenty more. Also included are a behind the scenes featurette (12m41s), an assemblage of brief (and minor) deleted scenes with optional commentary from Blackshear (8m59s), a very upbeat cast and crew interview sessions (19m57s) with Blackshear (who has white paint all over his hands for some reason) guiding things over video conferencing, a trailer, and a world premiere Q&A at the Fantasia Film Festival (35m36s) with programmer Justin Langlois interviewing the director and three stars over Zoom. The package also comes with an insert booklet featuring an essay by Craig Ian Mann placing this film in context with the creators' larger body of work. Buy here or here.

Continuing its Ghost Nursingongoing line of gorgeous Hong Kong genre Blu-rays, Vinegar Ghost NursingSyndrome really pulled one out of left field with Mei Ah's Ghost Nursing, a 1982 black magic freak-out from director Wilson Tong. "Gods and ghosts are everyone," notes the lengthy opening crawl about the Maoshan school that figures prominently in the plotline about the supernatural undercurrents running through Southeast Asia. For example, young Jackie (Shirley Yim) has relocated to Thailand from Hong Kong to kickstart her fortunes and get away from all that Triad nonsense at home. She's informed by a temple mystic that she can have her heart's desires granted if she "nurses" a ghost child from the comfort of her own home. She agrees and sets up a makeshift altar complete with a creepy wax embryo figurine, which she has to regularly supply with drops of her own blood on a regular basis. When she gets distracted by a new beau and all that convenient luck coming her way, it's time for the forces of darkness to come collecting -- and cue the supernatural showdown involving a determined priest, a graveyard, gooey latex effects, possession, snakes, and other nasty fun. Though it doesn't come near the excesses of some of its peers like Black Magic 2 or The Boxer's Omen, this is a lively rollercoaster of a horror film with a nice payoff and one of those signature abrupt endings that catches you off guard. Very much under the radar outside of die-hard fans, this one should be a real treat for anyone exploring the crazier corners of Hong Kong horror cinema from the '80s with its lively final third absolutely worth the investment. The 2K restoration from the negative looks gorgeous with nary a flaw in sight, and the original Cantonese track and Mandarin dub both sound fine in their DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono presentations with optional English subtitles (which have weird "X"s pop up instead of musical notes at times). In "From The Big Boss to Ghost Nursing" (8m19s), actor Billy Chan covers his wild career starting in early martial arts films and acting opposite Bruce Lee, after which he wove in and out through some of the wilder allies of Hong Kong cinema with careers including martial artist and film producer. Then in "Ghosts and Black Magic in Hong Kong Cinema" (18m33s), Samm Deighan surveys the Category III wave of supernatural horror epics from the golden era (though Ghost Nursing is definitely nowhere close to a Cat III film) with origins going back to The Enchanting Shadow and exploding with '80s shockers from Shaw Brothers and others. Buy here or here.

An outrageous Magic CrystalHong Kong film of a very different kind from the '80s can be found in Vinegar Syndrome's VSA Blu-ray release of Magic Crystal, a 1986 genre mash-up that tosses aliens, fantasy, kids, synth music, comedy, Cynthia Rothrock, and martial arts into a blender. The result comes from whatever was in the water that also gave us Raiders of Atlantis as mercenary Andy (Andy Lau) is summoned from Hong Kong to Greece by an archaeologist (Phillip Ko) being tracked by KGB spies while he searches for a valuable artifact. Teaming up with Interpol agent Cindy (Rothrock) and his own nephew, Andy goes through a maze of attacks and double crosses involving a large, sentient chunk of jade whose powers have yet to be fully harnessed. That doesn't even begin to encapsulate the weirdness of actually watching this one, which Magic Crystalshifts genres every ten minutes or so with utter glee under the directorial hand of the maniacal Wong Jing (God of Gamblers, City Hunter). Action fans will get their money's worth with the combat scenes here (including a gymnasium showdown that looks very painful), but you'll get a whole lot more including action vet Richard Norton (American Ninja, Millionaires' Express) as the main baddie. Available on and off on home video over the years including several iffy DVD editions from Europe and Hong Kong, Magic Crystal looks incredible here with a mostly pristine 2K restoration from the camera negative (some water damage is evident in the second reel, otherwise it's smooth sailing) featuring the original Cantonese 2.0 mono track (DTS-HD MA) along with the English dub, with optional English subtitles. (The English track is really something else, with Rothrock and Norton dubbed so badly it's almost brilliant.) A new commentary by Frank Djeng and Ric Meyers covers everything you could want to know about this one including the casting, international location scouting, and the backgrounds of pretty much everyone involved including the fight choreography. In "Just Don’t Kill Me" (18m15s), Rothrock cheerfully talks about the hectic process of making this simultaneously with Righting Wrongs and being surprised by how much sci-fi ended up in the final product, which gave her the opportunity to shoot in Greece and Taiwan. In "Bin-Bin on Magic Crystal" (7m31s), Wen “Bin Bin” Chao-Yu chats about being a child actor on this film hopping around in and outside of Hong Kong as well as the strong impression left by witnessing so many vivid fight scenes in action. In addition to the understandably scattershot trailer, the set also comes with a 16-page booklet with an essay by Erica Schultz. Buy here.

Best known to fans of Canadian genre films for Prom Night and Humongous before he moved on to seemingly hundreds of TV shows, director The Hard Part BeginsPaul Lynch first got his start in 1973 with the little-seen but very worthwhile The Hard Part Begins starring veteran character actor Donnelly Rhodes in a rare leading role. The off-putting title makes this sound a lot more grueling than it actually is as we follow country singer Jim King (Rhodes) on the well-worn circuit of small gigs including remote bars and nightclubs around Canada. His life is a juggling act of drama including his hit-and-miss romance with band The Hard Part Begins and singer Jenny (Nancy Belle Fuller) and his self-destructive counterculture son (David Daniels), though a possible reprieve is in sight when a record label expresses interest in cutting an album. The inherent heartache in '70s country music is captured nicely here in this valuable slice of life that captures an era and locale long gone, with Rhodes not only giving a terrific (and frequently battered) performance but handling a nice roster of solid original country tunes.

This one's been out of commission for a very long time (apparently without even a VHS release anywhere) until the 2023 Blu-ray release from Canadian International Pictures, which is presented from a 4K scan of the original 16mm reversal. It's a grainy and rough-hewn film by nature, but it looks great here with some of the more stylized performance scene looking really saturated and vibrant. You get two new audio commentaries here, the first with Lynch and former TIFF senior programmer Steve Gravestock and the second with the reliable CIP team of's Paul Corupe and film historian Jason Pichonsky. Both are very worthwhile balancing out production stories about finding real locations for the performances, the scrappy music touring scene in '70s Canada, the creation of the King and Country band seen in the film, and the distribution challenges facing a film like this. Lynch appears in three separate interview featurettes -- "A Filmmaker Begins" (26m16s), "After the Hard Part" (13m22s), and "Evolution of a Cinephile" (8m54s) -- in which he looks back at the origins of his directorial career starting with his family's moving in and out of Canada, his early love of comic strips, the mounting of his first feature and the one right after it, his subsequent success in Canada, his move to TV, and his other industry experiences that gave him a deeper appreciation for his craft. In "An Actor Begins" (22m22s), Daniels looks back at the opportunity he enjoyed getting to work on this film, his intentionally cold relationship with Rhodes, and the "bum trip" attitude of his character that scared him. In "The Easy Parts Await" (11m48s), Daniel Kremer talks about the early career of Lynch and his own experience meeting the filmmaker while working with Sidney J. Furie and forging a friendship unto itself. In "Reyes on Rhodes" (12m16s), Amanda Reyes gives an appreciative and insightful look at the career of the Winnipeg-raised Rhodes who showed a great deal of versatility on the big and small screens in multiple genres. A brief 1989 interview with Rhodes (4m19s) touches on his preference for film over stage and TV, followed by new audio interviews with actor/associate producer Hugh Curry (17m30s) and editor William Gray (14m13s). Also included are a slightly different alternate ending (49s) with no freeze frame, plus an audio afterword with Lynch and Gravestock (8m33s) looking back at the film 50 years on. An insert booklet is also included featuring a new text interview with Fuller. Buy here.

An early calling card for Australian director Mark Savage, the impressive Sensitive New Age Killer, now out on Blu-ray from Dark Star as Hitman's Hero, is a berserk Hitman's Herocomic-horrific-kinky crime film that makes for a fine starter for newcomers to the filmmaker. Though he's a hitman, Paul (Paul Moder) is, as the title implies, a sensitive guy whose childhood experience watching the handiwork of "The Hitman's HeroSnake" (Frank Bren) inspired his career choice. Unfortunately none of his assignments seem to be going smoothly, as his unscrupulous and wildly unstable partner George (Kevin Hopkins) is set on getting Paul killed in the line of duty and living out a weird baby fetish with Paul's wife. On top of that, Paul spends his time after hours with Matty (Carolyn Bock), a ruthless cop prone to performing dominatrix duties on her unwilling suspects. Certainly wild and unpredictable, this one isn't terribly explicit (a few bloody squibs here and there and lots of softcore grinding are about as hard as it gets), but the dark, sleazy subject matter still gives the film a raw, transgressive edge, leavened with some very funny black humor. It also offers an amusing take on late-20th Century masculine anxiety, with Paul's faulty "gun" and frequent submissive situations at the hands of those around him reflecting the increasingly jittery male egos proliferating around the same time. This one first appeared on DVD in the U.S. from Subversive Cinema as part of the three-film Savage Sinema from Down Under DVD set (along with Marauders and Defenceless), which also featured Savage's production diaries, a "SNAK: A Post-Mortem" featurette, and an audio commentary. The Blu-ray features a brand new commentary with Savage and director of photographer / co-writer David Richardson, and it's a brisk, enjoyable listen as they talk about crossing paths in Melbourne and embarking on this wild ride. "Hitman's Hero Memories" (38m43s) is basically a repurposing of the earlier featurette, followed by a new interview with Moder (12m7s) via Zoom about his many careers in the Aussie film industry and his experiences on this production. A trailer is also included, plus bonus trailers for The Queen of Hollywood Blvd., Fair Game, and Pvt Chat. Buy here or here.

One The Day of the Pantherof the most essential names in the annals of Ozploitation, Aussie director Brian Trenchard-Smith is most famous now for his The Day of the Pantherbrain-blasting epics like The Man from Hong Kong, Stunt Rock, and Turkey Shoot. Even as the market for Australian cinematic junk food was dying down, he was still at it with two cheap but entertaining action films shot back to back for the home video market, now out on Blu-ray from Umbrella in a logical double feature -- minus bonus features, but at least they're back in circulation. As the director himself said multiple times, young actor Edward Stazak, essentially the Aussie equivalent of Jeff Speakman, was cast to star in both films as crime fighter Jason Blade thanks to his willingness to punch hard, kick high, and remove his shirt as often as possible. The first of the two films made in 1987, Day of the Panther, teams Blade up with another agent in Hong Kong to bust up a Triad drug ring operating on an international scale. When they cross the line and kill his partner, Blade goes into overdrive and heads home to Australia to hunt the evildoers down. Then Strike of the Panther follows Blade's further exploits rescuing a VIP's daughter from forced prostitution and hunting down an unscrupulous businessman operating his own cover crime ring in Australia. When his girlfriend gets kidnapped, Blade springs into action again for a long showdown at a power plant. And that's pretty much it. Though Stazak can't act at all, he's amusing to watch here as Trenchard-Smith, who was brought in at the last minute as a gun for hire, throws in goofy little grace notes now and then just for fun. These are exactly the kind of action oddities you'd see popping up on cable in the middle of the night, so watch them in that spirit and you'll have a good time. Both films were cranked out without a ton of attention to aesthetics (they're about 90% wide shots), and the Blu-ray presents them about as well as possible (and certainly better than the VHS and DVD copies we've had floating around). Buy here or here.

Next the grubbiest Death in Brunswickside of Melbourne gets the spotlight in the 1990 dark comedy Death in Brunswick, an adaptation of an even darker novel by Boyd Oxlade. Sam Neill stars as Carl, a chef in the titular suburb who starts to have an affair with a barmaid at work, Sophie (Zoe Carides). After a misunderstanding leads to the accidental stabbing death of another coworker, Carl comes up with a questionable plan to dispose of the evidence with his gravedigger buddy, Dave (John Clarke). However, his work-life balance is still going to be wildly out of whack no matter what he does... A great showcase for Neill with strong support from the entire cast (especially Carides), this one built up something of a cult following at home but still hasn't quite broken through as much as it could have. In the U.S. it's gone through distributors like Columbia TriStar Death in Brunswickon VHS and First Look on DVD, but the 2023 Umbrella Blu-ray is definitely the way to go with a drastically improved transfer that allows you to finally get a clear look at what's happening during that lengthy nighttime graveyard sequence. Audio options include DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 English tracks with optional subtitles, a commentary with Neill and Clarke, and a commentary with director John Ruane and cinematographer Ellery Ryan. All of them are understandably quite fond of the film and have plenty of tales from the set, from the casting process through the adaptation of the novel and the issues of releasing a film named after a very real neighborhood. A new Melbourne International Film Festival Q&A (21m34s) features Ruane, Ryan, and production designer Chris Kennedy, followed by a new "Where Was It Filmed" featurette (16m7s) offering a video walking tour through the various locations then and now. Two archival supplements are here and both are quite substantial: "Death In Brunswick Hits The Road" (79m20s), an in-depth look at the film's publicity path in a crowded market and a heyday for Australian entertainment in general, and "Memories of Murder" (48m37s) with Clarke, Carides, Ruane, Ozlade, and more reminiscing about the pleasant experience of making the film despite occasional hiccups down to keeping the original title. The Aussie TV docuseries The Grass Is Greener is featured here with two episodes devoted to Neill and Clark (both 22m53s) shot during the making of this film, followed by a large 23m30s batch of VHS-sourced deleted scenes and the trailer. An insert also features a new essay by Samm Deighan. Buy here or here.

Finally our trip Midnite Sparesthrough Australia wraps up in Sydney with another homegrown cult item still fairly obscure overseas: 1983's Midnite Spares, one of the many vehicular mayhem epics made in the wake of Mad Max. This one is goofier and stranger than usual though, opening up with an elaborate car theft ring loading their quarry into moving trucks so they can be taken off to a chop shop. Enter Steve (James Laurie), an up-and-coming race car driver who's trying to figure out why his dad has disappeared -- and what it might have to do with the crime ring. He also takes time to romance the young Ruth (Gia Carides, sister of Zoe above) and gets immersed in the local car culture before things eventually explode into a half-hour demolition derby in the third act. Adding to the film's cult credentials are the presence of stalwarts Bruce Midnite SparesSpence and Graeme Blundell, and the capturing of '80s pop culture is dead on here with lots of fashions and music guaranteed to make you smile. It's definitely more sunny and relaxed than some of the other car-crazy films around that time, a la The Chain Reaction, but it's a ride worth taking. This one especially picked up steam internationally when some choice clips turned up in the 2008 doc Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! by Mark Hartley, and Umbrella issued it on DVD and then a 2023 Blu-ray special edition worth picking up. The remastering here looks satisfying without compromising the somewhat scrappy look of the original film, and in an interesting wrinkle, it adds a "never before released uncut alternate soundtrack" in addition to the usual theatrical one. There are quite a few variations here, including some different music transitions and a few slightly naughtier words. An audio commentary with Hartley and producer Tom Burstall is chock full of info about the film including how they wrecked all those vehicles for real, while "The Reluctant Auteur" (17m46s) has David Del Valle talking about watching director Quentin Master's The Stud and realizing he made other movies. An interview with Burstall from the Not Quite Hollywood sessions (4m52s) covers the challenging production of this film in the wake of the "cowboy atmosphere" from The Road Warrior, followed by a Cannes promo reel (13m18s) with a bit of nudity not in the finished product, and a fleeting 29s deleted scene sourced from VHS. Also included is a reel of Filmco trailers including this film, Turkey Shoot, Next of Kin, Far East, A Dangerous Summer, The Dark Room, Early Frost, Double Deal, and Undercover. Finally the disc wraps up with a 3m23s gallery and a TV spot, while the insert booklet has an essay by Heather Drain along with a 16-page Dark Oz comic book adaptation. The disc also comes with a limited slipcover, which spells the film's title as Midnight Spares. Buy here or here.

You'd have to look pretty hard to find an SOV horror film more suited to the late '90s than At Dawn They Sleep, which opens up with a homophobic tirade against Metallica At Dawn They Sleepwhile also working in bare boobs, puking, and a Jörg Buttgereit t-shirt. Obviously inspired by From Dusk Till Dawn but shot for 0.5% of the budget in the Massachusetts suburbs, this one follows the bloody fates of buddies Ian (Rich George, who also produced) and David (director Brian Paulin, whose still cranking 'em out), who have fallen afoul of drug crime lords but start to slowly turn into vampires (including hatching out of cocoons) after a one-night stand with a couple of mysterious, literally At Dawn They Sleepangelic women. Now they're impervious to bullets and realize they can wage their own two-man war on their foes, which is basically an excuse to load as much gun play, slime, blood, and general mayhem on screen as possible. Though hampered in the editing and acting departments, this one definitely delivers the goods if you're looking for a lot of gore and nudity with plenty of images that could have been ripped right off of a metal album cover. The Blu-ray release from Saturn's Core is likely to give this one a bigger showcase than its decades-old DVD release, and the presentation here is quite solid given it was shot on digital prosumer cameras. Paul and George's original audio commentary from the 2004 DVD is ported over here, plus a new one with the pair talking about their lengthy partnership, the execution of the numerous practical gore gags, the friends they enlisted to pitch in, and their many adventures since then under the Morbid Vision banner. "Outbreak of Evil" (34m48s) is a new making-of featurette with Paulin and George looking back at the production, showing how it evolved from a number of horror shorts and mini-features starting at the cusp of the '90s (complete with plentiful clips). An archival making-of featurette (14m18s) is also ported over from the DVD, plus a 5m53s outtakes reel, a "Scenes That Hurt" (2m29s) stunt blooper reel, and Morbid Vision's first feature Reap of Evil from 1994 (with optional commentary by the duo) in pretty ragged, dupey condition; it's fascinating to watch though complete with lots of squishy blood gags and an impressive demon that would pop up again later on. Also included are a "Hell Awaits" (11m37s) making-of for Reap of Evil, a 2m16s production photo gallery, a Morbid Vision trailer reel (At Dawn They Sleep, Fetus, Blood Pigs, Cryptic Plasm, Morbid Tales, and Septic), plus the usual Saturn's Core bonus trailers. Buy here or here.

Completely defying genre The Catechism Cataclysmclassification altogether is 2011's The Catechism Cataclysm, a very cracked parable about the surreal journey of Father William "Billy" Smoortser (Vice Principals' Steve Litte), who's prone to telling silly digressions to his flock that The Catechism Cataclysmhave no connection at all to the lessons at hand. Sent off on a sabbatical, he ends up taking a canoe trip with flannel-wearing buddy Robbie (Robert Longstreet). Apparently incurring some sort of divine interference by accidentally dropping his Bible into a toilet, the priest and his pal swap stories that become increasingly dizzying and might have some bearing on their own peculiar place in the cosmos. Obviously this won't be a film for all tastes; it's silly, surreal, and sometimes feels completely improvised, with tonal shifts that get close to horror more than once. The Blu-ray release from Factory 25 is a solid one featuring the expected top notch a/v quality and a slew of extras including a Japanese trailer(?), an appropriately ambling audio commentary by Longstreet, Little, and director Todd Rohal, a 4m12s outtakes reel, the short films "Ohio" (13m17s) by Andy DeYoung and the inexplicable "Bad Manners," or "Don't Die Alone," or "The Further Adventures of Father William Smoortser" (12m58s) by Rohal. Then you get three video essays - "10 Reasons to Watch" (12m3s), "Angels of Death" (13m45s), and "Shenanigans" (7m29s) - and an "OD'd in Denver" music video by Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy directed by Rohal. Buy here or here.

Somewhat Ninja in the Claws of the CIAnotorious among die-hard kung fu fans, 1981's Ninja in the Claws of the CIA is an often baffling action film from John Liu, the Taiwanese actor and occasional director who was responsible for what eventually became New York Ninja. Co-financed by Hong Kong and Spain, the film was largely shot in Europe which means (a) everyone is dubbed, hilariously so, no matter how you see it, and (b) a lot of unexpected faces pop up during the Spanish-shot sequences including pop singer-director-conspiracy theorist Christian Anders (Divine Emanuelle: Love Cult), Victor Israel (Horror Express), and Mirta Miller (Eyeball). The vague strand of a plot involves John getting recruited to hone his martial arts prowess as part of a Ninja in the Claws of the CIACIA plan to hypnotize its men into becoming fighting machines. He ends up joining forces with CIA analyst Miller on an international chase across Europe with lots of fighting and destruction of random store inventories, with little rhyme or reason at any point. Impossible to fully describe and weirdly glorious to watch, this cinematic brain bruiser is presented on Blu-ray as another of Vinegar Syndrome's VSA titles in its longest possible version (88m31s), mostly with the incredible English dub but switching to Spanish with English subtitles for a few short bits -- most notably the much longer training sequence, including our hero getting straddled and orally pleasured by a woman testing his fighting resolve. Yes, it's that kind of movie. The source here is an immaculate 4K scan from the 35mm internegative, way better than the fuzzy tape copies we've had floating around forever from labels like Magnum, and Chris Poggiali (co-author of These Fists Break Breaks: How Kung Fu Movies Swept America and Changed the World) provides an excellent, very in-depth commentary explaining what this weird beast is, how it fits in with Hong Kong and Taiwanese exports, and how Liu managed to mount vanity projects like this before apparently vanishing off the face of the earth. Filmmaker Kurtis Spieler ("re-director" of New York Ninja) offers a video intro (4m26s) providing some additional background about the film, particularly his own experience spending years reassembling Liu's big labor of love. In "The Wonder of Vanity Action Films" (11m), Justin Decloux provides a video essay on how this film fits into the wondrous legacy of films made by multitasking artistes confident they can carry their own self-crafted star vehicles. Finally you get the (astounding) original trailer, a 1m35s gallery of promotional material, and a quick alternate title sequence as Made in China. Buy here or here.


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