Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Growing up in the fifties and sixties gave fans of science fiction and mystery the best years available when it came to TV series. Anthology shows were the norm rather than the exception and the eerie made its way to television screens weekly with shows like THRILLER and ONE STEP BEYOND. But the granddaddy of them all was written by a man named Rod Serling, one of the best screenwriters of all time, who appeared at the beginning of his series each week to take us to…the Twilight Zone.

The name itself has become synonymous with the odd and out of place, a location where time stands still and dreams come true. As Serling said each week “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call…the Twilight Zone.” Rarely is prose like this found on TV today.

For most THE TWILIGHT ZONE is nothing more than a marathon shown on the SyFy network every so often. One episode after another for three days straight. For fans it’s a gift, for those unfamiliar with the show it’s a novelty and for those who don’t give it a chance it’s a tedious chore to watch. Unlike series today with quick cuts, fast moving shots and locations and plotlines that have to be understood in nanoseconds rather than take the time to play out, THE TWILIGHT ZONE took the time to tell stories, to take new ideas as well as the works of famous authors to be shown each week.

Serling chose the best of the best from stories that drifted from science fiction to fantasy to eerie tales to downright mysteries. Many are well remembered and some forgotten, but once seen they are difficult to forget. Consider “Time Enough At Last”, the story of a henpecked man who loves to read and does so by escaping to a vault on his lunch break. When the apocalypse arrives and wipes out mankind, he now has all the time he wants to read. SPOILER. And then he drops and breaks his glasses. It was twists like this that made the series must see TV.

Or how about “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” where a group of neighbors display their deepest fears about each other when it appears one of them might indeed be an alien from outer space. As they try and determine who it is the paranoia can be sliced with a knife. “A Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” tells the tale of a man who looks out the window of the airplane he is on to see a creature tearing the plane apart in mid-flight but who can’t convince anyone else of what he is seeing. These are some of the more notable episodes that people have discussed for years.

So why talk about this series now? Because it is finally available at a decent price in the best transfer possible. Individual seasons of the show previously released on blu-ray ran anywhere from $40-56 each. At that price being able to afford the entire 5 year series was a bit pricey. Even the earlier version on blu-ray ran high with a $180 price tag. But now you can find THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE COMPLETE SERIES  on blu-ray for just $84. That might still be higher than most would pay for a recording of their favorite show but when you consider you get all 5 seasons, all 156 episodes of the now classic series, it’s honestly a bargain.

No longer will the fan have to wait until SyFy runs a marathon, staying up until the wee hours of the morning to get a glimpse of that favorite episode. Watch it whenever you want and in the best format possible. In addition to the episodes you also get the original pilot, interviews with cast and crew, isolated music scores, audio commentary by author Marc Scott Zicree, radio dramas and more. This makes the greatest gift possible for that hard to find person, the one who loves this series but has held off on buying it.

Fans of the series will delight to find this item under the Christmas tree. Once again it will take them to that fifth dimension, the dimension of the imagination, a dimension knowns as the Twilight Zone. And with any luck while watching, a new generation will have the chance to discover some of the best TV has ever had to offer.

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Horror fans are the most dedicated fans you will find. The only group that comes close are those who love the tear jerking romantic films like THE NOTEBOOK, movies that will be watched again and again. But horror fans will not only watch a movie multiple times, they will buy every edition that comes out, will watch every extra in detail and will watch the film with every commentary track included. That’s how dedicated they are.

So when it was announced that the 1979 horror classic PHANTASM was being restored this year in a 4k version supervised by J.J. Abrams, the director of the first two movies in the new STAR TREK movies, SUPER 8 and the recent STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, fans were thrilled to know the movie was in good hands. It turns out that Abrams was a fan of the film as well and contacted director Don Coscarelli to help with the restoration. Not only have they cleaned up the look they’ve polished up the soundtrack as well.

If you’re not aware of the film it’s an interesting tale. Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is a pre-teen troubled after the death by accident of his parents. When his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) helps with the funeral of his friend Tommy, Mike sneaks about the cemetery watching the funeral. Rather than the normal situation he watches as the funeral director known only as the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) returns to the gravesite after everyone has gone and single handedly lifts the coffin into his hearse to take back to the funeral home.

This is just the first encounter Mike has while dealing with the deaths around him, Jody possibly leaving town and leaving Mike with his aunt. With each encounter with the Tall Man Mike finds himself drawn into something bigger than a few deaths or the mysterious behavior of the man. In the funeral home he wanders the halls of the mausoleum and is nearly caught by a groundskeeper. But as he is grabbed a flying silver sphere suddenly comes down the hall with three protruding blades in it, sticking into the groundskeeper’s forehead and draining him of blood.

Mike tries to tell his brother about what is happening and eventually convinces him he’s not seeing things. With the aid of Jody’s best friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), the three determine to enter the mausoleum and discover just what the Tall Man is up to. Shrunken humans, odd shaped people, a portal to places unknown and more flying spheres help to make this film a combination of science fiction and horror with a little heavier lean on horror. The story might sound simple but the visual storytelling of Coscarelli makes it all work and holds your interest from start to finish.

The movie did decent at the box office but nothing spectacular. Even though it was considered a low budget film the look, style and feel of the film make it seem all the more impressive. While it does have that low budget drive-in atmosphere about it the movie offers more than most films made for those locations ever offered. This could be the reason that the film has drawn such a dedicated fan base.

It had enough fans that the film spawned 3 other sequels over the years. Oddly enough most were never completed under the same studio banner making their release in a box set nearly impossible (and yet it happened). Each sequel left an open ending with more story to tell. That has resulted in what has been called the final installment, PHANTASM: RAVAGER, which also comes out this week.

Fans of the film will be ecstatic over the look of this restoration. I’ve never seen the film look better than this and I’ve seen it a number of times, from my first viewing at the local drive-in to VHS to DVD. The images here are sharper than ever before, the darks are actually dark rather than the milky look they’ve had in some incarnation and the clean up on some of the effects make them better than they’ve ever appeared. Abrams and his crew deserve recognition for the wonderful job they’ve done here.

If you love the film you’ll want this edition in your collection. It also includes some notable extras including an episode of GRAVEYARD CARS where they recreate the classic car from the film, interviews from 1979 with Coscarelli and Scrimm, deleted scenes and a commentary track with Coscarelli, Baldwin, Scrimm and Thornbury. And if you’ve never seen the film before now is your chance to do so with the best edition you will more than likely ever find. With Christmas around the corner this is the perfect gift for any horror fan. Just look for PHANTASM: REMASTERED.

Speaking of horror fans those who can’t get enough of trailer compilations, those previews shown before movies, will want to get their orders in for TRAILER TRAUMA 3: ‘80s HORROR-THON from Garagehouse Pictures. With over 250 trailers and running over 7.5 hours, this trailer compilation will most likely be one of the best ever offered. It comes out December 21st, just in time to make it under the Christmas tree.

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While horror and suspense films have always been around it wasn’t until the last decade or so that they’ve become more mainstream. Where they once appeared on the big screen every few months these days they are released almost weekly. That overabundance means that not every movie is worth your time. But when one comes along that is the word needs to be spread. So let me be the first to say DON’T BREATH is worth your time.

Money (Daniel Zovatto), Alex (Dylan Minette) and Rocky (Jane Levy) are a trio of burglars seeking the big score. Alex’ father owns a security company and he lifts keys to various houses, the group breaks in stealing items but no cash and then they reset the alarm and set it off to make sure the victims won’t suspect an inside job and can cash in on their insurance. The scores are small but that’s all about to change.

Each of the group has their own reasons for their burglaries. Money just wants the cash he can get when he trades off the goods to his fence. Alex hopes to pay for law school. And Rocky lives in a trailer with a psychologically abusive mother and her current lay about boyfriend, abusing both Rocky and her younger sister. Rocky dreams of the day she can escape, taking her sister with her.

Money’s fence tells him of a big score. A man (Stephen Lang) whose daughter was killed in an auto accident won a lawsuit of $300,000. Rumor has it he has the money stashed in his house, a house protected by the same security company that Alex’ father runs. Alex refuses at first but eventually succumbs to the lure of the loot.

When the trio discovers that the man in question is blind it makes them consider the job easier still. They drug his dog outside the house, enter cautiously and find the man asleep in his room. Money lets loose a homemade knockout bomb and the three set out to search for the money. Except that the man wasn’t knocked out and he comes looking for them.

Catching Money but not knowing the other two are there since both are silent, he asks if anyone else is in the house. Money says no and the man kills him. Thus the tables are turned and the hunters now become the hunted. They might think they have the advantage but this is a world that the blind man knows by heart. It is his world. Suddenly the odds are stacked in his favor.

All of this would make a fantastic suspense film. But there is another major surprise in store, one that I know I never saw coming. If you reveal that surprise may a pox be on you. It is one that ups the ante of what is going on and shows a greater depth of character in the blind man than first thought. As the saying goes there is more going on beneath it all than we saw.

First and foremost the story is one of the most original and compelling stories I’ve seen on film in some time. With the exception of Money you sympathize with each of the other main characters. For Alex he wants to do what’s right but is lured by his desire for a better life as well as an attraction to Rocky who is in turn Money’s girlfriend. Rocky we care about because of the terrible home life we want to see he escape. And for the blind man we feel bad for not only his predicament but the fate that befell his daughter. The odds of all of them having a happy ending are slim at best.

The acting by all is some of the best but will never garner much attention and certainly not find Oscar worthy mention. Horror films and comedies almost never get those accolades no matter how deserving they might be. While each does an amazing job it will be the acting of Levy and Lang that you will find yourself talking about after watching the film. Lang has been around in a number of great roles including those in AVATAR and TOMBSTONE but never seems to get much praise. That’s sad because he’s one of the great character actors of our time.

Some have called the movie a horror film but I found it more of a suspense movie. Yes, there are some horrific moments in it but the white knuckle moments are what make this film work. Think of WAIT UNTIL DARK (a movie many have forgotten or have never seen) and you’ll know what I mean. If you take the time to invest in watching this film make sure you have your snack of choice on hand when it starts because once it gets going you won't want to stop watching.

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