‘A Christmas Story’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

If it’s Christmas time, you know it means twenty-four hours of “A Christmas Story” from director Bob Clark on TBS and TNT.  It has become a holiday tradition for many people and a good background distraction for families as they gather to open presents, eat and spend time together. As with any Christmas film which is hugely popular, people are known to quote the lines from this one as they hold it near and dear to their hearts.  However, how does “A Christmas Story” hold up in 2022?

A Christmas Story” is set in Northern Indiana and follows young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a nine-year-old kid who wants one thing for Christmas—a Red Ryder BB Gun.  However, he is told by his mother, his teacher and even a mall Santa that he will shoot his eye out.  This does not stop him from pulling out all the stops to get it though, including leaving behind little hints for his mother.  Ralphie also has a peculiar little brother named Randy who likes to play with his food and hide in tiny spaces.  He’s also joined by his overworked mother (Melinda Dillon) and cranky father (Darren McGavin).

The film is told from Ralphie POV as an adult as he looks back on this particular Christmas.  We get to see him at school as he’s trying to focus on his classes while also pining over the Red Ryder BB gun. He’s also dealing with the local school bully named Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) who terrorizes Ralphie and his friends Flick and Schwartz, played by Scott Schwartz and R.D. Robb.  They get into the usual tomfoolery at school such as Flick getting his tongue stuck to a post outside school, which causes him to need medical attention.

Ralphie’s father is also obsessed with a leg lamp which he sees as a major award, even though it brings his wife a great deal of shame and embarrassment.  The father is also dealing with being hounded by the dogs next door.  There is a lot going on in Ralphie’s life, but one thing remains the same—he wants the Red Ryder BB gun.  He is counting down the days until Christmas, and he is hoping he will find it under the tree, no matter what it takes.  I think we can all relate to that period of time in our lives as a child hoping for that special present as if it were the most important thing in the world.

I do feel though that “A Christmas Story” is overrated simply because of the fact it’s been on TNT and TBS since 1997. Sometimes if an audience sees something enough, they tend to fall in love with it based on repetition or the memories it conjures up for them. It is not a bad movie by any means.  It is based on “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd which, according to my research, featured semi-fictional tidbits. I just don’t think there is a story or a plot here.  It is filled with movie moments and memorable lines which have stayed with people throughout the years. My favorite Christmas movie of all time is “It’s a Wonderful Life” with “Elf” coming in at number two, which I recently reviewed.

There is humor to be found here, and I understand what they were trying to go for with the story and the theme.  I just didn’t feel like it was enough to make a full-length film.  Even though it’s only 93 minutes, there are times where the film drags and feels a little insignificant. I didn’t hate the film nor did I love it either.  It’s watchable, but there is nothing which really stands out to me.  The film doesn’t have an “it factor” like the other two Christmas movies I mentioned.  It’s just mindless silliness, which is fine, but it doesn’t make for a great movie.  It makes for an average movie.

* * ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “A Christmas Story” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment that also comes with a digital copy of the film.  It is rated PG and runs at 93 minutes.

4K Info:  They have done a masterful job of cleaning up this picture. I’ve seen it many times over the years in bits and pieces on TV, but this is, far and away, the best it has ever looked.  There is no grain whatsoever on the picture.  It is crystal clear, and the HDR gives the film a new life.

Audio Info: The audio formats are DTS-HD MA: English 2.0 Mono and Dolby Digital: English and French. Subtitles are included in English, Spanish, and French. The audio has also never sounded better on 4K.  You can hear everything perfectly, and the sound is consistent throughout the film.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary by Bob Clark and Peter Billingsley

Christmas in Ohio: A Christmas Story House

Another Christmas Story

Daisy Red Ryder: A History

Get a Leg Up

“Flash Gordon” Deleted Script Pages

The Leg Lamp Spot

Jean Shepherd Original Radio Reading

Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid (HD, 38:07)

Flick’s Tongue

Theatrical Trailer

Should You Buy It?

If we are strictly talking about the audio and video of this 4K release of “A Christmas Story,” this is a must own if you are a fan of the film.  Having seen it on TV at many Christmas parties and also having watched the Blu-ray in the past, this is an incredible transfer on 4K.  The film looks great. Keep in mind, the filmmakers have set this story in the 1940’s, even though it was released in 1983. It looks out of this world on 4K.  I was really impressed with the audio and video here and every little detail that was popping up on screen. I give the audio and video four stars on this release.  You get the special features that were on the Blu-ray in the past, which is expected.  If you are a fan of the film, you NEED to own it on 4K, there is no question about it.  If you have grown tired of the film or don’t find it funny (I fall into the latter category), you can pass on it.  However, I have a feeling this is going to be a hot-seller for fans of Christmas movies. It just doesn’t work for me.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is considered a Christmas classic to many film buffs.  I vaguely remember watching it back in the day and even a few years ago.  Of course, everyone knows about Cousin Eddie and his antics, as people usually love to dress up like the character along with Clark Griswold.  However, watching the film in 2022, I have to say, it’s just not funny.  The late, great Gene Siskel used to call these types of films, “A comedy without laughs.” If your one goal is to make the audience laugh and you fail at that task, your comedy is dead on arrival.  However, I understand comedy is subjective, so what I find unfunny might be hilarious to someone else out there.

Christmas is right around the corner, and Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is doing anything and everything in his power to make sure it is absolutely perfect without any flaws.  He’s not afraid to go all out on presents, finding the perfect tree, and, of course, twinkling lights.  At first, he thinks he will be spending it with his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and their two children Rusty and Audrey (Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis) along with some in-laws.  However, he did not plan on the appearance of the crude Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his camper, which comes ripe with fecal matter and doesn’t exactly look great outside the Griswold home.

I can’t say there is much of a plot to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”  It is simply Chevy Chase doing bad slapstick for a little over ninety-minutes with odd facial reactions as he stumbles and bumbles through situations with family and co-workers.  I didn’t find him very relatable or interesting.  He’s a sarcastic personality, but he doesn’t come across as a likable goof.  He’s mostly an obsessive-compulsive personality that is putting too much emphasis on lights, a Christmas tree, and getting a Christmas bonus to install a pool. He seems more concerned with making everything just right instead of spending actual time with his family. When I was watching the film, I thought to myself, “Why is he making such a fuss?”  He’s making a fuss, so we can watch him fail over and over again in what is supposed to be comedic fashion, but the laughs were few and far between.

The film has a great supporting cast: Doris Roberts, Diane Ladd, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Sam McMurray, to name a few.  The problem is the characters are not fleshed out well enough.  You have your standard in-laws without much to say or do except act like goofy cartoons. I found the film to be very hokey and one-dimensional. A really good Christmas movie needs to be funny or heartfelt, or even both, and this one is neither.  The Clark Griswold character is annoying, the in-laws are irritating, and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) isn’t given anything to do except play the exasperated wife. The children are just there to be annoyed as well.  I felt as though they had the ingredients, the actors, and the idea for a funny movie here, but they didn’t have a story to go along with it.

Let’s look at it this way—who can’t relate to the holidays and family drama?  Most people love the holidays, myself included, but they know they can come with certain baggage and drama either from your own family or from in-laws.  It’s a highly relatable concept.  There is material here for a funny comedy about dealing with the stress of Christmas and all of the various personalities interacting with one another. However, too often, the film relies on Clark falling down, getting hurt, or making bizarre facial reactions as he does slapstick comedy.  For me, personally, this film was not a funny or enjoyable experience.  It was quite tedious.  I know I’m probably in the minority on this one based on the popularity of this film over the past thirty plus years.

* ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  The film is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 97 minutes.  It comes with a digital copy of the film as well.

4K Info:  The HDR is strong on this film here.  This is a very vivid, clear, and vibrant picture.  They cleaned up a lot to make this film look full of life on 4K.  It’s a great looking transfer.

Audio Info: The film comes on the following audio formats: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, English Stereo, and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, Spanish, and French.  The audio is on-point from start to finish.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary featuring Director Jeremiah S. Chechik, Randy Quaid, Beverly D’Angelo, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn, and producer Matty Simmons.

Theatrical Trailer

Should You Buy It?

I think you knew before reading this review how you felt about the film itself, so you are probably looking for information on the visuals and the audio of the film along with the special features.  Sadly, there is only one real special feature here, and it is a commentary track that has been used on other releases of this film. I’d say the audio and video are 3 out of 4 stars.  I really enjoyed looking at the wintery images of the snow and outdoor scenes, the faces look a lot cleaner, and the overall picture is quite beautiful to look at on 4K HDR. It’s a big upgrade over the grainy Blu-Ray release.  If you are a fan of the film, you will be very happy with how the film looks and sounds on 4K.  The audio is consistent throughout and not too loud.  It can stay on the same volume throughout the film.  If you want to own this film on the best possible format, this is the way to go.  It’s a quality release.  If you are like me and not a fan of the film at all and don’t find it funny, you can safely pass on this release.  This comes down to a matter of comedic taste, which is subjective.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘The Return of the Living Dead’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit Correspondent, Tony Farinella.

The Return of The Living Dead” was released the same year I was born, 1985.  Even thirty-seven years later, it is clear to see the impact the film had on horror movies, specifically zombie movies.  It was a film which was truly ahead of its time. I remember watching and enjoying the Scream Factory Blu-ray when it was released many years ago, and I enjoyed it even more on 4K Ultra HD. The blood, the gore and the colors really are vibrant and stunning on this release.  This is a tremendous release from Scream Factory, and it is being released just in time for the Halloween season.  It’s a perfect addition to your 4K horror film collection.

The film is just as funny as it is gory, which is truly saying something. This is not a simple task to pull off, as sometimes zombie films have a hard time with that balancing act.  “The Return of the Living Dead” opens up by introducing us to two lovable but goofy factory workers named Freddy (Thom Mathews) and Frank (James Karen), as they work together at the aptly named Uneeda medical supply warehouse. Frank is hoping to look cool in front of Freddy by showing him some of the dead zombie bodies they have lying around the warehouse. According to Frank, the filmmakers behind “Night of the Living Dead” were ordered by government officials to change certain aspects of the film in order to hide from the public that zombies are indeed real and were used for military purposes. Unfortunately for them, when toxic gas is released from one of the meat lockers, the zombies start to rise from the dead.

The only thing that will take away the pain of the zombies is eating brains.  These zombies really love brains, and they move a lot quicker than zombies we have seen in previous films.  Also, if you take off their head, the rest of the body is still mobile and able to attack.  The only way to truly kill these zombies is to burn them completely.  Before long, there are hundreds of zombies, and the police and the medics can’t keep up with them. Burt (the late Clu Gulager) is trying to navigate this situation as best as he can, but he’s also looking to save the good name of his company and not let the public know that two of his workers are responsible for this mess.

Freddy is part of a punk rock gang that likes to raise hell, listen to music and have a good time with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. Freddy’s gang is looking to help him, but they are also finding themselves in over their heads with all these zombies coming for them left and right. Freddy has a girlfriend named Tina along with some friends named Spider, Trash, Chuck, Casey, Scuz and Suicide. Meanwhile, Burt looks to his friend, Ernie (Don Calfa), for help in disposing of the cadaver zombie that was released thanks to his co-workers. Ernie wants to be helpful, but this is above his pay grade as a mortician.  Even though burning a zombie can kill it, it can also lead to toxic rain falling from the sky. This creates even more problems as it burns the skin and also brings more zombies to life from their graves.

This is one of many great things about “The Return of the Living Dead.”  There is nothing about the film which is cut and dry.  There might be a solution around the corner, as mentioned, but it doesn’t come without casualties or consequences. You also tend to feel a little bit of sympathy for these zombies, especially when you notice that Freddy and Frank are starting to become zombies.  They don’t want to eat brains, but it is the only thing that will stop their suffering and pain.  The zombies are also beautifully designed and look fantastic on screen.  Sometimes they pop up out of nowhere, and sometimes they come in large packs that move really, really fast.  These are complex and interesting zombies. These are not your average, run-of-the-mill zombies, and this is a big reason why this film has had such staying power.

“The Return of the Living Dead” also has a ton of quotable lines and quirky characters.  I don’t think I can keep a straight face when I hear the line, “It’s not a bad question, Burt.”  Every time I watch this film, I gain a new appreciation for it.  In my eyes, it is the perfect zombie film.  If I had to choose only one tiny issue with this film, and it is a minor one, it is the fact it ends rather abruptly.  Besides this little picadillo, this is my favorite zombie movie of all time.  Of course, I respect “Dawn of the Dead” and “Night of the Living Dead,” but from a pure entertainment standpoint and for the rewatch factor, “The Return of the Living Dead” is simply horror movie heaven for yours truly.  It is the film which keeps on giving with its gore comedy, and quirky cast of characters.

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “The Return of the Living Dead” is released on a 3-disc 4K and Blu-ray combo pack from Scream Factory.  One disc is the 4K of the film, another disc is the Blu-ray, and the third disc includes the special features on a Blu-ray disc.

4K Video/Audio Info: We are treated to this film on an absolutely stunning 4K Dolby Digital HDR transfer. As soon as the film started, I was sucked into how beautiful and bright it looked on my television.  They have done a brand-new 4K scan of the original camera negative, and it makes it one of the best-looking horror 4K’s of the year.  The bloody reds are a thing to behold, and the darks are also spot-on with this transfer.  Scream Factory has been on a roll lately. The audio track on the film is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0 with English subtitles.  I thought the audio was perfect, especially during the scenes involving some of the punk rock music.  I didn’t have to adjust my volume on this film at all. I was able to keep it at the same volume throughout the entire film.

Special Features:

DISC 1 – (Feature Film – 4K UHD)

·     NEW 2022 4K Scan of The Original Camera Negative

·     In Dolby Vision (HDR 10 Compatible)

·     DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0

·     Audio Commentary with Gary Smart (Co-author of “The Complete History of The Return of The Living Dead”) And Chris Griffiths

·     Audio Commentary with Actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin and Make-up Effects Artist Tony Gardner

·     Audio Commentary with Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout

·     Audio Commentary with The Cast and Crew Featuring Production Designer William Stout and Actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph and Allan Trautman

·     Zombie Subtitles

·     In Their Words – The Zombies Speak

DISC 2 – (Feature Film – Blu-ray)

·     2022 4K Scan of The Original Camera Negative

·     DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0

·     Audio Commentary with Gary Smart (Co-author of “The Complete History of The Return of The Living Dead”) and Chris Griffiths

·     Audio Commentary with Actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin and Make-up Effects Artist Tony Gardner

·     Audio Commentary with Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout

·     Audio Commentary with the cast and crew Featuring Production Designer William Stout and actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph and Allan Trautman

·     The Decade of Darkness – Featurette On ’80s Horror Films

·     Theatrical Trailers

·     TV Spots

·     Still Gallery – Posters, Lobby Cards, Movie Stills and Behind-The-Scenes Photos

·     Still Gallery – Behind-The-Scenes Photos from Special Make-up Effects Artist Kenny Myers’ Personal Collection

DISC 3 – (Special Features – Blu-ray)

·     “The Return of The Living Dead” Workprint – Includes 20 minutes of additional footage (in standard definition)

·     More Brains: A Return to The Living Dead – The Definitive Documentary on “The Return of the Living Dead.”

·     The FX of “The Return of the Living Dead” – with Production Designer William Stout, FX Make-up Artists William Munns, Tony Gardner, Kenny Myers and Craig Caton-Largnet, Visual Effects Artists Bret Mixon and Gene Warren Jr. and actor Brian Peck (Expanded Version)

·     Party Time: The Music of “The Return of The Living Dead” – with Music Consultants Budd Carr and Steve Pross and soundtrack artists plus musicians (Expanded Version)

·     The Origins of The Living Dead – An Interview with John A. Russo

·     “The Return of The Living Dead:” The Dead Have Risen – Interviews with cast members Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Brian Peck, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, Linnea Quigley and More…

·     Designing The Dead – Interviews with Writer/Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout

·     HORROR’S HALLOWED GROUNDS – Revisiting the locations of this film

·     A Conversation with Dan O’Bannon – His final interview

Should You Buy It?

Do you have a perfect zombie movie? Check.  Do you have an outstanding 4K picture transfer? Check. Do you have a boat load of special features? Check.  This film is a day one purchase without any hesitation whatsoever. It comes out on October 18, and it is a great horror movie to watch during the spooky season of 2022.  If you haven’t already, you should pre-order this film from Scream Factory.  I promise you that you won’t be disappointed.  I can’t say enough glowing things about this movie or its 4K transfer.  When you factor in how rewatchable this film is (it only runs at 91 minutes), it’s the kind of film that is going to bring something new to the table for viewers each and every time.  It’s a ton of fun, gory, well-acted, cheesy in a good way, and it truly had something new to offer to the horror genre. If you have seen this film before, you have probably already pre-ordered it and can’t wait to watch it again on 4K.  If you haven’t seen it before, you are in for a big surprise when you watch this movie.  Once again, “The Return of the Living Dead” gets a top recommendation from yours truly.

‘Poltergeist’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Poltergeist” is a film I haven’t watched in probably close to sixteen years.  The last time I remember watching it was when I was preparing to interview the late Zelda Rubinstein for the DVD release of the film back in the day.  Upon revisiting “Poltergeist,” I found it to be a mixed bag.  There are certain aspects which feature solid special effects, some good scares, and intense moments of horror.  There are also long-drawn-out scenes that drag the film down at other points.  The film also feels very dated in many ways. I had trouble deciding my feelings on the film even after watching and sitting with it for a few hours.

Poltergeist” introduces the audience to your average suburban husband and wife played by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams. They are doing their best to raise their children: Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Dana (Dominique Dunne). Carol Ann is the mischievous youngest child of the bunch, Robbie is the scared middle child, and Dana is the sixteen-year-old teenager with a bit of sass to her. Their world is turned upside down when strange and bizarre things start happening in their home.  They find that the furniture is moving all around the house, and the house itself seems to have a mind of its own.  When they lose their youngest, Carol Ann, to the TV, they start to become incredibly concerned about their living situation.

One of the positive aspects of “Poltergeist” is the fact that the family can’t just leave the house because their daughter is inside of it somewhere.  In many haunted house films, it’s frustrating to watch as a viewer because you just want to scream, “Leave the house already! Get out of there!” It’s not that easy this time.  They need to stay in the house in order to save their child.  This is causing sleepless nights and a tremendous amount of anxiety for the parents. Dana ends up staying with a friend to get away from the chaos of the home while Robbie stays with his grandmother. Steve and Diane are determined to get to the bottom of this.

This is also where the film falls off the rails a little bit. They end up bringing in some experts to help them with this issue, as they want to find out if it’s a simple haunting or a poltergeist intrusion. All of this is new to them, and they are learning as they go along. They end up bringing in a spiritual medium, played by Zelda Rubinstein, in the hopes of finally getting to the bottom of this.  She is attempting to help Steve and Diane communicate with their youngest daughter and figure out a way to get her back to them safe and sound.  However, this is going to be much easier said than done because of all of the obstacles and roadblocks that are in their way.  There is also a hidden secret that explains why Carol Ann says “they’re here” when she looks at the TV.

Overall, there is a good movie in here somewhere dying to come out. “Poltergeist” maybe needed a spiritual medium of its own to get the most out of its production.  It’s directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg.  Many have stated Spielberg was responsible for directing most of the film and, in turn, should have been labeled a co-director on the project at the very least. It has been a Hollywood inside story for a while, but it does feel like a movie in search of a tone and direction.  The “ghost story” aspects are too convoluted at times, which is when it starts to feel a bit tedious and tiresome to watch. The straight-up horror aspects are the ones which really work and are incredibly effective. There are some set pieces and scenes which were really ahead of its time and truly terrifying. Sadly, those scenes are few and far in between.

“Poltergeist” is also bogged down by its PG rating.  It feels like a crowd-pleasing PG horror movie instead of a horror thrill-ride.  Once again, this feels like a film at odds with itself.  The performances by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are really, really good.  They show just the right amount of anguish and distress as the parents.  The younger actors are not given a whole lot to do here, which is a shame, because young children in peril, when done right and with no agenda, can also add to the terror. Overall, this film was a mixed bag for me, so I can’t quite recommend it, even though I truly enjoyed certain scenes, the performances, and the special effects.

* * ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “Poltergeist” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It is rated PG and has a running time of 114 minutes. It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

Video Info: The 4K HDR transfer of the film looks incredible. This film was released in 1982, and it looks better than ever here on 4K.  Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has really stepped up their game with their 4K releases from their catalogue of films. The vivid and bright colors are really popping here while the dark and gloomy scenes are done just right.  There is a warning for this film if you are susceptible to epilepsy or have trouble with photosensitivity, so keep that in mind if you are going to buy this film or watch it.

Audio Info: The film comes with two audio tracks in English: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 and 2.0 along with Dolby Digital: French and Spanish to go along with it.  Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish.  The audio is really taken up a notch when it comes to the more intense horror scenes.  It really enhances the strength of the scenes.

Special Features:

“They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists Pt. 1- Science of the Spirits”: 15:30

“They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists Pt. 2- Communing with the Dead”: 15:31

“The Making of Poltergeist”: 7:15

Trailer: 2:25

Should You Buy It?

As per usual, these special features have been previously released on the Blu-ray of the film.  All in all, they are decent enough special features if you enjoyed the film.  The more I thought about this film, the more I realized I was trying to talk myself into liking it.  I didn’t hate it and it’s not a bad movie.  It’s simply OK.  It could have been a lot better considering the actors and the director and producer behind it.  This should have been a great film and a horror classic.  It’s overrated in many ways.  It’s not a film that is going to have great repeat value or one that I think many will come back to time and time again.  I can’t recommend that you purchase this film, even though I thought I was going to enjoy it quite a bit.  It’s a disappointment, as the potential is there, and it’s shown in certain scenes and with the performances.  It’s just not consistent enough throughout the film. The beginning and the end of the film are really good, but the middle is a mess and quite boring at times.  The 4K of the film is impressive and a major upgrade.  If you are a fan of the movie, you will enjoy the 4K transfer.  If you aren’t a fan of the film or haven’t seen it before, I don’t think you need to spend your money on this 4K.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘The Lost Boys’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

The Lost Boys” falls into the category of a great horror film I have never seen before until now.  With its release on 4K and Halloween a little over a month away, I couldn’t wait to take a bite into this movie (see what I did there?).  Vampires, zombies and werewolves are familiar creatures used in horror films.  The thing which separates the good films from the bad are two things: the characters and the story.  Are we invested in the characters? Is there a compelling story? In the case of “The Lost Boys,” the answer is a resounding yes.  I loved this film, and even though I’m late to the party in watching it, it’s better late than never.

Lucy (Dianne Wiest) and her two sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) have relocated to Santa Carla, California following her divorce.  They end up living with her eccentric, oddball father played brilliantly by Barnard Hughes, and he doesn’t want anyone to touch his root beer or his Oreos.  He also spends a lot of time dabbling in taxidermy and often gives Sam some unwanted presents.  Sam is also flanked by his loyal dog Nanook, an Alaskan Malamute. Sam is doing his best to adjust to this beach town by catching up on some comic books. He ends up getting to know the Frog Brothers, Edgar and Allan, played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander, who know a lot about vampires and comic books.  Their performances are comedy gold in this film, and they are their own little “Strangers Things” group here.

Michael ends up falling for a young lady named Star, played by Jami Gertz. She hangs around a biker gang led by David (Kiefer Sutherland).  Something is clearly unusual and odd about them, but Michael is hoping that if they accept him, he can get to know Star.  Lucy ends up getting a job at the local video store which is owned by Max (Edward Herrmann).  Max is a dorky putz, but he means well and seems genuinely interested in getting to know Lucy.  This in spite of the fact that their dates usually always end up in disaster because Sam is convinced something is off with Michael.  Sam wants to protect Michael because that’s his brother, but he’s not entirely happy with how he’s acting lately.  Michael is sleeping all the time and coming home very late now that he has his new friends.

There is plenty to enjoy with “The Lost Boys,” but the key ingredient is the cast.  The actors really sell this material with just the right amount of humor and terror.  Director Joel Schumacher also knows how to get the most out of every single scene.  This film is 97 minutes and frankly, it is the perfect running time for a film like this. We get to know the characters, their dilemma unfolds, and it ends with a bang, literally and figuratively speaking. I really enjoyed the fact the filmmakers went with an R rating.  They build up to the violence, so it really means something when the bodies start to explode and heads begin flying off.  The special effects and make-up are top notch.  When you add in the fact this is a 4K release, everything is enhanced to an even greater degree.

The film also doesn’t lean in too heavily with the vampire gimmick.  Yes, there are characters who are vampires and there are rules to follow, but at the end of the day, it’s a film about a mother and her two sons trying to survive.  Dianne Wiest, a favorite actress of mine, is perfect as the concerned but confused mother.  The late Corey Haim is also top-notch here.  I know I’m singling out their work, but there is not a bad performance in this film.  It also helps that the atmosphere goes back and forth between day and night.  It’s an atmospheric and intense flick which hits all of the right notes you would want in a film like this. I went into it not knowing what to expect, and I ended up having a big smile on my face when the credits were rolling at the end.

“The Lost Boys” is an 80’s gem which deserves to be seen on 4K.  It’s one of those rare examples of a film where everything falls into place: the cast, the acting, the director, the writing, the blood and guts and the twists and turns.  The comedy is done at just the right moments without being too hokey or phony. The action and violence are really turned up a notch without being too much or overdone. This is the perfect Halloween movie to pick up in time to watch for the holiday.  Trust me when I tell you this: You won’t regret it, and you will love it. If you have already seen it, you will love it even more with the 4K upgrade.

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-Ray: “The Lost Boys” is being released on a two-disc 4K and Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It also comes with a digital copy of the film as well.  It is rated R and has a running time of 97 minutes.

Video Info: The 4K of this film comes with stunning High Dynamic Range (HDR), and it looks incredible.  As I mentioned earlier in my review, the outdoor shots of California are absolutely stunning. When the film is darker and more brooding, it switches to that tone with its color palette.  This is a terrific-looking 4K, and I enjoyed taking it all in for the first time.

Audio Info:  I was hoping they would have a Dolby Atmos track as the audio is good but it’s a little inconsistent at times. It comes on a DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 audio track along with Dolby Digital audio tracks in French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

4K UHD Disc

·           Commentary by Joel Schumacher

Blu-ray Disc

·           Commentary by Joel Schumacher

·           “The Lost Boys: A Retrospective”: 24:00

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: A Director’s Vision”: 6:58

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: Comedy vs. Horror”: 4:44

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: Fresh Blood-A New Look at Vampires”: 4:23

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: The Lost Boys Sequel?”: 2:25

·           “Vamping Out: The Undead Creations of Greg Cannon”: 14:02

·           “The Return of Sam and the Frog Brothers: Haimster & Feldog-The Story of the 2 Coreys”: 4:30

·           “The Return of Sam and the Frog Brothers: Multi-Angle Video Commentary by Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander”: 18:23

·           The Lost Scenes: 15:16

·           Lou Gramm “Lost in the Shadows” Music Video: 4:35

·           Trailer: 1:26

Normally, I would complain about the fact they don’t have any new special features for the 4K here, but considering this was my first time watching the film, all of the special features were new to me.  There is a commentary track with the director and plenty of lengthy special features discussing the film.  Based on the quality of the movie, the 4K upgrade, and the special features, this one comes highly recommended as a day-one purchase.  If you are a horror enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to watch this film at the highest quality available.  As far as the film itself, there is so much to like about it. Even though the film is a vampire film, it doesn’t feel like a vampire film.  I felt the vibes of It and Stranger Things mixed with a family drama.  The acting is really, really good, and it’s a big reason why it’s such an effective film.  The kills featured in the film are also really grisly and blood-soaked.  I loved this movie! I’m really enjoying the fact that Warner Brothers Home Entertainment is going into their vault and releasing a lot of their older titles on 4K.  This is a top-of-the-line upgrade with bright colors and a vivid picture. If you are like me and haven’t seen this movie, you owe it to yourself to add it to your collection.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’

I pride myself on having a vast knowledge of movies. While my many of my friends stumble across a movie they don’t recognize, I am usually quick to name it even if I have never watched it before. Everyone is amazed at how I could know such things. Still, when it comes to older movies and the great filmmakers who ever lived, there are still many I need to catch up on.

One of those filmmakers I really need to catch up on is Akira Kurosawa who is considered by many to one of the greatest of all time. Until I saw “Ran,”, the only movie of his I had previously watched was “The Seven Samurai” which really is one of greatest movies ever made. Of course, I got exposed to the American remake, “The Magnificent Seven,” beforehand, but anyway.

“Ran” was the very last movie Kurosawa made on such an epic scale, and as amazing as it looked when it was first released, this is even more the case more than 30 years later. Kurosawa clearly had the power to request literally thousands of extras, and it is easy to see well-dressed studio executives looking at him to where, had he made this movie today, would have asked him:

“Can’t you just add all these people in with CGI? Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper just to hire like 50 guys instead of 1200?”

If they didn’t ask them that, they would obviously come up with the obvious solution:

“We’ll solve it in post!”

Looking at the title and scenes from the movie trailer, I figured the title “Ran” meant the main characters were running from certain doom throughout like it was a big chase. This should show you what I know about the Japanese language, and that is not much. “Ran” actually means “revolt” or “chaos,” and Kurosawa’s movie is filled with so much of both to where this is ends up being a cinematic experience both physically and emotionally draining.

Kurosawa based the story on the legends of the daimyo Mori Motonari and of how he had three sons who were intensely loyal to him. This led him to look at the story a little differently and say the following:

“When I read that three arrows together are invincible, that’s not true. I started doubting, and that’s when I started thinking: the house was prosperous and the sons were courageous. What if this fascinating man had bad sons?”

Of course, anyone familiar with William Shakespeare will say that “Ran” is heavily influenced by the tragedy of “King Lear.” Indeed, the story very much resembles that of “King Lear” as we watch a powerful leader abdicate his throne, and he ends up being betrayed by his own blood in the process.

The powerful leader at the center of “Ran” is Hidetora, leader of the Ichimonji clan. The story starts with Hidetora abdicating his throne to his three sons Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. The majority of the power is given to Taro who is his eldest son, and Jiro and Saburo are ordered by their father to support him no matter what. Saburo, however, does not agree with Hidetora’s decision to disperse all of his powers, reminding him how his kingdom came about through his own treachery and massacre of others. Hidetora starts acting all uppity as if he’s a superstar celebrity who is not used to hearing the word “no” much, and he banishes Saburo from the clan as well as his servant Tango who speaks in Saburo’s defense. It’s amazing what breaking three arrows together can do to a man’s ego.

From there, it is a vicious downfall for Hidetora as he is banished from his kingdom ever so coldly. Many characters here profess to believe in a god, be it Buddha or someone else, and they pray for their assistance in this little world which is quickly collapsing. If there is a god watching over them, he, or she, is blind to their sufferings or deaf to their endless prayers. Hence, this is quite a bleak movie from a thematic and visual standpoint.

After watching “Ran,” I was compelled to learn more about it. While researching the movie more deeply, It turns out “King Lear” never really entered Kurosawa’s mind until he was deep into pre-production. Along the way, he did incorporate different elements of the play into it, and he had this to say about Shakespeare’s classic tragedy:

“What has always troubled me about ‘King Lear’ is that Shakespeare gives his characters no past. … In Ran, I have tried to give Lear a history.”

Now this is what gives Hidetora, among others characters, such gravity throughout the nearly three-hour running time. He was not a leader who earned his kingdom through family succession, but through the pillaging of villages and murdering those who were against them. Perhaps he would like to forget this, but his power and family are forever stained by his deeds, and he is reminded of this in the most painful of ways.

With this in mind, it is no wonder two of Hidetora’s three sons end up turning against him. What his legacy has taught them is you can’t get anywhere in life without beating the crap out of the other guy and stealing everything he and his followers have. Only Saburo is fearless and selfless in telling him this and of pointing out the fact he will always be seen as a killer. Saburo at least cares enough to tell him this instead of just sucking up to him like his brothers do. Some people hear the word “yes” once too often when they need some others say “no” every once in a while.

As we see Hidetora losing his mind and in a state of disbelief, I was reminded of Will Munny, Clint Eastwood character from “Unforgiven.” Both these characters become sick, and in their feverish state they become haunted by the lives they ended ever so coldly. They have tried to convince themselves they are not the same people they once were, and Hidetora appears to develop amnesia in an effort to block his mind of his past deeds. But nightmares abound in his sleep reminding him of the price he has yet to pay. You could even compare this character to Anakin Skywalker who becomes the very thing he fought against in “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” In the process of trying to prevent the love of his life from dying, he gives up everything he believes in. Hidetora believes that by passing the leadership duties to his oldest son his clan will continue to prosper. The more we fear of something bad happening, the more likely that bad thing will happen.

Taking this into account makes me realize one of the most important elements in the Kurosawa movies I have seen; they are very dependent on the depth of their characters as much as they are on spectacle. Granted, this is only the second movie of his I have seen, but it feels like just enough to understand why his cinematic works made such a strong impression on Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (“The Hidden Fortress” is said to have been a huge influence on “Star Wars”). Most movies today are just about spectacle, and the characters are usually a distant second to it. But it is this focus on character which makes “Ran” so involving and gives its epic scope much more meaning.

But let’s talk about the spectacle of “Ran” which is incredible to say the least. One of the key sequences is the horrific massacre which takes place at the third castle where Hidetora takes refuge. What really struck me was how Kurosawa put Tōru Takemitsu’s music score over the sounds of violence perpetrated by his sons as it gives what is being presented to us with far more emotional power. Takemitsu’s music further illustrates the immense tragedy tearing this powerful clan apart which leaves Hidetora in an endless state of shock. Without the music, it would still be a cinematic high mark of capturing battle on celluloid, but it would not have the same effect.

The bloodbath of the massacre is made all the more vivid by Kurosawa as “Ran” was made long before the advent of CGI effects. With this sequence, Kurosawa brilliantly captures the ugliness and viciousness of war, and of the cruel nature which dominates these characters’ humanity.

All the acting is nothing short of excellent from as the entire cast invests each of their characters with various complexities which allow them to surprise us in unexpected ways. Hidetora is played by Tatsuya Nakadai, and he immerses himself completely into playing a man whose own pride and self-righteousness proves to be his undoing. Without saying a word in the last half of the massacre, Hidetora communicates his utter regret of his thoughtless decision making which has led to the decimation of what he once had. Nakadai makes Hidetora’s eventual descent into madness all the more vivid, and his performance never ever descends into camp.

I also loved Mieko Harada’s performance as Lady Kaede, Kurosawa’s version of Lady Macbeth. Through her deceitful ways, viciousness and endless manipulation, she always seems to get her way and turn the men around her into quivering jelly. Harada’s moments onscreen are among my favorites as she exploits the fears of the men around her and seduces them despite their mistrust of her. Never let it be said that Kurosawa ever writes weak roles for women because it certainly isn’t the case here. Lady Kaede wants to maintain her high status in the clan, and she is ruthless in how she pursues it.

You could say they don’t make movies like “Ran” anymore, but it did come out in a time when they weren’t being made much. For many, it serves as the culmination of all his talents, of what he has accomplished in his career, and of all the struggle and tears he shed while making this movie. During the making of “Ran,” Kurosawa’s wife passed away. By the time he got around to shooting the movie after working on the script for ten years, he was almost completely blind. Regardless of these setbacks, nothing stopped him from making this movie.

Years after its release, “Ran” stands as one of the classic movies from one of the best filmmakers ever. No one can or should doubt the heart and soul Kurosawa put into it for years and years, and getting to see it on the silver screen was a real treat. When all is said and done, the silver screen is where this movie belongs.

* * * * out of * * * *

Underseen Movie: ‘Cloak & Dagger’ – Only in the 1980’s …

I first watched “Cloak & Dagger” back when I was nine or 10 years old, having recorded it on VHS when it premiered on channel 13, which was then known as KCOP in Los Angeles. From there, it became one of the many movies like “Bullitt,” Airplane” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” which I would watch a least a hundred times and never get tired of. Henry Thomas, in one of his post-“E.T.” movies, stars as Davey Osborne, an 11-year-old boy who escapes from reality into the world of Cloak & Dagger, a role-playing video game which features the exploits of the spy Jack Flack. Bored with life and yearning for a real adventure, Davey and his next-door neighbor Kim (a precocious Christina Nigra) embark to downtown San Antonio where he inadvertently witnesses a murder and gets hold of a video game cartridge of the Cloak & Dagger which is later revealed to contain top secret information. Davey’s wish of a real adventure comes true, but it soon becomes a reminder of what Augustus Hill once said on the HBO drama series “Oz:”

“Be careful what you wish for brother. Be very, very careful…”

Naturally, most people don’t believe Davey when he tries to explain what happened, and this includes his father, Hal, who loves him dearly but worries about him excessively as his son’s overactive imagination seems to constantly be getting the best of him. Once again, we have a movie which continues the theme of parents not listening to their kids until it is much too late. Then again, if parents did listen to their kids, a movie like this would not exist.

We also discover Davey is still grieving the loss of his mother who had recently passed away which quickly explains his constant escapes into a fantasy world. These elements combine together to make Hal believably dubious of his son’s claims, making it all the easier for the bad guys to try and capture him, and they are not about to show him mercy just because he is not yet a teenager.

I still vividly remember the “Cloak & Dagger” television ads just as it was coming out. Back then, this movie looked a little too scary for someone of my tender age to sit through, and my brother had already scared me off from seeing “Gremlins” although this was for reasons I would not discover until years later. Once the film made its television debut where all the “good stuff” was edited out, it seemed easier to take in.

Plus, seeing Henry Thomas with a gun excited me to no end. For once, the children were going to defend themselves without the help of adults! Now please keep in mind, I was a little boy playing with water guns back when this film was released (much to chagrin of my parents), so my mindset was, shall we say, somewhat different.

For a PG-rated movie, “Cloak & Dagger” is actually pretty brutal! You have adults shooting at kids, Davey ends up shooting a bad guy to death, another character looks like they got shot in the eye, and a kid almost gets run over by a van. You would not see anything like that in a PG rated movie these days (PG-13 movies are a different story), and this includes a cold-blooded villain telling Davey just how much he is going to enjoy blowing his kneecaps off. Looking at a movie like this today, my response to it would be, “only in the 1980’s…”

But for what it’s worth, “Cloak & Dagger” doesn’t glamorize real life violence and succeeds in making a distinction between the world of make believe and the finality of death in real life in a way which can only be rendered in a PG-rated motion picture. The movie is really more of a coming-of-age story in which Davey comes to discover how these imaginary adventures he constantly engages in are nothing compared to the violence waged in real life as certain actions render a solution which is permanent in inescapably brutal ways. Davey also comes to realize this even before reaching the age of puberty, so you know his teenage years are going to more torturous than what the average adolescent is forced to endure.

Thomas’ performance as Davey Osbourne was proof his excellent performance in “E.T.” (one of the best ever given by a child actor) was no fluke. You never catch him acting, and everything he does comes from a believable and natural place. Even as the movie heads into the inescapable territory of illogic which is typically inescapable in 80’s action movies, Thomas remains the emotional center of the story and keeps us watching to the very end. It’s hard enough to ask a pre-teen to carry any feature length movie on their shoulders, but Thomas had long since proven to be a true professional in doing so.

The other big actor here is Dabney Coleman who, back in the 1980’s seemed to be in every other movie. He plays Davey’s Air Force father, Hal Osborne, as well as his imaginary hero Jack Flack whom Davey sees as a more appealing version of his dad. Coleman is great in both roles, and you really have to appreciate his performance as Hal because it could have been your typically clichéd one-note daddy character. Throughout, he rides a good balance between being the disciplinarian and the sympathetic father who remembers what his life was like as a kid. Like his son, Hal wanted to be a hero too.

However, Coleman is clearly having more fun playing superspy Jack Flack who may not be as smooth or as dashing as James Bond, but is still very clever in his own mustached way. All that’s missing is a patch over one of his eyes, but Kurt Russell already beat him to this in “Escape From New York.” Seeing the actor reacting to his performance as Hal is good for a few laughs as Flack never stops deriding the man’s lack of belief and faith in his son.

When it comes to the bad guys, they are the typical one-dimensional types you usually find in 1980’s movies, but that’s just fine here. Eloy Casados plays Alvarez as your mainly stone-faced henchman; the kind of guy who smirks more than he smiles, and not just because he’s in a foul mood. In fact, a guy like him is typically never really happy about anything. I also love how he shoots at Davey from only a few feet away and STILL COMPLETELY MISSES HIM. He would have made a great stormtrooper.

Then you have Haverman who is played by former professional football player Tim Rossovich. With his strong body and build, he’s like the Incredible Hulk as a bad guy, except he doesn’t turn green and rip off his clothes whenever he gets pissed (his jeans do look a little tight on him though). The door is locked? This guy just smashes right through it as if it were no big thing, and it got to where I was just waiting for him to say:

“HAVERMAN SMASH!!!”

But the main baddie here is Rice, and he is played by Michael Murphy in a truly chilling performance. Murphy, still a few years away from playing the spineless mayor of Gotham in “Batman Returns,” gives you the perfect kind of bad guy you love to despise with every fiber of your being as he makes you believe Rice would think nothing of killing a kid who stood in the way of his ultimate goal; delivering government secrets to spies. Man, I remember wanting to see him get his just desserts as soon as he appeared onscreen.

When it comes to scene stealers, Christina Nigra wins the prize as Davey’s non-imaginary friend, Kim. Her sassy attitude makes for some great moments, especially when she informs her mother that Davey’s father is not her type. She does get annoyed with Davey when he takes things a little too far, but even she comes to admit he is never ever boring. Nigra also holds her own in front of the airport police chief as he smokes a cigarette in very close proximity to her. You don’t even see her complaining about the smoke. Maybe the anti-smoking campaigns hadn’t reached her school yet.

There are a couple of other familiar faces to be found here including the late Robert DoQui whose subdued performance as Lt. Fleming is the polar opposite of the hard-nosed and law enforcement chief we saw him portray in the “Robocop.”. William Forsythe also shows up as Davey’s other friend Morris and, seriously, he doesn’t look like he has aged a day since 1984. Even Louie Anderson appears for less than a minute as a hygienically challenged taxi cab driver who offers to give Davey a ride to the airport but only if he gives him $15 dollars in advance.

“Cloak & Dagger” marked the second collaboration between director Richard Franklin and screenwriter Tom Holland. Their previous film together was the eagerly awaited sequel “Psycho II,” and while this film offers them a change of pace, it still proves to be pretty intense. That they managed to find a balance between the real and imaginary worlds Davey Osbourne inhabits is fairly remarkable as it could not have been the least bit simple.

So much has changed in the world since “Cloak & Dagger” first came out, and it now seems astonishing just how dark it was compared to the movies that come out today with a PG rating. It was made back when you didn’t need a plane ticket to get through security screening, and you could hang out with your loved ones at the gate before their plane took off. You could smoke on airplanes back then as well. What hasn’t changed or weakened through the passing of time are the performances of Thomas and Coleman. Both are a reason why this film managed to find such a large audience on video after it failed to do so in movie theaters.

Of course, these days I have to wonder what a “Cloak & Dagger” sequel might look like. While certain questions were easy to answer back in the 1980’s, everything these days feels far more complex. There’s no doubt Davey Osbourne would be severely traumatized by his experiences here, and perhaps he and Kevin McCallister from “Home Alone” can join forces as they both defeated their antagonists in very painful ways.

Once again, only in the 1980’s could a movie like this have been made.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago’ – A Vast Improvement

I have always had mixed feelings about “Rocky IV.” On one hand, it is a well-oiled machine which is entertaining, never drags, and you easily find yourself caught up in the action to where you join in with the audience chanting, “ROCKY! ROCKY! ROCKY!” On the other hand, it turned Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character of Rocky Balboa into a superhuman comic book character who has clearly spent far too many hours at the gym to develop his well-chiseled body. This character was a relatable human being who wanted to go the distance, and now he was being rendered as some untouchable force of nature who undergoes the most brutal training regime which no mere mortal can easily endure. Basically, I found this installment of the seemingly endless franchise lacking in humanity, and it would take 2006’s “Rocky Balboa” to bring the character back down to earth.

Well, it turns out Stallone felt the same way about “Rocky IV,” and thanks to this time of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw one of his projects get shut down, he decided to revisit this particular “Rocky” sequel which is still this franchise’s most financially successful as even he found it to be flawed. What resulted is his director’s cut entitled “Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago,” and it has the humanity which was once missing, but now has been found.

The story of “Rocky IV” remains the same. Apollo faces off against Russian boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and pays with his life, and Rocky travels to the Soviet Union to face off against Drago on Christmas Day. Does Rocky win the fight? Bitch, please, you know the answer to that.

Unlike Francis Ford Coppola’s recent director’s cuts of “The Cotton Club,” “Apocalypse Now” and “The Godfather Part III,” not much about “Rocky IV” has changed here. But again, the characters are fleshed out more here than they were previously, and this made for a more fulfilling cinematic experience for me, and that’s even if the pace drags at times. And yes, Paulie’s robot has been rendered obsolete in this cut. Suffice to say, that robot was no C-3PO and will not be missed.

After a look back at “Rocky III,” this cut starts off with Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in his luxurious swimming pool playing with his dogs when Drago and his entourage appear on his television set. This helps change the narrative a bit as we quickly see how this cut is more about Apollo as it shows the character as being restless in his retirement, and it becomes clearer to us how he wants to still matter in a world which may prefer to see him remain retired.

Indeed, Rocky thinks it is time, not just for Apollo, but for him to think about what else they can do with their lives as both have seemingly hit their athletic peak. But in Weathers’ eyes, you can see how desperate he is to remain relevant in the minds of many. It is not just Apollo’s ego crying out for acknowledgement, but also for a need to remain relevant and not easily forgotten. Watching Weathers’ performance here, I can see why Stallone regretted killing Apollo off. Of course, this did lead to the brilliant “Creed.”

Another actor who stands out here is Talia Shire who again takes on one of her most famous roles, Adrian Balboa. When you take the inevitable flashbacks into account, it is fascinating to watch Shire take Adrian from being a shy girl to becoming Rocky’s much-needed conscience as she exerts a confidence which has long since been earned. Indeed, this cut reminds us what a strong anchor she is to Rocky. She is the voice he needs to hear, and that’s even when she yells at him, “You can’t win!” Whereas she appeared quite meek in “Rocky,” she is a force to be reckoned with this time out.

And then there is the late Tony Burton who returns as boxing trainer Tony “Duke” Evans. His character really gets fleshed out a lot here as Tony gives a moving tribute to Apollo, and Burton later shares a thoughtful and moving scene with Stallone where he makes clear with his eyes that Rocky will be the last one standing. Stallone was right; Burton’s eyes were full of soul.

With the Sico the Robot gone, and the chance for Robert Doornick to earn residuals, what else is different about this “Rocky IV” cut? Well, Brigette Nielsen’s role Ludmilla Drago is pared down quite a bit to where her husband gets to talk for himself a bit more. In fact, the late great character actor Michael Pataki gets to speak more for the Russians as Nicolai Koloff this time around, and his wounded face at the movie’s end speaks volumes.

And because of the robot elimination, we see less of Burt Young’s Paulie here to where he is almost forgotten about in the first half. But Paulie does eventually make his cantankerous presence known as he flails around in the snow once in Russia, and his moving tribute to Rocky before he enters the ring is still quite touching. Of course, once Drago pushes Rocky’s gloves down, Paulie takes back what he said. It is very understandable why Stallone did not cut this scene out.

If there is anything I was hoping for in this “Rocky IV” director’s cut, it was to see Ivan Drago humanized a bit more. Part of this is because, during an interview Stallone did with TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz, he talked about Drago’s harsh origins and how he grew up in the gulag which he eventually escaped. This was very interesting to hear, but we do not see any of this onscreen. While presented as slightly more human, Drago is still portrayed as an invulnerable beast of a man. There isn’t much more to this character than that.

Other than that, it’s nice to see a lot of the cheesiness of the theatrical cut gone. Then again, the line of dialogue when Rocky tells Adrian to never ask him “to stop being a man” does land with as loud a thud as when Luke Skywalker begged his Uncle Owen to let him go into town to get some power converters in “Star Wars.” And no, I still don’t believe all the Russians would have began cheering for Rocky after booing him so viciously as he entered the ring. Sure, some would have started cheering him, but not all.

“Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago” is not a perfect movie, but I consider it a vast improvement over the original version. Around the time this sequel was released 35 years ago (I know, that freaks me out too), Rocky and the franchise was turning into a joke as we had been down this path one too many times it felt. Weird Al Yankovic spoofed Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and called it “The Theme from Rocky XIII” in which Rocky bought the neighborhood deli, “Airplane II: The Sequel” featured a poster of a fictious “Rocky” sequel which showed the Italian Stallion fighting way past his prime, and who can forget this classic line of dialogue from “Spaceballs?”

“Coming up, Pongo’s review of Rocky Five… thousand.”

But to hear Sylvester Stallone talk about his director’s cut and having watched it myself, it is clear he did not simply want to just repeat the formula we had come accustomed to. Rocky Balboa rescued this actor, writer and director from a life of poverty where his dog ate more than he did, and it should be no surprise at how much he cares for this iconic character and the others surrounding him. Had this version of “Rocky IV” been released back in 1985, perhaps many of us would not have been so quick to start joking about the Italian Stallion.

After all these years, we are still clapping along to those songs by Survivor, and we still cheer on Rocky even though the conclusion is never in doubt. While I used to roll my eyes whenever Stallone wanted to revisit this franchise, I say let him do whatever the hell he wants. Except for another “Rambo,” movie, we don’t need it. The last one was awful.

Theatrical Cut: * * ½ out of * * * *

Director’s Cut: * * * ½ out of * * * *

The Initial Reaction Audiences Had to ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’

John McNaughton’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” was made back in 1986, but it did not get a theatrical release until 1990. All these years later, it remains a very disturbing look at a murderer lacking a conscience who essentially kills at random. For those who’ve seen “Henry,” you know how unnerving it gets, and the fact it got released at all is amazing.

Michael Rooker, who plays the Henry of the movie’s title, appeared at the Egyptian Theatre back in 2011 to talk about audience’s initial reaction to it. Neither he nor anyone else involved in its making believed it would ever get any response whatsoever. They filmed what they thought people wanted to see, a scary movie, but this was no average horror flick like “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th.” “Henry” involves real life horror, the kind we often do not go to the movies to see. And in the end, what’s scarier than real life violence?

Chuck Parello, who would later direct “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part II,” managed to get the film screened at the 1989 Chicago Film Festival, and this later led to it being shown at the Telluride Festival. Rooker recollected about the first time he saw “Henry” in a theater, and he said there was around forty people in the audience. There were not a lot of sounds coming from them, and no laughter. This led Rooker to say that, after you’ve watched “Henry” twenty times, you begin to see the humor in it. For the record, I completely agree with him on this.

“Henry’s” most disturbing and controversial scene comes when Henry and Otis (Tom Towles) do a home invasion and murder an entire family. We watch these two as they view the video they shot of them killing each member, and Otis finds watching it once is not enough. After this scene ended, Rooker said more than 60% of the audience left after this scene, and they all left at the same time. Many of them were vocal about what they had witnessed:

“Fuck this shit!”

“This is bullshit!”

“This is what cinema’s coming to?”

Rooker was sitting with the producers when this happened, and he freely admitted how they all loved the response “Henry” was getting.

People came out of the film stunned and silent, and Rooker remembered seeing one guy walking out of the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles with his hands shaking. The actor also said a friend of his yelled at him because the film made him think “those thoughts.” There were no car chases, no gratuitous violence, and the violence shown in “Henry” is mostly minimal. Many of the murders Henry commits are never shown but heard as the camera circles around the bodies of his victims as we hear them take their last breath over the speakers. It ends up leaving a lot of room for imagination as you can’t help but think about what you didn’t see. Sometimes it is what you don’t see which is the most frightening thing of all.

But the most memorable incident for Rooker happened when he arrived late to one screening. As he headed into the theater, a woman, who was not walking but running out of the movie, ran right smack dab into him. When she realized who he was, she screamed and raced to the women’s bathroom. The ushers and producers had to come out and calm her down, saying to her over and over, “He’s really an actor. “

“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” is seriously disturbing, but for good reason. Unlike other horror movies which revel in blood, gore and vicious fantasies, this was one which dealt with horror of real-life viciousness. Every once in a while, you need a film like this one to remind people of the ugliness of violence, and to make us realize we are not as desensitized to it as we may think. If “Henry” didn’t cause a good portion of moviegoers to walk out, then the filmmakers would not have succeeded in making this point clear.

Michael Rooker on ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place in 2011.

Actor Michael Rooker appeared at the Egyptian Theatre for the 25th anniversary screening of the film in which he made his acting debut, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” Even with the passing of time, it remains as infinitely disturbing as it did when it was first released. Rooker discussed how he got cast and of what went on during its making. He also told the audience this was the first time he had seen the film since it first was released back in 1986.

Rooker said he started out as a theatre actor in Chicago after graduating from the Goodman School of Drama. At the time casting began for “Henry,” he was in a play called “Sea Marks,” and the director was doing the prosthetics for it. Rooker said he didn’t care if the screenplay was good or bad because he just wanted to do a movie. Doing “Henry” was a test for Rooker to see how working while shooting out of sequence would work for him.

For research, Rooker said he read several books about serial killers which were written by doctors, but he found them to be “mostly crap.” He ended up getting more from the Texas Rangers who interviewed the man this film was more or less based on, Henry Lee Lucas. Also, the director, John McNaughton, asked him and the other actors to write character sketches. Rooker said he did not want to do that though because he did this endlessly in college and was now “sick of writing stuff down.” Instead, he recorded an audio tape of himself speaking in character.

During shooting, Rooker said he tried staying in character all day long. This led to a lot of strange times on set as actors and the crew were not sure if they were talking to him or Henry. McNaughton also got him a room for him to hide out from the actors and crew, and it was filled with mirrors which Rooker later covered up with trash bags. He stayed in the room all day until he was called to set.

The budget for “Henry” was a mere $120,000 according to Rooker, and the guy selling him cigarettes towards the film’s end was the one who financed it. Being an independent film, the filmmakers had no permits and had to hide whenever the cops were in the area. Once they were gone, the crew went right back to filming. They did, however, get busted during a pivotal scene in which Henry is shown throwing a body into the river. While shooting, four police cars came out of nowhere, and one policeman got out and asked, “Are you throwing bodies into the river?”

Once they looked in the bag Rooker was about to hurl over the side, they started laughing uncontrollably and ended up leaving the crew alone.

“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” opened up a lot of doors for Michael Rooker, and it even scored him a role in John Sayles’ “Eight Men Out.” His terrifying performance is still embedded in the minds of so many who dared to view it either on the silver screen or on their own television sets, and they still cannot get it out of their heads. Since then, he has had a great career which has allowed him to play both good and bad guys with relative ease. Michael still has many great performances left to give, but don’t count on him doing a “Henry” sequel unless he can be convinced it can be turned into a musical.