“The Dead Center” (2018, Arrow Video) Psychiatrist Shane Carruth and medical examiner Bill Feehely are pulled into the orbit of an apparent suicide victim (Jeremy Childs) who revives in the morgue with no memory of his death and the ability to kill those that come in touch with him. Director Billy Senese is not particularly forthcoming with the how and why behind Childs’ condition, and trains his focus instead on atmosphere and anxiety. He gets a tremendous amount of mileage from the alarming sound design by Jeremy Mazza and ambient score by Jordan Lehning; cinematography by Andy Duensing emphasizes the chill of the hospital setting. Carruth – a noted indie filmmaker in his own right – does well as a troubled medico whose sympathetic nature may be his undoing, but it’s Childs’s turn, equal parts terrified and terrifying, that helps land the most chills. Arrow’s Blu-ray is loaded with extras, including two commentaries featuring Senese and members of the cast and crew, deleted scenes, a make-up effects demo, and a brace of creepy short films and radio dramas written and/or directed by Senese.
“Game of Death” (2017, MVD Visual/Cleopatra Entertainemnt) Bored with a day of casual debauchery, a gaggle of well-scrubbed teens discovers the titular board game, which requires them to maintain a schedule of random murder or risk their own gruesome deaths. French-Canadian feature, stitched together from a web series, embraces its nihilistic premise with gleeful abandon and (literal) showers of gore; interest is maintained through some plot surprises and grisly deadpan humor before grinding into a repetitive gear. Your appreciation of the film ultimately rests on how much enjoyment you can draw from watching awful people do awful things to others (and each other); the MVD/Cleopatra DVD includes the trailer.
“Zombie 5: Killing Birds” (1988, Vinegar Syndrome) College students venture into the wilds of Louisiana to study an endangered species of woodpecker (!) and encounter disfigured Robert Vaughn and a small but determined gaggle of the living dead. Confounding Italian chiller with an equally baffling pedigree – according to various sources, the film was directed (in whole or part) by Claudio Lattanzi or producer Joe D’Amato and written by Lattanzi (though “Troll 2” author Claudio Fragasso has also laid claim to it) – a remarkable lack of both zombies and homicidal birds, and no actual connection to Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie“; however, it does have enough gruesome special effects (including a cringe-inducing eye injury) and plot non-sequiturs to maintain the interest of Eurocult and junkfilm devotees. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray features a 2k restoration and commentary by historian Samm Deighan (who offers as concise an unraveling of the film’s production history as possible) and interviews with Lattanzi and sound man Larry Revene.
“Blood Tide” (1980, Arrow Video) Brawny Martin Kove, who’s currently enjoying a career revival on “Cobra Kai,” travels to Greece in search of his sister (Deborah Shelton) and discovers the truth behind legends of a cult that sacrifices young women to an aquatic monster. Amusing creature feature from a trio of under-the-radar genre filmmakers – director/co-writer Richard Jefferies (the underrated “Scarecrows“), co-producer Brian Trenchard of “Stunt Rock” fame, and co-producer/co-writer/certifiable eccentric Nico Mastorakis – who make excellent use of the Greek island location, which undoubtedly provided a enjoyable working holiday for guest stars James Earl Jones (treasure hunter), Lila Kedrova (worried nun) and Jose Ferrer (mayor). Arrow’s video – a vast improvement over countless public domain releases – includes commentary by Jefferies and a full-bore interview with Mastorakis.
“Split Second” (1992, MVD Rewind Collection) In a future London (2008) partially submerged under water due to climate change, tough guy cop Rutger Hauer and straight arrow partner Alastair Duncan hunt an inhuman serial killer with an apparent psychic link to Hauer. U.S.-British sci-fi/horror has a dopey premise and dialogue (courtesy of future “Fast and Furious” scripter Gary Scott Thompson), but also impressive production design, the presence of Ian Dury, Pete Posthlewaite, and Michael J. Pollard in its supporting cast (Kim Cattrall is there, too, but has nothing to do), and abundant gunplay and gore, all of which appears to have earned it a cult following. Said faithful will be rewarded by MVD’s Blu-ray, which bundles new interviews with Duncan and production team members with vintage making-of featurettes, the full-length Japanese edit (with deleted scenes), and plentiful promotional material.
“The Black Cat” (1989, Severin Films) An Italian film production that would complete Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy appears to unleash the actual third witch, who focuses her diabolical attention on the picture’s lead (Florence Guerin) and her newborn child. Typically oddball production from Italian workhorse Luigi Cozzi has little to do with either the Edgar Allan Poe story on which it’s purportedly based or Argento’s “Mothers” films (which, at the time of this production, only comprised “Suspiria” and “Inferno” – the actual third film, “Mother of Tears,” was released in 2007) but does feature exploding psychics, slime bursting from television sets, many false scares, a psychedelic showdown in its finale, and ex-pats Caroline Munro and Brett Halsey. Delirious, to say the least; Severin’s Blu-ray features a new 2k transfer and interviews with Cozzi and Munro.