Upgrade Dept: Blue Underground has provided new and/or improved editions of three previously released Blu-ray titles from their vast library of rare horror and cult films. The truly bizarre but entertaining 1975 Italian-US Western “Get Mean,” which pits Tony Anthony’s wisenheimer hero, the Stranger, against 19th-century Mongols and Vikings (yes, you read that correctly) in Spain, returns in a single-disc edition that echoes the Limited Edition two-disc release in nearly all ways save for the extra DVD. Blue Underground also has Ultra HD editions of Larry Cohen’s “God Told Me To,” with Tony Lo Bianco investigating acts of violence seemingly motivated by divine intervention (including one perpetrated by Andy Kaufman), and a 25th Anniversary edition of “Uncle Sam,” a collaboration between Cohen and BU chief William Lustig in which an amoral soldier returns to life after being killed in action and lays waste to his hometown. The Ultra HD upgrade affords improved views of the films’ more outrageous sights, like Richard Lynch’s intersex extraterrestrial messiah and Robert Forster blown up with Fourth of July fireworks. Extras are plentiful on each disc, including retrospective interviews, commentary, deleted scenes, and more.
“Flying Guillotine Part II” (1978, 88 Films) The official sequel to the Shaw Brothers’ berserk 1975 actioner “Flying Guillotine,” again anchored around the abundant use of the title object, an obscenely effective decapitation machine on a long chain which delivers showers of gore when used correctly. Several unrelated flying guillotine features (including one with Jimmy Wang Yu) were released before Shaw Brothers issued this sequel; the hallmarks of a troubled production, which required the replacement of its stars and director (Hua Shen of “Super-Inframan” fame is behind the camera here), doesn’t leave much of an impact on the primary focus of the plot, which is the continued efforts of the emperor (now played by Ku Feng) to quash a rebellion with his Guillotine Squad, and former squad member Ma Teng (Shaw Brothers great Ti Lung) opposing him with an anti-guillotine device, the Iron Umbrella (which is exactly what it sounds like). The Emperor ups the ante with the Double Guillotine – with an extra blade to counter the Umbrella – which leads to palace carnage (which is, coincidentally, the film’s subtitle). Relentless and bloody action unspools at such a breathless pace that one might miss some of the finer details, most notably Shih Szu and her team of pink-clad female assassins and the redoubtable Lo Lieh as one of the emperor’s toughest henchmen; 88 Films’ Blu-ray boasts an HD transfer, commentary by Asian film historians Mike Leeder and Arne Venema that manages to inform as well as amuse, and a trailer and still gallery, as well as the prerequisite mini-poster and reversible cover art.
“Terror Circus” (1973, Code Red) A trio of showgirls, including former Mousketeer and Hanna-Barbera voice actor Sherry Alberoni, en route to Las Vegas fall afoul of lunatic Andrew Prine, who treats his abductees like circus animal acts in his remote desert home (played by Lancaster and Palm Desert). Low-budget horror title – an early directorial credit for Robert Altman collaborator Alan Rudolph ups the weirdo ante by adding Prine’s father, a shambling monster mutated by atomic testing, and LA jazz DJ Chuck Niles (as the showgirls’ manager) to its feverish mix of psycho-thriller tropes, grindhouse splatter, and mild, underground magazine-style sadism; Code Red’s Blu-ray, issued under the film’s original title (it was later reissued as “Nightmare Circus” and the misleading “Barn of the Naked Dead”), includes a making-of retrospective which includes interviews with special effects creator Allan Apone (who handled the wardrobe), producer Marvin Almeas, and FX designers Byrd Holland and Doug White (the charming and eccentric Prine would have been an standout addition here).
“Shock” (1977, Arrow Video) Having endured abuse at the hands of her drug-addicted first husband and a subsequent stint in an asylum, Daria Nicolodi (“Suspiria”) returns home with her son and new spouse (the late John Steiner), only to discover that her ex may be continuing his terror campaign from beyond the grave. Hampered by ill health and a low budget, director Mario Bava can’t match the Gothic reveries of his best-known horror titles (“Black Sunday”), but with the help of son and co-scripter Lamberto, manages to craft not only some impressively creepy scenes (all that transpires in the house’s basement) but a string of tantalizing suggestions that psychology, not the supernatural, may be at the root of the strange phenomena. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray offers a vastly superior A/V presentation (a 2K restoration from the original camera negative) than previous releases that includes thorough commentary by Bava scholar Tim Lucas, interviews with Lamberto Bava and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, observations by Alexander Heller-Nicholas and Stephen Thrower, and numerous promotional items, including trailers, an Italian fotobusta, and even a program for Japanese moviegoers.
“YellowBrickRoad” (2010, Lightyear Video) A film crew follows the same path into the New Hampshire woods taken by the entire population of a small town after a 1940 screening of “The Wizard of Oz,” and discovers strange phenomena that may or may not have led to their violent deaths. Though labeled as a found footage film, Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton’s indie horror film is closer in execution and temperament to the weird fiction of Algernon Blackwood or Clark Ashton Smith or the films of Robert Eggers (who, coicindentally served as costume designer for this feature), in whose stories nature becomes both an existential threat and a symbol of unfathomable malevolence; the directors squander some of the viewers’ good will with a confused finale, but “YellowBrickRoad” has enough standout chills to ward off total dismissal. Lightyear’s DVD/Blu-ray presentation includes commentary by the directors, who are also included in a battery of interviews along with producer Eric Hungerford and sibling stars/exec producers Clark and Cassidy Freeman (“The Righteous Gemstones”).
“The Night of the Following Day” (1969, Kino Lorber) A taciturn Marlon Brando pilots the vehicle that spirits away a teenage girl (Pamela Franklin) to a hidden seaside location where his fellow kidnappers – sadist Richard Boone, junkie Rita Moreno, and ostensible leader Jess Hahn – unravel under the weight of their respective pathologies. The excellent cast and an air of Continental cinema style (portentous dialogue, dreamlike structure, casual violence) hold audience interest but are undone by a confused ending and an nagging sense of missing information, though director Hubert Cornfeld insists in his commentary that the film is complete. A second commentary track by Tim Lucas fills in some of the blanks with behind-the-scenes anecdotes about tension between Brando and Cornfeld and Moreno and does his best to make sense of the material; Kino’s Blu-ray includes the trailer, which also gets the “Trailers from Hell” treatment from Joe Dante.
“Terror Out of the Sky” (1978, Kino Lorber) CBS TV-movie picks up where 1977’s “The Savage Bees” ended, with scientist Tovah Feldshuh (replacing Gretchen Corbett) hot on the trail of three killer queen bees leading a swarm towards Merced, California. She also has to deal with a love triangle involving her far-too-old-for-her boss (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) and helicopter pilot boyfriend (Dan Haggerty); their to-and-fro sucks up much of the oxygen required to keep “Terror” fully aloft, though there are enough scenes of bee mayhem (one involving Ike Eisenmann and a troop of Boy Scouts aboard a bus) to retain the attention of TV terror and ’70s horror/sci-fi devotees. As with many ’70s made-for-TV efforts, the true entertainment value lies in the details: Philip Baker Hall, Steve Franken, and the late Joe E. Tata have minor roles, Zimbalist has to wear a ridiculous anti-bee suit, and the eminently quotable line, “His mouth is full of bees!” Kino’s Blu-ray includes amusing commentary by David Del Valle and director David DeCouteau and trailers for some of their other small-screen titles.