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The annals of “Jaws” rip-offs run the gamut from giant alligators and piranhas to mutated grizzly bears, crocodiles and…well, we’re back to alligators again with THE GREAT ALLIGATOR (89 mins., 1979; Severin Films), one of the many films in this genre that features unsuspecting victims running afoul of something in the wild that wants to take a bite out of them. Not to be confused with either John Sayles’ superior “Alligator” or the gross-out Thai import “Crocodile,” this Sergio Martino-helmed Italian production goes down nice and easy – a movie that comfortably debuted in the U.S. on the CBS Late Movie, and one that makes you feel like having a frozen slushy and throwing on George Benson’s “Living Inside Your Love” double LP for good measure.

Martino’s movie finds a group of disparate heroes and tourists descending upon the opening of a new resort in Sri Lanka, only to be stalked by a giant crocodile the natives believe is also their God. These include photographer Claudio Cassinelli and anthropologist Barbara Bach (quite sultry coming off “The Spy Who Loved Me”) not to mention would-be entrepreneur Mel Ferrer – all of whom end up having to bypass mad natives and the giant jaws of a crocodile who’s equally unhappy.

I’ve seen pretty much all of the “Jaws” rip-offs from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and while we’ll continue to wait for that 4K restoration of “The Last Shark,” Severin’s new 4K UHD scan of “The Great Alligator” will suffice for creature-feature fans. This is a leisurely-paced affair to be sure, one where you can sense the shooting location had more to do with the cast’s participation more than anything actually on-screen. Yet, that being said, there’s something quite appealing about the film, from its ‘70s fashions and party-hardy tourists just wanting one more beverage on “Tarzan’s Raft” to its alligator effects in the final half-hour.

The movie also manages to avoid some of the excessive violence that occasionally plagued Italian fare from that era – in fact, with the obviously limited mobility of its alligator, Martino and crew resort to the beast “making contact” with its victims before a red filter shows up on-screen. Gore fans might be disappointed accordingly but the “low-fi” tech of its effects work, even for its time, provides a pleasing B-movie aura to the entire enterprise.

“The Great Alligator” makes its 4K UHD debut in a new double-disc set from Severin. The HDR10 enhanced anamorphic transfer (2.35) is noteworthy for its detail and brightness, with clear English mono or Italian sound. The included Blu-Ray boasts a number of extras, including interviews with Martino, actress Silvia Collatina, camera operator Claudio Morabito, production designer Antonello Geleng, and underwater camera op Gianlorenzo Battaglia. There’s also a crew retrospective featurette involving cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando among others; a production drawing segment with Geleng; and a video essay from Lee Gambin. Warmly recommended!

One of the more offbeat films to be shoehorned into the slasher genre, BUTCHER, BAKER, NIGHTMARE MAKER (96 mins., 1981, R; Severin) is, in actuality, a minor albeit well-acted and moody little thriller from producer/co-writer Stephen Breimer and veteran TV director William Asher, also new on 4K UHD this month from Severin.

Orphaned high schooler Jimmy McNichol finds himself being pegged for a murder committed by his deranged aunt (Susan Tyrrell), which the local, sadistic police chief (Bo Svenson) falsely believes was also part of a gay love triangle. Earning kudos for its positive portrayal of a gay supporting character (who helps save the day), “Butcher Baker…” is effective and memorably performed by Tyrrell. She’s dynamic as the unhinged “protector” of McNichol, and credit Asher for ensuring that the film doesn’t veer into camp as it easily could have given the circumstances. You also get early performances from a pre-”Newhart” Julia Duffy as McNichol’s girl reporter squeeze and Bill (William) Paxton, already perfecting his on-screen d-bag persona as one of Jimmy’s obnoxious classmates.

“Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker” was also known simply as “Nightmare Maker” and last appeared in a 2017 Code Red Blu-Ray. This 4K presentation with HDR10 (1.85, mono) looks even better detailed that disc, though there’s only so much even high dynamic range can do to punch up the movie’s rather drab visual appearance in the first place. Extras include a commentary with Jimmy McNichol from the Code Red disc; a commentary with co-writers Steve Breimer and Alan Jay Glueckman, moderated by our friend Nathaniel Thompson; and a commentary with co-producer Eugene Mazzolla. The included Blu-Ray, meanwhile, sports interviews with Bo Svenson, dp Robbie Greenberg, editor Ted Nicolaou, and Code-Red conversations with McNichol, Tyrrell and others, plus the trailer and a TV spot.

Canadian chillers are often fascinating for when they work (“The Changeling”) and when they don’t…case in point being CATHY’S CURSE (82/91 mins., 1977). This is a frighteningly silly low-budget Canadian cash-in on “The Exorcist” that follows a man who returns to his ancestral home after having lost his young sister and father in a horrific car accident decades before. Soon, his young daughter Cathy (Randi Allen) is possessed by the spirit of his late sister, spouting out obscenities and trying her darndest to pull a Linda Blair-lite, all the while her mother is battling mental demons of her own.

“Cathy’s Curse” is the kind of movie you’d pull off the shelf in your local video store’s horror section back in the ‘80s or ‘90s and hope for the best in terms of entertainment. With the right amount of company and beverages, the movie could work its magic and become something of a cult favorite for the right audience – making it the kind of B-grade independent thriller that might, even now, delight a certain segment of viewers, provided they have a nostalgia for its era and either embrace (or simply find hilarious) its at-times awkward performances and threadbare special effects.

Severin’s restoration of “Cathy’s Curse” offers up HDR10 (1.85, mono) enhancements on both the movie’s 82-minute U.S. version as well as a pokier Director’s Cut that features nine additional minutes of footage. An amusing commentary with Fangoria’s Brian Collins and filmmaker Simon Barrett delivers laughs and insight on the U.S. version, while extras include a rare interview with Allen and costume designer Joyce Allen (her mom); a talk with director Eddy Matalon; a screening intro from Collins; trailers; and booklet notes from Collins that properly sum up the picture.

Last but not least among Severin’s quartet of new 4K UHDs is director Lucio Fulci’s THE DEVIL’S HONEY (83 mins., 1986). Fulci, the Italian meister of splatter horror, was winding down his career when he shifted gears for this strange exercise in erotic suspense involving young lovers Blanca Marsillach and Stefano Madia, who cross paths with a surgeon (Brett Halsey) with an unhappy wife (Corinne Clery). Tragedy then strikes that leads Marsillach on a journey of self-discovery – and loads of sex.

Fulci devotees will be – as is often the case – the main audience for this outrageous picture which, perhaps understandably, received some of the smallest distribution of any of his works (at least Fulci could typically rely on the cannibal or zombie market to lure in U.S. distributors). For those willing to give this wild orgy a spin, Severin’s HDR10-enhanced (1.85, English or subtitled Italian mono) UHD boasts a new 4K scan of the original negative in what’s arguably the best transfer of the quartet.

In addition to the UHD, a Blu-Ray is also on-hand sporting interviews with Marsillach, Halsey, Clery, producer Vincenzo Salviani, composer Claudio Natili, and critic Stephen Thrower. There’s also an archival audio conversation with Fulci by Michele Romangoli and an audio essay by critic Troy Howarth, plus an alternate opening and the trailer.

All four titles are available for order now directly from Severin’s own website where fans have options to pick the releases up with exclusive, collectible slipcovers (one that even lights up on “Cathy’s Curse”!).


Also New on 4K UHD

Warner Home Video has lined up a pair of action-oriented 4K UHD titles this April.

Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning THE DEPARTED (151 mins., 2006, R; Warner) makes its 4K Ultra HD debut this month in a sturdy, HDR10 graded (1.85) presentation that adds texture, light and shadow to Michael Ballhaus’ cinematography.

This adaptation of the Hong Kong cinematic hit “Infernal Affairs,” transferred to the backrooms of Boston mobsters by writer William Monahan, turned into that rare box-office smash that also met with unanimous critical acclaim, boasting powerhouse performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg – yet, in all candor, I’ve always felt this compelling yet overrated mob drama ranked a solid peg or two under both “Goodfellas” (my favorite Scorsese film) and even “Casino,” with Scorsese occasionally punctuating the material with a heavy hand.

Fans of the movie won’t care, of course, and the UHD does a good job enhancing an already-solid Blu-Ray while reprising its 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack and its associated extras (multiple featurettes, nine deleted scenes with Scorsese’s introductions, and a digital HD copy).

Amazon’s purchase of MGM has resulted in a few successes on the action circuit, including the Jake Gyllenhaal/Doug Liman remake of ‘80s favorite “Road House” – which was relegated to Amazon Prime only – and THE BEEKEEPER (105 mins., 2024, R; Warner), a Miramax pick-up that went to theatrical and performed well at the box-office earlier this year.

Though by-the-numbers, director David Ayer’s film – scripted by Kurt Wimmer – still provides star Jason Statham with one of his liveliest roles, playing (of course) a man with a special set of skills who heads back into the game after his neighbor (Phylicia Rashad) dies following an online phishing scheme. Potent action and a topical subject matter make for a breezy mix of fisticuffs served up with Statham at his most engaged. Overall, it’s fun and slickly delivered by genre vets who know their way around the genre, punctuated by some goofy elements (i.e. a band of assassins who look like refugees from the 1993 “Super Mario Bros.” movie; UK filming that doesn’t in any way resemble the Massachusetts-set location of the story).

Warner’s 4K UHD (2.39) is out this week sporting a flawless HDR10 transfer and Dolby Atmos sound but nothing on the supplemental side.

MEAN GIRLS 4K UHD/Blu-Ray (99 mins., PG-13, 2004; Paramount): Sharp, funny, and winning teen comedy helped to launch writer/co-star Tina Fey’s career outside “Saturday Night Live.”

In basically the last of her successful big-screen roles, Lindsay Lohan stars as a home-schooled student who enters a suburban Chicago high school for the first time. There, she discovers all sorts of cliques, including one “in crowd” presided over by snobby Rachel McAdams, which promptly recruits her into its lair. Though torn between the “Queen Bees” and her outsider friends, Lohan ultimately succumbs to the pressure of popularity, and learns more than a few hard lessons about high school life in the process.

Fey scripted this adaptation of a Rosalind Wiseman novel, and also co-stars as one of Lohan’s well-intentioned teachers. Her amusing and thoughtful screenplay anchors the colorful and consistently entertaining “Mean Girls,” which sports solid performances from Lohan (who’s winning here, in spite of her subsequent transition to scandal-ridden party-queen off-camera) and McAdams, plus plenty of laughs throughout. This is one of those rare teen movies that can appeal to viewers of all ages, due to its easily-identifiable lead protagonist and on-target observations. Additional kudos go out to Rolfe Kent’s comedic score, which utilizes African percussion to poke fun at high school social tribes.

Paramount’s newly remastered 4K UHD of “Mean Girls” includes Dolby Vision HDR (1.85, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD) in a transfer that looks reasonably detailed and encoded. There’s a new “Mean Girls: Class of ‘04” retrospective featurette to go along with recycled extras from past releases (a commentary track from director Mark Waters, Fey, and producer Lorne Michaels; three Making Of featurettes of the mostly fluffy, promotional variety; a blooper reel; trailer and inter-stitials, plus deleted scenes).

Fey parlayed the success of “Mean Girls” into a Broadway musical that was brought to the screen earlier this year in an unnecessary screen version (112 mins., 2024, PG-13; Paramount) that also debuts on 4K UHD this month. Fey adapted her book and recycled Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin’s songs from the stage version, but the movie comes off as plastic and forgettable, a rehash that’s not nearly as effective as its predecessor. Paramount’s 4K UHD include a gag reel, extended scene, featurettes, Dolby Atmos sound and Dolby Vision HDR plus a Digital HD code.


New From Capelight/MPI

STIGMATA Blu-Ray (102 mins., 1999, R; Capelight): Making a return appearance on Blu-Ray, this time from European distributor Capelight – which has recently started making in-roads in the U.S. — is “Stigmata,” the reasonably stylish, MGM-released 1999 supernatural thriller.

Patricia Aruqette stars as a Pittsburgh hairdresser who improbably winds up with a “haunted rosary” that causes the poor woman to bear wounds from Christ’s crucifixion. Gabriel Bryne plays the Vatican investigator sent to uncover the cause of Arquette’s visions and injuries, with Jonathan Pryce turning up as a Holy City big-wig who may just be part of a bigger conspiracy to suppress a recently-uncovered Gospel that offers a different interpretation of Christ’s teachings.

Director Rupert Wainwright uses all the tricks in the old MTV playbook – including montages, techno soundbytes, heavily filtered cinematography, and plenty of candles – in crafting a good-looking thriller which was sold as if it was the next “Exorcist.”

Unfortunately, while MGM’s marketing department did a savvy job selling the picture, the horrific build-up promised by the theatrical trailers doesn’t actually represent what “Stigmata” is about. If you go in expecting a terrifying, blood-curdling chiller, you’re likely to be disappointed by a movie that grinds you through a lengthy series of ordeals for Arquette before it tells us what the fuss is all about — and when that moment finally comes, it’s a letdown since it’s just so, well, ordinary. The Biblical mumbo-jumbo also doesn’t make much sense when closely scrutinized, either, with the screenwriters holding an axe to grind against established religions (principally Catholicism) that’s so utterly simplistic it makes a similarly-themed genre entry from the Y2K era – “End of Days” – look like a theological masterpiece by comparison (ironically Gabriel Byrne was in that one, too!).

However, all that being said, “Stigmata” still looks good and that’s half the battle in this movie’s case. Wainwright paces the move quite well and MGM’s Blu-Ray includes a solid catalog master (2.35, 5.1 DTS MA) with legacy extras including Wainwright’s commentary, an alternate ending, deleted scenes, Making Of and the trailer.

Also new from Capelight and MPI this month is the debut Blu-Ray release from the “Cannon Movie Tale” series – over a handful of Israeli-shot Golan-Globus productions meant to corner the kiddie market from the heyday of their Cannon Group output.

Cannon, alas, was already on a downward trend by the time the Movie Tales began production, meaning only some cable TV viewers and home video renters ever saw productions like HANSEL AND GRETEL (86 mins., 1987, G; Capelight). This initial entry in the series is family-friendly to be sure and offers Cloris Leachman as The Witch oppose David Warner as the title duo’s father. Production values are modest but cheerful and a bit of Engelbert Humperdinck’s score remains in what should be a nostalgic affair for ‘80s kids who might remember this, or productions like the Rebecca DeMornay-John Savage “Beauty and the Beast.”

Out of circulation since MGM’s out of print DVDs, Capelight brings “Hansel and Gretel” to Blu-Ray with a just-fine MGM catalog master (1.85, 2.0 stereo). Presumably more of the “Movie Tales” will follow.

DOOM PATROL – Fourth and Final Season Blu-Ray (586 mins., 2022-23; Warner): Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Woman, Crazy Jane, Cyborg and ex-villainess Madame Rouge are back for one last go-around in the final season of “Doom Patrol.” This time the Doom Patrol heads to the future and finds out their mortal time is limited – leading our anti-heroes to determine if it’s worth risking the world’s future for their own. Fans of the series ought to enjoy this final assortment of episodes from the DC franchise, now on Blu-Ray (1.78, 5.1 DTS MA) from Warner sporting three featurettes and a slipcover.

DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS Blu-Ray/DVD (83 mins., 2024, R; Universal): Ethan Cohen’s solo directorial debut is a full turn away from his brother Joel’s recent take on “The Tragedy of MacBeth” – a silly, disposable comedy wherein pals Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan hit the road for a new start, only to run afoul of some inept criminals along the way. This feels less like an independent vision from Coen and more a recycling of ideas from the more frantic, early films Ethan once made with his sibling, resulting in a patchy, labored affair, despite welcome appearances from Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon. Universal’s Blu-Ray (1.85, 8.1 Dolby TrueHD) offers three featurettes, a DVD and Digital copy.

NEXT TIME: New discs from Kino Lorber & more! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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