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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Espionage > Thriller > Mystery > Comedy > Action > Zombies > Robots > Super Soldiers > Aliens > Monster > Arabesque (1966/Universal/Umbrella Region 4 PAL Import DVD)/Battle Of The Damned (2013/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Ice Soldiers (2013/Sony Blu-ray)/It Came From Outer Space (1953/Universal/Umbrella Region 4 P

Arabesque (1966/Universal/Umbrella Region 4 PAL Import DVD)/Battle Of The Damned (2013/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Ice Soldiers (2013/Sony Blu-ray)/It Came From Outer Space (1953/Universal/Umbrella Region 4 PAL Import DVD)/Scarecrow (2013/Cinedigm DVD)/Trans-Europ-Express (1967/Kino Blu-ray)

Picture: B-/B-/B-/C+/C+/B Sound: C/B-/B-/C+/C/B- Extras: D/C-/D/B/D/C+ Films: B/D/C-/B-/D/B-

PLEASE NOTE: The Arabesque and It Came From Outer Space Region 4 PAL format DVDs will only play on players that can handle that version of the format and are now only available from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment and can be ordered from the link below.

Here are some genre thrillers that sometimes have gimmicks and a few that needed much more...

Stanley Donen's Arabesque (1966) has been on DVD in the U.S. for a while and as we wait for a Blu-ray edition of some kind (Criterion perhaps?), Universal has licensed the film to Umbrella Entertainment in Australia in what is a Region 4 PAL Import DVD.

To paraphrase my description for the U.S. DVD, Arabesque gives us Gregory Peck as a professor of hieroglyphics who is recruited to figure out the meaning of a message he is unaware was obtained by murdering its carrier. Soon, he finds himself in a web of intrigue that includes a power struggle between visiting Arab powers, a mysterious, beautiful woman played by Sophia Loren in her best outright Hollywood film work ever and is one of director Stanley Donen's greatest, most underrated films.

The film still needs to be more widely rediscovered and this can only help, so here's hoping this new release will help. Those Down Under, in New Zealand and surrounding areas now have no excuse to miss this visually superior spy thriller.

There unfortunately are no extras.

Christopher Hatton's Battle Of The Damned (2013) runs at the opposite end of effectiveness as Dolph Lundgren continues his low budget action thriller cycle, this time giving him an excuse to join the tired cycle of zombie narratives. This might have worked as a mere actioner if they had not tried so hard, but it is badly done and then to make things much worse, some very badly CG animated killer robots who look like rejects that would never show up in any version of Robocop turn up to go after them and the zombies.

This is just silly, and when it takes itself seriously, it just gets worse. Even for Lundgren, this is bad and sloppier than usual, again even for him. It's hard to say exactly who the audience is for this mess, but it is bad.

A Making Of featurette is the only extra.

Sturla Gunnarsson's Ice Soldiers (2013) has almost the exact high concept as the just-reviewed Code Red (see elsewhere on this site) where murderous USSR tyrant Josef Stalin had tried to create a group of supermen (genetically engineered) to make the Soviet Union the strongest nation in the world. Having collapsed by 1990, a group near the frontier that was lands up battling the very belated results of those experiments. While Code Red has them become zombies and has a few good moments, we just get a few blonde supermen who look like thy are doing bad impersonations of Dolph Lundgren in Universal Soldier, et al. Dominic Purcell (trying for action features), Michael Ironside and Adam Beach are the leads who play the group finding the killers, but the only thing more barren than the snowy locales are the lack of ideas in the script.

From some dumb early scenes to badly written latter ones, there might have been something good here if the makers tried to concentrate when producing this dud, but it is far less ambitious than Code Red was and that had more than its share of problems. Put this one back in the freezer!

There are no extras.

Jack Arnold's It Came From Outer Space (1953) was originally issued in 3D and is one of the biggest hits and best such film from the brief period having great fun and using the 3D to great effect. However, it has its creepy moments and is fun enough in 2D as presented here. Ray Bradbury wrote the script with Barbara Rush and Richard Carlson spending time alone in the desert when a mysterious object falls from the sky in a fiery crash. They immediately investigate and it turns out to be killer aliens!

This was imaginative for its time and still has its moments as one of the great classic 1950s B-movies. More ambitious than many similar versions since, including an awful 1996 telefilm remake, Gilligan's Island fans know Russell Johnson shows up in the supporting cast and Director of Photography Clifford Stine (who later lensed the original William Cameron Menzies original version of This Island Earth) makes this visually dense and engaging throughout. If you have not seen the film or not for a long time, it is definitely worth seeing again.

Extras include a feature length audio commentary track by film historian Tom Weaver, a Photograph/Poster Gallery, Original Theatrical Trailer and documentary on Universal Pictures.

Sheldon Wilson's Scarecrow (2013) is not about the Batman villain or about farming, but about the title monster out on the kill. Unfortunately, this has zero suspense, the digital visual effects tie Battle Of The Damned above as some of the worst and lamest we have seen in a while and for horror fans, this is no remake or (by lightyears) match for the far superior TV movie Dark Night Of The Scarecrow, which has actually been issued in a fine Blu-ray at this link:


This is a newer shoot by 33 years and looks weaker as well, not even counting any formats used to shoot the thing. Appearing on the usually comatose SyFy Channel, Lacey Chabert has the lead and is wasted with the rest of the cast and anyone watching for a very long 96 minutes. The story starts with the characters attending a scarecrow festival, only to find the real thing. That tired switch/plot idea is beyond played out, echoing the emptiness to be found here. Yawn!!!

There are no extras.

Last but not least is Alain Robbe-Grillet's Trans-Europ-Express (1967) which is a sometimes comic French New Wave film about a man (Jean-Louis Trintignant, sometimes playing himself and putting him and his performance in a surreal position) who will rob something and transport whatever it is on the title train. We see it transpiring as three people in one of the train's actual cars think up a thriller storyline, changing it and arguing it throughout. This does not always work, but the film is more successful than not, finding it in Godard/Film Noir territory (deconstruction while trying to say and show other things).

This includes a few James Bond references, images & comments on masculinity and an unusual amount of images of bondage (no puns intended) that had the film run into censorship issues in some places. However, it is looks great (especially on Blu-ray) and makes getting lost in the world it creates so much easier. Marie-France Pisler leads the females who show up and though it is not perfect, this is a must-see film for all people serious about pure cinema.

Extras include Original Theatrical Trailers for three Robbe-Grillet films, a 2014 promo for his films with Kino and a vintage interview featurette with the director on this film.

The 1080p 1.66 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image transfer on Express is easily the visual champ here with amazing clarity and detail, depth and character, plus another great example of how great monochrome film can look on Blu-ray. Director of Photography Willy Kurant (Godard's Masculin-Feminin, The Deep) delivers some of the best work of his career and every shot is visually engaging one way or the other. Impressive!

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Damned is sloppy and styled down to look darker and grittier, but it looks fake and the constantly bad CG also hurts it, while Ice has some of the same cliched action look but is cleaner and better-edited despite sharing some of the same played-out visual elements, so the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on the Arabesque DVD can actually compete and tie with it for second place for visual performance. Again, it is shot in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision and was originally issued in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints and deeply deserves a Blu-ray.

The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on Space was originally issued in 3-D in theaters and was great that way, but we only get a 2D version here which looks good for DVD, but is no match for how good this looked in theaters. That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Scarecrow also overly digital and worse, soft and visually unmemorable. If it were any worse, it would be the big dud here.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless mix on Damned and DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix on Ice should be the sonic champs here, but the mixes are too much towards the front channels and Damned can be (again) particularly sloppy, so the restored PCM 2.0 Mono on Express ties it with great sound design and character that us a great match for its great picture performance and another big surprise. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Scarecrow is surprisingly compressed and too much towards the front and center channels, making it a tie with the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Arabesque as the poorest sound performers here, so be careful of sound switching and high sound levels. Like Damned, Scarecrow is just sloppy, but in the case of Arabesque, Umbrella tried to get rid of some of the harshness from the U.S. DVD version, but landed up cutting into its volume level to fix the sound. Especially with a solid Henry Mancini score, Arabesque needs some cleaning like Express got.

That leaves the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Space falling in he middle, sounding good, but showing its age and some compression. This was originally issued in 3-track stereo and I hope that soundmaster has not been lost.

To order either of the Umbrella import Blu-rays or DVD, go to this link:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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