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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Mystery > Terrorism > Action > Revenge > Superhero > Comedy > Satire > Serial Killer > French > Black Sunday (1977/Paramount/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray)/Fear Is The Key (1972/Imprint/Via Vision/Region Free Import Blu-ray)/Return Of The Swamp Thing 4K (1989/DC Comics/Lightyear 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ra

Black Sunday (1977/Paramount/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray*)/Fear Is The Key (1972/Imprint/Via Vision/Region Free Import Blu-ray)/Return Of The Swamp Thing 4K (1989/DC Comics/Lightyear 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray)/Violent Night (2022/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/A Woman Kills (1968/Radiance Blu-ray)

4K Ultra HD Picture: A- Picture: B-/B/B+/B+ & B-/B- Sound: B-/B-/B+/B+ & B-/B- Extras: B/B-/B/C+/B- Films: B/C+/C/C+/C+

PLEASE NOTE: The Fear Is The Key Import Blu-ray is now only available from our friends at Via Vision Entertainment in Australia, can play on all 4K & Blu-ray players and can be ordered from the links below.

Now for a wide group of thrillers, old and new to know about...

John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday (1977) was a big hit in its time, is one fo the underrated director's biggest hits, made at a time when a 9/11 attack was almost unthinkable and has an amazing cast that keeps the suspense going all the way from beginning to end. A group of terrorists want to make a name for themselves and have decided that they will kill tens of thousands by blowing up a football stadium where the Super Bowl (The Steelers vs. The Cowboys, still one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the game) and achieve this in part by highjacking a key flying vehicle that will also be a big part of the game: The Goodyear Blimp!

Bruce Dern (Silent Running, King Of Marvin Gardens) and Marthe Keller (Marathon Man) play the duo carrying out the mass murder for their political cause and Robert Shaw (Jaws, The Sting, From Russia With Love) is the investigator out to stop them. Though not as remembered as his auteur counterparts, Frankenheimer (the original Manchurian Candidate, Ronin, Seconds) could direct a thriller as strong as anyone and this too is one of them.

Though the screenplay was co-written by Ernest Lehman (Hitchcock's North By Northwest,) Kenneth Ross (Day Of The Jackal, The Odessa File) and Ivan Moffat (Heroes Of Telemark, Giant,) the other highlight here is that they adapted from the best selling book by no less than a then-unknown Thomas Harris, the creator of The Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal had a huge early success with this. This is a very talented group who knew their way around the thriller/mystery genre.

Add the great supporting cast of Fritz Weaver, William Daniels, Bekim Fehmiu, Michael V. Gazzo, Steven Keats, Victor Campos and Walter Gotell, and you can see why this is a film people still talk about, still remember fondly and why is it great for it to get restored and finally has a special edition issued on it. Though some small parts may have dated and we get a few predictable or obvious moments, they are minor versus the suspense and energy the film has.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image was shot in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision by the great Director Of Photography John A. Alonzo, A.S.C., (Chinatown, Vanishing Point, De Palma's Scarface, Blue Thunder) and his work here is just as vivid and effective. For the most part, this is the best I have seen the film since I saw it eons ago in 35mm, but there were a few parts of the frame here and there that were a little off. However, it is also a very gritty film at times and not meant to always be an immaculate-looking film. It is very color accurate and has some great depth and detail just about all the way.

The sound is here in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo, original 2.0 Mono and 5.1 lossless mixes, though the stereo was most convincing to me, its nice to have such a wide choice. John Williams did the music the same year he did Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, so he had quite the year and his score is very effective here.

Extras are many and include a brand new Feature Length Audio Commentary by film scholar Josh Nelson

  • It Could Be Tomorrow: brand new visual essay by critic Sergio Angelini, exploring the film's adaptation and production, and its place within the pantheon of 1970s terrorism thrillers

  • The Directors: John Frankenheimer: an hour-long portrait of the director from 2003, including interviews with Frankenheimer, Kirk Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson, Roy Scheider, Rod Steiger and others

  • Image gallery

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain

  • and FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw.

When the James Bond film series became a non-stop hit machine in the 1960s and so many people loved it, it was well on its way to becoming the most successful franchise in cinema history, though many were not so certain. That decade's spy-genre imitators lasted well into the next decade and the naturalism and realism of the late 1960s Hollywood New Wave of filmmaking meant more realistic action films, including Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971,) so imitators switched it up to more hands-dirty filmmaking and turned to other successful writers in the genre besides Ian Fleming. That include Alastair MacLean.

Michael Tuchner's Fear Is The Key (1972) is one such film, with a lower budget than most Bonds and even other MacLean adaptions like Where Eagles Dare (1968,) but adapts one of the books as well as could be expected with more mystery elements than expected, yet more extended action than you might expect. Barry Newman (from the classic Vanishing Point) hears his family killed over a radio communication while they are on an airplane and intends to find out why... then get revenge.

Part of his plan is to get arrested in a small town, purposely getting drunk, so he can target people he feels are responsible and find out who else is involved, and why. He lands up kidnapping a stander-by (the always impressive Suzy Kendall of Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Torso, The Liquidator) and this involves an early car chase that is one of the longest in cinema history, better than 95% of all car action in most of the Fast & Furious films.

The twists and turns (here to make up for the lack of budget) work a little better than expected, but things can get a little stretched out and it (along with some bad visual effects and a little predictability) hold the film back. However, the supporting cast, including John Vernon, Ben Kingsley (his first feature film,) Dolph Sweet (De Palma's Sisters, The Swimmer, Colossus: The Forbin Project, TV's Gimme A Break) Tony Anholt (TV classics The Protectors and Space: 1999) & Ray McAnally (Billy Budd), is a big plus here.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image some spots that show the film's age, but it looks pretty good otherwise, as shot in real anamorphic 35mm Panavision and issued in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints like all the Bond films from Thunderball (1965) to the release of the film. Though the color is not shocking or elaborate, it is very good and consistent, with some nice shots and fine color range, demonstrating how good in many places it must have looked in such 35mm prints. It can be hampered by some bad matte work, but Director of Photography Alex Thompson, B.S.C. (Alien 3, Excalibur, Legend, Branagh's Hamlet, Death Line, Year Of The Dragon) uses the very widescreen frame to its fullest extent when given the chance and you do get some great outdoor shots if nothing else.

The PCM 2.0 Mono shows its age and is as good as this film, with a solid score by Roy Budd, will ever sound. The fidelity is not as bad as it could have been for its time, so this was slightly surprising, but too old for even a simple stereo boost.

Extras are mostly new and include a solid Feature-Length Audio Commentary track by film historian Kim Newman and author Sean Hogan, 'Producing The Action' interview with associate producer Gavrik Losey, 'Bayou to Bray' interviews with Cast & Crew and an Original Theatrical Trailer.

Swamp Thing was one of the first DC Comics' characters to get a debut in a feature film (thanks to the late great Wes Craven) and has remained a beloved characters by fans. While his big screen resurgence has been announced in a few years time on the upcoming DC Universe movie slate by James Gunn at the time of this writing, this 1989 sequel to the Wes Craven original is more of a corny comedy than faithful comic adaptation. The highlight of the film remains the creature make-up and special effects which are pretty well executed for the time considering the film obviously didn't have a huge budget. It almost feels at times like a Troma production, but without the nudity, language, and violence.

The Return of Swamp Thing 4K (1989) continues with Dick Durock's portrayal of the creature which is kind-hearted, tough, and quite heroic. Co-starring Heather Locklear (Dynasty, Melrose Place, T.J. Hooker) as the plant obsessed love interest, the film is pure cheese from frame one but like other genre films in this era, however, the film still manages to have some heart behind its swamp themed mutated exterior.

The film also stars Louis Jourdan (Octopussy), Sarah Douglas (Superman II), Ace Mask, and Monique Gabrielle.

Abigail Arcane (Locklear) visits her mad uncle Dr. Anton Arcane in his laboratory, where he is experimenting illegally with genetic mutation. Soon, she encounters the infamous Swamp Thing (Warlock) who is hell bent on fighting these creations. Along the way the two find action and love as they battle against Dr. Arcane's inhuman creations.

Return of Swamp Thing does look better here than previous releases of the film on disc, a few of which have been reviewed elsewhere on this site. The film is presented in 2160p on 4K UHD disc with HDR10, an HEVC / H.265 codec, a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and audio tracks in English, lossless DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo (both 48kHz, 24-bit) as well. There's also a 1080p Blu-ray version of the film, which is comparable in quality to the previously released MVD version of the film on Blu-ray disc.

This version of the film has two brand new special features: Reflections on Swamp Thing: 35 Years Later interview with producer Michael E. Uslan and the RiffTrax music video for Your Ever-Lovin' Swamp Thing by The RiffTones. Aside from that, the other extras have been carted over from previous releases including...

Feature Length Audio Commentary from director Jim Wynorski, composer Chuck Cirino and editor Leslie Rosenthal (2018)

Feature Length Audio Commentary from director Jim Wynorski (2003)

Interviews with director Jim Wynorski, editor Leslie Rosenthal, composer Chuck Cirino, and Lightyear Entertainment executive Arnie Holland

Original Theatrical Trailer

6 Promotional TV Clips

2 TV Spots

2 Greenpeace Public Service Announcements

1989 Promo Reel

and a Photo Gallery (accompanied by Chuck Cirino's film score).

The presentation of this 1989 sequel has been improved here, but the film is still pretty hammy, dated, and silly. Nowadays, I think comic fans are looking for a darker approach to the character, which was attempted in the failed recent television incarnation (reviewed elsewhere on this site), and which should be delivered in the upcoming film series under the new DCU.

David Harbour (Stranger Things, Marvel's Black Widow, Hellboy (2019)) stars as a butt-kicking version of Santa Claus in the Christmas action / comedy, Violent Night (2022), which has landed on disc pretty soon after its initial theatrical release.

The premise of the R-rated action film is more or less, Die Hard meets Santa, and seeing as its from the producers of the underrated Nobody and the John Wick series this should come as no surprise. The film is definitely not for those who like their Christmas movies on the Hallmark side of the things, and it doesn't hold back from being raunchy, naughty, and bloody any excuse it can get. The film isn't terrible and has a few laughs and moments of creativity, but feels a bit mean spirited at times and predictable. As popcorn munching adult fare for the Bad Santa crowd, this is fine.

A rich family is attacked on Christmas Eve by a vengeful group of mercenaries that are after their fortune. Coincidentally, an angsty Santa Claus ends up at the estate and vows to protect a young girl who is being held hostage.

The film also stars John Leguizamo, Beverly D'Angelo, Alex Hassell, and Alexis Louder. The film is directed by Tommy Wirkola, who seems to circle projects with interesting premises that aren't quite classics such as Dead Snow and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Violent Night, for one reason or another, didn't get a 4K UHD release out the gate which seems a bit silly, but an unwelcome trend by many studios as of late. Buena Vista decided not to release 2022's The Menu on 4K UHD and other titles from A24 (including titles that have gotten critical and commercial acclaim) have yet to land on the format as well. At this point for films of this size it seems like a 4K release should be a no brainer, but alas, Violent Night is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec, a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and a lossless, English DTS-HD Master Audio (MA) 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit) mix and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (192kbps) mix on the disc as well. Also included is a standard definition DVD version of the film with compression issues evident in the format and a lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio mix.

Special Features:

Deleted and Extended scenes

Behind the scenes featurettes

and an Original Theatrical Trailer.

The best parts of Violent Night were probably seen in the film's trailer, but the premise is pretty brilliant and David Harbour does a great job here, which makes it worth a watch.

Finally, we come to a lost French New Wave thriller finally resurfacing to make it to home video for the first time ever. Jean-Denis Bonan's A Woman Kills (1968) is a mystery film from France in which a female serial killer/hooker is finally caught and executed, but a new series of murders as shocking as hers start up again! Did she really kill all those people? Is she really dead? Did she have a killing partner? Did she come back from the dead?

The film lets any of those possibilities and more linger on as the camera takes us all over the city and then, we start to see new killings, stylized, graphic and otherwise. That still does not help us know what is really happening, as the film still suspends any answers for a while, making the audience think more. This is done in a French New Wave editing and pacing style, which usually works, save one too many moments where we have to hear vocal music inserted in ways hat make no sense and kill suspense.

More Godard, Truffaut, Warhol and a little Robert Aldrich, but not as Hitchcock as it could have been, the film tries to juggle more than it can handle and not just because of budget limits. There are reason this might have been censored and taking place in the politically volatile year it came out, that might have contributed to its disappearance. However, at least it is ambitious and has some energy to it, which is more than I can say for most so-called thrillers I have suffered through in recent years, so its worth a look if interested.

Cheers to the cast as well, Claude Merlin, Solange Pradel (World On A Wire,) Myriam Mezieres (Horizonville,) Jackie Raynal (Le Grande Depart,) Catherine Deville (Story Of Women) and Alain-Yves Beaujour (Rape Of The Vampire, a film several people worked on here that was released/finished the same year.)

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Kills comes from a new 2K scan of the original 16mm archival materials and can show the age of the materials used and has its share of soft shots, but that is from the way it was shot and not from the restoration or transfer. The PCM 2.0 Mono has its sonic limits, but sounds as good as this film ever will and the restoration work is fine.

Extras are many and include a fine Feature-Length Audio Commentary track by critics Kat Ellinger and Virginie Selavy, Introduction by Virginie Selavy in camera, plus...

  • On the Margin: The Cursed Films of Jean-Denis Bonan (Francis Lecomte, 2015/2022, 37 minutes): a newly updated documentary programme featuring director Jean-Denis Bonan, cinematographer Gerard de Battista, editor Mireille Abramovici, musician Daniel Laloux, and actress Jackie Rynal

  • Short films by Jean-Denis Bonan: La vie breve de Monsieur Meucieu (1962, 13 mins), Un crime d'amour (1965, 6 mins), rushes of an incomplete film; Tristesses des anthropophages (1966, 23 mins), Mathieu-fou (1967, 18 mins), Une saison chez les hommes (1967, 16 mins)

  • An Original Theatrical Trailer

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm 

  • and WHILE SUPPLIES LAST: A Limited Edition booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and scholar Catherine Wheatley, writer and broadcaster Richard Thomas on the short films, writing on gender identity tropes in A Woman Kills and the horror film, an interview with Francis Lecomte, the French distributor who rescued the film, newly translated archival reviews and film credits.

To order the Fear Is The Key Region-Free import Blu-ray, get it and many other hard-to-find titles at this link:


- Nicholas Sheffo and James Lockhart (4K, Night)



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