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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Exploitation > Slasher > Superhero > Drama > Action > Animation > Comedy > August Underground (2001/Unearthed Blu-ray w/DVD*)/Swamp Thing 4K (1982/DC Comics/4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray/*both MVD)/Smiling Faces: Season 1 (2020, 2022/Adult Swim/Warner Blu-ray)

August Underground (2001/Unearthed Blu-ray w/DVD*)/Swamp Thing 4K (1982/DC Comics/4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray/*both MVD)/Smiling Faces: Season 1 (2020, 2022/Adult Swim/Warner Blu-ray)

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

And now, more wild genre releases...

One of the most notorious and violent underground films ever made, Fred Vogel's August Underground (2001,) the first of the extreme trilogy, gets a new life on Blu-ray from Unearthed Films. The vicious portrait of a serial killer debuted on bootleg VHS upon its release in 2001, and was never available for mass consumption until now, and available only from hand made editions from its creators, and their Pittsburgh based production company Toetag Pictures, which have produced seven independent films in total.

August Underground is many things; a border-line snuff film, a political and social commentary, an examined of disturbed individuals, and general serial killer torture mayhem. It is a shot on VHS compilation that forces its audience to watch a few days in the life of a young serial killer. Comprised of horrifying found footage of him torturing his victims in bizarre and brutal ways, and glimpses into the violent behavior that he exhibits in normal public places like a gas station or a concert.

What makes the film effective is not only its raw shot on grimy video look, but the masterfulness of its special effects which were all by Fred Vogel himself (who also stars in the film) and of whom actually got him and his crew in trouble with the law on numerous occasions during its film festival run for misconceptions that the film was real authentic snuff. Which adds to the mystique and unusual nature of the film that was once known to a much smaller group of people who seek films that are more violent than mainstream.

Sure to affect anyone who watches it the film looks so shocking you would swear it is real. That being said, those who can stomach the full length of the film will be few and far between. And if you do make it through this one, there are two more (August Underground: Mordum and Penance), which will be released later this year on disc from Unearthed Films, and of which are equally (if not more) nasty than this. Mordum is by far, the most disgusting of the three. I think the perception of the film will really vary from person to person. It's definitely too much for most people to bare, even within the first three minutes, which is sure to shock most people out the gate. I won't spoil what that is or whom it is too, but I will say it's violence towards a young woman. And not an easy thing to see, even though it is obviously fake.

August Underground is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec, a full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and an English 2.0 PCM Stereo mix. For a film such as this, it's nearly impossible to give it a good video and audio rating as the intent of the film is that it's a used discarded VHS tape and so its technical inaccuracies and roughness contribute to the feel and tone of the bigger picture. Much like Cannibal Holocaust, Snuff, Man Bites Dog, or even The Blair Witch Project, the rough edges of the transfer and sound are purposeful and so the film looks and sounds as good as it can, which is appropriately awful. The set includes a 1080p Blu-ray as well as a standard definition anamorphically enhanced DVD version, both of which look equally bad.

Special Features:

Feature Length Audio commentary by Actor/Director Fred Vogel and Ultra Violent Magazine's Art Ettinger

10 Questions with Fred Vogel

TOETAG Masterclass: From Storyboard To Screen

Dave Parker Interviews Fred Vogel

An Introduction By Director Fred Vogel

Audio Commentary By Fred Vogel With Actors Aaron LaBonte & Ben LaBonte

Audio Commentary By 'The Killer'

Audio Commentary By Actor/Director Fred Vogel

HAMMER TO THE HEAD: A Closer Look At August Underground

August Underground On Location

August Underground Behind The Brutality

August Underground 'Too Real For Comfort' An Outsiders Perspective

Photo Gallery

and Trailers.

I give August Underground a high mark for being one of the most disturbing and shockingly realistic looking gore films ever made. That being said, it isn't particularly a film to recommend to anyone except those who frequently indulge in the Unearthed Films library of hardcore gore-fests. This is a film you show at a party of people and make bets on who can get to the end. The filmmakers go to great lengths in order to make the audience feel uneasy, and in that regards it is a success. Proceed at your own risk.

Wes Craven's Swamp Thing 4K (1982) is a fun comic book adaptation and one of DC Comics' early films after the success of Richard Donner's Superman franchise. Far better than its lackluster sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing (reviewed elsewhere on this site and also recently released on 4K UHD), the original superhero origin tale is set in the swamp lands of Louisiana where a top secret experiment is going on and interrupted by a gang of mercenaries, accidentally infecting a scientist and turning him into the indestructible creature known as Swamp Thing. Adrienne Barbeau stars as a charming scientist who gets stuck in the middle of the action, and soon in a fight for her life as the mercenaries (led by the infamous David Hess of Craven's Last House On The Left and the cult classic House At The Edge of the Park). The film also features Ray Wise, Dick Durock (as Swamp Thing), Louis Jourdan (Octopussy) and Nannette Brown to name a few.

Swamp Thing 4K is presented in 2160p on 4K UHD disc from a new 16-Bit Restoration from the original camera negative, and complete with 12-bit color Dolby Vision and HDR10, an HEVC / H.265 codec, a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and audio tracks in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit) and lossy Spanish Dolby Digital Mono (224 kbps). The transfer is a significant improvement over the 1080p Blu-ray version of the film, which is also included and which houses most of the supplemental content.

The disc also has both the theatrical and unrated international versions of the film, which truly showcase the film in it all its glory. It always seemed to me like this film never got a really nice presentation and so it's a relief that it got one as good as this on disc. That being said, Swamp Thing himself is so clear now that you can see more of the faults in the costume than before. Which is a testament for the modesty budgeted film (even for the time.)

Special Features include (some carted over from previous releases and a few new ones):

Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Wes Craven moderated by Sean Clark (Theatrical / PG Version)

Audio Commentary with Makeup Effects Artist William Munn moderated by Michael Felsher (Theatrical / PG Version)

"Tales From the Swamp" (Remastered) with Actress Adrienne Barbeau (HD, 16:56)

"Hey Jude" with Actor Re'ggie Batts (HD, 14:30)

"That Swamp Thing" with Len Wein, Creator of Swamp Thing (HD, 13:19)

"Swamp Screen: Designing DC's Main Monster" featurette (HD, 20:32)

"From Krug to Comics: How the Mainstream Shaped a Radical Genre Voice" featurette (HD, 17:34)

Posters & Lobby Cards Photo Gallery

Photos from the Film Photo Gallery

William Munns' Behind the Scenes Pictures Photo Gallery

Behind the Scenes Photos by Geoffrey Rayle Photo Gallery

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:31)

Two-Sided Artwork

Collectible MVD Rewind Collection Mini-Poster

and a Limited Edition Slipcover (First Pressing Only).

I am excited to see what more titles are in store for the MVD 4K Laservision Collection, as this release is pretty impressive and helps preserve a true cult classic from the late Wes Craven.

Finally, a new animated series from Cartoon Network, sort of. Smiling Faces: Season 1 (2020, 2022) which is interesting in that it is about a crew who is supposed to make unhappy people (or other characters) happy, no matter how unhappy, sad or worse they are. The twist is, being an Adult Swim title, is that it gets into the down and dirty of how people and other living things are hurting, suffering and reflects this in the look of the animation as well as the writing of who we meet.

This might not work for everyone, but it is a bold, honest, daring approach and it does have its advantages. The problem is that all nine episodes are all under 12 minutes! That is barely longer than most theatrical animated shorts from back in the day, so this also limits what you can do in character development and even in some aspects of what you can do with the humor. Still, I can see why this has garnered some attention and we will see where the makers go from here. Certainly, it is one of the more interesting curios in recent TV.

Well at least the 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers look good and the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes are as good and even have some nice surround surprises. No doubt it is a quality production ans the sound is as good as just about any animated television series we have encountered to date.

Audio commentary tracks for all shows are the only extras.

- Nicholas Sheffo (Smiling) and James Lockhart



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