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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Drama > Horror > Monster > B-Movie > Superhero > Animation > Wichita (1955/Allied Artists/Warner Archive Blu-ray)

Dead Man's Hand (2023/Lionsgate DVD)/Giant Gila Monster/Killer Shrews (both 1959/Film Masters Blu-ray)/Justice League: Warworld 4K (2023/DC Comics/Warner 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray)/River Wild (2023 remake/Universal Blu-ray)/Wichita (1955/Allied Artists/Warner Archive Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Wichita Blu-ray is now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Here's a mix of genre releases, including an odd remake and the surprise restorations of some curios form the 1950s...

Brian Skiba's Dead Man's Hand (2023) is yet another part of the too-clean, boring, highly predictable series of dull Westerns that prove the genre is dead and when most of the acting is from the Hallmark/Lifetime Channels bad acting schools, you pray for a shootout ASAP so the whole thing will end very, very quickly.

A couple hoping to find a settlement and find a peaceful life are ambushed, there goes the post-honeymoon plans. Stephen Dorff and Cole Houser show up briefly and easily outact the rest of the cast, but they are hardly in it enough to make any difference and even at their very best, the production has all kinds of problems and this just goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on for a very long 96 minutes. Try this one at your own risk, but do not operate heavy machinery or attempt anything else delicate or complex!

Extras includes trailers, a feature-length audio commentary track and long behind the scenes featurette.

Ray Kellogg's The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews (both 1959) have been surprisingly restored by the Film Masters label (their debut title!) on Blu-ray and now you can see more clearly than ever how bad they are. Gila has a giant lizard attacking unsuspecting suburbanites, rock and roll fans and shoppers in Texas. I've heard of everything being bigger in Texas, but...!

Don Sullivan and Fred Graham lead the cast of unknowns into bad visual effects that even outdo the bad, or at least 'unique' acting style. This is bad and very amusing at the same time in the 'so-good-its-bad' mode and somehow is more pleasant and entertaining to sit through than some hundred-millions-dollar would-be-blockbusters we’ve had to suffer through in the last few years or so. This is considered a bad film and among the worst (pre-CGI era?) ever made, but the second feature commonly makes Top Ten lists of the same.

As I said about The Killer Shrews when reviewing it on DVD years ago, it ''is one of those all-time bad films [and] ultra-low budget chuckler is up there on the all-time bad list as James Best (later of TV's Dukes Of Hazard) is joined by a cast of unknowns fighting hand puppets and dogs with really bad make-up attachments on their mouths trying to convince us they are deadly killers!

Yes, it is that bad, and that is just for starters. Forget the bad acting, awkward editing or any sense of suspense. It is just outright bad, but I never laugh, but just sit in disbelief it got made. It is just bad, weak filmmaking, plain and simple. You'll just have to see it for yourself.''

Now you can judge both for yourself, when you stop laughing!

Extras (per the press release) include Ray Kellogg: An Unsung Master, a Ballyhoo Motion Pictures documentary written by C. Courtney Joyner and narrated by Larry Blamire; an archival interview with star, Don Sullivan, conducted by author Bryan Senn in 2009; full commentary of The Giant Gila Monster by Larry Strothe, James Gonis, Shawn Sheridan and Matt Weinhold from The Monster Party podcast; full commentary of The Killer Shrews by professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney; original, vintage radio, marketing spots for both features, provided by Gary L. Prange; and a[n excellent] full-color, inserted booklet with essays by Don Stradley and Jason A. Ney.

DC animation and Warner Bros. bring us a new feature length R-rated Justice League animated film to the 4K UHD format: Justice League: Warworld 4K (2023). What's great about these films is that they are more adult oriented in tone and aren't afraid to shy away from moments of violence despite the use of these classic characters. Justice League members are transported to Warworld, a war torn planet where things are never as they seem and war is constant. Different realities where different scenarios form such as a western, a black and white 1950s-esque past, and the reality of the grim future that lies within Warworld.

The impressive voice cast features Jensen Ackles (Supernatural, The Boys, The Winchesters) as Batman and Officer Wayne, Darren Criss (The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Glee) as Superman and Agent Kent, and Stana Katic (Castle, Absentia) as Wonder Woman and Diana Prince. Many other DC universe characters are featured including Jonah Hex, Martian Manhunter, and more!

Special Features aren't quite as plentiful as usual for these DC films but includes two new featurettes:

Illusions on Warworld: Go behind the scenes and inside the process of designing and creating three distinct genres for the Justice League to inhabit on Warworld.

and The Heroic, the Horrible and the Hideous: Dive deep into the origins and histories of the key players on Warworld and learn how the filmmakers brought them to life.

While it's not the best of the bunch, Justice League Warworld takes a different tone and feel than usual, and that at least is to be commended.

Universal's direct to video remake of River Wild (2023) is certainly nowhere near the caliber of the original film The River Wild, which starred Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon respectively. With no big names behind it, the remake however does follows similar story beats similar to the original. The film follows a group of friends, two of whom are siblings, an ex con, and two tourists, who go on a white water rafting expedition in the middle of nowhere. It doesn't take too long, however, until one of them tries to cover up the past.

Adam Brody, Leighton Meester, Eve Connolly, Taran Killam, and Olivia Swann.

No extras whatsoever.

River Wild is a watchable film. It is not completely without merit, however, it feels pretty standard in terms of story and nothing too original or groundbreaking that we haven't seen before. It is pretty obvious from the get-go who the villain of the story is, despite the attempt to make it a surprise.

Jacques Tourneur's Wichita (1955) has Joel McCrea as Wyatt Earp in an early widescreen portrayal of Dodge City, the man just wanting to go into business, but needing the law to protect his hard work, so he becomes the law. An early Walter Mirisch production, it is not a bad film, if not always great and is one of the more serious attempts as a Western narrative at the time when some were starting to get formulaic, silly or even childish.

Produced by small mini-major Allied Artists, the film is ambitious and focuses on its subject as well as it can, helped by some convincing visuals (they are only going to be so spectacular and not much different from so many other films (and TV shows) in the genre at the time still enjoying a boom period) and good early scope compositions.

Helping it stand out a little more is the solid supporting cast that includes Vera Miles, Lloyd Bridges, Wallace Ford, Edgar Buchanan, Mae Clark, Jack Elam and Peter Graves. Ultimately, it is for fans only, but is worth a look for the things that work and again, how well it works considering it was not backed by a major studio at a time when the idea of independent filmmaking was hardly heard.

Extras including two classic Technicolor MGM Droopy cartoons: Deputy Droopy and The First Bad Man, in HD but with lossless Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound.

Now for playback performance. Justice League: Warworld 4K is presented in 2160p on 4K UHD disc with HDR10, an HEVC / H.265 codec, a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and a lossless audio mix in English DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1. The animation style is similar to other DC animated features and has a clean animation style that's detail is captured in full in 2160p and looks fine here with no glaring issues. Also included in this two disc set, along with a digital copy, is a standard 1080p Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec, a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and a lossless, English DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit).

The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on the Hand DVD is more on the soft side than I expected with color and lighting a bit off and compositions flat. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound has a bad mix where the sound effects and surrounds (music especially) overwhelm the dialogue, which is actually hard to hear at times. The combination is very, very, very trying.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 and 1.85 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers ON Gila and Shrews can show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the films and much better than anyone could have ever expected. In both cases, the films (likely shot on the same monochrome film stocks, but was it Kodak, Ansco, DuPont?) are not bad. However, there is some slight softness throughout both and the 1.33 X 1 image shows more of the filmed frame than the 1.85 X 1 version, which still looks good and I like more in some ways. This is shot soft matte, the makers knowing they had regular widescreen projection to consider.

River Wild is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec, a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.00:1 and a lossless, English DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit). The film isn't terribly photographed and has some cinematic moments, with the best bits being those on the raging waters themselves.

That leaves the 1080p 2.55 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Wichita, one of the last of the older, wider CinemaScope releases, well restored here, but still showing the age of the materials used. The only such wider-screen film from an independent company also issued in 35mm dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor, that color is about as good as it can be here, yet the older lens system has permanent distortions and flaws that are a permanent part of its production. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mix is as good as the film will ever sound, a this is one of the (if not THE only) early scope film to not feature 4-track magnetic sound with traveling dialogue and sound effects. Allied Artists skipped the expense of the new sound format.

To order the Wichita Warner Archive Blu-ray, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo (Gila, westerns) and James Lockhart



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