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Featured Blu-ray Review: MGM Horror Releases

October 13th, 2011

Hannibal - Buy from Amazon
The Last House on the Left - Buy from Amazon
Manhunter - Buy from Amazon
Poltergeist II: The Other Side - Buy from Amazon
Robocop 2 - Buy from Amazon

Exactly one month ago, MGM and Fox teamed up and released five horror films on Blu-ray. Okay, four horror films and Robocop 2. MGM has been releasing a lot of their old catalog titles, but will these stand out? Or are these lesser entrants in the massive film library MGM has built up over the years?


The film starts ten years after the events of The Silence of the Lambs. We are introduced to Mason Verger, the only one of Dr. Hannibal Lecter's victims who lived, although he was tortured, mutilated, and paralyzed. He's desperate to get revenge and is willing to pay millions to do so.

Meanwhile, after a drug bust gone bad, Clarice Starling is used as a scapegoat and busted down, but Mason Verger uses his influence to get a meeting with Clarice claiming he has new information on Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It's not a lot of help, but when Hannibal sends her a letter to taunt her about the botched drug raid, she gets the first hint of where he might be.

The Silence of the Lambs is one of only three films to win the Big Five Oscar awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Adapted or Original), Best Lead Actress, and Best Lead Actor). The buzz surrounding Hannibal was intense and there was really no way the film was going to live up to the hype. However, looking back with more reasonable expectations, and the film is still weak. The two returning characters are far less interesting this time around and they have very little interaction, which was the best part of the first film. The police procedural aspect doesn't have the same urgency, which is made worse by pacing problems. There are a few scenes that are designed to shock, but most fall flat. (The scene with the end of Paul Krendler is particularly bad and I think most will giggle instead of recoil in horror.

The Extras

There are no extras on the Blu-ray. The video and audio are okay, but not great. The film has a lot of scenes that are shot in a style that isn't really suited to high definition, but you can't fault the transfer for that. The audio is better and there are a few scenes with lots of activity in the surround sound speakers. For the most part it offers clear dialogue that's front and center, but the score in the back.

The Verdict

Hannibal isn't terrible per se, but it is much weaker than its predecessor and feels unnecessary. Also, the Blu-ray has no extra and costs more than this type of film should. If you don't have any of the franchise, grab Trilogy Collection instead.

The Last House on the Left

There's not a whole lot of plot here. It's Mari Collingwood's 17th birthday and she's going with her friend, Phyllis, to a concert in New York City. Her parents are worried about two young girls in the city alone, but they agree. Meanwhile, two escaped convicts, Krug Stillo and Fred "Weasel" Podowski, are hiding out in a New York Apartment with Krug's son, Junior, and Sadie waiting to leave the state. After the concert, Mari and Phyllis look for someone to sell them weed, but instead find Junior, who takes them to the apartment where they are assaulted by the gang. The next day, Mari and Phyllis are locked in the trunk and the four criminals try and escape. While in the country, their car breaks down and they rape, mutilate and kill the two girls. They then look for help with their car and come across Mari Collingwood's parents house. When the parents find out what they have done, they get their revenge.

There are more details than that, including a subplot about two bumbling cops, but the less said about them the better. Okay, I will say one thing. Humor is like salt when added to most other genres. A bit of humor here and there will heighten the tension of a thriller, or the scares of a horror film, etc. On the other hand, too much humor, or badly applied humor in this case, becomes a major distraction.

When this film first came out, it was considered groundbreaking in its depiction of sadistic violence. However, looking back, it's really bad. The shocking nature of the film has been surpassed countless times in the nearly 40 years since it was made, and this is really the only thing the film has going for it. It was made for just $87,000, and it looks it. The production values are low, the acting is amateurish, the special effects were so bad that it took away from the sadism. Had Wes Craven not gone on to make films like A Nightmare on Elm Stree, this movie would have been forgotten a long time ago.

The Extras

There are a lot of extras on the Blu-ray, including two audio commentary tracks, a making of featurette, two retrospectives, featurette on the music, a featurette on the most disturbing scenes in the movie, behind-the-scenes, deleted scene, an unfinished short film, and more. As for the film's technical presentation, as I mentioned before, it only cost $87,000 to make and you can tell. The film is a mess as far as the video goes with a grainy picture, plenty of print damage and colors that are a little muted. There are no compression issues and no digital manipulation to clean up the picture, so that's a plus. It looks bad, but it is still the best the film has looked on the home market. The audio is in mono, and it too suffers from the low budget, albeit not as badly as the video does.

The Verdict

The Last House on the Left is a film that is really showing its age in all aspects from the production quality, to the "shocking" nature of the film, to the technical presentation. If you watched the movie a long time ago, you might still enjoy it today, but if you've grown up on low-budget horror films made since the dawn of DVD, this movie won't have the same effect. The Blu-ray has plenty of extras and looks and sounds as good as you can expect given the source, but that's faint praise.


As I mentioned in the review for Hannibal, The Silence of the Lambs was one of only three films to win the Big Five Oscars. However, it wasn't the first film to feature Hannibal Lector. In 1986, Manhunter was released and tells of the events that happened before The Silence of the Lambs.

William L. Petersen stars as former FBI Agent Will Graham, who is the man who captured Hannibal Lecktor, this time played by Brian Cox. The encounter left him scarred in more than one way and he retired. At the beginning of the movie, he is approached by FBI Section Chief Jack Crawford who is dealing with a new serial killer, called the Tooth Fairy because he bites his victims and kills on the full moon, so they are on a strict timetable.

Will decides to help out on this case and does get a break when he helps find a few partial prints, but in order to get into the mind of the killer, he decides to talk with Dr. Hannibal Lecktor. When a tabloid reporter prints a story about their meeting, the Tooth Fairy contacts Hannibal Lecktor and gets him to respond in a personal ad in the Tattler, the same tabloid the previously mentioned reporter works for. They decide to use the reporter and the Tattler to get the Tooth Fairy's attention, and they certainly succeed in doing that. But are they prepared for what will happen as a result?

Manhunter is not as good as The Silence of the Lambs, nor it is as good as its Tomatometer Score would indicate, but it is far and away better than any of the other installments in the franchise. It feels more grounded than Hannibal and the actual crimes being investigated are a lot more compelling. On the other hand, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor isn't as large a driving force here and the chemistry between Brian Cox and William L. Petersen is not as strong. For that matter, William L. Petersen's typical understated performance isn't as compelling as Jodie Foster's performance is. On the other hand, if you really like his performance in CSI, you'll like him in this movie as well.

The Extras

None. There are no extras on the Blu-ray. The audio and video are good, especially considering the film was made 25 years ago and cost just $15 million to make. Detail levels are good, the colors are excellent, the blacks are deep and don't damage details too much. There are no compression issues, print damage, edge enhancement, etc. The audio offers clear dialogue, but it is an uncomplicated track with little noise outside of the score that comes from the surround sound speakers.

The Verdict

Manhunter is worth owning, but the featureless Blu-ray is a letdown. If you don't already own the Hannibal Collection, its worth picking up.

Poltergeist II: The Other Side

The first Poltergeist was a smash hit in 1982 earning $75 million, more or less, which was enough for a top ten finish for the year. It also earned amazing reviews. Poltergeist II earned about half as much at the box office, but if it is half as good, it is still worth checking out.

The film starts with a few flashbacks to the end of the first film, and a new explanation for what happened. It wasn't just an Indian graveyard that the house was build upon, but a underground cavern that was once used by a doomsday cult lead by Reverend Kane. The film starts with an Indian Shaman, Taylor, and the psychic from the first film, Tangina Barrons, investigating the cavern. As soon as Tangina feels the energy in the cavern, she knows the Freeling family is still in danger.

She's right. Even though the Feelings moved and are now living with Diane's mom. Steve has not dealt with losing his home (literally) and his job well, and is on the verge of cracking. (The death of Diane's mom doesn't help the situation either.) Very early on, Reverend Kane comes looking for Carol Anne Freeling, who has some psychic powers of her own. After the spirits attack her the first time, Steve's ready to run, but the spirit of Diane's mom tells them to stay and fight. He will have the help of Taylor, and later on Tangina, but can they overcome this evil a second time?

A lot of what made Poltergeist such a good film is missing here. Instead of slowly building tension, this film takes forever to get moving with far too many elements that are borrowed from its predecessor without any improvement. Even the catchphrase from the first film is re-purposed in this movie. The characters are less interesting this time around, with the exception of Julian Beck as Reverend Kane, who is the highlight of the movie. Too often the film uses special effects instead of tension to generate scares. There are some good jump scares and a few interesting ideas thrown around (a possessed worm at the bottom of a Mezcal bottle is a prime example). But overall, this sequel is just so unnecessary.

The Extras

Again there are no extras on the Blu-ray. The video is good, especially given the age of the film. Detail levels are good, colors are bright, blacks are deep. There's no print damage, no real compression issues, digital manipulation, etc. Grain is evident, but not oppressive, while shadows do interfere with fine details at times. The audio is also better than expected with more activity in the surround sound speakers than most films this old have.

The Verdict

Poltergeist II: The Other Side is a huge drop-off in quality from the first film. It borrows too heavily from the first film and improves upon none of these elements. The Blu-ray looks and sounds better than expected, but there are no extras.

Robocop 2

This is the exact same disc that came with the RoboCop Trilogy Box Set, which I reviewed previously.

The Verdict

Robocop 2 isn't as good as its predecessor and the film is missing a deeper meaning to go with the over-the-top violence. As a straight up action flick, it's worth watching, but the featureless Blu-ray is only worth a rental on its own.

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Filed under: Video Review, Hannibal, RoboCop 2, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Manhunter, The Last House on the Left