Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)

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I’ve known about the Female Prisoner #701 for many years. Despite this knowledge I’ve never been able to get my hands on any of the films. More often than not the series would go out of print on DVD causing their prices to skyrocket and frankly I had given up. Thanks to the new set by Arrow on Blu however, I’ve finally gotten a chance to dip my toe into this well regarded series.

Matsu is the titular prisoner #701. She’s stuck in a brutal women’s prison where the inmates are subjected to humiliating searches, beaten, starved and in general abused by the all male prison guards. Her fellow inmates aren’t much better, it’s a snakes den of cheaters, abusers, and just good old fashioned no goodniks. Matsu’s crime? Trying to murder the man that set her up to be raped by a gang of yakuza. This man also happens to be a police detective who also deflowered her. He set her up so he could make a conviction of the men. What a sleaze. Now her only goal in life is to get her sweet revenge but she’ll have to defeat the guards, the inmates, and bust out of the klink before she’ll ever get a chance.

I loved this flick. Let me just get that out of the way. Personally, women in prison movies don’t interest me much. There usually just isn’t much to mine there as far as original content goes. They tend to follow a pattern and it’s a pattern that usually leaves me cold. I was concerned that would be the case here but Female Prisoner manages to bring out lots of style and creativity within a subgenre not known for it. There are several uniquely filmed scenes, like of her assault which is filmed with the camera looking straight up through a clear plastic floor. In fact the entire flashback sequence detailing how she came to be in prison is presented in a very theatrical fashion that I’ve never seen before. The violence in the movie is also very stylized and satisfyingly so. The plot moves quickly and never drags. It’s a lean 86 minutes and does what it sets out to do with economy which I can certainly appreciate. This is a film that knows what it is but decides to play with the visuals rather than trying to convince us that it isn’t an exploitation film. There is little attempt at elevating the material beyond it’s exploitative roots but the execution of the material is very unique and artful.

The blu comes with a great interview with Gareth Evans (The Raid, Raid 2) where he talks alot about this film and Japanese exploitation in general. The guy certainly knows his stuff and it’s a pleasure to listen to him. The picture and sound is great, despite initial hand wringing about the visual presentation of the film. I think it looks fantastic and likely won’t look better.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a great Japanese exploitation flick tailor made for fans of Lone Wolf & Cub and Lady Snowblood. Arrow did a great job restoring it and as always it has worthy special features. I’m looking forward to digging into the rest of the series for sure!

Lucha Mexico (2016)

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As I have noted here on Toxic Graveyard in the past, I’m fascinated by wrestlers. Growing up I didn’t watch much wrestling. At one point in junior high I used to watch some WWE with a friend of mine but otherwise it was something i was aware of but not something I knew a whole lot about. The same is true today. I don’t watch wrestling but I do love wrestling documentaries. I find the profession of wrestling to be a very strange one and I find the people who do it captivating. More often than not, the men and women who wrestle do not make much money. They put their bodies in great peril to entertain fans but to no great monetary reward. These are truly unique folks. Lucha Mexico is a documentary about the phenomenon of Lucha Libre which is Mexican wrestling.

Lucha Mexico follows several wrestlers in the Mexican leagues as they go from match to match, get injured in some cases, and find other means to support themselves. The goal of the documentary is to provide a window into the wild world of Lucha Libre, a cultural phenomenon in Mexico that has lasted since the 50’s with no sign of slowing down. We get to meet old legends and current heroes as well as some up and comers. The wrestlers come from different walks of life. Some are following a family tradition, others are the first in their families to put on the spandex. We get exposed to Technico wrestlers, who typically play the “good guys” and are very technical in their wrestling. We also meet Rudo wrestlers, who typically play the “bad guys” and are very savage. These are the guys that hit hard and want to be hit hard. We meet a little person who wears a costume who gets beaten just as badly, if not worse, than other wrestlers. We learn about masked wrestlers and how important their secret identities are.

Lucha Mexico gives a flurry of information on the culture and specifics of Lucha Libre but at times it feels like a rapid fire immersion into the culture without much context. This leaves details murky at best. It feels like a documentary made by people who know much about the subject and expect their audience to have some rudimentary grasp of Lucha Libre which frankly I do not. The film feels very cinema verite instead of a carefully structured documentary. We’re exposed to much but there is no “story” to the doc. The film feels more like little slices of the wrestler’s lives. It’s much more of a window into the world instead of a guided tour. That being said the doc is well filmed and great watch. It made me want to learn more about Lucha Libre and maybe even visit Mexico and watch one of the matches.

Lucha Mexico left me wanting to learn more about the wild world of Lucha Libre and while I wish it was more structured, it’s still a solid watch on the subject.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

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Back when I was a kid I distinctly remember watching The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. I loved A Nightmare on Elm Street and for some reason my folks were ok with me renting Wes Craven movies. I remember being grossed out by The Last House on the Left and frankly bored by The Hills Have Eyes. Neither film looked very good on VHS and it was then that I figured I just didn’t like movies from the 70’s. Since then of course my opinion of 70’s cinema has changed dramatically but my opinion of Craven’s early work remained the same. I hadn’t revisited The Hills Have Eyes since my initial viewing back in the VHS era until now.

The Hills Have Eyes is about a vacationing family on their way out west. They stumble across an old highway out in the middle of the desert, totally isolated from civilization. Their car breaks down and now they’re stuck. What they don’t know is that there is a tribe of savage humans, the patriarch being the deformed and discarded spawn of a loving family, who have no food and will do anything to get it. Now the family has to find a way to defeat the band of killers before they become dinner.

This movie is grim. Shot on what looks like 16mm under the blazing desert son, The Hills Have Eyes is a rough film. It has much more in common with The Last House on the Left then it does A Nightmare on Elm Street. It isn’t nearly as disgusting as Last House but it also isn’t as much fun as Nightmare. The family is terrorized by the group of killers, this i knew was the basic plot, but i was expecting more cat and mouse and less overt nastiness. The film set out to be frightening and cruel and achieves it’s goal. It isn’t a movie i’d throw on for fun or for a group of friends. I’d throw it on when i wanted to watch something abrasive and mean.

Visually, the film is very workmanlike. There isn’t a whole heap of style on display. It feels rough and ragged like the subject matter. The image is very grainy on the blu but that’s the way it was supposed to look. For those that care, it’s obvious there has been no digital noise reduction. The image looks blasted by the sun without a lot of contrast. Nearly ever seen looks weather beaten, the color sapped by the sun. I have to commend Arrow though, despite what they were working with the colors are vibrant and rich, especially one character’s red shirt. It sounds strange but i remember watching this on VHS and the whole movie looking like all the colors had been eaten by a color vampire. The trouble with the Blu though is that it shows off the film’s shortcomings. For instance one character is clearly wearing a cheap wig throughout the entire movie. For me it was a bit of a distraction.

As always the Blu is stacked with special features like an alternate ending, audio commentary by Wes Craven, a making of documentary, an interview with the film’s composer and more.

If you like The Hills Have Eyes, this is a great release to pick up. The image will likely never look better, the special features are plentiful and everything as been lovingly produced by the fine folks at Arrow. For me though, my opinion on the film remains similar to when i was a kid.

Cinema Somnambulist (2016)

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My appreciation for Richard Glenn Schmidt’s work has been clear on this site. I have reviewed his zine, Fang of Joy (and have appeared within it’s pages most recently), and his first book Giallo Meltdown. Cinema Somnambulist (a title I struggle to say) is his latest cinema related published work and of course I have to review it.

Cinema Somnambulist is a collection of works written over the span of several years on Richard’s blog. He painstakingly went through each post and culled what he felt was the best. He updated each post if his opinion changed between writing it on his blog and publishing the book. So what is covered in the book? A little bit of everything. The book stands as a testament to his personal development as a cinephile. Each chapter or film covered is steeped in personal reflections of where he was at the time when he watched the film and how he felt. We learn personal details of his life and his development as a film lover. So of course this book is very personal in a way that is rarely seen today in film critisism. That used to be the way zines were written in their heyday, with lots of personality. This book feels like sitting with Richard as he recalls the first time he saw monumental films that helped to shape his cinematic world. Unlike Giallo Meltdown, which was much more a stream of consciousness, this book is more detailed and cohesive. The book features many genres of film that makeup the patchwork that is Richard Glenn Schmidt. He already laboriously wrote about Gialli in his previous book so this one covers other genres that interest him including more traditional Horror, Anime, Sci-Fi, Kung Fu, and more. We do get some Giallo Meltdown-esque entries when he discusses his “Franco” Fridays which were marathons dedicated to Jess Franco. The back half also features more traditional reviews but they’re written by Richard so don’t expect them to be too traditional.

Cinema Somnambulist is a fun read. If you are a fan of Richard’s show, Hello This is the Doomed Show, or his previous writings, you’ll enjoy this book. True, the content originally lived on his blog so you could have read it for free but it’s nice to have what he feels are the best of his writings collected in one place with handy updates. It’s at times very intimate, funny, and of course silly. It would be written by Richard if it wasn’t silly. But that’s what I love about it: his personality shines through bright and clear. If you like what he does, pick this up.

Death By Umbrella (2016)

death-by-umbrella-coverI love film. I love books. So I love film related books. Whether they are biographies, histories, or reference guides, I’ve got a stack of them and love learning about the broad and strange world of film from across the globe and across time. Rare is the book that crosses my path that doesn’t easily fit into one of aforementioned categories. Death By Umbrella – The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons by Christopher Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner is one of those anomalies.

Authors Christopher Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner are podcasters that run Really Awful Movies and run a blog of the same name. They are also unabashed horror lovers who have dug deep for this book. In a nutshell the book graphically details the bizarre weapons used in (mostly) horror movies. The more strange, the better. Films covered include big name genre titans like The Toxic Avenger, Friday the 13th, Leprechaun, Final Destination, Halloween, and others. They have also dug very deep to bring us crazy kills from movies like Homicycle, The Lift, and Dead Meat among other lesser known gems. Each passage is succinct and written to be funny which of course makes it very enjoyable to thumb through.

We all love lists when it comes to movies. The “Best” horror movies, the “goriest” horror movies, “best horror films you haven’t seen” that sort of thing and that’s what this book is. It’s a list of the most ludicrous ways characters in films have been dispatched. If you enjoy checking out those kinds of lists then this book is for you. If you want a deeper knowledge of horror including some very deep cuts, this book is for you. If you like to thumb through books, looking for the next cinematic treat to watch, this book is for you. If you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of each film, this book is not for you. We do get a succinct synopsis of each film and the scene in question. The authors layout the film and get straight into the meat of the matter making each weapon review fun, short, and clear. The book is organized by types of weapons like, around the house, kitchen nightmares, sports and recreation, tight squeezes etc. Each chapter begins with original hand drawn art followed by poster art and images from the films themselves. The book also has an introduction by the captain of weird kills, Lloyd Kaufman.

In short, Death By Umbrella – The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons, published by Bear Manor Media,  delivers exactly what you want it to. It features fun writing, well researched picks, and well organized chapters featuring original art as well as images from the films. It’s a love letter to the genre we love the most, obsessively compiled into one place. It’s a fun book and one worth checking out.

Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments (1994)

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Thank goodness for Intervision. Specializing in off the wall and low budget films from around the globe they have unleashed not one but two fantastically terrible movies. Their first home run bad movie hit was Things. Phobe is their second. I hadn’t even heard of this slice of home grown Canadian Sci-fi silliness until they announced it’s release. It was a regional favorite in the 90’s and now finally it can reach a broader audience of bad movie loving fanatics.

Phobe, filmed in Niagra Ontario, is about a man, named Dapp, with a sweet flat top/mullet combo who knows how to rock a denim jacket/bazooka holder. He’s from a planet far far away. He’s a special forces type guy with the mission to hunt down Phobes. A Phobe is short for Xenophobe, as in the fear of anything alien. See these creatures were created in order to fight a war his people were having. The hope was that they Phobes, designed to fear and hate anything other than their own kind, would destroy the enemy. They did. But they also feared and hated the beings that created them. Oops. Now they go around laying Phobe eggs and spreading their spawn to other planets. One has escaped and gone to earth to kill everything and so Dapp is sent to catch the Phobe and bring it on home. Once on Earth he gets on the trail of the Phobe and meets high school cheerleader Jennifer who has stumbled across the Phobe. She has a hairdo that can only be described as a bird’s nest on her forehead. It’s pretty great. I remember the hairstyle well from my youth and it hasn’t improved with age. Together they spend much of the movie running from the Phobe who has a hard on for the pair. Why he doesn’t just kill everyone he sees, I don’t know. The Phobe is determined to destroy Dapp and his possibly under aged companion the pair must hatch a plan to stop the Phobe before he stops them. Permanently.

Phobe was made at a small cable T.V. station with a budget of $250. Director Erica Benedikty gathered her friends and co-workers and filmed the movie over the course of a year. The movie was aired on the cable station and used for filler and over the years became a local favorite. It was never released on video or dvd for that matter so this Intervision release marks the first time it’s been widely available. I’m glad for that because this movie is a blast to watch. It has a sweet metal/hard rock sound track, horrible fashion, mullets, mustaches, Canadianisms, locations clearly unchanged for the sake of the film, needless backstory, bad acting, bad sunglasses, lots of dangerous looking explosions, and light sabers. Oh and Dapp has glowing yellow eyes for no reason at all. The movie has one thing in particular though: heart. It’s easy to see that this was a passion project created by a group of individuals with little means but an audacious spirit. The heart of this film cannot be denied. It is because of this obvious passion that the movie and it’s characters are endearing and cheer worthy. This was not the product of a greedy producer hoping to cash in on ignorant video buyers. This film was made with no hope of ever turning a buck, the director gave it to the station to use at their discretion for free. She just wanted to make a movie and have people see it. I find that awesome and although this movie is bad movie heaven, it’s also earnest which just makes it all the more lovable.

One note about this particular presentation of the film, there has been some George Lucasing I’m afraid. I don’t know when, but at some point the movie was “updated” with better special effects. They look incongruous with the rest of the film and that knocks it down a few pegs for me. Thankfully the original effects shots are included as a bonus feature on the dvd and I really prefer those. Sure the new ones look more clean I suppose but the old ones show just how incredibly hard it would have been to create the effects in 1994 at a small cable station. I can’t even imagine the difficulty involved at that time. I think the old effects are a testament to the level of perseverance and ingenuity the filmmakers had. The new effects still look cheap but they also would be simple to do today. Back then it would have been a major task to create laser blasts and spaceships flying. That being said it’s still a fun ride that I suggest you take with your awful awesome buddies

Hired to Kill (1990)

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Usually the films Arrow Video releases are cult cinema that has some kind of artistic merit to them. Not so with Hired to Kill. This one is just balls to the wall silly fun and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Starring George “I’ve won Oscars but I need a paycheck” Kennedy, Oliver “No one will hire me anymore” Reed, and Brian “The bad guy from Cobra & The X-Files” Thompson and directed by the guy that did the notorious video nasty Island of Death, I knew this would be interesting.

Brian Thompson plays a mercenary hired by George Kennedy to infiltrate a small country and help the rebels there overthrow the villainous dictator played by a bushy mustached Oliver Reed. Ready to assemble his dream team of elite killers, Kennedy tells him this time it will be different. He has to get seven beautiful women who are also deadly and pose as a fashion photographer, the seven being his models. This way Oliver Reed will get a boner and allow them into the country. Thompson doesn’t like it. He apparently doesn’t like ladies but begrudgingly agrees. What follows is a Seven Samurai-esque recruiting montage followed by training montages followed by fashion montages followed by shooting-the-bad-guys montages. It’s awesome.

The bulk of the middle of the film is pretty flabby, unlike Brian Thompson’s washboard stomach. Much of the run time features the women in various outfits being photographed and prancing around, when they aren’t arguing or fighting poolside. It didn’t bother me though because the middle, like the rest of the film, is filled with macho silly lines spouted by any and all characters. The first twenty minutes or so had me grinning from ear to ear, and admittedly the grin drooped a bit in the middle but perked up by the end. It’s a silly film made in Greece starring legitimate actors being asked to say very silly things. What’s not to love? Sure this isn’t a pantheon bad flick but it is a lot of fun and I would give it another spin with friends. I mean who doesn’t love seeing Oliver Reed sporting a Super Mario mustache being kissed by Brian Thompson? It’s like the most macho man-kiss ever filmed. Thompson pretends to be gay so that he can’t be “infiltrated” by one of Reed’s spies. Thompson does do some infiltrating of his own later in the film with one of the rebels though.

Hired to Kill is one of those inoffensive, silly action films made in the late 80’s/early 90’s that feature bad fashion, hilarious dialogue, and cheesy action. Throw in some legendary scenery chewing actors and you’ve got yourself a fun night. It’s not a typical film for Arrow Video but maybe that’s what’s great about them, you never can tell what they’re going to release next. The film has been lovingly restored and yet it still sports a washed out bland color palette but I believe it’s just an artifact of the time and place it was made. The blu features new interviews with the director and Brian Thompson which are fun.

Fascination: The Celluloid Dreams of Jean Rollin (2016)

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I’ve got to be honest when it comes to Jean Rollin and Eurohorror in general. It’s a blind spot for me. Sure, I’ve seen tons of Italian horror flicks and love ’em, but as far as gothic/creepy castle type Eurohorror it’s not a big draw for me. I’ve only seen The Grapes of Death and Zombie Lake by Rollin and according to this book, neither are good representations of the body of work Rollin was known for. I’m not alone in this. Author David Hinds concedes that for most horror fans, Jean Rollin’s work goes unseen. Rollin is often compared to or confused with Spanish director Jess Franco, despite the fact that Rollin is French. I know I’ve made the same mistake myself. Fascination: The Celluloid Dreams of Jean Rollin sets the record straight on the director and schools ignorant film fans (read: me).

Writer David Hinds makes no bones about it: he loves Jean Rollin’s films. His writing on the subject in the first few pages practically gushes his love all over the paper (which could be why the book has an odd but pleasant sweet aroma). From there he spends time writing about his life, his upbringing and how get got into film, as well as his aesthetic and influences for about 60 pages or so. We are then treated to lengthy reviews on each and every one of his films, including his hardcore films, short films, and unfinished works. The reviews not only comment on the style and success (or lack thereof) of the film from an artistic point of view but also goes into the history of how the film was made and background cultural information that may have had an influence. To put it simply, each review is very thorough. The book finishes off with a full interview with Rollin, who has since passed away. The reviews themselves are annotated with footnotes from other interviews with Rollin. The guy did his homework for sure. The book is printed in black and white and features numerous stills from Rollin’s films throughout.

For Jean Rollin fans this is a must buy. If you like the films, you should own this book. It’s informative and written by a person with obvious passion for the films. I will say that he isn’t slavish in his love however. He’s willing to admit when a film was a failure so the book is pretty balanced as well. I doubt anyone will ever write a more thorough and definitive book on Rollin, especially since he has now passed on. For those uninitiated in the cult of Rollin but are curious, it’s a good buy as well. I like to be informed on the films I watch before, during or right after watching them and this book gives the goods.

The Good, The Tough, The Deadly (2016)

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Growing up in the video store era I spent a lot of time in the action section. At my local mom & pop it was the largest section they had and I loved grabbing arm loads of direct to video fun. I spent many summers grabbing everything that looked good. Fast forward to today and I’ve realized that there were so many great action flicks that I missed in my youth. There are actors, like Gary Daniels, that released lots of fun flicks that I simply didn’t have access to. American action films are an undocumented phenomenon in cinema and frankly its tough to know what to watch. Enter The Good, The Tough, The Deadly: Action Movies & Stars 1960’s – Present by David J. Moore. It’s my new favorite thing.

The Good, The Tough, The Deadly is an exceptional guide to action movies. It’s what guys like me have been waiting for their whole lives. The book is a massive 560 pages and the size of the book covers your whole lap. It’s a giant tome dedicated to action heroes. The book also features contributions from Zack Carlson, Vern, and Mike McBeardo McPadden. Main author Moore has assembled an A-Team of cult cinema writers to make this the definitive guide to action films. I have never seen a book so thorough and well layed out. Well except for Moore’s previous book World Gone Wild. This book is full color with poster art and rare stills, printed on nice glossy paper with a heavy hard back. It’s a high quality product that matches the content. The content of the book consists of several hundred reviews for every action flick I could possibly think of. The introduction claims that the book reviews over 1,500 in fact. I would believe it. This book is massive. Much like with World Gone Wild, the book is very comprehensive in that respect. The book also features in depth reviews with action stars, directors, and assorted crew. It was fun nerding out on interviews with actors that never get interviewed anywhere, the unsung heroes have finally been given the opportunity to speak. It’s amazing.

If you’re looking for a book about action films, you couldn’t possibly find a better book on the subject. In fact, this book is so good, so well written, so comprehensive, I doubt it will ever be topped. That’s not hyperbole, it’s just a fact. I 100% recommend that you buy this book with no reservations or caveats. It’s perfect.

A Cat in the Brain (1990)

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The first time I saw A Cat in the Brain was when Grindhouse originally released the movie on DVD. A friend of mine had it and despite having only seen one or two Fulci flicks I was eager to dive in. We both sat mouths agape at what we saw. Truly a spectacle to behold I only saw it that one time but certain scenes were burned into my brain. Fast forward to today and Grindhouse has upgraded their dvd to Blu. In the intervening years (probably at least 10), I have seen many more Fulci Flicks but this one still stands out.

A Cat in the Brain stars the man himself Lucio Fulci, as himself, Maestro Fulci. He’s working on a particularly nasty film with cannibalism and chainsaw dismemberment when he starts to become overwhelmed. Everywhere he goes he fantasizes about murdering people. He decides to go to a psychologist to try to get to the root of the problem. Little does he know that the psychologist is a psycho, and after watching all of Fulci’s films decides he wants to go on a killing spree and wants to set up Fulci as a fall guy. Fulci is haunted by his vivid dreams of murder and suspects that he might be the culprit in a series of real life murders. Not much of a synopsis but really that’s all the film is.

This flick is one wild ride for sure. It seems like less of a film as an excuse to pack in as much gore and sleaze as possible. When I first saw this film I thought that each vignette of exploitation was a reference to films Fulci had made in his career. Instead the movie recycles footage from films that Fulci directed previously mixed in with footage from other films that Fulci had some hand in creating whether it was producing, writing or even clandestinely directing. The differences in the stock are fairly obvious with the lifted scenes lacking the sharpness of image that the rest of the film has thanks to the great restoration job done on the film.  We get lots of nudity usually followed by some of the most graphic and unrelenting murders Fulci (or the other directors) ever put to film. Sadly (for me) even a decade after seeing this film i have yet to see the films lifted for use in the movie (Touch of Death and Sodoma’s  Ghost, and Massacre among others), so for me it was all new.

Even after seeing some of his more notorious films however, A Cat in the Brain stands out as possibly his most graphically violent film. There is very little story holding the whole film together but rather each scene is merely there to set up another gore fest or nude scene. It’s almost as if the film is an angry response to his stature in Italy. Fulci’s filmography is actually quite varied and he worked in nearly all genre of films, many of which were not particularly gory. At some point in the late 70’s he got pigeonholed into horror and never seemed to be able to escape. He was a film maker with great aspirations and great talent that by the end of the career was more often maligned then praised. His last films are angry ones and A Cat in the Brain is no different. It’s almost as if he said, so they think I’m just a gore guy huh? Well I’ll give them more gore then they can handle.

Again Grindhouse knocks it out of the park with this film. The true Cat in the Brain footage looks great, or at least as great as it can. At this stage of Italian cinema, budgets were very limited and so the film does lack atmosphere and the color palette is often has a washed out look. The set comes with a booklet with essays from Fulci’s daughter, Eli Roth, David Schow, and Martin Beine. We also get the soundtrack and a boat load of extras on a separate disc.

If you like Lucio Fulci and you love this flick, you will never get a better package than this, until Grindhouse re-releases it again in 10 years in whatever the new format is. Get on it.