Blu-ray review: Replicas (2019)

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Replicas (2019)
Lionsgate, certificate 12 (out 29 April)
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

Actors have occasionally been accused of ‘phoning a performance in; with this largely lamebrained excuse for a science fiction thriller, Keanu Reeves (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Matrix trilogy) goes one step further and texts most of his. “We are going straight to Hell,” says fellow scientist Ed as the pair start playing Frankenstein with the newly-deceased remains of Reeves’ wife and children; the rest of us are already there.

At a secret lab on a remote Latin American isle (presumably chosen for that Jurassic Park vibe), Will Foster (Reeves) is using a holographic display cribbed from Tony Stark to implant memories into android brains. After a traffic tragedy wipes out his family, he and Ed (Thomas Middleditch, The Final Girls) clone new bodies to create a fresh off-the-peg domestic unit. So far, so crazy, because a shortfall in the number of amniotic pods Ed could rustle up has already forced Will (or Bill: the film can’t decide, which is typical of Chad St John’s confused screenplay) to jetison his younger daughter.

Reeves demonstrates how deeply this is affecting him by delivering every line like he hasn’t slept for a fortnight (if he’s suffering from insomnia, perhaps he should try watching this film). Meanwhile, his resurrected wife Mona (Alice Eve, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Men in Black 3) is proving memories can’t be buried like last week’s trash, forcing Will into a conversation which is one of the few unexpected moments in this $30M b-movie. Enter the lab’s administrator (John Ortiz, Kong: Skull Island), who forces Reeves to channel his inner John Wick and take the action up a gear to protect his faux family.

Unfortunately, the film’s closing 30 minutes are still hobbled by the lethargy and gormless technobabble of the opening 75, leaving us with a fractured and deeply unfocussed narrative. Its moral perspective is further skewed by the finale, in which the allegedly deleted daughter rematerialises and an android version of Reeves begins offering the resurrection tech to any elderly millionaire with a yen – and sufficient spare yen, or dollars, or rubles – to reboot.

Reeves is reportedly back with Alex Winter right now, shooting a third Bill & Ted. Let’s hope his time-travelling includes telling Replicas director Jeffrey Nachmanoff to order a few critical rewrites and maybe get himself a more convincing lead actor (seriously, Jeffrey, your faith in Reeve’s “dramatic chops” is deeply misplaced).

Extras: commentary by Nachmanoff and executive producer James Dodson; “making of” documentary, including interviews with Reeves and his production partner Stephen Hamel, who came up with the initial story; deleted scenes.

Blu-ray review: Waxwork (1988)

[This Blu-ray will be released by Lionsgate on 28 August 2017.]

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There’s a lot of nostalgia these days for the 1980s, as evidenced by the success of Stranger Things and the release of films which keep one eye firmly trained on the rear view mirror, such as The Void and Beyond the Gates. Whilst that affection is occasionally misplaced (see my review of Blood Diner below), it’s well deserved in the case of Anthony Hickox’s directorial debut Waxwork.

Hickox, the son of editor Anne Coates (The Elephant Man) and director Douglas Hickox (Theatre of Blood), famously scored the gig when he drove into a car owned by would-be producer Staffan Ahrenberg and agreed to make amends by writing a script for $3000. Three days later, they had the mould for Waxwork, but it wasn’t until fellow producer Mark Burg intervened with Vestron’s studio head Dan Ireland that the wax could be poured.

Zach Galligan, who’d slid into television after 1984’s lead roles in Gremlins and offbeat fantasy Nothing Lasts Forever, was cast as reluctant hero Mark Loftmore, partnered with Hickox’s then-girlfriend Deborah Foreman (Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat) as the unexpectedly kinky Sarah Brightman. Adding some solid British support, Hickox called in Avengers veteran Patrick Macnee to play mysterious mentor Sir Wilfred and David Warner (TRON, Time Bandits) as the sinister museum owner whose exhibits are as dangerous as the icons of evil they depict.

The movie isn’t perfect: Hickox had to junk his original finale as time and money ran out, throwing together a rather shambolic free-for-all which is less ultimate showdown than saloon brawl, although elements were resurrected for the 1992 sequel Waxwork II: Lost in Time (with former Sports Illustrated model Monika Schnarre filling in for Foreman following an acrimonious break-up with the writer-director). However, it exhibits genuine energy and inventiveness, with British special effects designer Bob Keen bringing a glorious menagerie of monsters to the screen without the faintest whiff of CGI.

It’s a pity Lost in Time couldn’t have been bundled into this volume of the ‘Vestron Video Collectors Series’, seeing as Lionsgate previously handled the sequel’s 2003 DVD release and it’s referenced extensively in the copious extras, but fans will certainly have no complaints about the print’s clarity and absence of visible DNR.

Extras: audio commentary with writer-director Anthony Hickox and lead actor Zach Galligan; 82-minute documentary The Waxwork Chronicles, featuring interviews with Anthony Hickox, producer Staffan Ahrenberg, editor Chris Cibelli, sfx designer Bob Keen, make-up technician Steve Hardie, production assistant Paul Martin, art director John Chichester, make-up designer Paul Jones, plus Zach Galligan and fellow actors Dana Ashbrook, J Kenneth Campbell, Monika Schnarre, David Carradine (archive, obviously), Bruce Campbell; The Making of Waxwork, introduced for 1980s audiences by Patrick Macnee; theatrical trailer; stills gallery.

Blu-ray review: Blood Diner (1987)

[This Blu-ray will be released by Lionsgate on 28 August 2017.]

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Originally pitched as a sequel to Herschel Gordon Lewis’ infamous gorefest Blood Feast, Jackie Kong’s cannibal comedy (the third of four horror films she directed between 1983 and 1987) is a prime case of incoherent ineptitude misdiagnosed as satirical spoof.

Psycho siblings George (Carl Crew, Urban Legends) and Michael (Rick Burks) run a sleazy eatery where the menu is more Hannibal Lecter than Heston Blumenthal. Under the ghostly guidance of their dead uncle, the pair embark upon a murder spree in order to resurrect an ancient goddess by staging the first “blood buffet” in five million years.

This might sound ludicrous enough to be fun, but it really isn’t. The recipe is wrecked by lack-lustre direction, inane acting (it’s no surprise the leaden LaNette LaFrench made no other screen appearances), cack handed continuity, patchy audio (much of the film is clearly dubbed, though why is anyone’s guess) and a pedestrian screenplay by Michael Sonye (Star Slammer, Commando Squad). On a purely technical level, it’s a great print and includes footage removed for the Vestron VHS release, but it strikes me as somewhat crazy that time and effort can be expended on this junk when many genuinely worthy movies still await a Blu-ray restoration.

Extras: audio commentary by director Jackie Kong; 2016 featurette Killer Cuisine: The Making of Blood Diner; 2009 interview with memorabilia dealer Eric Caidin, who died in 2015; trailer; television ads; stills gallery.