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Everything You Need to Know About Horror on DVD

Chucky, Phantasm, and films to keep you awake...
Recent Horror DVD Review Highlights

DVD Stalk is back to give you your monthly does of all things horror DVD related. Here's what's new, interesting, or just something we felt like writing about for the lovely month of September...


The Child's Play titles owned by Universal got a nice boxed set release a year or so ago but the original film has been sadly neglected by MGM, languishing as a barebones fullframe disc sorely in need of an upgrade for years now. Thankfully, Chucky's time has come and MGM steps up to the plate to deliver the Child's Play - Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition. Finally presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer and loaded with plenty of next extra features, this is one of those double dip's that is well worth the upgrade. DVD Talk reviewer Paul Mavis took a look at the disc and had this to say: "the anamorphically enhanced, 1.85:1 widescreen transfer for the Child's Play - Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition disc is quite good, getting the original theatrical soft-focus look of the film back on line. Perhaps at times the disc's producers may have gone a little heavy on the DNR, but overall, it's a correctly valued, medium-sharp image. Smartly executed and quite funny, 1988's iconic horror cult film Child's Play plays even better today than it did twenty years ago, with bona fide movie star Chucky (voiced hilariously by Brad Dourif) stealing every scene he's in. Director Tom Holland keeps the mayhem moving at a furious pace, and laughs and chills are delivered in equal doses. A previous compromised DVD release is corrected here in the Child's Play - Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition disc, with a good-to-excellent new anamorphic transfer, a spirited 5.1 audio mix, and a Chucky head-sized group of extras - all at a cheap price. Perfect for the upcoming Halloween season. I highly recommend the Child's Play - Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition."

The team behind the sleeper hit Wolf Creek are back at it with Dimension Extreme's DVD debut of Rogue, a killer crocodile film from Australia. While this film didn't find too much of a life at the box office, reviewer Cameron McGaughy dug deep into the DVD and found that the film deserved a wider audience. Hopefully this DVD will solve that problem. Cameron's thoughts? "The anamorphic 1:85:1 widescreen transfer is a beauty to behold, led by some incredible shots of the Northern Territory and other picturesque Aussie backdrops. McLean notes in his commentary how some of the shots where Radha Mitchell steers the boat look so amazing, you'll swear they were fake. Watching the fantastic collection of bonus features assembled here will give you an even greater appreciation for the film and the true talent that went into putting it all together. These people knew what they were doing, and went to great lengths to keep the quality high. It's a shame that this creature feature wasn't given a chance at theaters. Rogue doesn't reinvent the genre, but it's a rare find: a high-quality horror that takes itself--and the audience--seriously. Grounded in reality, it doesn't resort to cheap tactics to build suspense. The shots of Australia's Northern Territory are gorgeous, and the entire film is beautifully shot. Throw in impressive effects, an amazing cast that builds upon solid writing, and a great batch of extras, and this thriller proves that writer/director Greg McLean is one of horror's most talented rising stars. Highly Recommended."

Anchor Bay, having previously released a great special edition of Don Coscarelli's original classic horror film decides to tackle the fourth film in one of the genre's strangest series with their recent release of Phantasm IV: Oblivion. This movie has been released before, both on its own and by way of the fantastic Anchor Bay UK boxed set release, but this marks the first legitimate special edition release of the film on North American soil. David Walker took a chance on this one, a film that tends to divide fans a fair bit, and summed up his thoughts saying "The picture quality is very good and consistently clean, which is impressive given that nearly twenty-five percent of the movie is made up of footage that was two decades old. The audio levels are consistent, and the sound mix is good, striking a solid balance between Christopher Stone's effective music and the dialog. If you have never seen any of the Phantasm films, this is not the place to start. Even diehard phans of the series have trouble figuring this thing out, which means if you're one of the uninitiated, you're doomed to being confused and bored. As for the true phans, chances are either that you already have this in your collection, where it pretty much gathers dust, or you were so disappointed by it that you couldn't bring yourself to spend money on it. Either way, you really don't need to buy this disc. Rent it and listen to the audio commentary, and then call it a night."

Lionsgate were good enough to box up a half dozen recent Spanish horror films under the moniker of 6 Films To Keep You Awake and release them, with English subtitles, for a North American audience. Thomas Spurlin took a look and said "Seeing as how the runtime for this entire package of films sits at 456 minutes (!), or roughly an hour and fifteen minute per film, the 6 Films to Keep You Awake packs a lot of strength for the buck. If you're sitting on $20 or so and wish to indulge in 4 solid films (A Christmas Tale, The Baby's Room, Spectre, To Let) and 2 not-so-good ones (The Blame, A Real Friend), then this collection of pseudo-short Spanish horror flicks will be money well spent. Spain's answer to the Masters of Horror brings a more domestically grounded theme to its collection, a device that's crafted to get some chills rolling along while you twitch in your couch in the middle of your home. In that, Lions Gate's competent technical package of all six films comes Recommended for a couple of nights of creepy moods that just might keep you up a little longer than expected." If that weren't enough, Justin Felix also gave us his thoughts on this collection stating "Think of 6 Films to Keep You Awake as Spain's version of Showtime's Masters of Horror series. All 6 movies in the collection are successful to varying degrees and worth seeing. Highly recommended." If you're looking for something a little different, this set ought to fit the bill nicely and you can't argue with the price point!

A less impressive release from Dimension Extreme was their release of the remake of H.G. Lewis' The Wizard Of Gore. With a cast made up of genre veterans like Crispin Glover, Jeffrey Combs and Brad Dourif this one seemed like a sure fire hit but something seemed to get lost along the way. DVD Talk reviewer Ian Jane spent some time cuddled up to this release but didn't find that the film delivered much of anything. "The film really should have been a lot better than it was. Casting Glover in the lead was in and of itself a great idea and a perfect choice, but sadly the film never really catches fire. The gore is plentiful but so much of it is heavily digitized and soulless that it lacks much impact and as such, the film becomes tedious and dull. The Wizard Of Gore is presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, properly flagged for progressive scan playback. Surrounds are used well during the 'grand guignol' style murder scenes and they add some atmosphere to the proceedings at a few key moments. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and the levels are all well balanced. All in all, the audio is quite good on this release. While the disc is well authored on a technical level, the film has gone through a lot of post production digital tweaking and certain scenes are meant to look washed out and grainy. Despite a great cast and an interesting premise, this remake of The Wizard Of Gore never manages to gain enough steam or really take off. Dimension has supplied plenty of extras and the presentation is alright but the film is a bore. Skip it."

 

High Def Horror Highlights

One of the summer's most anticipated Blu-ray releases has got to be the Disney special edition HD debut of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Chris Neilson put this one under the microscope and said "Despite some scenes which may be too scary for very small children (say six and under), most viewers young and old should really enjoy this stop-motion animated musical. The animation is captivating; the songs are top-notch; and, the storyline is simple enough for a child to understand but strong enough for an adult to appreciate. Disney should be commended for the quality of this release. While there are extras that Disney should have included but didn't (e.g., the 43-minute version of The Making of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the old commentary with director Henry Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik), what they did include is very strong and enhances the enjoyment of the film. Further, I hope most viewers will be as pleased as I am that Disney didn't try to manipulate the image through excessive edge enhancement or digital noise reduction in hopes of making TNBC look more like Corpse Bride than its original aesthetics would allow. This Blu-ray release of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is highly recommended."

Universal continues to release some of their catalogue titles as well as new releases on Blu-ray and one of their recent efforts is the enjoyably goofy Arnold Schwarzenegger versus the devil film, End Of Days. Stuart Galbraith IV through this one into his player and liked what he saw stating "End of Days is quite entertaining in a bad Charles Bronson movie sort of way, but it's also legitimately entertaining as an honest-and-truly well-made action-thriller, and Andrew W. Marlowe (Air Force One, actually a far more criminally stupid film), presumably no relation to Christopher Marlowe of Doctor Faustus fame, comes up with enough inventive material to offset some really dumb, obvious stuff. Filmed in Super 35 for 2.35:1 projection, Universal's 1080p Blu-ray of End of Days looks just great. First and foremost, it looks like film; DNR and other major artifacting problems aren't an issue here. Hyams uses the full breadth of the 'scope framing and subtly lights his sets in deep, dark shades of red and black with noirish splashes of light, all of which really shine in this Blu-ray presentation. The audio, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is a real knock-out that consistently impresses with its strong bass and directionality; Spanish and French DTS 5.1 tracks are also included, as are subtitles in all three of those languages. I enjoyed End of Days a heck of a lot more than I thought I would. It's both entertaining in its frequent goofiness but also impressive in terms of its production polish, the way it delivers the goods action-horror-thriller-wise, and at times something almost like a good movie peers through the cracks. Recommended."

 

Other Horror DVD's You Might Have Missed

Severin Films continues to dig deep into the vaults of Euro-cult obscurity to deliver some of the strangest titles on the market today. This month sees them tackle Cannibal Terror, a film that DVD Talk reviewer Kurt Dahlke was not in the least bit impressed with. "There's something horribly undeniable about cannibal movies. If you're unfortunate to have developed a taste for them, you'll know it's hard to quit them, too. They're like the Microwave Burrito of genre cinema, awful, and loaded with cheese. Cannibal Terror is that convenience store burrito that you bite into and feel something hard, crunchy, and not quite right. You just don't want to know. Cannibal Terror is not 'so bad it's good.' It's just bad, and here's why: it hates its audience. Yes, overuse of shot-recycling, inappropriate padding with stock nature footage, reels of film spent on watching people wander aimlessly around a stream, ugly, flabby cannibals who laugh at the camera, and viscera slurping that's disgusting and gratuitous even by cannibal movie standards make for contemptuous viewing that frequently slaps you in the face. Worse still, I'll probably watch it again. But basically, I don't advocate the type of liver damage it would take to eke some pleasure out of watching this hunk of crud, so I'll say Skip It anyway."

Anchor Bay follows up their individual releases of Season Two of the Masters Of Horror series with a handy boxed set release and reviewer Cameron McGaughy took it upon his own bad self to check it out. "The second season brings us 13 more episodes, with seven directors returning from Season 1. The films arrive on 11 discs (two flippers: Family/The Screwfly Solution and Pro-Life/Pelts) in a nifty skull package. As expected, we get a wide range of horror--although there's no super-controversial episode ala Takashi Miike's Imprint this year. Save for the finale (Dream Cruise, which includes a longer cut), all of the discs appear to be the same as the previous individual releases. Like any anthology series, you get hits and misses. All of the shows arrive in anamorphic 1.78:1 transfers. There isn't much variance with each installment. The overwhelming majority of scenes are very soft and dark with dull colors (brown hues seem to frequently take over), with minor grain appearing every so often. A few episodes (like Family and Pelts) have moments of bolder colors, while others use intentionally drab visual schemes: The V Word is extremely dark, while The Black Cat is almost black and white, with a few bursts of color. Dream Cruise has a slightly different look, a tad more cinematic. Overall, the set provides decent if not overwhelming pictures. The audio arrives in 5.1 and 2.0 options, and the 5.1 tracks are solid efforts that make good use of rear channels and effects. This 13-episode set has three entries I loved (The Black Cat, Pelts and Right to Die) and a handful of others that provide a decent watch. Even some of the bad episodes have a slightly satisfying campy appeal. At about $4 a disc (and less if you get it on sale or use a coupon), this is worth adding to your collection if you enjoy mild horror diversions. Recommended."

And to finish off this month's recent release round up, we take a look at the recent release of Rest Stop - Don't Look Back. Justin Felix gave this sequel to Raw Feed's straight to video debut a shake. "This sequel to Rest Stop takes place a year after the events of the original. Iraq war veteran Tom Hilts (Richard Tillman) is back home and itching to find his missing brother Jesse, one of the victims of the ghostly truck driving killer from the first film. Tom thinks he can do in 10 days what his parents, the police, and others couldn't do all year - find Jesse and find him alive. Tom's alcoholic girlfriend Marilyn (Jessie Ward) and obnoxiously goofy friend Jared (Graham Norris) tag along. Inexplicably, Jared decides to follow Tom and Marilyn in his junker car instead of riding with them in Tom's behemoth SUV. Of course, our intrepid threesome right away discovers an eyewitness at a broken down gas station who recognizes Jesse and begin to be terrorized by the same truck driving killer who menaced everyone in the first movie. The characters also encounter ghosts of Jesse and his girlfriend Nicole, which would be considered a spoiler in this review if it weren't for the blurb on the back of the DVD that tells you what Nicole and Jesse are. Anyway, what follows is fairly typical gory torture / slasher mayhem with the requisite nihilistic ending. The interplay of the supernatural with the popular torture film genre is interesting here, but Rest Stop: Don't Look Back relies too much on cardboard characters and routine bloodletting. It's worth a rental if you're a fan of flicks like Saw and Hostel and want to see this uncut. This movie is a direct sequel to Rest Stop, so be sure to catch that one first."

 


Cineplex Scares: Current And Upcoming Theatrical Horror

     

Other Horror DVDs Released in the Past Two Months

   

 


Overlooked Horror Discs From The Past - Angel Guts: The Nikkatsu Series by John Wallis

In the last half of the sixties, the Japanese film industry found itself in trouble. Shaky economic times and an audience flocking to televison had the film studios struggling to stay alive. One of the things they quickly capitalized on were looser content codes and began offering theatergoers things you couldn't see on tv. So, that is why you ccan say, Nikkatsu Studios was saved by boobies. By specializing in a genre known as "roman porno", they began offering titilating soft core films. So long as they delivered a steady stream of sex scenes, Nikkatsu directors had a lot of creative freedom, resulting in the studio birthing some provocative flesh peddlers.

What makes the Angel Guts series of films stand out is that they are adaptations of manga author Takashi Ishii and includes his first film as a director, Red Vertigo. Over the past decade, he has become a successful director with films like Freeze Me, the Black Angel trilogy, and Gonin. Each Angel Guts film has a central female character called Nami, lots of bared flesh, rape, some more rape, and straddles that exploitation line between pure tastelessness and saying something about the darker sides of the human sexual psyche. It ain't easy stuff folks.

High School Co-Ed (1978)- A trio of no good hooligan bikers run around beating people up and raping women. The "sensitive" member of the gang, Tetsuro (Sansho Shinsui), seems to be living a dual life, one violent and debauched with his buddies, the other seemingly well-adjusted, caring for his younger sister, and working hard at a factory so he can pay off the families debt. The gangs brotherhood is fragmented when Kajima, the leader, attacks a schoolgirl, Nami (Machiko Ohtani), that bears resemblance to Tetsuro's sister. This doesn't sit well with Tetsuro and it fractures the group. Kajima proposes that Tetsuro must rape the same girl in order for to win himself back into the fold. When he refuses and takes it upon himself to protect her, Tetsuro finds himself questioning his way of life... The least sex-filmish of the set- it is more like a straight, rebel youth film- with Tetsuro coming to the realization that he is trying to protect his sister from guys like himself and his amoral buddies. Though it is the most straightforward, dramtic film in the bunch, it still gets the ball rolling with its in your face, often unsettling approach.

Red Classroom (1979)- Muraki (Keizo Kanie) is one of a trio of pornographers dabbling in fetishistic photo spreads. When the guys watch a stag film of a schoolgirl getting raped, Muraki becomes fixated on the girl in the film and begins to try and track her down. When he does finally find her, the girl, Nami (Yuki Mizuhara), confesses that she was not a willing participant in the film. Though she seems ready to give into his advances, Muraki insists that it is more about sex and arranges a more romantic tryst with his dream girl. He misses their liaison because the cops arrest him for violating the "Protection of Minors Act" because he unknowingly hired an underage age girl. Cut to three years later and Muraki is a married man with children, though he is still obsessed with Nami and will be shocked when he does find her again... The premise here is a variation on the old Laura standard, a man becomes obsessed with some kind of fantasy. In this case, he becomes obsessed with an image, not the person, and becomes intent on saving her from a seedy life that she might not want to be saved from.

Nami (1979)- Along with High School Co-Ed, my favorite of the films. Nami (Eri Kanuma) is a reporter for THE WOMAN magazine and is in the midst of a series of articles called "Rape and its Consequences." She is cold and callous, tracking down former rape victims, ambushing them with a camera crew, effectively badgering them into recalling their terrible stories. Naturally her brick wall demeanor and lack of sympathy comes back to bite her when one interviewee goes psycho on her and rapes her, leading to a downward spiral where her life becomes a living nightmare... Wins bonus points for Eri Kanuma's performance, the surrealism of the ending, the Hunter S Thompson-ish rival tabloid reporter, and its twisted take on journalistic ethics.

Red Porno (1981)- This time out Nami (Jun Izumi) is a hostess who takes a side job as a nudie model and finds herself in a bondage shoot she is uncomfortable with. The magazine with her photos becomes the obsession of a introvert named Muraki, who has caught the suspicious eye of his neighbors who are on the lookout for a panty sniffer and rapist who has been in the area. The photo spread is also used as leverage to get her fired by her boss, who she has been having an affair with. Meanwhile she still has the advances of her stalker to deal with... This one really didn't do anything for me, and aside from a female masturbation scene involving a condom, an egg, and a couple of No. 02 pencils, there really wasn't anything all theat memorable (and that scene is memorable for all the wrong? reasons). Could have been a decent little thriller if the sicko's "is he the murderous stalker?" plot had been beefed up.

Red Vertigo (1988)- The final Nami (Mayako Katsuragi) is a nurse. One night while on the nightshift she is attacked, and matters don't get much better when she goes home to find photographer boyfriend diddling one of his models. As if her luck were not bad enough, she is then the victim of a hit and run by Muraki (Naoto Takenaka), a stockbroker who is on the run with his life threatened by his firm and clients who have lost a fortune due to his embezzling. Rather than- oh, I don't know- taking her to a hospital, Muraki kidnaps Nami and takes her to a secluded hideout. The traumatized duo of the captor and the captured, end up falling for one another... Visually there is a lot going on, from wonky camera angles, surreal dream sequences, and expressive lighting. It actually makes a fairly good case for why the two would fall for each other. Cult fave Naoto Takenaka makes Muraki a very pathetic figure and despite her role as the bound, demoralized captive, Mayako Katsuragi's Nami ends up being the stronger of the two. Next to Red Porno, this film is the most light on plot in the series, with most of the running time involving sex scenes, to the point of tedium.

The merits of the genre, like most exploitation is debatable. Japanese nudie flicks like Angel Guts definitely stray into territory US viewers will never see popping up on Cinemax at 2AM. This is no soft focus, slow motion, narcissistic, smooth bodies grinding, Zalman King view of sex. Its often pretty ugly and odd, sometimes forced, deviant, or shameful sex being done by people that are under the grasp of obsessions they cannot or face and could ruin them. Yes, the Angel Guts films are part of a titillation genre, first and foremost, and the plotting is pretty much: sex scene, little bit of plot, sex scene, little bit of plot, sex scene. Red Classroom, for example, has a 15 minute long sequence in the 80 min film that just pads the running time. And then there is Red Porno which is just over an hour long. But, like the best exploitation, it manages to slide in some interesting observations inside its reptile brain appealing plotting. Subversive. Bizarre. Difficult.

The topic of rape is naturally uncomfortable, and its depiction in Japanese culture can often be downright unsettling in its near-glorification. The only reference to the series title comes in the first film, where one of the gang offers the desensitized view that girls are after all just a "bag of guts." But, for all of the films bared flesh and kinky antics, when rape is depicted in the films, it is never salacious and always brutal. High School Co-Ed and Red Porno do show some sympathetic tendencies towards deviants and/or rapists, like Red Porno's good stalker pervert/bad stalker pervert ideas. But, by large, the series does use the overtly sexual genre as a tarnished and unsteady platform to explore the after affects of rape on the victimized. And, that is at least a bit more than you can say of Busty Bikini Girls 18.


Upcoming DVD Scares For Late September/Early October 2008

   
 

                                           



DVD Stalk encourages you to check us out over at our MySpace page. If you've got a MySpace account, make sure you stop by and friend us. You keep reading and we'll keep writing. If there is anything that you, the loyal reader, would love to see covered in this area, please feel free to send us a note to stalk@dvdtalk.com.


We'd love to read your comments and feedback. Send us your thoughts on other things you'd like to see in the space, or even random thoughts about the world of horror. Drop us a line at stalk@dvdtalk.com or join us at DVD Stalk on MySpace.

DVD Stalk Editor: Ian Jane.
Contributors to DVD Stalk: Ian Jane, Bill Gibron, Kurt Dahlke, John Wallis, Justin Felix, David Walker, Stuart Galbraith IV and Cameron McGaughy.

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