DVD Stalk: Basket Case 2, MoH: The Damned Thing, and Day Watch
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Bill Gibron's take on the DVD release of Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case 2. Here's some of what Bill has to say about the film: "For many Frank Henenlotter's exceptionally sleazy Basket Case was the last word in legitimate 42nd Street exploitation. A solid student of the filmmakers from the past and their grindhouse efforts, the former graphic designer and commercial artist was a fledgling auteur from a young age. By the time he hit his thirties, he'd made a name for himself with the aforementioned splatter epic. Centering on a young man seeking vengeance from the doctors who removed his conjoined twin (a murderous, mutated thing he keeps in a worn out wicker container), the demented, blood-drenched delight played like a cover version of other horror film faves. As much a homage as a heartfelt appreciation for days misspent in dank Manhattan theaters, the film put a nice, nasty exclamation point on the whole terror and tits genre. And he never thought of doing a sequel until, one fateful day, a producer friend asked if he had any projects he'd like to sell. In his typical off the cuff manner, he suggested revisiting Duane and his blob brother Belial. Oddly enough, Henenlotter ended up doing the same thing to the '80s as his original film did for the four decades previous...Basket Case 2 is so endemic of the entire '80s direct to video dynamic that it should come in a crappy cardboard case with cover art having very little or nothing to do with the actual film inside. The fashions are straight out of a Paula Abdul nightmare, the F/X the furthest extension of make-up and animatronics physical potential. While actor Kevin Van Hentenryck looks more or less the same, Belial has undergone a decisive transformation. Gone is the clay ball blandness and static movement. In its place are full blown armatures and attempted facial expressions. There are still moments when the actors must pantomime being murdered by this motionless mass, but 10 years of movie magic really aids in Belial's believability. And when you add in the collection of creative weirdoes that make up Granny Ruth's 'children', biological mistakes with too many noses, oversized teeth, and elongated facial features, it's like stumbling into one of Rob Bottin's daydreams. The one thing that Basket Case 2 has over its predecessor is the ability to flesh out Henenlotter's already unhinged imagination. It works to the film's benefit - and ultimately, its detriment...What does work here is the director's devious sense of black humor. Henenlotter understands the inherent bizarreness of what he's creating, and he gives Van Hentenryck some stellar speeches filled with deranged rationalizations and goofy cruelty. Annie Ross also gets some good grandstanding during her intriguing turn as Granny Ruth (bet Robert Altman didn't see that in her Short Cuts resume reel). And can you name another director who uses sex as satirically as our man Frank? Anyone who lets a clumpy creature have a love scene with another lump of bumpy flesh isn't functioning at a full 24 frames a second. Toss in Duane's disconcerting discovery about his possible paramour and you've got some of the most surreal carnality in any movie macabre. The narrative does tend to wander off track toward the end, the numerous killings and investigative journalism angle adding up to very little overall. But as a sideshow spectacle, as a film that collects everything terror learned at the hands of home video and readily available VHS, Basket Case 2 is terrific. But if you're looking for a flawless example of what Henenlotter meant to exploitation, stick with the first film. This is nothing more than carnival barking for the sake of spectacle. Fear factors aren't as important as latex and stipple this time around...For those who remember the fascinating physical effects of the 1980s, who cringe whenever a modern monster movie relies on CGI and spit to create its featured creatures, Basket Case 2 will be a mesmerizing meander down a long lost memory lane."
"Tobe Hooper's second season entry for Showtime's Masters Of Horror series begins with a boy named Kevin sitting down to dinner with his mother and father deep in the heart of rural Texas to celebrate the father's birthday. Dinner is interrupted when dad goes nuts and shoots his wife dead with his double barrel, Kevin running out into the woods nearby just barely escaping with his life. His father was torn apart right in front of his eyes by an unseen force...Adapted from the short story of the same name by Ambrose Bierce, Richard Christian Matheson's screenplay provides ample opportunity for nasty gore set pieces and a decent build up to a very ambiguous ending. While the manifestation of the titular force is a huge disappointment (think bad CGI) getting there is a lot of fun thanks to a surprisingly strong performance from Flannery and the supporting cast. Hooper's direction is sold and he paces the film very well, hitting us fast and hard with a brutal opening scene and punctuating the film throughout its running time with some equally disturbing murders. Who knew the guy who made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would have such a knack for adapting the work of an nineteenth century poet and writer!...Flannery shines as Kevin, bringing a genuine sense of sadness to the part that makes him a likeable character despite his obvious shortcomings and his taste for liquor. He's quite believable as a man who really does mean well and a couple of the scenes between he and Maris Coughlin actually succeed at tugging on the audience's heart strings. At the same time, he's also able to really bring a sense of menace to the character towards the end of the film in much the same way that Jack Nicholson did in The Shining without going that far over the top. Ted Raimi is also quite interesting as the preacher and while he doesn't have a huge role in the movie, he does have more screen presence here than you'd probably expect to see given some of his goofier, more slapstick performances in the past. On top of all that is the cinematography and the effects work - the gore looks real and pulls no punches and the film is lit in such a way that even if the colors are a little earthy, it's for the best. All in all, The Damned Thing is a solid entry in the series - well paced, well acted, suspenseful and bloody - all things a good horror movie should be...While Tobe Hooper's The Damned Thing is hurt by the bad CGI towards the end, it still gets enough right and provides enough chilling atmosphere and grisly gore to serve as an appropriately eerie entry in the series."
"Divided supernatural forces never seem to get along, do they? They're always fighting over some earth-moving relic that'll rock the universe from its hinges. Of course, outlandish conflict is so much more fun, right? Director Timur Bekmambetov's second 'city fantasy' film, Day Watch (Dnevnoi Dozor), shows us ways in which this chaos can be both more compelling and utterly dumbfounding. Getting lost in his horror-ish science fiction world is an easy feat, especially when he exercises control on those signature scorching visuals. What results is Bekmambetov's effort to pave a path for Day Watch's magnetic characters and marginally gripping narrative. In conjunction, this nonsensical, hectic rollercoaster somehow becomes a more rewarding and usurping slice of visual splendor than its originator...Where Night Watch taxed our visceral threshold with lambast, haphazardly smothered colors atop a soulless core, Day Watch takes control of this same visual style in a more focused, calculating fashion. Instead of feeling completely drained and unrewarded, this new installment makes certain to twist the knobs in all the right directions, namely downwards in frenzied thrashing displays and upwards in character development and narrative adhesiveness. Mind you, it's still a singularly focused story with little or no plausibility in its action like Night Watch; however, Day Watch's style satisfies far more than its predecessor, cracking like a whip alongside the action as opposed to exploding with blinding light...Once the courting dust settles and Day Watch struts its visceral clout enough to attract our attention, it makes certain to deliver the goods with heavy-metal accompanied action flavor and an assortment of outlandish nuts and bolts...Day Watch, as a result, turns into a kinetically fleshed spasm that, in alternate fashion from the first film, squeezes the nerves tightly with knowledge of when to let go. Bekmambetov concentrates further on the story's absurd quirks alongside this rapturous aesthetic style, and we thank him for it. Maybe, once the upcoming third portion of the Watch series hits, Dusk Watch, he'll improve even further on his capabilities and deliver something even more enhanced. After soaking in Day Watch's superior formulation, there's a lot more interest than disbelief floating around in seeing where this stylish director will take his future material...Fans of Night Watch will relish in the consistent tone carried over into the sequel, while newcomers and those unsatisfied with the first might find a new, more satisfying experience with Day Watch. If you're venturing fresh into Bekmambetov's world, you'll find it's fairly easy to pick up on most of the plot points from the first film. Needless to say, Day Watch comes confidently recommended as a visual feast and as a solid action-based modern fantasy."
"It's not often that horror mixes in so smoothly with family entertainment, but Tobe Hooper's (or Stephen Spielberg's, depending who you ask) Poltergeist (1982) isn't exactly your average 1980s classic. Debuting just one week before Spielberg's massively successful E.T. hit theaters, Poltergeist is decidedly the darker of the two blockbusters. It's a purely potent 'ghost story' in every sense of the word, allowing us to become familiar with our cast before all the chaos comes crashing down...More than anything else, Poltergeist is about how a family sticks together during times of crisis. The parents are naturally given the most focus: father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and mother Diane (Jo Beth Williams) enlist the help of paranormal investigators and the like, but their commitment to stay in the haunted house keeps them front and center. Zelda Rubinstein portrays the small-statured, clairvoyant Tangina Barrons, bringing a notable amount of tension and authority to her supporting role, but it's Nelson and Williams that hold the first and second acts of Poltergeist together. The first hour or so doesn't always run at full steam, but the gradually mounting tension eventually pays off with interest...In other words, the film's second half carries most of the weight with ease. Poltergeist still delivers plenty of scares after 25 years, packing a great deal of suspense and spookiness into the home stretch. The film's combination of practical and visual effects works well here, from the 'melting face' sequence to a giant skull that undoubtedly made countless youngsters (and adults) afraid of their closet doors. The film's legendary curse has helped it stay spooky for the past 25 years...but what matters most is that Poltergiest remains effective without drowning us in non-stop blood and gore. It hasn't aged gracefully in certain respects and the annoying 'Pizza Hut edit' remains as distracting as ever, but it's hard to complain when Poltergeist does so much right...As the darker half of Spielberg's one-two punch in the summer of 1982, this frightening fable of the Freeling family should remain an effective, entertaining ghost story for decades to come."
"When it opened in June 1983, Twilight Zone - The Movie was greeted with a mix of enormous enthusiasm and disappointment. The 1959-64 television series was still widely airing in syndication; many markets were at the time running two episodes back-to-back, often on weeknights after 11:00pm, and by then the best shows were firmly ingrained in the public consciousness. The movie hedged its bets by remaking three of the more popular shows (significantly, none were based on Rod Serling scripts) while the one original segment was clouded by a real-life tragedy. During production the previous summer, actor Vic Morrow and two small children died in an unspeakably grisly accident; segment director John Landis and four others were charged with involuntary manslaughter in a case still in the courts as Twilight Zone - The Movie went into release. If you saw the movie that summer, it was impossible to watch it and not feel the weight of that horrible tragedy permeate every minute of the Landis/Morrow segment...The rest of the picture is a mixed bag, and rarely does it capture the essence of what made The Twilight Zone a great series. More often than not it resembles something else entirely. The key difference is that on the TV show the writers were the stars: memorable episodes like 'Time Enough at Last' and 'The Invaders' were 'Rod Serling' or 'Richard Matheson shows' and not remembered for their directors, John Brahm and Douglas Heyes, respectively, even though they and others did excellent work that certainly contributed to their overall success...The four segments in Twilight Zone - The Movie by and large are director vehicles, and their respective styles rather than the scripts or their characters dominate, generally to bad effect...Like the guardians of little Anthony, Twilight Zone - The Movie makes the mistake of indulging its directors rather than concentrate on the writing, which was always the original TV show's greatest strength. For what it is the movie version isn't bad but with a bit more care could have been so much better."
"Redemption has released The Iron Rose (La Rose de Fer), cult French director Jean Rollin's beautifully languid fantastique that no doubt will disappoint mis-directed horror fans expecting a lot of skin and gore. Starring the gorgeous Francoise Pascal and Hugues Quester, The Iron Rose's appearance on DVD seems to be marketed squarely at the exploitation horror crowd, but considering today's coarsening of that genre's expectations, I would imagine most new viewers will find The Iron Rose a bit of a snooze - if they don't know what to expect with Rollin's insistence here on atmosphere and visual poetry over any semblance of plot, concrete explanations, blood or nudity...Those looking for explanations in The Iron Rose are on a fruitless quest. Rollin himself has stated that he wanted to make a film as close to a spontaneously made-up campfire story as possible, with a sense of impenetrable dread and eroticism permeating the largely silent, diffused narrative. As well, the primary thematic element of the fantastique genre is the inexplicable appearance of supernatural elements that the protagonists cannot and will not accept or understand. The Iron Rose isn't really about anything, other than creating a visual poem that intrigues and mystifies the viewer. Of course, you can employ Film Criticism 101 theories as to what Rollin is really doing; that's always fun to do. There's certainly enough overripe filmic semiology and seemingly portentous symbolism to spur on anyone looking for a fun after-dinner discussion (the girl's gradual journey from unwilling visitor at the cemetery to her uncontrollable urge to make love in the grave pit, to her desire to join her lover in the sealed pit for eternity -- all linked by the obviously symbolic iron rose ornament). But by Rollin's own admission, much of what he includes in The Iron Rose is put there for visual and emotional impact - and not for logical examination...Maddening only if you fight it, The Iron Rose isn't meant to be figured out. It's meant to be experienced much like hearing a poem -- if that poem dealt with death and sex, read by campfire in a spooky dark forest. Wonderfully evocative in its cinematography, and downright sexy/weird with the conflicted performance of Francoise Pascal, The Iron Rose shouldn't be approached with the expectations of today's horror films - no gore, and one brief shot of nudity. But that doesn't mean it's a cerebral, dull noodle of a philosophical bore, either. Just experience it, and groove on director Jean Rollin's marvelously sensual tone poem of eroticism and death."
"After unwisely being updated to swinging, mod London (in Dracula A.D. 1972), flirting with a James Bondian plot to destroy the world (in The Satanic Rites of Dracula), and making a pact with kung fu-fightin' vampires in Asia (in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires) in the last three Hammer Draculas, to say nothing of plunging to the depths of slumming for auteur-du-trash Jess Franco, by 1978 Count Dracula was primed for a return to his classical roots. Werner Herzog's Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht and Universal's big budget Dracula would be released before the decade was out, but both were preceded by a well-regarded television adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, Count Dracula, produced by the BBC in 1977. Though it falls short of perfection, it's still one of the three or four best adaptations of the story and arguably the most faithful to its source...As was the standard for such British shows at the time, Count Dracula was shot in a mix of 16mm film and videotape, usually exteriors for the former and interiors for the latter. This mix of relatively incompatible technologies tends to be quite jarring for American viewers spoiled by Hollywood shows shot in 35mm, though the impact here is greatly minimized thanks to its unusually careful, atmospheric lighting, including some excellent night-for-night photography. At 160 minutes (divided into two parts), Count Dracula's leisurely pace allows writer Gerald Savory (whose credits go back to Hitchcock's Young and Innocent) to cover a lot of ground usually jettisoned in other film and stage adaptations, though even this version makes a few changes to Stoker's story, notably making Mina and Lucy sisters (they were unrelated best friends in the novel) and combining Lucy's two suitors (Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris) into a single character. The longer running time allows characters like Jonathan and Mina to be fleshed out considerably, and Harker's journey to Castle Dracula and his gradual realization that he's become Dracula's prisoner is far more atmospheric and suspenseful; most film versions tend to rush through these scenes to get Dracula to England as quickly as possible...In what must have been a bitter pill for Hammer's filmmakers to swallow, the prestigious, critically-acclaimed BBC version is just as graphic and gruesome as their earlier features had been (at times even more so), movies that had been almost universally condemned by homegrown film critics as tastelessly violent and exploitative. For instance, the BBC version includes a bit from the novel possibly never filmed prior to this, mainly due to its extreme gruesomeness: Count Dracula rewards his vampire brides with a potato sack containing a newborn baby for them to feast on. Had Hammer dramatized this even ten years earlier the company would have been run out on a rail. Indeed, peppered throughout are moments perhaps inspired by the Hammer Dracula movies, though for the most part there's an obvious, sincere effort to break away from what had been done before, to steer clear of genre cliches with little touches that bring a freshness to the overly familiar material...Despite a couple of missteps, Count Dracula remains one of the best-ever adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel and the DVD makes perfect Halloween viewing."
"Considered a landmark of Indonesian horror, Mystics in Bali (Leyak, 1981), has "cult classic" written all over it. The film developed an underground buzz long before its first official release in the west, four years ago as a Region 2/PAL DVD via Mondo Macabro's UK arm. After all the hype, the film lives up to reputation as a jaw-dropping riot of weird and disturbing imagery, but in other respects the picture is an amateurish mess, notably in its poor, almost schematic screenplay and atrocious non-acting by its leading player. As it turns out, top-billed Ilona Agathe Bastian wasn't an actress at all, but a German tourist the film's producers plucked off the streets, and it shows. Boy, does it show. Complaints aside, Mondo's DVD is another stellar presentation with some good extras...For the adventurous cinephile, films like Mystics in Bali are undeniably interesting insofar as one can explore the similarities and differences with other culture's genre concerns as compared with our own movies and their concerns. As is the case here one finds that some concepts, like the sinister, cackling witch, are pretty much universal while others are culture/place-specific. Some of these alien concepts are disturbing precisely because they aren't familiar to us Westerners. In one scene with Hendra, for example, Cathy falls ill and begins vomiting up a mix of lime green goop...and squirmy white mice. I have no idea whether this is referencing something specific in Indonesian folklore or an invention of the filmmakers, but I've never heard of anything like this in a western-world horror movie and the scene, conceptually at least, is highly disturbing...It's also easy to forgive the cheap visual effects utilized to bring such horrors to life...Landmark horror status aside, Mystics in Bali isn't as daffily entertaining as Mondo's other Indonesian titles, notably Lady Terminator and Virgins from Hell, though it has its moments. For its terrific transfer and the novelty of its subject matter, horror fans will definitely want to check it out and despite complaints about its script and its awful lead performance, the DVD is recommended."
"Warner Brothers' Twisted Terrors Collection is an interesting six-disc assortment of low budget horror films from the company's back catalogue. The films have nothing in common with on another save for genre, but that doesn't mean the set doesn't turn out to be a whole lot of fun. It should be noted for those who don't want to shell out for the boxed set that each of the six films in this collection are also available separately and the discs are identical, right down to the packaging, to those found in the boxed set...Dr. Giggles doesn't really bring anything new to the table - we've seen horror movies about deranged doctors for decades now - but it does entertain despite the obvious, groan-inducing puns and bad jokes. The film is obviously borrowing heavily from the likes of Freddy from the Nightmare On Elm Street films in this department...Warner Brothers' Twisted Terrors Collection offers an eccentric and varied selection of the studio's b-movie catalogue titles in one handy and reasonably priced package. If the extras are light, the quality is at least pretty decent and having the uncut versions of Deadly Friend and Eyes Of A Stranger is a nice touch. Not an essential purchase but one that horror movie fans can definitely consider recommended."
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