DVD Stalk: Black Christmas, Criminal Minds, and DVD Stalk Apparel
This week we have several clips from Black Christmas. Predating John Carpenter's Halloween by four years, the 1974 horror classic will be available December 5th in a digitally re-mastered Special Edition featuring new interviews with stars Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle and Margot Kidder.
"Lurking in the Closet" | "Obscene Phone Call" | "The Caller's in the House"
We kick off this week's huge batch of horror DVD reviews with Bill Gibron's take on the new Special Edition DVD release of Bob Clark's 1974 holiday classic, Black Christmas. With a Hollywood remake slated for release later this year, horror fans everywhere had to know that we'd see a new DVD release of the original 1974 film. This time around, however, a revamped disc is a very welcome idea. You see, Black Christmas has found its way onto DVD a few times before, but those discs have always been strangely difficult to get a hold of. Fine discs, they were, but this widely released new version should make it much easier (and more enjoyable) to check out one of the classics of the horror-holiday genre. Here's what Bill has to say about the Special Edition release of Black Christmas: "Like the missing link between Michael Findlay's Flesh Trilogy and John Carpenter's iconic Halloween, Black Christmas is a brilliant little thriller with a defiant, disturbing tone. Complex in its approach but simple in its purpose, this superb scarefest takes chances with the genre that many fright fans might not be prepared to appreciate – at least, not at first. In the decades since Bob Clark's creative take on the systematic slaying of innocent victims at the hands of a crazed killer, lovers of splatter cinema expect certain stereotypical standards from their slaughter party – an easily identifiable and action figure oriented murderer; a group of drunk, doped up and dimwitted sex fiends just asking to be sliced and diced; ineffective cops who can't quite believe a homicidal fiend is on the loose; and an ending which wraps everything up in a decent, if derivative, flashback-filled denouement. Thankfully, Black Christmas avoids each and every one of these crucial clichés. This allows the film to function on its own, unhinged level of jaundiced genius, and instantly claim its place in the pantheon of classic horror efforts. Though its premise predates Jason, Michael and all things Freddy, it's hard to imagine that this film inspired anything but jealousy from those who would follow in its fascinating, fantastic footsteps...Anyone whose ever doubted Bob Clark's ability behind the camera need look no further than this expertly executed film to witness one stellar directing job. Attempting a novel POV presentation for the actions of the killer, as well as carefully controlled compositions that keep the atmosphere off putting and menacing, the man behind the lens lets his creepshow imagination run wild here, and the results are resplendent." Gibron couldn't have said it any better. Black Christmas is a fantastic fright flick that only gets better with time, and Koch Vision's latest DVD release is an excellent addition to any horror fan's collection.
"Never officially released on home video before in North America, The Boxer's Omen has been a staple of the grey market circles for years but never received a proper release... until now." It's always great to see a sorely underseen horror title finally get a stateside release, and The Boxer's Omen is the latest treat to come our way through Image Entertainment. Here's a bit of what Ian Jane has to say about the film: "If your only experience with the Shaw Brothers library is the martial arts films that they're best known for, this twisted and gory little tale of good versus evil might just take you by surprise...The first of the key elements that makes the movie so entertaining is the effects work. If you've seen Black Magic you know what kind of effects work and what kind of set pieces to expect but this film takes all of that to the next level by upping the quantity and the quality of the work. We witness potions being made out of brain goop, stop-motion animated bat skeletons rising from the dead, and in a very 'Lucio Fulci' moment a scene where two magic tarantulas inject some poor sap's eyeballs with their venom. There's a particularly nasty scene involving the (real) dead corpse of a crocodile, a flying decapitated head that looks like it was lifted from Mystics In Bali and even a sultry clawed lady zombie. Much of this takes place in and around some interesting international locations as well (the film was shot in Hong Kong, Thailand and Nepal), the evil wizard's lair being one of the more interesting with it's primary colored lighting effects and strange, giant statues. If the flying head and skeleton bats weren't enough, the film also features some pretty decent fight scenes...The whole film is genuinely bizarre but completely enjoyable..."
Francis Rizzo III lends a hand this week by checking out the complete first season of Criminal Minds. Not just another typical serial killer drama, this CBS series features "strong storytelling, powerful acting and, yes, a good deal of style." Criminal Minds is much more about character and introspection than most "serial killer dramas." The "police procedural" has been all over television in the past few years, and it's refreshing to see a show that avoids those pitfalls for a more character-rich focus. Francis explains it here: "The first season features some fantastic episodes, including "Derailed," which sees hotheaded agent Elle Greenaway on her own in a train car with an armed mental patient, "Blood Hungry," where Gideon has to stay behind at the office, working long distance, and the emotionally-taut "Riding the Lighting," a story about a condemned woman who may not have committed her crime. The scope of the team's operations helps maintain a nice variety in the episodes, letting them travel to New Mexico for the excellent "The Tribe" and Mexico in "Machismo," a great take on a different culture's experience with serial killers. The show also does a great job of pulling idea from the headline, resulting in stories about snipers ("L.D.S.K"), food tainting ("Posion") and America's intricate connections with foreign governments ("Secrets and Lies")...Fortunately, the "Criminal Minds" team of FBI profilers is loaded with greatness, starting with the group's leader, Jason Gideon, played perfectly by Mandy Patinkin. A curmudgeonly sort, Gideon is a careful guardian to his crew and a brilliant man capable of getting deep into the dark places of the mind of the UnSub (the profilers' name for the unknown criminal.)...Though the only known name besides Patinkin here is Thomas Gibson, the former lead of Dharma and Greg, there is plenty of talent, especially the two male supporting actors, soap star Shemar Moore and Matthew Gray Gubler, who you may remember from The Life Aquatic. The underrated Moore plays the straight-laced, but coolly confident agent on the team, bringing an intimidating physicality, along with a sense of humor and a great deal of charm. He's probably the cast member you could best believe as an FBI agent." Filled with some excellent bonus features, Criminal Minds: The First Season is a great DVD package of a show that deserves a larger audience. Easily worth checking out.
Also this week, Bill Gibron checks out the two latest releases from Cinema Epoch, and finds them both highly recommended discs. The first film, Beyond Dream's Door, is one of the strangest, and craziest, monster movies you're likely to see in quite some time. Bill says it best: "The Ohio-based auteur [Jay Woelfel] abandoned the standard creature feature facets to delve into the realm of the human mind. His fascinating first feature film, Beyond Dream's Door, avoids clichés and formulas to bring the stunningly surreal world of nightmares into painful perspective. As a result, instead of the same old craven crap, we are privileged to see one of the late '80s best independent fright films...Part mesmerizing mindf*ck, part incredibly effective monster movie, Beyond Dream's Door is a purposefully obtuse offering from Woelfel, a film that tries with all its might to travel the tricky avenue inherent in any nightmare logic narrative. Ambiguous, insular, and asking as many questions as its answering, this intriguing movie is part experiment in storytelling, part gore-laden bloodletting. There are moments of psychological terror here, as well as sequences where brains are smashed, torsos are gashed, and vein vodka is spilled in bright red splashes. Considering that it was made in 1988, at the height of horror's obsession with gross-out physical effects, an outsider effort like Beyond Dream's Door becomes even more compelling. Woelfel, and his team of college age craftsman, have put together something that stands severed head and shoulders above the crude creature features of the decade, and argues that tone and mood can do as much for one's macabre as guts and grue. Add in some appealing performances, a visual style that keeps the audience glued to the edge of their seats, and an overall approach to the subject matter that mixes intellectualized and supernatural elements, and you have a wonderfully inventive and evocative effort." It's all a pretty impressive package that deviates from the 80's horror norms and stands as an interesting little genre film.
The second film, Bleak Future, treads on some dangerous ground, but ends up being an inspired little piece of horror cinema. They say the biggest risks often provide the biggest rewards and, as Bill Gibron will attest, the premise of Bleak Future takes a major risk: "As a generic rule of thumb, certain things just don't mix. One of the most obvious examples is science fiction and comedy. It just won't take...Luckily, Brian S. O'Malley never listened to this ridiculous motion picture maxim. If he had, we wouldn't be blessed with the wonderfully engaging, thoroughly hilarious end of the world nuttiness known as Bleak Future. Like George Miller mashed with Peter Jackson, this satirical shape of things to come is one of the oddest, most endearing entertainments to come out of the outsider arena in quite a while. It's a gangly geek fest just waiting for the right collection of nerf herders to embrace its cool cult craziness...Bleak Future is simultaneously smart and stupid, realistic and retarded, inspired and insipid, wholly original and a complete and utter rip off. It borrows liberally from such future shock spectacles as the Mad Max movies, A Boy and His Dog and A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, starting out as a solid spoof of your standard speculative fiction before becoming a frighteningly inventive take on humanity, horror and the universal lack of Armageddon coping skills. Offering up a believable premise, set of sensationally realized characters, and a directing style that cribs from the likes of Kubrick and Lucas, Raimi and Tarantino, O'Malley and his mates have made a true kitsch classic – the kind of movie that 'Netwads will go nutzoid over for decades to come." Just as with the previous Cinema Epoch release, Bleak Future is a much smarter, funnier, and more entertaining film than you might assume at first glance, and the disc comes highly recommended.
BCI Eclipse has been cranking out some excellent Mexican horror films lately, and The Aztec Mummy Collection offers up three classic Mexican mummy movies. Ian Jane takes a look at the trio of films [1957's The Aztec Mummy (La Momia Azteca), 1957's The Curse of The Aztec Mummy (La Maldicion de la Momia Azteca), and 1958's The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy (La Momia Azteca Contra El Robot Humano)], and finds the package to be a worthy addition to any horror fan's DVD shelf. "The Aztec Mummy Collection doesn't represent the best of the Mexican horror movies made in the fifties and sixties, but it does offer up a trio of creative, culturally unique and fun horror films in a reasonably priced and fairly attractive package. The films aren't classics but they make for great entertainment regardless...The first film in the series, thought to be lost until recently, is actually a fairly atmospheric little film. The scenes that take place in and around the burial ground have some nice atmosphere and the mummy gets a fair bit of screen time in this entry (something that we can't say about the two sequels, unfortunately). The direction is decent and the story moves along at a good pace, with the hypnosis scene standing out as particularly well done. The effects aren't top notch even by the standards of the era but they do add some charm to the picture, as does the acting which can be a bit on the hammy side but which works well in the context of the film." The second and third films might not be quite as interesting as the first, but The Aztec Mummy Collection is still a fun package, especially for any fan of Mexican horror cinema.
Staying in the Mexican horror film genre, Stuart Galbraith IV checks out The Vampire Collection: El Vampiro & El Ataud del Vampiro from Panik House. Here's some of what he has to say: "If your exposure to Mexican fantasy cinema has been limited to Aztec Mummies and the wild and wooly wrestling movies of masked icon Santo, you're sure to find CasaNegra and Panik House's double-feature special edition of The Vampire (El Vampiro) and The Vampire's Coffin (El Ataud del Vampiro) - both 1957 - a big, pleasant surprise. Both have a stateliness utterly lacking in the anything goes world of Mexican horror-fantasy of the 1960s and '70s. Both show a lot of imagination and are especially intriguing in that they bridge the gap between the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s and '40s with the Hammer Gothics that immediately followed." Both films have their selling points, but The Vampire (El Vampiro) seems to be the more worthwhile of the two: "The Vampire (El Vampiro) doesn't particularly add to the genre so much as refine it. (Mild Spoilers) Other than simply being a very well-made, atmospheric vampire movie its major contribution to the genre is the addition of poor Aunt Maria. Entombed with a large crucifix she later turns up as an emaciated, ghostly figure - still holding that large crucifix - silently warning Marta of the danger all around them. These scenes are still pretty creepy a half-century later, and actress Montoya, in fact only 36 years old at the time, visually is just right as is her earnestly panicky performance...The Vampire's Coffin (El Ataud del Vampiro) isn't nearly as ambitious, playing much like a Universal horror film from that studio's "second cycle," with a greater emphasis on blood and thunder action in place of subtle atmosphere, but it's still a lot of fun in its own way and offers yet more great cinematography." If all that's not enough to convince you, Stuart really slams the point home with this line: "This is a must-have for all serious horror film fans: two extremely well-made horror films from South of the Border deserving the first-class treatment CasaNegra and Panik House give it." Can't argue with that...
Since I can't hold a candle to Scott Weinberg's take on We're Going to Eat You, I'll just let him explain it: "The certifiably wacky Diyu wu men is known by a variety of rather colorful English titles. The most appropriate one is Kung Fu Cannibals, which pretty much sums the entire movie up in three handy words. Also known as No Door to Hell and Hell Has No Gates, Tsui Hark's We're Going to Eat You is most certainly a crazy-loco little genre confection, but the gimmick wears thin pretty quick, the action bits (slick though they are) are fairly few and far between, and the frequent doses of mega-doofy humor are more painful than amusing -- though it is nice to see an old-school chop-socky horror comedy that's not afraid to get a little silly." Ok, ok...so the film itself might not be all that great, but the title kicks all kinds of ass. It's nearly as perfect a title for a horror flick as you'll ever find. And if that's not enough to warrant at least a rental spin, I don't know what is.
Finally, Weinberg wraps up our review highlights by checking out "arguably one of the most controversial imports of all time" in Cannibal Ferox (Make Them Die Slowly), and calls the film "an ugly, vile, and wholly unpleasant experience." As a horror fan, you pretty much know what you're getting into with Cannibal Ferox. It's been heralded for ages as one of the most vile, disgusting films you can possibly watch and, in that respect, it clearly delivers. In terms of quality cinema, however, there's not much to be found. Here's Weinberg again: "For all its infamy and well-documented nastiness, I seem to dislike Cannibal Ferox for a relatively novel reason: It's poorly-made, it's not very interesting, and it's really quite dull during the numerous stretches in which things aren't being stabbed, sliced, impaled, or disemboweled. From the gorehound's perspective, the thing's got gravy to spare -- but it's all so ugly and base and exploitative, there's really no good way to enjoy the misshapen little mass...Rent it if you're that curious; all others can safely avoid and still lead a perfectly happy life." Point taken, Scott. Point taken.
Leave it to Don May, Jr., and good old Synapse Films, to rescue one of the craziest, most bizarre, and utterly entertaining cult films of all time from the dustbin of genre cinema. Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural is one of those films that horror fans have always heard about, but never been able to see. It's been talked about in cult film circles for years and years, but copies were sparse - and those copies that did exist were often washed-out, ugly, and downright close to impossible to watch. But all that changed on August 31, 2004, when Synapse Films released their completely remastered edition of the cult classic on DVD. When I tell you that this disc is an absolute revelation, I'm not just saying it because I love what Synapse Films does by bringing unsung, unseen, and sometimes unbearable films to the DVD format. I'm saying that the disc is a revelation because it stands as the very epitome of what kind of restoration can be achieved with patience, persistence, and sheer enthusiasm. Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural could have easily just become another tall tale or urban legend of a film - a work of cinema so odd and strange that it would be talked about for eternity, but never again seen by the loving eyes of the genre crowd. With the release of his remastered disc, Don May made sure that possibility never became a reality. And to say that we're lucky for that would be a huge understatement.
So much has been said, especially in the horror film circles, about Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural, that there's really no reason for me to rehash it all here. It's far from a great or perfect film, but I'll be damned if it's not one of the most ambitious, original, and insanely strange films I've ever had the opportunity to see. The visuals. The story. The acting. Just about every single aspect of Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural simply builds on the film's inherent creep-factor. It's a hell of a film (no pun intended), and one that every genre fan deserves to see at least once. If for nothing more than to say they saw "that film." Thanks to Synapse Films, all the horror fanatics finally have the chance to see Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural as it was originally intended. It's never looked or sounded better, and the included extra material is just another added bonus. If you've never seen the film, now's your chance. The DVD has been out for over two years. What are you waiting for?!
What do you guys and gals think? We're pretty excited about it, and we hope you'll be too!
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