DVD Stalk: Black Xmas, Turistas, and a DVD Stalk Giveaway
-The Lost Room-
This week we have a special giveaway from Lionsgate for The Lost Room - a fantastic mini-series that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel features an all-star cast including Peter Krause, Julianna Margulies, Margaret Cho, Roger Bart and Kevin Pollak. The Lost Room follows a detective as he investigates a mysterious motel room, which acts as a portal to an alternate universe. The 2 Disc set features all the episodes from the mini-series as well as the Inside The Lost Room Featurette. Enter now for your chance to one of 5 copies of The Lost Room DVD. Check out our contest page for all of the official rules and enter now for your chance to win one of 5 copies of The Lost Room.
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Bill Gibron's take on the unrated release of Glen Morgan's 2006 remake of Bob Clark's classic genre film Black Christmas. What's surprising, however, is that he happens to like the film a whole lot more than most people did when it hit theaters. Here's Bill with the details: "Glen Morgan (the former X-Files anchor), responsible for guiding the sensational second season of Millennium as well as the fun Final Destination franchise, has only stepped behind the camera twice, and both times he had a remake in his sites. The first was the sensationally twisted killer rat retread Willard. Featuring a fearless performance by superstar psychopath Crispin Glover, it was well received by critics, but failed to generate much commercial buzz. After a few years in the creative wilderness, his next project seemed equally promising – an update of Bob Clark's genre-defying slasher epic Black Christmas. Though the original was considered an underground classic, a redux seemed like a solid bit of dread reckoning. But similar to the situation with his mouse macabre, the reaction was less than enthusiastic. In fact, many found the film to be one of 2006's worst. Now, with its arrival on DVD, it's time to set the record straight. Not only is Black Christmas a clever slasher spoof, but it argues for Morgan's place as a solid scare maestro...Why was so much hate leveled against what is, in essence, a wonderfully wicked take on the entire '80s oeuvre of slasher spectacle? Until it made its DVD entrance a few years back, no one except a chosen cult was championing Bob Clark's film as a forgotten masterwork. In fact, when it was discussed, most confused it with the Santa as slayer sleazefests that resided along the bottom shelves of video stores during the Greed decade. So hating this marvelously dark effort from a filmmaker who really wants to deliver the fear factors seems patently unfair. Besides, if Morgan had made the decision to merely mimic the original, making Billy an unknown and unseen predator and employing lots of archetypal POV cinematography, the complaints of copycatting would be loud and long. Instead, this version of Black Christmas gives our murderous madman a nicely noxious backstory, filled with abuse, incest, and Yuletide flesh eating...At its core though, the 2006 version of Black Christmas is really just an old school slasher film, a bent and brazen throwback to the "gals in crisis" slaughter spectacles that redefined the genre. But what we have here is more Halloween than Hell Night. Morgan makes every effort to imbue his cast (mostly nameless media maidens getting by on looks and lucky TV showcasing) with recognizable dimensions, removing the singular notation from each one's character arc. He's mostly successful...Black Christmas is a nice little horror romp. If you're looking for scary movie classicism, stick with the original...this is not the fabulous fright flick disaster that initial reactions make it out to be. In a year of some outstanding genre work, Black Christmas legitimately deserves to sit alongside the best of them. It's not misguided or mediocre, just misunderstood." If you passed up Black Christmas during its initial theatrical run, now's the time to give the film a chance. You may just find out you like it more than you expected.
Also this week, Ian Jane takes a look at a very interesting documentary about the genre we all know and love. Slasher flicks have been a mainstay of the horror genre for quite a while now and Going To Pieces: The Rise And Fall Of The Slasher Film does a nice job of providing an analytical overview of the subgenre. Take it away, Ian: "Jeff McQueen's documentary, Going To Pieces: The Rise And Fall Of The Slasher Film (based on the book of the same name written by Adam Rockoff), is a nice, if fairly basic, look at some of the more popular slasher movies that have come out through the ages by way of plenty of archival clips and some newly recorded interviews with various people involved in the horror industry...Many of the 'big names' in slasher film history show up on camera for interviews. John Carpenter wanders around a cemetery while he tells us about how Halloween came together and Sean S. Cunningham tells us about Friday The 13th while sitting beside a pristine and tranquil lake. Wes Craven talks about the A Nightmare On Elm Street films as well as the success of his self-referential nineties hit, Scream and the way that name stars were used to bring in the box office numbers on that project. Tom Savini talks about how his time in Vietnam helped him develop an eye for detail when doing special effects work and how the demand has, over time, required that the effects get gorier and gorier to try and outdo what came before...The end result is a fairly comprehensive examination of how these films came to be and why...The film, however, is far from perfect. Although they do acknowledge that Mario Bava and Dario Argento had some influence on the American slasher movie, they don't really detail this at all and considering how blatantly some of the Friday The 13th movies rip off those seen in Bava's Twitch Of The Death Nerve the film probably deserved a little more screen time than it got. Likewise, Bob Clark's Black Christmas hit theaters a full four years before Carpenter's Halloween did, and there's nary a mention of it here aside from a very brief clip that goes by almost unnoticed. While Carpenter hardly ripped Clark off, it's unlikely that the earlier film had no influence on the later and it's odd that Black Christmas, one of the most influential and earliest slasher films, isn't given much credit here...Aside from those complaints, however, Going To Pieces: The Rise And Fall Of The Slasher Film is a pretty good look at what makes the slasher film work...Horror movie buffs and slasher film aficionados will definitely get a kick out of this documentary and those who aren't necessarily enamored with these movies might come away with a bit more of an appreciation for some of the better made entries in the cannon of stalk and slash movies." Easily worth owning for any serious horror fan, Going To Pieces: The Rise And Fall Of The Slasher Film is an informative and worthwhile documentary and should fit nicely on your collection's genre shelf.
I certainly didn't expect to enjoy John Stockwell's Turistas as much as I did. It's clearly not a great film, but I'll be damned if it's not an intense and exciting one. Apparently, Ian Jane has some pretty similar feelings on the film: "The obvious point of comparison for Turistas is Eli Roth's Hostel. They were both in theaters around the same time and they both play with the same basic concept – tourists in a foreign territory in trouble with the locals. Aside from that, however, the films are fairly different. The main difference is that in Hostel it's difficult to like any of the characters. They're more or less annoying frat boys who live up to the obnoxious stereotype, and they're very shallow characters. In Turistas the characters are still fairly shallow but they're not nearly as annoying. You don't dislike the tourists here the same way that you do in Hostel and that gives the inevitable finale a bit more impact and a bit more suspense. It isn't difficult to figure out where it's all going and the movie breaks very little new ground, but it is at least effective in making the audience hope that at least a few of these poor saps make it out alive...Director John Stockwell (yes, the same John Stockwell who starred in John Carpenter's Christine!) directs the movie with a fair bit of style and keeps the pacing tight. He wisely saves the more disturbing set pieces until the film's final half hour using the first two thirds of the film to drop none-so-subtle hints and prepare us for what is to come. Again, no one is reinventing the wheel with this film but it definitely delivers a few memorably nasty kill scenes and it does so in an interesting location. We get some skin, we get some solid gore, and the movie delivers a few superficial jumps scares that, while not really lasting, keep the tone right. Horror fans should enjoy this one as a decent time killer, even if its unlikely make its way to anyone's favorite films list...Turistas is far from a modern classic, but it's an entertaining and gory little thriller with a couple of nice twists and some great location footage." Easily dismissed, upon its theatrical release, as a Hostel retread, Turistas turns out to be a much more interesting film and one that is certainly worth checking out.
Ian Jane also has a chance to sit down, this week, with two of Lionsgate's After Dark Horrorfest titles and finds a little something to like about each one. While each particular film has its fair share of flaws, there's definitely something to be said about the overall quality of the series. I'll let Ian Jane take it away and give you his views on the two titles: "One of the 'Eight Films To Die For' (essentially a mini-horror movie festival put on by Lion's Gate and After Dark), The Gravedancers marks the very welcome return of director Mike Mendez who made a bit of a splash with his nasty nun movie The Convent a few years ago. Blending together elements of films like Poltergeist, The Evil Dead and The Haunting Mendez has made a completely enjoyable haunted house-crazy ghost movie that, despite a few flaws and a wacky ending, actually delivers...While the movie borrows bits and pieces from other, better known and more established genre movies, Mendez puts a few nifty creative spins on the material that make the movie much more than a simple homage to what's been done before. He spends the first forty-minutes or so carefully building the story to the point where you might find yourself wondering just where everything is going, and then wisely shifts gears and pulls out all the stops for the second half of the movie. Think of the first half as the creep up the first big hill of a rollercoaster and the second half as the descent – you know it's coming but you can't help but be a little surprised by it anyway...The Gravedancers is a refreshingly fun horror film with some genuine scares and a lot of eerie, creepy atmosphere. The ending is a little hokey but the movie is a blast regardless and horror movie fans should eat this one up."
"One of the 'Eight Films To Die For' (essentially a mini-horror movie festival put on by Lion's Gate and After Dark), the marketing blitz behind Unrest would have you believe that it's 'the first movie to use real corpses.' While that's a patent fabrication (They Call Her One Eye and The Hunchback Of The Morgue both supposedly use real honest to goodness cadavers in key scenes), it shouldn't deter anyone from checking out what is a surprisingly intelligent, pensive and creepy little low budget movie...Unrest starts fairly quietly, building the two central characters up enough that by the time things start to get weird, we like them enough to care...The movie also makes excellent use of its hospital locations. Anyone who has ever been in a morgue knows that it's a naturally eerie place to be and the film really does quite a good job of capturing how bleak and unsettling they can be. The scenes that are shot in the morgue feel appropriately cold and the realistic cadaver effects that are shown in quite a bit of detail add to the morbid atmosphere that the film puts to good use...Unrest isn't perfect – parts of it are slow and the aforementioned relationship scenes feel a little tacked on, but it certainly gets enough right that horror fans who are in the mood for something a little different will want to give it a look...Anyone with a bit of patience and the willingness to think about the movie as it plays out, however, should find this one fairly rewarding."
Adam Tyner begins his review of Roman by mentioning that it's about someone with a fatal obsession with Kristen Bell. That was enough to get me interested. Here's what Adam has to say about the film: "Roman is sort of a funhouse mirror version of May, this time with Angela Bettis and Lucky McKee swapping places in front of the camera. As much as the two movies have in common -- several of the same names in the credits, chili dog dates, outcasts who knock off and, um, dismember their obsessions -- they're about fundamentally different things. May was a depraved search for love; Roman is really about grieving...about coming to terms with death...Both Bettis and McKee pull it all off remarkably well. McKee portrays Roman as a disturbed but likeable enough guy rather than an eye-twitching psychopath. Even though he inadvertently murdered a sweet, completely innocent young woman and keeps her corpse buried in ice in his bathtub, Roman remains sympathetic throughout. The extras on this DVD include footage of a couple of other actors in the lead role with more obvious, less subtle takes on the character that fail miserably by comparison. First-time director Bettis also has enough restraint to avoid reveling in guts and gore. I'd call May a horror movie but wouldn't want to use that label here; even as Roman is sawing off small chunks of a decomposing body in his bathtub, Bettis prefers to let the character be more appalled by what he's doing than the audience, blocking it as tastefully as dismemberment can be. Roman doesn't revel in playing up any shock value, but there is some cacklingly dark comedy, particularly Roman's affectionate post-mortem picnics and the greasy, mouthbreathing chronic masturbator next door...Kristen Bell's role is small but crucial, and for the most part, Roman just asks that she be perfect. It's not the meatiest or most substantial role she's tackled, but the young actress (her parts in the movie were shot before landing Veronica Mars) excels when the movie takes its darkest turn...Roman isn't nearly as polished as May, with quick-'n-dirty digital photography from a director who's learning as she goes instead of a meticulously lit 35mm production. In a way, the lower budget visuals work to its benefit; there's something more intimate and personal about video than the glossy sheen of film. The shakier supporting cast can be mildly distracting at times, but the bulk of the movie is anchored around the three leads, all of whom turn in solid performances. May is the more accessible and instantly engaging of the two films, but Roman is a compelling companion piece." An underseen and overlooked film in the Lucky McKee/Angela Bettis oeuvre, Roman is easily worth at least a rental spin for you horror freaks out there.
David Cornelius also joins us this week for a brief look at the Genius Products offering, Dead Mary: "A lot of hardcore horror buffs are going to hate Dead Mary for the very same reason I liked it: it's more of a character-driven chiller, with minimal gore and a decidedly slower pace. In fact, for the first twenty-plus minutes of the movie, you'd never know you were watching a horror film at all, and it's yet another twenty-plus minutes after that when the spooky stuff really kicks in. This is bound to set off many viewers eager for faster, bloodier thrills, especially those who were attracted to the direct-to-video movie because of DVD cover artwork that falsely hypes the picture as a demons-and-slashers bloodfest...By being more psychological in its frights, Dead Mary manages an extra layer of spookiness, but it also risks losing less patient viewers in the process. Dead Mary is a daring work that intentionally avoids the obligatory horror movie traits, attempting something a little different. It still manages to be derivative in spots (some shots and ideas come straight out of Carpenter's works), but the picture still comes off as fresh and intelligent, always refreshing in the horror field."
Bill Gibron's back with his usual comprehensive take on the TLA release of Pervert!. The Jonathan Yudis film might have some major flaws throughout, but they seem worth sitting through to get to the real goods. Take it away, Bill: "Pervert! misses being a masterpiece by the slimmest of miscreant margins. It starts out like gratuitous gangbusters, recalling classic exploitation faves like Sweet Georgia, Supervixens, and any number of Jennie: Wife/Child country cornpone corporeality. Its view of sex is silly and slapstick, it's desire to showoff and celebrate the female bosom immeasurable and quite irresistible. With a central star like Mary Carey, a gal unafraid of dropping her top when the spirit so moves (and the scene so dictates), and a dead-on performance by actor Darrell Sandeen channeling a near flawless Stuart Lancaster circa 1979, it's hard to imagine this film falling apart. Indeed, just like his breast-obsessed inspiration – one Russ Meyer – director Jonathan Yudis (most noted for working on Spike TV's Adult Party revamp of Nickelodeon faves Ren and Stimpy) realizes full well that hooter histrionics must be counteracted by comic camp value, less the entire enterprise turn radioactively ridiculous and more or less implode. And for a good 40 minutes, he does just that. We find ourselves busting both a gut and a nut to this twisted take on old codgers, tasty young tale, and the lumbering oafs who occasionally stumble into the sack with both. There's even a little Texas Hack Saw hokum tossed in to keep the otherwise "occupied" gorehounds good and lubricated...And then...well, to be honest, the movie kind of falls apart. Oh sure, it maintains most of its insane idjit integrity, staying true to the bizarre-o storyline it started. We get more blood, more boobies, and more baffling last minute narrative shifts. But something is clearly missing, an element of unbridled fun that helped CAREY us along throughout most of the opening material. Yep, for some stupid reason, Yudis has our Ms. Mary disappear at about the 39:59 minute mark, and from then on, Pervert! can only tread water...With only a couple of clear moments of aggressive arterial spray, and an epilogue that makes little or no sense, Pervert! definitely tests our post-modern proto-porn tolerances. In fact, many just won't cotton to its Laugh-In meets Pigkeeper's Daughter-esque dimensions. Yudis has a decent style behind the lens, using a quasi-comic book conceit (and lots of '60s inspired bare bodkin montages) to accentuate our already eager beavering. Yet as much as any exploitation obsessive will want to champion and cheer this intrepid T&A throwback, Pervert! will always pale in comparison to the real thing. As valuable as she is to this production, Mary Carey is no Pat Barrington. Neither is she Uschi Digart, Uta Erickson or Darlene Bennett. While she may be able to match figures with these famous grindhouse femmes, they remain the raincoat crowd standard...Okay, so Pervert! doesn't get everything right...It's not perfect, but there's a great deal of fun in its flaws." Well said, Bill. Good enough reason for me to pick up the disc.
Finally, Ian Jane rounds out the week with his take on Tartan's Bloody Reunion, a surprising little entry in the J-Horror genre. Here's what he has to say about it: "One of the latest entries from Tartan's Asia Extreme line is Bloody Reunion, (known in its homeland as To Sir, With Love) a somewhat low budget slasher film that delivers the gore you'd expect but which also contains an unexpectedly intelligent plot that helps it rise above the restrictions sometimes associated with the sub-genre...Bloody Reunion is, on the surface, a fairly standard slasher movie. Our killer hunts his prey one at a time and brings them back to his basement lair where he uses various creative ways of dismembering and torturing them to eventually end their lives. Underneath the gory set pieces, however, there's more to the film than that. You'll pick up on some of the foreshadowing fairly early on if you pay reasonably close attention to some of the little details in the film, and before you know it the movie is dealing as much with how we tend to repress unfavorable memories from our youth once we reach adulthood and how even the smallest act of cruelty can have a huge effect on the lives of a kid. Of course, there's a big twist at the end and the conclusion is rather ridiculous but getting there is fun and Bloody Reunion turns out to be considerably more intelligent than your average 'masked maniac kills people' slasher film thanks to the little details and snippets of information that we get about these characters' pasts...It's not perfect, and some of the handheld camera work gets dizzying at times, but if you're looking for something outside the norm without journeying too far away from horror movie territory, it's well worth a look." If you're sick of the same old Asian horror, this one's certainly worth checking out.
-John Stockwell on Turistas-
Director and actor John Stockwell has spent the better part of the last two decades working in film, both in front of (Christine and Top Gun) and behind the camera (Blue Crush, crazy/beautiful). With the release of his latest effort, Turistas [Review], onto DVD in an unrated cut from Fox, John took the time out of his schedule to answer a few questions about his past, his present and his future in the television and film industries including. John Stockwell talks about working with John Carpenter, being a part of the 80's iconic film Top Gun, working with a very wet Jessica Alba and The L Word. Read our complete interview with John Stockwell by DVD Talk writer Ian Jane.
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