DVD Stalk: Fantastic Fest '06, Feast, and Masters of Horror: Imprint
-Fantastic Fest 2006 by Scott Weinberg-
Immediately upon my return home from the Toronto International Film Festival, I did two things: 1. Ordered a big fat Philly Cheese Steak 2. Banged out a capsule collection on the horror movies I'd seen at the fest. The response to my recap was so amazingly raucous (thanks to all nine of you!) that I thought I'd slap another one together for Fantastic Fest 2006, which is where I spent the most recent week of my life. And had a ball. For more info on the Fantastic Fest check out the reports at Cinematical or the shindig's official site.
Blood Trails - A psycho cop stalks a bike-riding hottie up in the mountains. For about 85 consecutive minutes. A few flashy moments can't save this generally tedious affair.
Broken - Starts off like a Saw-style piece of torture terror, but gradually evolves into a master & servant piece of psycho-horror. Strong performances help a lot, and there's some really nasty fun to be had here.
Bug - My initial skepticism was washed away within 15 minutes. This tight-fisted psychological mind-bender features some stunning work from Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd. Yes, Ashley Judd. Plus it's William Friedkin's most effective flick in years. Good stuff.
Feast - When it sticks to the snarky humor and the mangled meatpuppets, this flick rocks. When it relies on the dialogue, things get a little dry. The good news is that the body parts fly with alarming frequency and the flick winds down precisely when it oughtta.
Frostbite - Sweden's first vampire movie, and it's a good one. Equal parts silly, scary and sloppy (in a gory way, I mean), this one's quite a bit of fun. See the original before someone makes an American remake!
Hatchet - Bayou baddie Victor Crowley stalks the swamps and picks off every screaming idiot he discovers. Solid sense of humor, above-average actors, and a few Kill Scenes that'll have the gorehounds clapping and hooting like drunken construction workers.
Lie Still - If you dig spooky movies in which atmosphere and mood trump carnage and mayhem, here's a Brit indie you might want to keep an eye out for. It's about a guy who moves into a boarding house full of, well, something unpleasant. Familiar material perhaps, but the flick works.
The Living and the Dead - A normally sweet-natured retarded man demands to be the sole caretaker for his dying mother ... with seriously unpleasant results. Sincerely creepy stuff. Reminded me of old-school David Lynch.
Roman - Director Lucky McKee and actor Angela Bettis switch roles for this one, which I suppose could be described as "the mirror image of May," but only because I haven't fully wrapped my brain around the thing. McKee plays a lonely guy who accidentally commits a horrible crime, buries his secret in the bathtub, and continues looking for love in all the wrong places.
Simon Says - A very familiar slasher-type pick-'em-off, only this one has thousands of flying pick-axes, several seriously nasty booby traps - and the immortal Crispin Glover in the role of identical twin psychos. Yep, Crispin Glover.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning - Vicious, malicious and brutal - but also fairly redundant and distressingly by-the-numbers. Nispel's remake was surprisingly good; this prequel is surprisingly blah - despite one helluva fun R. Lee Ermey performance and a fistful of really great gore.
Unrest - A group of young doctors deal with a haunted corpse - which they're supposed to be dissecting! Atmospheric sets and strong performances help a lot when the narrative slows down.
Venus Drowning - A lonely woman forges a decidedly "intimate" relationship with a growing pink blob that she found on the beach. A bit slow in spots, but it's vaguely Cronenbergian in its best moments.
(P.S. The Host, Severance, Abominable, and Pan's Labyrinth also played at Fantastic Fest 2006, but since I'd already seen those ones, I opted for other screenings. I'd absolutely recommend all four of those titles to anyone who considers themselves a HorrorNut.)
We kick off this week's huge batch of horror DVD reviews with Ian Jane's take on the unrated version of Project Greenlight's Feast. The one actually interesting film created while behind the cameras of the Project Greenlight reality series, Feast has had a rough road to release. After the reality series ended, the film sat on Dimension's (and, effectively, the Weinstein Company's) shelf for a long time. Now, it's finally gotten a very limited theatrical run and a DVD release. It's a shame because Feast is actually a pretty effective little horror flick. Here's Ian's take on the film: "Feast gets enough right that even if it isn't going to take home any awards for originality it is still a whole lot of fun to watch. First and foremost is the gore quotient. This is one wet movie and it doesn't shy away from some seriously impressive doses of the red stuff. It's a bloody, messy, splattery movie with some impressive and disgusting effects work and a nice lack of CGI enhancement. Maggots pile out of an eye socket, a face gets punched into a pulp and then the victim's innards are torn out through it's throat. Feet are blown off. Legs are severed. A face is torn right off of its skull and there's a lot of green monster puke. There's a repulsive but hilarious castration scene and lots of gurgling and spitting of blood and thankfully the camera does not shy away from even a second of it. Director John Gulager (son of Clu who plays the bartender), in his directorial debut, has crafted a surprisingly gory monster movie the likes of which we haven't seen in quite some time." The editing may be a bit detrimental to the overall quality of Feast, but it's truly a fun, and inspired, little flick. Gulager was quite an oddball on the Project Greenlight show, but his directorial skills are definitely impressive. With a quality audio-visual presentation, and a nice batch of extra material, Weinstein Company's DVD release of Feast is definitely one that every horror fan should check out.
With New Line's exhaustive, and incredibly impressive, Nightmare on Elm Street Collection still available, A Nightmare on Elm Street might be one of the very last titles you would think would need a DVD upgrade. New Line, however, disagreed and every single horror fan should be jumping for joy that they did. Their A Nightmare on Elm Street: Infinifilm Special Edition release is one DVD upgrade that every fan of the film absolutely needs to pick up (regardless of whether or not they already own the box set). There's not much I can say about the film itself that hasn't already been said, so I'll just let Ian tell you a little about this new version of the DVD: "New Line's previous DVD release of A Nightmare on Elm Street looked very good, but this newly re-mastered 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen infinifilm release looks even better...Is this release worth the double dip? If you're a fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the answer is a resounding yes. New Line has done a fantastic job re-mastering the audio and video for the film and even included the original sound mix as well. The extras are as complete as one could hope for (despite some lay out oddities) and not only plentiful but actually really interesting as well." There's no doubt this disc is a worthy addition to any horror film collection.
"Takashi Miike's Masters of Horror entry was the most famous episode of the first season not because of its merits but because it wasn't actually shown. Imprint, Miike's adaptation of Shimako Iwai's novel, was submitted to the powers that be over at Showtime where the series airs, and subsequently rejected." Ian Jane's quote is really the only possible way I could have started this overview of Anchor Bay's DVD release of Imprint. So much has already been written about Miike's unaired episode, that the final product couldn't possibly live up to the hype...or could it? "...let it suffice to say that Imprint is completely fucked up...[it's] very much worth your while if you're a fan of the series or a fan of Takashi Miike. There's no shortage of sadism or disturbing material in here, from the opening scenes where the men on the boat find a dead pregnant woman floating face down in the water to the ending where, well, it's not going to be spoiled here but let's just say the ending is pretty nuts. It sets out to shock us and it succeeds even managing to do so artistically and with some originality...The most disturbing episode of the first season of Masters of Horror, Takashi Miike's Imprint is an interesting and well made film with some memorable images and nasty set pieces." Packed to the gills, just like the rest of Anchor Bay's Masters of Horror DVD releases, this disc comes highly recommended to any horror fan (and especially to fans of Miike or the Showtime series).
Also this week, DVD Savant is back with a peek at two of the most beloved horror films in the history of American Cinema. Universal may have released their "classic horror" titles several times over the past few years, but their latest 75th Anniversary Edition releases might just be the best versions yet. These films are absolute classics and their characters are unabashed horror icons, and DVD Savant speaks very fondly of them in his reviews: "If you haven't seen the original Frankenstein in the last fifteen years or so, here's what you've missed: When Henry screams "It's Alive!" he also declares that he now knows what it is like to be God ... a line originally deleted as blasphemous but reinstated from an early Vitaphone-style audio disc in the possession of Forrest J. Ackerman. (spoiler) Added scenes show Fritz torturing Karloff's traumatized Monster. When The Monster finally strikes back, we see the hunchback's hanged body. Most importantly, we now see the entire scene with Karloff and the little girl (Marilyn Harris), including his panicked reaction after he throws her into the water." In terms of the 75th Anniversary Edition DVD, Savant has this to say: " Universal's Frankenstein: 75th Anniversary Edition is a triple-dip from the golden video vault in Universal City. It looks the same or better than the very good 1999 "Classic Monster Collection" disc that knocked us all for a loop...The two-disc set retains the original extras and adds more. Until someone steps forward to tell us about some mistake that nobody has yet caught, Universal's Frankenstein: 75th Anniversary Edition is a recommended purchase."
The other big classic horror title from Universal is the Dracula: 75th Anniversary Edition disc. DVD Savant gets us up to speed on this release as well: "Tod Browning's original Dracula, one of the very top titles in horror film history, is a curious mix of positive and negative elements. Bela Lugosi's Count represents the perfect vampire for an early talkie: He's handsome at rest and scary when he stretches his face into a bloodthirsty grimace...Bela Lugosi scores heavily. He may be a preening ham, but the film comes to life whenever he walks into a room. With weird foreign vocal cadence, Dracula is every bit the Eastern European aristocrat, his genteel and accommodating manners easily fooling the hoity-toity English elites." And if the quality of the film isn't quite enough to whet your appetite for this disc, just take a look at what the DVD itself has to offer: "This third dip adds extras, is attractively packaged, and does indeed improve the film's transfer. The old "Classic Monster Collection" Dracula disappointed fans by not following in the footsteps of Frankenstein, which had a completely restored image and soundtrack. Dracula still looked dirty and unsteady, with generations of flaws built into its surviving film elements. This new transfer (and it is a new transfer, as opposed to a digital clean-up of the older one) can't lose the printed-in flaws - an occasional hair, density fluctuations, mottling - but it does minimize them." Savant's bottom line on this release? "Film fans without Dracula on their shelves will find the 75th Anniversary Edition a pleasing addition; those with the earlier copies will have to decide how much their lives will be improved by a better transfer and the missing audio."
Bill Gibron also has a chance, this week, to check out Subversive Cinema's "Limited Collector's Edition" DVD release of Dust Devil: The Final Cut and, although he doesn't find the film itself to be all that intriguing, he does commend Subversive on an incredibly comprehensive 5-disc set. "Dust Devil is hard to define. It is not a pure horror film. It plays around in too many political and philosophical arenas to warrant a straight macabre delineation. Nor is it a standard suspense thriller. Writer/director Richard Stanley is too obsessed with the gorgeous vistas he's capturing onscreen to manage the undeniable dread inherent in the storyline. There are elements here that hearken back to other identifiable filmmakers like David Lynch, Ken Russell, and Terry Gilliam, and the South African setting gives the movie an almost alien, science fictional quality. And yet none of these labels fit this truly startling, sometimes underwhelming, cinematic experience. With rumors flying around about studio interference and massive editing, it may be hard to actually decipher what Stanley had in mind. What's on the screen is definitely engaging, but after a while, the bountiful bloom begins to fade from this often surrealistic rose. It's not that Dust Devil is a bad film, it just feels incomplete, and unable to truly recognize the elements it has going for it. As a result, it quickly gets lost in its own logic, and eventually the audience feels flummoxed and disconnected as well." Bill also goes on to say "...what we get is one of those frequently found forgotten films that some champion as lost classics while others simply discover the reasons behind their original disappearance. None of the actors are especially great - even the title terror, as essayed by Robert John Burke, is all glower and glamour shots - and Stanley spends an inordinately large amount of time in creating what amounts to a terrific travelogue. Somewhere, buried inside all the vast open highways, rough-hewed buildings and endless oceans of sand lies an intriguing exploration of one country's cruel legacy of hate and horror." So, really, this one's a tough film to recommend. It's not a particularly good film, but Subversive Cinema's 5-disc set is a great package. If you're a fan of Dust Devil, this is an absolute no-brainer; you definitely need to get your hands on this disc. If not, then you may want to give it a chance, just for the amount of insight that comes with the extra material on this disc.
Also this week, Ian Jane takes a look at Fabrice Du Welz's debut feature length film, Calvaire: The Ordeal, and finds it a unique and disturbing little horror flick. Here's what Ian has to say about it: "While parts of the film will remind viewers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even more so of Deliverance, there's a whole lot more going on here than simply a backwoods yokel torturing a stranded outsider...Performance wise we're in very good shape here across the board. [Laurent] Lucas and [Jackie] Berroyer are fantastic together with Lucas excelling as a completely sympathetic character who, even after all he's been put through, manages to give a dying man his last wish simply because he's a compassionate person. Berroyer's transformation from the friendly, trustworthy innkeeper to an obsessive and deranged captor is both humorous and completely frightening and these two play off of each other very well throughout the film. The movie is also extremely well shot. From the close ups of Marc as he's doing this thing on stage at the beginning of the movie to the ceiling view a la Taxi Driver that is used towards the end of the movie, Calvaire: The Ordeal is a really slick looking film. It's bleak in that the colors are very tame and have been intentionally toned down but it really works well in the context of this completely twisted and perverted story." Palm Pictures provides a solid disc for a little-known (and mostly unseen) film that's well worth the time of any discerning horror fan to check out.
Ian also gets to tackle one of the most fun horror icons that just refuses to go away. Chucky: The Killer DVD Collection collects every Chucky film except for the first (which is an MGM-owned title) and, although they're the same discs that are already available, it's nice to have them all in one box set (with a very cool cover to boot). "If you already own the single disc releases or the previous boxed set release from Universal, there's no reason at all to bother with that set. However, if you don't already own the movies and want to pick up the bulk of the series in a cool package and at a good price, this set comes recommended. It would have been nice to see all the extras ported over as well as the DTS mix and to have seen Seed in its unrated form but the fact is that these movies look and sound pretty good and if you enjoy the Child's Play movies there's a lot of bang for your buck in this set even if it isn't perfect." This collection certainly isn't the Chucky-lover's dream all us horror fans wish for, but it is a nice little package that comes at a very nice price. It's an easy way to get a hold of nearly every moment of this demented doll's cinematic existence. And how can you argue with that?
Finally, DVD Savant checks out the Heretic Films DVD release of The Last Broadcast and has a lot to say about this precursor to The Blair Witch Project: "The Last Broadcast is a similar no-budget horror film that predated Blair Witch by one year. Irate buzz on the web often argues that it is the far superior picture. There are plenty of video-based horror films made by young computer-savvy men in their 'twenties. Despite the fact that it never found a mass audience, this one does have an edge... But it's not difficult to figure out why Blair Witch took the brass ring while the earlier and more original The Last Broadcast is still a marginal genre offering. Witch stays centered on the basic idea that, 'gosh, what we're watching is real,' and for most of its running time wears down audience defenses by encouraging an emotional linkage with its trapped and terrified teens. Like a spooky story told over a dimming campfire, major moments play out in darkness. The Last Broadcast takes a much more intellectual approach and asks us to absorb a lot of exposition. We barely get to know its characters and we aren't encouraged to really identify with any of them. The actual 'in the forest and scared' footage is much more limited. Although it's far from a Thinking Man's Thriller, The Last Broadcast requires a modicum of intellectual interplay with its audience. Audiences rarely tolerate that proposition without glamorous name actors to keep them company." If you've never had a chance to see The Last Broadcast, now's the perfect time. Heretic Films offers an excellent DVD presentation on a fine cult film.
Neil Marshall's latest horror masterpiece, The Descent has finally descended upon US theaters and scared up a nice audience for Lionsgate. The frightening and claustrophobic film might just be the most finely crafted, and effective, horror film of the last ten years. The Descent (even with its truncated statewide conclusion) comes highly recommended and is a film that no horror fan can afford to miss.
Also currently in theaters is M. Night Shyamalan's latest film, Lady in the Water. Easily Shyamalan's worst opening weekend since he hit it big with The Sixth Sense, this "bedtime story" not only caused his breakup with Disney, but has also provided the director with the harshest reviews of his career (yeah, even worse than the ones he received for The Village). With a complex (and often times downright silly) storyline, Lady in the Water has failed to catch to connect with audiences so far, and may go on to become Shyamalan's least successful film. Horror or not, there are certainly some genre elements in the film and it might be worth checking out if for nothing more than the lack of horror films currently in theaters.
If you're looking for a genre-related flick that the whole family can enjoy, however, there is one more film currently in the cineplex: Monster House. The animated film about a house that's really a living, breathing monster has scored some excellent reviews and is doing well enough at the box office to call it a hit. So load up the kids and introduce them to your favorite genre at an early age with the innovative and clever Monster House.
Oh, and lest I forget, unless you're planning on hitting the theaters just to see the gorgeous Kristen Bell, don't even bother wasting your money on Pulse. With all its hiccups along the way to finally hitting the big screen, the flick was doomed from the start. If you're that desperate to gaze at the beauty of Ms. Bell, do yourself a favor and watch her excellent TV series Veronica Mars.
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