DVD Stalk: Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, Masters of Horror: Jenifer, and The Descent
We kick off this week's huge batch of horror DVD reviews with Ian Jane's take on the excellent documentary Halloween: 25 Years of Terror. This two-disc set examines (and expands upon) the legend and history of John Carpenter's horror classic by mixing tons of interviews and clips with a wealth of footage from the 2003 Return to Haddonfield convention. As Ian says: "Really, when it's all said and done, no stone is left unturned as we get insight from writers, directors, actors, effects technicians, fans, and pretty much anyone else you would expect to see show up in something like this. It's all put together very well and proves to be not only entertaining but genuinely interesting and insightful as well." The strength of the documentary, and the huge amount of extra material included in this set, easily make this a must-own release for any fan of the Halloween series.
If ever there were a director that could rightly be called a "Master of Horror," it's Dario Argento. The Italian has created a number of genre classics including Suspiria, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and Deep Red (among others). So you'd better believe that Mick Garris had Argento high on his list of directors for the first season of his Masters of Horror Showtime series. The result of Argento's work on the series is a Steven Weber-written adaptation of a 1974 Bruce Jones story called Jenifer. Here's what Ian Jane has to say about the hour-long horror flick: "While not nearly as hyper-stylized as some of his earlier work Argento, nevertheless, manages to ensure that this is a slick and polished looking piece that is complimented quite nicely by Claudio Simonetti's score. Those familiar with the director's earlier efforts will appreciate a few colorful touches here and there (a dream sequence in which Spivey thinks of Jenifer as 'normal' comes to mind) while those put off by some of his wilder motifs can rest assured that this one never goes into style over substance territory. Argento is playing things fairly safe here but he still manages to put his mark all over the movie, which is as it should be." This disc comes fully packed (much like the rest of the Masters of Horror discs) with some great extra material and makes Jenifer an easy recommendation for any horror fan (and especially for Argento fans).
One of the toughest things to do in cinema is make a (successful) sequel to a film that's been well-established as a classic. It's even harder when there's a huge gap in time between the original and the sequel. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is definitely one of those types of classics. John McNaughton's 1986 film is a masterpiece and a legend in the genre. So, to say that Chuck Parello had the odds squarely against him in 1998, when he decided to bring the sociopathic Henry back to the screen, would probably be an understatement. Luckily, as Preston Jones says in his review, "Henry 2: Portrait of a Serial Killer doesn't drag down McNaughton's work, but rather stands as an example of what might have been – a low budget, occasionally amateurish production punctuated by startling moments of gore." It may not be a great film, but "Henry 2: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a fitfully riveting slow burn, a psychological slasher flick that stands as one of the rare sequels to, at the very least, pay homage to that which has come before." As always, Dark Sky Films provides a great DVD package, so be sure to check this disc out.
Media Blasters gives horror fans another reason to get excited by releasing one of Lucio Fulci's lesser-known films. The master director (famous for such genre films as The Beyond, Zombie, City of the Living Dead, and House by the Cemetery) returned to the Giallo genre (he'd already made one of the finest Giallo's ever - Don't Torture a Duckling) in 1984 and even managed to throw in some references to Fame and Flashdance. Murder Rock is a strange mixture of mystery and dance, sporting some nice location cinematography. The film is, ultimately, an uneven venture, but Ian Jane still stays that "there's enough goofiness throughout the movie to appeal to bad movie aficionados and hey, it's Fulci, that makes it worth something to Eurocult buffs regardless of the quality." Media Blasters does a bang-up job on this two-disc set with a ton of extra material that only adds to the value of this release.
Also from Media Blasters, we have Joe D'Amato's second nunsploitation film, The Convent of Sinners. Here's the lowdown on this release courtesy of Ian Jane: "Sleazy and full of frequent nudity, Convent Of Sinners could be easily dismissed as a trash film and nothing more than that, however D'Amato (working under the alias of Dario Donati here), who also did the cinematography for the film, paces the movie in such a way that the story comes before the more exploitative elements of the film. While it's true that no more than a few minutes ever pass without a love scene or a nude scene or a whipping or what have you, in the context of the tale being told it fits. There are a few over the top scenes here including a simultaneous self whipping/masturbation scene that really drives home the impact of Catholic guilt as well as the infamous exorcism scene that you know is going to happen towards the end of the film, but there certainly are other nunsploitation films out there that go much further into trash territory than The Convent of Sinners does." The film is a quality addition to the nasty nun cinema catalog.
"More of a head trip than a straight out horror film, Subject Two is a thought provoking movie that makes you question the price of proposed immortality. Everyone wants to live forever at some point in their live and most of us are afraid of dying. As Adam is experimented on time and time again he loses all of his feelings, emotional and physical, except for the anger that he twitches with over the fact that he keeps getting killed – so with that in mind, he is feeling something, even if he isn't really aware of it initially. Is the sacrifice worth it? What good is eternal life if Adam is unable to enjoy, to feel, and to take in that what makes life worth living in the first place?" Those are only a few of the questions asked by Subject Two - the latest genre release from First Look Pictures. A modern and interesting take on the Frankenstein mythos, Subject Two includes some nice atmosphere, gorgeous cinematography, and a few adequate performances. It's certainly a film worth giving a look.
Scott Weinberg takes a look at Brett Piper's Shock-O-Rama and finds it "an inexpensive yet affectionate nod towards old-fashioned genre convention" with plenty of blood, gore, and T&A. It's an anthology-style sci-fi/horror compilation with some excellent pacing, energy, color, and wit. If that wasn't enough to get you interested, Shock-O-Rama even stars Seduction Cinema starlet Misty Mundae in a role not all that unlike her own life. With a few nice extra features, this disc comes as a surprise recommendation that Scott Weinberg calls "a spoof, a satire, and an homage all rolled into one...its affection for the old-style drive-in flicks is tempered with just enough of the new-style "gore & hooters" approach."
Ian Jane's back again with a peek at this week's Revenge of the Living Dead Girls release. This release, unfortunately, doesn't quite fare as well as some of the other releases he's checked out: "Directed by one 'Pierre B. Reinhard' (who, according to the notes included with this release, may or may not be Jean Rollin under an alias but who probably isn't if the quality of this film is anything to base things on), best known for his porno output of the late seventies and early eighties, Revenge Of The Living Dead Girls is a bad film full of bad acting, bad effects, and a plot that makes little to no sense at all." Ian, however, stills finds something to like about the film saying it "isn't really 'good' on any level but it is an entertaining slice of European sleaze with a lot of hokey eighties charm that gives it some value as a curiosity item." Revenge of the Living Dead Girls is certainly worth at least a rental.
Finally, The Tooth Fairy is a film with some great potential - an interesting idea, a creepy cover, and the production of Steven J. Cannell. The problem, however, is in the film's execution. Instead of using its original idea to craft a unique and interesting film, The Tooth Fairy turns that idea into an unoriginal retread of previous films and influences. Even "the kill scenes that populate the last third of the movie [which] are creative and pretty gruesome...[aren't] enough to give the movie any real suspense or any legitimate scares past the initial mild shock value that they present." Anchor Bay's presentation is adequate, but it's still not enough to save The Tooth Fairy from ultimately failing as a horror film.
Neil Marshall's latest horror masterpiece, The Descent finally descended upon US theaters last weekend, and scared up a nice opening weekend 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.
Guillermo del Toro has made quite a few excellent horror films. He's been at the helm of Cronos, Mimic, Blade 2, and Hellboy - all of which hold their own in (and around) the genre. But del Toro's best (and most personal) to date is a very quiet, slow burn of a ghost story set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. The Devil's Backbone is one of the most effectively creepy and quiet ghost stories you're ever likely to see. It's not only an undeniably beautiful film, but it also resonates with political message and importance. Every single frame of The Devil's Backbone harkens back to the war brimming just outside the orphanage. It's full of symbolism and despair and is a poignant, haunting look at the life of children in a war-torn area. It's an absolutely gorgeous film that, in turn, works as a horror by showing both the horrors of reality and also the creepy remnants of a restless ghost. If you're familiar with del Toro's work, but have yet to see The Devil's Backbone, then you owe it to yourself to get to your local video store (or get to that Netflix queue) immediately. It's an impressive and personal film that still stands as the director's greatest work.
I'm not even going to bother getting into the backstory of Hollywood craziness involved with the release of Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. It's really not worth it since most everyone has already heard the story many times before, and it tends to overshadow what's really important: the high quality of the film. Suffice to say that Warner Bros. finally did the right thing by releasing Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist on DVD after they'd already released the abysmal Renny Harlin film, Exorcist: The Beginning. Schrader has always been very calculating in his work, and it certainly shows in this film. Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is really Father Merrin's story. It's, ultimately, a deeply religious film and one that examines the nature of evil in ways many Hollywood wouldn't dare. It's an ambitious and beautiful photographed film that also includes some quality scares. But the thing about Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is that you have to be really patient with it. It's a slow (slow) burn of a film. It takes its time to roll out and present all its information, and Schrader gives Stellan Skarsgard all the freedom in the world to gradually build his character. It's not a perfect film (the CGI special effects are horrible and should have been avoided), but it's a very good, very intelligent film that effectively expands the Exorcist mythos.
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