DVD Stalk: Horror Mexican Style, Saw II + III and Army of Darkness HD
Let's start things off with a look at the re-release of Ganja & Hess from Image. This is one of those completely unique horror films that seems to slip under the radar of far too many genre buffs. It blends some interesting social themes of the seventies with the cool of the Blaxploitation movie and the end result is something a little different. What makes this disc worth a look? Stuart Galbraith IV says Not just an important horror film but one of the true "lost films" of the 1970s and a significant piece in African-American cinema, Ganja & Hess (1973) so transcended genre and overall aesthetic expectations that it all but doomed itself to a fate of almost total obscurity for several decades. After slowly finding an appreciative if microscopic cult audience in the 1990s, DVD producer David Kalet did a painstaking restoration of the film in 1998, one of label All Day Entertainment's great triumphs. Three minutes of newly recovered lost footage was reason enough for All Day to reissue the title yet again (as The Complete Edition) with some new extras. Ganja & Hess is a film better experienced with no expectations than explained. It's also a difficult film worth the extra effort, a movie like no other." This movie is a stone, cold trip!
It might be a double dip of sorts, but Scott Weinberg still found a lot to love about Lion's Gate's recent release of Saw II - The Special Edition. Scott sums things up nicely by saying "I wouldn't go as far as to call Saw 2 a cerebral experience, but there's just something devilishly appealing about horror material that works in your brain and not just in your gut. Throughout both of these rusty little Saw movies, I'm posed with the question of "What would you do if you had to saw your own foot off / dig through a corpse's innards for a key / remand another person to death so that I might survive?" Saw 2 is the horror equivalent of that "Book of Questions" that we all bought and then broke out at parties. Much of the movie is also your standard slasher stew mixed with some half-decent police procedural stuff -- but when Saw 2 gets rolling with those gruesome, gritty puzzles, I think it's the coolest thing this side of Clive Barker's nasty ol' horror stories.Whether or not the package is worthy of an upgrade depends on how rabid a fan you are. I believe I prefer the new version over the original, if only because a little extra gore is generally a good thing. The packaging is slick and the extras are plentiful, so horror fans can certainly consider this release a Highly Recommended one. And to those who intentionally avoided the theatrical DVD release, well, this new upgrade is the one you really want."
With the next generation formats slowly but surely taking off, it shouldn't surprise anyone to see that along with the big blockbusters you expect at launch time, some cult and horror titles are starting to creep their way in. Adam Tyner takes a look at the new Universal HD-DVD release of Sam Raimi's Army Of Darkness. Most horror movie junkies know this one off by heart so the real question isn't whether the movie is any good or not but how the HD release stands up. What does Adam think? "Kind of a tough sell, really. When I buy a movie on HD DVD, I want it to be semi-quasi-definitive; I don't want to feel like I have to hold onto any older DVDs or wonder if something better's lurking in the pipeline. With Army of Darkness, it's not a matter of if a beefier special edition is coming out so much as when. Army...'s an all-time fav, but with a kinda hefty sticker price and no extras to speak of, this HD DVD is really only for collectors 'n completists." It's a shame that Universal didn't use the extra disc space to make the HD launch of such a popular cult/horror title something special. Hopefully in time some of the larger studios will start taking a cue from the smaller studios who almost always seem to do a better job with this type of material for some reason. Unfortunately, the same thing can be said about the Warner Brothers HD-DVD release of the House Of Wax remake. Everything seems to look and sound pretty nice here, but Adam says "Nothin' new on HD DVD. Its handful of extras have all been lifted from the Halloween '05 DVD, beginning with a wasted half hour of Elisha Cuthbert, Paris Hilton, Chad Michael Murray, and Jared Padalecki yammering over outtakes and behind-the-scenes snippets. It's kind of like that Aerie Tuesdays shit during commercial breaks on The CW, only much, much, much longer. The film's admittedly impressive production design gets highlighted in a couple of featurettes, the second of which focuses largely on the sloshy, goopy special effects in the climax. The other extras include a 90 second promotional bit with Joel Silver, an alternate intro with an extra Red Shirt kill, a gag reel, and a standard definition theatrical trailer." Why the HD-DVD developers don't seem to be taking advantage of the format and really packing these discs full of cool extra content is anyone's guess, but on the other hand if they did start doing that it wouldn't leave us much to complain about....
Bill Gibron is no stranger to the world of independent and low budget horror movies, in fact you could go so far as to say that he holds a special place for these cinematic underdogs in that cold, dark heart of his. It's a shame then that he couldn't find more to enjoy about Live Feed. Here's what big, bad Bill had to say: "Giving the Nicholsons a minimal amount of credit for trying to be bold in an industry awash in middle of the road mediocrity, Live Feed still doesn't even begin to live up to a gorehound's high level of expectations. As a result, what could have earned a realistic Rent It for at least putting forth the effort now demands a Skip It as a kind of a legitimate life lesson. Promising something you can't deliver, or even worse think you're providing in all out brazen blood buckets, deserves a critical comeuppance. There will indeed be those who find this film to be a sensationally sickening exercise in Grand Guignol style slaughter, citing spectacular splatter efforts of the past as proof of this movie's kindred spiritedness. Others will overlook the red flag flaws filling up the screen and argue that such low budget efforts deserve a little semi-professional slack. In the end, however, all the rationalizing in the world can't change the fact that Live Feed is an unpleasant, ponderous work. When you're cheering for the bad guys to hurry up and kill your 'heroes', when you'd prefer nastiness over more narrative, you know your film is just moments away from imploding. Here's hoping the Nicholsons keep on making movies. Here's also wishing they never try something like Live Feed ever again." They can't all be winners, Bill.
Asian horror buffs have been waiting with baited breath for the Image Entertainment release of the Shaw Brothers' Black Magic, a truly trash tale of love gone bad and a pair of battling wizards done as only the seventies Shaw filmmaking aesthetic can provide. Ian took a look at it this week and while the movie holds up really well and is a whole lot of trashy, gory fun, there is a transfer problem that prevents this release from being the definitive disc everyone had hoped it would be. The movie itself holds up really well and the extras, while not all that plentiful, are a nice touch. The disc still comes recommended for those who don't already have the R3 disc from IVL and who know that they want the movie, and it makes for a solid rental for everybody else who enjoys a good horror/exploitation film with a few unique twists. While the Shaw Brothers will always be remembered for the countless classic martial arts films that they churned out during their glory days, it's hard not to get a little excited when some of their more unusual non-martial arts titles get some well deserved exposure and Black Magic is a great place to start discovering some of those titles if you haven't already given them a look. Ian also took a look at the most recent Masters Of Horror disc from Anchor Bay Entertainment, this time directed by Larry Cohen. Pick Me Up tries really hard to be an effective blend of horror and comedy but "Sadly, the comedy in the film isn't funny enough to make Pick Me Up a really good black comedy and the horror elements aren't strong enough to provide any scares. The script, from David Schow who wrote The Crow and Texas Chainsaw Massacre III: Leatherface can't seem to make up its mind which direction it wants to go in and while director Larry Cohen, the man behind It's Alive and God Told Me Too, does a good job with the material, the direction isn't strong enough to make this one of more than passing interest. Anchor Bay continues to do a really great job releasing these episodes and their work on Masters Of Horror - Pick Me Up is on par with the earlier releases in the series. Unfortunately, while this entry has its moments they're few and far between and the fact that the film is devoid of any suspense or terror makes it of questionable value to genre fans. Rent it as the extra features make this worth a look for fans of Larry Cohen." It should be said that Pick Me Up does contain a great "Working With A Master featurette which is roughly an hour's worth of biographical and retrospective information on Larry Cohen's career. Interviewed here are recent collaborators like the ones he worked with on this project but also people that Cohen has worked with in the past like Karen Black and Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson. It's interesting to hear about Cohen's start in the world of low budget exploitation and then his move towards horror in the seventies and eighties. His blaxploitation movies are covered as are his Alivefilms and this is a really interesting and well rounded look at the man and the films that he has made so far." Long story short? Check out Black Magic for the crazy wizards and freaky lactation, and check out Pick Me Up if you're a Cohen fan and want to learn more about the man.
Sometimes it's nice to mix a little skin alongside your scares and no one knows that better than the one and only Jesus 'Jess' Franco. Severin Films has recently released two of his sex-horror hybrids onto DVD for the first time, Macumba Sexual and Mansion Of The Living Dead, both of which star Jess' wife, Lina Romay. Ian had a chance to check out the later and found that Franco's homage to Amando de Ossorio's Blind Dead films was "more of an artsy softcore romp than a horror film, Mansion Of The Living Dead should still appeal to those who appreciate the low budget charm of Franco's erotic films and who dig the odd touches that can be found in so much of his work. Severin's disc looks and sounds really nice and the interview is a very welcome extra feature making this one recommended for Franco fans (it's not a great starting place for those new to his work but for established fans it is definitely a winner)." It isn't one of Franco's best films but it certainly has a unique Euro-trash charm all its own and its seemingly inept yet somehow hypnotic blend of sex and violence should definitely work for those who know what they're getting into by checking out a Franco film in the first place. That being said, if the bad make up effects and the nonsensical plot don't do it for you, the naked Euro babes probably will - there's no reason not to give this one a look.
With Halloween just recently behind us, our friends south of the border are celebrating the Day of the Dead so what better excuse is there to take a look at some Mexican horror films in this weeks installment of DVD Stalk? Long neglected on home video, fans are finding through releases from companies like Casa Negra and BCI Eclipse that there's a lot to love about Mexican horror movies. Though a lot of them appear to have been influenced by a lot of the Italian gothics that came before them from the likes of Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti, the unique cultural slant that Mexican life adds to these films carves out an interesting niche for this material. DVD Savant has been quietly sneaking in some top quality reviews of the Casa Negra line, starting with their first two titles, the amazing The Curse Of The Crying Woman and the eerie The Witches Mirror. Casa Negra has followed those two discs with equally impressive DVD releases of The Black Pit Of Dr. M and the mind melting classic, The Brainiac. While a lot of these films were available from shady distributors like the late Beverly Whilshire Filmworks and other so-called public domain specialists, these Casa Negra releases offer the films completely uncut in fully restored, beautiful looking editions that come complete with plenty of extra features and their original Spanish language tracks (as well as the English dubbed tracks when they're available). Those of you who have been enjoying the onslaught of Asian film goodness from Panik House should know what to expect as the same evil geniuses who take care of business over there are behind the Casa Negra line as well. If you're not already hip to what these films have got to offer, then all the better as you've really got a whole new world of cinema to explore - thankfully though these affordable and well made discs you've now got the ideal way to make that happen and don't have to resort to inferior VHS quality budget discs. Their recent double feature of The Vampire and The Vampire's Coffin is another one to look out for as both films are considered high points in Mexican horror cinema.
On the opposite side of the Mexican Horror Cinema spectrum are a few releases from BCI Eclipse through their Crypt Of Terror double feature packages. These titles might not be considered classics in the same way that the Casa Negra discs are, but they still make for some really fun trash-movie viewing and can offer plenty of unexpected surprises along the way. Take a look at the double feature release of Night Of The Bloody Apes and Curse Of The Doll People. Here you get both the gory export version of Apes (which includes the notorious real life heart surgery footage inserts) as well as the Mexican theatrical cut of the film alongside the two alternate version of Curse. Both movies have their own set of extra features and they make for a great pairing of deliriously strange fun. If eighties era slasher movies are you thing, you'd be doing yourself a favor by checking out the so bad it's good movies of Ruben Galindo Jr. through BCI's double feature release of Cemetery Of Terror and Grave Robbers. Don't expect a slasher on the level of classics like Halloween of Black Christmas, you're not going to even come close here, but all the bad hair and bad fashions that mid-eighties Mexico had to offer makes for a fun time, especially when it's got some completely excessive gore and the acting styles of the one and only Hugo Stiglitz thrown into the mix.
Speaking of the one and only Hugo
Stiglitz and Mexican cinema, no overview is complete without mention of Rene
The cult movie mavericks over at Synapse films have gone ahead and unleashed
upon an unsuspecting public the complete, uncut version of the film in a
beautifully remastered edition. Bill Gibron took a look at it when it was first
released and while he didn't love it as much as some of us do, he did say "know
that reads like a long laundry list of complaints, but I didn't hate Cyclone.
Honest. Even though this is a two-hour movie with long, long stretches of people
sitting listlessly on a boat, neither doing nor saying much of anything, I
really didn't ever feel bored. Its characters may be cardboard cutouts, but the
movie shows enough restraint to sell that idea that these people are in agony
without being overly cartoony, tossing in just enough exploitation (butchering a
badly-dubbed terrier, drying a willing victim's carcass on the roof of the tour
boat) to keep viewers uneasy. "Not that bad" isn't exactly a ringing
endorsement, though. Anyone who'd thought about picking up Cyclone
and sought out reviews in the hopes of being pushed over the fence should
probably go for it, but the movie's not really memorable enough to recommend
forking over fifteen bucks to buy." Those put off by animal violence might
want to think twice before checking this one out, but the ending of the movie
works well. Bill also took one for the team when it
came time for him to review Tintorera
- Killer Shark, another Rene Cardona nautical adventure/horror/survival
film starring the one and only Hugo Stiglitz sporting a memorable beard and
spouting off some pretty awful dialogue. Bill summed the film up by saying
"Something is really wrong with Tintorera.
The juxtaposition of shark and sex just doesn't work. Anyone who thought
combining undersea terror and between the sheets shenanigans would guarantee a
bodice and/or body ripping good time was sadly insane. Nothing in this
nauseating movie makes a lick of logical sense and the entire enterprise
actually feels like a failed experiment in space-time continuum corruption. You
will actually witness your DVD clock stand still as untold minutes of monotony
implode and compress into infinite quadrants of temporal tedium. Perhaps, had
director Rene Cardona Jr. been brave and taken his Queer Eye for the Kept Guy
mentality to its necessary ends, we would have had a better movie. Miguel and
Esteban could have abandoned this foolish fish flop and ended up as Fire
Island's resident exotic ballroom dance instructors. All the gals glomming onto
our sinewy stud muffins could have turned Sappho and spent all of their down
time in same sex sultriness. Even our main monster could have abandoned his
people eating ways to focus all his attention on making little baby Tintoreritas.
But no, this Mexican mierda bought into the hype that anything revolving around
the ocean, a dorsal fin and a few drops of red food coloring would lead to box
office gold. They were almost right. Tintorera
does prove something about the staying power of Jaws. Anyone still afraid
of Steven Spielberg's first big film is just a publicity-seeking putz. Tintorera:
Killer Shark is the real movie to be afraid of...but for a great many,
very, very wrong reasons." They can't all be winners, Bill!
This week we have a look at Slayer which will be available on DVD from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment not too far from now - November 21, 2006 to be exact. Somewhere deep in the South American rain forest, an elite commando team led by lifelong friends Hawk (Casper Van Dien of Starship Troopers) and Grieves (Kevin Grevioux of Underworld) are attacked by a brutal superhuman force: A flesh-ripping, blood-guzzling clan that hunts in packs, strikes in daylight, and won’t stay dead. The U.S. military calls them ‘a tribal anomaly’, but are they actually a horrific race of pre-Incan vampires? Six months later, Hawk must return to the jungle on a deadly new mission, this time to rescue his tough-but- beautiful scientist ex-wife (Jennifer O’Dell of The Lost World) and destroy his best friend, who may now be leading a tactical assault squad of immortal bloodsuckers out of their caves and into our world. Ray Park (X-Men and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), Tony Plana (24), Danny Trejo (The Devil's Rejects) and Lynda Carter (the still way too sexy star of TV's Wonder Woman!) co-star in this SciFi Original from Kevin VanHook, the writer/producer/director of Voodoo Moon and The Fallen Ones.
"Black Means Death" | "Do Nice Things" | "I'm One Of Them"
One of the living legends of European horror who just doesn't seem to get the respect he deserves considering the length and scope of his career is Jacinto Molina, better known to horror hounds as the one and only Paul Naschy. While there are some special editions of a few of his better known films in the works from BCI Eclipse, to date the single best release any of his films has received is without a doubt the Mondo Macabro release of Panic Beats. Stuart Galbraith IV took a look at this disc when it first came out a couple of years ago, and had this to say about the movie: "
Though popular in his native Spain, until recently Paul Naschy has been a name more familiar to horror fans by reputation than anything else. Few of his movies were exported much beyond western Europe, though several were apparently popular in Japan, enough so that a few of his later pictures were even co-financed by Japanese companies. Mostly though, Naschy's work was for years unknown outside of a few photographs in Famous Monsters from Filmland, and as tantalizingly mentioned in the horror movie histories of groundbreaking scholar Don Glut. But, like it has with so many other long-lost auteurs, the DVD format has exhumed Naschy from what, outside their native lands, might have been total obscurity. That a picture the likes of Panic Beats would not only become available, but do so in a pristine edition loaded with extra materials is, well, amazing.
And, lucky us, Panic Beats is a very pleasant discovery. Of Naschy's films this reviewer had only seen Werewolf Shadow (La Noche de Walpurgis, 1971) and Curse of the Devil (El Retorno de Walpurgis, 1973) before this; comparatively, Panic Beats is far more polished, with a much superior if still derivative script."
Not content to simply release the disc without any extra features, Mondo Macabro's disc includes an excellent array of supplements to go along with the movie. "
As usual with Mondo Macabro, the supplements are, all by themselves, "worth the price of admission" - one need only look at Blood and Sand as evidence of this. It's a 28-minute documentary, an overview of Spanish horror cinema, presented in 16:9 format. This highly informative primer on the genre was written and directed by Andy Starke and Pete Tombs, and features interviews with directors Jose Ramon Larraz, Paul Naschy (without his toupee), Armando de Ossorio, and Jorge Grua; producer Daniel Lesoeur; and actresses Orchidea de Santis and Daniela Giordano. (An uncredited Caroline Munro also appears, though the editing of the show only makes her look foolish.) Featured are clips from representative pictures, including Diabolical Dr. Z (Miss Muerte, 1966), Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf (Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo, 1972), The Legend of Blood Castle (Ceremonia sangrienta, 1973), The Vampires' Night Orgy (La Orgia nocturna de los vampiros, 1973), The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie; Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti, 1974), Inquisition (Inquisicion, 1976) and, of course, Panic Beats.
Also included is Paul Naschy On..., a 28-minute interview also in 16:9 format, that serves mainly to show the former weight-lifter's affection for the genre. It's primarily a career overview, though Naschy does talk about Panic Beats at some length, including the interesting fact that the house featured in the film had once belonged to Francisco Franco. There's no trailer, sadly, but the DVD includes an extensive Still Gallery, including images from the film's premiere in Spain."
If you noticed a slightly different tone in this week's edition of DVD Stalk, that's because our regular scribe, Scott Lecter, is off getting married and away on his honeymoon. Ian's filled in for him, but rest assured, once Scott recovers from his nuptials he'll be back at it. In the interim, why not take the time to drop Scott a congratulations note using the contact information below? We wish Scott and his new bride all the best and years of happiness! Ain't we sweet? - Ian Jane
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DVD Stalk Editors: Scott Lecter, Ian
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