DVD Stalk: Host, Monster Squad, and Bubba Ho-Tep
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Francis Rizzo III's take on the 2-Disc Collector's Edition of The Host. Here's some of what Francis has to say about this much-hyped import: "It's the rare monster movie that lets you see the creature right off the bat, and then hides it away, letting the human characters be the stars, and their interactions advance the plot. The Host is one of those films, as it follows the Park family, as it bands together, against the monster and the government, to find their youngest member, Hyun-seo, who was taken by the creature. Along the way, they run into frequent troubles, with everyone they encounter working against them and preventing them from saving Hyun-seo...The creature, born of U.S. pollution in Korea, is as unsubtle a statement as could be made about the world's view of the United States, as it puts a foreign country in peril through no fault of its own, and when it can't solve the problem, it needs America to step in, take over and clean things up...For a film that's peppered with moments of comedy, the more serious scenes manage to maintain a believable tone, thanks to some fantastic audio design and a score that's as tense andnerve-wracking as a Hitchcock film. Throw in some beautifully kinetic and artistic cinematography, and you've got a dramatic cult film that represents the best qualities ofidiosyncratic Asian filmmaking. The final climatic battle between man and beast alone would be enough to earn this film a spot in the film history books, but it's matched in tenacity and monstrous goodness by the opening scene, one of the most original, well-filmed monster attacks in recent history...Sure, there are some big-time scares in places, but the sense of fun or excitement you might have expected just doesn't manifest itself before the film unfurls its limp ending. There can be no real complaints though about the monster, who comes to terrifying life on-screen, and whose moments and actions make it a creation for the ages, which will influence filmmakers yet to come...Oddly, this is one of the few times where I would recommend watching a foreign film with an English dub, as the laughable quality of the voices and dialogue, along with the natural disconnect between the voices and physical speaking, give the film an added layer of monster-movie cheese, putting it up there with the Godzilla's of the world in terms of campiness. It's not likely intentional, but it's right there in front of you, and can't be counteracted by the finely-tuned visuals created by the director and crew...Though the film didn't deliver the thrills the trailer promised, it's an admirable attempt to do something grand and unique, and in some ways it succeeded, especially when it came to the way it portrayed its titular monster...Fans of Asian horror and monster movies will want to check this film out, but a rental is a good idea, as it won't be everyone's cup of tea."
"Fortunately for The Monster Squad, there's much more than nostalgia going for it, as the story of a band of horror film fans battling the classic movie monsters is an fun piece of filmmaking that's also solid '80s nostalgia and an exciting action flick...Blending a couple of genres, including adventure, comedy and horror, the film is a great example of one of my favorite story concepts: the team-up. Bring together a disparate group of people with a common goal or enemy and see if they can overcome their differences to use their unique talents to overcome the odds. Whether it's Revenge of the Nerds, The Goonies or Ocean's 11, the results tend to be, at the least, interesting, and usually pretty damn good (perhaps because you have to be a good writer to juggle multiple characters.)...Sure, the plot's a bit silly at points, driven by some insane coincidences, but the film has a definite sense of fun and action, and it never takes itself too seriously, balancing the menace of the monsters and the enthusiasm of the children. On the other hand, it shows respect for the concepts at the film's core, including the mythology of the monsters, and even shows a bit of depth in spots. A somewhat subtle subplot about Sean's parents' marital trouble is rather unique for a film like this, while I'll never forget when I first realized what Scary German Guy's line about monsters really meant...While the movie looks great, thanks to a solid filmmaking effort from director Fred Dekker and company, it's the writing, from Dekker and Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black, and the acting by a truly great cast of child actors, led by Gower, who is everything you'd want from the leader of the Monster Squad...The writing actually picks up speed as the plot advances, and ends up delivering some of the most bad-ass one-liner moments in action comedy history, as each of the Squad's members gets their moment in the sun...One of the things that struck me most in revisiting the film is how it would be impossible to make today, as it's way more adult than would be allowed in a movie ostensibly aimed at kids. The language used by the children and the behavior of the kids, including some naughtiness involving Patrick's teenage sister, would raise more than a few eyebrows. But because Fat Kid gets tortured at school, being called a "faggot," and Sean curses in front of his mom and takes it back, the movie has a sense of reality to it that helps counteract the dated clothing and brand logos that otherwise date the film. Anybody today can sit down with The Monster Squad and it will feel like a fresh, fun time...If you're a fan of the film, you can't go wrong in picking this movie up, and if you've never seen it, you owe it to yourself to check it out, especially considering the low cost."
"When you stand back and look at the thematic elements surrounding this little goofball comedy horror from Don Coscarelli, Bubba Ho-Tep might get stricken from your list of stuff to watch. However, doing so would be a very big mistake....For one, make certain that you pay attention to the potential of Bruce Campbell as the King of Rock and Roll...Elvis, if you will. Now, imagine how horrible such a movie like this could be and completely invert that feeling. With kick-ass production elements, sweet photography, and a seminally robust showing from Mr. Army of Darkness himself, Bubba Ho-Tep is surefire entertainment and, without question, the best film featuring a grumpy old Elvis and a black John F. Kennedy hunting down a redneck mummy. I have full confidence in that...Bubba Ho-Tep is an outlandish, crude, and absolutely riotous hybrid flick that oozes with originality and spunk. It's also only accomplishes this due to a tooth-and-comb script and a top-shelf display from Campbell. Without his presence and the sharply triggered dialogue jack hammering from his machismo conduct, Bubba Ho-Tep might've fallen smack dab on its face...But Campbell is The King in Bubba Ho-Tep, and boy does he give us a display worthy of a thousand grins and chuckles alike. With each tag line you'd expect an aging Elvis to blurt out, Campbell delivers it with panache behind a literal layer of prosthetic testosterone. And, surprisingly, it's not dreadfully overplayed panache at that. Instead, there's a pseudo-believable keel about him that grasps a comedic level of depth. When Campbell does blast out a cornball signature line here and there, this preceding underplay works to the humor's favor and helps to sharply deliver the funny...Admirably, Bubba Ho-Tep's not afraid of what it is; those willing to stand in front of it will be sucked in by its wanton charm. And, quite honestly, do you think you could deny Bruce Campbell the honor of sharing his rendition of one of America's longest running jokes in the form of an Elvis impersonator?...Remember - it's never, ever, wise to $@%* with the King."
"One of the worst translations of a comic book to the big screen was Spawn, a movie about a hellspawn on Earth out to get revenge on those who killed him. Inspired by the long running comic book series helmed by the wildly talented Todd McFarlane, the movie was decidedly watered down to make it to a mainstream audience but it was merely a means to promote the characters in another medium at about the same time as McFarlane spent considerable time & resources on another project being reviewed here today called Spawn: 10th Anniversary Signature Edition; a complete set of the 3 seasons of the animated HBO series from the late 1990's...The strength of the series is the mood it invokes, McFarlane even suggesting the series be watched with the lights out at night to set the conditions just right. Slowly sucking the viewer in, the creator also referenced that he started off by immediately (and intentionally) dividing those watching it into two groups; the ones who would follow along and the ones who would be repulsed and change the channel. The carnage and foul language might appear a bit juvenile in that sense but his reasoning was sound in that it appeared to work well. Once the core audience was established using the super hero turned on its head angle, he took his time over the three seasons to pull them into the core group of fans with Spawn spending less time fighting powerful super villains and more driven to looking for the loopholes needed to duck out of his deal with the devil while realizing that Heaven wasn't such a sweet ride either. This was evidenced in his battles of the third season where his heavenly stalkers show a remarkable clarity of vision and similarity to his own methods of take no prisoners that set the metaphorical debate up; blurring the lines between them to the point where neither is substantially different from the other (even making pointed references to the guy with the sandals, if you catch my drift)...If you're already a fan of the comic book series, you might take issue with some of the elements of the series, especially given the changes in the last ten years and the differences between how an animated series is to a written work but the spirit of the show is decidedly similar compared to the live action movie...This series has all eighteen episodes in the order they were shown, uncut, and looking better than ever with four commentaries and other extras of note, proving to be one of the most faithful comic to animation series you will find. For that alone the four disc set earned a rating of 'recommended' from me but see it for yourself and you'll know why it was so popular when it aired on HBO."
"Some concepts simply sell themselves. If someone were to tell you of a great new splatter film entitled Zombie Strippers, wouldn't you be first in line come opening day? Or better yet, what if you ran across a DVD labeled Toddler Serial Killer in your local brick and mortar? It's almost impossible to believe that, as a dyed in the wool fear fan, one would pass up a chance to see a baby going Voorhees on the populace. While these previous two titles have yet to find a place in the movie macabre pantheon, something entitled Dead Clowns has finally arrived. That's right Dead...Clowns. Dead Clowns. Clowns that are dead. Dead...mofoing...Clowns. The name alone conjures up images of blood smeared baggy pants, oversized gloves caked in clots of human gore, and literal fright wigs adorning rotting corpse heads festooned with greasepaint. In fact, in the grand scheme of monsters and mayhem, this may be the perfect combination of concepts. After all, most people find clowns creepy. Making them members of the living dead can only add to their eeriness, right? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. For all its intrinsic possibilities, this indie effort is not the kitschy canni-ball, the name suggests. No, oddly enough, this is a semi-solemn take on such silly subject matter...Dead Clowns is not as bad as you think it is, nor is it as good as it could have been. When you start out a movie with a premise as promising as evil harlequins of hate rising up from the grave to put the supernatural smack down on the town that did them wrong, it requires a lot of incompetence to mess it up. Luckily, writer/director Steve Sessions is some kind of schlock movie savant. On the outside, his efforts seem mired in hopelessly amateurish elements, most dictated by budgetary and talent constraints. But on the inside, when viewed against dozens of equally unproven homemade horror maestros, he presents a pretty good show. Dead Clowns deserves some attention for all the conventions its breaks. It also demands to be kicked in the nuts for all the campy creepshow potential it squanders. After all, there is no idea more sickeningly sensational than having zombie bozos running around snacking on the citizenry. Just the thought of the undead stumbling around in floppy shoes, outrageous outfits, and fright mask make-up sends your scary movie short hairs into a tizzy. Unlike their alien Killer counterparts from the '80s, these clowns should be both dopey and disgusting...Sure, the ending is a little odd, relying on something symbolic to save a town being terrorized by real flesh eating funsters. Yes, writer/director Steven Sessions misses many opportunities for turning his tightly wound slice and dice into a real frightmare farce...Horror buffs will appreciate his efforts, and those looking for something more substantive amongst all the half-baked bottom of the barrel boos out there will get a kick out of this movie's mannered approach."
"When I first saw Ebola Syndrome (1996) around '98 or '99, it didn't leave much of an impression. It was pretty apparent around that time that the HK cinema scene was undergoing some massive changes in terms of who had the star power (more youth-oriented model and pop star types) and we were seeing signs of the near death of the more outlandish, exploitative, genre films that flourished in the 80's and early 90's. That is precisely what Ebola Syndrome is, a pure, unrelenting, nasty, blackly comic bit of grue, and its reputation and appreciation as just that kind of "they don't make em' like that anymore" film has grown over the years...The balance of horror and absurdity is apparent form the opening scene...My second viewing all these years later didn't change my opinion very much. Ebola Syndrome isn't quite a top level HK Category III grinder like Dr. Lamb, Untold Story, or Run and Kill. Don't get me wrong, it certainly delivers all the trash, shocks, grossouts, and sleazy humor to keep you entertained, but it is not the first film I'd recommend to turn viewers on to the genre. That said, it is a really good exploitation'er from the capable hands of b-director Herman Yau (Taxi Hunter, Troublesome Night, Gong Tau: Oriental Black Magic) and Anthony Wong, the latter being the sole reason to watch the film...I liken Ebola Syndrome to the b-film version of Gaspar Noe's brilliant I Stand Alone, an hour and half with an unsympathetic, degenerate, working class, put down character lashing out at the world he's really just trying to date rape."
"The old adage that fright flicks represent potentially quick cashback for the fiscally frugal appears to still be true, and in the new post-millennial age where technology has tempted even the most ill-prepared production, there's more terror being manufactured in basements and backyards than all the other cinematic categories combined. Yet even higher up on the filmmaking food chain, past the homemade hacks and ersatz indie visionaries, the talented and already tested are using fear to forward their flailing fortunes. Ethan Wiley is one such 'been there, done that' dynamo. Having tripped around Tinsel Town since the mid '80s, his name has been associated with surprise hit scarefests and unnecessary franchise sequels. Now, after almost a decade away from the industry, he's back vying for meaning in the macabre realm. After experiencing his latest effort, the murderous madman mystery Brutal, one remains unsure of his future fortunes...Brutal spends a lot of time being anything other than your typical serial killer film. It digs into backwoods politics, human sexuality, ancient mathematical theories, and small town adultery as much as it does body parts and motive. It focuses on characters and individual interaction more than gore and grizzly discoveries. Even better, it contains acting that circumvents the standard direct to DVD ideal, exploring the intriguing dramatic arch of more than one engaging personality, and it piles on the local color with its shot in an isolated setting spatial ambience. And yet Ethan Wiley, writer of decent '80s horror spoof House (and creator of sequels House II: The Second Story and Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror) can't help falling into some sloppy fright flick clichés...Brutal begins strong and then treads water for 80 minutes. Interspersed among the stagnant circumstances are explosions of emotion, glimpses of potential directorial flare, and proof that performers outside the mainstream can more than handle the rigors of real acting. It bears repeating how good the cast is...This is more of a thriller without suspense than a full blown human vivisection horror film. Sure, Wiley gives us a moment or two of biological debasement, especially in one scene where our fiend fishes out a woman's heart from her torn open torso. But he spends an equal amount of effort on gags that don't deliver (a young man ODs...on Viagra) and plot points that go nowhere (reporter Rick's fascination with Zoe). It's hard to say what could be done to tighten up this tenuous experiment in terror. With so much good in place, it's just impossible to fathom why the failures frequently derail it. Brutal wants to have its creative creature feature cake and copycat it too. The resulting confusion countermands the cinematic stalwarts in place."
"Suspense was one of the longest running radio serials in history, lasting an incredible 20 years, 1942-62. The fledgling CBS television network obviously saw it as an easy property to transfer to its new medium, and did so in 1949. As with virtually all television of that era, the episodes aired live and were never repeated. They had been assumed lost to the vestiges of time, until kinescopes of these early broadcasts were recently discovered and released on this DVD boxed set...As might be expected, the story quality varies greatly from episode to episode, but there are some nice treasures to be found, notably a neat little shocker called "Dead Ernest" which was more or less ripped off a few years later during the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in an episode entitled "Breakdown" starring Joseph Cotten and featuring a bit part by an unknown actor named Aaron Spelling (yep, that one)...The real fun of this set is spotting impossibly young actors who would go on to be stars, notably Paul Newman, Leslie Nielsen and Cloris Leachman. Sometimes "stars" who have never been heard from again are the leading players, while those named above, and others of their ilk, play bit parts at the beginnings of their careers...Many of the episodes are directed by either Robert Stevens (who went on to produce the series, and later directed the first episode of The Twilight Zone, "Where is Everybody?"), or future Oscar nominee Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird), and they all show an economy of camera placement combined with a uniform competency of performance that marked this nascent medium...This is a great little set for those interested in early television. Though many of the episodes are forgettable, there are a handful of great little chillers here that, along with the future star sightings, make this a 'recommended' for a select few."
"Perfect Creature, a horror-based thriller from writer / director Glenn Standring, is a depressing misfire. Since I find more enjoyment in the action-packed horror flicks than some, the prospect of a modified social flick about vampires, religion, and science intrigued me to quite some extent. What I was left with after seeing this film, however, is a very dissatisfied yet aesthetically enchanted taste in my mouth. Perfect Creature's poise suggests a possible robust zest from the start, but ends up bland - not bitter, mind you, just bland...Perfect Creature is a handsome instance of the differences between strong premise and strong storytelling. From the starting gate, you're fully soaked into a rich, intriguing atmosphere packed with a discombobulated reality. Vampires can be both allies and villains, both menacing and fully empathetic within this world. Technology is thrown askew for the time period with a bizarre marriage between state-of-the-art devices like advanced dart guns to strangely old-school televisions with circular screens. It's a sci-fi fantasy tale with dystopian roots that, on paper and aesthetically at first glance, nails down promising potential...Within the subsequent story, however, lays Perfect Creature's many weaknesses. It tries to be a mysterious, horror based thrillride, but ends up light on the horror, lighter on the mystery, and practically vapid in the thrills department. The science fiction elements are good. Really good, even. Sadly, most of it gets glossed over from an unbearably grating and stumbling narrative. In turn, all these concentrated efforts start to appear like wasted assets...At just over 80-minutes long, Perfect Creature's meandering story feels a whole lot longer than its short time span. If you were to take Underworld and Equilibrium, strip them bare of the edgy action that deems them worthwhile popcorn entertainment, and then toss those leftover entrails into a mortar primed for mixing, the product would be something resembling this fizzled curiosity. There's potency rumbling underneath Standring's rendered world, and it's left me curious. Here's where an odd perception surfaces in my eyes: the film might benefit from being longer. If about 20-30 extra minutes of character showcase and focused, ramped tension were packed inside its sparse high-octane moments, Perfect Creature could've flared a franchise akin to the films it mirrors. Instead, chalk this one up as an hour and a half of stringently crafted monotony."
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