DVD Stalk: Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Tideland, and Return
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with DVD Savant's take on the latest release of Lucio Fulci's classic giallo A Lizard in a Woman's Skin. Savant's got a lot to say about the film, so I'll let him kick it right off: "One of the first Italian filmmakers to jump on the 70s bandwagon of the gory murder thrillers called giallos was Lucio Fulci, who had previously written and directed movies in every popular genre. The sinister title Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Una lucertola con la pelle di donna) is a psychedelic play on words describing a woman whose dreams of a bloody killing become reality. As giallos fare, Lizard... is a rather muddled mystery made from outstanding ingredients: an attractive cast, another quirky Ennio Morricone music score and excellent gore effects for the die-hard fans...A Lizard in a Woman's Skin is packed with excessive violence and gore in a context of sex orgies and lesbian activity. Even with the presence of prestigious English actors Leo Genn and Stanley Baker we know we're watching a thriller that puts exploitation ahead of any other consideration...These thrillers tend to overuse the Red Herring gag, and A Lizard in a Woman's Skin really disappoints in its handling of 'hippies' as an all-purpose source of sex, crime and perversity. The film's fantasy hippies wear "with-it" headbands and tell us that LSD trippers are potential murderers; they also ride motorbikes and threaten people with knives. The scenario treats them as urban wildlife to be scorned and avoided. An LSD-inspired hallucination -- described, not pictured -- accounts for the film's unusual title....The fun is clearly supposed to be in parade of kinky sex scenes and gross-out details along the way." Sure, it's been on DVD before, but this Media Blasters release is a nice addition to any horror fan's collection. It's well worth picking up.
Say what you will about Terry Gilliam's commercial appeal - he certainly makes some polarizing films - but it would be impossible to discount the fact that every single film he makes is interesting in its own right. That's not to say they're all entertaining, but they definitely leave you with something to talk about when you leave the theater. His latest film, Tideland, is no exception. Here's what Randy Miller III has to say about it: "This off-center drama is rooted in darkness, childhood innocence and Alice in Wonderland, transporting viewers to a macabre environment peppered with peculiar characters. It's far removed from Gilliam's slightly more mainstream efforts like 12 Monkeys and The Fisher King, though fans of the director's work will notice many of his dynamic and arresting visual flourishes on display...First and foremost, Tideland has established quite a reputation for its dark and "disturbing" content, especially since our protagonist is a young girl. Her name is Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland, Silent Hill), and she's the product of quite an unusual home...It's true that portions of Tideland will make even the most open-minded viewers squirm, yet it's not always as jarring as it sounds through simple description. Based on Mitch Cullin's novel of the same name, Gilliam has created a visual tour-de-force with a strange but steady pulse. The performances are uniformly excellent; anchored strongly by young Jodelle Ferland, the cast maintains Tideland's dark illusion perfectly. Those looking for a linear story with a clear resolution should look elsewhere, but anyone willing to swim below the surface should appreciate Gilliam's twisted tale...It's a story that's perhaps a bit too unconventional---even by Gilliam's standards, on certain occasions---and will undoubtedly turn many viewers completely off within the first 15 minutes. It only gets darker and stranger as the film unfolds, so Tideland is certainly not for all audiences. Long story short: it's directed by Terry Gilliam. If you're appreciative of his back catalogue, Tideland is worth looking into...but even then, you'll want to proceed with caution." Words of wisdom from Randy, to be sure. Tideland certainly isn't going to appeal to everyone - even some of the diehard Gilliam fans will probably hate it - but it's definitely worth at least a rental spin.
Sarah Michelle Gellar has been in her fair share of crappy horror flicks, but judging by the reaction of our very own Thomas Spurlin, The Return isn't quite as bad as you might first think. Here's what Thomas has to say: "Looking in the mirror can be a dangerous act, especially when the person looking back isn't recognizable. What happens if more than one person peers back through the same eyes in the reflection? Asif Kapadia's supernatural thriller The Return tries to answer such a question. Multiple spirit embodiments and the looming mystery of a tumultuous evening from the past adorn this latest entry into the mind-bending genre. All the cinematic fragments lock together, from the serviceable performances to the grandiose visual style that's as rich with distinction as it is lacking in color saturation. Where The Return fails to deliver is in a coherent link between the supernatural and tangible worlds, thus leaving an assumed resolution in the dark. Though looming in an irresolute fog, the chills and gritty tension of this bizarre mystery still deliver a fairly gripping tale...Visually, this film's unsaturated, crisp palette maintains a strikingly intent and vacant impression. Such a cold, dark presentation is enough to make wispy small industrial towns and farmhouses quite menacing. Ultimately, however, it's this vacant sensation about the film that leaves empathy for the protagonist whirling in the wind. Vacancy is a strange sensation to be left with, especially considering the ethereally filled nature of Joanna's struggle...While spilling from the crest with atmosphere, The Return drains all of this bubbling paranormal tension with an inconclusive, erratic climax. In theory, each thematic piece comes together with an adequate twist in the mix. However, the execution and delivery of the finale fails to hammer down the nails into a closed coffin. Interpretation abound, wrapping up this film will reveal an ending that might cause a bit of perplexity and spark a thought or two, but will ultimately lack the vested energy to complete the resolution full circle. Though dreadfully harsh and lacking a weighty punch at the finish line, The Return still serves up an eerie, supernatural trip adorned with an assortment of chills, tension, and discomfort alike." I think that's certainly enough reason to add The Return to your Netflix queue.
Thomas Spurlin's back again for a look at a nice little J-Horror collection from BCI Eclipse. Here's a bit of how he felt about the flicks: "Opening the Kadokawa Horror Collection is much like opening a dusty book of some lesser-known, overlooked stories ripe for telling around the campfire. Many of these narratives embody a vast majority of the criticisms and acclaims that surround this flourishing genre. Where these stories deliver isn't rooted in scream and jolt techniques, but more in atmosphere and dramatic delivery. Some see this as a case of identity crisis; others relish in this quality blend...To say the least, this Kadokawa Horror Collection is an eclectic mix of pleasingly spooky Japanese horror stories. Included in this nifty set are Inugami, Shikoku, Shadow of the Wraith, and Isola. Much like any collection, a few of these gems are superior to the others. However, there isn't a single film in this assortment that lacks engaging elements...Will general horror fans find this collection a box of cinematic splendor? The answer to that is probably no; however, this collection isn't aimed towards that demographic. Those interested in methodical, dramatic ghost stories speckled with tension across their runtime will be pleasantly surprised with the Kadokawa Horror Collection." It's nice to hear that there's still some fresh J-Horror to be found. If you're in the mood for something a little bit different, check out the Kadokawa Horror Collection.
"Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) is upset to find a bizarre growth emerging from the back of her neck one day. She wisely decides to get it looked at and is completely perplexed when the two doctors who examine her deduce that the growth is actually a fetus." Yeah, that just about says it all (and more better than I certainly could have said it). Take it away, Ian Jane: "Director William Girdler made only nine films before a helicopter he was traveling in hit some live power lines and killed him at the age of thirty, but his filmography remains popular with horror movie buffs and cult film enthusiasts as it boasts such titles as Asylum Of Satan, Day Of The Animals, Grizzly, Abby and Sheba, Baby - an interesting mix of blaxsploitation, nature run amok and horror. The Manitou, which would be his swansong, isn't his best movie but it is a really interesting one. Mixing elements of The Exorcist and Star Wars (two very unlikely bedfellows indeed), it's a bit on the gimmicky side but it's also quite an entertaining film even if it is completely all over the place. If you've ever lamented the fact that there aren't more movies about demons, lasers, Indians, a cute topless female lead and Tony Curtis then this is the movie for you...Quirky as quirky can be, the movie does benefit from an interesting cast with Curtis and Ansara doing a fine job with the material...The middle of the film tends to drag a little bit but otherwise The Manitou is a considerably more interesting movie than it's completely goofy premise should allow it to be. Not a masterpiece by any stretch but definitely a movie that fans of odd seventies horror should certainly enjoy." If you really needed to hear anything more than that opening line, I'm not sure how serious you are about your horror watching. All jokes aside, The Manitou is an excellent fright film and one of Girdler's quirkiest forays in the genre.
Mike Long checks in this week with his views on the latest release from Cinema Epoch. I'll let him fill you in on the film itself: "Bit Parts is by no means a great movie, but, as you'll see, it hits some high notes...Bit Parts comes from a group of filmmakers from Pasadena & San Jose, who, armed with $30,000, decided to make their own horror film. The script by Jon Rosenberg is far from original...Overall, Bit Parts's budget shows through. The bulk of the film was shot in what appear to be existing locations or an abandoned house. The acting varies in quality from decent to 'amateur with a camera shoved in his face' and it's never a good sign when a first-time director casts himself in one of the lead roles. At times, I got the sense that the movie wanted to be gory, but the special effects are few and far between...And yet, Bit Parts works as a bargain-basement shocker. The movie has a palpable spirit and it's clear that the film makers are horror film fans...Not to be confused with Hollywood fare, Bit Parts is a throwback to the indie horror films of the 80s and should appeal to those who don't mind their horror feeling a bit cheap...Bit Parts is by no means a classic, or in some ways, even a good movie, but it was shot on film, it's short and to the point and it's pretty fun. That makes it better than most of what is out there." It seems that Bit Parts has at least a few interesting parts. Give it a rental try and see what Mike's talking about.
Thomas Spurlin files yet another report this week. This time he's taking a peek at Image's latest genre release. "'Return in Red,' as made evident early on in the film, is "a little-known military test classification for 'serious' or 'fatal' experiment results". Though the core threat is a little bizarre, most of the menacing tension within this film leans upon the normality of a small Indiana town. Strangely enough, the normalcy of this situation serves as both the effective adrenaline boost and as the tedious barrier from enjoyment within Return in Red. Sadly, that barrier is much too strong and keeps the adrenaline firmly at bay up until the compensatory resolution...Return in Red operates like a stick of dynamite with an eighty foot fuse. With a fiery opening quote, an engaging spark is lit that's destined to travel towards an explosive finale. After that spark, however, the character build-up and bubbling tension travels at an extremely leisurely pace. This drawn out and arduous crawl succeeds, both intentionally and inadvertantly, in displaying the assumed tedium and disposability of the town. It's so successful that it can induce a smidge of heavy-eyed syndrome with its realism. There's a fine line between keeping a film enjoyable and achieving realism; Return in Red flounders over that line quite a bit. However, amidst the quiet town's comfort level quickly fading, this film does create the feeling of being one of these citizens suffering from the van's enigmatic influence...What's interesting is that this sluggishness works as a two-edged sword in favor of Return in Red's tone. Quaint, interwoven relationships crackling at the seams from a "realistic" scenario with this boring town are the stuff that makes this flick a mild success. However, this time span still needed to be a bit tighter...Is the trek through town worth this film's dynamite finale? Marginally. Return in Red transcends into an unnervingly disturbing film that makes the destination after a long haul marginally justifiable. It's effective and gut-wrenching in that realistically creepy fashion that'll leave a blank look on a face or two." If you can trudge through the film's murky mid-section, you just might come out enjoying Return in Red. Thomas says the film deserves at least a rental.
America's obsession with serial killers seems to be getting back into full swing, so I guess it's the perfect time for Sony Pictures to finally release The Hunt for the BTK Killer on DVD. Ian Jane gives us the rundown: "When the police took Dennis Rader into custody in February of 2005, the media had a field day. The man responsible for numerous brutal killings had resurfaced decades after his initial killing spree, a series of murders which had earned him the nickname of 'The BTK Killer' after his modus operandi, that being to bind, then torture, then kill his victims or as he referred to them, his 'projects.'...Shortly after his arrest and subsequent conviction (he was sentenced to ten consecutive life terms) at the age of sixty, a made-for-TV movie called The Hunt for the BTK Killer was made. With theatrical release of David Fincher's Zodiac putting serial killers back into the forefront of American pop culture, is it any surprise that Sony has opted to release The Hunt for the BTK Killer on to DVD?...The movie takes some liberties with the facts and as such it isn't the most accurate depiction of the real life events that inspired it, but as semi-trashy tabloid entertainment it isn't half bad even if it is quite flawed. On the plus side, we've got a very good performance from Gregg Henry who is just dull enough to be believable in the part. He's a creepy looking guy made creepier by the little mannerisms and quirks he shows during his performance. Forster is also good as the head cop in charge. He's always brought a rather gruff screen presence to his performances and this is one of those cases where it seems appropriate. The film doesn't delve too far past the surface and we don't really get to know these characters very well, but there's enough meat here to chew on that the film is at least entertaining even if there is little in the way of heavy psychological explanations given for why Rader did what he did...In the end this is hardly a definitive statement of any kind on the subject, instead it's a reasonably entertaining and cheaply made piece of exploitative entertainment." The Hunt for the BTK Killer is an interesting little film about an incredibly depraved man, and it's well worth any horror fan's time to check it out.
Raw Feed gives us their second title (the first was the suprisingly entertaining Rest Stop. Ian Jane checks in to give us his thoughts on the studio's latest genre effort: "The second film from the Raw Feed line from Warner Brothers, Sublime finds producer Tony Krantz (whose credits include 24 on Fox and David Lynch's Mulholland Dr.) taking a shot at directing for the first time. Unfortunately, the results aren't nearly as impressive as they could have been thanks in no small part to a meandering script and some impressive but ultimately derivatives set pieces...A cross between Memento and Jacob's Ladder (the film borrows very heavily from the former) with a healthy does of Cronenberg thrown into the mix for good measure, Sublime relies very much on flashbacks to flesh out the back-story and make us understand and care for George. This part of the movie works, and the character is established enough that we feel for the guy when it all starts to hit the fan. Unfortunately, it's once it all hits the fan that the movie starts to stumble as it basically just takes the better parts of Jacob's Ladder and remakes them, albeit without as much intensity or with as many scares. Once Andrea wheels George into the East Ward of the Mt. Abaddon Hospital, we know exactly where the movie is heading and if you pay attention to the earlier scenes (the staff keep mispronouncing Grieves as Graves, for example, and then there's the 'Last Supper' picture...) you'll know what to expect...It's even more of a shame then that Sublime actually starts off fairly well...Had Sublime tried a little harder to work as a more original picture, it could have been a really interesting movie. As it stands, because it does ape Jacob's Ladder to such an extent, it's ultimately rather unremarkable." Bottom line: Excellent DVD cover art. Not such a good flick. Don't waste your time, unless you're desperate for something new to watch.
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