DVD Stalk: Mario Bava Collection, Phantasm, and Kidnapped
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Ian Jane's take on the recent DVD release of Anchor Bay's Mario Bava Collection: Volume One. Included in this excellent little set are Bava's classic films Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Knives of the Avenger, and Kill, Baby...Kill!. Ian does a great job of covering each of the films, so I'll let him do his thing. Take it away, Ian: "One of the most influential 'genre' directors of all time, Mario Bava was responsible for some of the finest seminal works of horror to come out of the golden age of the Italian film industry. A master of his craft, his influence is still felt today and even years after his death people continue to discover and re-discover his films. Anchor Bay Entertainment has compiled five entries from the man's filmography in its aptly titled Mario Bava Collection: Volume One boxed set release. Image Entertainment previously released four of these films but Kill, Baby... Kill! sees the light of day in its original aspect ratio for the first time on home video in North America (the Dark Sky Films release that was supposed to come out on March 27, 2007 has gone the way of the dinosaur). While this selection doesn't contain the best of the best, it is a fine assortment of films that show's how diverse the director was and old and new fans alike should enjoy sifting through this trove of pure and unadulterated cinema...While the regrettable omission of the alternate cuts of Black Sabbath and The Girl Who Knew Too Much keep this set from standing as definitive; it is otherwise a good presentation in every other regard...Consider Mario Bava Collection: Volume One highly recommended!" If you're a Bava fan, this set is an absolute must-have. Just about the same can be said if you're just a fan of good horror flicks in general. Run out and grab a copy of Anchor Bay's Mario Bava Collection: Volume One right now! Ok, ok...after you're done reading the rest of DVD Stalk.
Ian Jane also has a chance to check out Anchor Bay's new DVD release of Don Coscarelli's classic genre flick, Phantasm. Easily one of the strangest, and most loved, horror films around, Phantasm has come to the DVD format before but, as Ian tells us, this seems to be the definitive version of the film. "The Phantasm movies are weird, even by horror movie standards. There's just such a strange air of, well, weirdness to them that despite plenty of moments of black humor and quirky comedy, give the four films in the series so far a feeling of uneasiness and dread. Maybe it's the Tall Man, maybe it's the bizarre undead dwarfs that do his bidding, maybe it's the sphere or maybe it's Reggie 'Balls In The Air, Dude!' Bannister – it's really hard to put your finger on it – but something about the four films in the series is just kind of creepy...While the narrative of the film is all over the place, Phantasm works. Coscarelli made the movie without any studio backing and as such it was a pretty low budget production but he manages to create a whole lot of atmosphere with the film. Making excellent use of the mausoleum sets, the movie treads a fine line between straight horror and surrealism and when the wild visuals are paired with a strong lead performance from Baldwin, you end up with a really decent, tripped out movie. The score, by Fred Myrow, might sound like a knock off of 'Tubular Bells' used so well in The Exorcist but it fits the tone of Phantasm perfectly...the real star of the show is Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man. Completely mysterious and completely evil, he's a creepy looking guy who manages to make some utterly sinister facial expressions that give his role a whole lot of 'yikes!'...If you don't already own the Region 2 boxed set from Anchor Bay UK, consider this disc a must own and even if you do already have that set in your collection, this new release is still worth a look." It's hard to pass up a classic like Phantasm in a spiffy new DVD, even if you already own the previous iterations. Do yourself a favor and grab this one as well.
Another entry in the Phantasm series, Coscarelli's Phantasm III picks up pretty much where the sequel left off. Here's Ian Jane, again, to tell us a bit about the Phantasm III DVD release: "This time out [for Phantasm III], Coscarelli concentrates as much on the horror as he does on the action and the results are a stronger storyline that continues more along the lines of the tradition setup in the first movie than in the second. There's still plenty of action in here and more than a few characters who show up to serve as nothing more than cannon fodder for the Tall Man and his spheres. The last half of the film and the abundance of supernatural elements bring this one to a much more surreal playing field than the second movie and it falls somewhere in between the first and the second film in terms of quality and in terms of scares...Plenty of gore and make up effects keep things interesting and a few atmospheric touches, such as the kid in the clown mask roaming the secret passage ways of his empty home guarding it from intruders, make this an interesting watch. Bannister is in fine form here, bringing a bit more personality to his character and giving us a bit more character development to chew on as the movie plays out...While the script and some of the supporting performances aren't going to make any new friends, Scrimm is as strong as always as the Tall Man and whenever he's on screen the movie shines. Throw in a few good gore set pieces and plenty of flying sphere drill thing action and you've got a decent time killer with some fun moments and enjoyably disturbing murder set pieces...Phantasm III is not the best film in the series, but those who enjoy the franchise will certainly get a kick out of this one as it definitely has a few fun moments and a great performance from the always reliable Angus Scrimm." I think you could stick Angus Scrimm in just about any film and he'd probably make it interesting. Phantasm III certainly isn't the best film in Coscarelli's classic series, but it's definitely got some high points and is worth a look on DVD.
Wow, it's a Bava spectacular this week here at DVD Stalk and Ian's apparently the man to tackle the legendary director. Here he has a look at the "lost classic" Kidnapped. Good old Anchor Bay brings us Kidnapped as well, and Ian Jane seems pretty pleased with the results: "In order to fully appreciate Rabid Dogs one has to first understand where Bava was at around the time that the film was made. His last picture, Lisa And The Devil, was a very personal project that wound up a complete disaster from a financial standpoint and the last few film's he'd made prior to that hardly set the box office on fire. It was as if Bava's style had gone out of style and so the director decided that for his next project he needed to go in a very different direction. Casting problems and budgetary restraints plagued the production but photography was finished on schedule but by then, it didn't matter. The production had gone bankrupt and the rough cut of the movie that Bava had assembled was confiscated and there it sat, unfinished, until Lea Lander eventually rescued the work print from the producer's creditors years later. By the time this happened, Bava had passed away from a heart attack at the age of sixty-five. Lander and Mario's son, Lamberto Bava, used Mario's original script and shot an opening scene for the picture and then scored and pieced together using the materials that they had available. The results of this project saw the light of day on a DVD released by the long defunct Lucertola which was only in print a short time and, until this Anchor Bay disc was released, was quite collectable. If that weren't enough, a few years ago in 2002 Lamberto and long time Bava producer Alfredo Leone decided that the Rabid Dogs cut wasn't good enough so they took it all back to the editing room once more, added in some different footage and completely rescored the film. This new version of the film was titled Kidnapped. Thankfully, both versions of the movie are included on this release...So how does the film hold up? The Rabid Dogs cut holds up extremely well. It's a dirty, tense and very mean spirited film but at the heart of it all is an extremely well written and tightly directed story made all the more interesting by some very believable performances. It's a very strong film that doesn't pull any punches and that features one of the best and most effective twist endings in crime movie history...Those who haven't seen the film probably won't notice much difference between the two edits, but those familiar with the old Lucertola release will no doubt prefer the Rabid Dogs cut to the Kidnapped cut...Considered by many to be 'Bava's lost masterpiece,' there's no doubt that Rabid Dogs is a harsh and grim by expertly made thriller." Worth much more than just a genre curiosity, Kidnapped is a quality film that any horror fan should be thrilled to add to their collection.
Also this week, Thomas Spurlin has a chance to check out Tartan's latest in their line of J-Horror releases, Shutter, and definitely likes what he sees. In the oversaturated world of Asian horror, Shutter stands out as one of the genre's recent bests. Here's a bit of what Thomas has to say about the film: "In the world of Asian horror, ghastly apparitions in the form of skinny, black-haired girls are dime a dozen. Done to death is a more appropriate phrase. Granted, it is a creepy visual that can deliver some spine-tingling chills if done properly. However, as reincarnation after reincarnation of horror films feature this same ideal, the potency is whittled down like a dry piece of wood...Does Shutter, a Thai horror conception from directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, stray far from this formula? Not really. But that shouldn't deter interest from this sharp horror creation in the slightest. Instead, it fluently utilizes this familiar recipe, adds a heaping dash of traditional scare tactics here and there, and creates a rich story that is both simple and quite potent. Something frighteningly wonderful arises amidst this new concoction. Though it leans on premises set by past Asian ghost stories, Shutter onslaughts the audience with a fresh bombardment of ambient, dramatic, and ghastly tense flavor amidst a chilling, electric atmosphere...Shutter possesses an undemanding yet potent plot that slowly unravels as tension mounts between these two lovers. Keeping a straightforward storyline without any major plot eccentricities opens up the opportunity for a stringent atmosphere...What Shutter lacks in drastically diverse plot originality, it more than makes up for in atmospheric manipulation. Yes, these plot quirks seem fairly familiar, probably reminiscent of more than one source. These common plot elements within Shutter are actually modest, proficient alterations upon the norm that are welded onto a unique and engaging story. In execution, Shutter takes these familiar elements and ramps them up a few decibels. Through crafty, efficiently slick editing, the well-timed flow flutters and sparks like kamikaze firecrackers with an agenda. With such a precise tempo, it's very possible to suffer from a severe case of tight muscles and an injured tailbone from sitting on seat's edge. The traditional tricks pulled during this terrific ghost story can send chills screeching up the spine in high fashion...This film is a real treat, whether it is for Asian horror fans or general followers of spectral suspenseful thrillers. Prepare for a tense and well-crafted flick, nonetheless." Reason enough for me to check this one out.
DVD Stalk regular contributor, Bill Gibron, checks in with his take on the Media Blasters release of Zoo. Let's hear what he has to say about it: "He published his first works while still in high school. Before the age of 30, he had become one of Japan's most respected writers of genre fiction. Under the unusual pen name of "Otsu-ichi" (based on a symbol taken from a favorite handheld device), Hirotaka Adachi has created a fictional canon – everything from novels to manga – that utilize the standard elements of horror to explore personal, social and even political issues. Zoo represents the first time that Otsu-ichi's works have been adapted for film, and after watching the five fascinating films collected here, it's clear that the future is very bright for this novel new voice in Asian macabre...Like one of the old Amicus anthologies from the '60s/'70s, Zoo takes the popular short story collection by Otsu-ichi and turns five of its installments into very interesting mini-motion pictures. Allowing a different director to handle each of the tales and varying in tone, style and approach, the compilation presented here (four live action, one animated) provide a nice overview of both the author's interesting style (just call him Otsu-ichi Henry) and the growing depth in the J-Horror end of Japanese cinema. Combining recognizable elements from international filmmakers as diverse as M. Night Shyamalan (So Far), Jörg Buttgereit, (Zoo), James Wan (Seven Rooms) and native auteurs like Takashi Shimizu (Kazari and Yoko), this unusual assemblage has no real linking substance beyond the source material. But looking at each episode individually, we can see that Otsu-ichi has a distinct view of evil, one that is inherently human, and frequently very nasty...As with most anthologies, single sequences can help make up for parts that aren't particularly effective. Then there are those cases where the broad concept or conceit is so inventive or intriguing that we bypass many of the minor structural or story flaws to gain a genial, generalized appreciation. Zoo is kind of a combination of both – a very enlightening look at the work of author Otsu-ichi tied to an enthralling, if uneven, collection of creative efforts. Bordering the aesthetic differences between Highly and merely Recommended, this insightful horror omnibus deserves any serious fright fans attention. It argues for the increasing improvement in the J-Horror approach, while showing that mood, tone, gore and the grotesque can still deliver in the terror department." Well said, Bill. Well said.
"When one contemplates international horror, certain countries immediately come to mind...But one place that's rather low on the list – usually somewhere around the Lesser Antilles – is the Netherlands. With its reputation for lax drug laws and available 'love' for sale, this liberal land is not renowned as makers of meaningful macabre. All of that might change, however, if Slaughter Night finds its fanbase. A decent if derivative slasher effort, this is one intriguing import with grue and guts to spare...First off – a couple of clarifications. Slaughter Night, which actually gets its title from the rather clever Dutch abbreviation for Slachtnacht ("Sl8N8") is nothing more than My Bloody Valentine ported over to the more horrifying hinterlands of Holland. We have a haunted mine, a gang of gregarious adolescents, a mysterious murderer, and a wealth of wounds and disgusting decapitations. The narrative is nothing new, unless you consider the whole "fireman/canary in a coal chute" angle being tossed around as inventive or novel. The acting is rather good, and the film has the feel of considered cross-referencing. Directors Edwin Visser and Frank van Geloven have studied their Western terror well, and visually cue off everything from Saw, to Demons to Sam Raimi's old school Evil Dead movies. This makes Slaughter Night a very compelling experience. You are instantly drawn in to the varying fright flick elements, and are curious to see how they will eventually pan out. Sadly, the film seems to stumble in its overall overkill execution. The build-up promises a bloodbath of histrionic proportions, a kind of funk flood we're not used to in our standard MPAA driven domain. But instead of going over the top, Visser and van Geloven stay right at the surface, delivering sequences of shock and sluice, but barely going after said full bore gore...Still, Slaughter Night begins with a bang...Easily Recommended for its themes and screams, Slaughter Night will not be everyone's cup of creepshow tea. There will be those who look at the standard slasher conventions that make up the majority of this movie and shout 'been there, done that!' Others will opt for a more direct rejection, believing that nothing from the Netherlands could top the other horror heroes from around the world. Unfortunately, both opinions are dead wrong. While it may not be a masterpiece, and barely survives even the most casual cinematic scrutiny, there is still enough originality in this earnest effort to warrant consideration." I couldn't have said it any better myself, so I thought I'd just let Bill Gibron give us the scoop on Tartan's Slaughter Night. It's certainly a film that horror fans will want to seek out.
Here's Mike Long checking in with his take on the Genius Products latest DVD release: "Bottom Feeder is the kind of low-budget movie which does many things wrong, but it does one important thing right: it never pretends to be anything more than a monster movie. Writer/director Randy Daudlin has a background in special effects makeup and he's clearly set out to make a throw-back film which plays like the cheesy monster movies of yesteryear. The film reminded me of the kind of movies which I grew up watching on HBO -- you take a group of people, put them in an isolated location with a monster, and let the fun begin. The monster antics in Bottom Feeder aren't perfect (Leech continues to wear his slacks even after he mutates into a rat monster), but the film never shies away from violence and there are several gruesome deaths in the film. Also, the movie gets credit for a scene in which a character faces off against the monster...But, like those 80s classics which aren't all that great in hindsight, Bottom Feeder struggles when the monster isn't on-screen...For the most part, the acting in Bottom Feeder is average. Sizemore reportedly walked off of the film before returning to complete his role, and his performance falls in line with his other work. Anderson (who resembles Gillian Anderson, but apparently isn't related) makes a great villain and she's very easy to hate. The real stand-out here is Fitzpatrick who, despite the fact that he's covered in special-effects make-up, manages to bring a range of emotions to Deaver...Bottom Feeder is a pretty standard direct-to-DVD monster mash. The movie contains some nice moments with the monster, but otherwise it's boring." Straight to the point, Mike lets us know that Bottom Feeder probably isn't worth your time or money.
It's a shame when usually-reliable directors, like Brian Yuzna, come up short of our expectations. Case in point his latest opus, Beneath Still Waters, has plenty of potential but can't ever seem to come together as a cohesive film. Here's what Paul Mavis has to say about it: "Director Brian Yuzna's underwater/zombie/cannibal/demonic/horror flick Beneath Still Waters wants to cover a lot of ground, but an overly familiar horror subplot waterlogs its potentially interesting framework. At only a 100 minutes, 2005's Beneath Still Waters feels much longer, probably because after the first ten or fifteen minutes, the viewer has the movie down pat, and there's really nothing to ponder or wonder about as far as the mystery goes. Thus, with the suspense out of the way, we're left with only waiting for the next scare, the next gore effect, or the next brief glimpse of nudity...Once you figure out the "evil" that lurks within the bowels of Marinbad-Down-Under, Beneath Still Waters becomes a fairly routine exercise in waiting for the next big shock. And trust me; even if you're an amateur horror aficionado, you won't be all that shaken by the scares in Beneath Still Waters...You won't be surprised by anything in Beneath Still Waters, and that's too bad, because the city underwater framework supporting the subpar, overly familiar "there's something evil in this town" central theme, is kind of interesting. A rental on a slow Friday night, when everything else is out, might suffice for gore fans, but certainly don't buy Beneath Still Waters."
We here at DVD Stalk are incredibly proud of all the great horror news, reviews, and commentary we've been able to bring you over the past year or so and we've grown by leaps and bounds, but we're not done quite yet. DVD Stalk Blog is the latest part of that equation, and an important one at that. Some of the things you're likely to see in the new DVD Stalk Blog include: Shorter, capsule reviews of films (and DVDs) that might not quite fit into the column. News and press releases from all across the world of horror. Interaction with you, the DVD Stalk readers, including giveaways, contests, polls, etc. And, most importantly, a forum for the people behind DVD Stalk to voice their thoughts on current horror films, books, comics, and pretty much anything horror related. We hope to make this blog a place that you'll not only check every single day (as we hope to have new content up daily - or at least nearly daily), but also pop into your favorite RSS reader, tell all your friends about, and link to like crazy little horror freaks.
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