DVD Stalk: Masters of Horror: Pelts, Open Water 2, and Region 2 Horror
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Ian Jane's take on the first DVD release from the second season of Showtime's Masters of Horror series. While there's not a whole lot of horror discs to recommend this week, Ian finds plenty of horrific goodness in Dario Argento's Pelts. Here's a bit of what Ian has to say about the episode: "Gorier than pretty much anything Argento has done in the past, Pelts essentially relies on a few key special effects sequences and rather than attempt to build suspense the story instead opts to go for the gross out. There's nothing wrong with this approach, in fact the movie is a lot of good, gory fun, but it doesn't leave much of a lasting impression once the movie is finished. To Argento's credit, he paces the film really effectively and the story builds nicely even if the very premise is more than a little silly. The film does play around with a few interesting ideas in that the death scenes are related to the ways in which animals are killed in the fur trade. Likewise, the effects of the selfishness and greed of the two central characters are laid out in the open in a reasonably interesting manner. Unfortunately, you can't help but wish that things had been just a little more cerebral than they turned out to be." What the film lacks in the cerebral department, however, it certainly makes up for with the work of its actors. "Performance wise, Pelts is in good shape. While the idea of a Dario Argento movie starring Meat Loaf might sound like a horrible idea on the surface, he's actually quite a decent actor and he does excel and playing slime-ball characters. When cast against Ewusie, who plays Shanna as a cold and rather calculating gold digger, they do have an interesting chemistry together and once you throw cult favorite John Saxon into the mix (who, sadly, isn't in the movie for all that long) you wind up with a very good cast for this picture and they do an admirable job with the material they have to work with. Regular Argento collaborator Claudio Simonetti provides a decent if by-the-numbers score for the picture that helps provide some emotion for a couple of key scenes and the cinematography is also quite smooth. Despite this, Pelts isn't a classic. The story is a little too underdeveloped to make much of an impression past the gore effects. It's entertaining, it's fun, and it's well done and for those reasons it's worth seeing but Argento is certainly capable of better...While Pelts is far from Argento's best, it's still an entertaining and gory little movie with a few interesting twists and a surprisingly good performance from Meat Loaf." Clearly, Suspiria this film is not. Pelts is, nonetheless, a quality entry in an endlessly interesting series and a film that easily gets a nod as recommended.
Ah, just when you thought they couldn't possibly make a sequel out of Open Water, Lionsgate brings us Open Water 2: Adrift. A collection "sigh" can be heard from just about every horror fan. I'll let Staff Reviewer Thomas Spurlin give you the gory details: "Some think the original Open Water film is a disastrously boring waste of time watching a couple float around in the ocean; others believe it manifests a potent, raw fear about desperation and malignant viciousness within nature. This second group possibly enjoys this film due to its subtle, mounting fear within a dilemma that could happen to anyone. However, with Open Water 2: Adrift, these same attempts at natural tension borrowed from its predecessor sink surprisingly quick. Cinematic polish aside, this new addition to the situational horror genre lacks the humanism and heightened level of gritty tension that defines the original...Screaming at the fumbling, absent-minded party becomes second nature during Open Water 2: Adrift. Both Open Water films rely on subtleties within the plot to build tension. Though Open Water 2: Adrift doesn't carry its predecessor's frantic strength, it does manage to conjure a few edgy moments...Amidst beautifully crisp blue waves and entrancing sunsets, this film doesn't suffer from a lack of style, either. The visual aura of Open Water 2: Adrift might surmount the original in finely-crafted cinematography. This added polish crafts a simple, yet beautiful torture trap for this unfortunate band of friends. It's a shame that these characters fail to develop further, especially with a host of performances that dimly shimmer in spurtslike light upon waves. With that in mind, though based on true events, this scenario in Open Water 2: Adrift ultimately lacks the engaging cinematic panache and primal anxiety necessary for this kind of situational horror." So, color me surprised...it seems like Open Water 2: Adrift actually has some high spots. Wrap it up for us, Thomas: "Open Water 2: Adrift conjures up just enough interpersonal tension amidst the flowing waves to be remotely engaging. However, fans of the original expecting much of the same might be disappointed. Those expecting chills and rage from nature's predators will also be left a bit high and dry." There's enough good here to be worth a rental spin, but probably not much more unless you're crazy about people drifting in an ocean of flesh-hungry sharks. On second thought...
I couldn't possibly say it any better than resident Zombie Expert Adam Tyner: "A great many things have emerged from Greece to reshape art and culture the world over throughout the past five thousand years, but a zombie flick...? Astonishingly, not among 'em. Gorehound and first-time filmmaker Yorgos Noussias stepped in to change that with To Kako, which I guess is Greek for "28 Days Later II". His Hellenic, low-budget zombie epic is making its way stateside as Evil...I don't need sterling characterization or a stunningly original plot. Just gimme two scoops of dead people munching on the living, and I'm good to go. The problem's that Evil struggles with its budget more than its characters do with the legions of the undead. I guess they didn't have enough cash handy to rustle up a lot of zombies, and for all but a few seconds of the flick, the city of Athens seems more deserted than infested. There isn't a persistent sense of dread...of being hopelessly outnumbered. The zombies attack in waves, and instead of spreading out the mayhem, it comes in a few concentrated doses. There are some gruesome kills -- intestinal strangling, death by cutlery, shoe stabbing, splitting a rotten noggin straight down the middle, and a hatchet handle through the mouth, to rattle off...well, most of them -- but not nearly enough of the red stuff is sloshed around for a movie that likens itself to Dead Alive, and almost all of 'em are dumped into two or three scenes...Evil's just too okay. Script's okay. The rather pretty cast is okay. The direction goes too nuts with paneled frames, quick cuts, and clunky blocking, but it's passably okay. Evil just seems like a movie I've seen a couple hundred times before, and with as many zombie flicks as you can grab off the shelf, there's not much of a reason to pick Evil up over any other...Evil is a competent but routine homebrew zombie epic that's only particularly remarkable for being a rare slice of Hellenic horror." If you've been itching to see what a Greek zombie looks like, here's your chance. Evil is certainly worth the rental, but we're recommending you take a peek at it before shelling out your hard earned zombie bucks.
As a special little horror treat this week, Stuart Galbraith IV checks out two recent Region 2 horror releases and finds them both worth picking up if you've got region-free capabilities. Here's what Stuart has to say about the first film, Caltiki - il mostro immortale: "While NoShame's American arm has been distressingly quiet in recent months, its Italian branch is teasing us region-oners with a special edition DVD of Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959), a Region 2/PAL release under its original title, Caltiki - il mostro immortale. The picture was apparently that country's only giant monster-on-the-loose movie of the 1950s; more importantly, its special effects were supervised by future genre maestro Mario Bava...what people remember about Caltiki is its extremely effective, sometimes horrifying visuals, particularly Bava's gruesome makeup effects, which were without precedent in their nauseating graphicness by 1959 standards (beating Nobuo Nakagawa's gore-fest Jigoku by a year). Caltiki's touch melts people's skin into goop with the sticky tactile quality of peanut butter. In one particularly grisly moment, archeologists gingerly lift off Max's torn shirt sleeve - what's underneath is a stringy goo of melted skin and muscle leaving not much more than exposed bone...Bava's matte work and/or glass shots are nearly flawless; many viewers have wrongly assumed the picture was actually shot in Mexico, near real Mayan ruins. Less convincing are his miniature effects, which are impressively detailed and expertly lit (the latter essential in making such shots convincing), but often look phony, partly because the use of real flames give away their true size...A longtime, gaping hole in the Bava DVD library, NoShame's Italian release of Caltiki - il mostro immortale is most welcome." Most welcome, indeed, is NoShame's R2 release of the film. Now, horror can only hope for a statewide release that's just as good. In the meantime, get your region-free players hooked up and check out Caltiki - il mostro immortale.
Sony Pictures handles the R2 release of the second film (The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb) Stuart takes a look at this week. Here's what he has to say: "The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964), originally a co-feature with The Gorgon, was quietly released in PAL format in the U.K. last fall, and genre fans with region-free players will want to snap it up. The first and best of the three follow-ups to Hammer's 1959 film of The Mummy, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb is quite entertaining, both funny and for its time fairly suspenseful with good shock scenes, and the 16:9 transfer does justice to Otto Heller's (Peeping Tom, The Ipcress File) Techniscope lensing...Though produced on a budget of just 103,000 British pounds (about $286,000 in 1964 U.S. dollars), The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb looks more expensive than it was. The film was produced, directed, and written by Michael Carreras - he wrote the script under his non de plume, Henry Younger - and he seems to have deliberately cut corners here and there to permit more time on the shooting floor (the film was in production for about 10 weeks, a long time by Hammer standards). The reuse of Franz Reizenstein's score for the 1959 Mummy doesn't hurt the film, and though Terence Morgan and Ronald Howard lack the star presence of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, they're perfectly adequate...If Cushing and Lee are missed, the support of American character actor Fred Clark in a surprising casting choice lends the film an unexpected boost. Best remembered today as Burns & Allen's neighbor on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (which reportedly was the second American sitcom shown on British television after Amos & Andy) and for guest appearances on countless other sitcoms, Clark's gleefully greedy showman may use anachronistically contemporary slang but ultimately comes off as likeable and sympathetic...The real star, however, is Carreras's subtle (by today's standards) handling of the film's horror sequences, which accentuate the menace - and height - of Dickie Owen's nearly faceless mummy, a creature closer in spirit to Lon Chaney Jr.'s Kharis in Universal's Mummy movies from the 1940s than either Boris Karloff's original or Lee's reinterpretation. That the mummy here comes off as something more than a walking prop is to be commended..." Commendations all around, as well, if someone finds it in their heart to give this film an R1 treatment. Even in its current Region 2 state, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb is a highly recommended addition to any horror fan's collection.
Unfortunately for our reviewers, the quality discs just weren't in large supply these past two weeks. They've had to trudge through some seriously brutal films in order to give you readers some sound advice on what to pick up. And chances are good that these next four clunkers probably won't land in many of your collections. Here's Thomas Spurlin with his take on the first film, Ulli Lommel's The Raven: "Though it isn't of the most unique thoughts in cinematic history, Ulli Lommel's The Raven carries at least a bit of potential. Only once the gears start rolling does attention seem lost. The Raven, instead of feeling like an ethereal mystery capped with suspense, comes across more like a venture into a gothic edition of a dramatic reality show that's got an odd series of eliminations. Though Edgar Allen Poe's name adorns the title, this production carries no similarities in plot, depth, or brooding splendor to that of the author's gripping poem...So too, sadly, fades any curiosity to discover what lies ahead in The Raven. Films that take place amidst a world of dreams hold the capacity to entrance and pleasantly confuse the viewer. It is within a frail script and ill-conceived characters that this interest is quickly extinguished. The Raven meddles and meanders far too long without supplying any true elements of intrigue. Inside the first moments of the film, murderous activity adorns the screen that makes very little sense. At the conclusion, after suffering through a gauntlet of severely juvenile murder sequences, this beginning still doesn't reveal much comprehension. Though much is said to decode this odd mystery, the resolution remains exceedingly muddy. Either that, or there isn't enough vested care within the film to fully grasp the winding finale...Underneath this shell of The Raven lies a potentially intriguing flick. With some dialogue and plot reconstruction, this tale could've flickered with a spark of interest. However, amidst this production with an unappealing array of visuals, Lommel's The Raven gets lost in a dark fog early and doesn't manage to escape." I told you it was going to get pretty brutal in here...
If you ask Mike Long, it doesn't get much better. He's here to check out Code Red's DVD release of the 80s trash flick Doom Asylum. Sing us the blues, Mike: "'Camp' or 'campy' are words which are often used to describe slightly silly, slightly offbeat movies. And perhaps films are labeled as 'campy' far too often...Keep in mind though, camp can't be forced. Forced camp often becomes torturous. A perfect example of this is the 80s clunker Doom Asylum...[It] is one of those movies which is simply bad from beginning to end, so instead of doing any sort of in-depth analysis, I'll simply list all of the movie's problems. If I had to choose the movie's biggest flaw (and that's no easy task), it's that the story makes no sense whatsoever, as it's constantly lacking in detail. What were Mitch and Judy celebrating at the beginning? Why did the group of kids go to the asylum? (Why did they think being at a condemned building was cool?) Why does Kiki suddenly start calling Mike "Mom" halfway through the film? Why was the punk band there? How is it that the Coroner didn't seem to hear the caterwauling of the band (whose avant garde music goes on way too long), but the sound of someone using spray paint gets his attention? Why does the Coroner sometimes take a break from killing to watch old movies? And the ultimate question; How is it that an attorney who was mistakenly pronounced dead suddenly becomes the Coroner? Did he go back to med school during that 10 year gap in the story?...Doom Asylum has all of the trademarks of a cheap horror movie...This movie is cheesy badness from beginning to end and even schlock lovers will be hard pressed to find this one endearing." Stay away from Doom Asylum, ok?
Uh oh, Lionsgate has had a pretty good reputation around the horror community for bringing some of the best fright flicks around to the DVD format (and this reputation can only get better with word that they'll be releasing a nice, and incredibly long-awaited, Special Edition of The Monster Squad just in time for Halloween), but they've landed yet another stinker into our column this week. Ian Jane gives us the dirt on Grim Reaper's DVD release: "Grim Reaper starts off so puzzlingly that it takes a good fifteen to twenty minutes to figure out just what exactly is going on in the movie. While sometimes it's effective to keep the audience guessing (this is certainly a tried and true method when it comes to creating suspense) here the filmmakers just confuse us, denying us much of a pay off. Quite honestly, it's a chore to sit through this opening third of the film and once we pass that mark and the film starts making a little more sense, it's even more of a chore to actually care. While some interesting symbolism is worked into the movie here and there (Rachel dances in a white 'sexy angel' outfit in an underground club that may or may not represent Hell), any mood that is created is quickly shot to pieces by some uniformly bad acting all the way across the board (to Cherish Lee's credit, she does have moments where she shines but the dialogue is painfully bad, and as such it's hard to buy her character)...Adding insult to injury is the Grim Reaper character himself. You'd think that, seeing as he's the living embodiment of death itself, he would be scary. Instead, he kind of shambles around making low end, guttural noises and pops up to knock someone off with his scythe now and then – the problem is, he's so slow and so lumbering that you can't imagine anyone under the age of seventy years having any difficulty getting away from him...Grim Reaper does have some nice cinematography and it plays around with a few interesting ideas. The director might have been influenced by Jacob's Ladder or even Jean Rollin's Night Of The Hunted as the three films share the same kind of 'weird hospital' setting and play with the central characters conceptions quite a bit. Sadly it doesn't capture the atmosphere or satisfactory conclusions that those two far more interesting pictures had working in their favor. Instead, the ending here feels tacked on and forced, and it makes a bad film even worse." Good reputation or not, Lionsgate should have kept Grim Reaper in the vault for a long time.
Ending the pain for us this week is Juliet Farmer with her look at the Sony Pictures release of Tara Reid in Incubus. Are you still reading? That's right, I said Tara Reid's starring in this flick. Yes, that Tara Reid. Yeah, I guess she does still get work. I know. I know. Crazy, right? Anyway, here's what Juliet thought of the flick: "Incubus, or ridiculous, as I will from now on think of it, gives top billing to none other than Tara Reid, whose perpetual orange "tan" has always bothered me. But it's her lack of acting ability and her raspy voice that really grate on my last nerve...Leading a cast of actors I have never seen before and am quite frankly surprised have ever been gainfully employed in films, Reid plays Jay, one of six college students who walk away unscathed from a car wreck only to find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere (actually, the middle of the Bitteroot Mountains in Montana)...Like any predictable horror film, they soon stray from the marked road into the woods, where an even more predictable storm comes rolling in. Then, when they stumble across what appears to be a hidden, strange building, they decide to break in and seek shelter from the dark woods...Of course they do...From predictable storylines, to dialogue that ranges from making the actors sound like what they are--typical college kids--to geniuses who know everything there is to know about psychology, electrical engineering, the death penalty and demonology, the storyline ranges from implausible to downright ridiculous." It might be implausible for us to think you might actually pick up this disc after that recommendation. Trust me...you're better off steering clear of this one.
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.
What do you guys and gals think? We're pretty excited about it, and we hope you'll be too!
As DVD Stalk continues to grow, we hope to bring you more great features and even a few surprises. The first of which is our brand new DVD Stalk Forum. We thought a dedicated sub-forum to handle all the horror-related chatter would be a great addition to the already-thriving DVD Talk Forums. We'll also be posting horror news, quick-hit peeks at upcoming discs, and press releases in the new forum, so check it out and join in the fun at the DVD Stalk Forum.
You keep reading and we'll keep writing. If there is anything that you, the loyal reader, would love to see covered in this area, please feel free to send us a note to email@example.com.
We'd love to read your comments and feedback. Send us your thoughts on other things you'd like to see in the space, or even random thoughts about the world of horror. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to visit the DVD Stalk Forum to chat about all things horror-related, and join us at DVD Stalk on MySpace.
DVD Stalk Editors: Scott Lecter, Geoffrey Kleinman.
The blog raises from the dead and other Halloween treats
Warner Archives, El Superbeasto and more
Feast III, My Bloody Valentine, and Friday the 13th!
X-Files, Naschy, and Black Christmas