DVD Stalk: Masters of Horror: Screwfly Solution, Who Can Kill a Child, and MoH: Right to Die
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Ian Jane's take on the most recent DVD release of Showtime's Masters of Horror series The Screwfly Solution. It seems like Joe Dante is consistently making interesting, quality films and The Screwfly Solution is no exception. He subverts the genre yet again to make an incredibly entertaining hourlong. Here's some of what Ian Jane has to say about the film: "Joe Dante ruffled a few feathers with Homecoming, his first directorial effort for Showtime's Masters of Horror. While that entry was certainly more than a little heavy handed with its politics, it was never the less a well made and at times fairly intelligent satire on the current administration's Iraq war debacle and some of the better known pro-Republican flag waving media attention whores. This time around, Dante's entry is less partisan and it's all the better for it...Dante subverted the werewolf film when he made The Howling and he subverted the kiddie-monster film when he made Gremlins so it should be no surprise that with The Screwfly Solution we once again find him toying with specific genre conventions albeit in a most unusual way. Violence against women has long been a part of the horror genre, for better or for worse, and much has been written about the symbolism and potential effects of what many people see as flat out misogynist filmmaking. Dante is obviously aware of that as he pushes the envelope a bit here, portraying men not so much as typically dominant (though there is that here) but as sick - though it's made very clear here that the women are still very much the victims. Politics play a part in Dante's story, at this point it almost seems like they have to, but here it feels a lot less forced and a lot less overbearing when compared to Homecoming. This is more underhanded, and that's meant as a compliment as the story is very clever...Ultimately, it's the story here that really makes The Screwfly Solution work. It's worth watching twice as there are a lot of sly inferences and little details that you might not pick up on the first time. Dante's film is very definitely multilayered, making it a smart, darkly comic, and very effective little horror movie...Smart, quirky and actually somewhat disturbing at times, The Screwfly Solution is thinking man's horror done right." I couldn't agree more with Ian's assessment of The Screwfly Solution. It's a great little film and another excellent effort by Joe Dante. If you're a horror fan, you owe it to yourself to grab this disc.
DVD Savant is back again this week with a very early look at the latest effort from Dark Sky Films. They just keep churning out some great DVD packages of little-known horror films and it doesn't appear they have any intention of stopping. The latest, a Spanish schockfest, is just the latest quality disc from the studio. Here's Savant's take on the film: "Spanish movies of the seventies range from schlock exploitation to exploitation of a rather high quality level. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador's well directed Who Can Kill a Child? aka ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? leans toward the better half and produces several interesting surprises...The movie is a smart blend of ideas from Night of the Living Dead, Village of the Damned and The Birds. The then new hit Jaws probably provided the oomph (a holiday beach setting) to interest investors. The film has an excellent narrative flow; its main flaw is a fashionably pessimistic attitude that makes the ending all too predictable...Who Can Kill a Child? has a notorious release history, and fans aware of its existence in several truncated versions have been hoping for a definitive original version. Director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador specialized in Television but has a strong reputation based on this horror film and 1969's La residencia aka The House that Screamed a psycho-murder tale. Who Can Kill a Child? makes a play for greater significance...The movie is violent but nothing compared to horror movie standards, unless the very idea of children being battered and shot down is too much to take. There is one morally objectionable scene of a group of boys playfully disrobing the corpse of a German woman. Beyond the nightmare aspect, the film disturbs because we're encouraged to confront the taboo of harming children. In these absurd circumstances, slaughtering children is a good idea. That conflicts with the film's avowed theme, outrage at the killing of children in wars...Who Can Kill a Child? moves from there to a violent, George Romero- style finish, yet remains satisfying. It's just serious enough to make us think about a world gone so bad that our own children revolt against us. Even if Serrador is expressing a conservative, 'blame the kids' attitude, the movie works." Who Can Kill a Child? is an especially interesting disc to check out, as most horror fans have probably never seen it. As Savant tells us, it's certainly worth your time to seek out a copy when it streets in June.
Ian Jane also has a chance to check out a second Masters of Horror release this week. This time around, he tackles Rob Schmidt's Right to Die and finds it fairly compelling. Take it away, Ian: "Right to Die, a movie not so subtly inspired by the recent Terry Schiavo media frenzy, is another one of those odd directorial choices for a series called Masters of Horror. Director Rob Schmidt, who does a very good job here, has really only directed one horror movie - Wrong Turn, which starred Eliza Dushku. Calling him a 'Master Of Horror' is pretty presumptuous in the same way that calling Lucky McKee, a talented young director, as 'Master Of Horror' is. That being said, if Schmidt can keep up the pace, he may earn that title sooner than many of us expect...Right to Die isn't completely successful but it's certainly an interesting attempt at a horror story that obviously does not shy away from making a few political pot shots along the way. While some might feel it to be in bad taste to base a 'horror' movie (let's face it, there have always been negative connotations attached to the genre) the fact is that the best fright films tend to have some sort of basis in reality and Schmidt is simply following in the grand tradition of the countless great horror films that have been loosely inspired by real events...A slightly more believable effort from Donovan and a bit more care in the effects department could have elevated this to one of the best episodes of the second season. As it stands, it's definitely above average and certainly worth checking out if only for the fact that it provides some decent scares and tasty food for thought. The fact that Joey Santiago, the guitar player for The Pixies, scored the film doesn't hurt things either...Rob Schmidt has turned in a genuinely interesting and disturbing entry for the second season of Masters of Horror and as such, Right to Die comes recommended."
You know you're probably in for trouble when you see the words "Wes Craven Presents" splattered across the top of the box. If Wes isn't directing or writing the film and you're using him to sell it, you probably have something less-than-great on your hands. We'll let Mike Long sort it out for us. Here's a bit of what he has to say: "Ah, the nature run amok movie. This horror movie staple has been around for decades and every few years we see a resurgence in the genre. From classics such as The Birds to Jaws, these movies keeps coming back, and they've really found a like with direct-to-DVD movies. (You see more sharks, alligators, and spiders in the video store then you do on Animal Planet.) While big predators can be scary whether or not they are running amok, some movies, such as The Breed try to make more common animals seem threatening...The movie isn't great, and seems very pedestrian at times, but it's also somewhat satisfying...The factor which makes The Breed watchable is that it's a well-made movie. Director Nicholas Mastandrea makes his feature-film debut here, but he's worked with Wes Craven since 1991 and before that, he worked with George Romero. (The "Wes Craven Presents" tag means that Craven is one of a long line of executive producers.) So, the man has spent plenty of times on the set of horror films. And he proves this by showing a true understanding of the beats necessary in a scary movie. While some other aspects of the movie may fail (more on that in a moment), The Breed has the most "jump scares" that I've seen in a movie in quite sometime. These dogs can attack at anytime and anywhere and even when I knew a scare was coming, I still jumped a few times. A movie which can elicit a physical reaction like that goes a long way with me...Mastandrea's understanding of pacing and "shock" moments help the movie to overcome some of its more lackluster elements...The Breed doesn't pull any punches in showing the humans fight back against the dogs...There is very little gore here, but the animal violence, while clearly fake, is nonetheless shocking...The movie may be silly and derivative of the 1977 film The Pack, but "nature attacks" fans should get a kick out of The Breed, and trust me, I've seen much worse." So have we, Mike, and that's probably for the best. The Breed doesn't appear to break any new ground in the genre, but at least it's a passable film that the casual horror fan might enjoy giving a rental spin.
DVD Savant makes a second appearance in this week's DVD Stalk to discuss Chris D's I Pass for Human. Here's some of what he has to say about the indie flick: "This DV direct-to-video horror film was made by Chris D., an American Cinematheque host and personality long connected to the Los Angeles music scene. As such it has more than the expected positive angles going for it -- mainly a powerful music track and some good casting. The story is stronger than the execution but D. manages to instill his show with a pervasive L.A. drug scene malaise. I Pass for Human sounds more like a science fiction film than a drug oriented horror picture; taken as a street-level DV feature, it's not bad...I Pass for Human's rather clever concept envisions drug use as a force literally pulling the living toward an undead existence. As drug users often hallucinate to such a degree that they cannot distinguish reality from their private fantasies, a junkie seeing a ghost comes as no great surprise; even alcoholics rationalize their D.T.'s. The wrinkle in I Pass for Human according to its director and producer is the connection between the drug state and the kinds of haunted alternate universes made popular in modern J-Horror films, where ghosts or demons look more or less like ordinary people...This story is the strongest aspect of I Pass for Human, as the DV feature only intermittently finds expressive ways to tell its story, mostly around the effective horror moments with hands grasping at Jane from under furniture, or the wraith-like Azami appearing in incongruous surroundings. Ghost stories need stylized settings and precise visuals, and the limited resolution of DV doesn't always cooperate with the director's aims...I Pass for Human has the catch-as-catch-can look of a DV feature shot on the street without permits; it's unfair to hold it to the same criteria as an expensive studio picture. As a producer Chris D. has backed his story with good rock tracks from noted musicians and groups: The Birthday Party, The Flesh Eaters, The Hangmen, Lydia Lunch. The cues are used wisely and some suspense moments benefit from good scoring. Although this ambitious horror film is not entirely satisfying, it can boast a creeping feeling of doom missing from other gore-oriented direct-to-video features." So, is I Pass for Human a success? Not so much, but it does have enough interesting moments to warrant at least a rental. Check it out if you get the chance.
DVD Stalk's very own resident schlockmeister, Bill Gibron, has the audacious task of tackling not one, but two camptastic flicks from upstart studio Camp Motion Pictures. There's not much that I can say better than Bill, so I'm gonna sit back and let him have some fun with these two. Take it away, Bill: "They used to be a staple of late night cable TV, an easily obtainable alternative to the still very much taboo XXX experience. Indeed, back before adult material went meta, then mainstream, the only way to experience some hot horizontal hopscotch was to crank up Showtime or tune to Cinemax and wallow in a heaping helping of old school softcore sizzle. Sure, the actresses seemed a simple step away from the service end of your local dive bar, and their partners were either portly or merely playacting, but they frequently delivered some basic bang for your pay television buck. For better or worse, the easy availability of porn (along with the social acceptability of rampant plastic surgery) changed everything, so much so that no one even bothers with the non-penetration brand of balling today. Secret Key Motion Pictures would like to change all that. Hoping there is still an audience for I Like the Girls Who Do style skin flicking, this DVD newbie is putting out its own line of lewd-lite offerings. Their most recent is this honorable horror spoof Sex Hex. Combining an all lesbian conceit with some wonderfully wonky junior high humor, the result is a terrific trip down mammary - oops, memory - lane...Hey guys - remember those first pre-pubescent dreams you used to have, the ones where feminine knock-outs stripped down to their bare bodkins to participate in some randy one on one bushwhacking? As perk, plump breasts banged into each other in nipple erecting randiness, you're pathway to another nocturnal emission was paved with rock hard readiness? Recall how simultaneously sizzling and safe these fantasies were, guaranteed to give you a boner but also leaving your burgeoning sexual psyche nice and strong? Well, that's Sex Hex in a naughty nutsack. The bodacious brainchild of writer/director George Freeway (the editor of such previous softcore sensations as Play-mate of the Apes and Lord of the G-Strings), this nonstop Sappho showcase is like hardcore lesbian porn without the extreme gynecological close-ups. Indeed, Freeway understands the basics of the genre implicitly. First, draft a dopey clothesline narrative, the kind of simplistic story that can easily house lots of hottie-on-hottie humping. Toss in a random male character who is clueless in his non-erotic eunuchness. Pepper the dialogue with grade school level toilet humor (farts and diarrhea are always good for a guaranteed laugh), and whip out the willing mommy bags every five minutes or so and you've got cinematic gold. If your cast contains above average lookers who don't come across as rejects from the local strip club amateur night, you're the next Russ mofoin' Meyer...This is a movie made for those who like a little mystery with their miscreance, some sensuality in their shuck and jive, some allure in their ardor. Uptight twits and those who believe the only good lesbian scene is a toy-filled internal thrust-a-thon need not apply. Sure, one can argue that this is nothing more than a collection of male-minded fantasies forced together with some pointless comic mugging, or that as a supposed horror spoof, this has about as much to do with either genre (creepshow and comedy) as Belladonna has with subtle XXX acting. In the end, however, it's the gonads that do the talking, and Freeway and his film definitely deliver in the erotic engorgement department...Packed with pulchritude and laced with lovelies, Sex Hex is one terrifically titillating throwback. Unless you can only respond to overly aggressive gonzo style same sexing, you'll definitely enjoy this sampling of illicit lady loving."
"Zombies...the go-to ghoul of every homemade filmmaker. Along with vampires and serial killers, these much maligned reanimated corpses have become the illegitimate lifeblood for hundreds of hack motion picture pariahs. Using the ongoing industry myth that a genre effort is the easiest way to get one's foot in the directorial door, a myriad of mom and pop moviemakers use the said trio of terror types to realize their usually limited and unimpressive aims. One such wicked wannabe is Todd Sheets. Back in the mid '90s he concocted his own tribute to the ongoing fascination with flesh eaters. When his Zombie Bloodbath made a minor splatter splash, he was inspired to fully explore the possible franchise. Two sequels later, and Sheets was labeled a certified cult phenomenon. Whether or not he deserved such a title is up for debate, and thanks to Camp Motion Pictures, we finally have access to his tainted Trilogy. And like they say, the proof is in the putrescence...Some may call this genius. Others will label it lame. But perhaps the best way to initially describe Todd Sheets' Zombie Bloodbath Trilogy is to call it what it really is - a collection of halfway decent special effects sequences split up by excruciatingly painful amateur moviemaking. If all you care about is continuously running grue and gallons of bodily brine, this director feels your fetish. His movies tend to resemble gore porn - minutes of straight feature flaccidity followed by extensive sequences of pus producing pop shots. Indeed, with their gonzo cinematography and 'caught on the fly' facets, this is probably some parallel universe's idea of hardcore smut. Since they are not linked by overall mythology or narrative arc, each movie more or less stands on its own. Some are decidedly better than others, while each illustrates quite clearly Sheets' strengths (and abundant weaknesses) as a director...Sheets is the kind of director who consistently says "Hell Yes!" to another excess. He loves to languish over scenes of flesh feasting, and can't quite bring his camera to leave an installment of heavy human snacking. It has to be noted that said sequences are not so much disturbing as they are disorienting. As the minutes tick away, we tend to wonder why Sheets stays on them for so long. Then, when you consider he has little else to say, you realize implicitly the time suck situation. Indeed, if you remove the splatter, you'd probably wind up with three 30 minute movies on your hands. These are efforts aimed directly at those who believe blood is the only legitimate fear factor, and while there is a lot of promise inside each of the films in the Zombie Bloodbath Trilogy, their abject amateurishness consistently countermands any outright entertainment or enjoyment."
Thomas Spurlin takes a peek at this Thora Birch thriller and comes away a bit disappointed. What say you, Thomas? "If you're in the mood for a pseudo-Lynchian, alternate reality headscratcher akin in temperament to films like Silent Hill and Dark City, then Dark Corners should satisfy that craving. Well, sort of. It's a curious independent creepout from first time director Ray Gower that lathers on thick layers of mood and curiosity. Dark Corners also fails to rustle up a satisfying conclusion, instead regurgitating a murky, nonsensical answer to the madness. It does tap into a recurring fear of realistic dreams, however, that proves to be effective amidst fluttering horror and mind-stuffing delirium...Sometimes a mind-bending flick can be forgiven for quality performances, much like what Thora Birch mustered from this script, or for atmospheric potency. However, such a puzzling narrative needs to sport a conclusive finale that lends satisfaction to the trip with a reconciliatory wrap up. Dark Corners is a disappointment there. It's remotely symbolic and demanding of thought regarding dreams, realities, and the manifestations of heaven and hell, but ultimately quite unsatisfying after the quality-established atmosphere and twisted tension. That's a shame, because Dark Corners holds moderate vigor in sucking you into its convoluted, enjoyably ugly narrative. Just pretend like the last few minutes were a forgettable nightmare, bleep it form your mind and embrace the rest of the flick for its interesting, dream world floundering...Dark Corners lassoes strength in both tension and visual accomplishment, while also ensnaring an appealingly stringent performance from Thora Birch. Ultimately, this is a film that's a intricate, gritty jigsaw puzzle ripe for solving, yet the image at the end of the solution is terribly murky and lacking much definition. It's an enjoyable Rental, but nothing more since the closing reward fails to deliver much more after the hectic finish." Clearly this one's for the horror crowd desperate to find something new to watch. Rental at most, people.
Any movie that includes a character named "Horny the Clown" automatically goes up about 50 points in my book. Instant classic. Bring us home, Bill Gibron! "After experiencing a full blown renaissance of sorts over the last few years, horror seems to be heading downward yet again. In this case, it's probably because of a glut of worthless product. Recent outings (The Hills Have Eyes 2, The Hitcher) have been less than impressive, and the digital domain has been overrun by hundreds of examples of direct to DVD dreck. With more and more outsider filmmakers believing that a simple scarefest will get their filmmaking foot in the door, the genre has been infested by sloppy serial killers, grade-Z zombies and far too many bland bloodsuckers. Now the slasher movie is getting a similar second-rate handling. Granted, it's not the hardest genre to totally muck up, but don't tell that to the likes of recent entries like Wrong Turn, The Tooth Fairy, or the killer clown crap known as Drive Thru. They all believe they are reinventing the old school splatterfest. In reality, all they're doing is tarnishing an already tenuous cinematic type...When tossed up on the balancing scale of movie macabre, Drive Thru can't even manage a minor equilibrium. Things are so swayed toward the negative and the routine that even its greatest assets can't counter the weight. There's no denying that independent filmmakers Shane Kuhn and Brendan Cowles know their horror. Their movie is a fractured festival of homages and recognizable references. But just because you "get" the genre doesn't mean you can recreate it. Indeed, Drive Thru merely mocks its dread brethren, using the sloppiest aspects of the slasher dynamic and some gloriously goofy gore to keep us interested. In fact, the slice and dice schlock that drives timeless terror treasures like Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street is all but missing here. In its place is pointless post-millennial irony, that worthless wit that screenwriters consider comedy nowadays, along with a huge helping of callous characterization. Sure, the filmmakers have to give the villain something vile to vivisect, but in the case of this caustic cast, no one is worth supporting - or saving. We want everyone to die as quickly as possible, if only to shorten the slo-mo running time... By now you're probably wondering what the 'good' part of this movie is. Well, the answer is quite simple - Drive Thru has one of the more interesting maniacs in recent fright film history...In the case of Horny the Clown (an awful name, by the way) we have a decent looking demon that's just original enough to capture our imagination, while borrowing better bits from its oh so superior predecessors...All of this adds up to low rent ridiculousness that can't begin to sustain itself either creatively or commercially. Even as the last act reveal is readied, our remaining survivors taking on Horny with a Heather Langenkamp amount of determination, we've already lost interest. We're simply hoping the finale won't fail us as well. Sadly, it does, setting up a sequel that no one will ever make. There is definitely room in the horror hierarchy for a terrifying take on fast food. Until Troma's upcoming Poultrygeist can prove said viability, Drive Thru remains the below average benchmark."
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