DVD Stalk: Pulse, Masters of Horror: Fair Haired Child, and Wicker Man
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Bill Gibron's take on the Unrated Edition of Jim Sonzero's Pulse. Hollywood remakes of J-horror flicks have been pretty hit-or-miss in recent years but the casting of the beautiful, and talented, Kristen Bell (star of the absolutely excellent noir-inspired television series Veronica Mars) gave me a lot of hope for the film. Well, it's pretty obvious that one standout actor does a good film make. Pulse is, ultimately, a fairly drab and convoluted remake of a marginally good Asian horror film. It certainly has its moments, but is far from anything original, inspired, or all that exciting. Here's a bit of what Bill Gibron has to say about the film: "The problems with Pulse are clearly defined, especially within the approach taken by the American minds behind this erratic, routine revamp of the Asia tech terror classic. Kairo was a slow, sinister meditation on life and death, a disturbing denunciation of technology as a soulless, heartless destroyer of humanity. With its epic scope and subtle storytelling, Kiyoshi Kurosawa created a cinematic snowball that took a relatively unbelievable premise (a website that promises a paranormal encounter) and allowed seemingly random elements to build on and expand his concepts until they meshed to find the unsettled universality in people's approach to mortality. In the Tinsel Town take on the subject matter, scripters Ray Wright and Wes Craven (yes, THAT Wes Craven) expand on the connectivity of our new post-millennial planet, but then purposefully avoid the rest of Kurosawa's concerns. The result is a typical J-horror spook show with unlimited night and weekend minutes. In Kairo, the science was secondary to the reasons behind the oncoming apocalypse. In Pulse, there are so many shots of cellphones, laptops and PDAs that you keep looking for labels to indicate which corporations are benefiting from all this product placement. By concentrating on this single, rather insignificant facet, Pulse does manage to modify Kurosawa's traditionalism. But that's about all...In the hands of newcomer Jim Sonzero, Pulse plays into all the creaky clichés that have come to cannibalize the entire Eastern horror experience." The excellent extra material, nonetheless, saves this disc from being a forgettable one. There are a few really good features to be found in this unrated edition, and their inclusion easily turns this disc from a rental into a slight recommendation.
Anchor Bay has been doing a spectacular job of pumping out DVD releases of Showtime's Masters of Horror series. Each disc has not only included the full, uncut episodes, but also some excellent bonus material. Their latest disc, The Fair Haired Child, is certainly no exception. Here's just a sampling of what Ian Jane has to say about the latest episode to be released on DVD: "While Feardotcom and the remake of The House On Haunted Hill didn't exactly set the horror movie world on fire, William Malone has been quietly slugging away at project after project for decades now. Calling him a Master of Horror might be a stretch, but he's got a few decent projects under his belt including the underrated Alien rip-off Creature (starring Klaus Kinski) and an award winning episode of HBO's Tales From The Crypt...The first movie that will probably spring to mind for seasoned horror movie fans after the end credits hit the screen will be Pumpkinhead. Malone's feature plays with many of the same themes and shares some similarities in terms of the basic idea from which the scares, and the sympathy for certain characters, stem from. Thankfully, The Fair Haired Child branches out on its own enough that it doesn't feel like a rip-off, even if it is a little familiar. Much of the credit for this has to go to the stylish cinematography and truly eerie color schemes concocted for the basement where much of the film takes place. The movie proves to be quite atmospheric and rather creative with a few nice grisly touches and a strong, sensible ending. It's a well put together story despite a few too many flashbacks that feel like they're just there to pad out the running time a little bit, and those scenes aside, it's paced well." Each episode of the Showtime series has had its own good and bad qualities, but The Fair Haired Child seems to have just enough good to keep horror fans excited throughout the hour long entry. "In the end, Malone succeeds with his entertaining entry. There's plenty of style, a nice and appropriately moody score and two very fine performances from a pair of teenagers that you probably wouldn't expect them from. While the scares aren't as bombastic as they could have been, there is a nice sense of foreboding and a few moments that are bound to make you jump." I'm not sure about you, but that's enough reason for me to pick up this disc.
One of the most bizarre - and most heralded - horror films of all time, The Wicker Man has been polarizing audiences for years. Some find it simply too confusing and elaborate to tolerate, while fans of the film bask in those very intricacies. DVD Savant stops by to tell us a little bit about the legendary film: "Created by top talent with the specific aim of making a horror film about ideas a little more fresh than Hammer's vampires and zombies, The Wicker Man is a good movie with a truly superior script. As a cult item it's tops; few other marginal cult films even begin to approach its quality. A victim of the virtual extinction of the British film industry, The Wicker Man could have been as big as The Exorcist. As Anchor Bay's new disc explains, it instead became landfill for a roadway...After writing so much about horror films with vibrant visuals but nonexistent texts, it's refreshing to revisit such a beautifully written movie - this is the All About Eve of terror films. In the middle of the so-called swinging sexual revolution of the early '70s, The Wicker Man makes its hero a virginal and self-righteous Bible man who abhors impropriety of any kind. In the most crippling omission from the short version, we see him taking communion with his fiancee and suffering the contempt of his police staff, repressed louts whose sniggering attitude towards sex speaks poorly for our Christian societies." Anchor Bay has finally found the means to release the long-awaited longer version of the film and the results are well worth the price of a double-dip. "The improvements start right at the beginning. A new pre-credit sequence on the mainland introduces Sgt. Howie and establishes our attitude toward him before he investigates the Rowan Morrison disappearance. Important new material elaborates on Lord Summerisle's role in the community, such as a weird scene where the nobleman brings an adolescent to be 'tutored' by Britt Eklund's town prostitute. "The Landlord's Daughter." A couple of shifted scenes have been returned to their proper place in the continuity. Britt Eklund's erotic dance now occurs much later, when we're more prepared for it. The long version focuses our attention on Paul Giovanni's convincingly weird pagan folk music. A snail crawling in the moonlight is juxtaposed with a suggestive tune about losing one's virginity, creating a strange aura of 'social horror.'" I'll watch pretty much anything DVD Savant recommends, but to hear such praise heaped upon the latest DVD incarnation of The Wicker Man is great news indeed, and easily enough reason for me to open the wallet, yet again, and make space for another copy of the film on my DVD shelf.
Oh, how we horror fiends just love those professional wrestling related films. As if the cartoonish characters of professional wrestling weren't enough silly entertainment, we have to watch them trounce around on the silver screen. If I only I could do any justice to the DVD release of the Kane-starring See No Evil. Instead, I'll give Ian Jane the honors: "See No Evil marks the first film from WWE films and the big screen debut of Glen Jacobs, better known to wrestling fans as Kane. Now, films which feature wrestlers tend to be really hit or miss. For every They Live there's a Suburban Commando waiting in the wings. Wrestler's aren't really known for their acting abilities, they're known for beating each other up. Thankfully, it seems that director Gregory Dark (yes, that Gregory Dark) and writer Dan Madigan realize this, as that's what Kane does here – he runs around and clobbers everyone...So essentially See No Evil is ninety-minutes of Kane running around killing off annoying twenty-somethings? Yeah, pretty much. There's a sub-plot here and a sub-plot there but the core of the story and what makes up the bulk of its running time is that Kane gets to kill people. Some of these kills are pretty creative – a girl is forced to eat her own cell phone for example – and many of them involve eye-plucking, which is always nice, but there's really not much more to the film than that." Well said, Ian, but did you readers really expect anything more from this film? Bottom line it for us, Ian. "Despite some creative kill scenes and a fun performance from Kane, See No Evil fails to hit like it should because of a poor script and even worse character development. Dark's direction relies on too many flashy edits but is otherwise strong and the movie moves at a really quick pace but at best this is a brainless popcorn film – it'll entertain once but has little replay value." Ah...just like professional wrestling itself.
It only took Tony Todd one film to earn a place in my personal hallowed halls of horror history. Candyman, though some may disagree, is one of the finest fright films of the last twenty years. It's simply a great mixture of psychological horror, in-your-face scares, and emotional rawness. It's one of a handful of horror films that I could, quite literally, watch just about every day. So, seeing Tony Todd in something like Shadow: Dead Riot is a bit of a disappointment. I'll, nevertheless, let Christopher Noseck tell you about the film itself: "Shadow: Dead Riot was written by Michael Gingold, an excellent reviewer and contributor to Fangoria magazine, so it's no surprise that the movie has plenty of exploitation references and situations. It also helps to have the director, Derek Wan, come from a martial arts film background. His Hong Kong sensibilities bring a crazy jolt to what could otherwise have been a typical low budget affair. Some of the acting is a bit spotty but Carla Greene does a good job with her material, as does some of the supporting cast. Tony Todd is excellent, which should be expected, and yet all I can ever see him as now is either Candyman or Ben from the Night Of The Living Dead remake (which I enjoyed even with all its flaws – feel free to yell at me later). The action is insane, and the gore is off and on until the third act. Once that rolls around though the blood, fluids, and parts flow freely and it's a fun ride until the end." Maybe the film's better than I give it credit for. Horror fans are always out to find an surprise of a film, and it looks like Shadow: Dead Riot might just fit the bill. "Shadow: Dead Riot is a welcome surprise that exceeded any expectations I had of it and won me over by the genuine commitment of all involved. They knew what they were making wasn't going to be on the AFI list, but at the same time didn't pander to genre fans as a quick way to recoup costs." This one's certainly worth at least a rental.
The Asian horror film influx has quieted a bit as of late, but studios are now finally getting around to releasing some of the older J-horror flicks that deserve space on your DVD shelf. Here's John Wallis to explain why Splatter: Naked Blood is one of those films: "Director Hisayasu Sato has spent most this career on the Japanese direct to video market specializing mainly in pink (softcore) films. Unlike the US direct to video/softcore flick market, in Japan it has proven to be fertile ground for imaginative film makers like Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Tatsumi Kumashiro, Takashi Miike, and Takashi Ishii just to name a few. Hard to imagine the guys doing your average Skinemax or late night Showtime silicone-packed, flesh barer eventually delivering something of high artistic regard. Hisayasu Sato has proven himself to be among that pack of distinctive directors working on the smaller circuit. His most infamous film Splatter: Naked Blood, a direct to video horror from 1995, delivers the goods as a dark, thoughtful piece of nasty, gut-wrenching (literally, no pun intended), horror exploitation...The climax of Splatter: Naked Blood definitely goes for the gross out factor. Along the way it has some b-movie stumbles, but overall there is a quite a bit of deliberate direction, a very disjointed, oneiric surrealness, and obvious attempt at profundity that elevates the film beyond your typical splatterfest...An excellent horror film mixing elements of gentle, symbolic surrealism and genuine, gross out horror." Now that sounds like an interesting piece of Asian cinema, well worth any horror fan's time in checking out.
John Wallis also provides a look at another J-horror film called Screwed. And while it may not be quite as interesting as the previous film, Screwed still manages to entertain at least some of the time. "Screwed operates on a snowball effect of weirdness. Things start off pretty normal, and get increasingly strange and surreal, until a capper of a final fourth where any semblance of reality is lost. The substance of the film is the comic and the hormonal. For instance, after his failed suicide via sleeping pills, Tsuge is left in a deep doze, yet still tries to keep his pants up when the nurse tries to removes them, and then has an embarrassing, messy endless urination with the same nurse acting as an aide. As he wanders looking for a doctor after his jellyfish sting, he envisions a town of nothing but eye doctors. And it gets even weirder with all of the scenes involving some form of comic-sexual bizarre happenings. It's a man's tale. The screwed of the title, seems to be man screwed by his desire and hangups when it comes to women. Lack of self assurance coupled with animal brain lust. Man, the hunter, the emotional wreck, stumbling after a piece of tail." It may not be a great film but one that obviously has its fans. For those who love this sort of flick, you'll want to run out and grab this disc. Otherwise, heed this final bit of advice from John: "Well, in a storied career of wild features, Screwed is at best, a middling work, and aged director working with limited means in the twilight of his career. Still, for those who enjoy the surreal and odd, it is a nice little film, maybe best reserved as a purchase for fanatics (Ishii fans, Asano fans) and a rental for everyone else."
More mysterious, macabre, and supernatural than straight horror, Shades Of Darkness ran on PBS under the Mystery! banner and found success for several years. It might not be every horror fan's cup of blood, so to speak, but it does have its moments. Here's what Ian has to say about it: "Seeing as the material was made for television a few years ago, it shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that the content is fairly tame in terms of what is shown on screen – don't expect any screaming phantoms to run around the halls of the old English homes where many of these stories take place. Instead, the series is one that relies more on the 'slow burn' technique. Each episode clocks in at forty-five to fifty-minutes in length and usually the first three quarters are spent setting things up for the finale. The pacing is quite slow and the emphasis is on the dramatic more than it is on the horrific. That being said, this is creepy material. It's not horrifying, but there are moments in here that just might get under your skin, even if it's only a little bit...Though the content will appeal more to mystery buffs than to those looking for true horror, Shades Of Darkness does offer up some compelling and creepy tales that are well directed, well acted, and just slightly unnerving enough to work." If you're looking for a nice subtle scare, or an ample ghost tale, Shades Of Darkness just might be the perfect thing to suit your needs. Check it out either way as its definitely worth, at the very least, a rental spin.
Mike Long finishes up our horror DVD review roundup with a look at the French film Baby Blood, which finally makes its Region 1 appearance on DVD thanks to Anchor Bay. The film itself, unfortunately, isn't quite up to the standards of the many eager horror fans: "Clearly Baby Blood is one of those films which is best seen with no prior knowledge or pre-conceived notions. When hearing what the film is about, and especially when reading things such as "snake-like creature" and "killing men for their blood", many will imagine a movie which is much more frenetic and violent than Baby Blood truly is...Actually, the movie is quite boring at times. Yes, there are several deaths (more on that in a moment), but for most of the film, we simply watch Bianca talking to her belly. Now, the French are famous for their farces - could Baby Blood be a farce disguised as a horror movie? Is the movie a huge metaphor exploring how men and women interact when the woman is pregnant? Is the creature a cypher representing the way in which all abused women should fight back? I honestly don't know. What I do know is that this movie is far too campy at times to involve any deep subtext...Given the amount of discussion concerning movies on the Internet, there are always going to be those films which sound too good to be true, and Baby Blood is one of them. The movie takes a completely wacky premise and does little with it, as the movie seriously drags at times and the gore quotient probably won't satisfy those who want the movie to live up to its title." The truly curious can feel free to put this one on their Netflix queue while the rest of us simply breeze by it.
We here at DVD Stalk have brought you loyal readers nearly twenty issues so far and we've covered a lot of overlooked fright flicks. There are plenty more titles we'd love to chat about but, in the giving spirit of the holidays, we thought that it was time to ask our readers to tell us about some of their favorite overlooked horror films.
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