DVD Stalk: Re-Animator, Perversion Story, and Naked You Die
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Ian Jane's take on the latest release of Stuart Gordon's classic genre film Re-Animator. While the film has made its way to DVD several times before, Anchor Bay seems to have given it quite a nice treatment and one worth picking up for just about any horror fan. Here's what Ian has to say about the latest disc: "Stuart Gordon's feature length directorial debut, 1985's Re-Animator, has been released twice before on DVD courtesy of Elite Entertainment in both single disc and double disc (as one of their Millennium Edition releases) formats. With the rights having shifted over to Anchor Bay Entertainment, the movie now receives its third uncut North American DVD release, proving that the movie remains a popular cult favorite...Re-Animator is a gleefully insane horror film that is as amusing as it is gory. Combs is fantastic as Herbert West and his over the top performance is perfect for this completely excessive film. The effect's don't always look as fresh as they would have back in 1985 but we're still left with a well paced and freakishly funny movie that makes the most of its limited budget and quirky cast...The cinematography from Mac Ahlberg (the same man who directed Justine And Juliette!) ensures that the film always looks sufficiently creepy and the camera work does a great job of capturing the eeriness of the hospital sets and the dank and dreary aspects of the basement laboratory. Gordon keeps the movie moving along at a brisk pace but manages to do so without sacrificing character development. While not all of the characters' mysteries are revealed we certainly learn enough about Cain and West in particular that we want to know what happens to them, giving the movie just the right amount of suspense. The humor also works quite well, with the material played completely straight and with the utmost seriousness...Some of the gore set pieces still pack a punch even now, more than two decades since the film was made. Heads are chopped off, bone saw rip through torsos, plenty of zombies run amuck and a head is squeezed until it explodes. A dead cat is brought back from the dead and a zombie smashes his head into a window until it bleeds. A certain corpse carries its own severed head around and assaults poor Megan in a very unexpected way, and it all results in a completely chaotic finale which raps everything up quite nicely without closing the doors to a sequel (of which two have been made so far at this point in the franchise's history)...If you've already got the previous two disc release from Elite, then whether or not you'll want to upgrade will hinge mainly on how much you value the new documentary and the nifty packaging. For those who haven't already picked up the prior release, however, Anchor Bay's Re-Animator is a no-brainer." Sounds like Anchor Bay's finally put out the ultimate edition of Re-Animator. If you're a horror fan at all, you owe it to yourself to grab a copy of this latest DVD release.
If you hardcore horror fans didn't already know it, Lucio Fulci made more than just his well-known giallo masterpieces. Perversion Story marks one of the director's forays into something a little bit difficult. Ian Jane checks in again to give us the scoop on Severin's latest DVD offering: "Much has been made on various message boards and online cult film fan communities about the version of the film contained on Severin's DVD. The version of the film on this DVD is the French cut which removes various bits and pieces of character and plot development and which in turn contains some spicier bedroom footage. It's certainly a sexier cut of the movie than most fans are going to be used to, considering that the only way to see the movie prior to this release was by way of the grey market releases that have been circulating for years, most of which feature the English language export version known as One On Top Of The Other (which clocks in at roughly one hundred and three minutes as opposed this version at ninety-seven minutes). The alternate edit contained on this disc is just as legitimate as any other version, but it's not been as common and as such, it'll take some viewers by surprise. It's not quite as fluid as the English export version and it's a little choppier but the film in this version is still a tight, well written giallo with some fun twists, some great performances and gorgeous cinematography...The cinematography from Alejandro Ulloa (who also worked with Fulci on The Devil's Honey and Conquest and who also shot Enzo G. Castellari's High Crime) is fantastic. It captures the night life of the big city very effectively and also does a great job of capturing the flair of the mod wardrobe and sixties fashions seen throughout the picture. He shoots Mell, who will always be best known for her performance in Bava's Danger! Diabolik in an almost fetishistic way that really accentuates her exotic looks and alluring features, and the camerawork is a big part of what makes her performance so intoxicating in this picture...Those expecting the gore and shocking brutality of the splatter movies that Fulci is best known for might come away disappointed from the film, as there really isn't much violence at all. That being said, even if the movie borrows a little bit from Riccardo Freda's Double Face (which Fulci also helped script based on a novel by Edgar Wallace) it's still a well made thriller with some great twists, a strong plot, and some fine performances...While hardcore Fulci-philes will likely debate the merits of this spicier cut for some time to come, Severin have provided a completely legitimate alternate version of the film with very nice audio and video quality and the film's soundtrack on a bonus CD." If you're in the mood for something just a little different, you could certainly do worse than to check out Fulci's Perversion Story. Severin is quickly emerging as a top-notch studio for genre DVD releases, and Perversion Story is no exception.
Dark Sky Films is at it again with their latest DVD release. A much lesser-known Mario Bava project, Antonio Margheriti's Naked You Die may not be the best fright flick around, but it's worth checking out. Once again, here's Ian Jane with his take on the film: "Originally devised by Mario Bava and Tudor Gates, Nude... Si Muore (in English, Naked You Die) started life as Cry Nightmare. Bava didn't see eye to eye with the producers and so he was yanked from the production and the reins were handed over to Antonio Margheriti (who directed the film under the alias of Anthony Dawson). The script was re-written, and Bava's name was removed from the picture and the film found American distribution through drive-in specialists American International Pictures who chopped fifteen minutes out of the movie so that it could fit on a double bill, re-titled The Young, The Evil And The Savage. The film was also known under the alternate titles Schoolgirl Killer and The Mini Skirt Murders to play up on the primary location and to exploit the titillating possibilities inherent in a murder mystery set in an all girls school. Dark Sky's welcome DVD release presents the in its original ninety-eight minute running time...Naked You Die is not a particularly great film – in fact, it's fairly pedestrian and not particularly compelling. Rennie sort of walks through the picture without much enthusiasm and the rest of the cast are rarely more inspired than he. The story meanders and the recurring comedic bits aren't particularly funny nor do they add much to the plot, instead they stand out as inappropriate and awkward. The movie definitely builds to a decent ending and there is some suspense to be found in the last half hour of the picture, but getting there doesn't exactly keep you on the edge of your seat...That being said, Naked You Die is far from a write-off and fans of giallos will find enough that works about the movie to want to give it a look. The opening murder, which is quite reminiscent of a famous kill scene from Bava's earlier giallo, Blood And Black Lace, is stylish and eerie as a black gloved killer strangles a woman in her bathtub then dunks her head under water until she can breath no more...Those looking for the sex and violence that the giallo is so often associated with will no doubt walk away from this one with some disappointment as the movie is very light on sex or gore, but this is never the less a very attractive film with a couple of effective set pieces that make it worth a look for seasoned fans of the genre, such as the kill scenes in the basement and the shower. A few of the subplots feel unnecessary and at times they almost feel like padding but the film remains marginally entertaining in spite of this...Naked You Die is far from the cream of the giallo crop, but it's a reasonably well-made film with an interesting ending and some nice camerawork. The cast is rather mundane but at least the movie looks nice and the film does have some importance as an early entry in the subgenre." While it might not be high on every genre fan's wishlist, Naked You Die is still worth seeing at least once.
Sometimes a real gem of a horror film comes from the most unexpected place. Requiem, the latest DVD release from IFC Films, is a nice little surprise for horror fans. Thomas Spurlin fills in the details: "There's nothing more frightening than the terror looming within the confines of a factually horrific experience. Hans-Christian Schmid's Requiem, the true telling of an epileptic German student in the 1970, is stripped down, raw, and void of any easy answers. Instead of relying on the excess of make-up and visual effects to convey dread, this film invokes real fear by mixing in the most terrifying of elements: humanity. Easily one of the better films about the effects of possession and demonic spirits, Requiem rises well above mediocrity due to a stunningly abrasive narrative surrounding one intoxicatingly bright star...What makes the fabric of Michela's insanity such a trip is the factual nature of this terrifying story. This mind's plague can seep into just about anyone's psyche. It seeps into this young student's psyche, however. Nothing can be done but to sit idly by and watch this girl flail in agony. Many other fanciful horror films tickle this subject matter by invoking make-up and exaggerated decomposition of idle bodies. Instead of leaning on aesthetics, Requiem takes a relaxed, focused approach that fuels the atmosphere with humanism. Tackling a film brimming with truth isn't a sure fire recipe for success. It's got to be adapted well, reflect on strong character development, and have a steadfast guiding force as the lead...And what a lead Sandra Hüller turns out to be. Many actors are quite capable of writhing about to an effective degree. Hüller, however, makes Michaela's role her own and crafts a restrained, unnerving persona that'll drive chills along the spine. She will only do this, however, if she sees it fit, thus demonstrating her grasp on the narrative. Sondra holds such insurmountable control over the film and its impeccable mood...Requiem unfolds much like a docile, character driven incarnation of The Exorcist. Instead of carrying the film to a level of fantasy and mysticism, Requiem keeps the tone low and brimming with tangible fear. Demons won't jump out and shriek a few screams out; instead, director Schmid will make you wonder whether their hold upon young Michaela looms within her psychosis ... or something else much more ethereal...Requiem will invoke a primal, haunting fear that'll leave more than a few breathless at the finale." Well said, Thomas. This one's worth taking a peek at.
Since he says it so much better than I possibly could, I'll just let the inimitable Bill Gibron take it away: "Some say he's fictional. Others swear his notoriety and crimes are based in truth. Whatever the case may be, the legendary "demon barber" of Fleet Street has become quite a post-modern icon. There have been movies made of his exploits (at least five by last count) a Tony Award winning musical (from Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim) and, currently, Tim Burton has once again teamed up with Johnny Depp to adapt said song and dance show into a big screen blockbuster. One of the more interesting attempts at the story remains a 2006 TV movie from Britain featuring Ray Winstone and Essie Davis. Abandoning previous versions to focus on the more human, and heartbreaking, side of the couple's crime spree, it's a very unusual take on the subject and the individuals involved. Now, thanks to the digital domain, we have a chance to see how this incarnation of the infamous slasher holds up. The answer is quite well, surprisingly...Luckily, this BBC production just manages to make do. Granted, it's far more graphic than other depictions, and approaches both characters from a strangely psychosexual angle, but thanks to an intelligent script by first time screenwriter Joshua St. Johnston and amiable direction from David Moore (The Forsythe Saga, Rebus), what could have been another stagnant serial killer story turns into something quite compelling. Thanks to both the acting and narrative novelty, a famous urban legend almost lives again...almost...Ray Winstone, who many may remember as a part of Jack Nicholson's mobster crew in The Departed (or better yet, as Captain Stanley in the marvelous Aussie Western The Proposition), has a completely unique bead on his version of Todd. Instead of making him a flamboyant freak (as the Stephen Sondheim musical does) or a straight ahead exterminating angel (almost every other version), the big, burly actor imposes a surreal emotional exile on the character. His version of Todd is a humble, almost holy man who views his barbering as redemption for years he spent incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit. Make no mistake about it, his soft spoken artisan is a screaming loon inside, but Winstone only lets the maniac out intermittently. It makes his concept of the killer all the more intriguing...with an excellent supporting cast (including David Warner and Tom Hardy) and a nice amount of blood and guts (there are a couple of very gory murders among the off screen killings) Sweeney Todd: The Director's Cut is a straight razor slice above the usual Demon Barber derivativeness. While not perfect, it has a certain squalid charm...anyone looking for a less exploitative, and less sensational view of this time honored story, there is a lot to like about this humanistic approach to the horror legend. Sweeney Todd may not have existed in real life, but in the fictional world of film and other entertainment mediums, his is an intriguing immortality." Even the oldest (and most well-known) stories can still be made interesting with a little ingenuity. Sweeney Todd: The Director's Cut is a fine example of just that fact. Check it out, especially if you've never seen the story in any of it previous forms.
Bill Gibron is back again to give us his take on two films from Lionsgate's recent After Dark Horror Fest series. The much buzzed-about series of films is finally getting a nice DVD treatment and, though Bill doesn't love every aspect of the films, he does find a lot to like on these discs. Let's hear it, Bill: "Dammit if Dark Ride doesn't disappoint. It starts off just like those sensationally stupid slasher epics from decades past, and promises a nice amount of slice and dice splatter once our victims in training teens show up at the title locale to spend the night. There's even a healthy dose of monster movie madness, with the deformed killer at the center of the storyline giving the hideous Hellspawn from Tobe Hooper's underrated Funhouse a run for his mutated money. But then director Craig Singer has to go and whiz the entire enterprise down his cinematically inexperienced leg. Even with a few films to his credit, Singer has yet to learn the lessons of successful dread reckoning. These required rules mandate that cheap shocks not be substituted for legitimate scares, that tone and narrative be expertly balanced with performance and personality, and in the category of creating viable villainy, we have to be given some minor insight into the shattered psyche of our bone carver. Provide these production prerequisites and we fright fans will follow you anywhere – well, almost. But Singer continually saunters off into tangent territory, leaving his main storyline to focus on some failed prank, a dead end relationship between two uninteresting lovers, and a horrid hippy chick lifted director out of Rob Zombie's personal – and motion picture – life. All of these fringe elements turn Dark Ride from a film with potential to a piece of sloppy schlock...Thanks to a terrific premise (these carnival and boardwalk mainstays have always carried a seedy, sinister stigma) and the reliance on the old school style of terror, Dark Ride should really retro rock and roll. It's got more compelling potential than a hundred half-baked outsider horror films. But it is clear from almost the very beginning that Singer doesn't have the originality to make this filmic foundation pay off... Perhaps the biggest sin this film commits, however, is the lack on onscreen grue. While many in the audience will cheer triumphantly as a much hated character finally buys the skank chateau, hers is the only slaughter worth savoring. Indeed, many of the other characters die off screen (WHAT?!?!) with our ability to see what happened restricted to an irritating bloody corpse afterglow...What Dark Ride needed was more Friday the 13th and less of Scream's irony overdrive. There are aspects here that are worth a look, but overall, this is one sideshow attraction that will have you demanding your money back...While it's not the worst movie offered as part of the entire 8 Films to Die For series Dark Ride will be a big disappointment for anyone other than the most casual fright fan. It's got too much going for it to completely dismiss, but can't quite figure out how to balance all its benefits into a successful film."
The second film, in the same series, that Bill looks as this week unfortunately doesn't fair much better: "Wicked Little Things is a horror film that cheats. It wants to get by on one element and one element only. It doesn't care about characterization or plot logic, has no idea how to stage scares or suspense. Instead, it carries cast and crew up to some incredibly atmospheric woods in the Bulgarian outlands and hopes that mood alone will create all the creepiness it needs. It has to be said that the locale is indeed wonderful – dense and deceptively beautiful. Even better, the production locates a series of broken down buildings which provides an excellent backdrop for all the dread that's about to occur. But thanks to a terrible script by Jace Anderson, Adam Gierasch and Ben Nedivi (the first two being responsible for a collection of mid-level SciFi Channel style crap) and the uninspired direction of J. S. Cardone (himself a basic b-movie journeyman) what was betting on tone alone to freak out fans simply shrivels up and dies. And unlike the title terrors in this narrative, the movie itself fails to rise from the dead and seek its own cinematic revenge. Instead, it becomes an inert little experiment in monotonous ambiance...Originally entitled Zombies, and at one time tagged with horror film legend Tobe Hooper as the man behind the lens, Wicked Little Things does many standard fright film formulas a major disservice. While it's true that the undead have been an overused and undeserved genre dynamic since the invention of DVD, this is one of the worst applications of cannibal corpsing every attempted. Cardone, who must contend with making the small of frame and physically frail appear baneful and badass, decides that the best way to handle this expositional element is to simply avoid it all together. We never learn why these pissed off children are back from the grave, and why they've decided to dress like extras from a Visage video in the process. And let's not even get started over all the flesh feasting... Even worse, this is all Wicked Little Things has going for it – beyond the obvious attempts to exploit the local. Bulgaria looks pretty imposing here, its dark and dreary woods presenting a perfect environment for all manner of spook show fun...most of the killings occur off screen, a huge pool of fake blood flying up into frame the only indication of the violent vivisection taking place. As stated before, Wicked Little Things is a hapless horror hoax. It promises to be a moody, maniacal trip into a wilderness overloaded with precarious potential. All we end up with are grade school gore goofballs, and not much else." It's a shame that these first two entries didn't pan out as well as we hoped, but stay tuned for reviews of the rest of the After Dark Horror Fest films.
John Carpenter is truly a master director and easily fits the bill as a "Master of Horror." His first-season entry in the Masters Of Horror series is widely regarded as one of the best of the bunch. Ian Jane, unfortunately, doesn't feel quite the same way about Carpenter's season two episode: "John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns was one of the better episodes from the first season of Showtime's Masters Of Horror series, so fans were understandably excited to see the director teaming up with the writing team of Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan for one more shot. Unfortunately, the trio's second attempt, Pro-Life, gets lost in and amongst the politics that its story swats around...Taking elements from some of Carpenter's earlier films like Assault On Precinct 13 and more notably The Thing and throwing in bits and pieces from Rosemary's Baby, this movie seems like a sure thing but sadly falls short of where it should have hit which is a genuine shame considering that it sounds like a perfect fit for Carpenter's talents. By using the real life controversy surrounding the abortion debate in the United States right now as a starting point the film soon becomes bogged down by the politics inherent in the premise and this comes at the sacrifice of character development and tension...With the griping out of the way, let it be said that Pro-Life is not a total waste of time. There are some nifty effects in the film and a couple of genuinely shocking and surprising moments of violence that will keep viewers on their toes. Perlman is decent in an unexpectedly restrained performance, proving that sometimes cooler heads do prevail and Caitlin Wachs is quite good as the confused and distraught Angelique, torn between her religious beliefs and the dire reality of her situation. The script does succeed in making us think, even if it's only briefly, and while the message gets muddled the premise is at least an interesting one. Carpenter's direction is assured and the cinematography is slick and expertly executed. It's a shame then, that the writers weren't able to put the story before the politics and give us a truly intelligent piece of work. The seeds were there, but they didn't fully sprout...Not a particularly strong effort when you consider what Carpenter has been capable of in the past, Masters Of Horror: Pro-Life is still worth seeing for a few inspired moments and a couple of nasty set pieces." Much like the other Masters Of Horror discs, Pro-Life is a nicely loaded package that brings the slightly sub-par quality of the film up to a recommendable level. Check it out.
Finally, Bill Gibron wraps up this week's reviews with a clever little look at Debbie Rochon in Skin Crawl: "Someone in the mainstream media needs to hurry up and hire Debbie Rochon before she loses the desire to perform before the camera. This attractive, intelligent woman has been wasting away in the fringes of outsider cinema for far too long. Granted, it gives novice moviemakers with little or no cash a definite bit of personal production value, but for an actress with as much raw talent as Rochon to simply be some fanboy's easily hire-able eye candy seems a shame. A good example of her underused abilities is the wannabe thriller Skin Crawl. Crafted by a first time filmmaker desperate for an attention-gaining gimmick, and offering Rochon a fully realized role without mandatory nudity or nastiness, this narratively complex effort should make for an interesting fright night at the movies. Instead, ambition thwarts entertainment as the movie's knotty plot purposefully avoids letting the audience enjoy the plentiful paranormal pulp...Welcome to the world of 'good news/bad news' horror film criticism. On the analytic menu today – the under-baked revenge flick Skin Crawl. Lining up the likable elements of this outsider effort, we find a willing cast (complemented by current schlock scream queen Debbie Rochon) eager to deliver in the dread department. Similarly, first time writer/director Justin Wingenfeld wants to utilize a Pulp Fiction / Rashomon style for his narrative, twisting and turning the basic plot points into something surprising...and sinister. And finally, for you lovers of gore and gratuity, actress Julian Wells is in a near constant state of nudity, exposing her chest with routine regularity, while the finale features a decent amount of Italian terror inspired grue. It's actually a pretty impressive collection of pluses, each one an example of a movie trying to make a motion picture mountain out of a standard macabre molehill. But wait – that's only one side of the story. What about the negatives, you ask? Are the flaws facing this film fatal, or merely minor pitfalls along the road to a decent indie effort? Sadly, the cons really cold cock this movie, delivering deathblows over and over again to something that is trying, stoically, to remain engaging and upright. Indeed, in the end, the problems completely scuttle the scares, resulting in a fright film without horror, a tepid tale of supernatural vigilantism that just falls apart...But the biggest crime Skin Crawl commits is waiting for three quarters of its scant storyline to slog by before delivering the bloody goods. Indeed, there are more faked sex scenes in this film than shots of paranormal payback. Julian Wells, who plays the manipulative skank to "needs to die" perfection, gets a lovely little death scene, complete with vomiting and putrescent maggots (yum!). But the rest of the terror is implied, just red stuff dripping off walls and wardrobe. It's too bad that Skin Crawl couldn't get its scary movie act together. There is some good material here. Sadly, it is muzzled by the desire for too much onscreen invention." Not a great horror film, by any stretch of the imagination, but Skin Crawl is still a heckuva lot of fun.
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