DVD Stalk: Snake Woman's Curse, Haunting Hour, and Wind Chill
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Stuart Galbraith IV's take on the Synapse release of Snake Woman's Curse. Here's some of what Stuart has to say about the film: "As with western world genre filmmakers like Roger Corman, it's easy to under- or overrate [Director Nobuo] Nakagawa's talents - his legitimization by Criterion now swinging the pendulum toward the latter - and Snake Woman's Curse (Kaidan - hebi-onna, or Ghost Story - The Snake-Woman, 1968) is no more or less than a terrifically atmospheric, slickly made horror film, perfect viewing for the Obon holiday in Japan (the time when kaidan eiga, or "ghost story movies," are most popular)...or as Halloween viewing in America...The film follows the well-established path of virtually all traditional kaidan eiga: either an ambitious husband, usually a samurai, is unfaithful to his wife that either is murdered or commits suicide; or a cruel landowner or lord abuses the power he holds over local peasants. An hour or so into the picture, the audience is more than ready to see these villains get their comeuppance, always in the form of a vengeful ghost or ghosts. Snake Woman's Curse, set in a remote seaside village sometime during the Meiji era, follows the latter path...Snake Woman's Curse, made at the financially robust Toei, has slicker production values, most obviously in the film's extensive location photography - most of the Shintoho ghost story movies used cramped soundstages even for exteriors. Pretty much though, it's Nakagawa doing what he did best: maximizing with a confident visual style a genre picture designed to scare as many people as intensely as possible...Nakagawa delivers these shocks in the usual Japanese manner. Western audiences will generally be unaccustomed to the conventions of the genre, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as they will find the relative unusualness of some of the horrors surprisingly creepy. It's to Nakagawa's credit that he can pull off a scene like the incredibly effective and haunting one where two dead spirits are reunited on a beach in broad daylight, moving toward one another in slow-motion, or that most of the shocks are achieved through ingenious though simple blocking and basic shock cuts. There is much and clever use of sound effects throughout, while Shunsuke Kikuchi's (Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41) score effectively juggles all the musical iconography associated with such films...The great thing about this thing called DVD is that so many long sought-after foreign films, especially genre titles never given much respect in the early days of home video, can be given the kind of super-deluxe treatment Snake Woman's Curse enjoys."
"As a young child, author R.L. Stine was my idol. To this day, his Goosebumps series have been the only books to truly capture my imagination. I devoured every page of every book with feverish delight. When I saw a new DVD release titled R.L. Stine's Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It, I became very nostalgic. Not only did it bring me back to my childhood, but it also made me glad to see that children today are still embracing his stories. I'm happy to report to old school fans and new fans alike that this movie is good old fashioned R.L. Stine fun...What makes Haunting Hour a success is the delicate balance of characterization and scares. The first 41 minutes of the film are almost entirely devoted to setting up the characters. The main characters are real people, and aren't used as mere objects for the creature to prey open. The second half of the film puts the cast in harms way, making us care what happens to them. As for the scares, there is a surprising amount for a children's film. I would recommend that very young children avoid watching this, as the creature is quite grotesque. However, fifth/sixth graders (and above) will have a blast watching the creature terrorize the town...The only complaint I have with the story is there are some goofy plot devices used to move the story along...Even though it may be a kiddy film, horror buffs should note that the film contains a few celebrated horror icons. Tobin Bell, who plays Jigsaw in the Saw series, makes a fun appearance as the eerie storekeeper. We never really find out who he is, which is partly what makes him such an engaging character. In addition, veterans Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (who worked on such films as The Chronicles Of Narnia and Army Of Darkness) provide impressive make-up and f/x for the huge slimy creature...R.L. Stine's Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It is on par with the fun-filled live action Goosebumps series. As the children's horror movie/television field is sparse, this film is a perfect opportunity for youngins to experience the genre before eventually moving on to classic horror movies."
"Even with the picture's diamond dramatic pedigree, Wind Chill is still a horror film at the heart of it all. Trouble is, it's not an assertive, smothering experience many audiences are used to, dare I say asking for these days. It's a chilling (in more ways than one) ghost story propelled on that rarest of fuel: suspense...Executive produced by George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh, Wind Chill isn't some tacky, cardboard horror diversion. Written by Joe Gangemi and Steven Katz, the film nearly plays as a simple stage presentation, with heavy emphasis on streams of dialogue and tightly contained conflict. It's a verbose film intended to bring the audience into the film through the characters, not the artificial promise of bloody mayhem...Director Gregory Jacobs (Criminal) is very successful at setting up the tension. Using frosty, snowbound locations and long stretches of white road, the filmmaker gooses the ominous nature of the car ride outstandingly...Once the action hits the post-accident section of the script, Jacobs strains to keep the film on track. Wind Chill degrades into a ghost story, looking to bend the tension toward something John Carpenter might've toyed with in 1981. It's has the walking dead, angry poltergeists, and enough vague concepts of payoff to fill a football stadium...The villain of Wind Chill, not to mention the entire concept of the final act, slips away from Jacob's good sense. Even with a ridiculous explanation thrown in at the end of the picture to salvage the threat, I just wasn't interested. Wind Chill becomes earthbound when it pinpoints the danger. Leaving it inside the mind, or challenging the limitations of the human body, is far more interesting. Still, Wind Chill deserves a merit badge for even trying to tell a horror story without resorting to tired and clumsy shock value. The picture's puzzle might not piece together properly, but the effort is appreciated."
"Among the many newly formed independent film companies, entities truly removed from the mainstream workings - and watchful eye - of the industry, Wicked Pixel stands alone. They're dedicated to more than just jerryrigging the old form genre's into occasionally exasperating examples of geek love. They avoid the standard monster movie machinations to explore more ethereal, evocative terrors. And with production chief Eric Stanze in charge, there's an artistic aesthetic that carries across as well. As part of their ongoing exploration of the eerie, the morbid, and the shocking, Elite offers up the company's latest DVD release - in this case, a sequel to a superlative 1997 effort, Savage Harvest. While this revisit may not match the first film's blending of ambiance and arterial spray, it has its own unique charms. Not only that, but it argues for Wicked Pixel's continuing dominance of the outsider auteur domain...Like slamming two separate and somewhat independent ideas together into one two hour test of your terror tendencies, Jason Christ's earnest Savage Harvest sequel feels bifurcated and slightly askew. Leaving the Evil Dead dimension of the excellent original (as created by writer/director Eric Stanze) for a more subtle, eerie J-Horror fear feel, this production protégé wants to make sure his aesthetic is represented on every fascinating, flawed frame...Still, thanks to Christ's smart writing and his way with atmosphere (there are sunrise/sunset shots here that rival the work of noted visionary auteurs), we manage to muddle through. In fact, when the Kerrigan family shows up at around the 45 minute mark, you wonder why the script is even bothering with new characters. We've grown rather accustomed to the ones already onscreen. Unfortunately, the answer is self-evident - we need more victim fodder. Since there has to be a hero or heroine (or both) to champion throughout the frightmare finale, we can't just have two senseless slayings. No, the second tier substitutes show up, mumble a few lines, and suddenly start going Deadite on everyone. This is where the second film kicks in, and one has to admit that Christ has a way with gratuitous grue... Still, it's hard to say if all of this really works. We care about the characters, but once they're on the deadly defensive, all such consideration evaporates. Similarly, the vivisecting is ghastly and gratifying, but it seems tossed in from another movie completely...And then there will be those pieces that just won't fit, no matter how hard you force them. This makes Savage Harvest 2: October Blood good, but definitely not great...Though it tends to ramble when it really should rock and roll, and asks us to accept a great deal of subtle set-up before grooving on the gore, Savage Harvest 2: October Blood stands as a significant outsider effort."
"The eight efforts offered here - covering several years of output from both Wicked Pixel as a company, and as a group of talented artists - all use the term 'macabre' rather loosely. Sure, there is bloodshed, and lots of carefully controlled nightmare fodder. But there is also beauty, sadness, sexuality, humor, and experimentalism, elements not necessarily associated with the fear format. Discussing each effort individually will help illustrate this point, as well as evaluate the overall effectiveness of the specific title... As with any omnibus presentation, the whole is only as good as the many parts provided. Overall, The Severed Head Network is intriguing, if not completely ingratiating. For every work of inspired artistry, we get slaughterhouse suffering and naked numbness. Everyone here is talented, but some stand out more than others. Indeed, it's hard to argue for Mr. Biondo's installment, which seems more like an experiment in inverse erotica than an ersatz thriller. The high minded posh poetic narrative doesn't help matters much. Similarly, Stanze's surreal fan dance strains as anything other than a way of explaining how framing and composition affects a shot. Sadly, there's very little invention in his repetitive piece. No, the real finds revolve around the fractured senior citizen, a slasher scene gone goofy, and a commercial for a real wildlife con job. Had this collection been more about the story and less about style, had there been an emphasis on exposition instead of excess, we'd have a real Small Gauge Trauma type treat. Instead, this well meaning Wicked Pixel release is only semi-successful. It will definitely satisfy its target audience, but anyone who doesn't appreciate outsider ambitions will be left feeling depressed and disgusted...It's clear that something like The Severed Head Network is not for everyone. Audiences unaccustomed to being challenged will take one look at the unique and frequently oblique attempts at mood and menace and immediately reject the results. Others will muddle through for a while, but give up, citing a lack of legitimate fear factors. Granted, this is some outlandish stuff, but taken in small doses - as in short films - it is easily appreciated."
"Though it starts out with an impressive, ghoulish bang, Amando de Ossorio's The Night of the Sorcerers (La noche de los brujos, 1973) rapidly falls back on tired jungle adventure cliches, while its horror elements get increasingly silly and repetitive. It's hard to take the film seriously when the monsters turn out to be vampire women in leopard-skin bikinis...The highly effective prologue is another matter...Though regarded as one of the premier architects of the '70s Spanish horror boom, Amando de Ossorio, best-known for his Blind Dead films, can't do much with The Night of the Sorcerers beyond that slam-bang prologue. Once the leopard bikini-clad vampire women turn up, the film becomes no less ridiculous than campy predecessors like She Demons (1958) and Slave Girls/Prehistoric Women (1967), both of which this film resembles. Wide-eyed with teased hairdos, the girls run through the forests in slow-motion, while their undead, putty-faced voodoo servants shuffle through their rituals with a lethargy that makes Kharis the Mummy look like a sprinter. Even the effectiveness of the opening is greatly diluted because the ritual is repeated several times during the film, always from the same angles...The film's general shoddiness is everywhere. In the daytime, the vampire women take the form of animals, played by stuffed leopards whose heads peer out through some bushes. Fernando Garcia Morcillo's roller-rink organ-driven score is like something out of an Emmanuelle knock-off...The tired jungle cliches uneasily mix with the '70s sexploitation elements, which in turn don't blend well with the intended horrors. Except for the frequent nudity and gore, The Night of the Sorcerers is like dozens upon dozens of jungle movies poverty row studios in Hollywood (and some of the majors, for that matter) cranked out continuously until the genre was completely played out by the end of the 1950s. If you're familiar with those movies, you'll know exactly where The Night of the Sorcerers is heading within five minutes of the opening titles...The Night of the Sorcerers is a very minor Spanish horror film, and the DVD's good supplements don't help the pointlessly full-frame transfer. Still, genre fans may want to Rent It, if only to catch the inspired prologue."
"One of the aggravating aspects about screenplays is that many screenwriters tend to stick to conventional storytelling techniques. The reason I admire writers like David Lynch and Charlie Kaufman is that they think outside the box and approach storytelling in a ground breaking and inspiring manner. Writer/director David Morwick sadly winds up going down the same tired old route full of cliches with this film Little Erin Merryweather...Little Erin Merryweather is first and foremost a cut above 99% of indie horror films. Compared to some of the flicks Lionsgate is releasing straight-to-dvd, this is an Oscar winner. The unknown cast is very strong (especially the creepy Vigdis Anholt as Erin) and the cinematography is first rate. Unlike most horror films nowadays, cinematographer Michael Marius Pessah gives a lifelike picture of the small snow covered college town that the characters inhabit. In addition, we get effective and skin crawling shots of the red hooded killer lurking around the college, woods, and the victims...The film isn't all red roses. The story suffers from a lousy structure. Very early on, the audience discovers who the killer is (and what their motive is) long before the characters on screen do. Whenever we know what is going on before the characters, the element of surprise is lost. The fun is gone when you can predict the outcome a mile away. Also, the story has a big gaping plothole...Little Erin Merryweather starts out promising and delivers some chills early on, but unfortunately the movie falls victim to predictable horror cliches. Worth a rent..."
"As I watched these two installments of Elvira's Movie Macabre, I flashed back to the days of horror movie hosts and hostesses. In today's day and age, we no longer have any late-night weekend horror movie spotlight programs. Instead, re-runs of Law And Order, sitcoms, and big-budget Hollywood movies rule the tube. Thankfully, our friendly neighborhood movie format (DVD) once again gives viewers the opportunity to experience these long lost treasures...Blue Sunshine can best be described as a less comical version of Reefer Madness, only the story centers around LSD acid. That does not mean Blue Sunshine is without humor. On the contrary, a number of scenes had me grinning...Elvira's sketches of falling asleep during the movie [monstroid] pretty much sums up this snail paced horror flick (supposedly 'based on a true story') about a chemical company that accidentally created a giant lake monster which begins to terrorize a Colombian town. Aside from 4 brief appearances by the giant puppet head creature, the movie happily gives us non-stop scenes of bland characters talking about how nothing is in the lake and how the nosey reporter should stop snooping around. Only in the final 10 minutes does the movie get down to business, but by that point we are all ready to hit the eject button...Elvira and cult movie fans will no doubt go ape for these 'Movie Macabre' releases. As for myself, I hope these Elvira DVDs will encourage Shout! Factory to release Joe Bob Briggs MonsterVision or Drive-In Theater sets."
"I come bearing bad news. Uwe Boll has made another lackluster film. I know you're probably thinking 'This can't be true!' But alas, Boll's losing streak continues in the form of Bloodrayne 2: Deliverance...The main problem as I see it is that Rayne is one of the single wimpiest and most easily defeated heroes to ever grace the screen. She gets pistol whipped and knocked out by an old fart, she has to assemble a team of vampire killers because she can't do the job herself, and she gets thrashed in the climactic battle with Billy The Kid. The only reason she never croaked was because people kept saving her life. Where's River when you need her?...In addition, the movie is flat out boring. I'm glad Boll cut out a lot of the slow-motion action and focused more on drama, but there's no drama to be found here. If you have cardboard characters that have no complexity to them whatsoever, you're pretty much reduced to watching soulless characters with bad western accents interacting with one another while a sappy weepy music score accompanies the scene. It doesn't help that Kristanna Loken replacement Natassia Malthe has no screen presence...Unless you celebrate the works of Uwe Boll, I can safely say "Avoid Bloodrayne 2: Deliverance." Until Boll makes a film worthy of acclaim, do not contribute money to further his career."
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