DVD Stalk: Tales from the Crypt: S4, Willard, and Evolution of a Horror Movie Poster
We kick off this week's horror review highlights with Ian Jane's early look at Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Fourth Season. Sporting the usual group of excellent directors and interesting guest stars, the show's fourth season is widely considered by fans to be one of the very best of the entire series. Some of the major players to come aboard for Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Fourth Season include: Treat Williams, Tom Hanks, Dylan McDermott, William Friedkin, John Frankenheimer, and the late Christopher Reeve. With unique (and eclectic) talent like that it's hard not to want to see what they can do with the show's format. Almost always infusing a heavy dose of black humor along with its more frightening moments, Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Fourth Season is easily the most enticing of the four seasons that have been released so far. This Warner Bros. release is similar to their other discs in the Tales from the Crypt series with an adequate (if not all that great) audio-visual presentation and the inclusion of a few interesting extra features. There are a few more goodies thrown in this time around, however, making this a highly recommended release.
It's hard to dismiss even the worst films made by some of the genre's legendary directors, but Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive is pretty darn close to dismissable. Luckily for us horror fans, the continually excellent people over at Dark Sky Films have been kind enough to dredge up a copy of this early-career misstep for the viewing public. I guess they don't want us to forget about it after all. I'll let Scott Weinberg do the honors: "...Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap, aka Horror Hotel Massacre, aka Starlight Slaughter) is so outspokenly clueless, aimless, and meandering [that] one is tempted to wonder aloud if drugs and booze didn't actually direct this relatively woeful flick." Nevertheless, there are plenty of hardcore Hooper fans that want to know if this shiny new disc is worth picking up. In a word: yes. Dark Sky Films has done another bang-up job on a fairly obscure flick by providing the best audio and video you're ever likely to get out of a film this old while also packing the disc with some excellent special features. We get a commentary track, two interviews (including one with Robert Englund), and few other goodies to make up for the sub-par quality of Eaten Alive itself. Tobe Hooper fans will certainly want to check it out at least once.
Ah...the horror franchise that simply won't die. How we horror fans love and adore the endless run of mindless sequels that bear little (if any) resemblance to the original films in the franchise. Let us count the ways... Ok, so let's say you didn't get enough the first few times they, apparently, knew what you did last summer. You're itching for them to know again, and again, and again, and again...Well, how about this? How about if they always know what you did last summer? It must be a yearly thing by now, right? Are you groaning yet? Imagine what we felt like when we had to sit through I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer. Wait, you don't have to imagine. I'll let Scott Weinberg tell you how we felt about having to sit through this flick: "Basically, the moronically-titled I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is entirely worthy of the dismissive derision that you felt when you first read the title...I guarantee it. And although I popped the disc in hoping to find just a few stray pieces of horror-fan entertainment, I just knew it was a fool's errand." Watching the movie is almost as painful as typing its annoyingly long title. At least Sony puts forth the effort with this disc, as they do include a commentary track and a 26-minute featurette, in an attempt to give the audience something worth paying for. Alas, it's too little, too late as I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is just too grueling a task to even recommended a rental. That is, unless you're in the mood for a few good laughs.
Similar in style to the previous Tales of Terror from Tokyo releases from Media Blasters, Tales of Terror from Tokyo: The Movie gives "seven filmmakers the chance to each present a short film that is supposedly based on an actual supernatural incident that took place in and around Tokyo, Japan." Though longer than their five-minute counterparts, the shorts included on this disc still offer little in the way of characterization and story development and rather opt for a few fun (but ultimately unsatisfying) jump scares. Japanese ghost story fans may find a few moments to enjoy in Tales of Terror from Tokyo: The Movie, but they still might want to give the disc a rental spin before deciding to buy it.
A sequel in name only, Art of the Devil 2 deals with some of the same themes as its predecessor, but you won't need to have seen Art of the Devil to understand what's happening in this mostly-unrelated follow-up. Directed by a group of seven Thai directors known as the Ronin Team, Art of the Devil 2 boasts some quality acting, a few excellent gore scenes, and "has some great atmosphere, helped in no small part by some interesting and unique Thailand locations and sets that give the movie its distinct feel." Media Blasters does an adequate job with the film's DVD release, and Asian horror fans could certainly do worse than pick up this disc.
Much like the Amicus Productions film --And Now The Screaming Starts!, The Beast Must Die, as Stuart Galbraith IV says, "was an attempt by low-budget horror producer Amicus to break away from its successful but one-trick pony formula of all-star horror anthologies." The film, unfortunately, also follows --And Now The Screaming Starts! by "borrowing" from other sources quite liberally and ultimately fails from lack of original ideas. The Beast Must Die, nevertheless, includes the work of some talented individuals and is worth seeing at least once if you're a fan of '70s cinema or Amicus Productions.
Ian Jane also takes Lionsgate to task, once again, for their manipulative DVD cover designs: "Much like how Lionsgate tried to make Motor Home Massacre look like a Haute Tension style thriller, they've also manipulated the cover art for Cannibal to make it look like a gory horror film, when in fact this puppy is actually a French Canadian artsy-thriller originally titled Peau Blanche, or, White Skin...[the] movie has little to do with better known cannibal films like The Man From Deep River or Cannibal Holocaust." The interesting turn of events with the Cannibal, however, is that - aside from the silly re-titling and cover art - it's actually good looking film with some engaging arthouse sensibilities. The disc itself, unfortunately, is a weak, mostly barebones treatment, and the film ultimately collapses under the weight of loose ends and a poor script. Cannibal is, nonetheless, still an interesting film that's easily worth a rental.
Finally, Scott Weinberg takes a look at the latest offering from Heretic Films, Magdalena's Brain, and finds that "it's not the creepy little horror flick that the DVD case seems to promise, [but] it's at least a half-decent and admirably intelligent low-budgeter that feels more like a solid episode of The Twilight Zone than a full-blown movie movie." Magdalena's Brain is a well-acted and intelligent little fright flick that, despite its shortcomings in pacing and budgetary constraints, works as a moody and suspenseful "calling card" movie with some good moments and a "freaky finale."
The only horror film you'll probably be able to find in a few theaters is John Moore's remake of the 1976 Richard Donner classic, The Omen. Opening on a Tuesday - to capitalize on the 6/6/06 date - The Omen (2006) certainly brought in quite an audience as it opened to over $12 million (the largest Tuesday opening in motion picture history), but couldn't seem to garner the affection of many critics. Scott Weinberg, Eric D. Snider, and Brian Orndorf each had a chance to check out the nearly shot-for-shot remake starring Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber, and all concluded that The Omen (2006) is a lazy, dull, and ultimately unnecessary, carbon-copy remake of a horror classic. Dethroned in its first real weekend at the box office by Pixar's Cars, The Omen (2006) may not last all that long in your major cineplexes around the country (especially with all the summer blockbusters about to be unleashed). If you're really keen on seeing this flick, you may need to do so pretty soon. You may, however, just be better off picking up a copy of the new collector's edition DVD of the original film.
It's starting to seem like just about every week we have a new Masters of Horror disc coming out on DVD. I'm certainly not complaining though, as the Showtime series has done a great job of reinvigorating the horror-television-serial format that thrived with shows like Tales from the Crypt, but had died down in recent years. DVD Savant checks out one of the most highly-acclaimed episodes of the series: Joe Dante's Homecoming. Infused with Dante's usual ability to fuse dark humor with social satire, Homecoming is easily the most ambitious (and probably the most accomplished) episode to come out of the Showtime series. Instead of going the simple route of many of the other episodes by focusing mostly on the gory and grotesque (and I certainly don't fault many of the episodes for going in that direction - they do what they do and they do it well), Dante's film carries a very strong political message about the current state of affairs in the United States and abroad. It's a message about military action, war, and foreign policy. It's a message about what it is to be corrupt and dead inside. And it's a message about angry dissent toward those very political viewpoints. Homecoming isn't just a zombie film; it's also (and probably more importantly) an accomplished black comedy that can easily stand side-by-side with any of Dante's other films. Not to mention, it's still a hell of a zombie film. This is easily the Masters of Horror disc that I've been most fervently anticipating and, just like the other releases in the series, Anchor Bay delivers with a fully packed DVD that will satisfy any dedicated horror fan.
Also in stores this week is Troma's latest, Zombiegeddon, which Bill Gibron proclaims: "Zombiegeddon [is] a film that fails on so many unimaginable levels that it's destined to become an instant cult classic...a jaw dropper. Wait, strike that – it's a jaw unhinger! This is without a doubt the most messed up, ridiculous, epic, moronic, mind numbing/boggling/breaking/broasting excuse for a horror film ever to come wafting like a wet fart out of the cornfields of Kansas. With a b to z grade movie cast that would make your average horror hound pop with demented delight, and a storyline laced with religious overtones, rogue maniac cops, and the standard shuffling of flesh eating corpses, it would take a monumental effort to fork up this fright flick." What more would you expect from Lloyd Kaufman and the very cool people at Troma? This is precisely what makes their films so much fun. Personally, I can't wait to see what they have in store for Poultrygeist.
There are two precise reasons why I love Glen Morgan's 2003 remake of Willard so much: 1) Crispin Glover. Enough said. And 2) They just don't make horror movies like Willard in Hollywood anymore. They didn't make them like that for quite a while, and they certainly aren't making them now. What exactly do I mean by that? Willard is a slow burn of a horror film. It's a horror film based, almost solely, on quality characterization and slow, methodical development of the main character's psyche. Sure, there are some cool special effects thrown in to go along with the rat wrangling that surely takes place as well. And, yeah, R. Lee Ermey gets to do his thing as the meaner-than-hell-itself boss. But, for the most part, Willard is about Willard. It's about Crispin Glover nearly making me believe that he, in fact, is Willard Stiles. It's about building Willard's relationship with his rats and his slow descent into psychosis. Most modern horror movies are looking for the quickest way to rope the audience in, get them worked up, and then dispose of their characters. Willard just takes its time every single step of the way, and its a testament to Glen Morgan's confidence as a director to allow his film to play out the way it does. The film is all about atmosphere and characterization, and watching those two things slowly unfold is what makes me pop Willard in the DVD player an awful lot more than many other modern horror films. Not to mention the remake's absolutely perfect use of Michael Jackson's song "Ben." Now if we could only get that film on DVD all the rat-loving horror fans would be set. For now, though, I think I'll just watch Willard again.
One of the most reviled and maligned films in the history of American cinema, I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman) is a completely polarizing experience. As Joe Bob Briggs notes in his excellent commentary track for Elite Entertainment's "Millennium Edition" DVD, I Spit on Your Grave is either "the most disgusting movie ever made...or the most feminist." In fact, with all the included extra material, packaging, and fanfare, it seems as though that's the very question Elite's entire DVD is asking. Either way you slice it (pun completely intended), the film is a legend in both the horror genre and the rape/revenge subgenre. If you cringed at the infamous scene in Deliverance, don't even both popping this flick into your DVD player. You won't make it past the first rape scene. An enormous amount of credit must go to Camille Keaton for withstanding the beating she takes in this gruesome film. Her character, Jennifer Hill, is raped time after time and, yet, she still goes on to exact revenge on her attackers. It's all played out in a brutally realistic fashion, which is probably what got writer/director/editor Meir Zarchi in trouble in the first place. He is undeniably relentless in his vision throughout I Spit on Your Grave, and it almost certainly killed his career. The bottom line with the film is that people are going to continue loving it or hating it for as long as it's out in the world. I Spit on Your Grave is anything but a "middle of the road" flick. It's gritty, grimy, and sometimes downright repulsive, but it's also an important part of cinematic history that deserves to be seen. Elite Entertainment's "Millennium Edition" disc goes a long way toward making the case for the film as more "feminist" than "disgusting" with all their included extra material, but the real highlights of this DVD are the two commentary tracks. One sees Meir Zarchi virtually come out of hiding to speak about his film, and the other features everyone's favorite Drive-In Critic, Joe Bob Briggs, doing what he does best. It's a great package for a film that every horror fan should see at least once.
"Inbred redneck cannibals" have certainly staked their claim in the horror genre over the past few decades. It had been a few years, however, since they'd graced the silver screen when the Stan Winston-produced Wrong Turn hit theaters across the country. But when it did, oh boy did those cannibals come roaring back. It'd be hard to say it better than Adam Tyner: "Wrong Turn caught a lot of flack for lifting gingerly from '70s horror classics. That's kind of like being miffed at White Castle for selling square cheeseburgers; Wrong Turn is derivative by design. The bare essentials of the plot are basically The Hills Have Eyes-by-way-of-Deliverance, with a double-scoop of Texas Chainsaw tossed in for good measure. There are no self-referential winks. No "hey, is that red? Quick! Cut away!" flinching from grue. It's just a fun stalk-'em-'n'-stab-'em flick, and viewers who don't go in expecting anything more than that stand a pretty good chance of liking Wrong Turn." And that's almost exactly how I feel about the film. Wrong Turn is just a gruesomely fun flick. The kill-scenes are cleverly done. The tension is tight throughout. And Eliza Dushku provides plenty of eye candy. What more could you really ask for out of an "inbred redneck cannibal" film?
-Evolution of a Horror Movie Poster-
This week's Severed Limbs section is all about the evolution of a horror poster. Marketing a film is, of course, a huge part of the equation when it comes to the bottom line in Hollywood. A marketing campaign can easily make or break a film's success at the box office, and studios have long been putting millions of dollars into creating clever publicity schemes that will attract viewers and get people into theaters. Posters have been an essential part of this very idea for just about as long as movies have been around, and some of the coolest and most eye-catching posters have come straight out of the horror genre. You may wonder, however, where some of the ideas for these posters come from, and hopefully we'll be able to shed some light on that question as we explore the evolution of the US Theatrical Poster for Lionsgate's The Descent.
Neil Marshall's The Descent is due to hit theaters here in the states on August 4th, but it's already been a huge hit in the director's native UK. The film tells the frightening tale of six female friends who encounter some major trouble when they decide to go on a caving expedition. That description alone doesn't do The Descent justice as it's easily one of the most claustrophobic and horrifying horror films to hit theaters in quite some time. The concept itself may be simple, but the film often goes to places that you don't expect and works as both a simple fright flick and also a gruesome, gritty film about survival, friendship, loyalty, and the will to live. All of which makes The Descent quite possibly the best horror film of the last ten years. One of the most interesting things, however, about Marshall's film is how Lionsgate has decided to handle its release here in the US. Not only have they decided to alter the film's original ending (and, trust me, it will make a huge difference in how you'll feel at the end of The Descent), but they've also created a strangely interesting (though clearly not all that original) theatrical poster. While both visually stunning and thematically relevant, the film's theatrical poster is a bit of a third-generation variation on an image. Take a look at the evolution map for the poster below:
Most film fans will immediately recognize the theatrical poster for The Descent as being very similar to that of an image from the theatrical poster for Jonathan Demme's 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs. If you look closely at the face on the Death's Head Moth, you will notice that the skull-like image is actually made up of a body formation. This same concept is clearly the basis for The Descent's poster. The only real difference (aside from color, lighting, etc, of course) being that the image on the poster for The Descent is comprised of the film's six main characters. That's the first level of variation on the skull image. What many film fans may not know, however, is that the skull image on that Death's Head Moth is actually a variation of a previous image. The skull-face of the Death's Head Moth actually evolved from the famous 1951 "Dali Skull" photo by Philippe Halsman called "Salvador Dali, In Voluptate Mors." The black and white image depicts several nude females joining in a body formation to create the shape of a skull. It's a stark and creepy image that clearly works as the basis, decades later, for the design of posters. Three different variations on the same image have each created something very unique. This marketing technique seemed to work for The Silence of the Lambs, and I don't see any reason why it won't work just as well for The Descent.
While the US theatrical poster for The Descent may be an eye-catching variation on an old image, other countries chose different (and often more subtle) poster art to market the film. As you can see from the examples above, The Descent is a tough film to market for several reasons. The nearly completely female cast is a huge obstacle (especially selling the film to audiences here in the states), and trying to keep the marketing material as spoiler-free as possible is another roadblock. Each country, however, has made the most of the film's very dark atmosphere and the unknown dangers in the caves. They've crafted some very cool poster designs that each tell a little bit about the film in their own way. With all the different ways that Lionsgate could have chosen to market The Descent, it's interesting to see the evolution of images that brought their theatrical poster to life. No matter which poster design for The Descent happens to be your favorite, however, this is certainly not a film that any horror fan can afford to miss when it hits theaters in August.
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