DVD Stalk: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Sheitan, and MoH: Haeckel's Tale
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Ian Jane's take on the Unrated New Line Platinum Edition of Jonathon Liebesman's prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and, unfortunately, he's not exactly thrilled with the film. Marcus Nispel's 2003 re-imagining of one of (if not the) greatest horror films of all time surprised just about everyone by actually being a worthwhile entry in not only the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, but also the horror genre as a whole. And while Nispel's film is far from perfect, it does bring a fresh perspective and energy to a series that had, for all intents and purposes, died with the 1994 release of the abysmal Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, however, is an unfortunate step backwards for the series (and the genre). Sure, it packs quite a punch with its gore-soaked killings and R. Lee Ermey is always fun to watch, but it just all seems so heartless and distant. The film has zero soul and it simply reeks of the "let's cash in on the TCM franchise yet again" attitude. Here's a bit of what Ian has to say about it: "While this film succeeds on a few levels, sadly it fails on too many others. What the movie gets right is that it really does contain a mean streak in it a mile wide. This works in its favor in that it portrays the Hewitt family as truly savage and completely deplorable. As such, we should be really scared of them and we should feel for the victims – unfortunately, that's one of the movie's biggest weak spots. The four leads are completely cardboard. There's no real depth to them and although there are a few scenes where we learn a little bit about their lives and ambitions (we know that Eric and Chrissie want to have kids and live in California when he gets back) it's too little too late and it isn't enough to make these four teenagers stand out from those featured in whatever generic slasher film you'd care to name. The performances aren't bad, as we are able to understand how they feel and why they're scared (it's obvious – there's a maniacal family trying to eat them) but without investing any of ourselves into their plight, it's really all for naught...The movie also misses some really interesting opportunities to expand a bit on the series' mythology and to branch out a little bit from the genre clichés that it otherwise clings so strongly too...Adding to this are a few head scratching logic gaps that occur in the last half of the movie...All of this, coupled with a ridiculously predictable 'shock' ending adds up to what is essentially a very by-the-numbers horror film that should have and could have been so much better if just a bit more effort had been put into the story. A few scenes make it look like the filmmakers are trying to add some social commentary with the references to the war (and a crazed speech that Ermey gives about how far you have to go to survive) not but it's never fleshed out enough to have much impact." It's a shame that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning doesn't amount to something more meaningful, or at least add something interesting to the TCM mythos, but I guess that's to be expected. They say lightning can't strike twice, right? Well, you guys and gals didn't really think Michael Bay could be involved with another successful Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, did you?
Tartan Video probably doesn't get enough respect in the DVD world. They may not be one of the biggest studios around, but they consistently release interesting and engrossing material while continuing to fly under the radar of most horror film fans. This week, Ian Jane, takes a look at French director Kim Shapiron's "highly recommended" film Sheitan. "It's both fascinating and frustrating," Jane says, "and it works just as well as a black comedy as it does a literal horror film. Parts of the movie seem to have been inspired by better known pictures like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance but Chapiron makes the film its own animal with more than a little help from Vincent Cassel, who delivers a completely insane performance." What's so interesting about Sheitan is the fact that the film transcends the horror genre into some very deep and thought-provoking territory. "The very title of the film, a reference to the Islamic devil, would allude to the fact that there's more to the picture than simply some lunatics terrorizing a few obnoxious teenagers but, intentionally or not, the movie doesn't explain what that is. The film leaves you with plenty of food for thought and it can be interpreted in a few different ways...but it is almost better that way. Leaving things open to interpretation as it does, the film can mean different things to different people with different belief systems which makes discussing and dissecting it all the more interesting...On the other side of the spectrum, if you don't want to try and interpret the many oddities that pepper the film, Sheitan can be just as easily enjoyed on a surface level." It's a hidden gem of a fright flick with a great performance from Cassel. Bottom line: "Sheitan is a whole lot of twisted fun." Well said, Ian. This is one film horror fans are definitely going to want to track down.
What do you get when you put all your eggs in one basket? If you drop that basket, you get a big mess of broken eggs. Which is exactly what happened to New Line when Snakes on a Plane simply couldn't stand under the weight of a completely Internet-based hype machine. If they had only marketed the film as the fun, stupid, "beer and pizza" movie that it is, New Line might have had a box-office winner on its hands. Instead, they ended up with a basket full of broken eggs. Good news for DVD fans though because Snakes on a Plane is actually a hell of a lot of fun. I'll let Ian Jane do the talking: "While [Samuel L.] Jackson's screen presence and penchant for chewing through even the thickest of scenery are reason enough to give this a look, the best part of the movie is the creativity and complete stupidity of the snake attacks themselves. You wanna see a couple who smoke a doobie and try to join the mile high club get attacked by snakes? You got it. Why not have the snake chomp down on her titty while you're at it! Maybe a guy should go to the rest room and take a leak and a snake should jump out of the toilet and bite his wang... yep, they thought of that too. Snakes are all over this plane, biting women in the eyes and fat black dudes on the ass with reckless abandon. You've got big snakes, small snakes, in-between snakes - snakes of many colors, shapes and size are all here, and they're all biting people like crazy..." Count me in! "There are so many flubs in the film that it's hard to keep track of them all, and nothing really happens for any logical reason here. The characters are all stereotypes of some sort (with Jackson playing the stereotype of himself) and the dialogue and actions of these stereotypes play exactly as you would expect them to. That being said, Snakes on a Plane is a lot of fun. It's a big, dumb trash film that works in elements from disaster movies, horror movies, and action movies with plenty of darkly comic touches. The end result is a sort of tasty can of cheap genre stew. Not something you'd order at a fancy restaurant, but a tasty meal of a movie that warms your belly and which satisfies your hunger." Who wants Tavern on the Green when you can have Wendy's, right?
Dark Sky Films is back at it this week with another excellent genre release. Stuart Galbraith IV takes a look at The Slaughter of the Vampires (La Strage dei vampire) and finds it "a handsomely-made Italian vampire film whose first two-thirds is closely modeled after Hammer Films' seminal Gothic, Horror of Dracula (1958). Energetically directed by screenwriter Roberto Mauri (The Invincible Gladiators, King of Kong Island), it adds little to the genre but is entertaining nonetheless." The film itself may tread on some familiar ground, but Mauri's inventive camerawork and brisk pacing keeps The Slaughter of the Vampires interesting throughout. "Mauri's direction is tautly edited, with an impressive number of inventive set-ups and roving camera shots of good locations, and at just 79 minutes interest never flags. The film may be the first to offer a vampire bride whose ample, heaving bosom almost becomes a character in itself (themselves?). Granata's low-cut dresses pre-date what became the standard at Hammer by a half-dozen years. (The hairstyles and make-up on the women are distractingly, anachronistically early-1960s.)...Eppler, who suggests a zombified, unblinking Criswell, has virtually no dialogue but like Christopher Lee's Dracula is impressively athletic and, for his victims, sexually, eruditely irresistible." The Slaughter of the Vampires may not be a landmark film of the genre, but it is certainly one that deserves recognition and comes as a recommended addition to any horror fan's DVD collection.
Ian Jane is back with a peek at the latest Masters of Horror disc, Haeckel's Tale, and finds that it "comes really close to greatness a few times but the flaws in [its] script keep it from being as good as it could have (and should have) been." Here's a bit more of Ian's take on the hour long film: "Originally slated for director George Romero, this adaptation of Clive Barker's short story, Haeckel's Tale, wound up on John McNaughton's plate instead. Considering McNaughton's involvement in the horror genre is limited to the excellent Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and the goofy The Borrowers, he might seem an odd choice to wear the Masters of Horror hat, but the problem with this production turns out to be Mick Garris' script, and not McNaughton's surprisingly strong direction...While it's true that people talked differently years ago, much of the dialogue sounds quite forced. It should also be noted that a lot of the conflict between Haeckel and Wolfram towards the end of the movie comes across as unnecessary and rather forced. There are also a few logic gaps in the plot that are to be expected to a certain extent (this is a movie about raising the dead after all) but which still hurt the final product a little bit. The opening and closing bookends that have been added to Barker's story by Mick Garris cheapen the picture substantially and they do feel like they're there for the sole purpose of padding out the running time. It's a shame that this is the case, as Haeckel's Tale does have enough going for it to make it worth a look – it's just that there was a fair bit of untapped potential here that wasn't exploited for as much as it was worth and one can't help but feel that this should have been better than it was." While maybe not quite as good as some of the previous Masters of Horror episodes, this one's still worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of the series.
DVD Savant joins us this week for his take on two genre films that fright fans might want to be on the lookout for. First up is the Media Blasters release of Devil Times Five - "yet another attempt at a slaughter-chiller in a remote setting, with the novelty of five small children as the mad killer perpetrators." While not a stellar horror film in any way, Devil Times Five is still an interesting little piece of genre cinema. Here's more of Savant's take: "Devil Times Five is described by its makers as a cross between Ten Little Indians and Village of the Damned. Fairly elaborately filmed in the San Bernardino Mountains, and played by a competent adult cast, the picture simply fails to cohere. As if predicting the puritanical kill-off sagas of a few years later (Friday the 13th, etc.) the movie keeps our attention by having its six adults make love, get drunk and play sick sex games while waiting to be murdered in 'creative' ways...Devil Times Five moves on to gorier deaths and a bleak ending that fails to lend meaning to what's gone before. The only time we're really surprised is when an unfamiliar little girl is shown applying makeup. She pulls off her wig, and we realize that it's young star-to-be Leif Garrett...Gene Evans (The Steel Helmet, Park Row) growls and barks and Shelley Morrison (Blume in Love) is marginally interesting as a drunken wife. Top-billed Sorrell Booke does his best, but the pointless script defeats most everyone else." The Media Blasters presentation, however, is enough to save the film from the "Skip It" distinction and makes the disc worth at least a rental spin.
DVD Savant, nonetheless, finds a much more worthwhile disc in the Fantoma Films release of 1966's Red Angel calling it "a gorier, morbid version of Robert Altman's M*AS*H: Battle surgery is Hell on Earth." Yasuzo Masumura creates a stunningly gruesome portrait of an Army nurse dealing with her own brand of wartime madness. "Red Angel dramatizes the psychological effect of an outrageously extreme situation. There's nothing conventional about this film's view of war, not even in anti-war terms. Placed in a stagnant conflict that nobody believes can be won, and faced with the possibility of imminent death, the Japanese soldiers resort to whatever momentary pleasures are available...The film's real focus is on the warped values and twisted psychology of people under pressure. Nurse Nishi responds to the carnage around her by embracing the victims. When that fails she internalizes the anguish into her sex life. As if commenting on her lack of power in the Army command, Nishi cross-dresses in Okabe's uniform and pretends to be his superior. Her affair with the armless Orihara is sort of a precursor to the fetishistic love-mutilations in Moju. Nurse Nishi remains proud of her name -- which means 'cherry blossom' -- and refuses to withdraw from her personal struggle...Masumura expert direction clearly defines the characters and the film's utterly convincing production values lend credibility to the surgery scenes. As with Manji there is little direct nudity -- the highly charged erotic atmosphere doesn't need it." High praise, indeed, from our very own DVD Savant. Red Angel is a disc well worth checking out.
Wow. It certainly didn't take very long for The Blair Witch Project wunderkind's, Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez, to practically fall off the face of the earth, did it? Well, the time has finally come for Sanchez's follow up to the enormously popular Blair Witch film to get into the hands of horror fans everywhere. Here's a bit of what Scott Weinberg has to say about Sanchez's film Altered: "So we've got a fairly compelling set-up for a stuck-in-one-set genre indie, and for the most part Sanchez keeps the story moving along pretty slickly. The creature effects are passable enough, and the flick earns points for trying to deliver something semi-fresh to a fairly stale sub-genre ... but there's a lot here that simply doesn't work...A few of the unknown actors simply aren't up to the task, while Jamie Nash's screenplay frequently degenerates into redundant arguments, vitriol, and hysterics. It seems like every ten minutes we have to have one of the characters freak out, obnoxiously, while sputtering a bunch of schoolyard-style profanity." Weinberg, though, does still find a few things to like about the film: "Still, points for trying to combine the Alien Run Amok and the Trapped in a Building scenarios into something beyond screaming co-eds and pointless gore-splatters. What Altered has to offer might not be the best indie genre flick you'll see this year, but it's got just enough assets to keep the genre fans interested. If only barely." If you're in the mood for something a little different, or you just want to know what one of those Blair Witch guys are up to, you could certainly do a lot worse than Altered.
John Wallis finishes up our horror DVD review roundup with a look at the Thai film The Man-Eater, which is based on a supposed true case of a serial killer who preyed on children back in the late 1940's. John, unfortunately, isn't all that pleased with results: "When it comes to tales of killers, I don't mind a film that tries to go deep and probe into the darker depths (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), and I don't mind it when they aim straight for the pulp, the fanciful, the exploitative (Hannibal), or even healthy mix the two (The Untold Story). However, Man-Eater just treads shallow ground which results in a film that lacks both dramatic insight and exploitative thrills...The Man-Eater was selling, but I wasn't buying, the notion of a man who turned to cold-blooded murder of defenseless children because he had a hard time adjusting to a different culture, one that was fleetingly kind and mainly unrelentingly inhumane to him." If there's any glimmer of excitement to be found in the film, John lays it out by saying, "On the technical side it is a well-made film and might offer a bit of entertainment for those inclined...The Man-Eater is a passable rental." While this Thai film is anything but perfect, it definitely has enough good moments to warrant at least a rental.
We here at DVD Stalk have brought you loyal readers 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.
So, if there's a genre flick that you would like to see covered in this section of DVD Stalk, make sure that you drop us a line. In the coming weeks, we'll take some of your suggestions and feature the titles here in our Overlooked Horror Discs section. So, don't forget to email us with your thoughts, and you just might see your favorite overlooked horror film in a future issue.
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As DVD Stalk continues to grow, we hope to bring you more great features and even a few surprises. The first of which is our brand new DVD Stalk Forum. We thought a dedicated sub-forum to handle all the horror-related chatter would be a great addition to the already-thriving DVD Talk Forums. We'll also be posting horror news, quick-hit peeks at upcoming discs, and press releases in the new forum, so check it out and join in the fun at the DVD Stalk Forum.
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