DVD Stalk: The Hills Have Eyes: Unrated, Horror Television, and More Reader Responses
We start off week's highlights with two very early looks at Alexandre Aja's brutal and grisly remake of Wes Craven's 1977 classic horror, The Hills Have Eyes. What Aja does so well in The Hills Have Eyes (2006) is take the base story that Craven laid out in his original, and expands that film's outlook. The young, French Director of Haute Tension gives his mutants a backstory and a reason for existing. He gives his film a gorgeous, expansive landscape that not only works to show the complete isolation of this unfortunate family, but also makes the entire situation appear incredibly claustrophobic. The Hills Have Eyes (2006) is a testament to Aja's ability to create tension out of very little, and the film manages to effectively probe into the depths of the human psyche. The people in this very unlucky family are pushed to their absolute breaking point and must decide whether to recoil in fear or stand up against the mutant cannibals. It's all about testing oneself against the most depraved threat out there, and Aja knows exactly how to make it an interesting, gore-soaked story. So much so that Ian Jane and I both take at look at Fox's upcoming The Hills Have Eyes: Unrated DVD and come to the same conclusion that its not only a excellent horror flick, but the disc also contains some great extra features.
Ian Jane also has a look at the hit Russian horror film, Night Watch, and finds that "...despite its multiple flaws, Night Watch is an interesting and entertaining movie and the filmmakers behind the project show some serious potential." Ian notes that there are clearly some pacing problems throughout the film, and sections where it could have been tightened up a bit, but there's still enough engaging material here for viewers to appreciate checking out Night Watch at least once. If you simply shut off your brain for a few minutes, disregard the often-wonky CGI effects, and enjoy the fantasy elements of the story, you might find yourself really enjoying the film. Even if they didn't manage to port over the making-of documentary from the Region 2 disc, Fox has provided Night Watch a very nice DVD presentation with several audio commentaries to appease the film's hardcore fans.
The Lon Chaney Jr. Collection brings together four of the legendary Wolf Man's lesser-known films (some of which appear on DVD for the first time), and proves that he wasn't just a great horror actor, but an excellent actor in non-horror material as well. While these four examples of Chaney's work are mostly non-horror, we still get some very interesting features. Included on this disc are Manfish, Telephone Time: The Golden Junkman, Lock Up: The Case of Joe Slade, and The Indestructible Man - all of which have their flaws but ultimately showcase Chaney's various talents. It may not appeal to everyone, but The Lon Chaney Jr. Collection is a treat for fans of the man himself (especially the ones who get to see this material for the first time).
Also this week, David Cornelius has a chance to sit down with Retromedia's bargain quartet of underseen thrillers, Forgotten Terrors. The cover art for these four films (Dead Men Walk, The Intruder, Tangled Destinies, and The Phantom) might be a bit misleading, as most of them turn out to be mystery-thrillers. Only one film of the bunch, Dead Men Walk, is geared toward the horror crowd and, unfortunately, that one's more a curiosity flick than anything else. The other films in this set aren't much better, as only Tangled Destinies manages to impress David with the straightforward simplicity of its mystery and some lively characters. Still, the Forgotten Terrors bargain box set may find a fan or two among those B-movie lovers who have yet to see everything.
Ah...more Asian horror. What more could a horror fan ask for? Well, how about some good Asian horror! Panik House's release of The Uninvited has Jamie S. Rich less than excited about the prospect of more confusing J-Horror coming our way. The film's "ludicrous plot machinations" simply don't hold up to scrutiny, which Jamie could forgive if he were even the least bit frightened by the film. The Uninvited, unfortunately, offers no such scares or creep factor and ultimately ends up a dull, overly long failure with an excellent DVD presentation (go figure). David Cornelius finds himself needing to explore Region 3 discs this week to find some new Asian horror worth watching. He calls The Hole (Region 3) "absolutely ridiculous yet also pretty darn creepy," and says that the film might be entirely silly and grandiose in its concepts, but still manages to illicit the right kind of scares at the right times. If you have a region-free player, The Hole (Region 3) is definitely worth watching.
Finally, Scott Weinberg tackles the "...low-budget direct-to-video horror flick about nurses who've been infected by alien phalluses, only to become sex-crazed, sugar-obsessed zombie chicks..." called Candy Stripers. The film is easily one of the least scary and least funny horror-comedies ever put to celluloid, but it does provide some nasty gore and bare breasts from time to time, so that should satisfy at least some of the horror crowd. Don't expect to find a hidden gem in the rough with Candy Stripers, as its a miracle someone even released the film on DVD, but if you sit back and revel in the horrifying badness of it, you might actually find yourself chuckling just a little bit. Is that worth your time? Maybe. Maybe not. But I know one thing for sure: It's gory crapfests like Candy Stripers that I used to stay up until 3AM to watch on late-night cable. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I'm still not quite sure.
The only horror film opening this week 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.
You may also still be able to find the dopey See No Evil (starring WWE wrestler Kane) in theaters around the country but you're probably better off simply skipping this one as critics have pretty much unanimously panned the film.
2003's sleek and sexy vampires-vs-werewolves film, Underworld wasn't only fun because Kate Beckinsale was running around in a skin-tight outfit the entire time. It has some exciting action, some unexpected developments, and didn't take itself too seriously. Underworld: Evolution, however, sucks the fun right out of the series. Sure, the action is still fun, Kate Beckinsale still looks great in that outfit, and there are some exciting sequences, but Underworld: Evolution just takes itself way too seriously. Scott Weinberg is a critic who loves to champion a mindless popcorn film, from time to time, but Underworld: Evolution fails for the same reasons that many other rushed-to-production sequels fail; it is just too convoluted and silly to hold the same excitement of the original. Sony has done a bang-up job on the disc with an excellent audio-visual presentation and some nice extra features, but you're still stuck with Underworld: Evolution, rather than the more exciting and original Underworld.
Also in stores this week, Bill Gibron takes a look at the very strange Macabre Pair of Shorts and find it "an appalling attempt at horror humor." Then again, this is Troma that we're talking about, and even the most painfully bad film somehow gains a bit of schmaltzy fun when Lloyd Kaufman gets involved. The fun here, however, is limited to a few moments of the incredibly odd movie and a couple extra features. Macabre Pair of Shorts may not be a great horror flick, but it's Troma, and I've found that just about anything Troma releases is worth watching at least once.
This week's Overlooked Horror Discs is all about a few excellent, but somewhat under the radar, horror-related television series. The first of which sees some strange things happening in the town of Trinity, South Carolina. The ultimately unsuccessful (at least ratings-wise), but incredibly interesting, southern series American Gothic ran for 22 episodes - four of which never actually aired on the show's original network, CBS - and was then cast off into a life of relative obscurity, save for the very loyal cult following the show spawned. Mixing elements from other cult-favorite series like Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and even The Twilight Zone, American Gothic worked on a creepy level in the Southern Gothic tradition. CBS, unfortunately, buried the series by frequently moving its air time and airing many of the episodes out of order (creating some major continuity issues). Don't let that deter you though. American Gothic is an interesting series that features the work of both Sam Raimi and Shaun Cassidy, and is well worth giving a second look on DVD.
Tales from the Crypt isn't normally a series that one would call overlooked, but the season sets that Warner has been releasing seem to be flying under the radar. Sure, the second season discs are missing the show's signature opening, and the extra material is slightly smaller this time around, but this is the season where Tales from the Crypt really came into its own in terms of quality. The guests star are bigger (names like Deutch, Schwarzenegger, and Darabont), the stories are more intriguing, and the cast continued to grow. This is one of those shows that everyone remembers watching, but might find it difficult to recall exact episodes. Thankfully, Warner's season sets allow any curious horror fan the chance to go back and enjoy that hilariously creepy Cryptkeeper once again.
Most people would probably remember Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital as a commercial and critical failure, but what most of the casual horror fans might not know is that the series is actually a loose remake of Danish Director Lars von Trier's four-part television series The Kingdom (Riget). The quirky and frightening series isn't just a superior version to King's, but Ian Jane calls The Kingdom (Riget) "...the coolest and creepiest television series to hit airwaves since Lynch's Twin Peaks." The story, about a very haunted hospital, not only works as horror television with its pervasive sense of the otherworldly, but also works as a pretty disturbing human drama. If you've only had the chance to see Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital, you owe it to yourself to seek out Lars von Trier's The Kingdom (Riget), so you can finally get a look at a superior, more original version of the story.
-Movies You Should Never Watch With Your Girlfriend/Wife-
This week's Severed Limbs section is all about some of the sickest and most depraved films you'll find anywhere. They may not all fit easily into the horror genre, but they are each horrific in their own special way. Now, don't get me wrong. Just because these flicks are sick and depraved doesn't mean that they're not quality films. In fact, some of them are truly landmark films in many ways.
Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust is easily one of the most difficult movies I've ever watched, and I don't mean difficult in the sense that it's hard to understand. The film, in fact, is incredibly simple and easy to comprehend. What I mean by difficult is that Cannibal Holocaust is physically one of the most difficult films you could ever set your eyes to. This cannibal/jungle/faux-documentary film displays just about every single atrocity you could imagine seeing in a film: rape, ritual abortion, impaled bodies, castration, cannibalizing, and the unfortunate all-too-real animal cruelty. The center of some major controversy since its release, Cannibal Holocaust, has been shocking viewers around the world (if they could find a copy, that is) since 1980 and Grindhouse Releasing's 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition, released in October 2005, ran out of its limited run very quickly (they did, however, release a second non-limited edition as well). Grindhouse presents the film completely uncut (and also offers a PETA-friendly version without the animal cruelty) and provides a ton of extra material to try and give the audience some perspective on Deodato's film. Cannibal Holocaust is a sick, sick film, but a relevant one, that is worth seeing at least once...if you can stomach it.
Rumor has it that Gaspar Noe's 2002 tragedy, Irreversible, premiered to an unsuspecting audience of moviegoers who had, unknowingly, been subjected to a silent police riot-defense tactic (some type of inaudible noise, if that makes any sense) which made them feel physically ill before the film even started rolling. If that's a true story, Gaspar Noe is one crazy, sick individual (even if he's an excellent director) because it won't be long before Irreversible itself will make you feel sick to your stomach. Told (quite literally) in reverse, the film is more arthouse than horror, but it certainly contains some of the most horrifying scenes in cinematic history. One, which takes place right near the beginning of the film, involves someone's head and a fire extinguisher, and the other is a stomach-churning rape scene with the camera down on the floor to watch for nearly a grueling eight minutes. If it's difficult for me to watch, I can't imagine what someone's girlfriend or wife would think. Not to mention the fact that Irreversible is full of scenes with a completely nude Monica Bellucci. That last thing you need is your significant other watching the drool roll down your chin, right? Nevertheless, Irreversible is an excellent and controversial film that displays the truly tragic nature that time can have on a relationship. It's a tough film to watch, but one that is extremely rewarding if you can get through it.
Nick Palumbo's second directorial effort, Murder-Set-Pieces isn't a very original, or even a very good, film but it is a pretty sick one. Palumbo's film seems to revel in the grue and gratuitous violence of every horrific image that he can imagine. In fact, Bill Gibron puts it best in his review of the film: "He's not actively attempting to entertain or enrage us. Instead, he's letting his own mutated mindset seep across the screen in sickening, static set pieces. The result is an illogical mess of mindnumbing proportions, a cinematic ipecac that almost purges your preference for horror completely out of your psyche." It seems Palumbo made Murder-Set-Pieces as an attempt to push buttons and generally anger people. If that was his intention, Palumbo certainly succeeds as the film is a nasty piece of filmmaking that may not fully live up to the hype, but still isn't something I'd recommend to the weak of stomach.
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