DVD Stalk: Underworld: Evolution, Horror Score Mania, and Reader Responses
We start off this week's round of horror review highlights with a bit of a vampire obsession. Not only do we have Scott Weinberg's early review of Underworld: Evolution, but we also have Ian Jane's take on Uwe Boll's latest video game adaptation, BloodRayne, and a very early look at another interesting under-the-radar vampire film entitled Vampire Wars: Battle for the Universe.
Underworld: Evolution is the follow-up to the 2003 vampires-versus-werewolves flick Underworld. The first film, though certainly not high on the intellectual scale, provided some genuinely entertaining moments and some great mindless popcorn fun. It seems Scott Weinberg was hoping for a little bit of the same formula for Underworld: Evolution but, despite how hard he tried, he could only find "a few small nuggets of pleasure" in the sequel. While the film looks and sounds great, the filmmakers decision to try to bring a bit more emotional depth to this go around just falls flat as the Underworld: Evolution lulls the viewer into boredom when its not in "action mode." It, unfortunately, takes itself a bit too seriously and loses some of that mindless fun that's so present in the original film. With an excellent technical presentation and a slew of extra material, this disc is one that should certainly please fans of the film, but if you're looking for an improvement over the original Underworld you won't find it here..
Ian Jane is braver than most people for tackling the follow-up film from the director of House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark. Uwe Boll has made a bit of a reputation for himself as the modern-day Ed Wood, Jr. by crafting some of the worst movies (let alone, video game adaptations) of the last decade. His horror flicks are horribly un-scary, silly, and downright poorly conceived. As Ian alludes to in his review of BloodRayne, how Uwe Boll convinced Sir Ben Kingsley to take a part in his latest film is one of the great mysteries of the universe. The film fails in just about every way possible, but I can't say it quite as well as Ian says it in his review: "When all things are seriously considered, BloodRayne is in fact a pretty bad film full of predictable characters, obvious plot twists, and dialogue that sounds like it was written by a twelve year old boy." Nevertheless, Jane stills says he had fun with the film by keeping his expectations in check and watching the train wreck unfold in front of him. I wonder if Uwe Boll feels the same way?
Rounding out our vampire-filled introduction is another Scott Weinberg review of a little-known film - that premiered on the Sci-Fi Network - called Vampire Wars: Battle for the Universe. Calling it a cross between Serenity and Blade is a hopeful introduction, but we soon learn that, although Scott found some small part of the film interesting, Vampire Wars: Battle for the Universe is mostly a mess. It's pure cinematic cheese, but it does happen to actually be entertaining at times. What more can you really ask for out of a Sci-Fi Network premiere?
Asian horror just keeps coming at this point, and I think the only thing we can really do about it is hope for some quality films. Tartan Video (who routinely put out excellent DVD releases of even the most inane flicks) offers up The Booth to Ian Jane's critical eye and come away in pretty good shape. The plot - a haunted booth at a radio station - may seem a little silly, but the film manages to actually be a clever take on the premise and offers up some neat plot twists that you won't expect. The Booth gets points for originality by trying to provide something slightly different with the quickly-becoming-tired Asian ghost genre, and Tartan Video deserves their kudos for another quality DVD presentation that includes some worthwhile extra features.
It appears that J-Horror has their own share of cash-in remakes just we're so fond of here in the states. This time it's Takashi Miike's One Missed Call that gets the sequel treatment without the director's involvement. Instead it's Renpei Tsukamoto at the helm of One Missed Call 2, and the director does his best to try and make the film interesting. His direction is solid and the film's pacing is good, but this sequel is simply too watered down and too routine to actually break any new ground. There's certainly some entertainment to be found in One Missed Call 2, but it's all just a bit too familiar for the film to succeed as a whole.
We finish up this week's horror highlights with a look at a low-budget thriller and a revisited TV series. Room 6 is a cheapie psycho-thriller that features Christine Taylor doing, as Scott Weinberg puts it in his review, "...all she can to elevate the tiresome material and deliver a strong performance." The film itself may not be all that worth watching, but Ms. Taylor puts in so much effort and enthusiasm that it's hard to give Room 6 an outright pass altogether. The plot is blandly familiar, the dialogue is about as crisp as a soggy dollar bill, and the film is only occasionally creepy, but for some reason we can't stop watching. If for nothing more than to watch Mrs. Ben Stiller try to save this sinking ship of a movie.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a horror fan who doesn't remember the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker series (provided they're old enough, that is). Created primarily as a reaction to the ratings success of the made-for-tv movies The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, the series quickly flopped and barely last one season of twenty episodes. So, what's the next logical step, you ask? Well, you wait about twenty-five more years and then try to remake the original series with a new series simply called Night Stalker. Give Stuart Townsend (of Queen of the Damned fame) a leading role and you've got a recipe for...ten episodes (four of which never even aired). Yup, that's all. Ten episodes. Suffice to say the idea wasn't exactly a home run. The series, however, did show promise and the quick cancellation made for some very loose ends. Thankfully, Night Stalker: The Complete Series helps to tie up most of those loose ends by including four completed, but unaired, episodes. If you missed it on television the first time around, it's probably worth at least a rental this time around.
It seems like Lionsgate had a pretty tough time scaring up audiences to see professional wrestler Kane utter one measly line of dialogue in a horror movie, as See No Evil saw barely any money at the box office in its first few weeks of release. Just to make sure critics everywhere (and, apparently, audiences everywhere) were right about the film, we had both Eric D. Snider and Brian Orndorf take a look at the film. Eric's review is a bit more forgiving as he sees the film without having any prior knowledge as to who Kane is in the professional wrestling world. He, surprisingly, actually finds a few things to like about See No Evil despite its many downfalls. Brian's review, however, hands the film a beating that even Hulk Hogan would be prove of as he tears apart just about every shred of celluloid the film is printed on.
The other interesting news for horror in theaters is the upcoming release of John Moore's remake of the 1976 horror classic, The Omen. Due to hit theaters this coming Tuesday (6/6/06), the remake has caused quite a stir among horror purists by placing younger actors (namely Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles) in the Gregory Peck and Lee Remick roles. The advance trailers, on the other hand, do look fairly interesting even if early word is that the film is nearly a shot-by-shot remake. We'll all be able to find out just how scary Damien is this time around on Tuesday as The Omen hits theaters nationwide.
You may also still be able to find An American Haunting (the "Bell Witch" legend adaptation with a great cast, but not much else) and Silent Hill (the Christophe Gans video game adaptation with a sub-par script from Roger Avary) in theaters, but with all the big summer movies starting to come around, you'd better try to catch them now before they're long gone.
Dark Sky Films simply continues to crank out some great classic horror on DVD. DVD Savant takes a peek at two of our featured discs on the street this week, the first of which is Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. Forget B-movie status, this film is a "grade triple-Z production" that consists of silly concept, inept script, and a ton of stock footage. That, nonetheless, is what makes the film so very endearing to its followers. Films like Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster are tailor-made for the Drive-In, which is where they flourished for so long. Now, thanks to DVD, we can all rekindle that Drive-In magic a few more times.
Also in stores this week, Savant gives The Bette Davis Collection: Volume 2 a spin and, while all the films are worth your time to check out, the most interesting title for the purposes of this column is easily the long-anticipated special edition release of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. The Robert Aldrich film had a tough time in the wake of Hitchcock's success with the 1960 classic, Psycho, but managed to find an audience with its "pure Guignol thrills and an uneasy dread of what awful thing might happen next." Warner's new DVD release of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a huge step up from the film's previous flat-letterboxed effort, and is easily a reason to pick up the entire collection.
Still haven't had your fill of horror discs released this week? Scott Weinberg says it best when he describes Lief Jonker's Darkness: The Vampire Version as "one of the cheapest, silliest, and splatteriest no-budget horror flicks you're ever likely to come across." The first forty-minutes or so show off not only the filmmakers ability to showcase some major gore, but also their undying enthusiasm for their project. Darkness: The Vampire Version goes downhill pretty quickly after that first forty-minutes, but Rykodisc has packed this two-disc release so tightly with extra features that it would be hard to not give it at least one look. Those horror fans who love no-budget gorefests should definitely find something to like about the film.
Dario Argento sure started off strong with his feature-length debut. His 1970 film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, is not only Argento's first true giallo, but it's also been hugely influential in just about every Italian giallo thereafter. Known for his visual flare as well as his intriguing, yet often slightly similar, stories, Argento firmly established himself as a important part of the Italian film community. He'd go on to hit his stride later with films like Deep Red, Inferno, Opera, and Suspiria, but the master director really started it all with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. His work with Ennio Morricone would go on to become legendary, and Argento's film would be one of Vittorio Storaro's earliest films working as a cinematographer (who would go on to be the cinematographer on Bertolucci's Il Conformista - one of the most beautifully-shot films of all time). If you're unfamiliar with Dario Argento's work (and chances are, if you're reading this column, you're probably not), The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a pretty good place to start. Blue Underground has been putting out some phenomenal discs lately, and their two-disc treatment of Argento's film is excellent with a great audio-visual presentation and some very interesting extra features. The film (and especially this DVD release) should definitely not be overlooked.
From Dario Argento's first giallo feature, we move on to a film that obviously found a huge amount of influence from Argento's film. The Black Belly of the Tarantula wears its giallo influences on its sleeve with a bizarre plot, some great chase scenes, and even a few giant spiders. Paolo Cavara does a great job of speeding the pace along and infusing his film with a sense of excitement that never dissipates. With such an intense attention to detail, The Black Belly of the Tarantula simply looks good enough to hold your interest, even when there's not much happening on screen. It should surprise no one that the film's North American home video debut comes courtesy of Blue Underground, and they do a great job of bringing The Black Belly of the Tarantula to DVD with an excellent audio-visual presentation. It may not be nearly as packed as some of their other discs, but it does contain a very informative interview with Lorenzo Danon (son of the film's producer, Marcello Danon) and the original U.S. theatrical trailer.
One of my most vivid memories from when I was younger is my sister and I watching this really creepy movie where this little kid accidentally gets locked in the cloak room (not that we even knew what a "cloak" was at the time) of his school one night and meets the ghost of a little girl. Though we probably didn't even realize it for several years, the movie that creeped us out so badly just about every year around Halloween was Frank LaLoggia's Lady in White. Released very quietly in 1988, the film needed the advent of home video to finally gain an audience. Once it did, however, LaLoggia's film became an enormously beloved cult favorite. To me (and my sister) the film was just an incredibly moody, scary little ghost tale about an unfortunate kid named Frankie. When we got a little older we learned, upon subsequent viewings, that Lady in White was a lot more than another simple ghost story. The film, instead, deals with real-life murder, supernatural beings, loss, and a myriad of other emotions that were completely lost on two frightened kids sitting in front of the TV on Halloween night. What wasn't lost, however, was the truly creepy tone that LaLoggia is able to generate with his small-town film. Lady in White is a highly effective little flick that I'm sure brings back memories for an awful lot of horror fans just like it does for me. Previously released on DVD by Elite Entertainment, the original disc went out of print and quickly started to grab hordes of money on eBay before MGM decided to release their own DVD. Carrying over nearly all the extra features from the Elite disc, this DVD sports some great extra features including a commentary by the man wholly responsible for the film, Frank LaLoggia. If you've never seen Lady in White before, I urge you to get out there, grab a copy, and curl up in front of the TV with your family (it's rated a family-friendly PG-13). Allow Laloggia's film to help you make some memories like it did for me.
This week's Severed Limbs section is all about the music that helps make these horror films so terrifying. Filmmakers have been employing the use of effective musical scores to create even more scares in their films for decades. In a genre that is often so visually dramatic (in terms of gore-splattered screens and shocking death scenes), the one aspect of horror films that can easily get lost in the shuffle is the music. In this week's focus on horror scores you'll find three soundtracks that are not only constantly in heavy rotation on my iPod, but also bring something dramatically important to the films that they support.
At first listen, Christopher Young's score for The Exorcism of Emily Rose sounds like your typical contemporary horror score. It's full of clanks, bangs, and other creepy sounds designed specifically to scare the viewer. Upon multiple listens, however, one begins to discover just how complex and intricate Young's score is, and just how effectively it evokes the mood of the film itself. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a strange film in that it takes a lot of leaps in mood and tone - switching often (and successfully) between flashbacks of the "possessed" Emily Rose and present-day courtroom scenes. What Young does with his score is allow the film to takes these drastic leaps in time without yanking the viewer completely out of the narrative. His score goes from routine clanging, dramatic sounds to lilting, beautiful music. The last few tracks, in fact, are not only effectively used in the film, but also a great bit of music to listen to on its own.
One of the most recognizable compositions in all of the horror genre, listening to Charles Bernstein's score for A Nightmare on Elm Street today exposes just how very 1980s the film (and its music) really is. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with it sounding so obviously 80s. Bernstein's score, instead, does an incredibly effective job of bringing the viewer back to Craven's first Freddy flick. No matter how old you are, the moment you hear the first few notes of the score, you will know exactly what it felt like to see A Nightmare on Elm Street for the very first time. The score is absolutely filled with the synthesizer-like sounds that were so popular during the film's release. Synthy or not, Bernstein's composition is one that will be indelibly linked to the screen presence of Freddy Krueger, and one that does an excellent job of not using cheap tricks to scare the audience, but instead goes right for the prolonged creepiness that makes A Nightmare on Elm Street such a timeless classic in the horror genre.
With the current remake about to hit theaters next week, the film that seems to be on everyone's mind these days is Richard Donner's 1976 creepfest about a boy named Damien. The Omen is a real slow burn of a horror film - the kind of fright flick you don't see very often anymore - and one that does an amazing job of lulling the audience into a fairly safe place before revealing all the horror that lies in its characters. An effective method of scaring your audience, indeed, but one that may never have actually worked had it not been for Jerry Goldsmith's Academy Award®-winning musical score. What Goldsmith does so well is create music that sounds one way, but makes the viewer feel another way. From the opening track, "Ave Satani," Goldsmith gives the audience an absolutely beautiful track, but one that so clearly evokes dread and impending doom. The musical score for The Omen is a relentless attack of powerful orchestral sounds matched with strong voices and creepy melodies. It immediately informs that viewer that something is not quite right in the film, but waits just long enough to give a clear indication of what that "something" is. It is a magnificent soundtrack and one that makes The Omen a unique and chilling masterpiece of horror. It will certainly be a treat to hear what Marco Beltrami does with some of Goldsmith's themes for the 2006 remake of the film.
Only one week and we've already gotten some great reader responses to the new column. Here are just a few:
"Warmed my little black heart. Keep on Stalkin' me fellas. The only way I could dig DVD Stalk more would be if it were to have breasts. Love the column!" - G. Noel Gross (your trusted CineSchlocker)
I hope everyone enjoyed their first taste of the column because there's a lot more to come in the next few weeks. If there is anything that you, the loyal reader, would love to see covered in this area, please feel free to send us a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'd love to read your comments and feedback. Send us your thoughts on other things you'd like to see in the space, or even random thoughts about the world of horror. Drop us a line at email@example.com.
The blog raises from the dead and other Halloween treats
Warner Archives, El Superbeasto and more
Feast III, My Bloody Valentine, and Friday the 13th!
X-Files, Naschy, and Black Christmas