DVD Stalk: Woods, Supernatural: S1, and Evil Aliens
We kick off this week's huge batch of horror DVD reviews with Scott Weinberg's take on Lucky McKee's criminally underseen second feature film The Woods. The follow-up to McKee's 2002 cult-favorite, May, the director's latest effort is the unfortunate recipient of a studio dump to DVD. Sony didn't quite know what to do with the film after they'd already acquired it, so they decided to make it a direct-to-DVD offering and axe all the planned extra features. While it's great that horror fans (who have been waiting for the release of The Woods for ages) will finally get a chance to see McKee's second film, it's a shame that the film couldn't get the theatrical release it deserves. So, what's the verdict after all this time waiting for the opportunity to finally see the film? As Scott Weinberg says: "Not at all surprisingly, the movie's pretty damn good." This semi-homage to Dario Argento's Suspiria gets a rave review from Weinberg, who goes on to say: "As he did so smoothly and effectively in May, McKee shows a surprising amount of empathy and insight where the plight of lonely young women is concerned...The cast is uniformly excellent throughout; Agnes Bruckner delivers a quietly commanding lead performance while Patricia Clarkson sinks her teeth into a witchy role and is clearly having some good fun while doing it...Beautifully shot, filled with great music (both the score and the handful of Lesley Gore tunes) and effectively edited (save for some of Act II, which really does get a little bit repetitive), The Woods is in no way superior to McKee's masterful May, but the guy's second effort stands as clear indication that we're dealing with one talented genre filmmaker." Hopefully the legions of horror fans who love McKee's work (including his excellent Masters of Horror episode Sick Girl) will buy The Woods in droves and show Sony just what kind of box office numbers they missed out on.
The now-defunct WB network (it's joined forces with UPN to form The CW Network) is probably one of the last places horror fans would expect to look for a cool, edgy horror-based series. Sure, it's the network that originally gave us the impeccably great Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, but that show (in addition to its overall kickassery) also had certain elements that could easily bring in the One Tree Hill-type demographic. Supernatural, however, may have two good-looking guys in the show's lead roles, but it's also a surprisingly dark, creepy, and haunting series about the nature of evil and its many incarnations. What makes Supernatural so entertaining (and interesting) is the fact that many of the stories are pulled straight from well-known horror legends. Not to mention the fact that Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki just seem to have a very natural, brotherly chemistry on screen that only helps bring a sense of realism and tension to the show that might have been lost on two different actors. Here's what John Sinnott has to say about Supernatural: Season 1: "[Supernatural] is a mix of The Fugitive and X-Files with just a dollop of Hardy Boys thrown in for good measure, and it works very well. There's a fair amount of continuity, mainly searching for the father and learning more about the brother's past and that keeps the show from being repetitive. It never feels like a 'monster of the week' type program. They aren't just using the same script every week and just changing the supernatural threat." While a lot of hardcore horror hounds may have missed Supernatural the first time around, I urge you to check out this DVD set. The series had an excellent debut run and is easily one of my favorites shows from last year. Supernatural: The Complete First Season packs all 22 episodes, along with some excellent extra material, and is certainly worth a spot on any horror fan's DVD shelf.
Has it already been ten years since Troma unleashed one of their most popular classics to the gore-crazed masses? Well, hot damn, I guess it has been! What better time than now for Troma to release Tromeo and Juliet in a lavish 10th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD set? Easily one of the best films Troma has ever produced, Tromeo and Juliet may not rank among the micro-budget studio's biggest fan-favorite, but it is certainly one of the most ambitious. Here's a bit of what Bill Gibron has to say about the film: "Tromeo and Juliet is arguably Troma's masterpiece, a film that truly represents everything the 30 year old independent production and distribution company stands for. More serious than the fabulous freak-out known as Terror Firmer, better conceived and constructed than the entire Toxic Avenger saga, this punk rock revamp of the classic Shakespeare story of star-crossed lovers gets good and tweaked by the Manhattan based masters of rudeness and bad taste. Yet instead of piling on the gore, or obsessing on silly toilet humor, Tromeo and Juliet uses sex, fetishism, kink and its own cruel crackpot logic to deliver a wholly satisfying and cinematically unique experience." High praise, indeed, for a Troma film. And if the film alone weren't enough to entice you to pick up this new version of Tromeo and Juliet, Troma has also provided more extra material than you'd probably ever need (or even want) on this disc. Bill Gibron even calls it "one of the best DVD presentations of 2006," and even proclaims that "Tromeo and Juliet easily earns the coveted DVD Talk Collector's Series designation, not just for its boffo bells and whistles, but for what an amazing piece of peculiar performance art this motion picture is." Now are you convinced?
Also this week, Ian Jane has a chance to check out the first feature-length film from Spanish director Guillem Morales, and calls The Uninvited Guest (El Habitante Incierto) "an excellent, Hitchcock inspired work of white knuckled suspense." Ian goes on to say that "while there are a couple of head scratching moments that defy logic, this is an otherwise expertly crafted thriller with some excellent twists and turns and a truly fantastic performance from the male lead...Even if you know where it's going before you get there, the pacing and the amazing suspense that builds so well throughout this film ensure that it's still a really fun ride and that getting there is a completely enjoyable experience." Even the completely barebones offering from HBO isn't enough to deter Ian from calling The Uninvited Guest a highly recommended DVD. Clearly the quality of this overlooked film alone is worth the price of this disc.
Bill Gibron tackles some Aussie horror with his look at Savage Sinema from Down Under and calls the three-film collection of Mark Savage's work "an amazing trip through this talented artist's considered canon...Representing 20 years in Mark Savage's strange cinematic journey, this box set suggests a major untapped talent just aching for international recognition." Getting his start in film as a video technician, the Australian exploitationer has had quite an interesting career. We'll let Bill sum it up for you: "He would borrow the equipment from his job and on weekends he too would make proper movies with his pals. A longtime creator of his own homegrown extravaganzas, Savage soon delivered Marauders, one of Australia's first direct to video genre efforts. He followed it up with the far more adventurous SNAK – Sensitive New-Age Killer and the highly experimental silent "blood symphony" Defenceless." The terrific thing about Subversive Cinema's Savage Sinema from Down Under is that not only does it include all three of Savage's wonderful films, but there's also a limited fourth disc included with an enormous amount of extra material. For anyone unfamiliar with the work of Mark Savage, Savage Sinema from Down Under is an excellent place to start getting up to speed.
It goes without saying that Criterion Collection releases some of the best DVDs year after year. You won't, however, find that many horror films in their catalog so it's especially great when we get a Criterion release like Jigoku. This truly bizarre film about the concept of afterlife, and more specifically Hell ("which is what Jigoku translates to in English") is an extremely effective and creepy work of surrealist cinema, even if it's over forty years old. Here's a bit of Ian Jane's take on Jigoku: "In one sense, the film is reminiscent of Jose Mojica Marins' (a.k.a. Coffin Joe) masterpiece, This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse [in] the way that it switches from the land of the living to the land of the dead, but Jigoku predates Marins' film by almost six years (though the films do share similar themes and a similar narrative). Interestingly enough, whereas Marins' vision of Hell was definitely influenced by the Catholic Church and his own bizarre imagination, director Nobuo Nakagawa paints his version of the inferno in colorful hues and fills them with traditional Japanese representations of the demonic and the spiritual which adds a unique cultural perspective to the movie." Never the studio to disappoint, Criterion has given Jigoku a superb DVD treatment with a nice assortment of thought-provoking extra features. This disc comes easily recommended, especially to anyone with an affinity for religious horror or surrealist filmmaking.
"More or less a video autobiography of one man's passion for making (and remaking) the genre films of his youth, I Was a Teenage Movie Maker is a sometimes crude but mostly beguiling and sometimes quite charming documentary not necessarily limited to like-minded amateur filmmakers and monster movie fans." So begins Stuart Galbraith IV's review of the lavish two-disc release of Donald F. Glut's amateur movies. I Was a Teenage Movie Maker is an absolutely exhaustive look at the man's career on the very far fringes of Hollywood. "Though I Was a Teenage Movie Maker includes interviews with people like Kleiser, Bob Burns, Bill Warren, and (a sadly frail) Forry Ackerman, about 95% of the show consists of Don himself looking straight into the camera talking about those formative years, intercut with lots of clips from the movies themselves. It's too long, the sound and lighting aren't so hot, and even Don's shirt has what looks like a big coffee stain on it, and yet, somehow, once you start watching you can't turn it off...That's because instead of coming off as insufferably egocentric, Don's kind of in an insulated world all his own." There aren't many people who could have come off quite as endearing as Glut, and I Was a Teenage Movie Maker is a testament to his absolute love for the horror (and, more specifically, classic monster) genre. It's a film that's well worth watching for any horror fan who has ever felt that twinge of love for this oft-maligned niche of cinema.
Is it possible to not want to see a film that's described as a "feature-length animated zombie comedy horror action movie?" Yes, that's right, City of Rott has all of the above going for it. The illustrious Scott Weinberg has this to say about the film: "Produced on an ultra-low budget using only a home computer and some obvious talent (both artistic as well as musical), Sudol has slapped together a cartoon zombie-com that should prove to be an absolute delight to all the hungry gorehounds out there." And, while the film has some trouble keeping its momentum going for the entire 77-minute duration, "City of Rott [still] feels a lot like one of those very few video games that are actually fun to watch, even when it's not your turn to play." This animated zombiefest easily comes recommended to anybody who loves a good chuckle, some cool animation, and a good old gore-soaked zombie tale. Kudos to Frank Sudol for making a highly original and unique little film.
Finally, Scott Weinberg finds a very pleasant surprise in Visual Entertainment's release of Headspace. "I certainly wouldn't go on record calling it a brilliant horror film, but there's a notable amount of talent, style, and (most importantly) effort on display here, and those components go a pretty long way to keeping the flick in a viewer's good graces." It suffers from some slow pacing and overall talkiness at times, but it still ends up a "satisfyingly slick, smart and creepy little affair. One suspects that, armed with a healthier budget, [Andrew] van den Houten could eventually become a breakout genre name." And, if this buried treasure of an independent horror flick wasn't enough, Visual Entertainment has packed this disc full of cool extra material. A clear surprise, in more ways than one, Headspace definitely garners a recommendation for any horror fan that's looking for a film that might have, otherwise, flown completely under their radar.
Neil Marshall's latest horror masterpiece, The Descent has finally descended upon US theaters and scared up a nice audience for Lionsgate. The frightening and claustrophobic film might just be the most finely crafted, and effective, horror film of the last ten years. The Descent (even with its truncated statewide conclusion) comes highly recommended and is a film that no horror fan can afford to miss.
Also currently in theaters is M. Night Shyamalan's latest film, Lady in the Water. Easily Shyamalan's worst opening weekend since he hit it big with The Sixth Sense, this "bedtime story" not only caused his breakup with Disney, but has also provided the director with the harshest reviews of his career (yeah, even worse than the ones he received for The Village). With a complex (and often times downright silly) storyline, Lady in the Water has failed to catch to connect with audiences so far, and may go on to become Shyamalan's least successful film. Horror or not, there are certainly some genre elements in the film and it might be worth checking out if for nothing more than the lack of horror films currently in theaters.
If you're looking for a genre-related flick that the whole family can enjoy, however, there is one more film currently in the cineplex: Monster House. The animated film about a house that's really a living, breathing monster has scored some excellent reviews and is doing well enough at the box office to call it a hit. So load up the kids and introduce them to your favorite genre at an early age with the innovative and clever Monster House.
Oh, and lest I forget, unless you're planning on hitting the theaters just to see the gorgeous Kristen Bell, don't even bother wasting your money on Pulse. With all its hiccups along the way to finally hitting the big screen, the flick was doomed from the start. If you're that desperate to gaze at the beauty of Ms. Bell, do yourself a favor and watch her excellent TV series Veronica Mars.
While Richard Matheson's screenplay for The Legend of Hell House (adapted from his own novel Hell House) may not live up to the greatness of his horrifying novel, it does provide an interesting glimpse into what works on paper and what works on the big screen. The "haunted house" subgenre is a rich one in horror film history. Films like The Amityville Horror and The Haunting (1963) have gone on to become genre classics while films like House and House II have gone on to become kitschy cult favorites. But the one thing that always remains true is that people love a good haunting story. Get some people in a house, start shaking those chairs and windows, and you've got a built-in audience. The interesting thing about The Legend of Hell House, however, is that it's actually pretty smart. It's clearly got loftier intentions than "just another haunted house flick" (which may actually be one of the film's downfalls), and a well-rounded cast of Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, and Gayle Hunnicutt going for it (not to mention one of the masters of the genre, Matheson, behind the pen). It's not a great film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a pretty damn entertaining one that probably gets overlooked more than it should. The ending may fall a bit flat, but what happens throughout The Legend of Hell House should be more than enough to keep any fan of the haunted house subgenre in front of their television.
Lucio Fulci is an absolute legend in the horror genre. The Italian director has crafted some of the finest (and most bizarre) films in the genre, including the classics Zombie and Don't Torture a Duckling. Out of all the great filmmaker's classic films, however, the one that I think gets overlooked the most is probably his most incomprehensible film as well. The Beyond is easily one of the strangest and most undeniably confusing horror films you're ever likely to watch. What makes the film work, nevertheless, is the incredibly creepy atmosphere that Fulci creates by fusing his usual gory visuals with a moody, horrifying soundtrack. Sure, the plot is mostly a mess and the dialogue is often laughable, but Fulci's vision is so much more than simple plot and speech. It's about the complete enveloping nature of the film itself. It's the ability of The Beyond to grab even the most jaded horror viewer by the throat and not let go until the last scene ends. For a film light on true plot, The Beyond is one of the most tension-filled viewing experiences I've ever had. It's creepy, frightening, and downright bizarre at times but it's also a film that is certainly not to be missed by any fan of the genre.
-Independent Horror Alert: Evil Aliens in NYC-
Sometimes, we here at DVD Stalk, just want to get the word out about a film that you dedicated horror fans might not have had the chance to hear about yet. So, what flick is so cool and interesting that you don't want us to miss it, you say? First screened at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival, Jake West's blook-soaked UK flick, Evil Aliens, is one of the most vile and disgusting pieces of cinema you're ever likely to see. But, as all us horror freaks know, that's what makes the film so much fun. The British director seems to revel in the fact that the film is scene after scene of gory goodness, and every single one is basically trying to top its predecessor. If you're thinking Evil Aliens is something similar to Peter Jackson's early work (Dead Alive, etc) you're on the right track. This flick is a constant barrage of (most likely intentional) laughably bad dialogue, endearingly DIY special effects, and insanely over-the-top gore. Everything a true horrorhound can't get enough of. Oh, and did I mention that it's gory? Ok. Ok. Just making sure.
With a DVD release so far on the horizon (Evil Aliens isn't scheduled to hit DVD here in the states until January 07), you might be wondering why we're so intent on mentioning the film now. It just so happens that West's film is opening (in limited release) in New York City on September 8th. Yes, that's right, if you're in the New York area, you'll have the chance to check out this fast-paced interstellar gorefest this coming Friday. All you West Coast horror fans will be able to see Evil Aliens when it premieres in L.A. on September 29th. Indie specialists Magic Lamp Releasing are handling the film's brief US theatrical run, while genre veterans, Image Entertainment plan to release the DVD on January 9, 2007.
Trust me, you're not going to want to wait until January to catch a glimpse of this incredibly bizarre film. Evil Aliens may not be great filmmaking, and it may never become a genre classic, but it is certainly worthy of the cult following that it's slowly starting to garner. It's one of those horror films that you show your friends just to see how much of the bloodbath they can handle. If you're in the NY area this weekend, I urge you to try to catch a showing of the film. It'll be some of the most entertaining and wacky 90 minutes you'll see in quite some time.
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