DVD Stalk: Wrong Turn 2, Death Proof, and From Beyond
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with David Walker's take on the direct-to-DVD release of Wrong Turn 2: Dead End. Here's some of what Stuart has to say about the way-better-than-it-had-every-right-to-be sequel: "Why would anyone make a sequel to Wrong Turn? That was the question burning in my brain when I heard there would be a follow-up to the 2003 horror flick that was mildly entertaining, but not exactly a film destined to make the history books. My only two interests in watching Wrong Turn 2: Dead End was the fact that Henry Rollins was in it, and that it would be so bad I could have fun eviscerating the damn thing. But much to my surprise, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End wasn't half bad. In fact, it was really pretty good...If the opening sequence of Wrong Turn 2: Dead End was all it had to offer, it would still be head and shoulders about crap like Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. But things begin to pick up steam as we are introduced to the cast and crew of Ultimate Survivalist, a ridiculous Survivor-type show, the premise of which deals with a six contestants trying to stay alive after a make-believe apocalypse. Henry Rollins, chewing up every scene, co-stars as Dale Murphy, a retired Marine badass, and host of the show. The contestants appear to be a mix of both reality show and hack-'em-and-stack-'em horror cliches, the two of which are surprisingly similar...Once the cast of characters has been introduced, and the rules of the contest are delivered in spot-on, a hilarious send up of other reality shows, the fun really begins. It isn't giving too much away to reveal that the mutants stalk and kill our motley assortment of heroes, but the fun in watching films of this nature is seeing how people are disposed of. And since this is the "unrated" version we're talking about, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End manages to deliver the sort of chop-n-slop effects that defined 1980s horror films...While the original Wrong Turn drew its primary inspiration from the horror flicks of the 1970s, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End draws deep from the well of '80s horror, which saw an incredible number of sequels that relied heavily on sex, nudity, and graphic violence--often mixed with a touch of really dark humor--all of which upped the ante of the films that begat these endless follow-ups. In that regard, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is everything that defined the sequel-heavy horror boom of the 1980s. But where this film deviates from both the sequels and the stand-alones of the Reagan-era is that Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is more entertaining than the original that spawned it...Where Wrong Turn 2: Dead End succeeds, and where so many other recent horror films have failed, is that at the helm is a director who has respect and knowledge of the genre. My guess is that director Joe Lynch watched things like the Friday the 13th films and the Nightmare on Elm Street series way too many times when he was a kid, whereas that jackass who made the Texas Chainsaw remake probably never watched any films with "Texas," "Chainsaw," or "Massacre" in the title. Lynch, who makes a very impressive directorial debut, understands what was fun about the horror flicks of the 1980s. Yes, they were often grim, gruesome and gory, but the best ones also had a sense of fun, and were never unpleasant torture shows like the steaming pile of crap that is Turistas...If spilled guts and severed limbs are what floats your boat, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is well worth watching. It is violent, clever, well-acted, and while it swims deep in an ocean of genre conventions and cliches, it does so with such reverence and fun that it gets away with more than a lot of films do."
"When it was announced that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were going to unleash Grindhouse upon the world, it seemed like a surefire hit. Two of the hottest directors in the country were going to do an homage to the seventies exploitation movies that they grew up watching and present them as a double feature complete with fake trailers (from the likes of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie) and feature attraction bumpers in order to replicate the experience of sitting through a double feature at an old Times Square theater before that area became Disney-fied. Sounds like a lot of fun, right? It was! While neither film, Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Tarantino's Death Proof, was a masterpiece Grindhouse did make for a fun night out at the movies. Sadly, the venture didn't exactly set the box office on fire and as such, the Weinsteins, through Dimension, have opted to release the two features on their own on DVD (at least for now - it would only make sense that a re-release containing the theatrical experience will happen down the road) in unrated and extended editions...Death Proof has some problems - quite a few of them, actually. The first and primary issue with the picture is the dialogue. Not only is there so damn much of it, but every single line sounds not like a missive from an actual conversation but contrived Tarantino hipster speak. While it's fun to pick up the pop culture references (at one point Stuntman Mike is referred to as Zatoichi) and the tributes to low budget seventies cinema are charming in a rather all too obvious manner, the fact of the matter is that this is a very talky film and we've got to sit through a lot of banter before getting to the two genuine pay off scenes. Some of the references work better than others. Look for a few clever nods to some of Russell's past roles and more than a few winks referencing Tarantino's past films ensuring that we know Death Proof is set in the same universe. A clever reference to Bullitt stands out and there's even a reference to Peckinpah's Convoy...The other problem is Zoe Bell. While she's certainly easy on the eyes and not at all lacking in enthusiasm or talent as a stuntwoman, her acting here is just a bit too perky and cute...With that out of the way, there are some areas where Death Proof really does impress. Casting Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike was a brilliant idea. Not only does he completely look the part but he's got the right voice, the right mannerisms, and the perfect tough guy acting style to pull it off and make it look easy. While his performance here may not become the stuff of legend like his work with John Carpenter has, it's not because he doesn't deserve it - Russell is phenomenal in this part...The other key factor that makes Death Proof worthwhile is the stunt driving scenes. Don't look for any fake CGI here - Tarantino wisely opted to use real cars and real stunt drivers the way films like this were made in decades past and the results are fantastic. The two key car scenes are also exceptionally well edited and really drive home the impact of the collisions and the balls out dangerousness of what we're seeing on screen...Death Proof does play better on its own than back to back with Planet Terror but it's still overly talky and a bit too long for its own good, particularly in this extended format. That said, there's enough here that works that the movie is worth a watch primarily due to Kurt Russell's great performance and the genuinely thrilling stunt work."
"In 1986 Stuart Gordon followed up Re-Animator with another loose adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story, From Beyond, again starring Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. While quite not as impressive as Re-Animator, From Beyond is pretty close and it certainly stands as one of Gordon's best films. The humor works and never overshadows the story, and while the scientific elements of the film are totally hokey, they still manage to fit into the world that Gordon has created out of Lovecraft's original story...Great performances and creature effects combine with an enjoyably quirky story and solid direction to make From Beyond stand above the crowd of 80s b-movie efforts. Equal parts hilarious and disgusting, the movie keeps you interested right from the start and has no problem whatsoever holding you attention throughout thanks to its roster of recognizable horror movie regulars and its penchant to go for the gross out. The film contains a few memorable set pieces (Barbara Crampton in a BDSM outfit, anyone?) and a genuinely thick atmosphere, touching on the connection between sex and death and the fragile human condition that keeps both factions in check...Never short on weirdness, From Beyond is a must see for horror movie fans and remains to this day, a horribly underrated gem of a movie and thankfully this North American DVD debut (the film was released on DVD in Germany and Hong Kong but those versions were cut and in the wrong aspect ratio) presents the film in its full strength version...Horror fans have been waiting an awfully long time for From Beyond to get a proper DVD release and thankfully Fox/MGM have actually delivered."
"The first season of Supernatural was a good, solid adventure/horror show that was a lot of fun to watch. The program was filled with promise, and The CW network had the good sense to renew the it. Season 2 has just been released on DVD, and the show really comes into its own this season. These episodes flesh out and expand on the main character's personalities, have some suspenseful stories, bring in new reoccurring characters, and develop the world that Sam and Dean live in. This season turns the program from an entertaining show into a modern-day classic...This season, like the last, has the boys facing a different monster every episode. They encounter werewolves, ghosts, demonic clowns, and vampires along with a host of other nasties. Like the previous season, this year the episodes are very creepy. Supernatural has a dark feel and there are moments of gore in most episodes, though this is never overboard and relatively minor. It does keep you on the edge of your seat however. Battling a mixture of urban legends and more standard horror monsters, the episodes mostly all involve a murderous creature, and while most of the vivisection and such occur off screen, they effectively imply what's going on...The thing that makes this season so engaging is that there's a lot of continuity. The episodes are still stand alone stories, but things that happened in the past (i.e. last season) come back to haunt them. (No pun intended.)...This is one of the few season sets where I can honestly say I really enjoyed each and every episode. There isn't a dud in the bunch, and that's pretty amazing. Even great shows have their off moments, but Supernatural was hitting on all cylinders the entire year...The first season was very good, but this set of shows is great. Literally every episode is entertaining and enjoyable, and there're not many shows you can say that about. The program is creepy and eerie with just the right amount of humor thrown in. In my review of the first season, I said that the show was like a cross between the X-files and The Fugitive. In this season the program has really evolved into a unique show that doesn't seem like a cobbling together of other popular series...This is just a great package."
"In terms of quality, Bones' second season is not up to par with its first season. Personally, I really, really enjoyed season one. The second season takes a step back with some cast changes; consequently, it has a slightly different dynamic. The strong dynamic between Booth and Brennan is not as strong due to a new character. The fortunate new is that the show still remains to be pretty enjoyable with some strong episodes, as well as a few that come off as a little too generic...Bones' second season is a pretty strong and has several good episodes and a few weak ones. The excitement is not quite as strong as season one, which is partly due to a weakened dynamic between Booth and Brennan, as well as a new character who does not bring a whole lot to the table. In the end, fans of the series and those looking for a quality forensic-driven series with good character development will want to check out this season...The second season of television crime-drama Bones is another successful endeavor, although not quite as great as the show's first season. This season sees a weaker dynamic between its leading characters Booth and Brennan. For the most part, the season storylines and episodes are entertaining and engaging, but there are also a few episodes that come off as a little to generic. While the second season is not outstanding, it is still solid and should be more than enough fun for the fans."
"As a director, Dario Argento is an unsurpassed maestro of horror. His legacy includes legitimate classics like Profondo Rosso, Suspiria, Inferno, and Opera. Even his less successful endeavors - a Phantom of the Opera remake, the recent The Card Player - can be seen as merely facets of a fascinating cinematic artist. Yet as a producer, his track record is also worth noting. He helped out buddy George Romero, aiding in getting Dawn of the Dead made. He also supported upstart Michele Soavi with his projects The Church and The Sect. Yet his most interesting endeavor may be as guiding light for Lamberto Bava's splatter classics Demons and Demons 2. Son of famed Mediterranean macabre master Mario Bava, Argento formulated a fetid little franchise centering on a cursed movie that turns audiences into blood thirsty ghouls. Thanks to its ample arterial spray, and overabundance of gore-drenched set pieces, the first of these films became notorious in the mid '80s as an entertaining example of excess. The sequel, unfortunately, seemed like a letdown...The very definition of geek show cinema, Demons is nothing more than 90 minutes of mindless, gut wrenching mayhem made even more disturbing by the casual callous manner in which the tissue tearing plays out. Granted, it's effectively nasty stuff, but it's also lacking the slightest sense of suspense or terror. Instead, this is the perfect example of a "double dare" effort, the kind of movie friends would taunt each other with during a weekend slumber/pot party sleepover/stop off. Like dandy Dan Aykroyd's line in Twilight Zone: The Movie, the challenge of "do you want to see something really scary" was actually asking if the viewer was ready to vomit on cue. With its combination of blood, guts, grue, and then amazing make-up transformations, Demons argued that there were worse cinematic sights than those proffered in John Carpenter's The Thing or anything rendered by Romero...n the opening to her comments on the DVD extras, journalist Loris Curci says that Demons is one of the most important Italian horror films ever made. While a tad presumptuous, she does have a point. It was a crossroads release, a film that proved the viability of foreign horror to a fanbase desperate for something different. It made Italian splatter fashionable, and helped secure the import of Dario Argento on such a stage. While its impact has diminished in the twenty years since its release (there are far gory films out there), it remains a terrific terror time capsule."
"Less gory, more goofy, and overflowing with unnecessary exposition and action, Demons 2 is like a blood engorged tick that just won't pop. It's all premise and only a minor amount of payoff. It oozes when it should flow, sputters when it should splatter. Almost overnight, it appears Argento and Bava have completely forgotten what made the first film so fun, and in its place they've substituted '80s fashion, half-naked men, zombie dogs, and the most unconvincing demonic horror creature since Ghoulies, Troll, and Hobgoblins combined... The lack of bile cannot be stressed enough. The first film wallowed in it, with talons tearing flesh and teeth gnawing bone. The demon transformations, while clunky and unconvincing, still had a hearty, tactile quality that made them enjoyable as vomit covered eye candy. And then there were the killings: soaked in sluice, fluids pulsating through pierced bodies. If it all sounds very fetishist and freaky, it is. It's what makes gorehounds so demanding. Since Demons 2 pulls back, it literally shoots itself in its cloven hoof...Demons 2 is more a curiosity than a classic. It can barely stand up to the insidious original."
"This entry for this film in the eye opening Incredibly Strange Films book leads one to expect an exercise in utter depravity. What we have instead is a creative and affectionate nod to chiller films, produced on a shoestring yet fashioned with care and imagination. So many other low-to-no budget films die a slow death on the screen, revealing a vacuum where ideas should be. Jack Hill's Spider Baby is a genuinely weird variation on a haunted house theme, blessed with a very dark sense of humor...Jack Hill explains that his sales screening for distributors came to a rude end when the prospective buyers all left in the first 20 minutes, and one can understand why. In 1964 movies with Spider Baby's particular brand of non-commercial weirdness just didn't get picked up by major chains. Offbeat shows weren't given major runs even if they had big stars, and Spider Baby lacked the requisite clockwork killings to qualify as a horror matinee. Not only that, its subject matter and tone were highly questionable. Sick humor about mental retardation was confined to fringe humor magazines, and the Lolita-like perverse sexuality of Jill Banner's Spider Baby was definitely not going to fly. Elizabeth and Virginia Merrye were located somewhere between Dracula's vampire brides and a pre-echo of Charlie Manson's teenaged groupie killers. 1964 horror matinees were limited to 'safe' tales of people being axed to death or buried alive, and any children on-screen were usually completely innocent. Jill Banner's, slinky, creepy crawly Spider Dance as she stalks the camera is great, provocative performance art...Although most of us probably wouldn't have gotten the joke in 1964, Spider Baby is a comedy...Spider Baby is indeed a classic, and one that has thrived on obscurity. Although it has found plenty of adherents, it's not likely to wander far from the Kooky Kult Korner. Lovers of fantastic movies like it because it's an oasis of creativity among a lot of drek ... Spider Baby may not be perfect but its terrific cast meshes beautifully with the warped material. I cannot think of another movie that's even remotely similar."
"After finishing up Trauma and his half of Two Evil Eyes, Dario Argento returned to his native Italy to shoot The Stendhal Syndrome, once again starring his daughter (and future Maxim Magazine 'Sexiest Woman Alive') Asia Argento who would soon become popular in North America for her starring role alongside Vin Diesel in XXX...Based around a unique but completely real psychosomatic condition (named after a French author) which causes dizziness or fainting when those afflicted with it are exposed to an overwhelming amount of art, The Stendhal Syndrome is one of Dario Argento's more psychologically layered films. The film deals not only with what we see happen literally and chronologically on the screen but it also delves into Anna's own guilt and the psychological ramifications of her experiences at the hands of Alfredo. The controversial rape scene, a disturbing moment by its very nature, is made even more unsettling when you consider that the director has cast his own flesh and blood to play the victim, though Asia handles the role particularly well and is actually very believable even if she looks a little young to be a police detective...The pacing of the film is a little different than most pictures but that's not necessarily a bad thing. By placing the nastiest set piece in the middle of the movie Argento leaves us wondering if he's going to try and top it or not by the end of the film. It's actually a rather clever way to create suspense and it works in the movie's favor even if those hoping for a gore-soaked conclusion might be left disappointed...The Stendhal Syndrome gets enough right that it's very definitely worth a look. The premise itself is a very interesting one and the script does a pretty good job of exploiting that unique condition that the film is named after. Argento's direction is slick and the cinematography, as dark as it is, really is quite effective. Add to that a couple of memorable set pieces and some gorgeous location shooting and it's easy to see how the pluses certainly outweigh the minuses making this film a great choice for horror fans who don't mind thinking outside the box."
"The three films in Fox's The Fly Collection originate with the 1957 short story by George Langelaan, first published in Playboy. The idea of matter teleportation probably occurred to the writer the moment he heard an explanation of the workings of television. If images can be broadcast from one location to another, why not objects? Langelaan's brief exercise in horror was an obvious choice for a film version at a time when cheap, independent productions about mutated bugs were packing the drive-ins. The major studios stepped in looking for easy pickings. Paramount hired William Alland away from Universal for The Space Children and Colossus of New York, and made a killing with a tiny independent acquisition, The Blob. Independent producer Robert L. Lippert couldn't sign his name to The Fly but apparently produced that film and several other Fox releases, like She Devil, under the "Regalscope" banner. Presented in color and stereophonic sound, The Fly became one of Fox's biggest hits of 1958. The genuinely icky concept definitely had legs: Fox followed it up with two cheap sequels. David Cronenberg's remake 28 years later is a minor masterpiece that in many ways improves on the original...The Fly is a clever crossover concoction that plays a disturbing science fiction concept within a romantic 'woman's picture' format. The film plays out in a fashionable home in Montreal, structured as a flashback confession for a murder. Audiences were surprised and shocked by the film's horror aspects...Instead of taking a novel direction or adding anything to the concept, Return of the Fly rushes to deliver the-same-but-different monster thrills. This time the matter transmitter has a problem with gigantism, resulting in a fly's head as big as an insectoid beach ball. The film is an official sequel with Vincent Price returning in the same role, but the continuity is very strange...Six years later Robert Lippert was finally able to take a screen credit on The Curse of the Fly, probably because he had relocated to England. Even cheaper than the first sequel, The Curse of the Fly suffers from a rushed production and a script that throws in far too many poorly developed ideas. Director Don Sharp adds some effective stylistic touches and some of the acting is quite good; for fans of teleportation looking for something completely different, The Curse of the Fly certainly tries. For starters, no fly appears in the film...Does the machine really send matter through the air like a radio signal, or is it merely transmitting a coded blueprint analysis of the subject, to be reinterpreted and synthesized anew? Is the original simply destroyed, and the 'teleported' object a new duplicate?"
"After a decade dabbling in other genres, director-writer-producer and would-be special effects whiz Bert I. Gordon returned to his favorite subject (if not quite metier) with The Food of the Gods (1976), a terrible but moderately entertaining sci-fi thriller "based upon a portion of the novel" by H.G. Wells. Strange, bubbling goop resembling pancake batter inexplicably causes gigantism among various animals (chickens, wasps, rats), a subject Gordon, or "Mr. B.I.G." as some like to call him, had been flirting with for years. Like all of Gordon's films, the special effects are generally awful though scattered shots in this production are surprisingly effective and well-executed. Unfortunately, Gordon also wrote the screenplay, and it's even worse than the special effects...Unlike Gordon's 1977 follow-up, Empire of the Ants, which had worse effects but a more coherent narrative, The Food of the Gods is as lumpily constructed as the F.O.T.G. itself, whose presence is never explained...The structure of the film is very odd, with characters traveling back and forth (or not) between locales for no particular reason...By contrast, The Food of the Gods uses lots of well-designed full-sized and moderately articulated props: lots of rat heads and bodies, a big rooster head, giant worms, and a couple of big wasps. These were constructed by Tom Burman and, apparently, an uncredited Rick Baker. They come off reasonably well, and scenes where the rats attack characters en masse are very nearly unsettling...Rotten as Bert I. Gordon's movies generally are, there are those (like this reviewer) who hold an affection for them anyway. They're frequently ridiculous (I mean really, big chickens?) but in their own goofy way enjoyable, and the flood of Midnight Movies this year from MGM and Fox is most welcome. For classic and cult sci-fi fans, this is Recommended."
"Is it just my imagination, or has the packaging design for DVDs gone in the toilet over the last few years? I can't tell you how many times in the past I was tricked into renting some super-crappy movie I had never heard of, simply because the artwork on the box looked cool. But now it seems the opposite is true. There are an increasing number of movies I simply bypass, because of what is know as "Piss-Poor Packaging," or, as I like to call it, the Triple-P. But the problem with Triple-P is that it can cause the uninformed viewer to skip movies like Reeker, which are far better than the poorly designed box ever conveys...Reeker starts off with a bit of cause for concern. None of the characters are particularly memorable or original, and during the initial introduction scenes it is clear who will die, in what order they will go, and who will survive. In fact, while the film is well made, the first act is pretty much a test of how tolerant you can be, because Reeker comes across as being very predictable. But once the film moves in to the second act, things begin to get kind of fun. The characters never seem to deviate from the cliché archetypes from which they've been drawn, but there is enough creepiness and uncertainty about what is happening to make the film both compelling and entertaining. Writer-director Dave Payne manages to keep the audience guessing as to what is going on, without ever making Reeker too confusing to follow, and, most important, so obvious that the audience unravels the mystery too soon. Sure, there will always be those people figure everything out before the final reel - most of them die-hard horror fans who have watched too many scary flicks - but that does not make the film any less entertaining...To be sure, Reeker does have some problems. Despite the "unrated" release, there are only a few moments of gory violence, and no gratuitous nudity. Personally, when I see "unrated" on the DVD packaging, I'm hoping for some material that really pushes the envelope of lowbrow entertainment. And while Reeker freely explores the realms of creepy and unsettling, it never becomes balls-out terrifying. But the biggest problem facing the film is the Triple-P, the piss-poor packaging that does not even warrant consideration. Whoever designed the crappy box for this film, and whoever approved it, should lose their jobs. The only excuse for packaging this bad is someone not wanting the DVD to do well...Even with the problems that Reeker has, it is solidly entertaining (at least as far as contemporary horror films go). It will not likely enter into the annals of all-time great fright flicks, but it delivers enough to be a worthwhile diversion...Horror fans will be entertained, and non-fans will likely be won over by a film that starts out a bit silly and seemingly predictable, but winds down with a clever twist that helps balance out all the earlier lapses in intelligence."
"Just in case some you of reading this have never actually seen ROTLD, it is an unofficial sequel to Romero's 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead...The Return of the Living Dead came along toward the tail-end of a horror cycle in film that kicked off - depending on who you talk to - in the late 1960s or early 70s with movies like Night of the Living Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. By the late 1970s, the horror genre was really starting to come into its own with films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, and with an increasing number of multi-screen theaters opening in the suburbs, these films were reaching larger audiences. The early part of the 80s saw a tidal wave of low budget horror, but most never broke new ground within the genre. Some of these films had campy elements, or some unintentional laughs, but with the exception of Motel Hell, few ever tried to seriously incorporate comedy. Nowadays, with films like Scream, comedy has become a major part of the horror genre, but with the exception of small handful of films in the early 80s, that simply wasn't the case. Until, of course, The Return of the Living Dead proved how successfully you could blend comedy and horror without compromising the frights...Even classics like Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 or Peter Jackson's Dead Alive take either the comedy or the gore a bit too over the top at times, resulting in films that begin to border of satire or parody. But The Return of the Living Dead never loses that delicate balance, which is why it can hold its own against any comedy or any horror film. It is, quite simply, a brilliant film...The Return of the Living Dead is one of those rare films that has managed to endure the test of time. Some of the makeup effects look a bit dated and cheesy, but those weren't the best even back in 1985. But what made the film great 22 years ago when Sean and I first saw it--a great script, solid direction, hilarious performance for a talented cast, and a killer soundtrack--are still there, and are still working to make The Return of the Living Dead simultaneously one of the best horror films and comedies of all time."
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