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Everything You Need to Know About Horror on DVD

Otis, Cloverfield Blu-ray, and Twisted Terror
Recent Horror DVD Review Highlights

It's way too hot outside, so stay in with a movie and keep cool, it's good for you and the outdoors are overrated anyway. Why not grab a six pack and a horror movie or twelve? Oh wait... you can't think of what to watch? That's where we come in. DVD Stalk is back, kids! Here's what's new, interesting, or just something we felt like writing about for July.


One of the more interesting releases to come out of Warner Brothers' Raw Feed line of straight to video horror films has got to be their recent Otis offering
. Deftly mixing pitch black comedy and what the ignorant like to refer to as horror porn couldn't have been an easy task but the clever script and great performances come together nicely in this twisted tale of an obese maniac and his quest for the perfect prom date. Ian Jane took a look at this one and summed up his thoughts saying "Otis is a very dark comedy and it's twisted enough that it might be off putting to some viewers who don't see the humor in the situations portrayed. That said, it's a refreshingly original blend of horror and comedy and those with a taste for twisted humor should get a sick kick out of this one. Highly recommended." Though it's absolutely not a film for everyone, those whose sense of humor leans towards the sick and twisted will certainly find a lot to love about this cruel comedy of terrors and Raw Feed's excellent DVD release is one well worth checking out. Otis is available on both standard definition DVD and on Blu-ray disc.

The Undertow might look familiar to fans of low budget independent horror films as it was released from Sub Rosa Cinema a few years back. That disc went out of print, however, and fans of Jeremy 'Busterface' Wallace's loving tribute to backwoods stalk and slash films of the late seventies and early eighties all of a sudden become hard to find. Thankfully, Sub Rosa has dug into their vaults and re-released a few of their titles over the last few years and The Undertow was one of them. Here's what the ever vigilant Bill Gibron had to say about this gory little funk fest: "Going out on a limb and suggesting that many fright fans will agree with such an assessment, The Undertow earns a respectable rating of Rent It. It's the easiest way to guarantee a pre-purchase sense of satisfaction. Those who end up loving it won't mind the test trial, while anyone who ultimately finds the film unsatisfying will enjoy the fact that they paid so little for said knowledge. No one faults Stanze and company for cranking out the product, even if it's as middling as this movie. Reputations are built on trial and error, and for every Deadwood Park, there has to be an I Spit on Your Corpse, I Piss On Your Grave. And since it was produced five years ago, we now recognize that everyone went on to bigger - and more importantly, better - things. Those who worship old school scares will probably adore The Undertow. Post-modern macabre lovers may not agree." The realms of low budget cinema aren't always for all tastes, but The Undertow is a fun, gory watch that entertains through and through.

One disc that could very well have flown under your radar is the TLA releasing DVD debut of Storm, a Swedish genre film that was released briefly in 1999 and lives again thanks to the magic of DVD catalogue titles and the fine folk who handle the Danger After Dark line of horror titles. Bill Gibron covered this one as well, and found much to love stating "As one of those pleasant surprises that accompanies a career centered on film criticism, Storm deserves a great deal of praise. It is a worthy successor to the movie that inspired it, and offers enough originality to warrant referencing - or outright remaking - itself. Indeed, one imagines that somewhere in the great Hollywood cabal, some suit is trying to mastermind a US version of this twisty tale ASAP. A better DVD package would have produced something akin to the much coveted Collector's Edition ranking, but as it stands, Storm earns a definitive score of Highly Recommended. If you can get past your prejudices, and notice how sly Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein are in presenting their version of the most universal of battles, you'll realize something very extraordinary: sometimes, imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery. Sometimes, it creates an equally compelling original."

The major studios keep things interesting in the horror genre from time to time as well and the lovely and talented people at Paramount Studios are no exception. Take their recent release of the minor theatrical hit, The Ruins, for example. Brian Orndorf said "It could be the steady diet of numbskull horror offerings lately, but I was with "Ruins" for the entire ride, delighting in the merciless direction and fantastical botanical twists with eyes wide open. It's one of those strap-in-and-ride-it-out experiences that are all too rare; forgoing elaborate strands of exposition to settle on more direct lunges of terror. It's a marvelous nightmare machine." If that weren't praise enough, Bill Gibron also took a look at the Paramount release, summing up his thoughts saying "Perhaps the most startling thing about The Ruins, aside from how satisfying it is, is the fact that it all could have gone so completely and utterly pear-shaped. Had the premise been played any other way than serious, with even the slightest tinge of irony or satire in the set-up, we'd be laughing instead of screaming. Had the performances been subpar, or the direction weak, we'd find ourselves face to face with yet another example of sloppy Sci-Fi Channel chum. But thanks to a solid script, devious direction, and a capable cast and crew, The Ruins redeems itself. This Highly Recommended film (and DVD) recalls the best of what the genre has to offer, while arguing that not every example of suspense and dread has to be fashioned out of festering body parts and man's inhumanity to same. Sometimes, the fear can come from the most unlikely of sources, and in the case of this journey into ancient awfulness, that's all that matters."

High Def Horror Highlights

Blu-ray and high definition can often times really enhance a certain kind of movie - you know the type, the sort of film that makes the most of it's sound design and that really benefits from a nice, clean image. While the kinetic camera work seen in the recent horror hit, Cloverfield, might have made people a little queasy in theaters, the film holds up quite well on home video and Paramount's Blu-ray release is a fantastic example of just how good a Blu-ray release can be. Aaron Beierle said "Cloverfield could have developed the characters better, but its portrayal of an enormous beast attacking Manhattan is startling, occasionally frightening and overall, pretty engaging despite its faults. The Blu-Ray presentation offers moderately improved image quality and fantastic audio quality. While the majority of the extras are the same, I actually found the "Special Investigation Mode" to be a rather interesting addition that offered additional details on the story. Recommended" John Sinnott was equally impressed, summing up his review by writing "Though not everyone will like it, this new take on an old genre comes across as refreshing and original.  With some great action scenes and some real tension, it's an enjoyable ride. The Blu-ray disc looks great too, but even more impressive is the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack which ranks up there as one of the best of the year.  A film that's unlike most of the stuff that comes out of Hollywood, this monster movie is Highly Recommended."

Paul Naschy has long been a mainstay of the European cult horror scene and is considered by many to be the Spanish equivalent of Lon Chaney! A true renascence man of horror, Naschy appears on Blu-ray for the first time courtesy of BCI's Deimos line of Spanish horror films. DVD Talk writer Adam Tyner wasn't blown away by the films or the presentation but here's what he had to say: "Vengeance of the Zombies isn't much of a horror film, but its giallo underpinnings and persistent strangeness manage to be somewhat endearing even if the threadbare production values and clumsy storytelling continually fumble. The double feature is redeemed by The Night of the Werewolf, a stylish throwback to Hammer's brand of gothic horror. This Blu-ray set is such a marginal step-up in quality -- and even that might be too generous -- that they're not worth upgrading over the original DVDs, but for Eurocult enthusiasts who missed out on these movies the first time around, this Blu-ray double feature costs virtually the same as buying either of the DVDs individually." Naschy films are, to many, a bit of an acquired taste but this affordably priced Blu-ray release from BCI might be a good way to experience his films for yourself and decide if his unique brand of gothic horror appeals to your own personal sensibilities or not. It might not be a perfect release, but you can't argue with the price!

Other Horror DVD's You Might Have Missed

Although last month saw a spotlight on Dario Argento, we didn't have a review ready for the recent Anchor Bay boxed set release so let's make up for that this time around Ian Jane went pretty in depth on this one, and found a few quirks in this five film collection containing recent fare like Do You Like Hitchcock? and The Card Player as well as older fare like Trauma and established Argento classics like Tenebre and Phenomena. Here's what he had to say about this mixed bag of a release: "If Anchor Bay had done a better job on this release instead of releasing five of Argento's films with sub-par transfers this collection would certainly come highly recommended. As it stands, however, this collection is really only worthwhile for those who haven't picked up the single disc releases. The problems with the video are a big strike against this set, and the two new featurettes aren't enough to make the material worth a double dip. On the flip side, Argento's films - even some of the lesser entries in his filmography - are interesting and hold up well to repeat viewings. While the Argento loyalists had certainly hoped Anchor Bay would do a better job than they have with 5 Films By Dario Argento, more often than not the films themselves are quite enjoyable. Overall, it's only fair to go with a middle of the road recommendation for a middle of the road release - rent it."

Michael Hanake has been a name to know on the indy/arthouse circuit for some years but it wasn't until this year that one of his films saw a major theatrical release in North America. Ironic, then, that his first 'mainstream' (for lack of a better term) picture would be an almost identical remake of one of his own, older film! Funny Games arrived in stores a couple of short weeks ago and DVD Talker took a look saying "While I do think that Michael Haneke's Funny Games is an important film in either form (the 1997 original or 2007 remake), the stark and harrowing nature of the picture gives it a low replay value. Combine that with poor picture quality and zero extras, and you get a DVD that should be seen, but not necessarily owned. Rent It." Odd that Warner Brothers would give a reasonably high profile film like this a completely barebones DVD debut and odder still that the transfer wasn't so hot. Daniel said about the video quality "Warner Bros. presents Funny Games in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, enhanced for widescreen televisions. Funny Games looks pretty bad. The entire transfer is littered with artifacts and mosquito noise, marring just about every shot. The colors look drained, and not in line with the stylistic intentions of the film. This transfer does not do justice to the movie. The disc also contains a full frame version of the film on the flipside of the disc."

And to finish off this month's recent release round up, we throw the ball back to Bill Gibron, truly a 'go to guy' for the obscure and the esoteric DVDs that show up at DVD Talk HQ every month, and it doesn't get much more obscure or esoteric than the TLA release of the Mondo Macabro produced feature film, Hell's Ground. What'd Bill say? "This one's easy. Hell's Ground is so compelling, so capable of creating a warm and fuzzy fright feeling in the hardened heart of even the most cynical creepshow enthusiast that a Highly Recommended rating is just a starting point. With a few more extras, and some of the information contained on Khan's Hot Spot website (check it out HERE), this would be a clear candidate for Collector's Series consideration. In a world racked with political unrest and pragmatic conflict, it's nice to see that certain things remain constant. Whether you're from a big city suburb in the middle of America, or a carefully controlled society several thousand miles away, the feeling of being afraid spans all races, all religions, all creeds. And when it comes to stellar scares, nothing can beat the reference heavy heroism of Hell's Ground. Here's hoping Omar Ali Khan can find a way to continue making movies. His is a voice clearly connected to, and complementary of, the genre's masters - and we can thank DVD for it."

 


Cineplex Scares: Upcoming Theatrical Horror

     

Other Horror DVDs Released in the Past Two Months

   

 


Overlooked Horror Discs From The Past - The Twisted Terror Collection

Warner Brothers' Twisted Terrors Collection is an interesting six-disc assortment of low budget horror films from the company's back catalogue. The films have nothing in common with on another save for genre, but that doesn't mean the set doesn't turn out to be a whole lot of fun. It should be noted for those who don't want to shell out for the boxed set that each of the six films in this collection are also available separately and the discs are identical, right down to the packaging, to those found in the boxed set. With that out of the way, here's a look at the contents of the Twisted Terror Collection:

From Beyond The Grave (1973):

The last of the now famous anthology film's from England's Amicus Studios, From Beyond The Grave finds director Kevin Connor in the director's seat - a first for Amicus - but also sees the return of Peter Cushing who they'd previously used in films such as Asylum and Tales From The Crypt. Cushing plays the owner of a London antiques shop called Temptations Ltd., and his scenes serve as the spine of the film. Whenever a customer comes in and makes a purchase, we follow that customer to see what happens to them. First up is a man named Edward Charlton (David Warner) who brings home a massive old mirror. When he decides to hold a séance in his house, he soon finds out that this mirror serves as a prison for a demon and that thanks to his occult ritual, this demon has now been unleashed and Edward is responsible for feeding him. The second story follows Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen) who shoplifts an old war medal from the store. Once back on the city streets Christopher befriends a street merchant named Jim (Donald Pleasance) who just so happens to be a veteran. Christopher is intrigued by Jim's foxy daughter (Angela Pleasance) and the marital problems he's encountering at home only serve to make her all the more appealing. What Christopher doesn't know is that Jim and his daughter have a very strange past, one that is about to come back with a vengeance. The third story follows a man named Reggie (Ian Carmichael) who scams the store by switching the price tag on a tobacco box he buys. When he takes the train home, a strange woman named Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton) tells him he has an elemental on his shoulder, an invisible parasite. He thinks the woman is insane until he gets home and the elemental starts harassing his wife, causing Reggie to acquire Madame Orloff's services in getting rid of the new pest. The fourth and final story finds a man named William (Ian Ogilvy) purchasing a strange old door from the shop. He takes it home and uses it on his closet but finds that periodically it opens to reveal an old sorcerer who has a habit of coming out of the closet in hopes of stealing the soul of William's wife!

While the third story is played with tongue placed firmly in cheek, the other three tales are played completely straight and are done fairly effectively. Cushing makes a great host for the film, playing his part with sinister class, and fun performances from Pleasance, Warner and Ogilvy all help bring some charm to the film. The cinematography is classy and slick from start to finish and the film relies more on atmosphere and clever dialogue than on shocks or gore and the film is paced so well that it's hard to believe this was Connor's directorial debut.

Someone's Watching Me (1978):

This made-for-TV movie from John Carpenter follows Leigh (Lauren Hutton) who has just bought herself an apartment in the heart of Los Angeles and found herself a job as a station manager at one of the local TV channels. Soon she starts getting strange phone calls from a man she doesn't know. Initially these calls come only at work but soon she's getting them at home. Making matters worse is the fact that strange, random gifts are being delivered right to her doorstep and periodically the lights in her apartment flicker. Leigh is obviously starting to grow concerned with these events and a discussion with one of her co-workers, Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau), raises the idea of calling the police but there's only one problem - Leigh hasn't been threatened and she doesn't know whose behind all of this making it difficult to bring in the fuzz. Soon enough, Leigh meets a man called Paul (David Birney) while out at a local bar one night. They soon begin a romance but the calls and the gifts continue. Obviously someone is still watching Leigh...

Very obviously influenced by Hitchcock films like Rear Window, Carpenter shoots the film in such a way that the audience is put in the place of the voyeur. The camera, like the telescope used in the film, lets us peer in on Leigh's life the same way that the antagonist spies on her. It's a subtle trick and one we've seen used a few times before but Carpenter plays his hand well and manages to create some genuine suspense using clever camera tricks, strong pacing and good acting. There's very little exploitative content here, not much in the way of sex or violence, but there are moments in the film that definitely show what Carpenter was capable of even early on in his career.

Eyes Of A Stranger (1980):

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn,, this one follow Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes), a Miami news reporter who takes it upon herself to expose a serial rapist/murderer who is currently terrorizing women around the city at random. Unfortunately for her, the tirades she delivers on air attract the killer's attention and before you know it she's receiving some rather unsettling phone calls. This inspires Jane, who lives with her deaf/mute sister, Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh in her feature film debut) to do some investigating on her own. After piecing together a few clues, Jane comes to the realization that the killer might actually be Stanley (John Di Santi), the portly middle-aged man who lives a few apartments over from her. As Jane, despite her boyfriend's pleadings, decides to prove that Stanley is the killer, the killer starts closing in on her and on Tracy as the tension mounts and Jane finds herself racing to save her sister before it's too late.

Like Someone's Watching Me, this film also borrows pretty heavily from Rear Window with elements of Wait Until Dark, When A Stranger Calls, and Black Christmas thrown in for good measure. Where Carpenter's film relied on atmosphere and clever camerawork, however, Wiederhorn's movie goes for the throat with a few surprisingly bloody murder set pieces (courtesy of Tom Savini) and some nasty sexual violence. It should be noted that the version of the film contained in this set is the full-strength, uncut version and roughly thirteen seconds of gore that was taken out of the R-rated cut of the film has been put back in.

The Hand (1981):

An earlier directorial effort from Oliver Stone, The Hand features Academy Award winning actor Michael Caine in the lead role! Caine plays Jonathon Lansdale, an artist who makes his living drawing comics strips. One night while driving, he and his wife (Andrea Marcovicci) get into an argument and, distracted, he winds up in a collision with a truck. The accident severs the hand that Lansdale uses to draw, thus ending his career and ruining his life. This accident, coupled with the marital issues that he's dealing with, put the guy in a very dark place, made worse when a replacement artist is brought in to fill his shoes. Soon, things start to get strange, as the replacement's artists work is sabotaged. Jonathon moves to the country to teach an illustration class and begins having an affair with one of his students, Stella (Annie McEnroe), but is also plagued by strange dreams involving a severed hand and a ring. Periodically Jonathon will have a complete black out, when he wakes up it looks like he's created some amazing pieces of art, like he used to do before the accident. Jonathon isn't sure if he's going insane or not as his hand starts becoming more and more prominent in his life, and with his wife and son coming to visit soon, he finds himself in a bit of a strange predicament... particularly when people around him start turning up dead!

The Hand is far from a great film but it's certainly an enjoyable one. Caine does very well in the lead role, playing the tortured artist who is quite obviously losing his mind (or is he?) effectively without coming across as too hammy or chewing any more scenery than absolutely necessary. It would have been easy for him to go over the top but he's fairly restrained here and actually quite believable despite the rather ridiculous premise. The special effects, courtesy of none other than Stan Winston and Carlo Rambaldi, are a little dated in that the severed hand is obviously a prosthetic but they add to the picture's retro charm and the film winds up, oddly enough, feeling very much like an old E.C. comic book story come to life.

Deadly Friend (1986):

One of Wes Craven's goofiest films, Deadly Friend is at least interesting in a 'hey look who it is!' kind of way. Paul (Matthew Laborteaux) is a super genius teenager who has been accepted at a university level neuroscience program. He and his mother, Jeannie (Anne Twomey), move into a new neighborhood to be close to the school where Paul has to learn to make new friends and adjust to school life. Thankfully, Paul has a friend on his side in the form of a big, dopey robot that he's named BB. Paul soon buddies up with Tom (Michael Sharrett) and falls for the cute girl next door, Samantha (Kristy Swanson). Things get crazy one night when Samantha's drunken loser of a dad, Harry (Richard Marcus), knocks her out and puts her in a coma. As Samantha lies on her deathbed, Paul figures he can sneak into the hospital and through some impromptu brain surgery save her life even if it means taking her brain back to a 'BB' like stage where she'll have to learn all over again. It works, but Paul doesn't realize that something is wrong with BB's brain but he sure finds that out soon enough when the re-animated Samantha starts going nuts and killing off a few neighborhood villains, highlighted by the scene where she destroys Anne Ramsey's (yes, the woman from Throw Momma From The Train head with a basketball.

If the idea of Kristy Swanson coming back to life as a killer robot sounds a little retarded, you're not far off the mark. The premise is bad, the script is horribly written, the dialogue completely contrived and the BB robot is completely annoying. The whole thing is so far fetched that it's simply impossible to suspend our disbelief that far and as such, we don't wind up caring about anyone in the film. That said, what keeps the film from being a total waste of time is its inventive and explosive kill scenes (the basketball scene... my God.... it's brilliant!) and the sheer stupidity of the whole project. The film winds up an entertaining and fabulous disaster. Hardly a high note in Craven's career, but a fun time killer with some neat gore.

Dr. Giggles (1992):

The last film in the set stars Larry Drake (of L.A. Law and Darkman fame) as Dr. Evan Randall, a surgeon with a mental disorder and an unnerving laugh, who has recently escape from the insane asylum and gone on a bit of a murder spree killing off a few other doctors on his way to the small town of Moorehigh. Evan grew up there and his father was the town doctor before he passed away. One of the residents of Moorehigh is Jennifer (Holly Marie Combs), a teenage girl with a heart condition whose father (Cliff DeYoung) has just asked his girlfriend Tamara (Michelle Johnson) to move in with the two of them. She and her boyfriend Max (Glenn Quinn) are on their way to a party up in the hills to blow off some steam. Some of the kids start talking about the legend of Dr. Randall and before you know it, a few of the more daring members of the group are on their way to his house to explore, completely unaware that he's not dead at all and is in fact living in the very house they've set their sights on. What Jennifer and a few local cops know, however, is that Evan is not going to just let things lie - he's going to come back and finish the job and, as is his way, he's going to remove their hearts!

Dr. Giggles doesn't really bring anything new to the table - we've seen horror movies about deranged doctors for decades now - but it does entertain despite the obvious, groan-inducing puns and bad jokes. The film is obviously borrowing heavily from the likes of Freddy from the Nightmare On Elm Street films in this department. While the film certainly plays by the established rules of the slasher sub-genre, there are enough decent kills and quirky laughs that even if it doesn't reinvent the wheel, it's at least an entertaining and gory little movie with some good jump scares and a fun, over the top performance from Drake.

Warner Brothers' Twisted Terror Collection offers an eccentric and varied selection of the studio's b-movie catalogue titles in one handy and reasonably priced package. If the extras are light, the quality is at least pretty decent and having the uncut versions of Deadly Friend and Eyes Of A Stranger is a nice touch. Not an essential purchase but one that horror movie fans can definitely consider recommended.


Upcoming DVD Scares For Late July 2008

   
 

                                           



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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 stalk@dvdtalk.com or join us at DVD Stalk on MySpace.

DVD Stalk Editor: Ian Jane.
Contributors to DVD Stalk: Ian Jane, Bill Gibron, Adam Tyner, Daniel Hirshleifer, Brian Orndorf and Aaron Beierle.

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