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Everything You Need to Know About Horror on DVD

Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead and a Troma Interview

Recent Horror DVD Review Highlights

DVD Stalk is back to give you your monthly does of all things horror DVD related and with Halloween just a few short days away that only seems appropriate. Once again, here's what's new, interesting, or just something we felt like writing about for the lovely month of October...

It's been a while since we've heard much from Troma but all of that changes in a big way this month with the long awaited three-disc super deluxe special limited edition DVD release of Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead! Ian Jane interviewed Lloyd Kaufman himself and then went on to sift through this ridiculously awesome set. "There are few things that those familiar with Troma's oeuvre expect from their films - crass humor, ridiculous gore, gratuitous nudity, and a devil may care attitude as to who their film may offend. And then there are things that you don't often associate with a Troma film... like musical and song and dance numbers, of which Poultrygeist has a ton. Oddly enough, they work quite well in the context of the ridiculous script, which was inspired in part by a real life incident in which a McDonalds moved in near the Troma building at which point their basement became infested with rats. The film's pot-shots at the fast food industry are about as subtle as a kick in the balls, maybe a little less so, but their timed well and they're shots that are absolutely worth taking. Add some political humor in there that plays off of post 9/11 racial tensions and ethnic stereotypes aplenty and throw in some of the most surreal gore scenes to come along in some time and you're left with a helluva movie. If you don't already appreciate Troma's style, this one isn't likely to change your mind but those who 'get it' will find a lot to love about this mammoth three-disc collection. Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead is a terrific return to form for Kuafman and Troma and the film is as hilariously entertaining as it is an equal opportunity offender. Crass, juvenile, and genuinely disgusting, it's never the less a clever and creative film and Troma has pulled out all the stops with this jam-packed release. Highly recommended."


Kurt Dahlke
took a look at a trio of haunted house films with his review of MGM's Don't Go In The House Triple Feature which teams up The Amityville Horror (remake), The Legend Of Hell House, and Poltergeist II & III (technically making it a quadruple feature?). Kurt was luke-warm on this set, summing up his feelings by stating "So, we get two 'renters' one 'highly recommended' and one 'skip it' from this 'triple feature.' At the easily attainable retail price of twelve bucks, the deal absolutely pencils out, and with Amityville's special features there's a little value added. The question is, how many of these do you already own? Horror fans who like to have a bunch of standbys hanging around for those nights when you just don't know what to watch would do well to pick this up. It's a bargain, with at least two you'll watch more than once. But if you're tired of the repackaging game you might have to pass on moral grounds. Up to you, kids - but for the mighty ratings gods I guess I'll say it's recommended, if only because at this price you might as well buy. (Am I wishy-washy or what?)" Fans of the films have probably already got the previous releases that have been out for ages now but those who don't normally go for horror movies might want to consider this release as it does bring together some fairly accessible films at a rock solid price - who knows, if you try it, you might like it. After all, everyone needs a gateway drug...

The always mysterious DVD Savant has always got a keen eye for classic horror so it shouldn't surprise anyone to see that he delved deep into Sony's release of Icons Of Horror: Hammer Films. Here we find four films from England's most famous horror house - The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll, Scream Of Fear, The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb, and The Gorgon. "The four features in the Icons Of Horror Collection: Hammer Films are fine transfers given expert attention. All of the films, including the half-frame Techniscope titles, are from new elements made directly from the original negatives. The Gorgon has rich colors that associate it with the earlier Hammer output originally printed in Technicolor. It and Scream of Fear are also matted and pillar-boxed, masking away acres of dead space above and below the desired 1:66 compositions. Sony provides no added commentaries or featurette extras but each film is accompanied by an original trailer. The strident trailer for Curse of the Mummy's Tomb makes fun of the picture, while the tense, graphic-based coming attraction teaser for Scream of Fear generates maximum interest by showing almost nothing but Susan Strasberg's screaming face. For 1961, it's a very progressive ad." So there you have it - four classics from the vaults presented in decent shape with trailers, one of which is a progressive ad to boot! Again, it's hard to argue with the price and Hammer fans have waited a long time for some of the more obscure catalogue titles to creep out onto DVD. Now that the time is upon us, what are you waiting for?

M. Night Shyamalan's much maligned R-rated debut hit shelves recently. It was panned by critics and fans alike during its theatrical run and judging by the two reviews we've seen here at DVD Talk, not much has changed. Thomas Spurlin said "It takes a lot for me to feel strongly towards the notion of not seeing a film, as I'm an appreciator of cinematic quality of all sorts, but the The Happening pushes too hard on its negative elements for leniency. Branding Mother Nature as a vengeful killer is a mildly compelling philosophical idea, but the execution in the elements underneath its umbrella fail to grasp equal interest. If you haven't seen either of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers flicks -- or even the underrated 2007 "remake" The Invasion -- then seek those out, as well as Shyamalan's exceedingly more effective exercise in survivalist terror, Signs. However, The Happening is part biological suspense flick / part gore playground for the inexperienced R-rating director Shyamalan that should just be glossed over for your better interest. Skip It." If that doesn't convince you, how about Bill Gibron's take? It's hard to put into words how completely terrible The Happening really is. It makes Mike Myers equally horrific The Love Guru look like an exercise in post-Peter Sellers merriment. It gives the makers of Disaster Movie reason to smile, and suggests that Dane Cook isn't the only unnecessary (and untalented) man in all of Hollywood. M Night Shyamalan may claim he's being honest and direct with his flaccid fright flick, but it must be a joke - albeit a devastatingly dopey one. Clearly worthy of nothing more than a Skip It, this will be the film that scholars point to as the moment when its maker dropped the Emperor inspired clothes and proved to be nothing more than a naked ninny running around without a single cinematic clue. Here's hoping the man who made a little boy see dead people rediscovers his motion picture muse. If not, anything he touches will be viewed in the same insane way we see the hack and stack efforts of the drive-in driven '50s. Now that's frightening."

Cameron McGaughy cozied up with a fine glass of wine beside the fire place to take in the soothing sights set before his eyes with Severin Films long awaited North American DVD debut of the notorious Italian nasty, Last House On The Beach. That said, maybe the mood wasn't set right as Cameron didn't find a whole lot to appreciate with this rough and tumble Eurotrash picture. "I've seen films like The Last House on the Left and Day of the Woman (aka I Spit on Your Grave) out of curiosity, but they are films I haven't watched twice. Once you've seen one, you've seen them all. And Last House on the Beach does nothing to distinguish itself from a horde of pointless, demeaning entries. If you're a fan of exploitation movies like The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, by all means check this out. Director Franco Prosperi has some solid shots, the transfer is surprisingly strong and the bonus interview is an interesting listen. For all others, avoid it. There's nothing unique or suspenseful about this clone, a slow-moving snoozer with obvious shocks, slow-motion rape scenes and plenty of other sequences that treat women as vessels for violence. Throw in an awful English dub, and the replay value is non-existent save for the most ardent admirers of cult cinema. Skip It." Certainly not a film for all tastes, this is an effectively unsettling picture that, as Cameron said, will certainly appeal to those of you out there who like a little sleaze now and then.

While we're talking about tasteless exploitation movies, let's not forget about Image's Region 1 DVD debut of the notorious Shaw Brothers classic, Kiss Of Death. If you don't have enough films about syphilitic prostitutes out for revenge, then you might want to give this one a look as it definitely fits the bill. Ian took this one in and liked what he saw. "Directed by the same man who brought you Oily Maniac and Black Magic, 1973's Kiss Of Death plays out like a cross between Kill Bill (it was obviously a big influence on Tarantino's exploitation mish-mash) and I Spit On Your Grave with the 'time is running out' element of pictures like D.O.A. thrown in to help build suspense. Despite the presence of the legendary Lo Lieh, the martial arts sets pieces, while completely entertaining, play second fiddle to the picture's sexier and more exploitative side. Scenes like the one where a couple of the thugs drug a pair of girls and coerce them into unwittingly starring in a porno movie or the early rape scene where poor Chu Ling is deflowered are shot with titillation in mind first and foremost and the mixture of trashy sexy and bloody (and often times penis oriented!) violence entrenches this picture firmly in trash film territory. Kiss Of Death is a fairly sleazy but highly entertaining rape/revenge epic done with the Shaw Brothers' usual flair for the dramatic and with healthy doses of martial arts action thrown in for good measure which makes it an interesting slice of Asian exploitation. Image's DVD isn't perfect but it's certainly acceptable and fans of seventies martial arts pictures and exploitation pictures ought to check this one out. Recommended.

 

High Def Horror Highlights

Tim Burton's Sweeny Todd came out on standard def DVD some time ago but now that the dust has settled in the format war the good folks at Paramount have seen fit to issue it on Blu-ray. John Sinnott gave this one a whirl and liked what he saw. "Freeing the production from the stage, Burton was able to recreate London at the beginning of the Industrial Age with all its dirt and grime and corruption. He does a wonderful job meshing CGI images of the skyline with sets of the buildings themselves, making the town really come to life.  Burton was also able to add sets, most notably for the wonderful "By the Sea" where Mrs. Lovette imagines that she and Sweeney run off to the shore, live in a quaint cottage and eventually marry.  While she sings and dances around, Todd stares off into space planning his revenge. It's a very amusing scene and works very well in the film. While it is distinctly different from the Broadway play, Tim Burton has successfully brought Sondheim's award-winning play to the silver screen. There isn't as much humor, and more blood, but this film captures the spirit of the play and reproduces it delightfully. The Blu-ray disc is wonderful with an amazing audio track, a great picture and a wide variety of extras. That makes it easy to give this disc a Highly Recommended rating."

Adam Tyner enjoyed Universal's unrated Blu-ray release of The Strangers, which came out not too long ago. "The Strangers could've gone the Hostel route and slowly carved up its two victims, but no, it's more quietly sadistic. Their three masked attackers torment and toy with their prey, kicking the cage and watching the mice inside scurry around in terror. Its focus is aimed at nothing but tension and suspense....a bleak, nihilistic movie that's ultimately not about anything. There's no reason behind it. This assault isn't fueled by hatred or revenge. Kristen and James are being stalked because they were home. Nothing is revealed about the attackers: who they are, what they come from, what drove them to do this...hell, even what they look like, spending the entire movie in shadow, lopped off the edges of the frame, or hidden behind cold, expressionless masks. There's no characterization, humanity, or even any real dialogue once the torment gets underway, and that ambiguity is an integral part of the reason The Strangers is so disturbing. I also appreciate the fact that Kristen and James aren't some carefree, cheerfully happy couple at the outset the way these movies usually go. These aren't stupid people making unredeemably stupid mistakes, and they're not entirely helpless. There's just ultimately nothing they can do. There's no lingering gore. There's not a single over-the-top kill scene or some double-underlined moral message. Hell, there's not even a motive. Lean, savage, and unrelentingly intense, The Strangers strips the concept of horror down to bare metal for one of the most grueling, emotionally exhausting movies I've ever seen. Highly Recommended. "

 

Other Horror DVD's You Might Have Missed

More Shaw Brothers horror madness debuted recently with Image's release of the Giallo-inspired necrophilia film, Corpse Mania! John Sinnott did his rock n roll duty and review this quirky one for the curious out there. "Corpse Mania is the Shaw Brothers equivalent to the Italian giallo. The influence of Bava, Argento, and the like is strong. You've got a masked, sunglasses wearing, black-gloved, butcher knife-sporting killer, the muddy investigation, the moody stalking, and a big ol' twist ending. That said, it is more straightforward, slasher b-horror and fans of the giallo shouldn't expect a top notch entry with a funky score, labyrinthine plotting, chiseled protagonist, and lots of model babes disrobing every fifteen to twenty minutes. If it was ranked within the giallo genre, Corpse Mania would be considered less Deep Red or Don't Torture a Duckling and a little more The Scorpion with Two Tails or (Lamberto Bava's) Delirium. Corpse Mania has a few lagging points in the script and technically was a quickie number on the lower (probably lowest) budget end of the Shaw studios output. There are certainly far, far better Shaw horror films, but I found it fun enough and there were enough good attributes to warrant a horror fans attention. Corpse Mania was a VCD only release in HK and thankfully this exploitation-horror number gets better treatment stateside with a DVD release. Likewise the promo trailer gallery on the DVD features Lost Souls another grim Shaw that was VCD only in HK that Image plans on DVD releasing stateside. If you are a Shaw/HK horror fanatic, I would say the film is weak but worth a purchase. Yes, the lack of extras is disappointing but, as I said above, we're at least getting a DVD release-period. Casual horror fans, on the other hand, will want to check it out as a rental first and then consider a purchase."

 

While we're talking about Asian horror, let's not overlook Image's release of The Pang Brother's interesting horror fantasy, Re-Cycle, which came out on both standard definition DVD and Blu-ray. Ian Jane enjoyed this truly unique horror film from Thailand, "At two hours in length Re-Cycle could have been trimmed down a little bit and been a more intense film for it. Likewise, the story is fairly predictable and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out one of the key connections between characters in the film. A little more mystery and some tighter editing would have made Re-Cycle a pretty damn near perfect film but even with those flaws it's still a really interesting horror movie for a few different reasons. First and foremost is the visuals. The Pang Brothers are known for their cinematic flair and are sometimes criticized for being guilty of the whole 'style over substance' thing - to an extent, that's true. Here, however, by placing the majority of their movie in an alternate universe they can really let loose with the cinematography and the effects work and the set design and the end result is a very, very, very impressive looking effort. Re-Cycle is a really interesting and pretty effective horror film. It's hard to say how well it will work for Western audiences but anyone with an interest in Asian horror and an open mind in terms of different theologies and religions should give this one a look. If the more cerebral aspects don't do it for you, the horror set pieces and wild locations and disturbing imagery probably will. Image's transfer leaves room for improvement but the extra features aren't bad and the audio is very good. If you don't already have the import, definitely consider this domestic release. Recommended."

And to finish off this month's recent release round up, we take a look at the Synapse Films re-release of Syngenor. Kurt Dahlke says "Green freaks will like Syngenor especially, as the movie recycles ideas from Robocop, Aliens, and the costume from 1981's Scared To Death. Even more thriftily, when a poor gal opens the Syngenor file, Polaroids inside clearly show test shots of the Syngenor costume as it was being fabricated - this helps viewers later when a Syngenor falls down and the costume flaps around like a shirt coming un-tucked. Non of it matters though, even with the inexplicable (and that's saying something) climax, including abysmal latex effects and a solarized melt-down that makes The Devil's Rain look like a genuine snuff movie. Syngenor never intends to be good, just fun. True sleaze, as promised in the opening, sadly never makes it; perhaps Syngenor points the way towards horror-as-sanitized-thrill ride. But as thrill rides go, this one is stupid fun. Syngenor won't rattle the cages of hardcore boobs-and-blood freaks, despite an opening promising such, but trash cinema fans looking for one of the last blasts of innocent fun - full of creepy creatures slashing, dashing, getting shot-up and melting, that is - will understand the charms of this sincere effort. Great scripting and excellent performances only add ballast to a wheel of already heavy cheese. If you're hankering for a movie hybrid of Aliens and Buckaroo Banzai, Syngenor may just fit the bill, earning an enthusiastic Rent It for the average fan, while collectors with deeper pockets may just want to buy it."

 


Cineplex Scares: Current And Upcoming Theatrical Horror

     

Other Horror DVDs Released in the Past Month

   

 


An Interview With Troma's Evan Husney

If an interview with Lloyd Kaufman weren't enough, Bill Gibron keeps the Troma coverage coming with his interview with Evan Husney, the man in charge of Troma's DVDs and product.

It's a question most schlock geeks have contemplated over the last few months - what the heck happened to Troma? The New York based independent producer, famed for bringing The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'Em High to a generation of film lovers, seemed to fall off the DVD distribution map. Ever since the format's introduction, Lloyd Kaufman and his "art for art's sale" shill had flooded the market with memorable material. Then, nothing. Rumors had the company folding, even selling off its extensive catalog to cover growing debts and fiscal issues. As with most gossip, the inference over the genre giant's possible demise was greatly exaggerated. According to co-director of Troma Team Video, Evan Husney, the limited release schedule was the result of intense reevaluation and groundwork for upcoming titles.

"Troma is currently reviewing our extensive catalog of films and preparing to release special editions and anniversary collections of our evergreen titles, which we would like to reintroduce into the market with different representations," Husney said recently in an email interview with DVD Talk. Together with partner Matt Manjourides, the duo does "everything". Their job involves selecting Troma acquisitions or catalog titles, creating quarterly release schedules, and then overseeing production on each disc. According to Husney, this includes "menus, DVD box art and all video elements. Together we then build a strategy to promote the disc to markets beyond our fan base - we also work closely with our video distributors, Ryko Distribution (the best in the world!) to ensure the sales and proper marketing of each release."

Husney took over during the production on the Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead DVD. "The first disc I played a major part in is the upcoming Cannibal! The Musical 13th Anniversary Shpadoinkle Edition," he adds. Coming out this November 18th, Husney is very excited about this release. "It features new hour-long interviews with South Park creators Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and producer Jason McHugh," he adds, as well as "two feature length audio commentaries, never-before-seen deleted scenes, and brand new artwork (painted by Michael Gaughan, www.michael-gaughan.com).

Indeed, when asked to elaborate further on what fans could look forward to in 2008-09, Husney had a long list of must own Troma treasures. "(We've) been working closely with director Pericles Lewnes and Producer Ed Bishop for the 20th Anniversary Edition of Redneck Zombies. This will be our first release of 2009 and we are pleased to announce that the DVD will feature a new colored-corrected transfer of the movie," he offers. The package will also include the original never-before-released soundtrack on a bonus CD, new audio commentary with Lewnes and Bishop, new interviews with cast and crew, outtakes, deleted scenes, and vintage promotional videos.

Another catalog classic getting a make-over is the grim, gruesome Combat Shock. "What worked well for Troma and other video labels in the 80s was marketing the film - originally titled American Nightmares - as a Vietnam War better-than-Rambo rampaging thriller in order to receive mainstream attention," Husney states. "This achieved an ironic effect because at the time of its initial release, films like First Blood along with other machismo war films made in the Regan-era, gave America another chance to return to Vietnam to win the war, where films like Combat Shock is the antithesis, examining a fallen American 'hero' who has returned home broken and disillusioned." Troma truly believes in this film. "Along with films like, Deadbeat at Dawn, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Necromantik,", Husney argues, "Combat Shock is a true masterwork of late '80s, early '90s nihilistic cinema."

The new DVD will be a truly tricked out affair. "The DVD cover art will feature a new hand-painted portrait of 'Frankie', the film's lead," Husney reveals, "during the shocking climax with his pistol held to his crimson face along with vignettes of Vietnam, street gangs and junkies, and his deformed family surrounding him." Along with the new image, there will be director Buddy Giovinazzo's much-sought-after original cut of the film. Also to be expected on the disc, according to the Troma rep, "will be a new audio commentary with Buddy Giovinazzo and Necromantik director Jorg Buttgereit, an interview with Buddy's brother, and star of Combat Shock, Rick Giovinazzo (whom has never been interviewed about the film before), interviews with critics and filmmakers who champion the film, a look at the locations portrayed in the film as they look today, and never-before-seen production stills."

Kaufman and crew also promise to unearth some rarely seen rarities from the company's complicated past. "In January we will be releasing Getting Lucky, a film that was buried deep in Troma's basement vault," he explains. Originally airing on USA's seminal Up All Night in 1990, the plot revolves around, as Husney puts it, "a high school nerd Bill Higgins who longs for a date with a cheerleader babe, and his wishes come true when he meets an unlikely hero, 'Lepky' - a four-inch alcoholic leprechaun who is confined to a beer bottle." It won't be the first lost oddity to get a remaster and a rerelease. "We have discovered many other films from the '80s and '90s...that we plan to release next year," he adds, "some of which have never seen a DVD, or occasionally a home video release."

As if to make up for lost time, the company will also focus on championing new filmmakers and their always interesting efforts. "Troma also has plans to release a lot of new films we have recently acquired and many of which we've acquired in the past," he promises. One of note is the "fascinating" documentary about the life of independent filmmaker Don Dohler (Alien Factor, Blood Massacre). According to Husney, "the documentary explores his body of work which some call 'oddly brilliant' and others 'some of the worst films ever made' We will be coupling this release with the feature Nightbeast which was originally released by Troma."

Naturally, the DVD release (read the DVD Talk review here) of last year's acclaimed return to form, Poultrygeist, has taken up most of Husney's attention. As "Troma's best reviewed, best received film since the original The Toxic Avenger (possibly more so)," as he puts it, the company was determined to create a DVD package that would reflect such specialness. The Eggs-clusive Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD is packaged in a beautiful foldout three-tray digipak with a slipcover, and contains what Husney considers one of the best bonus features ever offered by the company. Entitled Poultry in Motion: Truth is Stranger than Chicken, the feature length behind-the-scenes documentary directed by Poultrygeist producer Andy Deemer and Jason Foulke "is a standalone masterwork", in Husney's humble opinion. "It's an honest examination of a Troma production and leaves the viewer with a true appreciation and understanding of the means of creating a film in the truly independent system."

The film follows famed filmmaker (and company icon) Kaufman and, as the PR puts it "his team with no investors and no money, as he staffs a crew of 75 inexperienced teenagers and houses them all in an abandoned church in Buffalo, New York's ghetto." As with many Troma releases, the making-of the movie can be as entertaining (and disconcerting) as the final product itself. Husney agrees: "This unflinching behind-the-scenes visit into the world of guerrilla filmmaking spares no one, and presents an engaging story of how independent cinema is really made. Most recently Poultry in Motion had its world premiere at the Sitges International Film Festival earlier this month."

And while devotees of all things unusual and insane have reason to celebrate, Husney suggests there may be a wider audience for what Troma 2008 has to offer. "'Poultrygeist is a multi-genre film," he suggests. "It appeals to fans of horror, comedy, and musicals. It's also a political satire about fast-food, media conglomerates and the treatment of Native Americans in the US." And again, it is also the best critically reviewed film in Troma's 35 year history. Leave it to the company some left for dead to come back, bigger than ever.

 


Upcoming DVD Scares For October 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, Kurt Dahlke, John Wallis, Justin Felix, David Walker, Stuart Galbraith IV and Cameron McGaughy.

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