Sweeny Todd, P2, and the latest After Dark Horror Fest discs
The last half of March and the first half of April have been surprisingly fruitful weeks for genre releases this year - certainly stronger than the month prior. Let's take a look at some of the more interesting recent releases...
Tim Burton's Academy Award winning Sweeny Todd hit shelves last week in a single disc and two disc collector's set. Daniel took a look at the two disc flavored release and found it was a winner. "In truth, Sweeney Todd is Burton's best film since Ed Wood, and perhaps the best movie he's ever made. It contains all the hallmarks of his style while telling a tight and horrific tale of revenge. There's an incredible maturity in the telling, with the gore feeling like a necessary outpouring of emotion, rather than a mode of cheap titillation. Burton is confident, and working with the definitive master of American musical theater. It's stylish, it's beautiful, it's horrific, and it's undeniably great. I can't wait to see where Burton goes from here. The image quality on this DVD isn't perfect, but the audio is excellent, and a strong collection of substantive extras really enhance the experience. This is a must buy for fans of Burton, Depp, Sondheim, and great art. Now, how about a shave?" Anyone who enjoyed the film in theaters and wants to know more about the history fo the film and about the history of the character for which it was named would do well to spend the extra on the two-disc set as the supplements on this release really do go above and beyond most of the typical EPK-style supplements we usually find.
For every film that lives up to its expectations, however, there's always at least one or two failures or disappoints. The most recent one to stink up the halls of DVD Talk? The much anticipated P2, produced by Haute Tension/Hills Have Eyes director Alexndre Aja.! Two of our critics took a look at the recent DVD release from Summit Enterprises. Ian summed up his feelings on the film by stating "The picture looks slick enough and there are a couple of mightily impressive gore scenes here and there but really, the suspense in the film is pretty much non-existent. The film isn't scary, it isn't well written, and it isn't well acted. It is, however, dull and unimaginative. Summit Entertainment has done a very nice job with their release of P2 - it looks great and sounds just as good even if the supplements are unimpressive. That said, the movie is what matters and unfortunately the movie is tired, predictable and poorly acted. Skip it." On top of that, Brian Orndorf came to a similar conclusion when he said "P2 is standard-issue thriller "entertainment," only there's a curious lack of invention to the piece and not a drop of emotional investment. The experience consists mostly of watching bad talent interact interminably without ever achieving a plot point and counting how many times the movie wets down Nichols's ample cleavage. This is not horror. This is not much of a thriller either. It just stinks, and even worse, it's unbelievably boring." Ouch!
Horror fans had mixed reactions to the last batch of After Dark Horror Fest releases that Lionsgate put out and many approached this year's eight films to die for with some understandable hesitation. Just like the last batch, these eight films are pretty uneven but there are a few noteworthy entries that fans might want to take a look at starting with the unrated release of Borderland. Preston Jones says "Borderland is a bit unbalanced -- after starting strong, it doesn't really regain momentum until the final 40 minutes or so -- but when it works, this low-budget white-knuckler is an effective bit of blood-soaked mayhem. Even if the tale has no basis in reality, it's still a gruesome, taut story that's mostly smart without sacrificing shocks." Kurt Dahlke enjoyed Nightmare Man. His take? "Take an off the hook ride with Nightmare Man, a hardly restrained twister that proves you can get away with a lot as long as you know what you're doing. Tossing teen slasher tropes in the blender with genuine scares, dripping gore, sly humor and a solid grasp of its place in the horror pantheon, Nightmare Man doesn't take itself seriously, but still delivers some serious groceries. Horror fans who've been missing the fun and hating all the pandering going on lately (endless remakes and lazy self-referential crap, for instance) will recognize Nightmare Man as a sweet horror update and a return to form." High praise for a film that didn't seem to get much attention. Also worth checking out from this year's release was Mulberry St., an interesting survival horror film that managed to keep Ian involved from start to finish thanks to an interesting premise and a few clever twists. He summed up his thoughts on the picture when he said "Mulberry St. was a surprisingly engaging horror film. It moves at a great pace, it features some very strong performances, and while it might borrow from a few other films a little too much, at least it does so well. The extras aren't anything to write home about but the movie is strong enough that the disc comes recommended regardless."
On a more positive note is the recent two-disc special edition release of Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's classic short story, The Mist. Thomas Spurlin took a look at this highly anticipated and critically acclaimed film and was pretty impressed with what he found. Whether you love the ending or hate it, or whether viewed in black and white or color, The Mist is a fantastic horror film of both the human and supernatural kind. Simple yet fluid characters, outstandingly taut photography, and unrelenting suspense hallmark Darabont's venture into the more shadowy depths of Stephen King's literary catalog. It's a project he has considered doing for a long time, one that turned out to be a solidly achieved and emotionally potent slice of monster escapism. Paired with strong technical merits and a slew of outstanding extras spread across a great set, Genius Products' collector's edition of The Mist is an outstanding investment that has the right word in its title: It's a significant staple into the DVDTalk Collector's Series." Regardless of your thoughts on the film's controversial ending, there's no denying that Genius Products went all our with this release and it's refreshing to see a Stephen King adaptation done right after so many botched attempts to bring the author's work to the big screen.
High Def Horror Highlights
A few decent genre releases were reborn on Blu-ray recently as well, including the Schwarzenegger action/sci-fi/horror classic Predator. Like a few of Fox's recent genre releases, however, this Blu-ray disc looks and sounds quite nice but omits pretty much all of the extras found on the special edition standard definition DVD. Adam Tyner smells a double dip on the way when he says "Predator may be my all-time favorite action flick, but this Blu-ray disc feels like microwaved leftovers with a Ruth's Chris pricetag. A single layer disc with an MPEG-2 encode that's probably been collecting dust for ages, an entire DVD's worth of extras left on the shelf, and a $39.99 sticker price...? It goes without saying that the presentation on this Blu-ray disc is a marked step up over the DVD, but I'd doubt most casual fans of the movie would find Predator worth the upgrade. Fox has repackaged and reissued Predator on DVD over and over again, and there's really not any doubt in my mind that a much more decked-out Blu-ray edition isn't any more than a couple of years off. As much as I love the movie, I'd recommend renting this initial Blu-ray release and shelling out for the inevitable special edition down the road." Also appearing on Blu-ray for the first time is M. Night Shyamalan's excellent thriller, Unbreakable. High Def editor Daniel Hirshleifer took a look at this Blu-ray release from Touchstone and came to this conclusion: "Unbreakable was unfairly maligned upon release, but eight years on, it holds up surprisingly well. And given the rapid and severe decline in Shyamalan's output, Unbreakable may actually look better now than it did back then. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray disc isn't representative of the stellar quality we've come to expect from Disney. The image is soft and lacking detail and the lossless audio has glitches. While all the extras from the DVD are ported over, they're not nearly as substantial as they felt like years ago, and they're offered in very poor quality standard definition. While I wholeheartedly recommend giving Unbreakable a chance, this Blu-ray doesn't offer enough of an improvement over the DVD to warrant the hike in price."
Hot on the heels of their release of Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door comes Anchor Bay's release of The Lost, adapting another one of the author's notorious works, this time based loosely on a true story. While Ketchum's stories aren't for all tastes, it's hard to deny that the man writes a lean, mean horror story and while The Lost might not seem that way on the surface, the ending definitely packs a punch. Ian took a look at this release and found "A grim slice of life horror film, The Lost is a little long but it does stay pretty faithful to Ketchum's original novel. On top of that, it's quite well directed and reasonably well acted. Those who appreciate a slow burn of a film that really builds to an insane conclusion should dig this one. Recommended." On a related note, it's nice to see formerly semi-obscure author's like Ketchum and Joe Lansdale among others finally getting their due thanks to a few talented genre directors willing to take a chance on some interesting material. Here's hoping we'll see more work like this in the future... more Ketchum is already in development so we might not have to wait too long for that to happen. Another recent release that stood out from the pack was the Dark Sky DVD release of the French chiller, Them (known in Europe as Ils). Bill Gibron took this one on and loved what he saw - "Part of the reason Them is so illuminating is that very few macabre moviemakers work in such a subtle manner these days. Instead, it's all whiz bang bullcrap and PG-13 positioning. Another explanation comes from just how good David Moreau and Xavier Palud are at making this kind of material work. There's a sickening efficiency as part of this film's mechanics. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, this is one of the best foreign horror films of the last decade. Indeed, for anyone convinced that nothing good can ever come out of a single setting work of tempered terror need look no further than this fine effort. If your only experience with this duo is the deadly dull The Eye, please give Them a try. Anything 'Ils' would be a mistake."
A few science fiction/horror mix ups have hit shelves recently as well. While these might not be typical horror titles, there are certainly enough scares and/or shocks that they come close enough to warrant consideration. First up is the Warner Brothers release of I Am Legend. While Richard Matheson's famous novel has been filmed a few times prior (most notably as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and The Last Man On Earth with Vincent Price), this recent stab takes a more literal approach to the source material. DVD Talk critic and all around Bad Azz Mofo David Walker said "I Am Legend maintains a solid pace and effectively creates tension, with several very strong sequences that hold up to multiple viewings. The film also uses music sparingly to great effect, leaving some of the best moments to play without any music at all. It is unusual to build the sense of dread and imminent danger without the use of manipulative orchestration, and I Am Legend certainly deserves credit for pulling off such a trick. Despite falling apart in the third act, the first two acts of I Am Legend work incredibly well. Will Smith gives a great performance that carries the film, and allows him a chance to flex his movie star muscles. This is not a film without its flaws, but when it works, it is entertaining. Watching it a second time, I found I enjoyed the good parts more than the first time around, and felt that with the alternate ending it was a better overall film." Moving right along, Ian took a look at the upcoming Fox release of Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem. This film seemed to really divide audiences when it hit theaters. The filmmaker's fixed the 'lack of gore' that hurt the first picture but did so at the cost of the story and the characters. Ian wasn't overly impressed with the film when he took a look at the test disc Fox sent to review, saying "Even if the finished transfer turns out to be reference quality, it's not enough to make this film worth recommending. Obviously there's a built in audience for the two franchises and completists will want to own this release to keep their collections current but aside from that, there's really no reason to want to bother with Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem. It's dull, uninteresting, tiresome."
The horror-comedy genre isn't exactly a new one, so it's getting increasingly harder to break the mold. Though it doesn't quite bring anything new to the table, James Gunn's Slither (2006) plays its cards right, serving up an ample amount of slime, scares and self-deprecation. It's more of a humble ode to the genre than a stand-alone effort, creating an obviously fictional universe that's easy enough to get lost in. Boasting an assortment of tongue-in-cheek characters and an ample amount of disgustingly disturbing monsters, Slither should appeal to anyone who enjoys great green gobs of over-the-top schlock. It's not a perfect film, but it's still a lot of fun.
All things considered, Slither isn't quite an equally balanced horror/comedy, though it's certainly got elements of both (among other things). Fans of The X-Files should instantly be reminded of quirky, off-center episodes like "Bad Blood" and "War of the Coprophages", while Troma disciples should also feel right at home. From start to finish, Slither feels completely like a film made with horror fans in mind, dishing out non-stop nods to classics like The Thing, Rosemary's Baby and David Cronenberg's Shivers. Still, Slither adds up to more than the sum of its parts: though fans will see close similarities to older staples like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Tremors, Night of the Living Dead and especially Night of the Creeps, Gunn's film manages to leave its own stamp on the genre. Jokes don't come fast and furious, but the humor is certainly there.
With a well-rounded series of performances by the capable cast, Slither never manages to take itself too seriously. Nathan Fillion (Firefly) is perfectly cast as the laid-back, deadpan sheriff Bill Pardy, while Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) does a fantastic job as the meat-hungry Grant Grant. Supporting roles are filled nicely by Elizabeth Banks (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), Gregg Henry (United 93), Tania Saulnier (Caitlin's Way) and Gunn's wife, Jenna Fischer (The Office), creating a caricatured collection of citizens that never strays too far over the top. The small-town setting of Wheelsy, South Carolina also gives Slither an appropriately closed-off atmosphere that suits the story well.
If Slither has one problem, though (aside from a small amount of trouble balancing a few genres), it's the pacing. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, it admittedly takes a bit too long to get going---and once it's over, you'll probably wish that the first 60 minutes were more like the last 30. The infamous "bathtub scene" (depicted on the front cover) is a good example of this, as a completely new character is introduced much too late in the film. It's a great scene in its own right, but feels awfully of place when viewed as part of the bigger picture. Even with the slower introduction, though, Slither should entertain those looking for a fun, linear story that delivers laughs and thrills in nearly equal doses.
Presented on DVD by Universal, Slither has been blessed with a terrific DVD presentation that defies the film's disappointing box office performance. The film itself has recieved a rock-solid technical presentation, supported by plenty of fun, free-wheeling bonus features that fans should certainly enjoy. Whether you're a die-hard follower of horror-comedy or a Firefly fan needing another Nathan Fillion fix, James Gunn's Slither is an entertaining film that doesn't take itself too seriously. Universal's DVD presentation does the film justice, combining a solid technical presentation with an ample supply of interesting bonus material. It may not reach the heights of the genre's earlier classics, but there's no doubt that Slither sure has fun trying. Firmly Recommended.
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