Wicked Pixel, H. P. Lovecraft, and more...
Once again, horror fans have been blessed with a nice string of genre releases over the last four weeks, though to the untrained eye this may not be obvious. Thankfully, you've got DVD STALK back once again to point out the obvious and maybe not so obvious choices in fear flavored digital goodness. And with that out of the, on to the good stuff!
Fan's of Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth would do well to check out The Orphanage (a Spanish language horror film which Del Toro helped produce), on DVD and Blu-ray from New Line. Reviewer Preston Jones was lucky enough to sneak a look at this one for our readers and here's what he had to say about the picture: The plot of Bayona's film is deceptively simple, but particularly in the final 15 minutes, packs quite an emotional wallop. Rueda is exceptional throughout (and the eerie turn by Geraldine Chaplin as a medium -- and speaking flawless Spanish -- also merits mention) and the scares are well-paced -- there are just as many moments of atmospheric creepiness as there is out-and-out bloodiness. The Orphanage, a poignant, potent work of skill and verve, is one of 2007's strongest horror-fantasy offerings and more proof that most American audiences are content to lap up garbage like Prom Night. The Orphanage, a poignant, potent work of skill and verve, is one of 2007's strongest horror-fantasy offerings and more proof that most American audiences are content to lap up garbage like Prom Night.
The good people at Synapse Films have been busy over the last four weeks, with three horror themed releases arriving on the shelves of finer retailers everywhere. First up is a pair of Asian cult oddities from Japan. Let's start with Party 7, courtesy of the mighty Bill Gibron who said "Party 7 is definitely an acquired taste, since director Katsuhito Ishii is worried about more than just telling a straightforward story. Instead, one could look at the final product as a series of detective denouements that lasts for nearly 90 minutes. Once we get our situational set-up, this is the kind of film that can go off in dozens of different directions - and more or less does by the time the credits roll. Easily earning a Highly Recommended, it's important to remember that Party 7 is eight years old. Ishii is still making movies, and it will be interesting to see where his muse takes him next. Funky Forest: The First Contact certainly indicated an undying artistic spirit and a tendency toward the outlandish and avant-garde. What's clear is that, no matter how far back in the past it remains, Party 7 definitely offers a glimpse into this filmmaker's future. And this is one newly minted devotee who can't wait to follow his next notion." Released the same day was Karaoke Terror. Kurt Dahlke took a look at the disc and had this to say "Karaoke Terror: The Complete Japanese Showa Songbook is a fascinating screed against the Japan of today. From the youth who don't seem to know how to reject what they disbelieve, to blind obeisance to career that has shriveled so many souls, to the cloying songs that whitewash and romanticize things against which original Terror novelist Murakami rages, nothing escapes a spear to the neck. Those jugular fountains will draw in the 'Crazy Japan' crowd, but even if viewers don't connect with every cultural point, it's the bigger issues that will creep into your thoughts and stay with you long after the smoke clears. For lovers of thoughtful yet extreme cinema, Karaoke Terror is Highly Recommended." Last but not least is the notorious Lucker The Necrophagous. Kurt took a look at this one as well and didn't enjoy it so much. In fact, he had little a kind word to share but he summed up his feeling thusly "Often, those forbidden objects are forbidden for good reason, while their rareness makes them seem far better than they really are. Lucker the Necrophagous is one such case. The guy doesn't even actually eat their remains, just boinks them in the beyond. As a taboo-defying assault, the movie only fails in that it's so bad (not that Jorg Buttgereit did much better a year later with Nekromantik). Cheap murders, a vile attitude, misogyny and flat-out terrible filmmaking make Lucker a cheat of a movie that you'll feel ashamed about watching. Well, you've got two choices. As far as the Director's Cut version goes, if you're hankering for that 'I need a shower' viewing experience, look elsewhere and just Skip It. The inclusion of the VHS version barely raises this DVD edition to Rent It status, but only for the most intense of extreme cinema fiends." Keeping in mind the film's notorious reputation and scattered release history, it's a minor miracle that this film exists on DVD at all. Established fans of the film (and you know you're out there) should be happy with the DVD, but those new to Lucker's world have been warned...
Dimension Extreme have been quietly releasing a titles of interest over the last couple of weeks, their most recent, Teeth, found a fan in the form of Cameron McGaughy who took a look at this odd little 'killer vagina' movie that played theaters a few months back. "This is a gruesome film about a woman with a really powerful vagina. You probably already know if you're up for it or not. Says production designer Paul Avery: "It's dealing with something that most people will find quite hard to stomach." And in the wise words of Dawn's creepy stepbrother Brad, "This is too fuckin' weird." It's refreshing to see something so daring and original handled so well, and there's heavy replay potential here--I imagine this will gain a huge cult audience on DVD. This movie works--not as a horror film, but as a low-budget dark comedy with bite. It has a point of view, and enough campy laughs and blood to please those willing to take the plunge. If you are, I advise you to enjoy the fun and snatch it up. (Sorry, I couldn't resist...). Highly Recommended, but not for everyone."
And with that it's back to Brother Bill for his look at the upcoming Dark Sky Films DVD release of The Visions Of Hell: The Films of Jim Van Bebber. Bill's thoughts on the collected works of this controversial but talented director? "In many ways, Visions of Hell: The Films of Jim VanBebber represents the best that the digital format has to offer. It provides heretofore unheard of films, lovingly preserved for film fans to enjoy, along with a collection of context that really sells the cinematic artistry at work. Not everyone will cotton to these occasionally crude, always outrageous deconstructions of motion picture mayhem, and some will see nothing but 16mm mediocrity and question this critic's credentials. But the truth is that Deadbeat at Dawn and The Manson Family are misunderstood masterpieces lost in a nostalgic haze of raincoat crowd creepiness. They both deserve to be Highly Recommended, and when cast together with the bonus features and short films, this box set broaches the DVD Talk Collector's Series brand. In deference to those who won't (or can't) "get it", the celebrated step before will end up illustrating its worthiness. But be warned - this is exploitation with balls, the kind of movies they used to make before the mainstream (and hardcore porno ) shut down the circuit forever. Jim VanBebber is not just a student of the genre, he's a more than capable member of the moviemaking mythos all by himself." Rough stuff, to be sure, but Bill pretty much nails it.
High Def Horror Highlights
A trio of fright films have shown up on Blu-ray over the last month. First up is Raw Feed's Sublime, a film which had its standard definition DVD debut last year. Adam Tyner snuck a look at this one and had mixed feelings about the final product stating "I respect what Sublime is trying to do, veering away from the usual direct-to-video horror clichés in favor of something more psychological and methodical. Still, Sublime feels excessively long at two hours, and if I hadn't been writing this review, I really don't think I would've stuck with it all the way till the end. Sublime isn't a movie I'd recommend buying sight-unseen, and the lean extras also leave it better suited to a rental. Rent It."
Appearing on Blu-ray the same day as it's standard definition counterpart is Diane Lane's latest, Untraceable, a well made but derivative thriller about a serial killer who uses the internet to coax netizens into watching and in turn co-conspiring in the deaths of his victims. Ian took a look at the release and said "Untraceable is a well paced thriller with a couple of surprisingly nasty murder scenes and a solid lead performance from Diane Lane. She's well cast as a smart and capable heroine, and she's quite capable in the part. While the film borrows a bit from what's come before (Se7en, Saw, Argento's The Card Player and even Dee Snider's Strangeland) it at least does so well and proves to be a reasonably suspenseful picture with a couple of legitimately intense moments. Unfortunately, the familiarity of the storyline cannot be denied and because of this at times it doesn't quite fire on all cylinders. Still, Untraceable gets enough right that it's worth a watch, even if it should have maybe not borrowed so heavily from other films. Untraceable is far from a modern classic but it's got enough suspense and a few cool ideas to make it worth a look for thriller/crime/horror movie fans. The transfer is solid, the audio is quite good, and the extras are sufficient making this a reasonably entertaining disc that's worth going through once. Rent it." Ian also took a look at the recent Blu-ray special edition release of Twister and while it might not be a horror film in the traditional sense, it's close enough that it might interest some viewers, particularly as horror material is still fairly untouched in the land of Blu-ray. "Twister is cornball Hollywood melodrama through and through but that doesn't change the fact that it's an exciting adventure film with some excellent effects and truly tense scenes. Warner Brothers' Blu-ray debut for the film looks good and sounds great and contains some solid and interesting supplements which are the icing on the cake. Recommended."
For a few years now, an independent label out of Portland, Oregon (where they also host the annual H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival held every year at the historic Hollywood Theater) named Lurker Films have been releasing compilations feature length and short films based on or inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Next to Poe, Lovecraft is arguably one of the most influential horror authors of all time and these discs are interesting in that they really do represent a broad spectrum of material. DVD Talk grand puba John Sinnott dug his heels in hard and took on four of Lurker's compilation discs, and he liked what he saw. Let's start with John's take on old Howard Phillips himself: "It would be easy to write off H. P. Lovecraft as an over-rated hack. After all, his plots are very simple more often than not, there's frequently little in the way of character development, and his prose is turgid and opaque. Indeed critics have raised all those points and more (especially the way he labels a creature as indescribably horrific only to describe it two pages later) but these people miss the point. Lovecraft's strength, and the reason he's remembered today when so many of his contemporaries are forgotten, is in his unique ability to create a horrific atmosphere and a pervading sense of unease. No other writer has been able to consistently generate a feeling of foreboding and discomfort the way Lovecraft can. He's the father of modern horror fiction, and has influenced such diverse writers as Stephen King and Batman scribe Denny O'Neil (who named Gotham's Arkham Asylum after the fictions city of Arkham Massachusetts which appears in Lovecraft's fiction." John gets it. And even if he may have been under Cthulu's unholy influence spell when he viewed these discs, he really picked up on what makes this material work. And if that doesn't sell you on Lovecraft-inspired cinema, let's dig a little deeper...
Volume 1: Cool Air: As a Lovecraft fan, I enjoyed seeing these films that were obviously made by others who appreciate the man's work. You don't have to be a fan in order to enjoy these however. Most people who enjoy suspenseful films that contain a feeling of dread rather than revulsion will appreciate these offerings. Cool Air and An Imperfect Solution are excellent, and the other movies are definitely worth watching. With over an hour and a half worth of films and copious extras, this disc is Highly Recommended.
Volume 2: Dreams Of Cthulu: This was another intriguing volume this some excellent offerings. The main feature, Rough Magik would have made a great show (though I hate the title and the way they spelled "Magik") and could have possibly been another X-files if given the chance. The shorts were all good too, and Terrible Old Man was very entertaining. It just goes to show what you can do with even on a shoe-string budget. While I did enjoy the first volume just a bit more, this one is still highly recommended, especially for Lovecraft fans.
Volume 3: Out Of Mind: While this wasn't my favorite volume in the H. P. Lovecraft Collection, I did have a good time screening these films. The feature film is certainly interesting and the other presentations are worth watching. The Joshi interviews have been nice supplements to the discs, and this one is no exception. When all is said and done this is a weaker disc, but still worth picking up. Recommended.
Volume 4: Pickman's Model: This is another fine collection of films based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Presenting three versions of the same story make this one of the most interesting volumes in the series. The approaches are so different the disc never gets boring, even when watching the same tale three times in a row. This is a great series and well worth checking out. A strong Recommendation.
Having paid his dues in the realm of low budget features for over a decade now, Eric Stanze and Wicked Pixel Cinema have carved out a niche for themselves. It might not be a huge niche, but they've developed a worthy cult following since Savage Harvest went straight to video years ago. With Stanze gearing up for his next directorial effort, Seizure (slated to feature John Saxon, the aforementioned Jim VanBebber and Zelda Rubinstein), in a few months time it seems only appropriate that we should take a look at some of his earlier efforts.
Kurt Dahlke took a look at last year's release of the atmospheric Deadwood Park through Cinema Epoch. Kurt's thoughts? Horror movie maniacs with money to burn might want to put this one in their collections as it certainly churns up plenty of eerie atmosphere and sincerely creepy moments, and it even throws in a few buckets-full of grue to please the gore hounds out there. Great atmosphere, music and truly astounding location shooting are on pace to mark Deadwood Park as a mini-horror achievement. But in the end a real change of pace, including a bizarre biblical/ philosophical bugaboo and the aforementioned hacky-hacky actually detract from the chills that came before, rendering an otherwise intelligent and disturbing thriller something of an eleventh hour oddity. Discerning horror fans ought to take a look, but are probably within their rights to rent Deadwood Park, enjoy what they choose, and move on from the rest."
Stanze's probably best known for Scrapbook, however, a film that won much critical acclaim and which has hit DVD twice in North America as well as a few times (in cut versions) overseas. Bill Gibron put some thought into this one, as it's a tough film to watch, but here's his take: "This is truly a tough film to outright advocate. It is stark, brutal and very difficult to stomach at times. The levels of viciousness are nuclear and the tone is so dire and hopeless that watching it can make one feel like a convict moments before the Warden throws the switch on the Lethal Injection machine. But you cannot deny director Eric Stanze's talent. He makes actual movies, not just homemade excuses for same. For this reason alone, Scrapbook is Recommended. A little more plot professionalism and this would be one of the better outsider exercises in visceral horror ever to come out of the pre/post-millennial home video ideal. As it stands it is still a stunning, stunted achievement for this amateur auteur."
Bill was also a fan of Savage Harvest and it's sequel, Savage Harvest 2: October Blood from director Jason Chirst. The first film, a bit of an underground classic in its own right, inspired Bill to write "Highly Recommended and well worth your time, Savage Harvest is an understated little horror romp that uses gore and visionary greatness to make up for some less than stellar filmic facets. Stanze has gone on to make a few other films, including China White Serpentine and his latest, the child killer chiller Deadwood Park. With each production his confidence has grown along with his aptitude, transforming what should be minor independent horror movies into epic works of obvious genius. Fingers-crossed, he will one day be recognized for the untapped talent that he is, and given a chance to show the mainstream Cineplex crowd just what kind of artist he is. Until that time, you can settle back with this homemade oeuvre and relish a real moviemaker attempting to fashion actual 'film'. Savage Harvest is as good a place as any to start. Though its basis is pure Evil Dead, it's delivery is undoubtedly the work of one Eric Stanze." What about the sequel? Bill dug that too. "Though it tends to ramble when it really should rock and roll, and asks us to accept a great deal of subtle set-up before grooving on the gore, Savage Harvest 2: October Blood stands as a significant outsider effort. Few filmmakers in the homemade movie arena would have the huevos to give us so much character development, so many scenes of back story and individual angst. Even fewer would find a way to add a last act chainsaw maelstrom into the mix and make it all work. But Jason Christ more or less achieves the impossible. He fuses a decent drama with a daring gore-fest and comes up mostly aces. Easily Recommended for those looking for a little substance with their sluice, this semi-successful sequel definitely supports the suggestion that Wicked Pixel is one of independent cinema's great gatherings of viability and vision. By consistently offering high profile and production valued efforts like this one, the company secures its place in the medium's rapidly changing future."
Do you get the impression Bill's a fan? He also took a look at the surrealist horror effort that is Ice From The Sun. Released first by Sub Rosa then re-released by Image Entertainment, Bill had high praise for this truly unusual picture stating that "though it's not faultless and overreaches often, Ice from the Sun is still a Highly Recommended release. Blood lovers will enjoy the film's frequent claret-covered set pieces while the more philosophical in the crowd will enjoy the fact that writer/director Stanze proposes difficult questions with even more complicated answers. Visually, you have rarely seen anything like this extraordinary, dreamlike film. Stanze stands head and shoulders above his fellow low budget moviemakers not only because of his grasp of the medium. He realizes the limitations in homemade movies and plays to those restrictions. The result is something epic in scope and certain in its creative vision. You may not enjoy every aspect of Ice from the Sun, but it is virtually impossible to deny Stanze's skill. He is a master in the making."
Bill conducted a lengthy and interesting interview with Stanze about his past and present work in the film industry. Interested parties are encouraged to click here to check that piece out.
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