X-Files, Naschy, and Black Christmas
With Halloween over and done with you might think that DVD Stalk would take November off, you know, for Thanksgiving or something, but as the old adage goes, there's no rest for the wicked. Here's a look at the last month's worth of digital horror offerings...
Horror fans and eighties TV junkies alike have been waiting for what seems like an eternity for Friday The 13th - The Series to arrive on DVD but finally, the wait is over. Was it worth it? DVD Talk reviewer Cameron McGaughy took a look at Paramount's DVD debut of the complete first season, here's what he had to say: "Depending on your ability to appreciate bargain basement effects, many of the show's exclamation points will have you laughing or rolling your eyes. Some of the computer-generated wizardry is awfully eye opening: A flying blade in Episode 2 takes the cake, but you also get a murderous shadow, a comic book robot come to life, animated orange smoke, killer bees and countless other objects that have a cartoonish demeanor, constantly forcing the actors to comically shake in pain. You never see anything too graphic (most of the carnage is off camera, with shots of the bloody aftermath), but considering the show's time and place, I'm surprised it got away with as much as it did (although some religious groups weren't too pleased). While it isn't as good as Tales from the Crypt, Friday the 13th: The Series still manages to entertain you as its three likable heroes try to save the world from haunted antiques. It's cheap and cheesy, and while it's often too slow and formulaic, some episodes rise above to create a spooky (yet still silly) atmosphere. The technical presentation and extras are a bummer, but fans of the series will still want to add it to their collection. Everyone else may want to Rent It first and see if they like the show's flavor." That said, David Cronenberg completists, and we know you're out there, will want to pick this up as he directed an episode that is contained in this set. For some fans, that's reason enough to own this release.
Those who want the most bang for their buck ought to check out the recently released Paul Naschy Collection from BCI. Featuring five of the 'Spanish Lon Chaney's' more interesting films (and not a werewolf to be seen in any of them!), this set is loaded with supplemental material that really helps one appreciate just why Naschy's films remain so popular in Euro-Horror circles. Kurt Dahlke delved head first into the murky waters of classic Spanish horror and found he had this to say about the collection: "El Hombre Lobo makes no appearance in this Paul Naschy collection, which means this might be seen as a B-list grouping. What do you get with a B-list collection of B movies? A hefty brick of whack-job nuttiness, that's what! From Exorcism's dire take on the pea-soup scene through to Vengeance Of The Zombies with its stealth-icon creepy nude-women zombies, there's enough sensational weirdness here to satisfy any Euro-horror fan looking to bolster the old DVD collection. It's true these movies are to a disc more ludicrous than scary, but not one would be out of place in a late-night horror marathon. If having a big horror collection is your thing, and you don't already have most of these previously released features, grouped here in a fairly stylish slipcase, then this is a box-set that is Recommended." Those who only know Naschy from his better known werewolf films really owe it to themselves to check these films out - and now that you can get them in one handy and affordably priced boxed set, why wait?
Meanwhile, over at Dark Sky Films, Spanish horror continues to be in the spotlight. While Shiver may not have the same sort of punch or style that better known films like Pan's Labyrinth or The Orphanage have (despite sharing a producer with those two pictures) it does share with those films some slick cinematography and a nice, rich atmosphere. Ian Jane took a look and found that "the score is good and the make up effects relatively eerie but much of the horror has little impact in the long term and you can't help but feel that this one was made for a younger audience as scenes that should have shocked or unsettled us instead wind up feeling tepid and understated. There's absolutely room for subtlety in the genre, but when it comes at the cost of the scares that should keep the tension mounting and the audience enthralled, then maybe a bit more gore could help. The movie builds nicely in the first half but the pay off isn't what it needs to be and while you can appreciate the look and the performances that Ortiz has captured on what we can safely assume is a fairly low budget, the story itself just can't hold the momentum it starts with. Shiver isn't a great movie by any stretch but despite a messy plot and some confusing themes, there are some decent performances and a few interesting ideas that might make it of interest for genre fans. Dark Sky's DVD debut is light on extras but makes good use of a solid transfer and provides decent audio as well. Rent it."
Ian also jumped into the Anchor Bay Entertainment release of the Halloween 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set release which comes complete with its very own replica Michael Myers mask! "John Carpenter's seminal Halloween has been milked for all its worth on DVD - or so it would seem. Anchor Bay apparently thinks differently, as they've recently unleashed the Halloween: 30th Anniversary Collection, which in reality probably should have been called the Halloween: Everything We've Already Released But Now You Get A Smelly Plastic Mask Collection, because aside from the novelty packaging, there's absolutely nothing new in this set. You know, if you don't already own these films on DVD this isn't a bad way to get them and the packaging is pretty sweet if you're into creepy little masks. That said, it's hard to believe that fans of the series don't already at least have a copy of the first movie in some incarnation and most of the die-hards, who will want this package, already have everything here. Anchor Bay has done a nice job and compiled a lot of material in this collection - if you don't have it, step right up and consider this set recommended. If you've already got it, however, it's hard to recommend this based on a plastic mask, even if it is a neat plastic mask." How many times will this classic have to be released on DVD?
Speaking of classics, the inimitable Jamie S. Rich was lucky enough to check out the Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection from MGM. Compiling eight of the master of suspense's catalogue titles, this set is a real treat for fans of Hitchcock. Here's what Jamie had to say about this extensive package: "Pretty much all of the films included in the Premiere Collection have been on DVD before, including skeevy public domain releases and three long out-of-print Criterion discs. Lifeboat has even been released by Fox before, and that excellent "Special Edition" is reprised here. For many, this set offers the best versions I have seen yet on DVD, and the large selection of bonus features should be an enticing lure for Hitchcock fans looking to beef up their collection. Recommended. On the basis of the movies, and even on the basis of the intentions of this set, I would classify Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection as not just "Highly Recommended," but I'd push it all the way up to our Collector Series. It's a good looking package with truly excellent films, and any film fan should have as much Hitchcock in their possession as possible. With the master of suspense's early American pictures, as well as three of his important British productions. Lifeboat and Notorious are two of my absolute favorites, and this restoration of The Lodger is a marvelous revelation. Sadly, giving manufacturing errors that appear to trouble to entire run of boxed sets, the Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection has a dark cloud hanging over it that may make waiting to see how the individual releases of these films fare rather than diving straight in. Caveat emptor in the extreme."
High Def Horror Highlights
The late, great Bob Clark's Black Christmas is widely considered to be one of the most influential horror films of the seventies so it's fitting to see it released on Blu-ray. Adam Tyner peeked under the hood of the recent release from Koch Entertainment and here's what he found "Black Christmas boasts one of the greatest -- not to mention the bleakest and most downbeat -- ending of any slasher movie I've managed to see, and I'm fascinated by Clark's insistence on maintaining the ambiguity that swirls around Billy. So many horror movies feel compelled to give their killers some sort of clear motivation...some sort of sympathy, even if they are unrelentingly brutal murderers...but there is no long, meandering backstory in Black Christmas. That's so much more unnerving than some sort of stock revenge story or childhood trauma -- that the killer has some twisted motive that only makes sense to him, assuming he's not just butchering these girls out of pure malevolence. Clark deliberately limits Billy to a fucked-up voice on the other end of the phone and a discolored eye gleaming in the shadows, and that's so much more ominous and disturbing than a maniac running around a house with a butcher knife. Black Christmas is a seminal slasher, carving out a template that countless other movies would go on to swipe, and it still holds up as a hell of a horror flick in its own right. Its gritty, rough-hewn photography doesn't exactly dazzle in high-def, and this is really kind of a modest upgrade over the DVD special edition from a couple of years back. Still, horror completists who've missed out on Black Christmas up to this point ought to give it a look on Blu-ray, especially since this high definition release is a couple of bucks less than the DVD on Amazon as I write this. Highly Recommended."
of slasher films on Blu-ray, Rob Zombie's 're-imagining' of John Carpenter's
Halloween finally arrived on high definition home video. Michael Zupon
reviewed the two-disc set from the Weinstein Company and summed up his feelings
as so: "It's
not a great film by any means. Rob Zombie's Halloween jerks its narrative
so abruptly in the middle of the film, you could probably cut this film in half
with a knife and have two short films on your hands, and they wouldn't seemingly
interfere with each other. This unfortunately never gives the audience enough
time to connect with Laurie and her friends, which was vital to experiencing
Michael in John Carpenter's original vision. For everything it gets wrong
though, there's still plenty it gets right. Michael's childhood was
fantastically put together, and the climactic scenes, despite the muffled effect
on the terror due to Rob's direction, are loaded with some of the best Myers
imagery we've ever seen. You have to give it up for this release; it provided
all the essentials as far as special features go, and takes it ten steps further
by providing such an in depth behind the scenes documentary that clocks in at
over four hours. The video and audio transfers are absolutely magnificent, and
recreate the experience you would have experienced in the theater, if not
better. This is a release I'm going to recommend. You can throw your popcorn and
soda at me all you want. Despite what anyone else thinks, this film may not be
perfect, but it's nowhere near as bad as everyone has made it out to be. After
we've seen the home video cheese market turn Myers into an evil mystical being,
as well as the wretched Halloween H20, there's no way this pales in
comparison to those. If you're a fan of the Halloween franchise, pick
this one up. Everyone else may want to stick to a rental.
del Toro's Hellboy hit box office gold a few years back and the
blockbuster sequel pleased fans in much the same way prompting Universal to
really role out the red carpet with a massive special edition DVD debut. Brian
Orndorf reviewed this one and said "Once
del Toro is pried away from his fiendish vices, "Golden Army" reveals itself to
be a wonderfully touching character odyssey for Hellboy, as he struggles with
his place among the humans, not to mention his difficulty expressing love for
Liz. Perlman is just so positively perfect in this role that every scene with
Hellboy that doesn't involve things going kablooey is a delight, furthering the
soul-searching needed to temper the outrageousness of his exterior. The director
even manages to sneak in magnificent, beer-fueled bonding time between Hellboy
and Abe, refreshing the friendship between "Red" and "Blue," while also giving
the fish-man a little more to do with a bizarre, yet quite fruitful romantic
subplot. There's also a new boss for the BPRD in Johann Kraus, a steampunk-inspired
creation who looks like a robot and speaks with a goofy "Hogan's Heroes" German
accent (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), who brings fresh energy into the film. An
energy that takes a good half of the movie to compute, but eventually falls into
line with del Toro's exaggerated comedic beats. I enjoyed "Golden Army" much
more than the original "Hellboy," but the concept still needs a fixation outside
of ghouls and goblins. The moments that light up this sequel are the personal
asides, infusing resplendent warmth that del Toro could manipulate even further
for maximum investment. Surely "Golden Army" fulfills every sci-fi fantasy
around, but watching Hellboy find his purpose, contemplate his newly complicated
future, or recall his past (a lovely prologue shows the character a curious boy
in a veritable Jean Shepherd Christmas card) is where the real awe of the
premise is found, not by dancing the "Monster Mash" until your eyes bleed.
On the flip side of that glowing recommendation comes Paul Mavis' take on the recent Legend Films release of Vincent Price vehicle The Last Man On Earth (in...gulp...color). Paul's take on this one? "Shot in startling widescreen black and white by ace Italian exploitation cinematographer Franco Delli Colli, The Last Man On Earth's opening scenes of a deserted Italian city at sunrise, its streets gradually revealed to be littered with dead bodies, resembles Italian neo-realism as filtered through the sci-fi genre. Surely George Romero watched this film, prior to lensing Night of the Living Dead - any Romero experts out there know if he's ever fessed up to this? Price's home, marred by erratic planking for security, and criss-crossing extension cords, provides dreamy chiaroscuro lighting schemes that give way to creepy, blown-out daytime shots that seem ghoulishly funereal as opposed to sunny (the night-time scenes, with plenty of high key lighting, are equally effective). Whenever The Last Man On Earth keeps quiet about its hero's inscrutable motives, and lets Price prowl around the stark, black and white Italian urban landscapes, it succeeds quite well enough. I don't have a big beef with colorizing as long as the original black and white versions don't go away. We've had colorizing for decades now, and the famous black and white films that were colorized didn't disappear. You can still watch them in their original state. So colorizing, while usually an unnecessary novelty, isn't the harbinger of the death of cinema (as I once believed). But it doesn't make any sense to colorize The Last Man On Earth when doing so ruins the most successful element of the film: its beautifully modulated black and white widescreen cinematography. As for this disc's come-on about having the original black and white version "restored," it doesn't look as good as MGM's transfer used for their 2004 and 2007 releases of The Last Man On Earth. Which begs the question: why bother with this Legend release? Exactly. Skip The Last Man On Earth (in COLOR)."
And to finish off this month's recent release round up, we take a look at the Dimension Extreme DVD debut of Zombie Diaries. Justin Felix dug into this one with fangs bared and said "The Zombie Diaries follows some human survivor groups who are recording their travails for various reasons. It's a bit off-putting to be suddenly moved from group to group (and a month after the events of the first diary in the second diary), but the movie comes full circle in the end connecting the disparate storylines - with the ultimate terror not coming from the zombies but from mentally disturbed humans themselves. Some of the horrific scenes are quite well-done given the clearly limited budgetary constraints. The acting isn't bad either. Zombie fans should find a lot to like here. I'd recommend it to others too, but keep in mind this is Dimension Extreme territory and the movie is definitely a hard R. While not a classic in its own right, The Zombie Diaries is an interesting low budget shaky cam take on the traditional zombie apocalypse narrative. There are enough traditional zombie gore scenes and engaging characters here to warrant a look. Recommended."
Earlier this month, Synapse Films quietly released three films from Japanese filmmaker Minoru Kaswsaki. You may not have heard of him, but hopefully with these release (and Pathfinder's release of The Calamari Wrestler from a couple of years ago) that will change. DVD Talk writers Bill Gibron and John Wallis took on these three films - here's a look at what they had to say about this odd trilogy of genre pictures.
The World Sinks Except Japan - By Bill Gibron
Irwin Allen made them popular. He also took them to the point where seriousness was seemingly replaced with silliness. A box office bonanza like The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno was, in a few short years, replaced by outrages like The Swarm and When Time Ran Out. Since then, the disaster film has walked the very fine line between spectacle and spoof. Independence Day is a perfect example of the new contemporary conceit, with The Day After Tomorrow an equally effective representation of the subgenre's extremes. In 2006, Nihon Chinbotsu (Or Japan Sinks) took modern technology and the standard post-apocalyptic histrionics to imagine the mighty island nation being destroyed by shifts in the Earth's various plates. As he does with almost all categories of cinema, the country's reigning cult crackpot Minoru Kawasaki took the piss out of entire project by making Nihon Igai Zenbu Chinbotsu, or as offered by Synapse Films, The World Sinks...Except Japan. And in perfect parody style, it's a razor sharp shredding of all involved.
America is ripped apart and raped repeatedly, our self-absorbed sense of entitlement coming back to bite us in the bottom over and over. Non specific world leaders (more types than anything else) are depicted as depraved and slovenly, dedicated to personal pleasure and shrill self-aggrandizement. Kawasaki gets a lot of mileage out of the long standing tensions between Japan and their Asian neighbors. Korea and China are depicted as double crossing boot licks, kissing ass one moment, plotting the overthrow of their 'enemies' the next. It is in this regard that The World Sinks...Except Japan gets most of its mileage. If you hate Postal-level commentary, then this bonsai Uwe Boll will test your limits for likeable, occasional lame kitsch. But if you peek beneath the surface and see what director Kawaski is striving for, if you add the necessary "T" to a key word in the title, you'll get the much bigger picture being inferred. Indeed, the rest of the planet may 'stink', but this is one disaster that keeps its eye on the troubles at home as well.
Maybe you have to be in the mood to enjoy Minoru Kawasaki's films. Perhaps his peculiar approach, about as random and slapdash as possible without being considered chaotic, will rub you the wrong way. Whatever the case, something like The World Sinks...Except Japan will not appeal to everyone. It's an unusual entertainment, and requires an equally unhinged temperament to enjoy its oddities. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, it is definitely something to be sampled before being dismissed. In an arena where the repugnant 'X-Movie's (Date, Epic, even Disaster) are seen as the standard bearers of the spoof, something like The World Sinks definitely stands out. In fact, it has much more to offer than your typical lampoon - for good and for bad.
Executive Koala - By Bill Gibron
In the world of filmmaker Minoru Kawasaki, the typical often gets taken apart and twisted. He'll turn an athlete into a squid, a crustacean into a soccer star, and a police officer into a toupee-tossing hero. Never content to work within a specific genre, he'll add gore to a comedy, thrills to a romance, and serious political skewering into an otherwise standard disaster film. In fact, his most recent head scratcher Neko Râmen Taishô offers the stirring tale of a cutesy pie cat who longs to be a noodle chef. Oh, and did we mention that, more times than not, Kawasaki uses puppets and life-sized 'men in suit' mechanics to realize his aims? That's right, like a daffier David Lynch, or a literal costume dramatist, his films are refreshing, confusing, cheap, cheesy, insightful, unfocused, and a heck of a lot of fun. While not on the level of his previous hit, Calamari Wrestler (yes - it's exactly what you think it is), Executive Koala shows off Kawasaki's style effortlessly. And when it's this enjoyable trying to figure it all out, who cares if it ends up making little or no sense.
Keiichi Tamura works for one of Japan's top pickle manufacturers. Though he's good at what he does, and has just landed a lucrative contract with a South Korean firm to bring their brand of kimchi to customers, he is still devastated over the disappearance of his fiancé, Yukari, three years before. Luckily, his current girlfriend Yoko is there to supply support and affection - that is, until she's found murdered...and Tamura becomes the prime suspect. Soon, the police are chasing after the unassuming executive, and secrets about his abusive, megalomaniacal past start coming out. His shrink thinks he's paranoid. Naturally, his boss is somewhat supportive. And why wouldn't he be - he's a large white rabbit (or at the very least, a man wearing a bunny suit), and Tamura is a giant koala. Eventually, a conspiracy even larger than anything our hero could imagine shows its intention - to destroy the businessman once and for all.
Executive Koala is not a halfway experience. Unless you meet it 100% on its own unusual terms, unless you tune in totally to its weirdly whacked out wavelength, you'll find it completely taxing. Nothing will make sense, and you'll believe Kawasaki isn't even trying. If you do "get it" however, you'll get the kind of warm and fuzzy feeling that only a thriller acted out by performers in animal mascot outfits can provide. From a totally personal standpoint, this critic gives Executive Koala a Highly Recommended rating. Even better, this DVD does something rare in the realm of home video releases - it instantly makes one want to see everything else Kawasaki has made. Sources suggest that Calamari Wrestler is the place to start (though the Ramen noodle making kitty seems especially insane). Wherever you begin, remember - Minoru Kawasaki doesn't play by the rules. He doesn't even care that they exist. Maverick or madman, this is one wholly original and odd film.
Rug Cop - By John Wallis
Minoru Kawasaki is one of Japan's more active comedy directors. I know I saw Calamri Wrestler but I honestly don't remember much about it that I liked or disliked. His Executive Koala and The World Sinks Except for Japan have been on my radar. Because Calamari Wrestler had such a lukewarm effect on me I still haven't gotten around to watching them. Reviewing Rug Cop presented me with a further chance to check out the mans' work and lets just start by saying checking out those other Kawasaki endeavors just slid further down my list.
Stone-faced Inspector Hatsuo Genda is introduced in a typical cops 'n' robbers scenario, the hold up. The comic twist is, the bank robber is a ventriloquists dummy and when it comes time to disarm the villainous puppet from the panicked puppeteer, Genda throws off his toupee, Ultraman style, which knocks the dolls head off before zooming back onto his head. He is the Rug Cop.
Most synopsis, and the seeming half baked intent, pass Rug Cop off as a parody of 1970's Japanese cop shows. Hearing that, first thing Western viewers need to do is clear out any vision of period referencing. The setting is modern and the characters all fit into the modern day with no figure-out-of-time jokes like the Brady Bunch or Austin Powers movies utilized. That is the first point that seems like a missed opportunity for comedy. Yes, older tv had some, by today standards, silly premises, but, unless there was some subtle point I was missing, other than its stable of silly-talent detectives and simple cop show scripting Rug Cop's gags never directly looked back on that past era.
If you think a tongue-flicking, face-twitching, nerdy guy (stereotypically dumpy body, glasses, bowl haircut) named Detective Big Dick who gets a glowing, Spaceballs ripped off, lightsaber boner is high comedy, then by all means Rug Cop is the flick for you. Rug Cop's goofs don't get more elaborate than that and its safe to say your brain wont struggle to penetrate any great comedic depths. DVD is pretty good, decent image, a nice round of extras, but I gotta' go with a rental because I just didn't find it very gut-busting.
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