Right To Die, a movie not so subtly inspired by the recent Terry Schiavo media frenzy, is another one of those odd directorial choices for a series called Masters Of Horror. Director Rob Schmidt, who does a very good job here, has really only directed one horror movie - Wrong Turn, which starred Eliza Dushku. Calling him a 'Master Of Horror' is pretty presumptuous in the same way that calling Lucky McKee, a talented young director, as 'Master Of Horror' is. That being said, if Schmidt can keep up the pace, he may earn that title sooner than many of us expect.
Abby (Julia Anderson) and Cliff (Martin Donovan), a happily married couple, are talking one night as they drive through town when Cliff screws up and crashes. The resulting fire burns Abby severely, putting her in limbo in the local hospital, hovering near death. Cliff is at least partially in favor of pulling the plug as he knows she's suffering and doesn't want to prolong what the doctors tell him will be the inevitable. Every time Abby slips, however, she pays her husband a visit in spirit form, reminding Cliff about his past and about things that he would rather forget.
Right To Die isn't completely successful but it's certainly an interesting attempt at a horror story that obviously does not shy away from making a few political pot shots along the way. While some might feel it to be in bad taste to base a 'horror' movie (let's face it, there have always been negative connotations attached to the genre) the fact is that the best fright films tend to have some sort of basis in reality and Schmidt is simply following in the grand tradition of the countless great horror films that have been loosely inspired by real events. So how does the movie actually hold up? Well, there are a few problems with some of the effects (limited really to little more than a few moments that are obviously CGI) and Martin Donovan's performance is definitely too understated for its own good but by and large this piece works thanks to a clever script and some interesting and bizarre hyper-sexualized and freakishly violent set pieces.
Anderson (and, in all fairness, Xantha Radley who plays the burned Abby), despite the extremely heavy make up, does well in her part. She brings a sinister sense of pathos to her character that, within the confines of Schmidt's movie if not so much the real world, is very effective. We feel for her, we sympathize with her and we find ourselves wondering about her predicament despite the supernatural goings on that make up a large portion of the movie. Parts of the movie borrow a little bit from Hellraiser II: Hellbound but even with that said there's enough originality here that the film is hardly a knock off or a copy cat. A slightly more believable effort from Donovan and a bit more care in the effects department could have elevated this to one of the best episodes of the second season. As it stands, it's definitely above average and certainly worth checking out if only for the fact that it provides some decent scares and tasty food for thought. The fact that Joey Santiago, the guitar player for The Pixies, scored the film doesn't hurt things either.
Like every entry in the series so far, Right To Die is presented in an anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer. For the most part, things look pretty good on this disc. There are some mild compression artifacts present here and there, but aside from that the image is decent if just a little bit soft. Color reproduction looks accurate and flesh tones look lifelike, and there's a pretty solid level of both foreground and background detail present through the majority of the movie - you'll definitely notice this during a few key gore scenes. Not a flawless transfer, but certainly a very good one.
Audio options are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, both in the movie's native English language. As expected, the 5.1 track beats the 2.0 track by using some fun directional effects in the rear channels during a few key scenes which add to the atmosphere and which bring some added depth to the more effects intensive set pieces. Either way, even if you opt for the scaled down 2.0 mix, you'll likely be quite pleased. Dialogue is clean and clear, the bizarre score sounds great, and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Levels all appear to be in check and there's really very little to complain about here.
Director Rob Schmidt starts the extra features off with a lively and surprisingly fun commentary track where he explains how happy he is to be involved with the series and how he was brought on board in the first place. He covers some of the events that lead to the making of this project as well as casting information, bits and pieces on various effects. Schmidt comes off as a pretty nice guy with a good sense of humor and importantly as a man who is enthusiastic about his work within the genre.
Up next is Burnt Offerings: The Making Of Right To Die, which is a decent behind the scenes documentary that features interviews with Schmidt, writer John Esposito, and a few others. Esposito pulls no punches when talking about the politics behind the film and he goes on to explain things quite clearly, making this very worthwhile if you were intrigued by the film's intent. There's some very interesting behind the scenes footage here too, showing off the effort that went into making 'burnt Abbey' look as realistic as possible.
A featurette on the special effects work is up next. Entitled Flay-O-Trish, its' an interesting if fairly superficial look at what was done using practical effects and where CGI came into play on the production. It's a little too short to be as in-depth as it probably could have been but the footage will definitely be of some value to those who want to know 'how they did it.'
Rounding out the extra features are trailers for other entries in the Masters Of Horror series, a still gallery, and the screenplay in DVD-ROM format. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.
Rob Schmidt has turned in a genuinely interesting and disturbing entry for the second season of Masters Of Horror and as such, Right To Die comes recommended. Anchor Bay's presentation looks and sounds quite good and while the extras aren't as plentiful as earlier releases in the series but what's here is good and over all this is a solid release from start to finish.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.