Mill Creek Entertainment, best known for their bargain priced collections of DVDs and for their low priced reissues of former BCI titles, steps into the Blu-ray fray with their Total Terror Double Feature: Demonic / Uninvited, a bargain priced 'twofer' disc that puts a pair of micro-budgeted horror movies on one Blu-ray disc. It might seem like an odd choice, putting two low budget straight to video horror films onto an HD release, but here it is regardless.
The first film, directed by Johannes Roberts in 2005, is an English film originally titled Forest Of The Damned and, for some reason, renamed Demonic for its Stateside release. The film is set In England and it follows a man named Emilio (Richard Cambridge) who buys a beat up old van so that he can team up with his pals, Judd (Daniel Maclagan), Molly (Nicole Petty) and Andrew (David Hood), and his younger sister Ally (Sophie Holland), to head out to the woods and get some rest and relaxation by the water. This being a horror movie and all, it goes without saying that the group gets lost and wind up stopping at a gas station to ask for directions. Here they meet up with the requisite spooky guy who relays some local folk story about angels cast out of heaven and strange related occurrences going on out in them there woods. Spookiness ensues.
Once they get away from the gas station, the group makes the wise decision to split up and try to find someone who can help them get back to civilization. As they split up and wander through the woods, they encounter various nefarious characters and eventually realize that the crazy old man's story wasn't so much a story as it was a warning and that they may very well be up against some very powerful supernatural entities all of which seem to have something to do with a mysterious man named Stephen (Tom Savini).
Demonic is a bit frustrating. As a horror fan, it's easy to recognize that the film frequently hits all the right notes and manages to surpass its low budget roots and impress with some effective scenes of legitimate tension and atmosphere. The film also delivers some impressive gore effects and also provides the requisite amount of female nudity courtesy of the able bodied selection of cast members. The exploitative elements in the film work and they work well, making it all the more irritating that director Johannes Roberts stumbles with editorial choices and is seemingly far too enamored with his own camera work. Case in point? A shot that happens early enough in the film where Emilio and his friends are driving into the woods that just goes on and on and on and really adds nothing more to the film. Shots like this are all too common in the film, and they serve no other purpose than to pad it out to feature length and show off some admittedly nice shots that appear in the picture without a valid reason.
On top of that, there are the characters - each one a stereotype and the type of cliché we've seen countless times in other, better, more original horror films. Naming them after the cast members of The Breakfast Club does not make them interesting or unique nor does it hide that they're poorly written and unimaginative. The cast do as good as job as can be expected with the script but can't elevate the picture much at all. The presence of Tom Savini surely helped get some funding for the picture an allowed Roberts to attach a name to his film, but here he's poorly cast and stands out. Savini can be a lot of fun, he's proven this in plenty of movies, but unfortunately this isn't one of them.
The film isn't a total waste, however. If you're familiar with the trappings of low budget horror and find yourself a bit more forgiving of such things you can have some fun with the movie. The gore works really well and the scenes that show Roberts' skills at creating a palpable sense of atmosphere and impending doom are frequent enough to count. There's some definite promise on display, enough that future efforts from the director could prove to be quite worthwhile indeed. Unfortunately there are a lot of mistakes on display that could and should have been fixed and weren't and the pacing problems and irritating characters ultimately sink this one.
Written and directed by Michael Derek Bohuz in 1993, Uninvited is a quirky mix of the horror film and the western film top billed by the late Jack Elam, who appears in the movie for about four minutes or so. The picture follows a group of people - a well meaning prostitute, a shifty priest, a god natured guy looking to make some money and settle down, and a leftover from the Donner Party! - are lead by an older man named Grady (Jack Elam) when they decide to all pitch in and buy up a mine, hoping to find gold, strike it rich, and divvy up the profits. Unfortunately for all involved, once they start digging they realize they've dug inside an old Native American burial ground and that the spirits resting there are none too happy about it. As the spirits come back to torment the living, they're picked off one at a time resulting in mounting suspicions within the group. With no one really and truly sure who or what is behind all of this, the bodies pile up and chaos erupts.
While it seems that Bohuz's heart was in the right place, he just didn't have the money in place to really pull this one off. Setting the film in the old west was a good idea and westerns and horror films can and do mix well together, but without the budget to properly build the right sets, find the right locations or dress the cast authentically, we wind up distracted by the movie's cheap look and feel and are, as such, less able to focus on the story itself.
The film suffers from some fairly hefty pacing issues, moving at a very slow pace and taking its own sweet time before getting to the more horrific aspects of the storyline. This would have been all well and good had there been significant character development to hold our interest but that didn't happen. The characters aren't all that interesting, they border on incredibly clichéd, and the acting isn't anything to write home about. Jack Elam, immortalized in Once Upon A Time In The West, doesn't have much to do here nor does he have much screen time, and his presence isn't enough to save the film. There are some interesting themes and ideas and some nice camera work that results in more atmospheric scenes than you'd probably expect but it's not quite enough to save it.
Both films are presented in AVC encoded 1.78.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfers that aren't really going to impress much because of the films' low budget roots. Where you'll see the most improvement over a standard definition offering is in the compression area, as the higher bit rate does allow both films to look a bit more natural than we assume they could have on standard definition, though without standard definition releases to compare, it's not possible to say with certainty. Getting back to the picture quality, however, make sure you keep your expectations in check here - these are both low budget, low grade productions and putting them on Blu-ray doesn't change that. Lighting is sometimes problematic resulting in some scenes that are a bit too murky (Demonic suffers from this more than <>Uninvited does) but things are watchable enough. Neither transfer is a milestone of any sort, but they look okay for what they are, but the very nature of their origins means that they're below average in quality as both movies look a bit on the soft side and don't always have the best or most impressive color reproduction.
Both films are presented in standard definition Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with no alternate language tracks or subtitles provided. As far as the quality of the two tracks goes, there's nothing particularly exceptional about them, they sound like the low budget standard definition stereo mixes that they are. Levels are generally okay, though sometimes in Demonic the score is a bit high in the mix, and generally you'll have no troubles understanding the performers or following the films at all. There isn't a ton of directionality in either movie, so don't expect much in the way of immersion, but the tracks are serviceable enough.
The disc contains only a static menu that allows you to play one movie or the other. That's it. There's no chapter selection nor are there any other supplements provided.
Mill Creek's Total Terror Double Feature: Demonic / Uninvited is far from a reference quality Blu-ray but it does offer up two micro-budget features at a more than reasonable price for those who want them. The movies themselves are okay for what they are, and fans of low budget indy horror pictures will appreciate both offerings, but those expecting the more traditional qualities that Blu-ray tends to offer might be irked by the low-fi nature of these two films. That said, even if these aren't your bag, it's good to see more variety arriving on the format, niche titles or not. If you already know you like these films, it's fair to suppose this release offers a marginal upgrade in quality, if you haven't seen them before and enjoy low budget horror films, you can probably live without them.
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.