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Everything You Need to Know About Horror on DVD

DVD Stalk: Horror Clips of the Week, Horror Score Mania: Round 2, and DVD Stalk Forum
DVD Stalk Horror Clips of the Week

Still unsure about picking up Fox's trio of horror discs hitting stores this week? We've got a few clips from their DVD releases to help you make your decision. Below, you'll not only get a small sampling of some of the excellent extra features on the The Hills Have Eyes: Unrated and The Omen: Collector's Edition discs, but you'll also be treated to some short film clips from Night Watch. Be forewarned, however, that some of these clips may contain spoilers. If you haven't seen the films, watch at your own risk.

The Hills Have Eyes: Unrated: "Animals" | "Fake Bird" | "Pluto's Rage"
The Omen: CE: "666" | "Filming the Baboon Scene" | "The Omen Vs. The Exorcist"
Night Watch: "Antonio Arrives" | "Birdwoman" | "Convincing Svetlana"

Horror DVD Review Highlights of The Week

It may be a slow week for new horror DVD reviews, but we've still got a nice selection of new discs to check out. Bill Gibron kicks things off with a look at Joel M. Reed's Blood Bath, and finds the recently-unearthed anthology film lacking and problematic in many areas. One of only six films made by the Bloodsucking Freaks director, Blood Bath has lofty intentions akin to those of the Amicus and Hammer productions, but simply can't make its four stories all that interesting. While Bloodsucking Freaks may be a horror cult-classic, Blood Bath has trouble even getting on its feet, and Reed shows little of the directorial flare that he'd soon bring to his one great film. Luckily, Subversive Cinema has given Blood Bath a quality DVD treatment with some worthwhile extra features. They even scored Joel M. Reed himself to take part in a wonderful making-of featurette and an audio commentary. The details Reed provides about his life in film, Blood Bath's production, and the New York Grindhouse scene in the '60s and '70s easily make this disc worth at least a rental.

Blue Underground has long been one of my favorite independent studios pumping out great cult-favorites on DVD. They've not only restored some great films in the horror genre, but they've also resurrected many outside of the genre as well. All of which is why it's such a shame that Scott Weinberg can't find much to like about one of their latest releases, Amazon Jail. Directed by Oswaldo de Oliveira, the film is clearly an attempt at striking gold with the trashy, sleaze market but, as Scott Weinberg opines, "...Amazon Jail is more tiresome and doofy than it is salaciously sleazy." Sporting a flimsy plot and some shoddy visuals, Amazon Jail manages to have just enough framing to hang its real attraction (the naked, sweaty bodies) on. If you're looking for some sleazy entertainment, you may do better checking out Oliveira's other film recently released by Blue Underground, Bare Behind Bars. If you're looking for some trashy nudity (and can't seem to find any porno lying around), Amazon Jail might just do the trick. Then again, maybe not.

Scott Weinberg also takes a look at Lance Henriksen's latest B-movie schlockfest, The Garden, and finds that not even the admirable work of a genre-veteran can save this little film from failing to impress. The film, unfortunately, doesn't actually give Henriksen much of a chance by saddling the actor with a dull concept, sub-par dialogue, a silly (and far-too-slowly evolving) plot. Along with Adam Gordon, Brian Wimmer, and Sean Young, Henriksen does the best he can with the material he's got, but The Garden is simply too boring and convoluted to succeed. Anchor Bay gives the film a nice DVD treatment with some interesting extra features, but The Garden is still worth merely a rental (and that's if you're a big Lance Henriksen fan).

The thing that's so frustrating about Shockheaded is that the film (and its filmmakers) clearly have potential. Writer/Director Eric Thornett clearly knows his movies. He puts his cinematic influences all over this film. Unfortunately for Thornett (and Shockheaded), those influences are laid on a bit too thick for most of the film. Bill Gibron says it best: "...this movie wants to be a dippy, trippy mindmeld of idiosyncratic and eccentric ideas. Instead, it's a reference sheet to other artists' greatest visual hits." Maybe Thornett is onto something. Maybe Shockheaded really is an excellent, original film. Or maybe Thornett simply loves his influences way too much. It's hard to say, but what's for sure is that Heretic Films says this disc from the "skip it" designation by providing an excellent DVD presentation. We've got an audio commentary, short films, deleted scenes, and myriad of other extra material that actually adds to your appreciation of Shockheaded itself. Enough reason to at least give the film a chance with a rental.

Cineplex Scares: Current Theatrical Horror

The only horror film you'll probably be able to find in most first-run theaters is John Moore's remake of the 1976 Richard Donner classic, The Omen. Opening on a Tuesday - to capitalize on the 6/6/06 date - The Omen (2006) certainly brought in quite an audience as it opened to over $12 million (the largest Tuesday opening in motion picture history), but couldn't seem to garner the affection of many critics. Scott Weinberg, Eric D. Snider, and Brian Orndorf each had a chance to check out the nearly shot-for-shot remake starring Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber, and all concluded that The Omen (2006) is a lazy, dull, and ultimately unnecessary, carbon-copy remake of a horror classic. Dethroned in its first real weekend at the box office by Pixar's Cars, The Omen (2006) may not last all that long in your major cineplexes around the country (especially with all the summer blockbusters about to be unleashed). If you're really keen on seeing this flick, you may need to do so pretty soon. You may, however, just be better off picking up a copy of the new collector's edition DVD of the original film.

Horror DVDs Released This Week

What Alexandre Aja does so well in his brutal and grisly remake of Wes Craven's 1977 classic horror, The Hills Have Eyes, is take the base story that Craven laid out in his original, and expands that film's outlook. The young, French Director of Haute Tension gives his mutants a backstory and a reason for existing. He gives his film a gorgeous, expansive landscape that not only works to show the complete isolation of this unfortunate family, but also makes the entire situation appear incredibly claustrophobic. The Hills Have Eyes (2006) is a testament to Aja's ability to create tension out of very little, and the film manages to effectively probe into the depths of the human psyche. The people in this very unlucky family are pushed to their absolute breaking point and must decide whether to recoil in fear or stand up against the mutant cannibals. It's all about testing oneself against the most depraved threat out there, and Aja knows exactly how to make it an interesting, gore-soaked story. So much so that The Hills Have Eyes: Unrated is not only a excellent horror flick, but one that any horror fan will find an essential addition to their collection.

Also in stores this week, Ian Jane takes a look at the hit Russian vampire-fantasy, Night Watch, and finds that "...despite its multiple flaws, Night Watch is an interesting and entertaining movie, and the filmmakers behind the project show some serious potential." Ian notes that there are clearly some pacing problems throughout the film, and sections where it could have been tightened up a bit, but there's still enough engaging material here for viewers to appreciate checking out Night Watch at least once. If you simply shut off your brain for a few minutes, disregard the often-wonky CGI effects, and enjoy the fantasy elements of the story, you might find yourself really enjoying the film. Even if they didn't manage to port over the making-of documentary from the Region 2 disc, Fox has provided Night Watch a very nice DVD presentation with several audio commentaries to appease the film's hardcore fans.

Also on DVD this week:

Overlooked Horror Discs

I have a pretty embarrassing story about The Serpent and the Rainbow and, though I'd love to keep from divulging it to the masses here, I think it's worth telling because it speaks volumes about just how scary and effective Wes Craven's really is. So here goes: I was eight-years-old when The Serpent and the Rainbow first hit theaters. That same weekend, my friend and I had decided to have a sleepover. I'd go to his house, stay up most of the night playing G.I. Joe's, and wake up to some pancakes before my mom came to pick me up in the morning. That would have been all fine and good had this friend's parents not been absolutely crazy. How crazy? Crazy enough to drag their eight-year-old son and his sleepover-buddy to see The Serpent and the Rainbow. We, however, had no idea what we were getting into by seeing the film. We were just happy to go to the movies. All I remember about the actual experience in the theater was seeing one of the most disturbing films of my young life. Bill Pullman being buried alive with a tarantula, the snake flying from what looked like a Zombie's mouth, and a huge metal spike being driven into a very sensitive area. Those were the three images that burned their way into my brain that night in the theater. Nevertheless, the movie ended and we went home to go to sleep. Only problem with this scenario was that my eight-year-old brain wouldn't let me stay asleep. I have nightmare after nightmare. I woke up sweating and crying hysterically. I wanted to get the hell out of that house and get home to my parents. Things continued like that for most of the night, actually resulting in my friend's mother having to phone my mother at about 3AM.

Looking back on it now, was I just a big baby who should have outgrown silly nightmares by the time I was eight? Maybe. But one thing is for sure; The Serpent and the Rainbow left an indelible mark on my psyche for a very long time, and I still shudder when I watch it today. Craven does such a great job of mixing the Zombie mythos with real-life atrocities that he makes everything seem completely real, which makes the entire film seem all the more horrific. Certainly owing a bit of dept to its predecessors (Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie and Dreyer's Vampyr most notably), The Serpent and the Rainbow is easily one of the most frightening and underappreciated Zombie films in the history of the genre (not to mention that it's probably Craven's most underrated film). If you're a Zombie-freak who has never had the opportunity to see the film, you owe it to yourself to see it out immediately. If, for some strange reason though, you're only eight-years-old and you're reading this, do yourself a favor and wait another ten years before you decide to watch The Serpent and the Rainbow. Your friend's mom will thank you.

Jim Henson's 1986 film, Labyrinth isn't exactly what most people would call a horror film, per se. It clearly falls more easily into the fantasy genre than anywhere else, and there's nothing all that frightening about the film (unless you count having to watch David Bowie prance around in white spandex for 100 minutes), but Labyrinth haunted my early years as a film that had more unintentionally creepy moments than anything else I'd seen at the time (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory coming a close second with that creeptastic boat ride). Despite being completely creeped out by these moments, my sister and I wore out our VHS copy of Labyrinth to the point that it became unwatchable. So, what's all the fuss, you ask? Well, there's the fact that David Bowie (as Jareth the Goblin King) has never been creepier (even putting aside the white spandex pants and wild hair, he's flat-out scary in this flick). There's the oddly misshapen muppets running around everywhere, including the pretty grotesque-looking Hoggle. Oh, and there's that crazy Junk Lady, the "helping hands," and that nasty bog. The absolute creepiest of all Labyrinth's characters, however, are the Firies. These blazing orange creatures not only disassemble their body parts seemingly at will, but they also pop out their eyeballs and generally harass the Jennifer Connelly character. Even our favorite character, Sir Didymus, has an a eye-patch and a creepy sense of entitlement. With all these images flying through our little brains, you'd think my sister and I would have run for the door (or at least shut off the VCR), but no. The lure and magic of Labyrinth sucked us in every single time. Creepy or not (horror film or not), the film is a wonderfully fun fantasy that the whole family can enjoy. That is, if their not worried about being pretty creeped out.

The concept behind Jeff Leiberman's Squirm is incredibly simple. A huge electrical storm sends thousands of volts of electricity into the muddy ground of coastal Georgia causing crazy, man-eating worms to emerge from the earth and attack the small, secluded town of Fly Creek. Hmm... Sounds like like a horror classic in the making. Sometimes the simplest ideas turn into cult-classic films with raving hordes of fans. Squirm is everything you can imagine a film about man-eating worms would be about. There are nasty worms with "piranha-like" chompers everywhere and wreaking havoc on the small town residents. The Godfather it's not, but Squirm is a late-night, B-movie, nature-vs-man, critters-attack cinema-lovers dream. Not only that, but it's one of the legendary Rick Baker's first films working on the makeup effects crew. Back in 2003, MGM released Squirm on DVD with a brand new anamorphic transfer and an informative (and fun) commentary track with Leiberman. If you've never had the pleasure of seeing 250,000 flesh-devouring worms take a man apart piece by piece, then you haven't lived a full horror fan's life. Do yourself a favor and find a copy of Squirm. It might just be the last time you go digging for nightcrawlers.

Upcoming Scares

Severed Limbs: Various Horror Odds & Ends
-Horror Score Mania: Round 2-

We received so many great responses to our Severed Limbs section the last time we featured horror scores, that we've decided to go back and do it again. Horror Score Mania will be a recurring feature in the Severed Limbs section of DVD Stalk, and this week we have three new examples of the music that helps make some of your favorite horror films so terrifying. In a genre that is often so visually dramatic (in terms of gore-splattered screens and shocking death scenes), the one aspect of horror films that can easily get lost in the shuffle is the music. In this week's focus on horror scores you'll find three more soundtracks that are not only constantly in heavy rotation on my iPod, but also bring something dramatically important to the films that they support.

Minimalist composer Philip Glass doesn't make simple music. He makes music that most people would find droning and endless the first time that they listen to it. His repeating patterns and loops of rhythm make for some of the most interesting compositions you're likely to find not only in film music, but in any type of music. The thing about Glass is that, once he gets those rhythms in your head, you simply can't escape the hold of his music. If you listen closely, you'll not only start to feel exactly what Glass wants you to feel, but you'll actually start to find the progression and change in his repetition. And when you find that slight variation, it's one of the most amazingly beautiful things you could possibly hear. The composer of countless film scores, Glass single-handedly turns the visual information on the screen into so much more, spinning his audience around in their seat until they feel that very emotion he wants them to feel. Possibly Glass's most accomplished (and probably most underappreciated) composition is his incredibly creepy score for Bernard Rose's Candyman. Starting with the film's familiar theme chimed out on a tinny music box, the track slowly opens the film up to an unusually frightening score consisting of chants, synth organs, and climbing voices. Glass transforms a typical slasher film into something much more emotionally engaging. His soundtrack gives Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd an almost operatic quality to their performances. Candyman would certainly have been a creepy little horror film, but Glass's score turns the film into a truly frightening and heartfelt tale.

The names Dario Argento and Goblin have been synonymous in the horror genre for a very long time. Providing the soundtrack for a myriad of Argento's films (Profondo Rosso, Tenebre, and Zombi just to name a few), the Italian progressive rock band's most famous soundtrack is easily their work on Argento's masterpiece Suspiria. Employing some offbeat instrumental touches and driving beats not only moves along the pace of the classic film, but it also puts the viewer in a frenzied state of heightened emotion. Goblin simply uses their music to put their audience on edge. You can't help but clench your fists and gnash your teeth as their wild strings and bouncing drums seem to clang all around the screen. If Goblin's instrumental parts of the score, and the unique visuals of Suspiria, aren't enough to make you scream, they even employ some incredibly creepy voice work. Screaming, chanting, and making all sorts of outlandish noises the band uses these disturbing voices to to push their audience right over that edge into fear. Watching Suspiria with Goblin's horrifying score actually makes you feel like you're losing your mind, and what could be more frightening than that?

It's been said that the best part of the 1979 film, The Amityville Horror, is Lalo Schifrin's excellent score. While I'm not entirely sold on that concept, I must admit that Schifrin's score is easily a classic composition in the horror genre and one that the film could not live without. Nominated for an Academy Award®, Schifrin sets the tone of The Amityville Horror and guides the audience through every intense moment of the film. One of the major complaints against the 1979 haunted-house flick is that it's simply not scary enough, and there's certainly some truth to that statement. What I find most interesting about that complaint, however, is that it demonstrates just how much of an impact Lalo Schifrin had on the film. He uses his score to inject The Amityville Horror with scares even when there's not much going on and ramps up the intensity in even the most mundane moments. It may not be a great horror film, but The Amityville Horror certainly has a fantastic score and the film owes a lot of its fright factor to Schifrin's soundtrack.

Editor's Note

As DVD Stalk continues to grow, we hope to bring you more great features and even a few surprises. The first of which is our brand new DVD Stalk Forum. We thought a dedicated sub-forum to handle all the horror-related chatter would be a great addition to the already-thriving DVD Talk Forums. So, please, check it out and join in the fun at the DVD Stalk Forum.

Thanks again to everyone who wrote in with your columns. All the responses are greatly appreciated. Here are a few more of your emails:

"I'm really happy to see this new column. Horror films don't often get the respect they deserve. I was also thrilled to see you highlight the American Gothic set... That series was every bit as good as Twin Peaks -- and a lot creepier!" - Kathleen (DVD Stalk reader)

"Thanks! Keep up the good work." - Jeff (DVD Stalk reader)

You keep reading and we'll keep writing. If there is anything that you, the loyal reader, would love to see covered in this area, please feel free to send us a note to [email protected].

-Scott Lecter-

We'd love to read your comments and feedback. Send us your thoughts on other things you'd like to see in the space, or even random thoughts about the world of horror. Drop us a line at [email protected]. Don't forget to visit the DVD Stalk Forum to chat about all things horror-related, and join us at DVD Stalk on MySpace.

DVD Stalk Editors: Scott Lecter, Geoffrey Kleinman.
Contributors to DVD Stalk: Scott Weinberg, Eric D. Snider, Brian Orndorf, David Cornelius, Ian Jane, Bill Gibron, das monkey, Mike Long, and DVD Savant.


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