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Everything You Need to Know About Horror on DVD

DVD Stalk: Saw 3, Grudge 2, and Silence of the Lambs: 2-Disc CE
Horror DVD Review Highlights of The Week

We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Bill Gibron's take on the third film in the highly successful Saw series. And talk about a rave. I can't say it any better than our reviewer so...Take it away, Bill: "It's one of the most unlikely horror franchises in the history of the genre. In an era which saw the Scream film deconstruct scary, and the homemade epic annihilate the reputation of vampires, serial killers and zombies, Australian auteurs Leigh Whannell and James Wan have parlayed their experiment in suspense into a yearly excursion into death and dismemberment. While the Resident Evils stumbled and the Texas Chainsaw efforts wore out their remake welcome, the boys from Downunder, with a little help from Lionsgate and a collection of like minded craftsman, have managed to create a brand new terror titan – the cancer-riddled madman known as Jigsaw. After Saw II took off at the box office, earning $87 million, another installment was instantly greenlit. Naturally, fans wondered if the new film would compare favorably to the others, or just be a mindless cash grab for greedy distributors. The answer came when Saw III hit theaters last October. Bigger, bloodier – and most importantly – better than the sequel, something about this third go round really was the proverbial charm inside all the carnage. And like clockwork, an "Unrated" DVD has arrived to tweak your fear factors all over again...Combining the best elements of the first two installments, Saw III is a success in every sense of the word. It wraps up this particularly complex three story arc quite nicely, ties up some loose ends left dangling after initial episodes, expands on all the characters we've seen – even one's whose place seemed minor in the entire Saw universe - and tosses in an amazing amount of gorehound loving grue. In fact, it is safe to say that Saw III (the theatrical experience) was one of the bloodiest, most ridiculously repugnant splatter fests in a long time. Picking up where the second movie left off, and bringing back both series writer Leigh Whannell and Part II director Darren Lynn Bousman, this frequently flawless blend of suspense and sluice, thriller and serial killer argues for Saw's permanent placement in the pantheon of terror. Anyone who adored the initial cat and mouse chiller will find a lot to like here. Similarly, lovers of the sequel's exaggerated death games will enjoy the traps here as that much more rewarding. Indeed, everything about Saw III speaks to lessons learned from the first filmmaking experiences, reactions by both fans and critics, and a confident understanding about what makes a fright flick soar with delightful disgust. Lovers of ample arterial spray and cruelty-based contraptions will definitely get more than their malignant monies worth...But there is more to Saw III then split rib cages, experimental brain operations, and painful piercings through almost impenetrable body parts. For every sequence of dead pigs being butchered in the world's largest industrial Cuisinart, Whannell and Bousman dig deep into their characters, making Jigsaw, his apprentice Amanda, and the two main victims of their stratagem – Jeff played by Angus Macfayden and Lynn essayed by Bahar Soomekh – real, complicated people. It's a major accomplishment, especially when you consider that we've had two previous films to flesh out our bad guy (and gal). Thanks to Tobin Bell's tendency to preach, and actress Shawnee Smith's ability to channel the inner turmoil her trainee is treading through, the villains here are very viable human beings, using abuse, viciousness and casualty as a means of making life seem more significant to the individuals they target. In addition, Whannell works in several intersecting storylines, keeping us guessing about the significance of certain subplots until they finally find their link and make sense. Even Bousman has graduated beyond Saw II's vignette oriented puzzle box approach. Instead, he is making a sort of miscreant epic, a scary movie that wants to be much more than a simple sum of its trilogy parts...But again, Saw III offers much more than various onscreen atrocities. Thanks to the consistency behind the camera (even original director James Wan contributes story points) and the overall desire to treat this material with dignity and some sense of cinematic respect, we end up with a series that surpasses its sometimes scattered parts. In fact, it's rare when a third installment in what will be an ongoing cinematic ATM (yep, Saw IV is scheduled for October, 2006) feels the need to pay homage to past elements of the action. By connecting everything in concert, by treating these films as one big brainteaser with all of its pieces finally put in place, the Saw films create their own amazing mythos, a complex coming together of life, death, ethics, philosophy, symbolism, iconography and supposition. Where it goes from here is anyone's guess – but its safe to say that Saw III stands as one of the best last acts in all of horror...If anything, the DVD of Saw III has actually increased his enjoyment of all three films. With the added content clarifying some of the plot's more perplexing points, and the acknowledgement of cast and crew that all the Saw films fit together in a way to increase their importance and impact, we fright fans are on the cusp of witnessing one of the greatest movie macabre franchises in the history of the genre. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, Saw III stands not only as a fitting finale to the first phase of this series, but it is also a glorious gorefest destined to fill the splatter aficionado with untold moments of mindless mayhem merriment." If Saw III isn't already in your collection, you're clearly missing out.

Juliet Farmer sits down with The Grudge 2 this week, and definitely finds some things to like about the sequel (of a remake). Here's a bit of what she has to say: "Unlike Saw III, The Grudge 2 does not pick up immediately where its predecessor left off. Instead, it interweaves three separate storylines set in two different period and locations, which could have been confusing but, in the hands of Director Takashi Shimizu, somehow wasn't...Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer fame is back to reprise her role of Karen Davis, and this time Amber Tamblyn (the star of television's Joan of Arcadia) plays her sister, Aubrey. Other familiar faces include Jennifer Beals (one of the stars of Showtime's The L Word) as Trish, Joanna Cassidy (who I will never forget from Six Feet Under) as Mrs. Davis, and Eve Gordon (or Mrs. Porter from Felicity) as Principal Dale...With Shimizu again at the helm, Takako Fuji reprises her role of uber-scary dead woman walking Kayako Saeki, and this time her sidekick is newcomer Ohga Tanaka as Toshio Saeki, or the boy who wouldn't die. These two put that creepy girl with the hair in her face from The Ring franchise to shame...The cast also includes Edison Chen, who plays reporter Eason, and Misako Uno, who is actually a newcomer to both East and West film and plays Miyuki. The cast is rounded out by Arielle Kebbel, Teresa Palmer, Sarah Roemer, Matthew Knight, Christopher Cousins, Paul Jarrett, Jenna Dewan (whose role will make you never look at milk the same way again), Shaun Sipos, and Ryo Ishibashi...Exploring issues such as jealousy, envy, anger, and hatred, The Grudge 2 explains just enough to leave me wanting more. And while the spirits in The Grudge 2 are most definitely evil, I can't help but feel sorry for them - the deaths they suffered and the limbo they now seem to be stuck in." For a series that was certainly more interesting in its original (foreign) state, it sounds like The Grudge 2 is worth at least a quick look.

I'm probably the biggest The Silence of the Lambs fan you're ever likely to find (with the Lecter-related tattoos to prove it), but even I can't say what's great about the film any better than our very own Randy Miller III. "Simply put, The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most influential films of the last 20 years. Often imitated but never duplicated, the film - and book that inspired it, of course - helped to set the bar high for popular TV shows like Chris Carter's The X-Files and equally dark films like David Fincher's Se7en. Some have come awfully close to matching the pitch-perfect tension and atmosphere created by The Little Film That Could, but this five-time Oscar winner really broke the mold in 1991. Not surprisingly, it's managed to hold up better than most would've thought possible, even after two underrated but disappointing sequels...It's been called to attention many times before, but Hopkins most likely holds the record for the shortest "Best Actor" screen time, hands down. He's barely seen for more than 15 minutes, yet his spirit looms over the entire film; like Akira Kurosawa's title character in Red Beard, he's talked about almost mythically before he even appears. It's a true testament not only to Hopkins' performance, but to the strength and depth of the author's original character. This holds true for Starling and most of the supporting players as well: their interaction with one another is the glue that holds The Silence of the Lambs together, while a number of other strengths offer plenty of additional support...Unnerving, unsettling but ultimately uplifting, The Silence of the Lambs remains a richly detailed and original film that we should all be familiar with. 2007 marks the film's fourth appearance on DVD, following Image Entertainment, Criterion and MGM's earlier efforts from 1997, 1998 and 2001, respectively. MGM's second attempt is a 2-Disc Collector's Edition; it doesn't mark the first anamorphic transfer (or even the first dual-layered disc, for that matter), but it manages to easily overtake the company's earlier Special Edition in several departments...It's difficult to imagine any fan of the film having not purchased it on DVD already: Image Entertainment got the ball rolling 10 years ago, but Criterion and MGM followed up with excellent releases in their own right. MGM's new 2-Disc Collector's Edition is the most rounded of the bunch, offering a modest improvement in image quality and a strong assortment of new extras. Owners of the Criterion release should consider this a perfect partner, while owners of MGM's Special Edition should consider upgrading completely." Honestly, if you're reading this column and you've never seen The Silence of the Lambs, there's definitely something wrong. This disc is a no-brainer. Get it and put it on your DVD shelf.

DVD Savant checks in with a peek at a trio of quality horror flicks, the best of which is easily Mario Bava's classic Kill, Baby... Kill!. It appears as though Dark Sky Films has done it again and put together a great little DVD package. Here's Savant to explain: "Kill, Baby... Kill! is the last of Mario Bava's classic-era Eurohorror films, a visually expressive and often experimental ghost story that's now acknowledged by many as his masterpiece. A non-star cast continued filming even after the production collapsed and salaries weren't paid. Even the soundtrack was cobbled together from bits of scores from previous films, leaving Bava's technical and creative artistry to carry the picture almost on its own...Savant reviewed a compromised VCI version six years ago, in 2001. This Dark Sky Films release is an enormous visual improvement...Using a style borne of technical improvisation, Bava turned out fascinating pictures under conditions that would cripple any other director. Kill, Baby... Kill! is ninety minutes of expressive Bava camera magic. He almost neutralizes the effect of a budgetary crisis, thanks to a cast and crew that agreed to work for free...Kill, Baby... Kill! has Bava's unique style to maintain interest, but it still suffers from repetitious plotting and a conflict between superstition and rationality that generates little tension. Giacomo Rossi-Stuart's noble doctor struggles to convince the villagers that their backward beliefs are the real problem, but we learn almost immediately that the powers of the occult are indeed in control. Bava's images of the spectral ghost child Melissa Graps are everywhere, but we must patiently wait for Dr. Eswai to see one and be convinced...Bava successfully mounts a rapid crescendo of frissons. With the horrible truth in view - Melissa finally revealed to him - the film's contextual reality simply snaps. Dr. Eswai suddenly finds himself in a mind-twisting, self-contradictory zone. It's all done in a few simple cuts and pans, yet we're convinced that The doctor has captured his own doppelgänger. One more perfectly engineered cut, and Dr. Eswai has been ejected clear out of the haunted house. Horror films often attempt these kinds of dislocation effects, usually producing hollow gestures begging to be accepted on credit. Bava whips us through the funhouse before we have a chance to get our bearings..." Easily worth picking up (even if you already own the previous DVD release), Kill, Baby... Kill! is a classic of the genre and a film that every horror fan should see at least once.

Savant also has a lot to say about the Facets Video release of The Skeleton of Mrs. Morale: "A mocking critique of false piety, The Skeleton of Mrs. Morale thumbs its nose at the conventions of 'respectable' Mexican film fare...The jolly Dr. Morales might have wandered out of a film by Luis Alcoriza's collaborator Luis Buñuel, except that he's not a standard surrealist protagonist. Archibaldo de la Cruz from Ensayo de un crimen and the fetishist husband of "El" are driven by uncontrollable obsessions, but Skeleton's Pablo is simply Dagwood Bumstead stuck in a nightmare marriage. He tries to cope, but sometimes (sigh) the only solution is murder...The original story is credited to Welsh writer Arthur Machen, a specialist in macabre stories and a credited influence on the haunted worlds of H.P. Lovecraft. The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales avoids any depiction of Pablo's skeletonizing process, although we do see him quartering a deer carcass. His basement shop resembles an alchemist's lair, with a tame hawk sitting on a perch like a witch's familiar. Pablo's creepy jokes occasionally cue the lighting to switch briefly into Rue Morgue mode. Director Rogelio A. González made many slapstick vehicles for the Mexican comic Clavillazo, including the infantile Sci-Fi film La nave de los monstruos (Spaceship of the Monsters). His direction of this offbeat black comedy is impeccable. The film was originally distributed by Columbia, as were many comedies by Cantinflas...El esqueleto de la señora Morales tears an additional page from Alfred Hitchcock with a close-up of a glass that might contain poison. Pablo tells all to a scandalized priest - and laughs because the priest cannot betray the sanctity of the confessional. The film is just eccentric enough to make us wonder if Pablo is going to get away with his crime."

And, finally, DVD Savant isn't too keen on English import Neither the Sea Nor the Sand. It's, unfortunately, a bit too pretentious and convoluted for even the most seasoned horror fan. I'll let Savant do the talking: "Some horror movies don't realize that a good fright tale needs more than good intentions and earnest performances. This handsome English effort never begins to get a grip on the viewer. Fans of the talented Susan Hampshire (The Three Lives of Thomasina, Malpertius) may be delighted but for everyone else the movie will seem to go on forever. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is far too genteel to address its own subject matter...Neither the Sea Nor the Sand has barely enough story for a half-hour's Twilight Zone, even though that show didn't normally embrace such morbid subject matter...Director Fred Burnley turns the film version into a tiresome travelogue with scores of scenes that do nothing more than admire beautiful beaches. The movie pointlessly travels to Scotland, where Anna and Hugh roam more beaches while exchanging forgettable dialogue: 'Is this more than an affair?' 'Yes, it's a love affair.'..The story doesn't even try to develop a theme. Anna is on the run from a bad marriage. Hugh has a domineering brother. The lack of context might be fine if Neither the Sea Nor the Sand made its lovers interesting people...All of this is inconsistent, slow and lacking in anything like common sense. Hugh's friend Colin (Michael Craze) shows in hopes of an opportunity to 'comfort' Anna. Elsewhere, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand avoids the bother of introducing characters or having them inter-react. We're instead given dissolve-crazy soft focus lovemaking scenes, which come off as yet more visual filler...Only a few horror films have successfully dealt head-on with necrophilia. Mario Bava's Lisa and the Devil still impresses with its somehow beautiful imagery of a woman in a love embrace with a corpse. Of course, Bava's film couldn't even find a distributor until it was revised to jump on the Exorcist vomit wagon. In an attempt at the same transformation Neither the Sea Nor the Sand was apparently reissued with the title The Exorcism of Hugh." No matter what the title, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is probably worth a rental spin, but that's about it.

Juliet Farmer is back again to take a look at Anchor Bay's release of the barely-entertaining Devil's Den. Here's a bit of her feelings on the film: "Following in the footsteps of Project Greenlight's last pet project, Feast, as well as cribbing from 1996's From Dusk Til Dawn, Devil's Den relies on witty lines and slightly cheesy special effects to entertain, and for that, it delivers...In an interesting turn of events, the film is written by Mitch Gould, who is probably best known for his stunt work on such films as Domino, and who also has credits for acting, producing, and camera and electrical work on films...Stunt work plays a major role in Devil's Den. Unfortunately, the stunts are sometimes overshadowed by cheesy special effects. For instance, in one early fight scene, a body is decapitated, and blood spurts out like water from a sprinkler...Luckily, the film seems to know it lacks in fright and makes up for it in witty banter between the main characters...Between the funny dialogue and chemistry between the characters, I was able to overlook the poor attempts at scary effects and enjoy Devil's Den for the light romp it is." Light romp or not, Devil's Den is probably one to save for those nights where you can't find anything else to watch.

If I could describe Die You Zombie Bastards! any better than David Cornelious, I certainly would, but his review of the Image Entertainment release speaks volumes: "I grew tired of Die You Zombie Bastards! by the fifth minute. By the tenth, I completely hated the thing. And then I had ninety more to go...At least the title's fun...[Writer/Director Caleb] Emerson and his merry gang try hard to achieve everything, throwing every conceivable gross-out comic idea at the screen, figuring something's gotta stick. It turns out the screen is pure Teflon, as lowbrow joke after mistimed gag after horridly unfunny hamminess flops to the ground, no matter how much energy the filmmakers inject. The film is little more than a string of comedy ideas that fail to work on their own; pasted together haphazardly as it is, they fail even more, as they create a painful mishmash that seems to stretch on forever...Some of you may be thinking, 'Ho ho! Cheese demons and nipples, eh? Must be hilarious!' I remind you now that it is so very not hilarious. The whole thing reeks of one writer coming up with a wacky idea ('Ooh! We should do a scene where naked zombie chicks hit Nefarious' oversized penis with mallets! That'd be, like, awesome funny!'), and then nobody really bothers to do anything else about it, yet they still find a way to drag the scene out beyond reason. They top it all off with this dreadful sense of intentional camp, which in the wrong hands can be unbearably dull, and here, it's in the wrong hands...There is, of course, an audience for Die You Zombie Bastards!. You know who you are - after all, you've read the whole review under a bluster of 'aw, man, he just doesn't get it.' And maybe I don't. After all, Troma-esque flicks like this aren't supposed to be good. They're supposed to be crazy, wild, all over the damn place, overfilled with intentionally bad jokes and obviously fake violence and enough T and/or A to make the whole stupid thing worth it. But even on that level, on that lowered-expectations rung on the dumbass splat-com ladder, Die You Zombie Bastards! fails in a very big way, because it commits the biggest sin a movie like this can: it's boring."

Finally, Paul Mavis checks in with his review of the Monarch release Sasquatch Mountain. While he went into the film with some high hopes, the end result is far from satisfying. Here's what Paul has to say about Sasquatch Mountain: "I grew up during the golden age of Bigfoot movies, so I have a lot of fond memories of Saturday matinee fodder like The Legend of Boggy Creek, Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot, In Search of Bigfoot, The Mysterious Monsters, and of course, that episode where Steve Austin meets Bigfoot on The Six Million Dollar Man. I'm a confirmed fan of the genre. So it's with sad regret that I must say Sasquatch Mountain (originally titled Devil on the Mountain prior to its premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel) is barely a Bigfoot movie at all – and a pretty poor film to boot... really tried with Sasquatch Mountain. The cast is quite good for such a film. Henriksen is always interesting to watch (although I must confess; I prefer him as a bad guy), and Worth, Wasson, Vincent, and old pro Howard all try to keep their dignity by approaching the film with at least a modicum of seriousness. But too many things are just off in Sasquatch Mountain, with the main culprit being the script. I didn't expect Sasquatch Mountain to be a "good" movie, in the sense that it had a competent, pertinent script, with maybe something to say outside of its genre limitations. In fact, I would have probably been disappointed if it had been that kind of movie. No, if a movie is labeled Sasquatch Mountain, I want that, man. I want lots of crazy backwoods, ass-stompin' Bigfoot action – which I didn't get. Bigfoot only shows up for a total of about seven minutes' worth of screen time, and he's no big shakes (sorry), let me tell you. Where's the gore? Where's a shot of Bigfoot stomping somebody's guts out, or ripping off their head, or tearing somebody limb from limb? In Sasquatch Mountain, all I saw was some fleeting, too-quick shots of Bigfoot (who does, I admit, have an attractive shag haircut) grabbing his various victims, accompanied by some very loud celery-crunching sound effects, as the camera cut away right at the moment of impact...Instead of action in Sasquatch Mountain, I was subjected to endless philosophizing by the anyone and everyone, all at the drop of a hat. I mean, this is the chattiest bunch of thugs I've ever seen." What a shame. I could probably watch just about any Bigfoot flick (Hell...I even have a soft spot for Harry and the Hendersons), but Sasquatch Mountain is something you horror freaks are definitely going to want to steer clear of. This one's strictly for the bravest of cheesy-B-flick-lovers.

Cineplex Scares: Current Theatrical Horror

Horror DVDs Released in the Past Two Weeks

DVD Stalk Blog

We here at DVD Stalk are incredibly proud of all the great horror news, reviews, and commentary we've been able to bring you over the past year or so and we've grown by leaps and bounds, but we're not done quite yet. DVD Stalk Blog is the latest part of that equation, and an important one at that. Some of the things you're likely to see in the new DVD Stalk Blog include: Shorter, capsule reviews of films (and DVDs) that might not quite fit into the column. News and press releases from all across the world of horror. Interaction with you, the DVD Stalk readers, including giveaways, contests, polls, etc. And, most importantly, a forum for the people behind DVD Stalk to voice their thoughts on current horror films, books, comics, and pretty much anything horror related. We hope to make this blog a place that you'll not only check every single day (as we hope to have new content up daily - or at least nearly daily), but also pop into your favorite RSS reader, tell all your friends about, and link to like crazy little horror freaks.

Upcoming Scares

DVD Stalk Apparel Store

Just wanted to drop a note to let everyone know that you can now order your very own DVD Stalk apparel!! All you have to do is head on over to the DVD Stalk Apparel Store and pick out what you want. The shirt up there at the top is only one fine example of some of the DVD Stalk apparel that you can get your hands on. What better way to say Happy Holidays to a loved one or friend than with a DVD Stalk shirt?

What do you guys and gals think? We're pretty excited about it, and we hope you'll be too!

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. We'll also be posting horror news, quick-hit peeks at upcoming discs, and press releases in the new forum, so check it out and join in the fun at the DVD Stalk Forum.

We've also gotten some wonderful responses over at DVD Stalk's MySpace. If you've got a MySpace account, make sure you stop by and friend us.

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: Ian Jane, Scott Weinberg, Eric D. Snider, Brian Orndorf, David Cornelius, Bill Gibron, das monkey, Mike Long, and DVD Savant.


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