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Everything You Need to Know About Horror on DVD

DVD Stalk: Stalking you for the very first time!
Horror DVD Review Highlights of The Week

We start off this week's horror review wrap-up with Ian Jane's review of easily the most high-profile title of the bunch: When a Stranger Calls (2006). This Simon West remake of the classic 1979 low-budget Carol Kane thriller (of the same name) appeared to be doomed from the start, as Sony decided to spoil the film's big secret in just about every single trailer and advertisement for the film. Sure, the film is based on one of those legends that just about everyone knows and, yes, anyone who has seen the original film will obviously know what to expect, but the fact of the matter remains that When a Stranger Calls (be it the 1979 version or the 2006 remake) simply works much more effectively if the viewer remains in the dark for the first thirty minutes or so. Where West does succeed, however, is in his decision to allow his version of the film to fully explore the suspense of the main character's situation. Instead of shifting gears - like the '79 version - into more of a police procedural or detective film, When a Stranger Calls (2006) relentlessly plunges Camilla Belle deeper and deeper into her role as the frightened babysitter. Sporting an excellent audio/visual presentation, and a wealth of interesting extra material, Sony has done a nice job in bringing the film to DVD. The bottom line here is that Ian Jane says When a Stranger Calls (2006) isn't a half-bad thriller with a few decent jump scares and enough entertainment value to be worth a very solid rental.

Next up, Stuart Galbraith IV takes a look at Mondo Macabro's release of 1974's Lifespan. Rescued from relative obscurity, Galbraith calls the film a modest but unusual, and ultimately worthwhile, science fiction thriller. Lifespan is a fairly fresh, adult look at one of cinema's oft-mined stories with a few good performances (and one really bad, obviously dubbed, one. The inclusion of some insightful extra material, however, and a good technical presentation make this Mondo Macabro release a recommended addition to your collection.

It's a big week for animals attacking, as Scott Weinberg and Ian Jane each take a look at a "killer animal" disc. Spielberg's Jaws may be the most successful (and well-known) film of the ravenous animals sub-genre, but it also spawned a massive amount of, as Ian Jane puts it, "nature run amok" films in the '70s. Strangely enough, William Girdler directed two of the most interesting (and oddly entertaining) entries during that time with his films Grizzly and Day of the Animals. Scott Weinberg's extensive review of Grizzly expands on most of the film's faults (and there are many), but also explains that it is precisely these faults that make the film so endearing. It's cult following has kept Grizzly alive in the minds of horror fans for a long time, but this low-budget, cheap, knock-off actually did pretty well upon its release becoming the most financially successful indie of the year. Media Blasters has given Grizzly the special edition treatment with a excellent platter of extra features.

Ian Jane tackles Day of the Animals - Girdler's penultimate production - by examining how, much like Grizzly, the film overcomes all its many shortcomings to become a truly entertaining guilty pleasure. While not quite as packed as their previously mentioned disc, Media Blasters still does a nice job with the release of Day of the Animals by providing an interesting audio commentary and a fun retrospective featurette.

John Wallis has a tough time deciding whether or not The Heirloom is worth your time, but ultimately settles on the fact that this Asian horror entry is pretty middle-of-the-road. It may not be among the best J-Horror has to offer, but the tale of a creepy, old inherited home is worth at least a casual viewing. Tartan Video has been cranking out some quality Asian horror discs, and The Heirloom is no exception with extras that are actually worth your valuable time.

Horror fans have waited so long to finally get their hands on a region one release of Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore), that we thought it was worth of not one, but two, separate reviews. Both Ian Jane and DVD Savant take a stab (not pun intended) at Anchor Bay's long-awaited release, and come away with pretty much the same conclusion; that this Italian horror film is easily worth adding to your collection. Sure, the visual presentation may not live up to that of the R2 PAL disc, but Anchor Bay has still done a excellent job of finally bringing this Michele Soavi zombie classic to domestic DVD. This certainly isn't the Rupert Everett folks here in the states are used to seeing, as he plays the groundskeeper who starts out trying to keep the dead from rising in his cemetery and soon finds himself falling in love. Not your typical zombie gorefest, Cemetery Man may be a bit twisted, but it also a unique and highly entertaining film. That, and the inclusion of an excellent half-hour making-of documentary, make this disc highly recommended.

Rounding out this week's review highlights are two films that, as strange and subversive as they are, definitely have a certain following. Peter Walker's Frightmare is a delightfully dark British horror film that allows wacky actress Sheila Keith, and her counterpart Rupert Davies, to steal the show with some amazingly oddball performances. This is Peter Walker at his best. Frightmare is exactly the kind of film Walker excelled at, and he takes full advantage of the chance to poke a fun at the establishment. The mid-90s cheapie, Funny Man, doesn't fare quite as well. While it does have its strong points, most of the film is laughably bad. So why do I even bother mentioning it? Well, the presence of garden gnomes and a cameo by horror legend Christopher Lee, of course. Frightmare may not exactly be a horror classic, but all its blunders and low-budget schmaltz ultimately make the film a silly, entertaining guilty pleasure.

Cineplex Scares: Current Theatrical Horror

May isn't exactly the time of year that you go to your local theater looking for a good scare, but the recent success (and popularity) of horror films is making them, once again, a year-round attraction. Great news for horror hounds like us, but not exactly spectacular news when Hollywood is chugging out sub-par horror fare. Case in point, the recently released adaptation of the well-known "Bell Witch" legend, An American Haunting. Despite an excellent cast, Courtney Solomon's film simply can't hold up under the weight of a shoddy script, loud surprise "scares," and silly action. Not even Sissy Spacek and Don Sutherland can save this one.

Also still in theaters is the Christophe Gans video game adaptation Silent Hill which, despite how accurately the film handles its video game roots and the idea of basing Silent Hill's location on the real town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, simply fails to succeed with Roger Avary's often unintentionally hilarious script. And, if you're lucky, you may be able to find Brian Nelson and David Slade's interesting little film, Hard Candy, in a theater near you. While it may be a bit too long for its own good, the film is clearly well-acted and takes a new approach to an often-taboo subject.

Horror DVDs Released This Week

Scott Weinberg leads off this week's horror DVD releases with his review of Hollow Man 2 - the direct-to-video sequel to Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man. With a few extra features and a nice visual presentations, this ultra-low-budget sequel may not live up to its predecessor, but it does deliver some B-movie thrills.

Also in stores this week, Bill Gibron takes a looks at Anchor Bay's It Waits, which has all the makings of an effectively gruesome horror flick. The only problem? The film's simply way too much tease and not enough delivery. If gore and nudity is what makes your horror-fan blood boil, then you'll be sadly disappointed by this little indie from Producer Stephen J. Cannell. Especially when the nudity in question would have come from the lovely Ms. Cerina Vincent (who so beautifully displayed her "talents" in Not Another Teen Movie and Eli Roth's Cabin Fever). Still, there's enough here for Bill to deem It Waits worthy of at least a rental.

Also on DVD this week:

Overlooked Horror Discs

Sure, there are plenty of people that know the movie Magic, but I have a feeling most horror fans have yet to realize just how great a job Dark Sky Films did on their DVD release of this classic ventriloquist-dummy-turned-evil flick. Not only has the fairly-new independent company been churning out some excellent extras-filled discs of horror films, but they also recently announced that they'll be creating a brand new special edition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973). While that is certainly a release to be anxious for, the care they've given Magic should not be overlooked. The film probably looks (and sounds) better than it ever has before, and the inclusion of some quality extra material really make the disc a nice package.

We all kind of had a feeling that, once the Asian horror craze went into full swing, we'd probably seen a bunch of second-rate import features. Though it seems to be slowing down a bit now, that influx of titles made the J-Horror shelves a little bit muddy (in terms of quality). Nevertheless, some excellent films are still making their way into the hands of American audiences and Three...Extremes is one that may have, unfortunately, gotten lost in the shuffle. This anthology horror film features the work of three very talented directors - Takashi Miike, Park Chan-wook, and Fruit Chan - doing their best to make you uneasy. The film isn't perfect, as it's a bit of a mixed bag, but it does a good job of showing some of the more pronounced Asian horror sensibilities while also showcasing some excellent filmmakers.

And, finally, I don't think I really need to say much about a film called Zombie Honeymoon. The title pretty much speaks for itself. As Adam Tyner says in his review of the film: "I can't not watch a movie called Zombie Honeymoon." It may not be another Shaun of the Dead, but the film sports a gruesome sense of humor and does a great job of subverting the usual genre conventions by focusing on a more intimate, character-driven approach to Zombie moviemaking. In so doing, Zombie Honeymoon transcends the genre by not just being another quality zombie movie, but instead simply being a very good movie. Boasting strong turns by everyone involved, this flick is one that deserves to be seen. If you missed it the first time around, I urge you to check it out right away.

Upcoming Scares

Severed Limbs: Various Horror Odds & Ends

The horror genre is incredibly hot right now and there are a ton of creepy things going on that aren't quite so DVD-related. The first of which is ABC's airing of Stephen King's Desperation on Tuesday night. Mick Garris tackles yet another of King's tales for the small screen with Hellboy star Ron Perlman in the role of crazed Collie Entragian. Adaptations of King's work have been always been pretty hit-or-miss, but most have a tendency to start off strong and fade in effectiveness along the way. Such is the case here, as Desperation opens in dramatic fashion, and then goes on to meandering through the rest of its plot. The acting is strong all around, but Garris simply can't hold the story's tension for the film's entirety. Nevertheless, in a time when most television shows have already finished their seasons, Stephen King's Desperation serves its purpose as a fun night in front of the television.

DVD Talk also recently spoke to two different horror icons. Ian Jane had a chance to sit down with Don Coscarelli and pick his brain about the long-rumored three-hour cut of Phantasm, a possible follow-up to the excellent Bubba Ho-Tep, and his work on Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road. It's an excellent chat, full of insight into the mind and work of one of the great horror directors of our time. Also, a few weeks back, DVD Talk Head-Honcho Geoffrey Kleinman had the opportunity to chat with Eli Roth - a man who has quickly made a name for himself in the splatter genre. Eli talks openly about why he won't be working on the Cabin Fever sequel, his possible involvement in the Masters of Horror series, and his inclusion in the recently-branded "Splat Pack." With the news that Eli will be at the helm of the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's recent bestseller, Cell, this interview is a great listen as it only helps to solidify the fact that Roth is the perfect director to work on King's quasi-zombie scarefest.

Not to exclude any horror-related TV series, Warner Bros. has just announced the September 5th release date for Supernatural: The Complete First Season. While the series was not consistent enough to be an astoundingly great hour of television, it was definitely a fun show to watch more often than not. The mixture of quality performances by the two lead actors, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, with some interesting spins on classic horror legends and myths made Supernatural a fun diversion. If you were a fan of the series when it ran on the WB (or even if you missed it altogether) now is the time to get your preorders in.

Editor's Note

Unfortunately, we here at DVD Stalk can't be everything to everyone. My goal with this column is to bring together commentary and insight on areas of the horror genre that I've always wanted to see covered in horror magazines and on horror sites. My hope is that you'll find DVD Stalk both entertaining and enlightening. 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].

DVD Stalk Editors: Scott Lecter, Geoffrey Kleinman.
Contributors to DVD Stalk: Scott Weinberg, Eric D. Snider, Brian Orndorf, Stuart Galbraith IV, Ian Jane, John Wallis, DVD Savant, and Bill Gibron.


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