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Everything You Need to Know About Horror on DVD

DVDSTalk is back!
Horror DVD Review Highlights

It's been a while since DVD Stalk has hit you with the latest horror DVD release info but we're back on track so without further ado, let's take a look at some of the more interesting genre releases and reviews from the last two months to have shown up in DVD Talk's ever expanding DVD Review Database...

Few horror films have been released on DVD as frequently as Sam Raimi's classic, The Evil Dead. While there's absolutely no doubt in any horror fan's mind that this is a genre milestone, it seems like the movie is being re-released every couple of months. Anchor Bay, the culprits behind all but the original Elite DVD release of the film, have seen fit to go back to the well that Raimi built one more time with the recent release of The Evil Dead: The Ultimate Edition, which was released last month. Those who own and are happy with previous editions will probably be content holding onto those earlier discs but in Anchor Bay's defense, they have done a nice job with this three disc set. They've settled the aspect ratio dispute by giving fans both fullframe and amamorphic widescreen versions of the picture and they've carried over a lot of the extras (though not all of them) from previous releases. Ian Jane summed up his thoughts on this release saying "The Evil Dead has been released on DVD more times than most of us are to count and with the thirtieth anniversary of the film on the horizon, it's a safe bet that this won't be the last time we see it. That said, having both aspect ratios included alongside the wealth of supplemental material makes this release a winner and for the one or two people out there who don't already own a copy, it comes highly recommended." Whether or not you'll want to plunk down for this disc will likely depend on how many versions you own but if you've yet to add the film to your home video library, this is the version to go for.

Out this week from Dimension's Extreme line is Storm Warning, an Australian survival horror/slash film that conjures up images of other, better known horror movies but which manages to be both entertaining and sufficiently gory as to be worth a look. It isn't the most original picture to come out of the horror pipeline in the last little while but it's nasty enough to count and director Jamie Blanks (the man behind Urban Legend) has done a good job with the material. Ian sums up his take on this grisly gore fest from down under saying "Storm Warning is pretty derivative stuff but it delivers a few surprisingly nasty gore scenes and despite its unoriginality does contain a fair bit of well played suspense. Dimension's DVD looks and sounds very good and the commentary is a welcome bonus. Not a modern classic by any stretch, the film is still worth a watch for those who enjoy Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired survivalist horror." Definitely worth a rental!

High Def Horror Highlights

HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray issues aside, there are still some top tier releases coming out on both formats, both new releases and catalogue titles, from a few different studios. First up is Stuart Galbraith IV's look at the 1982 remake of Cat People, starring the lovely Nastassja Kinski and the always enjoyable Malcolm McDowell. Stuart's take on this Universal HD-DVD release? "Cat People is a stunner in high-def. The prologue, set in Africa and bathed in red-orange light, is a knock-out. Old VHS versions of the sequence must have looked awful, but here is rendered perfectly. Also in this opening, audiences get their first glimpse of a black leopard, its midnight black coat among the blackest black this reviewer has seen in high-def so far. The rest of the film (1.85:1 in theaters, 1.78:1 on HD DVD) is somewhat more conventional, but the optical work suffers not at all at the splashes of primary colors here and there really jump off the screen. Shot using Panavision lenses and originally printed by Technicolor, the 1080p / VC-1 encoded / HD-30 gets high marks. The audio, Dolby Stereo in 1982, has been remixed in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus (in English only, with optional French and hard-of-hearing English subtitles) and is limited in terms of its sound effects mix, and the dialogue track is unimpressive, but Moroder's score (and David Bowie's end title song) fare well. Cat People, while occasionally gory, is not at all frightening or unsettling like the best Val Lewton set pieces still are, nor does the film have the poetry of several of those films. What it does offer are the same preoccupations as those found in other Paul Schrader scripts like Taxi Driver and especially Hardcore: religion, sexual taboos, "saving" souls in an apocalyptic environment, etc. Unfortunately, Schrader's strengths seem to be held in check for want of a commercial horror film. In one sense all of Schrader's usual concerns are present and they had a lot in common with the 1942 original going in, hence he probably seemed like a good match with the material, but the script doesn't put them front-and-center as perhaps they should have been."

Also from Universal, and exclusive to the HD-DVD format, is David Fincher's 2-Disc director's cut release of Zodiac. One of the most acclaimed thrillers of 2007, Fincher's take on one of America's most infamous serial killers was great in its theatrical form and shapes up to be even better in its director's cut. DVD Talk reviewer Ryan Keefer had this to say about the movie and about the HD-DVD release: "Fincher shot this entire film using digital cameras, meaning it was filmed and presumably edited in high definition. The 2.35:1 widescreen presentation is in 1080p, using the AVC/MPEG-4 codec and it's a thing of beauty. Blacks are deep and solid without any contrast issues to speak of, color reproduction is rich and accurate, and detail is razor sharp in the foreground and background (I could pick out the writing on a spice tin in Graysmith's house). As opposed to films like Pirates of the Caribbean or Transformers, the visual effects/computer generated shots in Zodiac seem downright minimal, so for live action driven films, this is as good as it gets. This release of Zodiac makes me sad. Why you ask? Well, with this being released in the first full week of 2008, many people will forget this at the end of the year when it comes to compiling their Top 10 lists, but this one should be the measuring stick for all other discs to follow, regardless of whether it's in high or standard definition. The two-disc edition of Zodiac is phenomenal, replete with exhaustive and detailed extras on the theatrical and actual events. The technical qualities of the disc are just as top notch. If you like Fincher or the film, add this to your collection and/or double dip appropriately." Daniel Hirshleifer had similarly great things to say about the set, summing up his review by saying "Zodiac is the next step in David Fincher's evolution as an artist. This slow-paced and deliberate work holds a sea of riches to the attentive and thoughtful viewer. This HD DVD is far and away the best presentation of the movie available, with stunningly clear picture and faithfully reproduced sound. The set ports over all of the special features from the two-DVD set, including a pair of excellent commentaries. However, the HD DVD gets the nod for offering almost all of the supplements in high definition. While it's been mostly ignored in the current glut of self-congratulatory award ceremonies, Zodiac was one of the best films of 2007 and this stellar high definition presentation offers the chance to give it that repeat viewing it so greatly deserves."

Another popular genre film from 2007 was Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. A deft blend of fantasy and horror, this adult fairy tale helped to further cement the director's place as one of the best in the business. While New Line did a great job with it's two disc standard definition release last year, the simultaneous Blu-Ray and HD-DVD releases really bring out the best of the film's unique look and design. Daniel had this to say about the HD-DVD release "Pan's Labyrinth is a layered and nuanced film that gained quite a bit of notoriety for its writer and director, Guillermo Del Toro. The piece works best with repeated viewings, where attentive audience members can really dig into the meat of the work. This HD DVD gives the best home video presentation of the film to date. Although the image does at times suffer from unreasonable noise reduction, the audio is nothing short of revelatory. We also get all of the special features from the previous special edition DVD and features exclusive to the next gen formats. Very easily Highly Recommended." John Sinnott took a look at the Blu-Ray release and summed up his thoughts by saying "Filled with wonderful images, a well thought out story, and some absolutely superb acting, Pan's Labyrinth is a work of art. This story of a young girl growing up in bad times is sure to stay with viewers long after the movie is over. The Blu-ray presentation is excellent with a great picture and one of the best audio presentations I've heard. Ever. Add to that a wonderfully full selection of bonus items and the result is a don't-miss disc. DVDTalk Collector Series."

Exclusive to Blu-Ray in high definition is the hit comic book adaptation, 30 Days Of Night, a different take on the vampire genre based on the graphic novel from Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith from IDW Publishing. While DVD Talk reviewer Adam Tyner admits that the film is far from perfect, he sums up this release by stating "No clunky sense of humor. No existential moaning. No screenplay that reads like a Masters thesis on the deconstruction of the vampire myth. Nope, 30 Days of Night is just a brutal, blood-spattered, balls-out vampire flick. The movie looks and sounds incredible on Blu-ray, and 30 Days of Night is backed by a reasonably impressive set of high definition extras as well. Recommended." Sounds like this is a release to look out for on either standard DVD or Blu-Ray, take your pick as it'll be available in stores everywhere courtesy of Sony Pictures on February 26th.


Recent Horror Titles That May Have Flown Under Your Radar!

DVD Talk reviewer Bill Gibron is a longstanding fan and champion of low budget, independent horror movies so who better than he to give you a look at a pair of micro-budget shockers that are actually worth your time? First up on Bill's hit list is the Heretic Films DVD debut of Die And Let Live, a quirky horror comedy from young director Justin Channell. Bill's take? "Perhaps the best way to judge an effort like Die And Let Live is to place it through a genre gauntlet. The first question is easy - is it funny? The answer is a resounding "Yes". The next step is a tad trickier. Is the film scary? Or at the very least ladled with buckets of blood? The response is positive, but ripe for reconsideration. In essence, a film like this isn't out to deliver the shivers. Instead, it wants to remind us of other movies that provide ample fear factors- and have fun doing it. As a result, Die And Let Live is a surreal hybrid, part homage, part funny freak out. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, Channell, Lively, and Crosby deserve a great deal of credit for what they accomplish here. Perhaps one day they will rise above the other outsider auteurs to take their place among the appreciated members of the mainstream. Until then, we have this fantastic film, and all the joy it brings. It is a rare thing indeed." It would also make Bill a happy camper if more people were hip to Punk Rock Holocaust 2, on DVD in unrated form from Halo Eight Productions and sometimes XXX director Doug Sakmann (the man behind Re-Penetrator and The XXX-orcist). Perhaps it's this critic's Sex Pistols/Clash/Ramones rich past, or his inherent love of all things splattery, but Punk Rock Holocaust 2 touches parts of his peculiar aesthetic that usually are left pretty much unexplored and/or unscathed. The combination of music, murder, mayhem, and monkeyshines simply breaks down his curmudgeon-like cynicism and brings him right back to a mohawked 1977. As a result, this fabulous fright farce earns a Highly Recommended rating. But potential viewers be warned. If you love wuss rock, think anything acoustic or New Aged is the high end of fist-pumping squall, stay away from Punk Rock Holocaust 2. Similarly, if you like your horror handed to you on a paltry PG-13 platter, gore excised to protect your precious Ritalin reconfigured mind, then this movie is not for you either. Those who like it louder, faster, nastier, and nuttier need apply, however. Thanks to the devious Doug Sakmann, all your simplistic chord progression tendencies will be sufficiently satisfied - and then some."

A pair of Asian horror hits that have arrived in recent months are certainly worth a look. Image Entertainment's Region 1 DVD debut of the nasty Shaw Brothers horror classic The Killer Snakes took reviewer John Wallis to a happy place and he had this to say about the disc: Killer Snakes is "Unglamourous, down and dirty, weirdo horror made during the peak of the exploitation era by one of the Shaw Brothers best horror directors. A decent transfer. It is going to be a judgment call for an importer who own the HK release, the improvements, the additions, are only marginal. However for the strictly R1 viewer, it is well worth picking up and checking out a classic piece of grindhouse." Definitely inspired by the success of the original Willard, The Killer Snakes is an oddity that's worthy of shelf space in any international horror fan's collection. From Discotek Media comes the strange Japanese schlock-fest, Sexual Parasite, better known in some circles as Killer Pussy! Bill Gibron says "Sexual Parasite might just be the greatest movie ever made. Then again, it may just be a surreal sex splatter job featuring the most dangerous poontang in the history of horniness. All lack of logic - and DVD extras - aside, Sexual Parasite is a wonderful reminder that, on more than one occasion, the grindhouse style of movie really understood the concept of excess in entertainment. This represents one of early '08s most demented surprises. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, this redolent revamp of every sex/splatter cliché in the gangrenous genre book definitely has to be seen to be believed - and even then, you may not fully comprehend what your baby beltway eyes are witnessing. Filmmaker Takao Nakano proves that tits and terror translate into a universal language, one easily understood (and accepted) by the vast majority of schlock film fans. Just check your holier than thou proclivities at the door, sit back, and enjoy. Your subconscious salaciousness will be glad that you did."

A long awaited European Horror DVD release finishes off our look at the latest domestic DVD offerings. Dark Sky originally announced Tragic Ceremony for release over a year ago alongside a couple of other delayed discs but it wasn't until January of 2008 that Riccardo Freda's freaky gothic spookfest say the light of day. Stuart Galbraith took a look at the disc and had this to say about it. "For fans of such low-rent European horror films, Tragic Ceremony has a few things in its favor. The entire story takes place over a period of less than 24 hours or so, and the fact that it's told almost entirely from their point-of-view keeps it a bit more interesting than other teens-in-trouble thrillers of this type. There are little flashes of atmosphere from Freda (credited under his usual pseudonym, "Robert Hampton") here and there, such a brief scene with Jane walking down a flight of stony steps, with lightning flashing through windows where long sheer curtains billow in the wind. The makeup effects, credited to Carlo Rambaldi, are gruesome and elaborate for the period, predating similar work found in splatter films a full decade later." While it might not be an essential Euro horror release, it's still an enjoyably trashy romp and the presence of Camille 'I Spit On Your Grave' Keaton gives it some curiosity value.


Cineplex Scares: Current Theatrical Horror

Other Horror DVDs Released in the Past Two Months



Overlooked Horror Discs From The Past

Not everyone grabs the latest horror discs the day they're released, so out of the sheer goodness of our hearts, we've decided that with each DVD Stalk column we'll dedicate a section to quality horror DVDs that you might have missed the first time around. This month's choice is the Criterion Collection release of Eyes Without a Face. Here's what DVD Savant has to say about this classic work of French horror....

Eyes Without a Face is an exquisite horror film that works as a collision of aesthetic visuals and intolerably inhumane content. It stands alone from the glut of commercially-oriented Eurohorror that started a couple of years before. It's French, a country that loved horror movies but didn't make many. Despite its then-outrageous gore content, it's not presented or structured as an exploitation movie. Its serious director channels the poetic surrealism of Jean Cocteau into the contours of the horror film; even though Eyes Without a Face has the surface naturalism of a crime thriller, the immediate reference has to be Cocteu's Blood of a Poet and the fantastic Beauty and the Beast. It also harks back to the work of Feuillade, especially Fantomas and Judex, which director Georges Franju would remake with similar fantastic imagery.

Noted surgeon and neurologist Doctor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) buries his drowned and mutilated daughter Christiane, much to the concern of his aide/secretary Louise (Alida Valli) and his medical intern Jacques Vernon, Christiane's forlorn fiancée. But back at his foggy country clinic, Christiane (Edith Scob) is very much alive, hiding in the Génessier mansion and wearing a mysterious blank-faced mask, wandering deranged through the corridors. Louise spends her days stalking students outside the Sorbonne, looking for young women with eyes and skin that match Christiane's ...

Eyes Without a Face has horror aplenty, but it requires patience. The centerpiece is the famous surgery scene, which becomes less important with repeated viewings. We witness the destruction of beauty with the cool precision of the professional surgeon, and have to realize that the human image we most identify with, the face, can be taken apart in less time that it takes to carve a Thanksgiving turkey. The skin is an organ not really attached to most of the viscera below it, and Génessier has no problem lifting an entire mask-like graft section in one piece. The idea of visualizing such a process for a film must have been anathema in 1959; Franju's story may not be literally about the producer-imposed taboos of animal vivisection or Nazi medical experiments, but the spirit is there in force. Just as some genre fans were disappointed a few months ago to discover that the almost sedate thrills of Mill of the Stone Women didn't add up to a contemporary action-packed horror film experience, there will doubtlessly be many curious fans who will check out Eyes Without a Face and ask what the big deal is. The deliberately paced film concerns itself with contemplating horror more than dishing it out by the bucketful. But viewers tired of cookie-cutter horror films, who respond to magical masterpieces like Beauty and the Beast will be amply rewarded here. Part of the appeal for Savant of Eyes Without a Face was the inability to see it in a decent version for so many years, but it's far, far too good to be just a cult film.

Upcoming DVD Scares For February 2008

As DVD Stalk encourages you to check us out over at our MySpace page. 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].

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 Editor: Ian Jane.
Contributors to DVD Stalk: Ian Jane, Bill Gibron, Stuart Galbraith IV, Daniel Hirshleifer, John Sinnott, Adam Tyner, John Wallis and DVD Savant.


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