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Everything You Need to Know About Horror on DVD

Feast III, My Bloody Valentine, and Friday the 13th!
Recent Horror DVD Review Highlights

Hey wow, it's 2009 already. Happy belated new year and all that. It's been some time since we've had a DVD Stalk update, but better late than never, right? Here's a look at some of the horror movies that have come across our reviewers' plates over the last month or so. Without further ado...

Warner Brothers' Raw Feed line of low budget, straight to video horror films has unleashed its latest effort, the enjoyable, if unoriginal Alien Raiders. Kurt Dahlke took a look and said " Combining slightly tweaked elements from numerous other sci-fi shockers (think Alien, The Thing, and on and on) Alien Raiders manages to not seem totally derivative, mostly through strong performances and earnest attitude. ADD-style bloody action is a blur, but the movie's dark atmosphere gives Raiders a stylishly grim look. If you're not looking for the next evolution in alien horror, you'll get enough enjoyment out of this flick. Don't expect grueling terror or true originality, sci-fi fans, and you'll find this one cautiously recommended." But Kurt wasn't the only one who give this disc a spin from our team. Justin Felix also took a look and summed up his thoughts by writing "February's release of Alien Raiders by Raw Feed is not only the best feature - by far - from the label, it's the best low budget science fiction thriller I've seen since the aforementioned Artifacts . While the movie, which won a couple laurels from 2008's Shriekfest and Shockerfest (as a sticker proudly proclaims on the DVD's slipcover), may not have the most original premise, its storyline is still inventive, its characters are interesting, and its pacing is quite strong. By far the best movie to come out of Warner Brothers' Raw Feed label, Alien Raiders offers a strong plot, a tense atmosphere, interesting characters, good acting, and plenty of action. What more could you want from a B feature? This Ben Rock - helmed thriller comes highly recommended."

And speaking of straight to video low budget horror offerings, Bill Gibron was lucky enough to get a chance to offer our readership his take on Dimension Extreme's release of Feast III: The Happy Finish (shouldn't it have been Happy Ending considering that the last entry was Sloppy Seconds?). Bill wrote " The Feast franchise is an excellent illustration of that age old entertainment maxim - the law of diminishing returns. The first film was a frenetic, claustrophobic piece of perfected schlock. It had blood and a body count that just wouldn't stop. Part II , taking everything a hyperbolic step further, amplified the anarchy and arterial spray, but little else. Now comes The Happy Finish , the supposedly final installment in the killer horndog horror series, and we are once again experiencing the déjà vu of suppressed expectations. At only 70+ minutes, this movie feels like the bloated director's cut extension of the previous sequel. As a matter of fact, director John Gulager could probably take all three films, break out the editorial scissors, and hack this material into a tight two hour masterwork. Instead, we get narrative strands that barely pay off, characters who seemed carved out of Roger Corman's toe-cheese, and enough gallons of grue to keep us from getting cranky - or cognizant. The original Feast deserved its Recommended rating from DVD Talk's own Ian Jane. Feast II: Sloppy Seconds was given a fair assessment by the site's Justin Felix, though a Rent It seems a tad too harsh in retrospect. This critic would have Recommended it as well. For this third go round, a Skip It would be too tough. But there is not a lot here to require advocating. Therefore, Feast III: The Happy Finish will take on the same score that Mr. Felix offered. This allows viewers the opportunity to experience the film without laying out the $20 bucks that actual ownership mandates. If you love gore, you'll really enjoy the organ grinding offered. If you want a little more substance with your sluice (or conversely, a tad more seriousness with your plaintive post-modern irony), you will have to look elsewhere. The Feast franchise started out as a lot of fun. By the third time, however, the charm is mostly chum."

From the bowels of shot on video horror to the artsider side of the genre we take a look at the Criterion Collection's release of The Exterminating Angel, a fantastic entry from the one and only Buñuel who proves again why he's considered a true master of cinema. Reviewer Thomas Spurlin took a look at the disc and said " In the same vein as Lumet's fantastic 12 Angry Men , Buñuel makes the most of this claustrophobic scenario by creating a miniature war among typecasts once the hardened layer of societal importance washes off the characters. Some don't take kindly to this environment, like the selfish "profiteer" brother who intends on hording resources, while others attempt to roll with the punches and try to figure out the reason behind their invisible imprisonment. Most of them, however, seem intent on finger-pointing, which opens a door for The Exterminating Angel 's stance on the dangers of misguided mob mentality. Human nature's infectious sheep-mindedness is attacked vigorously in this pitch-black satire, once actual human beings come out of the woodwork. And, as the film progresses, it becomes obvious that their true selves thrive upon a sheep-eat-sheep state of mind -- both in literal and figurative senses. Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel is a high-concept, low-scale dismantling of class structure by way of a divinity-based premise, one that lowers the denizens of metropolitan society dangerously close to primitive levels. It's richly saturated with symbolism and thematic prose, while also maintaining a dark satirical tone that stays so pitch-black that it barely sneaks in any semblance of humor. But it's there, amid all the fuming arguments and embittered, starving schemes, while the clock ticks away either towards their demise or a crucial awakening. Surreal and utterly gripping, it's one of Buñuel's best -- and a tour de force in its own right. Criterion's two disc edition of The Exterminating Angel might not seem loaded based on the numbers, but the level of content available in this package delivers a quality supplemental experience with the film. Matched with an immensely refined transfer and splendid subtitles, this is an impressive offering for an important and enthralling piece of Buñuel's catalog. For the film's physical presentation, the solid supplements, and the availability to view this infinitely engaging picture, The Exterminating Angel finds its way into DVDTalk's Collector Series."

And speaking of artsy foreign horror, where's the love for French lesbian vampire auteur Jean Rollin? Right here, that's where! Redemption recently used the lovingly restored transfer that Europe's Encore Films used for their deluxe edition of Rollin's Demoniacs for their North American re-release, which shows a vast improvement picture quality over the previous North American release. Ian Jane put this release to the test and wrote "The word most often used to describe Rollin's work is dreamlike, and it's quite a fitting way to sum up the sometimes abstract and often times surrealist nature of the man's work. Les Demoniaques is no exception, it gives us plenty of strange imagery to wrap our heads around and while the narrative itself is deceptively simple, there is actually quite a bit going on in the film, even if most of it is in the Captain's head (or is it?). Performance wise, Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier are great as the two drop dead gorgeous spectral leads. They don't have to say much here, and as is typical of a lot of Rollin's work there are long stretches without any dialogue. The certainly look the part though, and the way that their innocence is contrasted with the events that take place in the film makes things all the more interesting. Rico and Couer are also completely easy to hate as the antagonists, they're miserable and reprehensible people, taking advantage of anyone and everyone, even their own crew at one point in time. Neither can be trusted in the least, which proves to be to their own discredit later in the storyline. While it would have been nice to see all of the extras from the R2 Encore special edition release ported over (that disc included a commentary, a short film, and other supplements that are not included here), this is still a decent presentation of one of Rollin's finest moments. His style may not be for everyone but fans of surrealist Euro-Horror can definitely consider this release recommended."

Finally released in time to cash in on Lionsgate's 3-D remake was last month's special uncut edition of the eighties slasher classic, My Bloody Valentine. While this one might not have the same cult following as the exploits of a certain hockey masked maniac (more on that guy later), it's still a popular effort from the sub-genre's boom years and it's nice to see Paramount listen to fans and finally include the excised gore that was taken out to earn the film an R-rating years back. We once again go back to Justin Felix for his take on this disc. Justin? Take it away. " While I'm a fan of slasher movies, I've never thought much of My Bloody Valentine one way or the other. It seemed like a competently made slasher film for its time, but the characters never really appealed to me and the storyline seemed strictly standard. This newly released extended cut didn't change any of this, of course, but the added footage does add some outrageousness to the goings-on. Some of the kill sequences are more memorable, especially a murder early in the film that involves a dryer at a Laundromat. It's no Halloween , but for a genre with a lot of questionable entries, one can do much, much worse than the original My Bloody Valentine. The theatrical cut of My Bloody Valentine looks terrific: Lionsgate / Paramount gives it an anamorphic widescreen presentation. Colors and details are strong, with only minor video noise noticeable. The extended version has deleted scenes edited out of the original theatrical cut. These scenes are not in as good condition. Details are lacking, and a lot of dirt can be seen. It's great to have the extended version of the movie, of course, but the shifts in video quality are fairly stark at times. This double dip from Lionsgate and Paramount is recommended, as the extended cut is more entertaining than the original theatrical cut released on DVD in 2002 (though that cut is available here too). Recommended"

High Def Horror Highlights

Movies based on Clive Barker's work have been pretty hit and miss over the years, but thankfully Lionsgate and Ryuhei Kitamura find a return to form of sorts with their latest splatter fest, The Midnight Meat Train, based on one of Barker's best short stories from The Books of Blood. Available on DVD and Blu-ray, it may not be the most cerebral horror film ever made, but it definitely delivers the gore. Adam Tyner wrote " Bitch all you want about The Midnight Meat Train as a movie, but you've gotta admit that this flick lives up to its title. It's not watered down to the point of practically being PG like that retread of Prom Night ; The Midnight Meat Train is slathered in barrel drums of the red stuff. Ted Raimi's eyeballs leap clear out of his skull after being konked on the back of the head with an oversized meat tenderizer, and a girlfriend sopping in blood slips on one of 'em a few seconds later. Mahogany's victims are carved apart and slung around like cold cuts, a creepy badnik scarfs down a freshly-yanked-out tongue, Vinnie Jones slices a couple dozen barnacle-like tumors off his chest and dumps 'em into a jar, and...hell, he beats a guy to death for cracking a Forrest Gump joke. Gotta respect that. The Midnight Meat Train packs a set of intensely stylized visuals, boasting a gritty, grainy texture and a skewed palette. The movie rarely bothers with more than one color in a scene, drenching the train in a cold, steely blue, slathering the screen in red as Leon fiddles around in his dark room, and generally opting for an ashen gray or a sepia tone otherwise. That subdued palette just makes the dark crimson splatter stand out that much more. While The Midnight Meat Train does have a deliberately rough-hewn look to it -- this isn't a movie that's meant to be polished to a glossy sheen or anything -- clarity and detail are both reasonably strong, and I really don't have anything to complain about here at all. Its computer-generated gore may look pretty chintzy, sure, but I can't gripe about the movie's soundtrack being shortchanged. This disc's DTS-HD Master Audio track -- lossless, 24-bit, and packing eight discrete channels -- sounds pretty much perfect. The aggressive sound design attacks from every direction, especially as Mahogany skulks around for his prey. The Midnight Meat Train maybe would've made for a solid, blood-spattered chapter of Masters of Horror if Showtime were still churning that out these days. It's a short story padded out to 100 minutes, though, and a flick called The Midnight Meat Train really shouldn't be this boring. As gruesome and gory as all of the splatter is, the CGI blood looks distractingly cartoonish, and the movie never really figures out what to do when someone isn't being bludgeoned over the head with an oversized hammer. If you've gotta see The Midnight Meat Train ...? Rent It."

Also recently debuting on Blu-ray is Donnie Darko from Fox. Glenn Erickson provides some insight into what makes this popular cult title work. " Donnie Darko may at first seem the teen weird-fest of 2001, but it's different from the ground up. It's fairly common to see movies trying to duplicate the eccentric vibes of filmmakers David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino, but Richard Kelly's "dark fantasy" is in a much more original vein. It's twisted take on the coming of age fantasy interprets teen mood swings & psychic disturbances as symptoms of growing up amid a jungle of oppressive values. Donnie Darko is too heartfelt and sincere to be an anything-for-effect satire. As science fiction, it can be described as a Luis Borges / Ambrose Bierce "alternate universe" tale. But it could also be a page from the diary of an alienated, despairing American teen. The new two-disc Blu-ray of the original has both the theatrical and director's cut; I recommend going straight to the Director's cut as its extra content is a big improvement and the additional 21 minutes are no burden whatsoever. The HD image looks fine, with the film's inexpensive digital effects coming off especially well; this is one movie unspoiled by showoff CGI images. The horrid "Frank Rabbit" looks like a guy in a disturbing Halloween costume, and for good reason. The exceptional audio makes good use of tracks by Duran Duran, Echo and the Bunnymen and particularly Tears for Fears. The two versions carry three commentaries. The cast and crew cut up and reminisce on the Theatrical cut; Richard Kelly is on the Director's Cut with Kevin Smith and the Theatrical with Jake Gyllenhaal. Kelly is immediately likeable. He's comfortable with his work and keeps the jokester Gyllenhaal tamped down a bit. He appears to have a healthy perspective on his artistic aims, and at one point ribs Gyllenhaal for interrupting one of his self-described "pompous" explanations. The second disc is a standard DVD. A lengthy (54 min. BTS Production Diary bears an optional commentary by Steven Poster, the film's cinematographer. We hear Kelly's voice describing shots exactly as he will film them later. They Made Me Do It Too is a pro featurette centering on the film's status as a cult item in England. #1 Fan: A Darkomentary is an amateur fan video by a young superfan. It's the more honest of the two. A storyboard comparison and a trailer are also included."

Other Horror DVD's You Might Have Missed

And with that we go back to Bill Gibron, who had a chance to dig into Aja's latest, Mirrors, starring Kiefer Sutherland and released by Fox last month on DVD and Blu-ray. Checking out the standard definition release, Bill said " For French horror filmmakers, the last few years have been a proverbial goldmine of grotesqueries. Movies like Ils and Inside have really proven that some of the best terror is coming from the other side of the Atlantic. One of the primary forces behind the repugnance renaissance is Alexandre Aja. Responsible for the love/hate epic Haute Tension, a transplant to America saw Wes Craven hand pick him for the update of the director's seminal The Hills Have Eyes . After the success of that effort, Aja turned his attentions to a script that had been simmering on the cinematic backburner for quite a while. The end result was last August's Mirrors. Starring Kiefer Sutherland, it came and went with a Summer season whimper. Now arriving on DVD in an "unrated" version, the question becomes if Aja still has the psychotic sluice juice? The answer is an arterial spraying "Yes". As for the rest of the film...well, that's another story all together. Too much story, in fact. The entire narrative goes a bit batty toward the end, Aja unable to keep all of his divergent terror tenets locked in and logistically sound. As Sutherland is battling some banshee, we get lost in a series of F/X tricks that take away from the aggressive scares the director was working with before. There's nothing wrong with a little smoke and...you know what, but something about the Evil Dead like finale feels chaotic, not conclusive. Still, for all its flaws, Mirrors is an interesting entry into the post-modern scary movie canon. It's not a complete triumph, but it definitely isn't the flop most critics complained about four months ago. On a big screen, with the massive sets looming like cadavers in a long forgotten mortuary, Mirrors was one spooky ass experience. You never knew what was coming around the next corner and Aja proved his capability with suspense by keeping things nice and anxious. No matter the size of your home theater set-up however, no DVD experience can match the theatrical mood. Still, the movie itself is well worth an investment of your time. For fright fans, it's definitely Recommended . For those who know only Sutherland from his 24 ties, a rental might be the better way to go. France has a history of elevating the art of ample gore. They created the infamous Grand Guignol after all. The current crop of filmmakers are really taking nastiness to a whole new level. While Mirrors is not premium Aja pus, it's definitely worth taking the time out to experience."

Curious as to what that rascally Jigsaw has been up to lately? Yeah, we weren't either but that didn't stop Lionsgate from dipping into the Saw well for a fifth time. Kurt Dahlke jumped in with both feet and found that this was a surprisingly decent effort, however. Let's let him explain why: " Saw V, and indeed most of the series, is flawed but still a lot of fun. The formula's foundation is a little flimsly now, but you know what you'll get without fail: grimy atmosphere, exuberant gore, tense trap sequences, and a whole lot of corny BS involving pseudo-philosophical messages; love your life or risk having some whack-job force you to rip your own rib-cage out. Saw V feels a little heavy on the melodrama, but should still satisfy the bloodlust of anyone who delights in that age-old question: live or die, make your choice. Saw V cuts up the screen in a 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen transfer that's nicely sharp, clear, and enhanced for your 16 x 9 TV screen. Colors seem accurate and true to super-stylish Saw standards; good blood reds, queasy greens, grim grays and fairly inky blacks. Basically, Saw V looks great, with nothing to complain about as far as compression artifacts or other digital tortures are concerned. Saw V atones for many of its predecessor's sins, even while nonetheless existing in a flashback-infused netherworld of time-shifts that may still have you asking exactly who's killing who. A deliriously splashy first kill (in this unrated cut) segues into standard variations on the Saw theme, with lawyerly, cops-n-robbers soap opera melodrama filling the spaces in between. For Saw fans, (and that's probably a good cross-section of all horror fans) Saw V is Recommended . Aside from disingenuous 'love, don't kill' messages that really need to be super-charged or chucked, Saw V is more mindless fun from Jigsaw's lair, good for a decent amount of blood, sweat and tears. "

Cineplex Scares: Current And Upcoming Theatrical Horror

Other Horror DVDs Released in the Past Month



\Spotlight On Friday The 13th!

Earlier this month, Paramount unleashed the long talked about remake of Sean Cunningham's classic, Friday The 13th, the film that birthed Jason Vorhees onto an unsuspecting public and created a horror movie phenomena that launched nine sequels, a cross over with Freddy Kruger, a video game, comic books, toys, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Opinions seem pretty varied on the merits of the remake, with some fans thinking of it is a fun return to form while others see it as a lackluster, bland soulless offering meant to cash in on the series' name recognition. That said, one thing most fans can agree on is that some good did come of this in the form of re-releases of the first three films in the series. The first movie was even released on Blu-ray! Here's a look...

Friday The 13th (Uncut Deluxe Edition)- By Cameron McGaughy

Until now, the only way to see the film in its full uncut version was through Warner's international release (in Regions 2 and 3) of the film (Paramount did not have rights overseas). So even though this print has existed on an official studio release for nearly seven years, Paramount failed to put it on the 2004 box set, which only showed the excised footage as a bonus feature. Now, North American audiences can finally see the full version of the film--which is great for franchise fans but probably no big deal to the rest of you (the footage is roughly 11 seconds--so the cuts aren't anywhere near My Bloody Valentine or Friday the 13th Part VII proportions).

Also included are a few new (and some not-so-new) bonus features--but not the same ones from the box set--and a new transfer and a 5.1 soundtrack. Confused yet? Let's try and sort it out. First things first...

It's hard to believe there was a time when the slasher genre--along with the concept of sequels and franchise horror--wasn't even on Hollywood's radar. In 1979, fresh off the success of Halloween --and many years after Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood, 1971), Last House on the Left (1972), Black Christmas (1974) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) made their mark--filmmaker Sean S. Cunningham wanted to make some money. And while his film owed a lot to Halloween , it was the one that single-handedly started a bloody revolution--one that exploded in the early '80s and never looked back. While not entirely original, Friday the 13th was unquestionably influential.

While the improvement isn't super drastic, this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is the best the film has looked in its three releases. The 1999 version was dark, full of film artifacts/specks and had that awful black line down the left side of the screen when Marcie searches the showers. The 2004 version got rid of that line, but was still a tad dark and had plenty of film specks. This image isn't nearly as dark, and everything looks more natural and balanced: watch as the cabin door is opened in the opening scenes, when Annie is first introduced as she crosses the bridge, as Alice works alone in the kitchen (her pants have more definition). In addition, Marcie isn't drowning in darkness during her death scene (ditto when Bill investigates the generator room). Skin tones also look a little better (I always thought Annie looked a little orange in her first scene). There's also a lot less dirt--the annoying blue specs around the 57:00 minute mark are gone, as are plenty of other intrusions (the odd light at the top of the picture in the opening shot with the "Camp Crystal Lake" text is also gone).

All in all, (we get) a decent set of extras, but not what the fans really want or deserve. Paramount has now given us two releases with just moderately entertaining bonus features. With a fan base this large and a franchise this successful, it deserves a long, in-depth treatment that takes an expansive, all-inclusive look at the films--not scattershot interviews stitched together. It's great to hear from everyone involved (again, I can't reiterate enough how fantastic King and Palmer are), but you just get the sense there's something so much bigger and better waiting to get made, so many other stories waiting to be told. What about all of the other actors involved? I'll cross my fingers for the upcoming documentary His Name Was Jason, but as of now I'm still disappointed at the ho-hum treatment this landmark horror series has received.

While not really original, Friday the 13th was undoubtedly influential--and still holds up as a great campfire tale that's better than most people give it credit for, hence my slightly inflated "slasher scale" rating. With natural performances, likeable characters, a spooky isolated setting, genuine tension and just the right tough of gore, it's always been one of my genre favorites. This third release from Paramount has two things going for it: It offers the full uncut version of the film (the gory additions are short) and has a cleaner transfer. The new 5.1 track is just okay, and the new extras are nice yet meager--the film and the franchise deserve far more in-depth and expansive extras, not this scattershot treatment. Still, the improvements are just enough to make this Recommended ...but I still hope for something bigger and better.

Friday The 13th Part 2 - By Cameron McGaughy

I know it's even less original than the first one, but despite the extreme laziness with the script and characters, I still love Friday the 13th Part 2. Featuring a camp with six new counselors left alone and in peril, it follows the exact same structure as the original. Remember Kevin Bacon's Jack and his girlfriend Marcie? They're now named Jeff and Sandra. Remember goofy prankster Ned, first seen driving with them in the front of a pickup truck? He's now--get this!--called Ted , also seen driving with his pals in the front of a pickup! Crazy Ralph is back too, with almost the exact same dialogue. And if you saw Bay of Blood, the film's signature kill will be very familiar.

No one knew Friday the 13th would be such a smash at the box office when it was released on May 9, 1980. Eager to capitalize on the new craze, Paramount wanted more--and wanted it quick. Less than once year later, Part 2 hit theaters to officially start the slasher sequel phenomenon--and Jason Voorhees stepped front and center as Hollywood's new leading boogeyman. Director Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller stepped aside, allowing Steve Miner (associate producer and production manager on the original) and Ron Kruz to come up with a way to continue the story. Maybe that little boy who jumped out of the water wasn't a dream after all...

Part 2 isn't as good as Part 1 in almost every way--most notably in the performances of the younger actors, who are given so little to do and say. Randolph and McBride are the only ones to come across somewhat naturally, but everyone else is a dud--Todd and Baker are given so few lines, they barely register on camera. Thankfully, Steele saves the day, and is at least tied for the title of my favorite Friday heroine (along with King and Kimberly Beck). Her speech at the bar with Paul and Ted--where she tries to humanize and rationalize Jason--is delivered with far more sincerity than you'd expect, and sets up the franchise's origin (although I'm still waiting to find out what she had to tell Paul...was she pregnant?!).

Harry Manfredini returns with a familiar score (listen for a Jaws homage during Terri's impromptu skinny dip), appropriate for the familiar plot. Despite all that, Part 2 still entertains in the second half when the carnage (and chase) begins. This is one of my favorite final showdowns (save for that odd pee scene that I'm still a little confused by). Like Part 1, the setting here helps--it looks and feels like a real camp, adding to the authenticity.

Part 2 also has one of my favorite Jasons--there's no hockey mask yet, so he hides behind a creepy sack with a hole for his good eye (long before The Strangers came along). Played mostly by Steve Dash (he was billed as a stunt man for Warrington Gillette, who appears in a few scenes), Jason is far more human and vulnerable than you'll ever see him again (way to go for the groin, Ginny!)--and that makes the terror more relatable. It's amazing how expressive Dash can be with one eye, and some simple head tilts make Jason even more real.

The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is just a slight improvement over the 2004 version. Part 2 always looked stronger than the lower budgeted Part 1 anyway, so outside of fewer specks and slightly stronger colors, you won't notice much difference. Some shots are still dark, and grain is still present. It's a good image, but not as big a jump in quality as the Deluxe Edition for Part 1.

Even less original than Part 1, Friday the 13th Part 2 follows a familiar formula. But it still has a spooky atmosphere and plenty of memorable stalk-and-slice moments. Led by Amy Steel--one of my favorite "Final Girls" ever--it also birthed the slasher sequel craze and gave life to Jason Voorhees, who is even scarier in his more human, pre-hockey mask form. As for this so-called "deluxe" edition, it doesn't do enough to warrant a purchase from fans--most of whom probably already have the 1999 or 2004 disc. The new transfer, 5.1 track and meager extras--most of which don't even focus on Part 2 (save for Peter Bracke's welcome enthusiasm)--just don't cut it. And something tells me this isn't the last release we'll see. Skip It, and cross your fingers that some day the deleted footage will be unearthed.

Friday The 13th 3-D - By Cameron McGaughy

It's been mere hours since poor Ginny was carted into an ambulance after her counselor friends were hacked to pieces by boy-beast Jason Voorhees. That makes it a little hard for continuity buffs to swallow a few developments in the third installment of horror's longest running franchise: Why does the authentic East Coast camp suddenly look like a California studio ranch, with a "lake" about as big as the oil puddle under my car? And how has the average-sized Jason suddenly lost all his hair, grown a foot taller and bulked up? Was there a Curves nestled somewhere in the woods with a quick weight-machine circuit for slashers on the go!?

Oh, who cares! We still love you, Friday the 13th! Just 15 months after Part 2 hit theaters, director Steve Miner (the only man to helm more than one installment) returned with an achingly familiar plot. He figured that would be forgiven in light of the film's technical fireworks: Part 3 arrived during the early '80s 3-D craze, and this installment was all about the stunts (sadly, my 9-year-old butt wasn't able to sneak into the theaters for this; I did get to see Spacehunter and Jaws 3-D the next year, but it just wasn't the same). This is also the only Friday filmed in the wider 2.35:1 ratio. (Miner has a few nice shots with Jason lurking on the edges, but he doesn't take enough advantage of the scope--many shots could easily drop the sides without compromising the image).

Watching Part 3 shortly after Parts 1 and 2 makes it impossible to ignore the similarities, which reach ridiculous proportions. Characters, kills and plot developments are lifted directly out of both predecessors: there's another prankster, another dullard to bounce off the leading lady, another loopy harbinger of doom (Crazy Ralph, we barely knew ye!), a Kevin Bacon-inspired stab from below (yeah, I know it's intentional, but still...), a familiar canoe climax and a horny woman stopping manly competition with a not-so-subtle promise of sex (in Part 2, Sandra interrupts Jeff and Mark's arm wrestling: "Jeff, don't wear yourself out! If you wanna wrestle, come with me!"; in Part 3, Debbie interrupts Andy and Shelly's juggling: "Andy, I can think of much better things for you to be doing with your hands!"). I guess if it ain't broke...

Much of the film is used as a vehicle to dazzle you with 3-D wizardry, with shots that would otherwise be a waste of time: popcorn, apples, a TV antenna, a yo-yo, a snake (hello again, wires!), a rat on a plank, a baseball bat and about a billion tool handles don't exactly send you reeling from the screen. But some work, including Jason's hand extending out before he muffles Edna's mouth ("Now where's that other needle?"), Harold's laundry pole and the spear. (But hey, I loved the shark breaking through the glass and into my face in Jaws 3-D, so what the hell do I know?!)

As down as I may seem on Part 3, it makes up for it with a kickass end chase (where the requisite rain is replaced by a fierce wind, a nice touch). Kimmell may not be the best actress (not only did her attack story not make much sense, it was a tad cheesy), but she injects Chris with a toughness that invigorate the last 20 minutes. She puts up one hell of a fight: bookshelf, knife, log, shovel, noose, ax...pardon my tragic un-hipness, but you go, girl! There are plenty of spirited moments in the cat-and-mouse game, where Chris makes some smart--and not so smart--decisions (I understand the scream, but why did you hesitate and look back when you got that bedroom door open?!)

The film is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. The 2-D version is a lot cleaner than the 2004 disc, with a lot of specks gone. It's still relatively dark and has grain, but is noticeably better than the two discs that came before (the improvement here is more noticeable than it is in Part 2's Deluxe Edition). But what you really care about is the 3-D version, right? I'm far from a 3-D expert, but Part 3 was filmed using the polarized format. You needed clear glasses to see it, not the cheesy red and blue ones we're familiar with. This DVD release switches to an anaglyphic version (required for standard DVD presentations on your TV), so you need those red and blue lenses to watch it (this release includes two very uncomfortable cardboard glasses; I highly recommend a sturdier, more roomy pair if you can invest in them). After seeing the new My Bloody Valentine in theaters so recently, I knew I was in for a disappointment here. This disc has no chance of standing up to current theatrical technology, so don't get your hopes up. It's an underwhelming presentation, but not completely disappointing. Many of the effects just don't translate on this disc (the snake, the TV antenna, the popcorn, Ali's window punch, Jason's extended arms at the end), but some do--the opening laundry curtains and pole are pretty cool, and a few of the scenes have nice depth, like the clothesline, the convenience store scene and the final shot of the lake. Colors are a lot duller in this version, and I constantly saw ghosting in some scenes, whether I was watching with my glasses or contacts (that may have something to do with my own eyes; results may vary for each viewer). Overall, the 3-D image isn't awful, but it isn't very good: sometimes I noticed it, sometimes I didn't. It's the same feeling I had as a kid watching Creature from the Black Lagoon on a special 3-D TV broadcast: much ado about nothing.

Flawed and familiar, Friday the 13th Part 3 is still fun. Despite a dip in acting quality and the severely recycled story, it's got the debut of the hockey mask, a creepy turn from Richard Brooker and a great final chase invigorated by Dana Kimmell's tenacity. This new edition has a slightly better 2-D transfer and an okay 5.1 track, neither of which warrant a purchase. Paramount is banking on your 3-D bloodlust to move this--and while there is a little excitement to be had, the effects here aren't spectacular enough to blow you away. I'd advise you to Rent It first, and if you dig it so much, add it to your collection. I wouldn't be surprised to see this title revisited again, and who knows what home theater 3-D advances await us (and how about those alternate endings, Paramount?).

Upcoming DVD Scares For March 2009



On A Side Note...

Those of us who have been toiling away in the trenches of DVD Talk for a whole now fondly remember Noel Gross' column, CineSchlock-O-Rama, the precursor to DVD Stalk, which Noel retired a few years ago. Well, back from the dead like a rotting corpse from a Fulci movie, Noel's back at it once again and those who crave his wit and style are encouraged to stop by and pay him a visit at his home page by clicking here.

Welcome back, Noel. We missed you.   


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DVD Stalk Editor: Ian Jane.
Contributors to DVD Stalk: Ian Jane, Bill Gibron, Kurt Dahlke, John Wallis, Justin Felix and Glenn Erickson.


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