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Everything You Need to Know About Horror on DVD

Philosophy Of A Knife, Dark City, and Amicus
Recent Horror DVD Review Highlights

DVD Stalk is back to give you your monthly does of all things horror DVD related. Here's what's new, interesting, or just something we felt like writing about for August.

One of the more unusual horror releases of the last month or so is the two-disc special edition release of Philosophy Of A Knife from Unearthed Films. Bill Gibron
delved into this one and found that it came up a winner. Bill's thoughts: "While doing some research for the review, this critic ran across an interesting recent article (June, 2008) about filmmaker Andrev Iskanov. Seems the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, visited the director in association with the information and images he offered in this film. They were looking to confiscate any materials he had used in connection with its creation. After a warrantless search and five days of detention (which he signed off on post-incident, under duress), he was released. Some of his work was returned. Clearly, someone in authority believes that the subject matter inherent in Philosophy of a Knife will be damaging to their country's international image. While it may not work as a standard entertainment, it does present a compelling, and often difficult to watch, experience. Therefore, while it won't be for everyone, the film still earns a Highly Recommended rating. There is something primal, almost unconsciously unnerving about what Iskanov accomplishes here. We've seen these kind of ersatz exploitation beats before. But this time, they seem to have the aesthetic power to stick. This is a movie that will haunt you for days afterward." This isn't your average horror film. There's a fascinating back story to the atrocities on display here and Iskanov provides enough background information and context to ensure that the sickening gore scenes really pack a punch. This isn't an easy film to get through, but it's definitely an eye opener in more ways than one.

It's always a treat when Criterion dip their fingers into genre territory. Say what you will about their inflated MSRP, they generally do a great job and tend to release very worthy films. John Sinnott took a look at their excellent new release of Vampyr and had this to say: "This is an amazing film, though it's not for everyone.  It's a movie that viewers have to work at to understand, and screening this film isn't a passive event.  Ultimately Dreyer has crafted a magnificent work, one that is both haunting and engaging.  The Criterion version of this film, while not near the video quality of The Passion of Joan of Arc is still vastly superior to any other version on home video.  Add to that a wonderful set of bonus features and you have a release that is Highly Recommended." Criterion have also recently released Brand Upon The Brain! on DVD for the first time. Jamie S. Rich took a look and said "Highly Recommended! Even if you've been suspicious of Guy Maddin's bizarre point of view before, toss out any worry when it comes to Brand Upon the Brain! - Criterion Collection. It's a delicious malformation of an autobiography, playing with movie iconography and childhood nostalgia in order to examine the seminal experiences that indelibly changed the auteur's psyche. Shot like a silent movie, with multiple versions of the score and narrators to choose from, this crazy hybrid of melodrama, sci-fi, and horror excites more than it confounds, but even the confounding is exciting in Maddin's delirious world. Complete with new short films and a decoder-ring documentary, mark another in the win category for Criterion." Last but not least, Jamie also got the chance to check out Criterion's release of The Small Black Room. His take? The Small Back Room - Criterion Collection is Highly Recommended. This rare retreat into less fantastical territory by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is also a rare treat. The psychological profile of a bomb expert with a bum leg and a drinking problem trying to regain his confidence in WWII-era Great Britain is a compelling behind-closed-doors drama. Featuring a believable romantic subplot and a surprisingly detailed climax involving its hero defusing a mysterious bomb, The Small Back Room runs the gamut of emotions on its way out of its hero's extended lost weekend. Less touted than the Archers' Technicolor flights of fancy, this black-and-white character study should delight the filmmakers' fans like a long sought-after secret that's finally been revealed." Those who don't mind a little art mixing with their horror are advised to give this trio of interesting genre efforts a look.

French horror auteur Jean Rollin has long been a favorite of European horror enthusiasts. Probably best known for his multitude of lesbian vampire films, Rollin's pictures generally mix up rich gothic atmosphere, surrealist plotting and structure, strong symbolism and healthy doses of nudity, sex and blood. One of his best films remains Lips Of Blood, a movie that was recently given a three-disc special edition release in Europe that suffered from some unfortunate framing issues. Redemption, through Ryko, have seen fit to correct that with this new NTSC re-release of the film that carries over some of the supplements from that disc and corrects the framing issues that irked those who were familiar with the film. Ian Jane took a look and said "If you don't already have the Encore release or don't want to shell out big bucks for that expensive limited edition import, this is the way to go despite the interlaced transfer and the absence of some key supplemental items. Redemption's release isn't perfect but it is readily available at a good price and it offers a respectful presentation of one of Jean Rollin's finest films. Recommended."

Another release of note, and one that was reviewed on this site four different times, was the unrated version of Neil Marshal's Doomsday. This is a film that met with mixed reviews in theaters and DVD Talk's wide array of critics proved that the same holds true for home video. Brian Orndorf wasn't all that impressed with the picture, stating "Doomsday is a mess of lousy filmmaking and unrelenting artistic bankruptcy, smashed together to form an ear-splitting, overcooked, awfully irritating shell of an experience. Whatever bloody-knuckle merriment Marshall was intending with this tribute to the cinema speeds of the '80s has been lost in the headache-inducing translation." Bill Gibron was also far from blown away saying "If you already own the movies mentioned in this review, if you groove on Kurt Russell in his gnarly Snake Plissken persona and can only see Sigourney Weaver and Milla Jovovich as hard as nails female ass kickers, then there's no reason to revisit their lesser duplicates in Doomsday. Indeed, working up anything other than a minor amount of morbid curiosity for this bomb belies the film's many missteps. A score of Skip It would suffice, if only because there's better Marshall out there. But some fans actually liked this uninteresting free-for-all, so in order to be fair, a Rent It is required. Once again, it provides a way for both sides of the situation - the lovers and the haters - to have their say. From this critic's perspective, Doomsday is a dud. The idea of Neil Marshall taking on the end of the world always had a certain anticipatory flair. Unfortunately, there's a million miles of disappointment between the prospect and its eventual realization." On the flip side, Preston Jones enjoyed it and summed up his thoughts saying "Doomsday is, at times, totally off the rails and completely surreal and the ending strives for pathos it doesn't fully earn, but these are minor quibbles. When writer/director Neil Marshall turns the volume all the way up to 11, lets his freak flag fly and doles out the gut-churning violence like some kind of mad chef, it's probably one of the weirdest, nastiest and most adrenaline-pumping flicks you'll see this year. Recommended." Adam Tyner took a look at the Blu-ray release and said "Doomsday is a blood-spattered love letter to that big stack of post-apocalyptic flicks from the early '80s, as trashy, cacklingly depraved, and ultraviolent as the best of 'em. Kinda goes without saying that this isn't exactly for everyone, and I'm not gonna pretend that there's anything particularly original about it, but Doomsday knows exactly what sort of grindhouse sci-fi/action flick it wants to be and plows ahead unrelentingly, guns blazing. As for this Blu-ray disc...? It's kinda light on extras, but the 1080p video and lossless audio are both first-rate. Highly Recommended." Speaking of Blu-ray...

High Def Horror Highlights

A film beloved not just by horror film buffs but by film lovers across all genres, Alex Proyas' excellent neo-noir Dark City finds itself the recipient of one of the best Blu-ray releases to hit the shelves over the last month. A true special edition release, the Blu-ray contains both the original theatrical cut of the film as well as Proyas' preferred director's cut. Chris Nielson took a look at the disc and summed up his thoughts saying "Dark City is a cut above the average sci-fi flick. Though not matching the headiness of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey or Tarkovsky's Solaris or Stalker, Dark City is a stylish middlebrow sci-fi film as densely packed with cinematic references as any Tarantino flick, yet still capable of entertaining a broad audience. With two cuts of the film, five commentary tracks, and lots of other extras, this release has plenty of material to explore. Though film aficionados will be disappointed with how New Line has overworked the image with ugly edge enhancement and unnecessary digital noise reduction that scrubs the image free of its original grain, more casual viewers will only notice the significantly enhanced video and audio. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!" With an interesting cast, a compelling and exciting storyline and some truly gorgeous cinematography, Dark City is absolutely a film well worth rediscovering and New Line's Blu-ray release is definitely the way to go about doing exactly that.

Since HD-DVD has more or less gone the way of the dinosaur around these here parts, Universal has gone Blu-ray and Don Houston took a look at one of their inaugural launch titles with his review of Steven Sommers' The Mummy. While this is more of an adventure film than a straight out horror picture, it has enough of a creep factor to it to warrant a look. Don's thoughts? The Mummy was the best version of the 1999 movie to date, the audio and video looking mighty good and the extras serving to placate fans in this advertised Deluxe Edition. The movie is a lot of fun, more fun on average than any of the sequels released to date, and it shows that Universal is capable of surpassing many of their peers in terms of offering high definition titles fans will definitely want to pick up. The comparison to earlier versions for me was such that I wanted to analyze the frames as stills in some cases, even my upconverting Oppo showing the limitations of the older versions far too clearly for me to ever look back. The spirit of the movie was well served by this Blu-Ray release and action fans should appreciate this more than most titles released on the format to date." Don also took a look at the sequel, The Mummy Returns, and had this to say "The Mummy Returns had several standout moments for me, from the ancient catfight between the two female leads (Weisz and Velasquez) looking hot to Fraser fighting the assorted mummies to the pygmy scene to the ending fight. The reliance on special effects was a bit over the top and a mistake but I can't deny the appeal of the movie as a pop corn flick. The multiple layers of the show allow for repeat views that have driven my own multiple dips into improved versions of the release over the years, the technical enhancements not working as well this time as they seemed to push the CGI and matted backgrounds further than they were ready for without additional processing. Still, you can hardly go wrong with the title on Blu-Ray since it was a fast paced and fun flick, well worth your time and money as a sequel that does a moderate attempt of living up to the previous version (not falling flat like most of them do but hardly working as well either)."

Other Horror DVD's You Might Have Missed

Heading back to sexy-horror territory, Redemption also released Virgin Witch this month. Ian Jane took a look at it and found this to be an enjoyably trashy tale of the occult. "There is a bit more to the movie than simply fine, shapely T&A, however. Not much more, but a little bit at least. The scenes where the coven gathers outside for their ritualistic ceremonies have some nice, eerie atmosphere and the cinematography makes very good use of the English countryside and the ornate and stately manor that much of the movie takes place in. The finale of the film is handled well, with an appropriate if predictable twist thrown in for fun. This isn't a great movie by any stretch but it's competently made, full of nice scenery, and it's got some nice ambience - that makes it worth a look. A moderately amusing and skin filled tale of the occult, Virgin Witch is far from a masterpiece but is an entertaining, if predictable, little slice of British sleaze that doesn't sound so hot but looks quite nice on this DVD. The film should certainly appeal to those who like their horror a little on the sexy side or fans with an affinity for the seedier side of UK horror. Recommended for the already initiated, a solid rental for the curious."

Legend Films quietly released Forbidden Zone this past month. Bill Gibron jumped at the chance to check out this odd cult title and definitely liked what he saw. "It seems shocking to actually be suggesting it, but decades after critics and filmmakers alike condemned colorization as a travesty and counterproductive to artistic intent, we have a wonderful example of the glorified gimmick fully authenticating the purpose of a project - and the man who made the movie in the first place. Just like everything else about its creation and concept, however, leave it to Forbidden Zone to buck the trends and conventional thinking. This wacked out wonder is easily one of the greatest underground films of all time, and this latest incarnation is a winner as well. Earning an easy Highly Recommended rating, the addition of the Fantoma extras would have mandated a DVD Talk Collector Series score. Without them, what we are left with is something equally valuable. Legend Films has done the near impossible with this release. They have literally made audiences feel like they are watching Forbidden Zone again for the first time. And as usual, it's still an overwhelming experience."

And to finish off this month's recent release round up, we take a look at the recent release of Voice. Two different reviewers gave this one a shake - let's start with Kurt Dahlke's take: "Voice is a moody, mildly disturbing horror thriller pretty much directed at an audience comprised of the type of characters in the film: Korean high-school girls. Don't believe the graphic hype of the DVD box - this doesn't seem like an unrated cut (at least to my eyes it merits no more than a PG-13, so we'll chalk it up to cultural differences). At any rate, shuffling, longhaired J-horror-style phantoms are really a non-issue, and graphic horror is not the raison d'etre. Voice does a great, languid job of making you feel like an alienated teenager in a cruel culture of off-handedly disparaging kids, however, and the sadly vacant stares and arresting performances of the lead actors mark this a cut above its station. Asian horror fans looking for something off the well-beaten path could do worse than to Rent It." Thomas Spurlin also gave the disc a spin, and his thoughts were along the same lines. His conclusion? "Voice takes the waning ghostly formula and injects it with an artful shot of adrenaline. It's still chained down a bit by the blueprint set by its predecessors, but Il-hwak Cho's take on the idea does it with gusto that it's worth Asian horror film fans -- as well as fans of mind-benders in general. Genius Products' disc is attractive visually, but lacks in supplemental material and aural properties. The disc is well worth a Rental just for the film alone, possibly more if you're a hardcore aficionado of the genre."


Cineplex Scares: Current And Upcoming Theatrical Horror


Other Horror DVDs Released in the Past Two Months



Overlooked Horror Discs From The Past - The Amicus Collection

With the recent release of Philip Nutman's Scream And Scream Again: The Uncensored History of Amicus Studios (available now) we figured this would be a good time to revisit a trio of classics from the studio that dripped blood. So without further ado, here's Jeffrey Kaufman's take on Dark Sky Films' The Amicus Collection...

For fans of the "modern" horror genre, the studio that usually springs instantly to mind is Hammer, with their re-workings of venerable, public domain source material like Frankenstein and Dracula. One might be forgiven for thinking, when watching one of the three films in this set culled from the Amicus Productions archive, that these are indeed Hammer productions, for they feature some of the same cast (Peter Cushing) and crew (director Roy Ward Baker), and a lot of the same ambience. Director Baker, in one of the extremely informative and frequently funny commentaries included in this set, insists that the Amicus films are, to quote Monty Python, completely different from Hammer, but a more objective eye may catch more similarities than differences. The Amicus films included in this set do, as Baker avers, take a more leisurely and less gory approach than a lot of the Hammer films, but they share an overall ambience that will appeal to any lovers of late 50s through early 70s British horror.

The films included in this set are:

And Now The Screaming Starts, a perhaps trifle overlong feature that plays like a very special Night Gallery episode, with new bride Stephanie Beacham trying to figure out if her groom's family manse is haunted, or if she's simply going bonkers. The film boasts impressive production values (as do all the films in this set), and features excellent performances from Beacham, Ian Ogilvy as her husband, Cushing as her therapist and especially Herbert Lom as a really evil ancestor of Ogilvy's. Mixing elements from films as disparate as The War Lord and Rosemary's Baby, And Now the Screaming Starts plays well as a psychological thriller if not an outright shocking horror film.

The Beast Must Die is a fun, somewhat campy spin on the venerable werewolf tale, albeit with a William Castle-esque gimmick--the film starts with a disclaimer that one of the characters is in reality a werewolf and it is our task as audience to figure out which one it is before the end of the film. There's even a "werewolf break" to ponder the various clues before the denouement is bared, along with the werewolf's fangs. This film was obviously (and somewhat hilariously) made in the wake of Shaft, believe it or not, and features a dashing African-American hero played with understated panache by Calvin Lockhart. Cushing shows up here, too, as yet another Doctor, as does an impossibly young Michael Gambon, who even at this early stage in his career has the limpid, world-weary eyes that would define his better-known roles. While lacking the directorial flair of the two other films (both directed by Baker), The Beast Must Die is nonetheless a lot of fun if taken in the right spirit--it's not as deathly and breathlessly serious as the Universal Wolfman series, but that's actually for the best in these proceedings, which play almost like an Agatha Christie whodunit (or at least whoisit), albeit with a hirsute twist.

Asylum is in some ways the most satisfying of the three films, and the most representative of what Amicus was known for--the compilation film. Based on four short stories by famed author Robert Bloch (Psycho), who also wrote the screenplay, Asylum cleverly clothes its portmanteau format in a Beast-like gimmick. This time, a new to the institution doctor, played by Robert Powell, must figure out which of the four patients he visits (and whose creepy stories comprise the film) is in reality his predecessor at the asylum who has since gone insane him (or her) self. Featuring great turns by a host of excellent character actors (including Cushing yet again, as well as Lom, Barbara Parkins and Britt Eklund), Asylum provides the most outright chills of the set and moves between its four stories with ease.

All of the films boast at least one commentary track featuring the director, while Screaming also features Beacham with Ward and another with Ogilvy individually. There's also an illuminating (and at times scabrously funny) feature on the history of Amicus films featuring co-founder Max Rosenberg, who does not hesitate to dis many of his collaborators through the years.

Fans of the modern horror genre, and Hammer Films in particular, are going to love this set. However, anyone with a fondness for well-made, occasionally chilling psychological thrillers will find a lot to love in the three films featured here. Amicus is sometimes referred to as "Hammer's little brother," but this sibling packs its own unique punch.

Upcoming DVD Scares For Late August/September 2008



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] or join us at DVD Stalk on MySpace.

DVD Stalk Editor: Ian Jane.
Contributors to DVD Stalk: Ian Jane, Bill Gibron, Adam Tyner, Kurt Dahlke, John Sinnott, Jeffrey Kauffman, Don Houston, Jamie S. Rich and Brian Orndorf.


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