Warner Archives, El Superbeasto and more
Good things come to those who wait and you guys and girls out there sure have been waiting ever so patiently so let's hope that this ultra-late though hopefully not so lamented installment of DVD Stalk doesn't disappoint. We aren't going to BS you with excuses, instead, let's cut right to the chase and get on with it. What's been happening in the world of horror DVD and Blu-ray lately? More than you might expect. Halloween is just around the corner and while this season isn't as busy as some have (the industry is in a bit of a financial slump, just like the rest of the country), there's still plenty of meat on the bones of the horror community - here's hoping this column makes you hip as to where to find it. So without further ado...
Kurt Dahlke got a chance to check out a pre-release version of the upcoming Anchor Bay DVD release of Happy Birthday To Me. A film that "promises six bizarre murders. It delivers six murders, though the majority aren't all that bizarre. Less a teen-kill cash-in than an '80s update of the giallo formula, Happy Birthday touts plenty of style, but lacks the nasty verve of movies like Halloween or F13 . Still, with a fine performance from the fine Melissa Sue Anderson, and lots of fun, dead-college-kid clichés, Happy Birthday delivers plenty of nostalgia value for aging horror aficionados. It makes up for in atmosphere and style what it lacks in gore and terror (much of the bloodshed was apparently cut prior to release). With fine performances from Melissa Sue Anderson and Glenn Ford, plus the usual contingent of simpering victims, Happy Birthday pledges more allegiance to its giallo forebears than the early '80s teen-kill coattails marketing gurus wanted it to ride. In all, it presents elegantly loopy, fearful fun for horror nostalgia buffs and Melissa Sue Anderson freaks, plus, its moody score is back in place, making this something of a DVD gift. Those corn-fed on '80s horror can consider this Recommended." It may not be the be-all, end-all of films from the sub-genre's heyday, it's still a fun piece with some nice atmosphere and some quality kill scenes and it's nice to see the film available again in what looks to be a pretty respectable edition, even if the extras aren't anything to write home about (at least as far as the test disc is concerned)
Not to be out done, Jamie S. Rich was lucky enough to have an opportunity to delve into the Criterion Collection's stacked release of Homicide, which is maybe more of a mystery/suspense film than a flat out horror picture but it's still one that's worth a look thanks to some great direction and fine action. What'd Jamie think? "1991's Homicide was Mamet's third feature as a writer/director, following his acclaimed con-man debut, House of Games , and the lighter departure, Things Change . His lead swindler from Games , Joe Mantegna, returns this time as Bobby Gold, a Chicago police detective known for his gift of gab. He's the guy they call in for negotiations, the one who can talk any skel into giving up information. As an example of these skills, over the course of Homicide , he convinces a brother-in-law and a mother to give up their family member and a dog to give up his meal. Bobby has a way of talking to you that makes even the most nonsensical decision make sense. At the end of Homicide Bobby finds himself totally alone. He is bruised, battered, and unable to perform the duties of his job. He has become extraneous. I am not sure how I feel about the film's final scene. It doesn't have the gut-punch effect Mamet was hoping for, the attempt at an ironic "What was it all for?" seeming to be tacked on for no real purpose. It's a film noir convention, the ending that renders the rest of it pointless, the hero getting gutshot or the money blowing away in the rain. Granted, there were more obvious ways to go, and Mamet teases us by making us think the prisoner who has throughout Homicide been promising to explain the nature of true evil Bobby is finally going to give up the goods. This could have led to some very hammy writing, and really, saying nothing is much stronger and carries its own suggestions: evil is what casts us out, what demands our silence, what erases the lifeline of language. That would have been enough, the image of Bobby sitting alone while life continues without him would have sufficed. The extra reveal comes off as trying too hard in a movie that up until then didn't have to. David Mamet's Homicide takes the police procedural and turns it into one man's personal journey through religion, race, and identity. Joe Mantegna is at his best as Detective Robert Gold, a Chicago police officer whose accidental connection to the murder of an old Jewish woman leads him to question himself and his beliefs. Mamet creates a bizarre, dream-like world and builds a compelling mystery that never fails to surprise. The Homicide - Criterion Collection DVD sports a fantastic new transfer and a few well-chosen extras to make an all-around great package."
While the world continues to lament the existence of Rob Zombie's Halloween II, trash fan extraordinaire Bill Gibron found a lot to love about one of Mr. Zombie's other efforts when tasked with reviewing The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto. Rising to the director's defence, Bill wrote " Is there a more unfairly marginalized filmmaker than Rob Zombie? Over the course of a relatively short career behind the lens, he's managed to deliver one certified masterpiece (The Devil's Rejects), one superior source material remake (Halloween), a baffling work of singular vision (Halloween II) and a half masterwork/half mess (House of 1000 Corpses). Outside of the fact that he knows more about the horror genre - including aspects both old school and psychotronic - than most so-called fright fans have ever even imagined about their favorite film category, Zombie appears to be the victim of unrealistic expectations and consistently compromised ambitions. He always appears on the cusp of brilliance. If you've been disappointed by the former shock rocker before, if you think he's nothing but a bunch of recycled spook show strategies filtered through his own undisciplined designs, you should definitely give his latest offering, the toon poon fest The Haunted World of El Superbeasto a shot. Not only is it one of the best thing's Zombie has ever done, it's the perfect primer for understanding the rest of his often insular macabre mannerisms. As media mash-ups go, however, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is the best. It offers everything you imagine Rob Zombie would find frisky and foul - and then adds in the rest of the raincoat crowd conceits just to be on the safe side. This is a fantastic, fascinating gem. If it had offered better bonus features, a compendium of conversation and clips explaining every part of the El Superbeasto process, this fantastic film would have easily earned the DVD Talk Collector Series tag. It is easily one of the best digital titles of the year, from feature presentation to the tech specs involved. Sadly, with the lacking extras, we are stuck solidly in Highly Recommended territory. If you've ever grimaced at the thought of another Rob Zombie film, if you believe his best work on screen was back when he was directing music videos for Beavis and Butthead's favorite "Thunderkiss '69" band, then The Haunted World of El Superbeasto may be your moment of eye opening Zen, especially if you are a fan of the kind of hipster animation that made the rounds during the '60s and '70s. As re-inventive as it is retro, this is some of the most scandalous, sacrilegious, and sublime stuff in quite some time. And the best part about it? It's a friggin' cartoon! How cool is that? In the case of The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, it's very cool indeed."
Taking things to the backwoods of his native Canada, the true north strong and free, Ian Jane dug into the recent Code Red DVD debut of the criminally underrated Trapped starring the equally criminally underrated Henry Silva. "A fairly obscure Canadian production that's set in rural Tennessee, Trapped (also known as Baker County U.S.A. ) is one of the better Deliverance inspired backwoods horror films to follow in the wake of that more famous picture thanks in no small part to the participation of Henry Silva. Better known for his lengthy stint in European crime films, here Silva plays a man named Henry Chatwill who, when the film begins, is having his way with a foxy young woman down by the river. His coitus is soon interrupted, however, as the pair is interrupted by a couple of guys who have wandered out of the nearby town and stumbled upon their boot knocking. Henry's not too happy about this, so he gets his gun and chases the poor buggers through the woods." Of course, it all goes down hill from there, particularly for the group of hikers who witness all of this. "Front and center in all of this mayhem is Silva, who wisely chooses to not go ridiculously over the top here. While there are spots where his drawl slips a bit, he gives a pretty convincing performance as the heavy of the film and is actually pretty menacing in this picture - scary, almost. While it might sound like faint praise pointing out a scary antagonist in what is essentially a horror film, when you think of how many pictures from the genre can't even deliver that much you realize that it is a pretty important aspect and Trapped gets that part right. He doesn't chew the scenery here as he has in some of his better known crime pictures (Fernando Di Leo's The Boss comes instantly to mind), rather, he's got a calculated intimidation factor here that works quite well. If you've always wanted to see Henry Silva chase a bunch of people around the woods with an axe but never had the opportunity, here's your chance. Trapped is a pretty solid backwoods thriller highlighted by Silva's manic performance which helps to elevate it a notch or two. Code Red's DVD release is light on extras but it looks and sounds just fine. Recommended.
High Def Horror Highlights
Ian also took a look at the Lionsgate Blu-ray release of the shallow if entertainnig See No Evil. An avowed wrestling fan, he thought it was fun to see the lumbering Kane play the heavy in a WWE film, particulalry one as gory as this, but he was also realistic about the picture. "See No Evil marks the first film from WWE films and the big screen debut of Glen Jacobs, better known to wrestling fans as Kane. Now, films which feature wrestler's tend to be really hit or miss. For every They Live there's a Suburban Commando waiting in the wings. Wrestler's aren't really known for their acting abilities, they're known for beating each other up. Thankfully, it seems that director Gregory Dark (yes, that Gregory Dark) and writer Dan Madigan realize this, as that's what Kane does here - he runs around and clobbers everyone. The script for the film is definitely problematic. There are issues here, big issues. Why is there power to the top floors where no one has been for the last two decades? Why are none of the inmates wearing prison garb? Why would the corrections officers let the inmates run around completely unsupervised while sitting at the bar doing shots from a flash and alluding to a romantic subplot that never materializes? Logic is thrown out the window here, kids. Thankfully, Dark paces the film really well. Yes, it is a dumb movie, there's no doubt about that, but it movies really quickly and there are enough silly, gory set pieces here to ensure that even if the film is goofy, it's never dull. Plenty of fast editing, music video style cuts and film speed plays, and a stereotypically grim atmosphere devoid of almost all color don't do the movie any favors (we've seen enough of this already!) but if you're okay with watching a big scary guy run around and kill annoying people then See No Evil will fit the bill nicely. Despite some creative kill scenes and a fun performance from Kane, See No Evil fails to hit like it should because of a poor script and even worse character development. Dark's direction relies on too many flashy edits but is otherwise strong and the movie moves at a really quick pace but at best this is a brainless popcorn film - it'll entertain once but has little replay value. Lionsgate's Blu-ray release carries over all of the extras from the standard definition release that came out a few years back and it looks and sounds noticeably better, but that doesn't really make the movie any more interesting than it already was. Rent it." It ain't deep, kids, but it is gory.
On the flip side of that rather dopey coin, Adam Tyner was able to check out the recent Blu-ray release of the remake of Wes Craven's seminal The Last House On The Left. "The original release of The Last House On The Left is very much a product of its time. The entire concept of the film is rooted around the loss of the innocence of the 1960s, and the social and political undercurrent woven in by Wes Craven is mired in uneven acting, fumbling stabs at comic relief, and a director still trying to figure out what he's doing, really. There's no overlooking the impact its unflinchingly graphic nature has left on the landscape since its release nearly forty years ago, but even though I'd say I respect the movie, it really hasn't held up particularly well over the years. This is a film that lends itself better to a remake than most, and in the wake of the colossal successes of the Saw juggernaut and Hostel, it's kind of surprising a redux hasn't been hammered out until now. It's a cautionary tale, really: if any of the kids in the movie had heeded their parents' warnings, the girls never would've found themselves in harm's way, and Krug and his gang would've slunk away into the shadows. A common thread in Wes Craven's first couple of films was watching the civilized sink to the depths of their inhuman tormenters, and this not only carries over to the remake but is used to much better effect. An unspoken but noticeable twist in the remake is that although Krug and company torment these two girls relentlessly, they don't attack except when provoked. It leaves open the question of what would've happened if Mari and Paige had submissively gone along with the gang's plan. There's really no question that they would've been degraded and humiliated -- Sadie sapphically pawing at Mari's chest makes that clear enough -- but rape...? Murder...? This too adds an additional layer of intensity. Aside from that one brief glimmer of regret, the original movie featured a set of feral animals. Here, the outcome is less inevitable, and it's more disturbing to watch someone who clearly is capable of rational thought unleash the murderous beast lurking inside rather than to have always been that way. More artfully crafted than the original and even more unnerving, The Last House on the Left is among a select few of the horror remakes from the past decade to stand out as truly effective. As a Blu-ray disc, though, it doesn't make nearly as much of an impact, especially considering the near-total lack of extras. Genre fans seeking out something disturbing and intense without releving in viscera like the Hostel and Saw set ought to consider giving The Last House on the Left a look. Because Universal really hasn't assembled all that compelling a package here, those with more of a casual interest may prefer to opt for a rental or wait for the $40 MSRP to ease back instead. Recommended."
Glenn 'DVD Savant' Erickson dug deep into the late, great Lucio Fulci's interesting filmography and came out with the semi-recent Severin DVD release of the maestro's swansong, Door Into Silence, starring a confused looking John Savage and a great pre-Katrina New Orleans backdrop. Glenn wrote " Savage plays Melvin Devereaux, a businessman first seen staring at a tomb in a New Orleans cemetery. He's accosted by a strange woman dressed in white (Sandi Schultz) and then begins a frustrating day trying to get back to his home in rural Louisiana. Melvin is delayed by detours, wrong turns, car trouble, muddy roads and a teenaged hooker, but they're nothing compared to the odd behaviors he encounters. Motorcycle cops catch him sneaking past a safety roadblock, but don't write him a ticket. The mystery woman in white refuses to identify herself but says that they'll "meet at the crossroads". He can't get anyone on the phone. The main source of Melvin's anxiety is a mystery hearse that tries to run him off the road. He's beaten up by its driver (Richard Castleman) and arrested when he breaks into the hearse to see who's inside. He disrupts a gospel funeral service by mistake before tracing the real hearse to a funeral home. A holding room contains a half-dozen corpses of different men, all bearing his name on their coffins. The last coffin contains a strange surprise ...
Any viewer of average I.Q., even those who have never heard of Ambrose Bierce, will immediately know what's up. All the clues point in the same direction, and there's little in the film to deflect our attention elsewhere. Melvin's adventures build no sidebar angles of romance or mystery, so we must be content to follow the man as he drives halfway across Louisiana, encountering every bridge, ferryboat and causeway en route. All of this is well filmed, but since the entire story happens in broad daylight in such ordinary surroundings, not a great deal of atmosphere is evoked. The balance of the cast is uneven in the acting department as well, with the post-synched dialogue not helping to make the minor roles credible. Savage later married his co-star Sandi Schultz, which may be the happiest success story to come out of the film.Fulci completists will be interested in seeing Severin's Door Into Silence, a very good encoding of a 1:33 transfer. Colors are better than acceptable and the image sharp; I enlarged and cropped the picture on a large widescreen monitor and the resulting image held up quite well. The disc has chapter stops but no extras, which makes me curious to know why the names were changed for the credits. Door Into Silence doesn't seem to have been released outside of Italy -- could it have been made with a hopeful television release in mind? That may account for the film's lack of conventional horror excess and nudity.
Kicking things back to Mr. Rich for a paragraph, we get a look a the Criterion Collection's recent release of Roman Polanski's excellent Repulsion. Take it away, Jamie! "Had everything I'd read about Roman Polanski's 1965 creeper Repulsion not tagged it as a horror film, I am not sure I would have realized it was one. Certainly not in the first twenty minutes or so, when Catherine Deneuve's silent, petulant wandering seemed more like affected malaise than a supernatural dread. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I could watch a pretty blonde girl bite on her fingernails for far longer than is probably natural. It also serves Polanski's greater purpose: he is establishing a tenuous reality that the rest of Repulsion will soon be dismantling. It's easy to flash forward and compare Repulsion to Rosemary's Baby , another Polanski film about a woman who may be going mad and who has visions of a demonic force taking advantage of her sexually. Repulsion is an often delirious, altogether creepy little movie, with a fair share of "gotcha!" scares and plenty of grotesque imagery that insinuates itself into one's brain. "Haunting" is a good word. The residual of its frights lingers. At the same time, it has a psychological depth that goes beyond bumps in the night. In its portrait of one woman at odds with her own mind, it gets underneath the surface of most horror stories and points to where the fear really comes from. It may be called Repulsion , but trust me, you're going to find yourself drawn completely in. Repulsion - Criterion Collection is a winner. This disturbing 1965 horror movie from Roman Polanski uses Catherine Deneuve's frosty persona to give us a chilling portrait of a woman who isn't at ease with her own sexualized world. Alone with her madness, she begins to see things that may or may not be there, and through movie magic, we see them, too. It's a slow slide into insanity, and it's thoroughly gripping. For anyone tired of empty-headed modern slasher pics, Repulsion is the movie you've been waiting to discover." It's heartwarming to see Criterion tackle genre fare with as much T.L.C. as they do from time to time, and Repulsion is one of the best of their recent efforts.
There's gold in them thar hills, folks. While Warner's semi-controversial 'burn to DVD-R on demand for $20 plus shipping' program might irk some, it's offered up a few interesting titles that might have not otherwise seen the light of day. Review copies have been slow to come in but DVD Talk has tackled just enough to make for an interesting addition to this column. Here's a look...
Bad Ronald - Ian Jane
Directed by Buzz Kulik, the director who also made Crawlspace , a movie that Bad Ronald has a fair bit in common with, this 1974 made for TV movie stars a young Scott Jacoby as the titular Ronald, a nerdy kid who lives in a creaky old Victorian era house with his overbearing mother (Kim Hunter, sans the ape mask). When Ronald finishes his birthday dinner with mom, he heads out to visit a pretty blonde he knows from school but after being made fun of, he's turned away. On the way back home he runs into a young girl on a bike named Carol (Angela Hoffman). She teases him and makes fun of his mother and Ronald flips out and pushes her. Carol's head hits a brick and she dies on the spot. Rather than go to the cops, Ronald decides to bury her and head home to tell his mom about the whole ordeal.
Not particularly pleased with her son's recent extracurricular activities, she decides that the best course of action is to board up and cover over the extra bathroom on the main floor so that Ronald can hide out there whenever people are around. This will allow them to still live together and at the same time ensure the authorities don't find out where Ronald is at. The cops, lead by Sergeant Lynch (John Larch), pay mom a visit and produce Ronald's dirty jacket which they found at the scene of the crime, but she plays dumb and tells them her son has run away. After the cops disappear, Ronald's mother tells him she has to go have her gull bladder out and will be leaving him alone for a week while she goes to the hospital. This is a trip from which she never returns, however, and before you know it a family has bought the home and moved in, having no idea that murderous Ronald has been living secretly in the hidden bathroom all this time, writing and drawing his fantasy book and sneaking around undercover of the darkness. Ronald soon begins having difficulty telling the difference between the fantasy world he's created in his head and the real world where he shares a home with complete strangers and before you know it, he's crushing on one of the family daughters, Althea (Cindy Eilbacher), drilling holes in the walls to peer at people, and acting progressively stranger...
One problem with the script is that you don't really get a feel for what Ronald was life before the incident that caused all of his grief. There doesn't appear to have been much of a past history of violence, which makes his sudden freak out a bit out of character for him when you consider that most kids have to endure far harsher teasing than what he's subjected to in the movie. Granted, it's in keeping with his bizarre pseudo-Oedipus complex but a bit more background on Ronald's quirks and characteristics would have gone a long way towards fleshing out his character and giving his subsequent actions more impact.
Those issues aside, Bad Ronald is decent enough entertainment. Kim Hunter is quite good as the overbearing Mrs. Bates type and Scott Jacoby does a fine job playing the reclusive and strange Ronald. Dabney Coleman as the patriarch of the family that moves into the house, is decent enough and the rest of the cast are all fine. The movie is competently shot with some nice, and at times even striking, camera work. Thriller fans will dig the film and while its flaws will keep it from ever being designated 'classic status' it's not a bad little b-movie.
While it may be derivative and even a bit problematic in the script department, Bad Ronald has still got some creepy atmosphere and a good lead performance working in its favor and making it worth a look. The Warner Archives DVD-R won't blow you away in terms of quality and it's a little spendy for a barebones release, but the movie holds up well and this is currently the only way to see it. Recommended for fans, a decent rental for everyone else.
Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark - Ian Jane
Directed by the late John Newland, 1973's made for TV film Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark holds up pretty well more than thirty-five years since it was made. Sure, the fashions and hairstyles all betray the era in which it first aired on TV screens across the country, but that's half the fun of films like this. More importantly, the film actually tells a fun, creepy and cool little story within its seventy-five minute running time.
As the movie opens we hear strange and decidedly inhuman voices emitting from a creepy old house, the same house that meek Sally Farnham (Kim Darby, best known for playing opposite John Wayne in True Grit ) and her money hungry businessman husband, Alex (Jim Hutton) have just inherited from Sally's deceased grandmother. After moving in, Sally hires and interior decorator who tells her that her grandmother won't be remembered for her good taste and who then proceeds to give the house a much needed makeover - but of course, there's a 'room' in the basement with a bricked in fireplace that the local handyman insists should not be reopened.
Sally, figuring this is her house and she'll do what she wants with it, decides that she wants a room with a fireplace in it and so she sets about opening it, but that night she's awoken from her sleep when an ashtray goes flying off the night stand. At first Sally thinks she's seeing mice but Alex kindly reminds her that the house was just fumigated, ruling out that option. When she starts seeing strange little goblin-like critters however, she starts freaking out. Alex, ever the sensitive type, figure's this is just some whacko-tactic that she's using to try and get him to pay more attention to her and spend less time at the office, tells her she needs to see a doctor. The goblins, however, are not just some figment of poor Sally's imagination, they're very, very real and it turns out that old handyman was right...
Very briskly paced, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark might be a little derivative but it sure does make for good entertainment. Kim Darby and her bizarre rats nest of a hair style make for the perfect naïve housewife type and she plays her increasingly confused Sally very effectively. You buy her in the role and you buy her interaction with her husband as well, giving their relationship just enough tension for it to work. While the characters don't really develop much, their story is who with enough style and neat colored lighting effects that you won't mind so much.
The goblins themselves are also worth mentioning. In a day and age where, if this film were to be remade, they'd most certainly be CGI creations it's fun to go back to a time where creature effects were guys in suits - and that's just what we have here. The goblins (one of whom is played by Felix Silla of The Brood and Planet Of The Apes ) rummage around the house quickly and skulk in and out of shadows, hide behind plants, and even have some fun with Sally's clothes before the movie is over with. None of it is particularly terrifying but it's entertaining enough particularly when Newland decides some of these scenes should be lit like outtakes from Argento's Suspiria . They speak in hushed, whispering voices and are prone to muttering 'set us free' over and over again - it adds to the film's already bizarre atmosphere quite nicely.
The whole thing builds to a conclusion that you won't see coming. Just when you think that the movie's going to take the easy way out it comes at you with a great twist which is likely a big part of the reason that the picture's maintained its cult following over the years. While it may not be a particularly heavy film, it's creepy, fun, and plenty entertaining.
While Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark may not be a deep film nor will it win any awards for originality, it's a fun seventies horror picture with some memorable moments, great camerawork and a genuinely surprising finale. The Warner Archives DVD-R release won't exactly endear itself to videophiles but it presents the movie in a watchable enough transfer, though the high MSRP makes it hard to recommend it for those who don't already know they want the film in their collection. Recommended for established fans, a solid rental for everyone else.
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