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Home Sick

Synapse Films // Unrated // August 26, 2008 // Region 0
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 25, 2008 | E-mail the Author
He doesn't bother to introduce himself. No, he just strolls through the front door, makes a quick pit stop in the bathroom, and settles down in the den. No one at this kinda-sorta house party has any clue who he is, but this guy -- whose gleaming white smile, perfectly combed hair, and bright blue suit leave him looking like a televangelist, a motivational speaker, or what-the-hell-ever -- doesn't exactly fit in with the Japanese splatter flick on the tube or the thrash metal posters plastered all over the walls. Whoever this guy is (and he's played by 'Saw 2 alum Bill Moseley), he shows off a suitcase filled to the brim with razor blades, and in an impossibly chipper voice, he asks everyone in the room who they hate. It takes some prodding, but each of 'em eventually answers, and with every name they belt out, he grabs a blade and carves another notch in his arm. He gets the answers he wants, and a quick song-'n-dance and a "merry Christmas!" later, he's out the door.

Okay, so the guy's a nutjob; that and a buck fifty'll get you a cup of coffee at the Citgo down in this middle-of-nowhere stretch of Alabama. The cynical twentysomethings at the party are all freaked out at first, but they eventually shrug the whole thing off...y'know, until the people whose names they'd rattled off start turning up in bloodied, fist-sized chunks. A couple of 'em try to warn some of the folks on the list that are still alive and kickin', and the rest of the bunch really don't seem to give a shit. Well, they don't until they remember that -- oops! -- the prick who was hosting the party said he hated everyone in the room, so the clock starts tickin' down for everyone...

Home Sick was shot on a shoestring back in 2003 by a couple of gorehounds fresh out of film school, and...y'know, it's a DIY horror flick. It's not polished to some sparkling, glossy sheen: the script halfway makes it up as it goes along, the actors are all kinda scattershot, it doesn't really seem sure what to do in between kills, the dingy 16mm film stock leaves it looking like it could've played on a double bill with Madman on 42nd St... Who cares? What Home Sick lacks in polish, it makes up for in Batshit Fucking Crazy.

Think...oh, I dunno...Lucio Fulci stepping behind the camera to shoot Happy Birthday to Me on a budget lower than his airfare back to Italy. It's ree-diculously gory and sopping with blood, and a lot of the kills are pretty inventive. Sure, I've seen most of 'em done before, but the sheer volume...I mean, Joe Bob'd have an aneurysm tallying these drive-in totals. A knife plows through the back of one jackass' head and knocks out a bunch of his teeth. An arm's cracked in half, and then the masked killer goes all American History X on his noggin. A coked-up chick's boobs flop around as she slathers herself around her mother's bloody corpse, giggling the whole time and, vomiting on what's left of her dearly departed mum. You're lookin' at a foot being split down the middle, a hammer to the head, someone having gone apeshit with a rib-spreader, fingers being carved off, some douche being whacked with an axe and split from his shoulder down to his tum-tum, and heads exploding, being yanked off, and gored straight through with a spade claw. Hell, you even get writhing, heavily tattooed lesbian strippers in the first twenty-someodd seconds and a coke-fueled sex scene with Evil Dead Trap 2 or whatever playing in the background for extra points. For such a low-budget flick, the kills are extremely ambitious, and they look great. I mean, the splatter is gory and convincing enough that I don't hafta qualify it with an "it's solid for a movie shot for a few grand"; it looks pretty damn good, period.

The actual story all that gore is framed around is kinda shaky, not that that's really any different than pretty much every last giallo and slasher flick
that inspired the movie in the first place.
Its early stretches are saddled with long, off-kilter reams of dialogue between the kills, and Home Sick just gets...stranger and stranger as it screams along. There's a fistfight in a garage with a not-an-astronaut grease monkey set to, like, the opening drum part in "Money for Nothing", the movie veers off on a tangent about Texas chili versus the good ol' Alabama stuff, there's a redneck chasing some straightlaced cadaverous kid around his house with a machete, a bunch of douches hootin', hollerin', and dancin' a jig with semi-automatic weapons in hand, and...without any real warning, Home Sick shifts gears from a splatter-slasher to something way the hell different in its last few minutes.

So, yeah: we're not talkin' about The Magnificent Ambersons or anything, and even the guys who made it have a pretty good sense of humor about how their first feature-length flick turned out. Is Home Sick some taut, tense genre masterpiece that'll revolutionize the face of horror or whatever stock thing Fango used to belt out when previewing every movie, ever? Nah, but it's sick, twisted, and really offbeat. Home Sick feels like a couple of gorehounds were really just making this movie for themselves, and if anyone else happened to dig it...y'know, all the better. Yup, I dug it. Recommended.

Video: Home Sick is letterboxed -- y'know, in non-anamorphic widescreen -- to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The movie was shot on the cheap on whatever 16mm stock they could get their hands on, and while the soft, grainy photography doesn't exactly make for shiny, sparkling home theater eye candy so much, it gives Home Sick a pretty much timeless look. I mean, if not for all of the Deicide and Shadows Fall posters in the background, I wouldn't have had a tough time buying that this flick was shot all the way back in 1983. For a movie that owes so much to gialli and '80s slashers anyway, that fuzzy, kinda dated look really ends up working to its favor.

Technically, the presentation is fine, although it is kind of a drag that Home Sick didn't get the anamorphic widescreen treatment. Dunno if that's because of the way it was edited all those years ago or what. It's made pretty clear in the audio commentary that Home Sick was practically a lost cause until it was salvaged by Synapse Films, and with as thrilled as the guys who made the movie seem to be with this transfer, who am I to argue?

Audio: The Dolby Digital stereo surround track is pretty straightforward. The dialogue stems sound kind of strained and dated, and a big stack of the splatter effects are kinda clumsily Foleyed into the mix. Again, tho', I think that's all part of the movie's retro-slasher charm. It has kind of a piped-through-the-tiny-speakers-in-your-TV quality to it, yeah, but I can make out everything I think I'm supposed to, and just because there isn't some...beefy frequency response or whatever didn't actually make the movie play any worse or anything. It's alright, especially considering all of the meticulous piecemealing that went into there being any soundtrack at all for this DVD (another story from the commentary), and I definitely dig the bubbly synth score by Zombi.

Aside from the audio commentary, there aren't any alternate soundtracks, and it doesn't look like there are any closed captions or subtitle streams either.

Extras: Home Sick packs on a bunch of extras, but the best of 'em is the commentary track with director Adam Wingard and writer-slash-producer E.L. Katz. They both have a helluva sense of humor, and they're about as unpretentious as the horror flick they shot, even laughing it off as a "disasterpiece" at one point. The commentary doesn't really get hung up on theme or story or whatever -- it's just one hysterical story after another about two guys fresh out of film school shooting a horror movie for a couple grand in the middle of Alabama. There are tons and tons of brilliant stories: how they doubled up on lesbian strippers for the opening sequence, snickering at the ghoulish, zombie-lite makeup on living, breathing characters, losing an entire day's worth of audio, casting a pal as a pedophile who was hellbent on making sure his rings made it into the shot, shooting in a dingy bar with a bunch of meth addicts, accidentally carving up a house full of priceless mahogony furniture, getting the guy who made Ghostbusters' ectoplasm and did the guacamole cannon for Desperado to handle all the gunplay... They do chat about the movie too, pointing out how little film they actually burned through, explaining why so many barely-there characters were butchered, how the script was constantly being rewritten, losing an ending that was originally set in a college, and how they only bought 16mm stock as they needed it because they didn't even know if they'd see Home Sick all the way through. This is just one of the most ridiculously fun audio commentaries I've ever sat through, and it's really worth setting aside an hour and a half to give it a listen.

The original and reeeeeeally slow moving scene that originally opened Home Sick has been tossed on here, and the movie's definitely better off without it. All this 8 minute alternate opening really does is show Claire coming into town off the train and Robert fretting about some sort of ketchup hypochondria thing.

Bill Moseley pops up for a five and a half minute interview, and he's still spattered with stage blood for most of it. He gabs about what he thinks is bubbling through Mr. Suitcase's twisted head, mentions how he struggled with the best way to approach the part up until right before filming, and spouts off a story about licking a lesbian's Chop Top tattoo. There's even a bit of impromptu singing, so...yeah, there you go.

The last of the extras directly tied to Home Sick is the 13 minute featurette "In a Room Where Darkness Counts", and this isn't your standard issue, yanked-off-the-shelf making-of piece. Nope, it's director Adam Wingard practically out of breath as he tries to re-enact a few standout moments that happened while the flick was coming together: his first meeting with Bill Moseley at an IHOP while some random woman was hyperventilating a few feet behind 'em, trying to get the cast to bother acting freaked out while the pressure was on during one key scene, and how being forced into a house at gunpoint during location scouting kinda wound up being a happy accident.

Three shorts have been piled on here too. The best of 'em is The Girlfriend (32 min.), which opens as a gal named Mallory (Stephanie Schnorbus) makes a pit stop at a gas station bathroom on her way to meet her boyfriend's folks, but when she steps out, she's...different. This is a really outstanding short and a hell of a calling card for Wingard and Katz. It's eerie and evocative in a kind of low-key way, but the short really ratches up the intensity -- hammering out a real sense of dread and unease -- in its final moments as Nick (Spencer Simpson) skulks through a seemingly barren house, the family that was so cheerful the night before having completely disappeared.

Thousand Year Sleep (6 min.) kicks off by introducing six teenaged girls, most of whom have never met one another and really don't have much in common aside from the fact that they're all about to be butchered by the same serial killer. ...Sleep is anchored around Rod Serling flavored narration, following these girls as they're blissfully unaware of what's to come and spelling out a future that'll never come to pass. There's no dialogue from any of the on-screen characters until the very final moments of the short, and it builds up to a pretty clever narrative twist.

Laura Panic (3 min.) is about a gal who's not a stalker. She just dotingly follows her crush everywhere he goes, sneaks into his house and watches him sleep...y'know, the sorta thing they'll laugh about after she's squirted out three of his kids and living the whole Walton lifestyle. And murder! C'mon, knocking off one of his pals -- and then being kind of fascinated how few times you really have to stab a guy to get the job done -- that can be kind of cute and endearing too, right? Right?

All three shorts are letterboxed in non-anamorphic widescreen too, just in case anyone happens to be playing the DVD Talk Tech Specs home game.

Conclusion: Home Sick is a bloodsoaked valentine to gialli and '80s slashers, and while the movie does make some of the same missteps as a big stack of the flicks it's paying homage to -- y'know, clunky acting, a kind of aimless script, not really seeming all that sure what to do when some poor schlub isn't being carved in half -- it's a hell of a lot of fun. Home Sick is so cacklingly weird, the buckets of splatter are pretty much genius, and the whole thing is propelled by a sincere love of the genre that's practically infectious. Nah, Home Sick isn't all that polished, but it's a lot more ambitious than the DIY horror flicks I'm used to seeing, and '80s slasher completists looking for something more offbeat than the usual stalk-and-slash ought to find this DVD worth tracking down. Recommended.
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