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Masters of Horror - Stuart Gordon - Dreams in the Witch House
In Stuart Gordon's adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's Dreams In The Witch House we meet a student at Miskatonic University named Walter (Ezra Godden of Dagon) who moves into a three hundred year old house where he rents what he thinks is a cheap, quiet room where he'll be able to work on his studies in peace. When the first night there's he's woken up by screams coming from next door. He runs to the opposing apartment and pounds on the door to see what's wrong and he finds out that the woman who lives there and he infant son are being terrorized by a large rat. He chases the rat away and then Frances (Chelah Horsdal who had a small role in The Exorcism Of Emily Rose) calms down enough to introduce herself.
The two hit it off and soon they're obviously starting to have feelings for one another. It looks like everything will work out fine for a while until the strange old man (Campbell Lane who played a similarly creepy old man in the abysmal Dreamcatcher) who lives downstairs tells Walter about a rat with a human face. That night, Walter wakes up to find that same rat looking him in the eye. He wakes up and chalks it up to a bad dream but soon Walter starts having strange visions, night terrors involving a witch who wants to use Frances' son in a black mass. He's blacking out and waking up in strange places, not sure how he got there or why he's there at all. The strange old man downstairs says it's the witch, that she's marked him, and the pentagram that was scratched into his back during one of these 'dreams' does seem to confirm that. Will Walter be able to stop the witch from killing the baby and breaking his mind or will her three hundred year killing spree continue?
Those who enjoyed Gordon's previous three Lovecraft adaptations - Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dagon respectively – will be pleased to find that his track record stays solid with this fourth entry. The morbid sense of black humor that runs throughout his work is here as well as the gory set pieces and over the top theatrics. Everything that made the earlier ones work makes this one work as well. Sure, there are some flaws in the production – when you've only got fifty-five minutes to tell your story you don't have room for as much character development as you'll sometimes want and need – but Dreams Of The Witch House is a fun and even, at times, genuinely frightening little movie.
With limited storytelling time available, Gordon doesn't waste minutes getting to the action and in fact the weirdness starts more or less as soon as the opening credits end. Ezra Godden, who was very good in Dagon, is solid in the lead here as he proves to be able to handle the serious moments as well as some of the darkly humorous ones as well. He goes over the top a little bit here and there but so does the storyline and he does seem like a very good fit for the part. The star of the show, however, is Chelah Horsdel who brings the right combination of sympathy and sexiness to her character so that we're able to feel for her as a mother and as a person, and we're perfectly able to understand just why Walter is starting to fall for her before it all hits the fan.
Also worth noting is that rater than use CGI, Gordon and the effects team opted instead to go with almost completely organic special effects. That means for the rat with the human face, we actually have a human face and not a computer generated creation. While this might look a little hokey, again it suits the storyline well and it's just weird enough on a visual level to work really well.
Go into Dreams In The Witch House and enjoy it for what it is – not as a feature length movie but as a short film, a really good one at that. Acknowledge prior to watching it that it's bound to have characterization flaws and maybe it'll feel rushed in spots and look past that to enjoy the creepiness that Gordon has crafted.The DVD
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer presents the movie in its original aspect ratio and for the most part, the image looks very good. There is some edge enhancement present in a few scenes as well as some shimmering and aliasing in spots but there's very little to complain about otherwise. Black levels are strong and deep, there are no issues at all with print damage, dirt or debris on the picture and there's a very pleasing level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the picture. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the reds are well defined without bleeding through, despite the fact that the movie itself is very dark. There are a few spots where the shadows in the rooms get a little murky but otherwise, things look good.Sound:
Anchor Bay presents Dreams In The Witch House in your choice of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track or a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track. Both mixes sound very good with plenty of lower end bass response and some very nice instances of channel separation throughout. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. There were a few spots on the 5.1 mix that could have been a little more aggressive (the chanting sounded nice and dark but it could have been just a bit stronger and had more impact) but otherwise things sound really good here. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitle options available.Extras:
First up in the extra features department is an audio commentary with writer/director Stuart Gordon and lead actor Ezra Godden joined in spots by producer Perry Martin. Gordon dominates the track and does most of the talking, but that's okay as he's a pretty interesting guy. Gordon knows his Lovecraft, he's one of the few filmmakers who 'gets it' when it comes to adopting his work, and when you listen to this track you'll come away with a better understanding of just how important the man's writing is to Gordon. We also hear about some on set oddities, working with babies in a few scenes, difficulties with the stunt rat, and how some of the effects work was done. He talks about what he was going for in both his direction and his script and overall, it's a pretty interesting discussion.
Behind the Scenes: The Making of Dreams In The Witch House is a brief look (just over seven minutes) at the making of the movie. It's mostly just a collection of random on set footage set to some music. There are some interviews conducted randomly throughout but it's difficult to hear the speakers. This is alright if you want some behind the scenes footage, but it doesn't really go into much detail at all.
A better featurette comes in the form of Working With A Master: Stuart Gordon, which is a very good twenty-four minute documentary that gives us a primer on the director's background and his film career right up to this Masters Of Horror entry. Most of the focus is on Witch House but clips from Re-Animator, The Pit And The Pendulum, From Beyond, Dolls and even Robojox are used to bring us up to speed on who he is and what he's done. There's some good on set footage in here as well and Gordon talks about his filmmaking, his work in live theater, and his thoughts on Lovecraft.
Complimenting the last documentary is Dreams, Darkness And Damnation: An Interview with Stuart Gordon which is a twenty-one minute that fills us in on how he got into movie making, where his love of Lovecraft stems from, and how he came on board with this project. It covers some of the same ground as the commentary and the other featurette but it's interesting stuff none the less. Gordon proves himself a very intelligent and well spoken man and it's great to see someone be honest and forthright about his genre work rather than shy away from it as some have in recent times.
Focusing on the lead actress is On Set: An Interview with Chelah Horsdal which is a seven minutes interview with the lovely actress in which we hear her side of the story. She tells us about her character, what she tried to bring to the performance as an actress and how she felt about the project and working with Gordon and Godden.
SFX: Meet Brown Jenkin is a quick, five minute documentary on Brown Jenkin, the man who designed the effects for the movie. You'll notice there's a refreshingly distinct lack of CGI used in this production, and he's the man who, along with Gordon, is responsible for that. Here he briefs us on a few of the tricks used in the movie.
Rounding out the supplements on this release are a Stuart Gordon text biography, trailers for the first batch of Masters Of Horror entries and a few other Anchor Bay horror titles, a still gallery, a storyboard gallery, and if you're DVD-Rom equipped you'll find the screenplay, a screensaver and the original short story Dreams In The Witch House by H.P. Lovecraft on which this movie was based.Final Thoughts:
If you're a fan of Stuart Gordon's work or of H. P. Lovecraft, then his Masters Of Horror entry, Dreams In The Witch House will be right up your alley. It's a creepy and atmospheric horror movie and Anchor Bay has done a very nice job on the DVD presentation. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.