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See No Evil

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // August 11, 2009 // Region 0
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 5, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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of that colossal stack of horror flicks that claim to have nicked their inspiration from '70s and '80s slashers, See No Evil is one of just a few that really does feel like something I could've yanked out of an oversized Wizard Video clamshell case. This playfully sadistic slasher never really veers away from the vintage spam-in-a-cabin playbook, locking a bunch of pricks in a dank, rotting hotel so an oversized nutjob can carve 'em apart one by one. Some sort of artistic triumph to pierce the veil into the human condition...? Not so much, but See No Evil is a cacklingly cruel and compellingly crappy throwback to the sort of slasher flicks I tore through growing up, and sometimes not-that-great can get the nod as good enough.

The Blackwell Hotel! Once it ranked among the most lavishly elegant hotels in Los Angeles -- a decadent playground for the wealthy and privileged -- but it's spent the past few decades crumbling into ruin. Since what's left of the sprawling hotel is at the corner of Mug That Mufukka and No Wait Stab Him First, there's not much point in reopening it...not exactly gonna draw the in-crowd...but hey, beggers can't be choosers, so why not turn it into a jumbo-sized homeless shelter? All it really needs is a good spit-'n-polish, so a handful of cons (including Rachael Taylor and a bunch of Aussie actors the smart money says you've never heard of) are fished out of some L.A. jail to slather on the elbow grease. I don't know what the city thinks a few twentysomething jackasses can really accomplish in the space of three days, but if they spend this extended weekend doing the whole renovation thing, they get a month knocked off their sentences. Sounds like a pretty good deal, and...hey! they've managed to squirrel away some pot, it's a co-ed social experiment so they can still screw around, and there's even a legend about a hidden safe fat-packed with who knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Oh, don't
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get me wrong, tho'. See No Evil isn't some uplifting documentary about redemption or experimental prison programs: it's a slasher flick. The unhinged psychopath this time around is Jacob Goodnight (Kane), and he's whiled away the past few years skulking around the labyrinthine hotel, carving the eyeballs out of any poor sumbitch that's tried to set up shop in there. Now he has a bunch of fresh meat to hack apart, and to sweeten the score, the these-days-one-armed cop who put a bullet in Jacob's skull four years ago is the officer overseeing this whole project too, so...yeah. Stab. Slash. Splatter.

Most slasher flicks anymore are either watered down to pander to the PG-13 crowd or pack some sort of gimmicky hook to draw in an audience. The hook See No Evil leans on is...well, a hook...y'know, at the end of a chain that Jacob chucks at his prey to drag 'em his way. He's also lugging around an axe to help with the whole hack-and-slash thing, he digs out eyeballs with his bare hands, he strings up one PETA-loving granola chick as doggie treats for a pack of feral mutts... Hell, if hearing the tinny, metallic ring of a cellphone in a theater has ever sent you into a psychotic rage, then watching how Jacob offs one endlessly yapping broad ought to be kinda cathartic. See No Evil is a straightahead slasher with a sadistic but kinda playful bent, a throwback to the glut of stalk-and-stab flicks churned out in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th.

It's kind of generic, sure...the sort of movie you'd spot in some garish, oversized clamshell case from Gorgon Video in a VHS cutout bin twentysomething years ago...but that's the point, really. Shower scene? Check. Bunch of slasher fodder that's almost -- but not quite -- acting? Check, and part of the fun is that the predominately Aussie cast can't quite shake their native accents. Any real point other than locking a bunch of pricks in a crumbling hotel and waiting for them to be hacked into bloody, fist-sized chunks? Not really. It's completely content running through the standard issue slasher formula, and it does it...alright, I guess. The kills aren't as graphic or visceral as the Saw / Hostel set, but they're still intense and slathered in splatter, and a couple of 'em are cacklingly, brilliantly, and deliriously over-the-top. The hulking Kane -- pushing seven feet tall and weighing about as much as a Nissan Stanza -- makes for a pretty decent
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boogeyman, flinging the red shirts around like ragdolls and packing a hopelessly-depraved-but-kinda-sorta-sympathetic undercurrent too. He has all of four words to say throughout the entire flick, and the rest of the performance is all scowls, labored breathing, and...y'know, mutilation. There's not much about See No Evil that's jaw-droppingly startling or's not one of those horror flicks I'd force on anyone unfortunate enough to stumble into my living room...but this is the sort of sticky, gory movie I was weaned on growing up, so it's kind of a nostalgic blast even though it's just a few years old.

The worst thing about See No Evil, really, is director Gregory Dark. You might recognize that name from the credits of music videos or...well, hardcore porn, but Dark cut his teeth on cult cinema too, hammering out movies with mind-controlled maniac cops and post-apocalyptic Blade Runner-lite with Wings Hauser twenty years back. He has at least a little genre cred, and you'd think a guy who's spent so much of the past decade churning out glitzy videos for Linkin Park and Drowning Pool would feel more at home with hyperkinetic quick-cutting and Saw-infused style. Its stabs at visceral visuals just come across as excessively awkward and labored, though. There's no rhythm or flow to the edits -- just an uncomfortable barrage -- and the flash cuts and whip pans seem like a first-year film student trying to mimic something he half-remembered seeing in a movie once. It's all kind of amateurish, really, and Dark recycles the same few tricks over and over and over again. When you're treated to close-up #467 of roaches skittering across the floor, it's, like...yeah, I get it: they're in a rotting corpse of a hotel, there hasn't been a maid on the payroll since What's Happening? was still on the air, and I'd really like to see something else, please. Doing the whole flip-the-steadicam-rig-around-on-the-actor-as-he-darts-around trick even made me laugh out loud.

Eh, even though there's part of it that's a little too eager to weasel its way in with the Saw and Hostel crowd, See No Evil is at its depraved, maniacal little heart an '80s slasher. It's not trying to upend the face of horror or anything -- just hack apart a bunch of kids -- and even if this isn't a flick I can really picture myself giving another spin anytime soon, slasher completists ought to find it at least worth a rental. Rent It.

Sporting gritty, grainy photography and a bleak, desaturated palette, See No Evil sticks to a pretty standard issue slasher look, and this isn't the sort of flick that dazzles so much in high-def. It looks okay on Blu-ray, but See No Evil comes across as kinda soft and flat, really, and crispness and fine detail both fall a couple of notches below average. Even though See No Evil only dates back to 2006, I'd have guessed it's a few years older than that after giving it a spin on Blu-ray. Unimpressive but alright.

See No Evil has the mattes opened up slightly to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and its AVC encode fits snugly on a single layer Blu-ray disc.

Like pretty much everything Lionsgate has churned out on Blu-ray, See No Evil is lugging around a 24-bit, 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It's not as hyperaggressive as I waltzed in expecting, really, reserving the rears mostly to flesh out an unsettlingly creepy ambiance: dripping water, creaking wood, and howling I-don't-know-what. It kind of goes without saying that the track screams to life during the kill scenes, though, and they sport that Motorhead rule of sound design by mixing everything louder than everything else. Quiet, loud, quiet...hey, it's like a Pixies song! Gutteral screams, the meaty thud of a whacked axe, and the sound of that oversized fish hook tearing into flesh are all rendered disturbingly well on Blu-ray, and the movie's bolstered further by a thunderous low-end.

There aren't any dubs or downmixes this time around, but See No Evil does pack subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • Audio Commentaries: See No Evil
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    piles on two commentary tracks, and the first of 'em pairs director Gregory Dark and writer Dan Madigan. It's really dry -- like eavesdropping on a couple of retirees gruffly reminiscing in Krispy Kreme -- and especially with so much time wasted narrating whatever happens to be on-screen at the moment, it's kind of a chore to trudge through. Among its few highlights are a quick runthrough what earlier drafts of the script did with Jacob before he reared his head in the hotel, the inspiration for The Blackwell, helpful hints on how to get roaches to screw on camera, an Aussie on the crew hellbent on munching on the shoot's roaches, and nicking inspiration from both Moby Dick and Jack & the Beanstalk. There's also a lot of chatter about the novelization of See No Evil, which is...yeah. I remember spotting a novelization of Child's Play 2 during a trip to Universal Studios a million years ago and thinking that was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen, but now I know there's something even more startling floating around out there.

    I dug the second track -- this time with Kane and co-exec-producer Jed Blaugrund -- quite a bit more. For one, there's...::audible gasp! actual personality this time around. Blaugrund does a much better job chucking out production details that go unmentioned on the other track, including the final shooting day that dragged on for a full 24 hours, a slew of other titles mulled over for the flick, a pretty great story about a dog mauling a fairly pricey fake corpse, and even Barbie Death Scene Dioramas. Kane chats about having the freedom to create Jacob Goodnight pretty much on his own, intimidating and separating himself from the rest of the cast, and skulking around in Jacob's lair to help get into character. Me...? I think I'd have to point to this second commentary as the best of the extras on this Blu-ray disc.

  • Storyboard to Film Comparison (1 min.; SD): Mash the 'Angle' button on your remote to toggle between a set of storyboards and the polished, filmed footage of Jacob dangling PETA-Girl out an upper-story window with a firehose.

  • Behind the Evil (14 min.; SD): Produced
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    to plug the movie during wrestling, this parade of promotional microfeaturettes each clock in between a minute and a minute and a half a pop. They're too short and lightweight to ever really belt out anything all that worthwhile, but they briefly touch on the flick's splatter, its dank, sticky production design, and how everyone everywhere needs to roll The Wayback Machine to 2006 and catch See No Evil in theaters right now!!!!!!

  • Do You See The Sin: The Making of See No Evil (13 min.; SD): "Behind the Evil" may have been a complete waste of time, but this other making-of piece really is worth a look. "Do You See the Sin" breezes through pretty much everything: what makes Kane such a perfect fit for this sort of '80s horror throwback, the splatter effects behind the slew of kinda-ironic kills, carving out the look of Jacob Goodnight and his crumbling hotel, and the camera tricks and digital effects that the flick continually lobs out.

  • Kane: Journey into Darkness (3 min.; SD): This really quick montage recaps the past few years of Kane's stint in the wrestling ring.

  • Other Promotional Stuff (2 min.; SD): A teaser and a trailer for See No Evil -- each running around a minute -- round out the extras.

The Final Word
After the gaggle of bloodless, gasp-whodunnit murder mysteries that passed for slashers in the '90s and double-aughts, it's kinda nice to dig up something as brutal and sadistic as See No Evil. There's nothing even a little bit remarkable about it, but that's kind of the point, and it really does feel like a vintage slasher that Lionsgate could've dug out of its musty Vestron library: a bunch of crappy actors shoved in a crumbling hotel and carved apart one by one. It's the flick's clunky stabs at Mtvgenerationheyithinktheydidthisinsaw style that really drag it down, and with a better director at the helm, I'd probably have chucked a higher recommendation its way. See No Evil isn't a good horror flick in the sense of...y'know, good, but the slasher set ought to find it at least worth a rental. Rent It.
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