Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blu-Ray Review: Total Terror Double Features Vol. 2 (2010)

A Brush with Death / Harvest of Fear
Mill Creek Entertainment

“Your blood will run cold.”

RUN TIME: 83 Min.
DIRECTOR: Brad Wiebe
CAST: Seanna McDonald, Nicholls Melancon, Charles Hoyes, Missy Stired, Ali Thurlow, Anna Kalkowski

SUMMARY: A group of five cheerleaders take a weekend trip to an uncle’s mansion in the countryside. After hearing the tale of a family being slaughtered by their son in a nearby farmhouse thirty years earlier they set out to investigate.

THE FILM: Five cheerleaders hit the road and head to a countryside mansion for a weekend getaway. Because they’re dumb and they run out of gas (it’s a plot device so that can meet…) and are assisted by a passing gas station attendant and his stuttering sidekick Caleb. The disgusting old man is licking his lips, making lewd suggestions and generally being a creepy pervert. While Caleb is making conversation with one of the girls we are treated to a poorly edited flashback of the old man back at the gas station blowing the head off of a young man, knocking out his female companion and then coercing Caleb into posing with her unconscious body and while he takes a series of lewd pictures. It’s the first of several bizarre and confusing flashbacks throughout the film. So, the creepy dude tops off the girls Jeep with gas and leaves them on their way. The gals arrive at the mansion and head straight for the pool and the film promptly misses the first of several opportunities for some nudity, cause this film needed a diversion, and nudity would’ve really helped right about now. Once there they meet a creepy neighbor who tells them the tale of a nearby house where thirty years earlier a family was slaughtered by their son. The film is fairly incomprehensible after this and were inundated with confusing flashbacks, fully clothed actresses, and mind numbing dialogue. The script is atrocious, the acting is abysmal, and the cinematography terrible. How do you fuck up a film about five cheerleaders in peril being killed off? This film fails on every level imaginable. Fail, fail, fail.

“Terror is growing”

RUN TIME: 95 Min.
DIRECTOR: Billy McKinley
CAST: Ryan Deal, Justin Ament, Carrie Finklea, Don Alder

SUMMARY: In the town of Devil’s Lake college students are being killed off during the annual Harvest Fest, mimicking a series of unsolved killings from twenty years earlier. Has the killer returned, or is a copycat killer on the loose?

THE FILM: Harvest of Fear opens with a couple camping in the woods, perhaps making up for the lack of nudity in A Brush with Death, we are treated to some gratuitous breasts right from the start. A masked killer takes out the boyfriend and chases the woman through the woods. It’s a clichéd and unimaginative beginning to a clichéd and unimaginative film. The annual Harvest Fest is about to begin, but the killings are eerily similar to the unsolved murders that happened two decades earlier, a retired police officer fears the killer has returned, but the authorities won’t listen to him, of course. There’s little I can say positive about Harvest of Fear. It holds little intrigue and fewer scares, the characters are one-note clichés, that acting it terrible across the boards, the FX are of little interest.

DVD: Each film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and purportedly in 1080p & 1080i HD. The transfers are subpar and the images are soft and appear little better than the standard definition DVD’s. If you own these films in previous DVD editions I cannot recommend an upgrade based in image quality or special features.

VERDICT: Mill Creek Entertainment has a vast array of interesting titles to choose from, I’m confused why they would chose these low-quality, generic titles as their 1st foray into the HD collector set market, and not THE HEARSE, HORROR HIGH, or THE DEVILS TIMES FIVE. Both these titles are available on the Blood Bath 12 Movie Collection, also from Mill Creek Entertainment.  *1/2 (1.5 out of 5 stars)


Friday, August 27, 2010

VHS REVIEW: The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976)


RUN TIME: 90Min.
DIRECTOR: Charles B. Pierce
CAST: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, Jimmy Clem, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce
TAGLINE: In 1946 this man killed five people… Today he still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Ark.

SUMMARY: A hooded murderer is stalking the street of Texarkana, Arkansas, terrifying the town’s populace. Based on actual events which occurred during a three-month period in 1946.

THE FILM: Right from the start of the film I was struck by the use of documentary-style narration that made me recall the Robert Stack-narrated Unsolved Mysteries television series. I thought it an odd choice but it’s well done and sets a dire and factual tone to the film that enhances the fact that is based on an actual string of unsolved murders.

Texarkana looked normal during the daylight hours, but everyone dreaded sundown.

The film is set just at end of WW2 in Texarkana, Arkansas as servicemen are returning home and things are beginning to settle down in the small town, it's a setting familiar to those who’ve seen THE PROWLER (1981).  A young couple leaves a dance and head to the local lovers lane in a wooded area just outside of town for some necking. While parked the two are attacked my a masked assailant who wears a sack over his face with two eyelets cut-out which has me thinking that the producers of FRIDAY THE 13th 2 may have copped the idea, it’s a creepy and effective. The victims are severely beaten; additionally the woman is savagely bitten on her neck, back and breasts. The police are unable to get much information from the couple aside from the fact that he wore a sack over his head; there are no other leads or motives.

Several weeks pass and the culprit, dubbed The Phantom Killer, attacks another couple, this time bludgeoning them to death. Again, there are no clues or motive, the police are stymied. Deputy Ramsey (Andrew Prine, GRIZZLY) calls in a Texas Ranger, Captain J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson, THE WILD BUNCH, CHERRY 2000) to assist on the case.

One of the tactics devised by Capt. Morales is a sting operation involving the officers posing as couples at the various lovers-lanes around town in an effort to flush out the killer. The police force is comprised entirely of men and the operation requires them to dress in drag. It’s good for a quick chuckle, but the humor is out of place in this film. We get that the local police force is ill equipped and out of their league, but there’s some real good ol’ boy Dukes of Hazard-type shenanigans going on here, it’s completely out of place and took me out of the film for a bit. A lot of the 70’s drive-in slashers featured inept police forces; THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is a prime example, and it’s doesn’t work there either. These dark, disturbing films don’t need comedic relief, it’s detraction in my opinion, too goofy.

Making up for the comical shortcoming is a true sense of dread throughout the film. The kill scenes are eerie, utilizing guns, a pick-axe, blunt objects, knives, and the infamously beyond bizarre trombone that’s been festooned with a knife and used as a weapon during one of the murders. The murders are sadistic and disturbing, well done stuff. The Phantom Killer is an imposing figure, and the sack over the head is frightening. The shots of the killer breathing heavily as the sack over his mouth bellows in and out are very effective.

DVD: I do not believe there is a proper Region 1 DVD of The Town That Dreaded Sundown which is damn shame, this film deserves to be more widely recognized.  It is only available on VHS, DVD imports and pirated copies.

VERDICT: Despite some ill advised comical interludes I think THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN holds up extremely well for a 34 year old drive-in slasher flick. A recommended from me, for sure. *** (3 out of 5 stars)


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

DVD Review: Mother (2009)

MOTHER (2009)

“She’ll stop at nothing”

RUN TIME: 129 Min.
DIRECTOR: Bong Joon-Ho
CAST: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin

SUMMARY: A devoted and elderly mother refuses to believe her mentally diminished son could have committed the murder he is accused of; desperately she searches for the truth.

THE FILM: Bong Joon-Ho’s THE HOST was one of my favorite films of 2006, I enjoy a decent creature feature and The Host was one for the ages. I’ve been kicking myself for missing Joon-Ho’s follow-up Mother theatrically but was thrilled to take in a viewing on my home theatre system.

Mother is Hitchcockian thriller set in small-town Korea. Actress Kim Hye-ja is the titular Mother of the film; she is an acupuncturist and the proprietor of an herbalist shop. Her son, who she dotes over constantly, Yoon D0-joon (Won Bin) is an awkward, foolish, and mentally diminished 27 year old young man, his best friend is Jin-Tae (Ku Jin). At the start of the film the two young men are loitering at the front of Mother’s shop when Do-joon is violently struck by a passing vehicle, he’s not seriously injured, but his mother is given quite a fright. After tracking the perpetrators to a nearby golf course the two friends exact some comical revenge of the offending party, ending at the local police station. When Do-joon’s mother comes to pick him up she brings with her several sample size liquor bottles and distributes them to the officers, it seems a routine they’ve grown accustomed to, implying that Do-joon finds himself at odds with the law often. Later that night, after a bit of drinking Do-joon is walking home and stumbles upon a teenaged schoolgirl wandering the alleyways, he follows her for a bit until she enters an abandoned building. The next day she is found murdered, Do-joon quickly becomes a suspect, and is convicted soon thereafter. His mother, protective as ever, refuses to believe her naïve son is capable of the murder and embarks on a strange and revelatory journey to discover the truth about the killer. I don’t want to give a lot away because this is a fantastic film, and you need to see it. The characters in the film are strange, fascinating, flawed, and wonderful to watch. As the story unfolds there are revelations and developments that kept me rapt throughout the films 129 minutes, never once did the film drag, despite its subtle pace. As with the Host , Joon-Ho’s film is punctuated with quirky humor throughout, though to a lesser extent, this is a much deeper and resonating suspense film. The lengths to which Do-joon’s mother goes to disprove her son’s conviction are truly bizarre, heartfelt, and perhaps a bit mad as well. Along the way she encounters a cast of deranged character and potential suspects, eventually leading to a final, stunning revelation.

DVD: The Magnolia Pictures DVD of Mother is 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio with a 5.1 Korean language audio and English subtitles. Special Features include the Making of Mother, and four featurettes; Production Design, Cinematography, Supporting Actors, and a Music Score featurette. Unfortunately there’s no commentary, but the featurettes are interesting. The Ultimate Blu-Ray edition includes a Korean language commentary; I’m considering an upgrade myself for that alone.

VERDICT: Mother is a must-see film in my opinion. This is not a horror film, be forewarned, it is a thriller in the classic Hitchcockian vein. If you love thrillers like Deep End (2001) or A History of Violence (2005) I think you’ll love this film.
****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)


Sunday, August 22, 2010

VHS Review: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)


RUN TIME: 100 Min.
DIRECTOR: Frank De Felitta
CAST: Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Lane Smith, Tonya Crowe, Larry Drake

SUMMARY: In a rural town a man with the mind of a child is wrongfully accused of a child’s death. After his demise at the hands of a lynch mob, it is realized he is innocent, and in fact, saved the girls life. Afterwards, the men responsible for his death start dying under mysterious circumstances.

THE FILM: DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW was a made-for-television horror film that aired on the CBS network the week before Halloween 1981, what great timing, truly a classic Halloween film. I was 8 at the time, and the film affected me deeply. Much like in the film, I grew up a rural area that was blanketed in fields of corn and agriculture. Afterwards I had quite a few nightmares about scarecrows and cornfields, and I hadn’t even seen THE CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984), yet. The film is directed by Frank De Felitta, the author/screenwriter of AUDREY ROSE (1977), also reviewed on the blog.

The film opens with Bubba (Larry Drake, DR. GIGGLES), a 36 year old man with the mind of a child, as he plays with Mary-Lee (Tonya Crowe), an adolescent girl and his only friend. They are watched by Otis (Charles Durning, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?), a mean-spirited mailman who disapproves of their relationship despite its innocent nature. Soon thereafter Mary-Lee is attacked by a vicious dog. Otis takes the child’s seemingly lifeless body to her mother, trying to explain the situation, and she panics and accuses Bubba of murdering her child. A lynch mob is formed by Otis, armed with rifles; track Bubba with bloodhounds to his mother’s home. She sends them away, but the hounds are onto his scent, which leads them to a scarecrow on a post in a field. Otis walks-up to the scarecrow to investigate, it’s a chilling sight. Bubba’s eyes stare out of the eerie burlap mask, his eyes tearing up and trembling with fear. The men open fire, executing him in a hail of gunfire. Right on cue the truck radio gurgles to life, informing the men that the search for Bubba has been called off, the girl is all right, and Bubba may have saved her life. Otis, acting quickly, takes a pitchfork from the track and places it in Bubba’s hands, thereby claiming self defense. There’s a short trial afterwards and the men are cleared of murder charges. Soon thereafter the men are dispatched one by one in a series of chilling revenge killings, each preceded by the sight of a scarecrow in a field outside their homes.

I don’t want to spoil the film so I won’t go into much detail about the murders. This is a TV film, as such it is absent of gore, but high on chills and atmosphere. The pace can be a tad slow, but with that we get some decent character development. The culprit is not visually revealed until the end and it works fantastically. I love the entire film, but the last 10 minutes are above and beyond amazing. The cinematography is pretty standard for an 80’s made-for-TV-film, not too imaginative, but it works and has few moments of inspiration. The score is eerie, tense and really enhanced my viewing experience. As TV films go, this is heads and shoulders above KILLDOZER (1974), and a good bit better than another childhood favorite GARGOYLES (1972).

DVD: Dark Night of the Scarecrow is set to be released on DVD for the first time by VCI Entertainment on September 10th, 2010. The film will be presented in its original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio with a newly created 5.1 surround sound audio. Special features will include Director & Writer Commentary, Original World Premiere Trailer, Rebroadcast Trailer and World Premiere Promo. Sounds great, can’t wait to check it out.

VERDICT: I can’t say enough great things about Dark Night of the Scarecrow, it’s pretty awesome, and any fan of horror should seek this out.
 ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Film Review: Piranha 3D (2010)

PIRANHA 3D (2010)

“This summer 3D shows its teeth”

RUN TIME: 89 Min.
CAST: Craig Elisabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, Richard Dreyfus, Jerry O’Connell, Adam Scott

I have loved director Joe Dante’s PIRANHA since childhood; it’s a great schlocky JAWS rip-off, and an awesome good time. When I heard that Alex Aja would be helming a remake, in 3D no less, I was pleased. I’m not anti-remake FYI, in my defense I would point to THE THING, THE BLOB, and THE FLY as penultimate examples of awesomeness. I am a bit down on 3D though, particularly the 2D to 3D conversion bullshit, CLASH OF THE TITANS and ALICE IN WONDERLAND were lackluster films with shitty 2D conversion. I enjoyed Aja’s previous films HAUTE TENSION and THE HILLS HAVE EYES, though I’ve not seen MIRRORS. It irks me that after a promising start with Haute Tension that Aja has been on a steady jag of remakes, it seems a waste of talent and squandered opportunity, WTF, some originality please. PIRANHA 3D is yet another reimagining, and 3D t’boot, but it seemed like big, dumb, fun, with that in mind, and the wife in tow, I headed off to the local Cineplex to catch this masterpiece of schlockery.

The film opens the day before the annual spring break madness on Lake Victoria, actually Lake Havasu here in Arizona, just a few hours from my house. It’s a sleepy day out on the lake for Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus, sorta reprising his classic role from Jaws?); he’s doing a bit of bass fishing, drinking a few beers, singing a song that’ll be familiar to those who’ve seen Jaws, no doubt. An underwater tremor occurs unleashing the pre-historic piranhas that have been trapped in an underwater cavern below the lake. I won’t spoil it, but shit happens. Its fun and sets the mood for the rest of the film.

From there we’re introduced to Sheriff Julie Foster, played by the still totally hot Elisabeth Shue (ADVENTUIRES IN BABYSITTING, HOLLOWMAN) her three kids, Deputy Fallon played by Ving Rhames (PULP FICTION, DAWN OF THE DEAD), Derrick, a sleazy purveyor of a Girls Gone Wild type production, played sleazily by the not-so-baby faced-anymore Jerry O’Connell (STAND BY ME, SLIDERS), Christopher Lloyd (BACK TO THE FUTURE) as Mr. Goodman, the local fish expert and an endless parade of young, gorgeously annoying people who are soon to be chewed into tiny, bloody bits of fish food.


What worked for me in this film is actually the dumbness of it all. This isn’t so much a remake of the original as homage to the big, dumb, fun of it. Embracing stupidity seems to be its aim, and its aim is true. An extravagant amount of nudity, breasts galore for the dudes, a glimpse (actually two) of O’Connell’s penis for the ladies. I’ve not seen a bloodier more splatter-filled film in years, pretty awesome, played for schlock, not for scares, though my wife jumped several times. The CGI piranha are pretty laughable, it’s like a SyFy production on steroids with better cinematography and practical effects, but it works. I also enjoyed seeing all these gorgeous sorority/fraternity assholes getting eaten and screaming in pain, what can I say, I work in a hospitality service industry at a University full of wealthy douche bags who appreciate very little. Director Eli Roth (CABIN FEVER, HOSTEL) who cameos as an MC of a wet t-shirt contest, gets a particularly bloody death, good stuff. I won’t spoil all the great gore and deaths; let’s just say if gore is your thing, you’ll not be disappointed.

What didn’t work for me? The 3D is pretty terrible; the 2D to 3D conversion typically looks like shit, no exception here. In fact, a few 3D scenes were pretty flawed; god knows it doesn’t pull you from the gripping storyline, though. C’mon, make no mistake, this is Piranha 3D, it’s all about the 3D tits, ass and gore, and it comes through on all three counts in spades.

VERDICT: I walked in this film expecting a tasteless onsalught of breasts, blood, and guts and I was pleased. My wife enjoyed it, too, laughing out loud a few times, and she hates horror, for the most part. Our first date film was SPECIES II, she still bitches about that. So, don’t go into Piranha 3D expecting an epic masterpiece of cinema, it ain’t. Do go see it to enjoy a more bloody 3D breasts than you’ve ever seen, and more blood, and gore than any summer flick in recent memory. A very fun time, indeed. ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

DVD Review: Audrey Rose (1977)


“A Haunting Vision of Reincarnation”
RUN TIME: 113 Min.
DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
CAST: Marsha Mason, Anthony Hopkins, John Beck, Susan Swift

I’ve always heard mention of this film in the same breath as the George C. Scott classic The Changeling. So, it’s been on my radar a while, then I discovered it was directed by Robert Wise, and that really caught my attention. Let me spin off just a few of this man’s films: The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945) – which is one of my favorite Karloff films, the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Haunting (1963), The Sound of Music (1965), The Andromeda Strain (1971), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) – what a body of work! Considering the comparison to The Changeling, his body of work, and the appearance of Sir Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) I thought it was high time I took in a viewing. I picked it up from a SwapaDVD.Com trade, if you’re not familiar with the site, check it out, it’s awesome. FYI, the film is based on a same-titled novel from Frank De Felitta, which I’ve not read.

SYNOPSIS: The parents of 11-year-old girl are approached by a stranger who tries to convince them that their daughter is the reincarnation of his deceased daughter.

THE FILM: Audrey Rose opens during a rainstorm, a mother and daughter are driving to an unspecified location; a car heading the opposite direction veers into oncoming traffic, striking the car resulting in a rollover and the fiery death of the title character and her mother. The scene closely mirrors a scenario in The Changeling, a very similar introduction, indeed. We’re then introduced to Janice and Bill Templeton and their daughter Ivy played by Susan Swift (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers). Ivy suffers from tormented dreams of a fiery death, they’re getting progressively worse as time goes by, eventually manifesting themselves in the form of violent waking nightmares. About this time her parents notice a strange man following them on several occasions, he seems unusually interested in their daughter. The stranger is actually Elliot Hoover, the father of the title character who was killed in the fiery car crash, played by Anthony Hopkins. It eventually comes to light, though convoluted it may be, that Elliot believes the day his daughter died her soul was reincarnated into the body of the newly born Ivy. Hopkins plays the role with such sincerity, albeit a bit demented, that you don’t believe he’s out to harm the girl, but you’re not quite sure he’s there to help, either. The parents, of course, balk at the idea, though, eventually Janice (Marsha Mason) comes around to the notion, while Bill (John Beck) becomes increasing hostile towards Elliot, frustrated by his powerlessness to help his own daughter.

I think I may have come into this film with a bit too much enthusiasm or expectation. I’d the preconception that it would be eerie thriller, ala Wise’s amazing film The Haunting or the aforementioned The Changeling. In reality, its presented in a docudrama style, very antiseptic and dry, not haunting in the least, or visually alluring, and it’s probably not meant to be. At its heart the film is less a supernatural thriller than an examination of religious beliefs.

What saved the film for me were the performances of Hopkins and Swift. Swift, truly an odd looking adolescent at the time, was pretty great. The night terrors she suffered were convincing, particularly the regressive hypnotherapy session during the films finale, frightening stuff. The most chilling scenes involved Ivy running through the house clawing at the windows, in an attempt to escape the fiery car of her dreams, very effective. Hopkins portrayal of Mr. Hoover is not over-the-top, it’s tense and demented but never does he chew on the scenery as he’s prone to do these days, The Wolfman anyone?

DVD: Audrey Rose is presented in its original 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. This DVD came out back in 2001, pretty early on in the DVD age, as was the case with a lot of the early MGM releases it’s a bare bones affair, the only special feature being a trailer. Yawn.

VERDICT: While I don’t think that Audrey Rose is a classic film along the lines of The Haunting or The Changeling, it’s an effective and striking examination of the idea of reincarnation. Seeing Hopkins in this film, in that era, reminded me of his 1978 film Magic, I saw when I was 7 and it scared me something fierce, I need to revisit that film, I mean it’s been 30 years, it’s about time, right? It’s out of print and expensive, so If you have a spare copy send it my way. ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

DVD Review: Survival of the Dead: 2-Disc Ultimate Undead Edition DVD


2-Disc Ultimate Undead Edition DVD

“Death isn’t what it used to be”

RUN TIME: 90 Min.
DIRECTOR: George A. Romero
CAST: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Monroe, Devon Bostick

SYNOPSIS: Immediately following the apocalyptic events of DIARY OF THE DEAD we follow Sarge and his band of AWOL soldiers as they seek refuge on Plum Island off the coast of Delaware. Once there they find themselves in the middle of two patriarchs locked in an ideological struggle for power and control.

 THE FILM: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD opens with narration by Sarge (Alan Van Sprang), the leader of the AWOL soldiers from DIARY OF THE DEAD, detailing the snafu that leads to their departure from the ranks, its tense, and a great intro. Oddly, Sarge comes across sympathetically considering what an asshole he was in DIARY, but his character is well developed in SURVIVAL and when it comes to the zombie apocalypse we can’t all be angels, right? We are then introduced to the inhabitants of Plum Island, Delaware; the Muldoon’s and the O’Flynn’s. The Muldoon’s, led by Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick) believe for religious reasons that the undead should be quarantined not terminated, while the O’Flynn’s, led by Patrick (Kenneth Welsh) take a kill ‘em all approach. In a western-style confrontation Patrick O’Flynn is banished from the island, sent packing on a boat headed towards the mainland, his daughter Janet (Kathleen Monroe) chooses to stay behind. Back on the mainland Sarge and his men take notice of a video on the web featuring O’Flynn detailing the splendor and security of Plum Island. They make their way to the coordinates detailed in the video, once there they’re ambushed by O’Flynn and his men who are looking to take advantage of people lured in by the video. An intense gunfight breaks out between the factions and is interrupted by the undead. The battle is well staged and there’s action and zombies aplenty. Barely making it out with his skin, O’Flynn forms an uneasy alliance with Sarge, together they pilot a ferry boat to Plum Island where they are none too welcomed by the Muldoon’s. SURVIVAL has little subtext, it’s blunt with little social commentary. Romero is riffing here, having a bit of fun with his creation and I can’t fault him for that. Not since DAWN has a Romero film been so rife with comedy and humor, though LAND is pretty campy. Welsh’s portrayal of O’Flynn is fantastic, he riveting and steals the show, at times recalling Dennis Hopper from LAND. While the acting is good all around, the dialogue is uneven, at times clever then clunky, often in the same breath. However, I think Romero’s dialogue has always been a bit spotty, and I can forgive this. The cinematography is probably the best of any of the DEAD films, the scope is far wider than any previous entry, and the digital cinematography captures the forest and coastline of the island quite well, the interior of the forests are particularly well filmed. SURVIVAL is heavy on gore; scalping, pitchforks, blood and guts, head shots, and a scene involving fire extinguisher that recalls the defibrillator scene from DIARY, really creative stuff, Romero knows a good kill when he sees one. The downside, a lot of the effects is SyFy Channel level CGI due to financial restrictions. It’s difficult to look back on Savini’s amazing practical effects from DAWN and DAY, which hold up so well to this day, and not be a bit disheartened, particularly a scene involving heads impaled on pikes. That said, the zombie make-up looks great, and practical effects are used throughout, but are far outnumbered by low grade CGI.

 DVD: Magnet Releasing have put together a great package here Romero fans. The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreem with a decent 5.1 surround mix.  A humorous introduction from Romero. A commentary with Romero and crew, several featurettes including “Time With George” in which Romero briefly discusses he is stance on CGI vs. rractical FX and why the …of the Dead universe is not as interconnected as he’d like, plus an “HDNET: A Look at Survival of the Dead”. Disc 2 features the “Walking After Midnight” documentary, a short film, storyboard comparisons, and “A Minute of Your time” 13 behind the scenes shorts, plus a “How to Create Your Own Zombie Bite “.

VERDICT: While I thought DIARY missed the mark by a wide margin I think SURVIVAL finds George back in familiar territory, away from the ham-fisted commentary on the internet-age, back to the human struggle amidst the quest for survival during the zombie apocalypse. While it’s no DAWN, thankfully it’s no DIARY, either. SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is a fun, if uneven, zombie romp, and a slight return to form after DIARY. This at least feels like a Romero film. ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Friday, August 13, 2010

DVD Review: The Burning (1981)

 “Gather Around the Campfire to DIE!”

RUN TIME: 91 Min.
DIRECTOR: Tony Maylam
CAST: Jason Patrick, Lou David, Brian Mathews, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua

ANECDOTAL: The Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York, it’s a wonderfully wooded area, ensconced in the simple pleasures of nature itself, it’s the place I called home for 20 years, and just down the road apiece was Babcock-Hovey Campground. Having been nurtured on the FRIDAY THE 13th films from an early age do not think for a second that I did not fear a masked and vengeful killer lurked there, waiting for some wayward teen to have sex or smoke some weed and take ’em out with a machete. Actually, I’m not really as much a pussy as all that, in fact, I loved camping and ventured into the woods quite frequently. My Huckleberry Finn-esque childhood was filled with forest expeditions, fishing, and a healthy amount of fort-building. While I enjoyed the woods, catching crawdads in the creek and whatnot, the idea that a masked or disfigured killer could be lurking smoldered in the back of my mind. THE BURNING (1982) was filmed in nearby Buffalo, NY while FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) was filmed in the neighboring New Jersey, and because of my familiarity with the terrain I found it easy to imagine these scenarios playing out in the woods surrounding the area.

SYNOPSIS: After a cruel joke goes awry, severely burning him and subjecting him to five years of intensive, unsuccessful skin graft treatments, Cropsy is back at camp… and ready to wreak havoc on those who scarred him.

THE FILM: The film opens with the kids of Camp Blackfoot devising an overly elaborate and ill conceived prank to fuck with the Cropsy, the camp janitor. Needless to say the prank goes awry as he knocks a flaming skull onto his bed sheets, setting himself aflame. He runs from the cabin engulfed in flame, through woods, leaping into the nearby river, he is severely burned over his entire body. He’s taken to the hospital, and while two orderlies are sneaking a peak at the disfigured Cropsy he grabs one by the arm, eliciting an over-the-top reaction, and it’s hilarious. Flash forward five years; Cropsy is being released from the hospital with disfiguring burns and a vengeful disposition. Upon his release he makes straight for 42nd St., picks up a whore and escorts her back to her place. After seeing his disfigured face she is horrified and panics, he proceeds to plunge a pair of sewing shears into her abdomen. It’s a gut churning scene; very grindhouse, brutal and chilling. From there we are taken to Camp Stonewater where summer camp is in full swing. Two of the counselors take the older teens for a rafting trip upstream for a bit of fun; things turn bad quickly thereafter, as Cropsy, armed with hedge clippers, has returned to the area, vengeance foremost in his mind.

THE BURNING features several notable debuts, including producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein (founders of MIRMAX films) as well as Jason Alexander (SEINFELD), Fisher Stevens (MY SCIENCE PROJECT), Holly Hunter (RASINING ARIZONA), and Larry Joshua (SPIDER-MAN). Of note is Jason Alexander (George Costanza from Seinfeld) whom even at this early stage displays a knack for comedic timing and has a luxurious full head of hair t’boot.
THE BURNING is directed by Tony Maylan, who’s done little else, but like Joseph Zito (THE PROWLER), I would’ve liked to see him do more in the genre. The film is edited by Jack Sholder whom would go on to direct a few genre classics of his own, including THE HIDDEN(1987), WISHMASTER 2 (1999), ALONE IN THE DARK (1982) and maligned though enjoyable A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985). As mention before, the film has great cinematography, capturing the gorgeous wooded scenery and waterways; it has a real sense of thoughtful shot composition, more so than say F13.

The special FX are created by none other than horror maestro Tom Savini, who turned down FRIDAY THE 13th PT.2 (1981) to work on The Burning, though he would later return for Joseph Zito’s FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINALCHAPTER. The FX are amazing, a notable exception being the poorly rendered Cropsy mask that is used minimally and obscured by editing and shadow. The film ended up on the infamous UK Video Nasties list due to gore, and was unavailable in its uncut form here in the U.S. until 2007.

 The film gets a rather unfair lumping in with the plethora of FRIDAY THE 13th knock-offs, as it shares a number of clichés, horny teens, shower scenes, busty blondes, the nerd, the asshole, good-natured guy, wooded scenery, and the summer camp setting. THE BURNING, more-so than other slashers of the era, benefits from decent cinematography, a good script, likeable characters, and Tom Savini’s gory effects. The direction is keen, and the editing is well-done as evidenced during the infamous rafting scene, it is so well put together, complimenting Savini’s bloody effects work. The film does falter some in the final third, the final confrontation inside a mine feels slightly off and out of place. According to director Tony Maylan the last act was to have been filmed in a cave, when problems arose with the location the decision was made to utilize an abandoned mine in the area, and I think it suffers some for that decision.

DVD: The MGM DVD is 1.85:1, anamorphic widescreen with a mono audio track; it looks great, obviously from a good print. Special features include a commentary from director Tony Maylam and journalist Alan Jones, as well as a featurette: Blood ‘n’ Fire Memories’, in which special FX Master Tom Savini recollects his experiences on the film, good stuff. Of note, while the DVD is advertised as an R rating this is indeed the full, uncut film.

VERDICT: THE BURNING is a classic, though underappreciated slasher. If you enjoyed MY BLOODY VALENTINE, THE PROWLER, FRIDAY THE 13th or HALLOWEEN I would be hard pressed to believe you would not love this film.
**** (4 out of 5 stars)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

DVD Review: Mausoleum (1983)


"The Nightmare Has Begun!"

DIRECTOR: Michael Dugan
CAST: Bobbie Bresee, Marjoe Gortner, Norman Burton, Maurice Sherbanee, La Wanda Page


 ANECDOTAL: This film holds a warmly nostalgic place in my horror-filled heart. In the magical era that was the Mid-80’s my folks rented a laserdisc player along with a few memorable flicks, MAUSOLEUM (1983) and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). I may have been 12 years of age, way too young, and I can trace my love for the macabre to this particular weekend. From a young age I recall seeing slashers and horror films fairly regularly; FRIDAY THE 13th (1980), HALLOWEEN (1978), and once I only HEARD the film I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), and it scarred me. My folks, or an uncle, someone surely irresponsible put it on at a time when I should have been asleep, but wasn’t, and couldn’t for all that night. I heard (only heard) the film from my bedroom down the hallway, and it disturbed. I could not fathom what the hell was going on in that film. What are they doing to her? What is she doing to them? What is that awful 60’s hippy song, and do I hear a boat? What? The next morning I ventured to the living room and saw the iconic VHS cover art, and vowed …someday. Years later I picked-up the Millennium Edition of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, it wasn’t until 2008 that MAUSOLEUM would finally make it ways to DVD. When I found it I was so excited I started sweating profusely, I’d long ago given up hope of seeing this forgotten gem, the demonic nipples contained within, and there it was before me.

SYNOPSIS: Susan Nomed (demon spelled backwards, really?) is a gorgeous, 30 year old blonde and the heir to a family fortune. But, the women of the Nomed family are also heirs to something else all together, and ancient and evil curse. As demonic possession overtakes her Susan is consumed by a nightmare of lust, murder and terror. Can Susan free herself from the demonic forces before everything she loves is destroyed?

THE FILM: The film opens at that greatest of set-pieces, the cemetery. A 10-year old Susan, visiting her mother’s grave with her aunt runs away in a fit of hysterics and is drawn to an eerie mausoleum. Once inside she is bathed in green light, because it’s the 80’s, don’t worry about why - she just is, and it works. It’s eerie, cheesy, and wonderful. She descends through the catacombs towards a crypt. The overhead camera work in this sequence is really enjoyable as it sweeps above the archways, the labyrinth bathed it a green glow, very eerie. Arriving at the crypt she is enraptured by a mysterious, hooded figure and her soul is touched by a demon, the same demon her family has endured for centuries. The invocation is interrupted by a homeless man who looks into the face of the hooded figure and is overcome by searing pain, he rushes outside and his head explodes. Years later, while making the annual trip to her mothers grave, the now gorgeous, 30-year old Susan played by Bobbie Bresee,(GHOULIES, SURF NAZIS MUST DIE) is again drawn to the fateful mausoleum, here the possession is seemingly completed, as it appears to have been dormant the last 20 years. Coinciding with these events, her aunt, who is familiar with the family curse and fears the worst, and her clueless husband, played by Marjoe Gortner (FOOD OF THE GODS, EARTHQAUKE) notice her unusual behavior, and implore her to seek the help of her therapist. Also noticing her suspect behavior is Elsie, the maid, played comically by LaWanda Page (ZAPPED! and FRIDAY), who upon encountering the demonic shenanigans, runs from the house in a fright. Susan, in perhaps my favorite sequence, goes about seducing and killing Ben, the gardener, but not before an extensive and comical montage of his hectic workday. It’s an odd sequence to say the least, but I loved it, very 80’s. There are a number of gory deaths in MAUSOLEUM, and the FX work from John Carl Buechler (GHOULIES, FROM BEYOND, DOLLS) is quite good for a lo-budget 80’s film. That being said, this print of the film is cut, and a lot of the gore removed, implied or abbreviated. Nonetheless, we are treated to some amazing rib ripping sequences, levitation, glowing green eyes, and some demonic transformations, including the infamous, demonic-faced, carnivorous breasts, I kid you not - worth the price of admission alone. Also used to great 80’s effect is the use of colored lighting that lends an eerie atmosphere to the film.

DVD: MAUSOLEUM comes by the way of BCI’s Exploitation Cinema Double Feature DVD series, paired with BLOOD SONG (1983). The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, mono audio. The print fairly awful as when BCI Eclipse obtained the rights to the film they could not find the original film and sound elements and had to use an inferior, damaged print. So, you get a lot of cigarette burns, missing frames, scratches, hisses and pops, particularly during the open credit sequence. It’s all very grindhouse and adds an enjoyably gritty element to the viewing. Star Bobbie Bresee also provides a decent commentary recalling a lot of interesting facts, such as the fact that during her sex scene the producers set up bleachers on set for crew members to come an watch.

 VERDICT: It’s hard for me to be impartial when it comes to MAUSOLEUM, it’s laced with fond nostalgia and childhood wonder, not to mention my first glimpses of the female form in its voluptuous, nude glory, albeit obscured in a few bits by gargoyle-faced demonic breasts. While nowhere near an epic possession film as THE EXORCIST (1973), its aims is much lower, and I think hits it outta the park with its modest, low-brow intentions. A MUST SEE! ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

DVD Review: World's Greatest Dad (2009)


“Lance Clayton Is About To Get Everything He Deserves”

DIRECTOR: Bobcat Goldthwait
CAST: Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Alexie Gilmore, Henry Simmons

ANECDOTAL: Robin Williams, the man is a comedic genius, his stand-up still kills me, however, it is easy to forget that he once starred in amazing films, for much like Eddie Murphy; I do not believe that he’s ever turned a role down. If you only recall Williams for eye-rolling comedies like RV (2006) and FLUBBER (1997), treat yourself to his darker, more dramatic roles, fine examples being THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (1982). THE BEST OF TIMES (1986), DEAD POET SOCIETY (1989), THE FISHER KING (1991), and the chilling ONE HOUR PHOTO (2002).

SYNOPSIS: Robins Williams portrays school teacher Lance Clayton, a single father and aspiring writer. He loves his douche-nozzle son Kyle (Daryl Sabara (SPY KIDS) despite the fact that his son is a cold, sexist loser, until one day Kyle dies while jerkin’ it. Rather than suffer the indignity of the nature of his son’s death he stages a suicide, types a note, and then must endure the fallout stemming from his actions.

“Come on now, Kyle, you must be passionate about something.” – Lance Clayton/Robin Williams

“You wanna know what I like? I like looking at vaginas.” - Kyle Clayton/Daryl Sabara

THE FILM: Robin Williams’ Lance wants a relationship with his teenage son, Kyle, a chronic masturbator slash loser of a child whom shows little regard for his father’s need for a meaningful relationship. He’s prone to misogynist/sexist statements like “that pussy’s not gonna eat itself”, his only friend, Andrew (Evan Martin), whom he treats like shit, but there’s an awkward trusting relationship there that filters through, somehow. It’s pretty obvious that Andrew is being neglected to some degree at home and Kyle is sensitive to this on some level. Kyles father is an aspiring, unpublished writer, he’s teaches poetry at Kyle’s school, were he’s in a secretive relationship with a younger, fellow educator Claire (Alexie Gilmore), whom Kyle describes as a TILF, “a teacher I’d like to fuck”. Kyle is portrayed quite well by Daryl Sabra, whom you may recall as “Juni” from the SPY KIDS franchise. Williams gives an amazing performance as his befuddled and frustrated father, probably his best work to date. After a night out Lance returns home to find that Kyle has accidentally died while performing autoerotic asphyxiation. Having loved his son despite his shortcomings he stages a suicide in an effort to provide a more dignified death. He types a suicide note to bolster the scenario. When the note is published in the school paper a post-death Cult of Kyle springs fort. In a plotline not dissimilar from the late-80’s classic HEATHERS (1989), the faculty and student body regard Kyle, a person universally reviled before his death, as a deep, and misunderstood individual. For the 1st time Lance is receiving praise for his writing under the guise of his son’s suicide note, craving more recognition, and perhaps wanting to rewrite his sons tarnished image, he pens a fictional diary in his departed son’s name, it becomes a sensation. Williams character comes across sympathetically, and the fraud perpetrated feels more a way of dealing with loss than the need to receive recognition for his own writings, but it’s borderline, and the line is crossed several times throughout as he strives to fulfill his own needs. The comedy is dark and sardonic, bitterly humorous and at times poignantly touching. Many kudos to director Bobcat Glodthwait whom has directed several other films; SHAKES THE CLOWN (1991), SLEEPING DOGS LIE (2006), and WINDY CITY HEAT (2003) – none of which I’ve seen, but are on my shortlist of films to see, now. The finale is satisfying, though not as dark as one would assume, I think.

“You guys didn't like Kyle. That's okay. I didn't either. I loved him. He was my son. But he was also a douchebag.” – Lance Clayton/Robin Williams

DVD: WORLD’S GREATEST DAD is released by Magnolia Pictures. The DVD sports a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, 5.1 surround audio. Special features include a commentary from writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, Behind the Scenes featurette, Outtakes & Deleted Scenes, HDNET: A Look at World’s Greatest Dad, and a Deadly Syndrome music video. Pretty well-stocked package, indeed.

VERDICT: I highly recommend WORLD’S GREATEST DAD, what an introduction to the writer/director prowess of Bobcat Goldthwait, whom you probably recall as Cadet Zed from the POLICE ACADEMY films, who woulda thunkit? You also get a terrific dramatic performance from Robin Williams. This is savage, darkly funny comedy along the lines of Alexander Payne’s ABOUT SCHMIDT (2002) or Todd Solondz’s STORYTELLING (2001), pretty amazing stuff. ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

DVD Review: The Card Player (2005)


“A Serial Killer with a Vice for Poker”

RATED: Unrated
DIRECTOR: Dario Argento
CAST: Stefania Rocca, Liam Cunningham, Silvio Muccino, Claudio Santamaria Fiore Argento, Adalberto Maria Merli, Elisabetta Rochchetti

ANECDOTAL: As a child of the 80’s and the VHS era I grew up with directors like Romero, Carpenter, Craven, Hooper, and Argento. Despite my love for their 1970’s/80’s body of work, I don’t think it’s blasphemy to say that its widely consented that all these directors took a nosedive in quality in the 90’s as evidenced by Romero’s THE DARK HALF (1993), Carpenters VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995), Craven’s PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991), Hooper’s THE MANGLER (1995), and Argento’s TRAUMA (1993). Sure, they snuck in a few decent films here and again, but overall, their bodies of work were declining, losing much of their early vision, style, and originality. Like the X-FILES Agent Mulder, I want to believe, I want to believe that these legendary, masters of the genre will return to form. There have been brief glimpses of hope from each since the 90’s, Carpenters FROM THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995) an H.P Lovecraft inspired masterpiece, Romero’s LAND OF THE DEAD (2005) is a good, campy fun. Hooper’s remake of TOOLBOX MURDERS (2004) is a creepy, brutal gem, and Craven’s thriller RED EYE (2005) was not awful, which is quite a compliment after the dreadful CURSED (2005), and Argento’s slight-return SLEEPLESS (2001). I’m very hopeful of the upcoming John Carpenter flick, THE WARD; see its true, I WANT TO BELIEVE!

SYNOPSIS: In Rome, a serial killer calling himself the Card Player is abducting women and taunting the police via the internet when he challenges them to a game of video poker. At stake are the lives of each of the women. If the police refuse or lose, the women are mutilated, and ultimately their throats slashed via webcam.

THE FILM: Italian detective Anna Mari (Stefania Rocca, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY) and forensics expert John Brennan (Liam Cunningham, DOG SOLDIERS) are on the trail of a demented serial killer, The Card Player, who is abducting women and then inviting the police to gamble on their lives via a game of online poker. Is it me, or does this sound like a storyline from a TV police procedural drama like C.S.I. or CRIMINAL MINDS, no? It’s difficult for me to watch a thriller as pedestrian as this and not think of Argento’s films DEEP RED, TENBRAE and THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and not wonder, what happened? Dario Argento has always been a visual director, you could forgive the clunky and trite dialogue, the nonsensical plot twist because you were in awe of the color palate, the odd camera angles, the stunning cinematography, set pieces, lighting and the amazing scores from GOBLIN and ENNIO MORRICONE. What we get here is some rather bland cinematography, fair enough, for a standard thriller, terrible dialogue, and an annoying electronic score from longtime collaborator Claudio Simonetti, of GOBLIN fame. The least promising parts of this film is the webcam/video poker plot, which is sad as it’s the premise of the film and they hold little suspense, and are poorly assembled. The film has a few gruesome cadaver FX, and at certain points I did get caught up in the investigation, but the climax scenario at the end of this film is just terrible. Of note, the film was originally conceived as a sequel of sorts to THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996), however, Asia Argento didn’t care for the script and passed.

DVD: A decent DVD package here from Anchor Bay, much better than the film deserves, in my estimation. 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and a decent 5.1 soundtrack that really kicks in when film score is present but otherwise not very active. Audio commentary from author Alan Jones, an interview with Argento, a featurette Maestro of Fear (16Min.), an interview with longtime Argento collaborator/composer Claudio Simonetti (GOBLIN), Trailer, Behind-the-Scenes, Bio, and an 8 page booklet.

VERDICT: A disappointment, to be sure. THE CARD PLAYER is a very standard thriller, not terrible, just ordinary. Everything I’ve come to expect from an Argento film is absent, the cinematography, the score, the visual flair. The only Argento element left is the terrible dialogue, and without the visuals and score, you’re left with a very unsatisfying experience **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)