Monday, December 31, 2012

DVD Review: SNOW SHARK (2011)


Studio: Independent Entertainment
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Region Code: 0 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 980 Minutes
Video: 16:9 Widescreen 
Audio: English Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 
Director: Sam Qualiana
Cast: Sam Qualiana, Michael O’Hear, Jackey Hall , Kathy Murphy, CJ Wualiana, Andrew Elias
Tagline: Ancient Snow Beast Modern Killing Machine

Synopsis: In 1999, a team of animal biologists investigating a rash of wildlife killings disappeared in the lonely woods near a small town.  Years later, a local resident claims to have killed a prehistoric carnivorous creature living in the snow.  Now, someone – or something – is making lunch of the locals.  As curiosity-seekers and crypto zoologists descend on the small town, drawn by the legend of the Snow Shark, Mark - sole survivor of an earlier attack - leads an armed and dangerous posse into a deadly battle.  

This was some fun stuff, schlocky in just the right way, lots of bad acting and some pretty terrible effects. So right up front know that this is not a great film, but it's easy to overlook the many shortcomings of a no-budget film about a prehistoric snow shark unleashed from it's icy tomb by an earthquake, it's just too silly not too love the premise alone.  I love the setting, snow bound Upstate New York, Lockport specifically, which is just up the road a bit from where I was born in Ithaca so it's nice to see the neighbors making good. Also, for my tastes there's just not enough winter set horror films, which surprises me, blood-spattered snow looks  just so cool so it's got that going for it, too. 

At the start of the film a professor and his research students are out in the woods investigating the mysterious disappearance of wildlife from the area when they discover that the prehistoric snow shark has been unleashed up on the area after an earthquake  sounds sorta familiar,no - PIRANHA (2010) anyone?  It's all rather quite silly and the set-up is just ridiculous but if you can buy into that stupid premise which is equal part moronic and pure genius there's some fun to be had here, think JAWS meets BIRDEMIC by way of the Syfy Channel and you will have a pretty good grip on what to expect here.

There's lots of amateur z-grade acting which is really quite perfect for what we have here, a schlocky cheese-fest with quite a bit of over emoting, melodramatic anguish and cornball dialogue and that's by design, the film takes itself semi seriously and that alone ads a lot of humor to the proceedings. We have the mayor trying to cover-up the incident, the grieving sheriff driven by revenge, a trio hired by the mayor to take down the creature comprised of a trophy hunter, a crypto zoologist and an animal biologist, and the gun-toting local yokels, of course. It's well stocked with the usual caricatures typical of the genre, everything from JAWS to LAKE PLACID is well represented here. Also, it should be noted we get some gratuitous stripper nudity courtesy of a hot tub party, never underestimate the allure of gratuitous nudity in a no-budget film, that stuff's really important. 

So this is a film about a snow shark, so do we get some actual snow shark action? Oh yeah, you betcha! The star of the special effects must be the awesomely bad foam shark head, a marvel  of an eyesore,  it just killed me that this was supposed to be a prehistoric creature and it looked exactly like a great white, I realize sharks haven't evolved for millions of years but c'mon, that's just awesome, it's a we know this is silly sorta film. There's terrible CGI muzzle flashes, snow splattered fake blood, and some cool miniatures of the shark popping it's head up through the snow and the pre-requisite shark blowing-up finale, fun stuff.

It's not all schlocky fun though, even at just under eighty minutes the film started to drag a bit, it's about twenty minutes too long, a lot of the kills happen off screen and while what we see is indeed blood-soaked it's not exactly grisly, though I did love Santa getting eaten by the snow shark - that was pretty cool kill. 

For a no-budget feature there's tons of special features on this disc including a commentary, three short films from director Sam Qualiana, fun outtakes, twenty four minutes of behind-the-scenes footage of the miniature shark shots featuring the crew blasting the stunt shark with a 20 gauge shotgun, a trailer and an Independent Entertainment Trailer Vault, too. That's way more than we got with the recent SILENT NIGHT Blu-ray. 

 Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with writer/director/actor Sam Qualiana, Producer Greg Lamberson and actor/assistant director Michael O’Hear
- SNOW SHARK 2004 Short Film (10:18)
- A LOVE STORY Short Film (10:42)
- Outtakes (6:33)
- Behind-the-Scenes (24:39)
- SNOW SHARK Trailer (1:57)
- Trailer Vault: FACES OF SCHLOCK (0:54), PORKCHOP (1:31), PORKCHOP 2 (1:47), STIFFED (2:00), ZOMBIE ALLEGIANCE (1:37) 

Verdict: First, it's a film called SNOW SHARK (2011) so you just gotta have some inkling of an idea what you are in for, if not you're probably gonna have a bad time. It's not great cinema but it was a hoot to watch with a few beers, a trash-terpeice of crypto-schlocktology. Say what you will about the quality of the film, my hat is off to the filmmakers whom for under $7,000 braved the harsh NY winter and made a film that was pretty damn entertaining if not exactly good. 2 Outta 5 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

DVD Review: CHILLER - The Complete Television Series (1995)

CHILLER The Complete Television Series (1995) 
2-Disc DVD

Label: Synapse Films 

Duration: 265 minutes
Region: Region 1 NTSC

Audio: English Dolby Digital English 2.0 Mono
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame 

Directors: Lawrence Gordon Clark, Anthony Horowitz, Glenn Chandler 
Cast: Nigel Havers, Martin Clunes, Sophie Ward, Kevin McNally

Synopsis: The television series Chiller was a five episode horror anthology that aired in the UK in 1995. Presented here for the first time in the U.S., these supernatural shockers feature malevolent spirits, a brutal serial killer and a haunted house set in contemporary England. Starring many of Britain’s leading actors like Nigel Havers (Chariots of Fire, TV’s Coronation Street), Martin Clunes (UK’s Men Behaving Badly), Sophie Ward (Young Sherlock Holmes) and Kevin McNally (Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series), this compelling collection will leave you chilled to the bone!

I grew up on a steady diet of American TV anthology series beginning with vintage TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, the fantasy adventures of AMAZING STORIES, MONSTERS, the schlocky TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE,  HBO's EC Comics inspired TALES FROM THE CRYPT right up through to Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR series. I definitely have a soft spot for the format, it was a treat to dip my toes into what the UK had to offer with the recent release of HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR from the legendary horror studio and now with this, a short-lived five episode horror anthology series broadcast in the UK in 1995 and now on DVD for the first time ever in the US from Synapse Films. Let's check out the episodes...

PROPHECY (52:55) A group teens hold a séance in the basement of a London café for shits and giggles but to their surprise they each receive a prophecy of their own deaths. Five years later, the fatal prophecies begin to come true in a very FINAL DESTINATION sort of way, this one was a good bit of fun, a great season opener with each of the character dying off in fun  and often bloody scenarios. Our main character Franny is trying to get to the bottom of the death curse before her ticket is punched, along the way she takes up with a man named Oliver and realizes that his son Edward is somehow connected to the tragedies. Some nice deaths and suspense here including few vehicular deaths, a grisly elevator ride, and some occult elements including spooky seances. The finale really ratchets up the tensions as the forces good and evil face off, while the script wanders a bit this one was quite entertaining with a strong cast.

TOBY (52:15) When Ray and Louise Knight lose their unborn son Toby in a car accident they are crushed, but when Louise discovers she’s pregnant again things seem to be on the upswing. However, a routine scan reveals she is not actually pregnant, the depression following the miscarriage seems to have spurred a hysterical pregnancy exhibiting all the physical signs of a baby being on the way, it's certainly an oddity, she even goes into labor which produces not a child but blood. Afterwards she is haunted by the incessant cries of a child emanating from her empty nursery, she even begins nursing this ghost child leaving her befuddled husband thinking she's gone nutters, but has she really? This one had some good creepy moments but fell a bit flat following the quite good first episode

HERE COMES THE MIRROR MAN (52:44)  This third episode features a newcomer social worker searching for a troubled, young homeless man named Gary who's plagued by a naughty friend named Michael whom may or may not be a demon force, either way he encourages Gary to commit murderous acts, at one point pushing our social worker's predecessor in front of an oncoming truck. This was a nice psychological thriller with strong performances, the ending is telegraphed pretty far in advance of the conclusion and the story is a bit subdued for my tastes but a decent episode nonetheless.

THE MAN WHO DIDN'T BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (52:56) When a a professional skeptic of the paranormal moves to the countryside and into a supposed haunted property with his wife and daughter, they find themselves the victims of unexplained events. As a matter of professional integrity the skeptic scoffs at the notion of an actual paranormal explanation and seeks to discover the true culprit but his stubborn quest strains his marital relationship and puts his family in harm's way. Strange happening include maggot infested fowl for dinner, chandeliers falling, doors locking, dead pets and a masked apparition, all dealt with in a very dry and British detachment. There's some great suspenseful elements here but the pace of the story is quite languid, however, a fiery finale nearly makes up for that despite not following up on a bizarre sexual attack that takes place earlier in the episode.

NUMBER SIX (53:15) The series finale is a pretty great atmospheric chiller with occult elements that opens with a fog-laden chase through the woods, right away you know your in for a treat - this was my favorite episode of the lot.A small Yorkshire town is plagued by a child killer whom has taken the lives of five children from the area, the deaths seem to be connected to an ancient Druidic area of the woods nearby. A young boy at school is haunted by dreams of spooky schoolmates telling him to "play with us" and indeed there are some strange goings on at the schoolyard. Meanwhile the boys father, a cop, and sets  about to solve the mystery before his son falls victim. This one had some nice red herrings,   suspense and loads of atmosphere plus a haunting finale, good stuff. 

DVD: Unfortunately there are no special features or cool episode introductions like we saw with the HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR release, those were very cool and contextualized each episode and something similar here would have been appreciated. The menu is very basic, you get a play all option or an episode index that features the episode title and air date.

All five episodes are presented in their original British broadcast versions and in the original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The image is here is pretty grainy, somewhat murky and even a bit noisy, the series was shot on 16mm and transferred to video, it's not the most pleasing video you will see but it's quite serviceable. The English language Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 audio is also decent, a bit muted at times, but quite listenable and easily discerned.

Verdict: After Synapse's fantastic HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR release I was primed for more UK TV horror anthologies but I found this one rather dry, some decent bits of suspense and mystery but lacking overall the thrills and exploitation of the Hammer series. CHILLER is not too shabby, fans of Brit TV suspense and mystery might find more to love than myself but for me nothing here screams for a re-watch despite some enjoyment first time around. 2.5 Outta 5 


Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Region: 0 NTSC
Duration: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33 Full Frame [Variable Aspect Ratio]
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono 2.0
Cast: George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Roy Frumkes, Richard Rubinstein
Director: Roy Frumkes

Synopsis: George A. Romero, director of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is one of the horror genre’s most celebrated filmmakers. Roy Frumkes’ amazing 1978 documentary DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD was an intimate look at Romero’s creative process, with an outstanding collection of interviews, effects demonstrations (courtesy of make-up artist, Tom Savini) and behind-the-scenes footage from the classic horror film, DAWN OF THE DEAD.

Thirty years in the making Roy Frumke's DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD (1983) get s a new "Definitive Edition" from Synapse Films. Frumke's documentary was probably the first horror documentary I took in as a teen and it further cemented my love of George A. Romero's body of work, plus it really pulled back the curtain back and revealed to be the trials and tribulations of making a film, particularly as a Hollywood outsider as Romero was and still is to this day. It's a loving look at the filming of Romero's sequel to THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) while filming at the Monroeville Mall. Throughout Romero is in good spirits on set of DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) as the film crew capture tons of awesome behind-the-scenes stuff, even capturing Romero in the editing bay whom offers aspiring film makers an insider's look at the pre and post-production of  film.

It's a sprawling documentary that starts of contextualizing the importance of Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and then throws us into the pre-production of DAWN with interviews galore with Romero, producer Richard Rubenstein,  cinematographer Michael Gornick, lighting director Carl Augustine, special effects master Tom Savini, and the principle cast of the film plus many others. Romero's quite candid about his style, influences as a filmmaker and the sacrifices he had to make to maintain the integrity of his films.

Some of the additional footage includes Frumke catching up with Romero on the set of the Edgar Allen Poe anthology film TWO EVIL EYES (1990), the film that reunited Romero with his DAWN producer Dario Argento. We get some very cool behind-the-scenes footage as Romero onset slinging a yo yo to relieve not just the tension of a hard to capture effects shot but to curb his nicotine cravings having gone 5 weeks without a cigarette. I particularly enjoyed later interviews with wife Chris Romero and daughter Tina who reflects upon growing up on the set of Romero's films and acting in LAND OF THE DEAD (2005). We also get an odd meeting of actress Judith O'Dea of NIGHT with an amorous Joseph Pilato from DAY. In some of these bits Romero discusses Tom Savini's '90 NIGHT remake and filmmakers Edgar Wright's zombie love-letter SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004). The interviews end with a slightly grumpy George shooting DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) which I didn't much care for but Frumke's admiration for the film maker is still there onscreen and it's contagious.

While the original version of the film is more specific and lean with a focus on DAWN I do love the additional follow-up interviews with Romero on the later films and interviews with cast and crew, while it loses it's focus it's still a loving document and tribute to the films of George A. Romero that's entertaining and insightful.

DVD: The original film elements were shot on 16mm and the remainder were shot over the next 30 years and the quality of the presentation jumps around a bit as technologies changed and as such it has the low-budget documentary aesthetic, it's a warts and all production with lots of grain. The audio is pretty decent, if equally disjointed from time to time.

The one special is a brand new audio commentary with writer/director Roy Frumke's who offers candid and revealing insights about the making of the film, he's quite frank about the ramshackle nature of the new footage and it makes for an interesting listen. If you loved the documentary the commentary will only add to your enjoyment. The other version of the documentary I have is on the Anchor Bay 4-Disc Ultimate Edition which is actually just the previous Synapse edition of the film minus the original commentary, six minutes of extra footage and the TWO EVIL EYES footage which are all sewn into this new expanded edition, if you're wondering I say it's worth the upgrade. Synapse is also offering a website only exclusive DVD/BD combo edition containing the new DVD version along with a high-definition Blu-ray of the original 1979 16mm version in 1080p.
Special Features:
- All-New Audio Commentary from Writer/Producer/Director, Roy Frumkes

Verdict: A  real find for fans of George A. Romero, a true love letter to his films and the independent spirit of horror film making. Frumke's love of  Romero is as infectious as a zombie plague and carries the film even when it gets a bit clunky, originally shot as a how-to make a documentary film for Frumke's film students this one has spawned quite a life of it's own - a must have for Romero fans and film nerds. 3.5 Outta 5 


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blu-ray Review: SILENT NIGHT (2012)


Label: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Region Code: A l 1
Duration: 94 Minutes
Rating: R
Video: 1080p  Anamorphic Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 , English TrueHD 5.1 
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Jamie King, Donal Logue, Lisa Marie, Brendan Fehr, Ellen Wong
Director: Steven C. Miller 
Tagline: He Knows Who's Been Naughty

Synopsis: McDowell and King star as a small-town sheriff and deputy on the hunt for a murderous Santa Claus terrorizing their community on Christmas Eve. But with the streets full of Santa's for the annual Christmas parade, the killer is hiding in plain sight. He’s made his list, checked it twice, and the naughty are going to pay with their lives.

Director Steven C. Miller came onto the scene with a little indie darling zombie feature AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION (2006) and hasn't done a whole lot that I have seen since so I was a bit surprised to him at the helm of the remake of the sleazy Santa slasher SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984). Right away let's just say that this is only a remake in the same sense that Zach Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) was a remake of George A. Romero's original, the basic idea is there but they keep it pretty loose and that's a good thing in both instances, DotD '04 is a pretty great film, one of the better remakes of classic horror films along the lines of THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003)  - all remakes that did it right.

There's a fun cast of character beginning with Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) as the small-town's sheriff Cooper delivering some of the film's best lines, really rote stuff but McDowell nails each one perfectly. Then we have his deputy Aubrey played by Jamie King (MOTHER's DAY) who suffering through some personal loss and self doubt, she's sorta the centerpiece of the film but I found her character not so much unlikable as just a bit too drab in a film cast with colorful caricatures, particularly Donel Logue (GROUNDED FOR LIFE) as a cynical Santa Jim who makes children cry while they sit on his lap as he dispenses the hard truth about xmas, he also delivers the film's greatest monologue, a diatribe about how awful Christmas time really is. Those three our our main characters and then we get a dip-shit Deputy Jordan (Brendean Fehr) and the town mayor plus his slutty daughter Tiffany (Courtney Jane-White, TV's TODD AND THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL) plus a pervy priest. There's not a whole lot of character development nor likable characters  to get behind  but sometimes it's fun just to kick back and watch Santa kill a few fuckers. 

The Santa here is significantly more awesome than the original in my opinion, a hulk of a jolly St. Nick with a huge white beard and one of those creepy translucent masks covering his eyes and nose with blackened eyes, he cuts quite an imposing figure and he's a brutal bastard with no mercy for the naughty, even cattle-prodding a bitchy teen before skewering her with a wood-poker. Setting itself apart from the original film there's not a lot of character development for our slasher Santa, there are no evil nuns at an orphanage, no flashbacks to a Santa raping his mother and I really like the way they handled it, there is an origin story with a cool urban legend element to it. Something they kept from the original film that I liked a bunch was the creepy catatonic grandpa warning his grandson about Santa and his wicked ways.

As kills go we do get some nice homages to the original in the form of electrocution and impalement on antlers and if there's one thing the original did better it's probably these two kills, Linnea Quigley's impalement was a great kill in the original and the electrocution seems to me more of a lift from the second film and I think that too holds up a bit better. This Santa utilizes all manner of weaponry, we get some dismemberment, a blood splattered wood chipper massacre, a brutal head-splitting with an ax, a scythe to the groin and Santa pulverizing someones face with a set of brass knuckles emblazoned with the words "Ho Ho Ho".  The kills are the highlight of the film for me, it's definitely not a character study of a demented mind, just some totally fun psycho-Santa brutality including some flame-thrower shenanigans. 

Maybe the only thing that annoyed me was that for a Christmas-themed slasher I felt that the atmosphere was a bit inconsistent, snow sorta came and went from scene to scene but that's a pretty small gripe. This is a brutal Christmas slasher and a fun remake, perfect viewing with a few seasonal beers and definitely gonna be a tradition from here on in. This one hit the right notes for me, a stylish film with some gruesome raw gore and cool nods to the original. There's not a whole lot of substance here but c'mon now - it's a psycho Santa on the loose with a flame-thrower!  4 Outta 5 

Special Features:
- “SILENT NIGHT: Behind The Scenes” (6:14) 
- Deleted Scenes (4:50) 

Sunday, December 16, 2012



Label: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Region: 1 NTSC
Rating: Unrated l R
Duration: 85 Mins l 88 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono 
Director: Charles Sellier, Jr. l Lee Harry
Cast: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormich, Toni Nero, Robert Brian Wilson l Eric Freeman, James L. Newman, Elizabeth Cayton, Jean Miller

In 1984 when I was 11 years old I remember Siskel & Ebert shaming the filmmakers behind this sleazy killer Santa nugget on TV and thinking to myself that I just gotta see this piece of Christmas trash, yet somehow 24 years later this film had remained in my yet to be seen file until just now. The fact that the films have gone twice out of print and were fetching major dollars on eBay probably had something to do with not catching up with it so I am quite thankful that Anchor Bay whom have re-issued this double feature to coincide with the remake starring Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) and directed by Steven C. Miller (AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION). 

The year is 1971 and young Billy (Jonathan Best) and his family are driving to see grandpa at an asylum on Christmas Eve. Gramps is in a catatonic state, that is until his family steps out of the room and Billy is left alone with him, then the creepy elder awakens to warn the boy that Christmas Eve is the scariest night of the year, that old Saint Nick not only gives gifts to children who've been good but severely punishes the naughty ones, too. Of course Billy is super-creeped out by the odd event and no one believes that Grandpa talked. Later that night on the way home the family encounter a man in a Santa suit on the side of the road next to his broken down car, what they don't realize is that this Santa just robbed a store and shot the clerk three times. Dad rolls down the window to offer assistance and is  shot dead, mom is dragged from the car and Santa attempts to rape her, ripping open her blouse exposing her breasts - which we will see many times throughout not just this film but it's sequel as well. All the while Billy's infant brother Ricky is left in the car screaming and Billy has run off to the bushes and  witnesses the costumed criminal slashes his mother's throat, scarring young Billy for years to come. .

Now three years later eight year old Billy (Danny Wagner) and his brother are living  at St. Mary's Orphanage where the traumatized Billy draws macabre pictures of a bloody Santa and a decapitated reindeer in class to the ire of the stern Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin, PREDATOR 2) who scolds Billy mercilessly while Sister Maragaret is a more caring and sympathetic force in his life. Mother Superior's brutal lessons in right and wrong inform Billy's twisted perception of how the naughty must be punished and that punishment is good. Billy is further traumatized on Christmas at the orphanage when Mother Superior cruelly forces him to sit on Santa's lap whom Billy immediately punches in the face, the film really does set about to build some character development for young Billy to help explain what transpires a bit later, but it's slow going after the initial Santa attack at the start of the film, particularly when you take into account that the film in only 82 minutes long. 

Flash forward 10 years and the now strapping 18-year-old Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) with the help of Sister Margaret secures a job at a Ira's Toy Storre. Things go relatively well for the young man, we even get an goofy montage set to a corny tune of Billy working around the store. He develops a crush on co-worker Pamela  (Toni Nero) and fantasizes about fucking her and then being knifed, that's a pretty terrible sex dream by the way. Things become unhinged when he's asked to step in for the store Santa on Christmas Eve, yeah that's gonna be trouble, he tells a young girl how Santa punishes the naughty, uh-oh. 

When the store closes that night Billy get snockered at the office party, later he  walks in on a co-worker attempting to rape Pamela which spurs a flashback to the traumatic events of 1974 and he snaps killing the co-worker by strangling him with xmas lights declaring him "Naughty" and also stabbing Pamela with a box cutter. Now it's Christmas Eve and the death of his mother and father, the years of abuse at the hands of Mother Superior and his twisted sense of punishment all come to the forefront and now there's a psycho Santa on the loose and no one is safe. Billy continues his spree of punishing the naughty until he finds his way back to the orphanage to punish Mother Superior. The film's ends with Billy's younger brother Ricky looking upon the dead brother and uttering the "Naughty" thereby setting up the sequel. 

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is a fun, sleazy slasher with some decent kills, perhaps the most elaborate features 80's scream queen Linnea Quigley (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) being impaled through the abdomen on deer antlers which was just a very cool kill. There's also a memorable decapitating of a bully  on a sled, his headless body continuing down the hill on the sled and his severed head rolling down after a few moments later, fun stuff. 

The acting here is pretty terrible through and through and the film's cinematography and editing are workmanlike, it's not exactly the best looking film you will ever see but as early 80's slashers go this is fun stuff, just keep in mind there's some real pacing issues and large swaths of screen time where nothing much of note is happening or is just happening for far too long. Despite the notorious controversy the film is petty tame by even 80's slasher standards of the day but apparently the idea of Santa with an ax killing the naughty was pretty offensive in '84, surely there were more than a few upset kids watching these trailers on TV which I think is just hilarious. The idea of a killer Santa was not exactly new at the time, it was done 12 years prior with the "All Through the House" Segment of the horror Amicus horror anthology film TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) starring Joan Collins. 

Special Features: 
- Audio Interview with Director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. (25:39)
- Poster and Still Gallery

- Santa’s Stocking of Outrage (Screen Text) 

Not surprisingly the sequel picks up some years after the original film as Billy's younger brother Ricky (Eric Freeman) is committed to an asylum while awaiting trial for several murders. Apparently the traumatic experiences at the orphanage and his super-human recollection of his parents death as an infant fucked him up, too. Psychiatrist Dr. Henry Bloom (James L. Newman) is interviewing Ricky and through this device we get numerous flashbacks to nearly every scene from the first film as he explains the traumatic events of '74, the orphanage and Billy's psycho-Santa killing spree. Heads up, seriously more  than half of this film is just a re-edit of the first film and oddly enough I think it works better than the original film by excising the filler stuff that slowed it down. 

After all the flashbacks we get to Ricky's own story and his life after Billy's death, his adoption by a sweet couple. We get a super 8mm montage of Ricky's happy new life and all seems great. However, his traumatic childhood has left him with a few psychological scars and a phobia of nuns. The death of his foster father for some reason spurs his own killing spree punishing those who've been naughty, including a young couple fornicating a wooded clearing which induces a flashback to his mother's assault - which is really odd as he was an infant and there's just no way he could remember it. Regardless, he flips his wig and repeatedly runs over the man with his own Jeep until he is nothing but a grease stain in the grass. Another memorable kill comes when Ricky happens upon a loan shark strong arming someone in the alleyway, he steps in and runs the umbrella right through his abdomen which opens comically, this film is definitely more comical than the first and I am not entirely convinced this is done purposefully either, there's some serious filmic ineptness on display here, but it makes for some entertaining viewing, that's for sure. 

Eric Freeman as Ricky is just awful in the best possible way, a jocular meat-head with a stilted line delivery, intensely arched eyebrows and a hilarious maniacal laugh that had me rolling on the floor, his laughter was just the gift that just kept giving throughout the film. 

Ricky falls in love with a woman named Jennifer (Elizabeth Cayton) whom he takes out the theater and guess what they're watching? SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, of course! Things are going swell but a chance encounter with her ex sends him off the deep end.  We get a scene I saw once but for the life of me could not place and as it turns out it's from this psycho-Santa 80's gem, the scene is question features Ricky electrocuting Jenny's ex via battery jumper cables attached to the ex's sunglasses electrocuting him and causing his eyes to burst, let me just say it's not quite a gooey as my 13 year old self remembered but it's still quite a sight. A cop arrives on scene and attempts to apprehend the lunatic but he turns the gun on the officer shooting him through the head, from here he begins a hilarious suburban rampage shooting a neighbor who's putting his trash can  on the corner while comically yelling "It's Garbage Day!", definitely the best line in the film. He continues his killing spree shooting a car which overturns and explodes in a fireball until he is apprehended by police.

Keep in mind this is all being shown through flashback and we now come back to present day and Dr. Bloom lies dead, strangled by his own reel to reel tape, and Ricky is on the loose and his first order of business is to swipe a Santa suit from a Salvation Army Santa and to visit Mother Superior to punish her for what she did to Billy, not quite the end but check this one out for yourself, it's awful and amazing. 

Special Features:  
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Lee Harry, Writer Joseph H. Earle and Actor James Newman
- Trailer (1:57) 16:9
- Poster and Still Gallery
- Screenplay (DVD-ROM) 

Verdict: So awful, so good, so much fun these two psycho-Santa slashers are a scream to watch and while they're definitely lower tier slasher fare I still say this set is a must-buy, a true cult classic of the highest order, a schlock-mas masterpiece. I am of the opinion that you could watch the sequel and skip the first film, trust me you're not missing anything, but since it's a double feature watch 'em both. Get it now before this set goes out of print for a third time and once again is fetching exorbitant prices on eBay. Next up for review is Steven C. Miller's loose remake of this Christmas classic! 3.5 Outta 5 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blu-ray Review: HALLOWEEN 4 - The Return of Michael Myers (1988)


Region: A
Rating: R
Duration: 88 Mins
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 with English, Spanish Subtitles 
Director: Dwight H. Little 
Cast: Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Michael Pataki, Donald Pleasance
Tagline: He Changed the Face of Halloween. Tonight, He's Back

Following the commercial failure of HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)  producer Moutaspha Akkad set out to side-step the third installment of the seminal slasher franchise and set in motion a direct sequel to HALLOWEEN II (1981) with John Carpenter in the directing chair once again, however, things fizzled when producer and director couldn't see eye to eye and the film landed in the lap of upcoming director Dwight D. Little whom had previously directed the action adventure feature BLOODSTONE (1988).

Set ten years after the fiery ending of HALLOWEEN II the film starts of strong with an evocative intro that sets a strong Halloween atmosphere right from the first frame. Michael Myers has lain comatose at the Smith's Grove Sanitarium since the events a decade earlier and is being transferred to another sanitarium without the consult of Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance). It's a stormy night and en route the attendees in the back of the ambulance strike up a conversation about the events a decade prior and reveal that the only surviving member of the family is a young nice Jamie Strode, daughter Michael's sister Laurie who it is revealed died in a car accident. This revelation of course spurs Myers to awaken from his coma and escape after inexplicably pushing his thumb through the forehead of one of the orderlies. We can thank special effects artist Carl Buechler (BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR) who was brought in post production to gore-up the film a bit, which he does quite nicely. The blood-soaked ambulance is discovered the next day turned upside down in a shallow creek, which the authorities believe to be an unfortunate accident spurred by the poor road conditions the night before. 

Enter Donald Pleasance (RAW MEAT) as Dr. Loomis whom is furious when he finds out about the transfer and subsequent escape of Myers, everyone else seems to believe Michael has died in the accident but when no body is recovered Loomis knows he's returning to Haddonfield to finish his work and that young Jamie is in danger. Loomis here is a but unhinged but it's a great performance, Loomis is the heart and soul of the film, this is a bit before Pleasance took it maybe a bit too far in latter sequels but here it's just right. 

Jamie Strode is played by a young  Danielle Harris (HATCHET) who is pretty great considering just how awful the reality of a child character in a slasher film should be, a very sympathetic kid with a good range of emotions. Jamie begins to have frightening visions of Myers, there's some kind of psychic connection between the two, an element that is exploited during the film's final moments. Jamie lives with her adopted family the Caruthers and their daughter Rachel who is left alone with her on Halloween night which does not bode well in this series.

There's a lot to like here, while not on par with Carpenter's original or even the first sequel there's some nice touches, for starters it's got a great Halloween vibe, you totally believe the Fall setting, the atmosphere is spot on and really ads to the proceedings. One of my favorite scenes has Loomis stopping off at a gas station en route to Haddonfield where he encounters Michael's handiwork, a dead mechanic tangled in chain hanging from the ceiling. Loomis nearly shoots Meyers  but he escapes in a tow truck sending the station up in a fiery explosion destroying Loomis's car and leaving him to travel on foot before he's picked-up by a travelling preacher, the doomsayer of sorts, in the film.

After Michael starts his rampage in town a group of locals at the bar form a posse and get a bit trigger happy blasting the wrong guy, a bit later the same posse while transporting Jamie and Rachel to the safety of the next town are taken out one by one by Myeres who's hitched a ride underneath their pick-up CAPE FEAR style, there's a nice gore scene as Meyers rips out the driver's throat. 

Something that just wasn't working for me this time out was the Meyer's mask which changes a bit throughout the film, none of them as effective as the original but nonetheless this is a strong late-80's slasher that at least attempts to maintain the atmosphere and feel of the original film, the introduction of Jamie Strode is a good story arc and we get some cool moments of gore with a shocker ending that is a sweet nod to the original as well. 

Blu-ray: Anchor Bay presents  Halloween 4 in it's original widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1) with a transfer sourced from a nice print. Colors are nicely saturated and black levels and shadow detail are quite nice. Instances of print damage are minor but you do occasionally get some white specks. Overall we get a robust image that's lacking a bit in areas of sharpness but very nice and the film grain is left intact. 

The Blu-ray comes equipped with an English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track with optional English and Spanish subtitles, dialogue, effects and Allan Howarth's score are well-balanced, clean and free of any distortion, not the most robust audio you'll ever hear but adequate

Some of the disc's special features have been carried over from the previous Anchor Bay Special Divimax Edition  including the audio commentary with actress Ellen Cornell and Danielle Harris, the two actresses have some chemistry and it makes for an interesting listen filled with anecdotes, recollections and trivia about working on the set and what went on behind-the-scenes. Also ported over from the DVD is the Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel (18:28) with Jeffrey Landon, Sasha Jenson, Kathleen Kinmont and Danielle Harris whom field questions from convention goers, it's fun stuff even if Harris seems annoyed from time to time as she speaks to her dislike of how HALLOWEEN 7-8 ignores her character altogether, her preference for 4 over 5. Sasha Jenson who's probably best know for his character from Richard Linklatter's 70s stoner comedy DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) even sportingly fields the question if he actually got high on the set of that film. 

In addition to a Trailer (1:36) we get a brand new audio commentary from director Dwight H. Little and author Justin Beahm from the website. It's an entertaining commentary as the director talks about all facets of the production and personal anecdotes, from his own Midwestern roots informing the agrarian introduction of the film which established an aesthetic and mood, the sets and locations, meeting with producer Moustapha Akkad, bringing Donald Pleasance back to the series and working with then child actor Danielle Harris  It's  all around informative track and a great new feature.

Something missing from the disc that was advertised in the early press release are 30 minutes of 
Deleted and Alternate Scenes which was a whopper of a disappointment - not sure what the story there but it's a major fuck-up - I know a lot of fans including myself were miffed that this was absent. It's also disappointing that the audio commentary with writer Alan B. McElroy from the Divimax edition has been excised, too. While the Blu-ray is definitely worth a purchase for the 1080p upgrade in my opinion including all of the previous features with the new commentary and deleted scenes would have made this a no-brainer. It's a good set, but it could have been great, and with these items lacking there's a certain number of folks who just won't bite the apple a second time until they get what they feel is the definitive edition.

Special Features: 
Audio Commentary with Director Dwight H. Little and Author Justin Beahm
-  Audio Commentary with Actors Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris
-  Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel (18:28) 
-  Theatrical Trailer (1:36)

Verdict: HALLOWEEN 4 is a strong late-80's slasher entry that attempts to maintain some of the atmosphere and feel of the original film with some degree of success. The 1080p upgrade is a strong argument for an upgrade as is the director commentary but I am bummed we do not get the half hour of deleted/alternate scenes - that's a damn shame but this is still a decent slasher with some nice gore, suspense and it's a recommend, 3.5 Outta 5