Friday, October 14, 2016

STEPHEN KING COLLECTION (THE DEAD ZONE, SLEEPWALKERS, CHRISTINE, PET SEMATARY) (Blu-ray Review)

STEPHEN KING COLLECTION 4-DISC SET 

Label: Via Vision Entertainment

Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 404 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0, English DTS-HD 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Directors: David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Mick Garris, 
Cast: Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Keith Gordon,  Brian Krause, Alice Krige, Fred Gwynne

The Stephen King Collection contains four of King’s most iconic works adapted to film in one boxed set for the first time and in brilliant HD.


THE DEAD ZONE (1983) 

Duration: 104 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Tom Skerritt, Brooke Adams

David Cronenberg's adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Dead Zone takes place in (where else?) Castle Rock, Maine, where a middle school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is dating fellow teacher Sarah (Brooke Adams). After a night at the carnival he drops Sarah off at home, sweetly rebuffing her invitation to spend the night, saying "some things are worth waiting for". Driving home through a heavy downpour he is involved in an accident and lays in coma for five years, awaking to the news that Sarah has moved on and married since the accident. 


He recovers at the hospital under the care of  Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom), discovering that he now has the "gift" of second sight, foreseeing that a nurse's house is on fire and her daughter is in danger. The panicked nurse runs home and it turns out that Johnny's vision was accurate. Afterward, he becomes a sort of local celebrity weirdo, becoming a recluse to avoid the stares and inquiries of the curious in the small town who begin to fear him. 


Sheriff George Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) approaches Johnny hoping to use his gift to solve a series of grisly killings which have plagued the area for years. Initially he refuses but when the Castle Rock Killer strikes again he comes around, using his gift for good, though it feels more like a curse to Johnny. When he is taken to one of the crime scenes he senses that the killer is actually Deputy Frank Dodd (Nicholas Campbell, The Shape of Things to Come), while attempting to apprehend the murderous deputy Johnny is shot by the suspects mother and the deputy kills himself in a memorable death-by-scissors scene. After the incident Johnny moves to a neighboring city where he is hired by the wealthy Roger Stuart (Anthony Zerbe) to tutor his young son Chris (Simon Craig), who is abnormally shy but takes a liking to Johnny right away. While working for Stuart Johnny meets a charismatic but crooked political candidate named Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen). After shaking hands with the Stillson his second-sight kicks in and Johnny is overcome with an apocalyptic vision of the future, of the politician's rise in power, an ascent that will culminate in a nuclear apocalypse. Now Johnny must decide is he should take matters into his own hands and change the course of the future through whatever means necessary. This is a story that holds up very well, both as a Stephen King story and as an entrancing Cronenberg entry. 


The movie can be seen as making the argument that political assassination is a necessary course of action, which I found very intriguing. I've always found Cronenberg's movies to be a bit on the cold side in regard to warmth and emotion but this one is full of warmth, the chemistry between Walken and Brooke Adams is quite nice, as the former couple rekindle their relationship, fulfilling the promise of things worth waiting for. Christopher Walken is wonderful as usual, a quirky recluse with awkward hair who lives with his dad, wants to be left alone, but whose visions of the future force him to take action, it's great stuff. Martin Sheen (The Believers) is charismatic but ultimately evil senatorial candidate, and Herbert Lom (Mark of the Devil) is quite good as Dr. Sam Weizak. There is a wonderful scene of he and Johnny speaking about the morality of going back in time and killing Adolf Hitler, a conversation which sends Johnny on his assassination quest, that is so well handled by both actors. Lom is a powerhouse who many will remember as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus from the Pink Panther Movies, others will recognize him from a string of low-budget horror and exploitation movies from the 70s, he's a welcome addition to the cast here. Brooke Adams (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) always exudes a small town charm with a sweet smile and a soft spot for Walken, whose path seems destined to cross with that of Johnny, she makes for a wonderful love interest. 


The movie is an odd one in the Cronenberg canon, a movie I do not feel is truly recognized as either a top-notch Cronenberg entry nor for being one of the best of the Stephen King adaptations. The Dead Zone is an enthralling watch, accentuated by a wonderful Michael Kamen score and a bittersweet final note. I do hope this Blu-ray earns the underrated flick some much deserved love from those who might have overlooked this David Cronenberg/Stephen King gem. 


The Dead Zone Special Features:

- Audio Commentary from screenplay writer Stephen Jones and Film Critic Kim Newman
- Memories from The Dead Zone (12 Mins) with 
- The Look of The Dead Zone (9 Mins) 
- Visions and Horror from The Dead Zone (10 Mins) 
- The Politics of The Dead Zone (12 Mins) 
- Original Trailer (2 Mins) HD 

CHRISTINE (1983)

Duration: 110 Minutes
Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Blossom

Christine (1983) has brought to mind the movie Burnt Offerings (1976), in that Dan Curtis classic an old house possesses and consumes an family, particularly the matriarch played by the wild-eyed Karen Black, the formerly decrepit house rebuilding itself one shingle at a time, at one point literally shedding it's skin in an act of rebirth. That's very much what we have with John Carpenter's Christine. Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon, Dressed to Kill) is a classic nerd complete with thick-rimmed glasses with a spot of tape on the bridge. One day while driving around with his best friend Dennis (John Stockwell) he spots the rusting carcass of a '58 Plymouth Fury for sale. The owner George LeBay (Roberts Blossom) sells the rusted deathtrap to Arnie for a whopping $250, Dennis tries to dissuade Arnie but the nerd is oddly drawn to the car. As a teen Arnie wants a sweet car of his own, but there's something more to it than just wanting a sweet ride, he's seduced by the car almost immediately. LeBay reveals the name of the car as Christine and tells the story of his departed brother's tragic devotion to her. Blossom is fantastic as the creepy coot,wearing a weird back brace, coming off as a semi-crazed lunatic. Christine certainly has no shortage of characters, from Harry Dean Stanton's Det. Rudy Junkins to Arnie's strict mother played by 70's TV actress Christine Belford. The most menacing character is the switchblade wielding Buddy Repperton who taunts the awkward Arnie along with his cohorts Moochie, Richie and Don. Repperton comes off as a more vicious version of Travolta's character from Brian De Palma's Carrie, Arnie begins to refer to this foursome as "the shitters", a term that old man LeBay used earlier in the film. 

When Arnie arrives home with the wreck his mother refuses to allow the car in the family driveway, forcing Arnie to drive the decrepit car to a do-it-yourself garage where we meet the cantankerous proprietor Will Darnell (Robert Prosky, Gremlins 2: The New Batch). Darnell is jowled curmudgeon who upon seeing the car pull into the garage tells Dennis "Kiddo, you sold him that piece of shit, you oughta be fuckin' ashamed of yourself" to which he responds that he tried to talk him out of it. Darnell responds "You shoulda' tried harder".
Only Arnie seems to see what inner beauty the wreck might hold and sets about restoring Christine to her original condition, salvaging parts from wrecking yard. As the restoration progresses Arnie is all-consumed by the car, running his hands over her body as if they were the dangerous curves of a woman. Seemingly overnight his confidence grows, his eyesight mysteriously improves and his style of dress changes. He begins to look the part of a 50s greaser, listening exclusively to 50's music and he begins to date a new girl at school, the very pretty Leigh (Alexandra Paul, Dragnet). 


Consumed by Christine Arnie distances himself from his former best friend Dennis and his relationship with the parents is strained, devolving into nightly spates of vulgarity. At one point he wraps his hands around his father's neck, this is not the Arnie we use to know, the once dweeby nerd has become something of an anti-social asshole to be honest. Concerned for his friend Dennis returns to the home of LeBay in search of answers and the creepy codger reveals that his brother Roland, his wife and even their young daughter all died in the car.


While at the drive-in with Leigh the car reveals it's jealousy, after an intense make-out session Leigh chokes on her cheeseburger, the doors lock preventing Arnie from helping her, the dashboard lights up with an unearthly glow,  it's great stuff. That same night Repperton and the band of teen thugs visit Darnell's garage and reek some destruction upon Christine, they completely ruin her. It's the I Spit on Your Grave (1978) of car destruction, she's utterly destroyed. Windows are busted, the body is smashed, the vinyl seats are slashed and adding insult to injury Moochie leaves a steaming turd on the dashboard. Arnie freaks out over the rape of Christine, he returns to that night to restore Christine's spoiled beauty. However, the vehicle reveals to him that it can restore itself , Arnie steps back from the car and says "okay, show me" to the cue of a brilliant John Carpenter synth score, the headlights flicker to life with some great lens flare and with a stroke of special effects magic the car restores itself to mint condition.

At this point we know 100% that something supernatural is happening, if we hadn't already, before this you could maybe assume the former tragedies were unfortunate coincidence, but from here on out there can be little doubt, Christine and Arnie are intrinsically joined by some malevolent force and neither will sit idly by and forget about the insult perpetrated upon her by Repperton and his crew.The first of the shitters to die is Moochie whom is chased down an alleyway, he takes refuge in the narrow relief of a loading dock too slim for Christine to traverse but the car forces its way in, wheels sending up plumes of white smoke, sparks flying as she squeezes through the passageway peeling back her side panels to crush the young man who shit upon her dashboard. 


Later Christine gives chase to Buddy, Richie and Don who she catches up to in sweet Buddy's '67 Camaro. The chase culminates at a service station with the teens fleeing the car for the safety of the garage just as the vengeful car spears the camaro, crushing it, pushing it inside the garage and crushing Richie, at the same time rupturing a fuel tank that sends the entire station up in a fireball incinerating Don. Outside Buddy witnesses the inferno as Christine emerges engulfed in flames. what ensues is a haunting scene as the fiery '58 Fury runs Buddy down leaving behind his burning corpse. The car returns to Darnell's garage where Will witnesses the charred car return to it's bay, grabbing his shotgun to investigate the car which claims yet another victim as the curmudgeon is crushed to death behind the steering wheel. With the shitters now dead the focus of the movie is now on Leigh and Dennis whom are no longer willing to stand by and let Christine consume their friend Arnie. The final showdown happens at Darnell's garage and ends with Arnie fatally impaled with a shard of glass, with his dying breath he gently caresses Christine's chrome grill one last time.


Christine is a classic slice of American horror from the mind of Stephen King and brought  to the screen by John Carpenter, who brings some serious visual muscle to the movie. The movie has a fantastic John Carpenter synth score plus some top notch rock tunes from Little Richard, Richie Valens, The Rolling Stones and George Thorogood and The Destroyers. 


Christine Special Features: 

- Audio Commentary with Filmmakers John Carpenter and Keith Gordon with Optional Commentary Subtitles 
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes (25 Mins)
- Ignition (12 Mins) HD 
- Fast and Furious (29 Mins) HD 
- Finish Line (7 Mins)

A classic piece of Americana and an effective slice of r-rated teen horror, Christine is an underrated John Carpenter entry, one that's taken for granted after years of cable channel reruns. I think maybe it gets lumped in with many of the more mediocre Stephen King adaptations we've seen throughout the years but one deserving of celebration. It'd been a few years since I last watched the film and it's surprising how well it's held up these past thirty years, one hell of a haunted car ride.


SLEEPWALKERS (1992)

Duration: 89 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Directors: Mick Garris, 
Cast: Brian Krause, Alice Krige   

When hunky teenager Charles Brady (Brian Krause) and his weirdo mom Mary (Alice Krige, Ghost story) arrive in smalltown Indiana the local girls begin to swoon right away, especially young Tanya (Mädchen Amick, Twin Peaks). What no one can know is that the mother/son are centuries old shape-shifters with origins dating back to ancient Egypt. Known as "sleepwalkers" they can change into werecats of sorts, who prey on young virgins and steal their life force, they're basically energy vampires. 

Directed by Mick Garris from a screenplay penned by Stephen King the movie is a odd early 90s take on vampire lore with our energy vampires showing a few quirky supernatural powers, aside from the lifeforce draining and shape-shifting abilities they can also make themselves invisible, something they call "dimming". The movie showcases and uneven mix of teen comedy and 80s type horror gimmicks, along with some unfortunate digital morphing special effects that look awful, though I do like the design of the werecat-type vamps. 

Krause and Krige make for a twisted mom and son combo, with an incestuous love between them, the teen must procure virgins to drain for his mother to live, Krige plays the character to the nth degree, like a drug addict jonesing for a fix and trying ti scratch the mother-son itch. Problem is that Charles is sort of falling for young Tanta which puts his mom on the edge. Also, local cop Andy Simps (Dan Martin) and pervy highschool teacher Mr. Fallows (Glenn Shadix) each suspect something is off about the new kid at school, though both meet with gruesome deaths, and the gore is pretty decent in this one, even if some of the make-ups look rubbery from time to time, I will always accept rubbery over digital, in fact the worst offender here are the awful digital morphing stuff, which have not aged well. 

Mick Garris called in favors from his Master of Horror friends with loads of director cameos including brief appearances from  John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Joe Dante (Gremlins) and even Stephen King himself. This was a staple of 90s cable when I was in high school and I always found myself watching it over and over again, though more out of familiarity that out of any sense of true joy, and it still feels that way, a perfectly watchable 90s horror entry, nothing great but another fun Stephen King adaptation. 

Sleepwalkers Special Features: 

- Trailer (2 Mins) HD 

PET SEMATARY (1992)

Duration: 103 Minutes 
Audio:  English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Directors: Mary Lambert 
Cast: Fred Gwynne, Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby

Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) moves his wife and kids to rural Maine when he is offered a new job as a doctor at the University of Maine. The new place is great, set near a serene lake, the grass is green, the air is fresh and the new neighbor is a welcoming sort of guy. The place does have a few drawbacks, for starters it is situated right next to a busy highway where truckers from the local factory hurl down at an obscene speed, and then there's the spooky old pet cemetery which is in the woods just behind the Creed house.


Elderly neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne, The Munsters) warns Louis about he dangers of the road and how it eats up pets at an alarming rate, which it does in quick order, beginning with the Creed's black cat named Church. Hoping to save Louis' daughter Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) the heartache of losing her pet old man Crandall takes Louis to a place beyond the pet cemetery, a old MicMac Indian burial ground, where he instructs Creed to bury the cat. 

The next day Church returns seemingly from the dead, the doc assumes that the feline was in fact not dead when they buried it, but when the cat begins to act abnormally aggressive he begins to believe in the power of the MicMac burial ground. Later when his young son Gage (Miko Hughes) is also struck by a truck on the highway he remembers the restorative powers of MicMac burial ground, against the wishes of Crandall he exhumes his son and re buries his body in the ancient burial ground with dire consequences. 

This is another one I watched on TV over and over again, unlike Sleepwalkers this one always managed to creep me out. Love the rural main setting, and the kindly old neighbor who plants the seeds of destruction which will undo both he and the Creed family. Miko Hughes is one of the creepiest kids, his turn as the reanimated son is the stuff of nightmares, when he dispatches Crandall with a scalpel, the scene of him crawling out from beneath a bed, laughing eerily, slicing through his Achilles, ooh, always makes me jump, this is good stuff.

I think Midkiff is a bit too restrained in his role as the dad, when he loses his son and weird shit turns deadly his pulse rate never seems to change, but he is serviceable. There are also a few other nice touches that keep this one creepy, a character named  Victor Pascow is killed on the road while jogging early on, Creed is haunted by his spectre from early on, warning Creed that the ground beyond the pet cemetery is "sour" and to avoid it, which he ignores once his son passes on. His wife also is haunted by visions of her deceased sister Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek) who passed on years earlier from spinal meningitis, the flashback scenes her are nightmarish, her deformed body unnaturally twisted, driven insane by her illness. 

I found the movie effecting and scary as a teen but now as a father I find it even more disturbing, the themes of loss and grief really hit home with me and linger. The lengths to which this grieving father will go to bring back the wholeness of his family despite what would seem to be are clear warning signs that no good can come of it it stunning, and the ending always has me shouting at the screen, don't do it!

Pet Sematary Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary by Director Mary Lambert
- Stephen King Territory (13 Mins) 
- The Characters (13 Mins) 
- Filming the Horror (10 Mins) 

Audio/Video: The Stephen King Collection arrives on Blu-ray from Australia's Via Vision Entertainment spread across four discs. Via Vision have previously issued both The Dead Zone and Sleepwalkers on Blu-ray as stand alone releases, with the former also being found as part of their 3-disc Cronenberg Collection release, in fact the Dead Zone disc on this set is lifted straight from the Cronenberg Collection With the same markings. Christine and Pet Sematary seem to be exclusive to this 4-disc collection. The set comes housed in a four-disc blue keepcase with a slipcover. The 1080p HD transfers are solid, the image of each is crisp and nicely detailed. Three of the movies have English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround audio tracks with optional English subtitles, while Sleepwalkers comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo track, which sounds just fine. 

All four films carry over all the extras from their North American counterparts which is fantastic, with the added benefit that The Dead Zone has yet to receive a North American Blu-ray release, and this one carries over all the extras from the special edition DVD. The 4-disc set is advertised as region B locked but I can confirm that this is playable on both of my Region A players without any issues whatsoever. Via Vision entertainment have put together a great collection of movie from the mind of Stephen King, while three of these have proper North American releases the fact that this includes The Dead Zone in HD makes this is a desirable set worth looking into. 

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