Monday, September 30, 2019

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (2018) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: R
Duration: 153 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Bruno Ganz, Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman

Director Lars Von Trier is no stranger to being a button-pusher, each of his films courting controversy as reliably as most people breath air. His latest knee-jerker The Jack That House Built (2018) stars Matt Dillon (Drugstore Cowboy) as an OCD-afflicted serial killer named Jack, a demented killer who also fancies himself something of an artist. As the film plays along we experience Jack recalling several formative incidents in his life that establish him as a deranged serial killer, which he is telling to a presence known as Verge (Bruno Ganz, The Boys From Brazil), whose role becomes more clear as the film plays along. Jack's story begin in the 70's with him picking up a stranded motorist (Uma Thurman, Kill Bill) who verbally assaults his masculinity. He seems to struggle with what to do with her, before smashing her face in with a carjack. Afterward he takes her body to an warehouse district where he keeps an industrial sized walk-in freezer that he keeps his victims in. 

The next story involves a widow (Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Funny Games) with Jack pretending to be a cop at first, then realizing she's not buying it changing his story to that of someone who can increase the payout of her husband's pension. This is the segment where I caught on this thing is a black comedy, the first kill hinted at it, but the way he goes about making up the story trying to get invited into this woman's home was so funny to me, absolutely ridiculous, and even sillier that she went along with it. 

This is also the segment where his OCD kicks in, and I loved the way they visualize it, and how his compulsion slows him down, and in fact delays him to the point that a cop in the area on an unrelated calls end up questioning him, leading to a rather funny scene of him fleeing the victim's house with her body tied to the back of his van, leaving a miles long trail of blood behind him as the asphalt eats away at her corpse's face! This segment also sets up a weird sort of divination by way of a rainfall that washes away the evidence in a downpour. 

I won't go into all the stories, but I will go into in one more, with Jack taking a woman and her two young boys on a picnic into a remote forest. There he teaches them how to shoot a scoped rife, before shooting both of her children and forcing her to feed one of their corpses pie, before going after her with the expected results. In the aftermath Jack takes the corpse of one of the boys to his industrial freezer and contorts it's faces into a macabre smile, that is disturbing. 

The film seems offers some sort of commentary on Von Trier's own career with a mixed media presentation that used animation and stock footage, in addition to clips from several of his films. Throughout the film Jack and Verge discuss philosophy and art, with Jack making the case for his kills to be works of art in themselves, with continued talk about his desire to build a house, but not finding the right raw materials, which is realized in the final leg of the film in a bizarre and grotesque way. 

Eventually Jack's murders get a bit more brazen and unplanned, and the cops end up storming his industrial freezer, which is where the film really gets strange, with Jack visiting Hell with Verge leading the way! Matt Dillon is absolutely phenomenal here, this is a strange and grotesque film, the way he plays this delightfully demented killer is fantastic, I applaud him for being so game for all of this, at times coming across as a more violent (but not that much more unhinged) variation on his nutso Pat Healy character from the comedy There's Something About Mary.

I didn't find the film scary, but I found it equally repulsive and enthralling, the acts themselves are awful and disgusting, at one point Jack's drawing perforated lines with a red sharpie around the breasts of an unfortunate young woman before following the expected path, with him leaving a fleshy chunk of breast on the windshield of a cop's car, but there's an element of dark humor throughout that while not exactly softening the blow renders bit a bit less shocking to me, but still entertaining and gruesome. I also dig how they go back to his childhood and show the early on-set violence against small animals that hint at things yet to come - in this case a duckling, which for many viewers might be the most reprehensible image in the entire film.     

Audio/Video: The complete and unrated version of The House That Jack Built (2018) arrives on region-free (despite being labeled region B) Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment framed in 2.35:1 widescreen in 1080p HD. the digitally shot films looks excellent, everything crisp and well-defined with good clarity, colors looks natural and the blacks are deep throughout. 

The disc's English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio is solid, dialogue and sounds effects are crisp and clean sounding, the score and soundtrack selections sound great, and the Bruno Ganz character's voice over narration has a wonderful disembodied quality. Unfortunately there are no subtitle options on the disc.

There are also no extras whatsoever, this is as bare as bare-bones gets in 1080p HD, with not even a start-up menu. The single-disc release arrives in an oversized Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the original movie poster with Jack peering out through a blood-spattered sheet of plastic. The reverse side is the same artwork minus the unsightly Australian ratings logo on the front cover, with the disc featuring an excerpt of the same artwork which almost lines up perfectly with the reverse side artwork when it in the disc tray minus the movie logo.

I loved The House That Jack Built (2018), it's a button-pusher that pushed all the right buttons for me, blending the macabre and grotesque with some interesting psychological underpinnings. There's a delightfully demented vein of humor throughout, and on top of all that is a rather brilliant performance from Matt Dillon, and a hilarious final song selection that is the cherry on top of this pitch-black serial killer thriller, highly recommended.      

More Screenshots from the Blu-ray: 

NIGHTWISH (1989) (Unearthed Classics Blu-ray Review)


Label: unearthed Classics
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 92 Minutes
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Stereo 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Bruce R. Cook
Cast: Brian Thompson, Jack Starrett, Robert Tessier, Elizabeth Kaitan, Alisha Das

In the late-80's direct-to-video gem Nightwish (1989) we have parapsychology professor (Jack Starrett, Race with the Devil) conducting strange dream experiments using sensory deprivation techniques on his graduate students; Donna (Elizabeth Kaitan, Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity), Kim (Alisha Das, Firepower), Jack (Clayton Rohner, Destroyer), and Bill (Artur Cybulski, Time Trackers). The experiments at the lab involve the students visualizing their own deaths seemed to have stalled a bit. Not sure why, but the professor moves them into an old house out in the desert, a place known as The Valley of Fear by the local indigenous people. The location is notorious for being the center for strange phenomena, everything from UFO encounters, to otherworldly creatures, satanic rituals and spiritual seances.

The students are driven to the house by a horny, lunkheaded douche-nozzle named Dean (Brian Thompson, Cobra), where the professor begins a series of experiments that seem less centered around death-dreaming than making contact with some spirit or weird supernatural force that resides within the house, with his unorthodox experimentation
resulting in the appearance of green-glowing ectoplasm, and things just get stranger from there, with the teens discovering the professor was previously expelled from an ivy league university after the death of one of his graduate students. I think his dim-witted henchmen Stanley (Robert Tessier, Double Exposure) should have tipped them off as to the professor's maniacal ways long before that revelation though!

The cast is decent enough, with Jack Starrett adding a lot of creepiness to the proceedings as the professor with his oddball delivery and supernatural obsessions. Cuties Elizabeth Kaitan and Alisha Das are about as close to leads as we get I think, with the guys not getting a whole lot to do when it comes down to it. The biggest name here is Brian Thompson (X-Files) who shows up in a small role as the driver, with his best stuff coming by way of his interactions with the properties bizarre caretaker, a strange bit of a man named Wendell (Tom Dugan, Hellraiser: Bloodline).

The film is mighty ambitious for a low-budget, direct-to-video horror, it has a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream exploration that pays of with some reality distorting scenarios, but it is a bit muddled in it's execution, though a cool late-in-the-game twist goes a long way towards explaining the disjointedness of it all. Also helping matters are some surprisingly grotesque special FX courtesy of KNB Effects late in the film, plus some cool set design from Robert Burns (Texas Chainsaw Massacrethat give this direct-to-video gem some cool-looking production values.

Audio/Video: Nightwish (1989) arrives on Blu-ray from Unearthed Films as part of their Unearthed Classics line-up, framing the film in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p HD. Sourced from a new 4K scan of the original film elements the presentation is strong with natural grain intact. It can be a bit soft at times but the colors are overall nicely saturated with pleasing blacks. The source does show some age related film imperfections throughout but this is generally a great looking presentation of the film. 

Audio comes by way of a lossless LPCM 2.0 stereo mix that is crisp and clean, it's not a stunner but it does the job, there are no subtitles. 

The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary with the film's producer Paul White moderated by Stephen Biro. White gets into the financing and distribution for the film, working with the cast and crew, and the film's director Bruce Cook. We also a get a trailer for the film, a selection of Unearthed trailers, plus an image gallery of still and artwork.

The single-disc release comes housed in a sturdy Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, plus a limited edition first-pressing slipcover with atmospheric alternate artwork. Inside there's a 24-page collector's booklet with cast and crew information, production notes and an appreciation by Art Ettinger of Ultra Violence magazine, it's a nice thick booklet packed with info and images. The booklet like the slipcover is limited to the first-run edition of this release. 

Special Features: 

- Audio Commentary with Paul White and Stephen Biro
- Trailer (2 min) 
- Unearthed Trailers: The Dark Side of the Moon (2 min) HD, The Song of Solomon (1 min) HD, The Unnamable (2 min) HD
- Image Gallery (3 min) 
- First print run gets a Limited Edition Alternate Slipcover!
- First print run gets an exclusive detailed booklet on Nightwish

Nightwish (1989) is a fun reality distorting straight-to-video horror gem, a haunted house genre-mash-up with some notably gruesome special FX from KNB. If you're into strange video gems from the late-80's, not unlike Unearthed Classics previous releases of The Unnamable (1988) and The Dark Side of the Moon (1990), this is well-worth checking out.