Monday, October 4, 2010

Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!

FRINGE SEASON 2 (2010)– Blu-ray & DVD review

Created by: J. J. Abrams
Staring: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble

The second season of this very cool sci-fi show starts off right where it left off last year. Female FBI investigator Olivia, who seems to put the “special” in Special Agent as she keeps manifesting strange abilities, was whisked away to an alternate dimension to speak with Mr. Spock (not really, but sort of). Back on earth, that is our earth, her partners were looking for her but having very little luck. Dr. Walter Bishop, the very model of a mad scientist, albeit a more well meaning one…usually, and his son and often keeper, since dear old dad is quite demented, Peter are her two partners. That is partners, and perhaps something more, for both good and ill. Well just as suddenly as she vanished, Olivia is back on our side of the very thin barrier between worlds. While at first she remembers nothing, there’s no time for rest or recovery as she is being hunted by murderous shape shifters from the other side. Then there are the many weird mysteries that our own world can give birth to and so, with the preverbial “bang”, the second season starts off.

FRINGE is a slightly updated and altered take on X-FILES formula, which in turn was mutation of the old KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER show, but I digress. The difference with this TV show is that it’s all about the science. No matter how weird the story gets, people become human bombs, killer dreams, and let’s not forget the honest to badness monsters, all have scientific reasons. Sure, sometimes those reasons are completely unbelievable, but they are at least in the realm of possibility. In addition to that one uniquely cool factor, the characters are all exceptionally well developed and acted like very few shows bother to do. Moreover, the characters have flaws and secrets that the show is doing a great job revealing over the course of this season. Want more reasons to watch this show? Well then there are the individual episodes that can be really, really creepy. One of my favorites in Season 2 is called “Johari Window” is about a small little town with a horrible secret it’s willing to kill to keep. That one episode alone was as good as anything the X-FILES ever did and much better than any of the recent horror movies Hollywood gives us. There are other great episodes, not to mention a great cliffhanger at this season’s end, but I’ll leave that for you to discover for yourself. Trust me, you’ll want to see this show and thankfully WARNER BROTHERS gives you two great options to do so.

Unlike what many companies have been doing lately, WB has put out both the DVD and the BD with the exact same extras. That makes me very happy. Also, since there are actually a good amount of extras presented here when so many other TV shows come out on disc with no thrills at all (yes I’m looking at you, any of the DEXTER DVDs), that also puts a smile on my face. There are commentaries for four select episodes by the cast and creators, a gag reel, unaired (read as “deleted”) scenes, a short featurette on the props and special effects from the show and a thirty minuet doc on the mythology of the show. While not extras heavy, it was a nice mix of goodies and something that all TV shows should do when making the leap to home video.

FRINGE fans rejoice, Season 2 continues to advance the story and mystery, the spooky science is still in full swing, and there’s plenty of human drama as well as we learn at last the true nature of Dr. Bishop and Peter’s relationship. A great season for a great series, this one is a must buy.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)– Blu-ray review

Directors: Daniel Myrick & Ed Sanchez
Stars: Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard

Another one of the horror titles Lionsgate is re-releasing for Halloween on October 5th, this title is well known to any horror fan worth a damn. Some love it, some hate it, very few are indifferent towards it, but does it really need to be out on Blu-ray? I mean, it was purposely made low tech to give it a feel of realism, and honestly, to make it on a shoestring budget, so with just black and white film and hand held video to see, does up converting to high-def really add anything to the quality? I mean, if you dig this movie then chances are good you already own it on DVD, so should you pluck down more bucks to get it again on Blu-ray? That is the question.

Do I really have to restate the story of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT? I mean, you’re on a website all about horror, are you really telling me you’ve never seen this movie? Well just in case you haven’t, I’ll give you the “I Love the 90s” condensed version. Three film students go out into the woods to shoot a documentary on a local legend of a ghostly witch that haunts the woods of a tiny town in New England. The three quickly become lost and from the start of the movie we’re told that they are never found, so that all we’re left with is the video and film they were shooting for their documentary and of themselves making the doc. For the most part, THE BLAIR WITCH is just three young people getting scared at noises they hear off screen and constantly swearing at each other, however the performances are strong, the back story was handled masterfully, and it has great and haunting ending. Well, at least I think it’s great, some people hate it. You will like this movie based on your suspension of disbelief and if you can, at least partially, believe that the story you’re witnessing is real, something the filmmakers went to great lengths to play up. That is something that TBWP does better than almost any other film ever made, but it’s also one of the reasons some people hate it. Some viewers out there bought the back story hook, line, and sinker and when they learned that it was all just a movie (oops, spoilers) they kind of felt that they were lied to or ripped off and they never forgave the film for that. Personally, I think that’s a great testament to the movie’s effectiveness. You will also like this movie depending upon how much emotion you invest in the three characters, if you can stomach the first-person, shaky-cam style it is shot in (I know two people personally that get physically ill at these types of movies), and if you believe that sometimes the scariest things are the one you can’t see. If you’re expecting blood, gore, monsters, or special effects of any kind then you will be disappointed.

That said, is the Blu-ray worth getting? Well if you don’t already own the movie then yes, but if you already have the DVD then no, not really. Usually you’ll upgrade from DVD to BD if the video is greatly enhanced or there’s a whole new passel of extras on the new edition. This Blu-ray offers neither. There is simply not much you can do to polish the film quality when the movie was shot on hand held video cameras. Things may look the slightest bit better here than on the DVD, but such improvements are minor at best. As far as extras go, the good news is that the BD has all the extras that the previous DVD had, including the very cool 45 minuet long pseudo-documentary, “Curse of the Blair Witch” which was every bit as good as the actual film it was made to promote. The bad news is that it has not one new feature to entice fans to buy this one again. All in all this is a great movie, one that I highly recommend to any horror fan, but the Blu-ray doesn’t offer any reason for you to upgrade if you already own the DVD.

HIGH TENSION (2003)– Blu-ray review

Director: Alexandre Aja
Stars: Cecile De France, Maiween, Philippe Nahon

If you’ve never seen this amazing French fright flick, the movie that seemed to start the craze of over the top violent, gory, and most importantly good French horror films, then you have been missing out. When you look at the utter crap that Hollywood keeps putting out as “horror” films and then you watch this, it will leave you scratching your head and probably a little angry if you’re a true horrorhead. However thankfully there are still people in the world that can make a decent fright film and thanks to this modern Global Marketplace, people anywhere can enjoy them easily. And trust me here folk, you will want to see this movie if you haven’t. But what if you’re already well versed in all things HIGH TENSION and already own the DVD, does this Blu-ray offer us anything new? Well let’s find out.

I’m not going to say too much about this movie, other than you should definitely see it. Yeah, this is one flick you should experience first had with as little spoilage as possible. The quick and dirty of the story is this; two young girls go to a farm house to visit with one of the girl’s parents. A very sick man shows up, does some incredibly sick things and takes one of the girls away with him while the other one remains hidden. But that girl abandons her safety to follow the maniac and rescue her friend. Along the way the film really earns its name as the tension continues to get ratcheted up and up until the very end with a very great, if somewhat controversial conclusion. Oh, and I feel that I should say a word of warning that this movie is unflinching in it’s brutality and bloodletting, so if you are one of the more gentle fright fans out there, you might want to enter this film with caution.

As for this new BD release the good news is that it’s got all the extras from the previous DVD edition and there’s quite a few there from commentaries to behind the scenes and everything in between. The bad news is that it adds nothing new to the edition. While that is a missed opportunity, the most important thing is that the film looks and sounds great in high def. So if you already have this movie on DVD, you will have to decide if having a better picture to look at is worth the reinvestment to upgrade. If you don’t already have this movie in your library, then shame on you, but moreover this is easily the version to get.

Lionsgate will be releasing this Blu-ray as part of their big push for Halloween this year on October 5th. I highly recommend you getting it so you can experience some HIGH TENSION for yourself.


Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum

Has any single film been remade more than this one? Really, how many movies about pod people are out there now? I can come up with four off the top of my head and I could easily be missing a few. Whatever, this one, the first remake of the 50’s original sci-fi paranoia classic, shot in a era (the 70s) when remakes were actually made thoughtfully, skillfully and with great respect for the source material (wow, imagine that) is easily the best. In many ways I like this movie as much, or more, than the original and that’s saying something. So how is this latest, and first Blu-ray, release of this seminal sci-fi flavored, truly horrifying film? Well make sure you don’t fall asleep, keep your eyes open for pods, and let’s dive into this movie together.

The story is as classic as they come; aliens are among us, slowly taking over people one by one and replacing them with perfect doubles. They could be anyone, your friends, your family, and there’s no way of knowing. Worse yet, they’re inescapable as they replace you when you sleep and everyone needs to sleep sometime. While in the 50s the story was a parable about the encroaching evils of Communism, in this movie it plays out more like a dark take on the “I’m ok, you’re ok” psychobabble 70s. If the excellent story and great direction weren’t enough, the film is populated with fine actors that were either stars at the time or soon would be. Furthermore it is chockfull of great suspense moments, one truly great WTF scene involving an old man and his dog, a cool cameo that’s a blast from the past, and one of the most memorable endings in all of cinema. I love this movie and I really can’t think of a thing wrong with it so let’s move on to the nuts and bolts that come with this BD, DVD combo platter.

Extras include a featurette where stars remember their experiences making the movie, another on the special effects, yet another on the sound effects, and a fourth all about the cinematography. One odd bit that left me scratching my head was the fact that there is a director’s commentary on the DVD but not on the Blu-ray. Really? Would it have cost so much to put it on both discs? That questionable exclusion aside, this new edition of this classic is a worthy addition to your home library just like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is a movie that should be seen by all, horrorhead and run of the mill moviegoer alike.

After a shaky start this season with their new Blu-ray, DVD combos, 20th Century Fox hits a homerun with this disc. I can easily recommend this disc to anyone who wants to watch a great movie. Is that you?

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)– Blu-ray review

Director: Dan O’Bannon
Stars: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa

About a month ago I was so happy when I got the first BD edition of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but then I opened it up and I hated it. The movie was still great, and it always will be, but that Blu-ray was the barest of bare bones releases. For a film as wonderful and influential as ESCAPE (was I the only one that noticed the ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK nod in the new Robert Rodriguez flick, MACHETE?) that’s inexcusable, but what made it all the worse was that there already was a DVD fully loaded with extras. Why weren’t those extras carried over? I don’t know, but when I got this new Blu-ray of another great horror film, also in the same style and by the same company (20th Century Fox), I was all prepared to be disappointed again.

Well boys and ghouls let me say that I was as surprised by this BD as Kevin Bacon was laying on a bunk at Camp Crystal Lake. Not only was the movie great looking and never sounded better, but this time around they got things right and added a nice collection of bonus features to the package to make all the extra junkies like me happy. More on that in a second, but first let’s talk about the movie.

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is one of the best, funniest, and all around enjoyable zombie flicks of all time. Oh, and let’s not forget about influential. Hey, you know how zombies eat brains? Yeah, that came from this movie. Yep, before this zombies were strictly flesh munchers, but after RETURN, well you go up to any Joe Schmo on the street and ask them, “what do zombies eat” and eight times out of ten they’ll say “brains”. Also, did you think that fast moving zombies started with 28 DAYS LATER or the SAWN OF THE DEAD remake? Well wrong, that also began with this little groovy movie. Not to mention that these ghouls were smart, wise-asses, and nigh indestructible. Yep, no lucky head shots to save the day here. You add up all those things that turned the zombie genre on its head with a great ensemble cast of young punks (literally) and veteran genre actors, toss in some great punk rock, a bunch of great gory gags, and a great silly sense of humor and you have a movie that is the very definition of classic. All horrorheads need to not only see this movie but own this movie so they can watch it over, and over, and over again. Yeah, it’s that good.

Now for those extras. With this release Fox has taken some steps to make up for the abomination that was the ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK Blu-ray. Just like before this release has a BD and a DVD, so no matter what format you have you can enjoy this zombiefest. Additionally there are two audio commentary tracks, a retrospective featurette with interviews from many of the cast, another on the zombie makeup effects, a couple of trailers, and then there’s the really cool stuff. There are two different subtitle streams that allow the zombies to make comments on the film (no, really) that had me laughing more than a few times and there’s also a nice surprise; a pretty decent little documentary called “Decade of Darkness” about some of the classic horror films of the 1980s. I certainly wasn’t expecting that and it was a fun way to spend a half hour or so.

For all these reasons and for the fact that the video on the BD has been enhanced somewhat, I can give this edition a solid A. This is how classic flicks should be treated. Let’s hope 20th Century Fox continues to follow this path when they release their other titles to BD. If so, you can color me one happy horrorhead.


Director: Tom Six
Stars: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura

If you are reading this then you’re on the internet. If you’re on the internet and a fan of weird, freaky fright flicks then chances are you’ve heard about this movie. If you’ve heard about this movie then you’ve already decided if this flick is for you or not. However just in case somehow you haven’t heard about this, for better or worse truly unique film, I’m about to tell you about it. Those with weak stomachs should read on at their own risk.

There has been a lot of fuss about the gross, sick, depraved, nasty, (and I could go on and on) plot and yes, it really is as disturbing as all that, but is this movie more than a one note gross-out flick? Well no, but with a little bit of yes tossed in too. Confused? Let me explain. This film has a novel idea; a crazy German doctor who’s obsessed with creating a human centipede. What’s that, you ask? Well it’s three or more people surgically stitched together ATM. What’s ATM? Well normally I would say look it up on the internet, but not this time. Let’s just say that it stands for A** To Mouth. Get the idea now? So if the idea of seeing that, and all the ickiness that goes along with that, turns your stomach, and really it should, then you can stop reading as this movie is simply not for you. However it you are weirdly intrigued, as I was, then heaven help you and keep reading.

The show begins with two young, attractive American girls on vacation in Germany who get lost and their car breaks down on the clichéd dark and stormy night. It is just their luck to seek aid in at the home of the crazy centipede obsessed doctor. Before you can say “don’t drink the ruffied wine”, the two girls and an unfortunate Japanese man have some un-elective surgery performed on them. When they wake up they have been transformed in a…well you know. What follows is sick, cruel, and nasty on so many levels. The insane surgeon gets off on making his new twelve-legged pet walk around, do tricks, and otherwise fulfill his every demented fantasy. However, he is a good master as he feeds his centipede well. That is, he feed the Japanese man well, as he makes up the head of the centipede. As for the unlucky girls, they just get the…uhm…leftovers.

And pretty much that’s the movie. Sure, there’s a bit more to it than that, but not a whole lot more. One thing that stands out, other than the crazy central idea of the movie, is the manic, scene chewing performance by Dieter Laser as the mad doctor. Dieter with his skeletal visage, to dark dye job, and bulging eyes ratchet up the creep factor far beyond what you would expect from the run of the mill “three people stitched ATM against their will” movie. The other actors aren’t really bad, but with two out of three of them with their mouths full (ick) and the one with a working mouth only speaking Japanese, it’s hard to gauge their acting abilities. Well other than having the ability to cry, beg, and look thoroughly disgusted. So yeah, the whole movie is basically just an excuse to show off something you never thought you’d see and for that reasons alone, HUMAN CENTIPEDE is worth a watch as you are unlikely to ever experience anything else like it, at least until the inevitable sequel.

IFC has treated this movie with a lot more respect than many critics did. The Blu-ray looks great and has a nice collection of special features packed in with it. It has the usual trailers, deleted scenes, poster gallery, a director’s interview, and a very short glimpse of behind the scenes footage. Nice and not so common additions include casting tapes, a look at all the commonplace items used by the Foley artist to make all the disgusting sounds, and an entreating director’s commentary track that was surprisingly more than just him saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again as many do doubt believe he should.

This movie is the definition of “acquired taste” (heh, get it, because there’s poop eating in it). Like SALO, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, or the AUGUST UNDERGROUND films, you’ll have to be able to stomach some really sick stuff just to sit through it, and be pretty sick yourself to enjoy any of it. However, I am pretty sick and I saw this movie with a bunch of my sick friends so we loved it. If you’re sick too, then I can easily recommend it. If you’re not, then stay the hell away from this one.

KING KONG (1933)– Blu-ray review

Director: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot

Ok, I’m not going to give you the plot of KING KONG. Come on, is there anyone on this planet living, dead, or undead that doesn’t know the story to KING KONG? Even if you never saw the movie, you still know the story as it has become such a part of not only American but world culture that everyone over the age of three knows about the big monkey who falls in love with the pretty lady only to take a tumble in New York City. So what you really want to know about this brand new Blu-ray release is how good it looks and what special features are on the disc, and for a movie this classic, they had better be special indeed.

Well, there is good news on both fronts, but first, a little something about the movie that I thought was weird, but cool. It begins with an overture where just music plays for about four minuets. Now I have never seen that in another movie. Even all the times I’ve seen KING KONG before, I’ve never seen that. Now I’m not such a classic cinephile that I know if that kind of thing was common place form movies in the 1930s, but I thought it was neat. As for the picture, it looks great. I mean, it’s not super HD jumping off the screen quality, but from a movie this old were you really expecting that? However I can easily say that this film has never looked this good.

Now for the goodies, and here Warner Brothers really outdid themselves. It is packaged in a digibook format with a 32 page booklet chock full of picture, film history, inside info, and other interesting tidbits. Now for the disc details. There’s a commentary track with visual effects pioneers Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston with interview excerpts scattered through it by Merian C. Cooper (one of the people who wrote the story) and one of the first and best scream queens; Fay Wray. There’s a featurette on Kong creator Cooper about the early days of Kong, there’s test footage of the stop motion effects with commentary by the master of the craft, Harryhausen. Standouts for me was the classic theatrical trailer and a huge, two and a half hour long, seven part documentary on RKO, the movie company that brought out KING KONG and the whole world changing event the movie was. But hands down the coolest of all the extras was the lost sequence where a few hapless humans, after being shaken off of the log by Kong, have the perfect ending to a really bad day and get munched on by giant spiders, lizards, crabs, and one tentacled thing right out of H.P. Lovecraft.

Ok, here’s the wrap up; you need to have this Blu-ray in your collection. No, not just if you’re into monster movies, or horror flicks, or movies with large apes in them, no if you just plain like movies then this is a must have.

JACOB’S LADDER (1990) – Blu-ray review

Director: Adrian Lyne
Stars: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello

Have you seen this movie? If not, then shame on you. Now I’m not going to get all up on you about it as I know quite a few horror fans out there who haven’t see this wonderful, weird flick and that I really can’t figure out. Maybe it doesn’t have the sexy name like NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and the like and that’s why. I mean, JACOB’S LADDER doesn’t exactly scream “horror movie” but it is one first rate terror movie. So if you’re a horrorhead who’s already seen this flick then congratulation, you’re not only ahead of the creepy curve but you know who good this film is. But if you have yet to see this movie then boy are you in for a treat, provided of coarse that you pick it up. So, let me do you a favor and tell you about it, see if I can’t entice you to give an oddly named movie like this a shot.

Jacob Singer is a postman, a carrying boyfriend, an all around good guy, and a haunted Vietnam vet. And when I say haunted, I mean really haunted, like with demons and everything. Worst yet, well beside the demons and all that, is that Jacob don’t know why. One day everything was normal and the next he has faceless freaks stalking him and his girlfriend getting danced-humped by bat-winged things at the club, that is when she’s not growing a tail. Then there are the jumps to Jacob in Vietnam, and the jumps to him with his wife and child, and the jumps with him with sexy, and perhaps evil, girlfriend. So are all these horrible and strange things that are happening to Jacob real, or is he just completely insane? Well that is the question behind this freaky flick. There is an intriguing mystery that has to do with Jacob’s time in Vietnam, the death of his young son, and without getting too metaphysical, it actually deals with the very nature of life and death. However that’s all I’m going to say about the story as this mystery has to be experienced first hand and I wouldn’t want to ruin that for anyone who hasn’t already seen it.

I will mention that the acting, direction, cinematography are all top notch, as good as any movie in any genre and that’s really important. Films that horrify often get a bad name, they are considered schlocky or lowbrow and sadly that is sometimes for good reasons. Now I love horror movies, even the silly bad ones, but many talented hacks think that all it takes to make a scary movie is some blood and knives. Worse yet are the ones that just do fright flicks to make a quick buck and have no real passion for horror. JACOB’S LADDER shows what could happen when people with skill and vision are allowed to tell the terror tales. Really, this is a great movie making, horror or otherwise.

Lions Gate has given this new edition a few new extras to go along with it. There’s a thirty minuet making of featurette, an audio commentary with the director, some deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer. Unfortunately that’s all the goodies there is on this Blu-ray, so while it’s not a total bare bones disc, it could have had a few more bells and whistles tossed in. Oh well, the important thing is that it’s a great movie with a good looking HD transfer. So based on that alone, consider this one highly recommended.

MANIAC (1980) – Blu-ray review

Director: William Lustig
Stars: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro

To make a play on a British term that I’ve always enjoyed, MANIAC was one of the nastiest “video nasty”, or while it was at the theater I guess that would be “movie nasty”, to ever grace the silver screen. When it came out, just it’s incredibly memorable poster of a killer holding a bloody knife in one hand and a severed woman’s head in the other was enough to shock, sicken, and outrage countless members of the sensitive public. While the outcry seems a bit silly to this jaded horrorhead now, I can attest that years later, and even after watching this film more than a few times, that it still has a cruel, slimy, violent, and yes, nasty feel to it. While other horror movies from those early 80s have become good clean fun, this movie still packs the gory punch it always has. Age has not mellowed this manic one bit. But just in case you haven’t already seen this movie, I’ll give you the ten cent terror tour.

Joe Spinell plays the truly sick in the head Frank Zito to slim-oozing perfection. Unlike many movie maniacs, Frank really seems like the sweating, giggling, screaming, psychotic hallucination having real deal. Poor Frank has a laundry list of mommy issues stemming from years of abuse at her cruel hands. This has given him an intense hatred for woman, one he satisfies with a series of brutal murders all over the streets of New York. Such murders are pulled off in eye-popping gory grandeur thanks to the impressive makeup effects of a young and hungry Tom Savini. Tom also has a memorable cameo as a guy who gets his head pulverized by a double barrel shotgun. It’s 100% pure Savini goodness at his game-changing best. Add to this mix the always lovely Caroline Munro, an unexpected love story, and one hell of a WTF ending and you have a sleazy slasher classic that stands the test of time.

Blue Underground has gone way beyond the call of duty with the amount of extras they packed into this release. So many, in fact, that they wouldn’t all fit onto a single Blu-ray so they included a second disc, this one a DVD, with a ton of goodies on it. There are two audio commentaries, trailers, TV and radio spots, interviews with Caroline Munro, special make-up effects wizard Tom Savini, the movie’s composer, a couple of song writers, and a short promo reel for the never shot MANIAC 2. All that was just on the Blu-ray. The DVD contains a nice big documentary about the troubled and brilliantly creepy Manic himself, Joe Spinell. There are a bunch of featurettes of various lengths on the publicity of MANIAC such as press interviews and Q&A sessions. There are also a section on the controversy the movie kicked off and boy, there was a ton of it. These reviews, TV specials, and news reports all from the 1980s were some of my favorite extras. I laughed more than once when these self appointed guardians of all things moral and just, such as Siskel and Ebert to name but two, absolutely quivering with rage at the thought of this movie corrupting the impressionable and turning men into misogynist rapists by proxy. One wonders what happened to such outrage these days? Did movie goers in general sudden get a whole lot smarter, or did the critics? In any event there is more than seven hours of bonuses in this release, more than enough for any fan of movie extras.

This is easily the best version of MANIAC I have yet to see and it is a must have disc for fans of splatter, horror, grind house, and controversial icky movies of all kinds. As such I can both easily and highly recommend this BD when it comes out on October 26.

SPLICE (2009) – Blu-ray review

Director: Vincenzo Natali
Stars: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac

When this movie came out to theaters I was really upset. Not because it was bad. On the contrary I liked it a lot. No, I was mad because not a lot of people went to see it which amazed the hell out of me. Horror, and this movie is as much a horror movie as it is a sci-fi movie, is always a much loved, and widely enjoyed genre, and all that any horror fan has been saying for years and years, myself included, is “man, I am sick of the remakes, I wish Hollywood would give us something new.” Well with SPLICE they did just that, and yet the mast majority of horrorheads couldn’t be bothered to see and support a new film. Way to reinforce the idea by the moviemaking bean counters that fright fans are idiots that don’t care about good, or new, or fresh takes on things if they are outside of the norm. Really, think about that the next time you’re crying about the latest remake of an 80s classic horror movie or the next insipid SAW sequel. If all you’re willing to eat is crap, don’t be surprised if that’s all your fed.

Ok, that little bit of soapbox grandstanding out of the way, let’s get to the review.

SPLICE is the story of Frankenstein for the modern age with gene splicing taking the place of corpse stitching and lightening. Adrien and Sarah play a superstar scientist couple on the verge of making new life with the DNA of various animals combined with that from a human, only to be blocked by a company looking to avoid the moral outrage that such human cloning would no doubt bring out. So the driven couple do what any good mad scientists would do, they go ahead and do the splicing anyway on their own. The result is a little slug-like thing called Dren who continues to metamorphosis as it grows at an accelerated rate. The slug becomes a two-legged thing, which becomes a odd-looking, sort of, kind of human girl with a tail, to a more human looking, oddly hot young bald woman also with a tail and a few other…added accessories.

All of the Frankenstein tropes are brought out for this movie. The question of who is the monster, the mad scientist or the thing he (in this case, they) created is the foremost theme, but seeing the world through new, alien eyes, what makes something human, the nature of various desires, and other familiar topics are covered, but thankfully they are handled well. Additionally, both Brody and Polley do fine acting jobs and the direction by Vincenzo Natali of CUBE fame is also well done so watching this movie is never a chore. Wish I could say that about more films. Also the CGI is top notch and in a movie that relies so heavily on computer generated images, especially early on when Dren is more critter than hot cutie, that is vital.

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray that we are given of this pretty darn good movie was treated with the same respect by Warner Brothers as the film was by horror fans when it was in the theaters. There is only one special feature and that’s a 35 minuet behind the scenes/making of featurette. There’s not even a trailer. While I really dug this sci-fi flavored thriller I do have to as WB what the hell were they thinking releasing such a bare bones disc.

Despite this BD being as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, the most important part of it, the actual film, is reason alone for getting this movie. Especially if you didn’t go see it at the show. Do yourself a favor and give something new a try. Who knows, you just might like it.

NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010) – Blu-ray review

Director: Samuel Bayer
Stars: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara

Yes, another remake of a classic horror move, however I am not like some (most?) old school horrorheads who dismiss out of hand any remake of the fright flicks I grew up loving. While I would much rather see Hollywood bring out new horror films instead of continuing the endless remake express, I do go into each of them with an open mind, which is more than I can say for many other horror critics. More than a few internet fright fans had this movie tagged as complete crap months before it was ever released and after watching it, giving them the benefit of a doubt that they actually did watch it, all they seemed to do was to cut and pace the bile they had already been spewing about it and called it a review. Sorry but blatant, bind, fanboy-ism and pissing all over something just for the sake of pissing all over it always puts me in a foul mood. I mean really, the three big complaints that I heard about this movie before, during, and after it’s release was “Waaaa, they dare remake a movie I loved from my childhood”, followed quickly by “Waaaa, Robert Englund isn’t Freddy Kruger so it’s going to suck”, and the always present, “Waaaa, Michael Bay produced it and he is the spawn of Satan.” Wow, way to give a film a chance, guys.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to champion this latest remake. Far from it, and in fact if you ask me if this movie is better, or even just as good as the original, I will have to say no. Perhaps even hell no. That said, it’s not completely horrible as there are a lot of good things in it, but there’s a lot more that just plain don’t work and a few that are truly horrible. But I would suggest trying to put the internet trolls out of your mind, give this movie a shot. I did, and I’m happy I did. So, let me give you my two cents on this flick. I mean, that kind of is my job and all.

The remake is faithful in the basics of the story; there was a creepy named Freddy who did bad things to children so the parents of the kids burned him all up. Unfortunately that just made him really mad and some years later he’s back stalking the dreams of the children of those same vigilante parents. So ok, faithfulness is a good thing, but one of the things that I didn’t like about this movie are the scenes taken from the original that were redone here basically shot for shot. Way to show off zero creativity, filmmakers. Another thing that I absolutely hated in this outing is the over reliance of horrible looking CGI effects, especially if they are completely not needed. One of the scenes they redid was the famous one where Freddy starts coming out of the wall over the bed of a sleeping girl. In the 1984 original this effect was done for about fifty cents with some painted spandex and good lighting. Here they spent a couple thousand on some cheesy looking CGI and look so cartoonish as to break your suspension of disbelief. So what, no one makes spandex anymore? Also, the teens that Freddy is targeting are about as deep as puddles and complex as putting on Velcro shoes. They are cardboard at best and I never once felt anything for them nor cared if they got chopped up into kibble. Contrast that with the original four kids from the first movie, each with their own unique personality, and the differences become jarring.

So is there anything good about this movie, you ask? Again, I would say hell yes and the main reason for that is big bad Freddy himself. While Robert Englund will always be Freddy for me, Jackie Earle Haley did an amazing job making Freddy creepy, nasty, sick, and scary as all hell. Gone are the silly one liners that all but ruined the later NIGHTMARE sequels for me. Well, they’re mostly gone, this Freddy does have a few groan worthy jokes of his own. Also this Freddy with his explicit taste for molesting and torturing little children is far, far, far more icky and evil then Freddy was even in the first movie. And man, that’s saying something because Freddy was never better than he was in Wes Craven’s original movie. While Mr. Haley is easily the best thing about this movie, and worth seeing the film just for him, there are other things worth mentioning. There’s a nice bit of character bait and switch, which I’m sure upset the aforementioned Freddy fanboys to no end, and a bit of a mystery that while didn’t really work for me, I do applaud for trying something new. Oh and the stuff about micro-naps, or little tiny dreams that can hit anywhere, I also kind of dug because you know, the inevitable dread of knowing that sometime, no mater what you do, you’re going to fall asleep, just wasn’t scary enough I guess.

Ok, so I liked the movie on it’s own merits, but how’s the new Blu-ray? Well the video looks amazing, but that’s to be expected. One mark against this release is the lack of an audio commentary track, as I love those. But New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers do make up for that with an extensive “Maniacal Movie Mode” which is a video commentary of sorts that occasionally pop up, picture in picture style, with all sorts of interviews, behind the scenes glimpses, and featurettes while the actual movie is playing. If you don’t like getting your inside info that way, many of the featurettes can be viewed one at a time whenever you want. There is also a stand alone featurette about the reimagining and reinventing of Freddy Kruger that I really liked as it showed how much thought the filmmakers were putting into their version of a classic monster. Lastly there three cut scenes including a an alternate opening and ending.

All in all I’m happy to have this movie in my home library. Sure, most of the time when I go to watch NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET it will be the original, but I will be watching this film again, and again, and again, I have no doubt. That’s more than what I can say for most movies, remakes or not.

MAGIC (1978) – Blu-ray review

Director: Richard Attenborough
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith

If you hate dolls, puppets, and most of all creepy looking ventriloquist dummies, then this movie is not for you. Trust me on this; I’m speaking from personal experience. When I first saw this film many years ago over my aunt and uncle’s house, my far older cousin freaked the hell out. She always had a thing about dummies and dolls and this movie was just too much for her. Now you may think that this film won’t affect you like that, and you could be right about that, but you could also be easily wrong. It is creepy as all hell, not what you think, and a showcase for Anthony Hopkins and why he so richly deserved his Oscar even before he did the farva beans line in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

Mr. Hopkins plays a magician named Corky, a talented man desperate for success and respect from an uncaring audience. Taking a chance he works a foul mouthed dummy into his act and soon he’s on the rise. But is it all too much too soon? Corky, seemingly about to have a nervous breakdown, flees from a TV appearance to the small town of his childhood and back to a woman he loved from a far in high school. Amazingly, the woman remembers the odd man and a romance in rekindled. You would think this would be a good thing, but for Corky the nightmare is only beginning. You see, he’s taking to his dummy, Fats, more and more. Worse yet, the dummy is talking back and doesn’t seem to be listening to the ventriloquist anymore. Soon the roles of puppet master and dummy begin to waver and then the bodies start to pile up. Could this movie be a trip down the old TWILIGHT ZONE path and have the dummy turning deadly, or is it just crazy as hell Corky doing the diabolical deeds? Well honestly that question is sadly answered too quickly and I thought the supernatural mystery could have been played up a bit longer. That said, this film is a first rate psychological thriller and a movie that does an amazing job showing how crazy someone suffering a psychotic break can be. MAGIC is worth seeing for Hopkins performance alone, but thankfully there’s so much more going for this film. All of the actors do great and the direction by Attenborough is top notch. So whether you classify this movie as horror, suspense, thriller, or whatever it is worth a watch.

Now as great as this movie is, the Blu-ray from Dark Sky Films is only so-so. First of all, the video quality isn’t great. True, MAGIC is from the late seventies, but I’ve seen much older films get a much better digital remastering. I can only assume either (A) the master they were using was in horrible condition to begin with, or (B) they just didn’t have the budget to do it right. Whatever the reason, it was a tad disappointing. Other missing bit keeping this disc from getting an A+ is the lack of audio commentary. But all is not completely bare bones on this Blu-ray. There are a couple of interviews with Anthony Hopkins, a make-up test for Ann-Margret, a thirty minuet featurette about the history of ventriloquists, and a few trailers, TV, and radio spots. There is one new extra exclusive to this BD and that’s an interview with author/screenwriter extraordinaire William Goldman. It is quite good, but at only 15 minuets it is also quite short.

Final assessment; MAGIC is a great movie, but if you already own this on DVD there’s not enough polish or new bells and whistles to warrant an upgrade. However if you already don’t own this movie they what are you waiting for? Go out, get this today, and experience some MAGIC for yourself.

2001 MANIACS (2005) – Blu-ray review

Director: Tim Sullivan
Stars: Robert Englund, Lin Shaye, Giuseppe Andrews

Despite its title, this movie actually came out in 2005 and it was one of the few horror flicks that I never saw. Now I had heard about this movie for sure. It was a remake of one of Herschel Gordon Lewis’ grooviest gore flicks from the 1964, stared Robert “Freddy Kruger” Englund, and was co-produced by splatpack poster boy; Eli Roth. Further, it got pretty good praise from horrorheads for being a goofy, gory, and thoroughly fun little film. So when I got the new Blu-ray release of this to review I popped it in straight away. So, was the movie everything that I heard it had been, or was I left disappointed, scratching my head, and wondering what all the fuss had been about? Surprising, the answer was a little bit of both.

The movie changes a few things from the original, but the biggest change I won’t give away as it was pretty good, even if I did see it coming almost from the start. As for the story it centers around three college guys from some northern university going down to Florida for spring break who, along with a few others, make the mistake of following some detour signs that leads them right to a sleepy southern town called Pleasant Valley. There the Yankees meet a whole gaggle of goofy southern stereotypes who entice them to stay for their “Guts & Glory Jubilee” with promises of delicious BBQ and hot sexy with southern belles. Well surprise, surprise, thing’s are want they seem and the visitors start getting bumped off by the locals in a variety of weird, cornball ways.

2001 MANIACS is a widely uneven movie. It goes from silly, to boring you silly, back to being delightfully silly again. For a splatstick flick that offers blood, boobies and very little else, having long stretches of nothing but “character development” (and yes those are ironic quotes) isn’t a good thing. Why? Because the characters only come in two flavors; two dimensional cardboard cutouts or worse yet, completely and thoroughly unlikable in any way, shape or form. The best examples, or would that be worst offenders, of this are the three guys who are the main protagonists. The term “total douchbags” don’t even begin to do justice to the heights of douchbagery these three reach. Really, the only actor in this whole movie that I could stand watching for more than thirty seconds was Robert Englund.

So does this mean that this movie has no redeeming features? Well no, it does have the aforementioned blood and boobies going for it, and it does have a few funny moments that in a movie like this are appropriately off color and a wee bit offensive. There’s a hillbilly that likes his sheep a little too much, a homosexual that gets skewered up the rear, and not forget the “hilarity” hat happens when the black guy and the Asian girl show up. If such things sound offensive to you, then you really shouldn’t be watching a movie like this. I however found the total lack of political correctness refreshing and it honestly seemed that it was done without malice. There are also a few cameos to keep an eye out for, some silly songs to chuckle at, and did I mention sex with sheep? Yeah, a little implied bestiality is always good for a laugh.

If you’re a fan of this movie then you’ll dig this new Blu-ray. The picture quality looks amazing and there are a few neat extras along on the disc for good measure. There’s a director and producer commentary that’s ok, but then there’s another commentary track with the director, Tim Sullivan and star Robert Englund that was not informative but very entertaining. There are some deleted scenes, including the original opening that had John Landis in it, and a nice behind the scenes featurette. In short, nothing new on this BD that wasn’t on the DVD, but if you don’t already own this movie and you’re a fan, or you just want a more improved picture, then this is the version for you.

--Brian M. Sammons