Thursday, November 4, 2010

Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!

PREDATORS (2010)- BluRay

Director: Nimrod Antal
Stars: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins

The original PREDATOR is a sci-fi action classic if there ever was one, so why the hell would anyone want to remake it? Well that never stopped Hollywood before, but here’s the good news, and something that came as a surprise to me considering the era of remakeitus we currently find ourselves in; this isn’t a remake. No it’s an honest to goodness sequel, one that acknowledges the original film, if ignoring the other movies that had the dreadlocked alien hunters in them. But hey, who can blame them for that? So that one simple fact means I can cut this movie some slack. After all, I grew up in the 80s, so I’m used to crappy sequels (yes I’m looking at you HALLOWEEN 6, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5, JASON GOES TO HELL and so many more) but is this one of those groan inducing sequels? Well even if it is, that’s better than a remake. But let’s find out together if this is a hunt worth taking.

The movie certainly starts off with a bang with our cast waking up in freefall over an alien jungle. After some rough introductions it becomes clear that a group of badass soldiers, mercenaries, convicts and killers have been rounded up and put into the Predator’s game preserve for them to track and kill. Herein lies the first problem I had with this movie; I just didn’t like the characters. Not because they are so cold and killerific. No, it’s because they’re just not written all that well. In the first movie you came to know Arnie’s squad quite well and you could tell they had history together. This time around everyone is a stranger, and such different strangers that they basically get reduced to clichéd cardboard cutouts. There’s the big Russian with a good heart, the silent, mystical Japanese gangster, the tough as nails but caring Latina, the redneck convict, and so on.

The next problem I had came from the CGI. Now to be fair and to give credit where credit is due; a lot, if not most, of the Predator scenes are played “traditionally”. That is with big guys in rubber suits. However a lot of the extra critters, such as the Predators’ hunting hounds and the nonhuman prey the Predators airdropped in to play with look pretty darn bad when on screen. Not horrible, mind you, like in some movies but just plain old run of the mill bad. But that just might be my personal bias showing through. I’m not a fan of CGI, so we’ll just leave it at that and move on.

The last real problem I had was with Adrien Brody’s character. It wasn’t because that he was in the Schwarzenegger role and I disliked him just for that, and it wasn’t because he wasn’t “big enough” like I’ve heard some people say. Really, Adrien had a body in this flick that anyone would kill for and besides, most spec-ops badasses don’t look like professional bodybuilders anyway. No, my gripe was that I didn’t like his forced “I’m a tough guy” act, complete with a way too rough Christian-Bale-as-Batman-like voice. But as bad as that was, it was the sudden 180 his character took at the end that was a bit too whiplash inducing for my taste. I won’t give it away, but you’ll know it when you see it.

However I don’t want you to get the idea that not everything is bad with this movie. Hell no, far from it. It has some nice action scenes, a few good twists and turns, and three big angry Predators. Some of the characters, while not well defined and a bit clichéd, I did like and I’m just sad they weren’t more fully developed. There are also a lot of nice in jokes and nods to the first film. What made such winks work was that they felt like they were done out of love and not just obligatory fan service. Lastly it also introduced some new elements into the Predator mythology that I thought worked, something none of the other Predator movies did after the original. So it was action packed, had cool critters, and was easily the best movie with the Rasta-haired aliens in it since the one where Arnold told someone to “Stick around.” For all those reasons I dug it and I will happily watch it again. For this old curmudgeon, that’s high praise for a new movie.

The Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox is great looking and comes packed with a few neat extras. There is a very entertaining and informative audio commentary by producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal. There’s a 40 minuet, multipart featurette called “Evolution of the Species” that’s the basic behind the scenes deal but with a few nods to the original film. A short featurette called “The Chosen” about the humans picked to play the Predator’s game. There’s a bit from the Fox Movie Channel called “Making a Scene” focusing on the scene when the Predator’s puppies are first introduced. Perhaps the coolest of the extras are some motion comics that act as prequels to the movie and give you some back story on some of the characters and how they came to be picked up by the Predators. A few deleted and extended scenes and the theatrical trailer round out the goodie basket.

PREDATORS is a fun popcorn muncher from the fast freefall start to the final mano-a-alien showdown. It is a worthy sequel to the classic film and once again, thankfully not a remake. I liked this movie and wish all “reboots” would be done with such skill, style, and reverence to the source material. Yep, this is a rare new movie that gets an easy nod of recommendation from me.

MIRRORS 2 (2010)– Blu-ray and DVD review

Director: Victor Garcia
Stars: Nick Stahl, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Christy Romano

The first movie wasn’t a very good film. It was a remake of a somewhat popular South Korean fright flick and had the usually dependable Kiefer Sutherland as the lead. It was helmed by a very talented director, Alexandre Aja, who seemed to have lost his way for a bit before redeeming himself somewhat with the campytastic PIRANHA 3D. Best of all it had an honest to goodness great scene in it with Amy Smart ripping her own jaw off. Unfortunately MIRRORS 2 had none of that going for it. The story has nothing to do with the original movie. The talented by misguided director is replaced by Victor Garcia, the guy Hollywood calls when they want a quick and dirty direct to video sequel such as RETURN TO THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT: BLOOD TRAILS. Macho Kiefer was gone and so-wooden-he-could-be-called-Pinocchio Nick Stahl, and there’s not one memorable scene in all of the 90 minuets of this movie. So does that mean this movie was horrible? Well its sure sounding like it WAs, but let’s find out for sure.

Nick Stahl plays a young man haunted by a traffic accident that killed his girlfriend. His father owns an expensive department store and he convinces his son to come out of his shell a bit by taking a job as the store’s night watchman. Almost immediately the big shots at the store start dying in horrible ways at the hands of their own reflections. You know how most horror films today will have a character looking into the mirror of a medicine cabinet before opening it, then the spooky music will start up and you know that as soon as they closed the door to the cabinet there’s going to be something spooky in the mirror, only when they do there’s nothing there as most moviemakers know what a cliché that is and they’re only messing with your heads. Well this movie doesn’t know that and so it relies on the “spooky thing in the mirror” thing again and again and then some more for good measure. Reflections appear in the mirror when they shouldn’t, they disappear and they move independently of what the person in front of the glass is doing. It is that last strange ability that proves deadly as whatever the reflection does in the mirror happens to person in the real world. If it slashes its own throat then the person it’s a reflection of has his or her throat gashed open. Pretty much that’s all this movie does over and over.

There is a bit of a mystery security guard Nick must solve about a missing girl and why only certain people are dying, but the answer to that question is painfully obvious and the surprise twist is anything but surprising. As for the acting and direction, both are serviceable, if somewhat boring and by the numbers. The special effects are a mixed bag to be sure. Some of the practical gore gags, that is those made with honest to goodness fake blood and guts, look pretty darn good. As for the CGI, well I’m not a computerized effects so maybe I’m just biased, but they didn’t look all that great. No, they’re not LAKE PLACID 3 bad, but they are pretty far removed from good.

While the film may have been mediocre at the best of times, the Blu-ray by 20th Century Fox is surprisingly good. Not only does this package offer both the BD and the DVD but there’s making of featurette and another one on the visual and special effects. There are a few deleted scenes and a kind of neat way to watch the movie “with the woman in the mirror” but it gets old kind of quick. Best of all, on the DVD the Korean movie INTO THE MIRROR that the first film was based on can be found. That was a nice surprise and brings the term “bonus feature” to a whole new level when one of the extras is a complete movie.

MIRRORS 2 is a middle of the road fright flick. It neither excels at entertaining the viewer nor does it disappoint too greatly. Sadly, those are the movies that I dislike the most as a truly horrible movie can sometimes at least be fun in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. This movie is ho-hum from start to finish. So if that sounds like a good time for you then by all means, give this direct to video sequel a shot. If not, then give it a pass.


Director: Kaare Andrews
Stars: Jessica Lowndes, Julianna Gull, Ryan Donowho

Very rarely do I come across a horror movie that I know nothing about, so when it happens I’m usually excited. Surprises in fright flicks are a rarity when you’re as big a horrorhead as I am. Now take that surprise and double it when you factor in the very cool poster/Blu-ray cover of a guy hanging out of a small airplane with a couple of huge tentacles reaching out to grab them. As a rabid fan of H. P. Lovecraft the mind reels with the possibilities such an image could mean. So with high expectations I tore into this new movie. Is this movie the rare hidden gem that should be seen by all, or another of the direct to DVD low budget schlock flicks best left to die in obscurity? Let’s find out.

The movie starts off with a small family flying in a small airplane being piloted by a young woman. After a horrific midair collision with another small plane things jump ahead some years and now that dead pilot’s daughter is a young woman and about to fly four of her friends in her small plane to a concert. One of the passengers is a very strange young man who has a bit of a stalker-like fixation on the pretty pilot. A short take after takeoff the plan tries to fly over a thunderstorm, only to suffer a mechanical failure that causes them to continuously ascend into a rolling mass of black clouds that seem to appear out of nowhere. The pilot and passengers have to figure out a way to fix their plane, which involves some outside the speeding aircraft exploits. It is while they are attempting that bit of daring do that they first notice the huge tentacled thing flying in the black clouds next to them. Soon everyone starts to freak out and for good reason. One passenger is quickly killed, another is a hulking bully, there’s the strange stalker wannabe boyfriend, the pilot with mommy issues, and the fact that after the plane is fixed and they’ve been descending for twenty minuets they have yet to see the ground. Oh yeah, can’t forget the cousin to Cthulhu that seems to be following them. What is the alien creature, where did it come from, and what does it want with the little plane? Sadly, that’s where this film starts to stall out.

Up until the explanations started flying, ALTITUDE was a pretty solid fright film. The acting was better than most independent horror films I’ve seen, even if a few of the characters were one note clichés. The creature was used sparingly and to good effect, also it looked pretty darn cool. The mystery of just what the hell was happening was maintained well. It is only when the answers to all the weirdness start coming that I lost interest and that’s never a good thing. It’s not that the answers were necessarily bad, only that I had seen similar explanations before and have seen them pulled off better. Does that ruin the film? No, but it was a disappointment for sure.

The Blu-ray by Anchor Bay offers a great, crystal clear picture and a few noteworthy special features. There’s a director’s commentary, a couple of brief featurettes, a behind the scenes documentary, and a gallery of concept art. Yeah, nothing to jump up and down about, special feature wise, but not a bare bones disc either. In that way the disc matches the movie on it.

ALTITUDE is not a bad movie, but neither is it outstanding in any way. Perfectly enjoyable in a workmanlike way, I can recommend it to fans of the weird, those who love Lovecraft and would like to see a movie with shades of Cthulhu-ish goodness, or anyone who just want to see something a little different. But if you miss this flight then you won’t have missed much. Consider this a mild recommendation.

ALIEN ANTHOLOGY BOXSET(1979-1997)–Blu-ray review
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Directors: Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Lance Henriksen, Tom Skerritt, Michael Biehn, Charles S. Dutton, Winona Ryder

Put quite simply; this is how all movie collections should be done. This six disc, four film collection is a must have for any movie fan, and by that I do mean anyone that just loves great movies. Well, two great movies, one sort of good and severely underrated movie, and one film best forgotten. However even the thoroughly horrible fourth movie that all but killed the franchise is worth visiting again if for no other reason than to see just how amazing it looks.

Now I know this is a bit strange, starting a review like this when everyone knows you begin a review playing everything close to your chest to keep the reader reading, but this set of Blu-rays is so extensive, with such a mind-blowing amount of extra features that you’re going to need all the time you can spare to get through it. So if you’re a fan of the phallic-headed, acid blooded, face hugging xenomorphs then you can stop reading now. This is the definitive edition of these movies you’ve been waiting for. Nothing else comes close and I can’t imagine anything surpassing it. However, if you want more proof that these discs must be in your home movie library then keep reading, I’ll try my best to convince you.

The first film, ALIEN, broke more ground than a jackhammer when it hit theaters in 1979. Ostensibly a sci-fi flick, it was every bit as terrifying as any movie sporting the “horror” moniker. Essentially a haunted house movie set in space; it redefined both the sci-fi and horror genres and was imitated, or outright ripped off, by countless films for years to come. It also gave the world one of the most iconic, memorable, and unique movie monsters ever dreamt of. Last but not least it had a leading lady that did more than run away, fall down a lot, and shriek at the big nasty. The acting and direction was all cream of the crop and the look of the film was as original as the titular monster. Gone was the so-clean-as-to-be-sterile look of most space operas and in its place was what can best be described as truckers in space. If you want a unique, innovative, scary as hell movie that you’ll remember for many years to come, then ALIEN is that flick.

In 1986 something truly amazing happened. James Cameron, before he became the “king of the world”, made a sequel called ALIENS that was every bit as good as the original but managed to take the movie in a whole new direction. He ably switched the genre gears from horror to high tone action. Gone were large portions of suspense and dread, but in their place were huge doses big gun action and shocks galore. While the first movie had a single creepy crawly, this one had countless critters running through claustrophobic corridors. Now the two movies could not be more different, despite having the same critters in them and Sigourney Weaver reprising her role as Lt. Ripley, yet both are masterworks of their genres. For these two movies alone, this set is worth picking up.

Then came ALIEN 3 and sadly the third time was not the charm. Despite returning to original form with just a single alien and an emphasis on creepy dread over run and gun, there was just something missing from the formula that kept this movie from being a classic. Whatever that thing is, it’s hard to put a finger on it. It’s not a lack of talent from the director as David Fincher has proven time and time again that he’s got talent to spare. It’s not the acting as everyone in this show does more than competent work with Weaver playing a tortured, grieving, and oddly bald Ripley to perfection. She has able costars with Lance Henriksen and Charles S. Dutton. Even the story is pretty good with a canine like alien stalking the dirty halls of a rundown prison planet populated by convicts who have seen the light. Yet with all that said there is some X factor that keeps me from really liking this movie. It could be the truly God awful early CGI effects used for a good portion of the alien scenes. I can only assume that doing so was the cheap way to do things but man, does it really show. However, the more times I see this film the more I warm up to it.

The same cannot be said for ALIEN: RESURRECTION. I do not like it. Not. One. Little. Bit. Least of all for the return of Lt. Ripley. I thought ALIEN 3 gave her a good and proper sendoff, but in the eternal quest for a few dollars more the producers pissed all over that and bribed Sigourney Weaver into playing her most famous role one last time. I guess the idea is you just can’t have a movie with aliens in it with out Ripley. Hmm, you know, after watching the two dreadful ALIEN VS. PREDATOR films, maybe they were right? In any event, this movie takes place 200 years after Lt. Ripley made the ultimate sacrifice to end the alien threat once and for all. Well naturally that didn’t happen, so the big bad military took some of her blood and cloned her in an attempt to get the alien queen nesting inside her. Enter a group of grungy mercenaries, which include Michael Wincott, Ron Perlman with a cutie android played by Winona Ryder. Adding to the “it could have been good but wasn’t” pile is the fact that it was written by Joss Whedon of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER fame, which goes to prove that someone with the goods can still turn out a turd from time to time. This last alien move is a jumbled mess with characters you don’t care about, a plot that meanders all over to avoid the holes in it, a total been there, done that feel, and worse of all a comic-looking alien/human hybrid with mommy issues. However, to be fair, it does look amazing in high-def.

Ok, recap aside, let’s get to brass tacks. There are two main reasons to get this collection and those are how good it looks and how many extras and special features it has. Well the picture quality is, in a single word; amazing. These movies look great and watching them in HD for the first time, I picked up on a ton of things that I never noticed before. Furthermore, the extra scenes in the various special editions have also been buffed up to a high sheen so that the whole thing meshes perfectly.

As for the extras, man where do I start? Each movie has a full length commentary track and each has two versions for you to watch, the original theatrical release and a director’s, or extended cut. The first, second, and fourth films have intros by the directors, I guess Fincher was either too busy or not happy with his ALIEN experience. Then each movie has tons, and tons of behind the scenes, featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes, trailers, seriously you name it and it can be found here and most of it is new to this collection. There’s so much goodies that it takes two extra Blu-rays to hold it all, and Blu-rays hold a hell of a lot. Also, far too many for me to list. There’s over 60 hours of extra content on these discs. Yes, let me repeat that; over 60 hours of extra goodness, but as they say, “That’s not all.” You can watch each movie in a highly interactive and informative Mu-Th-Ur mode that brings up text, audio, and images while you watch. It’s somewhat complicated, but once you get used to it, it can be a lot of fun to play around with.

So this review ends as it began, with me telling you that you need to get this Blu-ray set. Considerate far beyond highly recommended. Consider it a must own.

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)– Blu-ray review

Director: Jim Sharman
Stars: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick

If you are around my age (let’s just call that thirty-something and leave it at that) or older then you should already know if this is a movie for you. You are either part of the cult of Rocky or you’re not. You either get it or you don’t and nothing I can write here will ever change that. So if you’re not a toast-chucking ROCKY fan then go ahead and stop reading right…about…here.

If you’re still with me then I will either assume that you are a fan of this weird little movie or that you’ve never seen it. Perhaps you’re young enough to have only heard of it in passing and you a little curious. Well as Dr. Frank-N-Furter might say, there’s nothing wrong with being a little curious, but if you’re a virgin then your first time with this flick really should be a group affair, as in a theater packed with a bunch of line-reciting maniacs so you can get the full effect. If you’re already been there and done that then the real question of this review pops up and that is; can this movie work at home, on the small screen, without the wacky spectacle that goes along with a midnight viewing of this PICTURE SHOW? Well I’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s get to the basics of this new Blu-ray released to celebrate this movie’s 35th anniversary.

First, the story. Two young lovers (Brad and Janet) fresh from wedding (not theirs) are driving during the typical dark and stormy night when they get a flat tire. Luckily for them there’s a nearby castle with a light on. Going inside to use the phone the couple find a gathering of freaks and oddballs lead by Tim Curry in his most memorable role as the sweet transvestite mad doctor, Frank-N-Furter. These Transylvanians have gathered for a special night when the bad mad doctor is about to unveil his greatest creation; a perfect blond, muscled man named Rocky to help him with his, uh, tension. Will poor Janet and Brad survive this party of cooks, perverts, and aliens with their love, sanity, and good moral fiber intact? Well, most likely not, but at least there will be singing. Lots and lots of singing. Oh, did I forget to mention this movie is a musical with some truly memorable, and truly odd, numbers? Well it is and it is those songs that are the real draw here, otherwise TRHPS is just a very strange movie with very strange people doing very, very strange things.

Wait, let me check that. Sorry but no, the real strength of this movie, and why it’s still alive and loved today by so many is the theater experience. If it wasn’t for that, this film would have been a weird, amusing footnote at best and quickly forgotten. You know, like its sequel, SHOCK TREATMENT was. So if that is the case, how does this movie translate to your home where chances are you won’t watch it with eighty or so weirdoes in full custom, reciting lines, singing, dancing, and throwing stuff at the screen? That has always been the question and one that previous DVD editions have failed to answer adequately. Luckily this Blu-ray goes a long way to solve that transfer problem. How so, you may ask. The goodies, man, the tons and tons of goodies.

This is one well put together beauty. First of all, it’s a digibook and I just love those. In between the glossy hard covers is a 26 page booklet packed with full color photos from the cast in full regalia. As for the Blu-ray it is stuffed with extras, including bells and whistles and a good heaping helping of kitchen sink besides. There are two versions of the movie, one from the UK and another from the US, oh and both have an optional black and white intro. If you want to practice for your next midnight screening then there’s “Rocky-oke” where you can sing along with the songs from the film. The usual commentary track is present as is a featurette on Mick Rock, a photographer famous for his ROCKY pics and yes, his photos get their own gallery. I could go on and on with all the extras as there are quiet literally a closet full that clock up hours of bonus material for the faithful cultist of the biggest cult classics to enjoy. But there is one extra feature that I do want to pay special attention to.

“The Midnight Experience” is a four-in-one way to watch the movie with a trivia track and a call back track where audience members from all over the world give their favorite lines from and at the movie. If you want something in your hands while you watch but don’t want to trash your own house there are virtual props so you can toss digital toast, prunes, and rice at the screen. Lastly there a picture in picture version with fans acting out the movie for your added enjoyment. You can even watch the fan performers in fullscreen and forget the real movie entirely. Now if you have all four of these options running at the same time, the screen can get a bit cluttered, but it does give you some idea of what the infamous midnight shows are like.

So if you’re a huge fan of the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and want to watch this film in the privacy of your own home…then I say you’re not really a fan. But hey, maybe that’s just me. Seriously this is easily the best version of this movie available. That should be reason enough for you to get it. Well, unless you hate fun. You don’t hate fun…do you?

MAD MAX (1979)– Blu-ray/DVD pack review

Director: George Miller
Stars: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne

This one almost slipped by me, but I managed to snag it at the last second. Granted, it’s not a horror movie, so maybe that’s why it almost went under my radar, but can anyone out there deny that this movie isn’t made out of 100% pure awesome? It basically started the subgenre of post-apocalypse flicks that were in vogue in the early and mid-eighties and it put Australian films on the map. Well, for everyone outside of Australian at least. It was also the first time we got to see Mel Gibson before he became a superstar, and long before he became a raving crackpot. In all ways this movie is a classic and one all dudes must have in their collection or else hand over their dude card. So this flick has no masked slashers, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, and thankfully no vampires, but it’s pure badass action. Oh, and while not a slasher, it does have one memorable psycho, not to mention a great antihero, and so much car porn it ought to be illegal.

Mel plays Max, a young cop in a very strange world. This movie is often called “post-apocalyptic “, but it’s like no other apocalypse ever put to film. Max’s world is at the beginning of the end. While it will be a full-blown wasteland in the two sequels, in this film everything is almost normal, but just slightly askew. There are no nuked cities or drooling radioactive mutants, but there is a police force struggling to hold things together in a world rapidly spinning out of control. The most noticeable and notable harbingers of the end times are the gangs that pillage and ravage at will, almost with impunity. Or so they think. When Max runs down a rampaging psychotic called The Night Rider, he is put on a path of conflict with his motorcycle gang lead by an even bigger nutjob, The Toecutter. When Toecutter and his crew kill Max’s wife and baby, well that’s when he becomes Mad Max and a man out for revenge in the best Charles Bronson tradition.

If you like revenge flicks, then you’ll love this movie. If you like post-apocalyptic movies, then you might dig this film if you want to see a world sparling downwards instead of a movie where everything has already hit the bottom. If you like action then you’ll need something to catch your drool as this movie has action to spare, especially of the two and four wheeled variety. And speaking of wheels, if you love cars, then you may need something else to catch another spewing bodily fluid as baby, does this movie love vehicles and the mayhem that they can bring about. MAD MAX has some of the most spectacular car and bike stunts ever. Gearheads, rejoice! Your CITIZEN KANE is finally out in glorious High Definition.

This Blu-ray/DVD combo pack by MGM gives us the best looking MAD MAX ever. It looks amazing and the action almost jumps off the screen at you. For a low budget film made in Australia in 1980, that was quite a surprise. To go along with the film’s good looks are a nice selection of extras and special features. There’s any audio commentary track, trailers, photo galleries and TV spots. In addition to those usual suspects there’s a nice featurette on what an international sensation the movie was called “Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon”, a documentary on Mel Gibson and his rise to superstar status, and a trivia track.

Like I said at the start, this movie is a classic and as such it is easily recommended. If you don’t already own this film, this is a great way to get it. If you already have the DVD then it’s time to upgrade. However you slice it, MAD MAX on Blu-ray is a must own.

--Brian M. Sammons