Saturday, December 4, 2010

Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!

THE TWILIGHT ZONE SEASON 2 –Blu-ray (1960-1961)

Created by: Rod Serling

Here are 29 complete episodes of the original and classic TWILIGHT ZONE, on Blu-ray for the first time ever, with tons of goodies and extras. Go get it.

What, you still here? Do you really need more than that to convince you to get this new BD set from Image Entertainment? Really? It’s the freaking TWILIGHT ZONE! Some things sell themselves and should be “no brainers” when deciding if you want them. If someone offers you some pizza, you say, “yes, thank you” because as the old saying goes, even when it’s bad, pizza is still pretty damn good. Well that goes double for THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Sure not every episode is a winner but I honestly can’t think of any that are bad. More to the point, there are quite a few great episodes here in Season 2. “The Howling Man”, “The Odyssey of Flight 33”, “Will the Real Martians Please Stand Up?”, “The Invaders”, “Nick of Time”, and perhaps the most famous TZ episode ever, “The Eye of the Beholder”. If these titles don’t fill you with fond, shuddery memories then you desperately need to watch more TWILIGHT ZONE. Great stuff doesn’t even begin to describe these episodes. If you are a fan of horror, sci-fi, or the weird and you haven’t seen these episodes, then you’re just not really a fan. That’s like saying you like classical music and you’ve never bothered to listen to Mozart.

Ok, so the show is great, that’s a given, but how about this new Blu-ray set, is it worth getting? Well all the episodes have been digitally buffed and polished to look great. Each comes with their original audio soundtrack or a new remastered one. 15 of the episodes have been done as fully produced radio dramas with sound effects, music, and recognizable actors such as Jane Seymour, Michael York, Jason Alexander, Ed Begley Jr., Fred Willard, and one interesting surprise to this old punk rock fan; Henry Rollins. There are a bunch of vintage audio interviews with the director of photography, the makeup artists, and a few of the actors from various episodes. 25 out of the 29 episodes found here have audio commentaries by a whole slew of authors, actors, writers, and film historians. There are quite the collection of photos and 22 music scores if you just want to jam to the Twilight tunes. Some of the real neat extras that I really dug was an episode form a completely different TV show called SUSPENSE that was written by Rod Serling called “Nightmare at Ground Zero” that seems liked a “lost” TWILIGHT ZONE episode. Then there were the vintage commercials and Mr. Serling hosting a “next week’s show” promos for upcoming episodes. As I wasn’t yet alive when this show originally aired, I got a kick out of the glimpses of TV days gone by. There are other goodies to be found here, but I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself.

Here’s the final praise I can give to this new TZ set; I am the proud owner of the complete Gold Edition of THE TWILIGHT ZONE on DVD and these new Blu-rays are clear improvements. I eagerly await the next season and the one after that as long as Image Entertainment keeps the quality so high. So even if you already have all the TWILIGHT ZONES at home, these BDs are worth upgrading to.

INCEPTION – Blu-ray (2010)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page

If you have yet to see this move STOP READING! This film works best the less you know about it in advance. So take my word for it; if you like trippy, mind-bending sci-fi with lots of big gun, loud explosion action, a great story, and first rate direction and action then give this flick a spin. There. For the purest entertainment experience, take that as your review.

Still want more? Ok, here’s a little bit as spoiler free as I can make it. One of my favorite directors takes a break from the Batman flicks to do another tightly written, twisty turvy movie similar to his MEMENTO and THE PRESTIGE. In it, Leo once again shows off his amazing acting chops playing a corporate spy who is very specialized. What makes him so special? Well he can go into the dreams of others to steal their secrets from their subconscious minds. Pretty cool huh? Well yeah, it’s very cool because as you might expect, dreamland plays by a vastly different set of rules than the waking world. Invading people’s dreams is not without dangers, so you can expect some jaw-dropping action set pieces. However unlike many special effect powerhouse films, INCEPTION has a hell of a story every bit as impressive as the audio and visual wizardry on display.

Leo and his group of sleepy time spies is hired to not steal someone’s thoughts, but implant a thought into the subconscious of a man and have him think that he thought it up all by himself. This requires going deeper into dreamland than ever before and therefore the danger is ratcheted up. However less you think this film is all bang, bang, boom and nothing more, there a wonderful little mystery behind Leo’s character and a heaping helping of drama and pathos that goes a long way to prove that not only does this sci-fi flick have brains, but it’s got heart too. But I will not go into such things here. Again; GO SEE THIS FILM.

Now a quick word of disappointment. While there are some truly amazing and breathtaking special effects, I thought the total “anything goes” aspect of dreams was very underutilized. Come on, they’re dreams, people! My tamest dreams are much weirder than anything shown in this movie…maybe that just says something about how twisted I am? Sure there are some OMG moments, the famous city folding scene you’ve seen on all the trailers is a good example of that, but the whole rubber reality of dreams and nightmares done so well in THE MATRIX and some of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films is sadly mostly missing here.

The Blu-ray brought out by Warner Brothers is the way to see this film outside of a big theater. This movie looks amazing. With all the eye candy this movie has to offer, do yourself a big favor and get the sweetest taste of this flick as possible. And hey, if you don’t have a Blu-ray player don’t worry, this package also comes with the movie on DVD and a digital copy for your portable viewing pleasure. In addition to looking great, the BD has a very nice (dare I say “dreamy”) collection of special features. There’s the complete soundtrack in 5.1, the usual collection of trailers, TV spots, and art galleries. Highlights on this disc include an animated 15 minuet prologue called “The Cobol Job”. There’s a 45 minuet documentary all about dreams hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt about what real world scientists are discovering about dreams and the subconscious. Last but not least there’s “Extraction Mode” which is basically a collection of behind the scenes featurettes that you can either watch separately, choosing what subjects you want to learn more about, or as and running adjunct to the movie that will pop up from time to time as you watch the feature film. Things like this are what makes Blu-ray unique and I just eat them up. However, like other Christopher Nolan films, don’t expect any commentary tracks. Nolan just doesn’t roll that way.

INCEPTION was a top rate movie in all regards. It was enjoyable, smart, stylish, well acted and directed. It had lots of action to keep you both interested and amazed and a great story to feed your brain while your eyes are happy. It is also one of the rare films that you can watch multiple times and pick up on new things every time you do. Because of that, and everything else, it is mandatory to have this movie in your home library. Consider this one very highly recommended.

AVATAR (extended collector’s edition) - Blu-ray (2009)

Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

What can I say about this, the biggest movie of all time, that hasn’t already been said? I mean is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen this film yet that wants to? That means you have either decided to skip this one, or you’ve already seen it and made up your mind about it by now. So there’s nothing I can say to change your opinion, not that I would try to do such a thing. But I can tell you about this newest, super-duper Blu-ray release and let you know if it’s worth your hard earned scratch. But first, a bit of truth and a word of warning.

Now I’m nothing if not honest and I must say that I think this release is part of a one-two-three punch. You know, an attempt to not double, but triple dip into the wallets of the AVATAR fans. Because lord knows, this poor little movie just hasn’t made enough money. I mean, first they release this film on DVD & BD in a version so bare bones it should have been hanging in a high school biology class. (psst, that’s a skeleton joke). Now there is this deluxe, wiz-bang edition and that’s fine as long as it stops here. As I’m about to make abundantly clear, this is all you need even if you are the most diehard Navi lover. But I have a sinking feeling that in a few months, maybe a year at the most, there will be a third edition of this movie to capitalize on the 3D TV market. Because after all, this is the movie that started the whole “let’s make everything 3D” crazy and convinced electronics companies to try and shove 3D TVs down our throats. Gee, thanks a lot, Mr. Cameron. Anyway, if that turns out not to be the case, then I apologize in advance, but if I’m right then shame, shame, and more shame on everyone involved. Who do you think you are, AVATAR, releasing so many versions of yourself so quickly? I mean, you’re not the EVIL DEAD movies, so what gives?

Ok, that bit of silly finger wagging aside, I must confess that this Blu-ray release of AVATAR is simply amazing. It looks fantastic and I have never seen a movie look better than this one. If you like bright, shiny eye-candy then this movie will send you into a diabetic coma. Good looks aside, this three Blu-ray set also has all the bells and whistles, with a sizable chunk of kitchen sink tossed in for good measure.

First there are three version of this film. There’s the original theatrical release, the special edition re-release that was just in theaters a little while back with an extra 8 minutes, and now the never before seen collector’s extended cut with 16 minutes of extra content. Or as I like to call it, the “Don’t make any plans and bring a lunch if you’re going to watch this in one sitting” edition. Yeah, it’s a damn long movie but does it add anything good or is it just fluff? Well I was quite surprised to discover that yes; the extra moments were pretty darn good. The bulk of the extra footage is used for a different beginning to the movie that shows the overcrowded, dirty future Earth and explores a bit more of the sad plight of our wheelchair-bound hero. There are also some more bits once the action moves to the alien world of Pandora, but such additions are pretty quick and spread out.

In addition to the extended cut, this package comes with a spaceship full of extras. How much additional goodness, you ask? Well as amazing as it sounds, all three versions of movie are on the first Blu-ray. That leaves two more Blu-rays just chockfull of bonus material. There is a four part, one hour and forty minuet making of documentary, an informative, eco-friendly 20 minuet doc about how we humans are royally messing up the rainforests, a collection of 14 odds and ends, such as screen tests, FX tests, art reels, a speech by Cameron, and so much more all bundled together under the title, “Production Materials”. Do you dig deleted scenes? Well this baby has dozens and dozens of them. Are you a fan of featurettes? Well you’ll find 17 here ranging from speaking Navi, to the stunts in the film, to the plants of Pandora, the cool robo-suits , how they did the groundbreaking 3D, and everything else imaginable. There are photo galleries galore, theatrical trailers, the original scrip in its entirety, an interactive “Pandorapedia”, a collection of Pandora inspired songs in both English and Navi, and a ton more of neat-o stuff. A favorite of mine was a neat scene deconstruction application where you can watch all the different layers of technical wizardry used to bring this movie alive. It’s always good for a laugh, watching the actors run around in motion capture suites, acting to nothing. I especially like the scene when Jake went to tame his own flying raptor thing and in reality it was just a bunch of extras hissing and flapping their arms at him.

If you want to have AVATAR in your home, then this is definitely THE Blu-ray set to get. Beauty and brains, all wrapped up in a great package. What’s not to love?

NIGHT OF THE DEMONS – Blu-ray (2009)

Director: Adam Gierasch
Stars: Shannon Elizabeth, Monica Keena, Bobbi Sue Luther, Diora Baird, Edward Furlong

The original 1988 NIGHT OF THE DEMONS is one of my favorite campy fright flicks of all time. Now I’m not wearing blinders, I’m fully aware that my love of 80’s horror movies could just be because I grew up watching them, but in all honesty they just seem better than the horror films that come out now. It’s an ethereal quality, but something about Regan era horrors just appeals to me much more than the vast majority of modern genre films. Hey, maybe that’s because back then, say what you want about them, but the horror flicks were at least original stories. Today they only seem interested in making remake after disappointing remake. Will this latest reimagining of a campy cult classic be one of the few exceptions and actually turn out to be good? Well put on your Halloween mask and grab your bowl of fuck (cool points to those that get that), we’re find out.

This 2009 remake has a few good things going for it. The director of the original movie, Kevin Tenney, is a producer on this one and lovely Linnea Quigley has a cameo, still sporting her pink tutu (and still with a pretty fine ass). The basics of the story remain; a cute creepy girl (Shannon Elizabeth) is throwing a party at a haunted house. Some people show up, a few demons get out, and mayhem ensues. Really, that’s about it. There’s a bit more back story this time out in regards to why the demons are in the house and what they ultimately want. Also a few things are changed in the story. Gone is the funeral home and in its place is a New Orleans mansion of a lovesick woman who meddled with things she really shouldn’t have. Further checks in the “good” column include some really cute girls and a few naughty nudie bits for the guys, which being a guy always makes me happy, and some gooey gory bits for everyone else. Speaking of gore, the special effects are pretty darn good and on average are better than what was in the original. Most notable, the demon makeup is much improved. Also the infamous lipstick scene makes a return, this time taken to a whole new, gross level. Last but not least, it has a groovy soundtrack that I would definitely pick up on its own, if just for 45 Grave’s “Night of the Demons” tune.

Now for the checks in the “bad” column, and there are a few. First the male lead is Edward Furlong and while he was once a pretty good actor, I liked him a lot in AMERICAN HISTORY X, here he just looks sleepy or…well I’ll just say “out of it”, and his performance is so phoned in it should have been sponsored by Verizon. The characters are a bit samey; none of them stand out from the pack. While the first DEMONS had some great memorable characters, this movie just has “cute girl” one through four, a few “dumb ass guys” and Furlong’s “drug dealer with a heart of gold”. Not one of them has the gravitas of Hal Havins’ Stooge or Linnea Quigley’s Suzanne from the 80s flick. The best of the new bunch is probably Shannon Elizabeth and she’s the first to get demon possessed and afterwards she’s pretty much just snarling and hissing. There are also some silly bits, like demons hating rusting metal…uhm, ok.

To further keep the balance between buying and not buying this movie as even as possible is the Blu-ray by Entertainment One. Sure it has amazing picture quality, but that’s to be expected. Sadly it only a few, somewhat brief extras, but they are done well. There’s a commentary track with the directors and some of the cast, a kind of short “behind the scenes” featurette that’s largely a collection of cast and crew interviews, and a short intro to the movie that was filmed at Comic-Con. And…that’s it. While that it perfectly fine, and better than a bare bones release, there could have been more goodies here. Don’t tell me they ran out of space on the Blu-ray.

So when the both the good and bad columns are tallied the end result is kind of a wash. That means this remake drives squarely down middle of the road. It’s not bad, and if you’ve never seen the original movie then you might like this remake a bit more than I did. However if you are a child of the 80s and you fondly remember the first NotD then this one will undoubtedly fall short time and time again. It’s worth a watch, even from us “old school” horror fans, but it might be a rental instead of a purchase.


Director: Júlíus Kemp
Stars: Pihla Viitala, Nae, Terence Anderson

Originally released as REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE, the first movie I thought of when hearing this title was…well take a guess. That’s right, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSARE. Upon watching this film, I came to realize that this was more than just a coincidence and that’s not just because Gunnar Hansen is given top billing. Oh, and here’s a little hint, don’t believe the hype. Gunnar has basically what amounts to a cameo in this film and worst yet, he’s not the one doing the massacring. No the man who was the original, and best, Leatherface plays the captain of a ship which goes out to sea with a group of international clichés on a whale watching expedition. There’s the stereotypical gay man, the drunken Frenchman, the Japanese tourists with cameras, and more. The boat breaks down and this group of cardboard cutouts calls for help. Unfortunately when a ship comes to their “rescue” the horror has just begun.

What they first mistake as their savors turns out to be a psychotic family mad at the world because their way of life and their livelihood has been changed against their will. Where as in the TEXAS film that meant the automation of the local slaughterhouse, in HARPOON it means the outlawing of the family’s floating slaughterhouse. By that I mean all the environmentalists coming out against whaling, the family’s traditional way of life. So this weird family is off to kill anyone they come across, and yes often a harpoon is used. Yeah it’s not quite as cool as a chainsaw, but it can do quite a bit of damage. I mean, it kills whales, right?

Starting with the good, this movie does have a few good gore scenes and juicy kills for the splatter fans. Furthermore the effects are practical, that is, they use fake blood and latex as opposed to the vastly overused, and often horrible looking, CGI. Also it’s cool to see slasher films from parts of the world you normally don’t see them. I always think of them as sort of National Geographic documentaries with gore gags. Lastly this movie tries to walk the fine line between horror and humor and it did make me laugh a few times, so good on it for that.

Unfortunately the items in the “bad column” are far more numerous than those in the good. First there are the afore mentioned clichéd characters. The acting is abysmal, the dialog is laughable even when it’s not trying to be funny, and the number of really stupid decisions they make in order to just advance the story is mindboggling. Really, since a movie is only as good as the people in front of the camera, this film can be excruciating to watch at times. To make matters worse, the plot advances at a glacial pace, and yes I’ll resist the urge to make an Iceland joke about it.

To further not entice anyone to buy this movie on the new Blu-ray just released by Image Entertainment, the disc is pretty bare bones. There is a short behind the scenes featurette with Gunnar Hansen and that’s it. What, does the phrase “bonus features” not translate into Icelandic?

So when the scorecard is tallied you have an unoriginal story taking place in new location (referring to both Iceland and whaling vessels). The gore is pretty good but the acting and writing is downright bad. Lastly either some better direction, editing or both, could have been used to speed things along a little better. This means this movie was as middle of the road as a dotted white line. So if you’re looking for something a little different then you might want to give HARPOON a shot. But if you want something more than a little different then you might want to give it a pass.

--Brian M. Sammons