Saturday, February 19, 2011

Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!

by Brian M. Sammons

Created by: Rod Serling

The next season of classic TWILIGHT ZONE episodes will be available on Blu-ray for the first time on February 15. Season 3 has 5 discs, 37 episodes, and a ton of extra goodies, but really, do I need to sell you on the merits of THE TWILIGHT ZONE?

Yeah, I didn’t think so, but I’ll give you some specifics of this new Blu-ray set anyway. I mean, it is sort of my job and all.

Season three of TZ has a great selection of episodes, from unforgettable classics, to lesser known stories that I had completely forgotten over the years. That last bit is not meant as a slight. On the contrary, as much as I love re-watching my favorites, it was nice to go back to a few episodes and feel surprised again. As for those classics I mentioned, there the famous evil kid tale, “It’s a Good Life”, the overheated “The Midnight Sun”, “Kick the Can” which was remade as part of the TWILIGHT ZONE movie, “Little Girl Lost” which was remade as a SIMPSONS Halloween special…no really, there is “The Little People” which was miles better than the last Jack Black flick; GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, some Ray Bradbury goodness with “I Sing the Body Electric”, and one of the top five best and most memorable episodes; “To Serve Man”.

Just in case 37 episodes of spooky, weird, sci-fi perfection weren’t enough to get you to buy this set, there are a bunch of extras to help seal the deal. 20 of the episodes have audio commentaries for them. There are interviews with some of the actors and crew of the classic series. All of the episodes have isolated music scores, just in case you want to get down with some Twilight sounds. There are a couple of clips for the 80s version of the TWILIGHT ZONE that remade some of the episodes found here. A whole bunch of classic radio interviews with people related to the show. Clips of Rod Serling appearing on the old time TV talk shows; THE GARRY MOORE SHOW and TELL IT TO GROUCHO, and the game show; LIAR’S CLUB. However, just like the previous season, the extra that I liked most was a collection on 19 dramatic reenactments of the episodes that were made for the radio staring the vocal talents of Don Johnson, Ernie Hudson, Adam West, Jason Alexander, Blair Underwood, Ed Begley Jr., and others. There are a few more extras to be had here, such as the usual photo galleries and the like, but they are really just icing on this impressive, multilayered cake.

All of the episodes have been touched up and polished so that they look great in hi-def. The soundtracks have likewise been remastered, but for you purists out there, the original audio tracks are also available. So between all the great episodes, the extras, and the polished updating, in all ways THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season 3 on Blu-ray is not only a worthy addition to your home library, but also a mandatory one. Consider it extremely, highly, super-duper-ly recommended.


Director: Meir Zarchi
Cast: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace

Infamy; if you look that word up in any dictionary I would not be surprised if there was a picture of Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, and then this movie. Yeah, it’s that notorious. There’s good reason for it. The story is deceptively simple. A woman goes alone in the woods, runs into four country boys who resent her uppity city ways, they gang rape her, leave her for dead, but she comes back for bloody and violent revenge against her attackers.

Now there have been violent, disturbing movies before and since, but there was just something that set this one apart from the others. Maybe it was just when it came out? Kind of like how SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT was ravaged by parent groups and critics, but it wasn’t the first or last movie with a killer Santa Clause. Maybe it was the movie’s marketing? I mean, it has one of the most infamous and recognizable grindhouse posters of all time.

Or maybe it was the 25 minutes of uninterrupted gang rape and brutalizing of a woman filmed in such a way that nothing was left to the imagination. So at 101 minutes that means that ¼ of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is rape porn. Ok, not really porn, but still plenty icky. You know what, maybe that has something to do with the movie’s bad reputation?

Now I’m not going to rail against this movie. I’ve had too many movies that I enjoy wind up in the crosshairs of the self-appointed guardians of moral decency, to do that here. So I’m not going to break out the soapbox, at least not all the way out. I will say that this flick just isn’t for me, however I will defend its existence to the death for those that do like it. The same way I hated the far more deplorable A SERBIAN FILM. I’ll be happy to never see it again, but for those that do want to watch such things, more power to you. Stay the hell away from me, but rock on. So if you are a fan of rape revenge flicks, as I know there is a whole subset of devotees out there for these kinds of films, then you really own it to yourself to get this, the Great White Whale of rape revenge flicks. And hey, now you can watch the brutalizing in High Def!

The Blu-ray just released by Anchor Bay to compliment the release of the remake on Blu-ray (also by Anchor Bay) pretty much has all the special features from the previous DVD release. That means if you already have the DVD then you just might want to pass on this unless you’re a complete Blu-ray-phile. If you have yet to get this original bit of cinema nastiness, then you might want to get this BD, largely for one reason; Joe Bob Briggs. Mr. Briggs provides an entertaining, and highly informative, monolog that I thoroughly enjoyed. The shear amount of knowledge Joe Bob has on weird, cult films is staggering. You get a brief glimpse of that listening to him as he watches this movie with you, but in typical Briggs fashion, he makes it a fun and funny lecture to listen too. This is easily the best extra on this disc and it’s something I really wish more companies would include with their movies. Joe Bob Briggs is like bacon; he makes anything better. In addition to that little bit of auditory goodness, there’s a far more dry commentary by director, Meir Zarchi. There is also a fifteen minuet or so interview with Meir Zarchi about his controversial baby. A few trailers, TV and radio spots, and poster and still galleries round out the disc’s extras. As for the picture on this new Blu-ray, it looks good, but not really remarkable. The daylight scenes look bright and colorful, but the night scenes still have very noticeable grain in them.

Yet even with the really good Joe Bob Briggs commentary, I really can’t recommend this movie, because quite frankly I don’t like it all that much. My dislike goes beyond the subject matter as it’s just not all that well-made or acted, but really that’s completely secondary to the elephant in the room that is the 25 minutes of abuse of a woman filmed in such unblinking detail. If you can get around that fact somehow and want to witness “real life” horror, or you’re just a cinema historian and want to have this slice of infamy in your home library, then you might want to give this notorious film a try. If so, this Blu-ray is the best version of it available and for that reason alone I can sort of recommend this film…if just a little.

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010) Blu-ray

Director: Steven R. Monroe
Cast: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Daniel Franzese

Initially when I heard that they were remaking this piece of 70s exploitation critic flame-bait I thought, “Wow, Hollywood is now officially out of ideas.” But then thinking about it I realized that nope, Hollywood is the same as it has even been. While they would like you to think they are all sunshine, lollipops, and family friendly, they are not above pulling out the sleaze to make a quick buck. And you really can’t get more name recognition sleazy than I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. But you know what, I’m glad that side of movie making still exists.

No, not because I like it or the films they produce. In fact, after seeing this movie once I’ll be quite happy to never see it again for a very long time, or ever for that matter. That said, I am very happy that this stuff exist for those that do like it. Maybe that’s because I live by the odd code that very few people seem to follow these days, and this is if I don’t like something, I don’t watch, read, or listen to it. Shocking concept, I know.

Anyway, enough of me sermonizing, let’s get to the review.

If you have ever heard of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE then you’ve heard about the controversy. The original movie kicked the hornets nest of film critics, feminists, and all sorts of guardians of moral decency. However, as much as I hate to admit it, I can sort of see why they all went nuts on the film. I mean, it did have over twenty-five minuets of a woman betting brutalized and raped repeatedly. The story can be boiled down to this; a big city woman goes out to the woods alone to write a book, she meets some ill-tempered country boys, they rape her and leave her for dead, she comes back for bloody revenge and kills them all, the end. Well this remake follows that thin blueprint rather well, with a few changes along the way.

Hey, I know, I’ll count off some of the changes as I remembered them happening.

Oddly icky bit; they actually try to give Johnny, the ringleader of the rape gang, a reason for revenge as the woman, Jennifer, inadvertently embarrassed him in front of his leering cronies. Don’t know if I like that bit of quasi-justification added to the plot.

“Of course” bit; they really push the whole southern hillbilly thing this time around. While in the first movie the rapists were “country bumpkins” they were from Connecticut. Now they’re from undetermined southern state, USA. I guess no one gets raped up north anymore.

“Naturally” bit; one of the four scuzballs has a video camera and tapes everything. Come to think of it, with all the morons who tape themselves doing stupid, and oftentimes illegal, things and even post them on YouTube and the like, it seems believable.

Wow, the woman smokes dope, so did I stumble into an 80s slasher where the girls who smoke pot deserve the bad things that happen to them?

Now for the meat and potatoes of the film, the terrorizing, brutalizing, and rape of the woman. Hey, I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but you’d be lying if you didn’t admit that this is what both versions of I SPIT have hung their hats on. Well here’s the long and short of it, it lasts longer this time out and while it is slightly less physical it is far more psychological and mean-spirited than the first movie. Let that sink in; it’s more mean-spirited than four guys gang rapping a woman for twenty-five minutes. That right there should be all you need to know if this is the kind of film you want to see.

Oh there is also a bit of “twist” in this one that had me rolling my eyes so hard that I thought they were going to fly out of my skull. I won’t give it away, but if you don’t see it coming then you just don’t know the Making Modern Thrillers for Dummies handbook.

To be sure there are more differences between this film and the one from 1978, but I don’t want to completely rag on this movie and make it sound like I liked the first one more. No, I pretty much dislike both equally, but I will say this about the remake, it was well made. The direction seemed more competent, the film quality was a sure sight better, and it just looked much better overall. Also the acting seemed a hell of a lot better as I hated the hillbilly rapists in this one a lot more than I did the original scumbags, so that’s something. Furthermore the characters and the overall story are a lot more fleshed out in this version than the previous one. Last but not least, Jennifer’s righteous revenge is also more elaborate, bloody, and yes, mean-spirited. I guess what’s good for the girl is good for the guys.

So pretty much in all ways this one wanted to one up the original, and for the most part, it did. I guess that means it was a successful remake, for whatever that’s worth.

This Blu-ray, brought to us by Anchor Bay, has a few extras on it to help entice would-be buyers. There’s a director and producer audio commentary, a 16 minuet making of featurette, and then a couple trailers, radio spots, and deleted scenes. Really, there’s nothing new or noteworthy to any of the extras here, so if you pick up this disc, you’re only doing so for the film. That’s the way it should be, I guess. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into before you sit down to watch this one. But I’m guessing you already do. It is I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, after all.


Director: Harry Kümel
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau

Today we step into the Wayback Machine to talk about a somewhat infamous film made before I was even born (man, does it make me feel good to say that). Release in 1971, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is a European erotic horror film with a familiar story. Ok, now it’s familiar, but maybe back in ’71 it was still somewhat fresh. Just like back then it was probably a lot more shocking and titillating than it is now. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of lovely female flesh on display, but there has been a lot more wicked flicks to walk the fine line between art and “trash”. Also this film usually gets lumped in with the sub-sub-genre of lesbian vampire films, and while it has the vaps, if you are looking for hot girl on girl action, you’ll probably come away disappointed.

Now if it sounds like I’m trashing this movie, I really don’t mean to. I’m just trying to put it into the proper context. Naughty back then is a far cry from what is considered naughty by today’s standards. But just because this movie is…ah, mature, doesn’t mean it that it has forgotten how to deliver the goods. Besides, cougars are all the rage these days, right? Well with that in mind, let’s check out these lovely ladies that definitely fall into the category of, “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

This film follows a newlywed couple through a tour of Europe. The pair stops as a luxurious, but oddly deserted, Belgian hotel and while there they encounter Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Yes that Elizabeth Bathory. I told you the story was familiar. Anyway, the countess and her beautiful bloodthirsty companion decide to play with the couple, with eyes firmly fixed on the young wife and the husband more as an amusing aside. Here is where the lesbian subtext kicks in, but it is mostly remains just that; subtext. In between various sex scenes the vamps (in every sense of the word) kill a few folks to sate their unquenchable thirst. One such murder catches the attention of a retired police officer who has hunted Bathory in the past and returns to peruse the prey they once eluded him.

Labeled as “erotic horror” this is a case of yes and no. While it is no doubt erotic, with plenty of steamy sex scenes that would rival the soft-core porn found on late night Cinemax, where it fails is in the horror department. To be sure, Countess Elizabeth Bathory is a vampire through and through. While she never sprouts fangs, she has no reflection and avoids direct sunlight. Yet there is never any suspense, dread, atmosphere, or even the favorite horror cliché of today, jump scares. There is some ok gore to be found here, but nothing more graphic than what you can find on primetime TV. Quite simply put, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is just not scary. But you know what? Most of the vampire stories today would rather be sexy than scary too. Yes I’m looking at you TWILIGHTand TRUE BLOOD. So who knows maybe this is a movie whose time has come around once more?

The Bu-ray by Blue Undergound offers a nice new transfer of the film and some really cool extras. Right off the bat, let’s talk about the best; a bonus feature length film called THE BLOOD SPLATTERED BRIDE from 1972. Yes you get this second classic erotic thriller for no extra charge. Now that’s what I call an extra. In addition you get two commentary tracks, one by director Harry Kümel and the other by actor John Karlen who plays the hapless husband in the film. Three are also interviews with the stars Danielle Ouimet, and Andrea Rau and one with the director and the writer/producer. Round things off are a trailer and a few radio spots.

This Blu-ray will be released March 1st and if you are a fan of classy, classic Euro sleaze then this is a must have for you. If you’re a more traditional horror fan then you may find this a bit of a bore. But as a piece of erotic horror history, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS has few peers.

DEEP RED (1975) Blu-ray
Arrow Video

Director: Dario Argento
Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia

Arrow Video from over in the UK has been going on an Italian Horror tear lately. If you are a fan of creepy cinema from the land of creamy cannolis, Arrow is fast becoming your one stop shop. Their latest tasty treat is perhaps Dario Argento’s best giallo murder mystery movie, the legendary DEEP RED.

The story, well like most of Argento’s films, is admittedly kind of weird. However you don’t watch one of Dario’s flicks for the story. No you’re there for the experience and trust me; DEEP RED is one hell of a ride. This time out we have a German lady psychic who, while giving a lecture in a packed auditorium, says that she has just read the mind of someone in the crowd, someone who’s sick, who has killed before, and will kill again. Unfortunately she can’t tell whose mind she read. What’s really unfortunate for her is that the black gloved killer believes the psychic and takes a meat cleaver to her in short order.

Enter our heroes, out to solve the crime and stop the deranged killer before any more lives are lost. You have an English musician who witnessed the psychic’s murder first hand and is the new target of the killer, for he might have seen more than he knows. He teams up with a pretty and feisty female reporter to unravel the very twisted mystery behind the killer’s identity. Along the way there are several of Argento’s trademark murders that are beautiful in their brutality and gorgeous in their grotesqueness. DEEP RED was the movie right before Argento’s cinematic masterpiece, SUSPERIA and it is obvious that the man was at the top of his game during this time. Very few filmmakers can hold a candle to Argento when it comes to visual storytelling and setting up memorable scenes that will stay with you for a long time.

I won’t say too much more about the story because I don’t want to spoil and of the surprises, and baby, there are surprises aplenty here. Not to mention, more than a few WTF moments. Case in point, when you see the creepy little doll, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Once again, this movie is an experience and words just won’t do it justice. Take my word for it, if you’ve never seen DEEP RED then you’ve missed one of the great horror films of all time.

Luckily for all of us, Arrow Video has releases a great two disc set for this seminal film. Disc one has the Director’s cut of the film along with a couple of nice extras. There are the usual trailers, but in addition to those are three featurettes of note. There’s a 20 minute interview with actress Daria Nicolodi about her experience making DEEP RED and Dario Argento films in general, a 15 minute doc on composer Claudio Simonetti of awesome Goblin fame who did the soundtrack for this and many other Argento films, and a 12 minute conversation with the maestro himself about his various film, DEEP RED and otherwise. There is also an audio commentary track with Argento expert, Thomas Rostock.

Disc two has the international theatrical cut of the film and a short featurette on a groovy shop/museum devoted to all things horror. It’s called, appropriately enough, Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) and run by filmmaker and longtime Argento collaborator, Luigi Cozzi in Rome. But not only do you get two versions of the movie in this one package, but it is also stuffed with Arrow Video’s usual excellent extras and goodies. The BD sleeve art is reversible; giving you four cover options to choose from. There is a double-sided, fold-out wall poster. Last but not least, there’s a seven page collector’s booklet all about the film. As I always say, it’s these little things that really set Arrow Video’s releases above the rest.

This film is easy to recommend to all horror fans, just as this Blu-ray set is easy to recommend to all DEEP RED fans. Do yourself a huge favor, get this flick and experience some amazing Argento weirdness firsthand. Even if you live outside the UK, pay the little extra for the shipping to get this Arrow release. You’ll be happy you did.

LET ME IN (2010)– Blu-ray

Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins

Now this was a great film, and chances are, you didn’t go see it. I say that based on the woeful numbers of tickets it sold while it was at the theater. Now I guess I can blame some of that on a less than stellar media campaign. I mean, I know quite a few non-horrorhead friends that never heard of it and didn’t know it had already been and gone at the local Cineplex. However if you are a horrorhead, and I am assuming you are since you’re reading this, then shame, shame, shame on you! You had to have known about this movie and you still didn’t go see it? Look, I know money is tight, but with all the fright-less, clueless, uncreative, watered-down crap we get anymore under the banner of “horror”, when a movie like this comes out and gets kicked in the teeth, well that just pisses me off. Want to know why? Ok, let’s count down the reasons why you let the horror world down by not going to see this film.

Before we get into the horror-centric reasons, let’s tackle the question of good movie making in general. LET ME IN is well directed, very well acted, and filled with beautiful cinematography so it’s just plain good looking. Those three key parts to good film making are rare for any film, but even more so for genre films. Such things should be celebrated, not avoided.

But hey, you want to talk about rare? Ok, how’s this; LET ME IN is a remake and it is as good, and in some ways better, then the original movie. When was the last time you could say that? More on that in a bit, but let’s continue to count down the reasons you should feel bad for not supporting this film with your hard earned money.

It’s a vampire movie that doesn’t suck! That right there is groundbreaking these days. The vamps you find in this movie are not misunderstood, sparkly, sexy, “you don’t understand my pain” crybabies. While I am bored silly, not to mention quite depressed, with the vast majority of vampire flicks that come out now, it’s great to see a film that still gets it that vampires…are…monsters! While they can have traces of humanity left, it would really suck to be one of those lifeless, cold, undying parasites, not neato cool like many of today’s stories and films would have you believe.

But here is one last reason any serious horror fan should hang their head in shame for not seeing this movie; it’s the first film from Hammer Films in a long, long time. Now if you have to ask who or what is Hammer Films then stop reading, turn in your horrorhead car, and just get out of here. Ok yes, I’m kidding, but not by much. Maybe you’re a young’un and you’re not totally up on your Horror History 101, but Hammer Films was the name for horror flicks in the 60s and 70s. I won’t say that it made the careers of such genre giants as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but it certainly cemented them in the hallowed halls of horror fame. So now here comes Hammer’s first fright film in many, many years and you missed it? Boy, don’t you feel like a schmuck?

Now if you are one of the few that went and saw this at the theater, then forget all that I just wrote and consider yourself one of the good guys (or gals). But if you did miss this flick at the show then rejoice, you can make up that grievous oversight by getting this Blu-ray when it comes out February 1st.

But despite my ranting and raving above, should you get it?

Well the story is as simple as it is well done. In a snow-bound town there is a lonely, bullied boy named Owen. So mercilessly picked on is he, that he’s well on his way to become something horrible. As fate would have it, something horrible has just moved in next door to him. While it may look like a cute little twelve-year-old girl, Abby is far more ancient and evil. She’s a vampire and she and her “father” have come to town to lay low, and of course, kill for blood. In short order Owen and Abby become friends, and perhaps something more, but to tell you more of the story would be to ruin the surprises, so I won’t.

I will mention a few of the things I liked so much about this movie. First there’s the faceless mother. During the entirety of this film you never once see her face. You see her shape and hear her voice but never her face, which is a subtle way of showing how she fits into Owen’s life. The cinematography is great and it showcases the cold desolation and isolation of the landscape which is fitting symbolism for both Owen and Abby. Speaking of the kiddies, the acting is amazingly well done and this is coming from a guy who usually hates child actors. Both young Kodi and Chloe have the daunting task of carrying this movie on their little shoulders and they do so remarkably well. Furthermore Director Matt Reeves shows that he can make a “real” movie, as his only previous work was directing TV shows and the Video-cam-tastic CLOVERFIELD.

This Blu-ray, brought out by Anchor Bay, has a nice selection of special features and extras to offer the discriminating horrorhead. There’s a behind the scenes featurette that runs about seventeen minuets, another spotlighting the CGI special effects, of which I must admit I am not a fan, one showcasing the impressive car crash, of which I am a fan, and then the usual deleted scenes, trailers, poster gallery, and director’s commentary. The neatest extra it has is a picture in picture video track that pops up from time to time while you watch the film to offer tidbits and inside info from many of the cast, crew, producers, and the director of the movie. This is a Blu-ray exclusive feature, so if you need another reason to get this disc in High Def, other than it looking gorgeous, hopefully that will do it for you.

I can both easily and highly recommend this movie. If more remakes were made with this much care, style, and reverence for the source material I won’t really have a problem with the Hollywood remake train. Well, not as big of a problem. LET ME IN is well made, well acted, well written vampire film that remembers that vampires aren’t supposed to be sexy, but cold blooded killers. What’s not to love?

PIRANHA 3D (2010) Blu-ray

Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Elizabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O’Connell

This was one of my favorite movies of 2010 for the simple reason that it new exactly what it was and was not only happy with that, but embraced and rejoiced in it. More films should be so self-aware and honest with themselves instead of putting on airs, they would only be better for it. So what kind of film is PIRANHA 3D, you ask? Well it’s a remake of Roger Corman’s 1978 cult classic of the same name, minus the 3D, so what do you think? That’s right; it is a glorious big budget B-movie with more blood and boobies than any three other movies released this year, or the last twenty years for that matter. It reveled in its crass exploitation and splatstick silliness and I loved it for it.

From the beginning scene where Richard Dreyfuss shows that while he might have survived one set of jaws, he won’t survive a thousand of them, to the final over the top wink-wink, nudge-nudge ending, this film is pure cheesy goodness the likes of which hasn’t graced the big screen since the glory days of the eighties. You want incredibly hot woman showing off a lot of naked skin? You’ve got it. You want more blood than all of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films combined? You get that too, and while there’s a lot of CGI gore (boo) there is a surprising amount of real world splatter effects (yay). You want over the top acting, nasty critters, cameos by the handful and tons of BOO scares to get your date to jump into arms? Well check, double check, check please and checkaroo. But wait, there’s more.

A chick gets her implants chewed out and they float away while a guy gets his schlong chewed off, spit out, eaten again, and then vomited out one last time. Lovely, huh? I chose to highlight those tasteful tidbits so you know exactly what you’re in for with this movie. If that doesn’t sound like your cup o’ tea then back away slowly, there’s only more of that waiting for you here. However if you are a sick puppy like me and the thought of a film maker having the balls to go there and show that in this overly PC age made you smile, then this IS the movie you’ve been waiting for.

As for the story, it’s pretty much the same from the 70s film. There are a bunch of piranhas, a bunch of people enjoying the usually piranha-free water, and when the two forces meet bloody, munchy mayhem ensues. However this time the bitey fishies are not the result of governmental experimentation but are prehistoric survivors released from an underground lake thanks to a handy earthquake. The hungry fish make a beeline straight towards an Arizona lake during spring break to nibble on some tasty coeds and the only thing in their way is a plucky female sheriff surprisingly played by one time Oscar nominee Elizabeth Shue. She seems to be enjoying herself in this movie as do most of the cast, including Jerry O’Connell as a wonderfully skevy porn movie maker a la GIRLS GONE WILD. Also if you are a fan of the goretastic flicks of Eli Roth, keep an eye out for a cameo by him. Better yet, if you hate he goretastic flicks of Mr. Roth, you can see him get his just deserts. See, this movie really does have something for everyone.

To honor such a fantastic movie, Sony and Dimension Films had put out a stellar Blu-ray. Not only does the movie look alive and vibrant, showing off the beautiful cinematography and direction Alexandre Aja is known for, but it has some great special features. Sure it has the usual director audio commentary, but it also has an extensive, two hour making of and behind the scenes documentary broken into 10 more manageable parts. However there is one feature that sets this BD apart from the rest that I can’t comment on and that’s the 3D. I don’t have the required 3D TV to view it and quite frankly I don’t ever want one. So thankfully this disc also comes with the plain old, and much preferred by me, 2D version of the film. However if 3D does trip your trigger than rejoice, you finally have a Blu-ray to help justify purchasing that spiffy new 3D television you just had to get.

If you are a horror fan and just want to watch a fun film the likes of which hasn’t been made in a long time, then PIRANHA 3D is that movie for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope more films like it come out soon. Anything to help wash the taste of bloodless, teenybopper horror and sparkly, toothless vampires out of my mouth is a very good thing. This film does that and a whole lot more so it is highly recommended by me.

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) Blu-ray

Director: Tod Williams
Cast: Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Sprague Grayden

The follow up to last year’s fright phenom, Paranormal Activity, this flick actually does a pretty unique thing, being a prequel, a sequel, and a concurrent second story to the first movie all rolled in one. It expands on the spooky mythology begun in the first film and includes the two doomed characters from that movie as well. The cast of this film is likewise expanded, consisting of a husband, wife, teen daughter, newborn baby son, the family dog, and perhaps what’s looking to be the new big cinema cliché, the Mystic Mexican. Ok, the well-meaning and way too spiritually informed housekeeper in this movie could be of any Latin heritage, I just think the term “Mystic Mexican” has a nice ring to it. I honestly do not mean to offend anyone by it. Hey, I’m not the one who keeps shoehorning Latinos into these roles. Well at least this woman doesn’t toss buttered toast around to prove evil’s afoot *cough* Devil *cough* or has to do battle with a satanic goat *cough* Drag Me to Hell *cough*. Sorry about that, I am just getting over a cold.

Not only is the cast increased, but so too are the number of cameras recording the spooktacular events. After a break-in at the family’s somewhat well to do home, several security cameras are installed to catch the baddies in the act should they come back. This increased coverage does allow for a bit more visual flair than one guy running around with a handheld camera, although there are plenty of handheld shots to be found here as well. Unfortunately it also allows for come cinematic cheats. Case in point, one scene shows the mother and baby playing in the child’s room from the camera mounted in the room’s corner. Then it cuts to a handheld camera the mother is using (this is before the big bad haunting stuff, who really records this much of their life?) When the scene cuts back to the corner security camera you can see that the closet door in the kid’s room is now slightly open. Yeah that’s a bit creepy, unless you take a second to wonder who edited this scene together to specifically not show the closet door opening in the hopes of getting an “A-ha” moment.

Oh hi, suspension of disbelief, how you’re doing? BANG, you’re dead!

The mother of this family is also the sister to Katie, the haunted woman from the first Paranormal Activity so right there is your connection. If you remember in the first flick, Katie does tell her tool of a boyfriend, Mica, that both she and her sister were the targets of some sort of demonic bogyman as young girls. Well this movie explores that further and provides a few answers to some of the questions left over from the previous movie. This Paranormal Activity 2 does pretty well. There are also a few good moments that don’t rely on the multiple camera cuts like the afore mentioned example that do lay down a sinister vibe. However the whole movie is all but ruined when the family does something incredibly selfish, stupid, evil and worst of all, downright unbelievable and out of character to save someone from a slight case of…well let’s just say something bad. I don’t want to give away what exactly it is, or what the family does to stop it, but it comes so fast out of left field that it just left me thinking, “Really, that’s the best you could come up with?” Also afterwards, everyone seems to be fine with what they just did despite the hideous nature of it.

Yeah, I wasn’t a big fan of that obvious plot twist of convenience.

While the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack brought out by Paramount offers two versions of the film, it is sadly almost special feature free. Even the two different versions of the movie, one the theatrical cut and the other the “unrated director’s cut” are 99.5% similar. Don’t believe the hype, if you are expecting a lot more blood, nudity, frights, or even just more character development, you’ll be disappointed. No, what you get in this director’s cut is a few scenes that were wisely deleted from the original film for pacing sake. Their reintroduction here brings nothing new to the movie and more importantly, no new thrills, unless you think the father accidently getting burned in the hot tub (dun dun duhhhnnn) is frightening. As for those sadly lack luster extras I hinted at before, there is only one. Labeled as “found footage” it is a deleted scene. Yep a single deleted scene is the sum total of special features on this disc. Be still my beating heart.

Paranormal Activity 2 is an ok sequel. It does expand the mythology of the series somewhat and has a few creepy moments. If you were a fan of the first film and want to know more of the Katie and Mica story then this will do that for you. I enjoyed watching it once, but don’t know if I would watch it again anytime soon. Consider that when thinking about adding this to your home library.


Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts

Here is another of the “Little video game movie that could” flicks, this time riding the wave of the latest trend; 3D. Believe it or not this is the fourth movie in the series. That must make it the most successful franchise based on a game ever, and it is certainly providing star Milla Jovovich with steady work, so I guess that’s something. But does that mean this is actual a good film? Well grab your gun and your green herb (that’s a video game joke, not a pot joke) and let’s once more go into the hellish world that the evil Umbrella Corporation built.

This movie pickups right where the third one ended, in fact if you haven’t seen all of the RESIDENT EVIL flicks, then you may be left scratching your head a lot during this one. Sure they do a “previously on” sort of wrap up, but it’s brief and still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. However such a nitpick may not really be that big of a deal. After all, how many people jump into a multi-film series by watching the last movie first?

Anyway, the film is set in a world overrun by the undead, mutants, and undead mutants as a result of the “T Virus” which was created by the evil company, with the laughable name; Umbrella. Super powered Alice and her army of equally powerful clones raid an Umbrella stronghold looking for answers, payback and the super powered baddie; Albert Wesker. In short order all of Alice’s clones are killed off because while one sexy Mila Jovovich doing gratuitous amounts of slo-mo-fu is kind of badass, a whole army of them is just ridiculous and means nothing can be a real threat to the protagonists, thereby killing any dramatic tension before it can even begin. Yes that means that the whole “army of Alices” plot was completely pointless, but I digress. Wesker gets away (because he can’t die) as does a single Alice (because the producers will never kill of Mila’s character, the only strong point these movies have) and some time passes.

We next see Alice flying around the world, still looking for answers. She runs into a group of survivors (almost literally) living at the top of a skyscraper who want to check out a nearby ship where a radio signal says food, medicine, and safety can be found. Yeah, I’m sure everything about that ship is on the up and up. Alas, the only problem with that plan is the sea of zombies and various mutated freaks between the survivors and the ship. From there the Zombie Apocalypse Handbook is followed pretty much to the letter, with only slight variations on tired themes.

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE is not technically a bad film, but it is a far sight from good. It is a very safe action flick with shades of horror. I say “shades” as nothing is ever really scary, suspenseful, atmospheric or anything so related to fright films. It is solidly a modern action movie (read as: overly relying on CGI) with undead flesh munchers taking the place of terrorists or drug dealers.

Perhaps the best thing about this movie is the slavish fan service it displaces for those who have played the RE video games. That is especially true for the latest game; RESIDENT EVIL 5. Not only do the tentacle-mouthed zombies show up, but so does a ridiculous large dude with a bag on his head and a humongous axe. That’s right; it’s the game’s lovable Executioner and as silly as the Hulk-sized zombie axe man looks in “real life” (again read as: CGI) he does offer a pretty good slo-mo-rific fight scene, easily the highlight of this film. Pity the rest of the movie is nowhere near as inspired.

Now while I cannot comment on the 3D aspect of this film, as I do not have a 3D TV, the Blu-ray just out by Sony does also offer a bright, clear 2D version. In addition there are quite a few extras of note. Trailers, deleted scenes, outtakes, you know, all the usual fare, and that includes a director’s commentary track. There are a bunch of mini-features (seven, to be exact) that individually are kind of short, but all together is about 50 minutes of extra content. The indisputable best extra on the disc is a Blu-ray exclusive picture-in-picture video commentary track. What makes it so neat is that it contains quite a bit of info that you can’t find anywhere else. That means it’s actually worth viewing, imagine that.

If you’ve seen all the other RESIDENT EVIL flicks then you’ll probably dig this one. While it offers nothing really new, it does bring more of the same zombie mashing action you obviously like. If you are new to the world of RE then you would be best served starting with the first movie and working your way up, less you be more than a little lost. So as a sequel it is mostly passable but as a standalone film…well not so much.


Director: Kevin Greutert
Cast: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell

After seven films, you ought to know if the SAW flicks are for you. As for my opinion on the franchise that has probably stayed around way past its expiration date, I really dug the first one, thought the second was ok, and from there they are of varying quality. But how does this latest one compare to all the goretastic SAWs that came before?

Sadly it would be on the bottom of that barrel of blood and guts. The premise behind these movies is just tired. The story is needlessly convoluted and if you haven’t been following all of the SAW films then you just might be scratching your head at times when a dramatic reveal happens and you’re left thinking, “Who’s that?” Even the real stars of the show, the deathtraps, seem silly or worse; boring. That’s like a slasher flick with lame kills; no good will come from it.

The story, such as it is, has a bad guy abducting people and sticking them in deadly traps which cause them to kill and maim themselves. Really, that’s it. Well there is once nice bit about a survivor who escaped the traps in the past writing a book about his harrowing experience. Problem is, the author is lying about the whole thing and that pisses off the bloodthirsty baddie to no end. As for the mandatory twist ending these movies all have, this one is exceptionally unbelievable. That’s really saying something when you consider that the endings have been getting more and more outrageous and silly since the third film when they killed off the one interesting character of the entire series, the evil trap master, Jigsaw. Hmm, I bet the producers were kicking themselves after that.

The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack by Lionsgate has a few bells and whistles to (hopefully) send off the SAW franchise in style. There are two audio commentary tracks by the producers and the writers, but the director oddly doesn’t have one. Maybe that’s because the Hollywood rumor mill says he was forced into directing this movie under threat of violating a contract, when he was all set to direct SAW’s latest challenger, and arguably better movie, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. One can only imagine what fun his commentary would have been. There are the usual deleted scenes, extended scenes, and trailers. There are also five music videos which seems to be an odd, but an okay addition I guess. Perhaps the best extra is something called “52 Ways to Die”. It is a video retrospective showcasing all the various traps used in the all the SAW films to date. But really, with that being the only featurette, the disc does feel a bit light in the extras department.

Finally there is a 3D version of this Blu-ray, appropriately titled SAW 3D, for all you early adapters who have plucked down your cold hard cash for a 3D TV. However since I so very badly hope that 3D TVs don’t catch on, I do not have one and so I cannot comment on how this flick looks with blood and gore flying off your screen.

In summation, SAW is a very dead horse that has been beaten so hard that it’s only but a smear on the ground. Worse yet, this FINAL CHAPTER is easily the weakest of the bunch with bad acting, uninspired direction, and sadly silly traps. I cannot recommend this film, but if you are a fan of the previous SAW flicks then you might as well get this one too, if only to complete your set. Here’s hoping that unlike FIRDAY THE 13TH, this FINAL CHAPTER really is final.

--Brian M. Sammons