Monday, June 27, 2011
Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!
TRUE BLOOD SEASON 3- (2010)
Created by Alan Ball
Cast: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard
Confession time: I think this show isn’t really good, and, at times, it’s a big bag of stupid. Without ever reading the books it’s based on, the twists and turns the show tries to pull off I always see coming way in advance. The characters often do nonsensical things, sometimes against type, only for the sake for advancing the plot and that has always been a pet peeve of mine. Worst of all I hate the part it has played in the wussification of vampires into misunderstood, brooding, bad boys. You know; pale necrophiliac sex symbols with fangs as opposed to the evil, undead things I prefer.
Yet with all that said, I do so enjoy watching this show. I know, I’m surprised as you are, not to mention even a bit ashamed for myself. TRUE BLOOD is not great TV, hell it’s not even particularly good TV. At best its junk food TV, but just like chocolate and peanut butter, I just can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s silly and bloody and sexy and I do love it so. So keep that in mind when reading this review. TRUE BLOOD has won me over despite me not really liking it. I guess that does attest to something good about this show, or at just how easily I’m amused. Anyway, let’s move on.
Just in case you’ve been asleep for the last three years, TRUE BLOOD is set in a world where the vamps have come out of the proverbial closest and has joined, with mixed success, the world of man. Down south Louisiana way a sexy, brooding vampire (yeah, what did I tell you) named Bill falls for a feisty, perky waitress with psychic powers named Sookie. The TV series explores the star crossed lovers’ trials and tribulations, but because this is a world were undead bloodsuckers are real, things are a bit more complicated and exciting than that tired ROMEO AND JULIET premise. There are werewolves (of course, wherever there’s vampires these days, there’s werewolves), black magic, ancient gods, and even fairies thrown into the mix. Yes, fairies. If you’re familiar with the WORLD OF DARKNESS line of role playing games like I am then all this may sound familiar to you and you’ll probably wonder, as I did, how come they haven’t sued the hell out of this show by now. Well I don’t know the answer to that, so again, let’s move one.
Season three of the monsterific melodrama begins with vampire Bill popping the question to Sookie, but before she can say yes or no (you know she was going to say yes, don’t you) Bill is abducted by bad guys. So begins this season’s arc involving a huge pack of werewolves, a vampire king named Russell (played to scene chomping perfection by Denis O'Hare who owns ever scene he’s in), and Sookie discovering the truth behind hey mysterious powers. There’s a lot more going on that just that. TRUE BLOOD has a boatload of memorable secondary characters, each with their own ongoing story arcs, including a Viking vampire, and werepuppy and his new found family, Sookie’s dumb as a rock but good hearted brother, Bill’s smoking hot vampire offspring and her love life troubles, Sookie’s best friend who gets into a very bad relationship, and on and on it goes. At times you need a flow chart just to follow all these plot threads, but such things do make for rabid fans, and since I don’t want to risk their wrath, far be it from me to spoil any of the surprises.
Look, you already know if you like this show or not and whether or not you’re going to be picking up these discs. So with that in mind I’ll cut to the chase and say that if you’re already a fangbanger (and if you know what that is, then you are) then you should rejoice because this set of Blu-rays fresh out from HBO delivers the goods. Not only does the show look amazing in High-Def, but there’s a bunch of extras packed in for the fans. That is something another cable company named SHOWTIME should take note of for their Blu-ray releases of their flagship show, DEXTER, but I digress. Here you’ll find a ton of cool featurettes. You can flash back to relive pivotal moments from the show or flash forward to see how scenes effect the world and the ongoing story. There are bios for all the various characters, living, dead and undead alike. There are a half dozen or so interviews, not with the actors, but with the characters they play in the show. A nice collection of trivia and hints or what may happen in future episodes, scene deconstructions, episode wrap ups, audio commentary tracks with the cast and crew, and even a Snoop Dogg video (no, really) are all found here. All TV series should get such treatment when they are released on disc, but sadly very few do.
So despite myself, I highly recommend TRUE BLOOD season 3 on Blu-ray. It’s a fun show that I always enjoy watching and it is presented here in a great looking package with a bunch of goodies for the fans. However if you ever tell any of my guy friend that I’ve said this, I’ll deny it.
RED RIDING HOOD– (2011)
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Lukas Haas, Gary Oldman
Let me start by saying that this movie wasn’t made for me. Not…one…little…bit. It was directed by the same woman who helmed the first TWILIGHT film and that other film’s stench is all over this one. In fact, this film was obviously made to cash in on the TWILIGHT craze and rope in some of those screaming, obsessive fangirls. As such, I guess it’s a success because it couldn’t be more TWILIGHT-y unless it was actually called TWILIGHT. Granted, I’ve never been able to make it through a complete sparkly vampire movie without the aid of a RIFFTRAX comedy commentary track, so I might not be the best person to judge such things. Also, as I sated at the start, since I’m not a starry-eyed, teenage girl, I was destined to despise TWILIGHT and all things like it. Sadly, that goes for this movie too. Now I did super-duper-dog-dare-swear try to go into this movie with as open a mind as possible, and for the most part I think I did, but I still didn’t like it. Not…one…little…bit. Well ok, maybe a wee bit, but I freely and openly admit that I’m not the target audience of this film, so keep that in mind when reading this review.
RED RIDING HOOD takes the (in)famous Grimm’s Fairy Tale and ladles on the spooky and the sexy, but since this film was shoehorned into he ever lucrative PG-13 pigeonhole to get at those TWILIGHT-ers, it’s not really much of either. In fact, as far as the sexiness goes, you can practically see RED chaffing under the constraints of producers’ self-imposed PG-13 mandate. It really wanted to be far more risqué then it actually was and I do think it’s sad that it couldn’t be if that’s what it really wanted to do. Regardless, it is still a pale shadow of a movie that came out before it that did the very same thing, only much better. But since Neil Jordan’s trippy THE COMPANY OF WOLVES was made way back in 1984, chances are that the vast majority of the people watching this movie wasn’t even born then. I guess that’s another great thing about making movies especially for teens; chances are good that they haven’t seen the earlier, better version of the movie you’re retreading now.
This time around “red” is a young girl named Valerie who gets in a love triangle (naturally) between a handsome and rich, but cold, nobleman and the handsome, dirty poor, but more passionate woodcutter she’s always kind of liked. Oh and if that wasn’t such a blatant smack upside the head to the TWILIGHT fans, one of the hunky guys is fair featured and the other is dark and smoldering, or at least that is how the filmmakers try to show off both suitors as often as possible. SUBTLE!
This love story is set in unspecified European town in unspecified “fairy tale time” that has been plagued for generations by a large, killer wolf. Well after so much death the Catholic Church finally decides to tack action because you see, the Big Bad Wolf is actually a werewolf and so it could be any of the townspeople. Ah, a mystery, at least that’s something this film has over the TWILIGHT flicks. Enter the monster hunter, played by Gary Oldman, so you from the start know he’s going to be at least a little nuts. And since he represents the church you also know he’s going to be cuckoo for witch burnings. Gee, can you guess who soon becomes the target for his persecution? Well since this film has had zero surprises thus far, I’m sure you can.
As far as looks goes, it’s a win/lose situation. The cinematography is actually very good and the whole thing screams, “This is a fairy tale!” from scene one at you almost as loudly as Ridley Scott did with LEGEND. That’s high praise in my book. However the CGI wolf ranges at times from simply “Seriously, that’s what they went with?” to “Bwah hah hah hah hah! Oh man is that horrible”. The direction also seems competent. It is clear that Catherine Hardwicke knows how to tell a story, I just wish she would choose better stories to tell in the future.
As far as the disc brought out by Warner Bros, it’s pretty good. It’s another of their great combo packs, combining the Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy. So no matter where or how you want to watch this film, you can. I only watched the Blu-ray of this film, but I was impressed with both the great looking High-Def picture and the well mastered sound design. The extras are none too shabby either. This version of the movie is listed as the “Alternate Cut” with a new “provocative” ending. There is also a running picture-in-picture commentary track with the director and stars, and I’m always a sucker for such things. A nice smattering of more goodies round things off, such as music videos, deleted scenes, a gag real, audition tapes, interviews and the like.
So while I thought RED RIDING HOOD was “meh” at best, the package as a whole gets a solid B. Perhaps even a B +. If you’re a teenage girl and a fan of the TWILIGHT series then you’ll probably like RED, so give it a shot. If you’re neither teenage or a girl and you like TWILIGHT…really? I mean, really, really? But hey, who am I to judge, go ahead and pick up a copy of RED RIDING HOOD too. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.
THE RITE- (2011)
Director: Mikael Håfström
Cast: Colin O'Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins and Ciarán Hinds
It must be hard to make movies about demonic possession. No other sub-genre of horror has such a long, dark shadow looming over it. There are a ton of zombie movies out there, and while watching them, you don’t always think back to the first and the best; NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. There are a gaggle of vampire flicks, but not all of them have the specter of DRACULA haunting them. Yet any movie about demonic possession made after 1973 has the masterful THE EXORCIST eclipsing them to some degree or another. Perhaps that’s because most seem content to ape that milestone movie in more than one way. But even those that try to do their own thing, like THE LAST EXORCISM, you can still see the shadow of little Regan MacNeil spinning her head 360 and vomiting out the green stuff. Does this latest “Satan inside you” film, backed by the heavy acting guns of Anthony Hopkins, buck the trend and firmly establish its own, unique stamp on the exorcism flicks?
Sadly, no. The movie’s not horrible, and watching Hopkins chew through the scenery is always entertaining if nothing else, but THE RITE brings absolutely nothing to the new table. Really, not one thing done here hasn’t already been done before in other films. Not that they were always done better in those previous movies than what happens in THE RITE, but an old, tired magic trick, no matter how good looking, is still old and tired. But let’s give the devil his due and get to the story.
A young priest having a crisis of faith (is there any other kind of young priests in movies?) is sent to Rome by his mentor and friend and enrolled in the booming exorcism school in an attempt to keep him wearing the collar. Even there, literally surrounded by Catholic Church and learning to do combat against the arch fiend, young Michael (oh, subtle – just wait to you meet his gal pal Angeline) is still leaning towards team non-believer. So Professor X-orcist sends Michael to the baldest, most legendary daemon butt-kicker of all time, Father Lucas Trevant, played by Anthony Hopkins. After watching Father Trevant in action a couple of times Michael is still not convinced, even after seeing a young girl speak in tongues, puke out nails, and act all slutty. Not even a visit from a red-eyed demonic donkey (no, really) completely convinces him. Hmm, demonic donkeys, maybe that is something unique? Well, sort of. I mean, DRAG ME TO HELLL did have a demonic goat.
Now what comes next may dip into spoiler territory a bit, but only if you’ve never heard anything at all about this movie, didn’t see the trailer, or just looked the DVD cover. Really, if this plot twist was supposed to be a secret, the words “epic fail” doesn’t even come close, but far be it from me to ruin anything out of hand so…
The best thing in THE RITE is when Anthony Hopkins’ priest character becomes possessed. That’s when Mr. Hopkins turns the scenery mulching machine that is his considerable talent into overdrive and starts having fun with the rather dull, plodding picture. Folks, this is what you came here to see and it is a lot of fun. Sadly it’s not even the slightest bit scary, but it is Hopkins acting crazy and badass, so what’s not to love? Well how about the fact that even this part of the film isn’t perfect, like when demo-Hopkins calls Michael “kissy lips” to insult him, which is just plain silly. Oh and I can’t forget the bad one-two-three punch of the whole thing coming too late in the film, not lasting long enough, and then having this big scary demon getting dispelled far too easily by wet-behind-the-ears-not-really-a-priest Michael. That said, I’m always a sucker for Anthony Hopkins doing his crazy bit.
The disc(s) for this film are as mixed bag as the movie itself. The good news is that it’s a Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download combo pack, so if you are a fan of this film you can watch the hell out of it in any way you want. As for the Blu-ray, the audio and video quality is both topnotch. However the extras are on the pretty disappointing side. I guess because this movie was based on “true events”, as it proudly proclaims over the title, the only extras here are some stuff on the priest and exorcism school that inspired this story. That’s fine if you believe in demonic possession and exorcisms, but if you’re just a horror movie fan like me, well you’ll be left with only a brief alternate ending that wasn’t all that thrilling as the only extra goodies pertaining to the movie.
I really can’t recommend THE RITE, but like I said earlier, it’s not horrible, so I won’t completely dissuade you from it either. If you’re a fan of Satan joyriding around inside of folks flicks, then here’s another one for your collection.
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Wings Hauser
When this film begins a car drives through the desert, knocking over chairs as it goes. When it stops, a cop gets out of the trunk, the driver hands him a full glass of water, and then the policeman address the audience directly, breaking the fourth wall. He then goes on a long monolog about how all movies have elements of “no reason” in them before getting back in the car’s trunk and driving away. Thus begins an 83 minuet exploration of things happening for…you guessed it…no reason. And by that I mean a group of people in the deserter using binoculars to watch a film about a tire that comes to life, starts rolling around on its own and blowing people’s heads up with its psychic powers. And well, that’s all there is to the story. The tire rolls here and there and occasionally takes a shower, people’s heads go boom in gory glory, the fourth wall is continually shattered, and more strange, odd, and completely WTF moments happen per minuet here than in any other movie I can remember.
Now I love strange movies, and a film about a living, breathing (yes, it breathes, not to mentions sleeps) psycho killer tire is about as strange as it comes, but RUBBER is a one joke film and even though it’s not even an hour and a half in length, it starts to feel a little long around the halfway mark. Just watching the tire roll around and kill folks isn’t enough substance to fill up a feature length movie. Sure there are a bunch of characters, but none of them are ever fleshed out past the stock cardboard cutout stage, and most just serve to be victims of the tire’s rolling wrath. Yes there are some good head blowing up scenes, lots of silly bits of “huh?” that will make you giggle, and even some T&A for the audience (both the in movie audience and those out of the movie) to enjoy, but that’s it. It’s weird solely for the sake of being weird and I honestly don’t know if writer/director Quentin Dupieux first had the idea of wanting to make a movie about a killer tire, or he wanted to make the strangest film imaginable and only later came up with the idea of using a sentient tire as the lead. Whatever came first, the idea works, but only for so long.
The Blu-ray from Magnolia’s Magnet home video arm does make the movie look a lot better than any film about a killer tire should. I mean you just haven’t seen a tire rolling around until you’ve seen it in High-def. Unfortunately the extras on this disc are only so-so. There’s no commentary track and if ever there was a film that could have used one, it’s RUBBER. There is an interview with the director and three more with three of the actors, although sadly no one thought to interview the tire. There are some camera tests, a trailer, and a short HDNet behind the scenes look at the movie but that’s it for the goodies, folks. So it’s not a completely barebones release, but it is far from stuffed with extras.
RUBBER is a fun, goofy, and dare I say even zany flick that I enjoyed quite a lot, but I do think it would have worked better as a short film rather than a feature. That said, it is certainly worth a watch and I guarantee you won’t see another movie like it…well, ever.
THE NESTING– (1981)
Director: Armand Weston
Cast: Robin Groves, Christopher Loomis, Michael David Lally
I must have seen the box art for this 80s horror flick a thousand times on the shelves of a dozen mom & pop video rental stores and yet I never did see it. Why? Because with a title like THE NESTING I assumed it was about killer bugs or something and I preferred my horror back then to be of a more slasher, zombie, demonic, or ghostly nature. But, if I had taken a moment to read the back of this movie’s box, I might have been surprised. Sort of like how I was surprised when I got this new Blu-ray in the mail from my buddies over at Blue Underground. You see, THE NESTING has nothing to do with bugs, or birds, or anything that actually nests. It is, in fact, the most poorly named haunted house movie in history, or at least a contender for the title. It should have stuck with its more sensational, and accurate, alternate title MASSACRE MANSION. Even the alternate, alternate title of PHOBIA is more accurate than THE NESTING. But horrible title aside, is the movie any good? Let’s find out.
A lady author of a mystery novel called “The Nesting” (and yes, that’s the only explanation for the title of this film that you get) named Lauren is suffering from agoraphobia. To help get over it she leaves the big city for a working vacation in the countryside. Hmm, sounds more like cityphobia, but whatever. She comes across a rundown octagon house that she swears she has never seen before, and yet it resembles the house on the cover of her last book. Clearly not getting the clue that she should STAY THE HELL OUT OF THAT HOUSE, she rents it for the summer and almost immediately starts seeing weird things happening. But I give Lauren this much, she realizes that she’s in a haunted house in record time for being in a haunted house movie.
Since the mystery author loves a good mystery, she starts looking into the history of the unusual house and why she not only keeps seeing strange things, but keeps having bizarre dreams of someone else’s life. This leads to the owner of the house, the always creepy John Carradine, who naturally has a dark secret. Uncovering this secret is at the heart of this movie, and while you may see the twist coming way in advance, there enough good stuff between there and here to keep you watching, including pretty darn good acting from Robin Groves as our lead, a surprise slasher-like effect or two, and some glorious over acting by the town fool/scumbag. But unfortunately, that’s about all this film has. The plot sort of just plods along, checking off the boxes as it goes, never really doing anything bad, but not doing anything new, either. THE NEXTING is a by the numbers haunted house film, as such it was a fun watch, if not a completely memorable one.
While the film was only so-so, Blue Underground has done a good job restoring and up-converting the old 1981 film to High-Def. While not as bright as modern movies on Blu-ray, it nonetheless looks really good. Thankfully it still has the look of film to it and I’ll take that any day over the overly polished till it looks like plastic look of most modern flicks. Sadly, the extras are nothing to write home about. There are a few deleted and extended scenes, but they add nothing new. Trailers, TV spots, and poster and photo galleries are it for the goodies.
THE NESTING is an OK fright film that has flew under my horror radar for too long thanks to a misleading, nonsensical title. While it was not spectacular or anything, it does have a few good frights and a neat little mystery to puzzle out, which is more than what I can say for many ghostly movies. If you’ve been waiting for this film to resurface after a very long absence or you’re a fan of haunted houses in general then thank the folks over at Blue Underground for bringing back this all but forgotten fright film. Here’s hoping they continue to bring more rare horror flicks to the modern age.
--Brian M. Sammons