Monday, July 4, 2011
Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)- Blu-Ray
Director: Jason Eisener
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Pasha Ebrahimi, Robb Wells
There is a scene at about the halfway mark of this movie where a school bus full of kids gets burned alive with a flamethrower. This heinous act isn’t done for dramatic purposes, but for laughs and blatant shock value. The scene comes complete with a boom box playing “Disco Inferno” and a little girl, all charred and bubbling flesh, scratching at the bus’ back door, desperate to escape. Now I begin this review with this for the simple fact that if this all too brief description turns you off of this film, then don’t bother reading any further. This movie is full of stuff like this and therefore, it is not for you. I’m not going to debate the morals of having such a thing in a movie. If I wanted to do that, I would go for the gold and do a review of A SERBIAN FILM. No, censorship in any form is abhorrent to me and I’m one of those weird people that believe if you don’t like something, then don’t watch, listen, or read it. So with that in mind, why waste your time if the thought of tykes turning into torches for laughs is repellent to you? Trust me, skip this movie and you’ll be much happier for it.
Still here? Well then, you sick puppies, let’s get to it.
In an attempt to try to explain things, I’ll start at the beginning that this film began as a joke. No really, it did. Remember the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino double feature GRINDHOUSE that had its own fake, silly trailers. Well in order to promote that film, they had a contest for people to make their own fake trailers for movies that would be very comfortable in a 70s grindhouse. Well that idea not only gave birth to HOBO, but it became a bit of an internet meme. So looking to cash in on internet buzz, someone threw money at creators and the result was this film. So yeah, this was the second fake movie related to GRINDHOUSE, with MACHETE being the first. Now only if Eli Roth’s awesome looking THANKSGIVING someday comes out… but alas, back to HOBO.
Rutger Hauer plays the titular hobo who comes to a caricature of the typical sleazy, corrupt, crime ridden city that you only find in bad movies, and it’s great. Everything is done so over the top, from the setting, to the characters, to the Grand Guignol amounts of blood and violence. The entire movie is an experiment in excess, but I guess I’m getting ahead of myself, so back to the story. The hobo comes to town and only wants to save up enough money to buy a lawnmower so he can get a respectable job and rejoin society. However, with his brief interactions with society, he becomes more and more sickened with what he sees. The usual drugs, prostitution, victimization, and violence you may expect on the mean streets are all amplified to a factor of 9000 because a scummy crime lord named The Drake runs the entire city with his two carnage loving clowns of sons. This terrible trio is more than fine with ripping the head off of someone in broad daylight, forcing everyone to look, and then having a chick dance in the fountain of blood from the stump of a neck. Anyway, when the police offer no help, and in fact beat the living hell out of the hobo for daring to bring a murder to their attention, it is left up to the hobo to get his shotgun and take matters into his own, grimy hands.
Along the way in this weird, weird, excessively violent (and did I mention weird?) movie, the hobo finds love with a hooker the prerequisite heart of gold, kills a pedophiliac Santa Clause, eats some glass, kills rape-loving cops, gets chased by an angry mob, fights against a pair of demonic cyborgs of the apocalypse who, in turn, fight giant squids in their free time (when not appearing in their own video game), and it goes on and on like this. If you want to see a film, that while you’re watching it, you wonder, “am I high or something?” then this is for you. If being rude, crude, weird, violent, and offensive was an art form, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN would be hanging in the Louvre.
And like a work of art, Magnet spared no expense nor cut any corners with this new Blu-ray release. Besides looking far better than any 70s exploitation wannabe flick should, this has a nice collection of bonus materials. There’s a pretty funny commentary track with director Eisener and star Hauer. Not to be outdone, Eisener returns for a second commentary, this one with the writer, the producer, and the actor who played the original hobo in the grindhouse trailer. A bunch of behind the scenes clips have been assembled, but they’re not connected in anyway and are sort of just a hodgepodge. You can watch those same clips as pop-ups in the movie as it runs in a feature called “shotgun mode”, and that is perhaps the best way to view them. If that wasn’t enough, there is a making of featurette that runs about 45 minutes. There are deleted scenes, video blogs shot while making the movie, camera test footage, interviews with Hauer and Eisener for Fangoria Magazine that also runs about 45 minutes, a HDNet special look on the film, and alternate ending, the original grindhouse trailer that started all the madness, and then as a total snake eating it’s tale moment, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN did their own fake grindhouse trailer and that short is on here too. Whew, that’s a lot of extras for just one little movie that started off as a joke. Whether or not you like this film, it is undeniable that this is one first class Blu-ray release.
Once more, this film it isn’t for everyone and it very well might not be for you. However I did enjoy it in a deep down, sick sort of way. Also, I’ve always got to give at least a partial nod of approval to films that actually try to do new things, and HOBO WITH THE SHOTGUN does indeed do that. If you can laugh at terrible things, give it a shot.
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970)- Blu-Ray
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno
Arrow Video from marry old England continues tearing through the Argento catalog, this time brining “the Italian Hitchcock’s” first movie to glorious High-Def. The good news is that like all of Arrow’s Blu-rays, it is a region free disc, so despite it coming from across the pond, it plays perfectly well in our North American players. The question is; should we care? I mean, it is a film by Dario Argento, but it is his first film. Does everyone knock it out of the park their first time at bat? Well no, but come on…it’s Argento! So having never actually seen this film for myself before, I gave the old maestro the benefit of the doubt and gladly popped this one into my BD player. Was this early Argento effort a pretty birdy, or just enough turkey? Let’s find out.
An American writer in Rome named Sam sees an attack on a woman in an art gallery by the staple of giallo movies; a figure in a trench coat, face-concealing hat, and the trademark black gloves. He intervenes and the woman lives, but in doing so the local police take his passport, as he is the only one to see the psycho who has so far sliced up three other woman. This also means he becomes the target of said psycho. When the killer tries to add Sam to his body count total, twice, the writer screws up his American gumption and decides to look into the matter and the mystery himself. Naturally more bodies pile up, the plot gets a bit too confusing too fast, and Argento adds his own quirky touches, like a cat-eating artist who lives in a room only accessible by a ladder to a second floor window.
Now if you go into this movie with Argento’s bloody, horror films fresh in your mind, expecting more of the same here, I fear you may be a tad disappointed. While technically a giallo film, BIRD is the most “traditional” murder mystery movie he’s made. What I mean by that is while there is some blood, it’s not up to the usual Dario Argento standards of quantity or quality. Also, there are some murders to be sure, but they’re sort of basic and nowhere near as creative or awe-inspiring as other movies from the director. Like DEEP RED, for example. And while the mystery is at times twisty, I figured out who the killer was before the movie spilled the beans, and that rarely happens in an Argento film. But most damning of all, while I thought the film was good, I didn’t think it was great and also found it at times to be a bit boring. I can’t remember ever saying that about another Argento film, so take that how you will.
As for this Blu-ray release, once again Arrow Video delivers the goods. Let’s count off the usual goodies. Four different options for the BD box art? Check. Double-sided wall poster? Check. Collector’s booklet written by Argento expert, Alan Jones? Check again. As for the extra goods on the disc, they are plenty. There’s a really good audio commentary by the aforementioned Mr. Jones and fellow author, Kim Newman. Luigi Cozzi, longtime friend and collaborator of Argento’s, does a 15 minute featurette on BIRD. Sergio Martino, himself a well-known director of Italian splatter classics like THE MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD and TORSO, does a half-hour retrospective on giallo movies, with special attention paid to Argento’s films. Last but in no way least, Dario himself does a 15 minuet interview about his first major motion picture.
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE isn’t the best Argento film, but it is still pretty darn good. Also, it’s the first, and that means it is simply historic. Perhaps for that reason alone it deserves to be in the home library of any giallo, mystery and/or horror fan. I’ll leave that up to you.
TENEBRE (1982)- Blu-Ray
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Anthony Franciosa, Giuliano Gemma, Christian Borromeo
Arrow Video from the UK continues their triumphant march through Dario Argento land with the first High-Def transfer of Argento’s big return to giallo films after indulging in his supernatural spook stories, the masterful SUSPIRIA and the much maligned INFERNO. In fact when this movie first came out, there were some who were upset that this movie wasn’t the conclusion to Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, because with a name like TENEBRAE, it could have been about anything. But no, it’s a return to black gloved killers and far too convoluted, sometimes downright confusing, plots. But does this movie, released in America under the gloriously goofy title of UNSANE, deliver the goods as well as Argento’s earlier giallo films? Well let’s find out.
Famous murder mystery author, Peter Neal, goes to Rome to promote his latest macabre masterpiece, the book called TENEBRAE. Unfortunately someone is using a straight razor to slash up pretty ladies in the same manner as people are killed in Peter’s book and then, just to make sure the author is getting the point, he sends taunting letters to the writer. Against his better judgment, Peter gets further and further pulled into the whodunit as people close to him start getting slashed. And really, without giving the good, and somewhat weird, twisty bits away, that’s all I can say about this movie. Well, directly. I can say that the right amount of red stuff for a giallo is present here, even if some of the kills in TENEBRAE are a bit pedestrian compared to the usual crazy carnage you would expect from Argento. There is also the trademarked Argento WTF moment with the most athletic and angry doggy in history that comes completely out of nowhere and just so happens to chase a character to a very unfortunate location. Sure it’s completely nonsensical, but it’s awesome nevertheless.
Oh, and do I have to mention the look of an Argento film? I mean I do with every review of one of his films, so by now you should know that Dario is a master filmmaker, and while not all of his movies are golden, they usually look damn good. So if you want to see how good movies should be made, forget that hyper-kinetic, vomit inducing, shaky-cam crap comprised out of scenes no longer than 3.5 seconds in length for the A.D.D. generation, and get this example of a maestro in action.
As usual, it’s the extras, both on and off the disc, that makes this release shine. Really, what Arrow Video considers normal for a Blu-ray release, most other disc producers would label super-duper-deluxe editions and charge you a whole heap extra for it. Anyway, you get the now expected double-sided art for the disc case, which gives you four options on how you want to display this movie. There’s the double-sided wall poster, and a seven page collector’s booklet. As far as goodies on the disc, there are two audio commentaries. One track is from Argento expert Thomas Rostock, the other is a tag-team by another Argentophile, Alan Jones and author Kim Newman that I found very informative and surprisingly funny. There’s an introduction to the movie by actress Daria Nicolodi, and she also provides a longer interview. Dario Argento himself speaks about this film in a short interview. A featurette about composer Claudio Simonetti, some concert footage from Argento music makers, the legendary band Goblin, and the original trailer round off the extras nicely.
TENEBRAE is considered by some to be Argento’s last great movie. Whether you agree with that or not, what is undeniable is that this is Argento firing on all cylinders on this one and delivering the giallo goods with both hands, clad in black gloves, and smeared with a bit too red blood. For Argento fans, giallo murder mystery buffs, completionists of the great horror directors, and lovers of beautifully filmed movies of all types, this is a must have for you. If you fall into one or more of those categories, and you really should, then be sure to get this High-Def horror disc that is thankfully region free. You won’t be sorry.
THE FUNHOUSE (1981)- Blu-Ray
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin
80s slasher flicks; lord, how I love them. I grew up with them, they shaped and molded my developing brain, and they honestly made me into the man I am today. At least, that’s what I plan to say when the authorities finally come for me. But until that time, I will continue to fill my personal film library with 80s slashes of all sorts, be they the good, the bad, the ugly or the rare. So thank goodness for the people across the pond at Arrow Video who, seems to be absolutely driven to bring out as many great horror movies in glorious High-Def that is humanely possible. Their latest blast from the past is 1981s creepy carnival classic from the man who gave us plenty of nightmares with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Yep I’m talking about THE FUNHOUSE.
The movie takes place in Heartland USA as a group of teens go for a night of semi-naughty fun at the traveling carnival that has just come to town. They wander about the place, meeting weirdo after weirdo, until they decide to spend the night in the funhouse on a dare. That’s when one of them takes something they shouldn’t, and the group sees something else that they really, really shouldn’t. That causes a hulking brute in a Frankenstein mask to do the old stalk and slash, as the desperate teens discover that they are trapped in the funhouse with no way to escape.
While that plot synopsis sounds like the typical 80s slasher fare, THE FUNHOUSE really doesn’t fit into that mold at all. In fact gore hounds and body counters may be in for a surprise when watching this flick. While there is blood, death, and carnage to be found here, including one very memorable maniac, Tobe focuses much more on the creepy, icky, and just plain dirty side of small traveling carnivals. In fact the first murder doesn’t even occur until past the halfway mark of this movie, at 48 minutes in. But fear not, my red-blooded brothers, the first pair of naked boobies pop up right after the opening credits. Thanks, Mr. Hooper! Anyway, all this makes for a much more honest to goodness horror film than many of the mad-man-with-a-knife-and-a-mask movies that were coming out around the same time. Tobe Hooper allows you to wallow in the carnival’s disturbing atmosphere for a good long time, letting you get to know both the soon to be knife-fodder and the one that’s going to be doing the killing, before the first body hits the floor. Only a moviemaker of Tobe Hooper’s one time caliber could have pulled this off without boring the audience to tears. I say “one time” because have you seen any of the man’s newest flicks? Yikes!
Another thing that sets this movie aside from the rest of the slasher pack is the inclusion of a child to the main cast. Sure, the kid is strange, creepy and off putting in his own way. He’s obsessed with both horror movies and his older sister to a perhaps unhealthy degree, going so far as to peek in on her while she’s in the shower (eewww) but just having him in the picture makes everything feel all the more icky. Sure the little brother character is a bit too driven and capable for a child his age, but then some of the actors are a bit too old to be playing teens, so what are you going to do?
Now because this Blu-ray comes from Arrow Video, a few things are a given. First and more importantly, the disc is region free (something all BD and DVD makers should do, damn it) so it can be enjoyed anywhere. Second, the usual Arrow extras included with the Blu-ray are all here, like the double-sided art for the disc case, the double-sided wall poster, and the 15 page collector’s booklet. I think I say this every time I review something from Arrow Video, but it’s the extra touches that horror fans like myself really go gaga over. As for the on-disc extras, there’s an impressive three audio commentary tracks for you to choose from. The usually reclusive Tobe Hooper actually does an interview about FUNHOUSE, and a separate Q&A session recorded in San Francisco. There’s a featurette with makeup artists Craig Reardon who worked with Tobe on EATEN ALIVE, POLTERGEIST, and FUNHOUSE. Mick Garris, he of the Masters of Horror, reflects on the long career of his buddy, Tobe. Some trailers and stills round out the impressive collection of extra content for a largely forgotten fright film.
Final word: it’s Tobe Hooper, 80s horror, THE FUNHOUSE, and Arrow Video’s usual bang-up job of presenting a great looking transfer of the movie and tossing in so many extra goodies as to boggle the mind. The phrase “no-brainer” is the perfect answer to the question, should you pick up this Blu-ray. Consider it highly recommended.
DAMNATION ALLEY (1977)- Blu-Ray
Director: Jack Smight
Cast: Jan-Michael Vincent, George Peppard, Dominique Sanda
I love post-apocalyptic movies. The problem is that most of them are serious bummers. Now I know the reason for that, the idea of 98.5% of the earth’s population being nuked to ash isn’t supposed to be bright and sunny. However not everything that is, or would be, bleak in the real world has to be bleak in the movies. After all, adventurous sword and sorcery fantasy films are largely set in dark ages of Europe, and that era wasn’t exactly known for its pleasantness. Now some after the end of the world movies know this and they embrace the action over the misery. Examples of this would be A BOY AND HIS DOG, THE ROAD WARRIOR, and even ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, which while not technically post-apocalyptic, does have that feel to it. And while I like the serious and somber films like DAY AFTER TOMORROW and THE ROAD, give me the mutants, tricked out vehicles, and action two-fisted action of those other movies any day.
Luckily, DAMNATION ALLEY is one of those “let’s not take the apocalypse so seriously” kind of films. Sure it’s got dramatic moments, but it’s also got a Technicolor sky and giant mutant bugs. It’s also has mid-level TV actors giving it their all, like the original A-TEAM’s Hannibal (George Peppard) and the dude from AIRWOLF. You know, what was his silly name in that show, Stringfellow or something? Anyway, that’s Jan-Michael Vincent and he and George play US Air Force nuke button pushers on the day when the big bombs fly. After the A-bombs go boom, the earth shifts on its axis, is covered in a radioactive cloud, is plagued by wicked weather, and generally all hell busts loose.
A couple of years later the two stars, complete with some fodder, have to venture into the nuclear wasteland filled with giant scorpions (and if you ever played the FALLOUT videogames, I’m convinced this is where they stole their radscorpions from), hillbilly rapist types, mutants, sandstorms, and other hazards. Luckily for them, Hannibal shows off his awesome A-TEAM war machine building skills by unveiling two awesome RVs he had been working on for years. Called the Land Masters, these babies can float, dig themselves in, and complete with rockets, machine guns, armor plating, a weird tri-wheel configuration, a flexible-bendy part in the middle, and probably even cable television. These bad boys, while kind of silly looking now, were the epitome of 70s cool and are easily the most memorable part of this movie.
Along the way on this dangerous trek there’s a memorable stopover in Las Vegas where they pick up a love interest and other in Salt Lake City where they run into armor-plated cockroaches that attack like swarming piranhas that eat everything, even the tires off of cars. Genre fans keep a look out for a young Jackie Earle Haley (of WATCHMEN fame and NIGHMARE ON ELM STREET remake infamy) as a teen age survivor that gets picked up for the trip. There are other highs, lows, laughs, and sorrows as this road trip through damnation progresses, but I’ll leave the other specifics for you to find out yourself.
As far as extras on this disc, there’s a short documentary featuring the co-writer, Alan Sharp, about bringing Roger Zelazny’s pretty well regarded sci-fi novel to the big screen. Another 13 minuet featurette is an extended interview with the producer, Jerome Zeitman and focuses on his difficulties in bringing the movie out. The last feature is all about the often overlooked stars of the movie, the heavily armed and armored Land Master RVs, with the man who designed the memorable vehicles. Besides the three featurettes, there is an audio commentary with the second producer of this film, Paul Maslansky. Sadly, while this commentary is informative, it is rather dry and just not fun. On the tech side of things, the picture has been cleaned and buffed up a lot, yet it still has the great 70s film look that I love. As far as audio, you get three choices here; 6.1 DTS-HD, 7.1 LPCM Uncompressed (and no, I don’t know what all that means), and the original 2.0 stereo for you purists out there. All in all this is a pretty nice package for a mostly forgotten sci-fi flick from the 70s.
Look, I’m not going to tell you that DAMNATION ALLEY is a great movie, or even a good one. Its sci-fi melodrama preying on the cold war fears of the time, with giant scorpions, armored cockroaches, and the stars of TV’s A-TEAM and AIRWOLF trying to out smug each other. That said, if you can just sit back and enjoy the goofiness, then you’ll find that this movie is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for some post-apocalyptic action, that doesn’t mire you depression and defiantly doesn’t take things too seriously, then this is the movie for you.
--Brian M. Sammons