Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!
DEXTER SEASON 5 (2010)– Blu-ray review.
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas
DEXTER can now be added to sex and pizza, that is; even when it’s not great, it’s still pretty good. Yep, that’s Season 5 of Showtime’s mega hit serial killer TV show in a nutshell. Now it’s not just a comparison of this last season with the amazing one that came before it. You know; the one that had John Lithgow portraying a truly terrifying monster and ended with the mother of all season cliff hangers? Yeah, if you haven’t seen season 4 of DEXTER then you missed out big time. But we’re here to talk about the season that had the unenviable task of followed it. So grab your knives and your plastic wrap, its DEXTER time again.
Oh. and SPOILERS for the aforementioned epic season 4. If you don’t want some surprises ruined, stop reading now.
So season 5 starts of right where the last one left off; with deeply disturbed and deadly Dexter coming home to find his wife Rita dead and his infant son cover in her blood. That means the first couple of episodes of this season are spent with Dexter picking up the pieces and trying to get his family life in order. And while later Dex will get back to doing what he does best, and honestly what everyone really wants to see, this theme of Dexter the family man plays out through the entire season. And if I had to pick just one reason while this season feels lackluster in comparison to all the others that came before it that would be it. While it’s nice that Dexter is a fully fleshed out character, this season seemed to have lost sight on what made DEXTER so unique, compelling, and addictive, and instead replaced it with some of the typical melodrama that can be found on any other TV show. And just in case you think I’m being unfair when I say that, both the creators and the actors have said as much in various interviews and on multiple talk shows since the end of season 5. They have even promised that the upcoming season 6 will be a return to form. Let’s hope that they’re right. I mean, everyone can make a mistake; the trick is learning from it and not repeating it. Oh well, enough of that, let’s get back to it.
After taking care of Rita and what’s left of his family, Dexter is back on the hunt. But again, comparisons between this season’s main villain and last season’s amazing badie played by John Lithgow are bound to rise up, and that’s when season 5’s evil Tony Robbins impersonator falls flat. This choice of antagonist is not truly awful, but neither is he memorable. Maybe it’s because Dex has to slice through a lot of proxies before getting to the chief creep? Whatever the case may be, this nemesis just sort of felt “meh” to me. He is no Ice Truck Killer, let alone the Trinity Killer.
Another misstep was the addition of a tortured rape victim becoming both a love interest and serial killer partner to Dexter. Not only was that a stretch to believe on multiple levels, but her inclusion seemed to totally go against Dexter and all we had learned about him since the start of the series. Now some have laid much of the blame for this season’s shortcomings at the feet of actress Julia Stiles who played the tortured woman, but I am not among them. While I was not blow away by her performance, I didn’t think she did a bad job, she just did what was written for the character, which was sadly none too great.
As for special features, that’s where this Blu-rays gets a completely failing grade. Sadly, that has always been the case with all the DEXTER seasons. There are a handful of short interviews with the cast and…that’s it. Yep, that’s the whole enchilada. Oh there are a few free episodes for two of Showtime’s other shows, but that’s not “special features”, that’s nothing more than blatant advertising. Sorry Showtime execs, but if I wanted to watch THE BORGIAS I would, how about you someday give us some real special features on these discs? That would be nice. So as far as extras go, these Blu-rays get a big thumbs down. Thank god the show is good enough to still warrant a buy all by its self.
So season 5 wasn’t the highpoint of this critically claimed series, but it had enough good parts to keep me watching. Besides, if you have the other seasons of DEXTER in your home library, can you really let yourself pass on one? No, I didn’t think so.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE: SEASON 5 (1963-1964)– Blu-ray review
Created by Rod Serling
Ok, here it is TWILIGHT fans. No, I’m not talking about that tweeny, angsty, abstinence-message-in-disguise crap about the sparkling, emo vampires. I’m talking about the slice of classic entertainment that will forever outright own the word “twilight” in the hearts and minds of all true horrorheads. That’s right, it’s the TWILIGHT ZONE and here is the least season of the original series finally out on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment.
Now I firmly believe that THE TWILIGHT ZONE is like pizza, and that I really shouldn’t have to sell it to you. You know exactly what it is, and you know if you want it. I’m just here to let you know that these Blu-rays are now available for purchase and to remind you just how great of a television show this series, and specifically this season, was. Here you will find “Steel” about a boxer going up against robotic opponents. Hey, doesn’t that sound just like a certain movie coming out soon staring Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman? Yeah well it was done here first. Got a thing about creepy dolls? Well then stay away from episode 126, “Living Doll”. Are you a critical snob? Well then be sure to check out “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” which won an Academy Award for best short film in 1963. Or how about just one of the greatest TWILIGHT ZONEs of all time (and that’s saying something); Richard Matheson’s amazing “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and staring William Shatner. You know; the one with the gremlin on the wing of the plane? Yeah, that was awesome. Those are just some of the classic zones that proved the old adage of saving the best for last. Season 5 proves that the ZONE went away far before it should, and despite the two attempts to resurrect it, the first in the 80s being good to ok and the last in the early 2000s being pretty damn painful to watch, these discs easily show that the original is still the best by far. This is how great sci-fi, horror, and fantasy TV is done.
This five disc Blu-ray set from Image has 36 episodes, 20 with brand new audio commentaries. There are a bunch more extra goodies to be found here as well. There’s an extended conversation with Rod Serling, a radio interview with the director of photography of many of the TZs, and 22 radio dramas on the majority of episodes on this disc starting a wide variety of talent such as Louis Gossett, Jr., Adam Baldwin, Adam West, Luke Perry, Kate Jackson, Ed Begley, Jr., Jason Alexander, Jane Seymour, and more. There are a bunch of video interviews with writers like Richard Matheson and George Clayton Johnson and actors Bill Mumy and June Foray, to name just a few. Every episode comes with an isolated music score, in case you want to jam to the sounds of the ZONE without the pesky dialog. There are “next week’s show” promos, more interviews, scenes from the MIKE WALLACE SHOW, home movies (no, really) and more.
To say that these new discs are jam packed with extras would be accurate. To say that THE TWILIGHT ZONE is mandatory viewing for everyone would be an understatement. Simply put, the TZ is good television. Since I already used one old adage, I’ll dust off another one for this; they don’t make them like this anymore. If you already have the other seasons of TZ on Blu-ray then you owe it to yourself to end the series right and get this new set. If you have yet to start your High-Def collection of TWILIGHT ZONE then the good news is that you can watch them in any order, and since Season 5 has some of the best episodes, it’s a good place to start “zoning” out. So no matter how you come at it, starting off or ending things, this is a must have collection and as such it is very highly recommend.
PRIEST (2011) – Blu-ray review
Director: Scott Charles Stewart
Cast: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q
This is a movie that I wanted to like, should have liked, and while I sort of, kind of did, the one thing that kept me from relay enjoying it was its stupidity. Now maybe that’s a bit harsh, maybe it’s the “modern way of film making” for all the A.D.D. afflicted audience members that need bright colors and constant stuff happening on the screen, no matter how ridiculous, that I honestly find myself hating more and more as they continually ratchet up the cartoonish, and downright buffoonish “gee whiz wasn’t that cool” factor that you can’t escape in these day. Whew, that was a long sentence. But anyway, I guess when the only kind of action films Hollywood wants to make anymore are about guys in spandex fresh from the comic books, you have to expect the cinematic equivalent of jingling keys in a baby’s face to pass for entertainment. But damn it, when films like this make you pine for the “realism” of say, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s COMMANDO, then you know something has gone terribly wrong. Ok, sorry, just had to vent a little at my overwhelming disappointment at this flick that showed such promise, but ultimately left me unfulfilled. Ok, no more beating around the bush, let’s get to it.
In the world of PRIEST, vampires have existed as a separate race from mankind for a long time. An age’s long war raged between the humans with their technology and the vamps with their superhuman speed and strength. This turned the world into a wasteland and threatened to destroy all of mankind, when the Holy Church brought out their secret weapon: the priests. Think of these god fearing ass-kickers as Jedi, only without the cool lightsabers. These supermen turned the tide in the war and when this movie truly starts, the vampires have all been banished to reservations and humanity now lives in walled cities under the tyrannical thumb of the oppressive church that wants to control all aspects of people lives. That includes the priests who saved the world, and as their reward they get disbanded and are forced to work menial jobs. Yeah this film takes a very dim view of organized religion, so if such things offend you, be warned.
Anyway, one night the vampires return in force and attack an isolated farmstead, killing a husband and wife and abducting their twenty-something daughter. This unexpected turn of events turns out to not be really random when the girl turns out to be the niece of the titular priest in this movie. Naturally this vamp masher wants to go get her back, but he’s forbidden to do so by the church who just wants to stick their collective heads in the sand and pretend that the new vampire threat doesn’t exist. Well the priest isn’t having any of that, so he leaves anyway, forcing the church to send out more priests to hunt him down.
Now this movie does get a lot of things right. First, I loved the setting; a sort of western in the middle of a post-apocalyptic world that looks like it was nuked rather than vampire plagued. That is just cool and this movie pulls off that genre mash up very well. Then there are the vampires themselves. They aren’t just guys in eveningwear with capes, or glittering brooding bad boys, or even the rotting corpses of traditional folklore. No these bloodsuckers aren’t even remotely human. They are eyeless things with huge jaws and claws, hairless, blue flesh, and to complement their alien appearance, they live in hives they make out of slimy bodily secretions, just like the big bad bugs in ALIENS.
Then there is the star of the show. No, not Paul Bettany as the priest, but Karl Urban as a priest turned into the first ever human vampire. How exactly that happens, I won’t spoil, but Karl steals the show every second he’s on screen. He’s imposing, funny, and generally seems to be enjoying himself here, where as everyone else just seems to be going through the motions for a paycheck (yes I’m looking at you, slumming Christopher Plummer) or are just emotionless non-characters, like the aforementioned Paul Bettany who’s about as fun to watch as paint drying. He’s not really bad in this film, just god awful boring.
And that brings me to the stupidity that I mentioned earlier. Early in the film a guy, not a priest, but just a regular old Joe, tosses a single pistol round in the air, draws his knife, throws it at the bullet, and not only hits it, but cuts it in half. Now if reading that has you wondering why I’m making such a big deal over it, then forget I said anything, and you might be the perfect audience for this film. Unfortunately the too cool for school moments don’t just stop there. Priests can fall for fifty stories and not take any damage, they can shot tiny targets flying through the air without even looking at them, and later one priest tosses two rocks into the air and then a second priest uses those falling stones as steps to reach a monster above them. Now there’s being Jedi, and then there’s insulting my intelligence to an unheard of degree and this movie falls into the latter camp time and time again. But the eye-rolling silly bits don’t stop there. In this film, gravity is more of a suggestion then a hard and unbending law of physics as everyone; vampires, priests, and regular old humans alike, continually mock it. I can let such things slid in films like THE MATRIX where anything can happen in a computer fantasy, but when you’re trying to pull off a gritty horror world that in all other ways is supposed to be realistic, then these bits of superhero foolishness do nothing but shatter my already fragile sense of disbelief. Seriously, every time I was getting into this movie it would do some sense of over the top nonsense that made me hate it just a little bit more.
As much as a disappointment this movie was, the Blu-ray from Sony is pretty darn good. First off the movie looks gorgeous. I won’t say that the colors and bright and vibrant, because other than ash gray, cold blue, and wasteland brown, there really isn’t much color to be found here, but the blacks are deep and dark and the image is clear and laser sharp. As for the extras, there is a commentary with the director and actors Paul Bettany and Maggie Q. There are the usual deleted and extended scenes, two featurettes on the world and weapons of PRIEST, and a blu-ray exclusive feature called “Bullets and Crucifixes” which is one of those neat-o picture-in-picture running commentaries.
PRIEST was a pretty fun film and if you’re not as put off by modern movie making sensibilities for what’s considered hip and cool as I am, then you may like it more. As for me, I just couldn’t get past all the stupid bits that assailed me over and over again to fully get into this film, and as such I can only give it a mild recommendation at best.
TROLL HUNTER (2010)– BD review
Director: André Øvredal
Cast: Otto Jespersen, Robert Stoltenberg, Knut Nærum
I really love what the Norwegians have been doing with genre flicks. Be it slashers (COLD PREY), zombies (DEAD SNOW), or now good old fashioned monsters movies with TROLL HUNTER, they actually seem to “get it”. Moviemakers in that cold, snowy land take a Viking’s approach to making flicks, that is they take no prisoners and just go for it. This latest movie is a prime example of this, it takes a somewhat silly premise, that being hunting honest to goodness trolls in the modern day, but treats the subject with care and respect you just wouldn’t find in an American movie. Sure there are funny bits, but the laughs are organic, part of the story, and not forced or worse yet, at the expense of the titular trolls. This is how monster movies should be made. So put on your heavy winter coat, grab a very bright (and very special) flashlight, and let’s go hunt some trolls.
TROLL HUNTER is shot like a certain other big critter flick, CLOVERFIELD, and that is through 1st person, shaky-cam style. In the tradition of other “found footage films”, a news show gets a few digital discs sent to it anonymously, showing some very strange stuff, but with a note stating that the video is 100% authentic. These discs are from three college kids (two men and a woman) doing a news report on a supposed bear poacher. Yeah, I guess it was a slow news week in Norway. Anyway, the intrepid trio tracks down the man, and he is indeed a hunter, but his quarry isn’t bears. With a title like TROLL HUNTER for this movie, can you guess what he really hunts? Yeah no surprise there, but then you must have known that from the get go, so let’s move on.
The three filmmakers follow the hunter into the woods one night, lose him, and then bump into him as he comes running out of the forest yelling “troll!” Sure enough, there is a twenty-foot-or-so tall troll on his trail. Luckily this guy actually hunts these things and he knows daylight kills them, and even though it’s nighttime he has some high power UV lights to turn the trolls into stone. The three college kids get the battle all on film and then somehow convince the hunter to let them follow him around and document his secret war against a whole slew of trolls whenever they get out of line, culminating in a truly epic battle for the climax. You’ve seen the Blu-ray cover right? Yeah, that gives you an idea on how big that battle is.
As for those trolls, while wisely seldom seen, and at first only hinted at like the shark in JAWS, they come in all shapes and sizes. The filmmakers decided to use traditional looking trolls, and not just random big scary things with fangs and claws. While they appear weird, and often downright goofy at times, it is their unique look and variety that makes this movie stand out. You really never know what exactly you’ll see next when these Christian hating (yes, they’re not fans of Jesus and his followers) monsters take the screen. And it is rare instances like this, when movies need to show something truly fantastic and unreal, that I think my dreaded enemy, CGI, should be used. NOT as a cheap copout for gunshot wounds and blood effects that could be done better with practical makeup effect. But that’s a rant for another day…
Back to a more pleasant topic: there are a few goodies on this new Blu-ray from Magnolia’s Magnet division worth discussing. However it must be said that some of the usual extras you’ve come to expect are missing on this disc, but that’s sadly par for the course when it comes to foreign films. Case in point, there’s no director’s commentary track here. As a commentary track junky, it always makes me wonder why they just can’t get a translator to come in for this. Anyway, there is a nice 23 minuet behind the scenes featurette, and a shorter HDNet look at the movie. Then there are the usual suspects like trailers, photo galleries, deleted and extended scenes, and even a blooper reel. Perhaps the best “extra” for many will be the full 5.1 English audio track in addition to the original Norwegian one. So if you avoid foreign films out of hatred for subtitles, well then you’ve got no excuse to let this groovy little movie pass you by.
I really dug this weird little flick. It wasn’t terribly deep but it sure was a whole lot of big monster fun. The acting and direction is both competent and the landscape is truly breathtaking and has that rugged, primeval feel that you could believe had trolls living in it. If you’re a fan of monster flicks then do yourself a favor and check out TROLL HUNTER. I’m betting you’ll dig it too.
I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)– Blu-ray review
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Cast: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon
I love revenge flicks, they speak to me on a primal “eye for an eye” level that tickles my lizard brain to no end. And boy howdy, it seems like no one does revenge these days like the Koreans do. OLDBOY, LADY VENGEANCE (both directed by Chan-wook Park) and now I SAW THE DEVIL by Jee-woon Kim, whose last film, the aptly named THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD, I loved to pieces. Sure there are other good Korean “you did me wrong, now you’re gonna pay” films, but these are three of my favorites. Oops, I guess the cat’s out of the bag early on how I felt about this film, but let’s make it official.
A young woman gets a flat tire on a lonely road and in doing so, becomes the latest victim of a sadistic serial killer. Unfortunately for the mad murderer, that woman just so happened to haven been married to a very driven man who swears that his wife’s killer will know the same pain and fear that she did. To make matters worse, again for the killer, the woman’s father is a retired cop and her husband is some sort of secret agent. So between the two men, it isn’t long until vengeful husband, Soo-hyeon, finds the psychotic Kyung-chul. But here is where things take an unexpected turn. In most revenge flicks you’d expect the husband to kill the madman in a righteous fury. But no, here Soo-hyeon beats the ever living snot out of the killer, then when the bad guy’s unconscious he slips a military grade tracking device down his throat. Why? So he can keep tabs on Kyung-chul and come back to beat him to a pulp time and time again.
In doing that one, simple change, this movie plays with the normal revenge playbook. Director Jee-woon Kim turns the killer into a victim and the grieving husband into a vengeance-obsessed monster just shy of the psycho he wants to punish so vehemently. That new spin on the old genre is what really makes this movie stand out, but there are other praiseworthy elements to this film. For one, the acting is top notch. Byung-hun Lee as the avenging, grief-stricken husband is both sympathetic and monstrous in his single-mined quest. And while Min-sik Choi as the killer isn’t sympathetic in the least, he is thoroughly believable as a brutal man at ease with doing very brutal things. The direction is up to Jee-woon Kim’s usual high standard, with enough of his off-kilter touches to keep people guessing and wondering just what the hell is going to happen next. This includes a terrifying visit to a hospital, a cab ride with random thugs, and a cannibalistic best buddy. Add all that together with a sharp and vibrant visual style with enough violence and blood to keep the gorehounds happy, and you’ve got a serial killer revenge flick like no other, but one sure to please horrorheads of all kinds.
The Blu-ray by Magnet offers a fantast transfer of this film, but sadly very little else. There are a few deleted scenes and a behind the scenes featurette, but that’s it. I guess with the language barrier an audio commentary track with the director would be out of the question, but still a few more extras would have been nice. Oh, I guess I should mention that this Blu-ray has both the original Korean dialog with English subtitles, and a dubbed English audio track. Therefore, even if you’re one of those people who say, “I hate subtitles movies, I don’t go to the movies to read”, you have no excuse not to see this very cool flick. If you’re like me and always saying that you would like to see something new, well then rejoice, your prayers have been answered with I SAW THE DEVIL.
DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2011)– Blu-ray review
Director: Kevin Munroe
Cast: Brandon Routh, Anita Briem Sam Huntington
This film with the funny name, came and went quickly at the box office pretty much without a sound, almost like the stealthy vampires that are in it. So was this stylish story of all things undead staring the last man to play Superman an unsung sleeper hit, or just some horrible thing trying to pass it’s self off as the next great cult favorite? Well I’ll tell you what, it does seem like a mirror’s reflection of HBO’s fangtastic fan favorite; TRUE BLOOD.
Now I said reflection and not pale shadow of, or even blatant rip off, as both this movie and that TV show are based on old properties. Dylan first saw life in French comic books, while Sookie and the vampires (sounds like a New Wave band from the 80s) began as a series of novels. Now I guess I could do some research to find out who came first, but honestly I don’t care all that much. What is undeniable is that TURE BLOOD only exploded in popularity once the TV show started and this movie came out at least three years into that HBO hit and the similarities are there. Both are sent in the Louisiana (who knows, perhaps both are cribbing from Anne Rice), both have lots of vampires and werewolves in them, trying to get by in the human world, both are (or at least try to be) far more comedic than even remotely horrifying, and last but not least, In DYLAN DOG there’s even a group called “The True Bloods”. Now even if all the other stuff already existed in the comic book world of this character, don’t you think at least that part should have been changed? Unless the producers of this film were just trying to ride the Sookie and Bill fandom wave for as far as they could, but such a thing would be a calculated skeevy thing to do, not to mention a desperate cash grab, so what are the odds of that? Well at least Dylan isn’t a tortured, sexy vampire with a tragic past. Nope, he’s a tortured, sexy human with a tragic past. See, completely different!
Mr. Dog, no relation to Snoop, plays the one human in all the world who acts as a cop for the undead. As a regular Joe he is thought to be unbiased mediator when, for example, vampires somehow wrong werewolves, which I never thought were undead, but whatever… Unfortunately a few years back that tragic event I mentioned happened, which caused Dylan to go postal on a group of bloodsuckers. Since then he has given up the monster policing thing in favor of being a low rent PI, but after a beautiful young woman’s father gets killed by a werewolf, and Dylan’s own partner gets munched on by a zombie, he is dragged back into the world of the monsters.
What follows is a smirky action flick with a wee bit of mystery on top, but one thing that it never is, is scary in any way, shape, or form. Honestly, you could have replaced the vamps, shape shifters, flesh eaters, and all the rest with organized crime, or terrorists, or even aliens and the story would have to be changed only a little. The supernatural aspects of this film are window dressing and nothing more, so if you were looking for an actual horror movie, look elsewhere. That’s not to say that this movie is bad. No, it was a fun romp, a popcorn movie if there ever was one. But just like popcorn, while it tastes good its nether really filling or all that good for you, and you never say to anyone, “hey remember that time we had that amazing popcorn?” No, popcorn is completely forgettable and sadly, so is this movie. An hour after watching it, you’ll already be forgetting it. I know I was, and I’m paid to remember things like this.
Perhaps the biggest (only) surprise in this movie was Brandon Routh. I know he took a lot of grief for his emo portal of Superman, and rightly so, it was pretty damn bad. That said, he is the highpoint of this film, showing off farm more charisma then he did as the Man of Steel, being able to be realistically tough (ok, it gets a bit much when he goes hand to hand with a werewolf) and surprisingly funny. I’m sad this movie wasn’t better and not just a cobbled collection of monster noir bits because I’d like to see Mr. Routh do something more. As for the rest of the pieces that goes into the puzzle of making a good movie, they are ok, but nothing to write home about. The comic sidekick does his duty, the girl in trouble is sadly wooden and just sort of blah, and Taye Diggs does justice to the clichéd modern, ultra suave vampire crime lord. Next to Routh, Peter Stormare as an over the top, scene chewing werewolf is my favorite performance, although professional wrestler Kurt Angle isn’t horrible as a meathead werewolf himself. I guess all those years of acting in the WWE paid off. The direction is competent, if only just, but everything just sort of reeks of coming straight out of the Modern Southern Gothic playbook. As for the special effects, they’re pretty bad and come in two flavors of disappointment; incredibly fake looking CGI, or incredible cheesy looking makeup.
DYLAN DOG isn’t a horrible movie and might be a fun watch…once. But that’s all the praise I can give it. As such, I really can’t recommend it, except maybe as a rental.
VENOM (2005)– Blu-ray review
Director: Jim Gillespie
Cast: Agnes Bruckner, Jonathan Jackson, Meagan Good
Some movies come and go like the proverbial fart in a windstorm. This is one of those films. I sort of remember something about it when it first came out, but that’s about all; ‘something’. This mid 2000s fright flick garnered neither raves nor scorn. You never hear genre fans ever say “hey remember that movie, VENOM?” either to praise or slam it. It was almost as if the film never was. And here’s the kicker; even I, your humble and incredibly well informed reviewer, never saw it, and I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, both good and bad. Well, mostly bad. But this movie? Nope, never caught it…until now.
Despite its title, VENOM has nothing to do with Spider-Man’s arch villain of the same name, although I’d bet that’s what most kids will think of when hearing it. No it’s a good old fashioned voodoo tale. Ok, it’s a hip, modern (to 2005 standards, anyway), and teen friendly voodoo tale, but surprisingly a lot of the voodoo hoodoo they toss around in this film is pretty well researched. See, I’ve always been fascinated by voodoo. I even know that the preferred term for this complex, maligned by Hollywood religion is 'vodou' or 'vodrun’. Don’t know why I’m so attracted to the gris-gris and the Loa, I don’t believe in it and being from the northern United States I’ve never been exposed to it, but something about it always trips my cool trigger. So yay, this flick had that going for it, but did it have anything else?
Surprisingly, yes. In addition to the voodoo theme the story had a few fresh takes on the supernatural slasher genre, which ultimately this movie is. The main “baddie” of the piece is a tow truck driver named Ray and he really isn’t all that bad. Sure he’s a big, dirty, creepy looking cat with a wicked scar on his face, but he’s actually kind of nice towards the leading lady of the movie. Sadly, he doesn’t remain that way for long. You see, one dark and stormy night (ok, that ‘take’ is not at all fresh, I admit) a witchy voodoo woman digs up a suitcase full of magic snakes out of the swamp. A car accident on an old bridge not only kills the magic woman before she could properly take care of the evil serpents, but gets the helpful and misunderstood Ray into her car just as it plunges into the swamp. In the ensuing chaos the snakes come out the suitcase and proceed to bite the living hell out of Ray, killing him.
The next day Ray’s waterlogged corpse leaves the morgue and starts off on a killing spree.
Enter the plucky heroine and her friends who soon cross the path of the rapidly rotting corpse filled to the brim with evil that just wants to kill folks and worship the dark voodoo spirits. So why is the once peaceful Ray now a full-on death machine? Well the now dead voodoo woman used to help people like murderers, rapists, and other charmers like that by having snakes suck the evil out of them when they died, so they could get into heaven, I suppose. How that works, who knows, since snakes usually pump bad stuff into people, like the titular venom, and not suck bad stuff out of them, but that’s magic for you I guess. Anyway, when the now immortal snakes bit poor Ray they pumped him full of all the evil they had sucked out of who knows how many people. That gives you one super evil, and surprisingly smart zombie who can drive cars, throw crowbars, sandblast of girl’s faces (no, really) and figure out puzzles.
While watching this movie it always felt like this was one of the late 90s post SCREAM slashers, even though it came out in 2005. Largely that had to do with the look of the film, and a large part of that was the way-too-good-looking cast of young people that was the hallmark of 90s horror. Then when the end credits began (I must have blanked on the beginning credits or something) I saw why: not only was it produced by Kevin Williamson, the guy who wrote the SCREAM and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER flicks, but it was directed by Jim Gillespie who directed the first I KNOW WHAT YOU…yadda yadda… movie. So if you’re a fan of that generation of horror movies then you’ll probably dig this one as the Williamson flavor is definitely tangible here. If you hated that era of fright flicks then this probably won’t do much to change your mind. But you know what, it just might. I did like it a lot better than the evil Gorton Fisherman with the hook hand flicks. But hey, that might have just been the voodoo mojo in this movie that appealed to me.
This new Blu-ray was brought out by Echo Bridge. Now normally that mean you can pick it up for a very good price, but it also means that it will be devoid of extras and perhaps not really live up to the video quality you would expect to find on a Blu-ray. Hey, sorry, but them are the facts. That said, this release was a bit of a surprise. The video transfer came off very well and the movie looked crisp, clear with bright colors and deep, dark blacks. It’s probably the best Blu-ray I’ve seen from Echo Bridge yet. Also, there were actually a few extras on the disc. Sure, they really weren’t anything to jump up and down about; a very brief (about eight minutes) making of segment, some storyboard to film comparisons, and a few audition tapes. However that’s a lot more in the way of extras than the typical release from this company, so I hope it’s a trend they continue to follow.
VENOM was a nice little slice of fright film. It had an interesting premise, the young actors did a pretty decent job, and the film looked good and swampy. The makeup effects were sound, and the continually rotting Ray was a nice touch, but CGI effects were, as always, pretty damn weak and did nothing but make me think I was watching a cut scene from an videogame rather that seeing a film. That said, all in all I rather liked this much forgotten movie and if you give it a chance I think you may too.
--Brian M. Sammons