Sunday, September 4, 2011
Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!
SUPERNATURAL: SEASON 6 (2010-2011) – Blu-ray
Created by: Eric Kripke
Cast: Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Jim Beaver, Misha Collins
I like this show, so there, I said it. I know, it’s silly, but that’s what I like most about it; t’s funny. It is also well acted and the stories are well written…well in regards to that last one, at least until this season. Yeah, I must admit that Season 6 is easily the weakest of the SUPERNATURAL lot. Now that’s par for the course for television, so I’m not going to give this show too much grief for it. It’s hard to have a long running TV show where all the episodes are winners, I mean the last season of DEXTER was pretty lackluster and THE X-FILES gets all but unwatchable after Season 6. Oh man, just typing that I hope there’s not some sort of weird symmetry between that show all about exploring the unknown and this one, which just finished its 6th Season. Quickly, on with the review!
To be sure, Season 6 of this show staring the hunky Winchester brothers hunting monsters wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t great. I think the problem was that it had to pick up where Season 5 left off, and that season ended with the brothers stopping the honest to goodness apocalypse. I mean, wow, that’s a hard act to follow. So the overarching plot of Season 6 is the continuing war in heaven; meaning hot angel on angel action, with demons thrown in for good measure, and the occasional standalone episode. But honestly, I’m sick of the whole angel thing, I’d like the show to go back to its original mandate of having two guys travel across America, investigating monsters and myths, as opposed to angles, God, biblical prophesies and all that. That was fine for one season, here it starts stretching pretty thin, and sadly Season 6 ends with a cliff hanger that makes it look like Season 7 is only going to continue that trend. Oh yay.
Ok, now that I’m pretty sure that I pissed off the “Jared and Jensen are so dreamy” fangirls, let me try to appease them by saying that by and large, this season of SUPERNATURAL was still pretty darn good, funny, enjoyable, and yes, sometimes creepy. Without spoiling any of the overall plot for Season 6, here are some of my favorite episodes. “Weekend at Bobby’s”, besides being directed by Jensen Ackles, it puts longtime adoptive father figure, Bobby, in the forefront and gives the Winchester brothers a break. It’s always nice when long running shows do something different, and this episode does that. “You Can’t Handle the Truth” takes a simple premise of a curse where people can only tell the truth and takes it to horrifying extremes. “Clap Your Hands if You Believe” is all about fairies on a quest to kidnap first-born sons. Ideas like that are the reason I keep watching this show. “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning”, despite having one of the best titles ever, is about killer mannequins. That’s. Just. Cool. But not as cool as “The French Mistake” where Sam and Dean get whisked into an alternate reality where their life is a TV show and they must replace the actors who play them on the TV show. Weird, I know, but pretty awesome too. And with “Frontierland” you get time travel and cowboys, two of my favorite things. There were other episodes that were pretty good too, but these should show a tread that my favorite shows in Season 6 were either the standalone episodes or the overtly funny ones, so keep that in mind when reading this review. If you are a fan of all the angelic angles in the last two seasons then my complaints will not be your complaints. That said, there was one episode of Season 6 that I thought all but dropped the ball completely, and that’s the one about H.P. Lovecraft.
Now I am a Lovecraft fanboy, I freely admit that, but my problems with the episode, “Let it Bleed” had nothing to do with all the cheap shots it took at my fellow Lovecraft fanboys. No, my problem was that HPL was all but wasted in the episode, and he could have just as easily been any other odd and weird writer. All the cosmic horrors he created, and the incredibly long and dark shadow he has cast over horror fiction, both in print and on celluloid, is all but ignored. HPL was just namedropped into this episode as the most blatant form of pandering fan service. It was as if after Cthulhu appeared on SOUTH PARK, and even Scooby Doo had an episode about a “H.P. Hatecraft” and his unpronounceable monsters, the writers of this show said, “hey, people seem to like this Lovecraft guy, let’s do something with him and maybe we’ll get some buzz on the internet.” What’s next, are they going to bump into the woman who wrote the TWILIGHT books, because you know, they seem to be popular too. Bah, getting all worked up about it again, so let’s move on quickly before I start frothing at the mouth again.
Unlike some TV shows that come out on barebones discs, the Blu-rays of the SUPERNATURAL show always have a few goodies for the fans, including some exclusives for the HD crowd. There are two examples of that this time, both of which I thought was pretty neat. First there is a trivia track for the episode, “The French Mistake” that was neat, but noting amazing. However the BD exclusive “Hunter’s Guide to Season Six” was very cool and is an example of why I like the Blu-ray format so much, other than just its amazing picture. This “guide” is a neat interactive toy to play with that has a bunch of short featurettes, interviews, stills from the set, oh and Easter Eggs, I love finding Easter Eggs. In addition to that, there are the “regular” special features, and by that I’m pretty sure they are also on the DVD edition of Season 6, such as a featurette on star Jensen Ackles taking his first turn at directing an episode, a couple of bonus episodes from the new SUPERNATURAL: THE ANIME SERIES, a producers commentary on two episodes, alternate takes, outtakes, a gag reel, and more. This Blu-ray set is a treasure trove of goodies for SUPERNATURAL fans and all TV shows should take lessons from it on how to include cool extras with your show, even if it’s six years old.
Wrap up time: SUPERNATURAL is a good show, Season 6 of it was still and ok season, and these Blu-rays are just awesome. Add that all together and you get something that you should get and have in your home library if you’re a fan of the off-kilter, horror-tinged-humor that makes this show so good. I may have been a little hard on this season, but that’s only because I like the show as a whole and I wasn’t thrilled with the overall direction it was taking. There’s still enough good in Season 6 to recommend it, and there’s always hope that in Season 7 they start steering the ship in the proper direction again. Hey, clap your hands if you believe…
FRINGE: SEASON 3 (2010-2011) – Blu-ray
Creators: J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Cast: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Nobel
I’ve said it before, but in many ways FRINGE seems like the spiritual successor to the amazing (well, at least the first 7 seasons) X-FILES. Sure there are no supernatural elements, on the contrary everything in FRINGE is based on science, no matter how crazy that seems, but the feel and vibe remain the same. You have a small group of investigators (in this case three instead of two), an engaging, over-arching story, crazy standalone episodes, some romantic tension, a few genuinely creepy moments, and some good old fashioned conspiracies to explore and uncover. But comparisons, no matter how good, will only get you so far. Unless a TV Show can not only stand on its own two feet, but run at a good clip, it isn’t worth the lengthy time investment of 24 hours for a season. So does this third season, brand new out on Blu-ray, of FRINGE sprint like a champ, or stumble and fall like a chump? Let’s find out.
Just in case you have yet to catch this show, let me give you the rundown. A female FBI agent named Olivia has some special powers that she can’t explain and is thrust into a world of weird, theoretical science that would be more at home in an old sci-fi pulp than a college textbook. To help her sail the rough seas of “what if” she gets some help from genuine mad scientist named Walter who has, unbeknownst to Olivia, a direct connection to the mysteries surrounding the woman’s life. But as I said, Walter is a bit mad, so to help control him, and make sense of his often insane ramblings, is his son Peter. And yes, as if you couldn’t guess, he plays a pivotal role in the unfolding story. Ok, now that you’re all caught up with the basics, let’s get on to Season 3.
Oh, and yes, there will be SPOILERS below.
At the end of Season 2, the Fringe team went to a parallel universe, to another Earth that is not only literally falling apart, but at war with our own world for survival. After some high action, sci-fi hijinks, the trio safely returns home…well almost. Olivia had been captured and replaced with her double (yes, everyone over here has a double over there) with Walter and Peter none the wiser. That is where Season 3 begins.
Now trying my best to not give too much away from this season, you could probably guess that Olivia won’t be enjoying her stay on the other side, nor will she remain their indefinitely. As for the “other” woman, she and Peter get a bit closer than the original Olivia ever thought possible. In addition to the dramatic flourishes, both the action and threat continue to mount with the discovery of a very real doomsday machine that has the power to wipe out one of the two universes once and for all. In addition to this season-spanning story, where every episode is set either in our universe or the alternate universe, there are several individual, stand-alone episodes that make this show really stand out. There’s the one about the mentally challenged man who can do terrible things through his unique understanding of cause and effect. The real world mystery of numbers stations is used as the jumping off point for a story of fatal code that kills anyone who tries to decipher it. A madman rips people’s hearts out of their chests while another sends creepy and deadly, dolls to his enemies. Bugs eat people from the inside out and cat burglars defy gravity, literally, to pull off their cappers. These are just some of the cool, strange, and most importantly; memorable stories to be found in FRINGE.
Complimenting this very good season of this very fine show are a nice selection of extras on this 4 disc Blu-ray set. While only two of the episodes have audio commentaries, that’s still two more then you’ll find on a lot of TV season collections. There are eight featurettes of various lengths covering special effects, plot elements, and best yet; exploring the deeper history of some of the mysterious factions in play on the show. While there always could have been more goodies collected here, these discs certainly weren’t lacking in the extras. In fact many TV shows could learn a thing or two from this collection. Yes I’m looking at you, DEXTER.
This is the part where I say how much I liked the show and that I highly recommend it, and while all that is true, I honestly can’t recommend it to neophytes to the series. Why? Because of the over-arching plot that makes this show so good, it may be a bit much to comprehend for those just dropped into the middle of the thing without previous background knowledge. But if you are up to date with your FRINGE viewing, then by all means pick these discs up, you will not be disappointed.
MANIAC COP (1988) – Blu-ray
Director: William Lustig
Cast: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Robert Z’Dar
MANIAC COP, tried and true horrorheads already know of this film, but those neophytes to the genre sometimes just go “huh” when this 1988 flick is brought up in conversation, even despite it starting Bruce EVIL DEAD Campbell. So it is with them in mind that I review the new Blu-ray release of COP from my friends over at SYNAPSE. So without further ado, let’s get to some good old fashioned police brutality.
If you’ve never seen MANIAC COP, then you’re in for a treat. The ever intimidating-looking Robert Z’Dar plays a good cop, sent to prison by a crooked system that wants him to just go away. Once inside the big house some of the criminals he had previously sent up the river shank him in the shower and carve up his face for good measure. However you can’t keep a good (or it seems, maniacal) cop down. So the big bad policeman returns from the dead to extract his revenge on the cops and good citizens of New York City by killing anyone who crosses his path. This sets off a city-wide panic as now no one can trust a cop, and some even start taking pot shots at the cops. Enter fanboy favorite Campbell as a cop framed for the murders done by the Maniac Cop. He is joined by another genre veteran, Tom Atkins as an inquisitive detective, and the two go looking for the truth behind the killings.
Unlike the typical slasher flicks, you get a pretty neat mystery behind at least half of this film, as a big cop, whose face is never shown until the end of the flick, just goes around killing people randomly without rhyme or reason. Later once the exposition fairy has paid a visit, it turns into a more basic urban slasher, but it’s still fun, largely thanks to the always entertaining Bruce Campbell. While his film doesn’t have the body count of say, a FRIDAY THE 13TH flick, it has good acting, a nice story, some black humor, and enough brutality and red stuff to keep the gorehounds happy. There’s really not much of a down side to this film. Sadly the same can’t be said for the new Blu-ray release.
When a movie makes the leap from DVD to Blu-ray, you have about a 50-50 shot that the new disc will have some new extras and special features on it. A lot of times it will be a direct port, moving the film and all the extras from DVD to BD and adding nothing new to it. That’s fine, it doesn’t make me all that happy, but I can live with it. After all, you buy a movie to watch the actually movie, the extras should just be icing on the cake. But what always gets my panties in a twist is when a new version of movie actually loses features. That is, in a word, inexcusable, especially in this case. The DVD of MANIAC COP had a great audio track with director Lustig, writer/producer Larry Cohen, and the lord of B-movies himself, Bruce f-ing Campbell, and the shiny new Blu-ray is completely missing it. Why? That sometimes happens when one company owned the DVD and another released the new Blu-ray, but here both were released by SYNAPSE, so the reason behind this decision is baffling, and yes, upsetting. I can only assume the lack of money changing hands was somehow involved, but still, I’ve don’t have to like it. To be fair, there are a couple of new featurettes on this disc that wasn’t on the DVD. One is a ten minuet interview with star Tom Atkins and the other is a very short interview with character actor Danny Hicks who had a blink and you miss it part in COP. While both of these were fine, they don’t even begin to make up for the missing feature commentary. The rest of the extras, like trailers, radio spots, and additional scenes shot for Japanese television (of all things) made the transition from DVD to Blu-ray, but still, boo-hiss for the absentee commentary track.
So MANIAC COP is a fun mystery slasher, well made and sporting some great genre vets acting their butts off. From start to finish it is an enjoyable, if sometimes cheesy, fright flick. The new Blu-ray from SYNAPSE looks great, as they always put a lot of effort into making their releases look good, but unfortunately it does get a failing grade in the extras department for the mysteriously missing commentary track. So if you already own this film on DVD then I can’t honestly recommend this new version to you. But if you don’t already have this flick in your home library, and you’re a fan of the HD format above all else, then by all means pick this one up when it comes out October 11th.
THE EXTERMINATOR (1980) – Blu-ray
Director: James Glickenhaus
Cast: Robert Ginty, Samantha Eggar, Christopher George
Now before you start whining that this isn’t a horror movie, and you’re right, it’s not, let me say two things. First, it’s got more gore and kills in it than your typical slasher flick, and second, it’s cool, and really, that second reason is all I need to watch, enjoy, and review a movie. So if 80s revenge flicks with brutal violence that wouldn’t even make it into a FRIDAY THE 13TH film isn’t your thing. Go ahead and stop reading, this movie isn’t for you.
Still here? Alright you must be a devotee of groovy movies regardless of genre and I can appreciate the hell out of that. So grab you gun and your sense of justice and let’s start walking the mean streets.
Robert Ginty plays John, a Vietnam vet whose best friend, and the man responsible for saving his life twice, both in and out of that war, is attacked by a street gang with the awesome name of Ghetto Ghouls and left a quadriplegic . The injured man is played by the perennial badass token black buddy of the 80s, Steve James who does his part well, for what little he’s in the film. As for Robert Ginty, he’s a great choice for a vigilantly death dealer, as he’s not an over-roided slab of beef with legs (yep, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, I’m looking at you) or a steely, cold type like Bronson or Eastwood. He’s just an average guy pushed too far by the maiming of his friend and he’s out for justice.
Our exterminator starts with the thugs who injured his friend, but simple bullets aren’t enough for them. Nope, he ties them up in a garbage filled basement and leaves them for the rats. Next, to help his wounded friend’s family out financially, he robs the local mob boss who has been extorting money from him for years. When the mob boss lies to him about the extent of the protection guarding his house, our vigilantly hero tosses the mobster into a meat grinder, slowly and feet first, and makes hamburger out of him. After that, John just sort of gets a taste for dispense rough justice and starts wasting any and all filth that cross his path. The exterminator’s visit to the scuzziest of S&M rape/torture joints, where he blows a pederast senator’s bait and tackle off with an exploding bullet has always been a favorite of mine.
THE EXTERMINATOR is great, semi-exploitation cinema from the era (late 70s to mid 80s) that did it best. There’s an overall feeling of sleaziness to everything that you just don’t get anymore and I for one miss that, at least in this kind of film. Now days when a filmmaker tires to be sleazy, it tends to just be over the top graphic, which isn’t the same thing. However, I don’t want to give you the impression that this is an exceptionally well-made film, because it’s kind of not. Take John’s journey to becoming a vigilantly; the movie literally goes from Steve James getting attacked, to Robert Ginty telling his friend’s wife at a playground that her husband has been crippled, to Ginty having a gang member tied up in an abandoned building and interrogating him with a flame thrower, then he’s off to waste some gang members. Literally, the movie jump cuts around that fast, and while on one hand it’s good that it doesn’t waste time getting to the titular exterminating, it’s sort of disjointed and basically makes the protagonist a cardboard cutout that flips the switch to DEATH WISH mode without any of the character development that made the earlier Charles Bronson movie so much better. There’s also a subplot about the detective who is trying to stop the vigilantly and his love life that adds absolutely nothing to the movie, other than padding, and a silly bit about the CIA getting involved that’s…well just silly. Still if you’re a fan of revenge flicks, then you’ll probably dig this movie. I sure did.
The new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Synapse Films looks, as always, great. Yeah it doesn’t look like a brand new HD movie, but it sure as hell looks a lot better than the last time I saw this movie, but that’s Synapse for you, they always go the extra mile when it comes to video presentation. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the special features. There’s a pretty good director’s commentary track, but that’s it, unless you count the usual (and boring) trailer and TV spots. While I wished there had been more goodies on this disc, this movie has been long out of print, so it’s great to just have it back on disc again.
For a good while this film had a cult following and it was popular enough to spawn a truly dreadful sequel, staring Mario Van Peebles as the heavy, no less, but it has basically been forgotten by most today. Well I still love this bit of retro revenge goodness and if you’re a fan of early 80s action movies then I’m betting you will too, There’s no better time, and no better way, to get acquainted with THE EXTERMINATOR then now and I can highly recommend fans of bloody revenge flicks to do so at once.
MIMIC (1997) – Blu-ray
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Charles S. Dutton
I love me some Guillermo del Toro movies. Not all of them reach the same level of greatness, for example, I thought the sequel to HELLBOY wasn’t as good as the original, but they all have little gems of brilliance in them, and that includes the del Toro flick that has easily been my least favorite; MIMIC. While it wasn’t a bad movie, it just didn’t feel like a del Toro movie. At first chalked that up to no one being perfect and everyone can swing and miss at times. Then sometime later I learned that, for the most part, this film was taken out of del Toro’s hands and suffered not only rewrite after rewrite, but recut after recut, many without any input from the director at all, and a ton of second unit material, shot by a revolving door of guest directors (including Robert Rodriguez), that was forced on del Toro by the Hollywood moneymen. Yeah, because as we all know only good things every happen when producers get it into their heads that they know best. Anyway, the end result was a very uneven movie that Guillermo all but disowned.
Then I heard that Lionsgate was not only going to release this flawed film for the first time on Blu-ray, but they were letting del Toro present it as a director’s cut, as close to his original vision as he could make it with the material he had at hand. So would Guillermo save the day and make an OK movie better, or would he turn out to be one of those “artists” who blame their mess-ups on others instead of owning them and prove that by making a director’s cut as bad, if not worse, than the original? Let’s find out.
The heart of MIMIC remains the same. In the near future a deadly plague is killing the children of New York City in droves and because it’s spread by cockroaches, and it is NYC, after all, there is no way to stop it. Enter a brilliant, beautiful entomologist named Susan Tyler, played by Mira Sorvino, who genetically splices a bunch of bug DNA together to make a bug killing bug that mimics its prey while it’s Murdering them. Five years later and…yeah can you guess where this is going?
Dr Tyler must return to stop her monster (a la Dr Frankenstein), or in this case; monsters. Lots and lots of monsters as the bad bugs have been busy breeding…and evolving. Now the bugs are as big as men, and arguably nearly as smart. They are still murderous mimics, only now they have evolved to blend in with their new prey; man. A motley crew is assembled to look into matters, but they go into the investigation under prepared and not expecting to find the horrors they will eventually face. This ensemble cast is one of the best things about this movie. All the actors turn in solid performances and keep an eye out for small, but memorable roles played by Charles S. Dutton, Josh Brolin, and F. Murray Abraham. Also, as a del Toro film, it looks just amazing, even when the majority of the action takes place in the dark, dank sewers and subway tunnels underneath New York.
I am reluctant to say too much more about this film. I mean, it is about 14 years old now, so chances are you’ve seen it, but just in case you haven’t, I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises. So here’s the Cliffs Notes version: people go into the tunnels to look for bugs, end up finding huge killer bugs they never expected, get trapped down below, and have to find a way to survive and escape some very unique creatures. Essentially a B-grade monster movie, it is well-acted, looks amazing and is a fun monster romp that has a few effective twists and turns along the way. There, short, sweet, and spoiler free.
The new Blu-ray of Mimic from Lionsgate not only looks good but is chock full of extras including a video introduction by Guillermo where he basically says this version of the movie was the best he could do with what he had…ouch. To further illustrate this point, there’s a very revealing featurette called “Reclaiming Mimic” and a director’s commentary track that both go into great, and surprisingly honest detail, on how the original theatrical cut of this movie was taken out of his hands and how he wasn’t all that happy with it. These two extras are the highlight of the show here, you just don’t get this kind of honest insider view in both the creative process and the movie making business about big budget films and I really enjoyed both the both the commentary and the featurette. In addition to those extras, there are specials highlighting the creation of the creatures and a general behind the scenes kind of documentary. Deleted scenes, storyboard animatics, trailers and a gag real round out the extras, complete with the now compulsory digital copy of the movie for your portable movie needs.
Whereas the original cut of MIMIC was an ok big bug movie, this version flirts with being a downright good film in its own right. I think it is much improved, if just a little sad with the glimpses at what could have been. It looks impeccable in HD, the disc has a nice selection of interesting extras, a director’s commentary that’s one of the best ones I’ve ever heard, and is more enjoyable now than ever before. So consider this one a hearty recommendation for fright film fans everywhere.
THE OTHERS (2001) – Blu-ray
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan
It’s funny how some movies just sort of fade away, almost like ghosts. Take this film, THE OTHERS, for example. When it first came out it got a lot of good press, the horrorheads by and large gave it the thumbs up, and while I don’t know the actual numbers, I think it made a pretty penny too. And yet today, if you ask a question like, “name some good haunted house flicks” to a bunch of genre fans, it is rare anyone mentions or remembers this film, and that’s a crying shame. Well thankfully, Lionsgate is doing their part to rectify that grievous injustice by bringing this movie back out and on Blu-ray for the very first time. So is this new disc worth a purchase, or should it be allowed to fade away? Let’s find out.
In case you forgot, THE OTHERS takes place just after World War Two in a large, spooky English manor house (naturally). There a beleaguered, recently war-widowed mother is taking care of her two small kids who have very special needs, and by that I mean that they have a severe allergy to light that could kill them. To help her run the big old house and tend to her housebound children, she hires three servants who just happen to wander up to her home one day out of the blue. Hmm, what could be wrong with that? Oh well, that’s nothing compared to the little boy, and the rest of his family, that the young daughter keeps saying are sharing the family’s house. Could such things just be a child’s over active imagination? Possibly, but when the mother starts seeing and hearing odd things, like voices and people who shouldn’t be there…well who you gonna call?
And that’s about where I want to leave the general overview of this film, because if I say too much more I might ruin the mystery behind this haunted house, not to mention a pretty neat-o ending that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud. Hmm, maybe just saying that was saying too much, but oh well, guess I’m a stinker. Anyway, this is a great, creepy, and moody fright film is there ever was one. It is what I would call quiet horror, quiet, but damn effective. Furthermore, all the acting is top notch, especially Nicole Kidman as the stressed to the breaking point mother, and surprisingly even the kids do a fair to good job, and I’m normally not a fan of child actors. Writer and director Alejandro Amenábar proves that he knows both how to make a good movie and what’s honestly scary, as opposed to just what’s shocking, like the overused jump scares that populate most other “horror” films. If you are a fan of atmospheric ghost stories and you have yet to see THE OTHERS, then you’re missing out.
Unfortunately, while the new Blu-ray looks great, with plenty of deep, dark shadows to fill up the gloomy house in this movie, there are no new extras on this disc that wasn’t already on the older DVD version. That said, if you don’t already own this movie on disc, then they’re all new to you, and the good news is that there are three different featurettes of various length on visual effects, the director of the film, and Xeroderma Pigmentosum, the fatal to light affliction showcased in this movie. Additionally there is a sizable documentary on the film and then the usual suspects like trailers and a still gallery.
So is THE OTHERS a must buy on Blu-ray? Well if you don’t already own this movie then hell yes it is! It’s a great creepy film and I enjoyed watching it again after almost forgetting it myself. However if you already own this flick on DVD then there’s really not much of a reason to upgrade to BD, unless you’re a High-Def snob, as the prettied up picture will be the only new thing to be found on this disc. Still, sometimes that alone is worth it.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) – Blu-ray
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Dee Wallace
Please tell me that you already know about this movie? I mean, not only is it old enough to be a certified a classic (but then, sadly so am I), not only has it been paid homage to (read as: ripped off) in countless other horror films, not only was it one of horror master Wes Craven’s early (and very well regarded) movies, not only did it have the remake business put to it (which was surprisingly not all that bad), but it has one of the best titles ever with, THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Yes that’s a bit goofy, but it is memorable. So if you somehow have never seen this movie, then shame on you. Well the good news is that Image Entertainment has just released a bunch of old horror flicks under the banner of the MIDNIGHT MADNESS SERIES and this is not only one of them, but easily the best in the bunch. But just in case you have yet to see this awesomely effective fright film, allow me to give you the nickel tour.
A typical white bread family called the Carters is driving through the desert, towing a camper along with them, on their way to California. While passing through one particular desolate spot, their car breaks down. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the titular eyes of the titular hills belong to a wild family of psychotic cannibals and the nice little family from the Midwest has just been put on their menu. What follows is not your typical stalk and slash, but more of a desperate survival tale as Carter family is assailed and tormented, time and again, by the cannibal clan led by the intimidating Papa Jupiter, but best remembered for the iconic Pluto, played by the distinctive looking Michael Berryman. Believe me; if you’ve ever seen this movie, then you know who I’m talking about.
What makes this movie truly horrifying is the way it relishes in an unblinking fashion on the violence and brutality. This was Wes Craven’s second movie, after LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and he still had plenty of demons to exorcise himself of, using film as his personal Father Merrin. This was Craven still at his darkest and nastiest, a director who wasn’t afraid to “go there” in any way, shape, or form. This is clearly evident in this film which features murder, rape, torture, cannibalism, immolation, kidnapping, probable inbreeding, and more. Even now, watching it again after quite a few years, this movie has loss none of its punch. At its core, THE HILLS HAVE EYES examines the idea of what “normal” people are capable of doing when confronted by true evil and pushed to the edge to survive. This becomes manifest when after the Carters has been horribly savaged by the cannibals, and lost most of their family, the survivors must face down Papa Jupiter and his clan of crazies in a bloody battle to the last.
Now I’ve purposely been vague in regards to the horrors enacted in this film, because if you watch it for the first time, I don’t want to weaken any of its shock value by forewarning you any more than I already have. But I will stress that this is pretty brutal, and yes, horrific stuff. This is not the current trend teen-friendly PG-13 horror, nor is it gore for the sake of gore, like the (thankfully over?) torture porn trend. No, THE HILLS HAVE EYES seems far more real, and therefore it is far more disturbing.
Released for the first time on Blu-ray, Image does a decent job. There’s a nice collection of extras, but sadly they are all from the previous DVD version of the movie. No new material has been added here, but at least nothing has been left off this disc from the previous one. Sadly the same can’t be said about most of the others discs in this MIDNIGHT MADNESS SERIES, but I digress. Here you will find a commentary track by director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. There’s a sizable documentary about the making of this movie at nearly an hour in length. There’s also an hour long special called “The Directors: The Films of Wes Craven” and both of these featurettes were informative and entertaining, I liked them. There’s even an alternate ending, but it honestly brings nothing new to the table and is basically just a rearranging of the events in the original climax. The usual trailers, TV spots, and still galleries round out the extras and all of these things present a nice, if not new, package of goodies for fans of this film. However, as far as how good this movie looks in HD, I really can’t remark on, is it looks pretty much just like my old DVD copy on the screen. Maybe it has been enhanced a little bit, but if so it wasn’t that noticeable. Don’t get me wrong, this version of the movie doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t look like how a real Blu-ray ought to look, either.
If you do not already have this film in your home library, you need to rectify that oversight at once, and this new Blu-ray is a great way to do that. This disc is out now for a must have price all over the place, so you really have no reason not to get this film if you are any kind of horror fan. Do yourself a favor and do so at once, but only if you have a strong stomach for the unpleasant and the truly dark.
DRESSED TO KILL (1980) – Blu-ray
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen
Am I the only one to notice that this film is basically an unofficial remake of PSYCHO? Sure I have seen mention in the past of director De Palma being a big admirer of Hitchcock, and that he makes Hitchcockian films, but no one has come out and said the plain old truth that DRESSED TO KILL is PSYCHO set in the 1980s, or at least, I’ve never seen anyone say as much. Well some SPOLIERS are to follow, but only if you haven’t already seen this 30+ year old movie, or god forbid the 50+ year old PSYCHO. And seriously, if you haven’t seen both of these already, what the hell are you doing here? Go right now and watch them, I’ll wait.
Welcome back, now let’s play Name the Movie, complete with SPOILERS!
So a famous and recognizable woman is the star of the show. The unhappy lady has an affair and then gets slashed to death suddenly and without warning in a confined space about a third of the way through the film. The movie then switches to two others to both continue the story and investigate the murder, with one of the characters being related to the woman. The killer turns out to be a very tall and mannish woman, but really turns out to be a gentle, meek and mild man who likes to cross dress and has a split personality. Whenever a woman gets this guy aroused, his evil and crazy feminine side comes out to kill the object of his desire. Oh and there’s a very memorable shower scene in the film. Ok, so what movie am I talking about?
Ha, trick question; that description works for both films. So don’t even begin to tell me DRESSED TO KILL wasn’t PSYCHO 2.0. Anyway, the recognizable woman mentioned above would be Angie Dickinson and DRESSED TO KILL begins with her taking that memorable shower I talked about. Only this time it is not only more sexy than scary, but also kind of silly as there is no way that the body they linger on so lovingly, some could say gratuitously, belongs to Angie Dickinson. Sure she’s an attractive woman, I would even go as far as she she’s a total MILF, but the obviously twenty-something flesh shown in the shower is not even a close match to Ms. Dickinson. But I digress, and perhaps obsess. Angie soon meets the business end of a straight razor in an elevator and the only witness to the crime is a young prostitute played by Nancy Allen. The hooker with the heart of gold is the psycho’s (ha, get it) next victim, but she is saved from a razor attack by the son of Angie’s murdered mommy, who just so happens to be a techo-nerd of the first degree. The unlikely duo soon team up to uncover the mystery of the large lethal lady with the razor. Surprise, surprise, it turns out to be Michael freakin’ Caine! Yes the sizable British actor who made his bones playing tough guys in films like ZULU and GET CARTER, the man who turned Bat-man’s butler into a soft spoken badass, puts on makeup, pumps, and a skirt to do the Norman Bates thing. Now if that’s not enough to get you to watch this movie, I don’t know what is.
Ok, so DRESSED TO KILL is derivative as all get out, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. On the contrary, I really enjoy this flick. It is well acted, plotted, and directed. Sure at times it’s over stylized, but that can be said of most (all) of De Palma’s films. It is a thrilling, bloody, sexy, fun and at times funny film and watching it again for the first time in years, I really enjoyed it. Too bad the Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox is a bit of a disappointment.
No by that I don’t mean that the High-Def upgrade was done poorly. In fact this movie looks better than ever. Nor is it a dreaded bare bones release, but it is a straight up re-release of the previous DVD edition. All the extras found on that disc from some years back are found here, so thankfully nothing was left off, as is sometimes the case, but then nothing new was added. That means if you already own the DVD of this film, there’s no real reason to upgrade unless you just a complete videophile. But if you don’t already have your own copy of DRESSED TO KILL then by all means pick this sucker up. This is the unrated version of the film, so you get all the bloody, fleshy bits the director wanted. There’s a making of documentary, a featurette that compares the unrated, R-rated, and TV edited versions of this film, a special by actor Keith Gordon who played the avenging son, trailers, photo galleries, and more. So it’s a nice collection of special features, I just wish there was some new stuffed in there somewhere.
DRESSED TO KILL comes out September 6th on Blu-ray for the first time. It is a thoroughly well-made and enjoyable film, and one that should be in the collection of any horror or mystery thriller fan. It gets a very high recommendation from me, you could even say it gets 4 skirt wearing psychos out of 5.
TORSO (1973) – Blu-ray
Director: Sergio Martino
Cast: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda
This was a rare treat for me, I got to review a new Blu-ray release of a horror movie (ok, to be precise, a giallo film) that I’ve never seen before. Do you know how rare that is for me? So I was absolutely giddy when I popped this disc into my player. Was I still giddy when the credits rolled, or did I say to myself, “so that’s why I never bothered to watch this flick?” Well grab your hacksaw and your Italian to English dictionary and let’s find out.
First let’s talk about the title; TORSO is not only silly, but worse, a misleading title. I can live with silly titles, hell with giallos they are almost par for the course. Don’t believe me? Yeah, you’re right, NAKED YOU DIE, THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE, and my personal favorite; YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY are all perfectly sensible titles. However here, with TORSO…well I’ll tell you that the only link between this title and the film is that way late in the flick someone is murdered and the killer uses a hacksaw to dismember the corpse. That’s it, that’s all the explanation you get for the title and the cover image of the saw. So yeah, wasn’t a fan of it’s name sort of felt like a bait and switch to me, but a rose by any other name and all that, so on we go.
Now if you’re not familiar with Italian giallos, then think of a Hitchcockian murder mystery, but with the gore and sensibilities of a slasher flick. That’s a crude definition, to be sure, but it will suffice. In this film you have lovely, usually nude, ladies getting bumped off one by one. The motive and identity of the killer are both mysterious, although there are plenty of suspects to choose from, including one red herring so obvious that it all but rules him out as a suspect. Sorry to rain on that parade, but it’s true. Anyway, some coeds from a college in Perugia look to get away from it all, and that includes the killings, by getting together in a cliff side villa is a small Italian town. Unfortunately for them, the murderer follows.
Now what follows are some SPOILERS. I won’t give away the identity of the psycho, but if you want maximum surprise when seeing this film for the first time, perhaps skip this paragraph and continue on with the one following it. Still here? Ok, you were warned. So the girls go to the small town and this is the real highlight of the movie. Not only is the town absolutely beautiful to look at, and as someone who has never been to Italy, I’ll settle for vicarious “ohhhs” and “ahhhs” if I must, but the four lovely ladies seem to have a pathological aversion to clothing, which also provides plenty of natural beauty, but of a different sort. In addition to great amounts of girlie ogling, there is a wonderful third act to this movie when the killer invades the villa one night and kills three of the girls, but not the forth lady who arrived late, and largely undetected the night before. That woman had broken her ankle only that day and was drugged out on pain meds in a room upstairs, thus she was not disturbed by the mayhem happening in the rest of the building. When she awakes the next day she finds all her friends dead, is forced to silently witness their mutilation with the aforementioned hacksaw or else give herself away, and try to escape from the fortress-like villa. That last bit won’t be easy, as not only is she hobbled, but the windows all have bars on them and the killer keeps all the doors locked as he disposes of the mess he made. So the last third or so of this film has this poor woman limping around the place, hiding in closets and under beds every time the psychopath draws near, and trying to figure out a way to either escape the house or alert the far away town to her plight. This part of the movie is really good and suspenseful and more than makes up for the lackluster motivations of the killer once they are revealed in the climax. Sadly, that is the case for many giallos, so I really don’t hold it against this film.
As for extras on this disc, this Blu-ray has a few. First and foremost, there are two versions of this film here, an uncut English version and a director’s cut Italian version, with the much better name of CARNAL VIOLENCE that runs three minutes longer. The Italian cut is, surprise, surprise, in Italian, but thankfully there are English subtitles for it. In addition to the two cuts of this film, there is an introduction to the movie by Eli Roth (the director of CABIN FEVER and HOSTEL), an interview with director Sergio Martino, and the usual collections of trailers, TV and radio spots, and posters and behind the scenes photos. So the actual extras aren’t that great, but the real stars of this show are the two versions of the film, uncut for the first time ever. Those alone are easily worth the price of admission.
TORSO has a nice mystery that chugs along at a brisk pace, some pretty bloody kills for the gorehounds like me, lots of naked females for the perverts like me, capable acting, more than capable direction, and beautifully shot scenes set in gorgeous locations. While this film doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, it is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, and I can easily recommend it to anyone who is a fan of bloody murder movies as only the Italians can make them.
VAMP (1986) – Blu-ray
Director: Richard Wenk
Cast: Grace Jones, Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer
I do not like writing bad reviews, I’d rather use my time pointing out things to people I think they should check out, instead of warning them away from others, but sometime you just have to do it. Such is the case here. Now, I’m not slamming the movie; that is fine. In fact, VAMP is one of my favorite silly guilty pleasures form the 80s. No, I’m talking about the travesty of a Blu-ray fresh out from Image Entertainment. It’s as bare bones as bare bones can get. Now if this was some old, all but forgotten film that’s never been on any disc before, like the 80s-tastic KILLER PARTY I wish someone would bring out someday, that would be one thing. Then I would just be happy to have it in any form. But this movie has already been on DVD and it had special features on that, so the fact that they’re completely missing here is just insulting. The fact that Arrow Video from the UK also brought this movie out on Blu-ray just about a month back, stuffed with extras and region free, so that it can be played on any BD player in the world, is just embarrassing. So should you buy this? Well what do you think? But let’s make it official and let’s get to it.
Oh, and since Image gave us a bare bones disc, consider this a bare bones plot recap.
A couple of cool college guys are looking to get into a fraternity but to do so they must hire a striper for an upcoming party. Unfortunately for them, the make the huge mistake when they go to the After Dark Club in the big, scary city and try to hire an exotic stripper played by Grace Jones, who just so happens to be the queen of all the vampires in town. And boy, are there are a bunch of vamps in that place. Soon things turn bloody and get hip deep in hot ladies, bad teeth, bug eating, killer tow trucks, albino street gangs, murderous elevators, and yes, lots of undead fiends thirsting for your blood.
VAMP is one of their rare movies that mix horror and comedy well. Additionally there’s a whole bunch of weird WTF moments in it from start to finish, and I really loved that about this flick, as do a lot of others. This movie has garnered quite the cult film status and for good reason, it really does things you wouldn’t expect and it does that a lot. It is well directed with a great, and unique, sense of visual style and all the actors do their jobs well. Chris Makepeace is the embodiment of the nice guy, Robert Rusler is the quintessential cool guy, Dedee Pfeiffer is great as the ditzy blond, and Gedde Watanabe (of SIXTEEN CANDLES fame) is perfect as the nerdy comic relief. Even Grace Jones, who I never really liked in earlier roles like CONAN THE DESTROYER and A VIEW TO A KILL, is really good here as the titular VAMP. Hmm, maybe that’s because she never once utters a single word? Yep, if I was a betting man, I’d put money on that being the reason.
So the movie is a great slice of 80s comedy-tinged horror and as such it deserves better than a bare bones release. That said, to be honest, this new Blu-ray from Image did look great and it is bargained priced to move. So if you’re on a budget (and who isn’t these days?) and you want to get VAMP in HD and just don’t care about special features, this disc will do that for you. However if you’re a fan of this film and can come up with some extra scratch, do yourself a favor, pass on this no thrills disc and get the deluxe edition from Arrow Video. You can thank me later.
BASKET CASE (1982) - Blu ray
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner
This new Blu-ray from Image Entertainment and Something Weird Video was quiet a surprise. I mean the 80s no-budget, schlock-fest that is BASKET CASE, filmed in 16mm no less, in High-Def? To quote Rowdy Roddy Piper from THEY LIVE, “that’s like putting perfume on a pig”. Oh and if you think I’m being mean, even director Frank Henenlotter says as much. So while this film may seem like an odd choice to get the Blu-ray treatment, it does make a sort of sense, since this entire film could be called odd. But you know what? Not only do I love this flick, but the BD treatment works. I know, I’d find that hard to believe too, so let me try to prove it to you.
I will begin by saying that I hate the cover of this Blu-ray. Not that it looks bad, but just that it gives too much away. Now I know that chances are, if you are a horrorhead of any sort, then you know all about this flick, as it’s pretty famous…or would that be infamous? Still, just in case this is your first time seeing this movie, that cover is a crying shame because Mr. Henenlotter really does a good job keeping the monster in the dark, just like JAWS, and like that much more famous movie, the big reveal of the baddie really works here. And yes, I did just compare BASKET CASE favorable to JAWS, deal with it. So if you are one of the lucky few to watch this movie for the first time, try not to look at the cover when buying it or putting the disc into you Blu-ray player.
Oh and consider what I’m about to say below as SPOILERS.
As the movie starts, a young man is wandering the mean streets of New York City, with a wide-eyed look on his face, and a large wicker basket in his arms. That is the titular basket and inside it is the surprise, a small, deformed thing that was once this young man’s conjoined twin. This murderous, Muppet-looking mutant was cut off from his normal sibling by an abrasive but well-meaning father, who literally tosses the deformed twin out in the trash. However the bond of brotherhood between normal Duane and the monstrous Belial is not so easily severed, especially when they share a psychic link, and soon daddy dearest pays the price for separating the two boys. Not content to just punishing their father, the brothers travel to the big city some years later to find the three doctors who performed the back alley separation surgery to get vengeance on them too. And thus we are brought up to date as Duane tracks the docs down one by one. He then takes Belial to the doctors in his little basket to let the surprisingly strong and mobile lump of twisted flesh do the dirty work. But when young Duane starts making goo-goo eyes at a pretty lady, Belial does not like the idea of being left out of the action, or of having someone coming between him and his brother, so the midget mutant murdering maniac really loses his marbles.
Highlights of this favorite of cult film fanatics include a wonderfully sleazy and dirty urban feel, fun, over the top gore scenes, lots of puppet on person violence, and the best bit of all; a hilarious bit of stop motion animation when Belial gets out of his basket to trash an apartment in an epic hissy fit. Some not so good moments is the acting abilities of many of the extras, some puppet on person rape (eww) and some unnecessary full frontal male nudity as Duane has a dream of running around New York City completely stark naked. Yeah, I really didn’t need to see that, but I guess that’s one for the ladies. Perhaps my biggest gripe was that the movie was presented in full-frame instead of widescreen. Frank Henenlotter does address that fact in his intro and says that if the film, which wasn’t originally shot in widescreen, was stretched to fit those dimensions, it would have looked like hell. So I guess, begrudgingly, I’m glade the kept the original aspect ratio in order to make the flick look as good as possible, but it still looked funny on my big, wide television.
As far as extras go, there is a new video introduction by director Frank Henenlotter and a director’s commentary track with Frank, the film’s producer, and actress Beverly Bonner. There is a collection of outtakes and behind the scenes footage from Henenlotter’s personal collection, some trailers, radio spots, and a gallery of art based on the movie and pictures taken while filming it. There’s even a short featurette about finding the Hotel Broslin where the majority of this movie takes place. So while the extras are nothing to scream about, they’re nothing to sneeze at, either.
BASKET CASE is a crazy, weird, “you’ve got to see it to believe it” flick. Sure this film isn’t art, but I do love it so. It was followed by a couple of sequels, none of which were as good as the original, so your mileage may vary with those, but as far as the first BASKET CASE goes, it is one of my guiltiest of guilty pleasures and I highly recommend it.
FRANKENHOOKER (1990) – Blu-ray
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Cast: James Lorinz, Joanne Ritchie, Patty Mullen
FRANKENHOOKER, the name sort of says it all. Just from the title I’m sure you’ve got a pretty good idea of what this movie’s all about, and you would be right. But just in case you can’t puzzle it out, let me explain one of the weirdest, goofiest, sexiest, and goriest splatstick comedies ever, and a personal favorite of mine for a long, long time.
Written and directed by Frank Henenlotter, the mad mind behind BASKET CASE, this is a simple, and silly, story, but one that’s well told. Jeffrey Franken is a young med school dropout living with his folks with a nice, plump fiancée. All in all young, mad-but-not-quite-doctor Franken has a pretty good, if ho-hum, life. All that changes when his lady love dies in a tragic (read as hilarious) lawnmower accident. With only her head left intact, Jeffrey vows to rebuild her shredded body so that she will live again. Not just wanting to kill anyone for spare parts, he decides to use hookers. Yeah, makes sense to me.
Unfortunately things don’t go as planned, but when do they ever in these kinds of movies? A mix up with some explosive crack (yeah, really) causes a whole gaggle of hookers to get blown apart into gooey, bloody bits. Looking to make lemonade out of the lemons he was handed, Jeffery scoops up the parts, runs back home, and stitches together a suitable and sexy body for his dead gal, Elizabeth Shelley. Ha, get it? Unfortunately (part 2), now that Liz is more hooker than not, she starts wandering the streets, looking for customers. Unfortunately (part 3D) she’s also built with an electrified labia, a real killer cooch that murders anyone she does the nasty with. And if that wasn’t enough (darn, should have called this Unfortunately part 4: the final chapter), there’s a big, muscle-bound pimp named Zorro who’s looking to find the creep that blew up all his hoes. With all this going on, will our lovesick, young Franken get back the girl of his dreams, or will she continue screwing and slaying her way through New York?
Well there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to watch this freaky flick. Unfortunately (ha, I knew I could work another one in there somewhere) this movie has been out of print for a long time. Fortunately the good men and women over at Synapse Films has just released this movie for the first time on Blu-ray. Not only does the video transfer look surprisingly great, but there’s a nice selection of special features for the extra fans out there, like me. Director Henenlotter and special makeup creator, Gabe Bartalos turn in an entertaining audio commentary. There are a couple of interviews here including a nine minuet one with Patty Mullen, the former Penthouse Pet turned actress who played the titular piecemeal hooker, and a twenty minuet interview with actress Jennifer Deloria, who played one of the dead hookers used as parts to make Frankenhooker. Why the co-star of the movie only talked for nine minutes and someone who was, if we’re being generous, a supporting character at best went on for twenty, I couldn’t tell you, but Jennifer is entertaining enough to all but steal the special feature show and she was refreshingly candid and honest. This lady needs to do more special features; I would sure love to see more of her. Oh and there’s one featurette included in this package, also at about twenty minutes in length, about the makeup effects in the film and it comes complete with a lot of behind the scenes photos and videos tossed in for good measure. The typical trailer and photo gallery bring the nice collection of extras to a close.
FRANKENHOOKER is a fun film, period. It is chock full of silliness, nudity, and blood and guts. It never takes itself, or anything else, seriously and if that sounds like your kind of flick then be sure to get your copy when it comes out on November 8th.
SCARY MOVIE 2 and SCARY MOVIE 3 – Blu-ray Double Disc Set
SCARY MOVIE 2 (2001)
Director: Keenen Ivory Wayans
Cast: Anna Faris, Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans
SCARY MOVIE 3 (2003)
Director: David Zucker
Cast: Anna Faris, Charlie Sheen, Regina Hall
This September 20th Lionsgate is all set to bring these two spoofs of spooky flicks to Blu-ray for the first time. Since they are essentially the same film; that being a collection of comedy skits based on horror movies only strung together by the barest of threads, I thought I’d cover them both in one go. So, without further ado, here they are.
The idea behind all the SCARY MOVIE movies is to take whatever horror films were popular the year or so before and cheery-pick some bits to spoof and satirize. While the original movie largely focused on the SCREAM series of neo-slashers, starting with part two, the SCARY films would incorporate any and all remotely genre based movie in a scatter shot approach to comedy. That is, by throwing enough stuff at the wall from various sources, the hope is something is bound to be funny. Maybe it is because of that more narrow focus that the first SCARY MOVIE was easily the funniest and best of the lot, or maybe the creators took their time making it, whereas after it, the studio that owned the property was just concerned with churning out a new flick ever year. That said, there were still enough good, if oftentimes silly or sick (or both), bits in these two sequels to give them a watch. Ok, overview over, let’s get to specifics.
SCARY MOVIE 2 begins with some fun at the expense of THE EXORCIST, because you know, that classic film from 1973 was so hot and current back in 2001. Whatever, this bit was easily the funniest part of the film, with James Woods knocking it out of the park lampooning the Father Merrin part. After that, the majority of the movie takes on the truly awful THE HAUNTING. No, not the amazing 1963 original haunted house film, although with them first covering THE EXORCIST, I guess it could have been possible, but the truly abhorrent waste of time and celluloid that was the 1999 remake. And honestly, I think that was a huge mistake, because THE HAUNTING remake was so damn spirit-crushing bad, that no amount of funny could be wrung from the pain that film inflicted on horrorheads. Anyway, there are other bits tossed in (like I said, scatter shot) including jibes at HOLLOW MAN, WHAT LIES BENEATH, HANNIBAL and even the blink-and-you-missed-it news story of Firestone tires blowing out. Yeah because that doesn’t date this movie at all!
With all that said, I did get some giggles out of SCARY MOVIE 2. The original creative team behind the first SCARY MOVIE was also behind this one and it shows. Not only is there a plethora of Wayans brothers in it, but the same juvenile, over the top gross-out humor is evident from scene one. As someone who can appreciate gross-out comedy when it’s done well, I applaud its hard R approach to humor. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the following sequel, which not only ditched the Wayans brothers from the writing, directing, and acting positions, but totally revealed that this series was nothing more than a cynical cash grab when they played it safe and completely neutered the adult humor in an effort to obtain the far more lucrative PG-13 rating. Oh well, at least they put David “one third of the team that gave us the amazing AIRPLANE! films” Zucker into the director’s chair. I can only guess that his involvement is the only reason that the third film is even somewhat watchable. Ok, we’re in the home stretch now, so on with part three.
SCARY MOVIE 3 has Anna Faris and Regina Hall returning as Cindy and Brenda, the only two recurring characters since the aforementioned Wayans brothers walked away from the project. That left a big hole in the cast, so luckily they had a big A-hole (zing) on hand to fill it; Charlie Sheen, who played the Mel Gibson role from the alien invasion flick, SIGNS. THE RING is the other horror film they pull large bits from for this movie, and that makes sense since the movie is called *SCARY* MOVIE, but then they also include bits on THE MATRIX, THE HULK in an alternate ending, and Eminem’s 8 MILE. Why? Either there wasn’t any other fright films to make fun of from the year before, which wasn’t the case, or the creators just took the lazy way out to pad the film with whatever came to mind the easiest. Hmm, considering that the “brains” behind this movie (and yes those are ironic finger quotation marks) went on the make the hodgepodge messes that were DATE MOVIE, EPIC MOVIE, DISASTER MOVIE, and other cinematic eyesores, I’d bet it was the latter reason. But hey, they do promote this movie on the Blu-ray cover as the “exclusive unrated” edition, even going as far as to give it a subtitle of “Scary Movie 3.5”, so there is that. But honestly, I didn’t see any differences between this version and the last time I saw this movie.
The good news is that both of these Blu-rays from Miramax and Lionsgate have had a bit of visual polish added to them and they look great. Additionally they each have a nice collection of special features and extras, with the lion’s share of goodies being on part three. However all these extras were on the earlier DVD editions of these films, so if already own these movies on disc, there’s no real reason to upgrade. But if you don’t have these and you like lowbrow, gross-out humor, then I can give a partial recommendation for SCARY MOVIE 2 but only a limp, lukewarm “I didn’t really hate it” recommendation for SCARY MOVIE 3.
SCRE4M (aka SCREAM 4) (2011) – Blu-ray
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
SCREAM 4, or as they insist on marketing it, SCRE4M, has been a long time coming. The last time we saw the Ghost Face killer was back in 2000, and that movie, while far from great, did sort of wrap up the overarching plot of the SCREAM slasher trilogy. So why do another one now, after more than a decade? Why money, of course! Why else does Hollywood ever do anything? Well I’ve got to give them some credit; at least this is an honest to goodness sequel and not another lame-ass remake. But then, that’s part of the joke that runs through this entire flick, and that does get pretty old pretty fast. Hmm, I guess that could be said about many aspects of the SCREAM movies, so I’m not going to hold it against this film. Anyhow, on with the show.
Sidney, Gale and Dewey are all back for this fourth stab (heh heh) at things. Unfortunately so are a bunch of young pretty people, the so called “next generation” this movie was obviously attempting to pass the torch to. And while the new crew doesn’t do anything bad, pretty much whenever they are on the screen, I’m wishing it would be the old trio. Neve, Courteney, and David are what made the SCREAM flicks so good (yeah I guess the writer and director might have had something to do with it too) and while I was happy to see them here at all, I just wish they played a bigger part in this film.
That bit of misplaced priorities aside, the story here is basically right out of SCREAM 101. Sid returns to her home town where the first flick took place to promote a new book she’s written about all the craziness she’s survived. There she bumps into old friends Dewey, who’s now the sheriff, and his wife Gale, who’s trying her hand at writing fiction, but the old investigative reporter blood still burns inside her. Naturally the fourth member of that “old gang” is the masked murder maniac, Ghost Face, and it isn’t long before he/she/they pop up to make some spooky phone calls and spread some carnage around.
From the opening “kill a celebrity” thing, which they take to such an extent in this film that it is both awesome and ridiculous, to the guess who’s the killer game as the assembled cast gets bumped off one by one, from tonsils to toenails this is undoubtedly a SCREAM movie. That includes all the humor, the perhaps a bit too pithy dialog, the memorable kills, some decent shock scares, and the unmasking of the killer(s) at the end. And honestly, that last part that was probably my biggest gripe with this film; who the killer(s) was and their motivation for murder. I thought it was pretty weak sauce, even weaker than the motivation of Mickey from SCREAM 2 (gee, I hope I didn’t spoil that 14 year old movie for anyone) and it was more than a bit silly. Oh, and for long time fans of the series that have yet to see SCRE4M, that’s a bit of a hint for this flick, but I will say no more.
The new Blu-ray from Anchor Bay and The Weinstein Company is one of those neat tri-combo packs, which includes the movie on Blu-ray, DVD, and a downloadable digital copy. I only watched the BD version for this review, because I’m not going to sit through it back to back to back, so I can only comment on how it looked in HD, and that was damn good. As far as the extras go, they’re not bad, but they’re also nothing to scream about. Ha, ha, get it? Anyway, first and foremost there’s a director’s commentary track, with actors Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere joining in. Even Neve Campbell makes a “special guest appearance”, which is a polite way of saying that she could hardly be bothered to say a few things for a very few minutes. But then Courteney Cox and David Arquette couldn’t be bothered to stop in at all, so good on her for doing anything. Honestly, I would have much rather had a commentary track by Wes Craven, writer Kevin Williamson, and the trio of actors who have been with this series from the start, but the effort put for here was still ok. Anyway, there’s a collection of 20 deleted and extended scenes, all with commentary from director Craven, if you wish it. Sadly, the remaining extras are pretty lackluster and they include a nine minuet gag reel and a ten minuet “making of” piece that pretty much just reeks of the usual promo piece and doesn’t really show anything behind the scenes, or anything even remotely interesting.
SCREAM 4 was a fine continuation of the SCREAM series. If you liked those other movies, you’ll probably like this one as it pretty much is more of the same. In fact, I thought it was much better than the third flick, which could be proof that writer Kevin Williamson did add something to these movies, as the third movie was not penned by him and this one was a return to the Ghost Face shenanigans for him. I only mention that because there has been some debate among horrorheads on just how much skill he has as a terror scribe, probably based on his association with the woeful I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER flicks. Anyway, while this movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or really doing anything new at all, it was a fun, popcorn muncher, stalk and slash flick and if that’s what you’re looking for, then SCREAM 4 will do that for you just fine.
CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 (2011) – Blu-ray
Director: Robert Hall
Cast: Nick Principe, Angelina Armani, Thomas Dekker
LAID TO REST was a direct to DVD (or Blu-ray, if you prefer) slasher film from 2010. It had love for the old classic slashers of the 80s, and to a lesser extent the 90s, but it was a thoroughly modern movie, and that was probably for the best. Some new fright flicks try to cash in on the nostalgia horrorheads have for the masked maniac movies of yesteryear and say stuff like “this is so gonna be like those 80s horror films you loved” but usually they fall far short of their empty promises. LAID TO REST was its own film from start to finish, and while it paid tribute to the slashers that came before it, it never ripped them off, or worse yet, mocked them. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, it wasn’t the next great horror movie that fright fans have been praying for, but it was a fun, bloody slasher flick. So naturally they had to make a sequel. So was this second time out as good as the first, or was it like many sequels, and just a quick and dirty cash grab and not worth anyone’s time? Well grab your chromed-out skull mask and your ridiculously jagged knives and let’s get to it.
This film picks up exactly where the first one ended, with the two survivors driving away from the previous night’s slaughter, and the titular murder machine laid out and left for dead. The killer in these films does have a great, unique look and gets his moniker from a striking chrome skull mask he wears. He also videotapes his kills with a shoulder mounted camera, reminiscent of the famous PREDATOR and the alien’s shoulder laser blaster. Anyway, when last we saw poor Mr. Skull, he had his face melted off with acid and was beaten with a baseball bat repeatedly over the head. So it was looking like that was it for Chromy, well unless his last name was Voorhees. But then enter a super-secret squad of people, naturally all dressed in black, who kill the cops on the scene and whisk Chromeskull away to the doctors to save his life and try, in vain, to repair his ruined face with a series of skin grafts.
And therein lies my biggest problem with this film; Chromskull’s virtual army of willing henchmen. When I first saw them in action, shades of the Cult of Thorn that all ruined the latter HALLOWEEN films filled my head. Then I thought they may be the even more silly “vast governmental conspiracy” a la the illuminate in the completely dreadful THE RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. But then perhaps Mr. Skull was just some freaky rich guy, sort of like a psychotic Bill Gates? Worst of all, no explanation is ever given, not that any of them would really make any sense. All you get are people in black referring to “the organization” and calling Chromeskull “boss”. This includes a small part by modern scream queen Danielle Harris as the perfect personal assistant any psychopath could wish for, and Brian Austin Green as Skull’s right hand man, looking to replace his boss in the killing business. Bah, whatever, the whole thing was just stupid, stupid, stupid and completely unbelievable to the point that it actually aggravated me every time the army of sociopathic sycophants was on screen. I’d much rather have Chromeskull as the lone killer he was in the first film then some sort of Donald Trump type with a taste for slaughter.
The second thing about this movie that really got to me was just how dull and boring it was. While the first film was a nice bit of classic stalk and slash, here the two leads get kidnapped, dropped into a warehouse turned murder playground right out of a SAW film, and then a whole bunch of nothing happens for far too long until an unintentional funny ending where Chromeskull takes on up to three armed cops at a time with some knife-fu and wins. Sure there are a few kills sprinkled here and there, but such things are just gore candy and neither thrilling or terrifying in the least. But the vast majority of this film has policemen doing police things, Skull’s army of toadies doing the toady thing, and the pair of main victims whimpering, crying, and little else. Instead of building tension, all this beating around the bush accomplishes is to pad the runtime with tiresome tedium.
The highlight of this flick is easily the gore. This is where director Robert Hall really shines, but that’s only natural, as he got his start in the movie biz by doing special makeup effects. So the gorehounds will have a lot to howl about, but even some of these had the dread stink of silliness on them. Case in point, a young girl gets stabbed in the face, but only in the side of the face, that is the knife just pierces the flesh. The killer then rips the knife up, peeling the flesh off of left side of the woman’s head. Sure it’s gory as all get out, but it is in no way fatal, and yet she dies from it. Now I give slashers a lot of leeway when it comes to that sort of thing. Every time Michael Myers stabbed someone in the gut and they fell over dead, I never said anything, but this was just…yes you guessed it…silly. It’s gore for the sake of gore and nothing more. Oh and don’t get me started on the “sawing through a skull, lengthwise, with a knife” bit.
Now the new Blu-ray from Image did look great visually, and there were a nice collection of special features, but all the extras in the world could not make me like this boring, and unbelievable to the point of being stupid, film. Very rarely have I been so disappointed in a sequel and as such I just can’t recommend this film in the slightest.
--Brian M. Sammons