Friday, November 4, 2011

Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!

TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL (2010) – Blu-ray review

Director: Eli Craig
Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden

Horror comedies are hard to pull off right. For every good one, like STUDENT BODIES and SCARY MOVIE (the first one) there are really bad ones like SCARY MOVIE (any after the first movie), STAN HELSING, VAMPIRES SUCK, TRANSYLMANIA, and SHRIEK IF YOU KNOW WHAT I DID LAST FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH. Yes that last one is a real movie, and if you have never suffered through it, do yourself a favor and just take my word for it that you really don’t want to. So with that undeniable fact firmly in my brain, I approached this new horromedy with a bit of trepidation. Was I all scared over nothing, or was my fears justified? Let’s find out.

T&DvE, as I like to flippantly call this film, takes the familiar premise of the good old backwoods slasher (i.e. JUST BEFORE DAWN, DON’T GO INTO THE WOODS, THEY PREY, etc.) and turns it on its head by making the hillbillies the good guys and the young, pretty, city-folk the ones with the problems. Tucker and Dale are two good natured good old boys who are going up to their new cabin to fix it up for the weekend. Along the way they cross paths with a SUV full of college kids who naturally think the rednecks are right out of DELIVERANCE or perhaps even THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. After a night of drinking and spooky stories about killer hillbillies, the kids go skinny dipping. When one of the cute coeds starts to drown, Tucker and Dale are right there to save her. Unfortunately to the rest of the young people, it looks like the evil hillbillies are abducting her for nefarious reasons.

The college kids rally themselves to save their friend, but though a series of comic misunderstandings and incredibly bad luck, mixed with a healthy heaping of stupidity, the kids keep accidently killing themselves in a variety of gruesome ways. The other campers don’t see the accidents and think the hillbillies are murderous psychos, while clueless Tucker and Dale think the college kids are part of a weird suicide cult. Therefor they must protect the young woman they saved from drowning, who they have become friendly with, from the others kids that they think will kill her too. Yes the majority of this movie is one, long, THREE’S COMPANY classic misunderstanding joke taken to goofy and gory extremes. However, as inane as that sounds on paper, it really works on film. Or at least, it works in this film, and that must be a credit to the writing, direction, and acting that the moviemakers were able to pull it off so well.

There are two things that make this movie both really good and a must see for horror fans looking for some giggles. One is the comically gory death scenes. Highlights include a couple of self impalements, a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face, and the best of the bunch; one idiot accidently jumping into a running wood chipper. If you’re not a fan of splatstick comedy, you’ll probably not going to be a fan of this movie. But even if your tolerance for gore gags is low, you still might want to catch this film for the other reason that it’s so good; the acting chops of the two titular leads. Alan Tudyk as Tucker and Tyler Labine as Dale, both best known for their TV work, really bring their A games to this film. They portray the hillbillies with warmth, humanity, and humor. While most of the college kids were insufferable jackasses that I found annoying to watch, which might have been exactly what writer/director Eli Craig was going for, Tucker and Dale were a joy. I liked them, a lot, and that’s rare for most horror/comedy flicks, where characters are just walking punch lines.

As good as this movie was, the extras on this lil’ Blu-ray from Magnolia are a bit of a mixed bag. There’s a commentary track with the director and misunderstood hillbillies themselves; Tyler and Alan. Some DVD/BD commentaries are informative but dull, others are fun but light on the inside info, the one here is that rare, well-done mix of both and it’s very enjoyable. Unfortunately the rest of the special features aren’t so special. There is a short “making of” featurette that is pretty forgettable and is the usual PR “oh we all had a lot of fun making this movie” kind of thing. There is a shorter “HDNet Look At…” feature that is just more of the same. Perhaps the best extra is a 16 minute reedit of this movie called “Tucker & Dale ARE Evil” that tells the story from the vapid college students’ point of view. I mean, it’s not all that great, and it is just clips of the same film you already watched, but it was kind of fun. Some outtakes, a few storyboards, and a theatrical trailer bring the extras to the close.

TUCKER & DALE is a fun blood soaked comedy. If you’re a fan of the backwoods slasher flicks then you’ll get a lot more out of this film than if you’re not a fan of that subgenre, but even then you’re sure to get some laughs from this. The two leads, Tyler and Alan, are the absolute stars of the show and they both really shine here. The kills are as goofy as they are gory, but I do wish the filmmakers would not have leaned so heavily on CGI effects that often look a bit iffy at best. All in all, T&DvE was a fun flick, so it gets a big, grinning, thumbs up from me and a hearty recommendation to check it out.

EVIL DEAD II: 25th Anniversary Edition (1987) - Blu-ray review

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks

Ah, the EVIL DEAD movies, was there ever a series of films that had more DVD releases than these? I say no, no there was not. So then what about this, the latest (and not even the first) release of EVIL DEAD 2 to Blu-ray? Is this yet another cynical cash grab by a faceless corporate entity trying to exploit the overzealous fans of one of the greatest cult films ever made?

Surprisingly, no. But before I get into that, here’s some backstory on this truly groovy flick.

Bruce Campbell cemented his small claim to fame playing Ash, the bumbling everyman thrust into a horrific situation where he had to dice up the demon possessed bodies of his friends, family, and lovers to survive in the original, and truly horrific, EVIL DEAD. Six years later and the DEAD crew came back together to make, not so much a sequel, as a remake. However, where the first film was a serious, straight up horror movie, EVIL DEAD 2 would play things for laughs more so than for shocked gasps. A true splatsitck film, with as much Three Stooges in it as blood, gore, and guts, this movie was an immediate fan favorite and for good reason, it was ninety minutes of pure freaky fun from start to finish.

The story here is sort of a retread of the first movie and begins with Ash and his girlfriend going out to a little cabin in the woods for some fun. Before long they find the dreaded book, the Necronomicon, and soon demons are inhabiting all sorts of folks for a variety of mischief, and once again it’s up to Ash to save the day, or at the very least, himself. And basically, that’s it for story, but this movie is so much more than that brief summation. There’s the part where just Ash’s hand gets demon possessed so he has to cut it off with a chainsaw and then it starts running around the cabin on its own. Then there’s the scene of utter insanity where Ash and the entire cabin (and I mean that literally) share a laugh. Oh, and I almost forgot lovely Henrietta from the root cellar. If you’ve seen this movie already, and you really should have by now, then I’m sure to remember all these scenes and more. If you have yet to see EVIL DEAD 2 then it is high time that you do and I don’t want to ruin any of this fiercely entertaining and original movie for you. You’re going to want to do yourself a huge favor and see this movie right away, but is this the edition to get?

Thankfully, the answer to that is yes, and that is largely due to the impressive amount of extras this 25th Anniversary Edition brings to the party.

Unlike many of the previous releases of this movie to disc, be it DVD or BD, this time out there is a gaggle of special features to complement the much improved video quality. Said video has been improved much more than even the last Blu-ray version of this film which looked pretty lousy. This time around this gory, goofy flick has never looked better and it finally got the transfer it deserved. As for those extras I mentioned, there are plenty of them and they’re pretty awesome. Writer/director Sam Raimi teams up with B-movie god, Bruce Campbell, special makeup effects guru Greg Nicotero, and longtime Raimi cohort and co-writer, Scott Spiegel to give us one hell of an entertaining audio commentary. Sadly, this isn’t a new commentary track, as was original promised by Liosngate. It’s the same one from the last time this flick was released on disc, but it’s still a great commentary. Now thankfully there is a lot of new goodies to be found here, like a multipart documentary called “Swallowed Souls” about EVIL DEAD 1 & 2, and even a little bit of ARMY OF DARKNESS, that talks with a ton of people connected to the films, including the sometimes elusive Bruce Campbell, but sadly not the excessively busy Sam Raimi. This doc clocks in at an impressive hour-and-forty-minutes long and was very well done. There are thirty minutes of home movie like footage taken when originally shooting the movie or creating the amazing makeup effects called “Cabin Fever” and supplied by Makeup FX mastermind Greg Nicotero’s private home movies. “Road to Wadesboro” is a short featurette and is a return to where the movie was original shot. Then there are the extras that were on the previous editions of this movie, like “Evil Dead II: Behind-the-Screams” and “The Gore the Merrier”, and their inclusion here made me very happy. Often when a new version of a film gets put out, the extras from what came before are forgotten. Well not here and I’d like to see more Blu-rays/DVDs follow this lead. Trailers and still galleries bring this very impressive list of extras to a close. Seriously, after several sometimes lackluster releases of EVIL DEAD 2, Lionsgates has knocked this one out of the freaking park.

EVIL DEAD 2 is a great film, one of my all-time favorite over-the-top fun fright flicks, and this version is hands down the best one yet and clearly the edition to get for serious fans. Even if you already own this movie on some other disc, and I’d be stunned if you didn’t, this is a worthy upgrade for the great looking picture and the hours of new extras. Consider this anniversary one not to be forgotten.

INTRUDER (1989) – Blu-ray review

Director: Scott Spiegel
Cast: Elizabeth Cox, Renée Estevez, Dan Hicks, Sam Raimi

Back in the late 80s, in this particular case we’re talking about 1989, the slasher phenomena was winding down, but a group of plucky filmmakers thought, “hey, why don’t we give the stalk and slash thing a try?” What set them apart from the thousands of others doing the same thing was the fact that it was the crazy guys that gave the world EVIL DEAD 2. Scott Spiegel, who co-wrote ED2, would write and direct, Sam Raimi would take a turn in front of the camera as an actor and naturally Sam would bring his brother Ted along for the ride. The gore guys that first came together for EVIL DEAD 2 would use this film to from their earth shattering effects company; KNB EFX. Even Bruce Campbell would return, although if you blinked you would miss him. So with all that talent behind it, how could this movie fail?

Ok, right about here is where I would usually make a snarky remark about how this movie sucked. Thankfully this time around, I can’t say that. To be sure this movie isn’t perfect but it does deliver the goods, even if you have to wait a good long while to get them. Yeah, INTRUDER does start off a little slow, with the first kill not happening until after the thirty minute mark, and that one even occurs off camera. But what saves this movie from becoming a bore are the off kilter characters, and the trademarked EVIL DEAD use of cameras. What do I mean by that? Well here you will have camera Point Of View shots from telephones, doorknobs, store shelves, mop buckets, and a roving camera that shoots the characters from front, behind, above, below, and all places in between. I love neat-o camera tricks like that, they’re fun and they liven up things, which as stated, could be a bit boring at the start of this flick. That also begs the question of just how much of these Raimi-esque camera tricks was actually thanks to Mr. Raimi, and how much were just how that particular group of Michigan born madmen did things.

And speaking of Michigan, INTRUDER is the only slasher film that I know of to be set in my home state. So yeah, I may be a bit biased towards it for that, hearing the actors drop the names of streets and locations that I know very well, but the movie is definitely good enough to stand on its own merits, with or without that groovy Michigan flavor.

INTRUDER takes place in a small (read as: not Walmart sized) grocery store where the night crew was just given the bad news that the store has been sold and that they will all be losing their jobs at the end of the week. To make matters worse, someone starts slicing everyone up using many of the sharp and nasty things you can find in your average grocery store. Now this is where older versions of this film sort of sucked, as INTRUDER was itself infamously slashed by the self-appointed guardians of decency at the MPAA. All of the glorious gore gags were excised and the movie had about as much balls as your typical PG kiddie flick. Thankfully this version is the “director’s cut” which restores most of the missing bloody bits to the film, including a head getting smashed in a trash compactor, and in the highlight of the film, another head gets cut in half, right across the upper teeth, by a ban saw. Yep, it’s as good as it sounds.

Now don’t get me wrong, not everything is golden with this movie. The story is about as basic as it gets. People in an isolated location get hack up by a mystery killer that can be anyone except for the obvious red herring the film keeps bludgeoning the audience with. Also the acting is pretty bad, but it’s honestly bad. INTRUDER is pure camp, honest camp, and completely unlike many modern movies that try too damn hard to be campy and just come off as forced, desperate, and far from enjoyable. This film is a slice of 80s slasher goodness, and as such I love it to pieces.

If you’ve ever read any of my reviews of previous releases from the good folks over at Synapse Films, then you know that when it comes to making the picture look great, few companies do it better. And this low budget, often forgotten slasher from the late 1980s is no exception. INTRUDER looks simply amazing on Blu-ray and for that reason alone you need to get this flick. And if f you’re an extras hound, like me, then be prepared to bay with joy over the special features found on this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. There is a making-of retrospective called “Slashing Prices” that runs about 40 minutes long and has a nice collection of people related to the film giving their two cents on various aspects of it. Of course bug time director Sam Raimi couldn’t be bothered to show up for this (boo, hiss) but his brother Ted is, and surprisingly so is Bruce Campbell, who’s only in the film for about two minutes. And I must say, few behind the scenes pieces have been this entertaining and informative. Top marks must go to Red Shirt Pictures, the go-to production company for your movie’s special features. Further goodies in the usual vein include a really good audio commentary with the director and producer, audition footage, a still gallery, theatrical and trailer. There’s about ten minutes of very raw footage from the original workprint that show off a little more gore, and a bit of love is paid to the short, and now sadly lost, film that was a precursor to INTRUDER called “Night Crew”, such as a collection of outtakes from that short, and a trailer.

INTRUDER is a great fun fright flick that certainly, and sadly, falls under the “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” category. The story is as basic as it gets, but it’s loaded with style, skill, and undeniable charm. I love this quirky little film, and when showing it to some friends of mine who had never seen it before, and who are not the diehard horror fan that I am,, they loved it too. Higher praise than that, I cannot think of. Consider this one very recommended.

--Brian Sammons