Blu-Ray Review: Halloween (1978)

SEPTEMBER 26, 2013


I often joke to my superiors at BadassDigest that all I write are Halloween-related articles - between this site and theirs (plus my time at Bloody D) I've probably amassed enough for a small book on the series (and that's not counting my appearances in things like Halloween: The Inside Story). But the funny thing is, I've never actually reviewed the original Halloween in a serious manner - I did the April Fool's joke review a couple years back, and my running commentary take for the first batch of "October Extras" in 2007, but never once have I given it the proper review treatment (I may have even said I never would, now that I think about it).

But it's been a couple years since the film was last re-released on disc with new bonus features (for a movie that was made before the idea of "special editions", it sure has enough of them), and so here we are with a new release of the film from Anchor Bay for its 35th (!) anniversary. Sure, one could make the not-that-big-of-a-stretch joke that it's also the 35th release of the film from AB, and what I'm about to say isn't the first time you've heard it, but I stress - THIS is the edition you want to have in your collection. Throw the previous Blu-ray away if you own it, this one blows it out of the water with its new, Dean Cundey supervised transfer, and apart from the occasional defect (the shot of Loomis outside of the Myers house, right before discovering his own car across the street, is noticeably blurred), is the best home video presentation of the film yet. You know I've seen this movie a lot and scrutinize it more carefully than any other, so I assure you you can take my word for it.

The biggest improvement is the color timing, which was the source of much controversy and aggravation for a decade now. Beginning with the 2003 (25th anniversary!) release, a new transfer has always been used, one that was done WITHOUT Cundey and given a much brighter, "oranger" look. I know on paper that sounds fine and even appropriate (orange = Halloween, no?), but what it actually did was have the rather ironic side effect of making the film look exactly like the setting it was shot: spring in sunny Southern California. The orange tinted look on those wonderful daytime scenes and reduced blues for the nighttime scenes looked "great" to the untrained eye who wasn't considering the source material, but the flatter, colder look is what it's SUPPOSED to look like - it may be shot in California, but it's supposed to be Illinois on October 31st, when it is indeed cold and drab outside. Cundey and Carpenter weren't trying to make their film look "ugly" - they were trying to make it look REAL, and hide the Los Angeles-ness of the image (save for the occasional palm tree). If my memory serves, the last release to look correct was the 1999 one (which originally came with the TV cut on a second disc), which was anamorphic but not high def, obviously - so this is the first time we've gotten a release that resembles how wonderful the film looks on a proper 35mm print.

But detail is also improved over the previous Blu-ray; again, this is a movie I've pored over several times, and the new transfer was sharp and clear enough for me to make out new, completely superfluous things (like a fingerprint on the windshield in front of Laurie during the "I'd rather go out with Ben Tramer" scene, or a few more signs in the background that can now be read). Of course, no one buys a movie to look at the backgrounds, but if the new image is good enough for me to spot things I never noticed before despite 50+ viewings, then it's pretty obvious how great the actual IMPORTANT stuff looks. And again, with the proper color timing, it combines to make a spectacular image that you'd have to be a goon to look down upon (I've seen a few complaints that the new color is "wrong", it's sad).

Of course, a new transfer wouldn't be enough to get folks to shell out another 30 bucks when they probably all have at least two copies by now (I believe this is my 6th, and that's with me recently parting ways with one of my VHS copies), so Anchor Bay has put together some nice supplements to sweeten the deal. The most extensive is an hour-long documentary about Jamie Lee Curtis' first (and last, she says) appearance at a convention. Put together by Sean Clark for a Horrorhound convention, the goal was for her to make this one-time appearance and raise money for the Los Angeles Children's Hospital by donating some portion of the proceeds (the specifics aren't mentioned) from her autograph and photo op fees. Of course, at the time of the 25th anniversary release, this would have been a bit weird, since paying stars for their autograph or for a photo at these things was rather unusual (I know, because I've never paid for one in my life but I have several Fangorias and DVDs that would seem to suggest otherwise), but I guess that's just the reality now. Sad, but at least it was going to charity, and while the photo sessions seem pretty rushed, we see plenty of video footage of her engaging with the fans who had stuff for her to sign, even posing for a few candid shots and leading at least two renditions of "Happy Birthday" for fans who were celebrating more than just meeting Laurie Strode. It's a bit long overall, and poorly edited (Tom Atkins' appearance is completely left to our imagination) with a lot of unnecessary "reel change" type graphics thrown around (to show the passage of time I guess) and truly terrible titles, but it's great to see Ms. Curtis interacting with fans and being so candid (a shame only a snippet of her hour long Q&A is shown, as it's more exciting than seeing her sign the 406th Halloween poster).

The other big "get" is a new commentary by Carpenter and Curtis - this time recorded together, unlike the previous commentary (featuring Debra Hill as well) where the they were recorded separately. As you know, ANY Carpenter commentary is much more fun when he's bouncing off someone, and it's clear that the two still have great affection for each other. Plus, Carpenter doesn't exactly jump to talk about this movie much anymore (like me, he's pretty much talked out about it), but he's having fun reminiscing with Jamie and thus doesn't come across as a grump like he might in an interview or Q&A (though he seems to (rightfully) get a bit exasperated with Curtis' constant narration of the plot and fixation on the film's continuity errors). Of course, some of their comments mirror the ones they made on the last track, but it's vastly more interesting to hear them share such anecdotes and laugh about them, so it's not a big deal. And it's not "new" of course since she died in 2005, but there's a little piece on Debra Hill where she talks about the film and its locations (with some extra input from PJ Soles) that I've never seen before, so if I'm not mistaken it's "new" to an Anchor Bay DVD (UPDATE - I was mistaken - this featurette was on the 2003 Divimax DVD). The TV footage is also present; I guess we will have to wait for the 40th anniversary set (or some unceremonious one in between) for a Blu-ray version of the TV version in its entirety. An essay by Stef Hutchison is also packaged inside the digibook case, which will stick out on your shelf (OCD alert!) but is otherwise quite lovely.

And then the usual trailers and TV spots are there; they might be different than the last one, they might not - I honestly can't tell anymore. Someone on Twitter was bemoaning the lack of the old commentary track, and the various other retrospective pieces (and that behind the scenes material) that appeared on previous releases are also MIA. Anchor Bay seemingly has a real phobia of doing any sort of "ultimate" release with this film - every time around they seemingly create new stuff but port almost nothing over from the last one (unlike Scream Factory's "Everything you had and more!" approach). I don't particularly care about the old commentary since it's not like I listen to them multiple times anyway (in fact I think I HAVE listened to that one twice, so I almost assuredly won't be doing so again), but it would be nice to reclaim some shelf space as I'd like to have the other making of/retrospective material. But you can definitely ditch the 2007 Blu-ray if you have the 2003 Divimax DVD (of which it was basically a port), as it doesn't have anything else on it you won't have elsewhere beyond an incorrectly colored high def image.

(Heh. Still didn't review the movie itself.)

(What say you?


The Green Inferno (2013)

SEPTEMBER 23, 2013


During the Q&A for The Green Inferno, an audience member asked if the Peruvian government had given Eli Roth and his team any sort of grief over their portrayal in his newest film, and the filmmaker practically laughed. He then explained that their government doesn't care, that they understand that it's a fictional movie and that you'd basically have to be stupid to think it's a proper reflection of their country. It was a relief to hear, especially when you consider that Wrong Turn, a movie even more ridiculous than this one, caused some official from West Virginia to denounce the film at the time of its release, while assuring the rest of the world that folks wouldn't run afoul of mutant hillbillies when entering his state. It wasn't even shot there!

But it's a fair question, because Green Inferno is very much in line with films like Cannibal Holocaust and The Man From Deep River, both of which (and many others) the victim of much scrutiny and outrage - some of it even deserved. Those films have their fans (I enjoy most on my one viewing; I rarely have any desire to revisit them), but are largely considered to be trash thanks to some unfortunate storytelling decisions - i.e. a lot of rape and the on-screen murder of a few animals. Add in the usual approach to Italian genre filmmaking in that era (basically, rip off and top the guy who did it before you) and you can see why the sub-genre has been dormant for so long - who could possibly get away with such a thing in this day and age?

Eli Roth, of course. He's been MIA from the director's chair for far too long (six years, not counting the Hemlock Grove pilot), focusing mainly on acting and producing, and to his credit he didn't dip his toes in the shallow end for his comeback - he dove right in and has delivered what may be his most violent film yet. It's certainly got the biggest body count: our protagonists are a large group of activist college students who fly to the rain forest to prevent their destruction, only for their plane to crash (a horrific sequence that provides a few of the film's gory deaths) and to find themselves captives by a tribe of natives who look at a human being the same way we look at a cow or pig.

So in some ways it's directly in line with Roth's Hostel films - once again Americans go to another country and get killed by locals (you can even reduce it to "if you travel you will die" and include Cabin Fever in the group), and with the previously mentioned films (and the more extreme Cannibal Ferox) being an acknowledged influence, one could levy the complaint that there's no new ground being broken here. But that's not true - this film will be going out on just as many screens as his other movies, a luxury never afforded to Ruggero Deodato or Umberto Lenzi. This will be the gateway film for many audience members, and Roth is happy to introduce that subgenre to newcomers - the end credits even list the primary entries one should seek out in chronological order. I can honestly say this has to be a first - I don't see Scream or Hatchet's credits encouraging viewers to go back and see the original Halloween or Friday the 13th.

Also, it's the first I've seen that can be considered "fun". It can be grim at times, but there is thankfully no sexual violence of note (the head woman of the tribe checks to see if any of the girls are virgins, but it's not graphic and most certainly not misogynist in tone), and the local turtle population didn't have to worry about any of the actors chopping their heads off on camera. The cannibalism is in line with the others, but Roth's usual gonzo approach to kills (and the makeup FX by the similarly minded folks at KNB) keep it from being too unpleasant an affair, and there's even a damn poop joke to lift our spirits. Hell he even holds back at times; at least one major character's fate is left open ended, and another one is killed off-screen (with proof of her demise executed not unlike the "I never sliced anyone" bit in Rocky Horror Picture Show). I'm not saying "Bring the kids!" - this movie definitely earns its R rating* - but Roth clearly wants the audience to have a good time, something that is next to impossible for even a genre audience with something like Ferox.

This was a make or break film for Eli, as far as I am concerned at least. Hemlock was nearly unwatchable, as was his production of Last Exorcism II, and I wasn't overly thrilled with Aftershock (which showed at last year's FF). But this (and The Sacrament, which he also produced) has put him right back around the top of current genre heavyweights. And even better - he seems HUNGRY; I don't think we'll have to wait another six years for another film (though I was disappointed to hear he's working on a sequel to this already - I guess Thanksgiving is just never going to happen), and he is forming partnerships with other filmmakers like Nicholas Lopez and Aaron Burns (who was the 2nd unit director here and plays the film's most sympathetic character besides our heroine, the daring and lovely Lorenza Izzo) to keep those creative juices flowing. Welcome back, sir.

What say you?

*This was the R rated cut; not sure if there IS an unrated one but Eli claims that he had a very good experience with the MPAA on this one.


Bloody Homecoming (2012)

SEPTEMBER 23, 2013


I just got back from Austin's Fantastic Fest, where more than once I had the thought that some of the movies I saw seemed designed specifically just to play in Fantastic Fest, and thus felt soulless. So it was fitting that I came home to a reminder that Bloody Homecoming was hitting DVD today, as I thought it was next Tuesday and thus quickly put it in my player so I could get my review up on time - otherwise I would have waited until the weekend and I might not have appreciated the fact that while it's not exactly a classic, I never doubted for a second that its heart was in the right place.

By now there are about as many "throwback" slashers as there are the genuine, original ones such films are paying tribute to, and most suffer from the mistake of having their characters be intentionally terrible people and played by awful (or overly campy) actors. This approach baffles me; the thinking is seemingly "the actors in those movies were terrible! It's part of the joke!" but for every poor performance you may find in Friday the 13th or The Burning, you will find one that's also quite good - remember that a lot of these movies served as introductions for future megastars like Tom Hanks (He Knows You're Alone), as well as solid, working actors that continue to appear in small film roles and on TV with regular frequency, like Fisher Stevens in The Burning or The Dorm That Dripped Blood's Daphne Zuniga. The majority of Homecoming's actors may never reach that level (time will tell), and some are pretty bad, but there's no sense of irony to it - it's just a bunch of inexperienced kids doing their best, and for that I can give the acting a pass.

Otherwise, this is a pretty solid entry in that sub-sub-genre of slasher films that act as if Scream never happened and just go about the usual business as if competing with a dozen others in the glory days of 1981. Plus, unlike some other recent ones that seem to think their brand new killer is already an icon, the killer is refreshingly simple - he's got a fireman outfit with an air mask to conceal his face, sticks to basic weapons, and (thank Christ) remains silent until the reveal. Yes, it's a whodunit, and while the mystery isn't particularly interesting, it's not overly complicated either - it's basically just a combination of Prom Night and Friday the 13th's motivations (albeit without a family tie), with a touch of The Burning for good measure since the opening scene tragedy involves a fire (and it's possible that the killer is that thought-dead student seeking revenge).

But Prom Night is the clear influence - it's really just a better paced remake, since the second half is set at their homecoming (a queen is crowned!) and it comes down to (spoiler) "You killed someone and got away with it so now that it's a random number of years later I will have my revenge!". But it's also got another thing that made me happy - chase scenes! Specifically, chase scenes featuring girls who are not the heroine. I recently rewatched a couple of the Friday the 13ths and was reminded that their climaxes all went on for far too long; Jason (or Mrs. Voorhees) would make quick work of the rest of the folks and leave too much time in the 3rd act with only one victim (one we know won't get killed anyway). So it's fun to have such fare in the middle of the movie, especially in one like this where more than one person survives.

Finally, the practical gore is much appreciated. I'm guessing they couldn't afford CGI, and there aren't a lot of impact shots or heavy prosthetics, but seeing real red syrup pooling around a victim's feet a few yards away from dancing students (seems like a nod to I Know What You Did Last Summer) warmed my slasher heart, because so many soulless producers will explain that they didn't use practical gore because they wouldn't have time to clean it up. Thanks for budgeting in the time to do it right, Bloody Homecoming producers! It's actually got a respectable body count - 10 or 11 I think, right in line with the sort of films director Brian C. Weed and writer Jake Helgren were clearly influenced by, and on that note I tip my non-existent hat to whichever of the two came up with the name Annie Morgan, a combination of the character and actress name of the girl who was the first present day victim in Friday the 13th. THAT'S how you do an in-joke name, not with distracting silliness like "Sheriff Savini" or a pet named Jason. It'll just go over the heads of anyone but the hardcores that will appreciate it most, and at the same time, tells us that they're not shoving their "expertise" down our throats. Indeed, even with the aforementioned influences, the film doesn't have any overt references and has its own identity (though it bizarrely cribs its sad theme from Armageddon, of all movies), allowing me to forgive its flaws more easily.

That said, again, it's not great. It gets stuff right, but it might take a surplus of exposure to horribly shitty slashers to recognize it - if you've only seen the Fridays and what not, you might find this to be pretty unbearable. And I have to remind you that I'm a pretty easy sell for whodunit slashers, so temper those expectations - it's a serviceable slasher at best. However, I think these guys have the right approach, and if they want to apply what they've learned here on their next feature (Helgren is currently on post on another slasher that he directed himself), perhaps with a little more money and a couple of experienced actors, we can get something truly solid to enjoy. I look forward to seeing it either way.

What say you?


The Facility (2012)

SEPTEMBER 18, 2013


If you've ever watched a zombie movie where the outbreak is caused by some sort of faulty medicine or experiment gone wrong and wanted a prequel to it, The Facility (previously Guinea Pigs) should hit the spot. It's not a full blown horror movie, but the afflicted characters DO exhibit symptoms not unlike the "rage" zombies of 28 Days Later, and the confined space/dwindling cast motif certainly gives it a bit of a John Carpenter flair (it's even widescreen!), so it won't be totally out of place in Fangoria (or Horror Movie A Day!) - I just hope none of its distributors attempt to pass it off as a full blown zombie flick.

Taking place only over a day or so, the film depicts the (supposedly true) tragic events that occurred during the testing for a new drug, with the willing participants exhibiting strange behavior a few hours after their dose. For various reasons, the group is locked off in a wing of the facility where no one will be able to see that anything is wrong, and for security reasons they're all without cell phones or any other means to contact the outside world - it's a pretty basic but still effective way to isolate everyone in an otherwise fully functioning facility (unlike say, Halloween II - were there NO OTHER patients at this hospital with a staff of 5?). And the setup allows for a reason for folks to offer up a lot of personal info - they're all strangers and thus are sort of obligated to give their names, a bit about their jobs, etc. This sort of material is usually shoehorned into a narrative in a clumsy manner (if they bother at all) because the "group" usually knows each other and thus has no reason to say what they do for a living or whatever; in short, it makes the characterization stronger than the average modern horror flick.

It also allows for a varied group; most of them are 25-30, but there's an older guy who apparently makes his living being a paid guinea pig for such things, and a young girl in the Juno Temple mode. Their occasional fights are understandable being that they're all stuck together in a shitty situation (as opposed to lifelong friends who inexplicably turn on each other instantly at the first sign of danger), and watching friendships form is always more interesting to me than watching them dissolve. I particularly enjoyed the friendship between Alex Reid (Beth from The Descent) and Aneurin Barnard (the dude from Citadel), which gave the film more of an emotional center than I was expecting.

And that leads me to a sort of puzzling notion about the screenplay - it tells us exactly the order in which the patients will turn. As they were injected in a certain order, an hour (or whatever) apart, they begin to turn crazy in the same order, so once that's figured out (before the halfway point!) it loses a crucial element in such movies: the "Who will be next to go?" idea. It'd be like if at the top of Scream 2 someone said "OK, CeCe goes next, then Randy, then Haley, then Derek...". We're even told about who WON'T turn (as they were the "control" and thus got a placebo), deflating the suspense even further. Sure, there's still the possibility that they get killed by one of the crazed fellow patients, but it still seems to me like the movie would be more fun/suspenseful if there was a chance anyone could turn at any moment.

Otherwise, it's a pretty enjoyable, small-scale thriller. I liked just about everyone (the only one I didn't went out early), and I LOVED that it wasn't overly complicated - no nefarious mad scientists watching them from behind a monitor, no reveal that they were developing some sort of new bio-weapon or whatever - it remained grounded and focuses on the characters' basic plight of being stuck and suffering from a potentially fatal injection. Also (sort of spoiler) the ending has a gutpunch of a twist that reminded me of a recent medical-horror movie that I also quite enjoyed (one that was more of a drama than a thriller), though I can't reveal the title without giving too much away for both. I actually wish they dragged it out a bit more; it happens quick and then we get on-screen text to wrap it up in full - I'd rather see the surviving character(s) hear that information, just to twist the knife a bit more.

Speaking of the on-screen text, the movie starts by telling us that it takes place a couple years ago and a final card saying "this is what happened". This led me to believe that the movie might be a goddamned found footage exercise, which would have resulted in a very fast closing of the tab. Luckily, it wasn't the case, but the irony is that if it WAS this would be the rare movie to justify it. Being that they were undergoing tests, it would make some sense to have monitors up all over the place, and it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for the doctor to give them all video cameras so they could keep a running journal or whatever. But nope! It's filmed like a real movie, and quite well I might add. First timer Ian Clark can rely on shaki-cam a bit much for my tastes, and some obnoxious hyper-editing during the more action-packed scenes (especially when a body is thrown through a window - there's something like 20 cuts in 5 seconds), but the widescreen images are often well blocked without much wasted space, something I see quite often by budding Carpenter wannabes. And it moves along nicely, drawing us into the situation and getting to know our heroes before all hell breaks loose.

The limited "horror" elements (i.e. kills) and emphasis on character in the first half might turn off the gorehounds, but otherwise I found this to be a refreshingly stripped down and suspenseful flick, the sort of thing I'd catch at a festival and would walk away happy that it wasn't the same old crap but also wasn't aiming too far beyond its means. Worth a look!

What say you?


Blu-Ray Review: Day of the Dead

SEPTEMBER 12, 2013


I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw Day Of The Dead at an early age and walked away a bit disappointed; the limited zombie action seemed a big step back from the epic Dawn of the Dead (and even Night), and none of the new protagonists were as memorable as Peter or Ben. But while the latter complaint is still valid, as an older, somewhat wiser man I've come to my senses - it may not be as "fun" as either of the other two, but Romero's themes, now much more clear than they were to 14 year old BC, are remarkably still relevant. It may not be the best one to put on during a late night horror movie marathon, but it's essential viewing all the same.

One thing that I definitely appreciate (and even did to some degree as a kid) is that it kind of blends Night and Dawn's strengths. As with Night, we have a group of people trapped in one location who are at odds with each other, bickering over stupid things instead of banding together to take care of the real threat (or at least, create a safer environment from it). And like Dawn, it boasts top-notch effects work - even though there isn't as much traditional action, the Doc Logan character and his experiments allow for plenty of disembodied heads and other marvels, and Romero makes up for the reduced zombie "cast" by making sure each and every kill is something that you remember. Interestingly, some of the ideas that he couldn't afford to use here (he had a choice; 7 million for a movie that had to be R, or 3.5 million for one that was unrated - he chose the latter) ended up in Land of the Dead, so you can retroactively include that one in the "it's got a bit of everything" idea.

But it's also the bleakest entry by far; some characters survive (more than Dawn, in fact), but at this point it's clear that the human race had lost the "war". As Logan explains, the numbers are something like 400,000 zombies for every 1 human, and the chances of finding some of those other folks appears to be quite slim. In the film's opening, which I always loved even as a kid, some survivors fly out to a big city 200 miles away to search for survivors, and find nothing but a few zombies - even their numbers are seemingly thinning (and the alligator roaming around is a nice touch). With the other films, it still seems like civilization is ongoing despite constant threat - now it just seems that all is lost. In another great scene, two of the characters try to convince heroine Sara to join their way of life, which is basically to hang out in their Winnebago (and delightfully "cute" little patio area) and pass the time reading old financial records, rather than risk their lives holding on to the idea that there's a chance to stop the zombie plague (or "train" the undead).

Also, like Knightriders, it's a bit of an autobiographical concept for Romero - the scientists are the stand-ins for the filmmaker, who wants to try new things and go about it his own way, with the military assholes taking place of producers who just want successful results. The film's reception just made this element incredibly ironic and sad - audiences seemed to side with the military, dismissing the film for not being Dawn, and looking down on Romero for not giving them what they wanted. Time has been kind to it (a bad remake and an atrocious "sequel" only helped), but you can't help but wonder how different things might be for the master if the film had performed better at the box office. He's only had three major theatrical releases since (Monkey Shines, The Dark Half, and Land of the Dead), but nothing ever hit the way his previous successes did, and he can't get anything off the ground anymore unless it has "Of The Dead" in its title. It was also trounced by Return of the Living Dead a few weeks later, as if his brand (and its "slow" zombies vs Return's faster model) was no longer the way to go. A shame, really.

However, like I said, its reputation has improved, and despite a pretty solid release in 2003 from Anchor Bay, Scream Factory has seen fit to put together a new special edition on Blu-Ray that carries over most of its bonus features. There's a fun commentary by Romero, Tom Savini, Lori Cardille, and production designer Cletus Anderson that packs in a ton of info and anecdotes; Savini will explain his FX, Romero will talk about the story, Cardille covers acting, and Anderson pipes in with info about the set and the mine where the film was shot. Sometimes they reminisce a bit too much about things that won't interest the average fan ("I remember I went to a play with you and your husband..."), and Savini more than once interrupts Romero to point out a bladder effect or something, but otherwise it's a great track and I'm glad they ported it over. They've also brought over Roger Avary's commentary, but I have better things to do with my time than listen to a guy who killed someone by drunk driving.

Most of the bonus features from the previous release's second disc are also on hand - I loved the goofy promotional video for the Wampam mine, which is still open and serves as a data storage facility nowadays. Savini has offered up some of his personal photos and on-set videos (similar to The Burning and his other films), which is fun to watch because it's seemingly unedited, which means you get to hear him occasionally be a complete dick to someone on his crew. And the usual trailers/stills material is all accounted for as well; the only thing of note that is "missing" is the original retrospective documentary, but in its place is one that runs over twice as long and features far more participants. Seriously, Red Shirt has really outdone themselves on this one - utilizing no less than five areas of production (New York, LA, Philly...) and assembling pretty much every living principal from the film for new interviews (the only omissions of note are Greg Nicotero, who was probably too busy with Walking Dead, and Jarlath Conroy), it runs almost as long as the film itself and covers pretty much everything you could ask them to; why the Dawn characters didn't appear (legal shit), the original script (which Romero seems to think, now, was inferior to the finished product), late actor Richard Liberti... you won't be left wanting, that's for sure. My only complaint is that there are no chapter breaks - it's 85 minutes long, so if you're like me and tend to doze off while watching things, getting back to where you left off requires a lot of fast forwarding, which is fine for a movie but kind of hard when it's just a bunch of talking heads and out of order film clips.

The only other new bonus feature is a look at the mines today, with insight from an employee who worked there now and is apparently about to retire. It's very similar to the usual Horror's Hallowed Grounds pieces by Sean Clark (right down to the shtick-y reenactments of key lines), but not as thorough as it's limited to just the mine - Clark would have found the opening city, the big fence where the zombies were converging, etc. It's also kind of "flat" - more than once it seemed like the host was merely greenscreened over a still shot of the location, so it's hard to see how much has changed since (it also lacks the usual accompanying film clips). As for the transfer, it's good, but perhaps a bit aggressive with the DNR than I'd like. Closeups are fine, but characters who were slightly out of focus in the background now look like clayfaces on occasion. Otherwise, it's pretty great; the color in particular is a big improvement to my eyes, especially during those red-tinted scenes in the tunnels during the climax. Savini's FX, unsurprisingly, hold up wonderfully with the improved definition, and the sound mix is also quite good. Overall I was pleased with the transfer; maybe not reference material, but solid all the same, and if you don't like grain you won't have anything to complain about anyway.

This is the first time Scream has redone a disc that already had a big blu-ray special edition, and that it's one from their sort of rival Anchor Bay excites me, as other recent titles (Q, the upcoming Witchboard) were originally released to disc from them as well (in rather slim or barebones editions). With the Bay seemingly more interested in releasing horrible Syfy movies and Weinstein/ Dimension fare these days, I wouldn't mind seeing Scream take over their other titles, bringing over the relevant extras and creating their own. Sure, we can't possibly need another Evil Dead or Halloween edition (ditto for their sequels), but maybe some of those Argento/Bava films that AB presumably still has control over? Or things like Fear No Evil? Nothing makes me sadder than seeing titles languish thanks to companies that want to hold onto their rights but not actually DO anything with them, so if they can play nice with a big title like this, maybe those little titles still have a shot at proper presentation.

What say you?


Insidious 2 review

Folks were asking for my Conjuring review over the summer, and I've learned my lesson! Head on over to BadassDigest for my thoughts on Wan's OTHER haunted house movie this year, which I quite liked but with some reservations and concern as to how it will play to others who want more of the same. 

Also, speaking of writing for others, I'll also be increasing my output at Fangoria, so keep an eye over there for more BC-ness than ever before! That said, with Fantastic Fest and other stuff starting soon, things will be even quieter here than it has been, unfortunately. I truly do intend to update the site 2-3 times a week, but it's not always possible as I need to fulfill my obligations to the other sites first and foremost, since they pay me to do that. The important thing is that I'm not totally MIA - you just have to go to other sites to find me! And those have black text on white instead of the other way around, so you won't get a headache! Win-win!

And happy Friday the 13th!  

p.s. 4, 6, 2, 1, 5, 3, Remake, 8, X, 9, 7, VS.


Blu-Ray Review: Dracula Prince Of Darkness

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013


Thanks, I assume, to various licensing issues, we've seen very few Hammer movies given proper blu-ray presentation here in the States - and even the ones that were announced took quite a while to get here. For example, Dracula: Prince Of Darkness was announced early in 2012 and released in the UK, with the original plan being to have it out in the US a few months after, but it's just hitting now - and the other titles they announced (such as Plague Of The Zombies, the first Hammer film I ever watched) are still without US release dates. Thankfully, if this set is any indication, it will indeed be worth the wait - and nothing greases the wheels like money, so I'm happy to say this is worth adding to your collection.

It's a bit odd to start what will hopefully be a series of releases with what is essentially part 3 of a franchise, but as explained on one of its bonus features, this Dracula is sort of the quintessential Hammer film, and thus it makes perfect sense. And lest anyone thinks they shouldn't start in the middle of the series, it starts off with a recap of how Drac got "killed" at the end of the first Dracula (he sat out part 2, Brides of Dracula), and I don't even think it's necessary - even in 1965 I'm sure audiences knew how these movies worked and thus wouldn't be confused as to where he was for the first 20-30 minutes.

Plus it's a pretty fun entry; as I mentioned in my review of the film, they might be working from a template of sorts, but if ain't broke why fix it? It's got the folks getting warned from going to the place that they're going to go anyway, the big castle, the horse-drawn carriage chase, the race to stop Dracula before the sun goes down... everything you'd want, plus Hammer's lavish sets and well-dressed ladies. But they do put some wrinkles into the formula; of course there are two potential "Brides", but since they're new characters (instead of Mina and Lucy) there's some suspense as to which one will become stake fodder and which one will be rescued in the finale. Also, there are TWO Renfield types to create a threat for when Drac's not around, and a team of monks instead of the usual investigators.

Also, there's no Van Helsing. Future Quatermass Andrew Keir fills in that role as Father Sandor, the head of the monks who assists hero Charles as they follow the path of their Dracula movie hero predecessors. But even though the change is minor, it's enough to give it some flavor; I only wish they spent more time with these folks instead of the more traditional elements, but as it had been 7-8 years since their first film, I can see why they wouldn't want to go too far off the beaten path with Lee's comeback to the role. It's a shame that they had to basically con Lee into appearing in the sequels (they'd pull on his heartstrings, basically, telling him that if he didn't do it he'd be putting a bunch of his hard-working friends out of a job), but anyone who puts in those painful red contact lenses sort of has the right to bitch about whatever he wants after the job has been done.

Speaking of the contacts, the shot where he has the red eyes and gnashes his teeth at the two girls is just one of many that kind of blew me away on this new transfer. Having only seen the film on a VHS tape, I spent most of my watching time just sort of fixating on details: the texture of a suit, the hairs in a beard, wallpaper... anything that would have just been a solid mush color on my previous viewing. There might be a touch more DNR than I'd like, and sometimes the color appears to be intensified a bit much making the actors look like George Hamilton, but nothing too problematic, and if you're watching a Hammer film you want vivid colors anyway, so whatever. It's a terrific looking picture, with a solid 2.0 audio mix to accompany it.

For bonus features, we get a brand new retrospective doc featuring a few of the surviving players (no Lee, sadly) and some Hammer historians to provide the backstory for the project, its place in the studio's history, etc. It kind of jumps from topic to topic, but considering that most of its makers are now dead I was surprised how thorough it was for a new piece, and it even includes a bit about the restoration process, which included a faithful recreation of the title cards. A separate piece offers some before/after comparisons of select shots from the movie, occasionally staying in split screen (old on the left, new on the right) so you can see how much better the film looks than it did on previous releases.

The other extras are ported over from other editions or older material; there's a 25 minute episode of a British TV show that honored certain icons - the episode devoted to Lee is presented here. Narrated by Oliver Reed, it's pretty short on biographical information, and despite being produced in 1990 it only includes films up to 1976's To The Devil A Daughter, so it's kind of pointless unless this is the first of his films you've ever seen. Then there's a commentary (recorded for the 1997 release) with Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews, and Barbara Shelley, where the group (recorded together! Such a relief) enjoys revisiting the film, telling set stories and other anecdotes. It's a bit hard to tell the two women apart, and Matthews doesn't offer much, but it's a lot of fun to listen to them carry on, correct each others' faulty memories, and marvel at their youth. A trailer and some stills round things out, and if you're a good person and buying the disc instead of renting it, you'll get 5 collectible cards that resemble (smaller) lobby cards. Good deal.

I'd take out a small loan to have a boxed set of all the "A" Hammer titles (that is, their Dracula and Frankenstein series, and pretty much anything else with Cushing or Lee, plus the Quatermass films, Plague of the Zombies, etc.), but that's probably never going to happen. Hopefully whatever issues have caused the delays in getting the other titles released here will be smoothed out, and whoever owns the rights to the other titles either give them up to Studio Canal or does their best to match their efforts here for their own releases. At this time of year, these are the sort of movies I look forward to curling up on the couch with (now that I'm "free" of new entries to watch/write up), and I would very much like to have them presented as wonderfully as this.

What say you?


Scanners II/III (1991)



When I watched the original Scanners for this site a few years back, I was kind of disappointed with it - take out the headsplosion (which I had already seen) and maybe 1-2 other little bits, it was a fairly boring film, with Cronenberg's usual insistence of not having any fun weighing down a pretty goofy concept. Thus, it probably won't surprise anyone to discover I found Scanners II: The New Order and Scanners III: The Takeover to be more to my liking; neither of them are particularly GOOD movies, but they rarely bored, and director Christian Duguay dove headfirst into all the different ways a Scanner might use his or her powers, giving them an energy that satisfied me to a certain extent.

Scanners II focuses on a Scanner named David who is recruited into an organization where his kind are sent to the dirty work of various crooked politicians. Of course, it doesn't take long for him to realize this is a bad use of one's time and tries to free himself of their control, only to be chased endlessly. It's actually a lot like the first Universal Soldier, with the main evil guy from the organization constantly in pursuit - there's even a scene where our hero goes to his family home and gets some answers only for his adoptive parents to be put into danger. It's here that we find out how this connects to the original (spoiler): David is the son of the 1981 film's heroes, and has a sister to boot - though this a bit of a botched reveal, as he should only be about 10 years old instead of 30 or so (or the movie should be set roughly in 2013). I like movies that tie together, sure, but this connective tissue is flimsy and unnecessary, since it's not like the ones in the first film were the parents of ALL the scanners in this movie (or the next one), and thus we don't need to know why HE has the power. And the way the first film's heroes are killed is pretty weak - they apparently forgot about their powers since they just get taken out by a regular (non-Scanner) guy.

Once David goes on the run it improves; the first half hour is basically a remake of the original as we're introduced to the world of Scanners all over again, complete with a headsplosion that will end up on a highlight reel or one of those 100 best kills compilations on Youtube. I don't know what the budget of these things were, but it feels like a cable movie of that era; not overly cheap, but just BLAND, making it hard to get too involved as it just seems like everyone's going through the motions. Drak (this movie's Revok) is a fun wild card, but it's not until him and David are truly pitted against each other that the movie really takes off. There's some new stuff with the Scanners too (and thankfully no "body switching"), like when David and his sister team up to use their powers to mind-control a guy past some security checks in order to infiltrate a compound, and there's a goofy bit where Drak uses his abilities to kick ass at Operation: Wolf, an old arcade game. And no matter what issues I may have had with the film, they're all rectified by the end credits theme song, which is a ballad on par with Bonfire's "Sword and Stone" from my beloved Shocker.

Scanners III is even more action packed, to the point where it's barely even horror anymore. Sure, there's still a few headsplosions (including one under water!), but it's purely an action thriller, even cribbing parts from Rambo III. This time it has no relation to the others at all beyond the core concept (and someone even specifically says it's the 90s, so it's possibly a prequel to part 2, assuming anyone was putting any thought into it), but it offers the most intriguing good vs evil pairing yet - a man named Alex vs his sister Helena, with the former returning from Thailand to stop the latter when she goes nuts and begins decimating everyone involved with the study/creation of Scanners, including their father. The Thailand stuff is where it feels like a Rambo ripoff; he goes there to become a monk and live in seclusion after he accidentally kills someone at a party while being encouraged to show off his powers (so it can't be a prequel since the end of 2 set up the idea that Scanners aren't dangerous and just want to be left alone). There's some martial arts fighting and even an older mentor type a la Richard Crenna who comes to see him and encourage him to help take up the fight - the deja vu was laid on pretty thick, in other words.

Needless to say he eventually rejoins the world to take on his sister, though not before hooking up with his ex girlfriend and getting a haircut. Again, it's all a bit blandly shot (there's a reason Christian Duguay's filmography is mostly DTV/television work), but there's more action than even Scanners II, including a rooftop shootout and even a car chase, plus more scanner villains than usual (Helena gives them all these little discs that they can put on their necks and intensify their powers, and they form a little mob tasked with finding Alex). Plus they finally figure out that they can blow up something besides heads - one guy gets his finger "scanned" off, and Helena takes care of a pigeon that pooped on her as any Scanner should (and I love the bewildered expression on a character's face a few minutes later when he keeps finding feathers on the table). There's even a dance routine, for some reason - Helena gets pissed at her douchey boyfriend and scans him into gyrating around like an asshole at some fancy restaurant. Again, it's a completely goofy concept at its core, so the idea that Duguay and his writers aren't taking it very seriously and using it as a vessel for what amounts to typical B-movie action fare, to me, is better than being all dry and stuffy about it.

Scream Factory is putting these two out on Region 1 disc for the first time, I believe - there was a European release of the "trilogy" but that's about it, and this is definitely their debut on Blu-ray. As you might expect they're hardly reference worthy transfers - there's only so much a high def release can do with a cheap film - but they're quite good all the same, with fine audio (2.0) and no DNR tinkering. Sadly they lack any extras whatsoever - both films are on the same disc (there's a DVD packaged inside as well) and the menu only offers the choice between them - no scene selection menus are available, just chapter breaks. The Euro release had some interviews with Alan Jones, it's a shame that they haven't been brought over. But, for those of you who are like me and don't import discs, it's great to finally have them on disc instead of junky, inferior VHS tapes.

There are also a pair of spinoff movies under the Scanner Cop title; no idea how those are or if they're worth seeking out (no disc release for those either, far as I know), but as the only true franchise to be spun off from a David Cronenberg idea (can't really count Dead Zone or The Fly as those were other people's stories to begin with), it demands some attention. All of his peers (Carpenter, Craven, etc) saw at least one of their creations turned into total junk, so it's sort of like a rite of passage in a weird way. Maybe someday I'll give the original another chance - I doubt these will get put back in the player all too often, but I currently consider them better, and I'm not too comfortable with saying I'd rather watch a Christian Duguay movie than a David Cronenberg one.

What say you?


Hell Baby (2013)



As a fan of killer kid/baby movies, something is clearly right in the universe if we are blessed with not one but TWO such movies in a short period of time. Unlike Bad Milo, Hell Baby is more about the pregnancy than the birth, limiting the time we spend with a little demon puppet (once again practical, yay!), but folks are still likely to mix them up in conversation. After all, not only are they more comedy than horror, but they both feature The State alum (Ken Marino in Milo; several in this), comedian Kumail Nanjiani, and a beautiful blond wife (Gillian Jacobs there, Leslie Bibb here). Even if they weren't being released a few weeks apart, the similarities would be worth noting.

Luckily for audiences, they're pretty different when you dig down into it. For starters, in co-writer/co-director Thomas Lennon's own words, Hell Baby is "pointless", opting for more laughs and absurdity where Milo actually had a metaphor and a bit of a life lesson mixed in with its laughs. Thus, and opinions may vary, I found this to be the funnier of the two, because they were able to cut loose and do whatever the hell they wanted, without having to worry about keeping it grounded so that the point wasn't lost. I enjoyed Milo, but as I said in my review it felt like it needed a few more big laughs - this doesn't have that issue.

Interestingly, my good friend Ryan hated this one and found Milo to be much funnier, so your mileage may vary. There's definitely a tendency here to indulge in the sort of dragged out joke that's funny, unfunny, and funny again (think Sideshow Bob and the rake on Simpsons), so if you find that sort of thing never manages to get back to funny, you might have trouble with this. But you'd be missing out on a lot of other classic bits; Lennon and cohort Ben Garant also play a pair of chain-smoking exorcists, and their scenes (particularly the ones where they play off of Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer as a pair of cops) never stopped delighting. Honestly, I didn't even care much about Bibb and Rob Corddry as the expecting couple - I would gladly watch an entire movie of this quartet solving mysteries and eating PoBoys.

The rest of the cast is terrific too; Nanjiani plays a hapless cable guy who inadvertently gets roped into the movie's obligatory seance, and I'd kill for another scene with Lennon/Garant's exasperated boss, who finds their reports to be too detailed. But the real treasure is Keegan Michael Key (from Key & Peele; I believe he's Key) as the couple's neighbor who invites himself inside every few minutes, knowing nothing about personal space or boundaries. Every single thing out of his mouth at LEAST elicited a smile out of me, and he singlehandedly improved any scene with the hero couple.

Now, there's nothing wrong with either actor, and they get a few good lines as well, but as this is more of a comedy, the narrative of Bibb's possession is sloppy at best. She just turns quietly evil all of a sudden, and Corddry's attempts to find out what is going on are half-assed and generally uninteresting. Sometimes a horror comedy will actually make the effort to deliver a full mythology or backstory to what's going on, but this is just an excuse to rope in more hilarious supporting characters (i.e. the exorcists). So if you're not enjoying their brand of humor, there's no reason to stick with it - it's not going to satisfy your inner horror fan, either (except, again, for the practical puppet - and what looks to my eyes like all practical blood too). Save for a quick bit involving the couple's would-be doctor, there isn't any real violence or carnage until the last 10-15 minutes, when the demon baby is born and wreaks havoc (in a sequence that goes on a bit too long, admittedly) - the comedy takes precedent over the horror even more than in Milo.

My only other issue was that the dog was a red herring. They set up an evil dog, clearly inspired by The Omen, but then basically forget about it and shrug it off at the end when they're wrapping up other subplots. At first I was impressed that they did their homework (or at least remembered the trailer), but I was disappointed that it was a go nowhere issue. In a way it ties into the overall "who cares? LAUGH!" approach, but its wrapped up on a non-joke, which makes it stick out to me. The final gag is also drawn out and not particularly funny, featuring someone getting hit by a car after talking about how lucky he is, though the FIRST bit with the car driver (30 minutes before) is one of the best bits in the movie, so I can't blame them for trying to recreate that magic.

I actually almost saw this at Comic Con; I was seated for a screening only to discover that an event (read: party with lots of free food/booze) that I thought was starting at 9 was actually starting at 8, and thus I had to leave so I wouldn't risk being too late to get in (some events there get crowded and then the fire marshal shuts down the entrance, even if people leave no one new can get in). And of course, the party a. didn't get too crowded and b. kind of sucked, so I should have just stayed. It's definitely a movie that would play well with a crowd, but in a way it's sort of a testament to its value that I found it pretty hilarious sitting by myself watching it on my computer. Thus, even though I usually champion seeing with a crowd on the big screen, the theatrical release appears to be a joke and thus there won't be a crowd anyway, so fire up your VOD service of choice and enjoy!

What say you?


HMAD Screening: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2!

No, you haven't gone back in time. HMAD hosted a showing of Tobe Hooper's delightfully nutty 1986 sequel a few years back, but it was during Comic Con and thus a lot of people missed out. So on Saturday, September 14th at 11:59pm, we're bringing it back!

Time has been kind to TCM2; not only did the following sequels pale even further from the original (though I quite like Leatherface, and have asked to host a showing of that several times - New Line unfortunately no longer has 35mm prints of it), but it proved to be the last real big-screen effort from Tobe Hooper; a few of his films have had limited releases since (most notably The Mangler), but it's mostly been DTV junk and television work ever since. And this year's TCM3D, if nothing else, proved that Leatherface is only as interesting as the people around him, so why not revisit/re-love Bill Moseley's legendary turn as Chop-Top, and the late Jim Siedow's expanded role as the family patriarch?

Also, last time I didn't even put together a poster! Does it even count as an HMAD screening if there isn't a poster to go along with it? HMAD fan Jacopo Tenani (website HERE) has once again delivered an awesome custom poster for the event, playing up the movie's more comedic tone (and paying tribute to the incredible set design - note the Christmas lights), while sticking to tradition of putting my head in there somewhere. Send him some love if you enjoy his work - he does all of these out of the kindness of his heart (and, I assume, to spare his fellow HMAD fans another awful Photoshop job by me), and he did this one quickly despite putting together a gallery right now! Very cool.

As always, the screening will be at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, located at 7165 Beverly Blvd. Tickets are 8 bucks cash or card at the door, or in advance at Street parking is widely available, and while we don't have any guests lined up as of yet (last time the main actress was supposed to come and she flaked like an hour before the movie, so I'm not going to bother again; Bill Moseley has given the show his blessing but will be out of town), if there IS any Q&A or intro it will be BEFORE the movie, so make sure you're there on time! Once again the showing is at 11:59pm on Saturday, September 14th - see you then!


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