April 27, 2006
It’s horror movie time again at the Late Show. In fact, I’ve gotten so many fright films in the mail lately that I’ll have to devote two columns to them!The big news of 2005 for fright film fans was the announcement of a new Showtime anthology series, MASTERS OF HORROR. The premise was simple: take a dozen of the most acclaimed directors of horror films and have them each direct a one-hour mini-feature, with no restrictions or censorship. The resulting series was – as is probably inevitable with anthologies
– a mixed bag, quality-wise. Some fans have called the entire series a disappointment, while others have been thrilled. Me, I don’t have Showtime, so I’ll be judging them individually, as I watch them on the DVDs from Anchor Bay.
The acclaimed director of Re-ANIMATOR and DAGON returns to the writer who inspired both of those previous films, H.P. Lovecraft, in MASTERS OF HORROR: STUART GORDON – DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE (2005).
A financially-strapped physics student (Ezra Godden, DAGON) moves into a run-down boarding house where he meets several eccentric residents and dreams of a seductive succubus and a rat with a human face. He soon theorizes that a gateway to another dimension exists within the houses’ oddly-angled walls and that a malevolent witch uses that gateway to satisfy her depraved desires.
With a tight teleplay crafted in collaboration with frequent writing partner Dennis Paoli, Gordon once again manages to successfully adapt the word of Lovecraft to the screen. And while the film lacks some of the visceral punch of RE-ANIMATOR or FROM BEYOND, it’s a solidly creepy effort, only slightly undermined by the series’ TV budget. Godden gives a very good performance and is well supported by pretty Chelah Horsdal (HOLLOW MAN 2) and creepy Jay Brazeau.
Anchor Bay has delivered an excellent disc, with a flawless anamorphic, widescreen (1.77:1) transfer and Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. In addition, they’ve absolutely loaded down the disc with bonus features, including a commentary track by Gordon and Godden, several behind-the-scenes featurettes, and video interviews with the director and actress Chelah Horsdal. But that’s not all. There are trailers for all of the MASTERS OF HORROR episodes, a still gallery, a storyboard gallery and several DVD-ROM features, including a screensaver, the screenplay, and the original Lovecraft short story.
A short but solid horror flick given the royal treatment by Anchor Bay.
Reality TV performers (I refuse to call them “stars,” or even, based on the evidence in this film, “personalities”) meet much-deserved demises in the new Anchor Bay release THE SCORNED (2005).
At a Malibu beach house, a jerk (Bob Guiney, THE BACHELOR) cheats on his fiancée (Trish Schneider, THE BACHELOR) with her maid of honor (Trishelle Cannatella, THE REAL WORLD). There’s a violent argument that ends with the fiancée face down in a whirlpool bath with her throat cut. A year or so later, some slacker types (Steven Hill, THE REAL WORLD, Jenna Lewis, SURVIVOR and Jonny Fairplay, SURVIVOR) move in, only to find themselves and their friends haunted and murdered one by one by the fiancée’s vengeful spirit.
God, what agony.
More a novelty act than a real horror film, THE SCORNED sucks on virtually every level. (And people say I never give a bad review!) Slow, boring and unbelievably corny, never have 87 minutes felt quite so interminable. The horror film genre is not noted for fine acting, but this cast of no-talent wannabes brings the genre to a new low. The special effects are decidedly non-special and the writing is painfully trite, with inane dialogue and a tired story that is utterly predictable.
The only reason to buy or rent this thing is if, God help you, you’re an undemanding fan of reality TV. And if you are one of those unfortunate souls, it’s the second disc of this two-platter special edition that will really be of interest to you.
Disc 2 features a video interview with director Robert Kubilos wherein he dishes dirt on the various reality “stars” and how difficult they were to work with. Then, we get some outtakes and footage of on-set fighting among the cast. What fun. There’s also a tedious and unfunny “History of Reality TV” featurette, cast audition footage, and promos for the KILL REALITY series on E! Television, which chronicled the making of THE SCORNED. There’s more, including a “Member’s Only” locked extra, but that’s all I could bear to watch. I see enough self-important, egotistical jerks in real life.
Anchor Bay presents THE SCORNED in a sharp, full frame transfer and 5.1 Dolby Surround sound. It looks and sounds fine. Aside from the extras above, there’s also an “outrageous” commentary track by the director on disc one.
If you’re a reality TV addict, then you might enjoy seeing these people try and make a movie. If you’re a horror fan or film buff, avoid this at all costs.
Recently, TV producer Stephen J. Cannell (HUNTER, THE A-TEAM) teamed up with IDT Entertainment (parent company of Anchor Bay) to produce a series of original horror films. One of the first of these, IT WAITS (2004), has recently hit the shelves… and it’s actually pretty good.
Directed by Steven R. Munroe from a screenplay by Cannell, Tom Szollosi and Richard Christian Matheson, IT WAITS is an effectively creepy creature feature with an attractive female lead, a suspenseful script and a genuinely scary monster.
A sexy young forest ranger named Danielle (buxom Cerina Vincent of CABIN FEVER) is struggling with feelings of guilt over the death of her best friend in a car accident – an accident that Danielle may be responsible for. Alone in an isolated mountain lookout tower, she spends her nights getting drunk and wallowing in self-pity until a demon out of Native-American
legend, ironically attracted by her despair, begins to stalk and torment her…
The plot here is not deep, nor are there any astounding twists or turns in the story, but IT WAITS in never less than entertaining. Vincent plays her character well, and the Indian demon is a particularly nasty bastard with a definite sadistic streak. The creature costume by Tony Gardner (DARKMAN) is great – very Giger-esque – and the actor in the suit makes the beast quite believable; too bad there’s a couple of very brief bad CGI bits to distract from the otherwise convincing performance.
Anchor Bay’s DVD is, as one would expect, a fine effort, with a pristine 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Surround sound. There’s an enjoyable commentary track by director Munroe and star Vincent, an informative “Making Of” documentary, and the theatrical trailer.
IT WAITS is a solid little monster movie, and I liked it quite a bit.
The Dimension Films release VENOM (2005 – no relation to the 1982 Oliver Reed flick of the same name) is a somewhat better-than-average supernatural slasher flick with some effective direction by Jim Gillespie.
In a small Lousiana bayou town, an aged voodoo priestess accidentally unleashes some CGI snakes – I mean evil souls – from an old suitcase and they take up residence in the local tow truck driver. Said driver then proceeds to murder as many of the town’s more attractive teenagers as possible in the film’s 85-minute running time.
Professionally produced and very nicely shot, VENOM’s another slick stalk ‘n slash from producer Kevin Williamson (SCREAM, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER). And like his earlier films, it has a good-looking teenage cast, a decent script, and strong production values. Problem is, there’s nothing particularly new here except for the admittedly spooky swamp setting. The killer is nothing but another Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, this time with a tow truck and a machete; physically imposing, but with no personality or character of his own. Which is a shame – there was potential there for something more.
That said, it’s definitely a decent time-killer – well made and fairly entertaining.
Dimension’s disc presents the film in a crystal clear 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and ringing 5.1 Dolby Surround sound. Being a new movie, the transfer is flawless. The studio has seen fit to include a few bonus features, including a short “Making Of” featurette, videotapes of cast auditions and a Storyboard-to-Film comparison.
For fans of slasher films, VENOM is worth a rental.
Voodoo is also at the heart of TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS: RITUAL
(2006), directed by Avi Nesher.
A contemporized remake of the 1943 Val Lewton RKO classic, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, RITUAL stars post-nose job Jennifer Gray (DIRTY DANCING) as an idealistic young doctor who travels to Jamaica to provide healthcare for a wealthy young American (Daniel Lapaine) who is suffering from an unknown, debilitating illness… and who believes he’s becoming a zombie. Before long, she finds herself caught up in a convoluted conspiracy and headed for a showdown with the local voodoo bigwig.
Now, it looks to me like the “TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS” and Crypt Keeper introduction were slapped on after production as a marketing ploy… apparently someone thinks there’s still some mileage in the name (kinda like all those “National Lampoon” movies where the producers just paid to put the name on the video box). It’s too bad that the Crypt
Keeper intro is so shoddily done – the puppet is virtually immobile and the writing is neither clever nor funny.
The movie itself plays out like a slightly-better-than-usual TV thriller with a little added (and welcome) nudity. It’s very talky and while it kept my attention all the way through, the whole experience was pretty much forgotten once the disc stopped spinning. Good thing I took notes.
The DVD from Dimension is a bare-bones affair, with no extra features whatsoever. You do get a rock-solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby 5.1 Surround sound, though.
“Abracadabra, I sit on his knee. Presto, change-o, and now he’s me! Hocus Pocus, we take her to bed. Magic is fun… we’re dead.”
From Joseph E. Levine, the Hollywood entrepreneur who brought both Godzilla and Hercules to America’s drive-ins, comes the popular Seventies psychological thriller, MAGIC (1878), directed by Richard Attenborough (GHANDI).
Written by acclaimed screenwriter William Goldman, and based on his novel of the same name, MAGIC tells the tale of an unhappy young stage magician named Corky (Anthony Hopkins, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, HANNIBAL), who, despite his talent with tricks, is too shy to really generate much stage presence or charm. Desperate to succeed, he adds a foul-mouthed ventriloquist dummy named Fats to the act, a gimmick that garners him considerable popularity with audiences and lands him an agent (Burgess Meredith, TORTURE GARDEN). Soon, he has a chance at a prime time TV series, but his anxieties get the best of him and heads for his childhood home to get his head together. There he reunites with his high school crush Peggy (the always-sexy Ann-Margaret), and it looks like he finally has a shot at happiness… if Fats will let him.
Less a horror film than a macabre character study, MAGIC is an acting tour de force with fantastic performances by a young Anthony Hopkins and the rest of the cast. Attenborough’s direction is slow but steady, and while it takes a while to get where it’s going, it’s a fine ride.
Dark Sky’s excellent DVD features a beautiful anamorphic widescreen, 1.85:1 transfer culled from the original 35mm negative and supervised by the film’s cinematographer, Victor J. Kemper. While the film itself may have a distinctly 70’s look, the transfer is virtually flawless. Dark Sky has also rounded up some interesting extras, leading off with a great new featurette called “Fats and Friends.” There’s also an interview with cinematographer Kemper, a couple of vintage interviews with Hopkins, Ann-Margaret’s make-up tests (silent), the original trailers, TV and radio spots, and a photo gallery.
A classy thriller gets an equally classy presentation from Dark Sky. If you’ve got fond memories of this one or find ventriloquist dummies scary, you’ll want to check this out.
Mondo Macabro’s disturbing THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (1975) disc has been sitting on my desk for months, waiting for a planned giallo-themed
column. But D.K. Holm beat me to the punch a few weeks back with his own Italian slasher round-up, so there was no reason to put off reviewing it any longer.
I never would have guessed that Luigi Cozzi – whose giddily goofy sci-fi and fantasy epics STARCRASH and the Lou Ferrigno vehicle THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES, are mind-boggling, low brow/budget special effects orgies with cartoon plots and cardboard characters (and yes, I love them) – was the strong, directorial hand behind KILLER, but apparently it’s true.
A wealthy womanizer (George Hilton, ANY GUN CAN PLAY) blackmails a serial killer (the very sinister-looking Michel Antoine) into killing his shrewish wife for him. Once the deed is done, the killer puts her corpse in the trunk of a car, only to have the car stolen by a couple of joyriders. He sets out after them, and catches up with them at an isolated, abandoned seaside villa, and… well, that would be telling.
I guess Cozzi’s early work with Dario Argento taught him something, for while the film isn’t anywhere as stylish as the maestro’s works in the genre, it is a well-made thriller with very good production values and performances.
Mondo Macabro presents this rare giallo (previously unreleased in the U.S.) on DVD with an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer culled from the original negative. It looks beautiful, with strong contrasts and stable colors. Even the dark scenes look good, with lots of detail. There’s an exclusive video interview with the director and another great Mondo Macabro
documentary on the Italian giallo genre. Finally, there’s a theatrical trailer and photo gallery.
Next week, I’ll have even more horror flick reviews, including MASTERS OF HORROR: JOHN CARPENTER’S CIGARETTE BURNS, BAD DREAMS, VISITING HOURS, DON’T GO NEAR THE PARK and more…
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