Thursday, August 13, 2015

Blu Ray Reviews: Dolls and The Beyond

Long-time viewers may notice I don't really do the whole "Blu Ray review" thing often. In fact I've really only done one; the 25th Anniversary Edition of Evil Dead II, and even then only because of just how blown away by the upgrade I was. Well, I recently came into possession of two other new(ish) Blu Rays that have deeply impressed me. So without further ado, let's start off with The Beyond. 

Despite (or maybe because of) having the distribution rights to only 14 titles, including such infamous fair as Cannibal Holocaust and Pieces, Grindhouse Releasing is well known for high-quality DVDs/Blu Rays absolutely bursting with special features, and the newly-released Fulci masterpiece The Beyond is no exception. This 1981 flick from the Master of Italian Splatter, about an out of work and down on her luck young lady inheriting a New Orleans hotel that just so happens to be built above a doorway to Hell, has never looked better. The opening sepia-tinged flashback is crisp, the gore is a red so intense it almost glows, and every single breathtaking image is nice and sharp. The sound has also been tirelessly restored and the score by frequent Fulci collaborator Fabio Frittzi (a physical CD copy of which comes with the film!) is truly beautiful. Special features include a new feature-length retrospective making-of featuring just about all the still living major players among several other features both new and recycled.

So, to buy or not to buy? I don't care how many times on how many different types of media you've bought The Beyond, my answer to that question is yes, yes, a thousand times YES!

Now we move on to a much lesser-known film, Stuart Gordon's Dolls (pictured above with the new artwork commissioned by Scream! Factory). By this point it almost feels a little silly to sing the praises of Scream! Factory for bringing several of the hidden gems from the 80s and 90s back to life on extras-packed DVDs and Blu Rays, some --like Renny Harlin's Prison-- for the very first time, but by god I'm gonna do it anyway! I first came across this little flick way back when on the SciFi Channel back when they spelled their name in a way that made sense and they stuck mostly to playing GOOD movies, and I was immediately hooked by the weird "hyper-bloody fairy tale" thing it was going for. Obviously any Blu Ray release would be an upgrade over the bare-bones and poorly ported DVD that's been the only way to see the film for years, but this absolutely stunning conversion, colors practically popping out of the screen like the eyes from the partially-turned head one of the Madonna wannabes in the movie itself, is beyond anything we could've hoped for. Extras include a new retrospective making-of of just about everyone involved and two new different commentary tracks, one of which (the one with four of the actors) is pretty dull and doesn't tell you anything the making-of didn't already tell you, but the other with director Gordon and writer Ed Naha is good.

To buy or not to buy? A clear improvement over the other release of the film, yes, absolutely a buy.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Creepshow Documentary on IndieGoGo!

You know those feature-length retrospective making-of Docs that are so popular right now, like Never Sleep Again about the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise or either of the Friday the 13th series docs? Well, there's one about George A Romero's EC-riffing classic Creepshow, and they need your help to secure distribution!

Written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero in 1981, this classic anthology film features five tales of terror (six if you include the wraparound segment): Father's Day involves a murdered patriarch and his revenge on the titular holiday, The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill involves a redneck idiot and a very tenacious mold from a meteorite, Something to Tide You Over details a spurred man's twisted revenge plot against his wife and her lover that ends up turning back on him, The Crate is about a mysterious box found under a stairwell in an empty college, and They're Creeping Up on You is about a Howard Hughes-type germaphobic and his grisly fate. It would be followed by a lesser-quality, though still fun, sequel in 1987 and an atrocious direct-to-DVD third in 2007 (though true fans consider Tales From the Darkside: The Movie to be the real Creepshow 3).

Up until now there have been only fairly bare-boned DVDs and BluRays, or editions with very little extra material, so Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow truly is an oasis in the desert that has defined Creepshow special features up til now. The documentary by special feature extraordinaire Michael Felsher is already available in Europe (of course) but it's been unable to find distribution here in the States, so the IndieGoGo campaign is for the self-distribution of the film on BluRay. There's only one Perk -incentives for paying certain amounts- but boy is it a good one! For only $25, you'll get the BluRay, a booklet with rare behind-the-scenes photos and shit, and, best of all, a poster of the yet to be revealed cover art! Of course you can pay any amount you want, but that's pretty damn good for just 25 clams, so click the link right here below and find out why God made fathers, babe...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Leviathan, In Both Name and Length

Everyone knows that Clive Barker's Hellraiser is one of not just my favorite horror films but favorite FILMS in general. It's just so interesting and unusual, not to mention the stunningly unique visuals. Then you have Hellbound, which, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the best horror sequels out there, managing to expand upon the mythos hinted at in the first film without showing us too much. Imagine my pants-wetting joy at discovering one of those feature length documentaries all about one particular horror franchise that seems to be all the rage these days was announced and subsequently released, and it was going to focus on just the first two films in the series, and it was almost laughably long! Sadly, it doesn't really live up to it's lofty and majestic title.

The DVD, which is only available through the production company's UK website (don't worry, it supports PayPal and can translate your good God-fearin' US dollars to...whatever they use for currency in England. Animal hides, I guess?), comes with three discs; the first disc is dedicated solely to the first film and runs almost four hours, the second is just about Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 and goes on about three and a half, and the third is just special features that play about three hours total. So, basically you're getting a hell of a lot of movie for your money, it's just unfortunate it's a wildly uneven viewing experience.

Like I said, the first disc is four whole hours focusing just on the first film, and boy to you really feel the length. For one thing, it's incredibly dry and...well...English in its presentation, with practically everyone being interviewed in front of a blank black background and with little behind the scenes footage or pics to break up the monotony. It doesn't help that there's absolutely no new information here that wasn't available on the 20th Anniversary DVD released by Anchor Bay a few years ago, and they did it in just a quarter of the time.

Luckily things pick up on the second disc, and they manage to pass along some interesting tales and tidbits I didn't know despite the dull black backgrounds and lack of vintage footage. Then they sort of muck (look, I learned some Britain-speak from this doc) things up again with the third disc, most of the "special features" being just re-edited and rearranged bits of talking head footage we already heard before. Really the only interesting features are a piece about the design and construction of the LeMerchant Box/Lament Configuration, one about the English rock band whose music was originally going to be the only music in the film before composer Christpher Young came on board, and a short piece about the making of Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth.

Watching both halves of this almost eight hour doc, you'll notice two very important faces missing. First, our main protagonist of both Hellraiser AND Hellbound, Ashley "Kirsty Cotton" Lawrence, is nowhere to be seen. Secondly, and most conspicuously, the creator of the film and "professional imaginer," Clive Barker is missing. I'd like to think that perhaps it was just a scheduling issue as Mr. Barker has been crazy busy the last two years with The Cabal Cut of Nightbreed, the recent blu ray release of his underappreciated horror noir classic Lord of Illusion, and his latest novel, The Scarlet Gospels, among other projects taking up I'm sure a large chunk of his time. But, he's said many times in interviews he is truly sick to death of talking about Hellraiser, so I'm thinking he declined to be involved, which I suppose I can understand though surely a short little interview wouldn't have been such a problem.

Much like the films it's based on, Leviathan is a flawed but interesting piece of cinema. I give Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II 7 out of 10 instances of the phrase "elephant cum."

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Gallows Will Leave You Hanging

Found footage movies tend to get something of a bad rap these days. Chalk it up to sub-genre overcrowding or the way most of them tend to be somewhat identical, but even the most casual horror fan seems to be rolling their eyes at them these days. Then the trailer for The Gallows dropped. A "cursed" play, teens trapped in a dark school auditorium, and what appears to be supernatural slasher villain, with the whole thing set to a wonderfully creepy and atmospheric slowed down version of Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit?' AND its rated R instead of their precious PG-13? Well shit, where do I sign up?! Of course, after having seen it I can say the best thing about it was it's 80 minute running time.

We start our story in the distant year of 1993 where we see one of the young actors accidentally hanged for real when the titular prop malfunctions, then skip 22 years ahead to the day before opening night of the same play, the first time the school board is allowing The Gallows to be performed since the tragic mishap. After the serendipitous discovery of a stage door with a broken lock, two jocks and a cheerleader who are only working on the play because its required (in what fucking Nebraska high school is it required to take drama?!) decide to come back late that night and wreck the set. Why? Idda know, high school jocks I guess. Once they come back that night they do the least amount of damage possible before they're discovered by the girl they mockingly refer to as the "Drama Queen" and then promptly find every door locked, including the one they came in through that was supposedly broken. We then get the honor of watching these wildly obnoxious characters run around the same two hallways for 60 minutes. Three cheers for us.

 Let me just start by saying I have no idea why this thing is rated R when there's not a drop of blood and only the most obvious of jump scares. I can only assume they remembered all the cash the R-rated The Conjuring made and just assumed it was the seemingly random rating that did it. You know, instead of being well directed, written, and acted, which this certainly is not. Well, if we're being honest I suppose the direction of a found footage movie doesn't really matter as its intended to look as though an amateur is behind the camera (lucky). And honestly the writing is THAT bad I guess. Yeah there's no real organic flow behind the sequence of events and they characters are pretty stock, but the basic story really did have some promise and there were a couple good scenes, including the first part of the two part ending. Really its the acting of our four leads, all of whom share the first name of the respective characters they play (presumably because they're all such bad actors they couldn't keep a character name AND their actual name in their heads at the same time), are about as bland and uninspired as you can possibly get.

The good half of the ending.

I guess the worst thing about The Gallows is just how inoffensive and blah it is. It's about a middle-of-the-road as John Kerry, nowhere near as bad a found footage film as Area 407 or The Pyramid, but nowhere near as good as [Rec] or VHS 2. Not good, not bad, just kinda there, I give The Gallows 5 out of 10 gaping plot holes.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Christopher Lee: 1922-2015

God damn this sucks. This is the hardest sentence I've ever had to write, but genre legend Christopher Lee is dead at the age of 93.

Born in 1922, Lee's first acting gig was in 1946 in the early TV show Kaleidoscope back when television was practically brand new. He spent the next several years starring in dozens of stageplays while being relegated to minor roles in TV and film until 1957, when he played the best damn Frankenstein Monster since Karloff, imbuing him with an almost wounded animal sympathy, in The Curse of Frankenstein. One year later, his terrifying turn as a truly vicious Dracula (the role he would reprise multiple times and refuse to speak about for years) in The Horror of Dracula would cement him as a horror superstar and the face of Hammer Studios. The late 50s to the early 70s were his heyday, with starring roles in such classics as The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, The City of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel), Hercules in the Haunted World, The Gorgon, The Skull, Scream and Scream Again, Horror Express, and of course The Wicker Man (which Lee himself said several times was his favorite of all his film roles).

Sadly the fall of Hammer shoved Lee out of the spotlight, once again relegating him to voice and TV work, until he was introduced to a whole new generation of fans thanks to appearances in several Tim Burton movies (like Sleepy Hollow and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and his roles in the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings films as Count Dooku and Saruman, respectively. He continued working until the day he died, with one film, Angels in Notting Hill, finished and had another, The 11th, in pre-production.

In addition to holding the record for the most films roles by an actor, Lee was a classically trained singer who somewhere along the line fell in love with metal, recording with Italian fantasy metal band Rhapsody and releasing not one but SIX solo metal albums including a concept album about Charlemange! All around multi talented man, and he will be deeply missed by all.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Pyramid - Sorely Lacking a Point

Hey, you know what really grinds my gears? When a film adopts a gimmick solely because its what's perceived to be "popular" at the time and then promptly abandons said gimmick. Sorry, didn't really give you any time to answer, I was too excited. Well, since I've already told you let me give you an example. Let's say a film about a father/daughter archeology team and a two-person documentary crew go in to investigate a newly discovered Egyptian pyramid, and again I'm pulling this example totally out of my ass here, and the film tries to sell itself as a found footage film but then every single other shot in the film is just traditional camera work. Filmmakers, if you're going for a gimmick, DO THE FUCKING GIMMICK! Either all in or all out, because the audience can sense you're trepidation and half-assery.

Of course, this is far less irritating when the film in question is awful regardless of showmanship, and that describes The Pyramid to a tee. First time director Gregory Levasseur --who, ironically enough considering the trite and strangely familiar screenplay, is a writer by trade-- essentially gives us a significantly less interesting version of last year's As Above So Below but in Egypt and populated with deplorable characters who constantly lie to one another about shit they all already know for absolutely no reason. No really, its the same lost-in-a-mindfucky-labyrinth-with-ancient-dead-languages-on-the-walls-giving-clues-while-culturally-specific-supernatural-shit-happens plot as the Paris-set film. Granted some interesting things happen in roughly the last twenty minutes while AASB's finale was something of a colossal clusterfuck, but by that point its WAY to little WAY to late, especially when you factor in the PS1-level CG used for effects that very easily could've been done practically and the various little absurdities of the characters and plot (really, a documentary cameraman can rewire state-of-the-art NASA technology but he can't make the light on top of his camera come back on?).

That's similar to the face I had while watching. She's missing the slight drunken glaze that fell over my eyes about half-way through.

A half-assed gimmick of a film that really couldn't have been saved regardless, I give The Pyramid 3 out of 10 of those gross hairless cats.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Insidious Chapter 3

Astute readers may remember I absolutely ADORED the film Insidious, brought to us by the writer/director team that also gave the world Saw and Dead Silence, and I greatly enjoyed the sequel despite it being a bit to convoluted for it's own good, so when I heard a third film was in the works I was elated. Hell, I sorta almost cracked a smile! Then it was revealed Leigh Whannel would pick up triple duty by not just writing and reprising his role of hapless ghost hunter Specs, but directing as well. Suddenly the world was rife with questions, the big one being would he just copy and paste what series director James Wan had done, or would he surprise us all and bring his own unique style? Surely you can understand my concern, seeing as sequels to Wan films tend to not have the best track record.

Sometimes they fall off the track completely and break both ankles right at the beginning of the race.

So our film starts out an unknown amount of time before the events of the first film (that's right, a prequel with a number attached as though its a sequel, a fairly big pet peeve of mine), I would set it around 2004 or 2005, and follows the story Quinn, a high school senior and actress hopeful whose attempts to contact her recently deceased mother lead to her attracting the attention of a demon known as The Man Who Can't Breath. After a car accident leaves her bedridden with two broken legs and at the mercy of the super groddy entity, it's up to Lin Shaye's psychic Elise, who also recently lost a loved one and vowed to never use her powers again, to help her before he can add her soul to his teen girl zoo (go on, tell me that's not what's going on!) in The Further. Along the way we see Elise and her ghost-lovin' colleagues Specs and Tucker meet for the first time, we have references to the other two films that actually make sense story-wise instead of being blatant obnoxious fan service, and we set up another obligatory sequel.

  Also, the guy who played Gavin in three episodes of 'Friends' is in it as Quinn's dad, so that's worth the ticket price alone.

So you're probably wondering what the answer to my question at the end of the first paragraph was, and I'm pleased to report it was the latter of the two options I put forth.Whannell shows us a more restrained, realistic --realism being a relative term here of course-- version of Insidious that focuses more on the relationships in the film than the outright scary stuff. That means this film moves at a slower, more methodical pace than the other two films, which would explain why this one hasn't really been getting the best reviews ever written. Well, that and the fact that Mr. Whannell seems to have, let's say, slacked a bit in the writing department to focus more of his energy on the visual aspect. There are a few holes here and there, some story threads that just seem to either languish or come out of nowhere, and my God the last 10 minutes were so shmaltzy and sickeningly saccharine I had to test my blood sugar levels after.

Plus, remember Sidekicks? As if anyone actually had one of those.

What we're left with is a flawed though still interesting and well made entry in a fantastic series that could easily go on forever, and I'm sure it probably will as long as Blumhouse Productions stays in business. I give Insidious Chapter 3 7 out of 10 delicious cupcakes.

PS: Look how goddam gorgeous mohawk Tucker is!