Halloween has come and gone. It left us with a bag of DVD goodies to chew on. So sharpen your fangs, watch out for the gristle and let’s sink our teeth into some savory horror.
HALLOWEEN: 30TH ANNIV. COMMEMORATIVE SET (Anchor Bay) (6 DVDs)
ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN (Genius) (3 DVDs)
Thirty years ago, John Carpenter shook horror to its very bones. He directed a film that is still used as a blue print today.
It was Halloween. It not only came with an unforgettable theme song and launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis, but made the character of Michael Myers so believable he still has a death grip on fans in spite of a string of horrendous sequels made since.
As explained in the extra content, Carpenter took horror out of the AIP/Hammer realm of fantasy and set it back in the very, very real. Yes, one could say Hitchcock’s Psycho set the table. Yet with Psycho Norman Bates wasn’t revealed until the end of the film. With Halloween, Myers started his killing spree at the beginning of the film. The problem was stopping him. The kicker was Carpenter worked on a miniscule budget and milked the terror implicit in the film with creative camera work, solid acting Curtis, the veteran Donald Pleasance, youngsters like PJ Soles and many others.
With this collection, you not only get a fun miniscule version of Myers’ mask, but a regular, an extended and Blu-Ray version of the first movie. For some unknown reason, they include only two sequels, the decent IV and the atrocious V. Finally, one gets a tribute/documentary disk chock full of interviews, history and much, much more. If you don’t have any of the other retrospectives, this is the one to have in spite of including V.
As for last year’s retcon by Rob Zombie, it tears the heart out of many of the sequels, but his problem is simple, he loves the original too much. He adds 30 minutes of story Carpenter breezily explained with some quick quips. Also, while Malcolm McDowell tries to recapture the presence of Dr. Loomis, Pleasance too indelibly stamped the role for McDowell to take it away. In the end, one wishes Zombie took another directorial route, like his own Devil’s Rejects. It would have been a lot more fun, at least.
As for the future of what’s now the Halloween franchise? No series that nets over $300 million over 30 years, not counting merchandising, stays dead too long. Let’s hope there’s still a classic like the first somewhere in the future.
CANNIBAL TABOO (MVD)
With this one you get a bit of gratuitous nudity, senseless semi-grotesque violence, and a plot as lurid as all get out. A man comes to visit his family to confront his wicked but hot stepmother and her pagan pals. While this concept makes solid grindhouse popcorn filler, the problem is there isn’t enough gratuitous nudity, senseless violence and lurid plotting. Nice try.
• Legacy of Blood
• The Oozing Skull
Last week, Newsarama had the pleasure of interviewing MST3K founders Trace Beaulieu and Joel Hodgson. While their Satellite of Love is lost in network limbo, they are still riffing away with fellow Theater-goers Mary Jo Pehl, Frank Conniff and J. Elvis Weinstein. Just call them Cinematic Titanic.
First off, the new way they array themselves around the movie is a better way to go. They occupy only the lower corners of the film, giving us more movie for the money. They also stop the film, not for commercials, but to throw in some pretty sick stunts (like the late Al Hirt “blowing chunks …New Orleans style”). As for their riffing? It depends on the film, on just how bad the movie is.
Both Oozing Skull and Legacy come from 1971. The big difference is Skull is an even cheaper rip-off of Madman of Madargoras/They Saved Hitler’s Brain (if you can imagine that) while Blood is a weak murderous family psychodrama. Hate to say it, the worse the movie, the better CT’s riffs. It’s pretty clear they had a party with Skull. You will too.
DEADLY GAME (Cinema Epoch)
This Dutch export takes an old concept, a live action role playing game with fatal consequences, and tries to punt it into new Eurotrash realms. The problem is even with a psycho killer in the mix, this slasher’s about as sharp as a butter knife. Time to re-roll the die.
DEATH NOTE (Viz)
When one usually confronts a live action version of a hit anime series, the smart thing to do is run away. Not so with Death Note. Directed by monster master Shususke Kaneko, a ton of filler needed for an episodic series was cut, leaving a bare bone supernatural whodunit in its place.
The series revolves around the brilliant sociopath high school student Light (Tatsuya Fujiwara) being given a “Death Note” by Ryuk, a spirit called a “shinigami.” With the Note, he can kill anyone by just writing their name. The son of a police chief, Light decides the world will be a better place by killing all the criminals in the world.
This causes two things. First, all the police try to find out just who the perpetrator is. Aiding them is the brilliant but enigmatic L (Kenichi Matsuyama). A war between L and Light escalates, and it soon becomes apparent Light has bigger plans. He wants to the world fit his own vision, no matter what it costs.
The only weakness is Fujiwara’s performance. He may be playing a stone cold killer, but he’s an equally frozen actor. Even the CGI-created Ryuk is less stiff. On the other hand, Matsuyama’s performance is far superior L is one seriously quirky character, and Matsuyama manages to keep him believable.
As it stands, a sequel has already been produced in Japan. If it holds the potential of this first film and the anime series, it will be a true must have for fantasy horror fans.
DEVIL MAY CRY VOL. 3 (FUNimation)
When the first volume of this anime series appeared, it felt like something one didn’t need to continue watching. A demon who hunts demons is not the newest thing in anime. Just dig up Go Nagai’s Demon Lord Dante for further proof.
The good news is it got incredibly better. With initial character exposition out of the way, our key demon (also named Dante), got more interesting. The final four chapters, represented here, actually kept me glued to the screen.
Personal suggestion? Wait for the complete set. Watch it all. Don’t be surprised if you end up liking it.
THE DEVIL’S CHAIR (Sony)
If there is a reason to watch this one, it’s for the performance of Andrew Howard. Playing a British working class bad boy, he puts on a compelling performance as a man way out of his league.
The initial concept of this film is familiar. When we first meet Howard, he’s spent years in an insane asylum for the brutal murder of his girl friend. The two had gone to an abandoned laboratory, one with a lot of bad karma in its past. A psychiatric team takes Howard back to the scene of his crime. They land in a cross between Clive Barker and HP Lovecraft, with lots of gore and gruesome fun .
The only problem is the end. A twist that makes the whole shebang falls flat on its head. Even Howard can’t save it, although he tries mightily.
Still, a solid try. Keep your eyes out for Howard, and director Adam Mason, too.
FEAST II: SLOPPY SECONDS (Genius)
OK horror fans, here’s another name to remember: John Gulager. This Project Greenlight grad’s second effort may not be as off-the-wall brutal as his first, but not for lack of trying.
A merger of Tarantino/Rodriguez shock with Romero’s zombie action, Feast 2 kicks off with a gang of biker broads seeking revenge of one of their “sisters,” who became monster fodder in the first film. The monsters? They’ve moved from the bar they previously rampaged to the town next door. Now it’s up to the bikers, a pair of Mexican midget wrestlers, a used car salesman, his cheating wife and her lover—not to forget the first survivors from Feast I--to stay alive. Easier said than done.
What sets Gulager apart is there’s no taboo he won’t cross. A monsters going buck wild with a house cat? You bet. The consequences have a result, too. Sacrifice a baby to save your life? Sure. Gulager cast his nephew the newborn, and its shock value is undeniable. Besides, where else are you going to fine biker chicks wearing nothing but their silkies and big guns taking on truly gross super monsters.
Apparently there will be a third volume in this series, sarcastically called A Happy Ending, but this film left this gore hound properly satisfied.
GHOST HUNT (FUNimation) (2 DVDs)
Those guys on the Sci-Fi Channel should take note. This anime series makes them look like the cartoon characters. Based on a set of light novels, Ghosthunt focuses on a supernatural detective, Naru, and his cases. Aided and abetted by a stock cute girl, most of the stories are told in three-part episode arcs. What helps are while the situations might be supernatural, Naru and company attack them realistically.
Part of FUNimation’s new approach of giving us a lot of one series at smaller price, this set contains 13 episodes. If it holds true, the second half should end one heck of a series.
THE HAPPENING (Fox)
If this latest Shalmyalan offering has one particular problem. It’s so low key it’s boring. Even such potential as a man being sliced and diced by a lawn mower has little to no impact.
Sad too. The initial sequences, with giant portions of Northeast America committing suicide in number of crazed ways, held promise. M. Night’s subdued direction just takes the thrills right out of it. That said, this doesn’t bode well for his next project, the live action version of the animated Avatar. Now that’s a scary thought.
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
You just can’t a Halloween blow-out without Vincent Price making an appearance, can you? Legend Films unearthed two of the great one’s lesser seen classics, and the holiday is a much better place for it.
House is the William Castle-produced chiller. Price is a creepy multi-millionaire who invites some guests to stay at a haunted house party. Skeletons on visible wires, gorgeous dames in night gowns, rubber monster gloves and you have a great All Hallows Eve.
As for Last Man? If you consider yourself a fan of Omega Man, I Am Legend and George Romero’s zombie films, you can see their roots in this 1964 B classic. This time Price is the scientist with the undead infestation. It doesn’t take one long to see Romero cribbed a lot of production notes. If that isn’t enough, this is the first true adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend, beating Charlton Heston’s Omega Man by half a decade. To top it, Price plain out acts Heston.
Each of these disks comes with a cool little bit of extra content to boot; a half-hour episode of Price’s old series It Happened In Hollywood. Well worth hunting out.
JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER (Anchor Bay)
The film starts off with our hero, Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews), taking on monsters with the aid of African tribesmen. The rest of the movie is about how he got there.
This film is the tale of a plumber with anger management issues. The source is simple enough. You’d have issues too if your family was the main course of some monsters. It doesn’t help is your father figure is Robert Englund, who’s in top form by the way. From there add a cursed immortal heart, teenagers, campy action and cheesy makeup.
All said, Matthews could be the next Bruce Campbell. He’s young, sharp and can handle horror and comedy at the same time. He manages to make sense of the journey Jack goes through, in a properly warped, low budget horror way. So source this Halloween treat out. It’s truly tasty.
JESUS CHRIST: VAMPIRE HUNTER (Eclectic)
Any self-respecting horror fan should pick up this upstart micro horror mess just for the title alone.
Then again, if you think about it, who would you rather have on your side when you’re up against campy bloodsuckers in bad goth outfits? As the title implies, the Son of Man raises holy hell when it comes to the unholy dead. It doesn’t hurt when His sidekicks include a priest sporting a red-dyed mohawk and a hot saintly woman in a red lame jumpsuit.
Take it with a grain of salt and a pinch of holy water. This bit of 16 millimeter madness will sit up there with proudly with my statuette of Buddy Christ.
JOY RIDE 2: DEAD AHEAD (Fox)
You know the story. Urbanites unwittingly tick off a redneck. Now his mission to make them pay…under the wheels of his 16 wheeler, naturally. Steven Spielberg did it better with his first film, Duel, and with a much lower budget.
ROCKY HORROR TRIBUTE SHOW (Kultur)
It used to be a Halloween tradition to dress up in one’s best stars and garters, run to the local art theater with your hot patootie, and be a wild and untamed thing lip synching this camp classic. Creator Richard O’Brien certainly remembers, and put together this showboat cruise version of the original’s highlights.
While this version may not include Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick or Meatloaf, O’Brien did assemble other survivors like Patricia Quinn, Little Nell and Rayner Burton. What also remains is the fun of the songs themselves. It’s time to break out the glitter and do the time warp again.
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD: 50th Anniversary Edition (Columbia)
The images are some of the most remembered in cinematic history. The Cyclops. The Roc. The skeleton warriors. Torin Thatcher’s bald head and pointy shoes. More amazing is Ray Harryhausen created these images a half-century ago.
A project that took Harryhausen to realize, and is now considered one of the animation master’s greatest. A high level fantasy that doesn’t forget to give some solid scares with its high adventure. Harryhausen had many more greats in front of him, but that doesn’t deny this films value.
This special collection comes with as much extra content as movie. It not only includes a vivid commentary from Harryhausen as well as outside personal recollections, his original sketches he used to sell the project. It also includes an eye opening biography of soundtrack composer Bernard Hermann. One of the best reissues of the year.
THE STRANGERS: Unrated (Universal)
Well kids, we now know for certain that Liv Tyler has a set of lungs, and by that I mean the ones she breathes with. Quite honestly, it turns a possible Halloween into a Tyler scream fest. The problem is the boogeymen the film is built around have no where near the fear factor of Mr. Michael Myers, even in this “unrated” version. Strangers probably would beat sleeping pills if Tyler didn’t have such amazing vocal powers.
VAMPIRE EMBRACE/THROUGH DEAD EYES (Eclectic)
This grindhouse double feature looks at some 90s Z movie offerings.
Embrace (1991) tells the tale of two vampire sisters recently resuscitated after a few centuries and out to make up for lost time. One falls in love with a very goombah Philly boy and starts seeing the error of his ways. The problem here is the film is so earnest in its low budget earnestness criticizing it is like kicking a sick puppy. Better to skip to the next flick.
Dead Eyes (1999) is remarkable for it being one of the last films featuring James Doohan. Even with one eye and looking like hell, ol’ Scotty has more talent in his role of a retired police chief with a dark secret than the rest of the entire cast combined. Ostensibly a slasher film, whoever played the cheesy synthesizer for the soundtrack should have been one of the victims, too.
So take this one with a warning, Trekkers in particular.
ZOMBIE STRIPPERS: Unrated (Sony)
Mix porn star Jenna Jameson with a bunch of softcore wannabes, drop them into a From Dusk Till Dawn-type setting and you do get some, well, titillation. The problem is just about everything else about this undead chiller is so overdone even Robert Englund can’t resuscitate this stinker. This one should be buried and forgotten as quickly as possible.