Disconnected (1983)

APRIL 30, 2009


At some point during Disconnected, my friend Mike wondered how in the hell I could manage to write a review for such a thing. And I could certainly see his point - a traditional review would first give a brief synopsis of the plot, and then discuss the film’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as an overall assessment of whether or not the film delivered. But this is that rarest of films: one that a traditional review, or even the usual sort of ramble I deliver on these things, cannot possibly do it justice. It’s simply a film that has to be seen. No, EXPERIENCED; much like The Room, Raw Force, or Dangerous Men.

Unfortunately, like those movies, this one is wholly obscure (though at least Room and Raw Force can be seen on DVD, though a theatrical experience is far more appropriate), and I can’t imagine any one of HMAD regular readers have seen it. It’s been released on VHS, from what I can understand, but not available on Ebay, and the lone copy on Half.com runs 99.99 (we’re in a recession, people!). A DVD is scheduled for June 30th, surprisingly enough, but it’s packaged with two other films. Hopefully I am wrong, but I suspect that means it will be a shitty transfer with no extras or insight from the filmmaker.

And insight is certainly desired, because I honestly don’t have a clue what was going on throughout 80-90% of this movie. If you wanted to simplify things, you could say that the movie was about a girl named Alicia (Frances Raines) who is being tormented with strange phone calls, and the caller may very well be the same serial killer that has been terrorizing the town. But that would almost be doing a disservice to this wonderfully odd film, because it makes it sound so generic, which is the last thing you could accuse this movie of being. No, it’s all about HOW the story is told, or, more correctly, how the story ISN’T told.

It’s all in the little moments. The endless montages set to an admittedly catchy soundtrack, the “should have been cut, if shot at all” scenes like when Alicia sets her clock, our heroine demanding to know how her twin sister “got the number” for her apartment, the guy who ends every conversation with “See ya bye!” (he practically melds it into one syllable), the Hawaiian-shirt wearing cop with an affinity for grinders (the film’s best line: his partner’s sad observation that “those four girls will never enjoy another grinder again”) and who occasionally speaks directly at the camera to... someone (us?), or the old man who bookends the film, resulting in a finale that was so baffling and incomplete, I had no choice but to stand up and applaud.

Speaking of the old man, he is sort of the poster child for the film’s habit of piling on go nowhere subplots and red herrings. The guy shows up in the beginning of the movie, asking to use Alicia’s phone. She then goes into the kitchen for a drink, and when she comes back, he is gone. Then, through the entire movie he is never mentioned again, but she DOES keep receiving unexplained phone calls, in which all she hears is some strange electronic sound. Then at the end of the movie, he suddenly re-emerges, walking out of the house and folding his hands as if to say “I’m done here.” Was he the killer? Was he a ghost? The phone’s human incarnate? Did he kill her? Damned if I know.

Even better is the fact that the movie actually ends twice. Right around the 60 minute mark, the killer has been caught, the twin sister is dead, and Alicia is in mourning. Everything is more or less wrapped up, albeit abruptly (the final showdown between the cops, the killer, and Alicia is off-screen entirely). But then, the movie just keeps going. More phone calls, more sitting around drinking, and more phone calls on top of that. This “epilogue” even contains a still frame sequence of phone calls/drinking, as well as a flashback montage with good and bad memories mixed together haphazardly, as well as a brief shot that suggests the showdown with the killer was actually filmed. The idea of the cop being a 2nd killer is introduced, but never followed through on, and then the old man appears to finish ending #2. Amazing.

Also, Alicia works in a video store. I had a lot of fun trying to spot titles in the store, most of which seemed to be horror. Mother’s Day, My Bloody Valentine, Halloween I-III, The Shining, Jaws... it’s a pretty good selection, if you ask me. They’re all out of order, but that’s fine, they all face front. If I ever get this movie on DVD (and I will, believe you me), I will certainly freeze frame these scenes and try to match every single title.

According to the evening’s host (the movie showed at the Echo Park Film Center), the film was actually the student film of director Gorman Bechard. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the “epilogue” was filmed later in an attempt to pad the running time out to feature length, but otherwise it’s actually much more professional than most student films I’ve seen, especially one this long. The boom mic never appears, continuity is reasonable, and the acting is largely sufficient. Also, there’s a surprising amount of nudity - I’m pretty sure nothing in my film school ever had that going for it. And while it’s eventually overused and even laughable, the phone calls do have a certain eerie quality to them at first, and the film’s lone full blown murder scene is brutally violent and bloody. Of course, even that’s a bit odd (the guy windexes a framed photo above the bed afterwards). Ignoring the haphazard storytelling, the film’s only technical weakness is abysmally lax editing, but I chalk that up more to “let’s stretch this into a feature!” than an actual creative choice. I can’t imagine Bechard sitting there and saying “OK, she’s gonna walk out of her house and down the stairs, but let’s look at the house for a full 45 seconds before she does so.” There’s also a shot with the sun blinding the camera lens, but I found that sort of charming, and it’s just another scene of the girl answering her phone and then screaming, so it’s not like anything is lost.

I really want this movie to gain a cult audience; much like The Room has in Los Angeles (and spreading). It’s of equal entertainment value, and demands a crowd of baffled moviegoers embracing it as one. My friend plans to get a print and show it in his backyard (source of previous HMAD entries such as Cujo and Jaws); I plan to get everyone I ever met back there to see it for themselves. For the rest of you - consider June 30th your new Christmas.

What say you?


Shiver (2008)

APRIL 29, 2009


It’s not often you see a movie that introduces the main character as a familiar horror movie monster and then forgets to actually work that into the rest of the movie, but that’s what Shiver (Spanish: Eskalofrío) does. Our lead has photophobia, which means he can’t go into the sun. But he also has sharp fangs, which as far as I know, is not a common side effect of his ailment. So I’m guessing he’s actually a vampire.

But that doesn’t matter, because neither his photophobia, his teeth, or (eventually) the character at all really have any bearing on the story. The disease is mainly an excuse for them to live in such a dreary locale, and partially explain why he's quiet and moody (besides for the fact that he's a teenager in a horror movie). The end of the film finds him lying on the floor doing nothing while the film's real villains battle. It’s sort of like when you watch five seasons of a TV show and notice how they gradually phase a character out of importance, albeit in a single 90 minute film. Granted, there’s nothing particularly interesting about the guy besides his ailment, but still, let him DO something in the finale, even as a reward for sticking around so long.

I also wonder if the folks who made The Haunting In Connecticut saw this before scripting their movie. It’s not the same genre, but it’s interesting how both films start off with an overworked mother and her sick son, fed up with dealing with medical issues, moving to a new town that will allow him to have a slightly easier time with it (in this case, the village get almost no sunlight). It stuck out because very few horror films feature a dynamic between a still attractive mother and a son in his late teens to begin with, let alone with all this medical nonsense. Hell, the two actors even resemble the ones in CT. Weird.

Anyway, it’s not that bad of a movie. I dug the subtle approach for the most part, and director Isidro Ortiz stages some effective sequences (particularly a “hunt” with the “hero” and his two friends early in the film). And the idea of blending genres is kind of cool, I actually had no idea how to label this one (a vampire investigates what he thinks is a monster, that turns out to be a feral child kept hidden by evil humans. What would YOU call it?). I just wish it all came together in a more cohesive way. Paying off even ONE of the horror angles would have been sufficient.

Back to the evil humans thing (spoilers ahead), it’s pretty weird how at the exact moment I wrote down “landlord” in my notes, he suddenly revealed himself as the villain. I had written it down because I liked how, for once, the kind landlord character didn’t disappear from the story once the family had settled into their house (like, I dunno, Haunting in Connecticut!). And this landlord was particularly kind, so I guess I should have seen it coming. Then again, we already had a vampire and a feral child, so I wasn’t really looking for any other plot elements.

Another issue is that far too much time is spent on a cop investigating the “hero” kid for the murders. We know perfectly well that he’s not the killer, because we saw a blurry shape thing kill the guy while the “hero” watched. We also have seen a few “monster POV” shots. So why waste screentime on something that we know isn’t the case? It’s just like Wolfen taking up 10-15 minutes with some nonsense about terrorists. If anything, the characters in a horror film should know more than the audience, not the other way around. Maybe if it was legitimately played as a mystery, it would be fine, but we know he’s innocent before he’s even officially accused by the cops. It’s like a red herring in reverse.

But I dunno, story issues aside, there was something about the movie I dug. It’s nice to see a Spanish horror flick that isn’t about ghosts for once (though given the kitchen sink attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some at one point), plus it’s well acted and features an interesting locale. A few more drafts of the script and this would be an outright gem, but as is it’s merely an acceptable way to kill 90 minutes and maybe learn some Spanish while you’re at it (Speaking of which - this is my 3rd foreign language film in a row. Tomorrow's better be in Ingles!).

What say you?


Voices (2007)

APRIL 28, 2009


Having had enough of my increasingly frequent falling asleep during movies (I even dozed during Repo the other night for the first time ever, despite the lights and extra sound from the “Shadowcasters” adding to the insanity), I have decided to try something: the instant I feel myself getting heavier eyelids, I pause the film and get up, check my email, splash some water in my face, play a turn on Scrabble (on Facebook, where games can last weeks), whatever. Then I sit back down and resume viewing, presumably wide awake. So as a result, the 85 minute Voices (Korean: Du Saram-yida) took me over two hours to watch, but I saw every minute of it without having to go back and re-watch sections of the film. Hurrah!

(Of course, irony strikes - I ended up watching the entire thing over again anyway, because I couldn’t make sense of the ending, but more on that later.)

Anyway, Voices helps to solidify my feeling that this year’s After Dark Fest was the best yet. I didn’t outright love anything, but it’s more important that I didn’t hate or even dislike anything either (though I have yet to see Butterfly Effect 3, mainly because I haven’t seen 2). Everything was OK to good, which is fine by me. So where does Voices fit in? Well, for the first 45-50 minutes, I would say it was the best of the lot. However, director Ki-hwan Oh cannot sustain the first two acts’ pace or appeal, and the 3rd act, while far from bad, is a bit disappointing, and leaves a couple of things unresolved.

But the first 45 or so... oh man. Not only do we get a heaping of violence (the body count here is much higher than average for a Korean horror film), but it’s bloody as hell to boot. I’m talking full blown geysers of the red stuff, a la Nightmare on Elm St (mixed with the “full body red” look, think The Descent). Also, vicious stabbings, a fall from high that leaves an ever-growing pool of crimson... this may be the BLOODIEST Asian horror film of its kind that I’ve ever seen. Plus, the attacks pack a visceral punch; there's a scene where a would-be killer repeatedly smashes a car trying to get to our heroine, and I admit to jumping at the sound/strength of a window being smashed.

I also liked that it was a unique take on the curse/weird things happening type of Eastern horror film that we've seen so many times. It’s similar to Ju-On/The Grudge in a few ways, namely a curse that is seemingly born from intense anger and how it seems to focus on a few school girls (like Ju-On 2). But to its credit, that’s more or less where the similarities end. There are no ghostly children making noises, nor do any ghosts with long hair covering their faces make any appearance. Hell, I don’t even think water factors in to any of the scare scenes, which may be a first.

The problem is that after a rollercoaster first act and most of the second, it not only slows down (as expected), but it does so to answer questions, and doesn’t bother to answer them all. For example, all of the stories we hear about previous victims of the curse seem to involve family: mothers killing sons, brothers killing sisters, etc. But our heroine is attacked by pretty much everyone BUT her family. Her mother eventually takes a stab at it (pun possibly intended, I can’t remember what she used to attack her), but before then, a fellow classmate, a teacher, and her little nerdy buddy all try (and fail) to kill her. Her sister and father never even raise their voice. Obviously this setup has its perks - you’re never sure when she’s safe or when the person she’s with is going to suddenly lunge at her - but it leaves a fairly large plot hole.

Another issue is the twist ending, which also leaves some things unanswered (but at least puts the “family vs family” aspect back in place, sort of). I won’t spoil it (partially because I’m not entirely sure what happened), but it seems like the type of twist that could use a Saw-style montage that re-explains everything we saw before, something Ki-hwan Oh doesn’t offer (hence why I watched it again on my own, but it didn’t help beyond minor character details). The movie is based on a graphic novel, which I assume makes more sense. And if not, it probably has some tentacle rape or something. At any rate, it’s not the worst twist ever, but it definitely could have used a bit more audience hand-holding in its presentation. And I say this, for once, on the authority of someone who saw the entire thing!

There’s a scene that made me laugh out loud though. This guy is doing his Asian horror movie duty by living in an isolated house and giving our heroine a lot of exposition, which includes the story of when he killed his wife by throwing her in front of a goddamn bus. He then says “After serving time in prison...”, but he doesn’t appear to be much older, maybe 5 years. Is wife-icide not really a big deal in Korea? Potheads get more than that in America.

The DVD had no extras at all, so I finally selected the “Miss Horrorfest Webisodes” to see what the girls looked like and why they found these things so important that they had to stick them on every disc. One girl was pretty cute, but Suicide Girls rejects are not my type, so I had little interest in them or the god-awful editing on display (I’ve seen better work in high school public access films). Also, all together the episodes ran just under an hour, which means that’s an hour’s worth of video content eating up the bit budget for the DVD; space that should have been used for making ofs, audio commentaries, or even deleted scenes - things that were all but completely absent from this year’s batch. Pretty much bullshit, if you ask me. Not as bad as Paramount forcing those fucking worthless “Lost Tales from Camp Blood” things on the new Friday the 13th discs instead of cut footage or retrospectives that are worth a damn, but still pretty lousy.

So in a strictly visual sense, this is a winner. It’s gory, it’s visually exciting (I didn’t even mention the occasional monster that shows up), and unlike most Asian horror films, it’s on the short side of things. It’s also shot in the 2.35:1 aspect, a rarity for these things. However, it’s also needlessly confusing and seemingly incomplete (maybe it WAS supposed to be longer - again, having actual filmmaker input on the DVD instead of a bunch of attention whores work out their daddy issues via cheesy After Effects projects would be helpful). Your call.

One final note - the original title was Someone Behind You, which makes a lot more sense than Voices. No one hears any “voices” in the film (well, not ones of interest to horror movie fans), so why they changed it from something that DID make sense to something that didn’t is beyond me. Again - did someone Weinstein the shit out of this movie?

What say you?

And now, Horror Movie A Day and Happy Hour Comics would like to present the newest in an ongoing series of HMAD-inspired comic strips. I hope you enjoy!! (Click to enlarge)


Gozu (2003)

APRIL 27, 2009


Via Twitter, I have twice promised Gozu (Japan: Gokudô kyôfu dai-gekijô) as my daily entry, only to be thwarted by its runtime one time and my own impulsiveness the other (making today’s promise the charmed third attempt). Also, it was recommended by at least two readers (including sansanesthesia and Zach) in the recommendation thread, plus more than a couple “in person” recommendations from friends. And yet, not a single Twitter reader, or any of the recommend-ers ever pointed out that it’s not actually a horror movie.

Yes, there is a scene where a man with a giant cow head suddenly begins licking our protagonist. And yes, the film’s climax is loaded with bodily fluids as a grown man is birthed out of a vagina. Both are surreal images that wouldn’t be out of place in some really weird horror movie. But those are pretty much the ONLY images/scenes of the type in the 2+ hr film, which otherwise plays out like a gangster film as imagined by David Lynch. To me, it’s no more a horror movie than Cabin Boy, which also features some occasional surreal images in an otherwise unrelated film (in that case, a comedy).

Luckily it still qualifies as a horror movie per my criteria (IMDb lists it as horror, along with about five other genres), so my streak is alive. Also luckily, I was at least entertained by the damn thing, though not fully until the 2nd hour. Not only is that where the surreal stuff occurs, but it’s also much funnier. After a gonzo opening (with a “trained Yakuza dog”, followed by a “trained Yakuza car”), the plot gets in the way of the weirdness and laughs for a while. It’s still got some elements of those things, but it’s nothing compared to the 2nd half, which has some truly inspired bits.

I mentioned Lynch before. I am not a big fan of his (I like Elephant Man and Twin Peaks the TV show, but the TP movie, and also his film Inland Empire, made me physically angry), so I haven’t seen all of his work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the “American wife” scene in Gozu was an homage to something he had done. In the scene, our hero is listening to a girl who obviously doesn’t speak Japanese as her native language, and it’s all broken (words like “go-ed” pop up, instead of “went”). Then our hero (Hideki Sone) notices that she appears to be looking at the wall above his head. He follows her gaze and discovers that she is reading cue cards! Awesome! Then there is a terrific sight gag; a mob “laundry room” in which the skin of guys that have been whacked are hanging on a rack like newly pressed suits.

Also, like Lynch’s Lost Highway, we have a character who suddenly and inexplicably becomes a different person. But here, someone who was a man is suddenly a woman, yet retains all of the memories of the male incarnation. Takeshi Miike doesn’t bother to explain any of this, and that’s not too big of a problem - if he did, then the other unexplained things would require an explanation too, and the movie would lose most of its charm as it morphed into a flurry of exposition. The only problem is that it doesn’t feel organic at all. With Lost Highway, baffling as it may have been, you could at least see how it was part of the structure, but here it feels more like an impulsive decision Miike made in between setups. I didn’t care about the lack of explanation, but fully threading the body switch into the narrative would have been appreciated.

The DVD I requested is the unrated 129 minute version that was advertised, but the one I was sent is an R rated cut running 5 minutes shorter. I would like to blame Blockbuster for this, but the disc itself has the initials "J.P." written on it with Sharpie, so I am guessing some dickhead named John Palmer or James Peters accidentally bought the R rated one, so he then rented the unrated one and sent back his R rated disc (after initialing it like a total fucking idiot). Anyway, I wasn’t aware of the difference until after the movie was done (when it ended 5 minutes sooner than I expected), so afterward I spent a good hour looking around for any sort of information as to what the edits are, and turned up nothing. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know. For all I know, there was supposed to be 5 minutes’ worth of zombie slasher action sprinkled through the film to solidify it as a horror movie.

At any rate, this means I am also robbed of the audio commentary by Andy Klein and Wade Major (film critics, presumably speaking English), and other extra features that I understand are available on the unrated version. This one’s only extra of note is an essay about the film by Tom Mes, who literally wrote the book on Miike. In the essay, he confirms my Lynch suspicions and also helps fill in some background about the Japanese “Yakuza Film” that I have zero familiarity with, which resulted in less appreciation for Gozu’s attempts at deconstructing the subgenre (I guess it would be sort of like a Japanese guy seeing Scream as his first slasher). I reported the “wrong disc” to Blockbuster and they promise to be sending a replacement, so if it comes in due time I will watch the extras and update the review accordingly.

So while I didn’t dislike the film by any means (though it could easily be 10-15 minutes shorter), the fact that it barely even visits the horror neighborhood makes it a tough sell to recommend to readers of this site. In fact, had I seen it years ago, I probably would have used it for one of my October Extras #2 last year (the 31 non-horror but for the most part sort of horror related movies I watched/reviewed). And even once I figured out it wasn’t horror (about halfway through), I still don’t see why everyone shits themselves for Miike. So readers, in the future, when recommending a film of his, add a little note explaining why I should watch it. I’ve heard Ichi the Killer is “definitely” horror - assuming that’s true, will I be “blown away” by it as well? What is the ultimate Miike film? I keep feeling like I’m missing something here. Like if you told someone about how great Argento is and then they watched Phantom of the Opera and The Card Player and subsequently thought you were nuts.

What say you?

NOTE - The trailer has stuff that is not in the movie, unrated or not. It purposely makes the movie look more nutty than it is.


Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys (2004)

APRIL 26, 2009


What is worse? A bad horror movie, or a bad horror movie that SHOULD be "so bad it's good" but is just plain bad? After watching Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys, I have to say the latter. I'd rather just be bored or disappointed with a failed sequel or remake than with a movie that is, at its core, about a bunch of little toys whaling on each other.

Even as a kid I never cared much for the Puppet Master movies that I saw (which would be 1, most of 2, and 4 - which at least had Teresa Hill, an actress I was smitten with in the mid 90s). The concept was interesting, but the traditionally crappy Full Moon approach left little to really enjoy beyond the impressive toy effects. Also, the decision to make them "good guys" somewhere around part III (where they fought off Nazis), and also increasingly pit them against like-sized foes instead of dumb humans, made me lose all interest. It wasn't until I looked up this one on the IMDb that I realized that it was in fact the NINTH film in the series.

I DID, however, enjoy Demonic Toys (in that "so bad it's good" way). There was a guy driving a chicken truck, a foul mouthed baby toy, and a demonic kid saying "I've been imprisoned in that corpse for 66 years...". In fact I would like to watch it again, now that I think about it. I can't remember much about Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, other than that it was only 61 minutes long, half of which was footage from the two title films (as well as Bad Channels), but I am fairly certain that the end of the film saw them more or less destroyed.

So how they ended up in some insane woman's toy company is beyond me. Even though I hadn't seen half of the films in the PM franchise, I at least understood that Corey Feldman's character here is a descendant of the Andre Toulon character from the earlier films. But let's just go with the theory that no one involved in this thing gave a shit about continuity one way or the other.

I'm actually really surprised I didn't like this movie. The plot is more or less ripped from Halloween III, albeit set on Christmas, and again, it SHOULD be about a bunch of toys killing each other, as the title suggests. Unfortunately, the promised battle lasts about two minutes of the movie, and the toys don't really do much else for the rest of the movie. Fighting each other or other foes, I would estimate that less than 15 minutes of the 90 minute movie have the toys even moving, let alone doing anything interesting.

The rest is an over-written, plodding, and simply pathetic tale of "industrial espionage" (a term that gets thrown around more here than, I dunno, the term "killer toy" does). The evil Demonic Toy owner woman wants Toulon's blood to help make her toys kill kids, and she uses ladybug cameras to spy on him. And she has to sacrifice a virgin, and Toulon is going through a divorce, and his daughter used to listen to cheesy death metal, and I dunno, 400 other plot threads that seemingly exist only to keep the movie from being exciting. It's like the filmmakers watched Freddy vs. Jason and figured that it was the plot that people dug, and decided to load their "Vs" movie with as much plot as possible, instead of (expensive) fighting puppets.

And of course, this means we get far more Corey Feldman than any film past 1988 should include. His casting is completely wrong on every level. He's supposed to be old enough to have a 15-17-ish daughter, but I'd have trouble buying him as the father to even a 10 year old. His blessing and curse as an actor is that he looks much younger than he actually is, so to cast him as someone that is presumably OLDER than he really is is just fucking stupid. I can imagine the same girl playing his sister in another movie. Plus, he's using his idiotic scratchy "old" voice again, which grates after about 5 minutes (and again, he's pretty much front and center for the 85 minutes that follow). I won't even begin to address his "hilarious" attempts at physical comedy.

You would think with such limited toy action, that the effects budget would suffice and everything would look really good when it actually appeared, but no. I can't recall how good/bad the Puppet Master effects are with any certainty, but I REMEMBER them being pretty decent. And the Demonic Toys effects were above average for Full Moon as well. But they completely suck here. I don't know why they can't at least look AS GOOD as they did 12 or so years before, if not better, but there it is. Oopsy Daisy in particular is awful; they move the mouth around but the eyes remain stone still. And the Puppets are stop motion animated instead of CGI, so that's good, but the animation is usually poor, and the shots also run at a speed that seems far too fast.

Let's see, what else? There's a devil-demon thing that the sound editor gives a "WHOOOSH" sound every time he moves, even when merely taking a step to the right; a cute female cop that is seemingly charmed by Feldman's batshit puppet-maker; the death of one of the Puppets that is played completely straight... it's a mess through and through. My favorite bit has to be when Feldman uses a laptop. He is typing away furiously on the keyboard, but on-screen, the only thing that happens is the page scrolls down a bit. And yes, it's all supposed to be rather silly (it's not even R rated), but the problem is it's not, it's merely sad.

I wouldn't mind going back and watching the first few Puppet Master films again, but only for HMAD purposes. Otherwise, this movie, which should be a celebration of the two franchises, could conceivably kill interest in them for good, as it couldn't even meet my low expectations. Then again, the movie prominently displays the fact that it's a joint effort between Full Moon and the Sci-Fi Channel, so that's sort of like expecting good things from a poison that mixes cancer and AIDS.

What say you?


American Zombie (2007)

APRIL 25, 2009


It figures. Netflix instant view finally delivers an acceptable transfer, and the movie itself disappoints. To say nothing of the film's content, if everything looked as good as American Zombie did when streamed to my Xbox, I could see the service as being a valid option of watching films. I mean, it's still not as good as an actual DVD, but I don't expect it to be. I just want it to retain some detail, not skip around, and be in widescreen; all qualities this transfer possessed.

Unfortunately, the movie itself failed to deliver. I loved the idea of doing the umpteenth "zombies are an accepted part of the world" movie (I have worked on one myself, albeit a short film and not a feature) and playing it completely straight for once. To the filmmakers' credit, they don't go for any of the easy gags you would expect from all of the other movies (Fido, for example) that have approached the same subject. And beyond one of the documentary team members being a bit of a "racist" (he constantly asks the zombies about their eating of human flesh), there are no "evil humans" for once (a rarity in ANY zombie narrative, pseudo-real or not), which was also appreciated.

The problem is that the movie ultimately has no point. Throughout the whole thing, the zombies are pretty benign. There are about four that are followed in depth, and they're all sort of bland, which is the point. One works at 7-11, one is a typically batshit young Asian girl with cat statues all over her apartment, another is a middle aged weirdo (read: pretentious artist), and another is a zombie activist. They're all well drawn and all, but almost all of them eventually go "bad" and attack our documentary team and/or others. Yeah, and? They're fucking zombies! Who didn't see that coming? It's one thing for a film like Behind The Mask to turn into a regular slasher movie for the 3rd act, because it continued to act as a deconstruction, while still offering the things fans would expect from such a film. But the "zombie action" only amounts to about 2 minutes of the runtime here, not enough to carry weight, but more than enough to make you wonder what the point Gracie Lee and John Solomon were trying to make was. "Zombies might act normal, but in the end they will still kill you"? No shit! Next up, a revealing portrait of Vampires - they enjoy blood!

Another issue is that the film bounces between being a documentary, and being about a documentary. It breaks the "realism" (such as it is) whenever we see the filmmakers watching their footage, arguing about what they should be shooting, etc. Again, it just makes me wonder what the point is. It's not played for laughs, and the only way we can truly buy into it as "real" is to keep any filmmaking aspects out of it.

And it's a shame that it doesn't all come together, because there's some great stuff in here. I loved the idea of a zombie sweatshop, and also that there are three types of zombies (rotting flesh kind, basic human function kind (think Bub), and fully functional kind). Also, and this is I think the film's most interesting concept - the zombies have no recollection of their former lives or how they died. The 7-11 guy even illustrates various scenarios as to how he got the massive headwound that obviously ended his human life. Had the movie been entirely like this, trying to help a few zombies learn more about their human life, Lee and Solomon could have had something truly special. As it is, the new stuff it brings to the table doesn't justify the occasionally bland and ultimately schizo approach they took to the material.

Ultimately, it's not the worst movie of its type, but its certainly the most frustrating. There are glimpses of brilliance, and for the first half hour or so I was pretty excited about the areas that the film seemed to be heading toward. But as a wise man once said, the last five minutes of a film are what the audience will remember the most, and here, those final five minutes are pretty goddamn lousy. A shame, really.

What say you?


DVD Review: Hellraiser (1987)

APRIL 25, 2008


Anchor Bay owns the right to a great number of revered horror films, so it's no surprise that Blu-Ray support has been demanded from them ever since the format was introduced. And while some may wish they would be a bit less sporadic with their releases (where the hell is Hatchet?), you can't deny that they have done a superb job with the transfers, besting even some of the major studios' big ticket titles. At any rate, Hellraiser joins the growing club, and I am again satisfied with the quality of the picture/sound.

(I am not going to re-review the movie - you can read my thoughts on the film HERE. This review focuses on the new transfer as well as the extra features).

I've always thought Hellraiser looked better than the budget would have you believe, so to see it in HD was a treat. As always, I enjoy seeing the increased level of detail in smaller objects. Andy Robinson's sweater, the rat that Frank skins next to the bed, the wood on the floor where Frank is reborn... all of these things pop out to me now. I never even noticed, say, the pattern on Larry's sweater, but now I can see the actual fibers. Sure, this has zero to do with the movie, but it just gives you an example of how much added texture and detail you get with a Blu-ray transfer.

Now, to be honest, it does look a little softer than some of AB's other BR releases, such as Halloween. Perhaps the elements weren't as well preserved, or it was just that way to begin with, but a number of scenes, particularly daylit set ones, don't have that sort of nearly 3D vividness. Other scenes, however, like the first real appearance of Pinhead around the hour mark, look gorgeous. Again the detail is striking (the patterns on Pinhead's suit, for example), but also it has that sort of rich color and contrast that inspires people to switch to HD in the first place. It may not be a demo quality transfer, but it's a damn good one nonetheless.

I never got the 20th anniversary edition of the film, so most of the extras were new to me (there are no BR-specific features). Things start off with a trio of interviews that were created for the 20th anniversary release. The first is with Andy Robinson, and this is pretty interesting as you don't often hear from him on the film (as opposed to Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, and of course, Clive Barker). He explains his reasons for not doing the sequel (didn't like the script, but was willing to do it anyway until he learned he'd be getting less money to boot), and talks about the origin of the "Jesus wept" line. Next up is Laurence, who is a bit batshit at times, and seemingly bitter about her lack of an A-list career ("I found myself in strange European countries, talking to puppets" - not sure if this was for a movie or not). The 3rd and best is Christopher Young, who not only still has all of his marbles, but like Robinson, gets to tell a side of the film's creation we haven't heard ad nauseum from previous DVDs, Fangoria, etc.

The other extras are all quite old. There's the "Resurrection" retrospective from the previous release, an interview with Bradley from around 2004 (nothing you haven't heard), and the commentary with Barker, Laurence, and Peter Atkins. It's a decent enough track, but just about everything of note is covered in the other extras. There is also a "text trivia track", which just sums up the stuff in the commentary in quick little notes. So like, Barker will be talking about a scene that had to be reshot for technical problems, and will go in some detail about those problems, and the onscreen note just says "This scene was reshot for technical reasons". My advice? If you've seen the movie a bunch, just put it on for your first viewing of the Blu-ray. It's not very obtrusive, and it will save you the time of watching it again with the commentary.

Anchor Bay has also included the Blu-ray disc in a collection that comes in a large model of the Lament Configuration. You get 3 discs with the release: the Hellraiser 20th anniversary DVD, Hellraiser II 20th anniversary, and this Blu-Ray. Why anyone would want two copies of the film with identical extras, I don't know, but there you go. It's also a bit large (so the discs can fit), but the construction is nice, and the two parts fit together far better than their previous collector box (the Masters of Horror Season 2 skull). Region 2 gets cool shit like this all the time, so it's nice to see AB catering to the Region 1 fans (how bout getting that Phantasm Sphere set for us Americans?).

All in all, while it's not the type of release that would finally convince someone to upgrade to the new format, it's a solid package all the same. And if you only have the previous release (from 2001?) it's definitely worth the upgrade. Also, don't forget - sales of title A makes an HD release of title B all the more enticing to the powers that be, so get cracking!

What say you?


While She Was Out (2008)

APRIL 24, 2009


A glance at the cover art, back of the box synopsis, or even trailer for While She Was Out would probably have you believe that it was a modern spin on I Spit On Your Grave or whatever. You assume Kim Basinger’s mousy character is brutally attacked and/or raped, and then she finds her inner strength and gets revenge on her attackers. In theory, hardly a bad idea for a film, and it’s not like we often get an Oscar winner in this sort of thing. The problem is, they forgot the “attacked and/or raped” part.

Now, before I begin my rant, I want to make it clear that the idea of a strong woman in a thriller or horror movie is actually appealing to me. Look at The Descent for a great example - the main character not only stands up for herself against the monsters, but also the bitch who was sleeping with her husband. I cheered her on just as I would Bruce Willis or someone I could more readily identify with. And my favorite genre is the slasher film, 99% of which (and all of the best ones) leave it up to a lone female to take down the killer (often a male). But the difference between those movies and THIS movie is, the actions those women take are completely justified.

Here, however, the “bad guys” in the movie don’t actually DO anything to Basinger. After SHE instigates them by writing a nasty note about their parking habits, they pull up behind her and merely harass her a bit (even when she smacks one and shoves another, they never lay a hand on her in return). Then a security guard shows up and the leader of the gang (Lukas Haas) shoots him, practically on accident. So she drives away, and they chase her to a construction site, where they proceed to... yell at her some more. At this point, she turns a table that has not yet been introduced, and begins killing them all.

And she REALLY FUCKING KILLS them too. It’s not like she smacks them with a 2x4 and they fall down and hit their head or whatever. No, she stabs the shit out of one of them, partially immolates one with a road flare before shooting him point blank, and even drives a goddamn tire iron through one of their heads. All in retaliation for... calling her a bitch? And then it gets worse: she goes home, and as her children sleep peacefully waiting for Santa to come (it’s Christmas Eve), she presumably shoots her jerk husband in the face.

No, I’m sorry. I can’t condone her behavior in the movie (hence the Hero Killer tag - it’s a film where we’re supposed to root for the villain). The punks are just that, punks. Hell, even if the guy they killed (again, seemingly accidentally, but hell for the sake of argument lets say they did it on purpose) was a friend of hers I could see her actions being somewhat justified, but it’s just some mall rent-a-cop, one she was a complete bitch to in their one interaction. And the husband (Craig Sheffer!): OK, he was an asshole, but since the movie doesn’t have the balls to actually have him be physically abusive to her, it’s - again - hard to really cheer her actions on. And hell, he yells at her for leaving the house a mess... but she’s a housewife! That’s pretty much all she has to do! Is shooting him in the face on Christmas really the best way to get back at him for expecting to be able to walk around his home without tripping on like 17 toys? Have fun explaining to your children why their father is lying in a pool of blood next to their presents.

Also, the movie goes overboard with trying to paint Basinger as a loser. I already mentioned the messy house (and it’s REALLY messy, like borderline hazardous), but she also has a canceled credit card for some reason, and the girl at the coffee shop doesn’t spell her name right, and her only friends are the people in her various classes (yoga, mechanics, Spanish, I dunno, they rattle off like a dozen in a single conversation). So I guess it’s supposed to make us feel good when she stands up for herself? But no, it doesn’t - because a. it’s not justified, and b. she’s SUCH a loser that the movie practically has no choice but to give her a moment to shine. Wouldn’t it be a lot more interesting if she was a strong, independent woman who was REDUCED to her basic animal instinct to survive? At least then the movie might appeal to both genders; instead of (I presume) divorced secretaries with three cats and a mail order subscription to Ben & Jerry’s, and no one else.

Moral issues aside, there’s a lot of problems with the script in general. The gang of punks is hilariously generic: there’s one white, one black, one Asian, and one Latino, complete with references to one another’s race (the white guy is admonished for using the N word by the black guy - “You can’t call me that, you ain’t earned it yet!”). In fact, pretty much all the dialogue is terrible, with everyone speaking in broad generalities rather than sound like a human being (when Basinger runs into an old college friend, she says “I haven’t seen you since college! You ran off and got married to that dreamboat husband!”). And where the hell are they? They seem to live in a very populated area, yet as soon as something bad happens, everyone else in the world seems to disappear.

And it’s a shame, because everything that’s wrong with the movie is script-based. Otherwise, there’s actually a lot of promise here. Basinger is in fine form (and has lost almost none of her attractiveness - hard to believe Batman was 20 years ago), as is Haas as the “villainous” Chucky. Susan Montford (forever in my good graces for producing Shoot Em Up) is also an impressive first time director; even with the banal generic-ness of the script (which she also wrote), she manages to wring some suspense out of the proceedings, and keeps the pacing up despite the film taking place more or less in real time. I also dug the eerie opening credit sequence, which features some crude children’s drawings over a simple but effective main theme. And the gory deaths are a nice surprise, though again this is mainly a result of the fact that they are not justified. Had there been an actual attack on her person (Christ, even a punch in the face), I’d feel more comfortable rooting her on and cheering when she delivered a killing blow. Hell, this movie makes me afraid to give a woman the finger when she cuts me off in traffic; if she has seen this movie she might think it’s OK to turn around and chop my goddamn head off.

The DVD comes with some standard extras, including a making of in which everyone fawns over how great everyone else is, with the exception of Basinger, who comes across as completely batshit insane as she says things like “There’s one scene that I found quite ‘Wow!’ as it went along because it took its own form and made up its own self...”. Montford and producer Don Murphy also provide a commentary, in which neither of them seems to notice that their rape-revenge film is missing a key ingredient. Murphy at least mocks a few of the more ridiculous moments, and also echoes my sentiments about the film’s inordinate number of executive producers (“I’ve never even heard of these two”), one of whom is Guillermo Del Toro, for some reason. The disc also opens with a trailer for something called Lower Learning, which isn’t horror but promises Eva Longoria knocking back vodka and Monica Potter telling a little kid to go fuck himself, so I’m already declaring it a great film.

What say you?


Pigs (1972)

APRIL 23, 2009


I had never heard of Pigs (original title: Daddy's Deadly Darling) until a few weeks ago, when Devin from CHUD told me about it. His synopsis made it sound right up my alley, roughly: "A girl kills her dad after he rapes her, and then she feeds people to pigs". As it turns out, that wasn't exactly accurate, but it's close enough, and would pique my interest even without HMAD.

Also - back to the original title... what the hell is with all these "Darling" movies of late? Devin told me about "Pigs" when we were on our way to see Julie Darling, and while there I won a copy of Daddy Darling. They all focus on inappropriate relationships between a father and daughter as well. However, this is the only one with pigs, so it gets the edge.

And for those who may be turned off by the father stuff, don't worry - it literally only lasts 12 seconds of the film. A delightful old woman hears a scream and says "someone should do something about him!", and within a second or two we see a girl stabbing someone. The next shot uses the most blunt newspaper headline of all time ("Father rapes daughter, dies of stab wounds") to fill in the gaps. So by the 30 second mark or so, the father is dead and the actual movie can begin. So to dismiss the film for it would be like dismissing a Friday the 13th movie due to the Paramount logo.

Once I discovered that the title was changed (I checked IMDb about halfway through my viewing), I felt better about the film. Of course, seeing rampaging pigs would be ideal, but it's not the filmmakers' intent to make a killer pig movie - the (re-)title is just the result of someone trying to sensationalize their little horror movie. And that's fine, because at least the pigs are a major part of the movie and it isn't spoiling anything by promising them. It's not like we're in Jason Goes To Hell territory here.

One thing that should strike a chord with any viewer is the soundtrack. In addition to some wonderful folky songs at the beginning, there's also a very creepy main theme that plays throughout the movie. Sometimes it is "la la la"ed by a female (or young boy), other times it's just instrumental, but it's always slightly unnerving. I was dismayed to discover the complete lack of a soundtrack listing on the IMDb, but I CAN tell you that the score was composed by Charles Bernstein, probably better known for his Nightmare On Elm St theme (which it slightly resembles, now that I think about it). I know soundtrack collectors pay exuberant prices for these type of things, but this is the rare occasion where I could see the value, if one even existed.

I was often reminded of Haunts when I watched this movie, for a couple reasons. One, it focuses on the possible mental breakdown of the lead female character. Two, it has a lot of male characters that end up dead, whether they are scummy or not. Three, the whole creepy incest angle (in Haunts, her uncle had some strange familial behavior). Hell, the shitty print even resembled one of the Chilling Classics offerings (and I want to note that this was definitely a poor print and NOT a bad Netflix/Xbox connection matter - the Troma logo at the top of the film looked fine). And like Haunts, its the type of movie that works better if you approach it as a psychological drama with some light exploitation traits, instead of an outright horror movie (the titles in both cases don't help much in that regard).

Back to the quality - the print has the strangest glitch I've ever seen in a film. On several occasions, you will see a second or so of the film sort of repeat itself. However, the soundtrack does not follow suit - if there's music or something over the "loop", you can easily tell that it has not been affected. Not sure what the hell could have caused it, but it was awfully strange. It may just have been a glitch in the stream itself, where the audio was playing properly and the picture occasionally had to skip to get itself back in sync, but again, I've never seen such a thing (and again, for once the Xbox/Netflix stream seemed to be of respectable quality).

Also, the movie features Marc Lawrence (who also wrote and directed) as the sort of bad guy. He's got one of the best voices on the planet; it was actually how I recognized him (from Foul Play), so whenever he talked I was happy. This was his final film as a director/writer, despite the fact that he continued to work as an actor for another 30 years until his death in 2005. It's a shame he didn't at least write more films - he's clearly got a unique voice. It's not every day you see a movie with man-eating pigs AND mental institutions.

So if you go in expecting killer pig action, you probably won't enjoy it. If you go in expecting a strange little movie about a woman with some pretty severe issues towards men, then I think you will enjoy it. It's not the best film of its type, but its a minor gem all the same.

What say you?


Mutant Chronicles (2008)

APRIL 22, 2009


I have long been a vocal supporter of seeing films theatrically whenever possible (I've seen both of the direct-to-DVD Rest Stop films in theaters, for example), but I opted to take in Mutant Chronicles at home for free rather than shell out 10-14 bucks to see it in theaters this weekend (I also skipped the film's premiere last night, but that was mainly due to general exhaustion and the insane heat we were experiencing). There are two reasons for this: one - I'm kind of broke as of late, and need to save money wherever I can. And two - It looked like shit.

Now to be fair, the film was made for about 1/3 the money it should have cost, and had gone through so many false starts and on/off directors (including John Carpenter at one point), it's almost impressive that the film was completed at all. But that's also part of the problem - it doesn't actually FEEL completed. It's obvious that a Sin City/Sky Captain look was aimed for, but Simon Hunter is no Robert Rodriguez/whoever directed Sky Captain. It's not enough to "look cool", you have to direct the film with as much panache as you would had everything been practical, and Hunter has failed to do that.

For a movie with mutants, vast wastelands, steam powered airships, and a whole lot of violence, it is inexcusably short on memorable sequences or even shots. In fact, I can only think of two memorable scenes: one in an escape pod that is hurtling toward the ground, and another is a sword fight set in an elevator that is also hurtling toward the ground. These scenes (ironically confined to tight spaces and thus pretty short on visual effects/greenscreen wizardry) are exciting and fairly unique, but they only make up about 3 minutes of the 100 minute film (note - the IMDb claims a 111 min running time, not sure if that's inaccurate or if the US release has been shortened). The rest is given to generic war/action movie cliches, poorly shot/edited fights, and lots and lots of blood that looks like someone just drew on the negative with a red crayon. It's unclear if this is Hunter's fault or simply an unfortunate side effect of the compromised budget, but either way it's a massively disappointing execution of what should have been a kick-ass movie.

Especially when you consider the cast. Tom Jane and Ron Perlman are ringers for any number of genre films, so to team them up should produce gold. You also have John Malkovich on hand for a few minutes, and uber-cute/proven ass-kicker Anna Walton as the female lead. Unfortunately, they are saddled with screen vacuum Devon Aoki, an actress who really should be locked inside a vault at the Sci-Fi channel, lest she sink another promising production. We also have Benno Fürmann, an actor I actually like who is sadly relegated to some of the worst movies I have seen (The Order, Princess and the Warrior, Speed Racer...). This isn't as bad as those piles, but it's yet another movie he should leave off his résumé all the same.

The problem with all of these actors, good or bad, is that they never get anything interesting to do, and thus often seem bored themselves. Jane is a guy I will watch in anything, because he has this old-school sort of charm, plus he's obviously nuts (ever see him on a panel during a convention? Oh my!). But he seems bored out of his mind here, and Perlman is a bit below par too (Malkovich isn't in it enough to really resonate). Then again, how much excitement can you expect any actor to muster when asked to carry out the 9 millionth "rogue soldier declines to join a team on a secret mission, only to change his mind and stroll in halfway through the meeting in which the mission is discussed" scene?

Speaking of cliché, almost every single character in this movie dies more or less by their own hand, in order to save the lives of their friends. At least three of them blow themselves up, so by the time the 3rd guy does it, it hardly packs any sort of emotional punch. Also, it's worth noting the film's (likely) unintentional racist approach to killing folks off: the first three guys to die are the black guys on the team. The next to die are a pair of Asians, followed by a Mexican. Most of our Caucasian characters are eventually killed too, but it's funny how they are carefully spared until all of our minorities are dispatched.

So is there anything to recommend? Well, the production design and such is pretty impressive; the establishing shots and such look pretty awesome as long as there aren't any badly composited bored actors in the shots with them. And the mutants are pretty fearsome; they're not in the movie as much as I was hoping for (i.e. pretty much every shot as opposed to the reality of a half dozen attack scenes) but they are effectively vicious and numerous. And Tom Jane's character has a keyring made of fallen squadmates' dog tags, which is a nice little touch. And while unintentional, I liked the fact that a group called Bauhaus is in control of about a quarter of the world. I picture a few goths sending out armies of shitty goth kids to invade smaller countries and it's an awesome visual. Certainly better than anything on display here.

If you absolutely loved the visual style of Sin City or Sky Captain (or The Spirit I guess), then you will probably want to check this one out, if for nothing else than to see how this type of film should NOT be done. Those expecting a kick ass post-apoc film should stick with Doomsday or even I Am Legend, both of which deliver far more thrills while not wasting their respected stars.

What say you?

P.S. If anyone is questioning the film's "horror" status - it's gory as hell, has MUTANTS (aka monsters), and has been covered extensively on horror sites such as Bloody-D and Fangoria. It counts.


Curse Of The Devil (1973)

APRIL 21, 2009


Though I hear the name a lot, my only exposure to Paul Naschy was from his role as the titular role in School Killer, a middling slasher movie from a few years ago (i.e. a long time AFTER his heyday). So I chose Curse Of The Devil (Spanish: El Retorno de Walpurgis) for my real introduction to the man, as he also co-wrote the film, which is often cited as one of his more memorable efforts.

I assume those folks are correct, for this is a pretty good werewolf movie. It follows the Wolf Man formula pretty closely (though he is directly cursed due to his family name, not given the curse by another werewolf), so I was rarely surprised by any of the plot developments (the final shot has a wonderfully silly/awesome setup for a sequel though). However, it IS an early 70s horror movie, which means it tells the tale in a wonderfully gory and occasionally sexy manner.

The gore is of the red paint variety, but there's plenty of it. And the werewolf is pretty non-discriminating with who he kills: other dudes, younger women, old folks... everyone gets mauled to death here. Thus, this movie has a much higher body count than I was expecting, which is a definite plus. I've seen this story so many times, but often in older films (read: ones that lack gore or even onscreen kills), so it was nice to get an updated version, albeit one before the CGI era that, as far as I'm concerned, killed the werewolf movie for good.

See, moreso than any other horror subgenre, the werewolf movie needs a good transformation. For a vampire movie, as long as the fangs look good, you're covered. And zombies just sort of turn green for the most part - not a lot to work with there. But with werewolves, you need to really sell the transformation, which is a huge part of why American Werewolf In London has endured - the transformation scene is amazing. Nowadays they just use morphing programs in a computer to do it, and it always sucks. So personally, while nothing pre-AWIL can measure up, I'd rather the usual sort of "fade from one stage of transformation to another" sequence that this film employs than any bullshit CGI monstrosity. Yeah, it's not going to win any technical awards, but its got a certain charm that CGI can never muster.

The other nice thing about the movie is the unabashed nudity. I'm not a big skin guy, but there is something inherently awesome about a woman disrobing and approaching a man (her sister's fiance, in fact), practically demanding sex. And his attempts at refusal are pretty hilarious - he at first rejects her, only to walk a few feet away and sit down in his bed. Really putting up a fight pal. And then he transforms into the wolf and kills her once the act is done, which is even more awesome. Fuck your sister-in-law, and dispose of her before she pulls the "I'm telling my sister about us" card that has ruined so many such affairs. I'm guessing if guys in the real world could turn into werewolves, there would be a huge increase in the number of deaths among younger sister-in-laws. And because he's the film's hero, he is of course instantly forgiven by everyone, including the sister (he's also killed her dad, another thing she readily chalks up to "it's the curse, not you" - she is seriously the most understanding woman in the world).

The movie also contains one of my favorite inadvertently hilarious lines in recent memory. After a number of murders, Naschy tells his fiance that she should leave "this awful place", and suggests she go to Budapest instead. Given that Budapest served as a primary shooting locale for Underworld, I found this pretty amusing. "Go get killed by a different werewolf!"

The only issue I had with the film is that it's fairly inept in the technical areas. The sound is atrocious at times; crackles and pops are heard more often than not, sometimes practically drowning out the dialogue. Director Carlos Aured's attempts at day for night are pretty laughable, which also render some scenes confusing (he's worried about turning due to the full moon, but it seems to be about three in the afternoon). And the editing is haphazard at best, particularly in the first reel or so. After a prologue that takes place hundreds of years ago, we get a brief "modern day" scene before flashing back about 6 or 7 years - none of this is explained via a title card or anything*. Scenes often end or begin with characters in the middle of a conversation, and things like establishing shots are in short supply as well. I don't expect some sort of Oscar-caliber filmmaking from these movies, but even with that in mind, the work here is substandard, marring an otherwise fun and somewhat unique take on the story.

The only extra on my DVD is a pair of trailers, which as always with these older films, give pretty much everything away. The DVD also contains both the original Spanish as well as an English dub, which is nice as many of these "cult" DVD releases only offer one or the other. Obviously I prefer the original language, but if I'm starting to get sleepy, it's nice to switch to English and "rest my eyes".

What say you?

*I later discovered that this is like the 4th movie in a loose series featuring Naschy as the character of Waldemar Daninsky, so maybe this would have been more clear had I seen the others. At least, I think they are related. Maybe "Waldemar Daninsky" is just Spanish for "Walter Paisley".


Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)

APRIL 20, 2009


Back when I re-watched the original Tremors in December of 2007, I picked up the "Franchise Collection" on DVD, which contained all four films in the series (the TV show was not included). I had only seen Tremors 2: Aftershocks, when it first came out on VHS, and I didn't remember a goddamn thing about it then, So I certainly don't remember anything now, a year and a half later, when I finally got around to opening the damn DVD package.

Tremors 2 was, if memory serves, one of the first DTV sequels to a theatrical movie from a big studio (the DTV Darkman sequels may have came first, I can't quite remember), which is the only reason that I bothered to watch it back in 1996. Back then, it was a novelty, and possibly even a sign of quality. Surely, Universal wouldn't farm out one of their properties for some cheap cashin! Nor would two main cast members return (this would also be the first of many DTV sequels to Kevin Bacon films in which he did not appear, see also Hollow Man 2 and Stir Of Echoes 2)! So was my reasoning back then. Nowadays, fuck, not only do these type of things get cranked out every month, it's more of a coincidence than anything else if they have any real connection to the original films of their respective franchises.

So needless to say, it's a step above what an audience today might expect from a DTV sequel. Sure, it doesn't even come close to the original, but the production value is decent, the laughs more or less work as intended, and even though Fred Ward and Michael Gross are the only returning characters, it still feels like a traditional sequel - there have been theatrically released sequels that didn't retain the original's spirit as well as this one does, and that is worth lauding.

But there are two problems that are tough to ignore. One is that the film was clearly designed with Jurassic Park (and its CGI marvels) in mind. The giant graboids that caused so much trouble in the first film are dealt with far too easily and quickly, so the film can get on with its real "stars" - the above ground, walking, raptor-esque mini graboids. Not only are they less interesting, but the limited effects capabilities keep them from really doing much. Late in the film, they presumably stage an all out attack on Burt's truck, but we only see the aftermath.

On that note, the other problem is the noticeable lack of monster fodder. There's only I think two or three kills in the entire movie. And that would be fine if there were a lot of folks to put into danger, but other than those deceased (one of whom is simply the opening scene victim, a monster movie staple), the only other folks are our heroes: Ward, Gross, the love interest for Ward, and the comic relief/Bacon replacement. In short, four people who you know will survive. One of the things I love about the original is that there was a low body count, but a high number of possible victims. It made all of those scenes more suspenseful, because there was a chance that those people could die. Here, not so much; the film definitely could have benefited from more human characters - whether their characters would have died or not would be up to the director and writers, but at least it would have given the movie some options.

Here's what I would have done, if I was the writer or director and absolutely had to have the mini-graboids I'd have Earl and the new guy chasing just one or MAYBE two of the old-school graboids for the first 45 minutes, running into problems and such. This would lull the audience into a false sense of "This is just a remake of the original". Then, just before they are about to kill the graboid around the halfway mark, BAM! The little ones are born, surprising the audience in the process. As it is, you know that something "different" is coming, because they are killing the giant ones with such ease, barely ten minutes into the film.

Luckily, as I mentioned, the humor is retained. There are a number of great sight gags (love Burt's mounted graboid head), and the love interest is a nice touch for Earl, since he didn't get to indulge in such things in the original (I admit to going "awww" at the cute little moment where they sneak a glance at each other's asses). And Christopher Gartin is a reasonable enough replacement for Kevin Bacon; some of his slapstick-y moments I can do without, but it's nice to see that he isn't playing a clone of Bacon's character - it gives him and Ward a different repertoire than the one between Ward and Bacon, which would have been disastrous.

The effects are also good. Maybe all of the Sci-Fi originals I've endured has lowered the bar for what I expect, but both the big graboids (mostly practical) and the smaller ones (mostly CGI) look pretty good, save for the occasional poor compositing work. We never see one of the big ones in whole this time (most of them are represented solely by their exploding guts spewing from a newly-made hole in the ground (i.e. from dynamite).

The DVD, not really surprisingly, has nothing beyond the trailer. It's also a severely dry looking transfer - the colors are muted and thus rather bland. Maybe it's a stylistic decision made by the director and/or DP, but I don't think that is the case here. But for approximately two dollars, you can own it and see for yourself.

What say you?


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