Horror Reviews

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

DVD Review: The 'Burbs

Review by Kristin Battestella

Who hasn't seen The 'burbs, honestly? Tom Hanks' 1989 spooky comedy has laughs, star power, and a few scares to boot. Twenty years after its debut, The 'burbs continues to provide a tongue in cheek look at the horrors or suburbia, and it's entertaining, too.

Unassuming Ray Peterson (Hanks) suspects his new neighbors of foul play. The Klopeks don't mow their lawn and stay out of sight. When fellow neighbor Walter (Gale Gordon) goes missing, neighbors Art (Rick Duccommun) and Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) unite with Ray in investigating the seemingly sinister Klopeks. Of course, Ray's wife Carol (Carrie Fisher) just wants a nice simple vacation.

Hanks is perfect as everyman Ray. Younger fans who know Hanks more for his recent dramatic roles and Oscar winning performances (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump) will delight in his subtle comedy. Bosom Buddies fans, naturally, will love more from Hanks early comic genius.

Although Hanks is clearly the star of the film, the supporting cast completes The 'burbs. Without his fellow Corey Haim, Corey Feldman stands strong as Ricky-the punk of the block who aides the men in their quest. His asides and commentary of events as they unfold are still hysterical after many years and many viewings-partly because of Feldman's delivery, but also due to the sharp writing of Dana Olsen (Hit later with George of the Jungle, missed with Inspector Gadget.)

Post Star Wars Carrie Fisher plays the sardonic straight well with Hanks. As a child, I thought the public's impression of Fisher was incorrect. (My hair was long enough to twist into those God awful buns mind you.) Perhaps, not as successful as fellow Star Wars alum Harrison Ford, Fisher still worked in film through the nineties, and her performance here showcases her comedic range. In recent years, Fisher has become a best selling author and script doctor.

Bruce Dern has several perfect physical comedy moments. His military toys are unique props, as is his young and prissy wife Bonnie (Wendy Schaal). The scene where the two women take control and knock on the Klopek's door is just right, as is our long awaited introduction to the Klopeks. The brownies; the pretty girl that “came vit the frame”; the sardines and pretzels-all classic touches that will have you watching The 'burbs again and again.

Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, and Courtney Gains play the spooky, un-neighborly Klopeks to a T. Although I've seen them all in other films, I always think, “Oh, He's in The 'burbs!” Their dry humor, innocent send ups, and final come to blows with Ray, Art, and Rumsfield never get old.

As much praise as I have for The'burbs, the film is not without its faults. The clothing and sets are mid eighties textbook-bad hair, wallpaper, and all. Ray's dream sequence has grown tiresome in recent years, and some of Art's dialogue I can do without. Modern audiences nursed on special effects might also find The 'burbs lack of major effects upsetting. For The 'burbs, it's not in the time, the place, or the effects. The movie's subtleties and veiled commentary on suburban life are its strengths.

Director Joe Dante's message that crazy neighbors are everywhere-especially in the seemingly blissful, perfectly mowed suburbs-is unfortunately not that far from the truth. In my own South Jersey community alone crime is on the rise. Today, some upstart filmmaker would tackle The 'burbs as a serious horror film with all the blood and gore our desensitized minds can take. Dante here smartly made The 'burbs an all out comedy-even though it does have a few genuine spooky moments.

Sure I saw it as a kid, but Ray's early glimpses of his crazy neighbors gave me the creeps. The bees nest, the ambiguous trash scene, even the 666 address of the Klopeks and the infamous femur bone. Swift attention to detail keeps The 'burbs smarter and more intelligent that today's sophomoric send ups. Simple uses of music cues, lightning effects, and dark camera shots keep this seemingly inept comedy fresh and in audience's mind long after your last viewing.

The 'burbs is a rare horror comedy (Horrody?) that the entire family can still enjoy and continue to enjoy for years to come. The presentation works on all levels-script, acting, direction-and is an extremely affordable DVD. A quality film that won't break the bank, food for thought, and a few jumps in your chair, who knew these gems could be found in a Corey Feldman movie?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

DVD Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Review by 42nd Street Pete

2008, with Ron Pearlman, Selma Blair & others. Directed by Guillermo De Toro.

Should have been called Hellboy Goes to Pan’s Labyrinth. So many damn monsters that’s its overkill and just flatlines the whole thing. Add the fact that Hellboy starts to sound & act like Herman Munster when he’s around Blair. Another potentially great franchise shot to hell.

DVD Review: Pistol Whipped

Review by 42nd Street Pete

2008, starring Steven Segal and Lance Henriksen Directed by Roel Rene
If grind houses still existed, this would be at the bottom end of a triple bill. Former wife beater, now bloated beyond belief action star Segal looks fuckin' horrible in this film. The only reason I picked it up was because Lance Henriksen is in it. He’s only there for about 2 minutes, showing good career sense. Segal has always needed good co stars because he has the charisma of a dead toad.

Why this fat fuck has any fan base is beyond my comprehension. He has been paired with Gary Busey, Tommy Lee Jones, Pam Grier, William Forsythe, and other good actors because he sucks. Just ask William Forsythe what a dick he was to work with. I thought he was out of the business because he rolled over on some real “wise guys” a few years ago. Then he was co starring with a bunch of black rap & hip hop stars because on his own , he could draw flies.

This is your standard ex cop runs up huge gambling debt, mystery mans buys the debt and puts Stevie to work killing bad guys. Did you ever see a fat martial artist , except Sammo Hung, who could move fast? Steve just waddles through his fight scenes while his opponents sell their asses off for him. I bought both of these DVD's pre-viewed for $5 each and that was $9.99 too much.

DVD Review: Monster

Review by 42nd Street Pete

2008, staring Sarah Lynch & Erin Sullivan Directed by Erik Estenberg.
This was supposed to be better than Cloverfield? Sticking that palmcorder up my ass for 90 minutes would have been more entertaining than this piece of shit. Ok, I’ll say it, fuck Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and this handycam piece of shit. No more POV films, please. It’s done, the format sucks, we pay to see monsters, not two sisters arguing for 90 minutes. You see a bunch of tentacles at the end of the film. That’s it, your payoff after 90 minutes of tedium. This movie sucks. End of story.

Monday, December 15, 2008

DVD Review: Exorcism of Emily Rose

Review by Kristin Battestella

Exorcism movies are few and far between-I can only think of a handful of films minus the weak Exorcist sequels. 2005’sThe Exorcism of Emily Rose is the most recent theatrical release dealing with possessions by you know who.

Laura Linney (Congo) stars as hot shot lawyer Erin Bruner. She’s won several high profile cases, and her firm promises to make her a partner if she takes on Father Moore’s (Tom Wilkinson) intriguing case. The church doesn’t want any bad publicity, and Erin reluctantly defends the Priest accused of murder during the exorcism of Emily Rose.

The exorcism is uniquely contained entirely in flashbacks and court testimony, a very intriguing concept from director Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno). Instead of an opening exorcism movie and a closing court room drama, the two are merged together. As witnesses recount Emily’s experiences, Erin also begins seeing things and having disturbing dreams. The storylines go hand in hand on some points and jar at others. Who is the film for-horror enthusiasts or Law and Order Junkies? Still, I liked the unusual style better than a thinly stretched exorcism movie with a confusing legalese sequel.

Linney holds her own Erin Bruner. The character actress does alright, but the trouble is her jack of all trades performances. She is neither horrible or stand out here, as in The Life of David Gale and The Truman Show. In what film has Laura Linney stolen the show? I don’t mean it as a knock, but any actress could have filled the role, and a bigger name might have given the picture more notice. Perhaps it was Derrickson and his handling of the dual performance? Is Erin a confident lawyer or a jittery and spooked girl?

Likewise we don’t see much of the film’s titular Emily Rose as played by Jennifer Carpenter. We meet her just before her troubles being-and everything from epilepsy to her evil big city college is blamed for Emily’s horrific episodes. Carpenter (Dexter) is rather run of the mill and thinking back, I’m not sure if she has any considerable dialogue of her own. Others say what Emily said, and her letters are read in court. More should have been given to Emily. The audience waits like the jury onscreen, hearing character witnesses describe Emily’s terrible condition and torturous exorcism. In this instance, the movie’s set up has backfired. We don’t really care about Emily. We can’t sympathize with her because we don’t really even know her.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose’s saving grace is Tom Wilkinson’s Father Moore. He is the character on which the film is rightfully centered. We know enough early on to realize evil bad, priest good. We want him to win the case and prove his exorcism beliefs justified. Based on his position alone, we believe his version of events to be true. Wilkinson perfectly hits the balance between the mission of truth and the anguish this whole sequence of events has caused. I’ve seen him previously in comedic films like The Full Monty. We like him despite the weight of the situation simply because Moore is a likeable guy.

The relationship that develops between Erin and Father Moore is also a highlight. Erin becomes his lone jailhouse parishioner, and when evil makes its presence known to her, Father Moore is there with information and confidence. His claim that 3 a.m. is the devil’s hour, a perversion of Christ’s 3 p.m. crucifixion, is the creepiest piece of info given. Now when I wake up during the night, I refuse to look at the clock.

Relationships could save The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but what little effects are given could have been better. I prefer the ‘what you don’t see’ method best, but Derrickson shows too little and gives us nothing new. Cliché invisible forces crushing and slapping Emily around are too weak compared to any Exorcist film. Now let’s face it, a lot of horror films and especially exorcism films will always be compared to that 360 head spin and split pea soup vomit. The Exorcism of Emily Rose doesn’t measure up.

Again I come back to the split personality nature of the film. Looking at the effects and lack of scares, The Exorcism of Emily Rose isn’t really a horror film. Then again, intelligent law watchers will think the exorcism flashbacks ridiculous. Religious audiences might enjoy the moral and faith debates presented, but the ethical scenes are few and far between. A mature young adult church group might enjoy a good analysis of Emily Rose, but kids and prudes should avoid the naughty possession scenes. The only scene I found scary was Emily’s initial demonic encounter. Alone in a dorm hall at night any number of horrible things can happen. Pseudo rapeage by invisible evil I suspect is the worst.

We picked up the unrated version of The Exorcism of Emily Rose for a fairly affordable price, but the DVD had little to offer beyond one incomplete deleted scene. For exorcism collectors, the set is a must have, otherwise it’s hit or miss for horror or court room audiences.

In the end, smart performances cannot save The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and mainstream audiences are likely to label the film as my mother did, “Stupid.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

Of Darkness

Review by Matt Molloy

Plot Summary:

While cleaning out their recently deceased grandfathers belongings, Brian & Jeff Chaisson inadvertently stumble upon an ancient book; one of mysterious and malevolent origin.

Later that same evening, while entertaining friends during a sleepover, Jeff unveils the recent discovery in an effort to impress the group. Seizing the opportunity, the gang uses the book as a scare tactic against their favorite target and youngest member, Charlie.

Succumbing to peer pressure, and the trusted reassurance of his older brother Tank, Charlie opens the book and unwittingly unleashes a malicious entity. An unseen force that has chosen to target the boys...an evil that has chosen the form 'of Darkness'.

This is by far the best indie film I've seen. A brilliant concept that left me with chills! Of Darkness is proof that a horror film doesn't need a masked killer or tons of gore to be terrifying, the fear of the unkown can be much worse. This is twenty minutes every horror fan should experience. You'll be sleeping with the light on after you see this film!

DVD Review: The Lost Boys

Review by Kristin Battestella

So you have to be an eighties baby to even remember who ‘The Coreys’ are, but the 1987 vampire fest The Lost Boys is worth remembering. Directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Diane Wiest, and of course, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, The Lost Boys strength is not in its stale effects but in its memorable characters.

Divorced Mom Lucy (Diane Wiest) moves her sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) from Phoenix to Santa Carla, where the boys have a tough time adjusting to Grandpa’s (Barnard Hughes) rules. A Comic enthusiast, Sam makes friends with comic store clerks Edgar and Alan Frog (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander). The Frogs insist St. Carla is swarming with vampires, but Sam doesn’t believe them until Michael becomes involved with Star (Jami Gertz). Star, David (Kiefer Sutherland) and their pals sleep all day and party all night, and Michael is deceived into their wicked ways. When Sam tries to tell his Mother, he interferes with her new romance with video store owner Max (Edward Herrmann).

Well, its been twenty years, so I don’t remember what kind of reception The Lost Boys received at the box office, but the cast was at the time all-star. Some like the Coreys have fallen to drugs and the pressures of fame, but in the late eighties and early nineties they were the Tom Cruise of teen flicks. Hits like License To Drive and Dream A Little Dream catapulted the Coreys to fame. Likewise Kiefer Sutherland was making an early mark in films with bad guy roles here and in Stand By Me (One Corey was in that one, Feldman.) The Lost Boys succeeds because its well rounded cast gives a feeling of realism. Unlike pretty vampire films like Interview With The Vampire and Underworld, this teen vampire gang and the boys in its web have parents, jobs, and authority with which to deal.

When summarizing the story, there isn’t much beyond the usual vampire fair. Someone is suspected of being a vampire, someone is a vampire, vampire gets good guy under his spell, conflicted vampire helps in big vampire overthrow finale. Whew. The Lost Boys has all of this, but Schumacher finds the line between taking the film to seriously and being able to laugh at itself. Memorable scenes from all the actors showcase each’s range, and the script offers lovely moments of humor and real life to keep the vampires in perspective. From Corey Haim’s bathtub serenade to pot smoking Grandpa’s insistence that ‘If you have a TV Guide, you don’t need a TV.’, The Lost Boys keeps it light without becoming ridiculously humorous like forgettable eighties vampire flicks Once Bitten or My Best Friend Is A Vampire.

Where its needs to be light, The Lost Boys plays up the Coreys, but when the film turns dark, it can get very dark, even frightening. Naturally, Kiefer Sutherland and his biker brood seem alluring to Michael at first, but after David’s true nature is revealed to him, things become very hazy. The infamous ‘Maggots, Michael. You’re eating maggots’ can be funny, but the ambiguous imagery and haunting pop score add a dark undercurrent to the film. When the vampire killing begins and the blood sucking action goes all out, its very easy for the audience to root for Sam and The Frog Brothers’ rescue of Michael, the tormented vampire Star, and the peculiar child vampire Laddie.

There’s no doubt that in 1987, The Lost Boy’s style and effects were at the forefront of Hollywood. Even with restoration to DVD, today these vampire action scenes can look, well, hokey. The flying vampire scenes seem artsy and avante guarde like other colorful Schumacher films, and the vampire booby traps don’t seem as inventive as they did then. But of course, if anyone else tried filling a bathtub with garlic and holy water, everyone would know it was copied from The Lost Boys. Just like the scene in which Sam and The Frog brothers try and prove Max is a vampire by putting mirrors about the dinner table, many of the hijinks here made a stamp on the vampire genre. It doesn’t mean they are perfect today, but that’s not the point either.

Vampire fans looking for more story than CGI should pick up The Lost Boys on DVD. The single disc is affordable and the more recent Two Disc Special Edition carries its fair share of extras-including the standard deleted scenes, commentaries, and documentary features. Younger fans who enjoy the stylized Underworld type might not like Boys, but if given the chance, new audiences will relate and appreciate what’s trying to be said. Rated R, The Lost Boys has sexuality, violence, and scares that are too heavy for tweens or younger. If you have a spooky youngin, edited airings of The Lost Boys can be found on cable. The important thing is to not let the idea of older production values hinder your viewing experience. The Lost Boys is a must for any budding vampire enthusiast.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

DVD Review: Wolf Creek

Review by Kristin Battestella

We bought Wolf Creek not knowing anything about the film besides what the blurb on the back cover. 3 friends go exploring in the Australian outback, and bad things ensue. That’s good enough for me!

It took a few minutes adjusting to the Australian accents and dialogue, but the exotic locale is part of the film’s charm. (Close captioned subtitles that include birds chirping are not, but I digress.) Debut director Glenn McLean shoots some lovely Outback scenery and landscapes. His setup, attention to detail, and real characters give Wolf Creek that road trip coming of age feel. This mood and the fact that Wolf Creek is based on true events help the film achieve more than today’s other run of the mill slasher flicks.

When British vacationers Liz and Kristy (Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi) set out to see the Wolf Creek Crater Park with Aussie friend Ben (Nathan Phillips) all seems fun. After the breathtaking experience of hiking the crater, the trio finds their car dead. Low and behold, the seemingly lovable Mick(John Jarratt) comes along and offers to help the stranded tourists. Of course, Mick has a penchant for automotive torture not seen since the likes of Leatherface and his chainsaw. All the horror clichés are here. You’re not supposed to follow the creepy Bushman in the middle of the Australian desert, just like you aren’t supposed to go down the into the dark basement. We know something bad awaits this group, but we are captivated and eagerly watch the doom unfold. Naturally I’ve never heard of any of these people, but the acting is spot on.

Two girls and one guy-they are all friends, but there’s naturally some sexual tension. In the opening scenes, all three party and have questionable encounters. They are real and complete people, and it is totally refreshing to see Mclean take the time to develop them as such. Somehow we expect all three to make it, and when they don’t, it’s heartbreaking. The audience knows it’s all a bad idea. You yell at the TV the whole time-telling Liz to find a damn weapon. You know they cannot possibly escape, but the sadistic fortress of Mick is enough to make you root for anyone. Get the heck out of there!

McLean writes, directs, and produces his debut here. He makes expert use of the Australian locales-yes for their stunning beauty, but also for their wildness and danger. Many parts of Australia remain unexplored, so indeed this true story of a sadistic Crocodile Dundee gone wild is absolutely believable. Like Hannibal Lector or even the real life Natalie Holloway mystery-I can suspect something like this happened to her. This reality is more terrifying then any pretend monster. I feel bad for the tourism authorities in Australia. If I ever go there I sure as heck won’t be straying from Sydney.

Wolf Creek scares the outback out of us just like Deliverance squealed us away from the south.I purchased the unrated DVD, so I am unsure where it differs from the limited theatrical release. I’m also not sure which version was screened at Sundance, where McLean was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. I can imagine more gore and offensive language is added, but even then the obscenities aren’t extreme. These Aussies seem to use the f-bomb more than most, but I would too in their situation. Even Mick’s gore house isn’t loaded with excessive blood and body parts. Kristy wears enough blood and staggers just enough to imply bodily harm-and Mick’s talk of rubbers grimly sums that up for us. Just enough leftovers adorn his lair. With Wolf Creek, again it’s what you don’t see that makes it stand out and rise above.

Not for the faint of heart or children by any means, Wolf Creek is for fans of the beautiful and the horrid-if that makes any sense. If you can’t remember the last time you saw an intelligent horror film, then Wolf Creek is a must see.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

DVD Review: Pieces

Review by 42nd Street Pete

1981, Directed by Juan Piquer ( J P Simon) Starring Christopher George, Edmond Purdom, Linda Day George, Paul Smith and Jack Taylor. DVD by Grindhouse releasing.

Hot on the heels of their groundbreaking Cannibal Holocaust DVD comes a restored and remastered version of one of the sickest splatter films of the 80’s, Pieces. This was one of the last bloodbaths to play on 42nd Street. What it lacks in continuity, it more than makes up for in outrageous bloodletting.

A chainsaw wielding killer is decimating girls at a private school. The killer takes little souvenirs of his victims. Who is the killer? The hulking gardener? The Dean? A deranged student? Or maybe one of the girls? I’ll never tell.

This is a two disc set with some excellent extras. A shitload of trailers, liner notes by noted gorestorian Chas. Balum, great interviews with director Juan Piquer and Paul Smith. The Smith interview is worth the price of this set. It is one of the best that I have ever seen and Paul covers almost his entire career here. How he broke into the business in Exodus. How he fought in the Six Day War. He also covers how he was cast in Popeye, Dune, Midnight Express, Sonny Boy and many others.

This may be my pick for the best DVD release of 2008. It is a must have for many reasons. The transfer is excellent and it’s the uncensored version. Kudos to Grindhouse Releasing for this one.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Låt den rätte komma in (Let The Right One In)

Review by Ray Dowaliby

Directed By Tomas Alfredson

Visually stunning, eerie, emotional, bloody and better off left alone. These are my 2 cents.

I've heard quite a lot about John Ajvide Lindqvist's Vampire screenplay and thought that the film couldn't possibly live up to my own anticipation. I was sadly mistaken. Oskar has to deal with the daily ridicule an average outcast has to take on a daily basis in the hell we call the school system. Like most of us geeks he dreams of doing his tormentor in.

Then he meets Eli. We see the awakening in him and it just sucks you in from there. I don't want to give away any real story points but this is not True Blood or Twilight. This is a film that reminds me of Kubrick or even Cronenberg. Every frame is shot with intense subtlety, if there is such a thing. The pace is more in the vein of Kubrick with the stylization of Cronenberg, and the delivery from every actor in the film is more than convincing.

Now...I urge everyone interested to watch this film in it's original Swedish form. There is no need to miss this and wait for the American remake. This is a stand alone, incredible film. I'm not saying don't see the remake but support the original.

I give this film my highest rating and look forward to comparing the original with the remake. If J.J. Abrahms and Matt Reeves have a hand in it, well....I think it might have a chance.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

DVD Review: Disturbia

Review by Kristin Battestella

On the Memorial Day matinee whim, we took in the teen thriller Disturbia. Only a handful of folks were in the theater, and the show’s PG-13 rating had me thinking second thoughts. Can you make a quality horror film in this day and age without a solid amount of blood, gore, sex, and language? While not for the hard core creature feature enthusiast, Disturbia fits the bill for its targeted teen audience.

Troubled teen Kale (Shia LeBeouf) is still struggling with his father’s death one year after the fatal car accident. Teachers and even Mom Julie (Carrie Ann Moss) can’t seem to reach Kale, and after things get violent with his Spanish teacher, Kale is forced to spend his summer under house arrest-ankle bracelet and all. With no TV or video games, Kale has a tough time with his inbound status-until he begins observing his neighborhood. The ruthless tots on his block, the affair across the street, the new cutie Ashley (Sarah Roemer) next door- Kale and his best pal Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) begin to suspect lawn mowing neighbor Robert (David Morse) of being the serial killer on the news. When Robert takes an interested in his mom, Kale takes his voyeurism to the next level.

Two problems with Disturbia right off the bat. One, I really hope kids don’t try at home what they see in this movie. The high tech binoculars, camera set ups, internet instructions, etc. are not meant to be emulated, but must serve as the technical means for Kale’s plans. Second, the bi polar storyline works for and against Disturbia. On one hand, the film is an excellent coming of age story-even if it is the trouble teen, issues, yada yada cliché we’ve all seen before. But in addition to this very real and well played drama, we have Kale’s mission to find evidence against his psychotic neighbor. Which storyline is meant to dominate? If Director D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives) isn’t sure, how can the audience be?

Written by Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth, Disturbia spends most of its time on Kale’s coming to terms with his situation. The lengthy establishments in the beginning don’t feel like such, but not everything put down is fully explored either. In order to spy on Ashley, Kale must venture into his dead father’s office. We have one sad, reflective scene, but soon after Kale is timing his watch and bringing in the popcorn. It wouldn’t be so bad if we have character and development, then move on to the scary bits, but the two stories are interweaved together. Kale spies, Ashley wanders over, they spy, Kale and Ashley fight, Kale and Ronnie go to creepy neighbor’s house, Kale and Ashley make up…Oiy! If Disturbia was fifty percent boy meets girl then fifty percent save mom from killer perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, its not, and I’m unclear the point Caruso and company are trying to make. These storylines should have been two separate films. I mean, what really, do they have to do with each other?

Disturbia’s bright spot, however, is the cast. Carrie Ann Moss is somewhat wasted, and after such success in The Matrix I wonder why she took such a thankless role? Still her wit is on form, and the relationship with Kale works. I had no clue who he was before Disturbia but LeBeouf was everywhere at the theater, in the Transformers trailer and possibly the new Indiana Jones film. The chemistry with newcomer Sarah Roemer is there, and it was a pleasant change to see an Asian in the best friend role-even if the sidekick part is also thankless. Action veteran David Morse (The Rock, The Long Kiss Goodnight) is perfect as the murderous neighbor. Disturbia would be unwatchable if Robert was unbelievably played. Morse sells the mid life crisis charismatic psycho. Imagine what the cast could have done if they had a clear plot in mind.

The cast keeps each scene watchable, you like them and root for the positive outcome, but the pace of Disturbia is as uneven as its bipolar stories. We get a voyeuristic suspense scene with shades of Rear Window followed by a teen angst scene more like Can’t Hardly Wait. Deathly crimes with a crazy neighbor won’t wait for midnight confessions. Its unrealistic and jerks you out of what little rhythm is established.

Disturbia doesn’t have the gore young audiences have made popular with the likes of Saw or Hostel. Its the sets and looks that fit the mood of the film. Disturbia takes itself seriously, which makes it one step above Eerie, Indiana. Parents needn’t worry about dropping the kids off at the theater for this one, and maybe this would be a nice DVD to pick up for a family night in a few months. Unless you have a child prone to house arrest with nothing to do, Disturbia is a fine teen thriller. Young folks will take the action, babes, and chills for what its worth, but there’s little in Disturbia to disturb.

DVD Review: The Ninth Gate

Review by Kristin Battestella

I liked Pirates of The Caribbean- when I finally saw it. Although Johnny Depp was an eighties and nineties teen idol through vehicles like 21 Jump Street and Cry Baby, I am bemused to see his face on book bags, toys, even waffles in Captain Jack fame. Despite his recent family friendly pictures, Depp’s body of work lends itself to the macabre and dark with films like Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride and mature features such as Blow and From Hell. In 1999, the talented Mr. Depp starred in The Ninth Gate. Not for Pirate fans, indeed.

Oscar winning director Roman Polanski directs Depp as Nick Corso-a rare book dealer whose reputation precedes him. Corso is summoned by Boris Balkin (Frank Langella) to inspect his collection of rare books on the devil-in particular the Nine Gates of The Kingdom of Shadows. Only Three exist, and Balkin fears two are forgeries. He commissions Corso to go to Europe and compare the books-finances are no object.

During his investigation, Corso questions the “dishy” Widow Telfer (Lena Olin). Her rich old husband sold her Nine Gates to Balkan one day before he killed himself, and Telfer even takes Corso to bed in her quest to reclaim the book. Corso’s life is threatened repeatedly, and after Corso meets with the other two owners of the Nine Gates, death follows. A mysterious woman (Emmanuelle Seigner) helps Corso and they solve the puzzles within the books’ engravings. When all nine of the original engravings-supposedly drawn by Lucifer- are united, the devil himself will appear.

The film opens brilliantly with the suicide of Mr. Telfer. It’s an odd way to start a film-to begin with death- but Polanski’s opener works. The opening credits and score by Wojciech Kilar (The Pianist, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) are equally haunting, and everything in the film truly progresses from this moment. Depp’s first scene as Corso is also delightful. He scams a family out of a rare book set, and thus Polanski and Depp instantly establish the lack of Corso’s innocence. Corso starts out as greedy, selfish, ambitious, but he soon becomes obsessed with the Nine Gates.

Depp’s mannerisms and dress also swiftly convey his duality and the duel nature of evil itself. He knows all the top European hotels, dresses fine, speaks French-there’s no doubt of Corso’s intelligence. He is however devious, an underbelly scam artist-when Corso’s only friend dies, Nick takes the hidden Nine Gates and leaves his friend strung up and dead. The three owners of the Nine Gates are incredibly wealthy and fortunate, and Polanski reiterates the idea that the devil is luxorius, tempting, enticing and you must sell your soul to obtain such powers. As Nick comes closer to the truth about the Nine Gates, Depp’s appearance changes. He gets dirty, wet, beat up. He wears broken glasses. His refined exterior is stripped away, and Corso’s true nature is revealed.

Some parts of The Ninth Gate are very heavy and dark. Depp’s quirky sarcasm, however, keeps the feel light. The film is set mostly in Europe, giving it that devilish, upscale feel. The use of foreign language is accurate-it’s nice to see a director that acknowledges not everyone everywhere speaks English. The locales are beautifully showcased, and this use of real locations reinforces the spooky possibilities of the film. The books and buildings are old, very old, ancient, ancient as evil.

For a relatively quiet foreign production, The Ninth Gate also boasts several well known supporting names. Frank Langella and Lena Olin are perfect as the rich, classy, aging gracefully socialites worshipping the devil. Each thinks his or her interpretation of the Nine Gates will summon the devil-some of the craziness they go to for their beliefs is a bit humorous, but Polanski and the old school actors expertly convey a level of real life creepiness. Both Balkin and Telfer point fingers at each other’s money and power, and the audience is left with the creepy notion that we must all play with fire, candles, orgies, and pentagrams to achieve success.

Barbara Jefford as the third Gates owner Barroness Kessler is the lone voice of relative reason. She warns Corso the devil isn’t child’s play, and she left the secret society surrounding the Nine Gates after the club degraded to sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Unfortunately, the Baroness-like the previous respectable owners of the Nine Gates before her-meets a bitter end.

Although the intelligence of the film is in its puzzles and performances, the action leaves something to be desired. The deaths are unique and impressive, but Depp’s not an action star-at least not here. This supports the idea that Corso is a bit of a slimeball, but it makes a few stunts seem somewhat silly. It’s ironic that Corso is the guy we’re rooting for. As naughty as he is, he’s the good guy compared to Balkin and Telfer. Corso appeals to the audience with intelligence and emotion and relatability-Nick is the closest one to a normal guy.

The engravings and picture puzzles in the film are also extremely smart, and they look authentic to the viewer. More than just the hidden pictures found in Highlights, Depp sniffs the paper and ruffles the pages-he takes the research approach to the Nine Gates. First time audiences will double take at the scenes featuring the sketches up close. The calculations in the book can only be appreciated with repeated viewings.

It took me several viewings to fully realize the mysterious woman helping Corso. Billed only as “The Girl”, Polanski cast his wife in the ambiguous part. Everywhere he goes, Corso spots the girl appearing and disappearing. Whose side is she on? Corso never has to tell her anything, yet she knows everything about the Nine Gates-and she wears odd socks. Corso names her Green Eyes, and what little special effects found in The Ninth Gate center around this woman. Pay attention to those eyes. The first time I saw The Ninth Gate, I thought the girl was an angel.

I don’t know much about Polanski’s exile due to his charges in the US. I didn’t make it through his Oscar winning turn for The Pianist, and off hand I can only recall Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown. From my limited examples, however, it seems as if Polanski is an actor’s director. Along with his Best Director Oscar, he brought a Best Actor performance from Adrian Brody for The Pianist, and since The Ninth Gate, Depp has gone on to an Oscar nomination himself.

The Ninth Gate benefits greatly from its source novel by Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte. All the movie’s smarts lead to a triple decker spiffy ending. Is it Telfer’s orgy that brings about the Prince of Darkness or Balkin’s fire and brimstone? The revelation discovered by Corso is unexpected, and it leaves the audience thinking about The Ninth Gate long after it’s over.

With an R rating, this DVD or video is not meant for children or the prudish. Although the film is thoroughly about the devil, The Ninth Gate is a tale about caution and evil, not like great yet indulgent films such as The Devil’s Advocate. Still, religious audiences may be offended by the ritualistic scenes and the nature of the Nine Gates book.

For macabre yet stylized film fans, The Ninth Gate is a must have with repeat viewings. Fortunately, the film is slightly foreign, a few years old, and just right for the bargain bin. Perfect for a devilishly good night at home.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Repo! The Genetic Opera

Review by Fallon

How much you're going to love Repo! The Genetic Opera might have something to do with how much you like Evanescence. Or if you're just willing to own up to all your guilty pleasures, without shame and remorse, and, if you go see Repo! with your friends, no conscience for their own enjoyment. That being said, of the five people I saw Repo! with, I was one of two that dug it.

The movie is going to bring the snark, and that's what you have to accept. In fact, I might even pity someone who takes this movie seriously and loves it with zero irony. Regardless, let's start with the good. And the plot.

Set in the near-future, GeneCo has a monopoly on the organ transplant business. The only problem is people can't afford all the transplants they're buying. Here in comes GeneCo's Repo Man, to slice these bill-skipping degenerates up and reclaim their organs. On the peripheral is Shilo Wallace, a shut-in seventeen year old, and her father, the Repo Man himself (unbeknownst to her). On the GeneCo side of the story, we've got a power struggle as the GeneCo founder, Rotti Largo (Paul "the man" Sorvino) wonders which if his jackass children he should leave the company to – Luigi (Bill "ChopTop" Moseley), Pavi (Nivek "Skinny Puppy" Ogre) or Amber Sweet (Paris "Power Bitch/Sex Tape Extraordinaire" Hilton).

Now for the good.

You'll like the opening title sequence. And for that matter, the film's climax. The last thirty minutes of the movie really roll.

There is great gore. For a lot of horror fans, I think this could be enough to save the movie. That, and the undeniable originality of what director Darren Lynn Bousman has done here. Also, Terrance Zdunich, the Repo! writer, who also has a pretty sexy (or very sexy) role as the Grave Robber, has probably stepped up to be someone to watch for from now on.

Paris Hilton fucking KILLS in this movie. Personally, I love the "House of Wax," remake, find it perfectly campy, and think Paris would be genius to keep doing stuff in this niche. Bousman says he himself had skepticism even letting Paris read for the part, until he was totally slayed by her audition.

In fact, all the Largo siblings steal scenes. Moseley is expectedly awesome, but Nivek Ogre almost steals scenes out from under him. Check it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6KvKajYenE.

Here's the bad. Please dwell, if you will, on the word "Opera" in this title. Nearly all of this film is in song, and nearly all of the songs sound the same. Some work, others – like Shilo's rebellion song against her dad, a real Avril Lavigne inspired number – are just the pits. I lost count of the times where the majority of the audience had their head in their hands at what seemed like pure embarrassment at either bad lyrics, bad scoring or off-beat acting.

I don't think there's any worth in saying Repo! fails at times from plain, old melodrama. That might be missing the movie's point. But something's off. Maybe it's the complete sincerity every character operates under, that make characters like Shilo, seem completely without wit. I'm willing to turn a blind eye and write off a lot of things as fun-bad, but Repo! can get so monotonous that it has forays into BAD-bad.

Everything being said, Repo! is the sort of horror-hybrid best suited for open minded fans. If your number one priority when watching a horror movie is to be a hard-on for movies from the 70s, then just accept this one isn't for you, and stay away. This isn't striving to impress the hardcore fan base with a misplaced legitimacy, or posturing as anything other than what it is. And what it is… is a musical. With a ton of blood, cyberpunk costumes, fresh story, and dark atmosphere. Guaranteed better than Sweeney Todd, but maybe not the cult movie you hoped for.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

DVD Review: Rob Zombie's Halloween

Review by Kristin Battestella

I’ve been mulling over my thoughts on Rob Zombie’s new Halloween remake for days. After finally taking in the horror update at the matinee, my feelings remain mixed. This version of Halloween is not for everyone.

A host of familiar faces appear for musician turned director Zombie’s fourth feature film. Zombie’s wife Sherrie Moon stars as Deborah Myers, a stripper struggling with a drunkard abusive man, slutty teen daughter, and young son Michael-who likes to torture small animals. After one too many taunts and insults, masked Mike kills the school bully and murders his family on Halloween. Psychologist Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) works with Mike Myers at a mental institution, but when he breaks free 15 years later, its up to Loomis to stop Mike from repeating his Halloween rampage- and finding his now grown baby sister Laurie (Scout-Taylor Compton).

Zombie’s remake both rises and falls on the actors involved. Moon is perfect as the do gooder stripper mom, and young Mike Myers actor Daeg Faerch is also stunning. His silent looks and creepy eyes sell the sociopathy of young Mike. The strength of the film is in its extended opening sequences. Unlike John Carpenter’s original 1978 Halloween, we have the time to explore what makes Mike do what he does, how it effects his mother and others around him.

I would have preferred the movie stay this way, but unfortunately we jump to teenage Laurie and her friends dying in gruesome, sexy ways. These boys and girls are a dime a dozen, and after the build up of unusual attachment to Mike Myers, the audience cares little for these expendable boobs. Compton cries, screams, and makes all the wrong moves for a horror movie. Not only is she a far cry from Jamie Lee Curtis, but this girl looks ugly when she wails.

The supporting cast helps give Halloween its edge more than the sex and nudity. Brad Dourif as Sheriff Lee Brackett and Danny Terjo as Orderly Cruz give a sense of credibility to the production, and perhaps Zombie should have again veered from the original film and brought more to these adults. Perhaps it would be intriguing to see how adults respond to the sex and death these teens put up with, how an adult would deal with the psycho killer. Sybil Danning and Dee Wallace are also used all too briefly in key scenes that are surprisingly well scripted.

Zombie veers none from the essential elements established in the original Halloween script penned by Carpenter and Debra Hill, yet the redressed ending leaves much to be desired. Where the extra Michael opening was oddly fascinating, I couldn’t wait for the Laurie versus Mike Myers ending to be over. Overlong, near constant screaming in dark dirty places, Zombie is certainly appealing to slasher fans of yore, but mainstream audiences won’t be impressed.

Rated R for lots of language, sex, and nudity, Halloween offers little scares or gore. Zombie shoots odd angles and plays with light versus dark effects, but in a franchise where this is essentially the ninth film, there’s little to spook anyone. I suspect its more about what looks cool or sexy-even though I didn’t find anything particularly sexy either. It’s a horror movie. You do it, you’re done in! Our theater showing had about twenty people, and I wasn’t the only one voicing predictions or commenting how stupid the characters seemed.

Zombie should have taken Halloween more on the dark psyche established, instead the film deteriorates into fan boy sex and visuals. Certainly there’s an audience for that, but Halloween had more intelligent potential than just a slasher movie. Pity.

DVD Review: The Visitation

Review by Kristin Battestella

The cover looked cool and it was quasi religious-that’s how we came to purchase The Visitation. Edward Furlong and Kelly Lynch star in the 2006 Independent thriller from director Robby Henson and novelist Frank Peretti.

Martin Donovan stars as Travis, a minister who has lost his faith since his wife’s murder. Fellow minister Kyle (Randy Travis) encourages Travis to get involved when strange sightings around the quiet town of Antioch occur. Mysterious prophetic men appear and disappear, and new veterinarian in town Morgan (Kelly Lynch) is healed. Her rebellious son Michael (Noah Segan) quickly falls under this powerful spell after a freaky near fatal car accident. When Brandon Nichols (Edward Furlong) finally arrives in Antioch, all the women in town fall into his group. But to Travis and atheist Morgan, Brandon is not the messiah he appears to be.

It wasn’t Furlong’s ambiguous portrayal that spooked me, but his here and there again disciples are the freakiest things since Julian Sands in Warlock. They kill Travis’ dog only to resurrect it; they give words of wisdom around town-not the help the people of Antioch, but to sway them in Brandon Nichols’ favor. When the trio stake’s out Morgan’s home , the window apparitions are downright creepy. My bed is currently next to my window, so the thought of sadistic long haired demonic angels pacing a foot away from my head definitely gave me a few bad dreams. Well…okay nightmares so bad I woke up with my heart pounding. Not a lot of films can do that!

Edward Furlong’s acting as the second coming in The Visitation, however, leaves much to be desired. He’s good at being bad, but Furlong doesn’t sell the charismatic leader well. He’s known as a Hollywood bad boy, so right from the start we know Brandon’s up to no good. After his true intentions are revealed, Furlong does little to gain sympathy for his character. His acting hasn’t grown much beyond Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but director Henson (Thr3e) smartly focuses elsewhere. Furlong isn’t the star of the film, Travis Jordan is. We relate to his story far better, and Donovan (Weeds) shows his angst well. We know his vibe; because he thinks something is fishy, so do we. Likewise, we understand Kelly Lynch and Morgan’s struggle and doubts. Traditional fans or country enthusiasts might wish to tune in for Randy Travis. The crooner’s portrayal of the Billy Graham like Pentecostal leader in town is steadfast as the voice of reason in Antioch. His character is integral to the film, and perhaps there should be a touch more of him.

The convoluted story in The Visitation, however, does need some fine tuning. We receive Nichols’ back story a little too late, but it’s double tied and redundant. We are meant to sympathize with him, but the herky jerky abuse flashbacks don’t plant the seed well enough for us to imagine the horrors endured. It’s as if screenwriter Brian Godawa thought something on Nichols was needed, but I’m not so sure it was.

Initially I thought this was a horror movie, so I was surprised to find it online in a Christian catalogue. Henson’s movie is about the awesome, tempting, too good too be true power of the devil, the costs of said power, and the dark half of human nature that Satan needs. Looking all bad and Warlocked on the outside, The Visitation is really a very serious religious film about faith. The moral dilemmas in The Visitation are swift and complex. Morgan is the anti-Christian who is saved by the Bible given to her from Kyle Sherman. When Travis is tempted by Nichols in his cultish revival tent, it’s incredibly easy to give in. Everyone else has, but Travis holds fast to his supposedly lost faith. Even when he discovers his wife’s murder is directly involved with Nichols’ plan, Travis does the right thing. Brandon Nichols, unfortunately, puts his faith in Satan and his spooky angels.

I would also label The Exorcist as a quasi religious film like The Visitation. As is the case here, we witness the deceiving power of the Prince of Darkness. Both films are equal parts horror and religion. Where The Exorcist scares you witless, The Visitation wins on what you can’t see. Contemporary Christian teens will love the struggles in The Visitatio and perhaps its source novel. The mock crucifixions, however, are too frightening for kids or prudes. The point here is your religious choice. Could Nichols have chosen Christ over the Devil? The Visitation makes the audience think on this also. Can we?

With precious little effects and solid acting, Henson puts out a serious moral film just as much along the lines of Elmer Gantry and The Apostle as The Exorcist. Henson could have easily created an effects laden gory, all the stops out, wow is the devil show. Thankfully, he didn’t. The Visitation is for horror fans, religious groups, devout young adults, and all the skeptics alike. Regardless of where you’re coming from, The Visitation is worth the watch-and the nightmares.

Friday, November 7, 2008

DVD Review: The Hitcher

Review by Kristin Battestella

Who didn’t love to hate Sean Bean when the English actor first came onto the US radar in 1992’s Patriot Games? Following with another villainous turn in the initial Pierce Brosnan Bond flick Goldeneye (1995), it is no wonder American audiences didn’t begin to appreciate the versatile actor until Bean’s understated performance as the ill-fated Boromir in The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Always popular overseas as Napoleonic hero Richard Sharpe in the British television series of the same name, Sean Bean’s most recent high profile American picture was this winter’s The Hitcher, a remake of the 1986 Rutger Hauer yarn about a psychotic hitchhiker who trails innocents and frames them for his crimes. Directed by famed music video helmsman Dave Meyers, The Hitcher boasts production support from mega action chairman Michael Bay (Armageddon, The Rock) and Matthew Cohan-who also fronted the edgy and popular remakes of The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (as well as the sci-fi flick The Island-also starring Bean). Unfortunately, The Hitcher failed to further shiver mid January movie going audiences. Incredibly short at under 1 hour 25 minutes, The Hitcher might have been over priced for theaters. Do however, look for the recent DVD release in your video store’s sale bin.

Now back to Sean Bean. Despite being a horror enthusiast, I wouldn’t have picked up The Hitcher for rising stars Sophia Bush or Zachary Knighton. Even cult favorite Neal McDonough (Star Trek: First Contact) was a pleasant surprise, but I won’t kid you-I bought The Hitcher for the 48 year old Bean. Once considered by fans as the most beloved Hauer film, The Hitcher now belongs to Sean Bean.

The Hitcher’s story begins when college cuties Grace Andrews (Bush) and Jim Halsey (Knighton) take off across the American Southwest for Spring Break-in a classic 442 no less. Unfortunately, after encountering seemingly pedestrian hitchhiker John Ryder (Bean), their lives quickly turn to carnage, terror, and high speed pursuit. Ryder initially attacks the couple, but they manage to escape him- only to find he has killed others and is framing them for his rampage. New Mexico State Police Lieutenant Eldridge (McDonough) pursues Grace and Jim-who look more and more like the killers with every turn.

I have to admit, I first though Sophia Bush to be one of President Bush’s daughters! Young starlets are so interchangeable in Hollywood today, and the B horror flick is often where new names perfect their death scene antics. The One Tree Hill star does hold her own here in the otherwise all male cast. Of course she looks the pretty for the part, but Bush carries an untraditional edge and non-blonde bimbo look that fits the ballsy chick here. Nothing against TV guester Zachary Knighton, but his performance was a dime a dozen. Screenwriter Eric Red was smart to turn this version’s focus on Grace-as opposed to the original’s hold on C. Thomas Howell’s Halsey. It’s 2007, yet Knighton’s look harkens back to the nineties grunge and skater style. I didn’t find it attractive then, and I certainly don’t believe this Jim will be the star of Spring Break any time soon. Whether it’s poor skill or by design, here Jim is a limp fish next to Bean’s Ryder.

While not exactly a sex symbol in the US in his day, Bean’s psycho turn here is nonetheless the most attractive thing in The Hitcher. Yes he’s older now, and well, he does have a big nose, but Bean’s command of these college kids is evident from the moment they almost hit him on the road. The complexity of Ryder-who is he? Where does he come from? What does he want?- is more interesting than seeing if Grace and Jim make it. It’s a horror flick-we know someone isn’t going to survive-but in some part of the back of your mind, you want that tawdry ending where Ryder walks off into the sunset to nab another wayward couple.

Although I expected the film to be billed as ‘And Sean Bean as The Hitcher’, he is rightfully given top billing, followed by Sophia Bush. He’s twice her age-old enough to be her father-yet Bean and Bush (hee) have some interesting chemistry onscreen. Maybe as a woman it’s the fear of rape, or perhaps its my one to many viewings of Bean in the steamy Lady Chatterley, but I was routing for physical action between these two for the duration. You can’t have a rugged, mean Bean and a short skirted Bush without some rough potential. Meyer does give the audience a fine balance of hints and foreplay and lots of f-bombed dialogue. Kudos also to whoever decided to give Sheffield born and bred Sean an American accent. Knowing his true and definitely British accent is being hidden here adds to Ryder’s creepiness. If even that isn’t true about Ryder, what else is there lying there, waiting?

While I haven’t seen the Rutger Hauer version of The Hitcher in some time, the 2007 version reminds me more of Stephen Spielberg’s early road rage classic Duel. Bean’s performance is akin to Duel’s crazy and dubious tractor trailer more so than Hauer. For myself, Blade Runner is the creepy Hauer flick and Ladyhawke is my favorite of his films. Hauer’s most iconic moment in The Hitcher, however, now belongs to Sean Bean. The ‘late model black thunderbird’ car chase and shoot ‘em up has even my honey rooting for villainous Bean.

I’m a bit tired of remakes and sequels, and it’s a double edged sword to know The Hitcher is in Matthew Cohan’s line of horror revisits. On one hand, the story is very familiar, but then again, Cohan and his team have seemed to perfect the art of maintaining the best of the original and infusing it with modern filmmaking. The visuals and creative deaths in this Hitcher could not have been done in the eighties. Lighting, however, seems to suffer for Meyer’s fast paced music video style. Sometimes The Hitcher is almost too dark to see anything. Sure maybe it adds to atmosphere or mood, but we want to watch the action in the creepy desert jailhouse. Equally jarring is Meyer’s cuts to outside action. Beautiful open desert shots have even the actors noticeably squinting.

Another place The Hitcher misses more than hits is its somewhat low body count. Indeed perhaps it is even too short for its own horror/car chase genre. Near the end of the film, I found myself missing ensemble horror road trip films- where one by one the nobodys and bimbos are picked off. It might have been interesting to see Grace and Jim with a buddy couple who meets their end courtesy of John Ryder-or perhaps that scenario could have put the film beyond believability. The Hitcher is also partially undone with its over simple dialogue. Some of it is really great-Eldridge’s hick cop banter and Ryder’s ambiguous one liners bring humor and food for thought, but our couple utters too many cries along the lines of ‘What does he want? Why is he doing this?’. Even the bullseye gem ‘I’ll be back in 15 minutes’ makes a cameo.

Although The Hitcher came and went in theaters, I expected the DVD release to have more features than it does. There’s an up close segment on Knighton and his definitive bloodfest scene, plus a detailed behind the scenes look with the complete cast and crew. For fans who want to know the ins and outs of all the car stunts-here it is. I was, however, disappointed with the deleted scenes and alternate ending. Outtakes would have been a real treat, but instead we get four different versions of how one hotel room scene could have gone down. Indeed deleted scenes are usually deleted for a reason, and the way that hotel room scene is finalized in the film is the superior outcome. The alternate ending was a little over the top for theaters-as the cover promised-but not nearly as extreme as it could have been. The highlight of the features for me was Sophia Bush confessing she was really afraid of Sean Bean!

If you don’t like spooks, cars, and gore, then The Hitcher is not for you. Are there scarier and more gory horror films out there? More serious and hard core action, high speed thrillers? Of course, but you can’t find solid acting and character complexity in Jason X. Perhaps what is the creepiest thing about The Hitcher is that this kind of road rage can happen and does happen. This film is a must see for Sean Bean fans or Sophia Bush lovers. Perhaps the question is not to purchase this DVD, but rather what would you do if one of the S.B.s was thumbing for a ride on your street?

DVD Review: Psycho

Review by Kristin Battestella

Everybody’s heard of Psycho-and like The Sixth Sense, even if you haven’t see it, most people nowadays know Psycho’s twist ending. Today’s visually desensitized young adults cannot fully appreciate Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece even though it has become the grand daddy of slasher films. Oft emulated but never equaled, Psycho needs to be re watched with vigor anew.

Anthony Perkins stars in the Hitchcock thriller as Norman Bates, a quiet and lonely young man who befriends Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) while she spends the night at the Bates Motel. Wishing for a respectable life with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin), Marion steals $40,000 from her boss and sets out for California. Following Marion’s trail is her sister Lila (Vera Miles) and Detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam). All come to suspect Norman, the Bates Motel, and Norman’s mother- the innocent Mrs. Bates.

Under Hitchcock’s direction Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates to the T. Forever typecast by Hollywood and fans alike-we still can’t separate Perkins from Bates. The actor himself was conflicted and confused sexually, and Perkins gives this genuine emotional conflict to Norman. The way he cleans up after his mother, stays on in an empty motel-we feel bad for Norman the moment we meet him. Likewise Janet Leigh plays the good girl gone bad. Even though Marion’s at odds with the law, we open the film in the middle of her situation. We see her plan and prepare, yet we want her to get away with it. When Lila and Sam come calling for Marion-we root for them as well. We care for each, fear for them or of them-the audience relates to each character, regardless of their standpoint in the spectrum.

No one is filler or miscast. Even though Vera Miles has played the tough cookie in films like The Searchers and other early television westerns, and Janet Leigh the sweet tart in Bye Bye Birdie- the women are perfect as sisters. Even though Sam is Marion’s lover, we see him more with Lila. The underlying chemistry between Miles and Loomis hints at something more. As simple as Psycho can look on screen, everything from the actors to the props is multitasking.

Oscar winner and suspense king Hitchcock intentionally made the film black and white-a cringe worthy concept to today’s effects happy filmmakers. Using the film crew from his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and good old fashioned film making ingenuity like chocolate syrup for blood, Hitch stuck to Psycho’s $1 million budget. There are no effects to speak off, just swift camera angles and perfected lighting techniques. Multiple actors were used to keep up the illusion of Mrs. Bates, and the attention to detail regarding costumes, props, and sets is top notch. Psycho perfectly captures the early sixties in every detail. The bullet bras, poofy dresses, even Norman’s taxidermy isn’t taken for granted. Those stuffed birds, of course, allude to something else.

Based on the book Psycho by Robert Bloch, Psycho benefits greatly from sound source material and screenplay work by Joseph Stefano. It’s intelligent, yet light at parts. Innocent yet dark, modern imitators don’t have the psychological complexities of Hitchcock’s work. Today, some may find the story slow, but the first hour sets up the unraveling yet totally explained and satisfying ending. After Psycho premiered in theaters, Hitchcock demanded no one be seated after the start of the film in order to preserve the suspense. Every word is timed perfectly onscreen, every shot, every scene says something-not a frame is wasted in Psycho.

Several scenes in Psycho are so iconic and oft imitated or parodied that audiences forget the original. Gus Van Sant’s 1998 inferior and useless homage remake of Psycho stars Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche. The color recreation is almost a frame for frame imitation of Hitch’s original. Can you name another film that has that kind of backward flattery? Psycho’s infamous shower scene is genius in its editing, illusions, and it did for the bathroom what Jaws did for ocean swimmers.

Psycho and its score by Bernard Herrmann are the best music marriage since Gone With The Wind. Composer of other Hitchcock scores as well as Citizen Cane and The Day The Earth Stood Still, Herrmann’s haunting strings aren’t a hum-able tune, yet everyone knows the theme when he or she hears it. Herrmann’s score fits Hitchcock’s layered suspense and sixties mood. Long after you’ve watched Psycho you hear those strings in the shower and in your sleep.

Psycho’s undoing is its audience’s inability to forget and be surprised again. Today’s information hounds have been spoiled by sub par sequels like Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986) , and a prequel Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990). Unlike most low budget or obscure old flicks waiting to be rediscovered, the stalwart Psycho has never quite left the public eye. Despite previous acting prowess in Friendly Persuasion and Fear Strikes Out, Anthony Perkins will be forever associated with this role-Perkins played the alter ego Norman Bates nearly up until his death in 1992.

My VHS copy contains a short making of featurette. The set was fun, but Janet Leigh actually spent very little of the shoot with Perkins. Deeper documentaries on Hitchcock, Perkins, and the film are available and filled with trivia and antic dotes. Collectors should definitely upgrade to DVD for restored picture, sound, and additional documentaries and insights.

Deemed too gory, shocking, and risqué at the time, Psycho will not loose its iconic status-despite the popularity of gory, gimmicky, and quick fix films. Detailed, intelligent suspense thrillers will always have an audience. Psycho’s bonus is its duality-quiet, simplistic onscreen, yet complex and full of optical illusions.

I fear not only a lack of appreciation for fine horror films like Psycho, but also I wonder if modern teeny boppers and fans of bloody horror understand the nuances presented? While Psycho is gore free, the spooks might still scare kinds under 10. Truthfully anyone with a heart condition should avoid Psycho. If you’re new to classic films, old movies, or Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho is a must see. Study it and appreciate it thoroughly.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

DVD Review: Elvira's Haunted Hills

Review by Kristin Battestella

I may like many an obscure thing, but I’ve never had to explain to anyone who Elvira is. The buxom goth gal has made her cheeky presence know to audiences young and old for over twenty five years. Not just a relic of an over the top eighties heyday, the 2001 sequel Elvira’s Haunted Hills provides fun and scares to a modern audience.

Lost in the Carpathian mountains in 1851, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) and her servant Zou Zou (Mary Jo Smith, Almost Perfect) hitch a ride with Dr. Bradley Bradley (Scott Atkinson) to the Castle Hellsubus. The creepy estate and its master, Lord Vladimere (Richard O’Brien) are trapped under the weight of the Hellsubus family curse. Tonight also happens to be the tenth anniversary of Elura Hellsubus’ death- and Vladimere’s first wife looks just like Elvira!

Naturally, the first thing you notice about Elvira’s Haunted Hills is the anachronistic style of Cassandra Peterson’s alter ego. It’s 1851 and yet Elvira’s still got the high hair, valley speech, and sexual innuendo that made her a cult favorite in 1983. Sometimes this doesn’t work, but the fun Peterson is having and the asides to the fourth wall allow the audience to laugh with Elvira because she can laugh at herself. This makes the viewer’s leap easy for the over the top characters of Dr. Bradley and Lady Ema Hellsubus (Mary Scheer, MadTV). Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) is above and beyond as well, but also very old fashioned and high styled like the Vincent Price classics of old.

Financed by Peterson’s own company and family and friends, Elvira’s Haunted Hills actually has some fine production values. The very informative behind the scenes feature on the DVD confesses director Sam Irvin’s (Dante’s Cove) love of the Roger Corman classics and the homage Haunted Hills is trying to reach. The castle set looks real enough and has that lofty, gothic style of its black and white predecessors. Some lines and sets are taken directly from The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) and the homages blend seamlessly with Elvira’s wit. She may be a valley ditz onscreen, but Peterson’s witty script and intelligent development of the character is what’s kept Elvira fresh all these years.

Haunted Hills was filmed on location in Romania, and many local cast and crew were employed. Although Peterson feared it would fail, one great dubbing gag allows for more humor and tribute to low budget Hollywood. Despite her busty persona and high slit skirt, Elvira’s Haunted Hills also has clever sexual quips and innuendos. The film’s PG-13 rating is poked at onscreen, and the mostly tame by today’s standards sex jokes won’t interfere with a tween or younger viewing.

Besides the equally funny Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988), there are many Elvira appearances. Some silly like I Love The 80s, but Elvira’s Macabre horror hosting gigs have also found their way to DVD-another great chance to introduce young folks to some great old time horror classics. If you have a macabre child in the making, Elvira’s Haunted Hills is a great way to give him (or her) something funny and something spooky that mature folks can enjoy, too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

DVD Review: Killer Shrews/Giant Gila Monster Double Feature

Review by 42nd Street Pete

Normally I’d be hard pressed to put over a formerly black & white film that had been colorized. I was one of the fanboy assholes who dropped $30 on the colorized Night of the Living Dead ( from Turner) and wanted to stick pencils in his eyes after seeing “green” zombies.

The nice people at Legend Films sent me this DVD & a few others that they colorized. These are the same people who are colorizing the Ray Harryhausen classics, so if Ray trusted them with his work, I figured that it would be worth my time to check them out.

I was pleasantly surprised . The colorization was very good. It was like one of those old lobby cards coming to life. The shrews actually looked scarier in color. The prints used weren’t the best, but retain that grainy grindhouse look that adds to the ambiance.

Legend has colorized versions of Devil Bat, Bride of the Monster, Phantom Planet, Last Man on Earth, Creature from the Haunted Sea, and Phantom from Space. Based on this double feature, I’ll be checking these out real soon. If you already don’t have copies of Shrews & Gila Monster, this is the one you should check out. Car fans take note, you will really dog the hot rods in the Giant Gila Monster. They really stand out with the colorization.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zombie Strippers

Review by 42nd Street Pete

2008 Directed by Jay Lee. Starring Robert Englund & Jenna Jameson

I was prepared to hate this movie, but it was actually a lot of fun. It's in the future, Bush is in his 4th term, his VP is Arnold, we are fighting wars all over the world and strip clubs have gone underground. Someone has developed a "virus"and the army is called out to get rid of the flesh eating zombies it creates. Of course a soldier is bitten, then hides in an underground strip club run by Robert Englund. He bites stripper Kat (Jena Jameson). She comes back to life and two things happen: She dances better and is smarter dead than she was alive.

As a dead stripper, she is a hit and the money just rolls in. Problem is that she eats one of the patrons during a lap dance. Englund and crew lock up the re-animated pervs in a basement cell. The other strippers want to rake in the big bucks, so they all turn zombie. The club is packed, but the basement is rapidly filling up with lap dance victims.

This is a really funny movie. Some of the stuff is really over the top, especially the zombie stripper showdown in which Jenna fires cue balls out of her pussy, decapitating some patrons. As in real life, the dead strippers are a lot smarter than the guys who come to see them. Jenna is pretty good here and may have a career in B Movies after she finishes up in the jiz bizz.

Creature Feature : 50 Years of the Gill Man

Review by 42nd Street Pete

Directed by Matthew Crick, Written by Sam Borowski.

This is an excellent documentary about the most enduring of the Universal Monster, The Creature From the Black Lagoon. This is a must see for any Creature fan as it covers everything from it's conception to it's impact in pop culture today. I was truly amazed at the scope of it all and some of the little known facts that came out. The Creature was conceived by a woman artist, he was introduced to the world on the Colgate Comedy Show with Abbott & Costello, Glen Strange was originally offered the role, but turned it down because he couldn't swim, and so many more interesting facts.

The film has a few of the stars that were in the film, Ben Chapman, Julie Adams, Ginger Stanley and others. Included are interviews with Creature friends and fans like Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Roebuck, and Tom Savini. There are also interviews with Creature collectors, who scoured the world in search of rare Creature items. Rob Hauschild of Wildeye Releasings tell how many other films were influenced by the Creature.

The "star" of this doc would have to be Ben Chapman. Ben was one of the coolest people that I ever met during my tenure with a certain convention. Ben was a fine human being and just a great person to hang out with. Ben truly cherished his fans, many who became personal friends. There are clips of Ben's many appearances at conventions like Monster Bash and Monster Mania. A lot of us have great Bennie stories from hanging out with him.

I saw this film last Saturday night at a packed house. If your a fan of the Creature or just a fan of the genre in general, I urge you to see this film. I enjoyed the hell out of it and actually learned some little known facts. A must see!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Gates Of Hell

Review by Sara

Directed by Kelly Dolen, starring Michael Piccirilli, Samantha Noble, Christian Clark, Bradley Tomlinson and Amy Beckwith. 2008.

The Gates Of Hell follows Kyle (Michael Piccirilli) and his four fellow filmmakers, as they set out to make an online interactive movie. Their location is the Von Diebitsch Manor, where they unknowingly become unwilling participants in their own film. The group discovers a tape recorder deep inside the bowels of the house.

As Kyle and his friends huddle around the tape recorder, they listen as John Behringer tells them the story of the Von Diebitsch Manor. Forty-two years ago, he and his wife abandoned their son behind the gates of Von Diebitsch Manor to a woman named Petra Von Diebitsch. She would take in children who were rejected by society and then inflict harm on them, brutally torturing them down in the cellar.

One by one Kyle's friends fall victim to Petra and her deformed "children." What the film lacks in character development and dialogue, it makes up for in kills. A little too darkly lit for my taste; we are still able to appreciate disembowelments, skull crushings and pretty good makeup effects.

Despite the low budget look and feel of the film, I still enjoyed it. I thought that the plot was original, even though you can clearly see the influences of George Romero's Diary Of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes and Evil Dead.


Review by Sara

Directed by Tony Swansey, starring Kevin Oestenstad, Allison Batty, Stephen Dean and Joe Burke. 2008.

An Indy rock band is on their way to their next gig, when they become stranded on a country road, in the middle of nowhere. When they take refuge in an old barn, they soon find out that they're not alone. The barn's inhabitants are a genetic experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong. The killers are half pig and half human. Think the Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Deliverance, with a little bit of Wrong Turn 2 thrown in there. The film is a blood bath from start to finish, as the band members are held captive in the barn all night.

I loved this film. It was absolutely unrelenting in its scares, kills and gore. It is a rollercoaster ride and when it ends, it will leave you sick and squealing for more. A must, must see.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Inglorious Bastards

Review by 42nd Street Pete

1978 - Directed by Enzo Castellari. Starring Bo Svenson, Fred Williamson, Jackie Basehart, and Ian Bannen. DVD by Severin Films

This release got a lot of hype as the film seems to have given Quentin Tarantino a woodie as he’s going to remake it. I had never seen it in the theaters and never had the desire to see it up until this point. Severin did a great job with the transfer and extras. I watched the film, which was pretty good, but the extras actually were better , especially the documentary, Train-Kept-A-Rollin’, where I actually learned a lot about Italian action film making.

Bastards is about a group of American prisoners being taken for sentencing. The convoy is strafed, killing most of the prisoners, but five escape. Being that the tagline is “ Whatever The Dirty Dozen Did, They Did it Dirtier”, you wonder why the film wasn’t called The Filthy Five. Oh, yeah, that’s a lost Andy Milligan film, sorry.

The five that survive are a Lieutenant( Svenson), a killer (illiamson), a mob guy, a forger/hustler, and a coward/mechanic. They decide to go to Switzerland to ride out the war. They find a German deserter and use him to get by the other Germans. This plan goes awry when they mistake a group of American commandos for real Germans. The deserter is killed and the commandos wiped out.

The French Resistance finds them and thinks they are the commandos. A Colonel Buckner arrives, a lot pissed off that his specialists have been killed. They were supposed to take out a train with a super bomb on board. The Lieutenant convinces Buckner that he and his boys can do the job. Now its all action as the “Bastards” take the train.

Castellari is one of great Italian action directors and “ The Inglorious Bastards “ is probably his most famous work. This is a three disc set . Like I said , the transfer is excellent, the extras are very cool and informative, and some of the key players share their thoughts about working on the film. This was Fred Williamson’s first Italian film. He said that he knew that he would be box office over here and did a lot more films in Italy. Svenson, on the other hand, said that he stayed too long in Italy and that caused his stock to drop in Hollywood.

To sum it up, this is a great set from Severin Films and I hope to see a lot more from them in the future.