Like it honestly matters anymore and does anyone give a damn anyway?
Looking back, I made three errors. First, I decided to actually buySaw: The Final Chapter. Then in my infinite wisdom, I figured on saving a few bucks and opt for the standard def disc before noticing its the R-Rated version. So I took another trip out to return it and finalize my purchase decision with the unrated Blu-ray/DVD set. Maybe fate was telling me something with that initial mistake; maybe I should have bought Red instead...
Why bother? Well, for some unexplainable reason, I've stuck with series this far. Diminishing returns has been the name of Jigsaw's game since the previous "worst" installment, Saw IV (2007). Yet there's been glimmers of hope mixed in with the increasing clusterfuck of rushed writing and yearly deadlines in the quest for Halloween theatrical greenback. Although shoehorned in post-intended trilogy, Costas Mandylor's Hoffman has sloppily punched his way into the role of a fitting successor through the last five films. His character is one of the better aspects of Saw: FC as he goes on a vengeance trail over his near-death at the hands of Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell not giving one damn). At the risk of sounding sadistic, you want to see Hoffman kill everyfuckingbody, even if there's little reason behind those he actually does kill at this point.
Okay, not sounding too bad, but come hell or high water a Saw entry can't be content with one track. There's yet another "trap run" in the form of a Jigsaw victim (Sean Patrick Flanery) making a career out of writing a contrived tale of survival sold as truth realizing his bestselling nightmare in the flesh. Like prior films, the author's wife is the end goal that drives him while forced to decide the potentially gruesome fates of friends and acquaintances. Then there's a new detective, an embarrassingly awful Chad Donella, drawing in on Hoffman while holding Jigsaw's wife in protective custody. Oh, and as always a few horrific traps in the first half that have nothing to do with anything.
One stupid mess indeed even by franchise standards and easily the worst of the bunch. A sort of well thought through simplicity imbues the 2004 original that would have been refreshing is again completely absent in this hopefully final resting place. Unless major changes are made, let this be the last for good. Maybe this could be another nail in 3D's coffin as well, please? Not to mention the hot pink color to most of the blood and fleeting, unintentional(?) allusions to Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. If you're content with the superior sixth film, there's no need to waste ninety minutes with Saw: The Final Chapter and I think even the barely-in-this-one Tobin Bell would immediately admit to that once the gag order expires.
Liongate's 2D Blu-ray is technically sound boasting a high-bitrate MPEG-4 AVC encode. The problem is the film looks like total shit. Unlike the previous 35mm entries, Saw: The Final Chapter was shot in HD for the purposes of 3D so that patented grainy appearance is either gone or badly computer generated in post. Most of the time, the picture looks like a HD broadcast television show with massively tinkered with color and contrast which seems to have adversely degraded image quality far worse than film. So fine detail is not only really diffuse, but everything is much more of an eyesore to look at. Again, what the fuck pink blood. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track gets the job done registering incredibly deep bass amongst the sonically accurate screaming.
One note about the unrated/rated versions. Both the DVD-only and DVD included with the unrated Blu-ray are the MPAA R version running at 1:29:54. The unrated cut is 1:30:11. So if you're still interested even after reading all this, buyer beware, this Blu-ray (and presumably the 3D Blu-ray) is the only edition featuring the film in its unrated form.
Early Canadian VHS of Kinji Fukasaku's dark Edo period fantasy with Sonny Chiba. I'm unsure whether or not this is cut or uncut yet. The American tapes, which don't date anywhere near as far back, were chopped of nearly forty minutes. Media Blasters released the full two-hour version on DVD a few years ago through their Tokyo Shock imprint.
Here's an interesting article published yesterday at the Boston Phoenix Online addressing the ever-growing popularity of VHS collecting. Unsure why the writer decided to forgo asking BoGD for comment; however, the piece touches upon the right reasons as to why people collect tapes. Especially the part that describes the thrill of watching old horror/exploitation on the analog format, check out The List of Horror, Cult, and Exploitation Movies "Enhanced" by VHS, and this is a big part of the reason I collect. Strange considering I don't particularly have too many early memories of when the format was very much alive. My collecting bug was triggered by DVD around 1998, but I'll be damned if there isn't something about popping in an old favorite on VHS that I had only previously seen on disc. Not to mention the additional thrill of hunting for them in small, musky video shops and swap meets. It's like hunting for treasure out in the open. If that makes any sense.
One thing I grumbled at in the article is the mention of a nearly $3k VHS copy of Night of the Demon (1980) on Amazon's Marketplace. I've said this before and it bears repeating; just because some maniac/hustler asks an absolutely outrageous rate for a tape doesn't make it worth anywhere near that. If you dig around enough, you'll find sellers on Amazon that have nothing but sky high prices on relatively easy-to-find videos both in cassette and disc form. I guess they throw a party every time someone is stupid enough to actually buy a copy of Forrest Gump for two hundred dollars.
Actually, there's an ebb-and-flow to VHS prices on Amazon. At a certain point they'll be no copies of a given film except for a couple ridiculously expensive examples. Eventually, new sellers will add their copies while gradually dropping prices on the tape to attract buyers. This will, or at least "can", get to a point in which one can pick up a copy for a fraction of the once highest price. So if there actually was such a copy of NotD on the Marketplace, just wait a few months, it'll drop to sane levels. Or, like the article points out, keep trolling those flea markets and yard sales. By the way, Night of the Demon itself isn't that rare being released several times on video (found a copy for a buck myself); although the original VCII release is indeed rare and collectible--just not three thousand dollars(?!?).
Saying that, there are many that have justifiable values that reside north of a hundred bucks. That's one of the most enticing and daunting aspects of collecting the old format nobody cares about anymore. There's just so damn much of it and a good chunk is irresistibly impossible-to-find. Even seasoned collectors, from around the globe, continually discover releases they weren't aware of before everyday. The format, along with Betamax, certainly still has the largest catalog of any. Despite sweeping domination, DVD's title availability is a chump by comparison. When you hear people speaking of a home video "boom"; it's true, I wouldn't be surprised if everything ever filmed or taped in history before about 2005 wasn't granted an analog video release. Now you just have to unearth them.
From the back cover: In 1936, the Wollners, a German family living in Town Creek, West Virginia, are contacted by the Third Reich to host a visiting scholar. In need of money, they accept Professor Ricard Wirth (Michael Fassbender) into their home, unaware of the Third Reich's practices in the occult or Wirth's real mission, which will keep the family bound for decades to come. Now, in 2007, after mysteriously disappearing two years ago near Town Creek, Evan Marshall's (Henry Cavill) older brother Victor (Dominic Purcell) suddenly returns, very much alive and having escaped his captors. Evan asks no questions; at his brother's request, he loads their rifles, packs their boat and follows Victor back to Town Creek on a mission of revenge that will test them in every possible way.
Blood Creek could be best described as a combo of Jeepers Creepers (2001), Venom (2005), Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight (1995), and a pinch of Hellraiser (1987) with a light fascist dusting. Much like what I said concerning Marcus Dunstan's The Collector of the same year, this one is "the kind of slick, edgy horror film that has just enough huff to slip into theaters, evaporate quickly, and somehow seem obscure by the time of the DVD release. One of those decent underdogs that will probably be discovered by many on cable or the used disc section."
Okay, Joel Schumacher's only straight-laced horror feature didn't go wide theatrically, but everything else holds true. Except for Clive Barker's classic, Blood Creek shares that same nothing-new yet entertaining vibe the others mentioned above possess. The veteran filmmaker, in his seventh decade of life, crafts a decent moderately-budgeted horror/action piece that's pleasantly unafraid to fly the genre's flag. No more, no less. Grab some popcorn.
Maybe from the mostly topical Nazi angle or rough-around-the-edge quality, Lionsgate decided to unceremoniously dump the film with a sudden limited release. That's a shame, this might have struck a cord with audiences bored with Saw clones, but it's not surprising considering the continued floundering of similar "single-serve" horror features in theaters like Cry_Wolf (2005), Stay Alive (2006), Dead Silence (2007), and the aforementioned Collector. What's most impressive is Schumacher's spirited direction and consistent sense of narrative flow. Blood Creek is constantly moving with an even measure to its unfolding story in a tidy ninety minutes with, of course, a sequel-minded conclusion.
If one had to gripe about problems, the modest budget does show itself at times and finer points of the Nazi demon zombie's origins/methodology/motivations, played by Michael Fassbender in a prep run for Inglourious Basterds, aren't thoroughly explained. Dominic Purcell still looks like "that shaven head dude from Prison Break", yet makes up for his performance in Mike Mendez's underwhelming Gravedancers, and Henry Cavill doesn't seem to be trying as hard as those around him.
Still, you're unlikely to care much once things get going past the synopsis above. Touches like the monstrous family holding Victor captive not seeming so monstrous once Hitler's bloodsucking minion arises, said minion's ability to resurrect dead things to attack the living, and a healthy dose of practical splat effects (complete with squishy sounds) and monster make-up more than compensate for the gaps. No, Blood Creek doesn't change the face of horror, nor does it ever aim to, but it's mindless fun for an evening. May it join the ranks of respectable horror fare done well comprised of a bunch of ideas we've seen before--and that's okay.
Lionsgate's DVD, sorry no stateside Blu-ray release (?!?), features a very strong anamorphic/progressive 2:35.1 widescreen transfer with no edge enhancement, great detail, and obvious signs of grain structure on a dual-layered disc. The Dolby 5.1 track is also quite strong for the "last gen" format. The only substantive extra is a Schumacher commentary track. Video trailers for Gamer, Saw VI, Cabin Fever 2, Train, and ads for Break.com (really?) and Fear.net are tossed in.
Another case of finding that "one tape" amongst a bunch of meh, this one was literally on the bottom shelf in the farthest corner of a woman's tapes at the swap meet this morning. Old wrestling, or wrasslin', tapes are not only cool, but are also sought after due to the footage either being edited for DVD re-release or usually not getting re-released at all. Old wrasslin' videos in clamshell cases only sweeten the deal...
P.O.W. McBain (Christopher Walken) is rescued from the cheap set of an Italian/Filipino Deer Hunter rip-off at the close of the Vietnam War. Years later, one of his saviors ends up with a bullet to the head in an attempted coup d'état of a brutal dictator in Colombia. The dead man's sister (Maria Conchita Alonso) travels to New York to appeal to McBain for help in her freedom fighter sibling's continuing plight, prompting McBain and his comrades to set forth on a mission of revenge.
Like any sane person, before beholding James Glickenhaus's McBain, I pegged Christopher Walken as a great actor that has over recent years found a revitalized cult following from his comedy cameos, champagna, Weapon of Choice, and Chicken with Pears. After McBain, I'm assuming Walken wanted to buy a boat or something, at least I hope that's the reason.
The seasoned actor is obviously disinterested in a leading role that could have literally been played by anyone. Coolcat Walken sleepwalks while sauntering through like he's on vacation, which may not be far from the truth, speaking in vague dictums when not hesitantly choking out ol' action flick claptrap. Maria Conchita Alonso and Michael Ironside (as one of the ex-soldiers) also seem to be going through the motions with none of the zeal displayed opposite action hero Arnie a few years prior. Again, hopefully all were paid well.
And that's the most disappointing aspect of McBain. Writer/Director Glickenhaus, of Ginty Exterminator-fame, doesn't embrace any of the individual actor's strengths or quirks both on the paper or screen. There's nothing quite like an action film that's winkingly self-aware without being overtly so, like Commando (1985), Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), Bulletproof (1988) or hell, even The Marine (2006). Instead, Glickenhaus doesn't swallow his pride and accept the sheer ridiculousness and unique opportunity of such an average B-grade actioner with Christopher friggin' Walken as the headliner. I mean, even despite a scene in which McBain kills a fighter pilot by leisurely firing his pistol out of a private jet's (sealed) side cockpit window at the parallel jet while at high altitude. Walken's character is totally God-like with his odds of coming to any harm, but moments were one can truly relish his untouchable status like just described are few and far between.
Still, there's some far-featched laughs to be had in this rigid action movie structure. Going opposite of Deer Hunter, the soldiers go on to unrealistically huge career success after military life. Walken is a architectural welder, Ironside becomes insanely wealthy, the late Steve James (who should have been the star) is a bodyguard for the president of a huge corporation, and the other two are an ER surgeon and lawyer respectively. Upon hearing the news, the group assembles with no hesitation and with the speed of neighbors having a block party. Glickenhaus employs odd storytelling here where everything we see seems "near" what's expected and should be seen as the simple story pushes along, but simply isn't. This might be from Walken really only showing up in maybe half of the film's sequences. McBain possibly holds the record for fewest lines and screen time given to its star in the first half hour--Walken only says his character's name and "I knew you'd come." in what barely amounts ten minutes total.
This pre-occupied aspect creeps into the explosive setpieces that, unlike good examples of on-screen action, are more concerned with little details than a larger sense of flow or escalation. Using a mix of stuntmen and dummies in explosions to give the blasts a more visceral impact. Lighting a hanging dummy ablaze after a soldier blows up a tank by shoving a grenade down its barrel. Seeing the stuntman actually slam into the ground after being knocked from a bamboo watchtower. Just little additional beats in the action that do a surprising job of helping along McBain's 100 minutes. The best praise I could bestow is that I've sat through shorter, critically-acclaimed films that almost immediately feel like a clock-watchin' endure test. Not the best piece of trash blow 'em up, but a relic that amazingly came together in the first place and something no sane person could appreciate.
The Canadian C/FP Video EP-speed VHS looks kinda shit, but passable. Universal Studios granted McBain a stateside tape release with no digital transition available yet. Hollywood DVD and Boulevard Entertaiment have both dropped DVDs in the United Kingdom. You know my copy is already ordered.
Actually thought this tape was rarer than it is, but there's several copies on Amazon. Atlas Entertainment Corporation was a tiny distributor with only a handful of titles, most notably Jag Mundhra's must-see Halloween Night (Hack 'O Lantern) (1988).
Definitely one of the rarest tapes in my collection and also one of the rarest in home video pioneer Magnetic Video's catalog. This VHS was originally released in 1979, the first Star Wars-related material on home video, and then re-issued a year later with a special trailer for The Empire Strikes Back. A trailer that can still only be found on this tape. In 1995, Kellogg's offered a cereal mail-in offer for a new edition of the making-of, but dropped the Empire trailer and replaced William Conrad's original narration. This might also mark the debut of a complete, unfaded picture of the cover on the Internet. The only other image I can find is a cut box with bleached colors.
Michael (William Bumiller) runs the Starbody Health Spa; a cutting-edge fitness center completely controlled by a HAL-like computer overseeing all particulars of the exercise equipment and facility. After the near death of Michael's girlfriend in a steam room, a detective (Rosalind Cash) and her constantly eating partner step in to investigate the increasingly troubling going-ons of the spa. Under their careful eye is Tom (Robert Lipton), the brash techie who designed the program, but as aerobicizing masses continue to befall the wraith of the altar at which they worship, Michael must find the root of this mayhem. Be it by man, machine, or something more insidious from his past...
Michael Fischa's Death Spa is a cheeseball supernatural slasher in badly edited three-act structure. The sleaze is quickly solidified barely five minutes in with full womanly nudity gasping for oxygen in a locked, ammonia-filled sauna. Shortly afterward, an unfortunate coiffed hair Betamax fan suffers massive torso restructuring from an unruly pec deck and more nubile girlies have shower tiles hurled at their steamy genitalia while washing off. Primo loudly color-splashed trash from the decade that threw copious amounts of dove white yayo upon brutally toned hardbodies.
Then the whodunit aspect settles in with the arrival of the detectives and Michael trying to find the roots of the disastrous happenings at his spa. Tom is suspect being standoffish toward both the investigators and Michael's chemically-blinded new love (after the horrific suicide of his handicapped wife a year prior). Meanwhile, Michael enlists the help of a psychiatrist/medium who inevitably becomes another victim along with a stream of others. This middle portion does overpower the more exploitative attention grabbers earlier, but honestly, the slowdown isn't too off-putting. Despite being a bit soapy, the acting by Bumiller, Lipton, and love interest Brenda Bakke actually excel past the questionable expectations that arrive with a movie entitled "Death Spa" or "Witch Bitch" depending on your territory. You actually start to question who the killer could be...at least a little.
That said, no one pops in a movie entitled "Death Spa" or "Witch Bitch" expecting a future showcase on Inside the Actors Studio. The furious final act is when the identity of the murderer is revealed and the premise wildly sways through a protracted gory climax. Heads explode from vibrating mirror, faces melt by dripping acid and/or suddenly explode a la Fulci's The Beyond, death by maniac blender, death by frozen barracuda, terrified boobies surrounded by fire, mystic burnt corpses, and a useless Ken Foree surviving like a boss. Sure, none of these zany delights reach the technical level of a Savini, but one can't help but feel that Fischa, crew, and cast are genuinely trying to deliver exactly what us undemanding horror dorks want.
And sometimes, like in the case of Death Spa, that's enough to sheen over the many rough areas. In his own probably unintentional way, Fischa imparts a longevity far beyond his film's immediate moment with this giving nature. A little something that all memorable horror films, or at least memorable horror film moments, share. Although this one certainly isn't an obscure classic, but easily one of the more deserving pieces of '80s fun as of yet officially unreleased on DVD. Just cuz, check out the cover scans of the two editions pictured above, MPI's U.S. VHS and Tokuma's Japanese VHS, over at The Scandy Factory's cover gallery.
While browsing around Wal Mart this morning, I noticed Mill Creek's Spirited Killer Trilogy featuring Spirited Killer (1994), Spirited Killer 2: Awakened Zombie Battles (1997), and Spirited Killer 3: Ghost Wars (1998) was in their $5 "dump bin", but rang up for only $2.50--the lowest price I can find anywhere besides downloading. I haven't fully checked these out yet, but Mill Creek is trying to pass them off as Tony Jaa actionfests judging by the cover art. In reality, Jaa apparently gets his ass kicked in the first ten minutes of the first feature with Panna Rittikrai being the real star of the three films. They're also not a trilogy, the first is the fourth sequel of a separate series (Plook mun kuen ma kah 4) compared to Awakened Zombie Battles and Ghost Wars.
Here's an excerpt from MONDO 70: A Wild World of Cinema's thoughts on the first film (read in full here): "I haven't laughed at a movie so hard in some time, and it has some halfway decent martial arts, too. This is definitely an early effort from the unit that now sets the standard for wireless fight scenes, but everyone performs enthusiastically, taking great bumps and happily slashing one another's shirts with their machetes. Spirited Killer, or whatever you want to call it, is exactly what I'm looking for a lot of the time from the wild world of cinema. It's a genuinely popular, unpretentious film from another part of the world, not aimed at art-house critics (Thailand has stuff for them as well) but for the native rabble who apparently like to see obnoxious young people get killed as much as the rabble of any nation. The only difference is that these kids fight back a lot. Imagine a Friday the 13th film in which everyone knows kung fu and you still root for the mindless killer and you get close to the essence of Spirited Killer. Add to that the utterly brain-dead dubbing and this first film alone justifies the bargain-basement $5 I paid for the entire trilogy. I think I can confidently commend the entire set to connoisseurs of cinematic garbage."
To be honest, flipping through all three, Zombie Battles and Ghost Wars look more my style, mixing in a liberal dose of elements seen in Hong Kong horror comedies like Mr. Vampire and Spooky Encounters with what looks like even more martial arts. Looking at the single disc's specs, the first film has the original Thai and English dub but no subtitles, rendering the Thai track useless. The other two have their Thai language tracks with removable yellow English subtitles. Spirited Killer is in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen with rather thick pillarboxing while Zombie Battles and Ghost Wars are also anamorphic, but stretched vertically from 2.35:1 to fill a "full" 1.78:1 widescreen frame (see the shots below). All three transfers are interlaced and exhibit some compression artifacts from being squeezed onto a single disc. Still, for $2.50 (or even $5), you could do worse and the picture quality is decent otherwise. Looks like the makings of a fun night of schlock and be sure to brave the People of Wal Mart to see if you can find it!
Could have sworn I talked about The Supernaturals on here before, but I can't find it. Anyway, this still-landlocked-on-tape horror concerns a modern day platoon, lead by Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek's Uhura), on field training menaced by tall earthen Confederate zombies with vengeance burning in their powdered heart cavities. The infantry is the 44th, sharing their number with the murderous Union soldiers that forced the now living dead to march across a minefield to their deaths during the waning days of the Civil War. The living's only hope is a young soldier (Maxwell Caulfield) who becomes smitten with a mysterious local woman and an old vagabond recluse living in the forest.
Armand Mastroianni's (Cameron's Closet, Friday the 13th: The Series) The Supernaturals is a serviceable '80s quickie. It's the type of horror film that probably wouldn't even be granted a theatrical release today, that's not a slight, as the simple aims of the no-frills story are accomplished with a dollop of atmosphere. Unfortunately, most of the 90 minutes is spent talking and the ghouls, with looks recalling the decaying gardeners in Andrea Bianchi's Burial Ground, only really show up in the last ten. This one is actually suitable for young horror fans first getting into the obsession with no nudity and very little blood as the slow raisin Confederates dispatch the soldiers mostly off-screen. The "worst" content aspect is LeVar Burton fresh off The Midnight Hour cursing like a sailor in his few lines. The prolific Robert Ragland provides an overachieving score that often sounds quite similar to Harry Manfredini's Friday the 13th work.
Not an essential zombie exercise, but if you find a cheap copy it wouldn't hurt if only for the cool artwork. Embassy's VHS is a fine presentation retaining that welcoming "'80s tape look" and sound. It's also always nice to endure no trailers at the beginning and just shoot directly into the movie. Here's a chunk of the best segments on YouTube, from user THESMELLOFBRAINS, to save you the time...
Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur's re-imagining of Joe Dante's perennial 1978 B-flick classic.
Piranha (or Piranha 3D) is a difficult horror film to talk about at length. Director Aja's latest, after the mammoth misfire Mirrors, is like trying to build a house of wafers on a pre-existing slightly thicker cracker foundation. Dante's original was essentially designed to capitalize on the immense success of Jaws on the cheap. This 2010 reincarnation was designed to ride the wave of what is now the wishy-washy resurgence of high tech 3D. So the story is a shallow ninety minute rollercoaster, the acting only serves this surface, and it's over before you realize nothing much happened. Although that doesn't mean Aja's third horror remake isn't tremendous good fun and to be hard on it would be comparable to complaining about how a patch is slightly off symmetry on the coat of otherwise lovable puppy. Just like the original.
It's funny how Piranha manages to be a B-flick, a homage to B-flicks, and yet simultaneously not really feel like a B-flick. Aja (and Levasseur) obviously loves the genre and has a knack of adapting his anamorphic scope-happy style to the given material. The director's razor-like calculation is applied here to a perpetually sunny Lake Havasu locale on Spring Break with his editor of choice, Baxter, again complimenting his work. These talents lend a certain credibility and professional sheen to what could have otherwise been another also ran animals-run-amok cult number (think the much-overhyped Snakes on a Plane). KNB EFX are back on-board after The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors for gore duties, watch for the Nicotero walk-on, and knock the incredibly grisly practical effects out of the lake. It's amazing the MPAA allowed so much carnage into an "R"; bodies are torn in half, eyes plucked, scalps motorboated, and corpses eviscerated in crimson depths by prehistoric killer fish generated in computer bits.
There's also heaving breasts galore with three adult film actresses (Riley Steele, Gianna Michaels, Ashlynn Brooke) gloriously whoring it up for your crotch's enjoyment. Especially Steele, who one can easily see has zero body hair below her eyebrows, diverting attention away from the equally nude, but carefully angled/shadowed Kelly Brooke. Richard Dreyfuss echoing Jaws, Christopher Lloyd echoing Doc, and Eli Roth echoing the asshole you just know he actually is only help this innocuous slice of brainlessness. Easily recommended for a Saturday night of monster horror delights. A real "re-imagining" that doesn't disrespect the '78 source, but celebrates it by updating everything else except its heart. Though I do miss the frenzied "biting" sound effect that accompanied attacks in Dante's original.
As for the 2D Blu-ray, it's probably for the best Sony handled the distribution end instead of The Weinstein Co. since Sony usually does wonders with the high def format. The picture quality on this 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded 2.39:1 widescreen transfer is consistently excellent. The colors have been massively tinkered with, so everything has insanely elevated contrast and fleshtones always look orange or very flush, but detail doesn't seem to suffer at all. I did notice a strange "doubled-picture" anomaly at the part where Todd's little sister steps on a bottle shard when stuck on that island with her brother. Just before that, she waves her arms in the air and just then for a few seconds the picture appears slightly misaligned like it's in 3D...somewhat.Piranha was converted to 3D in post-production and I definitely have the 2D-only BD, so I have no idea what could have caused such an issue. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is excellent, registering incredibly deep bass with all the booty-thumping party music and thick underwater reverb. On a final note, like on Resident Evil: Afterlife's BD, there's skippable trailers for a few seemingly out-of-place and awful looking DTV flicks upon the disc's start.
At the dawn of the 20th Century, professor and snake-oil debunker David Ash (Aidan Quinn) is requested to a grand English manor to assist in calming the unexplainable paranoia of an aging nanny (Anna Massey). The woman intensely believes she's witness to the ghosts of the mansion's past and a series of quietly otherworldly occurrences spur David to stay and investigate. That and beautiful young Christina (Kate Beckinsale); a libertine free spirit in a strange control relationship with her older brother (Anthony Andrews). As David falls deeper for his new love, family tensions begin to boil over while memories of boyhood tragedy resurface...
If this Lewis Gilbert adaption of James Herbert's 1988 novel of the same name isn't one of the best horror films of the '90s, it's at least in tow with the decade's most underrated. Gilbert creates a pleasantly regal mirth while avoiding the stuffy pomp and circumstance that can creep into these period pieces. The vast haunted manor is a place you would love to visit, but probably not wish to stay. And that's the point, as the story unravels around David, the place and its inhabitants seem to be inescapably drawing in on him. It's not hard to decipher the climatic twist early-on, the old Hotel California theme, but the quaint atmosphere is hard to resist.
Fittingly handsome Aidan Quinn is perpetually stuck in the wide-eyed glare seen on the video's cover as David eventually finds more in common with the dead than the living while chasing dusty apparitions and being threatened by phantom fire. A ghostly pale Kate Beckinsale is drop-dead gorgeous, not looking like the alien she does nowadays, as she tightens her seductive allure upon David. The actress's presence helps out considerably, anchoring the picture with Quinn, and she even appears in the nude three times. Needless to say, these scenes should be forever enshrined in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry. The others, like Andrews and Gielgud, aren't given any real meat yet assist in maintaining the classy whimsical tone.
Another endearing aspect is how Haunted can be viewed as the spiritual sister film of Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) (1994). Both concern a learned man under "soft" imprisonment by his surroundings and a mysterious woman that he's simultaneously in lust and contention with. Both Lewis and Soavi also strike an earthy phantasmal quality through natural cinematography that's a nice respite from today's irritating abuse of digital color correction. The place where Glbert's film stumbles is the hurried last reel. The obvious twists are compacted too closely together and hammered over the viewer's head beguiling the measured deliberateness of what came before. In contrast, Soavi never flounders with his film's sublime ambiguity, making Dellamorte Dellamore'simpact lasting through repeat viewings. Haunted's mystery is too overexplained to be as nearly as rewarding.
Sadly, Gilbert's penultimate directorial effort is still mistreated on home video in America. First released on full screen VHS and LaserDisc by Evergreen Entertainment and October Films (who also distributed Cemetery Man), the two present DVD releases, from Pioneer and Artisan, retain this cropped transfer taken from an old video master. These discs have no other extra features and are currently out-of-print. The tape is cheaper and easier to find. There's a Danish DVD from Studio Canal/Universal with a 1.66:1 anamorphic presentation, stereo English track, and Making-of featurette.
This is a case of one of the nicest surprises when collecting videos. A title you weren't aware that was released by a well-known distributor later picked up by a cheapo fly-by-nighter that flooded the market with their edition. I had no idea Lightning Video first released Pupi Avati's Revenge of the Dead (Zeder) before "Creature Features" choked the marketplace with their unplayable EP-speed eyesore in the mid-'90s. The latter is easily found, just like CF's terrible-looking Gates of Hell, but this is the first time I've ever seen this particular release (which has seen better days). However, neither tape* is a desirable option for seeing Avati's undead slow burn, both are scorn of about ten minutes and falsely marketed as your usual Italian zombie flick. Aside from the out-of-print and uncut Image Entertainment DVD, the preferable uncut release is Fox Italy's anamorphic R2/PAL disc also under the Zeder title.
*EDIT: I'm hearing the Creature Features tape is edited, but this Lightning Video is said to be uncut.
The listed runtime is 100 minutes, which sounds complete, but I'll have to investigate further!
From the back cover:After years of eliciting money from desperate believers, charismatic preacher Reverend Cotton Marcus decides to reveal his fraudulence by documenting one last "exorcism" performed on another disturbed religious fanatic. But after he and a film crew arrive at the Sweetzer farm, Marcus encounters a horrific scene beyond his wildest imaginings: a blood-drenched farmhouse with a teenaged girl held in the grip of true evil...
Let's just stop for a moment: "...Reverend Cotton Marcus decides to reveal his fraudulence..." You wouldn't believe how much I wrangled over this ludicrous set-up. In the beginning of Daniel Stamm's The Last Exorcism, we see Reverend Marcus (Patrick Fabian) going about his day while explaining his manifesto. A family man with a beautiful wife and autistic young son; Cotton explains how his father groomed him to preach at a young age. He got very good at working parishioners into a lather with boisterous sermons and we witness him even throwing in nonsense about banana bread into his act on a bet. And it is an act, at least according to Cotton himself, who admits that he's providing a service that people want in the way they want it--both at the pulpit and as an exorcist. He's an entertainer with a conflict of belief, a "natural creative", as his wife puts it.
So what's wrong? At a certain point, Cotton, who says he believes in God, says that if you believe in Him you must also believe in Satan. Yet later on while talking about the illegitimacy of exorcism, states he doesn't believe in demons. This contradicting preacher is performing one "last exorcism" for a documentary to prove that those "possessed" actually have mental health issues. Here's the problem, despite stopping just shy of admitting he's a fraud, Cotton has no reason to expose himself as such a questionable believer on all fronts. Doing so would ruin his career, his source of income for his burgeoning family, and his father who appears to have a firm conviction in both his and his son's good work. But no, there's Cotton, laying it all out there in what seems like a big "fuck you" to everything he is with no remorse or penitence toward those he'll hurt by revealing his life's giant lie.
This is what hurts The Last Exorcism, which is like a found footage re-imagining of The Exorcist with an atheist view on established religion. I'm not saying this type of horror film need to thump a Holy Book, but there's no weight to Cotton as a man of God. Jason Miller's guilt-ravaged Father Karras in Friedkin's classic (that one can view in either perspective) is interesting because of this intense personal conflict, yet it's hard to care about the fundamentally flawed protagonist in Stamm's hodgepodge that also nods to Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Blair Witch Project (1999), and even Cannibal Holocaust (1980). This issue really becomes apparent at a pivotal moment in the climax so sudden that again, it's hard to feel anything for anyone involved. Or maybe it's just the fly-on-the-wall nature of this "raw feed" subgenre being unable to address such a subtle character arch/change...if there was one, that is...
Otherwise, the cast do a uniformly great job of acting like "real" people throughout. Especially Fabian, who gives Cotton just the right amount of realistic, likable spirit and gusto in spite of his character being approached the wrong way on paper. There's also some nice foreshadowing to the twist that comes with hindsight as the credits roll. The Last Exorcism isn't an essential re-combination of previous ideas and you'd be better served by re-visiting the other works mentioned above. While credit has to be given for this film going wide theatrically, it's just more "original" rehash for today's mainstream audiences who haven't and probably wouldn't dare endure the "old" flicks it's riffing from. Most of you reading have most likely already seen what Stamm's work has to offer.
Long story short, the plasma appears to be defective, so it's going back this weekend and I'm done with any display upgrades for now (back to the ol' DLP). Things will begin to get back to normal here and to start the ball rolling again, here's a scan of NTA Entertainment's rare tape of Jess Franco's Count Dracula. The company also handled Franco's Venus in Furs (1969). I'm unsure if any other selections from his filmography were released by NTA.
Sorry about my sporadic entries lately, but my home theater finally received a big upgrade over the weekend. I've been mulling over the prospects of a new display and I took the plunge with a Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT25. The 50" model of their 1080p THX-certified flagship plasma line for 2010. I settled on this one due to the rave reviews from places like CNET and Home Theater Review. This is also the first series to debut since Panasonic acquired many of ex-Pioneer technicians that formerly worked on their discontinued but "best-ever" KURO plasmas.
First impression? This display certainly blows away my prior high definition display, a Samsung HLP-5085W DLP. That set was only 720p, but I can't be too hard on the ol' girl. She was that manufacturer's 2004 flagship television with image quality and a feature-set that blew away other displays at that time. The image processing was Faroudja's excellent DCDi de-interlacing (FLI2310-LF) paired with Texas Instruments fabled HD2+ Mustang chipset. HDMI was in its infancy, so only one connection was included (the VT25 has 4), but it was Version 1.0 which meant much less DRM and conflicts experienced in later revisions. This DLP also had a unique pedestal design with all of the internals housed in a center column with the screen resting on top all supported by a wide glass base. Certainly not the most mobile television, but when calibrated the image was quite pleasing and I never experience an issue with its operation (aside from a required changing of the lamp after a few thousand hours).
But that's the past, right out of the box this Panny handedly beats my old display by a huge margin, and presumably every other lamp-based DLP in existence. Image quality is fantastic--be it Blu-ray, HD cable, or DVD. Black levels are incredibly deep and inky while colors are extremely vibrant yet natural. No posterization, false contours, or phosphor lag that I can see. All anchored by a rich set of picture adjustments, including a near-perfect preset THX mode, that can be tweaked to yield incredible accuracy. The 1080p panel is capable of 1:1 pixel mapping using the Fill/Size 2 picture format option. There's also your usual unadvised zoom/stretch options.
"jack pack back/left side panel"
There shouldn't be any question Blu-ray looks great (feedby a "fat" 60GB PS3) and this plasma displays film's native 24fps rate as well as offering 48Hz/96Hz frame doubling/tripling. I personally prefer the "judder" of 24 frame-per-second film and not the unnaturally smooth "video-like" appearance of this additional processing (also known as 120Hz/240Hz in LCDs); I'm fine with 24fps for film content and 60Hz for video content. So far I've checked out Hatchet, The Evil Dead, Crank, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Avatar, and a slew of title sampling. I'm literally blown away. So clear you can get within inches of the screen and fine detail remains tack-sharp.
DVD might be the more of a story here, but this could be the player over the VT25--the now discontinued Oppo DV-980H. This player was the "lowest-end" offering in their last series of universal DVD players before shifting to Blu-ray units. Despite that, the 980H might be the best performing single chip DVD player ever produced. I loved the 720p upconversion and now it's only better scaling to 1080p. Of course, the picture isn't near the clarity of high definition, but still strong with solid standard def transfers. Everything I've checked out is very representative of what the given discs actually look like in their native resolution; if that makes any sense.
This player and VT25 also accept 480i standard definition via HDMI--which isn't common--meaning the Oppo can send the raw DVD signal to the display for scaling to 1080p instead of the player. While the result looks quite good, the Oppo has a slight edge, the VT25's processing in this particular respect made the image look a little plastic. Unfortunately, no PAL DVD resolutions are supported, curiously unlike my old DLP. At least the Oppo can convert PAL into NTSC; despite that option not being optimal.
So far, so good. Even the "BBE VivA" faked surround sound feature is surprisingly clear and dimensional for flat panel speakers. I'm being careful with the first 100 hour plasma break-in process. Being mindful not to display black bars and cable logos for too long and enabling the "Pixel Orbiter" that very subtly shifts the picture periodically to avoid image retention. Oh yeah, concerning 3D and all that jazz, the VT25 reportedly bests Samsung's 3D displays at this feature (zero left/right crosstalk), but I honestly don't care at this point. This plasma's awesome 2D performance is more than enough for now. Although perhaps I'll eventually break down for Piranha 3D and Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D. If anything, I guess this means my Blu-ray reviews will only be more accurate from now on!