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Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning Press Conference with Dolph Lundgren and director John Hyams

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Today the next chapter in the ongoing Universal Soldier saga is set to be released in selected theaters; more horror than sci-fi, John Hyams’ Day of Reckoning reunites Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme for one more battle to the death.

But this time up-and-coming action star Scott Adkins is getting in on the action.

Dread Central recently attended the press day for Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (review), where we caught up with Lundgren and director Hyams to hear more about this installment in the ever-growing franchise, their experiences making the film and much more.

Lundgren also briefly chatted about the upcoming Expendables 3 and potentially co-starring in that flick alongside Nicolas Cage.

Check out the highlights from the Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning press conference below, and look for the flick now that’s arrived in theaters everywhere!

Question: So, John, what was the hardest part of shooting this Universal Soldier for you?

John Hyams: It’s not a huge budget movie so you’re on a tight schedule. On this movie we had a 30-day shooting schedule; we also shot it in 3D, which adds a lot of challenges technically speaking as there’s a whole lot more equipment and variables where things can suddenly go wrong. I think the biggest challenge was that we had to be extremely prepared; in doing fight scenes of such complexity, you can’t just work it out on the set. You need it to be prepared early and have the performers in the gym learning these moves.

The best thing about this movie is that we had a cast and a crew that was willing to put work in before we showed up on the set.

Question: Dolph, this is the third Universal Soldier movie for you; can you discuss the appeal of this franchise and your character of Andrew Scott?

Dolph Lundgren: Well look, they had to drag me out for the third one (Universal Soldier: Regeneration), and for this one I wasn’t too happy doing it because it just felt like I was repeating the same thing again. But then John came up with the very clever idea of making this one more of a horror movie, and it was more mysterious and smarter. It was just a different type of movie and more evolved so my character became more interesting to me because he had more compassion for his fellow soldiers and he’s more human than he was before.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning Press Conference with Dolph Lundgren and director John Hyams

Question: John, how did you arrive at the color palette for this movie?

John Hyams: That’s a good question. The last movie we did was kind of monochromatic with very washed out colors, and it was shot in Eastern Europe during the winter so that informed that. With this one we wanted a landscape that was actually very colorful but not in necessarily a beautiful way, but more of in a sublime, haunting kind of way. Different colors would dominate different settings because the whole movie is about a character taking a descent into his own soul, and through this descent the movie keeps going deeper and deeper to where it’s underground by the end. We’re trying to create this very underbelly world that our character who seemed like a nice normal guy is taken on a descent to hell, so that informed the look.

Question: Given the construct of this story and what we see onscreen, is this film kind of like passing the mantle of the franchise on to Scott Adkins then?

John Hyams: It was less a passing of a mantle in my mind and more about introducing this new character and a new flavor to the franchise. As Dolph said, when the discussion was to do another movie, my answer to that was, “What for?” It’ll satisfy some paychecks in the process, but what really is the point of the movie existing if we’re doing it the same way?

So I thought, let’s bring something new to this, and the last movie posed this riddle of what happened to Jean-Claude’s character of Luc Deveraux. By that very nature he couldn’t really be the protagonist of this movie, and it should be about finding him and Andrew Scott and for these guys to find where they are and what they’re doing. We need a vessel for that and so we brought in a guy like Scott Adkins, who to me has more than earned his right to lead something like this, and he is in the perfect place because many people don’t know about him. It is a great way to introduce him and show what he is capable of doing.

Dolph Lundgren: I agree (laughs).

Question: Towards the end of the movie there are certain scenes that were clearly inspired by Apocalypse Now. Did that movie inspire this one overall, and were there other movies which influenced the style of it for you, too?

John Hyams: There are a lot of movies that inspired it for sure. Apocalypse Now is probably my favorite movie ever made, but I didn’t go into this saying let’s do Apocalypse Now. It was more thematically about these characters going into this descent. Apocalypse Now has taken over Heart of Darkness as far as our iconic reference for that story of going down the river and visiting the darkness of your soul.

Kurtz is more of a mythic literary character at this point. So Deveraux has kind of gone rogue and created his own militia, and there’s no denying he’s become a Kurtz-like character. We didn’t avoid that but just embraced that and accepted that this is who he’s become. Thematically it has a lot to do with that, but stylistically we were not doing what Francis Ford Coppola did with all due respect.

Our visual influences were a little more in the noir type of world. We watched movies like Jacob’s Ladder, Angel Heart and even Memento, but even the visual palette of Cronenberg movies had this sticky murky darkness to the world we were trying to create that we were more inspired by horror and noir than by action. Also movies like Blade Runner and filmmakers like Gasper Noe, who’s made some amazing movies that deal with subjective storytelling like Enter the Void, which is one of the great cinematic achievements in history in my mind. So those were some overt thefts really, and Apocalypse Now was more of a thematic direction we were going.

Question: Dolph, you went from shooting this Universal Soldier to doing The Expendables 2 in a very short period of time. What is like for you going from one action movie to another so quickly?

Dolph Lundgren: My characters in each film were different kinds of guys. It was fun because the Scott character was more introverted while Gunner Jensen is more of a Swedish kind of drunk. While Expendables 2 had me giving a comedic performance, this one is more dramatic, but I try to bring some comedy to this one as well.

Even in the first Universal Soldier movie, Scott had some comedic moments without playing broad comedy, and I just try to find those little beats where the audience can get a relief from all the mayhem, murder and brains everywhere. That’s what I thought I could bring to it, a little bit of a light touch.

John Hyams: Dolph’s character of Scott is the one who roots us in the Universal Soldier world because this film clearly goes off the reservation. Even in the last one, he kind of brings you back to what it’s all about. The first movie was very tongue-in-cheek and there was a lot of comedy in it, and these last two have gotten more serious.

But then again, you inject this character who’s the mouthpiece for all these guys. He’s the guy who’s able to vocalize their existential plight, and in doing so Dolph’s able to bring his kind of spirit and personality and humor to the table. It’s a great release for the audience because they have been taken to a dark place.

Question: Sylvester Stallone just announced he’s doing The Expendables 3 and that Nic Cage will be in it. Dolph, will you be back for that sequel, and what do you think Cage will bring to the movie?

Dolph Lundgren: Well, I don’t know if I’m back or not because I haven’t seen a script yet. But Cage is a great actor and he will balance the cast out; he could play some verbally-driven character and sort of balance all the guys who just run around grunting and killing people like me (laughs).

Question: With these last two Universal Soldier movies having been shot in Eastern Europe and Louisiana, where would you like to see the franchise go next?

John Hyams: Like many franchises you can go in so many different directions with this thing. It really comes down to what the audience wants and after them the rights holders. If they want to continue in the direction we’ve been going, then I’m their guy; but if they want to do something else, then they can find someone else and do it differently.

I have some pretty good ideas about where I’d go with it, which is again taking where this movie ends and the questions that it poses and where would that lead you. That’s the point of doing movies which are in chapters because the end of every movie is posing a question, and the next one should be answering that and then posing new ones at the end of that.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning Press Conference with Dolph Lundgren and director John Hyams

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Hell Night Blu-ray Review – Mischief & Mayhem At Mongoloid Manor

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Starring Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Suki Goodwin, Vincent Van Patten

Directed by Tom DeSimone

Distributed by Scream Factory


1981. Prime time for the slasher film, when studios were more than content to pump out one after another since production cost was often so low. The downside, though, was that many wound up being formulaic and, eventually, forgotten. Time has allowed the cream to rise to the top of that crop and while Hell Night (1981) isn’t among the best it does stand out due to some novel choices made by director Tom DeSimone and executive producer Chuck Russell, the man responsible for some of the most consistently entertaining horror films of the ‘80s. A dilapidated mansion, oozing with gothic atmosphere, stands in place of a college campus or generic forest setting. Characters are dressed in formal costume; a stark departure from typical ‘80s teen garb. The film is half haunted house, half crazed killer and there is a not-entirely-unexpected-but-definitely-welcome twist at the end providing a solid jolt to a beleaguered climax. Fans are rightly excited to see Hell Night makes its debut in HD, though the final product is still compromised despite Scream Factory’s best efforts.

It’s Hell Night, every fraternity brother’s favorite evening; when new recruits are tormented in hazing rituals from, well, Hell. Peter (Kevin Brophy), president of the vaunted Alpha Sigma Rho house, comes up with the brilliant idea to have four pledges – Marti (Linda Blair), Jeff (Peter Barton), Denise (Suki Goodwin), and Seth (Vincent Van Patten) – spend the night in a decaying mansion. But this isn’t just any old house, as Peter regales a rapt audience – this is where former owner Raymond Garth killed his wife and three malformed children before hanging himself, sparing only the life of his son, Andrew, who was rumored to reside within the place after the murders. The pledges enter Garth Manor and quickly pair off, with Marti and Jeff getting intellectual while Denise and Seth take a more physical path.

A few hours pass and Peter returns with some of his bros, planning to initiate a few good scare pranks they set up earlier that week. The chuckles don’t last long, though, because Jeff and Seth quickly find the shoddy wiring and poorly placed speakers rigged upstairs. What they don’t know is that there is an actual killer on the loose, and he just decapitated one of the girls. Leaving the labyrinthine home proves difficult, with Marti & Jeff getting lost within the catacombs beneath the estate, evading their mongoloid menace however possible. Seth, meanwhile, has to scale a massive spiked fence if they hope to get any help way out here. Wait, didn’t Peter mention something about Andrew having a sibling?

The production team on this picture was a beast, and I’m convinced that’s the chief reason why it came out any good at all; specifically, the involvement of Chuck Russell and Irwin Yablans. I give a bit less credit to director Tom DeSimone, who up to that point (and after it) filled his filmography with lots and lots of gay porn; storyline and direction are usually secondary in that market. Hell, they even had Frank Darabont running around set as a P.A. which is just a cool fact because nobody listens to P.A.s on a film set. Music is just as important, too, and composer Dan Wyman is a synth master who worked with John Carpenter on his early films. His score here is reminiscent of those lo-fi masterpieces.

Solid atmosphere and rounded characters make all the difference. Instead of a roster of stereotypical sophomoric faces the bulk of the film focuses on four individuals with personality and a bit of depth. Blair makes a good turn as the bookish good girl type, while Barton is a charming match for her mentally, showing interest in more than just a drunken hookup. Denise and Seth are both superficial, and their interactions inject the most humor into the film. Denise continually calling Seth “Wes” is one example. A good horror film gets the audience invested in who lives and dies, and while I won’t go so far as to say these are exemplary characters the script does make them three-dimensional and not so paper thin.

The 1.85:1 1080p image is sourced from a 4K restoration of an archival 35mm print with standard definition inserts. This is a step up from Anchor Bay’s old DVD but not by leaps and bounds. Colors attain greater saturation and definition is tightened but the picture looks awfully soft too often and the jump between HD and SD footage is plain as day. The print displays vertical scratches and white flecks. Black levels are decent but there is clear room for improvement across the board. To their credit this is the best image Scream Factory was able to produce but fans should temper expectations going in because this is not a pristine picture by any means.

There is nothing wrong to be found with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, which does a fine job of carrying the dialogue alongside Dan Wyman’s sinister synth soundtrack. Direction is limited and the presentation is routine, but no problems were detected and the track capably supports the feature. Subtitles are available in English.

Here is where Scream Factory does their best to make up for the shortcomings of the a/v presentation: a ton of extra features.

An audio commentary track features actress Linda Blair, director Tom DeSimone, and producers Irwin Yablans & Bruce Cohn Curtis.

“Linda Blair: The Beauty of Horror” – This is a recent discussion with the actress, who covers her run in the genre in addition to diving deep into this film’s difficult production.

“Hell Nights with Tom DeSimone” – Shot on location at the Garth Manor (actually Kimberly Crest Estate in Redlands, CA), DeSimone reflects back on shooting the film there over 35 years ago.

“Peter Barton: Facing Fear” – The actor offers up expected discussion, covering his career in horror and navigating the Hollywood scene.

“Producing Hell with Bruce Cohn Curtis” – This covers more of the behind-the-scenes work that went into making the movie.

“Writing Hell” – Screenwriter Randy Feldman offers up some insight into his process for creating the story and writing the script.

“Vincent Van Patten & Suki Goodwin in Conversation” – The two actors, who have not seen each other in quite some time, sit down together for a back-and-forth discussion.

“Kevin Brophy & Jenny Neumann in Conversation” – This is another chat conducted the same way as Van Patten & Goodwin.

“Gothic Design in Hell Night” – Art director Steven Legler talks about his process for turning Garth Manor into how it is seen on film; evoking the right chilling atmosphere.

“Anatomy of the Death Scenes” – Pam Peitzman, make-up artist, and John Eggett, special effects, scrutinize each of the film’s kill scenes and discuss what went into achieving them.

“On Location at Kimberly Crest” – DeSimone guides viewers on a tour of the “Garth Manor” as it can be seen today.

A theatrical trailer, two TV spots, a radio spot, and a photo gallery are the remaining features.

Special Features:

  • NEW 4K Scan of the film taken from the best surviving archival print
  • NEW interviews with actors Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Suki Goodwin, Kevin Brophy and Jenny Neumann
  • Audio Commentary with Linda Blair, Tom DeSimone, Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis
  • Original Theatrical Trailer & TV spots
  • Blu-ray Disc Exclusives:
    • NEW interview with Director Tom DeSimone
    • NEW interview with Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis
    • NEW interview with Writer Randolph Feldman
    • NEW – Anatomy of the Death Scenes with Tom DeSimone, Randolph Feldman, Make-up artist Pam Peitzman, Art Director Steven G. Legler and Special Effects artist John Eggett
    • NEW – On Location at the Kimberly Crest House with Tom DeSimone
    • NEW – Gothic Design in Hell Night with Steven G. Legler
    • Original Radio spot
    • Photo Gallery featuring rare, never-before-seen stills
  • Hell Night
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

“Hell Night” overcomes being lumped in with standard slasher fare thanks to dripping atmosphere, unique production design, and characters that elicit some empathy. The a/v presentation leaves much to be desired but a plethora of bonus features softens that blow.

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Video: The Shape of Water Q&A with Guillermo del Toro and Doug Jones at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre

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This past weekend at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA betwixt a double screening of The Shape of Water and the classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the former’s director Guillermo del Toro (and star Doug Jones) sat down to discuss the latter’s influence on the film, Gill-man sex, “one sock movies,” his career in the genre, and more with moderator Jonah Ray, and we were there to film a portion of it.

Our sincere thanks to American Cinematheque general manager Dennis Bartok for extending the invitation.

For more Cinematheque screenings, visit the official website here.

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The Open House Review – Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

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Starring Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune, Sharif Atkins

Written by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote

Directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote


Mere weeks, even days, after effusively beating Netflix’s original horror content drum (The Babysitter, Before I Wake, Creep 2), I’m here to confirm that The Open House is emptier than an vacant bomb shelter. Cold, unappealing and thoughtlessly plotted to the point where “generic” would have been an improvement. From the moment we’re welcomed into Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote’s scripted imprisonment, it’s nothing but loose floorboards and busted plumbing. The home invasion genre has rarely been navigated with such little attention to detail, asking for our suspension of coherent storytelling early, often, and without earning the right to be deemed mindless genre fun. Not even Ty Pennington could save this extreme renovation disaster.

Dylan Minnette plays Logan Wallace, a track star and student who must find closure after watching his father fall victim to a fatal car accident. It is his mother Naomi’s (Piercey Dalton) idea to spend a little time away from their suburban home – escape those painful memories – so they retreat to her sister’s luxurious mountain getaway. The catch? It’s in the process of being sold and open houses are on the regular, so Naomi and Logan must vacate their temporary premises on certain days. It’s after one of these very showings that Logan begins to notice slight changes around the house, and he fears that an unwanted visitor may be in their midst. Guess what? He’s right.

To understand how little The Open House cares about conscious blueprinting, just read the poster’s tagline. “You can’t lock out what’s already inside” – right, but you could have prevented them from coming in, or checked the house to make sure they weren’t squatting, or explored numerous other possibilities to avoid this scenario. The mansion’s realtor allows prospective buyers to come and go but it’s not her job to make sure no one’s hiding in the basement? Naomi can’t even keep track of the *single* visitor she lets look around the house? It’s infuriating to see so many people neglect safety out of forced coincidence because the script couldn’t rationalize the killer’s entry any other way – a confounding strike one.

This is also a film that admits no reasoning for why its own murderer has targeted the Wallaces, or why he stokes a violent fetish when it comes to open houses. We never actually see his face, just his imposing handyman-looking attire, nor do we savor any kind of tangible backstory (his family died during their own open house and he suffered a psychotic breakdown – just give me *something*). His undefined form never demands curiosity like John Carpenter’s “The Shape” once did, because scripting is nothing more than bullet notes for basic horror movie necessities. Here he is, your bad guy – too bad he’s introduced without fear, handled without originality and unable to characterize beyond torturous kidnapper dotted lines. He’s just, you know, a guy who sneaks into open houses and kills – COMPLETE WITH A FINAL PAN-IN ON AN OPEN HOUSE SIGN WHEN HE MOVES TO HIS NEXT TARGET [eye roll into infinity].

Every scene in The Open House feels like an afterthought. “Ah, we need a way to build tension – how about a senile local woman who lives down the street and wanders aimlessly into frame?” Overplayed and in no way suitable to most her inclusions, but sure. “Oh, and we need inner conflict – what about if the breaker-iner steals Logan’s phone and frames him for later acts?” I mean, didn’t Logan canonically lose his phone even before Naomi’s mid-shower water heater issues – but sure, instant fake tension. “How are people going to believe the killer is always around and never blows his cover – think they’ll just buy it?” No, we don’t. Worse off, his cat-and-mouse game is dully repetitive until a finale that skyrockets intensity with jarring tonal imbalance. This closing, dreadful end without any sort of redemptive quality. More abusive than it is fulfilling.

If there’s anything positive worth conveying, it’s that Minnette does a fine job shuffling around as a character with severe sight impairment. The killer makes a point to remove his contacts as a final “FUCK YOU,” just to toy around a bit more, and Minnette frantically slips or stumbles with nothing more than foggy vision. Otherwise, dialogue finds itself ripped form a billion other straight-to-TV Logo dramas about broken families, no moment ever utilizing horror past a few shadowy forms standing in doorways after oblivious characters turn away. You can’t just take an overused subgenre and sleepwalk through homogenized beats…case and god-forsaken point.

Even as a streamable Netflix watch, The Open House is irredeemable beyond fault. The walls are caving in on this dilapidated excuse for home invasion horror, benefiting not from the star power of a temperamental Dylan Minnette. I have seen most involved players here in far better projects (Minnette’s stock has rightfully been skyrocketing, Matt Angel in The Funhouse Massacre, etc), but this is bargain bin theatrics without a fully formed idea. A nameless villain, doomed nice guy (Sharif Atkins), woefully unaware plot advancement – all the worst cliches found in one rage-quit worthy effort. Anyone who makes it through deserves an award…or a dunce cap.

  • The Open House
1.0

Summary

Unless you’re irrationally afraid of cold showers, The Open House fails to deliver on a premise that can be summed up by no more than two lines of text.

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