Starring Michael Rooker, Elizabeth Banks, Nathan Fillion, Gregg Henry
Directed by James Gunn
Distributed by Scream Factory
It has been a real pleasure watching the career trajectory of James Gunn. Although I didn’t know it at the time I’ve been a fan of his work since 1996, when the VHS of Tromeo and Juliet was in heavy rotation on my VCR (he wrote the film). Nearly ten years later, he pulled off a seemingly impossible feat by writing a solid script for Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake. And obviously he is currently globally celebrated for his work with Marvel. Backtracking a decade, Gunn made his directorial debut in 2006 with Slither, a dark horror comedy about mind-controlling slugs from another world descending upon a small town. Filled with quick wit and gross-out gags, the film feels like a natural extension from Gunn’s lower-budgeted work with Troma. Lloyd Kaufman even makes a cameo. After years of waiting and wanting, Scream Factory has finally anted up and delivered the Blu-ray release fans – and Gunn – have been asking for.
On an otherwise quiet night in the South, a meteorite crashes in the forest just outside of Wheelsy, South Carolina. Late the next night, local auto dealer and self-made millionaire Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) is walking through the woods with Brenda (Brenda James), a local bar slut, after fighting with his wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks). Grant provides a sense of security for Starla, but her true lust seems to lie with local police officer Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), though the two have never evolved past playful flirting. Just as Grant and Brenda begin to get down, he spies the meteorite and goes in for a closer look. His curiosity is rewarded with a sharp barb projected into his chest, which burrows inside and causes an immediate change in his demeanor. Although he still (for now) looks like Grant and is able to mimic his normal speech and actions, his sole intent is to impregnate a kidnapped Brenda with his alien love seed – and doing so requires meat. Meat. Meat. Meat.
As Grant’s love slugs develop within Brenda’s ever-expanding womb, her alien baby daddy continues his evolution into something squid-like – and very pissed off. The cops make a play to stop Grantsquid and when the officers give chase they are led directly to an about-to-burst Brenda, who literally explodes with tiny offspring. Now the entire town is under siege as thousands of slimy slugs crawl through the streets, intent on climbing inside people’s mouths and taking over their brains, forming a collective consciousness. Bill and his remaining squad try to subdue to zombified residents of Wheelsy, but the true battle lies with Grant, leader of the hive-mind, who is still trying his hardest to win back the affections of Starla – even though he looks like a demon squid monster from hell.
Balance is everything in a horror-comedy and Gunn strikes the perfect pitch between the two. Blending together elements of greater films by Carpenter, Cronenberg, and, apparently unintentionally, Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps (1986) – Gunn says he never saw the film prior to making this – Slither manages to finesse all of those influences cohesively while still remaining a patented Gunn production. Fillion brings the loveably goofy everyman charm to his role, while Gunn regular Gregg Henry punctuates his supporting scenes with fiery wit and foul declarations. And the humor works. It flows organically from the actors; none of it feels contrived or forced… an issue I had with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). Alongside those laughs are moments of true terror not because of tension but, rather, sheer grossness. The evolution of Grantsquid is an undeniable thing of grotesque beauty, like a reject from the underrated Freaked (1993). But then there are moments such as when Brenda gives birth, or when a character turns zombie and makes the difficult decision to eat part of a dead person. And then there’s the cop who gets split in half by Grantsquid. Gunn doles out the horror in gooey bursts, each complete with a strong visceral impact.
Not everything about the film is a winner, though. The subplot with Kylie (Tania Saulnier) is nothing but needless exposition. While the slimy slugs are able to work their way into most mouths with relative ease, Kylie stops her mandible menace thanks to a fresh set of sharp fingernails. With the creature half in her mouth, its telepathic link to the others is activated and suddenly she is flooded with the gift of Essential Story Knowledge. All of her dialogue from this point forward is filling in the other survivors (read: viewers) on what this slug-thing is, its plans, hobbies, passions, etc. None of this is necessarily information anyone needs, however, and it just bogs an otherwise strong script down.
Slither bombed hard when it hit theaters. I remember watching it in a half-full auditorium and it just wasn’t getting the laughs. Truthfully, the first time I saw it some of the tone struck me as odd and I just couldn’t connect, but subsequent viewings have only improved my view and it’s now right up there with some of the most enjoyable horror-comedies ever made. And that’s no hyperbole, either. Gunn’s film caters to a crowd that loves savage sarcasm, practical FX, and ‘80s nostalgia – everything within my own wheelhouse.
Although no new scan information has been provided, the 1.85:1 1080p image is a real beauty. Clarity and fine detail are particularly impressive, making the tiniest of details crystal clear, although shadow delineation is a little weak and the image gets buried on occasion. Bold color saturation is uniform throughout. Film grain appears organic and smooth. The moments of bad CGI work still look poor, though thankfully they are few. Overall this is a pleasing image that is leaps and bounds above the old DVD of yore.
An English DTS-HD MA track has been supplied in both 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound configurations. Though the multi-channel track allows for greater separation of effect and dialogue, most of the activity is relegated to the center and front-end speakers. Rears only come into play with minimal atmosphere and quick bursts of action. Tyler Bates’ score is brash but moody, perfectly complementing the on-screen activity. Subtitles are available in English.
There are two audio commentary tracks included – first, a new recording featuring James Gunn, Nathan Fillion, and Michael Rooker; the second, a legacy track with Gunn and Fillion.
“The Genesis of SLITHER – An Interview with Writer/Director James Gunn” – Gunn always gives a great interview and his retrospective look at the film here is filled with interesting anecdotes and trivia.
“The Other MacReady – An Interview with Actor Gregg Henry” – This is a brief but worthwhile interview with one of the film’s highlight performers.
“Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary by James Gunn” – These are not available to be watched separately, with nearly all adding additional character development.
“Visual Effects: Step by Step” – See how shots evolve from a blank plate to a fully-realized CGI creation.
“Slithery Set Tour with Actor Nathan Fillion” – The actor grabs a camera around, chatting with several cast & crew members.
“Who is Bill Pardy?” is a reel of outtakes and gags featuring Fillion’s character.
“The Sick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither” – This is an EPK covering the making of the film, featuring interviews with some of the cast & crew.
“Brewing the Blood” – Special effects assistant Kurt Jackson shows viewers how to make their very own cinema blood at home.
“Bringing Slither’s Creatures to Life” – Actors and special effects artists from the film discuss the extensive prosthetic work and creepy crawlies designed for the film.
“Lloyd Kaufman’s Video Diary” – See Kaufman’s fly-on-the-wall perspective during a day on set.
A gag reel and the film’s theatrical trailer are also included.
- NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Director James Gunn And Actors Nathan Fillion And Michael Rooker
- NEW The Genesis Of SLITHER – An Interview With Writer/Director James Gunn
- NEW The Other MacReady – An Interview With Actor Gregg Henry
- Audio Commentary With James Gunn And Nathan Fillion (From 2006)
- Deleted And Extended Scenes With Optional Commentary By James Gunn
- Visual Effects: Step By Step
- Slithery Set Tour With Actor Nathan Fillion
- The Sick Minds And Slimy Days Of SLITHER
- Brewing The Blood – How To Make Blood
- Bringing SLITHER’s Creatures To Life
- Lloyd Kaufman’s Video Diary
- Gag Reel
- Who Is Bill Pardy? Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
- Optional English SDH subtitles
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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