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Thelma Fantastic Fest Review: Horror Viewed Through a Lens of Poetry

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Starring Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen

Directed by Joachim Trier


Defining horror can sometimes be a very tricky business. We all know of movies like Seven, The Silence of the Lambs, The Witch, and other titles that walk in a very gray area, causing people to question what genre it most easily and categorically falls into. These are the films that often spur the most discussion, the ones that stick with us the longest because they are so intriguing and captivating. We can now add Joachim Trier’s romance/horror film Thelma to that list.

The movie follows Thelma (Harboe), a young woman who comes from a rather strict, religious upbringing. We are introduced to her as she attends university, where her timidity is matched only by her loneliness. One day, while studying amongst other students, she meets Anja (Wilkins) only to have a seizure within moments of this chance encounter. The two stay connected and ultimately fall in love, although Thelma is torn over her emotions and her faith. This sets off a chain of events in which Thelma begins to realize she has strange, uncontrollable powers.

Now, while this sounds like a superpower movie, it’s nothing at all like that. Thelma is a slow yet deliciously paced film that never explodes into some shocking finale. Rather, everything about the film is done in such a way that we’re meant to appreciate the construction of every scene, delighting in Ola Fløttum’s beautiful synth-y score, and marveling at the gorgeous cinematography from Jakob Ihre.

Furthermore, all of this is there to service the characters and their magnificent performances. Harboe shines as Thelma, a young woman whose guilt over her sexual and romantic feelings send take her from the throes of passion and love to the devastating depths of sin. Wilkins also excels in the role of Anja, her eyes capturing the pain of wanting to love Thelma but glistening with empathetic pain as she sees her going through this inner struggle.

While the film takes its time allowing Thelma to open up and come to terms with her lesbian identity, it isn’t done through means of sexual tension. The times when she’s with Anja, when their friendship is budding, are instead laden with romantic tension. The viewer isn’t meant to want to see some sort of physical consummation but rather an emotional one. Thelma has clearly denied herself the opportunities to experience all that life has to offer, so seeing her with Anja should – and for this reviewer does – make the audience want her to experience love outside of familial obligation, which is the only other relationship we see her have.

Her relationship with her family is, much like many young adults, strained as Thelma seeks to find her own identity. Still, she has near daily calls with her father, with whom she tells everything, and her mother, who she is obviously uncomfortable speaking with. As the film unfolds, we see the reason for this friction and it’s nothing short of tragic.

Thelma’s “sins” create great conflict within her and she fights against her nature with every fiber of her being. This turmoil only exacerbates and increases the frequency of her seizures, each of which seems to come right as something mysteriously goes her way. This power is both a blessing and a curse, as Thelma comes to learn when she digs deeper into the nature of her seizures to try and find out why doctors can’t identify what’s wrong with her.

Thelma never tries to say that religion is wrong nor does it try to say that LGBTQ relationships are undeniably pure. What it is saying is that contentious matters can affect us greatly and that there are never easy answers. We can’t expect to snap our fingers and solve our issues. Even if we could, the results might be more horrific than we ever expected and finding a way to live with those consequences will be a different but equally difficult challenge of its own.

For those who are seeking a true horror experience, you will be left frustrated and disappointed. But for those of you who appreciate when horror is more than blood, carnage, and violence, Thelma is horror viewed through a lens of poetry.

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Drag Me to Hell Blu-ray Review – Scream Factory Tops This Double Dip With Tasty New Extras

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Starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao

Directed by Sam Raimi

Distributed by Scream Factory


After jump-starting his career in horror, Sam Raimi branched off into different genres – western, drama, thriller – before getting called up to the big leagues for Sony’s Spider-Man (2002-2007) trilogy. Fans who had hoped for a return to the ol’ splatter days had a 17-year wait until that moment finally arrived with Drag Me to Hell (2009). Raimi had been kicking that script around for close to a decade, even offering it to Edgar Wright at one point after realizing he didn’t have the time to see it through. Once the dust settled from a public spat-of-sorts between Raimi and Sony over the direction of a proposed “Spider-Man 4”, however, suddenly Sam found himself with a whole lotta free time and the desire to work on something “smaller”. The script he and his brother, Ivan, had written all those years back now fit perfectly within the wheelhouse of Ghost House Pictures, a production company Raimi launched with longtime producer Robert Tapert in 2002. Armed with a bigger budget (~$30 million) than he had for any previous horror film, Raimi still kept the scale small and (surprisingly) lightened up on the gore, making a more accessible film that still retained his trademark style.

Pasadena, 1959. A Hispanic family brings their son to see Shaun San Dena (Flor de Maria Chahua), a medium who specializes in demons and malevolent spirits, claiming the boy has been hearing voices after stealing a gypsy’s necklace. Before anything can be done the ground opens up and the child is literally dragged down into the fiery depths. Cut to present day, where we meet Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), an ambitious loan officer hoping to score that big promotion to assistant manager. She just has to impress her boss, Jim (David Paymer), and prove her abilities over Stu (Reggie Lee), a new co-worker gunning for the same position. Christine gets a chance to show she can “make the hard decisions” when elderly gypsy Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) pays her a visit, looking for a loan extension on her about-to-be-foreclosed-upon home. Christine defers to Jim for advice, but he lobs the ball back into her court for the final decision. Thinking about that coveted promotion, Christine refuses the extension. Despite Mrs. Ganush’s on-her-knees pleading, Christine stands firm.

Later that night, while leaving work Christine is attacked by Ganush and the two women have a knock-down drag-out brawl that ends with the haggard old liver spot snatching a button off Christine’s coat and imbuing it with a curse. Christine is able to make out the word “Lamia” before passing out. The next day Christine and her boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long), have a chance encounter with Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), a soothsayer who warns Christine that she has been beset upon by an evil spirit. Clay is skeptical but Christine hears his words and all but confirms them after seeing bizarre hallucinations and being attacked by the demon in her home. An attempt to appeal to Mrs. Ganush and have the curse lifted fails when Christine learns the old woman recently died. Rham Jas offers to have Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza) perform a séance to trap and kill the Lamia but, really, the only sure way to be rid of the curse is for Christine to “gift” the accursed object (her button) to another – and that person will befall the same horrific fate.

When I first caught this in theaters I remember my only real disappointment was not Raimi’s lack of excessive gore but that so much of it was done using CGI. While there are several visceral, completely disgusting gross-out gags that were achieved with practical effects other moments, such as when the anvil drops on Ganush’s head, look like SyFy-level computer work. The kind of ingenuity that would have been used to pull of these effects is a large part of why Raimi’s early work is so beloved. Maybe the lure and ease of CGI is just too great? A similar thing happened to Peter Jackson, too. At least the tangible moments here are uncomfortably nasty, like Ganush’s frequent “gumming” of Christine’s chin… and all the gross crap she spits into her mouth. There is a lot to love; enough to outweigh the few moments of mediocrity. It’s just slightly frustrating as a fan because it’s clear where improvements could have been made. Still, bad CGI isn’t the film’s biggest problem…

…it’s the acting. Alison Lohman seems like a very nice young woman and I have no desire to criticize her to death, but she doesn’t have any range. Her entire performance as Christine is monotonous and generally flat. Emotions come across as directions read off a page; nothing feels true. She isn’t bad enough to sink the entire film but it was glaring during this, my fourth or fifth time watching the film, where it became very apparent. Also, I usually like Long but he’s just kinda phoning it in here. The climax when he’s yelling out “Oh god!” on the train station platform is bad on a level only Ryan O’Neal could understand.

Christopher Young kills it, though. The man behind one of the greatest horror scores of all time, Hellraiser (1987), delivers with the goods. His main theme is reminiscent of “Danse Macabre” and the entire soundtrack vacillates between devilish strings and powerful, overwhelming compositions. The sound design was a highlight of this film (how often is that noticed enough to garner praise?) and Young’s score propels it to the fiery depths with glorious results.

Raimi has only done one picture since Drag Me to Hell, 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful, and although much talk has occurred about potential vehicles nothing is set in stone as of yet. Hopefully, once he does jump back into the fold it’s with something akin to this fiendish little gem and not another bloated CGI epic.

Universal’s previously issued Drag Me to Hell on Blu-ray, with both cuts of the film occupying a single BD-50 disc and sporting an outdated encode. Scream Factory’s release spreads those versions out onto two discs, with each getting its own BD-50. The 2.40:1 1080p image isn’t a major leap in picture quality over the last edition, but videophiles will pick up on the improved black levels, tighter contrast, and lack of obvious compression issues. The picture is clean, blemish-free, and nicely detailed with strong color saturation and a proficient reproduction of the theatrical experience.

As with the Universal disc, expect to find audio options in English DTS-HD Master Audio with both 2.0 and 5.1 surround sound tracks included. As mentioned, Young’s score soars in lossless, providing a tense, immersive experience for viewers. Rear speakers are used frequently, especially during scenes involving the Lamia, and viewers can expect to hear demonic noises and scattered sound effects from every corner of the room. Dialogue is never lost in all this chaos, though, and voices are always clear and easy to understand. Subtitles are available in English.

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

“Production Diaries: Behind-the-Scenes Footage and Interviews with Cast and Crew” – Occasionally “hosted” by Justin Long these offer up a glimpse into the production via fly-on-the-wall and on-set video.

“Vintage Interviews”, featuring additional chat time with Raimi, Lohman, and Long.

Two TV spots and a theatrical trailer are also included here.

DISC TWO: Unrated Cut

“To Hell and Back: An Interview with Actress Alison Lohman” – The actress sits down to look back on the film she made nearly ten years ago.

“Curses!: An Interview with Actress Lorna Raver” – This old lady is so adorable, talking about how she knew little of the project until she was fully committed and then learned it was such a horrific role.

“Hitting All the Right Notes: An Interview with Composer Christopher Young” – The man behind the brilliant score has plenty to say about his working relationship with Raimi, as well as how he wrote the outstanding soundtrack.

A still gallery can also be found here.

Back to (mostly) basics and dripping with the signature style fans had missed for so long, Raimi came back in a big way with “Drag Me to Hell”. Nearly ten years on the film still holds up just as well, although it is robbed of additional pathos due to wooden acting. Regardless, this is just what fans hoped to see Raimi pull off once again and he does not disappoint.

Special Features:

Disc One:

  • NEW HD master of the theatrical cut taken from the 2K digital intermediate
    Production Diaries – with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with co- writer/director Sam Raimi, actors Allison Lohman, Justin Long, David Paymer, Dileep Rao, Lorna Raver, special effects guru Greg Nicotero, director of photography Peter Deming, and more… (35 minutes)
  • Vintage interviews with director Sam Raimi and actors Alison Lohman and Justin Long (33 minutes)
  • TV Spots
  • Theatrical Trailer

Disc Two:

  • NEW HD master of the unrated cut taken from the 2K digital intermediate
  • NEW To Hell and Back – an interview with actress Alison Lohman (12 minutes)
  • NEW Curses! – an interview with actress Lorna Raver (16 minutes)
  • NEW Hitting All The Right Notes – an interview with composer Christopher Young (17 minutes)
  • Still Gallery
  • Drag Me to Hell
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

Back to (mostly) basics and dripping with the signature style fans had missed for so long, Raimi came back in a big way with “Drag Me to Hell”. Nearly ten years on the film still holds up just as well, although it is robbed of additional pathos due to wooden acting. Regardless, this is just what fans hoped to see Raimi pull off once again and he does not disappoint.

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Suspiria U.K. Blu-ray Review – Argento’s Masterpiece In Stunning 4K Clarity

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Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Udo Kier

Directed by Dario Argento

Distributed by CultFilms


Although the 40th anniversary of Dario Argento’s seminal giallo masterpiece Suspiria passed only last year, plans for that milestone had been underway for years. Unbeknownst to all but the most diehard fans, restorative work was ongoing for a long while, most notably under the masterful eye of Synapse’s Don May, Jr., leading up to a grand unveiling of the all-new 4K picture that had been perfected and tweaked endlessly. That version of the film toured across the country at select events, giving fans an opportunity to watch Argento’s colorful classic with a picture more vibrant and full of pop than ever before. Even the original English 4.0 audio track from 1977 was restored to its former glory. Between all of the loving care Suspiria received, as well as the wealth of Argento reissues on Blu-ray, this is a good time to be a fan of his early works.

There are, however, actually two 4K restorations that were done for Suspiria; one, by Don May Jr., while the other was performed by TLEFilms FRPS in Germany. This is the same master used for home video release in Europe and Australia. Fans have viewed and picked apart both transfers, though you would have to be one of the ultra-purists to enter that debate and engage anyone willing to discredit either image. The job done by Synapse is extraordinary and the same can also be said for the work done by TLEFilms. This release by CultFilms features the TLEFilms restoration, making it either an attractive alternative to Synapse’s (currently OOP) steelbook release or a nice supplement for fans who wish to own both 4K versions.

Suspiria has been viewed and reviewed and discussed an endless amount of times and there are no undiscussed criticisms or introspective viewpoints I am likely to offer that haven’t been made before. Argento has long been an example of style over substance and Suspiria is his most emblematic work in that regard. American Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives in Germany at a prestigious all-girls dance academy late one rainy night. Girls have mysteriously vanished from the compound in recent days, with more to follow. Suzy is coldly greeted and frequently uncomfortable during her stay. Eventually she uncovers a plot involving witchcraft and murder. The story is less thrilling than the ride, which is a kaleidoscope of horror. Argento uses every trick in his bag, from inventive camera movement to ingenious framing, and the use of colored filters to evoke a mood so many have attempted to replicate.

The real interest many will have with this review is in regard to the picture quality. As I said before, the 2.35:1 1080p image provided by TFEFilms’ exhaustive restoration work is nothing short of astounding. This looks like a film that might have been made last year, never mind over four decades ago. The image is razor sharp, exceedingly clear and completely free of blemishes, dirt, debris, scratches, fluctuations, and jitter. The picture could not appear more stable, with the contrast rock solid and coloration a thing of beauty. Primaries leap off the screen with vibrancy even longtime fans will admit is a shocking surprise. Watching this picture in action is a true treat. Detailing is exquisite, revealing every little nuance in Argento’s framing. Simply put, this is a flawless image that ranks among the upper echelon of reference-quality Blu-ray transfers.

Similarly, the audio is no slouch with options available in both English and Italian, each receiving both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track and an LPCM 2.0 option. The multi-channel track is the clear winner here, proving a deep, immersive audible experience that completely envelops the viewer in both Argento’s world and Goblin’s phenomenal score. Seriously, the soundtrack for Suspiria has never been as unsettling and overpowering as it is here, filling every corner of your home theater room with a palpable sense of dread. Subtitles are, of course, available in English.

Please note: this release is locked to Region B, meaning you must have a compatible player to watch the disc.

This release also features different bonus material from the Synapse release, with an emphasis here placed on the restoration process. Completists may want to add this disc to their collection because it not only offers up a different-but-equal a/v presentation but also a new collection of bonus features.

An audio commentary is included, provided by film critics/authors Alan Jones and Kim Newman.

“The Restoration Process” is a nearly one-hour piece that examines every step along the way in bringing Suspiria back to such stunning life. Technical talk abounds here; definitely for fans who want a glimpse into the nerdier side of making movies look pretty again.

“Argento Presents His Suspiria” is a new interview with the director, who surprisingly doesn’t seem sick to death of talking about this film yet.

“Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria” offers up critical appraisal of the film’s visual style, featuring interviews with critics, theorists, and others involved in making the film.

“Suspiria Perspectives” offers up more in-depth discussion of the film, covering both this feature and similar Italian pictures made during that era.

A DVD copy of the feature is also included. The two-disc set sits within a slick, shiny embossed slipcover with the film’s logo in metallic silver. It’s kinda sexy.

Special Features:

  • The Restoration Process
  • Argento Presents His Suspiria
  • Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria
  • Suspiria Perspectives
  • Audio Commentary
  • Suspiria
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Looking better than ever before, Cult Films’ release of this giallo classic is welcomed as both a more affordable (current) alternative to the U.S. release and as a complement to it, since this edition has a slight variation in picture quality and a selection of different and insightful bonus features.

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Victor Crowley Blu-ray Review – Killer Special Features Make This a Must-Own

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Starring Parry Shen, Kane Hodder, Laura Ortiz, Dave Sheridan, Felissa Rose, and Tiffany Shepis

Directed by Adam Green

Distributed by Dark Sky Films


Like many of you horror fans out there, I was surprised as hell when Adam Green announced that there was not only going to be the fourth entry in his famed Hatchet series but that the movie had already been filmed and was going to be screening across the country.

Of course, I wanted to get to one of those screenings as soon as possible, but unfortunately, there were no events in my neck of the woods here in Gainesville, Fl., and so I had to bide my time and await the Blu-ray.

Then a few days ago, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley landed on my doorstep and I jumped right into watching the film. Short story, I loved it. But we’ll get into all of that more in-depth below. For now, let’s do a quick rundown on the film for those two or three horror fans out there who aren’t familiar with the film and its premise.

Victor Crowley is the fourth entry in the Hatchet series, a franchise that follows the tale of a deformed man that accidentally met the wrong end of his father’s hatchet long ago and now roams the Louisiana swamp each night as a “Repeater”, aka a ghost that doesn’t know it is dead and thus cannot be killed. Ever. Well, maybe not ever. After all, Victor was supposedly killed at the end of Hatchet III by a combination of Danielle Harris, his father’s ashes, and a grenade launcher. Dead to rights, right? Not so much.

In this fourth entry/reboot, a group of indie horror filmmakers, lead by the adorable Katie Booth, accidentally resurrect Crowley just as the original trilogy’s lone survivor (Parry Shen) is visiting the swamp one final time in the name of cold hard cash. Long story short, Shen’s plane crashes with his agent (Felissa Rose), his ex-wife (Krystal Joy Brown), and her film crew in tow. Some survive the initial crash, some don’t. As you can imagine, the lucky ones died first.

Victor Crowley is a true return to form for Adam Green, who sat out of the director’s chair on the third film. As always, Green doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top comedy and gore the franchise is well known for. The blood rages and the sight-gags hit fast and unexpectedly. And, speaking of the sight-gags, there’s evidently a shot in this Blu-ray version of the film that was cut from the “Unrated” version released on VOD. The shot is one I won’t spoil here, but for the sake of viewing Green’s initial vision alone, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley is really the only way to own this film. Don’t get me wrong, there are (many) more reasons to shell out the cash for this Blu-ray, but I’ll get into those soon.

Back to the film itself, what makes this fourth entry in the series one of the very best Hatchet films (if not THE best) is Adam Green’s honesty. Not only does he conquer a few demons with the ex-wife subplot, but he gives us a truly tragic moment via Tiffany Shepis’ character that had me in stunned silence. Her death is not an easy kill to pull off in a notoriously over-the-top slasher series, but it earned mucho respect from this guy.

Basically, if you loved the original trilogy, you will love this one as well. If you mildly enjoyed the other films, this one will surely make you a fan. Slow clap, Adam Green.

Special Features:

Let it be known that I’m a massive fan of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking documentaries. Like many of you out there, I find film production to be utterly fascinating and thus have grown a little tired of the typical making-of featurettes we get on Blu-rays. You know the ones. The director talks about his vision for the film, the cast say how much fun they had on-set with the other actors and crew, and we get cutaways to people dancing and trying to kiss the behind-the-scenes camera – all usually set to upbeat music.

While I’ll take what I can get, these kinds of behind-the-scenes features have grown to be little more than tiresome and superficial. But no worries here my friends as Adam Green has pulled out all the BS and given us a full-length, 90-minute behind-the-scenes feature called “Fly on the Wall” that shows it how it really is on the set.

Highlights include new Hatchet D.P. Jan-Michael Losada, who took over for Will Barratt this time around, who is little less than a f*cking hilarious rockstar, a front row seat to the making of Felissa Rose’s death scene, a creepy-cool train ghost story prank by Green, a clever impromptu song via Krystal Joy Brown (Sabrina), and a fun bit towards the end where Green and the SFX crew create the “gore inserts” in (basically) the backyard after filming. Good times all around.

The documentary then ends with the Facebook Live video of Adam Green announcing Victor Crowley‘s surprise premiere at that Hatchet 10th Anniversary screening. A great way to end a killer making-of documentary making his disc a must-own for this special feature alone.

But wait, it gets better. On top of the film itself and the above-mentioned “Fly on the Wall” documentary, the disc features an extensive interview with Adam Green called “Raising the Dead… Again.” This interview is basically Green going over the same speech he gave to the crowd at the surprise unveiling shown at the end of the “Fly on the Wall” doc, but that said, it’s great to hear Green tells his inspiring story to us directly.

So while this feature treads water all of us have been through below (especially fans of Green’s podcast The Movie Crypt), Green is always so charming and brutally honest that we never get tired of him telling us the truth about the ins-and-outs of crafting horror films in this day and age. Again, good stuff.

Additionally, the disc also boasts two audio commentaries, one with Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan, and another “technical” commentary with Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft.

Add in the film’s teaser and trailer, and Victor Crowley is a must-own on Blu-ray.

BUY IT HERE!

Special features:

  • Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan
  • Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft
  • Raising the Dead… Again – Extensive interview with writer/director Adam Green
  • Behind the Scenes – Hour-long making-of featurette
  • Trailer
  • Victor Crowley
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

One of the best, if not THE best, entries in the Hatchet series, with special features that are in-depth and a blast (and considering all other versions of the film have been castrated for content), this Blu-ray is really the only way to own Adam Green’s Victor Crowley.

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