Directed by Frank Darabont, Michelle MacLaren, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Ernest Dickerson, Guy Ferland
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Here we are talking about another edition of AMC’s successful horror series on home video. Less than one year later. I’m not going to actually recap my thoughts on this show or the graphic novel, as my stance is remarkably similar to Uncle Creepy’s. As such, I’d compel those of you looking for a critical analysis to click here. There’s just too much supplemental ground to cover, and I want to be thorough without turning this into an unreadable rant. So join me on this deep dive!
Anchor Bay has gone all out in providing fans with everything they could possibly want to know about “The Walking Dead”. This three-disc special edition set is just packed with features so dense that I’ve literally spent the past week pouring through everything. Sitting now on the other side of this review, I can tell you that there isn’t a single solitary stone unturned throughout these special features. ‘Special’, being the operative word here.
Having never gotten the previous release, I was happy to find all of those special features have also been ported over. Admittedly, some of this stuff is of the generic EPK variety, though even the fluffiest carry-over retains enough value to warrant your time. The thirty-minute Making of The Walking Dead documentary is a comprehensive experience covering everything from the show’s origins to shooting that ambitious pilot. Lots of AMC love is spread around (ironic, considering their publicized treatment of the show), and a ton of cast/crew interviews are spliced in throughout.
Next up are six, five-minute featurettes – each of them dedicated to one of the episodes. They’re brief inside looks centered around the major events of each episode. Solid stuff, especially as mini addendums to the aforementioned documentary. Disc 2 also houses a five-minute “sneak peek” with comic creator Robert Kirkman. It’s EPK fluff that can be skipped as the information is covered elsewhere. The make-up featurette with Greg Nicotero is an absolute blast. A delightful “how to” for those looking to turn themselves into zombies this Halloween. There’s also that infamous twelve-minute San Diego Comic-Con panel that got everyone so excited for the series in the first place. A few deleted scenes offer some additional zombie hi-jinks and character beats. Rounding out the initial set of extras is the AMC trailer. All fun stuff, and huge props to the good people at Anchor Bay for carrying it over.
Now for the new stuff: Every episode of “The Walking Dead” has been outfitted with a commentary track. The pilot, Days Gone Bye, sees a solo discussion from writer/director/former showrunner Frank Darabont. For a 67-minute, super-sized episode, Darabont’s commentary is well-paced and informative. A nice mixture of reaping constant accolades upon a talented cast/crew while alternately delving into making-of trivia and his inspirations. Perhaps Darabont gets a bit too carried away with some technical details (I checked out during his descriptions of various lighting techniques), but it remains a fun and easy listen.
The second episode, Guts, is a discussion between director Michelle MacLaren and FX artist Greg Nicotero. It’s a so-so little dialogue, focused mainly on the breakneck pace at which these shows are shot. Nicotero is fairly quiet unless asked, though his additions are worthy contributions, not merely about the brilliant FX work but also the constant barrage of Romero nods found throughout the show.
Tell It to the Frogs boasts audio commentary from director Gwyneth Horder-Payton and actors Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal. It’s easily the best commentary to date, thanks in part to the addition of actors included in the discussion. It lends diversity to the conversation with lots of fun actor anecdotes mixed in throughout the now-generic ”we shoot this show on a tight schedule” rhetoric that grows a little stale after three straight commentaries.
The low point in Season One is the heavy-handed and manipulative Vatos. The commentary with comic author/executive producer/episode writer Robert Kirkman and actress Emma Bell, however, is a blast. This is a lighthearted chat with Kirkman/Bell enjoying nice chemistry throughout. Kirkman mocks Bell when her stories teeter on the uninteresting, laughs at background extras and spills some dirt on the atmospheric Atlanta locations. Bell is equally enthusiastic and funny (especially referring to Jeffrey DeMunn as Gandalf). In the end this track isn’t quite as informative as I would’ve liked from Kirkman, but it’s a total pleasure to listen to. Hopefully he’ll do more of these as the show continues into future seasons.
Wildfire pairs off director Ernest Dickerson and actress Laurie Holden. Holden is no stranger to genre greatness (The Mist, Silent Hill and “The X-Files”), and her dialogue with Dickerson is really good. They enjoy a nice, amicable discussion that ranges from career backgrounds to perspectives on the series. There’s a lot of Darabont revelry tossed around (depressing, considering his departure from the series this past summer), and Dickerson is especially informative/interesting as he details the differences between the shooting script and the original, intended version of this episode. Of them all, this track strikes perhaps the best balance between fun and educational.
To close out the first year, we have TS-19, the second misfire of the season. This is a commentary with director Guy Ferland and producer Gale Anne Hurd. Like the episode itself, this commentary is a bit of a dud. Far too redundant in its techno-speak, Ferland talks in-depth about shooting on a tight schedule and how quickly he had to adapt himself to the process. Not a terrible commentary, but a bit lackluster.
Disc 3 brings on all the new stuff. And it’s awesome. First up is the option to watch Frank Darabont’s pilot in black and white, similar to the special feature on The Mist special edition. I did revisit the pilot in B&W and thoroughly enjoyed the stark atmosphere it provided. Beyond that is the We Are the Walking Dead documentary. Running a full hour, this is a great making-of piece that covers the filming of all six episodes. It’s comprehensive, endlessly informative and consists entirely of superb behind-the-scenes footing of the cast and crew. A blast to watch: from scheduling challenges, action choreography and horrible weather, this isn’t the easiest show to shoot, and I came away from this admiring the series even more than I already did. It should also be noted that there are severe spoilers throughout so do not watch this unless you’ve seen the whole first season. This is the kind of feature that I’d love to see included on every home video release of each subsequent season. Great stuff.
The sixteen-minute ”Bring out the Dead: KNB and the Art of Making Zombies” featurette gives fans exactly what they’re looking for: a solid look behind the curtain of Greg Nicotero’s KNB FX company. It’s a perfect examination of how horror movie magic is made. That it’s done on a weekly basis on the small screen is all the more impressive. As a contrast, there’s Digital Decay: The VFX of The Walking Dead. Twelve minutes detailing how the VFX wizards make those headshots, decapitations, and zombie masses blend in against live action. It also reveals how CGI is often used to fix gaps/errors that arise on the set. Sure, it’s easy to hate on CGI, but this little featurette goes a long way toward detailing exactly how it should be used in the filmmaking process.
No More Room in Hell: The Walking Dead Phenomenon runs 12 minutes and focuses around Kirkman’s comic book source material. Adapting the Dead is the follow-up piece, running 7 minutes, and discussing the challenges of bringing this expansive work to the small screen. Finally, there’s Killer Conversations, another 12-minute featurette, this one a candid talk between Greg Nicotero and Frank Darabont. It covers a bit of everything and proves to be a nice capper to this incredible set of extra material.
Make no mistake; I’m exhausted. Anchor Bay’s second dip for Season One of “The Walking Dead” is packed! The commentaries are all informative and fun, and the brand new special features are excellent. Couple that with strong video quality (remember, this is shot on 16mm) and rock solid audio, and you’ve got a must own for any hardcore fan of this series. It all comes housed in a great gatefold package with a nifty collage blending the real life cast with their comic book counterparts. If you never purchased the first release of “The Walking Dead” and would like to add this series to your collection, this set is a no-brainer. Content, technical specs and extra material are out of this world, and it all comes highly recommended.
Each version includes bonus features from the previous release of “The Walking Dead: Season 1” on DVD that contained the following:
Extra Footage includes:
4 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5
Discuss The Walking Dead: Season One in our comments section below!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!
Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole
Directed by Greydon Clark
Distributed by VCI
The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.
The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.
The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.
“Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.
A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.
Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.
Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.
A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.
- Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
- Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
- Photo gallery
Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.
A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune
Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau
Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.
Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”
Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.
Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.
Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.
A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.
A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”
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