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Super 8 (Blu-ray / DVD)

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 Super 8 on Blu-ray and DVDStarring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Distributed by Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment


Set in 1979, Super 8 tells the story of youngster Joe Lamb (Courtney) and what happens when a movie shoot with his childhood friends goes horribly wrong under the most unimaginable circumstances in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. A few months after Joe’s lost his mother to a horrific work-related accident, he uses a new movie being directed his best friend, Charles (Griffiths), as a creative outlet to push through the pain. Charles, being the mastermind of the project, is under a lot of pressure to finish his zombie opus in hopes to enter it in a film festival on time. Joe is the make-up artist, and being the artsy one of the group, he spends a lot of time creating some spectacular movie monster models that he displays proudly in his room (something that no doubt will make any horror geek out there proud to see being celebrated).

Rounding out the young filmmaking group in Super 8 are Cary (Lee), the special effects guy who also has a penchant for making homemade explosives from fireworks; lead actor Martin (Basso), who’s definitely no good to anyone when he’s under pressure; and cameraman Preston (Mills), who is the wise-cracking jokester of the group.

Since Charles needs a girl to play one of the lead roles (“to give the movie depth” he smartly acknowledges), Alice (Fanning) comes on board, which pleases Joe since he’s been crushing on her for a while even though she comes from the wrong side of the tracks (don’t they all?). Charles has put together a pivotal scene for his zombie film, and so the gang sneaks out to a remote train depot at midnight when they’ll have the place all to themselves to shoot their movie. As they’re readying themselves to shoot, an unscheduled train can be seen heading their way down the tracks. Charles sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (he’ll get “production value” after all) – and they hurriedly get ready for their big moment.

But what is meant to be an emotional moment for the youngsters’ film turns into an action-packed moment of insanity and wreckage in Super 8– as the train derails, it unleashes holy hell all around the small Midwestern town and provides a truly jaw-dropping train crash sequence that was definitely one of the most impressive “blockbuster” moments of this past summer. Adding insult to injury, not only is there an insane amount of wreckage and fires to contend with around the town of Lillian, but something very large and very angry has fought its way out of one of the boxcars, and it’s not happy.

Soon after the melee dies down in Super 8, the kids realize that they’re in danger of being discovered by the military (led by the mysterious Nelec, played by Emmerich), who mysteriously appear out of thin air and are hot on their tracks right after the crash takes place so they hightail it home and make a pact to never speak about the incident again.

As we all know, that’s rarely how these things work out in movies, and soon Joe, who saw what caused the train crash to happen, begins to theorize that perhaps there’s more going on than just a simple train crash and starts digging for more answers. But his friends don’t share his enthusiasm, and his father, Sheriff’s Deputy Jackson Lamb (Chandler), has more on his plate than he knows how to deal with as mysterious occurrences begin happening around the sleepy town of Lillian and his boss goes missing one night, leaving Joe to find answers on his own.

To go on any further into the story of Super 8 would definitely give away too many spoilers and ruin the experience for those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, but suffice to say we find out more about the alien and the Air Force’s intentions toward said alien, and our human characters all grow a little in return.

As someone who grew up during the 1980s, Super 8 is very much a like taking a 111-minute nostalgic trip down memory lane hearkening back to some of my most favorite times at the theater as a kid. My first Spielberg movie in the theaters was E.T., and since then the iconic writer/director/producer has been responsible for keeping me entertained almost on a yearly basis from 1981 through 1995- whether it was while he was in the producer’s seat or taking the reins as director. Here he plays the former role and acts as a mentor of sorts to writer/director Abrams, who steps up to direct his third feature film, and while he does attain some spectacular visual feats, I don’t feel that Super 8 delivers a truly “mint” cinematic experience overall.

Sure, Super 8 is definitely like a big gooey slice of nostalgia pie for genre fans around my age, but nostalgia is not enough to completely save Super 8 from feeling like a movie we’ve seen so many times before. Being produced under the Amblin Entertainment umbrella, there’s no doubt that Abrams was influenced by his heavyweight producer’s previous works, but my issue is that he never takes a step forward to make his own indelible mark with this kind of storytelling in Super 8.

The reason movies like E.T., Jurassic Park or Raiders of the Lost Ark still remain undeniable classics to this day is because they dared to tell stories with a new twist and give audiences a reason to cheer, and with Super 8 I walked away enjoying myself but felt no lasting impressions with the story overall. Sure, the train crash sequence is marvelous to watch, but that moment isn’t enough for me to fall head over heels in love with Super 8.

What I did enjoy the most about Super 8 was the talented cast of players Abrams assembled, which was led by newcomer Joel Courtney. Courtney, who’s never acted in anything professionally before, is a breath of fresh air in the age of “Disney Kids” and demonstrates he’s a natural in front of the camera. Fanning proves that her older sister isn’t the only one in the family with some acting chops and gives a performance that I feel is award-worthy and I hope that people will remember now that awards season is starting to gear up. Chandler (who’s by far one of my favorite television actors of all time) also delivers a strong and stoic performance as a grief-stricken Deputy who must find a way to save his small town, and the rest of the kid leads prove here that they are just as talented as their older, more experienced peers in Super 8.

The Blu-ray quality of Super 8 looks and sounds nothing short of amazing and is definitely the way the movie should be experienced at home. The colors pop, the sound design is flawless and everything about this presentation of Super 8 feels pristine. In terms of supplemental material, the Super 8 Blu-ray is stuffed to the gills and then some. Not only does the Blu-ray include a DVD copy and a digital copy (score!), but it also presents over two hours of bonus materials that should no doubt please the superfans and casual viewers alike.

There are eight behind-the-scenes featurettes for Super 8, and I really enjoyed all of them, especially “The Dream Behind Super 8” mini-doc which explores Abrams’ own love for making Super 8 films as a kid and how that led to his friendships (and eventual working relationships) with fellow filmmakers Matt Reeves (Let Me In) and Bryan Burk (Super 8 producer) and how his first job working for Steven Spielberg at age 14 served as inspiration for the story behind this film as well. “Dream” also features some really engaging interviews with Reeves, Spielberg and Burk and shows off several Super 8 movies made by various members of the production team from yesteryear. Really fun, geeky stuff that was incredibly insightful and entertaining.

The commentary track with Abrams, Burk and cinematographer Larry Fong (who also has a knack for magic tricks- check out the “Do You Believe in Magic?” featurette to see many of Fong’s tricks) is also chock-full of insightful stuff although I admittedly turned it off about 20 minutes in because I was starting to miss out on some of what was going on in the actual film. The “Deconstructing the Train Crash” doc is really amazing stuff fans won’t want to miss checking out, and the deleted scenes are fun to watch but really wouldn’t have added much to Super 8, which is generally the case with deleted scenes anyway.

There’s no doubt that the fans who fell in love with Super 8 in theaters this past summer will definitely want to pick up the Blu-ray edition of the flick when it hits shelves everywhere next week. For those of you who may have been on the fence about Super 8 (like this writer) or may not have seen the movie during its theatrical run, the overall Blu-ray presentation of the film (which is like a giant love letter to filmmaking as a whole) is some stellar stuff and is definitely worth checking out once it streets. While Super 8 hasn’t done anything to necessarily raise the bar of genre filmmaking as a whole, it’s still an entertaining ride with a good heart at its core, making it a welcome addition to the Amblin Entertainment stable, and the Blu-ray definitely made me appreciate Abrams work (even if it’s not his strongest) even more so the second time around.

Blu-ray Special Features

  • Commentary by writer/director J.J. Abrams, producer Bryan Burk, and cinematographer Larry Fong
  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
    -The Dream Behind Super 8
    -The Search for New Faces
    -Meet Joel Courtney
    -Rediscovering Steel Town
    -The Visitor Lives
    -Scoring Super 8
    -Do You Believe in Magic?
    -The 8mm Revolution

  • Deconstructing the Train Crash
  • Deleted Scenes

    DVD Special Features

  • Commentary by writer/director J.J. Abrams, producer Bryan Burk, and cinematographer Larry Fong
  • “The Dream Behind Super 8” featurette
  • “The Visitor Lives” featurette

    Film

    3 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features

    4 1/2 out of 5

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    Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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    Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

    Directed by Charles Martin Smith


    I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

    Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

    Now let’s get to it.

    First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

    Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

    I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

    Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

    It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

    And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

    Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

    This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

    And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

    Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

    In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

    That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

    Rockstar lighting for days.

    Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

    Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

    More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

    Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

    Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

    All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

    Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

    • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
    3.5

    Summary

    Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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    User Rating 3.25 (12 votes)
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    AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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    Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

    Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


    ** NO SPOILERS **

    It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

    Spoiler free.

    To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

    That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

    Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

    Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

    Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

    Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

    But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

    But let’s backtrack a bit here.

    Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

    And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

    Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

    With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

    Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

    I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

    Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

    Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

    Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

    On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

    That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

    In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

    While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

    Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

    Bring on season 12.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
    3.5

    Summary

    The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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    User Rating 4.08 (13 votes)
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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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    Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

    Directed by Nicholas Woods


    The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

    The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

    The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

    The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

    The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

    The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

    • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
    • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
    • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
    • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
    • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
    • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
    • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
    • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
    • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
    • The Axiom
    4.0

    Summary

    In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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    User Rating 4 (17 votes)
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