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Theatre Bizarre, The (DVD)

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The Theatre BizarreStarring Udo Kier, Virginia Newcomb, Catriona MacColl, André Hennicke, Kaniehtiio Horn, Debbie Rochon

Directed by Jeremy Kasten, Richard Stanley, Buddy Giovinazzo, Tom Savini, Douglas Buck, Karim Hussain, and David Gregory

Distributed by Image Entertainment


Who doesn’t love a good horror anthology? From Dead of Night to Trick ‘r Treat, Black Sabbath to Three…Extremes, Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror to the portmanteau horrors of Amicus Productions, short horror film collections are the best way to sample the genre in quick, concentrated bursts. At their best, they showcase the talents of various writers or directors while being joined together by an overarching story or by simply following common themes. And while The Theatre Bizarre perhaps cannot stand next to the greats listed above, it is still a worthwhile contribution to the form that is well worth checking out, featuring seven tales of varying quality that pay homage to the types of short horrors that were often showcased on stage in the legendary Théâtre du Grand-Guignol.

The first short, Theatre Guignol, opens the film with a young woman drawn to a beautiful, and mostly abandoned, movie theatre. She takes a seat in its main auditorium, and is treated to a series of tales presented by a life-size, living marionette (played with a perfect mix of strangeness and malevolent charm by Udo Kier). This story fills the gaps between each tale while advancing its own narrative (which, sadly, goes nowhere interesting). As mentioned, Kier is great as always, but the young woman (played by Virginia Newcomb) is given very little to do, save for overacting silently to each of the horrors and wonders presented to her.

Director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) gives us one of the stronger segments in this anthology with The Mother of Toads, a Lovecraftian tale loosely based on a short story by Clark Ashton Smith. Beautifully shot, but with some dodgy acting, Toads follows a young couple, Martin and Karina, vacationing throughout a French countryside. Martin, an occult enthusiast, is offered a chance to purchase a copy of the fabled Necronomicon from the titular witch, only to be seduced and then…well, I won’t spoil the ending. Overall, it’s an interesting short that unfortunately forgoes the atmospheric dread of its first three quarters for a silly, monster-driven finale. Too bad.

In I Love You, André Hennicke (who rather brilliantly played warped serial killer Gabriel Engel in the sadly underrated Antibodies) stars as Axel, a man in the middle of a crumbling marriage he is desperately trying to save. His wife, Mo, feels smothered by his constant affection and clinginess, and tries to make the unwitting Axel understand how little she cares for him. The short is essentially focused on their final conversation as man and wife, which starts out as cordial and ends with biting cruelty.

The bulk of this short plays out in a single location (with the exception of a few flashbacks), and is more of a relationship drama than straight up horror. That is, until the final few moments, which I won’t detail here. Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock and the fantastic Life is Hot in Cracktown), I Love You is a strong entry, full of great acting and photography that is beautiful, in a sterile sort of way.

Tom Savini’s entry Wet Dreams is, unfortunately, the weakest of the bunch. Concerning a battered wife and her douchebaggy, abusive philanderer of a husband, the story weaves between the horrific dreams and banal realities of each character, until…well, nothing much happens. Had the story been pulled off with a coherent ending, I’d be applauding. But, unfortunately, the incomprehensible meshing of dream sequence after dream sequence does little but act as a clothesline on which to hang several gruesome special effects setpieces. Even with its short running time, expect the urge to fast forward to the next tale.

Undoubtedly the finest tale of the bunch is director Douglas Buck’s moody and haunting The Accident. This short intercuts between a young girl questioning her mother on the nature of death with the two witnessing the aftermath of a roadside accident that spurred the questioning on in the first place. This film is beautifully shot with great performances, and will likely stick with you long after you watch it, even if it may not qualify as “horror” for some viewers expecting something a bit more on the splattery side. I’m not really familiar with Buck’s other work, but if it’s as equally disturbing and touching as this, then I’ll have to rectify that ASAP.

If Karim Hussain’s Vision Stains isn’t the strongest entry in the collection, then it’s at least the most original and daring. Stains stars the intense Kaniehtiio Horn as a young woman known only as The Writer, a sympathetic murderer who has the ability to experience her victims’ lives by transferring the fluid from their dying eyes into her own via syringe, thereby seeing the life that “flashes before their eyes”. This short is brutal, with matter-of-fact violence and lots of gruesome closeups of ocular trauma. Unfortunately, as strong as this short starts, its ending is ultimately a bit unrewarding, making one wish Hussain had a bit more time to flesh his ideas out further. Is it too much to hope for a Vision Stains feature film?

The final story is David Gregory’s Sweets, a quirky relationship drama with some downright Lynchian weirdness woven throughout. Intercutting between a couple’s crumbling relationship (the third such in this anthology) and scenes of the pair gorging themselves on all manner of sweets, this short tends to try the viewer’s patience. The dialogue is a bit overcooked, and the cutaways to the binge-eating are just off-puttingly strange. However, the ending holds not only a twist, but the kernel of an idea that could make for one hell of a feature film, should Gregory ever decide to expand on this world.

For an alternate take on this film, check out EvilAndy’s review here. Now on to the DVD. Image Entertainment gives us a solid offering here, a DVD with a good image that ably represents each of the directors’ distinctive styles and color palettes. The audio is strong, if not overly impressive on most of the tales.

The special features portion of the disc isn’t too terribly skimpy, featuring a commentary, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and a trailer. The commentary has a host of contributors who speak about the various segments of the film (except, unfortunately, The Accident), while the interviews are gleaned from three episodes of ShockTillYouDrop’s Choice Cuts, featuring host Ryan Rotten as he speaks with directors David Gregory, Buddy Giovinazzo, and Jeremy Kasten. Finishing off the disc are a collection of brief behind-the-scenes bits for each of the shorts, and a trailer.

All in all, The Theatre Bizarre is a mixed bag, but one worth checking out all the same. Anthologies are a bit rare these days, especially ones that are worth a damn.

Special Features:

  • Directors’ Commentary
  • Interviews
  • Behind-the-Scenes
  • Trailer

    Film

    3 out of 5

    Special Features:

    3 out of 5

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    Mom & Dad Review – When Parental Protection Goes Horribly Awry

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    Starring Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters

    Written and directed by Brian Taylor


    The love of one’s parents is something that can propel an individual to not only personal, but professional heights as well, and that’s not to say that the aforementioned love should be taken for granted, either. The reason why I’m making this statement is that you never know when that love could turn to blind, unrestrained rage, and you as the child could be forced to save your own life from those very people who raised you – enter Brian Taylor’s ultra-black comedy, Mom & Dad.

    Josh (Zachary Arthur) and his sister, Carly (Winters), are your typical American children: generally oblivious to the life around them provided by their progenitors, and when a mysterious and unexplained virus causes all parents to turn violently towards their kids, it’s the youngins that are the ones being stalked, sometimes with horrific results. What gives this film a tremendous sense of “oomph” is the fact that there really isn’t a whole lot of time spend on useless build-up. Taylor’s style of balls-out direction is no truer on display here as the parental duo of Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair as Brent and Kendall Ryan is one of cinematic gold. Cage, who on the normal is an actor that harnesses his bat-shit nuts style of character portrayal until it’s time to fully unleash the beast – well, consider this performance off of the friggin’ chain! It’s clear from the get-go that the relationship between the folks and the kids isn’t entirely the most drama-free and devoid of subtle hostility.

    Some of the scenes of various attacks are a bit tough to take at times, and although the film was created in jest, it’s still the shock factor that carries this one to the finish line with the audience kicking and screaming all the way. One scene inside a newborn delivery room had me shifting in my seat, and for that to happen is pretty damned impressive, and I’ve seen some rather demented shit over the course of my years. The film does get a bit disjointed at times, but order is restored when the mayhem returns in full-force, and Taylor’s action-film resume shows through with psychotic camera-angles and dizzying arrays of brute force from some characters. Blair and Cage didn’t exactly come off doubtless as a couple, and maybe they would have been better set as a separate-working tandem, but the two nevertheless provided some real entertainment once their switches got flipped (well, Cage’s switch never really has an “off” position in this movie).

    In the end of it all, Mom & Dad is the textbook definition of a “mindless movie,” and that’s not meant to be a negative in any fashion – I absolutely loved it from beginning to end, and this one is meant for a viewing with the kiddies to gently remind them what could happen if they ever get out of line (wink, wink).

    BUY IT NOW!

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    Ferocious, frenzied and ultimately fun, these parents certainly aren’t to be f**ked with!

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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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