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Frankenfish (2004)

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Starring Tony Kittles, China Chow, Tomas Arana, and Muse Watson

Directed by Mark Dippe


Remember a few short years ago when the news was rife with tales of carnivorous, Asian Snakehead fish turning up in some lakes in Maryland? I think the media feeding frenzy was more voracious than the actual fish in question. As I recall, the media made it out like the beginnings of an ecological cataclysm culminating in these ravenous fish that could also move around on land and breathe out of water for lengthy periods of time overtaking the American waterways and destroying outdoor life as we know it. Perhaps I’m remembering things with a bit more hyperbole than there actually was, but I do seem to recall the past few years featuring brief periods of media saturation proclaiming the apocalypse involving the dreaded return of Africanized killer bees, West Nile Virus, SARS, shark attacks, and, yes, Snakehead fish. Despite being a rather nasty nuisance for some, the Snakehead fish failed in their attempt to destroy the balance of nature in North American leaving the media to move on to the next panic button they could push.

Naturally, b-movie filmmakers soon found use of these semi-amphibious carnivores, even if it did take them a few years to get around to it. Earlier this year, the Sci-Fi Channel debuted an original movie called Snakehead Terror, which featured Bruce Boxleitner, Carol Alt, and some of the stupidest teenagers this side of a slasher movie waging mortal combat with chemically-enlarged Snakeheads in a small town lake. While certainly better made than your typical Sci-Fi Channel original movie, Snakehead Terror was still a lackluster production that just left you feeling unsatisfied. Now here we are about six months later and Sci-Fi Channel is again reeling in a movie about mutated, man-eating Snakeheads only this time the movie is actually entertaining. I know. I’m just as shocked. A Sci-Fi Channel Saturday night premiere movie that is actually more good than bad? It almost boggles the mind. I can only guess that the reason for the quality is that the movie wasn’t actually made specifically for the Sci-Fi Channel, but is a Sony/Tri-Star flick that is premiering on the channel this weekend, a few short weeks before it’s October 26th video/DVD release. I suggest you wait for the uncut version, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The makers of Frankenfish, the title being derived from an outlandish nickname that’s been attributed to the Snakehead breed, made a smart move by not just making another Jaws wannabe. Well, to be honest, for about the first 35 minutes, that’s exactly what Frankenfish is. For the most part though, Frankenfish is Tremors on the bayou with big, smart, genetically engineered man-eating Snakehead fish in place of the Graboids and with people trapped on backwater houseboats instead of creaky homes out in the desert. With a bit more budget and one more rewrite, it could have been just as entertaining as Tremors, too. It doesn’t quite succeed to that degree; but as far as low budget, made-for-video monster movies that are forced to premiere on a channel that seems hell bent on giving its namesake as bad a reputation as humanly possible, this one is surprisingly fun.

Something is in the bayous of an unnamed Deep South state killing people. You got your two stock characters sent out into the backwaters of the swamp to investigate and soon come to learn the horrible truth. Along the way they meet up with some of the local denizens that have formed their own little houseboat community out in the bayou. You got the swamp rat, the crazy veteran, the hippie couple, the voodoo queen, her hottie daughter, and the hottie daughter’s whiny WASP boyfriend. There seems to be a cinematic rule that if the main characters are predominately white then there must be an annoying comedic ethnic character and if the stars are of a minority than the comic relief comes in the form of a stupid, annoying, white character, as is the case here. Fortunately, he serves his purpose here without being overly grating on the nerves. Suffice it to say, they all end up in the same boat fighting to survive as the methodical Snakeheads go after them on land and water, and ultimately try to sink the houseboats out from under them. And, of course, neither their cellular phones nor their radios work making it impossible for them to call for help. As you can see, the premise is rather formulaic.

So what is it that makes Frankenfish entertaining despite relying on a lot of cliches and one-dimensional characters? For me, I just liked the Snakeheads and the way they went after their victims. For one thing, they didn’t just use cheap CGI, as everyone else seems to do these days. Yeah, there are numerous scenes of CGI Snakeheads, but most of those scenes are brief or are seen in quick blurs of fast action. The filmmakers wisely made the decision to mix the CGI with animatronics, making the illusion of these huge Snakeheads more believable by being more tangible than just a computer effect. I don’t know about you but I’ve had it with 100% CGI movie monsters that look like escapees from a Playstation 2 video game. The Snakehead effects may not be as realistic looking as the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, but at least when they appear on-screen they won’t appear so fake looking that you’re inclined to roll your eyes or begin groaning.

Frankenfish was directed by Mark Dippe, a computer effects wiz whose previous directorial credit was the catastrophic failure Spawn. While Frankenfish doesn’t make up for the abomination that was Spawn, it’s at least a good will gesture and his technical prowess really seems to have come in handy. Frankenfish just looks like it could have been a theatrical production. It has the look of a big screen movie and not that of your typical made-for-television/video production. Heck, it probably could have gotten a theatrical release and done decent business. It’s a hell of a lot better than Anacondas, that’s for certain. Better F/X too.

This isn’t to say that the film is a complete success. Cliches are still abound, characters are mostly one-dimensional albeit likeable, and it still takes about a half-hour before the movie really kicks into gear. The biggest problem I had with the movie was the explanation behind the enormous Snakeheads and how they got into this Southern bayou. It’s one of the worst explanations I’ve ever heard in a b-movie. It’s so moronic that I almost wonder why they even bothered to offer one. Perhaps with a bit more follow-up it could have been somewhat palpable, but when you hear it you’re probably going to be appalled by the lameness. Even worse, this explanation leads to the introduction of a couple new characters that figure prominently in the third act, which is based around several people trying to capture alive a 25-foot killer Snakehead with a tranquilizer gun and their bare hands. I don’t think so. Also, if you’ve just witnessed a person getting devoured by something in the water, I don’t think you’d go back to tell their loved ones and stick around to have a casual dinner with them before notifying the proper authorities that there’s something big and hungry on the loose.

Still, I was surprisingly entertained by a movie that I went into with very low expectations. It is what it is and it’s better at being it than most of the recent offerings similar to it.

But like I said earlier, I really would avoid tuning in to watch Frankenfish on the Sci-Fi Channel. Aside from the prerequisite of 35 minutes or so of commercial breaks constantly interrupting the film, I suspect they are going to hack this movie to pieces. You got heads being bitten off, people being bitten in half, faces being blown off, and my personal favorite, let’s just say people and airboat fans don’t mix. There’s a lot of red viscous on display here and I have a hard time believing much of it will get past the channel’s censors. I’m not much of a gorehound myself but I do admit that there are movies where blood and guts can help matters and this is one of those movies. So many of the recent slate of killer animal movies have been so tame in that department that seeing some of the gore is actually refreshing, assuming one could describe a body exploding in an airboat fan using the word refreshing.

And any movie where a crazy Vietnam vet kills a huge Snakehead fish, immediately cuts out its heart and grills it, and then proceeds to eat it with his bare hands in front of everyone else as a form of primal vengeance scores points in my book.

3 ½ out of 5

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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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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual

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Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.

Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!

Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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