Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Released by Sparkhill DVD
Where can I begin with a collection of goodies this big? The beginning, I suppose.
Out of seemingly nowhere Sparkhill DVD, a company well-known in the industry as producers of documentaries for DVDs like the Alien Quadrilogy, announces they’re releasing Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection, a collection of Ray Harryhausen’s first forays into stop-motion animation, namely the Mother Goose stories and Fairy Tales that he was commissioned to make back in the 40’s and 50’s for public schools. Unless some of us out there went to some really cool schools (because they are still shown today by the good ones), this DVD could very well be the first time anyone’s seen these wonderful short films by one of the most influential artists in cinema. And the DVD is loaded, too!
The Mother Goose stories are shown here with a mini-intro that shows Mother Goose coming out of a book with a goose and making an old-time camera appear to show the tales on the screen. This was a new bit of animation to utilize as a wrap-around, apparently, but it looks just like the rest of the stories within, which include “Little Miss Muffett”, “Old Mother Hubbard” (a tale I never heard the full version of, it’s kinda twisted), “The Queen of Hearts”, and “Humpty Dumpty”. Each one is very short, features stock music and intertitle cards to tell the story, but watching them and realizing the each one was done by hand over the course of months…it’s just amazing to see.
Then we have the Fairy Tales, longer bits with voice-over narration telling the story the way Ray thought it should be told. Most of the time as he looked into the stories’ origins, he discovered the originals to be a bit too dark for kids to understand, so he took some creative liberties with them. Ironically, most of them are just as I remember, showing that maybe Ray’s interpretation was the one embraced by most of the public today.
Included in here are “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Hansel & Gretel”, “Rapunzel”, “King Midas”, and “The Tortoise & The Hare”. For those of you familiar with Harryhausen’s career, you’ll recognize the significance of this last story, as it was one Ray began back in 1952 but never finished because he was offered work in a feature film. 50 years later, some stop-motion fans contacted him and asked if they could help him finish the tale, and luckily Ray still had the Hare, Tortoise, and Mr. Fox figures for use, and they were in excellent condition. They were given the exact same camera Harryhausen used to film the original 3 ½ minutes in order to finish it and make sure it looked as close to the existing footage as possible. The result is a shinning example of how fantastic Ray’s work was for his time, for literally very little has been done to improve upon the artistry he developed when he began. Though you can see the difference in film quality when it goes to the new footage, more or less this is a flawless continuation.
Next we have some early films like “How To Bridge A Gorge”, which Ray had made while in the Army to show that stop-motion animation could be used to cheaply and effectively convey how to do tasks that soldiers would need in the field, hence the title. “Guadalcanal” is like a mini-film about how we had taken a very important airstrip from the Japanese during WWII, also done to showcase the unique storytelling abilities of stop motion animation. Then we have a commercial demo, something Ray had done to try and get more work in commercials, and he had decided to test it out with Lucky Strikes cigarettes. Pretty funny stuff, seeing all those cigarettes dancing around happily…The final short film a compilation of commercials Harryhausen did for a new community outside of L.A. called Lakewood featuring Kenny the Key, an anthropomorphic key that touts the wonderful features of this new housing development.
While the films themselves may not be all that interesting, especially for those of you looking for monsters or dinosaurs, their significance in the career of their creator is unprecedented. The general public has never seen some of these films, and most of them were mini-resumes Ray used to use to try and get more work. Considering how far and influential his career became to pretty much everyone involved with film today, seeing his roots displayed in such a fashion is a wonderful thing.
I wish I could devote a full paragraph to all the stuff that literally packs this release to the gills, but there’s just too much of it. I will, however, give you some of the highlights…
The Tests & Experiments section is just amazing, as you see some work that Harryhausen started but didn’t finish, and some stuff he just did for fun like a Baron Munchausen test animation footage, and an alien coming forth from a the ship in War of the Worlds. As you know none of this was used for anything, but the imagination runs wild with the pure potential inherit in what Ray was doing at the time.
On Disc 2 (all of what we discussed is only on the first disc), there are birthday tributes to Ray, footage from the unveiling of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, interviews, and even a return to Clifton’s Cafeteria, the place where Ray Harryhausen, Forrest J. Ackerman, and Ray Bradbury held their science fiction club meetings back when they were just teenagers. Three living legends gathered around a table, reminiscing about what it was like to be young and the desire for success, and how it is now that they’ve achieved that success with amazing results. It’s very cool.
The highlight of Disc 2 for me, however, was the section under Tributes called An Appreciation. It’s basically a compilation of everyone you can imagine in Hollywood, from Rick Baker to James Cameron to Peter Jackson (on the set of the King Kong remake and looking much thinner!) to Tim Burton, talking about their first experience with one of Harryhausen’s films, how it has inspired them, or just what a great man he is in general. It’s a very touching and telling showcase of just how far-reaching Ray’s influence is on those in Hollywood today that are seen as influences to a whole new generation of filmmakers.
I should note real quick Harryhausen’s actual involvement on this DVD that is basically one big “Thank You!” to the man. He’s featured in almost every segment in some capacity, does a commentary with the guys that helped finish the film on Tortoise & The Hare, and is there to introduce all the short films we see on the first disc with their history and anecdotes, as well. You can tell he is delighted that he is seen as such a mentor for so many working today, but he comes across as incredibly humble and down to earth, the kind of guy you could easily chat with for hours in a café if you were lucky enough to run into him. All in all, a consummate professional.
Sparkhill DVD have just set a very, very high standard to live up to with their next singular release. Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection is plain and simple a must-own for anyone even remotely familiar with and interested in the mans work or stop motion in general, and especially so for those who grew up loving the films he worked on, their imaginations running wild with all the possibilities of a world filled with dinosaurs and creatures from outer space. Do yourself a favor, use the link below to get this DVD and see where one of the greatest artists in motion pictures got his start, and get a very clear idea of just what a great man he truly is.
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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review
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 Popcorn, and 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!
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.
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
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.
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.
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.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
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.
- 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.
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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