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Devil’s Carnival, The (Blu-ray / DVD)

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The Devil's CarnivalStarring Sean Patrick Flanery, Briana Evigan, Jessica Lowndes, Paul Sorvino, Dayton Callie, Emilie Autumn, Marc Senter, Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega, and Terrance Zdunich

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Get your copy – ORDER HERE or HERE (Note: This review is of the Hot Topic combination DVD and expanded soundtrack, which does have slightly different special features than those available on the version available from The Devil’s Carnival website.)


It’s been a pretty good year for fans of director Darren Lynn Bousman. The filmmaker who gave us Saws II-IV and the cult hit rock opera Repo! The Genetic Opera has had four films released to disc within the past year. First was the religious thriller 11-11-11, then the crazy-intense remake Mother’s Day, and then the well-made Jersey Devil flick The Barrens (featuring a great performance by “True Blood” lead Stephen Moyer). And finally, we have The Devil’s Carnival, a just-released-to-disc horror/musical that plays like Repo!’s twisted younger sibling.

Co-written by Terrance Zdunich, Bousman’s partner on Repo! and creator of the kickass comic The Molting, Carnival concerns the damnation of three pour souls: John (Flanery), a suicidal father overcome with grief for his dead child; Tamara (Lowndes), a young girl who just can’t help falling for the wrong men; and Ms. Merrywood (Evigan), a kleptomaniac and jewel thief who’s easily the least sympathetic of the group.

Upon their deaths, the trio find themselves in the titular carnival (picture Hell, as designed by the Ringling Brothers and Jim Rose), where they are each treated to musical numbers that underscore their sins and seals their fates. Along the way, they are introduced to a wide array of colorful characters, including: The Ticket-Keeper (a fantastic Callie); the beautiful Painted Doll (Autumn); the creepy Hobo Clown (Moody); reptilian doppelganger The Twin (Ogre); handsome but dangerous The Scorpion (Senter, great as always); and of course, the Devil himself (Zdunich, so good you’ll wish he acted more often). Our protagonists make their way through the carnival, past the people populating it, until they finally arrive at their ultimate fate (each corresponding to a story from Aesop’s Fables that Lucifer reads to a young child).

As with Repo!, Carnival is wonderfully stylish, with songs that will defy you to resist humming along or tapping your feet (a few days later, and I’m still absent-mindedly singing a few of the movie’s tunes). The film, while brief (less than an hour, and reportedly the first installment of many), feels wholly original and unlike anything I can recall seeing. Bousman’s direction is energetic as always, the story and world are intriguing, and the performances are all fantastic. Along with Bousman’s regulars, there are plenty of new faces in this film (at least for this writer), and I look forward to seeing them again in the future.

This musical isn’t without the occasional hiccup, however. While it’s wonderful once it hits its stride, the introduction to the world is a bit uneven at first, stumbling through scene after musical number after scene without bothering to set the stage properly for what’s to follow. But by the time we reach the “666” musical number, all is well.

In addition, the three leads are little more than sketches, and one character’s climactic redemption is over and done with before it has a chance to register emotionally. Also troubling is the story’s dodgy morality.

****SPOILER****
While one of the trio is let off fairly easily, another is damned for…what? Being attracted to the wrong kinds of guys? While that poor soul’s tale may align nicely with Aesop, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that she’s earned damnation for liking bad boys. Still, those are quibbles.
****END SPOILER****

The bonus features on the DVD include The Devil’s Interval, an extensive thirty-minute look at the film’s music production. Also included are an audio commentary which focuses on the production of the film’s score and musical numbers, and a set of trailers (for the film, the roadshow tour the movie enjoyed earlier this year, and the soundtrack). And speaking of the soundtrack – a second disc included with the DVD features the expanded soundtrack (which contains sixteen tracks from the film and two bonus tracks from the film’s marketing). Whether you’re getting a movie with the album, or an album with the movie, it can’t be denied that this package is pretty impressive when it comes to its bonus features.

Ultimately, while The Devil’s Carnival may not be the slam dunk Repo! was, it’s a bold and original tale that will stick with you long after the credits roll. Here’s hoping that we won’t have to wait too long for the next in the series.

Expanded Soundtrack Listing
1. Storytime / Heaven’s All Around
2. Tears, John / The Devil’s Carnival
3. In All My Dreams I Drown
4. It’s Showtime (Score)
5. 666
6. Kiss the Girls
7. The Midway (Score)
8. The Dog and Her Reflection / Beautiful Stranger
9. A Penny for a Tale
10. You’re Prettier Anyhow (Score)
11. The Scorpion and the Frog / Trust Me
12. Prick! Goes the Scorpion’s Tale
13. The Devil and His Due (Score)
14. Grief
15. Grace for Sale
16. Off to Hell We Go
17. Bonus Track: 666 (Web Teaser Version)
18. Bonus Track: The Devil’s Carnival (Web Teaser Version)

Special Features

  • Expanded Soundtrack
  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Co-Composer Terrance Zdunich, Co-Composer Sarr Hendelman, and Music Producer Joseph Bishara
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Road Tour Teaser
  • Encore Road Tour Teaser
  • Soundtrack Trailer
  • The Devil’s Carnival Teaser

    Film

    3 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features

    5 out of 5

    Discuss The Devil’s Carnival in the comments section below!

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    THE STRANGERS Blu-ray Review – Let This Stellar Release From Scream Factory Sneak Into Your Home

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    Starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Man in the Mask, Dollface, Pin-up

    Directed by Bryan Bertino

    Distributed by Scream Factory


    It’s a bit odd – though somewhat fitting, given the number of waited-too-long sequels being produced these days – The Strangers (2008) finally got a follow-up after a lengthy ten-year gap. The original is a fine example of a home invasion picture done right, or at least well enough, but, as anyone who has seen the film knows, the leads probably won’t be returning and the killers have the personalities of dime store Halloween masks. The Strangers is a disturbing film in the sense the events seem like they “could happen to you” – it is, after all, “based on a true story” (not really). Plus, the situations our leads find themselves in are exactly the sort people still freak themselves out, like whenever someone enters a room with large windows at night – let’s all be honest here. The only thing scarier than things that go bump in the night is the thought those things are just out of eyesight, waiting to scare you. With the exception of a few “wait, why are you doing that?” moments The Strangers manages to activate certain primal responses to being stalked and frightened. It’s creepy.

    Not-newly-engaged couple James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) have returned to James’ childhood summer home after a day spent at a wedding, where James’ proposal to Kristen was sadly declined. They go through some awkward motions back at home, trying to figure out where their relationship stands, when there’s a sudden KNOCK at the door. James answers and finds a young girl asking for a person who has never lived there. She leaves, cryptically mumbling she’ll “see them later”. She does, along with two other “friends” – the Man in the Mask and another girl in a pin-up mask – who proceed to stalk, taunt, tease, and terrorize both Kristen and James until the morning light breaks.

    There aren’t many huge surprises in this film but the less you know about how the night plays out, the better. This isn’t to suggest the main characters make smart decisions viewers aren’t expecting, though. James is initially dismissive of a series of terrorizing occurrences Kirsten experiences when he goes out to get her a pack of smokes, brushing all of it off like she has an overactive imagination; this after the weird situation with the girl moments before. And expectedly, once James is finally on board with believing something sinister is afoot it’s already too late to do much about it. Past that point he and Kristen do act like rational people (mostly) and their plight gains a little more sympathy because of their noble efforts.

    I hate the scene where James’ friend, Mike (Glenn Howerton), shows up, though. Spoiler alert: any viewer can see his accidental death coming from a mile away. Since it’s established early on James has called Mike to pick him up, what would have worked better would be if all the footage of Mike’s arrival and inspection of the house was cut. That way, his reveal at James and Kristen’s makeshift stronghold in the back bedroom would have been a major surprise. Instead, it plays out so obviously the intended impact is completely muted.

    While the film falters in a few areas, it manages to make up for those gaffes by stepping outside the norm. One thing is does incredibly right is refusing to give the trio of terrorizers any personality or backstory or motivation. Viewers are left just as cold once the credits roll as they were upon being introduced to these faceless miscreants. This feels especially refreshing when watching the movie today because lately it seems so many horror films have been yanking the mystique out of things; between prequels and reboots and lengthy exposition it’s rare when a film chooses to eschew all of that. The film is also dire and dour, leaving little room for hope aside from a tiny tidbit that occurs at the very end. There are no white knights; the cavalry isn’t coming – and when you are staying at a house with weak security, near the woods, with no neighbors close by, don’t expect a deus ex machina to save the day.

    Universal previously issued The Strangers on Blu-ray, though it featured both cuts on a single BD-25 and used an outdated codec. This new release from Scream Factory spreads the goods out onto two discs, giving each cut a full BD-50 to maximize bit rate. As a result, the 2.35:1 1080p image looks much more refined, smoothing out past compression issues and tightening up both contrast and definition. The lion’s share of this film was shot at night and black levels maintain a rich consistency throughout, while still allowing for details to remain apparent. Nothing is lost to the shadows, which frequently bathe the actors and environments. Scream Factory touts a new 2K scan of the intermediate and the results are nearly flawless.

    As viewers might expect, sound design plays a crucial role in this film and the audio options ensure they’ll be immersed in subtle and not-so-subtle sounds from every direction. Both cuts feature an English DTS-HD Master Audio track in both 2.0 and 5.1 options. As expected, the multi-channel track offers a more discreet experience, spreading out the spooky sound design to fully envelope listeners. Thuds, knocks, voices, and footsteps creep from unexpected corners of the room, placing viewers right in the action and heightening the tension. The soundtrack goes a bit overboard on the jump scares stingers but since the whole point of this film is a couple being jolt scared over and over they seem fitting. Subtitles are included in English SDH.

    Just as buyers should rightfully expect, Scream Factory has included all of the previous extra features found on Universal’s release and then some.

    DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

    “The Element of Terror” – This is a routine EPK, filled with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast & crew.

    “Strangers at the Door” – This piece covers the film’s initial concept and shows off some of the cast & crew working on set, with a few being interviewed, too.

    A reel of deleted scenes, three TV spots, and a theatrical trailer, which is quite effective, can also be found on this disc.

    DISC TWO: Unrated Cut

    “Defining Moments – Interview with writer/director Bryan Bertino” – This is a newly recorded chat with the director, who discusses not only the making of the film but its legacy now that so much time has passed since release.

    “All the Right Movies – Interview with actor Kip Weeks (Man in the Mask) – Here, the actor discusses how he got the role and what kind of direction was given to him for the character.

    “Brains and Brawn – Interview with actress Laura Margolis (Pin-up Girl) – Just as with Kip Weeks, Margolis talks about playing such a quiet character as well as discussing some changes to the trio that were made during production.

    “Deep Cuts – Interview with editor Kevin Greutert” – Learn about how the film took shape, the reasoning behind cuts and sequencing, and what changes were made right up until the theatrical release date.

    A still gallery is also included.

    The cover art is reversible and there is a slipcover included on first pressings featuring newly commissioned artwork.

    Special Features:

    • NEW 2K REMASTER of the Theatrical Version of the film
    • NEW 2K REMASTER of the Unrated Version of the film
    • NEW Defining Moments – An Interview With Writer/Director Bryan Bertino
    • NEW All The Right Moves – An Interview With Actor Kip Weeks (Man In The Mask)
    • NEW Brains And Brawn – An Interview With Actress Laura Margolis (Pin Up Girl)
    • NEW Deep Cuts – An Interview With Editor Kevin Greutert
    • The Element of Terror – Interviews With The Cast And Crew
    • Strangers At The Door – Interviews With Writer/Director Bryan Bertino And The Cast
    • Deleted Scenes
    • TV Spots
    • The Strangers
    • Special Features
    3.8

    Summary

    Still effective only with only a modicum of true stupidity, “The Strangers” might not be the classic it’s been called in more than a few recent retrospective pieces but it does occupy a cushy spot near the top of the contemporary home invasion film list. Scream Factory’s release offers up excellent A/V quality and all the bonus features anyone could want (barring an audio commentary).

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    7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB Review – Rest Easy, Indiana Jones, There’s Not Much To See Here

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    Starring Kellan Lutz, Bingbing Li, Kelsey Grammar

    Directed by Kimble Rendall


    If it only weren’t for those friggin’ spiders. Kimble Rendall’s adventurous flick, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is one of those “wanted to be, yet couldn’t quite hit the mark” action-films that will probably entertain those looking for some cave-dwelling escapades caught on celluloid, but for the more picky aficionado of said slam-bang pics, this one might be viewed as a bit stagnant. Let’s strap on our mining helmets and pick around this one, shall we?

    Acting as a bit of a search-and-rescue formation, the movie tails alongside Dr. Jia Lee (Li) as she hunts down the whereabouts of her missing brother after losing contact with him while he was on expedition in Western China. Apparently he was looking for a secretive Emperor’s tomb that supposedly holds a potion that can reanimate, or re-invigorate…or rehabilitate – anyway you slice it, the juice has got some pretty potent powers. So a search team is assembled, led by Mason (Grammar – glad someone got Frasier off of the barstool), and he’s latched onto all-American fella Jack (Lutz) to assist this operation. As it turns out, the initial journey is cut off fairly quick when a violent electrical storm forces the group to head underground, and that’s when things get creepy and crawly…like 8-legged style. The film is ripe with some feverish action and a few decent performances, but it’s the overall framework that acts as the big bully, tauntingly kicking sand in the little guy’s face at the beach.

    We’ve got love interests, a flurry of backstories, and oh my lord, those spiders! Yep, even the heartiest of CGI can effectively ruin a good case of the willies when it comes to arachnids and their powers of sucking humans and animals dry of their lifeforce. It’s an intently goofy movie, and even the dialogue seems a bit showy at times, leaving plausibility and intelligence at the entrance to the caves. Lutz is fun to watch as the burly rescuer, and he looks as the type who is just waiting for his cinematic moment to step into the spotlight. What pains me is that this movie really could have been something much bigger, and apparently it looks as if the majority of the film’s budget was wasted on those hokey-looking computerized spiders.

    All in all, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is spotty entertainment, even if you despise those little skittering aphids racing towards you, programmed or not. Give it a peek if Raiders Of The Lost Ark isn’t readily available at your disposal…even that crappy Crystal Skull one.

    • Film
    2.5

    Summary

    A film that could have been so much more adventure-wise instead comes off looking like a lesson in how not to waste too much time on computer imagery.

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    Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 160 – A QUIET PLACE

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    Lately, it seems as though comedy actors are cutting their teeth as horror directors and absolutely killing it! This year’s indie horror darling comes in the form of John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place. Chris has been sick as a dog, so the haomie Christine from Horrible Imaginings Film Fest is filling in to discuss whether A Quiet Place is 2018’s horror heavyweight, or just a lot of noise.

    What Bruno took was what changed me; it only amplifies your essence. It simply makes you more of what you already are. It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 160!

    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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