Directed by George A. Romero
Released by Universal Home Video
Where do you start with something like this? This is only one of the most anticipated DVD releases of the entire year, mainly since it was the most anticipated horror movie of the last ten. I guess it’s best to just start from the beginning; the film.
When Universal dumped Land of the Dead into the June release that would ultimately mean bad box office (well, it made some profit, but wasn’t the blockbuster I’m sure they were hoping for), they had to keep it to the hardest R possible without offending the public. Despite some pretty significant cuts, including an entire scene in which Cholo discovers a hanged resident of Fiddler’s Green that leads to a nasty end, it was still one of the goriest films I’ve seen in theaters in a long time.
And the great news is this; Land of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut is even gorier. Longer scenes of zombie carnage, less annoying legs walking across the screen to block scenes of the feasting undead, and more attacks. But Romero would not be in the highly respected position he is in if all he made were gore films; Land of the Dead is a Romero zombie movie through and through because of the politics he makes the centerpoint of the plotline in addition to the zombie carnage that goes on around it.
The story takes place…well, today, according to the opening title sequence. The world has been overrun with the walking dead, and one pocket of humanity has managed to not only survive, but more or less rebuild a smaller version of society. The poor live in the shadow of Fiddler’s Green, a massive skyscraper in the center of an unnamed city that was taken over by Kaufman (Hopper), who we can only assume was a high-profile business man before the Big Change. Only the elite are allowed inside, and once again the society is run by the promise of money and the opportunity to buy things again and re-instate consumerism.
Cholo (Leguizamo) is one of the Green’s soldiers, sent out to retriever supplies for the nearby towns, as well as Kaufman’s henchman, helping to dispose of people Kaufman believes are causing issues with the promise of great riches acting as the proverbial carrot on the stick. Fellow soldier Riley (Baker) only dreams of getting a car and getting out of the city, hoping to find some peace and quiet in the north. They’re both very strong characters, especially Baker’s, and both exist in a cinematic world that only Romero can truly get right time and time again.
But there’s a problem. As we saw in Day of the Dead, zombies still maintain the ability to learn. At the beginning of the film we’re introduced to Big Daddy (Clark), an undead leader who develops some self-awareness and manages to get the zombies to follow him as they head towards Fiddler’s Green. Their motivation is simple; kill the humans. Big Daddy is a tragic character like we’ve never seen in a zombie film before, and Clark’s subdued performance is one of the most memorable things about Land, whether or not you agree with Romero’s concept of letting zombies evolve. More levelheaded and determined than Bub was, but with the same air about him of something rising above their circumstances to become more than just a shuffling pile of meat.
The result is one of Romero’s most controversial movies, filled with not-so-subtle digs at our present administration and the kind of class warfare we see far too often on the news, though taken to a more literal extreme. A lot of people had issues with what Romero was trying to do, and I’ll grant you the film is not perfect and suffers from some noticeable flaws (especially the second time through) but he has to be respected for trying to yet again bring something new to the genre. The extended cut of the film doesn’t add anything plot-wise, but I’m sure it will satisfy the gorehound’s desire to see as much carnage as possible created by the best in the business, in this case KNB.
As for the disc…well, that’s another story all together. After seeing a four-disc release of Dawn, the multiple versions of Night, and the fantastic job Anchor Bay did with Day of the Dead, Universal’s treatment of Romero’s “Ultimate Zombie Masterpiece” (their words) comes off a bit lacking.
The commentary track features George chatting the film up with producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty. After a somewhat slow start it picks up the pace about the same time the movie does (although to be fair there’s very little downtime in Land) and serves to be informative, if not a tad dry at some pionts. I would have loved to hear one from Nicotero or even a fan commentary with, say, Simon Pegg and Edgar Winter, but what there is cool enough.
The main featurette is “Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead“, which clocks in at just over 12 minutes. It’s quick, featuring interviews with all the major cast members and some horrible metal songs over quick-cut scenes of zombie mayhem, and ultimately has the feel of something Uni felt they had to do instead of wanted to. I’m sure they could’ve created something five times longer and more informative if they had wanted to.
“A Day with the Living Dead” is Johnny Leguizamo (or Johnny Legs, as George calls him) wandering the set with a camera crew and cracking jokes. It’s short, too, only about 7 minutes long, but worth a look if you’re in the mood for some zombie tomfoolery. I predict “Bringing the Dead to Life” is the featurette fans are going to dig the most, as it features Greg Nicotero and his crew showing off all sorts of cool zombie stuff, detailing their creation and how they made it all work right for the film. It’s entertaining just to see all the work that went into making these creatures come to unlife, and just how damn real they look even under the harsh shop lights. My favorite featurette on the whole set. “The Remaining Bits” is just a collection of slightly longer or excised scenes, none of which add or detract from the film, and it’s only about 3 minutes long.
“When Shaun Met George” is the second-best feature on here, mainly because it’s so much like how fans would react if they were asked to come out and be zombies in a George Romero film. It features Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (respectively, star and director of Shaun of the Dead) as they prepare to fly to Toronto to be made into zombies, their first meeting with George, the actual process they go through to get ready for their scene, and their trip back. It’s very short, all done via a small camera crew they have following them around, but it’s fun to watch because not only are Simon and Edgar fans just like you and me, they also happen to be two supremely funny individuals. Kudos to Universal for including this in the set!
“Scenes of Carnage” is exactly what it sounds like; random shots of zombie mayhem from the film set to some soothing classical music. Again, way too short. “Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene” is also self-explanatory; it shows the scenes as they looked when they were shot on set, then the finished scene with all the digital effects put in. It’s pretty cool to see just how much was done digitally, which goes to show the quality of the work, but features no narration or any technical information, which would’ve been a nice touch if nothing else to beef it up. “Bringing the Storyboards to Life” is the same; the storyboards of a particular scene are shown complete with the sound effects and music, then the finished scene either follows or is shown at the same time. This feature is only cool because of the quality of the detail on the storyboards, though I’m not sure who did them. They look great. Finally there’s “Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call” which is not what you think it is. I’ll just leave it at that, as I think you’ll enjoy it more if you don’t know what to expect. Don’t worry; it’s only about a minute long.
So what do we have? A really good zombie movie, now with more gore, on a pretty lackluster DVD release. Much like the feeling behind the making of doc, you just sense that Universal felt they had to put out a disc with lots of features, but nothing on here really has any meat and the bits with the potential aren’t given enough time to really get where they should go. Does this mean a bigger SE in the future? I’m sure that depends on the sales of this one, but honestly I don’t see Universal putting forth more cash for this movie than they have to, which is pretty sad. The whole thing seems like a big fluke, and makes me wish a studio with some real guts and money, like New Line, would get behind Romero for another film.
But I digress. The film is great, the DVD…not so much. At the end of the day it’s the movie the really matters anyway, so at least we have that. I do have to give props to Universal for the badass cover art, which even George said he likes better than the theatrical poster. If it’s good enough for George, it’s good enough for me!
3 ½ out of 5
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The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!
Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey
Directed by Alan Lougher
The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.
When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”
Ultimately chilling in nature!
DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!
Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon
Directed by Adrian Corona
I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.
Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.
Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.
Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.
If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.
Director Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended!
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form
Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes
Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace
“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.
That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.
Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?
At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play
second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?
These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.
Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?
It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.
If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End brings closure to hungry fans in all the ways they’d hope – albeit turned down a notch through animation. Over-the-top kills and headbanging metal riffs still reign supreme, they’re just drawn by hand instead of oozing practical effects this time.
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