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They Live: Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray / DVD)

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They Live: Collector's Edition (Blu-ray / DVD)Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster

Directed by John Carpenter

Distributed by Scream Factory


John Carpenter’s They Live is predicated upon such a fantastic premise, and begins so perfectly, that it’s truly a shame when it never becomes the masterpiece it should’ve been. That’s not to imply that this isn’t a seminal slice of 1980s horror/sci-fi, but it is an uneven film, marred by some truly questionable script decisions and something of a rushed climax.

But before we get there, there’s the beginning. And it’s brilliant. A depiction of the Reaganomic fallout, where down-on-their-luck laborers have been reduced to living in a despondent, shantytown-esque dwelling somewhere in Los Angeles. These people have come to accept their proverbial lots in life, lulled into continued submission through societal distractions such as television programming and advertising. Onto this scene drifts Nada (Roddy Piper), an optimistic nomad whose stock in the American Dream hasn’t wavered. All he wants is his chance, and with a little patience and hard work, he’s sure he’ll get it.

This is fairly biting stuff from Carpenter, arguably his most political offering, with a first act tinged with more disillusion than you can shake a stick it. Best of all, it’s remained relevant throughout the years. So much so that it’s still quite a powerful message (and wake up call). Possibly more so in these economically and societally challenged times. As a counterpoint to Nada’s misplaced confidence in “the system”, we have Keith David’s Frank. A cynical worker drone, Frank’s disillusioned by the overwhelming plight and, having made a life out of what Nada assumes is the path to prosperity, understands that there’s nothing waiting at the end of the rainbow. It’s a dynamic that promises an ideological debate that, unfortunately, never happens as They Live instead chooses to settle into that of a tonally imbalanced sci-fi satire that sometimes works and sometimes does not.

Everyone knows the driving idea behind this one: Sunglasses that reveal the underlying messages hidden within advertising that’s literally sprawled across every square inch of our society. Travel billboards encouraging us to “marry & reproduce”, storefront windows telling us simply to “buy”. A harsh indictment of America’s meteoric consumer culture that has infiltrated our everyday way of life, its insidious underpinnings going completely unnoticed. Of course, that’s only half the game as Nada discovers a considerable amount of the population is comprised of sinister aliens, and they’re the one’s who’ve truly embraced this intergalactic “trickle down economics” way of living.

In a film that wears its message on its sleeve (a nice way of saying “none too subtly”), the film’s most brilliant moment comes in the guise of a metaphoric and obnoxiously prolonged fight scene, where Nada must physically beat Frank senseless in order to make him “see” the truth. So blind are we to these “realities” that we’ve blithely accepted our lots in life, making it all the harder to wake up. And that’s the point.

The ideas behind They Live are terrific and the aforementioned execution is clever. Scored by Carpenter himself (with Alan Howarth), you’re guaranteed a wonderfully atmospheric score that really enhances the feel. But the movie falters in its basic narrative structure, preventing it from hitting a total homerun. Nada’s transition, for example, from working class schlub to gleeful alien murderer is a bit bizarre, considering the early and eerie tonal establishment of the movie. It’s hardly seamless and it makes things feel a bit disjointed once our everyman begins waltzing around town blasting away invaders with an endless array of one-liners at his disposal. Ditto his third act concerns for the mysterious Holly (Meg Foster), a woman who does nothing beyond pushing him to a would-be demise. She later shows up at an anti-alien rally that is promptly dispersed by the police, which presumably renders her role in the story important, although there’s no further idea as to why Nada cares so much for her (a woman he hardly knows). It all leads toward a rather unsurprising “gotcha” moment at the climax that doesn’t work nearly as well as it should’ve.

But there’s a lot to love here. Piper and David are great, the aliens are fantastic creations (iconic and disconcerting designs) and, of course, that concept… One can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened had Carpenter (under the alias Frank Armitage) spent a bit more time on the script, developing the human aspect so these characters worked beyond their metaphorical functions. But criticisms aside, it remains a wholly entertaining movie – one that remains as relevant now as the day it was released. That’s not easy to do, and you’ve really got to tip your hat to John Carpenter on that, no matter how you feel about They Live’s politics.

Scream Factory brings They Live to special edition Blu-ray in a stunningly GORGEOUS 1080p HD transfer that masterfully preserves its filmic look throughout. Textures are, at times, staggering, with more detail visible on Roddy Piper’s face than I ever thought possible! Ditto the attention to detail in clothing, backgrounds and everything else. Colors will blow your mind, vibrant without looking overblown and with a completely natural sheen. I’ve read reports of minor edge enhancement on display, but I did not find any in either of my viewings. In fact, this one of the best catalogue discs I’ve seen recently, and it’s hard to imagine any fan feeling otherwise.

That goes for the audio specs, too. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix makes Carpenter’s score a blast on Blu-ray. Dialogue is always front-and-center, while ambient sounds are positively aggressive. Really enjoyed this track, without any complaints.

Talking about the supplements, we’ve got a hearty little collection of extras that fans should devour without any strain. The audio commentary with Carpenter and Piper is lots of fun. Sure, maybe it’s not up to par with the wondrous Carpenter/Russell outings, but what is? This is light, but not without substance, and always fun and informative.

We also get an all-too-brief interview with JC titled Independent Thoughts: An Interview with Writer/Director John Carpenter. There’s some nice information in here regarding JC’s approach to the material and his inspiration for making it. All good things, but it felt like it was just getting interesting as it ended. It runs just north of ten minutes.

There’s a brisk chat with Meg Foster called Woman of Mystery, but at five minutes, we just don’t get to spend enough time with her. Having said that, it’s an engaging perspective and I’m happy it was included here.

Watch, Look, Listen: The Sights & Sounds of They Live is a conversation with DP Gary Kibbe, stunt coordinator Jeff Imada and co-composer Alan Howarth. Pretty informative and, again, offering some additional perspective on this sucker.

There’s an 11-minute chat with Keith David titled Man vs. Aliens and it’s a fun watch. David reflects on his career and collaborations with Carpenter. Great stuff, as David is always a pleasure.

Rounding out the set is an 8-minute EPK with the cast, an option to view the in-movie commercials and a stills gallery/trailers.

They Live has long deserved a full-fledged special edition, and thanks to Scream Factory we’ve got it. It remains a fast-paced and enjoyable slice of 80s sci-fi satire, although the screenplay is a dicey proposition at times. Regardless, it’s vintage Carpenter and makes its high definition bow with excellent A/V and strong extras. Don’t go back to sleep! Grab They Live and celebrate a time when original genre filmmaking like this could delight moviegoers nationwide. See that? The 80s weren’t so bad after all!

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John Carpenter and Actor Roddy Piper
  • Independent Thoughts – An Interview with Writer/Director John Carpenter
  • Man vs. Aliens – An Interview with Actor Keith David
  • Woman of Mystery – An Interview with Actress Meg Foster
  • Watch, Look, Listen: The Sights & Sounds of “They Live” – A look at the visual style, stunts and music from the film with Director of Photography Gary B. Kibbe, Stunt Coordinator Jeff Imada, and Co-Composer Alan Howarth
  • Original EPK: The Making of “They Live”
  • Never-Before-Seen Footage from the Commercials Created for the Film
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Stills Gallery

    Film:

    4 out of 5

    Special Features:


    3 1/2 out of 5

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    AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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    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.

    Spoiler free.

    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.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
    3.5

    Summary

    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.

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    User Rating 4 (3 votes)
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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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    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.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

    • 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.
    • The Axiom
    4.0

    Summary

    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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    User Rating 3.9 (10 votes)
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    The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!

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    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.”

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    Ultimately chilling in nature!

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    User Rating 3.31 (16 votes)
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