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Phantasm Sphere: The Complete Collection (DVD)

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Starring Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thronbury

Directed by Don Coscarelli

Released by Anchor Bay UK


“You think when you die, you go to heaven?”

The Phantasm series of films has always been a favourite of mine. The only other series that I think holds themselves so well over the full course of it are the Ju-On series and Romero’s Dead series, all of which are notable for being series where every film was written and directed by the same person. I’ve owned a number of versions of all of the Phantasm films to date, but there’s never been a good collection of them until now.

Taking the success of their Hellraiser boxset and using it as the model for their Phantasm set, Anchor Bay UK have released what is undoubtedly their most ambitious box set to date. Similarly to the Hellraiser box, the case the Phantasm DVDs come in has taken its cue from an icon of the series: one of the spheres. This mirrored plastic casing is an oversized replica, featuring two extended blades, and even comes with its own little stand to keep it from rolling all around your DVD shelf. Impractical as it is cool, it’s a real head turner.

The set has been delayed, but for good reasons. Don Coscarelli made it known that he wanted to remaster the films, and there’s no doubt that the new transfers have been worth waiting for, especially as they went back to original prints and as such have reinstated a few pieces of gore into the third entry, Lord of the Dead, that have never before been seen outside of workprints.

All four films now sport 5.1 DTS soundtracks and anamorphic widescreen, and the transfers of all but the third film are of the standard you’d expect from Anchor Bay’s American counterparts. For whatever reason, and I’m presuming it’s the medium they shot III on, it just doesn’t match up to the other three in picture quality, but it’s still better than any other version of III I’ve seen, though when watching them side by side, III stands out like a sore thumb.

The Phantasm series, for those that don’t know, generally follows the exploits of two brothers, Mike and Jody, and their good friend Reggie in their fight against a mysterious tall undertaker, known to them as The Tall Man. The Tall Man is reanimating the dead bodies he’s receiving and doing all kinds of other crazy stuff to them. Dreams and reality blur, time and space are traveled, and lots of things die.

Made over a period of almost a quarter of a century, one of the coolest things about the series is how, apart from the notable exception of Mike in Phantasm II, the same actors have returned to their roles time and again. Each film has differing strengths and weaknesses, but generally the films have held up well. The original is the most dated but still my favourite of the series by far. Phantasm II is the most straightforward and actiony, Phantasm III the most comic, and Phantasm OblIVion the most surreal.

It’s low budget, bloody fun about a small cluster of endearing characters fighting an unstoppable evil, and while the special effects in the first are looking more and more hokey with time (in fact they were even being joked about while Phantasm II was being made as you’ll see in Nicotero’s spot on the extras DVD), it’s great to see the film looking and sounding as good as it does here, in anamorphic widescreen for the first time.

Just a note on that; it was always Coscarelli’s intention that the first film be shown in widescreen. However, when he was shooting, he made sure that areas above and below what was shot remained free of any boom mics or other imperfections, so that when shown on TV it could be shown unmated. That means that the Region 2 4:3 release of Phantasm loses nothing at the sides when compared to the letterboxed Region 1 MGM disc. If you’re used to the 4:3 version you might feel like you’re losing picture in this version, but bear in mind this is how Don always wanted the film to be presented.

The first and second films both look and sound better than I ever thought they would, and these are the transfers I’ll be watching time and time again without question. Compared to the DVDs I already had, it’s like night and day. Previous versions of II and III were merely in stereo but now offer full 5.1 surround sound, and I’m a sucker for DTS every time. The spheres are exactly the sort of thing that surround sound was made for, and they don’t disappoint as they whiz around the sound field and gnaw their way through flesh.

Phantasm II and especially III always felt neutered with their cut down head drilling scenes, so it’s unfortunate that the scene in the second is still the trimmed version. Fortunately, and rather deliciously, the same isn’t true of Phantasm III, which has gone from no blood in its drilling scene to the full-on geyser you’d expect. It’s now my favourite drilling scene, in fact.

Another scene featuring an axe has always been horribly edited out of III in a very obvious and jarring way, and having it back doesn’t just give you some gore to enjoy, but gives you a better paced and edited scene.

OblIVion, being the newest in the series, had already been put out with a fairly solid transfer, so it’s the least noticeably improved, but it’s certainly nice having that DTS track and seeing the first two films look just as pristine. The footage from the original shoot of Phantasm that they reincorporated back into OblIVion look closer in quality than I remember them looking before.

I should mention the menus at this point. The menu on Phantasm features a CGI version of the Morningside Mausoleum with a handful of spheres flying around it, and it looks rather good. II, III, and IV all share the same menu, a full motion rendition of the mausoleum from Phantasm II. It’s nice but not quite as good, and it’s a shame each film couldn’t receive its own menu — but understandable all the same.

As far as extras go, there’s pretty much everything from the MGM disc and the previous Region 2 releases. There’s the same wonderful behind the scenes video footage from Phantasm and the amusing footage of Angus Scrimm reciting all his lines from the first two films at a Fangoria convention back in the Eighties.

Every film has commentaries, and the usual suspects rotate in and out. No one is on all four films, but you’ll hear Don Coscarreli, Angus ‘The Tall Man’ Scrimm, Bill ‘Jody’ Thornbury, A Micheal Baldwin, and Reggie Bannister. The commentary on Phantasm is the same one from the MGM Region 1 disc, which is a good track that it benefits from having Bill Thornbury, but it is a shame that we aren’t getting a new commentary there. The other three are new commentaries, and surprisingly I found the commentary on Phantasm III the most entertaining.

It’s performed by Angus Scrimm and A. Micheal Baldwin, who both go missing for a huge portion of the film, but Mike’s dry wit entertains at every turn, and Angus, who tends to fade into the background when there are two or more other people in the booth with him, is most active here. It’s probably the least informative, but all the same it’s great to hear these two talking about their experiences on the series and theorizing about what certain things may or may not mean.

There are deleted scenes from the original and a disc of bonus extras that contains a number of documentaries covering various aspects of the films. Aside from just the usual ‘making of’ things, there’s ‘Phantasm Genesis’ which shows you a number of scenes go from shooting to final edit, a Sean Clark-esque tour of a few filming sites with Reggie Bannister, a look at the effects from II through IV with Greg Nicotero, and a look at the “Phans” of the series.

The star of the disc is undoubtedly “Phantasmagoria,” a feature-length look at the making of the entire series. Anything not already covered in the commentaries is covered here with fortunately little repetition. There are a lot of nice material in this, good interviews, good behind the scenes footage… It’s really a top notch example of this type of thing, and that the series contains mostly the same cast and crew throughout ensures that it’s a lot more balanced than, say, the Friday the 13th documentary which seemed to speed through a couple of the films.

‘Phantasm Genesis’ is a little on the strange side. Basically it consists of behind the scenes footage of a handful of shots from a scene, compared against the final edited together scene. Apart from a couple of amusing outtake style moments, it really doesn’t do much to educate and inform.

Fortunately the same isn’t true of Nicotero’s spot. Obviously it only focuses on Phantasm II and OblIVion, the only films he was involved in, but the vintage footage of the make-up effects guys goofing around is as fun as similar footage from Evil Dead 2. Actually, it’s more fun, with Mark Shostrom’s team seeming like a great group of people to work with as they goof around with the appliances. Nicotero is interviewed, and the only thing you could say about it is that it’s a shame they didn’t get Shostrom in to talk about the work done on the third movie too.

‘Reggie’s Phantastic Tour’ is a bit of a disappointment, covering only a few of the sites that our intrepid Sean Clark hit in his Horror’s Hallowed Grounds article on the series. Reggie performs it half in character, which makes it a little uneven. It’s fun enough, but it just seems like too few of the filming sites are included and almost all the locations are from the first film. Maybe I’m just spoiled by Sean Clark’s take on it.

The final documentary is on the Phantasm fans, dubbed ‘Phandom’. It’s enjoyable, not as good as the main documentary or the Greg Nicotero one, but definitely a nice nod to some of the more hardcore Phans and pays some nice lipservice to those of us that are a little bit obsessive with this series.

There are easter eggs on every disc, but I’ll let you find those for yourself.

Finally, I have to talk about the sphere box itself. The mirrored plastic really does evoke the spheres from the film. It’s extravagant and fitting, and it’s very much the bow that makes this set must have. If you’re weird and want normal sized DVD packaging, there is a digipack version; but seriously, once you see the ball, you’ll know you need it.

The Phantasm series is one of the more endearing horror franchises that has some of the best crafted long-running characters of any horror series, not to mention the mighty Angus Scrimm, whose Tall Man manages to go four films without ever doing anything stupid or losing any of the presence and menace he has in the first film.

Unless you can’t stand the Phantasm series, this is really a must-own set, and it’s good enough that I’d recommend any of you that don’t have a region free DVD player get one to check it out, the only major gripes being the picture quality in III and the still-cut ball scene in II.

4 ½ out of 5

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Inside (Remake) Review – Is It as Brutal as the Original?

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Starring Rachel Nichols Laura Harring

Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas


While the directing duo of the cringe-inducing and original 2007 French grand guignol thriller Inside have gone on to refurbishments of their own—Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo recently helmed a retread of Leatherface’s origin story—their flick now has an American stamp on it with the release of the remake, also titled Inside.

A cheerless Christmas eve sets the stage for heavily-pregnant widow Sarah’s (Rachel Nichols) oncoming ordeal. It’s a frigid and snowy night. She’s got a huge house to herself, following the accidental and violent death of her husband. She wants to sell the home that was meant to hold a family, to forget the nascent memories it once held. But she’s got to ride it out until the baby is born. While Sarah is lonesome, she won’t be alone. She’s got her genial gay neighbor nearby, and her mum is going to come and stay with her for a few days. Oh, and there will be an unexpected visitor too.

When a shadowy, seemingly stranded stranger (Laura Harring) knocks on the door pleading to be let inside, Sarah instinctively balks. She even calls the cops. But the woman leaves and all seems well. Crisis averted. Sarah puts the housekeys in the mailbox outside for Mom, and goes to bed. Big mistake.

Mystery Lady shows up at Sarah’s bedside armed with chloroform, an IV bag, and a case full of sharp-and-pointies (sorry, ’07 fans… those implements do not include a pair of scissors). The horror unfolds and the expected yet lively game of gory cat-and-mouse ensues. Then the tete-a-tete becomes a body-count chiller featuring one shocking moment after another.

Nichols is fantastic in the role, giving it her all. When the original Inside came out eleven years ago, she was starring in another French-helmed horror, P2—also set on Christmas eve—and she stole the show. She does the same here but with a less-intense adversary. Harring’s killer character, unlike her European counterpart, has a lot to say—which takes away from her initially mysterious manner as the minutes tick off. Still, the girl-on-girl action is a welcome change from the usual gender dynamic one sees in these things. Both deserve kudos for their performances.

While Inside isn’t a died-in-the-wool “Hollywood” remake (Miguel Ángel Vivas directs, while [REC] co-creator Jaume Balagueró wrote it) it feels like one. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end). However, Inside is still a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it.

  • Inside (Remake)
3.0

Summary

Inside is a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end).

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What If Tina Fey Wrote Jennifer’s Body? My Friend’s Exorcism Book Review

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“Rummaging in one of his duffel bags, [the exorcist] pulled out and athletic cup and slid it down the front of his pants. ‘First place they go for,’ he explained. He then adjusted himself and picked up a well-worn Bible. ‘Let’s do the Lord’s work.'”

It was about a year ago now (it seems) that I first saw the cover of “My Best Friend’s Exorcism.” If you haven’t seen it for yourself in all of its glory, make sure to click the image over to the right for a more in-depth look. Awesome, right? Got to love all the VHS details such as the “Horror” and “Be Kind Rewind” stickers. Classic. Utter classic.

Now I’m fully aware that one should not judge a book by its cover. Literally. But still the moment I saw this work of delicious art crop up in the inbox I had to read the book asap. Well, it turns out asap was about a year later, but all the same, I’ve now had a peek at the inside of the book as well as the outside. Does the content inside match the content outside?

Let’s find out…

For those who might not know, “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” (henceforth referred to as MBFE) tells the tale of two best friends named Abby and Grethen. One night the two, and a few of there other friends, drop a bit of acid for the first time. While the drug never kicks in (no worries, there’s no lame twist-ending to be had here) poor Gretchen still wanders off into the woods and gets possessed like a motherf*cker in some creepy abandoned building. From there, things go from bad to worse until an unlikely exorcist is called in and things go off the wicked walls in all the best ways possible.

Now, to review. First of all, let it be know that MBFE is more of a teen romance (between two friends) than a straight tale of terror. Think of it as “What if Tina Fey wrote Jennifer’s Body?” and that will give you a good hint at what the book holds in store for you. Not that that’s a bad thing. Still, you should be aware that the first 2/3 of the book is almost exclusively teenagers not getting along, bitch about losing touch, who is sleeping with who, and yada, yada, yada for pages on end. Dramarama for days. Mostly.

That said, not only is the teen drama bearable (and truthfully quite sweet in spots), Hendrix keeps the horror in the spotlight just enough that I never lost faith the book was heading somewhere truly balls to the wall. And it does. Oh, boy does it. From the time the unholy shite hits the fan in the last third, to the time the last word is read, the book is filled with horror moments that will make even the most jaded fright-fiction fan gag, grimace, or stand up and cheer!

You just have to get through all the angst first…

But speaking of angst, let me get a bit of extremely personal business out of the way real quick. Can I trust you with this info? Sure I can. MBFE made is cry like a baby. Not kidding. There have been very few times in my life that I have literally burst out crying. I’ve had some sad shite happen in my days, and I have seen some sad-ass movies, but nothing has made me cry out of the f*cking blue like MBFE. I’m not going to go into details about the final 10 pages of the book, but it tore my poor horror-heart a new one. It was bad. Like snot and hyperventilating type shite. Again, not kidding. Thank the lord I wasn’t in public is all I can say. I would have arrested and thrown in the booby-hatch.

MBFE goes along like a slightly horror-centric version of Mean Girls and Heathers for most of its page count. If you’re a straight horror fan, you’ll be at odds with whether you should bother finishing it or not. You will. Trust me. But listen to me now and know that once our heroine goes into the dark, dank bedroom of the school’s resident bitch to find out why she hasn’t been in school the past few days/weeks, the horror hits like holy hell. And it only gets worse (RE: better) from there.

In the end, MBFE is a book ever horror fan should own – if only for the cover. I dug the hell out of the book (eventually) and I’m sure the majority of you guys will too. But even for those hard-hearts out there that just can’t stand to read about things like uncompromising love, and hellfire-forged friendship, you still need to own the book. You still owe it to yourself to give it a try. If you don’t care for it, that’s cool, just display in on your bookshelf in all it’s VHS glory. It will make you look cool.

  • My Best Friend's Exorcism - Book Review
3.5

Summary

Grady Hendrix’s “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” is a killer mixture of Mean Girls, Heathers, and The Exorcist. Just think of it as “What if Tina Fey wrote Jennifer’s Body” and you’ll have a good indication of what lies in store for you within the amazing VHS-inspired cover art.

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Knock Knock Review – This Throwback To The VHS Era Packs A Fun Punch

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Starring Kerry Tartack, Sisi Berry, Chuk Hell

Directed by Toby Canto


I remember the glory days of my youth back in the early to mid-80’s, renting every friggin horror flick on VHS and keeping the cassettes well past the return dates, eventually blacklisting my name from damn near all of the movie shops in my hometown. For the sole reason of wanting to hop back in the time-machine, I’ll never turn down the opportunity to check out a film that promises to ship you back to the days of all of that cheesy-neon attire and overblown hairdos.

Director Toby Canto was generous enough to offer his latest film up onto the sacrificial stone, and it’s called Knock Knock – about a WAY past his prime pugilist named Sam (Tartack) who is unwillingly thrust into a throwdown with a bloodsucker who happens to reside in the same apartment – damn noisy neighbors! His only birthday wish is to spend his 60th go-round safely hold up in his domicile, away from pesky residents alike. Well, that plan goes to shit when his kooky neighbor (Berry) comes by and pitches the idea of throwing hands with the newest tenant: a real creature of the night (Lucas Ayoub).

Sam initially nixes the idea wholeheartedly, but when more of his quirky neighbors show up to his place to substantiate the vampiric-claims, Sam finds himself lacing up the leather for one more round…or two, depending on if he can still take a beating. Filled with more than a handful of goofy instances, this near-hour presentation won’t blow the doors off of the horror/com vehicle, but should more than suffice in the short-term until the next spooky-laugher comes slithering out of its hole.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Historians alike, this movie’s for those who want a reminder of how loopy those VHS days were, and the best part is you don’t have to rewind a freakin’ thing.

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