Starring Jon Tenney, Robert Picardo, Thea Gill, Jason Emmanuel, and Charles Zuckerman
Directed by Joe Dante
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
“Medals on a wooden mantle. Next to a handsome face. That the president took for granted. Writing checks that others pay. And in all the madness, thought becomes numb and naive. So much to talk about, there’s nothing more to say. It’s a shame to awake in a world of pain. What does it mean when a war has taken over? It’s the same everyday in a hell man-made. What can be saved, and who will be left to hold her? The whole world … world over. It’s a world wide suicide,” snarls Eddie Vedder on the first single off Pearl Jam’s newest self-titled CD. In times when our nation is at war, protest songs like the one quoted here are in abundance. But what does this have to do with the latest Masters of Horror DVD release, “Homecoming”? Well, if you have to ask, then you obviously haven’t seen this episode yet.
If there’s one thing that has attracted the various directors involved with this project to it, it’s the promise of being able to make the exact kind of film that they want without any fear of studio interference. Who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to exercise a bit of creative freedom? Genre veteran Joe Dante was there to answer the call, and he has crafted a mini-feature that no studio would have touched with a ten-foot pole. “Homecoming” plays exactly like a horror fan’s protest song. So sit back, kids, and let’s talk about Dante’s own personal rage against the machine.
“Homecoming” drops you into the lives of political spin master David Murch (Tenney) and right wing lunatic Jane Cleaver. With a conflict raging overseas, these two Republican mouthpieces have been doing their very best to keep the public’s support of a war based on “bullshit and elbow-grease” locked neatly in place through various media including talk shows not unlike what you’d find on Fox News or CNN at any given moment. When faced with the task of publicly dealing with a grieving parent on a televised talk show, Murch makes a very bold statement. He wishes that this woman could have her son back, and before you can say “the monkey’s paw,” a battalion of dead Johnnys come marching on home.
But what do these newly risen soldiers want? Brains? Revenge? Nope, it’s a lot simpler than that. They just want a chance to vote out the bastard of a president that put them in harm’s way. Given the sacrifice they made for the very country they had sworn to protect, this small concession is the least anyone could allow them. Of course, thanks to some political treachery things do not go the way that our undead heroes had hoped. It’s time for war, and it’s time for some folks to, as Eddie put it, pay those checks that the president has written.
“Homecoming” is not subtle. Some would even venture to call it heavy-handed in its message. However, in this time of turmoil it almost seems fitting to have a protest film as ludicrous as the war itself. Caricatures of all of today’s major players are present and accounted for including Karl Rove and the the ever-so infuriatingly crazed Ann Coulter. Strangely enough, one character in “Homecoming” has a lot in common with a now very public figure by the name of Cindy Sheehan. Sheehan’s story broke just as “Homecoming” was wrapping, and the parallels stunned the entire cast and crew. Coincidence? Foresight? Who knows. Life has a way of imitating art, but honestly is it any real shock that a mother would finally come forth to question this war and what her child died for? Hardly. A lot of things hit close to home during this episode, and there is indeed much to be said.
While Dante spends a great deal of time hammering his message home, we also get a heaping helping of zombie mayhem piled on just high enough to please fans of the sub-genre. Be warned though. If you’re expecting a Fulci-esque undead splatterfest, you will find yourself coming up a bit on the disappointed side of the fence. There is no major league gore to be found, but zombie movie fans will be thrilled with the way these shambling creatures look as KNB proves once again that they are on top of their game.
These newly re-animated soldiers may be horrific looking in nature, but given the heroic nature of their deaths, one cannot help but sympathize with these creatures. As in Romero’s fourth zombie opus, Land of the Dead, the zombies here are the good guys. They’re the ones who have been wronged. There’s a reason Joe Dante is heralded as a master of horror. He, like Romero, handles this material with ease and delivers a hard edged undead reality that at times is nothing short of touching. “Homecoming” stands out as one of Season One’s most important and thought provoking episodes. Honestly, folks, when it comes to short films, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Anyone who has been collecting these discs since their release can attest to one fact: They are stacked with extras. In fact, the Masters DVD’s could very well be considered the measuring stick for all future special editions to come. Anchor Bay knows how to treat fans of the genre, and — up until this point — there’s been absolutely nothing to complain about. Although my complaint is nothing major and could even be considered nitpicking, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one key thing in particular that bugs the hell out of me — the new cover art.
Thus far all of the Masters DVD’s have had a very similar and striking look in terms of cover presentation. “Homecoming” is the first of the new look packages, and to say it’s less than thrilling is an understatement. Gone is the snazzy artwork with the director’s signature, and in its place we are left with an ordinary bit of poster artwork along with a very tiny Masters of Horror logo on the box’s bottom left hand corner. Part of what made the look of the original DVD’s so kickass was that it felt as if you were buying a true collector’s item. As is, the average consumer with no knowledge of the series would have a hard time trying to differentiate this film from any other run-of-the-mill direct-to-video release. This just seems kind of needless. Why not continue to capitalize on the series’ name-sake? You know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
OK, bitch-fest over. On with the goods. To be honest, it’s getting hard to review the Masters DVD’s without sounding a bit on the repetitive side. The features, while abundant, are just about the same on every one of the releases. You have your now standard heavily detailed behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and looks into the making-of the episode itself, and then of course the director’s spotlight.
That spotlight is one of the things that make the Masters of Horror releases so memorable. It’s great to see that a good deal of supplemental space is dedicated to not only the feature but also its director’s tenure in the genre. Dante has had one incredible career from cutting trailers for Roger Corman to helming some of horror’s best offerings like The Howling and the mainstream hit Gremlins. A documentary about Joe has been a long time coming. For fan’s of Dante, this DVD is an absolute gift.
The Masters of Horror collection is fast becoming the must-own series for horror fans everywhere and with good reason. “Homecoming” represents another slice of mayhem that is served white hot like only the guys at Anchor Bay know how to do it. In fact, it’s safe to say that they are becoming quite the masters of delivering horror content themselves. Bravo.
• Audio commentary by writer Sam Hamm
• The Dead Come Marching featurette
• Working With a Master: Joe Dante tribute interview featurette
• Behind the Scenes: The Making of HOMECOMING featurette
• On Set: An Interview With Jon Tenney
• On Set: An Interview With Robert Picardo
• On Set: An Interview With Thea Gill
• Fantasy Film Festival: Mick Garris Interviews Joe Dante featurette
• Still gallery
• Joe Dante bio
• Original screenplay (DVD-ROM)
• Screensaver (DVD-ROM)
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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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