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Dark Waters (DVD)

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Dark Waters (click for larger image)Starring Louise Salter, Venera Simmons, Anna Rose Phipps

Directed by Mariano Baino

Distributed by NoShame Films


The early 90s was an interesting time for the horror genre thanks to the offerings of several young foreign based filmmakers. These neophytes delivered films with original scenarios and a bold sense of style to back them up. Guillermo del Toro debuted as a director with Cronos (1993). Richard Stanley delivered Dust Devil (1992). Alex de la Iglesia unleashed the one-two punch of Accion Mutante (1993) and Day of the Beast (1994). And Italian auteur Michele Soavi conveyed his masterpiece in Dellamorte, Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man; 1994). Quietly hidden among these films but of no less importance was Mariano Baino’s Dark Waters (1994), a stylish independent horror film recently given the deluxe DVD treatment by NoShame Films.

Following the death of her father, young Elizabeth (Salter) returns to her birth place – an isolated island housing a large convent. The reason for her journey is twofold. First, a friend of hers has been living there in a convent but has recently gone missing. Second, Elizabeth wants to find out why her father has been sending money to the convent every year since he and Elizabeth left the island. Arriving at the convent on an appropriately rainy night, Elizabeth is given the cold shoulder by the nuns. They do, however, allow her to stay and have full use of their library. It is there that Elizabeth, along with the help of young nun Sarah, begins to unearth clues related to both the mysterious rituals of the nuns and her own family’s past.

Released in the US on VHS and DVD as Dead Waters by York Entertainment, this new DVD set from NoShame Films is a revelation. Digitally remastered from the film’s original negative, the film has never looked better. Presented in animorphically enhanced widescreen (1.85:1), the transfer is amazingly clear and features bold colors especially the glowing amber of candle lit catacombs. The audio offers the option of listening to the film in English (which it was shot in) or Italian with English subtitles. Audio selections include English Dolby Digital Mono or English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.

The DVD set is packed with extras. On the first disc Baino is joined in a full-length audio commentary with NoShame producer Michele De Angelis. The two men have a great time discussing the intricacies of the plot and the film’s genesis. Baino talks about a wide range of subjects from his fear of religious iconography and how that played into this film to losing his original choice for a lead actress two weeks before filming. To say the least, it was a very turbulent shoot, and Baino is at no loss for anecdotes about the crew’s travails. He also mentions how his dreams and the writings of H. P. Lovecraft influenced his film. It should also be noted that Baino and De Angelis keep good on their word of offering no singing on the commentary track.

Up next is the documentary “Deep into Dark Waters,” a monster 50-minute behind-the-scenes look at the film’s frenzied production. Principals including Baino, lead actress Salte,r and various crew members recount tales of hardship regarding filming in the Ukraine and Kiev. Highlights (or lowlights) include arriving on location via a 24-hour bus ride, finding out no camera had arrived, a lethargic Russian crew that took three-hour lunches, finding out their sets had been sold (by their own production manager!), various stories about vodka, discovering their huge monster was lost in the mail, and Baino being literally in the middle of a military revolution while finished post-production. It is a journey that proves to be as entertaining, twisted, and bizarre as the film itself. A deleted scenes section showcases literally every frame Baino excised for this new Director’s Cut (which actually runs seven minutes shorter than previously released versions). The first disc extras are rounded out with a silent blooper reel featuring Baino commentary and an extensive gallery of photos (both behind-the-scenes and publicity) and artwork.

Stone Amulet from Dark Waters DVD (click for larger image)The limited edition from NoShame bestows even more gifts upon the viewer. A second disc contains the Baino short films Dream Car (16 min.), Caruncula (20 min.), and Never Ever After (13 min). All three are engaging horror-fantasy entries with Caruncula (which features a great twist) being the best of the trio. Each short has the option of a Baino commentary, and there is a “making of” segment for Never (which runs longer than the actual short!). Also included is a music video for Cecily Fay directed by Baino, the Never screenplay in PDF format, and a photo gallery for the shorts. And if that weren’t enough, NoShame houses this double disc set in a huge cardboard box. Inside is a 50-page booklet on Dark Waters‘ production that features storyboards, photos, script excerpts, an essay on the film, and a biography for Baino. The storyboards and script pages should interest fans because they show a more elaborate opening. Finally, the set is topped with a miniature recreation of the stone amulet from the film. NoShame didn’t skimp as this stone amulet is really made of stone! It has a convenient wall mount on the back and is quite heavy (please, no bashing of nuns’ skulls with it).

Shot on a low budget but with enough atmosphere for ten films, Dark Waters is a solid debut feature. NoShame Films has really gone out of their its to give this small film some attention, hence giving it a new lease on cinematic life. Amazingly, it is Baino’s only feature to date. With the film finally getting its deserved recognition Stateside, fans can only hope that this will open doors for Baino to make a second feature.

Special Features
Commentary by director Mariano Baino and DVD producer Michele De Angelis
“Deep into Dark Waters” documentary
Deleted scenes
Blooper reel
Photo and artwork gallery for feature
Three Mariano Baino directed shorts
Mariano Baino directed music video
Photo and artwork gallery for shorts

4 out of 5

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Black Christmas Blu-ray Review – Making Its U.K. Debut From 101 Films

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Starring Keir Dullea, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Art Hindle

Directed by Bob Clark

Distributed by 101 Films


There is only one Bob Clark Christmas movie I watch each year and it doesn’t feature Ralphie and his Red Ryder fantasies.

The endurance of Clark’s 1974 legendary slasher, Black Christmas, can be chalked up to a number of factors but the greatest is this: it is a disturbing film. I frequently come across horror message board topics asking for genuinely scary titles devoid of jump scares and excessive gore, but oddly enough Black Christmas doesn’t get many mentions. Maybe because it has been relegated to the “seasonal viewing only” heap? Regardless, fans will agree that the unsettling events portrayed don’t diminish with repeat viewings; if anything, subsequent watching serves to reinforce that it is a standout among a sea of imitators. The film is also a noted influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – arguably the granddaddy of slasher films – adding a bit of prestige to its legacy.

The girls of Pi Kappa Sig are throwing a holiday party before the Christmas break when, toward the end of the night, they receive a phone call from a man they’ve been calling “The Moaner”, who has a habit of calling and making unusual noises. Jess (Olivia Hussey) initially accepts the call but also allows her other sisters to listen in, prompting outspoken Barb (Margot Kidder) to jump on the line and goad this mystery man. She and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) argue over the possibility this guy may be more threatening than anyone realizes. Unbeknownst to the ladies partying downstairs, however, moments before the phone call came through an unidentified person (very likely this same caller) snuck up the side of the house and into the attic. And once the party wraps up that same person is found hiding in Claire’s (Lynne Griffin) closet, whereupon she is strangled and placed in a rocking chair in the attic.

The next day Claire’s father comes to the campus to meet her and is understandably stood up. He heads to the sorority house and reports her missing, at which point the girls and their housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), agree to help him locate her. The file a report with the police, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), and Jess also wrangles in Claire’s semi-boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), who helps bolster the search by raising hell at the station. Jess, meanwhile, is having problems of her own after confessing to her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), she is pregnant. She wants an abortion; he is vehemently against it. Claire’s absence grows more concerning when another missing girl is found dead in a nearby park, prompting the cops to ramp up their efforts. The girls are being picked off one by one as the unseen assailant remains hidden in the attic, continuing his phone calls that come after each murder. The cops suspect Peter may be a person of interest, as his interactions with Jess have become increasingly aggressive, but everyone is in for a shock when a tap on the line reveals the true source of the calls – they are coming from within the house.

With the film having been around for over forty years, and fans having been sold one “upgraded” home video version after the next, I suspect most readers are more interested in how Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stacks up against similar editions – which is basically my way of saying this review is a bit glib. For the uninitiated, however, let me say that I cannot overstate how exceptional Clark’s film is – never giving the killer an identity, an entire subplot concerning abortion, a palpable sense of grief for Claire’s father, a cast of interesting, unique people who don’t ever feel like archetypes, and a potentially downer of an ending. Some of his moviemaking tricks are brilliant, like the decision to create Billy’s voice from a combination of three different people (one a woman) and using interchangeable actors to portray the killer so you’re never quite sure who is in the attic. Carl Zittrer’s score is disorienting and minimal, making use of odd instrumentation to add extra unease; it also appears infrequently, giving the movie more of a real life quality. Black Christmas was a reasonable success upon release, more so commercially than critically, but time has been kind to this old gem and many now view it as an outright horror classic.

Hell, it was Elvis’ favorite Christmas movie.

Cult label 101 Films is giving the film its U.K. debut, presenting a transfer that is nearly identical to the remastered version Scream Factory released last year in North America. That 1.85:1 1080p picture is very likely the best this film can and will ever look. Black Christmas has a long home video history of looking very grainy, murky, dulled, and soft. I can’t say the new disc’s results are far off that mark but there are clear improvements. For one, grain has been resolved in a tighter field that looks less “noisy” and more “grindhouse-y”; do not expect an image clear as a crystal unicorn by any means. There is still softness to many faces and objects though detail looks far better here than it ever has before. Colors are more vibrant, too. Black levels run on the hazy side but they’re more stable than ever. The only noticeable difference between the Scream Factory and 101 Films versions are the latter is a touch brighter, allowing for a little more detail to filter through.

Audio is available via an English LPCM 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo option. The multi-channel effort grants the unsettling soundtrack and Billy’s insane vocalizations more room to breathe, ratcheting up the creepiness thanks to the sense of immersion. Unlike the Scream Factory edition, the original mono track is not included.

Only a handful of extra features have been included, all of which can be found on the Scream Factory edition, too.

“Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle” – Hindle, who still owns that jacket, talks about being a working actor in Canada when there wasn’t much work, as well as how he wound up auditioning for Clark for a different role.

“Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin” – The actress who is most famous for having a plastic bag over her head tells a few tales from the set.

“Black Christmas Legacy” – This is a lot of interviews from the film’s actors and notable fans. I found it to be a bit tedious.

A handful of original TV and radio spots have been included, along with the “40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014”.

The package also includes a fold-out poster, reversible cover art, and a DVD copy.

Special Features:

  • Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
  • Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
  • Black Christmas Legacy
  • Original TV and Radio spots
  • 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
  • Black Christmas
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

This is an easy recommendation for purchase if you live in the U.K., since this is the film’s Blu-ray debut. Stateside readers may find this region-free version attractive due to the price, but know that it does contain significantly fewer extras than the in-print Scream Factory release. Either way, fans on both sides of the Atlantic have a version worth buying.

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

Directed by Warren Speed


The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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