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Curse of Chucky (Blu-ray / DVD)

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Curse of Chucky (2013)Starring Fiona Dourif, A Martinez, Danielle Bisutti, Brennan Elliott, Chantal Quesnelle, Brad Dourif

Written and directed by Don Mancini

Distributed by Universal Studios Home Entertainment


It’s a rare thing to find a direct-to-video sequel to a once-theatrical horror franchise where the creative principals have decided to return in spite of the series’ now smaller budget and scope. Rarer still is it to find such a sequel so very well made that it should’ve been released in theatres anyway, in spite of the original intentions of the studio that bankrolled it. But such is the case with Curse of Chucky, the sixth film in the now 25-year-old Child’s Play saga, which stands as a superior sequel and a damn good film that really should’ve seen more of this nation’s silver screens.

The film opens simply enough, introducing us to Sarah (Quesnelle), a reclusive painter holed up in a Gothic mini mansion with her paraplegic daughter, Nica (Fiona Dourif – yes, Brad’s daughter). The two receive a large package from parts unknown, containing a vintage “Good Guy” doll (yes, it’s Chucky). Before the night’s out, Sarah has kicked the bucket in what seems to be a suicide, leaving Nica behind to prepare the funeral and welcome her incoming family. They are: sister Barb (Bisutti); brother-in-law Ian (Elliot); niece Alice (Howell); nanny Jill (McConnell); and family priest Father Frank (Martinez). The visiting family settles in, each member dealing with their issues concerning one another (tension between the sisters, matters of faith or lack thereof, and a possible infidelity), even as the li’l ginger bastard plots against them right under their noses. Bodies begin to drop as revelations are made concerning Nica’s family and why Chucky seems so intent on killing every last one of them…

For those who had issues with the more darkly comic tone which presented itself in Bride of Chucky (before turning to outright camp with its follow-up Seed of Chucky), consider Curse a return to form. This is probably the franchise’s creepiest entry since the original, full of tension and several setpieces that take full advantage of the villain’s unsettling possibilities. Chucky himself is more menacing this time ‘round as well, with Dourif’s vocal performance foregoing the hammy murderer schtick of the last two entries and tapping into the character’s mean-spirited, utterly evil side not glimpsed since the first three films. Though he doesn’t get much to do in the film’s first two thirds, Dourif proves to be in top form once he’s able to cut loose with his horribly funny one-liners and that iconic maniacal laugh.

Aiding writer/director/Chucky creator Don Mancini’s more subdued, Hitchcockian approach is Michael Marshall’s alternately shadowy and colorful cinematography, which is quite beautiful to behold at times (the design of the lovely yet decaying home that sits at the story’s center should be commended as well, as it’s practically a character in itself). Add to that Evil Dead II and Brotherhood of the Wolf composer Joseph LoDuca’s musical score, which is every bit as playfully malevolent as Chucky himself, and you have a film which is far more technically competent that you would expect from a DTV sequel.

And then there are the performances. There isn’t a weak link here, as everyone delivers strong work, but the real surprise here is Fiona Dourif. Coming off of her appearances in “True Blood” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Dourif acquits herself of any eye-rolling accusations of nepotism by completely owning this film from her very first appearance. She gives Nica a warmth, strength, and vulnerability that make her one of the very best heroines in the franchise (and one of the better performances in all of genre cinema this year). SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT HERE If the franchise continues on to another installment, and it should, here’s hoping Mancini sees fit to bring Nica and Dourif back. END SPOILER

Though I wouldn’t dare reveal the many fun twists and reveals in the film’s final act, I’ll simply say that, as a longtime fan, I couldn’t have been more thrilled with how Mancini chose to acknowledge the previous installments of the franchise (and yes, I’m a fan of both Bride and Seed). In these days of remakes, reboots, and rehashes, leave it to Chucky’s creator to figure out a way to revitalize and reintroduce the character for a new generation, without shrugging off the decades of continuity that precede this film. Simply put – not only does Mancini know his fans, he respects them as well (also – be sure to stick around for the very end of the credits for a, erm…mind-blowing easter egg).

If I had but just a few qualms about this film, they would start with the occasionally unconvincing CG. The animatronic Chucky still looks and moves wonderfully, but some of the digital assists he has don’t always work so well (still, there is no VFX moment in the film I’d call truly awful or of Syfy caliber). In addition, one wishes we could have spent a bit more time with Nica throughout the film’s middle section, as she seems to get a bit lost within a couple of the film’s other subplots. More might have also been done to more fully exploit the “friendship” between Chucky and Alice – though, I suppose, the danger there might have been the possibility of retreading too much of the original Child’s Play’s events. Still, these are minor nitpicks when judged against the very successful whole.

Universal’s shameful handling of this film by neglecting its theatrical possibilities does not extend to the treatment they’ve given to the title on Blu, which is impressive. This shot on digital feature looks absolutely gorgeous in high def, boasting superb colors and razor-sharp detail (this writer wanted to run his fingers across the wonderfully textured sets at times). The DTS-HD 5.1 track is appropriately punchy when it needs to be, while employing some neat, subtle surround effects at times for maximum creepiness.

The bonus features section is perfectly solid as well. There is an audio commentary featuring Mancini, Fiona Dourif, and Chucky puppeteer Tony Gardner. This track is a fun listen, full of cool anecdotes and neat behind-the-scenes tales that’ll be essential for Chucky fans to hear. There are also six deleted scenes, all of which are quite decent (though it’s understandable why each was cut). In addition, there is a brief gag reel (which, unlike most gag reels, is genuinely amusing), along with a set of storyboard comparisons for four of the film’s major sequences. Then we have three featurettes taking decent looks at the production, the puppetry, and the franchise as a whole. A good package for a great flick.

Ultimately, folks, if you’re a fan of Chucky, you’re going to dig this flick. It’s an unsettling, intense, and occasionally funny film with more than enough surprises to keep veteran fans and uninitiated viewers grinning ear to ear. Here’s hoping Universal not only gives Mancini the go-ahead for another follow-up but puts this franchise back into theatres where it belongs.

Special Features

  • Rated and Unrated Versions of the Feature Film
  • Audio Commentary with Director Don Mancini, Puppeteer Tony Gardner, and Star Fiona Dourif
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Gag Reel
  • Playing with Dolls: The Making of Curse of Chucky
  • Living Doll: Bringing Chucky to Life
  • Voodoo Doll: The Chucky Legacy
  • Storyboard Comparison

    Film:

    4 out of 5

    Special Features:

    3 1/2 out of 5

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    GIRLS NIGHT 2 Review – A Terrifying Halloween Treat

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    Starring Marina De Sousa, Vincent Conty

    Directed by David Teixeira


    If you love Halloween as much as I do, you probably also love horror films that take place on Halloween. French Writer/Director David Teixeira uses Halloween as the backdrop for his eerie short horror film Girls Night, which we reviewed here. The film tells the story of three friends who decide to play Bloody Mary and end up butchered by a creepy masked killer. Filmmaker Teixeira skillfully uses atmosphere and impressive cinematography to heighten the scares.

    Teixeira is back with Girls Night 2 which will be released in October just in time for Halloween. The only survivor of the massacre, Jess (Marina De Sousa), is suffering from nightmares and insomnia because she was blamed for the murder of her friends. It’s a year later and Halloween and she is staying with Pierre (Vincent Conty). To calm Jess’s nerves they decide to watch a short film their friend David (David Teixeira) made, but Jess can’t stay awake. In her dreams the masked killer is back and wielding a pair of scissors. The film ends in utter confusion and a bloody mess. Is it real or is it a dream and who is the killer? You’ll have to watch the short to find out.

    The performances are strong and believable and actress Marina De Sousa is remarkable as Jess. Like the original, Girls Night 2 delivers an exciting amount of intensity and panic in only around thirteen minutes. I highly suggest experiencing both of these short films while wearing headphones to really amp up the terror. Girls Night 2 is currently a semi-finalist at Los Angeles Cinefest and winner for Best Foreign Film at the $2 Dollar Film Festival. The award winning short film Girls Night is available on YouTube and you can watch the Girls Night 2 teaser trailer below.

    • Girls Night 2
    4.0

    Summary

    Girls Night 2 delivers an impressive amount of intense scares worthy of a feature length film in just under thirteen minutes.

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    PANTHER RIDGE Review – When Your New Job Takes You To Interesting Locations

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    Starring Chenara Imrith, Kerry Hempel, Seth Goodfellow

    Written by Ryan Swantek

    Directed by Ryan Swantek


    Director Ryan Swantek’s graphic-take on a young woman unhappy with her looks in White Willow was in my useless opinion, one of the strongest short films to hit the horror genre in quite some time. It was brutal, unflinchingly ruthless to eyeball, and best of all for a first-time directorial effort, there was no apology for what was put before us – let’s venture over to Panther Ridge.

    So what comes around in the second-time in the big guy’s chair? Well, when I’d heard that it was a sadistic look into the BDSM scene, I’ll admit I was a bit intrigued (no, I’m not into that stuff, ya kooks) – I’d just honestly hoped for a bit more than what was tossed to me. This particular short film is titled Panther Ridge, and it tells the story of a young lady who is getting a fresh start in a new career – that of a dominatrix, of sorts. As this presentation begins, she’s smack dab in the middle of a dungeon with a very unlucky prisoner and the woman who will be guiding her in her “training.” I’ll tell ya, first days on the job can be stressful, but with the correct forms of relief, you can make it through the day all the while exorcising some pent up demons as well.

    Commence brutality upon this poor tied-up fool and the lass roped up across from him, for they know not what lies in store for them next, but rest assured they’ll be making a blood donation whether they want to or not. Unfortunately my self-imposed hype proved to be insurmountable as Swantek’s second time up to the plate resulted (for me, anyway) in a big swing and a miss. What worked in his maiden voyage with Willow was the notion that you were going to witness the repercussions of a tortured soul as she looked in the mirror, whereas this time we’re watching some poor sap get the snot beaten out of him, and I could honestly see the same thing in a number of other productions for a longer stretch of time (if you dig that sort of thing). I’ll await Mr. Swantek’s third production when it’s time, and hopefully it’ll pack more of a sustained punch than this quickie.

    • Panther Ridge
    2.5

    Summary

    Swantek’s sophomore directorial endeavor unfortunately isn’t much more than shock and torture-porn crammed into an abbreviated timeframe – been down this road more than a few times.

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    EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS Blu-ray Review – Savagery & Sexuality From The Master Of Sleaze

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    Starring Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Monica Zanchi, Donald O’Brien

    Directed by Joe D’Amato (Arisitide Massaccesi)

    Distributed by Severin Films


    After taking famed sex icon Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) to Bangkok (1976), America (1976), and Around the World (1977) legendary sleaze director Joe D’Amato decided to mash up two of Italy’s most notorious genres by sending his beautiful muse down to the Amazon rainforest, cinematic home to countless hordes of cannibal tribes. The Italian cannibal craze of the late’70s was just beginning to take hold, offering D’Amato a ripe opportunity to satisfy both the bloodlust and, well, regular lust of exploitation devotees worldwide. For the most part the film plays out expectedly, with a reasonably large group of people meeting in the Amazon and trekking off on a quest. By the end, that group has dwindled down to only a few members, all of whom probably have a lot of regret about traipsing through the jungle. Aficionados will get a bit of a “been there, eaten that” vibe from the film, which hits every trademark of the genre sans animal cruelty, but Emanuelle herself spices up this cannibal comfort food with an alluring performance capped off by one helluva genius ending. The film also holds the dubious distinction of showing a penis being eaten less than 15 minutes after the opening credits. You set a high bar, Joe.

    When an unlucky nurse has half of her tit eaten off by a newly-arrived mental patient, a girl found in the Amazon jungles, journalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) infiltrates the sanitarium to score a hot scoop. Armed with a camera concealed within a baby doll head, Emanuelle surreptitiously snaps a few shots before making the new girl talk via… digital means – and I’m not talking technology. Emanuelle takes her information to Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), a museum curator whom she hopes will fund her expedition. He agrees. Then, she goes and screws some random guy in broad daylight down by the river. Later, she comes back and has more sex, this time with Mark. The next day they leave for the Amazon.

    Upon arrival, the two are met by Isabel (Monica Zanchi) and Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi), both of whom have altruistic plans of their own in the rainforest. Their trek soon brings them across Donald (Donald O’Brien), a hunter who is on safari with his wife and a guide. Now that the film has brought together a large group of people, some of whom are more reprehensible than others, it’s time to pick them off and watch in delight as cannibals of the Amazon gut them, skewer them, and devour their flesh while the soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco play in the background.

    So many of these Italian cannibal pictures feel interchangeable because the formula is incredibly simple – send a group of naïve outsiders into the Amazon and let an indigenous tribe kill and eat them, usually in the most horrific manner possible. What sets this film apart from so many others is in the title: Emanuelle. Gemser is not only easy on the eyes but she has this magnetic presence on screen, not because she is a great actress but her looks, abilities, and personality combine to create one of exploitation cinema’s most capable and sultry sirens. It is entirely due to her ingenuity here that anyone survives at all. She isn’t a rag doll, tossed around and used for sex and companionship; Emanuelle is a woman in charge of her own sexuality and she calls the shots. This film was made during a time when women were often used as set dressing or spent most of a film being subservient, so it’s a nice change of pace to have one in the lead who takes control and it feels natural, not forced.

    Don’t go thinking this is some kind of strong female-led picture that celebrates womanhood or anything. D’Amato never likes to peer too high from his gutter view, and “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals” is a sleaze sensation; a cornucopia of cannibalism and carnal acts that culminates in the titular heroine literally becoming a god… temporarily. D’Amato takes two of humanity’s greatest loves – eating and screwing – and builds a story around them. Besides all of the aforementioned fornication, nipples are eaten as an amuse-bouche, penis tartare is part of the starter course, a vagina makes unexpected friends with the business end of a machete, a woman is gutted like a deer, and one guy learns a thin rope can still be strong enough to tear the human body in half. Nobody gets out of this thing unscathed… except, maybe, for Emanuelle who seems unfazed by every atrocity the world throws her way.

    Ugly films need beautiful music and the lush, soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco make for the ultimate dichotomy of relaxation and revulsion. Fidenco’s score is less the serene soundscape Riz Ortolani composed for Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and more of a funky, porno-lite trip down ‘70s Lane. Oftentimes the composers on these rough Italian pictures delivered scores that felt like they belong to something more refined and accessible, not a movie destined for banning in multiple countries and cut to ribbons in others. Fidenco provided the score for many entries in the Black Emanuelle series and while those films might be past their prime the music is completely timeless.

    Severin has provided a new 2K scan from unknown elements, delivering a 1.85:1 1080p image that falls right in line with most of their catalog. The picture has been cleaned up enough to allow for high-def improvements in clarity and coloration to (mostly) shine through, while still retaining a gritty look to remind viewers this is still a grindhouse picture. Film grain is heavy and active, swarming the picture but never becoming noisy. Contrast is variable, as is sharpness, with some scenes looking closer to HD than others. Colors are accurate but a bit anemic, too, with only a few instances of truly popping against the ever-present jungle greens. Detail is swallowed up in darkness, so don’t expect to see much of it when night falls, which thankfully isn’t often. I’ll say one thing Italy sure does make for a fine Amazon stand-in.

    Audio is available in both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono, both of which offer a similar audible experience. The standout here is unsurprisingly hearing Fidenco’s score in lossless glory. The ADR work is typically poor and obvious, but everything is understandable and there are no noticeable issues with hissing or audio damage. Subtitles are available in English.

    The World of Nico Fidenco – The legendary composer sits down for a new interview, covering his career and the Emanuelle series. In Italian with English subtitles.

    A Nun Among the Cannibals – Actress Annamaria Clementi provides a new interview about her role in the film and what it was like working with D’Amato. In Italian with English subtitles.

    Dr. O’Brien M.D. – This is an archival interview with Donald O’Brien, who played the wild and wily hunter, Donald, in the film.

    From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – Actress Monica Zanchi gives a new interview that covers her career.

    I Am Your Black Queen is an audio-only archival interview with Gemser.

    A theatrical trailer (in SD) is also included.

    Special Features:

    • BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER OF THE FILM prepared for this release
    • English and Italian audio tracks, with optional English subtitles
    • The World of Nico Fidenco – an interview with the composer (27 min)
    • A Run Among the Cannibals – an interview with actress Annamaria Clementi (23 min)
    • Dr. O’Brien MD – an interview with actor Donald O’Brien (19 min)
    • From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – an interview with actress Monica Zanchi (19 min)
    • I Am Your Black Queen – an audio commentary by actress Laura Gemser (11 min)
    • Original trailer
    • Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals
    • Special Features
    3.0

    Summary

    There is no point to making complaints about plotting when watching a film with this title. D’Amato promises viewers nothing more than a sleazy time intended to induce equal parts creep and kink into a span of time. Severin’s release offers a cleaned-up picture and a solid selection of extras that catch up with a few of the principal cast and crew.

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