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Beneath (Blu-ray / DVD)

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Beneath (Blu-ray / DVD)Starring Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, Chris Conroy, Jonny Orsini, Griffin Newman, Mackenzie Rosman, Mark Margolis

Directed by Larry Fessenden

Distributed by The Scream Factory


Director Larry Fessenden is indeed no stranger to the horror genre. With impressive titles to his credit like The Last Winter and Wendigo, horror fans know that Fessenden will always give them a great bang for their movie-going dollar. In his newest movie, Beneath, Fessenden takes the audience onto a quiet and mysterious lake as a group of high school seniors celebrate graduation with one last party. Isn’t that always the start of a bad, bad night?

Beneath begins as a pure monster movie. And it was quite refreshing as it’s very rare to see a practically created monster used so extensively these days. With digital F/X now dominating the landscape, it’s great to see a team construct a huge, menacing fish to chase some horny teens around a lake for an hour and a half. But, of course, if that was the entire film, it would get a bit tiresome quickly. As tensions mount and our six castaways find themselves in a situation that is becoming increasingly dire, the true terror becomes not only the killer fish in the water, but the inhabitants of the slowly sinking boat.

Of course we must start with the fish. This thing is pretty amazing. Looking like something that came from the show “River Monsters” on steroids and completely handmade (its construction is covered in the special features piece Behind Beneath: Making the Fish Movie), this monstrous creation is simply amazing. The mechanics and artwork that went into it are truly astonishing. And when you see the beast in action, it looks incredibly real. It was a bold and confident move by Fessenden and crew to go into this movie knowing they would have to construct a monster that would be realistic enough to carry the action. The team indeed did just that, right down to the huge chomping jaws. There are only a couple shots in the movie where the giant fish looks a bit stiff, but for the most part it’s very impressive.

The set-up for Beneath is nothing we haven’t seen before. High school kids looking to party it up before setting off to college or into the real world. The cast of characters are also your basic fare, a bit typecast, actually. You’ve got your jock and your nerd, your brooding mystery man, your party girls…you know the crew. Oh, and Mark Margolis makes a fun appearance as the old guy with the warning message for the group. And at first it seems like this group will simply take turns becoming fish food through one bonehead move or another. That is, until tensions start to rise, blood starts to flow and things actually become more cerebral than you would have initially expected from a giant fish movie.

The group members realize their situation is not going to be an easy one to escape from, but they initially work together. At this point, Beneath is very reminiscent of the memorable segment called “The Raft” from Creepshow 2. It has a couple more characters, and it’s a rowboat being circled by a giant lake fish instead of a raft being terrorized by a giant puddle of whatever that goop was, but the look and feel are quite similar and enjoyable. But when the characters begin to turn on each other, the movie begins to get interesting. We come to a point in the story where the members of the boat decide that someone has to make a break for it, swim and divert the fish’s attention, and hopefully make it to the shore while the others attempt to paddle the boat (with no oars, mind you) to the safety in the other direction. It is here, when each member of the boat is voting who should have to take that almost certainly fatal swim, where the movie hits its peak.

The standout amongst the cast, the one actor who seems to bring the most emotion and animation to his role, is Griffin Newman, who plays the film nerd, Zeke. His thrilling pleas for his life in the movie are the high points of the acting. Newman truly conveys the emotion of his character to the audience, bringing some great tension to a few different scenes. Not far behind Newman is Jonny Orsini, who plays the athletic, scholarly and all-around talented Simon. Simon is a character with different sides, and Orsini does a fine job delivering all of them. The other members of the cast do a decent job, all serviceable in their roles, some more serviceable than others, but Newman and Orsini certainly stood out with impressive performances.

Amidst some of the more enjoyable sections of Beneath do lie a few lesser moments. While the movie as a whole does keep you on your toes with surprises, some of it is predictable. And, in addition to the giant fish, there are some other F/X in the movie as well. Some of them are really nice, some could have used a bit more work. Overall, most of the bloody fun of Beneath looks impressive and well crafted.

The filmmakers certainly didn’t skimp on the special features either. The Blu-ray/DVD contains the huge featurette mentioned above, Behind Beneath. This piece is a full hour long and contains all the behind-the-scenes, making-of, and background information you could possibly want. A camera seemed to be rolling at all times, and this is a compilation of some of the more interesting adventures during the preparation and filming of Beneath. Additionally there is an amusing piece starring Fessenden as a nutty local discussing Black Lake in a video blog, some footage of film nerd Zack’s sports news coverage and trailers, outtakes, auditions, rehearsals. You name it and it’s covered in the comprehensive special features on the Blu-ray/DVD.

In all, Beneath is a good time. It was nice to see a good ol’ monster movie again, and the fact that it became much more than that was a real plus. It’s not the most suspenseful, tension-laden film you’ll ever see, but it does a nice job getting the viewer to sit up and pay attention. The fish is really cool and the story is solid. Some of the actors stand out a bit more than others, but overall the work is well done. If you’re in the mood for a good fish story, you could certainly do worse than Beneath. It’s worth a look.

Special Features

  • Commentary with director Larry Fessenden and sound designer Graham Reznick
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Behind BENEATH
  • Outtakes
  • Poster/Premiere
  • Webisodes:
    – What the Zeke?
    – What’s in Black Lake?

  • Fessenden on JAWS

    Film:

    3 out of 5

    Special Features:

    3 1/2 out of 5

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    Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review: A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form

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    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.

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    The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint

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    Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones

    Directed by Guillermo del Toro


    “True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.

    The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.

    The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.

    Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.

    The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.

    While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.

    Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.

    The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

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    Secretions Short Film Review – Anyone For Some Blood and Guts a la Carte?

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    Starring Zia Electric, David Macrae, Chris Savva

    Directed by Goran Spoljaric


    Only a select few know the true horrors of one’s basement (hell, I’ve got one that floods regularly) – but in director Goran Spoljaric’s extremely “juicy” short film, Secretions – we see just what lives in a grimy cellar…and what it craves in order to sustain. Anyone have any sanitizer? We’re gonna need it for this one.

    Alone and held captive in a dirty-subterranean room, a woman is literally fighting for her life, and due to her being chained at the ankle, it’s painfully obvious that she’s here for the long haul. On the first floor of this residence, a deal is being made, and it’s one that will either help or harm a hopeless addict.

    It involves a little handy-work down in the basement, and although it might seem like a light job considering the circumstances…nothing is as easy as it initially looks – anyone for some blood and guts a la carte? The imprisoned woman contains something inside of her that is particularly satiating to the habituated, but it comes at a painful price, which begs the question: what would you risk to scratch an itch?

    Spoljaric’s direction here focuses on the victim – and while you’ll probably be wondering exactly who that is during this quickie’s 11-minute duration, it doesn’t detract from its powerful display. Gritty, grimy and ultimately gruesome – these Secretions are the ones that simply cannot be washed off – maybe I’ll give a little turpentine a shot, as something’s got to get these damned stains out – YUCK.

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