Directed by Various
Distributed by eOne Entertainment
Horror has had a presence on television for nearly as long as the medium has existed, and most fans would agree it hit an apex in the 1980s. In the middle of that decade, small screens across America were graced with updated versions of both The Twilight Zone (1985-1989) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985-1989), as well as new series like Tales From the Darkside (1983-1988). All of these shows shared the common bond of featuring short-form stories (around 22 minutes) that told some kind of morality tale, usually with a twist ending literally right before the credits rolled. When Tales From the Darkside ended its run, show producer Richard P. Rubinstein (whose name should be very familiar to devotees of George A. Romero) immediately got to work on a new production that took the morality tales in a fantastic new direction. Monsters (1988-1990) made its debut a mere three months after Tales from the Darkside ended, only this series put more of an emphasis on ghoulish creatures brought to life via the wonders of practical FX.
The show’s famous opening set the tone by featuring a family of, well, monsters who appeared to be an average nuclear family sitting down to watch TV while eating their favorite snack made by mom: candy critters. It immediately conveyed to viewers the tone and make-up effects that would permeate each new episode – gruesome creations alongside darkly humorous storylines. Some episodes played as straight horror, others as straight comedy, but all incorporated elements of both to varying degrees of success. The series went on to last for three seasons – 72 episodes – before getting the axe. Many viewers who are familiar with the show likely caught the extensive reruns done on the SciFi (now SyFy) Channel back in the early ‘90s.
There were a number of notable faces and names that appeared during the series’ run. First and foremost, legendary FX artist Dick Smith was the supervisor for practical FX work, overseeing all of the ghastly, twisted, horrific beasts designed for each episode. Many famous actors and actresses lend their talents to the show, too. Famous faces such as Adrienne Barbeau, Linda Blair, Ashley Laurence, Darren McGavin, Tom Noonan (who also directed an episode), Pam Grier, and many, many more graced episodes each season. The list of directors isn’t quite as impressive, though a few notable names dropped in each season. John Carpenter’s longtime producer Debra Hill helmed an episode, as did FX artists Greg Cannom and Mark Shostrom.
Fans of the series are well aware of the long road it’s been to get these episodes a proper home video release. A number of twofer VHS tapes were released in the ‘90s, but the series has been conspicuously absent from the DVD market for years. This has led most fans who were rabid for their Monsters fix to hit the bootleg circuit, where multi-disc sets of the series (featuring poor tape transfers from the SciFi Channel airings) were ubiquitous. Fret no more, because Entertainment One has come to the rescue by releasing a box set containing every single episode from the series’ three seasons. All 72 of ‘em. Glorious. Revel in the fact that back in the ‘80s networks were more than happy to grant a full order of 24 episodes per season to their shows. Nowadays that number would have been halved, and we’d be lucky to get more than a single season.
Monsters includes each season’s 24 episodes spread across three discs, totaling nine discs for the entire run. The seasons have (thankfully) been broken up within the box set, with each housed in its own case. The inside of each case contains a breakdown of what episodes are included on which disc, as well as a brief description of each. No airdates, though, which I know some fans (like myself) enjoy seeing.
Every season features a few solid hits, a few clunkers, and a lot of just good-ol’ TV-level horror; the type of stuff that’s easy to watch just about any time the mood strikes. If you’re at all a fan of horror anthologies, or the aforementioned series from the opening of this review, then chances are you’re already a fan and don’t need to be sold on a thing because you want town this. If, by some small chance, you’ve never seen the show but love properties similar to Tales From the Darkside, then this is absolutely a must-own. It’s not the ideal box set fans would have liked (more on that later), but it gets the job done – the job in this instance being just getting the episodes out – in reasonable quality – onto DVD. And now, after a long wait, it’s finally here.
Each episode is presented in the broadcast standard of the time – 1.33:1 4×3 standard definition. There is zero doubt this looks better than whatever old VHS tape or convention circuit bootleg you possess. Each episode looks fairly remastered, with a moderate-to-heavy layer of grain seen throughout. The show was shot on 16mm, so you have to provide some leeway in the presentation’s appearance. Colors and contrast are about as good they need to be. Nothing spectacular; just perfectly acceptable. Likewise, the English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track has as much presence as whatever speakers your television is rocking right now. The track is serviceable and clean, with no audible anomalies present. There are no subtitles.
Here’s the sad part – nothing to be found here. I suppose at the least it’s kinda cool they kept the show’s bumpers intact during each episode, right? Right?
I know. There should be some awesome retrospective stuff here but there’s not.
4 1/2 out of 5
0 out of 5
The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life
Written and directed by David Freyne
Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.
The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.
Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.
Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.
Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.
The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.
The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.
Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed
Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim
Directed by Brian Coyne
Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.
Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.
So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.
I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters
Directed by Jeff Houkal
Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?
Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).
Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”
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