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Doomsday (Blu-ray / DVD)

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Doomsday on Blu-ray and DVD review (click for larger image)Reviewed by Uncle Creepy

Starring Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Alexander Siddig, Caryn Peterson, Malcolm McDowell

Directed by Neil Marshall

Distributed by Universal Studios Home Entertainment


I’ve been a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies ever since I can remember, and wow, have there been some good ones! Escape from New York (we’ll just pretend Escape from L.A. never happened, mmmkay?), The Road Warrior, hell, even the cheese-ball ones like Stryker, and 1990: The Bronx Warriors were good for some nice violent laughs and entertainment. Sadly, their day has come to pass, and they just don’t make them as frequently, or as fun, as they used to. Until now. Neil Marshall’s Doomsday is nothing short of a love letter to those films. There’s a fine line between inspiration and imitation, and with this latest foray into the bleak future, Marshall walks it with barely a single misstep. Let’s start from the beginning …

The shit hits the fan in Scotland when a contagion known as The Reaper Virus begins ravaging the population. Its victims are covered in open sores and oozing pustules. To make matters worse, a single drop of infected blood from a victim can infect someone else instantly. With no other alternatives the government decides to aggressively quarantine the area before this deadly disease spreads any farther. Walls are erected, some innocents are locked in with the infected, and twenty-seven years pass without escape, incident, or sign of the virus. However, things never stay good for long.

Doomsday on Blu-ray and DVD review (click for larger image)No matter what we do, life will always present us with pitfalls. Just like that, the virus reappears in London, but with this horrible news comes a glimmer of hope. Apparently there are survivors behind the walls. This leads the powers-that-be to believe that somewhere in the wasteland a cure is waiting to be found. To find it, an elite group of agents are sent in to retrieve a survivor so that the proper testing can be done and London can be saved. Without giving away anything, that’s your set-up, and while it is derivative of a lot of movies we’ve seen before, it’s still a winning formula for a high octane, gore fueled, action packed extravaganza of apocalyptic proportions.

As you may have noticed, this review is of the unrated cut of the film, which runs a full four minutes longer than its theatrical cousin. Both versions are included on the DVD release, but only the unrated version appears on the Blu-ray. The extra footage is mainly (and thankfully) comprised of extended action sequences and, better yet, longer and better looks at the film’s gore. The one thing no one can deny about Doomsday is how unabashedly violent it is. Limbs are severed, heads explode, bodies are run over, and the red stuff is splashed about with reckless abandon and maniacal glee.

What’s not to like? Well, there is one small thing — some of the action sequences, which are breathtaking in their own right, at times feel a little too déjà vu. Though these scenes never prove to be too distracting, they do often have a tendency to make the viewer recall other films instead of just enjoying this one. Marshall’s only fault here is that at times it feels as if he’s crafted what may be too much of an homage. Still, despite its few shortcomings, Doomsday is a fast-paced, in-your-face, adrenaline rush of punk-rock and horror-shock! In this world of cookie-cutter PG-13, teeny-bopper aimed bullshit, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Doomsday on Blu-ray and DVD review (click for larger image)In terms of extras the DVD and Blu-ray versions each have their pluses and minuses. First up, both releases feature an audio commentary by director Neil Marshall and actors Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Rick Warden, and Les Simpson. You would think a track with that many people on it would be non-stop chatter, but that’s not the case. There are many stretches of silence to be found as the participants spend more time watching the movie than they do talking about it. Still, we get just enough out of this for it to be considered a good time. Just barely though. From there each edition of Doomsday sets things up a bit differently. Let’s talk about what the Blu-ray exclusive features are first, shall we?

U-Control. What is that, you may ask? That’s Universal’s way of delivering supplemental material on the fly to make for a truly unique experience. U-Control features, of which there are three included here, can be accessed pop-up video style at any time while the film is in progress. Once it’s activated, a small picture-in-picture graphic appears, and the viewer is treated to various enhancements or behind-the-scenes footage that is available. And what might these tidbits be? First up there’s the Reaper Virus Files, which consists of text based insight about the film’s players, locations, and events. Next there’s the Tech Specs, which offers technical insights on the many vehicles, guns, and gadgets used in the movie. Finally we get Picture-in-Picture Cast and Crew Interviews. Here’s where you will find the meat of the supplemental materials. Having access to this kind of information when we want it while the movie plays is a new medium of interactive coolness. No longer do we have to wait through an entire featurette just to learn about the stuff we’re really interested in. Don’t care about the film’s cars? Ignore the clickable onscreen prompt. Want to know about how that head exploded? Click away and dig as a video window opens and all those concerned get to speak. Like I said, totally cool.

Doomsday on Blu-ray and DVD review (click for larger image)The DVD version does contain a lot of the abovementioned stuff, but it’s arranged in a standard DVD featurette format. First out of the gate is the seventeen-minute Anatomy of Catastrophe: Civilization on the Brink featurette, which is basically a making-of that’s filled with your standard cast and crew interviews. From there we get the much cooler The Visual Effects and Wizardry of Doomsday featurette that clocks in at a brisk eight minutes. No matter how much I know or how many times I watch stuff like this, it never ceases to fascinate me when the curtain is pulled back on how effects shots are created. Being that Doomsday has an abundance of them, this was a most interesting watch. Finally things are wrapped up with a twenty-minute look at the film’s vehicles and weaponry called Devices of Death: The Guns, Gadgets, and Vehicles of Destruction.

All in all, both the DVD release and the Blu-ray release offer fans a fairly unique experience. If you have access to a Blu-ray player, then that is without question the version to drop your cash on, if only for the crystal clear 1080p video playback coupled with the amazing DTS 5.1 mix.

While mankind may indeed have an expiration date, films like this, or should I say experiences like this, do not. From start to finish Doomsday rides the fast track, giving you barely a moment to catch your breath. Sure there’s nothing exceptionally new to be found here except for the stellar effects, but everything fits just like your favorite sweater, and I don’t hear many people complaining about that. Buy it. Take the ride. And then take it again. Simply put, Doomsday rocks.

Special Features

  • Audio commentary by director Neil Marshall and actors Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Rick Warden, and Les Simpson (Blu-ray and DVD)
  • U-Control option: Reaper Virus Files (Blu-ray only)
  • U-Control option: Tech Specs (Blu-ray only)
  • U-Control option: Picture-in-Picture Cast and Crew Interviews (Blu-ray only)
  • Two versions of the film — R and Unrated (DVD only)
  • Anatomy of Catastrophe: Civilization on the Brink featurette (DVD only)
  • The Visual Effects and Wizardry of Doomsday featurette (DVD only)
  • Devices of Death: The Guns, Gadgets, and Vehicles of Destruction featurette (DVD only)

    Film:

    4 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    3 1/2 out of 5 each

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    Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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    Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

    Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


    The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

    The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

    The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

    From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

    The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

    Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

    The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

    • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
    2.0

    Summary

    Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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    Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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    Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

    Directed by Greydon Clark

    Distributed by VCI


    The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

    The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

    The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

    “Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

    A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

    Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

    Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

    There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

    A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

    Special Features:

    • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
    • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
    • Photo gallery
    • Satan's Cheerleaders
    • Special Features
    1.3

    Summary

    Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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    A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune

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    Starring Charlene Amoia, Clint Hummel, Patricia Ashley, Michael Ehlers

    Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau


    Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.

    Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”

    Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.

    Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.

    Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.

    A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.

    • A Demon Within
    2.0

    Summary

    A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”

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