Fantastic Factory Presents (UK DVD Set)
Directed by Brian Yuzna, Jack Sholder, Paco Plaza
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Elsa Pataky; Chris Potter, Alex Reid; Mark Frost, Isabel Brook; Julian Sands, John Sharian
Distributed by Arrow Video
Faust: Love of the Damned
Quite possibly the biggest guilty pleasure of all of the Fantastic Factory outings is the Brian Yuzna-directed comic adaptation Faust: Love of the Damned. A gore-splattered Faustian tale mixed with superhero fantasy, Faust follows the downtrodden John Jaspers (Mark Frost) who sells his soul to the mysterious M (Andrew Divoff) in return for the power to avenge the death of his brutally murdered girlfriend. Of course, no deal is ever that simple and Jaspers finds himself transformed into a demonic entity sporting Wolverine-like razor claws, and forced to become a hitman of sorts for the aforementioned crime lord.
After refusing to kill anymore, Jaspers is buried alive but fights his way out of hell and back onto the scene to prevent M and his powerful conspirators from raising the monstrous demon Homunculus to destroy the world. Also involved is Jaspers’ psychiatrist, Jade, who too comes to the attention of M, and police Lieutenant Dan Margolies (Jeffrey Combs) who quickly finds himself in over his head.
To put it simply, Faust: Love of the Damned is utter, utter trash. Yet, there’s something strangely endearing about it. Performances across the board range from passable to incredulously terrible. Combs is perfectly fine as Lt. Margolies, but has very little to do; Divoff behaves just like his eponymous character in Wishmaster without the makeup, and lead player Mark Frost is simply hilarious as he mugs and gurns his way through most of Jaspers’ dialogue.
Yuzna’s direction is particularly stagey during the more dramatic moments, and uncomfortably stiff throughout the few action sequences that appear during the runtime. These also feel notably truncated due to the obvious lack of budget and time. Screaming Mad George once again provides the special effects with some great gore gags including eyes popped out of heads, decapitation, severed limbs and more. Faust’s suit, though, appears unwieldy, cumbersome, and just a little ridiculous. The facial makeup in particular is absurd, with wobbling latex horns (I swear one is also shorter than the other) and poorly blended paintwork. The final battle between Faust and Homunculus is similarly hilarious – like a nightmarish episode of Power Rangers that never made it beyond effects testing.
Still, while watching this train wreck unfold you just can’t help but see how much Yuzna really is trying to make it work in an adult comic book sense. There’s plenty of blood, boobs and overt sexuality, with pounding metal from the likes of Fear Factory, Machine Head, Soulfly and Sepultura pumping an energy that for the most part doesn’t even exist into the action scenes. The quirkiness meter is off the scale, and while it does have a few sporadic moments of genuine surprise and audience fulfilment, as a movie it’s just plain BAD. It has that something, though… that real guilty pleasure quality that will see you break it out with your pals and a case of beers just to have a laugh at the gratuitous nature of the sex and violence, and horribly stilted nature of Frost’s performance. It’s easy to admit that Faust: Love of the Damned is not a good film, yet for entertainment value it’s not completely worthless either.
Special features on the disc here include an interview/featurette entitled Director of the Damned: Brian Yuzna, Faust and the Fantastic Factory. The first of four extensive interviews spread across the discs in the Fantasic Factory Presents set, this one sees Yuzna discuss the genesis of the label, and the making of Faust: Love of the Damned. It’s good stuff. Next up is The Pain in Spain: A History of Horror in Hot Weather. This is an interview with Angel Sala, director of the Sitges Film Festival as he goes quite in-depth on the history and evolution of the horror genre in Spain. It’s informative and interesting stuff, through Sala does prove quite difficult to understand at times due to the impressive speed with which native Spanish speakers can fire out those words!
Next up is a feature commentary with Yuzna which, similar to the Beyond Re-Animatorcommentary from the set, feels somewhat stiff and workmanlike. There’s a little more energy to this one, though, considering this was the first Fantastic Factory production and obviously had many, many issues to be dealt with off-screen. Yuzna avoids being apologetic, yet still acknowledges the many shortcomings (though is strangely congratulatory of some seriously poor elements) and always remains intriguing making this commentary well worth a listen. The original trailer for Faust: Love of the Damned rounds out the disc.
On the physical side of things, we have a fold out poster of the new artwork, reversible sleeve with new and original box art, and a booklet by Calum Waddell entitled Brian Yuzna: Maestro of Mayhem. This features an all-new interview with Yuzna, looking at his historical work from Society onwards, and into the future with the upcoming Amphibious 3D which remains well written, paced, and packed with information. Great stuff.
2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
Picking up after the events of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and its sequel, Brian Yuzna’s Beyond Re-Animatorsees everyone’s favourite mad doctor, Herbert West, sent to a maximum security prison after his erstwhile partner, Dan Cain, turns State’s Evidence against him. His newest protégé comes in the form of young doctor Howard Philips, who has been obsessed with the intricacies of West’s serum since a childhood encounter with one of his creations. As the prison’s new physician, Philips allows West to continue his research with predictably chaotic results, and it isn’t long before a full-scale riot of the reanimated dead is in force.
While not a complete success by any means, Beyond Re-Animatoris a more than capable sequel. Jeffrey Combs slips straight back into the role of West effortlessly, even bringing a more harsh and world-weary side to him that really does help Beyond feel like an evolution of the series. Primarily cast and shot in Spain, the rest of the performers aren’t quite up to the talents of Combs save for Jason Barry in his turn as the out-of-his-depth Philips. Quirkiness abounds with plenty of comedic set-pieces which don’t always work, but don’t cause sufficient damage to prevent the flick being, overall, very entertaining. Yuzna stalwart Screaming Mad George busts out some stupendously gory and inventive physical effects work that ultimately proves the centrepiece of the movie, and manages to elevate it to worthwhile status for fans of gratuitous splatter and Combs’ iconic character of Herbert West.
Special features on the disc include a brilliant extended interview-cum-documentary piece entitled All in the Head: Brian Yuzna on the Re-Animator Chronicles. At almost an hour in length, Yuzna packs in a shed load of information regarding his history within the Re-Animator franchise, working with the various cast members, dealing with censorship and audience expectations, his working relationship with Charles Band, Stuart Gordon and others, and his hopes for the future of Herbert West’s legacy. Excellent, informative stuff that moves at a perfect pace.
Backing that up is a feature commentary with Yuzna which, while definitely not a poor addition by any means, lacks the energy and enthusiasm of the aforementioned interview piece. There’s plenty of juicy info dished up from behind the scenes and a few slices of humour from the man, yet a lot of it feels particularly workman-like. Frequent silent spells are made particularly annoying due to the fact that, for some reason, Arrow have placed the commentary audio track over the film’s Spanish, rather than English, dubbed audio. The film’s original trailer rounds out the disc.
Inside the case we have a fold-out poster of the new artwork for Arrow’s release, and a reversible sleeve featuring the new and original artwork. Topping things off is a booklet entitled World of Lovecraft, written by Calum Waddell, which includes a brief interview with Jeffrey Combs, and an extract from the story that started it all: HP Lovecraft’s Herbert West: Reanimator.
3 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5
Opening with some of the most mind-blowingly horrendous digital effects this side of Birdemic, Jack Sholder’s Arachnid spins the tale of an alien aircraft, downed in a mid-air collision with a fighter jet, unleashing a giant, mutant spider and its offspring on a tropical island near Guam. When a man is admitted to hospital suffering from a strange spider bite, a group of mercenaries and doctors are flown to the island to locate the critter responsible and bring back a sample of its venom. Accompanying them is pilot Mercer (Alex Reid), who also happens to be investigating the disappearance of her brother – the fighter pilot from the opening sequence.
A modern B-movie through and through, Arachnid does exactly what you think it’ll do upon reading the synopsis. Looking and feeling just like any number of Syfy Channel originals, we follow a group of people as they arrive on the crawling-with-mutants scene and one by one die horrible deaths while firing machine guns into the forest. It’s entirely by-the-numbers big monster stuff, breaks no mould, and offers absolutely nothing of any particular interest or cinematic revelation. Even the closing score is derivative of Alan Silvestri’s excellent orchestration for Predator. Still, there’s some fun to be had, like Faust before it, in watching Arachnid with a group of likeminded friends and an abundance of the intoxicating substance of your choice. The digital effects truly are absolutely pathetic, with an attempt at animating the spider chasing our heroine in the final sequence looking like a placeholder effect that someone forgot to swap out of the final edit. The physical effects and creature designs from Steve Johnson, however, are delightfully old school with some pretty nifty looking puppets and hefty animatronics. It’s a pity that the worthlessness of the digital stuff is likely to burn itself more strongly on the memory.
On-disc special features here include an interview with Brian Yuzna entitled King of the Spiders – Brian Yuzna remembers Arachnid, which is guaranteed to have you occasionally consider whether he’s watched the same film as you. Still, it’s interesting enough to hear him talk of the film’s origins, and the trials faced when shooting it. Much stronger is the follow-up interview, Creature Comforts: The Monster Mayhem of Steve Johnson. Taking a ridiculously candid approach this, my friends, is an amazing discussion with a talented artist quite literally pushed from the industry due to the adoption of cheap and easy CGI. One particular case of this was, in fact, revealed just recently in the form of his rejected designs for the Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. Johnson is enthusiastic yet relaxed, frank and, at times, extremely bold in his choice of words making this an essential piece of viewing. The original trailer seals up the disc content.
In the box, we have a fold-out poster of the new artwork alongside a reversible sleeve offering the choice of the new or original UK art. Finally, another of Calum Waddell’s interviews (this time with director Jack Sholder) makes it into your hands in the form of a booklet entitled Spider Man. It’s a well written piece, as usual, from Waddell and wisely focuses more on Sholder’s historical input within the genre rather than the film with which it is included – deftly stepping away from the inevitably disingenuous and apologetic tone that focusing solely on Arachnid could have demanded.
1 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt
The final film of the set comes in the form of Paco Plaza’s brooding and majestic gothic horror/romance Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt. The story is based on the real life trial of Manuel Blanco Romasanta, a travelling salesman accused in the 1850s of murdering thirteen women and using the fat from their mutilated bodies to make soap. During his trial, his defensive claim of suffering from Lycanthropy eventually found him acquitted of the crimes.
Amidst a town besieged by wolf attacks, the ever elegant Julian Sands portrays Romasanta alongside love interest Elsa Pataky as Barbara. Originally the partner of Barbara’s sister, Romasanta seduces his way into the heart of the vulnerable woman following the brutal murders of both her siblings. Vowing to find the creature responsible for the killings, Barbara soon discovers, along with the aid of local Wolf Hunter Antonio (John Sharian), that the monster responsible is far closer than she thinks.
An entirely unconventional werewolf tale, Paco’s Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt is a visually striking and hugely absorbing piece of period drama-cum-horror film. Sets and costuming are excellent throughout, with some beautifully framed shots, confident lighting and slick, elegant camerawork. Composer Mikel Salas’ orchestral score is similarly grandiose and evocative. Acting performances are all-round excellent, especially Sands as the tortured Romasanta himself – a man whose presence throbs with brooding sexuality and threat paired with loving tenderness, yet capable of acts of cold, calculated and unremitting brutality. The ultimate fact of whether Romasanta is indeed a shape-shifting creature is left largely up to the audience to decide, meaning creature and transformation effects are seen only briefly yet, as with the rest of the flick, offer an impressively original take on the mythos.
Moving at a very deliberate pace, Romasanta feels slightly too stretched out at times even if the story does remain engrossing throughout, though the slow pace paired with the relentlessly grim tone of the piece may prove too much for some to get through. That would be a shame, though, as Plaza’s film is a hugely original, emotional, absorbing, tense and rewarding piece of historical drama crossed with fairytale terror. Undoubtedly, a gothic masterpiece on par with some of the best of the Hammer offerings of yesteryear.
The most varied selection of special features within the Fantastic Factory Presents boxed set come paired withRomasanta. On the disc, we have the final interview with Brian Yuzna as he discusses Plaza’s film, the discovery of Jaume Balagueró, and the final days of the Fantastic Factory label. After that, we have various short featurettes ranging in focus from the film’s score (including a brief interview with composer Mikel Salas) to a look at the makeup and special effects; a selection of deleted scenes presented by director Paco Plaza prove worthwhile, less so the rather generic EPK offering in the form of Making Romasanta. One again, the theatrical trailer tops it off. It’s a nice selection of extras yet this particular film really does cry out for a commentary by Plaza, leaving the absence of one particularly dissatisfying.
As common across the entire set, inside the box for Romasanta we have a fold-out poster of the new artwork along with a reversible sleeve, and a booklet by Calum Waddell entitled Sex, Sun and Sinful Celluloid in which he discusses Spain’s horror history and present with input from actor Jack Taylor and Spanish directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró. It’s a brief and insightful read that’s definitely worth a look.
4 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5