Holiday Specials

TRICKS & TREATS: HALLOWEEN 2009

By • Oct 21st, 2009 • Pages: 1 2 3

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DEADGIRL
(Dark Sky) 2008. 101 mins. AR: 2.35:1. Not Rated.

Supplementals: Cast & Crew Commentary. Deleted scenes. ‘Making of’ featurette. Make-up gallery. Directed by Marcel Sarmiento, co-directed by Gadi Harel. Screenplay by Trent Haaga. Cinematagraphy by Harris Charalambous. Edited by Phillip Blackford. Production Design by Diana Zeng. Makeup by Jennifer Albrecht, Brie Ford, James Ojala. Music by Joseph Bauer. With: Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Jenny Spain, Candice Accola.

If you can stick with it until the inspired, kick-ass third act, you’ll find yourself showered with wonderful surprises, excellent dialogue…in fact, everything you weren’t dealt in the first act.

DEADGIRL ranked six on the recent nationwide poll for the best zombie films of all time. Choices ranged from the poetic 1943 Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, to George Romero’s epic 1978 DAWN OF THE DEAD, which took the # 1 slot (I was thrilled to discover this, as I appear in DAWN as the pie-in-the-face zombie. What an honor!). I’m happy for DEADGIRL’s cast and crew for placing 6th, but did the film deserve it?

Well, had they been a little less precious, I think it might have. But at 101 minutes, it felt like the post-production decisions were made more from narcissism than from rigorous narrative instincts. The story concerns two 17-year-old high school losers, and their character arcs after they stumble upon a naked living-dead woman in the bowels of an abandoned hospital near their town. One of them, played by Noah Segan, embarks on a wide arc, becoming the sadistic, sexually-brutalizing dictator of his little subterranean world, while the other boy, played by Shiloh Fernandez, a kind of petulant James Dean/Joaquin Phoenix wannabe, holds onto his morals and stands back from indulging in sex and violence with their new toy. Jenny Spain, as the naked dead girl, gives a frightening, utterly believable performance. We never learn anything about her circumstances, but that’s great. The bad part is having to live with and learn about the two boys. Less would have been more in that instance.

Let me put it to you this way: act one contains twenty minutes of mono-syllabic dialogue that is as diametrically opposed as you could get from Diablo Cody’s articulate, witty teen banter. What’s more, the acting feels fake. It’s painful to sit through. This was a mis-judgment by the screenwriter rather than an inherent weakness in writing skill, because once the nastier kid has gone over to the dark side, his third act dialogue is really smashing. Boy, could this have used ten minutes chopped, and more is the pity, because on the commentary track, someone admits that rough cut viewers told them it needed to be further trimmed, but at a certain point (post took a year), they drew the line and finished it as it was.

Sound Design is very effective. Art Direction is a savvy combination of found locations and a creative props department. Cinematography is professional. It’s a class act technically, for sure.

The jacket art is quite striking. A woman’s face, partially in shadow, her eyes turned up in her head showing the whites, a few wisps of hair blowing across her face, her dark lips parted… It’s not the girl from the film, but it’s a nice graphic. One of the effective jacket quotes is “DEADGIRL will remind you of the best of Cronenberg.” I get the comparison, but for me it’s a cross between the sordid thrills of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. If that intrigues you, good. Because the third act really is redemptive in its creative twists and energy, and I think the disc is well worth a look. # 6…I don’t know…

RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS

TRICK R’ TREAT
(Warner Bros. Legendary Pictures) 2009. 82 minutes. AR: 2.35:1. Rated ‘R’ for all the right things.

Directed & Written by Michael Dougherty. Producer – Bryan Singer. Music – Douglas Pipes. Cinematography – Glen MacPherson. Editor – Robert Ivison. With: Dylan Baker as Steven, Quinn Lord as Sam, Anna Paquin as Laura, Brian Cox as Mr. Kreeg

DVD Review by Franco Frassetti

The little town of Warren Valley, Ohio is the setting for the bloodthirsty revelers that give Hell Night its name. With a parade that rivals the one in Greenwich Village, costumed evildoers roam among the innocents, donning real freshly spilled blood-spattered clothing.

Meet Sam, a potato sack headed creature that bemoans the flames of extinguished Jack-O-Lanterns. Never has burlap looked so cute as this little guy runs around in a burlap blanket sleeper. (Only Dr. Decker aka Button Face in Clive Barker’s Night Breed looks so stylized.) All cuteness disappears when blades are wielded and its face is revealed.

So begins the first slaughter and the four stories are interwoven: The psychotic principal, a group of kids that go to the scene of a school bus that plunged to the deaths of “special” unwanted school children, Sam’s inflicted terror on old man Kreeg, and Laurie and her band of sisters who have a party in the woods.

The psychotic principal has his own form of punishment for the little porker who is a glutton for candy and smashes pumpkins. As daddy deals with the mischievous trick ‘r treater, the principal’s young son interrupts and is told to watch Charlie Brown. The young boy delivers the greatest line ever spoken from a window, “Charlie Brown is an asshole.”

Anna Paquin is currently starring in HBO’s True Blood. Here she is Laurie, taunted by her older sister and two other trollops for her overt shyness, as she is in need of a date for a party that evening. The three other girls find dates as the sheepish Laurie looks on. Dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, Paquin parts company in search of a man.

Does this taunted 22-year-old virgin live up to the written laws of horror that the virgin always survives, or is she going to be eaten by the big bad wolf? Her party segment is really cool and it is complete with horror film gratuitous female nudity. The Canton, Ohio native rocker Marilyn Manson lends his anthem Sweet Dreams to this anything but sweet party.

The school bus segment gives a history lesson – that the sickness in this town dates back quite a while. And lest we forget: little Sam takes on old man Kreeger.

Trick ‘r Treat is not a true horror film. It’s more “horroresque” dabbed with comedic bits. Comedy is used by Hollywood as a backup just in case the horror (or the romance or the drama) in a film doesn’t work. They think comedy is a film saver. It is not. It’s the fail-safe that makes Hollywood filmmaking so lame. Honestly, how funny is a blade to the abdomen or a recently slain woman thrown among parade onlookers? If you hate Saw or any of the Rob Zombie’s films, then you like Horror-Lite. This is the film for you.

This film was in production in 2006. It had a few festival screenings that were all favorable and for whatever reason it was shelved by Warner Brothers and now, for Halloween 2009, has been released on DVD.

Writer/director Michael Dougherty is the screenwriter of X-MEN 2 and SUPERMAN RETURNS, both which were directed by Bryan Singer. Mr. Singer is credited as a producer on this film.

The film is fun and well crafted with all the trimmings that money can buy: expensive sets, costumes, well done sound design as well as visual special effects. It is exactly that; a piece of cinema candy for the holiday, ready to be devoured again when the festive spirit of Hell Night lurks next Halloween season.

RECOMMENDED

GODZILLA (GOJIRA)
(Genius) 1954. 98 mins. BluRay. AR: 16X9.

Supplementals: Audio Commentary. “Making of the Godzilla Suit” featurette. Story development featurette. Directed and written by Ishiro Honda. Co-authored by Takeo Murata. Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka. Original Music by Akira Ifukube. Cinemtography by Masao Tamai. Monster Builder – Teizo Toshimitsu. Special Effects Director – Eiji Tsuburaya. Director of Special Effects Photography – Sadamasa Arikawa. With: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami. And inside the suit: Haruo Nakajima.

Comparisons with the earlier release of GODZILLA on DVD is unavoidable. The two releases, while sporting the same artwork on the covers, differ considerably inside.

The new BluRay release has an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, its image completely filling 16X9 TV screens. The problem with this is that the film, released in 1954, was not filmed in a widescreen process, so this was an odd choice for Genius to make, dictated, I presume, by a sense of the public’s reluctance to have the vertical black bars on the sides of the screen. The earlier DVD release had a full-frame (1.37:1) aspect ratio, which was correct, as did the American recut of the film, which is included in the earlier DVD release only. This confusion might be partly due to the fact that many prints were released in 1956 in the US hard-matted in the standard Widescreen 1.85:1 process. Not the version I saw in New Rochelle, New York, but elsewhere. And the film was apparently re-released in Japan in the late 50s in TohoScope as well. According to Rialto Pictures honcho/Film Forum Repertory Programmer Bruce Goldstein, said Japanese re-release might actually have been the U.S. Raymond Burr recut, since the actor had become popular on Japanese TV by then. Again, this was well after CinemaScope had arrived, and the Japanese embraced the wide screen frame more passionately than any other country’s film industry.

Let it be said, however, that the BluRay reproduction of the film is certainly beautiful, its images soft and creamy in a good way, less harsh and contrasty than the full-screen version despite the BluRay image being blown up and cropped. If you like your home theater screenings wide, this is the only release where you’ll find it.

Next: why isn’t the Raymond Burr version included on the BluRay release? It’s so much fun, and the timing of the print – what was left of it after the American director trimmed the original film and added the new subplot – has a better gray tone range than the material supplied on the Japanese version. In the Raymond Burr cut, when Godzilla first hits Tokyo’s outskirts and destroys a passenger train, you can see the monster’s body quite clearly. In the Japanese version all you can really see is the lumbering leviathan’s silhouette as it approaches. The information was definitely in the negative, and my feeling is that the negative was timed incorrectly for the print supplied to the US after Goldstein’s heroic 2004 effort to finally get the Japanese version seen here, for which he also wrote the subtitles in collaboration with his friend Michie Amakawa (these subtitles are not on the Genius DVD). Goldstein has an alternate theory: that since most of the Burr inserts are flatly lit, television style, it would make sense that the American distributor would want to try to match the Godzilla footage by lightening it. Also, not only would the darkness cover up the zippers on the costumes but it would hide the miniatures and other artificial aspects of the set. Your call…

Both releases have the same knowledgeable commentary track by GODZILLA historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godsiszewski, but the earlier, 2-disc release had a second commentary track by them over the Burr version which was equally interesting, including excerpts from an old tape recording done with the American distributor who originally picked the film up, and from another interview with the son of Terry Morse, the director of the American inserts. Not only that, but there’s a cute little brochure in the double-disc DVD release which does not resurface in the BluRay box.

As to sound, the BluRay edges out the earlier release. You can hear it in the monster’s roars, and in Ifukube’s memorable score. Not enough of an improvement to make the choice for you when deciding which to buy, but nonetheless worth noting. The BluRay box interior also has a chapter listing, which is useful.

RECOMMENDED FOR GODZILLA ENTHUSIASTS ONLY

FRANKENSTEIN UNLIMITED
(Sinema Saliba) – 2009. 94 mins. Anthology format composed of six short films.

Produced and Directed by Matthew Saliba, Maude Michaud, Peter James, Martin Gauthier, Matthew Forbes, King-Wei Chu.

Montreal filmmaker Matthew Saliba organized this home-grown anthology of short films spun from the basic theme of the original Frankenstein novel. The resulting ideas cover a wide range of genres and tastes, and they’re all fun. But the stand-out is Saliba’s opening salvo, DARK LOTUS. The first film composed entirely of B&W-still-photographs that I can recall since Chris Marker’s LA JETEE knocked the world’s socks off in 1962, it does the miniscule sub-genre justice. There is a strong sense of the director’s hand in the performances and in the eerie mise-en-scene. Casting is excellent, particularly Kayden Rose, who plays the entire film in the nude with a staggering sense of physical beauty communicated in every frame, the best such screen appearance since that of Mathilda May in Tobe Hooper’s LIFE FORCE twenty-five years ago. The musical background choices are great, and the makeup by Eric Thivierge and Sandra Kalil is a well-executed and integral part of the whole experience.

The disc is worth it for this story alone, but there are other pleasures to be found, humorous ones as well as dramatic, in the five companion pieces.

If you are intrigued, you should be aware that this DVD has to be special-ordered. Inquire at Matthew Saliba’s FRANKENSTEIN UNLIMITED, 27 / Male, Montreal, Quebec, CA.

RECOMMENDED.

BOOK: UNIVERSAL STUDIO’S MONSTERS

A wonderful, heavy coffee table book chock full of information and a vast array of pictures, some familiar to the horror fan, some much less so, this is a successful tome, which I personally could not put down till I felt my hernia coming back…

While not as in-depth as say the Weaver/Brunas/Brunas McFarland book, it nonetheless serves its purpose admirably, and takes the evolution of Universal’s monsters from the Silents all the way into the 50s, which the aforementioned resource does not. I am as in love with TARANTULA, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON as I am with DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and THE MUMMY. They are from a different era in the studio’s life, and represent a more innocent (albeit radiation-panicked) ethos, but I recently taught a Horror Cinema class at The School of Visual Arts and of all the decades and sub-genres I covered, among the class’s favorite lectures was ‘Lizards and Bugs,” about the irradiated 1950s.

The book’s cover features head-and-torso shots of six Universal icons. Karloff and Lugosi are not represented – in fact John Carradine represents Dracula, and Tom Tyler reps the Mummy. I’m guessing this was due to difficulties with the actors’ estates. No matter – it’s a nicely designed cover, and gets the point across. Most pleasing are the book-ended images of Lon Chaney Sr. from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and Lon Chaney Jr. from THE WOLFMAN.

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One Response »

  1. Roy
    Great reviews of little goodies that had me drooling like a Killer Shrew at Delmonico’s!
    Going to have to reach into the moth infested wallet to get these much wanted and deserving films!!!

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