Holiday Specials

HALLOWEEN 2013 GOODIES

By • Nov 1st, 2013 •

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THIS YEAR’S CROP

DVD Reviews by Roy Frumkes

There’ve been some juicy releases this year, and I’ll mention several of them. First, however, one not to pick up under any circumstances is THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST. A Fox Archive release, this long-awaited horror-western, shockingly, is pan-and-scanned! (it says it on the back cover in a font so small you’d need an electron microscope to make it out), so I pulled it out of the player a minute after Fox’s proud CinemaScope logo appeared on screen, and after a cue from Bernard Herrmann’s THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL accompanied the title sequence, promising an exceptionally weird ride to come. Perhaps Fox will realize their error and find or produce a wide-screen master for the film. It was directed by Gordon (THEM) Douglas, and he deserves better.

Tobe Hooper’s LIFEFORCE has been released by SHOUT! FACTORY, and under Hooper’s supervision it’s a more color-saturated, vibrant delight then the previous release. Pure incoherent exploitation, but utterly delightful nonetheless. Acknowledged to be a hip, updated Quatermass film, it glories in Mathilda May’s nudity and a plethora of gore effects that make the first half a delirious adventure. After that, I have no idea what happened, either on screen or in the filmmakers’ heads. Included is a very rare interview with Ms. May, who felt isolated during production (she did not speak English, and her entire performance was bereft of clothes, so I can imagine her emotional predicament). Hooper, on the commentary track, is pretty inarticulate, but does admit, when pressed, that in looking back, the most memorable thing about the film, for him, is Ms. May.

Anchor Bay put out AFTERSHOCK, directed by Nicolas Lopez, but Eli Roth’s fingerprints are all over it. He stars as a fish-out-of-water American tourist in Chile trying to score with the ladies, in a plot that could be superimposed neatly over his shocker HOSTILE, except that here the antagonists aren’t snuff-happy millionaires, but the devastating aftershocks of a massive earthquake. I liked it quite a bit, and was sorry to see it get so little exposure.

Dark Sky released another film that deserved its day in the dark (of the theater), but (to my knowledge) went straight to home video: FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY. Found footage from a Russian platoon in World War II reveals that a distant relative of the original mad doctor, given free reign by Hitler to experiment with humans, is creating a horde of monstrous entities, and the make-up effects are the best of the year, surpassing EVIL DEAD, MANIAC, WORLD’S END and FAUST. Do check it out, but avoid scrutinizing the box at all costs, since the obnoxious cover art reveals many of the fun revelations in make-up design.

From Alamo Drafthouse comes WAKE IN FRIGHT, a long-lost Aussie treasure directed by Canadian Ted Kotcheff. A lacerating study of outback mining town types, it was justifiably not appreciated by the locals when it was released, but had a long-term influence on Marty Scorsese who caught it at Cannes, because his AFTER HOURS feels uncannily like a Greenwich Village remake, without the unwholesome sense of exposing the sordid cultural Truth. I showed it to my Film History class at SVA, and they just sat there in stunned silence when the lights came up.

Then there was (finally!) the director’s cut of 1986’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, with both versions of the film included. Hard to believe that hostile audience reactions against the negative ending forced the studio to cut out several million dollars worth of effects. It’s a great film either way, with inspired animatronic puppetry, beautiful music and vocals from Ellen Greene, the Greek-chorus-do-wop-group, and Levi Stubbs as the voice of Audrey II.

Kino released a sharpened up master of DEVIL BAT with Bela Lugosi delivering some outrageous lines that’ll take your breath away with laughter. Thanks to his dead-serious delivery this has always been a great-bad film to own and love.

And then there was WORLD WAR Z. I don’t know whom to praise for losing the redundant third act battle scene and replacing it with an intimate, far more personal denouement. Now I say this having never seen the original ending, something I’d very much like to do for my own satisfaction, which perhaps they’ll allow me to do on some future incarnation of the film’s home video release. In the meantime it’s a non-stop, relatively bloodless, satisfying zombie-action thriller.

And one I haven’t caught up with yet, but hear nothing but positive word-of-mouth about, is AMERICAN MARY, by sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, released by XLrator..

OLDIES BUT GOLDIES

DVD Reviews by Franco Frassetti

THE RED SHOES (Bunhongsin)

The object of one’s desire is sinful. If one should covet this object, life and limbs are the consequences. What tugs at the heart of woman stirring bountiful cravings of lust, greed, and, vanity? The much fabled shoe. Far from the tale of the one made of glass, this devilishly red pair awaits in a South Korean train station, tempting and luring the next female, damning her to an extraordinarily baneful demise.

In a gleaming subway station, a woman spots a pair of shoes at the edge of the platform. Soon her friend appears and the two argue over the newfound dazzling footwear. After the spat and quick departure with shoes in tow, the creepiness of the lonely station, flickering lights, and presence of something engulfs her, followed by a permanent hobbling. And so, the story begins.

After her husband is found with another woman, Sun-jae relocates to an apartment with her young daughter Han Tae-soo. On the subway, the divorcee finds the lone footwear. At home, both mother and daughter lay claim to the shoes. Sun-jae becomes interested in the interior designer of her new medical office and it is he that investigates the mystery of the shoes. The young girl lashes out at her mother’s newfound boyfriend and proclaims that she can only perform as a ballerina in those shoes. In summary, others die, an advertisement depicting a woman with the shoes is launched citywide, and the local hunchbacked old vagabond may be entangled in this.

This South Korean production came out in 2006 following the 90’s Asian Invasion of horror. There is the obligatory long-haired obscured face as a shocking element. The effects, cinematography, acting, and directing are well done. It ranks high among many well-crafted horror films and soars above the countless less memorable American horror films like 2013’s TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, EVIL DEAD, and a slew of schlock low-grade films written and directed by denizens of the film community with brains of zombielike capacity.

The shoes are actually pink, not red. If it were titled pink rather than red, the references to the Hans Christian Andersen’s work, THE RED SHOES, in which the shoes damn the little girl to eternal dance, would be lost.

Had this been filmed in New York, the pristine subway would have been replaced with the MTA rat-infested caverns below ground as a defecating derelict has the pair of shoes in a shopping cart, only to be stolen by a greedy SOHO bound penniless fashionista.

TRILOGY OF TERROR

Two of 2013’s new residents of Necropolis are Richard Matheson and Karen Black.
To honor these souls this All Hallows Eve, TRILOGY OF TERROR, is the appropriate video missal to the dearly departed.

Matheson’s penned volumes of stories are responsible for dozens of films and episodes for television in series such as ALFRED HITCHCOCK, TWILIGHT ZONE, and STAR TREK. Most notably, his novel, I AM LEGEND, has been adapted for the screen several times. This master of horror has written screenplays based upon tales from another horror master, Edgar Allan Poe.

TRILOGY OF TERROR is based upon three Matheson shorts. William F. Nolan adapted two and Matheson one. The central character in all three are played by Karen Black. These performances demonstrate the true talent that Black possessed.

In films such as EASY RIDER and FIVE EASY PIECES, the Academy Award nominee’s career spanned six decades on stage, TV, and cinema. In recent years, most memorable is her role as Mother Firelfy in Rob Zombie’s HOUSE OF A THOUSAND CORPSES.

In TRILOGY, her characters are women who are constrained, distraught with fear, spinsterly, and flirtatious. She carries the film with her believable depictions.

Of the three stories, PREY is the fan favorite. As a woman under a domineering mother, the recently liberated Amelia brings home a collectible Zuni fetish doll as a birthday gift for her anthropologist boyfriend. This doll predates CHUCKY and is quite the little savage.

The audio commentary track does not offer much. Black explains that she had succumbed to the pressures of her pestering agent to do this film with an arrangement that her then husband, Robert Burton, would appear in it. She also claims that scenes from PREY were left on the cutting room floor since they were just too gruesome for audiences. Nolan explained that he was given a one page story by Matheson who expressed concern for any possibility of an adaptation considering the word count shortage in his story; MILLICENT AND THERESE, the second in the trilogy, is the weakest. After TRILOGY OF TERROR, Black acted in Nolan’s screenplay, BURNT OFFERINGS.

After awaiting the great pumpkin at the witching hour, chow down on poison-filled candies, leave the jack o’ lantern lit, and pay respect to two great souls this holiday.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN VAMPIRE HUNTER

The film states that history prefers legend to truth. A dark secret, rooted in the New World since the landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620, has been unveiled. The undead have feasted upon the living, which resulted in mass deaths of Pilgrims, Native Americans, and slaves. A Vampiric Empire, poised to topple the North during America’s bloodiest campaign in response to the threat to their food chain, is suppressed by the leader of our nation, the man and legend, Abraham Lincoln.

As Anne Rice had intertwined factual occurrences within her fictional vampire tale, Seth Grahame-Smith does so with America’s sixteenth President leading up to the end of the Civil War. In his novel, Seth Grahame-Smith’s faux biography of Honest Abe chronicles a young boy’s disdain for slavery, the grief of the loss of his mother to a vampire, a struggling in-debt shopkeeper, an acquired love, and his rise to the mastery of law, politics, and vampire hunting. Lost in Grahame-Smith’s screenplay adaptation is the warmth and personal struggle. However, Lincoln and Mary Todd’s courtship is warmly reflected in the film. What is gained is a summer blockbuster with huge explosive action scenes that may spawn Abraham Lincoln: The Ride at Six Flags.

Producer Tim Burton’s name may evoke expectations of signature Burtonesque imagery. There is none. This is Director Timur Bekmambetov’s film. From present day Kazakhstan, (home to world famous Borat) Bekmambetov helmed two previous Russian vampire films, DAY WATCH and NIGHT WATCH. In the United States, he is known for directing Angelina Jolie in the action film, WANTED.

What the producers wanted was action and the man from Kazakhstan delivers. The axe wielding Lincoln engages in combat against vampires who walk among the living from Illinois to the Louisiana Bayou, concealing their fangs until the moment arises for a blood hemorrhaging kill. We must be grateful that the abhorrent abominations identified with the TWILIGHT series are non-existent. All of the action sequences including the wild horse stampede, the railroad inferno, and the Civil War battles prove Timur Bekmambetov’s ability to choreograph vivacious thrillers.

To all the detractors who are bemoaning the historical inaccuracies, let me point this out. THIS IS A VAMPIRE FILM. Historians have speculated that Lincoln’s voice was a tenor. Not the deep bass oratory Lincoln we are so familiar with. Start filing your complaints with Walter Huston in D.W. Griffith’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN and follow it with every other production.

The film ends Lincoln’s tale as he heads to the theater with his beloved. No surprise here. The novel went on to involve John Wilkes Booth and follows Lincoln post mortem in Washington listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his iconic speech. For whatever reason, this was not included in the film and we are given something that far removes the audience from the feel of the film. Instead, we observe Lincoln’s friend, the vampire that trained him, Henry Sturgess, at a bar attempting to recruit a black male in a white shirt using a cell phone who is facing away from the camera. I guess the 44th President of the United States will be a vampire hunter too.

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