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Pan’s pipes

HD DVD

I received a couple of review copies of upcoming high definition releases from Optimum on Friday: Wolf Creek on Blu-ray and Pan’s Labyrinth on HD DVD. Both titles are coming out on both formats (the Blu-ray versions were released on November 19th, whereas the HD DVD versions have been delayed a week, until November 26th), and I’m fairly sure HD DVD versions were requested for both, so I’m not sure why I got a Blu-ray Wolf Creek. In any event, I’m not able to review it, because it is coded for Region B only, and, as you may know, my Blu-ray hardware (Playstation 3) is Region A. As far as I’m concerned, Optimum is merely shooting themselves in the foot here, as they are simply denying themselves sales. It makes particularly little sense when you consider that region coding doesn’t exist for HD DVD, so anyone in the world can play their HD DVD titles, whereas only the privileged few who shelled out for overpriced European Blu-ray players will be able to play their Blu-ray titles.

Anyway, I may not have been able to look at Wolf Creek, but I have given Pan’s Labyrinth a cursory glance. The image quality is a bit uneven, with a strange “eroded” appearance that appears to be the result of attempting to suck out the film grain. As a result, textures tend to look a bit waxy and “cut-out”, particularly faces, while a lot of the fine detail has been removed from the foliage in the scenes taking place in the woodland. It’s a strange effect, as it means there is a superficial sense of crispness, but not the sort of detail you would expect from an image so sharp.

Extras, by the way, seem to mirror Optimum’s UK DVD release, with only the bonus trailers for The Devil’s Backbone and cover art of Cronos missing in action. Of course, the only audio option provided is a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 track, so I suspect many people will prefer to wait until New Line release their own version in the US on December 26th, for its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and PiP visual commentary. More significantly, the picture on this release seems to be lagging slightly behind the audio at all times, resulting in some noticeable lip synchronisation errors (particularly apparent given the rapid-fire Spanish in which most of the characters converse).

Expect a full review at DVD Times in the not too distant future.

 
Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2007 at 4:13 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

DVD review: The Stendhal Syndrome

DVD
If you already own a copy of the Italian release of The Stendhal Syndrome, then whether you consider this new edition to be a worthwhile purchase will be dependent on whether you feel that the price is worth paying for a slightly improved transfer and new bonus materials. If, however, you only own the poor quality Troma or Dutch Film Works releases, then I would definitely recommend this release.

I’ve reviewed Blue Underground’s recent release of Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome, presented for this first time uncut in North America in this 2-disc special edition, courtesy of DVD Pacific.

 
Posted: Monday, November 19, 2007 at 1:56 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews
 

Blu-ray review: Oldboy

Blu-ray
It’s great to see more non-Hollywood content appearing on Blu-ray, particularly a solid film like Oldboy, but it’s hard not to feel somewhat shortchanged by Tartan’s failure to port over all of the bonus content from their 2-disc DVD set, while the image, despite being a definite step up from every prior release of the film, falls short of the high standard set by their Blu-ray release of Black Book.

I’ve reviewed Tartan’s recent UK Blu-ray release of Oldboy, Chan-wook Park’s critically acclaimed revenge flick. This Region 0 release features decent if not outstanding transfer and audio treatment, while some but not all of the extras from the DVD release have been ported over.

 
Posted: Thursday, November 08, 2007 at 10:16 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

Alan Jones on Mother of Tears

Mother of Tears

Reviews of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears have been pouring in for some time now, some good, some bad, some split right down the middle, but, for many fans, the review they have been waiting for is the one penned by all-round Argento expert Alan Jones. After much anticipation, he has finally written a few words on the film, as well as its Rome premiere on Halloween.

As to the film itself, well, it’s not the conclusion to the SUSPIRIA and INFERNO trilogy any of us wanted to see.

[…]

While it’s easy to criticise LA TERZA MADRE (occasionally different to the US MOTHER OF TEARS version) for what it isn’t rather than what it actually is - a gory, campy supernatural romp - the main problem with the film is simple. The layers of ethereal artifice given by lush cinematography and arch style to the prior two classic films lent their fractured stories a further atmosphere of palpable fever dream unreality. Stripped of that, and saddled with Fasano’s dull realism (his DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK photography was superior), the film’s equally episodic narrative comes off as contrived, crude and kitsch. Why on earth didn’t Argento use again the vivid colour palettes that made SUSPIRIA and INFERNO so fabulous to look at? He had the chance in Jace and Adam’s jewel-bleeding concept, but axed it as too fairytale instead of embracing its rich atmospheric possibilities.

[…]

Claudio Argento said it best at the premiere performance. He told me, “For the general public it’s a good solid movie, for Dario’s fans I’m not so sure”.

For the full piece, which includes several photographs from the premiere, head over to Dark Dreams.

 
Posted: Tuesday, November 06, 2007 at 9:53 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Halloween | Reviews
 

DVD debacle, Blu-ray bonzana, HD DVD hullabalooza!

I’ve kind of been slacking on updates regarding new DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD releases that have been pouring on to my desk. As it happens, one of each has arrived in the last week (not counting Les Triplettes de Belleville, discussed here). What can I say? I haven’t been feeling all that great over the last week or so, and as a result I’ve been a bit distracted. I was feeling decidedly queasy on Saturday, and in addition to that I think I’ve done something to a muscle, or joint, or bone, in my hip. For over a week, I’ve been having pains of varying degrees throughout my left hand side from my waist down, and, on Saturday night, I woke up with my whole leg spasming of its own accord. I was actually contemplating going to the hospital, but things seem to be settling down somewhat now, so I’m currently assuming that whatever was damaged is sorting itself out. I have a suspicion that it has something to do with the heavy crates I was carrying about at work just under a fortnight ago. One incident report coming right up!

Anyway, in jollier news…

DVD

My review copy of Blue Underground’s US 2-disc Special Edition of Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome reached me. I’ve done little more than take a cursory glance at the transfer, which doesn’t appear to be particularly good (although not much worse than I was expecting, given Blue Underground’s track record for having an unhealthy obsession with the edge enhancement and filtering dials), and watched the Dario Argento interview on the second disc (which was very informative, even if he did gloss over the supposed conflicts he had with cinematographer Guiseppe Rotunno during the shoot). I intend to take a fuller look at it towards the end of the week, with a review (including a newly rewritten article on the film, similar to what I did for Suspiria and Inferno) coming soon.

Blu-ray

I also picked up a copy of Fox’s recent Region A Blu-ray release of The Fly, making this my first ever high definition David Cronenberg film (with Eastern Promises to follow on HD DVD in December) and only my second Fox DVD. From what I’ve seen of it, it appears to be a pretty good representation of the source materials, although perhaps a bit softer than I would have liked. Unfortunately, the original stereo audio mix has been junked in favour of a souped up 5.1 remix. For shame, Fox, for shame.

HD DVD

Finally, the HD DVD release of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey arrived on Saturday. Believe it or not, I haven’t seen the film before and am decidedly curious to sit down and watch it for the first time. I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those films that takes a while to “get”, but one thing I do know for sure, at this stage, is that it features a very nice transfer. While I am a little concerned about its almost grainless look, in every other area it appears to be excellent, with a much higher level of detail than I am generally used to seeing from Warner’s HD releases. The line-up of extras looks very good, too, with the Channel 4-made documentary 2001: The Making of a Myth thrown in along with a commentary and several other documentaries and featurettes. The other four Kubrick titles released on HD DVD at the same time (A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, Full Metal Jacket and The Shining) are also on their way, although, due to supply issues at Amazon.com, they were all dispatched at different times.

 
Posted: Monday, November 05, 2007 at 11:58 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 7: No Future For You, Part Two

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Brian K. Vaughan; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

It seems like it was ages ago that I wrote my last Buffy review - so much so that I’d almost forgotten what the ongoing story was, and had to reread the preview issue to remind myself of what was going on.

To tell the truth, these “episodes” are so short that it’s quite difficult to review them on an individual basis: generally speaking, not enough happens in each one for you to get much of an idea of the quality of the storytelling until you’ve read the entire multi-part story (discounting one-shots like The Chain, of course). This issue continues Faith’s mission to infiltrate rogue Slayer Genevieve’s party and assassinate her, as well as briefly hopping back to the issue of Dawn and her giantness. I’m enjoying the Faith plot, even if it seems that they’re retreading old ground at times; the Dawn stuff, less so. Generally speaking, if you’re going to tease a plot out over the course of several months (don’t forget that we’re only seeing one issue per month, if that), it had better be an interesting one. Dawn being huge because she had sex with a Thricewise (whatever that is) is not particularly interesting, and the idea of a sixty foot tall girl mooching around in a Scottish glen is a bit too farcical, even by Buffy standards, to hold up week after week. I sincerely hope they do something with this plot strand before too long.

Still, the Faith stuff occupies 90% of the comic, so my reaction to this episode was on the whole positive, and, because Faith has always struck me as a far more interesting character than Buffy herself, I didn’t object to the titular heroine’s non-appearance for the second time (the impersonator in The Chain doesn’t count). (Actually, a show based solely around Faith, Willow, Giles and Dawn, who are the only regulars to appear in this episode, wouldn’t strike me as a bad thing at all. Well, okay, maybe not Dawn, although it least in comic book form you don’t actually have to listen to her.) As I mentioned before, there’s a certain sense of déjà vu to what the writers are doing with Faith, although to be honest they made such a pig’s ear of her character development in Season 7 that it’s difficult to be too negative here.

Nice shock ending too. I had some idea of what was coming, but the way it was handled was pretty nifty.

7/10.

 
Posted: Friday, November 02, 2007 at 11:08 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Halloween HD DVD review: Underworld: Extended Cut

HD DVD
In terms of bonus content, Sony Pictures’ recent US Blu-ray release of Underworld, which ports over most of the extras from the standard definition release of the extended cut, is definitely preferable. For those who are restricted to HD DVD only, however, this release provides a magnificent audio-visual presentation of the film that I struggle to imagine being bettered.

Concluding this year’s Halloween special, I’ve reviewed Concorde Home Entertainment’s HD DVD release of Underworld, a film which may not offer much in the way of seasonal cheer, but at least has vampires and werewolves in it.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 10:47 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween DVD review: Inferno

DVD
Unlike the Definitive Edition of Suspiria which I reviewed earlier today, the differences between this iteration of Inferno and the earlier Anchor Bay release are not a clear-cut case of something being “wrong”. Rather, they constitute a decidedly different-looking version of the same film, but one that is probably equally accurate to Argento’s vision. While dedicated fans will undoubtedly wish to pick up both DVDs, those only looking for one to add to their library are advised that both editions have their own strengths and weaknesses. The choice is up to the viewer.

Continuing the joint celebration of Halloween and the Italian theatrical release of Mother of Tears, I’ve reviewed the recent Italian R2 release of Inferno, Dario Argento’s third film in the Three Mothers trilogy.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 10:45 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween DVD review: Suspiria: Definitive Edition

DVD
The so-called Definitive Edition of Suspiria proves to be anything but: a thoroughly disappointing release whose only claim to fame, beyond buggering up the look of the film something rotten, is its nifty tin case. And thus the quest for the definitive DVD release of Dario Argento’s masterpiece continues…

To celebrate Halloween, and to coincide with the Italian theatrical release of Mother of Tears, Dario Argento’s concluding part to the Three Mothers trilogy, I’ve reviewed the recent R2 Italian “Definitive Edition” of the first instalment, Suspiria, which comes in a nifty metal tin.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 10:43 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween Blu-ray review: The Descent

Blu-ray
The Descent is one of the most impressive high definition releases I have seen so far, not only for featuring a stellar transfer and solid audio support, but also for featuring one of the best modern films released on either format thus far, and for being one of the few Blu-ray releases to not only port over all of the extras from its standard definition counterpart, but also for including an array of HD exclusive bonuses. Yes, the lack of true picture-in-picture means that the effect is not as seamless as it could have been, but this is overall a magnificent release and the best Blu-ray disc I’ve seen.

As part of DVD Times’ Halloween 2007 coverage, I’ve reviewed last year’s Blu-ray release of The Descent, and excellent presentation of Neil Marshall’s superb horror film put together by Lions Gate.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 10:39 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Halloween | Reviews
 

Attention spookmeisters!

Halloween

Well, in just a few hours it will be All Hallows Eve, and, as promised, I have some spooktacular reviews for you. Unfortunately, the list is somewhat shorter than I would have hoped, due to my coming down with a nasty case of writer’s block, which didn’t clear up in time for me to get through my entire list of titles. Still, here’s what you can expect to see tomorrow:

  • Midnight: The Descent (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • 6 AM: Suspiria: Definitive Edition (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • 12 PM: Inferno (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • 6 PM: Underworld: Extended Cut (R0 Germany, HD DVD)

Unfortunately, I’ll be out at work all day tomorrow, so I won’t be on hand to post links to the reviews themselves until I get home. If you just have to be at the front of the queue, I suggest you loiter around DVD Times and watch out for them as they materialise. Unless you have anything better to do, that is.

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 10:08 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD | Halloween | Reviews
 

In sickness and in health…

Sometimes, it seems as if every horror fan apart from myself has seen Showtime’s Masters of Horror series in its entirety. Now with two seasons of thirteen episodes each to its name, it seems like everyone has an opinion on each and every one of them. Until recently, I’d only seen Dario Argento’s two offerings, Jenifer in Season 1 and Pelts in Season 2. My phenomenal disappointment at their lacklustre quality played no small part in my lack of interest in seeking out the rest of the series: after all, if my favourite director couldn’t manage to bring anything to the table, what hope was there for the rest of ‘em?

Recently, however, I picked up the first two volumes of Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release of Season 1, containing episodes by John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, William Malone, Argento, Lucky McKee and John Landis. Impressed by McKee’s theatrical debut, May, one of my favourite horror films of the last decade, I jumped straight to his tale, Sick Girl, not sure at all of what to expect.

Sick Girl

What’s strange is that, although McKee only has two feature films under his belt (one of which hadn’t been released when Sick Girl aired, and which I’ve yet to see), it’s still clear from the outset that his “style” is all over the production in a way that it just wasn’t for Dario Argento with Jenifer. If you’ve seen May, you’ll immediately recognise this as the work of the same director. All of his obsessions are present: we’ve got quirky outcasts, we’ve got lesbians, we’ve got Angela Bettis (playing a quirky outcast lesbian - how’s that for value for money?), we’ve got gloomy old buildings, we’ve got a slow, building sense of dread, we’ve got Jaye Barnes Luckett’s off-kilter score, we’ve got a scene in which two lovers watch a movie that can only be described as the creation of a deranged mind… Essentially, Sick Girl is treading much of the same ground as May, but McKee has got this formula down pat, and I for one didn’t object to a second outing.

The plot focuses on Ida Teeter (Bettis), a throaty-voiced scientist whose speciality is bugs. So fond of her beloved insects is she that her apartment is filled with them, much to the disgust of her frosty landlady, Mrs. Beasley (Marcia Bennett), and, when an unusually large and vicious, and seemingly unknown, specimen is mysteriously delivered to her door, she can’t keep the excitement out of her voice. Things get going when Ida, egged on by her lab partner, Max (Jesse Hlubik), plucks up the courage to approach Misty Falls (Erin Brown), a shy, reclusive girl who spends each day drawing pixies in the foyer of Ida’s workplace, and ask her out. Quicker than Max can say “ladies in lust”, Ida and Misty are having hot, rambunctious sex on the sofa, and Misty is moving into the apartment. It’s all sweetness and fairycakes… until, that is, Ida’s new bug takes a liking to Misty and… well, you can probably guess what happens next.

Sick Girl

Okay, not the most thrilling of plots, as I’m sure you’ll agree, but McKee handles it with applomb. Like May, it goes nowhere in a hurry, taking care to establish its characters and allow the audience to come to like them before the “horror” segment of this Masters of Horror episode gets going. And Ida and Misty are likeable. They’re both quirky and oddly charming, and McKee portrays them with affection rather than as grotesque parodies of social outcasts. Yes, they’re weird, but in an endearing and frequently amusing way.

Much of this is down to the performances of the two leads, with Angela Bettis, while not delivering to quite the same level as she did in May, handling the awkward and stone-faced Ida with considerable skill. Erin Brown, meanwhile, seems to be channeling Amber Benson, initially at least. Beyond the more obvious issue of her orientation, Misty is so similar to Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in terms of shyness, clothes, hairstyle and mannerisms that it’s a wonder 20th Century Fox haven’t sued for plagiarism. She’s also very good in the role, though, and handles her character’s slow transformation effectively. I was surprised, to put it mildly, to discover that she is actually a porn actress, better known to her fans as Misty Mundae.

Sick Girl

Once the horror elements begin to fly, they do so with abundance. The climax is a deliciously twisted piece of filmmaking, with one of the most over the top but strangely convincing transformation I’ve seen in a while, all created with practical effects (no CGI muck here). I read a review which described this as the David Cronenberg film that David Cronenberg never made, and I can definitely see the similarities between this and the likes of Naked Lunch (and, presumably, The Fly, which I should be seeing for the first time soon), in its merging of humans and prosthetic insects. And hey, just in case this sounds like a bit of a downer, McKee even throws a happy ending at us out of left field, albeit one laced with a hefty dose of black humour.

One of my main criticisms of Jenifer and Pelts was that their scenarios were too thin and inconsequential to fill an hour’s running time. With Sick Girl, conversely, I felt exactly the opposite: I wanted the episode to last longer, and I suspect that, if it had, it would have avoided the third act seeming so rushed. It might also have allowed more depth to be given to the secondary characters, Max and Mrs. Beasley, who are merely one-note stereotypes (the sex-obsessed man and the “degenerate”-hating old woman). Still, for what it was, I enjoyed Sick Girl considerably more than I was expecting to. I’m not quite sure how McKee got to be labelled as a Master of Horror on the back of two films, but this episode confirmed my belief that he is a filmmaker worth watching out for.

 
Posted: Friday, October 26, 2007 at 10:26 AM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV
 

Halloween: what can you expect?

Halloween

In just a few days’ time, it will be Halloween, and, naturally, I’m planning a splurge of horror-themed reviews for DVD Times. Last year, I concentrated mainly on covering HD DVD releases, but this year, things are going to be a little more balanced across the three formats I cover. So, provided I can actually churn them out within the next 8-9 days, here’s what you can expect to see:

  • The Descent (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Halloween (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • House of 1000 Corpses (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Inferno (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • Suspiria: Definitive Edition (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • Underworld: Extended Cut (R0 Germany, HD DVD)

Now, I’m aware that that’s a bit of a tall order, particularly given that I also have work commitments and my PhD to think about, not to mention a review of the Blu-ray release of Oldboy, plus one of Blue Underground’s new release of The Stendhal Syndrome when it arrives, so I don’t want to promise anything. I’ll do my best to finish as many of them as possible, though.

 
Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | HD DVD | Halloween | PhD | Reviews
 

Blu-ray bonanza

Blu-ray Blu-ray

On Friday, I received a couple of packages from DVD Pacific, containing the first two instalments of Masters of Horror: Season 1 on Blu-ray. Volume 1 contains John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, Stuart Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch-House and William Malone’s The Fair-Haired Child, while Volume 2 contains Dario Argento’s Jenifer, Lucky McKee’s Sick Girl and John Landis’ Deer Woman. Hmm, something slightly wrong about the first Argento title I own in HD is comfortably the worst thing to which his name has ever been attached (then again, I haven’t seen all of the pre-Bird with the Crystal Plumage westerns that he wrote, so there could be some clunkers among them as well). Still, we all have to start somewhere, and I wanted to pick these discs up, given that Argento’s shameful contributions are the only episodes I have seen of either season of Masters of Horror. I just hope some of the other filmmakers were able to bring a little more of themselves to the table.

As for the treatment of the episodes on Blu-ray, you may already be aware that, barring the audio commentaries for each episode, all of the extras from the standard definition releases have been dumped. Classy, Anchor Bay, real classy. Anyone would think you didn’t care about what you were putting out. Oh, wait a minute - judging by Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Evil Dead II, that much is pretty clear.

Anyway, unlike most Blu-ray and HD DVD releases, these discs are encoded at 1080i rather than 1080p. The reason for this seems to be that the closing credits for each episode scroll at 60 Hz, necessitating the episodes themselves to be stored as such. Personally, I’m glad Anchor Bay didn’t try to deinterlace them themselves, as such results are rarely pretty. As for the image quality, it’s reasonably good. All the episodes have a similar soft, rather diffuse look, but I suspect it may turn out that they look as good as the source materials allow.

Blu-ray

I’ve also received a check disc for Tartan’s upcoming UK Blu-ray release of Oldboy. The image quality is… eh, passable. I’ve seen worse, but I’ve seen a lot better. Looks rather murky and edge enhanced. I’ve been tasked with reviewing the technical components of the disc for DVD Times - we already have plenty reviews of the film itself, so there’s no need to repeat what others have already said.

See you at the movies!

 
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 10:44 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV | Technology
 

I am fury!

This is House of the Dead. Apparently.

Above: This is House of the Dead. Apparently.

While my month’s free subscription to Amazon UK’s DVD rental service is still active, I’m doing my best to work my way through as many awful films as possible. I may not be as experienced a connoisseur of Z-grade movie garbage as Baron Scarpia, but I’m doing my best to make up for lost time, and last night I had the dubious honour of sitting through Dr. Uwe Boll’s big screen adaptation of the arcade game House of the Dead.

You have to admire Dr. Boll. He consistently churns out garbage so bad that rats would turn their noses up at it, and yet still somehow manages to get funding for multiple projects and attract A-listers like Ben Kingsley and, er, Tara Reid. He seems to have made it his mission to wreck virtually every successful video game franchise of the past decade (although Halo and Silent Hill, it would seem, are safe, for now at any rate) - a laudable aim given that Hollywood Pictures had already set the bar phenomenally low with Super Mario Bros. The man is so adept at tooting his own horn and acting like a complete blow hole that it’s hard to find any sympathy for him when the critics trash his latest train wreck (although I must admit that I did feel just the teeniest bit sorry for him when 90% of his audience got up and walked out during his presentation at the Penny Arcade Expo of the opening scenes from his new film, Postal).

Anyway, enough of that. I’d previously seen Boll’s take on Alone in the Dark (review here, and had come to the conclusion that it would be difficult to conceive of a worse film. So horrifying was the experience that it very nearly drove me away from Boll’s filmography completely. However, last night, undeterred, I popped in House of the Dead, and quickly realised that Alone in the Dark was merely foreplay to my glorious encounter with the true face of Dr. Uwe Boll.

House of the Dead is a film so staggeringly inept and mind-bogglingly idiotic that I deem Boll to be either completely mad or a ground-breaking genius whose talents will only come to be appreciated after several generations. This is a film in which, with every line of dialogue spoken, you feel that the actors are doing their damnedest not to crack up. A film in which a group of snot-faced teenagers (at least, I’m assuming they’re meant to be teenagers - the actors playing them are all at least in their mid-20s) arrive at a rave to find it deserted and a blood-stained shirt on the ground, only to promptly separate to go exploring or have a shag (one participant goes so far as to boast about how quick he can make it). A film in which said teenagers (one of whom wears a one-piece jumpsuit with the stars and stripes on it, while another has a halter top cut so low that her jiggling breasts threaten to pop out at any second), when confronted by seemingly endless hordes of the undead, spend a whole lot of time running around, flapping their arms about and getting bitten, before inexplicably turning into expert gun-slingers/martial artists/sword-wielders (delete as applicable) and going at it to the backdrop of heavy metal that would give 80s Dario Argento a headache and slow motion that would cause John Woo to blush. Oh, and, to spice things up a bit, Boll randomly inserts clips from the original video game, presumably because, without them, you’d never know that this is supposed to be an adaptation of House of the Dead.

But wait! Surely it can’t be all that bad? After all, as Dr. Boll himself points out,

HOUSE Of THE DEAD was in a lot of territories a very big success. In Middle East, Russia, Spain, Thailand and South America was the movie similar to the USA and KANADA two weeks in the TOP TEN and a long time in the Video/DVD-Charts.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, I only saw it on DVD on a 40” LCD. Perhaps, had I seen it at the cinema, I would

recognize that the CINEMASCOPE look of the movie and the sound are absolutly A LIST and not one percent less quality as RESIDENT EVIL or UNDERWORLD.

Preach it, Herr Doktor!

In HOD we have a lot of GORE and a lot of action. Much more as in Resident Evil. The big battle in front of the house with the MATRIX and TURN TABLE effects, over 100 blood effects and 11000 cuts in 13 minutes will be film history in a few years because in NO OTHER FILM EVER was a similar scene. Also Rodrigez or Tarantino ever made a scene like this escalating action scene in HOD.

There you have it! A lot of gore and a lot of action! Turn table effects! Over 100 blood effects and 11,000 cuts in 13 minutes! Truly this film deserves to go down in history! I was completely wrong! This is a masterpiece and a prime example of why Dr. Uwe Boll is the saviour of modern cinema. Why, he could be this generation’s Ed Wood - that’s how good he is.

Jesus fucking Christ. Now I absolutely must see Bloodrayne.

PS. If you still need convincing of Dr. Boll’s awesome talent, you can watch the entire fight scene, with its turn table effects, 100 blood effects and 11,000 cuts, on YouTube.

 
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 2:14 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Games | Reviews
 

A pretty developed sense of perversion

Wholesome girly antics in Enigma Rosso

Above: Wholesome girly antics in Enigma Rosso

Throughout the 1970s, hundreds (if not thousands) of gialli were made, and, although many of them are now readily available on DVD, the vast majority are either lost entirely or only available in severely compromised grey market editions, usually copied countless times from already iffy materials. One giallo that I’d been wanting to see for some time was a 1978 offering called Enigma Rosso, also known as Rings of Fear, Red Rings of Fear, Virgin Killer (a pretty misleading title), Trauma (not to be confused with the 1993 Dario Argento slasher of the same name), and various other diverse titles. It bears the distinction of being the final part in the group of films unofficially referred to as the “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy, the first two instalments of which, What Have You Done to Solange? and What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, were helmed by the gifted and underrated Massimo Dallamano. Dallamano’s life was cut short when he was involved in a car crash in 1976, but he collaborated on the script for Enigma Rosso and, as far as I can gather, fully intended to direct it. The reigns ended up being passed to Alberto Negrin, and the buzz on the Internet has always been that the end result was nothing like as good as the first two films in the trilogy.

Until recently, the only version of the film that was circulated on a wide basis seemed to be a murky-looking, VHS-sourced pan and scan presentation of the English language print, which, with PAL speed-up, ran for approximately 81 minutes. Recently, however, the same version of the film (albeit with Spanish credits) showed up on DVD in Spain, non-anamorphic and with Spanish audio only but in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I bought this DVD back in August, and, a few days ago, put the finishing touches to my own personal composite version, which marries the English audio from the VHS dupe with the transfer from the Spanish DVD. The results, while far from ideal, are certainly preferable to either version on its own. I understand that several different cuts of the film were prepared for different markets, so presumably other versions exist which feature additional and/or alternate footage, but, for the time being, this is probably the best we’re going to get.

The plot sees Inspector Gianni Di Salvo (Fabio Testi, who also played the lead in What Have You Done to Solange?) investigating the death of a teenage girl, Angela Russo, whose body is discovered washed up on a riverbank. In predictable giallo fashion, it quickly emerges that something incredibly seedy has been going on, involving Angela and her three friends, quaintly known as “the Inseparables”. They, and the various employees of the St. Theresa’s boarding school, quickly begin dropping like flies, and Di Salvo, finding himself faced with a killer with, in his own words, “a pretty developed sense of perversion”, teams up with an unlikely accomplice, Angela’s younger sister, Emily (Fausta Avelli).

It immediately becomes apparent that this third instalment in the trilogy is very much a companion piece to its predecessors, as familiar elements crop up throughout. Peeping tom scenes of girls in showers? Check. Late night motorbike chase through the streets of Rome (at least I think it’s Rome - the locations used are fairly anonymous)? Check. Sordid sexual antics and corruption at the very core of society? Check. Back street abortion? Check. Negrin seems intent on combining the amateur sleuthing elements of Solange with the police thriller exploits of Daughters, and the result is rather confused and not altogether satisfying. There isn’t enough detective material to make an interesting poliziottesco, while at the same time the amateur detection scenes are too limited for a solid giallo. Negrin seems to want to both have his cake and eat it by catering to both markets, when in reality the end result ends up pleasing neither.

A lot of the confusion, I suspect, stems from the sheer number of writers involved. The English print credits Marcello Coccia, Dallamano, Franco Ferrini, Stefano Ubezio, Negrin and Peter Berling for the final screenplay (while the Spanish print, predictably, gives a completely different, and smaller, list of writers). A lot of gialli seem to have been written by committee, but I can’t recall ever seeing another with this many names attributed to its script. Another reason may have been the multiple cuts supposedly prepared for different territories. This would certainly explain the setting up and abandonment of multiple subplots, including Di Salvo’s rather unconventional, seemingly non-exclusive relationship with a shoplifter who may of may not be his wife, as well as the established-then-abandoned-then-reintroduced partnership between himself and young Emily.

Or it could be that Negrin was simply being sloppy. This is the only film I’ve seen by this director, but it suggests that he wasn’t half as effective a filmmaker as Dallamano. The peeping tom shower scene has a clumsy, leering quality that lacks the thematic justification of the similar scenes in Solange (confounded even further once we learn the identity of the voyeur), while the cross-cutting between scenes of an abortion being performed on one girl and flashbacks to a raucous orgy involving herself and her friends falls flat on its face. This is the sort of parallel that Dallamano would have been able to draw in a more subtle way, but Negrin, lacking his skill behind the camera, has to resort to crasser, more obvious techniques. Riz Ortolani’s score, too, doesn’t really work, frequently throwing menacing stings into completely innocuous situations.

As for Testi and his character Di Salvo, he’s pretty much your typical 70s macho cop protagonist. His preferred method of investigation is to barge into people’s bedrooms in the middle of the night, haul them out of bed half-naked and scream “Who killed Angela Russo?” at them. He also knows just how to set people at their ease: confronted with a room full of stone-faced, prudish schoolteachers, he bellows “Someone with a cock this big raped Angela Russo!”, spreading his arms wide to demonstrate. He also performs a rather intriguing interrogation on a suspect prone to motion sickness by taking him to a theme park and hauling him on to a roller coaster ride, and he’s as likely to enjoy a nice meal and bed down for a kip on the premises of a suspect as he is to actually do a decent day’s work in the office. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think we ever see him setting foot inside a police station, while the oversized cardigan that he wears for the film’s duration robs him of much of his credibility - odd, given that, in The Big Racket and The Heroin Busters, I had no trouble believing in him as a cop.

In the final analysis, Enigma Rosso is comfortably the weakest of the trilogy. The final solution is disappointing and seems to be based more around hammering home the familiar message of corruption taking place in the very foundations of society than actually providing a satisfying explanation to the murders. There are definite moments of inspiration here and there, and it’s rarely boring, but it lacks the depth of Solange and the high octane rush of Daughters. Oh, to know what Dallamano had in mind for this one.

PS. I haven’t forgotten about The Giallo Project. In fact, I hope to get it started up again very soon. Think of this as a sneak peak at where I hope to end up in the somewhat distant future.

 
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 1:17 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews
 

DVD review: The Jungle Book: Platinum Edition

DVD
While it would have been nice to have had the alternate Academy ratio version of the film included in the package, it goes without saying that this new Platinum Edition of The Jungle Book belongs on every Disney aficionado’s shelf. Controversial aspect ratio choice aside, this is a stellar package with an array of bonus materials that ranks among the best the studio has ever put out.

Arriving on DVD with considerably more than just the Bare Necessities, The Jungle Book remains many people’s favourite Disney film forty years after its original release. I’ve reviewed the Region 1 2-disc Platinum Edition.

 
Posted: Friday, October 19, 2007 at 6:10 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Upcoming review copies

DVD DVD

This have been a little quiet on the review front of late, but I’m hoping that will pick up soon with the arrival of a couple of new titles.

First up is the recent 2-disc special edition of Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome from Blue Underground. Casting my eye around the net, it seems that virtually every major horror review site got their copy ages ago, but one of the problems that faces UK-based reviewers is that, generally speaking, we don’t have much direct contact with the US distributors. Still, hopefully the wait will be worth it. Given that I already own the Italian release from Medusa, and Blue Underground’s transfer doesn’t appear to improve much on it, if at all, my interest in this release comes primarily from the point of view of its bonus materials, which sound rather impressive.

I will also soon be receiving a copy of the 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition of Disney’s The Jungle Book. This is not my favourite Disney by any stretch of the imagination - in fact, I’d go so far as to say that it heralded the beginning of a particularly dark age in the studio’s history - but it has some great moments, and I never got round to picking up the old Limited Issue DVD release, so I’m looking forward to refreshing my memory of this title. Oh, and it appears to be another of Disney’s semi-controversial matted widescreen releases (see here for the debate surrounding Robin Hood and its intended ratio).

 
Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2007 at 11:38 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews
 

Aaaaaargh! Not the bees!

Cunningly disguised as a bear, Nicolas Cage rescues little Madeleine... I mean Rowan

Above: Cunningly disguised as a bear, Nicolas Cage rescues little Madeleine… I mean Rowan

In case you aren’t aware, Amazon UK runs a DVD rental service similar to that offered by the likes of Blockbuster and LoveFilm, albeit without such a wide range of available titles. Anyway, if you have an Amazon account, it seems that you can get a month of free rentals. I’m not convinced that the various packages offered are cost-effective enough to be worth it in the long run, but a free trial certainly doesn’t hurt, and I decided a few days ago to start renting some titles.

Top of the list was the remake of The Wicker Man, a film with such an awesome pedigree of awfulness that I couldn’t just rely on the word of mouth - I really had to see it for myself. I had already seen a hilarious reel collecting many of its more intentionally funny scenes, but I felt the need to understand them in context, especially after reading my good friend the Baron’s excellent review of both this atrocity and the very good 1973 original.

In retrospect, perhaps “context” is a misleading word to use, because there really is no such thing. This film is so moronic and damn near incompetent that I actually think clips of Nicolas Cage karate-kicking Leelee Sobieski in the abdomen, donning a bear costume, stealing children’s animal face masks and finally having a hive of bees poured over his head work better in isolation than they do when integrated into this meandering, preposterous tale about a policeman with a crippling allergy to bees invading an island-based matriarchal commune in search of his missing daughter.

Just to put this into perspective, in the original, the protagonist, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), was a devoted Christian lured to an island by a group of pagans who needed a virgin for their yearly harvest sacrifice. Obviously, the writer/director of the remake, Neil LaBute, came to the conclusion that Nicolas Cage was such a dishy catch that no-one would believe he was a virgin, so this particular aspect of his character has been replaced by a tendency to flap his arms and faint when in the vicinity of bees. Guess what the women of this island are famed for producing? That’s right: honey. (“Well, Christianity and bee allergy, they’re kind of the same thing,” a friend said to me today when I told him about the film.)

None of this really makes any sense. Why does Cage have a bee allergy? Why is the island dominated by women, with the few male inhabitants subservient mutes? Why does he spend the final act of the film violently assaulting many of said women? Why did LaBute decide to make the missing girl Cage’s daughter? Why would anyone in their right mind commission this heap of drivel? Presumably, someone in a position of power genuinely believed in this project. Cage, who also gets a producer credit, certainly did, although his hammy, outrageous performance as the marauding Edward Malus (yes, that is his name - the man who ends up being murdered by a group of crazy women just happens to be called… oh, never mind) might make you wondering if the whole thing is just an extended piss-take. Rest assured that it isn’t, more’s the pity: it’s deadly serious, and it’s a strong contender for the worst film of 2006.

 
Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 8:26 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

DVD review: Zodiac

DVD
This release of Zodiac has “stopgap” written all over it. If you enjoyed the film and can’t wait a few more months for the director’s cut, then this release may be for you, but those with more patience are advised to pass on this disappointingly empty and visually compromised edition, particularly with the director’s cut being slated for release on HD DVD.

Released tomorrow in the UK, I’ve reviewed Warner’s Region 2 release of Zodiac, David Fincher’s serial killer thriller based on the real-life late 60s murders.

 
Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2007 at 8:10 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 
 

 
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