Blu-Ray Review- Anaconda
Distributor: Mill Creek Home Entertainment
Street Date: July 22nd 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio
Runtime: 89 Minutes
“When you can’t breathe, you can’t scream.” –Anaconda Promotional Tagline
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a sucker for creature features, especially of the aquatic type. The thought of being grabbed, bitten, or pulled from beneath the water by something is a terrifying and helpless one. If the creature itself doesn’t get you, you’ll succumb to the agonizing death of drowning. It’s a scary concept, executed so well in movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jaws, Piranha (1978), and Lake Placid. Needless to say I was excited walking into the movie theater at the age of 14 to watch Anaconda, which I remember enjoying at the time. Unfortunately, revisiting the film on Blu-Ray 17 years later simply didn’t prove as satisfying as it was to my teenage counterpart.
Jennifer Lopez plays Terri Flores, the Director on a camera crew sent to the Amazon River to document a reclusive tribe for the first time. She’s joined by a Professor of Anthropology (Eric Stoltz), her cameraman (Ice Cube), and a sound engineer (Owen Wilson), among others. There’s a slight romantic aura surrounding Stoltz and Lopez, which is never fleshed out enough for anyone to care. Soon the crew comes across a stranded Paraguayan Snake hunter named Paul (a ridiculously over-the-top Jon Voight), who purposely guides the crew in the wrong direction to pursue a ferocious Anaconda he had been tracking before everything went south.
With the crew intimated by Paul and desperate to get help for a wounded Stoltz, they go along with Paul’s mission to capture the Anaconda. Though it involves endangering everyone on board, they need his help to get back to civilization. What follows is certainly goofy, harmless fun, but the years have not been kind to many of the 90’s era B movies that utilized CGI. The snake looks laughably bad in most scenes, and even when practical effects are utilized, the mechanics and polish appears cheap. The story is lacks any depth or involvement with the characters, never taking the time to flesh out the leads enough for the audience to care what happens to them. It may sound like I’m being a bit harsh on an admittedly campy and somewhat self-aware B flick, but the bottom line here is that Anaconda just doesn’t hold up, and certainly doesn’t warrant repeat viewings. This one is recommended for die-hard creature feature fanatics only.
Mill Creek Home Entertainment has provided Anaconda with a watchable, but somewhat disappointing Blu-Ray transfer. I don’t fault them for it, as this is the very same transfer that accompanied the 2009 Sony release. The transfer comes across soft and washed out, with inconsistent clarity and detail from scene to scene. Some of the softness could very well be inherent to the source material. The good news is that the print we have here is generally clean and free from artifacts or anomalies. The dated CGI definitely becomes more apparent in High Definition.
The audio is a bit of a head-scratcher on this release from Mill Creek Entertainment. This new Blu-Ray edition sports a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo track, unlike the previous Blu-Ray release from Sony which featured lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio. Though I didn’t own the previous Sony release to contrast and compare the two, the exclusion of the HD audio here is a bummer. What you’re getting is DVD quality sound, which just isn’t up to today’s standards. With that being said, dialogue always comes through clean, and there is some power to the track during the intense action moments. The problem is the dynamic range and crystal clear advantage of an HD track is notably absent. Background sound effects, the score, and other aspects seem to get jumbled in the mix, and this track, plain and simple, just doesn’t feature the clarity of what we’re accustomed to for the format.
It’s become pretty standard for Mill Creek releases to not feature many, if any, bonus materials. Anaconda is not the exception. Though I would hardly blame it on the distributor, as Sony has never included any special features on any of their past home video releases of the film. For a fan of creature features, I would have loved to see some featurettes or documentaries on the making of the film. From the special effects to the action set pieces, it would no doubt provide some added entertainment for admirers of the genre.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Mill Creek Entertainment features cover art that mimics the theatrical poster design for the film, and very closely resembles the previous Sony Pictures Blu-Ray release. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, credits for the film, and a quote from Roger Ebert’s review of the film. Inside of the case you’ll find the Blu-Ray disc featuring some art that resembles the cover design. There is no interior artwork on this release.
Anaconda is certainly goofy, harmless fun, but the years have not been too kind to this 90’s-era creature feature. The snake looks laughably bad in most scenes, the story lacks any depth or involvement with the characters, and it certainly doesn’t warrant any repeat viewings. The Blu-Ray edition from Mill Creek Entertainment features a watchable but somewhat soft and muted transfer, and a disappointing 2 channel stereo track. With no special features to speak of, this is a hard one to recommend. The good news for fans of the film is that Anaconda is available for very cheap on this brand new Blu-Ray edition, so you can’t complain too much at a great price point, as long as you enjoyed the film more than I did. This one is recommended for die-hard creature feature fanatics only.
Hi-Def Horror: July 13th 2014
The Laboratory is excited to present the 1st installment of Hi-Def Horror, a new monthly column with reviews in brief for the latest Horror titles on Blu-Ray and DVD. Without further ado, here are some recent Horror titles released on Home Video that I had the opportunity to review.
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Street Date: July 8th 2014
- Stage Fright tries really hard to be unique, blending the slasher film qualities of Sleepaway Camp with the musical fun of a show like Glee, but unfortunately it comes up short on both counts. A decade ago, Camilla’s mom and Broadway star Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) starred in The Haunting of the Opera (a clear Phantom rip-off), but was subsequently killed backstage by a murderous maniac wearing the mask of the “Opera Ghost” of the aforementioned show. Now, Camilla and her brother are attending a summer theater camp run by Meat Loaf (!), a former lover of their deceased mother. Lo and behold, the camp decides to put on a show of The Haunting of the Opera, and Camilla scores the lead, albeit in trade for certain favors with the show’s director. Needless to say, the killings begin as the Opera Ghost returns to wreak havoc on the production. I won’t ruin the “reveals” that this one has in store, but I will say that you can see them coming from a mile away. Stage Fright is an odd-duck film that I can understand some Horror fans appreciating, but for me, the entire thing felt forced. The musical numbers were bizarre and cheap, and the plot itself was a rehash of other, better, films. The good news is that the Blu-Ray edition from Magnet Releasing looks great in High Definition, with solid black levels and detail that is crystal clear. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track serves the film well, with the score, musical numbers, and appropriate “jump scare” moments coming through clearly across all channels. If you’re a fan of the film, the Blu-Ray is loaded with special features as well including: The Making of Stage Fright, Deleted Scenes, In Memory of a Fallen Camper, Stage Fright Sing-Along, Interviews with the cast and crew, a Set Design featurette, an AXS TV special, and a commentary with Director Jerome Sable and Co-Composer Eli Batalion. Unfortunately, this is rental material at best, though the film does have a trashy camp value that may pay off in subsequent viewings. Only time will tell.
Distributor: Well Go USA
Street Date: July 15th 2014
- From Bernard Rose, the Director of the original Candyman, comes Sx Tape, a found-footage style Horror film that works to a degree, delivers plenty of small scares, but is nevertheless, forgettable entertainment. In Sx Tape, we meet Jill and Ian, an artistic and slightly deranged couple that apparently feel the need to document everything in their daily lives on video. Wildly in love, and searching for the next big “thrill”, the pair come across an abandoned mental institution, and decide to stay for a night. This turns out to be a bad choice on their behalf, as the hospitals secrets are soon revealed, and they find themselves in the midst of a nightmare. I will personally always prefer traditional narrative to the “found footage”/POV style Horror filmmaking that has become so popular since The Blair Witch Project premiered in 1999. For me, this style ran it’s course about five years ago, but audiences say differently. Sx Tape has some fun jump scare moments, and the performances are earnest enough for the genre, but it just doesn’t set itself apart in any way from the countless other films in the sub-genre. It’s a forgettable Horror entry with a re-watch factor of zero. The Blu-Ray from Well Go USA features fine video quality, with good black levels and a nice High Definition picture. Colors look appropriately bold and clear in the beginning of the film, and the darkness of the finale displays a fine image in contrast. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track included here gets the job done just fine, with dialogue and effects coming through very clear. The Blu-Ray edition features a making-of documentary for fans as well as the original theatrical trailer for the film. If you’re a die-hard Horror fan and insist on seeing everything in the genre, you may want to rent this one for some cheap entertainment. Those who are expecting anything above cheap thrills will be disappointed.
House in the Alley
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: May 27th 2014
- Scream Factory has given the DVD treatment to the Vietnamese import House in the Alley, which broke box office records in that country, but ultimately failed to keep my attention with it’s repetitive nature and slow-burn story that leads to a cliché showdown. The film starts out with a gut-wrenching scene in which Thao (Ngo Thanh Van) miscarries during childbirth, leaving her and her husband Thanh heartbroken in their new home. Thao, unable to cope with her baby’s death, keeps the child in a box. For the next hour of the film, we get numerous scenes implicating that something sinister is afoot in this house, as Thanh tries to discover the terrifying secrets in the hope of helping his wife through her troubled post partum psychosis. The eventual gore the film provides will please Horror fans, and there are definitely some scary moments, mixed with surreal imagery to make for some modest entertainment value. The problem I have with this film has become a somewhat regular complaint with most new Horror entries: it just doesn’t set itself apart from countless other films with similar plotlines. It’s a little bit Rosemary’s Baby mixed with a haunted house theme. The good news here is that Scream Factory has given House in the Alley a solid DVD edition with a fine video presentation for the format, as well as a great Dolby Digital audio track. A theatrical trailer is the sole extra. House in the Alley is worth a rental for sure, even if it’s not entirely original.
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Street Date: July 1st 2014
- I mentioned in my earlier review for Sx Tape that I feel as though “found footage” or POV style Horror films have run their course. While my I stand by that statement, Afflicted is certainly a well-made and creepy entry in the subgenre, which kept my attention from beginning to end. Our story begins with best friends Clif and Derek setting off on a worldwide trip in which they plan on filming for their web series. After meeting some friends in Paris, Derek meets the beautiful Audrey, whom he trusts enough to spend the night with. When Clif decides to prank the two by bursting in on them, he finds Derek alone, bleeding and scratched up by Audrey, who has now disappeared. Though the two decide to continue their trip, and Derek doesn’t remember anything from the incident, he begins to develop strange super powers, as well as a strong aversion to daylight. I hesitate to say too much more about this fun little Horror entry, but it’s a unique and well-assembled film that will entertain most genre fans. The three main leads deliver fine performances, and it’s a film you will likely revisit with friends. The Blu-Ray edition from Sony Pictures boasts impressive video quality, with a fresh High Definition transfer featuring bold colors, incredible clarity, and pristine fine object detail. The audio track, presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, is very well balanced and matches the video quality in pristine presentation. Special Features include: Behind the Scenes of Afflicted, Anatomy of a Scene: The Window Jump, and Deleted Scenes (which were best left on the cutting room floor). This one definitely comes recommended.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
Distributor: Cult Epics
Street Date: June 3rd 2014
- Known to most through Comedian Patton Oswalt’s hilarious stand-up routine regarding his screenwriting days, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is finally available on Blu-Ray from independent label Cult Epics. Seemingly bad or campy Horror films are usually my bag, and sometimes there’s no better medicine than sitting down with friends to enjoy a ridiculously bad film from the genre. Unfortunately, though it’s insanely laughable, I don’t share the same affinity for Death Bed that others in the community seem to. It almost reminded me of a Jodorowsky film with its bizarre and surreal imagery, but mixed with cheap effects and monotone delivery from its novice cast. The basic story here is that long ago, a Demon in the form of a tree became a wind that fell in love with a woman. The demon, deeply in love, then took the form of a human, and created a bed for the two to consummate their love in. Unfortunately for the demon and the bed’s countless future victims, the woman died, and the demon’s blood cursed the bed and anyone that came in contact with it. What follows is the story of several unfortunate souls who meet “the bed”, usually ending with the horrific death of everyone involved. I laughed quite a bit at the ridiculousness of it all, but this film is incredibly slow and uninvolved for the viewer, something that even for campy fare, I demand more of. Nevertheless, many a Horror fan will rejoice to finally have this oddball film on Blu-Ray. The fine folks at Cult Epics have created a transfer that gets the job done, albeit with a color timing that appears slightly off or muted, though I can’t be sure that’s the case. Scratches and other anomalies are quite apparent throughout, but that’s to be expected given the budget and age of the film. Fans will be delighted with the special features created for this release which include: Audio Commentary by George Barry and Stephen Thrower, an Introduction by George Barry, Introduction by Stephen Thrower, Nightmare USA interview, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the original Death Bed music credit track. Though it wasn’t necessarily for me, I do understand the appeal for some, and this one gets a light recommendation.
House of Mortal Sin
Distributor: Kino Lorber/Redemption Films
Street Date: June 17th 2014
- The horror community has been given a truly enjoyable catalog of films fro m the unique Pete Walker from Kino Lorber and Redemption Films over the past couple of years, and House of Mortal Sin is one of my favorites from the director. The wonderful Anthony Sharp stars as the morally corrupt and increasingly psychotic Father Xavier Meldrum, a priest who regularly blackmails and torments his parishioners, abusing his power in the name of the Lord. Norman Eshley is our protagonist, with more modern liberal ideals, and the only one willing to stand up against the evil Father Meldrum. It’s an exercise devoted to exposing the hypocrisy of the Church, but with fine performances, ever-engaging dialogue, and some fun slasher-type moments to boot. The Blu-Ray edition from Kino/Redemption looks outstanding, with noticeably improved detail and color timing, and is presented in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The audio track is a little disappointing, as the mix has a hard time balancing dialogue, music, and effects. There was more than a few times where the audio levels seemed slightly off balance. The Special Features are definitely fun for fans of Pete Walker, and include Pete Walker: An Eye for Terror Part 2, an audio commentary, and trailers for other films from the Director. This film is a lot of fun, and the re-watch factor is high. Recommended!
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Street Date: May 6th 2014
- In Mr. Jones, young married couple Scott and Penny decide to leave their ordinary lives behind to pursue a life in the wilderness. They document their time together, hoping to ignite the spark that they once felt for each other. Deep within the woods they find gothic, creepy scarecrows, which they are certain were created by the infamous and elusive “Mr. Jones”, and when they happen upon what they believe to be his rundown cabin, they decide to explore some more to confirm their suspicions. I won’t spoil the events that follow, but Mr. Jones is a rather fun ride for a PG-13 rated Horror entry. Sure, it’s yet another “found footage” film, but it kept me on the edge of my seat for the majority of its runtime. The performances are solid enough to make you care for these characters, and when the danger begins, you want them to survive. I wouldn’t necessarily call it original, but splicing in interview footage with “art historians” and experts on Mr. Jones’ work was an interesting narrative decision. The Blu-Ray edition from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment features outstanding picture quality that handles colors, black levels, and detail very well. The Dolby TrueHD audio track is also a treat, providing dialogue that comes through clean and sound effects that will make you jump. The only negative on this release is the absolute lack of special features. I would have appreciated seeing how the filmmakers put this one together. Still, it’s a fun film that will surprise you, and comes recommended.
Distributor: Blue Underground
Street Date: October 22nd 2013
- This Blue Underground release was from their Fall 2013 catalog, and the distributor was kind enough to send it along for review. I had heard a lot about Snuff, which has grown in cult status over the past couple decades. I knew it was assembled from edited footage from the 1971 film Slaughter, with added “newly filmed” snuff footage to cash in on the 70’s hysteria over the supposed underground death films. The concept intrigued me to say the least, but in the end, Snuff is a rather terrible film that never takes the time to establish any worthwhile characters to the audience, and is so clearly pieced together with random shots and scenes that it’s rather exhausting to sit through. It’s part road trip movie and part exploitation trash, and offers plenty of gore for those that came for it. The problem with that is the special effects are downright laughable in most scenes, and any chance of cohesiveness with the story itself is thrown out the window. The good news is that cult label Blue Underground has put together a decent looking transfer from existing film elements and a solid HD mono track that delivers dialogue and action in surprisingly dynamic fashion. They’ve also included a boat load of special features that are worthwhile for fans of the film including: interviews with Carter Stevens and Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), an interview with an FBI agent, trailers, galleries, and more. Recommended for the solid transfer, audio, and features, but the film itself leaves much to be desired, especially considered how talked about this one is in the Horror community.
Street Date: July 1st 2014
- “From the Director of You Got Served.” That’s an actual promotional line utilized in the trailer for the film, which already had me scratching my head. No Vacancy features a group of young friends on a road trip to Las Vegas, when, naturally, their brand new car breaks down on the side of the highway. The friends happen upon a roadside motel with a seemingly courteous and kind staff, and decide to stay the night and solve their car predicament in the morning. Of course, the Motel caretakers are nothing what they seemed, putting the group through several horrifying tests of sorts in what turns out to be a night full of bloodshed and terror. No Vacancy is a hybrid Horror entry; rehashing elements from countless other, better movies. Its The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Psycho meets Joy Ride. The characters are hollow, the kills predictable, and the writing is downright laughable. The DVD release from Lionsgate boasts decent picture quality for the inferior format, producing solid black levels and color timing that’s nice to look at. The audio works as well, but occasionally struggles to balance the elements across all channels evenly. Special Features include a lone trailer gallery from the distributor.
Distributor: Midnight Releasing
Street Date: July 1st 2014
- Scavenger Killers is one of worst horror films I’ve ever seen, plain and simple. It’s Bonnie and Clyde meets Natural Born Killers meets The Devil’s Rejects, and it’s as cheap as low budget Horror gets. I’m frankly surprised that some of the cast members signed on to this one. Robert Loggia? Charles Durning? Honestly guys, did you need the paycheck that bad? The worst element of Scavenger Killers is the acting, with the producers seemingly picking random folks off the Las Vegas strip to appear in their film. The gore, an odd mix of bad practical effects and cheap CGI, certainly doesn’t help. The cheap production looks pretty bad on DVD, and luckily we were spared of seeing this film in High Definition. Skip this one…at all costs.
All right creeps, that’s going to do it for this week’s Hi-Def Horror column. Stay tuned to Doctor Macabre’s Laboratory in the coming weeks for the next installment with reviews for the latest Horror Blu-Ray and DVD releases.
DVD Review- Wolf Creek 2
Distributor: Image/RLJ Entertainment
Street Date: June 24th 2014
Technical Specifications: 480P, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio
Runtime: 106 Minutes
Releasing in 2005, the first Wolf Creek film was very loosely based on the horrific “backpacker murders” that took place in New South Wales, Australia in the 1990’s. Ivan Milat, the killer in which “Mick Taylor” is based on, is currently serving seven consecutive life sentences for each of his victims. The first film kept my interest with its slow-build terror and eventual nightmarish realism. It was a hard piece of horror cinema to stomach, drenched in hopelessness and despair, but incredibly well filmed and realized on screen. Though some equated it at the time to the mindless “torture gore” genre, I felt it was elevated by a genuinely creepy style and solid performances from a newcomer cast.
In Wolf Creek 2, Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) kicks off the mayhem almost immediately, this time killing a pair of jerk policeman in his usual brutal style (paired with some eye-rolling one-liners). Our main story begins with a German couple backpacking through rural Australia in hopes of reaching the infamous Wolf Creek crater. After reaching their destination and setting up camp for the night, Mick Taylor tracks the happy couple down, with the female seeking help from British tourist Paul (Ryan Corr). After some standard brutal dispatching courtesy of Mick, Paul is on the run from the crazed Aussie in very unfamiliar territory: the outback.
While I did appreciate the prolonged slow-build first act, as well as the Psycho-style protagonist switch, Wolf Creek 2 is a disappointment, and if we’re being honest here, a fairly run-of-the-mill slasher sequel. John Jarratt’s Mick Taylor has become the zinger-slinging Freddy Krueger of this franchise, and this story runs out of steam far too soon. The gore is downright unbearable at moments, and the creepy style of the first film is absent, replaced by chord shriek “jump scares” and somewhat laughable practical effects. This is a series that has clearly run its course.
The DVD presentation from Image/RLJ Entertainment is respectable for the format, though it’s not High Definition, the golden-hued color timing looks accurate, and there are no obvious anomalies to the presentation itself.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track included here, while not HD audio, is quite impressive. The subtle musical score (along with the not-so-subtle peaks) are presented in dynamic fashion, and dialogue always comes through clean and clear.
Image and RLJ Entertainment have provided fans of Wolf Creek 2 with a couple of bonus features for this DVD release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Butcher’s Cut: Deleted Scenes- I was surprised to find nearly 24 minutes of deleted scenes included here from the filmmakers. From a group of backpackers relaxing in a hostel to a downright disgusting moment where Mick dismembers a corpse, there’s a lot of random creepiness included here.
- Creating a Monster: The Making of Wolf Creek 2– This nearly feature-length documentary runs over 52 minutes and covers all bases: sequel conception, preproduction, storyboarding, filming, etc. The length is impressive, but I found this entire endeavor to be rather tedious. John Jarratt does provide some interesting thoughts on his character (as a father and family man, the role was tough to tackle), and the practical effects design discussion was entertaining.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, Image/RLJ’s DVD release features a nice slipcover with a matte finish and embossed lettering on the title. On the reverse you’ll find a list of special features, a plot synopsis, and technical specifications. Inside you’ll find the DVD edition for the film. Image and RLJ’s PR department was kind enough to send along a pack of Wolf Creek 2 postcards as well (pictured below).
Though I appreciated the first film, Wolf Creek 2 is a repetitive, run-of-the-mill slasher sequel, with John Jarratt’s Mick Taylor becoming the zinger-slinging Freddy Krueger of the franchise. The first film featured a slow-build story that was genuinely terrifying, but this sequel suffers from a repetitive plot and uninteresting characters, among other issues. The good news is that this DVD release from Image/RLJ Entertainment features decent video and audio for the format, and some truly impressive features for fans. While the disc is fine, this sequel left me scratching my head. Some films are better left as stand-alone experiences.