Hi-Def Horror: July 13th 2014
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.