Wednesday, December 30, 2015

THE VISIT (Blu-ray Review) - Universal

Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan
Color/94 Minutes/PG-13
Region A
Release Date: January 5, 2016

The Film
Family drama and issues is something everyone can relate to. Every family goes through fights and has differences that lead to big blow ups. Sometimes those spats burn bridges and the family splits and it takes children to bring the family back together. Such is the story of THE VISIT in which a couple of adolescents meet their grandparents for the first time after a long rift between formed with their mother. A week long visit to the country home is going to let the kids meet their family, learn of their lineage and maybe bring the family back together. The visit to their pap pap and nana doesn't go exactly as they hoped when they find them to be quite the odd, eccentric and downright scary duo.

I wasn't sure what to expect out of THE VISIT from the marketing campaign for the film's theatrical run but I got vibe similar to Hansel and Gretel and the house made of candy. That was enough to at least get me a little bit interested. Now that I've seen it I still see small bits and pieces that hearken back to the old fairy tale but THE VISIT has a strange tone of its own, one that isn't quite sure what it wants to be. Part horror film, part comedy, and it comes together as a bit of a thriller, I'll call it a horror film. It's very tame in terms of any graphic imagery with only one real moment showing anything nasty but it has some moments I found incredibly unsettling and uncomfortable all dealing with creepy old folks. If that sort of thing can make you squirm in your seat and that is weird old people being creepy as hell, then THE VISIT is worth a visit.

Unfortunately there's a couple of gaping plot holes that don't let this film exist in any sort of real world. The first and most important deals with the signature M. Night Shyamalan twist (you knew there had to be one) so be warned *SPOILER ALERT* It's incredibly unrealistic that the grandparents would look up the family on the internet and contact them to set up this trip and the children's mother wouldn't have ever shown them a picture of their grandparents so the kids wouldn't have known that the people they're staying with are not their real grandparents. Certainly she would have sat down and shown them the people they'd be getting picked up from their train ride by and who they'd stay a week with. *END SPOILER*

The other plot hole deals with the fact that despite this house has no cell phone reception and is essentially in a dark zone for that sort of thing the kids have perfect Skype capability to chat with their mom. There's not a single instance of pixelation or buffering or anything of the sort. I was able to look passed this one and it didn't bother me too much, certainly not as first as the first spoiler plot hole I mention above but it needed to be mentioned.

Acting is good from the young ones to the elders with their endlessly strange mannerisms. Shyamalan's direction is good which has rarely been a problem with the divisive filmmaker. He creates a nice looking film inside of an amateur documentary form. He uses enough different locations in and around the farm house that the short time spent in town is enough of a change of scenery and it never feels stale. As is usually the case with the shortcomings of a M. Night Shyamalan film, it lies in the script. Aside from the aforementioned plot holes there's some really weak and down right embarrassing attempts at pop culture relevancy. I can almost imagine Shyamalan reading the final draft of the script and saying to himself "I'm hip, I'm with it".

THE VISIT is like surviving swimming lessons without actually learning to swim. Yeah, you survived but it wasn't a true success. It was a decent time. And that's how I sum up THE VISIT - it's decent.

The Audio & Video
Universal Home Video delivers a stunning Blu-ray presentation as you'd expect from a new major motion picture. Detail level is high from wood grains to surface textures while colors are natural and lifelike. Whites are crisp without burning too hot and black levels are deep and inky. The English DTS-HD master audio is mixed perfectly and crystal clear. There's no signs of damage or background noise. The dialogue and secondary sounds are complimentary and never have to fight for the audience's attention.

The Extras
-Alternate Ending
-Deleted Scenes
-The Making Of THE VISIT
-Becca's Photos

The Bottom Line
There's a definite market for THE VISIT and it found it during it's theatrical run as it was a big commercial success. The film itself isn't as big of a success but I didn't hate it. It was enjoyable enough for an evening of sitting on your ass with watching old people be weird. 

THE VISIT is available HERE  and enter our giveaway for a copy of the Blu-ray HERE

(CLOSED) THE VISIT Blu-ray Giveaway

Universal is providing one (1) Blu-ray of THE VISIT for giveaway in conjunction with Celluloid Terror! There are only a couple rules and entering to win couldn't be easier so please keep reading!

Available on Digital HD January 5th and BD & DVD January 5th! 

The Rules
1. US residents only
2. That's it!

How To Enter

One winner will be picked at random on January 5th 2016 (street date for the Blu-ray!) and I'll contact them at that time to notify them. Prizes ship directly from Universal.

Monday, December 28, 2015

BONE TOMAHAWK (DVD Review) - Image/RLJ Entertainment

Directed By: S. Craig Zahler
Written By: S. Craig Zahler
Starring: Jurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox
Color/132 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: December 29, 2015

The Film
You'll be able to see Kurt Russell in a couple of westerns this winter and they're both worth seeing for their own respective reasons. While a smaller production without all of the name power behind it (though still featuring some familiar faces) BONE TOMAHAWK shouldn't be overlooked, especially by horror fans as this is as much a horror film as it is a western.

A group of desert savages capture several citizens of the town of Bright Hope so it is up to Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) and several other townsfolk to track down the savages and rescue the the victims but they quickly find that the savages are more ruthless and merciless than they could have ever imagined.

Clocking in at over two hours I was afraid that BONE TOMAHAWK would drag but pacing isn't a problem as the movie breezes by with plenty of action to enjoy. The characters are standard but likeable and well played by the entire cast including David Arquette and Sid Haig in smaller supporting roles who play well off of each other.

BONE TOMAHAWK really makes it's name on the violence however and there's plenty of it including some incredibly nasty and gory moments that to put simply, surprised the hell out of me seeing something like that in 2015, at least without any hint of irony or humor involved. It's straight forward and shocking. There's an exploitation film element on display that was not only unexpected but welcomed. Perhaps not pushing that angle as far as they could have but there's definitely an old west Hills Have Eyes vibe.

If BONE TOMAHAWK has a downfall it is that it is too by-the-numbers and one note to truly be noticed as much as it deserves to be. The movie is far from bad and is highly enjoyable as both a western and an exploitative horror film and it just misses being a modern must-see.

The Audio & Video
This DVD looks quite good with the 2.40:1 widescreen transfer. The dry, sun drenched setting allows the blood reds to pop a bit and the image is crystal clear. The English 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is excellent and free of any damage or background noise. I can only imagine that the Blu-ray edition is that much better.

The Extras
-Deleted Scenes
-Fantastic Fest Q&A with the Director and Cast
-Image Gallery

The Bottom Line
I'm all for a revival of the gritty western film and perhaps December 2015 will be known as a landmark month in that revival with BONE TOMAHAWK being a big part of that and there's plenty of reason for you to find out why.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

QUEEN CRAB (DVD Review) - Wild Eye Releasing

Directed By: Brett Piper
Written By: Brett Piper
Starring: Michelle Simone Miller, Danielle Donahue, Rich Lounello
Color/90 Minutes/Not RAted
Region FREE
Release Date: September 29, 2015

The Film
"looks like a bulldozer went through it"
"some kind of cult"
"yeah, one of those bulldozer cults you keep hearing about"

You may know what you're in for with a dialogue exchange such as that. QUEEN CRAB is the story of a sleepy country town that is being plagued by a giant crab that was awakened when a meteor crashed into a local lake. The town must find a way to stop this mammoth creature before she tears apart the entire town and her eggs hatch.

A throwback to giant creature feature films of the 1950s, QUEEN CRAB is a schlocky B-movie through and through. The acting is either stilted or totally overblown and I doubt the writing had more than a single draft. Director Brett Piper has worked exclusively in low budget content such as this so he is no stranger to fare such as this but is still far from a skilled filmmaker. The entire thing is rough around the edges (to be kind) and to be realistic I should just rip the thing apart from every angle.

But I won't. QUEEN CRAB ends up being a mildly entertaining movie to toss on during a night of beers and just laugh along with how inept it is. I love that they chose to use stop motion animation for the giant crab but it's not particularly well done. A for effort though.

I caught QUEEN CRAB when I was in the right mindset - I was in a good mood, having fun drinking and had already had plenty enough to drink. Some movies need some sort of substance to make them fun and QUEEN CRAB is one of them. So kick back, toss back a shot and crack a beer and enjoy the giant crustacean madness!

The Audio & Video
Wild Eye Releasing delivers QUEEN CRAB on DVD with a transfer that is as good as it's going to get. Filmed on low quality digital equipment QUEEN CRAB doesn't look impressive but it gets the job done. Colors and detail are decent but compression is a bit rough at times with artifacts throughout. Thus is the nature of low budget filmmaking. The stereo audio mix is fine, with no damage to mention and a solid mix between the two channels.

The Extras
-Audio Commentary With Director Brett Piper and Producer Mark Polonia
-Behind The Scenes: Queen Crab Consequences
-Behind The Scenes: Queen Crab Conversations
-Behind The Scenes: Composing The Queen

The Bottom Line
Yes, it is incredibly low budget and no it technically isn't very good but there's a bit of a charm to the whole thing with its stop motion and shitty effects. There's got to be a drinking game or 3 that can be made out of this one.

QUEEN CRAB is available HERE

Friday, December 4, 2015

KRAMPUS (2015)

Directed By: Michael Dougherty
Written By: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Starring: Adam Scott, Emjay Anthony, Toni Collette

Max is young but old enough to notice the magic of Christmas slipping away a little more each year. His German grandmother makes sure he still writes his letter to Santa to keep the spirit of the holiday with him but when relatives come over and get into a fight with Max making fun of his letter Max tears up his letter and throws it out his bedroom window into a strong winter wind. That night a sudden blizzard hits the town knocking out power and snowing the family in. They'll soon find out that the weather is the least of their worries.

Holiday based horror movies are nothing new. They continue to be a favorite amongst fans and provide a familiar and usually eye catching setting. Christmas horror films are no different and there have been plenty over the years that run the gamut from cute and lighthearted horror fun to down right mean and despicable that caused public outcry. KRAMPUS will fit in nicely with the more highly regarded Christmas horror movies.

Director Michael Dougherty is no stranger to holiday horror, having made one of the finest films based on or around Halloween, horror or not. It was exciting news to fans that he planned on tackling the Christmas season with the old world legend of Krampus who is quite the opposite of jolly old Saint Nicholas. Krampus is a horned figure, resembling that of a goat man from hell. He uses his chains to capture children and put them in his own toy sack to punish them. This isn't the fairy tale you tell the kids on Christmas Eve.

My expectations were high and given the film's PG-13 rating perhaps a bit higher than they should have been. I'm a big time believer that PG-13 horror can (and has) worked perfectly in the past but when dealing with a more restrictive rating it is easy to fall into traps and cliches to try and get the scare factor across. Michael Dougherty showed me that he will not be a victim of such shortcomings in his movies. The scares in KRAMPUS are real. The atmosphere alone is enough to make the audience want to crawl up in a ball with a warm blankey and call for mommy. It's increasingly claustrophobic as the weather has no intention of letting up and Krampus uses his various minions to attack the family barricaded inside the house and try not to be picked off one by one. Their only hope is to brave the weather and try to make it to a snow plow a couple blocks away, a rather unsavory option all things considered.

KRAMPUS allows the audience to have fun with a bounty of laughs throughout. This humor isn't forced, it is organic for each character and given to us almost as a well timed gift from Dougherty to allow us to still laugh and have fun with the film without breaking a single ounce of tension. While KRAMPUS is absolutely a horror comedy it is first and foremost a horror film.

The writing is brilliant without being overbearing. The KISS principle is on display here. Simple but realistic characters that everybody can relate to keeps KRAMPUS grounded in the real world. Every character has their role to fill and there's a good bit of development going on with a few of our main characters. The cast is excellent from Emjay Anthony as Max to Adam Scott as Max's father Tom and David Koechner as Max's uncle, the polar opposite of Tom. And I can't write this review without mentioning Conchata Ferrell, the loud mouth Aunt that nobody invited. She carries the comedy weight on her back and is brilliant.

The thing that may have stood out most to me while watching KRAMPUS is that I felt like I was watching something made in the 1980s. I don't mean it felt like they were trying to capture the feeling of a movies from the 1980s. It had a genuine energy and vibe that only films of the 80s had. While being a seriously scary horror film it was also lighthearted enough to allow the audience to laugh and smile once in a while. KRAMPUS doesn't feel out of place next to a movie like Gremlins though it ramps up the horror quite a bit.

There was a single moment at the end of the movie that I feared was going to blow the entire thing. I thought to myself "oh no, here's the moment I was afraid of... here's the cop out" as my enjoyment faded from my face into a grimace. Then KRAMPUS proved itself right. It was the movie I hoped it would be and the movie I expected from Michael Dougherty. The grimace quickly turned to an ear to ear smile. The ending was handled perfectly.

There's something intangible about KRAMPUS that makes it special and only time will tell if fans hold it in high regard for years to come but I can tell you that it deserves a place among the favorite Christmas horror films of all time and in the hearts of horror fans.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT (DVD Review) - Wild Eye Releasing

Directed By: Benjamin Roberds
Written By: Benjamin Roberds
Starring: David Chandler, Max Moody, Eva Boehnke
Color and Black & White/76 Minutes/Not Rated
Region FREE
Release Date: September 29, 2015

The Film
After a zombie apocalypse that lasted a mere 12 hours before zombies stopped attacking and humans stopped shooting the world is now forced to live among the walking dead as they're protected beings kept in enclosed areas as a sort of walking cemetery. Life is decidedly different with the dead living among us even when they aren't trying to eat our brains... until they decide to eat our brains again.

A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT is an interesting take on the zombie genre in an overly politically correct age where everything offends somebody and everybody thinks their opinion matters. It isn't too hard to believe there would be a group rallying for zombie rights in the event of an actual zombie apocalypse. As the dead walk freely among the streets and in gated "living graveyards" some people can't beyond the loss of their loved ones and others can't stand having to deal with this protected species.

A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT has an interesting idea of a man who shoots down the corpse of his sister's ex-lover after she shoots down his best friend's attempts to woo her. This shooting once again sets off the zombies lust for blood and the film quickly becomes an attempt to survive. The film's tone shifts drastically once the zombies begin to attack, going from a thoughtful movie with a fresh take on an idea that has been explored before with characters we could have grown to care about. The movie even shifts from black and white to color at that moment which isn't only unnecessary it also exposes a lot of the film's shortcomings due to its miniscule budget which makes it feel like any other direct to DVD zombie movie of the past decade.

A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT could have been wildly successful as a short film. The entire second half of the film is running away from zombies and that's it. It becomes painfully redundant and boring and filled with inconsistencies and holes in logic but take the idea the film originally presents and sadly jumps away from to add the horror element that sells DVDs would have been an interesting character piece about the relationships of the living with the living and the living with the dead.

The Audio & Video
Wild Eye Releasing gives A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT a home on DVD with an anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks just okay. The movie has very modest production values so it is no surprise the movie doesn't look great on disc but it doesn't look awful. It's a totally watchable transfer that looks better when the movie switches to color from black and white which suffers from some artifacting. Colors are decent and black levels are fairly deep. The stereo audio is a solid effort with a clean track free from any distortions and a passable mix. Dialogue gets a bit muddled at times but not to the point where you can't understand the characters. I can't fault Wild Eye for not delivering a better A/V presentation, the movie is only going to look and sound as good as it is going to look and sound and I think this is pretty much it.

The Extras
A pair of trailers are included for the film.

The Bottom Line
A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT seems like the filmmakers were scared to make the movie they wanted to make in its entirety and instead felt the need to tack on half an hour of crappy zombie chase scenes that add absolutely nothing to the movie and only detract from an interesting original idea.