Archive for January, 2012

Tucker & Dale VS. Evil

2010, US/Canada, Directed by Eli Craig

Colour, Running Time: 85 minutes

Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Sony; Image: 1080i 50fps 2.39:1, Audio: DTS HD MA

(Visit me over at the new Grim Cellar)

Starting off in what appears to be familiar territory, a bunch of ‘college kids’ (a couple of them incredibly pleasurable to look at) head off into backwoods America for the usual weekend of copulation, ostentatiousness, exposing of flesh, etc. They stop off for supplies at an isolated store where they come into contact with the local hillbillies - cue menacing gestures, threatening looks, and everything else they (and we) have seen in modern horror movies. But, the two ‘hillbillies’ who are staying in the same vicinity as the teens to fix up a dilapidated cabin are actually a couple of really nice guys, it transpiring quickly that everything they do, from rescuing one of the drowning college girls right through to simply existing, is misinterpreted by the prejudgemental kids as the actions of violent backwoods throwback murderers. The kids try to re-acquire their friend and get revenge on the two guys - their mishaps causing death after death amongst themselves.

Tucker & Dale VS. Evil takes many modern horror conventions and deliberately turns them on their heads, creating in its wake some hilarious situations that gave me the biggest laughs I’ve had from a film for months. It’s written in a fashion that suggests good understanding of both horror and comedy genres. The stupid, prejudiced kids inadvertently knock themselves off one by one in increasingly gory ways as they try to kill the hillbillies, who are actually a pair of really decent people who simply don’t fit into the snobbish cultures that most of us have found ourselves a part of. Obviously movies this funny can rarely sustain themselves for ninety minutes and that’s the case here, where the last half hour doesn’t work as well, but in the run up to it you get a superb and perceptively funny gorefest that is worth the price of purchase. There’s even a serious message in there that most of us could take heed of, in that the actions of others can easily be assumed to be unsavoury in nature when we don’t know the full facts for ourselves. This is slightly subverted by the very nature of the revelations towards the end but its relevance is present nonetheless. Not a million miles from the lofty ranks of Evil Dead II, Return of the Living Dead, and Braindead (Dead Alive to the Americans), it’s not too often we get a horror comedy this successful nowadays (more surprising as it’s Eli Craig’s feature length directorial debut) so buy it and have a fantastic time.

The Blu-ray comes with a clean and natural looking image sourced directly or indirectly from digitally shot material. It doesn’t start off well with an ugly aerial shot of the West Virginia backwoods but quickly proves to be an attractive transfer beyond that - considering this was shot digitally, its appearance is very film-like. The audio track is strong and enveloping. UK disc extras are sparse in the form of a featurette plus a few trailers and stills - disappointing in light of the fact that Magnolia released the film in the US with an audio commentary from the director and two of the main actors, plus more featurettes. Clearly Sony have little respect for UK fans. Not really acceptable, but the fact that the film is brilliant, as well as looking and sounding excellent, makes this a good pick-up that should have been better - it’s about half the price of the import for UK fans so it depends what’s important to you: price or extras.

Posted on 11th January 2012
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Phenomena

 1985, Italy, Directed by Dario Argento

Colour, Running Time: 115 minutes

Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Arrow; Image: 1080p 24fps 1.66:1, Audio: LPCM Stereo

(Review also over at the new Grim Cellar) Taking a side step away from the style of story mechanics that Argento is more accustomed to, Phenomena introduces elements of supernatural influence and fairy tales to what would otherwise have been the very conventional reiteration of a killer on the loose. Jennifer (Connelly) is a young girl moving into a boarding school in the vicinity of a recent horrific killing. She is the sensitive type, communicating psychically as she does with insects, sleep walking whilst vividly dreaming, and generally being at odds with the schoolmates who eventually ostracise her for her differences. Her friendship with the town’s resident entomologist (a Scottish Donald Pleasance…) leads Jennifer to use her connection with insects to get closer to the facts of the killing, thereby hopefully discovering who the killer is.

The film has a generally slow pace to it and killings, if you’re expecting this after viewing some of Argento’s other work, are infrequent but still violent and extravagantly staged. The details of the plot lack plausibility but I guess you wouldn’t expect too much else from the writers (i.e. Argento and Franco Ferrini) if you have already seen Demons, Opera, etc. The whole story is told carefully with various characters having relevance that leads indirectly to who the killer actually is. It is also peppered with foreshadowing specifics that hold weight further down the line (for example, the entomologist demonstrating to the chimp that a switchblade knife is dangerous). The finale goes a little overboard in its attempts to surprise the audience in my opinion but the journey arriving at that point is a satisfactory one. In particular for me are the sequences located in the mountainside - tangibly atmospheric and having a tendency to tingle the flesh. The opening seven minutes - in which a girl misses the bus and, not really knowing what to do, goes wandering off along the windy fields to her demise - is one of my favourite Argento sequences. Special mention must go to the soundtrack here (in part composed by Goblin), frequently embellishing the footage with a strong emotional core, although I don’t think the use of Iron Maiden’s Flash of the Blade is necessarily the best option here, despite being a fan of Maiden’s 80s material myself. Dario was caught up in the idea of utilising metal tracks with some of his 80s films, seemingly as a means to simply make them more culturally relevant rather than because it was best for the movie (Demons excluded). Having said that, Motörhead’s Locomotive (from the No Remorse album that followed the near breakdown of the band) truly kicks ass in any context. Phenomena feels a little different when considered alongside Argento’s other movies, but analysis and repeat viewings are kind to your opinion of this film - it’s a good experience, especially when one thinks about the disappointing output of the director from the late 90s onwards.

General opinion of the film was not helped by the fact that it was butchered at the hands of its distribution company for the original theatrical and video runs - half an hour (!) was removed before it was released at the time as Creepers (this was in turn then cut by a further 6 to 17 seconds for film/video respectively in the UK by the BBFC). The longer version has since been released a couple of times on DVD by Anchor Bay in the US, as well as by Medusa in Europe, and a substandard (but at least longer cut) Divid2000 disc appeared over here in the UK. Watching Phenomena in HD (the full version, now completely uncut) is particularly rewarding - the photography of the Swiss mountains is stunning and this is most notably apparent on Arrow’s Blu-ray. Thankfully Arrow have commandeered an exemplary transfer that looks natural, thoroughly stable, and very detailed throughout; quite beautiful to behold in fact. Where some viewers may not appreciate this is in the periodic macro shots of insects and maggots - if you’re interested in seeing the individual hairs of a fly’s mouth then it’s all here! And the cesspool that Jennifer falls into towards the end of the film has never been more repulsive than it is in this resolution - truly stomach churning. Audio is thoughtfully supplied in two tracks - English (with a few seconds of Italian/German where scenes weren’t entirely dubbed in English) and Italian, both uncompressed stereo. English subtitles are of course provided. The score sounds particularly powerful, whereas some of the dialogue varies in quality and often sound effects are clearly still living in the decade they were created - a faithful audio representation nonetheless. Also included is a 52 minute making-of documentary, a short interview with the highly talented Claudio Simonetti (co-founding member of Goblin), plus a 19 minute Q&A session with Sergio Stivaletti, who was involved with the special make-up effects on the film before embarking on a notable career that has involved him with a number of acknowledged productions over the years (note, he also recorded a brief introduction for this disc that plays before the film begins). Arrow also include a reversible disc-case sleeve granting you four front cover options, and a two-sided poster, all within a cardboard slipcase. This is a highly commendable package for a movie that’s better than it was once thought of.

Posted on 2nd January 2012
Under: Horror, Science Fiction | No Comments »

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