Toronto-based writer Mike Pereira went hog wild this past weekend diving into not 1, not 2, but 8(!) new Blu-ray titles.
By readin on you’ll find his thoughts on everything from Andrea Bianchi’s 1975 Strip Nude For Your Killer to the new doc Corman’s World, Camel Spiders, Monster Brawl, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Skin I Live In (pictured above), Dead Silence and even the new Battle Royale box set.
If anything, I highly recommend checking out the twisted The Skin I Live In, while also diving into Saw creator James Wan’s Dead Silence once again (it ages pretty well). STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER: There is no denying 1975 giallo, Strip Nude For Your Killer has an eye-catching title. It was enough to make me to sit down and waste 98 minutes of my life on such boring trash. Don’t get me wrong, I love giallos as much as the next. Deep Red, Don’t Torture a Duckling and the criminally underseen, The House With Laughing Windows are a few among my favourites of the genre. Strip Nude For Your Killer reeks of amateur hour. Sure, it’s loaded with nudity which may spark a reaction at first glance. Unfortunately, the dead-on-arrival pacing, terrible filmmaking and acting soon put me to sleep. Ogle over the poster art…it’s far more compelling than anything in this poor excuse of a giallo.
Strip Nude For Your Killer contains the weakest video presentation I’ve ever encountered on a Blue Underground release. It’s an issue most likely attributed to the actual source material which contains a very soft, at times unfocused appearance for the majority of the running time. Per usual, Blue Underground has gone above and beyond to present the cleanest print possible. The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix is serviceable. The only major supplement is a perfectly decent interview with actress Solvi Stubing and co-writer Massimo Felisatti. Blue Underground showed this film far more love than it deserves.
CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL: Producer extraordinaire Roger Corman may be the only filmmaker I was exposed to through the many brilliant artists (Joe Dante and James Cameron, to name a couple) that was brought into showbiz via his nickel and dime school of filmmaking. He was a great filmmaker in his own right with classics such as X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes and The House Of Usher (one of several classic Poe adaptations he made along the way). A long overdue documentary on this undeniable legend is finally upon us…and it’s better than I could have ever hoped for. Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel starts off in the present where the 80-plus producer is still at it, on set of his then latest production, Dinoshark. It then takes us through his entire career, told not only through Corman but his infinite amount of collaborators and admirers such as Jack Nicholson, Ron Howard, Eli Roth and the late David Carradine. Thankfully this isn’t just a talking heads doc. We get a wide assortment of footage from his films along with some truly hysterical trailers. One of my favourite moments has got to be when Corman from years back gives a potent comment on the state of out-of-control budgets in Hollywood. I can’t even fathom what he thinks about the ludicrously expensive present day blockbusters. This film shows how ahead of the time he really was. Corman’s World entertains, educates, inspires and by its conclusion, moves the viewer. This is one of the best documentaries on film I’ve seen in some time. An absolute must-see!
The MPEG-4 AVC transfer of this documentary is better than I expected. During the interviews, the visuals have consistently pleasing vibrant colours and solid detail. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is efficient. As for special features, you get 13 minutes of extended interviews and 15 minutes of personal thank you’s to Corman by an assortment of interviewees.
CAMEL SPIDERS: Camel Spiders is exactly what you’d expect from a low-budget big bug flick executive produced by Roger Corman. It contains wretched acting, filmmaking and achingly lame CGI effects (repetitive, uneventful kills aplenty). It lacks the so bad, it’s good quality that The Asylum productions frequently excel at. Despite clocking in at only 84 minutes, I found it a major chore to sit through. Avoid this like the plague.
Camel Spiders was shot on the Red One Camera and it’s been flawless transferred. Colours and detail are pretty strong. That being said, the sharpness of the transfer only brings out the embarrassing CGI work even more. Ironically enough, the piss-poor backdrops during all of the driving sequences earn the film its only laughs. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix especially the bass channel is pretty underwhelming. No features are included which cut my time with this disc mercifully short.
MONSTER BRAWL (CANADIAN RELEASE): Monster Brawl is the type of film that’ll surely polarize people. This impressively-made low budgeter crashes together classic monsters with pro wrestling. The film is structured exactly like a pay-per-view event so there isn’t much resembling conventional plot. You get amusing play-by-play by The Kids In The Hall, David Foley and Black Christmas‘ Art Hindle and hysterical Mortal Kombat-style narration by the one and only Lance Henriksen. The Gore Brothers have successfully created monsters that stay true the roots but at the same time, give it their own spin. I also dug the setting which resembled the soundstage appearance right out of the Universal horror classics. That’s pretty much it. If that sounds remotely appealing to you, I can’t see why you won’t get a kick out of Monster Brawl. It’s as unpretentious as movies get. While the one-note premise begins to wear thin during the third act, there is more than enough inside gags to put a smile on 80’s wrestling fans. This is the type of movie that works best while watching with a group of likeminded individuals. That’s how I experienced Monster Brawland we had a cheesy good time.
Monster Brawl is presented in 1080p on a 2.35.1 widescreen ratio. Anchor Bay’s true-to-source transfer is top notch, containing strong colours, stable black levels and great detail. My only gripe with this Canadian release is that it doesn’t have a lossless audio. This disc comes in Dolby Digital 5.1, Prologic2 Surround and 2.0 Stereo. I found the 5.1 mix to be a bit of a mess. Sound channel separation seems all over the place. The mixing issues would only be accentuated by a lossless track so maybe its absence is a blessing in disguise. The audio commentary with Writer/Director Jesse Thomas Cool and Producers Matt Wiele and John Geddes is a fascinating look at the trials and tribulations of low budget filmmaking. These guys come across as extremely passionate and humble. The Behind-The-Scenes Featurette only made me appreciate the incredible work that was put into this little film all the more. The only unessential feature is Tales from the Hart: Jimmy Hart Outtakes. If you find Hart obnoxious, you’ll want to steer clear of this one.
BATTLE ROYALE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION: It’s amazing to think this 4-disc box set is the first time Battle Royale is being released domestically on home video. To those that haven’t been counting; it’s been a stunning 12-year wait. I guess we can thank the The Hunger Games comparisons for its timely debut. To the uninitiated, Battle Royale revolves around a government law named the Millennium Educational Reform Act aka BR Act in which a ninth grade class is randomly selected to kill one another in an island until the last person standing. In his swan song (he only directed a scene in the sequel before his untimely death), Director Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale is one of the most powerful cinematic endeavours to ever explode onto the big screen. The film’s most amazing feat has got to be how Fukasaku masterfully manages the use of operatic melodrama and extreme violence so effectively. In lesser hands, the final result could have an overbearing, laughable disaster. Emotions and visceral thrills run high from start to finish. I think what makes Battle Royale still effective after all these years are the universal themes and characters. The communicative divide that lies between adults and teenagers will sadly always be around. Fukasaku successfully coaxes honest and moving performances from his young cast. The ensemble is large but there is never a confusion of who’s who. Regardless of the screen-time, each character is fleshed out. Just about everyone will find a character they can relate to. As for the two versions in existence, I still slightly favour the Director’s Cut (which actually is the Special Edition). While the Theatrical Cut flows better, the characters are more drawn out in the DC. The question in the final scene reinforces the central theme and poses a provocative question to the viewer. Also, I feel the CGI blood and sound effect enhancements add more impact to the violence.
Kinji’s son, Kenta Fukasaku took over the directing reins for Battle Royale II: Requiem. Unfortunately it’s the epitome of disappointing sequels. While I like the rule changes all-around (everyone is split into pairs. If one goes, so does the other) and the filmmakers’ ambition to take the themes and story further, the execution fall miserably flat not to mention pretentious. The sloppy Saving Private Ryan-inspired action set-pieces are repetitive and tedious to sit through. The melodrama that made the original so impactful to audiences is extremely heavy-handed here. Also, I couldn’t differentiate one thinly written character from the other. As a completest, it’s unfortunate that the 21-minute longer Revenge (Director’s Cut) edition wasn’t included in this set. I’ve never seen it myself but I’ve heard many who feel it’s a massive improvement. Personally, I can’t see how making an already overlong film longer would improve things by much.
The Director’s Cut/Theatrical Cut of Battle Royale contain identical MPEG-4 AVC transfers. The picture quality might underwhelm folks who’ve never experienced the film before but fans will notice a satisfying enough boost. Colour and detail are a bit more pronounced than before. Battle Royale II‘s video packs a bit more punch overall. These films were never visual tour-de-forces so to expect anything more is foolish. Thankfully, Anchor Bay made sure to clean up these prints as best as possible. This is the best these films have ever looked.
On the other hand, the sound department fairs infinitely better. Out of the two versions of Battle Royale, The Director’s Cut contains the stronger Dolby TrueHD soundtrack mainly because of the beefed up additional sound effects. The DC’s Japanese track (to no one’s surprise, the English dub is bloody awful) is presented in an intense 7.1 mix that surprisingly more than holds up to today’s standards. The bass channel will kick your ass. The Theatrical Cut’s Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is no slouch either. Aside from the new SFX, it’s just as good. Battle Royale II‘s Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 contains one aggressive and very active soundscape (an English dub might have added a camp element) that rivals the DC.
As for special features, a fourth DVD disc is included which recycles all of the extras from the international Special Edition DVD. There is absolutely nothing covering the second instalment. The only worthwhile feature is the 50-minute The Making of Battle Royale. Overall, I’m disappointed since I was hoping for at the very least, a retrospective documentary. The attractive packaging is similar in design to the one found in the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection. Thankfully, the discs are much easier to take out than that set. This affordable box set is an absolute no-brainer purchase. Battle Royale is still without equal.
BR – 4.5/5 Skulls
BR II – 1.5/5 Skulls
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011): In my opinion, David Fincher is the best modern American filmmaker. His meticulous attention to detail and first-rate craftsmanship is unmatched. I was never worried about his adaptation of the beloved novel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. While I really enjoyed the Swedish film, the subtle changes Fincher injects into his version makes for a more riveting and involving thriller. This remake manages to feel even darker and edgier than its predecessor. Also worth noting is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ foreboding soundtrack. It’s not as instant as their work in The Social Network but grows more rewarding with each viewing. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo‘s greatest challenge lies solely upon Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander, the most unique character to emerge out of modern fiction. She had the daunting task of living up to Noomi Rapace’s iconic performance. Mara more than lives up to the task. Her Salander adheres closer to Stieg Larsson’s creation in appearance. She appears less assuming, more comfortable living unnoticed which makes her character arc all the more compelling to watch unravel. I felt Salander’s developing relationship with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played effectively by Daniel Craig) comes across richer and more complex than that of the Swedish version. It only helps the film’s final moments to be that much more heartbreaking. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is one of the finest films to emerge in 2011.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo lives up to the high standard one comes to expect from a David Fincher Blu-ray. The MPEG-4 AVC video transferred directly from the HD source is simply gorgeous. Fincher’s trademark low contrast look has been preserved to perfection. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is equally spectacular. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ haunting score has never sounded more effective. The subtle nuances of the film’s sound design are brought even further into the forefront. In particular, the explosive-sounding club sequence is the absolute perfect way to showcase the benefits of lossless audio.
Considering it’s only been three months since the theatrical release, I’m positively blown away by how deep in special features this set is. If David Fincher’s thoughtful and informative commentary track isn’t enough to warrant the purchase than be prepared to put aside nearly four hours of your life into immersing yourself into the jam-packed second Blu-ray disc. It contains a fantastic collection of interviews, rehearsals, screen tests, photo galleries and behind the scenes footage to name a few goodies. It’s similar in format to the ones found on The Social Network Blu-ray. I especially appreciated the inclusion of an HD version of the Red Band teaser trailer (one of my all-time favs) as well as a breakdown of the awe-inspiring opening credit sequence (commentary included). My only beef with the supplements is the curious absence of both Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. None of the featurettes touch upon the music at all. It’s baffling as it is disappointing. To end on a high note, I loved the Panic Room: Special Edition-like packaging. The DVD included in the set is given the appearance of a DVD-R copy which is really cool.
THE SKIN I LIVE IN: I find it’s always interesting to see an artist step out of his element to make a piece that is novel to them. At the very least, you get a fresh, unexpected take on convention. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake are two that instantly spring to mind. Spain’s most highly regarded filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar first foray into horror, The Skin I Live In blends his own brand of melodrama with genre elements. The result is something new to both fanbases. The film deals with an obsessive plastic surgeon and a mysterious woman he holds captive in his home. It’s hard to write about The Skin I Live and not delve into its many unpredictable turns. It’s all about the journey so the less you know about the film the better. I say go into it blindly. On the surface, it sounds reminiscent of the French 1960 masterpiece, Eyes Without A Face but after being astonished by every deviously twisted and disturbing direction, there is no denying you’re in the distinct universe of the one and only Pedro Almodóvar. Horror aficionados will likely never see anything quite like it again.
Sony delivers yet another reference quality Blu-ray. The MPEG-4 AVC is flat-out gorgeous, brimming with absolutely stunning colours (an Almodóvar trademark). While The Skin I Live In‘s sound design won’t qualify as a demo-worthy presentation, the DTS-HD 5.1 brings out some nice subtleties that you just won’t get out of a lossy DVD mix. The centerpiece of the supplement section is the 75-minute long, An Evening with Pedro Almodóvar (Blu-ray exclusive) which contains an intimate and interactive chat with the legendary filmmaker that covers just about everything you’d ever want to know about the man and his films.
DEAD SILENCE: It’s been quite some time since I last sat through James Wan’s Dead Silence, his follow-up to the trend-setting, Saw. On first view, I didn’t think much of it. After going through this Blu-ray, I was pleasantly surprised that time has been good to this old-fashioned ghost story. Its antagonist, Mary Shaw and her memorable backstory is strong enough to build an entire film around. The emphasis on mood and stylization is Dead Silence‘s greatest asset. James Wan is obviously having a blast creating one gorgeous visual and ingenious transition after another. He is in pure Mario Bava and Dario Argento mode, two filmmakers known for emphasising atmosphere over everything else. Ironically the film’s biggest asset is also its biggest setback; there’s nothing in this surreal and nightmarish world that’s identifiable. While I never found myself scared by the ordeal protagonist Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten of True Blood fame) goes through, I consistently admired Wan’s imaginative artistry. In this case, style over substance is more than enough for me.
This UK Blu-ray release contains a faithful-to-source A/V presentation that should please the film’s fanbase. This VC-1 1080p video contains a slight uptick in detail and rock-solid black levels. The gain in clarity one gets from DTS-HD sound mix helps heighten the atmosphere of Dead Silence. The special features from the initial DVD release are nowhere to be found which isn’t a bad thing considering they were pretty disposable. While it’s not advertised anywhere on the cover art, this is the unrated version which runs about 3 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. Aside from the appearance of Mary Shaw’s CGI tongue, there isn’t anything noticeably different here to change one’s perception of the film.