October officially starts today, and we’ve got a ton of Blu-ray and DVD horror releases coming our way. With a lot of them being films (or TV shows) a healthy majority of us have already seen, I decided to round-up a bunch of them in this giant article and put more focus on the disc specs rather than the films (and TV show) themselves. Check after the jump for my thoughts on The Hole (10/02/12), American Horror Story: Season One (09/25/12), The Game (09/25/12), and Pet Sematary (10/02/12) Blu-rays. Let us know what you guys think of this new home video review format too. Do you prefer full-length film and disc specs reviews for Blu-rays and DVDs? Or do you just want to know whether the disc content (audio, video, special features) makes the release worth buying?
If you enjoy kid-friendly horror films from the 80’s like Gremlins or The Gate, odds are you’ll get a kick out of The Hole, Joe Dante’s first feature-length effort since 2003. Mark L. Smith’s script makes the sibling relationship between Dane (Massoglia) and Lucas (Gamble) extremely believable, which gives the film higher stakes once “the hole” starts releasing things into the house – surprising, considering Smith also wrote Vacancy. The story has an Eerie, Indiana vibe with its inquisitive young characters, strange situations, and oblivious adults, and visually hits some of the same notes as the director’s It’s A Good Life segment of The Twilight Zone Movie. The Hole is very much made for kids – like most of Dante’s horror films – but still fun enough for everyone.
The Hole’s 1080p transfer is a mixed bag. Though there is no 3D version on the disc, it’s hard not to ignore the depth and excellent juxtaposition of foreground/background in the picture. There is a noticeable amount of space between characters, objects and the like, and an extensive amount of layering. I’ve never seen The Hole in 3D, but it must be a real treat. The transfer skews to the soft side at times, especially during the outdoor daytime scenes which look a little blown out. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is strong, with an emphasis on dialogue but the smaller creepy sounds also get great treatment. All the whispers, pitter-patting of feet, and the like are well-balanced, giving them a subtle – but immersive – presence.
The Keeper Of The Hole (03:21) – A very short featurette about Creepy Carl that is more B-roll and clips from the movie than interview footage.
Family Matters (04:29) – Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gamble, and Teri Polo chat about the dynamic of their family unit, focusing more on the conflicted relationship between the two siblings and how Haley Bennett’s Julie brings them together.
Making Of The Hole (11:39) – An extremely disappointing EPK that, like the other featurettes on the disc, amounts to nothing more than everyone putting in their two cents about the plot and talking about how much fun they had on the set.
A Peek Inside The Hole (04:47) – Easily the best special feature on the disc, A Peek Inside The Hole focuses on the look of the film, ranging from the set design to the creature effects. There’s surprisingly little talk of the 3D used in the film – when cinematographer Theo van de Sande mentions it, it seems like an afterthought – but that might be because it was edited out for the non-3D home video release. Still, the clown puppet footage is neat.
American Horror Story: Season One
If you had told me a year ago that American Horror Story, brought to us by the same guys that created Glee (I know they made Nip/Tuck, but I’ve never seen it and know next to nothing about it), would be the best season of dramatic horror on television in 2011, I probably would have laughed. But Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk created a really engaging story about a flawed family dealing with mistakes, regret, and trauma. The cast is pretty fantastic (Dylan McDermott is the exception), with Connie Britton and Jessica Lange giving one of their best performances to date, and the visual design of the show is top-notch, representing each time period and blending the rich story of the house together quite well. It has a few flaws, such as the very long-winded and ham-fisted metaphor of the Piggy Man representing the characters facing their fears/realizations and a final episode that overstays its welcome, but its focus on both the macabre and relatable, real problems makes it a ghost story worth watching. Bring on season two!
Noticeably better than the HD broadcast, the American Horror Story’s 1080p Blu-ray presentation is solid. Reds and blacks really pop, and shadow contrast is excellent, adding a lot to the mood of the show. The picture is sharp and crisp, allowing viewers to get a glimpse of smaller, minute details that make the house that much more grotesque. The only noticeable problem is that a handful of scenes are grain heavy, but it’s not a huge issue considering how infrequently they pop up. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is flawless, with great range and a good balance of score, effects, and dialogue.
Commentary – Pilot director and American Horror Story co-creator Ryan Murphy gives scene-specific thoughts on the first episode. He points out a lot of things that would have gone unnoticed by viewers, such as the Dennis the Menace getup on the mischievous twins and the mutant baby being dressed up like the Lindbergh baby, and talks about effects, character motivations, and pretty much everything else. If you really love American Horror Story, this is the best opportunity on the disc to get inside the mind of the show’s creator.
The Murder House Presented By Eternal Darkness Tours Of Hollywood (06:35) – Taking place after the Ramos family flees the house, Stan (David Anthony Higgins) gives a guided tour of the house to a group of curious tourists. He gives an overview of the show’s lore and warns his guests not to wander off by themselves – and, of course, one person doesn’t listen. It’s very cheesy and completely unnecessary, but not a bad way to waste six minutes if you want a straight-forward chronological history of the Murder House.
Behind The Fright: The Making Of American Horror Story (24:38) – Co-creator/executive producer Brad Falchuk talks about the genesis of the project and how all of these weird ideas came together to create their dramatic horror series. All of the main actors give their thoughts on the show and their characters, and some of the creative workers on the show – like set and costume designers, visual effects and make-up artists, etc. – talk about how they created the look of the show. Ryan Murphy’s absence sticks out like a sore thumb, especially since everyone spends a little bit of their time on camera talking about him.
Overture To Horror: Creating The Title Sequence (09:12) – Woodall and title designer Kyle Cooper discuss the creation of the show’s memorable title sequence. Cooper was hired to create something in the same vein as Se7en – it’s also similar in tone to his work the horribly misguided but fascinating (in that train wreck sort of way) Island Of Dr. Moreau from the mid-90’s – and assembled a montage of disturbing images that quickly flash on-screen. Composer Cesar Davila-Irizarry chimes in and talks about how he created the experimental opening tune.
Out Of The Shadows: Meet The House Ghosts (15:10) – Each of the actors who play ghosts in the show give their thoughts on their characters, and how they fit into the grand scheme of things. Even the minor characters get their time in the spotlight, which is refreshing considering how these featurettes usually go.
BONUS: Fox was nice enough to send over a Rubber Man costume with the Blu-ray. Just as suspected, it’s very… uncomfortable. If you were planning to grab one for Halloween, make sure to have a lot of baby powder on hand and an extra person to help you in and out of it – it’s a two person job. Check out the next News From The Crypt podcast where I’ll be continuing the conversation.
The Game (warning: some spoilers follow)
David Fincher’s The Game – made in between Se7en and Fight Club – is an overlooked entry in the director’s filmography that, while being one of his best films, is hurt by some really predictable twists and turns and an ending that is one of the most anticlimactic things ever filmed. Michael Douglas – in one of his best roles – plays Nicholas Van Orten, a rich investment banker who has lost sight of what it means to live life and is completely disconnected from those around him. For his forty-eighth birthday (the same age his father was when he committed suicide), his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn) sets him up with Consumer Recreation Services, a company that vaguely promises to entertain him with a game tailor-made for his personality. The film does a really good job of putting the audience in Nicholas’ shoes; like the character, you become obsessed with trying to put all the pieces together. The scenarios become more and more expected as the film progresses, but they’re expertly shot and choreographed, keeping the immersion level high. The final twist, while logical, feels like the writers tried to pull the rug out from underneath the audience and got tired halfway through. It stays in line with the point of the game, in the sense that it’s more about the journey and experience than the destination, but that doesn’t stop it from being a whisper instead of a bang. There’s also the issue of how in the hell CSR managed to orchestrate anything going on in the game on that immense of a scale but if you can play along with the film’s preposterous logic, The Game is really tense, effective thriller.
As usual, the master sorcerers over at Criterion gave The Game the best visual presentation possible; the film has never looked better, and probably never will. Approved by Fincher and Savides, the presentation has a vivid color palate, and impressive depth and clarity. There are two DTS-HD 5.1 audio tracks on the disc: theatrical and near field. Theatrical is exactly what is sounds like, and the near field mix was designed and optimized with a lower dynamic range for home viewing. Both are of extremely high quality and unless you have a theatre built in your house or a high-end sound system, you won’t notice much of a difference between them. The AQ/PQ is exactly what you expect from Criterion.
On a side note, it’s kind of disappointing that the remastered audio and transfer are the only “new” things on Criterion’s Blu-ray; all of the extras are from their 1998 laserdisc release.
Commentary – An extremely crowded commentary, originally created for Criterion’s laserdisc release, featuring director David Fincher, screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, star Michael Douglas, DP Harris Savides, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, and visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug. None of these guys are in the same room together, so it’s a piecemeal track, but they cover a lot of ground, right down to the color of the costuming. Out of all the extras on the disc, this is definitely the one most worth your time – just keep in mind that this was recorded almost fifteen years ago and isn’t retrospective in the slightest way.
Alternate Ending (01:11) – Nicholas Van Orten refuses a cab, and then walks down the street for a minute. Seriously, that’s it. You get the sense that Fincher was trying to give the impression that Van Orten was living life again by enjoying small pleasures like talking a walk, but it’s a very odd way to end such an intense film – not that the theatrical ending is exactly satisfying.
Film-To-Storyboard Comparisons (12:10) – A collection of film-to-storyboard comparisons of the four biggest set pieces in The Game. While these normally don’t interest me at all, the look at the shoot-out in Christine’s house is interesting because the sequence was mapped out via photographs first, with location scout Richard Schuler standing in for Douglas, so there’s the added bonus of it being a photo-to-storyboard-to-film comparison.
Behind The Scenes (38:13) – A collection of B-roll footage for the same four scenes featured in the film-to-storyboard comparisons, as well as an extra with miscellaneous extra footage. There’s not a lot of insight to be found here, unless you turn on the optional commentary by Fincher, Douglas, Savides, Beecroft, and Haug.
Psychological Test Film (01:07) – The CSR video featured in the film, completely uncut and without sound.
I know I’m in the minority, but Pet Sematary is a really uneven film. Zelda is extremely unsettling, Fred Gwynne is perfect as Jud Crandall, and the final act that pits a grieving father (Dale Midkiff) against the evil reanimation of his dead son (Miko Hughes) is creepy, but damn near everything else falls flat. Director Mary Lambert spends so much time effectively – for the most part, anyway – building up dread, but lets the film get completely steamrolled by what seems like unintentional humor. There’s camp – something I think we can all agree is one of the greatest pleasures of watching 80’s horror flicks – and then there’s piss poor acting that makes you roll your eyes and ghosts that are supposed to be gruesome but end up being kind of annoying and stupidly hilarious. Pet Sematary works really well when the characters are delving into the unknown and theorizing about mythology that they don’t understand; there’s a sense of dangerous wonder and fascination that surrounds the Indian burial ground. There are parts and ideas in the film that lead me to believe that it had the potential to rise above mediocrity and be more than merely watchable, but it’s just so damn silly.
Paramount has a pretty good track record with their catalog releases and Pet Sematary keeps with the pattern. There’s good clarity, high detail levels, and some deep blacks. There’s really not much to complain about, except for the extras which are presented in non-anamorphic standard definition. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is also strong, giving the dialogue a nice crisp presentation. The tonally wrong Pet Sematary song by The Ramones – which is fun on its own – has never sounded better.
Commentary – Director Mary Lambert talks about her creative process, her experiences on set, and adapting one of Stephen King’s beloved stories. There’s nothing extremely fascinating about the track, but you know what would be? A Mary Lambert commentary for Pet Sematary II! I feel like mankind is owed an explanation.
Stephen King Territory (13:09) – A featurette about the popular author that delves into his work as a whole, but does spend some time talking about Pet Sematary and what inspired him to write it.
The Characters (12:51) – Lambert chats about the characters and their motivations, with Midkiff and Brad Greenquist occasionally throwing in their two cents. There’s also some archival interview footage with Fred Gwynne, which is easily the highlight of the featurette.
Filming The Horror (10:26) – A pretty standard featurette about the production.