October is halfway over, and we’ve still got a ton of Blu-ray and DVD horror releases coming our way. In this week’s round-up, I take a look at the Jersey Devil flick The Barrens (10/09/12), the very strange Excision (10/16/12), Warner Bros. Little Shop Of Horrors Blu-ray (10/09/12) with the original ending (finally!), and Universal’s super-awful Wolf Man/Van Helsing abomination Werewolf: The Beast Among Us (10/09/12). Oh, and just for good measure, a gander at Synapse’s Basket Case 3 DVD (10/09/12) – yes, the trilogy closer is finally back in print! Check out my thoughts on the disc specs – and a little bit about the films too – after the break.
At times, The Barrens feels like Darren Lynn Bousman’s best film. Stephen Moyer stars as Richard Vineyard, a family man taking his wife and two kids camping for a weekend of bonding time and ash scattering. When the Jersey Devil begins stalking the family, Richard’s psyche takes a turn for the worst as he tries to convince everyone around him that the legend is real. The film uses a lot of psychological thriller cliches, but manages to keep things engaging enough thanks to a really great performance from Moyer. One of the smartest thing Bousman did is have the creature zig-zag in and out of the film, leaving the plausibility of its existence teetering on the edge. When the third act hits, The Barrens falls apart and turns into a giant chase scene with one too many appearances by the monster.
Originally shot on 16mm, The Barrens captures the look of a late 70’s/early 80’s horror film; it’s a little dark and grainy, but very distinct looking. Because of that, the detail levels are not going to be as high as they usually are on Blu-rays. Taking that into account, Anchor Bay’s disc looks great. The picture might not have finer details, but Joseph White’s cinematography captures the wilderness quite well and there are some striking shots throughout. The TrueHD 5.1 track is immersive and brings viewers right into the middle of the action. Dialogue is clear and crisp, but the woodland sound effects are what stand out.
Commentary – Director Darren Lynn Bousman and Director of Photography Joseph White talk about the film’s influences and how long they have been trying to get the film made – since Saw II came out! The two men are very honest about the film and talk about a lot of the problems they encountered while on set – relentless rain, the shooting schedule cut down to 20 days, etc. – so for those looking for a very unfluffy track, you won’t be disappointed.
Deleted Scene (3:25) – An alternate ending that shows Sadie (Allie MacDonald) in the aftermath of the film. There’s optional commentary with Bousman and White who talk about why it was ultimately left out of the film.
A thematical mix of May and Ginger Snaps, Excision tries so hard to be deep and different but ends up being weird just for the sake of being weird. AnnaLynne McCord stars as Pauline, an awkward high schooler trying to fit in and constantly butting heads with her domineering, uptight mother (Traci Lords). Her obsession with surgery leads to some beautiful and fully-realized Jodorowskian dream sequences, but there’s only so many times you can watch someone fantasize about screwing dead bodies and playing with people’s innards before it loses its edge and purpose – over the eighty minute runtime, Excision desensitizes viewers in a way. McCord plays the outcast well, but is too mean spirited and crass to sympathize with (kind of like a real teenager!) and the incredible amount of cameos constantly take you out of the film. Even though it’s nice to see some fan favorites (Ray Wise!), the casting is too obvious – of course Traci Lords and John Waters are uptight, religious characters, who else would they play? Even with all that said, Excision keeps you engaged enough with the gonzo visuals, even if the film ultimately isn’t as satisfying as it should be.
Anchor Bay’s 1080p presentation captures the weirdness of Exicision’s fantasy sequences quite well; the cinematography actually has some style to it, which is more than I can say about the rest of the film. The transfer has a nice amount of depth and clarity, and detail is really high during the aforementioned scenes. The whole film is very crisp looking, but the colors and picture only pop during the graphic stuff. The TrueHD 5.1 track is clear sounding, if not unremarkable, but – again – it only seems to really make an impression when Pauline is fantasizing.
Commentary – The track features director Richard Bates and star AnnaLynne McCord, who cover a wide array of topics, including the difficulty of shooting with a cast largely made up of film school kids, the challenges faced by Bates as a first-time filmmaker, and adapting a short into a feature-length film. There’s a lot of back-patting on the track, but Bates and McCord are very honest about the independent filmmaking process, making it a highly recommended listen for those wanting to make a go of it.
Basket Case 3
Basket Case 3, (sadly) the last entry in the dysfunctional family saga, picks up right where its predecessor left off, with Duane realizing that he’ll never have a normal life and Belial about to become a father. The strange and complicated relationship between the two brothers is still a focal point, but most of the film is centered around Belial coming to terms with being a father and his newly expanded family. Basket Case has always been a fun, cheesy monster series first and foremost and while the third film isn’t nearly as good as the second, it still has some fantastic make-up and puppetry and is a blast to watch – minus some jokes that don’t land like they should and a slow second act. Plus, it contains the best live-action interpretation of Krang we’ll probably ever see.
None, but the original DVD is long out-of-print and kind of pricey. Thank God for Synapse.
Little Shop of Horrors
Director Frank Oz knows his way around a puppet film, whether he’s voicing memorable characters – like Miss Piggy and Yoda – or directing them. He learned from THE master, working with Jim Henson on several projects including co-directing the ground breaking Dark Crystal, and he really showcases his chops with Little Shop of Horrors, a film that can be described with a single word: adorable. Oz and playwright Howard Ashman are unafraid to have their characters burst out into song and don’t unnecessarily expand the universe too far outside of the flower shop. Little Shop of Horrors is a love story at its core, and creating pointless environments to give it the scope of a traditional movie would have done more harm than good. Oz also smartly cast Ellen Greene, the original Audrey, and Rick Moranis, who fits the role perfectly, and has some of the greatest funnymen ever for the supporting and cameo roles (Steve Martin! Bill Murray! John Candy! Christopher Guest!). The real star of the film is Audrey II, expertly brought to life by the Conway brothers (who created many of the effects for Brazil) and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Levi Stubbs.
When Warner Brothers first released Little Shop on DVD in ’98, the Director’s Cut ending was included as black and white workprint footage and the entire release was pulled shortly after at the insistence of producer David Geffen. After an extensive restoration process, Warner Bros. has finally made it available to the masses in the way it was meant to be seen. The 1080p transfer is nothing short of spectacular; colors are vivid and Robert Paynter’s cinematography looks great. The Director’s Cut ending looks a bit washed out in some spots, but is impressive looking overall. There’s no dip in quality once the ending kicks in; the same can be said for the DTS-HD 5.1 track.
Commentary – Director Frank Oz chats about the challenges of adapting an off-Broadway musical for the big screen and trying his damnedest to keep it true to its roots. There’s also a lot of information on the practical effects, which is a treat for puppetry fans. The track can only be played with the theatrical cut, but the if you watch the Director’s Cut ending as a deleted scene instead of recut with the film, you can hear his thoughts on it separately.
Frank Oz and Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut (10:41) – The sole new special feature on the disc is an introduction for the Director’s Cut with Oz and VFX supervisor Richard Conway, who talk about how epic the original ending is and why they ultimately had to change it. It’s also the best feature, aside from the inclusion of the Director’s Cut ending.
A Story of Little Shop of Horrors (23:04) – A documentary created for the film’s release that traces the property from Roger Corman’s two-day shoot to Broadway to Frank Oz’s version. The great thing about archival docs is that they feel more genuine than the ones we get today; everyone is just talking about the production and there’s not an emphasis on pumping up each other’s egos.
Outtakes & Deleted Scenes (8:43) – Only outtakes, no deleted scenes – though, some of the outtakes take place during the filming of the superior ending.
Director’s Cut Ending (22:01) – The Director’s Cut ending is also included as a deleted scene and can only be viewed with Oz’s commentary. It’s far superior to the theatrical ending, thanks to some of the best puppetry and model work ever – It’s akin to watching an alien invasion during a 50’s sci-fi movie. The almost fifteen year old track accompanying the ending is quite good, too.
Werewolf: The Beast Among Us
It’s kind of hard to pinpoint exactly what Universal was going for when they put Werewolf: The Beast Among Us into production. Originally thought to be a re-reboot of the The Wolf Man, it’s actually closer to being a low-budget re-imaging of Van Helsing, which is INFINITELY worse. There is a tortured character and a werewolf running around, but the script – it took three people to write this waste of time – is more preoccupied with a clan of monster hunters who travel from town to town claiming bounties. The film is practically one giant cheap looking action scene, with SyFy-level CGI and Halloween store prosthetics, all of which look like they were shot on a poorly designed set – nothing in the film looks authentic… at all. Werewolf: The Beast Among Us gives off the appearance of being nothing but a lazy, ill-conceived attempt at a cash grab.
The good news is that Werewolf: The Beast Among Us has a good 1080p transfer with strong detail, shadow contrast, and color saturation. The bad news is that because the transfer is so crisp and clear, it makes all the cheap effects and sets look that much worse. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is much more of a success story; it has a nice balance to it.
Commentary – Director Louis Morneau and producer Mike Elliot chat about their lack of budget and shooting in Romania. Morneau is quick to point out that he had no idea what the official title of the film was at the time the commentary track was recorded, which is kind of hilarious. It’s a surprisingly fun track and the guys seem smart; they just got stuck making a cheap, terrible movie.
Deleted Scenes (3:35) – A handful of deleted and extended scenes, most of which feature unfinished effects. They were discarded for a reason, so there’s nothing particularly great here.
Making The Monster (9:23) – Typical EPK with behind-the-scenes footage and overly polite floating head interviews. Spoiler alert: everyone loves each other and thinks Werewolf is the best thing ever!
Transformation: Beast To Man (6:13) – A look at the practical and CG effects used to create the werewolf in the film. There’s a big focus on the suits and animatronics, but they aren’t used in the film as often as the featurette leads you to believe.
Monster Legacy (3:58) – The cast and crew talks about their favorite classic Universal monster movies. It’s basically just a marketing push for the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essentials Collection box set.
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