In this week’s round-up, I take a look at Criterion’s Rosemary’s Baby (10/30/12) release, IFC’s The Pact (11/06/12), Scream Factory’s They Live (11/06/12) disc, the forgettable Vamps (11/13/12), and Warner Bros. Blade Runner 30th Anniversary set (10/23/12) – which isn’t horror, but pretty great anyway. There are a few highly anticipated titles in the mix this week, so let’s get to it!
With The Old Dark House playing in the background as I write this, it’s hard to imagine what William Castle’s version of Rosemary’s Baby would’ve been like. Hokey? Gimmicky? Tense? Serious? Paramount Executive and producer Robert Evans had other ideas, purchasing the rights to Ira Levin’s book before it was published for Castle to produce, with directorial duties eventually going to up-and-comer Roman Polanski. Part of his “Apartment Trilogy,” Baby is a gripping tale of paranoia and society withdrawal, and Farrow embodies the innocence as the title character to pull it off. As director and screenwriter, Polanski wisely keeps most of the action confined to the apartment and it’s small rooms and hallways; as the delivery date gets closer and closer and Rosemary’s suspicions about her strange neighbors grow stronger, her own personal hell – the apartment – shrinks to the point of suffocation. She ventures out occasionally, but the day’s end game is being back in her apartment with no real escape. The script also soars thanks to the information Polanski holds back from the audience. Up until the third act, the story could truly sway either way and everyone would be satisfied, thanks to incredible performance and unbelievable tension. Even after all these years and seeing it numerous times, few films put me on the edge of my seat like Rosemary’s Baby does.
Criterion’s 1.85:1 1080p transfer looks mighty fine, save for the opening credits. There are a lot of debris and some scratches when the film opens, but it clears up a few minutes in. Detail and clarity levels are significantly higher than the film’s 2003 DVD counterpart; there are so many things, like facial features and the steady decline of Rosemary’s physique, that are much more prominent thanks to Criterion. The English LPCM 1.0 track is fairly well-rounded, with no huge issues. Dialogue sounds crisp and clean, and Komeda’s score has a good balance.
Remembering Rosemary’s Baby (46:54) – A really fantastic new retrospective documentary featuring legendary producer Robert Evans, director Roman Polanksi, and actress Mia Farrow recounting the pre-production, production, and critical and commercial success of Rosemary’s Baby. Since it’s more than forty years after the film was released, the three openly discuss the problems they encountered on set, ranging from Polanski taking his sweet time to Frank Sinatra divorcing Farrow over the film – even though she’s totally professional about it, you really feel bad for her – to the difficulties in working with John Cassavetes.
Ira Levin and Leonard Lopate (19:21) – Author Ira Levin chats with radio host Leonard Lopate about Son Of Rosemary, the sequel to his classic novel, as well as his entire body of work and Polanksi’s 1968 adaptation in this audio-only interview. It’s an entertaining conversation and goes over a lot of Levin’s film and television work; plus, it made me want to go out and pick up Son.
Komeda, Komeda (70:43) – A look back at the life of composer and jazz musician Krzysztof Komeda, who scored Rosemary’s Baby along with other Polanksi films such as The Fearless Vampire Killers and Knife In The Water. There’s some archival footage of Komeda, who passed away in 1969, but it’s mostly interviews with colleagues and collaborators including Polanski, jazz musicians Andrzej Idon Wojciechowski and Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski, and Komeda’s sister.
The Pact is a mixed bag, pairing some genuinely creepy scenes and great atmosphere with some of the dumbest moments in recent memory. A feature-length adaptation of writer/director Nicholas McCarthy’s short, the film starts with the “deceased family member causes others to come together and solve a mystery involving ghosts” cliché but manages to stay afloat for the first two acts by not showing too much. What it does show is left mostly unexplained so that it can attempt to be as unsettling as possible, with quick Insidious-style cuts, floating ethereal beings, and a small house with a layout that’s never fully established – this surprisingly works to the film’s advantage – keeping things engaging. The film starts getting a little too silly when ghosts start possessing online search engines, plot-altering clues are handed to characters without them having to do any work at all, and characters zigzag in and out the story, becoming friends with almost no relationship establishment. All of that pales in comparison to the third act, which completely forces the film off the edge by introducing an idea that’s so absurd and out-of-place for numerous reasons, the idea of a psychic needing juice boxes to communicate with the other side seems more rooted in reality.
The Pact is by no means a pretty looking movie; it’s low-budget, mostly confined to a small house with uninspired décor, and contains nothing in it that most people would deem “aesthetically pleasing.” That said, IFC’s HD release is incredibly crisp looking, presenting high quality detail and excellent shadow contrast. The film also has a greenish-yellow tint to it, which appropriately matches the musty atmosphere of the house. Some of the darker scenes look a bit murky, but it’s a satisfying transfer overall. The DTS-HD 5.1 track doesn’t have the polish or oomph of bigger budgeted films, but it gets the job done. The score and dialogue sound clear and the creaky haunted house sounds are nicely represented.
Commentary – Director Nicholas McCarthy talks about his casting and aesthetic decisions, the original short film, and basic tidbits about the film’s production and Sundance reception. There’s a fair amount of back-patting, but McCarthy does dish out a lot of information regardless of whether it’s career fluffing or not. He’s extremely monotone but if you can handle that, there are enough interesting nuggets worth hearing.
A Haunting In San Pedro (20:03) – A moderately lengthy behind-the-scenes featurette in which McCarthy chats about his inspirations, past work, and adapting The Pact short into a feature length film. Casper Van Dien and Caity Lotz chime in about their roles, but their comments are fairly straight forward.
It’s a real bummer the original short is not included on the disc, especially since it’s included on overseas releases.
They Live is one of the smartest films of John Carpenter’s career, intelligently commenting on issues that are as relevant today as they were during the Reagan administration while masquerading as an over-the-top action-fest with great shoot-outs, memorable one-liners, and a fight scene that is one of the finest testosterone-fueled bouts ever put on celluloid. Government conspiracies, economical issues, and societal hierarchy are masterfully conveyed in a digestible way; nothing is shoved in your face. Roddy Piper and Keith David embody their action-star personas perfectly, and have a blast doing it. The mix of fun and thought-provoking ideas is what makes They Live so memorable and one of Carpenter’s best.
Between their They Live and Halloween III releases, Scream Factory is quickly becoming the most important horror distributor around. Their 1080p transfer for They Live is impressive, boasting nice detail and healthy grain, but is not without some flaws. There are a few scenes scattered throughout the film, especially the alleyway shoot-out before Nada and Frank teleport to the alien compound, which are soft and murky looking – most of the sequences in question take place at night. A handful of scenes are also a little too clean looking, causing them to not match the presentation quality of the rest of the film. It’s a really good transfer despite some flaws, and is undoubtedly the best They Live has ever looked. The back cover art of They Live only shows a DTS-HD 2.0 track but, rest assured, the disc also contains a 5.1 track. Some of the score is presented with a little too much bass and the sound design occasionally shows its age, with some hollow sounding scenes. It’s mostly a pleasant aural experience, even taking its shortcomings into account, and the action scenes really stand out. Another solid A/V presentation from Scream Factory.
Commentary – If you’re a fan of the John Carpenter/Kurt Russell commentaries, this is going to be your favorite track of the year. Carpenter hangs out with Rowdy Roddy Piper this time, chatting about what John Nada represents, the themes of the film, preparing for the stunts and pulling them off spectacularly, and various other tidbits. The two have a really playful rapport with each other, which is really the key ingredient in what makes a great commentary: two people that seem like good friends, hanging out, rambling, and just having a good time.
Independent Thoughts (10:07) – Carpenter talks about the comic that inspired the film, how he tweaked the story to include Reaganomics, his casting choices, and one of the greatest fight scene known to man. This is easily the best Carpenter interview I’ve seen in a really long time.
Woman of Mystery (5:20) –An extremely brief interview with actress Meg Foster, who discusses the ideas at play in the film and her experiences working with Carpenter and Piper.
Watch, Look, Listen (11:14) – A collection of interviews with DP Gary B. Kibbe, co-composer Alan Howarth, and stunt coordinator Jeff Imada. Imada is the most entertaining to listen to, especially when he gets into how he got roped into playing most of the aliens.
Man vs. Aliens (11:12) – Actor Keith David talks about working with Carpenter on The Thing and They Live, focusing on what he thinks defines his characters.
Original EPK: The Making of They Live (8:02) – An archival EPK for the film’s original release. It’s nothing special, though a big chunk of it is dedicated to the fight scene.
Never-Before-Seen-Footage (2:34) – Using recently discovered raw footage, the commercials snippets seen during the film were (partially) reconstructed to represent what they would have been like in their completed forms. It’s a neat curiosity, if anything.
The most apt description of Vamps, featuring the re-teaming of Clueless alumni Amy Heckerling and Alicia Silverstone (it’s also the first time you’ve probably even noticed the latter since Batman & Robin), can be summed up in one word: harmless. The jokes and themes are expected, the direction is workman-like, the characters are as family friendly as possible given that it’s a vampire movie, and – in general – it’s extremely safe. I don’t think anyone expected Vamps to breathe new life into the horror-comedy subgenre or really go out on a limb and be a daring masterpiece, but Vamps feels like an excuse to get a bunch of familiar faces together and do something trivial just so everyone involved can say “LOOK AT ALL THESE PEOPLE YOU RECOGNIZE. You remember Clueless, right? Isn’t this movie cute?” Vamps isn’t terrible and for the 13-16 crowd, it will probably go over like gangbusters, but aside from two or three standout scenes, there’s really no reason to check it out unless you’re jonesing for something fluffy and disposable.
Even though nothing about Vamps warrants a high definition viewing, Anchor Bay’s 1080p presentation looks fantastic. There’s a fairly extensive color palate (these chicks have to wear 200 outfits in this movie, ya know?), the picture is incredibly sharp with high levels of detail, and there are not too many instances of DNR – although, there are a couple here and there. The visual presentation is more pleasing than the film itself, truth be told. The TrueHD 5.1 track is on par with the video presentation: a few minor hiccups, but it’s pretty solid.
None, which is extremely weird considering the people in front of and behind the camera.
Let me get this out there first: Blade Runner is not a horror movie, but it is a great one. It’s a film about knowing what it means to be human, understanding the value of life, playing God, the quest for power, the impact of death on personal freedom, and a whole lot more. Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Deckard stands strong with his more culturally engrained characters and Scott’s direction and striking aesthetic choices – with some help from Syd Mead – is at its peak. The Vangelis score, Rutger Hauer performance, and the open-endedness of Deckard’s humanity all play a huge part in making Blade Runner a sci-fi classic and my favorite film of all-time.
Warner Bros. released a really nice box set for the film’s 25th anniversary, housed in Deckard’s Voight-Kampff briefcase (numbered), which included tons of documentaries, featurettes, and commentaries (including the phenomenal Dangerous Days), five versions of the film, a lenticular motion clip, an origami unicorn figurine, a replica spinner car, some photographs, and a mass-produced letter from Scott. It was basically a wet dream for Blade Runner enthusiasts and set a new bar for collector’s editions.
For the film’s 30th anniversary, Warner Bros. released a new set, which is certainly nice but nowhere near as epic as the briefcase version. For starters, the release contains the same A/V presentations for all five version of the film, except for the Workprint Version which now has 5.1 lossless audio. The on-disc supplementals have been ported over from the last release and additionally has a still gallery with over 1000 of Syd Mead’s concept drawings. There’s also an Ultraviolet copy of the Final Version.
As far as physical swag goes, there’s a 72-page hardcover book that contains Syd Mead art and production stills, a new lenticular motion clip, and a concept spinner car that is almost the same as the previously released one except it’s painted different, has an altered wheel design, and has a gun mounted on top. The box everything comes in is much smaller than the briefcase and will fit on most shelves better. Check out some set comparison photos below the review score.
If you already own the briefcase set, there’s absolutely no reason to own the 30th Anniversary set, unless you really want another spinner car and 1000 stills to look at. If you missed out on the 25th Anniversary and are a big fan, grab it while you can; otherwise, the digibook version should suffice.