Pet Sematary (1989)

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From one King to another. Upon finding this in a local Big W for $5, my first thoughts were “Is it in widescreen?” and “Is it in 5.1?” to which both of those questions were answered in the affirmative. But surely, a film starring Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) with a feature song by The Ramones (as well as a cameo by Stephen King himself) can’t be too bad, right?

The Creeds have just moved into a new house in the countryside. Their house is perfect, except for two things: the trucks that drive noisily on the road outside, and the mysterious cemetary in the woods behind the house labelled “Pet Sematary”…

I like Stephen King’s work, but I don’t understand, well, what happened: King wrote and published Pet Sematary in 1983, and six years later he sat down to write the screenplay for a movie based on his book. There isn’t anything wrong with the story, dialogue, it’s that scenes, especially earlier on, jump, and some things happen without reason.

The acting, with the exception of Gwynne, is quite poor, laughable in a few situations. Dale Midkiff seems to be in a haze throughout the film, Denise Crosby is actually good, but tries her best with the material she’s been given and ends up looking like she doesn’t know where to go. The kids, are of course, kids, although Miko Hughes, especially later on in the film, is creepy. The direction by Mary Lambert, a female director hovering around horror films should be noted, however she just ended up with a B-grade, at times non-sensical muddle of a movie.

The concept, of having more time with those who have passed on, is of course universal, and something everyone can relate to on one level or another. However, the supernatural aspects surrounding the concept seem half-baked, and we never really get into the head of Louis Creed, the main character played by Midkiff. It is obvious chunks of the book were sliced out to make the book into a movie, however in doing that, the film has actually suffered. Instead of taking the book, and moulding the story into a suitable story for the screen, King has edited the book and given the edit to the actors and crew, at least, is seems like that. Believe you me, I don’t like criticising King but I thought he did a poor job of constructing a screenplay. Add to that middle-of-the-road acting, and a zombie cat (it’s not as awesome as it sounds), Pet Sematary is a poor excuse for a book adaptation, and a poor excuse for a horror movie in general. In fact, it might just be the goofiest horror movie I’ve seen yet. Two skulls.

Audio:
For a cheap DVD, the 5.1 track was quite good. Obviously, the roar of trucks driving past were quite loud, and the laughing of Gage, the son during one of the final sequences, comes out of the rear speakers giving a frightening jolt to the viewer. For a twenty-one year old film, it sounded quite impressive. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Video:
Alas, the video aspect is not as impressive as the audio aspect of the disc. Yes, I understand it’s an old film but my qualms lie with the encoding of the film. Many times I noticed blocking artefacts, taking me out of the film. The rest of the picture was fine, but slightly blurry. It did the job, but it wasn’t the best picture I’ve seen on DVD. Two stars.

Features.
No features are provided on the disc besides subtitles. No skulls.

Overall:
With Pet Sematary, Stephen King proves that while playing a priest at a funeral may be awesome, he should probably stick to writing novels. However, his screenplay is not the only problem. Riddled with mediocre, sometimes laughable acting, and odd horror and cheap non-frightening scares, Pet Sematary is a poor film, but may entertain yourself and some of your friends with it’s B-grade atmosphere. Two skulls.

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It (1990)

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Despite the fact that this blog is named after a Stephen King book, I have not read said book. I am only half-way through Under the Dome, have The Skeleton Crew, Firestarter and Duma Key somewhere, and have only seen Stand by Me, Carrie and The Mist in their entirety (all of which are fantastic films), but I wouldn’t call myself a Stephen King fanatic; a fan, yes, but not a fanatic. I like his work, and the impact he’s had on horror as a genre as well as the general impact in literature itself, but I don’t know every detail about every story he’s written nor every aspect about his life. Add to that a fear of clowns I brought with me when I was born, and It is right up my alley.

The Losers Club, a group of seven children in Derry, Maine, bond together over visions of a demonic clown named Pennywise that is haunting all of them. Together they decide to end it, but it escapes and they make a pact to join back together should it ever return. Thirty years later, it is killing children again, and The Lucky Seven need to band together once more to bring It down.

It isn’t difficult to make clowns scary; they’re inherently frightening to begin with. Tim Curry, however, being put into the shoes of Pennywise the Clown is pure genius. You can hardly tell it’s him – the make-up is astonishing, especially at the end of part one. However, Curry doesn’t play Pennywise as straight-forward monster – there are ideas and reasons behind what he’s doing. His delivery of “Yes, Georgie, they all float.” will send shivers down my spine for years to come.

The performances of all the adults is great – some border on the melodramatic, but that’s fine. However, it’s the children, playing younger versions of the adults’ characters, that truly shine, also adding to the fact that part one is simply better and more engaging than part two, due to this fact. The story somehow works better within the confines of childhood than adulthood – in fact, I would edit out the adult scenes and just leave in the children’s scenes and market it as a horror movie for kids, because children love taking charge within a film or television show.

The film itself is a great piece of two-nighter epic television. Not once did I feel bored, nor did the pace ever feel like it was dragging along at snail-like speed. To supply a great, involving story and frightening imagery in a television program in mid-1990 must have broken down some kind of barriers. It should be required viewing for all horror movie fans!

At three hours and spread across two sides, It is a masterpiece of television production. Having not read the book, I’m in no position whatsoever to say if it was faithful or not to the novel, but in the end that isn’t actually important, as the film needs to stand on its own two feet. With a few instances of melodrama and cheese, It breaks through and delivers a masterful fright and engaging story about friendship and promise. Four skulls.

Audio:
The only audio track supplied is an English 2.0 track. Seeing as this was produced in 1990, and as a television film no less, this is no gripe. The dialogue is clear and the music creepy. There isn’t much to say about the audio, other than it gets the job done. Three skulls.

Video:
It has one of the better DVD presentations I’ve seen in my entire couch-potato career of watching films and television shows. Sure, it’s an old program, and is riddled with quite a lot of film artefacts (as well as a few instances of digital artefacts such as blocking), but it looks pretty good. I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase a Blu-Ray edition of the film in the future. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Features:
Only one major extra is provided, along with a useless “Cast and Crew” listing (isn’t that what the end credits are for?) Three skulls.

  • Audio Commentary
  • with director Tommy Lee Wallace and actors Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter and Richard Thomas is not what is usually my cup of tea. It’s edited together from sessions Wallace held, Thomas held, and a group session of Christopher, Reid and Ritter. However, it’s entertaining thanks to the actors as well as informative thanks to Wallace. Amazingly, I lasted the entire three-hour track with no thoughts about turning it off. It was nice to listen to a few of the people involved in making the film reminisce warmly about making the film as well as talk about the friendships towards one another, whether or not they knew of Stephen King, choices made in regards to setpieces, as well as complimenting their colleagues from people such as Olivia Hussey to all the children actors. A great listen.

Overall:
It just knocked my socks off and came out of the blue. I’ve had the DVD sitting in my collection for a while but never got around to viewing it simply because of time constraints (as well as a freakin’ scary clown on the cover). It’s a wonderful film, and eerie and creepy with a nightmare-inducing performance from Tim Curry. Unfortunately the extras are a bit lacking, but the audio commentary is a great listen for fans of the film and will feel like you’re watching the film with your friends, your friends who starred in it, talking you through the production. I hope a future Blu-Ray release will have the film uncut as one film as well as some retrospective interviews with cast and crew, King’s thoughts on the film and a “In Loving Memory” for John Ritter and Jonathan Brandis, who both passed away in 2003. An exceptional movie with an exceptional cast and great, emotional story. Three-and-a-half skulls.

The Wolfman (2010)

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Remakes and sequels and adaptations are all the rage now, because Hollywood is quickly running out of ideas. However, when a company like Universal, a company known for their classic horror films decides to remake one of the most loved films in its catalogue, chances are it will work, right?

Inspired by the classic Universal film that launched a legacy of horror, The Wolf Man brings the myth of a cursed man back to its iconic origins. Oscar winner Benicio del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, a haunted nobleman lured back to his family estate after his brother vanishes. Reunited with his estranged father (Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins), Talbot sets out to find his brother… and discovers a horrifying destiny for himself.

It’s obvious Universal tried to recapture the lightning in the bottle after the success of its Mummy franchise re-ignited by Van Helsing director Stephen Sommers. However, The Wolfman unfortunately is a victim of too much meddling from high up in the food chain at Universal. The stories you can find on the internet about such things like an electronic score and company editing don’t paint a pretty picture about the film.

It’s not actually a bad film, but the original, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. still remains top dog. Benecio del Toro plays Larry Talbot with such pain that it’s almost hard to sympathise with him, he’s a bit in a world of his own, detached from everyone else. Emily Blunt is a beautiful woman and fantastic actor but she seemed to be weepy all the time, with eyes constantly watery or full-on crying, and Anthony Hopkins gives what is quite possibly the worst performance he’s ever given. From the trailers I could tell that he was hiding a big secret, and I knew what that was and I was correct when I view this film – but if you have interest in watching this I won’t ruin it for you. The inclusion of Hugo Weaving’s Aberline makes the whole thing a bit crowded, and I didn’t find his character necessary at all.

Rick Baker’s make-up is top form, as usual, but it still seems to be missing something, and I can’t quite put my finger on what that is. It’s a gory film, and a modern version of the original film despite being set in Victorian England – think Sherlock Holmes with Saw-like bloodbaths.

The extended cut feels a bit slow while the theatrical cut gives no real introduction the characters to get us, the audience, involved. The extended cut should be for those who want to try to get involved with the characters while the theatrical cut should please those who just want to see blood splash across the screen.

If there’s any major problems with this, it’s that the film-makers tried to make The Wolfman more psychological and have more depth than the original 1941 film, but how is it that the original film, while cheesy by today’s standards, remains much more effective? Because less is more. Three skulls.

Audio:
All spoken languages are in Dolby Digital 5.1. A Descriptive Video Service is provided for the visually impaired. A loud track, it gives the film a pumping audio experience. The front side speakers and rear speakers give a good sense of place, providing a good epic, horror soundscape to put the audience in. Quite possibly the best audio I’ve heard on Blu-Ray. Five skulls.

Video:
It’s a bit difficult to judge the video on this disc. It’s a very recent film, and therefore looks good, but it also has a bit of softness to it, especially in close-up shots. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but more often than not, the video it pretty nice to look at. Four skulls.

Features:
A handful of features accompany The Wolfman on Blu-Ray, and most feel like EPK material. Two-and-a-half skulls.

  • Alternate Endings Two alternate endings are provided, and both are slight variations of one another. The ending is pretty much the same as in the finished film, but what happens to Gwen and Lawrence are the slight changes.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes: Lawrence Talks With Gwen, Singh’s Story, Extended Mausoleum Transformation, Extended London Chase, Extended Final Fight To cut a long story short, should these have been integrated back into the film, it would have made it much more convoluted and much more crowded in content.
  • Return of The Wolfman is a twelve minute puff piece with everyone involved speaking in very Freudian terms about the story and pulling it off as if the film has much more meaning that it actually has.
  • The Beast Maker is about Rick Baker and his make-up, along with his love for the Universal Monster Movies that got him into make-up design
  • Transformation Secrets is a featurette about the visual effects. Another piece claiming “we wanted the effects to not overtake the story, but here’s this featurette about how awesome our effects are”.
  • The Wolfman Unleashed is a featurette about the stunts and action scenes in the film.
  • U-Control (on theatrical cut only) is most facts about the Wolfman and its legacy, with a few cut-away videos with people such as Rick Baker talking us through select scenes. I’m not a fan of U-Control, but the cut away videos interrupt the viewing of the film and when the video is finished, you’ve skipped ahead a few minutes in the film.
  • Steelbook casing

Overall:
The Wolfman is disappointing remake, but after the tonne of remakes and adaptations Hollywood has thrown at us, it’s not exactly surprising. It’s a shame the whole father/son relationship bogs down a tragic and romantic story. It’s a decent film, but it’s also a relative non-event. Go buy the original film instead. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Låt Den Rätte Komma In (2008)

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I remember hearing a bit about this little Swedish vampire movie called “Let The Right One In” and how it was amazing and fantastic. A love story between two children, one being a vampire, and the world they live in being changed as their characters change. It’s a haunting film, a depressing and painful film, as well as being a beautiful and entrancing film.

Lonely, 12-year-old Oskar is an outsider; bullied, struggling to fit in at school and left alone to fend for himself at home while his mother works nights. One evening he meets the mysterious Eli, a pale young girl, who has moved in next door. Coinciding with her arrival is a series of inexplicable disappearances and murders…

The film is a bit slow, but having watched it twice now, it’s also worth every minute. I picked up things I missed prior, and I was also able to enjoy the film more the second time around. The performances, especially those of the children – all the children, not just the two main leads – is fantastic. But the girl that plays Eli, Lina Leandersson, is quite possibly the best out of all of them. She oozes pain and wisdom and age for such a young person that you genuinely believe she’s been twelve years old for a century or so. All the actors in the film are fantastic, and it’s a shame that the big bucks get spent on actors who can’t act in Hollywood when there’s such talented people all over the world who can do the job a billion times better.

This film is beautifully shot. There are many instances where you go “Wow, that’s cool.” It’s a film that has imagery that will stick in your mind for days after you watch it, imagery that will haunt you in your sleep and in your wake. It’s an absolutely entrancing film and you can’t do anything but be absolutely pulled into this world. It’s almost like a graphic novel – every shot is specific, the camera hardly moves. It’s also a very sterile and cold looking film.

There’s two ways you can view this film, and I’ll try to describe it without ruining anything. You can watch it as a straight up love story between two people, or you can see it as something more sinister happening to the main character, and it’s films that are able to have different perspectives that make them successful, because each person comes out of the cinema with their own interpretation of the story.

This film could, and should, be studied. I’m sure there’s a lot more going on that I still haven’t noticed, but it’s an important film and a film that people should go out of their way to see. This isn’t Twilight, this isn’t Underworld, this is a tragic, haunting love story between a vampire and a boy. And if that’s not scary, I don’t know what is. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Audio:
Let The Right One In is a very quiet movie; a subtle sound mix provides an unnerving experience to accompany the imagery. Rarely is music used as it is in Hollywood horror movies – the scenes of horror linger on the sound effects and screams alone. It’s a clear mix, in Swedish 5.1 (and also in DTS 5.1), with the central speaker doing most of the work. The front two speakers spit out the music while the rear speakers also deal with the music and environmental sound. Four skulls.

Video:
Let The Right One In is a bit of a bleak and depressing looking film, but it’s also one of the better looking ones I have seen on Blu-Ray. There were a lot of instances of grain, but every strand of hair was visible, you’re able to tell what fabric people’s clothes are made out of. It helps the image quality when the film is beautifully photographed, as well. Four-and-a-half skulls.

Extras:
A very tiny amount of extras made up for with an English audio-commentary and all features being in high-definition. Four skulls.

  • Audio Commentary is presented with author and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist, and director Tomas Alfredson, spoken in English, much to my surprise. The commentary is informative and Lindqvist and Alfredson have a great rapport with each other, which shows in the finished film.
  • Deleted Scenes Four deleted scenes are presented. They are simply called “Scene 1”, “Scene 2” etc. Scenes two and four are sweet moments between Oskar and Eli, scene one shows Oskar being bullied and scene three is Virginia rejecting human food and drink.
  • Photo Gallery is a high-definition motion gallery with some beautiful pictures taken during production. It goes for almost four minutes and is worth a watch for budding photographers.
  • UK Trailer
  • Traitor Trailer A forced trailer at the beginning of the disc for the Don Cheadle film Traitor

Overall:
An American remake is on the way for those who are to lazy to read subtitles, but if you’re open minded and don’t mind a film outside of the safety zone of Hollywood, check this out, at least before you see the American remake. I can only rehash what I’ve already said – a bleak and beautiful film with fantastic performances, especially from Andersson. Four skulls.

Vacancy (2007)

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From one crazy hotel to another, Nimrod Antal’s 2007 film Vacancy throws out any and all originality in favour of hackneyed and tired characters and a story that provides no real scares or surprises. It’s not that film is awful, it’s just nothing new.

When David (Luke Wilson) and Amy Fox’s (Kate Beckinsale) car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, they are forced to spend the night at the only motel around, with only the TV to entertain them… until they discover that the low-budget slasher videos they find in their room were all filmed in the very room they’re sitting in. With hidden cameras now aimed at them… trapping them in rooms, crawlspaces, underground tunnels… and filming their every move, David and Amy must struggle to get out alive before they end up the next victims on tape.

What begins (and ends) with heist movie-like credits and a very slow beginning, Vacancy goes for a cat-and-mouse game between the protagonists (despite the fact that ever since the film begins, they’re fighting each other making it difficult to relate or sympathise with them) and motel-owner antagonist (portrayed well but not-creepy-enough by Frank Whaley) as well as a few masked minions of Mason’s over a story that could have been ripe commentary on horror and slasher movies and the audiences that go to see them, but ends up being nothing more than your traditional horror movie.

The film reminded me a lot of Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers, a much more successful film that isn’t bogged down by half-baked characters or plot, for one thing, the protagonists in The Strangers, despite also being introduced after a fight, manage to garner sympathy, and despite the fact they’re teetering on the edge of breaking up, still love each other and make the cat-and-mouse game between them and The Strangers all the more effective, whereas Vacancy makes unlikeable protagonists face off against bad guys that just seem like they’re taken out of the “How To Write A Horror Movie” handbook.

The entire idea of the snuff films, which begins the cat-and-mouse game pretty much falls by the wayside as we go to focus on the two main characters trying not to end up on a snuff film of their own. Again, a lost opportunity. It almost feels like two different horror movies: a movie about a married couple going to get divorced finding a stash of videos showing patrons of the motel they’re staying in getting killed and: a movie about a married couple going to get divorced being chased around a motel by a Norman Bates-wannabe and his posse. This film also proves my theory that if a character calls the emergency line (911 in America), if a man answers it, it’s the bad guy, if a woman answers it, it’s a genuine emergency line receptionist who wants to help the main character(s).

In the end, it’s not an awful movie, it’s just not very good or groundbreaking. Luke Wilson should probably stick to comedies, and Kate Beckinsale has lost a certain something that made her shine in the Underworld films, but I blame that entirely on the script. Heist movie opening and closing titles tacked onto the start and end of an unoriginal film that’s worthy of a rental at best, unless you can find it cheaper than $15 make Vacancy barely earn its three skulls.

Audio:
The traditional quiet sound mix with loud scares accompanies the film, providing an adequate 5.1 mix to go with the adequate movie. There’s really not much to say other than it was a clear and concise mix, but delved into the horror movie tradition of “everything in the soundtrack is quiet compared to the loud, booming scares we provide”. Three skulls.

Video:
Presented in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio, the film did look good. A wise decision to pump the film with warm colours makes the picture easy on the eye, with glowing yellows and orange walls and sickly coloured motel rooms making the film stand out above other, cold and sterile-looking horror movies, and for this I applaud it. I don’t remember noticing any film or digital artefacts, and the picture was crisp and clean and highly detailed. Four-and-a-half skulls.

Features:
Vacancy has only a few features, and not many of them are particularly worth watching. Two stars.

  • The Alternate Opening Sequence is an ambitious opening shot setting up the events we will be watching in the film. I thought it was pretty cool, but who knows why the film-makers took it out?
  • Checking In: The Cast and Crew of Vacancy is a by-the-books half-hour making-of with the cast and crew, especially producers, talking about the film as if it’s the second coming of horror movies making it sound a lot deeper than it actually is, and providing little insight into the actual making of the film.
  • Mason’s Video Picks: Extended Snuff Films are exactly what the title suggests. Why these were put on here, God knows, but I didn’t bother watching more than a minute of it. Only for those who are off-the-wall obsessed with fake snuff movies, and let’s be honest: who is?
  • Raccoon Encounter: Never Before Seen Deleted Scene is a scene that shouldn’t even have made it onto the disc. It’s stupid and one of the cheapest scared ever imaginable.

Overall:
A film that tries to stand on its own two feet but constantly falls over unoriginal plotting and character work makes Vacancy a movie for a horror buff to watch on a rainy day. Not worth a full price, and only worth it on special should you like the film more than I do. Three skulls.

Psycho (1960)

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Psycho (1960)The Film: Rare is it that a film becomes so popular, that even those who have never seen it know what you’re talking about. Mention “Norman Bates” or hear that iconic Herrmann score, you know it’s from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

I had caught bits of the film on television a few years ago, and never got around to viewing it. I had, however, seen Gus van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake made in 1998, and I can only remember the ending (and a car going into a tar pit). However, when the chance to own the film on Blu-Ray hi-def, in a Steelbook came, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from one of her boss’ clients one Friday afternoon and on the drive, she stops at Bates Motel for a rest and to catch herself. It is here she meets a kind young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), owner of the motel. He seems kind enough, but his mother has other ideas…

Quite possibly the earliest slasher film, and definitely one that was ballsy for its time, Psycho is a film that younger, modern-day viewers may eschew, but it should be required viewing for anyone that considers him or herself a horror aficionado. It balances character, horror, good and evil, death, and nobody in this film is perfect. One of our main characters steals $40,000, another has a split personality and murders people in that personality. It’s quite a jarring change from something like The Wasp Woman, which was a B-movie made by cult hero Roger Corman the year before. Years ahead of its time, Psycho was and is a film about right and wrong in the simplest sense, and even saying “we all go a little crazy sometimes”.

This reviewer cannot continue without mentioning, in detail, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. He absolutely shines, full-stop. He’s charming, sympathetic, and vulnerable, but he is evidently hiding something – but what is it? Perkins towers over everybody else in the film and should, too, be required viewing for all aspiring actors. It’s not only his performance: symbolism oozes from the film, especially with the character of Bates – observe a stuffed owl, posed as if ready to grab small prey in its claws sitting behind Norman Bates as he talks casually with Marion Crane – a subliminal warning of what is to come.

While not as shocking as it was in 1960, Psycho is here to stay, and should be on all shelves belonging to fans of horror and fans of cinema in general. Four skulls.

Audio:
Presented in mono 2.0 and remixed Dolby 5.1, there’s nothing terribly groundbreaking to get excited about here. The mono 2.0 did me well enough, but there is a featurette about remixing the sound into 5.1 (more on that later). However, it is clear and crisp. There is no white noise from something like tape, and it does sound quite nice, even in mono 2.0. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Video:
A perfect image, even for a black-and-white film is presented on this Blu-Ray disc. Filling up the entire widescreen, grain is noticeable in quite a few scenes, as well as some film artefacts such as scratches, but it adds to the charm of the film. This reviewer will not be complaining about the image. I wouldn’t use it as a demo disc to show off my equipment, but for a film that’s fifty years old, it’s pretty damn good. Five skulls.

Special Features:
Accompanying the film are extras mostly ported from previous DVD releases, it is, however, quite a lot to get through with a lot of information given to the viewer, but due to most features being ported from previous DVD releases, not everything is in high definition, which is a shame, especially for the image galleries. Three skulls.

  • Audio commentary with Stephen Rebello, author of “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”. Rebello does have a few quiet spots during the film, but when he speaks he always speaks entertainingly, and always has something worth saying, as well as relating to the scene playing as he is speaking, mentioning symbolism, stories from the cast revolving around a scene, etc. It reminded me of the commentaries on the Universal Monster Movie commentaries done by the film historian likes of Rudy Behlmer.
  • The Making of Psycho is a ninety-minute feature with interviews with cast and crew of the film talking about Mr. Hitchcock, what working on Psycho was like, problems during production. It contains many small facts that you can also find in the commentary and in the booklet provided, but provides some informative entertainment nonetheless.
  • In The Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy is a twenty-five minute piece examining how Alfred Hitchcock has influenced all kinds of film-makers from Steven Spielberg to Martin Scorsese to Guillermo del Toro.
  • Hitchcock/Truffaut is a fifteen minute interview between Hitchcock and French film-maker François Truffaut talking about Psycho, how much Truffaut disliked the book on which the film is based, as well as Truffaut questioning specific choices Hitchcock made during production.
  • Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho is a puff piece, advertising gone insane, constantly making the viewer aware of the fact nobody will be seated after a showing of Psycho begins to stop ruining the illusion for all involved. This short piece proves that Hitchcock didn’t just make movies – he made experiences and was an absolute showman, making sure audiences saw his films under circumstances Hitchcock wanted.
  • The Shower Scene With and Without Music is a short feature, which basically shows you how effective Bernard Herrmann’s score was to the film, and especially to the infamous shower scene. It doesn’t work well without the music, although you may think it would…
  • Shower Sequence Storyboard by Saul Bass is a motion slideshow of storyboard created for the shower sequence by Saul Bass, who also designed the opening titles for Psycho. It’s just the storyboards – it would have been nice to have a side-by-side comparison with the storyboards and final film.
  • Psycho Sound, quite possibly misprinted on the back of the case as Remastering Psycho, is a short featurette on the remixing of the soundtrack from a mono soundtrack into a 5.1 soundtrack.
  • Next is motion slideshows: The Psycho Archives, an assortment of images from production, Posters and Psycho Ads, showing the advertising for the film, Lobby Cards, showing the cards cinemas would have had on display during Psycho‘s initial theatrical run, Behind the Scenes Photographs and Publicity Stills. All are presented as video slideshows in standard definition, which is a shame, because seeing images like those of the lobby cards in high definition would have been a real treat.
  • Theatrical Trailer and Theatrical Rerelease Trailers are exactly what they are called. The theatrical trailer is a good six minutes of Alfred Hitchcock guiding the audience through Bates Motel and Bates’ house, giving a lighthearted perspective on advertising the film, while the rerelease trailers are short trailers edited from the theatrical trailer criticising the television cut of Psycho.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Lamb to the Slaughter” is an episode of Alfred Hitchcock’s Twilight Zone-esque show with a story written by Roald Dahl about a pregnant woman who murders her husband who is about to leave her and covers up her tracks, all with a wondrous mix of Hitchcock black humour and Roald Dahl’s black humour. One must ask the relevance this is to Psycho, or whether it is just an advertisement for the series on DVD.
  • Also contained in the case is a small booklet with a brief history of the production and the film’s legacy.

Overall:
I’m sure many Hitchcock fans already have their hands on some iteration of Psycho, but if you’re absolutely psycho about Psycho, this release is pretty poor in the features department. For a fiftieth anniversary edition, you’d think Universal would put more effort into making the whole package a bit more special, but if you can get your hands on this Steelbook, do so. However, for those that just want to watch the movie, pick any version of this up, it’s amazing. The image is beautiful, the story great, and Anthony Perkins deserves another mention for his fantastic and pitch-perfect performance. Four skulls.

Halloween II (2009) [Unrated Director’s Cut]

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As anyone who has read my review of Rob Zombie’s Halloween, you might know that I was immediately open to it and generally liked it basically because it was different. It wasn’t a shot-for-shot remake, but it was also a bit messy. The first half was certainly very good; Zombie’s chronicling of Michael Myers’ life stuck in institution was well explored ground and written very well, but then the second half feels like a push-pull between something like Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho to Zombie’s interpretation of the original material, which is where the first film fell a bit flat. However, with the “Unrated Director’s Cut” of Halloween II, Zombie goes in a different direction yet again, and it feels like Zombie’s finally made Halloween his own.

It’s been two years since the psychotic events of October 31st in Haddonfield, Illinois, and Laurie Strode is a mess. She’s living with Annie Brackett, who used to be her best friend, but animosity has grown since the Halloween incident. She’s having bizarre visions and a revelation in the new tell-all book by Samuel Loomis catapults her into events that will finally bring a close to the Michael Myers’ rampage.

From the get-go, this isn’t your typical horror film. It doesn’t even seem like a horror film. Sure, there are deaths, stabbings, and freaky visions, but it plays out more like a drama that used horror as its basis. It’s one of the smartest moves ever made in a horror sequel. Rob Zombie is the thinking horror fan’s director, he won’t do a retreading of material, he won’t rehash ideas, he’ll keep going in different directions, and I never cease being interested in what he has to say within his films.

Scout-Taylor Compton provides a fantastic performance as Laurie Strode and really makes Strode her own; the scenes involving Strode and Margot Kidder’s psychiatrist are of a particular note, showing Strode spiralling out of control and Kidder’s psychiatrist trying to work out how to help this poor girl.

Strode is having psychotic visions, and it is one of these visions that is probably my favourite parts of the film involving lots of profanity, almost silent movie-esque looks and a glass coffin which works very well, it’s a scene that has a great impact and is visually pleasing, despite the amount of profanity being thrown at the camera.

Of particular positive notes is the inclusion of home video footage of Danielle Harris as a young Annie Brackett. The Halloween fan will know Harris played Jamie Lloyd, the niece of Michael Myers and daughter of Laurie Strode in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, and there is a poignancy of showing this footage with Harris’ history in Haddonfield. It’s quite moving actually, which leads me to Brad Dourif.

In the first film, Brad Dourif played Annie’s father, Sheriff Brackett, and it wasn’t terribly memorable. It was cool as Dourif is the voice of another horror icon, Chucky the Good Guy Doll from the Child’s Play films, but other than that, there wasn’t anything stand-out about him in Zombie’s Halloween. He completely breaks out in Halloween II, showing a father falling to pieces, and bringing such a reality to his character and such sympathy, making Brackett my favourite character in Halloween II, and is probably the best performance Dourif has ever given on screen. It’s positively fantastic, and words can’t describe how amazing his performance is…you need to see it.

The Blu-Ray disc provides a great picture and sound, loud and threatening, just the way I like it. The image has changed from the cinemascope 2:35:1 of the first film to a normal widescreen image that helps bring across the raw energy the film oozes out of every grainy pore it owns. It’s a faithful representation and helps communicate the raw energy of the film well.

Deleted and alternate scenes are included which aren’t much to write home to mum about, they provide interesting but unnecessary alternative takes of different scenes. What would have been better is the inclusion of the theatrical cut. Audition footage is provided of some newcomers. While interesting to watch, is there a need for it? Do Rob Zombie/Halloween fans demand audition footage of as-yet-unknown actors? Of note is Chase Vanek, replacing Daeg Faerch as Young Michael Myers due to a growth spurt. Vanek provides a good substitute but didn’t seem as gloomy as Faerch was. Make-up test footage is also included, which, too, is interesting, but hardly necessary. A blooper reel is included which probably made me smile once or twice.

There is a fictitious band made for this film named Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures, and about nine minutes of music video is provided, intercutting black-and-white typical “music video shoot” footage with the scene in the film with sprinklings of old horror films and cartoons. They’re all the same and not my cup of tea.

Unce Seymour Coffin’s Stand Up Routines. This guy is also in the club scenes and isn’t funny, but does some jokes that may make you smile, but providing unused footage of unfunny stand-up routines for entertainment is redundant. I didn’t even make it past one minute of it. The whole joke in the film is that this guy is funny because he isn’t funny. Providing 5-10 minutes of unfunny material will keep hitting the nail on the head but eventually bore the hammer into the skull and then eventually into the brain matter, providing a painful experience. My thoughts go out to all who watch this in its entirety.

Finally is the audio commentary from Rob Zombie. Zombie is always great to listen to; he’s intelligible and explains certain ideas, cuts, and things become even more clear. He’s a great guy and while he does fall into the audio-commentary no-no of describing what is on-screen, he balances that out by explaining the ideas behind the scene or a story behind the scene, which is alright. He’s insightful company and worth checking out for Zombie fans.

The disc is highly recommended for Zombie fans and for fans of horror in general. This isn’t your typical horror film, not is it your typical Halloween film. But I liked that; it’s refreshing and visually outstanding and has some fantastic ideas. I challenge all who saw the theatrical cut and hated it to watch this fantastic, albeit somewhat slow director’s cut, and try not to change their minds.

The inclusion of the theatrical cut would have made for some nice analyses, and the inclusion of Captain Clegg music videos and Seymour Coffins’ stand up routines are unnecessary waste of precious data space. A faithful reproduction of the image and audio provides the film with a great visceral experience. I could have loved it more, but I loved it more than I expected to. Four skulls.