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.

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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.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge

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From the truly cool opening title cards that would fit more with Terminator than they would with Freddy Krueger, everything goes downhill in this truly below sub-par sequel that’s confusing, unmemorable, and laughable.

It’s been five years since the events of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and a new family has moved into the house that the famous Nancy Thompson (the heroine in the first film) use to live in, and things start out peachy-keen…then spiral out of control.

I usually enter the world of a horror movie sequel with a open mind, honest, because they usually all suck, some more than others. But A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge is an all-new level of sucktastic, but has four things going for it: the very awesome artwork (to your left), a horribly corny title that’s so-bad-it’s-freakin’-awesome (Freddy’s Revenge), the aforementioned Terminator-esque opening titles, and Robert Englund.

To be honest, Freddy’s not my favourite horror movie icon (I hesitate to call him a slasher movie icon), but I like the concept of a demonic sandman killing teenagers in their dreams, leading to the idea of no escape. It is, at least was, refreshing when it first came out, and there was an element of fear, of fright, embedded in the concept that you couldn’t do anything but be glued to your seat, even in this day and age. It was also something different, which is also a good thing. This, however, is titled Freddy’s Revenge. Wasn’t the first film the spawn of his revenge, killing the teenagers of the parents that killed him?

I haven’t seen the sequels, and if I have, I don’t remember them, but this first foray in to the fabled Land of the Sequels proves to be a redundant foray, giving a confusing and badly-written story, disappointing and predictable climax as well as some hokey acting (which, really, is to be expected).

Robert Englund, you have to give the man credit, has kept up appearances through the first film up until Freddy VS Jason (2003), so that’s some damn good commitment. But even what he brings to the table seems lost in this story.

We see where he worked, a factory (making…what? Not explained…), which is where the all-too-predictable and all-too-convenient climax happens, and there is so much here that isn’t really used properly. I could tell there was a story, I could understand what the film-makers were trying to say (sometimes), but this should have gone through some more drafts before filming began, because the execution of this story turns what Wes Craven brought, a truly original and frightening concept, into something confusing and hardly frightening (a few spontaneous combustions involving a toaster, which the family keep afterwards, and exploding birds? Come on…) But most of all, this sequel turns the refreshing story into something unnecessary.

I can’t really recommend this, not even to Krueger fans, but I’m sure all the die-hard fans have already seen it. It’s a silly and worthless sequel and even Robert Englund can’t really save it. Skip it, and go onto A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, whose title is only slightly less corny than this film’s title. See? It’s already better.

One-and-a-half stars.

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

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Happy Valentines Day!

I had never heard of My Bloody Valentine until I had seen the trailer of the 3D remake, and even then, it wasn’t until a week prior to the film’s release did I actually see the original film, but it blew my socks off.

In the tight-knit mining town of Valentine’s Bluff, everyone is getting ready for its first Valentine’s Day dance in many, many years. However, a local loon, who is also the bartender, warns the teens about a legend, many years ago, where the sole survivor of a mine explosion came back after recovery and went on a ravenous rampage of revenge on the town of Valentine’s Bluff. The teens however, choose to disbelieve this legend, and it will be their undoing, as more and more people are turning up dead on the day where love should be all around…

When you view the original My Bloody Valentine, one thing immediately strikes you: this isn’t your by-the-books slasher movie; it has something, that famous je ne sais quoi that you can’t really put your finger on, no matter how much you try…until you watch the deleted footage.

This effective Canadian gem came out in at the height of the slasher boom of the early eighties, following in the path of the classic Halloween. However, out of all imitators, My Bloody Valentine stands out above all the rest, but, of course, it’s one of those that never grew into a never-ending franchise that has that one film that alludes to the ending of a slasher character, but perhaps that was for the best?

There’s hardly anything wrong with this, and I will go so far to say that if John Carpenter’s Halloween didn’t exist, George Mihalka would be a far better known name for his Valentine’s Day slasher masterpiece.

The Blu-Ray, released by Lionsgate (having bought DVD rights from Paramount) have released the film with the much-awaited deleted footage that has hardly seen the light of day, and while Lionsgate can toot their horn about the inclusion of the sought-after footage, it dramatically changes the way you watch the film, and it’s quite bizarre how a few more minutes of footage can morph the film into something completey different.

The footage, despite what people are saying, is crystal clear. It’s just old. The deleted footage has wear and tear of being mistreated or general storage and at first watching I loved it. It gave the film a true grindhouse kind of quality. However, watching the footage again, on its own, I think the film without the deleted footage works a lot better, whereas if you watch the film with the deleted footage integrated into it, not only does it look like a grindhouse movie, but it also feels like a grindhouse movie. The violence, make-up and gore is in true exploitation fashion, and did, in fact, remind me of the inferior Friday the 13th’s and their respective out-there and consistent, violent kills, effectively giving you two very different versions of the film.

Two other extras, besides a theatrical trailer for My Bloody Valentine and preview for other Lionsgate titles, are presented. First is Bloodlust: My Bloody Valentine and the Rise of the Slasher Film, gives a short and, at first, entertaining look at the slasher films post-Halloween, involving interviews from some cast and crew of this slasher classic, but then takes a right-turn into a full-blown advertisement for Lionsgate’s 3D remake, which I didn’t like – not one bit (it’s pathetic, really).  The second extra is called Bloodlines: An “Interactive” Horror Film History. It is, in fact, called that, but interactive is in inverted commas because it seems like it was taken from an early-90s webpage. There’s nothing interactive about it at all. It’s simply right arrow, left arrow, enter button. It’s a text history, and, whilst comprehensive, unless you’re sitting right up in front of your television, it should prove to be a difficult read.

Watch the original version first, without the deleted scenes, it’s a classic of the genre. Harry Warden is one of my favourite slashers, but Lionsgate haven’t treated him like they should have with a passable but could-have-been-better Blu-Ray presentation. Also, at the end of the day, when you pop the disc into your player, what version do you want to watch? The version that most of us have fallen in love with, that has that je ne sais quoi that most slashers don’t have, or the traditional, by-the-slasher-books version? Three-and-a-half for the whole thing. Too bad the film is tarnished by a sub-par Blu-Ray presentation.

Black Christmas (1974)

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51pPDkCDumL._SS500_I was pretty excited to receive this in the mail after seeing the sub-par remake, but was unsure if it would be the blueprint of the remake (like the original and remake of Psycho, both the same, shot-for-shot), or whether this would be more in the vein of John Carpenter’s Halloween – I truly didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, that’s probably the best attitude.

A sorority house over Christmas is experiencing obscene phone calls, and what few inhabitants of Pi Kappa Sig are left over the holiday break are experiencing troubling events after one of the sisters disappears without a trace.

I’m pretty sure this is my first Bob Clark film. I’ve never seen A Christmas Story, and just having a glance at his IMDb page, I’ve only seen Porky’s and Baby Geniuses (in my youth, I swear). A truly diverse director ranging from horror to comedy to children’s films, that’s a sign of true talent (even if the children’s film sucks). Four years before Michael Myers escaped Smith’s Grove, Billy terrorised Pi Kappa Sig on one fateful Christmas holiday.

From the get-go, I was hooked. I love any movie that is overtly old, and this was extremely 70s (check out Gene Shallit look-a-like just about 5-10 minutes in), and simple fact everything was handled in such a seventies manner (of course) made it so much more enjoyable to me.

The thing that stood out about Black Christmas was two things – it’s not filled with scares every five seconds. It’s scares are drawn out and are more creepier than full-on “scary”. This is the smartest form of horror convention, letting fear seep itself under your skin instead of giving you an outright jump every five minutes, which we all know: gets very old, very fast. The second thing that stood out to me was, while the film is set around Christmas, and Christmas stuff is in the background of every shot, the film is not horrendously Christmassy, unlike its remake, rampant with Christmas lights everywhere and warm, glowing colours despite the remake’s ugly nature.

The thing that also stands out about this film is all the characters are individualistic, there are no cookie-cut characters we’ve come to expect in horror films, even as far back as the early 80s, when Jason’s mum was getting her teen murder on. The sorority house mother is an alcoholic, hiding bottles everywhere, sometimes comically, but nearly every time we see her, she is looking for or has a bottle of alcohol in her hand pushed against her lips. All the sisters are very individual and different from each other, giving a fresh quality to the interplay between the characters, helping it feel real.

Props must be given to Olivia Hussey. She’s a fantastic “final girl” and portrays her character, Jess Bradford, in an extremely likeable way. She’s a headstrong and confident young woman and more ambitious and realistic (in terms of dealing with situations) than her boyfriend, Peter Smythe (played by Keir Dullea). She brings such bravado to the character, and I actually found her character fantastic to watch. This is the seventies, and beginnings of the second wave of feminism, and having this character, who had brains, beauty, and courage, must have been such a step out of the norm for a film, and for a horror film as well, where, more often than not, the hero would be a man and the woman would be the damsel-in-distress. When you have such a likeable character on which the film centres, you’ve got your audience hooked.

The ending is ambiguous and but I certainly have my theory about it (and it’s not about who the killer is). The phone ringing throughout the credits gives me a horrible idea that Jess Bradford, sleeping, with no-one attending at her side, gave me the idea about the actual fate of the final girl. However, you’d have to make up your own mind when you see it.

The Blu-Ray presentation is fair, but nothing extraordinary. The picture, as you may know by now, is the kind of picture I love looking at. Grainy, while being very clear representation of the film, as well as film artefact-a-plenty, made me a very happy bloke. The film was just fantastic to look at. The soundtrack was cool (I heard something, I can’t quite remember, in a speaker right near my ear, that freaked me out something chronic), but wasn’t a thorough workout for the speakers.

The effects are simple, and most you can tell were produced on a small budget, and almost amateur. There are two scenes presented with different soundtracks that were never before released, and both were a bit pointless. Subtle differences in muffled soundtrack does not an interesting Blu-Ray extra make. The 12 Days of Black Christmas is a non-linear documentary providing some insight into the production of the film, and is very by-the-books, but still worth a watch for those who want to get into the story behind the story. Three twenty-minute interviews with Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Art Hindle are presented, and are essentially extended, uncut versions of the snippets used in The 12 Days of Black Christmas, but still worth a watch to hear the questions coming from three very different people’s mouths and hearing their opinion on everything involving the film. Midnight Q&A is provided, twenty minutes, roughly, of Bob Clark, John Saxon and Carl Zittrer (the film’s composer) answering questions after a screening. Very amateur but worth a watch, though it would have been better to actually be sitting in the audience more than watching a recording of it. Two trailers are presented: English and French, and watch-worthy if you want to observe how trailers were done back in the good ol’ days.

While the slasher was at its infancy four years before Halloween, and my absolute love for John Carpenter’s film still reigning supreme, Black Christmas is an older and more slow and more creepy film than most slashers. The characters are well thought out and the way they’re dealing with situations was handled very realistically, much to my surprise. I would choose this when I’m in the mood for a slasher over one of the Friday the 13th films, and maybe over Halloween, and I will definitely get this out every Christmas before Santa comes. A new holiday tradition begins this year! Just make sure when you look under your tree, there isn’t a present that reads “FROM: Me, Billy”. Four skulls (purely for the film).

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Saw V (2008)

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804373With a poorly-executed fourth chapter, one would expect the departure of series director Darren Lynn Bousman as a spanner in the works with production designer David Hackl standing up to the challenge of directing the fourth sequel in the splatter franchise. Thank your lucky stars that this film is better than IV.

After “escaping” the Gideon Meat Factory and “saving” the little girl from Saw III, Detective Mark Hoffman is credited as the cop who brought a demise to Jigsaw and his devastating grip on the community with his seemingly never-ending list of victims and traps. Agent Strahm, however, has a different idea. He knows that there is, in fact, a protégé to Jigsaw’s legacy working a new trap, but can he find this protégé and save the victims of the trap in time?

Straight off the bat, Saw V is much more easily understandable than it’s immediate predecessor (with the producers even admitting that ten minutes into their audio commentary – what courage they have!), but it’s not as groundbreaking as Saw III. It is still filled with back story that may confuse people new to the franchise, but will help long-term fans realise certain aspects of John Kramer’s plan – but the not the entire plan (thank god for sequels, eh?!)

There are pretty much three films in one, three storylines in this film, and I’ll cover each.

The main story (pretty much) is the one that focuses on Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) and his hunt for John Kramer’s protégé. Patterson gives a good performance and helps us want to help him find the next Jigsaw, despite us knowing who it actually is from the ending in Saw IV. One thing I didn’t understand was a lot of stuff that interweaved with backstory of Hoffman and Kramer setting up traps (such as the razor wire cage and  house trap from the first two films) and simply by looking through a hole or looking at a certain part of the environment, Strahm immediately came up with the flashback we are shown simply by observing one aspect of the environment – that’s not good writing, folks.

The second story, or the one that is less important than the main story, is the traps and victims. It’s four concurrent rooms and all five victims play their parts, especially dealing with the traps, quite well. However, I can never get over Julie Benz’s wig – it’s horribly half-arsed. The traps are gruesome and crazy, especially the last trap, but the significance of these certain five is never explained in basic detail in regards to the current plot besides the fact they are connected by real estate and a fire. While small details that are explained in a sequel that aren’t important to the current plot I can let go, something as big as this needs to be explained, and it’s something IV and V have done to a T (unlike II and III) and it, while it may bring fans back to the cinema each year, is not smart for a singular film, and takes away enjoyment of it.

The third story is involving, more often than not, backstory of how and why Hoffman became a protégé of John Kramer. While the reasoning is interesting, and one specific scene where between Hoffman and Kramer is excellent, of course, with every scene involving Tobin Bell’s John Kramer being excellent, it isn’t a strong story on its own, and is made to link into Strahm’s story.

A fourth, more miniature, story is provided involving Jill Tuck and Kramer’s will and last wishes which is not fleshed out in this film, and that’s something that I don’t mind, that I mentioned earlier. Tuck receives a box from her now-dead ex-husband, John Kramer. We, the audience, don’t see what’s in the box, but Tuck does. It’s not important to Saw V‘s plot, at least as far as I can see, and will be important to Saw VI‘s plot (I hope), but it’s something that’s not explained in V that is to be explained in VI. Seeing as it doesn’t have a significant impact on Saw V‘s plot (as of yet), I can let it go, unlike the significance of the five victims in the Four Rooms Traps which should have been explained, I think, because it leaves you empty, unfulfilled.

These movies are meant to be watched over and over again for Saw fans and are meant to build upon the story of John Kramer, but if you are a fan of these films, and watch just one (say, one night, you feel like watching a Saw film, and choose V) you will lose track of information you’re being presented with, especially after having not seen it in a while. I can only hope that the Chronological Cut comes out of all six films instead of further sequels. If they’re so intent of releasing films filling in gaps between the films, why not do it in a way that won’t confuse people and will stop the making of unnecessary sequels?

The Blu-Ray presentation is quite good. The image clarity is near perfection, despite the leaving out of my favourite aspect – “glossy grit” – but still looks freakin’ good for a Blu-Ray disc. I noticed no digital artefacting and no film artefacts (I assume, by now, they are shooting these on high definition cameras).  The sound is crisp and clear and does its job well.

In the features, two commentaries are presented. The first is with production designer-turned-director David Hackl, who I believe did quite a good job with his first film (apparently, he’ll be directing Saw VII), as much good you can do with a franchise horror movie, at least, and hearing him talk about the film was refreshing instead of Darren Lynn Bousman. I love Bousman and his movies (well, most of them, save for IV), but having a new director with a different perspective helped my enjoyment of Saw V on Blu-Ray as a whole. Hackl is accompanied by First Assistant Director Steve Webb, who seems to be the funnier one of the two. It’s an enjoyable commentary with some nice anecdotes on production but is still pretty light but I would choose it over the second commentary, which is hosted by The Big Four producers (Oren Koules, Mark Burg, Peter Block and Jason Constantine) also seem to have learned from their problems on their Saw IV commentary as there was less self-congratulating and more teasing of things such as Jill’s box and the significance of the five victims which made it slightly more interesting to listen to. More often than not I couldn’t tell who was speaking or whether two of them were talking and the other two were just sitting and making sure they didn’t slip up any revealing details. There are five (how surprising) featurettes provided: Slicing The Cube: Editing The Cube Trap, The Cube Trap, The Fatal Five, The Pendulum Trap, The Coffin Trap. All are lightweight, but again two stand out. Slicing the Cube is interesting to seeing how they could take morsels of Scott Patterson’s performance (seeing as his head couldn’t just be under water forever) and make a frenetic and actually quite scary scene. The Fatal Five is the longest, I believe, of the trap featurettes and provides insight into all the traps in the Four Rooms and is interesting to see what practical effects they used in certain scenes that makes it interesting (watch Meagan Good gets freaked out at a moving headless corpse!)

The film, like IV, leaves you feeling a bit empty, but fills you up more and more each time you watch it. Interpret that however you wish, positively or negatively, but is certainly an improvement over IV, despite it being and average film, when you think about it. I look forward to Saw VI, especially having watched all five films beforehand like this, but with the announcement that a seventh film is on the way doesn’t fill me with hope. Saw V is not a necessary addition to your horror collection, but if you are a diehard fan, go for it, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I appreciate the fact that they’re trying to fill in gaps from the movies but the way they’re going about it is leaving gaps in the explanation of gaps left in previous films, leaving you going – “What?”. Three skulls.

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