The Lost Boys 2: The Tribe (2008)

0

While many people wanted a sequel to The Lost Boys when that original film was released, as well as producer Richard Donner and director Joel Schumacher thinking up ideas such as vampire politicians and “Lost Girls”, it seemed most fans cried foul when The Lost Boys 2: The Tribe was announced, and cried even more foul when the trailer was released, and then lambasted it when it was released on DVD and Blu-Ray. They were right and wrong, but let me get to why that is.

This sequel takes us to the shady surf city of Luna Bay, California, where vampire surfers quickly dispatch anyone who crosses their path. Into this dark world arrive moody Chris Emerson and his shy sister, Nicole. Having lost their parents in a car accident, the siblings move in with their eccentric aunt Jillian and become new prey for the local surfers. When Nicole unwittingly drinks the blood of a vampire, Chris must locate and destroy the gang’s head vampire before his sister’s transformation is complete.

The problem this sequel has is that it’s grittier and more serious than its predecessor, and loses the fun and innocence the original film had and uses the mythology set up in the first film to make generic horror movie. Where there was hardly any blood in the first film, whereas it’s an absolute bloodbath in this film. It’s an absolute step away from the tone of the original film, which is why many cried foul, but it’s also a decent direct-to-video film if you have an open mind.

The performances in this film aren’t anything special, but the film has pretty decent production values. The sales of the disc obviously helped make the film’s budget back to warrant a third film, entitled Lost Boys: The Thirst which I’ll be looking forward to. Call me generous but I didn’t think this was that bad, it just wasn’t The Lost Boys we know and love. Three skulls.

Audio:
The audio is pretty pumping on the disc, however there is only one track in English. No TrueHD or PCM, just English Dolby Digital 5.1. I didn’t notice much sound coming from the rear speakers. When music was played, however, it sounded pretty sweet. Three skulls.

Video:
Much to my surprise, The Lost Boys 2: The Tribe is a lot more grainy compared to its predecessor. Especially in darker scenes and on darker colours of walls clothes. The grain adds to the gritty feeling the film-makers were obviously going with this sequel, but the image itself is crisp, however the colours are a bit dull, again obviously being intentional for the feel of the film. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Features:
Only a few features are presented for The Lost Boys 2: The Tribe, and all are pretty short, and not really worth it besides the alternate endings. Two-and-a-half skulls.

  • Lost Boys: The Tribe: Action Junkies is a very short featurette about the stunts in the film.
  • Edgar Frog’s Guide to Coming Back Alive is a short featurette with Corey Feldman in character as Edgar Frog teaching the audience what methods and weapons to use against a vampire.
  • Alternate Endings are interesting – they are both pretty much the same, with slight variations in the editing and lines, and obviously setting up the third film.
  • Cry Little Sister Remix Video – the less said about this the better. It completely rapes the original song.
  • Downfall, Hell is Full, It’s Over Now music videos by Yeah Whatever – not my cup of tea, and with these music videos and tone of the film it’s obvious the makers were targeting a goth/supernatural audience for the film.

Overall:
A giant step away from the charms that made the original film so much fun and so enjoyable turns this sequel into a generic horror movie complete with gore galore as well as the obligatory boob shots and lesbian kissing shots. It’s an alright movie, but the original is far better. Let’s hope the third film, entitled The Thirst improves upon this sequel and goes back to its roots. Three skulls.

Vacancy (2007)

0

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.

Saw V (2008)

0

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.

3

Saw II (2005)

0

51+vk2l6qwL._SS500_When a sequel is announced, one of two things will happen: you will either have a feeling of dread at the prospect of the original film being shat on, or you’ll be excited to see it.

With Darren Lynn Bousman coming in to take over directorial duties from James Wan on Saw, Saw II shows a different perspective on the ideas presented in the first, in much more “glossy grit” than pure grit in the first film.

After he doesn’t hear from his son, Detective Mathews accompanies a SWAT team and other cops and detectives to detain The Jigsaw Killer, John Kramer. John is willing to co-operate with the cops, if they co-operate with him by playing his game. Detective Mathews’ son is trapped in a house with eight seemingly random people. The problem? In two hours, they’ll all die unless Detective Mathews plays John’s game.

The sequel is a good debut from Darren Lynn Bousman, who has gone onto direct Saw III and IV as well as Repo! The Genetic Opera and is currently working on a remake of the slasher film Mother’s Day. One thing that stands out visually from this sequel is the look, the plain look which was carried over into Saw III, and only shows up sporadically in Saw IV. The saturated green and yellow scenes looked very cool and were beautiful to look at in high-definition.

One thing that is quite good is that there is hardly a bad performance. Sure, no one in this film will win any Oscars, but none of them are horrible and all hit the notes they are supposed to hit. Of course, the thing that works exceptionally well is the actual introduction of John Kramer. Tobin Bell plays Kramer with such eerie control and has such power behind so many of his lines of dialogue that makes you have a double-take and make sure when you wake up in the middle of the night that John Kramer is not standing at the end of your bed staring at you…

The traps – I guess there are three stand-out traps, although I’m sure there are at least two, three more. Of course, first is the Peephole Gun Door trap which was well conceived and very cool, second is the Needle Pit trap which is exceptionally hard to get through on your first viewing (with that pretty much boiling down to Shawnee Smith’s fantastic performance as Amanda) and a Hand Cut Box trap which is handled so well by actor Emmanuelle Vaugier, which, like Smith’s Amanda, makes it quite hard to watch purely because of the pain she projects through the scene. There is also the Furnace Bed Trap which I don’t quite relish in, but maybe that’s just me. I don’t find it very imaginative or frightening and as such am not quite blown away by the scene.

It’s on par with the original film, and in no way outshines it in terms of its content. It’s certainly a much better film to look at and more interesting to look at, but its content is pretty much the same content with the first film.

Visually the Blu-Ray disc is one of the worst I’ve seen, and it isn’t a consistent “worse”, it’s the worst because of how infrequent the poor presentation shows up, but shows up enough to remind you it’s a poor presentation. There were a few times in the film where the image was blurry, and then five seconds later the image is clear and perfect – whether it’s something to do with the disc or the master copy of the film, I don’t know, but it’s not the best visual film I’ve seen. The audio is fine, and that’s pretty much all I can say, it does its job. It’s clear, crisp and easily understandable.

Lionsgate has provided a feature-filled (but not packed) Blu-Ray presentation. First is an audio commentary hosted by director Darren Lynn Bousman and production designer (and the eventual director of Saw V) David Hackl and series editor (and eventual director of Saw VI) Kevin Greutert which is pretty light in content and is like watching some reasonably likeable frat boys talk about a movie they’re quite into. It’s not outstanding nor horrible. A second audio commentary is provided with Leigh Whannel and James Wan, the original film’s writer and director was well as working on the first sequel as well. It, too, is lightweight, but moreso than the first, with Leigh frequently stooping down to audio commentary no-no by describing what is happening on screen. While I enjoyed listening to them, I’ll probably never watch this audio commentary again, it’s not worth it (neither commentary is, really, to be quite honest). There is a feature called The Scott Tibbs Documentary that I found mildly amusing and is done sort of like a Blair Witch style documentary but seemed to be more a waste of time than an actual documentary. It’s filming style is too clean and too sterile for a documentary and Zach Starr, who played Scott Tibbs, was exceptionally over the top and really unlikeable and the whole thing just made me wonder “Why am I watching this?” There is a cool featurette called The Story Behind The Story with Whannell and Wan explaining what inspired the original film and talking about a man who went into children’s rooms and tickled their feet and his calling card was a jigsaw piece, or something to that extent. They claim this is a story that made news here in Australia, but I’ve never heard of this guy, so whether or not they’re making it up is up to you, but it’s still creepy nonetheless. Greg Hoffman: In Memoriam is a tribute to Saw producer Greg Hoffman and it’s six minutes of glowing memories of the late producer and it’s clear everyone involved in the making of the films were very friendly and very enthusiastic towards Greg and how much of an impact he had on the series as well as people’s lives. There is also a trailer for other Lionsgate Blu-Ray releases.

All in all, this is a package that fans of Saw can appreciate, seeing as it’s the unrated director’s cut, but it isn’t the best in the series, but if you want to start with the series, and as much of a stupid idea this may sound, do start with Saw, II, then III as the simple look of the three and the vibe to the films makes them stand out from, and make them more enoyable than IV and V. I wouldn’t recommend it to die-hard Blu-Ray buffs as this is a lacklustre presentation and would only infuriate them. It’s fine when you’re sitting back ten feet watching the film but in my current arrangement I can see things that shouldn’t be seen (and shouldn’t be there in the first place). If you can get this for cheap, and are dying to add it to your collection, go for it, but this isn’t the best Blu-Ray you’ll ever get. Three skulls.

3

Saw (2004)

0

5199SrkutaL._SS500_I distinctly remember popping the ex-rental DVD of this into my player and watching it, in absolute awe, at how cool it was. And this was when Saw IV was about to come out in cinemas and when I only had four speakers in my old 5.1 system.

Obsessed with teaching his victims the value of life, a deranged, sadistic serial killer abducts the morally wayward. Once captured, they must face impossible choices in a horrific game of survival. The victims must fight to win their lives back, or die trying.

This is the first Saw film in the ever-expanding annual Halloween event of the year. I’ll probably look back when they stop making Saw films on one Halloween and reminisce of good times – despite having never seen one of them in the cinema (which will change with Saw VI).

This is a bold attempt at a horror film, let’s get that off to begin with. It reeks of Evil Dead II-like amateurism but does not let its small budget deteriorate its script or its story.

Having watched it again for my six-part Saw Review Special, starting with this review and ending with a review of the sixth film, it seems to have lost steam over the years, but definitely should be watched by those aspiring film-makers who want to specialise in the horror genre and don’t have much money to do that speciality.

Its look is gritty and raw, and helps the subject matter, but the pacing felt abnormally slow. Thirty minutes into the film I thought the movie would be over in five/ten minutes. Maybe the Saw series has just taken a right turn creatively from its inception?

Leigh Whannell is a fine victim, but his Australian accent breaks through quite a lot. Cary Elwes is a good enough paddle to hit the ping pong ball with towards Whannell’s Adam character and make interesting enough company for ninety minutes.

The problem with this lies twist. At first, I thought it, at first, was quite a smart move, but after the subsequent sequels, it’s definitely not aged well, and it’s simply not done well enough. The whole Zepp subplot works well (somewhat) but the actual ending needed more padding at the beginning of the film to help it come off more smarter than it actually is.

Though it is not actually one of the greatest movies ever told, it gives a nice beginning to another horror franchise in days where remakes are running rampant and running dry, and gives a refreshing look at the horror genre as a whole, and I highly recommend this first Saw (not the sequels)  to those aspiring film-makers who are wanting to do a horror film for their first project purely because of the spirit the film sends across which is quite blatant and arguably more enjoyable than the film itself as you can truly feel the independent nature of the film and the whole energy behind the camera from everyone going “Crap, we need to get this movie done!”

Lionsgate have provided a fair enough presentation of Saw with a clear picture (although I noticed digital artefacts about 33 minutes into the film in high light areas, which disappointed me a bit), and the sound is the general quiet dialogue and loud “shock-moment” parts. There are no extras. There is, however, a small and quick tutorial on how to navigate the menu before the film starts. When all you supply on the disc in terms of features is a trailer for other Lionsgate releases, I don’t see the point of a tutorial video before the film starts.

What started the Saw phenomenon was not, in fact, this film. It was the word of mouth and shock that this brought into society through some graphic and frightening scenes. I vividly remember friends at school telling me about the end and “that key in that guy’s stomach”. When you can shock and frighten your audiences with real and terrifying raw edgy material, you don’t really need a peachy-keen script to top it all off, much in the spirit of old exploitation films of yore. It’s a solid debut from Australians James Wan and Leigh Whannell, but this along with their non-Saw follow up Dead Silence (read my review here) proves that they need to move their scripted twists beyond second-draft form. Three stars.

3