HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

THE WARLORDS -- DVD review by porfle

Drama, intrigue, and bone-crushing battle action combine in THE WARLORDS (2007), a fact-based war epic which takes place in late 1800's China during a terrible civil war.

Pang (Jet Li), a commander in the Ching army, is the sole survivor of a battle against Taiping rebels.  He finds himself allied with a ragtag band of thieves led by Er-Hu (Andy Lau) and Wu-Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro, RED CLIFF), whose village is constantly being raided by the vile General Ho of the Ching forces.  Pang suggests that Er-Hu and his men join the military in order to feed their people and reduce their vulnerability.  Becoming blood brothers, Pang, Er-Hu, and Wu-Yang lead their army in a series of conquests which bring them to the attention of the Imperial Council, a group of deceitful, self-serving old men who profit from the war and don't want it to end.

The blood brothers eventually find their bond severely tested as Er-Hu is shocked by Pang's growing ruthlessness and ambition.  Complicating matters is the fact that Er-Hu's wife Lian (Jinglei Xu) has fallen in love with Pang, which Wu-Yang believes is adversely affecting Pang's decisions as the split between him and Er-Hu widens.  With the Imperial Council wielding their influence behind the scenes, each man chooses a course of action that could lead them to disaster.

THE WARLORDS is beautifully directed and photographed, particularly during the dramatic scenes which take up most of the film's latter half.  But in the earlier battle sequences the emphasis isn't on pictorial splendor or style as much as a gritty, rough-hewn realism.  Beginning with the attack on a Taiping supply convoy by Er-Hu's band of thieves and continuing with their conquest of Shu City--with the group now an army battalion under Pang's command--the film bristles with massive scenes of bloody violence.


There's no dazzling martial arts or fancy swordplay (director Peter Chan consciously avoided the fantasy-tinged "wuxia" style of the Chang Cheh films or even some of the later Chinese historical epics).  This is grueling, blood and thunder, hack and slash battle consisting of crowds of men trying to butcher each other.  The Shu City battle is the action highlight of the film, especially when Jet Li's ferocious General Pang thrusts himself into the thick of things.  A couple of the CGI moments are a little off--when Pang slashes the legs off half a dozen opponents with one swipe, it doesn't look very convincing--but when he hoists up a lit cannon and uses it to blow the hell out of all the enemy's other cannons, it's pretty thrilling.

The rest of the movie concentrates on political intrigue as Pang's rise to power is fueled by conflicting motives and he finds himself at odds with Er-Hu, who only wants justice for the poor and a simple life with Lian.  Wu-Yang is caught in the middle and is forced to take drastic action to preserve their bond, but the Imperial Council pulls all their strings to the very end.


If you're looking for wall-to-wall battle action you'll be disappointed--still, the drama and ultimate tragedy of this story are compelling.  There is, finally, a genuine martial arts battle near the end which is integral to the plot and, again, is depicted very realistically.  All of this is aided considerably by the fine performances of the four leads, with the world-weary, battle-scarred Jet Li proving himself quite capable as a dramatic actor.

The DVD from Magnolia's Magnet label is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 English and Mandarin soundtracks.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include the documentary "117 Days: A Production Journal" and deleted scenes.

Depicting a harsh and fascinating era in Chinese history, THE WARLORDS succeeds both as a thrilling war movie and an emotional story of political intrigue and personal tragedy.  It doesn't aspire to the conspicuous visual poetry of a film like RED CLIFF, but instead displays its own straightforward, hard-edged style that's just as effective.


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Sunday, June 27, 2010

UNEMPLOYED -- movie review by porfle



The best thing about watching UNEMPLOYED (2008) is that from now on, every other comedy I ever watch is going to seem a hundred times funnier. In fact, after suffering through this incredibly inept and mind-bogglingly unfunny story about two struggling actors trying to find work before sundown to avoid getting kicked out of their apartment, watching C-Span will be a cavalcade of nonstop hilarity by comparison.

The black guy, Jamal, is played by Godfrey, who is, to my surprise, an actual comedian in real life and has been in several other films such as ORIGINAL GANGSTAS and ZOOLANDER. The white guy, Dexter, is portrayed by James Charles Leary, who appeared as "Clem" in eight episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as well as, among other things, a film entitled STUNT C*CKS, which he also wrote and produced. According to his IMDb biography, he "studied" with Second City in Chicago, but displays little evidence of this here.

Every time Jamal and Dexter crossed the street during their half-hearted job search, I kept hoping they'd get hit by a truck. They are, quite literally, the unfunniest comedy duo I've ever seen in my life. It might not have been so bad if they'd had some honest-to-goodness comedy lines or amusing bits of business, but writer Marvin Hayes and writer-director Dale Stelly apparently forgot to create any for them.


Jamal and Dexter go to an audition, make up some unfunny patter, and leave. They apply for a job as delivery men, are rejected because they don't have driver's licenses or a car, and leave. They steal some scooters, have the scooters stolen from them by thugs, and leave. They apply for a job at a dry cleaner's, find out the dry cleaner isn't hiring, and--you guessed it--leave. These are the comedy highlights, folks.

Oh yeah, and they actually do get hired at a place called Booty Burger, but before this premise is in any danger whatsoever of yielding a single funny line or situation, they quit, then leave. We're supposed to laugh just because the place is called "Booty Burger", and because Dexter asks an attractive female customer what kind of nuts she wants on her sundae.

Two things actually came remotely close to making me chuckle. One is when they decide to go to work for a gangsta named Mad Dog, and he turns out to be a tiny ventriloquist dummy that looks and sounds like Chris Rock. But before the scene threatens to become humorous in any way, they leave. The other thing is when Dexter thinks Jamal is dying and hastily calls 911 but accidentally calls 411 by mistake, and asks the operator the number for 911. Compared to the rest of the movie, this part is a flat-out scream.


Since UNEMPLOYED appears to have little scripted action besides "they go here" and "they go there", it's a largely improvised comedy performed by people who are totally incapable of either improvising or performing comedy. Their idea of riffing on a vague, random idea is to simply keep jabbering whatever pops into their heads in the vain hope that they'll eventually spit out something remotely amusing.

At the risk of setting Oscar Wilde spinning in his grave like a top, here's a sample of some of the funnier lines--


SECRETARY: "You can get yo' ass up outta here before I make it look like a scene from 'The Exorcist' up in here."

JAMAL (to Dexter):
"I'm gonna smash you like a transsexual on 'Jerry Springer' if you keep talkin'."

JOB INTERVIEWER: "What kind of experience do you have?"
JAMAL (riffing): "I'm very educated. Ha ha ha! Look at the way I sound. Ha ha ha! I'm a laugh educator."


A host of untalented bit players drift in and out of the movie, with the occasional semi-talented actor coming as a disorienting shock. Familiar character actor Tiny Lister (NEXT FRIDAY, THE FIFTH ELEMENT) gets featured billing for walking through a scene for about twenty seconds. Director Stelly plays a low-budget director named Spike Leroy who casts Jamal and Dexter in his latest film, in which they get brutally beaten with nightsticks--my favorite scene.

On the whole, UNEMPLOYED is so utterly lifeless and devoid of entertainment value that watching it is like observing the forensic examination of a bloated corpse that's been washed ashore after floating around in a swamp for about a month.  Only not as funny.

Buy it at Amazon.com:
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Adam Green's "HATCHET" slashes its way to Blu-ray September 7th from Anchor Bay Entertainment


Anchor Bay Entertainment proudly announces the Blu-ray™ debut of Adam Green’s slasher classic HATCHET on September 7, 2010. A fan favorite ever since its 2007 debut, the cult hit not only assembled some of the greatest modern horror film actors around, but gave film and horror fans the first new horror icon in a generation: Victor Crowley! SRP is $29.99 and pre-book is August 11th.

With a stellar cast including Joel David Moore (Avatar), Mercedes McNab (“Buffy The Vampire Slayer”), Richard Riehle (Office Space), and horror cinema legends Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund, Tony “Candyman” Todd, with Kane “Jason Voorhees” Hodder as Victor Crowley, HATCHET is a gory throwback to the classic 1980s slasher/creature horror films. HATCHET on Blu-ray™ features an all new 1080p high-definition transfer of the unrated “Director’s Cut” with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 high-resolution audio, all the bonus features from the original DVD release, AND an all-new commentary track with co-producer/writer/director Green and Victor Crowley himself – Kane Hodder.

HATCHET spins a terrifying tale of tragedy and comeuppance from beyond the grave. Victor Crowley is a hideously deformed boy, living in seclusion with his father (Hodder) in an isolated cabin deep in the Louisiana Bayou. When a Halloween prank initiated by local kids goes terribly awry, Victor is accidentally killed in a vicious twist of irony. Years later, a tourist group visiting New Orleans ’ “haunted swamps” stumble upon the remnants of that shocking event, transforming an evening of seemingly innocent fun into a horrific nightmare, from which there may be no escape.

HATCHET Blu-ray™
Street Date:                  September 7, 2010
Pre-book:                     August 11, 2010
Cat. #:                          BD21841
UPC:                            0 1313 21841-9 7
Run Time:                     84 Minutes
Rating:                          Unrated
SRP:                            $29.99
Format:                        1.78:1 / 16x9 1080p
Audio:                          Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles:                       Spanish, English SDH

Bonus Features:
NEW Audio Commentary with Co-Producer/Writer/Director Adam Green and Star Kane Hodder
Audio Commentary with Co-Producer/Writer/Director Adam Green, Co-Producer/Cinematographer Will Barratt and Actors Tamara Feldman, Joel David Moore and Deon  Richmond
The Making of Hatchet
Meeting Victor Crowley: An in-depth look at the creation of a new horror icon
Guts & Gore: Go behind the scenes of Hatchet’s special makeup and prosthetic effects
Anatomy of a Kill: Witness the “jaw-breaking” birth, design and execution of a death scene
A Twisted Tale: Writer/Director Adam Green recounts his decades-long friendship with “Twisted Sister” front man Dee Snider
Gag Reel
Theatrical Trailer

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The New York Asian Film Festival Kicks Off Today and HK AND CULT FILM NEWS will be there for you!






















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HK and CULT FILM NEWS will be on-site at this years New York Asian Film Festival with coverage of the the awards ceremony, Sammo Hung's Q&A following a rare screening of Eastern Condors , interviews with actors Simon Yam and Huang Bo, and reviews of the latest and greatest films from Hong Kong and Asia, including the American premiere of Ip Man 2, Gallants, Little Big Solider, and more!

Stick with HK AND CULT FILM NEWS all through out the proceedings for the latest news and reviews. If you haven't got your tickets yet, click on one of the links to take you to the NYAFF's website! If you aren't sure what to see yet, just check out the schedule and find some fun!

Schedule

All events are at Walter Reade Theater unless otherwise noted.

Fri, June 25

3:00pm YATTERMAN (119 min.)
5:30pm COW (109 min.) - Huang Bo will be at the screening
8:00pm Star Asia Awards ceremony (30 min.)
9:30pm IP MAN 2 (108 min.) - Sammo Hung will be at the screening
IFC Center Midnights
12:15am DEATH KAPPA (79 min.)

Sat, June 26

12:00pm IP MAN (106 min.) - Simon Yam will be at the screening
2:20pm CRAZY RACER (99 min.) - Huang Bo will be at the screening
4:45pm EASTERN CONDORS (100 min.) - Sammo Hung will be at the screening
7:30pm ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW (117 min.) - Simon Yam will be at the screening
10:15pm KUNG FU CHEFS (91 min.) - Sammo Hung will be at the screening
IFC Center Midnights
12:15am L.A. STREETFIGHTERS (85 min.)

Sun, June 27

12:00pm STORM WARRIORS (110 min.) - Simon Yam will be at the screening
2:15pm BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS (139 min.) - Simon Yam will be at the screening DEVELOPMENT HELL (54 min.)
6:15pm ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW (117 min.) - Simon Yam will be at the screening
8:45pm IP MAN 2 (108 min.) - Sammo Hung will be at the screening

Mon, June 28

1:00pm RAGING PHOENIX (112 min.)
3:45pm SCANDAL MAKERS (108 min.)
6:15pm BOYS ON THE RUN (114 min.)
8:45pm CHAW (121 min.)

Tue, June 29

1:00pm BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS (139 min.)
4:00pm SOPHIE'S REVENGE (108 min.)
6:30pm 8000 MILES (79 min.) - idirector Yu Irie will be at the screening
8:45pm 8000 MILES 2: GIRLS RAPPER (95 min.) - director Yu Irie will be at the screening

Wed, June 30

1:15pm TIAN AN MEN (97 min.)
3:30pm 8000 MILES (79 min.) - director Yu Irie will be at the screening
5:45pm ANNYONG YUMIKA (120 min.) - director Tetsuaki Matsue will be at the screening
8:00pm Indie Japan reception (60 min.)
9:00pm LIVE TAPE (74 min.) - director Tetsuaki Matsue and singer Kenta Maeno will be at the screening, to be followed by a short concert.

Thu, July 1

1:15pm CHAW (121 min.)
3:45pm LIVE TAPE (74 min.) - director Tetsuaki Matsue and singer Kenta Maeno will be at the screening, to be followed by a short concert.
7:00pm LITTLE BIG SOLDIER (95 min.)
9:00pm STORM WARRIORS (110 min.)
Japan Society
6:45pm SAWAKO DECIDES (112 min.)
9:00pm CONFESSIONS (106 min.)

Fri, July 2

1:00pm YATTERMAN (119 min.)
3:30pm A LITTLE POND (86 min.)
5:30pm MISE-EN-SCENE SHORTS - Program #1 (90 min.)
7:30pm SECRET REUNION (116 min.)
10:00pm CRAZY RACER (99 min.)
Japan Society
6:15pm GOLDEN SLUMBER (139 min.)
9:00pm THE BLOOD OF REBIRTH (83 min.) - director Toshiaki Toyoda will be at the screening
11:00pm Reception at Japan Society for Toshiaki Toyoda
IFC Center Midnights
12:00am PINK POWER STRIKES BACK (120 min.) - actress Asami will be at the screening

Sat, July 3

12:00pm LITTLE BIG SOLDIER (95 min.)
2:10pm SECRET REUNION (116 min.)
4:40pm MISE-EN-SCENE SHORTS (90 min.) - director Jo Sung-Hee will be at the screening
7:00pm ACTRESSES (104 min.) - director E J-yong will be at the screening
9:45pm SOPHIE'S REVENGE (108 min.)
Japan Society
1:00pm DEAR DOCTOR (127 min.)
3:45pm THE BLOOD OF REBIRTH (83 min.) - director Toshiaki Toyoda will be at the screening
6:00pm ALIEN vs NINJA (85 min.) - actor Masanori Mimoto will be at the screening

Sushi Typhoon launch by producer Yoshinori Chiba
8:30pm MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD (85 min.) - directors Noboru Iguchi & Yoshihiro Nishimura will be at the screening
10:30pm Sushi Typhoon party at Japan Society
IFC Center Midnights
12:00am POWER KIDS (90 min.)

Sun, July 4

1:00pm SYMBOL (93 min.)
3:00pm CASTAWAY ON THE MOON (116 min.) - director Lee Hey-Jun will be at the screening
5:45pm RED CLIFF UNCUT (288 min.)
Japan Society
12:00pm BOYS ON THE RUN (114 min.)
2:15pm CONFESSIONS (106 min.)
4:15pm DEAR DOCTOR (127 min.)
Anthology Film Archives
6:00pm THE ANCIENT DOGOO GIRL: MOVIE EDITION (115 min.) with guests
IFC Center Midnights
12:15pm DEATH KAPPA (79 min.)

Mon, July 5

1:30pm KUNG FU CHEFS (91 min.)
3:40pm ACTRESSES (104 min.) - director E. J-Yong will be at the screening
6:00pm MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD (85 min.) - directors Noboru Iguchi & Yoshihiro Nishimura will be at the screening
8:30pm DOMAN SEMAN (124 min.) - director Go Shibata and actor Mochi will be at the screening

Tue, July 6

1:15pm COW (109 min.)
3:45pm ALIEN VS NINJA (85 min.) - intro by Chiba
6:00pm GALLANTS (98 min.) - Bruce Leung will be at the screening
8:30pm GOLDEN SLUMBER (139 min.)

Wed, July 7

1:15pm SCANDAL MAKERS (108 min.)
3:40pm SYMBOL (93 min.)
5:45pm DOMAN SEMAN (124 min.) - director Go Shibata will be at the screening
8:45pm CASTAWAY ON THE MOON (116 min.) - director Lee Hey-Jun will be at the screening

Thu, July 8

1:45pm TIAN AN MEN (97 min.)
3:45pm MERANTAU (106 min.)
6:00pm GALLANTS (98 min.) - Bruce Leung will be at the screening
8:45pm BLADES OF BLOOD (110 min.)

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

THE ECLIPSE -- DVD review by porfle

"Ghost story" and "romance" are two types of films that can certainly be effective if done well.  And, of course, when you combine the two, as the makers of THE ECLIPSE (2009) have done, it can be doubly effective.  But since they didn't do it all that well, it's doubly ineffective.

As a ghost story, it starts out promisingly.  Ciarán Hinds plays Michael Farr, a lonely widower with two kids who helps organize a local literary festival.  Late one night he gets out of bed to glimpse a dark figure lurking around downstairs.  It looks like his elderly father-in-law Malachy, but a phone call to the nursing home reveals that the old man is in his room.  Later, as Michael is driving home on a dark country road one night, a shocking sight scares the bejeepers out of him and almost causes him to crash his car.  A final encounter with the specter, again in his house late at night, gives him (and me) another pretty good jolt. 

That's about it for the ghost story part.  There's a final attempt to scare us, CARRIE-style, late in the film, but it's so lame (and so beneath this film's dignity) that it had me thinking, "Ehh, nice try."  And one more ghostly encounter is played for wistful melancholy that's meant to make us misty-eyed.  These incidents are so isolated amidst the rest of the more mundane stretches of the story that there's no spooky atmosphere maintained, and no build-up to keep us on edge.  The movie doesn't really even seem to want to scare us all that much--I think we're just supposed to contemplate death and mortality and stuff--so those cheap shocks that pop up now and then feel a little out of place.

Meanwhile, there's sort of a half-hearted romance going on when Michael is asked to escort a visiting author, Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), while she's in town for the literary festival.  Lena writes about ghosts, having seen one as a child and experienced the shift in one's perception of reality which follows, and Michael is drawn to her.  Lena senses his feelings and responds, but is dogged by another well-known author, the egocentric boor Nicholas (Aidan Quinn), who wants to dump his current wife for Lena and is jealous of Michael.  After some pointless conflict between the two men, Michael and Lena form the basis for a gentle and mutually reassuring romantic bond.  Which goes nowhere.


THE ECLIPSE (the title is taken from Lena's current bestseller about ghosts) looks very formal and austere and the pace is quite stately.  This works well for such a low-key and unsensational story (save for those jarring shock cuts), with several shots being beautifully composed and much advantage taken of lush Irish locations.  Performances are good--Quinn actually gets to have some fun with his role, especially when he's drunk--and once you've settled into the mood of the film you may begin to anticipate an interesting and satisfying resolution to the events that have been developing since Michael's first ghostly sighting. 

Which is why the final freeze-frame comes as such a letdown.  The ghost story has been allowed to fizzle out to nothing, and the romance hasn't really ignited at all.  We're simply left with the possibility that something might happen later on in the future, now that Michael's uncertain feelings about his wife's death have been somewhat resolved and Lena has made a noncommital commitment to him.  As it turns out, the most insubstantial entity in the whole film is whatever lasting impression we're supposed to get from all this.


The DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment is in 2.00:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 sound.  Subtitles are in Spanish with English closed-captioning.  Extras include the featurettes "Making of The Eclipse" and "HDNet: A Look at The Eclipse."

THE ECLIPSE is pretty to look at, and fairly engrossing as you wait for it to eventually amount to something.  But as a story that's supposed to deliver as both a chiller and a romance, it's wrought so finely and with such subtlety that it's barely there.


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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

PIG HUNT -- movie review by porfle

[Note: Fangoria magazine has teamed up with Lightning Media and Blockbuster for a series of eight horror/thrillers which will be available exclusively on DVD, VOD, and digital download Sept. 28 under the "Fangoria FrightFest" banner. This film is part of that series.]


I didn't know it was such a short drive from San Francisco straight into the heart of DELIVERANCE country, but in PIG HUNT (2008), five friends from the city end up stranded in Yokelvania and running for their lives from homicidal hicks, cutthroat cultists, and a man-eating hog big enough to keep two Piggly-Wigglys stocked in bacon and pork chops for a year. 

When a loony forest-dwelling uncle dies, nephew Johnny (Travis Aaron Wade) inherits some land and the old shack where he grew up.  Johnny and his girlfriend Brooks (Tina Huang) decide to spend a pig-hunting weekend there with three friends--green, trigger-happy Marine Ben (Howard Johnson, Jr.), chubby tenderfoot Quincy (Trevor Bullock), and slacker Wayne (Rajiv Shah).  In the woods, they run into some of Johnny's childhood acquaintances, hillbilly brothers Jake and Ricky (Jason Foster, Nick Tagas), who go along for the hunt.  Jake tells them of a legendary 3,000-pound boar hog named Ripper who supposedly roams the woods, but of course they don't believe him. 

Things turn ugly when the hunters stumble upon a huge marijuana field hidden in the forest.  While Jake and Ricky want to sack up a few hundred pounds of prime weed, Johnny's for alerting the authorities to their find.  An altercation results in death for one of the brothers, and the other, stoked for revenge, runs off to gather the rest of his kill-crazy clan.  The city kids flee to the supposed safety of a hippie commune run by a mysterious stranger (Bryonn Bain) where they find themselves in even deeper hog-poop than before.  Carnage ensues when city dwellers, yokels, cult crazies, and a 3,000-pound surprise guest hog start makin' bacon out of each other.


While lesser hands may have botched such a promising premise, director James Isaac (JASON X, SKINWALKERS) scores a bullseye by mixing gory TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE-style backwoods horror with a wicked sense of fun.  The long build-up of the film's first half explodes into kinetic energy when the hillbilly clan goes into action against Johnny and his friends, racing headlong down dirt roads in their trucks, dune buggies, and motorcycles in the first of several sequences that look like the filmmakers had a ball shooting and editing them.  When they converge on two of the main characters back at the old shack there's a frantic sense of real terror as they scramble desperately to escape the mindless killers. 

Meanwhile, Ben stumbles into a scene right out of his most surrealistic fantasy when he comes across about a dozen beautiful naked women lounging around the local swimmin' hole.  I have to hand it to the writers here--this scene really adds that certain special something to the story.  Ben ends up like a shiek in a harem, complete with hookah, and thinks he's gone to heaven.  Hog heaven, that is, which he's about to abruptly discover.

One of my favorite scenes occurs after one of the yokels bursts in and starts blasting away.  As he holds the main cult babe at gunpoint, she plucks a boar's tusk from her necklace and jams it into his eyeball.  Johnny grabs the gun and points it at her, but waits.  As cult-babe is viciously rearranging the hillbilly's face, she glances up a couple of times to make sure Johnny's going to hold off and let her finish before pulling the trigger.  It may not sound like much in the description, but the way it's acted, shot, and edited makes it one of the coolest moments in the film.


And then there's the Ripper.  For most of the film his presence is shown by a JAWS-style POV accompanied by low, throaty growls and brief glimpses of blazing eyes and jagged tusks.  When he finally makes his grand entrance in the final act, complete with a dead bit player dangling from his mouth, the rig that the SPFX guys have come up with to depict this massive pork-orca is so over-the-top outlandish that it's hilarious and impressive at the same time.  CGI would've rendered a smoother, more active creature, but ruined the more satisfying effect achieved by good old-fashioned methods and judicious editing.

I watched a screener so DVD specs and details on special features were unavailable.

A capable cast playing fairly interesting characters for a change helps kick PIG HUNT up a notch over similar films.  (Trevor Bullock as Quincy is particularly good as he reacts convincingly to his impending death at the hands of the hillbilly clan.)  Add to this a sense that the filmmakers are having all sorts of fun making this movie, and you've got a no-holds-barred backwoods blowout that's just as much fun to watch.
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Anchor Bay Entertainment presents ABANDONED with Brittany Murphy coming to DVD and Blu-ray August 24th



ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT RELEASES BRITTANY MURPHY’S FINAL FILM

The Mind Game Begins on Blu-ray™ and DVD August 24, 2010

Beverly Hills, CA – Anchor Bay Entertainment presents the psychological thriller Abandoned on Blu-ray™ and DVD with a SRP of $34.98 (Blu-ray™) and $26.97 (DVD). This dark tale of a woman searching for her boyfriend after he mysteriously vanishes from the hospital marks the last screen appearance by the late actress Brittany Murphy (8 Mile, Sin City, Just Married, Clueless, Girl, Interrupted). It hits stores August 24th.

Abandoned follows Mary Walsh (Murphy) as she delivers boyfriend Kevin (Dean Cain, “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman;” starring in the upcoming Georgia with Val Kilmer and Andy Garcia) to a hospital for a routine outpatient surgery. But when Mary returns to take him home, he is nowhere to be found.  The hospital administrator (Mimi Rogers, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) can’t find any record of him, and a police search turns up nothing.

Increasingly frantic, Mary is taken to a staff psychiatrist, Dr. Bensley (Peter Bogdanovich, “The Sopranos”) who pronounces her unstable.  Now, she must not only find her missing boyfriend, but prove her own sanity. When a stranger informs Mary he knows of Kevin’s whereabouts, but demands a $10 million ransom, Mary realizes that to save herself and the man she loves, she must use any means necessary.

Abandoned is a film that will not be forgotten, nor will the powerful performance of Brittany Murphy.

ABANDONED Blu-ray™
Street Date:               August 24, 2010
Pre-Book:                  July 28, 2010
Catalog #:                  BD21943
UPC #:                       0 1313 21943-9 4
Audio:                         Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Aspect Ratio:             1:78:1 / 16x9
Retail Price:               $34.98
Genre:                        Thriller
Rating:                        Not Rated
Run Time:                   93 minutes
Year:                           2009

ABANDONED DVD
Street Date:               August 24, 2010
Pre-Book:                  July 28, 2010
Catalog #:                  DV21893
UPC #:                       0 1313 21893-9 0
Audio:                         Dolby Surround 5.1
Aspect Ratio:             1:78:1 / 16x9
Retail Price:               $26.97
Genre:                        Thriller
Rating:                        Not Rated
Run Time:                   93 minutes
Year:                           2009

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DVD
Blu-Ray
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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Science Fiction Horror Thriller "GROWTH" Germinates on DVD Sept. 7th from Anchor Bay Entertainment



"GRIM, BLOODY, AND UNSETTLING...GREAT FILM!" -- Bryn Hammond, GOREZONE MAGAZINE

Beverly Hills , CA – A frightening excursion into science gone haywire, Growth invades homes when Anchor Bay Entertainment releases the shocking film on DVD September 7th. Featuring such genre favorites as Mircea Monroe (the upcoming Tekken), Christopher Shand (“True Blood”), Nora Kirkpatrick (“Greek”), Brian Krause (“Charmed,” Sleepwalkers), Alexi Wasser (Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever),  Ian Patrick Williams (Re-Animator, Superhero Movie) and Richard Riehle (Office Space, Hatchet), Growth promises an unforgettable journey into the next level of terror! SRP is $26.97, and pre-book is August 11th.

Written and directed by Gabriel Cowan (Breathing Room), Growth begins in 1989, when a breakthrough in advanced parasitic research on Kuttyhunk Island gives scientists a jump in human evolution, endowing subjects with heightened physical and mental strength. But, the experiment went horribly wrong, producing a lethal parasite that mysteriously killed off three quarters of the island’s population, with the survivors fleeing for their lives.

Twenty years later, Jamie Akerman ( Monroe ), who lost her mother in the outbreak, returns with her boyfriend (Krause), step-brother and best friend to sell the family property. There, they uncover the key to Jamie’s disturbing past, and the horrifying secrets long suppressed by the town’s leader Larkin (Riehle). When the past seems to be finally buried, a new strain of parasite emerges, and threatens the island once again. They can slither into – or out of – any orifice in the human body. The final step in evolution has begun…

Bonus features on Growth DVD include:

Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Gabriel Cowan and Producer Amiee Clark
Audio Commentary with Actors Mircea Monroe, Christopher Shand, and Nora Kirkpatrick
Growth In Development – Behind the scenes featurette with cast/crew interviews
Korea Online – How Director Gabriel Cowan in Los Angeles directed one scene shot in Seoul , Korea via online camera
Deleted Scenes
Trailer

GROWTH DVD
Street Date:                  September 7, 2010      
Pre-book:                     August 11, 2010
Cat. #:                          DV21855
UPC:                            0 1313 21855-9 10
Run Time:                     90 minutes
Rating:                          Not Rated
SRP:                            $26.97
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio:                          Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                       English SDH

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Carter Stevens' Guide to TCM This Week (June 23-30)


JUNE 23

It must be China's birthday. Every film has something to do with China today.


JUNE 24

11:00pm  Steel Helmet, The (1951)  
Americans trapped behind enemy lines fight off Communists during the Korean War.
Cast: Robert Hutton, Steve Brodie, James Edwards, Richard Loo Dir: Samuel Fuller BW-84 mins, TV-14

Sam Fuller could take a penny and make it look like a dollar on screen. Speilburg could have learned a thing or two about making war films from him.  Tough and gritty just don't do this film justice.

3:45am  Battle Circus (1953)
A doctor fights for his life during the Korean War.
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, June Allyson, Keenan Wynn, Robert Keith Dir: Richard Brooks BW-90 mins, TV-PG

The original M.A.S.H., but in no way a comedy.


JUNE 25

9 more Korean war films.


JUNE 26

5:15am   Perversion For Profit(1965)
This anti-porn documentary shows a floodtide of filth engulfing the country in the form of newsstand obscenity  Cast: George Putnam narrates. BW-31 mins, TV-MA

My very favorite documentary. Notice they never run it except in the very early morning hours. Worth getting up and watching for a good laugh. If your still up from the night before fire up a doobie and enjoy it more.

8:30am  Third Man, The (1949)  
A man's investigation of a friend's death uncovers corruption in post-World War II Vienna.
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard Dir: Carol Reed BW-104 mins, TV-14

Three notes to name that movie and if you can't you are tone deaf.

2:00am  Frances (1982)  
Actress Frances Farmer's mind snaps under the pressures of Hollywood life and a domineering mother.
Cast: Jessica Lange, Kim Stanley, Sam Shepard, Bart Burns Dir: Graeme Clifford C-140 mins, TV-MA

Jessica Lange proved she could act in this one.


JUNE 27

2:00pm   Annie Get Your Gun (1950)   
Fanciful musical biography of wild West sharpshooter Annie Oakley.
Cast: Betty Hutton, Howard Keel, Louis Calhern, J. Carrol Naish Dir: George Sidney C-107 mins, TV-G 

Great music, horrible film. And keep an eye out for that great Irish born Indian J. Carrol Naish.

4:00pm  Plaza Suite (1971) 
A New York hotel room is the setting for three stories of romantic squabbles.
Cast: Walter Matthau, Lee Grant, Barbara Harris, Maureen Stapleton Dir: Arthur Hiller C-114 mins, TV-14

I like Walter Matthau, I really do,  but he is horribly miscast in two of the three acts in this film. I'll let you judge which two.    I have a soft spot for this play as I used to make money directing it for little theater groups before I started doing films.


JUNE 28

1:00am  Brainstorm (1983) 
A scientist battles the military for control of a machine that records sensory experiences-including death.
Cast: Natalie Wood, Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher, Cliff Robertson Dir: Douglas Trumbull C-106 mins, TV-14

I have a soft spot for this film. Maybe it's because of the guy who loops the porn film and orgasms himself into a nervous breakdown. Now that is a real porn fan.


JUNE 29

4:45am  Loved One, The (1965) 
An Englishman in Hollywood moves into the funeral business.
Cast: Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters, Anjanette Comer, Rod Steiger Dir: Tony Richardson BW-121 mins, TV-PG


I love "Black" comedy and this is as dark as they come.  Plus Rod Steiger as Mr. JoyBoy who could resist.

8:00pm  How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967)  
With the help of his handy guidebook, a window washer talks his way into the executive suite.
Cast: Robert Morse, Michele Lee, Rudy Vallee, Anthony Teague Dir: David Swift C-121 mins, TV-PG


One of the truly great underrated musicals.

JUNE 30

10:00pm  Bell, Book and Candle (1959) 
A beautiful witch puts a love spell on an unknowing publisher.
Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs Dir: Richard Quine C-102 mins, TV-PG


Kim Novak never got the attention she deserved as an actress. I guess that's what happens when you are stunningly beautiful. Ernie Kovacs never got a part worthy of his true genius--I guess that's what happens when you are not.
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Monday, June 21, 2010

DON McKAY -- DVD review by porfle

The last thing I want to watch is some lame romantic dramedy, which is what DON McKAY (2009) looked like at first glance.  But just as I'm starting to think that's exactly what it is, something happens from out of the blue that shifts the film into a whole different gear altogether and makes me think, "Well okay, then!"  It's not quite as drastic as the tone shift in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but it makes all the difference, and suddenly this quirky little dramedy has veered off into the same sort of twisted-noir territory you might find the Coen brothers lurking around in.

Even BLOOD SIMPLE's M. Emmett Walsh is there as Samuel the friendly but nosey old cabbie, who picks up Don at the bus station when he returns to his hometown after 25 years.  Don McKay (Thomas Haden Church), a lonesome high school janitor, just got an unexpected letter from his old girlfriend Sonny (Elisabeth Shue) telling him that she's dying and wants to spend her last days with him.  When he arrives at Sonny's house, her primly birdlike nurse Marie (Melissa Leo) seems predisposed to dislike him, as does Sonny's physician, Dr. Pryce (James Rebhorn), who acts resentful of Don's presence.  Sonny herself is so clinging and needful of Don that she hardly seems like the same person, and when she mentions marriage, he's nonplussed. 

That's just around the time that the thing happens, which I'd rather not reveal (and you might want to skip this paragraph if you haven't seen it), but it all starts with Don's allergic reaction to a bee sting during an unpleasant encounter that results in a bloody shirt he has to dispose of and a dead body in the backyard, which he must enlist his old friend Otis (Keith David) to help him get rid of.  Except when they go back for it, it's gone.  Don begins to doubt his own sanity when Sonny claims to have just spoken to the person the next day, and gets really nervous when Marie starts needling him with a wry "I know what you did" attitude.  But things get even weirder when people suddenly start to not be who they are, or be who they aren't, and blackmail him, and try to kill him, and start killing each other and blaming him for it, and doing all sorts of stuff that just plain puzzles Don.


The payoff of all this is the climactic kitchen scene, where all the main characters converge in a series of twists and turns and revelations that pop like a string of firecrackers.  Elisabeth Shue is dazzling to watch as her character, whom we've been trying to figure out the whole time, comes unwound in all directions while everyone else struggles to keep up with it all.  The tongue-in-cheek nature of Jake Goldberger's deviously clever script blends perfectly with the more traditional noir elements, and no matter how outrageous things get it never feels like a put-on.  The humor is so dry, it's almost dried-out.

Thomas Haden Church plays Don almost as though he were a close relative to the Coens' THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, except that in his own quiet, soulful way, he is there.  As we begin to root for this poor, unassuming shlub to somehow extricate himself from the mess his lonely heart has led him into, the character he resembles the most after all is Buster Keaton.  But while Buster's deadpan passivity masked a keen resourcefulness and will to survive, Don is always a confused half-step behind the incomprehensible events of his current situation, wielding his own common decency and stunned cluelessness as a fragile shield against the whirlwind of uncertain fate that seems to surround Sonny.

The film boasts above-average photography and Goldberger's direction is solid.  Besides the two leads, Melissa Leo ("Homicide: Life on the Street", RIGHTEOUS KILL) is a joy to watch as Marie, especially when her true colors emerge, and Pruitt Taylor Vance is fun as always in the role of Mel, another key player in whatever's going on that I'd rather not give away.  M. Emmett Walsh and Keith David offer their usual fine support in smaller roles.


The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen and Dolby 5.1 sound, with English and Spanish subtitles.  Extras include a talky, genial commentary with director Goldberger and producer Jim Young, about five minutes of deleted scenes, and a ridiculously overwrought trailer that makes this look like a dark, dead-serious thriller.

Speaking of the trailer, don't watch it before you see the movie.  In fact, don't read the DVD box, either, and whatever you do, don't read this review.  (Whoops...)  DON McKAY is a film best seen without any preconceptions except for those mistaken ones I mentioned before.  That way, you get so much more than you expected.


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EYEBORGS -- DVD review by porfle

If you throw a bunch of elements from different sci-fi movies into the pot and stir, the result is often one big gooey glop.  But sometimes, as in the case of the rousing sci-fi thriller EYEBORGS (2009), you luck out and get something that's not only watchable, but quite entertaining as well.

The opening exposition is like one of those public service announcements from STARSHIP TROOPERS, explaining that in the near future, thanks to the Freedom of Observation Act, the citizens of the USA are being watched over 24 hours a day by Homeland Security's ubiquitous new robot sentinels known as "eyeborgs."  These come in various sizes such as the smaller "crab" model (basically a big eyeball with legs), the larger and more formidable "spider" model (which can perform other useful robotic functions as well), and, as we discover later in the story, some deluxe models that can be downright militant and hostile.  Needless to say, the specter of Orwell's 1984 is invoked along with the cheerful compliance of a complacent citizenry with their own subjugation as also seen in STARSHIP TROOPERS.

Of course, this all-encompassing surveillance network is a big boon to the police until Detective R.J. "Gunner" Reynolds (Adrian Paul) and TV news reporter Barbara Hawkins (Megan Blake) start to uncover evidence that certain eyeborg recordings have actually been faked.  But by whom--if not the Skynet-like central computer system itself?  Meanwhile, a really bad punk-metal rocker named Jarett Hewes (Luke Eberl) is the victim of an assassination attempt on the eve of performing at a ball for his uncle, the President.  Anti-government terrorists are blamed, but Gunner begins to suspect a deeper and even more insidious conspiracy.  Trouble is, whenever he or anyone else gets too close to the truth, the eyeborgs show up in kill-mode.

The eyeborgs are reminiscent of robots from several other movies, chiefly that big bad law-enforcement unit from ROBOCOP.  The crabs resemble little mini-droids and sneak around furtively like those spidery things that menaced Tom Cruise in MINORITY REPORT.   The larger bipedal kill-bots are like a cross between ATTACK OF THE CLONES' General Grievous and the great Maximillian from THE BLACK HOLE, while some of the other battle models are akin to those in TERMINATOR 3.  All are rendered as well as the CGI budget for the film allowed and are generally pretty convincing, except that the crab-bots move too fluidly for rigid metal devices.  Then again, one of the bad things about CGI is that everything is often made to move too darn fluidly in order to show off how fluid CGI is.



The script is rife with jabs at the Bush administration and other in-jokes.  In a society where tobacco is now outlawed and sold by shadowy street dealers like weed, our hero's name is R.J. Reynolds and one of the TV newscasters is named Winston Salem (two others are named Romero and Coppola).  The political leanings of the screenwriters seem fairly obvious when we hear references to numerous Gulf Wars and the invasions of various small countries (ostensibly due to terrorist ties) which are described as "oil-rich."  The president, as you might guess, is rumored to have stolen the election due to voting fraud. 

The story is kept interesting by the detective work of Gunner and Hawkins as they begin to uncover the real cause of a number of horrific deaths despite faked eyeborg tapes.  A cameraman for Hawkins comes up with solid evidence of this and is on his way to give it to her when his van is attacked (shades of SILKWOOD) by spider-bots.  Venerable Danny Trejo (MACHETE), as guitar repairman G-Man, gets a visit from the mechanical monsters in his workshop and has to avoid getting drilled for information.  All of this leads up to what seems to be an attempt by someone to assassinate the president himself during a televised speech, with Gunner making like Eastwood in IN THE LINE OF FIRE and then fighting off the baddest eyeborgs of all, ALIENS-style, with the help of a SWAT team.  In the middle of all this, there's a nifty twist or two that I didn't see coming.


The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen and Dolby 5.1 surround, with English and Spanish subtitles.  Extras include about half an hour of "making of" featurettes, several deleted scenes, and a trailer.

With some cool stuntwork, exciting action scenes, not-bad CGI (mostly), a good cast, and a suspenseful story, EYEBORGS is low-key B-movie fun--as long as you take into consideration the fact that it was neither directed nor funded by James Cameron.


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Sunday, June 20, 2010

BROOKLYN'S FINEST -- DVD review by porfle

BROOKLYN'S FINEST (2010) turns the old cliche' about the veteran cop who's retiring in three days on its ear--this time, he's retiring in seven days.  Fortunately, that's not the only difference, as we soon discover in this riveting tale of three cops who know all too well that it isn't easy being the good guys. 

Richard Gere is gradually getting more interesting to watch as he gets older.  His "Eddie Dugan" character is a burnt-out cop who greets each morning by sitting bolt upright out of a nightmare, swilling a shot of booze, and playing Russian roulette.  The rookie cops he's paired with are shocked by his apathy and seeming disregard for the violence and victimization going on all around them as they patrol the mean streets of Brooklyn.  Gere, now a more seasoned actor who manages to play tired and old even though he still retains that matinee idol veneer, portrays Eddie as someone who's simply been numbed past the point of caring until something happens to restore a spark of compassion and give him a chance to redeem himself. 

His story is intertwined with those of two other cops who are also reaching the end of their ropes.  Bursting with a frantic intensity, Ethan Hawke reminds me of a young Mickey Rourke as Sal, a narcotics cop whose obsession with giving his family a better life has driven him to kill drug dealers and avail himself of their stacks of money he could never earn honestly.  On the other end of this vicious cycle is Don Cheadle (one of my favorite actors who has that deep-seated look of inner suffering down pat) as Tango, an undercover cop doing a Donnie Brasco inside the cutthroat mob of drug kingpin Caz (Wesley Snipes) and finding himself becoming more sympathetic to Caz and hostile toward his fellow cops as the months and years drag on.


The deft intercutting of these three storylines throughout the film, as each forges its way inexorably toward potential disaster, often gives it the feeling of a pressure cooker ready to blow any minute.  We care about these guys and want things to work out for them, but an edgy sense of dread kicks in from the very start and makes it obvious that there are going to be some fatalities before the whole thing's over.  One sequence in particular, which occurs about midway through the film, has the urgency of a lit fuse slowly burning its way toward detonation.  More than most cop films I've seen, this one has the tension of a war movie. 

Director Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY) captures the dark, gritty realism of both the inner city drug trade at its most ruthless and the desperation of underpaid, beleagered cops on the front lines.  Michael C. Martin's taut screenplay explores the moral and spiritual turmoil of the three main characters as their pressing personal concerns blur the line between right and wrong.  Location shooting in Brooklyn and the use of local inhabitants as extras adds to the atmosphere.

The excellent supporting cast includes Lili Taylor as Sal's pregnant wife Angie, Will Patton (another fave of mine) as a police official forever stringing Tango along, and Shannon Kane as a beautiful, sympathetic prostitute who helps Eddie pretend that he has a love life.  As special agent Smith, a snarling harpy who threatens to destroy Tango if he doesn't straighten up and fly right, Ellen Barkin gives us a wonderfully vile update of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE's Rosa Klebb.


The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1, with English and Spanish subtitles.  Extras include a detailed, scene-specific director's commentary, four "making-of" featurettes, over half an hour's worth of deleted scenes, and trailers for this and other Anchor Bay releases. 

As it turns out, none of these three cop stories on their own are all that fully developed, some heading straight toward conclusions that have a resigned inevitability.  One, however, is upbeat enough to keep BROOKLYN'S FINEST from being a total, dispiriting wallow in pessimism, and together they add up to an exciting and compelling narrative. 


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Friday, June 18, 2010

ROAD KILL -- movie review by porfle

[Note: Fangoria magazine has teamed up with Lightning Media and Blockbuster for a series of eight horror/thrillers which will be available exclusively on DVD, VOD, and digital download Sept. 28 under the "Fangoria FrightFest" banner. This film is part of that series.]


Two young couples motoring across the long, lonesome highways of the Australian Outback are menaced by a massive double-sized tractor-trailer rig known as a "road train" (the film's original title) in 2010's ROAD KILL, a fairly effective horror-thriller that takes a different route than you might expect. 

The premise immediately brought two movies to my mind upon first viewing.  One is Steven Spielberg's classic made-for-TV thriller DUEL, in which Dennis Weaver plays a harried salesman whose tiny car is the prey for a crazed trucker in the middle of nowhere.  Yet another Aussie thriller, ROAD GAMES, is also set in the Outback and features a trucker (Stacy Keach) and a comely young hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis) in a cat-and-mouse game with a traveling serial killer. 


But just when I'm thinking ROAD KILL is going to be a rehash of these two plots, it decides to go somewhere else entirely.  The two couples--Craig and Nina, and Marcus and Liz, who have a history of jealousy and rivalry simmering below the surface of their fragile friendship--are run off the road by the roaring behemoth just when we think we're at the start of a long chase sequence.  This is the last such scene we'll see until much later in the film when there's one more high-speed clash between truck and automobile.

Climbing out of the wreckage with Craig (Bob Morley) badly injured, they stumble along until they find the road train parked by the side of the highway with nobody in it.  They get in just as a crazy man emerges from the bushes blasting away at them with a pistol, and Marcus manages to get the thing moving.  Lulled by hours of monotonous motion, they drop off to sleep--even Marcus seems to doze at the wheel as the truck continues to rumble onward.  Suddenly it stops, and they awaken to find that Marcus has accidentally turned off onto a side road and gotten them lost.  Or...was the truck acting on its own?

Yes, with our four main characters now stranded in the wilderness, ROAD KILL becomes a haunted truck story.  While a bitterly quarreling Marcus (Xavier Samuel, TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE) and Liz (Georgina Haig) strike out for the main highway on foot, Craig and Nina begin to sense a pervasive evil eminating from those two locked containers.  I'll skip the details of what follows, but it includes possession, betrayal, and the horrific discovery of what's really going on inside that damned truck.  Meanwhile, Marcus and Liz have some pretty shocking experiences of their own before they make it back just in time to get in on the gory fun.


Dean Francis' capable direction (this is his first feature) keeps the suspense pretty taut considering that most of the movie consists of four characters and a truck.  Good performances by the cast help to put over a script that often doesn't make a whole lot of sense (and doesn't really try to), with Sophie Lowe as Nina carrying most of the acting load and giving us at least one character we can identify with who isn't a total jerk.  She even gets to drive that damned truck when they finally get it back out on the highway for the exciting gear-grinding conclusion.

I watched a screener so DVD specs were unavailable.  Fangoria.com lists the special features as "audio commentary by director Dean Francis, a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, the 8 FANGORIA FRIGHTS cable special and the eight FrightFest trailers."  One thing's for sure--if the nerve-wracking soundtrack for this flick doesn't threaten to jar your skull right out of your head, you've got stronger ears than I have.

I'm not sure how rewatchable ROAD KILL will be once you've slowly and patiently peeled the onion away from its mysterious core, but that first time was definitely enough to maintain a firm grip on my attention span.  And I now have an interesting new mental image for the term "monster truck." 
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DARK HOUSE -- movie review by porfle

[Note: Fangoria magazine has teamed up with Lightning Media and Blockbuster for a series of eight horror/thrillers which will be available exclusively on DVD, VOD, and digital download Sept. 28 under the "Fangoria FrightFest" banner. This film is part of that series.]

Loud, obnoxious, and dumb, DARK HOUSE (2009) is like a cross between a slasher flick, a ghost story, and a funhouse ride.  Its 80s-retro vibe even reminded me a little of Tobe Hooper's FUNHOUSE (along with films such as the obscure cult fave SILENT SCREAM), only minus most of the fun and plus a heaping helping of cheese.

The story opens with a little girl being dared by her friends to enter the neighborhood "scary house" (actually, it looks more quaintly picturesque than scary) and finding the bodies of seven murdered children strewn about.  Their foster mother, Miss Darrode (Diane Salinger), is in the kitchen grinding her hands off in the garbage disposal.  She thinks that by killing them, she's just saved the souls of her evil foster children because she is that most dreaded of all horror movie psychos--a religious fanatic! (Gasp!)

Fourteen years later, Claire (Meghan Ory) is, not surprisingly, undergoing therapy, and her doctor urges her to return to the house and confront the fears which continue to haunt her, hoping that she'll regain her buried memories of the event.  Conveniently enough, the members of her college drama class have just been hired by flamboyant horror showman Walston (Jeffrey Combs) to work in his brand new hologram-enhanced spookhouse attraction, which is located in none other than the Darrode house. 


Claire's friends are a sorry bunch of stereotypical kill fodder that we can't wait to see get theirs.  There's Rudy, the arrogant jock; Ariel, the dumb blonde nympho; Bruce, the nerd; Eldon, the black guy; and Lily, the Goth chick.  That's literally the extent of their character development, and from the first moment we see them in drama class "acting out" their true feelings for each other, we hate their guts.  Then Walston flits in to pitch his new haunted house idea to them, and we hate his guts, too, because the wonderful Jeffrey Combs has been given a truly awful character to portray and he tries way too hard to sell it.

The filmmakers tip their hand the moment we enter the house, when a misty black shape can be seen flitting about.  Then we get a demonstration of the holographic attractions, including a psycho clown with an axe, a mad scientist, a dungeon master, various zombie types, and, my favorite, a really freaky-looking young lady with long, sharp fingernails who reminded me of "The Angry Princess" from THIR13EN GHOSTS.  They aren't very scary but are fun to look at as they spring out at us as though we were watching a 3D movie.  (SCTV's Dr. Tongue would love it.) 

Naturally, the malevolent spirit of Miss Darrode enters the computer that runs everything and turns the holograms deadly.  There's not a whole lot of suspense and most of the characters are done away with rather summarily, one breaking her neck from a tumble down the stairs and a couple of others dying off-camera.  The first of the drama students to die (see if you can guess who) gets a mace to the head by that scariest of all horror characters, a medieval knight.  The resulting gore effect is done digitally instead of with good old-fashioned physical effects, which is always a disappointment--you just can't fake a genuine exploding head with CGI. 


The film's main asset is Diane Salenger as Miss Darrode.  She's pretty unsettling at first--an early jump-scare with her insane face shooting toward the camera is a real jolt--but she's overused to the point where all her prolonged screaming and twisty-faced mugging into the camera gets old.  (I'd love to see what a really good Japanese or Thai horror director could've done with her character.)  Before long, the jump-scares themselves begin to feel like someone continually goosing us until the effect is diminished.

Direction by Darin Scott is slick but doesn't quite capture the sort of fun-spooky William Castle atmosphere he seems to be going for.  Things get less dumb-fun and more serious in the final act, when the hidden secrets behind Miss Darrode's murder spree and Claire's amnesia are revealed, although the more we're shown the more confusing things seem to get.  I think I caught most of it but by then the film's dogged attempts to terrify me had become rather numbing.

I watched a screener of this movie so I can't comment on DVD specifics.  According to Fangoria.com, special features will include "a commentary track by Scott and producer Mark Sonoda, the 8 FANGORIA FRIGHTS cable special and the eight FrightFest trailers." 

DARK HOUSE is just diverting enough to be worth watching if you don't have anything better to do.  But you have to go into it the same way little Claire crept into the spooky old Darrode house all those years ago--expecting the worst.
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