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1 item from 2006


Halloween DVD roundup

27 October 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The calendar commands. We obey. Here's a roundup of fall's most horrific DVDs.

Before Freddy Krueger morphed into a bobblehead doll and beloved pop icon, he was a slayer and molester of small children, more interested in ghastly homicide than one-liners. Nowadays, he's "The Henny Youngman of horror", says horror pic pundit David Del Valle. "We forget that he was this child killer."

New Line offers an eye-opening reminder with the rerelease of "A Nightmare on Elm Street", the real-deal original and by far the best movie in the Freddy franchise. The double-disc set proves a significant upgrade from NL's last "Nightmare", bringing back to life most of the extras from the definitive Elite laserdisc of the late '90s.

The overhauled video and audio alone justify New Line's double dip. Images are on the dark side, with a bias toward artsy-creepy blues. Compared to the 2001 disc, there's much more detail, less grain, less fuzziness. Aspect ratio is the original 1.85:1, enhanced for 16x9 monitors. Audio gets a big upgrade to nerve-rattling Dolby 5.1-EX and DTS-ES 6.1 surround. Fans have griped that a handful of audio effects are MIA.

Writer-director Wes Craven, star Heather Langenkamp and several co-conspirators do a new commentary. (Johnny Depp, who made his film debut here as the weenie boyfriend, doesn't participate.) The second feature-length talk with Craven and company dates back to the 1996 laserdisc. Either one is a good choice.

Three new featurettes cover the Freddy phenomenon. "The House That Freddy Built: The History of New Line" takes us from "Nightmare" to "The Lord of the Rings". The company-line docu tells how close this production was to never happening because of skittish financiers. At one point, a crew member's credit cards came into play. Peter Jackson later wrote a script for a "Nightmare" sequel, the docu says, but it was rejected. "Never Sleep Again" does a good job covering the production, mixing in plenty of deleted footage. "I dream of Freddy all the time", says actress Langenkamp, now in her 40s. "Night Terrors" looks at dream symbolism through the ages and how Freddy fits in.

The docus incorporate much of the material presented on Disc 1 via New Line's ambitious but annoying InfiniFilm scheme, in which viewers detour from the film to view extras that are announced by pop-ups.

****

Takashi Miike knows the outer limits of American cable. "Imprint", the notorious Japanese director's entry in Showtime's "Masters of Horror" series, proved too extreme for the network.

"Banned from cable TV" the DVD slipcase shouts. Not even a close call, most rational viewers will agree.

"Imprint" loiters in the darkest places of civilized life, exploiting incest, abortion, spousal abuse, child molestation, torture and more. "What system, what producer would greenlight this?" Miike muses in the extras. "For me this is like a car accident."

A better question: Why bother to watch such a thing? Miike is hugely talented, as he proved with the domestic shocker "Audition". The hourlong "Imprint's" dark beauty can't be denied. Visually, it's reminiscent of Kurosawa's final poetic works. The plot goes from strange to absurd in the final 15 minutes, but the story still fascinates with its twists and "Rashomon"-like shuffling of realities. For those who can bear it, "Imprint" proves a singular experience.

The story is set on a Japanese island, near the end of the 19th century. The American anti-hero, played by Billy Drago, shows up at a low-rent brothel seeking a working girl he promised to marry years ago. A hooker, beautiful despite a deformed face, gives him tea and comfort, then launches into a long story about her past and his lost love. "I am surrounded by madness", the seeker proclaims once he has heard enough. But the madness has just begun.

Miike is interviewed at length in the extras. He seems like a decent guy, well versed in fast-and-furious filmmaking. Miike is full of practiced quotes: "Human nature itself is horrific." "The object of horror is not (to reveal) a lunatic but yourself." A text essay on the director and his many genre films will be helpful for most viewers.

The commentators, oddly enough, are not big fans of the work. Chris D. of the American Cinematheque and writer Wyatt Doyle call Miike's decision to shoot in English a cop-out, pointing to the shaky performances of Japanese players who had to learn their lines phonetically. They expect more from Miike. Good talk.

Anchor Bay's single-disc presentation retails for $16.98. It includes a pair of decent making-of docus that add up to about 70 minutes. The letterboxed images (1.77:1, enhanced) are flawless and richly colored. Audio is fine.

****

One of the many cool things about "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" was its cheap-o documentary feel. The images on previous home video releases were true to its low-low-budget origins, but now Dark Sky Films has gone and gussied up the 1974 indie classic.

"Chain Saw" looks and sounds as good as it's going to get on this "Ultimate Edition". The high-def transfer, from the mother 16mm negatives, reveals surprisingly vibrant colors and detail. Audio has been remixed in 5.1 and stereo, allowing appreciation of its chilling soundtrack, hugely influential and ahead of its time.

The DVD features two docus: "The Shocking Truth" (from 2000) and the looser "Flesh Wounds". "Truth" tells the downbeat tale of how the filmmakers and actors were cut out of the film's juicy profits, with an alleged mob-front company taking the blame. A commentary with director Tobe Hooper and "Leatherface" Gunnar Hansen comes from previous editions; a new track features the actors and the innovative production designer Robert A. Burns. Hours of grisly fun await the faithful in the other extras. Retail: $29.98.

****

"Rest Stop", another tale of Texas terror, comes from Warner's new direct-to-video operation, Raw Feed. The movie starts as a kidnapping thriller, a redneck version of "The Vanishing", before veering off into psycho killer territory. Director John Shiban ("The X-Files") gets decent performances out of his young star, Jaimie Alexander, and from Joey Lawrence, who plays a doomed cop. Extras include three alternate endings and a strange short about the film's family of Spam-eating freaks. Retail: $24.98.

****

The "Mystery Science Theater" gang would have a blast with 1975's "The Devil's Rain," a work equally sinister and shlocky. Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert and William Shatner get top billing, along with a game Ida Lupino. Young talent includes hero Tom Skerritt and John Travolta, making his film debut. Borgnine reportedly refused to do another movie involving satanism after supernatural goings-on during filming, but director Robert Fuest says diplomatically that he, um, hadn't heard anything about that. "If you stop and analyze (the movie), you get into trouble," Fuest cautions. "Rain" was made with the "special participation" of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, who's seen marrying a lucky couple in a newsreel extra. Another Dark Sky title; retail: $14.98.

****

Two Boris Karloff sets hit the market in time for Halloween. Universal's "The Boris Karloff Collection" comes marketed as horror but in reality is a set of five moody costume pieces with scattered thrills. Go with Universal's recent rereleases of "Frankenstein" and "Dracula". Sony's four-movie "Icons of Horror" set delivers. Buy it for the pair of mad-scientist tales, "The Man They Could Not Hang" (1939) and "Before I Hang" (1940), as well as the famed "The Black Room" (1935). "Boris Karloff was to the horror movie what Fred Astaire was to the musical," the package proclaims. Truth in advertising. The Universal set goes for $29.98, and the Sony set brings $24.96.

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