Monday, October 18, 2010

DVD Review: 'The Redeemer – Son of Satan' (1978)

By Ryan Clark
This is partly a review of The Redeemer and partly a review of the DVD company that released it, because it seems like so many people are afraid to be honest in their reviews. I'm not saying I'm the best writer on the planet, but I'm getting really tired of crappy reviewers who won't be completely honest about the DVDs they are writing about, probably because if they were honest, they'd miss the endless supply of free DVD screeners coming their way. Since I don't get free DVDs, fuck it, I'm gonna say what's on my mind!


I refused to believe until it was in my hands, but The Redeemer, also known as Class Reunion Massacre, one of the many titles that Code Red DVD has promised us over the years, is finally here. Was it worth the wait? Yes, definitely. But since this isn't a gushing review written just to get free DVDs, I'm gonna tell it like it is – and the simple fact is that Code Red is one strange company. They have released some interesting movies, including Beyond the Door, Messiah of Evil, and Night Child, and the work they did on those titles was pretty solid, but not spectacular. Every time I see one of their discs, I am always a little disappointed in how the movies look. However, I realize these are low-budget movies, and in many cases the original negatives are no longer available, so I'm not about to trash the company for that.


One of the things that bugs me about Code Red is their online presence. It's always nice to see a DVD company corresponding with their fans and hearing them out, but it's another thing to see representatives from the company post unprofessional messages on various forums and even threaten to not release certain titles because of all the nitpicking from fans. I don't have any links to back this up; frankly, I don't care enough to search through the message boards I used to frequent, if the posts even exist anymore. But I was there at the very beginning when Code Red was pulling this crap, and I never forgot it.


Why am I talking about all of this? Well, an announcement was made a few weeks ago that Code Red would be shutting its doors in 2011, and while part of me felt bad that yet another DVD company would be going under, I also wasn't surprised. I think Code Red blames the fans for not buying their releases. But they should take a step back and look at what they have done over the years, including the message board posts I mentioned and their marketing strategies.


Case in point, the back cover of their DVD of The Redeemer. There are two review quotes, both from allmovie.com, and both are negative! What the hell? Here are the quotes:

"Guilty of the same gaping plot holes and cardboard characterizations as any other... nothing is ever adequately developed or explained, so the film becomes memorable for its opacity alone." – Fred Beldin, allmovie.com
"This is a silly, sanctimonious slasher film... with a silly apocalyptic theme... there is consequently nothing remotely original about this film." – Calvin Binion, allmovie.com

The truly bizarre thing is that the first quote is actually from a positive review – which means they worded it to make it sound bad on purpose! What is going on here? Is Code Red purposely trying to hurt their sales? Or have they just given up? I also noticed on the DVD menu a button for "Pointless Code Red Trailers". Huh? This isn't the first time I noticed their odd marketing strategies. On the DVD of Night Child, the menu features a tipped over Porta Potty with a river of feces spilling out ala The Shining, with the label "Septic Cinema" (which is nowhere present on the front or back cover, by the way) and a picture of someone who works for the company with MS Paint diarrhea dribbling down his chin. I'm beginning to think the people behind this company have severe mental problems.


Anyway, back to The Redeemer. I'm not gonna waste my time (and your time) giving you some long, boring synopsis. A bunch of people meet up at their old school for a class reunion, but the reunion was set up by a priest(?) who wants them dead and he kills them one by one, blah blah blah. It's not the greatest film ever made, but there are some marvelously creepy moments and a fascinating, oddball performance by T.G. Finkbinder as "the redeemer", who dons a new get-up for each murder.


Do I believe Code Red when they say this is the best they could do with The Redeemer? For once, yes. The transfer for this release is in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. It was taken from a beat up 35mm print, and definitely looks like it. The dirt and debris are almost overwhelming at times, and there's an ugly green line running down the screen through several scenes in the second half of the movie. But since this is such an obscure film, I'm sure it's probably the best print they could find. I noticed that annoying combing effect, though, which means the DVD is interlaced. Still, it's not a bad effort when you consider how blurry the old VHS looked, although that was partly due to the soft focus lens used in some scenes. But the funny thing is, the transfer, despite all the specks and marks and the washed out colors, is actually sharper than most, if not all, of the Code Red DVDs I have seen in the past. Beyond the Door, while otherwise a good-looking transfer, I recall being maddeningly soft, as if the whole film was shot slightly out of focus, which I know couldn't be the case (it's a cheap film, but not THAT cheap!). But the transfer for The Redeemer is perfectly watchable and is much better than what we had before. The mono sound, on the other hand, is pretty bad. Again, I wasn't expecting much in the first place, but it's very tinny and distorted, and there are lots of pops and crackles throughout. At least you can understand most of what the characters are saying.


The only extras are a trailer for The Redeemer, which is actually very well done and really sells the film, and trailers for other upcoming Code Red titles, including the highly-anticipated Nightmare. The lack of an interview with cast or crew members is somewhat disappointing, but I'm not gonna hold that against them. Extras are nice, but the most important thing is that the film is available again in the best possible quality. Now if only they would finally release Nightmare and Night Warning!


Friday, October 1, 2010

Movie Review: 'Dolls' (1987)

By Ryan Clark

 
Dolls is another one of those movies that I always saw on display at the video store when I was a child, but I never bothered to rent it. I saw parts of the movie on TV once, but I wasn't really paying attention. Well, I finally got around to watching it, and at 77 minutes, it was an enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy horror film that I enjoyed tremendously.

Of course, it helps that it was directed by Stuart Gordon, who is the master of light-hearted, yet gruesome horror-comedies like Re-Animator and From Beyond. I even liked Castle Freak (yeah, yeah). So why did it take me so long to watch Dolls? I really don't know, other than the fact that the premise of killer toys was never that appealing to me. Oh sure, I loved Child's Play, and later on I got around to renting Dolly Dearest and I had fun with that, too, but Dolls just didn't capture my attention... until now.

I'm glad I saw this film because it taught me a very important lesson: If I should ever buy a car, and if I'm driving around and see a couple of punk girls with British accents hitch-hiking, NEVER pick them up. They will invariably scheme to steal my money while I'm sleeping, and then attempt to loot the creaky old house we're staying the night in because my car broke down. And then, of course, they will get murdered by dolls. So, when I see these girls on the side of the road, I will just drive right on by.

Anyway, it's nice to have Dolls under my belt at last. Especially because it helped me to realize what an amazing presence Carolyn Purdy-Gordon is. She's the director's wife so he usually manages to give her a part in his projects, but she always stands out because of her unique face and voice, and because she plays a bitch so, so well.

And oh yeah, that one British punk girl? She graced the back of the VHS box, arm extended, face bleeding, and when I was younger for some reason I thought she was a doll. Nope, she just looks like one naturally. Well, she does end up getting turned into a doll later.

See?
Another welcome performer is Hilary Mason, who was the weird, blind sister in Don't Look Now and the housekeeper in I Don't Want to Be Born (aka The Devil Within Her, The Monster, Sharon's Baby, Awful Movie, etc). She's perfect in this role as the creepy wife of toymaker Guy Rolfe (who also played a toymaker in Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge -- go figure!).

Despite Dolls' quirky tone, one scene stands out as particularly frightening to me, even if the rest of the film isn't. The stepmother has just been murdered and her husband settles into bed beside her dead body. She's covered with a sheet, so he doesn't realize that his beloved has just been slaughtered by angry dolls. We, however, do know it, and the filmmakers included a nice touch as a wink to the audience: A spot of blood on the sheet that keeps getting bigger and bigger. We've yet to see what she looks like under there, but we can probably guess.


As much fun as cinematic gore can be, sometimes it's true that what you don't see is the most terrifying.


Also, it's a good thing I never saw this film when I was younger, because the scene where the dad turns into a Punch doll would have flipped me out, much like the Annie-Ross-turns-into-a-robot-with-a-fright-wig scene in Superman III, only not... as... scary.


How time flies...

Holy shit. I can't believe it's been almost a year since my last post! Actually, I can believe it. I'm notorious for quickly losing interest and never finishing what I start. I'm sorry for the lack of, well, anything. Not that I think anyone is reading this blog, but I promise to be more post-y in the future.