Most weeks, I review more DVDs than the Indy can fit into print. You can look for extra write-ups here, on the IndyBlog.
No other genre studio is as legendary as Britain’s Hammer films. They ruled the terror scene in the ’50s and ’60s, introducing us to the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Bully on them! After their popularity died in the ’70s, they came roaring back to UK television with the superb Hammer House of Horror series. Encompassing everything that made those classic films so great, each one-hour episode of this anthology series is creative and fun, with scads of guest stars and the creepiest plots that even HBO’s Tales From the Crypt couldn’t compete with. Out of all 13 episodes, the one that really sold me on the must-haveness of the set was “The House That Bled to Death,” about a house that literally bleeds to death, most graphically during a children’s birthday party. Pipes full of blood explode and spray all over the tykes' cherry British faces. It’s wonderful black humor that the Brits specialize in, but also never takes away from the point of the series: to scare you. Forget dreck like American Horror Story; for true scares, get Hammered!
I don’t know if you know this or not, but 9/11 kinda sucked. It was pretty crappy and affected a lot of people, especially filmmakers looking to make a couple of bucks on the backs of the tragedy. 8:46 is one of a long line of movies based around that fateful September day when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and turned America into a paranoid war-zone that’s one election away from Orwell’s wettest dream ever. Most of 8:46 takes place the day before, focusing on numerous different people who would become directly affected by the attacks, no matter how superficially. It’s not a bad movie per se, and aficionados of 9/11 porn will absolutely dig it, but for everyone else, the whole affair comes off melodramatic and unnecessary. How many more stories about that day do we need until it becomes comically exploitative overkill? Depending on whom you are, 8:46 answers that question in spades.
I love Michael Biehn. I really do. He’s an amazing character actor who always infuses every film he’s in — genre or otherwise — with depth and humor, subtleness and sadness, perfectly mastering every role he takes. So as I sat down to watch The Victim, his directorial debut, my hopes were up way higher than they probably should have been, because the disappointment I felt in watching it was far worse than if it were done by some other Joe. It’s a very basic story of backwoods revenge, with Biehn starring as a forest-dwelling recluse who reluctantly takes in a bedraggled woman who’s being pursued by two sleazy cops intent on killing her for witnessing the murder of her friend. There’s no real connection to any of the characters and no real attempts to make any, leaving us the real victims here. Biehn is a competent director, but could use a class or two in screenwriting. Still love him, though.
The cover of the recent Jessica Biel vehicle, The Tall Man, features the actress looking ahead in catatonic fright, with a towering, hooded, menacing figure of evil standing behind her, as if he were going to wrap his arms around her and take her straight to Hell. As you actually watch the movie, about a small town plagued with missing children taken by the titular height-blessed gentleman, the feeling that this is a supernatural thriller of some sort takes hold and a real sense of dread and mystery surrounds the whole thing. And then, about 45 minutes in, the movie takes a bizarre twist into Lifetime movie-of-the-week territory as we learn the truth about Biel and the missing children and who’s behind all this and why. French horror director Pascal Laugier, who shocked audiences with Martyrs, tones things down here considerably in the name of some sort of plot-hole-filled social justice allegory, and while it really isn’t all that successful, the twists alone are worth a conciliatory viewing.
The latest in a long line of faith-based pictures that seem to be all the rage with Middle America as of late, the New Zealand-lensed dramedy The Holy Roller, is a formidable contender as the best one I’ve seen in quite a while, mostly because I had a real moment of identification with the themes of finding strength to move past failure. But that’s just me, I guess. Pastor Luke (Angus Benfield) has a Pied Piper-like ability to inspire and move the parishioners of his tiny congregation. But when he moves to the city and onto bigger and better things, the seductive lure of that megachurch/televangelist fame that causes the Pastor to be more important than the Word takes hold. And when it all goes to Hell, he has to re-evaluate his life and, even more important, the meaning of his life. Of course, being a faith-based film, the answer is God, but there’s also a bit more going on that will inspire even the most Godless among us.
When I was a young child, back in the age of independent UHF television, these small local stations would pad much of their nighttime programming with old syndicated television shows, often without rhyme and reason. This is probably the reason why, while my peers have fond recollections of The A-Team and Knight Rider, all I can remember is That’s My Mama and Sanford and Son. Late-night, however, said stations would compete with prime-time network chat-shows by showing the stellar line-up of Benny Hill, Carson’s Comedy Classics and, of course, the Carol Burnett Show. Time-Life’s new six-DVD best-of set — dubbed Carol’s Favorites — is not only a fun blast from the past for the whole family, but also made me realize how much of my own comedy was inspired by the show. It’s amazing how not only is the show spectacularly undated, but filled with just as much infectious laughter as when I first saw it. And that's why the show has continued to stand the test of time and gone on to legendary status.