FRIGHT AT HOME: February 17th

FAH11It’s a pretty decent week for horror lovers, with the February 17th release of not only the latest in the popular V/H/S series hitting DVD/Bluray, but also the wonderfully entertaining documentary LIFE ITSELF, as well as various other genre and film-related entries. Thankfully, the gang at Icons of Fright have had the chance to take a peak at a few of this week’s titles, and there really aren’t any films NOT worth picking up. Read on!




V/H/S: VIRAL (Dir. Justin Benson/Aaron Moorhead, Gregg Bishop, Todd Lincoln, Marcel Sarmiento, Nacho Vigalondo.)

The third film in the V/H/S series, V/H/S: VIRAL takes some of the genre’s up and coming directors and sets them loose, with the result being either entertaining or lacking in some parts. The Benson/Moorhead segment “Bonestorm” is one that features skateboarders with GoPro camers taking on skeletal figures and executing a serious amount of ass-kicking, while also being the first skateboard-related cinematic venture to feel somewhat genuine. Benson and Moorhead have a knack for their films feeling genuine and it’s pretty easy to suspend disbelief and root for your run of the mill skaters taking some creepy, hooded deadies. Other standout segments include TIMECRIMES helmer Nacho Vigalondo’s scary and strange “Parallel Monsters“, and Gregg Bishop (DANCE OF THE DEAD)’s “Dante the Great” segments. While Vigalondo’s segment deals with parallel universes and the duality of them, Bishop’s tale deals with a magician setting some serious magic loose on anyone who stands in his way. The only underwhelming parts of the film lie in the remaining segments, which just don’t live up to the two films prior to VIRAL and the fun time that each of those two had. The film’s wraparound isn’t all too interesting either. While the wraparound segments in V/H/S and V/H/S/2 were entertaining in piecing each segment together as part of a bigger puzzle, VIRAL just doesn’t add up to a bigger picture, aside from a crazed ambulance and..I forgot.

The three segments that stand out make the film worth checking out though, and the inclusion of Lincoln’s mysteriously absent from theaters/VOD segment, “Gorgeous Vortex” is another standout part of the DVD/Bluray release. After watching it, it makes sense why the segment didn’t play inside of the film, with its tone being closer to an artistically well done installation that would be playing at a museum or art show. I mean that in the best of ways, the segment stands on its own as a really entertaining separate entity. Also on the disc are a decent amount of ‘making of’ docs with most of the directors, commentaries and quite a few special features.

image002 (12)PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Dir. Dwight H. Little)

The crew at Scream Factory knock it out of the park again with their release of the 1989, Robert Englund-starring, gory as all hell film redux of the 1908 Gaston Leroux masterpiece novel. The film itself is an entertaining ride, with Englund jumping into the role of the Phantom with fervor. POPCORN/THE STEPFATHER‘s Jill Schoelen shines as well, as Christine, and everyone from UNDERWORLD‘s Bill Nighy to future SNL alumni Molly Shannon inhabiting early roles in the film. It’s a viciously bloody film, but one that has fun spilling the blood and guts as much as it does telling the classic tale of a disfigured and mad song-smith terrorizing, well,…an opera.

Under HALLOWEEN 4 director Dwight H. Little’s direction, this horror affair bypassing a lot of the melodramatics of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical (before you theater lovers crucify, relax, I’m a fan of Webber’s as much as you are, it’s just a different direction), and instead brings the tale into a darker and more sinister area. This phantom doesn’t spend his time lamenting and singing his troubles away, he guts the people who cross him, and takes pieces of them to make his disfigured face less gruesome. It’s definitely one to experience and with the amount of supplemental material that Scream Factory has made a reputation with when it comes to their releases, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is definitely no exception. A great making of boasts brand new interview with Englund, Schoelen, Little and others, and the film’s new commentary is something to experience. Any horror fan who has had the opportunity to meet Englund in person already knows, the man loves to talk and boy does he in this one.  It’s great to hear Freddy himself reminisce about the experience and the film itself paired with those great special features makes this one a must own.


LIFE ITSELF (Dir. Steve James)

Anybody who is a film fan and most of those who aren’t know the name of Roger Ebert. A legendary film critic, author and many other things in his life, this documentary is a very entertaining and sometimes deeply touching and sad documentary that shows Ebert’s life and career. Most of those who grew up watching Siskel & Ebert will cherish the clips of the perfectly paired yet bitterly competitive duo that brought film critique into the mainstream and into TV sets nationwide, while a lot of the film deals with Ebert’s last days, right up to his death. Seeing a cultural icon in a hospital bed, without a jaw due to head and throat cancer might bring you to tears, and if that doesn’t his optimism and that optimism of his longtime wife will certainly do the trick.

While there isn’t much of a genre/horror moment in the documentary, it’s important as a cinephile to respect people like Ebert and their contributions to film critique. While I disagreed many times with the man’s opinions, there was a love of film and genuine opinion about each film that Ebert wrote or spoke of that made his stuff so damned fun to read/watch. As a film critic or just film watcher, LIFE ITSELF is one to not only one to check out, but one to own. It’s a very poignant and endearing look at one of history’s greatest lovers of film and those who filled his life with love. A Sundance Film Festival tribute, a series of deleted scenes and an interview with director James fills the film’s special features, and those are all very entertaining, but it’s the film itself that shines in this one.


ALTAR (Dir.Nick Willing)

Giving a new spin on the haunted house films that come so often these days, Nick Willing’s ALTAR revolves around a family that moves into a famed British mansion, known due to the previous owner’s murdering of his family. THE SIXTH SENSE/SABOTAGE‘s Olivia Williams plays the wife of Matthew Modine’s artist character, with the wife being a real estate agent who works on restoring the mansion to how it once looked for a client. ALTAR gives its viewers a little bit of THE SHINING, a little bit of ritualistic evil, and a whole lotta entertaining, creepy as a hell scenes involving Modine’s character slowly being obsessed with adding his blood to everything from his art, to his wife’s back during a massage (a genuinely creepy scene, in the best of ways). Add the couple’s children to the mix and you’ve got a really fun yet haunting tale, one that keeps you fulfilled right up until the credits roll.

Though Cinedigm’s DVD release of ALTAR doesn’t have any special features, aside from the film’s trailer, the film alone is worth buying this one, with great performances by Williams, Modine and even SIGHTSEERS/THE CANAL‘s Steve Oram. It’s great to see Olivia Williams in anything and Modine has always done a great job in all of his films, ALTAR being one of them.

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