Typically what we do with our ongoing Fright At Home column, is showcase the top releases of whatever respective week that the column falls on. This time though, I thought it would be fun to spread the coverage to highlight some of our favorite releases to have been put out during the month of September, opening the coverage up to put the spotlight not only EVERY DVD and/or Bluray, but the ones that caught our eyes. Some of the year’s best genre films have hit home video this month, so it would be silly to leave some of them out just because they came out last week, so they’ve been included, with everything from this week’s releases of THE SHALLOWS and THE NEON DEMON to the month’s earlier releases like THE CONJURING 2 and a trio of Stephen King adaptions. So if you’re looking for some excellent horror to pick up next time you’re at your local Amoeba or Rasputin chains or shopping online, we’ve got you fright fanatics covered with this week’s Fright At home!
THE CONJURING 2 (Dir. James Wan)
The sequel to the “based on true events” film THE CONJURING, directed or James Wan opens another case film from the real life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren in THE CONJURING 2, a film that not only meets the intensity and scares of the first film but offers viewers more heart and a fantastic story of the famed duo doing their best to save a single mother and her kids from an all out possession, all while fighting personal demons as well.
What made the first film work so well is not only Wan’s imagination and knack for creating such wonderful scares, but adding a real life quality to the situations. Artistic licenses are taken here and there, but both films are very much about the Warrens themselves and how they put themselves on the line in order to save families throughout their careers.
Opting to tackle the famed “Enfield Hauntings”, the Warrens head to the U.K. , where they’re met by a woman and her small children, all being terrorized by the spirit of a man who had deceased in their living room, as well as nun-like demon that looks like it’s been taken right out of a Marilyn Manson stage show. What’s different than the first film is not only the location or the cold atmosphere built the location and story, but the skepticism found in The Warrens themselves. They fall in love with the adorable children and the plight of the kids’ mother, so there’s a connection there, but there’s an internal struggle that lives within Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s performances that we as viewers are asked to decided for ourselves if we believe in what’s happening.
Another direction and approach that is a much welcomed one in THE CONJURING 2 is how much of a love story it is. In between the haunting and levitating objects and demons, it’s very much about Ed and Lorraine and Lorraine’s realization that one day, this line of work will lead to Ed’s death, so it’s an interesting thing to watch, the demonologists looking at each other as if they’re first falling in love, from the looks Lorraine gives Ed while he serenades the haunted children with an Elvis tune, there’s very much a sense of wonder and love between the two and it’s that love that makes these films so fun to watch.
Wan’s ability to set up good scares and allow them to play out in front of us in ways no other director is doing these days also makes THE CONJURING 2 not only a unique experience, but one that out-shadows and outdoes the previous film time and time again throughout the film’s running time.
As far as supplemental material, like the first film, we’re given a few epk-like short docs, as well one in which the real life children grown up meet Lorraine Warren for the first time since their initial meeting as well. Short and sweet, but it does the trick.
THE SHALLOWS (Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra)
One of the most enjoyable shark-themed films in AGES, Collet-Serra (HOUSE OF WAX)’s THE SHALLOWS shows us once again that a concept, a smart script and an excellent performance can make for an intense, very entertaining film. Taking the story of a medical student (played excellently by Blake Lively) going on a self-discovery vacation to a secret island that her mother had visited some time before dying from cancer, THE SHALLOWS does a great job with setting up a mood and tone and some excellent cinematography before injected one nasty shark into the mix and turning Lively’s character on her head.
When she’s attacked by the shark and stuck on a rock a mere 200 yards from shore, it becomes a cat and mouse game between the injured woman and the shark who’s still ready to feed. A lot of the film is on Lively’s shoulders and she does such an great job or carrying that pressure, giving us one hell of a story and adventure to follow and it’s an absolute blast to watch, Lively’s attempts to outsmart and outdo the shark. Every moments you think help is on its way or that she’s going to quickly get past the shark, she’s proven wrong, causing her character to really think and use her head to survive the ordeal.
In a lot of ways, THE SHALLOWS reminded me of a concept that Alfred Hitchcock would have had fun with, putting one of his character right in the middle of the waters and allowing the story to play out and keeping the film’s viewers on the edge of their seats the entire time. It’s a lot of fun, and though there are have been HUNDREDS of them since, THE SHALLOWS is easily the best shark-themed film since the legendary classic JAWS. It’s excellently paced, boasts an impressive as hell performance from Lively and the film’s visual fx add to the film, as opposed to taking you out of it. Easily one of my favorite films of the year, it’s a film you should definitely check it out.
The film’s special features include a few making of short docs featuring on the visual fx, the performances, and also one talking to a real life shark attack survivor, which is a great watch as well.
THE NEON DEMON (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Love him or hate him, filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn is very much a visual director and the very divisive film THE NEON DEMON proves just that. Fans expecting DRIVE won’t find that here, instead that almost mainstream approach is forfeited for an all out visual beauty, a glitz, glamour and blood-filled look at the rise of the fashion world and how cutthroat is can be.
To give away the plot of THE NEON DEMON would be to pay disservice to its delivery, but it’s very much a “how far would you go to attain what you want” and the answers presented in this one aren’t pretty ones. With stars like Jena Malone, Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves and more, the film showcases a visual masterpiece of colors and sounds, of violence and sacrifice, in ways we’re not used to seeing from most films put out these days. The questions asked are answered in ways not typical, instead we’re given shades of color and lights, and some downright creepy aesthetics given to us by Refn.
Some might call it a pretentious film and really, should it be? It’s a film ABOUT pretension in a lot of ways and who better to just that, than the man who followed up DRIVE with ONLY GOD FORGIVES?
Whatever your taste maybe and whichever era of Ref you gravitate towards, it’s a great idea to jump right into THE NEON DEMON with an open mind, wide open eyes and a taste for the beautiful and destroyed.
CAT PEOPLE (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)
An absolute classic, the Val Lewton-produced, Jacques Tourneur-helmed film CAT PEOPLE is a must own and thanks to the gang at the Criterion Collection, it’s been given quite easily one of the best releases of the year. Taking Lewton’s “Leave what’s lurking in the shadows in the shadows” and injecting it into what this writer considers his best film around, CAT PEOPLE tells the story of a Serbian immigrant artist who falls in love with a man but where her life always goes to shambles is that whenever she’s faced with the opportunity with physical intimacy, she turns into a panther, leaving her love life and the lives of others in jeopardy.
There’s such an impressive amount of shadowy dread found in Lewton’s films and CAT PEOPLE is such a great example of just that. Like the first half of JAWS, CAT PEOPLE never feels the need to show much, in fact the lack of showing the violence and danger makes the film feel even that more dangerous than it could have, had it went for an fx-heavy outing. Simone Simon’s cursed immigrant begins the film as a sweetheart who falls in love, but as the film goes on, the thought of another woman being attracted to her man begins to unravel the animalistic side of her personality, leading to attacks and so on. CAT PEOPLE is the perfect example of being able to tell an excellent horror story without guts and gore or even showing the violence too much. It’s a classic for a reason and it’s well-deserved one at that. Excellent performances, combined with Jacques Tourneur’s great direction under the watch of auteur filmmaker Val Lewton, the ingredients all work together to create a film that should be a must watch and now thanks to Criterion, a must own for every horror fans.
Like most of Criterion’s releases, CAT PEOPLE comes to Bluray with new 2K digital restoration, making it look absolutely gorgeous; a 2005 commentary with film historian Gregory Mank; Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, a feature length doc all about the highly influential filmmakers, as well as an interview with Tourneur from 1979 and a new interview with cinematographer John Bailey.
SALEM’S LOT (Dir. Tobe Hooper)
Quite easily one of the most terrifying vampire films ever made, Tobe Hooper’s SALEM’S LOT is exactly what you get when you take a solid book written by horror legend Stephen King and pair the material with a very capable director. Thanks to the gang at Warner Bros’, we’re not only given a great transfer of the film, but also a brand new commentary with one of history’s great masters of horror as well.
Made in 1979 as a TV-miniseries, SALEM’S LOT follows a writer played by David Soul who for one reason or another is obsessed with a house in his hometown, a house which inhabits a shady antiques dealer and a secret the dealer is keeping. Soon after, various members of the town become sick before dying, just to return to float in smoke above the windows of their siblings, friends and so on, and good lord, let me tell you, those scenes are absolutely terrifying.
What Soul’s writer characters must do, with the help of a young man whose family is killed by whatever awaits them, is take it on himself to stop the evil, which is slowly turning the town into a town of vampires, leading up to the secret the antiques dealer is hiding: Barlow, the king of the vampires and one HELLISHLY scary character.
While most horror fans gravitate to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE when thinking of director Hooper (rightfully so), SALEM’S LOT is just further proof that the director knows how to spin a frightening, very scary tale, because if Salem’s Lot is anything, it’s scary. With such a large amount of cast members (including a beautiful Bonnie Bedelia), you learn to care a lot about a lot of people, just to see them succumb to the film’s antagonists, which is include vampire of all sized, kids all the way to senior citizens.
It’s a frighteningly good time, and the film’s running time of 3+ hours never drags, keeping you glued to the screen and totally on board with how great of a film Hooper and Co. made.
CAT’S EYE (Dir. Lewis Teague)
Going for an anthology approach, CAT’S EYE isn’t all that scary, but what it lacks in scares, it makes for in interesting stories and performances. Following a stray cat and three different stories, the film follows the feline through various situations: the first, revolving around man (played by James Woods) who’s having a hell of a time quitting smoking. Visiting a building and company mean to help you stop smoking, he’s then told that their approach is a different one: instead of giving you gun or pamphlet, they will follow you and torture your family if you regress back into lighting one up. Angered by that, Woods’ character leaves and after slipping up, he finds himself back at the office with his wife getting shocked for his mess up. It’s a pretty screwed up story, but one that’s a lot of fun to watch.
The second segment revolves a man who is about to run off with the wife of an awfully horrible man. When the husband finds out, he forces the man to a top floor suite, just to have his lover’s head throw to him, before forces the man to the ledge thousands of feet up with the condition that if the man can walk around the ledge, he’ll be let go. Continuously on the brink of falling, the man is subjected to the husband blowing a loudhorn as well other obstacles throw his way before a climatic ending that feels like it’s straight out of either an EC Comics book or hell, even something that would have been in CREEPSHOW.
The final segment, and perhaps the most famous one revolves around the cat reach the house of a family, with Drew Barrymore (in one of two roles in the film) playing the daughter of the family. Told that the cat with suck the air of her lungs while shes sleeping to scare her off, what then happens is a small troll living in the house’s walls begins to d just that: sucking the air and life from the girl, leaving the cat to do its best to stop the troll and save the girl. It’s a silly little segment but easily the most enjoyable and one more reason to check this one out.
IT (Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace)
A miniseries from hell, IT is a film that caused many nightmares upon its initial viewing and subsequent DVD release and now those nightmares can be in HD with WB releasing the legendary miniseries on Bluray. One of the most epic endeavors I had to take as a kid was making it through the 1,000+ pages of Stephen King’s novel, so by the time the two-part miniseries aired, I was good to go with whatever came my way. To say Tim Curry’s performance was epic would be the understatement of the century and while John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid and the rest of the cast did great jobs bringing the picked up on kids grown up to life, it was Curry’s performance that stole the show and it looks absolutely GREAT in its new HD transfer.
With his little brother Georgie brutally murdered and a series of child killings happening in the small town of Derry, Maine, the film’s protagonist Bill (played as a kid by the late Jonathan Brandis) bands together with a group of other picked on kids and forms “The Loser’s Club”, a group for them to feel better about themselves and the horror that they’re seeing, that nobody else will believe. The kids are taunted, stalked and terrorized by an evil clown named Pennywise (Curry), who eventually is revealed to be a centuries old evil which preys on the innocence on children. Taking Pennywise on, the Loser’s Club reigns victorious, with the promise that if he ever comes back, they’ll all come back and fight him again, to the death. As adults, they’re all called backto Derry with some form a cloud over their minds, having forgotten Pennywise until one of their own takes his life, forcing the now grown Loser’s Club to band together and do their best to conquer the evil once and for all.
While the film’s always suffered from being a bit disjointed and the miniseries came off a bit over-dramatic like a soap opera, IT is still a lot of fun and features excellent performances not only by Curry, but Harry Anderson, Richard Thomas and many more. It’s a pretty intense ride at times, and the film’s flashback detailing Bill’s little brother Georgie becoming prey to Pennywise is still absolutely terrifying.
It’s very much a story about childhood and how hard it can be to be bullied and how sometimes finding your place within the other picked on kids can lead to lifelong friendships. It’s a film about facing your fears, having courage and though it’s all scary as all hell around you, holding onto the idea that victory is soon coming. Definitely worth picking up.
Supplemental material features a carry-over commentary from much of the cast.