The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Monday, August 11, 2014

We Are What We Are (2013)

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After Jamie and I did Puncture Wounds, which I didn't see as the best thing ever, and considering on top of that our first film was Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark, I wanted to give Jamie the opportunity to pick the film for our podcast (I know, how magnanimous of me!), and after a false start with a film that Jamie chose and decided to pull the plug on, she chose this one.  Also on the podcast episode we had long-time friend of the blog Mitch from The Video Vacuum, who not only discussed the film with us, but also discussed the new book he has out about his blog, The Best and Worst of the Video Vacuum, which you can go here to buy. You can get it through Amazon in both papaerback and Kindle.  Definitely worth checking out.

We Are What We Are is about a family in rural Ohio who own a trailer park and are having trouble making ends meet.  When the mother dies in a tragic accident, it's up to the two teen daughters in the family to become the women in the family, and that includes making the family meals.  At the same time, there has been a series of missing women in the area, one of whom is medical examiner Michael Parks's daughter.  After a huge rain storm floods the area and washes away some of the soil, Parks discovers a human bone, and gets suspicious.  Could it be linked to the family and their family meals?

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This is an interesting one.  From a horror standpoint, it's not goofy, it's not overly gory, yet it has some punch too, it's not just all suspense and leaving things to the imagination.  I don't want to throw around cliche terms like "Hitchcockian", but there are a lot of great elements like that in here, great shots, great scenes that build the suspense, and even though we know what's going to happen before it happens, there's still enough "what's going to happen next?" to make this work well.  Also, compared to a Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark, this is no afterthought, no rush job either, this is competently and earnestly made, which I think has to count for something.  The key for me is two things: first, it's about 15-20 minutes too long, which doesn't sound like a lot, but in a movie can be a big drain; and second, this is not a horror film for everyone, in fact, I don't think it's a horror film for all horror fans.  I think if you read this review, and you listen to the pod, and this sounds like the kind of film you would enjoy, go check it out; otherwise, you may want to skip it.

Jamie loves this film, and I can totally see why.  It does a great job of not hitting you over the head with horror, but at the same time having some crazy, horror scenes that makes this more than just all subtlety.  For me what I loved was how it combined the elements from the great Hitchcock films of the 50s and 60s, while at the same time had those 80s horror elements that I look for when I see "horror" listed as the genre.  Also, this is story driven, yet at the same time, other than being 15 minutes long, it doesn't get bogged down in the story.  Most of the scenes add to the tension, and there are very few moments where we're like "why aren't you killing someone? I'm watching a horror film for God's sake!", which I think is important when a horror director asks us to put our faith in him or her to go with them in a film like this.  Again, the key is, do you want to go with the film maker on this trip?  Do you want a change of pace in your horror flicks?

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Michael Parks is as good as ever in this.  His role is not a leading part, though he is the driving force in discovering how our family is involved in all the area killings.  Whether Parks is doing bad material, like in Wicked, or working with something more earnest like he is here, he delivers the same great, professional performance.  What I love about him in a film like this is that he adds that level of legitimacy that it needs simply by being him.  Maybe another character actor would mail it in in the same position, but he doesn't, and that means a lot in a lower-budget indie movie.

Among the other actors in the film, we had Kelly McGillis of Top Gun fame.  I think it's great to see her here after all the these years, and I know she's been doing other stuff recently too, so that's great too.  The family were all great actors as well, between the daughters, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner, and the father, our villain, played by Bill Sage.  All of them were nominated for Chainsaw Awards for their performances, and Julia won at the Austin Fantastic Filmfest.

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One of the things we discussed in the pod, is the role the DTV market will play in our future as film fans.  Not only that, but Netflix Instant and the ability to stream these films on our computers or TVs relatively easily.  Other than the Riff Trax Sharknado, I haven't been to the theater in a long time, but can I see any of the modern major release horror films delivering what this film delivered?-- and I didn't even consider this to be a total home run.  Growing up, the video store played a very important role in my movie fandom, and especially my horror movie fandom; but the movie theater can't be discounted either.  Whether we were getting signed in by our parents, or later when I was old enough to see them on my own, there was something about the horror film in the theater that you can't replicate on a computer or TV as much as you try.  But if all I get is Paranormal 33 and 1/3 or Saw XVI, I don't really have much choice.  I don't know if this is the kind of movie that gets me back in the theater, but the fact that what's out there now is markedly worse than this, is troubling.

For me this is one to see, but, again, just know it's not your average horror film, and if what you read here isn't piquing your interest, I would skip it.  On the other hand, if you're looking for something different, and you have some time to kill, you could do a lot worse this one on Netflix Instant.  I want to thank Mitch again for being on the show, and remember, you check out his book, the Best and Worst of the Video Vacuum, on Amazon now.  As far as us, you can listen to Jamie and I do the DTVC Podcast every Wednesday live from 8-9pm EDT at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and you can download our five most recent episodes from the RSS feed on the site, or our archives at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494.

For part one of the episode, right click here and select "save link as", and for part two (the last 15 minutes) right click here.

For more info:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2309021/

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Re-Animator (1985)

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This is one I'd been meaning to do for a long time, and after I asked Jamie if she'd like to be my full-time co-host at the DTVC Podcast, I thought I'd offer this one up as our first one to do, because she's more of a horror person, and to make up for the woefully painful Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark that she had to endure for our first episode together.  Also on the episode of the podcast was longtime friend of the blog Fred the Wolf from Full Moon Reviews.  You may remember that I lost a bet to him when my Pats lost to his Giants in the Super Bowl, and as a result had to review Do You Wanna Know a Secret? with Joey "Joseph" Lawrence and Teen Star Chad Allen.  This was a much better collaborative effort between he and I here I think.

Re-Animator stars the legend, Jeffrey Combs, as Herbert West, a med student who has just transferred from Switzerland after his professor dies in a horrible accident.  Turns out the prof bit it after he and West tried a reincarnating serum that didn't work so well.  West thinks he's perfected it though, so he moves back to the States and in with Bruce Abbott, who himself is looking to finish med school and marry his sweetheart, Barbara Crampton.  At the same time, their professor, one David Gale, is also an expert in the field of brain surgery and keeping brains alive.  He's a creepfest and doesn't get along with West.  One thing leads to another, and we find ourselves in a showdown between David Gale's reanimated head and his army of reanimated corpses versus West and Abbott.  It's a bloodbath carnival.

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This is a classic for good reason, and I think a very necessary recovering flick after Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark.  This has everything you want in a good horror flick: silliness, creepiness, great characters, gore everywhere, and a nice runtime (of course I had to mention the runtime!).  Combs and Gale are perfect as, I don't know, two villains, hero and villain?  Both exude charisma, something we take for granted when making movies, but something that's very important.  We also had a story that worked well from start to finish, didn't have too many moving parts, yet kept things interesting throughout with few dull moments.  For what should be a silly 80s horror flick, we also have a surprising amount of nuance, which is always great to see.  The other thing I loved was the ending.  It was like a fireworks finale on the 4th of July.  The film did a great job with that, building up the gore, the tension, everything, so that when we get to that moment we're looking for a big payoff, and it more than delivered.  This was a unanimous hit among all three of us, and for good reason.

Combs is the perfect place to start here.  What more can we say about him that hasn't already been said?  And this is his signature role, the one that most people know him for.  At this point he's a veteran character actor with over 120 credits to his name, and he's always great in whatever he does, even if the film itself isn't.  Here though we have the perfect marriage of good material and Combs's skill-set.  He's does both creepy and sympathetic well.  He commands every scene he's in-- except the ones with David Gale, where they both command them together and are great to see.  We're more likely now to see him in a low-budget DTV horror flick bait-and-switch with his name all over the cover for only ten minutes of screen time, but it's how he was in this that keeps us renting and watching, looking forward to even those scant ten minutes to see him do his thing.

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Whereas Combs's Herbert West character is possibly either baddie or hero, David Gale's Dr. Carl Hill is out-and-out villain, and he's fantastic.  He channels that 60s creeper villain perfectly, in that Vincent Price mold, and it's there in everything he does.  It's like ghoulish-ness, like he might talk about the "Monster Mash", but at the same time it's not silly at all, purely horror villain, and it works so well.  What's great too is that we have the dark humor element of him with his animated head in a metal pan while he instructs his headless body to do things, so we're laughing about how great that is, while at the same time he's that scary villain we hate and want to see vanquished.  It's things like that that make a movie like this such a classic.

Rounding out the cast, we had Barbara Crampton, who is great in this and who everyone loves.  She's often the lone voice of reason, and also she's really put through the ringer in the finale.  Bruce Abbott we've seen here at the DTVC in a flick called Interzone, in which he plays the hero in some post-Apocalyptic wasteland.  He was great in that, and great here, though I was wondering here if he wasn't originally supposed to be the hero and sympathetic character and West more of a baddie.  Jamie and Fred were of the opinion that no, West was definitely the hero of the film, however misguided he may be.  It was just another one of those nuances the film had that added unexpected depth.

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I saved Robert Sampson, who played Dean Halsey, Barbara Crampton's father, for this paragraph, because I wanted to discuss something here about killing off characters.  Sampson's character is a total dick, and a total dick to Abbott especially.  Also he's in bed with the evil Gale because Gale brings money to the university he's the president of.  Usually when a character is a dick, we can't wait to see him bite it, but the way Sampson bites it is a bit harsh.  First he's killed when one of West's reanimated corpses crushes him with a metal door in the morgue.  Then he's reanimated by West.  Then Gale lobotomizes him so he can control him and keep him in a straight jacket in a padded room.  Finally, as he's watching Gale's disarticulated head violate his daughter, he snaps out of it and goes crazy.  Jamie and Fred were on the fence about this, but I felt like it was a tough ride for anyone, even if the guy was a total dick.

You don't need me to tell you this is a total yes.  Forget the fact that it's currently on Netflix, you should own a Blu-Ray of it or a special edition DVD-- I know I need to too.  But the fact that it is on Netflix is good, and if you haven't seen this before, or haven't seen it in a long time, you need to check it out.  As far as checking us out, we're on live every Wednesday from 8-9PM EDT at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and if you miss an episode you can get the most recent 5 on the RSS feed here on the site, and for the archives of all the past episodes, you can go here: http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494.  Also thank you again to Fred the Wolf for joining us, he did a great job, and was very patient with how long it took me to get the archives of the episodes up.  Remember to check him out at Full Moon Reviews, and I want to thank him also for putting our episode up on his site as well.

For the episode where we discuss this film, right click here and select "save link as".

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089885/