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DVD Review: AMONG FRIENDS
By
Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)

Source: Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)

Aug 20, 2013, 6:40 AM

Actress Danielle Harris steps behind the camera this time around for what is being touted as her feature film directorial debut.  AMONG FRIENDS (2012) is a thriller for genre fans that goes by the clever tagline "This dinner party's gonna to be killer".  The Internet Movie Database lists MADISON, a vignette that appears in a 2008 feature called PRANKS which includes two other short films each directed by actresses Ellie Cornell (HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS & HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS) and Heather Langenkamp (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET & A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART III: THE DREAM WARRIORS), as Ms. Harris's first professional directing job.  To date, PRANKS has not seen the light of day as a DVD release, which is curious given the talent involved in its creation.  Hopefully a DVD release is somewhere on the horizon.  NOTE: PRANKS is not to be confused with the alternate title of 1982's THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. 

AMONG FRIENDS tells the story of Bernadette (Alyssa Lobit) who is hosting a murder mystery party. She has invited Marcus (Christopher Backus), Melanie (Jennifer Blanc), Adam (AJ Bowen), Jules (Brianna Davis), Sara (Kamala Jones), and Blane (Chris Meyer) to her house for what promises to be a fun night playing out a game and trying to guess who the killer is.

All of the participants are done up in 80s retro hairstyles: Melanie sports big hair, Adam dons a mullet, and Jules looks like she fell out of a video by A Flock of Seagulls.  A limo driver (Kane Hodder) escorts the gang to Bernadette's house. As each one of them exits the limo, he comments on them individually with an improvised litany of comical insults that elicit both smirks and laughs. 

Once inside, the group gathers in Bernadette's kitchen for some friendly small talk.  They are instructed to look for clues throughout the house and as they do we become aware of some less-than-stellar personality traits, such as Adam's grapple with cocaine despite trying to be sober for two months.     

Everyone is instructed to sit at the table and dine prior to the game, however almost simultaneously they all become numb below the waist and unable to walk.  Terrified, they all demand an explanation.  Bernadette, the sole person unaffected, has spiked their drinks and has something macabre in store for them.  Tying everybody up to their chairs with duct tape, Bernadette turns on everybody and accuses all of them of egregious behavior.  To prove it, she directs their attention to a large-screen television with footage of most of them that was surreptitiously recorded months earlier. Adams's out-and-out rape of their friend Lily, and Sarah and Jules getting it on while Marcus pleasures himself from afar are just a few of the things that turn Bernadette's stomach to the point that she administers punishment by cutting off one of the women's hair - along with her scalp.  Given that Adam committed rape, you can only imagine what his punishment entails.

She introduces ground rules which inevitably lead to a subsequent humiliation and torture of all held hostage at the dinner table. There is a twist at the end of all this, and seasoned genre fans will see it coming from a mile away, however this should not dissuade fans as Ms. Harris proves herself a capable director.    

The basic plot of AMONG FRIENDS calls to mind David Slade's HARD CANDY (2005) in which a man is lured by a young woman under the pretense of sex, only to be put through the ringer when she spikes his drink and calls him out for preying on underage girls and proceeds to make his life a living hell.  In Ms. Harris's film, a lone woman (a doctor with access to medication, no less) turns the table (in this case, the dinner table) against her friends who disgust her.  Alyssa Lobit is a striking actress and she imbues Bernadette with a sinister slant that would make John Doe of David Fincher's SE7EN (1995) smile.  The rest of the cast is also very good, and you have to be in you're going to spend ten shooting days strapped to a chair for hours upon hours. 

Ms. Harris makes a cameo appearance in her trademark clown outfit from HALLOWEEN 4 in a sequence when the drugged out Jules is hallucinating that she's in a movie.  Michael Biehn also adds to the madness in this sequence. 

The film also offers visual references to Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980) and Adrian Lyne's FATAL ATTRACTION (1987). 

The DVD comes with a commentary that consists of director Harris and actor Bowden and actress Blanc.  Their disposition is cheerful and fun to listen to.  Ms. Harris is always gracious at her convention appearances and her personality is likewise as she discusses the rigor (mortis?) of making a film in a confined space.  That being said, I do wish that her comments discussed more of the challenges of directing under these circumstances. 

A word of warning: if you hate seeing people vomit and drool (as I do), close your eyes at the 33:30 mark and the 38:20 mark respectively and count to ten before opening them again! 

The DVD contains trailers for VAMPIRE, LORD OF DARKNESS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION, and NAILBITER.

AMONG FRIENDS can be ordered here and the official site is here. 

 


 

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DVD Review: EVIL DEAD
By
Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)

Source: Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)

Aug 4, 2013, 12:0 PM

Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD (1982) and its sequels are widely revered among genre fans.  The original film, which was shot in late 1979 and early 1980 and offers up five characters who all suffer from outdated wardrobe choices, is not what I would consider a terrifying film by any means, but it is certainly entertaining.  It was one of the first (if not the first) films to put several characters in a confined space and force them to deal with a violent and demonic force, spraying the cabin and the screen with lots of blood and gore.  Like George A. Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979), THE EVIL DEAD was released unrated and saw much of its success on the nascent home video revolution of the mid-1980's.  Youngsters like myself who are now ensconced in middle-age used to get a thrill when visiting local video stores to pick up horror films on display, eager to find that Next Big Find that would entertain us and our friends.  In the days since then, Mr. Raimi's film has been released on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD (no less than seven times in this format) and like so many other classics, it was bound to be remade. 

Mia (Jane Levy) is a heroin addict and is taken to the family cabin by her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and her unreliable brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and dog (the first one to die, of course.  See Tobe Hooper's EATEN ALIVE (1976) for further cliches).  Now, I know that films require a suspension of disbelief to succeed, but if your younger sister were a heroin addict, would you take her to a location like this in an effort to wean her off of the drug?  Is that even possible under the circumstances?  Don't they still have methadone clinics?  A cabin in the woods is the last place I would want to be. 

A foul stench emanating from the basement reveals a trap door under the rug smeared with blood.  Eric exclaims, "Oh, can that be blood?" Well, that would be some coincidence if it wasn't!  Eric is portrayed by Lou Taylor Pucci, the actor who played the aloof and disgusted son of Chris Isaak in Gregor Jordan's THE INFORMERS (2008). Somebody should have informed him that he needed a haircut in this movie.  They all venture into the basement to find animal corpses in various stages of decay, and if they were smart they would bolt - but then there would be no movie.  Eric manages to be even more annoying than Mia's brother David; not only does he go wandering about and sticking his nose into places that he shouldn't, but he also manages to get his hands on the Book of the Dead called Naturom Demonto and fails to heed its warning by reading the very names out loud that should never be spoken.

Jessica Lucas plays Olivia and she should really go back to Melrose Place. She isn't given much to do here except remind everyone that they really need to help Mia. Although everyone is pretty much dismembered and ravaged, they all come back by the end of the film.   

EVIL DEAD has no doubt divided diehard evil dead enthusiasts into the "love it" or "hate it" camps.  There is plenty of gore to go around by the bucket load, and the fact that this movie earned an "R" rating whereas the original was released unrated illustrates how times have changed and how bloodshed has become far more acceptable now whereas sexual intimacy is still considered a big no-no. 

There are efforts to startle the audience when the characters are possessed by the demon in question. Propositions for sexual fulfillment are a throwback to Reagan McNeil's equally vile vituperations in William Friedkin's superior THE EXORCIST (1973), however in 2013 even the most explicit profanity fails to shock.  The omni-present 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 sedan from Mr. Raimi's original film makes a cameo appearance (whether or not this is a prop or the actual car from the film original is something that perhaps the Blu-ray commentary clears up).

The standard DVD contains the following special features:

MAKING LIFE DIFFICULT - the intense and physically exhausting creation of the film

DIRECTING THE DEAD - director Fede Alvarez re-imagines a cult horror classic

BEING MIA - physical and psychological transformation into Evil Mia

Click here to order from Amazon.com. 


 

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DVD Review: SAMURAI COP
By
Jonathan Stryker (Facebook); Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)

Source: Jonathan Stryker (Facebook); Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)

Jul 15, 2013, 5:0 AM

Amir Shervan's 1989 film SAMURAI COP is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies I have ever seen.  A shameless rip-off of "buddy-buddy" cop movies that proliferated in the 1980's, SAMURAI COP begins with the requisite artificial pop music of the era (courtesy of Alen Dermarderossian) with white opening credits set against a black background (a telltale sign of a low-budget film if there ever was one) and gives way to a man named Okamura (Gerald Okamura) complaining that his Los Angeles gang is not yet established, and that they should therefore make friends with the Chinese and Japanese gangs. Most of his dialogue is indecipherable. 

Krista Lane, the eye candy who is part of the gang, says things like, "Here comes the boss!" or "The boss is coming."  Robert Z'Dar, best known for the MANIAC COP films, is an imposing guy who does the boss's dirty work.  They get into a fight with a gang they want to do business with after being rebuffed and several people are killed. 

Enter black and white cop team Frank Washington (Mark Frazer) and Joe Marshall (Matt Hanon), the low-budget answer to Murtaugh and Riggs from LETHAL WEAPON (1987).  

Marshall is a samurai expert (really?!) who looks completely ridiculous with a full head of long hair and runs around the place looking completely bug-eyed wearing a variety of ill-fitting hats.  He looks like he fell off the cover of a romance novel.  They spout some of the most quotable, ludicrously awful dialogue I've heard in a long time and enlist the help of another cop, Peggy (Melissa Moore of 1990's SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE II), in following the culprits.  As a thank you, Marshall beds her in an amazingly boring and mechanical sex scene. 

The cops have run-ins with the Katana Gang in a laugh-out-loud sequence in a restaurant whey they threaten the boss.  Marshall takes to Jennifer, the young attractive owner of the joint, but we're not sure if he really likes her or just wants to get more information.  There's a completely asinine scene involving an effeminate waiter who looks like he fell out of an early Dario Argento thriller.  It is followed up by a samurai fight and Marshall goes all out with Washington pulling and Indiana Jones on a henchman, the former performing an extemporaneous arm amputation. 

The film is a time capsule of music, wardrobe, and hairstyles from nearly a quarter-century ago.  There is full frontal female nudity, three sad attempts at sex scenes, and one of the funniest car chases I have ever seen.  T.J. HOOKER possessed more excitement than this.  Most of the dialogue is either looped or suffers from poor room tone when using on-set sound.  Dale Cummings plays their loudmouth police captain, constantly yelling at the cops to bring him results.  One of the funniest scenes takes place in his office as he threatens to send Marshall back to where he came from.     

Despite the best efforts of cinematographer Peter Palian who shoots much of the action in masters, the film lacks a visual style.  Onscreen excitement is nowhere to be found, but all of these drawbacks add considerably to the film's overall charm.  I wish that the bulk of movies made today were one-tenth as entertaining SAMURAI COP turns out to be.

The film has been transferred from the original 35mm film negative and the image is crystal clear. While not digitally restored, this is unquestionably the best the film is probably ever going to look.

The extras that the disc comes with include:

An interview with actor Robert Z'Dar conducted over Skype which runs 25 minutes.   The image quality is poor, however Douglas Dunning, the interviewer, and the actor are both understandable.  Mr. Z'Dar talks about how he got into the business and came to meet the late director Amir Shervan with whom he made three films (HOLLYWOOD COP (1987) and KILLING AMERICAN STYLE (1990) in addition to this one).  Director, Amir Shervan intended SAMURAI COP to be a straightforward action film.  It took three weeks to shoot on a budget of approximately $800,000.00. 

An interview with actor and fight co-ordinator Gerald Okamura which runs 20 minutes.  He discusses his time working with David Carradine on KUNG-FU and with John Carpenter on BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) and ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996), in addition to SAMURAI COP. 

An interview with cinematographer Peter Palian who talks extensively about his career in the business runs 27 minutes. 

There are also stills galleries and an amusing fan trailer for the film. 

Click here to order the new special edition DVD from Amazon.com. 



 

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DVD and Blu-ray Combo Review: SWAMP THING
By
Jonathan Stryker (Facebook); Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)

Source: Jonathan Stryker (Facebook); Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)

Jul 9, 2013, 7:0 AM

Can you believe that it has been 31 years since Wes Craven's SWAMP THING made its way into theaters? I can't, and I didn't even see the film during its initial theatrical RUN. In fact, I didn't even see the film until I watched new Blu-ray.  I've been a fan of Wes Craven's since I saw THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) on a local television station in July 1984, however I was aware of his work when SWAMP THING was released. It was just one of those movies that I never got around to seeing for some reason, despite the fact that my friend kept saying "Cable!" all throughout my high school years.

As far as I know or can tell, SWAMP THING is one of the very few PG-rated movies in Mr. Craven's filmography.  It is most definitely a lot gentler than his previous work such as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).  It was made just a few years prior to his very own A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), the film that introduced us all to Nancy Thompson and the monster inside her head.  It will be released on August 6, 2013 on a DVD/Blu-ray combo by Scream Factory. 

SWAMP THING is a film version of the DC Comic that was created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, the latter of whom is best known for CREEPSHOW (1982). It takes place in the Louisiana swamps (faked in South Carolina).  Alec and Linda Holland (Ray Wise and Nannette Brown) are brother and sister scientists who are working on an experiment that is designed to create a plant and animal hybrid that can withstand the extreme temperatures of various environments. The oddly-named Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) works for the government and visits the lab to see what the pair have discovered.  Suddenly, the henchmen of one sinister Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan), headed by the late David Hess, attempt to steal the scientists' formula.  Linda is killed suddenly, and Alec gets doused with the new concoction, erupts in flames and falls jumps into the swamp, only to emerge as the Swamp Thing who is then played by actor Dick Durock from this point on. 

Dr. Arcane believes that this serum will make him live forever, and he will stop at nothing to make sure that he gets his hands on the formula.  Alice begins to fall for Alec/Swamp Thing as she is eluding Dr. Arcane's machine gun-toting minions.  Mr. Hess plays the usual bullying crazy that he was so good at and the supporting cast that surrounds him is a terrific group of menaces.  Young Reggie Batts nearly steals the film as Judd, a ten year-old store proprietor who does everything he can to help Alice escape.

SWAMP THING was originally available on home video on multiple formats.  Although it made its DVD debut in 2000, the discs were pulled from the shelves when it was discovered that the DVD was sourced from the international print which ran 93 minutes in length and contained an additional two minutes of nudity that was not seen in the original 91-minute PG-rated 1982 domestic theatrical exhibition.  Someone got all bent out of shape over boobs, and so MGM reissued the movie on DVD in 2005 in its original version minus the nudity. It is this version that appears on both the new DVD and Blu-ray.

The transfer of the film is excellent; there are a few spots and very small scratches here and there but nothing to distract from your pleasure of watching the image. 

There are some really nice extras on the discs (which are presented equally on both formats). The movie contains two separate full-length commentaries. The first is with writer/director Wes Craven and it is moderated by Sean Clark who horror fans will know from his excellent Horrors Hallowed Grounds tours of horror film shooting locations.  Sean asks Mr. Craven lots of interesting and intelligent questions about the production and the people involved. 

The second commentary is with makeup effects artist William Munns, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures.  This track is very interesting and insightful as Mr. Munns remembers a great deal about the making of the film.  He discusses having to wait a long time as the financing was secured, and even went to work on a film initially called Witch (later released as SUPERSTITION) in the interim.  He talks about fitting the suit to the actor, discusses how the makeup crew became the scapegoat when filming came to a crawl, some of the dangers of wearing the Swamp Thing suit, the stunts that needed to be done, and how he took over as Swamp Thing when Mr. Durock could no longer perform.    

The bonus features consist of:

"Tales from the Swamp" is an interview with Adrienne Barbeau.  The segment runs 16:56 and Ms. Barbeau is a delight to listen to. She recalls the time that she spent on the film and talks the long hours on the set while they were in South Carolina, and the challenging elements around them. The original script that was given to her by Wes Craven was far more audacious than what ended up on screen. Unfortunately, just as the film went before the cameras, the production company began to chip away the film's budget, necessitating constant rewriting during the course of shooting and many concessions needed to be made.

"Hey, Jude" is the name of the second segment, and this is a fun and entertaining interview with actor Reggie Batts who plays Jude (hence the name!).  It runs 14:30.  Mr. Batts explains how he got the role in the film and was a fan of DC comics. 

The last segment is titled "That Swamp Thing," and it's a look back with creator Len Wein who explains how he came up with the name for the creature, and how he got his start as an animator. The segment runs 13:19.

The original theatrical trailer is also included, and this is in excellent condition, not the usual scratch-ridden mess that we're used to seeing.

The photo galleries consist of posters and lobby cards; photos from the film; William Munn's behind-the-scenes photos; and behind-the-scenes photos by Geoffrey Rayle.

As an added bonus, the DVD/Blu-ray sleeve is reversible and has the French poster artwork under the title of LA CREATURE DU MARAIS, which translates to THE CREATURE OF THE SWAMP.   

Click here to order SWAMP THING on Amazon.com.

 


 

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Film Review: ROOM 237
By

Jonathan Stryker (Facebook); Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)       


Source:

Jonathan Stryker (Facebook)

May 6, 2013, 12:0 AM

ROOM 237
 

It's hard to believe that THE SHINING had its network television premiere thirty years ago tonight on ABC-TV. 

THE SHINING, released on May 23, 1980
  

THE SHINING, broadcasted on May 6, 1983



In that pre-home video era, if we didn't have access to cable television, most of us were only able to see horror films on local or network television channels, and those films were often watered down with heavy cuts both for gore and for time (many plot points simply disappeared in favor of commercials). 

There has been a lot of speculation in the years since THE SHINING was released as to what it is really all about.  ROOM 237 is the name of the in-depth documentary by Rodney Ascher.  In the film, five narrators give their points-of-view on Stanley Kubrick's initially disappointing yet subsequently revered 1980 film version of Stephen King's novel of the same name, and what it means to them. 

ROOM 237
  

As a die-hard fan of this film for the past thirty years, I must say that even though I have seen it easily more than fifty times I never noticed the props, visual references or subtexts that these five narrators diligently point out, nor was I even aware of the obvious continuity errors, such as the carpet that changes direction in the hallway or the chair against the wall disappearing during Jack Torrance's (Jack Nicholson) emotional outburst after his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) interrupts his writing.  An argument can be made that ROOM 237 isn't so much about THE SHINING's supposed hidden meanings than it is an explanation of five different people's of the film.  Among the subtexts: the strange layout of the Overlook Hotel; the significance of the number 42; the architectural impossibility of the window in Mr. Ullman's office; the silly sexual reference in Mr. Ullman's first handshake with Jack; the Minotaur motif; the references to the killing of Native Americans and even the Holocaust. 

ROOM 237
  

The director makes the choice of not showing the faces of the narrators, and this technique works to the film's advantage since so much of it is about pointing out what the narrators see.  Cross-cutting between the narrators and the points they want to make would have either reduced the film's running time or would have left most of the best points out altogether.  I can only hope that the forthcoming DVD will offer up some nice extras in the way of deleted scenes. 

Interestingly, ROOM 237 uses the framing device of Lamberto Bava's DEMONS (1985) and DEMONS 2: THE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES (1986) (both of which are due out on Blu-ray from Synapse Films in the coming months) as footage of an audience viewing THE SHINING in a theater and on television, respectively, to make certain points.  Ideally, THE SHINING should be viewed in a movie theater, although realistically that is unfortunately not an option for most of us.  The home video revolution saved many a film from inevitable obscurity and this is where the majority of us Shining enthusiasts had the opportunity to see it and thrill to it to our heart's content. 

For screening information, take a look at the film's official website.  If the film is not playing near you, you can also see it On-Demand for roughly $7.00. 

 


 

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