Blu-ray Review: THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO'S POND
Jonathan Stryker (Facebook); Jonathan
Bologna's The Black Waters of Echo's Pond
comes across as a strange concoction.
For one thing, it doesn't seem able to make up its mind as to whether or
not it is a straight out horror film or if it is meant to be played as a tongue-in-cheek,
winking- at-the-audience type of movie. My
guess would be the former given the overall creepiness that the film admirably
attempts to create, though not always successfully. Like the new DVD and Blu-ray release of All the Boys Love Many Lane (2006),
which also deals with a similar theme of male and female teens going off to a
large manse with the hopeful promise of sex, the film was shot a good number of
years ago, probably around 2007/2008. To
me, still the only recognizable performers are Robert Patrick, Danielle Harris,
James Duval, Electra Avellan and Elise Avellan.
Black Waters starts off
promisingly enough but tends to drag at times despite lasting the usual hour
and-a-half. It ends with a denouement
that any seasoned horror film fan will see coming, but that is not to say that
the film is a total loss as there is much to admire here, especially the fairly
cool title and the even cooler old-style '70's-inspired movie poster.
starts with a prologue wherein a group of archeologists are excavating a dig in
1927 and this, like in William Friedkin's The
Exorcist (1973), unleashes an evil spirit.
Flash forward 80 years to the same location whereupon a big house owned
by Pete (Robert Patrick) is built right on the spot where the spirit was
discovered. Pete loans the house to
family friend Anton (Arcadiy
Golubovich) and his wife Erica (Elise Avellan).
The couple is joined by Anton's best friend Josh (Nick Mennell)
and his girlfriend Renee (Electra Avellan) who also used to be Anton's
girlfriend. But, hey, everything's cool,
right! Um, no! Not only will this
situation prove to turn the cabin into a pressure cooker of accusations, festering
resentment and nasty secrets, but the evil spirits brought forth by the board
game that Anton finds in the basement will make them wish that they broke out
Trivial Pursuit instead.
(James Duval) is a mutual friend who shows up uninvited and incurs frowns and
mean looks from just about everyone, especially Kathy (Danielle Harris) who really
has it in for him as she blames him for the drunk driving death of her
brother. As they play the board game, accusations
and dares flip flop and eventually the board possesses the participants. It becomes difficult at times to gauge if
what we are seeing is real or a game within a game along the lines of David
Cronenberg's eXistenZ (1999).
performances for the most part are quite good.
Electra Avellan and Elise Avellan give good dramatic turns, yet I still
cannot tell the two of them apart - will one of these ladies get a tattoo
somewhere noticeable, please? Danielle
Harris fans will love her here as she not only gives a good performance but she
looks very sexy, too.
is also a strange half man, half beast creature running around...
film's transfer on Blu-ray is a colorful affair. The sound is also very strong and typifies
what you would expect from a modern film.
There is an extended alternate beginning included as an extra, although
I really would have liked a commentary with some of the behind-the-scenes folks
to give us a rundown of the film's origin and its problematic history.
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THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO'S POND in our
Blu-ray Review: HALLOWEEN
Jonathan Stryker (Facebook); Jonathan
seems like it would be an exercise in redundancy to recap the plot synopsis of
John Carpenter's seminal 1978 film Halloween. The film has been theatrically released,
aired on cable and network television, and released in virtually every home
video format in existence at one time or another. Its latest incarnation is in
the form of a Blu-ray disc (for the second time in this format) which contains
a brand-new commentary featuring both John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis as
they watched the film together. This is different from the original commentary
which consisted of a feature length discussion culled from separate comments
from John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis and the late Debra Hill. This appeared on both the Criterion
Collection laserdisc in 1994 and the Anchor Bay DVD in 2003.
new Blu-ray features a stunning transfer supervised by cinematographer Dean
Cundey and the film has never looked better; television and radio spots; the
theatrical trailer; the additional twelve minutes of footage shot for the
television airings in both 1981 and 1982 (it would have been nice if they had
incorporated this footage into the film in an alternate version by way of
seamless branching, but I suppose that would have been more expensive); the On Location: 25 Years Later featurette;
and a new featurette cleverly called The
Night She Came Home which runs nearly an hour and features a camera crew
following Jamie Lee Curtis from Los Angeles to a Horror Hound Weekend
convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, the one and only convention that she has
done for this film. Unless you were actually at that show, you may not have the
patience to sit through the featurette in its entirety. However, these one-hour highlights give the
viewer who may not have ever attended a horror film convention before an idea
of what goes on, the type of people who frequent this sort of thing, and how genuinely
nice Jamie Lee Curtis is towards her fans.
also includes an 18-page essay with black and white on-set photos by
photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker depicting the shooting of the film.
for die-hard fans of this now classic film!
DVD Review: SHIVER
latest Danielle Harris film to hit DVD is SHIVER (2012), a creepy independent
film shot on location in Portland, OR and in and around Los Angeles, CA,
specifically at a faux Cadillac Jack's diner in Sunland, CA, which is actually a
movie set with an adjacent Pink Motel set situated on 9457 San
Fernando Road in Sun Valley, CA for use in films. As the film opens, a schlubby
middle-aged man named Franklin Rood, played off-kilter by Australian actor John
Jarratt (he played the diabolical Mick Taylor in 2005's stomach-turning Wolf Creek and its forthcoming sequel), sits down nervously at the
counter and feigns reading a menu.
waitress, Kathy (Nikita Sesco), is clearly half his age and he finds her impossibly
desirable, fantasizing about frolicking with her and exploring her body. When he asks her out to a movie, he is
politely rebuffed and storms off like a child.
His adolescent-minded feelings are shattered, and he doles out a head
bashing in the parking lot after she locks up the diner for the night, leaving
her dead. The murder itself is not
graphic (for the most part it is off-screen), but the look on his face is truly
years later in Portland, Oregon, the city is on edge due to a serial killer
(called The Gryphon) being on the loose. Wendy Alden (reliable scream queen
Danielle Harris) is harassed by her mother (Valerie Harper) to ask her boss for
a raise since she can no longer help support her daughter.
friend Jeffrey (Shane Applegate) wants to be more than friends; when Jeffrey
takes the Wendy out to dinner and offers that she stay with him that night, Wendy
attempts to assure him that she will be fine. If you're
a genre fan, you will know right away that she is about to receive a visit by The
Gryphon, aka Franklin, the loony from the pre-credits sequence. When Franklin arrives in her home and
surprises her, he reconsiders killing Wendy as she begins to behave in a way
that he is not used.
talks to him differently than the other young women he has killed up thus far
and he notices this. Franklin suffered
bullying and humiliation during his childhood and this partially explains his
killing streak towards women. Through
his own delusional mind, he convinces himself that he can make her love
him. In the meantime, the police are
unable to adequately protect Wendy: two of the dumbest police officers I have
ever seen in a movie are both killed by Franklin within seconds of each other,
and I almost found myself applauding in his favor. Casper Van Diem is the lead detective and Rae
Dawn Chong portrays his partner, however the script does not give her much to
do. Wendy attempts unsuccessfully to escape
clutches even after he manages to extricate her from a police station under the
guise of dressing as a fellow officer.
film is nowhere near as suspenseful as I would have liked, but the story kept
me watching. The others films that I would compare this too would be recent
horror outings such as CHOOSE (2010) and ATM (2012). SHIVER is a step above
these films and keeps you focused until the final frame. It does require a suspension of disbelief to
succeed. Mr. Jarratt has a unique
ability to play unrepentant psychopaths, his turn as Mick Taylor in Greg
aforementioned WOLF CREEK brought to life one of the most frightening and
vicious psychos that the cinema has seen in quite some time. Here he is also mean, but for different
reasons. In WOLF CREEK, he was bent on
inflicting pain on others for his own pleasure.
Here, his Franklin is a broken, rejected and unhappy soul for reasons we
don't know. He is trying to trying
to connect with someone and spirals out of control when he cannot. Valerie Harper gives a good performance as
Wendy's mother, although she only
appears in two scenes. Danielle Harris
is also quite good and proves a great adversary for Franklin.
DVD itself is bare-bones and contains trailers for ABERRATION and
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH. It would have been nice to have had some
extras, such as interviews and a commentary with the cast; Ms. Harris is always
so fun and bubbly when talking about her career and the onscreen action. Worth seeing for fans of Mr. Jarratt and Ms.
TO ORDER FROM AMAZON.COM.
DVD Review: AMONG FRIENDS
By Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
film also offers visual references to Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980) and Adrian
Lyne's FATAL ATTRACTION (1987).
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.
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!
DVD contains trailers for VAMPIRE, LORD OF DARKNESS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING
DEAD: RESURRECTION, and NAILBITER.
FRIENDS can be ordered here
and the official site is here.
DVD Review: EVIL DEAD
Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)
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
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.
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.
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).
standard DVD contains the following special features:
LIFE DIFFICULT - the intense and physically exhausting creation of the film
THE DEAD - director Fede Alvarez re-imagines a cult horror classic
MIA - physical and psychological transformation into Evil Mia
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EVIL DEAD (2013)