Tagged Special Features

True Detective Season 1 Blu ray Review

True Detective. 2014.  8 episodes directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga; written & created by Nic Pizzolatto.  Starring Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, and Tory Kittles.  HBO Home Entertainment.  Rated 18A.  458 minutes.  Bonus Material Not Rated.  Crime/Drama/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Season 1)
★★★★1/2 (Blu ray)

true-detective-posterThe story of True Detective looks, on the surface, as similar to other television shows about police officers, serial killer cases, troubled partners with their own separate and troubled lives; you know the type. There are a lot of things, though, to separate this one from many of the others.

Nic Pizzolatto’s show begins its first season in the year 2012 – Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), former partners, are being interviewed about an old case involving a young girl named Dora Lange who was found dead in 1995, bound with a set of antlers placed on her head. Two detectives seem to be looking back into Lange’s death in relation to a new murder, which could be connected. The storyline spreads from ’95 to 2012, as well as hovering around 2002 when things went sour between Hart and Cohle. While the two men battle their own private lives and mistakes, they’re confronted with a possible conspiracy stretching across the state of Louisiana. Everyone believes the Lange murder to be some type of “occult murder“, but Cohle particularly deeply suspects a vast cover-up involving everyone from church officials to governors to the police force itself. Hart reluctantly follows Cohle until it becomes painfully clear he is most likely right.
Church4.998153ba2083cf214ffe0b0ce75d4e721-1024x576While the description I’ve given of the plot might even sound like a riff on Serpico or Prince of the City, it really is a fresh detective show. While many have accused Pizzolatto of stealing material from Thomas Ligotti (I won’t go into it here – look it up), I don’t necessarily agree. There is a lot of really good material. It isn’t all about McConaughey’s performance (which is amazing), nor Harrelson’s either (also amazing). It’s not even about Cohle and his whimsical conversation with the present day detectives sussing out from him what they can, or his great banter with Hart in their driving scenes, particularly the very first episode of the show. There’s simply a really great mystery to this show. Even when Pizzolatto really gives us a few great clues, ones not too hard to follow through, there’s still a lot of excellent tension. For instance, even in the final episode when we clearly know who the killer is there still exists a really tense and dreadful atmosphere. Right until the finale of the episode, it’s hard to predict what might happen in the end. At least in my mind. I thought to myself, several times, in that last episode I knew where things were headed – and constantly, Fukunaga and Pizzolatto really played with my expectations. That atmosphere carried through the entire first season of True Detective.
True-detective-1x02-7-660x371Another excellent thing about this first season is the presence of all the red herring material Pizzolatto doles out in many episodes. I’ve seen a lot of really thoughtful interpretations, pre-season finale, of who the killer might turn out to be, who is involved in the massive conspiracy. I’ve also come across a fair share of really mental interpretations too far out into the psychosphere (dig it) for me to give any modicum of credence. But that’s what makes some shows really engaging and interesting. When fans of the show, even certain people who rag on the show with what they deem to be formulaic interpretations, can’t stop discussing possible theories it really goes to illustrate how well the show has reached an audience. I’m not saying it isn’t divisive – it certainly has been. I just think Pizzolatto really did some great, twisty writing.
77b7a1297702fc3c5315bc8f0cd27376There was a point in time I really believed Marty’s father-in-law had some sort of involvement in the grand conspiracy, and maybe there is a chance that’s still the case (I don’t believe so – doesn’t make it so), but this is the great part – Pizzolatto leaves little trails of bread crumbs that don’t go anywhere, that play part in the coincidence of the real world, the unforeseeable events in life, and lead us off on paths of pure imagination. I mean, there are several little red herrings such as Audrey’s situation. For instance, Cohle calls his daughters down to dinner and as they leave their room he notices Audrey has placed 5 male dolls around a single female doll in a very inappropriate and suggestive manner. There’s also a small drawing in Hart’s house representing the spiral image drawn on Dora Lange’s back in the first episode; one of his daughters drew it. These little clues are really red herrings. Pizzolatto does not want the answers to come easily here, as he shouldn’t, and these extra bits really help to send a lot of people off on imaginary tangents, thinking of who the Yellow King really could be, et cetera.  Genius writing.

There are a few similarities between True Detective and the British trilogy Red Riding. Both take on stories about corruption and murder in rural areas; the original murders sparking both plots are similar, as the Red Riding story starts with a girl found dead, wings put on her back (as opposed to the antlers on the head here). One scene in the first Red Riding film with Andrew Garfield playing a reporter named Eddie Dunford is reminiscent of a scene in True Detective where Cohle visits a woman in a mental institution and drives her into hysterics; one difference mainly has to do with the difference in their occupations, as Dunford’s visit is followed by a severe beating at the hands of the police for bothering the woman, while Cohle is disciplined by his superiors. Finally, each of these shows has a young male prostitute who provides links to the murdered girl, albeit in different ways. Not to mention, in Red Riding the prostitute plays a much bigger part. Whereas Cohle only meets the young male prostitute present in True Detective during a single scene, which is basically thrown in as an extra link to something fishy going on in the main case. There are no doubt some similarities between Red Riding and True Detective, but mostly I would say they are coincidental. Certainly, most of these similarities are either connected to the similar themes (corruption in police force & authority figures), and the majority, if not all, are only really connected to the first Red Riding film; the other two in the trilogy really don’t connect up much, aside from the aforementioned police corruption angle. I think maybe Pizzolatto might have been influenced more by the novel Red Riding is based on instead of the films, and either way the influence is no more than a bit of the surface. Each of these works are quite different and aim to accomplish much different things.
0dc4717d0993ceb137a808855fdf745cThere are a few specific points I’d really like to address in regards to some of the deeper meaning behind True Detective overall.

First, I want to mention the reoccurring number five. I believe the first time this really comes into play is when Hart and Cohle interview Dora Lange’s mother, Mrs. Kelly (played by the fabulous Tess Harper) – while Cohle looks around and Hart asks the lady questions, he notices a picture of a young girl (most likely Dora) surrounded by five men on horses, each of them dressed in what we later learn are costumes for what’s called Courir de Mardi Gras. In the second episode, as I mentioned earlier, Hart finds his daughter Audrey’s dolls placed in a very promiscuous situation: five male dolls surround one female doll, one of the men is hauling down his pants to have sex with the girl.
abf745923f5bc60ce83a1ce9bcd11abaFurthermore, in the present day scenes during the latter half of the season, Cohle drinks beer while being investigated and cuts them up: he places them in a circle of five, indicating the undiscovered members of the grand conspiracy (harkens back to those five horsemen in the picture at Mrs. Kelly’s home).
Most people might look at this as another instance of red herrings, or some such idea. However, in literature specifically, the persistence of numbers, especially in earlier literature such as from the Middle Ages, usually has a kind of significance. I happen to believe the number five here happens to refer to the pentagram, or a pentangle as it’s referred to in an index of the Middled English Anthology edited by Ann S. Haskell.
dolls-660x438This ties into the plot of True Detective directly, as we clearly see in a scene with villain Reggie Ledoux – when Hart and Cohle arrest him, his back is visible and has a massive tattoo of a pentagram, more specifically the Sigil of Baphomet. These instances of the number five all tie in to the evil angle – the five horsemen are dressed just like those men in the video Cohle finds and shows to Hart in Episode 7, the beer can figures point to the five horsemen, as do the dolls in Audrey’s room. They might not be the only repetitions of the number five. They’re just the ones I’ve noticed. I think these little details are the sorts of moments which really elevate True Detective above a lot of the detective procedurals on television, and on film for that matter. Provides more to dive into aside from the main case the show focuses on with the story, and offers endless hours of re-watchable scenes.
p6k4k1-660x370One of the biggest things, for me personally, I ended up realizing was how Cohle sort of ended up predicting the future when he talks about being able to “smell the psychosphere“, and that it tastes like “aluminum and ash“. Maybe others noticed this quickly, but I think it’s something a lot of viewers never once thought about for a second. In the present day while Rust is being interviewed by the two new detectives looking through the old Dora Lange case, he is continuously smoking (ash) and drinking out of (aluminum) beer cans. He’s literally unable to escape the psychosphere he first found himself in. This was one thing I really enjoyed. Coupled with the end of the episode where Hart and Cohle meet up once again in 2012, Cohle’s broken taillight (not fixed since their decade old fight from 2002), this really goes to show how all of this case, everything in it, the fact it has not truly been solved and it was his case, really stuck to Cohle. There is nothing to do except solve the case because if not there is truly no escaping it. Having this “aluminum and ash” come back as a part of the story, in a very slight sense, was a really clever way of tying things from the past back into the present, showing how the entire atmosphere of the case would never really wash of Cohle. Another instance of the great writing inside True Detective.
378d71d234884a15171ed60aa326844eUndoubtedly, one of the greatest parts about the entire first season is the excellent character development.

There’s Hart, who is basically a by-product of the misogyny inherent in the place he lives. While he is not one of those elite predators who uses his authority to help cover-up the murder and abuse of young women, Hart is nonetheless affected by the overall state of misogyny and the atmosphere of where he lives. This can be seen through his treatment of women throughout the season – his daughter, his wife, his mistress. There’s even the thread where he reconnects with a young hooker from earlier in the season; Hart interviewed her in connection to Dora Lange in ’95, and later he begins to sleep with the girl when she’s older. This really goes to show, when he’s trying to reconnect with his wife, how much his heart is truly in a normal relationship. In ’95, Hart gives the girl some money and tells her to “do something else” – Cohle then ribs him by asking if it was a down payment. Of course, later we find out it really was an early payment for services to be rendered. Maybe Hart didn’t know it then, but his ideas of women would never change. Though she was older, the fact Hart could engage in a sexual relationship with the girl after seeing where she came from, the life she grew up in, and our look at his hypocrisy after having taken offense with the older lady who’d been pimping her out in ’95, it’s obvious this man is only good as a detective – he is a true detective, and nothing else. He can’t be a good father or husband, truly. Only good at enforcing the law.

Cohle is not perfect, however, he’s much more about control, as opposed to Hart who represents a real loss of control. McConaughey did a great job of playing Cohle, with all the philosophical thoughts and out-there theories. I don’t know if anyone else could have done such a great job with the material given. Cohle has a lot of different things going on. I really like how his story came to a close by the end of the season, and part of the pessimistic attitude he’d been displaying for most of the episodes tied off, or at least loosened a little. While coming face to face with death, he finally discovers there may possibly be something beyond the brink, or maybe not – regardless, he finds out the thought of something more than life, pas death, isn’t as terrifying and ignorant as he once thought it to be. On the one hand, I also think Cohle provides a really great opposite for Hart in the sense he is a man who lost his wife and child (the former because of the latter’s death) – Hart has those things but does not appreciate them, and yet he really wants to have those things in his life. On the other hand, Cohle lost it all, and whether or not he would have it again if that chance was available, he seems to really not have wanted it to be with – maybe this is due to the death of his child, maybe he has been this way all his life. I just think having Cohle be the way he was, Pizzolatto provided a really great antithesis to Hart; having them as partners really juxtaposed their separate world views and created more tension between them than what naturally existed in their dialogue. Not to mention, having Harrelson and McConaughey, two real life friends, play these characters worked better than could have ever been expected.
10-true-detective-1-1940x1091I have to mention the 6-minute tracking shot in Episode 4 “Who Goes There”. This is a monumental scene in television. Probably the best scene of any television show I’ve seen in the last 5 years or more. Honestly. Even shows I love like The Sopranos and The Wires also from HBO never had such incredible camerawork as this; while there were a lot of great scenes in both those shows, nothing like this. Just the sheer size of this tracking shot is really amazing. I can’t get enough of it. Right from the moment Cohel grabs hold of a hostage, the camera never breaks, following him through this whole scene. Fukunaga mentions on the Blu ray release how there was a need to give this scene some sort of tension – we know Cohle makes it out all right because we’ve already seen the 2012 narrative partially, so we’re aware he has survived – so the tracking shot itself serves as a way to really keep us in suspense, as we literally ride along with Cohle. I thought it was the most thrilling scene of the entire season. Tied only with the big finale with Hart and Cohle facing the murderer in his self-made world of Carcosa. If nothing else, you’ve got to give it to True Detective for really knocking this particular episode out of the park.

The Blu ray release from HBO is absolutely on point. While I expected maybe just a smidgen more, there are still some great features. To start, the picture and sound on this release are beyond perfect. While I watched True Detective several times over already, the Blu ray actually ended up revealing more to me than I’d ever noticed. Just little small bits. Everything is so clear and gorgeous here from the music, the sound design, to the spectacular sweeping shots of landscape and rugged terrain of Louisiana. Then there is the audio commentary, including bits from Pizzolatto, which really help the shed light on the overall production. One featurette on the release called “Inside the Episode” gives us bits from each episode with thoughts from both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto, covering everything from story, to writing, to directing, editing; all of it. There are really valuable pieces of insight from the writer and director. Definitely worth watching at least once. Also, there’s a Making Of featurette; this encompasses everything including some interviews with the actors, et cetera. Finally, there are some deleted scenes, as well as exclusive interviews with Harrelson and McConaughey concerning the filming of the series’ first season. All in all, a bunch of great stuff making this Blu ray a must-purchase for any real fans of the show. As in most cases, the picture and sound alone are worth it. I can’t get enough. I’ve watched the episodes through a couple times now since getting the Blu rays. Wonderful release.
true21Anyone who has seen True Detective knows it is either loved or hated – I don’t think there is much middle ground. My opinion is that this must be one of the best shows ever on television. Lots of people reference shows like Twin Peaks, and others, but I really think aside from influence and maybe a bit of homage, this series stands on its own. No matter if the second season turns out to be a bust, this first season is a classic bit of television. All of it was shot on film, giving things a really beautiful look, and the fact both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto were on board for the entire season really helped with its overall vision. I know there are those who don’t exactly dig the show, but I really find True Detective to be in a league of its own. I hope the show continues to prosper, I’m really looking forward to what Pizzolatto has in-store for the second season. Pick up this Blu ray if you loved this as much as I did, and you will not be disappointed in the slightest.

William Friedkin’s Cruising: Serial Murder on the Margins

Cruising. 1980. Directed & Written by William Friedkin; adapted from the novel by Gerald Walker.
Starring Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino, and Joe Spinell. Warner Brothers.
Rated R. 102 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★1/2 (DVD release)
bg65bhnsgOK0thCxspXXbOkUqXgCruising came about for William Friedkin in a number of ways: through his own observations about the gay bar scene, Gerald Walker’s novel, and his own link to a man convicted of murder (an extra from The Exorcist during the medical scenes). Listening to him talk during one of the featurettes on the making of Cruising, Friedkin really found something to connect with in the story. There is a sense he had a real interest in the whole social scene of the gay bars, as well as a grasp on the danger a lot of these men were in during those times being susceptible to abuse from all sides – not to mention the onset of the AIDS epidemic.

Cruising is about a young police detective, Steve Burns (Pacino), who is recruited by a police captain (Sorvino) to go undercover into the gay clubs of New York City, specifically the underground S&M clubs where some wild stuff goes down. There is a serial killer out cutting up young gay men and dumping their body parts into the river. Fairly on his own both as a cop and mentally, unable to tell his own significant other exactly what he’s doing undercover, Burns starts to find the assignment wearing and tearing down his psyche; he starts to change.
We watch as Burns goes into the underground of gay New York, the hardcore clubs, and we watch as the work starts to infringe on his personal life. It’s a great character study wrapped up in a murder mystery, and with slightly subdued horror undertones. For instance, in one of the first scenes we actually see a really vicious knifing; it plays out tense and mysterious, and then quickly becomes brutal with some brief shots of blood spilling all over the place. I love how Friedkin sort of weaves between genres, mixing them up together into a single, great pot.
cruising4Some of the moments we see here with the killer are really the stuff of amazing psychological horror. Yet there’s something very real about it all, too. Friedkin has a great sense for things which horrify us, and yet even though he has made one of the greatest horrors of all time I still wouldn’t classify him whatsoever as a horror filmmaker. He is most of all great with personal drama; the study of characters. Even in The Exorcist, one of the best things about that story is Ellen Burstyn’s character and her own personal journey amongst all the terror she and her daughter experience. Here in Cruising, for all the interesting bits in the creepy parts of this story, the main meat of what’s here is the character study of police officer Steve Burns, and what the work he’s participating in is doing to him. The murder mystery elements are simply a great backdrop for all of this character work to take place.
Cruising 1980 Al Pacino pic 3There is a lot to enjoy visually in this movie. Friedkin used a lot of dull tones, in the sense there isn’t much colour in the film. I like that because it makes things sort of blend together. This works together with one of the themes being transformation; from one place to the next, all the locations almost feel as if they bleed into the next. Just as we start to wonder who the killer really is, over and over at times (another trick Friedkin used was multiple actors playing the actual killer – the DVD lays it out very well which points out how much work went into the red herring effect they achieved here), and certain characters feel as if they bleed into one another, so does the look and the colour of the film. It’s really excellent. Also works to make things feel more grim and gritty.

The soundtrack of Cruising is spectacular. Pairs nicely with the look and feel of the film. Especially the stuff in the gay bars – really rocking soundtrack. Then there’s the score behind a lot of the scenes, which helps to set the mood along with all the colour palette choices. Very good instance of a lot of different aspects working together to create a fuller portrait of a film.
CRU5Al Pacino, as he is in many films, is really great here. He does a lot of interesting and subtle work here. Many people seem to often play into the idea that Pacino only does the loud and brash dialogue, or over-the-top type characters. I couldn’t disagree more on the whole, but in Cruising he absolutely shows his chops. Yes, there are times here when he does go into a rage; one moment in particular is a real outburst. Though, it works. The disintegration of this character’s psyche really starts to show in the way Pacino looks, as well as how he starts to treat those around him. He did an amazing job, and his performance is one of those in his filmography people really overlook time and time again. That may have more to do with the controversial nature of the entire film more than with his acting on this occasion, but regardless people shouldn’t skip this over so much. Awesome performance by one of the best actors in film.
Cruising 1980 Al Pacino pic 4
Many people probably see too much controversy in this movie to enjoy it. Or at least I can see how some people, specifically in the gay community, might misunderstand William Friedkin’s intentions here – it could be seen as making the gay community, certainly the earlier communities in the late 70s & 80s, look bad. But that is certainly not what he means to do. This is an exploration of a murder mystery, as well as a character study. Friedkin himself says, in the audio commentary & the special features, the gay scene (et cetera) is all about backdrop; he says it was “an interesting background” in which to set this specific story. Add in the novel, as well as Friedkin’s own visit to meet the extra from The Exorcist who bludgeoned a man to death, and you can see why he just found all of this interesting. I absolutely understand how certain people might take this film the wrong way, however, if you really give it a chance, and look at what it’s all about underneath, Cruising is an amazing thriller with horror and mystery elements thrown in for good measure. This is one of Friedkin’s most underrated movies, in my mind. It’s my favourite of his films.|
Both the DVD and film are great. Though, I wish the DVD had more features, it’s still a great release. Certainly for a film that had so much trouble getting released, and after its release. I would love to see this on Blu ray, packed with as many extras and additional cut footage Friedkin could drum up. For now, this DVD will do.
Incredible film. See it when you can, and check out this DVD if you find yourself becoming a fan of this lesser known, amazingly executed film.

V/H/S/2: A Mixed Bag of Nasty Tricks

V/H/S 2. 2013. Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, and Jason Eisener. Magnet Releasing.
Rated 18A. 96 minutes.
Horror.

★★★1/2 (Movie)
★★ (Blu ray release)

For my review of the first V/H/S on Blu ray, click here.  For a review of the third installment in the trilogy, V/H/S: Viral, click here.

vhs_2_poster_3The wraparound story for the first V/H/S held things together well enough. While it was at best a decently played out section of the film, what really sold me on it overall were the individual segments (minus one), which I thought were really creepy and the first was fairly innovative in terms of their use of found footage. This time around in V/H/S/2, the wraparound segment called “Tape 49” (directed by usual writer Simon Barrett) is much better than that in the first installment of the series, and by the same token I didn’t really like as many of the shorts this time around. While I still love this series, I do think V/H/S/2 is essentially the weak link of what is so far a trilogy; I’m a big fan of third regardless of what others think – I think it’s the most unique and definitely the most far reaching in terms of concepts, particularly the segments by Gregg Bishop and Nacho Vigalondo. That is for another review.

I’m a big fan of Adam Wingard, and I honestly love almost every single bit of his work, however, I really can’t get hugely into his segment here, “Phase I Clinical Trials”.
Quick synopsis: Wingard plays a man who has a bionic eye implanted by a company that will monitor his every move and record whatever he does – it isn’t long until he discovers the eye helps him see just a little too well, and a little too much.
500full It is not badly done whatsoever – let me start by saying this – I have no problem with the visuals or aesthetics in general. What I’m not a fan of is the execution in terms of how it was written. I find usually Barrett, who wrote this segment along with the one he directed, subverts some of the norms I come to expect from horror. Here, in “Phase I”, Barrett really plays into some foolishness. Like when the girl just suddenly decides the best way to ignore all the weird, undead-like stuff going on around her and Wingard is to take off their clothes and start having sex. I mean – come on. I am a big fan of both Barrett and Wingard, and I usually never find myself saying these things about their work together, but here it is just unbearably bad. I really thought this was some tired writing. The direction worked well, as well as benefitting from Wingard acting in the short, in terms of the filming techniques used (he talks about this in one of the featurettes on the Blu ray – Wingard wanted to have an actual actor play the part but because of the fact he was shooting the segment in the first person perspective he felt it easier to take on the role himself). Other than the fact Wingard directs well, this segment isn’t really much fun – a few cool effects don’t make a decent short horror. I like its finale; there are some creepy ghosts and all that. The build up, on the other hand, doesn’t really do anything for me.
VHS2_19-1024x576Eduardo Sánchez is another filmmaker whose work I really enjoy. He does really well in the found footage sub-genre, and thrives. His segment is a zombie-filled romp through some woods called “A Ride in the Park”, which sees a mountain biker zipping through forest recording on his GoPro – he comes across a wounded woman, gets bitten, and then slowly becomes a zombie. From there, we follow him and his GoPro as he wanders with a herd of zombies through the trees, terrorizing others, including a little girl’s birthday party.
VHS2_31-1024x576
Not only do I like the innovative use of found footage here with the GoPro camera on the biker, I really thought it was interesting to follow the perspective of a person who gets bitten by a zombie and becomes one himself. The GoPro really helps add to things by giving us a very up close and personal view of this perspective. Sánchez explores ideas about what happens to us after the zombie virus takes hold – do our feelings still linger? Can we retain any sort of control?

One really great, and heartbreaking, moment comes when the man-turned-zombie hears his phone making noise. After fumbling it from a pocket and realizing he accidentally dialed his girlfriend, a single pathetic-sounding groan comes from him, and it’s the stuff of good drama really. Thoroughly enjoyed this segment. It was good in all these senses while also being downright fun zombie madness – after the zombies infiltrate the birthday party it is just awesome.

Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto teamed up to create a really horrifying and adrenaline injected segment named “Safe Haven”. This short takes a young documentary film crew inside the complex of a cult run by a man known as Father. They want to give an inside scoop into the cult with untampered footage, giving the leader a chance to present his group, unbiased, to the outside world. Father allows them unprecedented access into the complex. Soon after, the crew begins to realize something is amiss. I won’t say any more. Go in knowing only this, or less.
500full-1I love how the pacing really keeps up in this segment. Things kick in with crazy gore, horror, and downright terror. I enjoyed every second of this one. The effects are outrageous, in the best way possible, and even the performances, specifically that of Epy Kusnandar as the previously mentioned Father – he is maniacal, a little funny at times, and absolutely scary as hell. This is by far the best segment of the first two V/H/S films because it scares the life out of me, but it also remembers to stay fun, and doesn’t take itself seriously the whole time. The final moments of “Safe Haven” are brilliant, hilarious, and terrifying all wrapped into one.

I enjoy Jason Eisener, especially after I’d seen Hobo With A Shotgun, but his segment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” isn’t his greatest work to date. Not that I didn’t enjoy it – it was a lot of fun. The story is basically about a bunch of kids, with the parents gone away, who are then laid siege upon by a UFO and some aliens. Pretty good little plot for a short.
I just thought there was a bit too much epilepsy-inducing light flashing. The effect worked in certain places. Others, it was highly annoying. It really did help several shots look more effective, particularly when one of the kids goes up into an attic, and there ends up being a number of alien-creatures already there, some coming up behind, and I thought it definitely enhanced things. On the whole, though, there was too much of it. I just wanted the segment to end after things kicked into high gear. The adrenaline was pumping, there is no doubt, however, I don’t think it pumped correctly because there was too much flashy nonsense.
Eisener should have focused more on the horror itself and the terror rather than trying to forcibly slip us into being terrified by flashing lights and noises; I, personally, was creeped out as it was with the aliens, I didn’t need some of the nauseating effects that came along with it to be scared. Really disappointed in this section ultimately, but I did love the initial setup, as well as some of the kids’ dialogue.
VHS2_72-1024x576Part of the reason I really did enjoy V/H/S/2 is, as I mentioned earlier, the wraparound segment. Barrett’s “Tape 49” follows two private investigators who are looking for a missing student, and after they manage to get into his seemingly deserted house they come across a bunch of strange VHS tapes. Once they watch the tapes, their night gets even worse.

I thought this angle for the story that sort of encompasses the film, explaining the tapes themselves, worked very well, and it was also directed well by Barrett. I just thought it worked even better than the simple premise of the first film’s wraparound segment. It was more intriguing.
VHS2_75-1024x576I think one of the things V/H/S/2 really does have going for it, adding something new to the second installment of this series, is that the whole film is really fun. It’s absolutely an exciting and entertaining ride. Though I didn’t really click with Eisener or Wingard’s shorts, they were still enjoyable even if I had some problems with them myself. “A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven” really hit the mark the best I could have possibly imagined (I expected good things from both Evans and Sanchez because I was huge fans of theirs previous to this movie), and they keep the energy of the entire film at a really high level.

If you enjoyed the first V/H/S then you will most likely enjoy V/H/S/2 because, for all its faults, the film tries its best at all times to be entertaining, innovative, and above all else scary, as well as disturbing. You can do worse than this movie – certainly, I wouldn’t own it on Blu ray if I didn’t think it was worth watching.
That being said, the Blu ray release is not really the greatest. While the picture and sound are incredible, there is little else to be excited about other than a 3-minute featurette on each of the segments; one includes a ridiculously pointless video of Sanchez and crew tipping over a dead and rotting tree, which ends in slight injury. I only enjoyed the featurette for, surprisingly enough a segment I wasn’t big on, “Phase I Clinical Trials” – I really like Wingard a lot, and just hearing him talk a little about the filming process, et cetera, it was nice. Though, it was still only 3 or 4 minutes. Neither of these features are longer than 5 minutes tops. Disappointing, especially considering this is a film highly based around the visuals. They could have done better.
Check out the Blu ray, but don’t expect a ton of great extras to keep you entertained. You’ll be getting the film and not much in the way of added toppings. The movie is pretty good. The Blu ray? You’re better off waiting for them to put out all the V/H/S movies as a set. Maybe then they’ll get some more, and better, footage to include for the fans. Until then, this a mediocre at best Blu ray release.

Wes Craven & Ronald Reagan: Socioeconomic Horror in The People Under the Stairs

The People Under the Stairs. 1991. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J Langer, and Ving Rhames. Universal Pictures. Rated R. 102 minutes.
Comedy/Horror/Mystery.

★★★★ (Film)
★1/2 (Blu ray release)

I really have a thing for Wes Craven. Do you think he knows?
He’s written and directed some incredibly disturbing, unsettling, and wild horror films. Let’s count the great ones, shall we? The Last House on the LeftThe Hills Have EyesSwamp ThingA Nightmare on Elm StreetThe Hills Have Eyes Part II (maybe I’ll draw some ire by planting that one in here, but I love it, and think it’s unfairly maligned by a lot of critics and horror fans), The Serpent and the Rainbow (directing credit only), Wes Craven’s New NightmareScream (directing again only).
This is not to mention the bunch of other fun horror films he’s had a had in producing, such as FeastWishmaster, and the fantastic remake of his own The Hills Have Eyes. I mean, for A Nightmare on Elm Street alone Craven gets a spot on the top horror masters of all time. Brilliance. But there are a few of his films (such as the aforementioned sequel to his The Hills Have Eyes) which don’t get the credit they deserve.

Cue: The People Under the Stairs.

peopleunderthestairsAt first the film could appear to be a crime thriller about some robbers, but (aside from having Craven’s name on it) you can quickly tell it isn’t going to be the same old story. The film starts off with “Fool” Williams living in a ghetto in L.A. His family is soon to be evicted. Luckily, or realistically unfortunately, for Fool, he knows Leroy who is a lifetime criminal. They quickly decide to rob The Robesons, who lovingly call themselves Mommy & Daddy (played fabulously by former onscreen husband & wife in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Wendy Robie and Everett McGill), who live in a big, old house with only their daughter Alice. Once they get inside the house, hoping to find all the supposed riches the Robesons have hidden away, they discover, to their horrible surprise, it isn’t any treasure Mommy & Daddy have been hiding; the secrets in the house are far worse.

I really love the trailers for The People Under the Stairs because it has such a creepy, dreadful feeling. It starts with the ominous “in every neighbourhoodthere is a house that even the adults talk about“, or something similar. Just superbly disturbing. Once you get into the film, past the bits of ham, there are some wild bits that really creeped me out. In particular, Everett McGill puts on a suit at one point that turned me away, by pure fright, from leather – long before I ever enjoyed the devilishly fun first season of American Horror Story, and the Rubber Man.
gimpsuitOne thing I love is how hard Craven attacks the Reagan era. Particularly, you can see how he is really skewed in the Mommy and Daddy naming of the two crazy people who own the house. It’s known that Ronald often called his wife Nancy Reagan “Mommy”. While Nancy called the Commander-in-chief “Ronnie”, you can still see, along with the rest of the film skewing his era of presidency, how the names Mommy and Daddy were certainly meant to really poke at the political & social commentary of The People Under the Stairs. Even at one point when Fool is looking around the house, he comes across a television set, which is clearly blaring graphic news reports of armed forces conflict (most likely they’re videos from the Gulf War which ended the same year this film was released). I mean, Daddy even stalks Fool and Leroy around the house, eventually shooting Lero, using a high-powered pistol with a red dot sight on it. The artillery Daddy is packing in that house is beyond simple home protection. I think there’s a little message about guns, or at least the military, under Reagan floating around here.

It all lines up, with the plot itself of course, to be very clear Craven doesn’t only intend this as a sometimes campy other times disturbing little horror flick. There’s more than meets the eye.
xDP7rThe acting here is generally pretty good. Rhames is decent in his small part. Really it’s McGill and Robie who shine here. They’re perfect for the role. Of course, they were also perfect on Twin Peaks, so I didn’t doubt they’d do a great job here. Everyone else fills out the cast just fine for the most part.

The People Under the Stairs is mainly all about the plot and story. I liked where it all went. It was disturbing and creepy. Plus, there are some fun and camp-ish moments that really fit well with the overall film. I really do think this movie works as a social metaphor. I’ve seen a few good theories. One in particular talked about how there was, especially around that time in the late 80’s and going into the 90’s, a big divide between those being oppressed and those who were aware of the oppression. Maybe even not so much the times, it’s something that always happens. Generally, until a situation completely boils over (such as it would in 1991 after the Gulf War ended and then Rodney was beaten a month later, one of the many, continuing brutalities committed by police against black men), there are pockets of society unaware of how serious a particular group is being oppressed, and often times eradicated. Here, we see a couple black people break into a home only to discover there are white people literally trapped in the walls. The divide between these two groups being held down are Mommy and Daddy, perfectly representative of Ronald Reagan and his administration in the White House.
I don’t know – maybe it’s nonsense. But I happen to agree with the person who was giving out the theory. Others seem to agree. I don’t mean it’s a perfectly and amazingly profound film, it’s still a weird and wild horror, but there is definitely something else behind it. Craven intended The People Under the Stairs to speak both to horror fans, as well as those looking for a bit of social commentary in their movie-going experience.
thepeopleunderthestairsparents-600x325As a film, I’d absolutely have no problem saying this is worth 4 out of 5 stars. I think Craven has taken a few missteps in his career, but this is not one of them. Some don’t particularly put this at the top of his filmography. Me, however, I believe it’s one of the better written horrors Craven has done simply because there is bit more meat to it; it isn’t all blood and guts and scares. There is a little dark comedy, some hammy acting, and disturbing moments, all wrapped into one package. I dig it.

The Blu ray is not great. Aside from the picture, there is nothing worth talking about. Literally nothing. You can put on subtitles, pause the film, or look through its chapters. Other than that? Don’t count on wiling away the hours on special features. There are none at all. Too bad. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, a featurette or two. Nothing here.
It’s still worth it to own this fun horror on Blu ray. The picture quality is fabulous. Makes a great 1990’s horror classic look pristine. If you haven’t yet experienced The People Under the Stairs do yourself a favour and watch it soon. Especially if you’re a fan of Craven; this one deserves more attention and less ridicule. I think it’s a solid horror, a little different from most. There are even some pretty gory bits just before the hour mark hits. This definitely stands out among a lot of shitty 1990’s horror.

The Last House on the Left: Angry, Ugly People

Wes Craven's early work expresses a ton of violence from angry, ugly people at pretty young things.

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