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Coroners Corner | horror | movie | column | Lollipop

Coroner's Corner

DVD Reviews

by John Bikowski

I have a soft spot for Image Entertainment because I used to be one of the few laserdisc junkies out there and Image was one of the only companies with guts. While everyone else was putting out the usual dandies like Fried Green Tomatoes, Image was brave enough to unleash the likes of Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Suspiria. Fortunately, now that DVD has truly established itself as the way to go, Image is still on its game with the release of several uncut European horror delights and documentaries.

One of the most recent is Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror. I was lucky enough to have seen the rough version of this documentary through a nameless honcho over at Bravo TV. He told me he would have to kill me if I did anything but view my copy and after doing so I thought, "Someone has got to pick this title up and get it out on the market!" Well, Image stepped up, and as a result, companies like Anchor Bay should be grateful. An Eye for Horror will help generate interest in all the Argento titles out there in DVD-land. The release runs about 57 minutes, is not rated, and is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen ratio. As you watch, you begin to understand that Argento is a true master artist. His very fiber of life is entwined in his films and he pours his soul into every aspect: The lighting, the music, the set pieces, and the blood. You learn that he is usually the hand that does the killing and he casts his own family and lovers in his films. His daughter, Asia, is extremely hot in a sensual, European way. She stars in Trauma, Phantom of the Opera, and The Stendhal Syndrome.

If you're not familiar with Argento's films, here's a great place to start. You get glimpses of his masterworks like Suspiria, Tenebrae, and Opera. You also get commentary from people like George (Dawn of the Dead) Romero, Alice Cooper, and Keith Emerson. Argento is my favorite director, by far. Apart from pictures of my daughter (of course), one of my most treasured photographs is a shot of Dario and myself in front of a Deep Red curtain (one of his signature images). Check out this DVD and let his films cast their spell. One day you may feel as I do.

If you are familiar with Argento and have thought, "This guy has some crazy-ass ideas. Where does he come up with this stuff?" Well, Image answers that question with a new documentary on Argento's mentor, Mario Bava. Maestro of the Macabre is a look at the Italian director and special effects artist and is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, runs 60 minutes and is not rated. Like the Argento documentary, this one looks great with vibrant colors and great editing that goes between clips and comments seamlessly. This glimpse into genius includes commentary from American genre greats like Tim Burton, Joe Dante, and John Carpenter. Another plus are the numerous rare, behind-the-scenes photos of Bava at work.

The best feature of the DVD is the focus on Bava's classics. The first is Black Sunday, a haunting, black & white tale of a vampire witch who is reincarnated. I can remember being a kid in my sleeping bag and catching parts of this one in the middle of the night. I saw them nailing an iron mask on beautiful Barbara Steele's face and I was screwed, diving head-first back into the sleeping bag and left to suffer the smell of my feet. I blame Bava for that trauma. Another of his greats is Black Sabbath, an anthology film starring Boris Karloff as a vampire, called a Wurdulak. With this film Bava also freaked the hell out of an underage me... especially with the tale Drop of Water. Here a woman steals a ring from a dead woman who comes back to haunt her as a teeth-clenched staring corpse. Yikes... stylish and scary. There are also extensive looks into Baron Blood, Lisa and the Devil, Planet of the Vampires, Danger: Diabolik, and my favorite Bava, Bay of Blood. Bay... is famous for trotting out all the gory killings and stalking ideas that were stolen by the American Friday the 13th series. The spear through two people having sex, the machete in the face, and many more treats are all here, done just as well, and done first. Another great part of the film is that everyone turns out to be the hidden slasher. In other words, every character had reasons to kill others and indulged in doing so. Maestro of the Macabre is very interesting viewing and I learned many things. A fun fact is that Bava started Telly Savalas on his lollipop-sucking frenzy in order to quit smoking. Telly, of course, continued this tradition in Kojak.

Another Image offering is Voices From Beyond, directed by Lucio Fulci, Argento's competition in Europe. Fulci, however, is known for his penchant for showing the most disgusting images and getting as many women naked on screen as possible. You gotta love Fulci... This latest release in Image's Euroshock Collection begins with a fully nude couple having sex only to be interrupted by a screaming kid. The guy stops, picks up a knife a stabs the poor little toddler repeatedly in the chest. Fulci doesn't pull any punches, that's for sure. Then we cut to the same guy dying in the hospital while regurgitating large volumes of blood. Next we are treated to some very up close and personal autopsy footage performed by Señor Fulci himself, who often does cameo roles in his films. It seems that the circumstances of the death are a little shaky and the spirit of the deceased is coming back to help investigate. He makes his presence known through the dreams of the people he suspects and he communicates more fully with his daughter Rosie, whom he trusts. Basically, this is a straight-up ghost mystery. It's a little sappy at times, and a little disgusting too. However, this is a nice change from Fulci's usual zombie munch-fests. Of course, you do find a zombie scene and some nasty eyeball mayhem, but Fulci has toned it down a tad. If you're a fan, it's worth checking out because the images are so sharp, even a reserved burst of violence will grab you. Dedicated to one of Fulci's true best friends: Clive (Hellraiser) Barker. A special thanks to Image for the films and stay tuned for some reviews of Thumb Wars and the Blair Thumb coming soon.

Also this issue, Paramount brings us Pet Semetary Two. I remember catching this film in the theater as my "obligatory genre viewing." The problem I had was that this series was tough for me to embrace because of having read Steven King's book first. When that happens, I find myself being over-critical of everything from actor choice to soundtracks to plot omissions, etc. With that said, I admit I didn't like the film very much. However, while watching this DVD, I found more black humor and as a result, more enjoyment the second time around. So all I am saying is give this sequel a chance.

The film stars Edward "Why the hell am I a teen idol?" Furlong, Anthony "I'll always be a nerd" Edwards, and a true piece of work, Clancy Brown. The director is Mary Lambert (who also directed the original that showcased a cute little boy named Gage who liked to hack people up like Herman Munster). In Part Two, Furlong is busy mourning his mother, but manages to find time for his new buddy, Drew. Drew's dad is a sheriff named Gus, a real sadistic son-of-a-bitch. Gus gets mauled by a re-animated dog he killed and then comes back himself to torment the town. Whether he's killing kids or eating his grub, this guy is funny. Without giving away too much, the special effects are suitably gruesome and they help build to a messy climax. Check it out.

Another offering from Paramount is Tales From the Darkside: The Movie. This DVD is jammed with goodies: Widescreen presentation, Dolby Digital options, theatrical trailer, and best of all, a running audio commentary by director John Harrison and screenwriter George Romero. If you enjoyed the television series, this film is a must-have because its not held back by the good taste of TV. What results is a trio of gory, well-told tales that are crisply edited, each with its own tone and visual style. The wrap-around Hansel and Gretel-like tale, starring Debbie Harry, does little more than loosely tie the stories together. The first story, Lot 249, stars Christian Slater and Julianne Moore as preppy brother and sister co-eds who run afoul with Steve Buscemi. Buscemi excels in his quirky, bookish role of a student who comes into possession of a mummy with a secret scroll stuffed up in his dried-out gut. Buscemi has the hots for Moore, who double-crosses him and forces him to unleash the mummy on her and her lover. Slater comes for revenge but... well, anyway, the story works well because of quickly-developed characters, a large but nimble mummy, and sick use of a hanger up a nasal tract.

The second story, Cat From Hell, stars lovable William Hickey as an old cripple being terrorized by a Satanic killer kitty. He calls on the services of professional hit man, David Johansen, to snuff out all nine lives. Johansen basically gets his ass kicked and his corpse provides some pretty sick shenanigans. The feline jams down his throat and hibernates in his stomach. At the stroke of the hour, a gore geyser erupts to preclude the emergence of the cat that works its way out the mouth like an explosive, softball-sized phlegm-wad.

The final story, Lover's Vow, has Rae Dawn Chong as a gargoyle who comes to life and falls in love with a struggling artist played by James Remar. They are very happy together and will remain so as long as Remar does not breath a word about her origins. He blows it, of course, and then we are treated to some revolting and painful-looking transformation effects. Throw in a twist ending and there you go.


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