Don’t Let Evil Give You The Shaft! “Down” review!


One of New York City’s popular skyscrapers, the Millennial Building, is a modern marvel with 102 floors sought to be visited by national and international tourists, looking to reach the zenith and take a once-in-a-lifetime, awe inspiring gander across the Big Apple’s urban jungle landscape or seeking to be a working stiff inside the immaculate bones of the building’s historical foundation. Every day, thousands of visitors and employees ride the Millennial Building’s 73 elevators, assuming the safest ride possible to the touch the bottom of the sky, but when a deranged scientist implements a controversial biomedical computer into the building’s elevator vascular network, one tragic accident after another compiles fatal consequences within the vertical box that draws negative national attention. Elevator mechanic Mark Newman teams up with a rebellious newspaper reporter Jennifer Evans to investigate and uncover the a larger-than-life conspiracy behind a killer elevator organism.

Over three decades ago, Dutch filmmaker Dick Maas wrote, directed, and released the killer elevator film, simply titled “De Lift,” in the Netherlands. About 18 years later after his commercial success for “De Lift,” Mass spawned an American remake of the film entitled “Down,” also known as “The Shaft,” that transformed into the forgotten bastard when compared to Maas’ 1983 feature. To be frankly, “Down’s” terror-comedy knack with spunky characters and zany deaths put the 2001 remake right smack dab at the top of the repeat value charts and despite the lack of rigorous plausibility, the refreshingly no-holds barred, fun zone horror film doesn’t think twice, charging forward with gun blazing in an elevator ride to cinematic hell that shows no mercy and gives not one single care with each surpassing floor level. Be damned the backstory with meager exposition! Be damned the underdeveloped characters who are pivotal to the plot! Be damned the complexities of how the biomedical elevator system is able to live, breath, and reproduce through murder and mayhem! “Down” has a black and white, up and down glory that’s considered b-horror good that’s very reminiscent of the early films of Peter Jackson.

If you’re going to remake a killer elevator film, go big with the cast and Mass surely pulled through by signing cult genre stars of the time. Naomi Watts was just coming into the mainstream scene as she tackled well-received projects around that same time frame between David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” and “The Ring” a year later, but the “Tank Girl” actress showed more than just her aesthetic assets, more than just shrieking horrific screams, and more than just displaying her big guns. In “Down,” she proved to be a gung-ho, rough-it-with-the-boys portrayer of a feisty reporter whose hot on the trail of a conspiracy helmed by surreptitious characters played Michael Ironside, who did not lose an arm in this film like he does in “Total Recall,” “Starship Troopers,” and “The Machinist,” and Ron Pearlman (“Hellboy,” “Cronos”). However, James Marshall, in the lead as the elevator mechanic, couldn’t ratchet tight a performance that called for concern and durability; instead, Marshall, known for playing James Hurley in “Twin Peaks,” schlepped clumsily on screen compared to the aggressively hungry Watts. Eric Thal (“The Puppet Masters”), Dan Hedaya (“Alien: Resurrection”), Edward Herrmann (“The Lost Boys”), and Kathryn Meisle (“Basket Case 2”) round out the remaining cast.

“Down’s” commercial success was plunging disaster. Reasons ranging from a flimsy premise to being an unconventional horror to the genre were, more than likely, not the major players in “Down’s” inability to elevate an audience. More so, the reasons stem solely between one or two factors, if not both. For one, Maas writes New Yorkers as belligerent morons, cocky, greedy, and deranged. Many of the characters are like this and if there was any that embodied any sliver of rationality or humanitarian attributes, there screen time was quick and fruitless. Secondly, though “Down” released in the spring of 2001, a film set in a New York City high rise with multiple mentions of terrorists and even verbally conveying a foiled plot to take down the twin towers probably hurt the film’s home entertainment value to the point where a DVD release didn’t surface until a good two years after the theatrical premiere.

Aside from all the delays, harsh reviews, and a shoddily cropped Artisan DVD release, Blue Underground delivers a godsend presenting “Down” on Blu-ray/DVD combo. The 1080 HD on a BD 50 dual layer disc has a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio and radiates with clarity; so clear, that I had a hard time placing the year as the image certainly outshines most turn of the century products. An immense amount of detail just exemplifies the extraordinary content without appearing as a discount deal for special effects. Audio options include an English and French 5.1 DTS-HD and an English and French Dolby Digital stereo with both including optional English SDH subtitles and Spanish subtitles. The amount of range is leaps and bounds beyond the Artisan’s par quality with the 5.1 channelling maximized quality and clarity. Dialogue track is clear and free from obstructions with the only stain being the horrendously dubbed diner jerk that punches James Marshall in the face, but that’s not necessary a make or break blemish. Bonus materials include audio commentary with writer-director Dick Maas and stunt coordinator Willem de Beukelaer, the making of “Down,” behind-the-scenes footage that’s exclusive to the Blu-ray, theatrical trailer, poster and still gallery, and teaser trailers of upcoming releases. The casing itself harnesses a collectible booklet with new essays by Michael Gingold. “Down” finally shines through with a stellar release from Blue Underground, a leader in restoring and releasing cult films. If in the mood for a story without much thought while desiring to choke on out of this world terror-comedy then “Down” is a must on the upcoming marquee!

Own “Down” on Blu-ray!

Evil Thoughts. The Baby (1973) and The Prowler (1981)

Tonight I thought I would discuss two very different kind of horror films.  Trying to dissect and compare horror films to each other can be enlightening to others; to help them explore new territories in horror.  Also, this idea gives me to chat to be a blabber mouth about obscure, retro movies that most of the younger generations don’t know about.  Hell, I’m almost 30 and I probably still need more horror movie schooling.

babyFirst I want to talk about Ted Post’s 1973 exploitation film The Baby.  A social worker seeks out and becomes hired by the Wadsworth family to oversee the mentally ill child of the family who goes by the name of just Baby.  Besides the retardation, Baby is an average boy who plays with toys, sucks on a bottle and cries when his diaper is wet with the exception that Baby is a 20-year-old man.  The social worker plans for Baby seem genuine  – to try to progress Baby’s ability to walk and talk like everybody else.  However, the Wadworth family holds a dark secret that if anybody gets to close to that person ends up disappearing, but little does the Wadworth family know, that the social worker has alternate means for Baby than what she cares to divulge.

The Baby is a unique exploitation for me.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  The fact that the mentally ill, a man, and the mind of a child are being exploited beyond rational means.  When you (in this case when I) think of the exploitation genre, I imagine women being used for their body or just a person being exploited for violence.  In The Baby, the man and the mentally ill is being abused for his body and the man and the mentally ill is being exploited for violence.  During the duration, there is no grasp on who might be the hero and who might be the villain.  The roles are a virtually reversed between the Wadworths family and the social worker and even at the end of the movie, you still don’t know how to process the information and end up second guessing the hero and the villain.  The Baby will imprint in your mind and sear into your brain making The Baby a well executed film just by script alone.  Director Ted Post and The Baby David Mooney do a remarkable job even if the 70s film does come off outdated and corny.  Gerald Fried’s score is also pretty amazing and that is worth listening to as well.

 

 

Second comes The Prowler.  A maniacal killer runs rampant on Avalon Bay, NJ dressed in WW II fatigues carrying aprowler pitchfork, bayonet and a handheld shotgun.  The killer reminisces about Rosemary, the love of his lift who gives him a Dear John letter for his time in military service.  His longing forces him to kill.

 

 

Tom Savini has mentioned that his work on 1981 The Prowler was his best work ever.  I don’t know if I could agree with Mr. Savini or not on that as his effects for The Burning are superb, but anything Savini touches is gold so The Prowler is a shining example of his gruesome work.  The problem or problems rather with The Prowler is the entire storyline as it was far too choppy and incoherent.  I pieced the story all together sans the movie and I get that the audience sometimes has to make their own interpretation, but come on!  I feel as if The Prowler character just didn’t have enough back story like Jason Voorhees who had a tragedy as a child seeing his mother beheading and seeks revenge on the free-spirited, sex crazed teenage campers and consolers.

Two very different movies.  Two different styles.  All with in the realm of thrills and chills.  Exploitation and slasher genres have gained knowledge from these two prime examples, yet we still build and build upon each genre.  We don’t see them too much in theaters anymore which is a shame since both genres really put you in the center of the worlds most delicate issues of the world.  People kill people.  People exploit people.  These issues will never go away but they will never been renowned as popular because the subjects frighten us way too much.