An ambitious physics professor Hiram Otis obtains a research grant that requires him to study in England, pulling his wife, daughter, and two young boys from their Indiana home into a strange new world. In an age of obsolete aristocracy, the Otis family is able to afford rent at the grand Canterville Hall, a legendary castle with an infamous tale of death and suspicion that also might have resulted in being an affordable estate for the American family. Legend records have it that the lord of the castle, Sir Simon de Canterville, had subsequently killed his wife due to his obsessions and became the victim of his wife’s family spiteful vengeance by being chained to a dungeon cell. For 400 years, Sir Simon remained in that cell and his ghost haunts Canterville Hall, but despite their beliefs in the supernatural, the physics professor and his wife can’t see the ghost and only their teenage daughter and two young boys are able to witness him roam the halls, haunting those who live within the castle walls.
Every once and awhile, we’ll thoroughly review a light-hearted fantasy, horror, or sci-fi film and since we’re hot off the heels of the review for Wes Craven’s “Summer of Fear,” the made-for-television train might as well keep chug-chug-chugging alone with the 1996 TV movie adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novella, “The Canterville Ghost.” Distributed by ABC, the Sydney Macartney (as Syd Macartney) directed and Robert Benedetti teleplay written installment tries to differentiate itself and standout amongst a plethora of adaptations that span across the globe, but the American Broadcast Company, a subsidiary of the great and powerful Disney, aimed to separate from the masses by adding star studded power and the result brought a rejuvenation to the ye old tale over two decades ago.
The big name headliner is none other than Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, two years after his 7-year stint on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Stewart, who co-produced the film, adds his theatrical flair and is absolutely brilliant shaping drama monologues into dense thickets that define Sir Simon de Canterville’s ghost, but there’s an issue; the problem doesn’t lie with Patrick Stewart, but with how Benedetti’s teleplay expos from the story as a continuous, if not slightly jumbled, stream of old English that just feels like rambling. To alleviate that strain is Stewart’s co-star Neve Campbell to add a softer, glassy-eyed touch to the story with a pinch of plain jane American girl insecurities, characterized in Wilde’s story as Virginia Otis. Perhaps in the beginning portion of the height of her career, Campbell finds herself between “Party of Five” and hitting scream queen status as Sydney Prescott in “Scream,” but the “Wild Things” actress wasn’t that sultry or that chased in “The Canterville Ghost” who only took upon an annoyed teenage girl persona, wishing her life was back in America up until the mysterious spirit of Sir Simon de Canterville allured a spark into her dull life. Alongside Stewart and Campbell, Daniel Betts, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Raymond Pickard, Cherie Lunghi, Donald Sinden, Joan Sims, and the late Edward Wiley, who died shortly before the film’s premiere, costar.
Going into “The Canterville Ghost” was nothing short of knowing nothing other than the fact the Patrick Stewart and Neve Campbell were in the lead roles of a Disney backed, family film and to be completely honest, Macartney’s vision completely underwhelms. Along with the verbose nature of the script-to-teleplay alterations, the magical supernatural portions are inarguably cheap, even for television. The simple superimposing of Sir Simon de Canterville offered no stimulation as the the two scenes just didn’t splice together well to seamlessly make the grade. Firecracker explosions and party store cobwebs dilute even thinner the already slim pickings of special effects that top when Virginia Otis crosses over into a dense fogged ghostly realm thats chopped, cropped, and edited with such disorganization, the entire scene feels more lost than Virginia trying to escape the other side back to the living.
Sydney Macartney’s “The Canterville Ghost” is presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray courtesy of the U.K. distributor Second Sight Films. The Blu-ray is presented in the Academy ratio of 1.33:1 with 1080p resolution on a MPEG-4 AVC BD 25. Second Sight’s release will have the best looking version of this film, if the quality is anything like the screener sent to me, with a strong color palette, minor digital noise, and rich in great detail; so detailed in fact that the blemishes on Neve Campbell and Daniel Betts can be seen. The English DTS-HD audio track is lively, but not entirely boastful with more thematic and dramatic elements. Dialogue track is clean and clear and the score by “Dead Heat” and “Tremors” composer Ernest Troost augments his fairy tale rendition into the mix. Bonus material includes new interviews with director Sydney Macartney and producer-writer Robert Benedetti. Second Sight’s presentation of Hallmark Entertainment’s “The Canterville Ghost” has strong Blu-ray technical potential, but despite the big names of that time period and a visually stimulating setting, the fantastic adventure through a cursed ghost’s melodrama and a bored young girl’s tenure of self discovery unfortunately didn’t rivet with excitement or wonder, losing steam with it’s important message that life is more than being in a bubble of stagnant disappointment and guilt.
Ready for the second round of ABCs of death? Twenty-six new directors sign, seal, and deliver twenty-six new stories about death and breathe a whole new life into this highly anticipated sequel to the highly popular 2012 anthology. The ABCs of Death 2 attempts to be callous, sick, and offers up more blood and gore than it’s predecessor while the ABCs are very elementary, its the death part that makes then alphabet more complicated.
When one glances the cover and see thats familiar figure of the death eating Grim Reaper holding a story book, one who knew nothing about the anthology would consider The ABCs of the Death to be strictly a horror genre, short story telling series in the same ballpark as “Creepshow,” which ironically enough has a similar, yet cartoony, ghastly Grim Reaper on it’s sophomore sequel DVD cover. That assumption is significantly mistaken. The Grim Reaper is all about the death in every sense of the way and “The ABCs of Death” productions resemble more of the controversial and ultra-violent “Faces of Death” series. If you scour the internet, or just have the entire collection, many of the VHS and DVD editions have a similar Grim Reaper, but again more cartoonish. The content though is all about death gathering home recordings of unspeakable acts of death from suicide, murders, and to accidentals just to name a few.
Yes, there are fantastic horror elements to “The ABCs of the Death” as well making this hybrid of an anthology that more entertaining, but the sequel relies a lot on the human element. The nature of man is cruel and vicious and most of the 26 films are based on this true to form fact. For example, “C is for Capital Punishment” by director Julian Barratt tells the story of a lynch mob trying to justify the disappearance of a village girl, Aharon Keshales “F is for Falling” involves the tautness of a rifle-toting Palestinian boy who discovers a Israeli fighter dangling from her parachute chords stuck in a tree, or Vincenzio Natali’s “U is for Utopia” in where a society made up of thin, good looking people living their lives while the ugly people are hunted down and burned alive.
What I also like about “The ABCs of Death” is the various culturally inspired films. There are directors from all over the glob spanning from Japan, England, France, Argentina and Nigeria just to name a few and all of who incorporate their own culture and style in the mixture. Some introduced comedy while others took a stylish-serious route and others just wanted to scare the pants off you. The couple animated shorts weren’t as rememberable as in the first anthology, but certain “D is for Deloused” by Robert Morgan will at least make you have underlining nightmares.
Some of the more memorable shorts stood out over all the rest. One in particular was Steven Kostanski’s “W is for Wish” which took a late 80’s to early 90’s take on a fantasy toy commercial where two children wished to be a part of and then actually went into the world where it was like nothing they expected. In fact, carnage and chaos (and awkwardly weird and fantastic) was the maelstrom these kids were thrusted into making their fantasy a real and deadly nightmare.
Magnolia Home Entertainment scores big with the sequel to “The ABCs of Death” and I’m sure the company won’t stop at just two. Expect more great films from lesser known directors and more blood and guts than ever. In the meantime, pick up your copy of “The ABCs of Death 2” on DVD or Blu-ray because you never know when you might keel over and die!