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.
Julia Trent is left orphaned after the fatal accident of her parents that involved them falling to their fiery deaths when their car careens off a cliff attempting to drive their housekeeper home. The only family Julia has left is the Bryant family whom she hasn’t seen in over 15 years. The Bryants welcome their niece with consolation and open arms, inviting her to room with her cousin, Rachel. Rachel has the perfect life: a loving mother and father, a cute boyfriend, and the ability to ride and compete in horse competitions. However, Rachel’s world is upended when Julia enters her life and something just doesn’t seem right when Julia slowly begins to push Rachel out of her comfy position, bewitching the men in her life to turn against her and being the center of a number of considerable accidents. As Rachel suspicions grow and she becomes further attached from all those that surround her, an investigation ensues with Rachel at helm to retrieve what’s rightfully her’s from an underlying evil.
The late Wes Craven made for television movie “Summer of Fear,” also known as “Stranger in the House,” is a living relic; a time capsule type horror this generation will find difficult to grasp, like Nintendo’s Gameboy or music tape cassettes, with thrilling suspense unlike today’s cookie cutter product. After he shocked audiences with the controversial “The Last House on the Left” and crafted a shifty dream killer in “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” director Wes Craven embarked on a venture into the television movie scene that didn’t spur graphic content, but focused putting the supernatural in the forefront of reality with a similarity to that of “Tales of the Darkside” or “The Twilight Zone,” captivating audiences sitting in front of the boobtube with twists and thrills in a Halloween premiered NBC movie. Based on Lois Duncan’s novel of the same title and written for television by Glenn Benest (who also wrote another Craven directed picture “Deadly Blessings”) and Max Keller, Wes Craven greatly accepted the challenge of reaching a broad audience without being subversive and explicit, sharing his vision with another living horror icon in the starring role.
“The Exorcist’s” Linda Blair has a role that’s certainly a far cry from the possessed Reagan, but the 1978 “Summer of Fear” had opened up a sleuth-type role for Blair that made her more of the hunter than the victim. Blair’s raspy voice and spoiled girl attitude completes the privileged daughter of the household compared to her tall and charming rival, Julia Trent, in “Necromancy’s” Lee Purcell. Purcell compliments Blair all too well and, together, the on screen tension is ever present, even if slightly over exaggerated. From that point on, “Summer of Fear” was filled in by other great talent such as Jeremy Slate (“True Grit” ’69), Carol Lawrence, a very young Fran Drescher in the beginning of her career, Jeff McCracken, and Jeff East (“Pumpkinhead”), but the more fascinating role, that was hardly explored, is awarded to MacDonald Carey, the resident occult professor of the neighborhood. Carey’s has a very old school actor with a performance very familiar to Robert Mitchum and the veteran actor’s vast career felt very small here in the catalytic role as the confirming source for Rachel in her suspicions.
In addition to the withdrawal of the contentious content, “Summer of Fear” entertains on a minimalistic special effects stage that still pops with jaw-dropping suspense and still caters to an, even if slightly dated, story altering moment that rockets toward a maelstrom finish. All the while, Lee Purcell’s character has such glam and beauty that the bewitching sticks overpoweringly raw as a telling moment that beauty isn’t all that’s wrapped up to be and people can be ugly on the inside. Through brief glimpses into Julia Trent’s authentic past, including the mountainous Ozark retreats, one could conclude the story’s ultimate ending, but the fact that the actors embrace their rolls and Wes Craven connects himself enthusiastically to the project makes “Summer of Fear” a solid small box show of terror.
Doppelgänger Releasing releases the Wes Craven classic “Summer of Fear” for the first time onto Blu-ray home video. Transferred to a 1080p resolution, the presentation is certainly made from TV in the Academy, 4:3 or 1.33:1, aspect ratio. Image quality sporadically has moments of definition instability where the image goes fluffy or soft and amongst the duration’s entirety are a slew of white specks and noticeable grain, but the transfer remains solid over the decades that display a grandeur of vivid coloring despite some scenes of with an overburdening washed yellow tint. The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio cleanly presents the feature with not a lot of flashy audio moments and the dialogue is clean and clear suggesting that the audio track aged very well. Bonus material includes an audio commentary track by director Wes Craven, an exclusive interview with Linda Blair, photo and poster gallery, and concluding with the original 1978 trailer. “Summer of Fear” might be obsolete in modern ways of terror filmmaking, but Wes Craven imprints a searing cult classic that brandishes more than just guts and gore. Instead, the father of “Scream” continues to impress beyond the grave, thanks to distributors like Doppelgänger Releasing, with the filmmaker’s expansive range that debunks many popcorn horror goers’ assumptions about the director and his films. “Summer of Fear” simply showcases that Craven was a jack of all trades when coming down to brass tax in creating a terrifying story.
Special effects technician Dom joins a small cast on the scenic outskirts of Pittsburgh to work on a horror film with wealthy director Lacey Bickel at the helm. Filmmaker Bickel’s indifferent passion about obtaining the perfect shot for his movie puts Bickel at odds with the other cast and crew, rendering Lacey just another irregular and peculiar director attempting to show the general public his ultimate vision, but during one particularly odd behavioral moment, Dom was subjected to the exhibition of a presumably snuff film possibly directed by Bicket during a coke-filled round table discussion. Dom begins to suspect that the movie he’s laboring over isn’t the sole objective of Bickel’s, but stays quiet about his instincts and he forms a romantic relationship with Celeste, a gaffer whose worked with Bickel prior to, and the two resume their work on the film despite the being the oblivious subjects of a real snuff film.
In 1978, the Godfather of the modern zombie film, the late great George Romero, had an inner circle of friends conjure up their own funding for an idealistic, ahead of it’s time horror film entitled “Effects” with then newcomers and Pittsburgh natives Dusty Nelson at the helm, John Harrison producing and starring as the offbeat Lacey Bickel, and post-“Effects” “Day of the Dead” and “The Dark Half” editor, Pasquale Buba, as the other producer. Filming had wrapped with tons of positive public review potential to be the next big horror film of it’s time being produced out of Pittsburgh, but a major distribution complication had put the kibosh on any theatrical and home release run, leaving “Effects” to be shelved for nearly thirty years until 2007 when Synapse released the film on DVD. The snag resonates soundly with the group of filmmakers who are probably more than acquainted with their friend and colleague George Romero’s “Night of the Living” and the copyright problem. However, the American Genre Film Archive, or AGFA, began a kickstarter funding campaign to buy a 4K scanner to remaster cult and underground titles to Blu-ray and “Effects” became one of the first selected!
“Day of the Dead” star Joe Pilato stars as special effects technician Dom and Dom is a far cry from being his future role of the sadistic and stir crazy Captain Rhodes. Pilato brings a lot of peace and tranquility to his mild mannered, if not very gullible, character. Along side Pilato is another fellow “Dead” series star, Tom Savini, as portraying not his trade of a special effects tech, but as a producer of sorts in the film. Off camera, Savini handles the gruesome special effects with a straight blade and gunshot sequences. In character, Savini doesn’t stray too far from his character on “Dawn of the Dead,” donning the black leather jacket and sporting a cocky-jerk attitude. Producer John Harrison also has a role as the callus director Lacey Bickel who bosses around his two surface actors “Life of Brian” actor Bernard Mckenna and a “Dead” series dead head zombie in two of Romero’s films, a Mrs. Debra Gordon. McKenna delivers question mark after question mark of a performance that Matthew Lillard, perhaps, imitates the best in Wes Craven’s “Scream” whereas Gordon just provides a straightforward background performance with her scene with Lacey conversing over the idea of stress releasing sex being one of the more intense moments of the movie. Susan Chapek, Charles Hoyes, and Blay Bahnsen complete the cast.
Despite the modest budget, Nelson and his team construct monumental frightening moments. When Dom, Lacey, Lobo, and Barney converse around a mirror laced with coke, Lacey wants to show Dom a film after their sharing their opinions on what the general public will or will not pay to see. The actors’ faces and reactions as the snuff film rolls is on the brink of teeth clenching madness. The catalytic moment bombards questions internally into the group of presumably professional people and starts the separation between whose really in control of their fates. “Effects” is a movie within a movie and a deception within a deception where the characters have more than one role and pinpointing their specific purpose is difficult to land that Nelson’s film will have your head spinning with guesses. A fierce and boldly ambitious film from a scrappy Pittsburgh crew of talented filmmakers taking a risk with an intricate plotted thriller.
AGFA and MVDVisual present Dusty Nelson’s “Effects” for the first time on a region free Blu-ray. The 1980 thriller has been scanned and restored in 4K from the only existent copy of the 35mm negatives and delivered the original aspect ratio, an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. The image quality is better, but only slight above the Synapse DVD that sourced from 16mm negative and still maintains a healthy dose of noised induced and film grain and print damage. The color palette has a dullish grey-brown combination fairly noticeable to the naked eye. The English DTS-HD dual channel audio has hints of a hiss and faint crackle in more scene intense segments, but relatively clean and clear inside a limited range. Extras included are an updated version of Synapse’s retrospective documentary entitled “After Effects” that brings a stingy melancholy when seeing George Romero converse with his friends. There are also two short films by John Harrison, an archival commentary track, and liner notes by AGFA’s Joseph Ziemba. Plus, the AGFA Blu-ray has a snazzy illustrated cover, with reverse cover art, encasement. “Effects” glorifies snuff film with ample attention to detail and precision that only this Pittsburgh all-star team of filmmakers could produce on a limited budget and AGFA, alongside MVDVisual, amplify their efforts by a hundredfold with a remastered transfer withstanding straight razor home movies, a bombastic car explosion, and cloak and dagger guerilla filmmaking that’ll have you second guessing if the effects are only movie magic or not?
Elliot, Sasha, and John move into an old manor home just off the university’s campus. The tight knit three friends stumble upon a tattered nightstand with scribbled nonsense inside the drawer and underneath the incoherent writing and scratched into the wood is The Bye Bye Man. Once you hear the name, a searing imprint has been made into the mind, opening up a layer within the universe that invites a grim reaper-like figure to come horrifically collect individuals who have been infected with the name. The mysterious malevolence will impose hallucinations, or tricks, upon the mind to induce others to commit evil acts on another and will stop at nothing until those who know his name are either end up dead or spread his vileness. For Elliot, Sasha, and John, their close relationships will be tested, they’re bodies will be challenged, and their minds will be altered in a race against the clock in order to beat death, to defeat The Bye Bye Man.
“The Bye Bye Man” is an Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment distributed boogeyman concept from 1995’s “The Last Supper” director Stacy Title. Title, who hasn’t been active for about ten years since her last directorial, helms the project written by her husband, an appropriately named Jonathan Penner, who also had a co-starring role in “The Last Supper.” The inspiration stems from a collection of horrific tales from Robert Damon Schneck’s “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America,” but “The Bye Bye Man” borrows heavily from well-crafted horror brethren too, birthing a mythological personification of death that doesn’t wield a scythe, but rather being a master, underneath a dark hooded cloak, to a hellish beast that munches on the faces of The Bye Bye Man’s victims. “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Final Destination,” and a little bit of “Scream” become the selected examples that are the genetic makeup of TItle and Penner’s film, but doesn’t grossly rip from the said works, two of which are the late Wes Cravens masterpieces. Instead, Jonathan Penner reconfigures the nightmare man, a modern day Freddy Krueger type stalking every soul during the day and night hours, whom establishes his own brand of Rube Goldberg deaths through deadly vision inflictions that pray upon a human’s moral subconscious. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it” sets as the 2017 film’s tagline with the notion that perhaps little white lies are, literally, lifesavers or that the truth can be hurtful, and or knowledge can be powerful, but can also lead to your own demise.
“Ouija’s” Douglas Smith succumbs to his lead role of Elliot, an educated and patient young man who seems to have everything despite tragic misfortune that’s whisked through the character development. From friends, to a supportive brother, to a loving girlfriend, Smith transition seamlessly to languishing burden during a spotlight scene with co-star Carrie-Anne Moss (“Matrix”) that’s raw and cuttingly empathetic. The story centers around Elliot, but Sasha and John have pivotable relationships to Elliot, two essential roles given to two British actors, former girl of Prince Harry, Cressida Bonas, and television actor Lucien Laviscount. Both Bonas and Laviscount expensed drab performances, mechanically and, often, monotonically coming and going from scene-to-scene without mingling well into the rest of the film’s grim and dire trimmed overalls that basically left Smith out to pick up the slack. Along with Carrie-Anne Moss, who always seems to be typecast in a women of power role and, in this case, a detective, “The Bye Bye Man” sports other veterans of both horror and general film, but; instead, take a backseat to a younger generation of actors. “HellBoy’s” Doug Jones silently strolls through one of the easiest prosthetically garbed performances of his illustrious career as the titular character, genre stable Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) commits to a haunting performance as a murder-suicide martyr, and the legendary Faye Dunaway portrays a longtime widow of the aforementioned madman. Michael Trucco (“Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled”), Jenna Kanell, Cleo King (“Hood of Horror”), and Erica Tremblay round out the supporting cast.
Universal picking up a horror title resembling an infantile kids feature and releasing it theatrically might with relatively unknown, mostly non-American cast, will scratch some questioning heads, but with a well oiled supporting cast consisting of many years of guild service, a director, despite being inactive for many years, maintaining a sensible and visionary eye, and a story, aside from a few underdevelopments, that captivates with edge of your seat scares and with next moment eagerness, “The Bye Bye Man” has great potential. With smoothing out details of Elliot’s and The Bye Bye Man’s backstories and construing more of a slow burn method when getting the characters involved with the ‘don’t think it, don’t say it’ villain name, Universal would have increased their gross profits by double and the world would be happy once again. Unfortunately, that scenario was not the case as credits bombarded “The Bye Bye Man” as about as borrowed and as hokey as any low-budget horror film can be, but “The Bye Bye Man” surpassed the production budget by triple and to me, someone who generally has the same stance as most credits, that’s a win for Stacy Title and company.
The Intrepid Pictures and Los Angeles Media Fund production “The Bye Bye Man” makes a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment debut on a two-version unrated Blu-ray and DVD combo. The MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p Blu-ray disc contains a razor sharp image in the 1.85:1 presentation. Depth and shadows phenomenally define the space, especially in closer quarters and the ariel shots. A motif of bleak black and grim grey is consistent throughout, creating a tone through the darker shades, with vivid hues to gloriously fend for themselves amongst the achromatic reel landscape. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound doesn’t feign in the balance category with dialogue prevalence not short of excellence and, much like other atmospheric horror, the spooky elements are outlined in various levels from a coin dropping to a train horn. Bonus features are surprisingly zilch with no extras on either format; I guess there wasn’t much to say during or post-film. In all, “The Bye Bye Man” is a total hack with plot holes. A completely borrowed and revamped product with a terribly childish title promising nothing to the genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “The Bye Bye Man” can’t be entertaining, providing a wicked sense of humor and a morbid final destination outlook with unexpected casting choices and a barely bordering PG-13 horror rendering.
Under the sadistic thumb of their ruthless father, two physically and mentally abused brothers as children follow in their father’s footsteps in adulthood, falsely portraying to be EMT’s in old ambulance 37 and slaughtering those who desperately need medical attention on an infamous and isolated stretch of road. When the brothers’ loving mother becomes the victim of a hit and run by a group of young teens, the brothers’ quest to kill gets personal. Unbeknownst to them as the brothers’ targeted prey, the arrogant and rowdy teens live their complex and immature lives, overflowing with trivial matters such as fast cars, dating, and cosmetic surgeries.
“Old 37” (aka “Ambulance 37” or aka “Death Call”) wrecks before reaching the finish line. Bittersweetly, the story by Paul Travers, written also by Paul Travers and Joe Landes, is an interesting concept of life savers taking lives and, interestingly enough, a similar idea was in the news recently where a supposed unmarked cop cart pulls over young women, but the driver is actually a cunning rapist instead of an actual officer of the law. “Old 37” is essentially art mimicking real life. We feel safe when an emergency civil servant or agent is present or tells us not to worry, as exhibited in “Old 37.” “Don’t worry, I’m a paramedic,” says one of the demented brothers.
“Old 37” greatly has much going for the Three Point Capital funded movie. Three Point Capital has backed many other notable films such as “Insidious: Chapter 2,” “Nightcrawler,” and Kevin Smith’s “Red State.” Partnered up with Joe Dante’s “Burying the Ex’s” post-production company Siren Digital, the two companies had the mucho dinero to sleekly design, which it does, and to hire a moderately formidable cast, which they do. Kane Hodder and Bill Moseley headline, being the pair of horror icons forced to be reckoned with, and slide into the shoes of the two ambulance driving, bloodthirsty brothers, intercepting 911 calls via their scanner for victims. Hodder hasn’t lost that Jason Voorhees gait and menacing body motions and Moseley, without even trying, has the uncanny ability to sinister up an entertaining and terrifying persona. Together on screen, a powerhouse of an unimaginable magnitude as they are, hands down, the highlight of “Old 37.”
With high-end production value and two of probably the most prolific names in horror attached, what could go wrong? Well, the first wrong is “Old 37” is mostly an unfunny teen comedy rather than a horror movie. It’s more “She’s All That,” than “Scream.” It’s more “American Pie,” than “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” It’s more “10 Things I Hate About You,” than…you get the picture. Horror didn’t surface into full eligibility until about the last 20 minutes with the archetypical final girl chase finale and even then was the horror story still underdeveloped. The teen characters’s lives are too complex as they take over the story, including one awkward, self-loathing lead character, Samantha, eager to fit in (even though she does), eager to look beautiful (which she already does), and eager to obtain breast augmentation (though she doesn’t need them). The breast enhancement scenes drastically change the direction of the film, throwing me for a serious loop for various reasons: Samantha gets the okay right away when she asks her mother for new breasts, she gets new breasts in a matter of days, and she isn’t sore or in pain directly after receiving them. Time is an illusion when two the contrasts display Samantha throughout going forward from the entire beginning to end process for new flesh pillows while one of her crude friends gets murdered. Something doesn’t add up.
Special effects guy Pete Gerner and his talented crew do blood spattering justice with the sanguinary written murders and while I feel the brutality and the blood is amongst the film’s aurora, the gooey gory scenes are quickly edited, taking away the time to where we can’t fully appreciate, fully engulf, nor fully digest the “I Sell The Dead” Gerner effects. The final nail in the coffin is director Alan Smithee. If you Google Alan Smithee, results will show that Alan Smithee is a pseudonym used by directors who want to disown a project. Christian Winters removed his name from “Old 37” because he thought his control over the film wasn’t his anymore. And that’s fairly accurate as “Old 37” seems and feels incomplete, much like Rob Schmidt’s 2011 unfinished debacle “Bad Meat,” directed under his pseudonym Lulu Jarmen, and just like “Bad Meat,” “Old 37” has the potential, the substance, and the talent to what could have been a solid horror narrative.
Overall, “Old 37” has the financial backing, has some serious blood that made the cut, has a great soundtrack assortment, and has motherfuckin’ Bill Moseley and Kane Hodder. What the disowned film lacks is a well-written narrative, contains poorly written and idiotic teenage characters, and needs a director with an eye for direction instead of a producer with greedy big pockets. “Old 37,” under the name “Death Call,” will be hitting DVD shelves from UK distributor High Fliers films. If you’re a fan of Hodder and Moseley, but don’t expect a typical horror movie as this film goes through multiple genre transitions and doesn’t settle just on one at any point. There is one delicate scene of Olivia Alexander which I’m sure will be pleasing to any viewer.