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.
Joanna and her fiance, Geoff, enter a sublet agreement sight unseen. With her fiance being a struggling actor with gigs teetering on the line and domineering most of his time, Joanna struggles to find ways to pass the day alone in her apartment on unpaid maternity leave. The creepy, unwelcoming apartment doesn’t feel like home when Joanna has yet see another living soul in the building, but hears footsteps on the next floor above, violent wall banging thumps next door, and extremely unpleasant dreams that seem to cause her to lose time in reality. When Geoff neglects her pleads to leave the sublet, Joanna becomes enthralled with a newfound journal from an off limits room and as soon as she starts to read from the pages, her life in the apartment strangely follows a parallel path of the journal’s previous owner, a house wife named Margaret, that leads to jeopardizing everything Joanna knows: her sanity, her husband, and her baby.
“The Resident,” aka “The Sublet” as known in other parts of the world, is the debut psychological horror directed by the writer of “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer,” John Ainslie, who also co-wrote the script with Alyson Richards. The 2015 film is also produced by Chad Archibald, whose name might sound familiar if you’re a regular reader of this review website where you can read about interesting horror feature films like “The Resident.” Archibald helmed the body horror delicacy “Bite” the same year. Together, the qualified credential crew steps up to a challenge with “The Resident” that, on the surface, appears to be another run-of-the-mill tired premise of a young couple coping with a malevolent presence and with a common subplot involving a stay-at-home mom being the unfortunate victim. Ainslie and Richards, obviously, go through the stages of that realm, knocking down the expected pillars of conventionalism, but the duo do touch upon a couple of things. For one, they make “The Resident” very interesting and entertaining by seriously messing with Joanna’s state of mind, forcing her to question every little aspect of her mundane existence in that small sublet. The second thing is is that the whole story can be seen a metaphor for postpartum depression that’s driving psychosis right into the thick of Joanna’s unhappiness. More than once, Joanna mentions how ugly she feels and she becomes overly jealous of Geoff’s ex-girlfriend, even if rightfully so.
“Bite’s” Tianna Nori gluttonously takes on Joanna’s dwelling punishment. Nori’s par performance sells sufficiently, but doesn’t completely enthrall Joanna into the depths of madness, leaving a rather tame aftertaste. The same can be said for Mark Matechuk, who plays opposite to Nori with Geoff. His struggling actor shoes fit his two-bit stiff and starchy outfit, but Matechuk and Nori do work well together even if some scenes feel forced and scripted. By far, Rachel Sellan was my least favorite of the three main actors with her portrayal of a snobby, yet beautiful, ex-girlfriend of Geoff’s. A world built solely on the inner walls of the apartment, literally 95% of the film is inside this constructed sublet, has more personality and life than the organic material composing an orchestrated dialogue and I personally don’t blame the cast. I believe the sublet, the construed presence, subversively overshadows the intended characters. Krista Madison, James Murray, Mark Ettlinger, and Jeff Sinasac make up the supporting cast.
“The Resident” has modest effects that spur mostly off screen, but on the rate instance when mise-en-scene effects happened, they didn’t go unnoticed. “The Resident” brought and delivered the appropriate psychological nightmares associated with brain-warping spirits, shelling out an introverted dreaminess in Joanna that only she could experience with those unfortunate family and foes surrounding her witnessing only the outer chaos. Sometimes the story gets lost in itself when attempting to further Joanna’s skewed circumstances. Is Joanna dead already? The answer is possibly. Every external scene of the apartment building or even the brief scenes of Joanna with the stroller sets the moments in dreary rain and when going further into the film, Joanna is no longer able to leave the apartment. She even becomes a part of her own missing person’s investigation conducted by two belligerent cops, played venomously by Mark Ettlinger and Jeff Sinasac, who inform Joanna that her family hasn’t heard from her in days. It’s the final scene that sets the whole rest of the film in stone, that solidifies Joanna’s mental state, and yet the simple moment still leaves questions and reflection. That’s a considerable tall tell sign of good story telling from Ainslie and Richards.
Canadian production company, Black Fawn Films, headed by Chad Archibald have another successful odious anecdote in their arsenal of horror and the company has quickly gained momentum in becoming a juggernaut in sustainable low-budget horror. Second Sight will be heading the home distribution portion of the title with a May 22nd release onto DVD and On Demand. Unfortunately, a press DVD-R was provided and the audio and video qualities can’t be commented on nor can any critique on the bonus material. John Anislie has the tools and the means to labor a chilling trap of supernatural spookiness. With a cast of similar caliber, “The Resident” would have made it higher on the list, but manages to keep a solid bleep on the radar when the next scene always begged the question – what’s going to happen next?
Costa Rica’s beauty attracts tourists with it’s crystal clear ocean beaches, idyllic and serene island surroundings, and being a luxurious phenomenal getaway for last hurrah bachelor or bachelorette parties. Costa Rica also conceals Casey’s, the bride-to-be, dark and drunken affair and a deadly murky water dwelling insect inhabiting the depths of a secret sublime pool far off the beaten tourist path. When Casey sustains a bite from the unseen bug, she brushes off the injury as nothing more than a little bug bite, but as Casey recovers from her alcohol-fueled trip back home in the States, she notices strange open sores along her skin, she can’t hold down any food, and her hearing enhances by tenfold. Scared beyond all else, Casey alienates herself from her friends and fiancé as she slowly mutates into a nightmare creature, spawning eggs from her mouth throughout her small apartment and supplying fresh bodies for her millions of offspring as soon as they walk through her door.
Body horror is alive and well and in your face as Chad Archibald’s 2015 film “Bite” is living proof that the human form is completely, and biologically, mutable. Elma Begovic stars as Casey, recently engaged to a financial investor named Jared living in the same building that’s owned by her soon-to-be mother-in-law, and as her personal troubles mount after a night of alcohol induced memory loss in Costa Rica, Casey’s outlook on her future with Jared diminishes as she second guesses long term commitment and the situation doesn’t help itself when you’re biology transform into an acid bile spewing fiend. The film also stars Jordan Gray as Jared, Annette Wozniak and Denise Yuen as Casey’s bachelorette party friends Jill and Kirsten, and Lawrene Denkers as Jared’s overprotective mother whose a real nasty crone and is written by Jayme Laforest.
Secreted with an absolute nod of respect by attributing a creature that’s familiar to David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” remake, “Bite” also has an individual personality about it with an extreme Jekyll and Hyde complex containing stark contrasts of smooth, clean structures, such as the apartment building Casey and Jared reside, and with conventional presence in the characters themselves. Reality is then turned on it’s head with visually foul and putrid mucus and a slew of glistening caviar covering the walls and the floor, transforming Casey’s apartment into an eerie swamp of terror and vomit green. A metamorphosed Casey, who resembles a blend of creatures from “Species” and “Splice,” is now the proud owner of a home of horror where every room reeks of death and slick with organic discharge.
Archibald visually and audibly charges “Bite,” getting up close and personal with Casey’s rancid, boil-infested bite and we’re also subjected to external factors such as extreme outside light, in-and-out screeches, and a clear and positive sensitivity to water to help the audience transition better along with Casey and to not be too much in show when the final result comes to fruition. Elma Begovic’s human Casey constantly feels uncertain. From the first moments of the handheld cam during the bachelorette party, Casey wavers about her relationship with Jared. Back home, she continues to float through the situation and through life. We’re continuously exposed to Casey’s extreme discomfort with marriage, with no having kids, with her displeasure with Jared’s mother, and she also doesn’t even seem to have a job except for walking a neighbor’s dog everyday, which looking back on those scenes seem fairly irrelevant to the story. Only when Casey’s fully transitioned does she firm up her place in life, oozing with confidence and animal instinct, and cozy’s up in a lime green, soft yellow glow comfortable habitat for her new, arguably improved, surroundings. Elma’s glowing bug-eyes are a bit campy, but add to the transforming effect.
Her apparent plight is a synonymous exaggeration of her tremendous guilt and shame for not being truly committed to Jared and for her blackout one night stand in Costa Rica. Her body horror represents sustaining the physical manifestation of a sexually transmitted disease while, at the same time, discovering she’s pregnant. There’s is so much shame in Casey that even when she can’t confront the problem to her fiance, she can’t even go see a doctor face-to-face and reduces her interactions with a physician by using an ineffective tele-doc instead. Stir her shame and guilt with an abrasive landlord/future mother-in-law and it’s not wonder Casey seeks escape from a hell that dominates her normal life.
Sometimes the success of a movie is in the details and while “Bite” has great horror house detail, a few aspects bother me and are more about the consistencies than the facts or production goofs. For instance, the bug bite Casey endures in the Costa Rican pool has a much higher location, just above the line of her bikini bottoms, but changes to just under the bikini bottoms, a shade above the middle of the side of her thigh. A stronger case lies with Characters’, other than Casey, perception of the transform apartment. Neither Jared, Kirsten, and Jill react to the extreme odor emitting from Casey’s apartment that was so clear to the landlord who came knocking to confront with former neighbor complaints about the strong odor and neither of the above characters truly reacted with sheer trepidation upon entering a dilapidated apartment owned by this person they know. The indifference the characters displayed didn’t invoke fear, hindering audiences fear to fully enjoy the film.
While the unfortunate details nag at the back of my brain, “Bite” is undoubtedly icky-sticky effective body and creature feature from “The Drownsman” director. UK distributor Second Sight releases the Black Fawn Films and Breakthrough Production film “Bite” onto DVD this October! If you’re a fan of Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” “Bite” is a simpler, thinner modern version sans teleportation machines and Jeff Goldbum. The DVD specs include a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen of the 85 runtime feature with two audio options including Dolby Digital Stereo and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. I was provided a DVD-R screener disc with no bonus material except a static menu with scene selection and can’t critique the audio or video quality, but the film dotes solid SFX and moderately palatable acting in this gunky-gross story stemmed from one little single bite.
An insane asylum located in the North West region of the United States attempts an experimental test to root out Vietnam soldiers faking signs of psychosis. A new commanding officer, a military psychiatrist named Colonel Kane, will take the lead of the experiment. But Kane’s methods are unorthodox and Kane himself seems distant from what’s expected from him, leaving the military patients, and even some of the personnel, wondering about his state of mind. Kane lets the committed soldiers live out their most outrageous fantasies and the further his practice plays out, the more that there might actually be something terribly wrong with the new commanding colonel.
“The Ninth Configuration” is the big screen adapted version of William Peter Blatty’s novel entitled “Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane.” Blatty, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, dives back into motion pictures once again after the success of another previous adapted novel; a little piece of work you may be familiar with called “The Exorcist.” In the span of seven years, Blatty was able to cast again the versatile Jason Miller, who had portrayed a much more serious Father Karras in “The Exorcist,” as one of the leading asylum inmates in “The Night Configuration.” From then on, the hired case was forming into a formidable force of method actors including Stacy Keach (“Slave of the Cannibal God”), Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead), Ed Flanders (“The Exorcist III”), Robert Loggia (“Scarface”), Neville Brand (“Eaten Alive”), George DiCenzo (“The Exorcist III”), Moses Gunn (“Rollerball”), Joe Spinell (“Maniac”), Tom Atkins (“The Fog”), Richard Lynch (“Invasion U.S.A.”), and Steve Sander (“Stryker”). This cast is a wet dream of talent.
What’s unique about Blatty’s direction of this film is the non-displaying of action and dialogue off screen. Whether it’s character narration, dialogue track overlay, or slightly off camera view, the spectator, for more about half the film or perhaps even more, isn’t being directed to focus on the current action or dialogue and this creates the illusion of hearing bodiless voices or activities, as if you’re part of the ranks in the mentally insane roster. Only until the truth or catalyst is reveal is when more traditional means of camera focus is applied.
To make this technique work and to make it not become tiresome to the viewer, Blatty had to write some amazing dialogue and with him being a novelist and all, the dialogue was absolutely, 100 percent brilliant. Lets not also neglect to mention that with unrivaled dialogue, out of this world thespians must be accompanied to breathe life into the black printed words that are simply laying upon white pages. Scott Wilson’s and Jason Miller’s craziness is unparalleled while, on the other side of the spectrum, Stacy Keach delivers a melancholic performance that balances out the tone of the film from what could have been considered an anti-Vietnam war comedy at first glance that spun quickly with an unforeseen morph into a suspenseful thriller about the consequences of war PTSD and the affect it has on those surrounding.
Gerry Fisher’s cinematography encompasses the Gothicism of the remote Germanic castle to where every ghastly statue and crypt-like stone comes alive like in a horror movie. The setting couldn’t be any of an antonym for a loony-bin set. Even though the film is suppose to be set in North West America, the location used was actually in Wierschem, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany at the medieval Castle Eltz and the story subtly explains how the castle came to be in “America.” To the opposition of such a barbarically beautiful castle, the score by Barry De Vorzon (The Warriors) in the first act into the second is playful, lighthearted, and childish in an appropriate story tone, but turns quickly sinister and angry during progression, building upon the revealing climax.
Classic film and TV distributor Second Sight brings this cult classic onto DVD and Blu-ray in the UK. Since this was a screener copy of the DVD, I’m unable to provide any audio or video technical comments, but the screener did include the generous amount of bonus material including interviews with writer-director William Peter Blatty, and individual interviews with Stacy Keach, Tom Atkins and Stephen Powers, composer Barry De Vorzon, production designer William Malley and art director J. Dennis Washington. There are also deleted scenes and outtakes and a Mark Kermode introduction. A substantial release for Second Sight and a fine film for any collection so make sure you pick up or order this Second Sight release today!
Married couple Jennifer and Luke move to Jennifer’s small hometown in Kansas suburbia after an incident with Jennifer’s pregnancy at their city home in Chicago causes concern for the baby from both Luke and Jennifer’s mother Meredith. Feeling not at home and isolated, Jennifer quickly detaches herself from everyone around her, but when spooky occurrences start to slowly reveal in their new home, Jennifer desperately needs her family and friends to eagerly believe that the house is haunted. When everything firmly believes that Jennifer might be suffering from another pregnancy episode like in Chicago, the young woman experiences a psychological horror that drives her into a blurred line of what’s she seeing is either frighteningly real or a nightmarish psychosis.
“The House on Pine Street” is a chilling, effective thriller helmed by twin brothers Aaron and Austin Keeling, who both also co-wrote the film with newcomer Natalie Jones. The Keeling twins, along with numerous short film cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron, were able to capture alluring framing and uncomfortable camera angles, consisting of the use of medium and close up shots, that suit the film’s unsettling and haunting nature. The poetic beauty of the vibrant exterior contrasted with the bleak and rundown features inside the Luke and Jennifer’s home tell the harrowing story of where the dread begins and lingers to languish and the brothers were really able to set the entire pace of the film, prolonging out the story’s suspense, and able to create an engaging tale within about a two month time spatial difference and have it laid out logically.
Aside from the obviously talented crew, the phenomenal cast ranks this lesser known 2015 ghost film near the top. Emily Goss embodies Jennifer’s loneliness and fear through the subjection of constant ghastly occurrences. Whereas Jennifer’s husband Luke played by Taylor Bottles, even with the slick and enduring hipster hairdo, feeds off Goss’s non compos mentis situation, making the character Jennifer drown in darkness without any compassion. Personally, Jim Korinke captured my favorite performance as the neighborly quasi medium. With no acting credit to his name, Korinke’s ability to keep up and maintain with a younger, more experienced acting talent is beyond remarkable on screen and fun to watch.
Much like the film’s generic title, the story is simplistic; however, the story is without a mind blowing twist which most of Hollywood gets off on. “The House on Pine Street” speaks in underlining messages. The motif of energy keeps reoccurring throughout much of the plot, sparking the conversation that negative or positive energy will be the inevitable karma influence. If a person emits negative energy, bad juju will be the result and visa versa. While the story hovers around Jennifer’s locus, her negative, pessimistic attitude contributes to the tribulations toward other characters. The Keelings were able to subtly convey the energy message without being blatant and expositive.
“The House on Pine Street” works and works well regardless of the overused and lackluster title that has become more repetitive and an unfortunate eyesore to those scouring the retail racks, looking for an engaging thriller, but the Keeling duo are a pair of cinema prodigy twins, who with the right cast and crew can take a smaller project, like this, and polish it into gold. Second Sight distribution is set to release this spin-chilling “The House on Pine Street” thriller onto DVD home video in the UK on February 1st. Just in case you’re not completely sold, take it from me that goosebumps will occupy every inch if your chilled flesh when watching in the dark and the light.