In the year 2024, the world’s superpowers are on the edge of nuclear warfare as Earth’s resources are dwindling at a rapid pace. A halt in knife edge conflict and the construction of temporary peace, known as the RAND Treaty, allowed nations to build underground, sustainable bunkers for a restarter population. Plethura 04, one of these bunkers, is being monitored, maintained, and prepped by Roy, an labeled “undertaker” scientist, whose setting the stage for a group of survivors known as Priority One, but when the sudden fallout alarm blares, Plethura is locked down early, trapping Roy alone in a cavernous and cold bunker alone with the exception of an A.I. program that Roy named Arthur. As time passes, Roy sanity comes into question; so much so, that Roy believes that Plethura might just be a drill simulation. Also, is there really something in the bunker with him? Is Arthur trying to confuse him? Questions, isolation, and terror seep into Roy’s mind, perhaps, or perhaps not, manifesting a lurking presence.
“Its Alive,” also known as “Twenty Twenty-Four” is the intense psychological thriller from the United Kingdom. Written and directed by first timer Richard Mundy, “It Lives” is helmed in the same vein as “Buried” with a solo performer in an isolation crisis. Produced by Ripsaw Pictures and Entity Film Company, the feature has some production power behind it that makes the indie film seem to have a fluffier value than its actual worth and garnishes a cherished and chilling atmospheric cinematography by Nick Barker. A real sense of a cold cleanroom can be just as frightening as a filthy slaughterhouse and the Mundy-Barker team hone in on that very concept, performing a bariatric surgery on the heaviness and the plentiful of the up top, outside world and reducing it to a few corridors, a couple of living chambers, and beast-like belly of a generator room. The filmmakers fabricate isolation and the perception of isolation well with a tremendous set up of the scenario: the preparation and the sudden, unexpected calamity of a nuclear fallout.
Actor Andrew Kinsler has the toughest job in the world, acting without feeding off the energy and the lines of other fellow actors. Kinsler goes at the role alone as Roy, a scientist prepping Plethura 04 for the arrival of Priority One survivors and knowing that he will die when he trades spaces with the group as he has to go topside. That’s notion, of having to sacrifice yourself for strangers, is a deep concept. Its easier to sacrifice oneself for the sake of those you love and care for, but complete strangers is pure mental mayhem, especially when all the work of getting the bunker ready was done by Roy. Kinsler keeps up the part of coping with his mortality, accepting it, and then being crushed by it when the world ends at the blink of an eye. Questioning everything as he immerses deeper into isolation, Kinsler relies more on the artificial intelligence to be a companion, despite seemingly being annoyed by the very lack its thirst for human complexities.
Many popcorn viewers don’t care for an open book ending films where the personal interpretation opens up a vast range of theories. “It Lives” is one of those films. Most certainly a disturbing psychological thriller, the story perpetually has Roy second guessing every anomaly that spooks him, even to the extend of thinking a computer program has infiltrated his subconscious with trickery and confusion tactics. Then, the ending smacks you right in the face and then smacks you again with a three finale questions: Was it a dream? Was it madness? Or was it all real? Christopher Nolan similarly put the fate of “Inception’s” Cobb into the hands of audiences when he spins a toy top to see if he was still in inception or if he was in reality. If continuously in motion, that would signify Cobb’s in a fantasy world, but Cobb’s spin is cut short with a cut to black, begging the answer of whether his happy ending was true or a inceptive pipe dream. Roy’s scenario is a lot darker and, if not, deeper that’s challenged by an internal struggle of self-preservation. Has Roy become a fixture of the cleanroom aspect? Has he become a cold figment of accepting his fate and has suppressed his emotion about it to the boiling point that his subconscious is fighting for his own survival? “It Lives” is an exceptionally juicy psychological film worth exploring.
Second Sight presents “It Lives” onto DVD home video this July 30th! Since the screener was a DVD-R, a full assessment of the audio and video aspects will not be covered. There were also no bonus material on the disc. What I can say is that Harry Kirby’s score is the utmost jarring; reminds me of Mark Korven’s unsettling and unique unmelodious score in “The Witch.” As part sci-fi and part horror, the surface level narrative is sheer terror and fear. Below surface, the wicked and frightful stir an embattling vortex of arguments in the grossest of grotesque forms, aka a complete mind destabilization. “It Lives” has indie roots that spread wide and fierce, shredding through temporal lobes like soft butter and delivering one hell of a terrifying psychological horror.
Times are tough. Loads are scarce. For John Canyon, being an independent owner operator space trucker in the year 2196, without the influential assistance of conglomerate sponsors and big corporations, is the last freedom in the last great frontier, but even Canyon needs to earn a living and when a questionable load becomes his only way out of a jam with the authorities, Canyon and his new and young partner, Mike Pucci, snatch the haul bound for Earth. Manifested as carrying sex dolls, Canyon and Pucci become suspicious of their cargo that’s loaded with a fatal self-defense mechanism, but when encountered by space pirates, lead by former company man named Macanudo, the space truckers learn their hauling thousands of virtually unstoppable killer cyborgs programmed to conquer Earth.
In today’s age, a nationwide driver shortage threatens to slow down crucial logistics worldwide. Director Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator,” “Dagon”) with co-writer Ted Mann had the inverse premonition that trucker cargo would be at a premium in the space; the point A to point B in a timely fashion has not and neither have the negotiations of rate costs and demurrage time in this world-saving adventure entitled “Space Truckers.” In the same science fiction-comedy vein as the similarly colorful Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element,” “Space Truckers” has that unrefined inviting quality about it, categorized as blue collared heroes, that complete the dynamic character arcs, but what’s more interesting about “Space Truckers,” which was released a year earlier than Bruce Willis film, was that it was constructed on a third of the budget, making the film one of Stuart Gordon’s most expensive and ambitious projects chocked with square pigs in cages, a self-built cyborg with a ripcord sexual organ, and an army of ass-kicking fembots with disintegrated lasers…”Space Truckers” is out of this world fun!
In the realm of Sci-fi comedy or fantasy, one legendary actor has nailed his performance in every flop that’s too big for commercial audiences. From “Waterworld” to the movie adaptation of popular and beloved video game, “Super Mario Bros.,” Dennis Hopper ruled the 1990’s with memorable, fascinating, and engaging overweening characters, especially villains, but Hopper snags John Canyon, a long in the tooth trucker who prefers to work alone. Hopper’s in his element, in control, and in the lead role despite not being top bill; instead, a young Stephen Dorff would be eyed as the one to provide fresh protagonist momentum into the mid-nineties. Dorff’s rather low-key to Hopper’s giant persona and that’s inherit to the character’s written traits, by always complimenting and complying with and whatever John Canyon says, but the soon-to-be “Blade’s” Decon Frost actor has a sturdy performance that’s portly as any trucker can be portrayed and has great repertoire with Debi Mazar as a trucking hub waitress who needs a hitch a ride to Earth. Mazar’s all-natural New York City accent compliments her guido-type character attire and she downplays her beauty with instilling innocents and ramping up the wit when the scene calls for it. “Game of Thrones'” Charles Dance makes an appearance as the space pirate captain Macanudo and Dance has always has a steel complexion, but in “Space Truckers,” he lets his hair down as far as becoming subjected to hours worth of cyberpunk makeup and prosthetics that’s comically outlandish and utterly fleshy. Certainly not a role one would consider the actor who comes complete with a rich British accent and an urbane quality about him to then sport a sparkling fishbowl cranium and a battleship gray half a buttocks. The remaining cast includes George Wendt (“King of the Ants”) and Shane Rimmer (“The Hunger”).
CGI was relatively in the early stages of infancy; yet “Space Truckers” had an astonishingly working blend of computer generated imagery and palpable miniature models that were supported with an integrated futuristic edifice style of production design by Simon Murton, whose speciality is high concept science fiction with illustrative art department experience that includes “Demolition Man,” “Tank Girl,” “Judge Dredd,” and “Stargate.” Murton’s style incorporated with the bright colored visuals of neon flicker marquees, illuminating body parts, and red hot poker red infrareds hues are the very antagonistic views of a cold and dark space, yet Gordon and his crew envisioned characters who sought out color, who wanted nothing to do with the darkness, and that’s what made them colorful and maybe a bit off-kilter.
Stuart Gordon’s stellar “Space Truckers” rockets to a region B, 1080p Blu-ray courtesy of UK distributor Second Sight that delivers with a widescreen presentation, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, that has out of this world image quality vividly displaying the massive color palette through a 2K restoration from the 35mm negative. Running at nearly 24 fps, Second Sight’s edition is superior in detail, cleanliness, and balance amongst the coloring and despite being able to see the special effect wires, “Space Truckers” has one of the best restorations I’ve seen lately under the black Blu-ray box laced with new artwork by graphic designer Rich Davies. The English 2.0 LPCM uncompressed stereo track, with optional subtitles, has immense range across the board. From cheesy John Canyon dialogue to the vary of space-kindred ambience, not one track felt short to being muddled or murky. Colin Towns bigrig score is big country cadence that’s emits a well-rounded six pack from the dual channel sound. The robot’s disintegrations amplify a high pitch note that can be a thorn in one’s ear, but adds to the chaotic charm when all hell breaks loose in space. Bonus features include a new interview with Stuart Gordon delving into the film’s beginnings and his recollections with the stars, and a new interview with composer Colin Towns (“Rawhead Rex”), a new interview with Art Director Simon Lamont (“Event Horizon”). “Space Truckers” is 96 minutes of mudflappin’ mayhem strapped with slender models in killer robot suits and Charles Dance’s exhibiting his tin-can half-nakedness in a bizarro world of high concept meets tongue-and-cheek performances of a film that ultimately pits the epitome of the blue collar workforce as the unsung heros of space.
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.
An unknown corpse of a young woman, found naked and half-buried in the basement of a home involved in a gruesome crime scene, is strolled into a small town family morgue and crematorium by a puzzled local sheriff. Without any idea who this woman is and how to explain the her presence at the scene, the sheriff wants a cause of death on his Jane Doe as soon as possible and it’s up to Tommy and his son, Austin, to investigate what caused her demise and to determine her involvement in the grand scheme of the grisly events. When the medical examiners begin to peel back the layers, each segment of the autopsy reveals impossible and unspeakable horrors underneath her cold flesh that go against their combined years of medical experience and the deeper they dig into her body, the more the autopsy room becomes a spine-tingling area as strange occurrences begin to happen to the father and son. Their only hope in stopping the ominous terrorizing presence and surviving the hell-bent stormy night is to continue the examination in order to unravel the enigma that surrounds Jane Doe.
“Troll Hunter” director André Øvredal helms a contemporary horror masterpiece with the Americana horror film,”The Autopsy of Jane Doe, that can be described as American folklore lit ablaze with modern day macabre that plays like a gruesome adult version of the children’s game Operation. Øvredal pulls inspiration from present day classical horror, including such films as the widely popular James Wan franchise, “The Conjuring,” by not embarking on an overkill journey of heavy duty effects or relying on gallons upon gallons of fake blood to sell his film. Instead, André Øvredal’s “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is patient, subtle, and massively creepy, utilizing the dated morgue and crematorium basement setting to construct a dreadful, despairing dungeon atmosphere and focus on being very particular with every scene having a function to take advantage of the overwhelming brooding aurora and pop scare moments that can scare the pants off a mannequin. Øvredal heightens moments of complete pin-drop silence to amplify the terror and plays with camera angles that linger longer to leave an unsettling residue pooled in a spine-tingled soul.
Not only is the Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing script palm-sweaty frightening, tack on A-list actors like Brian Cox (“Manhunter”) and Emile Hirsch (“Killer Joe”) as a father and son team pitted against a dead body and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” jumps up by tenfold as a must-see. Brian Cox is masterful as the widowed mortician whose numb to the pain of life and shock of work, making him a dedicated professional at uncovering the truth inside corpses, and he’s well companioned with Emile Hirsch, the mortician’s eagerly loving son and apprentice to the family business. The only problem is Austin doesn’t want to be a part of the family legacy, but is rooted by his continuously cloaked grieving father and you can see the struggle in Hirsch’s wish-washy character. The pair of veteran actors play off each other well being a medical super duo by conducting examination procedures and digging right into the corpse of dead, disfigured bodies like it’s just another day at the office. The gorgeous Olwen Catherine Kelly is dead on being a dead body. Though Kelly literally doesn’t move an inch for the entire runtime, her slim frame and blank facial expressions are truly haunting, if not also alluring to behold.
Immediately, my first impression of André Øvredal’s film had me stroll back to the past, nearly a decade a go to 2008, with the Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel thriller “Deadgirl.” The premise of the film told the story of two high school aged boys discovering a seemingly near dead young woman in an abandoned asylum; the dead girl being played by Jenny Spain. Whereas each film have their separate horrific identities, their end games bare supernatural similarities. What also separates André Øvredal’s film from Sarmiento and Harel’s “Deadgirl” are the two protagonists; instead of two teen boys pulling hormonal hijinks on a motionless attractive female body, Tommy and Austin are strictly professional, focused on their task to answer the riddle lying inside the very fabric and bones of Jane Doe. The only gripe I can bottom barrel scrape out is how Tommy and Austin had this big ‘what if’ epiphany that becomes the very basis of the entire film and, in my opinion, felt that scene was extremely chintzy and a cop out.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment delivers “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” from production companies 42, Impostor Pictures, and IM Global onto UK DVD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, a DVD-R screener was sent to me, resulting in no true examination of the audio and video qualities and the only extra on the disc was a Q&A with directorAndré Øvredal. Even if viewers might be able to guess the nature of the corpse – I did about halfway through – “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is still way ahead of it’s genre brethren in being the best horror film of 2017 with an unlimited amount of sinister wretchedness that tugs at your soul strings and weighs heavy in your mind’s cache as soon as the lights go out for bedtime. I would recommend this title to anyone seeking an unadulterated horror experience.