A War Criminal’s Evil Influence. “Apt Pupil” review!


Next time you suspect your neighbor is a wanted criminal, they just might very well be as in the case of Todd Bowden, an excelling high student who discovers a WWII Nazi war criminal has been secretly living in his quaint hometown. Through his own investigation of photograph comparisons and retrieval of finger prints, Bowden confronts the old man, Kurt Dussander, about his notorious past. Living under a pseudonym and wanted by the Israeli government, Dussander attempts to dismiss the boy’s claims until his bluff to call the police is called, resulting in Bowden’s curiosity to become a blackmail gambit that puts Dussander under the student’s quizzical thumb. In return for not informing the authorities, Bowden requires Dussuander to reveal his story, the story of his stint at the extermination camps without sparing any details no matter how gruesome. Bowden even goes as far as purchasing a replica SS officer uniform that he forcibly commands Dussander to put on and march. Through his reminiscing of the past, an evil reawakens in Dussander and their banal friendship of psychological warfare goes into the dangerous trenches of survival and eradication that spreads like a cancer inside and outside their private lives.

Before the monumental eruption of continuous claims of sexual misconduct by various accusers, Bryan Singer furnished significant prominence as a director and overall filmmaker before he inadvertently kick started a very long, very successful, and very lucrative series of superhero films and their related and unrelated sequels and spinoffs, starting with Marvel’s “X-Men” in 2000…19 years ago, Holy sh*t! Well, in 1998, coming off his success of “The Usual Suspects” with fellow accused celebrity and now blacklisted actor Kevin Spacey and currently untarnished Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, Singer and Phoenix Pictures presented and released the suspense-thriller, “Apt Pupil,” a Bad Hat Harry production. Inspired by the Stephen King novella, “Apt Pupil” is the polarizing observation of two evil souls where one might be significantly eclipsing the other. Brandon Boyced (2005’s “Venom”) drafted a script based of King’s novella that was comprised of a different, and less pessimistic, ending to the novella while still uncompromising King’s baseline evil theme.

High school students, especially males, often have an aggressive temperament. Whether it’s sports, girls, or just trying to fit in, guys almost always take their tunneled focus to the extreme. For Todd Bowden, a brilliant young student, a fascination with the grim extermination of Jewish people and the Nazi culture tickled his fancy. Brad Renfro, only 14-years-old at the time of filming, stars as Bowden and really digs into the character’s adolescent psyche of relentless obsession, having his character converging all power from a big time war criminal and, even more simplistically, an older adult male, to himself, but when things go sour and Bowden starts to lose grip of his pawn, panic sets in and Kurt Dussander’s wicked and warped mind structures a counterattack that seemingly befriends the boy, but really demonizes Bowden’s already appalling obsession. Sir Ian McKellen, in a performance of pure brilliance, masterfully crafts a representative of evil in Kurt Dussander. The scene with McKellen stepping into a SS officer uniform and then marching with prerogative purpose that’s topped with a Nazi salute is perhaps one of the best chilling and unsettling performances of our lifetime. The dynamic in the scene between Renfro and McKellen, carefully shot and executed in direction by Singer, respects the bleak humanity enthralled by Stephen’s King body of literary work. There are some other amazing performances here by the supporting cast including David Schwimmer (“Friends”), Bruce Davison (“Willard”), Ann Dowd (“Hereditary”), Joshua Jackson (“Urban Legend”), Elias Koteas (“The Prophecy”), James Karen (“The Return of the Living Dead”) and Heather McComb (“Stay Tuned”).

As aforementioned, “Apt Pupil” has an evil duality narrative that contain descriptive horrors of the past, paints the means of callous obsession, and symbiotic necrosis of any good left in Todd Bowden or Kurt Dussander when together, but on the surface level, Kurt Dussander’s murderous duty to the cultural cleanse severely overshadows Bowden’s seemingly curious obsession, his blackmail of a notorious war criminal, his deception amongst those close to him, and, the inevitable, stony perception to murder. More than likely innocence could be blamed for the fact that Bowden is a child and Dussander’s a man living the last moments of his life, but Bowden becomes the catalyst for Dussander, reigniting the evil thoughts and actions of SS officer’s former life. Dussander attempts many degenerate actions from his past and never successfully succeeds in completing them whereas Todd ultimately finishes it either for Dussander, willing or not, or for his own self-preservation. By the end of “Apt Pupil,” the question you might ask yourself is how do you feel about either character? Despite the scale of their evils, which character ultimately, in the scope of Singer’s film from beginning to end, is the true representation of evil? To me, the finale feels like Dussander inadvertently passes the torch to Bowden and with his obsessive nature toward Nazism and extermination, the boy will grow up to continue being that representative of evil?

Umbrella Entertainment presents Bryan Singer’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, “Apt Pupil” onto Blu-ray home video. The region B, full HD, 1080p Blu-ray is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the quality is crisp excellence with a sharp hi-def scan of textures and the details in Mckellen’s facial curvatures that just open up to expose the wily diabolical smirk from the vet actor. Coloring and skin tones are okay despite the release being slightly yellowish and inkier in comparison to other releases. The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio does the job and is balanced all around with dialogue clear and present and the John Ottoman (“X-Men” franchise) is menacing without being overwhelming, but the ambience’s depth and range are stiffened from a lack of surround sound that could have been achieved with this release. The special effects are slim with a behind-the-scenes featurette that’s more surface level depth with cast brief cast and crew interviews and also includes theatrical trailer and TV spots. Viewers too caught up in the superhero hype might not recognize that Bryan Singer helmed “Apt Pupil” or might not even care in lieu of sexual accusations, but hardcore Stephen King fans and horror aficionados can certainly appreciate a blanket thriller with haunting performances that will be remembered more than the marring scandal behind-the-camera.

Might be a REGION 2 release, but still available on AMAZON.COM here in the states! Click the cover above to purchase 🙂

Returning Home to Unroot Evil! “Insidious: The Last Key” review!


Hot off the Quinn Brenner case, parapsychologist Elise Rainier receives a phone call from Ted Garza regarding paranormal activity at his house in Four Keys, New Mexico. The location happens to be the childhood home of Elise, where her father viciously abused Elise to stop her supernatural gifts and also where her mother was brutally murdered by a fearsome and hatred-energized demon known as KeyFace. Reluctant to return where memories revel in persistent and continuous nightmares, Elise and her two eager assistances, Tucker and Specs, take the case to aid the Garza’s request for a cleanse and to conclude the haunting and scarring chapter in Elise’s life, but the demon yearns power by luring Elise back to where it all began. With the help of her brother and two nieces, Elise’s family and friends aim to be a force against pure and undiluted evil hidden in the further.

Full disclosure….Insidious: Chapters 2 and 3 is not in my well versed cache of watched movies. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmospheric hit that is James Wan’s 2011 “Insidious” film starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and the incredible Lin Shaye, but since that time, neither of the sequels have wandered into my unsystematic path. Except now. “Insidious: The Last Key” is the latest installment to the “Insidious” franchise and universe that’s directed by Adam Robitel, screenwriter of “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” and written by franchise writer Leigh Whannell. In the grand scheme of chronological viewing, catching “The Last Key” first won’t divert and confuse too much from those on a methodical storyline timeline. Robitel’s chapter is a sequel to the prequel, “Insidious: Chapter 3,” and aside from an Easter egg here and there, there’s little reference and nothing substantial bonding to the next two films that are in sequential order.

Lin Shaye returns to reprise her role as parapsychologist Elise Rainier for the fourth time, picking up her character’s telepathic shtick like it was yesterday. Shaye’s one of acting talents that just flourishes like wild fire no matter what the type of role or movie she’s in or even affiliated with. Her ability to adapt and to get down and dirty with her characters proves why we love her thespian range from bust-a-gut comedies like “There’s Something About Mary” to indie horrors like “Dead End.” The now 74-year-old actress is more red hot now than ever as Elise Rainier whose even more popularized by her co-stars, writer, Leigh Whannell and and Angus Sampson as Specs and Tucker, whom like Shaye have reprised their roles for a fourth time. The comedic duo lighten up the dark toned premise, offering up dad jokes and snickering hairdos to offset to jump scares and gnarly KeyFace. Spencer Locke (“Resident Evil: Extinction”), Caitlin Gerard (“Smiley”), and the original 1971 Willard, Bruce Davison, play the supporting cast of Rainiers long lost, reunited family members caught in the middle of her quest for conclusion. Rounding out the cast is Kirk Acevedo (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), Tessa Ferrer, Josh Stewart (“The Collector”), and contortionist, and Doug Jones’ Spanish rival, Javier Botet as KeyFace.

“Insidious: The Last Key” works on many positive levels: has a solid premise with Elise burning to finish the nightmare she had unleashed many years ago, subplots involving Ted Garza’s role and Elise’s abusive father, a dysfunctional family relationship between all the Rainiers, and some serious eye-popping scares throughout. The further also opens up more and becomes a vast area for exploration into all the creatures, ghosts, and demons that lurk in the otherworldly dimension, setting up future sequels and/or spinoffs. What doesn’t work as well is the rather anemic and lackluster climatic finale that took KeyFace from an extremely high frightfully monstrous pedastal, continuously building up the character to be the most powerful antagonist Elise has yet to encounter, and have the rug pulled right from under it’s horrid feet by squandering it formidability, flattening it with the single uppercut swing of a… lantern.

Adam Robitel’s “Insidious: The Last Key” finds a home on a Blu-ray plus Digital HD combo release by Sony Pictures and Universal Home Entertainment. The release is presented in high definition 1080p with a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image quality just tops out with overly spooky cool blue hue that’s gloomy, dark, and ominous, all the attributes perfect for a supernatural thriller, while managing to sharply define the details on the actors and their surroundings. The English 5.1 DTS-HD track stings where jump scares are prevalent and appropriate. Dialogue has clarity with mild ambiance supporting the localized and conventional horror audible moments while brawny LFE bursts on-screen in a bombardment of scare tactics whenever KeyFace suddenly shows face. Bonus features include an alternate ending (complete with cheesy one-liner from Lin Shaye), eight deleted scenes, a look into the “Insidious” universe, going into The Further, Lin Shaye becoming parapsychologist Elise Rainier, and a segment entitled “Meet the New Demon – Unlocking the Keys” to KeyFace. Perhaps not the epitome of the franchise, but “Insidious: The Last Key” absolutely fits into the franchise’s ever expanding universe and unlocks more of the spine-tingling backstory to one of horror’s contemporary and unremitting heroines ready to confront evil.

“Insidious: The Last Key” purchase at Amazon!