Jackie Chan is the new sensei in the remake of The Karate Kid (Sony) with Jaden Smith and Jackie Earl Haley is the new Freddie Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street (Warner) reboot from Michael Bay’s company. As I’m taking time off to enjoy the Vancouver International Film Festival, I didn’t get to these films and, as you can see, am late in getting the DVD round-up put together, but now that I’m here, let’s look at the week’s releases. I reviewed the genetic horror Splice, a tweaky film with a Freudian hothouse of parenting issues and growing pains in a zoological genetic cocktail of a humanoid offspring, on Parallax View here. As for the rest…
The Human Centipede (IFC) – Just when you think there are no more boundaries to transgress in the horror genre, a Dutch filmmaker by the name of Tom Six comes up with something almost too twisted to contemplate. A mad German scientist (Dieter Laser) in a secluded forest home with a lab and operating room in his basement kidnaps hapless tourists (two American girls and a Japanese man) for his experiments in “creating a Siamese triplet connected by the gastric system.” That’s right, this surgeon grafts a trio of human prisoners together, mouth to anus with the digestive track recycling the food through the chain, just to prove he can. There’s no real motivation to speak of and certainly no medical justification for the operation. It’s a Frankenstein experiment created simply to put his unwilling test subjects through hell.
He taunts them with his plans before the operation, punishes one girl who tries to escape by making her the middle section (the worst position, he promises her), and then treats his crawling triplet like a stubborn pet in obedience training. Just to make the communication all the more frustrated, the Japanese man (who speaks no English) is at the head and the women (with no mouths to speak of) are reduced to whimpers and grunts. It’s not the scariest, smartest or most stylish horror film—the filmmaking is at times mundane in its bluntness—but this twisted Frankenstein experiment is easily the most f****d up horror of the year, a true living hell for its victims and a conceptual nightmare unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s “100% medically accurate,” according to Six, who says that he ran his concept by medical professionals so he could get it right. Which is pretty strange, since this is just so wrong on every level. As the full title suggests, this is just the “first sequence” and a sequel is already under way.
Features slow-talking commentary by writer/director Tom Six, who narrates more than he explains, and a five-minute interview with Mr. Six where he describes the origins of the idea and jokingly imagines a Hollywood remake with Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez. Also features a deleted scene with Dr. Heiter dancing to the music of the cries and whimpers of his new pet, behind-the-scenes footage and audition tapes of the actresses.
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (Warner) – The latest DC Universe Animated Original is revisionist origin story for Supergirl, adapted from the comic run by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Jack Kirby’s New Gods all get into the act, struggling to guide her destiny. There is a lot of the anime-style power battles here, a staple of comic book epic adaptations, but it’s more interesting for the personality clashes between characters so often presented as the Super Friends in their animated incarnations. There is a little distrust between Superman and Batman, which is interesting, even though they are loyal allies and even (maybe) friends. But, as the Kryptonian who will soon be Supergirl notes, Batman has a lead-lined mask. And the antagonist of the piece, Darkseid, is not a supervillain, he’s a god, and thus more than a match for the man of steel. The voice cast includes Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly in their iconic roles, plus Summer Glau as Supergirl and Andre Braugher as Darkseid.
As with previous DC Universe Animated Originals, the DVD features a bonus original animate short (DC Showcase: Green Arrow, a modest but energetic and enjoyable piece, like a back-up story in a special edition comic), a well-made featurette on the history of Supergirl in the comics and on the screen and two bonus episodes of DC animated shows featuring Darkseid. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is an excellent survey of Jack Kirby’s “New Gods” universe, which he created for DC comics in the seventies, and the evolution of his character Darkseid, plus more short featurettes, additional TV episodes and a bonus DVD and digital copy of the film for portable media players.
The Secret of Kells (New Video), the dark horse in the animation category of the 2010 Academy Awards, was seen by hardly anyone before the awards and received only limited distribution after the awards, but it’s a beauty. Watch the film and you’ll see why this modest production, a drama set in medieval Ireland with images that look like stained glass window tableaux come to life, made the grade. A simple story that celebrates art and imagination in the face of darkness and war, with animation that embraces the beauty of hand drawn imagery and the graphic potential of planes of imagery to evoke the art and culture of medieval Ireland and the beauty of illuminated manuscripts. Features commentary by director Tomm Moore, co-direcctor Nora Twomey and art director Ross Stewart, plus voice recording sessions and pre-production sketches among the supplements.
Martin Weisz’s 2006 Grimm Love (Phase 4 Films), inspired by the real-life case of a German man who killed and ate a willing volunteer, avoids the exploitative potential of contemporary cannibal horror to create a dark and often sympathetic psychological study of two broken men who fulfill one another’s needs. The framing story with Keri Russell as a grad student researching the event doesn’t add much and Weisz doesn’t offer any particularly insightful perspective, but his sensitive treatment of the two men and presentation of the crime as an act of love is certainly provocative. Features filmmaker commentary and deleted scenes. It’s the most prominent of the eight films released by Phase 4 Films under the Fangoria FrightFest Presents banner, a collection that includes an interesting spectrum of films from all over, including Jaume Balagueró’s Fragile (starring Calista Flockhart) and The Haunting from Spain, Road Kill from Australia, and the American films Dark House (with Jeffrey Combs), The Tomb (with Wes Bentley), The Hunger and Pig Hunt. Most discs include featurettes and a couple feature commentary.
Grindhouse (Vivendi), the 2007 drive-in double feature by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, previously released on DVD in deluxe extended version, debuts on Blu-ray in its original form: a three-hour lark of scruffy drive-in-style exploitation cushioned by trailers for fake movies. Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror delivers just what the film promises: a scruffy, over-the-top zombie action film featuring a go-go dancer (Rose McGowan) with a machine gun for a leg. Tarantino’s Death Proof pays tribute to the Corman style of low-budget seventies movies by building an action thriller about a killer who uses his car as a weapon around a femme-centric character piece with great conversation scenes of gorgeous women joking and flirting and conversing and marvelous car stunts done with real metal on metal stunt work. Rodriguez tosses in weird, meaningless plot elements, gives the film a seventies palette and bangs up the entire feature with scratches and splices and soundtrack hiss and pops. It’s an often incoherent fantasy drive-in movie: action, horror, zombies, tough guys, sexy chicks, and of course ocular trauma. And he directs it as such, letting his usual (and endearing) filmmaking short-cut go to low-budget extremes. Tarantino, however, makes a Tarantino movie out of his piece, in the key of low-budget genre cinema but with a feel, a tone, and a rhythm that recalls his inspirations but goes his own way.
Which version is better, the extended versions on DVD or the shorter theatrical blasts on Blu-ray? I guess it depends. Rodriguez doesn’t add much except more stuff, fun but meaningless additions to a story that doesn’t really add up to anything, so the shorter version is more appropriate to the material and the genre. Tarantino, meanwhile, creates more time with the characters and more beats to the experience in his extended version. It’s still a minor piece but I prefer the longer version. In addition to the commentary and featurettes from the previous DVD release there’s a whole slew of new featurettes and interviews, plus lots of background on the faux trailers with the filmmakers.
Also new on DVD: Mid-August Lunch (Zeitgeist) from Italy, Woke Up Dead (Sony) and Fred: The Movie (Lionsgate) (two films spawned from web series), the direct-to-DVD 30 Days of Night: Dark Days (Sony) and The Slumber Party Massacre Collection (Shout! Factory), with all three films in a two-disc set, plus commentary on each film and a new three-part documentary on the series.