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New on DVD: ‘Splice’ and Other Halloween Treats

Horror Film Gets a Second Chance at Finding an Audience

Above: The creature Dren in "Splice."

Now that we are in the month of Halloween, the horror films are really starting to flow and the best of the new releases is “Splice.”

Splice” is a thinking person's horror film. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, this is more for fans of the old Universal horror films than of the recent spate of gorefests. The story involves a pair of scientists played by Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley. In their lab they create a new life form. But naturally something goes wrong. The film has been gestating in the mind of Vincenzo Natali (the creator of “Cube”) for years. I loved his film and was so disappointed that it did poorly at the box office. I’m hoping that this DVD/Blu-ray release will give it a second life. You can also watch my interview with Natali.

Jackie Earle Haley takes over the role of Freddy Kruger in the new "A Nightmare on Elma Street."

New Line Cinema

Above: Jackie Earle Haley takes over the role of Freddy Kruger in the new "A Nightmare on Elma Street."

Less sophisticated horror can be found in the remake/reboot of Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Craven’s original film had a brilliant concept: what if you could get killed in your dreams. The film gave birth to Freddy Kruger (originally played by Robert Englund), the creepy dude with a burned face, stripped sweater, and that nasty glove with blades for fingers. Englund’s Freddy invaded many a teenager’s nightmares and created an iconic horror figure that fueled a franchise. Jackie Earle Haley is a good choice to replace Englund but the new film doesn’t reinvigorate the franchise. There are a lot of CGI effects, some of which are cool, but it does little to refresh the original narrative. The only real change is more of a back-story to Kruger. Once again the original is better but Haley is worth checking out.

The mad doctor (Dieter Laser) and his creation in "The Human Centipede"

Apparition

Above: The mad doctor (Dieter Laser) and his creation in "The Human Centipede"

The premise of “The Human Centipede: First Sequence” rarely fails to elicit an “EW!” response. It’s about a crazy German scientist (is there really any other kind?) who wants to surgically attach three people ass-to-mouth. Ew! The surprising thing in this era of explicit gore is that filmmaker Tom Six takes a rather elegant approach to his gross out premise. The film eschews fast cuts and shakycam for a slow, measured build and graceful camerawork. There is a sequel that Six promises will make the first film look like “My Little Pony.” I interviewed Six and actor Dieter Laser, who plays the chillingly obsessed scientist. Check this one out if you dare. A nice little appetizer on Halloween perhaps.

For some 70s old school horror, there’s the release of the director’s cut of “The Exorcist,” probably one of the best-known films about demonic possession. I just saw this version at the theater and the film still holds up but no longer scares the crap out of me. William Friedkin says he never looked at the story as horror and so he films it like a tense drama with a meticulously slow build. Some of the scariest stuff now involves medical science. I still wince and look away during the spinal tap and the arterial bleed. They are far scarier than the spinning head and projectile vomiting. Plus it’s scary how willing the doctors are to medicate the little girl or talk about locking her up. But the premise still creeps me out and I’m sure that’s intensified by having been raised Catholic. The behind the scenes documentary is great and reveals how the use of practical, on set effects added to the success of the film. Still a classic but a little dated, especially in the way everyone smokes (including a doctor at the hospital).

Also appropriate for Halloween would be the Blu-ray releases of “The Robocop Trilogy,” Brian DePalma’s creepy “Sisters,” the so-bad-it’s-good “Troll 2,” and “Slumber Party Massacre.”

"Secret of the Kells"

Celluloid Dreams

Above: "Secret of the Kells"

Representing fantasy is the Oscar-nominated animation “Secret of the Kells.” The film reminds us of the pleasure of beautiful and intricate 2D animation as it spins a tale of an ancient holy book. It’s not as engaging as Hayao Miyazaki’s anime but it’s a lovely film well worth checking out. It’s also suitable for almost any age, although the dark forest may scare the littlest ones and the plot may frustrate some kids used to more action-packed cartoons. Also for the kiddies and for Disney fans is the Special Edition Blu-ray release of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

New on Blu-ray are some old classics. You can get Bogie in two of his best films: “The Maltese Falcon” and “Treasure of Sierra Madre.” Plus you can get the best Robin Hood ever made, Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” For me, Flynn IS the legendary bandit. The film is shot in lush, three-strip Technicolor that pops off the screen and the supporting cast of Merry Men and villains is superb. Plus you have the exquisite Olivia DeHavilland on hand as Maid Marion. This is one of my all-time favorite films and one I would take if stranded on a desert island.

Another tempting film to take on that desert island would be the new Blu-ray release of the Quentin Taratino-Robert Rodriguez collaboration “Grindhouse.” The Blu-ray serves up the original theatrical cut of the film and then loads up the edition with a ton of bonus features ranging from commentary tracks to a Rodriguez ten-minute cooking school to an inside look at the stunts and make up effects. This one is well-worth picking up!

Also new to Blu-ray is Michael Mann’s “Last of the Mohicans,” Mel Gibson (when he was good) in “Mad Max,’ and the nice double feature Blu-ray pairing of “Le Femme Nikita” and “Run Lola Run.”

Russell Brand reprises his role as rocker Aldous Snow in "Get Him to the Greek."

Universal

Above: Russell Brand reprises his role as rocker Aldous Snow in "Get Him to the Greek."

And quickly from last week: “Iron Man 2” with the perfectly cast Robert Downey, Jr. came out as did the much talked about Adam Greene horror film “Frozen” (in which people are trapped on a ski lift). More importantly, though, Terence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” got a Criterion Blu-ray and that is a must for any Malick fan. Also new last week was “Get Him to the Greek,” a low-brow comedy that tries to cash in on the popularity of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” The stars of “Get Him to the Greek” – Jonah Hill and Russell Brand – were first paired together in “Sarah Marshall.” They struck a positive chord with audiences so “Get Him to the Greek” was designed to cash in on their popularity. The resulting product is occasionally amusing and frequently buoyed by Brand’s odd appeal.

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