Editor’s Notes: Lights Out, The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast, Men & Chicken, Love Me or Leave Me, Dark Water, Nerve, The Quiet Man, Ancient Aliens: Season 9, & Bruce Lee: Tracking the Dragon are out on their respective home entertainment formats October 25th.
Lights Out (Warner Home Video) is based on a three-minute short film by David Sandberg. With no dialogue, no character development, and no particular narrative, the film concentrated on the element of fear. An anonymous young woman in her own apartment sees a mysterious silhouette whenever the lights are out but sees nothing unusual when the lights are on. Expanding this premise into a feature film has its problems.
The opening sequence duplicates in style the original short, except that the setting is a factory after hours rather than an apartment. Employee Esther (Lotta Losten, who starred in the short) sees a mysterious figure in the dark that disappears whenever the lights come back on and moves closer to her when they go back out again. It’s a creepy, suspenseful scene that sets up the story to follow.
Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) thought she left her childhood fears behind when she left home. Growing up, she was never really sure of what was and wasn’t real when the lights went out, and now her little brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), is experiencing the same inexplicable and terrifying events that had once challenged her sanity and threatened her safety. A frightening entity with a mysterious attachment to their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), has reemerged.
The film’s eerie ambience and juxtaposition of dark images with light does succeed in convincing us that malevolence lurks in the shadows, but there is little attempt to build characters. And, as in many B-grade horror flicks, characters make dopey decisions regarding danger. In this case, they constantly gravitate to locations shrouded in darkness even though they know that’s where peril lies. At only 81 minutes, it still feels padded to sustain and stretch a good idea way too long. To obtain a PG-13 rating, the director kept the scares tepid relative to what an R rating would have permitted.
The sole bonus feature on the Blu-ray release is a series of deleted scenes.
The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast
The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast (Arrow Video) celebrates the movies of the filmmaker credited with creating the splatter film — a horror film rich in graphic gore. Lewis, who died this past September, made his films on a low budget and tackled subject matter the mainstream studios wouldn’t touch — female nudity, juvenile delinquency, and any subject that could be exploited and kept within a strict budget. Lewis went further in terms of graphic content than anyone else, with images designed to both fascinate and disgust.
This box set contains 14 of Lewis’ feature films, from the groundbreaking Blood Feast (1963), about a psychopathic caterer who kills women so he can include their body parts in his meals and perform sacrifices to an Egyptian goddess, through The Gore Gore Girls (1972), in which a reporter enlists the help of a sleazy private eye to solve a series of gory killings of female strippers at a Chicago nightclub.
Other films in the collection include The Wizard of Gore (1972), in which an insane magician uses hypnotism to butcher audience members gullible enough to participate in his show; She-Devils on Wheels (1968), featuring an outlaw biker and her gang who treat men like dirt; The Gruesome Twosome (1967), about a man who scalps female college students so his elderly mother can make wigs; and Something Weird (1967), in which a man with ESP and telekinetic ability who was disfigured in an electrical accident asks a witch to make him presentable.
The acting in most of Lewis’ films is sub-par. The appeal is the outrageous subject matter and over-the-top, jaw-dropping visuals — many of which are still pretty repellent. Roger Corman was making his own series of low-budget movies at the same time, but he never pushed the envelope of good taste as far as Lewis did. For Lewis, there were no bounds and most of his grindhouse-type movies turned a profit because their cost was so low. Many of them achieved a wider audience when they were released for the first time on home video.
The 17-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray + DVD box set includes 9 movies never before on Blu-ray. Bonus features are abundant and include audio commentaries, new introductions to the films by Herschel Gordon Lewis, theatrical trailers, outtakes, radio spots, archival interviews, making-of featurettes, and a 28-page H.G. Lewis annual filled with Lewis-themed activities plus archive promotional material (a Limited Edition exclusive).
Men & Chicken
Men & Chicken (Drafthouse) is a dark slapstick comedy about socially challenged siblings Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen, TV’s Hannibal), who discover in their late father’s videotaped will that they are adopted half-brothers. Their journey in search of their biological father takes them to the small Danish island of Ork, where they stumble upon three additional half-brothers — each also sporting hereditary harelips and lunatic tendencies — living in a dilapidated mansion overrun by barn animals. Initially unwelcome by their newfound kin, the two visitors stubbornly wear them down until they’re reluctantly invited to stay. As the misfit bunch get to know each other, they discover a deep family secret that ultimately draws them closer.
Danish writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen creates a weird, almost surreal atmosphere with the movie’s grotesque visual style and unusual production design. One memorable sequence shows the results of botched attempts at taxidermy. The film attempts to be a fable about humanism and tolerance, but there is considerable emphasis on sexuality and cruel slapstick that makes the theme seen half-hearted and glib. Ultimately, the movie settles into sentimental horror when the family secret is revealed.
Bonus features on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a 24-page booklet with a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, and trailers. A digital copy is enclosed. The film is in Danish, with English subtitles.
Love Me or Leave Me
Love Me or Leave Me (Warner Archive) stars Doris Day in one of her best films of the 1950s. She plays real-life nightclub singer turned actress Ruth Etting, whose career is helped by gangster Martin the Gimp (James Cagney). Initially, he gets her stage work to advance his own romantic interest but, recognizing the depth of her talent, uses his influence to increase her show biz opportunities.Their relationship varies between love and abuse, but it’s symbiotic. Martin has a beautiful woman on his arm (and in bed), while Ruth is able to step out of the shadows into the spotlight as a singer.
As a biopic, the film follows the usual Hollywood formula, tracing Etting’s rise from obscurity to fame while dealing with her personal trials and tribulations. Day does some real acting here, unlike her girl-next-door image in earlier pictures or her perennial virgin character in her 60s movies. Cagney draws upon his 30s gangster persona but tempers it with a starstruck quality. The chemistry between them helps make the film shine.
Day performs period songs including “Stay on the Right Side, Sister,” “Everybody Loves My Baby (But My Baby Don’t Love Nobody But Me),” “Mean to Me,” “Sam, the Old Accordion Man,” “Shaking the Blues Away,” “Ten Cents a Dance,” “My Blue Heaven,” “What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry?,” and the title song. She also performs a new song written for the film, I’ll Never Stop Loving You, which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film received four other Oscar nominations and won for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include 2 vintage short subjects with Ruth Etting — A Modern Cinderella and Roseland — the short A Salute to the Theatre, and a theatrical trailer.
Dark Water (Arrow Video), directed by Hideo Nakata (Ring), is a highly atmospheric tale of the supernatural. Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki), a single mother struggling to win sole custody of her only child, six-year-old Ikuko, moves into a dilapidated apartment complex, where alarming visions and unexplainable sounds challenge her sanity and endanger not only her custody of Ikuko, but perhaps their lives as well.
When the ceiling of their apartment starts to leak uncontrollably, Yoshimi’s life begins to unravel. As the building gets damper and damper, she becomes obsessed with a missing girl who used to live upstairs. Things get creepier when feet can be heard running about on the deserted floor above, something isn’t right about the tap water, and the building seems to be bursting at the seams.
Director Nakata is proficient at creating tremendous atmosphere without Hollywood’s typical horror flick devices — quick shocks, graphic gore, and monsters. His movie is a unique, intriguing ghost story that builds suspense in stages by blending tension with a family’s emotional plight. However, viewers might be disappointed that there isn’t more of a pay-off.
Special features on the 2-disc unrated Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a new interview with director Hideo Nakata, new interview with author Koji Suzuki, archive interviews with actresses Hitomi Kuroki and Asami Mizukawa, making-of documentary, trailers and TV spots, and reversible sleeve containing original and newly commissioned artwork. The film is in Japanese, with optional English subtitles.
Nerve (Lionsgate) is about a game in which participants are sent on daring missions around the city that become increasingly dangerous. Vee (Emma Roberts) is a high school senior from Staten Island who learns about a mobile app for a game called “Nerve” — a variation of “Truth or Dare” — the newest obsession with kids. Players compete dares to win money: kiss a stranger, sing a song in the middle of a diner, etc. As the dares escalate, so do the rewards and the number of people tuning in.
The film starts as a meet-cute romantic comedy. Vee teams up with Ian (Dave Franco) and they attract a huge following. The chemistry between Ms. Roberts and Mr. Franco makes their characters’ interest in each other believable.
But as the game proceeds and the dares become more complex, things turn darker and the film switches to thriller mode as Vee and Ian discover that “Nerve” is more than just a game and their lives are in danger.
Interestingly, the film coincides with the national infatuation with Pokeman Go. Despite lapses in logic and structural missteps, it’s exciting and fast-paced. Thematically, it concerns young people infatuated and involved with social media at the expense of actual human interaction.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack offer the opportunity to experience being a Watcher or a Player. Choosing Watcher mode calls up 15 “Creating Nerve” featurettes that explore the making of the film. Thrill-seeking viewers can choose the interactive Player mode with the interactive quiz “Do You Have the Nerve?” A digital HD copy is included.
The Quiet Man
The Quiet Man (Olive Films) is among director John Ford’s most personal films, and a favorite of the man best known for movie Westerns. Sean Thornton (John Wayne), an American boxer with a tragic past, returns to the Irish town of his youth, where he purchases his childhood home and falls in love with local gal Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara). Kate insists that Sean conduct his courtship in a proper Irish manner with a matchmaker (Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way) as chaperone, providing an annoying obstacle to romance.
Annoyed that Sean bought the land he had his eye on, Kate’s brother, “Red” Danaher (Victor McLaglen, Rio Grande), refuses to give his consent to the marriage. Sean will lose her if he doesn’t take command of the situation.
The film contains an atypical John Wayne performance. He’s not the macho cowboy who clearly can handle any tough situation that arises. Though his Sean was once a fighter, he’s now a man who’s turned away from violence — he’s strong, silent, patient, and good natured. Wayne’s acting range isn’t that broad, but he does make Sean believable, helped by Ford’s direction and a solid script by Frank S. Nugent.
The screen chemistry between Wayne and Ms. O’Hara is a major reason for the movie’s enduring popularity. A standout scene is Sean finally taking charge of the headstrong Kate. Played partly for drama and partly for comedy, the sequence ultimately reveals how crazy about each other these two people are.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary with John Ford biographer Joseph McBride; a tribute to Maureen O’Hara with Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills and Ally Sheedy; a visual essay by historian and John Ford expert Tag Gallagher; Peter Bogdanovich’s recollections of John Ford; and a making-of featurette hosted by Leonard Maltin.
Ancient Aliens: Season 9
Ancient Aliens: Season 9 (Lionsgate) is a History Channel series that, in documentary style, presents hypotheses that ancient astronauts existed and proposes that historical texts, archaeology, and legends contain evidence of past human-extraterrestrial contact.
Among the 15 episodes in Season 9 are Forbidden Caves, which claims that caves may be passageways to other dimensions through which we can communicate with alien gods. The Genius Factor relates how a man in Tacoma, Washington, who was beaten and left for dead, gained mathematical skill after suffering brain trauma. The narrator attempts to link this incident to aliens by suggesting that brain trauma can allow us to tap into mysterious forces floating through reality.
The Great Flood episode traces flood myths from the Biblical account of the Flood and its parallels in Mesopotamian, Hindu, and Mayan sources. The narrator notes that 1200 different cultures around the world have a flood myth of some kind. Alien Resurrections investigates clinical “death” when body functions stop but then are stimulated to bring the person back to life. The question raised: Does the “immortal soul” exist independently of the body?
Other episodes cover “Alien Messages,” “Mysteries of the Sphinx,” “Secrets of the Mummies,” “Aliens Among Us,” “Aliens and the Civil War,” and “The Alien Agenda.” Though frequently experts are interviewed to support theories presented, most of the programs are pretty far out there in terms of their grounding in fact. Often, the shows come off as mockumentaries, though the participants conduct themselves very seriously. Interesting historical tidbits pepper every episode, so viewers can come away with some new knowledge as long as they can separate fact from speculation.
Fifteen complete episodes are contained on 4 Widescreen DVDs. There are no bonus features.
Bruce Lee: Tracking the Dragon
Bruce Lee: Tracking the Dragon (MVD Visual), a documentary by Bruce Lee expert John Little, takes the viewer on a tour of locations used in Lee’s action movies. Many of the sites remain largely unchanged nearly 50 years later. At monasteries, ice factories, and on urban streets, Little explores the real-life settings of Lee’s films.
In such films as The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, and Enter the Dragon, Lee staged the elaborately choreographed action sequences that drew audiences, and broadened the appeal of martial arts pictures with his charismatic star power. His films have become classics of the martial arts genre. Little’s film takes the viewer behind the scenes to show how methodically Lee incorporated locations around the world into his story lines to give them a grittiness and raw power. Locations include Hong Kong, Macao, Thailand, and Rome.
There are a few books devoted to filming sites in Hollywood and the Los Angeles area used for motion pictures and TV shows. One is devoted solely to Three Stooges movies. But there has never been a book or DVD dealing exclusively with Bruce Lee’s movie locations. The film uses footage from the actual movies and compares it with what the locations look like today. Fans of the late martial arts star, martial arts films in general, and action movies will most likely enjoy Little’s guided tour, which is packed with lots of Lee trivia.
There are no bonus features on the unrated DVD release.