Saturday, 9 October 2010

DVD Reviews

Psych 9
Starring: Michael Biehn, Cary Elwes, Sara Foster
Director: Andrew Shortell
indi Vision/Universal Pictures

Available From 11th October - £12.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

An abandoned hospital, a woman on the edge, a serial killer on the loose and a string of unsolved murders...the perfect ingredients for a tense psychological horror...but ingredients need to be mixed and cooked properly, right?

Psych 9 centres on a near abandoned hospital that has been plagued by a spate of killings. Taking on a night job at the hospital, Roslyn experiences a series of disturbing events connected to a string of local murders by a killer dubbed the NightHawk. She discovers a chilling therapy room belonging to a psychologist played by Cary Elwes – probably the only person ever to choke Andre the Giant into unconsciousness.

When a woman working in the hospital is brutally slain, Roslyn seeks help from a detective, Cpl. Hicks. Hicks soon realises that the key to the killings may lie within Roslyn’s own troubled mind.

From the start, Psych 9 looks fantastic. The editing is good – the acting is amazing, too – and it looks like a it’s going to be a really good horror film. It takes it’s time to get going, but in a really good way. It takes time to explore the characters, without falling into the trap of just being
twenty minutes with jerks. The characters feel real. And, let’s face it; it’s nice to see Michael Biehn working again. The guy kills Aliens and Terminators for a living; show some respect.

Unfortunately, ultimately all the nice cinematography, great acting and whatever is just a veneer. This is practically the dictionary definition of style over substance. If an audience can guess that there’s going to be a twist – they don’t have to know what the twist is, they just have to know there going to be a twist – then the twist has already failed. That’s why every M. Night Shymalan movie after Unbreakable has been sneered at. It’s predictable.

With Psych 9, you can guess what the twist is going to be before the halfway mark, and you know the final ending twenty minutes before it arrives. Don’t get me wrong, Psych 9 has some lovely scenery, and I’ll certainly be watching out for Mr Shortell in the future – but it’s a ride you’ve already been on before.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several scenes of stabbing and blunt force trauma. Gore and blood spatter. Grievous injuries both depicted and described. Win.
Sex/Nudity: Vague descriptions of child molestation.
Swearing: Regular and strong. Par for the course for the genre.
Summary: A distinct case of style over substance, this tired little horror isn’t worth getting excited over. Worth a rental, if horror is your thing. 6/10

Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story of the Dragon
Starring: Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat
Clear Vision

Available Now - £29.99 (3 DVD Set)
Review by Omer Ibrahim

At long last WWE gives Hall of Famer Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat the three DVD treatment. Known as the consummate wrestling good guy, the man set rings alight with his high-flying yet technical style and instant connection with the crowd. His matches with Ric Flair are frequently discussed amongst the “greatest ever” rank.

Disc One features a biography, starting with his childhood, his amateur wrestling days in high school and his pro-wrestling training, through his in-ring career, right up until his retirement and beyond.

It’s a refreshing, out-of-character feature, led by Steamboat himself with talking heads cropping up from time to time. Unusually for the WWE, these heads make sense most of the time. Legends that shared the ring with Ricky such as Flair and Sgt. Slaughter divulge stories from “back in the day” and newer stars including Chris Jericho and Kofi Kingston tell us how inspirational to them he is.

Steamboat is a warm character who is incredibly candid about events from his career (“They could have called me anything, I just wanted to wrestle!”). He speaks honestly about some of the ridiculous things that wrestling companies have asked him to do, such as breathing fire and wearing a rubber dragon head. He also speaks fondly of his matches and never treads on any toes or says anything controversial. Some may think that this is a political movement, but I believe that he is such a genuinely nice person that he never really crossed anybody, and as such never has a bad word to say. A very rare case of a nice guy in the ring being even nicer outside of it.

We get a good bit of information about Steamboat, as he mentions the fact that his father was in the US military and that he and his Japanese-born mother followed him around a lot when he was a child. He talks in fair detail about his son, Ritchie Steamboat, who is breaking into the wrestling business as we speak, and is showing great promise.

Discs Two and Three are made up of some of The Dragon’s best matches. Although nearly every match is great, there are also quite a few large time gaps. Even though WWE owns the footage of Steamboat’s debut match, they chose not to include it here for some reason. They also declined to show any matches from his second run in the WWF, even though they use a picture of him from this period of his career on the front cover of the DVD. That’s just stupid.

There’s matches here with Flair (including Ricky’s WCW/NWA title win) and “Stunning” (Stone Cold) Steve Austin, as well his 2009 one-off match with Chris Jericho.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Not a great deal. Steamboat beats up some Ninjas.
Sex/Nudity: Lycra...
Swearing: Nope.
Summary: A definite must-own for fans of 80s/90s wrestling as well as modern fans. Plenty of skits and interviews as well as matches. 9/10

American: The Bill Hicks Story
Starring: Kevin Booth, John Farneti, Bill Hicks
Director: Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas

2entertain
Available Now - £19.99 (DVD) & £24.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

Growing up in Texas, Bill Hicks first started performing comedy at the age of fifteen. He soon became a regular in Houston’s comedy circuit, before moving to LA and embarking on a touring schedule, playing up to 300 shows a year, all in a country where he was largely unknown. Then 1990, Hicks performed in the United Kingdom for the first time, and became an instant star, finding fame and notoriety which had escaped him in the US.

Then, just as Hicks seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough in America, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died on 24th February 1994 at just thirty-two.

Using animation and archive footage, American: The Bill Hicks Story shows a timeless legacy that’s as fresh and relevant today as it was when he wrote it.

American: The Bill Hicks Story is a nice – if overly sentimental – biopic. The animation is really nice – it looks great, and adds a degree of illustration, without being obtrusive and moving your attention away from the meat the film. The archive footage of Bill is worth the price of admission alone, as there’s some really obscure stuff here.

It’s pretty far from perfect, though. It spends a little too long on Bill’s really early years, when a little more detail on his actual – y’know – stand-up career would have been nice. They are also rather selective with the darker side of his character. They detail his descent into alcoholism very well, but there’s not mention of the assault that left him with a broken ankle, no mention of the time someone pulled a gun on him whilst he was onstage, and...most criminally of all...they show they infamous “Hitler had the right idea” slam, but cut before any mention of Hitler. Bizarre...and not something that Bill would have appreciated.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence:
None.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Frequent and very strong.
Summary: A very well put together and comprehensive documentary. It’s far from subjective, but the archive footage and extras are well worth a gander. 8/10

Rozen Maiden - Traumend: Volume One
MVM
Available Now - £15.99 (DVD)
Review by Blake Harmer

I have watched some weird stuff in my time - even some incredibly hard to grip stuff - but I can safely say that this takes the cake. Let's start with trying to explain this to a western audience.

This is the sequel series to the bizarre Rozen Maiden, which involved the boy Jun Sakurada becoming depressed, leaving school and finding Shinku, the fifth Rozen Maiden doll, who calls on Jun to create a bond with her and become his servant, much to his displeasure. Everyone still with me? In that series he also encountered other Rozen Maiden Dolls who are all contending against each other to be named Alice so they can meet with their maker known simply as “Father”. In Rozen Maiden Traumend, we see Jun has overcome his depression, gone back to school and we also find out more about this “Father” figure.

Despite the madcap and often slightly confusing nature of Rozen Maiden: Traumend, the plot is in fact pretty in depth and dark in places, with some cleverly written hooks. I also liked the characters’ interaction with each other. Shinku is still as aristocratic and likes to punish Jun as she does in the first series, whilst Jun has now become fonder of the dolls.

The series does have its issues though; I found a couple of the characters have a typical anime annoyance abouct them, such as the normal shonky Japanese humour that accompanies a lot of animes. Also, this may be one of those animes that is just too much for a Western audience to truly enjoy as it is simply too weird. However, if you are a huge fan of anime, and you enjoyed the first series of Rozen Maiden, then this will have everything you liked about the first series and more.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some knocking around and smashing of stuff, but nothing overly violent and gory.
Sex/Nudity: None to my recollection.
Swearing: None that is really noticeable in the translation.
Summary: An enjoyable if slightly bizarre anime that may not appeal to Western tastes too much. That said though, if you enjoyed the first series of Rozen Maiden, this new darker series will still appeal to you. 7/10

Moribito - Guardian of the Spirit: Part One
Director: Kenji Kamiyama
MVM

Available Now - £24.99 (2 DVD Set)
Review by Brad Harmer

While returning from her travels, bodyguard and mercenary Balsa (I think it’s Japanese for “flimsiest of all woods”) saves a youngster from drowning only later to learn that the boy is Chagum, the second prince of the empire. This arouses the suspicion of Chagum’s mother, who believes it to be an assassination attempt on her son’s life. Suffering with nightmares, Chagum is suspected of being possessed by an evil spirit leading the court advisers to insist that he must be put to death.

Fearing for her son’s safety, the queen implores Balsa (yes, “Balsa”) to become Chagum’s bodyguard and to take him from the palace. Balsa agrees, but has her own reasons for doing so. Balsa has taken a vow to save eight lives before she dies...she has already saved seven. Now, the task at hand has not only put her own life at risk and made her an enemy of the Imperial Court, it has also made her the target of entities from another dimension who have their own interest in the young boy and the spirit dwelling within him.

It’s a good set up for a series, and the artwork and animation is - for the most part – pretty good also. There are some good set-pieces scattered throughout, both in terms of kung-fu fighting and the character building scenes. Unfortunately, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit seems to lose interest in itself before the half way mark, and never really capitalises on its potential. A bit like Garth Ennis’ run on Ghost Rider.

If you like anime fantasy, then this is probably worth a rental, but ultimately, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is, to paraphrase Sum 41, all filler, no killer.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Frequent swordy and other Japanese weapon based combat.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Very infrequent and mild.
Summary: An entertaining enough anime series. Unfortunately there’s just not enough here in terms of either innovation or execution to raise it much above “plain average”. 6/10

The Evil Dead
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Hal Delrich, Ellen Sandweiss
Director: Sam Raimi
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Available from Monday 11th October - £6.99 (DVD) & £17.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

Five friends go up to a cabin in the woods where they find unspeakable evil lurking in the forest. They find the Necronomicon and the taped translation of the text. Once the tape is played, the evil is released. One by one, the teens become deadly zombies. With only one remaining, it is up to him to survive the night and battle the evil dead.

The Evil Dead is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. I reckon I’ve seen it more than I’ve seen any other movie (including even Star Wars), and there are still parts of it that creep me out and make me jump six feet up into the air. The pacing is spot on. The way they manage to make such a low budget and such simple effect have such a great impact is nothing short of genius.

Strapping a camera to a plank of wood and running across the forest with it makes a great effect. Banging a wooden bench against a wall makes for a great effect. This should be a how-to manual for making low budget horror movies. God knows that even nearly thirty years later, The Evil Dead is still head, shoulders, torso, thighs and calves over all the straight-to-DVD horror we get sent...

The Blu-ray clean up job is something of a mixed bag, but this is really down to the raw footage available. The contrast look absolutely stellar, and the darkness in the basement is pure black. Then some shots look a little blurry, or even with some film-grain visible. Hardly surprising, but if you’re not a super-fan, then you may be better off with a DVD version through an upscaler, or waiting for the price to drop a little.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Frequent violence, and protracted scenes of blood and gore. All of which is amazingly awesome.
Sex/Nudity: Tree rape.
Swearing: Some, but nothing especially noteworthy.
Summary: One of the greatest horror movies comes to Blu-ray, and a nice pack it is, too. If you’re a fan, you’ll want to upgrade, but most can stick with their DVD. 10/10


THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR 21 GIVEAWAY

This title includes the year's best, and darkest, tales of terror, showcasing the most outstanding new short stories and novellas by both contemporary masters of the macabre and exciting newcomers. As ever, this acclaimed anthology also offers the most comprehensive annual overview of horror around the world in all its incarnations; a comprehensive necrology of famous names; and, a list of indispensable contact addresses for the dedicated horror fan and writer alike.

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror remains the world's leading annual anthology dedicated solely to presenting the best in contemporary horror fiction.

Thanks to our friends at Constable and Robinson we've got five copies of The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21 to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to bestnewhorror21giveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Saturday 16th October. the first five names out of the electronic hat will win a copy each.

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