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Due to a series of events beyond my control, a massive pile of Anchor Bay release didn’t get to me until pretty late after their release dates, so I’ve decided to get these reviews out as quickly as possible by grouping them here. There will be a second part soon.

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap-Up 3

High School

I’m really not a fan of stoner comedies for the most part, but there are always clever exceptions to the rule, especially recently with the releases of the Harold & Kumar movies and Pineapple Express. I was more than willing to give High School a shot. First-time feature writer/director John Stalberg Jr.’s film marks itself as rather dark and low-key. The story, as it is, certainly moves, but the performances, editing, and camerawork are downright lethargic. One gets the feeling Stalberg thought he was somehow channeling Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater or something, but his rhythm is way off and his lack of original content makes the film difficult to latch on to. The basic tenets of the stoner comedy formula are set early -– unlikely friends connect just as an authority figure threatens their way of life, then find themselves in mortal danger after trying to solve their problem via violent criminals. Despite his surprisingly outstanding cast, including Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis, Colin Hanks, Matt Bush, Adhir Kalyan, Mykelti Williamson, and Yeardley Smith, Stalberg’s film languished on the shelf for almost two years, then received only a limited release (200 screens for one week), where it had basically no time to thrive into even a modest surprise hit. I’m not sure there’s enough here to build much of a cult following (or even that Anchor Bay had the wrong idea in waiting so long to release the film), but the irrepressible weirdness of the thing may appeal to someone out there, quite possibly people that actually do get high and watch movies about their habit. Chiklis and Brody are the stars of the show, and are almost unrecognizable as an awkwardly grinning principal and insanely paranoid drug dealer, respectively. I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually laugh at any of their jokes, but I appreciated the over-the-topitude of their performances.

High School is presented in full 1080p, 2.40:1 video. I’m not sure exactly how it was shot, but I’m willing to guess the filmmakers used digital HD cameras of some kind. Either that or 35mm cameras and a whole lot of digital grading. The image quality is sharp, featuring plenty of fine textures in close-up and complex details in wider shots. Contrast levels are harsh and gritty, leading to some major league blacks that cut without bleeding, which is good, because this is a very dark movie. The overall palette is warm, golden in outdoor lighting and soft orange indoors with poppy, solid teal and red highlights throughout to offset the otherwise smooth colour gradations. Noise and grain are noticeable, but there’s basically nothing in terms of blocking effects or edge enhancement. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is a mostly centric affair that focuses on dialogue. There simply isn’t much in the way of audio design, aside from a few bits of surrealist hallucination via too much wacky weed. Occasionally the ambience of nature and school fill out the rear channels a hair, but this is usually still centered along with any obvious screen source sound. Even the music is low energy and really low volume, though some of the rock and pop items give the LFE a bit of a pump. Extras included a commentary with executive producer/writer/director Stalberg Jr. and deleted scenes (12:30, HD).

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap-Up 3

Piranha 3DD

Modern king of insufferably remaking horror movies Alexadre Aja turned his remaking eye towards Joe Dante’s Jaws rip-off/spoof Piranha. Piranha, or Piranha 3D as the marketing people would have you call it, was a mixed blessing of outrageous gore, hit-and-miss comedy, and a really disappointing lack of climax. The film was a modest hit for the Weinsteins, so a sequel was put into production with the studio’s favourite post- Project Greenlight whipping boy John Gulager in the director’s chair. Bad word of mouth pressed the studio to release Piranha 3DD simultaneously in theaters (for only 3 weeks) and VOD, where no one would benefit from its 3D gimmick.

Piranha 3DD does one thing great right off the bat – it sets the action in the familiar, but as yet untapped for the horror market setting of a water park. Gulager and his Project Greenlight writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan are also on point in terms of upping the ridiculous factor on their sequel. There’d be no reason to treat this pure exploitation material as anything but silly. Unfortunately, Gulager, Melton, and Dunstan’s brand of silly, as seen in films like Feast trilogy, is usually more miss than hit, often turning downright obnoxious. It’s like trying to recreate John Waters and Sam Raimi, minus most of the charm of either filmmaker. Characterizations are dim even for a film based entirely around T&A and gore. Boobs, pecs, and the actors’/actress’ previous work are really all we have to define them as characters. Gulager shoots a nice looking film and does his part in terms of aggressive T&A (and V) and creative violence (his special effects might actually be more convincing than Aja’s, too), but there’s no balance of comedy and danger in the gorier moments. Aja’s film was far from perfect, but his show-stopping fish-attack sequences were delightful in terms of being both funny and terrifyingly gruesome. Gulager’s attempts at suspense fall flat, despite some clever set-piece set-ups, though perhaps the bigger issue is that the killer fish start killing a little too early and too often, leaving the director with almost no time to build tension (or characters, for that matter). Piranha 3DD isn’t quite the mess you may have been led to believe, but it’s certainly not a good movie, even on its own, very simple terms.

Piranha 3DD was shot using both Paradise FX 3D and RED One MX digital cameras. This review will only cover the 2D transfer, since I do not have a 3D set-up. The digital HD image quality makes for a crisp, vibrant, and smooth image. Detail and texture takes a back seat to colour and cleanliness, but there are plenty of fine patterns and chances to count grains of sand throughout. Some of the quick, handheld night shots exhibit quite a bit of overall digital noise, but the average look is incredibly clean. The colour palette is a mash-up of oranges, blues, and greens for the most part without sacrificing some of the more natural outdoor elements. These base hues feature soft gradations and are masked well against the harsh blacks. Red highlights pop well without much noise, though I did notice some pretty big blocking effects as the underwater frenzies create particularly complex and busy movement. Daylight sequences are particularly bright, occasionally to the point of blooming, but this appears to be done very much on purpose. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is quite lively, very similar to the previous film in creating a relatively cartoonish soundscape. The frenzied fish themselves are the most consistent source of directional movement and for the most part their sputtering, screaming movement works very well. Ambient noise isn’t particularly consistent, but when featured (usually underwater) it makes sense for the mix and effectively creates a sense of immersion. The differentiation between underwater and overwater (?) sound design is consistently fun and gives the soundtrack some chances for impressive dynamic ranges. Extras include a commentary track featuring Gulager, producer Joel Soisson, and co-writer Marcus Dunstan, three deleted scenes (2:30, HD), The Story Behind the DD (7:50, HD), The Hofftastic World of David Hasselhoff (2:10, HD), Busey’s Bloopers (2:00, HD), Wet and Wild with David Koechner (1:40, HD), A Lesson with John McEnroe: A Dimension Short Film (3:50, HD), and trailers.

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap-Up 3

Halloween 4: Return of Michael Myers

Halloween III: Season of the Witch was far and away the best of the Halloween sequels, but, thanks to a bunch of whiny fans, the keepers of the series keys lost their nerve on producing anymore Halloween films not featuring the blank-faced killer named Michael Myers. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best choice, because the fourth film in the series features about 1/4 the magic of John Carpenter’s original. The real problem here is that director Dwight H. Little and writer Alan B. McElroy never find a satisfying balance between plot and the usual mechanics of a slasher film. There’s just not a lot here to glom onto as a viewer, even as a fan of the series’ previous installments. The unimaginative screenplay slides borderline insufferable characters ineffectively from one set-piece kill to another, while a strict, late ‘80s MPPA keeps the kills relatively bloodless. The cast does just fine with what they’re given, but they’re given so little to work with that it’s difficult get involved with them on any level other than victim. At the very least, Little has something to offer in terms of the film’s four colour comic book look. The Return of Michael Myers isn’t nearly as cartoonish as Season of the Witch, but Little cleverly plays with the varying vibrancies of certain settings, effectively contrasting the lurid, primary world of Myers, with the placid, pastel world Laurie Strode’s long lost daughter Jaime lives in. Little also does a decent job with the dream-logic of Myers as a character, though never as potently as Carpenter managed with his original film, where we’re never sure exactly if he was a natural or supernatural entity. Too bad none of it is actually scary in the slightest.

Despite the 1.85:1 framing feeling entirely wrong for a Halloween movie, this new 1080p Blu-ray release has very little in terms of direct issues. The overall image quality is clean and soft, which leads to some blooming effects in the brighter colours, but these mostly appear to be purposeful. As stated above, Little and cinematographer Peter Lyons Collister aim for something of a comic book palette, including rich, vibrant primary and pastel hues, and outside the occasional bleeding, these contrast against each other quite well. Detail levels are fine, though, again, on average the film isn’t very sharply shot, opting instead for more even dark to light blends. The darkest scenes feature more heavy film grain, but the bulk of the film has an even grain sheen without many compression or print damage artefacts. This transfer isn’t going to win any awards, but is likely the best the film will look without unnecessary colour-correction of DNR enhancement. I haven’t ever actually watched Halloween 4 remixed into 5.1, so I can’t really compare this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 to anything other than stereo TV airings. Still, I’ve got no complaints, as this generally sounds like a clean pro-logic mix, which is all the film really requires. Dialogue is consistent in terms of volume and clarity, if not a bit tinny, and is well centered. Sound effects occasionally make their way into the stereo and surround channels, though aggressive directional movement is pretty rare (save an old-fashioned shootout). Alan Howarth’s electronic soundtrack, much of it derived from Carpenter’s original theme, gets a solid LFE boost and is very well spread over the stereo and surround channels. The extras, which some readers will notice changed between announcement and release, include an audio commentary with director Dwight H. Little and screenwriter Justin Beahm, another commentary with actresses Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris, the Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel (18:30, SD), and a theatrical trailer. Originally the disc was going to also include a commentary with writer Alan B. McElroy and 30 minutes of deleted/alternate scenes.

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap-Up 3

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Following the incredibly modest success of Halloween 4, Trancas International Films had another sequel ready to go within the next year. In an effort to cash-in on those minute sales, the producers pushed Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers into production without a finished script. And it is incredibly apparent. In fact, I find it nearly impossible to tell the 4th and 5th films apart in my mind, because they were made in such quick succession with generally the same casts, and practically no break in the thin plotline (including an excess of outtakes from the previous film). Co-writer/director Dominique Othenin-Girard’s film is certainly more gothic and traditionally scary than Little’s (as in, he remembers to at least try to be scary), and he also gets minor points for his dynamic camera movement. At best, this is frenetic, sub-Raimi energy that tends to cover the entirely listless plotting. Things are at their worst when absolutely nothing is happening and, once again, an overzealous MPAA really got in the way of the slasher violence. As a lover of weird and just plain bad horror movies, I suppose I have to give Revenge a slight edge over Return, because it is definitely the odder of the two and is nearly impossible to take seriously, thanks to its ridiculous plot – which I might add, is better than the absence of plot seen in the previous film. There’s also the matter of the entirely inappropriate sense of humour that follows the ‘keystone kops,’ complete with goofy musical cues straight out of the Pink Panther series. Re-watching these lacklustre sequels, I’m reminded that even though none of the Friday the 13th films are nearly as good as Carpenter’s original Halloween, at least none of them are as boring and uneventful as these two slabs of nothing.

The Revenge of Michael Myers’ 1.85:1, 1080p transfer follows the suit set by the Return of Michael Myers disc. This film is darker overall, which leads to some minor issues with heavier grain and edge inconsistencies. Othenin-Girard’s choices in colour aren’t as vibrant or playful as Little’s, but his slightly more natural palette looks fine in HD without any major signs of bleeding or edge enhancement. The red highlights are definitely a transfer highlight. This is the grainier and darker of the two films, but makes up for with sharper details and richer contrast levels. The Revenge of Michael Myers does feature a sizably more aggressive soundtrack, featuring more abstract surround and directional elements that give this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track a bit more to do than the one accompanying the 4th film. There still isn’t an excess of multi-channel aggression, or at least very little that stands beyond a normal pro-logic mix, but there is generally more stuff going on aurally. Rain and thunder are relatively consistent ambient elements, along with some surprisingly punchy dog barks and plenty of revving car engines. Alan Howarth’s score is a bit of a step up from the previous film thanks mostly to more original melodies and some strong scare cues that get some nice stereo involvement. Extras include a commentary with actor Don Shanks and author Justin Beahm, another commentary with director Dominique Othenin-Girard and actors Danielle Harris and Jeffrey Landman, Halloween 5: On the Set (16:20, SD), a promo EPK (5:50, SD), and a trailer.