Horrorfest '07: Mulberry Street (US - DVD R1)
Gabe starts the new After Dark Horrorfest running from rat people...
A normal day in New York City is interrupted when a glut of diseased rats begins biting the natives, spreading a virus that causes humans to act rather inhuman towards each other. In one dilapidated Manhattan apartment complex the residents must ban together and defend themselves against the sudden outbreak of violence.
I started this year’s Horrorfest at my house with Mulberry Street, and I was off to a good start. Mulberry Street was the kind of film I expected out of last year’s promise of fun, low budget genre entrees. It isn’t the most original movie, and it defiantly isn’t the most professional looking movie, but it’s full of compassion for genre and character.
The filmmakers take the very familiar themes of viral outbreak and zombies and manage to put just enough of a twist on them for even a connoisseur like myself to have a good time. The twist is two fold—first is the kind of infected flesh-eaters we’re talking about, which are less of the living dead variety and more of the werewolf variety. More specifically we’re talking rabid wererats here, kind of like the weresheep of Black Sheep, only with the tenaciousness of the 28 Days Later ‘infected’. It seems like a small thing, but after years of the same old moaning gut munchers a small thing is really all you need.
The second fold is the characters, which fulfil the archetypes of the whole trapped by the undead subgenre in original ways. Rather then a bunch of nubile teens having sex when they should probably be running away, Mulberry Street employs real New York people and sticks them in a real New York apartment. The love interest looks like a real, hard working mom, her son acts like a real, awkward teenager, the neighbours are real bickering old guys, and the bar owner probably actually owns the bar. The hero’s daughter is a buyable Iraq vet (even if her scare make-up isn’t too real), and the fact that she’s a woman isn’t a plot point or something the filmmakers want to make a big deal out of. The gay maternal figure is an original, and not played for cheap laughs or lame stereotypes (much). Best of all, the pre-monster scenes set up our hero (who’s also really real) as the nicest guy on this real New York block, so we’re more then willing to root for him when the rats hit the fan.
Mulberry Street is very obviously a lower budgeted feature. Co-writer/director Jim Mickle steals several shots and methods from Danny Boyle, but mostly to a positive effect. There are a couple of shots that’ll probably roll some 28 Days Later eyes, but nothing too conspicuous. The film is shot pseudo-documentary style utilizing a lot of shaky, hand held camera work, which can be a bit overbearing at times, but the low key and sometimes surrealistic lighting adds strong ambiance and helps the lacking fear quotient.
Like 28 Days Later, Mulberry Street suffers from some obvious digital video artefacts. Edge enhancement is everywhere during daylight scenes, as are high contrast flares which occasionally ghost ever so slightly. The lighting is really low key, which adds that semi-documentary feel, but does nothing for the transfer’s quality. Some shots are so dark one can hardly tell what’s happening at all, and the screen is consistently flecked with compression noise and heavy grain. Colours are genuine blacks are the transfer’s strong suits. I’m assuming that there’s been some post-production tweaking of elements, as seen in the intense green hues, which really pop against the otherwise dark amber colour pallet.
Mulberry Street holds a budget expanding Dolby Digital 5.1 track, though a lot of the more overt sound effects are obviously ‘canned’ or from some kind of effects CD ROM. There are some issues with the clarity of the sound, and anything not added obviously in post is usually centred. This roughness actually ends up adding to the film’s hectic documentary approach, though some viewers may be a bit jostled. The film’s score is well represented throughout—a bassy mix of understated quiet scenes and bombastic chases.
First up on this reasonably well stocked disc is a collection of storyboard to film comparisons. These aren’t the most well drawn or scene specific boards, but there’s a kind of quaint interest. These are not interactive, rather they run a course. These are followed by a collection of two short deleted scenes. The scenes are not anamorphically enhanced, and one carries some misaligned ADR, but aren’t as rough as others I’ve seen for more pricy films. The director’s sketches section contains a slide show of quick and dirty illustrations of creatures and action. This is followed by video test footage of the basic rat make-up and some amusing outtakes. ‘Behind the Scenes: The Rats’ is a rough look at the training and filming of the film’s real rats, not a proper making-of documentary or anything. It runs a paltry and rather bland two and a half minutes. The disc finishes off with a couple trailers and the ‘Miss Horrorfest’ webisodes, which aren’t really that interesting (next year there really should be a stripping event).
Mulberry Street probably won’t rock everyone’s world, but I found it an effective and fun distraction, with some bona fide thrills and pathos. This is what low budget horror filmmaking should be—energetic and exploitative but not without a dash of originality and dignity. I’m off to a good start, but given last year’s collection, I can only expect to roll downhill from here, right?
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 18th March 2008
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Storyboards, Deleted Scenes, Production Sketches, Make-Up Tests, Outtakes, The Rats, Trailers, Webisodes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jim Mickle
Cast: Larry Fleischman, Antone Pagan, Ron Brice, Larry Fessenden, Debbie Rochon
Length: 85 minutes
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