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January Horror Round-Up

The Visit


When Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are sent to their grandparents’ secluded Pennsylvania farmhouse for a weeklong stay, they quickly discover something is not right with the elderly couple. Faced with strange rules and increasingly frightening behavior, the children soon realize it will take all their wits to make it home alive. (From Blumhouse’s official synopsis)

I’ve always been rooting for M. Night Shyamalan. Even as his films steadily declined from Oscar nominated hits to ruinously humourless adaptations of children’s cartoons – even as I, myself, decried his efforts – I felt bad for the guy. At a certain point, every one of his movies became an ill-fated chance at redemption and, following The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013), it became clear that his chance for atonement would not be found in big-budget action spectacle. He needed to return to his roots, he needed to do it on the cheap, and a $5 million, PG-13, found-footage thriller for the producer of Paranormal Activity is just what the doctor ordered. The Visit is not a return to Sixth Sense-levels of satisfying, mainstream genre filmmaking, but it’s a solid, entertaining reestablishment of his favourite themes – a suburban family drama corrupted by melancholic supernatural terror. With a twist, of course.

Shyamalan’s greatest strengths used to be spooky mood, dry comedy, and engaging, naturalistic characters. Even as he rocketed to blockbuster success, he continued trying to make intimate movies about closely-knit, relatable people and The Visit is a nice reminder of better times. I think that memories of familial, suburban themes and strong characters have endured, even among his detractors, but the awkward tones of The Happening and the complete lack of comedy in The Last Airbender made it easy to forget the fact that Signs was so hilarious. Though The Visit ends on a heavy (and not entirely successful) note, Shyamalan’s once lost sense of humour anchors the entire film, strengthening the characters and even the scares with a nice touch of humanity. He is also clearly aware of the negative reputation he has cultivated and pokes fun at his penchant for pretentious filmmaking in the character of Rebecca, who is a by-the-book, smart-beyond-her-years junior filmmaker. Of course, the manner in which she describes all of her techniques and explains all thematic subtext directly to the audience may also be a jab at Shyamalan’s harshest critics; in which case, well played Manoj. I didn’t find The Visit particularly frightening, but I think this is more a matter Shyamalan tapping into fears that don’t tend to affect me. As an exploration of youthful anxieties, it works pretty well, even when Shyamalan is falling back on his clumsier proclivities. The twist is pretty great, too!

The Visit was shot using Canon EOS C300 digital HD cameras and is presented here in 1080p, 1.85:1 video. Like many of Blumhouse’s post- Paranormal Activity movies, it is meant to appear as if it was shot by non-professionals using consumer-grade cameras. Shyamalan and cinematographer Maryse Alberti seem to have opted for Canon cameras to achieve a more ‘digital’ look that could still be blown-up onto a big screen. However, Shyamalan doesn’t have it in him to fully embrace faux-documentary imagery, so The Visit is rarely left at the mercy of location lighting. It is, in fact, one of the better-looking found-footage movies, including plush gradations, smooth blends, and warm colour timing. Textures and patterns are slightly softened by the grading, but not at the risk of sharp shapes or neatly separated elements. The vivid daylight colours show minor signs of bleeding and banding, while the darkest sequences have slight noise issues. Both are likely inherent in the original footage. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is typical in that it breaks with from found-footage aesthetic to fill out the aural universe and punch up the scares. Generally, it is a dry and empty soundscape. Dialogue is divided between the slightly processed ‘behind the camera’ voices and warmer, well-centered ‘on-camera’ voices. Aside from eerie wind noises and occasional stereo/surround jump scare cues, the environmental and incidental effects tend to be centered as well. Paul Cantelon is the credited composer, but there isn’t a lot of music to speak of.

Extras include:
  • Alternate ending (2:30, HD)
  • Ten deleted/extended scenes (8:30, HD)
  • The Making of The Visit (10:00, HD) – An outrageously artsy, self-obsessed look at Shyamalan’s return to ‘smaller’ filmmaking. The director and other interviewees frame The Visit as his ‘rebirth’ and press the supposed importance of this silly and fun little movie. Perhaps I misread its lighthearted qualities...
  • Becca’s photos


 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up


January Horror Round-Up

Sinister 2


In the aftermath of the shocking events of Sinister, a protective mother (Shannyn Sossamon) and her nine-year-old twin sons (Robert and Dartanian Sloan) find themselves marked for death in a rural house as the evil spirit of Bughuul continues to spread with frightening intensity. (From Blumhouse’s official synopsis)

Scott Derrickson’s Sinister (2012) was a relatively clever conceptual slant on found-footage horror, however, while its ideas were refreshing and its performances were solid, Derrickson’s execution left a lot to be desired. Second-time feature director Ciaran Foy’s Sinister 2 is, unfortunately, mostly more of the same, minus the uniqueness of that original conceptual slant. The screenplay, by Derrickson and Sinister co-writer C. Robert Cargill, explores the same themes from different angles, dividing Ethan Hawke’s obsessive investigative author/family man between an obsessive private investigator and a mother on the run from a murky past. Anyone that hasn’t seen the original movie is likely going to be lost during the first act, which calls back to the elaborate mythology of the Derrickson’s film without any significant explanation. This isn’t unusual for modern ghost stories/possession movies, as they now apparently to require insane levels of back-story that explain every little nuance of the supernatural horror (I blame Damiano Damiani’s Amityville II: The Possession). The sequel draws focus more towards children in order to explain how the Bughuul (the series’ main villain, who looks more like a Slipknot reject than a spooky ghost) ensnares them to do his bidding, which is a logical extension of the more mysterious first entry in the series. Unfortunately, the compelling drama of kids being exploited by a murderous deity is constantly derailed by boring scenes of the stereotypical (and unnecessary) adult characters who investigate creepy happenings and enacting hackneyed domestic drama. For his part, Foy picks up the ball where Derrickson left it and does his best to create visual continuity between the two films. It’s not a particularly unique (or even likable) look, but the elegant use of steadicam and smooth editing techniques alleviate the doldrums of the same ol’ noisy jump scares. The introductory scene where the boys play with toy guns in a supermarket is better blocked than many ‘real’ action sequences.

Despite the role that 8mm cameras and film play in the movie’s story, Sinister 2 was almost entirely shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras. According to the commentary, the grainy inserts were indeed recorded on 8 or 16mm and altered in post to match the colour timing of the rest of the movie. Either way, their presence offers some visual flare to the film. Foy and cinematographer Amy Vincent really press the darkness here, which sometimes pushes this 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer to its limit. There is loads of fine texture and complex patterns, but the deep darkness flattens a lot of it into black blobs. The success of a scare depends heavily on the clarity of subtle highlights and the crisp, halo-free edges definitely help to delineate the subtle spookiness. The colour qualities are also quite delicate. Daylight sequences are divided between eclectic ‘real world’ environments and amber-soaked interiors, while night scenes have a blue/teal tint. The hues rarely bleed (no pun intended) and feature only minor digital noise effects. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is brimming with creepy, abstract sound design that oozes from the speakers and blends with tomandandy’s (aka: Thomas Hajdu and Andy Milburn) ambient and oppressive musical score (a step down from Christopher Young’s original Sinister cues, which are occasionally reused). It’s not an excessively noisy track, but it keeps busy between bombastic scare scenes with nicely centered dialogue and grinding, scratchy sequences where the boys watch murder videos.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Ciarán Foy – This charming solo director’s commentary doesn’t quite fill the entire runtime, but is certainly full of valuable information. Foy is obviously a very visual guy and sticks largely to the technical aspects of visual filmmaking. His various lessons, especially discussion on how to make expositional scenes dynamic, may be genuinely valuable to budding filmmakers.
  • Five deleted/extended scenes (9:20, HD)
  • Time to Watch Another: Making of Sinister 2 (10:10, HD) – A typical Blumhouse production EPK that includes cast & crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
  • Extended kill films:[list]
  • Fishing Trip (1:30, HD)
  • Christmas Morning (1:30, HD)
  • Kitchen Remodel (1:40, HD)
  • A Trip to the Dentist (:40, HD)
  • Sunday Service (3:10, HD)
  • Cornfield (3:10, HD)


 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up


January Horror Round-Up

Deathgasm


Metal-thrashing Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is an outcast in a sea of jocks and cheerleaders in a suburban wasteland until he meets a kindred spirit in fellow metalhead Zakk (James Blake). After starting their own band, Brodie and Zakk come upon a mysterious piece of sheet music said to grant ultimate power to whoever plays it. But the music also summons an ancient evil entity known as Aeloth The Blind One, which threatens to tear apart existence itself. The boys' classmates and family become inhabited by demonic forces, tearing out their own eyes, and turning into psychotic murderers ... and that's only the beginning! It's up to Brodie, Zakk, and their group of friends to stop a force of pure evil from devouring all of mankind. (From Dark Sky Film’s official synopsis)

The New Zealand horror comedy, a charming tradition that extends back to the early days of Peter Jackson’s filmmaking career, is enjoying a minor renaissance lately. 2014 alone brought us Guy Pigden’s I Survived a Zombie Holocaust, Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound, and Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows. Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm is the region’s modern-day answer to the short-lived rock ‘n roll horror phenomenon of the later ‘80s – a weird, still flourishing subgenre that includes Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat (1985), and John Fasano’s Rock n Roll Nightmare (1987) and Black Roses (1988). Generally, these films gleefully exploited conservative Christian America’s insistence that heavy metal music was a direct line to Hell. At its core, Deathgasm, like its rock ‘n roll horror predecessors and most ‘80s sex comedies ( Porky’s, 1982; Hot Dog: The Movie, 1984; Screwballs, 1983; et cetera), is the manifestation of a teenage boy’s wildest fantasies. It is perhaps even the modern metal kid horror equivalent to John Hughes’ nerdy kid sci-fi favourite, Weird Science (1985).

Herein lies the film’s biggest problem: those of us that aren’t teenage boys might find the geeky, juvenile, playfully sexist, and casually homophobic subject matter utterly unappealing. It’s certainly a simplistic, exclusionary, and, even as an adult that once related to this stuff ( Deathgasm would be 16 year-old me’s favourite movie), I found it somewhat obnoxious, but it’s not stupid. Howden, who also wrote the film, understands his audience enough to placate them without insulting them. The best New Zealand horror comedy tends to account for conventions, giving the fans what they want from the genre (loads of violence and gross-out comedy), while also resisting conventions for a joke (in this case, stuff like cult leaders making minions re-decapitate someone ‘the right way,’ because they ruined the carpet with blood the first time). Howden’s super-speedy, info-dump style will do little to endear the film to detractors, but I do think that this short attention span approach jibes well with the content. This is definitely how a teenage metalhead would recount his life’s story – with grainy flashbacks, zippy editing, animated inserts, and a different song playing in the background every 30 seconds. On the other hand, it seems like a significant amount of narrative/character development has been deleted to keep the heavily, heavily Evil Dead-inspired gore machine churning during the final act and the lovable supporting cast suffers in its absence.

I can’t find any camera specs on Deathgasm, but it appears that the bulk of the film was shot using digital HD cameras of some type. There are also a number of 16mm inserts, often used for quick-cut flashbacks, and a faux-music video sequence made to look like subpar analogue video. This 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer is generally quite clean, while still mixing it up in terms of textures, colours, and contrast range. Daylight scenes are eclectic and soft, night and darker sequences tend to be tinted in blue or rusty orange. Details are mostly tight and complex, no matter how dark or bright the lighting schemes are, and the red flash of blood & gore is always punchy. There are some pronounced banding effects seen on the brightest glowing elements, primarily during otherwise dark sequences, but these are the exception in an otherwise smoothly-graded transfer. The slight digital noise does not appear to be due to compression. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is incredibly dynamic, as dictated by the mile-a-minute, mix-and-match editing style. Everything, from basic environmental noise to the more abstract effects of supernatural happenings and even the sound of the edits themselves, is punched up for directional impact. Of course, music plays a huge role and all of it is infused with driving guitars and blast beat double bass. Chris van de Geer & Joost Langeveld (aka: Dead Pirate) are credited as composers alongside a bevy of metal acts.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with writer/director Jason Lei Howden – This track starts off awkwardly, with Howden hesitently describing the on-screen action. While he never quite finds his footing (he pauses and drops lines of thought quite a bit), but there are also stretches of good behind-the-scenes info and anecdotes, including the fact that Milo Cawthorne, Kimberley Crossman, and Delaney Tabron all appeared on different iterations of Power Rangers.
  • Brotherhood of Steel: The Cast of Deathgasm (5:00, HD) – A casting featurette in which the cast & crew discuss the characters and the trials of stage blood.
  • Demon Seed: An Interview with Jason Lei Howden (5:30, HD) – The writer/director discusses his autobiographical side of the film, getting the film financed, the Peter Jackson influence, and shooting the film.
  • Goregasm: The FX of Deathgasm (5:10, HD) – Behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the special effects crew.
  • ”Deathgasm” music video by Bulletbelt (4:20, HD)
  • Trailer and teaser spot


 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

 January Horror Round-Up

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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