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Magnet Anthology Double Feature

Feature


The ABCs of Death series is back with a collection 26 more super short and super vulgar horror stories. The quality is still spotty, but the overall short-to-short success has improved this time around. In fact, there wasn’t a single overtly bad episode in the bunch. Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite entries in ABCs of Death 2:

  • A is for Amateur –  Directed by E.L. Katz; B is for Badger – Directed by Julian Barratt:With time at a premium, many of the ABCs of Death filmmakers structure their shorts like a joke. The first two episodes, by Cheap Thrills E.L. Katz and Mighty Boosh co-writer/star director Julian Barratt, are simple, two part sagas – i.e. set up and punchline. Katz crafts a cool, trashy, neon-lit music video/film trailer. Initially, he runs through a fantasy version of the hitman's meticulously plan, where everything goes off without a hitch. Then, while executing the plan, the professional killer’s best efforts turn into a comedy of gory errors. In Barratt’s entry, a diva wildlife documentary host/director berates his crew. He is attacked and eviscerated mid-tirade.
  • D is for Deloused – Directed by Robert Morgan:Animation lends itself well to horror and, because it involves the manipulation of physical objects, stop-motion in particular has been a haven for surrealist, nightmarish imagery. Director Robert Morgan takes inspiration from the Kafka-inspired shorts and features of Jan Svankmajer ( Alice, Little Otik) and the intimate, dreamlike worlds of the Brothers Quay ( Piano Tuner Earthquakes) to construct the most affecting short in the film.
  • F is for Falling – Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado:The directors of Big Bad Wolves continue an exploration of Israeli-Palestinian relations that they barely touched upon in that film and create one of ABCs of Death 2’s chattier episodes. Ironically enough, this poignant and dramatic short doesn’t really work in the scope of the entire film, because it feels out of place with the silly, message-free entries. It and other ‘serious’ episodes, like J is for Jesus, are respectable, but don’t quite work in the ABCs of Death context.
  • H is for Head Games – Directed by Bill Plympton:There’s not much to say about this typically wacky and vibrant sketch toon from legendary animator Bill Plympton, except, well, just that.
  • O is for Ochlocracy – Directed by Hajime Ohata ( Metamorphosis, 2011):A courtroom full of zombies that are putting living humans on trial for shooting them in the head is a clever premise that is perfectly primed for a short-subject. Ohata doesn’t hit all the marks or land every joke, but he follows through on the concept with plenty of unique little twists and the appearance of the protagonist’s daughter at her trial is oddly moving.
  • Q is for Questionnaire – Directed by Rodney Ascher:This short juxtaposes weird footage of a man taking an intelligence test on the street (possibly in reference to Scientology personality tests) with scenes of the same man being rushed through a sloppy medical procedure. It turns out that the testers are transferring his brain into a gorilla. Possibly the most whimsically strange and conceptually unique episode and another well-told joke. From the director of Room 237, the documentary about Shining conspiracy theories, oddly enough.
  • W is for Wish – Directed by Steven Kostanski:The director of Manborg recreates that film’s strange lo-fi imagery in an appropriately nostalgic arena as two kids wish themselves into a fantasy world inhabited by their favourite He-Man and the Masters of the Universe-like toys. It’s entertaining without over-staying its welcome (like, you know, Manborg).  
  • Y is for Youth – Directed by Soichi Umezawa:Another incredibly imaginative episode, albeit bleaker than W is for Wish. The unusual transformation effects and body horror reminds me of underrated J-horror efforts, like Higuchinsky’s Uzumaki, yet its over-the-top qualities don’t mask the genuine dread at the story’s center. Soichi Umezawa, who was previously known only for his effects work, is a guy to look out for in the future. Assuming he gets an interesting script.
  • Z is for Zygote – Directed by Chris NashAlong with K is for Knell (directed by Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper), Z is for Zygote could’ve sustained a longer runtime, but director Chris Nash has the good sense to aim high and leave us wanting more. As the single goriest and most revolting episode (like Umezawa, Nash is best known as a special make-up effects artist), it’s also a nice place to end the film.

The video quality on this 1080p, multi-aspect ratio Blu-ray is spotty, depending entirely on the presented quality of each episode. Twelve different cinematographers used a series of camera types (most appear to be digital in origin) to achieve 26 unique visual palettes, some crystal clear, some grim ‘n gritty, some vibrant, some desaturated. I assume any differences in clarity and artefacts are inherent in the original material and there are no consistent compression artefacts. For example, B is for Badger is especially over-sharpened, in keeping with some of the BBC nature documentaries it apes. I is for Invincible features a heavily-graded palette and a number of subtle digital effects, leading to banding effects that I assume are intentional. Similarly, K is for Knell is shot in low light and fuzzy with digital noise and soft focus and V is for Vacation emulates the pixelization of a bad video connection over a phone. The most extreme case of purposeful print damage is probably Q is for Questionnaire, which is blown-out, foggy, and does its best to recreate the look of real film grain ( R is for Roulette and S is for Split seem to have been actually shot on film).

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is just as erratic as the HD video quality, again, because so many different filmmakers are vying for different tones and themes. The surreal soundscapes of D is for Deloused are especially immersive and S is for Split utilizes a Brian DePalma-inspired split-screen technique to show three points of view during a home invasion. It does interesting things with the intersecting sounds, including a cool bit where a doorbell bleeds out into the rear channels and subtly becomes part of the musical soundtrack. U is for Utopia’s is the best mixed, especially its throbbing low-end, but X is for Xylophone’s use of interlocking, overlapping noise probably takes the cake for the best sound design in the film.

Extras include:
  • Filmmaker commentary – This mammoth track features almost every one of the directors (not to mention some writers and producers). It is introduced by producers Ant Timpson & Tim League, who also fill in for the missing filmmakers a couple of times, namely H is for Headgames’ Bill Plympton and X is for Xylophone’s Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo. K is for Knell directors Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper have their commentary interrupted by eerie electronic noises and voices. Very clever.
  • A is for Amateur: Behind-the-scenes (5:00, HD)
  • C is for Capital Punishment: Production stills gallery
  • D is for Deloused: Meet the Puppets (2:10, HD) and production still gallery
  • E is for Equilibrium: Behind-the-scenes (2:40, HD) and behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • F is for Falling: Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • I is for Invincible: Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • J is for Jesus: Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • L is for Legacy: Behind-the-scenes (3:40, HD) and behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • N is for Nexus: Making Of: Day One of Twelve (4:00, HD) and on-set photo gallery
  • O is for Ochlocracy: Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • Q is for Questionnaire: Make-up & FX: Brain (:20, HD), behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and storyboards
  • R is for Roulette: Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • S is for Split: Behind-the-scenes (5:00, HD), behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • T is for Torture Porn: The Making of T is for Torture Porn (28:40, HD), behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • U is for Utopia: Behind-the-scenes (9:10, HD), audition footage (1:50, HD), storyboards, and production stills photo gallery
  • V is for Vacation: Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • W is for Wish: Making Of (5:20, HD), behind-the-scenes photo gallery
  • Y is for Youth: Making Of (19:40, HD), behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and storyboards
  • Z is for Zygote: The 55th Trimester (6:10, HD)
  • AXS TV: A Look at ABCs of Death 2 (2:20, HD)
  • Trailers for other Magnet/Magnolia releases


 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

 Magnet Anthology Double Feature


Magnet Anthology Double Feature

V/H/S: Viral


The first movie in the V/H/S series mostly wasted the fun, modern twist on the horror anthology tradition. I originally gave it a semi-favourable review, but realized I was mistaken after trying to re-watch it. The sequel, V/H/S/2, was an astronomical improvement, including Gareth Evans & Timo Tjahjanto’s fantastic mini-epic, Safe Haven. Unfortunately, the third entry, V/H/S: Viral, does not up the ante a second time and may actually be the weakest of the entire trilogy.

Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect:

  • Vicious Circles – Directed by Marcel SarmientoMarcel Sarmiento is co-director of Deadgirl and one of the better episodes of the first ABCs of Death ( D is for Dogfight), but he clearly has nothing unique to add to the V/H/S series. Vicious Circles, which acts as a wraparound segment, is basically just a bunch of noise that occasionally masquerades as an awkward social commentary (most of it is stolen from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome). Any redeeming qualities are muffled by more noise and casual racism/misogyny. All it really has to offer are some gross (though not particularly well-executed) gore effects.
  • Dante the Great – Directed by Gregg BishopThe first ‘full-length’ episode eschews the found-footage motif for a more cinematic, less headache-inducing mockumentary structure. Director Gregg Bishop, who also made the cute, but unmemorable zombie comedy Dance of the Dead, does an effective job aping the tone and techniques of a made-for-cable TV retrospective/exposé for the first part of his short to tell the story of an amateur magician who discovers a demon-possessed cloak that gives him actual magical powers. The mockumentary footage acts as the lead-in to a big magic battle sequence that basically ignores both the mockumentary and found-footage styles, which is actually fine, as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes, it feels a little like an effects reel, but the structure allows for creative editing techniques, which, in turn, helps Bishop to tell a completed story, instead of a single scene or a joke.
  • Parallel Monsters – Directed by Nacho Vigalondo:The second episode fits nicely into director Nacho Vigalondo’s high-concept, low-fi sci-fi filmography. It follows the brief adventures of an inventor who creates a machine that allows him to cross into alternate dimensions. He and his dimensional rift twin decide to trade places for fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, one of them comes from a dimension full of Satanist monsters. Vigalondo is the clear ‘all-star’ among V/H/S: Viral’s directors. His feature-length debut, Timecrimes, is seriously among the best sci-fi/horror hybrids of the last decade. His follow-up, Extraterrestre, showed incredible growth as a filmmaker (it wasn’t as good as Timecrimes, though) and I hear good things about Open Windows. Parallel Monsters makes good use of the V/H/S format with a valid excuse for the protagonist/antagonist to be filming everything they see, but he seems lost when trying to match the shock horror aspects of previous episodes. I’d personally like to visit the parallel dimension where he made a feature-length version that was less concerned with being gross.
  • Bonestorm – Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead:The co-directors of Resolution (a well-received, but under-seen film, that shares plot elements with the Evil Dead remake) find more excuses for idiots to film stuff when they should probably be running away -– these particular idiots are J.D. skater kids desperately trying to make a viral video. These delinquents are convinced by an amateur filmmaker they’ve ‘employed’ for the day that they should take a trip across the border to Mexico – where they can shoot footage without getting hassled by security or cops. They unwittingly stumble into some kind of cult ritual and have to fight their way out. Benson & Moorhead do an admirable job editing their short like a music video (it would’ve been better if it was just a music video, actually) and try harder than any of the directors to meet the standards of a horror anthology. Unfortunately, their protagonists are too obnoxious and hateful to root for and their comeuppance aren’t gruesome enough to applaud. In the end, it’s just more visual noise that might have been cooler if it had been shot like a conventional movie.
  • Gorgeous Vortex – Directed by Todd Lincoln:After the credits run, there is one more short that doesn’t fit the found-footage or mockumentary concepts at all. It’s basically just a series of barely connected, stream of conscious-like images (a woman wandering through concrete buildings, sometimes seducing a guy, sometimes lying dead in various unkempt locations, eventually a monster shows up?) reportedly directed by Todd Lincoln, who I am completely unfamiliar with. It’s too long and content-free to be a trailer, but imdb.com does list something else called Gorgeous Vortex as an upcoming film for Lincoln, so I guess this previously--deleted short is meant to be taken as some kind of promotional item.

Like ABCs of Death 2, V/H/S: Viral’s 1080p, 1.85:1 image quality varies from short-to-short. The wraparound is constantly distorted by random static, but the imagery itself is sharp, clean, and features some very rich, naturalistic palettes. Dante the Great takes a mixed-media approach, including sharp HD interview footage (presumably taken by the in-film documentarian) set alongside rough, noisy handheld shots, as well as fuzzy, artefact-ridden surveillance footage. Parallel Monsters is more visually steady. Besides some digitally augmented distortion as the inventors pass through the dimensional rift and some nightvision shots, the visual qualities are consistent, featuring only minor low-level noise and purposeful blooming effects. Bonestorm is a brighter and warmer episode. The vivid hues, several of which are overwhelmed by greens, bleed/bloom a bit and black levels are sort of grey. The differences between the handheld and GoPro helmet cameras create interesting contrasts. Assuming I’m supposed to be reviewing it as part of the movie (rather than an extra), Gorgeous Vortex is the most ‘filmic’ piece and features the most impressively clear and clean visuals.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is also limited by the rough qualities of the shorts, but takes plenty of chances to break out of the center channel. The wraparound section is particularly aggressive thanks to the shattering buzz of the forced ‘spooky’ distortion, as well as some lively chase sequence effects. Dante the Great is mostly a centered affair with stereo-spread music and occasional directional flourishes during feats of magic. Parallel Monsters begins with dry aural environments (thin and centered dialogue is supported by the eerie hum of the inventor’s machine), then gets more animated as supernatural happenings start vibrating the LFE and surround channels. Bonestorm’s music video editing makes for a spotty, jittery soundtrack. The speakers are consistently busy with chatter, music, rolling skateboard wheels and, eventually, the creepy, surround-enhanced chants of cultists. Gorgeous Vortex’s soundtrack is made up exclusively of music, video static noises, and creature growls.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with directors Marcel Sarmiento, Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson, Nacho Vigalondo, and Gregg Bishop, and actor Shane Bradey.
  • Bonestorm:
    • Behind-the-scenes (5:40, HD)
    • FX storyboards
    • Artwork/FX photo gallery
    • Behind-the-scenes stills
  • Dante the Great:
    • Smoke & Mirrors: Behind-the-Scenes of Dante the Great (8:30, HD)
    • Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
    • Production stills gallery
    • Greenscreen poster shoot gallery
  • Interviews:
    • Marcel Sarmiento: Writer/Director of Vicious Circles (2:30, HD)
    • Noelle Ann Mabry: ‘Lulu’ in Vicious Circles (1:10, HD)
    • Patrick Lawrie: ‘Kev’ in Vicious Circles (3:30, HD)
    • Gregg Bishop: Writer/Director of Dante the Great (1:30, HD)
    • Justin Welborn: ‘Dante’ in Dante the Great (2:00, HD)
    • Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead: Writers/Directors of Bonestorm (5:20, HD)
  • AXS TV: A Look at V/H/S: Viral
  • Trailers for other Magnolia/Magnet releases


 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

 Magnet Anthology Double Feature

* 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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