Masters of Horror: Valerie on the Stairs (US - DVD R1)
Gabe's doing his best to ignore Valerie. He knows she just wants attention...
Rob Hanisey (Tyron Leitso) is the newest tenant in an apartment complex that caters to unpublished writers, where they can live rent-free until they make their first publication. During his first night Rob has disturbing visions of a beautiful naked woman named Valerie (Clare Grant), who calls out for help from the stairs. Every time Rob reaches out to her she's pulled back into the darkness and disappears.
So Starz/Anchor Bay is either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid, because they have released the two worse episodes of Masters of Horror season two on the same day. I thought nothing could possibly be as bad as We All Scream for Ice Cream, but Mick Garris' Valerie on the Stairs gives Tom Holland's silly revenge tale a serious run for its money.
First on the long list of failure is Garris himself, who has proven time and time again that he is totally incapable of creating anything above the level of made-for-TV. I don't just mean he makes a lot of films that happen to premiere on television; I mean that he is incapable of creating something that even looks like a major theatrical release. His films are visually flat, blandly edited, and feature nary a single original or dynamic image. Valerie on the Stairs is just as flat, bland, and unoriginal as all the rest, maybe even more so. Nudity and non-network friendly blood splatter alone don't make for interesting filmmaking.
Next is writer Clive Barker, who middle name might as well be Mr. Hit-or-Miss. This particular story, if accurately adapted (I'm not sure, I haven't read it), is just the kind of masturbatory goobly-gook that bored and lonely horror writers have been recycling for generations. Horror stories about writing horror stories are so tired the subgenre should come with an expiration date. Only a truly desperate, lonely, and self-obsessed person could possibly think that the rest of the world would care about another self-referential horror story. Seriously, the horrors of being unpublished?
And what of the actors? What actors? I just see a bunch of faces—a lead without charisma, a damsel in distress out-acted by her own perky breasts, a gaggle of 'wacky' supporting cast mates without a lick of potency (including, might I add, Christopher freaking Lloyd), and a sad, pot-bellied Tony Todd doing his feeble best to channel the Candyman. I feel I've been able to count on in the Masters of Horror series actors, even throughout the more unimpressive episodes, but here I've been let down.
The special effects, make-up and digital, are also lacklustre. I could see the appliances on Tony Todd's face, I could see where they began and ended, and even worse I could see blank spots in the black make-up. Gore is very poorly cut, making for obvious transitions between actors and effects. The film's final minutes feature not one but two digital effects that would look outdated in 1992. Really sad, even considering the budget and series track record.
So what am I left with? Nothing but the knowledge that this isn't the most inept film ever made. Valerie on the Stairs isn't scary or titillating, it’s a plodding bore.
The pristine nature of this transfer just makes the movie look worse. Garris' flat compositions can't hide in grain or darkness, and neither can the bad special effects. There is some low level noise hiding in the blackest corners of the transfer, but the overall look is pretty clean. There isn't a lot of colour, but what there is pops without bleeding or blooming.
Like all the other Masters of Horror releases, this one comes retrofitted with a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The surround and stereo channels are actually more busy here than with most Masters of Horror episodes, with both sound effects and dialogue. The surround effects work as well, added some much needed texture to the dull feature. The strange thing is that the centre channel is at time almost silent, even during dialogue heavy scenes, and when it is active its sound often leaks into the stereo channels.
One commentary, two featurettes, trailers, a script on DVD-ROM, a bio, and some stills—that’s pretty much the norm here on Masters of Horror season two DVDs, and this is no exception.
Mick Garris got his start in horror as an interviewer, and thusly is a very good speaker; the problem is that I really don't care about what he's saying. He talks about the behind the scenes stuff, which seems pretty uneventful, and lets us in on his reasoning for every shot choice.
The first featurette is a general making-of wrap up. Clive Barker comes across as self-important, Garris sounds entirely unsure of himself and looks frightened when on set, the actors sound like they want to go home, and the KNB boys again look exhausted. Unlike other releases, this first featurette features information on the special effects. The follow-up featurette is about editing, which is pretty self assured considering how unimpressive the editing is. Garris and his editor are very proud of their jump scares.
Two really bad episodes in a row doesn't bode too well for our plucky little horror series. I'm not giving up just yet, because I really enjoyed The Black Cat, Right to Die, and Pelts. I’m an optimist. Valerie on the Stairs is a big red checker, and your job is to skip it. Mick Garris needs to settle into his production role and leave the directing to the 'Masters'.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 14th August 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Surround English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Featurette, Trailers, Bio, Script
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mick Garris
Cast: Christopher Lloyd, Tony Todd, Tyron Leitso, Clare Grant
Length: 58 minutes
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