Scream Factory July Reviews (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks out the The Final Terror, Lake Placid, and Deadly Eyes Blu-rays
The Final Terror
A group of young campers out for what they hope to be a fun-filled weekend find their plans spoiled by a disguised, merciless killer who stalks the forest in search of new victims. Soon, they are caught in a terrifying sequence of bloodshed and murder. It is up to the remaining few to defend themselves and put an end to the terror-filled weekend. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Andrew Davis’ The Final Terror wasn’t very popular upon its modest release (two years after it was finished), doesn’t have a particularly vocal cult following, and isn’t particularly obscure. However, it was an early entry in the careers of actresses Daryl Hannah and Rachel Ward (it was shot the same year Blade Runner and Sharky’s Machine were released), character actor mainstay Joe Pantoliano, T.J. Hooker co-star Adrian Zmed, and director Andrew Davis (who worked with Pantoliano again on The Fugitive and Steal Big Steal Little). Davis’ career is all over the place in terms of genre and success rates, but it seems pretty easy to divide his films between pre and post- Fugitive timelines, when he went quickly from inexplicably popular Steven Seagal movies to a worthy Best Picture nominee (in The Fugitive) before de-evolving back into schlock, albeit on a much larger scale. The Final Terror is something of an oddity as the only horror film he ever made. It’s patchy, including tepid scares and some expositional scenes that are so badly edited that they verge on avant garde expressionism, but shows signs of approaching glory in dynamically framed shots of an empty, rain-soaked forest (Davis acted as his own cinematographer) and a couple of energetic action sequences. It’s easy enough to see the same potential B-action producers saw.
The by-the-numbers screenplay was co-written by Jon George, Neill D. Hicks (the gentlemen behind the Ozploitation classic Escape 2000), and Dan O'Bannon collaborator Ronald Shusett ( Alien, Dead & Buried). I assume that all of their efforts were put into characters and dialogue, both of which are above average for a cheapo slasher. The performances are also better than normal, but more expected, based on the future success rate of the cast. None of this makes up for the tedium that rolls along between kills. You’d think combining elements of Deliverance and Friday the 13th would’ve made for a more entertaining exercise – it certainly worked for Walter Hill and Peter Carter when they made Southern Comfort and Rituals (aka: The Creeper, an alternate title for The Final Terror) – but there’s little here to distinguish Davis’ film from a glut of early ‘80s slashers, besides the killer’s cool costume design (and you only see her for about a minute total).
The Final Terror isn’t the best movie, but this Blu-ray release is a pretty big deal for collectors that only had grey market, open-matte DVDs to choose from. This is the first widescreen (1.78:1) version ever available in the US and fully digitally remastered to boot. The film opens with the following special message:
Quote: Unfortunately all of the original film elements for The Final Terror – the negative, the inter-positive – are all lost. Scream Factory went through six film prints, lent to us by film collectors, to find the best looking reels to do the transfer you are about to watch. We hope you enjoy this presentation
This warning sets us up for a pretty miserable experience, but, looking at samples from the older DVDs, I can verify that this is a sizable upgrade. The composite print is inconsistent – some reels are scratchy, some are water damaged, and others are relatively clean – but the most common problem is the pulsing color quality that ebbs and flows between vivid and washed out. This is a pretty small price to pay for a massive increase in clarity and detail. Older releases were overwhelmed by the blackness of the nighttime sequences, to the point that it was literally impossible to tell what was going on, whereas the bump to 1080p allows for much richer texture and sharper elemental separation that makes these darker scenes more discernable. Based on the limited resources at their disposal, I’d say Scream Factory did a fine job (I only wish they had the funds to do their own masters of some of their ‘bigger’ releases).
The uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack fares better than the video quality in terms of consistency. Dialogue is clean and as consistent as possible, based on what appears to be a lot of ADR work. The incidental and environmental effects have a decent amount of depth for a low-budget feature. Susan Justin’s musical score, which includes a catchy opening/closing title rock tracks and some typically John Carpenter-esque piano motifs, is warm and clear. I noticed no obvious high-end distortion or gain issues.
- A new audio commentary with director Andrew Davis – Davis takes this track pretty seriously, running down the basic facts of the production from a mostly technical point of view. His tone is a bit flat and there are long silent stretches, but I enjoyed the track for the lesson it gives in low-budget, director-for-hire filmmaking. Davis is also quick to credit other crewmembers with directing some of the better scenes, specifically the opening sequence.
- Post Terror: Finishing The Final Terror (23:00, HD) – Interviews with post-production supervisor/uncredited editor Allan Holzman (who is somewhat apologetic and open to discussing what didn’t work about the film) and his wife, composer Susan Justin (who demonstrates her incredible vocal capabilities),
- The First Terror (16:20, HD) – Interviews with actors Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith, both of which are charming (though, I could probably die happy if I never hear another actor vehemently tell me that he doesn’t like horror movies).
- Theatrical trailer
- Behind-the-scenes image gallery
This Blu-ray features an 82-minute, R-rated version of the film. According to various internet sources, there were some minor cuts made to secure the rating from the MPAA and rumours that the unofficial DVD releases included some of these cuts, but I can’t verify that and don’t know what to look for here to verify that this release is cut or uncut.
An investigative team, armed with state-of-the-art equipment, high-powered weaponry and a biting sense of sarcasm, must work together to defeat Black Lake's most ferocious resident: a 30-foot prehistoric crocodile! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
1999 was a watershed year for American films, anchored by incendiary, challenging, and weird movies, including The Wachowski’s The Matrix, Alexander Payne’s Election, David O. Russell’s Three Kings, David Fincher’s Fight Club, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. But it was also a good year for more mainstream entertainment, including animation ( Toy Story, The Iron Giant), thrillers ( The Sixth Sense), and, pertinent to this review, monster movies. Steve Miner’s killer croc movie, Lake Placid, and Renny Harlin’s smart shark movie Deep Blue Sea were released within two weeks of each other, making July of 1999 an expedient month to be a fan of bloody critter movies that fully understood how silly they were. Personally, I preferred the more straight-faced approach Harlin took, because I find it easier to laugh with a film that doesn’t laugh at itself at every turn, but Lake Placid has a punchy charm that characterizes the era’s approach to horror-comedy.
It’s a pretty mediocre film, but watching it for the first time since its initial DVD release, I find myself nostalgic for a time when a studio excitedly put money into a monster movie written and produced by the creator of Ally McBeal, itself a show that encapsulates the now alien pop-culture fads of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s (try explaining the public’s obsession with the digital dancing baby to a Millennial, I dare you). And Lake Placid is exactly the monster movie you’d expect from David E. Kelley. It’s brimming with smug sarcasm and characters that are so unlikable and unrelatable that the only natural reaction is to root for them (the cast does admirable things with the constant stream of ironic statements). The whole experience is so tonally rocky that you can’t help but be charmed, despite not ever being particularly frightened, thrilled, or even amused.
Miner is an old pro at this kind of slick B-movie. He started working under Sean S. Cunningham, which eventually scored him the lead direction roles on the first two Friday the 13th sequels and House. Following years of made-for-TV movies and some underseen feel-good family films ( Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, Forever Young, My Father the Hero), he was hired to recreate the feel of Wes Craven’s Scream movies for Halloween: H20 (appropriate, since he was Craven’s production assistant on Last House on the Left). Lake Placid’s perpetual tongue-in-cheek tone is problematic when it comes to Miner’s attempts at crafting any genuine sense of menace. He delivers the monster mayhem and a multitude of jump-scares without any of them fully connecting. Even the foolproof set-pieces are merely entertaining and, then, the movie just kind of ends. On a more positive not, the mirthful spirit kept the late-‘90s MPAA from tagging the film with an NC-17 for its occasional gore, which is definitely a plus, even if the nasty stuff is mostly relegated to the first act.
Stateside, Lake Placid lovers have had only a non-anamorphic DVD to enjoy since the film was first released on home video. There was an option to import anamorphic discs from a multitude of other countries, but no local, widescreen-enhanced discs were available. If it's any consolation, Scream Factory’s 2.35:1, 1080p Blu-ray is the first HD version available in the world, so those US fans finally get something to brag about. This is an occasionally more grainy transfer than I was expecting, based on the film’s age, but the filmic look fits it well and doesn’t interfere with too many of the sharper details. The green, soupy underwater images are expectedly murky, creating some minor bouts of rough-edged banding effects. Close-up details are tight during daylight and nighttime scenes without any notable edge-enhancement. Wide-angle images, like the helicopter shots of the titular lake and surrounding area, are a little soft, but still quite lively. Colours are vivid and lean a bit warm to accentuate the sunny qualities of the area and punching up the lush greens. There’s a hint of blocking in some of the more subtle gradations and slight muddying of some of those softer background images.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a nice upgrade over the old DVDs as well, though less than the video’s improvements. The film’s sound design is less lively than some similar movies, but features plenty of immersive qualities. The underwater scenes are the busiest and most creatively mixed, including lots of multi-channel sloshing and bubbling. So much of the film takes place in the forest along the lake that lapping waves, chirping birds, and buzzing bugs set the stereo and surround speakers alight beneath the well-centered dialogue. Other highlights include helicopter escapes and a couple of gun-heavy sequences. John Ottman’s score is brassy and fun, even if it’s a little goofy when called upon for cutesy romantic undertones. My only complaint is that the musical cues and creature noises are a bit too loud and some of the dialogue is often a smidge too quiet (especially when characters are mumbling improvised lines).
- The Making of Lake Placid (31:20, HD) – An all-new series of interviews with director Steve Miner, actor Bill Pullman, director of photography Daryn Okada, editor Marshall Harvey, production designer John Willett, effects supervisor Nick Marra and puppeteer Toby Lindala.
- Theatrical trailer
- Vintage behind-the-scenes featurette (5:40, SD) – Featuring interviews with actors Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt, Brendon Gleason, Bette White, and Miner
- Behind-the-scenes still gallery
- Animatronic croc test footage (New, 1:30, SD)
- TV spots
Grain contaminated with steroids produce large black rats that begin feeding on the citizens of Toronto. A college basketball coach (Sam Groom) teams up with a local health inspector (Sara Botsford) to uncover the source of the mysterious giant rats. When they discover that the rats are living in the subway, they try to prevent a new subway line from opening before all hell breaks loose underground. This is man’s last desperate, bloody battle to preserve the existence of the human race! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Killer animal and nature-run-amok movies seldom work as straight horror movies. The best of them tend to be character-based dramas where the angry critters are used in thematic ways, like The Birds and Jaws, or satirical slants on the subject, like Joe Dante’s Piranha and Lewis Teague’s Alligator. For whatever reason, it seems to be very difficult to cull genuine, straight-faced horror from the subject, which is weird, because humans have a built-in, easily exploited fear of being eaten. Difficulties are compounded when industrious filmmakers try to make previously unthreatening and small critters frightening by increasing their size. The results are always inadvertent hilarity. But accidental laughs and high-camp concepts aren’t all bad. Movies like Ray Kellogg’s The Killer Shrews, William F. Claxton’s Night of the Lepus, and Bert I. Gordon’s The Food of the Gods prove that ineptly turning cuddly rodents into man-eaters can produce enduring cult classics.
This brings us to Robert Clouse’s oft-forgotten, 1982 giant rat shocker – Deadly Eyes. Loosely based on James Herbert’s popular and controversial pulp novel, The Rats, and co-written by Dexter and The Walking Dead executive producer Charles Eglee, Deadly Eyes is remembered by fans and detractors not for its scares, but its unconvincing creature effects. Minus a Hollywood-sized budget, the filmmakers were forced to improvise their mutant rodents by putting dachshunds in adorable rat suits. It is seriously adorable (the puppets used in close-ups are more convincingly grotesque). More interesting than the unintentional comedy and adorable doggie costumes are the film’s connections to martial arts cinema. Deadly Eyes was produced in Canada by Golden Harvest – the Hong Kong-based company behind a number of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Tsui Hark movies. Clouse was more or less the go-to guy for North American co-produced martial arts movies throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, including Enter the Dragon, The Big Brawl, China O’Brien, and Gymkata (the movie theater in Deadly Eyes is playing Bruce Lee’s Game of Death – a movie Clouse attempted to complete after Lee’s death). His talents extended to an under-seen Rod Taylor vehicle Darker Than Amber and a decent killer dog movie called The Pack. He was an under-valued filmmaker and made quite a bit out of Deadly Eyes, despite the project’s notable limitations. The film scores big points for personable characters (hampered by lame romantic strife), a better than average cast, and a willingness to get really nasty when the rats attack (the first victim is a kitty, the second is a toddler). With a less conventional plot, quirkier subtext, and brisker pacing, it could’ve been a companion piece to Larry Cohen’s ‘70s/’80s genre output.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack marks the first North American digital home video release of Deadly Eyes. There appear to be questionably legal DVD versions available from China, Australia, and the UK as well, but I can’t imagine they’ll compare to this new 1080p, 1.85:1 HD transfer. The only problem I can find here really worth noting is that the contrast/gamma levels may have been cranked a hair too high, blowing out and crushing some of the finer details. Otherwise, this is actually one of the studio’s better transfers. Grain levels are fine and consistent throughout even the darkest sequences. Edges are tight, details are crisp, and complex textures show only minor haloes. Clouse and cinematographer René Verzier depend on a lot of gloomy, desaturated colours to help their mood (the fiery opening titles being an obvious exception), but can’t escape the tacky interiors and fashion senses of the early 1980s. The pea green kitchen paint and lavender sweater/pant combinations are plenty vivid without blooming too much. There are stints with print damage throughout, but all of these are brief and easily ignored.
Besides the hyper-aggressive Fortune Star logo that opens the film, Scream Factory has opted for the original 2.0 mono soundtrack, which is presented here in DTS-HD Master Audio. There are some minor inconsistencies in the volume and clarity of softer dialogue tracks, which I’m guessing has something to do with the application of noise reduction software. Sure enough, you can hear the otherwise muted background noises punch up a bit as characters speak. The best explanation for this (other than the tracks being just too fuzzy) is that the sounds of dog trainers calling orders were audible on the old VHS version. The puppy-rats snarl like lions ( exactly like lions), but accentuating scares are otherwise left to Anthony Guefen’s score, which by-the-numbers melodies and flat sound quality make it sound like a collection of library tunes.
- Deadly Eyes: Dogs in Rats’ Clothing (24:10, HD) – A retrospective featurette with co-writer/co-producer Charles Eglee (who admits he probably didn’t read Herbert and just ripped off John Sayles’ Piranha script, then says his chief job as producer was keeping Scatman Crothers’ weed supply flowing), bemused special effects artist Alan Apone (who went on to bigger, not always better things), and production designer Ninkey Dalton (who ended up marrying Eglee after meeting him on set). It includes super-cute pictures of the dogs getting their costumes put on.
- Interview with actress Lisa Langlois (18:50, HD)
- Interview with actress Lesleh Donaldson (13:50, HD)
- Interview with actor Joseph Kelly (13:20, HD)
- Interview with special effects artist Alec Gillis (14:10, HD)
- TV spot
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray 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.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 1st July 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English (Lake Placid), DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English Mono
Extras: Director Commentary (The Final Terror), Post Terror: Finishing The Final Terror, The First Terror, The Making of Lake Placid, Animatronic Croc Test Footage, Deadly Eyes: Dogs in Rats’ Clothing, Actor Interviews (Deadly Eyes), Image Galleries, Trailers, TV Spots, DVD Copies (The Final Terror, Deadly Eyes)
Easter Egg: No
Director: Andrew Davis, Steve Miner, Robert Clouse
Cast: Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah, Adrian Zmed, John Friedrich, Mark Metcalf, Joe Pantoliano, Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson, Betty White, Meredith Salenger, Mariska Hargitay, Sam Groom, Scatman Crothers, Sara Botsford
Genre: Comedy, Horror and Thriller
Length: 251 minutes
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