All posts by Sheldon Wiebe

SCI-FI’STHE DRESDEN FILES – SLATED FOR JANUARY ’07 PREMIERE – BEGINS PRODUCTION

The Dresden Files - Volume 9The Sci Fi Channel announced today that production has begun on its new series, The Dresden Files. Joining Paul Blackthorne [24], as Harry Dresden – the only wizard in the Chicago Yellow Pages, is Terrance Mann [best known for the Critters movies, and Inspector Javert in the Broadway production of Les Miserables], as Dresden's supernatural advisor/mentor, computer substitute, and resident air spirit, Bob…

HARRY DRESDEN – WIZARD

Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.

Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.

No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other

Entertainment

 

In January, 2007, The Sci Fi Channel will be welcoming you to the world of Harry Dresden, wizard, detective and special advisor to the Chicago Police Department. The Dresden Files, which has just began shooting, is based on the novels of Jim Butcher and is set in a world where dark forces are not limited to The Mob.

Though the world-at-large refuses to believe in magic, or any form of the supernatural, Harry Dresden is an honest-to-God wizard – though he takes pains to establish that he does not do love potions or parties. Frankly, he's too busy trying to avoid his Faery godmother while trying not to antagonize The White Council, or several different species of vampires.

His cases involve politics, vampires, werewolves and demons as often as not, and he is frequently asked to advise Lt. Murphy [head of the department that deals with oddities] on cases that make no normal kind of sense. He lives in a basement apartment in a rundown old house – but it does have a sub-basement where he's set up his laboratory – an apartment that has been adopted by a large, grumpy feline Dresden has dubbed Mister.

 

Paul Blackthorne

 

Because of the manner in which he became a wizard, there are those on The White Council who doubt his position vis-

“JERICHO” Goes The Split Season Route!

Jericho - classic shotCBS to Create Online Destination for "Jericho" During Its 10-Week Intermission with Original Content, Interactive Elements, Recaps and Preview Clips of Upcoming Episodes

According to a CBS press release issued this afternoon their first-season drama, Jericho – a surprise hit about the aftermath of a nuclear explosion in a small, peaceful Kansas town – will be air without repeats for the remainder of the 2006-2007 season.

CBS announced today that it has devised a scheduling pattern to broadcast Jericho in two distinct seasons – following the pattern established by cable hits like Battlestar Galactica and Closer, and recently adopted by ABC's Lost. Jericho will wind up its "fall season" with a cliffhanger finale on Wednesday, Nov. 29 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) and return in February with a run of original episodes to close out the season..

The series will return on February 14th with a recap special looking back at the first 11 episodes, followed by a new episode on the 21st. That episode will give the show's audience a look at life in pre-holocaust Jericho the day before the nuclear bombs exploded.

In order to maintain audience interest and participation – and update potential new viewers, CBS is creating an online destination [website] for Jericho during the show's ten-week hiatus. This site will provide new content, interactive elements, recaps and sneak previews of what to expect when the series returns in February.

CBS will also continue to stream all episodes of Jericho broadcast to date on its broadband channel innertube – the series is currently the Network's most-streamed program.

The Harry Smith Project: Who Is Harry Smith – And Why Does He Deserve A Project Anyway?

The Harry Smith ProjectHave you ever heard a song that seemed to move from the ether – through the performer – and directly into your soul? A song that said exactly what you were feeling – at the very moment you were feeling it? The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited is a collection of songs that will do that to you – performed by artists who have done that to you many times before…

In 1952, Harry Smith tried to sell Folkways Records some old 78s because he needed the cash. At the behest of Moses Asch, founder of Folkway, he was persuaded to put together an anthology for the label – and he not only put together an anthology, he researched it and provided discographies and biographical material, as well as succinct blurbs for each song. He arranged the songs according to themes and the result was three two-LP sets consisting of eighty-four songs.

At the 1991 Grammys, after the reissue of the set, Smith received the Chairman's Merit Award for lifetime achievement, for his contributions to music. His response? "I'm glad to say that my dreams came true. I saw America changed through music." His anthology had not only kept alive music by many great artists of the late twenties and early thirties, it served as a source of inspiration for many of the artists that have touched our lives right up to the present.

The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited is an odd duck – not unlike Smith, himself. It began with a London concert built around songs from the anthology and grew to encompass four North American concerts – two in New York City, two in Los Angeles – in which a wildly diverse group of artists not only performed songs from the anthology, but in many cases, songs that were given them to learn in a very short time.

The result was five concerts that ran from five-and-a-half to six hours in length. Concerts that brought new [and often troubling] arrangements to many of the songs, but all within the spirit of Harry smith whose fondest hope was that these songs would reach "…people who would want to sing them and improve the version."

Harry Smith

When you hear free jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd and Sonic Youth deconstruct Dry Bones, or ultimate pop artist Todd Rundgren harmonize with Robin Holcomb on The House Carpenter, you know you're hearing something unique. When glam-punk-lounge lizard David Johansen dives into Old Dog Blue, or Beck wails Robert Johnson's great Last Fair Deal Gone Down [with Smokey Hormel providing exquisite slide guitar – or Lou Reed's searing, mesmerizing See That My Grave Is Kept Clean – it becomes clear that all of these artists have been inspired by the music that Smith collected into his Anthology of American Folk Music.

Contributors to the concerts include legendary artists like Richard Thompson, Bill Frisell, The McGarrigle Sisters, Nick Cave, Marianne Faithful, Lou Reed, and Geoff Muldaur – and soon to be legends like Beck, Beth Orton, Joel Zifkin, and Eric Mingus [son of the late jazz great, Charlie Mingus]. Each brings something special to the concert and each is] at the top of their form.

The two-CD, two-DVD set that comprises The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music is a collection of highlights from the five Smith-based concerts and will amaze, amuse, bemuse and antagonize. As Hall Willner [who provided the concept that blossomed in the concerts] noted, "You will love some of it; you will hate some of it – but you will be a different person when you've heard it all."

There are thirty-two of Smith's selections performed on the two CDs; the concert DVD contains 23 performances. The second DVD is a documentary that both follows the creation of the concerts and delves into the life of Harry Smith. Both DVDs feature at least one of his groundbreaking experimental films – films that leave top animators from every generation in awe – and the documentary DVD features two more as a special feature [HS Films]. There is also a forty-page booklet that sheds more light on Smith as well as the genesis of these concerts – and features song lists for the CDs and concert DVD, as well as photos of Harry Smith and a recreation of the poster for the Los Angeles Concerts.

It may well be an understatement to say that this is an important package. It is definitely an understatement to call The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music a masterpiece. Even more importantly, this is a collection of performances that will reach you where you live. And, yes, you will love some of it; you will hate some of it. You may or may not be a different person after you've gone through the complete set, but I'm betting you will feel things you've never felt before.

Grade: A+

From The Big Apple to The Big Easy: The Concert For New Orleans

From The Big Apple to The Big Easy - Box ArtConcert DVDs are a dime a dozen – everybody and their dogs have one. Occasionally, though, you stumble across a concert DVD that makes you think, "Oh, man! I wish I had been there!" From The Big Apple to The Big Easy: The Concert For New Orleans is one of those rare DVDs…

There is something special about New Orleans funk. It's got a slightly more rolling, rollicking beat – neither a reggae lope, nor a Motown chop. It speaks to the soul from a different plane – not just "let the good times roll," but also "mourn the loss of life, but celebrate the living." From The Big Apple to The Big Easy was recorded at a concert given on September 20, 2005, by some of the biggest names in the music industry – from New Orleans and around the world – to benefit the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Many of the New Orleans artists had just lost everything they owned in the floods [a club belonging to the grandmother of New Orleans soul, Irma Thomas, was underwater at the time of the concert!].

From Dirge/Celebrate, the opening number [by the ReBirth Brass Band] to When The Saints Go Marching In [the finale, begun by the ReBirth Brass Band and The Dirty Dozen Band, but eventually including all the evening's performers], From The Big Apple to The Big Easy is a rollicking good time. Legends like Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas share the stage with such as Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel, and Cyndi Lauper.

The music is as down home funky as you could ever want. Toussaint's Southern Nights, Thomas' Time Is On My Side, Kermit Ruffins' astounding St. James Infirmary – all are brilliantly done and have the audience dancing up a [you should pardon the expression] storm. When Art Garfunkel says, of Bridge Over Troubled Water, "We've sung this song many, many times – but I've never believed it as much as I do here, tonight," you believe him [and when Aaron Neville joins in for a verse, the goosepimple quotient rises a hundredfold].

From The Big Easy to The Big Apple: The Dixie Cups

Considering that the concert was pulled together faster than FEMA could come up with excuses, From The Big Apple to The Big Easy is a prodigious event. Over sixty artists took part; the concert was taped/shot, rights deals were worked out to allow 100% of the DVD's proceeds to benefit Victims of Hurricane Katrina [for more details, go

USA’s Newest Character Is Underfunded!

Underfunded - Daryl Freehorn [Mather Zockel]Daryl Freehorn is the best that the Canadian Secret Service [yes, they have one, too!] has to offer. Pity his agency is a shoestring operation. Underfunded [USA, Wed, 10/9 Central] introduces the resourceful Freehorn as he attempts to save the world – by preventing World War III!

Underfunded opens with what could be the conclusion of a cliffhanger – Canadian Secret Service Agent, Daryl Freehorn [Mather Zickel] saving the day [and a pulchritudinous young thing from certain death] and escaping with help from a U.S. helicopter. We know Freehorn is no James Bond, though – when he comes on to the young thing and she's not only married, but faithful to her husband.

Freehorn returns to base – hidden behind a dry cleaners, he reports to an office that would fit in the closet at U.N.C.L.E., OR Bond's MI-5. There we meet Naomi Lutz [Joanna Canton, who will remind of the younger Nicole de Boer], the boss' secretary [who has an overwhelming ambition to become a field agent. Owen Barnaby [Brian Howe] is the boss – a "hale, well met" kinda guy until the matter of money comes up.

When Freehorn's next assignment finds him, once again, trying to save the world – while CIA Agent Matt Sykes [Ryan McPartlin] takes the credit – Barnaby calls him in the middle of an urgent meeting to rake him over the calls for a difference of a few cents on his expense account! The assignment – find out who's behind a series of assassinations – would be a by-the-book espionage tale if it weren't for the wry humor that's built on the penny-pinching of the CSS.

Underfunded - Naomi Lutz [Joanna Canton]

We begin with an assassination that gets our hero involved; move to the beautiful woman [Monica Schnarre – a supermodel turned actress, who will never be as good as Tricia Helfer] whose husband is an influential senator; the agency mole who turns out to be fairly easy for Freehorn to spot; dance various shootings, explosions and chases, and, finally, come to the twist ending.

Zickel is suave enough to pull off the frustrated Freehorn – who has one other major problem: his father was the legendary CIA Agent, Jake Freehorn, who saved the world [single-handed] many, many, many times. So, not only does he operate on a shoestring, but Freehorn also has an inferiority complex. No wonder he's always on the verge of quitting!

Fortunately, he also has Naomi. In her zeal to become a field agent, she has mastered a number of disciplines, including: tracking, planning and tai kwon do. Unfortunately, the combination of ambition and a blind devotion to [and major league crush on] Freehorn frequently get in her way.

Underfunded is entertaining enough, but I have to say that I enjoyed it more when it was an eighties syndicated Canadian series called Adderly. From the penny-pinching boss, to the field-agent-wannabe secretary, to rarely getting credit for his achievements, Freehorn could be Adderly – only not quite as good looking [Matthew Zickel is no Winston Rekert]. If you're not into serialized programming, or game shows, it's still a more than adequate ninety-minutes of sly fun.

Grade: C+

Flushed Away: Not what You’re Expecting!

Flushed Away Poster ArtOne of the best ways to watch an animated movie is in a theater full of kids, at 10:30 in the morning. In those surroundings, Aardman's [creators of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run] Flushed Away comes across as a glorious success.

Roddy [voiced by Hugh Jackman] is a pampered pet, used to the comforts provided by wealthy owners – his cage is practically a castle. When a sewer rat named Sid [Shane Richie] arrives on the scene that all changes – in a doomed attempt to flush Sid away, Roddy finds the tables turned and winds up in a remarkable city in the sewer.

Before long, he finds himself in the middle of old enmities, a surrogate family and high [but damp] adventure – all because he meets Rita [Kate Winslet], a proud, independent scavenger who plies the sewers in her boat, the Jammy Dodger.

Rita, it seems, has a ruby that is wanted by the villainous Toad [Ian McKellen] – who sics his henchrats, Spike [Andy Serkis] and Whitey [Bill Nighy] on them. Alas, the ruby is only a minor deal to The Toad, who has another – far more nefarious – plot afoot. A plot that is inadvertently foiled by Rita when she shuts down Toad's headquarters…

If you're a fan of Wallace & Gromit, or Chicken Run, you will undoubtedly enjoy Flushed Away. The first Aardman feature by someone other than Nick Park – it's directed by Park's colleagues, David Bowers and Sam Fell – may have a few of the bodily function gags hinted at in the title and the trailer, but it is actually far more clever than that.

Flushed Away: Roddy's Unexpected Guest

The opening scenes, with Roddy partying after his owners leave for a long weekend, are given a later reprise that shows both the hollowness of what he thought he was missing, and a stark contrast to what he finds in Ratropolis. The city – a weird composite of London and Venice, Italy – is home to Rita and her family. They're an odd lot [naturally] but very loving, and they take Roddy to their hearts – though he's not so sure about that.

The misunderstanding that finally culminates in Roddy's return home is not the most original thing about the movie, but it's earned and nicely sets up Roddy's eventual epiphany. From that point, Flushed Away shifts into high gear and the film, which has been very to that point, soars.

The first Aardman production to be completely CG, Flushed Away is a triumph of spirit and story over dazzle. Instead of wowing us with meticulously detailed CG effects, Bowers and Fell use the computer to give the Aardman look to a film that would've been much smaller if it had been done in the traditional stop-action manner. The result is a world that is just real enough to be believed in, and yet fanciful enough to delight.

The plot is a fairly straightforward thing that is enlivened by solid characterizations and gags both subtle and gross [not too gross – this is Aardman, after all]. For the cinephile, there are clever homages; for the kids there are one or two bodily function gags and lots of slapstick; for the adults, visual puns and genuine emotional moments. If Flushed Away was to win the Oscar

Slither, Are You Scared? More Hallowe’en Chills!

Slither Box Art

One of the biggest mysteries of the year was how the smart, creepy, funny and scary Slither failed to become a big box office hit. The bigger mystery is this: why was Are You Scared even made?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slther Box Art

Slither

When I first saw Slither, I thought it was refreshing to see an old-fashioned horror-comedy where a room of hardened critics laugh only in the right places! For that matter, it's refreshing to see a horror-comedy where all the laughs are intentional – and where there is more than just a series of jump moments. James Gunn's "Slither" is creepy, scary and hilarious – simultaneously…

In an opening that is an homage to the original "The Blob" [the 1958 creepiest that introduced Steve McQueen to movie stardom], we see a meteor rumble towards the Earth, before cutting to Police Chief Bill Pardy [Nathan Filion] and Constable Wally [Don Thompson] sitting in their squad car behind a sign welcoming us to Wheelsy, North Carolina.

Wally is timing a bird with his radar gun while Pardy appears to be napping. Clearly, Wheelsy is not a thriving metropolis. As Wally laments overestimating the bird's speed, Pardy tries to get back to sleep – as the meteor flashes to ground behind them. We see the meteor, in the forest, as it cracks open…

Between Gunn's intelligent, witty script and a terrifically atmospheric score by Tyler Bates, "Slither" mixes humor, creepiness and some genuine scares to give us one of the best horror movies – comedy or not – in recent years. There's enough gore to satisfy most splatter fans and more than enough terrific dialogue and visual gags to generate laughs.

The best humor comes in weird places – like Grant's explanations for the physical changes he's undergoing. "It's a bee sting," he intones as his wife flinches from his rapidly swelling, and lumpy head. Another character tries to explain his changes Sheriff Pardy with a hopeful, "Poison ivy, maybe?"

Something else that's refreshing about "Slither:" despite the zombification of the townspeople by the monstrous Grant, this is not "Dawn of the Dead." Gunn is not trying to camouflage socio-political commentary here. The movie is all about making people laugh, shiver and jump – and not necessarily in that order.

Besides the opening shout out to "The Blob," there are other homages, as well. My personal favorite is a double-barreled shout out to two movies: a bathtub scene that recalls both David Cronenberg's "Shivers" and the scene that, in turn, homaged – the bathtub scene in Wes Craven's "Deadly Blessing." In Gunn's hands, the scene is both scary and, due to some blatant sexual innuendo, hysterically funny.

Another great thing about the film is that Gunn's script features set-ups that don't pay off in the ways you expect. When Otis Shutmeyer [William MacDonald] heads off to help a posse track down the morphed Grant, he tells his family to stay inside – but the camera cuts to his teen-aged daughter, Kylie [Tania Saulnier], as if to suggest that she will be disobeying him later that evening. The payoff to that set-up is so different that it plays a pivotal role in the story.

Nathan Filion's Sheriff Pardy shares a number of idiomatic traits with "Serenity's" Mal Reynolds, but somehow, Filion spins these traits in such a way that instead of being anything resembling heroic and commanding, Pardy comes off as being clearly inept and completely unprepared for any emergency – let alone this one. It's a bravura performance that also sets off other characters extremely well.

Saulnier's Kylie doesn't enter the story until we're well into it, but instead of being the annoying kid that no one takes seriously, she winds up being pivotal to everyone's survival. The scene that puts her in the know is one of the film's more grotesque moments.

Some of the best pure scare moments come hard on the heels of humor [and vice-versa]. One of the best of these is the fate of Brenda – and the realization that – without her even knowing it – she is being used by Grant in two equally horrifying ways. An ambush, of sorts, is one – the other is much worse.

Banks' Starla does a great job of dealing with the hideous changes to her husband. She seems, at once, smarter and tougher than Pardy – and she's definitely smarter than Grant. She also makes it possible for us to understand why Pardy's been in love with her forever.

Another cool thing about "Slither" is that Gunn has cast a number of genre veterans in small, but key roles. You may not know where you've seen them before, but you will recognize William MacDonald, Ben Cotton and Lorena Gale, for example. Troma studio head Lloyd Kaufman, and Rob Zombie also make cameo appearances.

With a horror movie, naturally effects are key. Gunn has used a mix of CG and practical effects for "Slither." We can see the CG when Grant's arm is "all bendy," for example; and when we see the hordes of evil worm/slug thingies later. Virtually all the rest of the time, Grant and Brenda are in monster make-up – the prosthetics for the movie are very good.

James Gunn is a horror movie fanboy, and here, he's made exactly the kind of movie that he likes to watch himself. In doing so, he's made a movie that the rest of us will enjoy immensely. "Slither" is grand, unpretentious horror-comedy fun. If you're a fan of the genre, then slide on through the slime and viscera, and check out this movie.

Features include: Deleted Scenes; Extended Scenes; Gag Reel; Who Is Bill Pardy? [hilarious featurette]; Visual Effects Step By Step: VFX Progressions; The Slick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither ["Making Of" Featurette]; Bringing Slither's Creatures To Life [FX Featurette]; Slithery Set Tour With Nathan Filion; The Gorehound Grill: Brewin' The Blood [for the DIY home horror fiend – also a parody of Robert Rodriguez's Ten Minute Film School]; The King of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman's Video Diary. [Note that the director's commentary is only available on the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray DVD releases – a really rotten thing to do – and costs features a full letter grade…]

Slither – Grade: B+ Features
Features – Grade: B-

Final Grade: B

 

Are You Scared Box Art

 

Are You Scared?

A group of six young adults [early twenties] awaken to find themselves participants in a reality show called Are You Scared? The show's concept is that applicants reveal their greatest fears in their submission tapes and then are forced to face those fears on the show.

The basic problem with Are You Scared? is that it's not particularly scary. Sure the methods of the characters' deaths are clever [ingenious, even], but the script provides little in the way of character development, so it's very hard to relate to these kids. It doesn't help that actors aren't particularly good, or that the outside plot arc – involving a depressed cop and a pretty FBI profiler – is pretty hackneyed stuff.

Andy Hurst directs with all the subtlety of a blunt instrument, and we've seen all of his shots before. The cast lacks any kind of chemistry – the only positive thing that can be said about them is that they're good looking [though in a fairly generic kind of way…].

The DVD contains no special features – and that's definitely for the best!

Final Grade: D-

 

 

Masters of Horror, Season 2: More Adventurous – More Range, More Gore, More Chills!

Masters of Horror - The Damned ThingOne of the smartest things Showtime has done this season [besides giving us the diabolically delightful Dexter] is committing to airing the second thirteen-episode season of Masters of Horror [Fridays, 10 p.m. ET/PT]. The series, which gives thirteen talented directors a chance to make whatever sixty-minute movie they want, gets off to a gory start – but doesn't forget the suspense and humor that helped make season one so successful…

Mick Garris' Masters of Horror is, literally, a series of movies [season one eps have run theatrically in a number of foreign markets] wherein masters of the horror genre new and old have been given a fixed budget and shooting schedule, but are otherwise free to make the movies they want to make – no other restrictions are given.

Tonight, season two gets under way with one of the goriest of the series to date, Tobe Hooper's [Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist] The Damned Thing. The R.C. Matheson script [he also adapted last season's Dance of the Dead] tries – not entirely successfully – to adapt the almost stealthily sly and subtle Ambrose Bierce short story.

In 1981, young Kevin Reddle sees his father suddenly go berserk and kill his mother before he finds the strength to flee. Before his father can find and kill him, the man is torn apart by an unseen force.

In the present, we find that Reddle [Sean Patrick Flanery] has grown up to be the town sheriff, and is separated from his wife, Deena [Marisa Coughlin] though he tries to be a good father to his own young son. When certain conditions that presaged his father's madness begin to occur again, he is determined to prevent history from repeating itself.

Masters of Horror - The Damned Thing

The Damned Thing begins with gore and gore is sprinkled liberally throughout. It's perhaps too much for a story that originally relied on a steady build of dread, much in the mode of H.P. Lovecraft [and with a very Lovecraftian kind of climax]. Fortunately, between the spurts and gouts of blood and entrails, we get some good performances and Hooper keeps the ep moving along. Unfortunately, the ep lacks the touches of Hooper humor that make most of his movies so distinctive. Still, it gets season two off to a running start.

Masters of Horror - Family

Next week's ep [Nov. 3], Family, features George Wendt in a tale that could be a more intense Twilight Zone episode – which is to say that it's smart, funny, intense and quietly horrific – with an extremely cool twist. The plot revolves around Wendt's rather unsavory hobby, and the arrival of new neighbors – a couple named David [Mark Keesler] and Celia [Meredith Monroe].

To say anything about the plot would be to spoil the fun, but Brent Hanley's script plays directly to director John Landis' [An American Werewolf In London, last season's Deer Woman] strengths: humor and suspense. Wendt is delightfully macabre and both Munroe and Keesler have the kind of All-American presence that reminds of The Donna Reed Show, and the combination enables Landis to have as much fun as his audience.

Masters of Horror

On November 10, the series unveils The V Word – a genuinely unusual vampire tale that's built around the desire of two seventeen-year old boys to see a dead body. When they break into a mortuary to see the dead body of a kid who had bullied them, their prank takes a nasty turn – they encounter a vampire, Mr. Chaney [Michael Ironside].

 

There are three distinct parts to the story: the prank and the encounter with the vampire; the escape and a key dark turn, and a serious that the two must make. Written by series creator Mick Garris, The V Word is directed by Ernest Dickerson [Bones, Demon Knight] with great verve. The ep starts slowly and gradually picks up the pace until the encounter with Mr. Chaney, when things get wild, briefly – then a pause to create a subtly horrifying moment and a mad dash to the conclusion – which dials the pace down again to provide a few moments of quiet drama and humor.

The three eps that ring in season two of Masters of Horror are as different as one can imagine. It seems that the show's no restrictions mandate is leading, once again, to thirteen weeks of fresh, strange and varied excursions into the weird, strange and scary. These three eps manage, between them, a nice balance of old-fashioned suspense, humor and gore in a manner that bodes well for the rest of the season.

The Damned Thing – Grade: B-

Family – Grade: A

The V Word – Grade: B+

Average Grade: B+

TVonDVD: Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up & Jenifer, The Greatest American Hero – The Complete Series, The Addams Family, Vol. One

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up box ArtIt's the time of year when you can expect monsters and superheroes plotting their raids on the candy supplies of the neighborhood. To get into the proper spirit, here are a few Hallowe'en TVonDVD selections to tickle your funny bone, or rip it right off…

Monsters of Horror: Pick Me Up Box Art

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up

The latest release in Anchor Bay Entertainment's series of Masters of Horrors episodes is Pick Me Up – the first Larry Cohen film to be written by someone else [adapted, by David J. Schow, from his own short story]. It's a cat-and-mouse/chess game that features a hitchhiking serial killer [Walker, played by Warren Kole] who kills anyone unfortunate enough to give him a ride, and a serial killer truck driver [wheeler, portrayed by Michael Moriarty] who kills the hitchers he picks up. Complicating matters is a feisty divorcee [Stacia, played by Fairuza Balk] who inadvertently finds herself caught between them.;

While Pick Me Up has its fair share of suspense – and jump moments, for that matter – the episode feels a lot more contrived than most of the series' other eps. That's because the set-up is a little too obvious, and one character too many knows what's going on – and it's the one character who shouldn't… The cast gives terrific performances, and Cohen's direction is as fine as any entry in the series, to date – the problem lies with the script. It simply gives too much away, too soon.

Features include the usual plethora of material: audio commentary with Larry Cohen [unlike most commentaries in the series, so far, this one is just Cohen talking about making the film – there is no interviewer asking questions. I prefer this format]; Death on the Highway – an interview with Larry Cohen; Working With a Master – Larry Cohen – interviews with actors who have worked with Cohen in the past [including Karen Black and David Carradine]; On Set: An Interview With Michael Moriarty; On Set: An Interview With Fairuza Balk; On Set: An Interview With Warren Kole; Script to Screen: Pick Me Up – showing how scenes from the script translate to the finished product; Behind The Scenes: The Making of Pick Me Up; Fantasy Film Fantasy – Mick Garris Interviews Larry Cohen; Trailers; Stills Gallery; Larry Cohen Bio; DVD-ROM Screenplay; DVD-ROM Screensaver; Insert, and Larry Cohen Trading Card.

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up – Grade: C

Features – Grade: A+

Final Grade: B

Greatest American Hero Series Box

The Greatest American Hero – The Complete Series

When The Greatest American Hero debuted in March, 1981, it quickly garnered a rabid audience. The story of special ed teacher, Ralph Hinckley [William Katt] and his unfortunate pairing with by-the-book FBI hardcase, Bill Maxwell [Robert Culp] – planned by aliens, no less – took the superhero concept and planted in a more or less real world. The result was the smartest satire of the superhero comic ever broadcast.

The first season found the more liberal Ralph gifted with a set of superhero longjohns [complete with cape] and paired with ultra-conservative Bill with results that could only be called peculiar, and oddly hilarious. Part of the reason the conceit worked was that, before he could even read it, Ralph lost the suit's instruction book – thus, he had problem's learning to fly; found it hard to control the suit's invisibility function, and so on.

Fortunately, between Ralph and Bill, the two were able to get things together enough to deal with attempted coups, enemy agents and even the odd mundane killer/kidnapper/crook. While Ralph's attempts to figure out how to the use the suit [he learned to fly from a five-year old boy!] provided a certain amount of humor, the confrontations between Bill and Ralph's feminist girlfriend [and later wife] Pam [Connie Sellecca] dealt with the social upheaval that was a large part of the eighties – and Ralph's class of maladjusted high school students could be counted to add complications.

In its second [and only full] season,

Abominable, Monster Night, The Norliss Tapes, Superstition, Voodoo Moon

Abominable Box ArtFor Anchor Bay Entertainment, Hallowe'en is Christmas. The company specializes in horror and suspense – releasing hard to find titles and financing, or co-financing imaginative, low-budget genre titles – and October is their big release month. This year, Anchor Bay brings chills old and new: Abominable – the Rear Window of horror flicks; Monster Night – a horror comedy for kids that won't embarrass their parents [mostly]; The Norliss Tapes – a chilling TV-movie from the man who gave us the original Night Stalker; Superstition – a seldom-seen, sly number from 1982, and Voodoo Moon – the ultimate demon versus a group of talented, but very mortal humans…

Abominable Box Art

Abominable

Preston Rogers [Matt McCoy] is returning home – much against his will – in the company of an obnoxious male nurse named Otis [Christian Tinsley] on orders from his therapist. The wheelchair-bound Rogers is not ready to face his demons – he lost his wife while mountain climbing, and the mountain can be seen from his livingroom window. What Rogers doesn't know is that he will soon have to face a demon of an entirely different sort…

Shortly after they arrive, Otis heads back into town to pick up a few things that they'd forgotten – leaving Rogers on his own. When five beautiful young women drive up and begin carrying stuff into the house next door, Rogers notices – despite his despondency. He also glimpses motion in the woods – which begin barely a stone's throw from the houses.

Long before Otis returns, Rogers is certain that someone – or something – is stalking the inhabitants of the two homes. One of the girls has vanished – leaving her cell phone in the middle of the road. Thus begins a night of terror – as Rogers, stuck in his wheelchair, is almost helpless to do anything…

Abominable is one of the best B-movies I've seen in recent years. Playing off the Rear Window-like situation, writer-director Ryan Schifrin weaves a suspenseful tale with a goodly number of jump moments that are enhanced by the careful building of suspense. The suspense comes from being able to use more than one mood, and to play each mood completely and with fidelity.

The first strike comes out of nowhere, as one of the girls chatters on her cell phone. The mood and the music are lighthearted, and then – she's gone! When three hunters stalk… something… the mood is, again, less than ominous – until the exact right moment…

Schifrin may be a freshman director, but he certainly knows precisely what he wants and how to get it. His use of certain angles shows us Rogers' growing sense of claustrophobia and futility as events escalate; his choice of shots make the girls' arrival and giddy chatter feel as real as gossip in a high school cafeteria. Even his choice of creature is exactly right for achieving the kind of chills – and laughs – the film provides.

It doesn't hurt that Schifrin's father, the great Lalo Schifrin [Mission: Impossible] provides the score – but even without that bit of family help, Abominable is a smart, suspenseful movie that works on all fronts: the characters are interesting enough to engage us; the situations are built to provide jump moments that have an emotional resonance; the comic relief is perfectly timed; the practical effects are far better than the budget should have allowed, and the CG are subtle and beautifully integrated.

Features include: audio commentary by Schifrin, Matt McCoy and Jeffrey Combs; Back to Genre – Making Abominable; deleted and extended scenes; outtakes and bloopers; Shadows – Schifrin's USC student film; Trailers; poster gallery; storyboard gallery, and, as a DVD=ROM feature, the film's screenplay.

Abominable – Grade: A-

Features – Grade: A

Final Grade: A-

Monster Night Box Art

Monster Night

Whilst the parental units are away…

The Ackerman family has just moved into their new home – a large, cheap, allegedly haunted house, and the children have begun school at Zombieski High [team name, The Zombies]. Isaac [Jake Thomas], who is a bit of a geek, finds himself hosting a Hallowe'en party while the aforementioned parental units [Robert Carradine, Vanessa Angel] head off to a faculty party.

Isaac, and his sister Dana [Taylor Dooley], try to balance the party with babysitting their younger brother, Vincent [Joss Saltzman], but things begin to go wrong when it seems tales of the house being haunted may just be true – and Vincent vanishes! How does this tie in the creepily named high school? Long story…

Monster Night is, by no means, a genre masterpiece – but it is entertaining in a lowest-common-denominator, with flashes of sly intelligence, kind of way. The movie combines many of the genre's best clich