Horrors at Home: “The Fog”, “Hatchet III” and more

Horrors at Home is a look at new horror, exploitation and general genre fodder now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Nothing more, nothing less. Without further adieu, let’s get this show on the road.

 

John Carpenter’s The Fog (Shout Factory) was the director’s first film for a major studio, and a is a fine example of the director’s many talents put into good use. The story about a town cursed by a horde of zombie-like ghosts wanting revenge for their deaths may not seem like anything special, but the director manages to make it feel that way thanks to his adapt handling of atmosphere and suspense, with moments of gory violence occasionally sprinkling the screen. It also looks incredible (the new release is a big improvement, with things like the ocean shore and fog drenched locals looking gorgeous), and sports a strong cast (a returning Jamie Lee Curtis, then wife Adrienne Barbeau, Carpenter regular Tom Atkins and even Janet Leigh!) and a memorably haunting score by Carpenter. Absolutely essential.

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Black Sabbath (Kino Lorber) was Mario Bava’s stab at an anthology, and to this day it stands as one of the best. Hosted by Boris Karloff, it tells three tales: “The Telephone” (a Giallo like tale about a girl being stalked by her ex), “A Drop of Water” (A nurse is haunted after stealing a ring from a dead man) and “The Wurdalak” (a family finds themselves at the mercy of a vampire), it’s a masterpiece of Gothic grandeur. Low on blood but high in chills (“Wurdalak” in particular managed to creep me out), it also contains some interesting material (“Drop of Water” contains lesbian undertones) and of course, Karloff is a delight as a host. One of my favorite Bava films, this is a must for fans of old school horror.

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Victor Crowley lives again in Hatchet III (Dark Sky Films), though I can’t help but hope it’s for the last time. Immediately following the events of the prior entry, this features another cast mostly made up of horror convention regulars (Caroline Williams, Zack Galligan, Derek Mears and Sid Haig), but it’s missing much of what fans loved about the prior films. Sure, there’s splatter, but the kills soon start to feel repetitive, and the make up effects are largely lacking compared to the prior entries. Even worse is the humor, which occasionally hits (an amusing cameo and a bit with a rocket launcher) but mostly misses, especially when it tries it’s hand at racial humor (a bit with Haig is really, really bad.) Even the conclusion is lacking, though it does feel like Adam Green (who didn’t direct this time around) and company are finally ready to wrap things up with the series.

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That being said, “Hatchet III” is certainly a better movie than Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (Virgil Films), which plays like “Hatchet” if it were released by someone like Brain Damage Films. The plot is pretty perfunctory (juvenile delinquents are hunted by a large, axe wielding killer), but the whole thing feels lazy. The characters are one note and forgettable, the jokes are often terrible, and worse of all, all of the gore is done via really bad CG that looks like it belongs in a 90’s video game. I know it’s working with a low budget, but director Gary Jones (whose other credits include Mosquito and Spiders) doesn’t show any ambition other than making another slasher movie, and he doesn’t seem to care if it’s good or bad. Being bad is one thing, but being lazy is a far worse crime.

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Under the Bed (Xlrator) takes a novel premise (what if someone really did have a monster under their bed?) and actually manages to do something good with it…up to a point. On one hand, it’s mostly well acted, it manages to not take itself too seriously without constantly winking at the audience, and when it get’s gory, it has some solid kills. On the other hand, the big reveal of the monster is a disappointment (it looks like a bargain basement Toxic Avenger), some of the characters are pretty useless (especially the dad, who seems to exist only to be an asshole) and by the time it reaches it’s third act, director Steven C. Miller seems lost as to what he should do. Still, it makes for a good Redbox rental or Netflix stream. Just don’t expect to fall in love with it.

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Another low budget creature feature that means well but isn’t successful is Nailbiter (Lionsgate), which is the feature length debut from Patrick Rea, who did some solid short films (some of which can be seen in the DVD Heartland Horrors). The films itself has a simple premise: a family hoping to meet their father coming back from the military find themselves stranded by a tornado, but the house they are taking refuge in has some kind of sinister being, or beings living in it. Whilst the creature and gore effects are good considering the low budget, the film is ultimately hampered by terribly written characters, an uneven script, a lame “town with a secret” twist and a bad “wait for the sequel” conclusion. In the end, I can’t help but thing I would have liked it more if it had been a short film.

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Tower of Evil (Scorpion)  at first, doesn’t seem like anything particularly special. A group of dumb teens wind up dead on an island, and an investigate reveals a killer and evil plans. However, it is notable for several reasons: it’s one of the original slasher movies, and much of what occurs (unapologetic nudity and nasty for it’s time kills) predict much of what would occur a decade later. It’s also a fun little exploitation movie too, with plenty of sex and violence to go around, as well as some solid direction from Jim O’Connoly (The Valley of Gwangi), and like several British horror movies from this period (the early 70’s), it’s a nice look at the transition from old school, Hammer horror chills and rougher, bloodier fair. Not a classic, but a good time.

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Finally, there’s Swamp Thing (Shout Factory), which is now available for the first time on Blu-Ray. Directed by Wes Craven (his second major studio movie), this is a fun, campy B-Movie that serves of a reminder of what comic book movies could be like in a time where we didn’t have one being released every few months. Craven directs the whole thing with a brisk pace, the old school man in a suit effects have a nice charm, and the acting is better than what you normally expect from a monster movie of this caliber. Granted, fans of Adrienne Barbeau’s breasts will be disappointed that the version available is the U.S. theatrical cut instead of the International one, but there’s still enough goofy goodness on display that will make viewers forgiving.

Next Time: Mario Bava, Rob Zombie and Jess Franco-oh my!

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