This week in horror, we’ve got good news and bad news. Here’s the bad news first: The Haunting in Connecticut, a much ballyhooed flick “based on a true story,” didn’t really happen. The good news? You can find much fresher scares in a newly released Spanish import (2007’s REC, which was remade into last year’s Quarantine). Also new to shelves is a long-awaited comedy show (The State: The Complete Series), HBO’s fabulous, fictionalized Grey Gardens (starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange), Mark Webber’s directorial debut (Explicit Ills), and a Sienna Miller-Keira Knightley love triangle (The Edge of Love). And to top it off, a direct-to-DVD bonanza (National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: Freshman Year, the Dennis Quaid vehicle Horsemen, and more)!
Who among us believes the phrase, “based on a true story,” anymore? The minds behind this clichéd horror tale seem to, since they emphasize the heck out of the idea that a family (Martin Donovan and Virginia Madsen as the parents of a cancer-stricken teen) in 1980s Connecticut actually encountered ghosts and lived to tell about it. Critics slammed this paranormal tale for its easy scares, derivative nature (Amityville Horror, anyone?), and general inconsistencies; then again, if jump scares, creepy hallucinations, and a box of human eyelids are the sort of terrors you like to see in a horror flick, then perhaps this is the type of horror flick you deserve. Audio commentaries, making-of features, and a look at the “real life” case that inspired the film are included on the DVD.
Next: Spanish scares in the critically acclaimed REC
If clichéd hauntings can’t quite satisfy your hunger for horror, here’s a better option. REC, a 2007 Spanish horror film (remade as 2008’s Quarantine), follows a horrifying outbreak one night in Barcelona, as captured on film by a television reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her camera man. As the camera rolls, an entire apartment building full of residents and emergency crews fall victim to a mysterious infection that turns all who are bitten into bloodthirsty savages, leaving survivors scrambling for a way out. Inventive film techniques helped make REC‘s familiar horror tricks fresh, resulting in a riveting, first-person faux documentary-style experience in the vein of The Blair Witch Project. A making-of feature accompanies the film, which was not previously released stateside.
Next: The State comes to DVD!
When it comes to sketch comedy, everyone has their favorites. One of ours here at the RT offices was MTV’s The State, the early ’90s sketch show that gave us such memorable one-liners as “I’m outta heeeerrre.” Various members of The State would go on to create such beloved comedy properties as Reno 911! (Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant, and Keri Kenney), Stella (Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain), and films like Wet Hot American Summer; watch them way back when in this five disc collection that includes cast commentaries, unaired sketches, interviews, and more.
Next: Drew Barrymore is Little Edie in Grey Gardens
Based on the celebrated 1975 documentary of the same name, Grey Gardens tells a fictionalized version of the lives of “Big Edie” (mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale) and “Little Edie” (daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale), the mother-daughter spinster pair who served as fascinating subjects for documentarians Albert and Davis Maysles. Famously related to Jacqueline Onassis, the Beales lived in squalor in a formerly glorious Hampton mansion, musing back to their younger lives as East Coast debutantes for the Maysles’ camera. HBO Films’ Grey Gardens intertwines the pair’s lives circa 1975, recreating parts of the documentary, with flashbacks to Little Edie’s youth and the Beales’ once-flourishing social life. Watch for critically lauded performances by Jessica Lange (as Big Edie) and Drew Barrymore (as Little Edie); a commentary, featurette, and interviews are also included.
Next: Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller fight over Dylan Thomas in The Edge of Love
World War II is the backdrop for this character drama, based loosely on the life and loves of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) who reconnects with childhood love, Vera (Keira Knightley) in war torn London. Complicating things are Dylan’s wife, Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and then, Vera’s newly shipped-out soldier husband (Cillian Murphy); longing, jealousy, and friendship clash as the threesome play out relationship dramas against director John Maybury’s lush, gorgeous scenes. Alas, beauty isn’t quite enough to save the film from critics, who cite a muddled script and apathy for the characters involved among The Edge of Love‘s disappointments.
Next: A Kristin Cavallari direct-to-DVD twofer!
Another week, another direct-to-DVD flick starring Kristin Cavallari of Laguna Beach fame. The former Lauren Conrad foil continues building her acting resume with this week’s Van Wilder prequel, Van Wilder: Freshman Year, in which a young Van (Jonathan Bennett) desperately tries to land the school hottie at his conservative new college…a school hottie played by Cavallari, natch!
Watch an exclusive DVD clip below:
But wait, there’s more! Cavallari’s been super busy, and appears this week in the direct-to-DVD beach volleyball flick, Beach Kings, about a 30-year-old former athlete (played by the 37-year-old Baywatch hunk, David Charvet) who reclaims his manhood…via beach volleyball!
Next: Dennis Quaid and Zhang Ziyi in Horsemen
We’re willing to wager that former metal drummer-turned-prolific music video director Jonas Akerlund is not going to be best-remembered for this clunky horror-thriller, which goes direct-to-DVD this week. Dennis Quaid stars as a forensic dental expert — what a specialty! — who discovers that a serial killer may be molding his kills on the Biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. So why is Zhang Ziyi (in stilted English) co-starring as the adopted daughter of a murder victim? And how did Akerlund manage to nab every working indie film actor in the business to fill supporting roles (Lou Taylor Pucci, Eric Balfour, Patrick Fugit, Peter Stormare, Clifton Collins, Jr.)? Perhaps you’ll find the answers within, littered alongside gruesome tortures and plot holes…
Next: Actor Mark Webber makes his directorial debut!
Actor Mark Webber (Bomb the System, Good Dick) makes his directorial debut with this indie drama, about disparate strangers living in the same working class Philadelphia neighborhood. A Philly native himself, Webber (who also wrote the script) inserts his viewer into the lives of artists (Frankie Shaw and Lou Taylor Pucci), a struggling mother (Rosario Dawson), a bohemian couple (Naomie Harris and Tariq Trotter of The Roots), an aspiring actor (Paul Dano) and more, before blending the threads together — a familiar genre ploy that split critics between supporting the film’s social message and resenting its heavy-handed delivery.
Next: A Certified Fresh Foreign Oscar nominee remake of 12 Angry Men!
In remaking Sidney Lumet’s film 12 Angry Men, Russian filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov (who won the Academy Award for 1994’s Burnt by the Sun) posits the classic set-up within the current Russian social climate. During the trial of a young Chechen boy on trial for murder, a lone juror is less convinced than his peers; deliberation ensues, revealing prejudices within each jury member, in this overly talky but well-acted drama. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, the Certified Fresh 12 is one of the week’s best reviewed new releases (but comes at a hefty run time of 160 minutes).
Next: Criterion celebrates the lunar landing with For All Mankind
Before the Discovery Channel, and before such excellent recent films as In the Shadow of the Moon, there was Al Reinart’s 1989 documentary, For All Mankind. Forget the fussy, analytical talking heads that pepper modern accounts of America’s history in space; this experiential doc focuses on actual NASA flight footage, cobbled together from interviews and recordings made between 1968 and 1972. Edited together to look like a single mission, For All Mankind actually depicts parts of six different Apollo flights; know this, and approach the film as a time capsule ode to the moon of sorts. Roughly 40 years after the 1969 moon landing, Criterion is reissuing this doc in high definition along with a wealth of supplemental materials that include astronaut interviews, moon-inspired art, a making-of feature, and more.
Until next week, happy renting!