Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) continues to rank among a handful of truly scary horror movies. That the film’s narrative mixes both the light and the fantastic is perhaps no great surprise given that Steven Spielberg was its’ executive producer and co-writer. Yet, it is Hooper’s involvement on the project, coming as it did a scant eight years after his foray into tasteless gore with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) that helps to keep Spielberg’s usually light touch with SFX whimsy well-grounded in a dark realm of truly palpable chills.
Behind the scenes, the shoot was as arduous and traumatic as anything seen on the screen. Production memos report that actor Oliver Robins was nearly strangled by his toy clown when the release apparatus suffered a malfunction and instead continued to tighten. While horror aficionados have ascribed a ‘damned’ quality to the making of the film – primarily because two of its youngest cast members, Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne suffered gruesome deaths shortly after wrapping – the film itself emerged relatively unscathed from this macabre backstage intrigue, becoming an instant – and now enduring - blockbuster.
Craig T. Nelson and Jo Beth Williams are cast as married couple, Steve and Diane Freeling. He’s a successful architect. She’s a hip housewife with plenty of time to discover the growing mélange of oddities creeping into their new home nightly. At first it’s just a bunch of chairs regrouping themselves in the kitchen or some kinetic energy that causes objects to slide across the floor. However, before long, the Freeling’s youngest child, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) is hearing strange voices coming from the static off the T.V. As the supernatural signs become more ominous in tone, and eventually life-threatening, the Freelings contract a paranormal psychologist, Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) and her psychic compatriot, Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) to unravel the secrets of their spirit-possessed abode.
Unbeknownst to Steve, his most recent and successful housing development project has been built on lands of an ancient Indian burial ground. Rather than relocate the bodies, the developer, Mr. Teague (James Karen) has simply removed the headstones and bulldozed the corpses to make way for this new subdivision. Tragically, for all the living concerned, Teague’s frugality doesn’t necessarily mean that the dead will remain buried for very long.
The film is a potpourri for special effects, with matte paintings, full scale models and puppetry, claymation, pyrotechnics, mood lighting and good old fashioned sound effects providing most of the earthly bound scares. In fact, they were Oscar nominated and continue to hold up remarkably well under today’s digital scrutiny. It’s a pity Hooper and Spielberg did not collaborate on future projects in this same vein of genius, since Poltergeist is a fright-fest with much to admire.
Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray reissue exhibits a 1080p anamorphic image so sharp and smooth with solid colors, deep saturated blacks and a considerable amount of fine detail evident throughout that you'll practically feel the unearthly ghosts haunting your living room. All of the shortcomings of the DVD have been eradicated for a stunning new visual presentation that will surely not disappoint! The 5.1 audio mix is a tad dated but continues to hold its own and is considerably aggressive during action sequences.
Given that Hooper and Spielberg did not get on, there is no audio commentary or ‘making of’ featurette to mark the occasion of the film’s 25th anniversary. Instead, there is a scant featurette on real life hauntings and some junket materials, but curiously enough, no theatrical trailer. Bottom line: for transfer quality this Blu-ray comes highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Billed as a masterpiece of modern horror, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) was an ill-received offering at the time of its general release that garnered much disdain from author Stephen King along the way. True, Kubrick’s vision of King’s writing departs in many ways from the author’s original intent. In fact, Kubrick practically re-conceives the novel from the ground up – keeping only the most superficial details and fleshing out the tale immensely with dark cinematic touches. But who could blame Kubrick for improving so maliciously upon an already brilliant psycho-drama when what emerged from his exculpatory address was ever nearer to cinematic perfection?
The screenplay by Diane Johnson and Kubrick begins in earnest with The Torrance family’s arrival to the palatial appointed retreat, The Overlook Hotel. Husband Jack (Jack Nicholson) has been hired on to manage daily custodial duties and maintain the property during the long winter months when the hotel is closed to the general public. He also hopes that the quiet solitude will afford him the opportunity to work on a novel.
Together with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), Jack settles into his daily routine. The family’s only occasional visitor is Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), a jovial supervisor who initially senses a strange supernatural ability in Danny to channel psychic energies that can communicate with the dead. Soon however, Danny’s ‘abilities’ begin to cast a reign of terror on the entire household. He sees visions of slaughtered children, dead guests rising from their watery bathtub graves and envisions buckets of blood spilling forth from the gaping elevator doors.
Traumatized by Danny’s nightmares but unable to help, Wendy’s concerns shift to Jack after she begins to sense a growing psychosis in her husband. What she initially perceives as his ‘stir craziness’ eventually blossoms into unobstructed madness. What none of the family is aware of yet is that their scenario is nothing new to the history of the Overlook. Decades before, the hotel’s janitor ran amuck with his own wife and children, murdering them and then killing himself in a fit of uncontrollable rage.
Chronic rewrites and re-shooting throughout the schedule necessitated the removal of the film’s original ending in which Wendy is seen lying on a hospital bed while being told that Jack’s frozen body could not be located anywhere on the Overlook’s property.
At 146 minutes, The Shining is one of the longest horror movies ever made – but the public did not initially take to it as either director or studio hoped. Cut and re-cut, the version the public eventually saw made back its initial investment, though its reputation as a cinematic masterwork would take a few more years to take hold. Eventually, the film was re-cut for tighter continuity.
Yet today, Kubrick’s pacing is so quiet, unassuming and easily sustainable that it sneaks up with uncharacteristic dread before bursting forth into the more gory details. An interesting aside: although the Timberline Lodge was used as actual exteriors of the hotel, virtually all of the rest of the film was shot on imposing soundstages built at Elstree Studios in London England.
Kubrick went way over time and over budget on The Shining - nearly 14 months of shooting that strained the patience of his backers. But like most of Kubrick's masterworks, the suffrage was worth it in the final analysis. The Shining is a superior work of fright from start to finish. If you haven't seen it - you should. If you don't own it - you must.
Especially on Warner Home Video’s reissued Blu-ray that recreates the widescreen aspect ratio North American audiences originally saw during the film’s theatrical release. When Warner took to restore the film in 2001 they released a ‘full frame’ version on DVD that infuriated most who purchased the title, even though Kubrick insisted that his intension was to frame the action in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio. This is how The Shining was screened for British audiences and, in fact, the rest of the foreign market. In North America, however, the ratio was always 1:75:1.
And that's exactly how the film appears on Warner's stunning Blu-ray release. Colours are bold. Fine detail in this tru-1080p transfer will confound and astound. Truly, this is an exceptional, reference quality presentation with absolutely nothing to complain about.
The audio is a 5.1 DTS remix and quite aggressive. Extras include several documentaries on Kubrick and the making of the film and a thorough audio commentary that leaves no stone unturned. Highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)