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Featured Blu-ray Review: Lionsgate: Horror Films

September 30th, 2010

Lionsgate: Horror Films - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: 2001 Maniacs, High Tension, and Open Water / Open Water 2: Adrift

With October here, Lionsgate is releasing a group of Blu-rays with a horror theme. There are four movies coming out on three DVDs, which includes a remake, a foreign language film, and a massively profitable thriller and its sequel. These releases are led by, in alphabetical order...

2001 Maniacs

A remake to the 1964 original called Two Thousand Maniacs!, this teenage slasher starts with the introduction of Anderson, Cory, and Nelson, who are three university students and classmates in a history class focusing on the Civil War. They are not studious and their professor, Peter Stormare in a cameo, threatens them with expulsion, unless they turn in new term papers. With this looming over their heads, they immediately head off to Spring Break. Along the way, they meet two beautiful women, Joey and Kat, and their gay best friend, Ricky. They decide to take a shortcut through a place called Pleasant Valley and meet a couple of fellow travelers, Malcolm and Leah. They are welcomed by the mayor of the town, George W. Buckman, who welcomes the outsiders to stay and be the guest of honor at the Gut's 'n Glory Jubilee.

With Freddy Kruger as the mayor, you know this is going to end poorly for their visitors.

2001 Maniacs is a horror / comedy that belongs in the "Low Expectations" genre of films. It offers nothing more than blood and boobs, and if that's what you are in the mood for, it delivers, sort of. It's more gory than scary. The kills are just okay, but nothing special, while some B-movie acting and pacing with the jokes gets in the way of the humor. Robert Englund and Lin Shaye are the only two actors that shine, while the rest of the cast are pretty forgettable and Peter Stormare's role is far too short to make any judgment on.

The Blu-ray

Extras are ported over from the DVD and include the audio commentary track with the writer / director, Tim Sullivan, and the star, Robert Englund. It's a breezy track that doesn't go too in-depth into the film-making process, but does mention a lot of the film's inspirations. There's also a 42-minute making of featurette that is loaded with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, etc. There are 27 deleted / extended scenes with a total running time of 37 minutes, although some of them are behind-the-scenes / outtakes. Finally, there is a 7-minute audition tape.

The video is hampered by the film's low budget and there's plenty of grain, details are soft, colors don't pop like they should. The audio is better than expected with clear dialogue and and solid use of the surround sound speakers. It is a little pricey for shovelware, on the other hand, at $18.

The Verdict

If you are a fan of this genre of horror films, the low-budget / low-expectations cinema, then 2001 Maniacs is worth checking out. However, it doesn't have strong replay value, nor does it really shine on Blu-ray, so I would stick with a rental. And if you are not a fan of this genre, then this film won't change your mind.

High Tension

After a confusing opening in which we seen the aftermath of what is to come, as well as a jump scare and a dream sequence, we are introduced to our two main characters: Marie and Alexa. They are two college students heading to Alex's parents' house to do some studying. Or to be more accurate, to have a rest after partying. Alex's parents live in the south of France in an isolated farmhouse in a small farming village, which spooks Marie. (Alex's little practical joke doesn't help.)

Once they arrive, Alex introduces Marie to her father, her mother, and her young brother. Before heading off to bed. That night there's a knock on the door and Marie's father answers it only to be attacked.

And that's all the plot I can give, because from then on the film is brutal serial killer / torture porn. When this movie came out in 2005, there was a huge amount of advance buzz, mainly over the graphic nature of the killings, and I have to say the film lived up to that reputation. However, this film also builds tension extremely well and it is equal parts survival horror and torture porn. On the down side, the surprise twist was telegraphed pretty early on, as in before the killings started, while the plot doesn't hold up even under the simplest scrutiny. (I guess one could argue that since most of the film is from Marie's point of view, this film is an example of a "unreliable narrator". The plot holes exist, because the person telling the story isn't able to discern reality from delusion.)

If you are a fan of the genre, then this is a very good film and should have high enough replay value for you to warrant purchasing. On the other hand, it is not for the squeamish.

The Blu-ray

Extras on the Blu-ray include an audio commentary track with writer / director Alexandre Aja and his co-writer Grégory Levasseur, neither of which are native English speakers and they both have accents, but it is not an issue. There is also an audio commentary track on select scenes, this time with the director, Aja, and the star, Cécile de France. There are only five scenes you can choose from, but the total running time is 46 minutes, or roughly half the movie. Next up is a 24-minute making of featurette, which is the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. Building Tension is an 8-minute interview featurette on how they created the tension in the movie. Next up is an 8-minute featurette on the special effects.

The video presentation is strong, especially given it cost just $4 million to make. Details are sharp, colors are strong. A lot of the scenes are very dark, which makes it hard to shine, and there are some grain in other scenes, but for stylistic reasons. The audio is even better with excellent use of surround sound speakers and the bass gets a workout as well.

On a side note, there have been some complaints about "Dubtitles". That is to say, the subtitles are for the English version of the movie and don't match the French dialogue perfectly. I can neither confirm nor deny this accusation, as despite taking seven years of high school French, all I can say in that language is, "Mon dieu! Il y a une hache dans ma tete." And while that would have been almost appropriate for the movie, no one actually says it.

The Verdict

High Tension is not for everyone, but fans of the genre should be pleased with this film. Those with a weak stomach should stay far, far away.

Open Water / Open Water 2: Adrift

The final Blu-ray has two movies on a single disc: Open Water and Open Water 2: Adrift.

Open Water starts with a couple, Susan and Dan, getting ready to leave on a much needed vacation. They both have stressful jobs that don't allow enough together time, which is what they hope to get on this vacation to the tropical paradise of the Bahamas. But instead of lying by the pool and drinking Mai Tais by the bucketful, they decide it's a good idea to go scuba diving as part of a tour group. At first they have a great time under the water, but when the tour boat captain gets ready to leave, there's an error in the head count and the boat takes off while they are still underwater. When they finally do surface, they see a boat off in the distance and realize they've been left behind. They are obviously not pleased with the situation, but figure it won't be long before before the crew of the tour boat realize they've left two of their passengers behind and will be coming back for them. But then the hours stretch on and the dire nature of their situation starts to become more and more apparent.

It's a very simply setup and the terror comes not from blood and gore, or even the sharks that swim around them, but from watching two people slowly lose all hope and the psychological drain that has on them. It's a high concept for a film and either you get on board, or you don't. Even if you do get on board, there are more than a few issues that creep up and keep the film from reaching its full potential. For instance, there are pacing issues. Even at just under 80 minutes long, there are stretches of this movie that go on too long and the limited aesthetic look of the film compounds this problem. Paradoxically, not enough time is spend getting to know these characters making it hard to be emotionally involved with their plight. When the situation becomes too much and they inevitably turn on each other, it doesn't carry the same weight.

That said, there's something visceral about the situation and the tension does become unbearable at times, but in a good horror movie kind of way. Also, I like how sharks are portrayed in a realistic manner. Too many Shark Attack movies treat sharks as if they are soulless killing machines, when it fact you are more likely to die from eating shark than from being eaten by a shark. That said, I'm of the opinion that the negatives outweigh the positives.

Open Water 2: Adrift

It's hard to call this film a true sequel, as there's not a lot of connection between the two films. It's not like it's the continue adventures of Susan and Dan. This time around we follow the ocean going adventures of a group of six friends on the yacht who plan to spend the day sailing, and swimming, in the ocean to celebrate one of their birthdays. Included are Amy and James and their new baby, Sarah. There's Zach, the birthday boy, who arrived with Lauren. The boat belongs to Dan, who is found on board with his new girlfriend, Michelle.

The friends are obviously happy to see each other, but there are also more than a few issues. For instance, Zach is interested in Lauren, while Lauren doesn't exactly return his feelings. Dan's way of introducing Michelle to the rest of his friends is a little unusual, while he's got a secret. Finally there's Amy, who has an acute fear of water. (It's so bad that she puts on a life-jacket as soon as she gets to the dock. The day starts out great, till they decide to go swimming and very enthusiastically jump into the water. Everyone but Amy and James that is. Amy is too scared to go in, so as a way to help her overcome her fears, he grabs her and jumps in the water.

Too bad no one thought to lower the ladder before jumping in and soon they realize they can't back on the boat. Realization turns into horror, which turns into panic, which cause the friends to turn on each other.

It's very much like the first film, but weaker for a number of reasons. Firstly, the novelty is gone; it's too similar to the original. Secondly, the characters are less appealing. In the first movie, we didn't get to know them enough to be emotionally involved. Here, too many of the characters were actively annoying. Also, they caused their own situation, where in the first movie, the two people were the victim of someone else's mistake. Not only did they cause the problem, they kept making it worse, and this made it all the more difficult to sympathize with them. And don't get me started on that ending.

On the other hand, it does have higher production values

The Blu-ray

There are plenty of extras on the Blu-ray, but almost all of them are for Open Water. There are two audio commentary tracks, the first with the two cast members and the second with the director and the producer. Up next are nine minutes of deleted scenes. There's a five-minute featurette on what Lionsgate looks for in a film. There's a 16-minute making of featurette and finally two-and-a-half minutes of behind-the-scenes footage.

The only extra associated with Open Water 2 is a twenty-minute making of featurette.

As for the technical spec, there are some issues. Firstly, Open Water was shot with a digital camera, nearly a decade ago. This was before High Definition digital cameras were available, so this film has a Standard Definition digital source. There is simply no way to create a truly high definition transfer from this source. What we do have is no better than upconverting a DVD. On the other hand, the sound is much better with good use of surround sound speakers for ambiance and directional effects.

Open Water 2 looks and sounds much better than the first movie, but the video is still substandard. On the other hand, the sound is clearly the best out of any of the four films in this review.

The Verdict

Open Water / Open Water 2: Adrift Blu-ray is two movies for the price of one, and it is hard to beat that deal. If you liked the first film enough to want to buy it, you will probably like the second one enough to watch it. On the other hand, if you think the first film was only worth a rental, the second film is more of the same. Neither shine in High Definition, so I can't recommend upgrading.

The Final Verdict

Of the three Blu-rays featured here, I would recommend High Tension the most and the Blu-ray is worth picking up, as long as you have a high tolerance for violence in movies. The Blu-ray double-shot of Open Water / Open Water 2: Adrift is worth picking up for fans of the first movie, but I am not among that group. Finally, the 2001 Maniacs Blu-ray, is worth a rental, but only if you are a fan of "Low Expectations" / "Blood & Boobs" cinema.

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