Horror... The Horror...
to Part Two
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1995 (2004) - New Line
Film Rating: D+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
In 1985, a movie that combined the talents of director Tobe
Hooper, "Freddy" Robert Englund, and Stephen King
would have probably kicked my ass all over the schoolyard.
Unfortunately, The Mangler
was made in 1995, not '85, by which time it wasn't such a big
deal anymore. King's Night Shift
collection had already been plundered for such cinematic losers
as Children of the Corn,
Graveyard Shift, and
King's own Maximum Overdrive.
Englund had tried and failed to break free from Freddy in movies
like Phantom of the Opera.
And as for Hooper... he was just entering what has to be the
lowest point ever suffered by any of the once-great horror
filmmakers of the 70s, a period whose nadir was marked by the
unbelievably bad Crocodile.
King's original short story, The Mangler
is a perfectly simple little gross-out tale about a sheet-folder in
an industrial laundry that causes a bunch of accidents. It's nothing
special. Just a clever little piece of literary popcorn for your
brain to chew on while you're riding a bus or, even better, doing
your own laundry. It isn't enough to base a whole movie on, so
Hooper's Mangler puts Englund
in metal leg braces and about 20 pounds of old-age makeup as the
laundry's sinister owner. He doesn't do much more than clank out
onto the walkway every time somebody falls into the Mangler and bark
such folksy curses as "Hell's bells, Adelle!" Ted Levine
is a local cop investigating the accidents. For whatever reason, he
decides to bring along his hippie brother-in-law whose interest in
the occult leads him to suspect that the machine is haunted or
This is all well and good. No matter how dumb it is, there just
isn't enough in the story to make a movie and the screen's gotta be
filled with something. The fatal flaw with The
Mangler is that the main villain is a huge, immovable
piece of machinery. It just sits there and let's face it, there's
only so many ways a person can get sucked into one of these things.
Once you've seen one body mangled, you've seen 'em all. Everything
else in the movie is just filler to get from death to death and it's
none too entertaining. I amused myself for about thirty seconds
trying to decide whether or not the European, shaggy-haired
brother-in-law character was intentionally modeled after comic book
writer Alan Moore, then decided I didn't care either way.
New Line's DVD of The Mangler
looks and sounds OK. The only real extra is a comparison between the
theatrical and unrated versions of the film, with the R-rated
sequence on the top of the screen and the gorier stuff playing
simultaneously on the bottom.
In its defense, The Mangler is
not the worst film to be derived from the writings of Stephen King,
nor is it the worst movie Robert Englund has starred in and it sure
isn't the worst movie Tobe Hooper has directed. But considering the
movies that actually are in the running for that honor, that ain't
exactly high praise. The Mangler
is silly, dull and utterly disposable. Instead of watching it, I
recommend watching some old educational films about preventing
actual industrial accidents instead. They're far more entertaining
and you might even learn something.
1991 (2004) - New Line
Film Rating: D-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/F
The Guyver 2: Dark Hero
1994 (2004) - New Line
Film Rating: C-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B+/F
speaking, these two movies based on a Japanese comic book aren't
really horror movies at all. But despite the science fiction and
action movie trappings, these are basically monster movies and
therefore of interest to horror fans. And while the movies are
similar enough to be recognizably linked to each other, their
approaches to the material couldn't be more different.
In the first movie, we are introduced to the idea that mankind was
created by aliens along with a race of shapeshifting creatures
called Zoanoids. The monsters are after an alien weapon called the
Guyver. Once activated, the Guyver encases its owner in
bio-mechanical armor and turns him into the ultimate fighting
machine. The device is accidentally discovered by Shawn (Jack
Armstrong), an ordinary college student with a crush on the daughter
of one of the few good Zoanoids. Mark Hamill also stars as a rumpled
Colombo-like CIA agent on the case who eventually mutates into a
giant cockroach. Also making appearances is a virtual horror fan's
dream cast of character actors, including Michael Berryman, David
Gale from Re-Animator, Linnea
Quigley and Jeffrey Combs (as Dr. East... get it, Re-Animator
So with monsters, bio-armor, and that cast, you'd think The
Guyver would be goofy fun, right? Wrong-o! Co-directed by
Steve Wang and FX guru Screaming Mad George, The
Guyver is like a live-action Saturday morning cartoon
with bad jokes, awful music, and even a live-action equivalent of
the stiff limited animation used on shows like these. The
Guyver doesn't get to do much of anything except some
kung fu moves, which hardly seems like ultimate weapon material to
me. There's a lot of fight scenes between the Guyver and the
Zoanoids but, believe it or not, a badly staged fistfight in a
warehouse between guys in rubber monster suits is no more exciting
than one between ordinary people. And just when you think the movie
can't get much worse, Jimmy "J.J." Walker raps.
Going in totally the opposite direction of the PG-13 original, the
R-rated Guyver: Dark Hero
eschews comedy entirely. Steve Wang directs this one solo as Shawn
(now played by David Hayter, better known these days as the
screenwriter of the X-Men
movies) finds himself struggling with the Guyver inside him. The
device has turned him into a killing machine (quite a change from
the first one, where he's barely able to kill monsters, much less
people). Shawn wants answers so he heads to an archaeological dig in
Utah where discoveries are being made that point toward the aliens
who invented the Guyver in the first place.
While the first Guyver movie
was aimed strictly at the Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtle set, Guyver 2:
Dark Hero practically paints its sets with fake blood.
There's a lot of violence and this time, the Guyver suit actually
seems to give Shawn powers other than martial arts. But while Guyver
2 is a more entertaining movie than the first one (not a
hard goal to reach), it's still not wholly successful. This movie is
looooooong, clocking in at over two hours! If a movie like this
reaches the 100-minute mark, it's pushing its luck. Guyver
2 takes its luck and pushes it right off the edge of the
nearest cliff. Cut a good half hour from the movie (which could be
done easily without losing any narrative clarity) and you've got
yourself a solid little B-picture. As it is, it's a C at best.
New Line offers no extras whatsoever for either film but does give
them a decent technical presentation, with DTS tracks and reasonably
solid transfers. Guyver 2's
image is often very grainy, making it look like it was made about
ten years before the first one, but it's far from unwatchable.
The Iron Man
1992 (2005) - Tartan Asia Extreme
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/D
2003 (2005) - Tartan Asia Extreme
Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B-
armor of a totally different sort forms the basis of Shinya
Tsukamoto's 1992 cult classic Tetsuo: The
Iron Man. Tetsuo is
pretty indescribable but I'll give it a shot. Tomoroh Taguchi plays
an unnamed Salaryman whose body begins to mutate into a weird new
mechanical shape after a hit-and-run accident and an encounter with
a mutating woman on a subway platform. The Salaryman's antagonist is
the Fetishist, who we first see slicing open his own leg and
inserting a metal rod into the wound. Ultimately, the two men merge
into something more than the sum of their parts.
Tetsuo is one of those movies
that's hard to categorize as strictly horror or strictly sci-fi.
Like Eraserhead and
Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre,
it's a disturbing and highly unsettling film that provokes unease
not so much through conventional scare tactics as through the
creation of a totally alien mood. Tetsuo
sure isn't your usual narrative-driven movie but the layering of
sound and image create a feeling far more disturbing than any of the
other movies in this column.
Tetsuo is a great movie but
unfortunately, Tartan's long-awaited DVD isn't the home run I'd
hoped it would be. It looks much, much better than any previous
release within the confines of what's possible with the rough 16mm
source material. Even so, if you like this movie you'll be very
pleased with this new transfer. All the sound options, ranging from
the original mono to DTS 5.1, are excellent. But extras are
virtually non-existent. There are filmographies for the cast and
director and some OK production notes but that's about it. The
oddest extra is a series of clips from other Tsukamoto films soon to
be released by Tartan, including Tetsuo
II: Body Hammer, A Snake of
June, Tokyo Fist,
and his latest movie, Vital.
There are actual trailers for some of these movies on the disc as
well but these are complete 2-3 minute scenes from each film. It did
make me want to see the ones I haven't already seen and rewatch
those I have, so I guess it's a successful marketing ploy but it's
not much of a bonus.
A more traditional example of the latest wave of Asian horror is the
2003 Korean film Wishing Stairs.
Set in a girls' art school, the title refers to a long 28-step
stairway where, according to legend, if a 29th step appears, a
spirit will grant you your fondest wish. Of course, the legend is
true. Unfortunately, the high school setting means that the stairs
are used by adolescent girls consumed by jealousy, anger, and low
self-esteem, making their fondest wishes not entirely pure.
Wishing Stairs is the third in
a series of high-school based horror films from Korea and many of
the usual tropes of Asian horror are on proud display here. Girl
with hair hanging in front of her face, crawling unnaturally toward
you a la the Ringu series?
We've got that. Eerie, mysterious figures appearing in the periphery
of the frame? Done and done. What sets Wishing
Stairs apart is the fact that it's one of the few horror
films I've seen, foreign or domestic, to be written by, directed by
and starring all women. This provides a unique take on this usually
male-dominated genre and, perhaps not surprisingly, means the
characters are a lot richer and more sympathetic than they might
otherwise be. Wishing Stairs
isn't the peak of the Asian horror craze. It is, however, a creepy
and entertaining movie worth seeking out.
While the picture and sound quality are just as good as you could
hope, Tartan does a better job with the extras on Wishing
Stairs than they did with Tetsuo.
There's a 36-minute making-of feature, narrated by one of the young
actresses, which is a bit slow-moving but not bad. Better are the 20
minutes of straight on-camera interviews with the cast. The "Director's
Sketchbook and Notes" is an odd title for a selection of
featurettes covering the makeup, music and ultimately, an actual
sketchbook that plays a key role in the film. There's also galleries
of poster art and stills, plus another selection of promotional
trailers for other Tartan releases.
The Asian influence on modern horror is so pervasive that it's
impossible to ignore even if you wanted to. Like it or not, movies
like Ringu and Ju-On
revitalized the genre. American audiences can either wait for the
inevitable domestic remake or go right to the source and see what
the fuss is about with movies like Wishing
Stairs. But if you actually want to see something
unnerving, something that will mess with your head and leave you
shaken but exhilarated, you've got to go way outside the box. Tetsuo:
The Iron Man may not fit the standard definition of
horror and that's exactly what makes it so frightening.
Jahnke - Main Page