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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Global Terror

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

What with all the documentaries and art-house faves I've been covering, things have gotten far too serious here in Bottom Shelfland lately. So let's lighten things up with a trio of horror-themed movies with an international bent, starting with an Italian director you should already be plenty familiar with.

Masters of Horror: Pelts

Masters of Horror: Pelts
2006 (2007) - Starz/Anchor Bay

The concept behind the TV series Masters of Horror is a good one. A weekly anthology series (horror has a long, successful track record in this format) with each episode directed by a filmmaker who has made a significant contribution to the genre. Unfortunately, I don't get Showtime, the cable network that airs the show. I didn't see an episode until a few months ago, the second season entry Family directed by John Landis. The first episode you see of a TV show colors your perception of the series as a whole, for better or worse. Family... well, it didn't make a good impression. Let's just leave it at that.

Pelts, directed by Dario Argento, is an improvement.

Meat Loaf stars as furrier Jake Feldman, a sleazy low-life obsessed with a stripper named Shana (Ellen Ewusie). Jake gets a call from a trapper (John Saxon, something of a Master of Horror in his own right) with a supply of gorgeous hides from some strange raccoon-like animals. But when Jake shows up to collect them, the trapper and his son are both dead, victims of the pelts. Like they say, fur is murder.

As you might expect, Pelts is about as subtle as a bucket of red paint thrown at a fashion show. The highest compliment that can be paid to the film is that it feels like a Dario Argento movie and not just another generic TV episode. Much of this is owed to the score by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame who previously worked with Argento on many of his best films. But the movie's look (shot by Attila Szalay) and the insanely over-the-top acts of self-mutilation that the pelts drive people to committing also bear Argento's stamp. Meat Loaf is well-cast and it's fun to see him in the lead. There's not a whole lot to the story but at just under an hour, it hardly matters.

On disc, Pelts is given a good if not great transfer and both 5.1 and 2.0 audio options. There's a smattering of extras, fewer than appeared on the first year's worth of Masters of Horror discs but still more than you'd likely get from a comparable TVD release. There are two featurettes, one called Fleshing It Out featuring interviews with the cast, members of the crew, MoH executive producer Mick Garris and Argento himself (speaking both his native Italian and giving English the old college try) and another focusing on a key effects sequence called All Sewn Up. There's a storyboard gallery, a photo gallery, a bio for Argento and an audio commentary by screenwriter Matt Venne. His track occasionally sounds a bit too scripted but still has some good information about adapting F. Paul Wilson's short story and how Argento then translated that screenplay to film. Venne's script is also included as a DVD-ROM extra.

Pelts wasn't the season two opener for Masters of Horror but it is the first to hit DVD and it seems like a good choice. Dario Argento isn't the most consistent filmmaker in the genre (especially lately) but his movies are usually worth at least a look. Pelts certainly is not his finest hour but it's fun and delivers the goods in the gore department.

Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B-

Night of the Living Dorks

Night of the Living Dorks
2004 (2007) - Anchor Bay

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Someone has finally combined 80s-style teen comedies like Sixteen Candles and Revenge of the Nerds with zombies. I just didn't think that when it finally happened, it would come from Germany.

The story is straight from the John Hughes playbook. Philip is a sweet loser in lust with the most popular girl on campus and doesn't realize his childhood friend Rebecca is in love with him. Philip and his two equally uncool friends go to a voodoo ritual Rebecca is participating in, getting doused with zombie ash in the process. On the way home, they get into a fatal car accident and are resurrected shortly afterward in the morgue. Once they realize they now have zombie-strength and can't feel pain, they finally stand up to the bullies who've tormented them for so long.

I'll admit, that's kind of a clever premise. Writer/director Mathias Dinter pretty much nails the teen comedy part of the movie. Unfortunately, I just didn't think it was all that funny. The tone is perched somewhere north of waaaaaay over-the-top and if you can't get into the cartoony mind-set required, you'll have a rough time of it. And at the risk of sounding crass, I kind of wanted the movie to be grosser. This may sound odd considering there's a scene where Philip's decomposing testicle rolls out of his pant leg. But even that's done in the same junior-high style that could offend virtually no one. There's hardly a drop of blood in the whole movie and the zombie makeup is basically white pancake and bags under the eyes.

The DVD looks and sounds quite good, with audio in either 5.1 German or a 2.0 English dub that I didn't bother with, assuming it probably wasn't going to help this movie's case any. Extras include some video interviews with the cast, director and producer, a brief behind-the-scenes snippet, some deleted scenes, outtakes (or "fun scenes" as they're debatably described here), and the trailer in both German and English. The best extra is a lengthy alternate ending sequence substantially different from what they ended up with.

I know some folks were won over by this movie's goofy charm, so maybe I'm being too hard on it. Night of the Living Dorks does seem to accomplish what it sets out to do and it could be that my love of teen comedies began and ended when I was a teen. But even if that's so, I haven't outgrown zombie movies yet and this one just didn't do it for me. I know Shaun of the Dead and you, sir, are no Shaun of the Dead.

Film Rating: C-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/C+


2006 (2006) - Tartan

If you're any kind of horror fan, you've probably already seen a movie (or several) just like Sheitan. It has a large spooky house, a weird village inhabited by possibly in-bred oddballs, creepy dolls and horny young people. But what you haven't seen is a performance as delightfully unhinged as the one Vincent Cassel gives here.

As the movie begins, three guys pick up a couple of hot young girls at a club. One of them suggests they go to her family's house in the country. Once they arrive, they meet Joseph the housekeeper (Cassel). Joseph welcomes them in, taking a particular shine to Bart. As the day wears on, Joseph's behavior gets more and more peculiar as the guys hear stories about devil-worshipping and start to catch glimpses of Joseph's pregnant wife.

On the surface, Sheitan is pretty standard horror movie stuff but Cassel, all crazy eyes, manic grin and crooked teeth, barrels through it with a performance that can only be described as eccentric. He's clearly crazy from the get-go and while you're waiting for him to snap, Cassel manages to elicit genuine laughs. When violence inevitably erupts, it does so with shocking ferocity. When Cassel is off-screen, director Kim Chapiron keeps our interest by filming the proceedings with visual style. The young actors are all fine, certainly better than you'd find in most American movies of this type, and if they can't match what Cassel is doing, that's hardly their fault.

Tartan's DVD looks just OK but sounds terrific with audio in either Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1. There's only one extra to speak of but it's a good one, an approximately half-hour making-of structured around an interview with Cassel (who also produced the movie). It explains just what the hell he's doing in this movie in the first place and shows some rehearsal and behind-the-scenes footage. The disc also includes trailers for this and other Tartan releases.

Sheitan treads some familiar territory but does so in such a unique way that it's easy to overlook the movie's flaws. Horror movies only work when they present something that's unexpected. Thanks to Cassel's performance and Chapiron's eye, Sheitan certainly accomplishes that.

Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/A/C+

Adam Jahnke
[email protected]

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