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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Vampire > Supernatural > Soap Opera > Drama > Science Fiction > Thriller > Nunsploitation > Monst > Dark Shadows: The Best Of Barnabas + Fan Favorites (MPI DVDs)/The Divide (2011/Unrated/Anchor Bay Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 (1986/Horizon Blu-ray)/Killer Nun (1979/Blue Underground Bl

Dark Shadows: The Best Of Barnabas + Fan Favorites (MPI DVDs)/The Divide (2011/Unrated/Anchor Bay Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2Ave EyesEy (1986/Horizon Blu-ray)/Killer Nun (1979/Blue Underground Blu-ray)/Night Wolf (2010/Lionsgate DVD)/The Terror Experiment (2010/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/The Wicker Tree (2011/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)


Picture: C+/C+/B- & C/B-/B-/C/B-/B-     Sound: C+/C+/B & B-/B-/C+/C+/B-/B-     Extras: C/C/C/C-/C/C-/C-/C-     Main Programs: B-/B-/C+/C/C+/C-/C-/C-



Here is the latest slate of Horror titles you might want to check out… or not…



With the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp revival coming up, MPI has issued two singles (in advance of a massive Complete Series DVD box) of the hit 1960s horror soap opera Dark Shadows, which was never a comedy to begin with.  Dark Shadows: The Best Of Barnabas + Fan Favorites are warm-up singles so viewers can find out or refresh their memories on how the hit series played and worked.  The show began as simply a supernatural soap opera as a new concept that ABC tried out and worked, but then, vampire Barnabas Collins showed up and that put the show over the top.


Each disc has 10 episodes and will get you more than familiar with the show and it will not even ruin the up coming film, if you intend to see it.  As would be the case with the two MGM feature films and 1990s TV revival that followed this original series run, the show was filled with mystery, surprise and suspense in ways that had never been tried in the otherwise melodramatic soap opera format for TV and rarely for radio drama before it.  Extras include intros for all episode sand some tie-in promos for fans and the curious.  All in all, these are nice sets.



Xavier Gens first received notice with his genre hit Frontier(s), which we reviewed twice (I covered an import DVD) and neither of us were impressed, yet he followed that up with Hitman (also reviewed on the site) starring Timothy Olyphant (now of the huge hit series Justified, reviewed elsewhere on this site) that I thought had its moments and was onto something including a new star.  Now comes The Divide (2011) which is his best film yet, sort of.  He still has problems, but has some interesting moments, making it one of the few “stuck-in-a” movies (or TV shows for that matter) I found watchable in a while.


A nuclear war breaks out and a group of people are trapped in the basement of a big building.  One man (Michael Biehn) lives there and tries to help.  One woman is there with her daughter and the rest try to figure out what is going on, especially when they cannot see much, electric is limited, food more so and all wonder what they will do next.  Then someone is trying to get in.


The cast including Michael Eklund, Milo Ventimiglia, Lauren German, Courtney B. Vance, Ivan Gonzalez, Ashton Holmes and Rosanna Arquette is a more interesting group than we have seen in such a set up and the results are some tense moments.  I was also happy with the acting more than usual overall.  Unfortunately, this is not sustained and when the film starts to veer into more interesting territory, it goes off track.  Still, not awful and at least all involved were trying.  Extras include a trailer and feature length audio commentary by Gens and Actors Biehn, Eklund and Ventimiglia.



Made over a dozen years after the original, Wes Craven made and has since disowned The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2Ave EyesEy (1986), a silly slasher sequel to the amazing original (reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) which suffers sequelitis to no end (far too many clips of highlights of the first film are here; guess VHS had not caught on yet) and it is done as a joke.  Starting with a survivor of the first film in therapy, the slice-and-dice psycho killer films cycle was in decline by this time and comedy was slowly arriving permanently, as Craven would prove in his almost endless Nightmare On Elm Street series.


Even the lead killer from the first film is goofy and this has zero suspense, though we get plenty of jokes, political incorrectness, blood and screaming, it is just a time capsule at best.  I will say it plays much better than most similar works in the genre since (especially torture porn) and moves along smoothly for a low budget work, but it is weak overall and was an unnecessary sequel when that kind of thing was rare.  It is still better than the awful sequel to the remake Fox backed.  Now it is a curio, just don’t expect much.  Trailers and a still gallery are the only extras.



Giulio Berruti’s Killer Nun (1979) dared to claim it was from the “secret files of The Vatican”, had Anita Ekberg in the title role and was a “nunspolitation” film based on an actual case where a nun had been killing patients at a hospital for years before anyone realized it.  Here, we get her pathology, nudity, lesbian sexual desire, nuns having sex and all hell breaking loose.  The film is amusing, but like other films in this infamous subgenre, a one-note affair.  Andy Warhol favorite Joe Dalessandro (Flesh For Frankenstein, Blood For Dracula) shows up here as a new doctor who might figure out the truth, but he is dubbed in both the English and Italian tracks as apparently, his New York street accent did not fit the role and that is one of many things that makes this unintentionally odd.


Ekberg is fearless, even sending up her reputation and the film was banned and censored all over the place, even subversive by today’s standards.  The result is a curio that delivers some interesting scenes, even if it is not great overall.  Extras include a Poster & Still Gallery, Trailer and interview featurette From The Secret Files of The Vatican with Director/Co-Writer Berruti.



Proving that the werewolf film might be dead, a producer of Dog Soldiers has backed Johnathan Glendening’s Night Wolf (2010) about a werewolf on the loose killing.  Isabella Calthorpe, Gemma Atkinson and Simon MacCorkindale (from the infamous NBC TV failure Manimal, in his last work before he passed away at only 58 years old!) are among the cast in this silly British production.  Nothing is new here, we get proof once again that fur does not strike terror in the heart of audiences and we get a series of clichés instead of a suspenseful thriller.


See bad visual effects, endless blood, red werewolf vision ripped off from Wolfen, more door pounding from Dog Soldiers, endless creaming and a script that has no idea of where to go.  I always expect more from the British, but maybe that is a mistake.  This is laughably sad, but Manimal fans might enjoy it… maybe.  Trailers are the only extra.



George Medeluk’s The Terror Experiment (2010) is our worst entry here.  This dumb tale has a lone angry veteran (yawn) detonating a biologic weapon resulting in people turning into zombie-like creatures that must die.  Boring, cynical and idiotic, the look is a mix of war porn and bad horror movies with no point and it goes on and on and on and on.  What a waste of time.  C. Thomas Howell and Judd Nelson (?!?) even show up in what is essentially a bad TV movie, but the effects, acting and directing are almost as bad as the script.  We guess the real experiment is to make this bad mess and see if people will pay to see it.  Domestic terror indeed!  The only extra is a feature length audio commentary by Medeluk.



Finally we have Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Tree (2011), a very belated sequel to his 1973 independent hit The Wicker Man and not to be confused with the horrid Nicolas Cage remake.  This is not as bad as that disaster, but (based on Hardy’s book Cowboys For Christ) has the amusing but unlikely premise that a southern singer who is now a born again Christian and her boyfriend travel to Scotland to convert a town to their religion.  Unfortunately, they pick the one with the Satanic cult from the 1973 film and chaos ensues.


It becomes the same film and like the remake, telegraphs (or is that visually texts) its results in a tired, recycled script that takes little advantage of the possibilities the situation offers.  At first, it played well, but after the first 15 minutes, the film gets into trouble and never recovers.  Why a tree replaced a man is never explained, even with a cameo by Christopher Lee reprising his role from the first film more or less (he was going to be in the remake, but passed) and I was not a fan of the original anyhow.


We get a group of unknown actors who are not bad, but the chemistry, irony and oddness of the original film is, like the bad remake, missing here and only diehard fans will care.  Otherwise, you’ll have a few chuckles and be bored.  Extras include a Trailer, Deleted Scenes that would not have helped much and a Making Of featurette.



The 1.33 X 1 image on the Dark Shadows DVDs vary in quality, but as good as you could expect for older videotaped shows, coming from 2-inch black and white, then color NTSC professional videotape.  Unless extensive, expensive work is done, there is not much more you can do with this material to clean it up, but it plays fine for its age.


The 1080p digital High Definition image transfers on all the Blu-rays are about equal, which is amazing considering they range from an old low budget film to newer over-stylized productions increasingly moving to HD video.  Hills 2 is here in 1.66 X 1 presentation that offers most of its footage in then-new 35mm film and flashback footage from the first film as shot in 16mm looking better than the original Hills on Blu-ray as reviewed elsewhere on this site.  Unfortunately, it is not as consistent as it could be, but is still not bad for its age.


Nun is off of its original 35mm camera negative here in a 1.85 X 1 frame, but the film was shot with a certain naturalistic softness and despite being consistent, shows its age and has light grain throughout that may be intended, but holds back its overall performance.  Divide has limited digital effects, a 2.35 X 1 scope frame, is an HD shoot using the Panavision Genesis camera to some effect and has a decent, if not great look.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD is much weaker as already noted.


Terror has a 1.78 X 1 frame, is all over the place, was shot on HD and is lucky it looks as good as it does.  Even Wicker was shot on HD, in this case an already dated Red One HD camera, but we still get a few nice shots for what that is worth and not too much stylizing.  The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 on Wolf, as noted above, is very weak and is also an HD shoot.  HD just does not work as well for Horror genre productions, at least for now.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless Italian and English Mono mixes on Nun are as good as they are going to get for their age and with all that post-production dubbing, while Hills 2 has been upgraded from its optical theatrical mono sound to PCM 2.0 Stereo that is better than expected for its age.  The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 on Divide is not stretching things out too much, but it is easily the best-sounding of all the releases here.  The DVD version has lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 that is no match for the 7.1 mix, but is acceptable for that older codec.  We get Dolby TrueHD 5.1 on Terror and Wicker that are limited, with Terror not so well mixed and Wicker more dialogue based more often than you might think.  That leaves Wolf with lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 that sounds like 2.0 Stereo stretched out, while the lossy Dolby 2.0 Mono on both Dark Shadows DVDs are better than you would expect for their age.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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