The Devil’s Backbone (2001/Criterion Blu-ray)/The Frozen Dead (1966/Seven Arts/Warner Archive DVD)/Hidden In The Woods
(1960/Allied Artists/Warner Archive DVD)
Picture: B/C/C/C Sound: B-/C/C+/C Extras: B-/D/C/D Films: B-/C/C/C
PLEASE NOTE: Frozen Dead and Tormented
are only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and
can be ordered from the link below.
Horror genre has a unique way of dealing with issues people do not want to always
talk about, but that also leads to camp
moments and strange clashes that have made the genre the only one people laugh
at and with at the same time. Here are
four films in the genre that handle history, social and personal issues in
different ways for better and worse…
this, we’ll deal with each film chronologically starting with Tormented (1960) from the infamous
B-movie director Bert I. Gordon with Richard Carlson as a man who has been
cheating on his wife (Susan Gordon) with a hotter, more sexually wild woman
(Juli Reding) who he wants to leave and have her not speak of their
affair. During an argument, she
accidentally falls through the railing of an old lighthouse and is holding on
for dear life. He could reach out to
save her, but lets her loose her grip and fall to her death in the ocean… but
is she dead?
she is now a ghost who can move objects in the world of the living and is out
to get him for what he did to her. The
film runs only 70 minutes (quitting while it is ahead) and is hilarious for
just about the whole time from campy moments to howlers to wacky, dated visual
effects and a few genre clichés. It is
still worth a look and Joe Turkel, later known for Blade Runner, also shows up.
Leder’s The Frozen Dead (1966) is a
wackier film about reviving the Third Reich via cryogenics, but instead of
being a thriller with suspense we can take seriously, it plays like a full
color companion to the infamously bad They
Saved Hitler’s Brain! Dana Andrews
(with an accent that almost sounds German) is the scientist up to no good and
is determined to pick up where the Axis Powers left off thanks to his
genius. 1,500 Nazis are on ice (!) and
he will bring them all back, but instead of this being like recent such
Nazisploitation flicks where they come back as zombies, the script is more
interested in Frankenstein ideals.
Gilbert is the American scientist who might be able to stop it and Anna Palk is
the young lady who happens to be the mad doctor’s niece and cannot allow this
nightmare to come true. Too bad the
visual effects here are also silly, awful, goofy and trivialize anything one
should take seriously here. Like Tormented, I had not seen this one for
a long time and remembered little of it.
I see why.
del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone
(2001) was a move back to more personal filmmaking after he had some commercial
success with the monster thriller Mimic showed his commercial viability. Originally intended to me more mystical and
Fantasy-genre oriented, this tale of a school for orphaned boys in an isolated
part of Spain during the Spanish Civil War’s last weeks in 1939, staring with
the arrival of a new kid whose father leaves him in the hands of the married
priest, his wife and a helper who was never adopted and still lives there.
helper is a real so and so, but even early on, we realize something is wrong at
this place. A aerial bomb that should
have blown a crater in the middle of the yard of the institution somehow fell
without going off. Not seen as a threat,
it has never been moved and is considered a dud. Slight senses of light conflict seem to be
there upon the young boy’s arrival, but we’re not sure exactly what of, though
the story slowly moves to show that the place is haunted, but by what?
result is a ghost story with ugly adult conflicts and war concerns interfering
with the development of the group of boys living there and more than meets the
eye initially is going on. As a supernatural
tale, it has some thrills, but more of the terror comes from the real mortal
conflicts caused by the adults. The
structure of the film is most of what we have seen in ghost stories before, but
del Toro has added obvious symbolisms throughout inner-textually referencing
the actual Spanish Civil War to the end of the film, but it never makes
explicit what they all are so only those really familiar with that history are
going to get that part.
the film is serious and honest enough in tone, acting and narrative that he is
criticizing the ugliness of the situation, even if all the elements do not mesh
as they later would in his brilliant film Pan’s
Labyrinth which makes the ultimate anti-Fascist statement within a Fantasy
narrative we’ve seen in decades. Still,
this is a quality film that does manage to make important points about lives
then and now that rightly has a following and thanks to Criterion, we have a
Blu-ray that delivers the film as clearly as del Toro and company intended.
include a nicely illustrated paper foldout on the film including informative
text and an essay this time by Mark Kermode titled The Past Is Never Dead, while the Blu-ray adds Video Intro by del
Toro on the film from 2010, feature length audio commentary track by del Toro, New
& Archival Del Toro interviews on the film, 2004 making of documentary
entitled Que es up fantasma?,
Interactive Director’s Notebook, Sebastian Fabers’ great new on camera
interview about the film and its context to the Spanish Civil War that is a
must-see after seeing the film, Original Theatrical Trailer, del Toro’s
thumbnail sketches for the film’s visuals and a comparison of those with the
final storyboards by Carols Giménez.
brings us to Patricio Valladares’ Hidden
In The Woods (2012) which wants to be taken seriously for dealing with some
ugly issues (incest, rape, sexual abuse) and be a bloody horror film at the
same time, but it is sop busy wallowing in the latter that we get more blood,
screaming, latex and gross moments than a narrative that seriously deals with
some very ugly issues. And it also is
allegedly “based on a true story” which these days means the writers are
desperate and in the genre, this has become a sad cliché inspired by the
original Tobe Hooper Texas Chainsaw
the latest film trying to imitate that one, but it gets so caught up in torture
porn aesthetics that it all backfires and the script has nothing to say about
the goings on (and I am not talking about phony moralizing) nor is it anything
we have not seen before. It is a just a
more vulgar variant of a played out cycle.
Compare it o Pasolini’s Salo
(reviewed on criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site), its limits and
pointlessness are even more obvious. You
should consider this very brutal and would only get an NC-17 if actually rated.
include an 8-page booklet on the film including informative text &
illustrations, plus a reversible cover for the DVD case, while the Blu-ray adds
trailers for this and other Artsploitation releases and an interview featurette
with the Director Patricio Valladares.
1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Backbone is easily the best performer here, sourced in a new 2K HD
master from the original 35mm camera negative by del Toro and Director of
Photography Guillermo Navarro that can have slight lightness at points, but it
pretty consistent and warm enough throughout.
Some visual effects are not as good as others, but that is a minor
issues. That leaves the anamorphically
enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Frozen
and Woods, plus the anamorphically
enhanced black and white 1.66 X 1 image on Tormented
tied for second/last place and all being softer than I would have liked. Tormented is shot on real monochrome film
with silver content, but this transfer is just a shade too soft for its own
good, the EastmanColor transfer on Frozen
is inconsistent and does not always show off how good the film must have looked
in its original theatrical release.
Woods goes out of its way to look degraded
too often and maybe a Blu-ray would look better, but we suspect not by much.
DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Backbone is easily the sonic champion here, remastered at 24-Bit
digital sound from the original 35mm 6-track magnetic soundmaster which can
sound good, but also shows the limits of the budget as well as showing the age
of the film. It also has its share of
silent moments, though, so the soundfield is not a consistent one, nor does it
need to in this case.
Dolby Digital 5.1 on Woods can be
louder, but more shrill, choppy, oddly mixed and is not as consistent overall,
but it still surpasses the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mixes on Frozen and Tormented, both showing their age, limited budgets and being a
generation down themselves. Be careful
of volume switching on each.
To order Frozen Dead and Tormented, go to this link for those and many more great
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