Selections from this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of reviews. Click on any of the following titles to navigate directly to that review. This week’s releases include: the Christmas home-invasion horror/thriller Better Watch Out; a reissued and restored edition of the Robin Williams calamity Jumanji; the disturbing and sad true-crime documentary Santoalla; another Christmas horror/thriller Silent Night, Deadly Night and Umbrella Entertainment’s gorgeous 40th anniversary edition of the the Dario Argento classic Suspiria. A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end.
Distributor: WellGo USA
This holiday season, you may be home, but you’re not alone… In this fresh and gleefully twisted spin on home-invasion horror, babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) must defend her young charges (Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould ) when intruders break into the house one snowy night – or so she thinks.
Better Watch Out is a surprise in more way than one — not just how it flips the script on a pretty standard concept, but also how smart and quirky the film itself is executed. Playing out almost like a twisted take on Home Alone, a group of kids at opposite ends of the teenage spectrum find themselves in a grim and deadly situation one night during what was supposed to be a quiet and calm babysitting gig. It’s difficult to review a film that depends highly on a major twist that comes fairly early; in the interest of preserving that twist, I’m going to keep it vague and short.
In a film mainly cast with young actors (Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen, the stock parents, are fleshed out enough to feel like actual characters, although they only bookend the first and last ten minutes), all the performances are excellent — each knows his or her own role and plays it extremely well. Levi Miller, especially, shows a tremendous amount of range for a young actor, and Dacre Montgomery (Billy in Stranger Things 2) gets a lot of mileage from playing your typical teen-boy asshole, and this in a reduced role.
Better Watch Out plays more like a horror/comedy rather than out-and-out horror, but not in a broad kind of way. Hewing closer to a dark tone as compared to something like, say, Krampus, Better Watch Out has a very sly and sneaky sense of humor — one far more subtle. Basically, if you’re taking Better Watch Out 100% seriously, you’re doing it wrong.
If you want violence and grue, you Better Watch Out ha ha puns. But seriously, gorehounds should be reasonably satisfied. Limbs don’t go flying, but within the confines of the home invasion sub-genre, what’s on display is perfectly reasonable. Some gags are left up to the imagination, but still manage to pack a mean punch anyway.
If you’re at all curious, see Better Watch Out before social media ruins the twist (and if there’s anything social media does, it’s ruin pretty much everything — twists included). Much — but not all — of your enjoyment rides on going in as fresh as possible.
PICTURE & SOUND:
Better Watch Out makes for a pretty good looking high-def image, and we have the production design to thank for that. The entirety of the film, except for a handful of exteriors, take place in the warm inviting home of young Luke, filled with bright colors, Christmas twinkly things, and other finery that upper-class people love. Clarity is very good as well, offering a pretty impressive amount of detail. Audio doesn’t stick out as being anything showy, but it presents dialogue cleanly enough. The track doesn’t come to life too often, but the bigger moments of chaos sound full and fine.
Despite the somewhat dismissive and vague term “Making of Featurette,” the supplement included on this release is far more than your standard five-minute EPK. This making-of actually runs almost an hour in length and delves deeply into every aspect of the production — from its origins to the casting to how certain scenes were shot.
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst and Bonnie Hunt star in this phenomenal adaptation of the award-winning children’s book. When young Alan Parrish discovers a mysterious board game, he doesn’t realize its unimaginable powers, until he is magically transported before the startled eyes of his friend, Sarah, into the untamed jungles of Jumanji! There he remains for 26 years until he is freed from the game’s spell by two unsuspecting children. Now a grown man, Alan (Williams) reunites with Sarah (Hunt) and together with Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) tries to outwit the game’s powerful forces in this imaginative adventure that combines breathtaking special effects with an enchanting mixture of comedy, magic and thrills.
At some point — I’m not sure when — Jumanji somehow became a “classic.” Speaking as someone who was in the ideal demographic when Jumani hit theaters in 1995, and speaking as someone who excitedly went to the theater to see it in 1995, my fifth grade self recognized that it was bad. Cornily rendered, and with CGI that was terrible more than 20 years ago, Jumanji is just…dumb. Except for Jurassic Park III, it’s probably the dumbest film of director Joe Johnston’s career. But it must’ve made some money, because the remake/not remake Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is headed to theaters soon, which means Sony have released a restored edition of the original in all its terrible-looking-CGI-monkeys glory.
Jumanji is very ‘90s. You know you’re in a ‘90s landscape when your eyes bug open in delight as you remember the once-existence of Bebe Neuwirth and David Alan Grier, or that Kirsten Dunst was once, like, fourteen, or something. (Her first appearance has her jazzing up the story for the otherwise real death of her parents in order to make a realtor she’s never met feel super bad, only to walk away laughing about it, immediately making her character unlikable and a little twisted). You also know you’re in the ‘90s when Robin Williams shows up in a fantastical plot where he gets to completely alter his appearance like a kid locked after-hours inside a costume store. This, Hook, Flubber, Mrs. Doubtfire, Bicentennial Man — it was the era of Robin Williams not trying to look like Robin Williams while acting exactly like Robin Williams. And that’s one thing Jumanji gets right — him. Not when he’s wearing the giant fake beard and bellowing jungle ululations, but when he shows off the humanity of his character. When young Peter accuses Williams’ Alan Parrish of being too scared to find a way of defeating the cursed game, Williams’ entire frantic-but-lovable take on the character instantly changes; his eyes darken and his mood cools, and, with few words, he lets Peter know that he has no idea what real fear is. Moments like these are often played for cliche anymore, but in such a dumb, PG-silly, special effects romp, this moment in particular shines through and reminds the viewer that Williams could be so good when he wanted to be. It’s been three years since the actor took his own life, and I’d trade nearly all of his 2000s output for just one more Insomnia, or One Hour Photo, or even Death to Smoochy.
To be honest, while the restoration of the picture is nice, the new special features seem perfunctory, and the Blu-ray is nothing more than a means to promote the new movie. Sure, this is the best release of the film on the market at the time, and maybe I’m wrong in assuming that the kind of fans who’d want to add Jumani to their collection aren’t tech heads too concerned with restoration work, but with the amount of new special features feeling so slight, it makes the release itself feel the same way: slight. Twenty years later, at the very least, the CGI will look remarkably better, but while I find The Rock a delight, he’s no Robin Williams.
PICTURE & SOUND:
A blessing and a curse — the new restoration by Sony hugely improves on its predecessor (as, of course, it should) in terms of everything not having to do with CGI. Close-ups on skin textures, for instance, offer razor sharp clarity, and the video presentation itself is very stable with very few instances of print damage. But oh man, that CGI — talk about putting a high-def hat on a pig. The CGI looks that much worse under the 4K microscope. Seriously, those monkeys are the worst examples of CGI I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some shit, believe me. The audio is very good as well. As you might imagine, Jumanji proffers a lot of damage along the way, with lots of animal noises as well, and overall the audio presentation does a good job of making it as immersive as possible.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- NEW Sneak peek of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
- NEW Never-before-seen Deleted Scenes
- NEW Hilarious Gag Reel featuring Robin Williams and the cast
- Animated storybook excerpts from Jumanji (the book), narrated by author Chris Van Allsburg
- Two episodes of the 1996 “Jumanji: The Animated Series” TV show
- Special Effects Crew Commentary
- Making-of Documentary
- Production Design Documentary
- SFX Featurette
- Storyboard Comparisons
- Original Theatrical Trailer
Distributor: Oscilloscope Pictures
Progressive Dutch couple Martin Verfondern and Margo Pool had only one dream – to live off the land, far from the constraints and complications of the city. But, when they arrive in the crumbling, Spanish village of Santoalla, the foreigners challenge the traditions of the town’s sole remaining family, igniting a decade-long conflict that culminates in Martin’s mysterious disappearance. Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer’s intriguing, expertly crafted true crime film follows Margo as she unravels the puzzle surrounding the strange happenings as she remains true to the ambitions that first drew her and Martin to Santoalla in the first place.
Have you ever had an uncomfortable conflict or a nasty blowout with a neighbor? If you currently live in America, then that answer is inevitably “yep.” Maybe someone’s dog barked too loud and long one night, or someone’s kid drove too fast down the street one too many times, or someone let a mattress sit out on the front lawn for a month even though it was pretty clear the garbage men were not going to be taking it. Regardless, we’ve all been there — in that conflict where frustration bubbles up and results in a war of words or the cops called. And maybe it feels good to let out those frustrations…until the realization that the both of you still have to live right where you are, and you’ve just made an enemy out of the person who shares your little slice of the planet.
Try co-existing with a neighbor whom you fervently believed is responsible for the death of a loved one. That’s Santoalla.
This fascinating, intriguing, and saddening documentary takes a look at the life of one woman who struggles with stoking dangerous and dark beliefs but refuses to give up the kind of life she, Margo, and her husband, Martin, had always wanted. The disappearance of Martin drapes over the entire documentary, though much of its time is spent showing Margo embark on day-to-day life and the responsibilities that come with living very far off the grid. Tending to her livestock of dozens of goats, and her expansive garden, Margo’s life seems intensely lonely, but even in spite of Martin’s disappearance and probable death, she still finds solace and solitude that she continues to live the life they both wanted for themselves.
The neighbors, the Rodríguezes, do get their fair share of screen time and are afforded the opportunity to offer a counterpoint to the claims Margo makes against them during her own interview segments. An older married couple and their two adult sons coexist in their own little patch of land, though the matriarch, Jovita, and her older son, Carlos, represent the family in their own interview segments. They each offer their own theories on what may have happened to Martin: Jovita tells of late-night visits from other people to Martin’s house when Margo is away; Carlos suggests Martin tired of Margo and simply took off. The Rodríguez family’s presence in the documentary is important, and Santoalla knows this; it also knows that by including this family and allowing them to refute Margo’s beliefs (as well as do some minor neighborly complaining) that the viewer will be constantly changing their perception as to what really may have happened to Martin. As you spend time with Margo, your suspicions against the Rodríguezes mount. But as you then spend time with the Rodríguezes, those same suspicious subside. After all, how can you watch an interview with the elderly Jovita as she sits in the village’s chapel and talk about how much she liked Martin and remember the times he used to dance with her in her kitchen and think she could be implicated in his disappearance?
The documentary concludes after a very sudden reveal of the mystery behind Martin’s disappearance, so viewers won’t be left wondering forever what may have happened to him. Though tragic, Santoalla exists in the same plane as HBO’s The Jinx in that the filmmakers don’t just look at a cold case and delve into its history with those who lived it, but that those filmmakers, through a stroke of luck, happened to be in production on the documentary during the mystery’s natural conclusion. It obviously helps Santoalla to end on a powerful and poignant note.
PICTURE & SOUND:
Santoalla comes partially to life through the use of Martin and Margo’s home movies as well as news reports about Martin’s disappearance, though most of it is obviously a modern digital production. These latter portions look fantastic io Blu-ray. The village of Santoalla is beautiful, even as much of it is abandoned and in ruins. The level of detail to be found it immense. The audio is fairly standard for this kind of project. The most important parts are obviously the interview subjects, and everyone sounds clean and clear.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Deleted Scenes
- Finding Home – New video interview with directors Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer
- Theatrical Trailer
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Silent Night, Deadly Night is the heartwarming story of little Billy Chapman who was traumatized by his parents’ Christmas Eve murder, then brutalized by sadistic orphanage nuns. But when grown-up Billy is to dress as jolly St. Nick, he goes on a yuletide rampage to “punish the naughty!” Santa Claus is coming to town … and this time he’s got an axe! Robert Brian Wilson and Scream Queen Linnea Quigley star in this jaw-dropping horror classic that a nation of angry mothers still cannot stop!
Silent Night, Deadly Night is more well known for the controversy it caused in featuring a killer Santa Claus than by its substance as a reasonably well made slasher movie. Over the years it’s been whispered about in the same breath as other post-Halloween holiday-exploiting slashers like My Bloody Valentine and April Fools Day –– which are fun and well made in their own right — but it’s not really deserving of their company. For genre fans who aren’t necessarily slasher fans, I can picture them turning down their noses at such an odd declaration and shutting it down with “but all slashers are the same.”
Not remotely true.
To be fair, Silent Night, Deadly Night offers the viewer a fairly standard slasher experience, and on paper, it offers a typically hokey premise: a young boy named Billy witnesses the death of his parents at the hands of someone dressed like Santa Claus and he loses his mind, eventually donning the garb himself as an adult and wrecking the halls with an ax. But there’s an inherent sleaze in Silent Night, Deadly Night that threatens to diminish its overall fun tone (and it is fun, don’t get me wrong), which gives it kind of an icky feeling. John Carpenter once “sincerely apologized” for inadvertently creating the trope that sexual active teens in horror films are the first to go, and Silent Night, Deadly Night seems to be the most directly inspired by that concept. The Santa assault against Billy’s mother, which revealed her glory to his young eyes, remained ingrained in him just as much as the imagery of Santa itself. That he spies sexual trysts several times throughout Silent Night, Deadly Night and mutters “punish!” or “naughty!” to himself seems to be a direct response to that Carpenter trope.
But hey, this is Silent Night, Deadly Night — we’re only here for effective murder scenes and a reasonably engaging plot, and to be fair, we definitely get both. There are additional and unexpected touches that also offer something a bit out of the norm in this subgenre — consider the pre-Santa massacre opening scene where the family visits Billy’s deranged grandfather in a convalescent home where he somehow has the foresight to warn young Billy that Santa Claus is evil and Christmas Eve is the “scariest damned night of the year.” This makes absolutely no sense and is way too convenient; it only exists to arbitrarily manufacture foreshadowing, but something about it still manages to give Silent Night, Deadly Night a bit of an edge.
Silent Night, Deadly Night would somehow go on to birth a franchise, which obviously includes its first immediate sequel, and which is probably more well-known for the“GARBAGE DAY!” scene than anything else. (As someone who considers himself very learned in the slasher genre, even I’ve never watched this series past Part 2, and that’s saying something.) As a member of the holiday-slasher ’80s craze, it’s mid- to upper-level B team, which is fine. It’s entertaining enough to justify existing, and when you’ve got a headless body sledding down a hill followed by its bouncing, rolling head, well, I guess I can’t be too hard on it.
PICTURE & SOUND:
Like past releases of this title, this new 4K scan of Silent Night, Deadly Night is still a Frankenstein cut, meaning all the additional scenes of extra violence are taken from less-than-stellar sources, so there’s a noticeable dip in quality when these inserts take place. Frankly, it is what it is, and while it’s unfortunate these scenes don’t exist in higher quality, it’s better to have them than not at all — not to mention that once you see a dip in quality, the morbid part of you gets a little giddy because it’s like a neon size that says “VIOLENCE IS COMING!” The rest of the film looks reasonably good and sharp, although there’s a constant presence of print damage in the form of scratches, speckles, and pops, which both suits the sketchiness of the film as well as jars with the otherwise very well done transfer. Audio is pretty standard but it gets the job done; there are no signs of sibilant dialogue, and the soundtrack sounds reasonably rendered. (Here’s a fun game: count how many times you hear a Christmas carol in this movie that you’ve actually heard before.)
Finally a somewhat comprehensive making-of documentary exists for a title with such infamy. As many times as this title has been released, it seems a little odd it took this long, but it’s finally here. Running 45 minutes in length, “Slay Bells Ring” talks a lot about the film’s genesis and the ensuing controversy. It’s a shame more members of the cast didn’t come back (seriously, what else is Leo Geter doing?), but at least the actor who played Billy has returned. (Note: The packaging incorrectly includes Linnea Quigley with this documentary, but her interview is a separate feature — and looks to have been shot on VHS or something very not high-def.)
The complete list of special features is as follows:
DISC ONE: Theatrical Version
- NEW 4K Scan Of The Original Camera Negative
- R-Rated Theatrical Trailer & VHS Trailer
- TV Spots
- Radio Spot
DISC TWO: Extended Unrated Version
- NEW 4K Scan Of The Original Camera Negative With Standard Definition Inserts
- NEW Slay Bells Ring: The Story Of Silent Night, Deadly Night – Featuring Interviews With Writer Michael Hickey, Co-Executive Producers Scott J. Schneid And Dennis Whitehead, Editor/Second Unit Director Michael Spence, Composer Perry Botkin, And Actor Robert Brian Wilson
- NEW Oh Deer! – An Interview With Linnea Quigley
- NEW Christmas In July – Silent Night, Deadly Night Locations – Then And Now
- NEW Audio Commentary With Actor Robert Brian Wilson And Co-Executive Producer Scott J. Schneid
- Audio Commentary With Michael Hickey, Perry Boykin, Scott J. Schneid, and Michael Spence
- Audio Interview With Director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. From Deadpit Radio (Extended Version)
- Santa’s Stocking Of Outrage
- Poster And Still Gallery
Distributor: Umbrella Entertainment
Widely considered to be the most shocking and hallucinatory horror movie in history – and described by Argento as “an escalating experimental nightmare,” Suspiria stars Jessica Harper as a young American ballet student who arrives at a prestigious European dance academy and is confronted by a series of bizarre and horrific deaths. Packed with vicious violence, ultra gory effects and dazzling cinematic set pieces, Suspiria is a gruesomely gothic masterpiece of the macabre. (Buy Suspiria directly from the distributor here.)
Is Suspiria Dario Argento’s best film? Many horror fans would say so. Regardless, it’s certain that it will always be the one that is most synonymous with his name. The first of an unofficial trilogy known as “The Three Mothers” (the second of which, Inferno, is my favorite Argento film), Suspiria is one of those rare exceptions where the balance between style and substance is way off, but which skirts the condemnation that normally comes with that. John Carpenter (I’ll never stop name-dropping him) once said of Suspiria something along the lines of, “I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s gorgeous to look at.” While I wouldn’t go that far re: an incoherent story, Suspiria is loosely told enough that it exists in that gray area where weak storytelling and purposeful ambiguity come head to head. The story travels from A to B to Z, so overall you basically know what happens, but it’s not exactly a seamless unfolding of plot points. It’s not one of those situations where it’s up to you, the viewer, to interpret what’s happening as much as it’s more about giving you enough of the story to follow along, and if you want or feel the need to fill in some gaps, then that’s all on you, pal.
As mentioned, Suspiria is gorgeous — it’s probably the most gorgeous horror film ever made that also happens to feature a lot of grisly and fantastical violence. Suspiria sees Argento and director of photography Luciano Tovoli at their most daring and creative, relying on bold primary color schemes not normally seen outside of comic books. And it’s not just the colors and the violence that are heightened, but the camera angles and the mise en scène (if I can sound like a total film school douche bag for a second) — everything is purposely designed to look slightly askew. It’s one of the best cinematic personifications of madness and nightmares not seen since 1920’s (!) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Even the characters seem to exist solely so they can help propel the narrative from one slice of nasty gory chaos to the next, existing more as vehicles that the audience is using to arrive at their blood-soaked destination.
Makes a good Christmas gift!
Suspiria has held classic status for a while now, but in this new form, whatever status it’s achieved will be re-met and expanded upon. This new release is an absolute reason to celebrate.
PICTURE & SOUND:
Little by little, the recent Italian remaster of Suspiria, performed in time for its 40th anniversary, has been slowly leaking out into all corners of the world. Umbrella Entertainment’s release follows on the heels of those by Italy, Japan, and the U.K., making the distributor’s previous release of Suspiria as utterly irrelevant as those of other distributors. The restoration is staggering — this is honestly one of the best presentations of a classic horror title since Universal’s work on Jaws, or maybe J.J. Abrams’ recent restoration of Phantasm (if i want to be kind and turn a blind eye to some of the artificial smoothing). Suspiria seriously looks like it were shot yesterday — that’s the kind of high-def presentation we’re looking at. There has been some minor grumbling about the color timing on this restoration (which I can understand, since Suspiria lives and dies by its color scheme), mostly having to do with its presentation of greens and blues, but honestly, unless you’ve memorized every frame, you’ll barely notice. Audio is also pretty great; it starts strong with rain-drenched streets and Goblin’s thunderous score, and continues to come to life throughout as the nutso happenings increase.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Suspiria Told by Dario Argento: An Interview with Dario Argento and Nick Vivarelli on Suspiria’s 40th Anniversary
- 25th Anniversary Suspiria Documentary
- Exclusive Interview with Dario Argento (2004)
- ‘Fear at 400 Degrees: the Cine-Excess of Suspiria‘ Documentary
- ‘An Eye For Horror’ Documentary’
- Dario Argento’s World of Horror’ Documentary
- Image Gallery
- International Trailer
- U.S. Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spot
- Radio Spots
- Dario Argento Trailer Reel (1970-2009)
Also Available This Week:
Distributor: Shout! Factory
The November 13, 2015 terrorist attack in Paris claimed 130 lives around the city – 89 of them at the Eagles of Death Metal’s Bataclan Theatre concert.
Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) spotlights the American rock band as they recount their experiences before and after the tragic events. The film explores the deep bonds between band co-founders Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme (also a member of Queens of the Stone Age), as well as the intense connection the band has always had with its devoted fans, which moved them to return to Paris to perform once again in February 2016.
Directed by Colin Hanks, Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) includes accounts of fans who survived the Bataclan attack, extensive behind-the-scenes footage of the band, and interviews with Bono and The Edge of U2 … and serves as a portrait of resilience in the face of unspeakable horror and a life-affirming coda to the events of November 13.
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Young Howard Lovecraft may have defeated the evil King Abdul Alhazred in the Frozen Kingdom, but all is not safe, not yet. There are much darker forces at work and, this time, Howard must protect his father’s journals without the assistance of his most trusted ally, Spot. Instead, Howard must recruit his own father and seek the aid of the studious Dr. Henry Armitage to use the power of the journals to rescue his best friend and family, and vanquish the mysterious forces once and for all!
Based on the graphic novel series by Bruce Brown and Dwight L. MacPherson, Howard Lovecraft And The Undersea Kingdom comes to life with a phenomenal voice cast; including Academy Award®-winner* Christopher Plummer (Up), Mark Hamill (the Star Wars franchise), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Ron Perlman (Hellboy) and Doug Bradley (Hellraiser)!
Distributor: Shout! Factory (DVD Only)
Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, and Valerie Bertinelli star in One Day At A Time, the lively and liberated sitcom classic developed by Norman Lear, the television legend behind All In The Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
One Day At A Time follows Ann Romano (Franklin), an independent woman who transplants herself and her two daughters – rebellious Julie (Phillips) and smart aleck Barbara (Bertinelli) – to Indianapolis in search of a new life. Moving into an apartment under the watchful eye and ever-present swagger of the building’s quirky superintendent Schneider (Pat Harrington), the Romano women muddle through life, love, and laughs as they discover their own potential.
One of the most successful sitcoms of the 1970s and 1980s, One Day At A Time ran for nine hilarious and heartfelt seasons, won three Golden Globe Awards, and is finally available as a complete series set! With over 200 episodes, you’re in for hours of laughter with the Romanos … so go and have a ball!
- NEW Interview With Mackenzie Phillips And Glenn Scarpelli
- One Day At A Time Reunion
- This Is It: The Story Of One Day At A Time