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Blu-ray Reviews for January 2, 2018

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 1980s cult-classic horror flick Hell Night; Paddy Chayefsky’s dark-comedy satire The Hospital; and the unexpected found-footage horror sequel The Houses October Built 2. A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end.


Distributor: Shout! Factory

As an initiation rite into Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity, four pledges must spend a night in Garth Manor, twelve years to the day after the previous resident murdered his entire family. Two of the pledges, Marti and Jeff ignore the rumors that the now-deserted mansion is haunted by a crazed killer, until one by one, members of their group mysteriously disappear. Could this be a part of a fraternity prank … or is a demented former tenant seeking revenge? When this seemingly innocent night turns deadly, these college students will do anything to survive Hell Night. Directed by genre filmmaker Tom DeSimone (Reform School Girls, Angel III: The Final Chapter), this slasher classic has a talented young cast including Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Vincent Van Patten (Rock ‘N’ Roll High School), Peter Barton (Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter) and Kevin Brophy (The Seduction).

 

Hell Night has long been one of those beloved cult horror titles that doesn’t have a lot of recognition value within the realm of mainstream audiences. It’s always existed just below the surface, and only dedicated horror fans seem to both know of its existence and bestow upon it a lot of love and praise. As Peter Barton says in the supplements, it was so nearly close to earning classic status. And that’s pretty much how I’d sum it up. Hell Night drifts in and out of engagement with the audience, easily capturing their attention with the intrigue of Garth Manor and the handful of fairly grisly murder sequences, but the action in between these moments can stretch on for a bit too long. Even the intent for characterization is appreciated, and it helps to elevate Hell Night above its slasher brethren. There’s just something keeping it from being truly great.

Hell Night also gets points for trying to do something a little different. On its surface it looks like your typical ‘80s slasher flick, but it’s told as a both a haunted house movie and somewhat of a monster movie. This balance actually works in its favor. Personally, I prefer the slasher flicks vying for sincerity where the killer reveal isn’t someone’s spurned friend or lover or long-lost parent. I prefer mythology and legend coming to life over, “Oh, it’s Dan.” Hell Night satisfies that, actually following through on all the creepy lore recounted at the film’s opening before our doomed characters enter Garth Manor where they will spend their Halloween night.

Hell Night is an admirable effort, and it’s easy to see why it’s so beloved (beyond how good Suki Goodwin looks in garters), but it too often fluctuates between tension and calm. A tighter edit would have resulted in a more streamlined experience where the tension doesn’t have the time to subside in between the bursts of terror. However, it’s still one of the better titles from the ‘80s slasher movement and brings something a bit more to the table other than a masked maniac and ironic usage of a holiday.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The film begins with this disclaimer from Shout! Factory:

A Note About Our New 4K Scan:  We did an extensive search for the original film elements, but were unable to locate them. Therefore, this new transfer comes from a 4K scan of the best surviving archival 35mm film print of Hell Night. We did extensive color correction and film restoration to clean up any film damage. Because the print was missing some minor footage, so we have inserted a small amount of standard definition footage to deliver the complete film. We hope you enjoy this new restoration of this ‘80s horror classic.

Even if keeping all that in mind, the video presentation for Hell Night is still pretty rough. I’d be curious to know what source Shout used to strike their transfer because this is a title I used to own via Anchor Bay DVD and I don’t remember it being as rough as this. The new inserts are very noticeable, not just with the severe drop in quality, but the choppy motion of them — think early 2000s buffering webcam. On top of that, if I’d walked into the room with this already playing, I would have assumed it was a standard definition presentation. It’s a shame because Hell Night is attractively shot for a slasher flick, inspired by gothic European films of the 1970s, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of clarity or emphasis on fine detail. Some scenes look very soft. Not to be damning, but this is one of Shout’s least attractive transfers in a while. Audio, thankfully, is fine, without any signs of damage or dialogue discrepancy. 

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

Taking a breath, the supplements Shout has gathered for this release are staggering. There’s a ridiculous amount — so much that I’m left wondering why they weren’t all re-edited into a more organized making-of. But I suppose that’s quibbling. The most interesting feature, and one I hope Shout will consider doing more of in the future, are the “In Conversation” interview segments where two actors converse with each other directly about the movie. These, to me, are more interesting to watch than your standard interview segments.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

Blu-ray Disc (Disc 1):

  • NEW 4K Scan Of The Film Taken From The Best Surviving Archival Print
  • NEW Interviews With Actors Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Suki Goodwin, Kevin Brophy, And Jenny Neumann
  • Audio Commentary With Linda Blair, Tom DeSimone, Irwin Yablans, And Bruce Cohn Curtis
  • Original Theatrical Trailer & TV Spots
  • NEW Interview With Director Tom DeSimone
  • NEW Interview With Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis
  • NEW Interview With Writer Randolph Feldman
  • NEW – Anatomy Of The Death Scenes With Tom DeSimone, Randolph Feldman, Make-up Artist Pam Peitzman, Art Director Steven G. Legler, And Special Effects Artist John Eggett
  • NEW – On Location At The Kimberly Crest House With Tom DeSimone
  • NEW – Gothic Design In Hell Night With Steven G. Legler
  • Original Radio Spot
  • Photo Gallery Featuring Rare, Never-before-seen Stills

DVD Disc (Disc 2):

  • NEW 4K Scan Of The Film Taken From The Best Surviving Archival Print
  • NEW Interviews With Actors Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Suki Goodwin, Kevin Brophy, And Jenny Neumann
  • Audio Commentary With Linda Blair, Tom DeSimone, Irwin Yablans, And Bruce Cohn Curtis
  • Original Theatrical Trailer & TV Spots


Distributor: Twilight Time (limited to 3,000 units)
Paddy Chayefsky’s magnificently dark comedy, The Hospital (1971), handsomely directed by Arthur Hiller, stars a magisterial George C. Scott as the deeply depressed Head of Medicine at a Manhattan teaching hospital where, over one long night, everything falls apart. The doc’s incipient suicide is interrupted only by the arrival of a seductive young woman (the delightful Diana Rigg), the daughter of a crazed patient (Barnard Hughes); she gives him something to live for and helps him get to the bottom of the bizarre sudden deaths suddenly plaguing the cold-hearted medical institution.

Paddy Chayefsky is one of the most famous and celebrated screenwriters in Hollywood history. Even if he had only written the news satire comedy-drama Network, featuring the greatest monologue ever seen in film (you know the one), he would still deserve this accolade, but the novelist and playwright also wrote, among other things, the 1971 dark comedy The Hospital. In the same way Chayefsky chose the news industry to echo his concerns about the state of the country and the cynicism of the media itself, he also chose the hospital setting to echo similar concerns. Similarly, in the same way that all the various technicians and producers in the control room barely notice when Howard Beale’s mad-as-hell journalist announces on-air that he’s going to kill himself, news about doctors dying unexpectedly in the very hospital where they work seems to cause more consternation and irritation than outright alarm or sadness. The ultimate irony is, of course, that a sick person goes to a hospital hoping to get better; meanwhile, people who are perfectly fine seem to be dying from freak accidents that border on homicide.

Chayefsky doesn’t stop there, either. He’s up for lampooning everything that makes sense within the confines of a hospital: the incessant pecking by Mrs. Cushing (Misery’s Frances Sternhagen) of patients for their insurance information — even as they lie half-comatose on their hospital beds; the use of mysticism and shamanism to treat the ill where medicine seems to be failing; the collapsing of the domestic relationship, from the constantly separated Dr. Bock (George C. Scott) to the another doctor who has a habit of sleeping with all the nurses from hematology.  

Chayefsky had a great deal of creative control on The Hospital, obviously having written the screenplay while also taking on the role of producer and having final approval on all casting. But Love Story director Arthur Hiller turns Chayefsky’s words into a living thing, anchored by Scott’s fantastic performance as the suicidal, hard-drinking Dr. Bock. Hiller stays just tight enough on his actors at all times to make his audience audience just a bit too uncomfortably close to everything going on; it’s an atypical choice, as the comedy genre (and this is a comedy, for sure, even though it may not seem like it) generally prefers room for everyone to breathe and set up the next gag. From the corpses to the tears to the sex that’s bordering on rape, Hiller allows us into the observation room to see it all, but while we’re there, he’s going to give us an eyeful.

The Hospital is quirky and strange, and its comedy is so razor-thin that most modern audiences might not realize everything they’re seeing is supposed to be as amusing as it is angering. Even though the two films have nothing to do with each other, Network and The Hospital feel like they exist in the same world — a Chayefsky shared universe of sorts (god, imagine how wonderful that would be) — exhibiting the same satirical look at trusted institutions, the same dark and cynical humor, and the same powerful performances that bring it all home.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Hospital is close to being fifty years old, and it shows, but overall, Twilight Time presents a pretty attractive high-def image. Wear and tear on the transfer is noticeable in the form of mostly white speckling, with one scene in particular showing off a burst of concentrated white scratching (which lasts for only a second or two). It’s not overwhelmingly damaged, but the speckling shows up occasionally from beginning to end. Other than that, the video image is in good shape, offering very surprising stability with limited presence of heavy grain. Colors are fairly muted, and at times the picture looks a little dim (likely intended — especially as it pertains to the depressed Dr. Bock). The audio presentation is utilitarian but strong. This is a very dialogue heavy film, and ultimately that’s all that matters, so luckily the dialogue is prominent, with no signs of distortions or issues with sibilant dialogue.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Isolated Music & Effects Track
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

 


Distributor: RLJ Films

In THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2, recovering from the trauma of being kidnapped last Halloween by the Blue Skeleton – a group who take “extreme haunt” to another level – five friends decide they must face their fears in order to move on. Heading back out on the road to visit more haunted house attractions, signs of the Blue Skeleton start appearing again and a new terror begins…


The Houses October Built seemed like an unlikely candidate for a franchise starter. It was a reasonably well made found footage horror film back during the era when audiences still cared about those. It provided a handful of creepy moments, but honestly, overall, it was kind of a failure as a straight-up horror narrative. The five haunt-hopping characters in the film play fictionalized versions of themselves — they’re real people who traveled the country to document the various haunts and celebrations that spring up during the Halloween season. Personally, this is why I found enjoyment in the first film, and why I was able to mine some from its sequel.

Again, like the former, The Houses October Built 2, as a horror film, is a failure. It’s just not scary at all, and unlike the first one where there was an attempt to build suspense and slowly increase the terror, this time around, there’s very little of that. It plays out much like the first one — our characters traipse around the country in an RV, go to different haunts, and every once in a while they’ll hear from a haunt worker that there’s one haunt in particular they’ve definitely got to check out. Last year it was the Blue Skeleton, and this year, it’s Hell Bent.

You know that thing about being doomed to repeat history if you don’t learn from it?

Welcome to The Houses October Built 2.

Again, like the first, the sequel is a documentary masquerading as a horror film. And I don’t mean that it’s a fake documentary or a mockumentary presenting itself as reality. Granted, a certain percentage of the film is fictionalized. But much of the footage captured is from real haunts and of real haunt actors, and this is why horror fans tend to look at these films as “boring” and “slow.” They’re not wrong to feel like that, because the films are definitely marketed as your typical found-footage horror scarefests; trickery is involved in getting people to watch.

The sequel throws a bit of variety into the batch, this time adding a Zombie 5K Run and even a trip to an “R-Rated” haunt, where its performers use ungodly amounts of profanity and walk around topless. “This way, assholes,” the haunt host says to our characters at one point, beckoning them into the entrance of the haunt, which offered a legit guffaw on my part.

The synopsis explains the rationale behind why these characters would ever go back out on the road after almost dying the last time as the characters “facing their fears,” but really, Brandy (Brandy Schaeffer) is the only one doing that. The other four members — all men — are doing it entirely for the money, as their notoriety has made them hot commodities in the haunt industry. Not only that, not a single one of them seems bothered by their experiences last time. One of them even admits, “I had a blast last year.” It’s…odd.

In my write-up 20 Alternative Films for Halloween Night, I included The Houses October Built as a recommendation. And, cautiously, I would recommend its sequel for the same reason: if you love Halloween, and its ambience, celebrations, and the different attractions out in the world. If you want to relive your own times spent at haunted houses or hayrides or Halloween parades but you’ve grown too curmudgeonly to leave the house anymore, these films do serve a purpose.

If you’re here for the horror, look elsewhere. If you’re here to celebrate Halloween vicariously through our characters, “This way, assholes!”

PICTURE & SOUND:

One thing The Houses October Built 2 has done to improve on its predecessor is its photography, mostly in the form of some beautiful sweeping drone footage that helps to capture very expansive looks at the different places they visit around the country. It’s most impressive during the Zombie 5K Run, whose grounds cover several acres and with very impressive set designs featuring demolished buildings and parking garages, some of which is flooded and dotted with submerged cars. But there are different forms of footage on display, from standard digital camera to phone footage. Overall, it’s a perfectly fine presentation. Audio is about what you’d expect from what’s basically a documentary. Dialogue is fine and the few musical interludes (yes, there are those) also sound fine. The zombie run portion is basically a montage set to some thumping electronica and offers the most activity in the entire film.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Uncut Projection Scene
  • Portrait of a Scare Actor 2
  • “Halloween Spooks” music video


Also Available This Week:

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow-covered mountain. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across hundreds of miles of wilderness, pushing one another to endure and discovering strength they never knew possible.

Special Features:

  • Love and Survival: Creating Chemistry
  • Mountain Between Them: Shooting in Isolation
  • The Wilds: Survival Stunts
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Gallery

NEW PODCAST LOOP

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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.