Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - THE BLOB, AUDREY ROSE and THE BELIEVERS on Blu-ray ""

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Twilight Time - THE BLOB, AUDREY ROSE and THE BELIEVERS on Blu-ray

THE BLOB (1988; Chuck Russell)
To remake? Or not to remake? This seems to be a question that has haunted both film fans and studios since almost the inception of cinema. It's a somewhat tried and true formula for Hollywood to re-do an already known property as they see it as a "known" thing with a (hopefully) built-in audience that they need to perhaps market a little less. This may or may not be true but it seems less relevant in a time when the public seems to have trouble remembering films from as few as five years previous, but the studios continue on re-making and fans often continue to protest. I get the fan point of view certainly, as they see the film being remade as "sacred" on one level or another and don't wish to have their memory of that wonderful thing besmirched by this new and potentially terrible thing. I don't find myself particularly phased by remakes anymore and, if anything, I always try to look at them as a propelling a possible boost in interest in the older movie. Anyway, THE BLOB is absolutely one of my favorite horror films from the 1980s. Why it's rarely mentioned in the "great remakes" category is beyond me, but it appears to have picked up a good deal more fan love over the years. It does all the things I feel like a good remake (especially a horror remake) should do. Thankfully there was a decent amount of time between the original film starring a then-unknown young actor named Steve McQueen. That BLOB came out 30 years prior and so despite it being pretty effective for the time it was made, it left room for things to get more intense at the very least. And more intense is where this remake goes for sure. It is this "taking it up a notch" that I really love about the movie. It sits squarely in the now nearly-dead era of practical special effects and that gives it a charm all its own. The effects really stand out and are quite well done and a few of them still even make me wondered how they were done. Other things it has going for it are a clever screenplay by the great Frank Darabont and an excellent cast including the gorgeous Shawnee Smith (also the enchanting Candy Clark) and a fully mulleted Kevin Dillon. I had such a crush on Shawnee Smith after I saw this movie. I was aware of her through SUMMER SCHOOL (which was a family favorite in my house as a kid), but THE BLOB showed a me a whole nother side to here. Apparently, I wasn't the only one as James Wan, Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman have all outed themselves as having had crushes on her based on this movie and others she did in the 1980s. Though apparently she's not a huge fan of horror films or being scared, I was extremely pleased to see her show up as a regular in the SAW franchise throughout the 2000s. It always seemed to me that through this film she certainly demonstrated a beauty, charisma and star power that should have netted her greater notoriety and a more high-profile career. Folks catching her in THE BLOB for the first time via this good-looking Blu-ray will see exactly what I mean.
At the time of this writing, Screen Archives appears to still have some copies of this Blu-ray available. At last indication, there were fewer than 600 copies remaining from this 5,000 copy limited edition run. I for one was quite pleased to see how Twilight Time upped their usual pressing of 3,000 to 5,000 in anticipation of the strong response to this release. I know they took a lot of heat for their FRIGHT NIGHT Blu-ray a few years back (which they are also re-releasing in January BTW), but it is clear to me that they are a company that are not only passionate about the films they put out and their presentation, but also keeping an ear to the ground and listening to their fans/buyers for feedback. It's not an easy business to be in at the moment, as Blu-rays have lost their golden goose sheen from the point of view of the Studios, but companies like Twilight Time give me hope for the future of physical media continuing to make it into the hands of the film collectors. If you'd like to know more about the company, their releases and why they do what they do, I highly recommend checking out the recent Twilight Time episode of the Killer POV podcast:
In this episode, TT's Nick Redman goes into detail about them and I found it to be quite enlightening even though I've listened to several interviews with him over the years.

Special Features:
This Blu-ray has a couple really nice features on it for folks who love this movie like I do. First off, they've recorded and included a lovely commentary track with director Chuck Russell which was moderated by Horror Film aficionado Ryan Turek (who runs the venerable Shock Till You Drop website). Russell has a lot to say about the movie and Turek would seem to have been a perfect choice to help coax the most interesting stuff out of him. Russell goes through how his presentation pitch for THE BLOB remake ended up opening the door for his directing debut with New Line on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, working with Darabont, the effects, the actors and so forth. It's a lively, informative track that certainly lived up to my expectations.
Also included is an 18 minute Friday Night Frights Q&A which was recorded at the Cinefamily repertory theater in Los Angeles. It preceded a screening of the film they put on there and with director Chuck Russell (hosted by Ryan Turek and Joshua Miller). Lots of talk of the effects and how some were done as well as some story choices.
Other supplements on the disc are an isolated score track and the original "green" and "red" theatrical trailers.
If you're interested in this movie and this Blu-ray, I must recommend you head over to Screen Archives forthwith and purchase:

AUDREY ROSE (1977; Robert Wise)
"I don't think we're going to prove reincarnation in this picture, but I'm very open to the whole possibility of the supernatural, the paranormal, the possibility of dimensions out there." -Robert Wise
I have come to appreciate Robert Wise more and more as I've gotten older and seen more of his films. Much like one of my heroes, Howard Hawks, he moved deftly between many different genres and was able to do good work in all of them. Horror seemed to be a good spot for him though. From his early Val Lewton pictures like CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (which, like AUDREY ROSE, focuses on a little girl), and THE BODY SNATCHER he was already showing himself to be a solid force in the genre. When he made THE HAUNTING in 1963, he  showed that he had advanced even further with his horror chops. AUDREY ROSE, while one of his later and perhaps slightly minor efforts, is still absolutely worthwhile for the rare combinations of elements that Wise brings to the film.
The way AUDREY ROSE opens (after an unsettling first minute) reminds me a little of MY BODYGUARD. Both films feature folks riding bikes in a city setting with pleasant score music running underneath. I like to call it "Paddington Bear" music, but it really doesn't tie in to that character in any specific way. It's a just a cute child-like feeling that music has that begs the description somehow. And it's not that Michael Small's music for AUDREY ROSE is exactly like Dave Gruisin's for MY BODYGUARD, but they have a tonal and period similarity that got my attention. I think it was mostly because despite opening similarly, both films diverge from that music pretty quickly become two different animals entirely. The thread they have in common (at least in my oddball brain) is that both openings would seem to portray a young person and their innocence (via the score) who is about to go through smithing pretty intense. In the case of Chris Makepeace's character in MY BODYGUARD, he's about to go through a crisis with involving the head bully (Matt Dillon) at his new school. In the case of AUDREY ROSE, her crisis is something more creepy and unnerving in that the main little girl may be the reincarnation of the deceased daughter of a weird dude played by Anthony Hopkins. Reincarnation is an interesting topic and one I've given a little thought to over the years. Can't say I necessarily believe in it, but it is certainly an intriguing concept. My thoughts of it are often reduced to how it's referenced in Albert Brook's DEFENDING YOUR LIFE in the "Past Lives Pavilion" segments. Silly I know, but that comedic portrayal somehow sticks with me. Anyway, in watching this film I started to think about my own little girl and how freaked out I'd be if some strange dude started to obsess over her. In the context of the movie and the time it was made, there was apparently little the police could do during the early stages of the obsession. Buying gifts for the little girl and calling to check to see how she's doing was apparently no big deal (or not actionable) in the eyes of the authorities. My how times have changed. I mean, I haven't ever had to get a restraining order or anything, but it would seem that in our currently hyper-litigious society that such things would never be tolerated. For better or for worse we have become incredibly protective of our children. While it can be seen, as I said, as a perhaps positive shift, it makes it very difficult to make a movie like AUDREY ROSE in the same was as it was in 1977. While the film itself seems to have a certain kinship with both THE EXORCIST and perhaps also ROSEMARY'S BABY, it exists in its own creepy and yet strangely optimistic place. Director Robert Wise expressed in that above quote, exactly what the movie ultimately seems to be going for. He would prefer us dig out his "be open-minded" message amidst the horror-y movie trappings. 
I will say that the little girl in this movie (Susan Swift) is uneasily effective for a few different reason. First and foremost are her eyes. They are very wide, near-buggy and almost slightly crossed in this way that I found really unsettling. Even in the early more innocent interactions with the character, her eyes really threw me. And once she begins to shift into her more "possessed" mode, her eyes became all the more frightening. I couldn't help but imagine how freaked out I would be if my daughter suddenly changed and became this other thing, this other person. It's the kind of thing that creates immediate anxiety in me, not because I have any real fear of it happening, but because there is something just so disturbing about the idea of this little person changing on me like that. The idea that she might some day not know me in the same way rocks me to my very core and therefore makes the movie that much more affecting for me personally. AUDREY ROSE is a unique, spiritual take on the type of horror movie that was being made in the late 60s through the 70s. It speaks to a much less cynical time and yet has elements of the deep paranoia that was a big part of the films of this period. It is an intriguing mix for sure.
Special Features on this disc include an isolated score track and the theatrical trailer.

THE BELIEVERS (1987; John Schlesinger)
In describing THE BELIEVERS to my wife, we immediately spun off into a conversation about THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW as well. My wife had entangled THE BELIEVERS with that film and when I described the early scene featuring the death of one of the characters she was immediately made to think of SERPENT. It's kind of understandable in that both films came out only a year apart and both have plotlines involving voodoo and some crazy rituals. Back to that early death scene though. It's a pretty disturbing sequence and I think it made quite an impression on me when is saw the film as a youngster that I never forgot it (and clearly my wife never did either). In discussing that scene again with my wife, I was reminded how much I disliked it and found it to be a touch unbelievable at least as far as what I would have done in the same scenario. It's a pivotal death and the plot hinges on it I realize, but somehow that didn't make it any less troublesome for me. I do hate when I get nitpicky like this, but this scene is particularly resonant in that Martin Sheen's reaction is quite powerful and I know my mind is also fighting with the idea of why it happened the way it happened while I am am absolutely being heavily affected by what he's doing
. It comes down to a matter of dramatic construction for me and it is very personal as far as my aversion to it. Sometimes you'll see a movie that has a scene that feels like something of a "false note" of  sorts and sometimes those notes make it difficult to find one's footing with the story again. Moving on, I always find it curious that this film was director by the great British auteur (of sorts) John Schlesinger. With such memorable and keenly observed efforts as MIDNIGHT COWBOY, DAY OF THE LOCUST, THE MARATHON MAN and THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN. These were all lead ups to THE BELIEVERS, but they are all great films and show a portrait of a director who knows just what he is doing and works well with actors. Something is off about THE BELIEVERS and I cannot put my finger on it. This is not to say it isn't worth watching because it absolutely is. THE BELIEVERS has a great little ensemble cast that helps up its watchability for sure. Martin Sheen always seems to deliver the goods and here he is backed by the likes of Helen Shaver, Jimmy Smits, Robert Loggia and Richard Masur (who I am a pretty huge fan of). I will say that THE BELIEVERS has a lovely underlying sense of dread about it. I'm often a sucker for a palpable sense of dread in movies. It is fascinating to me that this film was made just a few years before PACIFIC HEIGHTS, which feels like some sort of paranoid extension of THE BELIEVERS or at least a compelling sister film to it. 
Special Features on this disc include an isolated score track and the theatrical trailer.

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