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Review: Old & new horror, supernatural & otherwise, dominate new releases (Includes first-hand account)

Cellar Dweller / Catacombs double feature (Blu-ray)

Scream Factory

Cellar Dweller: The promising career of a horror comic book artist (Jeffrey Combs) ends in a fiery death when he confronts the bloody carnage of his own imagination in his studio. Years later, an ardent devotee of the artist’s work becomes a resident in his house, now an art academy, unaware that her imagination has revived the grotesque murderer of the past and that she may be the next victim.
Catacombs: For over 400 years, the curse of the Abbey at San Pietro was kept a secret. Buried deep beneath the monastery lies the Beast of the Apocalypse. The power of evil is unleashed when an American priest and a beautiful young schoolteacher uncover the unholy terror of a diabolical spell cast centuries ago. Now, it will take the ultimate sacrifice to stop the curse that will not be denied.

The common element between these two films is the evil monsters who kill most of the characters. The tale of illustrations coming to life because of an obvious error (at least in horror movies) brought with it a large, furry, dog-like beast that devours its victims. However, the most interesting part of the movie is the final chapter in which common sense eludes the characters and they make an even more silly and fatal mistake. While the murders are not especially graphic, it does include some attractive drawings that fill in the blanks. The other picture is rather simpler and less interesting. The possession of various characters and parlour tricks is old hat. And blaming the presence of a woman at the monastery for the disaster is irritating.

Special features include: commentary by director David Schmoeller. (Scream Factory)

Howling II (Blu-ray)

Scream Factory

After newscaster Karen White’s shocking on-screen transformation and violent death (in the original The Howling), her brother Ben (Reb Brown) is approached by Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee), a mysterious man who claims that Karen has, in fact, become a werewolf. But this is the least of their worries — to save mankind, Stefan and Ben must travel to Transylvania to battle and destroy Stirba (Sybil Danning), the immortal queen of all werewolves, before she is restored to her full powers.

This is an inferior sequel to a film that had gained a level of cult status. The effects remain relatively good, displaying transformations on screen and using practical make-up effects to achieve the final product — whether you approve of the look or not is another matter. Lee is still the steadfast monster hunter he’s portrayed so often and his assistants show equal dedication though they’ve been involved in the quest for much less time. However, the forced incorporation of orgies and out-of-place punk concerts makes the film feel disjointed. Finally, the credit sequence must be followed by watching the interview with Danning, in which she discusses the exploitation she experienced and the ludicrous compromise they struck.

Special features include: commentaries by director Philippe Mora, and composer Steve Parsons and editor Charles Bornstein; alternate opening and ending; “Leading Man — An Interview With Actor Reb Brown”; “Queen Of The Werewolves — An Interview With Actress Sybil Danning”; “A Monkey”; behind-the-scenes footage; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)

The Outing / The Godsend double feature (Blu-ray)

Scream Factory

The Outing: An ancient genie is released from a lamp when thieves ransack an old woman’s house. They are killed and the lamp is sent to a museum to be studied. The curator’s daughter is soon possessed by the genie and invites her friends to spend the night at the museum, along with some uninvited guests.
The Godsend: When a strange woman has her baby at the Marlowe’s house, then disappears, Kate Marlowe is forced to keep the baby, Bonnie. She loves the child, but when her own children are systematically killed, suspicion turns to Bonnie.

The first film is presented as more of a ghost story than a typical tale of a malevolent djinn. Objects are moved by an invisible hand, the girl is seemingly possessed at certain times and the evil is seemingly acting on its own volition. The deaths are rather creative, but the narrative isn’t very coherent. The story of the young female version of Damien presents its own issues with the plot, mainly the adoptive mother’s commitment to protecting the obviously evil child. All of the actual violence occurs off screen, which is either meant to save the adolescent actors the trauma of carrying out the acts or to cast doubt on Bonnie’s guilt — either way, it is a missed opportunity for some even eerier scenes.

There are no special features. (Scream Factory)

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
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After six years of keeping our malls safe, Paul Blart (Kevin James) has earned a well-deserved vacation. He heads to Las Vegas with his teenage daughter (Raini Rodriguez) before she heads off to college. But safety never takes a holiday and when duty calls, Blart answers.

The first film was already a ludicrous stretch that was tolerably funny at the expense of the overweight mall cop who finally gets his day to shine. But capitalizing on the same issue while adding healthy doses of embarrassment and depression is difficult to watch at times. This type of humour doesn’t have the same appeal it once did regardless of the knowledge that the underdog will eventually prevail because the path to his victory is fraught with uncomfortable moments. Blart’s strategy to foil the robbery is expectedly ridiculous, aided by his equally inept colleagues. Moreover moving the characters to paradise has rarely been a successful formula for a sequel, and this one is not going into the win column.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “Security Force: The Cast of Paul Blart 2”; “How to Make a Movie”; “Action Adventure”; “Back in the Saddle”; “Le Reve”; “No Animals Were Harmed”; “Sales Tactics”; “Real Cops”; gag reel; and photo gallery. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Reckless (DVD)

Artsploitation Films

Laura Temming (Sarah Chronis) wakes up to find herself bound to a bed in a sound-insulated vacant apartment. Two masked men strip the clothes from her body, place her in a track suit, and take photos that will be used to obtain ransom money from Laura’s wealthy father. As the clock ticks, Laura discovers that she may have a relationship with one of the kidnappers that she never expected and that the two men hold a secret that one could not have expected.

Though the film centres on a kidnapping, it has some similarities with a heist movie; from the careful planning to the hierarchical dynamic between the criminals. Most of the film takes place in a single apartment between the bedroom, living room and bathroom. The only scenes outside of these walls occur at the very beginning and end of the movie. These restrictions allow the story to unfold in a very contained environment, in which the viewer’s knowledge of the situation is limited to what the characters know at any given moment. In addition, the confinement raises tensions and leads to a number of bad decisions on everyone’s part. Though the conclusion is somewhat predictable, it’s still a compelling narrative that generally uses its 90 minutes wisely.

There are no special features. (Artsploitation Films)

Sebastian Maniscalco: Aren’t You Embarrassed? (DVD)

Shout Factory

In his follow-up to “What’s Wrong With People?”, celebrated comedian Sebastian Maniscalco now asks “Aren’t You Embarrassed?” In this all-new comedy event, Sebastian returns home to Chicago to perform in front of a live, sold-out audience where no topic is off-limits. With his inimitable delivery, he skewers modern-day society through the lens of his old-world Italian-American upbringing.

Maniscalco does observational comedy that generally has a personal slant. His shtick has matured over time and evolved somewhat now that he’s married. He talks about his family and what it was like to grow up in an Italian, immigrant household. He uses old school philosophy to mock trends on the Internet and social media, including selfies — a.k.a. “lonelies” — and unsolicited restaurant reviews. Maniscalco looks at things like the assembly line at Chipotle differently than most people and uses his general distaste for people to comment on what he considers social faux pas.

Special features include: “Behind the Scenes”; and “Family Dinner.” (Shout Factory)

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Blu-ray)

Fox Home Entertainment

Now that his first venture has been proven successful, ever-confident Sonny (Dev Patel) is busy juggling plans for a second resort — as well as his own wedding. But his efforts are constantly hampered by hilarious complications, and in order to pull it all together, he’ll need a little help and encouragement from his resident friends.

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Since the residents are already settled and integrated into the once-foreign land, there’s no need for all the backstory and character development that occupied the first picture. As a result, more of the story is focused on the drama in Sonny’s life. From trying to prevent his mother from interacting with the guests (though Richard Gere‘s character is not easily dissuaded) to allowing his insecurities and paranoia to jeopardize his relationship with his fiancée to his possible implosion as all the self-imposed pressure rises to meltdown proportions. Patel remains ever delightful, portraying Sonny’s unquenchable enthusiasm, fast and passionate speech patterns, and amusing approach to business. It’s easy to tell when a cast is enjoying their time on set and it’s quite obvious that within the context of this film the actors were having a grand time reprising these characters.

Special features include: “Returning to the Marigold Hotel”; “Blossoming Relationships”; “The Marigold Wedding”; “Filming in India”; story; cast; and gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)

The Treatment (Blu-ray)

Artsploitation Films

Police inspector Nick Cafmeyer (Geert Van Rampelberg) is investigating a case where a mother and father have been bound and beaten, and their young son is missing. An obsessive loner, Cafmeyer discovers that there are other similar cases — tragedies where the parents were forced by a psychopath to harm their own children, who then vanish. For the inspector, this triggers memories of his own brother’s abduction as a child, and the possibility that he may still be alive somewhere.

This procedural is going to be difficult to watch for some people. European cinema deals with the subject of pedophilia very blatantly, which is not as common overseas. It’s mostly structured as a police procedural, but the details of the case are quite appalling. Cafmeyer’s parallel investigation into his brother’s case is equally disturbing as he gets closer to the truth of his brother’s fate. In spite of the difficult subject matter, it’s a compelling narrative that keeps audiences glued to their seats in anticipation and loathing. The actors truly embrace their roles regardless of their characters’ leanings, creating a convincing, high intensity portrayal of a horrific crime.

Special features include: deleted scenes; premiere featurette; and trailer. (Artsploitation Films)

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (Blu-ray & DVD)

Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada & Raven Banner Entertainment

When an apocalyptic event turns everyone around him—including his wife and daughter— into marauding zombies, everyman mechanic Barry (Jay Gallagher) arms himself to the teeth, soups up his car, and hits the road in order to rescue his sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey), from a deranged, disco-dancing mad doctor.

This film has been compared to Mad Max for its post-apocalyptic, road warrior feel and Day of the Dead for its zombie storyline, both of which are reasonable. Its exaggerated narrative mainly switches between Barry’s quest to save the only family he has left in an alternatively-powered vehicle and Brooke’s bizarre and reprehensible captivity. In this scenario, rather than being absent the potential authorities are the story’s other monsters. Even for a tale of the undead, filmmakers choose extreme and absurd plot twists whenever possible. Still, the characters are given more prominence than zombies, which are primarily instruments to drive the narrative forward. The result is a very entertaining, over-the-top movie that goes all out from beginning to end.

Special features include: commentary by filmmakers Tristan Roache-Turner and Kiah Roache-Turner; deleted scenes; production and post production pitch; and story board photo gallery. (Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada & Raven Banner Entertainment)

Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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