This Week in Home Video: John Dies at the End, The Sweeney, Clown horror and Don Coscarelli talks
This Week in Home Video previews all the latest Blu-ray, DVD and on-demand titles hitting the street this week, plus lost gems, crazed Cancon, outrageous cult titles and the best places to rent or buy movies in Toronto.
NEW THIS WEEK
John Dies at the End (Anchor Bay)
Using a new street drug called Soy Sauce actually opens up a portal to another dimension populated by nasty beasties intent on enslaving earth. Frankly a madhouse bonkers mash-up of horror, new age, film noir, Sci-Fi and comedy, skillfully assembled from a serialized internet fiction by the demented mind of director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep), John Dies at the End defies any type of easy classification. Like some of the other great "out there" movies of the ages (Lost Highway, Videodrome), John has been lazily described in some quarters as stoner Sci-Fi, but it's much more clever than that, besides which stoners would no doubt miss much of the film geek references. If you are looking for something off the beaten path, this is your golden ticket. With Chase Williamson, Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown.
Extras include a great short on the special effects, a Fangoria interview with Paul Giamatti, deleted scenes, casting session and a laugh out loud commentary track with director Coscarelli and co-stars. For an interview with Coscarelli, see below.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
The Sweeney (eOne)
Based upon the gritty UK wocka-wocka 1970s funk fuelled television series of the same name, The Sweeney is cockney for a special branch of the Metropolitan Police (The Flying Squad, which rhymes with Sweeney Todd, get it?). Sarf London hard nut Ray Winstone plays guv'nor D.I Jack Regen as an overweight, chain smoking, drunken un -PC slob, and it just about works as this kind of anti-hero rarely gets the lead in modern movies, never mind the fit girl. Lots of car chases (courtesy of the Top Gear lads), stylish London scenery and proper grown up swearing make this a worthwhile reboot however subtitles might have helped with some of the thicker accents. Extras include a Behind the Scenes featurette, Shooting in Trafalgar Square, a segment from Top Gear on the set, and much more.
Low-key, darkly comedic horror film about a vengeful clown who returns from the grave to seek retribution on the drunk and horny teenagers who caused his death years before. A UK export, this is more Shaun of the Dead than It!, which might come as a relief to the many people who find clowns terrifying. Extras include a blooper reel and making of documentary
Easily taking the top spot for most ludicrously wordy title of the year, this deluxe cash grab compiles all of the Marvel Avengers titles released so far - Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and of course The Avengers - into one "collectable" suitcase (notably absent is Ang Lee's pensive take on the Hulk). Retailing at over $150, this is one for the collector set only, who have already spilled barrels of ink online registering disgust and complaining about the pointlessness of this release. Worst box set ever.
Route 66 - Season 4 (Shout!Factory)
The great granddaddy of anti-establishment classics like Easy Rider, and less significant but popular TV pulp like Supernatural for that matter, Route 66 finds buddies Tod and Limc cruising around the USA on the famed highway, helping people out Littlest Hobo style. This was the final season of Route 66, and featured guest appearances from William Shatner, Barbara Eden, Joan Crawford and even Soupy Sales.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 - Complete Collection (Maiden Japan)
Harrowing anime about a brother and sister who must traverse a nightmarish Tokyo where a force equivalent to 1000 atom bombs has erupted beneath the city.
The Bible: The Epic Miniseries (20th Century Fox)
Biblical stylings from the people who brought you SURVIVOR, this 10-hour, five-part sanitized mini-series made headlines for the wrong reasons - an Obama-inspired Satan, lolwut? Say what you want about Mel "Sugar tits" Gibson, at least his Biblical epic got its hands dirty.
STATE OF THE UNION WITH DON COSCARELLI
From his debut horror/Sci-Fi film Phantasm, thorough the Bruce Campbell gothic comedy Bubba Ho-Tep and his latest eclectic genre mash-up John Dies at the End, Don Coscarelli is a director who always brings something uniquely bizarre and equally hilarious to the table. While passing through Toronto, we caught up with him for a few questions on the state of the union.
When you are in Toronto, what's your favourite spot to grab a bite to eat?
I like vegetarian food, so Fresh
John Dies at the End has a peculiar almost narcotic vibe, which stays with you after the movie is over. What are some other films like that which you admire?
Maybe the most important movie of my life was the original drug movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Naked Lunch, Videodrome, eXistenZ ... the Cronenberg movies are awesome, those movies in particular have that unsettling vibe afterwards where you felt a little weird. I got the same kind of vibe from his son's movie Antiviral, a really nice movie, especially coming from Los Angeles with the celebrity culture obsession, a hilarious commentary on that.
There was a great Asian upwelling a few years back with Audition, and all of the Takashi Miike and then the Japanese ghost movies. When they are effective they stick with you for quite a while. In some respects the first movie that really scares you, it's almost like a first crush, you never forget that moment, you can always remember the theatre, and the experience. With me, it was the first time I saw Exorcist, and that was a really amazing experience, never to be forgotten.
Is it true you stumbled upon the book John Dies at the End from an automated Amazon.com email?
Absolutely true story, it's the first movie ever decided by a robot. Those are very sophisticated algorithms and formulas they have, and they're examining every purchase you make, and other traffic you do on the web and tailor selecting creative works for you, and in this case they were right, it's a little scary. There's probably a movie there...
John Dies at the End was originally serialized on the internet. Tell us a bit about that...
What was interesting about the story is that the guy [Jason Pargin] created a new paradigm in publishing for himself, because he started off by writing a short story, posting it on his comedy website, it got some good response, so he wrote another chapter, and another chapter, and pretty soon he had an entire novel. And then something like 50,000 people read the novel online, which was unprecedented, and then he migrated from that to a print on demand publisher and then that was successful and that's when I found it. And then the publicity around the movie being made generated a hardcover book sale to St Martin's press and then it went onto the digital so it was a different way of launching.
How difficult was the adaptation process?
In a weird way, the way he wrote the book almost informs the movie because there's a fractured style to the narrative because he was writing it in chapter form. Probably some of things that I grappled with the most during editing probably had a lot to do with the way he designed the book, you know trying to make it comprehensible in a 99 minute package for a movie going audience. The way I attacked the adaptation was is in the book there was a relatively linear section that started the book that was pretty good, and punchy, that got right into all the characters, and explained it, but then it took this left turn for about another 150 pages into an area that would be prohibitively expensive to adapt.
So what I did instead was to take that section and infuse it onto the ending, and I think it worked. Certainly it's a challenging movie, and you have to pay attention, and for the most part folks do and certainly the avid, typical horror genre fans will put that kind of effort into it. The ones who can't handle that kind of thing will throw up their hands and say "I don't get this movie".
What are your feelings about all the amazing tools that young filmmakers now have at their disposal?
I remember when I was making Super 8 films, synchronizing the sound was practically impossible, and when we would play our movies, we would have to play a little tape recorder, and stop the projector every once in a while to get it to sync back up. It was ridiculous. Nowadays, you have completely professional grade applications on your desktop for reasonable prices, it's really wonderful, and it provides for a great democratization of the business.
Will it dramatically affect the movie business?
Now that you have YouTube as a global distributer, things are going to change a lot. Sometimes I wonder if there is a future in feature films, to tell you the truth. Because of the attention span issue, because everybody is like this nowadays (holds up phone to face), you know they can't focus past getting that last tidbit, and their watching shorter form material. Will people still have the patience to sit through ninety minute sections in enough numbers to justify the budgets of the movies, maybe not, you know, there is a possibility that the whole thing could collapse and end.
John Dies at the End has had an unusual theatrical roll out.
It's such a different world now, you've got different segments of the audience who want to see the film in different ways. There's always been the folks who want to wait until it comes out on DVD and watch it at home, and then you've got the folks that want to get out of the house, younger folks who don't want to be at home, they want to see it in a theatre , and then you've also got the iPad generation who wants to have it and watch it on aeroplanes, or when they're sitting somewhere, and then you've got the folks that want to see it when its out immediately.
We're trying this experiment with Raven's Banner and Anchor Bay, this Sinister Cinema idea which hasn't ever been done in the US which is to just have it run theatrically as a 1 night event, and then within the week have it come out on DVD and other venues. I think it's a really interesting approach, and the fact that Cineplex would get behind it and put it in 25 theatres is very satisfying, but you know it's all uncharted territory. I think that we'll look back at this period as "the great internet disruption period" when DVD went away, and they didn't quite know what to do... You know soon something will be designed and it will then be that way for the next 100 years just like the previous 100 years had time to evolve, starting with nickelodeons, and into cinemas, and then television came along...
When it comes to shooting films, are you format agnostic? Do you prefer film stock to digital?
I didn't realize how quickly digital would evolve. Even on John Dies at the End, in post-production we were preparing to create 35mm output even though we shot in digital, because that's how it was done and by the time we got to our period we didn't need to anymore because all the theatres are now running from DCP drives!
Do you think films lose atmosphere being projected digitally?
There is nothing like seeing a good horror film or comedy in a big audience with people, it's completely different. Like for instance, my wife is a huge 3 Stooges fan, and we went to a retrospective of Stooges shorts at a theatre in Los Angeles. I'd never seen a Stooges film with an audience. I'd always watched them at home. It's different! They laugh at different things, the laughs are bigger, it's a whole different experience with audience participation, but that being said, I love seeing my film in theatres, but there have always been weaknesses in the theatrical presentation, you never know what you're going to get.
I was at a film festival with John Dies at the End and you couldn't even hear the dialogue, and then you tell them to crank it up, and it causes the theatre's speakers to crackle. The thing is, the theatrical experience was never perfect by any means, especially with 35mm film as it would go out of focus, sometimes they would miss splice on those platters, suddenly all the heads are cut off, it takes the projectionist 5 minutes to come back, you know all kinds of problems. I'm very realistic about that. I've watched a couple of movies and some TV on an iPad, it's not bad. It's not big enough, if it was twice the size it would be great.
So like some other directors you aren't too worried about losing film stock?
The big joke about that, you know they say "They'll pry the films out of my hands when the last film lab closes down" , well guess what, it's going be closing in the next 3 or 4 months, okay, so you're not going to have much choice. But there is a difference. Re-mastering Phantasm II recently, I got a chance to look at Phantasm II right after I finished colour correction on John Dies at the End. There's a difference. There's a smoothness, there's a warmth, much like the vinyl versus CD thing, analogue film has a look that when presented right, when you seeing a movie like The Godfather properly presented, it's awesome and digital is probably not going to match that, until the formulas are much more sophisticated.
Now I can see having made a digital movie, I can see the difference. There is a difference. But it's not that big, and it certainly in the terms of audience, they have no clue, if you were polling an audience playing a 35mm and digital side by side, I don't think 90% of the audience could tell the difference.
Tell us about working with the great Paul Giamatti.
I got to meet him, and we had tried to work on another project that didn't work out, and while I was reading the book, maybe 25 pages into the book and I was going Oh this reporter character is really interesting 'cause he comes in, he's got this haughty attitude, he's full of himself, and doesn't take the guy very seriously and then the kid starts turning the tables on him and then it has that wicked twist at end with his character, and I though wow this would be great for Paul. So I gave him the script and luckily he "got" it and was willing to come on and he volunteered to assist with his company and executive produce it which really added a level of integrity to the project.
It seems like he's had a great run in the last few years
He's a wonderful man - the best actor on the planet in my opinion - I can see why all the big shot directors want to put him in all their movies because it's so easy when you have a guy with that kind of a gift. He's been in such a broad array of movies, you think about his early movies, like in Howard Stern's Private Parts where he plays the wacko station manager and he can take a character like that and make it magnetic, where you are riveted, it's such a gift, he's a such a great addition to any movie.
He gets really excited about different types of things people tend to stereotype him as maybe the Sideways guy, or the Barney's Version guy, you know these serious character pieces, but from having spent time with him I picked up he's got this really wicked sense of humour and he likes genre stuff and I'm sure you'll see him experimenting more with horror and Sci-Fi in the future.
Don Coscarelli, thank you kindly!
John Dies at the End is available now on DVD and Blu-ray
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