Thriller

The X-Files: I Want to Believe: Ultimate X-Phile Edition (DVD)

How’s this for unexplained phenomena: Someone actually liked this movie.

Houdini Restored: The Man from Beyond (DVD)

Somebody get me out of this straightjacket!

War (DVD)

War! Hunh! Good God, y’all!

Shoot ‘Em Up (DVD)

Muzzle flash! Muzzle flash! Muzzle flash!

Captivity (DVD)

When you think the worst has happened…

The Illusionist (2006) (DVD)

That’s not my trick… it’s my illusion!

The Darkroom (2006) (DVD)

The advent of digital photography makes this movie less scary.

Pulse: Unrated Edition (2006) (DVD)

Do you want to meet a ghost?

Ten Little Indians (1965) (DVD)

Agatha Christie’s novel Ten Little Indians is a slim, tightly-plotted mystery, notable for pulling off a very clever trick. Throughout the book, whenever a major event occurs, such as a murder, Christie instantly reveals the private thoughts of each suspect. This omniscient approach makes it nearly impossible for a reader to sort out just who the killer might be. Naturally, the book’s popularity has led to numerous filmed adaptations, including this one from 1965. Sure, this version takes enormous liberties with the source material, such as new characters and a completely different setting, but Christie’s basic concept remains, and it’s the most potent element here. Viewers are not inside the characters’ minds as in the book, but instead there’s a cast of talented actors (and Fabian) to make up for it. Ten strangers accept invitations to spend the weekend at a luxurious mountaintop mansion. Upon arriving, they get to know each other while waiting for their unknown host to arrive. Instead, the host, an individual known only as “Mr. Owen,” has left a tape recording in his place, accusing all 10 guests of murder. Each of our party guests, it seems, has a secret in his or her past. It’s Friday night, and the tram to pick up the guests from their snowed in accommodations won’t arrive until Monday. Then, one by one, the guests start dropping dead, each murdered based on the titular nursery rhyme. As bodies start piling up, the survivors conclude that the murderous Mr. Owen is really one of them. And the suspects are: • Hugh Lombard (Hugh O’Brien, TV’s Wyatt Earp), an engineer • Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton, Goldfinger), a secretary • Sir John Mandrake (Leo Genn, Moby Dick), a general • Ilona Bergen (Daliah Lavi, Casino Royale), an actress • Dr. Edward Armstrong (Dennis Price, Murder Most Foul) a psychiatrist • Arthur Cannon (Wilfrid Hyde-White, My Fair Lady), a judge • William Blore (Stanely Holloway, also of My Fair Lady), a detective • Michael Raven (teen heartthrob Fabian), a popular singer • Joseph and Elsa Grohmann (Mario Adorf, Major Dundee, and Marianne Hoppe, The Wrong Move), housekeepers Now, this is a classic, traditional murder mystery. Sure, there are plenty of mysteries in today’s movies and TV shows. Usually, though, the actual clue-finding shares space with horror or drama, and twists keep getting more and more elaborate in attempts to surprise savvy modern viewers. Ten Little Indians, meanwhile, makes no excuses for what it is. There’s a murder, there are suspects, and the movie dares viewers to figure it out before the characters on screen do. That being said, there’s not a lot of tension, considering that these folks are trapped in a house with a killer. The cast is mostly upstanding British gentlemen, who don’t drop their manners even under these extreme circumstances. Life and death becomes an intellectual exercise. They’re watching their backs, sure, but they’re also not against a pleasant game of billiards while trying to sort out the clues. O’Brien, doing the hunky leading man routine, is more of a “take action” character. This puts him in the heroic leadership role, even at times when the others suspect him. Although the characters get killed one by one, there’s still time for a romantic subplot, including a pretty steamy (for the time) bedroom scene with O’Brien and Eaton. Again, with suspicion running rampant among the survivors, it seems unlikely that these two would hook up. And no, it’s not just “act of desperation because we’re about to die anyway” sex. I know, movies must have romance, but this comes across as forced. Perhaps if the dialogue were tweaked to be a little more realistic, the creators could have improved this element of the film. One more note about the cast: If I were trapped in a house with Fabian, I’d go on a killing spree too. Granted, I wasn’t around in 1965, but I still doubt that this guy could’ve been that popular. The movie screeches to a halt every time Fabian goes into his “swingin’ teen idol” shtick. Seeing a bunch of classy British actors sneer down on his antics has me thinking not all of that was acting. Fabian is the movie’s sore thumb. In another film, his antics might have been funny and charming, but I’m afraid he just doesn’t fit in with the rest of this cast. The above criticisms, however, don’t mean the film doesn’t work. Once the suspense gets going, it really gets going. There’s a large, gloomy basement filled with catacomb-like hallways, a perfect spot for someone to wander off accidentally and never be seen again. At one point, the power goes out, and there’s—you guessed it—a shot in the dark. Throughout the film, we’re treated to shadowy hallways, mysterious footsteps, locked doors, and almost-noir visuals that add much-needed atmosphere to what is otherwise a dialogue-driven film. As the plot builds to climax, and as the suspects dwindle down to a small few, the tension finally increases. There’s no madcap chase through the house like we’ve seen in Scream and all of its rip-offs, but the suspense is there. It’s suspenseful not because someone is chasing the survivors, but because we’re anticipating the big reveal. I won’t spoil it here, of course, but I’ll say the ending is well-handled. It’s not too ridiculous, unlike a few of today’s “surprise ending” movies, and it’s not clumsily over-explained either. The picture quality varies throughout the film. I was impressed as it began, marveling at how so many black and white films look black and silver with their new DVD transfers. But that compliment only applies to about half the scenes in Ten Little Indians. At other times, there are enough scratches to distract viewers from the onscreen action. Some scenes have an odd flicker-like effect that also distracts. We’ve seen better restorations of older films, especially from Warner Brothers, so it’s disappointing to see portions of this one in such bad shape. As for the sound, the mono track shows no flaws, with all the dialogue and music coming through just fine. The subtitles here are a welcome addition for those of us not used to some of these thick British accents. Aside from a collection of trailers for other Agatha Christie films, there’s only one other extra. But what an extra this is. Apparently, when Ten Little Indians debuted in theaters, it had its own special gimmick: the “Whodunit Break.” Mere seconds before the killer’s identity is revealed, the movie stopped, and a narrator invited viewers to debate among themselves who they think did it. After 60 seconds went by, counted down by a clock on screen, the movie resumed. That footage is viewable on this DVD as an extra, and not as part of the main film. Some film purists will likely want to experience the movie the way it was originally seen, through a branching option perhaps. Well, I’m telling you right now that the movie is better off without the gimmick. The ending is tightly paced and well acted, and the last thing it needs is someone interrupting it to say, “Now, discuss.” I’m guessing more than a few theater-goers threw their popcorn at the screen when this happened in 1965. That being said, this bit makes for a wonderful DVD extra. Other extras, such as commentaries and documentaries, would have enhanced the movie greatly, but are nowhere to be found. What’s that, you say? Some people out there are upset over the use of the word “Indian” in this story? It’s true: Over the years, countless copies of Christie’s novel have been reprinted under the title And Then There Were None, all in the name of political correctness and cultural sensitivity. It’s not really my place here to open up a debate about this, but I can assure you that there are no racially offensive comments toward Native Americans in the movie. The use of “Indian” is a throwaway. It could be called Ten Little Maori or Ten Little Icelanders or Ten Little Klingons and it’d be the exact same film. This is not a perfect movie. It has its flaws, and it’s not one you’ll still be thinking about weeks after seeing it. But the good outweighs the bad. Ten Little Indians manages to overcome its flaws, resulting in an enjoyable romp through murder mystery territory. The Verdict Ten Little Indians is found guilty of ruthless, cold-blooded murder. And of being a fun movie.

Millennium: The Complete Third Season (DVD)

My computer thinks this is the year 1900.

Fear Chamber (DVD)

Don’t panic. Only your life is in danger.

Girlfriends (1994) (DVD)

They’re young. They’re in love. They kill men.

Dario Argento’s Trauma (DVD)

A new dimension of fear. Italian horror maestro Dario Argento came to America (Minnesota, to be exact) in 1993 in the hopes of reaching the Western audience in a big way with Trauma, a mixture of murder mystery, slasher horror, and serious themes of addiction and anorexia. While driving home one day, David (Christopher Rydell, Flesh and Bone), a graphic designer and recovering addict, sees a young girl on the edge of a bridge, possibly about to jump to her death. He rescues the girl, named Aura (Asia Argento, the director’s daughter, Scarlet Diva), who is also an addict and an anorexic. The two are suddenly separated, though, when Aura is reunited with her oddball parents (Piper Laurie, Twin Peaks, and Dominque Serrand, The Usual). It’s a busy night for the family, because Aura’s mom is holding a séance, which is interrupted by “The Headhunter”—a serial killer who beheads victims with an electric cutting wire. With no one else to turn to, Aura reunites with David, fearful that she will be the Headhunter’s next victim. Aura also needs protection from some suspicious medical professionals and their malicious attempts to “cure” her. Now, David and Aura try to piece together clues to the killer’s identity, all while hiding out from the authorities and dealing with their own personal demons. What can be said about Dario Argento that hasn’t already been said? Some movie fans love the dark, bloody thrills of his films, but for others, they’re either too slow or too derivative of other works. He has a reputation for making overly gory films, yet many of his works lean toward the psychological horror that plays on audiences’ imaginations. So, for me, stepping back and attempting to look at Argento’s work as a whole, it appears that he’s an “in between” horror director. This is because his style falls somewhere in between the blood n’ guts slasher subgenre and the more high-minded horror flicks popular in the 90s such as The Silence of the Lambs or Se7en. Argento uses elements from both types of films without stepping over the line from one to the other. This makes his work unique, but not for all tastes. “Not for all tastes” also describes Trauma quite nicely. The tone of the movie jumps around from time to time. It begins in a fairly normal setting, but the séance scene is more of the baroque style of Argento’s earlier films. When the action moves to a hospital setting, the story preys on fears of medicine and surgery. If you’re in an Argento film, places like clinics, hospitals and boarding schools are not nice places for you to be. In these settings, well-meaning “professionals” who claim they’re “trying to help” are likely up to no good, and that’s the case here. Then the movie progresses into murder mystery territory with David and Aura tracking down and interviewing suspects. All the while, a black-gloved figure—another staple of an Argento film—sneakily beheads victim after victim, often with close-ups of the wire slowly slicing into a person’s neck. While all this is going on, there’s a subplot about a young boy who believes something sinister is happening in the house next door, which eventually turns into a dark and morbid take on Home Alone. Moving in and out of mostly mundane settings, Argento finds plenty of times to pull out the visual flourishes. The hospital scenes are the visual peak of the film, in which steadicam shots zip up and down hallways, capturing all the chaos happening around the characters. Indoor scenes tend to have flat, drab colors, while outdoor scenes are bright and lush with color. This of course represents Aura’s state of mind, how she desires freedom over being trapped inside four walls for the rest of her life. Trauma was one of Asia Argento’s earliest roles, and the first time she had been directed by her famous father. Although she’s proven herself a capable (and lovely) actress, perhaps she was too young at the time to carry such a complicated role. Aura not only suffers from drug addiction and an eating disorder, but she also has issues with her parents, she’s dealing with the deaths of people close to her, and she’s afraid that a psycho is out to chop her noggin off. That’s a lot to ask of any actress, much less one as inexperienced as she was at the time. That’s not to say her performance is terrible, but she never quite reaches the dramatic heights the script calls for. As David, all Christopher Rydell is required to do is act hunky and heroic, which he does well, but he too gets a moment to shine when his character goes off the deep end, so to speak, in a scene that scared away many “big-name” actors, allegedly because they were concerned about how it might affect their image. Piper Laurie doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but she’s as excellent as always. A better understanding of the ins and outs of Trauma can be found in the disc’s commentary track by author and Argento expert Alan Jones. Here, Jones reveals the changes the director made to his signature style in the hopes of appealing to an American audience. This meant a more down-to-Earth setting and cutting back somewhat on the gore. Argento considered these choices as risk-taking, something he wanted to do with the film. His fans, though, wanted more of the same, and the film was not well-received at the time. This information-packed commentary also reveals that the “Asia” in Asia Argento is pronounced “Ah-zee-ah,” and that Dario would prefer it if we all pronounce the film’s title as “Trauw-ma,” not “Trah-ma.” The movie is presented in its original widescreen image, and although the visuals are not as elaborate as some of Argento’s other efforts, the picture is clean with little to no defects. The 5.1 surround track has the sound effects sometimes muffling the actors’ lines, but the audio is terrific during the rainy scenes. What is it about rain that brings out the best in surround sound? For other extras, there’s a brief featurette, an on-the-set interview with gore god Tom Savini about his special effects work, a handful of deleted scenes, a poster gallery, a Dario Argento bio, and trailers for other films of his. Just as Argento’s work falls in between suspense and gore, this film too is an “in between.” It’s in between the classics that put him on the map and the new sensibilities he was developing. It has the blood and the gloominess we expect from him, but it also puts an emphasis on drama and character interaction not seen in some of the wilder horror movies out there. Suspense/horror junkies will probably enjoy it, and I’d recommend a rental for anyone else curious. Although Dario Argento tried something new with this film, he was smart enough not to stray too far from his roots. Anchor Bay should be applauded for such a nice presentation on DVD, especially the excellent commentary. The Verdict Not guilty.

Torture me no more (DVD)

How about torturing ME no more?

Revelations (DVD)

Omnium Finis Imminet.

Hide and Seek (2005) (DVD)

Come out, come out, wherever you are. Team up a veteran actor with a much talked-about child star in a ghoulish scary movie, and what have you got? Hide and Seek, Hollywood’s latest entry in the “creepy little kid” genre currently dominating the horror scene. But does this one hide in plain sight, or is it a gem worth seeking out? After the sudden death of his wife, psychologist David Callaway (Robert De Niro, Ronin) moves into a secluded farmhouse in upstate New York to heal and bond with his young daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning, Man on Fire). Stricken with grief, Emily is quiet and withdrawn; David grows frustrated trying to communicate with her. We then learn she has someone else to interact with—her imaginary friend, Charlie. David grows more and more concerned when he sees Emily is afraid of Charlie, and she hints that Charlie is threatening violence against them both. As her behavior becomes more and more erratic, it seems that Charlie might not be so imaginary. The suspense here is of the slow-burn variety, rather than the non-stop roller coaster ride of thrillers that just go for the adrenaline rush. We spend the first part of the film with David and Emily as they move in, get to know their neighbors, go fishing, and so on. The sinister elements of the plot are introduced gradually, so that by the time all hell breaks loose, we’re invested enough in the characters to worry about what happens to them. The script is fairly basic, but it does a good job of keeping viewers guessing about Charlie’s nature. Is Emily insane? Are the bizarre neighbors keeping a deadly secret? Is there something supernatural lurking in the shadows? There are mysteries everywhere—this, too, keeps viewers interested during the film’s slower moments. De Niro plays it straight for most of the film, as the mourning father trying to keep his wits together as his daughter retreats into herself. Although there are a few big dramatic outbursts, De Niro’s frustration is evident. As a psychologist, he takes an analytical approach to the problem, not realizing that the trouble with Charlie is one he’s not going to find in his books. Famke Janssen (X-Men) and Elizabeth Shue (The Trigger Effect) have smaller roles, but both bring what they can to their parts. Janssen plays a fellow psychologist, and is the voice of reason to whom David turns. Shue plays a friend (or perhaps more) whom David meets in town. It isn’t long before she, too, becomes a target for Charlie’s wrath. And then there’s Dakota Fanning. Currently, she’s the “it kid” in Hollywood. You know the one. The child actor who seems to show up in every movie; the one that adult actors and directors compliment, saying working with him/her is like working with a 30-year-old. Go back a few years and it was Haley Joel Osment. Go back further, and it was Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire. Keep going, and you’ll remember names such as Fred Savage, Drew Barrymore, and more. There’s been a lot of talk about Fanning’s performance in this film, and how she seems wise beyond her years. Some of this is true, especially in scenes where she is called upon to say or do some frightening things. These include verbally sparring with Elizabeth Shue’s character, delivering insulting messages to her father from Charlie, and running and screaming in terror during the chaotic finale. But other times, though, all that’s required of her is to be a blank. She spends several scenes just sitting motionless, staring off into space. Whether this is brilliant acting—or just sitting there—is up to each viewer to decide for him/herself. The scares here aren’t as extreme as the best thrillers out there. It’s definitely a plot-driven fright flick, rather than just a pure adrenaline rush. This will likely divide viewers. Some will appreciate the emphasis on acting and character, while others will dismiss it as being paced too slowly to be scary. Also, a few tired horror movie clichés are dragged out of retirement for this one. For example, when we see that Emily owns a cat, is there any doubt it will jump out at someone for a cheap scare later on? As is the case with most new releases, video and audio are excellent. Picture quality is solid, with bright and vivid colors where necessary, and plenty of deep, solid blacks. Audio comes in both flavors of DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, and both are excellent, making use of all speakers, shining during the more atmospheric and suspenseful moments. This disc features the theatrical version of the film, and four alternate endings, resulting in five different versions of the movie. Take that, Clue! When you first put the disc in the machine, you’re given an option to watch any of the five versions. For those with less patience, the four alternate endings are also viewable separately from the extras menu. With optional commentary on each ending, it’s clear that although the film has had its theatrical run and is now on DVD, the creators still cannot agree on which ending is most appropriate. Each commentator makes a case why he likes his ending the best. Other extras include a commentary from director John Polson, screenwriter Ari Schlossberg, and editor Jeffrey Ford. Whenever the editor joins a commentary, you can always brace yourself for discussion of decisions made in the editing room, and that’s the case here. But time is also given to early script ideas that didn’t make the final version, as well as a few anecdotes from the set. A short featurette is included, with more anecdotes from the set and interview snippets from the actors. Not that anyone would do this—but don’t watch the featurette before watching the movie if you want to stay spoiler-free. Rounding out the extras are several deleted scenes with optional commentary. Finally, there are three “pre-vis” scenes that combine film footage with storyboards. These also come with commentary. It’s a low-level spook fest with some decent acting, and an excellent DVD presentation. The “five endings” thing will make this a DVD novelty for years to come. The Verdict It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half. Not guilty.

Prime Cut (DVD)

Who would’ve thought the local 4-H fair has a sleazy side?

Darkness: Unrated Edition (DVD)

Somebody turn on the lights.

Eyes Wide Shut (DVD)

  Cruise…Kidman…Kubrick…

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