DVD Corner

By Christopher Smith,
Posted Oct. 30, 2009, at 7:39 p.m.

“Orphan” DVD, Blu-ray: For this special Halloween DVD Corner, let’s begin with what’s new to market — Juame Collet-Serra’s weak horror movie “Orphan” — and move right past it so as not to kill the mood. Instead, let’s just stick a fork in this baby so you can get on with what is recommended for tonight’s haunted viewing. At over two hours(!), “Orphan” follows John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate (Vera Farmiga) plus their adopted devil child, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who on paper hails from Russia, but really, it’s obvious that Esther popped out of the spoiled womb of a burning satanic hellfire. She’s nice to your face (for awhile), but don’t cross her or she’ll cut you. Throughout, all sorts of predictably bad things happen, though it is safe to say that Esther puts a strain on John and Kate’s marriage. The movie recalls everything from “The Bad Seed” to “The Omen,” and that’s its undoing. This canned horror flick can’t hold a death rattle to them … and so just rent them instead. Rated R. Grade: C-

“Diary of the Dead” DVD, Blu-ray: From George A. Romero, a horror movie that follows Jason Creed (Joshua Close), who is shooting a low-budget horror film with his girlfriend, Debra (Michelle Morgan), a handful of their classmates and their drunken professor (Scott Wentworth) when the dead suddenly appear and start to attack. It’s into their Winnebago the humans go, where they keep tabs by television and the Internet on how quickly the world’s inhabitants are falling prey to, well, the world’s inhabitants. Naturally, a virus is to be blamed, one that has brought about “the death of death.” The rest of the movie is just what you expect — Jason and his posse on the run, some of whom get devoured while others kill the undead with a well-placed bullet to the head. If you know Romero, you know how these movies go down, but what’s nice to see is that the director hasn’t lost his nimble touch with the unexpectedly funny throwaway line. Rated R. Grade: B

“Let the Right One In” DVD, Blu-ray: Unlike popular vampire chillers like “Twilight,” here is a quiet, more intense vampire thriller from Sweden that features a similar story line, though one that goes deeper and darker than the slighter “Twilight” ever could imagine. It’s the story of a pale, bullied 12-year-old boy named Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), and how his budding relationship with a pale, 12-year-old girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson), who is a vampire, leads each to a dangerous precipice. Unlike moody Bella from “Twilight,” Oskar has substance. He comes to love Eli, but in spite of suffering a cruel life that also includes divorced parents (as does Bella’s), he doesn’t want to end it. From the start, there is a wariness between himself and Eli that draws you into the movie, which is set in the snowy frosts of winter (Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stark cinematography is among the movie’s chief pleasures). Each child is lonely. Each needs a friend. And so, as they grow closer, she becomes his protector, feasting gruesomely when she must, but remaining as true to Oskar as he is to her. The movie is violent — sometimes wickedly so — but those moments are few. The director understands the power of subtlety. He knows precisely the right moment to shock, but more important, he does so in ways that you’ve never seen on a movie screen. Rated R. Grade: A-

“My Bloody Valentine 3-D” DVD, Blu-ray: A remake of the 1981 original, with the gimmick being that it was shot in 3-D. The story itself is a mixed bag at best, but you have to give it up for the technology, which uses the 3-D platform to such a successful extent, it takes a mediocre horror movie and turns it into a reasonably fun contender. Without diverting much from the original, director Patrick Lussier takes us back to Harmony (the irony!), a mining town in which a massacre happened 10 years earlier on Valentine’s Day. Then, 22 people were murdered. Now, it’s all happening again, with a host of suspects offered up as to who might be the pickax-wielding maniac behind the gas mask. Whoever it is (and audiences will figure it out in spite of the film’s trick ending), the good news is that Lussier manages to offer a genuine genre throwback. All of the staples are here. The movie sports over-the-top gore, go-go girls on the nudie run, flashes of tension, and a key ingredient for any slasher film — appealingly bad acting. Rated R. Grade: B-

“The Orphanage” DVD, Blu-ray: This foreign-language creepy is set in a large manor house that once was an orphanage for a host of poisoned tots. It’s expertly conceived, a ghost story that unfolds with unusual reservoirs of grace and menace — there isn’t a cheap jolt to be found. Instead, Juan Antonio Bayona offers a slow buildup of dread through the powerful vehicle of paranormal suggestion. For almost the entire movie, we never really know what’s going on inside the orphanage in question (or what occurred there years ago to make it haunted now), and that’s where the film’s suspense is allowed to mount — in the realm of the unknown. What ensues is everything you could hope for from a good ghost story — moody cinematography, mysterious figures appearing, dead children lurking, psychics tapping into a world nobody wants to face, and a complex puzzle of unearthed secrets that eventually lead to one massive plot twist. Rated R. Grade: A-

“The Others” DVD, Blu-ray: Nicole Kidman is Grace, a gorgeous young aristocrat reminiscent of Grace Kelly who is living alone with her two children in a sprawling Victorian mansion on the British Isle of Jersey. It’s 1945, Grace’s husband hasn’t returned from World War II and is feared dead, and her children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), are suffering from a disease that makes them fatally susceptible to light. Fastidious and grim, her lean body sewn into haute couture, Grace keeps the mansion in almost total darkness — she protects her children by locking them away in one of the mansion’s 50 shadowy rooms. It’s a wonderful set-up for the macabre, and we’ll leave it at that. Recalling Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” Peter Medak’s “The Changeling” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense,” “The Others” is an old-fashioned ghost story that understands the conventions of the genre and uses them well. Its utter lack of special effects is its greatest strength — but there is one caveat. When it counts most, the film’s ability to surprise will depend on its audience’s level of sophistication. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+

“The Strangers” DVD, Blu-ray: It stumbles in its rushed ending, but what’s admirable about this horror movie is how it remains committed to delivering mounting tension throughout. Writer-director Bryan Bertono uses time-worn horror movie cliches to fuel the action and he uses them successfully, achieving a heightened sense of dread. The film follows James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler), an attractive couple at a remote location whose relationship is on the outs and then suddenly thrown into turmoil when a knock comes at the door. It’s 4 a.m., and it turns out to be a young woman who asks for someone named Tamara. When James and Kristen inform her that nobody is there by that name, let’s just say that all hell breaks loose once the door is shut in her face. What unfolds is lean, tight and disturbing. Mirroring the better horror movies of the 1970s, it’s all about atmosphere and stripping away the clutter to get down to business with low-budget chills. And it comes through. Rated R. Grade: B

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/10/30/living/dvd-corner-14/ printed on August 23, 2014