March 01, 2008

Notes From A DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

Who’s the most exciting genre director to come out of England in the last 20 years? If you said Neil Marshal, you’d be right. I mention this because his third feature film is hitting theaters next week. "Doomsday" looks from the trailer to be a "28 Days Later" meets "The Road Warrior"-esque thing, but . . . well. . . US distributors have done a really bad job of promoting his films in the past. The smartness and freshness, and just plain competence has never really been discernible in any of the promotional material for his first two films. So I’m cautiously optimistic that the film that hits the streets March 14th will be fun, and at the very least, competent (but I’m secretly hoping for a ground breaking genre classic). We’ll see.

What was so awesome about his first two movies? Let's start with "Dog Soldiers," which took werewolves, and put them up against British Special Forces types. Said military types are cut off from their superiors, on a supposed training mission in Scotland. These tough-as-nails guys get chewed up and spit out, sent on the run by a werewolf or two, and are led into a seemingly deserted farm house. The siege-like third act is highly reminiscent of "The Night of the Living Dead," and the performances throughout the film are spectacular.

Marshal’s second film was the standout horror film of the last five years, "The Descent," a feminist manifesto which followed five strong independent women spelunkers into a cave in North Carolina. The first third of the movie is brutally intense, and conveys a feeling of claustrophobia that is amazing. Just as we get to know each of the individuals from this tight-knit group of friends, and see how they start to crack under the pressure of a cave-in, and being lost, the Cave Ghouls show up. That’s right. Cave Ghouls. Sounds stupid. But it's not. Really well done. Awesome does not begin to describe how intense, and emotionally grueling this movie is. Again, Neil got top notch, nuanced performances out of his cast of relatively unknown actors.

Also available on DVD for the first time this month are two. . . well. . . lesser genre efforts. The Neil-Gaiman-scripted "Beowulf" comes out this month, as does the comic book-inspired "30 Days of Night". I’m not really sure what I can say about these films, other then you’ve probably heard of them already.

As a proper follow-up to these two cinematic efforts, I want to draw your attention to the long-unavailable 1984 genre movie "C.H.U.D," which is finally making its way to home video, via the film archivists known as Anchor Bay. Carnivorous Humanoid Underground Dwellers! Need I say more? Yes, I do. It’s like "The Descent," in that it has carnivorous humanoid underground dwellers. . . but it's not like "The Descent," in that it's not unbelievably awesome. Oh well.

Finally, I wanted to point out that The British TV production of Terry Pratchett’s "Hogfather" is coming to the US! That’s right! "Hogfather"! On DVD! Wooo! Hooo! Discworld fans gather and be ready to celebrate Hogswatch early!

Until the great Hogfather shows up, I’ll be watching movies in my darkened cave-like apartment. . . Or at least until next month, when I have to write another one of these.

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