Besides releasing a number of our favorite classic horror films and the occasional cult oddity, the good folks at Scream Factory are also releasing a number of contemporary horror films and giving them a home on Blu-ray. Here’s a look at three of their recent efforts:
Ten years after it was slated for release, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is finally available on Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory. Would that it had remained buried. A found-footage “documentary”-style horror film, it chronicles a serial killer who has videotaped all of his crimes. The film is pieced together through interviews with people familiar with the case, as well as footage taken by the killer himself. Imagine the video camera scene from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, only stretched to feature length and repellant for totally different reasons.
The sequence in Henry works because the film has earned that moment and because director John McNaughton is a gifted filmmaker with a point of view on the awfulness that transpires in that movie. Unfortunately, the Dowdle brothers do not. This is the work of filmmakers who fill a movie with transgressive images because they think it’s “edgy,” but which lack any kind of soul, meaning they do not earn the horrors they put on screen. There comes a certain responsibility with doing the kinds of things The Poughkeepsie Tapes tries to do, but the movie shirks that responsibility at every turn. It’s just gross.
Some of this could be overlooked if The Poughkeepsie Tapes was at least well made, but it’s not. I do not fault the Dowdles for this, as the movie was one of their first and they’re clearly trying something somewhat ambitious despite still being green. At the same time, there’s nothing convincing about any of the performances (save, perhaps, for Stacy Chbosky as one of the main victims), and every choice the filmmakers make to disguise The Poughkeepsie Tapes as something “real” only highlight its artificiality. Nowhere is this truer than in the killer’s own footage, which has been digitally distorted in an attempt to make it seem creepier. Instead, it just comes off as another empty attempt at being edgy—the dressing of something disturbing with nothing underneath.
Truth be told, the story behind the release of The Poughkeepsie Tapes is more compelling than the movie itself. That’s why it’s good news that Scream Factory has included a nearly 30-minute interview with the Dowdles, who discuss how the movie came together and just what happened in those 10 years between when it was made and when it was finally made widely available. Also interviewed is Stacy Chbosky, who has a major role in the film and is married to the director. She talks about how she came to get the part (it’s not because of her relationship to one of the Dowdles) and her experience making the movie. A trailer is also included.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes Movie Score: 1/5, Disc Score: 2.5/5
Faring considerably better in terms of contemporary horror is last year’s Jackals, a film picked up by the distribution end of Scream Factory and released under the company’s own label. Directed by Kevin Greutert (Saw VI) and written by Jared Rivet, Jackals finds Stephen Dorff playing a cult deprogrammer who kidnaps a man to bring him back to his family—including his wife and new baby—and get him out of the cult for good. Unfortunately, the cult members aren’t willing to let him go so easily and arrive at the family home to bring him back… by any means necessary.
While the “home invasion” subgenre is one of my least favorite in horror—not because it’s bad, per se, but because it touches me in a way I find almost too unpleasant—there is something to be said about the primal fears that these types of films exploit. Jackals is one such movie. Rivet’s screenplay strips down most of the plot to a basic premise: a “family” on the outside wants something from the family on the inside. It’s a dynamic we recognize from movies like Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and the great survivalist horror of the 1970s, updated here with echoes of contemporary home invasion films like The Strangers and The Purge. That’s not to say Jackals is imitating any of those films—the script has existed for years, having begun life as a Tobe Hooper movie—but rather that there are visual and stylistic cues that give Jackals the look of a modern horror movie but the feel of something old school and gritty. It’s an effective combination.
And though Jackals is a good deal more bleak, humorless, and brutal than I traditionally like my horror, there’s no denying that it does those things very well. It’s a movie with the ability to surprise, up to and including who lives and who dies and in what order. Like many of the best indie horror movies being made these days, there’s nothing about Jackals that feels safe. Sometimes, that’s just what the genre needs.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Jackals includes a nice-looking high-def 1080p transfer that does right by the movie’s dark photography, seeing as much of it takes place at night and in fairly low light. There’s a lengthy making-of featurette that includes interviews with most of the major participants, as well as a chatty and informative commentary track with director Greutert and screenwriter Rivet. Two trailers are also included.
Jackals Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 3/5
Finally, there’s The Devil’s Candy, an IFC Midnight title brought to Blu-ray by Scream Factory and director Sean Byrne’s long-awaited follow-up to the great The Loved Ones from several years back. Ethan Embry turns in what might be a career-best performance as an artist who moves into a new house with his wife and teenage daughter, only to find themselves the target of a disturbed man (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who hears voices and plays metal guitar. Judging by the voices that Embry is starting to hear, maybe they’re being targeted by something even more sinister.
Clocking in at a tight 80 minutes, The Devil’s Candy is another strong example of the modern indie horror scene and one of the best heavy metal horror movies of the last 30 years. On the one side, there’s Ethan Embry’s metalhead: passionate artist, loving husband, cool dad, and all-around good person. He’s who metal fans really are. On the other side is Pruitt Taylor Vince, who plays his music too loud and hears voices telling him to kill. He’s who the moral majority has always feared metal fans to be. I would say their showdown is central to The Devil’s Candy, but the film is actually a really beautiful story about the love between a father and a daughter. That it happens to involve murder, loud guitar, and a great deal of fire only makes it that much better for us genre fans.
The HD transfer on Scream Factory’s Blu-ray looks generally decent, while sometimes betraying the movie’s digital roots. The audio fares better, as this is a movie that makes the most of its sound design. Byrne sits down for a solo commentary and goes over the background of making the film, but pairing him with another speaker may have helped move some of the discussion along or given him someone to bounce off of. There’s a brief featurette on the movie’s effects, a music video for the Goya song “Blackfire” set to clips from the film, an art gallery of the paintings done by Embry’s character, a collection of trailers, and, best of all, Sean Byrne’s 2007 short film, “Advantage Satan.” It’s a good collection of extras that creatively highlight different aspects of the movie.
The Devil’s Candy Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 3.5/5