Archive for the ‘ Movies ’ Category

UniMon_1Some time ago, Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley made mention of a slate of movies that are evidently in various stages of production at the studio, centering around one of Universal’s greatest legacies, the Universal Monsters. Since, unlike many other studios, Universal does not have any superheroes of renown in its roster, the move makes sense—build upon established franchises that made the studio into what it is.

In her comments, Langley also made mention that the studio is planning to turn these characters into action adventure franchises, rather than pure horror movies. The horror film fan community exploded over the announcement and screamed bloody murder, of course, feeling jilted and betrayed. But is it really warranted?

UniMon_5If you’ll indulge me, I’ll tell you what I think. What is horror, really? Clearly, it has changed a lot. Over the past decades horror movies have become universally more gruesome, gory, sadistic, exploitative and graphic—to the point of being excessively gratuitous. These sorts of films used to be a niche within the horror genre. A niche that we called Splatter. Splatter movies no longer exist, per se, because they have essentially become mainstream horror, the contemporary definition of horror, so to speak. The sad thing is that all the other facets the horror genre had to offer 30, 40 or 50 years ago have pretty much vanished. Subtle psychological horror films, atmospheric ghost stories, gothic horror, are all movie tropes they just don’t make much anymore—with a few truly rare exceptions, of course. A film like “Don’t Look Now” would not even be considered a horror film anymore these days, and neither would be something like the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” for that matter.

UniMon_4Nowadays, when a horror film is not labelled a “thriller” by default, but is allowed to remain a horror film, it usually goes straight for the jugular, right in your face, and this mentality has even taken over television, where a show like “The Walking Dead” is substantially more gruesome and gorier than even their big-screen grandfathers “Dawn of the Dead” or “Zombi” were back in their days. And with it, the perception of the word “horror” as a point of reference has completely changed.

In our 21st century vernacular, horror now relates to gorefests. Pure and simple. So much so, that it has become an extremely detrimental titulation if you are creating anything but the most graphic, core horror content. Mainstream audiences simply make a wide turn around the genre, intrinsically expecting anything related to horror to be excessively violent, gruesome, sadistic and graphic.

UniMon_7To give you an example, I had to rebrand my “Jason Dark” books to “supernatural mysteries” because too many people were scared off by the “gothic horror” moniker I used originally. Too many potential readers thought I’m trying to sell them the most blood-soaked novels about black-clad teenagers with too much eyeliner being gutted and eaten alive. The term “gothic horror” has gone to oblivion. In essence, the term “horror” has lost all of its subtleties.

One could argue, of course, that the times have changed, and that in the 1940s the monster films that Universal produced were every bit as shocking to audiences then, as our modern bloodshed is to today’s audiences. I would personally disagree, because I don’t even remember the last time I saw a horror film that was actually scary or terrifying. All the in-your-face violence has become so predictable and has desensitized my mind to the point that I find it sophomoric, merely laughable, if not seriously annoying. The originally desired effect is lost entirely.

UniMon_3Going back to the original topic, however, I think that this excursion shows that the whole subject matter about horror films vs. action-adventures is about semantics. It’s a matter of nomenclature, I suppose. What we consider “horror” today used to be “splatter movies,” and quite frankly, “action-adventure” sounds perfectly fine with me, considering the franchise in question. The same way horror films have “pushed the boundaries,” so have action-adventures. They are more overtly graphic than ever before, and they are often steeped in horror themes. I think “Van Helsing,” which most critics would consider to be an action-adventure and not an actual horror film, worked much better and captured the essence of the Universal Classic Monsters much more faithfully than most contemporary horror films do. If that is the template by which Universal Pictures wants to move ahead, I’m all for it. I do not need the moniker “horror” just for its own sake. It’s the result that counts. They could call it a “romantic animal kingdom” movie for all I care, what with the wolves and bats and all.

UniMon_2The fact that Universal casts these upcoming films as action-adventures may have more to do with the perception of the word horror by mainstream audiences than it has with the actual content of the films. The studio simply doesn’t want to make films designed for a wide audience, that ultimately get derailed by the horror label and typecast for an extreme niche, and I think that is understandable.

To me it also reflects their desire to make movies that may capture the flair of the original films better. I am not at all sure if I would really want a “Frankenstein” film that is super-gory, or an excessively bloody version of “The Mummy,” or a movie that takes “The Walking Dead,” good as it may be, for its source of inspiration.

UniMon_6So, despite the uproar that erupted from the horror community after Universal’s announcement, this may not all be bad news. I’ve been continuously working with Hollywood for almost 20 years, and if there is one thing I have learned from Tinseltown business in all those years, it is that, despite what many people seem to believe, they are in it for the money. Not for the movie lovers, not for the idealistic views of fans, but for cold hard cash. In that light, Universal’s announcement makes a lot of sense, because it was simply good business to rebrand the Universal monster films as action adventures.

The use of the word “horror,” or the lack thereof, would be the least of my concerns, however, because the much bigger challenge for the studio will be to get good scripts. They will need material that is more engaging and operates on a much higher level than “Dracula Untold” did, for example, and Hollywood has not produced a lot of that lately.


Recently I read the headline that the CEO of Sony Pictures thinks UltraViolet needs improvement. The headline made me chuckle because I could have told them that two years ago. In fact I pointed it out in reviews back then. These days I do not even bother to check for UltraViolet, because to this date still, it is completely useless. What made me chuckle is also the fact, %%% % % % that Sony CEO Michael Lyndon made the comments for all the wrong reasons. The fact that “it’s not easy enough to use” is not the reason UltraViolet fails and despite what he says, This is not the “early days.” Those were two years ago. Technology is moving fast, as we all know, and two years are a lifetime in the digital domain. During this time period, UltraViolet could have – and should have – matured into a solid platform. It didn’t, because unless it goes through a complete paradigm shift, it simply can’t.

The real problem with UltraViolet, from my point of view, is not so much its technical implementation but the actual presumptions the underlying paradigm makes. UltraViolet is a streaming video format for mobile platforms, and as such it has very limited value and even less applications.

Even though we live in a world where everyone is connected and always-on, watching a streaming movie requires a bit more than an Internet connection. It requires a broadband connection that is always-on, and that’s where the problems start.

My iPad, for example is Wifi enabled but has no 3G, which means that as soon as I leave the house, I’m disconnected, and without Internet connection, there’s no UltraViolet. Silly, I know. I really don’t watch movies on a tablet at home. That would be just weird. I have TVs around the house that have been installed for that very purpose, and I evidently bought a DVD or Blu-Ray Disc, because that’s where I got my UltraViolet copy from, so why would I want to view a movie in an inferior format riddled with compression artifacts and in low resolution when I could instead watch it in 1080p on a large TV screen?

So, the moment I *would* be interested in watching a movie on my tablet is the very moment that UltraViolet disconnects and becomes unavailable. Epic fail! The logic that this would make sense or would even remotely be attractive for consumers boggles the mind and it stuns me that Hollywood executives are evidently still not seeing the real problem with UltraViolet.

But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that I wanted to watch an UltraViolet movie on my iPhone. Not sure why anyone would want to watch a movie on such a tiny screen, but fair enough, let’s just say…

The problem I have now is that for some time already phone carriers have begun charging for bandwidth for the most part. The glory days when the iPhone was first introduced and you could get unlimited Internet and Data on your phone for 30 dollars a month are long gone. As a result I am very reluctant to stream a 1 gigabyte movie to my phone, exhausting my monthly data plan allotment in the process. But even you have unlimited data and don’t mind to pay through the nose for it, you still have to content that many carriers are throttling the bandwidth on many of these data plans. The result is degrading the quality of your video even further as it streams. Not to mention that connectivity or download speed are far from being guaranteed. Every AT&T user can tell you that. So once again, UltraViolet’s proposition and appeal falls flat in its face.

But let’s put all that aside for a moment, and let’s just assume I am still not deterred and really, really want to watch an UltraViolet movie on my iPhone. The problem now is that with all the crowd noise around me, it is impossible to actually hear the movie. (How I wish the guy yelling into his cell phone so you can hear it all across the airport would just shut up… yeah, you know the type.) Sure, I could use headphones or earbuds, but sadly I refuse to turn myself into a Borg just yet, and do not enjoy wearing an earpiece, or maybe, I simply forgot them before I left the house. Since UltraViolet does not offer subtitles either, I am once again flat out of luck, and once again UltraViolet has no value to offer.

Ah, my stop just came up, twenty minutes into the movie, and I am asking myself why I even bothered trying to watch a movie on the go. I don’t know about you, but I rarely have two hours – the equivalent of the length of a typical Hollywood movie – available to me while I am on the go.

So, with all that in mind, is the failure of UltraViolet to connect, really surprising? It is clear to me that UltraViolet is simply a bad idea that has no practical real-world application as long as it does not offer digital download capabilities in addition to its streaming services, and adds basic accessibility factors such as subtitles to the mix. It was created in a bubble and sold to Hollywood studios as a technological illusion at a time when the studios had licked digital blood and were zealously looking for ever-growing opportunities to resell their catalogs. Well, it’s a pipe dream and it’s not going to go anywhere anytime soon.


For the past weeks we here at the Henkel household had a period where we went back in time, of sorts, and did a lot of re-watching of movies we hadn’t seen in a long time. It has to do with Lucas now coming into an age where can appreciate many of the movies that Lieu and I love, particularly the comedies.

So I dug through the countless boxes of DVDs in the attic and picked out of a few flicks we had not seen in a while and that I thought Lucas would enjoy.

Now, I have to say that I have not watched a DVD in about five years. Ever since I switched to Blu-Ray, DVD just doesn’t really seem to cut it any more, but what can you do when the movie you want to watch has been released in 1998 for the last time and has never been upgraded since?

Regardless of that, however, the thing that struck me the most was the memory of these early days of DVD. It reminded me of when we started up DVD Review in 1997. It was a time when the Internet was in its infancy, still. Hollywood studios had no email addresses, most didn’t even have websites yet, let away one dedicated to their home video divisions. I remember sending out countless faxes to studios, getting on the phone with them, introducing DVD Review to them and telling them about our mission to help establish the DVD format as the home video format of choice. Some studios did not understand the concept how an Internet site could be of any value to them, but others had more foresight. I remember vividly that Polygram was the first studio to provide us with DVD copies for review. Kalifornia was the movie—and it had some serious compatibility problems, too, as I recall.

Boy, things have come a long way for sure in these past 15 years.

Death Becomes HerAs we watched one of the films the other night, Death Becomes Her, to be exact, I stared at the screen in disbelief for a moment. That was a fullframe transfer. A pan&scan transfer of a movie, in fact, that was cropped on the sides… Oh boy, yes, there was a time when studios refused to release movies in widescreen. I mean, no, they did not accidentally frame films incorrectly, they outright refused to release them in their proper widescreen aspect ratios.

And the next night, another memory came back to me while I was watching a movie and the image seemed horribly rough and jagged; the subtitles looking like the font from a Commodore 64. Yes, indeed, there was also a time when studios refused to create anamorphic transfers and used only a fraction of DVD’s actual potential.

Boy, am I glad those days are over. DVD has come a long way. Not only have fully 16×9 enhanced widescreen transfers become standard, especially with the incredibly fast adoption of widescreen televisions, but fortunately with Blu-Ray and high definition video and audio, we are experiencing movies at a completely different level these days. If you don’t believe me, go back in your library and pop in a DVD from 1998 or so. Chances are, if the grain doesn’t kill you, the lack of detail from the compression will. I was very pleasantly surprised how well some of the DVDs held up, though. You can clearly tell which studios cared about their films, and which ones created nothing but shovelware. Even back then, New Line created some of the most sublime-looking DVDs, as I was reminded.

It was nice to revel in this sense of nostalgia over the past weeks. Remembering the early days of DVD Review and how things have developed. Remembering the role we played in the nurturing and establishing of the digital video format in the homes. Few people remember this these days, but websites like DVD Review were crucial at that point in time to carry DVD beyond the level of early adopters. With our web presence, the many screenshots that accompanied each review back then, the constantly updated news feeds, we made it possible for movie fans to stay on the pulse of what was going on in Hollywood.

I still remember, writing the headline “Paramount is in!” back in 1998, and the excitement that came with it, as Paramount used to be one of the biggest hold-outs on the format and this was a major push for the fledgling DVD format. You can still find the news article in DVD Review News Archive, which goes back all the way to 1997.

But one major studio was still sitting on the fence then. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. I remember meeting with Steve Feldstein during a trade show in July. Steve was one of the VPs from Fox at the time, and he was the one in charge of all of the studios’ home video marketing. Rumors were solidifying that Fox’s announcement of support for DVD was imminent, so I confronted him directly, telling him that I knew Fox was about to announce. He looked at me with a smile and simply said “Then you know more than I do.”

It kind of set me back, I remember, but I later learned that this was just Steve’s way of carrying himself. Steve would never say a word too much. He just isn’t the kind of guy you can pull into a conversation and hope to get information out of him that he doesn’t want you to have.

Despite his flat-out denial, however, not two weeks later, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment officially announced their DVD support, and once again, DVD Review was on the forefront bringing this eagerly anticipated development to movie fans around the country. At this point, DVD was clearly poised to become a success—how much so, no one was able to foresee, however, and I think everyone was surprised how quickly DVD took off and established itself as the home video format of choice, making VHS and Laserdisc all but forgotten relics.

Gradually, the importance of websites like DVD Review faded, sadly, as the mainstream press began to pick up on the success of DVD and studios were more interested in pitching their release to E! Online and their audience rather than sites catering to dedicated movie fans, who would most likely buy their titles anyway—or so the thinking went.

I am looking back on those times very fondly. We made great friends during those years, among the Hollywood studio community, as well as within the creative community, and it is this fondness that keeps telling me to keep DVD Review alive, even after all these years.


Where did all the horror go?

As many of you may know, I am a huge fan of movies, and in recent years I have become absolutely enamored with the Blu-Ray format — as everyone should, in my humble opinion.

As Halloween is once again racing towards us, I could not help but notice, however, the dearth of releases these days. Sure, DVD is flooded with cheap indie releases and re-releases of titles ad nauseam, but on Blu-Ray, the studios are still holding back their catalog quite severely. It appears as if barely any catalog titles are being transferred onto the high definition format and all we really get are the movies coming off their box office run or new straight-to-home video releases.

Like most people, around the Halloween time frame I love to watch a few good horror movies and as I look through the release schedules, the only horror I find is the shocking realization that nothing is coming…

I mean, seriously, if it weren’t for Blue Underground’s upcoming Blu-Ray version of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie a few days before Halloween and Lionsgate’s recent release of the Peter Jackson horror comedy Dead Alive, there is not a single horror movie in sight that is in any way intriguing or exciting.

Every year, Universal Home Entertainment refurbishes their entire horror line-up, and this year is no exception. The list of films the studio runs in promotions throughout October is almost endless – 69 titles, to be exact! Out of all these films, however, springs not a single new Blu-Ray release. Movies that are available already are re-promoted but none of the other films are making a Blu-Ray debut.

To me, as a fan of classic horror, this is painful to watch. Why don’t we get high definition versions of the monster classics like “Dracula,” Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man,” “The Mummy” and their many sequels that are once again being offered up on DVD?

Why is Halloween not an occasion to bring to the world a high definition version of Wes Craven’s hauntingly staggering “Serpent and the Rainbow” or John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness,” “They Live” and “Village of the Damned,” all of which are part of a new “John Carpenter: Master of Fear” DVD collection that just hit stores?

But Universal is not the only studio sitting on their hands. MGM Home Entertainment, for example, has yet to release John Carpenter’s “The Fog” and not to mention that they have absolutely no plans to release Roger Corman’s classic Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price in high definition.

And why Anchor Bay is not giving us any of the Hammer movies, is anyone’s guess.

It is a trend that worries me. When DVD was first launched, the studios went into complete overkill, releasing even the most mundane niche films as Special Editions with tons of extras. Now, at a time when home video is really offering theater-quality presentations, they are short-shrifting fans, by holding back way too many films. I can understand that they don’t want to go into a feeding frenzy the way they did during the DVD heydays, but leaving the entire catalog to rot in their vaults?

It kind of reminds me of the early days of DVD when the world was clamoring for George Lucas to release “Star Wars” on DVD or for Steven Spielberg to finally come to his senses and embrace the digital age — remember that? Guess what? Those guys jumped into high definition with both feet, and now the studios as a collective are slacking off.

It’s a crazy, crazy world, I tell you, and it makes me sad to see that yet another Halloween rolls around without any exciting horror releases. Dear studios, I refuse to watch kiddie-style horror remakes created by people who obviously never understood the appeal of the original movies in the first place. Like many fans of horror, I would honestly appreciate any kind of effort you would make to bring some of the film we love to Blu-Ray.


Here is something I simply have to post today. This morning I stumbled upon a Facebook posting made by Peter Jackson. Filming of The Hobbit is officially underway — it started three weeks ago — and Jackson has posted a first production video clip on Facebook!

It is a 10-minute video that takes a look at some of the pre-production for the movie and also shows a glimpse of the first few days of shooting. For any fan of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit, ” this video clip is a must-see, so check it out. It makes me salivate and drool like nothing has in a long time. I can’t wait to revisit Middle-Earth with Peter Jackson and his crew at the helm and the wait until next Christmas will once again be a torturous ordeal, brimming with teasers and more teasers, I’m sure.

So, sit back and enjoy the next ten minutes with you host, the incomparable Peter Jackson himself.


Instead of going on about books all the time, today I’m going to talk to you about movies a little bit. As some of you may know, I am also the editor at DVD Review & high definition and have been reviewing movies for that site for the past, I don’t know, fifteen years or so.

There is a movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing for quite some time — John Landis’ latest movie “Burke & Hare.” The reason for it are manifold. For one I am a fan of John Landis and think he’s not only a really smart but an even wittier guy with an endless array of stories to tell. Talk to him for 30 minutes and you’ll be gasping for breath. Seriously!

The other reason is that I am very interested in his take of the “Burke & Hare” story. Readers of my “Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter” series may recall the adventure “Dr. Prometheus,” which dealt with body snatchers, providing human research material – speak bodies – to a certain doctor. This profession of bodysnatchers — or resurrectionists as they were called in those days — was notorious before the Victorian era and with the introduction of the Anatomy Act in 1832, it pretty much died out as it gave doctors legal ways to obtain corpses for research purposes.

Brendan Burke and William Hare were notorious resurrectionists for the reason that makes great movies and literature — they took it a little too far. Finding that digging up corpses was a dirty job and had its own share of problems, they decided to take a short cut. They simply killed people and sold their bodies to Dr. Knox, a man of the medical profession who decided never to ask where the bodies came from.

All counted, Burke and Hare killed 17 people, mostly destitute people from the street, who they lured to their lodging house and then smothered. They continued their killing spree until their activities were discovered in 1829 by another lodger and reported them to the police.

The extreme to which Burke and Hare went actually spawned the creation and passing of the Anatomy Act, which went into effect 3 years later to prevent such atrocities.

In “Dr. Prometheus” I paid a quick homage to these notorious murderers, as attentive readers of the story might have noticed. One of my body snatchers is called Nathan Burke, and when his colleague asks him whether he has the stomach for the job, he simply replies “Stomach? This line of business runs in my family.”
Why am I telling you all this? Well, first of al, I know some of you are curious where some of my inspirations for the Jason Dark adventures come from, and I think this is a perfect example.

But the real reason is that I want to see John Landis’ “Burke & Hare” version, which stars Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis in the leads and has appearances by Christopher Lee, Tim Curry and many others. Sadly, I can’t, because the film has no distributor here in the US. In the UK, the movie has had a theatrical run and is coming the DVD and Blu-Ray next month, while we, here in the US have zilch… not a way to see the film. Is that a bummer, or what?

A friend of mine working in the film industry told me that the asking price for the US distribution rights were simply too high and therefore no studio picked it up for this market.

I wish I could buy the European Blu-Ray version but I am not sure it will play. Since Blu-Ray has region coding I will have to ensure first that the release that Entertainment Films is putting out will be region free. Not sure how to go about that, but we’ll see. Maybe the information will surface on the Internet, as I am sure there’s more people than just me eager to see this film.

The other way would be to find a way to circumvent the region coding on my PS3. I’ve seen very contradictory information about this on the web where some people clam it is possible, others say, it isn’t and others yet say, the latest version of the PS3 does not even support region coding… blech, not helpful at all.

Anyway, I will keep digging and trying to find a way to get my hands on this film. There has to be some way. Until then, I hope you enjoyed the photos and trailer, which I found over on the website of