This week, a superhero show’s freshman year, the King of the Zombie’s darkest day, and two Time Lord releases full of Flash Animation. Plus, it’s six weeks ’til Halloween, and there’s more horror movies than you can shake a recently-dismembered arm at. That’s an old saying, I’m pretty sure. Dismembered limbs were very common place in the Olden Days.
When the CW announced it was adapting Green Arrow for television, I was trepidatious. I mean, I love the character, but the CW was known for a lot of teen angst and pretty people staring off into the middle distance. Would they be able to properly handle a superhero? The answer I quickly got was “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.” After a stellar and action-packed pilot, the show’s narrative became a baddie-of-the-week in which Oliver Queen checked names off of his mysterious list and flashbacks shows his beginnings on the island on which he was stranded for five years. Quickly, though, the show became much more about Oliver’s transformation from angry murderous vigilante to savior of Starling City. Many awesome villains and supporting characters from the DC Universe make appearances, like Deathstroke, Huntress, Deadshot, Count Vertigo, the Royal Flush Gang and others, but the real intrigue came from characters not from the comics, like Oliver’s mother, sister, and, especially, partner/mentor Diggle (read my interview with actor David Ramsey right meow), who acts as a conscience for the fledgling defender and eventually has a clear mission of his own.
The show changed throughout the year, finding new and interesting ways to tell a crime-fighting story, and it eventually became one of the most complex dramas on television, with several threads all pertaining to the one ultimate story of making a man into a hero. It’s an excellent season of television and one, unlike Heroes, that can easily sustain itself through multiple seasons, and the inclusion of the Flash for a few episodes this next season, has me really excited as to how the whole DC Universe might well become TV shows based on this one novel idea.
There’s a lot of great special features on this Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet combo, including deleted scenes, gag reels, and lots of featurettes about the making of the show. I’d have liked some commentary, but we can’t have it all, I guess. If you haven’t seen Arrow, or want to watch it again, this set is totally up your crime-ridden alley.
George A. Romero’s third zombie outing doesn’t get the respect it deserves. No, it’s not as groundbreaking as Night of the Living Dead, nor as over the top and fun as Dawn of the Dead (which is still his undisputed masterpiece, in my humble opinion), but 1985’s Day of the Dead might be his most adult, somber, and harrowing film. The world, now completely overrun by zombies, sees small, isolated pockets of humanity (likely only the best equipped) living underground. In Florida, we’re led to believe, a group of military guys, who are going steadily insane, are growing tired with “Dr. Frankenstein,” the literally mad scientist attempting to discover the secret of the zombies’ motorized existence. Research assistant Sarah, helicopter pilot John, and communications expert McDermott are the only ones not fully mental, but even that’s being pushed, especially with Captain Rhodes’ increasingly-batshit declarations of violence against people. Eventually, wouldn’t ya know it, the shit hits the fan and soon their massive underground lair is overrun with the undead.
The most famous stuff from this movie, rightfully, involves a zombie called “Bub” (played brilliantly by Howard Sherman), who Frankenstein is trying help remember things from his life, through repeated stimuli very, very basic commands. Sherman himself, at one point, said that a smart zombie is only about as smart as a very dumb dog, but that’s enough to make him appear slightly more cognitive than the mindless hordes wreaking something akin to havoc on the surface. The zombies ARE us, after all.
The makeup effects in this, done again by the legendary Tom Savini, are the best and most gruesome of any zombie movie of all time. People get torn apart in various, disgusting ways and zombies are cut up and fall apart in the gloopiest possible fashion. It’s stomach churning, but also amazingly impressive from a technical standpoint. There would be no KNB Effects, and specifically The Walking Dead TV show, without the pioneering gore of Savini in Day of the Dead.
This Collector’s Edition Blu-ray is nothing short of amazing. The picture and sound quality are gorgeous and really bring the viscera to life. There are behind-the-scenes videos from Savini’s personal archives, trailers, TV spots, photo galleries, and the commentaries from the Anchor Bay DVD release, which are all just fine. But, the reason to buy this disc, besides the movie itself, is a feature-length making-of documentary entitled World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead, in which every single aspect of the film’s inception, production, fruition, release, and ultimate place in zombie movie history are explored with many members of the cast and crew as well as in terrific behind-the-scenes footage. This documentary rivals any making-of I’ve ever seen as far as thoroughness and entertainment value. Clearly, the makers love this movie and the process by which it was made, and I’m very glad they were able to share that love the way they did. You’re basically getting two full movies for the cost, and that cost is absolutely worth it.
We’re getting very close to the end of the Doctor Who DVD range, sadly, which means all that’s really left is to release the mostly-complete stories with animation added. That was done several years back (by different production houses when the BBC had more money to spend) on the Patrick Troughton story “The Invasion,” which had two of its 8 episodes missing and redone with Flash, and the William Hartnell story “The Reign of Terror,” which came out earlier this year and which likewise had its two missing episodes animated. Here, we’re back with Troughton (as we will be with the rest of the missing-episode reanimation) for his six-part adventure, “The Ice Warriors,” which introduced the eponymous villains who made their new series debut earlier this year in Mark Gatiss’ “Cold War.”
The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria land on Earth sometime after the CO2 in the atmosphere had all but gone away and the heat from the sun was no longer contained, leaving the planet a frozen, shivery glacier. A research expedition (which always seems to be around) discovers some kind of man frozen in a block of ice and, stupidly, they bring him aboard. The man, it turns out, is an Ice Warrior, the soldier class of reptilian creatures from the planet Mars. They do not have good things in mind for Earth. This was a story from Season 5 of the show, which was almost exclusively monsters attacking bases, to varying degrees of success. “The Ice Warriors” works better than some, with its excellent guest cast and bad guy characters much more nuanced and interesting than simply being hulking monsters.
The two-disc set includes commentary on every episode (including one with Patrick Troughton’s son Michael on the animated third episode), a making-of, a featurette about the animation, and other odds and ends from the library. More Troughton is always a good thing, even if he has to be animated, so this is a definite buy for fans of the Second Doctor.
To commemorate Doctor Who‘s 40th Anniversary, in 2003, an animated adventure was made called “Scream of the Shalka,” written by New Adventures novelist and soon-to-be reboot screenwriter Paul Cornell. The Doctor in this, originally intended to be the official Ninth Doctor, before Russell T. Davies did his thing, was played by and modeled after the iconic Richard E. Grant, who appeared as Dr. Simeon in this most recent season and who had starred opposite Eighth Doctor Paul McGann in the excellent Withnail & I. It also starred Derek Jacobi as the Master, which is especially awesome, given that he actually did play the Master (for half a second) in Series Three. The animation is a bit outdated by today’s standards, but it’s still awesome that we get to see this oft-forgotten piece of Who recent-past in shiny DVD form.
The extras on this disc are amazing. There’s a commentary on the whole thing by Cornell, director Wilson Milam, and producer James Goss, a really terrific making-of that talks a lot about how this was meant to fit into Who canon before RTD showed up, archival interviews, a brief history of the BBC’s website, which was the home of “Scream of the Shalka” when it was initially released, a photo gallery, plus the entire soundtrack album. Maybe not a must-buy. but a strong recommendation for the completionist out there.
World War Z - The so-loose-it’s-actually-dragging-on-the-ground adaptation of Max Brooks’ talking history of the zombie apocalypse has Brad Pitt and a ton of termite-like zombie humans.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness - Hammer’s third Dracula movie, starring Christopher Lee, finally comes to Blu-ray in North America with this lovely version of the packed UK disc. More to come, I’m told.
Single Edition Universal Horror
Dracula - Tod Browning’s 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi.
Frankenstein – James Whale’s lavish, Gothic masterpiece starring Boris Karloff as the monster.
Bride of Frankenstein - Whale’s uber-camp sequel, which is arguably better than the first one.
The Wolf Man – 1941 classic starring Lon Chaney Jr. and featuring groundbreaking dissolving and makeup effects. The wolf strangles people. Just like a wolf.
Grimm: Season Two – The dark fairy tale cop drama’s second season has more of the violent and magical.
This is the End – The raunchy apocalypse comedy in which all of the usual Apatow people have to live together after the world ends.
Byzantium - Neil Jordan’s return to vampires about a mother and daughter team of bloodsuckers; the former loves it and the latter does not.