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This Week in DVD: 12/11/12

V/H/S (Various, 2012) – It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that a found footage movie looks better at home on Blu-ray than it did in theatres, but what’s more surprising is just how much better the anthology horror film V/H/S plays at home when the audience is taken away entirely. These vignettes of terror play almost more viscerally while watching at home than they did in theatres and there are only gains and no losses (aside from one dud of a section, which is still above average as far as horror anthologies go) by picking this up for a night of creepy, disgusting, and depraved chills.

Following some wrap-around segments involving a bunch of guys breaking into a creepy house to retrieve a particular video tape, several of independent cinema’s biggest rising stars launch into five shorts shot on various forms of video from spyware eyeglasses and iChat to cell phones and even the titular outmoded format. Some are grander than others with big special effects and others simply rely on the creepy voyeurism of their section’s given format.

Aside from Glenn McQuaid’s disappointingly standard and sterile “teens in the woods” section and the somewhat unnecessarily long wrap-around section from the otherwise reliable Adam Wingard, everyone else brings a lot of interesting elements to the table. David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” takes standard misogynist characters from horror movies past and places them into an entirely fresh situation in the film’s memorable lead off. Ti West takes over with the slow-burning, witty, and contemplative “Second Honeymoon.” The star of West’s segment, Joe Swanberg, teams up with writer Simon Barrett for the memorably titled “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” which despite the use of iChat as its central gimmick still manages to be intriguing thanks to really clever writing. Horror buffs wanting something a bit more mainstream will be in for a real treat with the showstopping finale “10/31/98” from the four director collaborative team known as Radio Silence.

The Blu-ray boasts a transfer that stays true to the source material and sound appropriate for each format, but it’s a great package overall with plenty of interesting special features. There’s a nine person commentary track that’s simply chaotic at the worst of times, but often quite informative and thoughtful when talking about each individual segment. There are some EPK styled interviews (and featurettes) with filmmakers, and Swanberg does a couple of his own with Barrett and his leading actress over iChat. There’s a look at some of the effects in Bruckner’s deceptively ambitious section and a somewhat hilarious alternate ending to the Radio Silence short that definitely doesn’t work with the rest of the film, but is great to come back to after you watch it. It’s a fun night at home for those who love being creeped out enough to not turn on any electronic devices for the remainder of their evening.

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Silent Night (Steven C. Miller, 2012) – Arriving on home video to not even a billionth of the controversy surrounding the film it’s only slightly reimagining, the killer Santa Claus movie Silent Night might not have the brutality of 1984’s almost universally critically reviled Silent Night Deadly Night, but it’s slicker and a lot goofier to the point where criticizing it seems even more futile than if Steven Miller decided to make a straight remake. Even better is how in many ways, this remake doesn’t stay hard and fast to the sometimes bizarre and overly depressing tone of the original series. It’s a welcome and refreshing improvement offering a fair dose of satire among the slashes.

In a sleepy Midwestern hamlet, a deranged serial killer dressing up as Jolly Old St. Nick has come to collect some dues and a pound of flesh from his naughty list. The only people standing in his way are the town’s ace deputy (Jamie King) and the grizzled old sheriff (Malcolm McDowell).

Miller’s tone is gory, but playful. The original Silent Night, Deadly Night – while certainly effective in what it was trying to do – was often stomach churning in terms of how depressing the idea was at the time. Miller knows that replicating that tone will make him not much better than the torture porn mavens of today thanks to sadly reduced audience expectations, so he instead just sets up an effective, over the top slasher. Over the years, it’s probably become harder than ever to set up a film with such a strange premise (the fact that it’s been aped by several others over the years can’t help either), so Miller just makes his own film and the originality of the kills helps keep things moving along without boring the audience for a single second. Also, the image of Santa brandishing a flame thrower at one point might be one of the most awesome things in any movie this year.

At the end of the day, it’s a pretty simple movie, but one genre nerds will eat up happily. The cast also adds a bit of panache and scenery chewing, especially McDowell, Ellen Wong as the police dispatcher, and the always underused Donal Logue as one of the douchiest Santa’s you’ll ever see. The DVD includes a behind the scenes look and some deleted scenes.

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Osombie (John Lyde, 2012) – Lots of people try desperately hard to make movies as bad as humanly possible. These kinds of people have nostalgic memories of sitting at home watching a complete piece of shit and remembering how much fun they had watching these bad taste trash classics. Quite often the results are either not amusing enough or they go so far over the top that it reeks of effort. Coming down quite nicely in the middle ground that almost gets things entirely right is the surprisingly sharp and amusing Osombie, which might not be as offensive as its title suggests, but 100% as goofy as one would hope.

Somewhere in Afghanistan in some bizarro take on what really happened when the US military found and killed Osama bin Laden, the terrorist organization leader was able to inject himself with a serum (code named, I shit you not, Godsmack) that he was using to create an army of the undead, allowing him to come back and continue amassing his zombie armed forces. Covered up by the US government, a yoga instructor from Colorado (where it looks like the movie was filmed) travels to the war zone and teams up with some reluctant army grunts to rescue her conspiracy theory obsessed brother.

Not a lick of Osombie makes any sense, nor should it. It’s the kind of film where every line of dialogue is a one-liner or some sort of vaguely veiled joke of another sort. It might seem like a bit too much, but in much the same way that a Tim and Eric sketch works, John Lyde and writer Kurt Hale (who actually worked in the past on several Mormon themed productions) take things so outlandishly far that it becomes almost a form of art. The action gets to be a bit repetitive, the performances are purposefully or unintentionally sucky, and absolutely no questions that anyone has about the characters will ever be answered, but who honestly cares. You bought/rented/streamed a movie about zombie Osama bin Laden. This is quite honestly the best movie you could get from that scenario.

Dropout Nation (Frank Koughan, 2012) – Standing well enough on its own as it did as an episode of PBS’ Frontline back in the fall, this in-depth and suitably depressing look at a failing inner city US school brings up a lot of interesting questions about public schooling and what’s failing to be done to help America’s at risk youth. Reminiscent of a Steve James film in tone and form, Dropout Nation follows several students and administrators through the mine field that’s become of an under-funded high school.

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At Houston’s Sharpstown High, a 20% student dropout rate can only be seen as an improvement. At one of the poorest schools in the 4th largest city in America, quite often administration doesn’t have the resources or infrastructure to properly help numerous students who often deal with horrifying home lives, teen pregnancies, deported parents, and other hardships that are often unfathomable to outside observers. Writer Frank Koughan takes a look at the initiatives currently in place and the strange semantic and numerological coincidences behind the “dropout factory” while following around four students who might not make it to the end of their respective years.

The only short fall of this otherwise well produced made-for-TV doc is that it could have been so much longer. As teachers watch the fates of students become sealed, there’s almost a feeling of being blindsided by what happens rather than seeing the writing on the walls. In some instances, it adds for great dramatic tension, but in others it simply raises more unanswerable questions. Although, to its infinite credit, it never assigns blame on any one person or institution. Between the government, families, teachers, and the students themselves there’s plenty of blame to go around.

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