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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest, Part II:
Jahnke's Revenge

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

It's been a few months since the Hell Plaza Oktoberfest, my month-long descent into horror-fueled madness. Needless to say, after 31 days of gut-wrenching terror it took me a while to work up the courage to re-enter the genre. Now that I've recovered somewhat, let's take a gander at three recent horror titles, all of which hail from the scare-lovin' crew at Anchor Bay.

Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door
Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door
2007 (2007) - Anchor Bay

Despite a prominent cover blurb from Stephen King, the fact that you'll find this and all of author Jack Ketchum's novels shelved in the horror section of your local Borders, and subject matter that is genuinely horrifying, it's tough to pigeonhole Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door as just another horror movie. Based on the cover art alone, one might expect something along the lines of Captivity or Hostel. But instead of merely offering up pointless variations on torturing attractive twentysomethings to death, The Girl Next Door looks at something much darker and, unfortunately, far more grounded in reality: child abuse.

It's the summer of 1958 when young David Moran (Daniel Manche) meets his new neighbor, Meg (Blythe Auffarth). Meg and her younger sister, Susan, have been sent to live with their Aunt Ruth after an accident that left their parents dead and Susan crippled.

Ruth (Blanche Baker) at first comes across as the neighborhood's cool grown-up, allowing the kids to hang around her house smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. Her darker side is brought out in her abusive, hateful relationship toward Susan and especially Meg. Meg bears the worst of her abuse, to the point where she ends up held prisoner in Ruth's basement. Making things even more disturbing, Ruth makes her sons and the other neighborhood kids complicit and even participatory in Meg's torture.

The Girl Next Door carries a heavy Stand By Me vibe, particularly in the first half, which both renders the proceedings familiar and puts the tension on a slow burn. Once the extent of Ruth's insanity begins to become apparent, the movie becomes extremely difficult to watch. Considering the subject matter, this is actually a good thing. It means the filmmakers are doing their jobs. Blanche Baker is chillingly real as the deranged Aunt Ruth and all of the young actors, especially Manche and Auffarth (who was actually in her early 20s at the time this was shot), are impressive. It would be easy for this to lapse into the sleaziest kind of exploitation but director Gregory M. Wilson, working from a screenplay by Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman, handles things with surprising sensitivity without flinching from the harsh realities of the story.

The DVD is fairly solid, although the audio track is mixed so low that I had a hard time making out the dialogue in some of the quieter scenes, particularly during a key emotional exchange between David and Meg towards the end. Extras include six minutes of totally pointless cast and crew interviews, useless since the entire thing is made up of excerpts from the longer Making of featurette. You also get the trailer and the original screenplay as a DVD-ROM bonus. Most interesting are two feature-length audio commentaries. The first features director Gregory M. Wilson, producer Andrew van den Houten and cinematographer/co-producer William M. Miller. The second has the writing team of Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman along with novelist Jack Ketchum. Both are worth a listen, offering unique perspectives on the film and the production process.

Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door is one of those movies that I could understand people hating. Not because it's poorly made but because it uncompromisingly deals with material most people do not want to deal with. If you don't think you want to watch it, you probably shouldn't. I doubt very much that I will ever watch it again. But if you can handle a horror movie that actually horrifies you, The Girl Next Door will lodge itself into your psyche for a long, long time.

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C/B+

Hatchet: Unrated Director's Cut
Hatchet: Unrated Director's Cut
2006 (2007) - Anchor Bay

The tagline for Adam Green's Hatchet promises a return to "old school American horror". That probably means something different for everybody but for Green, it means the slasher flicks of the 1980s. Now there's nothing wrong with loving these movies. I've seen tons of them myself and had a great time doing so. But the thing is, and somebody has to say it, none of those movies are really very good.

Hatchet has all the ingredients of an 80s slasher movie. A boatload of tourists from disparate backgrounds, a creepy remote location (in this case, the swamps of Louisiana), and an unkillable monster (Victor Crowley, played by horror icon Kane Hodder) who comes complete with a campfire-style back story. Writer/director Green then goes one better than many other filmmakers attempting a return to 80s-style horror, filling the screen with gratuitous nudity and geysers of fake blood. At least Green understands why we bothered watching these movies in the first place.

Hatchet isn't really a bad movie. The cast is enthusiastic and committed. In addition to Kane Hodder, Green casts genre vets Robert Englund and Tony Todd in brief but amusing cameos. The killings are imaginative and generous with the red stuff. But I don't understand the point of emulating a genre dominated by truly awful movies. These flicks are fun, especially when you're a teenager, but none of them are really scary. Green wisely takes the horror stuff seriously, making a game effort at generating fear, but it never really works. As for the comedic elements, some of it is lightly amusing but I didn't find any of it as funny as the cast and crew seem to.

At least the disc is nice with a bunch of featurettes that cover the expected material for a horror movie: makeup effects, the cast, etc. The 39-minute Making of is interesting, although I found it odd that when Green mentions the movie's budget in some behind-the-scenes footage, the actual number is bleeped. One of the best featurettes is A Twisted Tale, about Green's relationship with Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider. It's only tangentially related to Hatchet but it's cool nonetheless. There's also a trailer, a gag reel and a decent commentary track by Green, cinematographer Will Barratt and actors Joel David Moore, Deon Richmond and Tamara Feldman.

If you eat, drink and breathe slasher movies, you'll probably go nuts over Hatchet. Adam Green is a talented filmmaker and I don't question the sincerity of his love for the genre one iota. For me, slasher movies are best viewed through the rosy lenses of nostalgia. I don't need to see any new ones. Next time out, I hope Green sets his sights a little higher. I'll bet he could make a pretty great scary movie.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B

Masters of Horror: The V Word
Masters of Horror: The V Word
2006 (2007) - Anchor Bay

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Masters of Horror series tackled vampires. I'm surprised it took them this long. Unfortunately, and with vampire pun fully intended, this episode sucks.

Branden Nadon and Arjay Smith star as a couple of bored teenagers who break into a mortuary on a quest to see a dead body. Turns out the funeral home has been sucked dry by Michael Ironside, a vampire who was a pedophilic school teacher before he died. Not exactly sure why it's important that he was a kiddy-raper before but there it is. Anyway, Ironside turns the boys into bloodsuckers and they have to figure out how to deal with the blood lust.

Stylishly directed by Ernest Dickerson (whose Tales from the Crypt movie, Demon Knight, is amazingly misspelled on the cover art), The V Word does boast at least a couple nifty effects. The wait to get to them is interminable. The show's only an hour so why waste so much time with the guys skulking around the mortuary, scaring themselves? Some of the effects are neat but the episode's take on vampirism is nowhere near as trailblazingly original as they seem to think it is. So the vampires don't have fangs and they rip their victims' throats out instead of seductively piercing the flesh with their pointy teeth. Big deal. There's nothing here you haven't seen before.

The DVD falls right in line with the rest of Anchor Bay's Masters of Horror titles. There are two featurettes, one of which is devoted to the effects, and a self-congratulatory audio commentary by Dickerson and writer/exec producer Mick Garris. You also get a photo gallery and Garris' script as a DVD-ROM bonus.

Masters of Horror is a great idea for a series but I've never thought it's lived up to its potential. Instead of developing scripts in advance and offering them to the directors, they should simply tell the filmmakers, "You have one hour and this much money. Go make something scary." It'd be more of a gamble but I'm willing to bet you'd end up with at least a few great episodes, instead of the mixed bag of decent, mediocre and outright lousy installments we've had.

Program Rating: D+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/C

Adam Jahnke

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