Billy Gil graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and has worked for People and Daily Variety. He is the editor of the Pipeline section and IndieFile, both of which highlight independent films on DVD. For IndieFile tips and inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For inclusion on IndieFile's Feedroom channel, contact Renee Rosado (email@example.com). Follow IndieFile on Twitter, at Twitter.com/IndieFile.
Frank H. Woodward’s Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown explores the world of author H.P. Lovecraft, who was little-known during his lifetime but later became infamous for his horrific creations — tales of people driven to madness by the existence of tentacled creatures from other planes of existence. As the film shows, Lovecraft transformed horror, taking it from the gothic and into the more supernatural and cosmic.
The film, which hits DVD and Blu-ray Disc Oct. 13 for $24.95 each, from Cinevolve, explores his life as a recluse and the mythos he created, such as the ultimate evil, Cthulu, and the forbidden book of evil, the Necronomicon. It features interviews with experts and fans such as filmmakers Guillermo del Toro and John Carpenter and writer Neil Gaiman (of “The Sandman” comic book series).
HM: Were you an H.P. Lovecraft buff before embarking on this project?
Woodward: I was definitely familiar with Lovecraft before. I had read the main stories — “The Call of Cthulu,” “The Outsider” and the earlier stories — so I knew who he was, who Cthulu was, but I didn’t know much about him outside of the broad strokes. I knew that he was an eccentric, but that obviously doesn’t convey how complex a guy he was. It started as a possible featurette for a DVD. I have produced Anchor Bay featurettes, and we had just finished doing Masters of Horror: Season One, during which I met Stuart Gordon and John Carpenter. They were putting out the anniversary edition of Re-Animator (the 1985 film based on a Lovecraft story), and there was discussion of, “Hey, let’s do something on Lovecraft.” For whatever reason, it didn’t end up on the DVD … but for me it was great because I got to learn about someone I was already curious about and in the process of it became even greater a fan.
HM: How was it made and brought out through Cinevolve?
Woodward: We decided we were going make it on a totally independent level. We didn’t shop it around until it had played at different festivals — we had already won at Comic-Con (best documentary, 2008) at that point.
At the time, unless Michael Moore was in the title someplace, a lot of the labels had totally binged on documentaries for a while, so documentaries weren’t as salable. They just didn’t do what people thought they would do. So we just came into it there, coupled with the wonderful start of the recession. But with Cinevolve, it was just like, these are the guys. It was like meeting your wife or significant other.
HM: How did you get people like John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro involved?
Woodward: The pleasant surprise for everything was even for people we didn’t know, like Neil Gaiman, because they were such staunch fans of Lovecraft, they said, “Yes! We’d love to do it.” Guillermo I had actually approached at Comic-con one year about it. He was very keen to do it. This was just before Pan’s Labyrinth had come out and just before he got all the nominations and became the superstar that he is and deserves to be.
HM: Did you seek anyone out in particular?
Woodward: Not on a big-name side of things. [Lovecraft biographer] S.T. Joshi had to be involved. S.T. is the expert on Lovecraft. He has devoted quite a bit of his life to the biography. … You want as many authorities as you can. We needed that. Otherwise, in truth, it’s a lot of fans talking about him, and you don’t get into who the guy was.
HM: During the process of making this film, what did you discover to be the most fascinating thing about Lovecraft’s life?
Woodward: For me I don’t think there was anything necessarily surprising. The basic facts I knew about him; it was more about adding details and color to what I knew. What I delighted in learning, that will be on some of the extras on the DVD, is just how personable he was, especially with some of the other writers he was in correspondence with. He just wrote thousands of letters. … In some instances he was just a very friendly, giving man. When he would entertain, he would make sure he had coffee for everyone. Just how much affection he had for his friends was touching. For someone who people know as a xenophobe and racist, that’s not something you would expect.
HM: Speaking of which, did you struggle with how to include certain aspects, such as Lovecraft’s racism or specific criticisms of his writings?
Woodward: As far as the racism goes, he obviously had written things that were a little more objectionable than we included in the documentary. He was a staunch Aryan, and had written long letters about how the Aryan was the key to human success. We had initially had a section in there, and we wanted to talk about it, but I knew we didn’t want the film to only be about that. Obviously there is a balance you have to strike, and from what I’ve heard, we hit it. You can’t avoid it. … Most people we interviewed were on the same wavelength that yeah, it’s racist by today’s standards, but we can’t judge him through today’s eyes.
As far as his writing goes, as Gaiman says, there’s plenty o make fun of. I think that’s true of anyone who’s a diehard of anyone. I mean, “Star Trek” fans will pick apart the production values of old “Star Trek,” and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think they hated it. But it’s actually the opposite — it’s that you love it so much that you can go into detail. I think it comes from that place of deep love.
HM: What else is on the DVD/Blu-ray?
Woodward: There are 72 extra minutes made into a featurette, art from artists who lent us art for the documentary and a fan film easter egg from our music composer. For Lovecraft fans, for sure it’s definitely going to be a fun disc.
They don’t make ’em like they used to. So goes the saying, whether it’s about songs, books or movies about people who kill people.
Thankfully, Nicholaus Goosen has directed a horror film that’s a lovely throwback to horror films that scared the crap out of us as kids — movies like Poltergeist and Carrie and Halloween — movies that remembered to actually develop their characters because it was a lot more terrifying when they were killed off. The Shortcut, a straight-to-video gem from Anchor Bay, is out on DVD now. The film follows a group of teens in a town in which the land behind the high school holds dark secrets, with kids daring one another to take the shortcut through the woods in which a mysterious old man dwells.
Far from the faceless masses of most gory straight-to-video horror, The Shortcut is rated ‘PG-13’ — and that’s a virtue. I found myself recalling R.L. Stine and others’ teen horror novels I read when I was younger, in which there’s due time given to these kids’ everyday lives, complete with actual witty dialogue, and the horror they encounter seems like something you could have heard about as a kid, the urban legend stuff rather than the more esoteric generic crazed killer or monster story. The film stars Drew Seeley, who is the singing voice for Troy in High School Musical, and Katrina Bowden, who plays hot intern Cerie in “30 Rock,” and the film is a production of Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s company. Goosen says the idea came from Sandler’s real life, from “an old guy who lived in the neighborhood that everyone was scared of.”
HM: What were some of your inspirations for this film?
Goosen: When I was brought onto the project, everyone had Disturbia in mind … but I saw it more as along the lines of Wolf Creek, which is one of my favorite slasher films in the past few years. Originally it was rated ‘R.’ All of the deaths were taking place in the second half of the movie. What I really liked about Wolf Creek was that it was a slow build … so that when they died in the end, it was a slow impact. We have to make sure we care about these characters and that we know them so that when they kick the bucket at the end, it has meaning, rather than the body count starting really early on and we don’t really care.
One of my favorite ‘PG-13’ horror films of all time is Poltergeist. The movie bears not a lot of resemblance — I guess the family moving to a new town and discovering things around the neighborhood — but growing up, that was one of the movies I remember loving.
HM: It reminded me a bit of R.L. Stine teen horror stories I read when I was younger, and also films like Halloween.
Goosen: I love Halloween and John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors. Being a kid in the ’80s, I looked up to him a lot. I love the way that those guys played everything real, as if they could really be happening. What would it be like if you lived in a haunted house in a suburban neighborhood? Where that’s where the evil’s taking place.
HM: The look of The Shortcut I thought was really cool because it didn’t look like it was trying too hard. The idea of this closed off area behind an elementary school is already scary to most kids. Was that something you were conscious of?
Goosen: There were a lot of things like that I tried to avoid. I made a conscious decision, we’re not going to use a mist machine at all. We don’t need to have a light coming in at night with the fog coming in behind it because to me that just smacks of cliché and unoriginality. We don’t need to put up fake cobwebs and that kind of stuff. When it came time to address that little back area for the school, it was just, “put up a fake fence and make it look like it hasn’t been used in a while.” It just had to look real.
HM: Were there any urban legends or anything as a kid that freaked you out that you drew inspiration from?
Goosen: “Say ‘Bloody Mary’ three times in the mirror” — that one still freaks me out.
HM: Was it tough to keep it in the ‘PG-13’ rating? Some of the stuff I was actually surprised to see, given the rating.
Goosen: Our schedule was really, really tight, so we pretty much everything we shot is pretty much in the movie. So I devised all the kills to work in a ‘PG-13’ way. I was thinking ahead of time how to do the kills without having to see things on camera necessarily. The one time I got to use a little bit of blood is when Taylor (played by Josh Emerson) gets hit by the sledgehammer … they made me take out where the blood splatters on one of the character’s faces. … It was stuff like that. And making me lower the sound of the sledgehammer. Otherwise, everything pretty much made it in there that I had planned.
HM: Do you feel like this movie stands out from the pack of straight-to-video horror films?
Goosen: As far as the home video thing goes, I was thinking that comparatively, our movie is as theatrical-worthy as any. Certainly for the amount of money we spent on it. Most movies in the genre that go to video aren’t considered that good, but the way the industry is changing, and the way people are seeing movies — people like Steven Soderbergh putting movies out on demand the same day (as theatrical, in reference to 2005’s Bubble) — … a lot of movies are released theatrically just for the vanity of the filmmakers, when the audience who are going to see certain kinds of films aren’t going to see them in theaters, they’re going to watch them online or on HD or something. So I guess it’s better to have people pleasantly surprised when they see the movie than having some sort of disappointing box office numbers.
HM: There’s a decent amount of gore here, but there’s way more time devoted to developing the characters. Is that something you think is missing from modern horror?
Goosen: There are certainly a lot of horror films out there that are stylishly shot, but there are very few that have the combination of story, style, characters and acting. It seems like most characters these days in these types of films are pretty clichéd, pretty two-dimensional — you’re really just waiting for them to die. You’re not thinking about them as character. You can always kind of predict what’s going to happen. Predictability is a movie killer for me.
(Buy or rent The Shortcut)
Claymation film Mary and Max is debuting Oct. 14 on Sundance Selects On-Demand, carried by such cable providers as Bright House, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner. The film from Academy Award-winning writer/director Adam Elliot features the voices of Toni Collette, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Humphries and Eric Bana.
The comedy follows a 20-year pen-pal relationship between lonely, chubby Australian child Mary Dinkle (Collette) and obese Max Horovitz (Hoffman), a 44-year-old Jewish man in New York with Asperger’s Syndrome. Their journey covers such ground as friendship, autism, taxidermy, psychiatry, alcoholism, childbirth, obesity, kleptomania, sexual issues, trust, fornicating dogs, religious differences, agoraphobia and much more. It showed on opening night at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Street date: 12/8
Price/Format: $27.98 DVD
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The Cove is a controversial film by nature — it follows animal activist and formal dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry and a dive team as they explore the killing of dolphins in a lagoon in Taiji, Japan. The crew uses hidden microphones and cameras to show how fishermen of Taiji hunt thousands of dolphins for purposes of the dolphin entertainment industry and the black market for dolphin meat.
The film’s pedigree speaks for itself: It has won the Audience Awards at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, 2009 Silver Docs Film Festival, 2009 HotDocs Film Festival, 2009 Sydney Film Festival and 2009 Maui Film Festival, as well as Golden Space Needle at the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival, Best Feature Film and Best Storytelling at the 2009 Nantucket Film Festival, Best in Festival and Best Theatrical from the 2009 Blue Ocean Film Festival.
Personally, I just keep hearing about this film and its disturbing subject matter — the aura around this documentary reminds me of Zoo two years ago. And young actress and animal activist Hayden Panettiere appears in the film, which it pretty cool of her.
The DVD has a commentary, a documentary on the dangers of mercury, behind-the-scenes footage and deleted and extended scenes.
Title: AK 100: 25 Films By Akira Kurosawa
Street Date: 12/8
Prebook Date: 11/10
Price/Format: DVD $399
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Criterion is pulling out the big guns in December, releasing an ambitious, 25-film set from Akira Kurosawa to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Japanese director. The linen-bound set includes an illustrated book with an introduction by Stephen Prince (The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa) and notes on each film and a remembrance by Donald Richie (Films of Akira Kurosawa). It includes restored digital transfers of the following films:
The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
Drunken Angel (1948)
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
High and Low (1963)
I Live in Fear (1955)
The Idiot (1951)
The Lower Depths (1957)
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)*
The Most Beautiful (1944)*
No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)
One Wonderful Sunday (1947)
Red Beard (1965)
Sanshiro Sugata (1943)*
Sanshiro Sugata, Part II (1944)*
Seven Samurai (1954)
Stray Dog (1949)
Throne of Blood (1957)
*previously unreleased on DVD
Title: Gimme Shelter
Street Date: 12/1
Prebook Date: 11/3
Price/Format: Blu-ray $39.95
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This new high-definition digital transfer of 30th anniversary version of the notorious 1969 Rolling Stones tour film is remastered and restored from the camera original and has a DTS-HD master audio soundtrack, exclusive Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround-sound mixes, commentary with directors Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin and collaborator Stanley Goldstein, backstage outtakes and more. This edition also includes a booklet with essays by Mick Jagger’s former assistant Georgia Bergman, music writers Michael Lydon and Stanley Booth, and film critics Amy Taubin and Godfrey Cheshire.
Title: A Christmas Tale (DATE CHANGE)
Street Date: 12/1
Prebook Date: 11/3
Price/Format: DVD or Blu-ray $39.95
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Catherine Deneuve stars as the matriarch of a troubled family at Christmas.
Additionally, the release dates of Criterion’s October titles have been changed (see the releases and new dates here).
Street Date: 10/13
Studio: Palm Pictures
Price/Format: DVD $34.99
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You may find yourself owning a totally awesome new version of Stop Making Sense when Palm Pictures releases it on Blu-ray Disc Oct. 13, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads concert film. The 1984 film was shot by the Silence of the Lambs director at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood in December of 1983, as the band promoted its album Speaking in Tongues. The Blu-ray is going to include never-before-seen footage (I’m sure someone has seen it, but probably not you and I), including a previously unavailable 1999 press conference with all four members of the band, the video short “David Byrne Interview … David Byrne” and two songs not included in the film (I’m guessing these were the same two, “Big Business/I Zimbra” and “Cities,” included on the DVD). The tracklist of the film is as follows:
1. Psycho Killer
3. Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
4. Found a Job
5. Slippery People
6. Burning Down the House
7. Life During Wartime
8. Making Flippy Floppy
10. What a Day That Was
11. This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
12. Once in a Lifetime
13. Genius of Love
14. Girlfriend is Better
15. Take Me to the River
16. Crosseyed and Painless
Docurama Films will release four new documentaries covering various subjects in war and politics on DVD Oct. 27 (prebook Sept. 29) for $26.95 each.
Lioness tells of five female support soldiers (which entails such jobs as mechanics, clerks and engineers) who served together in Iraq, as part of the first American program to send women into direct ground combat. (buy or rent)
Soldiers of Conscience, narrated by Emmy-winner Peter Coyote, profiles eight American soldiers, four of whom become conscientious objectors and four of whom believe it is their duty to kill if necessary.(buy or rent)
Election Day covers 11 stories of diverse Americans shot on presidential election day Nov. 2, 2004.(buy or rent)
Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived examines what might have happened in the Vietnam War had Kennedy not been assassinated in 1963. (buy or rent)
Street Date: 10/6
Studio: Icarus Films
Price/Format: DVD $29.98
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Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman (From the Other Side) takes a journey through Eastern Europe, from East Germany across Poland and the Baltics to Moscow, in From the East (D’Est). From the end of summer through winter, Akerman films her travels, made shortly after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and the resulting film has no dialogue and no commentary; rather, it makes her travels into a soundscape consisting of the noise and voices around her. The 1993 film was salivated over by every hoity-toity this side of the Atlantic (New York Times, Chicago Reader, Village Voice etc.). I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of another film like it; the closest thing that comes to mind is something like Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I or a human version of Winged Migration. The DVD includes a booklet with an essay by Akerman.
Street Date: 10/27
Prebook Date: 9/21
Price/Format: DVD $27.98, BD $34.98
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“Il Divo” – “the God” in Italian – was Italy’s seven-time prime minister and “senator for life,” Giulio Andreotti. The film from director Paolo Sorrentino about Andreotti, covering charges of Mafia ties, bribery and violence, is among the year’s most acclaimed, with New York critics breathlessly comparing it to films by Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Federico Fellini and Francis Ford Coppola. Overstatement? I don’t know, I haven’t seen the film yet, but that got my attention. There’s also an operatic boy band called Il Divo. And an ’80s band called Devo.
Asian extreme horror fans, listen up: Palisades Tartan is flying two people to London Oct. 5 to see the premiere of Thirst and have lunch with director Park Chan-wook. U.S. and U.K. residents can enter at www.PalisadesTartan.com.
Park Chan-wook directed Cannes 2004 Grand Jury Prize winner Oldboy. Thirst is about a priest who becomes a vampire. Take a look at this trailer (complete with miniscule subtitles). Looks pretty sexy and awesome.