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Old 07-26-2006, 04:02 AM
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Default DeathBed / Castle Freak



Reviewer: Paff
Review Date: December 22, 2002

Released by: Dark Wave / Full Moon
Release date: 10/1/2002
MSRP: $19.98
Region 1, NTSC
# DeathBed - Widescreen: 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
# Castle Freak - Full Frame 1.33:1 | 16x9: No



The Story

DeathBed

I'm not a big fan of movies shot on digital video. Celluloid, while more expensive, always exudes a lot more "class" and looks much more "professional". And usually, those relegated to shooting on video are using the medium for a good reason: They're not particularly good filmmakers. So it was a pleasant surprise earlier this year when I saw Danny Draven's Hell Asylum, which was quite a bit better than the typical shot-on-video spectacle. I felt Draven was a few short steps away from graduating to high-quality filmmaking. Apparently, so did famed horror director Stuart (Re-Animator, Dagon) Gordon, as he helped produce Draven's latest film, the sexually charged ghost story DeathBed. Fans of independent horror films will definitely want to spend a night in this bed.

Young couple Karen (Tanya Dempsey) and Jerry (Brave Matthews) rent a lovely new loft apartment in what was once an old warehouse. Inside the single room space is a staircase leading to a mysterious locked door, which for some reason the landlord Art (Joe Estevez) has never investigated. Karen hears noises from behind the door, so she and Art break into the small room, finding the titular bed. She decides to bring the antique down to the apartment and make if the centerpiece of their new living space.

Previously rather repressed sexually, Karen becomes a real dynamo in the new bed, much to Jerry's delight. But she is also overcome with hallucinations and just general bad feelings about their new furniture. She begins to have flashbacks of a murder that was apparently committed inside their apartment, and Jerry does too.

Still thinking that her problems might be psychological, Karen undergoes some hypnosis therapy, and reveals a rather ugly series events from childhood. They think all is well, but soon Karen discovers the real history of the apartment, and not long after that finds that Art has been murdered. The young couple try to get away, but the ghosts of so long ago will do their best to make that impossible.

I'm getting more and more impressed with Danny Draven as a filmmaker. Hell Asylum was a significant step above the usual video fare, and DeathBed is a giant leap above that. This is definitely a director to watch for in the very near future, if not already. Draven does great work setting up his scenes, pacing the film, and providing a few jumps and generally creepy moments along the way.

There is one drawback to DeathBed however, and it lies within the script. The idea of a haunted bed is pretty ludicrous, and nothing in the movie really makes it seem less so. In fact, the way both characters are pre-occupied with beds (Jack is doing a photo shoot set on a bed and Karen is illustrating one for a children's book) kind of makes for "bed overkill". It almost would have been better to lean AWAY from the bed concept rather than try to force it upon the audience. On top of that, I thought a few subplots were a bit pointless, especially the late scene where Karen undergoes therapy. While that subplot explains her previous shyness in bed, I didn't find that her sexual repression was so uncommon that it needed explanation. I also found the part where Karen discovers the history of the building to be a loose end as well. Like the therapy sequence, it re-states the obvious in an area where full disclosure of past events only takes away from the story at hand.

But aside from that, this really is a great looking film. Draven is surrounding himself with horror veterans, who will only make him a better filmmaker. The cinematographer here is Mac Ahlberg, who lensed the underrated Hell Night as well as the classic Re-Animator. His talent shows up here in several scenes. The lighting during the first sex scene with Jack and Karen is excellent, and the slow camera crawls up the stairs to the secret room provide great tension, even if it is an old horror film cliché. Finally, there's an uncredited "guest voice" who plays Karen's boss via telephone. I'll let the viewers make their own guesses, I think I have a pretty good idea of who it is…

I know a lot of people are looking for the next breakout talent in horror film, and it wouldn't surprise me if it's Danny Draven. As an independent, he can include sex and violence that the major studios avoid. Plus, the fact that those who have already made a name for themselves in the horror genre really seem to want to work with him tells you a lot too. He's not there yet (I hope he picks a better script to work with next time), but his films are definitely not bad, and they're only getting better. Keep an eye on this one.

Castle Freak

Despite creating the massive cult classic Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon's subsequent films have pretty much been relegated to the direct-to-video market. That's a real shame too, because he's lost none of the talent we saw in Re-Animator. Personally, I think it's films like Dagon, released earlier this year, that we should be seeing in the theaters. The second feature on the DeathBed disc is a re-release of Gordon's Italian made film Castle Freak. If you've been waiting to add this to your collection, now might be a perfect time to get a copy.

Re-Animator and From Beyond alums Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton star as John and Susan Reilly, a couple whose marriage is not in very good shape. John was driving drunk, resulting in a car crash that killed their son J.J. and rendered their teenage daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) permanently blind.

They've arrived in Italy to take possession of a castle belonging to a relative of John's. Well, they're only sticking around long enough to sell the castle and return to America to presumably begin divorce proceedings. John and Rebecca explore the castle and it's history. Of course, they're not the only occupants. A rather sinister creature (hint: see movie title) is dwelling deep in the bowels of the ancient castle, and breaks free from it's chains to terrorize the Reillys.


John and Susan are drifting further and further apart, leading him to return to his alcoholic ways. A binge at a local bar results in him bringing home a prostitute, who is savagely murdered by the beast after John is finished with her. And of course, the police suspect John in the hooker's disappearance and take him away. The freak now wants to have his way with the Reilly women, and John must find some unpleasant things about his ancestors' history if he wants to save the rest of his family.

I like the way Gordon sets his film in a foreign country, and uses language and cultural barriers to enhance the isolation of his American protagonists. He used this technique even more in Dagon, the 2002 film made in Spain. I've heard some people complain that there are no English subtitles on some of the foreign dialogue (in both films) but to me it makes perfect sense. Stuart Gordon puts us in his protagonists' shoes with a fairly simple technique that helps enhance the on-screen emotions.


Perhaps what kept Castle Freak out of the major theaters is it's extreme gore and sexuality. I found several scenes (the prostitute's murder for one) to be exceptionally graphic for an R-rated film. Of course, based on that above statement, I'm sure many people will immediately want to check the film out now. Well, they won't be disappointed at all.

I would have liked this disc based on DeathBed alone, but the inclusion of Castle Freak makes this one of the better double feature DVDs I've seen in a long time. And I'm disappointed in myself for ignoring Castle Freak for so long, as I tend to attach a stigma to the direct-to-video genre. But this is miles above films that bypass the cinemas and go straight to the shelves of the video store. Stuart Gordon is one of the driving forces in horror today, still making uncompromising flicks both as director and executive producer. I think I'm gonna need to check out From Beyond real soon.

Image Quality

DeathBed

DeathBed definitely looks good for a shot-on-video release, but it really is time for Draven to make the jump to film. He obviously puts a lot of effort into his work, and it's a shame when the technology shows its limits. For one thing, an important facet of the movie is flashback sequences, and they don't work well with black-and-white video. The effect is more like an old television show (think Dark Shadows), and the digital attempts at making it look grainy and old don't really work. Also, anytime there is fast movement on screen, video does not capture it as well as film.

As for the look of the movie itself, it's much better than what you expect from Digital Video movies (OK, it's still not Star Wars Episode 2…). While I'll always prefer the smoothness you get from actual film, at least with DeathBed it looks more like an actual movie and not something done on a consumer level camcorder. The presentation is in widescreen, 1.85:1, and enhanced for 16x9 screens. I don't have an anamorphic screen, so I wonder if some of the digitization goes away with the higher resolution. Either way, it's a nice transfer, as good as the medium will allow, and at least we don't have to worry about the master ever degrading over time.

Castle Freak

Castle Freak is presented in a fairly lo-fi full frame transfer. I know it came out on DVD by itself a while ago, but I've never seen it so I can't really compare. This presentation is fairly murky and grainy, with plenty of pops and speckles. Since it was much more enjoyable than I had anticipated, I'd probably definitely get a copy if it were ever re-released in anamorphic widescreen.

Sound

DeathBed

Like Hell Asylum, we get a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix here, and this is much more restrained (and thus better). Very few gimmick effects; the rear speakers are used for thunderclaps and other occasional sounds, and not relied upon to the point of excess. The music is a bit more traditional too, fitting with the haunted house (or in this case bed) motif. The use of some rather strange 20s style jazz is apropos too, overall providing a nice audio experience.

Castle Freak

The sound fares much better here. Even for a Dolby 2.0 track, the sound is deep and rich, the dialogue clear and distinct. A fair degree of left/right panning is present, and the music (which almost seems looped directly from Re-Animator) sounds real good too. Quite well done.

Supplemental Material

DeathBed

inline Image Darkwave put just the right amount of supplemental stuff on this disc. Not too much, or too little. The most interesting feature is a running commentary with director Danny Draven, writer John Strysik, and executive producer Stuart Gordon. I was pleasantly surprised with Gordon's inclusion on the commentary. I had wondered if he was a "silent partner" on this feature, only providing the funds and cashing in on his name (much like Andy Warhol with Andy Warhol's Frankenstein). That is definitely not the case. Stuart was obviously involved the whole way through, yet not interfering with the young director. I'm willing to bet Draven learned a lot from Gordon, and will certainly help him up the ladder as he continues to make films.

inline Image
As for the commentary itself, it's quite fun and informative. Stuart Gordon does a fair share of the talking. I was disappointed with the inclusion of the writer Strysik, as I felt (as already mentioned) that the script was the film's major weakness. Thus, no one says anything negative about the story line. But still, it's great to hear a group of guys who really enjoy what they do.

A DeathBed trailer is included too, as well as a 19-minute "making-of" documentary. This is more of a fun behind-the-scenes bit than a real insight into the filmmaking process, like the production diary included on Hell Asylum. Again, it looks like everyone certainly had a good time, and you get more Sing Along With Tanya Dempsey if that's your thing. But the most interesting thing you'll find in the supplemental section is another complete full-length film!

Castle Freak

No Castle Freak supplements were provided.

Final Thoughts

DeathBed/Castle Freak is a really good double dip from producer/director Stuart Gordon. DeathBed is a great new entry from Danny Draven, who I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more from very soon. Plus, a nice array of supplemental features was provided without going into overkill. Castle Freak is another fun Stuart Gordon film that I'm glad I finally saw. Fans looking to see an up-and-coming talent, as well as a good movie from a genre fave will highly enjoy both ends of this double feature. Definitely recommended.

Rating

DeathBed

Movie - B-
Image Quality - B
Sound - A
Supplements - A-

Castle Freak

Movie - B+
Image Quality - C+
Sound - A
Supplements - N/A

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running Time - Deadbed - 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Running Time - Castle Freak - 1 hour 35 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 - DeathBed
  • Dolby Digital 2.0 - Castle Freak

Supplements
  • DeathBed trailer Audio commentary with director Danny Draven, writer John Strysik, and executive producer Stuart Gordon
  • Making of DeathBed

Other Pictures

 

 

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