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Ghost House Underground Review – Eight Movies Handpicked by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert

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This week Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert‘s Ghost House label goes direct-to-video with their release of eight (!) movies on DVD. “Over the years we were sent various movies so we could check out certain directors,” says Tapert. “Later we’d check back in on some of them and find out that the movie had been picked up by some company, never released and the filmmakers had gotten ripped off. So we decided to go into the DTV consumer business ourselves.” Tapert has been Sam Raimi’s producer since Evil Dead ; he’s the executive producer of TV shows Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess and he produced The Grudge and 30 Days of Night . We’ve ranked the eight Ghost House releases from worst to best, with added commentary from Tapert.

8. Brotherhood of Blood
Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) and Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses, Foxy Brown) play vampires with teeth so big they can barely close their mouths in this vampire action flick that, like a vampire, spends most of its time sucking. Haig and Foree deliver big, bloody beefsteak performances but the rest of the movie tastes like sawdust. Says Tapert: “Anyone who can actually make a movie in twelve days — the time in which this one was made — I’m not against trying to get that movie out there.”

7. Trackman
This Russian flick kicks off with a high-octane bank robbery gone awry, but then immediately loses steam. The heavily-armed thugs retreat to a tunnel system underneath Moscow and are stalked by a killer who collects eyeballs. Like the old Soviet Union, it’s bleak, boring and involves walking around aimlessly in endless corridors for untenable amounts of time. By the time the flamethrower attacks appear in the last reel, it’s far too little and way too late.

6. No Man’s Land: The Rise of Reeker
Direct-to-video movies usually share some genes: Cheap locations, a
B-list character actor in a lead role and a meandering storyline. No Man’s Land is set in a desert diner, features Robert Pine (from CHiPs!) and goes nowhere with its story of a stinky angel of death called the Reeker.
But it’s nurture, not nature, that carries the day here, and it manages
to rouse itself to a level of moderate entertainment, delivering decent
gore at reasonably paced intervals.

5. Dark Floors
The Eurovision Song Contest is the American Idol of
the EU, running for over 50 years and with close to 100 million
viewers. In 2006, the crown was taken by Finland’s death metal costume
band, Lordi. Now Lordi makes their motion picture debut playing a quintet of demons in a haunted hospital. Tapert sums it up best, “Dark Floors doesn’t work all the way through… but it has really good moments.”

4. Room 205
Straight outta Denmark comes this college movie steeped in J-horror
dread. Dead girls lurk in mirrors and shred glowing, healthy
Scandinavian faces with broken glass. Reminiscent of the German
possession movie Requiem ,
it’s the least-annoying and most interesting J-horror derivative to
come along in years. That said, it’s still a J-horror derivative. Can
you even make a good one of those anymore? “That’s a good question,”
says Tapert. “I’m speaking with the Room 205 director later
this week and asking that exact same thing. How do you update this
story? There’s a lot of this story that I really like but, that said,
this movie still doesn’t have a lot of story.”

3. Last House in the Woods
“I’ll crunch your guts and strip your skin!” screams this completely
psychotic freak-out disguised as a movie. A gonzo tribute to ’80s
Italian horror from the likes of Franco and Fulci,
it takes a while to get going, but once it’s in gear — prepare for a
high pressure blast of cherry red blood and smoking hot synthesizer to
hit you in the face. Tapert explains, “This was a title that we would
never make at Ghost House Pictures. I like Fulci, I like old ’70s and
’80s horror, but it’s something Sam [Raimi] doesn’t really find
satisfying. So this was one where we had a big discussion.” Thank god
Tapert won. A movie this corny, this gory and this ridiculous deserves
to be seen.

2. The Substitute
The most unusual movie in the line-up, this scifi flick is a pitch perfect riff on The Faculty remade for the YA set. Director Ole Bornedal made Nightwatch (not the Russian vampire one, but the other Nightwatch )
and this flick shows off his killer chops. Cute Danish kids get a
substitute teacher who’s a mind-reading, flesh-eating, horny alien
murder machine. Expect the American remake soon. Says Tapert, “Ole is
happy about it, but he doesn’t want to be involved. He remade an early
movie of his [as Nightwatch , 1998] and found Hollywood so horrible that he never wants to come back.”

1. Dance of the Dead
Dazed and Confused meets Return of the Living Dead , this Atlanta-shot zombie movie is America’s answer to Shaun of the Dead. It’s prom night, zombies are loose, and an entire Breakfast Club
of geeks, jocks, stoners and cheerleaders team up to take them down.
John Hughes + George Romero = gooey zombie goodness. “This was a movie
that Sam Raimi and myself and another associate watched on a Sunday
afternoon,” Tapert says. “We howled and we howled till Sam’s wife and
kids started banging on his office door wondering if we were alright. I
think I’ve watched it about five times so far.”

In sum: Avoid Track Man and Brotherhood of Blood. No Man’s Land and Dark Floors have their moments. Room 205 and Last House in the Woods are satisfying B-list horror movies, but it’s The Substitute and Dance of the Dead that deserved theatrical release. They push the pedal to the floor and make you roar for more.

Grady Hendrix is one of the founders and programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival. He writes about Asian film for Variety at Kaiju Shakedown and should have found something better to do with his life by now.

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