directed by David Michael Hillman aka Melanie Anne Phillips
USA 198
5

 

A man and woman sneak up to an abandoned mine at night to blow it open and are picked off - as is oft to happen to pre-credits characters - by an unseen force. After the credits, the mismatched group of miners (geologist, writer, photographer, professional miners, storied guide, and grumpy, suspicious corporate representative who knows more than he lets on and will be most deserving of a gruesome death) venture into the Golden Spike Mine to see if there is enough gold left to re-open. No sooner are all of them inside the mine is the rope cut and a cave in soon follows. The only way to get out is to break through the barrier put up by the miners in 1883 to seal in whatever was picking them off. Stories of missing hikers and miners are dismissed by all but the nerdy writer (Mark Sawicki, who also worked on the visual effects) but the audience knows better even before the shadowy glimpses of a stop-motion creature with wavy tentacles.

THE STRANGENESS is somewhere between a modern horror film with characters being picked off in an enclosed location (playing on the audience anticipation of gory deaths but not always delivering) and some of the old monster movies Sawicki and Huntley grew up watching (Harryhausen is mentioned by both as an influence). Acting is variable but decent overall for a low-budget film. The cinematography (making use of the fastest film available at the time in 16mm) looks typically dark and grainy in the natural light scenes while the scenes with artificial light are cleaner and pleasing (even if the commentators think they look fake). Overall, an entertaining little flick for those of us who can look past old-fashioned special effects (the gender-changed director denies any input into the monster design) and cardboard characters.

Eric Cotenas

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DVD Review: Code Red DVD - Region 0 - NTSC

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

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Distribution

Code Red DVD

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 1:32:20
Video

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.61 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono)
Subtitles none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Code Red DVD

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Audio commentary with director Melanie Anne Phillips and actors/effects techs Mark Sawicki and Chris Huntley moderated by Jeff McKay
• Interview with Melanie Anne Phillips (4:3; 15:11)
• Interview with Mark Sawicki (4:3; 8:54)
• Interview with Chris Huntley (4:3; 12:25)
• Short film ORIGINS (16:9; 7:03)
• Short film EAT AT JOE'S (16:9; 0:40)
• Short film IT STALKED THE NIGHT (16:9; 6:38)
• Short film GRAVE SIGHT (16:9; 6:42)
• Short film DADDY'S GONE A HUNTING (16:9; 3:42)
• Short film THE END (16:9; 1:54)
• Still Gallery
• Binky (4:3; 0:06)
• Trailers for BRUTE CORPS (16:9; 1:57); THE STATUE (16:9; 2:27)
• TRAPPED (16:9; 1:36); THE VISITOR (4:3; 3:13); NIGHT WARNING (16:9; 1:28);
• THE WEEKEND MURDERS (16:9; 2:19); and STUNT ROCK (16:9; 2:25)

DVD Release Date: 18 August 2009
Amaray

Chapters 18

 

Comments

Transferred in high-definition from the 16mm original negative (rather than a blow-up), THE STRANGENESS looks better than it did on video cassette but only as good as a 16mm production using largely natural light can look. The audio is clean and audible throughout (especially surprising given the makeshift foley and looping recording conditions described in the commentary). Writer/director Melanie Anne Phillips and effects men/actors Chris Huntley and Mark Sawicki provide a humorous running commentary (as well as individual on-camera interviews). Commentary levels are a bit uneven (the moderator is not miked so his occasional half-heard promptings are a bit annoying). According to the commentators, distributor Trans World Entertainment did not go back to the original audio tracks; rather, they simply laid electronic music over the music in the final mix (some of the original tracks are present in the film without alteration) which sometimes obscures a lot of the sound effects mix. Although framed for 1.85:1 matting, the commentators say that this is the first time they have seen it that way (the film went direct to video). The anamorphic enhancement does not over-matte any of the compositions ruinously but there are a few instances where even 1.85:1 matting is not sufficient (the shadow of a cameraman on the hood of a car is unavoidable but some gaffe tape on the hood of the car at the bottom of the frame is pointed out by the commentators).

 

The USC-produced short films by Mark Sawicki (with participation from Chris Huntley) are interesting but obviously not framed for 16:9 as text, props, and animation are chopped in half or obscured by the bottom matte. The first short ORIGINS offers some accomplished examples of visual effects and stop motion animation that may have given the filmmakers the confidence that they could mount an effects-heavy (quaint as they are) creature feature (1970's EQUINOX - which recently got the Criterion treatment - may also have been an influence). "Binky" is a jokey contemporary look at the puppet creature used in the film. Along with a still gallery, trailers for other forthcoming Code Red releases round out the disc.

 - Eric Cotenas

 



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Distribution

Code Red DVD

Region 0 - NTSC


 

 





 

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