Fantastic Factory DVD set

Tuesday, 19 April 2011 00:00

Arrow Video dives straight for the jugulars of cult horror fans with this exciting and surprisingly varied four-movie box set from writer, producer and director Brian Yuzna. The set includes "Arachnid", "Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt", "Faust: Love of the Damned" and "Beyond Re-Animator". Between them you get more spiders, werewolves, demons and zombies than you bargained for!

Yuzna, like Roger Corman before him, set out to make entertaining, main-stream horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies whose quality and effects belied their typically limited budgets. The Fantastic Factory label came about through a partnership between Yuzna and Spanish producer Julio Fernandez (“Rec”, “The Machinist”). Accordingly, all four of these English-language movies were made in Spain with international casts.

Fantastic Factory Box Set on DVDLet us kick off with "Arachnid" (2001), a trashy creepy-crawly tale that aims to blend the eerie jungle environment and suspense of the first "Predator" film with the deadly and devious bugs from "Starship Troopers". The cast includes Alex Reid ("The Descent", Misfits), Chris Potter (Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Queer as Folk USA) and everyone's favourite 'rent-a-Russian', Ravil Isyanov ("Defiance", 24).

A team of scientists and mercenaries flies to a remote jungle location in search of undiscovered creatures after a tribesman gets infected with deadly venom. Mercer (Reid), the pilot, believes her long-lost brother crashed somewhere in the same region whilst testing a top-secret stealth plane. The group starts their mission on the back foot after their plane suffers electrical failure and they are forced to crash-land. Understandably shaken, they have yet to encounter the terrifying, rapidly mutating, alien-arachnid critters.

Made on a very modest budget and directed by Jack Sholder (“The Hidden”, “Supernova”) in Barcelona, "Arachnid" features a whole plethora of impressive creature designs and effects, all (or virtually all) conceived by SFX wizard Steve Johnson without the aid of CGI. The aggressive menagerie does not just comprise spiders (great and small), but also skin-burrowing ticks and snake-like crawlers. The sets (and actors) are regularly covered in cobwebs and slime, helping to immerse the audience in this dangerous environment.

The film starts strongly, with a number of nervy close-shaves, but then it sadly loses its way. This is partly because the dialog is wooden and sorely lacking in the kind of sharp interplay you expect from this genre but also - with the exception of Potter and Isyanov - the cast is too po-faced and fatally appears to be playing it too straight. The end result is an unbalanced movie with great effects but limp characterisation and stodgy pacing that holds it back.

Probably the best of the bunch is “Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt” (2004), a gothic period tale set in the 1850s, directed by the “Rec” trilogy’s Paco Plaza. Based loosely on a true story, it concerns the murderous exploits of lycanthrope Manuel Romasanta and the manhunt following ever closer in his wake. Julian Sands (Smallville, 24) does an excellent job of making the character both chilling and alluring, which is just as well as his modus operandi is to seduce and then kill his victims. One refreshing change from the standard werewolf formula is that Romasanta kills whilst in human form rather than his lupine one.

The cast also includes the stunningly beautiful Elsa Pataky (“Fast Five”, “Snakes on a Plane”) as Barbara, the murderer’s latest target, David Gant (“Braveheart”, Sapphire and Steel) as the astute psychologist and pathologist Professor Philips, and John Sharian (“The Machinist”, CSI: Miami) as Romasanta’s deranged accomplice.

The tone of this film is very gothic and it feels like a quality period drama thanks to impressive cinematography, costumes, lighting and solid performances from the cast. There is a werewolf transformation (and a really stunning and innovative one at that), but otherwise the movie is virtually fantasy-free, more closely resembling a period murder mystery. The plot has a lot of variety, including horror, romance, court-room drama and police detection, and the movie includes some interesting themes such as ‘nature versus nurture’ and whether criminals can be redeemed and cured.

The third movie in this box set is “Faust: Love of the Damned” (2000), directed by Yuzna himself. Best described as a gothic-horror superhero extravaganza, “Faust” stars Mark Frost (The Bill, Doctors) as artist John Jaspers. In a fit of desperation after the murder of his girlfriend, Jaspers makes a deal with the mysterious ‘M’ (“Wishmaster” himself, Andrew Divoff – not exactly cast against type though at least his eyebrows and hair have been bleached). In exchange for his soul, Jaspers gains Wolverine-style metal claws and other demonic superpowers. Whenever he gets angry (which happens rather a lot), he starts morphing into a muscle-bound, winged demon that is driven by an insatiable blood lust.

Also drawn into the mix are straight-laced cop Dan Margolies (Jeffrey Combs of “The Frightners” and “Re-Animator” fame, cast against type…Or is he?!) and psychologist Jade de Camp (Isabel Brook – “About a Boy”, “Razor Blade Smile”). Margolies suspects there is more to the mass murder carried out by Jaspers than meets the eye, and Jade starts falling in love with her patient despite his propensity for wild bursts of insanity and violence.

Yuzna throws everything into this film, including plenty of ham-fisted sex, beheadings and acts of limb-lopping, and some bizarre transformations of the human body that reminded me of his previous orgy of melting flesh, “Society”. Most of the action is overlaid with head-pounding heavy metal. One truly weird scene involves M’s sex-crazed female associate being taught a lesson by her supernatural colleague. He casts a spell that causes her already sizeable breasts and buttocks to expand by roughly 1000 percent, leaving her tiny head and hands peeping out from the middle of four horrendous globes of icky flesh. As the film progresses, so the strangeness ramps up, though if anything it is amusing rather than horrifying because of the exaggerated direction, hammy acting and cartoon-like characterisation.

In its favour, the film has boundless energy both physical and creative as all sorts of craziness erupts on-screen. It does not make much sense and the characters do not involve the audience much but it is so silly from start to finish that you cannot prevent yourself being entertained.

The final movie in this wild collection is “Beyond Re-Animator”, the third in the “Re-Animator” series. The resurrection-obsessed Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, returning to his most famous role) has been in a maximum security prison for 13 years. When Dr. Howard Phillips (Jason Barry - “Titanic”, “MirrorMask”) – a grown-up relation to one of West’s previous victims - arrives on the scene, Herbert finds that rather than bearing a grudge the man in question actually wants to help him advance his deviant research into cheating death.

This naturally causes the brutally strict warden (Simón Andreu) and his prison guards no end of difficulties; the unruly inmates whip up a whole new level of escalating chaos once a few of them have been injected with West’s infamous bright-green solution. If it can bring the dead back to life, just imagine what it does to the living!

The novelty here, other than the claustrophobic setting, is that West has developed an accompaniment to his compound, in the form of ‘nano-plasm’ (aka the soul). He captures this from one organism and transfers it to another. Herbert believes the electrical energy is not species-specific, but once he applies the essence of a rat to a human body, the whacky results suggest otherwise!

Elsa Pataky from “Romasanta” pops up here as Laura, a nosey investigative journalist who finds herself way out of her depth in the pressure-cooker prison environment. Sadly for director Yuzna, her presence is not enough to lift this film above bog standard. The prison setting is ultimately more of a curse than a benefit as the grey concrete walls, metal bars and one-note criminals all become tiresome very quickly. The other characters are unremarkable and even Combs fails to deliver his usual short-tempered zaniness, this time opting to play West as an bland and overly-serious scientist.

In the movie’s favour, the splatter and zombie effects are quite impressive, and there is an outrageous and very funny running joke about a rat and a dismembered penis that carries on all the way to the closing credits. It is practically worth staying the distance just for that short, jaw-dropping clip.

On an individual film basis, Arrow has not delivered quite the truck-load of special features that you would associate with a big Argento release, but each of the four discs does include at least a couple of substantial featurettes, in addition to trailers, reversible sleeves and collector’s booklets. The complete list is as follows:

“Beyond Re-Animator”

Audio commentary by director Brian Yuzna; “All In The Head” – Brian Yuzna on the Re-Animator Chronicles (50 mins); original trailer; double-sided fold-out poster featuring new artwork; collectors’ booklet featuring “World Of Lovecraft” and an interview with star Jeffrey Combs by author and critic Calum Waddell as well as an extract from H.P. Lovecraft’s original story “Herbert West: Re-animator”; reversible sleeve featuring brand new and original artwork; English Stereo, English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options.

“Faust: Love Of The Damned”

Audio commentary by director Brian Yuzna; “Director Of The Damned: Brian Yuzna, Faust And The Fantastic Factory”; “The Pain in Spain: A History Of Horror In Hot Weather” with Angel Sala, director of the Sitges Film Festival; original trailer; double-sided fold-out poster featuring new artwork; collectors’ booklet “Brian Yuzna: Maestro Of Mayhem” by author and critic Calum Waddell; reversible sleeve featuring brand new and original artwork; English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options.

“Arachnid”

“King of the Spiders” – Brian Yuzna remembers Arachnid; “Creature Comforts: The Monster Mayhem Of Steve Johnson”; original trailer; collectors’ booklet “Spider Man” and interview with director Jack Sholder by author and critic Calum Waddell; English Stereo, English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options.

“Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt”

“Romasanta: Lycanthropes, Lunacy And The Last Days Of The Fantastic Factory”; “Making Romasanta” – interviews with director Paco Plaza, stars Julian Sands, Elsa Pataky and John Sharian; interview with composer Mikel Salas; deleted Scenes with introduction and commentary by director Paco Plaza; a featurette on the SFX design in Romasanta; original trailer; collectors’ booklet “Sex, Sun And Sinful Celluloid” by author and critic Calum Waddell; English Stereo and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options.

Stand-outs include ‘The Pain in Spain’, which details past, present and future trends in Spanish horror cinema, and includes some intoxicatingly bizarre clips that are sure to have viewers seeking out further additions to their DVD libraries. The very frank Steve Johnson is highly entertaining in his ‘Creature Comforts’ extra; one really feels for him as extremely talented prosthetic, model and make-up artists have been gradually eradicated from the industry by the growing demand for CGI specialists. Brian Yuzna contributes to most of the special features, and thankfully he is sufficiently honest, knowledgeable, thought-provoking and animated to carry the material.

In conclusion, this is an interesting box set with some real curios that fans will probably not have come across before. The quality of the films is quite variable and sadly there are no classics amongst them. On the other hand, there is plenty of variety in terms of styles, themes and settings, and an erupting volcano of gore married with larger-than-life characters to keep the average horror fan happy for hours on end. Throw in the well-produced extras (which collectively run for several hours on their own), and you have a good value-for-money box set that merits serious consideration.

“The Fantastic Factory Collection” is out now, courtesy of Arrow Video. The main features have a combined running time of 375 minutes approx, the set carries an ‘18’ certificate and retails for £49.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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