Fresh on Blu-ray: ‘FUNNY GAMES’, ‘HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U’ and latest Mill Creek Ent. releases rain blood

Courtesy of Criterion

Preston Barta // Features Editor

Every so often you will notice a common thread with home releases. This week’s is apparently murder. So, if you like your horror, sci-fi and/or dramas with blood, these Blu-ray releases won’t spare a drop on Blu-ray.

FUNNY GAMES (1997)

Rated R, 109 minutes.
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering and Stefan Clapczynski
Available today on Blu-ray and DVD through the Criterion Collection.

What appears to be a standard home invasion film slowly reveals itself to be so much more. Directed by Michael Haneke (CACHE; AMOUR), the 1997 German-language thriller FUNNY GAMES isn’t a film strictly about two psychopaths dressed as golfers (Arno Frisch and Frank Giering) who force a vacationing family (Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe and Stefan Clapczynski) to participate in sadistic games. Haneke is a provocateur who challenges his viewers and causes them to look inward. FUNNY GAMES is an interactive experience that sees Haneke waving his finger at how we crave violent material. He’s essentially punishing you for wanting to see his movie. Sounds bizarre, right?

It’s a very divisive film. You may hate it one day and love it the next, which is the relationship I have with it. I first saw Haneke’s 2007 shot-for-shot English remake, starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. (Haneke wanted to hit a broader audience with his message by taking his story across the Atlantic Ocean.)

I can remember being captivated by its trailer and wanting to discover what happens to the family. However, the rug was pulled from under me when the film broke the fourth wall and saw its characters asking the audience questions. I was so shocked that a movie shattered the conventional narrative structure and caused me to feel guilty for wanting to see the film’s violence. It immediately put a bad taste in my mouth, mainly because of how Haneke chose to reveal specific details, yet I couldn’t stop chewing on what the film served.

If you find yourself reacting in a similar way, the Criterion Collection release of FUNNY GAMES gives you the opportunity to listen to the filmmakers, actors and film appreciators dish about their intentions and analyses. The idea of watching it today without all the supplemental material seems like a recipe for disaster. This is a film that was made for you to think and talk about it.

So, if you want to see something that will broaden your horizons, pick this up and let it play you like a fiddle.

Grade: B

Extras: Available through criterion.com, the Blu-ray release includes a new 2K scan digital restoration (supervised by Haneke, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack); new interviews with Haneke and actor Arno Frisch; a new interview with film historian Alexander Horwath; the 1997 press conference from the Cannes Film Festival (featuring Haneke and actors Lothar and Mühe); the original trailer; and an essay by critic Bilge Ebiri.

For a deeper analysis of FUNNY GAMES, listen to my segment on last week’s episode of My Bloody Podcast. (At 56:15 mark):

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U

Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Director: Christopher Landon
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine and Steve Zissis
Available today on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

It’s pretty common for horror movie sequels to soil the bed because they too often amplify what made the original so good and stick to the rise-and-repeat method. However, while HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U does that, it injects more class.

Once again, we follow college student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe, who should be a megastar by now) as she is forced to relive a day in her life over and over again, each time concluding with her cruel death by a slasher wearing a baby-faced mask. Only this time, we understand why it’s all happening, for better or worse.

The main difference between the sequel and its 2017 original is the horror aspect takes a backseat. Some moments aim to get your blood pumping, but they are mainly cheap sequences where there’s a crescendo as a character slowly walks down a hallway before the killer ultimately pops out. We’ve seen it a hundred times. That said, I don’t believe filmmaker Christopher Landon, who also directed the first film, was trying to fashion a skin-crawling horror film. If anything, he wanted his series to evolve and bend genres — and, for the most part, it successfully takes the shape of a sci-fi comedy with some horror elements thrown in.

My biggest knock at the movie is how much it leans into its silliness. The first one has its cheese, but this one sometimes seems better for the Disney Channel. That said, the actors sell it so well. They’re so confident and committed to their roles.

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U may not defeat its predecessor’s originality, but there’s enough here for it to have its cake and eat it, too.

Grade: B

Extras: The Blu-ray combo release includes a gag reel, a deleted scene and three special featurettes (“The Never-Ending Birthday,” “Web of Love: Tree’s Nightmare” and “Multiverse 101”).

For a deeper analysis of the HAPPY DEATH DAY franchise, listen to my past episode on My Bloody Podcast:

ANACONDA (1997)

Rated PG-13, 99 minutes.
Director: Luis Llosa
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer and Eric Stoltz
Available today on Blu-ray through Mill Creek Entertainment.

Before Mill Creek Entertainment decided to re-release 1997’s ANACONDA on Blu-ray, it had been a while since I had revisited it. After all these years, I’m happy to report that it’s just as terrible and fun as you may remember.

Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube and Owen Wilson, ANACONDA follows a documentary crew traveling through the Amazon jungle. They pick up a mysterious man (a gloriously awful Jon Voight) who inadvertently becomes their tour guide, but he intends to capture one of the Amazon’s deadliest inhabitants: the Anaconda (played by super dated CGI).

ANACONDA is mind-numbingly stupid. None of the characters react or behave like real human beings, especially Voight, who seemingly thinks he’s on another planet. So, don’t expect any depth or nuance; it’s a no-brains-required giant snake movie.

Grade: B-

Extras: Available through millcreekent.com, the Blu-ray release doesn’t include any special features. And, sadly, the film’s picture quality is incredibly grainy. So, if you’re all about the technical side of owning a movie on Blu-ray, it may not be for you. But if you’re just in it for the movie itself, the good news it’s cheap ($8.00 on Amazon).

GHOSTS OF MARS (2001)

Rated R, 109 minutes.
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy, Rosemary Forsyth and
Richard Cetrone

Available today on Blu-ray through Mill Creek Entertainment.

As with ANACONDA, I used to think John Carpenter’s 2001 sci-fi horror film GHOST OF MARS was awesome. But unlike ANACONDA, there are little to no redeeming qualities for it in 2019. It may have Ice Cube, Jason Statham and SPECIES‘ Natasha Henstridge in it, and the legendary Carpenter at the helm, but it’s a dumpster fire that hasn’t aged well at all.

Set 150 years in the future, GHOSTS OF MARS sees the Earth suffering from overpopulation. (Where’s Thanos when you need him?) So, like many movies set in a grim future, humanity has looked elsewhere to colonize. Many people (about 700,000) have moved to mine the natural resources. But it’s not a happily-ever-after scenario: One of the mining operations discovers a deadly Martian civilization.

Most of Carpenter’s films play better with age, but that is not the case here. The underlying themes aren’t as rich, and most of everything feels like Carpenter ripping off better films, including his own. Aside from a few creative death scenes, it’s not a Carpenter film worth familiarizing yourself with.

Grade: C-

Extras: Available through millcreekent.com, the Blu-ray releases includes an audio commentary with Carpenter and Henstridge, a video diary, a featurette on Carpenter’s score with Anthrax and a deconstruction of the special effects.

EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978)

Rated R, 104 minutes.
Director: Irvin Kershner
Cast: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois, Raul Julia and Frank Adonis
Available today on Blu-ray through Mill Creek Entertainment.

Speaking of Carpenter, EYES OF LAURA MARS is one of his earliest projects. He wrote the original draft of the 1978 film and has since disowned it because of creative differences with the studio. So, it’s hardly his, but there are some inklings of early Carpenter genius, especially its concept of a photographer (Faye Dunaway) having visions of a serial killer’s perspective. (Think Harry Potter when he has visions of Voldemort.)

I know critics have taken issue with some of its story elements, most notably its predictability and ending; however, I found how things wrap up to be a moving turn of events. I also think the story’s analysis of violence in media is fascinating. And don’t forget a young Tommy Lee Jones delivering a killer performance.

Grade: B-

Extras: Available through millcreekent.com, the Blu-ray includes an insightful audio commentary with director Irvin Kershner (STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK).

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