I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Scream Factory went above and beyond with its collector’s edition of 1992’s CANDYMAN. Not only does the new, immaculate cover art design stick the hook in you, but what’s located on the inside (all the bonus features) are some of the best lessons in filmmaking you’ll ever get.
Based on Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden,” CANDYMAN centers on the tale of a mystical killer with a hook for a hand (a devilishly good Tony Todd). He appears to anyone who says his name five times in the mirror, like Bloody Mary. His legend is an incredible force that clouds over the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago. A young grad student, Helen (Virginia Madsen), is studying urban legends and decides to look into the mysteries surrounding Candyman.
CANDYMAN isn’t just blood and guts. Even though it has the power to terrify you and follow you into your dreams with its images of bodies being torn into and Candyman’s hauntingly deep voice, the story is rather tragic. Candyman was an educated African-American who grew up during the post-Civil War era and found love with a white woman. He had a baby with the woman, but this caused an uproar in his community, leading to his gruesome death. The drama in its story is put before its horror ingredients, making it one of the best films around. It’s a psychological horror film with captivating social commentary. (Think SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or GET OUT.)
Extras: The collector’s edition is loaded with new and previously released content.
On the first disc (the theatrical cut), it includes two new audio commentaries and two archival commentaries, a featurette that focuses on the Candyman mythos (featuring interviews with the filmmakers and talent), an interview with Clive Barker on developing his story and how it came into the hands of director Bernard Rose, a 2014 interview with Tony Todd, a reel that shows all the film’s storyboards, a theatrical trailer, TV spots, a still gallery and the film’s screenplay.
On disc two (the unrated cut, showcasing a new scene that better illustrates the connection between this film and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), it includes new interviews with Tony Todd, Virginia Madsen, Kasi Lemmons, DeJuan Guy, production designer Jane Ann Stewart, the special makeup effects artists, and writer Douglas E. Winter (he didn’t write the film but speaks about Clive Barker’s original text); and a critical analysis with writers Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes.
Overall, the new interviews on disc 2 are really well done and look super clean (probably because of Arrow Films’ involvement). I think audiences will favor Tony Todd’s reflections and words. He’s very articulate and paints a vivid picture of what it was like for him to step into the iconic role. But of all the interviews (and the explanations of how the filmmakers handled the sequences with the bees and Candyman‘s design are extremely fascinating), I gravitated most towards the critical analysis with Due and Barnes. As genius as I believe the film to be, especially for its time, it’s great that the disc includes a breakdown of the elements that hold up well and what things would be different if the film was made today.
THE CRITTERS COLLECTION
All films are rated PG-13. CRITTERS 1-3 are 86 minutes and CRITTERS 4 is 87 minutes.
Director(s): Stephen Herek, Mick Garris, Kristine Peterson and Rupert Harvey
Cast: Dee Wallace, Scott Grimes, Terrence Mann, Leonardo DiCaprio and Don Keith Opper
Available to purchase here.
This thick piece of shelf jewelry looks just as pristine as Candyman. You can tell Scream Factory put a lot of love and hard work into crafting a collection that fans of the Critters movies would wholeheartedly appreciate and admire.
Obviously, the narrative quality is nowhere near the level of CANDYMAN; however, the Scream Factory four-film collection (including CRITTERS 1-4, spanning from 1986-1992) makes for some great conversations with friends who appreciate whacky, terror-filled adventures with some fuzzy roly poly-like aliens. Plus, the packaging itself (the hard case that holds all four films that all have their own unique design and reversible cover art) is worthy of discussing.
The CRITTERS movies are delightfully dumb B-movies — well, save for CRITTERS 3 and 4, which are pure lunacy and can better be appreciated with alcohol and rowdy friends. The first two films actually unfold in a fashion that can entertain most audiences. They have a good sense of family and relationship (although the dad in the first film doesn’t seem to be as concerned with his daughter’s safety as his son is). They have these crazy, sharp-toothed little creatures that behave similarly to Gremlins. And while the third and fourth films take a significant nosedive in quality, watching a very young Leonardo DiCaprio face off with some critters is something you’d never see the serious actor do today.
Extras: The 2K scanned CRITTERS collection comes with many interviews with the cast and crew (no Leo, though, if you were curious), many audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, trailers, TV spots and still galleries.
Since I was a ’90s kid, 1998’s URBAN LEGEND was the movie my friends and I would all watch when adults weren’t around or awake. The killer in your back seat sequence and the microwaving dog scene (yep, that happens) carved themselves into my memory.
Thanks to Scream Factory, I can relive the horror of my youth by watching the film again — which, for the most part, holds up pretty well. It may have that ’90s stank on it (obnoxious and moronic characters), but the filmmaking artistry is commendable, especially in its handling of the killing sequences.
URBAN LEGEND is one of the many slasher films that popped up after the success of Scream. You can feel Wes Craven’s influence throughout the entirety of this film as well as John Carpenter’s. It’s a horror movie made by horror fans and starring horror fans (including Jared Leto, Tara Reid, Michael Rosenbaum, Alicia Witt, Joshua Jackson, Rebecca Gayheart and Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund).
The concept of a series of murders (inspired by urban legends) happening on or around a college campus is rather genius. It sets up endless possibilities, much like the Purge movies. What makes the film even more fascinating is how it also delves into the idea of a college being afraid of its reputation being tarnished, so it will do whatever it takes to cover up any wrongdoings. And how the filmmakers handle that scenario feels genuine.
When the person behind the murders is revealed to be someone with proper motivation rather than being more random, the film loses its power. I personally wish it had been more ambiguous like the original HALLOWEEN compared to something like the first FRIDAY THE 13TH movie. But even though the film goes where it does, the final image before it closes the curtain has that signature horror movie feel that makes it great.
Extras: URBAN LEGEND comes with a slipcover and an original cover design. The basic case has reversible cover art that includes the new design (of the coat-wearing killer) and the original poster art. The best thing about this particular release is the new feature-length documentary. The doc is split up into eight parts (147 minutes in total) that feature the actors (pretty much all but Jared Leto) and filmmakers discussing how they came to be a part of the film, how the story started and what it ultimately became, the visual look and how it impacted their lives in retrospect, 20 years later. There are also three different behind-the-scenes footage sections, extended interviews from the documentary, an archival making-of, a new and archival audio commentary, a gag reel, a deleted scene, and TV spots and a trailer. It’s glorious. I especially appreciated producer Gina Matthews’ honesty throughout her interviews.
ERNIE KOVACS: THE CENTENNIAL EDITION
Honestly, I was not familiar with comedian/TV personality Ernie Kovacs’ work. He was long before my time. But this is why I appreciate Shout Factory so much: It consistently introduces me to titles and people who made significant impacts on the entertainment community. Kovacs, who had numerous television comedy programs, inspired such comedy institutions as MONTY PYTHON and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.
Going through select episodes and skits in the nine-disc set was rather magical. The picture quality isn’t terribly great (considering some material dates to 1951, and even the Shout Factory warns you that not all the transitions will be smooth), but I watched it pretending that I was an audience member watching it during its first run on television. Thinking about how shows like this were some of the few sources of entertainment at the time elevated my experience.
But really, Kovacs’ style could entertain for ages. His comedy reminded me of that scene in MRS. DOUBTFIRE when Robin Williams is doing that offbeat entertainment sketch with dinosaur toys. Williams’ character did that for himself, fantasizing about running his own show. Kovacs comes off the same way, as if no one else is in the room. Nothing seems planned. He is just making it up and telling jokes that are still funny some 60 years later. (One skit of him shooting down a plane with a cap gun left me in stitches.)
Extras: The DVD collection includes episodes from his local and national morning shows, episodes from his NBC prime-time show (Kovacs on Music), five ABC TV specials, a colorized version of his silent show (Eugene), his award-winning commercials for Dutch Masters Cigars, select short films, 18 bonus sketches, three episodes of his game show TAKE A GOOD LOOK, his rare TV pilot for MEDICINE MAN (co-starring Buster Keaton), the only existing filmed solo interview with Kovacs and a 2011 American Cinematheque Panel.