Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
December 1st, 2008


Directed by Igor Shavlak
Written by Valeriy Krechetov
Starring Svetlana Metkina, Dmitry Orlov
Produced by Valery Krechetov
81 mins

I'm always at least kind of interested to get my hands on foreign horror. And that Ghost House thought it worth including in their Ghost House Underground collection makes it doubly worth note.

Ghost House Underground, so far, has not been a huge disappointment. Oh, sure, there are no big standout titles yet, and frankly, Brotherhood of Blood was not my first choice for fun Friday night viewing, but then I personally have a problem with vampire movies anyway, especially those that act like they're just huge LARPs and everyone wants to play freaking Clan Ventrue.

But's a different matter. First, it's RUSSIAN. Not a whole lot of movies come out of the former Evil Empire these days, so each one is sort of a red-letter day all by itself. Especially when you consider other Russian fare like Night Watch and Day Watch.

And what they'll be putting up is would be at least marginally interesting for an American release, so double bonus kudos to the Russians on this one. It's basically your standard hack-and-slash sort of affair, with a bunch of bank robbers and their hostages plunging into the dark of an abandoned subway system (who knew Russia had subways?) and running afoul of a lunatic who kills pretty much anyone he comes across. So you've got lots of dark and claustrophobic action going on in here, and that's seldom not a bad thing.

There will be those that say that Trackman is a bit on the repetitive side, and I can't blame them. You start seeing the same walls and the same shadows and the dark and such moving around for a while and it gets to looking familiar. Maybe too familiar. But that's really an issue of personal preference; I don't have much of a problem with seeing a lot of the same scenery as long as something interesting's going on IN that scenery. Trackman does have quite a bit of that.

I debated telling you about this part because, frankly, it's a pretty large part of the plot, but knowing what I know about this sort of thing you might be pretty upset if I DON'T tell you. This serial killer? He's got a thing for EYES. As in, he'll be removing them. Messily. Frequently. I happen to be pretty squeamish when it comes to the eyes, and I KNOW I'm not alone in that, so if you've got a thing about eye gouging like I do, well, you may want to stay away from Trackman.

The ending will actually manage to bring things full circle in a surprisingly cogent fashion, and even will go so far as to twist just a bit. Oh, and stick around during the credits for some creepy kids' drawings that will even manage to give a bit of insight on the whole "eyes" thing. Bonus points for that.

The special features include audio options, English and Spanish subtitles, and trailers for Saw V, Punisher: War Zone, Trackman, Dance of the Dead, No Man's Land: Rise of the Reeker, The Substitute, Brotherhood of Blood, Dark Floors, The Last House in the Woods, and Room 205.

All in all, I'm fairly satisfied with Trackman. It's certainly not the best thing I've seen lately, nor is it ever going to be a contender for a place on any of my best-of-ever lists. But it should prove to be at least a half-decent rental for the night, and you can't ask a whole lot more out of a longshot import title.

The Substitute

The Substitute
Directed by Ole Bornedal
Written by Henrik Prip, Ole Bornedal
Starring Paprika Steen, Ulrich Thomsen, Jonas Wandschneider, Nikolaj Falkenberg-Klok
Produced by Michael Obel
93 mins

It sounds like the start of a bad children's book, I know--"My teacher is an alien!" Yeah, we all grew up with something like that around somewhere, didn't we? And it was great back when we were in the fourth grade, but can this concept apply further?

That's the question The Substitute will pose, as an alien comes down to earth from a planet that knows only war in search of something mankind has--love. Weird, I know, and she's going to try and get it from the children as she poses as a teacher about to take her class to an international competition in Paris. And although she's not exactly the nicest of educators, she's got the parents eating out of her hand. So can the kids keep themselves from falling prey to an alien plot? Or will they be just one small cog in a much greater disaster coming?

I have to hand it to The Substitute for being able to really milk a joke--there's this excellent stretch where one of the students is describing this really outlandish dream before revealing that it's all just a crock.

But then...there's a pretty big problem with the sound track not synching up with character movements, and I think that may well have something to do with the fact that this is likely Danish in origin. Danish horror? I'm downright intrigued!

It is all somewhat predictable--even the kids see it coming when the opportunity to catch the alien in the act of being a lunatic live-chicken-eater comes and goes in a haze of normalcy. I love watching the kids board the bus as the teacher / alien gets to take the kids off to Paris.

There are so many moments I love about The Substitute that it's hard to understand why I didn't love the whole so much more. I suppose it's true what they say about the whole being more than the sum of its parts, and in this case, the whole is not so much.

The ending may well be the best part of The Substitute for a change, as it removes all the subterfuge and excuses and such and instead leaves us with a nice unalloyed final boss fight sort of ending that does a solid and satisfying job.

The special features include audio options, English and Spanish subtitles, director's commentary, audio in the original Danish (I THOUGHT it was Danish!) and trailers for Brotherhood of Blood, Room 205, No Man's Land: Rise of the Reeker, Trackman, Dark Floors, Last House in the Woods and Dance of the Dead.

All in all, The Substitute, despite extensive problems with predictability, manages to satisfy and satisfy fairly solidly. Let me be clear on one point--this will NOT scare you. Seriously, no scares here. I don't know why Ghost House brought this on. But it IS a solid and entertaining little title with a great ending, and it's definitely worth a watching.