Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
July 1st, 2005

War of the Worlds

Directed by David Michael Latt
93 mins

This was a phenomenal move for The Asylum Home Entertainment.

See, it's always a twitchy concept, taking an old story and trying to update it. Longtime readers will remember my "Dr. Moreau's House of Pain" coverage, and the utter lambasting I gave that contemptible piece of cinematic slime.

But now, The Asylum comes along with its rendition of "War of the Worlds." It's hard enough to pull off by normal standards, but well-nigh impossible with Spielberg's version hitting theatres within mere weeks after The Asylum's version hits video stores next week.

So how does The Asylum play against this stacked deck?

Very well.

So what we have here is the story of aliens who've decided that Earth is just a little too annoying for their tastes, and thus send a landing party of several dozen crab-like walkers to blow holy old hell out of earth with heat rays, tailored viruses, flesh-melting outriders, and assorted metal tentacles.

The parallels are what make this particularly interesting. Somehow, they've managed to incorporate the concept of a terrorist attack in with the original Wells concept. This kind of timely, up to the minute addition is a welcome innovation, and the kind of thing that elevates something like this from "ripoff" to "homage."

The walker effects are nothing short of spectacular-easily some of the best stuff The Asylum has ever put out.

The acting is top-notch and the background effects are chilling. The entire concept is both high-intensity and atmospheric at the same time. The combination of all of these factors manages to make me enjoy a direct to video title like I haven't in months.

And "War of the Worlds" will be slaughtered, unequivocally, when the Spielberg version hits theatres.

Had The Asylum released this two years ago, even one year ago, it would be hailed as an incredible literary adaptation and as a purely brilliant film. Which, frankly, I have to-this really is an incredible literary adaptation and a purely brilliant film. It's also entertaining, and a solid gift to science fiction buffs everywhere.

But there will be comparisons. Most of them will be unfavorable. There will be cries of "ripoff' and "knockoff" and any other term you can think of, some involving profanity, and even a few that you can't think of offhand.

Never mind that The Asylum's version will hit the public first. Never mind that in many ways "War of the Worlds" is easily one of the best pictures The Asylum has ever put out. Never mind a bit of that because people will talk.

There will be almost no hope for this plucky little contender. It's a small direct to video title going up against a two hundred million dollar spectacle helmed by an actual living legend of Hollywood, Steven Spielberg. Two hundred million dollars is the largest movie budget in all of history, so saith the IMDB, and that's enough to bankroll The Asylum's version two hundred times over.

Two. Hundred. Times. Over.

It's like Rocky Balboa fighting a bear. Wearing armor. And Rocky's been given horse tranquilizers.

But that's okay, because I want to give that poor little bear-fighting boxer a shotgun of his own.

The ending is a little on the chipper-happy side, but given what happened before it, it should be.

The special features include a behind the scenes featurette, a visual effects featurette, deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and trailers for "War of the Worlds," "Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove," "Alien Abduction," and "Hide and Creep."

All in all, The Asylum's version of "War of the Worlds," is going to have to compete in the marketplace of public opinion, and there is no way a direct to video like The Asylum could ever possibly compete in a fair fight with the single biggest budget film in all of history.

So let's make it an UNFAIR fight.

I advise you not to even bother comparing. Get out there, as fast as you can, and SEE THIS MOVIE. Read the book if you're so inclined, but don't see the Spielberg version until you see the absolute great gonzo production that this tiny little studio put out on video.

And in an unprecedented move, I recommend The Asylum's "War of the Worlds" wholly and without reservation, and advise you as strongly as a video store guy can, to watch this movie.

Decoys (2004)

Directed by Matthew Hastings
96 mins

Time to go back to those crazy days of college with Decoys! Parties with heavy drinking, occasional lesbianism, and aliens that eat human DNA!

To start off, the DVD menu is a little on the drab side. While the box art is certainly appealing, mostly because it captures the intent of the film so well, just putting the box art on the DVD menu has been done to death. It's so unoriginal that it loses any appeal that it may have had.

But the film itself is what we're truly after here, so let's have a look.

Decoys is the story of a fellow who comes home one Halloween night to find the house a little colder than he expected. A LOT colder. So cold that his roommates seem to have frozen to death. IN the house.

Then, for reasons that are utterly unfathomable, we shift off to another college where a couple of very attractive pre-med coeds who like the cold have just moved into a freshman dorm.

And if you've spent any time in a freshman dorm recently, you know that this spells a whole herd of horny teenage guys who should be making asses out of themselves to get noticed.

But these chicks aren't the norm.

They have tentacles that sprout from their spines.

They also have a thing for liquid nitrogen.

The first thing you notice right off is at the nineteen minute, eighteen second mark. There's a hot blonde coed on stage next to the school's hockey captain at a sorority rush mixer with booze for all. And what does a random wit in the audience shriek?

"Give him a kiss!"

Obviously someone put a lot of research into this script. Because no one would EVER suggest anything stronger than THAT at a college party. No one would EVER be so crass as to suggest that the young lady part with some clothing...say...her top? Never.

The rest of the movie spreads outward like a fairly standard alien murder mystery kind of deal. Our steadily dwindling Scooby Gang searches for answers to the great mystery of who are these tentacle chicks, where do they come from, what do they want on their pizza, that they have a serious and debilitating fear of fire, so on and so forth, on into video eternity.

While there are some terribly amusing special effects--especially the tentacles that show up on a regular basis--we all know that special effects alone do not a movie make. The plot is all the more important, and it's not actively offensive. It's fairly standard stuff. Yes, they're distracting from cliches and obvious holes in the plot and horrific dialogue featuring phrases like "To finally uncover them for who they truly are." with tons of nudity and huge and impressive...tracts of LAND...every few minutes (Monty Python fans should get that right off.).

It's obvious the overt displays of strategic and ample portions of the female anatomy are designed to draw our attention away from a plot with a far lower endowment than the female leads.

But you know what? This is somehow all right. This is an old cliche that hearkens back to the bad old flood-the-market eighties, where every third slasher film was a race to see how fast the female lead could get her top off. It's almost a homage.

And yes, we've got our share of annoyances. Annoyances like "Gibby." Gibby is our standard rap star gone insane, spouting all the latest shiznits and off the hook's enough for any three useless wannabes.

The ending is a real barnburner, and I mean that LITERALLY. Wait until you see the last fifteen minutes of Decoys. There are all manner of twists, turns, amusing sidebars, puns, and flamethrowers. Seriously! It's worth it! It is an EXCELLENT ending, with fantastic twists. Easily one of the best I've seen in quite some time.

The special features include English (for once!) subtitles, a making of featurette and trailers for "Asylum of the Damned," "Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation" (it should be noted here that they included the entire title, and the appropriate kudos should be given for this show of respect.), "Hellboy," "Kaena: The Prophecy," "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra," and "Everquest 2." Surprisingly, there is no trailer for "Decoys," a normally standard feature not included.

All in all, despite some hackeneyed dialogue and a rather predictable plotline, Decoys overcomes its handicaps to emerge as a fairly solid title.