- BD-25 Disc
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English Dolby Digital 2.0
- Director's Diary (Behind-the-scenes)
- Director's commentary
- Interview with Brinke Stevens
- Cast Auditions
- Director Joe Castro's Childhood Massacre Short Film
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The Summer of Massacre (Blu-ray)
Breaking Glass / 2011 / 96 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: January 31, 2012
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Reviewed by Steven Cohen
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
As I sat down to write this review, I couldn't help but hear that old motherly adage run through my mind, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." Since you've no doubt noticed the zero star score to the right of the screen, I think it's a pretty safe bet that I don't have a lot of nice things to say right now. Of course, as a reviewer whose job it is to share his opinion on why movies are either good or bad, that puts me in quite the predicament. While I've unleashed some fairly merciless snark against terrible films in the past (all deserving, mind you), 'The Summer of Massacre' presents me with a slight moral quandary. You see, this isn't some over-bloated, money grubbing, soulless Hollywood production attempting to swindle you out of your hard earned cash so you can watch formulaic drivel that was slapped together through endless focus meetings, marketing research, and a hack director's so called "vision." No, this is a truly low budget, indie effort that was lovingly assembled out of nothing more than a pure, untainted, uncorrupted passion for filmmaking. Does that mean 'The Summer of Massacre' somehow gets a pass for its unrelenting awfulness and absolutely painful incompetence? Hell no, but it does mean that I'm going to try and lessen the amount of remorseless snark that I'd normally employ in such caes. The key word there is try, however. I make no promises. After all, if I went the wholly polite and tactful route, this review would be exactly two words long: Movie bad. If that description is enough for you (and really, it probably should be) then please stop reading this and continue on with your day. For the morbidly curious and the very brave, feel free to read on.
The movie is structured as a horror anthology, primarily telling four separate tales with some smaller bits sprinkled in between. The first episode is an almost purely visceral (i.e. plotless) exercise in nonstop carnage that follows a man as he goes on a homicidal rampage. The second vignette focuses on a mentally and physically incapacitated hermaphrodite who is treated poorly (to say the least) by his/her siblings before he/she finally gets revenge. Yes, you read that correctly. From there we segue into a psychotic take on the boogie man before concluding with the filmmakers' version of a classic campfire/lost in the woods story. Brief interludes featuring fictional convicts discussing their crimes are also peppered throughout. While none of the main segments are directly connected, they all have very similar visual and narrative styles.
Despite the filmmakers' good intentions, every facet of the production is... not good. The writing is pedestrian, unoriginal, and frequently incomprehensible. Dialogue is stilted and asinine, and the acting is... well, since I'm trying to be considerate you can insert your own negative, sarcastic adjective or description. Any number will do, believe me. The direction and cinematography are excessively amateur and sometimes downright incompetent showing only a small understanding of the fundamentals of moviemaking. Basically, imagine taking a couple of random people off the street, giving them a cheap camera, and asking them to act, and you'll get a pretty good sense of what this flick is like. Hmm, that was kind of mean. Damn it, this is hard!
Most of the running time is an unrelenting flurry of mindless over-the-top blood and gore, and as such the whole thing starts to get repetitive and tiresome almost immediately. It's all one note, and it's painfully out of tune. After the first segment, which is essentially dialogue and story free, I was still optimistic that the remainder of the film would pick up. Unfortunately, once the characters open their mouths and the filmmakers attempt an actual plotline, I started to wish they'd just shut up again. All of the segments are equally horrendous, though the aforementioned hermaphrodite episode is particularly agonizing. To be honest, I'm not really sure how this got a professional release to begin with.
The film features an... "interesting" special effects style that relies heavily on composite images. I understand that this is a very low budget affair so I don't want to completely denigrate the hard work put into the SFX shots, but the end results are quite terrible, and much like the plot itself, often downright incomprehensible. It's hard to really describe how the digital effects look on screen because, to the film's credit, I've never really seen anything like it before. Of course, I also hope I never see anything like it again. Though traditional makeup work is used frequently throughout, most actual kills (of which there are many) feature computerized gore that basically renders the victims as 2D, motionless digital cutouts that are then manipulated in gruesome ways.
The resulting images look like the product of a disturbed child's amateur experiments with Photoshop (or possibly Microsoft Paint). OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, and there definitely is some skill behind the work, but microbudget or not, it's just plain bad. Again, the actual look is hard to describe, but at times the style is not unlike those old Terry Gilliam 'Monty Python' animations. The trouble is, the goal here is too scare, thrill, disturb and gross out the audience, but all the unrealistic effects do is elicit laughter. Actually, they don't even do that. They just made me want to turn off the TV. There a numerous instances where the compositing and layering of horrific images gets so out of hand that it reduces the screen into a jumbled mess of unintelligible visual nonsense that will leave audiences wondering what they're supposed to be looking at. On the other hand, the practical makeup can be decent. So, at least there's that.
Nobody sets out to make a bad film, but 'The Summer of Massacre' is just that. In fact, it's among the absolute worst movies I've ever seen. In the included special features, director Joe Castro seems like a nice guy and he's certainly enthusiastic and well meaning. Unfortunately, in this case, those admirable qualities don't translate to the screen in any kind of worthwhile manner. I thought about giving the movie half a star just for the filmmakers' ardent spirit, but passion alone is just not enough, and the final product has to stand alone with at least some semblance of competency. The truth is, the only redeeming quality about 'The Summer of Massacre' is that it eventually ends. I know that sounds harsh, but I don't write it to be mean. The zero star rating and any of my disparaging comments throughout this review aren't intended to be vicious or cruel -- they're just meant to be honest. Admittedly, I'm not much of a horror or gore fan to begin with, so perhaps big blood and guts enthusiasts might find a bit more to like here. Considering that the movie got a Blu-ray release at all I have to assume there is some kind of audience for it. Then again, you know what they say about assumptions...
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Breaking Glass brings 'The Summer of Massacre' to Blu-ray on a BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase. After some logos and warnings the disc transitions to a standard menu.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Featuring a cheap, low quality appearance this video is technically problematic and extremely underwhelming.
The digital source is prone to periodic compression artifacts including blocking and noise patterns which can be quite distracting. Detail is adequate but nothing special, and the image has a very flat appearance with no real sense of dimension. The picture basically looks like it was shot on cheap consumer HD equipment. While I don't want to fault the filmmakers for working within certain budgetary restrictions, the results simply are what they are -- quite poor. Terrible post production filters have also been applied in a seemingly misguided attempt to enhance the visuals, resulting in drab colors and blown out contrast. Of course, the complete lack of artistry behind the cinematography and overabundance of poor CG and compositing work don't help matters much either. On the upside, black levels remain deep and consistent.
Plagued by amateur camera work, ugly post production filters, and sporadic compression artifacts this transfer is just plain ugly. To say this looks like a bad student film would be a disservice to student filmmakers. It's watchable, but not much else.
The film is presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track and no subtitle options. Lossy and unimpressive, the audio suffers from cheap design work and technical issues.
First things first, if you do decide to watch this film, make sure to lower the volume on your receiver considerably before starting the disc. The audio is mixed several decibels higher than most releases, which gave my ear drums quite the surprise when the feature began. On that same note, frequent balance issues and volume fluctuations plague the track. Effects work and music will often overpower speech or conversely seem a bit low. Dialogue isn't always clean, revealing the limitations of the recording methods. There is some decent separation across the two channels of audio, but the design work lacks finesse. The thumping score is lively with solid bass activity, but the soundtrack is extremely repetitive and annoying. Though distortion free, the lossy track lacks fidelity and variety.
Awkwardly balanced and cheaply produced, this audio mix is subpar. Much like the video, this is listenable but not much else.
Breaking Glass has put together a decent assortment of special features including a commentary, director's diary, and cast auditions. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and no subtitle options. It should also be noted that like the movie, there are some volume fluctuations between the supplements, with some sounding much louder than others.
- Director's Commentary - Director Joe Castro provides commentary on the four main segments of the film (the additional prison scenes that bookend every episode do not feature commentary). Castro is joined by various guests on each vignette, usually made up of the movie's producers and some cast members. The discussion includes details on the inspirations for the different stories, the casting process, locations used, makeup and special effects, the score, and the low budget nature of the production. Unfortunately, all of the participants seem completely oblivious to the film's glaring problems making them sound a bit delusional as they repeatedly praise the movie's acting and CG work. Castro seems like a really nice guy and he's very enthusiastic about the project, it's just a shame that his passion didn't translate into entertainment value.
- Director's Diary (HD, 26 min) - This is compilation of behind-the-scenes footage and stills taken during the production, mostly focusing on the makeup work. The director also provides some commentary over the early parts of the material. While a lot of this is actually pretty interesting, the clips and photos are all presented in a very annoying manner. Rather than being displayed fullscreen, the material is placed in a small box that sometimes moves about the frame while the background showcases various silly effects. It looks like one of those standard templates someone would use on a homebrewed DVD, giving the whole thing a very amateur feel.
- Interview with Brinke Stevens (HD, 8 min) - An interview with the director and actress Brinke Stevens is included. The pair talk about how they met and discuss the film's unique look.
- Cast Auditions (HD, 2 min) - This is brief audition footage for the cast featured in the film's second segement.
- Joe Castro's 'Childhood Massacre' A Short Film (HD, 14 min) - Presented in upconverted 1080p, this is a short film the director made when he was fourteen years old (along with some minor digital "enhancements" he seems to have added). Bizarre and incomprehensible, this short kind of reminded me of the movie the kids in 'Super 8' make, giving it a certain fun charm. Hell, I actually think I liked it more than the main feature.
- Original Trailer (HD, 2 min) - The movie's trailer is included.
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'The Summer of Massacre' is an absolutely atrocious film. The directing, acting, and visual effects are all nearly incompetent. I admire the filmmakers' passion and the independent spirit of the production, but those factors can't make up for the finished product's lofty flaws. The video and audio are both pretty bad, suffering from budgetary and technical problems. Supplements are decent, giving viewers a peek at the director's enthusiasm and hard work. Though I tried, I really couldn't find anything to like about the movie, and with its lackluster technical presentation, this really is a disc to avoid.
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