• Fantastic Factory Presents


    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: 4/18/2011
    Director: Brian Yuzna
    Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Mark Frost, Julian Sands
    Year: Various

    The Movies:

    In the late nineties, Brian Yuzna and Julio Fernandez started an imprint under Spain’s Filmax company to specialize in modestly budgeted horror films, the likes of which weren’t really being made anymore by the Hollywood machine, which they would then try to market around the world. Dubbed The Fantastic Factory, the imprint was launched with their first production, Faust: Love Of The Damned and lasted until 2006 with its final production, Beneath Still Waters. Arrow Video has boxed up four of Fantastic Factory’s films, and the results are as so:

    FAUST: LOVE OF THE DAMNED (2001):

    The first Fantastic Factory release was this adaptation of David Quinn and Tim Vigil’s legendary underground adult/horror comic of the same name. Originally scoped out for development by Stuart Gordon (remember that Femme Fatales magazine cover with Brinke Stevens on the cover, modeled after the second issue of the comic book?), it eventually wound up in Yuzna’s lap. Often considered unfilmable, the original comic book was completely explicit in its depiction of graphic sex and violence, but it had an interesting story to it and Vigil’s art was generally considered to be pretty amazing stuff. Even in a watered down version for theaters, there was still potential to turn out a pretty great movie – what we got, however, wasn’t quite the cult hit it should have been.

    The film revolves around a painter named John Jaspers (Mark Frost) whose girlfriend, Blue (Jennifer Rope), is raped and murdered by some thugs. Completely depressed over this horrible turn of events, he climbs to the top of a bridge where he’s going to commit suicide, but before he can jump he’s approached by a strange white haired man named M (Andrew Divoff) and his sexy female assistant, Claire (Monica Van Campen). They offer to give him the revenge he wants in exchange for his soul, and since he doesn’t care about anything in this world, Jaspers agrees and signs the contract in blood.

    What he gets is a pair of retractable claws and an unholy rage that allows him to track down the people responsible for Blue’s death and get his revenge. When he heads in for the slaughter, however, the cops show up, lead by Lt. Margolies (Jeffrey Combs), and he’s locked up. Thankfully a foxy psychiatrist named Jade De Camp (Isabel Brook) thinks she can get through to him and after some digging around in his twisted psyche, they start to fall for one another. M’s deal was more than Jaspers bargained for, however, and before you know it he’s been killed, brought back from the dead, and is running around in a rubber suit slicing and dicing in hopes of stopping M from taking Jade and bringing to earth a demonic monster called The Homunculus on Walpurgisnacht during the ritualistic orgy of death known as ‘The Rite Of Red Giving.’

    While the movie follows the basic plot of the storyline, there have been some odd changes made to this cinematic adaptation, some of which are… questionable. First up, the Homunculus in the comic was a big wolf monster, while here he’s more like one of the worms from Dune. The next and more obvious change here is in Jasper’s personality. In the comic he’s jaded and distraught, in the movie he whines. A lot. He doesn’t come across as the unhinged psychotic that Quinn and Vigil made him out to be as often as he needs to and on top of that, his rubber suit looks goofy.

    With that said, not all is lost here. Divoff makes for a good choice to play M, and if he’s a bit cartoonish in spots, that’s maybe not such a bad thing. Monica Van Campen is great as Claire, vamping it up and playing the devil’s whore with more sexual relish than you’d probably expect. She does very well in the part, and has a striking resemblance to the comic character she’s based on. Isabel Brook is also pretty decent as the psychiatrist and if her relationship with Jaspers seems rushed and forced into the storyline here, it’s not the fault of her performance. Jeffrey Combs, however, does not make for a particularly good choice to play the tough guy cop role and to be honest he comes across as a bit of a wimp.

    As far as the effects go, Screamin’ Mad George handled most of them and did a pretty good job, though realism doesn’t seem to have been a big concern here. The film has a good amount of gore on display but also has a few effects heavy set pieces, such as when M shows Claire what will happen to her if she doesn’t control her urges and of course, the rise of the big rubber Homunculus. Jaspers’ suit is a little too rubbery at Batman-ish and his claws tend to wobble, which makes them less intimidating than they were probably meant to be, but at least they stuck with the original costume design from the comic.

    So what we’re left with is a very flawed take on some source material that, yes, would be very tough to do properly without heading into hardcore porno territory and committing financial suicide. Not everything works here, but not everything is a complete misfire either. As troubled and frequently goofy as the film is, it is at least an entertaining picture; you’ve got to give it credit for that.









    ARACHNID (2001):

    Made right after Faust in 2001 by director Jack Sholder, Arachnid is a fun throwback to fifties era monster movies made with a more modern audience in mind. The film begins when a pilot named Joli crash lands on a remote island somewhere in the South Pacific where he’s promptly taken care of by a giant mutant spider. From there, cut to a team of crack scientists lead by Dr. Leon (Jose Sancho) who, along with his assistant, Susana (Neus Asensi) and a few other medical types, are being lead by some Marines to a remote village where they are to treat a virus wreaking havoc on the local population. Their plane has to make an emergency landing on the beach and once they start making the trip on foot, the find that the village they’re looking for is completely empty. It turns out that the giant mutant spider who ate the guy in the beginning is one of many giant mutant spiders hanging out in the area and these giant mutant spiders like to eat people. The group realizes this and soon starts fighting amongst themselves – will they make it out of the jungle alive or fall prey to the spiders like everyone else in the movie?

    If it isn’t the most original story ever told, Arachnid is still an enjoyable monster movie. The low budget CGI that is used for most of the spider effects won’t win anybody over but this is a film that has its heart in the right place. It borrows from Aliens and Giant Spider Invasion at times but not to the detriment of the picture. We’re left with a hokey but fun monster mash, with enough effects and gore to keep horror fans interested and willing to overlook the fact that the plot is paper thing and the characterizations even thinner. There aren’t any surprises here, the movie delivers pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to when you’d expect it to, so it’s more or less devoid of tension, but hey, it’s a giant spider movie – that alone will be enough for some people. Not a classic by any stretch, but you could certainly do worse as far as time killers go.










    BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003):

    In 1990, Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is taken into custody when his former partner, Dan Cain, turns states evidence on him after a zombie that he created kills a teenage girl in her kitchen one dark and rainy night.

    Fast forward thirteen years to the present day and we find Combs locked up in a maximum security prison trying vainly to continue his experiments using what primitive means are available to him on the prison’s rodent population.

    A new Doctor by the name of Howard (Jason Barry) is brought in to the prison to work on the inmates and he requests that West’s services be made available to him on the basis that he’ll need a hand every now and then. Well, it turns out that Howard is the brother of the girl who was killed in the kitchen those thirteen years ago and since then he’s studied up on West and knows about his past. Howard figures if they work together they can break down the barriers between life and death and do some genuine good for the world with their experiments if they work together.

    While all this is going on, Howard begins to fall for a foxy looking reporter named Laura (the scrumdillyicious Elsa Pataky) who is doing an investigative piece on the man who runs the compound, Warden Brando (Simon Andreu). The Warden though has other plans and when he finds out that West and Howard are working together and using some of his inmates as guinea pigs, things get ugly and a prison riot soon erupts, causing Howard and West to have to figure their way out of the mess that they’ve created for themselves.

    The film starts off with a great opening scene and keeps moving at a reasonably brisk pace from start to finish, culminating in the prison riot where we finally get to see what happens when the re-agent is given to a living human being (no shock that the results are messy!) and when a rat gets re-animated. That said, Beyond Re-Animator is far from perfect. The acting is subpar even by low budget horror movie standards, and I’d guess that a big part of the reason why this is would be because it was shot primarily with a Spanish cast. But those flaws aside, Combs is good enough to carry the picture and the gore effects from Screamin’ Mad George are a lot of fun and don’t hold back at all.

    So if you go in expecting it to be as good as the first Re-Animator film, you’re bound for disappointment but after the mixed result that was Bride Of Re-Animator, this sequel does get the series back on track and sets up a possibly fourth film quite nicely (I’d personally really like to see West square off against Dan Cain who is noticeably absent in this third entry).










    ROMSANTA – THE WEREWOLF HUNT (2004):

    The fourth, final and most recent film of the four in this set is based on the story of Manuel Blanco Romasanta, a man responsible for murdering over a dozen people in Spain in the mid 1800s. When the movie begins, bodies are piling up in and around a town in Spain. The local officials fear that wolves are responsible for the killings and so they basically declare open season on the poor animals, but the killings continue even as the wolf population is decimated.

    Things take an interesting turn when a young woman named Barbara (Elsa Pataky again) begins to suspect that a man named Romasanta (Julian Sands), who is romantically involved with her older sister, might have something to do with the killings. She has conflicting emotions as to what to do about it, however, as she’s quite obviously in love with him. Her opinion of Romasanta changes when things hit close to home and her sister and niece both go missing – but Romasanta, who confesses to the killings, claims he can’t help himself as he’s a werewolf.

    It’s probably a safe bet that this film was made with little regard to historical accuracy but the very fact that it is based on something that actually happened makes it interesting in and of itself. Sands does reasonably well in the lead role here, playing his part with enough charm that you can understand how he’d win over the ladies the way he does here, while his chemistry with Pataky is palpable enough to work. Her role is also fairly well played, and she certainly looks the part well enough that we have no qualms whatsoever about buying into his lust for her.

    As far as the more horrific elements go, they mix well with the gothic atmosphere and dark romantic subtext of the film even if the border on melodramatic and overwrought from time to time. Director Paco Plaza, best known at this point in the game for the cult hit .REC, keeps the pacing going and infuses the film with enough visual flair to make it work. If the film isn’t completely successful it at least earns bonus points for trying something new and investing enough psychological tension into its story to remain of interest.









    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Each of the four films in the set is presented in its original anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. For the most part the transfers look pretty decent. There is some mild print damage here and there and you won’t have to squint to notice the occasional speck but there’s nothing too serious in that regard. Some minor compression artifacts pop up in the darker scenes if you look for them, but if you don’t you won’t likely notice them. Colors fare quite well across the board and there’s no heavy edge enhancement to complain about.

    As far as the audio goes, there are English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks provided for each film as well optional English subtitles across the board. Things generally sound okay, though none of the four pictures provides a reference quality listening experience. Faust in particular shows some noticeable level fluctuations and some rather sloppy, typo-ridden subtitles. Those complaints aside, and in the grand scheme of things they are minor, all four pictures show some fine surround usage and spread their respective scores around well. Not perfect, but fine.

    The special features are obviously spread out across the four discs in the set. Let’s start with Faust which includes an audio commentary with director Brian Yuzna. Amiable and honest about the film’s plus’ and minus’, he gives a good talk about the origins of the film; its production history, the effects work and shooting the picture in Spain.

    As far as the featurettes go, Faust gets two - Director of the Damned: Brian Yuzna, Faust And The Fantastic Factory lets the director elaborate on how the Fantastic Factory was formed and how they went ahead with Faust, their first production. There’s a little nod to the original comic book here but not a whole lot of focus on it or its controversy, which is a bit of a missed opportunity. The second featurette is The Pain In Spain: A History of Horror in Hot Weather which is an extended interview with Angel Sala who is the programming director of the Sitges Film Festival. Sala basically gives us a history of Spanish horror, covering the work of Naschy and Franco during the industry’s glory days through to more modern pictures like .REC and the Fantastic Factory efforts. On an anal retentive comic nerd note, the animation sequence employed in the credits shows Faust popping up with three claws – he only has two, don’t confuse him with Wolverine. He’s much tougher and scarier than Wolverine. The film’s original trailer is also included, as are some spiffy menus and chapter selection.





    Arachnid doesn’t get as much love as the first film but features a documentary called King of the Spiders Brian Yuzna remembers Arachnid – this featurette is basically just what it sounds like, a chat in which Yuzna talks about this particular film and those who made it for his production company. There’s a second featurette on the disc here entitled Creature Comforts: The Monster Mayhem of Steve Johnson which gives some insight into the effects work that we see on display in the film. Rounding out the extras on the disc are some nice looking menus, chapter selection, and the film’s original trailer.





    Beyond Re-Animator also includes an audio commentary with director Brian Yuzna and he once again proves to be a fairly lively commentator. He discusses Combs role in a fair bit of detail and the pressures of following up the successful first two films in the series. There’s also a single featurette here, All In The Head: Brian Yuzna On The Re-Animator Chronicles which lets the director shed further light on the series. The original trailer is provided and again, and so are menus and chapter stops.





    Romasanta doesn’t get a commentary but it does include an interesting documentary entitled Romasanta: Lycanthropes, Lunacy And The Last Days Of The Fantastic Factory which chronicles, as you would expect, the last days of the studio and its output. The disc includes a second featurette entitled Making Romasanta which includes on camera interviews with director Paco Plaza and stars Julian Sands, Elsa Pataky and John Sharian – all of whom share their respective feelings on the film and provide some interesting stories about making the picture together. There’s also a separate interview here with composer Mikel Salas which discusses the creation of the film’s score. Paco Plaza shows up again to introduce some deleted scenes and provide commentary over top of them and these are interesting to see even if he was right to trim them from the finished version of the film. Rounding out the extras on the last disc is a featurette on the S/FX design work showcased in the film, menus, chapter stops and the original trailer.





    Special note should be made of the fancy packaging designed for this release. There are nine different reversible sleeves you can choose to display, some of which use original poster art and some of which use newly designed illustrations. Each of the four discs also includes a nice full color booklet that includes essays on various topics, from the origins of Fantastic Factory to details on the films. Also found inside each disc is a fold-out poster with the newly designed artwork on one side and some Arrow advertising on the opposite side. The four discs are housed inside their own keepcases which fit nicely inside a slick looking cardboard box.

    The Final Word:

    The Fantastic Factory films may not have been high art but they were and still remain a lot of good spooky fun. This boxed set isn’t quite a greatest hits collection but it does provide a good way to get four enjoyable films with a pretty impressive array of extras in an all around very nicely put together package. Recommended for Yuzna fans and low budget horror junkies.
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