DVD Commentary Tracks That Don’t Suck

i love dvd commentaries. my decision to buy a dvd is often based simply on whether there’s a commentary track… largely because even if the film sucks (as most of the ones i buy do), the commentary might still be interesting. in fact, the worse the movie the better as there’s few things better than hearing filmmakers discuss the process of making a truly horrible film. hearing william friedkin babble on about the exorcist might be educational in some respects, but mostly it’s just sleep-inducing. hearing what made someone think that making rock-n-roll nightmare was a good idea or who was sleeping with who on the set of jeepers creepers 2… now that’s fascinating. in order to maximize the utility of your netflix queue, i offer the following suggestions for those seeking worthwhile horror dvd commentaries.

the thing

this was the first dvd i ever bought and (with the exception of an evil dead commentary bizarrely released on vhs), the first commentary track i ever heard. it remains one of my favorites, and not just for nostalgic reasons. john carpenter’s films vary in quality, but his enthusiasm for the creative process is infectious regardless of the film. here he’s joined with his obviously close friend kurt russell. when speaking about the film they discuss how difficult it was obtaining beer at the set, how far wilford brimley was from those quaker oats commercials and ask difficult questions about the film’s premise (e.g., would a person taken over by ‘the thing’ know it?). most often though they roam off topic and seem to forget where they are, going so far as to start discussing how their kid’s little league teams are doing before realizing that this really isn’t a private conversation. what results is a candid, funny and honest commentary track by two close friends for one of the greatest horror/sci-fi films ever.

return of the living dead 3

this under-appreciated zombie version of romeo & juliet actually has two tracks (one with the director, one with the lead actress and effects guy), but the one worth listening to is the latter featuring actress mindy clarke and special effects supervisor tom rainone. they’re both lively and entertaining people and their stories are funny, but the interplay between them is the highlight of the track. its obvious tom is flirting with mindy heavily and attempting to impress her with arcane knowledge of military trucks and weaponry. his flirting gets worse as time goes on as he seems to have a flask of ‘jack daniels’ with him and mindy’s remarks mentioning her husband/children seem to go unnoticed. its never enough to halt the conversation or make mindy overly uncomfortable, but its quite enjoyable to witness never-the-less.

sleepaway camp

this film is often remembered for its unexpected revealing of the killer and unrealistic death sequences. the commentary features the director, leading actress felissa rose (14 years old during the film, 36 during the commentary), and the webmaster of the sleepaway camp fansite. the latter’s love for the film is apparent, and he does a good job of mediating the commentary without stepping all over it. interesting bits include hearing felissa discuss her experiences as a teenager on a movie set and the crush she had on her co-star (and the drama that subsequently ensued).

bare wench 2: book of babes

jim wynorski is one of my favorite directors for two reasons — first, he makes horrible horror films with an unabashed love of the genre and no apparent desire to move beyond ultra low-budget restraints. second, he almost always does a commentary track. this particular one also features nikki fritz, and jim spends a ridiculous amount of time discussing her newly purchased breasts (i.e., “nikki fritz and her brand new…”). his films may be self indulgent and lacking in craftmanship, but its obvious from every frame that all he cares about is having fun while making them while turning a small profit. if you want to learn about making modern low-budget exploitation flicks… this isn’t a horrible place to start.

cheerleader massacre

another jim wynorski jiggle-fest. here the commentary features jim and actress gigi erneta. jim says he wanted to make a slasher film like it was 1982 again… unfortunately, i’m not sure he really remembers what those films were like. friday the 13th didn’t have a lot of breasts covered in chocolate syrup as far as i remember. it also didn’t have a laughable CGI decapitation… but this film gives you both. one of the more interesting tidbits of behind-the-scenes gossip is jim discovering ½ way through shooting that one of the leads was a hardcore porn star. there’s also quite a few times when jim lets people’s real names slip who clearly didn’t wish to be mentioned. the film is entertaining despite failing to emulate the tone of a traditional slasher and, truth be told, i’m not convinced that was ever really the goal anyway.

house of the dead

oh, uwe boll, how i love you. this was my first boll picture, and it won’t be my last. his complete incompetence is impossible to turn away from and, like ed wood jr. before him, he possesses that rate talent of making something so bad it’s good. in this track he rambles on about what kind of coffee he likes and embarrasses his fellow commentators with personal stories such as mentioning that one of the actors (present in the commentary) hooked up with and was subsequently dumped by one of the actresses in the movie. hearing uwe defend his use of crappy, lo-res dreamcast video game footage in a feature length film alone is worth owning this disc, but producer mark altman (‘free enterprise’) also does a separate track. mark is far more intelligent than the german director, and this track is actually rather enlightening. both tracks should be commended for being one of the rare times where people actually say what they think. it’s obvious mark isn’t very fond of how the film turned out and uwe doesn’t pull any punches when discussing his critics or defending his own creative vision.

urban legend

urban legend is one of the better slasher films cranked out after scream hit it big, but it never quite lives up to the quality of its premise. still, the commentary is definitely worth a listen. the cast and crew obviously know exactly what they were making and had a lot of fun doing it. expect to hear many self-deprecating observations about how ludicrous some of the plot holes and situations are… such as the red herring involving someone wearing a snow parka to an indoor swimming pool.

resident evil

ah… i saved the best for last. for some reason this track just never gets old. paul anderson (director), jeremy bolt (producer), milla jovovich (star) and michelle rodriguez (co-star) make for an interesting combo of unintentional wackiness and sexual tension. paul’s ego fills up the room, as does jeremy’s obvious infatuation with the two women in his proximity. the primary fun comes from milla and michelle, however. you get the distinct impression these are 12 year old girls trapped in 25 year old bodies. milla makes quite a few fart jokes, but it turns out she’s far and away the more intelligent of the two females. two sections of the commentary featuring michelle require special attention.

1. at one point michelle mentions a crematorium. quickly realizing that michelle isn’t entirely sure what that is, milla tells her that it’s the place where you make milk. michelle completely believes this and continues… then you can hear milla giggling and say “oh my god” to the males in the room while michelle finishes with her story, oblivious.

2. michelle decides to get intellectual and goes on a diatribe about what this movie is “really about.” it’s not a “zombie movie” she says… it’s actually clearly about 3 things… the dangers of genealogy, biohazardous research and metamorphoses. i have no idea what any of that means in terms of this movie… but i’m pretty sure resident evil had more to do with zombies than medical waste, caterpillars or how dangerous looking into your family tree can be.

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