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Shapeshifter DVD Review

Written by Sham

DVD released by The Asylum

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Directed by Gregory Lemkin
Written by Allie Everett Howe and Gregory Lemkin
2002, Region 1 (NTSC), 82 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on November 29th, 2005

Jennifer Lee Wiggins as Ginny
Vaz Andreas as Velku
Tom Downey as the Shapeshifter
Chris Facey as Riggs
A.J. Hammond as Mohammad
Steven Glinn as Jummi

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Shapeshifter is a bad egg from The Asylum Home Entertainment.

The reason I say this is because The Asylum is an impressive studio. They produce and pick up low-budget horror gems and release them on well-packaged DVDs, and they’ve done this for a while now. I’m a proud fan of their movies.

I thoroughly enjoyed H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Frankenstein Reborn was a gory horror romp with great makeup effects. The Beast of Bray Road, while corny, was still a lot of bloody fun.

But hey, no company’s perfect. It was only a matter of time before they released a clunker.

Shapeshifter’s biggest flaw arrives hard and fast, and it’s not the off-cue opening rap music, the pointless sex scene between a man and his hooker, or the yellow color palette that hurts the eyes.

It’s actually the Shapeshifter itself, a mysterious character that loses all ambiguity when the movie reveals him in full view within the first three minutes of the movie. He’s a cool-looking character, and the costume itself is impressive. But because the onscreen presence of the Shapeshifter is so overdone, I lost interest almost immediately. Now where’s the fun in that?

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As the story goes, a gore-hungry monster (Tom Downey – The Beast of Bray Road) that takes the form of a human (Vaz Andreas – TV’s “The Shield”) has just been put into a downtown prison. The prison is unkempt and badly constructed, and it holds a bunch of stereotypical prisoners who shout racial slurs every five minutes. Whether they’re racist, or whether they think everyone else is a racist, I’m unsure of. It doesn’t matter, either, because what’s imperative here is there’s this sexy, wannabe deputy named Ginny (Jennifer Lee Wiggins – King of the Lost World) who has just arrived at the prison, too. She’s learning how the whole prison system works, and this fits into the story well – especially when the Shapeshifter escapes its cell and kills all of the other police officers. What are the odds of that?

More importantly, this prison is so reliable in safety that many of the most significant security doors in the building don’t even lock, and even the bars for the cells have become so weak from water damage that they are able to come down just by pulling on them. Like one of the loud-mouth prisoners says, “That’s been like that all of this time and I didn’t notice?”

But no worries. For the next hour, you get to see a bunch of random prisoners and a clueless security guard running scared from a flesh-eating demon from Hell. Woohoo.

The movie does have its moments. I cringed when I saw the human Shapeshifter eat through his arm and pull out an amulet. I cheered when the Shapeshifter punched an inmate’s face, splattering his head into oblivion. I gasped when one of the inmates died not by the beast, but by another prisoner. The gore is ample and the violence is gratuitous, and each of his victims seems to have an abundance of innards to go around.

However, the movie also has an abundance of cultural references and religious talk to wade through. I’m all for substance, but I don’t want it force-fed to me in large doses. You rent a movie like Shapeshifter to see people die quickly and creatively. People die, but it took longer than I had anticipated, and there’s only so many times and so many ways you can see people get their intestines spilled out.

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Special Features:

  • Cast and Crew Commentary
  • Ode to The Shapeshifter
  • Behind the Scenes Featurette
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Trailers

The audio commentary with director Gregory Lemkin and actors A.J. Hammond and Jennifer Lee Wiggins is a fun listen. They’re all fun people, and they all have something interesting to say about the movie. Each has a good sense of humor that had me laughing out loud more than once. Never before have I actually heard a commentary that was better than the movie. On a technical level, I did notice it was a lot harder to hear A.J. Hammond than the other two.

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Following the commentary is a feature called Ode to The Shapeshifter, and I honestly don’t know what the hell this is. I’m guessing it is supposed to be a blooper reel. It’s basically a series of clips from the movie with some country song in the background. Goofy sound effects play over instead of realistic ones. This is one of the weirdest special features I’ve seen on a DVD.

The nine minute behind-the-scenes featurette is an entertaining watch. Clearly the cast and crew had their fair share of bumps and bruises during the making of the movie, but they also had a lot of fun.

The four deleted scenes were a good cut, as they don’t really need to be in the movie.

The trailers on the DVD are King of the Lost World, Shapeshifter, The Beast of Bray Road, Frankenstein Reborn, The Girl in the Basement, and Dead Men Walking.

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Video and Audio:

Shapeshifter is presented in a 16:9 widescreen presentation. While the picture is a little hazy and soft, it is much more focused than a lot of The Asylum’s previous movies. However, it could be a lot sharper, and the darker sequences can be lightened up a bit.

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Audio is presented in 5.1 Surround Sound, and it’s very impressive. The Shapeshifter’s roar is domineering. The score is never overpowered by the action or the actors, and vice versa.

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Movie: 2 Stars – A tedious horror film.
Video: 3 stars – It’s focused and grain-free, but there could be a sharper image.
Audio: 3.5 Stars – The audio sounds great. I was completely impressed.
Features: 3 stars – The Asylum doesn’t disappoint by putting in some very enjoyable features.
Overall: 3 stars – The DVD is one of The Asylum’s best. Too bad I can’t say the same about the movie.

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Shapeshifter isn’t a winner in the expanding catalogue of The Asylum Home Entertainment, but the DVD is good in the departments of picture, audio, and special features.

It’s a worth a rental for the commentary alone, but don’t expect much going in.

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