The Tenement DVD Review
Written by Eric Strauss
DVD released by Light and Dark Productions
Written and directed by Glen Baisley
2003, Region 1 (NTSC), 118 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on September 21st, 2004
Joe Lauria as Ethan Fernier/Black Rose Killer (and others)
Carol DiMarsico as Sarah Weston
Mike Lane as Jimmy Wayne Garrick
Ed Shelinsky as the taxi driver
Michael Gingold as Winston Korman (and others)
John Sudol as Henry Wallace, the neighbor
Frank Catalanotto as Frank Cooper
Danielle Russo as Chastity, the female serial killer (and others)
with Suzi Leigh as the sacrifice victim/Morgan
The Tenement, a prequel to writer/director Glen Baisley’s earlier effort, the entertaining Fear of the Dark, represents Baisley’s attempt to take the next step in his filmmaking. Using an old apartment building as the basis for a Tales from the Crypt-style series of shorts, he emphasizes the psychological aspect of horror. This contrasts sharply to the much more straightforward Fear of the Dark, but does it work?
The Tenement is essentially divided into four episodes. But the movie is a risk for one basic reason: The emphasis on the mental and emotional state of its characters forces the lead actors to stretch to the limits of their talent — and unfortunately, not all succeed. No matter how well-crafted a half-hour sequence is, when the star doesn’t fare well, the whole thing suffers.
However, there certainly are highlights. The second story — by far the best — is the tale of a would-be rapist (John Sudol) stalking a mute girl (well-played by the lineless Carol DiMarsico). It features some very, very effective sequences, especially when he discovers there is more to her than meets the eye — or ear. And in the fourth episode, a duel of serial killers, Danielle Russo (offering some backstory for her own Fear of the Dark character) gets to show less skin and more of her acting chops as she tangles with the hulking Ed Shelinsky.
But what might have been the film’s two signature stories are hurt by the same inconsistent acting that plagued Fear of the Dark. Mike Lane returns from Fear to star in the third sequence as a paranoid dog-bite victim who may be turning into a werewolf. And while his hammy performance may fit The Tenement better than it did in Fear of the Dark, it still seems more of a minus than a plus. And while Joe Lauria, playing the young man destined to become the Black Rose Killer in the first episode, is better, his acting style is too annoying too often throughout his showcase.
Among the shorter stories interspersed with the main episodes, the most thorough is the opening sequence, starring cute Suzi Leigh (a Seduction Cinema veteran, using the name Kelli Summers) as the victim of a cult in a film-within-the-film.
The one serious letdown of the film, however, comes in the Black Rose Killer sequence, when several performers, including Baisley and Fangoria bigwig Michael Gingold — a dreadful actor — seem to have real trouble maintaining their composure. Light & Dark seems to strive for legitimate quality, and this lack of professionalism is a real letdown. The movie suffers from enough shaky acting that it needs its participants to perform at their best level if it is to be taken seriously.
Glen Baisley took a real chance with The Tenement, pushing the limits of his cast and budget in an effort to take the next step forward in his moviemaking career. And for that, he must be commended. Yes, “Fear of the Dark” is a more enjoyable film, but that doesn’t mean The Tenement is a step backward for Baisley and his Light & Dark Productions. What it means, perhaps, is that he has reached the limits of his current capabilities in terms of budget and cast. So what fans must hope for is that someone with stronger financial backing sees what Baisley has to offer, and gives him the chance to really move up into the B-movie world of films like Stakes and Flesh for the Beast.
Grade: C+. Baisley continues to show a lot of promise as a filmmaker, but his psychological horror prequel suffers from too much schizophrenia.
Video and Audio:
The full-screen presentation is certainly adequate, on par with the average low-budget film. It is light years above the VHS screener provided previously by Light & Dark, and likewise represents a distinct improvement over the self-distributed Fear of the Dark. Though the picture is soft and a bit washed out, with grain present in most of the darker scenes, the image is almost always clear — particularly in brightly lit daytime shots. Only some sporadic digital noise and flicker harks back to Fear of the Dark’s flaws.
Grade: B-. Considering the low budget, the DVD image is fairly good, and does not detract from the movie in any way.
The Dolby 2.0 mix is strong, with music and effects handled well but never drowning out the dialogue — a problem in Baisley’s earlier film and many other low-budget works. In fact, in stark contrast to Fear of the Dark, the dialogue in The Tenement comes through loud and clear, showing Baisley is improving his technical skill as well as his directing.
Grade: B A well-done mix is a benefit to the film.
Light & Dark has pulled out all the stops on The Tenement when it comes to special features.
An audio commentary features Baisley and his wife, Diana (who plays a hooker in the film, as well as a behind-the-scenes role), plus actors Mike Lane, John Sudol, Jude Pucillo and Mike Gingold. All have a terrific time offering anecdotes and inside dirt, though they toss in so many plugs for other Light & Dark films they cross the line from understandable to thoroughly irritating. The commentary deserves praise for its enthusiastic atmosphere, but it suffers a bit from the confusion of many voices. While the loss of several potential participants due to a storm is seen by those present as a detriment, adding more voices might have made this a complete disaster.
A whopping eight behind-the-scenes and deleted footage-type featurettes bolster the extras.
Four are devoted to material excised from the film, including a package of deleted scenes, an alternate opening and ending, a blooper reel and some uncut footage from the strip club scene, featuring dancers Judy Burrett, Chloe and Syn DeVil (though, as in the main film, only DeVil removes her clothes).
The remaining three behind-the-scenes featurettes include Baisley briefly describing Light & Dark Productions’ mission, a terrific look at the creation of an effects mask and makeup for one of the kills, and scenes from the company’s publicity tour (with a surprise at the end).
But the real treat is the “Winston Korman Movie Marathon,” with the other two films-within-a-film featured in the Black Rose Killer sequence. The shorts, “Jack & Jill” and “No Trespassing,” star Burrett and Gene Mazza, plus Baisley himself. Seen in full, they are quite entertaining little stalk-and-slashers, and a real treat for fans.
Most of the featurettes include an introduction by Baisley, explaining the reasoning behind cuts or other information. The only downside is, the sound is set much lower than in the film itself, making viewers reach for the remote to hear the director speak. Otherwise, all are well worth a look for fans of the film.
There are also two photo galleries, one apparently put together by Brain Damage without Baisley’s input, and one done by Light & Dark, set to a musical performance by actor/musician Sal Sirchia (Nikos the Impaler). Both offer a nice mix of on-set and behind-the-scenes photos.
The Tenement’s trailer is included as part of a package that includes several other Brain Damage releases. However, it is not particularly memorable.
(As an aside, Brain Damage seems to have an aversion to putting quality trailers on its releases, as only The Tenement displays any semblance of decent A/V. However, unlike the similarly flawed package on TimeWarp Films’ Vampire Sisters, these trailers feature some films that actually appear worth checking out.)
Grade: A+. An excellent set of features that offers an inside look at the making of the film and — as with the extras on Fear of the Dark — amply demonstrates the Light & Dark crew’s passion for and enjoyment of filmmaking.
Until Glen Baisley gets a chance to improve his budget and take the next step in his filmmaking career, he will have to take comfort in the fact that Fear of the Dark and The Tenement prove he can craft entertaining films. And if he spends the intervening years working on eliciting better, more consistent performances from his actors, when his chance to take the next step comes, he should be more than ready.
Overall grade: B-. Although the film itself has flaws, The Tenement is an outstanding DVD, benefiting from increased disc-production quality and a superior set of extra features.
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