What possessed them: 'Hereditary,' 'Trench 11'

By Tom Von Malder | Sep 05, 2018
Photo by: A24/Lionsgate Films Toni Collette is excellent in "Hereditary," a family drama that races into horror.

Owls Head — Hereditary (A24/Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 127 min.). "Hereditary" is a disturbing family drama that veers into even more disturbing territory during the second hour. We first meet the family as they ready for the funeral of Ellen Toper Leigh, who had been staying at her daughter's house since dementia arrived. That daughter (a terrific Toni Collette as Annie Graham) delivers a somewhat halting eulogy that mentions her mother's very private life with private friends and private interests. It is a bit of foreshadowing of what is to come. The film is written and directed by Ali Aster, making his first feature film after a handful of shorts.

Annie is a work-at-home artist who specializes in miniature dioramas of rooms and houses, such as the hospice and preschool projects she currently is working on. Her husband  Steven (Gabriel Byrne) at least at one point was a therapist; it is not clear if he still does that. Their two children, both excellently acted, are high school student Peter (Alex Wolff of "Jumanji: Welcome To the Jungle," "My Friend Dahmer," "Patriots Day"), who does a lot of weed, and younger Charlie (Milly Shapiro, a special Tony Honor for Excellence recipient for playing the title character in "Matilda"). Charlie appears to have inherited her mother's artistic ability. creating pieces from found objects -- including a dead bird's head (yuck) -- and constantly drawing in her sketch books.

If the death of her mother were not enough, soon another horrific tragedy hits the family (I had to close my eyes for this one), destabilizing relationships, especially between Annie and Peter, who is starting to notice strange, brief things in his peripheral vision. Could a ghost be haunting the family or is it something more sinister? To give more details would spoil the film's experience, which has been described as a roller coaster ride. One interest facet of Annie's character, who sleepwalks and sometimes does outrageous things, is she is a mother who does not really like her children, which really comes through in one explosive dinner scene. Ann Dowd plays a key role as Joan, a woman Annie meets at a "Losing a Loved One" support session.

While I'm not sure, looking back, that everything makes sense -- although Aster does a good job of making the viewer wonder whether what is going on is real or just imagined by the family members -- the film's last half-hour has the roller coaster go off the rails and leaves the viewer gasping. Kudos to the mostly electronic music score by Colin Stetson. Extras include a good making-of piece (20:08), with interviews with the actors and Aster, who admits the films "Carrie" and "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" highly disturbed him growing up. There also are a photo gallery of the diorama miniatures and seven deleted and one alternate scene (15:46) total). The most interesting deleted scenes involve Peter, including a post-midnight visit to the tree house and two conversations with his father, the second quite intense as Peter breaks down. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Trench 11 (Canada, RLJE DVD, NR, 91 min.). Who would not want to see a haunted house movie in which the good guys are being chased by German soldiers and souped-up parasites? Well in the case of "Trench 11," set in November 1918 near the end of World War I, the house is an underground cave complex, 12 miles behind the battlefield lines in France's Argonne, where the Germans were conducted biological warfare experiments. With the war's end in sight, the Germans tried to blow up the complex and all evidence of their hideous research, but one of the bombs did not go off.

This leads to a group of six Allied soldiers -- three American, two British and a Canadian tunneler (Rossif Sutherland as Lt. Berton) -- going to the four-story underground site to seek evidence, while halfway through the film, German soldiers arrive, also to destroy the bunker.  Director/co-writer Leo Scherman, who trained under horrormeister David Cronenberg, offers the same visual gross-outs as Cronenberg did in his early films, such as "Shivers."

Of course, there is bickering between the Americans (Jeff Strome as Pronger, Adam Hurtig as Kelly and Luke Humphrey as Budman) and the British (Charlie Carrack as Dr. Priest and Ted Atherton as Jennings). The German contingent is led by Reiner (Robert Stadlober), creator of the killer parasites which turn their hosts into killers, and Muller (Shaun Benson). The film is entertaining enough for a low-budget thriller. Be warned, though, that there is a graphic autopsy scene. There are no extras. Grade: film 2.75 stars

Special editions and TV sets

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Sing-along Edition (1993, Disney Blu-ray, PG, 77 min.). This 25th anniversary edition offers the theatrical version and a version with on-screen, pop-up lyrics for the 11 songs. Gone is the 3D version that was included in the previous release. The stop-motion animated musical fantasy follows Pumpkin King Jack Skellington's misguided mission to make Yuletide his own. Carried over from previous editions a six-part making-of look at the film, deleted storyboards, deleted animated sequences, Burton's early film "Fankenweenie," a Haunted Mansion tour, Burton's original poem narrated by Christopher Lee and storyboard-to-film comparisons. Exclusive to Blu-ray are Burton's early film "Vincent" and a gallery of promotional posters.

Hocus Pocus: Anniversary Edition (1993, Disney Blu-ray, PG, 96 min.). This live-action feature stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as three 17th century witches, the Sanderson sisters, who are accidentally conjured up on Halloween night in 1993 Salem, Mass. The trio had been banished for 300 years, but now have returned  to weave a web of comedy and chaos. This edition includes the theatrical version and a We (Heart) Hocus Pocus: Trivia and Treats Edition, with pop-up video extras, including facts, trivia, deleted scenes, cast and crew audio commentary and behind-the-scenes secrets. There also is the original 1993 production featurette.

Once Upon a Time: The Complete Seventh and Final Season (ABC Studios, 5 Blu-rays or 5 standard DVDs, TV PG DLSV, 943 min.). The battle between good and evil concludes in the final 22 episodes of the popular TV show. Set a few years after the final battle in Storybrooke, a grown-up Henry Mills leaves home in search of his own destiny. He finds love with a new incarnation of Cinderella and danger from her stepmother and stepsister, as well as from sorceress Mother Gothel. A dark curse erases everyone's memories, so it is up to Henry and Cinderella's daughter Lucy and her friends to defeat Gothel. The set comes with deleted scenes and audio commentaries (the Blu-ray version has extra ones), bloopers, an overall look at the show's entire run with cast members from all seven seasons, and a look at Lana Parrilla's journey as Regina/Evil Queen/Roni and her directorial debut on an episode.

Scandal: The Final Two Seasons (ABC Studios, 8 DVDs, TV 14 DLSV, 1,581 min.). This box puts together seasons six and seven of the Shonda Rhimes show. In season six, despite Olivia Pope's (Kerry Washington) efforts, Frankie Vargas wins the Presidency -- only to be assassinated. In season seven, Mellie Grant becomes President, although Pope wields the true power. Season seven includes "Allow Me to  Reintroduce Myself," the crossover episode with "How To Get Away with Murder." The set also includes an extended version of the series' final episode, "Over a Cliff." The season six set includes deleted scenes and an extended version of "Transfer of Power."

Bull: Season Two (CBS/Paramount, 6 DVDs, NR, 15 hours 54 min.). The show, which stars Michael Weatherly ("NCIS") as Dr. Jason Bull, a trial analyst, whose character is inspired by the early career of talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw. Brash and charming, Bull combines psychology, human intuition and high-tech data to learn what makes jurors, attorneys, witnesses and the accused tick. He employs a whole team, which conducts mock trials, prepares witnesses  and gathers cyber intelligence. The season ends with a cliffhanger. Guest stars this season include Brad Garrett, Dana Delany, Minka Kelly and Archie Panjabi . Bonus features include the cast and producers discussing the season's major story arcs; Weatherly answering fan questions; Weatherly and showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron discussing the series' evolution this season; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.

Hawaii Five-O: The Eighth Season (CBS/Paramount, 6 DVDs, NR, 17 hours 54 min.). This was the season that this reboot of "Hawaii Five-O" lost me. The departure of both Daniel Dae Kim (Chin Ho Kelly) and Grace Park (Kono Kalakaua) over a salary dispute was too big a blow. With two of my favorite characters gone, it seemed the show centered even more on the usually friendly bickering between Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) and Danny "Dano" Williams (Scott Caan), who unlikely are trying to open a restaurant together. It was too much of done-that, seen-that for me, and I opted out after about five episodes. The season did add two replacements in Tani Rey (Meaghan Rath), a recent police academy grad, and Junior Reigns (Beulah Koale), a former SEAL who approached McGarrett for a job. Randy Couture plays a serial arsonist and Joey Lawrence returns as a diabolical hacker. Adam Noshimuri (Ian Anthony Dale) now heads an organized crime unit as Yakuza mob murders proliferate. The show also stars Chi McBride as Grover and Jorge Garcia as Jerry. Bonus features include a look back at the season's highlights with the cast, writers, producers and crew; a look at O'Loughlin's directorial debut, including new behind-the-scenes content; profiles and interviews with the two new team members; an unused animated sequence for the series' premiere; deleted and extended scenes; and a gag reel.

Lucifer: The Complete Third Season (Warner Bros., 5 DVDs, NR, 1,140 min.). The series has the original fallen angel (Tom Ellis as Lucifer) working with the police. Last season, he took care of Mom, aka Charlotte (Tricia Helfer), but now he has to find out who kidnapped him and why his angel wings are back. Tom Welling (TV's "Smallville") joins the cast as Marcus Pierce, a police lieutenant who is strategic, reserved and well-respected, as well as charming, charismatic and handsome. Pierce starts developing a connection with Chloe (Lauren German), which sets Lucifer off. Bonus features include the 2017 Comic-Con panel; a look at bring the show to Los Angeles; and Ellis and Welling interview each other on their roles and lives in the show.

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