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Anchor Bay presents
All Souls Day (2005)

"For heaven sakes! What's wrong with these people?"
- Thomas White (Jeffrey Combs)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: January 16, 2006

Stars: Marisa Ramirez, Travis Wester, Laura Harring
Other Stars: Danny Trejo, Ellie Cornell, Jeffrey Combs, David Keith, Mircea Monroe, Noah Luke, Laz Alonso, Danielle Burgio, Nichole Hiltz, Julia Vera
Director: Jeremy Kasten

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, horror violence)
Run Time: 01h:29m:36s
Release Date: January 17, 2006
UPC: 013131298994
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C+BB B

DVD Review

There may be a taint on this one just because it aired as a Sci-Fi Channel original movie—as a rule of thumb that's usually a good indicator of something bad. The level of quality on these made-for-cable titles is usually sub par, and that largely holds true for All Souls Day, though the DVD release seasons the mix with a dollop of nudity, courtesy of Mircea Monroe, as if bare breasts in a bathtub would be enough to properly distance this south-of-the-border zombie film from its historically weak cable channel roots.

All Souls Day comes from director Jeremy Kasten, who debuted with the underrated horror flick, The Attic Expeditions, in 2001 and writer Mark Altman, whose prior high watermark was the screenplay for Uwe Boll's House of the Dead. This time around the story uses the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration—via the reunion of dead relatives with their families on November 1—as the cornerstone. But since this is a zombie horror film, it's pretty much a guarantee things aren't going to be quite so pleasant or celebratory. Righty-o, indeed.

There's a lot of timeframe leaping going on here, so bear with the dreadful prologue segment set in 1892 that introduces Danny Trejo as the evil, evil Vargas Diaz, plotting against the townsfolk of the colorful Mexican town of Santa Bonita—mumbling something about the discovery of the lost tomb of the Goddess of Death. The film thankfully jumps forward to 1962, and it's here we briefly meet the quintessential early 1960s vacationing American family, led by Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs and Halloween 4 and 5's Ellie Cornell, who check into the only hotel in Santa Bonita. This, naturally, turns out to be one of those classic horror movie bad ideas, as their polio-stricken son Ricky (Noah Luke) has a life-changing encounter with a creepy old woman, while sexy teenage daughter Lilly (Pterodactyl's Mircea Monroe) takes an obligatory hot bath before things take a turn for the worse.

Unfortunately that's the last we see of Combs and Cornell (sequel, perhaps?), and it's then the story jumps forward one final time, this time ahead 53 years, as hip young couple Joss (Travis Wester) and Alicia (Marisa Ramirez) literally crash an unconventional funeral procession in the very same town, inadvertently rescuing nude, tattooed and de-tongued Esmerelda (Danielle Burgio) from an early grave. Forced to spend the night in town, it isn't long before the flesh-eating zombies come a-calling, plus there's the mysterious Martia (Mulholland Drive's Laura Harring) and a gimpy sheriff with a secret (David Keith) to provide local moody color, and a couple of additional expendable types, in the form of Tyler (Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood's Laz Alonso) and Erica (May's Nichole Hiltz).

Like a lot of genre titles, All Souls Day has better individual scenes than it does as a product on the whole, and the early sequence with Combs and Cornell showed great promise as sort of a bickering-Griswolds-get-attacked-by-zombies film. But that sort of geeky coolness is shortlived, as the last two-thirds tries to be Romero-esque, and aside from a nice one-on-one thigh-chewing battle between Joss and Esmerelda, it's mostly an exercise in point-and-shoot at the shuffling zombies, or better yet, drive fast and mow them down with an expensive car.

Kasten tries to go back and forth in too many directions, with Nichole Hiltz venturing into lightweight Buffy territory with a twirling, leaping cheerleader-style attack on the undead that is unrepentantly silly (and could be fun if the whole film opted for a frothy comic book approach), and that just doesn't mesh well with the stabs at more mature elements, such as David Keith's leering and graphic monologue about oral sex. The two stylistic approaches butt heads repeatedly, and by the time Danny Trejo reappears as a face-licking immortal of sorts I didn't know if it was supposed to be scary or funny.

But let me step back a few feet to re-evaluate this film from another perspective. Maybe a little less critical and perhaps just a bit more pragmatic. This is, after all, a zombie film—or more correctly a made-for-cable zombie film—so slack cutting on the premise alone should be expected considering this isn't exactly a documentary. The setting is a bit different, and the good-looking cast do run, scream, and fight decently against the undead, and watching it on a gloomy Saturday afternoon I found that it came close to satisfying most of the expected requirements for a genre title. Not quite all the way, but close.

George Romero need not break into a cold sweat worrying about this as a challenger to the zombie throne, but as a Sci-Fi channel original, I guess All Souls Day exceeded my low expectations, and this release from Anchor Bay does all it can to distance itself from the whole cable birthright. I just would have preferred a film that used more Jeffrey Combs and Ellie Cornell. And would it be so bad to have Mircea Monroe take two baths?

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Anchor Bay has issued All Souls Day in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen and the image quality is full of bold, bright colors and evenly rendered fleshtones; it's a rather nice-looking disc for what was a made-for-cable feature. No apparent compression issues to contend with, and the print itself is clean and devoid of any dirt or debris.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Solid work on the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track considering this is a low-budget title, with plenty of rear channel activity during the zombie infestation to create a fun little audio experience. Sure, the bottom end is a bit light, but dialogue is full and crisp. A 2.0 surround mix is also included, but it is dramatically weaker on creating a spatial effect.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Near Dark, Dawn of the Dead, It Waits, Demon Hunter
1 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
3 Documentaries
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jeremy Kasten, Mark Altman
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Even when the film is so-so, Anchor Bay can generally be counted on to provide a casket full of supplemental material, and All Souls Day is treated rather well, beginning with a nice glossy 14-page insert booklet with assorted photos and notes from writer/producer Mark Altman and director Jeremy Kasten.

I wasn't 100% enamored of the film, but the commentary from Altman and Kasten is worth a listen, especially for fans of low-budget horror. The two are exuberant and talkative throughout—maybe a bit overly chipper—even openly fessing up to some sloppy continuity in a couple of spots. They're bubbly about landing Laura Harring and they praise the nude bravery of Mircea Monroe, who had to slide into a grungy tub.

A trio of decent EPK making-of pieces come next, laid out as Raising the Undead: The Making of All Souls Day (36m:32s), Faces of Death: Make-up Effects of All Souls Day (16m:15s) and Jailhouse Rock: The Stunts of All Souls Day (16m:33s). The three total over an hour of behind-the-scenes footage, and all feature varying degrees of cast and crew, looking at everything from story origins to having a former Power Ranger handle the stunt work. An extended scene (04m:46s) is a variation of the 1892 prologue, with some altered dialogue, and the one deleted scene (:19s) is a blink-and-you-miss-it quickie involving a shadowy rape.

A DVD-ROM carries the screenplay, as well. The disc is cut into 16 chapters.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

There's an interesting cast here, though too bad most of them don't appear onscreen at the same time, which ends up leaving this sometimes feeling like parts of two or three films stitched together. The promise of Jeffrey Combs fighting zombies is woefully unfulfilled here, and that's an unforgivable sin.

 


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