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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Sided
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  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Greek: Dolby Digital Mono
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    Korean, Cantonese, Hungarian, Russian, Thai, Catalan, Estonian
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  • DTS trailer
THE CORPSE IS DEAD!
Boultons/Chevron . R4 . COLOR . 88 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Not many people would be familiar with the work of film producers Stanislaw Lubveck and Arthur P. Gumbly. This is a good thing. If you’re one of the six people in the world to know these names, then you would no doubt be aware of their murder/psychedelic clown/comedy/cooking/horror/war classics Mitch's Big Trip to Headville, The Mother Killer Wore Flowers in Her Hair and Prognosis: DEAD!. Widely renowned as the most shockingly horrific, bloodyminded examples of crap filmmaking, these films were nonetheless merely stepping stones to what was to come.

It was five years later, with numerous rewrites and then little known up-and-coming director Tim Burton onboard that THE CORPSE IS DEAD! was finally released to an unsuspecting public. So unsuspecting were they, most people never knew of its existence at all. Released theatrically in just one cinema, The Kingsville Palooka Mall and Beeratorium, it ran for three showings before an irate and drunken crowd demanded that the print be burnt to appease the Gods.

Following a very public and humiliating bonfire, Stanislaw Lubveck and Arthur P. Gumbly thought long and hard about how to recoup their losses on the mammoth production, and realised that the video rental market was the wave of the future. Deciding to release the film in the superior Beta format, the tape quickly made the “Hot 1000 Rentals” list of many video stores in the greater New Hampshire and surrounding areas.

Sadly, after only three months of solid rental income, the tapes were pulled from the shelves and the film, along with Stanislaw Lubveck and Arthur P. Gumbly, disappeared. It has long been suspected by people with nothing better to think about that the Russian Mafia financed the film and angry that the promise of huge returns on their investment did not eventuate, had the pair killed and their bodies thrown to a pack of rabid goats.

Fast-forward to 2001, and start-up DVD production house, RED 5 Films, receives an email from an elderly woman in Port Moresby regarding a large box found in a tree in the jungle. On the side, printed in large childish scrawl are the words “Here There Be Evil!” and a strip of film negative hanging out. She remembers a conversation she overheard at a local bingo cave regarding “...suing those bastards at RED 5 films for what they did to my cat...”, and using a 2400 baud connection to the Internet sends RED 5 Films an email requesting help. Sensing something special could be occurring, they fly to Port Moresby and discover the secret dumping ground of THE CORPSE IS DEAD!. Excited by the discovery, they know that the only thing to do is to prepare the film lovingly for a DVD release like no other and wait for the money to roll in.

The question you really want to ask of DVDnet: “Is the news good or bad for fans of the film?”

The answer, it disappoints us to say, is “Dunno”. With this DVD released exclusively to DVDnet for an unbiased and professionally informed preview, there was much debate on the merits of the disc when discussed in terms of the source material and its place historically in filmdom. Not least was the fact that Tom Hanks, Ernie Dingo and Julie Roberts were enticed to act in this film when they were still unknowns to the greater movie world.

Hanks in particular, with a role that predates Indiana Jones by a decade (making you wonder if Spielberg/Lucas really were influenced by the serials of old or actually got their hands on a pirate version of TCID instead) is pure ham, with the then struggling comedian unsuccessfully trying his best to play the part of a wise-cracking action hero with a lisp and a limp and a strange growth on his nose. It’s hardly all his fault though. The script, or what passes for one, has him travelling the world discovering hidden temples and tombs. Exposing the budgetary limitations (reportedly made for under $100,000) the opening tells this part of the story using hand coloured still photographs with cutouts of Tom Hanks pasted on top of various jungle temples and shrines. It’s something I sure Hanks would rather forget. It’s when he finds a tomb containing the corpse of a 700 year old witch (Roberts) that the guava hits the fan and the film falls into “Scream, run, point, scream again” territory with shoddy sets, poor lighting, atrocious direction and plot holes big enough to drive that fat bastard Harry Knowles through.

Hanks isn’t alone though. Roberts looks trashy, desperate for some good lines, and in need of an orthodontist (that pearly white smile we know today clearly didn’t happen on its own!). Playing the part of the witch returned from the dead is a move lucky not to have destroyed her career before it started, but might go some way to explaining her role in Pretty Woman.

Of most interest to us in Australia is the role of Peruvian jungle guide, Juan Capistrano. Believe it or not, this is played by Ernie Dingo! Admittedly, he’s slimmer, younger, and there’s not a house renovation show in site, but it’s definitely our Ernie and you fight back the tears when he inevitably meets his maker, such is his powerhouse performance.

Yet a film is only the sum total of its part, and nothing here adds up to much. Viewed on its own with no knowledge of its sad past, you could be forgiven for thinking that RED 5 Films were demented for putting this piece of schlock on DVD. But if you have an acquired taste for the films of a forgotten Hollywood that many believe should be left forgotten, maybe buried in a pit and covered in cement just to be sure, then THE CORPSE IS DEAD! may just be your ticket to adventure, romance, and fat bloated dead people.

  Video
  Audio
  Extras
Contract

It’s a bit hard to understand where and why exactly they went wrong with this disc. As bizarre as the film is, the DVD transfer leaves it for dead in the weirdness stakes. Starting with the picture quality, your first reaction will be to get up and check that you really put a DVD in the player, and not, say, a can of cat food instead. Sure, we know that a low budget, badly lit and poor quality source will have to suffer somewhere along the line, but we can only guess that the encoding was done by an angry monkey with a learning deficiency. Running a brief but arse-numbing 88 minutes, incredibly they’ve chosen to split the film over two sides – not two layers! You heard me, we’re talking about a single-layered, double-sided disc! As for transfer flaws, pull out your artefact dictionary, start at “A” and work your way through it. You’ll find something for every letter of the alphabet. Some I couldn’t even find a name for. These I filed under “What the f*ck is that?”

So it doesn’t look good so far, does it? You’re probably hoping that a ripper audio mix will save the day and keep this review in the black. Sorry, you’re shit out of luck.

The original soundtrack was released on 8-track and for the DVD was then upconverted to cater for the newly remixed Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack. Strangely, A/B comparisons show the 8-track sounds better than the DVD. After we did a bit of searching on this anomaly, we discovered that the problem is not many amps these days support the 8-track soundfield in their DSP settings, something the creators of this DVD were heavily relying on. Our research found that only the 1996 model Onkyo 141 had this option, but was discontinued when the THX approval it received really didn't do much to impress the pundits and THX threatened to sue Onkyo if they didn’t remove it pronto. All the other amplifier manufacturers took notice of this and made sure they never included this soundfield on their gear as well, much to the detriment of the makers of this DVD, and your ears. One other trick they’ve tried involved encoding the mono track using a faux-surround algorithm to try to create some sense of spatial enhancement right from the bitstream output of the DVD player Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work as planned, and in fact tends to collapse the mono soundfield even further into itself to the point where it almost no longer exists at all. I’d say that this is the most mono sounding mono I’ve ever heard. In contrast, normal mono encoded DVDs sound like glorious 5.1 mixes compared to this.

One saving grace in all this is the score, masterfully composed by Giuseppe Folino and the Screaming Flamenco Kings. It's a cross between the Gipsy Kings, A Flock of Seagulls and Motorhead, and completely inappropriate for this movie (or any other movie, for that matter) yet makes compelling listening if you wish to toilet train your cats.

Naturally, you would expect some kind of super-human effort to have gone into the extra features for an uncovered gem such as this. Nothing less than three commentaries by the last living film crew, two full length features produced by film historians, an extensive photo gallery, the full shooting script to read, over 100 pages of detailed production notes and an hour of never before seen deleted scenes. These are some of the things you’d like to see on this disc. “Diddly-squat” is what we actually get. The only extra to be found is a DTS trailer and chapter selections. The chapter selections don’t even work properly. Selecting chapter 6 took me to a blank screen with the words “must fix later” in red type. I'm not sure why the DTS trailer in included, as the audio definitely isn't DTS, and the only other soundtrack is a poorly dubbed Greek mono mix that sounds Japanese.

What more can we say other than a disappointing effort all round here? I’ve been told that a search at www.imdb.com reveals no information whatsoever about this film, and I have been able to verify that fact. Sources close to DVDnet hint that a decision was made by the owners of that site not to add the film to their database because of possible legal threats made by Hanks, Roberts and Dingo. One can only imagine the effect it will have on their careers when news of this DVD release gets out. At the end of the day, when the cards are on the table and a call has to be made, I’d personally recommend that you spend the $32.50 they want for the DVD on a home lobotomy kit instead. Both will do the same thing to you, but at least the lobotomy kit is fun.

On a final note, in recent days Dark Horizons has reported that director Tim Burton is finally making headway in his long quest to bring longtime personal project The Corpse Bride to the big screen. While there isn't much information to go on, sources have it that this is quite possibly the long awaited prequel to THE CORPSE IS DEAD!. Fans of schlock cinema rejoice! Depending on the success of this latest film and this new DVD release, THE CORPSE IS DEAD! could finally find the audience it so craves, yet doesn't deserve.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1570
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  •   And I quote...
    "I’d personally recommend that you spend the $32.50 they want for the DVD on a home lobotomy kit instead. Both will do the same thing to you, but at least the lobotomy kit is fun."
    - Vince Carrozza
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-525
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB1070
    • Speakers:
          Wharfedale s500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Polk Audio CS245
    • Surrounds:
          Wharfedale WH-2
    • Subwoofer:
          DB Dynamics TITAN
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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