New Blu-ray Releases: 'Exorcist II: The Heretic', 'Skyscraper', 'House on Haunted Hill'

(Welcome to Not Dead Yet, a feature dedicated to new Blu-ray releases and what special features you should be excited about. Because yes, some of us still like to own physical copies of our movies.)

Welcome back, physical media fans. It’s the start of October, so we’re kicking things off with two creepy titles worth owning…and also a movie where Dwayne Johnson fights a building on fire. Scary! The good folks at Scream Factory are offering up both Exorcist II: The Heretic and the 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill, and both of these movies are worth owning for their own individual reasons. Then there’s Skyscraper, a Die Hard knock-off that has Dwayne Johnson giving it his all, as he usually does. But is the film any good? Find out below.

Here are the new Blu-ray releases and their special features you should check out this week and beyond.

Exorcist II: The Heretic

There’s something special about a genuinely awful movie. I’m not even talking about “so bad it’s good” territory here. I’m talking about a movie that’s just fundamentally bad on a bone-deep level. Movies that you watch and wonder, “What is this? And why am I watching it?” Exorcist II: The Heretic is such a movie. And I encourage you to see it. Films this bad only come along once in a while, and we owe it to ourselves as a film-watching society to study them, and learn from their mistakes.

A good sequel to The Exorcist can be made. In fact, it has been – Exorcist III is fantastic and creepy. Exorcist II, however, is a strange metaphysical trip with giant bugs, demon Linda Blair trying to seduce Richard Burton, and James Earl Jones in a giant grasshopper costume. Just what is going on here? Richard Burton plays a priest who was a devoted pupil of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), one of the two men of the cloth who met their demise in The Exorcist. The Vatican sends Burton to meet with Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), the girl who “used to be possessed by a demon”, as she says herself. Regan is a teen now, and under the care of  Dr. Tuskin (Louise Fletcher). So far, so good, right? Seems like a straightforward story? It could’ve been, but instead, Exorcist II descends into chaos involving hypnosis, weird dream sequences, and god knows what else. None of this works, and yet it’s fascinating to behold. Watch as John Boorman, a director with proven talent, somehow botches things on every single level. Marvel as Linda Blair turns into a sexy demon. Become awestruck as Richard Burton sits perfectly still, looking straight ahead, as lights flash for five minutes. Enjoy Exorcist II, and all its terribleness.

Special Features to Note:

The Scream Factory Blu-ray comes with two versions of the film: the original 118 minute cut of the film, and the 102 home video release. The 102 minute cut is a bit more coherent, so you should probably stick with that one. But if you wan’t both, they’re there for the taking. The biggest special feature here, though, is an interview with Linda Blair, in which she’s honest in her recollections of making this shit-show.

To hear Blair tell it, the original version of the script she was sent was “very well written”, but ultimately not the project that was made. She received the script around the time she was 17, and thought it was “amazing.” “They presented a really good next step” for everything, Blair adds.  The cast assembled, including Richard Burton, certainly helped. But little by little, the script would begin to change as filming began, and before anyone realized what was going on, the film became a disaster. Blair rambles a bit in this interview (which could’ve been fixed with editing), but it’s a treat to watch her laugh her butt off as she recalls being forced to take tap dancing lessons for the film, because for some inexplicable reason, John Boorman thought Regan should be a tap dancer. 

Special Features Include:

DISC ONE (118 Minute Cut Of The Film):

  • NEW 2K Scan From Original Film Elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Director John Boorman
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Project Consultant Scott Bosco
  • NEW What Does She Remember? – An Interview With Actress Linda Blair
  • NEW Interview With Editor Tom Priestley

DISC TWO (102 Minute Cut Of The Film):

  • NEW 2K Scan From Original Film Elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Mike White Of The Projection Booth Blog
  • Original Teaser Trailer
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Galleries Including Rare Color And B&W Stills, Behind-The-Scenes, Deleted Scene Photos, Posters, And Lobby Cards

 

Skyscraper 

Dwayne Johnson is one of the most charismatic actors working today. He’s inherently likable, and his chiseled physique makes him resemble a real-life superhero. He’s an in-demand actor with a huge following, and lots of clout. And yet…he keeps picking these curiously inert projects. I wonder if Johnson and his team seek out the most inoffensive material possible to appeal to the widest margin of people possible, or if when Johnson comes on board a film, he makes sure anything fresh or challenging in the script gets dropped.

No matter how it plays out, the end result is a film like Skyscraper. All things considered, Skyscraper is fine. It’s certainly better than Rampage, Johnson’s other film from this year. The special effects are good, Johnson brings a surprising seriousness to his part, and it’s great to see Neve Campbell kick some ass. But ultimately, Skyscraper is a poor Die Hard clone with none of Die Hard‘s cleverness. Johnson plays a security expert who has to fight his way into the tallest building in the world – a building that just happens to be on fire. Oh, also, there are terrorists inside. Oh, and Johnson’s family is trapped in there too.

The only slightly original element of Skyscraper is the fact that Johnson’s character is an amputee with a prosthetic leg. The film takes great pains to handle this element realistically, or at least as realistically as a big dumb action movie can, and it earns points for that. Johnson took this element of the script very seriously, and worked to make sure his portrayal of an amputee was accurate. It would’ve been nice if he had gone to such lengths to make sure the rest of the movie was as carefully handled as well. Alas, it’s not to be. Still, it’s definitely fun to watch the actor make an impossible leap off a crane towards the building as CGI flames roar around him.

Special Features to Note:

The Skyscraper Blu-ray is loaded with your standard features: deleted scenes, mini-featurettes about the production, and moments where Dwayne Johnson is generally charming. None of the deleted scenes are that special, save for one that’s essentially a blooper. During a scene when Chin Han as Zhao Long Ji , owner of the skyscraper, asks Johnson what the plan is, Johnson says, “I don’t know, just fucking call Bruce Willis, I guess.” Oh Dwayne Johnson, you lovable scamp. 

“Embodying a Hero” has Johnson talking about how this is different than any character he’s ever played; this is a character struggling and vulnerable (even though he still does a bunch of crazy stuff). I’ll give Johnson this much: that’s true. His character here is more of an everyman than a ripped tough guy, and Johnson does a good job balancing all that.

“Inspiration” focuses on how Johnson worked with Jeff Glasbrenner, the first American amputee to climb Mt. Everest, on how to accurately portray an amputee. It’s a touching featurette, and it’s abundantly clear that Johnson wanted to get this right, and that Glasbrenner was more than happy to help. That said, can someone make a movie about Glasbrenner climbing Mt. Everest? That sounds better than this. 

Special Features Include:

  • Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Rawson Marshall Thurber – Go behind the scenes with Dwayne Johnson and the rest of the cast of Skyscraper.
  • Extended Scenes with Commentary by Director Rawson Marshall Thurber
  • Dwayne Johnson: Embodying a Hero – Go behind the scenes to see what it took for Dwayne Johnson to bring the intense character of Will Sawyer to life.
  • Inspiration – Meet real life amputee and motivational speaker Jeff Glasbrenner, the inspiration for Dwayne Johnson’s role of Will Sawyer. See how Jeff’s consultations helped inform Dwayne’s character from day one.
  • Opposing Forces – There’s no holding back as the women of Skyscraper get in on the action. Now, see first-hand what it took for Neve Campbell and Hannah Quinlivan to be fight ready.
  • Friends No More – When Dwayne Johnson and Pablo Schreiber met face to face, they immediately knew what they were up against. Witness first-hand the making of the intense apartment fight between two former on-screen friends, Will and Ben.
  • Kids in Action – In Skyscraper everyone gets in on the action, even the Sawyer children. Go on set with Noah Cottrell and McKenna Roberts to discover the moves behind their stunts.
  • Pineapple Pitch – Hear first-hand from Dwayne Johnson how writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber pitched him the idea of Skyscraper. It may be a little fruitier than you think.
  • Feature Commentary by Director Rawson Marshall Thurber

 

House on Haunted Hill

“Evil Loves to Party” was one of the tag-lines for William Malone‘s 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill, and what an apt tagline it was. For all its gory horrors, Malone’s Haunted Hill is all about having fun. It’s loaded with comedy, but it’s also often surprisingly disturbing. In short, it works. For the most part. Some of the performances are a bit wonky, and many of the zingers in Dick Beebe’s script aren’t nearly as amusing as everyone seems to think they are. But beneath that all is a fun horror flick with impressive horror effects, and Geoffrey Rush hamming it up big time.

The premise is essentially the same as the 1959 original: a group of strangers gather together in a haunted house with the promise of money should they survive the night. Malone uses this set-up as an excuse to go nuts with production design. On a relatively small budget, the filmmaker made a movie that looks great. The art deco sets of the house – which is actually an insane asylum, not a house – are exquisite. And the special effects, almost all of which were done practically and in-camera, are frequently effective and often downright terrifying. A lengthy sequence in which a character ends up in the midst of a nightmarish hallucination has more dread and atmosphere than the entire runtime of most modern horror films.

As Halloween season descends upon us, the Scream Factory release of House on Haunted Hill should be a must-have for any self respecting horror fan. Evil loves to party, and this is one party worth attending.

Special Features to Note:

The Scream Factory Blu includes new interview with William Malone, in which the director breaks down the production. Malone reveals that Haunted Hill was originally going to be a straight-laced horror film at first, but as things progressed, more humor was added. Malone also wanted to make a “modern horror film” done in an old-fashioned with, with in-camera effects.  

This is a revealing interview, with Malone talking about the various film techniques used to create the movie’s visuals. For instance: one nightmarish sequence involved an electric drill blade used as a camera shutter to make the visuals look off-kilter and jittery. Malone talks about how producers would frequently balk at the footage, worrying that the director was going over budget. Malone would then assure them that he was doing everything very cheaply, but still getting great results.

Special Features Include:

  • NEW 2K Scan From The Original Film Elements
  • NEW Interview With Director William Malone
  • NEW Interview With Composer Don Davis
  • NEW Interview With Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Skotak
  • Never-Before-Seen Storyboards, Concept Art And Behind-The-Scenes Photos Courtesy Of Visual Effects Producer Paul Taglianetti
  • Audio Commentary With Director William Malone
  • A Tale Of Two Houses – Vintage Featurette
  • Behind the Visual FX – Vintage Featurette
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Movie Stills And Poster Gallery

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