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IN this comic-book adaptation, a young cop has his eyes opened to a bizarre, hitherto unseen reality when he is invited to join a strange secret agency and is paired with a terse, cranky, older law enforcer who shows him how to deal with the weird, otherworldly creatures who walk our world in secret.

The above description applies to director Robert Schwentke's R.I.P.D., yes, but also the 1997 sci-fi comedy Men in Black.

To avoid outright accusations of plagiarism, R.I.P.D. spins off from a religious premise instead of a science-fiction one. Its young cop character, Nick (Ryan Reynolds), is killed in action during the takedown of a drug kingpin. Instead of going to heaven or hell, the mildly corrupt Nick ends up at R.I.P.D., a kind of specialized purgatory for dead police officers, tasked with capturing "deados," that is: dead people who continue to inhabit the Earth in disguise as still-living humans. Nick is partnered with Roy (Jeff Bridges), once a sheriff of the Old West who takes it upon himself to grudgingly educate the rookie Nick with R.I.P.D. procedures.

But Nick has some unfinished business of his own to handle, including a proper farewell to his wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak) and a reckoning with Hayes (Kevin Bacon), the cop partner who betrayed him.

Bridges offers up some redeeming humour when he shares his haunted memories of his own earthly fate (involving coyotes). Otherwise this registers not only as an MiB retread, but a clumsy, assembly-line studio knockoff of every comic book movie of the last 10 years. &&


High Plains Drifter

THE title of this 1973 western directed by Clint Eastwood provides a clue that this movie is actually a genre crossover, Eastwood's only supernatural thriller (not counting Hereafter, the ESP drama he directed).

Trading on the "Man with No Name" persona of his Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, Eastwood also stars as a mysterious stranger who rides into the desert town of Lago with a fast gun and a bad attitude. It emerges his hostility to the town may have had to do with the violent demise of a past sheriff, whom the cowardly townspeople let die at the hands of a trio of desperadoes.

Eastwood's second directing effort (after Play Misty for Me), this remastered edition of High Plains Drifter is ideal fare for the western fan requiring some Halloween-flavoured diversion. &&&1/2


The Secret of Crickley Hall

IF a George Romero gorefest is not your idea of palatable Halloween horror, this three-part miniseries is a comparatively tasteful affair, a very English ghost story proceeding through two different plot threads. In modern day, the Caleigh family moves to the titular residence on the year anniversary of their youngest son going missing. But instead of finding peace in the rambling rustic abode, they bear witness to some grim supernatural activity having to do with previous tenants, a sadistic headmaster (Douglas Henshall) who terrorized a house of orphans before a natural disaster struck. Back in 1943, we witness the prelude to the tragedy as a brave schoolteacher (Olivia Cooke) attempts to blow the whistle on the headmaster's barbaric penchant for punishment, only to find herself stymied by the town's religious authority.

Meanwhile, back in the present, the Caleigh matriarch (Suranne Jones), while disturbed by the hauntings, believes she can hear the voice of her missing son in the supernatural cacophony within the house.

This is the kind of tasteful ghost story that is rare to find in these days of effects-driven spookshows. &&&


Day of the Dead Blu-ray Collector's Edition

RELEASED in 1985, the third in George Romero's Living Dead series arrives in meticulously detailed gruesomeness in a new, high-definition transfer courtesy of Shout Factory.

It's not quite a sequel to Romero's 1978 chapter Dawn of the Dead, but it's close enough as a scientist (Lori Cardille, daughter of one-time Pittsburgh horror host "Chilly" Billy Cardille) attempts to find answers to the zombie epidemic that has so effectively depopulated the planet. Unfortunately, she has to conduct her research in an underground bunker under the supervision of a demented researcher (Richard Liberty) dubbed "Frankenstein" (with some justification), all the while fending off threats by the base's equally unhinged commander (Joseph Pilato).

The upshot of Romero's dyspeptic worldview: Maybe the collapse of humanity isn't such a bad thing after all.

The Blu-ray includes a behind-the-scenes doc examining Tom Savini's stellar zombie makeup effects and an audio commentary track by Flin Flon-born filmmaker Roger Avary (Killing Zoe), who identifies himself as a "fan" and offers some expert testimony about the film's abandoned mine complex setting. (Avary's dad was an engineer who worked in mines and little Roger got to accompany him from age seven.) &&&&

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2013 C8

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