Scream Factory makes three wishes upon the Chiller network with their new Blu-ray of THE MONKEY'S PAW.
Despite his recent promotion, times are tough for factory worker Jake Tilton (C.J. Thomason, SUTURES) with his ex-girlfriend Olivia (Michelle Pierce, TRANSFORMERS) married to his philandering boss Kevin (Andy Favreau, WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER?), his sick mother undergoing chemotherapy, and his brother Charlie (Grayson Berry) leaning on him to help with the mounting medical bills. He is more than surprised when recently fired supervisor Gillespie (Daniel Hugh Kelly, THE IN-CROWD) gives him a lucky monkey's paw, promising that it will grant him three wishes. Jake jokingly wishes for the sweet GT he saw in the parking lot and finds it still in the parking lot at the end of the night with the keys in the ignition. He and grizzled buddy Cobb (Stephen Lang, AVATAR) go for a joyride and hit a tree while avoiding a gator in the road, sending Cobb sailing through the windshield. Dazed and desperate, Jake uses the paw and wishes Cobb alive again but it does not seem to have any effect. Fleeing the scene, he does not realize that the wish has indeed worked until Cobb confronts him demanding Jake use his third wish to bring his estranged son Cory (James Minor III) – whose mother Abby (Tauvia Dawn) has a restraining order – back into his life. When Jake hesitates, reminding Cobb of all the problems in his life (pining for his ex, his sick mother and his brother guilt-tripping him for not seeing her or helping pay for the bills), Cobb decides to remove those obstacles to induce his cooperation.
A loose adaptation of the titular W.W. Jacobs story – adapted several times throughout the history of cinema as short subjects and television episodes of anthology series (as well as a Halloween special of THE SIMPSONS), and the springboard for films like Bob Clark's DEAD OF NIGHT with the dead son wished back to life or the WISHMASTER films where the granted wishes have gory repercussions – Brett Simmons' THE MONKEY'S PAW is a slick-looking though poor follow-up to his previous horror film HUSK, which also featured Thomason as was quite good despite deriving heavily from the creepier SCARECROWS (1988). fails for its overall generic-ness from the rudimentary plotting to the use of the overplayed New Orleans setting including Dixieland jazz, palm readings, a bar called "Gator's Den" (and former Disney child star Corbin Bleu as a Cajun stereotype), and a climax set during Mardi Gras. Thomason makes for a likable lead while Pierce is pretty but forgettable. Lang chews the scenery as usual – his motivation here suggests that he hasn't come back "soulless" but may have been a bad egg to begin with – while Kelly is wasted, as is ALIEN 3's Charles S. Dutton as a police detective investigating the murders (with Jake a likely suspect, of course, since this is one of those movies where police do not look for fingerprints).
Supporting characters who should have more of a bearing on the plot or give the main ones some more depth, but they are so sketchily developed as to seem like incidental victims to flesh out the story (the gore effects are proficient but seem gratuitous and even disruptive to tone in the case of one head-splitting shot). The climax departs from Jacobs' ending since the flashbacks to the paw's backstory already indicate that the filmmakers have no interest in dealing with the horrors of the unseen, and no amount of plot contrivances to generate tension and action during the ending can really explain why Jake can't just make his third wish on the spot rather than tracking Cobb down (in light of what does happens, it seems like the less choice of wishing the revenant away would have resulted in less bloodshed and broken bones for all around). There was a point during the climax where it looked like it could get back on track, but it's merely a setup for an obligatory surprise ending. The twangy scoring is cliché, but the overused New Orleans settings and some less familiar locations still look atmospheric, especially as lit by DP Scott Winig (LAID TO REST) with atmospheric blue and green gel lighting. An interesting attempt to update the classic story, but more DTV/streaming fodder than a potential cult classic.
As with Scream Factory's other Chiller releases, their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 Blu-ray of looks crisp and colorful apart from some desaturated and softened flashback scenes and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are fine if unadventurous in design. Optional English subtitles are also available. The film can be viewed accompanied by an audio commentary track by director Brett Simmons, cinematographer Scott Winig, and actor CJ Thomason. Simmons discusses the film as the first directorial effort from a script by someone else, and his trepidation that the script would be a "two hour stretching of the original story" and finding the New Orleans setting appealing as well as getting to shoot on location rather than fabricating it (the ravages of Hurricane Katrina meant a lot of decrepit locations readily available that had to be cleared for safety rather than set-decorated). Thomason talks about having trouble as an actor being consistent across takes (which was okay since Lang was a more spontaneous actor who did something different with every take). Winig discusses the film's lighting as well as how much of the film's look was crafted in post-production on the digital intermediate. Extras are scant on this release, including a short EPK-style "Making THE MONKEY'S PAW" (4:46) featurette and a trailer (1:43) for the film that credits Lang and Bleu above Thomason and makes much of the New Orleans setting with cutaways to Mardi Gras (including some second units shots wisely left out of the feature). Although not one of Scream Factory's packed special edition, THE MONKEY'S PAW comes with a cardboard slipcover. (Eric Cotenas)
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