VIDIOCY 1/9/01

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Plus: HORROR VISION, BLACULA, and THE JOHNSONS, an overlooked title you might want to check out.

By John Thonen     January 09, 2001

I've been grousing here for several weeks about the paucity of new fantastic genre video releases and, while the future release schedule shows that this drought will pass, this week is the worst yet. While there are a few titles for special interest fans, there is really nothing this week that qualifies as a major new release. So, in order to offer you, my dear readers, the maximum info for your time (and in order to pad my paycheck) I'm offering a new feature this week, a recurring look at worthy titles of the past which you may not be aware of. But first, those new releases.

Being released on VHS only this week by Fox Home Video are the first three volumes in what I'm sure will be an ongoing roll-out of episodes from the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV series. These volumes all carry the name 'Sunnydale High Chronicles' to distinguish them from later releases that will cover Buffy's college days. Volume One features 'Bad Girls,' a third season episode from the 'Ascension' story arc. In this one, Mayor Wilkins head is cleaved in two with a sword, and then reforms, and Buffy and Faith kill Asst. Mayor Finch. The second episode on the tape, 'Consequences' continues the story line but finds Faith has gone over the brink as she tries to kill Xander. Angel also enters the battle against the Mayor and his plans.

Volume Two continues the same story arc with 'Enemies' and Earshot.' The former finds Angel going renegade again, as well as uncovering the fact that the Mayor is at least 100 years old. The 2nd episode finds Buffy gifted, or cursed, with the ability to hear others thoughts, which leads to uncovering plans for a mass murder at school. Volume 3 offers the two-part episode that wrapped up season 3, 'Graduation Day.' In these shows, our intrepid band learns more of the Mayor's plans and of the 'Ascension,' but the mayor is on to them as well. Before it's all over, Faith will shoot Angel, and Oz beds Willow. These latter two shows are, of course, the infamous episodes that were inexplicably pulled from network airing following the Columbine Massacre.

Full Moon video's latest, Horrorvision.As Roger Corman gets closer to an inevitable retirement, the last of the exploitation moguls has got to be Charles Band. His Full Moon Video operation has always been a leader in the realm of low budget movies, whether as a kingpin of the early '80s 3-D revival or as the founder of the first direct-to-video label. Band is at it again this year, kicking off a series of productions utilizing experienced crews and casts who are turning out finished productions in under 10 days on low-cost digital video equipment. Band plans a series of these type productions this year, the first of which is Horrorvision.

The storyline bears some superficial similarity to an earlier Full Moon release, Albert Pyun's Arcade, but director Danny Draven acknowledges this with a glimpse of that film on a TV, as well as visual nods to other influences as diverse as Videodrome, Phantasm, and The Arrival. The plot deals with Dez, a computer hacker/porn webmaster who discovers a supremely evil website called 'Horrorvision.com, one run by a being named Manifesto. Before long, his girlfriend has been sucked into the Internet; the city has been overrun with mass murders; and a mysterious dude named Bradbury is following him around with ominous warnings.

Draven and producer J.R. Bookwalter get a lot of bang for their minimal bucks, avoiding the claustrophobic feel of many no-budget productions, instead utilizing numerous locations and even exteriors. The visual and makeup effects are fine and, while not always convincing, the mechanized creations that represent Manifesto's forays into the real world are at least imaginative. I could have done without the music videos and some of the supporting cast are a little amateur, but most of the cast is way beyond that in most Full Moon fare. Horrorvisions's least satisfying element may be its ending, which makes it clear that this is designed as a series, but it'll be a series I'll look forward to.

While not available for preview, a Horrorvision is also available on DVD through Full Moon's new Lunar label. The disc features a director's commentary, 'Making of' featurette, the screenplay, trailers, stills and interviews with much of the cast, as well as their audition tapes. A promising package and a decent little 'B' movie, what more could you want.

MGM is continuing its low cost, VHS only, release slate, this week with a trio of supernatural themed blaxploitation titles. Best known of the group is Blacula, with Shakespearean actor William Marshall in great form as an African prince who was a long ago victim of Dracula. The film itself is nothing special, but it has a great cast, including Vonetta McGee, Elisha Cook Jr and Denise Nicholas, and launched a short-lived series of black-oriented horror titles in the early '70s, as well as a sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream, also being released this week. This is a much inferior follow-up that doomed any hopes of franchise, but it does boast the stunning Pam Grier.

The third of MGM's trio is the best of the bunch, and one of the better blaxploitation films of its era: J.D.'s Revenge . This New Orleans-set film is a fairly slow-paced southern gothic tale of a young man possessed by the ghostly spirit of a vengeful gangster. Glyn Turman does a fine job in the lead, and the cast includes a young Lou Gossett. Some sources say Prince does a song on the soundtrack, but I kind of doubt it as this was made in 1976, so he wasn't even in his teens yet.

1961's The Phantom Planet (Image Entertainment) is one of those movies that I'd like to like, but just can't. This B&W sci-fi tale (of an astronaut who crashes on an asteroid and is then shrunken to the Lilliputian size of its inhabitants) is staggeringly dull. Even more frustrating, the idea of 6-inch people has no bearing on the story in any way. Add to that, laughable dialogue and an alien menace that looks like a rejected early design for Disney's Goofy character, and this quickly fades as a potential nostalgic charmer. This is the kind of movie that helped kill the original sci-fi boom of the '50s, and after sitting through this, you can't blame folks for giving up on the genre.

As bad as is, it looks like Blade Runner in comparison to Image's other release for the week, 1957's Teenage Monster. This one was reportedly titled Meteor Monster and I>Monster On the Hill at various points, but the popularity of I Was a Teenage Werewolf necessitated a title change. This is basically a western about a woman who hides her murderous son from the authorities after a falling meteor changes him into the title creature. Really dreadful.

The rest of the week's releases come to us from the far shores of Asia and, while very different, they offer considerable imagination and style. Venturing once again into the world of anime, we find Pioneer's release of Saber Marionette J, featuring episodes of a Japanese TV series about an all-male world in the future whose only female presence is in the form of perfect but emotionless androids known as 'marionettes.' When a martial arts student finds three marionettes who have the capacity for emotion, but don't yet understand the sensation, he soon finds himself tutoring them in human feelings while joining with them to fight the evil Faust and his Saber Dolls. Pioneer's synopsis says this is a romantic comedy(???) so I guess we can expect Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the live-action version.

On a more action-packed level, we find Digital Versatile Disc's release of four episodes of the Votoms TV series about an 'armored trooper' on the run from his own military forces when he uncovers a conspiracy that goes to the highest ranks. His only hope, immersion in Uoodo City, a den of thieves and murderers. Nothing mentioned on this one as far as romantic comedy.

Definitely not a comedy, romantic or otherwise, is Central Park Media's release of Urotsukidoji 3: Return of the Overfiend, a four episode mini-series sequel to the film that launched the anime wave in the U.S. I haven't read or received any detailed synopsis of this release, but rest assured it has to do with high school kids, girls with short skirts and white panties, and monsters with invasive tentacles. The Japanese tentacle-rape sub-genre is one I don't fully grasp, but for those of you who do, I suspect this will be an exciting release.


That's it for the week's releases, but I did promise an extra this week; the start of a recurring look at little known, probably hard to find, but noteworthy, films that were released previously but were either unavailable for preview or released prior to the start of this column. Up first: Anchor Bay's The Johnsons, a little known, 1992 Dutch film, which has been adequately dubbed into English.

Originality is not really a hallmark of the horror genre; if it were, sequels, remakes and rip-offs wouldn't be so prevalent. However, while some of its elements are familiar, I can't think of another film quite like The Johnsons. To begin with, it has a small cast of characters; essentially a mother and daughter, a helpful anthropology professor and, of course, the Johnsons, yet it deals with the most enormous of antagonists, a being that is the source of all evil on Earth. Much of the story takes place in an isolated wilderness, yet its climax is in the heart of a city, much of it in a cramped efficiency apartment. The core of the story is almost monstrously perverse, yet the film is clearly a celebration of the love between a mother and daughter. Intrigued. Well you should be.

The Johnsons opens with a prologue about an explorer who vanished in the Amazon while searching for a tribe said to protect mankind from Xangadix, an ancient evil in the form of a large, floating embryo. We then flash-forward to a hospital to witness a cesarean deliveryshot from the inside of the mother's stomachof 7 identical babies. Shortly afterwards, the delivery room doctor stops his car by a swampy area where he bows before the great god Xangadix, who rises from the waters. Forward another 21 years to meet a wildlife photographer and her 14-year-old daughter, who has just begun to menstruate, and also experiencing bizarre dreams of her in a primitive, sexual ceremony with 7 naked, masked men.

The daughter joins her mother on a photo shoot in the wilds which brings them near a special government compound where 7 identical mass murderers (you got it: the Johnsons!) have been held for the past 14 years. In the city, a black anthropology professor is trying to deal with the mystery of the discovery of old records and films from the long lost Amazon expedition, as well as embarrassment over his recently arrived father, who believes himself to be a great sorcerer. From these disparate elements, director Rudolf Van Den Berg has fashioned a tale full of suspense, horror, action, humor and much more.

As good as The Johnsons is, there is nearly as much entertainment value in store for viewers when listening to the commentary track that accompanies the DVD release. Director Van Den Berg joins original story and screenplay writers Roy Frumkes and Rocco Simonelli, to tell the amazing story of how a script about murderous Appalachian hillbillies visiting New York City, became a film about Xangadix, seven psychopathic identical brothers and a girl on the brink of womanhood. It's a great story, and the amazing thing is that everyone connected seems happy with the end results. I strongly recommend this film, which may be very hard to find, particularly on DVD. If you can find it at a local store, congratulations. Otherwise, my best suggestion, since the Anchor Bay pressing is currently out of print, would be to do what I did. Check out www.Netflix.com, the DVD rent-by-mail website which offers nearly every DVD on the market, under a very reasonable rental plan, and no time limits or late fees. It's a good deal and they have stuff you just can't find elsewhere.


Enough with the shameless plugs. Next week, we time travel to a world of giant snakes, giant spiders and giant Barbarinos as well as giant, walking turds and deranged family members. Sounds like my family's annual 4th of July family reunion to me.

Next Week's Releases
Battlefield Earth Warner Home Video
Dogma: Special Edition Columbia Tristar Home Video
Natural Born Killers Warner Home Video
Python: Special Edition20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Sister, Sister Anchor Bay Entertainment
Spiders Trimark Home Video
Stepdaughter Trimark Home Video
The Twilight Zone #40, #41, #42 Image Entertainment

(Unless otherwise noted, all titles are VHS/DVD releases)


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