'Twas the Day After Christmas (Mania.com)

By:John Thonen
Date: Tuesday, December 26, 2000

'Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the net/All the fanboys were chatting, 'bout the presents they did get./There were Buffy dolls with figures that filled out her dress,/A Seven Of Nine doll, whose clothing hugs every inch of her flesh./There are videos and DVDs filled with gross Euro-style gore,/So many great movies, yet they still wanted more./So to meet a hunger for movies that goes on without bounds/We've more new releases; see how the following sounds.

Sorry about that. Seemed like a good idea at the time. I won't do it again, and it's not like it's a crime. God, stop me before I rhyme again.

Anyway, the big guy himself claims the title for this week's major new release, as Columbia/Tristar Home Video brings Godzilla 2000 to your local video store. There was a fair bit of excitement about the theatrical release of this title earlier this year. First off, it was the first kaiju eiga title to see wide theatrical release in this country in years. In addition, Toho's chief competitor, Daiei, had recently revitalized their Gamera franchise. It seemed likely Toho would put their best giant, scaly foot forward in order to launch a similar rebirth of their most famous creation. While certainly not a bad film (especially in comparison to Roland Emmerich's westernized misfire), Godzilla 2000 is not the film to revive interest in the series with audiences beyond the hardcore fans, who never really lost interest to start with.

The film's opening is a strong one, with considerable promise that director Takao Okawara is going to pull off the Herculean task of making a giant monster movie that will captivate 21st century audiences. The mountain tunnel meeting between the zill-meister and the inhabitants of an SUV combines great effects and considerable suspense to become a near-perfect sequence. Sadly, the remainder of the film never matches the excitement of this beginning.

While rumor had it that the DVD release would include the uncut Japanese version of the film (9 minutes had been shorn for U.S. release), this has not proven to be the case. Thankfully, the disc does offer some fine supplementals, including bios, the U.S. trailer, some behind-the-scenes footage and an informative and enjoyable commentary track featuring Michael Schleshinger, who wrote the film's U.S. version, along with the U.S editor and sound effects technician.

Big lizards are also on deck (or is that dreck) over at Trimark Home Video, who unveil Crocodile today. This is another of the several nature-gone-wild tales that the USA Network premiered on cable just before Halloween, and it's another misfire from director Tobe Hooper, who briefly seemed on the rebound with The Apartment Complex earlier this year. After racking their brains to come up with an original genre film concept, the geniuses behind this one decided to use the classics as inspiration, offering up attractive, fun-loving college students on Spring Break who are menaced by (insert name of menace here) while vacationing in the wilderness. The effects range from adequate to laughable, a description which also covers the acting talents of the cast.

Hooper began his directorial career by offering people being hacked apart in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and has apparently decided to end his career as a hack himself. If big lizards are your interest this holiday season, check out Godzilla 2000, or Alligator or even Lake Placidohell, even The Alligator Peoplebut wait for USA to rerun Crocodile or, better yet, scale back on the scaly beasts, and pass this one by.

A very different take on the monster-menaces-group-in-the-wilderness blueprint can be found in 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's no-frills release of 1987's semi-classic, Predator. Outside of The Terminator films, this is the quintessential Schwarzenegger film, and one of the key forefathers of the action, science-fiction genre hybrid. The plot is simplicity itselfa crack military rescue team ventures into a South American jungle to discover they aren't not the only thing hunting in that neck of the woods... er, jungle. Fast and furious action, macho characterizations, and great visual and makeup effects lift this one beyond its exploitation roots. It's just a shame they couldn't have rounded up a few extras and a commentary for the DVD.

I don't know what there is I can say about The Exorcist that hasn't been said many times before. Offering the cut that author Blatty always preferred, Warner Video is billing today's release of as 'the version you've never seen.' There are eleven minutes of additional footage, and the DVD is jammed with extras, including a new commentary by director William Freidkin. A quarter of a century has passed, yet William Freidkin and Blatty's masterpiece of horror has lost none of its power. The performances are superb; the effects hold up well, though some have been enhanced through CGI, and the themes and emotions are as eternal as ever.

I'm very fond of my original DVD of this film, which offers the superb BBC making of documentary, 'The Fear of God,' but I'll be adding this new version to my shelves as well. The documentary featured most of the new footage seen in today's release, but seeing those scenes within the context of the film is a wonderful experience that no fan should pass up. While I've vacillated a few times over the year's since this film's initial release, I think I finally have to commit and join those who hail this as the greatest horror film in cinema history.

The world of DTV has its own star system, and high on that list is the busy and always watchable Eric Roberts. Warner Home Video releases today Race Against Time, an above average action tale with science fiction elements. Roberts, delivering his usual mannered, quirky and over-the-top performance, plays a man who sells his body to an organ harvesting, near-future corporation in order to raise money to save his dying son. When his son dies shortly after, he finds himself on the run from the organization and what they view as an ironclad contract. Although the film is nothing spectacular, director Geoff Murphy stages the action well, wrings some suspense from the plot, utilizes minimal effects to considerable value and lets his actors chew the scenery at will. Not at all a bad DTV package. The DVD on this one also includes several short 'making of' featurettes.

Of course, some movies are great and others are bad, but great fun. In that category is the film oeuvre of director T.V Mikels, whose 1968 laugh-a-thon, the oft-released Astro Zombies, reaches video yet again, courtesy of Image Entertainment. This is the kind of movie actors get involved with either on their way up (at the beginning) or on the way down (at the end) of their careers. Thus, we find Wendell Corey and John Carradine on camera and a pre-MASH Wayne Rogers involved as a writer and producer. Bad acting, lighting, makeup and script make this is yet another movie perfect for playing the non-existent home version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Image also offers up today, Mesa of Lost Women, another major league stinker, but one that is so slow moving and padded that it is far less fun than Astro Zombies.

Anime titles have become a staple amongst the new releases each week. Pioneer Entertainment has become heavily involved in this fast growing genre, this week offering new installments in several ongoing series. Tenchi Universe #5 continues the adventures of the fugitive Tenchi and his cohorts as they rocket through space to escape the Galaxy Police and Jurai military forces. Black Heaven #2: Legend of Space Truckin' is Pioneer's other anime release for the week, and I'm sorry, but I can't even encapsulate the synopsis they provided on this one, and I haven't seen it. It would seem to have something to do with alien invasions and a guy who can activate a weapon against the invaders by playing his guitar. Honest. I can't make this kind of stuff up.

CRYSTAL BALL

Since Halloween, the amount of fantastic genre fare amongst the weekly releases has steadily dwindled. Just to allay any fears that this paucity of terror titles will continue far past Christmas, check out these upcoming releases:

As the year 2000 and all Y2K paranoia become the stuff of nostalgia, the video distributors are already lining up 2001's releases. Columbia/Tri Star will roll out Paul Verhoven's The Hollow Man on 1/2/01. Buena Vista will bring us Disney's: The Kid, who makes his appearance on 1/16, and on that same day, Warner will bring us Battlefield Earth. On the DTV front, January 16 will also unveil new entries in the nature-gone-wild genre, with Fox's Python and Trimark's Spiders, which already debuted on the USA Network, and York will bring us the TV sci-fi tale, The Thrill Seekers .

January 30th will unveil Buena Vista's Dinosaur and DreamWorks What Lies Beneath. That same week, USA Home Entertainment will offer a pair of lower profile titles with the debut of Terror Tract with John Ritter and Cherry Falls with Michael Biehn. Both films have already played on the USA cable network just before Halloween, though Cherry Falls had originally been announced as a theatrical release and has some good buzz behind it.

The genre fare will just keep on coming when Columbia/Tri Star offers up Urban Legends : Final Cut on 2/6/01, followed closely by The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle from Universal on February 13. Pioneer will also offer, that day, yet another USA cable movie, Nostradamus with Joely Fisher and Rob Estes. Indie label, Winstar, will also release on the 13th, the too-long-out-of-print horror anthology from director Jeff Burr, From A Whisper To A Scream, which features Vincent Price as its host and a bevy of familiar faces in its quartet of tales.

Then on the 20th comes the surprisingly quick release of Highlander: End Game, a mere 5 months after its theatrical premiere. That week will also find Artisan's release of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, as well as Deep Star Six and more Christopher Lambert excitement in Knight Moves.

Meanwhile, New Line unveils Lost Souls on 2/27/01. Also on the 27th, Columbia/Tristar will offer Dr. Strangelove: The Special Edition, with trailers, production notes and a documentary on director Stanley Kubrick's darkly comedic classic.

In my long range forecast, Fantoma Films, in conjunction with the good folks at Image, will be releasing this Spring, three films from Jose Mojica Marins (a.k.a., Coffin Joe). If you don't know who Marins is, consider yourself the better for it. But, for the rest of you, this terror triumvirate will include At Midnight, I Will Take Your Soul, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse and, most terrifying of all, This Weekend I Will Make You Watch Cybill Shepherd's Talk Show. Sorry, that's actually The Awakening of the Beast, though I'm sure you can understand my confusion. All this, and I have yet to touch on the releases of Anchor Bay. It should be a busy couple of months.

CONGRATULATIONS

Special congratulations are in order to Vidiocy friend, J.R. Bookwalter. The DVD release of the director's recent Full Moon release Witchouse 2: Blood Coven has received 6 nominations from Video Store Magazine in their annual DVD festival. Since the film was the inaugural release of Full Moon's Lunar DVD label, these nominations, which include 'Best Non-Theatrical Release,' and 'Best DVD Commentary,' are especially noteworthy.

I also want to extend congratulations to the folks over at Seduction Cinema. Last week I mentioned their upcoming shot-on-video, T&A rip-off of Ridley Scott's hit Gladiator, cleverly titled Gladiator Eroticvs, and then this week I receive from them, Erotic Survivor. While I doubt I'll be recommending either of these titles to my fellow Fandomites, I do admire such pure exploitation execution and commend them for keeping that nearly lost art alive.

Hearty congratulations also to Jay Woelfel, to whom we just spoke last week while covering his DTV (direct-to-video) title, Iron Thunder. In a couple of weeks, Jay will start production on a future DTV item, Full Moon Video's Demonicus, which we also just talked about in a recent column. Woelfel has a knack for working thematic depth and interesting characters into exploitation fare, as he did in Iron Thunder , so his upcoming knock-off of Gladiator has more promise than it might be the case in lesser hands.

Finally, congratulation to actress Denice Duff, best known for Full Moon's Subspecies series. The pretty and perky Duff, tired of the numerous delays in Full Moon's launching of a new Subspecies film, decided instead to produce her own vampire tale, in which she also stars. Song of the Vampire completed production last week, and we'll hopefully see a DTV release in the near future. Duff is a gifted photographer (check out her work on her website www.deniceduff.com), and while she didn't direct her new film, I'm expecting her visual sense to be a factor in its quality.

NEXT WEEK

Seven days from now, we'll start the new year off right by seeing a lot less of Kevin Bacon and a whole lot more of women in leather. See you next year.




















Next Week's Releases
Avengers: The Very Best Of A&E Home Video
Hollow Man: Special Edition Columbia Tristar Home Video
Nosferatu: Special Edition Image Entertainment
Twitch Of The Death Nerve (a.k.a. Bay Of Blood) Image Entertainment


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