DVD News and Release Info for August 21 (Mania.com)

By:John Thonen
Date: Tuesday, August 21, 2001

VIDEO NEWS


·         SHREK has already claimed this year's top box office title. It's November 2nd DVD release may claim other records as well as DreamWorks launches the title, at sell-through prices, with their biggest sales campaign ever. The two-disc set will feature making-of featurettes, storyboards, music videos, some 17 games, DVD-ROM content, X-Box game materials, and more. All in all, there are roughly 11 hours of extras which have been produced exclusively for the DVD release. Among the new material is some 15 minutes of newly produced footage, including a three-minute extension of the film's ending.


·         Of course, not every film is the top title of the year. The all-CGI FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN was one of the summer's bigger flops. The title will make a rapid video premiere on October 23rd, not quite four months after its theatrical release. Despite having disappointed its makers, the film will still receive the two-disc, Special Edition treatment. Among the extras is "Aki's Dream." This character's dreams are central to the overly-complex storyline, but were presented only as fragments in the theatrical release. The disc will offer the dream sequences which are some of the most exciting and visually impressive moments in the film as one, uninterrupted dream.


·         The good folks over at Image Entertainment have offered some great titles over the past few years, but they'll soon be presenting something a bit different from the movies that make up most of their catalog. Throughout the Halloween month of October, the label will unveil a series of genre compilations hosted by Elvira. MONSTER MANIA, ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT MONSTER MANIA, and BRIDE OF MONSTER MANIA will each feature clips, trailers and expert interviews on, respectively, the evolution of the horror movie, giant monsters in horror movies, and women in horror movies. That same month, the label will also unveil a pair of documentaries on two of the masters of Euro-horror: DARIO ARGENTO: AN EYE FOR HORROR and MARIA BAVA: MAESTRO OF THE MACABRE. The former will trace the director's career from his Giallo glory days in the '70s to Argento's recent return to the Giallo format, SLEEPLESS, as well as offering interviews with everyone from John Carpenter to Alice Cooper. The Bava documentary will take a similar approach to the godfather of Italian horror. Both documentaries are 60 minutes long.


THIS WEEK'S RELEASES


·         AMPHIBIAN MAN sounds like some cheesy drive-in title from the 60s, but it's actually a rarely seen Russian production. Told in a manner reminiscent of an old legend or fairy tale, the film relates the story of a young man whose scientist father has turned him into the title being. His life as a legendary presence in the fishing waters near a village was tolerable until he rescues and falls in love with a local girl. Slow, but not uninteresting.


·         BATMAN: THE MOVIE - SPECIAL EDITION is the delayed video [IMG3R]release of the largely lame theatrical film that tried to cash in on the popularity of the campy old Adam West series. The movie itself is nothing special, but the accompanying commentary with West and co-star Burt (Robin) Ward is pretty entertaining and worth the price of a rental all on its own.


·         CAT IN THE BRAIN has something of a following among fans of Italy's notoriously uneven Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci. Interest in the film, also known as NIGHTMARE CONCERT, has remained high among the director's devotees since it has been largely unavailable for their view. This release finds the film to be laboriously paced, padded with footage from other films, and nearly as uncomfortably misogynistic as Fulci's THE NEW YORK RIPPER. Fan interest in the film derives mostly from the fact that Fulci himself plays a troubled director of horror films, which suggests the pic may be more than a little autobiographical - especially since his character's name is "Lucio Fulci." Sadly, this is not 8 1/2, or even ALL THAT JAZZ. Still, if you really worship Fulci, there's little I can say to keep you away.


·         CREEPIN' comes our way from York Entertainment, an indie video label that has found considerable success marketing films aimed at the black audience - what is called in the video biz the "urban" market. While unavailable for preview, this film seems to be an ambitious mix of horror, hip-hop and hyuks, featuring a psycho killer named Shammeka in a horror movie spoof of unknown merit.


·         DOOMWATCH is a spin-off of a popular British TV series of the same name which went unseen in this country. It's a not-bad tale of an ecological investigation team looking into strange deformities on an island off the Cornish coast. The film flopped because it placed the popular stars of the series in the background and gave the limelight to Ian Bannen and Judy Geeson. For those of us who never saw the series, and thus aren't pre-disposed to its characters, there's good makeup, a reasonable amount of suspense and an ecological message to be found here.


·         ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK was the birth, and one expected, the end of campy femme-fatale Elvira's film career. However, with a new film (ELVIRA'S HAUNTED HILLS) starring the snide, busty Vampira clone soon to be released, a re-release of her first film seems apropos. Elvira's shtick wears thin after a while, and the laughs are a little too widely spaced, but this is a pretty harmless and mildly amusing romp, suitable for anyone who misses her old beer ads. And I do.


·         FULL ECLIPSE is an action-oriented werewolf cop movie that sounds like a pretty dumb idea, but a strong cast Mario Van Peebles, Patsy Kensit, Bruce Payne and slick direction make this one work pretty well. Cop Van Peebles joins an elite law enforcement unit led by Payne (always a great villain) and learns that they are so successful because they are all virtually invulnerable lycanthropes. Originally produced for HBO, this is well worth a look.


·         THE GOONIES may find a waiting audience among young adults who enjoyed it as kids in the mid-80s. For the rest of us, it's uneven going, as a group of unpopular kids find adventure, bad guys, treasure, a monster (sort of) and friendship while wandering through tunnels beneath their neighborhood. This so lightweight it nearly defies gravity, but so slickly made by Richard Donner that it all holds together. It may even work for a whole new crop of kids. Also available as a Special Edition with extras which include a "making-of" featurette and a commentary by the now grown cast of kids.


·         GREMLINS was, like THE GOONIES, written by Chris Columbus and directed by a craftsman who sometimes rises above his material; in this case, Joe Dante. The result is an entertainingly schizophrenic film that dances between being a kid's film, a horror film and a spoof of both. Chris Walas' creature effects are still effective, the cast excepting terminally bland star Zach Galligan is strong and the proceedings are packed with the kind of offbeat moments (like Phoebe Cates' explanation of why she hates Christmas) that would never make it in to such a film today. Now, if they'll just release the sequel.


·         HANNIBAL should go through the roof as a sales and rental item, though it doesn't come close to equaling its predecessor, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Hopkins is over the top, though Gary Oldman nearly surpasses him. Julianne Moore is believably cast, but simply no Jodie Foster, and Ray Liotta seems intent on giving us a piece of his mind. This one looks great, moves fast, doesn't make a lot of sense and is ultimately unsatisfying. But folks loved it at the theaters, so here it is again. Also available as a Special Edition featuring five "making-of" featurettes, stills, deleted scenes, several interactive multi-angle features, and more.


·         LE DERNIER COMBAT is [IMG2L]a brilliant early effort from FIFTH ELEMENT director Luc Beeson. This was supposed to have been released a few weeks ago, so I'll keep it short this week and just say that the adventurous among you shouldn't miss this.


·         LINK is, like George Romero's MONKEYSHINES, an underrated horror tale of man and his simian kin. Terrence Stamp is the scientist whose home is largely run by three apes. A very young Elizabeth Shue is the assistant who finds herself trapped in Stamp's remote home after the human-trained, but still not human, servants turn on their master. Director Richard Franklin has a knack for suspense, and he delivers on it here.


·         MANIAC is another delayed title. Grimy, gory and unpleasantly misogynist, this is a hard film to like, and nearly as hard to forget. Also available in a  "Limited Edition" set which offers a soundtrack CD, a documentary on the film's star (character actor Joe Spinell), audio interviews with Spinell, co-star Caroline Munro and others, stills, trailers and more.


·         NIGHTBREED was director Clive Barker's first film after the surprise commercial and critical success of HELLRAISER. That debut had raised a lot of hopes that Barker would be the savior of the horror film in the '80s, but this one pretty effectively dashed those hopes. This story of a race of freaks that lives within, and beneath, the human race, has a lot of interesting elements. Unfortunately, they just don't gel into any kind of a whole, and the overall movie is simply a mess.


·         PROFESSOR DOWELL'S TREATMENT is an adaptation of a novel about a professor at work on a formula for immortality, and the co-worker who sees a way to use it for personal gains. Both novel and film are of Russian derivation, and this adaptation is unknown to this reviewer, but the Russians have always had a way with science fiction. This may be worth a look.


·         REPTILIAN is another unknown quantity, of unknown quality, this time from Columbia/TriStar. I don't know where this was made, nor when. I don't know who is in it, nor who directed it. What I do know is that it's got something to do with a Godzilla style monster and that it apparently hopes to ride the scale tails of the many big lizard movies that have found video success over the past few years.


·         SAFE is the film that helped make Julianne Moore's reputation as an actress, one she has since sullied considerably in EVOLUTION, HANNIBAL and THE LOST WORLD. Still, she is uncomfortably brilliant in cult director Todd Haynes' tale of a woman who finds she is becoming increasingly allergic to the world around her, and finds herself in a clinic that may do her more harm than good. This one's not for all tastes, but it's a dandy for those who can appreciate it.


·         SCHLOCK is a delayed title which we talked about a few weeks ago. John (ANIMAL HOUSE) Landis directs and stars as the Schlockthropus, a simian missing link with a taste for bananas, scantily clad girls and sophomoric humor.


·         SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: SPECIAL EDITION returns to video to offer an ironic counterpoint to the wretched excesses of its own sequel. This is brilliant filmmaking offering exquisite acting, tremendous suspense and surprisingly restrained horror. Let somebody else waste their time on HANNIBAL. Why don't you check out the film that is the main reason anybody wanted to see the sequel in the first place?


·         VAMP is an unjustly forgotten modern day vampire tale about a trio of frat brothers in search of a stripper to hire. Instead, they end up at the After Dark club, a haven for vampires run by the queen of them all, played by the truly unique Grace Jones. Fast paced, amusing, and at times even chilling, this is one of the more enjoyable horror films of the '80s, an era that was none too kind to the genre.


·         VIY: SPIRIT OF EVIL is a rare chance for genre students to see a classic Russian horror tale. Based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, this atmospheric film deals with a theology student in way over his head with the forces of evil. Like the best Russian genre films, this has the feel of a story passed down through the generations of a people who have told it over and over again. The DVD features excerpts from several Russian silent horror films, as well as production stills, trailers and a documentary on source writer Gogol. This isn't for the average fan, but there is much to be gained for those who really want to understand the genre.


·         THE WICKER MAN has acquired a legendary status as a kind of CITIZEN KANE of horror films. On one level, the film's fame is unwarranted, for it is not really a great horror film. In fact, it's not scary in the least, and horror fans are likely to be bored by it. It is, though, quite possibly a great film, no matter what the genre. Perfectly cast Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento beautifully photographed and superbly conceived and realized, it is a film that gets better each time you watch it. So, if you've never seen it, you'd better start now.


·         WISH UPON A STAR is yet another variation on the "switching places" sub-genre which was launched by Disney's FREAKY FRIDAY and later became so popular in films like VICE VERSA and DREAM A LITTLE DREAM WITH ME. While most of these past exercises with a theme concentrated on young and old trading bodies, this one places its protagonists a little closer together in age - a 15-year-old girl and her 17-year-old sister. However, while they may be close in age, they are very different personalities, and a fair bit of humor is drawn from the change in each.


ANIME & ANIMATION


·         BIG O #2 continues the adventures of Roger Smith, Paradigm City's top negotiator, and the secret leader of "Big O." This time he's investigating what seems to be a ghost. Roger also encounters an android pianist. Three episodes of the series are contained herein.


·         SCOOBY DOO'S SPOOKIEST TALES offers four episodes of the long running and long-popular adventures of everybody's favorite cowardly dog and the kids from the Mystery Van. How much you want to bet that any episode on this video is better than the upcoming live action (and is anything featuring Freddie Prinze Jr. really "live?") movie will be?


EASTER EGG HUNT


·         The decidedly essential DVDREVIEW website recently reported on a couple of enjoyable hidden items. First, on the BEHIND THE PLANET OF THE APES documentary, if you insert disc #1 of the two-disc set, select "Bonus Materials" and then use your arrow keys to highlight the "Play" listing on the menu. Now, press the "Right" arrow and you'll be treated to a short slide show of behind-the-scenes drawings and photos.


·         The British vampire mini-series ULTRA VIOLET offers a hidden treat as well. On either of the two discs in the set, if you press "5" while in the "Main Menu" the "V" in "Ultraviolet" will be highlighted. You then can access the "Cove V Area," where you'll find character bios and an interview with the show's creator.


COMING ATTRACTIONS


As Halloween gets closer, the deluge of horror titles grows so that next week we will find slapstick mummies, killer cicadas, killer karnival kharacters, supernatural kids and oh, the horror a Randy Travis concert video. Have these people no shame?




Vidiocy is our weekly Video & DVD column.