DVD & VHS This Week: June 25 (Mania.com)

By:John Thonen
Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2002

VIDEO NEWS


While we're all waiting for Quentin Tarantino to finally start production on his too long awaited new film, KILL BILL, we will at least be able to console ourselves with the re-releases of his ground-breaking, trend setting previous efforts. Up first, on 8/20/02, from Miramax Home Entertainment will be the 2-disc DVD special editions of PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN, each of which will feature deleted scenes introduced by Tarantino and a bevy of interviews with the director. One week later, on 8/27/02, Artisan's DVD 10th anniversary 2-disc limited edition re-release of Tarantino's freshman effort, RESERVOIR DOGS, will hit stores. The discs will be made available with four different covers one for each of the main gang members. In addition, they will feature interviews with Tarantino, stars Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, and Michael Madsen along with previously unseen deleted footage and an assortment of documentaries and featurettes devoted to the film, plus an eight page booklet on the film and its characters.


JASON X's time in

Kane Hodder reprises the role he's made famous in 2002's JASON X

theaters may not have been any longer than the life-span of an over-sexed teenager with his head lopped, but there's certain to be interest in the title on the home video level. The title will be coming your way 10/8/02, accompanied by the release of JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY. Both titles will be entries in New Line Cinema's well-respected Platinum DVD line and will offer directorial commentaries and behind the scenes footage, with JASON X also boasting a "History of Jason" documentary. More extras will likely be announced in the near future.


THIS WEEK'S NOTABLE NEW RELEASES


20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH is about 1/3 of a remake of KING KONG, only this time it's a big, lizardly thing that climbs to the top of the Roman Coliseum to get shot down by the military. Really, this is just a very standard issue '50s monster movie which would be totally forgotten today if it were not an early effort from master monster animator Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen's work here is exceptional, but he wouldn't find films worthy of his talents for another year. The disc's value to Harryhausen fans is elevated quite a bit by the inclusion of  "The Harryhausen Chronicles," and "This Is Dynamation" docs.


A BEAUTIFUL MIND has [IMG3L]achieved so much attention that it's a little difficult to address the merits of the film without being burdened by unrelated issues. Yes, the filmmakers took considerable liberties with their "fact inspired" story of genius mathematician John Nash and his battles with schizophrenia. Yes, the film did win Best Actress and Best Director Academy Awards. And lastly, yes, it is a film from Ron Howard, one of the most likeable, down-to-earth people in the entire film industry. But let's try to put all that unrelated baggage aside for a moment and ask, how is the movie? Well, it's pretty good. The cast is excellent and the story is involving and often moving. It's a classic Hollywood bio-pic, which means it has nothing to do with the facts and everything to do with entertainment and audience manipulation. But hey, isn't that what we go to the movies for? The film is being released in a "Movie Only" DVD and in an "Awards Edition," with directorial and writer's commentaries, deleted scenes, a featurette on Howard and partner Brian Grazer, a featurette on the development of the screenplay, plus featurettes on Nash and his mathematical theories and his Nobel Prize win, storyboards to film comparisons, special effects, the film's score and an isolated soundtrack.


AXE 'EM is simply one of the worst excuses for a movie to ever be foisted on the public. Originally entitled DIE BLESSED, this black-oriented slasher is amateurish in the extreme, with audio apparently courtesy of Mr. Microphone and acting which wouldn't pass muster in a grade school production. This appears to be a "vanity" project, but I doubt even the director's own family made it through this one in one sitting.


BLOOD BATH is a 2-DVD, 4-movie set from Brentwood, who specialize in multi-movie, budget priced sets like this. All four films are of foreign origin and include: Mario Bava's KILL BABY KILL, a chilling and atmospheric ghost story, in spite of the cheesy title. Also included is THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE, which has previously been released under about a dozen different titles. This is very familiar stuff plot-wise, but well executed and it offers the always bewitching Erika Blanc. Then there's the rather dreadful PIECES, which was largely shot in the U.S. by an Italian crew utilizing American lead actors. It's the old killer assembling a body from the parts he keeps from his victims plotline, perverse and gory, but boring nonetheless. The last of the titles is KISS ME, KILL ME, which may be the best reason to pick up this package. Starring Hollywood has-been Carroll Baker, and Euro-horror icon George Eastman, this tale of a photographer whose camera is cursed by a witch named Baba Yaga (one of the film's multiple titles) is one of the most bizarre horror titles to ever come out of Italy, and that is saying something. While I'm familiar with the films involved here, I haven't yet seen Brentwood's release and can't vouch for the quality of prints, or their completeness, but Brentwood's DVD pressings are generally of acceptable visual quality.


BLOOD MOON played on the Sci-Fi Channel a few months ago under the title WOLFGIRL. While that title is rather generic, it's a more accurate one than BLOOD MOON as this is really a rather well done film about teenage outsiders rather than a horror film. Victoria Sanchez is excellent in the lead role as a teenage girl with all the usual frustrations of that age, plus she's covered from head to foot in hair. She's lived her life in a freak show run by a benevolent Tim Curry, who has several enjoyable risqué musical numbers. Her life within the surrogate family of freaks isn't an altogether bad one, but wolfgirl longs for normalcy and tries an experimental drug that's sort of Rogaine's evil twin. Instead of results matching a serious bikini wax, she begins having violent spells and there hangs the crux of the story. Shot in Romania, the film has a nice atmosphere and treats its story and characters honestly and seriously. This one's a minor sleeper.


BLOOD TIES comes [IMG4R]from Roger Corman's New Concorde, who seem to have released just about every vampire title in their film library this month. This one isn't half-bad, rather reminiscent of THE KINDRED for those who remember that short-lived TV series. The vampires are our main characters and have adjusted to modern life and learned how to control their nocturnal appetites, but someone knows they are among us and is out to make them extinct.


BLOODSTAINED SHADOW is one of several little seen (stateside at least) entries in the long popular Italian sub-genre known as "Giallos." The word Giallo itself is simply a reference to the bright yellow covers of lurid crime paperbacks which were hugely popular in Europe after WWII, and these violent, often misogynistic films, which became popular in the '60s, were branded with the same label due to their often prurient content. Anchor Bay is releasing, both individually and as a collector set, four Giallo titles this month. The evocatively titled BLOODSTAINED SHADOW involves, as many Giallo do, elements including a mysterious killer, the Catholic church, sexual perversity, the secret lives of the wealthy and respected, graphic violence and a moody, atmospheric quality reminiscent of Hollywood horror from the '30s and '40s that is yet distinctly European. If you're a Giallo fan, this is well worth checking out, but I'd pick up that Giallo 4-pack myself. A "Special Edition" label is earned for the disc courtesy of an included trailer, director's bio and an interesting interview with the film's director.


THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST is often cited as being an Ed Wood film, which isn't entirely correct. He did write this tale of the wife of a great white hunter who comes to believe she is the reincarnation of a gorilla, but Wood didn't direct. However, the film is more than bad enough to make one think he did. Production values are a little better than most of Wood's own films (meaning they are equal to the average used car commercial) and the early parts of the film are not totally ineffective, but this is a film for lovers of Le Bad Cinema only. You know who you are. The DVD here is labeled a "Special Edition" due to the inclusion of a pair of unrelated shorts, one on Wood and the other, MUMMY A.D., unknown to this writer.


CLUB VAMPIRE is one of several attempts by producer Roger Corman to milk some mileage out of the concept of Katt Shea's DANCE OF THE DAMMED, which was one of the best, and least seen, vampire films of the '80s. This time out, Corman got Shea's ex-husband, who had co-written DANCE, and a pre-AA meetings John Savage, involved, but the result is largely a disaster. Yes, there's a club, there's strippers (de rigueur in a Corman film) and there are vampires, but the only sucking you'll hear is from your head as your brain collapses in on itself and becomes a vacuum from watching crap like this.


THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is a very effective bit of social drama hidden within a ghost story, and also a reminder that the director who made big cockroaches scary and vampire hunters cool, Guillermo del Toro, is a world class filmmaker even without the flashy effects of MIMIC and BLADE II. This one takes place in an isolated orphanage during WWII where the kids not only have to deal with the unexploded bomb dropped into the middle of their courtyard, but must also confront a ghostly presence determined to uncover a mystery about the orphanage and its past. So write this down: see THESIS, then see this one. You'll be glad you did. The DVD offers a "Making Of" featurette, storyboard to film comparisons, a trailer and a commentary track from del Toro and his cinematographer.


DON'T OPEN THE DOOR involves a young woman who returns home to care for her invalid grandmother in the same home where her own mother was earlier killed by a never captured maniac. Naturally, her return does turn out to be a happy little family reunion. This is one of the classics of no-budget, Southern produced, drive-in second feature horror cinema, and shouldn't be missed by any fan of that particular sub-genre. Others should be advised to keep their distance. From the director of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT.


DRACULA RISING is one of a series of semi-erotic vampire films Roger Corman pumped out in the '80s to cash in on the anticipated popularity of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. BLUE LAGOON star Christopher Atkins is badly miscast as the immortal son of Vlad the Impaler himself, but he tries hard, as do the rest of the cast. Actual European locations help as well, but the film is just another "vampire meets reincarnation of his long lost love" tale that we've seen so many times, and often better executed.


FARSCAPE: SEASON 2 VOL. 1 continues the very welcome release of episodes from what many (myself amongst them) feel is the best science fiction series ever to grace a TV screen. This 2-disc set offers four episodes, " Mind The Baby," "Vitas Mortis," "Taking the Stone," and "Crackers Don't Matter," along with deleted scenes, conceptual artwork, a FARSCAPE dictionary, a bio on lead actor Ben Browder and a backstory of his character, astronaut John Crichton, and a commentary track for the "Crackers Don't Matter" episode featuring director Ian Watson and the delectable Claudia Black. So get the frel off your ass and buy it.


FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL had some notoriety when it was first released to video back in the '80s as several of its stars had later become well known TV performers. Now, the likes of Cindy (LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY) Williams and Diana (SOAP) Canova are pretty much forgotten and the film has to get by on its own merits, which aren't all that great. It is exactly what it says it is and there are a few laughs here and there, but it's rather like watching a T&A version of a hugely overlong SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skit. It just can't sustain its meager gags for the full length of the film. The "Dancing Dildos" are funny though.


FREEZE ME is a Japanese film I have yet to see, but which I have heard intriguing things about. It involves a woman who was brutally gang raped by three men who also videotaped their crime. After piecing her life back together again, the woman is victimized again as one of her assailants blackmails her threatening to release the video into letting him move in with her and make her his slave. Eventually it's too much for her and she kills her tormentor, buying a large freezer for his body, and then awaits the arrival of his cohorts. Whether this delivers the catharsis of a woman taking control of her destiny, or the exploitation of a woman's agony for male entertainment, has been debated since the film's release.


GOSFORD PARK [IMG5L]is about the umpteenth comeback for its director, legendary rebel Robert Altman. At age 77, Altman remains a prolific and erratic director whose films rarely appeal to everyone. GOSFORD PARK would seem to be about a murder, but it's really about social classes, specifically those of early 1900s England, and Altman has an amazing cast at his disposal here as he wryly skewers the upper class, without exactly deifying the working class. It's all a bit slow and often meandering, but that's not uncommon with Altman, a director whose freewheeling, generally improvised methodology sometimes results in films which are a beautiful mess. However, when he manages to make it all gel together, as he does here, he simply has no match.


GIALLO COLLECTION is a four DVD set from Anchor Bay featuring BLOODSTAINED SHADOW, SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS, and WHO SAW HER DIE, plus a fourth title not being released individually, THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS. I must confess to knowing next-to-nothing about this one, though rumors are rampant on net boards that the film is actually the slightly less obscure WHAT ARE THOSE STRANGE DROPS OF BLOOD ON JENNIFER'S BODY? We'll see. But I do hope this is a successful release for Anchor Bay and that we soon see many more never-seen Giallos heading our way.


HOUSE was a sizable hit for New World back in the '80s, and helped secure its producer (Sean Cunningham) a reputation as more than just the purveyor of FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, but it's hard to understand the movie's popularity today. The story involves a Stephen King type writer (nicely played by the under-appreciated William Katt) who, suffering from writer's block following the disappearance of his son and the breakup of his marriage, isolates himself in the title locale in order to finish his latest book. Of course, the place is haunted. While seldom scary, the film is well acted and has some nice moments of humor, but this is pretty minor league stuff. This "Special Edition" DVD includes trailers, a still gallery, a "Making Of" featurette and a commentary track from director Steve (LAKE PLACID) Miner, producer Cunningham, writer Ethan Wiley and star William Katt.


HOUSE 2: THE SECOND STORY is the first of (technically anyway) three follow-ups to the original film, and it's amazing the series went any further after this lame sequel. This one goes all out for the humor and packs itself with effects even dinosaurs -  but the entertainment value is negligible. It all involves a young man who inherits the title locale but finds it comes with a ghostly gunslinger and all sorts of other supernatural presences. Veteran character actor Royal Dano is fun as the undead cowboy, but little else about the film is. Writer Ethan Wiley took directorial reins here, but he seems clueless as to what to do and the entire production seems rather out-of-control.


KING DINOSAUR is the film that launched the long career of writer/producer/director/effects technician Bert I. Gordon, affectionately known as Mr. B.I.G. to most. Like most of Gordon's films, this one involves BIG monsters. It all involves a quartet of scientists who check out Nova, a new planet that wanders into our solar system. After endless walking around they decide that Nova is just like Earth in the prehistoric period; we are then treated to some magnified footage of lizards, which we are told look just like dinosaurs. Pretty tough going for any but dedicated followers of the sci-fi of the '50s.


THE MAD MONSTER is a very typical 1940s, if seldom seen, poverty row tale of a mad doctor making a mad monster out of a mad man. The good folks at Retromedia have managed to assemble a decent looking and complete print of the film from multiple sources and have also tossed in a trailer, and audio interview with co-star Glenn Strange. The disc also offers a second feature, THE BLACK RAVEN, which also features Strange (a Hollywood stuntman who portrayed many a movie monster, including the Frankenstein Monster in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN).


MR. VAMPIRE 2 is the first of several sequels and rip-offs which followed the 1985 Hong Kong produced original hit about hopping vampires and Taoist monks. This one moves the action to the present day and adds a child vampire to broaden the series' appeal. While not the best of the series, this is a fun entry with lots of action and little in the way of plot or character to get in the way.


MY VAMPIRE LOVER is yet another in the seemingly endless, shot-on-video, "erotic" horror titles pumped out on a regular basis by Seduction Cinema. Like most of the others, this one involves lesbian vampires who are generally too busy with simulated carpet munching to ever get around to any actual neck-biting. Seduction's top starlet, Misty Mundae, makes a brief appearance and there's also deleted footage and behind-the-scenes footage.


NIGHT HUNTER stars Roger Corman's all-too-bland answer to Jean Claude Van Damme, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, a real-life karate champion who starred in a string of martial arts films throughout the '80s and early '90s. Most of these films were indistinguishable from each other, but NIGHT HUNTER did vary the formula by making Wilson a vampire hunter and tossing in Corman starlet and serious cutie Maria Ford as a Russian vampiress. The martial arts battles are perfunctory (common in Wilson's films, which is odd since he is the genuine article) but there's some decent gun battles, Wilson looks cool and there's lots of fanboy in-jokes involving the characters' names.


SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS is another of the three Giallos Anchor Bay is releasing separately from their four film DVD set devoted to this Italian sub-genre. I haven't seen this one, but it's such a cool concept that I can hardly wait. The corpse of a reporter is brought to a morgue, but he is actually alive within his comatose body, desperately trying to solve the riddle of a crime before he is embalmed. There's an above-average Euro cast, including Jean Sorel, Barbara Bach and Ingrid Thulin, plus an Ennio Morricone score as an added temptation for this one. "Special Edition" status is justified by a brief interview with the director, a trailer and a small reproduction of the film's original release poster.


SPACE 1999 VOL. 7 & 8 continues [IMG6R]the ongoing release of the generally dreadful TV series from the early 1970s. Bad acting, stupid stories and awful scripts are slightly enlightened by some slick effects work from the legendary Gerry Anderson, but there's little else to recommend here.


THESIS comes to U.S. video just in time to ride the tide of attention its director, Alejandro Amenabar, earned after making THE OTHERS. Amenabar is also the director of OPEN YOUR EYES, the far superior film which provided the inspiration for the Cameron Crowe/Tom Cruise misfire, VANILLA SKY. Stunning as both THE OTHERS and OPEN YOUR EYES may be, THESIS is the film that will likely convince any doubters that its young director is the man to watch in the world of cinematic horror. This one involves a college student whose thesis is on violence itself and whose search for violent video footage leads her to a real "snuff" film and involves her in a conspiracy which had already claimed one life and may well take hers. While effective as just a thriller, Amenabar has a great deal more going on here in a film which forces its viewer to confront their own fascination with violence and to question why it exists. There's a butt-load of good films in this week's column, but this is the one in the bunch which you shouldn't miss.


TO SLEEP WITH A VAMPIRE is, like CLUB VAMPIRE, a reworking of Katt Shea's DANCE OF THE DAMMED and, while Shea is uncredited, this is basically a remake of that film, albeit with actors whom producer Roger Corman apparently thought had greater sex appeal than those in the original film. Busty Charlie Spradling is OK in her role as a suicidal stripper who brings a customer home with her, but Scott Valentine is terrible as the vampire who longs to hear stories of life in the sun. We can only hope that Corman's releasing these remakes of DANCE OF THE DAMMED is a preface to a DVD release of the original film, perhaps with Katt Shea commentary?


TREES is a surprisingly funny spoof of JAWS wherein the requisite threat from nature comes in the form of a Great White Pine (its bite is worse than its bark) which is attacking campers at a national park. It's all played very straight by a pretty decent cast and there are plenty of laughs scattered throughout, but there's no arguing that this would have been much better as a thirty minute short rather than being a shot-for-shot, feature length remake of Spielberg's film. Still, there's more genuine laughs here than in the last couple of teen "comedies" that hit my local cineplex. Check out the filmmaker's website, www.treesthemovie.com, for trailers, merchandise and the announcement of a sequel.


VAMPIRELLA is a re-release of the Jim Wynorski directed, Roger Corman produced film which finally brought to the screen the legendary comic book series about a seductive female alien on Earth, whose home world is all vampires. Wynorski wasn't a bad choice to direct this, but pretty Talisa (MORTAL KOMBAT) Soto was the wrong choice for the title role, being a bit too bland an actress, and not nearly voluptuous enough to fill out the character's revealing costume. Still, there's some fun to be had here from rocker Roger Daltrey's turn as a vampiric rock star, to Angus (PHANTASM) Scrimm's cameo as the King of Vampirella's homeworld, to Vampirella creator Forry Ackerman's brief appearance.


WHO SAW HER DIE? is another of the four Giallos Anchor Bay is releasing separately, and in a set, this month. This one is also new to me, but reportedly involves a sculptor (one-time Bond George Lazenby) whose young daughter is murdered and who sets out to solve the crime himself. Directed by Aldo Lado, who also did SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS, this one also boasts a solid cast, a director interview, trailer and Morricone score.


WITCHBABE: EROTIC WITCH 3 is the latest installment in the T&A/lesbian sex series "inspired" by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I have no idea why there remains a market for this stuff if you seen one, you've pretty much seen them all but I do think it's interesting that this series has made it to #3, and BWP itself hasn't.


EASTER EGG HUNT


There's an Easter egg to be found on HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, but I'm so sick of hearing about that damn snore-fest that I'll just suggest you visit DVDREVIEW.COM for the info. Meanwhile, you can also find a hidden goodie on the recent "Creature Feature" release, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER. From the main menu, select "Special Features" and then select "Main Menu" again, and immediately press "Enter." The result will be a short, animated adventure of the Arachnid Avenger, the comic book superhero who provides the motivation for the actions of the film's tragic hero.


COMING ATTRACTIONS



It's a two-fer week, with a horde of mediocre monster movies (and a couple of decent ones) being pumped out as budget priced, double DVD sets. Plus more Jack Black.


Vidiocy is our weekly Video & DVD column.

Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at feedback@cinescape.com.