DVD & VHS This Week: August 6 (Mania.com)

By:John Thonen
Date: Tuesday, August 06, 2002


THE ANTICHRIST (a.k.a. THE TEMPTER) comes [IMG2R]to us from the good old days of rat ridden, derelict dwelling, sticky floored theaters which ran delightfully depraved Italian rip-offs of U.S. made hits in a desperate bid to make a buck. I'll confess that I'm looking forward to this Anchor Bay release as I've never seen this film uncut, and this EXORCIST clone was pretty disgusting even in the cut version. The possessed in this one is a little older than Linda Blair was, mostly so they can do some nasty sexual stuff with her in addition to the expected bile spewing and profanities. The film also includes a couple of fading "name" performers, including Mel Ferrer and Arthur Kennedy. Also, according to Anchor Bay, look for the restoration of an orgy scene involving a goat.

THE BLOB is a surprisingly good little remake of the 1958 drive-in classic. In addition to some worthy effects, the main thing that makes this version of the film work is a shifting of the main roles by making a teenage girl (Shawnee Smith) the main character and a formidable foe for the amorphous mass of the title.

CLASH OF THE TITANS is [IMG3L]the last, and in many ways the least, of the nearly 20 films which dimensional animation master Ray Harryhausen made during his long career. Despite a decent budget and a topnotch cast (including Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith and Burgess Meredith), this sword and sorcery tale leaves much to be desired, largely due to a desire to emulate STAR WARS rather than go its own way. Still, much of the master's work is excellent, particularly the evil Caliban, Pegasus and the climactic appearance of the Kraken. The big problems with the film are a very wooden Harry Hamlin in the lead, an uncharismatic Lysette Anthony as the female lead and that damn R2-D2-inspired mechanical owl.

CURSE OF THE DEVIL features Spanish horror star Paul Naschy (actually,  Jacinto Molina), who is something of an acquired taste and one which I've never developed. However, many people love his cheesy, incoherent, but often atmospheric and sexy monster movies. Naschy made about fifty such films during a period after the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, an event which led to wild abandon in the country once Franco's restrictive and rigidly enforced censorship laws ended. Naschy's films, which he often wrote and directed, generally involved classic monsters from the heyday of Universal horror in the '30s and mimicked their visual style as well, but with explicit gore and lots of nudity to spice up the proceedings. His films were often severely cut and deceptively re-titled when released in the U.S. so it's nice to have uncut versions of his work finally showing up, for the first time in this country according to Anchor Bay. This one involves Naschy's most famous role, the doomed and sympathetically portrayed Waldemar Daninsky, the victim of an ancestral curse which makes him a most reluctant werewolf. These films often involved Daninsky with other monsters, in this case a satanic coven.

EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC is this week's other possession movie, and if you feel the urge to see one, check out THE ANTICHRIST (see above) or maybe one of the OMEN films, or even LOST SOULS, but for God's sake man stay away from this movie. This is an almost legendary bad film, and ranks high on any list of bad films from good directors, in this case, John Boorman. Richard Burton is the priest, Linda Blair is back as a somewhat older Regan and Max Von Sydow is back along with James Earl Jones and Louis Fletcher, fine actors all. But, the script is awful, Boorman clearly had no interest in making (or perhaps no idea how to make) a horror film and the special effects, particularly the climactic battle with the minions of the demon Pasuzu, are laughable. The only excuse for watching this dud is if the devil made you do it.

FLESH FEAST SET is another of Brentwood's multi-disc, multi-title DVDs, the quality of which are often pretty variable, but which are undeniably good buys if at least a few of the titles interest you. This one features two discs and four films, starting with SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, a fairly typical, but dull, Italian cannibal film. This one does feature former Bond girl Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach, but they don't help the proceedings much. THE SEVERED ARM is a cheesy little Southern made tale of a group of miners who survive by eating the title item from one of the gang, and later find themselves being killed off. This one doesn't have a leg to stand on. I EAT YOUR SKIN is one of the more notorious titles in horror history, but it's an awful film, originally titled (but never released as) VOODOO BLOODBATH. It was renamed (though there is no skin-eating on view) and finally released several years later as the bottom half of a double bill with I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, which was at least as gruesome as its title suggested. Last, and best of this meager group, is UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS, a Herschell Gordon Lewis styled bit of gore and bad jokes which is pretty fun if you're in the right mood.

FRANKENSTEIN '90 is [IMG4R]one I know almost nothing about. It's reportedly a humorous, perhaps even clever, takeoff on the well known Frankenstein tale, though in this case, the monster is pretty good looking and quite intelligent and looking for a babe of his own. If I see this, I'll let you know.

FRIGHT NIGHT SET is another Brentwood title, this time offering five discs with ten movies in total, and it's not an altogether bad group. KILL BABY KILL is Mario Bava's marvelous Operazione Pauva (OPERATION FEAR) and has had several titles in this country. The title is misleading, for this is a very atmospheric ghost tale and highly recommended. THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE, known under about a dozen other titles, is another effective Euro-chiller, starring the sexy Erika Blanc and sporting a memorable ending. THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE also stars Ms. Blanc, in a story about a man who can't get over the death of his red-headed wife, so he finds women who resemble her and kills them. But, when he finally finds true love, someone starts killing the people around him. Could it be that his jealous wifey is back from the beyond? One of the few women in Italian horror films who was more fascinating to look at than Erika Blanc was Barbara Steele, who has the lead in Euro-horror pioneer Ricardo Freda's THE GHOST. In this one, Steele betrays her husband, which ultimately leads to his death, but not to his attempts at vengeance. Then there's KISS ME, KILL ME, an erotic giallo starring "almost a star" Carroll Baker as a woman who befriends a woman who seems to be a witch. Lots of T&A here, but little terror. Next up, PIECES, a Spanish production lensed in the U.S. with American "name" actors in the lead roles. This one's about a killer who's assembling a human effigy by confiscating body parts from the locals. Lest it seem that this collection is all Euro-horror, there's also a couple of TV movies. GOOD AGAINST EVIL is a lame ROSEMARY'S BABY clone, though the presence of a very young Kim Cattral helps a bit, and SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS a just O.K. devil worshippers in a girl's school story, but you've got to love that title and its rather clever ending shot. CATHY'S CURSE is a minor CARRIE/OMEN clone, but GOD TOLD ME TO is a unique horror (with sci-fi undertones) film about a cop investigating a series of murders where the killer's only explanation for their crimes is the title phrase. Watch for Andy Kaufman in a brief role. Brentwood's multi-disc film compilations are often from variable quality or cut prints, so I stress that the above comments refer only to the movies themselves as I have yet to see this collection itself.

HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD is a very low budget sword and sandal tale elevated considerably by the genius of director/effects maestro Mario Bava. British body-builder Reg Park stars with Christopher Lee, as his evil opponent, whom the muscle bound hero pursues straight into hell itself.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is the film George Lucas wanted to make, but somehow forgot how to do in the years between STAR WARS and the disaster that is Episode I. Against all odds, director Peter Jackson has created a magnificent fantasy adventure which has no rival in the annals of filmmaking. The film's special effects and makeup are superb, but Jackson never loses sight of the fact that his film is about the characters he has brought to life from the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien's hugely popular epic novels. The film's cast is so superb it's hard to single out just one or two as each is the very embodiment of their characters and the script does an amazing job of distilling Tolkien's mammoth tale into one digestible by the general public. The film is being released as a two-disc set loaded with extra features, but it's worth pointing out that an even more feature packed release will be coming in November, which will also offer an extended version of the film itself. As much as I hate that kind of money-grubbing trickery on the part of video distributors, this is one title well worth buying in multiple versions.

THE MIGHTY GORGA / ONE MILLION AC/DC [IMG5L]should be on any list of the worst films ever made - and if you ever see such a list that doesn't have THE MIGHTY GORGA on it, well, that writer just hasn't snorkeled deep enough in the muck of the cinematic septic tank within which such movies dwell. Director David Hewitt (the auteur of MARS NEEDS WOMEN) offers some guy in a moth-eaten gorilla suit in battle with a toy dinosaur as his "homage" to KING KONG, along with some bad acting and poorly composed forced perspective shots. The result is a film best suited as a torture device. On the other hand, ONE MILLION AC/DC is an amazing pseudo-documentary about the invention of the bow and arrow by primitive man. Nahhh. Just kidding, it's a terrible, soft-core sex film about cave dwellers trapped by a dinosaur. So, with nothing better to do, they have sex. The one and only Ed Wood penned this, but there's really not enough of his "unique" dialogue to warrant checking it out unless you're a Wood completist.

NIGHTMARE CITY (a.k.a. CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD is a minor entry from the days when spaghetti and entrails topped the menu at the sleaze pit theaters that exhibited Italian zombie films. If you're looking for a Fulci caliber gut-muncher, this one will probably disappoint you, as it comes from director Umberto Lenzi, whose main claim to fame is that he wasn't as bad as Bruno Mattei. Still, it's uncut (for the first time in this country I believe), contains a seriously slumming Mel Ferrer and a scene of some zombies attacking some topless women which takes "Roman Charity" to a whole new level. One interesting difference between this film and most zombie efforts of its era is that there's none of that shambling, walking dead with the IQ of a cauliflower approach. These guys run, use machine guns and in general act like it's cannibal night at a Hell's Angels roundup.

PARASITE holds a minor spot in film history as the first film to feature future superstar (though currently among the where-are-they-now) Demi Moore in a leading role, and as an early effects credit for Stan (JURASSIC PARK) Winston. At the time of its 1982 release, its only noteworthy aspect was that it was the first gory monster movie to be released in 3-D. Shot by ace cinematographer, and 3-D pioneer, Mac Ahlberg, this early Charles Band production (he also directed) had some neat "in-your-face" moments, but those are lost when seen "flat" as it is on this disc. With those gone, you're left with a hard-to-follow plot, an uninteresting leading man, a ponderous pace and some ALIEN inspired stomach bursting parasites. While billed as a "Special Edition" all that's included is a mini-poster and the film's trailer. Note, this film can also be found as a budget DVD which claims to feature a Charles Band commentary but doesn't. Still, it's a better buy if you just can't resist seeing this.

THE SIMPSONS: The Complete Second Season is [IMG6R]the latest compilation of what is consistently the best written show on television. This four-disc set includes all the 2nd season episodes, each with its own commentary track, interviews with creator Matt Groening and guiding hand James L. Brooks, a pair of music videos (including the hit, "Do the Bartman"), Butterfinger candy bar commercials featuring Simpsons characters, conceptual character drawings, still photos and more.

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN is [IMG7L]a two-disc package featuring the film most responsible for the ongoing STAR TREK theatrical experience. Following STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, which was considered a disappointment by most, Paramount took one more shot at a theatrical franchise for the cancelled, but still amazingly popular TV series. Essentially a sequel to an episode of the series, which also starred Ricardo Montalban as the genetically superior Khan Noonien Singh, this was shot on a tight budget using TV level production methods. The result was an exciting and entertaining film, which still stands as probably the second best of the nine TREK related films made to date. This is director Nicholas Meyer's cut of the film, which fills in a few subplot details, and the discs also include a text commentary from Trek expert Michael Okuda, several featurettes on the film, and interviews with most of the cast.

SUPER TROOPERS is a seriously uneven, but frequently hilarious, comedy about a group of State Troopers who make the gang from ANIMAL HOUSE look like Sunday School teachers. The film was created by, and stars, a comedy troupe called Broken Parrot and has the feel of a collection of skits, rather than an actual story. What little plot there is here involves these twisted officers of the law trying to keep their station from being shut down as part of a budgetary cutback. To do so, they have to solve a drug smuggling case. The gags are fast and furious, and too many fall flat, but when these guys hit the mark, it's rude, crude, socially unacceptable and damn funny.

THE SWARM hails from the days when producer Irwin Allen was the "master of disaster" movies and the time of the first "killer bee" scare. As he was wont to do, Allen assembled a major name cast, including Michael Caine, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland and a number of others. As was also typical for Allen, the story is dumb and highly clichéd, the dialogue laughable, the direction pedestrian and the special effects, not. If you absolutely must see a killer bee movie, don't get stung by this one. Instead, check out THE SAVAGE BEES, a 1976 TV movie which is just about the only "honey" of a bee flick out there.

THEM! is [IMG8R]almost inarguably the best big bug movie ever made. Not surprisingly, it hails from the heyday of the mutant insect sub-genre, the big bomb paranoia prone 1950s. The films opens with a wonderfully creepy sequence which provides the film its title, and follows the conventions of its era for a while, i.e.: eccentric scientist, his beautiful scientist daughter, a pair of tough, but decent heroes, and a lecture segment which fills the viewer in on why giant bugs (in this case, ants) would be so dangerous. However, about halfway through, the film starts to vary the standard formula, offering an amusing sequence at a mental institution and a dark, dank and genuinely surprising climax. THEM might not be a "classic" if stood side-by-side with, say, CITIZEN KANE, but it stands tall in the cinematic world of insect terror.

TIME AFTER TIME has [IMG9L]been covered here before. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, who also did THE WRATH OF KAHN, this is a dandy little thriller about author H.G. Wells pursuing Jack the Ripper, who steals a time machine Wells has built and escapes to the U.S., circa 1979. Malcolm McDowell is wonderful as Wells, Mary Steenburgen is charming as the modern day woman he falls in love with (the two married in real life shortly after finishing this film) and David Warner is suitably evil as Jack. Highly recommended.

THE UNEARTHLY is all too typical an example of the kind of mad scientist nonsense that poverty row film studios pumped out in the '40s and '50s. John Carradine is the unhinged scientist and sexy Allison Hayes is the femme in trouble, and both do their jobs acceptably. But this dud moves at a pace roughly equivalent to Tor Johnson's lumbering gait as the scientist's henchman. For completists only.

V: THE FINAL BATTLE is [IMG10R]the second of two TV miniseries about a covert invasion of Earth by aliens who seduce the world's governments and most of its populace into believing they are our friends. However, a gang of rebels, led by Marc Singer, knows the truth and is constantly undermining the invaders' plans. The first miniseries was quite effective, but this follow-up was designed to set up the short lived TV series which followed, and was created without the involvement of creator Kenneth Johnson, and suffers badly for his absence.

WEREWOLF SHADOW is another Paul Naschy, Waldemar Daninsky, werewolf tale, and you can pretty much transpose my comments for CURSE OF THE DEVIL (see above) to this Naschy werewolf meets hot-looking vampire woman tale. Again, Anchor Bay says this is the first time the film has been seen uncut in this country, so it might be better than the versions I've seen in the past, and some people love Naschy and his films. But don't blame me for the loss of 90 minutes of your life if you check it out.

WOLFEN is [IMG11L]an unjustly forgotten werewolf film from the early '80s based on a popular Whitely Streiber book. The story involves cop Albert Finney, his female partner and coroner Gregory Hines as they slowly uncover the fact that a pack of werewolves is behind the savage deaths of some of the city's homeless people. There's a good bit of gore, but no real effects involving the werewolves, who look like regular wolves, which helps make them more believable. A subplot linking the wolves with American Indians is a little heavy-handed, but this one is otherwise a well-acted, exciting and intelligent gem.


Anchor Bay's recent release of the brilliant THE WICKER MAN features an excellent little hidden goodie. Jut start from the "Main Menu" and then select "Extras." From "Wicker Man Enigma," click on the question mark at the top of the screen. The result is an enlightening interview with star Christopher Lee and the film's director, Robin Hardy. Thanks to About.com's Easter egg page for this info.


Next week: Earth's most beautiful woman, in a just so-so movie, the real sequel to Dumb and Dumber, animals which are smarter than people, a couple of cartoonish killers and more big lizards. See ya' then.

Vidiocy is our weekly Video & DVD column.

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