HOLLOW MAN, DEATH NERVE, NOSFERATU and AVENGERS. (Mania.com)
By:John Thonen Date: Tuesday, January 02, 2001
Welcome to the second day of 2001: A Space Vidiocy. The new video selections are slim this week, but, with the holidays behind us, better days loom just ahead. Meanwhile, let's take a look at the third misfire in a row from one time genre master, Paul Verhoeven, Hollow Man (Columbia/TriStar ). One of the joys of Verhoeven's earlier triumphs was the feeling that, while he was aware of the rules of the moviemaking game, he obeyed them only at his own convenience. In Hollow Man, which is basically an Invisible Man variation, we find the director just as willing to cross the borderline of the politically correct, but without the humanity that made his Robocop or Total Recall palatable. This film's most interesting character is Kevin Bacon's scientist-gone-mad, but he's so unlikable and the rest of the cast so bland, that it's nearly impossible to become involved. In addition, the story rapidly sinks into total stupidity, with characters actions and plot situation existing to propel the next action, not because of any internal logic. It all reaches a point of near-hilarity when Bacon's character suddenly becomes nearly superhuman in order to accomplish the expected, 'Killer rises to attack again' sequence. The special effects are marvelous, and Kevin Bacon's turn as an amoral scientist is pretty effective, but beyond that, the proceedings are misogynistic in the extreme (often an uncomfortable Verhoeven element) and the plot gets increasingly more stupid moment by moment. The DVD includes two commentaries, one from Verhoeven and Bacon and one from composer Jerry Goldsmith, which also features an isolated score. There's also a typically bland 'HBO First Look' featurette and a rather nice selection of featurettes on the effects and the production, along with deleted scenes. These extras, coupled with the film's brilliant effects, might make Hollow Man worth the price of a rental. But don't expect any more than that out of it. Just as sick and twisted, but somewhat more satisfying, is Image's Euro-horror release of 1971's Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood, from Italian master, Mario Bava. The film features a series of gruesome murders and a shock ending, elements which have brought many to credit it as the progenitor of the 'slasher' movie craze, which followed a decade later. However, this label isn't all that accurate since 'slasher' conventions such as the 'mystery killer' and a motive based on a twisted sexual nature, are both missing here. The motive in Bava's film is one of pure greed, and there is no innocent survivor; everyone is out for themselves and potentially murderous, even the children. Decidedly gory, extremely cynical and, 20 years after the fact, still often shocking, this isn't a masterpiece on the level of Bava's Black Sabbath , but it's well worth a look for the director's fans as well as lovers of Euro-horror and gore mavens alike.
Image delves even deeper into the world of horror nostalgia than Bava's film with their release of 1922's Nosferatu:The Special Edition. This unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, from seminal director F.W. Murnau, has long been labeled a masterpiece, but most of us know it only from stills and brief, often grainy and washed-out film clips. Remastered and rescored, this DVD version is a superb reminder of why this film has remained a classic for 80 years. Watching the film is to watch the birth of true cinema, for director Murnau was breaking new ground in nearly every scene. While very similar to Stoker's book in basic plot structure, Murnau clearly had a great deal more on his mind than Stoker, and the changes he makes from the novel are also illustrative of a true artist at work. Still, brilliant as the film is, it is star Max Schreck who leaves the strongest impression. Schreck sets a watermark for a macabre and unearthly performance that has yet to be surpassed. The DVD also includes a featurette entitled 'The Nosferatu Tour' which takes the viewer to many of the film's locations, a photo gallery and scene analysis as well as an excellent commentary track by Lokke Heiss, an expert on German silent cinema. With Shadow of the Vampire (inspired by the making of Nosferatu) just now being released, this is the perfect time to revisit one of the films that helped create the art form that so obsesses us all. The last entry in this week's far too abbreviated genre release list is the latest offering from A&E Home Video's rollout of The Avengers TV series. This 2 disc set is entitled 'The Very Best Of The Avengers' and features Patrick Macnee (who playeed John Steed) as host, introducing six episodes chosen by Dave Rogers, author of 'The Complete Avengers'. While unavailable for preview, the episodes in question offer two shows a piece for each of Macnee's 3 lovely co-stars during the series' run; Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. The episodes begin with 'Mr. Teddy Bear.' This was the first televised episode featuring John Steed's initial female partner (Ian Hendry had co-starred in the beginning), one Cathy Gale, played by Honor Blackman, later to be Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. Shot in black and white, the episode deals with the title character, an unknown professional assassin whom Steed and Gale try to lure out by Cathy hiring him to kill Steed. While quite different from Diana Rigg's characterization of Emma Peel, Blackman is no less sexy, generally clad in black leather, and just as potentially dangerous. The second Blackman episode, 'Don't Look Behind You,' is a rather suspenseful episode that finds Cathy alone in a large house. Or is she? Next is a pair of Diana Rigg episodes. Honor Blackman's surprise departure had nearly sunk the show, but her statuesque beauty was quickly forgotten when the very feline Emma Peel appeared. First offered here is 'Death At Bargain Prices' which was Riggs' 4th episode, but by then, the recently cast Rigg was comfortable in her role and the story's light hearted approach to an atomic bomb in a department store would help set the future path of the show. Also included is 'Too Many Christmas Trees,' wherein a nightmare of Steed's becomes a reality as both find themselves characters in a deadly version of Dickens' 'Tale of Two Cities.' Finally, there are two shows with Linda Thorsen as Tara King, a character who never really caught on with American audiences. Tara was a radical change from Steed's preceding partners. Curvy and very feminine in appearance and manner, she was also often a trifle ditzy. The Thorsen episdes include 'All Done With Mirrors,' a showcase for Thorsen as Tara must handle the investigation of strange goings-on at a solar power research facility while Steed is under house arrest as a possible traitor. The last episode is 'Look (Stop Me If You've Heard This One) But There These Two Fellows,' a delightfully silly episode about a pair of killers who perform vaudeville routines as they go about their deadly deeds. Crystal Ball For reasons known only to Satan himself, a new sequel is being planned in the Hellraiser series, currently titled Hellraiser: Hellseeker. Negotiations are reportedly underway to bring Ashley Laurence (from Hellraiser I & II) back for another round. Obviously, the series' puzzle-box is now the question of why they keep making these, and the 'hellish' aspect is found in having to watch them. Equally as unecessary is the forthcoming 4th entry in the Stephen King inspired, 'Sometimes they Come Back' series, this one called, Sometimes They Come Back For Good. I can personally see no good that can come of this as the three prior entries were all lame. Fandom fiend...uh, that's friend, J.R. Bookwalter will start production this month on Puppetmaster vs. Demonic Toys, a combo horror tale featuring battling factions from two previous Full Moon Studios mini-monster successes. Full Moon will also soon begin shooting my favorite film title to date, Ginger Deadman, along with a new entry for their urban based horror label, Big City, entitled The Vault which deals with the title location, hidden beneath a high schoolit was the location of slave torture during the Civil War, and remains haunted by restless spirits. Sound a little like The St. Francisville Experiment. Meanwhile, frequent Full Moon director, David DeCoteau, has the production wheels rolling at his recently established Rapid Heart Pictures. DeCoteau has described his production company's goal as being to become 'the WB network for video,' a plan he hopes to achieve through a series of teen-oriented horror tales, like his recent The Brotherhood. Already in postproduction is Final Stab, a tale of a murder-mystery role playing game which goes bad when a slasher enters the competition. Already in production from Rapid Heart is The Last Valentine's Day which would seem to be another stalker-slasher-teen variation.
One of the more intriguing titles around the corner is Welcome To Terrordome, which stars the lovely Saffron Burrows (Wing Commander, Deep Blue Sea in a futuristic tale of violence and racism. This one has gone nearly six years before gaining a U.S. release, so expectations should be kept under control, but Burrows is always a pleasure to see on screen, cuz' I'm just wild about Saffron.
That's it for another week. Next time, horror, overfiends, phantoms , monsters, and teenagers. Like there's a difference in those last two.
Next Week's Releases
Horror Vision: Special Edition
Full Moon Pictures
Monster Rancher #3
Urotsukidoji 3: Return Of The Overfiend
Central Park Media
(Unless otherwise noted, all titles are VHS/DVD releases)