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DVD News & Notes for July 10, 2001
Universal unleashes classic monster double bills; TOTAL RECALL gets special edition treatment.
By John Thonen
July 10, 2001
Tom Tyler wears the bandages as Kharis in The Mummy's Hand.
Universal's Golden Age Of Horror will soon be coming our way when Universal Studios unleashes a host of DVD double-features sure to whet the cinematic appetite of any classic-era horror movie fan. Not wanting to miss out on the interest generated by their recent THE MUMMY remake and sequel, the August double-feature release slate will include the pairings of 1940's THE MUMMY'S HAND, featuring one-time cowboy star Tom Tyler wrapped up in his role as Kharis, and 1942's THE MUMMY'S TOMB with Lon Chaney Jr. as the world's oldest w-rapper. Also available will be Chaney in 1943's THE MUMMY'S GHOST and 1944's THE MUMMY'S CURSE,which just for variety includes a female mummy.
© 1940 Universal Pictures
Another long-running Universal series will also be represented by the double-feature team 1939's THE SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, with Karloff in his last turn as the famous monster, and 1942's THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN featuring Lon Chaney Jr. in the famed Jack Pierce makeup. Chaney Jr. pops up yet again in the first of the DVD pairings of SON OF DRACULA and the superior DRACULA'S DAUGHTER. Chaney Jr., best remembered as tragic werewolf Larry Talbot, is, however, nowhere to be found on the digital disc pairing of THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON and SHE-WOLF OF LONDON.
TOTAL RECALL didn't get the critical respect of director Paul Verhoeven's previous effort, ROBOCOP, but it was a success with audiences nonetheless. Now, Artisan Home Entertainment is putting out a Special Limited Edition DVD, in a "collectible round metal Mars case," which is due in stores on September 18. Extra features on the digitally re-mastered disc include a behind-the-scenes documentary, an Arnold Schwarzenegger interview, a "Visions of Mars" featurette, and Dolby 5.1 Surround sound.
Speaking of Artisan Home Entertainment, the company is planning to reprice several of its VHS horror titles for sell-through just in time for Halloween. So if you haven't already bought THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, BLAIR WITCH 2: BOOK OF SHADOWS, STIR OF ECHOES and THE NINTH GATE, you might as well wait until August 21 (which seems a bit early to tie in with the Halloween season, but let's not quibble. On the other hand, if you read this column regularly, you've probably already bought these titles on DVD if you want them at all.). Also available will be THE MASSACRE OF THE BURKITTSVILLE 7, CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH, PARADISE LOST and a TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE VHS six-pack.
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE was much maligned at the time of its 1987 release, mostly because people seemed offended by the idea of a movie based on plastic action figures. But today, with the concept of movies based on video games a common one, the upcoming DVD release from Warner might just provide the opportunity for the film to be appreciated for what it always was a goofy bit of entertainment for 12-year-old boys. No added features have been mentioned in connection with the title, but one can always revel in the perfect casting of Dolph Lundgren as He-Man, Frank Langella and Meg Foster as, respectively, the villainous Skeletor and his henchwoman Evilyn. There's also the pleasures of catching a pre-stardom Courtney Cox and pre-VOYAGER Robert Duncan McNeil as the hip-'80s couple who become part of a battle between good and evil. All this, plus some decent effects and Billy Barty as a pint-sized alien what more could you want?
THIS WEEK'S RELEASES
THE AMAZING TRANSPLANT: SPECIAL EDITION: Is Image Entertainment's latest an attempt at making sure those of us who wish to forget the cinematic legacy of Doris Wishman will never be able to? Wishman never allowed her art to be corrupted by the likes of decent camerawork, sound, lighting, acting or decipherable plots. This time out, it's the hoary old idea of a transplant patient who inherits aspects of the donor's murderous personality. Of course, being a Wishman film, it's a penis transplant. To watch this is pure cinematic masochism.
DARIO ARGENTO DISCS FROM ANCHOR BAY
Anchor Bay has already released most of Italian director Dario Argento's filmography on laserdisc and DVD in limited editions as part of their "Dario Argento Collection" series. While still putting out new DVD titles, they are re-issuing some of their previous releases as double-disc sets.
CAT O'NINE TAILS is one of the director's more enjoyable giallos in that it actually has a decipherable plot. Karl Malden (who considers this a favorite of his many films) is a blind man who teams up with reporter James Franciscus to track down a serial killer. The denouement of this one is something of a gem.
DARIO ARGENTO COLLECTION #1 is the first of three Argento double feature discs from Anchor Bay. This one features INFERNO, the second of Argento's still uncompleted "3 Mothers" Trilogy. Marred by some weak acting from the principals, this one doesn't quite match its predecessor, SUSPIRIA, but what does? Stunning set pieces and great imagery abound. Second on the disc is PHENOMENON, essentially a giallo, but with an odd supernatural twist. A great opening sequence and a truly gruesome, twisted ending keep this one worthwhile, but it's not one of the director's best.
Dario Argento Collection #2 stretches the "collection" concept a bit by featuring two films, DEMONS and DEMONS 2, which were produced by Argento but directed by Lamberto Bava. Neither can be called "great," or even all that good, but they are fun. The first finds the audience at a free horror movie screening beset by zombies from the feature they are watching, while the second has an apartment building overrun by zombies who emerge from a television showing a horror film. There's a touch of subtext in this mingling of media horror and reality, but the real raison de etre for these films is gory deaths, ugly monsters and (particularly in the first film) outrageous, near surrealistic, horror set pieces.
DARIO ARGENTO COLLECTION #3 is the best of this worthwhile trio of double feature discs from Anchor Bay. Up first, a return to Argento's giallo roots in TENEBRE, with Tony Franciosa as a horror writer who finds someone is recreating violent murders from his books. This is a visual stunner with an obvious but still effective ending to the mystery. Second on the disc is DEEP RED inarguably the most brilliant of Argento's giallos and one of the best ever made by anyone. David Hemmings is a musician trying to unravel a bizarre murder with the aid of Daria Nicolodi (one-time consort of Argento and mother of his daughter, actress Asia Argento). As close to a perfect thriller as ever came out of Italy.
EVIL SPAWN handily takes us from the sublime to the ridiculous. Ventura releases this consummate cheesy, bad '80s direct-to-video mishmash featuring would-be scream queen Bobbie Breese. Hokey effects and bare Breese sequences abound in this WASP WOMAN updating. Fred Olen Ray had some part in this abortion and later added some new footage and characters, along with a new title, THE ALIEN WITHIN, but it didn't help much.
THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER is a Columbia/Tristar release of the second Muppet feature. Like the others, this is a very uneven mix of great moments with lame ones, plus some so-so songs and pointless star cameos. Still, kids should love it, and adults may get a kick out of it as well.
HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN ranks high on my list of unforgivable guilty pleasures, and this "Special Edition" release is a joy for me, though perhaps not for most others. Wrestler/actor Roddy Piper is Sam Hell, the last fertile man in a post-apocalyptic future. Dancer-actress Sandahl Bergman is the hair-in-a-bun, eyeglass-wearing beauty of a scientist who joins him on a trip to the title location, which is inhabited by six-foot-tall frogmen (nice makeup from Steve Wang) as well as Rory Calhoun and "Big" Bill Smith. The result is knowingly dumb and frequently fun, if you're partial to this kind of nonsense. A largely joyless sequel failed to capture any of the pleasures of this goofy title.
INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS is a Ventura release of the kind of film that makes one ashamed to be a genre fan. This dull tale of Druid witches is strictly amateur city stuff, though it does have its fans in the "Bad movie" cult world.
STAR TREK TV
Tom Tyler wears the bandages as Kharis in The Mummy's Hand.
© 1940 Universal Pictures
VOLUME #27 is the latest two-episode release from Paramount of the classic series that started the sci-fi revival we all enjoy today. "The Ultimate Computer" is a too familiar tale of man trying to replace himself with a machine, but it benefits from William Marshall's turn as the designer of the M-5 device. "The Omega Glory" is one of Gene Roddenberry's most heavy-handed attempts at commenting on the present through his view of the future. This one offers the Yangs and Kohms, eternally battling variations on "Yankees" and "communists." This is the one wherein Shatner gets to recite the Constitution.
VOLUME #28 features the final episode of the series' second season, which was itself a pilot for a projected Roddenberry series that never happened. "Assignment Earth" features Robert Lansing as Gary Seven, an alien-reared protector of humanity, and a very young Teri Garr as his ditzy helper. "Spectre of the Gun" was the kickoff episode for the very uneven third season and, while a personal favorite of mine, is disliked by many. This is the one where Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, and Scotty find themselves in a surrealistic recreation of Tombstone, Arizona, on the day of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral; unfortunately, they are playing out the role of the Clantons, who were shot to death by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and company. Western fans will also get a grin out of seeing DeForest Kelley stuck in this predicamenthe played one of the good guys in GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, the movie version of this famous old west event.
TERROR IN THE MIDNGIHT SUN/INVASION OF THE ANIMAL PEOPLE is a special edition release from Image of one of the stranger sci-fi releases of the 1960s. TERROR is a tale of a giant, hairy alien who wreaks havoc on miniature buildings in Lapland, where the film was actually produced. INVASION is the same storythe same film actuallywith some footage of John Carradine added in by schlock producer Jerry Warren. There's no actual effects work in either film, but effective forced perspective work compensates nicely. The "Special Edition" status is qualified by the inclusion of number of Swedish sexploitation shorts and trailers and the rare "13 Demon Street," a Swedish produced TV pilot starring Lon Chaney, Jr.
WAYNE'S WORLD and its sequel aren't always viewed as being part of the fantastic genres, but these films clearly exist in an alternate teenage world just as much as DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR and the Bill and Ted films. The first film has the advantage of freshness to its concepts and characters, while the second suffers from "more of the same" disease, but both are off-the-wall goof-fests that bear a zany kinship to the old "road" movies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Paramount is offering both films separately, or combined. The separate disc version is a special edition package with trailer and cast interviews missing in the double disc set.
ZORRO, THE GAY BLADE is a post LOVE AT FIRST BITE send up of the long popular masked avenger. This is from that almost unimaginable period when George Hamilton was actually respected as an actor, thanks to his comic turns in this, the aforementioned vampire spoof and EVIL KNEIVEL. There are still lots of laughs to be found in this Image release, though the central concept that Zorro hides his identity by pretending to be gay, is pretty un-PC these days.
THEY CAME FROM THE BOTTOM SHELF
A look at recent releases that received no advance publicity and for which screeners were not available. A lot of these titles are crap, so be grateful that I'm the vidiot renting them and warning you.
GRAVE VENGEANCE is from the appropriately named Brain Damage Films, which brags on the box art that the film is "The I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE for the new millennium." A worse recommendation could scarcely be imagined, but this garbage tries hard to live up to that film's tale of brutal rape and gruesome revenge. Competently shot on video, and adequately acted, the film tries to redeem itself with a "surprise" ending you'll see coming about 15 minutes into the proceedings. This was apparently filmed in some new 3-D process, which requires a large investment to take advantage of, particularly for such a piece of cinematic junk.
Cat O'Nine Tails, starring Karl Malden and James Franciscus.
© 2001 Anchor Bay Entertainment
SHE LIVES BY NIGHT is an ambitious, if unsuccessful, indie-effort, that premiered on Hollywood Video's in-house label, The Asylum. Unknown Lillona Cobol stands out amongst an otherwise just serviceable cast, as a sultry vampire who falls in love while suffering from amnesia. This would have been far better as a 30-minute short. At feature length, it is just too talky, but Cobol (who is kind of a mix between Jeanne Tripplehorn, Bjork and Laura San Giacomo) is a visual stunner and utterly convincing at every point.
DEMONICUS is the unheralded latest from Charlie Band's struggling Full Moon Video label. The budgets keep getting lower over at Full Moon. This one is shot on video, but Band sometimes lucks into a director who goes beyond the call of dutyor a meager paycheckto deliver a decent effort, and this is one of those times. Surprisingly gory for a Full Moon release, and capably acted, this tale of a young man possessed by the spirit of an ancient, demonic gladiator, is never going to win any awards, but it's solid, undemanding entertainment with a few effective moments to let you know that director Jay Woelfel is capable of far more than he can afford to do herein. You could do a lot worse than this one.
is a Central Park Media release about an angel reborn as a human struggling with his supernatural powers. Special features include "Behind the Scenes" footage, an art gallery, and character and trivia info.
The Dogma Special Edition DVD
© 2001 Miramax
BLUE SEED 2: DESCENT INTO TERROR, from ADV Films, features eight episodes of the anime series about a Japan threatened by ancient Gods and relying on the protection of Kusanagi, who once served the Gods. He must also protect Momiji, a young girl whose sacrifice could appease the ancient ones.
CARDCAPTORS #4: NEW LESSONS is from Pioneer Entertainment and that's about all I could figure out from the synopsis for this one, which has something to do with giant cats, dragons and skating lessons. Sorry.
COMPLETE ADVENTURE KID, from Central Park Media, details the adventures of a teenager who finds a strange computer and is sucked into its world, one populated by demons and zombies. Can a live-action version of this be far behind?
LADY BLUE is also from Central Park Media, but this infamous title is from the creator of the UROTSUKIDOJI films. It is apparently a fairly extreme example of the Japanese fascination with schoolgirls, panties, sex and multi-tentacled, demonic beasts.
THE MAZE COLLECTION isn't a greatest hits package from the '70s soul group headed by Frankie Beverley, but rather a story of an amnesiac girl in a bizarre fantasy world. Oh yeah, at night, she turns into a guy. You know, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
ORPHEN #1: SPELL OF THE DRAGON is an ADV release which deals with a magic student in pursuit of a powerful dragon while trying to avoid his old teachers. This one apparently inspired a hit video game.
Easter Egg Hunt
GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE is a fun, short film offering one suggestion on how George Lucas came up with the characters of STAR WARS. The DVD features a hidden goodie that can be accessed from the "special features" screen. Enter the number 1138 (for Lucas' early feature, THX-1138) and there's a brief commentary from the short's director, who even shows a complimentary letter he received from Lucas himself.
[IMG5L]DOGMA's Special Edition DVD release has already received its fair share of publicity on this site, but a little more can't hurt. On the first disc's main menu screen, select "Play Movie" and then press the "left" arrow on the remote. You'll get a new option, "Don't Play Movie" which, when selected, offers up some amusing suggestions. On the same disc, select "Scene Selections" and go to the last screen. Hit your "3" key twice and you'll get a short clip of the Jay character commenting on Kevin Smith's directorial prowess.
Next Week: We'll go to hell in a hand basket, get a gift from Sam Raimi and talk about lots more anime. I can hardly wait.