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DVD This Week: August 13

Demons, crocs, killer cartoons and, duh, duh, duh duh duh, duh, you say it's your birthday, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, well it's Nicole's birthday too, yeah!

By John Thonen     August 13, 2002

VIDEO NEWS


The creative talents within the film business have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the machinations of the industry itself. Many films have been made about just how sordid, perverse and stupid the film business really is, and one of the most enjoyable of those will return to home video October 8th: Christopher Guest's THE BIG PICTURE. Guest has been one of the guiding hands behind gems like SPINAL TAP, BEST IN SHOW and WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, all of which lampoon "Show Business" in one way or another. 1989's THE BIG PICTURE tells the story of a young, naļve filmmaker (Kevin Bacon) whose student film makes him an overnight sensation in Hollyweird. Guest's film features Fran Drescher, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elliot Gould, Martin Short, John Cleese, Guest's frequent collaborator Michael McKean, and many more. The DVD will feature a commentary track with Guest and star Bacon along with deleted scenes, production notes and a theatrical trailer. Personally, I hope somebody answers the question of whatever happened to the film's female lead, the lovely and talented Emily Longstreth.


A recent news item on the IMDB.COM website reported what many of us have long suspected: that if it weren't for the popcorn, movie theaters would be out of business. Citing figures from SCREEN INTERNATIONAL and trade analyst Screen Digest, the article pointed out that anywhere from fifty to one hundred percent of most theaters' profit comes from concession sales. In fact, concession sales account for over $4.5 billion dollars in revenue on a worldwide basis. That's a lot of Raisinettes folks.


October 15th will find Warner Brothers releasing one of the better, but lesser seen, thrillers of recent years: Christopher Nolan's INSOMNIA. Based on the Norwegian thriller of the same name, the film tells the story of a veteran cop (Al Pacino) and his partner who travel to Alaska to help an old friend with the investigation of the brutal murder of a young girl in a small town. There's lots of thrills and suspense here, but the film is really a character study with Pacino in top form and Robin Williams delivering prime support as a prime suspect. The film's title refers to the sleep deprivation Pacino experiences while visiting the land of the midnight sun. The film's DVD release will offer a commentary track, behind-the-scenes footage, a photo gallery, trailer and several documentaries. This will make great Halloween viewing for the more intellectual of our readers. Surely there's got to be at least one of you.


THIS WEEK'S NOTABLE NEW RELEASES


BIRTHDAY GIRL [IMG2R]is the movie that made it clear that Nicole Kidman is a star of the highest order. Not that the movie - which is about a guy who gets a mail-order bride from Russia and winds up with a lot more than he bargained for is all that great. It's not. It sets up a good premise, and then does too little with it and most of the characters are sketchy at best. But Kidman, even sans her trademark red hair and playing a character of questionable morality, is impossible to not watch. She is a visual magnet, a cinematic force of nature and an engine of pure charisma and a damn good actress to boot. BIRTHDAY GIRL won't be remembered as long as Kidman's other recent star vehicles, MOULIN ROUGE and THE OTHERS, but if she can make this mediocre a film worth watching, then old Tommy-tooth-polish dumped the wrong girl.


THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN [IMG3L]is a largely forgotten low budget film from 1971 about a group of devil worshippers who must inhabit new, younger, bodies every fifty years or so. The coven isolates a small town until they can acquire enough children, murdering their parents, to extend their lives once again. The film suffers from some pacing problems, but director Bernard McEveety stages several memorable set pieces, many involving children's toys, and a gem of a nightmare sequence. Plus, the witches are led by the marvelous character actor Strother (you'll know him when you see him) Martin, who steals every scene he's in. This one is deserving of rediscovery.


COCKTAIL was kind of the COYOTE UGLY of 1988, a movie about beautiful people who work in a beautiful club where beautiful people hang out. It was a huge hit at the time, and it's hard to figure out why now. Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue are, well, beautiful. Bryan Brown is charming and handsome, Gina Gershon and Kelly Lynch provide back-up eye candy and that's about it. Oh yeah, the Beach Boys got their first hit record in years, "Kokomo," out of it. A justly forgotten relic of its time.


CROCODILE 2: DEATH SWAMP is yet another big critter in the water feature with a no-name cast (unless Martin Kove is a name) and mediocre CGI effects. It's from the same people who turned out SPIDERS, OCTOPUS, OCTOPUS 2: RIVER OF DEATH (which was just released last week) and, of course, CROCODILE. A gang of bank robbers hijack a plane, then crash in the aptly named "Devil's Swamp," leaving only the robbers and a handful of passengers alive. Now, there might be a good action-adventure film in that premise, but robbers, a swamp and a plane crash aren't enough plot elements for these filmmakers. Nope, the swamp has to be home to a giant, prehistoric crocodile. Who writes this crap? And who watches it? Oh yeah, me.


CURSE OF THE DEMON / NIGHT OF THE DEMON [IMG4R]is a dream come true for fans of classic horror cinema. 1957's CURSE OF THE DEMON is widely acknowledged as a classic tale of the supernatural which finds an American, who spends his time debunking the supernatural, suddenly the target of a British warlock who commands a fearsome demon to do his bidding. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, who learned a thing or twelve about horror from the great Val Lewton, the movie has long had a well-deserved cult status. Now, fans will also have a chance to see the often discussed British version of the film, which was known as NIGHT OF THE DEMON. It's sad to say, but I can hardly wait.


THE DAY IT CAME TO EARTH [IMG5L]is a sign that things might be getting tough over at Image, the fine purveyors of lesser-known DVD gems from the past and from overseas. At least, a shortage of other titles to distribute is the only reason I can think of for them to release this colossal turkey of a space invader movie. None but the most hardy of genre completists should waste precious moments of their lives watching this dud, which stars fondly forgotten deadpan comedian George Gobel, and nobody else.


DEADLY SCAVENGERS is about a team of paramilitary rescuers who encounter a monster while trying to rescue two genetic researchers in a remote mountain lab. That's what the box says anyway. What it's really about is a way for writer/director/producer Ron Ford to kill a weekend with his friends and somebody's video camera. Operating with a budget that might buy a case of beer, which it would have been better spent on, auteur Ford offers here a tale of killer cockroaches and amateur acting, directing, writing, editing and photography which will kill ninety minutes of your life and more brain cells than anybody reading this column is likely to have to spare.


THE GIANT GILA MONSTER [IMG6R]has been covered here before, but I'm guessing the 1959 title's copyright may have slipped into public domain, as I think more than one company is now distributing it. Even for a '50s era big monster title, this is cheesy stuff. There's no special effects on display here, only a normal Gila lizard in miniature sets, all the "teens' look to be pushing 30 and there's a couple of dreadful musical numbers from the film's "star" Don Sullivan. It's a bad movie, but it might have some merit for use by participants in the home version of MST3K.


HEADHUNTER is an apparent slasher/serial killer tale that I'll confess I know nothing about beyond that "assumed" genre label. There's a possibility that it's a re-release of a late '80s cops and voodoo tale starring Kay Lenz and Wayne Crawford. Hopefully I'll find a copy soon and will pass more info your way.



976-EVIL [IMG8R]is an oddity from the '80s, an era when those title digits designated a "for profit" phone line, often offering conversation of a naughty nature. This is a fairly well-executed story of a put-upon teen whose penchant for these phone services leads him to one with a supernatural connection, giving him power to act against those who have humiliated him, but also claiming his soul in the process. The film was successful enough to merit a sequel a few years later, 976-EVIL: THE ASTRAL FACTOR, but its main claim to fame is as the only film, thus far, directed by Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund. It's also worth noting that top-drawer screenwriter Brian (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) Helgeland got an early credit here. Lead Stephen Geoffreys who at the time seemed on the brink of stardom thanks to his work here and as "Evil Ed" in FRIGHT NIGHT - turned his "talents" to the world of gay porn shortly after this, making a number of films with titles like BUTT BLAZER and LATIN CROTCH ROCKETS. No criticism of his lifestyle choice is meant, but he was a charismatic and talented performer and it's a shame mainstream cinema lost his presence.


RACHEL'S ATTIC is an unknown, regionally (Detroit) produced horror film about a young woman who discovers her younger sister is missing, then sees her in a snuff film where she appears to be killed. Determined to find out the truth, she journeys into an underground world of pornography and perversion, where she learns her sister was working as a dominatrix. I know very little more about this movie beyond this synopsis, which is largely lifted from IMDB.com, but I like the premise. If I can find a copy I'll get back to you with a review.


RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE is another delayed release, which we covered a few weeks ago. In many ways, it's the best Dracula film Bela Lugosi ever made, even though he's, technically, not Dracula in it. It all takes place in war torn London and also features a werewolf. Well worth checking out for fans of classic era horror.


SHOWTIME has [IMG9L]a great cast Robert DeNiro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo, and a great idea a media shy, veteran detective gets teamed up with a hotshot, showboating street cop as part of a new reality TV series. It's a shame it's not a great movie, or even a particularly good one. The problem seems to be that everyone connected with the film was so convinced they had a sure-fire hit that nobody worried too much about actually making it fun. Russo is, as usual, excellent and William Shatner earns some laughs playing himself, instructing DeNiro and Murphy in how to act like a "reel" T.J. HOOKER style cop. But the leads are coasting, often seeming disinterested in the proceedings, and the story is as formulaic and predictable as any episode of Shatner's old cop show. It's not unwatchable, but what waste!


THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN was the second film of Hammer Studios' revival of the all-time classic of mad-scientist and monster tales. The bad doctor has escaped his certain doom in the first film and journeyed to Germany where he's using the name Dr. Stein and runs a charitable medical care facility for the poor - a perfect cover for his need for human body parts to renew his experiments. Peter Cushing is on hand again as the doctor and Terence Fisher's direction is crisp, moody and often chilling.


TERROR TOONS is a gleefully offensive, relatively incoherent and perversely creative little no-budget tale. While far from being a good movie, this tale of a house full of (over-age) teens under attack by a maniacal pair of cartoon characters who've escaped from a DVD has enough standout moments and clever sequences to merit a look for the adventuresome. There's little plot, the acting is generally pretty bad, the film's pace alternates between lethargic and hyper, and the gore is plentiful and purposefully unconvincing. But, there's also cartoon laboratories, a giant-sized pizza cutter, mock-Danny Elfman music, a house that seems like Bettlejuice's guest house and a real spirit of fun, in spite of the brain eating and spinal cord removals being depicted. I sorta, kinda, maybe in a manner of speaking, liked this. I think. Possibly.


THE WOLFEN was covered in last week's column, but the distributor ended up pushing its release back a week at the last minute. This is an intelligent and original take on the werewolf concept, and very well acted. Check it out.



HELLS'S GATE is one of several Jack the Ripper inspired productions (another  being THE RIPPER: LETTERS FROM HELL) which were rushed into production with the hopes of riding the "hit" coattails of the Johnny Depp "Ripper" tale FROM HELL. Originally entitled BAD KARMA, and written by a screenwriter who got his start as a scribe for Don G. Jackson (ROLLERBLADE), it's easy to see why this one crept anonymously into video stores with zero fanfare a couple of weeks ago. The movie gives every indication of being an uncompleted film patched into semi-releasable form in post-production and, with the exception of pretty Patsy Kensit, the performances are dreadful, despite a veteran cast. Kensit plays a mental patient who thinks she is the reincarnation of the paramour of Jack the Ripper and that her doctor (Patrick Muldoon) is the Ripper himself reborn. When the doc goes on a vacation with his family, in an attempt to salvage an ailing marriage, Kensit escapes the asylum with the goal of eliminating all the present day vestiges of Muldoon's life so that he can recall his past existence and rejoin her in their murderous ways. It's an O.K. premise, and Kensit is pretty effective in her role, but the film is a mess. Many scenes play out in master shots, with no cutaways or close-ups. There appears to be some missing footage and the film's opening is clearly an add on, and pretty distasteful - involving the electro-shock torture of a nude young woman tied to a metal bed - as well. The woman's ordeal somehow causes her to remember that she is the reincarnation of the Ripper's female partner, wherein she escapes, flashes-forward ten years, and has supposedly (according to one line of dialogue) altered her image via plastic surgery and now looks like Kensit. This, in spite of the fact that, outside of both being blonde and beautiful, the women bear no physical similarity at all.



Killer critters make up the theme for next week as vampire dogs and a double dose of pets who shouldn't eat late at night come your way. Plus, Mad Max goes to war and a trio of cinematic cuties. Next time, in Vidiocy.



Vidiocy is our weekly Video & DVD column.

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