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Invasion of the Direct-to-Video Titles

Plus: Horror double bills, Creature Comforts, and Children of the Corn.

By John Thonen     November 28, 2000

Over the years I've been writing about the home video scene, I've taken some flack for my championing of direct-to-video (DTV) fare. At times I've even wondered about it myself. I mean, how many dreadful Charlie Band films do I have to suffer through for the rare Ted Nicolaou-directed gem? How many South African-lensed martial artist-vs.-android tales? How many lifeless Canadian-shot bore fests? In other words: How much muck do I have to dig through to find the rare DTV diamond in the rough? Luckily, when I get to thinking that way, that's when an unknown goodie rolls into the video stores: something totally lacking in star power, media hype and merchandise tie-ins.

This week, courtesy of Avalanche Home Entertainment, just such a DTV miracle has arrived, and it's called Invasion. The basic story is nothing new. A scientist visits a small town that has been the site of a number of inexplicable deaths. The source? Why, aliens of course. But if there's nothing new in the idea, there is plenty of fun in the execution, which might be described as War of the Worlds meets Northern Exposure with just a hint of Peter Jackson's I> Bad Taste tossed in to liven up the mix. Don't let the title fool you. This is not your standard 'humans battle alien invasion' tale. If I had to compare it to something it would probably be Men In Black but without some of the excesses that a mammoth budget allowed that film to indulge. This is a funny, gory and sometimes goofy little flick that deserved far better than video release on a non-major label.

This late in the year, I've usually already made up my mind what DTV titles will make it into my annual 'Best/Worst of DTV' column. Released by Avalanche Home Entertainment, Invasion is a late in the year gem that seems certain to claim the top spot in the sci-fi category.

Of course, every good DTV title is offset by more than a few losers, and you can usually count on Troma to come through in that category. And they certainly don't disappoint with this week's Alien Blood. In surer hands than writer-director-producer Jon Sorensen, this mix of vampires, aliens, masked killers and more, might have been campy fun. Instead, it's a fairly familiar Troma mish-mash of sex, violence, and bad acting. It's not over the top stupid and in excruciatingly bad taste enough to be fun on a Toxic Avenger type level, but it is too dumb and tasteless to be welcomed, either. This isn't the worst film Troma ever released. But it'll do for this week.

Far more watchable is Trimark's Octopus, one of a spate of generically titled, nature-goes-wild tales ( Crocodile, Spiders ) that premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel just before Halloween. I think they are all South African-lensed and feature only local performers, but they do an OK job of creating believable U.S. characters. Like Spiders, this seems to have used the Ripley character from the Alien films as a model for it's female lead, and (this is about the only difference between this and any giant monster film of the '50s, that and a few cuss words , and this is just about as much fun as most of those. The effects are often cheesy and the story doesn't bear much examination, but it's a good time and I, for one, am happy to see the mini-giant monster revival of which this film is a part.

The budget minded folks at Marengo roll out today a trio of '40s era poverty row double features. Marengo has released all the titles previously as singles or in other combinations, but the duo of Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome and Detective: Dick Tracy will likely tempt some. As will the Bela Lugosi pairing of The Invisible Ghost and The Corpse Vanishes, not to mention the Jack Nicholson team of Little Shop of Horrors and The Terror. Elite Entertainment also offers a pairing of previously released titles with The Screaming Skull and Attack of the Giant Leeches, thus creating a quartet of double features to offer 8 movies for the nostalgic horror fan in your gift giving future.

Somewhat more discriminating fans will be excited by Fox Home Entertainment's release this week of the episodes from season two of the X-Files. By this point, the show had really hit its stride by this point, and the conspiracy behind the disappearance of Mulder's sister had developed a life of its own. The three-part 'Duane Berry' shows, the classic 'Humbug,' the spooky Flukeman and the absolutely chilling Donnie Pfaster are just a few of the highlights of the second season of the series, and great reminders to all of us about how good the show was, as we wait to see if the current season revives it or merely provides the final nail in its coffin. But why take my word on the merits of these episodes?

Over at Anchor Bay, the original entry that launched one of the longest running DTV series is being re-released. Children of the Corn was actually a theatrical release in 1984, and marked the first genre appearance of Linda Hamilton, previously best known for appearances on the Hill Street Blues TV series, who later found fame in the The Terminator films. Like the 5 sequels that have followed, this is at best a lame little horror film. It was based on a Stephen King short story, which offered a town of evil children who have killed the adults and are worshipping a primeval spirit that lives in the nearby cornfields. Worth a rental I suppose, but buy at your own risk.

Meanwhile, Image Entertainment cleverly follows last week's release of Chicken Run with their release of Creature Comforts, a collection of short films from the same animation team. The 32-minute compilation is budget priced and features some of Aardman Animation's lesser known but equally brilliant work, including a couple of Oscar nominated shorts ('Wat's Pig' and 'Adam') as well as the title tale and 'Not Without My Handbag,' which may remind some of the darker fantasies of Henry Selick.

Elite Entertainment offers up this week a bit of Euro-horror from the hands of the inimitable (thank God) Jess Franco, with 1976's Jack The Ripper. This is actually one of the amazingly prolific Franco's better offering, making good use of European locations and featuring gruesome sequences.

That's it for this week's new releases. Full Moon Video's urban-oriented offspring, Big City, snuck their latest, Killjoy past me, and I wish I wouldn't have found out. Big city's initial releases, and The Horrible Dr. Bones were pretty decent, low-budget fare, but Killjoy is a total misfire. This tale of vengeance from beyond the grave, executed by a smart-ass clown, is just a mess.

Video and DVD News

The new Dune film is set to hit cable TV this weekend, but its video release has already been announced for late January by Artisan Entertainment. Roger Corman has renamed his video outlet New Concorde and promises higher-end and better quality productions in the future, as well as continuing to re-release many of his past hits, with a particular emphasis on DVD titles. Re-releases of the two Black Scorpion films, both starring sexy Joan Severance, will come in late January, about the same time as the Sci-Fi channel will begin airing Corman's campy TV series, sans Severance as the leather clad female super hero. Corman will also roll out David Cronenberg's Rabid and the 'Magnificent 7 in Space' tale, Battle Beyond the Stars, the Carnosaur series, and more.

Next week, killer cats, sexy spirits, lunar mice and yet another Blair Witch copy. Until then, look for me at a local mall, hidden in a Santa Suit and telling kids to ask for Lucio Fulci films for 'Xmas and making passes at their mom.

Next week's titles

Black Cat (Dubbed) - Tai Seng Video Marketing
Erotic Ghost Story (Dubbed) - Tai Seng Video Marketing
The Land Before Time VII: The Stone Of Cold Fire
The Mouse On The Moon - MGM Home Entertainment
Mr. Vampire (Dubbed) - Tai Seng Video Marketing
Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps - Universal Home Video
Scary Movie - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
The St. Francisville Experiment - Trimark Home Video

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