· You can't keep a good corpse down as Trimark Home Video has recently announced their August 3rd Special Edition release of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3. Dan O'Bannon's 1985 semi-sequel/spin-off of George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD took the approach that the events of that film were real and caused by a government-designed gas. That film and its 1986 sequel relied on black humor and grisly effects, but when Brian Yuzna tried to revive the series in 1993, he dropped the humor in favor of a twisted, and very dark, variation on ROMEO AND JULIET and "a love that goes beyond death." The DVD will feature a previously unreleased "unrated" version of the film as well as two commentaries; one by Yuzna and a second by the film's effects team, as well as a making of short, storyboards, interviews and a trailer.
· PRANCER RETURNS is USA Home Entertainment's November 20th release of a sequel to 1989's low-key charmer, PRANCER, which will itself be re-released in October. USA will take an unusual approach to launching the sequel by running the film on the USA channel the same day as its release and promoting the video release via advertising during the showing, which will also repeat several times during the holiday season. The original eschewed effects for honest sentimentality, and the sequel will reportedly follow in the same footsteps, or is that hoof prints?
· THE HAUNTED is one of the best ghost pictures of the past 20 years, yet remains little known. Hopefully, Artisan's August 23rd re-release of the film will help resolve its anonymity. This is a subtle bit of horror boasting a perverse premise and a top-notch cast, which includes Aidan Quinn, Kate Beckinsale and Sir John Gielgud. Quinn is a 19th century debunker of supernatural events who finds his skepticism challenged by events at an isolated English manor. Special effects are kept to a minimum up until the bravura ending, and the film manages more than its share of chills and surprises. This one is being budget priced for sell-through, and really shouldn't be missed.
· A&E Home Video, who have enjoyed considerable success by re-releasing older British television programs such as THE AVENGERS, will try to continue that success by re-releasing Hammer Studios' one hour anthology series THE HAMMER HOUSE OF HORRORS on video starting August 28th. The company is touting the series as virtually a lost classic, but they have been previously released to both TV and home video in the mid-80s and are, sadly, largely a pretty lame collection. Still, the presence in some episodes of Hammer stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and other well known British thesps, should spark some interest amongst fans of the legendary studio.
THIS WEEK'S RELEASES
· ALADDIN'S MAGIC LAMP is an Image Entertainment release that I will confess to knowing very little about. The film is apparently a mid-60s Soviet produced (originally called Volshebnaya lampa Aladdina) telling of the classic fantasy tale. Based on other Soviet fantasy fare of that era, one can probably expect a story closer to the original Oriental fable than most versions have been, as well as a solid production design and a legitimately magical air to the proceedings. The DVD also boasts stills, trailers and materials from the Russian Cinema Council Museum.
· BARBARA THE FAIR WITH THE SILKEN HAIR is another Soviet fantasy title from Image. Again, I am sadly ignorant of the film, but it apparently deals with an underwater kingdom that kidnaps the Czar of the land-living people and how the Czar's family goes about rescuing their patriarch.
· BLOOD SUCKERS/BLOOD THIRST: SPECIAL EDITION finds Image back in more familiar territory with this schlocky double feature. Up first, 1972's BLOOD SUCKERS, a film that manages to make Greek beaches, hedonism, vampirism and devil worship dull, and wastes the talents of Peter Cushing and Patrick Macnee. BLOOD THIRST, on the other hand, goes halfway around the world, to the cinematic paradise of the Philippines, in order to bore us with more cultists and vampires. Even as a double feature this is barely worth your trouble, but the Special Edition extras make it all more palatable. The DVD boasts radio spots, advertising art, a collection of trailers for other cheesy multi-feature releases of the era (including the legendary "Orgy of the Living Dead"), a couple of horror shorts, and drive-in movie intermission features. This is all part of Image's very enjoyable nostalgia themed Drive-In series and is great fun for those of us who can recall hiding in a car trunk to sneak into the notorious "passion-pits" that once were the American Drive-In.
· DEMONICUS arrived on VHS a couple of weeks ago, but this surprisingly fun, zero-budget tale from struggling Full Moon Studios hits DVD today with a director's commentary (from this column's special guest, director Jay Woelfel), a different cut of the film, and some behind-the-scenes footage. Woelfel manages some atmosphere, a few Bava-esque shots, and succeeds at coaxing solid performances from his unknown cast. California effectively doubles for the Swiss Alps in this tale of a group of hikers who discover that one of their friends has been possessed by the spirit of a demonic Roman gladiator. It's not going to make you forget Ridley Scott's recent epic, but it is several steps above the typical Full Moon fare.
· FARSCAPE #5: DNA MAD SCIENTIST/THEY'VE GOT A SECRET is the latest in ADV's very welcome release of episodes of this outstanding Sci-Fi Channel series. The first episode highlights one of the aspects that distinguishes the show from the various STAR TREK series -- namely conflict as the promise of a return to their home worlds creates animosity amongst the crew. The second episode is a ship-bound show with Pilot unconscious and the DRD units attacking the crew.
· THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS: DOUBLE FEATURE offers both the British and U.S. cuts of this rather obscure 1960 production featuring Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance in yet another variation on the Burke and Hare body snatching case. This played in the U.S. as THE FIENDISH GHOULS and as MANIA but, aside from a fine cast doing quality work, it's a minor offering.
· GIANT GILA MONSTER/THE WASP WOMAN: DRIVE-IN DISCS #2 is the second in Elite Entertainment's own series dedicated to replicating the drive-in experience in one's home. This time around they're offering a remarkably cheesy example of 1950s giant monster fare, which features teens, hot rods, singing and a lizard on miniature sets. The second title is an ultra low-budget offering from Roger Corman about a woman whose desire for youth turns her into a monster. The later advent of the women's lib movement adds a resonance to the film that it didn't have originally, as does the tragic, real-life story of its female star, Susan Cabot.
· HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER 2 Clive Barker passed the directorial whip to Tony Randel for this sequel, which picks up the story only moments after the conclusion of the first film. The results are bigger but rarely better. While this film certainly has its moments, there are far more fumbles than touchdowns to be found here. Still, it's better than any of the later sequels.
· THE MAGIC SHOW offers a rare chance to see this largely forgotten hit Broadway musical from the 70s, which can be credited with bringing the art of stage magic to a new generation of audiences. The late Doug Henning plays a good wizard battling an evil one in this simple but sweet and frequently dazzling tale. A huge hit at the time, it can certainly be credited (or blamed) for inspiring magicians like David Copperfield and others to add show biz spectacle, music, storylines and sheer entertainment to the tradition of pulling rabbits from out of a hat.
· VALENTINE will hopefully mark the last offering in the much-regretted revival of teen slasher theatrical releases. A cast of overly familiar over-age juveniles is stalked by a masked killer God, how many times have I typed that description for a film in the past 20 years? This flick is startlingly mediocre, but not really any worse than some of the earlier hits in this worn-out sub-genre. But it does get you to wondering how Denise Richards can have made so many movies and still be unable to effectively convey any emotion on screen.
IT CAME FROM THE BOTTOM SHELF
From time to time, a fantastic genre title slips by my Vidiocy radar, only to wind up in this section at a later date. This time around it's GUARDIAN, a sloppily plotted but not uninteresting mixture of action film and horror starring Mario Van Peebles. The box cover gives little hint to the cinematic proceedings which find Van Peebles as a cop trying to protect a child -- who seems to be the second coming himself -- from a powerful demon with the ability to posses human bodies. Helping Mario is a MATRIX-inspired female warrior and a religious antiquities scholar. The cast is well above average and the action scenes are competently handled, but it's the overall dark tone of the film, and its somewhat surprising ending, that keep the proceedings from collapsing beneath the weight of their own improbabilities.
Unless opinions expressed in the comments below seem to suggest otherwise, I probably haven't seen the following and am merely recounting the synopsis provided by the video distributor. One notable exception to that rule is the first of this week's anime releases.
· AKIRA: SPECIAL EDITION is the latest release of what remains the greatest achievement in the short history of anime. Visually striking, thematically dense and frequently exciting and imaginative, this is a film that shouldn't be missed by any serious genre fan. The Special Edition features a wealth of extras detailing nearly every facet of the film's birth. A "movie-only" DVD is also available.
· ARC THE LAD #3: Elk and Lieza try to find a way off the island they are stranded on and learn that a price has been placed on Elk's life.
· SHADOWRAIDER #6: Final Conflict continues the space faring adventures of Cryos, Graveheart, Jade and Femur, who this time are inadvertently on opposing sides in a battle on a prison planet.
EASTER EGG HUNT
· The DVD Review site reports that the ROBOTECH LEGACY COLLECTION #1 has a well-hidden egg. It seems that on the bonus disc's Codename: Robotech featurette there is a third, hidden audio track that can be selected with the "audio" button. The track plays the short with only music and sound effects.
· THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE also contains a hidden goodie. While watching the deleted scenes extra of the decomposing bodies that open the film, go to the end of that extra but do not press "stop" or "return to menu." This allows you to access a second part of the deleted scenes feature which shows additional takes of the rotting corpses, and who would want to miss that?
SPECIAL GUEST STAR
Now and then, we like to offer a few words from the directors, producers and actors who make the world of home video the unique arena it is. This time around it's Jay Woelfel, an Academy Award and Emmy Award winner who, despite those hard to earn accolades, remains a fixture of low-budget filmmaking more than a decade after his promising debut with 1988's BEYOND DREAM'S DOOR. Since then, Jay has made a number of low-budget, direct-to-video features including the upcoming UNSEEN and the recently released IRON THUNDER, as well as co-directing Richard (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) Hatch's highly publicized trailer designed to revive that fondly remembered series. Woelfel's latest is DEMONICUS (see above), a shot-on-video feature financed by Charles Band's Full Moon Studios.
In many ways the film - which finds a hiker possessed by the spirit of an ancient and evil Roman warrior named Tyrannus - is basically a slasher pic, but with just enough variations to make it palatable to both audience and director.
"I liked the overall script structure," Woelfel says. "That was [writer] Tim Sullivan's, in that it got the action going pretty quickly because you didn't have this group of people to meet and then separate so they could get killed off. You meet the couples individually and you're really not sure who will live or die as the movie becomes more about them trying to find each other. There's also some legitimate supernatural stuff, which I prefer in these kinds of movies."
Another difference from conventional slasher tales which appealed to Woelfel was the killer's motivation.
"To me, it was interesting that he was a Roman and that he now speaks Latin," the director explains. "He's not just a madman on a rampage. He has a mission, which admittedly isn't all that complicated to understand, but it's a lot more involved than whatever the hell Jason Voorhees was up to, which as near as I could figure out was: people have sex, he kills them. And he does that for like 55 years."
Of course, low-budget filmmaking presents challenges that Michael Bay will never understand. Woelfel spent considerable time wandering the California hills for an area that could pass for the film's Swiss Alps location. Then he had the luck to also find a tunnel that could pass for the cave where Tyrannus' corpse and weapons are found as well as an old concrete water cistern that could pass for the base of the huge Roman statue he envisioned would appear to the possessed man. The statue itself, the director shares, was another story.
"I bought that myself, with my own money," says Woelfel. "It's one of those statues you put in your lawn. The CGI guy didn't have anything like that and there wasn't enough money to pay him to create something, but I'd seen this place with all these lawn animals and stuff when we were shooting UNSEEN and they had this Roman statue. All they had was a painted one that was their sample and they wouldn't sell it, but they'd rent it. But it turned out they had one in the back that was fresh from the mold, still had seam marks and all, so it looked older and junkier, which is what I really wanted in the first place. So, I bought it with the understanding that I could bring it back and they'd make it all pretty. I drove it over to J.R's (J.R. Bookwalter) place and Dave Lange and I carried it out and set it up on the neighbor's fence and shot a bunch of digital stills of it and that was it."
While Jay had planned on having the statue's imperfections later corrected and finding a home for it, he never got the chance.
"Nobody bothered to ask me, but in the scene where it blows up and the rocks crush the girl, they just broke it into pieces and created a composite shot," continues Woelfel. "So I never got it prettied up, but at least it ended up in the movie."
Woelfel is hopeful that the DVD release will be seen by a wide audience as it contains a different cut of the film, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage.
"The DVD cut is the cut that I got to do and to supervise," explains the director. "I don't feel that the VHS version is so compromised as to take my name off of it, but there's a couple of very clunky transitions, where suddenly you're somewhere else and you don't know where you are, and it makes it look like I don't know how to tell a story. I hope people will see the DVD and see what I was really trying to do."
Attack Of The 60 Foot Centerfold - New Concorde - 7/31/2001
Ceres: Celestial Legend #1 - Destiny - Pioneer Entertainment - 7/31/2001
Crest Of The Stars 3: Wayward Soldiers - Pioneer Entertainment - 7/31/2001
Cybercity - New Concorde - 7/31/2001
Felix The Cat: Collector's Edition - Sony Music - 7/31/2001
Marquis De Sade: Intimate Tales Of The Dark Prince - New Concorde - 7/31/2001
Pokemon #43: Flying Ace - Pioneer Entertainment - 7/31/2001
Pokemon #44: Fire Power - Pioneer Entertainment - 7/31/2001
Popcorn - Elite Entertainment - 7/31/2001
Rurouni Kenshin 9: Heart Of The Sword - Media Blasters - 7/31/2001
Sorcerer Hunters #2: Magical Desires - BFS Entertainment - 7/31/2001
Space: 1999 Set #3: Volume 5 & 6 - A&E Home Video - 7/31/2001
Space: 1999 Set #4: Volume 7 & 8 - A&E Home Video - 7/31/2001
Storybook Collection 3-Pack: Madeline/Matilda/Stuart Little - Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment - 7/31/2001
Tiger Claws 3: The Final Conflict - New Concorde - 7/31/2001
Tomorrow Man - MTI Home Video - 7/31/2001
UFOs And Aliens - Questar - 7/31/2001
Underdog Chronicles - Sony Music - 7/31/2001
Vidiocy is our weekly Video & DVD column.