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Video Madness Returns to the Web

Roger Corman blows up Venice; Charles Band's Full Moon goes into eclipse; Paramount makes more money off STAR TREK; and we go on an Easter Egg Hunt.

By John Thonen     June 19, 2001

I'm baaaaack! Risen from the pixel graveyard that was once Fandom.com, here is the latest reincarnation of Vidiocy, and you are present for the grand event. Don't you feel honored? Our aim is to be the best video column on the net. We will be taking a weekly look at new and recent video releases, with an emphasis on DVD and DTV (direct-to-video) fare. But we will also feature news on exciting, upcoming releases and direct-to-video titles in production. In addition, we will feature periodic comments from the directors, producers, writers and distributors who make the world of home video the exciting place it is in the 21st century, along with the latest on those fun DVD Easter eggs. This week, a few words of wisdom from David DeCoteau, director of some 50 films and a warrior in the DTV trenches since its earliest days. DeCoteau is now enjoying a multi-picture deal with Regent Entertainment (producers of the award winning GODS AND MONSTERS) after making a big splash in the video pool with his recent DTV hit, THE BROTHERHOOD. But first, this just in:

VIDEO NEWS


On July 31, 2001, Roger Corman's New Concorde video label will test whether CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON has created a renewed interest in the moribund kung fu video market, with the release of TIGER CLAWS III: THE FINAL CONFLICT. The film features a host of one-time martial arts DTV stars, including Cynthia Rothrock, Jalal Merhi and Loren Avedon, along with Asian superstar Carter Wong. Rothrock and Merhi both starred in the previous entries in the series, which had only minimal genre content. However, New Concorde's advertising for this latest sequel pictures a guy shooting lightning bolts from his hands, so the supernatural aspect has apparently been upped a bit. Corman has also garnered considerable mainstream publicity with the announcement that he plans to destroy his Venice Beach studio. The one-time lumberyard was once the special effects facility for the original New World Pictures and was long time habitat for Corman's Concorde and New Concorde productions. It was here that the BLACK SCORPION TV series was recently shot, as well as dozens of cheesy, direct-to-video efforts. Corman will be shifting all production to his facilities in Ireland but intends to blow up the old studio structures and to film their destruction for use in SLAUGHTER STUDIOS, a film about a maniac at war with the producers of horror films.


Financial, and even legal struggles, are nothing new at Charles Band's low-budget, direct-to-video factory, Full Moon, but this time, band's Moon may be about to experience a total eclipse. Reports have even surfaced of Sheriff's deputies on the premises. However, it's not all gloom and doom. Band recently signed a licensing deal with Disguise Inc. to market costumes inspired by the characters from his long running PUPPET MASTER film series and also signed with Playboy Entertainment to produce two erotic features under Full Moon's Surrender Cinema banner. While Full Moon releases have been cut back, August should see the release of VENGEANCE OF THE DEAD,, an in-name-only (actually a re-titling of an unreleased film) follow-up up to Band's surprise Euro-horror inspired zombie hit, PRISON OF THE DEAD. [IMG2R]


Full Moon's problems started when they were dumped by powerhouse video distributor, Paramount, amidst rumors of (déjà vu anyone?) questionable financial activities. Since then, Paramount itself has struggled to find something to help them regain the large share of the DTV genre market that Band's product provided them. After a less than successful run of releasing low-budget fare originally produced for the UPN network, the studio may have at last found what they've been looking for in U.F.O. The Unified Film Organization produced the recent hits PYTHON and INTERCEPTOR FORCE as well as a personal favorite, VELOCITY TRAP, and Paramount will unveil their latest, DEEP CORE on June 26th. Most of the independent studio's films boast name performers such as Terry Farrell, William Shatner, Craig Sheffer, and Roy Scheider, along with a slew of sometimes uneven but frequently impressive CGI effects.


After a brief theatrical platform release a few weeks ago, ED GEIN (the reportedly factual film based on the life of the man whose exploits inspired PSCYHO, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and DERANGED) will premiere as a Blockbuster exclusive sometime this summer. The film stars Steve Railsback (HELTER SKELTER) as the title character and Carrie Snodgress (THE FURY) as his mother, whose loving, nurturing ways helped make him the homicidal necrophiliac he was. I guess you could say it's a family movie. But then, so was THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.


THIS WEEK'S RELEASES [All titles are both VHS and DVD unless otherwise noted.]

Asian titles and animated tales dominate this week, but there are a few exceptions. First is Philippe (COMMUNION) Mora's tongue-in-cheek werewolf variation, HOWLING 3: THE MARSUPIALS (Elite). This was Mora's attempt to make up for his abysmal HOWLING 2: MY SISTER IS A WEREWOLF, and he did an okay job with this offbeat tale of werewolves down-under.

MGM offers a minor classic with 1955's B&W hardboiled detective noir, KISS ME DEADLY, which enlivens Mickey Spillaine's Mike Hammer character with a dash of sci-fi and some very dark humor. Highly recommended.

Image Entertainment offers up a sci-fi variation of a very different type with VENUS DESCENDING, a Penthouse production from high-class porn director Andrew Blake. The main characters are alien women in search of an ancient book of sexual secrets that can lead to amazing powers. The photography is lush, the girls gorgeous, the story totally mindless. Not an unappealing mix if one's in the right mood.

Paramount continues to make money hand-over-fist from the remarkable STAR TREK franchise by releasing two more volumes of the show that started it all. As always, each video contains two episodes a piece. Vol. #25 features "A Piece of the Action," one of the weaker episodes from the second season. This one finds the crew visiting a planet where the Prime Directive has been inadvertently violated, resulting in a world based around 1920s Earth gangsters. A good guest cast and the fun of seeing Spock dressed up like Nathan Detroit help an otherwise formulaic episode. The second episode is "By Any Other Name," a not half-bad show involving contact with the Kelvans, who have assumed human form (and boy is Barbara Bouchet human) to commandeer the Enterprise for their own purposes. Yeah, that plot could be at least 10 other episodes, but this is the episode where humans are turned into Styrofoam cubes by the bad guys. Yeah, that one.

Volume 26 of TREK offers up "Return to Tomorrow," another all-too-typical episode involving aliens whose minds inhabit the bodies of Kirk, Spock and lovely guest star, Diana Muldaurand let me tell you, I wouldn't mind inhabiting that body (at least back in 1968). The aliens are represented by glowing balls of light, and one of the three hates one of the others, which results in the alien-controlled Spock trying to kill the alien controlled Kirk. The second episode is "Patterns of Force," which again finds the Prime Directive violated as an excuse to allow the show's producers to dress their cast up in costumes from the wardrobe department (this time as Nazi soldiers). What someone should have done is leave a copy of the "Sports Illustrated; Swimsuit Edition" on some planet and then come back to find the entire culture has become swimsuit models.

On the Asian front, Tai Seng offers up a slew of foot-kicking, sword-swinging heroes, starting with LEGEND OF THE FLYING SWORDSMAN, which features no less than Sonny Chiba as an amnesiac warrior out for vengeance. Next is LIFE OF THE NINJA: SPECIAL EDITION. Tai Seng continues their onslaught of video warriors with MANTIS COMBAT, which features Craig Stevens and William Hopper battling a giant mantisno, that's THE DEADLY MANTIS. This one doesn't have any over-sized bugs; however, it does have one-time bad guys who try to reform and correct their previous misdeeds, only to end up in a quest for revenge. Rounding out Tai Seng's attack is THREE SWORDSMAN, which offers the lovely Brigitte Lin and the talented Andy Lau as sword masters who are framed for the murder of their empress.

While that's the last of Tai Seng's offerings for the week, Artisan ventures into Asian territory with their release of THE LOST EMPIRE, a flop TV mini-series starring the striking Bai Ling (WILD, WILD WEST), Thomas Gibson (DHARMA AND GREG), and veteran Asian actor Russell Wong. The sets and costumes are lavish and the cast is game, but the story is just a little too predictable. Still, it's worth a look.

Rounding out our live action releases is Pioneer's CRASH AND BYRNES, a low-budget action tale given a slight genre twist by the inclusion of a super secret, ultra deadly virus in the hands of a terrorist. Former Tarzan Wolf Larson and the lovely Joanna Pacula (VIRUS) head a cast of nobodies in this familiar fare.

ANIME


My apologies to anime fans, but time and space restraints, along with my own meager interests in the art form, limit coverage to little more than a listing of the latest releases. Pioneer Entertainment has become a force to be reckoned with in anime, and this week they unveil BASTARD!!, the story of the oddly named Dark Schneider, a warlock battling against the very army he once led. This one is also available as a "Special Edition," which features a Dark Schneider action figure.


Pioneer also offers BIG O which involves the denizens of Paradigm City who, in the passing of one night, all lost their memories. Trying to help them is Roger Smith and his crime-fighting robot, Big O. The week's final offering from Pioneer is SABER MARIONETTE J: Collection #3, which offers more adventures of Mamiya Otaru, a resident of the all male Earth 2, who finds 3 female androids containing the "Maiden Circuit," which makes them act like real females.


The good folks over at ADV Films were the original pioneers (no pun intended) of anime in this country, and this week they present the awkwardly title NADIA: SECRET OF BLUE WATER #1 THE ADVENTURE BEGINS. Nadia is a young girl who visits the 1889 World's Fair in Paris only to wind up on an amazing adventure inspired by Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." If you have kids, they should love this one, and you might enjoy it yourself.


CHARLOTTE'S WEB rounds out the animated releases for the week, and the difference between it and the above anime tales is a big one indeed. None of which means that this very Disney-ish (actually, Hanna-Barbera) adaptation of the popular children's book is a lesser film. Sweet and fun, but with an underlying message, this is one of the better, non-Disney animated tales to be released in the 70s.


EASTER EGG HUNT


20th Century Fox released their wonderful 2 disc DVD of John Carpenter's ahead-of-its-time martial arts comedy-fantasy, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, just a few weeks ago, but the "DVD Review" website is already listing two fun Easter eggs. On disc 2, select "More" for the 2nd page of features. If you highlight "Richard Edlund Interview" and press the "left" arrow key on your remote, a pair of eyes will appear. Press "Enter" and find a new menu screen offering trailers for Fox genre releases from 1986, including BIG TROUBLE itself. Also on the 2nd page of the "Special Features" screen you can select "DVD Production Credits," which normally nobody reads, and on the 2nd page there are some screenshots from the long forgotten Commodore 64 "Big Trouble In Little China" computer game. You have to wonder what computer geek still had this stuff around.


The May issue of the indispensable Video Watchdog magazine features a letter from the equally invaluable Dennis Fischer, in which the long time genre scribe shares a fun Easter Egg from the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW DVD. It seems that if you play around a bit when selecting between the English and American versions of the cult classic, you can find a combination that offers a third variation of the film, which presents the opening in black and white, as creator Richard O'Brien had originally envisioned.


SPECIAL GUEST STAR


[IMG3R]Finally, as promised, a few words from DTV veteran David DeCoteau. Since his 1987 debut, DREAMANIC, DeCoteau has directed or produced over 50 direct-to-video films including, CREEPOZOIDS, SORORITY SISTERS IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA, and 3 of the Charlie Band's PUPPET MASTER movies. When asked about Band's current struggles, DeCoteau says, "Charlie, I think, has tremendous taste. But some of his business practices are a little weird, and that's why he sometimes gets into tough financial problems."


But if DeCoteau sometimes questions Band's business acumen, he doesn't fault him as a producer. "Something that Charlie always instilled in me over the 15 years I worked for the man: never have your film smile with cheapness, and always respect the genre. Give it a polish, a look that says it's important. Give it a little class. I believe in that."


On Band's latest fall from fiduciary grace, DeCoteau shares that, "I owe everything to this man. Everything. He gave me tremendous opportunities. He has to rethink things and get smaller and more efficient. He'll do it, though. He's a hell of a deal-maker and the best salesman in town. He's a survivor."


On his own hot status in the DTV marketplace, after the success of THE BROTHERHOOD, DeCoteau tells us he has several titles in the video pipeline. "THE BROTHERHOOD 2: YOUNG WARLOCKS is not a direct sequel. My sequel philosophy is that the films should have a similar tone and vibe, but there doesn't necessarily need to be a continuing story. This one is at a private academy, and is kind of a like a male version of THE CRAFT. FINAL STAB is about a murder mystery game. What I've done is create a movie where when the characters see someone get killed they assume it's not real, that it's part of this game they are involved in. It's a very complicated script with a triple twist ending and a huge body count, though it's not overly violent." Both films will debut this September exclusively at Blockbuster Video stores.


COMING SOON

Next week sees two double-disc DVD Special Editions of note, for UNBREAKABLE and DOGMA. The UNBREAKABLE DVD features behind-the-scenes information, a history of comic book superheroes, the making-of the Train Station sequence, and deleted scenes. The DOGMA release contains audio commentary from director Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, producer Scott Mosier, and View Askew historian Vincent Pereira; storyboards from three major scenes; deleted scenes with intros; weblink to the Official View Askew Site; outtakes; Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash Spot; talent files; and more. Also coming out is the DVD release of DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? and the above-mentioned DEEP CORE. Until then...

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