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Mark Burger’´s DVD Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

“ICONS OF HORROR 3” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): When it came to Gothic horror, few studios did it better than Britain’s Hammer Studios, which still boasts a worldwide legion of fans, the likes of which include Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and yours truly. This DVD collection, which retails for $24.96, features four Hammer favorites, three of them starring Hammer stalwart Christopher Lee, and each one making its DVD debut. Lee has only a co-starring role opposite Paul Massie, who plays the title role(s) in 1960’s The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (released in the US as House of Fright), adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson classic by Wolf Mankowitz and directed by Hammer favorite Terence Fisher. Lee co-stars with

Susan Strasberg and Ann Todd in Taste of Fear (1961), written and produced by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Seth Holt. Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard and Fred Clark star in Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964), which was written, produced and directed by Michael Carreras, the man who ran Hammer Studios for a time. The gem of the set is the long-awaited release of 1964’s Fisher-directed The Gorgon, which pairs Lee with friend and frequent co-star Peter Cushing. This near-classic, an atmospheric chiller tinged with tragic romance, is inspired by the monster of Greek mythology whose gaze turns people into stone. Although hampered by cheap special effects at the climax, this is top-flight Hammer and one of Fisher’s best directorial outings, with excellent performances by Cushing and Lee, and a supporting cast that includes Richard Pasco, Barbara Shelley, Jack Watson, Michael Goodliffe and Patrick Troughton. The film boasts a literate screenplay by John Gilling (based on a story by J. Llewellyn Devine — his only one!), fine cinematography by Michael Reed, and a top score by James Bernard. For the Hammer fan and the horror fan, this is an indispensable addition to the Halloween season.


ALSO ON DVD

$ (DOLLARS) (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Writer/ director Richard Brooks’ 1971 comedy stars Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn as masterminds of a bank caper in which they target the loot stashed in the bank by international criminals (including Gert Frobe, Scott Brady and the always-welcome Robert Webber). Entertaining but slight. Rated R. **’½

“30 ROCK” — SEASON 2 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): All 15 episodes from the 2007-’08 of the critically acclaimed, award-winning NBC-TV prime-time situation comedy about the inner workings of a popular TV variety show. This earned a whopping 17 Emmy nominations and won seven, including outstanding comedy series, lead actor in a comedy series (Alec Baldwin), lead actress in a comedy series and writing for a comedy series (both for executive producer Tina Fey) and guest actor in a comedy series (Tim Conway), with additional nominations including multiple ones for guest actor in a comedy series (Rip Torn, Will Arnett and Steve Buscemi) and guest actress in a comedy series (Edie Falco, Carrie Fisher and Elaine Stritch). This boxed set retails for $39.98.

THE ANDERSON TAPES (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Sidney Lumet’s nifty 1971 adaptation of Lawrence Sanders’ best-seller stars Sean Connery as a safecracker who plots to rob an affluent Manhattan apartment building — unaware that he’s under surveillance the entire time. The technology’s a little dated, but at the time this was pretty prescient. Snappy and suspenseful, with a great supporting cast including Dyan Cannon, Christopher Walken (in his screen debut), the great Martin Balsam, Ralph Meeker (as police captain “Iron Balls” Delaney), Alan King, Garrett Morris, Val Avery, Dick Anthony Williams, Conrad Bain, Richard B Shull and Margaret Hamilton (in her last screen role). In retrospect, this almost seems like a warm-up for Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon a few years later. Rated PG. ***

BELPHEGOR: PHANTOM OF THE LOUVRE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Sophie Marceau, Julie Christie and the late Michel Serrault lend a touch of class to this supremely silly supernatural chiller in which the malevolent spirit of an ancient mummy proceeds to haunt the famous Louvre Museum in Paris. Completed in 2000, it has taken eight years to reach these shores. The audio track is both in the original French and dubbed into English, where characters tend to pronounce it “the Louver”. Good for a few unintentional laughs. *’½

CANNIBAL TERROR (Severin Films): This slow-moving grindhouse cheese from 1981, directed by one Allan W Steeve (AKA Alain Deruelle) focuses on a group of bumbling kidnappers that encounter a tribe of jungle savages and find themselves on the menu. Pretty dull, although not for the squeamish in any event… but I can’t seem to get Jean Jacques Lemeztre’s theme music out of my head. ‘½*

GHOSTBOAT (MPI Home Video): A well-acted nautical chiller, based on the novel by George E. Simpson and Neal R. Burger (no relation) about the sudden reappearance of a British submarine in 1981 — 38 years after it disappeared in the Baltic Sea — and how history begins to repeat itself when it begins playing war games with its modern-day crew, compelling them believe it’s still World War II and not the Cold War. This spooky little number doesn’t have all the answers, but it certainly has its moments and a solid cast, headed by David Jason, Ian Puleston-Davis, Tony Haygarth and Julian Wadham. ***

“GHOST HOUSE UNDERGROUND” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A selection of eight horror films hand-picked by “Ghost House Entertainment” producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert: Gregg Bishop’s high-school horror saga Dance of the Dead; the fearful follow-up No Man’s Land: The Rise of the Reeker; Ole Bornedal’s sci-fi schocker The Substitute; Dark Floors, featuring the Finnish heavy-metal band LORDI; the horror heist Trackman; Martin Barnewitz’s college chiller Room 205; Gabriels Albanesi’s shocker Last House in the Woods; and the vampire thriller Brotherhood of Blood, starring Ken Foree, Jason Connery and Sid Haig. Each film retails for $19.98, and for the incurable horror junkie who wants it all, the boxed set of all eight retails for $159.98.

IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN (Warner Home Video): A deluxe-edition DVD of the classic 1966 television special featuring the Peanuts gallery of comic-strip characters created by Charles Schulz. This earned three Emmy nominations including outstanding children’s program. This was a Halloween staple in my house when I was a kid. This DVD retails for $19.98. In addition, Warner Home Video is also releasing “The Peanuts Holiday Collection,” which includes the deluxe DVD editions of this special, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas. This boxed set retails for $44.76; individual titles for $19.98.

LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH (Severin Films): Director Franco Prosperi’s 1978 revenge thriller (originally known as La Settima Donna), in which a trio of bank robbers (led by Ray Lovelock) hide out in a remote beach house occupied by a young nun (Florinda Bolkan) and her five female charges, whom they torment and terrorize… until the tables are turned. Billed as “Euro-Sleaze,” this certainly lives up — and down — to that distinction. This special-edition DVD includes an exclusive interview with Lovelock and boasts a great-looking transfer, which is ironic in the sense that this movie is anything but great. *’½

LEATHERHEADS (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): George Clooney produced, directed and stars in this lighthearted sports saga — some of it filmed in the Piedmont Triad — depicting the barnstorming days of early 20 th -century football. Exquisite period detail and a good supporting cast (Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce), but this doesn’t quite come together. Rated PG-13. **’½

“THE MUNSTERS” — THE COMPLETE SERIES (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): All 70 episodes (1964-’66) of the perennially popular prime-time CBS-TV situation comedy about the wacky residents of 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The cast includes Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo, Al Lewis, Butch Patrick, and first Beverley Owen and then Pat Priest (as the “normal” niece, Marilyn). This special-edition collection includes the bonus episode “Family Portait,” the 1966 feature film Munster, Go Home! and the disappointing 1981 reunion TV movie The Munsters’ Revenge. This boxed set retails for $69.98.

THE NEW CENTURIONS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): George C Scott and Stacy Keach are terrific in Richard Fleischer’s credible, melancholy 1972 adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s best-seller, detailing the day-to-day lives of Los Angeles police officers. A fine supporting cast includes Rosalind Cash, Jane Alexander, Scott Wilson, Isabel Sanford, Clifton James, Erik Estrada, William Atherton (in his screen debut), James B Sikking, Dolph Sweet, Ed Lauter and Stefan Gierasch. Fleischer replaced John Huston as director. Rated R. ***

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (Warner Home Video): At long last, the DVD debut of screenwriter/director Albert Lewin’s elegant and impressive 1945 adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic, with Hurd Hatfield as the handsome libertine who remains eternally youthful while his portrait reflects the decadence and decay of his soul. Not a horror film per se, but a striking psychological thriller with supernatural overtones — and a great piece of work all around, although the role tended to dog Hatfield’s career. A splendid supporting cast includes George Sanders, Donna Reed, Peter Lawford and Angela Lansbury (who earned an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actress). Harry Stradling’s cinematography (black-and-white) won the Oscar, and the film’s art direction/set decoration earned a nomination, too. ***’½

THE PIRATES WHO DON’T DO ANYTHING: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Taking its cue from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, comes the latest animated feature from the long-running, Christian-themed children’s franchise. This special-edition DVD retails for $29.98.

STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (Blue Underground): A late entry in the Italian “giallo” genre, this enjoyably sleazy 1975 shocker pits lusty fashion photographer Nino Castelnuovo and gorgeous assistant Edwige Fenech against an unknown killer dressed in black leather who’s been targeting models. There’s plenty of nudity and violence in this uncut version, and although purists may complain about the lack of an original Italian-language soundtrack, the English dubbing is almost as hilarious as the film’s title. Great-looking transfer, too. **

TAKING 5 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A pair of high-school friends (Daniella Monet and Alona Tal) kidnap a five-member boy band (played by the real-life, five-member boy band The Click Five) in this teenybopper comedy. The DVD, which includes a Click Five music video, retails for $24.96.

TOUCH OF EVIL (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A 50 th -anniversary special edition of Orson Welles’ classic 1958 adaptation of Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil, with Welles himself as a corrupt police chief in a sleepy Mexican town rife with mystery. Dismissed upon its original release, the film’s reputation grew exponentially over the years, resulting in a theatrical re-release some 40 years after it was first released. A great cast includes Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Akim Tamiroff, Joseph Calleia, Dennis Weaver and Ray Collins, as well as the unbilled Mercedes McCambridge and Joseph Cotten. This two-disc set, which includes the preview version, the original theatrical version and the restored version based on Welles’ screenplay and notes, retails for $26.98. It’s worth it. Rated PG-13. ***’½

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2008, Mark Burger

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