Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


TEACHERS (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Arthur Hiller’s all-star 1984 satire of the American educational system packs quite a punch in the first half, before contrivance and melodrama take over in the second.

The principal (no pun intended) setting is JFK High School, a ramshackle inner-city institution where assaults are an almost daily occurrence and the school is being sued by a former student who can’t read or write. Clearly, the system doesn’t work, and JFK is a quintessential example.

Nick Nolte heads the cast as a burned-out idealist just trying to get through the day, with Judd Hirsch as the vice-principal, Lee Grant as the school superintendent and JoBeth Williams as an attorney – and a former student – who dallies with Nolte as they debate the issues at hand. In one of his best big-screen turns, Richard Mulligan plays the best teacher in the school – until it transpires that he’s actually an escaped mental patient.

The first half of the film gets almost everything right, but the second half goes astray – culminating in the now-infamous scene where Williams goes nude in the hallways in order to prove a point. (She sure does….)

The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces: Ralph Macchio, Laura Dern, Crispin Glover, Morgan Freeman, Steven Hill, Allen Garfield, Royal Dano, William Schallert, Zohra Lampert, Art Metrano and Anthony Heald. In the end, it’s the conviction of the actors that earns Teachers a passing grade and just a bit more. Love that soundtrack, too!

Rated R. ***


THE CAVERN (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Spelunkers in Kazakhstan enter an underground cavern they shouldn’t have. Guess what happens next? This low-budget shocker kills time easily enough. Love those end credits! Originally titled Within. Rated R. **

DAWN OF THE LIVING DEAD (Hannover House USA): Neither Todd Bridges in a fat suit or a zombie baby help this slow-moving, silly shocker from writer/producer/director David Heavener, whose favorite leading man also stars – that would be David Heavener. Originally titled Curse of the Maya but a stinker by any name. *1/2

EXORCISM (EXORCISMO) (BCI Eclipse): International horror icon Paul Naschy (AKA Jacinto Molina) wrote and stars in this 1975 Euro-shocker about a girl possessed by the devil, necessitating a visit from Naschy’s priest. Although written before The Exorcist, the success of that film jump-started this one into production. Not a great movie, but the new transfer is – and Naschy’s introduction is a treat. **

“THE GREAT AMERICAN BASH” (WWE/Genius Products LLC): The Great Khali, Dusty Rhodes, John Cena and Kane are among the pro wrestlers whose most memorable recent matches have been compiled in this DVD, which retails for $24.95.

THE HAPPY HOOKER TRILOGY (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): The misadventures of call girl-turned-author Xaviera Hollander (remember her?) are depicted, in varying unsuccessful feature-film ventures. In 1975, Lynn Redgrave portrayed Xaviera in the first and (comparatively speaking) best of the three: The Happy Hooker (**). Joey Heatherton assumed the role in 1977’s flimsy Watergate spoof, The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (*1/2), followed by lovely Martine Beswicke in 1980’s slapdash show-biz spoof The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (*1/2), which was produced by the legendary Golan/Globus duo. This boxed set retails for $17.99, and boy is my arm tired. (From writing this, of course.) All three films are rated R.

HOLIDAY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn sparkle in George Cukor’s well-rendered 1938 adaptation of the Philip Barry play, about the betrothal of a self-made man (Grant) to a millionaire’s daughter (Doris Nolan) – but then he finds himself drawn to her older sister (Hepburn). A fine cast also includes Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton, Jean Dixon, Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes. Grant’s somersaults are pretty impressive. The art direction/set decoration earned an Oscar nomination. ***1/2

“JAG” – THE FOURTH SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 1998-’99 season of the long-running prime-time military drama, which picked up an Emmy Award that season for Outstanding Costuming for a Series and a nomination for Outstanding Cinematography for a Series. The boxed set retails for $64.99.

MACHINE (MTI Home Video): In his feature debut, Michael Lazar wrote, produced, directed and stars in this cheap, obvious crime melodrama. Career-wise, there’s nowhere to go but up. Plenty of tough-guy talk, but this is all turkey. The cast also includes Michael Madsen, James Russo and Neil McDonough, who easily steals the show as a crooked cop. Rated R. *

“THE MUPPET SHOW” – THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Walt Disney Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 1977 season of Jim Henson’s series – the year it won the Emmy Award as Outstanding Comedy or Variety/Music Series, with additional nominations for writing, direction, and guest stars Bernadette Peters and Peter Sellers. Other guest stars that year included Julie Andrews, George Burns, Steve Martin and Elton John. The boxed set retails for $39.99.

A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY (Paramount Home Entertainment): A special collector’s edition of the 1998 comedy starring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan as bobbing brothers Steve and Doug Butabi, characters they introduced – and which should have stayed – on “Saturday Night Live.” Rated PG-13. *

NOVEMBER (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A change of pace for Courteney Cox, cast as a woman trying to deal with the shooting death of her boyfriend (James LeGros) in director Greg Harrison’s psychological thriller, which is intriguing and stylish but ultimately empty. The end credits run nearly 10 minutes (!). Rated R. **

“THE ODD COUPLE” – THE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): The peerless pairing of Jack Klugman and Tony Randall continues in this boxed set containing all 23 episodes from the 1971-’72 season of the classic situation comedy based on Neil Simon’s hit play. This was the first season the show was taped before a live audience – much to the stars’ delight. Both Klugman and Randall earned Emmy nominations, as did the show as Outstanding Comedy Series. For some of us, this is about as close to perfect as a sitcom gets. This boxed set retails for $42.99.

SANTERIA (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A Latin community in Southern California is rocked by religious visions and supernatural goings-on in this low-budget chiller that, even at 82 minutes, seems to go on forever. Incidentally, the film has nothing to do with santeria. Rated R. *

SCORPIUS GIGANTUS (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): The indefatigable Roger Corman was the executive producer of this low-rent cheesefest about genetically mutated scorpions on the rampage. Rated R. *

“SOUTH PARK” – THE COMPLETE TENTH SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): Kenny keeps dying in all 14 episodes from the 2006 season of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s award-winning, animated Comedy Central series. The episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft” earned the series an Emmy Award nomination this year as Outstanding Animated Program. This boxed set retails for $49.99.

“WHEN UFOS ATTACK DOUBLE FEATURE” (VCI Entertainment): A pair of feature-length documentaries exploring the UFO phenomenon – sometimes in unintentionally amusing fashion. Rod Serling (in his final onscreen appearance) joins Burgess Meredith and Jose Ferrer in 1976’s UFOs: It Has Begun (**1/2), while Anthony Eisley narrates 1980’s UFO Syndrome (**).

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2007, Mark Burger.