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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Released in the United States as The Conqueror Worm, thereby making it seem as if it’s an Edgar Allan Poe picture, Michael Reeves’ 1968 film was both a box-office hit and the subject of some controversy.

Vincent Price, in a startling and superb turn, portrays Matthew Hopkins, the “Witchfinder General” of the title, a pious and corrupt man charging through the 17th-century English countryside rousing the townspeople to condemn and execute witches – often for his own gain – and he’s got the tacit approval of the government to do it.

For all the talk about witches, there are no supernatural elements in the story; all of its horrors spring from the bottomless well of human cruelty. That the film is also based on actual events does not lessen its savage impact.

The film takes a cynical view of religion, politics and human nature in general, yet also tells a crackling yarn of revenge and retribution, as Hopkins runs afoul of a young soldier (Ian Ogilvy) whose beloved (Hilary Dwyer) has already fallen victim to the witchfinder’s cruelty.

This was the third, last, and best film directed by Michael Reeves, a tenacious (and troubled) young filmmaker who would die of a drug overdose less than a year after the film was released. It is for this film that he is remembered and, in some circles, revered. The comparisons to Sam Peckinpah were not unjustified. ***1/2

The film is being released on its own and also as part of MGM MOVIE SCREAM LEGENDS: VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION, which includes seven Price favorites (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Madhouse, Tales of Terror, Twice-Told Tales and Theatre of Blood, which was not only the actor’s personal favorite but also one of his greatest triumphs) as well as a bonus disc containing rare interviews with Price. The boxed set retails for $39.98.

ALSO ON DVD THIS WEEK

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Released in the United States as The Conqueror Worm, thereby making it seem as if it’s an Edgar Allan Poe picture, Michael Reeves’ 1968 film was both a box-office hit and the subject of some controversy.

Vincent Price, in a startling and superb turn, portrays Matthew Hopkins, the “Witchfinder General” of the title, a pious and corrupt man charging through the 17th-century English countryside rousing the townspeople to condemn and execute witches – often for his own gain – and he’s got the tacit approval of the government to do it.

For all the talk about witches, there are no supernatural elements in the story; all of its horrors spring from the bottomless well of human cruelty. That the film is also based on actual events does not lessen its savage impact.

The film takes a cynical view of religion, politics and human nature in general, yet also tells a crackling yarn of revenge and retribution, as Hopkins runs afoul of a young soldier (Ian Ogilvy) whose beloved (Hilary Dwyer) has already fallen victim to the witchfinder’s cruelty.

This was the third, last, and best film directed by Michael Reeves, a tenacious (and troubled) young filmmaker who would die of a drug overdose less than a year after the film was released. It is for this film that he is remembered and, in some circles, revered. The comparisons to Sam Peckinpah were not unjustified. ***1/2

The film is being released on its own and also as part of MGM MOVIE SCREAM LEGENDS: VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION, which includes seven Price favorites (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Madhouse, Tales of Terror, Twice-Told Tales and Theatre of Blood, which was not only the actor’s personal favorite but also one of his greatest triumphs) as well as a bonus disc containing rare interviews with Price. The boxed set retails for $39.98.

ALSO ON DVD

BODY ROCK (Starz Home Entertainment): Lorenzo Lamas is Chilly D in this uproarious 1984 break-dancing opus. Watching something like this, it’s easy to see how Ronald Reagan was twice elected president. Lorenzo’s preening rendition of “Smooth Talker” is something else. Rated PG-13. **

“BOSOM BUDDIES” – THE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 19 episodes from the 1981-’82 season of the prime-time ABC series, which only ran two seasons before cancellation. The show was basically a sitcom knock-off of Some Like It Hot, with two guys dressing like women so they can live cheap in an all-girl hotel. The two guys were played by Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks. Gee, whatever became of them? Co-star Donna Dixon’s been married to Dan Aykroyd for almost 25 years. This retails for $35.99.

BUY THE TICKET, TAKE THE RIDE: HUNTER S. THOMPSON ON FILM (Starz Home Entertainment): Director Tom Thurman’s engaging made-for-cable documentary about the (wild) life and times of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, narrated by an alarmingly raspy Nick Nolte. Among those who weigh in on Thompson’s legacy are Johnny Depp (who played Thompson in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas), Bill Murray (who played Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam), Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, John Cusack and George McGovern, to name a few – but the real star of the show is, of course, Thompson himself. ***1/2

“CHARMED” – THE FINAL SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): The end of the line for the bewitching Halliwell sisters (Alyssa Milano, Holly Marie Combs and Rose McGowan), as this boxed set contains all 22 episodes of the 2005-’06 season and retails for $54.99.

CHINA HEAT (Image Entertainment): An all-girl police task force travels to New York City to bring down a drug lord in this hokey 1992 chop-socky melodrama. According to some sources, Meredith MacRae’s in here somewhere. If so, it was her final film. *1/2

THE PLAGUE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Ten years after the world’s children fall into a coma, they wake up and exact a violent, apocalyptic revenge against the generations before them. This grim chiller, produced by Clive Barker, has some effective moments and decent performances (including James Van Der Beek as the nominal hero), but doesn’t quite add up. Still, it’s worth a look for horror fans. Rated R. **1/2

“DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES” – THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, THE DIRTY LAUNDRY EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): All 23 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the popular ABC prime-time series, which picked up six Emmy Award nominations including ones for Felicity Huffman as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and for both Dixie Carter and Laurie Metcalf as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. This boxed set retails for $59.99.

KNUCKLE SANDWICH (Westlake Entertainment): Director Ryan Minningham’s comedy stars Doug Callan as an unemployed executive who reconnects with his high-school friends in back in Georgia. This was the winner of the Myspace.com DVD distribution contest, and it’s quite likable in a mainstream way. **1/2

THE LAST DAY OF SUMMER (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A surprisingly enjoyable and well-acted pre-teen variation on Groundhog Day, with Jansen Panettiere as a young boy who keeps re-living the day before he starts middle school. **1/2

“NIP/TUCK” – THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 15 episodes from the 2006 season of the award-winning FX cable series about two happy-go-lucky South Beach plastic surgeons (Dylan Walsh and Julian McMahon) and their misadventures as they cut and paste. This boxed set retails for $59.98.

SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (SIE TOTETE IN EKSTASE) (Image Entertainment): The intoxicating Soledad Miranda, in her final film, plays a woman bent on avenging the suicide of her husband by seducing and killing those who ruined him. A typically bizarre and kinky outing from writer/director Jess Franco, who also plays one of her victims. Released in 1971, shortly after Miranda’s tragic death in a car crash. **

“WELCOME TO THE GRINDHOUSE” (BCI Eclipse): A wild and wacky series of DVD double features representing the crux – or perhaps “the crust” – of low-rent cinema. The collection includes Pick-Up (1975) and The Teacher (1974), starring Angel Tompkins and Jay North (TV’s “Dennis the Menace”!); Evil Eye (1974) with Richard Conte and Black Candles (1982); Sister Street Fighter (1975) and The Bodyguard (1976), both with Sonny Chiba; and yet another Chiba twin bill: Sonny Chiba’s Dragon Princess (1982) and Karate Warriors (1976). Each volume retails for $12.98 – and there are more to come!

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

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