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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

ALLIGATOR (LionsGate Home Entertainment): One of the true gems of the early 1980s, this witty and enjoyable monster mash is arguably the best Jaws knock-off and immensely enjoyable in its own right.

The great Robert Forster plays the prototypical hero cop investigating a series of bizarre murders in and around the city’s sewers. He soon discovers, when his partner (Perry Lang) is devoured, that a giant alligator is at large. Convincing people takes some doing, but when the alligator busts out of the sewers and starts chowing down on the populace, skepticism vanishes in a hurry.

Dean Jagger plays the wealthy mogul whose shady business practices started this mess in the first place, but it’s only a matter of time before the gator comes his way.

A great cast includes Michael V. Gazzo (as the police chief), Jack Carter (as the mayor!), Sydney Lassick, Sue Lyon, Angel Tompkins, Mike Mazurki and Henry Silva as Col. Brock, an arrogant big-game hunter who meets his match – and gets munched – by the beast. Scrumptious Robin Riker plays the scientist who meets her match in Forster, and together they try to put a stop to its rampage.

The DVD special features include an interview with screenwriter John Sayles and a commentary with Forster and director Lewis Teague. Rated R. ***

ALSO ON DVD

BITTER VICTORY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Nicholas Ray’s 1957 adaptation of Rene Hardy’s novel stars Curt Jurgens and the ever-broody Richard Burton as British soldiers whose mission against Rommel’s forces is compromised by mistrust and betrayal. A strange, not altogether successful film that nevertheless maintains interest. The other commandos include Nigel Green and a pre-stardom Christopher Lee. **1/2

DEMONS (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A re-release of Lamberto Bava’s 1985 cult classic, in which a movie theater is overrun by voracious zombies. A fast-paced – and very gory – freak-out. Bava and producer Dario Argento also worked on the screenplay. ***

DEMONS 2 (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The first film was so popular that a 1986 sequel followed, also directed by Lamberto Bava and produced by Dario Argento. This time, television is to blame for a demonic infestation of a high-rise apartment building. More remake than sequel, but a solid shocker nonetheless. As with the first film, the gore quotient is very high. ***

ELIZABETH (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A re-release of Shekhar Kapur’s excellent 1998 historical drama tracing the ascension of Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) to the throne. A splendid cast includes Geoffrey Rush, Richard Attenborough, Christopher Eccleston, John Gielgud and Fanny Ardant. Oscar winner for Best Makeup, with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design and Best Score. Among the special features is a preview of the upcoming sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Rated R. ***1/2

FEARLESS FIGHTERS (Image Entertainment): Martial-arts madness at its most entertaining in this 1973 chop-socky effort boasting hilarious dubbing and dialogue, as well as a number of stunts projected in reverse. Prolific actor James Hong supervised the English version and provides a number of the voices. It’s obvious that this was edited from a longer version, but who’s quibbling? **1/2

THE FLY COLLECTION (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A boxed set containing all three of the original films: The classic 1958 adaptation of The Fly (***) starring Al (David) Hedison as a scientist who falls victim to his own experiment; 1959’s Return of the Fly (**1/2) starring Brett Halsey as the son of the Hedison character, who learns (the hard way) from his father’s mistakes; and Don Sharp’s 1965 installment, Curse of the Fly (**), boasts no flies to speak of, but plenty of strange mutants. A bonus disc includes a retrospective documentary as well as the A&E Biography of Vincent Price, who appeared in the first two films – but never as the Fly. The boxed set retails for $34.99.

IN ENEMY HANDS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): German sailors and American POWs are forced to work together aboard a U-boat during an outbreak of meningitis. Earnest melodrama is hampered by its low budget, but William H. Macy is a huge plus. Rated R. **

KNOCKED UP (Universal Studios Homer Entertainment): Katherine Heigl and Set Rogen star in Judd Apatow’s outrageous but endearing romantic comedy in which a one-night stand becomes a lifetime commitment between an up-and-coming TV reporter and a lovably slovenly slacker. Rated R. ***

“MASTERS OF HORROR” – SEASON ONE (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A limited-edition collection of all 13 episodes from the 2005-’06 season of the Showtime anthology series, which picked up an Emmy Award for Original Main Title Theme Music and another nomination for the score of “Dreams in the Witch House.” The first-season directors include such genre stalwarts as Dario Argento (“Jenifer”), John Carpenter (“Cigarette Burns”), Larry Cohen (“Pick Me Up”), Don Coscarelli (“Incident On and Off a Mountain Road”), Joe Dante (“Homecoming”), Mick Garris (“Chocolate”), Stuart Gordon (“Dreams in the Witch House”), Tobe Hooper (“Dance of the Dead”), John Landis (“Deer Woman”), William Malone (“Fair Haired Child”), Lucky McKee (“Sick Girl”), Takashi Miike (“Imprint”) and John McNaughton (“Haeckel’s Tale”). The boxed set retails for $79.97, and individual installments retail for $14.98.

ROTTWEILER (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Set in a totalitarian future, Brian Yuzna’s heavy-handed shocker pits an escaped political dissident (William Miller) against the genetically enhanced and mechanized title menace. Rated R. *

A SLIPPING-DOWN LIFE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Actress-turned-director Toni Kalem’s leisurely-paced and long-delayed adaptation of an Anne Tyler novel stars Lili Taylor as a small-town woman who becomes fixated on a self-indulgent rock guitarist (Guy Pearce, who does his own singing). Well-acted but depressing. Rated R. **1/2

“SMALLVILLE” – THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): Tensions continue to simmer between the young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) and the young Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) in the 22 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the hit CW Television series, which picked up an Emmy Award for Outstanding Sound Editing in a Series. This boxed set retails for $59.98.

THE STENDAHL SYNDROME (Blue Underground): A two-disc special edition of Dario Argento’s genuinely shocking 1996 psychological thriller starring daughter Asia as a young police detective whose pursuit of a serial murderer/rapist puts her into harm’s way – especially when she begins to suffer from the hallucinatory mental condition of the title. Asia’s fearless performance helped make this one of Dario’s best films in a long time. (Blue Underground is also re-releasing a number of Dario Argento’s films on DVD, including The Cat O’Nine Tails, Opera and the masterful Suspiria). ***

SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY (Warner Home Video): The Man of Steel meets his match – or does he? – in this animated feature based on the DC Comics’ graphic novel The Death of Superman. Voices include Adam Baldwin as Superman/Clark Kent, Anne Heche as Lois Lane and James Marsters as Lex Luthor. Rated PG-13. **1/2

TWEETY’S HIGH-FLYING ADVENTURE (Warner Home Video): This animated feature, with Tweety Bird traveling the globe in 80 days, is essentially Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, but it would’ve been nice if they gave Verne so much as a token nod. Many of the Looney Tunes characters show up briefly. The musical numbers are hardly necessary, but this kills time easily enough. Besides, this is better than the Jackie Chan/Steve Coogan Around the World in 80 Days a few years back. **

THE “TWISTED TERRORS” COLLECTION (Warner Home Video): Six shockers make their DVD debuts: Kevin Connor’s enjoyable 1976 horror anthology From Beyond the Grave (1976), based on stories by R. Chetwynd-Hayes and boasting an all-star cast including Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence and daughter Angela, Ian Bannen, David Warner and Lesley-Anne Down; John Carpenter’s effective made-for-TV 1978 suspense thriller Someone’s Watching Me! (***); Ken Wiederhorn’s grisly 1980 slasher film Eyes of a Stranger, notable only as the screen debuts of Lauren Tewes (of TV’s “The Love Boat”) and Jennifer Jason Leigh; Wes Craven’s unsuccessful 1986 adaptation of Deadly Friend (*1/2); director Manny Coto’s ham-fisted 1992 shocker Dr. Giggles (*), starring Larry Drake in the title role; and screenwriter/director Oliver Stone’s raw 1981 adaptation of The Hand (**1/2), which boasts a terrific, intense performance by Michael Caine as a tormented cartoonist

The boxed set retails for $49.92, individual titles for $14.97.

UNHOLY (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Producer/director Daryl Goldberg’s debut feature is a surreal, convoluted chiller with Adrienne Barbeau and Nicholas Brendon as a mother and son who find themselves embroiled in a bizarre conspiracy involving the American government, Nazis, the supernatural and more. A nice try that goes astray, but it’s got moments. **

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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