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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK

BARON BLOOD (Anchor Bay Entertainment): There’s Gothic atmosphere to spare in Mario Bava’s 1972 chiller, newly reissued as part of a boxed set devoted to the works of Bava (1914-1980), who specialized in horror films but toiled in a variety of genres.

Set in Austria, the film concerns the restoration of a castle once owned by the sadistic baron Otto von Kleist, infamous for torturing and impaling his victims – hence his nickname “Baron Blood.” Local legend has it that the Baron’s spirit still haunts the premises.

Said legend proves truer than most when Baron Blood is resurrected and promptly continues his murderous reign of terror – much to the dismay of the handsome but dim descendant (Antonio Cantafora) who revived him.

Elke Sommer, decked out in some fetching miniskirts, plays the resident damsel-in-distress, an architecture student (ha!) whom the Baron would like to teach a thing or two. Sommer not only looks fabulous but she’s an excellent screamer – a talent that is continuously put to use here.

Best of all is the great Joseph Cotten, adding touches of class and debonair menace as Alfred Becker, a mysterious American businessman who purchases the Baron’s castle, for reasons that he won’t keep to himself for very long.

Storywise, the film isn’t terribly deep or original. This is an old-fashioned, albeit grisly, ghost story laced with moments of black humor and bursts of violent action. The highlight of the film is a fog-shrouded chase sequence in which Eva tries to elude the pursuing and persistent Baron. It’s vintage Bava and classic fodder for childhood nightmares, and I speak from experience! ***

Just in time for Halloween, Anchor Bay Entertainment is re-releasing Baron Blood as part of its “Mario Bava Collection – Volume 2,” an eight-film boxed set that also includes such Bava favorites as Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970); the spaghetti Western Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970); the 1971 slasher blueprint Bay of Blood (AKA Twitch of the Death Nerve); the comedy Four Times That Night (1972); the surreal 1975 shocker Lisa and the Devil and its re-edited version, House of Exorcism; and the little-seen, long-delayed thriller Kidnapped (AKA Rabid Dogs), which was begun in 1974 but not released until 1997 – nearly 20 years after Bava’s death. The boxed set retails for $49.98.

ALSO ON DVD

“BIG STARS/BEST KNOCKOUTS: KING OF THE CAGE” (BCI): A five-DVD boxed set, retailing for $19.98, highlighting the punchiest of mixed martial-arts competitions. If that’s not enough wrestling action for you, BCI is also releasing “Rampage: Birth of a Champion,” a profile of Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champ, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, which retails for $14.98.

BLACK CIRCLE BOYS (Allumination FilmWorks): Writer/director Matthew Carnahan’s feature debut is a fact-based drama about a disenchanted teenager (Scott Bairstow) who longs for acceptance and falls in with a secret group of Goths whose escapades escalate into murder. Well-intentioned and credible yarn runs out of steam long before it ends. Rated R. **

CUTTING CLASS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): An unrated version of director Rospo Pallenberg’s goofy 1989 slasher comedy about a suburban high school rocked by unsolved murders. Best remembered as an early starring role for Brad Pitt, this also wastes the collective talents of Donovan Leitch, Jill Schoelen, Roddy McDowall and Martin Mull. It’s almost as if everyone concerned decided to cut their losses and camp it up. *

THE DEAD NEXT DOOR (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Heads, and other body parts, roll when the world is overrun by flesh-eating zombies in this low-budget 1988 shocker, which marked the feature debut of writer/producer/director/editor/composer JR Bookwalter, who also appears in the film. Bankrolled by Sam Raimi, with the voice of Bruce Campbell prominent throughout. See if you can count how many times someone opens a door and zombies pop out. **

“FAMILY TIES” – THE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 23 episodes from the 1983-’84 season of the hit NBC sitcom about an all-American family in which the parents (Meredith Baxter Birney and Michael Gross) were more liberal than the kids (Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman and Tina Yothers). This was the show that put Fox on the map. The second season earned two Emmy nominations including Outstanding Comedy Series. This boxed set retails for $42.99.

HALLOWED (New Light Entertainment/Visual Entertainment): A deranged religious fanatic (badly played by Corey Foxx) goes on a murderous rampage in this dull, predictable and heavy-handed shocker written and directed by Rocky Costanzo. Leaving the door open for a sequel is the scariest thing in the entire movie. Rated R. No stars

“MEDIUM” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): Patricia Arquette (Emmy nominee for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama) continues to solve crime with her psychic acumen in all 22 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the hit NBC prime-time series inspired by the life of Allison DuBois, who acts as a consultant on the series. This boxed set retails for $61.99. A collector’s set consisting of all three seasons retails for $148.99.

MIDNIGHT MASS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Vampires take over the world in this apocalyptic shocker based on the novella by F. Paul Wilson (who appears briefly). Some interesting ideas and good special effects are overpowered by ham-fisted acting and dialogue. Filmed in one of the scariest places on Earth: New Jersey. Rated R. *1/2

“NCIS” – THE FOURTH SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): Mark Harmon and his team continue to spearhead the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s ongoing war on crime in all 24 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the popular CBS prime-time series. This boxed set retails for $64.99.

THE REAPING (Warner Home Video): Hilary Swank does her best as a missionary-turned-debunker investigating a report that the 10 plagues of Egypt have descended upon a rustic Louisiana burg. Filmed in 2005, this was delayed more than a year before reaching theaters. Don’t wonder why. An intriguing premise eventually goes off the deep end in a barrage of CGI effects and goofy plot twists. Rated R. *1/2

RODENTZ (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Mutant rats go on the rampage in this low-rent schlock-fest originally titled Altered Species. When the obligatory carload of dumb college kids turns up, you may find yourself rooting for the rats. Rated R. 1/2*

“ROOTS: THE NEXT GENERATIONS” (Warner Home Video): The 1979 follow-up to the landmark 1977 ABC-TV mini-series based on Alex Haley’s best-seller is a seamless, equally compelling experience. The all-star cast includes James Earl Jones (as Alex Haley), Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Paul Winfield, Al Freeman Jr., Bernie Casey, Pam Grier, Andy Griffith, Brock Peters, Robert Culp, James Daly (in his final performance) and Marlon Brando as American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell. Winner of two Emmy Awards: Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Special (Brando). Additional nominations included Outstanding Supporting Actor (both Winfield and Freeman) and Outstanding Supporting Actress (Dee). This boxed set retails for $59.98. A boxed set of the entire anthology, Roots: The Complete Collection, retails for $119.82.

STARTING OVER (Paramount Home Entertainment): Alan J. Pakula’s sparkling 1979 grown-up comedy stars Burt Reynolds as a divorced writer torn between his ex-wife (Candice Bergen) and a thirtysomething schoolteacher (Jill Clayburgh). Adapted from Dan Wakefield’s novel by James L. Brooks, with a sharp supporting cast including Charles Durning, Frances Sternhagen, Austin Pendleton, Wallace Shawn and Mary Kay Place – and look fast for Kevin Bacon and Daniel Stern. Clayburgh picked up an Oscar nomination as Best Actress; Bergen scored her own nomination as Best Supporting Actress, and her rendition of “Better Than Ever” is a scream. Great use of Boston locations. Rated R. ***1/2

“THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO” – SEASON ONE, VOLUME TWO (Paramount Home Entertainment): Karl Malden and Michael Douglas continue to fight crime in the City by the Bay in the remaining 13 episodes from the long-running ABC series’ 1972-’73 season. Guest stars include Lew Ayres, Joe Don Baker, Joseph Cotten, Richard Egan, Shirley Knight, Leslie Nielsen, Barbara Rush, Dean Stockwell and Barry Sullivan. This boxed set retails for $42.99.

SUPERSTITION (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The ghost of a vengeful witch returns to terrorize the new inhabitants of a haunted house in this forgettable, poorly acted shocker that was gory enough to be released without an MPAA rating. Filmed in 1982, this wasn’t released until 1985 after executive producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna had hit it big with First Blood. *

“TOM AND JERRY SPOTLIGHT COLLECTION VOL. 3” (Warner Home Video): The final collection of 35 classic cartoon shorts from the Hanna-Barbera era, showcasing the ongoing battle between cat and mouse. This two-disc set retails for $26.99. For those who can’t get enough of Tom and Jerry – and who can’t? – Warner Home Video is also prepping for the holiday season with the new original movie, Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale, which retails for $19.98. Just for the record, I always rooted for Tom. The cat’s just doing his job, after all.

ULTIMATE FORCE (BCI): This martial-arts opus, filmed in Croatia, acts as a showcase for international fighting champion Mirko “Crop Cop” Filipovic, playing a covert assassin who must take on all comers, which he does – usually in overcast weather. Filipovic doesn’t sweat the physical stuff. Just don’t expect him to act. The only surprise here is seeing a logo for “Bryanston Distributors,” which was also the name of a film company (long defunct) back in the ’70s. *

VAMPIRES: THE TURNING (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Fights, fangs and flash gnash and clash in this action shocker set in Thailand. The action’s pretty good, the story is pretty bad and, with the exception of Patrick Bachau as a vampire slayer, the acting is more wooden than a barrel of stakes. No relation to the earlier Vampires films except in title only. Rated R. *1/2

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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