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Pick of the Week

TWILIGHT ZONE – THE MOVIE (Warner Home Video): In 1983, directors Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller and John Landis joined forces to pay homage to Rod Serling’s classic television series with a four-part anthology feature film.

The film was a box-office success, but the end result was overshadowed by a shocking on-set tragedy during Landis’ segment in which actor Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed during a stunt gone wrong. This was to have been Morrow’s comeback role, and his performance as a racist forced to learn repentance in the film’s opening segment is excellent.

Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” is a sunny segment about the residents of a retirement home who encounter a benevolent stranger (the always-welcome Scatman Crothers), and Joe Dante’s “It’s a Good Life” is a weird and wacky depiction of a little boy (Jeremy Licht) whose imagination is a bit too powerful.

Saving its best for last, Miller’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” stars John Lithgow (in a knockout turn) as a jittery airline passenger who thinks he sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane. Miller expertly escalates the suspense to an almost unbearable degree, making this the hands-down winner of the four segments.

This long-awaited DVD release contains no special features except for a trailer. Given the tragedy that cast a pall over the production, that’s not altogether surprising. It’s still a terrific movie. Rated PG. ***

Also on DVD

1408 (Genius Products): Mikael Hafstrom’s well-rendered adaptation of Stephen King’s short story (initially a writing exercise) is a first-rate showcase for John Cusack, as a disillusioned writer whose decision to stay in a haunted hotel room in New York City pits him against the forces of darkness. Samuel L. Jackson’s sharp turn as the hotel manager is essentially a cameo appearance; this is Cusack’s show all the way. Rated PG-13. ***

THE 8TH PLAGUE (Anthem Pictures): A virulent virus turns its victims into flesh-eating zombies that threaten to conquer the world. Where have we heard this before? Low-budget but not bad at all… and absolutely not for the squeamish. **

28 WEEKS LATER (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Juan Carlos Fresnadillo assumes the director’s chair for this intense, engrossing sequel to the 2002 sleeper 28 Days Later by Danny Boyle (who served as executive producer and second unit director here), in which London is declared free of the virus that caused all the problems the last time around. But, if the threat were truly eliminated, there wouldn’t be a movie, would they? Rumor has it that, if there’s a third installment, the likely title might be 28 Months Later. Rated R. ***

“THE AMICUS COLLECTION” (Dark Sky Films): A three-film collection of chiller produced by Britain’s Amicus Productions: Roy Ward Baker’s enjoyable 1972 Asylum (***), an all-star anthology of Robert Bloch stories; Baker’s less-successful but enjoyably creaky 1973 shocker …And Now the Screaming Starts (**); and Paul Annett’s 1974 feature, the werewolf opus The Beast Must Die! (***). Asylum and Beast are rated PG and …And Now is rated R. All three films star the inimitable Peter Cushing, who was always an asset to any film he appeared in. These are no exception. This boxed set retails for $29.98.

BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE (Vivendi Visual Entertainment): In director Uwe Boll’s totally unnecessary sequel to his 2005 flop sees Natassia Malthe stepping into the role of the vixenish vampire slayer who’s part-vampire herself. This time the setting is the Old West, where she joins forces with Pat Garrett (Michael Pare) to thwart a bloodsucking Billy the Kid (Zack Ward). Not as big a waste of talent as the first film, but just as much a waste of time. Plentiful references to earlier (and much better) Westerns. Rated R (also available in an unrated version). *

THE DARKROOM (Anchor Bay Entertainment): An escaped mental patient (Reed Diamond) suffers violent psychic flashes as he tries to help a troubled teenager (Shawn Pyfrom). Good performances all around (including those of Greg Grunberg and Lucy Lawless), but the overall film is a jumble. *

FRANKENSTEIN (Dark Sky Films): The long-awaited DVD release of producer Dan Curtis’ handsome 1973 adaptation of the Mary Shelley classic, with Robert Foxworth terrific as the obsessed Victor Frankenstein and Bo Svenson even better as his creation, called “The Giant” here. This classy production was originally broadcast on consecutive nights on the ABC late movie – and many admirers claim it to be one of the best renditions ever. Foxworth and co-star John Karlen participate in an enjoyable audio commentary. ***

FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE CREATURE FROM BLOOD COVE (William Winckler Productions Inc.): A secret government experiment revives Frankenstein’s Monster (Lawrence Furnish) to do battle with an amphibious beast (Corey Marshall) in this low-budget, affectionately campy black-and-white shocker that includes gratuitous nudity and cameos by the likes of author David Gerrold, filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman, and Ron Jeremy, who needs no introduction. Unfortunately, the novelty runs out long before the film does, but it’s got a few amusing nods. The slab in the lab looks an awful lot like a lawn chair. *

HALLOWED GROUND (Genius Products): Screenwriter David Benullo makes his feature directorial debut with this chiller about a young woman (the appealing Jaimie Alexander) who takes a wrong turn into an accursed town haunted by the memories of a murderous 19th-century preacher. This combination of elements from Children of the Corn and The Wicker Man isn’t particularly special, but is competently made and reasonably fast-paced, with rising “scream queen” Alexander holding everything together. **

HEARTSTOPPER (Union Station Media/Anchor Bay Entertainment): After being electrocuted, a serial killer (James Binkley) who specializes in ripping his victims’ hearts out comes back to life and tears a bloody swath through a suburban hospital. Robert Englund adds a touch of class as the local lawman, but director Bob Keen (a noted makeup and special-effects artist) can’t bring much original to the party. *

HELLRAISER (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A 20th-anniversary special-edition re-release of Clive Barker’s auspicious (and audacious) directorial debut, in which a mysterious puzzle box (the “Lament Configuration”) falls into the wrong hands, leading to the manifestation of a group of demons led by “Pinhead” (Doug Bradley) – arguably the decade’s most popular horror character after Freddy Krueger. Thus far, this has spawned half a dozen sequels – with a remake rumored. Plenty of DVD extras for the Barker faithful here. Rated R. ***

HOLLOW MAN (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A director’s cut of Paul Verhoeven’s sleek but one-dimensional 2000 sci-fi melodrama with Kevin Bacon as a scientist who develops a procedure to make himself invisible. Too bad it makes him psychotic, too. A deserving Oscar nominee for Best Special Effects. Rated R. **

LIVING DEATH (Genius Products): There are faint, mostly feeble, echoes of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial” in this low-budget thriller in which a wealthy sadist (Greg Bryk) is poisoned and thought dead… but he’s not. He comes back and he’s out for revenge, especially against his unfaithful wife (Kristy Swanson). A few moments of black comedy aren’t enough. *

MR. BROOKS (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Kevin Costner plays the title role in director Bruce A. Evans’ thriller, as a seemingly upstanding businessman who moonlights as a serial killer. Well acted all around, especially by Costner and William Hurt (as his alter-ego). Even Demi Moore’s good as the cop on Costner’s trail, but the film fails to take full advantage of its black-comedy possibilities. Rated R. **

THE POOL (LionsGate Home Entertainment): International grad students celebrate “the party of a lifetime” at an opulent but abandoned indoor swimming pool in Prague, but a masked killer crashes the party. Not bad for this sort of thing, with an attractive cast that includes early roles for Kristen Miller, Isla Fisher, James McAvoy and Elina Uhlig. Rated R. **

RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (Warner Home Video): A blood-soaked, CGI-saturated follow-up to the 1999 box-office hit, itself a remake of a 1959 Vincent Price vehicle. Even the lesbian ghost scene doesn’t help… much. Jeffrey Combs reappears as the mad Dr. Vannacutt, but he can’t help either. Rated R (also available in an unrated edition) *

“THE SAM KATZMAN COLLECTION” – ICONS OF HORROR (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A four-film collection commemorating the fantasy work of producer Sam Katzman (1901-1973) who specialized in (very) low-budget films. This boxed set, which retails for $24.95, includes Creature With the Atom Brain (1955), The Werewolf (1956), The Giant Claw (1957) and Zombies of Mora Tau (also ’57). If nothing else, Katzman’s titles always held a deliriously gruesome promise.

“TALES FROM THE CRYPT” – THE COMPLETE SEVENTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): The final 13 episodes from the popular HBO anthology series based on William Gaines’ EC Comics. Many of the episodes from the 1996 season were filmed in England. John Kassir voices the Crypt Keeper and guest stars include Bob Hoskins, Natasha Richardson, Elizabeth McGovern, Ewan McGregor, Jane Horrocks, Steve Coogan and Daniel Craig. This boxed set retails for $39.98.

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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