Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

Pick of the Week:

ZAPPED! (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): It’s only out of teenaged nostalgia that I make this the DVD Pick of the Week, since it was a bad film in 1982 and it hasn’t improved with age.

Taking its inspiration (such as it is) from Carrie, this knockabout comedy stars the ubiquitous Scott Baio as Barney Springboro, a high-school science geek (we know because he wears glasses) who develops telekinetic abilities after a laboratory mishap.

His parents (Roger Bowen and Marya Small) think Barney is possessed, but his best bud Peyton (the inimitable Willie Aames) sees Barney’s newfound abilities as an opportunity to do such important things as make girls’ skirts swish up and girls’ sweaters pop open – especially the sweater belonging to class hottie Jane (Heather Thomas). This is like one of those live-action Disney comedies from the 1970s, albeit far raunchier… and frequently less funnier.

Felice Schachter (very cute) is the brainy girl who falls for Barney, and others familiar faces on hand include Robert Mandan, Sue Ane Langdon, Merritt Butrick, Eddie Deezen, LaWanda Page and the immortal Scatman Crothers, who unwittingly gets stoned in one scene and hallucinates hanging out with Albert Einstein. Crothers also utters such sage romantic advice as “First comes the woman, then the whiskey.” Well, he’s right about that….

Rated R. *½


BENEATH (Paramount Home Entertainment): Nora Zehetner plays a young woman who returns home after her sister’s death and uncovers some dark family secrets. This doesn’t quite add up but has some interesting (and creepy) moments along the way. Writer/director Dagen Merrill, making his feature debut, may be a talent to watch. Rated R. **

BEOWULF (Paramount Home Entertainment): Director Robert Zemeckis’ enjoyable, visually dazzling, animated adaptation of the epic poem, with Ray Winstone in the title role of the fearless warrior, backed by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich, Brendan Gleeson and Crispin Glover (as Grendel). Much of the film’s visual panache will be lost on the small screen. Rated PG-13 (also available in an unrated director’s cut). ***

BOWSER MAKES A MOVIE (Ariztical Entertainment): Writer/director Toby Ross’ comedy focuses on an aspiring filmmaker (Nick Lewis) who dreams of making gay porn. The cast is game, and there are some funny moments, but this fizzles out far too early. *½

“DARK SHADOWS” – THE BEGINNING, VOLUME 3 (MPI Home Video): Some 35 episodes (originally airing October-November 1966) of Dan Curtis’ popular daytime Gothic soap opera set in the mysterious New England town of Collinwood. The cast includes Joan Bennett, Nancy Barrett, Louis Edmonds, Mitchell Ryan, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Thayer David. These episodes preceded the introduction of Jonathan Frid as the vampire Barnabas Collins. The boxed set retails for $59.98.

“DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS” (BCI): The name of the collection says it all: Eight B-movie favorites released by Crown International Pictures during the glory days of drive-in theaters. This boxed set, which retails for $9.98, includes Pick Up (1980); John Savage in The Sister-in-Law (1974), the feature debut of writer/producer/director Joseph Ruben; The Stepmother (1972), which actually earned an Oscar nomination for the song “Strange Are the Ways of Love;” Angel Tompkins and Jay North (TV’s “Dennis the Menace”) in The Teacher (1974); Trip With the Teacher (1975), which stars future filmmaker Zalman King; Best Friends (1975) with Richard Hatch; the “sibling drama” Cindy & Donna (1970); and the revenge-fueled Malibu High (1979). As you might’ve guessed, all of these films are rated R.

ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE (VCI Entertainment): Michael Cornelison gives a tour-de-force performance as the legendary lawman in writer/director Max Allan Collins’ one-man stage show that sees Ness recounting the facts of his career in law enforcement – including, but not limited to, his relentless pursuit of Al Capone in Prohibition-era Chicago. For true-crime buffs, this is a fascinating presentation of the facts behind the television show “The Untouchables.” ***

“FAMILY AFFAIR” – SEASON FIVE (MPI Home Video): All 24 episodes from the 1970-’71 (and final) season of the popular CBS prime-time sitcom with Brian Keith as a bachelor who cares for his late brother’s three children (Kathy Garver, Johnnie Whitaker and Anissa Jones) with the help of his wise butler, Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot). These episodes would mark Jones’ final appearances; she died of a drug overdose in 1976 – one of the more well-publicized tragedies involving a child star. This boxed set retails for $39.98.

FELICITY (Severin Films): Glory Annen plays the title role, that of a sexually curious English schoolgirl, in this 1979 softcore favorite that was a staple of late-night cable-TV for years. Annen’s appeal is largely due to the fact that she doesn’t look like a supermodel. This admitted guilty pleasure is loaded with laughs – the incessant theme song, “Mama’s Little Girl,” being one of the biggest. This is the uncut version of the film, and includes a commentary track by Annen and director John Lamond. **

FOREST PRIMEVAL (Tempe Video): The Polonia Brothers’ low-rent homage to Equinox and The Evil Dead depicts an ancient, monstrous presence being unleashed upon the unsuspecting townsfolk unlucky enough to live near Skull Mountain – which is located in lovely Wellsboro, Pa., by the way. The gore’s the thing here… and yes, there is a shower kill. *½

FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO (First Run Features): This moving documentary examines the ongoing debate about how the Bible deals with homosexuality – and how it is frequently, contextually misconstrued. Remarkably even-handed (to both perspectives) and certainly topical, this marks an auspicious feature debut for filmmaker Daniel Karslake. ***

GUILIANI TIME (Cinema Libre Studio): Kevin Keating’s documentary feature takes a long, hard and very critical look at the often-controversial career of Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and until recently a potential candidate for president of the United States. Among those who weigh in on Giuliani’s legacy are former Mayor David Dinkins, former police commissioner William S. Bratton, Donald Trump (who needs no introduction) and even the late “Grandpa” Al Lewis, who once ran for governor of New York State. ***½

GUNS AND GUTS (VCI Entertainment): Rene Cardona Jr.’s 1974 Mexican-made spaghetti Western (a “tortilla Western”?) stars Jorge Rivero, Pedro Armendariz Jr. and Rogelio Guerra as a trio of gunmen on a mission of vengeance. Watching a Cardona film is like watching a filmmaker learning on the job. Clearly inspired by Sam Peckinpah – right down to the bullet-riddled finale – this is pretty silly stuff, but it has its fun moments (like the strip-poker scene). Rated R. **

“HG WELLS’ INVISIBLE MAN” – THE COMPLETE SERIES (Dark Sky Films): All 26 episodes from the British-made sci-fi series that ran from 1958 to 1960 (on CBS in the US), in which a brilliant scientist is rendered invisible by an experiment gone wrong. Using his abilities, he becomes an agent for the British government. The identity of the actor who played the Invisible Man was, at the time, a well-guarded secret. This boxed set retails for $39.98.

HACK! (Allumination FilmWorks): Writer/director Matt Flynn’s feature debut sees a group of college students (and film buffs) who travel to a remote island, where they are killed off one-by-one in an elaborate plot. This veers from spoofery to straight-on slasher horror, and never quite gains a foothold. Good cast includes Danica McKellar, Juliet Landau, William Forsythe, Burt Young, Tony Burton and, in a gag cameo, Kane Hodder. Rated R. **

INTO THE WILD (Paramount Home Entertainment): Screenwriter/director Sean Penn’s sympathetic adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book stars Emile Hirsch as Christopher McCandless, a wayward soul who traveled the country to find himself – much to the concern of his family (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden and Jena Malone). Among the people Christopher encounters are Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Brian Dierker and Hal Holbrook – whose wonderful, late-inning appearance earned him the very first Academy Award nomination (as best supporting actor) of his career. This is available in a single-disc edition and a two-disc special edition. Rated R. ***

RAISING FLAGG (Cinema Libre Studio): Alan Arkin plays a small-town curmudgeon who thinks he’s at death’s door, which compels his family to rally around him. Arkin is always worth watching, but this slow-moving comedy barely gets by on the good will of its cast: Lauren Holly, Glenne Headly, Austin Pendleton, Clifton James, Arkin’s son Matthew, and Arkin’s ex-wife Barbara Dana, who’s terrific as Flagg’s long-suffering wife. Rated PG-13. **

ROXY HUNTER AND THE MYSTERY OF THE MOODY GHOST (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The first in a series of four family films produced by Nickelodeon, with Aria Wallace – who’s being touted as “the next Miley Cyrus” -as a pre-teen super-sleuth who teams up with her brilliant best friend (Demetrius Joyette) to solve supernatural goings-on in her new house. This DVD, which retails for $24.94, includes bloopers and music videos.

STAY HUNGRY (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Bob Rafelson’s appealingly observant and cynical 1976 adaptation of Charles Gaines’ novel stars Jeff Bridges as an aimless heir who falls in with a group of bodybuilders (including Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his screen debut) – and in love with a saucy Sally Field. Great supporting cast includes Robert Englund, RG Armstrong, Roger E. Mosley, Joanna Cassidy, Scatman Crothers (you can never get enough of him!), Joe Spinell, Fannie Flagg and Ed Begley Jr. Arnold even took home a Golden Globe award (best acting debut in a motion picture – male). Rated R. ***

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE (Paramount Home Entertainment): Director Susanne Bier’s moving drama stars David Duchovny as a family man who is tragically murdered, forcing his wife (Halle Berry) and his troubled best friend (Benicio Del Toro) to work together to put their lives back together. This exquisitely acted, first-class tearjerker was one of 2007’s best films – but was overlooked by audiences. Rated R. ***½

WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL (Paramount Home Entertainment): Doris Day and Brian Keith are a comfortable duo as a widow and widower who meet and marry – much to the dismay of her three sons and his teenaged daughter (Barbara Hershey, in her screen debut). This pleasant 1968 comedy also features George Carlin (in his screen debut), the Grass Roots, Pat Carroll, Alice Ghostley, Vic Tayback, Jackie Joseph, Milton Frome, Allan Melvin (who died earlier this year) and future “M*A*S*H” co-stars Jamie Farr and William Christopher, here playing hippie bikers (!). This marks Day’s final screen role to date, as well as the final film produced by her husband, Martin Melcher, who died unexpectedly late into the production. It was later disclosed that Melcher had lost much of Day’s fortune in bad investments. Ain’t show-biz grand? Rated G. **½

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