Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


THEM (Dark Sky Films): Not to be confused with the 1954 sci-fi classic about giant ants, this critically acclaimed shocker from directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud has already caused an international sensation before arriving on these shores. In fact, the directors have already sold out to Hollywood with the recent remake of The Eye, and this film is the reason why.

Lucas (Michael Cohen) and Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) are an average young couple who have recently purchased a big, rustic country house away from the crowds and the noise of the city. And, one fateful night, they wish they hadn’t….

In rapid succession, Clementine and Lucas receive strange phone calls, hear strange noises and begin to experience strange happenings. What first seemed a minor annoyance becomes a full-blown home invasion, with the couple forced to fight for their lives against an enemy that proves far more frightening than one might have anticipated. That the film is inspired by true events (!) makes its denouement all the more shocking. This is one of those films you might try watching with the lights turned out – although you may well want to turn them back on before too long.

True to fashion, Hollywood took note of this film’s success, and judging by the trailer for the upcoming chiller The Strangers, starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, an “Americanized” version awaits us this summer.

Rated R (French with English subtitles). ***


BONE DRY (Allumination FilmWorks): Writer/producer/editor/director Brett A. Hart’s encouraging feature debut stars Luke Goss as a man stranded in the middle of the Mojave Desert by an ever-present mystery man (reliable Lance Henriksen) who torments him to the edge of human endurance – and beyond. This grueling melodrama is overlong at times, but stick with it. Fine score by Scott Glasgow. Rated R. **½

BOTTOM FEEDERS (Allumination FilmWorks): Light-hearted, low-budget crime caper has a group of bumbling low-lives bungling a robbery and hitting the road, pursued by cops and killers alike. Originally released in 1998, and also known as Criminal Minds, this marked the feature debut of writer/director Thomas Baumann, who hasn’t been heard from since. Enthusiastic performances include veteran John Saxon as a mob kingpin, Kelvin Webb (in his only screen role to date) as the laconic hit-man Virgil and Morganna the Kissing Bandit (remember her?) as a randy motel clerk. Rated R. **

“COLLEGE HILL – INTERNS” (BET Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): All nine episodes from BET’s “College Hill” reality-series spin-off, focusing on a 10 college students on a summer internship vying for their big career break. This boxed set, which includes an audition reel and a rejection reel, retails for $19.99.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST (Paramount Home Entertainment): Noted cinematographer Caleb Deschanel made his feature directorial debut with this convoluted 1982 comedy/fantasy, based on David Wagoner’s novel, starring Griffin O’Neal as an orphaned teenager who aspires to be a great illusionist like his late father (played in flashback by Harry Anderson, in his screen debut). Produced by Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, this attempt at fashioning a contemporary fable was a box-office flop. Great supporting cast, though: Raul Julia, Joan Hackett, Teri Garr, John P. Ryan, Richard Bradford, M. Emmet Walsh, David Clennon, Jackie Coogan, Carlin Glynn, EG Daily, Tom Signorelli, former “East Side Kids” Gabriel Dell and Huntz Hall, Hal Williams and, in his final screen role, Desi Arnaz (billed as Desiderio Arnaz). Rated PG. **

“ESPN INSIDE ACCESS: DEREK JETER” (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): Just in time for baseball season, this made-for-cable documentary traces the illustrious career of the superstar shortstop of the New York Yankees. This is the first in a planned series of similar profiles. This special-edition DVD retails for $19.95.

EYE OF THE BEAST (Genius Products): A giant squid menaces a Canadian fishing village in this made-for-cable monster mash that kills time amusingly enough. James Van Der Beek evinces good humor as the resident hero. **

FOG CITY MAVERICKS (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Peter Coyote narrates Gary Leva’s enjoyable documentary, which traces the history of filmmakers who worked in the San Francisco Bay Area and were able to establish successful – in some cases ground-breaking – careers, including Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, Philip Kaufman, Chris Columbus, Pixar’s John Lasseter, producer Saul Zaentz and even Charlie Chaplin during the 1920s. Good fun for film buffs. ***

GRAY MATTER (Docurama): Filmmaker Joe Berlinger’s chilling and haunting documentary feature has him traveling to Vienna, Austria to investigate the burial of children’s brains left over from the Nazis’ eugenics program during World War II – and the whereabouts of the doctor (still alive at the time) said to have supervised these appalling experiments. By taking a different approach to the atrocities of the Holocaust, this film succeeds where others sometimes don’t. The visuals are frequently hard to take but also impossible to shake. ***½

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (VCI Entertainment): Not to be confused with the 1932 HG Wells classic, this is Rene Cardona Sr.’s 1974 melodrama based on the book by Jose Leon Sanchez, detailing his years as a prisoner in an island hellhole. The film’s actual title is La Isla de Los Hombres Solos, which translates into The Island of Lonely Men. A more appropriate title for this dull, tacky potboiler might be The Island of Lost Sleep. *

THE LOST (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A grim but engrossing adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s novel, with Marc Senter as Ray Pye, a small-town sociopath whose penchant for sadism simmers just beneath the surface. Inspired by actual events, this low-budget psychological thriller put screenwriter/producer/director Chris Sivertson on the map… but then he went Hollywood and directed the Lindsay Lohan clunker I Know Who Killed Me. Excellent cinematography by Zoran Popovic, and good performances by Michael Bowen, Ed Lauter, Robin Sydney, Dee Wallace-Stone, Shay Astar and Megan Henning. Senter, Bowen and Ketchum (who also has a cameo) were associate producers. Great use of Crispian St. Peters’ ’60s tune “The Pied Piper.” **½

“MR. WONG, DETECTIVE” – THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (VCI Entertainment): In response to the success of 20th Century Fox’s series of “Charlie Chan” and “Mr. Moto” films, low-budget Monogram Pictures released a series of B-movies starring Boris Karloff as super-sleuth James Lee Wong, based on Hugh Wiley’s stories in Collier’s Magazine. This boxed set, which retails for $19.99, includes all five of the Karloff outings: Mr. Wong, Detective (1938), The Mystery of Mr. Wong and Mr. Wong in Chinatown (both 1939), The Fatal Hour and Doomed to Die (both 1940), as well as the subsequent 1940 “prequel” Phantom of Chinatown, with Keye Luke as a younger Mr. Wong. Grant Withers played hard-boiled Capt. Street in all six films.

NIAGARA MOTEL (Allumination FilmWorks): Off-kilter black comedy, based on George F. Walker’s series of “Surbuban Motel” plays, about the denizens and hangers-on at a low-rent motel near Niagara Falls. Good cast (Wendy Crewson, Anna Friel, Kevin Pollak, Craig Ferguson, Caroline Dhavernas) and some good moments, but it never quite holds together. Nice remake of the ’70s hit “Right Back Where We Started From” over the end credits. Rated R. **

THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (VCI Entertainment): Yes, it’s Gene Autry – the “Singing Cowboy” and radio yodeler himself – to the rescue when the angry denizens of the underground kingdom of Murania decide to conquer the surface world in this 12-chapter 1935 serial featuring Autry’s regular sidekick, Smiley Burnette. This special-edition DVD, which also includes the full-length 1937 Autry Western Boots and Saddles (also with Burnette), retails for $19.99.

“PIONEERS OF TELEVISION” (PBS Home Video/Paramount Home Entertainment): Steven J. Boettcher and Michael J. Trinklein’s entertaining and informative four-part documentary traces the origins of genres unmistakably tied to the television format: Situation comedies, talk shows, game shows and variety shows. The narration’s a little effusive at times, but the interviews and old clips are absolutely priceless, and hats off to spotlighting such reliable game-show hosting stalwarts as Bill Cullen and Allen Ludden (two of my favorites). Besides, anything that includes an interview with Jonathan Winters is worth watching. ***

“ROCK OF LOVE” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Anchor Bay Entertainment): All 13 episodes from the 2007 season of the VH-1 reality series in which young women compete – with varying degrees of success and humiliation – for the attention (and affections) of ’80s heavy-metal rocker Bret Michaels. This is what television has come to. This boxed set, which includes bonus footage “too hot for TV,” retails for $34.97. Christmas is only eight months off. Place your orders now. During the 1980s, YES! Weekly editor Brian Clarey lived for Poison. Don’t let him tell you otherwise.

“A SHOT AT LOVE WITH TILA TEQUILA” – THE COMPLETE UNCENSORED FIRST SEASON (MTV Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 11 episodes from the 2007 season of MTV’s reality series focusing on the romantic misadventures of internet superstar Tila “Tequila” Nguyen. Maybe she and Bret Michaels ought to get together…. This three-disc boxed set retails for $39.99.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paramount Home Entertainment): Daniel Day-Lewis’ amazing, Oscar-winning performance as a self-made oil tycoon dominates screenwriter/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, exploring the inexorable combination of religion, family, money, greed and corruption in the formation of the American Dream. Robert Elswit’s cinematography also won an Academy Award, and the film received six additional nominations: Best picture, director, adapted screenplay, editing, art direction/set decoration and sound editing. Mesmerizing score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, too. One of 2007’s best films, but be prepared for its methodical pacing. Rated R. ***½

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

Copyright 2007, Mark Burger