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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK

BONNIE AND CLYDE (Warner Home Video): Both a cinematic and cultural landmark, Arthur Penn’s hugely controversial 1967 gangster saga established a number of major Hollywood careers, not the least of which were those of director Penn, leading man/producer Warren Beatty, leading lady Faye Dunaway and, perhaps most important of all, co-star Gene Hackman.

“They’re young. They’re in love. And they kill people.”

That was the catch-phrase of the film, and it certainly hit a nerve with audiences who flocked to revel in the hell-raising, bank-robbing and eventual downfall of Clyde Barrow (Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Dunaway). Joined by Clyde’s brother Buck (Hackman), sister-in-law Blanche (Estelle Parsons) and tagalong CW Moss (Michael J. Pollard), this motley band of misfits found nationwide notoriety in a nation ravaged by the Great Depression. There’s a palpable sense of doom as their reckless misbehavior, which is almost comical at the outset, escalates into savagery and desperate self-preservation.

The cast is great, with Gene Wilder (in his screen debut) and Evans Evans as a young couple who get taken for a ride, Denver Pyle as a stone-faced, vengeance-fueled lawman, and Dub Taylor as CW’s worried father.

Initially dumped by its studio and dismissed by some critics, the film slowly built into one of the blockbuster hits of its year – and of the entire decade. Parsons won the Academy Award as best supporting actress, and cinematographer Burnett Guffey went home an Oscar winner, too. The film also earned nominations for best picture, director, actor (Beatty), actress (Dunaway), supporting actor (both Hackman and Pollard), original screenplay and costume design.

The film is available in both a two-disc edition (retailing for $20.98) and an “ultimate collector’s edition” (retailing for $39.98). Either way, you can’t go wrong. Rated R. ***½

ALSO ON DVD

ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Two of the studio’s most successful sci-fi franchises clash – again – in this violent but empty-headed farrago in which the warring monsters are far more interesting than any of the human characters. When both Predator and Aliens descend upon a small Colorado town… oh boy, is there trouble! In the end, everything goes boom, but this made money so don’t be surprised if there’s another installment on the way. This marks the directorial debut of special-effects masters Greg and Colin Strause (the Brothers Strause). Rated R (also available in an unrated special edition). *½

ALL MONSTERS ATTACK (Classic Media/Genius Entertainment): A special-edition DVD of the 1969 Japanese monster mash, in which a young boy (Tomonoro Yazaki) dreams of hanging out with Godzilla’s son on Monster Island. This deliberate attempt to make the Godzilla series more child-friendly hasn’t dated as well as others in the series, and all of Godzilla’s scenes are highlights from previous movies. This special-edition DVD also includes the English-dubbed version, Godzilla’s Revenge, which was released in the U.S. in 1971. Rated G. **

THE BACKWOODS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): There are echoes of Straw Dogs and Deliverance in writer/director Koldo Serra’s debut feature, a brooding and intense thriller in which two couples (Gary Oldman and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Paddy Considine and Virginie Leyoden) go on a hunting trip in Northern Spain in 1978 and encounter trouble – a lot of it. Excellent work from Considine and Oldman (terrific in a straightforward role), but the film can’t come up with a satisfying denouement. Great cinematography by Unax Mendia. Rated R. **½

BOARDING HOUSE (Code Red/BCI Eclipse): A special edition (!) of John Wintergate’s jaw-dropping, ultra-cheap 1982 shocker about supernatural doings in a seemingly normal suburban house. Needless to say, it’s a good idea to stay out of the shower. Wintergate also scripted under the name “Jonema” and stars under the name “Hawk Adly,” and co-stars with his real-life wife, Kalassu (a good screamer). Filmed in “HorrorVision,” which means it was shot on video. This was co-star Joel Riordan’s last film, and for many in the cast it was their only one. One of the very few horror movies to feature a pie fight, but even that doesn’t help. Wintergate and Kalassu provide an audio commentary and reveal the scariest thing of all: They’re planning a sequel! Rated R. ½*

“THE CISCO KID ­- WESTERN TRIPLE FEATURE” (VCI Entertainment): Just what it says, with Duncan Renaldo in the title role of O. Henry’s Western hero: The Cisco Kid Returns (1945) marked Renaldo’s debut as the Kid, with Martin Garralaga as the faithful sidekick, Pancho; the immediate sequel In Old New Mexico (AKA The Cisco Kid in Old New Mexico), released the same year, reunited the two leads, but Leo Carrillo steps in as Pancho for The Gay Amigo (1949) – a title that would surely have different connotations today! This DVD, which retails for a whopping $6.99, also includes a bonus episode of the subsequent, Emmy-nominated television series which starred Renaldo and Carrillo. Following the end of the series’ run in 1956, Renaldo retired and lived until 1980. It is for this role that he is mainly remembered.

DIAMOND DOGS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A sluggish action/adventure with Dolph Lundgren (also an executive producer) leading the search for a priceless Buddhist artifact in modern-day Mongolia. Nothing special here. Rated R. ½*

HERO WANTED (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Violent revenge melodrama with Cuba Gooding Jr. as a trash collector mixed up in a bank robbery that goes wrong. The film takes some odd turns, some of them good… but not always, and not often enough. Ray Liotta plays the cop on the case, with Norman Reedus, Kim Coates, Jean Smart, Tommy Flanagan, Christa Campbell and Ben Cross (sporting a Southern twang) also on hand. Good cinematography by Larry Blanford. The film is dedicated to co-star Steven Kozlowski, who died shortly after its completion. Rated R. **

JUNGLE QUEEN (VCI Entertainment): In one of her first screen roles, Ruth Roman plays the title role (Lothel, the Queen of the Jungle) in this 13-chapter serial from 1945, in which Nazi agents attempt to turn African tribes against the British during World War II. Edward Norris and Eddie Quillan play the heroes, Tala Birell and Douglass Dumbrille the villains. Guess who wins? This DVD retails for $19.99.

“LEGENDS OF HOLLYWOOD – THE KINGS OF HORROR” (BCI): A selection of 16 feature films (many in the public domain) commemorating the enduring legacy of horror favorites Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) and Boris Karloff (1887-1969). This boxed set, which retails for $14.98, is heavy on Lugosi: White Zombie (1932), The Death Kiss (1932), The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934), The Human Monster (1939), The Gorilla (1939), The Devil Bat (1940), The Invisible Ghost (1941), Black Dragons (1942), The Corpse Vanishes (1942), The Ape Man (1943), Scared to Death (1947) and The Boys from Brooklyn (1952), better known as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. The Karloff contingent, only four films, includes The Ape (1940), in the title role (guess which one) of Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947), opposite Jack Nicholson and Nicholson’s then-wife Sandra Knight in The Terror (1963) and The Snake People (1969), which wasn’t released in the US until two years after the actor’s death.

MANDINGO (Legend Films): At long last on DVD, producer Dino De Laurentiis and director Richard Fleischer’s hugely controversial 1975 adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s best-selling novel, detailing – in lip-smacking fashion – the rampant cruelty and immorality of 1840s Louisiana, particularly with regard to the treatment of slaves. The immortal James Mason, not in top form and sporting a Cajun accent like no other, plays the rheumatic patriarch of Falconhurst, a gone-to-seed plantation and principal setting of this decadence. Perry King, quite good under the circumstances, plays Mason’s son, romantically involved with a “bed wench” (Brenda Sykes) even after he marries his cousin Blanche (a hysterical Susan George). Heavyweight boxer Ken Norton (in his screen debut) plays the muscular “Mandingo” slave Mede, who ultimately winds up in Blanche’s bed. Needless to say, things go from bed to worse in quick succession – kind of like the movie itself. Arguably the most reviled film of its time, if not the entire 1970s, this was nevertheless a huge box-office hit, spawned a sequel (Drum), and possesses a weird sort of fascination not unlike watching a train wreck. If the intent was to present the tackier, more sordid side of pre-Civil War racism in the American South, then that surely is achieved. Norman Wexler’s dialogue is alternately atrocious, embarrassing and sometimes unintentionally hilarious. Maurice Jarre’s score, on the other hand, is quite good. Muddy Waters sings the theme song! One thing’s for sure (well, pretty much): This will never be remade. Rated R. *½

NANCY DREW (Warner Home Video): Emma Roberts plays the resourceful teen sleuth in this contemporized version of Carolyn Keene’s mystery stories, wherein Nancy finds herself trying to solve an unsolved Hollywood mystery. A little slick at times, but like its protagonist it’s spunky and good-natured throughout. Also on hand: Barry Bostwick, Chris Kattan, Marshall Bell, Tate Donovan, Caroline Aaron, Rachael Leigh Cook, Josh Flitter, Adam Goldberg, Laura Harring and an unbilled Bruce Willis (as himself). Rated PG. **½

SEA OF FEAR (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Even the presence of Winston-Salem’s own Burgess Jenkins in a supporting role can’t save this water-logged, low-budget thriller about an ocean cruise gone deadly. An obvious nod to the 1989 knockout Dead Calm, this ought to be called Dead Sleep. Jenkins is actually one of the luckier ones; he gets bumped off midway through. Sadly, this was one of Edward Albert’s last films. Rated PG-13. ½*

A SHOT IN THE DARK (Alpha Home Video): Not to be confused with the classic Peter Sellers comedy of the same name, this 1935 whodunit is a pretty routine adaptation of Clifford Orr’s The Dartmouth Murders, with a college campus rocked by the murder of a student. Fellow student Charles Starrett (later the star of many B-Westerns) and his cop father Robert Warwick are determined to get to the bottom of things. Lots of familiar faces on hand, including Dracula veterans Edward Van Sloan and Herbert Bunston, Eddie Tamblyn (father of Russ), and Doris Lloyd. Director Charles Lamont made over 200 movies (including shorts) in his career. This isn’t one of the better ones. *½

SOLE SURVIVOR (Code Red/BCI Eclipse): Writer/director Thom Eberhardt’s 1983 feature debut stars Anita Skinner (in her last role to date) as the only survivor of a plane crash, now being haunted by strange and threatening visions. The low budget hampers its ambitions, but this ethereal chiller – not unlike the earlier Carnival of Souls and the later Final Destination – does have its moments. In his last role, Kurt Johnson (who died in 1986) plays Skinner’s doctor and love interest. Look fast for Brinke Stevens, who doffs her top during a strip-poker scene. This special-edition DVD includes a commentary with producer/co-star Caren L. Larkey and executive producer Sal Romeo. Rated R. **

TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (Classic Media/Genius Entertainment): The 15th film in Toho Studios’ franchise – and the finale of the original series – sees the indefatigable Godzilla battling both his cyborg counterpart (that would be Mechagodzilla) and the giant sea monster Titantosaurus, both under the control of malevolent aliens with a tendency to cackle uncontrollably when discussing their plans for world domination. Time has been kind to this installment, particularly in terms of camp humor (dig those space helmets!), and the battle scenes are a lot of fun. This marked the final Godzilla film directed by Ishiro Honda (who helmed the very first in 1954), as well as the final screen appearance of character actor Ikio Sawamura. This special-edition DVD includes the original Japanese version released in 1975 and the watered-down, English-dubbed version released in the US in 1977. 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

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