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by Mark Burger

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Mark Burger’s VIDEO VAULT

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STRANGE BEHAVIOR (Synapse Films): Released at the height of the slasher era, this 1981 shocker tends to get lumped in with them (Siskel & Ebert even picked it as a “Dog of the Week”!), yet it stands apart and above as a witty one of a kind. A series of mysterious murders has rocked the small town of Galesburg, Ohio, and police chief John Brady (the terrific Michael Murphy) is convinced that they are somehow related to the dark legacy of one Dr. LeSange (Arthur Dignam), a behavioral specialist whom Brady always blamed for the death of his wife years before.

But Dr. LeSange has been dead for years… hasn’t he? With Brady baffled, his teenaged son Pete (Dan Shor) decides to earn a little extra cash participating in experiments at the local college, experiments conducted by Dr. LeSange’s former associate, Gwen Parkinson (a memorably icy Fiona Lewis). Pete doesn’t know it, but he’s about to become a guinea pig — and he’s not the only one. Filmed in New Zealand, which doubles quite nicely for middle America, and originally titled Dead Kids, the film marked the auspicious debuts of screenwriter Bill Condon (later an Oscar winner for Gods & Monsters) and director Michael Laughlin. The good cast also includes Dey Young, Scott Brady, Marc McClure, Charles Lane and Louise Fletcher. Add to this a mesmerizing score by Tangerine Dream and some hip tunes on the soundtrack (“Jumping Out a Window” by Pop Mechanix is awesome), and you’ve got one groovy movie — a gem perennially worthy of rediscovery. Previously released on DVD by Elite Entertainment, this version retains all the same special features, including an entertaining audio commentary with Condon and co-stars Shor and Young. Rated R. ***’

ALSO ON DVD

101 DALMATIANS (Walt Disney Studios Entertainment): After a lengthy moratorium, the studio re-releases the classic 1961 animated feature in a special “Platinum Edition” ($29.99 retail), as well as the awardwinning 2003 follow-up, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, which is available in a special edition ($29.99 retail). Giving each dog its day, Disney is also re-releasing the 1996 live-action remake 101 Dalmatians ($29.99 retail) and its 2000 sequel 102 Dalmatians ($29.99 retail), both of which starred Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil. (The sequel also picked up an Oscar nomination for best costume design.) All of the films are rated G.

“7 TH HEAVEN” — THE SEVENTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 22 episodes from the 2002-’03 season of the award-winning prime-time drama, which aired on the WB, focusing on the family of a minister (Stephen Collins) and his wife (Catherine Hicks) in suburban California. Some people called it corny, but the show lasted 11 seasons and remains popular in syndication. This boxed set retails for $49.99.

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS (RHI Entertainment/Genius Products): Gail O’Grady plays a widowed mother whose son (Jimmy “Jax” Pinchak) wishes she would get a new husband for Christmas — which sparks a media frenzy when a major toy corporation decides to make the wish come true. A corny and predictable yuletide comedy (not to be confused with the 1991 comedy), but given a boost by its cast, which also includes Greg Germann and Robert Mailhouse. **

THE AMERICAN MALL (MTV Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): In an effort to replicate the success of High School Musical, this musical comedy focuses on that haven of American teenagers — the shopping mall. This specialedition DVD, which retails for $19.99, includes music videos and audio commentaries.

DARK FORCES (Synapse Films): Originally titled Harlequin, this intriguing 1980 thriller stars Robert Powell as a mysterious healer who insinuates himself in the home of a powerful senator (David Hemmings). An early feature from director Simon Wincer (who contributes an audio commentary), this never quite hits the mark but has its fair share of effective moments. Nice supporting turn by Broderick Crawford as a political power broker. Rated PG. **’

EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED (Vivendi Entertainment): Ben Stein hosts this documentary that examines the ongoing controversy regarding evolution and “intelligent design.” (Yes, there actually is a debate.) At its best, this is fairly engaging and entertaining, but too often it mistakes pushiness for glibness. Rated PG. **

“HAWAII FIVE-O” — THE FIFTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Jack Lord (and his incredible hair) returns as crime-fighter Steve McGarrett in all 24 episodes from the 1972-’73 season of the longrunning, prime-time CBS-TV police series, which features the unforgettable theme music by The Ventures. James MacArthur is on hand to “Book ‘em, Danno.” Guest stars that season included Clu Gulager, William Shatner, Ricardo Montalban, George Chakiris, Keenan Wynn, Laraine Stephens, Irene Tsu, Michael Ansara, Eric Braeden, Simon Oakland, Khigh Dhiegh (as McGarrett’s nemesis, Wo Fat) and Richard Denning (in his recurring role as the Governor of Hawaii). This boxed set retails for $54.99.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL DVD GAME (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Yes, you too can sing and dance along with Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and the whole gang from East High in this interactive DVD game that includes sing-alongs, trivia challenges and much more. This special-edition DVD, only the latest (and hardly the last) for one of the studio’s most unexpected but lucrative franchises, retails for $29.99.

“LITTLE EINSTEINS: THE CHRISTMAS WISH” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A collection of holidaythemed episodes from the popular, animated children’s program which airs on the Disney Channel. This special-edition DVD retails for $19.99.

“THE LITTLE RASCALS: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION” (RHI Entertainment/Genius Products): The full selection of 80 live-action short films produced by Hal Roach and dating from 1929-1938, featuring one of the most beloved comedy troupes in screen history, whose members included Jackie Cooper, George “Spanky” McFarland, Matthew “Stymie” Beard, “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, Tommy “Butch” Bond, Darla Hood, Eugene “Porky” Lee, Billy “Buckwheat” Thomas and, of course, Pete the Pup. Some of these shorts have seriously dated, but these were very much a product of their time and should be viewed as such. Many of them remain both charming and funny, if not outright classics. One of them, Bored of Education (1937), won the Academy Award as best live-action short film. This boxed set, which includes retrospective featurettes and bonus silent shorts, retails for $89.95.

MADE OF HONOR (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): In this predictable comedy, Patrick Dempsey plays a ladies’ man who realizes he’s in love with his best friend (Michelle Monaghan). Trouble is, she just got engaged and wants him to serve as her “maid of honor,” so he attempts to sabotage the wedding. If it sounds familiar, it should — this is basically My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) with a gender switch in the lead, and it’s no improvement. Sadly, this marked the final screen appearance of Sydney Pollack, as Dempsey’s much-married father. Rated PG-13. *’

“NBA CHAMPIONS 2007-2008 BOSTON CELTICS” (NBA/Warner Home Video): This five-DVD boxed set ($39.92) commemorates Boston’s first NBA title in 22 years and includes the full broadcasts of all four victories over the LA Lakers in the NBA Championship and the seventh-game victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semi- Finals.

“THE ODD COUPLE” — THE FINAL SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): The end of the road for roommates Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman, in all 22 episodes from the 1974-’75 season of the popular TV sitcom based on Neil Simon’s hit play. This still rates as one of my favorite sitcoms ever — and it’s still funny, thanks largely to the peerless partnership of the two leads. In its last season, Randall won the Emmy as outstanding lead actor in a comedy series, while Klugman (who’d already won two) earned a nomination in the same category. This boxed set retails for $42.99.

“THE OUTER LIMITS” — THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL SERIES (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): All 49 episodes of the primetime ABC-TV fantasy anthology that ran from 1963-’65 on ABC-TV. Often, and unfairly, compared to “The Twilight Zone,” which aired during the same time (and was in a class by itself), this certainly had its share of effective and thought-provoking episodes, as befits the best science-fiction. No surprise that it still has a cult following, and was revived 30 years later as a cable series. The show’s many guest stars included Cliff Robertson (in the pilot, “The Galaxy Being”), Martin Landau, Robert Duvall, Robert Culp, Vera Miles, David McCallum, Eddie Albert, Don Gordon, Martin Sheen, Bruce Dern, Leonard Nimoy, Donald Pleasence, Henry Silva, Sally Kellerman and many others. This seven-disc three-volume boxed set retails for $59.98 and will make some people very happy this holiday season. Unfortunately, there are no DVD extras.

“POPEYE THE SAILOR: 1941-1943” (Warner Home Video): A collection of 32 cartoon shorts from the World War II years featuring the perennially popular, spinacheating sailor immortalized in EC Segar’s comic strip. This boxed set retails for $34.98.

ROXY HUNTER AND THE MYTH OF THE MERMAID (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The third in a series of kids’ films with Aria Wallace as a small-town teen who always finds herself mixed up in mysteries. This DVD, which retails for $19.95, also includes behind-the-scenes featurettes and an Aria Wallace music video.

SEED (Vivendi Entertainment): Notorious writer/director Uwe Boll’s brutal horror thriller pits a burned-out cop (Michael Par’) against an unstoppable serial killer named Max Seed (Will Sanderson), who survives the electric chair and goes on a rampage of revenge. This is essentially a pointless barrage of brutality, but this is one of Boll’s better-made and more tolerable films, although it’s not for the squeamish in any case. Actual footage of animal carnage (obtained from PETA, no less!) is uncomfortable to watch and adds nothing to the plot except shock value. Then again, that’s Boll’s modus operandi. **

THIRST (Synapse Films): A re-release of the DVD special edition of director Rod Hardy’s award-winning 1979 Aussie-made shocker, in which Chantal Contouri plays a young woman abducted by a latter-day sect of vampires, who have turned their bloodlust into a hitech corporation (!). Weird and surreal, to say the least, but it’s certainly different! Good supporting cast includes veterans Henry Silva and David Hemmings as doctors in on the plot. Rated R. **’

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2008, Mark Burger

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