by Mark Burger


THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (Scream Factory/ Shout! Factory): Shortly after World War II, the sleepy town of Texarkana (located near the Arkansas/Texas border) was rocked by a series of violent assaults and murders.Low-budget auteur Charles B. Pierce’s 1976 thriller takes a docudrama approach to this real-life mystery, replete with narration by Vern Stillman (and a measure of dramatic license), and the result is a memorable shocker that prefigured the big-screen slasher craze by a few years.Ever-reliable Ben Johnson and Andrew Prine are solid as the top cops on the case, and yes that’s Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island”) as one of the Phantom Killer’s victims. Pierce contributes unnecessary comic relief as a dimwit deputy, but as a director displays a nice feel for time and place while also providing some truly chilling moments — including one involving murder by trombone. (No joke.)The DVD/Blu-ray combo ($26.99 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews, and the DVD premiere of Pierce’s 1979 chiller The Evictors (with Vic Morrow, Michael Parks and Jessica Harper), which is not without its merits also. Rated R.

“AMERICAN MASTERS” MEL BROOKS: MAKE A NOISE (Shout! Factory): Affectionate and enjoyable documentary tribute to legendary funnyman and Oscar-winning filmmaker Mel Brooks, produced for PBS’ “American Masters” to commemorate Brooks’ selection at the recipient of the 41 st AFI (American Film Institute) Life Achievement Award this year, featuring interviews with Carl Reiner, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Tracey Ullman, Richard Lewis, Cloris Leachman and Brooks himself.

BARRYMORE (Image Entertainment):  Christopher Plummer re-creates his Tony Award-winning stage role as acting legend John Barrymore in this adaptation of William Luce’s play. Highly theatrical and highly entertaining, particularly for fans of theater, Barrymore, and Plummer.

BATTLE EARTH (Inception Media Group): Canadian commandos swear a lot and shoot a lot of CGI gunfire at alien invaders in this boring, cliche-riddled science-fiction cheapie.

COLD PREY II (Shout! Factory): Ingrid Bolso Berdal encores as the oft-endangered heroine again battling a murderous mountain man in this 2008 sequel (originally titled Fritt Vitt II) to the 2006 Norwegian horror hit, which picks up exactly as the first film ended. The third installment, a prequel, was filmed in 2010 but has yet to reach these shores. In Danish with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $19.97.

CRIMEWAVE (Shout! Factory): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($26.99 retail) of Sam Raimi’s 1985 black comedy, which he co-wrote with Joel and Ethan Coen, with Paul L. Smith and Brion James as a pair of deranged exterminators on the rampage. Originally titled The XYZ Murders, studio interference yielded a fiercely uneven and sometimes incomprehensible outcome… yet that’s part of its oddball appeal. Not for all tastes but certainly different and original. Reed Birney, Louise Lasser, executive producer Edward R. Pressman, Sheree J. Wilson and Raimi regular Bruce Campbell round out an energetic if slightly confused cast. Rated R.

DARK SKIES (Dimension Films/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Something strange is going on in Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton’s new house… and you won’t believe what it is, in writer/director Scott Stewart’s talky, dullish chiller. Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett play the kids — and they’re spooked, too. JK Simmons picks up an easy check as the obligatory expert in all things unexplained. Rated PG-13.

“DETECTIVE DE LUCA” (MHz Networks): Alessandro Preziosi stars in the title role of a tough, tenacious Italian cop maneuvering through mysteries in post-Fascist Italy (1938-’45), in all four episodes of the 2008 Italian TV series (originally titled Il commissario De Luca), directed by Antonio Frazzi and based on the best-selling novels by Carlo Lucarelli. The DVD collection retails for $39.95.

DOSE OF REALITY (Monarch Home Entertainment): Writer/director Christopher Glatis’ psychological thriller stars Fairuza Balk, Rick Ravanello and Ryan Merriman as three people in a bar after closing time, where accusations and suspicions fly. Struggles to find a satisfactory resolution, but the actors give it everything they’ve got.

FEMALE TEACHER HUNTING (Impulse Pictures): Yet another in the seemingly endless softcore series produced by Japan’s venerable Nikkatsu Studios, this 1982 outing is a surprisingly strong showcase for leading lady Yuki Kazamatsuri (later seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill), as a lusty schoolteacher. In Japanese with English subtitles.

IT’S IN THE BLOOD (Monarch Home Entertainment): Lance Henriksen and Sean Elliot play a father and son whose hike turns into a battle for survival when they are spooked by strange forces in the award-winning debut feature from director Scooter Downey, who co-wrote and co-produced with Elliot. Reliable Henriksen and Elliot have their moments, but this is too twisty for its own good – although it tries.

JIM JEFFERIES: FULLY FUNCTIONAL (Inception Media Group): The Aussie comedian lets it all hang out in this stand-up comedy special ($14.98 retail) originally broadcast on EPIX.

“JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT” (Shout! Factory): A four-DVD collector’s edition ($39.97 retail) of all 26 episodes from the popular 1967-’68 Japanese fantasy series (originally titled Jaianto robo) starring Mitsunobo Kaneko as a boy who controls a giant flying robot.

THE LAST STAND (LionsGate): Arnold Schwarzenegger’s out of the governor’s mansion and back in action as a small-town sheriff pitted against the minions of an escaped drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) making a run for the border in this R-rated shoot-’emup. Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman, Jaimie Alexander, Genesis Rodriguez and Peter Stormare are also in the line of fire. The DVD retails for $29.95. the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $39.99.

PRESSED (Inception Media Group): Cash-strapped businessman Luke Goss’ drug deal goes bad when the money is intercepted by teenagers Tyler Johnston and Jeffrey Ballard. First-time writer/producer/ director Justin Donnelly (who also appears) tries to emphasize character over action, but it slows the film to a crawl.

“THE SYNDICATE”: SERIES 1 (Acorn): The lives of five supermarket employees in England are changed forever when they win the lottery, in all five episodes from the 2012 season of the BBC One drama series. The ensemble cast includes Lorraine Bruce, Joanna Page, Matthew McNulty, Matthew Lewis and reliable Timothy Spall. The DVD boxed set retails for $39.99.

TEXAS CHAINSAW (LionsGate): Gee — what do you think this is about? Blood, guts, and dumb kids filled with both — although not for long. This is the seventh(!) variation of the theme, with yet another installment in development. Rated R.

TOM GREEN: LIVE (Image Entertainment): The title tells all in the stand-up comedy special featuring the former MTV star and Drew Barrymore husband. At least he’s not making movies. The DVD retails for $14.98.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PRESI- DENTS (LionsGate): The title tells all in this History Channel documentary tracing the histories and legacies of this nation’s 44 presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama. The three-DVD boxed set retails for $24.98.

MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2013, Mark Burger.