by Mark Burger


(Scream Factory/Shout! Factory)

Two years before striking box-office gold with Halloween, John Carpenter scored a critical hit with this excellent 1976 action thriller reminiscent of Howard Hawks’ 1959 Western Rio Bravo — except the setting is a contemporary urban landscape in Los Angeles.

An armed street gang lays siege to a police precinct due for closure, trapping a handful of personnel and prisoners inside. Carpenter’s ability to create and sustain maximum suspense is in full flower, seasoned with dark humor, quotable dialogue, and Carpenter’s dynamic score.

The first-rate cast includes Austin Stoker as a young Lt.Bishop, Laurie Zimmer as resourceful secretary Leigh, and Darwin Joston as Napoleon Wilson, a death row inmate-turned-hero who gets the best lines — “Anybody got a smoke?” being his signature — as well as Nancy Loomis and Charles Cyphers, who later appeared in Halloween (and The Fog, for that matter), Kim Richards, Martin Bruni, Henry Brandon, Martin West and Rocky favorite Tony Burton.

The new collector’s-edition Blu-ray, which includes audio commentaries and retrospective interviews, retails for $29.93. Rated R.

5 TH STREET (Indican Pictures): After his pregnant wife is killed in a drive-by shooting, Eric Arthur Martinez embarks on a methodical plan to eliminate street crime in director Alex Reader’s debut feature, a low-budget vigilante thriller that tries to graft dramatic texture to a well-worn story. Slow going at times, with too many flashbacks, but the solid performances by Martinez (also the screenwriter/executive producer), Christian Monzon as the chief thug, and Joe Voltierra as a wise but weary detective add heft.

“ACTION-PACKED MOVIE MARATHON” (Shout! Factory): A DVD collection ($9.99 retail) of four B-movie blowouts: Gary Busey in Bulletproof (1988), James Iglehart in Bamboo Gods and Iron Men (1974), Jim Mitchum in Trackdown (1976), and Connie Stevens as Scorchy (1976). All four films are rated R.

BARABBAS (Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment): Billy Zane plays the title role in this ReelzChannel mini-series based on Par Lagerkvist’s 1950 Nobel Prize-winning novel, as a criminal redeemed when spared by Pontius Pilate (Filippo Nigro) instead of Jesus (Marco Foschi). The DVD retails for $19.97, the Blu-ray for $29.95.

THE BEAST WITHIN (Scream Factory/ Shout! Factory): The Blu-ray bow ($19.97 retail) of director Philippe Mora’s 1982 shocker with Paul Clemens as a teenager undergoing some very severe growing pains. Part Southern Gothic, part monster movie, and all mess — but the effects are striking, Les Baxter’s score is effective, and the cast gives it some class: Ronny Cox, Don Gordon, RG Armstrong, Bibi Besch, LQ Jones, Luke Askew, Meshach Taylor, John Dennis Johnston, Logan Ramsey and Ron Soble. Rated R.

BLUE CAPRICE (IFC Films): The events leading up to the 2002 Beltway shootings near Washington DC are dramatized in producer/director/editor Alexandre Moors’ debut feature, with strong performances by Isaiah Washington (also an executive producer) and Tequan Richmond as the deadly duo. Intense and arty, with good supporting work from Tim Blake Nelson, Joey Lauren Adams and Leo Fitzpatrick — but the film never quite peaks. Still, worth a look. The title refers to the tricked-out car from which the killers fired. Rated R.

BODY BAGS (Scream Factory/Shout!

Factory): A collector’s edition DVD/ Blu-ray combo ($29.93 retail) of John Carpenter’s enjoyable 1993 cable-TV horror anthology, with “The Gas Station” and “Hair” helmed by Carpenter, and “Eye” by Tobe Hooper. The star-studded cast includes Stacy Keach, Mark Hamill, Deborah Harry, David Warner, Robert Carradine, Alex Datcher, Sheena Easton, Twiggy and David Naughton, with cameos by Hooper, Tom Arnold, Sam Raimi, Roger Corman, John Agar, Charles Napier, Peter Jason, Wes Craven and makeup master Greg Nicotero. Carpenter himself plays the cadaverous host.

DEAD WEIGHT (Horizon Movies): An apt title for a poor man’s “Walking Dead,” with Joe Belknap (in his screen debut) obsessed with finding his girlfriend (Mary Lindberg, in her screen bow) after civilization has crumbled following to a viral outbreak. A static, inauspicious fea ture debut for writer/producer/directors John Pata (who also edited) and Adam Barnett.

LES MISERABLES (Timeless Media Group): Richard Jordan plays Jean Valjean and a superb Anthony Hopkins his nemesis Inspector Javert in this handsome 1978 made-for-TV adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, with a polished cast including John Gielgud, Claude Dauphin, Ian Holm, Celia Johnson, Flora Robson, Cyril Cusack, Angela Pleasence and Joyce Redman (in her last film). Director Glenn Jordan earned an Emmy nomination.

MAN OF STEEL (Warner Home Video):

Henry Cavill dons the red-and-blue regalia of Krypton’s favorite son in this overblown, disappointing Superman reboot, directed in heavy-handed fashion by Zack Snyder and essentially wasting a top cast including Amy Adams (as Lois Lane), Russell Crowe (as Jor-El), Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Christopher Meloni, and a snarling Michael Shannon as General Zod. Cavill spends so little time onscreen as Clark Kent that it’s impossible to determine whether he does the character justice. Available as a two-disc DVD ($28.98 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail), a 3-D Blu-ray combo ($44.95 retail), or a limited-edition 3-D collector’s edition ($59.99 retail). Rated PG-13.

PERCENTAGE (Entertainment One):

Omar Gooding and screenwriter/executive producer Cam’ron Giles play hustlers who flee New York for Miami, but naturally trouble follows. Low-budget shoot- ’em-up has a few interesting ideas but mostly sticks to formula. Ving Rhames (replete with “spaghetti-Western” music), Macy Gray, Malinda Williams and Robert Wisdom co-star. Queen Latifah was also an executive producer.

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (Warner Home Video): The Blu-ray bow ($19.98 retail) of Bob Rafelson’s overheated but underwhelming 1981

adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel (previously filmed in 1946), with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange as the illicit lovers who murder her husband (John Colicos). This was David Mamet’s debut as screenwriter, with cinematography by Sven Nykvist and a cast including John P. Ryan, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd and Nicholson’s then-paramour Anjelica Huston. Rated R.

SCENIC ROUTE (Vertical Entertainment):

A talky two-hander with Josh Duhamel (also an executive producer) and Dan Fogler as unappealing buddies who descend into madness and violence when they are stranded on an isolated desert road. Rated R.

STONADOS (Arc Entertainment): Boston is besieged by freak storms, prompting former storm chasers Paul Johansson and Sebastian Spence to reunite in an effort to save the day in this typical, CGIfilled sci-fi/disaster film.

VIKINGDOM (Epic Releasing): Swords drawn, Dominic Purcell and Craig Fairbrass headline this medieval action/ fantasy based on Viking mythology. The DVD retails for $14.99.

WINGS OF A WARRIOR: THE JIMMY DOO- LITTLE STORY (TDC Entertainment): The title tells all in this documentary ($14.98 retail) tracing the life and career of the famed aviator and war hero (1896-1993) — to date the only American to have received both the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Honor — as told by his cousin, filmmaker/host Gardner Doolittle.

Doolittle was played by Spencer Tracy in 30 Seconds Over Tokyo (1942) and Alec Baldwin in Pearl Harbor (2001). !

MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2014, Mark Burger.