DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA (MPI Media Group)
Having made his mark with Dark Shadows (the TV soap opera and two feature films) and the ratings sensation The Night Stalker (1972), it was perhaps inevitable that producer/director Dan Curtis take a stab at Bram Stoker’s immortal vampire – and the end result (broadcast by CBS in 1974) is nothing short of spectacular. Working from Richard Matheson’s fine teleplay, Jack Palance is a superb Count Dracula – one of the best ever. He’s fierce and ferocious, yet also passionate and even vulnerable as he seeks the reincarnation of his lost love in 19thcentury London. Fiona Lewis and Penelope Horner are properly fetching as Lucy and Mina, his intended victims, and the Count’s tireless adversaries are enacted in solid fashion by Nigel Davenport (as Van Helsing) and Simon Ward (as Arthur Holmwood). The new Blu-ray ($19.98 retail) includes archival interviews with Palance and Curtis, plus other goodies.
“42ND STREET FOREVER: THE PEEP SHOW COLLECTION, VOL. 2”
(Impulse Pictures): For fans of vintage sleaze, this DVD compilation ($24.95 retail) boasts more than a dozen 8mm “loops” from the 1970s and ‘80s, remastered in high definition (!). Impulse continues the naughty nostalgia with the DVD releases of The Chambermaids (1974) and Honey Buns (1973), each retailing for $24.95. Definitely for adults.
(IFC Midnight/ MPI Media Group): If it was inevitable than Dan Curtis make a Dracula (see above), so too it was perhaps inevitable that Italian horror maestro Dario Argento take his crack at Bram Stoker’s story – only this time the results aren’t spectacular, and represent a further decline for the filmmaker. Thomas Kretschmann whispers his way through the title role, while Dutch vampire slayer Van Helsing is played by Dutch superstar Rutger Hauer (who’s fine). Dario’s real-life daughter Asia is terrific as the lusty, busty, vampirized Lucy, but Marta Gastini and Unax Ugalde make for pallid protagonists as Mina and Jonathan. The 3-D effects are dreadful, and some of Argento’s “additions” – like Dracula transforming into a giant CGI praying mantis – misfire badly. Loony and overlong, with only a few flashes of Argento’s brilliance. Claudio Simonetti’s score is solid throughout. The DVD retails for $24.98, the 3-D Blu-ray for $29.98.
(Synapse Films): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.95 retail) of director Peter Sasdy’s late-inning Hammer horror, a 1972 shocker starring luscious Ingrid Pitt as the title character, based on the actual Elizabeth Bathory, who rejuvenated her youthful appearance by bathing in the blood of maidens.
Hampered by a low budget but helped by a polished cast including Maurice Denham, Peter Jeffrey, Lesley-Anne Down and especially Nigel Green (in one of his last roles) as the Countess’ adoring soldier lover. Special features include audio commentary and a (too-brief) documentary about Pitt featuring Little Shoppe of Horrors publisher Dick Klemensen (whom I’ve interviewed) and filmmaker/historian Ted Newsom (who’s a pal). Rated PG (!).
THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW
(Redemption/Kino Lorber): The title says it all in director Pete Walker’s 1972 British shocker about a seaside theater with a tragic (and bloody) past that re-opens its doors – only to have history repeat itself in horrific fashion. The new Blu-ray (replete with 3-D footage) retails for $24.95.
GANG WAR IN MILAN
(RaroVideo): The title tells all in Umberto Lenzi’s R-rated 1973 shoot-’em-up (originally titled Milano rovente) pitting Sicilian pimp Antonio Sabato against French drug lord Philippe Leroy, with the inevitable bloodbath following. The DVD retails for $19.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95.
“HITLER AND THE NAZIS”
(Cinedigm): Chris Andrews narrates this self-explanatory 2011 documentary miniseries examining the rise and fall of the Third Reich. The DVD retails for $29.93.
IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?
(MPI Media Group): Michel Gondry’s extremely unique, extremely indulgent documentary focuses on the life of Noam Chomsky, philosopher, teacher, activist and “the father of modern linguistics” — illustrated in animated form. Gondry and Chomsky admirers have a big head start. **½
“KENDRA ON TOP”: THE COM- PLETE SECOND SEASON UNCEN- SORED
(MPI Media Group): A five-DVD collection ($24.98 retail) of all 14 episodes from the 2013 season of the popular WE-tv reality series detailing former Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson and her post-Playboy life with husband, former football player Hank Baskett III, and their son Hank IV. Wilkinson and Baskett also earn executive-producer credit on the series.
KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM
(Entertainment One): Steve Zahn, Ryan Kwanten and “Game of Thrones” veteran/ executive producer Peter Dinklage star in this R-rated comedy as live-action role players whose romp in the woods takes a turn for the worst when they conjure up an actual demon. The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $24.98.
“THE NIKKATSU EROTIC FILMS COLLECTION”
(Impulse Pictures): For fans of vintage sleaze with an Eastern flavor, the latest DVD releases from Japan’s venerable Nikkatsu Studios (100 years and counting) offers the requisite amount of softcore sleaze: Junko Asahina stars in Female Gym Coach: Jump and Straddle (1981) and Rei Akasaka headlines Office Love: Behind Closed Doors (1985). Each DVD retails for $19.95 and features English subtitles.
(IFC Films/MPI Media Group): Executive producer Zoe Bell and producer Rachel Nichols are among the lithe ladies forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of a futuristic totalitarian society. The action scenes are bruising and bone-crunching, but tend to grow repetitious and a little depressing, although the cast tries hard: Sherilyn Fenn and Doug Jones as overseers, Tracie Thoms, filmmaker Leigh Whannell and Rosario Dawson (in a surprise cameo). Rated R.
THE SELFISH GIANT
(MPI Media Group): Writer/director Clio Barnard’s award-winning debut feature stars talented newcomers Conner Chapman and Sean Thomas as 13-year-old best friends at large in an economically ravaged British industrial town. Based on an Oscar Wilde story, believe it or not, although Chapman and Thomas’ on-screen relationship echoes (favorably) a latter-day version of Huckleberry Finn or Of Mice and Men. Sean Gilder is a standout as the junk dealer who employs the boys – with unforeseen consequences.
THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE
(Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): The Blu-ray bow ($24.97 retail) of director Amy Jones’ 1982 feature debut, a self-explanatory shocker about a group of nubile suburban teenagers (Michele Michaels, Andree Honore and newcomer Robin Stille) targeted by a murderous maniac (Michael Villela). A Roger Corman quickie that nonetheless found its cult following and spawned several sequels. Scripted by Rita Mae Brown and graced with a few welcome moments of satire. Special features include audio commentary, a retrospective documentary and more. Rated R.
(Artsploitation Films): Writer/producer/cinematographer/director Jason Banker’s award-winning debut feature stars newcomers James Davidson and Sara Anne Jones as drug-addled teens who search for the “Seven Gates of Hell” in small-town Pennsylvania. This surreal, pseudo-documentary plays almost like an experimental film (a la Harmony Korine) but is a little too ambitious and ambiguous for its own good.
Nevertheless, Banker’s a talent worth watching. Tragically, Jones died of an overdose shortly after the film’s premiere in 2012. Elijah Wood was an executive producer. !
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2014, Mark Burger.