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 marksburger@yahoo.comDVD PICK OF THE WEEK: SCANNERS  (The Criterion Collection)

This award-winning 1981 sci-fi thriller marked David Cronenberg’s box-office breakthrough and the impetus for a popular, mostly direct-to-video franchise a decade later. Not surprisingly, however, the first is the best.

Scanners is best remembered for the exploding-head scene, a fatality caused by telepathic terrorist Darryl Revok (a vivid Michael Ironside). Scanners can read minds, meld minds and, obviously, blow minds.

Cronenberg brings his customary cool, clinical approach to the proceedings, which echo political conspiracy films of the ‘70s while adding a layer of subtle cynicism about ethics. Scanners are the result of an experimental drug with unforeseen side effects. They’re essentially victims, but some (like Revok) want to turn the tables.

Jennifer O’Neill and Stephen Lack are rather flat as “good” Scanners, but there’s excellent work from Ironside as Revok, Lawrence Dane as the treacherous security chief Braedon Keller, and especially Patrick McGoohan, who brings shadings of compassion and tragedy to his role of “mad” scientist Dr. Paul Ruth.

The DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) includes retrospective and vintage interviews, and more. Rated R.

ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (RLJ Entertainment/Image Entertainment): Black magic (or some variation thereof) resurrects the cheerleaders of Blackfoot High, with a thirst for blood and a lust for revenge against the football team. Writer/directors Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson’s remake of their 2001 low-budget cult-video send-up boasts a bigger budget (understandably), an attractive cast (including Caitlin Stasa, Sainoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannink, and newcomer Tom Williamson as a vicious jock) and some decent ideas, but it doesn’t add up to much. Still, horror fans might want to take a look. A sequel is threatened … errr, strongly hinted at.

BLUE MOVIE (RaroVideo): Alberto Carvallone’s (understandably) controversial 1973 psycho-drama stars Danielle Dugas as a traumatized woman who falls in with a dissipated photographer (Claude Maran) and the model (Dirce Funari) with whom he has a sadomasochistic relationship. Occasionally provocative (and explicit) but mostly vile, with off-putting characters and music selections by Bach, Offenbach, and Scott Joplin (!). Once this would have been called “porno chic,” but now it’s just “Euro-trash.” In Italian with English subtitles.

“THE BRIDGE”: SERIES 1 (MHz Networks): Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia star in the award-winning mystery series (originally titled “Broen/Bron”) about the investigation into a brutal (and complex) double-homicide on the Oresund Bridge, which divides Sweden and Denmark. This four-DVD collection ($49.95 retail) includes all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2013 season. The inspiration for the French/UK series “The Tunnel” and the FX Network series “The Bridge” in the US – but this is where it began. In Danish and Swedish with English subtitles.

CELL 213 (Entertainment One): Director Stephen Kay’s atmospheric but overlong shocker stars Eric Balfour as a hotshot attorney incarcerated in prison, where he is promptly spooked by hallucinations and unearthly visitations while detective Deborah Valente tries to figure out why. Bruce Greenwood and Michael Rooker add heft as the warden and head guard, respectively. The jittery camerawork gets done to death. Rated R.

DEAD DROP (LionsGate): Utter familiarity pervades this sub-standard action thriller with Luke Goss as an undercover CIA agent on a rampage of revenge, with Nestor Carbonell and Cole Hauser offering glum support. Rated R.

DRAGONWOLF (Well Go USA Entertainment): Director/story writer Raimund Huber’s martial-arts thriller stars Patrick Kazu Tang and screenwriter Johan Kirsten (in his screen debut) as assassins who fall out when they fall for the same woman (Macha Polivka). The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.

EASTSIDERS (Wolfe Video): Writer/ director Kit Williamson makes his feature debut by expanding his award-winning web series into a full-length film starring himself and Van Hansis as gay lovers whose break-up reverberates among their friends in LA’s Silver Lake District. Matthew McKelligon, Sean Maher, Stephen Guarino and Traci Lords co-star. The DVD retails for $24.95.

FAVOR (Horizon Movies): In desperation, advertising executive Blayne Weaver asks childhood friend Patrick Day (firstrate) to dispose of a body … but things soon spiral out of control in this paranoid thriller reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951), marking the feature directorial debut of writer/editor/cinematographer/executive producer Paul Osborne. A good bet for suspense fans. Horror icon Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) amusingly cameos as Weaver’s imposing boss.

HALLUCINATION STRIP (RaroVideo): Director Lucio Marcaccini’s first and only feature is an oddball 1975 thriller (originally titled Roma drogata: la polizia non puo intervenire and also known as The Hallucinating Trips) with American expatriate Bud Cort as a high-school student (!) named Massimo Monaldi (!) mixed up with sex, drugs and the mafia during student unrest in Italy, while Marcel Bozzuffi (of French Connection fame) plays the cop on his case. A bumpy ride, although the psychedelic sequences are a howl.

“HELL ON WHEELS”: THE COM- PLETE THIRD SEASON (Entertainment One): The wild West gets even wilder as former Confederate soldier Anson Mount continues his quest for revenge in all 10 episodes from the 2013 season of the award-winning AMC series set against the backdrop of the construction of the first trans-continental railroad. The DVD collection retails for $39.98, the Blu-ray collection for $49.98.

“JA’MIE: PRIVATE SCHOOL GIRL” (HBO Home Entertainment): Creator Chris Lilley is a writer, producer, executive producer and director of this awardwinning HBO comedy series in which he plays the title role of a self-absorbed schoolgirl in Sydney, Australia and other characters, too. The DVD collection ($29.98 retail) includes all six episodes from the inaugural 2013 season plus bonus features.

THE JUNGLE (Entertainment One): Writer/producer/director Andrew Traucki’s utterly predictable foundfootage shocker follows explorers into the Indonesian rainforest searching for a rare leopard … only to themselves end up in danger of becoming extinct. Ho hum. Rated R.

KILLER LEGENDS (Breaking Glass Pictures): Effectively sensationalistic documentary, originally broadcast on Chiller, follows writer/director Joshua Zeman and researcher Rachel Mills as they delve into the factual origins of modern myths and urban legends. Worth a look, especially for true-crime aficionados.

“LOS ANGELES KINGS: 2014 STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS” (NHL/ Cinedigm): The official NHL of the 2013-’14 hockey season, culminating in the Kings’ five-game triumph over the New York Rangers. The DVD retails for $24.99, the Blu-ray for $23.99.

SAVING GRACE B. JONES (Arc Entertainment): Actress Connie Stevensmakes her feature directorial debut, co-wrote and narrates this heartfelt but meandering drama set in ‘50s’ Missouri, with Michael Biehn and Penelope Ann Miller as a couple who take his schizophrenic sister (Tatum O’Neal) into their home – with devastating consequences. Good performances help, but not enough. Piper Laurie, Scott Wilson and Stevens’ daughter Tricia Leigh Fisher appear briefly. Rated R.

TRAP FOR CINDERELLA (IFC Midnight/MPI Media Group): Tuppence Middleton plays a young amnesiac delving into her past after surviving a fiery explosion, specifically her unnaturally close friendship with Alexandra Roach. Plenty of twists and turns in screenwriter/producer/director Ian Softley’s adaptation of Sebastien Japrisot’s novel, yet this goodlooking thriller (Middleton and Roach are gorgeous) is sidetracked by flashbacks and a blaring soundtrack. !

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

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