DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: THE INNOCENTS (The Criterion Collection)
Director Jack Clayton’s superior, award-winning 1961 adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is one of the ghost screen ghost stories. But is it a ghost story, a tale of possession, or a psychological thriller? It’s never made clear, and it’s that ambiguity “” beautifully captured in the William Archibald/Truman Capote screenplay “” that makes The Innocents a peerless addition to the genre.Deborah Kerr is superb as Miss Giddens, a governess hired to look after young siblings Miles and Flora (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) in a remote country manor owned by their uncle (Michael Redgrave in a sharp onescene cameo).Miss Giddens’ predecessor met an untimely end “” as did the uncle’s valet “” and she becomes increasingly obsessed that the children are in danger, as much for their souls as their lives. Are evil forces at work, or has Miss Giddens’ repression manifested itself into madness?The narrative is gripping from start to finish, and mention must be made of Freddie Francis’ sumptuous black-and-white cinematography (a fortuitous concession to studioimposed CinemaScope), which is impressive and expressive in equal measure. The Innocents is one of those films in which everything works, and is a must for Halloween.The DVD retails for $14.98, the Blu-ray for $39.95 “” both replete with special features.
THE BATTERY (Scream Factory/ Shout! Factory): Leisurely paced, lowbudget “zom-com” (zombie comedy), with echoes of broad Kevin Smith-style humor, stars first-time writer/producer/ director Jeremy Gardner and producer Adam Cronheim as minor-league ballplayers (hence the title) traveling through treacherous New England following an outbreak of the living dead. The confined third act could have been tightened, but is still encouraging.
EVIL IN THE TIME OF HEROES (Doppelganger Releasing): Writer/director Yorgos Noussias’ indescribable and deliriously irreverent comedy (originally titled To kako “” Stin epohi ton iroon) depicts an inexplicable outbreak of the living dead, is the first Greek zombie film, and is a surefire cult favorite. Bloody, bouncy, and done in the best comic-book tradition. Somehow, it figures that Billy Zane would turn up as an immortal mystic/warrior known as “Prophitis.” Greek with English subtitles.
GHOST OF GOODNIGHT LANE (Inception Media Group): So-so horror sendup from writer/producer/editor/director Alin Bijan in which the cast and crew of a low-budget horror film are violently killed off one by one in a newly renovated (and seemingly haunted) studio. Helped immeasurably by an enthusiastic cast including Lacey Chabert, Christine Quinn, Danielle Harris, Matt Dallas, Richard Tyson and the ubiquitous Billy Zane (as the director).
A HAUNTING AT PRESTON CASTLE (Inception Media Group): Three young friends (Mackenzie Firgens, Heather Tocquigny and Jake White) unwisely decide to break into an abandoned correctional facility with a deadly past in this stale, stagnant shocker “inspired by true events,” marking the inauspicious writing/ producing/directing feature debut for cinematographer and co-editor Martin Rosenberg. The real Preston Castle has been explored on TV’s “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures,” both of which were surely scarier than this.
HOUSE OF DUST (Anchor Bay): College students break into an abandoned asylum and are possessed by the spirits of those who died there in this gruesome and surreal, but ponderous and forgettable shocker “inspired by true events” (hohum). The cast includes Inbar Lavi, Steven Grayhm, Eddie Hassell, Holland Roden, Alesandra Assante (Arman’s daughter), Nicole Travolta (John’s niece) and slumming Tony winner Stephen Spinella as a lobotomist. Rated R.
JERSEY SHORE MASSACRE (Attack Entertainment): The Garden State goes gruesome in executive producer/writer/ director Paul Tarnopol’s high-concept, low-brow horror spoof pitting big-haired babes and bonehead dudes against a mad killer in the Pine Barrens. The cast is nothing if not eclectic: Danielle Dallacco, Angelica Boccella, Shawn C. Phillips, Sal Governale and Richard Christy from Howard Stern’s radio show, and a pot-smoking Ron Jeremy. A few laughs, but the joke wears very thin after awhile. Rated R.
THE LAST STEP DOWN (Redemption/Kino Lorber): A raunchy, low-rent 1970 British sexploitation shocker in which oversexed Satanists indoctrinate busty babes (including ubiquitous Uschi Digart) into their sect, often to laughably inappropriate music (including what sounds like an instrumental version of “A Hard Day’s Night”). This “Dark Erotica double feature” ($29.95 retail) also includes the 8mm 1979 short Blood Lust, (very) loosely inspired by Le Fanu’s Carmilla.
LOCKED IN (LionsGate): A bleary-eyed Ben Barnes skulks through this pedantic, flashback-laden psychological thriller as a man trying to piece together the circumstances surrounding an auto accident that left his daughter (twin newcomers Abigail and Helen Steinman) in a coma. Sarah Roemer, Clarke Peters, Johnny Whitworth, Peter Jason, Brenda Fricker and Eliza Dushku are wasted “” and so is the viewer’s time. Rated R.
NO VACANCY (LionsGate): Writer/ producer/director Christopher B. Stokes’ low-budget shocker (originally titled The Helpers) follows a group of obnoxious friends on a Vegas road trip stop at a remote hotel where the overly-accommodating help start slaughtering them one by one. (Needless to say, someone’s filming constantly.) It’s pointless and obnoxious, with only Miko Dannels’ cinematography a standout, but otherwise, no dice. Rated R.
“PENNY DREADFUL”: SEASON ONE (Showtime Networks/CBS DVD/ Paramount): Creator John Logan’s awardwinning supernatural Showtime series features the greatest monsters in literary history (Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, etc.) at large in Victorian London. The star-studded cast includes luscious Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Harry Treadaway, Rory Kinnear and Timothy Dalton.
All eight episodes from the premiere 2014 season (plus special features) are included in the DVD ($42.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($48.99 retail) collections.
PUMPKINHEAD (Scream Factory/ Shout! Factory): A special-edition Blu-ray ($29.93 retail) of Oscar-winning effects artist Stan Winston’s 1987 directorial debut: An atmospheric chiller in which grieving father Lance Henriksen (firstrate) conjures up the titular demon to avenge the death of his son by a group of young bikers. This troubled production never found its theatrical audience but became a cult favorite on cable-TV. Special features include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, behindthe-scenes featurettes and more. Rated R.
RAW FORCE (Vinegar Syndrome): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.98 retail) of writer/director Edward Murphy’s mindboggling, Filipino-lensed 1981 feature debut (also known as Kung Fu Cannibals) in which members of a Burbank karate school are marooned on an island inhabited by cannibalistic monks and undead Ninja. The laughs are frequent and unintentional in this super-cheap exploitation swill, with frat-boy humor, gratuitous nudity, and some of the dopiest karate in memory. All this and Cameron Mitchell, too! This was executive producer Lawrence Woolner’s last film. Look fast for cult queens Camille Keaton and Jewel Shepard. Rated R.
REVELATION TRAIL (Entertainment One): It was inevitable “” a zombie Western. Tormented preacher Daniel Van Thomas and grizzled marshal Daniel Britt battle the living dead in writer/producer/director John Gibson’s shocker. Not bad, but tighter pacing and length would have helped. Rated R.
WEREWOLF RISING (RLJ Entertainment/Image Entertainment): With Trevin Pinto’s score echoing Halloween, writer/ director B.C. Furtney’s uninspired shocker stars a perpetually smiling Melissa Carnell as a woman whose home-town return to Arkansas goes bad when “” well, look at the title. Top-billed Bill Oberst Jr. is wasted, and the ending portends a follow-up, which is truly a scary thought. This Werewolf is a dog. !
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. ‘© 2014, Mark Burger.