DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: THE SENTINEL (Scream Factory/Shout Factory)
Based on Jeffrey Konvitz’s best-seller – and, seemingly, every occult film up to then – Michael Winner’s 1977 shocker posits the theory that the entrance to hell is located beneath a sleepy Brooklyn brownstone.
By coincidence (or is it?), that’s just where glamorous but troubled fashion model Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) has just moved, following a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt. Chris Sarandon plays Allison’s hot-shot lawyer boyfriend Michael Lerman, who’s got something of a shady past himself.
Winner, a filmmaker scarcely renowned for delicacy or nuance, combines lengthy exposition (a mash-up of theology) with exploitation (nudity, gore) – then spices it with Hollywood gloss. It’s frequently silly, sometimes quite scary, and always watchable – and Gil Melle’s score is a plus.
This may be the most star-studded outing in the ‘70s demonology cycle: Ava Gardner, Eli Wallach, Arthur Kennedy, Sylvia Miles, Christopher Walken, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer, Beverly D’Angelo, Jerry Orbach, Deborah Raffin, Jeff Goldblum, William Hickey, Tom Berenger (at the very end), and Burgess Meredith, who pretty much steals the show as the nutty, nefarious neighbor Mr. Chazen. Some have little to do, some appear as if they wish they were elsewhere, but it’s nice – and surprising – having them around.
The special-edition Blu-ray ($27.97 retail) includes multiple audio commentaries (including one with Winner, who died in 2013), interviews, and more. Rated R.
THE BLOOD LANDS (Magnet Label/ Magnolia Home Entertainment): Awardwinning cinematography distinguishes this otherwise routine shocker wherein Pollyanna McIntosh and Lee Williams buy a house in the Scottish countryside and are terrorized by assailants wearing pig masks. The DVD retails for $26.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98. Rated R.
CROSS (Well Go USA Entertainment): Simon Yam portrays a serial killer who does his part to alleviate overpopulation by killing suicidal people in Daniel Chan’s thriller (also known as 6 th Commandment Cross and originally titled Tian ma xing xiong). In Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.98 retail).
EARTHFALL (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty – rather, their low-budget CGI renditions – are among the first landmarks to go when Earth is yanked out of orbit by a rogue planet in this ham-fisted sci-fi/disaster melodrama.
EATEN ALIVE (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A special-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) of Tobe Hooper’s murky, muddled 1976 follow-up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) wherein guests at the Starlite Hotel on the Louisiana bayou don’t check out – at least not alive – thanks to psychotic proprietor Neville Brand (totally unhinged) and his pet crocodile. Loosely based on a true story, with a slumming cast including Stuart Whitman, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, William Finley, Marilyn Burns, Roberta Collins, Kyle Richards and Robert Englund. This played drive-ins and grindhouses for nearly a decade, sometimes as Death Trap (its original title), Horror Hotel, Starlite Slaughter or Legend of the Bayou. Rated R.
THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET (Level 33 Entertainment): Writer/director/editor Arthur Luhn’s well-made but confused shocker stars Jessica Soneborn as a troubled (and bossy) newcomer to a seemingly idyllic Massachusetts suburb where she’s soon spooked by her neighbors, including Eric Roberts, Ethan Embry, Courtney Gains and the late Alex Rocco.
INNER DEMONS (IFC Midnight/MPI Media Group): A documentary TV crew films the intervention of a heroin-addicted teen (impressive newcomer Lara Vos burgh), who claims she’s possessed. Fairly effective shocker that ultimately goes off the deep end at the climax.
LOST AFTER DARK (Anchor Bay Entertainment): First-time writer/director Ian Kessner scores with this amusing throwback to ‘80s-style slasher films, as a dumb teens makes the mistake of investigating into an urban legend about a cannibalistic serial killer (Mark Wiebe). A likable cast includes Robert Patrick, Eve Harlow, Elise Gatien and director Rick Rosenthal (as the sheriff). This delivers the gory goods and plenty of in-jokes.
LYLE (Breaking Glass Pictures): Gaby Hoffmann gives an award-winning performance in writer/director Stewart Thorndike’s eerie, tight (62 minutes!) chiller as a pregnant lesbian, still reeling from the earlier death of a child, who fears that those around her have evil designs on her unborn baby. Comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) are not unwarranted.
METAMORPHOSIS/BEYOND DARK- NESS (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Actor-turned-writer/director George Eastman’s Metamorphosis and writer/director Claudio Fragasso’s Beyond Darkness (AKA La casa 5) comprise this Blu-ray double feature ($24.97 retail) of Italian shockers, both made in 1990 and both featuring American expatriate Gene Le Brock.
NOMADS (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Lesley-Anne Down and Pierce Brosnan are spooked by spectral beings at large in Los Angeles in John McTiernan’s foreboding, highly stylized 1986 debut feature … just don’t expect it to make sense. The new Blu-ray ($24.97 retail) includes interviews, theatrical trailer and more. Rated R.
“THE ORIGINALS”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video): This prime-time prequel to “The Vampire Diaries” chronicles the “first” vampire family and their bloodthirsty doings in the steamy French Quarter of New Orleans, as dramatized in all 22 episodes from the 2014-’15 season of The CW’s popular supernatural series. The regular cast includes Joseph Morgan (double trouble as a vampire/werewolf hybrid), Daniel Gillies, Claire Holt, Phoebe Tonkin, Charles Michael Davis and Danielle Campbell. The DVD boxed set retails for $44.98, the Bluray boxed set for $49.99, both boasting a myriad of special features.
THE SENDER (Olive Films): Oscar-winning production designer Roger Christian (Star Wars) made his feature directorial debut with this intriguing 1982 chiller starring Kathryn Harrold as a psychologist charged with treating a suicidal amnesiac (Zeljko Ivanek) with telepathic powers. It doesn’t always make sense, but entertaining and spooky nonetheless, with Shirley Knight and Paul Freeman solid in support. The DVD retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. Rated R.
THE STRANGER (IFC Midnight/ Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Under the auspices of producer Eli Roth, writer/ director/associate producer Guillermo Amoedo puts his spin on the vampire legend in this award-winning shocker starring Cristobal Tapia-Montt as a mysterious figure with strange powers who unleashes a bloodbath in a small town. The DVD retails for $14.93, the Blu-ray for $24.97.
TURKEY SHOOT (Severi n Films): Steve Railsback and Olivia Hussey are targeted in director Brian Trenchard- Smith’s brutal sci-fi saga set in a totalitarian future where political prisoners are hunted for sport … until they inevitably turn the tables. Also known as Blood Camp Thatcher (named for Michael Craig’s sadistic warden) and Escape 2000 (the US title), this was released unrated due to its violence. Pure exploitation fare, but it delivers on that count and boasts a cult following. The special-edition DVD ($19.98 retail) and special-edition Blu-ray ($24.98 retail) include a bevy of special features.
VAMPIRE’S KISS/HIGH SPIRITS (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A Blu-ray twin bill ($24.97 retail) of horror comedies, vintage 1988: Nicolas Cage is unforgettable as a deranged Yuppie (yep, he really eats the cockroach) in the wildly uneven but memorable Vampire’s Kiss (rated R) and Neil Jordan’s atmospheric, romantic High Spirits (rated PG-13), which boasts a star-studded cast (Peter O’Toole, Daryl Hannah, Liam Neeson, Steve Guttenberg, Jennifer Tilly, Peter Gallagher, Ray McAnally and Beverly D’Angelo) but was edited without Jordan’s consent. Vampire’s Kiss: /High Spirits:
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2015, Mark Burger.