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[VIDEO VAULT]

by Mark Burger

MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK

THE CITY OF THE DEAD (VCI Entertainment): This atmospheric 1960 chiller, released in the US as Horror Hotel (“Just ring for doom service!”), introduces Venetia Stevenson as Nan Barlow, a college student researching witchcraft in the New England village of Whitewood, which is as shrouded in mystery as by ever-present fog.

Much to her eternal regret, Nan discovers that the legends of Whitewood are indeed true, thus prompting her worried brother Richard (Dennis Lotis) to pick up where she left off — which puts him in jeopardy, as well.

Director John L. Moxey, making his feature debut and later to helm the 1971 TV classic The Night Stalker, establishes a crackling pace. The film runs under 80 minutes, with nary a wasted moment, and is strongly aided by Desmond Dickinson’s exquisite black-and-white cinematography and Douglas Gamley’s score. Remarkably, the entire film was shoot indoors on sets in Shepperton Studios.

The good guys (Lotis, Betta St. John and Tom Naylor) are a little on the bland side, but Patricia Jessel, as Whitewood’s innkeeper Mrs. Newless, and the great Christopher Lee, as college professor Alan Driscoll, whose knowledge of witchcraft could be construed as “first-hand,” are terrific.

Some observers have detected similarities to Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was in production at the same time, and it’s entirely possible that the makers of this film had read the Robert Bloch novel. The City of the Dead is no Psycho, but it’s a gem in its own right – a little classic that remains good ‘n’ spooky over 50 years later.

The newly-restored, special-edition Blu-ray ($24.97 retail) includes multiple audio commentaries, retrospective interviews, Horror Hotel, and more. ***

ALSO AVAILABLE

BANDITS (Olive Films): Escaped cons Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton team with runaway wife Cate Blanchett in Barry Levinson’s overlong, top-heavy 2001 comedy. The actors (especially Blanchett) try hard, but Bandits doesn’t score. The Blu-ray retails for $29.95. Rated PG-13. *½

BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Pam Grier and Margaret Markov headline this (admittedly sexier) variation on The Defiant Ones (1958), a low-budget 1973 drive-in favorite, as escaped prisoners prisoners in the Philippines, pursued by bounty hunter (and B-movie favorite) Sid Haig. Jonathan Demme was one of the story writers. The special-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.95 retail) includes retrospective interviews and audio commentary. Rated R. **

DADDY’S HOME (Paramount): Stepdad (and producer) Will Ferrell matches wits with dad Mark Wahlberg in this PG-13-rated slapstick farce, available on DVD ($29.99 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail).

EVEREST (Universal): A harrowing dramatization of the tragic fate which befell mountain climbers attempting to scale the summit of Mount Everest in 1996, bolstered by an all-star cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly (as author Jon Krakauer, who disputed this film’s factual accuracy), Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Debicki, Martin Henderson and John Hawkes (superb as the ill-fated Doug Hansen). The DVD retails for $29.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $34.98, the 3-D Blu-ray combo for $49.98. Rated PG-13. ***½

EXPOSED (LionsGate): Glum Keanu Reeves (also a producer) plays a New York cop whose partner’s murder leads him to Ana de Armas, a woman having strange visions. A muddled, confusing thriller that wastes a cast including Mira Sorvino, Christopher McDonald, Big Daddy Kane and Michael Rispoli, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.99 retail). Rated R. *

FELICITY (Severin Films): The Blu-ray bow ($29.95 retail) of writer/producer/director John D. Lamond’s 1978 feature debut, a mostly-cheerful, Australian-made softcore sex romp starring the aptly-named Glory Annen in the title role of a sheltered English maiden seeking romantic fulfillment in Hong Kong. Countless late-night screenings on cable-TV made this a cult favorite, and the Blu-ray includes Lamond’s earlier documentaries Australia After Dark (1975) and The ABCs of Love and Sex (1978). **

HERO QUEST (Cinedigm): Milla Jovovich, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, Will Chase and Whoopi Goldberg lend their voices to this animated feature (originally titled A Warrior’s Tale), based on the children’s book Saava: Heart of the Warrior by Russian singer/songwriter (and co-screenwriter) Maksim Fadeev, available on DVD ($14.93 retail).

JINXED! (Olive Films): The title of this 1982 Bette Midler comedy, which marked Don Siegel’s swan song, proved appropriate – as widespread reports of disagreements between the actors (Midler and Ken Wahl) and director proved more interesting than the resulting film, which is based on Frank D. Gilroy’s novel The Edge. The DVD retails for $14.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. Rated R. *½

THE JOURNEY HOME (RLJ Entertainment): Sweeping cinematography distinguishes this family-friendly melodrama (originally titled Midnight Sun), with Dakota Goyo as a youngster who braves the elements as he tries to reunite a polar bear cub with its mother – much to the dismay of his mother (Bridget Moynihan) and family friend (Goran Visnijc), co-directed by Roger Spottiswoode and story writer Brando Quilici, making his feature debut supervising the high Arctic scenes. Director Hugh Hudson had a hand in the story, and the film is dedicated to producer Jake Eberts, who died in 2012. Corny at times, but there’s a nice environmental message. Rated PG. **½

KILL ME AGAIN (Olive Films): The Blu-ray bow ($29.95 retail) of director/screenwriter John Dahl’s award-winning debut feature, a fair 1989 film noir with Val Kilmer as a private eye who aids (then-wife) Joanne Whalley elude abusive boyfriend Michael Madsen by faking her death. Needless to say, all does not go according to plan. Rated R. **

LIFE (Cinedigm): Anton Corbijn’s artfully composed but ponderous biographical drama details the friendship between Life Magazine photographer Dennis Stock (an ineffectual Robert Pattinson) and a fast-rising film star named James Dean (impressively played by UNCSA School of Drama graduate Dane DeHaan) in 1955 Los Angeles. Joel Edgerton, Alessandra Mastronardi (as Pier Angeli) and Ben Kingsley (chewing the scenery as studio head Jack Warner) also appear. Rated R. **

“LITTLEST PET SHOP: PET TALES (Hasbro Studios/Shout! Kids Factory): The title tells all in this DVD compilation ($14.98 retail) of five episodes from the award-winning animated children’s series, about the adventures of a young girl named Blythe (voiced by Ashleigh Ball) and her four-legged friends.

MAKING THE GRADE (Olive Films): Rich kid Dana Olsen hires streetwise Judd Nelson to take his place at college in this typical 1984 teen comedy (filmed as The Last American Preppie) produced by the Golan/Globus duo at Cannon Films, with Jonna Lee, Gordon Jump, Ronald Lacey, Walter Olkewicz and Andrew “Dice” Clay on hand. A box-office bust that helped end the distribution deal between Cannon and MGM. The Blu-ray retails for $29.95. Rated R. **

MARRIAGE MATERIAL (Indie Rights/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/producer/executive producer Ann Deborah Fishman makes her feature debut, co-directing with Dave DeBorde, with this drippy, sub-par, sitcom-level romantic comedy with Victoria Jackson (whose ditzy routine was old on “Saturday Night Live” in the ’80s) as a meddlesome mother determined that her daughter (Maddy Curley) marry a rich man. ½

“MAUDE”: THE FOURTH SEASON (Shout! Factory): Beatrice Arthur returns as the irrepressible of Maude Findlay in all 24 episodes from the 1975-’76 season (the highest-rated of its entire run) of the acclaimed, sometimes controversial CBS sitcom spun off from “All in the Family.” Three Emmy nominations: Oustanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Arthur), Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series. The DVD collection retails for $26.99.

“THE NANNY”: THE FINAL SEASON (Shout! Factory): The inimitable Fran Drescher returns in a DVD collection ($34.99 retail) of all 22 episodes from the 1998-’99 season of the CBS sitcom, in which Drescher’s Fran Fine has wed her former employer Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy). Emmy nomination for Outstanding Costuming for a Series.

NOMA: MY PERFECT STORM (Magnolia Home Entertainment): An award-winning documentary focusing on celebrated chef Rene Redzepi and his equally celebrated, Copenhangen restaurant NOMA. Noted cinematographer Pierre Deschamps, making his feature debut, certainly makes everything look good – especially the food – but an inflated sense of self-importance and seriousness turns this toward a feature-length promotion for NOMA. The DVD retails for $26.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98. *½

PRAY FOR DEATH (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Action junkies will get their fill in director Gordon Hessler’s 1985 martial-arts thriller starring Sho Kosugi as an immigrant who clashes with crime boss Michael Constantine and his enforcer “Limehouse Eddie” (screenwriter James Booth) after they target his family. Also on hand: Norman Burton, Donna Kei Benz, Robert Ito, Parley Baer and Kosugi’s sons Kane and Shane. The DVD retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. Both include the R-rated and unrated versions of the film. **

SOCIOPATHIA (Cinema Epoch): Actress-turned-executive producer/story writer Ruby Larocca and executive producer/screenwriter Rich Mallery make their co-directorial debuts with this low-budget, low-impact shocker starring Tammy Jean as a psychotic prop mistress who uses her skills to preserve the lovers she’s murdered as dolls. Reminiscent of William Lustig’s Maniac (1980), although Jean’s cuter than Joe Spinell ever was. *

STORIES OF THE BAAL SHEM TOV (VSC): Mayim Bialik, Roseanne Barr and DuDu Fisher lend their voices to this stop-motion animation feature that chronicles the life and stories of the titular Jewish hero, who brought joy and wisdom to those around him. The DVD retails for $14.95.

UNDERTOW (Olive Films): The Blu-ray bow ($29.95 retail) of UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate David Gordon Green’s award-winning 2004 rural thriller with Dermot Mulroney as an ailing widower unable to protect his sons (Jamie Bell and Devon Alan) from his greedy brother (an excellent Josh Lucas), recently sprung from jail but scarcely rehabilitated. Bill McKinney, Shiri Appleby and Kristen Stewart also turn up briefly. Rated R. ***

ZOOLANDER (Paramount): A limited-edition Blu-ray gift set ($19.99 retail) of Ben Stiller’s silly, occasionally inspired 2001 comedy in which he plays a brainless, vain male model pitted against evil fashion guru Will Ferrell. Special features include audio commentary, deleted scenes and outtakes, VH1 Fashion Award skits and more. Unfortunately, lightning didn’t strike twice with Zoolander 2 earlier this year. Rated PG-13. **

(Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2016, Mark Burger) HYPERLINK “mailto:marksburger@yahoo.com”marksburger@yahoo.com

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