DVD Pick of the week: DAMNATION ALLEY (Shout! Factory)
This sci-fi adventure yarn, boasting a great title, was to be Twentieth Century Fox’s big Christmas release for 1976, but production delays bumped it to summer ’77, where it was promptly usurped by its own studio’s Star Wars.
Following a nuclear holocaust, the Earth is now a desolate, godforsaken wasteland plagued by giant scorpions, killer cockroaches and cheesy rear-projection special effects. A small group of survivors attempts to reach the safe haven of Albany, NY, traveling in a super-charged, futuristic, all-terrain vehicle known as the “Landmaster” (kind of a Winnebago/ Humvee on steroids).
Despite a script by noted scribes Alan Sharp (Night Moves) and Lukas Heller (The Dirty Dozen), this hardly does justice to Roger Zelazny’s novel (the author hated the film) — but there’s no denying it moves. It may be silly but it’s rarely boring, and as always Jerry Goldsmith provides a worthy score… even if the film isn’t quite so worthy.
Among the ensemble cast, Jan-Michael Vincent and George Peppard supply the machismo, Dominique Sanda the glamour, Jackie Earle Haley the teen appeal and Paul Winfield some class, although (alas) he exits the proceedings far too soon. On an audio commentary, producer Paul Maslansky notes that this is one story that ought to be remade. No argument here. Rated PG.
BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (Shout! Factory): A 30th anniversary special edition ($19.93 retail DVD, $26.97 retail Blu-ray) of executive producer Roger Corman’s 1980 answer to Star Wars, an inter-stellar variation on Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, as penned by John Sayles. The cast includes Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, Darlanne Fluegel, Morgan Woodward, Sybil Danning, Jeff Corey, Julia Duffy and Sam Jaffe, with a score by future Oscar winner James Horner and art direction by future Oscar winner James Cameron. Rated PG.
CROSS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A miscast Brian Austin Green toplines writer/ producer/director Patrick Durham’s smirky big-screen comic book as a team of heroes in Los Angeles attempts to foil a plot to destroy the world. A few bright moments but too smug and frenetic to really work. A wasted cast includes Tom Sizemore, Michael Clarke Duncan, Lori Heuring, Vinnie Jones, Jake Busey, C. Thomas Howell, Robert Carradine, Samantha Mumba, William Zakba and the inescapable Danny Trejo. Rated R.
DANNY BOY (Alpha Home Entertainment): A decorated member of the K-9 Corps — a “war dog” named Danny Boy — returns home after World War II and finds adjustment difficult in this low-budget 1945 family drama. Robert “Buzz” Henry plays the courageous canine’s faithful young owner.
“DENNIS THE MENACE”: SEASON TWO (Shout! Factory): Jay North returns as the mischief-making title character in all 38 episodes from the 1960-’61 season of the popular prime-time CBS sitcom based on Hank Ketchum’s popular comic-strip character. This five-DVD boxed set retails for $29.93.
“ER”: THE COMPLETE 15 TH AND FINAL SEASON (Warner Home Video): After 15 seasons, the Doctor is out (finally!), in all 22 episodes from the 2008-’09 season of the longest-running (and most acclaimed) prime-time medical drama in television history, which scored one last Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Rod Holcomb, for the final episode “In the End”) and an additional nomination for Ernest Borgnine as Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. The final-season regular cast included Angela Bassett, Linda Cardellini, John Stamos, Parminder Nagra and Scott Grimes, with surprise appearances by various regulars who’d previously passed through the hallways of Chicago’s County General Hospital. This DVD boxed set retails for $49.98.
THE FRANKENSTEIN SYNDROME (MTI Home Video): Not a standard remake, but a topical, intelligent re-imagining of themes from Mary Shelley’s classic tale, as a group of scientists engaged in stem-cell research go too far and develop a serum that can bring the dead back to life, but not without dire consequences. Writer/producer/director Sean Tretta’s award-winning chiller examines the moral implications, as well as delivering the gory goods. A good cast includes Tiffany Shepis, Louis Mandylor, Patti Tindall and Ed Lauter (in his biggest role in years). Originally titled The Prometheus Syndrome and released in the UK as The Frankenstein Experiment.
“HEY DUDE”: SEASON ONE (Shout! Factory): A two-DVD boxed set ($19.93 retail) of all 13 episodes from the premiere 1989 season of the popular Nickelodeon sitcom about the antics that take place in and around the Bar None Dude Ranch. The regular cast includes Christine Taylor, David Lascher, David Brisbin, Kelly Brown and Joe Torres.
LIFETIME TV MOVIES (A&E Home Entertainment): A selection of Lifetime originals: Taraji P. Henson and Terry O’Quinn star in Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story (2011); A.J. Cook and Jennifer Morrison star in Bringing Ashley Home (also ‘11); and Jane Kaczmarek and Kim Dickens topline Bobby Roth’s 2010 adaptation of the best-selling book Reviving Ophelia. Each of these fact-based films retails for $19.95 (DVD). A&E Home Entertainment is also releasing a pair of Patricia Cornwell mysteries: At Risk (‘10) and its sequel, The Front (‘11), both with Andie MacDowell and Daniel Sunjata and executiveproduced by Cornwell (who also appears in both). Each of these DVDs retails for $14.95.
MANEATER (Entertainment One): Routine but competent creature feature with Dean Cain (also an executive producer) as a smalltown sheriff tracking a cannibalistic killer. Rated R.
MEGADETH: THAT ONE NIGHT — LIVE IN BUENOS AIRES (Image Entertaimment): The award-winning heavy-metal band rocks the title town in this concert documentary filmed at Obras Stadium in Argentina in 2005, now available on Blu-ray ($19.98 retail).
“MI-5”: VOLUME 9 (BBC Worldwide): The latest installment of the award-winning BBC series dramatizing Great Britain’s espionage community, currently being broadcast in syndication in the US from PBS. The ensemble cast includes Peter Firth, Nicola Walker, Sophia Myles and Richard Armitage. This three-DVD boxed set retails for $39.98.
“NITE TALES”: THE SERIES (Entertainment One): Flavor Flav (as “the Time Keeper”) hosts all five episodes from the premiere 2009 season of this urban-themed horror anthology created by writer/producer/director Deon Taylor, now available on DVD ($19.98 retail). Guest stars include Gary Busey, Essence Atkins, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Kel Mitchell, DeRay Davis and the inimitable Brigitte Nielsen.
THE ROYAL WEDDING (Entertainment One): The title tells all in this DVD documentary ($14.98) recounting the April wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton… as if it hasn’t been recounted enough already.
“TOP GEAR”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (BBC Worldwide): A three-DVD boxed set ($24.98 retail) featuring all 10 episodes from the 2010-’11 season of the History Channel reality series hosted by Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood, and geared (pun intended) to the automobile aficionado.
TURBULENT SKIES (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The inaugural launch of a 747 with a fully automated flight computer goes haywire in this dull disaster film from director Fred Olen Ray, featuring Brad Dourif, Casper Van Dien, Nicole Eggert and Patrick Muldoon.
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger