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by Mark Burger

video vault

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK THE GRAY MAN (Monarch Home Video): Most movies about serial killers are one step removed from the average (or below average) slasher film, but this moody low-budget outing is both unsettling and credible — due in part because it’s based on a true story.

Patrick Bachau plays Albert Fish, a middle-aged father of six with a deep, dark secret: He is a child molester and murderer, and sometimes covers up his crimes by eating his victims. That alone would seem to indicate that this will be a blood-slathered exploitation film, but director Scott L. Flynn (an auspicious feature debut) shows a measure of restraint in some of the more sadistic aspects of Fish’s crimes. In any event, however, this is not a film for the squeamish.

Bachau dominates the proceedings with a genuinely scary and compelling performance as the deranged, diabolical Fish, and there’s good work from John Aylward as a police captain and young Lexi Ainsworth as one of Fish’s victims. As Will King, the detective who methodically tracked Fish for years, Jack Conley is rather stolid (in the Jack Webb mode), but in no way a detriment. David Rudd’s cinematography is also a major asset. This is a real find. Rated R. ***PG-13. *

A DAY IN THE LIFE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Rapper Sticky Fingaz (nee Kirk Jones) wrote, directed and stars in this urban thriller about a street war that erupts between two crime families. All of the dialogue is delivered in hiphop verse. Although hampered by a low budget, this is a respectable attempt to put a fresh spin on familiar material. A starstudded cast also includes Drena De Niro (Robert’s daughter), Mekhi Phifer, Omar Epps, Troy Garrity, Bokeem Woodbine, Ricardo “Kurupt“ Brown, Anthony “Treach“ Criss, Michael Rapaport (also an executive consultant), Faizon Love, Fredro Starr and Clarence Williams III. Rated R. **½

“DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES”: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Felicity Huffman, Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria Parker, Marcia Cross, Dana Delany and Nicollette Sheridan (in her final go-round) return as the wicked women of Wisteria Lane in all 24 episodes from the 2008-’09 season of the award-winning, prime-time ABC- TV comedy/drama, which earned an Emmy nomination for Beau Bridges as Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (for the episode “The Greatest Thing That Ever Could Have Happened”). This boxed set retails for $59.99.

DEVOTION: AN UNAUTHORIZED TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL JACKSON (Infinity Entertainment Group): What it says is what it is, a documentary ($19.98 retail) tracing the life and career of Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop,” who unexpectedly died on June 25.

“FEAR ITSELF” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): All 13 episodes from the 2008 (and only) season of the prime-time NBC-TV horror anthology (spun off from Showtime’s “Masters of Horror” series), with episodes directed by the likes of Brad Anderson, John Landis, Mary Harron, Ronny Yu and Ernest Dickerson. Guest stars include Eric Roberts, Ashley Scott, Briana Evigan, Elisabeth Moss, Brandon Routh, Shiri Appleby, Jonathan Schaech and others. This four-DVD boxed set, which includes unaired episodes and interviews, retails for $29.98.

“GREEK”: CHAPTER THREE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Life on the campus of Cyprus-Rhodes University continues in the latest installment of the prime-time ABC Family comedy/drama series. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS 2: STAND YOUR GROUND (Vivendi Entertainment): An absolutely unnecessary follow-up to the 2005 film, with Ross McCall reprising his role as a football (read: soccer) hooligan who encounters rival hooligans while incarcerated in prison, leading to a climactic (read: predictable) match between the two sides. Director Jesse V. Johnson has a knack for action, and there are decent supporting turns by Timothy Murphy (as a Russian crime boss), Vernon Wells (as the warden) and an unrecognizable Marina Sirtis (as a corrupt matron), but this is standard stuff. For undiscriminating action fans. *½

HORROR DOUBLE FEATURE (Alpha Home Entertainment): A DVD twin-bill ($7.98 retail) of low-budget chillers: The hodgepodge horror anthology Night Train to Terror (1985), starring John Phillip Law, Cameron Mitchell, Marc Lawrence and Richard (then Charles) Moll — the latter two actors in dual roles; and actorturned-director Terry Becker’s first (and only) feature, The Thirsty Dead (1974), about a blood cult in the Philippines, starring Jennifer Billingsley and John Considine. Night Train is rated R, Thirsty Dead somehow got a PG.

THE HUMAN CONTRACT (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Jada Pinkett Smith makes her writing/directing debut with this ambitious but ponderous psycho-drama in the Neil LaBute vein, with Jason Clarke as a troubled young executive who dallies with a mysterious beauty (Paz Vega) while dealing with family issues. Joanna Cassidy, Ted Danson, Idris Elba, Titus Welliver and Pinkett Smith herself are wasted in support. Rated R. *½

THE LAST RESORT (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The Mexican tourism industry ought to be thrilled with this shrill, low-budget shocker about a group of gals on a vacation that goes awry. At least it’s only 69 minutes (excluding end credits), so it’s over quickly. Rated R. *½

THE LAST WORD (Image Entertainment): Writer/director Geoffrey Haley’s debut feature stars Wes Bentley as a writer who makes his living fashioning suicide notes for others, which causes complications when he falls for the feisty sister (Winona Ryder) of one of his late clients. The cast, including Ray Romano as a disillusioned composer, works hard. A nice try that doesn’t quite hit the mark, although Haley may be a talent to watch. Rated R. **

MESSENGERS 2: THE SCARECROW (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): There’s calamity in the cornfield in this rather unnecessary prequel to the 2007 shocker, about a cursed North Dakota farm. Norman Reedus brings intensity to his role as a bewitched farmer, but this grows wearisome (and more predictable) in the second half. Rated R. *½

NIGHT STALKER (North American Motion Pictures): With regard to bad movies about serial killers (see The Gray Man, above), Adolph Cortez (in his screen debut) portrays the real-life killer Richard Ramirez, who terrorized Los Angeles during the mid-1980s. Over the last few years, writer/producer/director/ hack filmmaker Ulli Lommel has made a career out of making bad exploitation films about real-life serial killers — like this one. Rated R. *

RANDY AND THE MOB (Lightyear Entertainment/Vivendi Entertainment): Ray McKinnon wrote, produced, directed and plays twin brothers in this mildly entertaining, award-winning, Southernfried farce about a small-town loser who finds himself in hock to the Mob. Also on hand: Producers Walton Goggins and Lisa Blount (McKinnon’s real-life wife), Bill Nunn, Brent Briscoe and Burt Reynolds. Rated PG. **

THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM (MPower Pictures/Sound Enterprises): Co-executive producer Rick Larson hosts this self-explanatory documentary in which that retails for $12.95. Also available directly from the distributor: www.thestarofbethlehemmovie.com

THREAT (Halo8 Releasing): The debut feature of writer/producer/director Matt Pizzolo and writer/producer Katie Nisa (who also co-stars) is a gritty, low-budget melodrama with Carlos Puga and Keith Middleton as two aimless friends caught up in a street riot that quickly spirals out of control. Not exactly a positive portrait of urban youth, but its best moments recall Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Abel Ferrara, and there are some incisive observations. The combination of color and black-and-white cinematography with bursts of animation works well. A promising first feature. Also available directly from the distributor: www.threatmovie.com.**½

VOICES FROM BEYOND (Image Entertainment): Lucio Fulci’s final stint in the director’s chair, originally made for Italian TV in 1994, stars Duilio Del Prete as a murdered patriarch who communicates with his daughter (Karina Huff) so as to determine who did him in. Very much a whodunit, but with many Fulci trappings: Rotting corpses, zombies, an on-camera autopsy and an eyeball omelet — plus gratuitous nudity, to boot. One of the filmmaker’s better films, actually, although the Fulci faithful have a head start. Fulci also wrote the story and collaborated on the screenplay. **½

ALSO ON DVD AMERICAN SON (Miramax Films/Buena Vista Home Entertainment): A well-intentioned but heavy-handed character drama with Nick Cannon as a young Marine spending his last four-day leave at home during the Thanksgiving weekend before being deployed to Iraq. Rated R. **

BEHIND THE WALL (Monarch Home Video): Lindy Booth and Lawrence Dane topline director Paul Schneider’s Mark Burger can be heard unimpressive feature about spooky Friday mornings on the “Two doings in a haunted lighthouse. A few Guys Named Chris” radio show goosebumps, but this Canadian-made on Rock-92.

chiller feels like a TV movie. Rated Copyright 2009, Mark Burger

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