video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEKTHE STEPFATHER (Shout!Factory): At long last, one of thetrue suspense classics of the 1980smakes its DVD debut in time for theHalloween season.Directed by Joseph Ruben andloosely inspired by the actual case ofserial killer John List, this knockout1987 thriller stars Terry O’Quinn inthe title role, that of a deranged killerobsessed with establishing the “perfect”family. When those around himfail to live up to his expectations, it’stime to start hiding the cutlery.Jill Schoelen plays the all-Americanteenager whose mother (ShelleyHack) has recently remarried. Newstepfather “Jerry Blake” wants nothingmore than to be a model parent,but it soon becomes clear that Jerry isa very dangerous dad.This is one of the few films thatlegitimately came close to recapturingthe Alfred Hitchcock touch, rightdown to its sharp (and very dark)sense of humor and its moments ofexcruciating suspense. Shoelen andHack have never been better, andthere’s good work by Charles Lanyeras Schoelen’s ill-fated psychiatristand Stephen Shellen as the brother ofa previous victim who’s on Blake’strail, but this is a tour de force forO’Quinn, who gives an unforgettableperformance that did much toadvance his career.Despite some glowing reviews,this was a box-office flop but laterfound an audience on cable-TV andvideo, launched a surprise franchise(see below), and has now beenremade. This special edition includesaudio commentary by Ruben and aretrospective documentary. Rated R.****ALSO ON DVDDAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS(Blue Underground): Director/coscreenwriterHarry Kumel’s highlystylized, atmospheric 1971 chillerstars the impossibly elegant DelphineSeyrig as the ageless countess ElisabethBathory, a vampire who sets her sightson a honeymooning couple (JohnKarlen and Danielle Ouimet) whosemarriage has a few kinks already.Eerie, ethereal and erotic, this is notthe usual vampire movie — but it doesboast a fervent cult following. AndreaRau, as the Countess’ concubine, is aknockout. Available as a single-discDVD ($14.95 retail) or a two-disc specialedition ($29.95 retail). ***DINOSAURS ALIVE! (ImageEntertainment): Michael Douglas narratesthis self-explanatory IMAX documentarythat explores the history ofthe dinosaurs with state-of-the-art CGIeffects. The DVD retails for $19.98, theBlu-ray for $24.98.“FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS”:THE SECOND SEASON (HBO HomeEntertainment): All 10 episodes fromthe 2009 season of the criticallyacclaimedHBO comedy series starringexecutive producers Jemaine Clement(Emmy nominee as Outstanding LeadActor in a Comedy Series) and BretMcKenzie as ambitious, self-absorbedNew Zealanders desperately tryingto carve out a music career in NewYork City, based on their BBC Radio 2series in Britain. This two-disc boxedset retails for $29.98.HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (AnchorBay Entertainment): Director J. LeeThompson’s 1981 contribution toslasher cinema stars Melissa SueAnderson as a troubled prep-schoolstudent recovering from a tragic accidentwhose classmates start meetinguntimely ends. The resident red herringson board for this gory whodunitinclude Lawrence Dane as her worried(but oft-absent) father and a slummingGlenn Ford as her psychiatrist. Bettermade than most, which is faint praise,but it has its fans. This version of thefilm retains the original music score.Rated R. **THE LAST ROUND (NoShameFilms): Stelvio Massi’s 1976 shoot-‘emup(originally titled Il Conto e chiuso)stars real-life boxing champ CarlosMonzon as a drifter who methodicallypits two rival crime families (headedby Luc Merenda and Mario Braga,respectively) against each other. Thebasic set-up is similar to Kurosawa’sYojimbo and Leone’s A Fistful ofDollars — although this isn’t as goodas either. This is the first time that thefull version has been released in theUS, replete with a bonus CD of Italianmovie scores from the 1970s. **“THE MIDDLEMAN”: THECOMPLETE SERIES (Shout! Factory):Natalie Morales portrays an art-schoolgraduate who finds herself paired witha straight-arrow crime fighter (MattKeeslar) in this light-hearted superherospoof created by executive producerJavier Grillo-Marxuach. This boxedset, which retails for $34.99, containsall 12 episodes from the 2008 (andonly) season of the ABC Family series.“MR. BELVEDERE”: SEASON 3(Shout! Factory): Nearly 40 years afterClifton Webb introduced the characteron the big screen, Christopher Hewettassumed the role of the acerbic butwarm-hearted British housekeeperof a typical all-American family, in a(surprisingly) popular, award-winningABC-TV prime-time sitcom. Thisboxed set ($39.99 retail) features all 22episodes from the 1986-’87 season.MUTANTS AND MONSTERSDOUBLE FEATURE (LiberationEntertainment): A self-explanatoryDVD twin-bill ($19.95 retail): GreydonClark’s idiotic 1988 shipboard shockerUninvited (‘½*) with George Kennedy,Alex Cord and Clu Gulager; and John“Bud” Cardos’ okay 1984 sci-fi chillerMutant (**) starring Wings Hauser andBo Hopkins. Both films are rated R.THE NEW YORK RIPPER (BlueUnderground): Director/co-screenwriterLucio Fulci’s notorious, sometimesnonsensical 1982 shocker sees a bladebrandishinglunatic (who taunts thepolice in a duck voice!) at large in the BigApple. Jack Hedley plays the grumpycop on the killer’s trail. In some quarters,this is considered a black comedy… butnot in this one. In some countries, it wasbanned outright. *’½NEXT DAY AIR (SummitEntertainment): Benny Boom, musicvideoveteran, makes his feature directorialdebut with this uneven actioncomedy starring Wood Harris and MikeEpps as two would-be drug dealers inPhiladelphia who mistakenly come intopossession of 10 kilos of cocaine. Thecast’s energy helps, but the film goesawry when it inexplicably turns violentin the third act. Rated R. *’½“THE NO. 1 LADIES’DETECTIVE AGENCY” (HBO HomeEntertainment): The best-selling seriesof novels by Alexander McCall Smithare adapted into an HBO series starringGrammy Award-winning songstressJill Scott as the proprietor of the firstfemale-owned detective agency in theAfrican nation of Botswana. All sixepisodes are included in this three-DVDboxed set, which retails for $59.99. Thepilot was the last directorial stint forexecutive producer Anthony Minghella,who died before it aired. Fellow producerSydney Pollack died not longafter — but the show did go on. CCHPounder earned an Emmy nominationas Outstanding Guest Actress in aDrama Series (for the episode “The BoyWith the African Heart”).PUSH (Summit Entertainment): PaulMcGuigan’s directorial touches boost(slightly) this jumbled fantasy aboutpsychics waging war in Hong Kong.Chris Evans plays a telekinetic pursuedby a shadowy conspiracy led byDjimon Hounsou, while Camilla Belle(badly) plays Evans’ ex-girlfriend. Alsoon hand: Dakota Fanning, Ming-Naand Cliff Curtis. Rated PG-13. **THE RAMEN GIRL (ImageEntertainment): Brittany Murphy, whoalso produced and whose movies usedto be released theatrically, plays anAmerican tourist in Tokyo who triesto overcome a break-up by becoming aramen chef at a local eatery. As usual,Murphy tries too hard to be endearinglyquirky, but Toshiyuki Nishidascores as her hard-drinking “sensei” inthis featherweight comedy that goes ona bit long. Rated PG-13. ** RUSSELL SIMMONS PRESENTSBRAVE NEW VOICES” (HBO HomeEntertainment): Queen Latifah narratesthis reality series, which followsa group of teenaged poets andspoken-word artists are they aspireto compete in the 2008 Brave NewVoices National Youth Poetry SlamChampionship in Washington, DC.This boxed set retails for $19.96.“SANCTUARY”: THE COMPLETEFIRST SEASON (E1 Entertainment):Amanda Tapping leads her scientificteam in an ongoing investigation of thesupernatural, in all 13 episodes fromthe 2007 (and, to date, only) seasonof the award-winning SyFy Channelseries. This boxed set, which includesaudio commentaries and featurettes,retails for $44.98.STEPFATHER II (Synapse Films):Terry O’Quinn returns as the fiendishfather figure in director Jeff Burr’satmospheric, darkly humorous 1989follow-up, in which he escapes froman asylum and finds a new suburbanhaven — posing as a family therapist,no less! As unnecessary sequels go,this is unquestionably one of the betterones, mostly due to O’Quinn’s terrificturn (again). Good supporting workby Meg Foster as his intended brideand Caroline Williams as a suspiciousneighbor. Like the first film, this diedat the box-office but found a fanbaseon cable-TV. This special editionincludes a retrospective featurette andaudio commentary by Burr and producerDarin Scott. Rated R. ***“THE UNIVERSE”: THE COMPLETESEASON THREE (A&E HomeEntertainment): All 12 episodes fromthe 2008-’09 season of the acclaimedHistory Channel documentary seriesabout space exploration come to Blu-rayin this three-disc set ($69.95 retail). A&EHome Entertainment is also releasing“The Universe”: The Complete Seasons1-3, which includes all 43 episodes, onBlu-ray ($179.95 retail).Mark Burger can be heardFriday mornings on the “TwoGuys Named Chris” radio show onRock-92.Copyright 2009, Mark Burger !