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by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK

KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS

(Shout! Factory): The original tagline for this 1977 sci-fi cult classic read “A living, crawling, hell on Earth!” — and, for once, the film lived up to the promise.

A series of mysterious animal deaths in a small Arizona town piques the curiosity of veterinarian Rack Hansen (the one, the only William Shatner) and entomologist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling), who deduce that tarantulas have become enraged (and have organized!) because pesticides have eradicated their natural insect prey. First, the spiders go after animals. Then… larger animals (gulp!).

By the time the townspeople are aware of the severity of the situation it’s too late, as hordes of arachnids claim scores of victims, except for a few lucky souls (Hansen and Ashley among them) who barricade themselves in the local lodge, trying to survive the eightlegged onslaught.

The story is straightforward, but shrewd execution makes all the difference. Unlike the subsequent Arachnophobia, this plays it totally straight and scary. It aspires to be Jaws with spiders, and a lot of it works.

Shatner’s in prime form here:

Stalwart, resourceful, heroic and a bit of a ladies’ man. In short, the quintessential William Shatner role. There’s also good support from Bolling, Marcy Lafferty (Shatner’s then-wife), Natasha Ryan, Lieux Dressler, David McLean, Altovise Davis (Sammy Davis Jr.’s wife!), the always-welcome Woody Strode… and, of course, the spiders.

This new special-edition DVD ($19.99 retail) includes an audio commentary with director John “Bud” Cardos, an amusing interview with Shatner and even an segment on “spider wrangler” Jim Brockett. Rated PG. ***

Peck, Nicholas Braun and Larry Miller (reprising his role from the film) in the lead roles. This compilation of first-season episodes ($29.99 retail) includes the pilot episode (“Make It or Break It”), audio commentaries, bloopers and more.

BILL CODY DOUBLE FEATURE (Alpha Home Entertainment): A DVD twin-bill ($7.98 retail) of B-Westerns starring silentfilm stuntman-turned-cowboy star Bill Cody (no relation to “Buffalo Bill” Cody): Six Gun Justice and The Texas Rambler. Both film were written by Oliver Drake, directed by Robert F. Hill and released in 1935.

“CASTLE”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Sparks fly when bestselling crime novelist Nathan Fillion teams up with New York City cop Stana Katic to crack the most baffling cases, in all 10 episodes from the premiere 2009 season of the prime-time ABC-TV mystery series, which earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score), for the episode “Flowers From Your Grave.” This three-DVD boxed set retails for $39.99.

THE CHAMBERMAID (MTI Home Video): Gorgeous Fiona Horsey plays the title role in writer/director/executive producer Wolfgang Buld’s thriller (originally titled Lovesick: Sick Love), as a hotel maid who unwisely gets mixed up with her boss (Paul Conway), a neurotic mama’s boy on the verge of snapping… which he does. Although billed as a horror film, this is more of a psychothriller/black comedy (not unlike The Collector). Not great, but not bad either. Rated R. **

DALTRY CALHOUN (Miramax Home Entertainment): An agreeable change of pace for Johnny Knoxville in the title role, that of a small-town dreamer and businessman saddled with his estranged 14-year-old daughter (newcomer Sophie Traub) by his ailing ex-wife (Elizabeth Banks). Quentin Tarantino was an executive producer for debuting writer/director Katrina Holden Bronson’s bittersweet comedy, but the studio absolutely threw it away. Rambling and too relaxed, but nicely acted by the likes of Juliette Lewis, David Koechner, Beth Grant and Andrew Prine. Rated PG-13. **

DEATH ON DEMAND (MTI Home Video): Some 20 years after a famous mountaineer slaughtered his family, a would-be internet entrepreneur (Dan Falcone) arranges a séance during a live webcast on Halloween night in the house where it happened, with some college students — and a porn star named Velvet Luv (Krista Grotte) — participating. Needless to say, this is a bad idea, and this goofy, grisly shocker (filmed in Peekskill,

THE FOUR DEUCES (Alpha Home Entertainment): Rival gangsters Jack Palance and Warren Berlinger wage war during the Prohibition era in this lighthearted, low-budget 1976 crime saga, which was produced by the ubiquitous duo of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Palance plays it big and broad, and there are a lot of familiar faces on hand: Carol Lynley, Adam Roarke, Martin Kove, Gianni Russo, HB Hagerty and Johnny Haymer. Unfortunately, given the jarring cuts in violence and dialogue, this appears to be an edited-for-TV version of what was originally an R-rated film. **

FUGITIVE ROAD (Alpha Home Entertainment): Monocle in place, Erich Von Stroheim dominates this lowbudget 1934 melodrama as a preening Prussian officer enmeshed in romance and intrigue on the Austrian border. According to some sources, Von Stroheim also contributed to the screenplay and direction. **’½ HOME (Monterey Media): Marcia Gay Harden and her real-life daughter, Eulala Scheel, portray a mother and daughter in this intimate drama that was written, directed, edited and co-produced by Mary Haverstick and inspired by the poems of her mother, Mary Scott Haverstick. Nicely played, but aimless at times. Rated PG-13. **’½

THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (Liberation Entertainment): A 25 th – anniversary special edition of writer/ producer/director Mark Rosman’s 1983(?) shocker, in which a group of college sorority sisters cover up a prank-gonewrong, then find themselves stalked by an unknown killer. A cut above the standard slasher fare of the era (no pun intended), thanks to a fresh-faced cast including Eileen Davidson, Kathryn (later Kate) McNeil and Harley Jane Kozak — all of whom went on to bigger and better things — who not only give credible performances but are also quite attractive. Filmed in and around Baltimore. Recently remade as Sorority Row. Rated R. **’½

JUNCTURE (MTI Home Video): After being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, high-powered career woman Kristine Blackport decides to becomes a vigilante and exact justice against those who’ve managed to avoid prosecution for their crimes. Nothing deep, but it fulfills the action genre’s rudimentary requirements, and Blackport is easy on the eyes. Rated R. **

OVERLAND STAGECOACH (Alpha Home Entertainment): As the “Lone Rider,” Bob Livingston gallops into action in this routine but fast-paced 1942 B Western, featuring big Glenn Strange the heroine and Al “Fuzzy” St. John as the grizzled sidekick (and narrator). Produced by Sigmund Newfield and directed by his brother Sam. **

PANDEMIC (MTI Home Video): Actor/ producer Jason Connery (guess who Dad is) makes his directorial debut with this low-budget but fairly tight thriller in which the residents of a small town are suddenly stricken with a virulent disease that promptly brings the military charging in to quarantine the area… at which point things rapidly go from bad to worse. Decent tension throughout, with good performances by Alesha Clarke as a heroic veterinarian and Ray Wise and Graham McTavish as sinister soldiers. Rated R. **’½

RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A remake/update of the popular liveaction Disney sci-fi films of the ’70s, with Dwayne Johnson as a Las Vegas cabbie who embarks on a wild ride when picks up two children (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) who hail from another world, are on a mission of galactic importance, and are being pursued by the US Government. There’s more comedy, more action and less charm than in the original films — and it’s a lot heavier on the special effects, which often overwhelms the fun. Look for cameos by Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, who played the kids in the original films. Available as a single-disc DVD ($35.99 retail), a two-DVD special edition ($44.99 retail), or a Blu-ray/DVD combo ($51.99 retail). Rated PG. **

SWEAT AND BLOOD DOUBLE FEATURE (Alpha Home Entertainment): A twin bill of low-budget ’50s Westerns ($7.98 retail): John Agar and executive producer Mike “Touch” Connors star in Flesh and the Spur (1957); and the Civil War-era Yellowneck (1955), the directorial debut of story writer R. John Hugh, starring Lyn McCarthy and Berry Kroeger.

WRECKING CREW (Alpha Home Entertainment): Great use of stock footage in this fast-moving 1942 melodrama about a demolition crew knocking down buildings in New York City, with Richard Arlen (as the foreman) and Chester Morris (as a worker with a “jinxed” history) vying for the attentions of Jean Parker when they’re not working the steel. Good supporting work by Esther Dale (as the female crew boss!) and Joe Sawyer as a crew member/baseball fan whose throwing accuracy comes in handy at the climax. **’½

ALSO ON DVD

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A 10 th-anniversary special edition of the flimsy (but surprisingly popular and awardwinning) 1999 high-school comedy based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which provided a big boost to the careers of Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Rated PG-13. *’½

“10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU”: VOLUME ONE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): It took 10 years, but the hit film (see above) eventually Mark Burger can be heard Friday spawned a prime-time situation mornings on the “Two Guys Named comedy on ABC Family, with Lindsey Chris” radio show on Rock-92.

Shaw, Meaghan Jette Martin, Ethan NY) is a bad movie. Rated R. * as the heavy, feisty Julie Duncan as Copyright 2010, Mark Burger

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