video vault

by Mark Burger


THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (Dark Sky Films/MPI Home Video): Writer/editor/director Ti West scores with this appealing, award-winning retro shocker that plays it straight and scary.

All the ingredients are here: The college co-ed (Jocelin Donahue) who takes a babysitting job to earn some extra cash. The sassy but expendable best friend (Greta Gerwig). The lonely house on an old country road (on the evening of a lunar eclipse, no less). And, of course, the creepy couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) in desperate need of a babysitte … although they don’t seem to have any children. And all of it takes place in that delirious era known as the ’80s.

West has fun with the genre but doesn’t poke fun at it. The House of the Devil is not meant to be taken seriously, but it’s not a put-on; its job is to create and sustain mystery and suspense, and it does so without resorting to cheap gimmickry. West lets the suspense simmer before delivering the pay-off, augmented by Jeff Grace’s fun score, which first recalls low-budget ’80s horror films (appropriately enough) and later the nerve-jangling work of Bernard Herrmann (also appropriate).

All in all, The House of the Devil is great fun for horror fans and a good bet for cult status. Rated R.

For an exclusive interview with Ti West, see Page 56.


2001 MANIACS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Writer/director Tim Sullivan pays homage to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1964 gross-out classic with this goofy, grisly sequel/remake about the bloodthirsty denizens of a Southern burg and their annual “Guts N’ Glory Jubilee,” in which they ravage and savage unwary tourists. Robert Englund plays the oneeyed mayor, replete with Confederate eyepatch, and the cast also features Travis Tritt, Lin Shaye, Kane Hodder, Giuseppe Andrews, Christa Campbell, Peter Stormare, Eli Roth (also a producer) and Sullivan himself. Not for all tastes (obviously), but gorehounds will eat it up. A sequel is due this year. Rated R.

CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Ti West (see above) is credited with cowriting the story and directing this longdelayed follow-up to the 2002 horror hit, which sees the spread of the virulent, flesh-eating virus to a suburban high school on the evening of its senior prom. Giuseppe Andrews (as Deputy Winston) and top-billed Rider Strong (as Paul) reprise their roles from the first film, the latter only briefly, but despite some fun touches, decent performances and some memorably queasy moments, this scattershot (“splattershot”?) effort tends to lose its footing in the latter stages — likely due to the extensive postproduction work on the film. But this is hardly the worst movie, or the worst sequel, you’ll see. This is being released in an unrated version. Be warned. LionsGate is also releasing the unrated director’s cut of the original movie on Blu-ray ($19.99 retail).

“FRAGGLE ROCK”: THE COMPLETE ANIMATED SERIES (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A two-DVD boxed set ($19.98 retail) of all 13 episodes from the 1987-’88 (and only) season of the Saturday-morning NBC-TV cartoon series based on Jim Henson’s awardwinning HBO children’s series.

GNAW (Dark Sky Films): According to this dismally grisly British shocker, missing persons sometimes end up as meat — as six friends discover on a weekend getaway in the country.

LE NOTTI BIANCHE (WHITE NIGHTS) (The Criterion Collection): Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell tentatively find romance in Luchino Visconti’s award-winning, bittersweet 1957 adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s short story. This special-edition DVD, which includes exclusive interviews and rare rehearsal footage, retails for $29.95.

THE LUCILLE BALL SPECIALS (MPI Home Video): Lucille Ball headlines a pair of made-for-TV specials originally aired by CBS-TV in 1975 and rarely seen since: Lucy joins Dean Martin in Las Vegas in “Lucy Gets Lucky,” then teams with Jackie Gleason in “Three for Two,” a trio of short comedies about love and marriage penned by Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor. This DVD double-feature retails for $19.98.

MURDER BY DECREE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Christopher Plummer and James Mason star as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Bob Clark’s award-winning 1979 whodunit pitting the Great Detective against Jack the Ripper in 1888 London. The two leads’ sparkling chemistry is augmented by a star-studded supporting cast: Donald Sutherland, David Hemmings, Genevieve Bujold, John Gielgud, Anthony Quayle, Frank Finlay and Susan Clark. Rated PG.

NIGHT WATCHER (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Still grieving over her mother’s suicide, young Angela (Allison Tyler) is sent a videotape indicating that someone had been stalking mom… and is now stalking her. An interesting idea is indifferently handled in this dull, slow-moving whodunit distinguished only by Chris Tonkavich’s cinematography. An inauspicious feature directorial debut for editor/producer Will Gordh, co-written by brother Daniel Vincent Gordh, who also stars. The killer’s identity is painfully obvious from the get-go. Rated R.

PLANET HULK (Marvel Animated Features/LionsGate Home Entertainment): The green-skinned Marvel Comics character barrels into action after being banished from Planet Earth, in this full-length animated feature featuring the voice of Rick D. Wasserman as the title character. Available as a single-disc DVD ($19.98 retail), a two- DVD special edition ($24.98 retail), or a two-disc Blu-ray ($29.99 retail).

PURLIE VICTORIOUS (MPI Home Video): The inimitable Ossie Davis robustly plays the title role in this 1963 screen version of his play, as a charismatic black preacher who returns to the segregated South from whence he came to claim an inheritance and “make civil rights from civil wrongs.” Originally released as Gone are the Days!, this broad comedy/drama never quite transcends its stage roots, but the performances are a pleasure: Davis’ real-life wife Ruby Dee, Alan Alda (in his screen debut), Godfrey Cambridge, Beah Richards and Sorrell Booke (in his screen debut).

SAW VI (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Will it never end? The latest in the grisly franchise sees more gore, more lethal booby-traps, and more flashbacks featuring malevolent serial-killing masterminds Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) — even though they were killed off several sequels ago. Costas Mandylor and Betsy Russell are also back for another go-’round, but if you’ve seen one Saw, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Another sequel is due for release this year… Rated R (also available in an unrated director’s cut).

SMOKIN’ ACES 2: ASSASSINS’ BALL (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Joe Carnahan, the writer/director of the original 2006 film, returns as executive producer and story writer for this jokey, trashy, direct-to-DVD follow-up, in which an assortment of killers for hire (including Vinnie Jones, Michael Parks and the returning Tommy Flanagan) congregate in Chicago to knock off an FBI analyst (Tom Berenger). Despite some kinetic action scenes, the prevailing mood of this unnecessary sequel is stupidity, right down to the Usual Suspects-type ending. Rated R (also available in an unrated version).

THE STEPFATHER (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A totally unnecessary remake of the classic 1987 shocker, with Penn Badgely as a son who suspects that Mom’s new fiancee (Dylan Baker) isn’t what he seems. Some good actors (including Sela Ward as Mom, Jon Tenney, Sherry Stringfield and Paige Turco) try their best are ultimately defeated by the hackneyed material. Not only is this inferior to the original movie, it’s inferior to the original movie’s sequels. Available in an unrated director’s cut… for those who care.

THE STONE MERCHANT (Monarch Home Video): A topical but top-heavy political melodrama with Harvey Keitel in the title role, that of an Italian-born Muslim extremist who, along with his confederate (F. Murray Abraham), targets a young couple (Jane March and Jordi Molla) to unwittingly carry out a terrorist plot. The stock footage of the World Trade Center from Sept. 11, 2001 feels vaguely tasteless in this lumpy, alarmist soap opera adapted from Corrado Calabro’s novel by the author himself. Rated R.

SUMMER’S MOON (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Ashley Greene plays Summer, a troubled teen who embarks on a cross-country journey to find the father she’s never met, and instead becomes captive of a deranged mother and son (Barbara Niven and Peter Mooney)… but that’s just the beginning of the story. This twisted, effective thriller builds to an inevitable (but surprising) conclusion and well-acted. Worth a look. Rated R.

“WEEDS”: SEASON FIVE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Mary-Louise Parker, one of the loveliest alumni of the UNC School of the Arts, returns as the widowed suburban mom (and mom-to-be!) whose thriving pot-dealing business always seems to bring with it unforeseen complications, in all 13 episodes from the 2009 season of the popular Showtime series, which picked up an Emmy for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Half-Hour Comedy or Drama Series (for the episode “Three Coolers”), as well as five additional nominations including Outstanding Comedy Series, Parker as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and Elizabeth Perkins as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. The three-DVD boxed set retails for $39.98, the two-disc Blu-ray boxed set for $39.99 (one penny more!).

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.

Copyright 2010, Mark Burger