video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: “Thriller”: The complete series (Image entertainment)

Also known as “Boris karloff’s Thriller,” this prime-time anthology series ran only two seasons (1960-’62) on NBC, yet remains a favorite of many, including stephen king, who proclaimed it the scariest show ever on television.

The legendary Boris karloff served as the on-camera host and starred in a few episodes, and the guest stars — many of whom did more than one segment — included William shatner, Rip Torn, Mary Tyler Moore, John Ireland, Warren Oates, Jack Weston, leslie Nielsen, Robert Vaughn, Mary Astor, John Carradine, ed Nelson and Victor Buono. series directors included Arthur Hiller, Ida lupino, John Brahm and Paul Henreid, and writers included Robert Bloch (10 episodes), Cornell Woolrich and Charles Beaumont.

Although it never quite reached the cult heights of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer limits” — in part because it ran fewer seasons — “Thriller” remains creepy and atmospheric, and more often than not lived up to its title. some episodes (including “The Grim Reaper” with shatner, “The Purple Room” with Torn. “Pigeons from Hell” with Brandon de Wilde and “The Incredible Doktor Markesan” with karloff) are true classics.

In 1961, the series scored its only emmy nomination, for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Music for Television. All 67 episodes are included in this 14-DVD boxed set, which retails for $149.98 and includes bonus audio commentaries and music-only tracks.

(For an exclusive interview with Sara Karloff, click HERE)


THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAF’ (The Merchant Ivory Collection): Actor simon Callow’s first (and, to date, last) directorial effort is this evocative yet strangely stilted 1991 adaptation of Carson McCullers’ story, adapted for the stage by edward Albee, set in the Depression-era south and culminating in a battle of the sexes like no other. The hard-working cast includes Vanessa Redgrave, keith Carradine, Rod steiger, Cork Hubbert, Austin Pendleton and earl Hindman. Richard Robbins’ score and Walter lassally’s cinematography help establish the mood, but this never quite works. An interesting failure.

LA BETE HUMAINE (The Criterion Collection): A two-DVD special edition ($29.95 retail) of Jean Renoir’s critically-acclaimed 1938 adaptation of emile Zola’s novel (released in the Us as The Human Beast) starring Jean Gabin as an alcoholic engineer gripped by murderous impulses, which intensify when he discovers that wife simone simon has been unfaithful. Renoir himself also appears. special features include vintage interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and more. In French with english subtitles.

FIRST LOVE (VCI entertainment): Maximilian schell produced, co-scripted, co-stars and made his directorial debut with this award-winning 1970 romantic melodrama, originally titled Erste Liebe and based on an Ivan Turgenev story, set in pre- World War II Russia. Dominique sanda plays an impoverished young countess who becomes the object of desire for a neighboring teenager (John Moulder Brown). schell and Valentina Cortese play the boy’s parents, and the cast also includes Marius Goring, keith Bell, Dandy Nichols and playwright/actor John Osborne. This sensual (at times flowery) soap opera is graced with cinematography by sven Nykvist, and earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Foreign language Film. Rated R.

THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS (The Criterion Collection): A special-edition DVD ($29.95 retail) of director/screenwriter Roberto Rossellini’s widely acclaimed 1950 film (originally titled Francesco, Giullare di Dio) that depict the teachings of st. Francis of Assisi (played by Nazario Gerard) through a series of humanistic and gently humorous vignettes. Federico Fellini was also one of the screenwriters, with Rossellini’s brother Renzo providing the film’s score. The roles of Francis and his disciples were played by actual monks from the Nocere Inferiore monastery in Italy. The American release was edited slightly, but this is the full (and fully restored) version. In Italian with english subtitles.

HARRY BROWN (sony Pictures Home entertainment): Michael Caine rocks as an aging, ailing military veteran who turns vigilante to clean up his london neighborhood, in director Daniel Barber’s gritty, stylish, award-winning debut feature. Rated R.

HIGH TIDE (VCI entertainment): Ian Mcshane plays an ex-con who returns to the scene of his crime and pieces together the mysterious circumstances that led to his imprisonment, in this 1980 adaptation of PM Hubbard’s novel, originally broadcast on the “Armchair Mysteries” TV series. Among the suspects and/or victims are Wendy Morgan, kika Markham, Terence Rigby and Malcolm Terris. Richard Hartley’s music is reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score. This meanders a bit in the later stages, but Mcshane is good company.

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (shout! Factory): Doug McClure, Vic Morrow and Ann Turkel battle the title beasties in this grisly but fast-moving 1980 shocker, newly reissued as a special-edition DVD ($19.93 retail) and Blu-ray ($26.97 retail). Critic leonard Maltin called this “fast, occasionally hilarious gutter trash” — which is as apt (and accurate) a description as any. Great fan for B-movie mavens, with a nice, brooding score by future Oscar winner James Horner — but the squeamish are forewarned. Rated R.

“MAX HEADROOM”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (shout! Factory): A five-DVD boxed set ($49.97 retail) containing all 14 episodes from the 1987-’88 (and only season) of the primetime ABC-TV science-fiction series with Matt Frewer as an investigative reporter whose onair alter-ego is the title character, a computersimulated TV personality with an acerbic and subversive sensibility. Preceded by a British series that also featured Frewer and series regulars Amanda Pays and W. Morgan sheppard.

The ratings never lived up to the network hype, but the subsequent cult following was almost a foregone conclusion, and its thengroundbreaking special effects have since become commonplace. Nominated for five emmy Awards, with three wins: Outstanding Art Direction for a series, Outstanding sound editing for a series, and Outstanding sound Mixing for a Drama series (all for the pilot episode, “Blipverts”). Bonus features include retrospective interviews featuring the actors, creators, directors and writers.

NEW YORK CONFIDENTIAL (VCI entertainment): Preceding The Godfather by nearly 20 years, this 1954 gangster melodrama, based on the Jack lait/lee Mortimer best-seller, stars Broderick Crawford, typically (and enjoyably) bombastic as the head of “the syndicate,” depicted here as a high-powered business that, needless to say, deals in illegal activities both far and wide. A few slow patches, but the cast seals the deal, including Anne Bancroft as Crawford’s daughter, Richard Conte the new guy in the gang, and Marilyn Maxwell, J. Carrol Naish, Celia lovsky and Onslow stevens in support.

“STREET HAWK”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (shout! Factory): Rex smith hits the road, riding the titular, turbo-charged motorcycle, in all 12 episodes from the 1985 (and only) season of the prime-time ABC-TV action series that an entire generation of teenaged boys remember fondly. Joe Regalbuto, Richard Venture and Jeannie Wilson round out the regular cast. Guest stars include George Clooney, Dennis Franz, Christopher lloyd, Robert Beltran and others. This four-DVD boxed set, which includes a retrospective documentary and more, retails for $39.97.

TROUBLE IN THE SKY (VCI entertainment): Airline safety is the focus of this trim, little-seen 1960 adaptation of David Beaty’s novel, inspired by true events and released in Britain as Cone of Silence. sketchy characterizations are offset by the polished cast: Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Michael Craig, Bernard lee, Gordon Jackson, Noel Willman, Charles Tingwell and, briefly, George sanders.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2010, Mark Burger