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by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: Days of Thrills and Laughter (VCI Entertainment)

In the late 1950s, writer/producer Robert Youngson began making a series of light-hearted documentaries that paid homage to silent movies. These compilation documentaries not only became surprise box-office hits, but also sparked renewed interest in silent cinema.

This 1961 Youngson favorite, narrated in lively fashion by Jay Jackson, is a priceless and irresistible compilation of classic moments and classic stars, including Charlie Chaplin, Charley Chase, Douglas Fairbanks, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (before they teamed up), the Keystone Kops, Fatty Arbuckle, Harry Langdon, Mabel Normand, Snub Pollard, Mack Sennett, Pearl White, Boris Karloff and even Harry Houdini, who played himself in a few movies in the ’20s.

Then as now, this acts as an great introduction to these talents, many of whom are less revered (and remembered) today than they should be. It’s also fun to see how many trademark slapstick gags from 80-90 years ago are still prevalent in today’s comedies. Days of Thrills and Laughter lives up to its title: It’s loaded with both thrills and laughter, and is an utter delight.

ALSO ON DVD

ABANDONED (Anchor Bay Entertainment):

In her final film, Brittany Murphy plays a woman whose boyfriend (Dean Cain) mysteriously vanishes after he enters the hospital for surgery. An intriguing paranoid thriller in the “Twilight Zone” tradition that tends to unravel in the second half, despite a round-up of red herrings including Mimi Rogers, Peter Bogdanovich, Tara Subkoff and Tim Thomerson. Murphy’s husband, Simon Monjack, who also died earlier this year, is credited as with her makeup. Rated PG-13.

“DICK BARTON, SPECIAL AGENT” (VCI Entertainment): A DVD collection ($39.99 retail) of all 32 episodes from the British television series, originally broadcast in 1979 and rarely seen since, starring Tony Vogel in the title role, that of a courageous veteran who finds excitement and danger in post-World War II England.

“GOSSIP GIRL”: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 22 episodes from the 2009-’10 season of the award-winning, prime-time CW Television Network series dramatizing the lives of the young, the restless and the rich of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, based on Cecily von Zeigesar’s best-selling series of novels. The cast includes Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Penn Badgely, Kelly Rutherford, Matthew Settle, Taylor Momsen and Kristen Bell. This five-DVD boxed set retails for $59.98.

HATCHET (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The Blu-ray debut ($29.99 retail) of writer/director Adam Green’s uneven but affectionate 2007 slasher opus, replete with in-jokes, plenty of gore, and a cult-friendly cast including horror veterans Robert Englund and Tony Todd. Rated R (also available in an unrated edition) “HOUSE”: SEASON SIX (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Hugh Laurie returns in the title role of the brilliant but complex Dr. Gregory House, in all 21 episodes from the 2009-’10 season of the popular, award-winning, prime-time Fox Network medical series. Other regulars include Robert Sean Leonard, Omar Epps, Jennifer Morrison, Lisa Edelstein and Olivia Wilde, with guest stars including James Earl Jones, David Strathairn and Laura Prepon. Three Emmy nominations include Laurie for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. The DVD boxed set retails for $59.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $74.98.

“THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW”: VOLUME FIVE (Infinity Entertainment Group): Another DVD twin-bill ($19.98 retail) featuring two episodes from the Emmy-nominated, prime-time CBS-TV variety show hosted by Judy Garland, whose guests include Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, Diahann Carroll and Mel Torme.

LUST FOR FREEDOM (Troma Team Video): The laughs are unintentional and frequent in screenwriter/producer/director Eric Louzil’s low-rent 1987 prison exploitation melodrama, with the unforgettable Melanie Coll (in her first and only movie) as a tough cop imprisoned in a corrupt border town alongside other desperate women, including Lisa Stagno (better known as adult-film star Crystal Breeze) and Michelle Bauer, and forced to fight for her freedom. Entertaining in spite of itself, with Coll’s incongruous narration and a hilarious, head-banging soundtrack by Grim Reaper among the proverbial “highlights.” Laughable trash in the best (and worst) Troma tradition. Rated R. No stars

“THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW”: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (MPI Home Video): Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard occupy the title roles in all 56 episodes from the prime-time NBC-TV sitcom (which ran 1967-’69), as longtime neighbors whose friendship is complicated when Arden’s son (Jerry Fogel) marries Ballard’s daughter (Deborah Walley). This eight- DVD boxed set, which includes bonus interviews and other extras, retails for $39.98.

“THE REAL McCOYS”: COMPLETE SEASON 4 (Infinity Entertainment Group): Walter Brennan and Richard Crenna are back, in all 39 episodes from the 1960-’61 series of popular prime-time ABC-TV situation comedy about good ol’ West Virginia mountain folk who relocate to Southern California. This four-DVD boxed set retails for $29.95.

“SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”: THE BEST OF WILL FERRELL, VOLUME 3 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): This specialedition DVD ($19.98 retail) boasts a selection of favorite sketches from the long-running NBC-TV comedy series showcasing Will Ferrell during his seven-year stint (1995-2002) on the show, including “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” “Celebrity Jeopardy” and more.

SEPTEMBER 11 (Empire Pictures/First Run Features): This award-winning anthology film sees 11 international filmmakers each writing and directing an 11-minute vignette in response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, although each episode is set in a different part of the world. None of the segments outstays its welcome, and some (especially Idrissa Ouedraogo’s) are terrific. All told, an intriguing and thought-provoking work. Among the filmmakers who participated are Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (perhaps the most disappointing segment), Sean Penn (whose segment stars Ernest Borgnine), Claude Lelouch, Denis Tanovic, Ken Loach, Mira Nair and Shohei Imamura (his final work).

“SUPER FRIENDS!”: SEASON 1 VOLUME 2 (DC Entertainment/Warner Home Video): A two-DVD boxed set ($26.99 retail) featuring the second eight episodes from the Saturday-morning Hanna-Barbera cartoon series that aired on ABC-TV in 1973 (and for years afterward), featuring such popular DC Comics characters as Batman and Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and others. Ted Knight provided narration for each episode.

TWILIGHT VAMPS (Retromedia Entertainment/Infinity Entertainment Group): Writer/director Nicholas Medina (AKA Fred Olen Ray) pays “homage” to From Dusk Till Dawn with this low-budget, softcore shocker about a popular strip club where the dancers are vampires. Saucy and silly, and appropriately subtitled, Lust at First Bite, the credits state that this is based on poem by Edgar Allan Poe! (I must’ve missed that one.) The usual suspects are on hand: Beverly Lynne, Ashley West, Christine Nguyen, Brandin Rackley and the inimitable Ted Newsom, as a local cop who quotes Plan 9 from Outer Space. Hey, someone has to.

VALENTINE’S DAY (Warner Home Video): A star-studded ensemble cast (Julia Roberts and her real-life niece Emma, Jamie Foxx, Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Kathy Bates, etc.) is left adrift in a series of gimmicky romantic vignettes in Garry Marshall’s interminable, shallow comedy set during the title day, which here is treated like a national holiday. A day of mourning is more like it. “The Love Boat” had more compelling stories. Some of the stars manage to emerge with dignity intact, but others (including singer Taylor Swift in her screen debut) fare badly indeed. One of the year’s worst films. Rated PG-13.

VAMPIRE PARTY (Dark Sky Films): A goodnatured black comedy in which a group of revelers find themselves invited to the title party — and soon wish they hadn’t been. Tcheky Karyo is the head vampire, and the guest list includes Vincent Desagnat, Frederique Bel, Patrick Mille, Sam Karmann and Helene de Fougerolles, whose break-dancing scene is a howl. A pretty good first effort from co-writer/ co-directors Stephen Cafiero and Vincent Lobelle, with good special effects and some amusing bits (bites?) along the way. The ending leaves it wide open for a sequel. In French with English subtitles.

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

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