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by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (VCI Entertainment)

At long last, this wonderfully spooky 1981 chiller comes to DVD. Undoubtedly one of the best made-for-TV horror movies, this has remained a cult favorite since its original broadcast on CBS and is a perfect precursor to the Halloween season.

When a little girl (Tonya Crowe) is attacked by a dog, the local postman (Charles Durning) rounds up his redneck buddies (Lane Smith, Robert F Lyons and Claude Earl Jones) and hunt down the neighborhood simpleton (Larry Drake) they believe is responsible, then kill him. As it transpires, he actually saved the little girl, so the posse has killed an innocent man. When acquitted of the crime, they think they’ve gotten away with it.

But they’re wrong. Dead wrong. One by one, each of the guilty men encounters the Scarecrow, portrayed here as a symbol of guilt and vengeance, and one by one justice is served.

There’s nary a wasted moment throughout, as director Frank De Felitta expertly ratchets up the suspense and tension, augmented by first-rate performances down the line, with Durning (as perhaps the meanest mailman in film history) at his absolute best. This is one to watch with the lights out.

ALSO ON DVD

APACHE RIFLES (VCI Entertainment): AudieMurphy headlines this routine 1964 Westernabout tensions between prospectors andApaches in 1879 Arizona. At least the NativeAmerican point of view is respectfully represented.Michael Dante, Linda Lawson, J PatO’Malley, Ken Lynch and the always welcomeLQ Jones (playing a bad guy, naturally) roundout the cast. “BILL MAHER… BUT I’M NOT WRONG”(HBO Home Entertainment): The award-winninghumorist tackles a variety of topics in this eveningof stand-up comedy, originally broadcastlive — from Raleigh, actually — in this HBOspecial ($19.97 retail), which earned Emmynominations as Outstanding Variety, Music orComedy Special and for Outstanding Writingfor a Variety, Music or Comedy Special. Maherwas also writer and executive producer. “THE CAPONE INVE$TMENT” (VCIEntertainment): This 1974 whodunit, penned byIan Kennedy Martin and originally broadcast asa mini-series, links a series of unsolved murderswith a secret stash of money directly tied to AlCapone. Talky but absorbing. Stick with it. Thecast includes Glyn Owen, Peter Sallis, IsobelBlack, Conrad Phillips and John Thaw, whowould soon reunite with Martin for the smashTV series “The Sweeney.” “DRAGNET 1968”: SEASON 2 (Shout!Factory): His name’s Friday… he’s a cop. JackWebb reprised his signature role as Los Angelespolice Sgt. Joe Friday (Badge #714) for thisprime-time NBC-TV updating of his previousradio and television success, which finds Fridayand partner Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) enforcinglaw and order in the tumultuous 1960s.This six-DVD boxed set, which retails for $44.99,includes all 28 episodes from the 1967-’68season. Webb also produced and directed theshow. Yours truly was named for Webb’s productioncompany, Mark VII Productions — a bitof trivia that almost no one cares about. FAMILY MOVIE 4 PACK (VCIEntertainment): A self-explanatory DVD boxedset ($14.99) of G-rated family films: MichaelCallan and Joe E Ross star in 1973’s Frasier theLoveable Lion (AKA Frasier the Sensuous Lion);Marshall Thompson matches wits with a mischievousSt. Bernard named George! (1972); DonKnotts narrates Mule Feathers (1977); and writer/director Rene Cardona Jr.’s Zindy, the Swamp Boy(1973), stars his son Rene Cardona III (billed asAl Coster) in the title role, and his father ReneCardona Sr. THE GIRL-GETTERS (VCI Entertainment):This 1964 British drama (originally titled TheSystem) offers a solid early showcase for directorMichael Winner and leading man Oliver Reed, athis virile, dangerous best as a smooth operator ina beach town who meets his match in an alluringyoung model (Julia Foster). Although promotedin the US as a sex-and-sand frolic, this is actuallya mature, perceptive look at sexual gamesmanshipjust as the ’60s started to swing. Rarely seensince its theatrical release, this is definitely wortha look. Many familiar faces on hand: Jane Merrow,Harry Andrews, Barbara Ferris, John Alderton, GuyDoleman and David Hemmings, who like Reedand Winner who would soon ascend to internationalfame. HELL IS SOLD OUT (VCI Entertainment): Oneof director Michael Anderson’s first films, this unusual(and slightly off-key) 1951 soap opera, set in post-World War II Paris, stars Mai Zetterling as a youngwoman who poses as the widow of a noted authorand continues to publish novels in his name —which becomes a problem when he (Herbert Lom)unexpectedly returns home from war. Top-billedRichard Attenborough rounds out the triangle asan ailing pianist whom Zetterling falls for. A goodcast includes Joan Hickson, Hermoine Baddeley,Kathleen Byron and Laurence Naismith… andyou’ll never guess who gets the girl! JANE AUSTEN IN MANHATTAN (TheMerchant Ivory Collection): An astonishingmisfire from the Merchant Ivory team, this littleseen1980 comedy(?) stars Anne Baxter andRobert Powell as rival theater directors vyingfor the opportunity to stage an unproducedJane Austen libretto. Self-indulgent and irritatingwith characters to match, this comes offlike bad avant-garde theater. Oh, the irony! Alsotreading the boards are Sean Young (her filmdebut), Kurt Johnson (his screen debut), KatrinaHodiak (her only screen role) and Tim Choate,but this is for die-hard Merchant Ivory devoteesonly. KILLERS (LionsGame Home Entertainment):Playing like a bad TV pilot, this high-concept,low-yield action comedy stars Ashton Kutcher(also a producer) as an ex-spy and KatherineHeigl as his wife, whose relationship is sorelytested when they are targeted by assassins.Cutesy and forced, with weak dialogue, contrivedsituations, and a squandered supportingcast including Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara,Martin Mull and Usher Raymond. Rated PG-13. “NCIS”: THE SEVENTH SEASON (CBSDVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): TheNaval Criminal Investigative Service is back onthe case — all 24 of them, to be exact — in the2009-’10 season of the award-winning, primetimeCBS-TV mystery series. Mark Harmon andone-time “Man from UNCLE ” David McCallumhead the regular cast. The six-DVD boxed setretails for $55.98. “NCIS: LOS ANGELES”: THE FIRSTSEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount HomeEntertainment): The prime-time CBS-TV mysteryfranchise goes West, with Chris O’Donnelland LL Cool J teaming up on behalf of theOffice of Special Projects, in all 24 episodesfrom the premiere 2009-’10 season. The DVDboxed set retails for $62.99, the Blu-ray boxedset for $72.99TCM GREATEST CLASSIC FILMSCOLLECTION (Warner Home Video): The latestselection of four-title DVDs from Warner HomeVideo and Turner Classic Movies: “GangstersJames Cagney” (G Men, Each Dawn I Die, Cityfor Conquest and White Heat), “GangstersProhibition Era” (Little Caesar, The Public Enemy,Smart Money and The Roaring Twenties) and“Hammer Horror” (The Curse of Frankenstein,Horror of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen from theGrave and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed!). EachDVD retails for $27.92. THE THIN RED LINE (The CriterionCollection): After an almost 30-year hiatus,filmmaker Terrence Malick returned with this1998 adaptation of the James Jones’ classic,autobiographical World War II novel, depictingthe Battle of Guadalcanal in 1943. The all-starcast, many of whom signed aboard to workwith Malick and some of whom have littleto do, includes Sean Penn, James Caviezel,Adrien Brody, Nick Nolte, John Travolta, GeorgeClooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson andJohn C Reilly. Visually stunning but dramaticallymuddled and ultimately wearisome, althoughit does have its admirers and earned sevenAcademy Award nominations including BestPicture and Best Director — but it didn’t winany and wasn’t a box-office hit. The special-editionDVD retails for $29.95, the special-editionBlu-ray for $39.95. Rated R.

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