DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: VAMPIRE CIRCUS
The title tells all in this 1972 shocker from Britain’s beloved Hammer Films, purveyors of many a Gothic goodie in its heyday.
Once upon a time, the villagers of a small Serbian town staked the local bloodsucker, Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman), but not before he uttered a curse upon them. Since then, the region has been torn by plague, pestilence and paranoia. Years later, the mysterious Circus of Nights rolls into town, and trouble brews anew.
Vampire Circus has an eerie, surreal, at times erotic atmosphere that sets it apart, even from other Hammer chillers of the same period. There’s a vague sense of unease and ambiguity to the proceedings. If the intent was to expand the horizons of the vampire genre, then first-time director Robert Young (not TV’s “Marcus Welby”) and screenwriter Judson Kinberg succeeded in their task.
Lacking box-office stars, the film is nevertheless well-acted by Adrienne Corri, Laurence Payne, Anthony Corlan, Richard Owens and Thorley Walters (as the Burgermeister). Dave Prowse, later to don the armor of Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977), is appropriately cast as the circus strongman.
The DVD/Blu-ray combo, which retails for $29.95, includes retrospective documentaries (including one featuring my friend, filmmaker and historian Ted Newsom), an inter-active comic-book adaptation, trailers and more.
ALSO AVAILABLE31 NORTH 62 EAST (MTI Home Video):Producer/director/editor/co-writer TristanLoraine’s political melodrama stars John Rhys-Davies (sans beard) as a corrupt British primeminister mixed up in a arms deal with terroristsin Afghanistan. Also on hand: Marina Sirtis,Craig Fairbrass and Heather Peace (in a dualrole). All told, not bad. Rated R. AMERICAN STREETBALLERS (MonarchHome Video): Originally titled Streetballers,this low-budget award-winner stars JimmyMcKinney and writer/producer/director MattKrentz as two junior-college players tryingto make their hoop dreams come true whileavoiding the perils and pitfalls of inner-city life.Fewer clich’s and a shorter running time wouldhave better served the story, but decent performanceshelp. Rated R. BIG BAD MAMA/BIG BAD MAMA IIDOUBLEFEATURE COLLECTOR’S EDITION(Shout! Factory): An action-packed DVD twin-bill($19.93 retail) of the drive-in and cable-TV favoritesBig Bad Mama (1974) and its 1987 sequel,both of which star Angie Dickinson as the lusty,larcenous, pistol-packing Wilma McClatchie.Special features include audio commentaries,trailers, and more. Both films are rated R. CASE 39 (Paramount Home Entertainment):Renee Zellweger is scared silly (literally andfiguratively) as a social worker who tries to helpa little girl (Jodelle Ferland), unaware of herdemonic bent, in this irrational, anti-climaticshocker with a few interesting bits. Ian McShane(hard-boiled cop) and Bradley Cooper (childtherapist) are in harm’s way, too. Rated R. CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTYGALORE (Warner Home Video): ChristinaApplegate, Bette Midler, Chris O’Donnell andMichael Clarke Duncan are among the familiarvoices to be found in this follow-up to the2001 family comedy about felines and caninesmixed up in spy-jinks, available as a single-discDVD ($29.98 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack($35.99 retail), or as a 3-D DVD/Blu-ray combo($44.95 retail). Rated PG. CRAZY MAMA/THE LADY IN RED DOUBLEFEATURE COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Shout!Factory): Girls with guns … Cloris Leachmanplays the former and Pamela Sue Martin thelatter, in this DVD twin-bill ($19.93 retail): CrazyMama (1975), rated PG, was directed by futureOscar winner Jonathan Demme; The Lady in Red(1979), rated R, co-stars Robert Conrad as legendaryoutlaw John Dillinger. Trim, low-budgetfilmmaking of a kind long gone. GOING THE DISTANCE (Warner HomeVideo): Drew Barrymore and Justin Long try towork a long-distance relationship in this disposableromantic comedy that plays like an excuseto let the real-life couple work together. Theobnoxious, Kevin Smith-type falls flat. Rated R. “HOT WHEELS BATTLE FORCE 5”:SEASON 1 PART 2 (Mattel Inc./Warner HomeVideo): If “Transformers” can become a big-budgetfranchise on the big screen, is it any wonderthat the popular toy car line make its own leap?The final 14 episodes from the 2009-’10 seasonof the Cartoon Network children’s series areincluded on this DVD, which retails for $19.97. LANGUAGE OF THE ENEMY (MTI HomeVideo): Originally titled A House Divided, EionBailey and Linda Hardy find romance (unconvincingly)in the midst of the Arab-Israeli conflict inthis heavy-handed melodrama that, according tothe opening credits, is “inspired by actual events.”Too bad it’s utterly uninspired in execution. Insupporting roles, F. Murray Abraham and TovahFeldshuh are wasted. Rated R. “MEDIUM”: THE SIXTH SEASON (CBSDVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Havingjumped from NBC to CBS, Patricia Arquettereturns as the all-American suburban momwith a very “special” gift, in all 22 episodes fromthe 2009-‘10 season of the award-winningprime-time series inspired by the life of psychicAlison Dubois. This boxed set retails for $57.99.The self-explanatory boxed set “Medium”: The6-Season Value Pack retails for $239.98. MILTON GLASER: TO INFORM ANDDELIGHT (New Video): First-time producer/directorWendy Keys’ fond documentary focuses onthe life and career of Milton Glaser, renownedas the “Godfather of Graphic Design,” one of thefounders of New York Magazine, and 2009 recipientof the National Medal of Arts. “THE PATTY DUKE SHOW”: THECOMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Shout! Factory):Patty Duke reprises her dual role in all 32 episodesfrom the 1965-’66 (and final) season ofthe prime-time ABC-TV sitcom. This six-DVDboxed set retails for $39.97. SAY GOODNIGHT (MTI Home Video): Writer/executive producer/director David VonAllmen’sfeature debut is a raunchy, latter-day Swingers,with Aaron Paul, Rob Benedict, Smith Cho, DavidMonahan and Christopher Gessner as friends whoswap stories about the women in their lives. Fairlyroutine, but a few snappy lines. Rated R. SEX AND LUCIA (Palm Pictures): The Blu-rayrelease ($29.98 retail) of writer/director JulioMedem’s controversial, award-winning 2001Spanish-language drama about romance,passion and sexual obsession on a secludedMediterranean island, with Paz Vega as Lucia. “SKINS”: VOLUME 4 (BBC Worldwide): Athree-DVD boxed set ($39.98 retail) featuring alleight episodes from the 2010 season of the awardwinningBritish comedy/drama series depictingthe goings-on at Roundview College. The ensemblecast includes Kaya Scodelario, Lisa Blackwell,Jack O’Connell, Luke Pasqualino and Lily Loveless. THE TOWN (Warner Home Video): Ben Affleckdirects and stars in this tough, atmospheric crimedrama, as a Boston bank robber whose romancewith a previous hostage (Rebecca Hall) has (notunexpected) consequences for all concerned.Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, PetePostlethwaite and (briefly) Chris Cooper roundout the gutsy cast. Rated R. “TWO AND A HALF MEN”: THECOMPLETE SEVENTH SEASON (WarnerHome Video): A three-DVD boxed set ($44.98retail) featuring all 22 episodes from the 2009-’10season of the top-rated prime-time CBS-TV situationcomedy starring Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryerand Angus T Jones. Cryer took home the Emmyas Outstanding Supporting Actor in a ComedySeries, while Sheen earned a nomination asOutstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. ULTIMATE NFL (NFL Films/Warner HomeVideo): A self-explanatory sports documentary($26.95 DVD retail, $29.99 Blu-ray retail) showcasingthe 2009-’10 NFL season as seen throughthe high-definition lens of NFL Films’ awardwinningcinematography team. WELCOME TO NOLLYWOOD (IndiePix):Movie buffs ought to enjoy Jamie Metzler’saward-winning documentary about the lowbudget,direct-to-video moviemaking craze thathas swept Nigeria in the 21st century. Absoluteproof that anyone with a video camera canmake a movie. Whether that movie is any goodor not, however, is a different matter!