video vault

by Mark Burger


This 1982 true-crime drama marked an early work by director Mike Newell, whose subsequent and varied films include Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Donnie Brasco (1996) and even a Harry Potter blockbuster (2005’s The Goblet of Fire).

Set in rural New Zealand during World War II, this is the story of Stan Graham (Jack Thompson), a moody farmer much disliked by his neighbors. This, combined with financial hardships and mounting paranoia, leads to a murderous rampage. The subsequent manhunt was one of the largest and most infamous in that country’s history.

Thompson is excellent as Graham, portrayed not as a monster but as a deeply tortured and pitiful man, as well as a very dangerous one. Carol Burns plays his stalwart wife Dorothy, who (perhaps unwittingly) fed into his delusions and stood by her man no matter what.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Graham achieved a measure of folk-hero status. Yet this film doesn’t sensationalize his actions. It’s stark, somber and dramatically resonant. Aside from Thompson, none of the other actors is really known here, which seems to add to the film’s believability.

Trivia note: The boom operator was Lee Tamahori, who would go onto a successful directorial career himself. Two decades later, he would helm the James Bond film Die Another Day.


THE BAD MOTHER’S HANDBOOK (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A bittersweet, well-acted soap opera about three generations of women (Catherine Tate, Holly Grainger and Anne Reid) dealing with the trials of everyday life — and teenage pregnancy. Originally broadcast on British TV in ’07, this has been released here to capitalize on the subsequent Twilight fame of Robert Pattinson, cast here as Grainger’s adoring, bespectacled schoolmate. Tate (who later earned her own fame on “Dr. Who”) is terrific as the wellmeaning but hapless mother.

BLOODBATH IN THE HOUSE OF KNIVES (Alpha New Cinema): The title’s the best thing about this shocker about a masked murderer at large in a Pennsylvania town, which was written, directed, produced, edited and shot by Ted Moehring. Low-rent horror like this is not without its charm, but draggy pacing quashes it. Troma Films founder Lloyd Kaufman adds a little comic relief as a sleazy lawyer.

CAPTURED IN CHINATOWN (Alpha Home Entertainment): It’s Romeo & Juliet in the title town, as a Tong war breaks out between the feuding Wong and Ling families when the kids fall in love, in this amusing, fast-moving low-budget 1935 programmer. Good thing that “Tarzan, the Police Dog” is around to save the day, with an assist from newspaper reporters Marion Schilling and Charles Delaney. Stereotypes abound, but at least the Asian characters are played by actual Asians, and actual Chinese is spoken (without subtitles, actually) in some scenes.

CHAPLIN AND HIS IMPERSONATORS (Alpha Home Entertainment): Like the title implies, this DVD compilation ($7.98 retail) features comedy shorts from the silent era: Charlie Chaplin stars in The Count (1916), Paddy McGuire stars in Heaven Will Protect a Woiking Goil (also ‘16) and Billy West headlines Don’t Be Foolish (1922).

THE COLORADO KID (Alpha Home Entertainment): Bob Steele rides into action in the title role of this 1937 Western, as a gunman who seeks justice after being falsely accused of murder. Marion Weldon plays the resident damsel in distress, albeit with spine, and Karl Hackett plays the memorably-named villain, Wolf Hines. Fastmoving fare for fans of B Westerns.

THE HEAVY (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Marcus Warren’s gangster melodrama, with political overtones, is too fragmented to succeed but has its moments and an upscale cast: Stephen Rea (terrific as a foppish crime boss), Gary Stretch, Vinnie Jones, Christopher Lee, Jean Marsh, Shannyn Sossamon, Adrian Paul and Sadie Frost. Dedicated to executive producer John Daly, who died in 2008. Rated R.

THE LAST PLAY AT SHEA (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Alec Baldwin narrates this enjoyable, affectionate documentary tracing the career of rock ‘n’ roll legend (and Long Island native) Billy Joel and the history of New York’s Shea Stadium, which culminated in Joel’s all-star concert there in 2008.

LIONSGATE BLU-RAYS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The Blu-ray roll-out continues, with Bad Boys (1983), the Oscar-nominated Chaplin (1992), Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage (2008), a 10th anniversary special edition of Memento (2001) and the “After Dark” Horror Fest double-features (The Gravedancers/Wicked Little Things, Borderland/Crazy Eights, The Broken/ The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations and The Graves/ Zombies of Mass Destruction) each retailing for $19.99; the “Highlander/Highlander 2 25th ann versary collection) retails for $29.99; Carol Reed’s Oscar-winning classic The Third Man (1949) retails for $39.99; and Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscarwinning Apocalypse Now (1979) is available in both a two-disc boxed set ($39.99 retail) and a three-disc “Full Disclosure Edition” ($59.99 retail). In addition, LionsGate is re-releasing the animated films The Miracle Maker (1999) and Jonah: A Veggietales Movie (2002) in DVD/Blu-ray combo packs, each retailing for $19.99.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): That’s the amount of time Russell Crowe has to spring wife Elizabeth Banks from prison and make a break for freedom, in this potentially interesting but overly detailed and overly talky melodrama from writer/director Paul Haggis. Also on hand: Brian Dennehy, Olivia Wilde and Liam Neeson, who must’ve had a free afternoon given the size of his cameo role. Rated R.

PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD DOUBLE FEATURE (VCI Entertainment): A DVD twinbill ($19.99 retail) of feature films produced before the Hays Code started clamping down on “excessive” sex and violence: Lupe Velez and Jean Hersholt star in director Henry King’s Hell Harbor (1930), and this DVD includes both the 84-minute limited-release version and the 64-minute wide-release version; and Anita Page plays the title role in 1933’s Jungle Bride.

SMALL TOWN BOY (Alpha Home Entertainment): Stuart Erwin plays a small-town simpleton who discovers a $1,000 bill in this easy-going low-budget 1937 comedy, featuring Jed Prouty and Clara Blandick as his parents, Joyce Compton as his dream girl and squeakyvoiced Dorothy Appleby as a golddigger-inwaiting. Frank Capra it’s not, but the themes aren’t dissimilar.

THE THIRD TESTAMENT (Magdaline Pictures): Writer/producer/director Matt Dallmann’s feature debut is a low-budget, faithbased melodrama structured as a whodunit and a conspiracy thriller in the guise of a mock documentary, involving the search for a missing filmmaker (Dallmann himself) who was delving into the mysteries behind the recently discovered (and accepted) Third Testament of the Bible. Not entirely successful, but at least it’s ambitious and doesn’t push its agenda as stridently as other films of its ilk. Available directly from the distributor:

TIMBER TERRORS (Alpha Home Entertainment): “Sgt. Morton of the Mounted” (John Preston) investigates the murder of a fellow officer in this low-budget 1934 action quickie, aided by “Captain, the King of Dogs” and “Dynamite the Wonder Horse” — who get top billing!

“TYLER PERRY’S HOUSE OF PAYNE”: VOLUME SIX (LionsGate Home Entertainment): This three-DVD boxed set ($29.98) retails contains Episodes 101-124 from the award-winning Fox situation comedy about a multi-generational black family trying to co-exist under one roof.

VIRUS X (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A group of research scientists are trapped in a hi-tech laboratory after it’s been contaminated by the title contagion is released in this listless, low-budget chiller in the Resident Evil tradition. “Terminal nonsense” is more like it. Rated R.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger