video vault

by Mark Burger


(Anchor Bay Entertainment)

A standout among the recent spate of zombie movies, this effective and suspenseful effort from the writer/director duo of brothers Howard J. and Jon Ford ranks as an instant cult classic.

War-torn Africa is the setting for this grim, ghoulish outing in which the living dead have overrun the continent. There is no explanation for the outbreak (nor is any necessary), yet there’s an unmistakable urgency to the proceedings, as American military engineer Murphy (Rob Freeman) and African soldier Daniel (Prince David Osei) join forces to travel the perilous countryside in search of sanctuary — if, indeed, any sanctuary remains. The spooky-eyed zombies are an implacable, relentless force.

The very setting lends itself to symbolism and allegory, given the political and social strife that have rocked the African continent over the centuries, yet the film can also be enjoyed on merely a surface level: It’s creepy, intense and surprisingly involving, with Freeman and Osei excellent as the everymen caught up in the catastrophe. Definitely not for the squeamish, but a must for horror buffs. Unlike so many shockers of late (and no pun intended), The Dead is alive. Rated R.

(For an exclusive interview with star Rob Freeman, turn to page 40)

35 AND TICKING (One Village Entertainment/Image Entertainment): Executive producer Russ Parr wrote and directed this comedy about lifelong friends (Tamala Jones, Nicole Ari Parker, Kevin Hart and Keith Robinson) turning 35 years old. The DVD retails for $27.97, the Blu-ray for $29.97. Rated R.

2-HEADED SHARK ATTACK (The Asylum Home Entertainment): Two heads are not better than one in this self-explanatory shocker, in which tourists (including Carmen Electra, Brooke Hogan and Charlie O’Connell) find themselves stranded on a crumbling atoll while the titular terror dines on them. “Two heads is twice as much teeth!” cries one character, while another later says, “This isn’t good.” She’s right. Even on a camp level it’s pretty flat, with goofy CGI effects.

APOLLO 18 (Dimension Films/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Reasonably effective “foundfootage” sci-fi shocker, with Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins as the astronaut trio whose moon mission goes horrifically awry when they unexpectedly encounter malevolent creatures there. Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego is able to milk the gimmick for all it’s worth, although how could this footage have fallen into Earth hands? (Best not to ponder such things.) Rated PG-13.

BEREAVEMENT (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Writer/producer/composer/editor/director Stevan Mena’s grim, gruesome prequel to his Malevolence (2004) examines how a kidnapped boy (Spencer List) would ultimately become a sadistic serial killer. Well-made but relentlessly downbeat and slowly paced. Alexandra Daddario (a great screamer) is the teen heroine, with Michael Biehn, Brett Rickaby, Nolan Gerard Funk and John Savage also on hand — and, more often than not, in harm’s way. Rated R.

CHRIS ISAAK: LIVE/GREATEST HITS: LIVE (Image Entertainment): It’s a “Wicked Dream” come true for fans of the award-winning singer/songwriter (and sometime actor), with a pair of concert documentaries available on one DVD ($14.98 retail).

METAL SHIFTERS (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Low-budget Transformers takeoff, in which a crashed Soviet satellite infected with an alien virus threatens a small town. Originally titled Iron Invader. Nice touch having the menace thwarted by alcohol, but otherwise a snooze. Rated PG-13.

MGM/FOX BLU-RAYS (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Just in time to commemorate the Academy Awards, several classics makes their Blu-ray debuts: Woody Allen’s 1977 Annie Hall (rated PG), which won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Allen), Best Actress (Diane Keaton) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman), with a final nomination for Allen as Best Actor; Allen’s 1979 Manhattan (rated R), which earned Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Brickman again) and Best Supporting Actress (Mariel Hemingway); Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), which won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction/ Set Decoration and Best Editing) and earned additional nominations for Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Kruschen), Best Cinematography (black and white) and Best Editing; Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant star in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), which earned Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains) and Best Original Screenplay (Ben Hecht); Hitchock’s 1940 adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Cinematography (black and white) and earned nominations for Best Director, Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Actress (Joan Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, Best Editing, Best Art Direction/ Set Decoration and Best Special Effects; and Spellbound (1945), starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck and an Oscar winner for Miklos Rosza’s score, with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Michael Chekhov), Best Cinematography (black and white) and Best Special Effects. Each Blu-ra y retails for $24.99.

THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW ON BROADWAY (Image Entertainment): What it says is what it is, as writer/executive producer Paul Reubens resurrects his alter-ego on the 25th anniversary of the premiere of his TV series “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” with a Broadway run at the Sondheim Theatre in New York City, followed by this filmed performance. Three Emmy nominations including Outstanding Variety, Musical or Comedy Special. The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $24.98.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh commemorate the 25th anniversary of their international stage sensation (based on Gaston Leroux’s novel) with a filmed version of a production staged at London’s Royal Albert Hall, with Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom and Sierra Boggess as Christine. The original Phantom and Christine, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman (Webber’s former wife) also make special appearances. The DVD retails for $29.98, the Blu-ray for $39.98.

THE REBOUND (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Bartha find romance in writer/producer/ director Bart Freundlich’s comedy, available on DVD ($22.98 retail) or Blu-ray ($29.98 retail). Rated R.

“ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE”: SEASON TWO (Nickelodeon/Shout! Factory): A two-DVD collection ($19.93 retail) of all 13 episodes from the 1994-’95 season of the irreverent, awardwinning Nickelodeon animated series about the title character (an Australian wallaby) and his band of crazy critters.

ROGER CORMAN’S CULT CLASSICS: LETHAL LADIES COLLECTION, VOL. 2 (Shout! Factory): A DVD triple feature ($24.97 retail) of low-budget Roger Corman productions with a feminist (well…) slant: Pam Grier and Margaret Markov star in The Arena (1974); Pat Anderson, Tara Strohmeier, Lindsay Bloom and Mary Woronov star in Cover Girl Models (1973); and Lenore Kasdorf teams with Pat Anderson in Fly Me (1975). All three films are rated R — guess why!

THE RUM DIARY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Johnny Depp produces and stars in screenwriter/director Bruce Robinson’s uneven adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s book, playing a cynical, hard-living journalist (not unlike Thompson) at large in ’50s Puerto Rico. A good cast (Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Giovanni Ribisi, Amber Heard, Marshall Bell and particularly Richard Jenkins) and good intentions yield middling results. Despite Depp’s box-office standing, a surprise flop. Rated R.

“UFC 139: SHOGUN VS. HENDO” (UFC/ Anchor Bay Entertainment): This two-DVD Ultimate Fighting Championship collector’s edition ($19.98 retail) boasts a bevy of hardhitting matches, including the first-ever match between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Dan “Hendo” Henderson, along with additional matches (including Wanderlei Silva vs. Cung Le and Urijah Faber vs. Brian Bowles), preliminary bouts, and other special features.

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