DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory)
Brian De Palma’s giddy, garish 1974 “rock opera” misfired at the box-office but became an instant cult classic. Indeed, it even prefigured future trends in popular music.Taking its (obvious) cues from Goethe’s Faust and Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, the story pits Swan (Paul Williams), a mysterious music mogul, against aspiring composer Winslow Leach (William Finley), who is disfigured in a record-press mishap after Swan steals his composition (a musical version of Faust, no less) and has him imprisoned.Now disguised as “the Phantom,” Winslow haunts Swan’s ultimate concert hall, the Paradise, where they battle for the body – and soul – of ambitious young singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper in her screen debut).There’s a little bit of everything – musical, satire, romance and pure horror – accentuated by some knowing, humorous rock ‘n’ roll tunes (Williams’ original song score earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination) and a marvelously colorful visual scheme. Jack Fisk was the production designer and his wife Sissy Spacek the set dresser (!).The pint-sized Williams is memorable as the leering, evil Swan, matched by Finley’s intense yet sympathetic performance (even under the mask). Gerrit Graham steals many a scene as the glam-rock icon “Beef,” who comes to a shocking end, courtesy of the Phantom.The “collector’s edition” DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.93 retail) includes interviews, retrospective documentaries, audio commentary and more. Rated PG.
ALMOST HUMAN (IFC Midnight/MPI Media Group): Two years after an alien abduction, Josh Ethier returns to Earth a very changed man in writer/producer/ director/cinematographer Joe Begos’ debut feature, a sci-fi thriller with gory makeup effects (courtesy Rob Fritz). Ethier was also editor and a producer on the film, which features Graham Skipper as his paranoid best friend and Vanessa Leigh as his bereaved girlfriend. Derivative at times, but Begos keeps it moving and offers nods to John Carpenter and James Cameron. Although set in the ‘80s, the trappings are unmistakably contemporary.
“THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUN- TAIN/THE NEANDERTHAL MAN” (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($26.99 retail) of two low-budget ‘50s fantasy favorites, the first a 1956 sci-fi Western (based on a Willis O’Brien idea) pitting American rancher Guy Madison against a Tyrannosaurus Rex in latter-day Mexico and the second an ersatz 1953 Jekyll & Hyde variation starring Robert Shayne as a scientist who experiments on himself (never a good idea) and reverts to his violent primordial state. Somehow, I liked these films better when I was a kid watching them on the Late Show, but nostalgia buffs should enjoy. Both films:
“CROCODILE DUNDEE DOUBLE FEATURE” (Paramount): A Blu-ray twin-bill ($22.99 retail) of the surprise 1986 box-office smash (rated PG- 13), which launched Paul Hogan’s US career and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and its PG-rated 1988 sequel. Leading lady Linda Kozlowski became Mrs. Hogan off-screen, but they’ve recently divorced. Both films were more popular with audiences than critics.
CURTAINS (Synapse Films): A fairly dreadful, Canadian-made 1983 slasher opus top-lining John Vernon as a lascivious director who assembles a group of actresses (Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson and Lynne Griffin among them) at a secluded mansion for a weekend casting session … at which point a masked murderer goes to work. Noted cinematographer Richard Ciupka (Atlantic City) was to make his directorial debut but departed the production and was replaced by producer Peter Simpson, so direction is credited to “Jonathan Stryker” (Vernon’s character!). Michael Wincott and Maury Chaykin appear briefly. The film was begun in 1980 but delayed by reshoots (never a good sign). Yours truly saw this 30 years ago and didn’t like it then. Nothing’s changed, although the high-definition transfer is better than the muddy print I watched. The DVD retails for $19.95, the Blu-ray for $24.95. Both contain special features including
DARKMAN (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Filmmaker Sam Raimi proved he could play the big-studio game with this flashy, entertaining 1990 fantasy thriller starring Liam Neeson as a scientist badly burned by criminals who becomes the titular avenger as he seeks revenge against those who wronged him. The success of Batman the year before undoubtedly helped get this made, but because it wasn’t another Batman it wasn’t the franchise the studio anticipated, although it spawned two directto-video sequels. Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, Raimi’s brother Ted, Nicholas Worth, and a memorably nasty Larry Drake co-star, and look for Bruce Camp audio commentaries and interviews. Rated R.
KENNEDY’S BRAIN (MHz Networks): Globe-trotting scientist Iris Berben investigates her son’s supposed suicide in this 2010 made-for-television adaptation of Henning Mankell’s novel, originally titled Kennedys hirn and featuring Rolf Lassgard, Bjorn Floberg and Girl With a Dragon Tattoo veteran Mikael Nyqvist. In German with English subtitles. The two- DVD set retails for $39.95.
“MONSTERS”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Entertainment One): A nine-DVD collection ($99.98 retail) of all 72 episodes from the entire 1988-’90 run of the syndicated horror anthology series executive-produced by Richard R. Rubinstein and boasting makeup effects by Oscar-winning maestro Dick Smith. The star-studded line-up of guest stars includes Darren McGavin, Steve Buscemi, Laura Branigan, Linda Blair, Adrienne Barbeau, Chris Noth, Lili Taylor, Rob Morrow, Laraine Newman, John Saxon, Tony Shalhoub, Tori Spelling, Deborah Harry, Pam Grier, Gina Gershon, Jerry Stiller, Meat Loaf and many more.
“MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000: XXX” (Shout! Factory): The crew of the Satellite of Love is back in orbit – and back in action – in the latest DVD compilation ($59.97 retail) of selected episodes from the long-running, award-winning comedy series, with four feature films getting ribbed and riffed on: The Black Scorpion (1957), 1988’s Gor II (AKA Outlaw of Gor), The Projected Man (1966) and 1974’s It Lives by Night (AKA Bat People).
RUNNING MATES (Monarch Home Entertainment): Thomas Michael and Paolo Mancini star in this broad mockumentary as small-town friends who run against each other for mayor. Michael also produced and directed; he and Mancini scripted. Henry Winkler, D.J. Qualls, Helen Hughes and Graham Greene round out the cast.
SLUGTERRA: GHOUL FROM BEYOND (Nerd Corps/Shout! Factory Kids): The Shane Gang from the popular, award-winning animated TV series embarks on an action-packed, feature-length underground adventure. The DVD retails for $14.97.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Paramount): Martin Scorsese’s gloriously excessive adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s best-selling memoir depicts the financial wizard’s rise and fall, with Leonardo DiCaprio in top form as Belfort, backed by a stellar cast including Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Shea Whigham, Joanna Lumley and Matthew McConaughey. Overlong but one of 2013’s best films nevertheless. Scorsese and DiCaprio were also producers. Five Oscar nominations (but no wins): Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (Hill) and Best Adapted Screenplay. The DVD retails for $29.99, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $39.99. Rated R. !
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2014, Mark Burger.