DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory)
This undeservedly overlooked 1985 period thriller offers a thinly veiled dramatization of the notorious 19th-century grave-robbers Burke and Hare, here called “Fallon” and Broom” and memorably played by Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea.The trappings of 1820s Edinburgh are very stylish, but there’s also substance and irony here. Adapted from an original Dylan Thomas screenplay (written in the ‘50s) by future Oscar winner Ronald Harwood, the film examines the era’s class structure, with Timothy Dalton (shortly before being cast as James Bond) the seeming portrait of respectability as the esteemed Dr. Rock – even when illicitly purchasing fresh corpses to conduct his experiments, which was considered heresy and was illegal at the time. Of course, medical knowledge was (and is) dependent on studying the dead, but Fallon and Broom take their task in procuring corpses to the extreme by murderous means.Directed by ace cinematographer Freddie Francis, The Doctor and the Devils boasts an esteemed cast: Patrick Stewart, Sian Phillips, Julian Sands, T.P. McKenna, Beryl Reid (in her final screen role) and Twiggy, surprisingly effective as an ill-fated whore. Unfortunately, Twentieth Century Fox has no idea how to promote the film. It’s not really a horror film, falling closer to the realm of “historical fiction” – with the accent on “historical,” and The Doctor and the Devils languished with little theatrical exposure. Nevertheless, it’s a film ripe for rediscovery.The new Blu-ray ($24.97 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews and theatrical trailer. Rated R.
AS ABOVE, SO BELOW
(Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman lead a team of curiosity-seekers into the endless Catacombs of Paris, where they encounter supernatural forces in this (appropriately) claustrophobic shocker. Stylish visuals offset by cut-rate characterization and sub-standard storytelling. A missed opportunity. The DVD retails for $29.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $34.98. Rated R.
AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR
(IFC Midnight/MPI Media Group): Trying to sell a house is hard enough, but try selling one that’s possessed by evil … Writer/director Nicholas McCarthy’s chiller (originally titled Home) explores this diabolical dilemma, as experienced by Catalina Sandino Moreno, Naya Rivera and Ashley Rickards. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.
(Kino Lorber): Almost 50 years before “Under the Dome,” Deborah Walley and a pre-”Mod Squad” Michael Cole played a young couple trapped in a small California town surrounded by an alien dome in writer/producer/director Arch Oboler’s 1966 sci-fi melodrama. The new Blu-ray, which retains the “Space- Vision 3-D” format, retails for $34.95.
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
(Kino Classics): A digitally remastered Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) of director Robert Wiene’s 1920 silent classic (originally titled Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari) starring Werner Kraus as the titular carnival hypnotist and Conrad Veidt as the hulking somnambulist who does his bidding – including murder. Oft-imitated but never equaled, this is a seminal work of German expressionism, probably the first horror classic, and a must for film buffs.
(Vinegar Syndrome): Writer/director Lewis Jackson’s low-budget 1980 yuletide shocker stars Brandon Maggart as a twisted toymaker who goes on a murderous rampage dressed as Santa Claus. Pure exploitation, to be sure, but Maggart’s oddly sympathetic portrayal gives it weight, as does a cast of familiar faces (many in early roles): Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Raymond J. Barry, Rutanya Alda, Patricia Richardson, Philip Casnoff and Peter Friedman. Also known as You Better Watch Out (the onscreen title) and Terror in Toyland, this predated the more controversial (and inferior) Silent Night, Deadly Night by four years and played drive-ins and grindhouses for the better part of a decade. The DVD/Blu-ray combo retails for $24.98 and includes multiple audio commentaries, retrospective interviews and more.
(MPI Media Group): Writer/producer/director Carl Deal and Tia Lessin’s feature documentary traces the rise and impact of the Tea Party in American politics, and its financial support from billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. The DVD retails for $24.98.
(Kino Lorber): “Bird” is the word in Scott Crocker’s feature documentary ($24.99 retail) set in the bayous of Arkansas, where scientist and birdwatchers congregate to glimpse the fabled Ivory-billed woodpecker, long thought to be extinct. The soundtrack includes selections by The Black Keys, The Pixies, The Black Heart Procession, and others.
(IFC Films): A dysfunctional family convenes at their picturesque lakeside vacation home in this soapy feature debut from co-directors Tom Dolby (who also scripted) and Tom Williams, boosted by its cast – especially Patricia Clarkson and Chris Mulkey as the parents.
THE NIGHT PORTER
(The Criterion Collection): Liliana Cavani’s hugely controversial, R-rated 1974 psycho-sexual thriller (originally titled Il portiere di notte), set in post-World War II Vienna, stars Charlotte Rampling as an unbalanced concentration camp survivor who resumes a sadomasochistic relationship with a mild-mannered hotel porter (Dirk Bogarde) who was formerly her Nazi tormentor. The new Blu-ray retails for $39.95.
PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS
(Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A Blu-ray special edition ($29.93 retail) of Jeff Burr’s unnecessary follow-up to Stan Winston’s 1987 cult shocker, which sees the resurrection of the titular demon. An eclectic cast includes Andrew Robinson, Ami Dolenz, Soleil Moon Frye, Hill Harper, Steve Kanaly, Gloria Hendry, Linnea Quigley, Kane Hodder, Caren Kaye and former “First Brother” Roger Clinton (in his film debut). Special features include a retrospective documentary and audio commentary. Rated R.
(Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Director/screenwriter Jaime Osorio Marquez’s debut feature (originally titled El Paramo) sees a commando team infiltrating a remote military base in the mountains of Colombia and encountering strange phenomena. In Spanish with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $19.97, the Blu-ray for $24.97.
(Well Go USA Entertainment): William Chan, Derek Tsang and Edward Tsui play friends who join the Hong Kong gangs as teenagers only to compete for leadership. In Cantonese with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $24.98.
(RaroVideo/ Kino Lorber): Rino Di Silvestro’s absurd 1976 shocker (originally titled La Lupa Mannara) stars Annik Borel as a sexually repressed woman seemingly obsessed with (or possessed by) the spirit of an ancestor branded a werewolf, which unleashes a murderous rage … or something like that. Released in the US as Legend of the Wolf Woman, its cult following is evidently headed by Quentin Tarantino, who’s welcome to it. The DVD retails for $19.99, the Blu-ray for $34.95. Both contain an interview with Di Silvestro, who died in 2009, and the film can be watched in Italian (with English subtitles) or dubbed English – for those who care.
(Fabulous Films): A collector’s-edition release of first-time director Joe Massot’s psychedelic 1968 cult classic set at the height of London’s swinging ‘60s, starring Jack MacGrowan as an eccentric academic who becomes obsessed with a free-spirited fashion model named Penny Lane (Jane Birkin). Iain Quarrier, Irene Handl, Richard Wattis and Beatrix Lehmann also appear, and then-Beatle George Harrison supervised the soundtrack. The DVD retails for $19.97, the Blu-ray for $24.97. Both contain extensive special features. !
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2014, Mark Burger.