Video Vault – Aug 21, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
CRUISING (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): One of the most controversial movies of its time – perhaps of all time – William Friedkin’s 1980 adaptation of Gerald Walker’s true-crime novel continues to divide audiences and critics … about as wide as the Grand Canyon.
Al Pacino plays Steve Burns, a young New York detective assigned to investigate a series of brutal murders in which the victims were all homosexuals. Posing as a gay man, he infiltrates the leather bars to experience the seamy, sordid underworld of the S&M lifestyle. In doing so, he risks losing his identity and perhaps his sanity, while all the while the murders continue.
Not surprisingly, the film caused a firestorm of controversy, with gay rights activists picketing both the production and the release. Friedkin, no stranger to controversy – and, indeed, a filmmaker who embraced it — stated that his intent was not to condemn the gay lifestyle but to examine (and, yes, exploit) its more aberrant and dangerous avenues. In a strange way, the film pre-figures the AIDS era, with the simple analogy that random sex can be fatal.
Steeped in ambiguity and brutality, Cruising is not a pretty picture but it’s an effective, cold-blooded one. Pacino, who reportedly refuses to discuss the film, plays his role with conviction, and a strong supporting cast includes Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Don Scardino, James Remar, Richard Cox, Jay Acovone, Mike Starr, Gene Davis (in his screen debut), Powers Boothe (in his screen debut), Ed O’Neill, and the inimitable Joe Spinell.
The special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective documentaries, original trailer, and more. Rated R. ***
BIKINI MODEL ACADEMY (Monarch Home Entertainment): Writer/director Straw Weisman’s typical 2015 sex farce stars Benjamin Stone and Philip Andre Botello as pot-smoking pals who get the inspired notion to open the titular establishment. The girls are cute, the gags are lame, and high-profile co-stars Gary Busey (as “wacky” Uncle Seymour) and Morgan Fairchild (as herself) earn associate-producer credit – apparently for just showing up. *
CHARLIE SAYS (IFC Films/Shout! Factory): Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Manson Murders, director Mary Harron’s R-rated adaptation of executive producer Ed Sanders’s book The Family stars Merritt Weaver as a graduate student assigned to help rehabilitate the imprisoned members of Manson’s murderous “family,” who still seem to be in his sway. Matt Smith plays Manson, with Hannah Murray as Leslie Van Hoten, Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick) as Patricia Krenwinkel, Marianne Rendon as Susan Atkins, Chace Crawford as Tex Watson, and Kaylie Carter as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who later attempted to assassinate President Ford. Both the DVD ($16.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.97 retail) boast bonus features.
THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Director Michael Chavez makes his feature debut with this R-rated off-shoot of the popular Conjuring horror franchise, set in 1973 Los Angeles, pitting widowed social worker Linda Cardellini and healer Raymond Cruz against a vengeful spirit that preys on children, available on DVD ($28.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.99 retail), each replete with bonus features.
DAMNED SUMMER (IndiePix Films): Writer/producer/director Pedo Cabeleira’s award-winning feature debut (originally titled Verao Danado) stars Pedro Marujo (in his screen debut) as a recent college graduate who embarks on a wild, hedonistic journey through Lisbon in an effort to hold onto his youth. In Portuguese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail).
DJANGO THE BASTARD (Synapse Films/CAV Distributing): Director/screenwriter Sergio Garrone’s PG-rated 1969 spaghetti Western (originally titled Django il bastardo and released in the U.S. in 1974 as The Stranger’s Gundown) stars screenwriter Anthony Steffen in the title role of an enigmatic gunslinger bent on avenging the massacre of his Civil War unit. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) include audio commentary.
EVIL TOWN (Vinegar Syndrome): The story behind the making of this low-budget ’70s shocker is (much) more interesting than the film itself, as it was originally shot in 1974 (?) and released as either God Bless Dr. Shagetz or God Damn Dr. Shagetz, then producer Mardi Rustam re-edited and shot new footage a decade later, resulting in a genuine bizarrely mish-mash that reached video stores in 1987. The story, such as it is, involves unwary travelers who fall victim to the aforementioned mad scientist, who’s been restoring the youth of his patients. The original cast included Dean Jagger (as Dr. Shagetz), James Keach, Robert Walker Jr., Dabbs Greer, Lurene Tuttle, and Regis Toomey, while later footage features Jillian Kesner and Playboy Playmate Lynda Wiesmeier. Among the credited directors is “Edward Collins,” better known as future Oscar winner Curtis Hanson. This may not be good, but it’s certainly different. The special-edition Blu-ray ($24.99 retail) includes bonus features. Rated R. *½
HORROR EXPRESS (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing – the greatest screen team in horror history – are in top form as anthropologists aboard the Trans-Siberian Express in 1906, the former having discovered a missing link possessed by an alien being that can drain human intelligence from its victims. Got all that? This 1972 sci-fi shocker (also released as The Possessor) is crackling entertainment from beginning to end, bolstered by a terrific John Cacavas score (his first), a smart and snappy storyline, and a nifty cameo by Telly Savalas as a brutish Cossack officer. Great fun and a true cult classic. The collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews, original trailer, and more. Rated R. ***½
MAJOR LEAGUE (Paramount Home Entertainment): A 30th-anniversary special edition of writer/director David S. Ward’s delightful 1989 baseball comedy detailing the travails of the forlorn Cleveland Indians when domineering new owner Margaret Whitton assembles a team of misfits … who then start winning. The appealing cast includes Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Rene Russo, James Gammon, Dennis Haysbert, Chelcie Ross, Charles Cyphers, Andy Romano, scene-stealing Wesley Snipes, and Bob Uecker, hilarious as the hapless play-by-play announcer. A real crowd-pleaser that genuinely captures a feel for the sport. Special features include audio commentary, featurettes, alternate ending, and more. Rated R. ***
MASCARA/THE PINK LADIES (Vinegar Syndrome): From the late ’70s’- early ’80s era of “porno chic,” a time when adult films attempted to cross over into the mainstream, comes a pair of adult features, both digitally remastered and boasting a bevy of special features including retrospective interviews and audio commentaries: Mascara (1982), written and directed by Henri Pachard in collaboration with cinematographer/producer/co-director Roberta Findlay, and The Pink Ladies (1979), directed by Roger Watkins. Each DVD/Blu-ray combo retails for $34.98.
MY NIGHTS WITH SUSAN, SANDRA, OLGA & JULIE (Cult Epics/CAV Distributing): The last of the “Dutch Sex Wave” productions that hit box-office paydirt, writer/director Pem de la Parra’s sordid 1975 psycho-sexual thriller (originally titled Mijn Nachten met Susan, Olga, Albert, Julie, Piet & Sandra) stars Hans van der Gragt as a hunky handyman who falls into the clutches of the nubile (and, in some cases, psychotic) titular quartet, played by Willeke van Ammelrooy, Marieke van Leeuwen, Franulka Heyermans (in her only feature), and Marja de Heer (in her last film to date) on a remote farm. Certainly weird, but most often this plays like bad theater. In Dutch with English subtitles, available as a collector’s-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.95 retail) that boasts director’s introduction, original trailers, and more. *½
THE NEW YORK RIPPER (Blue Underground/MVD Entertainment Group): Lucio Fulci’s critically castigated 1982 box-office disaster earns three-disc “limited-edition” status ($49.95 retail), in telling a dire tale of the titular maniac at large in the Big Apple, pursued by perennially grouchy New York cop Jack Hedley. This absolutely wallows in degradation and violence, with few redeeming characteristics, yet like so many of Fulci’s films it boasts a cult following, and those followers will not be disappointed by the bevy of special features, including retrospective interviews, theatrical trailer, Francesco De Masi’s soundtrack on CD, and much more. *½
“NOIR ARCHIVE VOLUME 2: 1954-1956 (NINE-FILM COLLECTION)” (Kit Parker Films/MVD Entertainment Group): A self-explanatory collection of low-budget film-noir thrillers presented in a three-disc Blu-ray selection ($49.95 retail): Bait (1954), directed by and starring Hugo Haas; The Crooked Web (1955) starring Frank Lovejoy and Richard Denning; The Night Holds Terror (1955) with Vince Edwards and John Cassavetes; Footsteps in the Fog (1955) starring Bill Travers and Finlay Currie; Cell 2455, Death Row (1955) starring William Campbell; 5 Against the House (1955) with William Conrad and Kerwin Mathews; New Orleans Uncensored (1955), directed by William Castle; Spin a Dark Web (1955) starring Faith Domergue and Lee Patterson; and Rumble on the Docks (1956) starring James Darren (in his screen debut).
SILENT HILL (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): There has never been a good movie based on a video game, and this 2006 effort is no exception, despite stylish direction by Christophe Gans and a screenplay by Oscar winner Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction), with Radha Mitchell portraying a desperate mother whose daughter (Jodelle Ferland) vanishes in the desolate titular town. Great atmosphere and a strong start are soon bulldozed by overlength and a pervading sense of confusion. A capable but ill-used cast includes Sean Bean, Deborah Kara Unger, Alice Krige, Laurie Holden, and Kim Coates. The two-disc collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($27.99 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews, six-part documentary, vintage featurette, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated R. *
THE WHIRLPOOL ((IndiePix Films): Agathe Feoux (in her screen debut) and Pierre Perrier play a couple whose chance encounter at Niagara Falls leads to a impulsive and passionate road trip in filmmaker Alvin Case’s wistful, highly stylized, and often rambling 2012 feature debut. In English and French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), replete with bonus features. **½
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)