Video Vault – Jan 23, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Before zombies of the gut-munching variety were introduced in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and taken to the pop-culture stratosphere by “The Walking Dead,” Britain’s Hammer Films scored with this striking 1966 chiller that ranks as one of the studio’s unsung gems.
The setting is a remote 18th-century Cornish village where the residents are dying at an alarming, inexplicable rate. Local doctor Peter Thompson (Brook Williams) calls upon his mentor, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), to help investigate – and sure enough they discover that the imperious Squire Hamilton (John Carson) has been using voodoo rituals (learned in Haiti) to resurrect the dead to toil in his underground mines.
Director John Gilling (an oft-overlooked filmmaker) manages to incorporate some intelligent digs (no pun intended) at British colonialism and the exploitation of the lower classes – which aren’t what you’d necessarily expect from a horror film – while also delivering the of shudders, including some gruesome and unsettling sequences that still pack a punch. The Plague of the Zombies boasts the Gothic atmosphere that Hammer was renowned for, yet it’s also darker and more surreal.
Morell plays Sir James with brisk authority, never condescending to the material, and Carson is memorably odious as the villain. The “Hammer glamour” quotient is provided by Diane Clare as Sir James’s inquisitive daughter and Jacqueline Pearce as Peter’s ill-fated wife, whose demise is one of the film’s more shocking moments.
The special-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) includes audio commentaries, retrospective featurettes, theatrical trailers and more. ***
8MM (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A special-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) of producer/director Joel Schumacher’s atmospheric but uneven 1999 thriller (originally titled Sexy World) starring Nicolas Cage as an obsessive private detective who embarks on a dark odyssey when he investigates a supposed snuff film. Robert Elswit’s cinematography is first-rate, and the cast includes Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Chris Bauer, Norman Reedus, Anthony Heald and Peter Stormare, but the film is too long and prone to killing off interesting characters too quickly. Bonus features include audio commentary, vintage featurette, theatrical trailer, TV spots and more. Rated R. **
EGON SCHIELE: DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (Film Movement): Writer/director Dieter Berner’s award-winning biographical drama (originally titled Egon Schiele: Tod und Madchen) stars Noah Saavedra in the title role of the legendary, controversial Viennese artist and the historical and emotional circumstances that prompted the inspiration for his best-known work, the titular painting Death and the Maiden, even as the storm clouds of World War I gather. In German with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail) replete with bonus features.
FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT (Kino Classics): Cult filmmaker Mario Bava takes an unexpected detour into sex-comedy territory with this R-rated 1971 farce (originally titled Quante volte … quella notte) that offers four different perspectives on a night of passion between a smooth-talking lothario (American expatriate Brett Halsey) and a sheltered beauty (Daniela Giordano). Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary, alternate English dialogue soundtrack, deleted scenes, and more.
I MISS YOU WHEN I SEE YOU (Breaking Glass Pictures): Writer/producer/director Simon Chung’s drama stars Jun Li (in his screen debut) and Bryant Ji-Lok Mak as high-school friends forced to re-examine their relationship when reunited years later in Australia. In English and Cantonese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.99 retail), replete with bonus features.
KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (Kino Classics): Taking a page – or two – from Shane (1953), Mario Bava’s brawny, award-winning (!) 1966 Viking adventure (originally titled I cotelli del vendicatore) stars Cameron Mitchell as a warrior who becomes the steadfast protector of plucky peasant Elissa Pichelli (billed as “Lisa Wagner”) and her young son (Luciano Pollentin, billed as “Louis Polletin,” in his only film) when they are threatened by marauding general Fausto Tozzi (billed as “Frank Ross”). Reasonably entertaining, although Bava buffs have a head start. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary, English and Italian language tracks, original trailer, and more. **
“MALE SHORTS: INTERNATIONAL V2” (Breaking Glass Pictures): The second in an ongoing series of critically acclaimed LGBTQ-themed short films from around the world, available in a DVD compilation ($19.99 retail): Free Fall (Spanish with English subtitles), written and directed by Santiago Henao Valez; Enter (French with English subtitles), co-directed by producer/screenwriter Manuel Billi and editor/cinematographer Benjamin Bodi; Sr. Raposo (Spanish with English subtitles), written, produced and directed by Daniel Nolasco; Ocaso (Spanish with English subtitles), written and directed by Bruno Roger; and Twice (Italian with English subtitles), directed by Domenico Onorato.
MANTOVANI, THE KING OF STRINGS (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Executive producer/director Alan Byron’s self-explanatory documentary feature chronicles the life and career of Annunzio Paolo Montovani (1905-’80), known simply as “Mantovani,” who was the most successful orchestra leader from the 1950s through the 1970s, selling over 70 million records, available on Blu-ray ($24.95 retail).
PATERNO (HBO): Al Pacino reunites with executive producer/director Barry Levinson for this absorbing drama (originally titled Happy Valley) that explores the impact of the explosive sexual-abuse scandal at Penn State University, which rocked the institution to its very core and effectively ended the once-glorious career of legendary coach Joe Paterno. This condenses much of the story into a manageable framework, and neither condemns nor absolves Paterno (played brilliantly by Pacino). The supporting cast includes Riley Keough (as the Penn State graduate and journalist who broke the story), Kathy Baker, Greg Gunberg, Annie Parisse, and Jim Johnson (in his feature debut) as assistant coach and culprit Jerry Sandusky. Emmy nominations for Outstanding Made-for-Television Movie and Outstanding Direction for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special. ***
“PAW PATROL: PUPS SAVE PUPLANTIS” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A DVD collection ($10.99 retail) of six “sea-worthy” episodes from the award-winning animated Nickelodeon children’s series, created by Keith Chapman, detailing the adventures of a group of courageous canines as they journey to the enchanted undersea kingdom of “Puplantis.”
PEGASUS: PONY WITH A BROKEN WING (LionsGate): This G-rated, family-friendly fantasy stars Eliza Jarrett (in her debut feature) and Jordan Elsass as children who come across the titular pony and nurse it back to health, unaware that it possesses magical powers. The adult contingent includes Jonathan Silverman and Charisma Carpenter as Jarrett’s parents, and Tom Arnold as a greedy developer who will doubtless learn his lesson, available on DVD ($14.98 retail).
“POWER RANGERS: CHOJIN SENTAI JETMAN” – THE COMPLETE SERIES (Shout! Factory): An eight-DVD collection ($59.97 retail) of all 51 episodes from the entire 1991-’92 run of the Toei sci-fi fantasy series that later spawned the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” franchise, never before released in its entirety in the United States. In Japanese with English subtitles.
THE REVELATION OF LEE “SCRATCH” PERRY (MegaWave/MVD Entertainment Group): Steve Marshall makes his feature directorial debut with this self-explanatory feature documentary tracing the life and career of Grammy-nominated reggae star Lee “Scratch” Perry as he works on his 2010 album Revelation at his home and studio in Switzerland, available on DVD ($12.95 retail).
SEX WEATHER (Breaking Glass Pictures): Jon Garcia’s highly theatrical comedy/drama stars Al’Jaleel McGhee as a filmmaker and newcomer Amber Stonebraker as a former crew member who spend the day in bed following a one-night stand after his film’s premiere. Essentially a two-hander, this sometimes perceptive gab-fest benefits from the likable chemistry of the leads, who bravely bare more than their souls during their time together. The DVD ($19.99 retail) includes a behind-the-scenes featurette. **½
SKYSCRAPER (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): When criminals lay siege to a burning skyscraper in Hong Kong – effectively taking his family hostage – it’s producer/star Dwayne Johnson to the rescue in writer/producer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s PG-13-rated action extravaganza, available on DVD ($24.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.98 retail), 3-D DVD/Blu-ray combo ($44.98 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($19.99 retail) – each replete with special features.
SMALLFOOT (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): This award-winning, PG-rated, animated adaptation of the Sergio Pablos book Yeti Tracks puts a comedic spin on the legend of the elusive Sasquatch and boasts a star-studded voice-over cast including Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common, Gina Rodriguez, LeBron James and Danny DeVito, available on DVD ($28.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail), each boasting bonus features.
TIME FREAK (LionsGate): Writer/director Andrew Bowler expands his Oscar-nominated 2011 live-action short for this sci-fi romp starring Ada Butterfield as a physics genius who constructs a time machine to save his relationship with girlfriend Sophie Turner, while best bud Skyler Gisonda comes along for the ride. Inescapably episodic, and occasionally tangled up in timelines (a common occurrence in time-travel films), but enjoyable nonetheless. Both the DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($21.99 retail) include audio commentary, featurette, and the Time Freak short. Rated PG-13. **½
WHO WE ARE NOW (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/producer/director Matthew Newton’s award-winning, character-driven drama stars Julianne Nicholson (in top form) as an ex-con attempting to restart her life and regain custody of her son (Logan Smith), aided by idealistic public defender Emma Roberts (also stellar), backed by a fine cast including Zachary Quinto, Jimmy Smits, Jess Weixler, Lea Thompson, Grant Shaud, Gloria Reuben, Scott Cohen and a memorably creepy Jason Biggs, available on Blu-ray ($24.95 retail). ***
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)