Video Vault – Mar 20, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICKS OF THE WEEK
A great many actors have played Count Dracula over the years – Gary Oldman, Frank Langella, Louis Jourdan, John Carradine, Gerard Butler, and even George Hamilton – but the two most identified with Bram Stoker’s bloodthirsty count are Christopher Lee (1922-2015), who played the role nearly a dozen times, and Bela Lugosi (1882-1956), who played Dracula only twice but was forever linked with the role.
Whomever you think played the best vampire – Lee is my pick, although I love Lugosi, too – each actor gets the “collector’s-edition” treatment this column …
DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Christopher Lee’s second go-’round as Dracula for Hammer Films opened in 1966, eight years after Horror of Dracula, and sees an unfortunate group of tourists finding shelter at Castle Dracula, where one of them is to be sacrificed to resurrect the Count.
Directed with efficiency and style by Terence Fisher (who helmed Horror), the cast includes Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer and Charles Tingwell as the endangered guests, Philip Latham (first-rate) as Dracula’s manservant Klove, Thorley Walters as a Renfield-type character, and Andrew Keir (excellent) as resident vampire slayer Father Shandor. Although Lee doesn’t appear until midway through – and despite having not one word of dialogue (!) – his presence permeates the proceedings all the way through. As Shelley mentions to Lee in an audio commentary moderated by Ted Newsom: “No wonder you’re an icon.”
The collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($34.93 retail) includes both the U.S. and U.K. theatrical versions, three audio commentaries, theatrical trailers, and more. ***
THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Bela Lugosi played Dracula in the 1931 film and in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), but here he plays his only other big-screen bloodsucker, one Armand Tesla. No matter the character’s name, Lugosi is right at home cape and coffin.
During World War I, Tesla is staked by scientists Frieda Inescort and Gilbert Emery, only to be revived 25 years later – during World War II – after his body is disturbed by bombs during the London Blitz. The thirsty Tesla quickly resumes his diabolical doings, aided and abetted by his werewolf assistant (!), Andreas (Matt Willis), as he sets his sights – and fangs – on comely young Nikki (Nina Foch).
It’s a nifty conceit using the real-life horrors of the world wars as a backdrop, which (naturally) provides a measure of cover for Tesla’s killings, as well as having a woman (Inescort’s Lady Jane Ainsley) as his nemesis. This was released in 1943, a year after Mrs. Miniver swept the Oscars, and it’s not difficult to see some correlation. Clearly, the British contend with the supernatural as dutifully and heroically as with warfare.
The collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($27.99 retail) includes three audio commentaries, theatrical trailer, and more. ***
100 YARDS (RLJE Films): Still reeling from the disappearance of his mother, former pro quarterback Steven Brewis (in his feature debut) must confront his own mortality when diagnosed with a terminal illness, in this faith-based drama co-directed by writer/producer Ross Campbell (making his feature debut) and Dale Fabrigar, with Danielle Rayne, Rebecca Lim, Melissa Paulo, newcomer Jerald Uy, and Sean Patrick Flanery in support, available on DVD ($27.97 retail).
“AUDREY HEPBURN 7-MOVIE COLLECTION” (Paramount Home Media Distribution): A self-explanatory DVD selection ($23 retail) showcasing the talents of the legendary Audrey Hepburn (1929-’93): Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), for which she earned an Oscar nomination as Best Actress; My Fair Lady (1964), which won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture; opposite Fred Astaire in Funny Face (1954); Roman Holiday (1953), for which she won the Oscar as Best Actress; in the title role of Sabrina (1954), which earned her another Oscar nomination as Best Actress; opposite William Holden in the 1964 romp Paris When It Sizzles; and the epic 1956 adaptation of War and Peace, opposite then-husband Mel Ferrer and Henry Fonda.
CANINE SOLDIERS (Juno Films/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/producer/director Nancy Shiesari’s sympathetic and informative documentary examines the training and care of Military Working Dogs (MWD), whose combat experiences can likewise lead to similar physical and physiological maladies that affect their human counterparts. ***
THE DEADLY MANTIS (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): An enormous prehistoric praying mantis thaws out in the Arctic and proceeds to go on a rampage in this predictable but entertainingly hokey 1957 sci-fi monster mash, with Craig Stevens and William Hopper leading the stalwart human contingent battling the bug. The special-edition Blu-ray ($27.99 retail) includes audio commentary, theatrical trailer, and the 1997 episode of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” lampooning the film. **½
THE EARTHLING (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): William Holden (in his penultimate film) and Ricky Schroder (in an award-winning performance) star in this 1980 tearjerker as an ailing wanderer who returns to his boyhood home in the Australian Outback to die, and the orphan he begrudgingly teaches to survive in the wilderness. Beautifully shot on location by Don McAlpine and well-intentioned, but only intermittently involving. This marked the final film of director Peter Collinson, who died shortly after its release. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include the U.S. and international theatrical versions. Rated PG. **
ELECTRIC LOVE (Social House Films/Gravitas Ventures): Inspired by his own disastrous dating experiences, director/co-writer/editor Aaron Fradkin’s breezy, award-winning romantic comedy explores the phenomenon of dating through social media and computer apps – which only complicates things further. Zachary Mooren (making his producing debut) and Mia Serafino head a likable ensemble cast that includes Victoria Fratz (making her feature debut as actress, co-writer and executive producer), Kyle Howard, Matt Bush, Misha Reeves, Erik Griffin, Ben Faiger and Tim Peper, available on DVD ($16.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.99 retail). **½
THE FAVOR (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Elizabeth McGovern and Harley Jane Kozak star in this 1994 romantic comedy as best friends who fall out after a duplicitous scheme to seduce former high-school hunk Ken Wahl doesn’t go according to plan. Slight material boosted by a friendly cast that also includes Brad Pitt, Bill Pullman and Larry Miller, available on DVD ($14.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail). Rated PG-13. **
“KRYPTON”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Executive producers and series creators David S. Goyer and Damian Kindler put a new spin on the “Superman” legend in this SYFY fantasy series that takes place two generations before the titular planet’s destruction and follows Superman’s grandfather Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) as he contends with political and social upheaval, in all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2018 season, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail), each replete with bonus features.
“NICK JR.: MEET THE BABY ANIMALS” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A DVD collection ($10.99 retail) of seven baby-themed episodes from such popular animated Nickelodeon children’s series’ as “Blaze and the Monster Machines,” “Bubble Guppies,” “PAW Patrol,” “Shimmer and Shine,” and “Top Wing.”
THE PRISONER (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment Group): Director Peter Glenville made his feaure debut with this 1955 adaptation of Bridget Boland’s play (scripted by the author and loosely based on fact), set in an unnamed Communist country where clergyman Alec Guinness is accused of treason and interrogated by former compatriot Jack Hawkins. Highly theatrical, loaded with symbolic touches and occasionally heavy-handed, this nevertheless benefits from the crackling, well-matched performances of Guinness and Hawkins, available in a special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) boasting bonus features. **½
“RISE OF THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): The title tells all in this DVD collection ($10.99 retail) of seven episodes from the award-winning, animated Nickelodeon fantasy series that marks the latest incarnation of those “heroes in a half shell” as they battle the forces of evil beneath the mean streets of New York City.
“ROBIN WILLIAMS: COMIC GENIUS” (Time Life): A mammoth, 22-DVD collection ($199.90 retail) that pays tribute to the much-loved, much-missed comedian and actor Robin Williams (1951-2014), whose remarkable 40-year career saw him win an Oscar and multiple Emmy and Golden Globe awards, including all five HBO stand-up specials, never-before-seen concert performances, talk-show appearances and interviews, interviews with friends and family, 11 episodes of “Mork & Mindy” (the ABC sitcom that catapulted him to stardom), the 2018 HBO documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Head, collectible book, and much more.
“THE SIMPLE HEIST”: SERIES 1 (Acorn TV): Based on Thomas Arvidsson’s best-selling series of novels, this light-hearted, six-episode Swedish mini-series (originally titled Enkelstoten) stars Lotta Tejle and Sissela Kyle as older women who decide to spice things up by embarking on a crime spree – but are unprepared for its inevitable consequences. The two-DVD collection retails for $39.99.
SO DARK THE NIGHT (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment Group): A collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of the noir-ish 1946 psychological thriller directed by Joseph H. Lewis, starring Steven Geray as a brilliant but overworked Parisian police inspector drawn into a web of suspicion and madness when he vacations in the French countryside and becomes besotted with young Micheline Cheirel, whose subsequent murder scandalizes the community. This solid “B” movie benefits from Burnett Guffey’s atmospheric cinematography and a twist ending. Special features include audio commentary, featurette, theatrical trailer and more. ***
TOPPER TAKES A TRIP (VCI Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): The Blu-ray row ($29.95 retail) of producer Hal Roach and director Norman Z. McLeod’s 1938 sequel to their 1937 box-office smash, based on Thorne Smith’s novel, which sees Constance Bennett reprising her role as Marian Kerby, who tries to earn her passage into heaven by saving the marriage of the titular Cosmo Topper (Roland Young), whose estranged wife (Billie Burke) is being wooed by a phony playboy (Alexander D’Arcy) on the French Riviera. Alan Mowbray also encores as Topper’s ever-unflappable butler, although Cary Grant’s George Kerby appears only in brief clips from the first film. If the dog “Mr. Atlas” (played by “Skippy”) looks familiar, it’s because he also played “Asta” in the Thin Man films. The Oscar-nominated special effects hold up, but this occasionally struggles to maintain its screwball pacing. **½
“TOP WING: EGGCELLENT MISSIONS” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): In the spirit of the Easter season, this DVD selection ($10.99 retail) of eight episodes from the award-winning, animated Nickelodeon children’s series detailing the adventures of four heroic “Top Wing” cadets who selflessly serve their community.
TO THE EDGE OF THE SKY (Juno Films/MVD Entertainment Group): Jedd and Todd Wider wrote, produced and directed this feature documentary that follows four families whose sons have been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, as they actively campaign for government legislation to help them and the children find treatment, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
“WHEN CALLS THE HEART: THE GREATEST BLESSING” (Shout! Factory): Series regulars Erin Krakow, Jack Wagner and Lori Loughlin appear in this 2018 episode (originally titled The Greatest Christmas Blessing and broadcast in time for the holidays) from the popular Hallmark Channel drama series based on Janette Oke’s best-selling novels, in which the townspeople of Hope Valley band together to save an orphanage, available on DVD ($14.98 retail).
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)