Video Vault – May 29, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): With the popularity of Gothic horror waning after the success of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973), Britain’s Hammer Films desperately sought new ways to hold onto its loyal audience … and this 1974 combination of horror and martial arts (“Black belt meets black magic!”) may have been the most desperate.
Touted as “the first kung fu horror spectacular” – which, in a sense, is true – the setting is 1804 China, where the guest lecturer at Chungking University is the esteemed vampire slayer Prof. Van Helsing (ever-stalwart Peter Cushing). His discourse on the titular legend has factual basis, according to student Hsi Ching (David Chiang), who fortunately happens to be a master of the martial arts.
Off they go, joined by dishy young expatriate widow Julie Ege, Van Helsing’s son (future sitcom star and game-show host Robin Stewart), and Ching’s hearty band of fellow warriors to confront and vanquish the undead menace.
Under the direction of Hammer favorite Roy Ward Baker, the film boasts some (bumpy) energy, a few chills, gratuitous nudity, and fairly decent karate clashes. Needless to say, Cushing takes acting honors here, and provides a hair-raising moment when he appears to stumble into a campfire during combat. Hammer’s resident Dracula, Christopher Lee, had (wisely) forsaken the cape, so John Forbes-Robertson dons it for a brief appearance, including a climactic battle with Van Helsing that’s a real letdown.
It wasn’t until 1978 that American audiences were treated to the film, in a severely re-cut form retitled The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula and dumped on the kung fu drive-in/grindhouse circuit. The American cut, included here, makes a (barely) passable film truly ridiculous, going so far as to completely sabotage storyline and continuity.
The collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews, theatrical trailers, and more. Rated R. **
“13 REASONS WHY”: SEASON TWO (Paramount Home Entertainment): Teenager Dylan Millette continues his soul-searching journey to ascertain why his unrequited high-school crush (Katherine Langford) committed suicide, in all 13 episodes from the 2018 season of the award-winning Netflix drama series based on Jay Asher’s 2007 best-seller, available in a four-DVD collection ($33.99 retail).
AMERICAN EXIT (LionsGate): Writer/producer Tim McCann and writer Ingo Vollkammer (making his feature debut) co-directed this brooding, latter-day film noir that offers Dane Cook a dramatic change of pace, playing a desperate, ailing father who steals a priceless painting and goes on the lam with embittered son Levi Miller – with ruthless art dealer Udo Kier in pursuit. This doesn’t break new ground but is well-done on its own terms, with Claire Vanderboom as Cook’s exasperated ex-wife and John Savage as his estranged father, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.99 retail). Rated PG-13. **½
AND THEN THERE WAS EVE (Breaking Glass Pictures): Writer/producer/director Savannah Bloch’s award-winning debut feature is a well-intentioned but obvious character study starring Tania Nolan as a photographer, whose husband vanished a year ago, who strikes up a relationship with a local pianist, the titular Eve (newcomer Rachel Crowl). Unfortunately, the big “reveal” is transparent (no pun intended) almost at the outset, and the film descends into soap-opera territory. The DVD ($19.99 retail) includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, and more. **
BACKTRACE (LionsGate): Gimmicky time-killer (in the Memento/Unforgettable mold) with Matthew Modine as an amnesiac spirited out of a psychiatric ward and injected with a serum that forces him to relive a bank heist years before, all the better to locate the missing, with bizarrely-coiffed cop Sylvester Stallone and slippery FBI agent Christopher McDonald in pursuit. Both the DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.99 retail) boast bonus features. Rated R. **
BIGGER LIKE ME (Breaking Glass Pictures): Comedian Greg Bergman follows up his debut 2014 documentary with this follow-up that he wrote, produced, and co-directed with A.D. Freese, which follows his ongoing quest to make his manhood bigger. The “extended edition” DVD ($24.99 retail) includes bonus footage.
THE CHARMER (Film Movement): Writer/director Milad Alami’s award-winning psychological thriller (originally titled Charmoren) stars Ardalan Esmaili as the title character, an illegal Iranian immigrant so desperate to remain in Denmark he seeks a marriage of convenience – only to fall for a fellow Iranian (singer Soho Rezanejad, in her feature debut). In Danish and Persian with English subtitles, the DVD ($24.95 retail) also includes director Pearl Gluck’s award-winning 2018 short film Summer.
A DARK PLACE (Shout! Studios/Shout! Factory): Simon Fellows directed this mystery (originally titled Steel Country) starring Andrew Scott as a small-town sanitation worker who turns amateur sleuth when a young boy goes missing, available on DVD ($16.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.97 retail), each boasting bonus features.
GARRY WINOGRAND: ALL THINGS ARE PHOTOGRAPHABLE (Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorber): Editor/producer/director Sasha Waters Freyer’s award-winning documentary explores the life and career of the titular, New York-born photographer Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) in a sympathetic, if occasionally meandering, fashion. The vintage audio interviews with Winogrand are the most compelling aspect of this film, followed closely by the extensive use of his photographs to accentuate what’s being discussed. The DVD ($29.95 retail) includes bonus features. **½
GENERAL COMMANDER (LionsGate): Writer/producer Philippe Martinez and cinematographer Ross W. Clarkson co-directed this choppy, predictable, globe-trotting shoot-’em-up pitting Steven Seagal (as inexpressive as ever) and his crack team of rogue CIA operatives against an international organ-trafficking ring, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.99 retail). Rated R. *
GOOD MANNERS (Distrib Films/Icarus Films Home Video): Julian Rojas and Marcos Dutra co-wrote and co-directed this award-winning supernatural fantasy (originally titled As Boas Maneiras) starring Isabel Zuaa as a lonely nurse who consents to be the nanny for wealthy Marjorie Estiano’s unborn baby – with unforeseen consequences. In Portuguese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($26.98 retail).
MORTUARY (MVD Entertainment Group): Tobe Hooper’s 2005 shocker is yet another letdown from the filmmaker, with a grieving family (Denise Crosby, Dan Byrd, and Stephanie Patton) trying to rebuild their lives when they move into an abandoned funeral home in a new town, only to discover its reputation for being haunted is well-deserved. Strictly by the numbers. The “MVD Marquee” Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) includes audio commentary, featurettes, and trailer. Rated R. *½
NEVER LOOK AWAY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s epic R-rated drama (originally titled Werk ohne Autor, which translates to Work Without Author) is inspired by actual events and details the relationship between art students Tom Schilling and Paula Beer, which is frowned upon by her domineering father (Sebastian Koch) – who’s got some dark secrets of his own. Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography. In German with English subtitles, both the DVD ($30.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.99 retail) include bonus features.
PET SEMATERY (Paramount Home Media Distribution): To commemorate its 30th anniversary – to say nothing of the big-screen remake – this special edition of director Mary Lambert’s award-winning 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s best-seller (scripted by King himself) stars Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby as a couple who move to Maine with their children (newcomers Miko Hughes and Blaze Berdahl), right next door to the titular dwelling, which is supposedly cursed. Fred Gwynne, sporting a great New England accent, steals it as the folksy next-door neighbor who knows all, and King cameos as a minister. One of the biggest hits of any King adaptation up to that time, but certainly not the best. Both the Blu-ray ($16.99 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($25.99 retail) boast bonus features including audio commentary, retrospective interviews and featurettes, and more. Rated R. **½
RHINOCEROS (Kino Classics): The 1974 American Film Theatre adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist satire stars Zero Mostel (reprising his Tony Award-winning role) and Gene Wilder in a bizarre tale of urban angst wherein human beings inexplicably begin turning into rhinoceroses. Both a misfire and a genuine oddity, it still holds enough interest to keep it watchable, if not inspired. Karen Black, Joe Silver, Robert Weil, Don Calfa, and Percy Rodrigues round out a hard-working cast. The special-edition Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) includes retrospective interviews, trailer gallery, and more. Rated PG. **
SURVIVING BIRKENAU: THE DR. SUSAN SPATZ STORY (Holocaust Education Film Foundation/Dreamscape Media): Writer/producer/director Ron Small’s self-explanatory documentary feature traces the life of Susan Spatz, born in Austria in 1922, who recounts the harrowing story of how she survived three years in the titular concentration camp in Auschwitz and her eventual escape, available on DVD ($24.95 retail).
TRIPLE THREAT (Well Go USA Entertainment): Director Jesse V. Johnson’s slam-bang action extravaganza (vaguely reminiscent of Yojimbo) stars Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen, and Iko Uwais as the titular trio of warriors who join forces to battle a band of mercenaries (including Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, Michael Bisping, ad Jee Ja Yanin) contracted to assassinate wealthy heiress Celina Jade. Subtlety and nuance are nowhere to be found, but adrenaline junkies will certainly get their fill. Both the DVD ($24.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.98 retail) include bonus features. In English, Mandarin and Thai with English subtitles. Rated R. **½
VALENTINE: THE DARK AVENGER (Shout! Factory): Estelle Linden suits up as the titular superhero, a waitress and struggling actress determined to vanquish the forces of evil in Batavia City, in this adventure fantasy based on the Skyler Comics character and co-directed by Ubay Fox and Agus Pestol, available on DVD ($14.93 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.97 retail).
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)