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02/06/08

It’s a been a while since my last DVD Late Show column. Aside from the usual holiday chaos, this winter has found me been utterly buried in freelance work. I’m scripting a couple of original graphic novels, including an adaptation of an upcoming Lion’s Gate horror film, writing several short stories for upcoming anthologies and juggling a couple of graphic design gigs. I’m also currently trying to shepherd three comic book series that I’ve written to your local dealer’s shelves, which has demanded a lot of my remaining time.

So, you can understand that I’ve been busy.

Being away from this column so long gave me some time to analyze what I’ve been – and not been doing – with this column, and to try and figure out whether or not I wanted to continue with it. And if so, whether I could work out how to produce it on a more regular schedule. Let’s face it – this column’s pretty much always lived up (or down) to the “Late” part of the name, and it’s been frustrating for me as well as for you.

Well, I want to keep writing this column. I’ve written around forty installments and covered almost 300 titles since I started this thing… and I’ve enjoyed all of it, even if it’s been surprisingly hard work. I’ve been able to see films I might never have experienced otherwise, and hopefully thrown a small spotlight on some deserving releases.

So, here I am, back on the job, focused and ready to review.

But there will be some changes. The columns will be shorter, and there will be fewer titles covered in each installment. On the other hand – at least for a while – I’ll be trying for a weekly schedule, so it doesn’t necessarily mean fewer reviews overall.

Let’s begin…

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MIDNIGHT MOVIES: FROM THE MARGIN TO THE MAINSTREAM (2007, Starz Home Entertainment). This documentary by director Stuart Samuels chronicles the rise of the “midnight movie” movement in the Seventies, when theater owners began running low budget, offbeat flicks at late night screenings in an effort to raise some extra cash. Several of these films ended up attracting huge crowds, and gave rise to the whole “cult film” phenomenon.

The film takes an in-depth look specifically at the six films that most defined the movement – Alejandro Jodorowsky’s allegorical western, EL TOPO, George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, John Waters’ PINK FLAMINGOS, the reggae-flavored THE HARDER THEY COME, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD. Through well-chosen clips and thoughtful, perceptive commentary by exhibitors, distributors, critics and filmmakers (including Romero, Waters, Lynch and Jodorowsky), MIDNIGHT MOVIES offers a fascinating look at the pre-home video era of cult films.

Starz bare-bones DVD presents the documentary in a crisp, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a stereo soundtrack. There are no extras.

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THE KILLING KIND (1971, Dark Sky Films). A subtle little thriller by director Curtis Harrington (NIGHT TIDE), with outstanding performances by Ann Southern, John Savage (THE DEER HUNTER) and a surprisingly sexy Cindy Williams (yep, of LAVERNE & SHIRLEY fame), THE KILLING KIND tells of an over-protected mama’s boy (Savage) who is sent to prison for participating in a game rape. Upon his parole, he moves back into his mother’s (Southern) boarding house, where he finds himself driven by uncontrollable urges – both sexual and violent – to avenge himself on those he feels have wronged him.

Smart, suspenseful and shocking, Dark Sky has given this obscure Seventies thriller a sterling release on DVD, with an uncut, remastered anamorphic widescreen transfer, clear Dolby 2.0 Mono soundtrack, and a bonus, on-screen interview with director Harrington, recorded shortly before his death last year.

Recommended.

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IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1955/1956, Columbia/Sony). In the Fifties, special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen contributed his groundbreaking stop-motion animation to three low budget Columbia science fiction potboilers. All three of these titles – 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS – were released to DVD a few years back as part of the “Ray Harryhausen Collection,” in fine editions. Well, now the studio has re-visited the titles with new transfers, new extras and, new, digitally-colorized versions of the films. I haven’t gotten a hold of the new 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH yet, but I can happily report that the other two discs are great!

IT tells the story of a giant octopus, mutated by atomic bomb testing, which attacks San Francisco, while the rather literally-titled SAUCERS, well, tells of a war between the American military and alien invaders. Both films are fast-paced, entertaining relics of an earlier era of filmmaking, with stoic, square-jawed heroes, attractive heroines, and plenty of patriotic military might. Of course, in both cases, it’s Harryhausen’s innovative and inspired effects work that really make the movies memorable and still worth watching today.

Both discs feature new black & white transfers that are notable improvements over the previously released versions, with sharper images and better contrast. Most of the remaining damage and dirt has been digitally removed, as well. Columbia has also provided colorized versions, which can be accessed through the main menu or by using the “angle” button on your remote.

While I’ve seen worse, the colorization still looks bad to me – with an overall brown-ness that is just unappealing and unnatural. But at least they kept the original version available.

Each 2-disc set includes trailers for DRAGON WARS and the new CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND Ultimate Editions, audio commentaries by Harryhausen, other effects artists and film historians, behind-the-scenes featurettes, still galleries, original ad artwork, a Tim Burton-Harryhausen video conversation, and much more. They each also feature cover art that’s much superior to their original DVD releases.

In both cases, these are double-dips that mostly justify their existence, and are highly recommended to Harryhausen fans and Fifties sci-fi aficionados.

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TWIN PEAKS – GOLD BOX COLLECTION (1990-92, CBS/Paramount). David Lynch and Mark Frost’s mind bending murder mystery/surreal soap opera has had a twisted history on home video, but finally, someone’s managed to pull all the pieces together for one incredible, comprehensive, definitive DVD release.

When a high school senior named Laura Palmer is found dead, wrapped in plastic on the bank of a Washington river, eccentric FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, DUNE) is assigned to investigate. Arriving in the rural community of Twin Peaks, Cooper meets a variety of odd and unusual characters and discovers that the pretty murder victim was, in life, the center of a swirling mass of dark secrets.

Way back in 2001, Artisan released Season 1 on DVD sans Pilot, and it wasn’t until earlier this year that Season 2 finally made it to DVD from CBS/Paramount. However, this new “Gold Box Collection” has it all—the rare pilot TV movie, the home video/European theatrical version, and every one of the 29 episodes including the Bravo Network Log Lady introductions written & directed by Lynch. The set also includes collectable post cards. Please note that it doesn’t contain all of the supplements found on the previous First Season and Second Season box sets, but the series’ devoted fans will already have these sets anyway.

The episodes look and sound better than they ever have, with new, high-def transfers, fully restored and remastered under the direction of co-creator David Lynch. Extras are bountiful: there are exhaustive behind-the-scenes documentaries, deleted scenes, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’s TWIN PEAKS sketch, on-air promos, TV spots, Japanesse coffee commercials with the PEAKS cast, an on-screen conversation between Lynch, Kyle MacLachlan and lovely Madchen Amick, the “Log Lady” introductions shot by Lynch for Bravo’s TP reruns, still gallerises and tons more.

For TWIN PEAKS fans, this is a must-buy, and it’s highly recommended for anyone interested in innovative, imaginative television.

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GALACTICA 1980: THE COMPLETE SERIES (1980, Universal). The original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series was cancelled by ABC in 1979 not so much because of low ratings, but because of the astronomical cost of producing the show. So, after failing to replace the show with anything more successful on Sunday nights, ABC forced Universal and producer Glen Larson into resurrecting the series, insisting that it be produced much cheaper. Reluctantly, the studio went to work, and ended up with GALACTICA 1980.

This DVD set contains all ten episodes of this low-budget, kid-friendly continuation, which chronicled the Galacticans (as the Colonial survivors now referred to themselves) discovery of Earth. Most of the original cast chose not to return to the show, so it was set 30 years after the original, and a new generation of characters (with the exception of Lorne Greene’s “Adama) were introduced. Stories were flat-out stupid, and production values were embarrassingly non-existent. Still, it had a few moments.

The full-frame transfers are adequate, and the Dolby 2.0 Mono is clear enough. There are no bonus features. Universal has released this generally ignored sequel (labeling it “The Original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Final Season) hoping to trade off the popularity of the reimagined version of GALACTICA airing on the SciFi Channel (see RAZOR review below), but only devoted franchise completists (like myself, admittedly) will want it.

DVD LATE SHOW CULT TV CAPSULE REVIEWS:

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BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: RAZOR (2007, Universal). This epic GALACTICA TV movie “event” maintains the reimagined series’ high standards of writing, performances and direction, while adding greater depth and deeper backstory to the ongoing series. Specifically, RAZOR delves into the history of Michelle Forbes’ character, Admiral Cain, and her command of the Battlestar Pegasus. It also brings back the old school, Seventies Cylons, so you know I love it. Universal’s disc includes both the original SciFi Channel version as aired, and an extended, home video cut. There are also a handful of webisodes, deleted scenes, a short “Look of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA” featurette, a sneak peek of Season 4, and a commentary accompanying the extended version by writer Michael Taylor and producer Ronald Moore. Recommended.

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THE ADDAMS FAMILY – THE COMPLETE SERIES (1964-1966, MGM). In the world of pop culture addicts, there are Munsters people and Addams people. Me, I’m more a Munsters guy, but I love the spooky, altogether ooky Addams clan, too. MGM Home Entertainment has collected their three previous DVD releases into one attractive box set, containing all 64 half-hour episodes on nine double-sided discs. The set also contains a slew of special features, including commentaries by cast members, crew and fans, still galleries, retrospective featurettes, trivia quizes and even theme song karaoke. The full-frame transfers are remarkably nice, with only minimal age-related wear and tear, and the original mono soundtrack is sharp and clear. For fans of the show, this is a must-have.

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CHARLES IN CHARGE – THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (1987, Arts Alliance America). Not one of my favorite 80’s sitcoms, but my wife dug it. Of course, she’s seven years younger than I am, and was still in her teens when this Scott Baio/Willie Ames sitcom was new, and, you know… a girl. This set features the show’ second season, when it moved to syndication, dumped most of the original cast, and got even sillier. The full-frame transfers are surprisingly sharp, and the stereo sound is loud and clear. If you’re a girl who grew up with Baio and Ames, and still can’t get enough of them, you might want to pick it up.

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MAGNUM P.I. – THE COMPLETE SEVENTH SEASON (1986-87, Universal). Originally intended to be the final season of the most popular private eye series of it’s era, Season 7 of MAGNUM was a marked improvement over the prior two seasons. In general, the writing and direction were a lot stronger, and the character was granted a new, welcome maturity. This season also featured the infamous MURDER, SHE WROTE cross-over, and both parts are included in this set. Universal’s DVD set is comparable with the earlier season releases with fairly clean full-frame transfers and Dolby 2.0 Mono sound. The only bonus features are the MURDER, SHE WROTE episode, “Magnum on Ice” (concluding the crossover) and the Sleuth Channel speciual, AMERICA’S TOP SLEUTHS.

COMING SOON: THE EVIL DEAD: ULTIMATE EDITION, HATCHET: UNRATED DIRECTOR’S CUT, THE PHANTOM CREEPS, IRON KING: THE COMPLETE SERIES, THE WILD WILD WEST SEASON 3, RICCO THE MEAN MACHINE, 2012: DOOMSDAY. DARGONLANCE, MILLENNIUM CRISIS, CLOAK & SHAG HER, THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE and more!

For older Late Show columns, visit the recently revamped DVD Late Show website and archive. For additional pop culture musings, occasional DVD previews and lots of shameless self-promotion, you might try checking out my blog.

Comments, DVD questions and review requests can be directed to: dvdlateshow@atomicpulp.com

 

 

Comments:

One Response to “DVD Late Show: Late… But Not Dead”

  1. Noah Says:

    Thanks for continuing this column. I dig it.

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