10/10/06 Edition

An Aisle Seat Halloween, Part 1
From Stephen King to FEAST, Andy Covers The Latest Horrors
Plus: DePalma's BODY DOUBLE Revisted and More!

The annual parade of spooky DVD releases is in full swing now that we’re some three weeks away from Halloween. The question, of course, is whether or not these fresh discs will supplant previous favorites most viewers ritually take off the shelves and watch each October, to put them in the mood for the season.

Earlier we covered a plethora of excellent new Universal titles, including “The Inner Sanctum Mysteries,” the “Boris Karloff: Franchise Collection” compilation, and new editions of vintage ‘30s classics “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.”

This week we look at a group of more contemporary titles being issued for the season, as well as a few more vintage titles (including Sony’s four-film “Boris Karloff: Icons of Horror Collection”).

THE STEPHEN KING COLLECTION (Paramount, 4 Discs): Stephen King’s books have been translated into a variety of film and TV adaptations that have been met with everything from derision to widespread acclaim.

This four-disc DVD anthology from Paramount offers new Special Editions of a pair of the more financially successful King films from the ‘80s -- David Cronenberg’s 1983 filming of THE DEAD ZONE (***, 103 mins., R) and Mary Lambert’s crass but popular 1989 version of PET SEMATARY (*½, 102 mins., R) -- along with no-frills presentations of the under-rated 1985 werewolf thriller SILVER BULLET (***, 94 mins., R) and the low-budget 1990 release GRAVEYARD SHIFT (**, 88 mins., R).

“The Dead Zone” and “Pet Sematary” offer new, multi-part featurettes recounting their respective productions with a mix of fresh interviews and older, vintage on-set material (“Pet Sematary” is particularly heavy on King touring viewers around the film’s Maine-based sets). Director Mary Lambert also gives a new commentary track on “Pet Sematary” that fans will enjoy, though the movie itself remains one of the more unpleasant and exploitive of all of King’s features.

Cronenberg’s DEAD ZONE, on the other hand, remains one of the classiest King pics, with superb performances from Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, and Martin Sheen; an excellent dramatic score by Michael Kamen; tense direction from Cronenberg and a taut script by Jeffrey Boam, adapting King’s novel. In addition to the new special features, Paramount’s 16:9 (1.85) transfer is superb and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound likewise quite good on this Dino DeLaurentiis production.

SILVER BULLET was another DeLaurentiis-King teaming (presaging their ill-fated collaboration on “Maximum Overdrive” the following year) that had two important elements going for it: one being that King himself provided the script, the second that Carlo Rambaldi designed the slimy make-up effects.

The result was a movie that most branded as mediocre at the time (it also tanked at the box-office), but has certainly held up a lot better than most King thrillers-of-the-week -- particularly on DVD, where Paramount issued the movie in its original 2.35 JDC Scope aspect ratio, allowing us to see the full cinema screen for the first time since '85.

An adaptation (and embellishment) of King's graphic novel "Cycle of the Werewolf," “Silver Bullet” stars Gary Busey as an alcoholic uncle to handicapped nephew Corey Haim. Haim decides to investigate a series of murders plaguing the formerly quaint little town he and sister Megan Follows (of "Anne of Green Gables" fame) live in. All signs point to a werewolf, and Haim decides to track down the killer even though everyone else thinks he's the little boy who cried you-know-what.

The movie doesn't offer too many surprises in terms of suspense or the identity of the culprit (it just happens that Everett McGill's name is second on the poster), but what IS surprising is that director Daniel Attias actually manages to develop the characters and relationships between them in the film. Haim and Follows' brother-sister interplay is sensitively and believably handled, as is the relationship between Haim and Busey, who gives one of his better performances here.

Jay Chattaway's score is perfectly acceptable and while the movie runs out of gas by the time it ends around the 90 minute mark, “Silver Bullet” is a minor guilty pleasure that's certainly easier to enjoy on DVD since the film isn't being heavily panned-and-scanned. Unlike “The Dead Zone,” however, no supplements are offered -- a disappointment since Momentum’s UK DVD release offers commentary by Daniel Attias and the trailer.

While movies like “The Shining” and “Carrie” did well financially, numerous King flicks -- “Silver Bullet” included -- fizzled out at the box-office, making the inexplicably huge in-take of 1989's PET SEMATARY harder to explain.

This cheap-looking and icky thriller does have Fred Gwynne as a native Maine-r who offers such sage advise as “sometimes dead is better.” Indeed, director Mary Lambert might have been wise to keep the franchise dead even though this spring ‘89 release ranks as one of the highest-grossing of all King features, leading to not just an upcoming remake but a 1992 sequel with Lambert directing stars Eddie Furlong and Anthony Edwards (amazing as it may seem, the less-pretentious follow-up is actually better than the original...faint praise that is). Aside from Elliott Goldenthal’s score (which boasts a few strains of Lalo Schifrin’s “Amityville Horror” in the main theme), there’s little technically interesting about the movie, and the stiff lead performances of small-screen stars Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby do little to sustain viewer interest, much less sympathy.

After "Pet Sematary" hit it big, every producer in the world scrambled for anything and everything that had King's name in it -- hence junk like "The Lawnmower Man," Tobe Hooper’s awful “The Mangler,” and GRAVEYARD SHIFT, an independent flick that one of King's Maine friends held the rights to, and that line producer (and Fall River, Mass. native) Ralph S. Singleton opted to write and direct himself for the big screen.

Acquired by Paramount in the U.S., “Graveyard Shift” is a bad movie, all right, but at least it's a good one. Bland leading man David Andrews plays an "educated fellow" who rambles into Gates Falls, Maine and tries to find a job at the town's textile mill. Owner Stephen Macht tells Andrews he has room on the "graveyard shift," while conveniently NOT telling him that mysterious deaths have begun to spring up in the mill, even while exterminator Brad Dourif (as delirious as ever) tries to flush out rat-infested areas believed to be the cause of the trouble. Turns out that the rodents may not be the real culprit after all, but rather a strange, gooey bat-like rat that lives in the tunnels under the building.

Under 90 minutes and with no pretension whatsoever, “Graveyard Shift” provides lean B-thrills and plenty of laughs thanks to the performances of Dourif and Macht, who attempts a Maine accent (I didn't say he succeeds, however!) and goes almost as over-the-top as Dourif does in the plum role of the Exterminator. They're so goofy that you can't help but be bored by everyone else in the movie, while the film's low budget results in some pretty amusing special effects work, as well directed by Singleton as can be expected under the circumstances.

Say whatever you'd like about the utter lack of artistry on display here, but any movie that ends with a nondescript '90s groove set to dialogue clips from THIS particular story can't be all bad. If you're looking for some no-brain horror silliness to enjoy with friends, “Graveyard Shift” would perfectly fit the bill.

Paramount's DVD presentation is also quite satisfying, with a superb 1.85 transfer and surprisingly good 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, which features a few directional effects and the bland music of Brian Banks and Anthony Marinelli (who replaced James Horner on "Young Guns" a couple of years before). Like “Silver Bullet,” no extras are on-hand.

All four movies are available individually but this Paramount set is a nice package for King buffs who don’t already own these offerings, with each movie contained in its own respective slipcase.

More Halloween Horrors

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: Infinifilm Edition (**½, 1984, 92 mins., R; New Line): Remastered, two-disc “Infinifilm” edition presents a new, supplement-packed release of the first and almost-best of the Elm Street franchise (I prefer Ronny Yu’s over-the-top “Freddy Vs. Jason” brawl to this rarely-terrifying ‘80s staple, while Part 3 of the formal “Nightmare” series -- “Dream Warriors” -- is easily the best of the “official” series). Heather Lagenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, John Saxon and the hilariously-awful Renee Blakely have never looked better than they do in this new 16:9 transfer, which offers a markedly better picture than previous DVD editions of director Wes Craven’s first “Freddy” flick, not to mention new DTS 6.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtracks. Extras include the original commentary with Craven, Lagenkamp, Saxon and cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, plus never-before-seen alternate endings, two new documentaries and various Making Of featurettes, which can either be viewed in the “Infinifilm” format (accessible via on-screen prompts during the film itself) or in a separate index on the second disc. Recommended for all Freddy enthusiasts!

BORIS KARLOFF: ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION (2-Disc Set; Sony): Old-school horror aficionados might have burned a hole in their wallets after Universal’s onslaught of titles from a few weeks ago, but now Sony is getting into the vintage act with this double-disc set collecting four chillers Karloff made for the studio in the ‘30s and ‘40s. These four features, making their DVD debuts here, include the highly-regarded 1935 effort “The Black Room”; a pair of Boris’ “Mad Doctor” efforts, “The Man They Could Not Hang” (1939) and “Before I Hang” (1940); and the wacky, bizarre 1942 farce “The Boogie Man Will Get You,” with Karloff, Peter Lorre and Jeff Donnell in a film patterned after “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and as such offers amusing gallows humor for golden age fans. Columbia’s black-and-white prints are in excellent condition given the age of the materials, and the mono sound is likewise less “hissy” than the soundtracks you’ll routinely find in most Universal films of the same period. Recommended strongly for Karloff addicts!

FEAST (*½, 2006, 92 mins., R; Dimension/Genius Products): The Ben Affleck-Matt Damon co-produced “Project Greenlight” reality series hasn’t resulted in an output of theatrical features with wide distribution. In fact, the series’ first two movies disappeared without a trace and the latest off-shoot from the show -- the John Gulager-directed horror flick “Feast” -- met a similar fate by basically not being released whatsoever. Not that you could blame Dimension Films, since this tale of hungry creatures terrorizing various patrons at a rural bar (including Jason Mewes) is pretty much a time-killer for hard-core horror addicts only, serving up yawns instead of shocks and a overly-self aware script typical of most modern genre films. Dimension’s DVD is packed with extras including outtakes, deleted scenes, commentary, and a Making Of, plus a good-looking 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT 2 (*½, 92 mins., 2006, R; New Line): Made-for-video follow up to the terrible Ashton Kutcher-Amy Smart 2004 sci-fi thriller stars Eric Lively as a regular guy who attempts to change the events of a tragic accident by using his mind to telepathically (drum roll please)...alter history! I admit up-front that the presence of cute, perky Erica Durance (Lois Lane on “Smallville”) automatically made this sequel superior to its predecessor for this critic -- but beyond that, director John R. Leonetti’s tired follow-up is distressingly pedestrian and wholly forgettable. New Line’s single-disc DVD edition includes a solid 1.85 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, a Making Of featurette, and commentary from the filmmakers. Too bad THEY couldn’t have gone back and made a better sequel than this one!

GHOST OF MAE NAK (103 mins., 2006, Not Rated; Tartan): Englishman Mark Duffield wrote and directed this Thai-financed and released supernatural chiller about a young couple who run afoul of an unfriendly ghost in their newly acquired home. Some decent shock moments populate this otherwise standard supernatural tale, which understandably offers more of a western feel (through its assorted British crew members) than most Asian imports you’ll find. Tartan’s DVD includes a Making Of featurette, 16:9 transfer, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound, and optional English and Spanish subtitles.

SALVAGE (79 mins., 2006, Not Rated; Echo Bridge): Joshua and Jeffrey Crook’s short feature about a young woman (Lauren Currie Lewis) who relives her murder over and over became an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. This bloody variant on “Groundhog Day” is sometimes unintentionally amusing with its mix of awkward direction and uneven performances, but does present a terrific twist at the end that, for once, isn’t overly telegraphed. Echo Bridge’s DVD includes a widescreen transfer, commentary from the Crook brothers, and the theatrical trailer. If you can stomach the violence, “Salvage” will reward most genre fans with a finale they haven’t seen before -- provided they can make it that far.

NIGHT OF TERROR (88 mins., 2006, Not Rated; Marvista/Echo Bridge): “The River Wild Revisited” as a stalker tracks a mom (former “Silk Stalkings” ingenue Mitzi Kapture), her hubby (Nick Mancuso) and their daughter while on a river getaway. Pretty tame stuff all the way with Echo Bridge’s DVD offering just the basic in transfer and DVD package -- not that you’d blame them with the slim entertainment pickings on-hand in the film being presented.

FINAL DAYS OF PLANET EARTH (170 mins., 2005; Echo Bridge): Daryl Hannah is the harbinger of a hostile insect-takeover of Earth in this overlong Hallmark TV mini-series making its debut on DVD. Basically “Mimic” extended to three hours, “Final Days...” stars Gil Bellows as an archaeologist who uncovers the extraterrestrial plot and Hannah as the human face on the slimy creatures’ true identity. Decent production values and a competent Jeff Rona score do little to off-set the languid pacing in director Robert Lieberman’s effort. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 sound are both good, with bonus behind-the-scenes interviews on-hand for good measure.

Also New on DVD

BODY DOUBLE: Special Edition (***, 114 mins., 1984, R; Sony): Director Brian DePalma is near top-form in this suspenseful, playful, energetic thriller with “Ghost Story”’s Craig Wasson as a would-be actor who takes a gig housesitting...and then promptly gets wrapped up in femme fatale Melanie Griffith and her stolen purse. DePalma produced, directed and co-wrote (with Robert J. Avrech) this exciting mystery that boasts the filmmaker at his best, infusing the movie with his typical editing and photography tricks that make for a feast for film buffs. Sony’s new Special Edition offers an excellent Making Of (split into four segments) recounting the production’s history with new interviews with DePalma, Griffith, co-stars Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton and Dennis Franz (oddly, Wasson is nowhere to be found). The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both top-notch.

SEE JANE DATE (2003, 92 mins., Echo Bridge): Cute TV-movie coasts along on the charms of leading lady Charisma Carpenter, here playing a gorgeous gal who needs to find a date -- and fast -- for her cousin’s upcoming wedding. Sometimes it’s fun to take a step back away from most films I cover and watch a standard tele-film like “See Jane Date,” with characters who have real problems...though I hesitate to imagine Carpenter would have much trouble finding a date in the real world! Echo Bridge’s DVD of this Hallmark production (adapted from a Melissa Senate novel) boasts a sunny transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital surround. Worth it for all Charisma fans, and anyone looking for a decent enough “date movie” too!

THE KING (103 mins., 2006, R; Thinkfilm): Well-acted but repellent tale of a young man named Elvis, discharged from the Navy (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), who finds his estranged father (William Hurt) now living in Texas as a Baptist minister with a new family and kids of his own. These developments soon send Elvis spiraling over the edge, seeking revenge by (among other things) courting his own half-sister (!). Director James Marsh and “Monster’s Ball” co-writer Milo Addica’s character study boasts strong performances from Hurt and the young supporting cast, but the subject matter is a major turn-off and proves to be unsettling and pretentious. Thinkfilm’s DVD includes commentary with Addica and Marsh; trailers; deleted scenes; rehearsal footage; 16:9 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

INFAMY (2005, 91 mins., Paladin/Image): Doug Pray directed this documentary profiling six of the most prolific graffiti artists in the country (for those counting at home, “street legends” Saber, Toomer, Jase, Claw, Earsnot, and Enem are the folks essayed in Pray’s movie). Some amazing footage is on-hand of the individuals at “work,” making their art seem like an extreme sport. Image’s DVD offers a 1.78 widescreen transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and some 40 minutes of bonus footage.

MXC: Most Extreme Challenge (262 mins., Magnolia): The nutty Japanese series “Takeshi’s Castle” became a raunchier, more obnoxious but just-as-much-fun dubbed U.S. import entitled “MXC” for the Spike TV channel. Offering “Battle of the Network Stars”-styled athletic challenges (with a decidedly more comedic bent) and hilarious dubbing by hosts “Vic Romano” and “Kenny Blankenship,” “MXC” offers frequent blasts of slapstick hilarity, punctuated by off-the-cuff commentary. A little of this goes a long way, but you’re a fan, Magnolia’s DVD package comes strongly recommended, offering select audio commentary tracks, an original episode of “Takeshi’s Castle” and a “highlight” reel from Kenny Blankenship himself.  

BORDER WAR (95 mins., 2006, Genius Products): Documentary examining the flood of illegal immigrants coming across the Mexican border from director Kevin Knoblock tries to present a well-balanced account of a major problem facing our country today, even if its tone (somewhat favoring the plight of undocumented workers) isn’t entirely objective. Genius’ commendable DVD presentation is in 2.55 widescreen (16:9 enhanced) and also offers deleted scenes and a Making Of featurette.

NEXT TIME: Fox October Wrap, Dick Cavett chat classics, and new Criterions! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to the link above . Cheers!

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