Super-Adventures Aisle Seat
Anchor Bay's SUPERGIRL and REPO MAN -- plus new titles from Warner
and Image -- show that Cult Titles always have a life on DVD
An August DVD Wrap-Up by Andy Dursin
Of all of the titles that Anchor Bay Entertainment has released on DVD
over the last three years or so, the movies that have brought the independent
company the most attention have been limited edition packages for cult
classics like ARMY OF DARKNESS and bona-fide genre masterpieces like HALLOWEEN.
Produced with the collector in mind, the company has deservedly gained
a reputation for being what amounts to "the people's champion"
in the DVD format -- releasing movies both mainstream and eclectic, but
generally giving as much attention to the smaller title as the more popular
This description is perfect when you consider the lavish, 2-DVD limited
edition set Anchor Bay has issued for SUPERGIRL (*** movie, ***1/2
presentation, $39.98), Alexander Salkind's ill-fated spin-off of his "Superman"
series that nevertheless has developed a fairly sizable cult following
over the years -- most viewers admitted fans of watching star Helen Slater
flying around in those colorful super-hero tights!
Now, for anyone who isn't aware of the checkered past of this film,
it's safe to say that SUPERGIRL was treated as a black sheep right from
the start. Warner Bros. was supposed to release the film in the U.S. during
the summer of 1984, but decided after seeing the final product that they'd
be better off not to. Tri- Star then rescued the movie, but cut some 20
minutes out of the 124-minute release print, and dumped the movie into
release during a busy Thanksgiving season during which it was all but lost
Aside from a pan-and-scan Japanese import laserdisc, it's been tough
for fans of the movie on this side of the Atlantic to appreciate the film
in its original length version, never mind being able to watch the picture
in its full Panavision aspect ratio and with stereophonic sound restoring
Jerry Goldsmith's lyrical score to its proper proportions. Stripped of
those elements and it was tough to tell how much fun SUPERGIRL offered
the way it was originally intended to be seen.
Thankfully, for those SUPERGIRL fans out there, your day has finally
come. After two years of delays and ever-changing supplement announcements
(whatever happened to the Helen Slater intro?), Anchor Bay's finished,
30,000-copy limited edition package has arrived and it was worth the wait.
What AB's release does is restore this goofy, at-times campy and always
colorful comic-book romp to its pedestal as one of the chief guilty pleasures
of the mid-'80s. This is a good-looking, great-sounding movie (kudos to
Goldsmith and cinematographer Alan Hume) that never takes itself too seriously,
and genuinely becomes one of the more entertaining comic-book adaptations
at a time when Salkind's own Man of Steel series was ending and the "new
wave" of darker super-hero flicks like Tim Burton's BATMAN was a few
years off (Cannon's unspeakably bad SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE would
follow several summers later and make Salkind out to be a genius for letting
Chris Reeve and company strike out on their own).
Slater, making her debut as Supergirl, is not terribly charismatic,
but she does look cute and that's half the battle here. More over-the-top
is Faye Dunaway's semi-evil witch, Selena, whose given her own "Otis"
in Brenda Vaccaro, and between the two of them, the film rises to a spoofy
level that contrasts nicely with Slater's shapely but stiff heroine. Supporting
roles feature turns from Peter O'Toole (looking decidedly befuddled), Mia
Farrow (seen briefly as Supergirl's Mom), Peter Cook, Maureen Teefy as
a schoolgirl chum, and Marc McClure's Jimmy Olsen, the only holdover from
the Superman series.
Anchor Bay's package accentuates the positive, with the movie's cinematography
and music the chief beneficiaries of the remastered presentation. The first
DVD (also available as a $24.95 single-disc release ) features a beautiful,
THX-approved 2.35 transfer of the 124-minute "International"
version, along with a soaring 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack and a fine collection
of supplements. These include a terrific audio commentary with director
Jeannot Swarzc and SUPERGIRL "expert" Scott Michael Bosco, who
does a superb job prompting Swarzc in discussing all aspects of the movie's
production (they talk about Goldsmith's score right off the bat). A gaggle
of trailers, TV spots, storyboard and promotional still-frame galleries,
and brief bios are also included, but the main draw to the extras is the
"Making of Supergirl" documentary, 50 minutes of behind-the-scenes
fun capturing the promotional and physical aspects of the film's production.
If there's a quibble I have with the transfer, it's that the matting
is far too tight on the bottom, masking off a bit of the picture. This
is especially evident when O'Toole's character takes some artistic license
with an Argo City sculpture -- there's picture information at the bottom
that's being matted out, and it's regrettable since the picture otherwise
is pretty spectacular.
The matting problem of the THX version is further evident when you compare
it to the more-appropriately framed 2.35 look of the 138-minute "Director's
Cut," contained on the second disc and exclusive to the Limited Edition
set. This edition, which seems to have been an expanded cut intended for
television airings (and may be what ABC broadcast during their initial
SUPERGIRL network showings), adds primarily insignificant asides to the
action, but it's still fun and invaluable for fans of the movie. The transfer
-- while more accurately framed than the 124-minute cut's presentation
-- is inferior since the elements aren't in pristine condition, while the
sound is in mono, which seems to be indicative of this version having been
assembled with television in mind.
Along with a colorful 16-page booklet that includes a reproduction of
the movie's promotional flyer, Anchor Bay's SUPERGIRL Limited Edition flies
high with silly, comic-book fun -- a perfect late-summer tonic for no-brainer
A perfect compliment to this release is Image's new DVD of THE COMPLETE
SUPERMAN COLLECTION (****, $19.95), which features all 17 of Max and
Dave Fleischer's ground-breaking, outstanding animated Man of Steel cartoon
shorts produced between 1941-1943.
With their imaginative Art Deco design, fluid animation, and briskly-told
stories, the Fleischer's cartoons -- produced for Paramount at a lavish
budget for their time -- continue to be an inspiration for animators to
this day, with the recent Batman and Superman cartoons being
a perfect example of how the Fleischer's classically-designed shorts set
the tone for super-hero animation for generations to come. In terms of
Superman itself, it's interesting to note that certain elements of the
Fleischer cartoons became part of Man of Steel lore (the patented, "look
up in the sky! More powerful than a locomotive..." opening), a part
of the character's enduring appeal.
Image's DVD is mastered from the Bosko Video elements, something that
animation fans would know more about than I would, though the quotes from
Starlog and Animato! Magazine seem to indicate that the prints
utilized here originate from a far better source than many of the other,
public-domain sources out there. Dates and running times are given for
all of the cartoons, presented here in chronological order. There are no
liner notes, but there is a disclaimer that runs before the film, discussing
the origin of the transfers used for this package. Great, highly recommended
Image has also unleashed yet another B-movie classic onto the general
public: the hilarious, hysterical 1958 production FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER
($19.98), which I first became aware of while watching Channel 56's "Creature
Double Feature" one Saturday afternoon on Boston television.
This latest excursion from the Wade Williams vaults makes for terrific
entertainment, the tone being set early when Sandra Knight's heroine is
turned into a fanged she-monster closely resembling a cross between Eddie
Munster and 90210's Jason Priestly. If that wasn't enough, you get a nutty
mad doctor on the loose, black-and-white cinematography with less-than-stellar
special effects, the theatrical trailer, still-galleries of behind-the-scenes
photos, and liner notes by the estimate Tom Weaver.
FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER is indicative of, as the package notes, late
'50s, atomic-age drive-in thrills, and for viewers who didn't have an opportunity
to grow up during that time, DVDs for movies like this are truly invaluable,
since they represent a form of movie-going we no longer see these days
at the multiplex. These were the true "indie" films of their
day, and campy entertainment that demands to be seen for genre fans and
those hungering to create their own episode of Mystery Science Theater.
Just as Image and Anchor Bay have been issuing an eclectic variety of
films, Warner Home Video's recent slate of new releases includes recent
titles and goodies culled from the vaults of Turner Entertainment's back
The newest release is the surprisingly entertaining, and certainly well-made,
blend of urban drama and kung-fu action, ROMEO MUST DIE (***, $19.95),
featuring Jet Li as a Hong Kong inmate who springs out of prison and to
the West Coast to avenge his brother's death. What he finds when he arrives
on American soil is a gang war between blacks (in particular, a family
headed by Delroy Lindo) and Asians, battling for control of Oakland's riverfront
district (though the movie was actually shot in Vancouver).
The movie offers a generous amount of character development to supplement
the film's action sequences, shot in a very MATRIX-like manner by director
Andrej Bartkowiak, one of the top cinematographers of the last ten years
making his directorial debut with this picture. That should come as no
surprise, since producer Joel Silver also was behind the Keanu Reeves sci-fi
While not groundbreaking or particularly inspired, ROMEO MUST DIE is
nevertheless an unusual and interesting genre entry, especially as it attempts
to carve an inter-racial relationship between Li and Lindo's daughter,
played by pop singer Aaliyah. Of course, this isn't JUNGLE FEVER and there
isn't much chemistry between the Aaliyah and Li, but it does put an added
twist on familiar material.
Warner's DVD is unsurprisingly top-notch, offering a splendid 2.35 transfer,
pounding Dolby Digital soundtrack, plus 13 (!) mini-documentaries, a pair
of trailers, and three music videos.
Less competent but even more of a guilty pleasure, Warner has also issued
a fun DVD of one of my top "embrassed-to-admit-I-liked-it" films
of the '90s -- THE CRUSH (**1/2, $19.98), the 1993 "Mad ___
From Hell" variant, with Alicia Silverstone in her first role as a
teen ingenue who develops an unhealthy attraction to advertising man Cary
Elwes after he rents out a room above her parents' garage.
Ridiculous but oh so much fun, THE CRUSH is formula all the way through,
adhering to the FATAL ATTRACTION/HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE plot blueprint,
but offering so many wonderfully absurd scenes -- including a hysterical
climax on a merry-go-round (in Silverstone's attic!) -- that it's difficult
to resist, no matter how unintended the entertainment may be.
Warner's DVD features a 1.85 transfer that makes for an interesting
contrast with Image's old LD: the transfer trims a bit off the side, but
seems better balanced color-wise. The 5.1 Dolby Digital remix soundtrack
is also far superior, with a more punch and pizzaz added to Graeme Revell's
Finally, Warner has successfully remastered a long-time favorite title
from the MGM vaults: the 1970 Clint Eastwood WWII action-comedy KELLY'S
HEROES (***, $19.98), with Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll
O'Connor, and Donald Sutherland in an engaging romp as soldiers searching
for a fortune in stolen German gold.
The 2.35 enhanced transfer is excellent, the remastered Dolby Digital
soundtrack (featuring a fun score by Lalo Schifrin) is vibrant, and a theatrical
trailer has been included for good measure. While not a classic film by
any means, KELLY'S HEROES is a movie that's hard not to like, with its
easy-going cast and laughs providing a good time all the way through. Eastwood
may have disliked the finished product (the movie apparently had a strong
anti-war sentiment that was cut, along with 30 or so minutes, from the
released version), but it's nevertheless one of the star's most amiable
larks, and Warner's super, remastered DVD presentation makes the picture
even more entertaining.
Shifting back to Anchor Bay for a moment, the company has released their
latest line of Hammer Collection thrills, once again running the
gamut from mediocre to sensational with a bit of bottom-of-the- barrel
dreck thrown in for good measure.
The sensational in this latest package is the 1968 thriller THE DEVIL
RIDES OUT (***1/2, $29.98), generally regarded as one of Hammer's finest
achievements. A taut, terrific filming of Dennis Wheatley's novel, adapted
by Richard Matheson and directed by Terence Fisher, it stars Christopher
Lee in one of his best performances as the Duc de Richleau, who along with
pal Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene), becomes concerned over the disappearance
of their young friend, who fails to materialize at their annual reunion.
When it turns out their pal is a member of an "astrological society"
that's actually a satanic cult headed by Charles Gray (in one of his best
performances), the two attempt to rescue their friend and end the diabolical
scheming of the coven before it's too late.
With a fast pace (quite unlike many Hammer productions), crisp dialogue
and superb performances, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT makes for great entertainment
-- and it's easily one of the pinnacles in the Hammer catalogue. Anchor
Bay must have realized this, since it has given the movie the red-carpet
DVD treatment, including a fun Dolby Digital remixed soundtrack (courtesy
of Chace Productions), an excellent 1.66:1 enhanced transfer, audio commentary
with Lee and co-star Sarah Lawson, domestic and UK theatrical trailers,
and a "World of Hammer" episode that provides a basic overview
of all things Hammer. Incidentally, the film was retitled THE DEVIL'S BRIDE
in the US since distributor 20th Century Fox didn't want theater owners
thinking they were receiving another western!
The other entries from Anchor Bay aren't quite as stellar, but will
provide sufficient viewing entertainment for Hammer fans.
1966's THE WITCHES (**1/2, $29.98), released in the US as THE
DEVIL'S OWN, features a Nigel Kneale script (from Peter Curtis's novel)
and a good performance by Joan Fontaine as a headmistress at a school overrun
by voodoo cultists, but otherwise is talky and static under Cyril Frankel's
direction. THE MUMMY'S SHROUD (**, $29.98) is the least of Hammer's
Mummy series, a 1967 outing that looks like it was shot in an attic. Despite
being directed by John Gilling and featuring a good cast of Hammer stand-bys
(including top-billed Andre Morell), the movie provides cheap thrills but
its languid pacing doesn't make it all that appealing for non-Hammer fans.
Both THE WITCHES and THE MUMMY'S SHROUD feature solid, 1.66 enhanced
transfers along with trailers and TV spots, paired with other Hammer productions.
Look for more Hammer entires late this year and in 2001, including the
underrated BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB (starring the voluptuous Valerie
AB has also released a terrific, letterboxed edition of THE PRINCE
AND THE PAUPER (***, $29.98), known in the US as CROSSED SWORDS. This
lavish 1978 production from Alexander Salkind and company marks a reunion
of several key participants in Salkind's "Three Musketeers" pictures,
including cast members Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, and Charlton Heston,
plus screenwriter George Macdonald Fraser.
Directed by Richard Fleischer, PRINCE AND THE PAUPER makes for perfect
family entertainment (its 121-minute running time notwithstanding), with
"Oliver" star Mark Lester playing dual roles in this engaging
adaptation of Mark Twain's story. As you would expect with a Salkind effort,
the production is top-notch, with evocative sets and costumes, superb cinematography
by Jack Cardiff, and a rousing score by Maurice Jarre adding immeasurably
to the cinematic gloss and fun.
AB's DVD offers the entire 2.35 Panavision frame, along with a theatrical
trailer and TV spot (there's a worthless pan-and-scan transfer on the second
side). Hopefully Anchor Bay will get around to remastering the THREE MUSKETEERS
pictures on DVD some day, now that they have a working relationship with
Canal Plus, who owns the Salkind video rights in the US (and the current
Fox Lorber releases sport inferior transfers).
The last of the new AB releases is their upcoming DVD of Alex Cox's
nutty 1984 debut feature REPO MAN (***, $24.98), which will be released
on August 22nd, complete with a THX transfer, audio commentary, and other
This truly oddball pic boasts Emilio Estevez as an L.A. punk who meets
"car repossesor Bud" (top-billed Harry Dean Stanton, which means
you know the film is cracked!), and becomes a Repo Man chasing after a
mad scientist who owns a '64 Chevy Malibu with nuclear weapons and bodies
of alien corpses stolen from a government lab in the trunk! Cox was the
Quentin Tarantino of his day, and though it only took a couple of follow-ups
to sink his career (including the Ed Harris bomb WALKER), at least he can
say he made his one true mark on '80s cinema with this nutty blend of sci-fi
fantasy, comedy, and social commentary.
Obviously a stylized picture in terms of attitude and appearance, REPO
MAN has a justified cult following, and those members will more than likely
groove to the film's razor-sharp new 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital
mix. The audio commentary features writer-director Cox, Monkees member
and executive producer Michael Nesmith, along with casting director Victoria
Thomas, and cast members Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, and Del Zamora.
The theatrical trailer and a video spot round out the package, which will
also be released as a $50 limited edition tin, with soundtrack CD, comic-strip,
and a collectible booklet (the DVD contents are exactly the same).
NEXT WEEK: HOLLOW MAN, SPACE COWBOYS, THE REPLACEMENTS and more!
Send your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll see you then. Excelsior!