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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 release.

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 in theaters.

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 entertainment.

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 entertainment.

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 catalog.

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 blockbuster.

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 score.

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 Leon).

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 assorted supplements.

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 dursina@att.net and we'll see you then. Excelsior!


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