A Halloween Harvest of DVD Terror!
From PITCH BLACK to ICHABOD & MR. TOAD and THE BLACK CAULDRON,
there are treats for everyone this October on DVD
An Aisle Seat Entry by Andy Dursin
It cannot be any coincidence that once we get close to Halloween, major
studios see fit to begin releasing a glut of horror, sci-fi and fantasy
films on DVD.
This year's crop of genre releases offers something for every creature
in your household -- young or old, classic horror fan or Cinemax aficionado
(and you know who you are!). Let's start by breaking it down into several
categories for your trick-or-treating convenience (including some underrated
fare you might have missed), and don't forget to email your comments to
me at email@example.com for inclusion
in next week's Aisle Seat. Happy Haunts, everyone!
A surprising hit in theaters last spring, David Twohy's PITCH BLACK
(**1/2, $29.98) is now likely poised to become an even bigger success on
the small screen.
Vin Diesel, who is quickly trying to become an action star through his
own blatant self-promotion if nothing else, plays a convict on a transport
ship that ends up crashing on a barren planet infested with a strange assortment
of flying, dinosaur-like creatures.
Twohy, who co-scripted this formulaic but entertaining sci-fi thriller
with Jim and Ken Wheat, has quietly been involved in the making of a handful
of pictures that were surprisingly good, from "G.I. Jane" to
the highly underrated (and hilarious) action thriller "Terminal Velocity"
with Charlie Sheen.
Making his directorial debut here, Twohy does his best behind the lens
to jazz up the modest budget of this Polygram (USA Films) production, utilizing
widescreen lenses, filters, and competent CGI effects to create a fairly
suspenseful ride. The trouble with the picture, alas, is the script and
a collection of unlikable characters, from Diesel's psycho protagonist
to Radha Mitchell's abrasive female captain.
The movie also could have used some more humor and the removal of a
weak teen character that doesn't end up serving much purpose, but despite
all of that, "Pitch Black" manages to get the job done for genre
aficionados, particularly if your expectations are lower than they might
have been shelling out $8.75 to see it in theaters.
One thing's for sure: Universal's DVD offers a splendid video and audio
presentation, with a crisp 2.35 transfer and both Dolby Digital and DTS
tracks, the latter of which is especially effective. A handful of supplements
include two commentary tracks (both featuring Twohy, who shares some of
the same anecdotes on them!), trailers, and promotional featurettes.
It should be noted that Universal is releasing two versions of "Pitch
Black" on DVD: the R-rated theatrical cut, plus an "unrated director's
cut" with some three minutes of extra gore. We did not receive the
unrated version for review so I don't know about the specific changes in
the picture, but the supplements are reportedly the same on both discs.
Recommended viewing either way.
Not a brand-new release but an overlooked 1996 title making its widescreen
debut on home video, Eric Red's werewolf chiller BAD MOON (***,
$19.98) is also newly out from Warner Home Video on DVD.
A Morgan Creek production that was unceremoniously dumped into theaters
with no fanfare the day AFTER Halloween that year (good thinking, right?),
this stylish and taut B-movie is surprisingly well- written, adapted by
the director from Wayne Stevens' novel "Thor" about a boy, his
dog, and his uncle -- who happens to be a werewolf newly transplanted to
the Pacific Northwest (and who happens to be played by Michael Pare of
"Eddie and the Cruisers" fame).
Mariel Hemingway plays the boy's Mom, but the real star of the movie
is the German Sheppard that plays Thor, who ends up kicking the heck out
of the man-wolf in an exciting climax that makes you wonder why the studio
didn't have more confidence in this short (79 minutes including credits)
but highly entertaining horror picture at a time when were (and still are)
overloaded with too many genre flicks that simply don't know how to tell
a good story.
Red, who made the equally engaging "Body Parts" but has since
been through reported personal problems, does a fine job accentuating story
and character here, making this a gem of a werewolf picture that really
deserved a better fate at the box-office and among genre fans, who have
hardly heard of it.
Warner's DVD marks the first-ever release of the movie on video in its
2.35 widescreen aspect ratio, since a planned laserdisc release never materialized.
The transfer is good, the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is fine (featuring
a better-than-average score by Daniel Licht), and a theatrical trailer
has been included for extras.
For the price, you can't go wrong, and "Bad Moon" is a perfect
example of an overlooked movie you should take a chance on this Halloween
If R-rated fare isn't on your agenda this October, there are plenty
of alternatives for good, decent, trick-or- treating viewing -- especially
if you have youngsters around.
Buena Vista has timed the release of two of their animated features
perfectly for Halloween consumption: the 1950 classic THE ADVENTURES
OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD (****, $29.98) and the first-ever widescreen
release of the 1985 fantasy THE BLACK CAULDRON (**1/2, $29.98).
ICHABOD AND MR.TOAD combines the delightful adaptation of "The
Wind and the Willows" with the equally-classic version of "The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow." The 68-minute program was released as a
single feature but, over the years, has often been cut in half, with Disney
showing either the first part or the second half of the picture. The DVD
presents the original theatrical cut of the production in a gorgeous, colorful
print with an effectively remixed stereo soundtrack as well.
While the "Willows" is undeniably a charming work, the portion
with the most interest at this time of year is easily the Sleepy Hollow
half of the double-bill, narrated by Bing Crosby in a superlative piece
of Disney Americana. The wonderfully articulated characters and justifiably
acclaimed climax (the most renowned element of the production) have become
staples of Halloween over the years, but what is often forgotten are the
charming songs and marvelous work of Crosby, who vocalizes some of his
narration in what ought to be essential viewing for any lover of October
The 1.33:1 framing is here preserved in a terrific transfer, and I also
enjoyed the reprocessed-for-stereo 5.0 soundtrack, which throws the dialogue
into the center channel with a general, stereophonic presence detectable
in the musical underscore. The Disney short "Lonesome Ghosts"
(which I fondly recall from having on my 3-D Viewmaster as a youngster)
is also included, along with a trivia game and a "Sleepy Hollow Storybook"
which kids should enjoy.
Passed over on laserdisc, THE BLACK CAULDRON makes its first "high-end"
video release with as a generally acceptable DVD. An expensive, long-in-production
Disney effort, this PG-rated feature is a somewhat disappointing adaptation
of one of Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain" books, which
are truly magical and charming in a way that this rather formulaic animated
effort -- as visually impressive as it is -- fails to capture on-screen.
Still, what the picture is best remembered for comes across well here:
the animation, shot in the anamorphic Super Technirama 70 process, is given
its first watchable video transfer (2.35:1), while the soundtrack is presented
in a pungent Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. As I mentioned in last week's column,
however, the print Disney used for the DVD is far from pristine: occasional
speckles, dirt, and an erratic contrast hamper the presentation, something
that should confirm to animation buffs that CAULDRON has never been regarded
as one of the studio's finest hours.
Nevertheless, for animation fans, the movie is recommended, as it is
most certainly is for Elmer Bernstein's wonderful score -- the movie's
chief asset. THE BLACK CAULDRON might have been an expensive disappointment
for the Mouse, but it does succeed on a visceral level, and can be looked
at as the impetus that lead to the successful overhaul of the company's
animated features just a few years later.
BACK TO THE '80s: THE GOOD, THE BAD,
AND THE CHEAP!
Like all red-blooded young American guys, growing up in the '80s meant
going through a number of rites- of-passage, including my first exposure
to R-rated movies. Fortunately, sneaking into them at the multiplex proved
easy enough, and when we finally had cable available to us, the coming
of Cinemax meant something else altogether: being able to watch a plethora
of "After Dark" favorites and a handful of incredibly bad, B-grade
horror efforts that I fondly recall in my memory.
One of those flicks was NECROMANCER (Image, $19.98), a massively
cheesy but oh-so-fun piece of cinematic junk food about a college student
who gets raped by some nasty fellows and decides to exact some revenge
by getting involved in the deadly game of voodoo and murder -- specifically,
letting out an evil temptress who enjoys making out, and then murdering,
the male vermin responsible for the crime!
It doesn't matter if Image's transfer appears a bit lackluster, since
the movie's cinematography and cheap, low-low-budget look and score do
more for nostalgia than any THX mastering would have accomplished.
For a movie that cries out desperately for any signs of cinematic intervention,
it figures that the producers must have blown the majority of the budget
on nailing down top-billed Russ Tamblyn to headline the cast. Tamblyn,
who plays a goofy play director in several fleeting minutes of screen time,
must have been desperate before his semi-comeback in David Lynch's "Twin
Peaks" to appear in this production, which nevertheless makes for
perfect, MSTK-like viewing for you and your posse if cheap laughs are on
your viewing roster.
Anchor Bay has been a friend of many different genres to buffs, but
no more so than in the realm of horror and spooky chillers. After last
year's terrific one-two punch of limited edition packages for HALLOWEEN
and ARMY OF DARKNESS, the independent label has been turning out one spine-tingler
after another just in time for seasonal viewing -- some of adequate quality,
others engagingly less than that.
My favorite among their new releases is the New World Pictures fave
SLUGS ($24.98), a hysterically funny and also incredibly disgusting
1987 monster opus that finds a group of genetically-enhanced slugs wrecking
havoc on the entire population of a small town.
Shot in Spain and dubbed into English (often quite amusingly, I might
add), SLUGS is a movie that I rented on video while hanging out with some
friends during a break from my freshman year at college in 1993. Obviously,
with limited time on my hands, there was room for only a bit of movie-watching,
but I can assure you SLUGS fit the bill at the time and, after watching
it in Anchor Bay's new widescreen DVD release (oh, don't you just LOVE
this label?), I can verify that it certainly works its "magic"
for the blood n'guts lover of bad cinema.
Where else can you see a couple making out in a gratuitous sex scene
-- and then be promptly eaten by slugs? How can you properly describe a
sequence where, at a posh restaurant, a man explodes because he's being
consumed by the slimy creatures? SLUGS is not a subtle movie by any means
but, if you are ever in the mood for this kind of movie, I can't think
of a better one off-hand than this one, which boasts a hilarious script
that cobbles together elements of '50s B-grade sci-fi flicks with "Jaws"
and the gross-out goo you'd expect from any solid '80s genre flick.
With its 1.85 transfer and theatrical trailer, SLUGS has finally been
rescued from obscurity in your local video chain's "previously viewed"
bin and can now be enjoyed by all of your Halloween party-goers. Trust
me, SLUGS doesn't disappoint.
Keeping along the lines of wild and woolly '80s cinema, Anchor Bay has
also released solid presentations of a series that "Necromancer"
fans almost certainly will enjoy, if they haven't already: the MIRROR,
MIRROR trilogy, which have been released as three separate, full-frame
The original -- still the best and a cable staple -- features the unenthusiastic
Rainbow Harvest (there's a name for you) as a Winona Ryder-ish teen shunted
by the "cool crowd" at high school. Using a strange old mirror
in her room, Rainbow unwittingly unleashes an evil that turns the movie
into a fun clone of "Carrie" but in a terribly shoddy, '80s direct-to-tape
kind of way.
Still, the movie was successful enough to spawn two sequels: MIRROR
MIRROR 2, which stars former "Mr. Belvedere" ingenue Tracy Wells
(whatever happened to her, incidentally?) in a laughable sequel that copies
only the premise of its predecessor, while RAVEN DANCE: MIRROR MIRROR 3
appears to be an in-name-only sequel (perhaps produced without any involvement
in the preceding pictures) focusing on a male protagonist who unleashes
more supernatural mayhem, including a sexy temptress right out of your
typical "Cinemax After Dark" epic.
Now, these movies clearly aren't on the same level as "Slugs,"
but if B-grade horror is your game, you could do worse than to check out
any of these pictures, which for me, have that nostalgic, Friday late-night
viewing after a torturous week in school kind of feel.
Getting back to more mainstream fare, Anchor Bay has finally completed
its run of the original "Halloween" movies with a surprisingly
extras-packed edition of the 1989 release HALLOWEEN 5 (**, $24.98),
which -- along with its belated 1995 follow-up "Halloween: The Curse
of Michael Myers" -- rank as the two series entries that fail to stand
alone without prior knowledge of the preceding pictures.
After "Halloween 4" hit paydirt at the box-office, producer
Moustapha Akkad went full-speed into an immediate follow-up -- perhaps
too hastily, since part five lacks some of the efficient, B-grade thrills
of its predecessor. Picking up right where part four left off (and negating
that picture's obvious "twist" ending), Michael Myers is still
alive and stalking little Jamie (Danielle Harris again), while an even
more possessed Donald Pleasence returns as Doc Loomis, still pursuing Myers
-- but hey, it's tough to keep a dead man down, right? Alan Howarth's music
is subtle and eerier than his work on "Halloween 4," quoting
John Carpenter's theme only sparsely throughout the action. Unfortunately,
director Dominique Othenin-Girard doesn't fare nearly as well as Dwight
H. Little did on IV, and the plot-heavy script ends with a gigantic, open-ended
climax, one that took an unmanageable six years to properly conclude on
Anchor Bay's DVD features a strong 1.85 transfer, effective 5.1 Dolby
Digital remixed soundtrack, plus a trailer and a featurette containing
new interviews with Akkad (admitting, more or less, that this picture was
too rushed in its conception and production), plus Harris and cute co-star
Ellie Cornell, who is offed in the first 10 minutes of the sequel -- one
of the movie's major faults (and one that Akkad also admits was a mistake).
Fans should be alerted that the featurette contains videotaped footage
of a prologue cut from the final print, plus a snippet of one deleted scene.
With HALLOWEEN VIII now on the docket for October 2001, here's hoping
Akkad brings the series back to its small-town, B-grade roots, since HALLOWEEN
4 and 5 -- while anything but classics -- are at least as effective as
the slicker but less entertaining HALLOWEEN: H20, a "studio"
picture that nevertheless made enough dough for the further adventures
of Michael Myers to continue.
Finally, Anchor Bay has rolled out a deluxe, THX presentation of Clive
Barker's 1988 New World production HELLRAISER (*1/2, $24.98), a
movie that has never been a favorite of mine particularly but boasts a
strong cult following among genre fans.
A gross and rather unpleasant odyssey of demonic terror, Barker's big-screen
career was launched with this effort, establishing Doug Harvey's Pinhead
as a Freddy Kruger-like menace and Barker as "the future of horror,"
or at least according to Stephen King at the time. Twelve years later,
Barker's filmmaking career has cooled off, and HELLRAISER is now best known
as a film that produced a series of increasingly-poor sequels, including
a brand new effort that's on its way to video stores everywhere.
There are individual moments of terror but the claustrophobic and rather
shoddy production only magnifies the goo and gore of the picture, though
I did appreciate Christopher Young's orchestral score. Anchor Bay's DVD
features a strong 1.85 transfer, excellent 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack,
commentary, trailers, and a new documentary on the production of the picture,
focusing heavily on the make-up effects work.
If this is your cup of tea, go for the limited-edition set, which also
contains the bombastic HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER 2, a sequel which Anchor Bay
won't be releasing individually on DVD until next year.
NEXT TIME... AIRPLANE! flies
on DVD, plus TUCKER and DOCTOR DOOLITTLE, too! Until then, direct all emails
to firstname.lastname@example.org and pray we don't
have a Subway Series. Excelsior!