Aisle Seat Halloween Thrillers
From TREMORS 3 to THE MUMMY RETURNS, Creepy DVDs for October
By Andy Dursin
No use in beating around the bush this week -- Halloween is just over
a week away, and now is the time to plan your viewing schedule. This year,
the spooks have been running rampant through the DVD shelves, culminating
in plenty of diverse flicks to suit your trick-or-treating needs. Here's
our rundown of the spooky digital lot...
New and Noteworthy
REPLICANT (***, Artisan, $24.98): Maybe it figures that one of
Jean-Claude Van Damme's best movies is one of the few that has gone straight
Before you shudder at the thought of watching any Van Damme movie deemed
NOT good enough for theaters, at least consider this taut and exciting
twist on the same old martial arts nonsense, directed stylishly by Ringo
Lam and backed by a superb performance from the always dependable Michael
Rooker plays a veteran cop -- on the verge of retirement -- obsessed
with tracking down a serial killer (Van Damme #1) who preys on mothers
with young children. The "National Security Council" decides to genetically
create a clone of the killer (Van Damme #2) that's nowhere as evil, yet
just as physically talented, holding a physic link with his very nasty,
With a reasonably strong budget at hand here (considering a film bypassed
for theatrical release), Lam is able to craft an efficient thriller with
just enough action to keep fans watching, while the Lawrence David Riggins-Les
Weldon script actually bothers to develop characters -- concentrating especially
on the relationship between the "Muscles from Brussles" and Rooker.
It's no classic, but REPLICANT is still superior B-movie entertainment,
managing to strike the right balance between sci-fi and action that eluded
Van Damme in his promising but ultimately disappointing 1994 hit "Timecop."
Artisan's DVD features a fine 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack,
along with Van Damme's audio commentary, a full slate of deleted scenes
culled from a workprint, storyboards, and a trailer.
THE FORSAKEN (**, Columbia TriStar, $24.98): WB
network stars Kerr Smith ("Dawson's Creek") and Brendan Fehr ("Roswell")
top-line this low-budget and sporadically entertaining teen vampire opus
from writer-director J.S. Cardone.
While taking a jaunt across the desert, Smith stumbles across hitch-hiker
Fehr and a girl (Izabella Miko) about to be turned into a vamp unless the
duo can track down the source of the infection -- namely, one-time rising
teen star Johnathon Schaech, who rides around like one of the bums you'd
find in a '60s beach party flick, excepting for sucking the life out of
all those he comes in contact with.
With an obvious limited budget at his disposal, Cardone does a fairly
capable job of keeping the action moving in this short and mildly entertaining
effort, which offers ample doses of blood and some nudity -- all perfect
for its intended teenage audience.
Columbia's DVD features a solid 1.85 transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound,
an informative commentary from the director, a pair of featurettes (again
clearly intended for the "Tiger Beat" audience the movie was going after,
despite its R rating), several deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, and
a full-frame version of the movie as well.
THE FORSAKEN may not be "The Lost Boys," but if you know what you're
getting yourself into, it's an above-average candidate for Halloween viewing.
CIRCUITRY MAN DOUBLE FEATURE (*** original, **
sequel, Columbia TriStar, $24.98): In the annals of straight-to-video sci-fi
features, the late '80s and early '90s were a fertile time. During the
span of a couple of years, we saw the arrival of everything from the British
bomb "Slipstream" to the Lovy Brothers' CIRCUITRY MAN, which first hit
store shelves in 1989 and became something of a minor cult classic.
This tale of an android searching for his place in the world does not
resemble A.I. in any regard. Instead, it fits comfortably into the post-apocalyptic
genre begun by MAD MAX but with a disarming sense of humor and low-key
tone that has made it a fan favorite.
Jim Metzler plays the Circuitry Man, a "pleasure" droid who accompanies
one-time "Fletch" star Dana Wheeler-Nicholson's bounty hunter on a trip
across the wasteland, smuggling computer chips that create a virtual "high"
for all its recipients. Vernon Wells, who co-starred in THE ROAD WARRIOR,
plays the villainous Plughead, a freakish looking bad guy who wants to
steal the chips and destroy the brain cells of all living humans.
It may sound like a formulaic mix of MAD MAX, CHERRY 2000, and JOHNNY
MNEMONIC, but this unabashed B-flick is engaging sci-fi fun, right down
to Deborah Holland's atypical score, which features a jazzy, lounge-room
ballad as its theme song.
The Lovy Brothers, who wrote and directed the original, returned for
PLUGHEAD REWIRED: CIRCUITRY MAN II in 1993, but like a lot of unnecessary
follow-ups, it's nowhere as fresh or fun as its predecessor. Here, Wells
nabs top billing (relegating original leading man Metzler to third billing
and less screen time) as Plughead plots to take over the world in an overlong
rehash of the original, minus most of the charm that marked the first installment.
Columbia's DVD presentation offers a two-sided DVD with the original
on one side and the sequel on the other (though they're mismarked on my
review copy). Both 1.85 transfers are more than acceptable, with 5.1 and
2.0 soundtracks of the original "Ultra" Stereo mixes. Fun commentary tracks
include the filmmakers and composer Holland, who admits she's received
letters from fervent fans of her soundtrack, including one who wanted a
copy of her title song for his wedding! (No, it definitely was NOT me).
In all, a nice Double Feature DVD from Columbia, certainly considering
TREMORS 3: BACK TO PERFECTION (**, Universal, $26.98): The principle
of diminishing returns has finally caught up with everyone's favorite saga
of giant underground worms, which first burst onto the scene in the 1990
sleeper hit with Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. It was followed by a surprisingly
fun and engaging 1995 direct-to-video sequel ("Tremors 2: Aftershocks")
that brought back Ward and gun-totting survivalist Michael Gross, as the
worms mutated into two-legged critters with heat-seeking sensors.
With Fred Ward now out of the picture, Gross' Burt Gummer takes center
stage in TREMORS 3 as the worms return to the sleepy town of Perfection,
Nevada -- setting of the original "Tremors." Joined this time by a would-be
theme park entrepreneur (Shawn Christian) and the daughter of the town's
late supermarket owner (Susan Chuang), Gummer takes out the buggers once
again, though this time they mutate into strange bat-like critters that
create a formidable presence above the ground as opposed to simply below
Brent Maddock, who wrote the first two installments with partner S.S.
Wilson, makes his debut in the director's chair this time out, and brings
many of the original film's supporting cast along with him -- including
Ariana Richards, now all grown up as the former pogo-stick-jumping Mindi.
Unfortunately, the slim budget severely puts a damper on the whole show,
with below-average special effects and production values sinking the filmmakers'
obvious enthusiasm for the project, along with game performances by the
"Tremors 2," while a straight-to-tape project itself, did offer some
terrific creatures from Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, and production values
that were comparable to the original. It's unfortunately evident from some
of the very first frames of TREMORS 3 that the cash flowing into the project
was much tighter than its immediate predecessor, as it results in a lot
of dry, talky sections (especially during the first 40 minutes) and action
that happens off-screen. Even the mechanical effects of the giant worms
has been primarily replaced with poor CGI work, the kind that wouldn't
even look proper in a video game on your PC. That's not to say that viewers
who enjoyed the originals may not be amused by this project -- just that
it's a major comedown from the solid genre thrills offered by both of its
predecessors. Universal's DVD features a good 1.85 transfer but a remarkably
weak 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, boasting a disappointing, formulaic
score by Kevin Kiner (making you all too aware of the film's meager budget)
and a dialogue track that's sometimes tough to hear. Trailers for all three
"Tremors" and a featurette round out the package.
THE MUMMY RETURNS (**1/2, Universal, $29.98): Saying
that there's a lack of surprise involved with this bigger sequel is a bit
absurd, given that there wasn't much in the way of originality in its predecessor.
This time out, writer-director Stephen Sommers has cut down on the labyrinthine,
claustrophobic settings of his original hit and made a broader, more expansive
adventure with exciting fight sequences and a brisker pace -- though minus
a compelling story to hold your interest the second time around. The plot
revolves around the bracelet of one Scorpion King (wrestler The Rock, on-screen
for less than a handful of minutes), the resurrection of our old pal Imhotep
(Arnold Vosloo again), and the quest for control of an army of the undead
which could give the Mummy -- or the Scorpion King -- power over the entire
world. In order to save us all, Brendan Fraser is back with wife Rachel
Weisz, Egyptian warrior Oded Fehr, and brother-in-law John Hannah, all
of whom are not only after the bracelet but Fraser and Weisz's wise-acre
eight-year-old son, whom Imhotep has kidnapped. Also back in a more prominent
role is Patricia Velasquez as the latest reincarnation of Imhotep's beloved,
THE MUMMY RETURNS is more Indiana Jones-like in its execution than the
original -- meaning it's even less like the vintage Universal horror series
it loosely originates from -- but it's hard to resist the movie's visual
charms, at least on initial viewing. Adrian Biddle's colorful cinematography,
ILM's special effects (which range from merely-adequate to excellent),
and Sommers' set-pieces are all more elaborate than the original film,
meaning there's a lot less of Fraser wandering around corridors and more
scenes of warring armies, lush forests in the middle of the desert, and
flashbacks to ancient Egypt.
On the other hand, I was struck by how little plot and character development
there was while sitting through it again on Universal's DVD -- even for
the kind of brainless fantasy Sommers produced here. Kids will enjoy the
film, but I have to admit that I may have over-rated this picture when
I first viewed it in on the big screen.
Certainly Universal's dynamite 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack
will prove to be near-reference quality for many home theater addicts.
The supplements, though, are far from definitive: outtakes consist of a
rock-music video montage of bloopers, while the feature commentary track
offers director Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay in a reasonably informative
chat. Most of the extras, though, are strictly of the promotional variety,
from ads for the upcoming spinoff "The Scorpion King" (with a brief interview
with The Rock himself), to a 20-minute "Spotlight on Location" that's a
typical product of the studio PR machine, and a music video of the truly
hideous Live song that runs over the end credits.
Alas, there's no music-only track of Alan Silvestri's superb soundtrack,
but after the isolated score debacle on the original "Mummy" DVD, that
shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
PLAY MISTY FOR ME (***, Universal, $24.98): A special
edition DVD from master supplemental producer Laurent Bouzereau, PLAY MISTY
FOR ME -- Clint Eastwood's feature directorial debut -- was the original
"Fatal Attraction," an exciting pop-thriller that set the formula for many
a demented ex-lover picture to follow.
Eastwood gives a laid back performance as a California DJ with a caller
(Jessica Walter) who develops an unhealthy obsession with the velvet-voiced
radio host. The two start an affair after they meet up (bad move, Clint),
but after Eastwood calls it quits, Walter pulls what would later become
known as "The Glenn Close thing," stalking our leading man and his new
girlfriend (Donna Mills).
The movie's look and feel aren't anything extraordinary (Eastwood had
yet to begin his career-long love for 2.35 cinematography), but PLAY MISTY
FOR ME holds up quite well despite some of its dated '70s fashions and
music. (For laughs, be sure to check out the mind-boggling, over-the-top
theatrical trailer -- a definite sign of the times.)
Bouzereau's 50-minute documentary forms the centerpiece of the supplements,
offering new interviews with the participants (including Eastwood and Walter)
and a look back at the production. Other extras include a photograph montage,
Eastwood briefly discussing the benefits of DVD as well as his friendship
with mentor Don Siegel, and a neat look at various poster designs.
The 1.85 transfer and mono soundtrack, in the meantime, are both as
strong as any Universal movie from the same period could possibly appear.
BLOOD SIMPLE (***, Universal, $24.98): The Coen
Brothers' first film doesn't include the humor of their later pictures
-- something that's either good or bad, depending on your point of view.
Either way, BLOOD SIMPLE is still a suspenseful and quirky film noir
variant, with small-town Texas wife Frances McDormand having an affair
with John Getz, while spurned husband Dan Hedaya hires detective M. Emmet
Walsh (in one of the character actor's best roles) to investigate the couple.
From there, it's a complicated web of double-crosses with occasional touches
of the Coens' off-kilter sense of humor giving just enough distinction
to the preceding.
Ironically, it's this sense of humor that gets the bigger boost out
of their new 96-minute cut, which saw a limited theatrical release last
year. A spoofy "restoration expert" appears to discuss the movie at the
start, while an audio commentary track is provided by "Kenneth Loring of
Forever Young Films" -- quite obviously a joke perpetrated likely by one
of the Coens themselves, pretending to be a snobby British member of the
crew! Universal's DVD also contains a 1.85 transfer and 2.0 surround soundtrack,
plus the theatrical trailer.
BLOOD SIMPLE isn't one of my personal favorite Coen films, but it's
nevertheless essential viewing for film buffs, and an important part of
the filmmakers' canon now preserved on DVD.
Pungent Paramount Chillers
ALONG CAME A SPIDER (**1/2, Paramount, $29.98): Morgan Freeman
reprises his Alex Cross role from "Kiss the Girls" in a moderately enjoyable
thriller that was, according to numerous reports, heavily doctored in post-production.
(That may explain why the ending comes across as incredibly basic; according
to a friend of mine, the scenes without Freeman were entirely re-filmed,
with only his shots remaining from the original finale!) Up until the end,
director Lee Tamahouri spins an intriguing kidnapping tale with nutcase
Michael Wincott abducting the daughter of a U.S. senator (a wasted Michael
Moriarty). Jerry Goldsmith's by-the- numbers but effective score and the
widescreen lensing give the movie a glossy sheen, but the big problem is
bland co-star Monica Potter, whose distinct lack of charisma on-screen
and Julia Roberts imitation wear thin -- fast. Together with Freeman's
already-stoic character, there's no emotional pull to the movie, even though
it consistently keeps you watching. Still, ALONG CAME A SPIDER is the kind
of film that is more enjoyable on the small screen, and Paramount's DVD
is the way to go in order to catch the original 2.35 Panavision cinematography.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is polished, though for extras, only a
standard featurette and the original theatrical trailer are included.
TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (**, Paramount,
$24.98): Aaah, remember those fun '80s TV horror anthology shows like the
"Twilight Zone" update and "Tales From the Darkside"? Neither were Peabody
Award-winning, yet both were fun in a cheap, over-the-top, '80s kind of
For some strange reason, the "Darkside" producers decided to produce
a theatrical film based on their show several years after the fact, and
the result was this oddball but-not-bad 1990 effort featuring three stories:
Michael McDowell's "Lot 249," starring Christian Slater with early appearances
by Steve Buscemi and Julianne Moore; George Romero's "Cat From Hell," with
William Hickey; and McDowell's "Lover's Vow," with James Remar falling
for mysterious single mom Rae Dawn Chong. Framing the stories is a bit
of tongue-in-cheek silliness with witch Debbie Harry ready to fry one of
Joey Lawrence's little brothers (fun!).
Most anthology films don't work too well, and while there's nothing
exceptional about "Darkside: The Movie," it's still kinda fun for those
who remember the era in which it was made.
Paramount's DVD features a fine 1.85 transfer, the trailer, a 5.1 soundtrack,
and best of all, one of the year's more engaging commentary tracks with
Romero and director John Harrison. They're both candid about working in
the business and on the film, and neither takes any of the film too seriously
-- providing the perfect accompaniment to the film itself.
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (***, Paramount, $24.98): End
of the world movies may not seem all that appealing at the moment, but
this no-frills edition of George Pal's 1951 saga offers an interesting
glimpse of what happens when Earth is on track to crash into a star that
has veered off-course, and how only a handful of people can board a spaceship
for another inhabitable planet.
The Sydney Boehm script is a bit more provocative than you may expect
from an early '50s sci-fi opus, but the key is the special effects, which
rightly nabbed an Oscar in their day. They're so good, in fact, that you'll
forgive the hideous matte painting of the alien planet (with pink tree
cutouts) at the end of the film, which apparently was a temp effect that
was never finished!
The DVD offers an adequate full-frame transfer from decent source materials,
with a so-so monophonic soundtrack. The original trailer is included as
THURSDAY: You've waited patiently, and now Trekkies
will be rewarded with the Director's Cut of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE.
The Laserphile's all-knowing review, plus more DVDs for your perusal. Direct
all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and
we'll catch you then!