The Aisle Seat's '80s DVD Blast, Part II
More DVDs from the Decade that Brought Us "King Kong Lives"!
By Andy Dursin
Aisle Seat we looked at a bona-fide '80s comedy classic -- MIDNIGHT
MADNESS, which will be unveiled on DVD in just a few weeks thanks to Anchor
Bay. Unsurprisingly, other studios have followed suit of late, capitalizing
on the recent boom in nostalgia for the decade of Pepsi Free, Harold Faltermeyer,
and trickle-down economics.
Since we've been assembling a mass of new titles here at our Aisle Seat
offices, here's a glimpse of other, equally nostalgic items from the late
'70s-late '80s that have completed their trek to digital goodness on DVD.
Not to be outdone on the nostalgic comedy track, Paramount's recent
DVD slate has included widescreen editions of the 1978 Albert Brooks spoof
REAL LIFE (**, $24.98) and the amiable 1985 John Candy vehicle SUMMER
RENTAL (**1/2, $24.98).
LIFE, meant to parody a PBS series examining a regular American family
that was popular at the time, has, like many of Brooks' films, about 15
minutes of genuine belly-laughs and over an hour of material that treads
water. Brooks plays the arrogant documentary producer (who else?) who makes
life rough on father Charles Grodin and his kids, but not even Grodin's
patented slow burn makes this prolonged feature worth sitting through.
Still, for Brooks fans, it's worth a view, and comes with a new interview
with Brooks reflecting on his first theatrical feature film. The 1.85 transfer
is fine and the mono soundtrack comes across OK.
SUMMER RENTAL, meanwhile, was a quickly-shot piece of summer escapist
fluff, with beleaguered air traffic controller Candy taking his wife and
kids on a much-needed Florida vacation. While fighting off a bad sunburn
and the hordes of beach-goers near the shore, Candy manages to get himself
crossed up with stuffy sailing snob Richard Crenna, which results in a
climactic boat race that goes right down to the literal wire. While not
a classic comedy, this first star vehicle for Candy is pleasant enough,
coasting along at 86 minutes with occasional laughs mixed in with the formulaic
script. The late comedian is extremely likable here, and is backed by a
solid supporting cast (including Rip Torn and a wasted John Larroquette),
along with an engaging Alan Silvestri score. The 1.85 transfer is solid
and there's a theatrical trailer to round-out the presentation.
Another Paramount film that has gotten a much more elaborate presentation
(and deservedly so) is Jerry Zucker's box-office hit of 1990, GHOST
(***, $24.98), which Paramount has released in a solid new 1.85 transfer,
5.1 remixed soundtrack, and with a half-hour documentary on the making
of the film.
A word-of-mouth hit during the summer months of '90 (we'll include it
here since it was shot in '89), GHOST has everything but the kitchen sink:
supernatural thrills, romantic drama, manic comedy, and a bit of mystery
as well. It also has Demi Moore in one of her better performances (though
I was never a fan of the chopped pixie cut she sports in this one), plus
Patrick Swayze as the dead lover back from the grave to find out what happened
to him and why -- and to set things straight with grieving Moore. Zucker's
film makes the most of Bruce Joel Rubin's sometimes weepy script and never
becomes as pretentious as it sometimes threatens to. Only Maurice Jarre's
unremarkable score and the constant use of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained
Melody" wear out their welcome here, though the song WAS one of the movie's
top draws for some viewers! The transfer and sound, as I mentioned, are
both solid, and the 30-minute "Remembering the Magic" documentary includes
new interviews with Zucker, Rubin, and Swayze (Moore and Whoopi Goldberg
appear only in material culled from press junket interviews). A commentary
with Zucker and Rubin is also included, and it's good to hear that Zucker
(currently helming the "Mad, Mad, Mad World" remake, RAT RACE) hasn't lost
his sense of humor.
Fox has also dipped into the '80s well with a nice-looking DVD of WORKING
GIRL (***, $24.98), the 1988 Mike Nichols comedy that copped six Oscar
nominations, including one for Melanie Griffith's performance as a NYC
secretary who finds herself getting involved in business -- and personal
-- politics between boss Sigourney Weaver and investment banker Harrison
Ford. This breezy Nichols film is both funny and smart, and features terrific
performances from the three leads (including one of Ford's more charismatic,
relaxed roles). The supporting cast, including Joan Cusack and Alec Baldwin,
is likewise solid, and the memorable, Oscar-winning Carly Simon song-score
fits the action splendidly. The 1.85 transfer is strong, while the Dolby
Stereo soundtrack has been encoded as 3.0 digital here. A trailer and several
TV spots fill out a good-looking presentation of one of the better comedies
to come out of the late '80s; unsurprisingly, no mention is made of the
short-lived 1990 TV spin-off of the film, which starred Sandra Bullock
in the Griffith role!
MGM, meanwhile, has also done justice to another Griffith vehicle --
CHERRY 2000 (**1/2, $19.98), best known around our circles for Basil
Poledouris' score, which fetched quite a pretty penny on the collector
market through its limited Varese CD Club pressing. The movie was shot
in 1986 but never theatrically released (one of many casualties during
Orion Pictures' tenuous run), instead appearing several years later on
video. The movie itself isn't all that bad, a "Mad Max" variant with female
bounty hunter Griffith going after a guy's female robot companion in a
post-apocalyptic future. This diverting piece of entertainment features
engaging performances and intermittently amusing dialogue courtesy of the
Michael Almereyda script, while Steve de Jarnatt's direction keeps things
moving, mixing the standard action-adventure fare with romantic elements.
And, of course, Basil's score helps! MGM's DVD is better than expected,
featuring a 1.85 transfer, OK Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack, and both the
original trailer and a featurette directed by Paul M. Sammon.
Other recent MGM budget-priced "Movie Time" releases have included other
'80s favorites like the silly but fun BABY BOOM (***, $19.98) with
Diane Keaton embodying the struggle of a frantic single businesswoman,
trying to mix her professional life with a relative's child that improbably
ends up on her front door. Bill Conti's score and solid supporting turns
from Sam Shepard and Harold Ramis make this 1987 Charles Shyer-Nancy Meyers
romantic comedy an entertaining time. The 1.85 transfer and 2.0 soundtrack,
like those on most of MGM's recent releases, are both above-average.
ANCHOR BAY CULT MADNESS
If MIDNIGHT MADNESS wasn't enough to satisfy your cult sensibilities,
Anchor Bay has gone full out of late, diving into both foreign films and
the New World Pictures library for their latest slate of DVD goodies --
spotlighting a handful of mid-'80s efforts in particular.
Chief among the pleasures is a great-looking presentation of the infamous
Stephen King directorial outing, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (**1/2, $24.98),
which is not a good movie by anyone's standards -- but boy, is it fun!
King's only theatrical feature (to date, anyhow), this tale of machines-gone-amok
is hysterically funny, with Emilio Estevez leading the way as a regular
Joe who finds himself in the middle of a world gone mad -- what with soda
machines wiping out little leaguers and all.
The AC/DC score includes some of the band's most popular work (like
the trailer-staple "You Shook Me All Night Long," remixed for the film),
and after watching it again, tell me if you think King wasn't trying to
make some kind of deranged comedy here. If you have never seen this outrageous
1986 effort (a DEG release, no less), do yourself a favor and enjoy Anchor
Bay's DVD, which features a nice 2.35 anamorphic transfer, full 5.1 remixed
sound, and the movie's amusing theatrical trailer, starring King himself.
King is also represented by two other Anchor Bay DVDs -- specifically,
the cheapjack 1986 sequel to King's "Creepshow," the unimaginatively titled
CREEPSHOW 2 (*1/2, $24.98), and the lame-brained but somewhat effective
1984 adaptation of CHILDREN OF THE CORN (**, $24.98), both of which
are courtesy of the New World Pictures vaults.
The former, which George Romero scripted from King's stories, is a badly-made
follow-up featuring hideous animated sequences, and manages to make its
predecessor look like a classic by comparison. CHILDREN, on the other hand,
boasts an equally small budget, but is grittier and certainly more effective,
with Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton as a couple that stumble upon a weird
religious cult of kids in a Nebraska town. This one rightly reserves the
superior treatment (5.1 remixed sound, trailer, and a collector's booklet)
over CREEPSHOW 2 (mono, trailer and still gallery), with both sporting
acceptable 1.85 transfers.
Other AB titles from the New World library include the tedious, Indiana
Jones/James Bond rip-off JAKE SPEED (*1/2, $24.98) with non-actor
Wayne Crawford as the title hero of paperback adventures set out to rescue
the sister of Karin Kopins. John Hurt must have seriously needed some cash
based on his appearance in this cheapie, which was shot on location in
Africa and Paris, with Mark Snow scoring one of his first major features.
The 2.0 Ultra Stereo is surprisingly good on this 1986 release, and the
1.85 transfer is OK as well.
More entertaining is JANE AND THE LOST CITY (**, $24.98), with
Sam Jones ("Flash Gordon") and Bond girl Maud Adams in a silly but engaging
1987 adaptation of the '40s British comic strip. It's no "Brenda Starr,"
but it is watchable, and features a 1.66 transfer and trailer.
The one-sheet poster reproduction in the DVD inlay card states that
Wes Craven, at one point, was going to be bringing us the cinematic adaptation
of V.C. Andrews' FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (**, $24.98), but Craven wisely
bowed out of this stilted and dour thriller before filming began (of course,
he DID end up making "Deadly Friend"!). The 1.85 transfer and sound are
both sufficient on this PG-13 rated 1987 effort, with Kristy Swanson's
haircut the scariest thing about it.
The last new AB release from New World's library is the Sybil Danning/Wendy
O. Williams 1986 cult favorite REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS ($24.98), which
has been dusted off as a purely comic piece of trash, complete with commentary
by director Tom DeSimone and "humorist" Martin Lewis. Trailers, a still
gallery, and a new 1.85 transfer make this recycling of '50s women-in-prison
epics a good time if you're in the mood.
A title which will likely be more familiar to some, THE SWORD AND
THE SORCERER (**, $24.98) has also been resurrected by Anchor Bay on
both VHS and DVD.
This independently-made 1982 flick was one of countless sword-and-sorcery
epics that were prevalent in the early '80s, but despite being one of the
biggest box-office hits of the genre (apparently outgrossing "Conan" domestically),
the movie has fallen off the radar screen over the years for an obvious
reason -- it's not all that good.
SWORD stars Lee Horsley (yep, "Matt Houston" himself) as a mercenary
who goes up against evil sorcerer Richard Lynch in order to save belle
Kathleen Beller. Plenty of slimy effects and cheap action scenes abound
in this "Brandon Chase film," one of the few examples I can think of where
the producer (not the director) takes full credit for the production! (Of
course, director Alberty Pyun parlayed his success here into a lengthy
stint with Full Moon Productions, so perhaps the movie's box-office gold
wasn't entirely the director's doing). The 1.85 transfer is murky and the
5.1 Dolby Digital sound muffled, sporting a formula score by David Whitaker,
but if you're a fan of the movie, it's still worth checking out. If not,
steer clear, and revisit "Conan," "Excalibur," "The Beastmaster," Ralph
Bakshi's "Fire and Ice," or "Dragonslayer" instead.
Paul Verhoeven was a master of over-the-top '80s epics ("Robocop," "Flesh
+ Blood"), but his start came in Dutch cinema during the 1970s. And if
you thought Verhoeven's insanity was restricted to his American picturesÖ
Anchor Bay has rolled out no less than three Special Editions of the
director's early work on DVD: the 1973 TURKISH DELIGHT ($29.98)
with Rutger Hauer venturing into the fun world of sexual adventure with
Monique Van de Ven; the 1977 SOLIDER OF ORANGE ($29.98), witrh Hauer
again as one of several Dutch college students whose lives are altered
forever by WWII; and the truly nutty 1983 thriller THE FOURTH MAN
($29.98), with Jeroen Krabbe being thrown into one strange relationship
with widow Renee Soutendijk, in a bizarre mix of black comedy and suspense-thriller.
All the titles have been restored to their full-length versions here,
and feature 1.66 transfers enhanced for widescreen TVs, while retaining
their original monophonic soundtracks. Verhoeven gives a commentary track
on each disc, discussing the myriad themes of his films and his career
in his own, distinct manner. Trailers and still galleries are included
on each disc, which are all presented in Dutch with English subtitles.
The films are clearly not for all tastes (just like Verhoeven's American
work), but for adventurous viewers looking for something a little different,
each has the unmistakable mark of its director -- especially the outrageous
Just as intriguing is the original Danish version of NIGHTWATCH
($29.98), Ole Bornedal's 1994 thriller that was remade as a heavily-reshot
Dimensions Films remake several years ago with Nick Nolte, Ewan MacGregor,
and Patricia Arquette. Though both films were directed by Bornedal, the
original is clearly superior, a deft chiller that's here presented in its
original 1.85 transfer with a remixed 5.1 soundtrack from Chase Productions.
Borendal also delivers a commentary track, while the original trailer is
also included with the movie, presented with English subtitles on AB's
Finally, Anchor Bay has also released a DVD of the little-seen 1987
Swedish fantasy MIO IN THE LAND OF FARAWAY ($29.98), with an international
cast comprised of Timothy Bottoms, Susannah York, Christopher Lee, and
Christian Bale. This children's adventure, based on a book by the author
of "Pippi Longstocking," is interesting enough, like "The NeverEnding Story"
but with music by ex-ABBA musicians instead of Giorgio Moroder. The 1.85
transfer is OK, and the Dolby Stereo soundtrack is functional. A theatrical
trailer has also been included.
NEXT TIMEÖIt's back to the present with new DVDs,
plus a round-up of all the latest cinematic offerings we've been too busy
to write up here at the Aisle Seat! Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you next time. Excelsior!