by ANDY DURSIN
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Shout’s first year of releasing horror titles through their Scream Factory brand has yielded numerous treasures for genre fans, giving even B-tier titles like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR TRILOGY their due on Blu-Ray.
Never regarded as a classic, even of the cult variety, the original 1979 AMITYVILLE HORROR (**½, R, 119 mins.) nevertheless became one of the biggest independent hits of all-time. Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff’s American-International Pictures, the pulpy adaptation of Jay Anson’s supposedly-“true story” of the infamous haunted house provides plenty of cheap thrills and a few unintentional yucks to go along with it.
James Brolin and Margot Kidder essay George and Kathy Lutz, who move into the quiet Long Island community of Amityville. Unbeknownst to them, their new home was previously occupied by a family that was slain by their teenage son in a series of brutal shootings. Whether or not the teenager was driven mad by the house (or something in it), the Lutzes soon find themselves being barraged by a variety of haunted house cliches: slime flowing out of toilets, glowing eyes in the upstairs bedroom, invisible play pals of their young children telling them secrets, and George being taken over by some kind of entity from another dimension. Even a local priest (Rod Steiger) fails to clean the house of its inherent evil after giving it the old Father Merrin try.
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, “The Amityville Horror” is standard but competent late 70s horror. The performances are solid but the movie has that “plastic” kind of look so many films of its era do. It’s like watching an “Eight Is Enough” episode crossed with “The Exorcist.” More effective is Lalo Schifrin’s score, which unfortunately was copied in so many other genre films (and used in even more trailers) that it’s then-unique mix of child chorus and creepy orchestral arrangements also seems well-worn.
Shout’s “Amityville Horror” Blu-Ray doesn’t merely reprise the already-available MGM/Fox Blu release, adding in extras from an older Special Edition DVD that the prior Blu-Ray lacked. “For God’s Sake, Get Out!” is a superb look back at the success of the film, sporting interviews with Brolin and Kidder, who isn’t ashamed to admit the movie was her “pay day” following “Superman.” Radios spots and the original trailer are also on hand, though the most entertaining extra is a full-length commentary from parapsychologist Dr. Hans Holzer. The late Dr. Holzer may be known to some for his occasional appearances on Leonard Nimoy’s old series “In Search Of…,” particularly in the Amityville episode where he was a lead investigator. Here, Holzer engages in a fascinating, if not completely off-the-wall, discussion of the actual Lutz haunting, noting where the filmmakers went wrong in making the movie and needlessly messing with the “actual” accounts of what happened in the house. It’s the kind of talk one wishes you’d hear more often in a DVD commentary. Shout has also shot new extras for this box-set, though the only new supplement on “The Amityville Horror” is a 10-minute conversation with Lalo Schifrin, discussing his oft-imitated score.
Visually, the 1080p AVC encoded transfer is probably as spiffy as the film is going to appear, and both 2.0 and 5.1 DTS MA mixes are included on the audio side.
The set also includes the Blu-Ray debuts of the series’ two theatrical sequels: the tasteless AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (*, 1982, 104 mins., R) and the entertaining, if not generic, AMITYVILLE 3-D (**½, 1983, 93 mins., PG). Dino DeLaurentiis produced both sequels, which Orion released to declining box-office receipts, leading the “Amityville” series to head to the small-screen and direct-to-tape productions thereafter.
“Amityville II” purports to be a prequel showing what happened to the family that moved in before the Lutzes. Tommy Lee Wallace’s script, which claims to be based on Holzer’s “Murder in Amityville” book, is an unholy rehash of “The Exorcist” and numerous other genre films of the period, exploiting the actual murders that occurred in the house and adding doses of sexuality (including incest!) under the direction of Damiano Diamiani.
Shot in New Jersey (exteriors) and Mexico (interiors), “Amityville II” leaves one with a sour taste, mainly due to its attempt to explain the brutal killings by having the teen son responsible for the crimes being possessed by a demon. The movie has an eclectic cast, with James Olson as a priest who attempts to exorcise the teenager of all evils, Burt Young as the doomed father of the Montelli clan, Moses Gunn as an attorney and Diane Franklin (seen also in “The Last American Virgin” during the summer of ‘82) as the eldest Montelli daughter. The make-up effects are okay in an ‘80s gross-out kind of way, but the sequences showing the Montelli son running around, gunning down his family, leave an uncomfortable feeling that no amount of subsequent hocus-pocus can eradicate. (For the movie’s defenders, ask yourself if most folks today would enjoy watching an exploitation film about the Newtown shootings with the gunman’s actions being explained by him being possessed by a gooey-green monster)
A film that’s always carried a notorious reputation for that reason, “Amityville II” makes its Blu-Ray debut sporting the most amount of supplements in Shout’s box-set: a 10-minute interview with the Italian director (who passed away earlier this year) is on-hand, as are recent conversations with Diane Franklin and co-stars Rutanya Alda and Andrew Prine, plus writer Tommy Lee Wallace, who was about to make his directorial debut on “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” when he took the assignment to pen the sequel/prequel. There’s also a lengthy talk with Hans Holzer’s daughter, Alexandra, who discusses her father’s work and also participates in a limp commentary track filled with long silences. The trailer, a fresh 1080p AVC encoded transfer and 5.1 DTS MA stereo and mono audio round out the release.
With Richard Fleischer at the helm, the following year’s AMITYVILLE 3-D offers a superior viewing experience, seemingly more influenced by “Poltergeist” and similar supernatural tales than its predecessors (the movie was even released with a disclaimer that it was unrelated to either of the previous “Amityville” films). Tony Roberts and Tess Harper play the latest fun couple to move into the Amityville house, just to prove writer Roberts’ theory that the hauntings are just a hoax. Unfortunately for them – and their daughter Lori Laughlin – the Baxters find out the hard way that the spectral scares are indeed real.
William Wales’ script and Howard Blake’s score are both a cut-above the norm, and while nobody will mistake “Amityville 3-D” with a classic of its kind, the movie is a big upgrade on the second film and even offers one or two eerie moments (particularly after Laughlin drowns). The anamorphic frame also gives the movie the most cinematic look of the entire series, and presented here in its proper Arrivison 3-D dimensions, the movie at last restores its most entertaining element: its stereoscopic effects, which (while blurry around the edges – an inherent issue with the Arrivision-shot films of the era) are competently executed by Fleischer.
Shout’s 3D Blu-Ray of “Amityville 3-D” enables viewers with 2D sets to enjoy the film as well (the disc will default to either 3D or 2D depending on your set-up), though 3D is clearly the way to go if you have the ability to view its original format. The transfer is like looking at a Viewmaster reel in motion – a far cry from most of today’s tepid 3D offerings. Extras include a brief trailer and a new interview with Candy Clark, who discusses her work in the film, which – like “Amityville II” – was shot mostly on Mexican soundstages.
The set utilizes the original theatrical one-sheets for its individual Blu-Ray cases, though as of yet, Shout has no intention of releasing the discs individually.
A Helping of Chucky
Writer Don Mancini’s psycho-killer doll was first launched on the big-screen in “Fright Night” director Tom Holland’s 1988 box-office hit CHILD’S PLAY (**½, 87 mins., 1988, R), a film now part of Universal’s newCHUCKY: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION Blu-Ray box-set.
The original “Child’s Play” has actually held up fairly well at that, with young Alex Vincent and mom Catherine Hicks stalked by Vincent’s Cabbage Patch-like little doll, who’s been possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer (Brad Dourif). Unlike the later Chucky films, Holland mixes ample horror with humor and comes away with an entertaining brew, somewhat let down by a bland Joe Renzetti score that’s a product of its time (at least it’s better than the composer’s horrible effort on “Poltergeist III”) and likewise vanilla supporting performances.
MGM’s AVC-encoded Blu-Ray edition – reprieved here in Universal’s Blu-Ray box – boasts a pleasing AVC encoded image and DTS MA soundtrack, with numerous extras (culled from its 2008 DVD) including two different commentary tracks: one with effects master Kevin Yagher, Alex Vincent and Catherine Hicks, and another with Don Mancini and producer David Kirschner. (Oddly, Tom Holland doesn’t participate in any of the extras). Mancini and Kirschner’s talk is of the most interest, discussing the 20+ minutes that were cut (none of which are contained on this release) as well as the “upcoming remake,” which turned out to be 2013′s sequel “Curse of Chucky” (read more on that below). There’s also another scene-specific commentary with Dourif, in-character as Chucky, participating in some amusing improvisations with Mancini.
A three-part documentary, “Evil Comes in Small Packages,” includes interviews with Mancini, Kirschner, Hicks, Vincent, co-star Chris Sarandon, Kevin Yagher (who’s married to Hicks) and Brad Dourif. This is a nice overview of the film’s production, and is complimented by a five-minute video of Hicks, Vincent and Sarandon at a horror convention, as well as a vintage featurette, the original trailer, and an additional look at Yagher’s design of the Chucky doll.
Though “Child’s Play” was released by UA, producer David Kirschner took his series over to Universal for a pair of bland but mildly enjoyable sequels. Produced and released within a year of one another, CHILD’S PLAY 2 (**, 84 mins., 1990, R) and CHILD’S PLAY 3 (**, 90 mins., 1991, R) are perfunctory genre exercises that feature Chucky stalking little Andy again – first in the form of returning Alex Vincent and his new surrogate family (including Jenny Agutter and Christine Elise) in “Child’s Play 2,” then again with an older Andy (now played by Justin Whallin) who’s trying to forget his troubles in military school when Chucky reappears on the scene to cause more trouble in “Child’s Play 3.”
These formulaic pictures are similar to the endless streams of Jason and Freddy sequels that were being produced around the same time – working from a standard narrative formula with Chucky performing a requisite number of kills and dispatching one-liners in the process. Still, both movies have a nostalgic feel to them and boast a few choice moments, especially the toy-factory climax of John Lafia’s second installment. Making their Blu-Ray debuts here, the sequels are treated to no-frills 1080p transfers that are decent enough, with the third film appearing in healthier condition than the comparatively dirty transfer for “Child’s Play 2.” Trailers and DTS MA 2.0 soundtracks are also included on the two individual platters.
While “Child’s Play 2″ did well in the fall of 1990, the Labor Day ‘91-released “Child’s Play 3″ garnered only half of its predecessor’s receipts – making it, seemingly, the last of the Chucky films.
Flash forward to 1998, when Oprah Winfrey’s much-hyped “Beloved” opened in theaters around the country in late October. Little did audiences know that the Jonathan Demme-directed adaptation of Toni Morrison’s bestseller would be beaten at the box-office by, of all things, BRIDE OF CHUCKY (***, 89 mins., 2008, R), a film that remains the highpoint of the “Child’s Play” series by a wide margin.
In fact, as I wrote back in 1998, “critics who thoroughly pan the film will only be telling you half the truth. As disgusting and downright mean as this movie is, it’s also the most utterly outrageous and formula-eschewing horror film to come from a major studio this decade, something you certainly wouldn’t expect from a sequel to a series that appeared to end its run over seven years before.”
This time around, Chucky the doll (still voiced by Brad Dourif) is resurrected by his old, human girlfriend Tiffany (top-billed Jennifer Tilly), a piece of trailer-park trash who is promptly murdered by the Chuckster himself, and resurrected in the form of a squeaky-clean bridal mannequin. Before you can say, “let’s rack up the body count,” Chucky and Tiffany try to get back to Hackensack, New Jersey–the home of Chucky’s mortal remains–to implant their souls in the bodies of two eloping teens, one of whom is played by Katherine Heigl, whose guardian is none other than John Ritter (fresh off “Sling Blade”).
The set-up may seem routine at best, but the execution of this picture is anything but. Hong Kong vet Ronny Yu makes the most of the movie’s modest budget with twisted camera angles and efficient editing. Tilly’s death, which includes a tip of the hat to “The Bride of Frankenstein,” is gleefully evil but effectively shot by Yu, who is able to display far more of his craft here than he did in his American debut feature, the kid fiasco “Warriors of Virtue.”
However, the biggest surprise is how smart and self-satirical the script by series creator Don Mancini turns out to be. From the moment “Bride of Chucky” starts (the police locker houses not only Chucky’s remains but also Jason’s mask, Freddy’s glove, and Leatherface’s chainsaw), you know you’re in for one demented spoof. This is a script that is at best incisively witty and at worst gratuitous in every sense of the word, but at least it never plays by formula (unlike the second and third “Child’s Play” movies), never becomes the least bit pretentious like Kevin Williamson’s “Scream” scripts, and goes positively over-the-top in every conceivable aspect. Mancini’s dialogue runs the gamut from making fun of itself and excessively gory ’80s horror to putting down relationships, marriage, Martha Stewart, long-running sequels, and virtually everything else you can think of. The interplay between the two possessed dolls is often hysterical and there’s a memorable “intimate” sequence between Chucky and Tiffany that had my fellow theater audience members laughing so loud it was impossible to hear the dialogue. (It should also be noted that Kevin Yagher’s make-up effects of the duo are superb and the doll animation will make some viewers think they’re watching a show made by Gerry Anderson under the influence of some major stimulant).
Obviously, “Bride of Chucky” is not a movie that is going to appeal to everyone, but you have to understand that what “Bride of Chucky” is trying to do, for all intense purposes, is turn conventions and expectations for this sort of movie upside down. Chucky, and this picture, know that they’re a relic from another period in horror filmmaking, and everything in the movie adheres to this–it’s over-the-top and mindlessly violent, and yet there’s a knowing nod to the audience throughout, as if to say, “hey, HERE’S something you haven’t seen before, or at least not in a long, long time.” The last shot is right out of a ’70s schlock Larry Cohen movie, with an absurdly abrupt cut to the end credits–indeed, nothing could have been more appropriate for this film.
“Bride of Chucky” is meant to be a fan’s movie, and for me, it’s not only the best of the series, but it’s one of the most entertaining “80s horror” revivals we’ve seen various films attempt through the years, delivering a surplus of gags and gore that remains at the top of its class for what it is.
“Bride of Chucky” makes its Blu-Ray debut from Universal here in a colorful but overly smooth 1080p transfer plagued by a bit of DNR. The DTS MA 5.1 audio is active and selected extras have been retained from its old DVD edition (two commentaries, featurette and the trailer).
Sadly, the good vibes established by “Bride of Chucky” didn’t carry over to the belated follow-up SEED OF CHUCKY (*, 88 mins., 2004, Unrated), which goes to show what happens when a filmmaker is apparently given free reign to do whatever he wants. Thus, this puerile and unsettling (for all the wrong reasons) sequel from Don Mancini – once again writing and making his directorial debut – shows that a whole movie filled with the intermittent gross-out humor of “Bride of Chucky” is indeed too much of a good thing.
Mancini’s picture starts off on the wrong foot (with a series of ersatz “scares”) and then quickly descends into an unfunny succession of gory murders and Hollywood in-jokes, with Chucky’s son “Glen” arriving in Hollywood to find his parents as props in a “Chucky” film. No sooner do the murderous Chucky and Tiffany dolls come back to life than another rash of murder and mayhem begins, all the while Jennifer Tilly plays “herself” in a “real” Chucky film shooting at the same time.
The satiric targets (if you can call them that) are obvious and the whole picture sits in no man’s land, neither a horror film (Chucky and Co. are now about as scary as your typical Smurfs episode) nor an amusing spoof (Mancini’s jokes worked a lot better in a semi-traditional genre framework like its immediate predecessor). In fact, it’s simply dreadful.
“Seed of Chucky” generated an HD-DVD release from Universal and made its way to Blu-Ray up in Canada years back. This first U.S. release of the movie on Blu includes copious extras from its prior HD-DVD package (commentaries, featurettes), a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack of the movie’s unrated cut.
After years of rumors related to a possible “serious” remake, Don Mancini and producer David Kirschner opted instead to bring back Chucky for another go-around in the all-new, direct-to-video CURSE OF CHUCKY (*½, 95/97 mins., 2013, R/Unrated), which is available individually or as part of the “Child’s Play Complete Collection” set. Alas, this feeble, cheapjack attempt at carrying on the Child’s Play series from Mancini (once again writing and directing) proves that the filmmaker ought to be handing the reigns over to someone else at this point.
Playing down the humor of the series’ better entries and minus any of the visceral energy Ronny Yu brought to “Bride of Chucky,” “Curse” plays like the by-the-numbers, low-budget, direct-to-video entry you’d anticipate, with a group of wholly unappealing characters (including Brad Dourif’s daughter, Fiona) getting knocked off by Chucky before the “big reveal” flashback tells us what the point of the story is. Mancini’s attempts at playing this straight and giving fan-service cameos to Brad Dourif and others is, I guess, the only way he could’ve gone after the godawful “Seed of Chucky,” but why Universal keeps giving Mancini chances to rectify his own glaring issues as a writer/director is baffling. The movie’s not fun — it’s lethargic and lifeless. (If you do watch the movie, only the Unrated version has a post-credits tag that’s at least faintly amusing, and would’ve made for a more satisfying story that the one Mancini concocted).
Univrrsal’s Blu-Ray boasts format-exclusive featurettes and storyboard comparisons along with assorted extras (commentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel and Making Of) also available on DVD. Both a 95-minute R rated cut and an unrated version are included plus a 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack (offering a Joe LoDuca score) and an Ultraviolet/digital copy.
Also New From Universal
MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE: 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray (***, 1983, 106 mins., R; Universal): Universal’s Blu-Ray port of their 2003 double-disc “Meaning of Life” Special Edition DVD (as well as a 2007 HD-DVD release) offers an okay, though not pristine, VC-1 encoded transfer of this final Monty Python feature; there’s a softness and general “grain” inherent in the image, though fans will still appreciate the heightened clarity of the transfer (and it’s possible this may be the best the film will ever look). The 5.1 DTS MA sound, meanwhile, is excellent (there’s also a hysterical “Soundtrack For the Lonely” option, which is definitely fun for a few minutes if nothing else).
“The Meaning of Life” doesn’t try and tell a singular story like previous Python features, but rather links a group of loosely connected sketches and musical numbers together in order to make a little commentary on the nature of human existence. Some of the sequences work better than others, but the ones that do are uproarious, and the delightful, tuneful songs by John DuPrez and Eric Idle foreshadow their later work on “Spamalot.”
For the Blu-Ray edition, Universal has carried over ample extras from the previous Special Edition, and they’re bountiful, though some fans may be disappointed that the movie is only offered in its 106-minute theatrical cut (the 2-disc DVD edition offered seamless branching for a 112-minute “Director’s Cut”). Commentary from Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam dives into the movie’s somewhat turbulent production, while several deleted scenes are also on-hand, including the sequences from the “Director’s Cut” (albeit with some narration from Jones over them, with frustratingly no option to it off). There’s also an in-depth 50-minute documentary on the making of the movie, highlighted by interviews with Jones, Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese, and Eric Idle. The featurette also sports vintage production footage and a candid analysis of what worked and what didn’t in the film, though Cleese seems a bit overly critical of the movie’s sketch nature.
Making its Blu-Ray debut here is a brand-new, hour-long 2013 featurette with Cleese, Palin, Gilliam and Jones (in London) being joined via conference call with Eric Idle (in L.A.) for a fresh look back on the making of what would prove to be the Python’s final film together.
THE PURGE Blu-Ray Combo Pack (**, 86 mins., 2013, R; Universal): Low-rent, low-budget thriller from writer-director James DeMonaco posits a future world where crime becomes legal once a year in America – for 12 hours. Un-fun family Ethan Hawke and wife Lena Headey try to make it through in a bleak “futuristic home invasion” thriller that somehow became a massive hit at the box-office. Universal’s Blu-Ray is pretty light on extras – just a Making Of featurette is included – though the 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both fine.
MONSTER HIGH: 13 WISHES Blu-Ray Combo Pack (74 mins., 2013; Universal): The hugely popular line of female monster dolls has spawned another animated feature in time for Halloween, with “Howleen” trying to gain popularity at school via a genie with 13 wishes at her disposal. Three extra shorts and a preview of “Ever After High” are included in Universal’s colorful Blu-Ray combo pack, sporting a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, DVD edition and Ultraviolet/digital copy.
DEFIANCE Blu-Ray (aprx. 10 hours, 2013; Universal): Syfy Channel’s expensive and mostly entertaining (if uneven) sci-fi series – with western elements – is set on a future Earth where the arrival of aliens has totally changed the planet’s landscape. Universal’s Blu-Ray of “Defiance”’s Season 1 offers deleted scenes, a gag reel, Making Of featurette, a look behind the scenes with Jesse Rath, an Ultraviolet streaming copy and 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks.
PSYCH Season 7 DVD (aprx. 10 hours, 2013; Universal): Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and pal Burton “Gus” Guster (Dule Hill) are back, heading after Bigfoot, investigating a murder and causing all kinds of trouble in the seventh season of the long running USA cable series. Universal’s DVD offers all 14 seventh-season “Psych” episodes on three discs with deleted scenes, podcasts, a gag reel, alternate ending to the episode “100 Clues,” “Psychouts,” 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.
Also New on Blu-Ray & DVD
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 135 mins., 1976, PG; Shout! Factory): Jack Higgins’ international bestseller about a failed German plot to kidnap Winston Churchill in a quiet English village became a sturdy – if unspectacular – 1976 thriller under the guidance of veteran director John Sturges. Michael Caine stars as the most sympathetic German in the cast, with Robert Duvall, Donald Sutherland, Jenny Agutter, Jean Marsh, Donald Pleasence, Treat Williams and Larry Hagman acting out Tom Mankiewicz’s cinematic distillation of Higgins’ lengthy book. Nicely shot in scope, “The Eagle Has Landed” has a sort of wormanlike feel to it – it’s competent but not particularly inspired, and is basically only good for a single viewing. Even Lalo Schifrin’s score (which had to have been temp-tracked with Michel Legrand’s score for “The Three Musketeers”) isn’t much more than serviceable given the composer’s standards, yet nostalgic viewers may want to give the film a fresh lookover – especially with Shout!’s new Blu-Ray edition of the film. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is an improvement from the out-of-print ITV British Blu-Ray, and even better, carries over the bulk of Carlton’s old 2-disc DVD Special Edition extras. The best of these — an interview with Mankiewicz, archival location interviews with the cast members — should prove sufficiently engaging to buffs, and a standard DVD rounds out the release.
FRIGHT NIGHT 2 – NEW BLOOD Blu-Ray/DVD (**, 99/100 mins., 2013, R/Unrated; Fox): Talk about bizarre. Though billed as “Fright Night 2,” this direct-to-video film from 20th Century Fox is really another remake of the original 1985 Tom Holland classic, just with the settings changed. Here, Charley, Amy and Evil Ed are in a high school program in Romania. Instead of Jerry Dandridge, we have Gerri Dandridge, a female professor with a taste for blood. Peter Vincent is here too, but instead of a horror movie host (a la Roddy McDowall) or a magician (a la David Tennant), he’s a Ghost Hunters-like, would-be paranormal investigator. The movie plays out exactly as you’d expect — same basic plot structure as the Holland original, but with more blood, less humor, and something of a road company (predominantly British) cast that’s not particularly engaging (though the female leads are attractive enough).
It’s beyond strange that the director and crew (on the disc’s commentary track) say they’re making a sequel to the 2011 Fright Night, when the movie is actually a remake. The story doesn’t acknowledge the earlier film (how could it when Evil Ed is back, alive and well!) in any capacity. There’s some vague plot element in Charley and Amy’s relationship that “something” happened to them before, but it’s never spelled out, and otherwise, the characters behave as if it’s the first time something happened to them (Charley and Peter have never met, for example). On the other hand, one gets the sense from listening to enthusiastic director Eduardo Rodriguez that he probably never even saw the 2011 film to begin with, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised!
Overall, though, the movie is watchable, but nowhere in the league of the 1985 film or even the 2011 remake. Like a better-than-Syfy Channel rendition of the story, which for most fans, isn’t going to be enough, though it’s a passable timekiller if taken on its own terms. Fox’s Blu-Ray includes an R rated and Unrated version of the picture along with the commentary, a couple of “Fright Night” webisodes, featurette, DVD and digital copy.
THE CROODS Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (***, 98 mins., PG, 2013; Dreamworks/Fox): Engagingly drawn, lively animated feature from Dreamworks gives audiences an amusingly light spin on “Quest For Fire,” with Eep (Emma Stone) leading her family of stuck-in-their-ways cavepeople out into a whole (prehistoric) world of possibilities after meeting a fellow tribesman named Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). Definitely one of the better animated features I’ve seen in a while, “The Croods” boasts playful comedy, eye-popping animation (which looks dazzling on Fox’s Blu-Ray combo pack), and a fun storyline that should delight adults as well as kids. Fox’s BD includes a razor-sharp 1080p AVC encoded transfer; lost scenes; numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes; a 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack; standard DVD; and Ultraviolet Digital HD copy. Recommended!
TV on Video
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER Season 8 DVD (aprx. 517 mins., 2012-13; Fox): The long-running CBS comedy’s penultimate season finds Ted still searching for his future beloved, while Robin and Barney’s on-again/off-again relationship turns decidedly back “on”. Meanwhile, Marshall and Lily continue to raise little Marvin while Marshall flirts with shifting gears in his professional life. Season 8 of HIMYM offers more sharp writing and amiable performances from the cast – though the season takes a while to find its groove, there are some gems sprinkled throughout the year, including a hilarious “Karate Kid reunion” episode with guest spots from Ralph Macchio and William Zabka. Deleted scenes, a music video, Making Of, commentaries on two episodes, a set tour with Josh Radnor and a gag reel are all on-hand in Fox’s three-disc DVD set, featuring all 23 eighth-season episodes in 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.
Also new from Fox on DVD is Season 2 of NEW GIRL (546 mins., 2012-13; Fox), the quirky and occasionally hilarious comedy starring Zooey Deschanel as the colorful Jess, who moves in with equally offbeat male roomies Schmidt (Max Greenfield), Winston (Lamorne Morris) and Nick (Jake Johnson), whose relationship with Jess jumps out of the platonic category throughout the 25-episode second season. Guest stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner (as Jess’ parents) are on-hand along with the late Dennis Farina as Nick’s dad. A gag reel, deleted scenes, commentary on “Cooler,” and an extended version of the episode “Virgins” are included in Fox’s Season 2 DVD plus 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.
Fox has also released the complete Fourth Season of Emmy-winning comedy MODERN FAMILY (519 mins., 2012-13; Fox) in a three-disc Blu-Ray set featuring all 24 of its fourth season episodes. Guest stars include Matthew Broderick, Shelley Long and Elizabeth Banks, and special features boast commentaries from the award-winning writing staff, a gag reel, a director’s cut of the Season Finale, numerous interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes, plus 1080p AVC encoded transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks…In Season 8 of BONES (1039 mins., 2012-13), Booth and Bones tackle more challenging cases while being pursued by psycho Christopher Pelant. Fox’s Blu-Ray includes “Bones”’ 24 eighth-season episodes in 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks. Extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel, a commentary track, and a pair of featurettes…Season 4 of GLEE (963 mins., 2012-13) mixes up the series’ eclectic formula by placing Rachel and Kurt in New York City while Finn tackles a career change and a number of new cast members join the New Directions group. Fox’s Blu-Ray, in addition to 1080p transfers and DTS MA 5.1 soundtracks, also includes a number of featurettes, a “Glee” Music Jukebox, and deleted scenes, and is sure to please the series’ hardcore fans.
On DVD, Fox releases Season 4 of WHITE COLLAR (704 mins., 2012-13) this week, featuring deleted scenes, a gag reel, commentary on the episode “In the Wind,” and a profile of cast member Tim DeKay taking over behind the camera. Finally, Volume 11 of FAMILY GUY (503 mins., 2011-12) boasts 23 episodes from Seth MacFarlane’s animated comedy, including a memorable episode where Brian and Stewie head back in time – to the series’ pilot episode! (Where things were drawn, and voiced, just a bit differently). Uncensored audio clips are included in the three-disc DVD set along with commentaries; deleted scenes; audio outtakes; and more material related to the series’ humble beginnings as a low-rated UPN series! 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks complete the package.
HART OF DIXIE: Season 2 DVD (929 mins., 2012-13; Warner): Dr. Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson) kicks off the second-season of the CW romantic drama by continuing to establish herself in BlueBell, Alabama. Among the storylines in the 22-episode second season are a face-off for BlueBell’s mayorship between incumbent Lavon Hayes (Cress Williams) and an old flame of Lemon Breeland (Jaime King), and Zoe having to choose between bartender Wade Kinsella (Wilson Bethel) and lawyer George Tucker (Scott Porter). Fans of the easy-going series are sure to appreciate Warner’s DVD box-set of “Hart of Dixie”’s second season, sporting 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.
Among CBS’ latest releases are a pair of titles currently exclusive to Walmart: THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES’ Fourth Season (aprx. 14 hours, 1965-66) offers more antics of the Clampett clan, with Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Donna Douglas and Max Baer Jr. once again on-hand for more ‘60s sitcom calamities. CBS’ DVD includes the label’s customary 4:3 transfers and mono soundtracks with a music-edit disclaimer listed on the back cover. Fans of the “Hillbillies” are also likely to enjoy the Third Season of PETTICOAT JUNCTION (aprrx. 12 hours, 1965-66), with the Bradley girls stirring up more trouble (and singing, of course) at the Shady Rest Hotel. CBS’ DVD set is a five-disc affair from the series’ first in color, sporting mono soundtracks and full-screen 4:3 transfers.
Christmas is Coming! [Aka, The First Aisle Seat Holiday Video Round-Up]
Now that we’ve hit October on the calendar, Christmas is incredibly just a short time away (and for retailers of all kinds, it’s essentially here already. Sigh). To mark the occasion, Vivendi has released a number of cute TV movies, most of which have aired on the Hallmark Channel, on DVD for the first time this month. COME DANCE WITH ME (86 mins., 2012) is the best of the bunch, starring Andrerw MCCarthy as a workaholic financial executive, engaged to the boss’ daughter, who instead falls for his dance instructor (Michelle Nolden). This is a feel-good effort that adheres to Hallmark conventions, but McCarthy is engaging and the light holiday atmosphere makes it a good bet for seasonal (romantic) viewing. Vivendi’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
Also new from Vivendi are HOME FOR CHRISTMAS: A GOLDEN CHRISTMAS 3 (88 mins., 2012), which matches Shantel Washington and Rob Mayes together – along with a couple of adorable Golden Retrievers – in another cute date movie. HITCHED FOR THE HOLIDAYS (87 mins., 2012) sees New Yorkers Joey Lawrence and Emily Hampshire pretending to be a couple in order to placate their families, while George Wendt and Shelley Long have fun as Santa and Mrs. Claus in the silly MERRY IN-LAWS (90 mins., 2012), another title you’re likely to see on the Hallmark Channel’s annual “Countdown to Christmas” movie marathon. All three DVD titles include 16:9 transfers and stereo soundtracks.
Not to be outdone, Lionsgate has also just released their own 6-disc set, 12 FILMS OF CHRISTMAS (aprx. 17 hours), featuring no less than a dozen Lifetime original movies. These aren’t quite as wholesome (relatively speaking) as the Hallmark films but they’re nevertheless likely to entertain folks looking for a little seasonal romance and emotional warmth. Included in the box-set are The Road to Christmas; Recipe For a Perfect Christmas; Home By Christmas; A Christmas Wedding; Holiday Switch; A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride; Under the Mistletoe; Holiday Wishes; Christmas in Paradise; Deck the Halls; His & Her Christmas; and Will You Merry Me….Available now is POWER RANGERS SUPER SAMURAI: A CHRISTMAS WISH (69 mins., 2013), which finds the Rangers stuck in the Megazord’s cockpit on Christmas Eve. Lionsgate’s DVD also includes the episodes “Alpha’s Magical Christmas” and “Forever Friends” from “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers,” plus “Mega Bloks Holiday Toymation,” 4:3 transfers and stereo soundtracks.
E One, meanwhile, has newly released THE HORSES OF McBRIDE (88 mins., 2012) on DVD: a heart-tugging tale of a girl (Mackenzie Porter) who finds a pair of stranded horses stuck in the snow, and convinces her father (Aidan Quinn) – and the rest of their small community – to come to their aid. Anne Wheeler wrote and directed this Canadian-lensed, feel-good TV movie that E One brings to DVD in time for the holiday season sporting a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Perfect for family viewers.
Also New From E One: LOST AND FOUND (55 mins., 2008) is an animated adaptation of Oliver Jeffers’ children’s book about a young boy who decides to row to the South Pole after a lost penguin shows up on his doorstep. This hour-long production, narrated by Jim Broadbent and adapted and directed by Philip Hunt, is a lovely piece for children, with an appealing score by Max Richter. E One’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack along with a Making Of featurette. (Available October 15th)
New From PBS
INSPECTOR LEWIS: Pilot Through Series 6 DVD Box Set (PBS): Box-set compilation of the acclaimed PBS series starring Kevin Whately as Lewis and Laurence Fox as Sergeant Hathaway in dramas based on Colin Dexter’s popular novels. Included in the set are all 27 episodes from the program’s pilot episode through its sixth season: Series Pilot, Whom the Gods Would Destroy, Old School Ties, Expiation, And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea, Music to Die For, Life Born of Fire, The Great and the Good, Allegory of Love, The Quality of Mercy, The Point of Vanishing, Counter Culture Blues, The Dead of Winter, Dark Matter, Your Sudden Death Question, Falling Darkness, Old Unhappy Far Off Things, Wild Justice, The Mind Has Mountains, The Gift of Promise, The Soul of Genius, Generation of Vipers, Fearful Symmetry, The Indelible Stain, Down Among the Fearful, The Ramblin’ Boy, and Intelligent Design. Widescreen transfers and 2.0 or 5.1 tracks are included across all 14 PBS DVDs.
THE MARCH (60 mins., 2013) tells the story of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which brought together leaders of the civil rights movement and assorted unions. Denzel Washington narrates “The March,” a production of the UK’s Smoking Dogs Films, which mixes archival footage with recent comments from Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, Clarence B. Jones, Roger Mudd and Oprah Winfrey. The DVD carries a 16:9 transfer and stereo soundtrack…Available October 29th in the complete 6th season of COOK’S COUNTRY (345 mins., 2013), the “America’s Test Kitchen” spin-off with host Christopher Kimball and his fellow chefs from the popular PBS program. A number of hearty American favorites are profiled here, from “Homespun Breakfast Treats” to “Old Fashioned Sweet Endings” and “Comfort Food Classics.” Zesty Italian, Chinese and backyard staples are also on the menu in the sixth season, with PBS’ DVD including printable versions for all 26 recipes included here. Caution: it’s impossible not to get hungry watching these episodes!
New From BBC
The Complete Seventh Series of DOCTOR WHO (727 mins., 2013; BBC) brings back Matt Smith as the good Doctor for the final time. Episodes include The Doctor, The Window and the Wardrobe; Asylum of the Daleks; Dinosaurs on a Spaceship; A Town Called Mercy; The Power of Three; The Angels Take Manhattan: The Snowmen; The Bells of Saint John; The Rings of Akhaten; Cold War; Hide; Journey to the Center of Tardis; The Crimson Horror; Nightmare in Silver; and The Name of the Doctor. BBC’s Blu-Ray package includes commentaries, behind the scenes featurettes, 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS HD-MA soundtracks…IN THE FLESH (180 mins., 2013) is a more “cerebral” attempt at making another “youth zombie” story, though this BBC America production ultimately ends up as a more depressing variation on “Warm Bodies.” BBC’s DVD of the three-hour mini-series includes 16:9 transfers and stereo soundtracks…THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL (175 mins., 2013) adapts James Herbert’s novel about a couple (Tom Ellis, Suranne Jones), reeling from the disappearance from their son, who move into a quiet countryside home with supernatural occurrences. BBC’s DVD offers a 16:9 transfer of the three-hour production co-starring David Warner and Sarah Smart, plus a stereo soundtrack.
New From Anchor Bay
NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR Blu-Ray/DVD (100 mins., 2013, R; Anchor Bay): Guitarist Slash, apparently inspired by the success of Rob Zombie, has decided to throw his hat into the ring of rockers-turned-horror-movie-moguls with this first production from his “Slasher Films” imprint. “Nothing Left to Fear” is a fairly by-the-numbers, though relatively well-produced, supernatural thriller with couple Anne Heche and James Tupper running afoul of a small town minister (Clancy Brown) whom Tupper is supposed to replace; all kinds of gory misadventures involving the couple’s daughters soon follow. Slickly handled and slow-going before it flies over the edge at the end, “Nothing Left to Fear” ought to entertain undemanding horror buffs, with Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray offering commentary with Slash (who co-wrote the score) and co-composer Nicholas O’Toole and director Anthony Leonardi III, along with a Making Of featurette, 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.
Anchor Bay has also released MORNING (95 mins., 2013, R) on DVD, an independent film from actor Leland Orser, who also directed this story about a couple (Orser and Jeanne Tripplehorn) whose lives are forever impacted when they lose a child. Laura Linney, Kyle Chandler and Elliott Gould co-star in this well-acted and sincerely told – if dramatically obvious – picture Anchor Bay has released on disc featuring a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
AAAHH!!! REAL MONSTERS: THE COMPLETE SERIES (aprx. 20 hours, 1994-97; Shout! Factory) brings together all 52 episodes from the ‘90s Nickelodeon animated series, where Ickis, Oblina and Krumm study at a school designed to hone their human-scaring skills (shades of Pixar’s later “Monsters Inc.,” but much more offbeat). Shout’s DVD will satisfy all fans of the series as well as nostalgia buffs when it streets this week...TIGERS: HOMETOWN HEROICS (60 mins., Lionsgate) celebrates the indelible moments in the Detroit Tigers franchise, from on-field highlights to Hall of Fame induction speeches by Hal Newhouser, Al Kaline, George Kell, Ernie Harwell and Sparky Anderson…EXPLODING SUN (176 mins., 2013; Gaiam Vivendi) stars “JAG”’s David James Elliott and Julia Ormond in a Canadian-produced sci-fi mini-series Gaiam brings to Blu-Ray this week. Interviews with Elliott, Ormond and other cast members are included in Gaiam’s Blu-Ray along with a 1080p transfer and DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack.
NEXT TIME: More of the latest reviews! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!