DVD Reviews - Halloween '08 Edition

Cover to SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT

The drug stores are stocked with candy and costumes and the Hallmark stores are lousy with orange and black.

Yep, it's still only September, but it’s Halloween SEASON. That means tons of DVDs wanting to scare the money out of your wallet. Here’s a quick list of horror-related titles lurking in the review pile.

PICK OF THE WEEK

SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT (Lionsgate)

If Bruce Campbell and David Carradine together isn’t worth the price of admission, the concept of this 1990 release certainly is.

Carradine is an elegant Dracula. He bought enough desert real estate to hide his followers, as the modern world is too much to handle. Campbell is the great-great-great-grandson of Van Helsing, out to finish his family’s mission.

But things aren’t quite what they seem. Dracula hires an American researcher, David Harrison (Jim Meltzer) to perfect an artificial blood formula. What Drac doesn’t know is David’s wife, Sarah (Morgan Brittany), had a rather stormy history with his head researcher, Shane (Maxwell Caulfield). Now throw in a competing vampire lord and M. Emmett Walsh as part of a trio of vampires who could double for ZZ Top, and you have a refreshingly funny take on the bloodsucker genre.

Created by John Burgess and director Anthony Hickox, Sundown sits well next to Near Dark. Both are set in modern American backwaters. Both get incredible performances from a list of top notch cult stars. The key difference is Sundown goes more for the humor than the jugular, but still has its moments.

To top it, Carradine, Walsh, and Campbell add some sweet recollections on the EC about what it took to make the movie. Dig this baby up. Like any good vampire film, it’s hard to keep down.

BLOODSUCKING CINEMA (Anchor Bay)

About a year ago, the Starz network did a documentary on the vampire flick. This DVD is for those who don’t get the premium channel.

Bloodsucking Cinema interviews some interesting pros, among them John Carpenter, Stan Winston, Cheech Marin, and Joel Shumacher. Films range from the silent Nosferatu to From Dawn To Dusk.

Is it complete? Nope. There are some serious holes in this retrospective, especially when it jumps from the Universal monsters to the modern era. Hammer films are particularly slighted. The same for the late, great Bela Lugosi.

BURIED ALIVE (Sony)

Mix a bit of Saw with some over-melodramatic teen revenge films, and you wind up with this one. Five teenagers are given the film title treatment by sources unknown. They can communicate with each other, not that it does them, or us, any good. Fortunately it’s over pretty quickly but it’s still a waste of your time.

EDGAR & ELLEN: Trick or Twins

EDGAR & ELLEN: Mad Scientists (2 DVDs) (Lionsgate)

Edgar and Ellen are a bit Chas Addams, a touch Edwin Gorey, a little Dr. Seuss, and a lot of malicious fun. They do their best to terrorize their home town of Nod’s Limbs. What matters is they do it with a sense of panache and even a little flair.

For the record, Trick or Twins contains three specials before they became a series on Nick. Mad Scientists is the first season. Each comes with some EC that can keep kids busy for hours. Get it if you’re looking for some inventive, and sometimes explosive, fun.

FAT ALBERT’S HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (Classic/Genius)

This set is collects three different episodes from three different time periods of the Fat Albert show; the original Filmation series of 1972, a special from 1977 and a final episode from the 80’s. All contain some sort of Halloween theme, as well as the patented “soft” humor Filmation developed with Cosby and a small army of “educational advisors.” Great for the pre-school set.

FOX HORROR CLASSICS VOL. 2 (Fox) (3 DVDs)

This exceptional set unburies three Fox lost gems of the 30s and 40s. It’s worth it for the first film alone, Chandu The Magician. Aside an exceptional performance from Bela Lugosi as the evil Roxor, you can see where Spielberg and Lucas got a lot of inspiration for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in this film alone.

That ain’t all folks. Also included is horror master Vincent Price in a goth psychodrama, with Gene Tierney and John Huston, in the underappreciated Dragonwyck. You also get an incredible turn on the old Doctor Moreau theme in the very rarely seen Dr. Renault’s Secret.

All films come with an immaculate restoration job and some highly detailed historical extra content. If you love classic pre-WWII horror, get this set.

FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FIRST SEASON (CBS) (6 DVDs)

The mark of this once syndicated series is even though it’s been out of circulation for years, its imagery still has impact 20 years later. The series focuses on Micki Foster (Louise Robey), who inherits an antique shop from her recently departed uncle, Lewis Vendredi. It turns out not only was her uncle cursed by the Devil, but so was every item it sold. Further, Micki now inherits the curse. If she wants to be free of it, she must collect every item her late uncle sold. The problem is, many of the owners don’t want to do just that. But aided by her cousin, Ryan Dallion (John LeMay), and an occult specialist, Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins), she does what she can.

Originally released in 1987, it’s amazing to see how many boundaries this show shattered during its day. It’s even better to see how well it stands up despite the late 80s big hair and post New Wave fashions. Another set well worth digging up.

HAMMER HORROR FILMS: Icons of Horror (Sony) (2 DVDs)

A surprising disappointment after the superlative Icons of Adventure set released a few months back. This set collects four lesser known features from the production house that helped save horror in the 50s and the 60s. With titles like The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Scream of Fear and The Gorgon, only the last one contains any real scares. The rest are, in turn, a polite remaking of the original The Mummy, an even more mannered reinterpretation of the Stevenson classic, and a rather strained psychodrama in the mold of Suddenly, Last Summer. The only time you see Christopher Lee is in civilian clothes! Even the extra content is lame. Pass.

JUPITER LOVE (Cinema Epoch)

This Australian art film mixes Spielberg’s Duel with Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Crash to mixed result. While combining road rage with auto-eroticism (in all senses of the word) has its moments, this film is otherwise way too heavy on the melodrama to really have an effect. Gotta love the tongue ripping scene though.

MOTHER OF TEARS (Dimension)

You’d think the teaming of legendary director Dario Argento with his daughter Asia would be enough reason to see this movie. Add this film completes Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy (the other two being the legendary Suspira and Inferno) would make this one indispensable. Guess again. 

Not that Argento doesn’t try hard. There are some truly gross moments scattered through this splatter fest. The key word here is scattered, as in too far and in-between. Disappointing.

PHANTASM: OBLIVION (Anchor Bay)

Originally released in 1999, in this chapter, creator Don Coscarelli attempted to explain the origins of The Tall Man. The problem was the way it’s explained was so royally convoluted one lost interest midway and never got it back. In this new “uncut” version, some of the mysteries are supposed to have been left on the cutting room floor. Instead it just gets more convoluted. The word is a Phantasm V will be released next year. Why does one get the feeling that isn’t going to help? Can you say Exorcist? I knew you could.

PULSE 2 (Dimension)

A sequel to the 1988 film, this film is set after the disease that travels through cell phones, Wi-Fi and other airwaves has turned the world into a disaster area. In the middle, a recently divorced father must search for his daughter. The problem is his ex is among the undead byproduct of the disease. So’s his lover. From there this film sometimes gets overly melodramatic and/or very weird, but this SF-based chiller does have its moments.

RE-CYCLE (Image)

Leave it to the Pang Brothers to find a fresh approach to horror. The creators of such films as The Eye reunite with actress Angelica Lee to tell the tale of a writer trying to complete her latest book. The thing is, everything she discards ends up having a life of its own. By that they mean every half-baked, half-conceived, unborn, and never alive idea…and they all live in their own world. When the author winds up in this world, we end up in a truly bizarre place that’s a hybrid of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika and the decayed dystopias of the Brothers Quay. While the ending leaves something to be desired due to some overcompensating morality, everything up to it is absolutely brilliant, both story-wise and visually. One gets the feeling the film gets better with every screening. A true must see.

REST STOP: DON’T LOOK BACK UNCUT (WB)

This sequel returns to the Southern California wasteland, and explores the origins of the psycho killer Truck Driver and the Winnebago Family, as well as how one created the other. Now throw in the sibling of one of the kids murdered from the first movie, a little Native American folk lore and buckets upon buckets of severed limbs and other body parts, and you get the idea. Got to love a family that preys together, especially the Bible-pounding Winnebagos.

SCOOBY-DOO & THE GOBLIN KING (WB)

WARNING: This latest Scooby-Doo flick breaks one of the main cannons of the entire series. It has Scooby and Shaggy actually confront real pixies, fairies, and other magical creatures as they try to stop a carnival magician from becoming the king of the goblins. If that doesn’t bother you, then you’ll find the film relatively entertaining for what it is and an otherwise fairly traditional Mystery Van movie. Still, this sudden belief in magic puts a bad aftertaste in the Scooby snacks.

SHE: Deluxe Edition (Kino) (2 DVDs)

Based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard, this 1935 feature film reassembled the crew that produced King Kong (including a very young Ray Harryhausen) for a true Depression Era spectacular. What really makes this set worthwhile though is the second disk, which includes recollections from Harryhausen, a comparison of key scenes to the original silent version of 1911 as well as an even more titillating version from the 1920s. Lots more goodies in this Halloween sack of fun. Start your own expedition for it.

VANGUARD (Anchor Bay)

The fate of the world hangs in the hands of one guy with a spear and two very sharp tomahawks. He must cleave his way through an army of chemical warfare induced super-zombies who honestly fight like little kids but have some decent makeup work done on them. Then there’s the army who is out to do their own kind of ethnic cleansing. If only this film didn’t try to get so philosophical, it could have been some nicely mindless fun. So it goes.

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