Holiday Specials


By • Oct 30th, 2000 •

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Tis the season. And practically every DVD distributor has seen to it that you can choose one or two goodies from their recent library of releases.

The Invisible Man

But before I list those options, let me plug a wonderful series being presented on The Independent Feature Channel.. It lead off with Adam Simon’s well researched documentary The American Nightmare on…Friday the 13th. Interviews with George Romero, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, and other greats of the modern genre supported the doc’s theory that social unrest, the Vietnam war, etc., were causal elements which led to films such as The Night of the Living Dead and The Last House on the Left. Well, whatever else contributed to these classics – new liberalities in cinema, psycholgical predispositions – his contention is certainly true. Back in the early 70s I spoke at length with both Wes and George about these themes creeping into their films, and they readily acknowledged the environmental influences. But the times have moved on, and such factors are now forgotten in the sweep of history, so Simon’s doc does valuable work in showing their roots. It’s a serious work, which is being followed throughout the month by a strong sampling from each of the filmmakers’ stables.

On DVD, from Paramount, there’s Sleepy Hollow with a bevy of extras, and though I’m not a fan of that film for many reasons, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t admit that it’s one of the ten or twenty most laudable accomplishments in Art Direction, right up there with Doctor Zhivago, Brazil, and a small list of masterpieces. But wait, from Disney you can get Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Everyone was talking about the influence the old Hammer films had on Tim Burton, but few remembered that the third act relied far more on Disney’s wonderful cartoon. Now you can double-bill them.

Disney also has, sticking with Tim Burton, A Nightmare Before Christmas. Again, mixed feelings here about the film’s success, but not about the brilliance of the DVD package. And getting back to Paramount, there’s Rosemary’s Baby and Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone.

But wait, there’s more Cronenberg. Just shift over to Fox Home Video for his poetic remake of a classic, The Fly, and if you’re in that kind of mutated insect type mood, Fox has seen fit to release four flies simultaneously: Cronenberg’s, the sequel to Cronenberg’s, the original 1958 version with Vincent Price (which offered ten thousand dollars to the filmgoer who could disprove the concept, then renegged when thousands of disapprovals came flooding in to the studio), and the sequel to that version, The Return of the Fly. Call me a killjoy, given all this fun viewing, but I’m disappointed that The Curse of the Fly wasn’t included. Where I come from, Brian Donlevy is held in high regard, and if they managed to release the other four… What’s up with that?

And speaking of David Cronenberg, there’s been so much released of his in the recent weeks that you might want Winstar’s The Director’s Series installment on his work.

Universal offers the cream of the crop with four more of its Classic Monster series, generally lovely transfers with copious extras. The Creature From the Black Lagoon is a spectacular disc, with Tom Weaver providing his usual praiseworthy commentary which still manages to diss a good many of the talents involved – such as Bud Westmore – though not without having done his research before forming an opinion.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a remarkably good film, not least because it is true to the spirit of the monsters it depicts, which warrants it being in this collection rather than in an Abbott and Costello multi-pack. Wonderful to see Bela Lugosi as the Count for one last, dignified time. And you will be rocked in your seat when, while watching the commemorative ‘making of’ doc, you witness an outtake of Lugosi reacting (with annoyance, it seems) to one of Costello’s jester friends following him down the stairs and making fun of him.

The Invisible Man is a film you must own, so it’s only slightly disappointing that the commentary and documentary seem a bit too much like retreads of the Monster Classics released last year. It is nice, however, to see Claude Rains’ daughter reminiscing about her dad.

And there’s the Claude Rains Phantom of the Opera, in glorious Technicolor, with commentary by the inimitable Scott MacQueen. Keep purchasing these Universal goldies and they’ll keep doing them. Who would have thought, seventy years ago, that these horror flicks from one of the smaller studios would many decades hence be given practically the best DVD preservation treatment of any films ever made? And which ones would you like to see next year? My dream choice is The Black Cat by Edgar Ulmer, but there are so many, really. Son of Frankenstein, The Werewolf of London, The Incredible Shrinking Man

Universal also released a Director’s Cut of Pitch Black, a dandy Halloween screener, with two audio commentary tracks, one with writer/director Twohy and members of the cast, the other with Twohy and members of the production team. This one’s growing on me.

Kino Video has been steadily releasing a plethora of offbeat noirs, European missing-in-action features which they’ve tracked down and mastered with love, early American features that have been forgotten, as well as some odd classics of both the silent era and recent times. It’s hard to pick specific Halloween treats from them, but you can’t go wrong with their collection of shorts from The Brothers Quay, the British identical twins whose stop motion animation is pestilent and Kafkaesque, and inspired the output of Peter Greenaway. In particular, check out their seminal Street of Crocodiles.

Anchor Bay has been doing such a great job with the films of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Rudolph Van Den Berg, the Hammers, etc., that I’ll just name two that are debuting around this time, and both in commemorative ‘tins’: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, and Fulci’s The Beyond. I want to see The Beyond again before passing final judgment, but Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a terrific derivative zombie film, moody, scary, and quirky. They’ve even included a barf bag as promotional material.

Criterion, the Rolls Royce of the now-defunct laser disc industry, is keeping up their reputation on DVD. Three for Halloween are Brian De Palma’s Sisters, Kobayashi’s Kwaidan, and perhaps the best DVD of all those mentioned in this column: Carnival of Souls. They present two versions of Herk Harvey’s landmark independent feature, a stunning documentary about Saltair resort near Salt Lake City, reunion footage of cast and crew which is quite moving, and 45 minutes of outtakes including some hysterical unused images of Candice Hilligoss trying to outrun a marauding truck. This one is a must for every collection.

MGM/UA doesn’t seem to have concentrated on Halloween, though there are a few recent Roger Corman releases worth owning: Tales of Terror with an improvising Peter Lorre and a fussy Vincent Price in ‘The Black Cat’ sequence which makes it worth owning the entire DVD. There’s also Bucket of Blood, which I’ll be pushed up against a wall and pistol whipped for defending as Corman’s best work.

MPI has released two Dan Curtis tv features, Dan Curtis’s Dracula and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, both starring Jack Palance.

Which leaves Image Entertainment, last but certainly not least. Like Anchor Bay, they’ve been doing their job preserving European horror titles, the Herschel Gordon Lewis oeuvre, the Ilsa the She Wolf series, and sundry other oddities. Let me recommend Robot Monster for it’s bizarre inclusion of an Elmer Bernstein score (refer to the article elsewhere on the site about the Woodstock Film Festival), and the Halloween-appropriate The Cameraman’s Revenge & Other Fantastic Tales, animated films by the great Ladislaw Starewicz. In particular The Mascot (1933) features a Devil’s Ball which I promise you will never forget.

And though this is not exactly a Halloween choice, I watched Image’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much last night, and it’s one of the few wonderful Mario Bava films I’ve seen. Back in the early 60’s, Black Sunday made my hair stand on end, but today, unlike FIR’s reviewer Chris Dietrich, I find it emotionally dull and only technically stunning. Whereas The Girl Who Knew Too Much (from 1963) is immensely clever on a visual narrative level, moves with dizzying speed, features a captivating performance by Leticia Roman, and displays Bava’s impressive Black &White cinematography skills to boot.

Have a great viewing week, and keep Halloween alive all year long! I’ll be down in Oaxaca celebrating the Day of the Dead festivities come the end of the month. Then I’ll be back in front of my monitor, drinking up all the DVDs I missed while I was away.

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