Jun 05, 2023

Video Vault

INVADERS FROM MARS (Ignite Films/MVD Entertainment Group): This 1953 sci-fi favorite directed by Oscar-winning production designer William Cameron Menzies inspired such genre giants as John Carpenter, Don Coscarelli, Brad Bird, Joe Dante, John Landis, and Tobe Hooper (who remade it 33 years later), and became an inescapable staple of late-night TV, spooking subsequent generations of film fans (including this one) no matter how choppy and tattered the print.

Now, for its 70th anniversary, Invaders from Mars has returned, and it looks and sounds better than ever – certainly better than the early public-domain video releases.

Fueled by Cold War paranoia, the film follows young David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) as he spies a flying saucer landing in the sand pit behind his house. The alien invasion has begun, starting with his own parents (Leif Erickson and Hilary Brooke). Not knowing where to turn or who he can trust, desperate David manages to convince sympathetic school nurse Helena Carter (in her final feature) and egghead scientist Arthur Franz of his plight, but is it too late to save his family and, indeed, the world?

The low-budget seams show (particularly in repeated shots), but so does Menzies’ ingenuity and resource, as he carefully but expediently fashions a nightmare seen from a pre-adolescent perspective. As the beleaguered young protagonist, Hunt holds everything together with an empathetic, energetic performance, with such familiar folk as Morris Ankrum, Milburn Stone, Douglas Kennedy, Bert Freed, Robert Shayne, and a pre-Leave It to Beaver Barbara Billingsley on hand. The ending, however, has become an oft-used cliché over the years … as you’ll see for yourself.

Invaders from Mars is available on DVD ($19.95 retail) with no bonus features, but the 70th-anniversary Blu-ray ($39.95 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($49.95 retail) include retrospective featurette and interviews, alternative ending and extended Planetarium scene, original and newly commissioned trailer, and more bonus features. ***

THE BOOGEY MAN (Vinegar Syndrome): The 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.98 retail) of Ulli Lommel’s intermittently effective low-budget 1980 shocker starring then-wife and co-writer Suzanna Love as a woman who attempts to purge a childhood trauma by revisiting her parents’ home, only to become possessed by an evil (and predictably vengeful) spirit. In the wake of Halloween (1978), this was a surprise box-office hit – although not enough to prevent distributor Jerry Gross from declaring bankruptcy shortly thereafter. This adheres to the slasher motif with grisly death scenes and gratuitous sex, adds supernatural mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-Freudian touches, and even a bit of black comedy. Love’s real-life brother Nicholas (in his feature debut) plays her onscreen brother, Ron James (in his feature debut) plays Love’s hunky husband, and venerable Hollywood veteran John Carradine (who never met a B movie he didn’t make) adds name value in a brief turn as her psychiatrist. Probably the best film of Lommel’s (ahem) checkered career, and certainly superior to the infuriating sequel (mostly comprised of footage from this film) – and, yes, it has a cult following. A plethora of bonus features includes audio commentaries, retrospective and vintage interviews, theatrical trailer and TV spots, and more. Rated R. **

“CISCO KID WESTERN MOVIE COLLECTION” (VCI Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): A self-explanatory three-disc DVD collection ($24.95 retail) of 13 vintage Westerns focusing on the exploits of the titular hero created by O. Henry: Duncan Renaldo saddles up for South of the Rio Grande (1945), The Girl from San Lorenzo (1950), Satan’s Cradle (1949), The Daring Caballero (1949), 1945’s The Cisco Kid Returns (Daring Adventure), The Cisco Kid in Old New Mexico (1945), and The Gay Amigo (1949); Gilbert Roland assumed the role in The Gay Cavalier (1946), Beauty and the Bandit (1946), South of Monterey (1946), Riding the California Trail (1947), Robin Hood of Monterey (1947), and King of the Bandits (1947). Bonus features include vintage interviews, poster and still gallery, and two episodes from the popular TV series in which Renaldo reprised the role.

“THE ERNST LUBITSCH COLLECTION” (Kino Classics): The latest Blu-ray double feature ($29.95 retail) showcasing the early features of the legendary Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) which he made in his native Germany before emigrating to the United States: Max Kronert and Hermann Thimig star in 1919’s The Doll (Die Puppe); and 1918’s I Don’t Want to be a Man (Ich mochte kein Mann sein) starring Ossi Oswalda and Curt Goetz. Each film is in German with English subtitles, and each features audio commentary.

LAST AND FIRST MEN (Metrograph Pictures/Kino Lorber): The Blu-ray bow ($29.95 retail) of writer/composer Johann Johansson’s award-winning 2020 feature directorial debut, based on Olaf Stapleton’s cult 1930 novel, an experimental futuristic parable set billions of years in the future that explores the condition of Earth and its inhabitants in abstract fashion, featuring (English) narration by Tilda Swinton. Tragically, Johansson died in 2018 before completing the film.

MALLRATS (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Kevin Smith’s 1995 follow-up to his 1992 cult classic Clerks follows the misadventures of best buddies Jason London and Jason Lee (in his feature debut) as they wander around the U.S. 1 Flea Market in New Jersey – an actual place once frequented by this critic – although the film was primarily shot in Minnesota. Jason Mewes and Smith reprise their roles as Jay and Silent Bob, and the game cast includes Shannen Doherty, Claire Forlani, Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, Priscilla Barnes, Marvel Comics founder (and Smith icon) Stan Lee, and Michael Rooker – but despite some laughs this hasn’t dated nearly as well as its predecessor, although Smith’s devoted fanbase has made it a cult classic. The limited-edition 4K Ultra HD combo ($49.95 retail) includes both the unrated director’s version and R-rated theatrical cut, audio commentaries, retrospective and vintage featurettes and interviews, collectible booklet and poster, deleted scenes and still galleries, theatrical trailer, and more. **

“NAOMI KAWASE DVDs” (Film Movement): From acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase, the youngest director to be awarded the Cannes Camera d’Or (in 1987), comes a pair of early feature films – both nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival – making their DVD debuts: 2014’s Still the Water (originally titled Futatsume no mado), which won both the Best Director and Best Cinematography awards at the 2015 RiverRun International Film Festival; and 2017’s award-winning Radiance (originally titled Hikari). Both films were written and directed by Kawase and both are in Japanese with English subtitles. Each DVD retails for $29.95.

NIGHTBREED (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A “collector’s-edition” 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.98 retail) of screenwriter/director Clive Barker’s award-winning 1990 adaptation of his own novel Cabal, starring Craig Sheffer as a mental patient who flees into the fantasy netherworld known as “Midian” after being framed for a series of his murders – unaware that the culprit is his own psychiatrist (filmmaker David Cronenberg) – and rallies its inhuman inhabitants to protect him. It’s an interesting conceit that the creatures of Midian are misunderstood and persecuted, while many of the human characters (including Charles Haid’s snarling police captain) are more monstrous. Barker was vocal in his criticism of the film’s last-minute reshoots and re-editing, but despite imaginative special effects and a good Danny Elfman score, this doesn’t really work in either version, although Barker’s is more complete. Bonus features include the theatrical version and the director’s cut, audio commentary, retrospective and vintage featurettes, the documentary Tribes of the Moon: The Making of “Nightbreed,” and more. Rated R. **

NIGHT SCREAMS (Vinegar Syndrome): Hard to believe, a 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.98 retail) of director Allen Plone’s feature debut, an amateurish, bargain-basement 1987 slasher opus detailing the violent home invasion of a typically ‘80s beer bash thrown by high-school jock Joe Manno (in his only feature to date) to celebrate his college football scholarship. The sort of cut-rate schlock that helped bring the slasher genre to a screeching halt and gathered dust on the shelves at many a video store back in the day. Not even good for laughs, but the bonus features (!) are plentiful: The pre-release version and (wildly padded) theatrical cut, audio commentary, the retrospective documentary Blood and Chopsticks: Echoes of “Night Screams,” original trailer, and more. ½

OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Virginie Efira headlines writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski’s award-winning drama (originally titled Les enfants des autres) as a fortyish schoolteacher with no children of her own who attempts to bond with the young daughter (newcomer Callie Ferreira-Goncalves) of her new boyfriend (Roschdy Zem). In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail), each replete with bonus features.

OUTRAGE (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): The Blu-ray bow ($24.95 retail) of director/screenwriter Ida Lupino’s controversial 1950 melodrama, starring Mala Powers as a young bookkeeper whose grip on sanity collapses after enduring a traumatic sexual assault walking home from work one evening, with Tod Andrews, Robert Clarke, Jerry Paris, Tristam Coffin, Raymond Bond, Roy Engel, Albert Mellen (in his only feature, as the rapist), and Lupino’s real-life sister Rita in support. Bonus features include audio commentary.

WEIRD SCIENCE (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): After back-to-back successes with Sixteen Candles (1984) and The Breakfast Club (1985), writer/director John Hughes stumbled with this scattershot 1985 sci-fi spoof in which teen geeks Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith program their computer to create the perfect dream girl – who then materializes in the form of curvaceous Kelly LeBrock. Despite a big promotional push, this was only mildly successful at the box-office but did spawn a popular TV sitcom. Bill Paxton is a hoot as Mitchell-Smith’s obnoxious brother Chet, while Robert Downey Jr., Robert Rusler (in his feature debut), Vernon Wells, John Kapelos, and Michael Berryman drop by briefly. The limited-edition 4K Ultra HD combo ($49.95 retail) includes the theatrical version, extended UHD version and edited-for-television version, collectible booklet and poster, vintage behind-the-scenes documentary, retrospective interviews, theatrical trailers and TV/radio spots, image galleries, and more. Rated PG-13. **

(Copyright 2023, Mark Burger)

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