December 01, 2005

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

The DVD section of Borderlands Books is now under new management.  My name is Jeremy Lassen, and I am the new DVD buyer.  I'm a longtime employee of Borderlands, in addition to being a book geek and a total film fanatic.  Prior to the invention of DVDs, I searched high and low for my favorite movies in letter-boxed editions. . .I owned a laser disk player, and I have gone on long-winded diatribes concerning the subtle allure of Italian horror movies.

Having so thoroughly established my bonafides as a qualified DVD buyer, I wanted to let you know what my basic DVD buying philosophy is.  My goal is to turn the DVD section of Borderlands into your one-stop-shop for fantasy, science fiction and horror.  Rather then focus on new releases and blockbuster extravaganzas,  I'm going to work hard to bring to everyone's attention the overlooked gems and obscure titles that you may not have heard of, but are sure to enjoy.  I'm going to focus on older titles, but will try and have an extremely large cross section of genre films, old and new.  I'm not going to be all-inclusive, because, quite frankly, there is a lot of crap that I just don't think anybody will be interested in -- but I'm not going to be snobbish; I like both high and low brow movies, and the diversity of the DVD selection will reflect that.  In addition to bulking out the selection of titles in store, I'm going to be writing a column for the store newsletter focusing on the films that I think are particularly noteworthy.

In the wake of a slate of Halloween releases, I want to point out that there has never been a better time to sample the films of British film studio Hammer Studios.  Hammer Studios first came to international prominence with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), which starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.  This was the beginning of long series of horror films that combined the gothic storytelling elements and icons of the Universal horror films of the 30's and 40's (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, The Mummy, etc.) with a more modern view of sex and sexuality, and oddly surreal/British visions of obscure Eastern European haunts.

There is no one single collection of Hammer films, as the home video rights are spread across several major studios, and a bunch of independents.  Universal, MGM, and Warner all have several Hammer DVD sets and/or single disks available, as does home video distributor Anchor Bay (though many of the Anchor Bay titles are out of print -- grab the ones we have while you still can!)

A great choice for someone wanting to sample one of the best of Hammer horror is The Horror of Dracula (1958).  This one stars Christopher Lee, playing Dracula for the first time, with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.  It is directed by the director Terrance Fisher, who is responsible for a large number of high profile, high quality Hammer movies.  This movie is available on its own, from Warner Home video, or as part of Warner's Hammer box set.

For something a bit less traditional, and part of Hammer's "later period" which was a bit heavier on the sex, one should catch Christopher Lee in To The Devil a Daughter (1976). (This is a controversial, sexed-up adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's novel of the same name.)  It's not a great movie. . .but it's a fun, guilty pleasure of mine.

Speaking of guilty pleasures, one of the best lesbian vampire movies ever made is Vampyres (1974), directed by Spanish director Jose Ramon Larraz.  Subtly erotic, and filled with a genuinely creepy atmosphere, this movie outshines nearly everything in the lesbian vampire film subgenre (which is filled with relatively boring movies by Jess Franco).  Vampyres has been brought to home video, uncut and fully restored, by independent Home video producer Blue Underground.  This DVD release features a fascinating commentary track by the director, as well as interviews with the stars Marianne Morris, and Anulka.  This movie shows how hot and creepy well done erotic horror movies can be, and puts most contemporary horror films to shame.

Finally, I wanted to point out that the horror films of legendary RKO producer Val Lewton are finally available on DVD.  Lewton was known for taking fresh young directing talent (Robert Wise, Jacques Tourneur, etc.), and producing low budget thrillers that were often much better then the A list movies that were being made at the same time.  A box set of these films and a Val Lewton documentary is available now, called (appropriately enough) The Val Lewton Horror Collection, and it contains Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam, The Leopard Man, The Ghost Ship, The 7th Victim, and Shadows in the Dark (two films on each double sided disk).

For those who want to sample the joys of Val Lewton without buying the entire box set, the films are available individually as double features, though the disk that contains The 7th Victim and Shadows in the Dark( the Lewton Documentary) is only available as part of the box set.  For the first-time Lewton viewer, I'd recommend either of the double features "I Walked With a Zombie / The Body Snatcher", or "The Cat People / The Curse of the Cat People."

I hope you find these DVD suggestions helpful.  If you watch any of these films, please drop me a note and let me know what you thought of them.  And if Borderlands is missing any of your favorite Horror, SF, or fantasy movies, be sure to drop me a note and let me know, at  I'll get them in stock as quick as I can.

Last but not least, I'm doing a special promotion in honor of the release of the complete Buffy the Vampire Slayer boxed set (all seven seasons in one lovely slip case).  For a limited time all our DVD boxed sets (specifically sets containing more than three disks) are 20% off when you purchase any other full price DVD.  Just in time for the holidays.

Until next month . . . .

PS for a much more in-depth history of Hammer Studios, and a complete list of the studios' output, be sure to see ( )

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