June 01, 2007

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

Having just returned from the Feminist Science Fiction Convention in Madison Wisconsin, where they presented the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, I figured it was appropriate to lead off this column with a Tiptree-related item:  The Masters of Horror Season Two episode from Joe Dante is called "The Screwfly Solution," and is based on her short story of the same name.  For those of you who haven’t read it, it is included in the Tachyon collection HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER, or you can check it out at SciFi.com’s “classics” archive:  <http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/sheldon/sheldon1.html>.  There’s also a very useful bio and bibliography there.

Having just read the story, now you are ready to see the cinematic adaptation of this film, which is out on DVD this month.  It’s directed by Joe Dante, and stars Jason Priestly and Elliot Gould.  This one is pretty good.

Two years ago, in the first Masters of Horror Season, Joe Dante stirred conservative feathers with his zombie political allegory,  "Homecoming," which was also very good.  And just recently, a classic from his filmography was re-released: 1980's film of teen/monster mayhem, "Gremlins".  This one is in fact as good as you remember it being.

Prior to "Gremlins," Dante made his chops by helming the 80’s werewolf masterpiece, "The Howling," which has had a special edition re-release, and is well worth watching, (again, if need-be).

After "Gremlins," he also went on to do a lot of  TV material – episodes for the "New Twilight Zone," "Amazing Stories," and "Eerie, Indiana" are among the high points –  also the forgettable sequel to "Gremlins," and a bunch of forgettable big-budget Hollywood monstrosities ("The Burbs," "Small Soldiers," "Loony Toons Back in Action").  It’s interesting to see him return to his horrific roots in the Masters of Horror series, and see him do some very personal and political pieces within the structure of this Showtime anthology TV series.  Given the interesting nature of this work, I kind of hope he takes his horror back to the big screen before too long.

Another director who has been given free reign to do some stimulating stuff in the Masters of Horror series is Larry Cohen.  Larry should not be confused one of the “Cohen brothers” who brought you films such as "O Brother Where Art Thou," and "Fargo".  No.  Larry (no relation) is the director who brought you such memorable exploitation films such as "It’s Alive," "Q the Winged Serpent," and "God Told Me To".  His episode of Masters of Horror is called "Pick Me Up," and it's an interesting little twist on the “deadly hitchhiker” cliché.

Finally, I’m going to stick with this month's horror theme, and wrap up the column by pointing out one of the most intriguing horror films to come out in a long time: "Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon".  This one hits DVD this month.  Its premise is that you don’t just become a serial killer, you have to train and plan, and work to become one of the greats, like Jason, or Freddy, or Leather Face.  You have to work hard on creating your own mythos, and . . . .  Well, it never hurts to have a  grad student around to make a documentary about you and your legend in the making . . . .  The first half of this film is a very funny black comedy, with great performances and a star-studded cast; as the film progresses, it turns grimly serious.  I highly recommend this one and suggest taking a look over at the trailer here:

Until next month . . . keep watching those movies . . . and let me know what I’m missing.

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