July 01, 2007

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

As an independent bookstore, Borderlands definitely likes to support independent home video distributors, who bring us some of the weirder and more obscure films that would otherwise never find their way to home video.

I’ve talked in the past about the DVDs from Lurker Home Video, but I wanted to focus on them again, as they’ve recently released volume 4 of their consistently good H. P. Lovecraft Collection DVD series.  The mad man behind Lurker home video is Andrew Migliore, who is also one of the authors of the recent Lovecraft film encyclopedia, THE LURKER IN THE LOBBY.  He also, in copious spare time, has been running the annual H. P. Lovecraft International Film Festival for 11 years.  If there is anybody who knows obscure and quality filmic adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft, it’s Andrew.

Volume 4 of the Lovecraft Collection features three adaptations of "Picman’s Model" – two shorter versions, and a feature length, medium-sized budget adaptation called "Chilean Gothic," directed by Ricardo Harrington.  Volume 4 also features short adaptations of "In the Vault" and "Between the Stars".

Volume 3 of the series introduces the excellent Canadian-produced cosmically bizarre bio-drama that features extensive quotes from Lovecraft’s letters and fiction, as a device to convey the life and character of everyone’s favorite writer of cosmic alienation.  In addition it has several shorter pieces, including an adaptation of "The Outsider".

Volume 2 features one of those amazing “what-ifs”.  The pilot episode of a proposed British television show, featuring a shadowy government organization dedicated to keeping tabs on the forces of the elder gods.  It starred Paul Darrow ("Doctor Who," "Blake’s 7,") and was amazingly good.  Sadly, it was not picked up, and we only have this tantalizing hint of what might have been.  In addition, volume 2 features short films of "The Terrible Old Man" and "From Beyond," and… YES… the music videos from the greatest Cthulhu-surf-punk band ever… The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets.  If you’ve never heard the ’Thickets, you're missing out.

Volume 1 of the series features the legendary adaptation of "Cool Air," by Bryan Moore, and also features 4 other short films, as well as an interview with S. T. Joshi.

In addition to their H. P. Lovecraft collection, Lurker Home Video have a DVD featuring adaptations of works by Edgar Allen Poe which is worth checking out.

Another smaller DVD distributor is Panik House Entertainment. They have a nice mixture of Asian horror and exploitation films.  Another line that they have been releasing that is almost completely unique and totally intriguing is their series of classic Mexican horror films, under their Casa Negra imprint.

"The Living Coffin" (1958) is a interesting mixture of Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Premature Burial," and a traditional Mexican legend.

"The Man and The Monster"(1958), is a thrilling classic of Mexican horror.  It features Satan, and a musician who bargains away his soul.  Imagine a weird hybrid of the Faust story and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"The Vampire Collection" (1957 - 1958) is a double feature of the groundbreaking vampire films of Fernando Méndez:  "The Vampire," and "The Vampire’s Coffin".  These are truly outstanding films that deserve a much wider audience, and it's nice to seem them lovingly restored.  If you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to Guillermo Del Toro, who has this to say:  ". . . Fernando Mendez is one of the absolute masters at creating atmosphere.  His films are full of inventive, purely cinematic moments that transcend their shoestring budgets. Truly one of the Mexican masters of Fantastic cinema. . . ."

"The Black Pit of Dr. M"(1958) is a stylish film that is equally chilling and beautiful.  It shares some of the aesthetics of Italian director Mario Bava’s better films, and should not be missed by his fans.

"Brainiac" (1962) is a lurid and loony classic of Mexican cinema featuring revenge from beyond the grave.  This one hasn’t been available on DVD in an uncut form before this.

"The Witch's Mirror" (1960) is one of my favorites.  Based on the Mexican legend of La Llorona, is a beautifully overwrought excursion into gothic iconography.  It is, like all of the Casa Negra releases, restored and uncut, and this disk features a very engaging commentary by Mexican cinema expert Michael Liuzza.

Forthcoming releases from Casa Negra include "World of Vampires" (1960) and "The Living Head" (1961).  I haven’t had a chance to see these yet but I’ll let you know about them as soon as I do.

Keeping the focus on independnets, I’m going to end this column by mentioning legendary indy film director Darren Aronofsky, whose epic historical/SF extravaganza, "The Fountain" is out on DVD.  If you missed it in the theaters (I know I did) here’s your chance to watch one of the most compelling filmmakers of the last 15 years go absolutely crazy.  A visual and audio feast with a very ambitious script that sometimes fails to reach the heights it strives for, "The Fountain" is nonetheless one of the most interesting films to come along since "The City of Lost Children".

'Til next time.

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