July 01, 2008

Notes From A DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

Hey everyone. Some great new titles and stuff hitting DVD for the first time.

First up is Stuart Gordon’s "From Beyond". Made on the heels of Gordon’s classic "Reanimator," this movie is the legendary Lovecraftian S&M bondage movie, and should not be missed. Previously only available on VHS and Laserdisk, this one is finally making its way to DVD. Actually, it made its way to DVD several months ago, but somehow I missed it. Sorry, everyone. This disk looks to be a tricked-out, remastered edition, with alternate scenes, interviews with Gordon, and other cool stuff.
Another “recent” arrival is a two-disk Collector's Edition of "Serenity," for all you Joss Whedon fans out there. It has 60+ minutes of documentaries, alternate takes and behind-the-scenes material that hasn’t been released anywhere else. It’s also got a nifty fold-out box with translucent cover, for those of you with a packaging fetish.

Staying in the realm of SF for a moment, but heading over to Japan, the anime series "Samurai 7" has just been released as a single box set. Based on Akira Kurosawa’s classic "Seven Samurai," this adaptation is set in a post-apocalyptic science-fictional setting, and is over 600 minutes long, start to finish – which makes it only marginally longer then the original Kurosawa film.

"Ruins" - the movie adapted from the novel of the same name made a quick theatrical circuit, and lands on video this week. It’s a well-crafted horror/adventure yarn, with tons of gross, buggy visuals, and some really nice sets and production values. Definitely worth a peak if you want some silly horror fun, a' la "Tremors". It is certainly better then most of the dross that creeps its way through the horror section.

Speaking of fun horror, a reader turned me on to a movie that I had heard about but not gotten around to watching. "Teeth" is a movie that is way better then it has any right to be. Very fun/funny/savvy take on the classic Vagina-Dentata myth/urban legend. This one is worth checking out.

Turning back to the realm of adaptations of books, the movie "Jumper" hit DVD last month. It’s loosely based on the novel by Steven Gould. The movie features a number of stunning visual set pieces, and Sam Jackson. ‘nuff said.

Another fun classic that hasn’t been available on DVD for a while is "X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes," starring Ray Milland in the title role. This film is one of the truly chilling classics produced by Roger Corman on a shoe-string budget. You can get it in this new bare-bones release, or you can get this movie as part of a multidisk set containing seven Roger Corman “classics” ("A Bucket of Blood," "Gas-s-s-s," "The Trip," "The Premature Burial," "X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes," "The Young Racers," and "The Wild Angels").

A new indy film that has been getting a lot of play on the horror film festival circuit is the second feature from Sean Tretta. His first little horror masterpiece was a scrumptious serial killer flick called "Snuff Film," and wasn’t all the bad. His new one is called "Death of a Ghost Hunter," and features a Blair-Witch-Project-esque narrative gimmick that he pulls off despite the obvious pitfalls. This one features a better cast and acting then most micro-budget horror films, and moody, effective cinematography. It looks like Tretta is finishing up his third feature, so it’s time to get caught up with the previous work from this Young Turk of the horror field.

Speaking of Young Turks . . . Coming out at the end of the month is THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE, by one of the most exciting young genre directors to emerge in the last 10 years. If you took all the great genre action/horror movies of the last 30 years and ground them up into sausage, that sausage would be "Doomsday". It’s a loving tribute to the films featuring Mad Max and Snake Plissken and a number of other obvious nodds. But it's done well, and done by a director who knows why those movies work. Did I mention it features punk rock Scottish cannibals, AND Bob Hoskins? The director of "Doomsday" is Neil Marshall, whose previous features include "Dog Soldiers," and "The Descent". The reviewers weren’t kind to this movie, and I think a lot of people just didn’t get it. But to my mind, Marshall hit it out of the park with this one, and with three genre masterpieces under his belt, Neil Marshall is “the new John Carpenter”.

A high-profile theatrical blockbuster making its way to home video this month is "Cloverfield" -- the disaster/monster epic from the creator of the TV show "Lost". Have fun watching New York get destroyed. . . . This film officially marks the post-9/11 re-emergence of Hollywood’s willingness to blow up and knock down skyscrapers in New York City. I’m not sure how you all feel about this type of exploitation flick, but certainly part of the power of this film's narrative is its visual and emotional homage to the events of September 11th, 2001.

Speaking of truly disturbing exploitation films, "The Philosophy of a Knife" is a pseudo-documentary about the horrific exploits at a WW2 Japanese experiment camp and the atrocities committed by unit 731. It is directed by a (far Eastern) Russian director named Andrey Iskanov, who has completed several feature-length films in Russia, but whose work hasn’t been widely available in the west. If you've seen or heard of the film "Man Behind the Sun" , you know what you are getting into. But Iskanov brings a completely different sensibility and sense of brutality to this piece; not for the squeamish or faint of heart. If the torture porn epics coming out of Hollywood ("Hostel," et. al.) aren’t your cup of tea, you might want to give this one a miss.

That’s it for now. Keep dropping me emails if there’s a really good movie that I missed out, or didn’t cover.

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