MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrap: Psycho 50th Anniversary Edition, The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Limited Edition, Troll 2, Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition … and more

Psycho: 50th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
The Psycho Legacy
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Limited Edition
Night of the Demon
Assault of the Sasquatch
Troll 2: Blu-ray
Tales From the Darkside: Final Season

Lest we forget, Halloween draws nigh.

Psycho is one of those films that require absolutely no introduction. Anyone who considers him or herself to be a dyed-in-the-wool horror geek and hasn’t seen it twice, at least – once in a frame-by-frame DVD dissection – isn’t worthy of that distinction. Anyone who considers him or herself to be a student of the international cinema, and hasn’t seen it once, should go back to school.

Fifty years after its release, Psycho can still scare the bejeezus out of anyone who comes across it unaware of the story, Alfred Hitchcock’s perverse sense of humor and his acute timing. (How many people continue to be surprised by the late arrival of Anthony Perkins, for example, or remember anything that happened after the stunning “reveal”?) In Blu-ray, the classic looks and sounds as fresh as ever.

What can’t be learned from a simple viewing of Psycho, however, is the impact it had on audiences of the time and future generations of filmmakers. It contains so many “firsts” that a sampling of the non-affiliated documentary, The Psycho Legacy, along with the Blu-ray extras, is essential viewing. In short: Psycho changed everything, much in the same way as would Star Wars, Jaws and The Godfather.

From Shout! Factory, Legacy examines the phenomenon through new and pre-existing interviews with such luminaries as Perkins, Robert Loggia, Olivia Hussey, Henry Thomas, Diana Scarwid, Tom Holland, Hilton Green, Mick Garris, Stuart Gordon, Henry Thomas and Jeff Fahey, all of whom had something to do with or say about the four original Psycho flicks, but not Gus Van Sant’s frame-by-frame re-make. Robert V. Galluzzo’s documentary also serves as homage to Perkins, a wonderful actor who starred in all four sequels and directed Psycho III. The set also includes panel discussions from a reunion with Perkins and the cast, a tour of the Bates Motel, art and photo galleries, making-of featurettes and a discussion with a memorabilia collector.

Among other swell things, Universal’s Blu-ray and DVD editions of the original return Psycho to its original aspect ratio. Other significant extras include newsreel footage surrounding the making and release of the movie; production stills; the trailer in which Hitchcock plays a Universal Studio tour guide; story boards from the original shower scene; and advertising materials for the movie’s teasing publicity campaign. Also compelling are an interview of Hitchcock conducted by Francois Truffaut; in-depth pieces on the use of sound and music; a lengthy featurette on films and filmmakers directly influenced by Psycho; commentary with historian Stephen Rebello; and BD Live functionality.

Looking back 35 years to the release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I recall how difficult it was for Fox to market a movie adaptation of the kinky British stage sensation. Men in garters and fishnets may have been a common fetish among English aristocracy, but mainstream American audiences quaked with fear of cross-dressing hippies. It wasn’t until 1977, when the musical was given a shot in the midnight slot at urban art houses, that it would take off here.

And take off it did, with repeat viewers dressing like their favorite on-screen characters, singing along with the soundtrack and dancing in the aisles. Because of its staying power at the box office, Rocky Horror was a relatively late arrival to the video marketplace. For the anniversary edition, Fox has attempted to re-create the communal experience by offering several interactive, picture-in-picture options. They include an on-screen trivia track, participatory call-back track, prop box and Late Night, Double Feature. Picture-in-Picture Show, featuring a shadow cast selected from fans around the world. Then, too, there are featurettes on the search for the shadow cast, interviews, commentary, Rocky-Oke: Sing It! and material from previous editions.

In Adam Gierasch’s surprisingly entertaining re-make of Night of the Demons, a group of hard-partying kids – all of whom probably cut their teeth on Rocky Horror – get left behind in a haunted house after cops break up a giant Halloween rave party. All of the exits locked, the stragglers are required to find a hidden doorway or tunnel to make their escape.

Naturally, one of the rooms they enter is full of skeletons that apparently have laid in wait for just such an event for more than a hundred years, and, boy, are they ready to rumble. Pulsating rock music propels the narrative, which also is enhanced by the skanky outfits worn by the women and some neat special effects. The attractive cast includes Shannon Elizabeth, Monica Keena, Diora Baird, Tiffany Shepis, Bobbi Sue Luther and Edward Furlong as a droopy-eyed drug dealer. (Cult goddess Linnea Quigley, from the original also makes an appearance.) New Orleans is a great place to stage a Halloween freak out, and the house looks as if it might be right down the street from Anne Rice’s old place in the Garden District.

As fish-out-of-water stories go, Assault of the Sasquatch is occasionally humorous, always goofy but rarely, if ever scary. Here, a bear poacher is arrested by game wardens, but not before he manages to capture Bigfoot and stash him/her/it in the back of a truck. Naturally, no mere truck could contain the fury of a caged Sasquatch and him/her/it escapes into the wilds of suburban America.

Life in the forest is a breeze, compared to surviving a night among civilized society, where food arrives in cardboard boxes and nerds with cameras are around every corner. Bigfoot’s primary goal, it seems, involves breaking into the local jail and feasting on the poacher and cops. First, though, he must avoid being captured by a collector of rare species, lured to the town by the poacher. The bonus features are generous for this sort of thing,

The first thing to know about Troll 2 before renting it is that the titular sequel not only bears no resemblance to Troll, but it also contains no trolls. The second important thing is its dubious distinction of being the best worst movie in a 2009 documentary of the same title. That, alone, should be enough to recommend it to diehard gore addicts, if not to normal human beings. In Troll 2, goblins lure a family to their community by offering them a house to use while on a trip. A dead relative returns from beyond the grave to save them. The 20th anniversary Blu-ray edition adds an iPhone app and a DVD copy, but not much else.

The syndicated horror/fantasy anthology series Tales From the Darkside ran from 1984-88 in 30-minute segments. Like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, each episode relied more on a final ironic twist than gore or special effects. Recently, repeats have begun showing up on the Syfy channel. Contributing writers included George Romero, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker and Stephen King.


Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition: Blu-ray
RoboCop Trilogy: Blu-ray
Moulin Rouge!/Romeo + Juliet: Blu-ray

At long last, all of the titles associated with Francis Ford Coppola’s near-disastrous Apocalypse Now shoot have been collected in a single hi-def package, with enough extras to satisfy even its most devoted fans. In addition to Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Now Redux, the “Full Disclosure Edition” adds Eleanor Coppola’s natural companion documentary, Hearts of Darkness, also in Blu-ray.

The three movies have already spoken for themselves and need little additional promotion or encapsulation here. It’s well worth noting, however, that Coppola supervised the new transfers of AN and ANR, in their original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratios. They are accompanied by a 48-page collectible booklet, with never-before-seen archives from the set; nine hours of bonus features; a storyboard and image galleries; marketing archives; and an original script excerpt from John Milius, with hand-written notes from Coppola.

Among the new featurettes are an hour-long Conversation With Martin Sheen; a 50-minute Interview With John Milius; and Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse, with test footage. Apocalypse Now is one of the movies I can’t help watching whenever it pops up on the premium-cable network, even though I own copies of it in Beta, VHS, Laserdisc and DVD, with and without bonus material. (The first DVD arrived sans extras.) It’s even better on Blu-ray.

The good news for fans of the Robocop trilogy is that they’re all now available on Blu-ray. The bad news comes in realizing that they arrive without any bonus features, including those available previously. The adventures of the indomitable law-enforcement machine enjoy a loyal following, even if only the first installment is considered a classic. Newcomers naturally will gravitate to the hi-def edition, which looks and sounds terrific.

New Blu-ray releases of Baz Luhrmann’s wonderfully entertaining, if quirkily titled Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet should please fans and newcomers, alike. But, don’t take my word for it. Luhrmann, who believes hi-def sometimes adds a surgically artificial sheen to a movie, released this statement:

“Mindful of the relationship evolved with many fans of these two films, the esteemed digital intermediate colorist Jan Yarbrough, who recently completed color restorations of North by Northwest and the Godfather films, and I sat together day in and day out seeking to maintain the color philosophy forged in the cauldron of shooting, while giving full reign to the power of high-definition technology to deliver a Moulin Rouge and a R+J that audiences will recognize but are nevertheless realized at the highest possible visual quality. …”

Clearly, Baz is a better filmmaker than grammarian. His point is made, however: these beloved films were handled with loving care and kid gloves, and show it. They also include the kinds of features sorely lacking in Robocop. Among them are PIP with audio commentary, behind-the-scenes footage and stills; the new featurette A Creative Adventure; uncut footage from the “Father & Son” alternate opening and Nicole Kidman’s first vocal test; production doc and interviews with everyone short of the caterers; a making-of piece; and BD-Live. Romeo + Juliet, which teenagers made a surprise hit, comes with a similar array of extras, as well as a doc on the music. The colors themselves are a wonder to behold.


Jonah Hex: Blu-ray

It probably isn’t absolutely necessary to be a fan of the eponymous DC Comics hero to enjoy Jonah Hex, but it sure helps. Otherwise, it might be difficult to understand how dead characters are able to come back to life, if only momentarily, and ravens could emerge from the mouths of characters, creating a vacuum that literally sucks oxygen into the caved-in lungs of corpses. And that’s just for starters.

Josh Brolin stars as Jonah Hex, a bounty hunter disfigured by a branding iron wielded by unrepentant Confederate guerrilla fighter Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), patterned, I suppose, by William Quantrill. Turnbull is intent on starting a second Civil War, this time in possession of a bomb that creates a massive fire storm after being shot from rapid-fire cannon.

Hex, who despises Turnbull, is recruited by President Grant (Aidan Quinn) to eliminate the threat. The film was directed by Jimmy Hayward, who made a name for himself as an animator at Pixar. Jonah Hex reflects its comic-book roots with outrageous action sequences, smash-mouth close-ups and grotesque facial features, as well as several brightly animated bumpers between scenes.

All of the actors, including Michael Fassbender and Megan Fox, appear to be having a swell time on screen, even if what they’re doing makes little sense. Judging from the puny box-office tally, it’s likely the only people who paid to see the 80-minute Jonah Hex already admire the comic book, and word-of-mouth didn’t carry very far. The Blu-ray edition benefits from lots of making-of features, interviews with the artists behind the film and comic book, and additional background material. Comic Con attendees should love it.


Prayer to a Vengeful God

Guitarist and indie filmmaker Dan Eberle has crafted in Prayer to a Vengeful God an extremely dark and reflective poem about revenge. Nearly silent, except for an eerily evocative score, Eberle’s fourth testing feature describes how far one victim of a home invasion will go to avenge the off-screen murder of his wife.

After emerging from a four-month coma, John Krause (Eberle) is left with a fragmented memory and a masochistic desire to confront the monsters who destroyed his life and nearly killed him, too. The path leads from his semi-swank apartment to a flop house for beautiful junkies, a drug-infested nightclub, a weedy Central Park hideout and several unoccupied buildings, where Krause learns the art of aggressive self-defense from a disheveled homeless guy.

There are times when Vengeful God seems merely to be an arthouse version of Death Wish and others when it resembles a druggy homage to Raymond Chandler. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made as either. That’s because the actor cast as Jennifer Krause (an ethereal Jennifer Farrugia) is a dead ringer for three other hotties involved in the same narcotics scene that spawned her killer. I tried to parse the differences between them through numerous flashbacks and ghostly visitations, but couldn’t.

This confusion opened the possibility that an unfaithful Jennifer inadvertently led the killer to their doorstep, a mistake later made by her vengeful, if newly lethal husband. Either way, Krause kept my curiosity sufficiently whetted to stay with Vengeful God through its entire length. I doubt that many mainstream viewers will have the same patience, but fans of low-budget projects will find plenty of things here to admire. It arrives with a making-of featurette that explains how the movie was made, but not what to read into the clues, if anything.


Six Wives of Henry Lefay
Accidentally on Purpose: The First Season

If the title of Howard Michael Gould’s kooky romantic comedy references British history, the story also owes a debt of gratitude to The Man Who Loved Women. Tim Allen plays Lefay, a small-town entrepreneur who sells home-theater equipment the same way Cal Worthington sells cars. He’s the kind of guy who respects the sacrament of marriage so much that he can barely wait until he divorces one wife before getting hitched to another.

On a trip to Mexico with the next Mrs. Lefay – the current Mrs. Lefay is back home, planning their future together – Henry escapes death so narrowly that he allows his wives, former wives and girlfriends back home to believe he was the victim, instead of a shlub named Lipschutt (Larry Miller). Depending on one’s appreciation of slapstick, the real fun ensues when the women in Lefay’s life – Jenna Dewan, Kelli Garner, Andie MacDowell, Jenna Elfman, Paz Vega, Lindsay Sloane, S. Epatha Merkerson, Barbara Barrie and Elisha Cuthbert (his mother and daughter, respectively) – all insist they best know Henry’s intentions for his funeral.

By the time Lefay shows up, Lipschutt’s body has been cremated and the wives are threatening to kill each other. Before writing Mr. 3000 and additional material for Shrek the Third, Gould worked on the sitcoms Cybill, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, Home Improvement, Sunday Dinner and FM.

Despite the presence of so many fine actors (Edward Herrmann and Chris Klein also hold key roles), Six Wives plays out with all the hit-and-run pacing of an episodic television show. Fans of Allen, MacDowell and Elfman, especially, will find a lot to like in the movie, though. Others might wonder when the laugh track is going to kick in.

Elfman’s very large personality fits far better in the sitcom arena, where she’s expected to outperform nearly everyone around her and usually does. In CBS’ Accidentally on Purpose she plays the kind of character one only encounters on broadcast television: a newspaper film critic who becomes pregnant after a brief liaison with a much younger man, and then elects to raise the baby with him in a nontraditional family.

Things get complicated when Billie discovers that boy’s father isn’t much more mature than the child they’ll raise and her former boyfriend/boss attempts to climb back into her life. Stuff like this happens all the time in San Francisco. The DVD offers several background and making-of shorts.


Disneynature: Ocean
Disneynature: The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingo

Anyone old enough to remember True-Life Adventures, produced by Disney between 1948 and 1960, won’t have any trouble understanding the mission of its new banner, Disneynature. The short nature films, which were intended to be as entertaining as they were educational, were an easy fit with the more outdoors-y aspects of Disneyland and the instructional segments of The Wonderful World of Disney and The Mickey Mouse Club.

I wonder how many Boomers were surprised by accusations in a 1982 Canadian newsmagazine that certain scenes were staged or rigged to fit the storyline or Disney mythology (lemmings committing suicide, for example)? I’d wager that no major indictments will be leveled at movies in the Disneynature franchise, if only because technology has improved to such a degree that it can track migrations and behaviors so easily now and cameras can go to so many more places than was possible in the 1950s.

New exhibition options, including large-format and 3-D projection, have changed the economic model to benefit studio owners and theater chains, as well. Then, of course, there’s the afterlife on cable, video and Blu-ray. Earth, a feature-length spinoff from the landmark BBC/Discovery series Planet Earth, started the ball rolling in 2007. The next two entries, produced in large part by associates of the French-based Disneynature, take opposite approaches to depictions of wildlife. Oceans showcases water-borne oddities and other wondrous creatures in seas and oceans around the globe, while Crimson Wing focuses squarely on Lake Natron, Tanzania, breeding ground for 2.5 million endangered lesser flamingos. Both are spectacular in their own unique way and as good a family entertainment as you’re likely to find, especially for those with Blu-ray units.

Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud co-directed Oceans, as they had Winged Migration (Perrin narrated and produced Microcosmos, too). The pedigree of Crimson Wing is more eccentric. Co-director Matthew Aeberhard shot the documentaries The Leopard Son, Serengeti Symphony and Hunt of the Golden Jackel; co-director Leander Ward worked on Prince Valiant; and, besides Turtle: The Incredible Journey, writer Melanie Finn has a half-dozen Red Shoes Diaries to her credit.

Oceans extras include a PIP Filmmakers Annotations track, with interviews, trivia and behind-the-scenes footage; a “Living Menu” allows users to access up to a dozen “hotspots” on an interactive globe; Disney and Nature: Caring for the World We Share pats the studio on the back for its various conservation projects; a Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato music video, “Make a Wave”; and a trailer for the next Disneynature release, African Cats.

The Crimson Wing package adds a similar PIP feature; the five-part doc, Lake Natron Diaries: Behind ‘The Crimson Wing,; an interactive “Living Planet” locator; a screensaver; and trailer for African Cats.

Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes
America’s Music Legacy: Country & Western/Rock ‘N Roll/Rhythm & Blues/Gospel
Michael Schenker Group: Live in Tokyo: 30th Anniversary
Eric Sardinas and Big Motor: Live

By now, the last thing you’d think the music world would need is yet another Leonard Cohen documentary, and, perhaps, that’s true. For those of us with an appetite for all things Cohen, though, too much is never enough. While stopping just short of revelatory, Lonesome Heroes adds a scholarly perspective to what we already know about the iconic singer/songwriter/poet/novelist.

There’s enough concert footage and archival material to suit fans, but the discussions of Cohen’s literary influences, religious and musical roots are what make this DVD fascinating. They include the Canadian writers who served early on as tutors and peers, many of whom we’ve learned about in previous documentaries. Beyond them were such disparate voices as Henry Miller, Jacques Brel, Hank Williams, Federico Garcia Lorca, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsburg and the Beats, various folkies and religious figures. Their legacy is dissected by Cohen biographers Ira Nadel and Stephen Scobie, Beat Generation expert John Tytell, Garcia Lorca scholar Leslie Stainton, rock critic Anthony DeCurtis, Buddhist monk Kigen and Judy Collins, who introduced his songs to mass audiences. Lonesome Heroes is a terrific addition to the Cohen canon.

The covers of the DVDs in MVD’s America’s Music Legacy series are a tad misleading in that the photographs suggest a more archival approach to the classics of country, rock, R&B and Gospel than what’s contained therein. That material was recorded between 1983 and 1985, in some cases two decades after the artists first laid down the original tracks.

If the singers had seen their better days a quarter-century ago – several continue to tour and produce fresh music today – the stories behind the songs are eternally young. Among the artists represented in the four newly released DVDs are Razzy Bailey, Patti Page, Moe Bandy, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ricky Skaggs from the country realm; rockers Bo Diddley, the Coasters, Chubby Checker, the Diamonds and Little Anthony; R&B greats Sam Moore, Sheer Delight, Brook Benton, Scatman Crothers and Mary Wells; and Gospel stars Mahalia Jackson, the Chambers Family, Linda Hopkins, Mel Carter, Andrae Crouch and the Winans. Each performer’s artistic roots can be traced to earlier pioneers and cross-pollinated genres.

Also from MVD come live performances by propulsive blues-rockers Eric Sardinas and Big Motor and German rockers the Michael Schenker Group. Sardinas began listening to traditional Delta blues when he was 6 and he continues to be influenced by early 20th Century music. Legend has it that the Fort Lauderdale native committed the cardinal sin of Jimi Hendrix imitators by setting his guitar on fire and suffering third-degree burns to his wrist. Not cool.

The Schenker DVD was recorded in Japan during the group’s 30th anniversary tour. Schenker was a founding member of the Scorpions and the DVD highlights material from that group, UFO the current ensemble and solo efforts.


Shoot the Hero
The Killing Machine

I watched both of these action-packed pictures on the smallish screen of a portable DVD player. Good thing I wasn’t attempting to enjoy them on an iPhone or similarly minute hand-held device. What I learned from the experience is that noir conceits work far better on larger display units than on wee ones. Shoot the Hero, for example, boasts a cast that includes Jason Mewes, Samantha Lockwood, Danny Trejo, Nic Nac, Nick Turturro, Steve Tally, Fred Williamson and puckish porn star Katie Morgan, none of whom would be recognizable if they hadn’t stepped in front of a light fixture occasionally.

Dolph Lundgren’s concrete chin would be difficult to conceal in any light, but, in The Killing Machine, it casts a shadow that blurs the identity of almost everyone else. If it weren’t for muzzle flashes and tracer bullets, even the violence would be invisible. Compounding the darkness in Shoot the Hero, at least, is a hip-hop soundtrack that obscures the comically terse, Tarantino/Rodriguez-inspired dialogue. What I was able to discern was quite enjoyable, however.

The picture opens with a shootout in a jewelry store, during which a newly engaged couple turns the tables on a crew of professional thieves. The action shifts to the desert outside Palm Springs, where an inept band of wannabe mercenaries captures a pair of doofuses who made the mistake of running out of gas. All of their fortunes collide in surprising fashion inside Trejo’s dumpy strip joint near Vegas. The set adds several interviews with cast and crew.

Lundgren returns to familiar territory in Killing Machine, playing a KGB-trained assassin and divorced Vancouver dad, balancing a knockout girlfriend on the side. Oh, yeah, he also makes ends meets with a day job as an investment broker. Icarus, as the character is known in the spook underworld, manages to blow his cover while on assignment in Hong Kong, leading the Russian mob (ooooo, scary) to his Canadian digs. Intense action ensues.

To be fair, Killing Machine is as complete a direct-to-video film as you’re likely to find, starring one of the top macho superstars of our time. (BTW, in real life, Lundgren practically qualifies as a Renaissance man.) He directs with a sure hand and he’s believable as a father and lover, to boot. The DVD includes a making-of featurette.


The Warrior and the Sorceress /Barbarian Queen: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics
Rare Cult Cinema
Fists of Vengeance
10,000 Ways to Die: Spaghetti Western Collection

These rehabbed editions of The Warrior and the Sorceress and Barbarian Queen are representative of other entries in Shout! Factory’s terrific series of “Cult Classics,” in every way, except that the double-feature’s sole on-line sales outlet is Amazon. Otherwise, the package would be notable primarily for showcasing Lana Clarkson’s high point as an actress.

Sadly, clips from Barbarian Queen were shown around the world after the striking blond Long Beach native was murdered by record producer Phil Spector. In it, she plays a blond Barbarian bombshell, who on the eve of her wedding, is raped and tortured by a band of Roman marauders. Meanwhile, her village is razed and its leaders are imprisoned. Amathea vows to avenge the atrocity and free her friends. That Clarkson, Katt Shea and Dawn Dunlap are able to accomplish this task while their ample bosoms are swinging and swaying in wide arcs borders on the miraculous. It qualified the movie for instant cult status and, as such, remains fun to watch.

David Carradine, an ubiquitous presence in Roger Corman films, stars in The Warrior and the Sorceress. He plays a mercenary swordsman on a mythical planet, where a pair of debauched clans is struggling for control. His character here, Kain, may not be mentioned in the same breath as Kwan Chang Caine of Kung Fu, even if the filmmakers wanted his fans to do so. Unlike other “Cult Classics,” this one is short on extras.

Mill Creek Entertainment is keeping pace with Shout! in the cult-classic derby, repackaging and reformatting drive-in and grindhouse fare from Crown International Pictures. The titles in the new 12-pack of “Rare Cult Cinema” run the gamut from cheap and corny, to cheap and sleazy, depending on the number of breasts on display. The roster includes the G-rated African Safari and Indian Paint, with Johnny Crawford and Jay “Tonto” Silverheels; The Kidnapping of the President, with William Shatner, Ava Gardner, Hal Holbrook and Van Johnson; the skin-tastic Almost Hollywood and tabloid-tattling Secret File: Hollywood; the self-explanatory Death Row Gameshow; an early Matt Dillon vehicle, Liar’s Moon; My Mom’s a Werewolf, with Susan Blakely and Marcia Wallace of The Bob Newhart Show; Santee, with Glenn Ford as a bounty hunter; a sexy tale of small-town corruption and loose morals, The Specialist; and the dopey hippy expose, The Young Graduates.

Some will find the cream of the crop to be Road to Nashville, which, in 1967, showcased nearly 60 old-school country stars within the framework of a truly lame story. Look for Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash and the Carter Family, Connie Smith, Lefty Frizzell, Web Pierce, Hank Snow and a pre-outlaw Waylon Jennings. Vilmos Zsigmond shot the film, although you wouldn’t know it unless you read the credits.

Also new from Mill Creek are the no-frills anthologies, Fists of Vengeance: Martial Arts Collection and 10,000 Ways to Die: Spaghetti Western Collection, both of which deliver on the promises made in their titles. Spaghetti Western Collection includes films made during the heyday of the craze, as well as its last gasps. None features the acting of Clint Eastwood or direction of Sergio Leone, although several were released within the same time frame.

Despite the presence of at least one recognizable American or British actor, their release here was hardly guaranteed. All 12 are welcome today, especially at a collective price of under $10. (Almost all have surfaced in various forms previously.) Among the stars are such immortals as Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Sybil Danning, Joan Collins, Klaus Kinski, Richard Harrison, Cameron Mitchell, Lionel Stander and Richard Boone, as well as the late Sean Flynn and very much alive Leif Garrett.

At roughly the same time, half a world away from Italy, the martial-arts genre was about to explode. Bruce Lee is credited with introducing the all-action-all-the-time flicks to western audiences, but they already were a staple of cinematic diets in Asia by the time Fists of Fury reached these shores, in 1973. Lee is represented here, if only in spirit, in Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave, starring Wong Han as Bruce K.L. Lea.

The real Bruce Lee also is referenced in Kung Fu Fever, with Korean hapkido ace Dragon Lee; Fists of Bruce Lee and The Image of Bruce Lee, with Bruce Li; and The Real Bruce Lee, with a very young real Bruce Lee. Lee Van Cleef also makes an appearance in an episode of the ninja TV series, The Master, alongside Timothy Van Patton and a pre-Brat Pack Demi Moore.


The Real L Word: The First Season
The Mentalist: The Complete Second Season
CSI: Miami: The Eighth Season
The Tudors: The Final Season
Bo Burnham: Words Words Words

Showtime presented The Real L Word as a reality-based extension of its fabulously successful and super-sexy lesbian soap opera, The L Word, the show that introduced the term “lipstick lesbians” to mainstream discourse. What the spin-off lacks in nudity, it more than makes up for in petty squabbling, jealous rants, back-stabbing, power tripping and tattoo envy.

Even so, the half-dozen or so series regulars represent a cross-section of the fashionable, financially successful “out” lesbian scene in L.A. Several of the women very much hope to be married legally, even as they spend their free time bickering with their partners and catting around meat-market bars on the west side … just like their gay and straight counterparts.

Naturally, the most poignant moments come when the women are required to share their thoughts, dreams and fears with loved ones outside the gay community. Some relatives got it, while others needed prodding. The least poignant moments come during the annual group grope staged in memory of Dinah Shore, in Palm Springs. It’s here the women prove that lechery and boorish behavior aren’t limited to one sexual persuasion (see Tru’s nauseating Rehab, for the hetero equivalent). The DVD set adds material from the National Gay & Lesbian Winter Party, with Pam Grier; a Live Lounge reunion; audition tapes; behind-the-scenes footage; biographies; and a photo gallery.

The second season of the BBC’s splendid detective mini-series, Wallander, is currently being shown as part of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! showcase, but, as has become customary, the DVD and Blu-ray editions are also now available. The economic synchronicity is difficult to explain from a ratings point of view, but, then, much of what PBS is doing these days is inexplicable.

In Los Angeles, instead of Mystery! being shown in its normal Sunday timeslot, a rerun of Batman recently was aired. The geniuses at the station thought Thursday nights might be less competitive, I suppose. In any case, fresh episodes, “Faceless Killers,” “The Man Who Smiled” and “The Fifth Woman,” can now be located in stores and on Netflix with more ease than on television.

On either platform, the adaptations of Henning Mankell’s novels are well worth checking out. Kenneth Branagh is excellent as the dour Swedish police detective, Wallander, who solves crimes by digging for clues and taking the concerns of the victims and their families personally. This season, there is some gunplay, as well, but it rocks the cop to his core. The DVD set includes “Wallander Country” and “Being Kurt Wallander.”

In America, of course, we still solve crimes the old-fashioned way, with armor-piercing bullets and clairvoyance. CBS’ hit series, The Mentalist, provides a prime example of the former. In it, an extremely personable Simon Baker plays California Bureau of Investigation consultant Patrick Jane, who is blessed with a special gift for crime solving.

While it’s true psychics have helped locate bodies and missing people, it’s the rare law-enforcement agency that has one on staff. Naturally, the mentalist’s unconventional methodology causes great apoplexy among his fellow cops. Even after one full season on the air and an Emmy nomination for Baker, they continue to doubt his gifts. Robin Tunney plays the obligatory gorgeous detective and doubting Thomasina.

The series is a lot of fun to watch and a million times more compelling than The Apprentice, opposite it on NBC. The extras package adds “Art of a Mentalist,” with executive producer/director Chris Long, and “Mentalism: A Subliminal Art,” comprised of 11 pods with cast members and producers.

The forensic pathologists on CSI: Miami prefer the utilization of brains over bullets, but, when all else fails, they’re all deadly shots. The eighth season seemed to lack the focus of previous years, if only because the cast was in a state of flux. The show belongs to Lt. Horatio Caine, however, and David Caruso remained his own inscrutable self throughout the season.

A couple of new characters were introduced, only one of who lived long enough to enjoy more than one episode in Season 9, while Adam Rodriguez (Eric Delko) took a powder for a spell. The bonus features include the special “CSI” crossover episodes, a backgrounder on the series going digital, commentaries on two episodes, character bios and other material.

The final season of Showtime’s wonderfully ambitious mini-series, The Tudors, presented us with the veritable lion in winter. Henry VIII’s health may have been failing, but it didn’t stop him from bringing two new wives into the fold or planning for the inevitable succession. Among other things, Tamzin Merchant joined the cast as the doomed teeny-bopper Catherine Howard and Joely Richardson entered as Catherine Parr, Henry’s sixth and most formidable wife. The finale wraps up the king’s story with neat corners and a storybook dream. The extras are comprised of episodes from other Showtime series.

At the ripe old age of 20, Bo Burnham already has two Comedy Central appearances under his belt, has collaborated with Judd Apatow and has an MTV series on the drawing board. The composer, wordsmith and standup comic has elevated his profile from You Tube phenomenon to rising commercial star; Words, Words, Words argues that he’s up to the challenge. In addition to the material from the special, the DVD adds a pair of music videos.


Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset: The Thames Years 1969-1989
Rumpole of the Bailey: Complete Series Megaset
Empires: DVD Megaset
Great Detectives Anthology

If the title of a TV-to-DVD package includes the word “Megaset,” or a range of years exceeding 10 seasons, it’s a safe bet that the box is suitable for holiday gift giving. Twenty years worth of Benny Hill episodes is a load by any definition, and yet it represents roughly half of his television output.

Dubbed King Leer for his cheeky behavior toward the female characters on his bawdy variety shows, Hill choreographed routines that were unlike any seen on broadcast television in the United States. There, a comedian could chase a buxom young woman around a room in his knickers and not immediately be considered a pervert. Here, the only actors able to get away with such silliness were the Marx Brothers and, then, only in costume. Back then, the revelation of a belly button on the body of Jeannie the Genie practically required an act of Congress.

Hill’s shows weren’t all about garter belts, stockings and inconveniently dropped bath towels, though. They sprang from a British music-hall tradition, not unlike American vaudeville. This 18-disc set is comprised of the 58 full-length shows he produced for Thames Television, representing 585 sketches. It was during this period that he introduced the Hills Angels to such stock characters as Fred Scuttle, Chow Mein, and Pierre de Terre. The shows weren’t aired here in their full-length version.

The set includes the bonus documentary, “The World’s Favorite Clown”; the trivia quiz, “The Benny Hill Cheeky Challenge”; liner notes; insert booklets; the “Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy” episode of A&E’s “Biography”; and featurettes, “I Was a Hills Angel,” “Hills Angels: Off the Record” and “Hills Angels: In Conversation.”

Leo McKern starred as the burly London barrister Horace Rumpole nearly as long as his countryman, Hill, from 1978 to 1992, in England and on PBS. John Mortimer adapted the courtroom drama – in which Rumpole represented the last best hope for many defendants — from his best-selling Edgar Award-winning novels. The Thames Television production had an upstairs/downstairs air to it, in that the lawyer enjoyed poking holes in the oversized egos of upper-class twits.

The 14-disc “Megaset” includes 42 episodes, the feature-length movie, Rumpole’s Return; Mortimer’s Musings: An Interview with John Mortimer; McKern’s Memories, with the star’s daughter, actor Abigail McKern; episode introductions; “Spot the Barrister,” highlighting Mortimer’s impromptu appearances; newspaper evidence; Mortimer’s biography, bibliography and selected credits; and the featurettes About the Old Bailey” and Executioners of Newgate Prison.

Another 14-disc “Megaset,” Empires, tackles the history of war and cultural domination from ancient times to the vast sweep of the Barbarians, as well as the impact of engineering and primitive technology on more contemporary societies. It’s no simple task, to be sure. Battles are scrutinized in much the same way as the victors’ architectural prowess. Bloody footprints lead viewers from war to war, continent to continent, culture to culture, from the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, to the reigns of the Huns, Goths, Vikings, and Mongols.

Empires also includes episodes from the History series Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire, Engineering an Empire, Ancients Behaving Badly and Barbarians; the featurette Modern Marvels: Barbarian Battle Tech; and Genghis Kahn: Terror and Conquest, from A&E’s Biography series.

Eighteen time-honored BBC detective capers comprise Great Detectives Anthology, also from A&E. The sleuths, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, are played by Peter Cushing, David Suchet and Joan Hickson, respectively. The titles, broken into 12 discs, include Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet/The Boscombe Valley Mystery and The Sign of Four/The Blue Carbuncle; Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger/At Bertrams Hotel, Murder at the Vicarage/Nemesis,A Caribbean Mystery/The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side and Sleeping Murder/4:50 from Paddington; and Christie, again, Death on the Nile, The Mystery of the Blue Train, Taken at the Flood, After the Funeral and Cards on the Table.

Additionally, there are Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective; a complete index of all “Miss Marple” stories; Christie and Suchet biographies; and an index of “Hercule Poirot” stories.

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6 Responses to “The DVD Wrap: Psycho 50th Anniversary Edition, The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Limited Edition, Troll 2, Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition … and more”

  1. Alexandro Aldrete says:

    Hearts of Darkness is not Eleanor Coppola’s film. She shot the footage but the directors, as listed here ( are George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr. Why the name of Eleanor is the only one cited lately is a big mystery that should be mentioned more. There is an interesting story on this.

  2. gdretzka says:

    I’m not sure how interesting a story it would make. Seems to me to be a simple matter of insufficient crediting on part of marketing department and jacket designers. Eleanor, herself, is only mentioned tentatively in Coppola’s foreward to the booklet and, then, only to amplify on “Full Disclosure” title for new DVD.

    It’s possible he wasn’t thrilled about putting all three films together and rehashing whole nasty business, even if it was logical decision by Lionsgate/Paramount. Completists have to draw the line somewhere, after all.

    As for me, I merely overlooked what I knew to be the case about proper crediting and had already included in my DVD review of ‘Hearts of Darkness.”

  3. Miss Julie says:

    Sounds lovely! I just came back from mexico last week and find myself addicted to these incredible enchilada recipes now!! Must go back next year sometime, I think, and this time head off of the beaten track a little. Looking to reading more!

  4. Thanks for that. I moved to England when I was really young, and I really want to rediscover my heritage. I’ve been trying out a lot of random mexican recipes, and the best I’ve found yet is this taco recipe – it totally remind me of my childhood. I dont remember much of it except for the spicy smells and tasty food on every street.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon