MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Gift Guide I: Uni Monsters, Body Snatchers, Twilight 4K, Evil Dead, Trauma, Creepshow, Haunted Hill, Dude 4K, Saved by Bell, 3 Stooges … More

Now that Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead have merged into a three-day holiday for adults, and trick-or-treating has been reduced to an authorized after-school activity for kids, I think it qualifies for gift-guide status. Stores began stocking up for Halloween sales as soon as the last embers of Labor Day barbeques turned into ash. In a nod to the proper order of end-of-year holidays, I’ll try to limit my first Holiday Gift Guide to DVD/Blu-ray/4K packages related to Halloween themes. Most are safe for children and family viewing, none causes cavities.

Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection: Blu-ray
Boris Karloff Collection
Movies based on comic-book superheroes have become so prevalent that the viewers who comprise their core audience may not be aware of the pictures that got the ball rolling, way back in 1931. Unlike the comic books that inspired the Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel serials, movies and TV shows, the Universal monsters were based on characters introduced in classic works of literature. Based on evidence presented in pristine Blu-ray editions of the 30 movies collected in “Universal Classic Monsters” — from Frankenstein and Dracula and their spinoffs, to Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) — the characters hold up extremely well in the waning days of 2018. The 24-disc boxed set adds a 48-page collectible book, with behind-the-scenes stories and rare production photographs, and is accompanied by an array of bonus material, including documentaries, the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula, experiments in 3D, featurettes on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr. and makeup artist Jack Pierce, 13 commentaries, archival footage and theatrical trailers. The Blu-ray upgrade substantially raises the entertainment value for collectors, who already own Uni’s “Legacy Collection” sets, as well as newcomers accustomed to crystal-clear images and soundtracks.

Even more than Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff became the public face of cinematic horror from the dawn of the talkies, through the drive-in era and into television’s anthology period. Karloff was already in his mid-40s when he attained stardom as Doctor Frankenstein’s creature and, all appearances aside, his monstrous stature was achieved through makeup effects and costume wizardry. In reality, the Surrey native stood a mere 5-feet-11. Karloff distinctive voice carried him from the Canadian stage, to Hollywood, and, finally, into the realm of television commercial and animated features. While his most memorable performances are showcased in the “Universal Classic Monsters” set, Karloff adopted numerous other personae and worked for several other studios. Before being “discovered” by James Whale and cast in Frankenstein, he acted in 80 movies, among them, The Criminal Code, Five Star Final and Scarface. He would appear in another 120-plus movies and television shows, often as a dignified guest star or ominous-sounding host. The titles compiled in VCI Entertainment’s “Boris Karloff Collection represent four of Karloff’s final five appearances on film: Alien Terror (“The Incredible Invasion”), Cult of the Dead (a.k.a., “Isle of the Snake People”), Dance of Death (a.k.a., “House of Evil”) and Torture Zone (a.k.a., “Fear Chamber”). They were made as part of a package deal with Mexican producer Luis Enrique Vergara. Nearly confined to a wheelchair, Karloff’s scenes were directed by Jack Hill (Switchblade Sisters) and shot back-to-back in Los Angeles in the spring of 1968. The films were then completed in Mexico. All four were released posthumously, with the last, Alien Terror, not released until 1971, two years after Karloff’s death. More a curiosity than anything else, the DVDs aren’t in nearly as good of a shape as those in the Universal package, but that’s only to be expected.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Blu-ray
For almost 20 years, I lived in the town that provided many of exterior locations for Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one of the most influential and effective sci-fi/horror films of all time. Although it was shot there in 1955, Sierra Madre hasn’t changed all that much over the course of 60 years. The town square, where the truck drivers collected the pods for delivery to towns throughout the then-agricultural San Gabriel Valley, still attracts genre-obsessed tourists. The shops that surround the square are virtually intact, as well. Sierra Madre is the rare Los Angeles County town that looks as if it might belong anywhere else but Southern California. Its trees turn colors in season, snow falls in the mountains that form the town’s northern border and parking meters are non-existent. In 1910, D.W. Griffith began producing movies there, using townspeople as extras. Alfred Hitchcock filmed segments of Family Plot (1976) in Sierra Madre’s Pioneer Cemetery, as did John Carpenter, for Halloween (1978), and David Lynch, for “Twin Peaks.” In Olive Signature’s terrific Blu-ray restoration of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the featurette, “Return to Santa Mira,” not only explores the Sierra Madre locations, but other L.A. spots used in the picture. Other bonus material focuses on the debate over how Siegel and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring wanted viewers to interpret the pod people’s mysterious appearance in an average American town during the Cold War era. Commentaries are provided by film historian Richard Harland Smith, as well as actors Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, and filmmaker Joe Dante. “The Stranger in Your Lover’s Eyes” is a two-part visual essay, with actor and son of director Don Siegel, Kristoffer Tabori, reading from his father’s book, “A Siegel Film”; “The Fear is Real,” with filmmakers Larry Cohen and Dante on the film’s cultural significance; “I No Longer Belong: The Rise and Fall of Walter Wanger,” in which film scholar and author Matthew Bernstein discusses the life and career of the film’s producer; “Sleep No More: Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited,” a new appreciation, featuring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, along with comments from film directors and fans, John Landis, Mick Garris and Stuart Gordon; “The Fear and the Fiction: The Body Snatchers Phenomenon,” new interviews with McCarthy and Wynter, and directors Landis, Garris and Gordon, in which they discuss the making of the film, its place in history and its meaning; an archival interview with McCarthy, hosted by Tom Hatten; “What’s in a Name?,” on the film’s title; a gallery of rare documents detailing aspects of the film’s production, including the never-produced opening narration to have been read by Orson Welles; an essay by author and film programmer Kier-La Janisse; and an original theatrical trailer. In a survey of the 50 best scary movies to watch this Halloween, released this week in Newsweek, the 1956 version of “Body Snatchers” was ranked No. 8, while Philip Kaufman’s also compelling 1978 remake came in at No. 40.

The Twilight Saga: The Complete Collection: 10th Anniversary: Blu-ray/4K UHD
It’s been 10 years since Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight and HBO’s “True Blood” redefined what it means to be an American vampire in America, as opposed to, say, an American vampire in London or a European vampire in New Orleans. While the HBO series crossed most demographic lines – propelled by copious amounts of forbidden romance, abs and nudity – the movie “saga,” adapted from Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling series of YA novels, attracted teenage girls, young women and, for the first installment, at least, their male dates. Produced on an estimated budget of $37 million, Twilight grossed $393.6 million worldwide. Four years later, when The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 capped the franchise, the worldwide tally would hit $829.7 million, on a budget of $120 million. Domestic ticket sales were dwarfed by grosses overseas. (“True Blood” would enjoy a seven-season run.) Besides the suspense generated by Belle and Edward’s will-they/won’t-they romance, audiences were drawn to the Cullen siblings eternally youthful appearance, their vegetarian diet (washed down by animal blood), their willingness to risk their lives to save Belle from a clan of nomadic vampires and Edward’s uncommon chivalry. Neither did speculation on Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s off-screen relationship dampen ticket sales. To mark the anniversary, Lionsgate Home Entertainment and Summit Entertainment are releasing Twilight in a 4K UHD/Blu-ray/digital edition, with a new “Twilight Tour … 10 Years Later” featurette and other archived goodies. Extended editions of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, Parts 1 and 2, are being re-released in Blu-ray. All five films feature Digital 4K UHD, with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio. All he supplemental material has been ported over from previous versions. They are available in a combo pack or a la carte.

The Evil Dead: Blu-ray/4K UHD
Ash vs. Evil Dead: The Complete Collection: Blu-ray
Does this storyline sound familiar? All hell breaks loose when five college students rent an isolated cabin in the woods and inadvertently summon the devil’s legions. It should, because it’s been borrowed by dozens of writers and directors of low-budget, high-gore horror flicks since 1981, when Sam Raimi captured lightning in a bottle with The Evil Dead. The film’s distinguishing conceit involves the discovery of the Naturan Demanto, a Sumerian version of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, along with a tape recorder belonging to the archaeologist who inhabited the cabin. When it’s played, the archaeologist’s voice recites a series of incantations, resurrecting a mysterious, demonic entity. In the ensuing mayhem, only one of the students, Ash (Bruce Campbell), survives to tell the tale in the series’ two direct sequels, Evil Dead II (1987), Army of Darkness (1992); an indirect sequel, My Name Is Bruce (2008); a 2013 reboot, Evil Dead; a cable-television series, “Ash vs. Evil Dead,”; a half-dozen video games; several comic books; an off-Broadway musical; and references in a dozen rock songs and videos. Not bad for a movie that was rescued from purgatory by an endorsement by Stephen King and buzz campaign led by Fangoria magazine. There was some concern that the new 4K UHD version of The Evil Dead would offer too much resolution to a picture that was shot on 16mm and already blown up to 35mm. It isn’t a problem for my untrained eyes, anyway. The only extra is commentary ported over from a previous Blu-ray edition.

On Halloween night of 2015, the Starz network launched the comedy/horror mini-series, “Ash vs Evil Dead,” which advanced the franchise’s timeline approximately 30 years from the original three Evil Dead films. Developed for the premium-cable channel by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, and Tom Spezialy, it brought back Bruce Campbell to reprise his career-shaping role, as Ash Williams, the only survivor of the cabin massacre. Today, he works at the local Value Stop as a stock boy. Also working at the store is his friend Pablo (Ray Santiago) and the object of Pablo’s affections, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). Ash has been cooling his heels since returning from 1300 AD, at the end of Army of Darkness. At the start of Season One, he’s living in a trailer with his pet lizard, Eli, and is reduced to drinking alone in bars. In due time, however, Ash will be required to save world from the Evil Dead, who return to the present through the pages of the Necronomicon. (It is a fictional textbook of magic and the occult, invented by H.P. Lovecraft and borrowed by his followers.) Lucy Lawless plays Ruby, a mysterious believer who’s convinced that Ash is responsible for the recent outbreak of evil. Season Two opens with Ash, Pablo and Kelly’s return to Ash’s hometown in Elk Grove, Michigan, where they meet up with his father, Brock (Lee Majors), who criticizes him for running away after the events that transpired three decades ago.

Ruby claims she’s have hidden the Necronomicon inside a corpse at the town morgue. No sooner is the book retrieved by Ash and his pals than it winds up in the hands of two teenage car thieves. From this point onward, “AvED” becomes almost impossible to follow, let alone summarize. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The battle for control of the book is joined by time-travelers, shape-shifters, Deadites, clones and an ancient prince of hell, Baal. In Season Three, Ash reunites with an old stripper acquaintance, Candace Barr (Katrina Hobbs), who, nine months after a drunken tryst, delivered his appropriately named daughter, Brandy. Needless to say, Brandy’s existence comes as news to Ash. When Ruby and her demon horde learn her identity, they attempt recruit her to their side of the battle. Ash’s weapon of choice is a chain saw that he attaches to the stump at the end of right arm and wields with deadly accuracy. Although nudity isn’t a prominent fixture in the series, gratuitous violence breaks out around every corner. And, while it isn’t for viewers with weak stomachs, it is imaginatively rendered. A wide range of commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes accompanies the seasonal discs.

Trauma: Blu-ray
Any DVD that promotes itself with a pull quote from ScreenAnarchy.com, arguing that the movie contained therein is, “The most controversial extreme horror offering in recent memory,” better deliver on the promise, or face the wrath of genre trolls on the Internet. That’s because anyone likely to take Trauma up on its implied dare probably has already watched such prime examples of transgressive horror as Cannibal Holocaust, A Serbian Film, Martyrs, The Human Centipede, Eden Lake, I Spit on Your Grave, Saw, Audition, Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood, American Guinea Pig and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as well as their sequels, prequels and spin-offs. With Trauma, rising genre superstar Lucio A. Rojas (Zombie Dawn) not only holds his own against such august company, but also adds a few new twists of his own. Born in 1978, while the ruthless General Augusto Pinochet was still in power, the Chilean filmmaker is well aware of the horrors perpetrated by the junta’s embrace of Operation Condor. In the 1970s, several South American dictatorships set new standards when it came to torture and inhumane behavior toward people perceived to be their enemies, potential enemies and the children of their enemies. The Tower of London had nothing on the torture chambers overseen by the military leaders of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, all of whose atrocities were sanctioned by Henry Kissinger and American CIA operatives. Tossing your political opponents and dissidents out of cargo planes, 40 miles from the nearest shore, is a tough act to follow, but it was only one tactic used by the governments. Trauma opens with a flashback to that horrific period in Chilean history – 1978, to be exact – as an agent of the Pinochet regime, forces his son to participate in the interrogation, torture and rape of a female political prisoner.

Nearly 40 years later, the boy (Daniel Antivilo), Juan, has grown into a full-blown sadist, terrorizing residents of his rural village and visiting the sins of his father on his own son, Mario (Felipe Rios). Together, they’ve run roughshod over the mountainous region, where the locals look at them with the same level of fear as that once reserved for Frankenstein’s monster. They’re too intimidated, even, to warn unsuspecting tourists of their crimes. That’s exactly what happens when an outwardly cosmopolitan group of young women – possibly of the lesbian persuasion – make their presence known in the village, by seeking directions to a relative’s country villa. While the locals know what’s lying in wait for them, they resist the urge to involve themselves in it … another political reference. And, sure enough, just as the women are beginning to kick up their heels, dancing provocatively in front of an open window, Juan and Mario break into the house demanding they perform for their amusement. The men look as if they’re perfectly capable of inflicting the kind of damage on the women as Juan had witnessed as a boy. Even when one of them manages to grab his gun, viewers know that it’s likely to backfire or be out of bullets. Police arrive the next day, but, except for one cop, are no match for Juan and Mario’s madness. Juan loses interest in the older women after he kidnaps a little neighborhood girl, who is taken to his personal dungeon. Instead of heading for the hills asap, the survivors risk their lives, again, to rescue the girl. The aura of dread that pervades nearly every second of Trauma is tough to take. Not only do we identify with the women, but we’re also convinced that manmade monsters, like Juan, exist in real life. The Artsploitation release looks even more sinister in Blu-ray.

Patient Zero
Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky came to attention of American audiences when his World War II drama, The Counterfeiters, won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It describes an actual plan, devised by the Nazis, to use Jewish prisoners skilled in engraving and forgery to produce enormous amounts of authentic-looking British and American currency. They intended to dump the impeccably forged dollars and pound notes into the revenue streams of Allied countries to undermine their economies. Ruzowitzky’s next three theatrical features – two thrillers and a family adventure – couldn’t have been more different from The Counterfeiters if they starred talking cartoon animals. They didn’t find much traction here, however. Mike Le’s screenplay for Patient Zero was featured in the 2013 Hollywood Blacklist of “most liked” unmade scripts of the year. I’m not sure what Ruzowitzky saw in the story that hadn’t been accomplished in such Zombie Apocalypse thrillers as 28 Days Later …, Day of the Dead and a dozen other movies in which survivors of a deadly pandemic attempt to save humanity, while hidden in an underground bunker. The variation in Patient Zero is the nature of the epidemic, which is a viral super-strain of rabies that turns human beings into, well, zombie-like creatures with an appetite for flesh and blood.

Uninfected soldiers hunt packs of the adrenaline-fueled creatures, searching for the first person to have contacted and spread the virus. Researchers have narrowed the first incidence down to a Halloween night in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a moment that the two of the captured victims, at least, seem to share. We know this because, after being bitten, medical investigator Morgan (Matt Smith) realizes he is asymptomatic and can communicate with the infected prisoners. Unlike zombies, rabies sufferers retain the ability to speak – when they aren’t grunting and flailing about – and recall key dates in their lives. An infected prisoner played by Stanley Tucci, of all people, can do better than that, however. As a former professor, he’s able to challenge Morgan on scientific points and debate something resembling ethics. Natalie Dormer, who remains uncharacteristically clothed throughout Patient Zero, play the obligatory British scientist, Dr. Gina Rose. She’s willing to stand up to crazed American soldiers anxious to torture the infected prisoners when they fight back and refuse to cooperate with Morgan. Zombie Apocalypse completists should find something to enjoy in Patient Zero, even if it’s only the rarely applied rabies gambit.

House on Haunted Hill: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Creepshow: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Trick ‘r Treat: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
From the aptly branded Scream Factory comes a triple-feature of golden oldies – or, if one prefers, moldy oldies – suited for Halloween viewing. They may not be as welcome in a trick-or-treater’s bag of goodies as a handful of mini-Almond Joys, but they sure beat a few kernels of candy corn.

The 1999 re-boot of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill received a satchel full of negative reviews from mainstream critics old enough to have seen the 1959 original at a kiddie matinee. I doubt, however, that they were the film’s intended audience … then, or today. Some old-timers might recall that master showman William Castle, his own self, introduced “the Amazing New Wonder EMERGO: The Thrills Fly Right Into the Audience!” and promised “The 13 Greatest SHOCKS Ever Seen!” If the on-screen thrills weren’t sufficiently terrifying, EMERGO caused a plastic skeleton to float over the audience’s heads during a pivotal part of the movie. The best the marketing team for William Malone’s update could come up with is “Evil loves to party” and “It’s going to be a long night.” It’s interesting to note that the premise of the 1959 version called for an eccentric millionaire, played by Vincent Price, to offer five strangers $10,000 each to stay the night in a spooky old mansion. Inflation being what it was in the intervening 40 years, the ante was raised to $1 million apiece. Here, Geoffrey Rush sits in for Vincent Price, as the twisted theme-park mogul, Stephen Price. He’s hosting a birthday bash for his wife (Famke Janssen) at an abandoned institute for the criminally insane. Among the guests are characters played by Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher and Chris Kattan. The odds against any of them collecting the money are pretty slim. The Blu-ray benefits from a 2K scan from the original film elements; new interviews with William Malone, composer Don Davis and visual-effects supervisor Robert Skotak; previously unseen storyboards, concept art and behind-the-scenes photos, courtesy of visual-effects producer Paul Taglianetti; commentary with Malone; deleted scenes; and vintage featurettes, “A Tale of Two Houses” and “Behind the Visual FX.”

Directed by horror maestro George A. Romero and scripted by Stephen King – whose screenwriting credits were then limited to Carrie, Salem’s Lot and The ShiningCreepshow was substantially more successful than House on Haunted Hill or Trick ’r Treat with audiences and critics. (King even starred in one of the segments.) The comic-book-themed anthology was comprised of five “tales of terror.” The first, “Father’s Day,” deals with a demented old man (Jon Lormer) returning from the grave to get the cake his murdering daughter (Viveca Lindfors) never gave him. (Ed Harris and Carrie Nye also appear.) “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” is about a not-too-bright farmer (King) discovering a meteor that turns everything into plant-life, including himself. In “Something to Tide You Over,” a vengeful husband (Leslie Nielsen) buries his wife (Gaylen Ross) and her lover (Ted Danson) up to their necks on the beach. Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau and Fritz Weaver star in “The Crate,” about a creature that resides in a large box under the steps of a college. “They’re Creeping Up on You” stars the distinguished actor, E.G. Marshall, as an ultra-rich businessman who gets his comeuppance, via unusually large, imported cockroaches. The brilliantly illustrated 4K remaster, was sourced from the original camera negative, with color correction supervised and approved by director of photography Michael Gornick. It also features new commentaries with Gornick and composer/first assistant director John Harrison and construction co-ordinator Ed Fountain; a fresh roundtable discussion on the making of Creepshow with John Amplas, Tom Atkins, Tom Savini and Marty Schiff; interviews with costume designer Barbara Anderson, animator Rick Catizone, sound re-recordist Chris Jenkins and Gornick; a look at Mondo Macabre’s posters for the movie, with co-founder Rob Jones and gallery-events planner Josh Curry; a look at some of the original props and collectibles, with collector Dave Burian; a vintage commentary with Romero and special-makeup-effects creator Tom Savini; behind-the-scenes footage; deleted scenes; still galleries; and a return visit to locations used, in “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds.”

By the time Trick ’r Treat was released onto DVD, in 2009, it had already spent two years on the festival circuit and the anthology trend had exhausted itself. Even so, it won several awards in genre competition and stands up reasonably well, today. As the title suggests, all five of the interrelated segments take place in the same neighborhood on Halloween night. Writer-director Michael Dougherty (Krampus) didn’t spare any fake blood or pre-fab gore in the R-rated thriller. It kicks off with a segment in which a high school principal (Dylan Baker) moonlights as a masked serial killer. Anna Paquin plays a college-age virgin, whose search for a lover takes a gruesome turn. A couple learns what can happen when a jack o’ lantern is blown out before midnight. A group of teens carries out a cruel prank with disastrous consequences, while a cantankerous hermit (Brian Cox) battles a mischievous trick-or-treating demon. The Scream Factory upgrade features a 2K scan of the original film elements supervised by Dougherty; a half-dozen new making-of and background featurettes; interviews; a fresh 2K scan of the original 16mm elements of Dougherty’s short, “Season’s Greetings”; art and photo galleries; “Monster Mash,” a story from the “Trick ’r Treat” graphic novel; FEARnet.com shorts; vintage commentary with Dougherty; a piece on holiday legends; deleted and alternate scenes; and a school-bus scene FX comparison.

Torso: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Blood and Black Lace: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Deadbeat at Dawn: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
For those with more continental tastes, it’s tough to beat a good giallo for suspense, violence and sexual situations … the genre’s holy trinity. Upon its wide American release, in 1974, Torso was compared unfavorably to Sergio Martino’s previous thrillers, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. This probably had as much to do with the ham-handed editing done to the movie by American censors as Martini’s execution of grindhouse violence against women and prevalence of soft-core sex and nudity. The newly released Arrow Blu-ray edition re-stores the movie – a.k.a., “The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence” – to its original giallo sheen and texture. After setting up a series of murders involving female students, prostitutes and their customers, in Perugia, Martini follows a group of college-age women to a villa overlooking the college town, where they can study for final exams in peace, as well as sunbathe in the nude and test each other’s sexual proclivities. Somehow, the killer discovers their hiding place and follows them there. After unceremoniously slaughtering three of the four young women, the killer initiates a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse with the “final girl,” Jane (Suzy Kendall). Although she doesn’t look a minute under 35 – the actress’ proper age – Jane is an American exchange student, who finds herself trapped inside the mansion with a severely sprained ankle, three hacked-up corpses and the mysterious black-clad killer, who favors red-and-black ascots as his weapon of choice. If, at 92 minutes, Torso’s climax arrives a bit too abruptly, at least the killer is accorded a psychological excuse for his pathology. Torso has been given a fresh high-def transfer from the original negative and is presented in both its uncensored English and full-length Italian director’s-cut version. The set adds the featurettes, “Murders in Perugia,” an interview with co-writer/director Martino; a poster and still gallery; and an introduction by Eli Roth.

Giallo fans might find it a tad unusual to find a new Blu-ray edition of Mario Bava’s landmark 1964 thriller, Blood and Black Lace, released so soon after Arrow’s excellent 2016 restoration. Apparently, though, hard-core buffs complained about the aspect ratio, which didn’t conform with Bava’s original vision. VCI Entertainment has come back with an edition in the wider aspect and a different bonus package, highlighted by separate commentary tracks from Kat Ellinger – who avoids repeating observations made in the 2016 edition – and David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner. The 27½-minute featurette, “American Cut vs. European Uncut,” goes step-by-step through the more graphic sequences of the film, offering the censored American version followed by the bloodier European version. Also included are a photo gallery and seven minutes taken from composer Carlo Rustichelli’s score. In a nutshell, the story follows a vicious killer, who stalks and murders the elegant models of the popular Christian Haute Couture fashion house, in Rome. The owner of the house, the affluent widow Contessa Cristina Como (Eva Bartok), attempts to maintain order, but after the body of the first victim, Isabella (Francesca Ungaro), is discovered, everyone panics. The experienced Inspector Silvester (Thomas Reiner) begins sniffing around and realizes that, in addition to selling designer clothes, the house may have provided a distribution point for drugs. Among the suspects are the Contessa’s lover and business partner, Max (Cameron Mitchell), and Isabella’s roommates, Peggy (Mary Arden) and Nicole (Arianna Gorini).

Although pioneered by John Waters, Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol, DIY filmmaking didn’t blossom into full flower until the introduction of camcorders, Apple and Avid editing technology, and straight-to-video distribution streams. The results weren’t always pretty, or terribly cinematic, but some of the movies showed promise for the future of the medium and filmmakers. If anything, DIY movies are easier and less expensive to make than they were in the 1980s and there’s very little problem getting them shown on YouTube and other streaming operations. What they’ve never been, however, is polished. It’s part of their charm. I’m not at all sure what prompted Arrow to pick up writer/director/actor Jim Van Bebber’s micro-budgeted indie, Deadbeat at Dawn, which combines elements of every juvenile-delinquent, kung fu and doomed-romance movie ever made, from West Side Story and Rebel Without a Cause, to The Wanderers and Rumble Fish. Van Bebber finished Deadbeat at Dawn in 1988, after he dropped out of film school and used the leftover money to purchase film stock. By that time, however, he’d made numerous amateur films, usually of the action variety and featuring his friends, relatives and classmates. An excellent prep wrestler, the Ohio native also became proficient in the martial arts, which would come in handy when he made Deadbeat at Dawn. Today, gang wars are fought with automatic weapons, usually from the cowardly shelter of a moving car. The hoodlums in Deadbeat at Dawn engage in old-fashioned knife fights and mano-a-mano combat with fists, kicks and karate chops.

Van Bebber plays Goose, the leader of the Ravens, who are mortal enemies of the Spiders. (The film was shot in Dayton, but it could have been set in any Rust Belt city.) After a rumble in a cemetery that leaves the gangs’ leaders with serious knife wounds, Goose’s girlfriend convinces him to go straight. Almost immediately, however, Goose’s rival assigns two of his nearly braindead thugs to take him out. Instead, they viciously murder his girlfriend, a senseless act that triggers another cycle of violence … this one disguised as a truce. After merging to pull off an armored-car heist, the Spiders ambush the Ravens, with the intention of wiping them out. Goose susses out the betrayal, but not before most of his comrades are wiped out. This leads to a battle royal that spreads into a railroad yard. It’s pretty entertaining, if not particularly convincing … no worse, certainly, than most fight scenes shot for television and genre flicks in the 1960s. The 2K restoration enhances the quality of the 16mm original beyond anything Van Bebber could have dreamed, 30 years ago. The bonus package adds commentary with Van Bebber, actor Paul Harper, actor/artist Cody Lee Hardin and filmmaker Victor Bonacore; a retrospective documentary on Van Bebber and the “Deadbeat” legacy, by Bonacore; a 1986 behind-the-scenes documentary on a failed “Deadbeat” shoot; Outtakes; four newly restored short films; Van Bebber’s music-video collection; an image gallery; reversible sleeve, featuring newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain; and a booklet, featuring new writing by Scott Gabbey and Graham Rae.

Prehysteria: Special Edition: Blu-ray
One year, our son wore a homemade dinosaur costume for his school’s party and trick-or-treating, which wasn’t easy in a neighborhood populated with yuppies in multi-unit apartments. It was a dandy. I was reminded of this by the Blu-ray release of Albert and Charles Band’s Prehysteria! Released on video only three weeks after Jurassic Park (1993) stormed the world’s box offices – and a month after Roger Corman’s R-rated Carnosaur beat Spielberg to the finishing line — the PG-rated fantasy/adventure served as the debut for the Bands’ subsidiary Moonbeam label, which was established to provide direct-to-video releases for children. In it, a sleazy museum curator, Rico (Stephen Lee), steals dinosaur eggs from tribe living in a rain forest, and brings them back to California. Frank (Brett Cullen) is an archeologist and single parent, who ekes out a living by growing grapes and selling fossils from his farm to the museum. In a mix-up, his kids, 12-year-old Jerry Taylor (Austin O’Brien) and his teenage sister, Monica (Samantha Mills), bring home the eggs and hatch several miniature dinosaurs, which they name after their favorite rock stars. As the tiny creatures grow into miniature dinosaurs, it becomes apparent to everyone involved that they’re neither house-trained nor particularly friendly. This works in their favor when Rico gets wind of the kids’ new pets, but it causes problems in Frank’s relationship with the curator’s assistant (Colleen Morris).  If the dinosaurs aren’t terribly realistic, kids in the target age group get by with less believable toys every day.

Snake Outta Compton
Schlock: Collector’s Edition, Special Edition: Blu-ray
Although Hank Braxtan’s outlandish parody, Snake Outta Compton, falls well short of being as risible as Sharknado, Birdemic and Showgirls, it straddles the lines separating movies that are so bad they’re funny and movies that are simply bad. The obvious nod here is to Snakes on a Plane (2006), a film whose most memorable moment comes when Samuel L. Jackson tells his fellow passengers, “Enough is enough. … I have had it with these motherf…ing snakes on this motherf…ing plane!” The craziness begins when a snake drops from a passing jetliner and lands on the windshield of police car carrying a salt-and-pepper pair of cops, straight out of Training Day. While the female snake doesn’t survive the collision, one of the eggs she’s carrying does. It’s picked up by a brilliant teenage scientist, Vurkel (Donte Essien), who’s a dead-ringer for Stephen Urkel, the kid from “Family Matters.” After the baby snake emerges from its egg, Vurkel zaps it with an enlarging ray he’s invented to boost the size of private parts. Naturally, the experiment works, turning a finger-length creature into a monster, able to climb tall buildings and devour humans with a snap of its jaws. The snake escapes from its tank during a scuffle involving Vurkel’s hip-hop roommates:Pinball (Motown Maurice), Beez Neez (Tarkan Dospil), Neon (Aurelia Michael) and Cam (Ricky Flowers Jr.). Somehow, the musicians get it into their collective noggins that they can score a record deal, if they can rid Compton of the beast. Towards the end, as the snake wraps itself around the city’s tallest building in pursuit of a redheaded gangsta wannabe (Arielle Brachfeld), fighter jets are called in to destroy it. Not possessing King Kong’s giant mitts, the snake is unable to protect itself. Snake Outta Compton might appeal to stoners, but, as it’s rated “R,” the kids who might be inspired to make creature features of their own won’t be able to watch it. Of course, they won’t.

A few months ago, I reviewed a limited-edition release of John Landis’ Schlock, which somehow found its way from Germany to L.A. Virtually the same package is now available through normal channels, via Arrow Video. While it easily qualifies as a movie that’s so bad it’s funny, Schlock occasionally hints at the potential for greatness of its writer/director John Landis, whose next four directorial credits would be The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, The Blues Brothers and Trading Places. In it, the mighty prehistoric ape, Schlocktropus, has emerged from hiding to embark on a full-scale rampage across a quiet southern Californian suburb. The police are baffled … the army is powerless … the body count is rising. But when Schlocktropus encounters a kindly blind woman (Eliza Garrett), who sees beyond his grotesque visage – perhaps in a homage to Frankenstein — the homicidal ape is presented with a chance at redemption. Shot over 12 days on a barely-there budget, Schlock not only launched Landis’ career, but also that of legendary makeup-effects artist Rick Baker. The Arrow package boasts a 4K restoration from the original camera negative; commentary by Landis and Baker; a new video interview with author and critic Kim Newman; “Birth of a Schlock,” a 2017 interview with Landis; an archival interview with cinematographer Bob Collins; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys; and an illustrated collector s booklet, with new writing on the film by Joe Bob Briggs.

Time Life: The Best of the Three Stooges
It being Halloween-planning season, I wonder how many parents of triplets have ever considered dressing their little trick-or-treaters as Larry, Moe and Curly. Or, in the event of quintuplets, Shemp and Curly Joe, as well. None, perhaps, but it’s still a cool idea. Back in the day, however, if any Stooges-obsessed dad had proposed such a thing, no mom in her right mind would go along with it. For more than a half-century, how one felt about the antics of Larry Fine, Moe Howard, Curly Howard and Shemp Howard pinpointed the differences between how men and women defined comedy. And, to answer your question before it’s asked, Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita’s contributions, while appreciated, are still largely discounted by purists. The same parents’ groups that lobbied against violence in comic books and the spread of rock ’n’ roll among white, Christian youths, tried mightily to temper the Stooges’ use of poking, smacking, slapping and bonking to prove their points. By this time, of course, the syndicated shorts had become staples of television stations in need of a quick, inexpensive ratings boost, and millions of kids savored every “nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.” Obviously, the aggrieved parents hadn’t taken into account the educational value of the “Swinging the Alphabet” segment, from “Violent Is the Word for Curly” (1938). It remains an unforgettable teaching aid. The latest collection of shorts from Time Life, “The Best of the Three Stooges,” includes all 87 of the Columbia Pictures two-reelers produced between 1934 and 1945, as well as 28 shorts featuring the independent work of Shemp, Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita, three feature films, a 2000 biopic (exec-produced by Mel Gibson), animated cartoons; a memory book and two DVDs featuring the nine-part “Hey Moe! Hey Dad!” documentary series, with rarely seen footage, home movies and photos.

The Big Lebowski: 20th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray/4K UHD
Get Shorty: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Neither of these wonderful comedies suffer from underexposure on DVD or Blu-ray. In fact, the only difference most previous owners and renters will notice from earlier editions will be the improved visual quality of Get Shorty – it’s been remastered from a new 4K transfer — and The Big Lebowski’s 4K UHD/HDR visual presentation and audio boost to DTS:X and DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Both movies look and sound better than they ever have, a fact that will only be relevant to fans with the appropriate playback units. The excellent bonus packages – on “Big Lebowski,” it’s on the enclosed Blu-ray disc – have been ported over from special editions released in 2011. Personally, I don’t think there’s much more to say about either film – including the worthwhile bonus material — except to note the improved technical values. And, in case any newcomers are wondering, I can vouch for the fact that Get Shorty and The Big Lebowski both hold up well after repeated viewings. The first season of Epic’s spinoff TV series, “Get Shorty,” was released on DVD in August.

Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection
When it comes to boxed sets of television series, it always pays to read the fine print on the package, as well as the fan blogs. Such descriptives as “complete,” “ultimate,” “best” and “rare” are thrown around so carelessly that they become meaningless. The same applies for collections of songs and the work of individual artists, which tend to be divided by labels, studios and partnerships. The beloved teen sitcom, “Saved by the Bell,” went through so many permutations in its 11-year tenure, including “Good Morning, Miss Bliss,” “The College Years” and “The New Class” – that the new Shout!Factory compilation, “Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection,” must be considered alongside the 2013 “Complete Collection,” released by Lionsgate. At the time, purists complained that it was a tad short of “complete.” Technically, the Shout compilation is missing “The New Class” spinoff, which ran for seven seasons and 143 episodes, from 1993 to 2000. Image Entertainment released all seven seasons of the show, in 2005, but they’ve since been discontinued and are out of print. “Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection” includes 118 episodes from “Good Morning, Miss Bliss,” “Saved by the Bell” and “Saved by the Bell: The College Years”; both feature films; new documentaries, “Past Times at Bayside High: Making ‘Saved by the Bell’” and “Bayside’s Greatest Hits: The Music of ‘Saved by the Bell’”; vintage featurettes, “Saturday Morning: From Toons to Teens,” “It’s Alright: Back to the Bell” and “The First of Its Class: From Sit-Com to Icon”; audio commentaries; photo galleries; and a16-page episode guide. For now, it will have to do.

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“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater—one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen—people he’s never known—with equal intensity—with equal venom. Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race—to despise an entire nation—to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God–a God who calls us ALL—His children.”
~ Stan Lee, 1965

“I’m more and more interested in Godard’s idea that not much matters except dealing with the present moment, that when you look at history, you’ve got to refract it through your awareness of the present. I mean, I’m interested in history, and here I am talking about biopics, but I don’t want to run from the present. And the idea of time-travel through CGI feels like a magic trick that might be an evasion of other issues. Besides, I like working with real actors in real spaces. Can’t help it.”
~ Michael Almereyda