Sad to say, this week's home video releases of fantasy films, mystery movies, and sci-fi cinema really do suck about as bad as an aging vampire with broken fangs. Hopefully, a shared sense of diminished expectations will help us all get through this column.
Things get off to a bad start with THE LAST MIMZY, a film that provides enough suckage to fill this entire column. The drippy, childish, sci-fi fantasy flick is available in a Widescreen Infinifilm Edition (seen above) and in a full screen Infinifilm Edition. I'll leave it to those with stronger stomachs to explore the mystery of exactly what comprises an "Infinifilm Edition." All I want to add now is that LAST MIMZY was directed by Robert Shaye, who really should go back to just being a studio exec greenlighting movies directed by people with talent.
Also out this week is is a double bill DVD package containg THE HITCHER and THE RETURN, so you can double your viewing displeasure.
That's pretty much it for new movies. If you're interested in older titles, there's DANTE'S PEAK, which is now available on HD-DVD. The film isn't too bad, but it really is a throwback to the old disaster movie formula, which means that the whole story is a tad predicable and obligatory (you know the volcano is going to erupt, so listening to the scientists debate the issue for the first half is a waste of time). It's been a few years since I've seen the movie, but I seem to recall it was part of a Hollywood trend for display sentimentality by saving the lives of dogs while allowing old people to die; I guess the idea was that old people have put in their years and should clear the way for the next generation, but families will always love Fido, no matter what.
If the movie releases are not enough to keep you happy, there are also DVD releases of two fantasy-oriented television shows: The Complete Fifth Season of BEWITCHED and The Second Season of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
You really deserve something better than this, so I've dug through my collection to find a title whose virtues are worth extolling, and here it is...
CITY OF THE DEAD (1960) was known as HORROR HOTEL when it was released in the U.S. ("Ring for doom service!" was the silly tag line). It's a low-budget, atmospheric, black-and-white chller from the people who would eventually go on to form Amicus Films and make more famous, full-blooded color horror films like DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, TORTURE GARDEN, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, and TALES FROM THE CRYPT.
Director John Moxey (who went on to direct the hit movie-of-the-week THE NIGHT STALKER in 1971) overdoes the spookiness from time to time (the shots of the sinister town folk staring at the strangers in their midst, with the background score emphasizing the eerie quality of the encounter, really does go a bit overboard), but the movie manages to create a wonderful mood, and it has absolutely the best, most frightening conclusion of a horror film ever committed to celluloid. At least I find it so, and the weird thing is - it's a happy ending with Good triumphing over Evil. There's just something chilling about the way the Power of God lays the smack down on the Satan-worshipping cult (I bet George Bush wishes he could perform similar magic on terrorist in the Middle East, but alas this kind of thing works only in the movies).
Anyway, the 2001 VCI DVD (which you can purchase by clicking the image above) is loaded with bonus features. Not only doe sit contain the original British version of the film (with two extra minutes of footage), you also get an interview and an audio commentary with the director, an interview and an commentary with star Christopher Lee, and an interview with starlet Venetia Stevenson, plus trailers, a photo gallery, biographies, and more.
The film is presented in widescreen, enhanced for 16X9 televisions; unfortunately, I had trouble getting mine to play correctly on my conventional television screen (the image looked squeezed). That aside, the picture looked great.
The interviews are interesting and informative. Moxey gives his theories on making frightening films. Stevenson (whose character dies midway through, like Janet Leigh in PSYCHO) doesn't seem to remember much about the film, but it is an interesting surprise to learn that her mother, Anna Lee, played the female lead opposite Boris Karloff in the 1945 horror classic BEDLAM. Lee speaks at length about the film in particular and his horror career in general; unfortunately, as interesting as he is, he does have a tendancy to labor a point, coming across a bit like a grumpy old man who just doesn't like the way things are going in the modern films industry.
One word of warning: the cover art for the VCI disc currently on sale is different from the one I own, but apparently it contains all the same features.
You should be careful when searching for CITY OF THE DEAD on home video, because it is also available under its American title, HORROR HOTEL. I haven't checked out the Roan Group's DVD (available above), but it's hard to imagine that it could match the VCI disc.