Laserblast: The Ring Two & Ringu Anthology, Argento, Howling 2

Well, well, well...the big DVD horror release this week is of a sequel (THE RING TWO) that did fairly well at the box office even while the critical consensus was that it was a tremendous disappointment. But do not despair! This week also sees (at long last) the release of a box set of all four of the original Japanes RING films -- a must have for any serious horror fan.

The Ring Anthology is a four-disc set that provides you with RINGU, RASEN, RINGU 2, and RINGU 0. For those of you keeping score at home, RINGU is the first and still best film in the series, which was inspired by author Koji Suzuki's novel. RASEN (i.e., "Spiral") is a sequel, also based on a Kozuki novel, that was shot almost simultaneously with RINGU, using a different cast and crew; unfortunately, it was a major disappointment when it was released, disappearing into obscurity almost immediately. RINGU 2 is an attempt to get most of the cast and crew from RINGU back together to create a more worth filmic follow-up; it is also quite good, if not a match for its progenitor. RINGU 0 is an attempt to create a prequel that fills in the back story hinted in the previous RINGU films; it is also highly regarded by films fans.

Don't expect much if anything in the way of bonus features in this box set. Just be happy that you can get your hands on these films on DVD. Up till now, only the original RINGU has been available on disc in the U.S. If you were diligent, you could find the other titles on import DVDs, but the image transfers, although good, were not always the best. (By the way, if you've heard of the title THE RING VIRUS and are wondering why it's not in the box set, the reason is this: it's not part of the Japanese series; it's a South Korean remake that in some ways prefigures the American remake THE RING.)

THE RING TWO is not a bad film, but it does lack inspiration and originality. As if to goose up some interest in the home video release, the movie is coming out on disc in an "unrated" widescreen edition, implying that we may be seeing something scarier than was available in theatres, but it does not seem likely that this unrated version can do much to improve the film. The disc is a bare-bones presentation of the film, without bonus features. It might be worth a rental, to see the new cut of the film, but one expects that a special edition version is waiting in the wings somewhere, to be released at a later date.

Several other horror titles are hitting store shelves this week. Some of them might be worth a rental, but few if any of them are must-have items for your permanent collection.

Italian director Dario Argento's latest thriller, THE CARD PLAYER, failed to impress his fans when it was released in Italy last year; typically, it failed to earn a stateside theatrical release. It's about a serial killer who plays online poker with the police, in order to determine the fate of his victims. This DVD contains an interview with Argento, an audio commentary with author Alan Jones, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a trailer.

Another Argento feature also comes out on DVD this week: TRAUMA. This disappointing effort from the early 1990s is the first in which his daughter Asia Argento starred. It is also one of several efforts Argento directed around this time in the hope of breaking into the U.S. market, with less than satisfying results. Shot in America with a mostly American cast (including Piper Laurie, Frederick Forrest, and Christopher Rydell), the movie plays like an imitation of an Argento film, with all the stylistic gusto drained away. It's as if Argento thought he could become successful in in the states by toning himself down; in the process, he created a dull, mostly uninteresting movie.

Like CARD PLAYER, the DVD for TRAUMA features an interview with Argento, an audio commentary with Alan Jones, and a theatrical trailer. It also includes behind-the-scenes footage, home movies of the special effects director Tom Savini, a gallery of posters and stills, and deleted scenes.

It's actually a bit sad to look back on the last twenty years of Argento's career. In the 1970s, he was one of the best horror director's around (John Carpenter cited his early work, including DEEP RED, as a major influence). But since PHENOMENA in 1985 (with Jennifer Connelly), Argento's films have been (with one or two exceptions) disappointing and in many cases terrible. SLEEPLESS, from 2001, seemed to suggest he was back on the right track, but now it seems he's jumped the rails again.

SWAMP THING is Wes Craven's 1982 attempt to fashion a feature film from the comic book character. Unfortunately, the movie fails to find much atmosphere in its swampy setting, and the whole thing is just too juvenile and goofy to amount to much of anything. On the plus side (for men, anyway), you do get to see Adrienne Barbeau bathing topless in a lake.

Far, far worse is HOWLING II:YOU SISTER IS A WEREWOLF - the atrocious sequel to the quite entertaining THE HOWLING. This is one of those movies that is so bad it's almost unbelievable.The story goes nowhere fast. There werewolves look like apes, and it seems that all the monster footage was filmed against some neutral background and randomly edited into different scene to make you think tha the creatures are lurking nearby. The filmmakers could not obtain footage from the original HOWLING so they recreated the shooting of the anchor woman at the end of the first film -- and it looks ludicrous. Christopher Lee wanders in to collect a paycheck, and you wonder why he's even wasting him time in this drek. And Sybill Danning shows up as the Queen of the Werewolves -- her big moment occurs during the closing credits, when a shot of her ripping off her top to expose her breasts is repeated something like seventeen times. This isn't even worth a rental -- unless you're one of those skeptical people who doesn't believe a film can be this bad. If so, rent this movie, and you'll change your mind.