Return of Laserblast: Stranger than Fiction & Italian Horror

Welcome back to the renewed Laserblast column, taking a look at this week's major DVD releases of fantasy films, mystery movies, and sci-fi cinema. February 27 offers a couple of high-profile newcomers and a handful of older cult titles. After sifting through the chaf, here are the ones worth checking out...

STRANGER THAN FICTION is one of the best films of last year, despite low box office returns and a dearth of award nominations. A tale of a dull man whose life becomes much more interesting when he realizes he is a character in a novel (written by an author noted for killing off her protagonists), the film is funny, sad, thoughtful, and altogether brilliant.

The DVD offers the film along with a bundle of extras:

  • "Actors in Search of a Story" - the director discusses the cast
  • "Building the Team" - the director discusses the crew
  • "On Location in Chicago"
  • "Words on a Page" - interview with the producer and the writer
  • "Picture a Number" - a look at the special effects
  • "On the Set" - a montage of funny moments.

The film is also available on Blu-Ray DVD,

This week's other newcomer is THE RETURN, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. This supernatural thriller came and went with lightening speed when it was released to theatres last year. The DVD presents a widescreen transfer of the film, along with a handful of extras: a making of featurette; deleted scenes; and an alternate ending.

FOREIGN HORROR

For some reason, there are lots of foreign horror titles on the list this week, many of them from Italy. However, most of them seem to be re-issues of titles long available, with no new features or attractions added.

The ONE MISSED CALL PACK combines ONE MISSED CALL and ONE MISSED CALL 2, a pair of Japanese ghost films about a mysterious message left on a cell phone, foretelling the death of everyone who receives it. The premise is pretty much a rip-off of RING, but the familiar formula does yield some decent thrills. The first film, directed by cult figure Takashi Miike, is definitely preferable, thanks to the satirical approach to the subject matter. A second sequel has been completed in Japan, and an American remake of the first film is waiting in the wings.

Both films were previously released in two-disc sets, bundling the films with a bunch of extras (interviews, trailers, deleted scenes, alternate endings, etc). The Pack contains all four discs, so you get everything in one neat package. Read a review of the first DVD here and of the second DVD here.

This week's surfeit of Italian horror kicks off with INFERNO, Dario Argento's sequle to SUSPIRIA. The new DVD release looks exactly like the one previously available in 2000, with the same bonus features: trailer, interview with the director, stills gallery, and talent bios. It's a pretty cool flick, and fans of the Japanese hit JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (and its American remake THE GRUDGE) should be interested in checking it out. Argento's loose story structure, featuring a series of almost random incidents somehow connected with a spooky mansion in New York, seems like a blueprint for Takashi Shimizu's episodic approach to horror.

Up next is CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, another title that has been available on DVD for several years. This is director Lucio Fulci's follow-up to ZOMBIE: set in Dunwich, the film combines bits of Lovecraft with George Romero, telling a tale of what happens when one of the Gates of Hell is opened, allowing evil to enter the world (in the form of ghostly apparitions that look like flesh-eating zombies). It's full of graphic gore, but the real appeal is the surreal feeling created by the almost random plotting - the lack of narrative sense conveys a nice feeling of an approaching apocalypse. The DVD is pretty bare bones: the only extras are a trailer, stills gallery, radio spots, and a bio of Italian director Fulci.

SHOCK (unfortuantely released in the U.S. as BEYOND THE DOOR II) is the last film directed by cult horror icon Mario Bava. Rumor had it that Bava was so ill that he prepped the film but left most of the actual on-set work to his assistant director, son Lamberto Bava - a rumor that is easy to believe because the film ranks a level below the elder Bava's best work, despite a nicely sustained atmosphere. The claustrophobic story, set mostly in a single apartment, stars Daria Nicolodi as a woman whose son may be possessed by her dead husband. The DVD includes an interview with Lamberto Bava, the Italian trailer, the U.S. "Beyond the Door" TV spots, and talent bios.

Several other titles are available this week. Among them are Lucio Fulci's well-regarded giallo thriller DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (availble on DVD here) and Dario Argento's masterful DEEP RED. The latter DVD release, however, appears to be a bootleg/fast-buck version, inferior to the old DVD available since 2000. For fans of Eurotrash Cinema there is a special edition DVD of Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA, a rather dreary, plooding production starring Christopher Lee; this 1971 production is one of the first that generated interest by claiming (falsely) to be a faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's source material.

AND THE REST...

SECRET AGENT (aka DANGER MAN) - The Complete Collection Megaset 2007; VEGAS VAMPIRES; THE LAND BEFORE TIME XII - THE GREAT DAY OF THE FLYERS; Filmation's GHOSTBUSTERS - The Animated Series, Vol 1; ALICE IN CARTOONLAND - 35mm Collection; PERVERSION STORY (w/CD); AUTOPSY; PRAYER BEADS; DEVIL'S HIGHWAY; THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST; FEMME FATALES; REBECCA; THE IMMORTAL - Complete Series; OUTERWORLD; DREAMLAND; PLANETFALL.