Hollywood Gothique
The Vault

Laserblast: Isolation, Dead Silence, Mystery Science Theater Vol 11

When it rains, it pours. Today sees a veritable deluge of home video releases. Not all are new titles (some are oldies making their debut on disc; others are re-issues on new formats like HD DVD), but combined they form a cornucopia of choices that should keep genre enthusiasts sated with fantasy films, mystery movies, horror-thrillers, and sci-fi cinema – at least until next week.

Up first is ISOLATION, a thoroughly exhilerating surprise from Ireland. The premise (mutant killer cows) sounds like a godawful dud, yet the conviction of the presentation sucks you into the horror like you would not believe, and it truly is heart-rending to see this pitched battle in an isolated farmhouse, where a small group of ordinary, working class people must draw the line in the sand that will prevent the menace from escaping into the world at large. This 2005 production has been availabe on Region 2 disc for awhile.  The new Region 1 DVD from First Look Pictures offers closed captions, optional subtitles, 2.35 aspect ratio, and an unrated 95 minute running time.

Second on this week’s hit list is the release of DEAD SILENCE, SAW-director James Wan’s attempt to prove that he can craft a more traditional, atmosphere-based spook show. The film looks great, but the contrived story fails to satisfy, particularly an utterly predictable “twist” ending that should never have survived the script stage. The film is available as as Unrated Widescreen DVD (pictured above), as an unrated HD DVD, and as an R-rated Widescreen DVD. The unrated version runs about one minute longer.

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 may be off the air, but thankfully the old episodes keep showing up on DVD. The latest offering is a four-disc box set entitled MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, COLLECTION Volume 11. Feature films being lampooned include RING OF TERROR, THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN; TORMENTED (all three with Joel Hodgson still at the healm of the Satellite of Love); and HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (from Seaon Ten, by which time Mike Nelson had taken over the lead role). Extras include episodes of THE UNDERSEA KINGDOM and the Bela Lugosi serial THE PHANTOM CREEPS; trailers for all the films (except RING OF TERROR); interviews with TORMENTED director Bert I. Gordon; wraparounds from the syndicated MYSTERY SCIENCE HOUR; and the MST3K Jukebox, which features some of the show’s funniest musical spoofs.


The other new horror title out this week is BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON, a sort of black comedy satire about Vernon (Nathan Basel), a “good-natured killing machine who invites a documentary film crew to follow him as he reminsces with his murder mentor (Scott Willson of IN COLD BLOOD).” Not to put too fine a point on it, the idea of a documentary crew filming a killer was thoroughly worked over in the German film MAN BITES DOG, way back in the ’90s.

Lots of interesting oldies are out on disck this week. Chris Marker’s excellent time-travel short subject LA JATEE finds itself double-billed on disc with SAN SOLEIL. LA JATEE provided the inspiration for the feature film TWELVE MONKEYS; although the later is an impressive piece of work, the original remains a beautiful poem that stands on its own.

FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD began like as FRANKENSTEIN VS. GODZILLA (Japan’s Toho Studios was considering a way to recreate the successful formula of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA). Along the way, Godzilla was replaced by Baragon, and American actor Nick Adams was added to the cast as a sympathetic scientist. The film gets off to a great start with a wordless prologue in which the heart of the Frankenstein monster is smuggled out of Nazi Germany near the end of World War II and taken to Japan, where scientists attempts to study it are interrupted by the dropping of an atomic bomb. Over twenty years later, a mysterious orphan boy appears who turns out to be the Frankenstien monster (apparently he can regenerate his cells). Adams and his assistants try to befriend and control the creature, but when it grows to giant size and escapes, the military wants to kill it. Meanwhile, an underground monster named Baragon (with unexplained fire-breathing skills, apparently left over from drafts of the script that included Godzilla) emerges and makes a nuisance of himself. Finally, Frankenstein clashes with and kills the beast, before the ground collapses beneath, sending him to his doom. An alternate ending was shot (but never used) in which an octopus appears out of nowhere and drags Frankenstein to his death in a nearby lake – a nice special effect but a ridiculously contrived piece of drama. The film never lives up to the promise of the opening, but fans will find it entertaining. (The sequel, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, replaced the late Nick Adams with Russ Tamblyn, and the English-dubbing deleted any references to Frankenstein.) The two-disc DVD includes both the American English-langauge version of the film and the Japanese original, titled FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON.

Cult Camp Classics 1 – Sci-Fi Thrillers packages together ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, and QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE. The first film has a pretty deserved reputation as being so bad it’s funny, and the statuesque Allison Hayes looks great wearing her canvas bikini in the title role. QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE is also good for a few laughs: the screenwriter claimed it was supposed to be a spoof, but with Zsa Zsa Gabor cast as a beautiful Venusian scientist the humor seems mostly unintentional. Best of the bunch is THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, which was director Eugene Lourie’s 1960 attempt to recreate the formula that had worked so well on his earlier effort THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. The movie actually has a decent script that plays up the character interplay between its two leads (one a stodgy Britisher, the other a brash American), and Lourie brings some nice atmosphere to the moody black-and-white production. The stop-motion effects were by Willis O’Brien (1933’s KING KONG), and he more or less recreates scenes from his 1925 silent film THE LOST WORLD, which also ended with a giant saurapod let loose on London. Unfortunately, this fine work is intercut with some shabby hand-puppets and unconvincing miniatures (check out the sinking mini-boat – that obviously doesn’t have a single passenger visible on deck, in spite of the overdubbed sound of screams). This DVD box set features audio commentaries by historian Tom Weaver for 50 FOOT WOMAN and QUEEN; special effects experts Phill Tippett and Dennis Muren do the honors for BEHEMOTH. All of the films are available on disc individually.

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD is a minor cult item from the 1970s, in which a British couple vacationing on an island in Spain run across a horder of murderous children apparently intent on killing any adult who crosses their path. The film reached U.S. shores in a recut version as ISLAND OF THE DAMNED in 1976 (apparently in an attempt to make if sound like a follow-up to VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED). The Dark Sky DVD presents the Spanish production, directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador, in its original form.

TROG: This flick about a troglodyte discovered in an icy cave near an English village has little to recommend it, except the sight of an aged Joan Crawford playing her scenes straight, as if totally unaware how ridiculous the whole thing is. If you were unfortunate enough to see this as a young child when it first hit theatres, it seemed pretty scary, but to adult eyes the whole thing is ridiculous camp. Even director Freddie Francis (who usually managed to bring a sense of visual style to his low-budget horror flicks) fails to deliver much of interest. He does reveal his contempt for the material when he stages a scene of a TV cameraman intent on getting a shot of Trog’s emerging from his cave: the doufus actually tilts his camera down and up to follow the arc as the primate picks up a rock and clobbers the guy to death with it. As an exta added bit of fun, the film cops lots of stock footage from more expensive movies to show Trog’s flashbacks of when dinosaurs rules the Earth. This was Crawford’s last movie – a rather bizarre curtain closer for a star with such an illustrious career.

Lastly, here is a list of familiar titlles, previously released on DVD, that are making a reappearance in the new HD DVD format: