Laserblast: Golden Compass, Godzilla, Dark Shadows & Slashers

615U8yaGAeL Laserblast: Golden Compass, Godzilla, Dark Shadows & SlashersThis week’s home video offerings include a a big-budget disappointment, the further adventures of Japan’s most famous mon-star, the early adventures of a long-running soap opera, and the bloody adventures of a couple of psycho killers. The high-profile release is THE GOLDEN COMPASS, New Line’s failed attempt to create another blockbuster fantasy franchise in the mode of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Defenders tried to blame the underwhelming box office performance on religious controversy, but the film, while not too bad, has more enough flaws to make any other explanation unnecessary: it is a bit bland in its efforts to avoid offending anyone (shying away from the controversy surrounding the books), and screenplay crams in way too many plot elements that do not pay off but simply set up sequels (which now will probably never come). The film arrives on Blu-ray disc, a New Line Platinum Series DVD, and a widescreen single disc DVD. Both the Blu-ray disc and the Platinum DVD include a second disc’s worth of extras: eleven documentaries, trailers, and art galleries; plus, there is an audio commentary with writer-director Chris Weitz on the first disc. The Blu-ray disc also includes an Enhanced Visual Commentary, which displays picture-in-picture video of Weitz intercut with behind-the-scenes footage as his audio commentary plays.

Unfortunately, there are no deleted scenes, which must be a great frustration to fans of the book. At the time the film was released theatrically, there was no secret that the novel’s ending had been filmed but lopped off in order to end the first film on an upbeat note; the plan was to use the deleted footage as a prologue to the sequel. With prospects for that sequel now looking dim, it would have been a nice gesture to include the scenes here. Perhaps New Line is planning to offer a “Director’s Cut” DVD in the near future, in order to get fans to pay for it again.

 GODZILLA RETURNS

Classic Media released several high-quality DVDs of Godzilla titles last year: GOJIRA; GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN; MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA; GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER; and INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER. All the discs included the original uncut Japanese versions of the films, plus the dubbed American releases, along with informative audio commentaries and a handful of interesting bonus features. Although fans complained that the discs fell short of the desired perfection, they were actually pretty impressive, especially considering that many of the people involved with the films are long dead, making it hard to put together the usual package of bonus features (interviews, filmmaker audio commentaries, etc).

There was a little bit of additional unhappiness on the part of fans around Christmas time, when a box set of the Classic Media DVDs hit shelves, including discs that had not yet been released separately. This strategy seemed like a greedy attempt to force collectors and completists to repurchase discs they already owned in order to obtain the new ones. The official explanation was that dwindling shelf space precluded the stand-alone releases but that box sets sell well to justify having them out in time for the holiday buying season. Whether you buy that or not, the two previously unavailable discs are now being sold separately: ALL MONSTERS ATTACK (a.k.a. GODZILLA’S REVENGE) and TERRROR OF MECHAGODZILLA.

Made at a time when the franchise was petering out and becoming increasingly juvenile, both of the of these films were directed by the late Ishiro Honda, who helmed the original GOJIRA/GODZILLA in 1954, but his presence hardly elevates them to the same level as that classic.

ALL MONSTERS ATTACK was an attempt to create something totally different within the GODZILLA franchise: a story about a lonely boy who imagines himself visiting Godzilla on Monster Island. It probably represents the kind of films Honda would have liked to make (domestic dramas) if he had not been typecast in the science-fiction genre. It is not too bad as a children’s film, but it is disappointing to anyone interested in exciting Godzilla action; much of the footage is lifted from GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966) and SON OF GODZILLA (1967). One historical note: Although he receives an honorary credit, Eiji Tsuburaya, who supervised special effects for the previous Godzilla films, was too ill to be involved, so Honda himself stepped in and helped out with the special effects.

TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA gets some points for setting aside the juvenile tone and trying to tell a slightly more adult story. It also incorporate the best (indeed only) good footage from its predecessor, 1974’s GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA – the battle between the titular monsters, here replayed beneath the opening credits with a new score by series regular Akira Ifukube (instead of the Masaru Sato’s jazzy themes). This means you never have to sit through GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA again (thank god!). Unfortunately, TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA is one of those films whose virtues can be described mostly in negative terms: it does not feature an annoying kid in the lead; it does not feature lots of re-used stock footage from previous films; it does not have the goofy tone that sunk GODZILLA VS. MEGALON; it does not feature a dull pop song. Trying to find something positive to say about it is a little harder.

As with the previous Classic Media releases, these DVDs include both the English-dubbed versions and the uncut originals. The MECHAGODZILLA DVD has an audio commentary by Bob Johnson and Keither Aikin (who runs the Sci Fi Japan website).

 SUB-CLASSIC HORROR

MPI Home Video is putting out DARK SHAODWS: THE BEGINNINGS COLLECTION 4, another DVD collection from DARK SHADOWS, the ’60s soap opera that became famous for re-using old Universal monster movie cliches: vampires, werewolves, an artificially created man, etc. As fans know, the show had been on the air for a year with lackluster ratings before the introduction of reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) caught the audience’s imagination and earned enduring cult status. Previous home video releases picked up the series at this point, omitting earlier episodes (and even cutting out footage from later episodes that referrbed back to the older plot-lines). But now, thanks to the BEGINNINGS COLLECTION discs, you can relive those earlier times, when the Gothic soap featured more mystery than horror, with only an occasional ghost tossed into the mix.

Blue Underground offers up a DVD of THE NEW YORK RIPPER, the infamous giallo slasher-fest from Italian splatter-man Lucio Fulci. After a fairly anonymous career (including some pretty good giallo thrillers), director Fulci achieved cult stardom with ZOMBIE (1980), which led to an impressive trilogy of terror including CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE BEYOND, and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. This brief artistic high was followed by a gradual decline into low-budget sleaze. When originally released, NEW YORK RIPPER was condemned for its misogynistic violence (which includes a sliced nipple and a broken bottle to the vagina), but Keith Brown of Giallo Fever considers the film worthy of reappraisal. The title was previously released on DVD by Anchor Bay as part of their Lucio Fulci Collection. The new disc features the same cover art and the same paucity of bonus features: a trailer and a bio of the director.

It seems like only last week I was commenting on British cult director Peter Walker. Wait a minute it was only last week - that’s when Media Blasters released the British Horror Quadruple Feature DVD, which includes a quartet of Walker’s work. This week, Redemption Video gives us SCHIZO (1976), a rather obvious titular attempt to mimic Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. Needless to say, Walker is no Hitchcock, but he does deliver a handful of crudely shocks (e.g., a knife slicing into a belly); you just have to sit through a pretty dull plot to get to them. There is a contrived but serviceable twist in the story, about a convicted murderer who is released and begins stalking the daughter of his victim. Is he planning to kill her, too, or does he want her to recant her testimony – could she have fingered the wrong man? Although this falls far below the quality of Hammer horror, fans of the British studio take note: Leading lady Lynne Frederick was in Hammer’s VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and co-star Stephanie Beacham is the blond buxom goddess who graced DRACULA A.D. 1972 (and was more recently seen in episodes of SEAQUEST DSV and CHARMED).

I have a certain interest in Walker because I enjoyed his 1979 film THE COMEBACK, and he directed HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, which co-starred horror icons Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine. Because of that I occasionally feel compelled to sample his earlier, more exploitative work. Judged on that level, SCHIZO is a curiosity – not really good enough to stand on its own, but just interesting enough if you want to see what else Walker has done.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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