Christmas is coming! Time to buy presents for your friends, family, and loved ones. And what truly says “holiday cheer” better than DVDs and Blu-ray discs of their favorite horror movies, fantasy films, and science fiction flicks? Several hot new titles are available this week, including THE DARK KNIGHT, the fourth season of LOST, and HORTON HEARS A WHO. Of course you don’t need me to tell you that DARK KNIGHT was the mammoth, crowd-pleasing blockbuster of the year – sure to be on every one’s Christmas wish list. Your only problem is figuring out which version to purchase on disc for you favorite fan: the Blu-ray wtih Digital Copy and BD Live; the Two-Disc Special Edition DVD with Digital Copy; the single-disc full screen DVD; the single-disc widescreen DVD; or the Limited edition Blu-ray disc with Batpod. The Blu-ray multi-disc presentation offers the film in a 2.4 aspect ration (with IMAX scenes in 1.78) It features Focus points (18 behind-the-scenes vignettes that can be viewed separately or with the picture-in-picture option); BD-Live, an interactive gateway to exclusive content on the Warner website; four stills galleries; “Gotham Tonight” – six episodes of the city’s news programs; trailers and TV spots; and several behind-the-scenes featurettes:
- Batman Tech – incredible gadgets and tools (in HD)
- Gotham Uncovered – Creation of a Scene (with director Christopher Nolan
- Batman Unmasked – The Pscyhology of the Dark Knight
If Batman sounds a little too sinisters to work as a stocking stuffer for the little tykes, you might opt for HORTON HEARS A WHO, the computer-animated adaptation of the Dr. Suess story. The film is available in two different versions: The HORTON single-disc DVD offers the G-rated film in both widescreen and full screen versions. Besides the original English track, there are French and Spanish dubs, plus options for English and Spanish subtitles. Just in case that is not enough for a truly impressive Christmas present for the kids, there is another option: an Amazon-exclusive gift set includes the HORTON DVD, a Plush toy, an audio story book on CD, and a digital copy. The Blu-ray Disc (which comes with the now de rigeur Digital Copy option on the second of two discs) includes a bevy of bonus features: trailers; a directos’ audio commentary; 13 deleted scenes; 23 animation screen tests (with an introduction from animator Nick Bruno; BD access to an online game; and a bunch of featurettes offering behind-the-scenes info and background details:
- Beyond Animation
- The Voice of Horton: Jim Carrey
- That’s One Big Elephant
- The Genesis of Katie
- Your World is Changing Too
- How Does Horton Hear
- A Person is a Person
- Practical Life Lessons
- Is It Suess?
Fans frustrated by the convoluted plotting of LOST have an opporutnity to catch up, thanks to the Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray DVD. Buena Vista’s five-disc set clocks in at over 600 minutes and offers the television series in a 1.78 widescreen ratio. The season is also available on DVD. Bonus featuresinclude an Episode Guide printed on a flight safety card, some audio commentaries (featuring teasers about season five), a montage of scenes from Season Three (presumably to bring you up to speed before you dive into Season Four), a blooper reel, nine deleted scenes, and some featurettes: “The Oceanic Six: A Conspiracy of Lies,” “The Freighter Folk,” “Offshore Shoot,” and “Course for the Future.”
So much for super heroics and family-oriented fantasy. Horror fans will have to contend with somewhat more meager pickings. Just in case you don’t already own them (and, really, why would you even want to?), there is now a RESIDENT EVIL Trilogy four-disc box set, featuring all three films (RESIDENT EVIL, RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE; and RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION), plus extras. As much as anything, this franchise (going back to its videogame origins) is responsible for the current vogue of fast-moving zombies. Although they deliver enough lowest-common-denominator thrills to satisfy expectations, they never really fulfill their full potential as kick-ass action-horror movies.
If for some reason you feel the need to be the proud owner of THIRTEEN GHOSTS on Blu-ray disc, now you have that opportunity. This is a disappointing follow-up to HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL: like that 1999 feature, GHOSTS is a remake of an old black-and-white thriller directed by gimmick-master William Castle, but it’s lifeless, lacking the campy fun of its predecessor. In some cases I might be inclined to overlook the low ambitions and just enjoy the film on its own stupid level, but it’s hard to forgive the way it wastes the talents of fine actors like Tony Shaloub and F. Murray Abraham, plus a serviceable supporting cast that includes Embeth Davidtz (ARMY OF DARKNESS) and Matthew Lillard (SCREAM). Heck, even scream queen Shannon Elizabeth outclasses the project.
Warner Brothers Home Video is releasing two double-feature DVDs of cult horror titles from the 1960s: IT/THE SHUTTERED ROOM and CHAMBER OF HORRORS/BRIDES OF FU MANCHU. IT stars Roddy McDowell in an updated, color film version of the Golem story, most famously told in the 1920s black-and-white film starring Paul Weggener. This time the living statue is controlled by a psychotic young man who seems to be a Norman Bates wannabe. It’s pretty sill stuff, featuring some weak special effects for the destruction of London Bridge and some dubious scripting. (Favorite dialogue: “Is that an atomic bomb?” “Yes, a small one.”) THE SHUTTERED ROOM is supposed to be an adaptation of a story by H.P. Lovecraft, but the sourc material is actually one of those ersatz pieces that fan August Derleth “completed” after Lovecraft’s death. In any case, little of the story remains: instead of a mutant monster (the result of inbreeding between humans and elder gods), the titular room houses only an old relative who’s been kept locked up for decades. Even this horror motif is downplayed; most of the running time focuses on Gig Young and Carol Lynley as a young couple come to a strange small town where her family used to live – who are menaced by an obnoxious creep played by Oliver Reed (who has the hots for the wife but for some reason can’t get it up when she takes off her top for him).
CHAMBERS OF HORRORS is one of the many horror films that have been set inside a wax museum. This one stars Patrick O’Neal (a member of Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack”) as a psycho killer who likes to marry the coprses of his female victims. Somewhere along the way, he loses a hand, which he replaces with a stump that acts as the equivalent of a Swiss army knife, mounting a hook, a blade, and even a gun. Most of the plot focuses on his attempts to revenge himself upon various victims. The film’s most memorable element is its ridiculous gimmick the “Fear Flasher and Horror Horn”: before every killing, the images flashes and the soundtrack shrieks, offering viewers a change to turn away before the violence strikes. You would have to be very timid to head the warning: the violence is rather tame; in fact, the whole production feels a bit like a made-for-television film. BRIDES OF FU MANCHU is one of a handful of low-budget thrillers to star English actor Christopher Lee as the famous oriental version. No one seems to think very highly of them, but director Don Sharp often showed a talent for making something decent out of meagre material.
Finally, I AM LEGEND returns for Christmas in Ultimate Collector’s Edition, available in Blu-ray and DVD. This three-disc set not only expands on the old two-disc DVD (reviewed here); it also offers the package as what can truly be called a gift set, packaged in a large box containing a lavishly illustrated 44-page concept book, a collectible motion lenticular, new commentary and deleted scenes, and six art cards depicting devastated cities. The film itself falls short of what it could be (thanks mostly to unnecessary borrowing from THE OMEGA MAN); nevertheless, it is the best screen adaptation of Richard Matheson’s source novel, and if you are going to own it, this is the version you want.
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