Laserblast: Picks & Pans of January’s DVD & Blu-ray Releases

Laserblast is trying to get itself onto a more regular schedule, in order to keep you abreast of what is happening in regards to horror, fantasy, and science fiction films on DVD and Blu-ray. Here is a roundup of noteworthy titles released in January.

JANUARY 12

8 ½ (BD) – For many, Italian film begins and ends with a single name, and one of the signature films of Federico Fellini arrives on Blu-Ray via Criterion in this direct port of their previous DVD. 8 ½ marks a pretty clear tipping point in Fellini’s career, leaving the narrative cinema world of La Dolce Vita and Night of Cabiria for the self-reflexive, surreal worlds of Satyricon and Casanova. A stunning piece of work.

Moon (BD & DVD) – A crazily impressive feature debut film from Duncan Jones (formerly Zowie Bowie, and if I have to tell you who his father is then you’re just not trying). Rooted in the thinking-man’s Sci-Fi films of the early 70s, Moon wouldn’t be out of place playing alongside 2001 or Silent Running, to name two clear inspirations. The great Sam Rockwell is very nearly a one man band as the solitary caretaker of a lunar mining operation nearing the end of his 3 year contract. We don’t want to ruin the twist (as many others have) but suffices to say that things don’t go completely smoothly.

The Matrix (BD) – A single-disc BD release of a film that you promised yourself you’d never buy again.

The House on Sorority Row (DVD) – The much loved, low budget 1983 slasher returns to DVD after many years in out-of-print purgatory with a 25th anniversary edition (yes, we know that would make it a 27th anniversary edition) featuring commentary by the director and two of the film’s stars and an “alternate ending”. The story of a prank gone wrong (and a body being subsequently stashed in a pool during a graduation party) is the stuff that campfire stories are made of, and House is a perennial favorite, ‘round our way.

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Halloween II (DVD-theatrical / DVD Director’s Cut & BD Director’s Cut) – Rob Zombie’s inexplicable cluster bomb of a sequel got points with us for going off in an entirely new (and truly odd) direction with the sequel to his controversial remake of the Carpenter classic. Zombie’s film riffs on the original sequel with its hospital-set dream sequence opener, but then swerves off the road, into a ditch, then right off a cliff as Michael (the hulking Tyler Mane) begins to have visions of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) walking down the street leading a horse in a gleaming white vision as imagined in a 60s Mexican horror film. We’ve been a fan of young Scout Taylor-Compton’s work as Laurie, and Danielle Harris is exceptionally strong as Annie this time around. Malcolm McDowell phones it in a little less obviously, while Brad Dourif is pure gold as Sherriff Brackett.

Transformers: Season 2 (DVD) – Not the Michael Bay sense pounder, but the second season of the original animated series. Who knows what kids today will make of this cheaply produced cartoon – as blatant an example of show-as-commercial ever made – but those whose memories of the show are filtered through the haze of childhood will find many memory triggers here.

Purchase these titles in the Cinefantastique Online Store.

JANUARY 19

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click to purchase

Pandorum (BD & DVD) – It seems like Dennis Quaid is everywhere recently with 7 films released since early 2008. Bobbing around in that cluster is last year’s Sci-Fi/horror underperformer, Pandorum, a film that borrow ideas from so many other genre entries that it makes Avatar look like a wholly original creation. Quaid and Ben Foster play what appears to be the only surviving crewmen on board the gigantic spaceship Elysium (and you don’t need to be an expert on ancient Greek mythology to figure out where this is going) sent out with 60,000 men, women, and children in hypersleep to colonize an alien world. The only problem is, they wake up with almost a total memory blackout, and, worse still, alone. We had an ‘old man’ reaction to the trailer (“Bah, it’s too dark”) and have yet to run into anyone that had any strong impression of the film in any respect – we’ll all find out together next week.

Kingdom of the Spiders (DVD) – Now this is more like it! One of our favorite low budget ’70s shockers arrives on DVD like the Gotti boys on their way to prom, with a deluxe edition that completely eclipses the awful full frame transfer from Good Times Home Video. Shout! Factory’s release brings us a brand new, 16×9 enhanced transfer, an audio commentary featuring director John ‘Bud’ Cardos, an extended interview with the on-set spider wrangler, deleted scenes, and best of all, a newly recorded sit-down with the show’s star, William Shatner! A camp-fest for some, Kingdom of the Spiders has been a long-standing favorite from the ‘nature run amok’ group; the discomfort of the actors in extremely close contact with these massive, hairy spiders is palpable, and director Cardos manages some terrifically suspenseful sequences. Sure, some of the performances are just this side of ripe, and maybe the library cues are overused on the soundtrack, but Kingdom of the Spiders goes right to our arachnophobic heart.

Gamer (BD & DVD) – A grim little actioner that didn’t seem to excite much interest during its brief theatrical run in the fall. In as distant a future as the budget will allow, prisoner Gerald Butler (still unable to emote more than just a scowl) is allowed to take part in a gladiatorial-ish combat game in which he would be mentally controlled by another player. Butler, whom we believe can be a decent, appealing actor in the right role, has been a bit of a charisma vacuum of late, and the overused gunmetal-colored futuretech on display in the trailer didn’t thrill, so we skipped the theatrical run; but Dexter’s Michael C Hall is a riveting presence (he appears to be playing the Richard Dawson role) and the disc appears to be stacked with Blu goodies, so maybe we’ll leave this on the docket.

Haunting in Connecticut (BD & DVD) – Based on a supposedly true story, a sometime-single mother (Virginia Madsen, pulling the cart on her own like a Russian widow crossing the steppes) who moves her family into a creepy house in rural CT to be near the hospital where her eldest son (Kyle Gallner) is receiving experimental cancer treatment. But the house – the former site of a funeral home – features several tenants that simply refuse to vacate the premises. Effective atmosphere and several effectively scary moments highlight a tale that is a bit too thinly-written to support itself. The Blu-Ray, however, is well stuffed, with 2 commentary tracks (on the unrated version) and several featurettes, including a lengthy piece on the actual haunting and featuring interviews with the actual family members.

The above titles available here.

JANUARY 26

Surrogates (BD & DVD) – stay tuned for a full review of this title, as our review disc just arrived. Director Jonathan Mostow has an easy, unpretentious style that, at its best (with films like U-571 and Breakdown) brings to mind the sturdy work of Walter Hill or Peter Hyams – solid genre work with no auteurist signature getting in the way. But that lack of individualism can occasionally be a hindrance as well, with nondescript fare like Terminator 3 arriving in theaters DOA.

Pontypool (DVD) – good word of mouth has us looking forward to this low budget slice of Canadian horror, dealing with a small town whose citizens are being transformed into zombie-like creatures by a virus carried in certain words of the English language – a one-of-a-kind twist for sure.

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click to purchase

Rifftrax (DVD – 5 volumes) – Since the demise of the much loved Mystery Science Theater 3000 a decade ago, the show’s writing and performance staff have splintered off into two separate groups: Cinematic Titanic, featuring MST3K creator Joel Hodgson along with Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Josh Weinstein, and Mary Jo Pehl: and Rifftrax, featuring Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy. Speaking as a devoted Mystie, it’s useless comparing the two, and would instead just remind fans how lucky they are to be the child of divorced parents and getting twice the presents. New Rifftrax DVDs include 2 sets of shorts (what they do best) and two features, Voodoo Man and Planet of the Dinosaurs. FFor $10 a pop, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

Cult Horror Collection (The Skull, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Deadly Bees) – Legend Films (under license from Paramount) presents a sweetly-priced combo pack of 3 previously released titles, Hammer Studio’s The Man Who Could Cheat Death and two from the house of Amicus, The Skull and The Deadly Bees. Man gives Anton Diffring a rare starring role (and a break from playing Nazis) in a decent, if not great Hammer entry that also gives Christopher Lee a rare chance to be the hero. Bees, however, is a dour, grim, and relentlessly silly film (well skewered on MST3K) that isn’t even “fun” bad. But the jewel of the set is The Skull, finally presented on DVD in its original widescreen ratio in a gorgeous transfer. The film gave star Peter Cushing a far more textured role than he typically got with Hammer studios outside of the later Frankenstein films, with his occult collector getting more than he bargained for when he purchases the actual skull of the Marquis de Sade, destined to drive those who possess it mad. Even taking the weak link into account (“no, not the bees!!!”) this set is well-worth the price.

The Toolbox Murders (BD) – a decidedly unusual horror programmer from the late 70s that starts out as a blood-soaked slasher film, featuring a black-clothed killer who plies his trade with implements from – you guessed it.

About the Author

Drew Fitzpatrick

By day, Drew Fitzpatrick toils at publishing in the black heart of Manhattan. But by night, he dons a pair of fetishistic black leather gloves and grinds out the "Internet’s only horror-themed Blog": The Blood-Spattered Scribe.

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