Editor’s Notes: Killer Barbys, Taken: Season One, The Black Room, 3 Idiotas, Lycan, Girl in the Box, It Stains the Sands Red, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 40th Anniversary Edition, All the Sins of Sodom / Vibrations, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series, Volumes 1-6, and The Dead Next Door are out on their respective home video formats September 26th.
Killer Barbys (Kino Lorber) is a blend of horror, comedy, and music from director Jess Franco (Female Vampire, Daughter of Dracula). The Killer Barbys are a flamboyant hard rock band out on the road. On the way to their next gig, they find themselves lost and are forced to take shelter at the estate of Countess Von Fledermaus (Mariangela Giordano). Though the Countess appears to be a pleasant host, the band discovers she has a grisly secret: she feeds on the blood of virile young men to stay young. Lead singer Flavia (Silvia Superstar) is soon forced to save her male bandmates from becoming the Countess’ next victims.
The Killer Barbys is a real-life Spanish horror-punk band which gives this film a kind of surrealistic feel. Once the band arrives at the Countess’ castle, the movie turns into a fairly routine old-dark-house thriller, with the added fun of a predatory vampire on the premises. Franco was known in earlier times for his mix of sex and horror. Here, however, an extended sex scene between two band members is more awkward than erotic. He has better luck with a gruesome scene in which the Countess seduces and summarily slaughters one of her unsuspecting, hormone-driven guests.
Killer Barbys (Mattel wouldn’t sell the rights for the use of the Barbie spelling) is fascinating, mostly because of its audaciousness and the blending of hard rock with horror. The band performs at the beginning of the film to showcase its talents, but as actors, they never convince. Ms. Giordano, on the other hand, is a strong screen presence and conveys the proper menace and sensuality. To keep things weird, director Franco has odd supporting characters pop up, including a mysterious caretaker and a couple of midgets he refers to as “his children.”
The film is newly restored from a 4K scan of the original film elements. The unrated Blu-ray release contains audio commentary by film historian Troy Howarth. The film is in Spanish, with optional English subtitles. There are both English and French language soundtrack options.
Taken: Season One
Taken: Season One (Lionsgate) is a prequel to the Taken feature-film franchise. Starring Clive Standen as Bryan Mills, a younger version of the iconic character played by Liam Neeson in the Taken films, the series contains a good deal of action. Mills is a former Green Beret who’s swept up in a quest for vengeance after he fails to protect one of those closest to him. Recruited to join a group of CIA operatives, Mills begins to hone his deadly skills as he undertakes perilous missions.
The basic plot parallels those of the movies. In this case, Mills is determined to take down Carlos Mejia (Romano Orzari), a Mexican drug lord, whose son was killed by Mills during one of his missions. Mills manages to kill him when Christina Hary (Jennifer Beals), Deputy Director of National Intelligence, arrests Mejia and recruits Mills into her team.
As the season progresses, the team investigates several terrorist plots using information provided by Mejia, while men loyal to the drug lord try to find a way to break him out of prison and Mills devises a plan to avenge his personal loss.
After the initial episode, “Taken” veers in a direction completely different from the feature films as it becomes a routine action drama without the star power of Neeson. Standen is a generic mercenary type, equally at ease offing hitmen and government officials who stand in his way. The focus becomes action rather than depth of character as the series enters the realm of the ordinary.
All 10 episodes of the show’s premiere season are contained on the 2-disc Blu-ray release. The only bonus extra is an on-set, making-of featurette. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
The Black Room
The Black Room (MVD Visual) is an homage to Italian horror of the 1970s. Paul and Jennifer Hemdale (Lukas Hassel, Natasha Henstridge) have just moved into their dream house. But their happy marriage is about to be put to the test as they slowly discover the secret behind the black room in the cellar. Something else is already living in their new home and it is growing stronger each day. It has claimed many victims, including the last owners of the house. Repairmen who venture into the basement soon meet a horrible end.
When Paul is taken over by this demonic entity, it is no longer trapped within the walls and is quick to take advantage of all pleasures of the flesh. Jennifer and her younger sister Karen (Augie Duke) begin to suspect that something is wrong with Paul. Jennifer must confront the entity that has possessed her husband and threatens to destroy her very soul.
Because director Rolfe Kanefsky has worked primarily on soft-core erotica, The Black Room is sexier than traditional horror films. The main problem is that the lead characters take far too long to realize that something in the house is terribly wrong. The viewer becomes impatient with these two folks, literally stumbling in the dark until their light bulb glimmers. This is a flaw in this and many horror pictures — presenting characters slow to recognize their own danger and having them act in unbelievable, often foolish ways.
The film meanders, draws on haunted house cliches, and presents a hefty share of blood and gore, but ultimately fails to fully engage the viewer. The sensuality is out of place in a movie whose primary goal should be to shock and terrify. The Black Room does neither. The “entity” is initially shown as a throbbing, elastic wall with outstretched, bloody hands, and later as a mist that makes its way into Jennifer’s bath and the couple’s bed.
Bonus materials on the unrated Blu-ray release include commentary with director Rolfe Kanefsky and actor Natasha Henstridge, bloopers, story boards, and over 30 minutes of deleted and extended scenes.
3 Idiotas (Lionsgate) is a Mexican coming-of-age comedy-drama based on 3 Idiots, one of the highest-grossing Indian films of all time. Pancho (Alfonso Dosal), Beto (German Valdes) and Felipe (Christian Vazquez) are college students working their way to an engineering degree. They are regarded as fools not because of their intellectual ability, but because they have a penchant for repeatedly getting in trouble with school authorities, especially pompous Professor Esaclona (Rodrigo Murray).
Felipe is the first in his family to attend college, Beto would rather be a photographer, and Pancho is one of the university’s most promising students. The film is largely Pancho’s story. The young men’s story is presented with a framing device in which Felipe and Beto recount their earlier days while seeking Pancho, who disappeared just shy of graduation.
Directed by Carlos Bolado, 3 Idiotas is a blend of romantic comedy, scatological jokes (both audible and visual), and stereotypes. Murray’s Esaclona is the typical blowhard, trying to maintain tradition while creating more problems for the principals. He reminded me of the assorted comic foils in Marx Brothers movies. His presence is primarily to serve as a bouncing board for gags. Martha Higareda co-stars as Mariana, Pancho’s love interest. The three leads have excellent chemistry and the pace is brisk, with laughs coming fast and furious.
Stick around for the closing credits for a delightful surprise. There are no bonus materials on the PG-13-rated widescreen DVD release. The film is in Spanish, with English subtitles.
Lycan (MVD Visual) is a slasher film that incorporates werewolf mythology. Isabella (Dania Ramirez) is a moody college student who’s randomly assigned to a group of students for a class project. Told to select a historical subject that needs reevaluation, the group decides to explore an old lurid newspaper story about the werewolf of Talbot County. The gravesite of the suspected werewolf is on property adjoining the farm where Isabella lives. Against her wishes, the team sets out into the woods to do some firsthand research.
Like many stuck-in-the-woods characters in previous horror films, various members of the group undergo pretty terrible fates. The idea of an ancient tale comes right from The Blair Witch playbook, and the set-up is reminiscent of all those Friday the 13th movies in which teenagers are picked off one after another.
The character of Isabella is enigmatic, and I’m not sure if this is intentional or simply vague writing. We’re not sure whether she’s mentally unstable, the subject of an ages-old curse, or merely anti-social. The other members of the group are generic, and include a nerd, a self-centered beauty, and a party animal. There’s an awkward romantic subplot involving Isabella and fellow group member Blake (Jake Lockett), but this doesn’t ring true and seems a way to fill time between killings. All actors are about ten years older than their characters are supposed to be.
Bonus materials on the unrated DVD release include interviews with cast members, director Bev Land, co-writer Michael Mordler and executive producer Crystal Hunt; panel discussion with the movie’s producers and writer; and original theatrical trailer.
Girl in the Box
Girl in the Box (Lionsgate) is a psychological drama based on a true story. In May, 1977, 20-year-old Colleen Stan (Addison Timlin) was kidnapped by a young married couple, Cameron and Janice Hooker (Zane Holtz, Zelda Williams). For the next seven years they kept her locked in a coffin-sized box hidden beneath their bed for up to 23 hours a day. When not imprisoned, Colleen became part of a strange new life as a live-in slave, family child minder, and victim of Cameron’s bizarre and extreme S & M fantasies.
Afraid that Colleen might escape and go to the police, the Hookers made her sign a slave contract and change her name, keeping her in line by telling her that if she attempted to get away, “The Company” would hunt her down and kill her. Though her treatment at the hands of her captors is hard to watch and represents the worst kind of human depravity, the oddest part of her captivity occurs as she starts to connect emotionally with the Hookers and their daughter.
The Lifetime movie is not overly graphic in terms of the abuse Colleen undergoes, but it is nonetheless disturbing and illustrates how pleasant looking individuals with families can harbor heinous secrets. The Hookers are, on the surface, upstanding average folks.
There are no bonus materials on the unrated, widescreen DVD release.
It Stains the Sands Red
It Stains the Sands Red (Dark Sky Films) takes place in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Former Las Vegas stripper Molly (Brittany Allen), a troubled woman with a dark past, finds herself stranded in the desert with a lone ravenous zombie (Juan Riedinger) on her tail. She is trying to escape a zombie onslaught in Vegas when her car breaks down. She continues on foot, walking many miles across the desert to a remote airfield. At first, she’s easily able to outpace her undead pursuer, but things quickly become a nightmare when she realizes the zombie doesn’t ever have to stop and rest. Running low on supplies and beat down by the harsh environment, Molly will have to summon the strength she never knew she had to ultimately face both the zombie and the personal demons that have haunted her all her life.
Though this must be the umpteenth zombie flick, it does have a twist, and that’s its intimate cast. We’re used to hordes of the undead and at least a reasonable number of humans trying to ward them off. Here, it’s a two-character melodrama. Director Colin Minihan has incorporated several characteristics from other zombie movies — their lumbering slowness, thirst for living humans for nourishment, and relentlessness. The viewer therefore doesn’t have to be brought up to speed on zombie lore; he can focus on the drama generated by the zombie’s blood lust for Molly in a punishing locale.
The first part of the movie is excellent and is quite promising. But in its second half, it falls back on end-of-the-world cliches and becomes an ordinary monster movie. The heart and soul have been self-exorcised by director Minihan and co-writers Minihan and Stuart Ortiz. They fall into the trap of making Molly make decisions that are foolhardy — even stupid — merely to move the plot forward. It’s a pity that this novel concept could not be sustained throughout.
Bonus materials on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, and trailer.
The Legend of the Holy Drinker
The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Arrow Academy), winner of the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, is adapted from a novella by Joseph Roth. The setting is Paris in 1934. A tramp, Andreas Kartak (Rutger Hauer), exiled in Paris and haunted by a criminal past, sees no way out of his predicament until he is offered 200 francs by a wealthy stranger whose only request is that, when he can afford it, he return the money to a chapel dedicated to St. Theresa. A man of honor but weak of will, the derelict attempts to rejoin the world, finding work, keeping company with women, dining out and sleeping in beds. But these luxuries distract from his obligation.
Every Sunday, however, things come up and Andreas repeatedly fails to repay his debt even though he has been fortunate enough to have additional money come his way. Flashbacks portray Andreas’ early life in Silesia, his work there as a miner, and the reasons for his departure. Throughout the film, he sees apparitions and delusions induced by his chronic drinking.
Director Ermanno Olmi provides rich characterization for Andreas, offering an intelligent study of moral complexity, responsibility, spirituality, and social ostracism. Bauer is exceptional as Andreas, portraying the derelict sympathetically. His small windfall has allowed the man to move among social strata previously closed off to him, and he is treated as a person, rather than a nameless blight.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD release include a 10-minute interview with Rutger Hauer, interview with Ermanno Olmi’s co-screenwriter Tullio Kezich, and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork.
L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties
L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties (Lionsgate) takes place in a medieval fantasy world. There are seven dukes with special powers who share dominion in this world, alternately battling and joining forces with one another in a struggle for power. There is a second group, called Priests, who possess higher powers. A third group consists of regular humans, who suffer whenever the Dukes battle. When one lord falls from grace, the others bond together and summon all their magic to stop an epic war that is ravaging and threatening to upset the order of the universe.
Director Guo Jingming has based the movie on the best-selling novel, The City of Fantasy. Lots of computer-generated images and endless action categorize the picture, whose plot is overly involved. The characters lack distinction and the entire movie seems like an attempt to duplicate the formula of “Games of Thrones” — combining fantastic elements and human beings with agendas, both good and evil. The plot uses character names from different mythologies, such as Odin and Gilgamesh, which is confusing and unnecessary, since the setting is a world unto itself. Unfortunately, this busy, noisy film is merely a ho-hum action flick with artistic aspirations.
There are no bonus features on the unrated, widescreen DVD release.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 40th Anniversary Edition
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 40th Anniversary Edition (Sony Home Entertainment) is fully restored in digital 4K, and looks great. Blue collar family man Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is a cable worker who experiences a close encounter of the first kind — witnessing UFOs soaring across the sky. Simultaneously, government agents have close encounters of the second kind — discovering physical evidence of extraterrestrial visitors in the form of lost fighter aircraft from World War II and a stranded military ship that disappeared decades earlier only to suddenly reappear in the desert. Roy and the agents follow the clues that have drawn them to reach a site where they will have a close encounter of the third kind — contact.
The film retains its power to mesmerize even after all these years. It was released the same year as the original Star Wars, but was the exact opposite. While Star Wars took its cues from old Flash Gordon serials and swashbucklers, “Close Encounters…” was a more thoughtful contemplation on the possibly of actually contacting beings from beyond Earth. There are elements of horror, as when a young child is abducted by unseen forces in the middle of the night, but it is also a tale of family conflict as Roy becomes increasingly obsessed with his experience and drives his family further away. Close Encounters… avoids a history of Hollywood sci-fi flicks in which contact with extraterrestrials was aggressive, as in War of the Worlds and Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers. Close Encounters… depicted serious scientific pursuit of contact, taking for granted that extraterrestrials would be as curious about us as we’d be about them. Recently, the motion picture Arrival has dealt with similar themes of contact.
The Blu-ray + Digital edition contains 3 versions of the movie — theatrical, Special Edition, and Director’s Cut. Bonus materials include all-new interviews with director Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) reflecting on the legacy and impact of Close Encounters… ; making-of documentary; 1977 featurette Watch the Skies; deleted scenes; extensive photo gallery; storyboard comparisons; and theatrical trailers.
All the Sins of Sodom / Vibrations
All the Sins of Sodom / Vibrations (Film Movement Classics) is a double feature containing two films by Joseph W. Sarno, a pioneer of celluloid erotica. Shot back to back with Vibrations in 1968, All the Sins of Sodom is a study of ambition, romance and passion set inside the world of fashion photography. Encouraged by his agent, Daryl Henning (Dan Machuen), a struggling New York City photographer, begins a daring portfolio of his model, Leslie (Maria Lease). But soon, jealousies arise when another model attempts to insinuate herself in front of his camera and in his bed. The sins you may be thinking of simply aren’t here, but there is a lot of extramarital sex and some lesbian references.
Vibrations focuses on aspiring writer Barbara, who moves to Manhattan to jump-start her career and sexuality, but ends up typing manuscripts. Alone at night, she listens to the sound of her sexy neighbor as she entertains herself and her friends. When her extroverted sister, Julie, comes to town, Barbara is forced to confront her repressed sexual desires.
Both of these films are soft core, with suggestive dialogue and nudity comprising the strongest content. Both seem tame by today’s standards, even quaint. Sarno was at the forefront of the sexploitation field in the 1950s and 1960s. His movies dealt primarily with psycho-sexual anxiety and sexual identity, topics mainstream Hollywood wasn’t touching in those days. Not able to match the budgets or star power of Hollywood, Sarno turned to the taboo of sex, making his pictures on a meager budget and paving the way for more adult content in mainstream movies.
Both films are under 90 minutes and are photographed in black and white with shadows that both create atmosphere and obscure sensitive body areas. Both films have exterior scenes filmed in Manhattan which, along with fashion and hairstyles, establish the time period. Nineteen sixty-eight was a watershed year, when directors were beginning to push the envelope in terms of movies’ adult content. Far from pornographic, these two movies attempt to be erotic while simultaneously staying in what today would be R-rated territory.
Bonus features on the unrated, widescreen Blu-ray release include an interview with writer-director Joseph W. Sarno; audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas and Sarno’s wife, Peggy Steffans-Sarno; and a booklet containing liner notes by Tim Lucas.
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series, Volumes 1-6
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series, Volumes 1-6 (Time Life) contains 12 complete, unedited episodes of The Tonight Show spanning two decades — the 70s and 80s — and 4,000 shows. In this collection are Carson’s 10th and 11th anniversary shows, and his birthday episodes with guests, including Dean Martin, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles, Bob Hope, Dom De Luise, John Denver, Peter Fonda, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, Michael Landon, Billy Crystal, Paul McCartney, Orson Welles, and Muhammed Ali.
There are additional appearances by Buddy Hackett, Lana Cantrell, Sean Connery, David Brenner, Charles Nelson Reilly, John Byner, Robert Blake, Bing Crosby, Desi Arnaz, Ray Bolger, Marvin Hamlisch, Karen Valentine, Joel Grey, Burt Reynolds, and Ken Norton.
For years, with Carson at the helm, The Tonight Show was a ratings champ and cash cow for NBC. Unfortunately tapes of his early shows were erased long ago and no longer exist.
Carson took over The Tonight Show from Jack Paar in 1962 and was its host for 30 years. Other hosts were Steve Allen, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Fallon has been the host since 2014. Carson’s tenure as host was by far the longest to date.
Bonus materials on the 6-DVD set include an interview with Peaches Jones and stunt demonstration; interviews with David Letterman and Joe Piscopo; interview with Lucille Ball; show opening, monologue and desk chat with Johnny and Ed McMahon; a visit from Joan Embery and Rodney Dangerfield; and a sketch and James Brown performance and interview.
The Dead Next Door
The Dead Next Door (Tempe Entertainment), an independent horror film, was made by 19-year-old J.R. Bookwalter in 1989. Shot in the Super-8 format, the film features an elite team of soldiers whose job is to battle and contain hoards of zombies and the secretive cult dedicated to protecting them. The film took four years to complete, and enlisted the cooperation of more than 1,500 Ohio residents, who portrayed the multitude of blood-hungry undead.
Director Bookwalter drew upon many horror films, especially George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and assorted slasher films of the 1980s. The movie incorporates as much blood and gore as possible while keeping the tone light and irreverent. Made for around $125,000, the film is on a par with horror flicks with a much larger budget. In homage to horror icons, both real and fictional, characters are given names such as Commander Carpenter, Dr. Savini, Raimi, and Jason.
Pace is brisk and never lets up, though actions are sometimes not clearly motivated, but there’s definitely passion in the project. This is a labor of love and a not-bad horror film. It sure is a lot of fun
Bonus materials on the newly restored 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include audio commentary with director J.R. Bookwalter; “Restoration of the Dead” featurette; the Nightlight Screening Q & A; behind-the-scenes footage; deleted scenes and outtakes; storyboard gallery; production stills gallery; Akron location tour; auditions; music video; and DVD trailers.