View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Tim Curry in Legend (Photo: Arrow & Universal)
[For those planning to watch past James Bond films before catching No Time to Die in theaters, be sure to check out the ranking of all the 007 films from worst to best here.]
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
THE DARK (1979) / ONE DARK NIGHT (1982). Who’s afraid of the dark? If by “dark” we’re referring to these two horror yarns, then it’s difficult to imagine anyone experiencing any chills or unable to turn out the lights post-viewing.
The best thing about The Dark (aka The Mutilator) is its awesome poster art (also employed for the Blu-ray front). The second best thing is the behind-the-scenes tidbit that the featured monster was supposed to be a zombie until the producers clumsily switched the creature to an outer-space evildoer (and by clumsily, I mean hasty reshoots, explanatory crawls, and penciled-in laser beams shooting out of the e.t.’s eyes). And the third best thing is the amusing fact that one of its producers was Dick Clark (yes, that Dick Clark) and one of its co-stars is Casey Kasem (yes, that Casey Kasem). As for the actual movie, there’s nothing about it that brings the word “best” to mind, as it’s a sloppy endeavor in which an author (William Devane, saddled with an unfortunate ‘70s ‘do), a TV reporter (Cathy Lee Crosby), and a perpetually grouchy detective (Richard Jaeckel) try to locate and destroy a creature that’s alternately beheading and blowing up its victims. Add in a psychic (Jacquelyn Hyde) with maddeningly inconsistent abilities as well as no small measure of narrative inanities in the script, and you have a movie that’s more dorky than dark.
Like The Dark, One Dark Night is another movie in which the villain shoots beams out of his eyes. In this case, it’s Raymar, a “psychic vampire” who’s dead and buried but not exactly down for the count. On the same day that Raymar’s body is placed inside a mausoleum, high school student Julie (Meg Tilly) agrees to spend the night locked inside said edifice as part of an initiation process to join a girls’ club. This meandering film from writer-director Tom McLoughlin (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, reviewed here) and co-scripter Michael Hawes spends too much sleepy time on Raymar’s daughter (Melissa Newman) and her husband (Adam West) as well as on Julie’s boyfriend (Davis Mason Daniels). It only comes to life during the bonkers final stretch, when all hell breaks loose at the mausoleum and the makeup and effects crew are tasked with delivering the climactic goods.
Both movies (sold separately) have been released as part of the MVD Rewind Collection with cool slipcovers made to look like old VHS rental copies. Blu-ray extras on The Dark include audio commentary by director John “Bud’ Cardos and producer Igo Kantor; interviews with Cardos and composer Roger Kellaway; and an isolated score track. Blu-ray extras on One Dark Night include two audio commentaries by McLoughlin, one alongside Hawes, the other with producer Michael Schroeder; the work print version of the film; and interviews with McLoughlin and select cast and crew members.
The Dark: ★½
One Dark Night: ★★
ELVIRA’S HAUNTED HILLS (2002). The second starring vehicle for Cassandra Peterson’s beloved character of Elvira is neither better nor worse than her debut feature back in 1988, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. This film’s inspiration is a sound one: Peterson and co-writer John Paragon opted to spoof those Edgar Allan Poe-Roger Corman-Vincent Price gems from the 1960s, which means plot elements are liberally borrowed from such efforts as The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tomb of Ligeia (the latter reviewed here). But while the production values are fairly strong for a direct-to-video title and the actors all gamely throw themselves into their roles, the humor is on the anemic side — it’s hard to muster a smile at the moldy jokes, let alone an actual laugh (although I did chuckle at the “lady and the tramp” bit). In 1851, Elvira and her maid Zou Zou (Mary Joe Smith) end up at a Transylvanian castle where the owner (Richard O’Brien) notices the resemblance between Elvira and his late wife Elura. Scott Atkinson (who passed away earlier this year) offers the most amusement as the smooth-talking Dr. Bradley Bradley.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Peterson, Atkinson, Smith, co-star Mary Scheer, and director Sam Irvin; an introduction by Elvira; an interview with O’Brien; and a making-of featurette.
THE FOURTH VICTIM (1971). After her relationship with Hollywood soured, Carroll Baker (a former Best Actress Oscar nominee for Baby Doll, reviewed here) opted to move to Italy for a decade; there, she starred in over a dozen features, most in the giallo field. The Fourth Victim was one such effort, although, with its lack of sex and gore, it seems positively quaint when compared to the more explicit gialli soon to explode on the scene. Known in some quarters under the titles The Fourth Mrs. Anderson and Death at the Deep End of the Swimming Pool, this stars Michael Craig as Arthur Anderson, whose three wives have all died under suspicious circumstances. Acquitted of murdering his third wife (who drowned in the swimming pool while full of barbiturates), Arthur soon becomes interested in his neighbor Julie Spencer (Baker); they marry, but their bliss is interrupted by suspicious behavior on both their parts as well as the unexplained presence of a woman (Marina Malfatti) hanging around their premises. Some out-of-left-field developments pop up during the second half of this enjoyable if unexceptional thriller. The following year, director Eugenio Martin would helm the hugely entertaining Lee-Cushing film Horror Express (reviewed here).
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with Eugenio Martin biographer Carlos Aguilar; a deleted scene; and the trailer.
LEGEND (1986). It’s déjà vu all over again. The word was that the four-hour Zack Snyder’s Justice League was infinitely superior to Zack Snyder’s two-hour Justice League, but the new edit isn’t better, just loooonger (see review here). And so it goes with Ridley Scott’s Legend, which initially appeared in different incarnations stateside and internationally. The new Blu-ray set from Arrow Video doesn’t include the international cut, but it does contain the U.S. version as well as a Director’s Cut that, with an extra 23 minutes, reportedly provides a different — and better — viewing experience. Alas, that’s not the case. In both versions, the formidable aspects are Tim Curry’s devious and delicious turn as the Lord of Darkness, Rob Bottin’s superb, Oscar-nominated makeup design, Alex Thomson’s cinematography, and the startling art direction. But the deficits remain as voluminous and ghastly as ever. The mishaps begin with the miscasting of Tom Cruise as Jack, a puckish and Puck-ish forest dweller who must rescue Princess Lili (a simpering Mia Sara) from the clutches of the Lord of Darkness after the latter’s goblins cut off a unicorn’s horn and plunge the sunny world into endless winter. The attempt to flesh out the two leads in the Director’s Cut yields zero dividends, since the pair are as dreary and humorless as before. By contrast, the goblins are buffoonish and seem to have been raised not in this fantasy world but on the Borsch Belt circuit.
As always, Arrow has done a fantastic job with a Limited Edition Blu-ray — this one comes with a 60-page booklet, a foldout poster, postcards, and cast photographs taken by Annie Leibovitz. Disc extras include audio commentary by Scott; audio commentary by author Paul M. Sammon (Ridley Scott: The Making of His Movies); a 2002 retrospective documentary; a piece on Bottin’s makeup effects; and a comparison of the different versions of the film.
MASQUERADE (1965). Not to be confused with the 1988 thriller Masquerade starring Rob Lowe and Meg Tilly (which, like this Masquerade, has recently been released on Blu-ray by Kino), this one is a lighthearted spy story in a decade that was full of them. The plotty plot involves the British government attempting to obtain drilling rights in a Middle Eastern country swimming with oil. Once he comes of age, the young Prince Jamil (Christopher Witty) plans to give the Brits the rights, but the nation is currently being ruled by his uncle (Roger Delgado), who’s stridently pro-Commie. The government picks the retired Colonel Drexel (Jack Hawkins) to sort matters out, and he in turn picks his American friend David Frazer (Cliff Robertson) to lend a helping hand. This all leads to a staged kidnapping, a real kidnapping, run-ins with the lovely Sophie (Marisa Mell) and her less friendly companions, and Frazer’s slow realization that he’s being set up as a patsy. Adapted from Victor Canning’s novel Castle Minerva by William Goldman (his first screenplay credit) and Michael Relph, Masquerade starts off well before running out of steam. Part of the problem is that its satiric edge is rarely sharp enough, leading to comic bits that are more flailing than functional. Robertson is as appealing as ever, and he’s backed by a strong cast of English actors.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other movies offered by Kino.
MIDNIGHT (1980) / A DAY OF JUDGMENT (1981). Severin has found itself caught between Heaven and Hell, as the outfit has seen fit to release two horror yarns (sold separately) with a decidedly religious bent.
John Russo is best known for co-scripting 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, but as his film career never matched that of George Romero, he primarily made his living as an author, penning approximately two dozen books. One of his novels is 1980’s Midnight (which I bought as a teenager, doubtless because I liked the cover art), which he then brought to the screen as writer and director. It’s a dreadful picture, the type whose only worth is that it keeps open-mouth breathers off the streets for a couple of hours. A devout Catholic, the teenage Nancy Johnson (Melanie Verlin) runs away from her Pennsylvania home after her drunken stepfather Bert (Lawrence Tierney) — a cop, no less — tries to rape her while Mom (Doris Hackney) is off working the late shift. Nancy hitches a ride with two young guys (John Hall and Charles Jackson), and soon they’re all being terrorized by the sort of violent, drooling, and simple-minded rubes only found at Trump rallies or in movies like this. The backwoods clan needs pretty young things for its Satanic sacrifices, and it’s eventually up to the lecherous stepdad to heroically save the day (wait, what?). Veteran actor Tierney holds his own, but nothing else about this production — from its performances to its plotting — can be described as anything but amateurish.
A Day of Judgment is as amateurish as Midnight, but it’s also more interesting. North Carolina’s own Earl Owensby, whose studio produced and released a handful of exploitation flicks throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, is behind this odd drama set in a small Southern town during the 1920s. As the Reverend Cage (Charles Reynolds, who also directed) leaves the burg due to the lack of religious conviction among its citizens, a mysterious and hooded figure arrives to seemingly take his place. But this newcomer doesn’t have patience for such sinful locals as the avaricious bank manager or the cruel septuagenarian or the unfaithful spouse, so he bloodily uses his scythe to clean house in the name of the Lord. Poor pacing is what primarily cripples this film, although many will enjoy the twist ending.
Blu-ray extras on Midnight include interviews with Russo, co-star John Amplas, producer Samuel M. Sherman, and special makeup effects artist Tom Savini; the opening title card for its alternate name, The Backwoods Massacre; and the theatrical trailer. Blu-ray extras on A Day of Judgment consist of interviews with scripter Tom McIntyre, associate producer Worth Keeter, and author Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents).
A Day of Judgment: ★★
THE SCREAMING WOMAN (1972) / SCREAM, PRETTY PEGGY (1973). The massive success of 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? didn’t just lead to a glut of so-called “psycho-biddy” / “hagsploitation” films on the theatrical front — it also inspired a sizable number of TV movies to trod through similar terrain for the next decade or so. Kino Lorber has just released a pair of made-for-television titles in this mode, each starring a two-time Oscar-winning actress already well-versed in such florid fare.
Based on a short story by Ray Bradbury, The Screaming Woman stars Olivia de Havilland as Laura Wynant, who has just been released from a mental institution. One day while strolling the grounds, she hears a faint voice pleading for help and realizes it’s coming from a woman (Jackie Russell) who’s been buried alive. No one believes her story, including the son (Charles Knox Robinson) and daughter-in-law (Laraine Stephens) hoping to take control of her finances. So Laura seeks help elsewhere, a decision that places her in close proximity of the husband (Ed Nelson) who buried his own wife. De Havilland starts off on the shrill side with her performance, but she gets better as she searches for ways to save the victim’s life. Joining Olivia in the cast are two other Golden Age actors: Joseph Cotten, portraying Laura’s lawyer, and Walter Pidgeon, appearing as her doctor. The big names don’t end there, though, with five-time Oscar winner John Williams contributing the score and eight-time Oscar winner Edith Head designing the costumes. For the record, de Havilland passed away last year, at the age of 104.
Even better is Scream, Pretty Peggy, which, like The Screaming Woman, was an ABC Movie of the Week. The opening is pretty potent, as young Agnes Thornton (Tovah Feldshuh) tries to escape from an estate at night but is instead stabbed to death by an unknown woman. Cut to Peggy Johns (Sian Barbara Allen), a college student who lands a part-time job as a housekeeper at said mansion. Peggy believes the only occupants to be renowned sculptor Jeffrey Elliot (That Girl’s Ted Bessell) and his sourpuss mother (Bette Davis), but she soon learns that the pair might be hiding Jeffrey’s insane sister Jennifer (Christiane Schmidtmer) in the room above the garage. The plot further thickens once Mr. Thornton (Charles Drake) comes looking for his missing daughter. Co-written by Hammer mainstay Jimmy Sangster (Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, reviewed here and here), Scream, Pretty Peggy won’t fool anyone who’s familiar with the Hitchcock filmography, but it nevertheless succeeds thanks to its plotting, pacing, and performances.
Blu-ray extras on both titles (sold separately) consist of film historian audio commentary and TV spots for other titles on the Kino label.
The Screaming Woman: ★★★
Scream, Pretty Peggy: ★★★
SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY (2021). Wow, and I thought the original Space Jam was bad. Designed as a cinematic shrine to Michael Jordan, 1996’s Space Jam (reviewed here) erred in relegating the Looney Tunes gang to supporting roles, all worshiping at the feet of the hoops superstar. This belated sequel follows a similar M.O.: While it doesn’t slobber over LeBron James as much as its predecessor did over MJ, it focuses on a tepid father-son relationship that practically leaves the toon stars as afterthoughts. The plot is some nonsense about James (playing a fictionalized version of himself) and his moody son (Cedric Joe) getting sucked into the Warner Bros. Serververse by an AI named AL G. RHYTHM (get it?). The AI is played by Don Cheadle, and rarely have I felt so embarrassed for a terrific actor. At any rate, LeBron has to assemble a squad of basketball players to take on Al’s team (a truly grotesque bunch of CGI creatures), and he ends up with Bugs Bunny and pals. Second verse, same as the first. Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t a movie as much as it’s an advertisement for the Warner catalog, since background players include King Kong, the droogs from A Clockwork Orange, characters from The Matrix and Mad Max: Fury Road, It’s Pennywise, The Iron Giant, and so on and so forth (in that regard, this pop-culture-heavy film resembles Ready Player One). But there’s no thought or wit behind any of this, rendering it into a joyless game of spot-the-movie-reference. (For more sacrilege, check out the employment of footage from Casablanca.) The movie is packed with candidates for the worst scene, although my vote would probably have to go to the sequence in which Porky Pig calls himself The Notorious P.I.G. and performs a rap number. God save us all.
Blu-ray extras consist of four making-of featurettes and deleted scenes.