View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Austin Zajur and Trevor Fehrman in Clerks III (Photo: Lionsgate)
By Matt Brunson
(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.)
ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN (1958). Wealthy alcoholic Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes) is understandably perturbed that her loutish husband Harry (William Hudson) spends all his time down at the bar necking with va-va-voomish floozy Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers, later a Playboy Playmate of the Month). Since she’s perpetually soused, nobody believes Nancy when she claims to have been attacked on the desert highway by a giant bald alien (Michael Ross). But while Harry and Honey plot her murder, she has another encounter with the massive Mr. Clean, this time absorbing enough radiation to experience her own growth spurt. This is considered in some (OK, most) camps to be one of the worst movies ever made, but don’t you believe it. Certainly, you’d be hard-pressed to find shoddier effects in any science fiction tale this side of an Ed Wood joint — an 8-year-old with four popsicle sticks and a tube of glue could create a more convincing monster — and much of the film is stridently silly: Nancy grows to massive proportions yet still fits comfortably inside her bedroom, and I love that the alien wears a jacket with a bull illustration on the back. But director Nathan Juran (here billed as Nathan Hertz) was no talentless hack — a former Oscar-winning art director (John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley), he helmed such highly regarded fantasy flicks as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jack the Giant Killer and does what he can here with a limited budget. And all three stars deliver fine performances, playing characters who could have stumbled out of a sturdy film noir. It’s not a good film, but to its credit, it’s also not an awful one.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Vickers and film historian Tom Weaver, and the theatrical trailer.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) The Canadian effort Black Christmas is one of the best in the endless cycle of slasher flicks, largely because it arrived before the genre got set within its tired and overly familiar parameters. The nice virgin who survives in every post-Halloween picture? Forget it — here, she’s the first one to go, murdered in her sorority-house room while the others celebrate the season downstairs. As other deaths follow, the detective (John Saxon) on the case suspects that the killer might be the twitchy boyfriend (Keir Dullea) of one of the sorority sisters (Olivia Hussey). The cops are among the dumbest ever committed to celluloid — they make any member of Mack Sennett’s Keystone contingent seem as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes by comparison — but beyond that nagging annoyance, Black Christmas is a well-constructed thriller full of nifty set-pieces. A pre-Lois Lane Margot Kidder is terrific as a boozy, foul-mouthed sorority sister — it’s a shame she’s not in the picture more. Needless remakes followed in 2006 and 2019. Director and co-writer Bob Clark would later helm a far cheerier Yuletide flick, the 1983 classic A Christmas Story. Earlier in his career, though, he had co-written and directed another cult horror film: the movie reviewed directly below.
Extras in Shout! Factory’s overflowing 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition include a restoration of the 5.1 audio, which adds back some missing dialogue, music, and sound effects; audio commentary by Clark; audio commentary by Saxon and Dullea; a making-of retrospective; archival interviews with Clark, Hussey, Saxon, and Kidder; two scenes with a new vocal soundtrack; alternative title sequences; and theatrical trailers.
CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972). The clever title is one of the best things about this early-’70s outing that, like other horror flicks from the period (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, etc.), finds its low budget working to its advantage in providing a grungy aesthetic befitting its subject matter. A theatrical troupe arrives on an island off the coast of Florida, where Alan (Alan Ormsby, who also co-wrote the film with director Bob Clark and created its makeup effects), the group’s preening and tyrannical director, wastes no time in pulling pranks on his unsuspecting actors and, for added kicks, holds a séance in an attempt to bring to life one of the corpses (Seth Sklarey as Orville) dug up from the local cemetery. The ritual works only too well, as the humans soon have to deal with a slew of ravenous zombies. The performances are on the amateurish side, and the dialogue whiplashes between amusing quips and (mostly) leaden chitchat. But the final act, a full-fledged rip-off of Night of the Living Dead, is effectively staged and showcases Ormsby’s impressively monstrous makeup designs.
VCI has released a 50th Anniversary 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition of the film, with extras including audio commentary by Ormsby and co-stars Jane Daly and Anya Cronin; the new documentary Dreaming of Death: Bob Clark’s Horror Films; a new Q&A with Ormsby; a tribute to Clark (who, along with his 22-year-old son Ariel, was tragically killed by a drunk driver in 2007, at the age of 67); two music videos (“Dead Girls Don’t Say No” and “Cemetery Mary”) by The Deadthings; and a photo gallery.
CLERKS III (2022). The 1994 sleeper hit Clerks not only put writer-director Kevin Smith in the spotlight, it was also one of the defining movies that placed that decade’s American indie movement on the map. While most of Smith’s subsequent films (including his most recent, 2019’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot) built on the View Askewniverse introduced in this film, it wasn’t until 12 years later that he released a direct — and disappointing — sequel with 2006’s Clerks II. Sixteen years later, we’re finally getting the third installment, and it initially appears to be even more aimless and pointless than Part Deux. But it grows in appeal as it moseys along, and while it never reaches its full potential, it’s a decent enough way to bid adieu to wishy-washy Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and foul-mouthed Randal (Jeff Anderson). Still clerks at the Quick Stop convenience store, their lives get upended when Randal suffers a heart attack. Although he recovers, he realizes he’s been wasting his life and thus decides to make a movie about that very life. He and a reluctant Dante will play themselves, with perpetual stoners Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) also on hand to portray themselves. The majority of the scenes involving nerdy employee Elias (Trevor Fehrman) and his buddy Blockchain (Austin Zajur) are dreadful, and fans might be taken aback with the revelation that Dante’s likable girlfriend (played by Rosario Dawson) from Clerks II was killed (along with their unborn baby) by a drunk driver in between sequels. But O’Halloran and Anderson again excel in their roles, and the potty humor does occasionally break for some genuine poignancy.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Smith, O’Halloran, Anderson, and others; a making-of piece; and deleted scenes.
NIGHTMARE AT NOON (1988). Writer-director Nico Mastorakis reunites with actor Wings Hauser for a film that, unlike their previous collaboration (1986’s The Wind), at least remains watchable. An eye-catching cast and some bravura stuntwork aid what’s otherwise a poorly scripted and clumsily directed horror yarn in which a mysterious figure known as The Albino (Brion James) spikes a Utah town’s drinking water. Suddenly, everyone’s turning crazy (or turning into The Crazies, to reference a Romero flick with a similar plot), and it’s up to an irksome tourist (Hauser), a mumbling shitkicker (who else but Bo Hopkins?), and the local sheriff (George Kennedy) to solve the mystery. One inane situation follows another — I especially like the moment when the teary tourist decides to shoot his infected wife (Massacre at Central High’s Kimberly Beck) in the head without wondering if, gee, maybe the insanity is only temporary and she might return to normal at some point. I also like the astonishingly inept deputy (Kimberly Ross) being instructed to only wing the crazy citizens when possible and then blowing away a mom in front of her daughter when she was close enough to easily take her down with a leg wound or two. (And speaking of the insane mom, the actress gives what might quite possibly be the worst performance I’ve ever seen from a bit player.) This climaxes with some unexpected helicopter-on-helicopter action that would have made more sense in Blue Thunder, Airwolf, or, heck, even Top Gun: Maverick — it’s actually pretty cool until it runs itself into the ground (no poor pun intended) with its interminable length.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of piece; behind-the-scenes footage; and interviews with Hauser, Hopkins, Kennedy, and James.
THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (1964). Although it’s often ignored or outright forgotten, The Night of the Iguana is actually one of the better screen adaptations of a Tennessee Williams work — no A Streetcar Named Desire, of course, but nicely comparing to the likes of Baby Doll and Sweet Bird of Youth. Certainly, it boasts one of the most flamboyant directors, one of the most colorful casts, and one of the most intriguing production shoots. Richard Burton stars as Lawrence Shannon, a defrocked priest who now spends his time leading church groups on Mexican tours. Relentlessly pursued by a blonde, budding Lolita (Sue Lyon of, yes, Lolita fame), he finds himself persecuted by the girl’s chaperone (Grayson Hall) — consequently, he hightails it to a secluded hotel managed by his longtime friend (Ava Gardner) and establishes a bond with a poor artist (Deborah Kerr) who travels with her nonagenarian grandfather (Cyril Delevanti). Filming on location — and allowing the media easy access to the production (the better to document the scandalous affair between Burton and visitor Elizabeth Taylor) — John Huston whips together an enticing blend of philosophical musings and fascinating couplings, all linked by Burton’s wild-eyed performance and an atmosphere so muggy that you can almost see the sweat beads forming on your television screen. A box office hit, The Night of the Iguana earned four Academy Award nominations (including Best Supporting Actress for Hall), winning for Best Black-and-White Costume Design. Williams would later collaborate with both Taylor and Burton on 1968’s abysmal Boom!, one of the low points of all three careers.
Blu-ray extras include a vintage behind-the-scenes piece (including set visits by Taylor) and a discussion of the movie by film historians.
PULP FICTION (1994). One of the crowning achievements of ‘90s cinema was also one of its most influential, spawning over a decade’s worth of shameless rip-offs, resuscitating John Travolta’s dormant career, heralding the arrival of Samuel L. Jackson as a consummate actor, handing Bruce Willis one of his greatest roles, and providing enough subtext to choke Internet chat rooms and message boards for years to come (most prevalent question: What exactly is in that glowing briefcase?). Quentin Tarantino’s cause célèbre immediately became a direct challenge to creative complacency: Intoxicated on the heady fumes of its own art form, it employs a nontraditional, nonlinear form of filmmaking to interweave several vignettes all involving various members of a seedy underworld. This won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival before enjoying a successful stateside run that culminated with seven Academy Award nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Travolta), Supporting Actor (Jackson), Supporting Actress (Uma Thurman), and Film Editing; in the year of Forrest Gump, however, it managed to only win a solitary statue for Best Original Screenplay (Tarantino and Roger Avary).
Paramount has released the film in new 4K UHD + Blu-ray editions, one regular and one as a steelbook. Extras (all previously released) include a trivia track; a retrospective making-of featurette; deleted and extended scenes; the Siskel & Ebert At the Movies episode titled “The Tarantino Generation”; footage from the film’s triumphs at the Cannes Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards; Tarantino’s appearance on The Charlie Rose Show; and theatrical trailers (including international ones) and TV spots.
THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985). When discussing Woody Allen classics, titles like Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters are frequently cited (and rightly so), but where’s the love for The Purple Rose of Cairo, a movie that even Woody himself considers among his top two or three? It remains one of the greatest pictures of his career, a film that’s incurably romantic yet also bracingly bittersweet. Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a Depression-era waitress with a loutish husband (Danny Aiello) and an unquenchable thirst for films. It’s during one of her repeat visits to the theater to catch the latest release (The Purple Rose of Cairo) that one of the film’s characters, plucky adventurer Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), notices her in the audience and jumps off the screen to make her acquaintance. His action creates an uproar among the other characters and among the viewers, but an even greater panic is being felt in Hollywood, where Gil Shepherd (also Daniels), the actor who portrayed Tom Baxter, is ordered by the studio to hightail it to New York and take control of the situation. Even with its heartbreaking elements, The Purple Rose of Cairo emerges as an ode to the special relationship between movie and moviegoer, also finding time along the way to take hilarious potshots at oversized Tinseltown egos. Extra credit, too, for the deft use of footage and music (“Cheek to Cheek”) from that most enchanting of all movie musicals, the Astaire-Rogers gem Top Hat. Despite being one of the best movies of 1985 — for my money, it was second only to Akira Kurosawa’s Ran — The Purple Rose of Cairo received a single Oscar nomination, for Best Original Screenplay.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
Short and Sweet:
ENTRE NOUS (1983). Titled Coup de foudre (Love at First Sight) in its French homeland but interestingly given another Gallic name for its U.S. run (Entre nous / Between Us), this Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film finds writer-director Diane Kurys offering a fictionalized take on her own mother’s life and experiences. It’s the touching story of two women (played by Isabelle Huppert and Miou-Miou) and how their strong and nurturing relationship existed in direct contrast and direct conflict with their marriages to two ineffectual men (Guy Marchand and Jean-Pierre Bacri).
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with Kurys and trailers.
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000). Wong Kar-Wei’s best picture, In the Mood for Love is a richly textured and deeply moving saga about star-crossed lovers. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are gorgeous and glorious together, as two neighbors who learn that their respective spouses are having an affair with each other. They determine that they will remain platonic friends, a decision that proves torturous as time marches forward.
4K extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; Wong’s 2000 short film Hua yang de nian hua; and an interview with Wong.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
Black Christmas (2019)
A Christmas Story
The Crazies (1973)
Jack the Giant Killer
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Massacre at Central High
Night of the Living Dead
Sweet Bird of Youth
Top Gun: Maverick