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DVD Reviews for 3/31:Apes A-Poppin Redux

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic, giddy with anticipation of the opening of another Cubs season, goes off the beaten path yet again, this time to uncover a Eurosleaze classic, several monkey movies and the film that no doubt earned Sir Ben "Thunderbirds" Kingsley his knighthood.

Thanks to the DVD revolution, the last few years have been a boon for fans of weirdo genre films, especially those from foreign lands. Once upon a time, followers of such films had to be satisfied with grey-market videotapes of questionable quality and legality that they managed to scrounge up through mail-order outfits or at the dealer tables at sci-fi conventions. Nowadays, those very same films are being regularly released on DVD in beautifully restored prints that include the original full-length versions (including all the nudity and gore that may have been deleted along the way) as well as the kind of detailed bonus materials that once were only granted to the most prestigious of titles. This week, the specialty house Blue Underground has released another group of films to add to their collection of cult favorites, this time focusing on the Italian suspense thrillers known as “Giallo.” The centerpiece of the set is the 1971 classic “The Black Belly of the Tarantula,” one of the strangest and most outlandish examples of this particular subgenre and, as a result, one of the most entertaining.<

The premise of the film is that a mysterious killer (of whom we see little other than the black gloves that were a fashion staple among the murderers in such films) is going around stalking and killing a group of gorgeous women in a particularly insidious manner–the fiend injects them in the neck with the venom of a poisonous wasp that induces paralysis and then forces them to watch their own disembowelments. Giancarlo Giannini stars as the world-weary cop who is doggedly pursuing the monster (in a role that prefigures his performance in the giallo-influenced “Hannibal”) and his investigation reveals that the victims all had a connection to a local health spa and were involved in various illicit activities that they now seem to be paying for with their lives. It all ends in an orgy of violence and semi-shocking plot revelations that make sense only if you don’t think too much about them.<

Of course, one doesn’t watch a film like “The Black Belly of the Tarantula” for the cohesive plotting–they watch it for the hopefully lurid levels of sex and violence promised by the poster. In this case, the film actually lives to those promises in both areas. Although perhaps not as over-the-top gory as the giallo works of Dario Argento, director Paolo Cavara has come up with a number of excitingly violent set-pieces that should satisfy fans of the genre. As for the sex factor, Cavara really pulls out the stops–this single film contains the lightly-clad like of no fewer than three past and future Bond Girls at the height of their loveliness–Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet (whose extended massage during the opening credits still packs an erotic punch that puts all of “Basic Instinct 2" to shame) and Barbara Bach–as potential victims and Stefania Sandrelli (who made this as her follow-up to Bertolucci’s “The Conformist”) as Gianni’s wife. Throw in a splendid score from Ennio Morricone for good measure and you have a minor masterpiece of the genre that is more than worthy of rediscovery.

Written by Lucile Laks. Directed by Paolo Cavara. Starring Giancarlo Gianni, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Barbara Bach and Stefania Sandrelli. 1971. 98 minutes. Unrated. A Blue Underground release. $19.95


3 FILMS BY LOUIS MALLE (The Criterion Collection. $79.95): Three of the most notable works by the late French filmmaker–the whimsically perverse 1971 coming-of-age comedy “Murmur of the Heart,” the 1974 war drama “Lacombe, Lucien” and his highly acclaimed 1987 autobiographical work “Au Revoir, Les Enfants”–make their long-awaited DVD debuts. Although each is available separately, this box set includes an extra supplemental disc containing archival audio and video interviews with Malle himself as well as interviews with his biographer as well as his widow, Candice Bergen.

ABBA-THE MOVIE (Warner Home Video. $19.98): Astonishingly, “The Shipping News” is not the most embarrassing title in director Lasse Hallstrom’s filmography. That would be this 1977 vehicle for the Swedish supergroup that intertwines concert footage with a subplot involving a disc jockey struggling to land an interview with the band. Of course, the concert footage is largely in focus, so that puts them one up on the Beastie Boys.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX-2005 WORLD SERIES (A&E Home Video. $69.95): Relive the worst nightmare that any true-blue Cubs fan has ever had to endure–trying to decide between rooting for the White Sox or the Astros–in this set containing all four complete World Series games as well as the key divisional matches and other assorted goodies that I am sure that punk Roeper will be gloating over in the screening room.

THE CUTTING EDGE-GOING FOR THE GOLD (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): In this direct-to-video sequel to the 1992 romantic comedy, the daughter of the couple from the original has grown up (into Christy Carlson Romano) to become a figure skater in need of a partner–in this case, a hunky in-line skater who doesn’t play by the rules (Ross Thomas). Only for those with an burning desire to see Kim Possible’s panties.

DEL TENNEY DOUBLE FEATURE (Dark Sky Video. $14.99): Two 1960's B-movie near-classics from Connecticut-based filmmaker Tenney–the killer mutant fish-man saga “The Horror of Party Beach” and the period slasher/zombie extravaganza “The Curse of the Living Corpse”–get the DVD treatment in a double-feature disc that includes commentary tracks from the man himself.

GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): The movie that demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that if your lead actor is someone who was once shot in the mouth, you might want to consider having someone else handle the narration. Let's just be happy he didn't do a commentary.

KING KONG (Universal Home Video. $29.98): I’m just going to assume that you are familiar with this one and move on.

MASTERS OF HORROR-CIGARETTE BURNS/DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $16.98 each): The highly anticipated and wildly uneven Showtime TV series, in which a group of horror filmmakers were brought together to direct a group of one-hour films, begins dribbling out onto DVD with the contributions from John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon. The former, “Cigarette Burns,” is an okay riff on his “In the Mouth of Madness” involving a film with the power to drive viewers crazy (no, not “Larry the Cable Guy”) while the latter, “Dreams in the Witch House,” is a fairly silly tale about a grad student finds himself haunted by visions of a rat with a human face and unspeakable desires.

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): I don’t want to say that this Oscar-winning adaptation of the best-selling novel drags, but if you just pause the DVD to stare at the pretty pictures (especially the ones featuring Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh or Gong Li), the film actually moves faster than if you just watch it straight through.

PLANET OF THE APES LEGACY SET (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98): The five classic “Apes” films have finally been re-released in anamorphically-enhanced editions and fans will be giddy to learn that the version of the final film, “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” included is the little-seen original version that was cut by ten minutes (mostly to secure a G rating) before its theatrical release.

SLIVER-UNRATED EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $14.99): For those of you who want to see Sharon Stone embarrass herself in a dull, incoherent and incredibly unerotic “erotic thriller” but don’t want to be seen buying a ticket for “Basic Instinct 2,” you can always spend that money on this boneheaded 1993 effort–a film that marked a low point in the career of director Phillip Noyce and a high point in the career of co-star Billy Baldwin.

A SOUND OF THUNDER (Warner Home Video. $27.98): Funnier than most straightforward comedies, this is an unbelievably cheesy desecration of Ray Bradbury’s famous short story about the perils of time travel that squanders a great premise with shoddy storytelling, inept special effects and a performance by Sir Ben “Bloodrayne” Kingsley (sporting a wig that is perhaps the most inept of said effects) that redefines the phrase “chewing the scenery.”

STAY (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): I can’t figure out what is more perplexing–this convoluted psychodrama about a shrink who fears for his own sanity while trying get to the bottom of a suicidal patient’s psychosis or the fact that such good actors as Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Janeane Garofalo and Bob Hoskins deigned to appear in it.

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originally posted: 03/31/06 16:03:21
last updated: 04/07/06 14:44:07
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