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DVD Reviews For 10/13: Special Saw-Fu Edition!

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic shows you what a real "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" movie looks like while praying that you don't realize that most of his comments on the film in question were taken from a piece he wrote three years earlier for a website that shall remain nameless.

When it was released in 1986, Tobe Hooper’s "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" was dismissed by many as nothing more than a blatant attempt by Hooper (whose career was on the ropes following the twin flops of "Lifeforce" and "Invaders from Mars") to cash in on his best-known work with a slapdash sequel that replaced the sheer terror of the original with over-the-top gore and even more over-the-top performances (including a turn by Dennis Hopper that was considered unhinged even by his standards). As a result, not many people went to see the film and it all but destroyed Hooper’s career as a commercial filmmaker (although it did enough business to inspire a couple of additional Hooper-free sequels)-a real shame because it is one of the truly great horror films of the 1980’s and I would even go so far as to argue that it is actually superior to the original.

Although Hooper’s original film was actually pretty gore-free (like Hitchcock did in "Psycho", more of the mayhem was created in the mind by the viewer than on the screen by Hooper)-certainly less bloody than the "Friday the 13th" knockoffs that flooded theaters-his film was always regarded as some kind of high-water mark for cinematic carnage. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" can be seen as his amused response to that reputation-he deliberately cranks the on-screen violence to such ludicrously bloody extremes in order to force viewers to contemplate the entire notion of violence-as-entertainment and how much blood and dismemberment is enough for a satisfying night at the movies.

What is even more fascinating is how Hooper’s seemingly junky horror film is just as accurate a look at the mood of America during the Reagan years as the original was to the turbulent post-Nam era. (The screenplay was written by Kit Carson, who has just gotten done co-writing "Paris, Texas" at the time of this film.) This time, the cannibalistic monsters have an agenda for their work-sure, they still kill and process people for food but they have taken the initiative and made a comfortable living by selling it as gourmet chili to the same people that they are killing for the key ingredients. Additionally, the film also niftily spoofs the American gun culture (substituting saws for guns) in a way that even Michael Moore would approve of. Brilliant, gory and subversive, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" is a genuine masterpiece and anyone who plunked money down for the abysmal remake or the current sequel should pick up a copy to see what a good "Chainsaw" film looks like.

Previously released in a bare-bones version with nary an extra, MGM Home Video has belatedly realized that “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2" has developed a small but fervent cult of its own and they have responded with a new special edition (inanely dubbed “The Gruesome Edition” and featuring box art that tries to make it look like a “Saw” knock-off instead of using the “Breakfast Club” spoof that was seen on the original posters. Among the features are two commentaries–one with Tobe Hooper and and the other featuring co-stars Caroline Williams and Bill Johnson and make-up effects guru Tom Savini, who dwarfed his previous stabs at cinematic bloodshed (including “Dawn of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead” and “Friday the 13th” with his work here–a six-part documentary chronicling the weirdness surrounding the infamously rushed production (which Hooper inexplicably does not participate in) and a stills gallery. Best of all, there is a collection of deleted scenes that includes a hilarious cameo from noted drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs who offers up a rave review to Leatherface even as he is being chopped into little piece.

Written by L.M. Kit Carson. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Bill Moseley and Bill Johnson. 1986. 100 minutes. Unrated. An MGM Home Video release. $19.95.


ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (Sony Home Entertainment. $26.95): Director Terry Zwigoff and writer Daniel Clowes, whose previous collaboration was “Ghost World,” reteamed for this fairly funny satire about an extraordinarily ordinary art student (Max Minghella) who becomes mixed up in school politics and the hunt for a serial killer plaguing the campus.

BAD SANTA–DIRECTOR’S CUT (Miramax Home Entertainment. $19.99): In between “Ghost World” and “Art School Confidential,” Zwigoff directed this popular 2003 comedy in which Billy Bob Thornton portrayed a foul-mouthed thief posing as a department store Santa in order to pull off robberies. Although this version promises even more depraved delights than those found in the theatrical version and the previously issued “Badder Santa” DVD, there isn’t really much of anything new to justify the double-dip other than a new commentary from Zwigoff and an extension of the scene in which Bernie Mac meets his maker.

THE BLACK DAHLIA (Lions Gate Home Entertainment. $26.98): No, Brian De Palma’s thriller didn’t bomb that badly at the box-office–this is a cheap-jack knock-off from Uli Lommel, the auteur of “The Boogey Man,” in which a modern-day killer is going around replicating the notoriously grisly murder.

BLACK RAIN: COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $14.99): Sorry, art-house goons–this isn’t a special edition of the 1989 Shohei Imamura film about the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. This is the 1989 Ridley Scott film about a bonehead American cop (Michael Douglas) who goes to Japan to bring in a criminal, screws everything up and dishes out his own form of two-fisted justice. An incredibly dumb film but, thanks to Ridley Scott (who contributes a commentary track), it is at least a stylish and good-looking dumb film.

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT 2 (New Line Home Entertainment. $19.98): All apologies–this isn’t the 2004 film in which Ashton Kutcher keeps going back in time to change his past and keeps screwing things up even worse than before. This is a cheapo DTV sequel in which a much less expensive actor keeps going back in time to change his past and keeps screwing things up even worse than before. See, totally different!

CLICK (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): A magical remote device that lets the user fast-forward, pause and otherwise adjust his own life–that I can believe. Someone looking like Kate Beckinsale being married to the likes of Adam Sandler–that is the part of this fantasy-comedy that I have trouble wrapping my head around.

DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (Brentwood Home Video. $12.95): Another relic from the early-1980's heyday of the slasher film, this one involves a deeply disturbed and misogynistic Vietnam vet who goes around strangling scantily-clad women and then bragging about it on a call-in radio show. I haven’t seen this one in a long time but I seem to recall it being a little more effective than most psycho-killer films of the period.

THE FOX AND THE HOUND–25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Don’t get your hopes up–Disney has only given this reasonably charming film (in which a fox and a hound dog become friends at an early age and are forced to become enemies when they grow older) a full-frame transfer and a meager assortment of extras. A shame, especially when you consider that a number of current top names in the field (including Glenn Keene, Brad Bird and Tim Burton) got their first professional breaks on this one after a group of key Disney animators, led by Don Bluth, left to form their own production company.

GARFIELD 2-A TALE OF TWO KITTIES (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Sad to say but the title is actually the most clever and intelligent part of this incredibly pointless and depressing sequel to a film that no one liked the first time around.

HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS OF HORROR (Warner Home Video. $39.95): Although Universal Pictures was the studio that was most famous for producing horror films in the 1930's, Warner Brothers and MGM produced a number of them as well and this 3-disc set features six of them for your enjoyment. The titles include 1932's “Mask of Fu Manchu” (in which Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy, as the diabolical Manchu and his daughter, seek the sword of Genghis Khan in their latest attempt at world domination) and “Doctor X” ( mad scientist Lionel Atwill and screaming sweetie Fay Wray try to solve a series of murders by recreating them in a lab), 1935's “Mark of the Vampire” (in which Bela Lugosi and Tod Browing, the star and director of “Dracula,” reunite in a strange tale of a series of killings that may be the work of vampires) and “Mad Love” (Peter Lorre, in his American film debut, is a mad surgeon who grafts a new pair of hands onto a concert pianist after an accident without telling him that they came from a recently executed murderer), 1936's “The Devil Doll” (in which, I swear, Lionel Barrymore escapes from Devil’s Island, disguises himself as a sweet little old lady and begins miniaturizing people as part of a plot to get revenge on those who put him in prison) and 1939's “The Return of Dr. X” (which features a bizarrely miscast, pre-fame Humphrey Bogart as a fiend who has returned from the dead and needs constant infusions of blood to stay alive). Probably only for hard-core buffs but those people will find this set (with commentaries on every film but “The Devil Doll,” possibly because no one could make it through without giggling) indispensable.

JU-ON 2 (Lions Gate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Now with 35% more grudginess than before.

THE KING (IFC Films. $27.98): In one of the stranger films to come out this year, Gael Garcia Bernal plays a young man who shows up on the doorstep of successful preacher William Hurt, claiming to be the product of a long-ago affair during Hurt’s pre-redemption days, and proceeds to worm his way into the lives of the man and his family with dire results. Not a particularly great film but it is definitely one that will stick with you for a while after you see it.

LAND OF PLENTY (IFC Films. $24.95): Never given a proper theatrical release in America, this 2004 effort from acclaimed director Wim Wenders takes a look at the emotional landscape of post-9/11 America through the eyes of an idealistic missionary (Michelle Williams) and her increasingly unhinged and dangerously paranoid uncle (John Diehl) when they try to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of a homeless Middle-Eastern man in their own ways. I haven’t caught up with this one yet but I am willing to give anything by Wenders (whose recent “Don’t Come Knocking” remains one of this year’s finest films) the benefit of the doubt.

NUMBERS–THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $54.99): If memory serves, this is the season containing that immortal episode where Math Cop says “Something about this crime just doesn’t add up!” and Math Cop’s partner says “I swear, if you say that one more time–I am going to beat you with the butt of my gun until I see bone!”

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): Arguably the cheeriest musical-comedy about the acceptance of death that you will ever see, courtesy of Robert Altman and Garrison Keillor. The disc of this wonderful film contains a commentary from Altman and co-star Kevin Kline, a behind-the-scenes documentary and a number of deleted scenes and extended musical numbers.

SAVE THE LAST DANCE 2 (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Seeing as how I still to this date have never seen the original “Save the Last Dance,” despite my fondness for Julia Stiles, I can’t see how I could possibly bring myself to watch the DTV sequel in which she is replaced by one of the lesser names from “Coyote Ugly” (Izabella Miko) while the great Jacqueline Bisset appears for reasons known only to her.

SCRUBS–THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Touchstone Home Video. $39.99): The latest collection of episodes from one of the more reliably funny shows on television today. Among the guest stars making their way through the halls of Sacred Heart this time are Matthew Perry, Juliana Marguiles, Molly Shannon, Colin Farrell and the always-delightful Heather Graham.

WAIST DEEP (Universal Home Video. $29.98): Arguably the most sheerly entertaining B-level movie of last summer, this neo-blaxsploitation item has Tyrese Gibson as a recent parolee who tears up most of LA over the course of one long day after his son is kidnapped by a fearsome gang leader with a grudge. Worth the rental price alone for the scene in which said fearsome gang leader punishes an underling who has failed him by chopping off the guy’s arm and then bitch-slapping him with it.

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originally posted: 10/13/06 16:16:19
last updated: 10/14/06 02:57:57
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