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DVD Reviews for 9/28: A Cut, Hack And Slash Above The Rest

by Peter Sobczynski

Just in time to capitalize on the hype surrounding the recent premiere of his latest film, “Mother Of Tears: The Three Mothers,” the cult video label Blue Underground is this week releasing a number of films from Italian horror director Dario Argento. While most of them–“The Cat O’Nine Tails” (1971), “Suspiria” (1977) and “Opera” (1987)–are merely reissues of previously-released DVDs, his underrated 1996 thriller “The Stendhal Syndrome” is getting the full two-disc special edition treatment that marks its American debut in its fully uncut original version. The following is a piece that I wrote on the film, which I consider to be one of Argento’s finest works, for a festival that I helped program a few years ago. Enjoy.

The most effective horror movies are the ones that are like our nightmares. Terrifying incidents occur and even though the audience may think that they know how to overcome them, they are actually powerless to do anything but watch helplessly until finally, mercifully, they are abruptly ripped from the dark nightmare world and plunged back into the light. There is no comfort, no lesson to be learned and the audience is forced to fend for themselves in the real world after having seen their darkest fears enacted right before their eyes.

The problem with that approach is that the people who produce the films presumably want people to come back for repeat viewings, preferably with friends in tow. If confronted by a genuinely disturbing vision of terror, most people, even if they agree that it is scary and well-made, are not necessarily going to want to endure it again or rave about it to their pals. As a result, the trend in horror films, especially in recent years, has been to dilute the darkness in one way or another. The most popular form of dilution these days is to make the film overtly comic and self-referential–the characters on the screen have seen the same horror films that the people in the audience have and try to use that knowledge to save themselves. This jokey approach worked well in the smash hit “Scream” (of course, that was a film that remembered to be scary as well as funny) but after that, audiences were inundated with one self-consciously clever exercise in meta-horror after another–“I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Urban Legend,” “Final Destination”and their respective sequels, to name only a few–but the anti-cliche approach quickly grew stale as they failed to work either as comedies or as horror films.

Dario Argento’s 1996 film “The Stendhal Syndrome” may be many things–an exercise in surrealism, a study in gender identity confusion, a serial-killer drama and an exploration as to the effect that works of art can have on an unhinged mind–but it is certainly not a barrel of self-aware laughs. This is one of the darkest horror films to come along in recent years–the type where you think that things can’t possibly get any worse for the characters involved and quickly find out that they do. And yet, this is not merely an exercise in depraved sadism either (although some viewers may debate that point)–it is an extremely effective film that is anchored not by blood or stylish camera moves (though both are in abundance) but by the stunning lead performance of Asia Argento (Dario’s daughter), one of the most haunting and memorable performances seen in the genre in recent years.

Argento stars as Anna Manni (a name that suggests a certain confusion from the get-go), a young policewoman on the trail of rapist-murderer Alfredo Grossi (Thomas Kretschmann) throughout Italy. As the film opens, she is following a lead ad the famed Uffizi gallery in Florence. Wandering through the halls, she finds herself growing increasingly unsettles in the presence of Botticelli’s Venus and Carvaggio’s Medusa. Finally, she stands before Breugel’s Landscape With the Fall of Icarus and swoons; in fact, she hallucinates that she actually enters the painting by plunging into the water and even kissing a fish that passes by.

Visiting a psychiatrist after this incident, she recalls a similar moment as a child visiting another museum. Anna is informed that she is afflicted with Stendhal Syndrome, a malady in which sufferers are overwhelmed and suffer from hallucinations in the presence of certain works of art. (Although this condition may sound like a particularly outrageous screenplay contrivance, , the Stendhal Syndrome is an actual condition–named after the writer Stendhal, who suffered from it and wrote about it in his “Naples and Florence: A Journey Form Milan to Reggio Calabria.”) Unfortunately for Anna, one of the people in the gallery during the incident was Grossi, who recognizes both her and her condition. That night, he uses Anna’s affliction against her in order to kidnap and rape her in a long, horrifying sequence that has an even darker resonance when it dawns on you that Dario Argento is essentially stage-managing the rape of his own daughter for the cameras.

Anna escapes from Grossi and leaves town to recover at her childhood home where she is surrounded by an emotionally distant father and several brothers. Instead of relaxing, she becomes even more obsessed with both Grossi and her condition–the latter to the point where she takes to the canvas and begins creating her own highly symbolic and deeply suggestive works of art. Eventually, Grossi tracks her down and attacks her for a second time until. . .

At this point–roughly at the midway point of the film–Argento (working from a novel by Graziella Magherini–has a lot of surprises in store for viewers and it is best to leave them to be discovered as the story progresses. However, while the film is clever in its plotting, this is not a film that requires wild plot twists in order to move the story along. In fact, Argento seems to be actively trying to subvert audience notions of what is to be expected in a film of this type. Typically, a serial killer film would try to keep the identity of its villain a mystery for as long as possible–in Italian giallos (their term for suspense thrillers of this type), the viewer would generally only see the black gloves of the killer until the final scenes. Here, the murderer is seen and identified from the opening scenes and by doing that, it immediately throws the audience into a sense of unease. After all, if Argento (who became Italy’s best-known giallo creator with films such as “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage,” “Deep Red” and “Opera”) is going to subvert such an important narrative notion so early on, what else does he have up his sleeve?

What he has up his sleeve, in fact, is an exploration of the effect that seemingly passive art can have on viewers, particularly those who are already unhinged in the first place. In recent years, the notion of how art (especially art that depicts extreme violence) affects people has been debated endlessly, especially when someone commits a gruesome crime and then tries to say that they were inspired by a movie or a video game. The general response is to say that there is no correlation–someone capable of shooting up a school or opening fire on the President is by definition already unbalanced and no doubt would have done the same thing even if Martin Scorsese had never made “Taxi Driver” or Oliver Stone had never made “Natural Born Killers.” For Argento, this is nonsense. In his eyes, art does have a keen effect on audiences–why else would artists continue to create otherwise? What he does as a horror filmmaker is to take this concept and utilize it in the context of a suspense film–in his worldview, just as a killer can be an artist (a conceit that Argento has demonstrated numerous times over the years with his infamous scenes of gorgeously constructed, almost operatic carnage), so too can an artist be a killer.

Longtime Argento fans complained upon the release of “The Stendhal Syndrome” that it lacked just those moments of jaw-dropping bloodshed. While it is true that the film may lack the flamboyant, over-the-top nature of, say, the infamous opening double murder of “Suspiria” or the amputation from “Tenebrae,” it is still a feast for the eyes. With gorgeous cinematography from Giuseppe Rotunno and intelligent use of CGI technology (deployed for the first time in Italian cinema), Argento effectively blurs the boundaries between the real world and the world of Anna’s art-induced delusions. So effective is this that there are some sequences in which the villain is standing right in front of us for several seconds and they still get a shock because until he makes a move, we cannot be sure if he is real or not.

Though the subversive plotting, visual style and intriguing narrative concerns alone might have made “The Stendhal Syndrome” a great horror film, what raises it to the level of a modern genre classic and one of the key works of Argento’s filmography is the spellbinding performance from Asia Argento as Anna. In America, she is still best-known to mass audiences for playing The Girl in the Vin Diesel man-fur epic “XXX.” For long-time fans of hers, that appearance was somewhat of a disappointment because it showed off none of her considerable gifts beyond the ability to effectively wear a low-cut dress. In films such as “Queen Margot,” “New Rose Hotel” and her own directorial efforts “Scarlet Diva” and “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things,” she has demonstrated a fearless ability to jump fully into a character and take it to the limit. This fearlessness fits in perfectly with her character in “The Stendhal Syndrome,” who has to endure things that would physically and emotionally tax even the most dedicated actresses. Reportedly, Dario Argento had originally considered casting Bridget Fonda or Jennifer Jason Leigh for the role of Anna before selecting Asia (who had previously appeared in his “Trauma” and would go on to star in “The Phantom Of the Opera” and “The Three Mothers”) for the part. One could argue that this was merely stunt casting utilized to subliminally make the two extended rape scenes more disturbing. However, her contributions are far more significant and the result is a truly great and award-worthy performance.

I must reiterate, however, that “The Stendhal Syndrome” is no walk in the park. This is a serious horror film and for those used to jokier examples of the genre, it may prove to be too much. Like “The Last House On the Left,” “Seven” and parts of “The Silence of the Lambs,” it gives the audience disturbing images and notions to contemplate and trusts that they are adult enough to handle such things without comedy relief or tacked-on happy endings. In other words, if you don’t want to have a truly creepy and unnerving night at the movies, do not go to see “The Stendhal Syndrome.” More room for the rest of us.

Directed by Dario Argento. Starring Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann and Marco Leonardi. 1996. 119 minutes. Unrated. A Blue Underground release. $29.95


ALONE IN THE DARK (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.95): Simultaneously one of the dumbest movies ever made and arguably the best–“best” being a relative term–film to date from the already-legendary Uwe Boll (though I must admit that the upcoming “Postal” does seem at least slightly intriguing), this incomprehensible 2005 video game adaptation gets the director’s cut treatment–from what I understand, a couple of new scenes have been added while other moments have been trimmed, mostly the ones involving Tara Reid’s singularly unconvincing turn as an allegedly brilliant archaeologist. I’m not quite sure if these changes will make much of a difference but if Boll has removed my single favorite bit in the original version–the part in which Reid demonstrates her inability to pronounce “Newfoundland”–I may have to challenge him to a few rounds in a boxing ring.

AS YOU LIKE IT (HBO Home Video. $26.98): Having previously offered us the somewhat unusual Shakespearian spectacles as Keanu Reeves speaking iambic pentameter in “Much Ado About Nothing” and a musical version of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” Kenneth Branagh offers up his take on the Bard’s gender-bending comedy that resets the action in 19th-century Japan and features a cast including Kevin Kline, Bryce Dallas Howard, Romola Garai and Alfred Molina.

BABEL–SPECIAL EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $29.95): Only a few months after the initial DVD release of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s pretentious multi-cultural slog about mankind’s inability to communicate with each other (featuring an anguished Brad Pitt, a bleeding Cate Blanchett, a hot-headed Gael Garca Bernal and a quietly naked Rinko Kikuchi) gets the special edition treatment. No new scenes have been added to the film that was essentially 2006's “Crash”–news that will no doubt come as a sigh of relief to those who thought the original version was more than enough as is–but a second disc does offer us “Common Ground,” a feature-length making-of feature from Inarritu that is actually somewhat more interesting that the film it is chronicling.

BLACK BOOK (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): Over twenty years after he left his native Holland for Hollywood and seven years since his last film, the deeply flawed “Hollow Man,” Paul Verhoeven returned both to home and to thrilling form with this thrilling, sexy and thought-provoking World War II drama about a Jewish woman (Carice van Houten in one of the best performances of the year) working for the Dutch resistance who poses as a German in order to take a job with a Nazi commander (Sebastian Koch) and report on his activities–things get complicated when she genuinely falls in love with the guy and become even more complicated when a series of betrayals and double-crosses lead others to believe that she was a genuine collaborator. One of the best films of 2007 and one of the finest and most audacious works of Verhoeven’s entire career.

THE BRONX IS BURNING (Genius Products. $39.99): Based on the best-selling book by Jonathan Mahler about the New York Yankees, their tumultuous 1977 championship season and the struggle for power between new owner George Steinbrenner, new manager Billy Martin and newly-hired superstar Reggie Jackson, this eight-part ESPN miniseries was somewhat uneven at times (material involving the other key events affecting New York at the time–a massive blackout, a mayoral race and the killing spree of the infamous Son of Sam–is more distracting than edifying) but the electrifying performances from Oliver Platt as Steinbrenner and John Turturro as Martin more than made up for those missteps.

BUG (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $28.98): Based solely on the manner in which Lionsgate dumped it onto the marketplace last May–opposite the “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” juggernaut and with an ad campaign that made it look like just another bloody horror film (the studio even tacked on the opening minutes of “Hostel–Part 2" as a gambit to lure in the gorehounds)–you might assume that William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play, in which a couple of troubled loners (Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon) whose motel-based romance becomes overwhelmed by insanity and paranoia, was pretty much a dog through and through. Instead, it turned out to be one of the best films of the year–a harrowing and incredibly intense drama that was Friedkin’s finest work since “To Live and Die in L.A.” and which contained one of the very best performances of Judd’s entire career.

CHALK (Arts Alliance America. $24.98): Consciously aping the style of “The Office,” this fitfully amusing faux-documentary takes a look at a group of teachers, whose personalities range from earnest to lovelorn to completely clueless, as they try to make it through another year of “educating” the students of Harrison High.

COUNT DRACULA (BBC Warner. $14.95): Generally hailed as one of the better adaptations of the Bram Stoker warhorse, this 1977 BBC miniseries features a strong lead performance from Louis Jourdan in the title role and a nice sense of atmosphere thanks to the decision to film parts of it on location. (Of course, the best adaption of “Dracula” is returning to DVD next week and we shall deal with it at length at that time.)

CUJO (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.95):Although it tends to get lumped in with most of the lesser Stephen King adaptations that arrived in the mid-Eighties, this take on his tale of a rabid St. Bernard terrorizing a stranded mother (Dee Wallace-Stone) and her sickly child is actually a surprisingly effective take on the material–although director Lewis Teague may have lacked the directorial chops of such King adapters of the time as Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick or David Cronenberg, he actually did a better job than any of them of transforming the tense and grisly atmosphere of King’s original story from the page to the screen

EAT MY DUST–SUPERCHARGED EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $19.99): In this cheerfully silly 1976 car-chase extravaganza, wackiness ensues when eager young gearhead Ron Howard steals a supercharged car in order to impress the girl of his dreams. The story goes that when legendary producer Roger Corman offered the lead role to Howard, then riding high on the success of “Happy Days,” the actor would only agree to appear in it if he could direct the follow-up film. Corman agreed, Howard made his directorial debut and kicked off a career that would eventually give us “The Da Vinci Code.” Thanks a lot, Roger.

EATEN ALIVE (Dark Sky Films. $24.98): In his follow-up to his landmark debut film, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” Tobe Hooper came up with this decidedly weird and borderline depraved 1976 horror item about a group of disparate people–runaway hooker Roberta Collins, dying father Mel Ferrer, ordinary couple William Finley and Marilyn Burns, adorable child Kyle Richards and pervert Robert Englund–who all wind up staying at a seedy backwater motel run by a creepy proprietor (Neville Brand) with a few screws loose, a nasty temper and a giant crocodile out back that he feeds with anyone who annoys him. Although Hooper’s blending of horror and black humor isn’t as successful here as in such later efforts as “Lifeforce” or “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2,” this is still a better-than-average title that serves as proof that Hooper was anything but a one-hit wonder.

EVENING (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.95):One of the year’s best casts (Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close and even a late-inning bit from Meryl Streep) has sadly been assembled for one of the year’s worst movies–an unbearably smarmy melodrama about a dying woman thinking back to a weekend a half-century earlier that changed her life forever while her grown daughters bitch at each other while trying to figure out what Mom is yammering about. I would compare it to such cheesy 50's-era soap operas as “Peyton Place,” “Imitation of Life” and “A Summer Place” except that to do so would be gruesomely unfair to those older movies–at least they had a little sense of humor about themselves and at least they had the common decency to not be excruciatingly boring.

FROSTBITTEN (Wellspring Media. $24.99): In this Swedish horror-comedy (now there is a description you don’t hear every day), a vampire scientist creates a pill that can transform humans into vampires and it inadvertently gets passed around at a local rave and transforms all the teens into bloodsuckers. To make matters worse, the town is in the midst of “polar night”–a phenomenon in which the sun remains down for 24 hours.

FULL OF IT (New Line Home Entertainment. $19.98): From what I gather, this is a comedy in which an obnoxious high-school student who tends to tell lies about himself in order to impress people is stunned to discover that his various fibs have begun to come true. Quite frankly, I have no idea how this film truly is because when they had the one and only press screening before its incredibly brief theatrical release last spring, it was scheduled directly against “Zodiac”–needless to say, I chose the David Fincher joint and I haven’t lost a moment of sleep over that decision since.

THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): This little-seen 1972 western is no doubt being trotted out by Universal in the hopes of riding on the coattails of the publicity surrounding “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” but the reasons hardly seem to matter if it means that this debut feature from the always-interesting Phillip Kaufman is finally coming to DVD. Sort of like a low-key version of one of Sam Peckinpah’s westerns, the film tells the story of Jesse James (Robert Duvall) and Cole Younger (Cliff Robertson) and how the two brought their respective gangs together for a botched bank robbery.

I WORKED FOR STALIN (Facets Home Video. $29.95): No, this is not the Russian equivalent of “The Devil Wears Prada”–this is a 1991 documentary about Josef Stalin’s reign as the head of the U.S.S.R. that tells its story using old film footage and interviews with those who were eyewitnesses to this particular historical period.

THE INTRUDER (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $19.99): In this uncharacteristically serious-minded and issue-oriented effort from director Roger Corman (who would avoid such things in the future after it proved to be a dismal failure at the box-office), William Shatner, in one of his best performances, plays a racist rabble-rouser who goes from town to town in the Deep South in order to stir up local sentiment against court-ordered segregation. Also known as “Shame,” “The Stranger” and “I Hate Your Guts!”

KNOCKED UP (Universal Home Entertainment. $30.98): Although perhaps not the masterpiece that some have claimed–it goes off on too many tangents for its own good and it isn’t quite as consistently hilarious as the other Judd Apatow joint from the summer of 2007, “Superbad”–this comedy about a stoned slacker (Seth Rogen) and an ambitious reporter (Katherine Heigl) whose drunken one-night stand has unexpected consequences still contains a lot of big laughs as well as some surprisingly tender moments as well. For those of you who felt that the film seemed to run short at 129 minutes, this 2-disc set contain an unrated cut of the film and numerous deleted or extended scenes among the numerous bonus features.

MACBETH (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $26.98): In this week’s other updating of a Shakespeare classic, the famous tale of greed, ambition and revenge has been reset into the milieu of a contemporary Australian crime family and transformed into a super-violent and barely coherent mess that seems more interest in paying homage to Tarantino than to the Bard. That said, if you always wanted to see a version of “Macbeth” in which the three witches are depicted as naked Goth girls instead of as old crones, this might be your lucky day.

THE MICKEY ROONEY/JUDY GARLAND COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $59.92): This box set contains four musical extravaganzas from the beloved screen team–1939's “Babes In Arms” (in which Mickey and Judy team up to put on a show), 1940's “Strike Up the Band” (in which Mickey and Judy team up to put on a show), 1941's “Babes on Broadway”(in which Mickey and Judy team up to put on a show) and 1943's “Girl Crazy” (in which Mickey and Judy, in a move that will no doubt shock and stun you, team up to put on a show.

NEXT (Paramount Home Entertainment. $29.99): In this ridiculous adaptation (to use the term loosely) of a Philip K. Dick short story, Nicolas Cage stars as a sleazy Vegas lounge act with the genuine ability to see a couple of minutes into the future, Julianne Moore appears as a Fed who wants to use his power to prevent an upcoming terrorist attack and Jessica Biel pops up (and out) as a bit of fun who is somehow tied into the whole scenario. This was the third Nicolas Cage film in a row that was dumped in theaters without press screenings–hot on the heels of “The Wicker Man” and “Ghost Rider”–and while it may not be quite as bad as “Ghost Rider” (although you may feel differently after sitting through its ridiculous conclusion), it is by far the silliest of the bunch.

NUMBERS–THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment. $54.99): The further adventures of the first TV cop who, as a wise man once said, prefers pi to donuts. If memory serves, this is the season that features the episode in which Math Cop finally crosses the line and Internal Affairs demands that he turn in his calculator and protractor.

PEARL JAM: IMMAGINE IN CORNICE–LIVE IN ITALY 2006 (Rhino Home Video. $19.98): Considering how rarely Pearl Jam releases recordings of their live performances, fans of the group may want to rush out and pick up this DVD–a chronicle of a recent Italian tour featuring songs spanning their entire discography as well as plenty of backstage moments–while they still have the chance.

MALIABIMBA/SATAN’S BABY DOLL (Severin Films. $29.95 each): I don’t know how Severin Films manages to keep coming up with these deliriously demented and seriously sleazy European exploitation films but I can only hope and pray that they never stop. Their latest offerings are a 1979 Italian horror/sex film and its 1982 remake that tell the story of a kinky housewife who is murdered by her husband when he catches her in a compromising position with a sexy nun. At her funeral, her spirit possesses the body of her alluring teenage daughter and uses it to get revenge on everyone in the household that she slept with in her former life–needless to say, this involves a lot of people, including a creepy butler whose dabbling in the black arts made the possession possible in the first place. Tell me that you aren’t intrigued by that description and I will call you a dirty liar.

SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 2: WHAT KEEPS PARENTS AWAKE AT NIGHT (Ryko Distribution. $24.95): Well, I don’t know about parents but this 1971 bit of German erotica–a follow-up to the immensely popular “Schoolgirl Report”–will certainly keep horndogs with a taste for vintage Eurosleaze up long into the night. As in the previous installment, the film purports to scientifically document the true-life sexual exploits of the youth of the day and this time around, we have vignettes involving a trio of schoolgirls seducing and blackmailing their teacher, a couple of runaways who drift into prostitution and a student who not only shocks her peers by posing for dirty pictures but convinces them to join in on the fun with her.

SPIDER BABY–SPECIAL EDITION (Dark Sky Films. $19.95): Right from the opening scene, in which Mantan Moreland snoops around a seemingly abandoned house and is trapped by a disconcertingly sexy young girl with a pronounced spider fetish and a couple of very sharp knives, Jack Hill’s 1964 cult oddity announces its intentions of becoming one of the strangest movies ever made and then spends the rest of its running time living up to that promise. (I once helped introduce a screening of the film with Hill in attendance to a theater filled with hipsters and even they seemed taken aback by its sheer weirdness–imagine “Dark Shadows” as conceived by John Waters.) To prevent ruining the surprises in store for newcomers, I won’t mention anything more about what transpires during the remaining 80-odd minutes except to say that not only is Lon Chaney Jr.(in one of his last screen appearances) in it, he is actually one of the more sympathetic characters–not only that, he even sings the memorable theme song. This disc includes a commentary from Hill and co-star/B-movie legend Sid Haig, featurettes on the making of the film and an alternate opening title sequence from when the film was known as “Cannibal Orgy, or The Maddest Story Ever Told.” (FYI–when that retitling didn’t quite work either, I understand that it also went out as “The Liver Eaters.”)

THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO: SEASON 1–VOLUME 2 (Paramount Home Video. $38.99): Another 13 episodes of the successful 70's-era crime show featuring veteran cop Karl Malden and ambitious rookie Michael Douglas busting heads and breaking hearts on the streets of–well, you know where. Among the famous faces popping up in this set are John Saxon, Brenda Vaccaro, Jaime Farr, Dean Stockwell, Leslie Nielsen and that deep-fried god among men, Joe Don Baker.

THE TWISTED TERROR COLLECTION (Warner Home Video $49.95): Just in time for the holidays, Warner Home Video brings together a half-dozen horror oddities, mostly lesser-known films from well-known directors, for your amusement. “From Beyond the Grave” (1975) is an anthology film with a premise that will sound familiar to those of you who remember that “Friday the 13th” TV series–Peter Cushing runs an antiques store whose wares turn violently on anyone who tries to cheat him. “Someone’s Watching Me!” (1976) is a reasonably effective made-for-TV riff on “Rear Window” that was written and directed by John Carpenter just before he struck gold with “Halloween.” “Eyes of a Stranger” (1981) is a better-than-average horror film starring Lauren Tewes (“The Love Boat”) as a newscaster who discovers that one of her neighbors is a serial killer and then-unknown Jennifer Jason Leigh as her blind and deaf sister who becomes the killer’s latest prey. “The Hand” (1981), best known today as Oliver Stone’s second film (after the largely forgotten 1974 effort “Seizure”) is a strange combination of psychological drama and goofball horror in which an embittered cartoonist (Michael Caine) loses his hand in an auto accident and then discovers that it is preying on his enemies. (Oddly enough, although Stone tends to consider his next film, “Platoon,” to be his real first movie, he did sit down to provide a commentary track that is the set’s most substantial extra.) “Deadly Friend” (1986) was Wes Craven’s take on “Frankenstein” in which a nerdy high-schooler (Matthew Laborteaux) brings his dead girlfriend (Kristy Swanson) back to life with the brain from the robot he created with grisly results–the most infamous being a decapitation caused by a basketball. Finally, “Dr. Giggles” (1992) gives us the sight of Larry Drake as a psycho who avenges the death of his equally insane surgeon father by killing people via surgical methods.

THE TV SET (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): In his follow-up to the brilliant “Zero Effect” and the reasonably amusing “Orange County,” writer-director Jake Kasdan took his adventures in the television industry (where he worked as a director for such wonderful-but-short-lived shows as “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared”) and transformed them into this satire about a writer (David Duchovny) who finds his semi-autobiographical dramedy brutally “improved” by a crass network executive (Sigourney Weaver) into a crude sitcom that just might be bad enough to become an enormous hit.

THE UNTOUCHABLES: SEASON 1–VOLUME 2 (Paramount Home Video. $59.99): Elliot Ness and his men make several more trips to bust speakeasies in Berwyn in the latest collection of episodes from the classic 1959-1963 crime show As a bonus, this set also includes “Lucy The Gun Moll,” an episode of Lucille Ball’s 1960's sitcom “The Lucy Show” in which she spoofs the series (which was a product of Desilu Studios) with the help of most of the actual cast members, including Robert Stack and Walter Winchell.

WHAT ABOUT BRIAN?–THE COMPLETE SERIES (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $59.99): With all due respect to Brian (Barry Watson), whose romantic trials tribulations formed the basis of this short-lived ABC dramedy from producer J.J. Abrams (the guy behind “Felicity,” “Alias” and “Lost”), the question on my mind before watching the 25 episodes collected here was “What about Rosanna Arquette?” Yes, the one-time Eighties icon and Toto muse pops up in a supporting role and as someone considered her appearances in “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “After Hours” to be formative experiences when he saw them back in his youth, all I can say is “Thank you!”

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originally posted: 09/28/07 13:23:38
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