DVD Reviews For 12/7: Yes Lucio!
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/07/07 17:28:01
Ford, Bergman, Scorsese, Fulci, Hawke--all the great filmmakers get their due in this week's column.
If the late Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci is remembered at all today, it is most likely because of such astonishingly gory horror epics as “Zombie,” “The Beyond” and “The New York Ripper.” However, throughout his career, Fulci actually dabbled in any number of different cinematic genres–he made westerns (“Massacre Time” and “The Four Of The Apocalypse”), knockabout comedies (“Operation Saint Peter’s” and “Young Dracula”), suspense thrillers (“Perversion Story”), erotic melodramas (“The Devil’s Honey”) and even a couple of Jack London adaptations aimed at the children’s market (“White Fang” and “The Challenge to White Fang”). This week, Severin Films, currently the go-to place for Eurosleaze obscurities on DVD, offers up two relatively obscure Fulci films, 1972's “The Eroticist” and 1977's “The Psychic,” that show the director working outside of his perceived comfort zone and while they may not win over any new converts, they do show that when he was given the chance, he could do more than simply splatter blood across the screen.
Despite the suggestive title, “The Eroticist” is not a take-off of “The Exorcist”–that would be a neat trick if it was since that film didn’t actually come out until 1973. (It was originally titled “All’onorevole Piacciono Le Donne,” roughly translated as “The Senator Likes Women,” and was given the new title when it played outside of Italy.) The film stars Lando Buzzanca as Giacomo Puppis, a high-ranking member of the Italian Senate who is currently on the fast track to one day become the country’s next president. Alas, he has one crippling flaw–an uncontrollable desire to pinch the bottoms of any female that he encounters. This comes as a shock to the powerful religious figures who have helped Puppis in his political career, mostly because they assumed he was homosexual and thus free from lechery in the eyes of the Vatican, and who fear that his wayward hands will cost him the election. In an effort to curb his obsession for good, he shelters himself away at a clinic run by nuns–considering that one of the nuns is portrayed by none other than legendary Italian sex goddess Laura Antonelli, you can imagine how well that goes. Finally, Puppis decides that he wants out of politics for good but when he is taken to the Vatican to meet with the corrupt Cardinal Maravigli, he discovers that he no longer has a choice in the matter.
A weird blend of randy sex comedy and bitter political/religious satire, “The Eroticist” is a strange film to watch today and outside of the relentlessly cynical tone that permeates the entire project, even the most finely-tuned auteurist radar would be hard-pressed to peg this as a Fulci film. And yet, while the film is quite dated today (and frankly, the cliche of the bottom-pinching Italian was a bit long in the tooth even when it was originally released) and many of the jokes have presumably lost something in the translation, it still contains a few saving graces. There are a couple of neat fantasy sequences in which Puppis, caught in the throes of his obsession, see derrieres everywhere–even sprouting from enormous flowers. The sight of Lionel Stander, the veteran character actor who is probably best remembered to some for his supporting role on the long-running TV show “Hart to Hart”and to others for his work as part of Preston Sturges’ stock company, as a corrupt cardinal is a weirdly entertaining sight to behold. Most importantly, at least to some of you out there, any film that features such goddesses of 1970's European cinema as Agostina Belli, Anita Strindberg and the aforementioned Antonelli is worth watching, not to mention pausing.
Fans of Fulci’s horror films will probably find themselves a little more at home with his “The Psychic” (also known as “Murder To The Tune Of The Seven Black Notes”). Jennifer O’Neill stars as Virginia, a woman who has had clairvoyant powers since she was a little girl. One day, after seeing her husband (Gianni Garko) off on a business trip, she has strange and inexplicable visions involving a villa that her husband owns, the bloody body of a old woman, several incidental trinkets (a magazine cover, a pack of cigarettes, a broken mirror) and someone being walled up inside a hole. Arriving at the villa, she finds a recently plastered hole in the wall and discovers a corpse inside. When the premonitions begin occurring with greater frequency, Virginia begins to investigate for herself and as the details of her visions begin to turn up in her real life, she realizes that what she has been experiencing is not a look at a past event but a premonition of the future and she has to figure out whose murder she keeps seeing in her mind.
For years, fans of Italian horror have had unkind things to say about “The Psychic,”partly because the plot details hew a little too close to the storylines of Dario Argento’s “Deep Red” and “The Cat O’Nine Tails” and partly because the film was released in America in a truncated version with some important scenes removed. Now that it can be seen in its full-length version, it is evident that the film is flawed–the screenplay is admittedly short on both originality and plausibility and Virginia may strike some as far too passive of a character to center a film around–but it is the kind of movie that is engrossing enough so that most viewers won’t notice those flaws until it is over. Throughout the film, Fulci offers up a number of genuinely tense suspense sequences–notably the scene in which Virginia is pursued through an empty church and the climax in which all the pieces finally, shockingly fall into place–and surprisingly manages to do so without resorting to buckets of blood to shock his viewers. Gorehounds may come away from “The Psychic” feeling a little disappointed but those of you looking for a reasonably gripping example of 70's-era giallo will be more than satisfied.
THE EROTICIST: Written by Lucio Fulci, Alessandro Continenzia and Ottavio Jemma. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Starring Lando Buzzanca, Laura Antonelli, Lionel Stander, Renzio Palmer, Agostina Belli and Anita Strindberg. 1972. 109 minutes. Unrated. A Severin Films release. $29.95
THE PSYCHIC: Written by Lucio Fulci, Roberto Gianviti and Dardano Saccheti. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Starring Jennifer O’Neill, Gabriele Ferzetti, Marc Porel, Gianni Garko and Evelyn Stewart. 1977 97 minutes. Unrated. A Severin Films release. $29.95.
NEW AND NOTABLE
24–SEASON 6 (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98): After watching the brilliant opening four episodes of the latest cycle of the popular against-the-clock action series–in which nuclear bombs exploded in Los Angeles, Kal Penn played a short-lived terrorist and Keifer Sutherland tapped into his inner Lost Boy to kill one of his captors by tearing up the guy’s throat with his teeth–you might think that the only way it could possibly go wrong would be if the remaining 20 hours nose-dived into a virtually unwatchable mess of half-baked political conspiracies, dreadful soap opera histrionics, more nonsense involving moles or bad guys attacking the allegedly impenetrable headquarters of CTU and implausible (even by this show’s standards) plot twists. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens and what starts off as possibly the best version of the show to date quickly turns into a pathetic self-parody that will tax the patience of even its most loyal fans.
ARCTIC TALE (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Although it may seem like a crass attempt to cash in on the unexpected box-office success of “March of the Penguins”, this nature documentary following a polar bear cub and a walrus pup as they try to survive in the Arctic was actually in production long before anyone had ever heard of that film. However, it does have two things in common with its predecessor–the actual footage is often stunning to behold but the narration (supplied here by Queen Latifah) is so obnoxious and irrelevant that most viewers will be inspired to mute the sound out entirely while watching it.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: RAZOR (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98): Look, I don’t know a thing about the popular revival of that uncommonly lame small-screen “Star Wars” knock-off from the late 1970's (which I only encountered when I saw the theatrical version of the pilot episode in semi-glorious Sensurround) or this stand-alone TV movie that serves as both a prequel to its second season and as a lead-in to the upcoming fourth season. All I know is that if I don’t include it in this week’s round-up, someone out there is going to write me a nasty letter or twelve and quite frankly, I don’t need the aggravation.
THE BOB HOPE MGM MOVIE LEGENDS COLLECTION (MGM Home Entertainment. $39.98): This collection of seven films from the legendary performer essentially serves as a thumbnail look at his entire screen career–the early works, “They Got Me Covered” (1943) and “The Princess and the Pirate” (1944), still hold up pretty well today and show off his genuine gifts as a screen comedian, the mid-career titles, “Alias Jesse James” (1959) and “The Road To Hong Kong” (1962), are weaker films that still provide a few chuckles here and there and the latter-day efforts, “I’ll Take Sweden” (1965) and “Boy Did I Get A Wrong Number” (1966) are so forced and awful that they are almost impossible to sit through.
DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $49.99): In news that will no doubt thrill my father to no end, Dick Van Dyke returns as everyone’s favorite crime-solving doctor in this latest collection of episodes from the mystery series that was seemingly designed for viewers who felt that “Murder She Wrote” contained too much heart-stopping suspense. In news that will no doubt bum out VH1-watching ironists, this was the season in which beloved second banana Scott Baio was replaced by Charlie Schlatter, the former star of “18 Again”
ERIK THE VIKING–THE DIRECTOR’S SON’S CUT (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): The good news for fans of this bizarre 1989 spoof of Viking movies from former Monty Python member Terry Jones (fellow Python member John Cleese briefly pops up as Halfdan the Black in a cast that also includes the likes of Tim Robbins, Eartha Kitt and, inexplicably, Mickey Rooney) is that this film is finally out on DVD in this country–a previous release was announced and then mysteriously pulled at the last minute. The bad news is that, as the title indicates, it is a new cut of the film in which nearly 25% of the original running time has been removed for reasons that I couldn’t possibly explain.
FORD AT FOX–THE COLLECTION (Fox Home Entertainment. $299.98): If you have a serious film enthusiast on your shopping list and $300 to spare, you can’t go wrong with this mammoth 21-disc set comprised of 24 of the 50-odd films that the legendary John Ford directed for Fox between 1920 and 1952, ranging from his early silent movies (including two versions of his 1924 breakthrough “The Iron Horse”) to such latter masterworks as “Drums Along The Mohawk,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Young Mr Lincoln” and “My Darling Clementine,” along with commentaries, newsreels, shorts and “Becoming Mr. Ford,” a new documentary about this career period from filmmaker/historian Nick Redman. If you can’t quite muster up the asking price for the full set, Fox is also releasing the films included either individually or in smaller themed sets.
THE HOTTEST STATE (Thinkfilm. $27.98): For his second foray behind the camera, Ethan Hawke adapts his own indifferently-received novel about the tortured relationship between a self-absorbed wannabe actor (Mark Webber) and the aspiring singer (Catalina Sandino Moreno) that takes them from Manhattan’s Lower East Side to a grungy Manhattan hotel.
HOUSE OF PAYNE: VOLUME ONE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $39.98): Not content with conquering the big screen with his inexplicably popular blend of slapstick and sanctimony, Tyler Perry hit the small-screen with this equally popular syndicated sitcom in which a firefighter, his junkie wife and their kids are forced to move back in with his parents when his house burns down.
HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME? (Strand Releasing. $27.99): In the latest effort from French filmmaker Bertrand Blier, an ordinary schnook (Bernard Campan) with a bad heart who has just won the lottery approaches a high-priced hooker (Monica Bellucci) with an irresistible offer–live with him until either the money or his ticker runs out. Admittedly, the film is pretty awful but the considerable sight of the ravishing Bellucci in and out of her underwear at least helps it be at least somewhat watchable.
INGMAR BERGMAN–FOUR MASTERWORKS (The Criterion Collection. $99.95): The package from Criterion brings together four of their previously issued Bergman discs into one set–“Smiles of a Summer Night” (1955), “The Seventh Seal” (1957), “Wild Strawberries” (1957) and “The Virgin Spring” (1960).
JACK KETCHUM’S THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $26.98): In case the Bergman box proves to be just a little too light and frothy for your tastes, perhaps you will enjoy this story, based on an actual incident, in which a seemingly ordinary suburban woman (Blanche Baker) who takes in her young niece as a favor to her parents and not only proceeds to brutally beat and torture her, she encourages other kids in the neighborhood to come over and do the same under her watch.
LADY CHATTERLEY (Kino Video. $29.98): Having previously been brought to life by filmmakers as varied as Ken Russell and Just Jaeckin, D.H. Lawrence’s warhorse about the romantic triangle that develops between a recently crippled aristocrat (Hippolyte Girardot), his bored-but-yearning wife (Marina Hands) and the gamekeeper (Jean-Louis Coulloch) who sets the latter’s heart afire with his earthy demeanor and his habit of working shirtless.
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): In the first screen adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic novel “I Am Legend” (which would later be redone as 1971's “The Omega Man” and the upcoming “I Am Legend”), Vincent Price stars as the lone human survivor of a devastating plague who tries to fend off never-ending swarms of vampire-like creatures who yearn for his uninfected blood. Not a particularly good film by any means (although he wrote the screenplay, Matheson was so dissatisfied with the results that he removed his name from the credits) but there is a certain amount of fun to be had from watching Price going through his paces in a decidedly atypical role.
LOOSE: THE CONCERT (Geffen Records. $19.99): Although some fans of Canadian songbird Nelly Furtado may have been a bit startled by her apparent decision to reinvent herself as Fergie for her 2006 album “Loose,”enough people approved of the move to make the album one of last year’s bigger hits. This DVD, shot during her recent tour promoting the album, sees her running through 17 of her biggest hits, including “Afraid,” “Maneater,” “All Good Things,” “I’m Like A Bird” and “Promiscuous,” and also gives fans a 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary.
THE NANNY DIARIES (The Weinstein Company. $29.95): Despite a strong cast in front of the cameras (including Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti) and two highly talented directors behind them (Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, the duo behind “American Splendor”), this adaptation of the 2003 chick-lit best-seller about an aimless young woman who inadvertently becomes the put-upon nanny for an outrageously spoiled upper-class family turned out to be little more than a feature-length sitcom utterly unworthy of all the talents involved.
NEW YORK NEW YORK–30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): Although it was both a critical and financial failure when it was first released in 1977 (where it had the bad luck to go up against a little thing called “Star Wars”), Martin Scorsese’s epic-length musical drama about the tempestuous on-again/off-again relationship between an ambitious singer (Liza Minnelli) and a volatile saxophone player (Robert De Niro) has actually aged pretty well in the ensuing decades–partially because some of the more off-putting elements (such as De Niro’s deliberately abrasive performance) play better the second time around and partially because it marked one of the last full-scale attempts to make a screen musical in the traditional style before the genre all but disappeared from view. This two-disc set include a new introduction from Scorsese, commentaries from the director and critic Carrie Rickey, deleted scenes and photo galleries.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $34.99): Apparently mistaking the complaints about last year’s “Dead Man’s Chest”–that it was noisy, confusing and way too long for its own good–for compliments, this second sequel to the 2003 surprise hit “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” somehow managed to come across as even more noisy, confusing and overlong than its predecessor and not even the Herculean efforts of Johnny Depp (whose performance is still amusing, even though it has the ring of a once-funny joke that is being told by the same person for the third time) or the always-welcome sight of Keira Knightley in a tri-cornered hat are able to help it rise above the level of utter mediocrity. The only person who manages to bring a brief spark of life to the proceedings is Keith Richards, who makes a welcome cameo appearance as Jack Sparrow’s long-lost father.
ROCKY–THE COMPLETE SAGA (MGM Home Entertainment $59.98): Assuming that Sylvester Stallone isn’t going to push his luck with a “Rocky 7" at some point down the line, this six-disc set offers up just what the title promises–a complete collection of the screen adventures of everyone’s favorite lovable boxer. For those not intimately familiar with the series, this means that you will be getting one unassailable classic (the 1976 original), two surprisingly effective follow-ups (1979's “Rocky II” and 2006's “Rocky Balboa”), two fairly abrasive sequels that were successful in their time but come across as awfully dated now (1982's “Rocky III” and 1985's “Rocky IV”) and one of the worst and most ill-advised sequels of all time (1990's disastrous “Rocky V”).
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE–THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Universal Home Entertainment. $69.98): This was the season in which Chevy Chase controversially left the show that made him a star in order to make such deathless cinema classics as “Under the Rainbow,” “Oh Heavenly Dog” and “Modern Problems” and was replaced by some oddball kid from the suburbs of Chicago named Bill Murray. Some of the highlights in this set include the first hosting appearances by Steve Martin, the debut of Nick the Lounger Singer and the dependably evil Mr. Mike reading host Jodie Foster the inspirational bedtime story “The Little Engine That Died.” Among the other hosts featured in these 22 episodes are Sissy Spacek, Buck Henry, Lily Tomlin, Ralph Nader and Eric Idle while the musical guests include The Band, Chuck Berry, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits and Joan Armatrading.
SUPERBAD (Sony Home Entertainment. $34.99): Three reasons y this, and not the somewhat overrated “Knocked Up,” was the funniest film of last summer. 1.) The winning and absolutely convincing on-screen camaraderie between Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. 2.) The best deployment of a Van Halen music cue in film history. 3.) McLovin!