Movies Till Dawn: A Surplus of Saturday Morning Strange

Mako: The Jaws of Death” (1976, Retromedia/Bayview Entertainment) Misanthropic loner Richard Jaeckel uses his telepathic connection with sharks to dispose of those he believes are exploiting his toothy friends. Low-budget thriller by prolific Florida-based filmmaker William Grefe sets itself apart from the swarm of shark pictures issued after “Jaws” with some impressive underwater scenes featuring what appear to be stunt people tangling with real sharks sans cages or protective gear, a notion he developed while shooting the shark sequences in “Live and Let Die.” The dependable presence of Oscar nominee Jaeckel also helps to make palatable the nuttier aspects of the script, which borrows more from the “Willard” template than the Spielberg film; the Retromedia/Bayview DVD offers a short interview with Grefe, who may upset animal devotees by revealing how he got one of the sharks to perform on cue; there’s also an Italian-language trailer (which makes heavy use of the Wilhelm scream) and a digest version of the film issued on Super 8mm.

Basket Case” (1982 Arrow Video) To their everlasting regret, a stream of people who seem compelled to ask the strange young man (Kevin VanHentenryck) what’s inside the large wicker basket he’s carrying discover that its occupant is, as the tagline on the film’s one-sheet read, “very small, very twisted and very mad.” Infamous creature feature from writer-director Frank Henenlotter (“Brain Damage”) is fueled by gallons of gore and acres of bad taste, but it’s also frequently funny, remarkably inventive in terms of wringing maximum production value from a microbudget (including stop-motion animation and authentic grime from its 42nd Street locations), and in its own very warped way, a bittersweet parable about familial bonds and guilt. Arrow’s restored Blu-ray ports over many of the extras from the 2011 Image Blu-ray, including amusing commentary by Henenlotter, and adds a second commentary track, new interviews with cast and crew, and coverage of the film’s inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art (!).

Twilight People” (1972, VCI) Plucked from tropical waters while skin-diving, an adventurer (actor-turned-producer John Ashley) discovers that his captor – scientist Charles Macaulay – intends to add him to his growing collection of human-animal hybrids, which he envisions as an improvement over the current designs of both species. Glacial pacing and purple-pulp dialogue make the first half of this Filipino-lensed take on “The Island of Dr. Moreau” something of a slog, but when the man-beasts break out of Macaulay’s lab, co-writer/producer/director Eddie Romero (who had previously remade “Moreau” as “Terror is a Man” in 1959) kicks the action into frantic overdrive, and the menagerie of monsters – among them a pre-fame Pam Grier as the Panther Woman and Tony Gosalvo as a very excitable Bat Man – are a Halloween parade of threadbare ingenuity and the purest delirium. The film’s more surreal moments are heightened by VCI’s restored print, which is sparkling clean but the color saturation reaches hallucinatory levels; a hyperbole-heavy theatrical trailer and amusing commentary by David Dell Valle and filmmaker David DeCouteau are also included.

Sinbad of the Seven Seas” (1989, Kino Lorber) A dubbed Lou Ferrigno is the titular adventurer, crossing all seven seas to retrieve magical gems and rescue a caliph and his daughter under the sway of a magician (John Steiner, who chews scenery with abandon); an colorful array of evil forces, including zombie warriors and a rock monster, stand in opposition. This Italian-made adventure, drawn (very loosely) from a story by Edgar Allan Poe, unfolds as a bedtime story told by a mother (Daria Nicolodi, Dario Argento’s ex-wife and Asia Argento’s mom) to her son, and as such, will probably be best appreciated by younger (or youthful-minded) audiences, who will ignore the film’s laborious plot – Luigi Cozzi and Enzo G. Castellari, who directed the original “Inglorious Bastards,” apparently worked a pile of unconnected footage into the film in its present shape – and appreciate the abundant scenes of Ferrigno’s beefy but likable Sinbad whaling on rubbery monsters and villains. Kino’s Blu-ray includes the English-language trailer issued by Cannon Films during the film’s stateside release.

Two previously reviewed titles are also making their Blu-ray debut: Warner Archive has “The Black Scorpion” (1957), while Kino Lorber offers up “The Psychopath” (1965). The former is one of the loopier entries in the ’50s Big Bug cycle, enlivened by special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien‘s stop-motion monsters, which scuttle and snatch up the supporting cast with unnerving vigor; the latter is a morbid, giallo-esque thriller penned by Robert Bloch (“Psycho”) with UK detective Patrick Wymark on the trail of a killer who leaves dolls that resemble his victims at the scene of the crime. The Blu-ray presentation brings the grislier moments in sharp focus – a big plus for “Scorpion,” whose titular creepy-crawlies are outfitted with leering humanoid faces – and feature an appealing array of extras, including commentary by Troy Howarth on “Psychopath” and an a clip from “The Animal World” (1958) which features a stop-motion collaboration between O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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One Response to Movies Till Dawn: A Surplus of Saturday Morning Strange

  1. Oh god, I remember seeing that “Sinbad” on TV…

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