Movies Till Dawn: 2018 Gift Guide for Eclectic Insomniacs Part 2 (Nostalgia and Nightmares Edition)

As ’80s teen comedies go, I’d rather watch “Valley Girl” (1983),  Martha Coolidge‘s salty-sweet tribute to life in the San Fernando Valley, than John Hughes’ c.v. The performances are charming (especially leads Deborah Foreman and a pre-fame Nicolas Cage, but also E.G. Daily, Cameron Dye and Michael Bowen), its observations on teenagers are unvarnished and unpretentious, and the humor is balanced by honest angst (the soundtrack is better, too). Shout Factory’s Blu-ray – part of its Shout Select imprint – partners a new 4K restoration with new and vintage extras; chief among the former is a conversation with Coolidge, Daily and co-star Heidi Holicker, and a visit to the Valley Relics Museum, while the latter includes Coolidge’s commentary and a wealth of interviews from 2003, including Cage, Richard Blade, Peter Case and Josie Cotton, and music videos for Modern English’s “I Melt with You” and the Plimsouls’ “A Million Miles Away.”

Also from Shout Select: “The Jerk” (1979), Steve Martin and Carl Reiner‘s supremely silly tribute to/spoof of Depression Era rags-to-riches stories, as viewed from the perspective of Martin’s fathomlessly dense hero. There’s a rich vein of pure absurdity flowing through the film (e.g., the Opti-Grab), but “The Jerk” is fueled entirely by Martin’s Navin Johnson, who begins as a toss-away line from his stand-up act (“I was born a poor black child”) and manages to become both a wrecking ball of physical comedy and a Chaplin-esque figure of sweet naivete. Shout’s 40th Anniversary Blu-ray includes new conversations with Martin and Reiner, as well as co-writers Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, as well as trailers and extended cat juggling.

Barry Sonnenfeld‘s adaptation of Elmore Leonard‘s “Get Shorty” (1995) is also anchored by its lead performance; here, it’s John Travolta as a preternaturally cool mob fixer with a starry-eyed dream of being a movie mogul. He’s well matched by Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Rene Russo and Delroy Lindo as Hollywood flora and fauna, and John Lurie’s jittery soul-jazz score. Shout Select’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray includes numerous vintage featurettes devoted to Leonard, the cast,  Sonnenfeld, and screenwriter Scott Frank (“Out of Sight”), as well as a deleted scene featuring Ben Stiller.

More remember-when: “Can’t Hardly Wait” (1998), which celebrates its 20th (!) anniversary, is nowhere near “Valley Girl” in terms of insight or sheer exuberance, but it has a huge cast of future pros –lead Ethan Embry and Jennifer Love Hewitt, as well as Seth Green, Lauren Ambrose, Jason Segel, Clea Duvall, Donald Faison, Selma Blair and Peter Facinelli – and abstains from the self-referential, self-amused tone of other ’90s teen comedies. Mill Creek’s Blu-ray offers previously issued commentary tracks, a cast and crew reunion and deleted/extended scenes.

Meanwhile, Warner Archives Collection brings a batch of favorites to the Blu-ray fold, including Robert Altman‘s lysergic fairy tale “Brewster McCloud” (1970), with Bud Cort as an eccentric whose dream of flight is sorely tempered by Houston Astrodome tour guide Shelley Duvall. Though doggedly opaque, “Brewster” is still freaky fun, thanks to its homage/razzing of movie tropes (“The Wizard of Oz” in particular) and some wistful songs by John Philips (who co-produced with Lou Adler).

The Thing From Another World” (1951) also makes its Blu-ray debut from WAC; this loose adaptation of John W. Campbell’s short story about an Arctic science camp’s discovery of a shape-shifting alien (played here by James Arness, who is relegated to a single, towering form ) has long been cited as a high water mark in 1950s science fiction, thanks to its tense pace and brisk, smart dialogue (in the vein of producer Howard Hawks‘ comedies). Warner’s remastered Blu-ray, presented in its proper aspect ratio, belongs in every SF fan’s collection.

Horror fans should also make room for Warner’s “Horror of Dracula” (1958) Blu-ray; director Terence Fisher‘s fast, lean and bloody take on the Bram Stoker novel launched England’s Hammer Films as a fright film powerhouse for the next two decades and Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing – as an alarmingly sensual Dracula and a vigorous Professor Van Helsing, respectively – as its standard bearers. Warner’s Blu-ray offers the UK version of the film, including previously restored footage and the original color palette, as well as a trailer.

And Shout Factory has “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” (1966), with Lee’s first return as the Count and Andrew Keir replacing Cushing as his nemesis. It’s not on par with “Horror” – Lee doesn’t speak, for one – but it has some gruesome set pieces and an inventive finale. Shout’s Blu-ray has a new 4K restoration of the American version, as well as the UK version and two new commentaries by Troy Howarth and Steve Haberman, as well as a vintage track that includes Lee and Barbara Shelley, a making-of doc and behind-the-scenes footage.

And for those who prefer their movie gifts in multiple numbers: Warner Archives has the “Bogart and Bacall Collection,” a four-disc set compiling the iconic husband-and-wife screen duo’s collaborations, including deluxe presentations of “To Have and Have Not” (1944), “The Big Sleep” (1946) and “Dark Passage” (1947).

More offbeat-minded collectors may want “The Complete Sartana” (Arrow Video, 1968-1970), which compiles the five original Italian Westerns about the nattily dressed gunslinger (played by Gianni Garko and George Hilton), who deals out death for purely monetary reasons. The tone of the quintet veers between violent action and black comedy – Sartana employs an array of outrageous weaponry and even appears to have magical powers – which should find favor with Eurocult fans. Arrow’s five-disc set features multiple commentaries, interviews with Hilton, “If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death” director Gianfranco Parolini, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, numerous trailers and promotional material.

Lastly: Well Go’s “Detective Dee” (2010-2018) three-movie set, which is available only through Walmart, compiles director Tsui Hark‘s trilogy of action-fantasy-thrillers about the titular crimestopper, who investigated cases of supernatural activity in 6th century China. Hark unleashes a torrent of CGI effects to dazzle viewers, but never forgoes plot in favor of spectacle; Dee (played by Andy Lau and later, Mark Chao as a more youthful version) is a shrewd skeptic who employs logic to dispel superstition. Terrific fun.

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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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