“Earthquake” (1974, Shout Select) The Big One – an earthquake measuring 9.9 on the Richter Scale – finally hits Los Angeles, unleashing catastrophic destruction upon the city and an all-star cast. Delirious disaster fetish fantasy from director Mark Robson and Universal, which rounded up a staggering number of former A-listers (Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner), then-up-and-comers (Genevieve Bujold, Richard Roundtree) and assorted oddballs (Marjoe Gortner) and subjected them to a barrage of fires, floods and collapsing buildings (including the Mullholland Dam), with disaster vet George Kennedy working overtime to rescue all of them. The script (initially written by Mario Puzo) is a loose and ludicrous collection of soap opera plotlines, but the visual effects (by Albert Whitlock and others) are impressive, especially when paired with “Sensurround,” Universal’s eardrum-rattling sound process (which reportedly cracked the ceiling of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre*). Shout Select’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray presents two versions of the film – the theatrical release and the extended TV broadcast version, which expanded several plot threads with new footage – and presents both in new 2K scans. There are also featurettes on John Williams’ score, Whitlock’s visual effects, additional TV scenes, audio interviews with cast members, and numerous promotional images, behind-the-scenes pics and trailers.
“Shaft’s Big Score!” (1972, Warner Archives Collection) Black private eye/sex machine to all the chicks John Shaft (Richard Roundtree – hello again) must stop the Italian mobsters that murdered his friend from taking over the Harlem numbers racket. Sequel to the top-grossing, Oscar-winning “Shaft” reunites Roundtree with writer Ernest Tidyman and director Gordon Parks, who also replaces Isaac Hayes as composer; the plot feels underfed, but the action is plentiful (with the concluding speedboat/helicopter chase a high point), Parks makes excellent use of the Panavision afforded by the increased budget and Roundtree – currently starring opposite Samuel L. Jackson in a 2019 “Shaft” update – remains unflappable and fly. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray offers a sparkling new 2K scan and the original trailer.
“Can’t Stop the Music” (1980, Shout! Factory) How the Village People Came To Be, according to producer Allan Carr (“Grease”) and Rhoda Morgenstern’s mom (director Nancy Walker), who envision their origin story in a manner similar to “Justice League” (high maintenance individuals in extravagant costumes who learn to work together), but adds Steve Guttenberg, Caitlyn Jenner, full-frontal male nudity at the YMCA, and lots and lots of milk. An ocean of ink has been spilled about this notorious comedy/disco musical’s ineptitude, and none of it is wrong, but I will say this: “Can’t Stop the Music” is totally absurd, but it’s never dull, and at times approximates the sort of guileless naiveté and energy that fueled some of the lower-rung Depression Era musicals. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray includes two lengthy and likable interviews with Randy Jones (the Cowboy), who discusses the production and his tenure in the Village People; Carr, documentarian Jeffrey Schwartz and Bruce Vilanch dish with abandon on the commentary track, and there’s a wealth of promotional material, including publicity photos, poster art, trading cards (!) and trailers/TV spots.
“Eyes of Laura Mars” (1978, Mill Creek Entertainment) Under fire for creating images that mix sex and violence, fashion photographer Faye Dunaway discovers that she is also seeing visions of real murders from the perspective of the killer. High-gloss supernatural thriller, based on a script by John Carpenter and produced by Jon Peters (who intended it as a vehicle for then-SO Barbra Streisand), takes its marching orders from Italian gialli; director Irvin Kershner (“The Empire Strikes Back”) reproduces their icy color palettes and emphasis on voyeurism, but is as powerless over the campy script (credited to David Zelag Goodman and Carpenter) as the cast, which includes Tommy Lee Jones, Raul Julia and Brad Dourif. Helmut Newton provided some of Dunaway’s pics; the soundtrack includes songs by Streisand, KC & the Sunshine Band, Odyssey (“Native New Yorker,” natch) and the Michael Zager Band. Mill Creek’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Kershner.
“Arabian Adventure” (1979, Kino Lorber) Handsomely appointed, “Thief of Baghdad“-styled costume fantasy with strapping young hero Oliver Tobias battling Christopher Lee for princess Emma Samms amidst an abundance of flying carpets, grumpy genies (Milton Reid), dragons, a smart-alecky sidekick (Puneet Sira, now a prolific TV and film director) and even Mickey Rooney. “Star Wars” largely rendered films like this moot by 1979 (though its flying carpet dogfights are unquestionably a nod to its influence), and if “Adventure” – directed by Kevin Connor (“The People that Time Forgot“) and penned by “Doctor Who” vet Brian Hayles – lacks the top-flight special effects of “Star Wars,” it does sport some lavish sets, impressive (for the scope of its budget) cityscape models and creatures, most notably a trio of mechanical dragons overseen by Rooney, and a brief appearance by Peter Cushing, though sadly, not in a scene with Lee. Kino’s Blu-ray (which does well by Alan Hume‘s cinematography) includes informative commentary by O’Connor.
*Eagle-eyed Reader Joe tells me that this is Hollywood baloney (see comments). Everything else I wrote is probably true.
I don’t think Earthquake actually cracked the ceiling at the Chinese Theater…urban myth. I did see the movie in that theater and there was netting under the ceiling in case anything shook loose.
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