Movies Till Dawn: The Saturday Morning Strange Stays Home

RoboCop” (1987, Arrow Video) In a future that bears alarming similarities to our present (though pandemic-free, it should be noted), a mega-corporation enlists a criminal gang to take over Detroit for re-development while also manufacturing a robotic super-cop – created from an officer (Peter Weller) murdered by the same gang – to give the illusion of hyper-vigilance. Savage lampoon of American excess by director Paul Verhoeven, who tricked audiences into believing it was just an ultra-violent, conservative-minded sci-fi movie (same goes with his follow-up, “Starship Troopers“). Over-the-top on every level and in the best possible way, from special make-up effects by Rob Bottin and stop-motion animation by Phil Tippett to scene-stealing turns by Miguel Ferrer, Kurtwood Smith and Paul McCrane; Arrow’s two-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray set includes both a 4K restoration of the theatrical version and the TV edit, commentary by and interviews Verhoeven (with co-writer Ed Neumeier, co-producer Jon Davison) and primary cast and crew, numerous new and vintage making-of docs, deleted and alternate scenes, and swell postcards and posters.

Masked and Anonymous” (2003, Shout! Select) Another dystopian future – one in which America resembles a banana republic – in which singer Jack Fate (Bob Dylan) is released from prison to perform at a benefit concert for the country’s collapsing economy, and encounters an array of metaphoric, decidedly Dylan-esque figures en route to the show. Feature collaboration between Dylan and co-writer/director Larry Charles was pilloried during its brief release as another hopelessly impenetrable vanity piece (see also “Renaldo and Clara“); while time hasn’t clarified much of the dialogue (“Kinda like a curse, isn’t it? Being born?”), and most of the celebrity cameos (Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Mickey Rourke, Val Kilmer, Penelope Cruz) still feel indulgent (only Luke Wilson comes out unscathed), there is a lot of great music by Dylan performed on screen and the soundtrack (which also features Dylan covers by Los Lobos, the Grateful Dead and Shirley Caesar). Shout’s Blu-ray includes a new interview with Charles, who also provides spare commentary; a making-of doc and (minor) deleted scenes round out the disc.

The Beast and the Magic Sword” (1983, Mondo Macabro) Gloomy 16th-century nobleman Waldemar Daninsky (writer/director Paul Naschy) travels to Japan in search of a cure for his lycanthropy, but instead runs afoul of samurais, ninjas, and an evil witch with a hungry pet tiger. Late entry in Naschy’s long-running and well-loved Hombre Lobo film series benefits from his partnership with Japanese backers, which allows for more production value and grisly mayhem, including a show-stopping, full-contact brawl with the aforementioned (and very real) big cat and splattery swordplay. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray – which marks the film’s first legitimate home video release in the States – bundles a 4K restoration with informative commentary by the NaschyCast crew and vintage interviews with/introduction by the late Sr. Naschy.

The Passion of Darkly Noon” (1995, Arrow Video) Having survived a deadly police on his parents’ religious community, naïve teenager Darkly Noon (Brendan Fraser) finds that his new living arrangement – with backwoods temptress Ashley Judd and her mute, oaken husband Viggo Mortensen – is sorely vexing his notions about purity and faith, and soon applies an Old Testament solution. Writer/director Philip Ridley applies the same Gothic nightmare lens as his previous effort, “The Reflecting Skin,” though the heady swirl of fever-pitch religion and hormones are often ponderous to the point of camp. But the performances, including the always-welcome Grace Zabriskie as a neighboring eccentric, hold interest, as does John de Borman‘s striking photography of the German locations. Arrow’s Blu-ray is loaded with extras, including commentary by Ridley, interviews with Mortensen, de Borman and other primary crew, and unreleased score demos by Nick Bicat.

The Astrologer” (1975, Severin Films) A government agency that uses the zodiac to determine an individual’s potential for good or evil (!) takes multi-tasking to new levels when their work on the Second Coming (!!) is sidelined by a mission to eliminate a malevolent and persuasive cult leader (producer Mark Buntzman), while the agency’s head (Bob Byrd) is also grappling with the possibility that his new wife (Monica Tidwell) will give birth to the Messiah (insert exclamation points as needed). This rarely seen feature debut of grindhouse producer/director James Glickenhaus – which also made the home video rounds as “Suicide Cult” – should please junkfilm fans with its hopelessly convoluted plot and endless reams of nonsensical dialogue, which the leads (all pretty good, it should be noted) shoulder with impressive determination. Severin’s Blu-ray includes interviews with Glickenhaus, Playmate-turned-theatrical producer Tidwell, two crew members who spill some juicy/head-spinning behind-the-scenes stories, and a visit to the NYC/upstate New York locations.

The Pit” (1981, Kino Lorber) On the advice of his malevolent talking teddy bear, creepy little kid Jamie (child actor Sammy Snyders) decides that the best way to dispose of his many tormentors is to lure them to a hole in the woods, where a pack of small, hairy and very hungry monsters await. This eccentric Canadian horror film, lensed in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, benefits from a gleeful streak of sick humor, epitomized by Jamie’s methods of getting victims to the pit (including one mean old lady in a wheelchair, who gets the “Kiss of Death” treatment), and his long, loopy conversations with Teddy, whose honeyed insinuations (also provided by Snyders) suggest Hannibal Lecter as made by Gund. Kino’s remastered Blu-ray features well-informed and very amused commentary by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation and Jason Pichonsky, who detail the film’s quirky charms and foibles; the disc also includes conversations with a grown Snyders, Jeannie Elias (who plays Jamie’s babysitter/foil) and writer/Canadian filmmaker Ian A. Stuart, who recalls the differences between director Lew Lehman‘s film and his more serious original script (which featured a much younger Jamie and the monster and Teddy angles as figments of his deranged mind). The original trailer ands spots for other Kino horror titles, including “Beware! The Blob,” round out the disc.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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