Movies Till Dawn: Otherworldly Encounters

The UFO Incident” (1975, Kino Lorber) Unnerving TV-movie take on Betty and Barney Hill’s alleged abduction by aliens, which is revealed through hypnosis by psychiatrist Barnard Hughes. Though directed with considerable atmosphere by TV vet Richard Colla (whose judicious use of lighting helps to sell the limited makeup for the aliens), “Incident” belongs to stars James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons, who shoulder both the intimate drama of the Hills’ relationship (complicated by their interracial status in the 1960s) and harrowing emotional workouts as they recall their alleged encounter with the aliens. Regardless of your take on the Hills’ experience, the performances make this a compelling entry in the ’70s TV-movie canon; Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray includes commentary by historian Gary Gerani, who knows his vintage TV, and who also contributes a thoughtful documentary on the film’s composer, Billy Goldenberg.

Flatliners” (1990, Arrow Video) Intrigued by visions of the afterlife reported by resuscitated patients, a quintet of medical students conduct increasingly dangerous experiments that revive them from a state of death. A compelling notion about the risks of defying death at the heart of this glossy science fiction thriller becomes a oversimplified morality play in the hands of director Joel Schumacher and writer Peter Filardi, who give an impressive cast of then-up-and-comers (Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Hope Davis) little to do but brood; Schumacher does manage some wonderfully overripe visuals at the students’ neon Castle Frankenstein medical facility (played by Loyola University and photographed by Jan de Bont) and a flurry of jump-scares. Arrow’s 4K Blu-ray is loaded with new extras, including observant commentary by critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry and interviews with Filardi, de Bont, composer James Newton Howard, and others.

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands” (1978, Film Movement Classics) When her libertine husband (Jose Wilker) dies while in pursuit of excess, Brazilian widow Dona Flor (Sonia Braga) marries a solid, dependable pharmacist (Mauro Mendonça), but finds herself unable to shake the memory of her late spouse, which presents itself in as a still-passionate and totally unclothed spirit. Top-grossing Brazilian fantasy from director Bruno Barretto is an earthy and frequently funny take on the juxtapositions (or clashes) at the heart of both the human and Brazilian experience – love and sex, death and faith, religion and spiritualism, happiness and satisfaction, the sacred and the profane- and the pull that each exerts on us each day. The extraordinary color and grit of the locations (the city of Bahia) and local customs (Carnival, Candomble rituals), as well as the music of Chico Buarque heighten the sense of magic as a part of the fabric of the characters’ lives; Film Movement’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Barretto, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and insightful liner notes by filmmaker/costume designer Mary Jane Marcasiano.

Luminous Procuress” (1971, Second Run Films) A mystical figure in nature drag leads two young men through a mysterious house where a series of ritualistic tableaux (some quite graphic) take place. Visually striking feature-length effort by artist Steven Arnold borrows from the underground and arthouse film scenes of the 1950s and ’60s: Warhol and Dali, who were both admirers of the film, are evoked, as is the abandon of Jack Smith’s work and the witchy aesthetic of Kenneth Anger, though Arnold’s hypnotic use of color and editing (heightened in no small part by a decision to replace the dialogue track with an unknown language) to suggest a lysergic state of mind is his own unique contribution. With the San Francisco troupe the Cockettes and a hypnotic electronic score by Warner Jepson. Second Run Film’s Blu-ray presents the painstaking restoration of “Procuress” from its 16mm source and includes an interview with producer Harry Tsvi Strauch and liner notes by Elena Gorfinkel and Steve Seid.

Planet of the Vampires” (1965, Kino Lorber Studio Classics) The crews of two spaceships are drawn to a remote, fog-shrouded planet, where they are preyed upon by the shadowy and seemingly dead inhabitants. Eerie science fiction/horror hybrid from pioneering Italian director employs Gothic sensibilities in the framework of a lurid pulp space opera and somehow yields a uniquely haunting effort, heightened considerably by his ability to conjure unsettling images with color, production design, and limited special effects (of his own design). Frequently cited as an influence on “Alien” (note the giant skeleton, distress signal, and spaceship design), Bava’s “Planet” doesn’t get the recognition as his Earthbound horrors (“Black Sunday”) but is a worthy title in his memorable c.v. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray features a new 2K restoration (beautiful) and bundles vintage commentary by Bava scholar Tim Lucas with an new track by the great Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw; two installments of “Trailers from Hell” featuring Joe Dante and Josh Olson, round out the set, along with the original Italian-language opening credits, and sections of the alternate music score by Kendall Schmidt (the electronic score by Gino Marinuzzi, Jr., is eminently preferable and wonderfully creepy).

Fire in the Sky” (1993, Shout! Factory) Director Robert Lieberman and writer Tracy Torme offers a variation of sorts on “UFO Incident” by depicting the emotional impact of an alleged otherworldly encounter. The dependable D.B. Sweeney is the real-life Travis Walton, who claimed to have been abducted and subjected to horrific experiments in 1975; an impressive cross-section of character actors, including Robert Patrick, Peter Berg, Craig Sheffer, and Henry Thomas, play his companions on the night of the alleged kidnapping, which lands them in hot water with state investigator James Garner. The most memorable elements of “Sky” are the brief flashbacks to Walton’s alleged experience inside the UFO, which give many horror films a run for their money in the unceasing nightmare department; the material involving his friends is well acted and thoughtful but at times weighs down the forward momentum of the film. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray is front-loaded with extras designed to fill in information gaps for fans through scene specific commentary by Lieberman and detailed audio-only interviews with Sweeney, Patrick, and composer Mark Isham.

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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