Movies Till Dawn: Beyond Belief Part 2

M3GAN” (Universal Home Video) Toy designer Allison Williams (who’s fast becoming a horror star) seeks to resolve a need for companionship in her niece (Cady McGraw), who is grieving the loss of her parents, and creates the titular robot friend, a pre-teen-sized fashion plate whose artificial intelligence component takes a curious approach of no-fucks-given attitude and cold-blooded vigilantism towards potential threats. Less frightening than unnerving, Gerard Johnstone’s sci-fi thriller for Jason Blum and James Wan arrives amidst the current anxiety storm over AI self-realization (read: robot overlords) but is more concerned with delivering campy creeps (e.g. M3GAN’s utterly gonzo, much-memed dance routine) before an “Aliens”-style showdown with Williams. Satisfyingly weird and weirdly satisfying; Universal’s Blu-ray/DVD/Digital bundle offers both the unrated and theatrical cuts and a slew of making-of featurettes.

Lover’s Lane” (1999, Arrow Video) A hook-handed killer flees an asylum and returns to the small town scene of his original crimes to continue his murder spree, this time targeting the children of his first victims. Low-budget horror-thriller lensed in Seattle, WA is probably best known as the film debut of Anna Faris, but is also distinguished by a genuinely surprising amount of did-that-really-happen moments – not the least of which is the true identity of the killer – to distinguish it from the revived (and largely dull) stalk-and-slash scene of the late ’90s. With TV regulars Riley Smith and Richard Sanders (Les Nessman on “WKRP”), of all people; Arrow’s Blu-ray features a 2K scan from the original negative as well full- and wide-screen versions and an array of extras, including commentary by writers/producers Geof Miller and Rory Veal, cast and crew interviews, and promotional material.

The Jackie Chan Collection. Vol. 1” (1976-1982, Shout! Factory) Seven-disc set compiling martial arts superstar Chan’s early efforts as he transitioned from stuntman and background player (“Enter the Dragon”) to his unique blend of physical dynamo and self-deprecating comic actor. Opening titles are a mixed bag of traditional wuxia and the my-fist-your-face school of moviemaking popularized by Bruce Lee: “Killer Meteors,” which teams Chan with Jimmy Wang Yu, and “Shaolin Wooden Men” (both ’76) find Chan playing it straight in well-worn adventure scenarios, while “To Kill With Intrigue (’77) allows for glimmers of Chan’s comedy in its far-ranging and undeniably weird plot. Chan’s increasing role as stunt coordinator and action director for his titles takes sharper focus in “Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin” (’78), which further hones the twin poles of his screen persona (the Determined Little Guy); unfortunately, his first U.S. effort, “Battle Creek Brawl (’80) doesn’t give him enough room to play up his comic and athletic talents. Fortunately, the set closes on a minor triumph, 1982’s “Dragon Lord,” in which Chan (as director, writer, and action director) delivers an early template of his signature elaborate and astonishing set pieces fused with broad comedy. If you’re a Chan devotee and haven’t snapped up previous releases of these titles, “Vol. 1” compiles a highly entertaining cross-section of his best early work and piles on the extras, including two cuts of “Dragon Lord” (Hong Kong and international releases), expert commentary by James Mudge of Eastern Kicks and historian David West, interviews with cast members of “Dragon Lord,” and a wealth of new material for “Battle Creek Brawl,” including a feature-length doc on Chan’s career in the 1970s and archival interviews with Chan and cast and crew. Vol. 2, FYI, is on the way.

The Cassandra Cat” (1963, Second Run) Eccentric but charming Czech fable about the titular feline – a dyspeptic tabby – whose habit of revealing people’s true nature via its wrap-around New Wave shades throws a small village into turmoil. Vojtech Jasny’s film, which netted the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, unfolds its plot in a somewhat convoluted fashion, with actors playing multiple characters, but the visual elements – the tabby’s talents, which depict characters’ hidden selves through primary colors, and a magic trick which appears to show characters’ clothing moving on their own – are both striking and amusing, and subtly reinforce the film’s quiet subtext about secret agendas (a trenchant issue for Czech filmmakers in the early ’60s under the restrictive Communist rule of the period). The all-region Blu-ray from UK imprint Second Run – and the first Blu-ray release for this title – features a 4K restoration and commentary by the Projection Booth crew, as well as a 1963 animated short, “Badly Painted Hen,” by “Cassandra” co-scripter Jiri Brdecka (“The Fabulous World of Jules Verne”), which touches on issues of authority and creativity addressed in the feature. A trailer and liner notes by Cerise Howard round out the disc.

Attack Force Z” (1982, Severin Films) Australian-Taiwanese production follows the playbook for “elite military team infiltrates enemy territory” stories – here, it’s Allied commandos looking for downed plane survivors on a Chinese island occupied by the Japanese during World War II. The low-budget feature is otherwise distinguished by its cast, which features pre-fame turns by Mel Gibson and Sam Neill and U.S. expat star John Philip Law (“Danger: Diabolik”) and Australian stalwarts Chris Haywood and John Waters, as well as several economical combat sequences handled capably by director Tim Burstall. A staple of PD home video releases, Severin’s Blu-ray benefits from its 2K scan from the original camera negative and a making-of featurette with Haywood, Waters, and executive producer John McCallum.

Secret of the Incas” (1953, Kino Lorber) Down-on-his-luck American adventurer Charlton Heston hopes to improve his current status – slumming as a tourist guide in Peru – by locating the Sunburst, a legendary Incan treasure located at Machu Picchu; Romanian defector Nicole Maurey provides transportation to the treasure via a stolen plane, while Thomas Mitchell, as Heston’s duplicitous former partner, puts up a roadblock with his own search for the Sunburst. Much ado has been made about this film’s similarities with another Paramount production – namely, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – and while there are obvious shared elements (Heston’s fedora and leather jacket combo, the use of a beam of light to find hidden treasure, and Mitchell’s partner-turned-foe), they are mostly secondary components and don’t forge a real connection to the Spielberg film. Holding greater interest, and compensating for a chatty script, are the film’s exterior location shooting at Cuzco and Machu Picchu, with many locals serving as extras, and the presence of ’50s exotica music legend Yma Sumac, whose astonishing vocal range is featured in a handful of musical numbers. Kino’s Blu-ray – a sharp 4K scan of the 35mm negative elements – includes commentary by historian Toby Roan.

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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