Movies Till Dawn: Bless the Beavers and the Children

* indicates that this title is also available to rent, stream, or purchase on various platforms. Please note that streaming options may differ from these home video presentations in terms of visuals, supplemental features, etc.

“Hundreds of Beavers” (2022) The only things standing between the hapless yet durable Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, and the hand of a grumpy furrier’s bewitching daughter (Olivia Graves) are the (literal) hundreds of malicious beavers that ruined his apple farm and now view him as their personal punching bag. Said beavers are played by a host of actors in sports mascot-styled costumes (same goes for the raccoons, bunnies, and sled dogs in the film) which may suggest a 21st century take on Sid and Marty Krofft’s mind-bending kid TV, but “Beavers” hews a lot closer to the silent comedy of Buster Keaton and early Merrie Melodies cartoon shorts, with which it shares a wholehearted disregard for the constraints of gravity and reality. As with Tews’ previous feature, the equally delirious “Lake Michigan Monster” (the editor of which, Mike Cheslik, takes over here as director and co-writer with Tews), “Beavers” unfolds entirely in black-and-white and with no dialogue save for a symphony of grunts, thumps, and clangs, and employs a host of film techniques, including animation of puppetry, to allow Tews and his beaver foes to sail through the air, plunge through frozen rivers, and bash each other with Jackie Chan-like abandon. Mayhem for mayhem’s sake wears out its welcome quickly, but Cheslik and Tews have mined the gag potential in a man vs. nature scenario with a thoroughness and inventiveness that would undoubtedly please Chuck Jones, and the results are laugh-out-loud funny, even if you aren’t aware of its inspirations (and save for a few suggestive gags, it’s perfectly fine for kids). Available now on Prime Video, Apple TV, and Fandor, with other platforms to follow.

Over the Edge” * (1979, Shout Select) The planned community of New Granada, Colorado, offers new condominiums and apartment complexes, paved streets and a sparkling, sterile new high school for the families that town leaders hope will flock there, but nothing for rootless latchkey teenagers, for whom crushing boredom, neglect, and dismissal are the fuel for a wave of increasingly more violent crimes that eventually threaten to engulf the town. Youthquake drama from Roger Corman alum Jonathan Kaplan offers one of the most dead-on screen depictions of teenage ennui and angst, and the extreme behavior it can provoke, rivaled only by co-writer Tim Hunter’s own “River’s Edge.” The documentary-style aesthetic is well matched by the affect-free performances of its cast, which include a young Matt Dillon and Vincent Spano; the orgy of destruction that caps the film was enough to frighten Warner Bros away from releasing the film, but plenty of kids caught “Over the Edge” on cable and felt more than a pang of kinship with their on-screen peers. Shout Select’s Blu-ray features a new 2K scan of the film as well as commentary by Kaplan, Hunter, co-writer Charlie Haas (who reunited with Dillion for “Tex”) and producer George Litto; Kaplan and Haas are also featured in separate interviews, while virtually any question you might have about the film is featured in a sprawling, seven-part making-of documentary. There’s also a second commentary with star Michael Kramer, who played Carl, and journalist Mike Sacks, an isolated music/effects track that highlights the hopeful/hopeless soundtrack by Cheap Trick, the Cars, and the Ramones, and the full 1974 educational production “Destruction: Fun or Dumb” which is excerpted in the feature.

LOLA” * (2022, Severin Films) Orphaned after the deaths of their parents, a pair of ’40s-era British girls grow up to become brilliant twenty-somethings (played by Emma Appleton and Stefanie Martini) and discover that they can access broadcast signals from the past and future with the help of their creation, a device named LOLA, after their mother. With it, they discover not only David Bowie and Stanley Kubrick, but also the outcome of World War II; the pair’s knowledge of future events proves spectacularly helpful to Allied forces, until it doesn’t in horrifying fashion. Ambitious British science fiction (lensed in Ireland) from director Andrew Legge unfolds as found footage: the sisters film their every action with a homemade sound camera, which lends some scenes remarkable naturalism and suspense and strains credulity in others. What does work, without question, is the premise itself, which veers from giddy wonder to a domino-like cascade of nightmarish events; Legge’s recreation of vintage film stock (rendered with antique processing equipment) and newsreel footage is also top-notch, especially in lending verisimilitude to the film’s numerous special effects sequences. Severin’s Blu-ray includes commentary with Legge and producer Alan Maher, as well as a making-of and outtake; two Legge shorts, “The Girl with the Mechanical Maiden” (with Dominic West) and “The Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish” are also included, and echo “LOLA’s” collision between past and future technologies.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker” * (1983, Severin Films) I covered Code Red’s Blu-ray edition of this disturbing psycho-thriller in 2021, but Severin ups the ante with a 4K upgrade. I stand by my original assessment of director William Asher’s film as a “Gothic shocker in sleazoid clothing… long cited as an unsung ’80s horror title, delivering both ghastly murders and miles of deviant psychology as well as pointed subtextual commentary on the ugliness of the adult world.” Severin’s Blu-ray ports over several of the supplemental features from the Code Red disc, including commentaries by star Jimmy McNichol, producer/writer Steven Breimer and co-writer Alan Jay Gluckman, and interviews with McNichol, his late co-star Susan Tyrell (who is nothing less than astonishing), and FX artist Allan Apone, and adds a third commentary track by co-producer Eugene Mazzola and interviews with co-star Bo Svensen, DP Robbie Greenberg, and editor (and future Empire Pictures director) Ted Nicolaou.

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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