Laserblast: Next, Bug, Tekkon Kinkreet

It’s a busy week for DVD fans, with numerous new titles making their debut and a ton of oldies resurrected and/or re-issued. We start off with NEXT, the high-profile psychic-thriller starring Nicholas Cage, which came out earlier this year. Despite the high-power star, this film squandered its intriguing premise on a standard Hollywood action scenario. Cage plays a Vegas lounge entertainer who really can see the future. The government wants him to help stop terrorists from detonating a nuclear bomb, but he has more important things to do, like trying to find the girl of his dreams (or premonitions, if you will). There are some nice scenes of Cage forseeing possible alternate futures before deciding what course of action to take, but the whole thing is ultimately undermined by a last-minute fake-out ending. The film is now available on DVD and HD DVD. Bonus features inclue a trailer, an 18-minute making-of documentary, a seven-minute featurette discussing the visual effects, an interview with the filmmakers discussing the romantic elements of the film, and a two-minute interview with Jessica Biel speculating on what she would do if she could see into the future. There is no audio commentary.

The week’s other new genre titles include two films that received limited theatrical release. Arriving on Blu-ray disc, TEKKON KINKREET is a piece of Japanese anime that got some positive notices when during its brief time on a handful of American screens.  BUG, a thriller starring Ashley Judd, gets a Special Edition DVD release from Lionsgate. Bonus features include a featurette titled “BUG: An Introduction” and an interview with director William Friedkin (THE EXORCIST).
So much for the new stuff; now let’s take a look at the oldies, beginning with 2003’s UNDERWORLD, which arrives this week on Blu-ray disc. This story – about a blood feud between vampires and werewolves – is too high-concept for its own good, but the film did get interesting in its final half-hour. The previous DVD releases included an extended cut of the film, plus behind-the-scenes bonus featurettes. The Blu-ray vesion incudes outtakes, a documentary, audio commentary, a music video, and the featurettes.
Several previously available Dario Argento titles are back on shelves this week, presumably to cash in on interest generated by the showing of his latest film THE MOTHER OF TEARS at the Toronto International Film Festival a couple weeks ago. If you’re a fan, you probably already own THE STENDAL SYNDROME, SUSPIRIA, OPERA, and CAT O’NINE TAILS. If you’re not a fan, SUSPIRIA seems to be the one with the biggest cross-over appeal. The version released this week is a two-disc special edition – presumably the same as the old three-disc limited edition, minus the soundtrack CD. Bonus feature include trailers, TV commercials and radio spots, plus a music video and an hour-long documentary featuring interviews with Argento and others on the making of the film.
Besides Argento’s directing efforts, two films produced by him also re-emerge on disc this week: DEMONS and DEMONS 2, both directed by Lamberto Bava (son of the late, great Mario Bava). The first of the two is a pretty good horror film about patrons trapped inside a theatre showing a horror film about people turning into demons – and the on-screen action begins to take place for real; on the DVD, Bava provides a pretty good audio commentary, recorded years ago for the laser disc. The second one is not bad, exactly, but it is pretty much a re-hash; instead of picking up where DEMON left off (with humanity facing extinction), the new one hits the re-set button and starts over; also, the apartment building setting is not as interesting as the grand old movie house from the first film.
If that’s not enough demons for you, how about NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2? This is a pretty dire sequel to a film that was none-too-good to begin with. Perhaps the biggest crime is that, instead of using its predecessor as a lauching pad to get to the good stuff quick, the follow-up restarts the countdown, forcing the audience to sit through more boring exposition scenes.
CUJO is back in a 25th Anniversary Edition DVD. Previous DVD releases offered a bare-bones presentation of the film (which is based on a Stephen King novel)  The new disc is supposed to have improved sound and picture quality, but there are only two bonus features: an audio commentary by director Lewis Teague (who did a good job with the commentary on CAT’S EYE) and a three-part documentary on the making of the film. The film itself is an interesting attempt to sustain a story set almost entirely in a locked car during its second half; it works better than you might expect, but in the end it’s still just a gimmick – a great half-hour episode expanded to feature length. Fans of the author take note: besides CUJO, this week also sees the release of a Stephen King Gift Set, which includes THE LANGOLIERS, THE STAND, and THE GOLDEN YEARS.
If you haven’t already purchased the Ringu Anthology of Terror, you might be interested in the Double Feature DVD of RINGO 0 and RASEN (a.k.a. SPIRAL).  RASEN, the first sequel to the Japanese film RINGU (which inspired THE RING), is like its predecessor based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, but the filmmakers obviously had a hard time reconciling the novel’s story with the changes the previous film had made in the narrative; the result is a intellectually interesting but dry and static. RINGU 0 is a prequel that shows what happened to Sadako before she became an evil ghost girl lurking in the bottom of a well: she was an aspiring actress in Tokyo, trying to lead a normal life, before everything went wrong, leading to a CARRIE-type final reel. This film has its admirers, but the story is again marred by the difficulty of marrying Suzuki’s literary concept with the familiar imagery established in the first film.
For some reason, Tobe Hooper’s sophomore film, EATEN ALIVE, is getting the 2-disc special edition treatment. Nevill Brand stars as a hotel manager (shades of Norman Bates) who likes to slice up his guests with a scythe and feed them to the pet alligator living in the swamp (which seems to reach right up to his doorstep). The movie has none of the gut-level intensity of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but Hooper fans may want to check it out anyway. Robert Englund fans take note: the actor makes his debut here, in a supporting role.
Universal offers up a DVD package of two unrated DEAD movies: DAWN OF THE DEAD (the 2004 remake, not the original) and LAND OF THE DEAD (which was written and directed by George A. Romero, who also created the original version of DAWN OF THE DEAD). Both of these films have been previously released on DVD; the new release offers nothing new except the opportunity to purchase them together in one package.
DEADLY FRIEND, one of Wes Craven’s lesser films, is back for another go-round on DVD. The film feels like an afterschool special gone awry, with a precocious teen who brings his dead girlfriend back to life with some kind of computer-thingy inserted into her head. For some reason this makes her walk and act like a robot – with a robot’s strength as well. The result is hokey and unconvincing, and you wonder how  a collaboration between Craven and Bruce Joel Rubin (GHOST) could turn out so badly.
THE HAND is the first film officially directed by Oliver Stone (who has tried to flush his actual directorial debut, SEIZURE, down the memory hole). Michael Caine gives a good performance as a vengeful man convinced that his severed hand is murdering the people he hates, but the movie never manages to click into high gear.
COUNT DRACULA is  PBS mini-series adaptation (three one-hour episodes) of Bram Stoker’s famous novel, starring Louis Jordan in the title role and with Frank Finlay providing one of the best Van Helsings ever. Although this adaptation was widely praised back in the ’70s for sticking close to the source material, the pacing is actually pretty flacid, and the video production does not do justice to the book’s grand Gothic imagery.
FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is the last anthology horror film produced by Amicus, a British company that churned out similar hits like TALES FROM THE CRYPT and ASYLUM back in the 1970s. Instead of a comic book or stories by Robert Bloch, this one is based on the work of English author R. Chetwynd-Hayes. The film is not bad, butthe scares are pretty tame, and the obligatory comic relief episode is not so very funny.
You can peruse all of this week’s horror, science-fiction, and fantasy film releases below.

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