HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Friday, June 29, 2012


It's pretty much an established fact that being high can make a funny movie even funnier.  But can being high make a movie that isn't funny in the first place funny? 

That's what the makers of MAC AND DEVIN GO TO HIGH SCHOOL (2012) are counting on, so much so that the movie's introduction--delivered by a talking, badly CGI-animated joint named Slow Burn--urges impending viewers to either light up at once or stop the movie and don't watch it until they've procured some weed.  

It would take an awful lot of weed to even begin to enjoy this movie unless maybe you dropped some acid, too.  The sketchy plot consists of Snoop Dogg as the super-cool "Mac", who has been attending high school for fifteen years and is admired by all because he sells the best weed, being paired for a science project with the class brain Devin (Wiz Khalifa). 

This odd coupling turns out to be mutually beneficial, as Devin helps Mac increase his brain power (to impress their gorgeous substitute teacher) and Mac helps the straight-laced Devin forget about all that "self-improvement" nonsense and turn into a perpetually wasted stoner.  That's about it as far as the story goes.  Much of the film consists of Devin inhaling ungodly amounts of weed from Mac's elaborate bongs while lots of inept distorted-reality effects show us how really, really stoned he is.
The higher he gets, the more we're supposed to laugh, although unlike most of the better stoner comedies such as "Up in Smoke" (which you don't have to be stoned to enjoy), there are very few actual jokes or funny bits of business.  One scene in which Mac holds a competition among friends to see who has the best toking style features the wheelchair-bound character "Knees Down" (Andy Milonakis) sticking a joint up his girlfriend's ass and inhaling her weed-laced fart, which I guess is good for a chuckle if you're wasted enough. 

Despite Snoop claiming "we're the new Cheech and Chong" during the closing credits, both his acting and comedic talents are practically nonexistent.  Wiz Khalifa fares a bit better but his character goes from studious nerd to all-out weedhead so quickly that we hardly get any transitional gags like him showing up in class stoned or trying to function in straight society while helplessly baked. 

Mostly they just smoke tons of weed in Mac's apartment until it's time to touch briefly on the next plot point such as the big science project or graduation day.  A side trip into softcore porn breaks the monotony as Mac gets Devin laid at a massage parlor. The film also takes time out to promote the soundtrack album with a music video of Snoop and Wiz waxing poetic on the joys of toking up nonstop to a languid hip hop beat. 

Besides science class and graduation, other elements of high school comedy are given short shrift.  The school's name is funny--"N. Hale High School"--and the substitute science teacher who has Mac all a-flutter, Ms. Huck (Teairra Mari), is a knockout.  The obligatory bad guy, assistant principal Mr. Skinnfloot (Derek D), flits in and out of the movie with little comic effect--the script doesn't even bother to come up with an amusing comeuppance for him at the end.

Much of the time spent at the school consists of video-diary comments from the students about how cool Mac is.  A potentially funny rivalry between Devin and his competitor for class valedictorian, Mahatma Chang Greenberg (Paul Iacono), goes nowhere, as does Michael Epps' character of flaky teacher Mr. Armstrong.  Even the traditional "Where are they now?" tag fails to come up with anything worth busting a giggle over. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  No subtitles.  Extras include a smoke-hazed commentary with Snoop, Wiz, and director Dylan Brown, and a marathon closing credits crawl that contains a making-of featurette. 

As a low-budget comedy about nonconformist high schoolers, MAC AND DEVIN GO TO HIGH SCHOOL doesn't even come close to the wretched SCREWBALLS, which at least contained actual jokes and made a genuine effort to get laughs.  You can follow Slow Burn's advice if you want and get stoned out of your gourd before watching this, but unless it magically increases your tolerance for boredom you'd be better off just watching "Scooby-Doo" cartoons.

Buy it at

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

BLACK LIMOUSINE -- DVD review by porfle

David Arquette gives the best dramatic performance that I've ever seen from him in BLACK LIMOUSINE (2010), which is good since he's in almost every scene and the whole movie revolves around him.  What's also good is that after what seems like a somewhat boring and meandering start, this odd and at times confusingly surrealistic art film gradually begins to resonate on an emotional level.

Arquette gives his all to the role of Jack MacKenzie, a film composer who lost it all on the verge of success due to a car crash that killed his daughter Mary.  Now divorced and down on his luck, Jack takes a job as a limo driver and meets a prominent actor (Nicholas Bishop) he hopes will be his ticket back into the movie business. 

Meanwhile, one of his AA buddies turns out to be struggling actress-model Erica Long (Bijou Phillips), whose billboard he has long admired.  While reticent at first, she begins to respond to his tentative flirtations and they seem on the way to a romantic relationship.  But just when things start going his way, Jack's luck turns sour again and he finds his grip on reality slipping away with potentially disastrous results.

While deliberately slow and contemplative, with lots of art house style by director Carl Colpaert that will turn off some and captivate others, BLACK LIMOUSINE draws us into Jack's world so that we can ride the emotional rollercoaster with him and watch his life twist one way and then the other from his own fevered point of view. 

We can sympathize with his yearning to create music once again and reach out for human contact after his ex-wife Nash (Carla Ortiz) shuts him out, thinking their daughter's death may have been partly his fault.  We know he must be a pretty good guy since his surviving daughter Kate (Jacqueline Mackenzie) is crazy about him, although Nash's new husband Russell (Patrick Fabian) thinks he's a lowlife and hates his guts. 

The scenes of Jack and the rather difficult Erica warming up to each other avoid excess cuteness thanks to her abrasiveness--she's like the irritant that causes an oyster to make a pearl--and the fact that Jack's overheated imagination transforms their courtship into a surreal sci-fi odyssey (fans of Kubrick's 2001 will appreciate the deliriously unsubtle symbolism of their first sexual encounter). 

So dreamlike are some of Jack's experiences that we begin to doubt what's real and what isn't--as does he--especially when his promising meeting with an enterprising production assistant (Petra Sanader), which he's confident will lead to greater things, ends on a bizarre note that leaves him helpless with hysterical laughter.  At other times we get a more objective view of Jack's alienation as we watch his dealings with other people begin to fall apart.

The most overtly unreal sequence (not counting the moment when his crabby landlady, played by the divinely grotesque Lin Shaye, starts barking gibberish at him) is likely the film's high point, when a drunken Jack is hijacked in his own limousine by a death's head goth who drives him to his deceased daughter's school play rehearsal.  Her impassioned performance of "No, No, Nothing Has Changed" to an emotionally devastated Jack, backed by a children's choir, is powerful and haunting.  

There's an almost TAXI DRIVER-like inevitability to what follows as a downward spiral of events draws Jack ever deeper into madness.  This leads to a conclusion that's shattering at first, and then puzzlingly ambiguous--there are, in fact, two endings, as though this were one of those "choose your own adventure" stories. 

Since I assume one is what really happened and the other is a "what if", I haven't quite decided yet how BLACK LIMOUSINE really ends.  (For me, anyway.)  Some viewers will find this infuriating.  It does give you something to think about as the end credits roll, though.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  There are no subtitles or extras. 

The best thing about BLACK LIMOUSINE is finding out that with the right role, David Arquette can give a strong, powerful dramatic performance that's good enough to carry an entire film.  What some may consider the worst thing about it is its ambiguity, although others will find this both intriguing and challenging.  I'm still somewhere in between, but I definitely don't regret the experience.

Buy it at

BULLHEAD -- DVD review by porfle

As beleaguered cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille, the title character in Belgian writer-director Michael R. Roskam's debut effort BULLHEAD (2011), Matthias Schoenaerts sports pretty much the same expression throughout the film.  But there's so much going on behind that one expression that it's a deeply affecting performance.

Just how deeply this Oscar-nominated film itself affects you will depend on how involved you get with Schoenaerts' character, since most of the stuff going on around him isn't all that interesting.  We find that one of the things Jacky inherited from his dad is the use of illegal hormones to make his cows bigger and fatter, with Jacky forced to deal with shady underworld types in order to secure them.  But when a "hormone cop" is murdered while on the case, random circumstances cause Jacky to become a suspect in the subsequent investigation. 

How the dead cop's bullet-riddled car fails to be disposed of properly by the bad guys, and how its fancy tire rims incriminatingly end up on Jacky's brother's car are part of what turns out to be a long, drawn-out, and only mildly compelling rural crime story.  But just when I was beginning to wonder if BULLHEAD was ever going to go somewhere, it does--shockingly. 

When the story flashes back to a pivotal event in Jacky's childhood, we discover why the brawny but obviously deeply troubled young man is always shooting himself up with hormones just like the animals on his farm, and why he always has the look of someone on the verge of either exploding or imploding. 

The childhood incident is heartbreaking, with a kind of implied violence that may have some viewers calling it quits.  It shapes his entire life afterwards, turning him into a quietly seething hunk of repressed rage, conflicting impulses, and, worst of all, an unrequited yearning for the kind of life he can never have. 

Jacky's only friend is Diederik (Jeroen Perceval), who, as a boy, witnessed his attack but was forced by his father not to testify for fear of reprisal.  Perceval gives the film's other fine performance, as the guilt-ridden Diederik, now a police informant, tries to make it up to Jacky by deflecting suspicion from him the best he can.  The nervous Diederik and his dealings with the cops, particularly a crusty female detective (Barbara Sarafian) and her handsome partner (Tibo Vandenborre) who takes advantage of Diederik's homosexual attraction to him, help make the crime drama stuff interesting whenever Jacky is offscreen.

Revenge against the brutal bully who injured him and an obsession with his beautiful sister Lucia (Jeanne Dandoy) fuel Jacky's actions in the movie's latter half, and we wonder just how far his increasingly confused mental and emotional state will cause him to go.  By now, Matthias Schoenaerts' restrained but inwardly volatile performance has become fascinating to watch--his character is like a modern-day version of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein monster, desperately seeking the normality and acceptance that he can never have due to his violent nature and isolation from the rest of humanity. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment and Drafthouse Films is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 sound (Dutch and French with English subtitles).  Extras include a director's commentary, interviews with director Roskam and star Schoenaerts, a "making-of" featurette, a trailer, the  2005 short film "The One Thing to Do" starring a much less bulky Schoenaerts, a digital download code, and a 16-page illustrated booklet with comments on the film by Michael Mann and Udo Kier.  (Note to the squeamish: the film depicts the actual C-section birth of a calf.)

With BULLHEAD, one might assume (incorrectly, I think) that Roskam has made a bland, slow-moving crime drama whose saving grace is its main character.  But everything that happens around that character is incidental.  The movie is all about Jacky and what's going on behind those deceptively lifeless eyes and that seemingly unfeeling bulk which he endlessly injects with chemicals in a vain effort to compensate for what has been taken away from him. 

Buy it at

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

FREAK DANCE -- DVD review by porfle

As evidenced by the"I Was a Teenage Werebear" segment of CHILLERAMA, poking fun at the traditional Hollywood musical doesn't always turn out as funny on the screen as it does in the filmmakers' own heads.  But on the rare occasion when all the elements just seem to click right into place, it can be kind of exhilarating--as in director Matt Besser and co-writer Neil Mahoney's bright, breezy, and occasionally dazzling spoof, FREAK DANCE (2010).

Taking its cue from such cheesy 80s song-and-dance epics as BREAKIN', STAYIN' ALIVE, and FOOTLOOSE, this adaptation of the Upright Citizens Brigade's popular stage show is the familiar story of good-guy and bad-guy dance groups from rival studios, Fantaseez and Dazzle's, who will eventually settle their score in the climactic dance-off.  As Besser and Mahoney state in their commentary, the notion of good and bad dance gangs battling it out by trying to outdo their opponents with the wildest moves is just so stupid that it's inherently funny.

Michael Daniel Cassady plays Funky Bunch, leader of the Fantaseez and self-proclaimed "world's greatest dancer" since the career-ending injury of former legend Asteroid (Hal Rudnick), whose performance of the forbidden Freak Dance not only resulted in the death of his wife but the loss of his sexual organs, which a male dancer requires for "balance."  Rudnick (who reminds me of Andy Dick, which to me is a good thing) and Cassady play their roles to the melodramatic hilt, treating dance as a mystical calling of equal or greater importance than being a doctor, firefighter, or astronaut (as expressed in one of the film's many hilarious musical reveries).

Blonde babe Megan Heyn is Cocolonia, a rich girl yearning to escape her pampered life and dance with the poor people, to the horror of her prudish, dance-hating mother (Amy Poehler).  Like Lucinda Dickey's "Special K" in BREAKIN', Cocolonia is taught how to dance ghetto-style (which mainly consists of learning how to move her butt) and given her own street name, "Special Flavor."  Eventually, she'll be lured over to the dark side when the flamboyantly decadent Dazzle (Drew Droege) offers to teach her the art of the "private dance" at his studio/club--where dance is all about "sex" instead of a pure art form--and she goes in hopes of earning enough money to pay off Fantaseez' building code violations.

The other members of the Fantaseez crew include: gorgeous but ditzy latina Sassy (Angela Trimbur); Egghead (Benjamin Siemon), whose intelligence is a liability he struggles to overcome; and Barrio (Sam Riegel), haunted by the death of his brother in a drug deal, a memory he doesn't like to talk about even though it's all he ever talks about.  Also in an attempt to pay off Fantaseez' debts, Barrio will eventually venture into Weed Ghetto to engage in a drug deal just like the one that killed his brother (Horatio Sanz), which we finally get to see in a startlingly funny flashback.

The movie hits the ground running with an opening song-and-dance sequence set in a hospital where Funky and the gang come to visit Asteroid but are denied entrance because they're dancers.  This prompts them to let loose with their magic dance beams and sweep all of the hospital's staff, patients, and visitors into a gloriously unhinged orgy of breakdancing that fills the hallways with kinetic and comedic energy.  It's a delightful and stunningly choreographed scene with some of the best dance groups in the business going at it with all they've got.  For a spoof of dance movies to be this genuinely celebratory is a rare treat, and FREAK DANCE never really gets this good again.

Before we can catch our breath, one of the film's funniest non-dancing scenes features Asteroid getting the lowdown on his condition from his doctor (Ian Roberts), who informs him that dancing on the ceiling has given him a brain tumor which will eventually cause his head to implode.  "You only have ten left," he says gravely.  "Ten what?  Days?  Years?" asks Asteroid.  "We don't know," the doctor replies.  "Could be ten days.  Could be ten decades.  All we really know is that it's ten."  He illustrates Asteroid's impending head implosion with a drawing done by his six-year-old son, since an actual photo would be too graphic.  When Asteroid reacts in dismay, the doctor reminds him that if he weren't so personally involved, it would actually look really cool.

Rather than wall-to-wall hip hop or disco, most of FREAK DANCE's song interludes are the traditional Hollywood stuff performed with bright-eyed exuberance by the cast.  While old-school in form, the situations can be pretty wild, as when Funky and Cocolonia boogie through a romantic number set in a slaughterhouse where she has secured a new job stripping pig carcasses.  Director Besser's turn as the gestapo-like Building Inspector General leads to a hilarious musical segment in which he lists everything wrong with the Fantaseez studio, including the fact that "the bathroom is too dark to pee." 

While the inspiration wanes at times and some numbers strain a little too hard for laughs, they're usually rescued by some clever bits of business or spoofy lyrics.  Everything comes to a head at the big dance-off as Funky and Cocolonia find it necessary to perform the dreaded Freak Dance in order to beat Dazzle and his vile minions.  Funky doesn't know the steps so she offers to lead--"that way it won't look as rapey!" she gushes--and the film ends with enough showmanship to send it off in fine style, along with a twisted plot twist or two.  There's even a nod to THE WARRIORS with a sleazy D.J. giving a play-by-play of the action as costumed dance gangs such as The Lumber-Blacks, The Rabbis, and the Softball Furies gather to take part.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  Closed-captioned but no subtitles.  Extras include a commentary with Matt Besser and Neil Mahoney, deleted and extended scenes, a trailer, and a seven-minute collection of funny cautionary messages on "The Dangers of Freak Dancing."

With its headbands, leg warmers, and real dancers subbing for the leads FLASHDANCE-style, FREAK DANCE is the quintessential 80s cheesefest brought hilariously up to date.  I'm guessing it won't be for everybody, but those who get into the goofball spirit of the thing should have a great time.

Buy it at

Saturday, June 23, 2012

SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE -- DVD review by porfle

Expecting a HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN-type goresploitation farce or self-aware slasher spoof a la SCREAM and, instead, getting a darkly comic yet solid thriller is one of the reasons I was so pleasantly surprised by SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE (2011).  Another reason is that it's a seriously heartfelt relationship drama, but with the added ingredient of serial killing to give it that extra zing.

Kevin Corrigan is ideally cast as Ken Boyd, a downtrodden schlub fresh out of the "nervous hospital" after an attempted suicide and working in an ice cream parlor while living at home with his disgruntled mom, Ruth (Karen Black).  We keep seeing flashbacks of a young Ken being brutally tortured by a group of high school jocks, and when they start turning up dead one by one eleven years later, it's apparent that comic book artist Ken has graduated from drawing his revenge fantasies to acting them out.

Meanwhile, 11-year-old Amy (Ariel Gade), stifled by an overprotective mom and unbearably prudish stepfather, discovers that her real dad is none other than Ken and insists on moving in with him for awhile.  Awkwardly warming up to his new daughter while starting a tentative romantic relationship with Stephanie (Lucy Davis), Ken finds things looking up for him at last--until the town's sheriff, Walt Fuller (Barry Bostwick), slowly but surely follows the clues at all those murder scenes straight to him. 

At first it looks as though we're in for an irreverent horror comedy, especially after meeting Barry Bostwick's Walt Fuller at the first murder scene.  Bostwick is so laidback and relaxed in the role that there's a kind of low-key hilarity to everything he says and does, whether noticing that the eyes on a decapitated head seem to follow him around or politely asking a murder suspect he's interrogating to turn on the tape recorder for him ("It's the little red button.") 

Walt happens to be courting Ken's mother Ruth, which leads to some uncomfortable dinner scenes as he discusses details of each murder while Ken feigns disinterest.  Karen Black, of course, is her usual awesome self as Ruth, a fountain of grumpily amusing one-liners either directed at her apathetic son or pleading for help when left alone with her new granddaughter ("I don't know what to do!  She won't stop talking!") 

It soon becomes apparent that SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE isn't going for cheap laughs, and neither does it revel in excessive gore.  The violence is quick and old-school, done with practical effects such as when a head is lopped off with a machete using a dummy and lots of fake (but not digital) blood. 

But instead of revolving around the killings as a typical slasher flick would, the film's emphasis shifts to Ken's relationships with Amy and Stephanie, who have given him a renewed interest in life just as, tragically, he faces an inescapably bleak future.

Director Jack Perez, whose previous credit was MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS, directs Ryan A. Levin's sharply-written screenplay with a sure hand while making the most of a small budget.  He has a wonderful cast to work with--veterans Bostwick and Black and the lesser-known Corrigan give it their all, while Ariel Gade is both cute as a button and disarmingly convincing as a lonely little girl whose delight with finally getting to know her real dad turns to horror when she discovers what really happens during his nightly "errands."  (Look for Ahmed "Jar Jar Binks" Best in a brief appearance as the town mayor.) 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  Closed-captioned but no subtitles.  Extras consist of an enjoyable commentary with Perez and Levin, a "making-of" featurette, a trailer, and a 15-minute short film, "The Fifth", which is perversely amusing.

Funny in a subtle way but never overly cute or satirical, SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE shifts its tone seamlessly to become both darkly ominous and, at times, genuinely heartrending.  A truly surprising plot twist late in the film ratchets things up to an entirely new level, leading to a nail-biting conclusion.  I found this to be an engaging and impressive little film that will be a welcome addition to my DVD collection.

Buy it at

Thursday, June 21, 2012

DOOMSDAY PROPHECY -- DVD review by porfle

One of the livelier SyFy Original movies I've seen, DOOMSDAY PROPHECY (2011) is a step or two above their usual fare--which means that it's not all that great but it isn't a total loss, either.

The typical end-of-the-world armageddon-type stuff ensues when the galaxy's equator aligns with our solar system's equator, which, as we all know, not only causes massive sinkholes that swallow whole cities and oceans but also creates a galactic black mass that heads straight for Earth swallowing up everything in its path. 

Meanwhile, publishing house employee Eric Fox (AJ Buckley, "CSI:NY", "Supernatural") and  archeologist Brooke Calvin (Jewel Strait, "Stargate: Atlantis") have been mysteriously summoned to meet with a reclusive author named Rupert Crane (Matthew Walker) who claims to know when the world will end and how to stop it.  They find him dead in his forest cabin in the Northwest, along with a strange black rod that causes whoever touches it to have visions of the future. 

A videotaped message informs Eric and Brooke what to do with the rod (no wisecracks, please) in order to save the Earth, but a group of secret government agents show up intent on stopping them.  With the ruthless agent Henning (Rick Ravanello, MONTE WALSH) hot on their heels, Eric and Brooke must find the location of some buried stone heads identical to the ones on Easter Island and somehow activate a dormant planetary defense system. 

If all of this sounds pretty goofy, well, this sort of movie is supposed to be goofy.  What's more important is that, for SyFy standards, it's pretty entertaining.  Buckley and Strait make for a couple of appealing leads, especially since (a) they're not the stereotypical hero types, and (b) they don't fall cutely in love with each other during their ordeal.  

Bruce Ramsay lends solid support as Garcia, the good agent who just wants to do what's right, while Ravanello is sufficiently unhinged as the agent who just loves getting orders that include the phrase "dead or alive."  Alan Dale is your typical stiff-assed military guy, General Slate, whose private agenda seems to be getting in the way of saving the world, while Gordon Tootoosis plays one of those wise old Native Americans who's always having vision quests and stuff.

In typical SyFy style, much of the apocalyptic destruction is merely described instead of shown--such as Italy sinking into the Mediterranean Sea, for example, and most of China being replaced by a giant pothole--while the fate of the world hinges upon a group of people running around in the woods for most of the movie. 

But to their credit, director and co-writer (with Shawn Linden) Jason Bourque and his SPFX crew show as much of the good stuff as their modest budget and not-so-hot CGI will allow.  So we get to see downtown New York City crumbling to rubble, volcanoes spewing deadly ash over vast areas, and massive fissures opening up while our heroes try to outrace them in their land rovers.  This, coupled with some car chases, shootouts, fistfights, and other assorted action scenes, manages to keep the film moving at a decent clip until the fairly suspenseful finale (which owes more than a little to THE FIFTH ELEMENT).

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The bonus feature is a 22-minute making-of featurette entitled "Doomsday Prophecy: The Stories Are True."

Those not accustomed to the pros and cons of your standard SyFy Original movie--that is, viewers expecting something really good--will most likely be less than receptive to DOOMSDAY PROPHECY's modest charms.  But fans of this kind of low-budget, high-concept stuff should have little trouble getting into it as it tries its darndest to entertain us.

Buy it at

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


He's lactose intolerant, but that's hardly the only thing he's intolerant of as we discover when we watch the 3-disc DVD set, DAN VS.: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON.

In this half-hour animated series from Starz, Dan's a wiry, hyperactive little hothead (to put it mildly) with a scruffy soul patch and an ever-present black T-shirt that aptly sports the word "jerk."  He lives in a filthy apartment with his cute kitty cat Mr. Mumbles (whom he acquired while blowing up an animal shelter that was keeping him awake at night) and is constantly declaring all-out war against anything that he feels has committed an injustice against him or his barely functioning car. 

In the first episode, Dan awakens to find his car scratched, with the clues (paw prints, animal fur) leading him to the conclusion that the Wolf-Man is the culprit.  So, as happens at the outset of every episode, he throws his fists into the air and screams "WOLF-MAAAAN!" while the words "Dan Vs.", followed by the current target of his revenge, fill the screen.  Later perceived enemies will include dentists, baseball, the beach, magicians, George Washington, technology, Shakespeare dinner theater, family camping trips, and New Mexico.

As always, the first thing he does is grab his cell phone and call his best friend Chris, a semi-normal shlub who for some reason feels compelled to follow Dan on whatever irrational quest for "sweet, sweet revenge" he happens to cook up.  Chris lives in the suburbs with his beautiful wife Elise, who also appears normal but is in reality an agent for a shadowy government black-ops organization.  While tolerating Dan, Elise doesn't really approve of his activities except for those rare occasions in which they share a common enemy.

If you think this sounds like a one-note idea for a series, you're not alone.  I thought so at first myself, and indeed it took a few episodes of "Dan Vs." before I started warming up to it.  But it's actually a breezily entertaining series of frantically-paced adventures that often have a kind of modest epic quality to them in addition to loads of action-movie-style action and plenty of cartoon violence, explosions, and general mayhem and destruction. 

When Dan takes on Canada, for example, he manages to lay waste to the entire country by activating a dormant glacier.  In "The Dentist", Dan's childhood dentist Dr. Pullem (robustly voiced by Mark Hamill) turns out to be a Bond-style super villain who lives in a giant tooth and employs deadly dento-bots as sentries.  "New Mexico" gives us our first look at Elise in action when Dan's trip to the titular state for vengeance gives her an excuse to break into Area 52, blow it up, and steal a reverse-engineered alien spacecraft with which to destroy Santa Fe via death rays (as it turns out, she has a long-standing grudge against the state as well). 

The baseball episode not only has Dan kidnapping the commissioner of baseball in a hot dog cart during the World Series, but also features Elise trying to deactivate a nuclear device hidden under one of the dugouts.  Chris, sitting only a few feet away disguised as a batboy, typically has no idea of the danger as he chats with her on his cell phone.  "Orange or green?" she asks frantically with her clippers poised over the bomb's wires and five seconds to go.  "Err...they both have their good points," Chris wavers.

Dan and Chris are voiced by Curtis Armstrong ("Booger" of REVENGE OF THE NERDS) and Dave Foley ("Kids in the Hall"), who do a tremendous job bringing their animated characters to life.  Armstrong in particular throws himself into the vocal role with a manic intensity that keeps Dan interesting despite his one-note potential.  Foley plays off him perfectly--you can imagine these guys as a comedy team whether live-action or animated--and neither of them have that stilted quality that so many voice actors tend to display.  As Elise, Paget Brewster ("Criminal Minds") is equally good. 

Appearing in a few episodes are Elise's strict, disapproving parents Don and Elise, Sr. (Elise is referred to by them as "Junior", which she hates), who are voiced by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter of "Family Ties."  John C. McGinley (PLATOON, SE7EN) is "Fake Dan", an impostor who steals Dan's identity and then ruins his reputation by performing selfless acts of kindness that endear him to the entire neighborhood. 

In "Technology", another "Kids in the Hall" grad Kevin McDonald is tech guru Barry Ditmer.  Henry Winkler plays traffic helicopter reporter Helicopter Hal in "Traffic", an episode which boasts both lots of explosions and some cool biological weapons cooked up in the kitchen by Elise and stolen by Dan to help alleviate the traffic congestion which causes him such mental anguish.  Tom Kenny of "Mr. Show" plays recurring character Crunchy, an addlebrained hippie whose inability to hold a steady job results in him working at just about every establishment Dan and Chris enter, including the hardware store where Dan buys or steals all of his explosives.

The show is done with flash animation rather than the traditional methods, which results in smoother movements although I sorta miss the old-style look.  Character design is a mish-mash which includes elements of Kricfalusi, Jay Ward, Ralph Bakshi, anime, and any number of Adult Swim cartoons all mixed together to create a not-very-distinctive visual style.  Still, the show looks great and the backgrounds are sometimes pretty impressive. 

(Note to parents: "Dan Vs." contains no foul language, nudity, or "adult" situations, so it's ideal for kids.  Except for the rampant misanthropy, extreme violence, and generally irresponsible behavior that is.)

The 3-disc, 22-episode DVD from Anchor Bay and Starz is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English subtitles.  The sole extra is the preliminary animatics version of the "Burgerphile" episode (lactose-intolerant Dan is mistakenly served a burger with cheese and chains himself to the cash register when the owner refuses him a refund), which should be of interest to animatics fans although I don't personally find animatics all that interesting.

More than just a matter of "what will Dan get mad at next?", DAN VS.: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is a frantically paced, unpredictable cartoon romp with surprisingly endearing characters and comic energy to burn.  If you like animation, slapstick comedy, and sweet, sweet revenge, this is the show for you.

Buy it at

Saturday, June 16, 2012

THE JOURNEY -- DVD review by porfle

Political intrigue and forbidden romance are among the ingredients in Anatole Litvak's 1959 potboiler THE JOURNEY, which pits a brash, blustery Yul Brynner against a coolly refined yet passionate Deborah Kerr in this DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

A disparate group of travelers trying to fly out of Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 are taken by bus to an inn near the Austrian border, detained by the Russians until Major Surov (Brunner) receives clearance from his superiors.  Lady Diana Ashmore (Kerr) is aiding an injured political fugitive named Fleming (Jason Robards, Jr. in his screen debut), with whom she is in love and hopes to escape, but their plans are thrown into disarray when Surov develops a romantic obsession with Lady Ashmore.  

Slow-paced and, at 126 minutes, perhaps a tad overlong, THE JOURNEY is carried mainly by Brynner's robust performance and Kerr's refined appeal, along with several interesting supporting players.  Robert Morley is properly British as television journalist Hugh Deverill, who fancies himself the group's spokesman. 

E.G. Marshall and Anne Jackson are a typical middle-class American couple trying to get back home with their two children, played by Flip Mark and a miniscule Ron Howard.  Kurt Kasznar (TV's "Land of the Giants") is likable as the sympathetic innkeeper, Csepege, who helps coordinate Diana and Mr. Fleming's eventual escape attempt into Austria.

The interiors tend to be stagey but some fine location footage breathes life into the film.  A couple of dinner scenes with Surov playing host to the group are rife with rising tension as the Russian officer prods the nervous assemblage for information about the mysterious Mr. Fleming while also enjoying their company. 

A career soldier, Surov's inner clash between his humanity and devotion to duty makes for a volatile combination, his "simple human hunger for a talk, a debate, an argument" with his unwilling guests compounded by his sudden infatuation with Diana. 

As her lies about Mr. Fleming grow more transparent, his unpredicatable nature becomes a threat to both her and the entire group.  Also haunting him is the accusatory face of a young freedom fighter, Eva (Anouk Aimée), who represents the hatred of the Hungarians toward him and his fellow Russian soldiers. 

With Diana and Fleming's attempted escape comes a change in Surov's demeanor that's as marked as that of Brynner's Pharoah after the Exodus.  Here, the film finally heats up as Surov's devotion to duty takes on renewed vigor as a response to his earlier weakness.  This provokes irrational hostility toward Diana from her fellow travelers, some of whom even suggest that she not only hand over Fleming to the major but also give in to his obvious desire for her in order to take the heat off of them.

The film is a fairly absorbing example of old-fashioned storytelling but it's Brynner who keeps it watchable.  Intrigued by Diana's courage and beauty, delighted with the cat-and-mouse game he plays with the travelers, his Major Surov also becomes a tragic figure who feels stifled by his long marriage to the military and yearns to "cheat on the bitch" by doing something entirely human for once. 

Surov's grief over the death of a beloved horse makes his character even more sympathetic, while Litvak and screenwriter George Tabori wisely choose to make the other Russian characters a realistic group of war-weary soldiers who are tired of fighting.  Interestingly, all of their scenes are spoken in Russian with no subtitles or translations, yet the intent is clear enough that none are needed.

The DVD from the Warner Archive Collection is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound.  There are no subtitles.  The sole extra is a trailer.  The print used is generally good save for some rough patches here and there. 

THE JOURNEY's political conflict is embodied by Yul Brynner's emotive theatrics and Deborah Kerr's understated, internalized acting style, while the film itself unfolds its story at a stately pace until the somewhat abrupt and jarring ending.  Not quite a memorable viewing experience, it's still worth a watch for its authentic locations and interesting cast.

Buy it at

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Anchor Bay Entertainment Brings Back 1980's "MOTHER'S DAY" on Blu-ray and DVD September 4th

“A masterful classic horror film” – “Prinz” Lee Romero,


For The First Time On Blu-ray™ & All New Special Features!

Do What Mother Says Starting September 4th

Beverly Hills, CA – After three decades of anticipation, cult classic Mother’s Day is finally getting released, remastered for DVD, and available for the first time on Blu-ray™, September 4th, from Anchor Bay Entertainment, the leader in horror for home entertainment.

Originally released by Troma Entertainment in 1980, the film shocked critics, but garnered a huge cult following among fans of the genre, including Hostel director Eli Roth, and director of Saw II-IV, Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed the 2012 remake starring Rebecca De Mornay.

Directed by Charles Kaufman and written by Kaufman and Warren Leight, the original Mother’s Day follows three young women abducted by homicidal momma’s boys Ike and Addley, while camping.  Ike and Addley are goaded by their “Mother” into violent and graphic acts of torture against the three women. While doing everything to stay alive, the three women muster the courage escape, and serve their maniacal abductors some old-fashioned justice!

Featuring an all-new HD transfer, and never-before-seen bonus features, including commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, and a newly created featurette with genre favorite Eli Roth (Producer of The Last Exorcism, Grindhouse and Hostel 1 & 2), fans can finally add this long-awaited cult classic to their library, and new fans can experience the terror of Mother and her bloodthirsty boys for the first time.  SRP is $19.98 for DVD, and $24.99 for Blu-ray™. Pre-book is August 8th.

About Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment is the home entertainment division of Starz Media, LLC. It includes the Anchor Bay Films and Manga Entertainment brands. It distributes feature films, children’s entertainment, fitness, TV series, documentaries, anime and other filmed entertainment on Blu-ray™ and DVD formats. Headquartered in Beverly Hills, CA, Anchor Bay Entertainment has offices in Troy, MI, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Starz Media ( is an operating unit of Starz, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Liberty Media Corporation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NEW TRICKS: SEASON SEVEN -- DVD review by porfle

"The longer I'm on this case," says Jack Halford, retired ex-cop now working on the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS), "the harder it is to figure out who's telling the truth."  Hardly surprising, since the cases tackled by the main characters in the popular BBC series "New Tricks" are so convoluted that they're like watching a tennis match in which the truth is batted back and forth until some vital last-minute revelation finally nails the right suspect with an overhead smash. 

They're interesting cases, to be sure, but what really makes the show tick is the interaction between the crusty old geezers on the squad and their younger boss, Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman), who originally got stuck with them as a career-stalling move but now finds solving cold cases with this brilliant but eccentric bunch in their remote basement headquarters to be a fulfilling vocation.  Acorn Media's 3-disc DVD set NEW TRICKS: SEASON SEVEN continues their long-running partnership with ten more cases that are as intriguing and fun as any I've seen thus far.

The geezers in question are Sandra's longtime mentor and the team's most level-headed member, Jack Halford (James Bolam), politically-incorrect ladies' man and three-time divorcee Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman), and downright odd obsessive-compulsive tech geek Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong).  The boys are an irreverent bunch and set in their ways, causing Sandra constant grief as she acts as den mother while trying to keep things on an even keel between them and their supercilious young superior, D.A.C. Strickland (Anthony Calf). 

As important as the unsolved crimes are to each episode, it's the character interaction that drives the show whether it be delightfully funny (as when Brian is found blowing his own horn on Twitter as "topcop999") or unexpectedly serious, as we often see when members of the squad go at each other over some hot-button personal or professional conflict. 

Sandra is never hesitant to sharply rebuke her team for some unorthodox act, yet she's subject to the same treatment from them if she's thought to be overstepping her bounds.  In the boxing-oriented episode "Gloves Off", for example, there's a last-minute exchange between her and a defiant Halford that's blisteringly dramatic, ending the episode in stunning style.

There's even a scene in which an angry Brian tries to punch out former boxer Gerry and gets a bloody nose for his trouble. On the homefront, Brian's obsessive and often disturbingly odd behavior is still a source of bemused consternation to his long-suffering wife and keeper Esther (Susan Jameson). 

Conversely, D.A.C. Strickland seems to be loosening up a tad this season and isn't quite as stiff-arsed as usual--in fact, he's even rather complimentary toward UCOS at times.  With him, though, the pendulum could swing back the other way at any moment, just as the overall "comfy-feely" atmosphere within UCOS itself can be shattered at the drop of a hat.

Several things occur which serve as points of interest in season seven.  Longtime smoker Gerry suddenly decides to kick the habit, with predictable results.  Brian becomes paranoid that the government is spying on him, and anyone who's seen Gene Hackman in THE CONVERSATION can guess what effect this has on him.  Sandra is invited to her class reunion but refuses to go, eventually revealing a telling secret about her high school days.  Oddly, last season's cliffhanger surprise involving her newfound half-brother is given little emphasis this time around. 

Simon McCorkindale guest stars in "Dead Man Talking", with Paul Rhys ("Murdoch Mysteries") as a shady clairvoyant who may or may not be preying on the gullibility of a woman whose father was murdered in their home years earlier.  In "It Smells of Books", Brian is delighted that their latest case allows him to haunt a library for clues in the unsolved murder of a university teacher.  "Left Field" reopens the case of a little boy who disappeared while his parents were at a protest rally, and who may still be alive after many years. 

In "Dark Chocolate" the team resumes the search for a serial rapist in a chocolate factory, with a severed finger in a chocolate bar serving as one of their clues.  "Good Morning Lemmings" is the story of a graffiti artist whose killer may be bragging about his deed on walls all over the city.  "Fashion Victim" concerns the unsolved murder of a fashion designer along with a sartorial makeover for Gerry that doesn't go over well with his co-workers.  Rupert Graves of BBC's "Sherlock" guests.

The case of a serial arsonist and his mysterious motives gives "Where There's Smoke" its dramatic spark and ends thrillingly with the boys trapped on the second floor of a burning apartment.  The kidnapping of a young debutante keeps the team guessing in "Coming Out Ball" (with guest star Sian Phillips), while "Gloves Off" features the aforementioned Gerry vs. Brian altercation along with that searing final exchange between Sandra and Jack. 

The season's final episode, "The Fourth Man", is one of the series best so far with the investigation of a deputy assistant commissioner going off the rails and resulting in the ignominious dissolution of UCOS.  D.A.C. Strickland joins the team for this one, which offers up heaps of scintillating drama and a wonderfully sleazy performance by John Shrapnel as the smug top cop who considers himself untouchable.

The 3-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of an 8-minute making-of featurette and about ten minutes of bloopers. 

With NEW TRICKS: SEASON SEVEN this endlessly appealing BBC series shows no signs of running out of steam any time soon.  (Although I'll be interested in seeing how James Bolam's retirement from the show has affected its quality as future seasons become available on DVD.)  With its own inimitable style and one of the best ensemble casts on British television, "New Tricks" keeps on taking cold cases and making them hot again. 

Buy it at


A weird conglomeration of teen period musical, teen family drama, teen family sitcom, adult dramedy, and all-around idiocy, NBC-TV's RAGS TO RICHES: THE COMPLETE SERIES (1987-88) comes to DVD in a five-disc, 20-episode set that's like a grueling marathon of sheer teen "WTF?"

Actually it isn't totally bad once you get used to it, but getting used to it is a pretty major undertaking.  What we have here is Joseph Bologna (MY FAVORITE YEAR) as frozen foods tycoon Nick Foley, a "streetwise" New Jersey-born playboy circa 1961 who wants to improve his public image by temporarily adopting six orphan girls aged 8-17.  Naturally, their initial culture clashes and personality conflicts will evolve into mutual love and understanding as the odd sextet become a family, with everyone learning and growing and all that good stuff.

The movie-length pilot (which, for some reason, is called "Rags and Riches" and looks like a crudely-edited workprint) gives us six downtrodden Annies in search of a Daddy Warbucks while the hateful old spinster in charge of them threatens to ship them all off to juvy hall.  After being adopted by Nick--on the advice of his young assistant, played by an embryonic, Gumby-haired Bill Maher--their rough adjustment to the lap of luxury is complicated when they discover that Nick and his loathesome fiance' have planned to ship the girls off to a strict boarding school ASAP. 

Choosing what they consider the lesser of two evils, they run back to the orphanage, whereupon Nick realizes how much he now loves them and can't live without them.  He goes to the orphange to fetch them home, thus setting the stage for seemingly endless adventures in adolescent angst which often escalates to nightmarish proportions.  (The sixth girl, Heather McAdam as "Nina", disappears from the cast after the pilot.)

While "Brady Bunch"-type comedy abounds along with several of its plotlines (in one episode, 13-year-old Patti's big science project is--you guessed it--a volcano), a big factor here is broad, relentlessly overplayed drama.  Particularly in the earlier episodes, these young actresses are so doggedly intense that their scenes resemble really bad drama class exercises, with future "Martin" co-star Tisha Campbell as Marva often being the most freakishly overwrought. 

Not only that, but their characters often come across as total spoiled bitches, constantly screaming their lungs out at Nick and each other before stomping offscreen and slamming doors.  A typical example:  "Blah blah blah!!!  I am not going to [whatever Nick has told her to do] and there's nothing you can do about it!!!"  STOMP STOMP STOMP!!!  SLAM!!! 

Even as late as episode 12 ("Wilderness Blues"), Nick's insistence that they go camping as a family leads to his being mercilessly harangued day and night, to such an extent that I wouldn't have blamed him for lobbing a live grenade into the girls' tent after lights-out.  Of course, strong-willed Marva runs away to be with her college-aged boyfriend the moment Nick turns his back, ranting and fuming the whole time, while Rose (Kimiko Gelman, THE HUNGER GAMES) and ditzy blonde Diane (Bridget Michele) sneak off to attend a dance at the lodge. 

Later episodes begin to show a promise that the series' second-season cancellation would cut short.  "Dear Diary" features Robin Curtis ("Lt. Saavik" in THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK) as an unconventional teacher whom conservative dad Dick Van Patten wants fired for being an unhealthy influence on her students.  "Born to Ride" guest-stars David Paymer (GET SHORTY) as a con man faking an injury to gain insurance money after supposedly being hit by novice driver Diane. 

The final episode, "Sweet Sixteen", ends the series on a high note as the Cuban Missile Crisis drives the Foley's into their newly-built bomb shelter and those of us old enough to remember get to relive what the whole atomic bomb scare was like, complete with elementary school kids participating in "duck and cover" drills.  The song-and-dance stuff is mercifully toned down in this one, and we get the idea that the show might have actually evolved into something pretty worthwhile if allowed to continue. 

High points aside, however, much of "Rags to Riches" is business-as-usual dumb stuff straight outta Bradyville but with loads of bratty attitude that Mike and Carol never had to contend with.  In "Business is Business", Marva buys her own lunch wagon against Nick's advice and then, when the endeavor goes south, immediately drives it to a secluded area and douses it with gasoline so she can torch it and collect the insurance!  (Fabian and Ken "Eddie Haskell" Osmond guest star as her unscrupulous competitors.) 

"Foley vs. Foley" is the old saw of the girls protesting the closing of lovable Spiro's (Jack Kruschen) hamburger joint to make way for the new Foley building complex.  "Hunk in the House" has Rose and Diane both falling for Nick's visiting godson, played by a young Richard Grieco.  "Marva in the Key of Cee" is the show's version of the Marcia Brady-Davy Jones affair, but with Marva promising to get retired torch singer Cee Cee Smith (Margaret Avery, THE COLOR PURPLE) to sing at the prom without actually asking her first.  "Partridge Family" alumnus Danny Bonaduce shows up in "Guess Who's Coming To Slumber?", the old story of the illicit party that gets horribly out of control while Nick is due to return from a trip at any minute.

"Vegas Rock" and "Once Upon a Lifeguard" play up the girls' sexuality in borderline inappropriate ways.  In the former, they secretly follow Nick to Las Vegas because, as usual, they do whatever they damn well please, and end up performing onstage in showgirl costumes.  In the latter, Patti's desire to impress a hunky older lifeguard has her sashaying around in skimpy bathing suits and stuffing her bra to Mae West proportions.  (Future porn actor Scott Schwartz of A CHRISTMAS STORY guest stars.)  While this is ostensibly meant to draw in potential teen male viewers, it sometimes comes off as a tad creepy. 

For better or worse, however, what really sets "Rags to Riches" apart from other shows of its ilk is the fact that it's a musical.  This means that the girls break into song and dance numbers at the drop of a plot twist, and more often than not they're blaring, sassy-brassy covers of 50s-60s tunes (their lyrics altered to fit the storylines, as when "Please Mr. Postman" becomes "Hey, Mr. Foley") with lots of head jerking, hand jiving, arm flailing, and generally obnoxious choreography that would embarrass even Paula Abdul.  Even the youngest sister Mickey (played by perhaps the best actress of the bunch, 8-year-old Heidi Zeigler) gets into the act with her saxophone, which we're supposed to believe she can play like a pint-sized Tom Scott. 

When this happens, the girls suddenly turn into hopped-up speed-freak versions of the Pointer Sisters for a couple of minutes before going back to what they were doing as though nothing had happened.  As if that weren't bad enough, Joseph Bologna and Douglas Seale (as their overly-cutesy British butler, Clapper) sometimes add their rusty pipes to the mix.  On the rare occasions that a slow ballad is required, the girls display some pretty nice singing voices, as when Patti (Blanca De Garr) and Rose duet on "Anyone Who Had A Heart."  Some of the songs are anachronistic ("You're No Good", "Get Ready") considering the show's early 60s time frame, but since the whole thing's a fantasy anyway I suppose it doesn't really matter.

The 5-disc set (running time 18 hrs. 20 min.) from Image Entertainment has an aspect ratio of 1.33.1 with Dolby Digital sound.  There are no subtitles or extras.

Much of RAGS TO RICHES: THE COMPLETE SERIES finds Joseph Bologna struggling to figure out just how the hell to play this kind of teen-oriented nonsense while his young female costars chew up the scenery like a school of ravenous singing and dancing piranha.  And just when they all seem to be on the verge of finding their way, the party's over.  While I can't wholeheartedly recommend it as actual entertainment, I must say that this bizarre patchwork creation is one of the most perversely interesting train wrecks I've seen in a long time.

Buy it at

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Image Entertainment presents "GHOST HUNTERS: SEASON 7: PART 1" on DVD August 7th


On August 7th, Image Entertainment prepares you for more thrills and chills from the #1 paranormal franchise on TV with “Ghost Hunters: Season 7: Part 1.”  Featuring all-new unforgettable adventures and loaded with never before seen bonus footage, the TAPS gang is back on DVD for an SRP of $24.98.  Pre-book is July 10th.

The series whose continued success and die-hard fan base has spawned its own hit spin-offs returns for a seventh thrilling season.  This time around, follow the team as their investigations lead them to a Pennsylvania asylum, a haunted hotel where contractors have walked off the job and refused to return, a resort in the middle of nowhere, and for the first time an entire city is explored to find the unruly spirits within!

Ghost Hunters: Season 7: Part 1 features 12 new chilling investigations:

    * Haunted Town
    * Pennsylvania Asylum
    * Century of Hauntings
    * French Quarter Phantoms
    * Hotel Haunts Unleashed
    * Frozen in Fear
    * Residual Haunts
    * Knights of the Living Dead
    * A Soldier’s Story
    * Pearl Harbor Phantoms
    * Urgent!
    * Hill View Manor

Ghost Hunters: Season 7: Part 1 DVD
Street Date:                 August 7, 2012
Pre-Book:                    July 10, 2012
UPC #:                        014381779325
Catalog:                       ID7793PGDVD
Aspect Ratio:              Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio:                         Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles:                     N/A
Retail Price:                 $24.98
Genre:                         Television, Special Interest, Mystery / Suspense, Ghosts, Haunted Houses, Myths / Legends, History / Events, Documentary
Rating:                        Not Rated
Run Time:                   576 minutes
Year:                           2011
Special Features:         Never Before Seen Bonus Footage; Special Foil O-Card Packaging

Buy it at


Sunday, June 10, 2012


Back when Saturday morning was just about the only time a kid could watch hours of wall-to-wall cartoons--along with live-action stuff like "Shazam!", "Banana Splits", and even "The Roy Rogers Show"--one of my favorite series was the simian spy spoof "Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp."  Now, Film Chest has collected all 17 episodes plus some nice extras in the 3-disc set LANCELOT LINK: SECRET CHIMP (1970), which the faithful and the simply curious alike should find both interesting and more than a little bizarre.

A takeoff of popular shows of the era such as "Get Smart" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", with a little 007 thrown in, "Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp" boasted an all-chimp cast performing on scaled-down sets with all the appropriate costumes and props, and practical effects which allowed them to drive cars, motorcycles, speedboats, etc. (In a couple of western-themed segments they even ride Shetland ponies.) 

Dayton Allen provides the voice for Lance, who's sort of a cross between Humphrey Bogart and George Burns, while Joan Gerber channels Olive Oyl as the voice of Lance's partner and love interest, Mata Hairi.  The two agents work for a secret spy organization known as A.P.E. (Agency to Prevent Evil) and are forever foiling the evil schemes of C.H.U.M.P. (Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan).  A.P.E.'s leader is Commander Darwin ("What's your theory, Darwin?" Lance often asks), a character based on Leo G. Carroll's "Mr. Waverly" from "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." 

"Get Smart" regular Bernie Kopell is the voice of C.H.U.M.P. mastermind Baron von Butcher, a monocled megalomaniac whose associates include his chauffeur Creto, evil genius Dr. Strangemind (hilariously based on Bela Lugosi), Dragon Woman (who lives on an atomic-powered junk), her henchman Wang Fu, the Duchess, and Ali Assa Seen, who for some reason tends to burst into song after each sentence.

The stories (each episode contains two 15-minute segments) are very simple and serve mainly as an excuse for the chimps to perform funny bits of business that are often quite impressive.  With the perfect deadpan expressions, their simulated delivery of the show's droll dialogue can be priceless ("A thousand pardons, Dragon Woman.  A swarm of locusts attacked my moustache") as are the cleverly-edited reaction shots and slapstick performances. 

Lines were often improvised on the set to match the chimps' lip movements, yielding some delightful digressions and non-sequiturs as well as Ali Assa Seen's odd musical asides.  A typical "Get Smart"-style running gag is this exchange between Lance and Darwin:

"Give me one good reason why you should fire me."
"Because you're incompetent, an idiot, and a bumbler!"
"I only asked for ONE reason."

Some of my favorite scenes take place in Lance's apartment, which seems inspired by the ultra-modern bachelor digs of both Derek Flint and Matt Helm.  The apartment contains three secret exits ("It sounds like there's someone at the table," Lance observes in one episode) and a host of gadgets that don't always work as expected ("I need to get that button fixed"). 

So well executed is the illusion, it doesn't take long before one begins to think of these chimps as talented comic performers and grow fond of their characters.  Although a cool super-spy, Lance is also a lovable shlub.  Mata is the cutest and most appealing of the chimp cast, her expressions and demeanor matching perfectly with her Olive Oyl voice. 

One of her funniest moments is when she performs undercover as a blonde-wigged torch singer in a waterfront dive, belting out hilariously awful songs while bad guy Wang Fu cries in his beer.  Actor Malachi Throne ("It Takes a Thief") supplies the show's mock-serious narration: "Mata, fearing Lance was in danger, saw her chance to slip past the sleeping Wang Fu, who was emotionally exhausted from her singing."  Meanwhile, the chimps portraying Baron von Butcher and his cohorts seem to be reveling in their roles like a bunch of hammy human actors.

Since just about every Saturday morning show in those days had to feature a band a la "The Archies", Lance and Mata are members of an undercover rock group called "The Evolution Revolution" who in each episode perform a song which is introduced by an Ed Sullivan takeoff named "Ed Simian."  ("And now for you young youngsters out there...")  This is followed by a brief collection of "Laugh-In" inspired bits called "Chimpies." 

The DVD set from Film Chest comes with three slimline cases in a 60s-mod box that features Lance on the cover.  The episodes are 4:3 full screen with no subtitles.  Disc three contains bonuses including interviews with producer Allan Sandler and musical director Bob Emenegger and the short documentary "I Created Lancelot Link" featuring the late Stan Burns and Mike Marmer.  Sandler is shown being reunited with Lance, who now lives at the Wildlife Waystation in Los Angeles (to whom proceeds from the DVD sales will go).  Rounding out the extras is a slideshow and all of the "Evolution Revolution" songs and "Chimpies." 

A major concern which always arises regarding shows like this is the treatment of the animals involved during filming.  Producer Sandler never addresses this directly in his interview, but his recollections are of such a fond and seemingly benign nature that one gets the impression the chimps in this case were treated very well and, to a certain extent, even enjoyed performing.  At any rate, I thoroughly enjoy watching LANCELOT LINK: SECRET CHIMP and recommend it to anyone with a taste for entertainment that's not only funny but just plain wacky. 

Buy it at

Friday, June 8, 2012

Acorn Media (British TV) and Athena (Best Documentaries) DVD Release Calendar

“Acorn Media, chief curators of the best Brit TV” –TIME Magazine

June 5

DOC MARTIN, Series 5 (DVD Debut) - “Sweet, stirring, and completely addictive” (Slate) - Smash-hit British dramedy currently airs on public television. Akin to House and Northern Exposure, BAFTA Winner Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly, Shakespeare in Love) stars in the series as a misanthropic, socially maladjusted doctor. Emmy® winner Eileen Atkins (Cranford, co-creator of Upstairs, Downstairs) joins the cast in Series 5. Doc Martin is a huge hit in the U.K. with 10 million viewers, and its gaining momentum on public television; it’s the highest-rated program on KCET/Los Angeles.

WASHINGTON: BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (Home Video Debut) –Star-studded, Emmy-winning political drama seen on ABC in 1977. Showcasing high-stakes political intrigue at its best, the miniseries inspired by the Nixon presidency, makes its long-awaited home video debut. Based on the post-Watergate novel, The Company, by former Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman, the seven-time Emmy® nominated program stars Cliff Robertson (Spider-Man, and Best Actor Academy Award for Charly), two-time Oscar winner Jason Robards (All the President’s Men), two-time Emmy nominee Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart), and Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven), who won for outstanding supporting actor.

NEW TRICKS, Season 7 (DVD Debut) - One of the most-watched shows on British television. Seen on BBC and PBS. Featuring strong writing and wry humor, the long-running, award-winning series stars Amanda Redman (Sexy Beast), Dennis Waterman (The Sweeney), Alun Armstrong (Garrow’s Law, Patriot Games), and James Bolam (The Beiderbecke Affair) as a team of semi-retired and somewhat curmudgeonly detectives investigating cold cases. New Tricks has run on the BBC for eight seasons since 2003 and has already been renewed for a ninth and tenth season.

June 19

THE CODE (U.S. Debut) – Called “A remarkable achievement” (The Times), this engaging BBC documentary about the power of numbers is the follow up to the hugely successful documentary, The Story of Math. Setting out to solve the world’s mathematical mysteries, author, TV presenter, and Oxford University Professor Marcus du Sautoy travels from Chartres Cathedral to Grand Central Station in search of the mysterious hidden code that can unlock the very laws of the universe. Available to U.S. audiences for the first time, The Code, offers a deft blend of entertainment and education, exploring the power of numbers. Bonus: three “Math Shorts”

THIS IS CIVILIZATION (DVD Debut) – Called “Entirely riveting” (The Observer), this new documentary offers a globe-trotting tour of art and culture. Artist and broadcaster Matthew Collings travels from London to Beijing in this sweeping four-part series and contemporary update of the BBC’s landmark 1969 series Civilization, with an expanded focus on non-Western art. The program was shot on location in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, China, Turkey, Egypt, and the U.S. and aired on the Ovation Channel.

TRIAL & RETRIBUTION, Set 5 (U.S. Debut) - Called “Great crime series” by NPR, this crime-to-courtroom suspense series is from the creator of Prime Suspect, Lynda La Plante. This long-running, hit British crime series displays the same gritty realism and penetrating drama that made Prime Suspect a television landmark. Available to U.S. audiences for the first time with its DVD release, Set 5 features four feature-length mysteries. Akin to Law & Order, Trial & Retribution takes viewers from the crime scene to the forensics laboratory and from police headquarters to the courtroom.

June 26

LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE (Long-awaited DVD Debut) - Oscar® winner Judi Dench (Iris, Casino Royale, Shakespeare in Love) and Michael Williams (A Fine Romance)  star in an acclaimed adaptation of the British literary classic. Propelled by star-studded casts and a brilliant blend of period romance and social satire, akin to the works of Evelyn Waugh, Love in a Cold Climate is based on bestselling author Nancy Mitford’s wickedly witty novels. This eight-part series is set against a backdrop of the English nobility’s golden age—and a looming world war. Broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre in the 1980s, the series co-stars Michael Aldridge (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Vivian Pickles (Harold and Maude), and Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

THE BEST OF FOYLE’S WAR - Called “Like a gift from the gods.” (The New York Times) and “A triumph from start to finish” (The Wall Street Journal), Foyle’s War is Acorn’s best-selling and most acclaimed series. This discounted collection features Michael Kitchen’s favorite episodes from the first four years of playing detective chief inspector Christopher Foyle. These six feature-length episodes feature fan favorites Honeysuckle Weeks and Anthony Howell as well as guest stars Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice), Edward Fox (Gandhi), and James McAvoy (Atonement, X-Men: First Class, Wanted). A new series of Foyle’s War is currently in development and is scheduled to air in 2013. See press release here.

Agatha Christie’s POIROT, Series 5 (Blu-ray and DVD) - Newly remastered and in original U.K. broadcast order, the fifth series stars David Suchet as Agatha Christie’s peerless Poirot in these eight mysteries from the hit PBS series. Series 5 previously aired in 1993 with guest stars Anna Chancellor (BBC’s The Hour, Four Weddings and a Funeral), Hermione Norris (MI-5, Cold Feet), and Jeremy Northam (Emma, The Tudors).

July 3

MIDSOMER MURDERS, Set 20 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray and DVD) – John Nettles’ final episodes of the series. For more than a decade, DCI Tom Barnaby has policed the murderous county of Midsomer, winning Nettles legions of fans— including the queen of England herself. In these four feature-length episodes, Barnaby investigates his final cases, leaving Midsomer to his capable replacement: DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon, Life of Riley). Episodes featured are the second half of Series 13. Midsomer has already aired a 14th series in the U.K. and 15th series is in production.

GEORGE GENTLY, Series 4 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray and DVD) – Called “Great, bordering on brilliant” ( and compared to Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, award-winning actor Martin Shaw (Death in Holy Orders) is back as Inspector George Gently in these two feature-length mysteries set in the North East of England during the social upheaval of the 1960s. Series airs on public television. Fifth series has been commissioned.

July 17:

JAMES MAY’S 20th CENTURY (U.S. debut) – “Infectiously enjoyable” (London Evening Standard) – The Top Gear host explores the innovations that made the modern era, plus 180 min. bonus program, James May’s Big Ideas. With his trademark curiosity, insight, and wit, James May travels from continent to continent, as well as back in time, to learn how new technologies have revolutionized every aspect of modern life, from medical advancements to space travel.

M.R. James’s CASTING THE RUNES (DVD Debut) – A classic tale of mystery and the supernatural from the father of the modern ghost story makes its North American DVD debut with more than an hour of bonus materials. A chilling tale of an innocent woman battling a satanic spell drawn from one of M.R. James’s most frightening tales. Commissioned for broadcast in 1979 as part of ITV Playhouse. Bonus: the M.R. James adaptation Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance and the documentary A Pleasant Terror: The Life & Ghosts of M.R. James.

BILL MOYERS ON ADDICTION: CLOSE TO HOME – Called “TV’s most comprehensive look ever at addiction and recovery” (San Francisco Chronicle), this acclaimed PBS documentary explores the many issues of addiction and recovery. The 1998-PBS-broadcast documentary features interviews with recovering addicts, scientists, and treatment professionals.

July 31:

THE STORY OF THE COSTUME DRAMA (U.S. Debut) – Required viewing for any fan of British television, this captivating new documentary tells the stories behind iconic productions with stars and scenes from Brideshead Revisited; I, Claudius; Upstairs, Downstairs; Pride and Prejudice; The Jewel in the Crown; Poldark; Doctor Zhivago; and many more. The first episode aired on PBS stations in spring 2012; however, Acorn is releasing the complete five-episode series on DVD. Narrated by star Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes; Upstairs Downstairs), these five episodes give an inside look beyond the ornate clothing, sprawling manors, and addictive story lines that have riveted millions of television viewers for decades.

THE COSTUME DRAMA CLASSIC COLLECTION – Representing the finest of the captivating costume drama genre with sumptuous costumes, lavish sets, and addictive plots, this set features four celebrated, star-studded Masterpiece Theatre period dramas, plus DVD debut of new making-of documentary, The Story of the Costume Drama. Value-priced 15-disc collection includes more than 36 hours of star-studded programming, including Doctor Zhivago, the 2002 adaptation starring Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, Atonement); Lillie, the BAFTA-winning 1978 drama with Francesca Annis (Wives and Daughters, Cranford); Lost Empires, starring Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and Laurence Olivier in a coming-of-age story from 1986; and Upstairs, Downstairs, Series 1, the iconic British drama’s original 1971-1972 series. Coupled with a new, bonus making-of program, The Story of the Costume Drama, a rare behind-the-scenes peek at even more of these beloved productions. (15-disc, $99.99)

THE KENT CHRONICLES (DVD Debut) – Three historical miniseries (The Bastard, The Rebels, and The Seekers) based on John Jakes’s bestselling novels, featuring William Shatner, Kim Cattrall, Don Johnson, Patricia Neal, George Hamilton, Delta Burke, and Tom Bosley. Chronicling the saga of the Kent family in early America, the star-studded Revolution-era romp based on the bestselling novels by John Jakes (North and South), the “godfather of the historical novel.” These three miniseries follow the fortunes of a young Frenchman (Andrew Stevens, Dallas) as he immigrates to America during the Revolutionary War and crosses paths with historical heavyweights including Paul Revere (William Shatner, Star Trek), Benjamin Franklin (Tom Bosley, Happy Days), Samuel Adams (William Daniels, St. Elsewhere), and George Washington (Peter Graves, Mission: Impossible). Nominated for two Emmys® and a Golden Globe® and broadcast in the late 1970s.

August 7:

THE SINKING OF THE LACONIA (DVD Debut) – “The best bit of drama on the BBC in 20 years”(The Independent) – New, gripping WWII tale with an outstanding cast offers a harrowing true story of heroism, heartbreak, and unexpected humanity during the midst of World War II. Broadcast on Ovation in the spring of 2012, the miniseries features Ken Duken (Inglourious Basterds), Andrew Buchan (Garrow’s Law), Franka Potente (The Bourne Identity, Run Lola Run), Lindsay Duncan (Rome) and Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy). In September 1942 at the height of the battle for the Atlantic, a German U-boat torpedoed the RMS Laconia, sinking the British ship without knowing that it carried more than 2,000 passengers, many of them civilians. BONUS: Documentary featurette, “The Sinking of the Laconia: Survivors’ Stories” (29 min.)

GARROW’S LAW, SERIES 3 (U.S. Debut) – “BBC period drama at its very best” (British Heritage) – Conclusion of the acclaimed British legal drama ripped from the pages of history. Seen on BBC and PBS. Award-winning series stars Andrew Buchan (The Sinking of the Laconia, Cranford) as virtuous barrister William Garrow, a man unafraid to confront the injustices of the 18th century English legal system. Winner of a Royal Television Society award for best history program, the series also stars Alun Armstrong (Little Dorrit, New Tricks), Rupert Graves (Sherlock, The Forsyte Saga) and Lyndsey Marshal (Rome, Being Human, The Hours).

Coming up in Aug.-Sept.:

From Acorn - Damian Lewis (Homeland) in The Forsyte Saga Collection, Agatha Christie’s Poirot Series 6, Injustice, Cloudstreet, Holy Flying Circus, Young James Herriot, New Tricks Season 8, Special Branch Set 1, and The Crimson Petal and the White.

From Athena – Joseph Campbell Mythos – The Complete Series, Understanding Art: Impressionism, Megacities and Crisis at the Castle.

January – May 29, 2012 DVDs:

From Acorn: MONROE, Series 1 (U. S. Debut); MURDOCH MYSTERIES, Season 4 (U.S. Debut, DVD/Blu-ray); I, CLAUDIUS: 35th Anniversary Edition (bonus packed with many previously unavailable extras); BBC’s TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Now on Blu-ray); Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE TRILOGY; NBC’s WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Season 2 (DVD Debut); SINGLE-HANDED, Set 2 (U.S. Debut); ABOVE SUSPICION, Set 1 (U.S. Debut), from the creator of Prime Suspect and starring Ciarán Hinds (Harry Potter); AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT Series 1-4 (Blu-ray debut, DVD); and POLDARK: The Complete Collection (Value-priced collection), a must-see for costume drama fans.

From Athena: TIME TEAM: UNEARTHING THE ROMAN INVASION (U.S. Debut); TREASURE HOUSES OF BRITAIN (DVD Debut); IN THEIR OWN WORDS (Athena, U.S. Debut) includes J. R.R. Tolkien, Sigmund Freud, George Orwell, Jane Goodall, Salman Rushdie, Evelyn Waugh, Margaret Mead, and the only surviving voice recording of Virginia Woolf; SECRET WAR (DVD Debut); BATTLEFIELD DETECTIVES (Athena, DVD Debut); BILL MOYERS: CAPITOL CRIMES; THE WINDSORS (U.S. Debut, Athena);


About Acorn Media:
Headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C., Acorn Media U.S. releases the best of British television on DVD/Blu-ray. 2012 releases include a bonus packed collector’s edition of I, Claudius; the Blu-ray debuts for the original Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the first six series of Agatha Christie’s Poirot; the U.S. debuts of Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion and Monroe starring James Nesbitt; DVD debut of Judi Dench in Love in a Cold Climate; The Best of Foyle’s War; The Story of Costume Drama; Damian Lewis in The Forsyte Saga Collection; and more episodes from Midsomer Murders, Murdoch Mysteries, Doc Martin, George Gently, and Garrow’s Law.

Athena releases provide an authoritative and entertaining learning experience through high quality, informative, non-fiction programming. Early 2012 releases include The Windsors: From George to Kate, Bill Moyers: Amazing Grace and Capital Crimes, Battlefield Detectives, and In Their Own Words. Clips are available at

On April 2, 2012, RLJ Acquisition, Inc. (OTCQB: RLJAU; RLJA; RLJAW) entered into agreements to acquire each of Image Entertainment, Inc. (OTCQB:DISK) and Acorn Media Group, Inc., two highly complementary media businesses to create one of the largest independent distributors of digital and video content globally. The new combined company will be named RLJ Entertainment, Inc.

Acorn’s and Athena’s DVD sets are available from select retailers, catalog companies, and direct from Acorn Media at (888) 870-8047 or and

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

THE FP -- DVD review by porfle

The Trost Brothers, Jason and Brandon, saw a niche--moviegoers who yearned for a combination of ROCKY IV, MAD MAX, and ROLLER BOOGIE--and with THE FP (2011), God help us, they have filled that niche.  With cheese.

Jason stars as JTRO, who looks like he's about to attend a costume party dressed as Snake Plissken, in this tale of a dysfuctional near-future.  When JTRO's big brother BTRO drops dead during a big battle with L. Dubba E (Lee Valmassy), the alpha bad-ass from a rival clan, JTRO is devastated and vows revenge.  And what, you ask, was the nature of the competition between BTRO and L. Dubba E?  A video game called "Dance Dance Revolution" in which players match the arrows rapidly scrolling by on the screen by stomping on an electronic dance pad.

It's a comedy, right?  When JTRO kneels by the dying BTRO and there's an overhead shot of him screaming "NOOOOOO!!!" to the heavens, it pretty much clues us in that this is a satire (as if the whole dance-off thing didn't).  But then the movie throws us for a loop by deliberately trying not to be funny or satirical, or at least pretending that it isn't, so that what we seem to have is a movie that really is the biggest conglomeration of hoary cliches and flashy 80s-style chintz that was ever played painfully straight.  It's as though the Trosts are playing a joke not only on the audience but on themselves as well.

Displaying a total lack of irony, the story follows JTRO's return to Frazier Park ("The F.P.") after a self-imposed exile, ready to train for a Beat-Beat beatdown against L. Dubba E, who's now the strutting, loudmouthed Beat-Beat king.  To this end he enlists his loyal buddy KCDC (Art Hsu), who emcees the contests, and a mysterious trainer known as BLT (Nick Principe, finally showing his face after such films as CHROMESKULL and MADISON COUNTY). 

This gives the Trosts a chance to indulge in the usual ROCKY-style training montages, except here the sweat-soaked athlete is tuning up his tootsies instead of his fists.  They also throw in the standard romantic triangle, this time with JTRO mooning over punky Courtney Love lookalike Stacy (Caitlyn Folley), who has hooked up with L. Dubba E because it keeps her drunken dad from beating her up (it's a long story). 

In this version of boy-courts-girl, though, the single red rose is replaced by a tampon, romantic kisses have evolved into blowjobs, and the mean, macho dad character is now...well, I won't spoil it.  I was surprised to find one of Nick Principe's CHROMESKULL co-stars in the role.  An almost unrecognizable Clifton Collins, Jr. also makes a brief appearance as a rainbow-haired drug dealer, while James Remar himself narrates.

With a budget of about a million dollars, THE FP has a look similar to Linda Blair's SAVAGE STREETS and features lots of recycled refuse as set decoration to represent its rundown-future setting.  Most of the dialogue is a mash-up of hip-hop and ghetto slang that's even more hard to decipher than the lingo in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  But the story is such a rigid rehash of the basic ROCKY formula, embellished with elements of a dozen other familiar flicks, that dialogue is hardly even necessary (especially when it all finally devolves into the usual fistfights and gunplay). 

The joke, though, is that the Trost Brothers apparently don't realize how derivative and utterly stupid their own movie is, and neither does the straightfaced cast who play their roles without the slightest hint of self-awareness.  As one IMDb poster states (it might've been someone connected with the production, who knows), the movie provides the groundwork and it's up to each individual viewer to provide the comedy in his or her own mind.  Not everyone will find it worth the effort.

Of course, some of the dialogue is designed to help us along, as when L. Dubba E (Lee Valmassy is amazingly good in the role) challenges JTRO to a "beat-off" and BLT urges JTRO to "dance with your mind, not with your feet."  In one scene that comes closest to actually winking at the audience, a frantic KCDC goes on about how L. Dubba E and the rest of his vile clan have driven the ducks out of Frazier Park.  "What's a town without ducks?" he frets. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 sound and subtitles in English.  Extras consist of a Trost Brothers commentary, a three-part "making-of" featurette, another short entitled "The F.P. in THE FP--A Return to Frazier Park", green and red band theatrical trailers, an illustrated booklet, and a digital copy download code.

At times, THE FP really does seem seriously stupid instead of just wink-wink stupid, which, again, is most likely exactly what the makers intended, and I felt stupid for being interested in what amounts to the melodramatic build-up to a big dance-off.  But it kinda works, and I did kinda care who won and how the main characters' life problems worked out.  Just not a whole lot.

Buy it at

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

MONSTER BRAWL -- DVD review by porfle

Remember back in the 80s or 90s when "Fangoria" started trying to incorporate wrestling into their magazine?  Mainly because editor Bob Martin was such a big wrestling fan and thought it would qualify if he dubbed the really fake-bloody matches "horror wrestling"?  And remember what B.S. that was, and how mad I got about it, and how I wrote all those nasty letters complaining about it?  Wait, you wouldn't remember that.  Heh, heh.

Anyway, that wouldn't have been such a bad thing if what Fango called "horror wrestling" had been as much fun as MONSTER BRAWL (2011), writer-director Jesse T. Cook's geeky homage to both monsters and all that WWE stuff that I generally have zero interest in myself. 

Mind you, this movie had to grow on me, and it wasn't until near the halfway point that I started sorta getting into it.  Basically, it's like a slicker version of Ed Wood's ORGY OF THE DEAD only with wrestling monsters instead of strippers.  Barring some flashbacks, it all takes place in a graveyard in Michigan where the pay-per-view battle of the monsters is going out live to viewers in Canada and beyond.  Criswell would've fit right in here, and, needless to say, so would Tor Johnson.  With a drunken Ed Wood in drag cheering them on from the sidelines.

Instead, we get venerable Canadian actors Dave Foley ("Kids in the Hall") and horror stalwart Art Hindle (THE BROOD, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) as tipsy Howard Cosell-type commentator Buzz Chambers and his crotchety sidekick "Sasquatch" Sid Tucker.  Foley and Hindle seem to be having fun with their roles, especially after an unfortunate incident with a zombie results in Sid growing increasingly foul-tempered as the night goes on.  Color commentator Jimmy Hart adds his own irrepressible dash of personality from the sidelines with a gorgeous ring girl on each arm.

The monsters themselves are a cross-section of archetypes including Frankenstein ("Technically it's 'Frankenstein's Monster', if you want to be a dick about it"), the Werewolf, the Mummy, Lady Vampire, Zombie Man, Witch Bitch, Cyclops, and a repulsive overweight creature known as Swamp Gut.  Most are played by actual wrestlers so the ring action is as "real" here as it is in the actual WWE events, a fact made clear the first time we see gorgeous Kelly Couture as Lady Vampire get body-slammed into the mat.  The usual stats graphics and trash talk segments are all here, albeit with a Gothic touch, and there's also the expected quota of dirty moves and illegal use of foreign objects such as meat cleavers and wooden stakes. 

Flashbacks to how the monsters got involved in the event take the place of commercial breaks, including a pretty cool creation scene for the Monster.  Lady Vampire's segment was filmed on an overgrown estate which is one of the ideal "found" locations that add much to MONSTER BRAWL's look, as does the extremely well-done graveyard set that was constructed in an abandoned warehouse.  Monster makeups and gore effects are very nicely rendered by the Brothers Gore and look more expensive than they are.  Other major factors in the film's look are good direction and editing along with some above average cinematography.

Humorwise, it's your basic WWE stuff with even more of a satirical twist.  Witch Bitch (Holly Letkeman) had me chuckling with her eyerolling performance and so did the vile Swamp Gut (Jason David Brown, who also plays Cyclops and graveyard caretender Cyril Haggard), a veritable fountain of offensive gases and corrosive substances.  A news report about the Mummy's escape from a museum warehouse, during which he kills a forklift driver, includes graphics such as "Mummy Kills Dummy" and "MILF Alert: Mummies I'd Like to Find."  Proving that even if he can't be in every movie ever made he can at least be heard in them, Lance Henriksen provides the voice of "God" as narrator and occasional fight commentator with concise, throaty quips such as "spectacular" and "phenomenal." 

Wrestling fans will find many of their favorite moves here along with some new ones like a meat cleaver to the ref's throat and the old head stomp, with magic and other supernatural forces coming into play.  Those who felt cheated by FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN's non-ending should welcome the sight of the Monster and Werewolf going at it again--this time to the finish--while a full-blown zombie uprising in protest to their graveyard's invasion by pay-TV provides a lively diversion.  I'd also just like to mention again that Lady Vampire (Kelly Couture) is gorgeous, and that if you like strong women wearing black opera gloves, then that's two big fetishes covered right there.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include commentary with director Cook and producers Matt Wiele and John Geddes, a "making-of" featurette, some Jimmy Hart outtakes, and a trailer.

Some viewers have opined that MONSTER BRAWL is boring and wonder if it even qualifies as a real movie.  To the first point I would say that, yes, it is slow-paced and will seem pretty boring if you don't really get into the kind of mood the movie's going for.  To the second, I would say...ehh.  If ORGY OF THE DEAD was a real movie, then so is this.  Will you like it?  It's purely a matter of taste.  I had fun with it.

Buy it at