Wednesday, December 12, 2007

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2007: Bill Cooke

Today's list comes to us from VW contributor, filmmaker and educator Bill Cooke:

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968, MGM / 20th Century Fox)
Finally, MGM’s long-in-the-pipeline director’s cut of Michael Reeve’s swan song renders the flawed British import DVD, and any memories of those abominable domestic releases rescored with a synthesizer, gloriously obsolete. The transfer is gorgeously detailed, bringing fresh vitality to this landmark modern horror film.

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD (1976, Dark Sky)
Aka ISLAND OF THE DAMNED
Strange, suspenseful Spanish thriller from Narcisco Ibañez Serrador throws a vacationing couple on an island of murdering children. As in Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, we’re left to ponder the reasons why. Dark Sky presents the uncut version.

THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M (1959, Casa Negra)
Those who dismiss Mexican horror films probably haven’t seen this one from Fernando Méndez, the director of EL VAMPIRO (1957). Striking B&W atmosphere recalls the early work of Mario Bava. Casa Negra, the company that gave us this and other nicely restored Mexican horror films these past two years is now, sadly, out of business.

THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1958) / THE VAMPIRE (1957) (MGM / 20th Century Fox)
In this fun double-bill of late-Fifties American vampire films, each takes a radically different approach to the material. THE VAMPIRE is a typical 1950s variation on Jekyll & Hyde and is the better film for its superior screenplay by Pat Fielder (THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD), mixing sympathetic characters and dark humor. THE RETURN OF DRACULA returns to the character’s supernatural origins, but places him in modern times as a metaphor for communist invaders. RETURN includes the color insert shot usually missing from TV prints.

Süpermen: Dönüyor (1979, Omar Films - Greek import)
In this Bizarro World version of the Richard Donner film (translated title: SUPERMAN RETURNS!), a lanky Turkish Superman uses his X-Ray vision to peek at women’s undies, reverts into a crude action figure whenever he flies, and gets into lots of repetitious fistfights with gangsters on sets made for a buck ninety-five. This PAL-formatted disc from Greece was mastered from a tape source and looks pretty rough, though it’s an improvement over former bootlegs and contains an extra B&W Turkish superhero feature (Demir Yumruk: Deluer Geliyor) to sweeten the deal. Available from Xploited Cinema.

UNIVERSAL HORROR: CLASSIC MOVIE ARCHIVE (Universal)
A couple of important titles—MAN-MADE MONSTER and NIGHT MONSTER—are combined with some minor filler—HORROR ISLAND and THE BLACK CAT (1941)—for this Best Buy exclusive that gets us ever closer to completing the Universal horror library. CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN is also included, dashing any hopes for an “Ape Woman Legacy” set. No sign of Rondo Hatton or Uni-owned Paramount titles yet, which makes these likely candidates for next Halloween’s offerings.

MALIBU HIGH (1979) / TRIP WITH THE TEACHER (1975, BCI Eclipse)
In an attempt to tap into brand-name recognition of the Tarantino/Rodriguez GRINDHOUSE (which actually turned out to be one of the biggest box-office flops of the year), BCI has resumed their “Starlight Drive-in” series of double under the new banner, “Welcome to the Grindhouse.” Whatever the headline, exploitation fans have cause to rejoice as long as these trashy and shamefully entertaining Crown International double features continue to come out, including this inspired pairing of a teen-rebellion drama gone horribly, horribly wrong with a head-on collision between the biker genre and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

I AM CUBA – THE ULTIMATE EDITION (Milestone)
Mikhail Kalatazov’s communist-propaganda masterpiece receives the Special Edition treatment, complete with a scintillating transfer and clever cigar-box packaging. This anthological look at Castro’s revolution is among the most beautifully photographed films, with Kalatazov’s moving camera achieving one breathtaking, sustained long take after another.

ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: SAM KATZMAN (Columbia Tri-Star)
Who’d have thought a giant corporation would greenlight a box set devoted to prolific “B” film producer Sam Katzman and even title the set after him? It’s not as if anybody in the mainstream knows the name. Oh well, even if it doesn’t make a lot of commercial sense, genre aficionados are certainly pleased to finally have pristine copies of THE GIANT CLAW, THE WEREWOLF, ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU and CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN.

INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER (Sony)
Aka MONSTER ZERO
2007 was an incredible year for stateside kaiju eiga fans, with Sony’s and Media Blasters’ subtitled, features-filled special editions of the Toho science-fiction canon. Picking just one is a daunting task, but this one—the sixth Godzilla film and an historic mating of the giant-monster and space opera genres—has a slight edge for containing a dazzling transfer of the American version (so we can hear Nick Adams yell “You dirty, stinkin’ rats!” in his own tongue) and a slew of great supplements.
Tomorrow: The Top Eleven picks -- and the Wish List -- of another of VW's filmmaking contributors... Sheldon Inkol.

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