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House, Monster a-Go Go among new DVDs for Halloween

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THE EVIL (1978) / TWICE DEAD (1988). The Roger Corman's Cult Classics line presents a double feature DVD: two "haunted house" thrillers on one disc, with the option to play them as a theatrical twofer complete with trailers, intermission and old-school ads for concession stand snacks. The first picture, The Evil, is the better of the pair, with Richard Crenna and Joanna Pettet cast as a married couple (atheist psychologist and Christian doctor, respectively) who, with the help of some associates and former patients, attempt to turn a ramshackle mansion into a rehab clinic. But the benevolent spirit of the original owner tries to warn them — to little avail — that a demonic force resides within the house, which soon becomes apparent as the members of the gathered party start getting picked off one by one. Risible in a few spots but competently presented most of the time, The Evil is a respectable yarn aided by a good cast. Twice Dead, meanwhile, finds a clean-cut family moving into a house once owned by an actor who killed himself over an unrequited love. His spirit still haunts the premises, which proves to be a plus once he helps the clan's teenage siblings (Tom Bresnahan and Jill Whitlow) ward off a gang of vicious street punks. Always watchable but never inspired, this OK filler is most notable for the appearance of 23-year-old Todd Bridges (Willis of "Watchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" fame) as a sympathetic neighbor; this was his first credit following Diff'rent Strokes' eight-year run.

Extras on The Evil include audio commentary by director Gus Trikonis, scripter Donald G. Thompson and director of photography Mario Di Leo, and the theatrical trailer. Extras on Twice Dead include audio commentary by director-cowriter Bert Dragin and Bresnahan, and a new 12-minute interview with Whitlow.

The Evil: **1/2

Extras: **

Twice Dead: **

Extras: **

HOUSE (1977). Barely making a ripple when it debuted stateside in 1977, Japan's House (Hausu) required an NYC re-release earlier this year to finally start building momentum for the wide cult following it will eventually enjoy. A gonzo horror flick that surely must have influenced Sam Raimi as he prepped The Evil Dead, this dizzying extravaganza centers on seven school girls (with such character-appropriate names as Gorgeous, Fantasy and Melody) who elect to vacation at a remote residence inhabited by a malevolent matriarch. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi establishes his schizophrenic style from the start, employing everything from speeded-up slapstick sequences to matte shots to bleeding color schemes. It takes a full half-hour before the house unleashes its horrors, but what a delirious ride it proves to be, with the mansion throwing a demonic cat, a carnivorous piano and much more at our plucky heroines. The seven teens are an ingratiating bunch, though my favorite is the one named Kung Fu — energetic and courageous, she's like the missing Spice Girl. Despite the ceaseless visual assault, the picture does have its slow spots, but any film savvy enough to include a visual shout-out to Denis Gifford's superb book A Pictorial History of Horror Movies gets a hearty recommendation from me.

DVD extras include interviews with Obayashi, Obayashi's daughter Chigumi Obayashi (who as a child provided her pop with many of the film's scenarios, and screenwriter Chiho Katsura; Emotion, Obayashi's 40-minute experimental film from 1966; and a 4-minute discussion with The House of the Devil director (and House fan) Ti West.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

MONSTER A-GO GO (1965). This motion picture's infamy extends beyond just the usual dismissals as one of the worst films ever made, as bad-movie buffs place it in the same, uh, exalted pantheon of immortal atrocities like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Robot Monster and Manos: The Hands of Fate. Even the lads at Mystery Science Theater 3000 deemed it (in their Amazing Colossal Episode Guide) "officially the worst movie we ever did," while the IMDb users have it ranked #2 on the Bottom 100 (under only Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2). Watching it on MST3K is a treat, but this new Special Collector's Edition presents only the film itself. No fear: It's so monumentally awful that couch potatoes will be able to provide their own wisecracks throughout the viewing experience. The story goes that in 1961, debuting director Bill Rebane shot his own sci-fi yarn (titled Terror at Half Day) until the money ran out, leaving behind an abandoned project. Enter the legendary Herschell Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast, The Gore Gore Girls), who scrapped some scenes, filmed a few new ones, and released the incoherent result in 1965 under the moniker Monster a-Go Go. The plot (as it were) centers on an astronaut who returns to Earth as a radioactive monster (played by 7-foot-plus actor Henry Hite in blotchy makeup) that terrorizes the Chicago area. Trivia note: Rebane has long stated that there was a possibility Ronald Reagan could have ended up starring in the picture, a move that, had it happened, might have kept him out of the White House due to sheer embarrassment. If only!

DVD extras include audio commentary by Rebane and cult film historian Joe Rubin; a 12-minute interview with Rebane; Rebane's short films Dance Craze and Twist Craze; and a booklet reprinting an in-depth article on the film.

Movie: *

Extras: **1/2

PREDATORS (2010). It may not have seemed like much at the time, but in retrospect, 1987's Predator now stands as one of the better pictures on Arnold Schwarzenegger's surprisingly underwhelming resume, behind only the first two Terminator films and Total Recall. Predators, on the other hand, won't seem like the cream of anybody's crop; instead, time will dismiss it as yet one more belated sequel hoping to turn name recognition into cash value. In this flabby outing, the hapless earthlings are all imported to a distant planet for the amusement of the alien hunters. You know priorities are out of whack when the most interesting performer, Machete's Danny Trejo, checks out waaay too early while the worst actor in the bunch, the perpetually hammy Walton Goggins, is allowed to hang around. As for the action, it's dutifully handled, but there isn't much here that quickens the pulse or jolts the imagination. In fact, if there's a central failing in Predators, it's that true innovation is in desperately short supply. The film comes armed with memorable monsters and a workable premise, but by offering little more than one-dimensional variations of the original's entertaining characters as well as basically duplicating its lush forest setting, this qualifies as little more than a bungle in the jungle.

DVD extras include audio commentary by producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal; an 11-minute making-of piece; and three motion comics.

Movie: **

Extras: *

 

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