An American Werewolf in London (Blu-Ray)
SPECIAL FEATURES A
DVD GEEK FACTOR 9.5
(OUT OF 10)
Writer-director John Landis and makeup man Rick Baker uncorked something flat-out incredible when they put this movie together. Landis, who'd made his mark with comedies such as The Blues Brothers and Animal House, showed that you could combine R-rated laughs with first-rate scares. Baker, who played King Kong in the 1976 remake, won the first-ever Oscar for makeup.
And, boy, did Baker deserve that Oscar. The werewolf transformation scenes still stand up today, 28 years later. When David Naughton, the guy from the old Dr. Pepper commercials, screamed that he was burning up, tore off his clothes and watched his hand elongate, cinema history was made, and a high watermark was set for what could be done with conventional makeup effects. On top of the tremendous werewolf effects, honest scares and torrents of gore, the movie is devilishly funny.
Naughton and Griffin Dunne play David and Jack, two Americans touring England on foot. After a stop in a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb, the two fail to follow the advice of the creepy patrons to stay on the roads and beware of the moon.
A beast kills Jack and leaves David alive. As it turns out, he is the last of the werewolf bloodline, a fact he finds out when the undead Jack comes back to tell him. The nauseating makeup on Dunne during his zombie scenes was enough to get Baker an Oscar.
When I popped in the Blu-Ray to watch the film for the first time in almost a decade, I figured I'd find some of the special effects dated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Baker's work still amazes, especially in the moment when Naughton's face literally pushes forward to form the werewolf's snout. Landis sought to make the werewolf transformation seem painful, and to film it in bright light. He succeeded on both fronts.
This one is the daddy of all horror comedies. Films like Evil Dead and Shaun of the Dead owe their existence to London. Landis, who hasn't made anything of worth in many years, topped out with this one, which makes sense, because his work here is pretty hard to beat.
Of course, there's a remake of this film in the works, as well as the long-delayed The Wolfman starring Benicio Del Toro. Baker did the makeup for Wolfman, and it would have to be some pretty powerful stuff to top what he did nearly three decades ago.
SPECIAL FEATURES: The highlight is a mammoth documentary, featuring participation from Landis, Baker and all the major stars of the film. The doc examines the film practically scene by scene, in chronological order. Other features include a recent interview with Baker, and holdovers from prior editions, including a terrific commentary from Naughton and Dunne.
Army of Darkness: Screwhead Edition (Blu-Ray)
SPECIAL FEATURES C+
DVD GEEK FACTOR 5.75
(OUT OF 10)
Even though this is the weakest of the Evil Dead films, it does contain Bruce Campbell's best work in the series. Director Sam Raimi shoots for too much with too little, especially in the movie's final battle scenes involving an army of skeletons. The weak effects make a good argument for CGI, which became prevalent shortly after this film was made in 1992.
Campbell stars as Ash, who time-traveled to 1300 A.D. at the end of Evil Dead 2. Trapped in the past, he makes the most of it, throwing wisecracks at knights and romancing the ladies. Campbell is much better than the movie surrounding him.
There have been many releases of this film on DVD. This is not the director's cut that ran 96 minutes. This is the original, 78-minute version featuring a happier ending.
There's been a lot of talk about an Evil Dead 4, and it would be good to see Campbell in the role again. Alas, it's all just talk at the moment.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Unlike past versions, this one doesn't have a Raimi or Campbell commentary. It has a new feature about the making of the movie's skeleton warriors and the original "slept too long" ending. For certain, there will be even more versions of the film on DVD in the future.
The Office: Season Five (Blu-Ray)
SPECIAL FEATURES B
DVD GEEK FACTOR 7
(OUT OF 10)
It's hard to believe this show has already been running for five seasons. Steve Carell, despite his movie stardom, has stuck around, and that's a good thing. This season kicked off with the staff at Dunder Mifflin losing weight in a politically incorrect corporate contest. It also saw Carell's Michael starting his own company, Pam (Jenna Fischer) going to art school and Jim (John Krasinski) proposing to Pam. The Office is the only place where Rainn Wilson (as the prodding Dwight) is consistently funny.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentaries, a celebration of the 100th episode, deleted scenes and gag reels are among the features.