Animal House: Double Secret Probation Edition
The outsized reputation of Animal House as a movie is matched uncannily by the outsized reputation of its star, the late John Belushi. Twenty-five years after its hit release, the film is being revisited in Universal’s “Double Secret Probation Edition”, an uncut, widescreen release with a handful of extras.
The film’s raunchiness - thick with swearing, nudity, and gags that barely count as half an entendre - will probably only be a shock to anyone used to seeing it over the years butchered for TV. Certainly, comedies today can be cruder, but few of them seem to airily relish their crudeness like John Landis’ film.
Set on a college campus in the idyllic Kennedy era, it features a remarkable cast (Donald Sutherland, John Vernon, Peter Riegert, Karen Allen, Kevin Bacon and Belushi) and a plot that’s basically Revenge of the Nerds for self-styled Boomer rebels. The cast is one of the reasons why the film overperformed; the script is certainly no masterpiece, being little more than a collection of fondly exaggerated memories of college misbehaviour.
A “mockumentary” on the film’s characters, improvised (it seems) from the conceit that Animal House was really a documentary, certainly makes a case for the comic exhaustion of the premise in the absence of Belushi. On film, Belushi would never be funnier (just ponder 1941, or Continental Divide), and director Landis has been overshadowed by once-negligible contemporaries like Chris Columbus.
Also includes a “making-of” featurette, a “fact track”, and an entirely unnecessary music video.
Raw Meat, a nasty little 1973 flick about cannibal tribes living in the London subway, is the sort of little gem that justify vast DVD reissue programs like the one MGM has just undertaken with its catalogue of horror titles.
Made for virtually no money under the auspices of Roger Corman’s z-grade American International Pictures, it’s an example of how a decent script and fortuitous performances can redeem even the grisliest of exploitation pictures. Starting with an audacious credit sequence filmed around the knocking shops of Soho, it lurches over the uneven performances of its two youthful leads (David Ladd and Sharon Gurney) before alighting on Donald Pleasance as a fantastically sarcastic police inspector.
Pleasance and sidekick Norman Rossington seem to inhabit a Pinter play, improvising elaborate verbal exchanges on the subject of tea and beer, almost independent of the film’s horror story. A brief, entirely unexplainable cameo by Christopher Lee is probably the dramatic highpoint, despite having no dramatic purpose.
Down in the sewers, director Gary Sherman would rather pan slowly over rotting corpses and dwell on his cannibal monster’s grief over the death of his wife than try to shock us. He’s a strangely sympathetic monster, this drooling troglodyte whose only words are “Mind the doors”, and you’re almost sad to see his demise. A strange, utterly watchable film; no extras.
Joe Dante’s The Howling, re-released by MGM with a nice menu of extras, is less original, and for years relied on Rob Bottin’s groundbreaking special effects - werewolves literally bursting out of the skin of their human hosts - as its claim to fame. Two decades later, the film’s real value is as a sly satire on new age, self-help culture; the werewolves of the film are in recovery, trying to deal with their dark side through encounter group therapy.
Countess Dracula/The Vampire Lovers
Hammer Films’ gothic horrors were never as stylized or as decadent as with this double bill, starring sexy, husky-voiced Ingrid Pitt as two legendary female bloodsuckers. Countess Dracula is based on the true story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, an evil aristocrat who used the blood of virgins as a skin treatment, while The Vampire Lovers is based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Victorian bodice-ripper “Carmilla”, about a lesbian vampire.
The first film is a morbid, extravagantly overdesigned little costume picture, while the latter has not only become a staple of Goth culture, it’s inspired a whole subgenre of pornography. Both films come with commentary tracks featuring Pitt and the films’ respective writer and director, while the latter comes with Pitt reading excerpts from Le Fanu’s novel.
The Devil Commands
The premise of this oddball little picture is worth a viewing, with Boris Karloff as the proverbial mad scientist trying to communicate with his dead wife using a “radio” where human corpses act as “tubes”. Barely over an hour long, the film rushes past too quickly to bog down in its insanely droll premise, thanks to director Edward Dmytryk, an intense but overlooked stylist who’d later have hits with The Caine Mutiny and Raintree County. No extras.
Three years after India gained independence, MGM made this epic adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling novel on location in what was, briefly, an exotic destination on the four-star touring itinerary. The Kipling novel wasn’t nearly as fanciful or unhistorical, but if you abandon your political scruples, it’s hard not to enjoy this hothouse fantasy, animated as it is by Errol Flynn at his finest, head thrown back and in full swagger. Comes with two vintage MGM travelogues on India, wincingly incorrect in their wide-eyed obsession with squalor and exotica.
Stitch! The Movie
Less a sequel to the animated feature than a pilot for a spin-off TV series, Stitch! The Movie is only occasionally too winsome for adults, mostly redeeming itself with wry asides meant for tired but appreciative parental ears. The adorably destructive Stitch - aka Experiment #626 - discovers that he has 625 “cousins”, and Disney endeavors to create a kinder, gentler Pokemon. Painless family fare - comes with games and a music video.