Some legendary, some underground cult favorites get their Blu-Ray release today.
Call it synchronicity, call it clever planning on the part of the industry, call it the kind of coincidence that only happens in summertime, but June 15 sees the release of no less than five cult favorite films on the Blu-Ray format. In fact their cult status is about the only thing they have in common. There’s one critical darling in the group, and one that was critically lambasted upon its theatrical release, with the others falling somewhere in between – meaning, like any good group of movies, they’re all over the place.
We’ve included, just for fun, the original theatrical trailers in our summaries just below. The films are ranked, as always, in no particular order of importance. They’re all available for purchase online, and we imagine elsewhere as well.
The Stepfather (1987) – Long before Lost, Terry O’Quinn headlined this modestly budgeted thriller that gained its fame, like so many films of the era, thanks to frequent airings on late-night cable movie channels. O’Quinn is flawless as Jerry Blake, a salesman obsessed with having the ideal Reagan Era, traditional-values family. When the women and children he finds don’t measure up to his vision of perfection, he kills them, until his latest marriage to a divorcee (Shelley Hack) and her daughter (Jill Schoelen) exposes his insatiable evil.
Forget the grimy, artless remake released last year; this original version, so popular it spawned two sequels – though only 1989′s The Stepfather II featured O’Quinn reprising his role - remains the kind of film that gave B-Movies an (almost) good name at the end of the 1980s. The Blu-Ray’s extra features include a retrospective of all three films and a production stills gallery.
Enter The Dragon (1973) – The cult movie deemed “culturally significant” by the National Film Registry, Bruce Lee’s final film appearance casts him as a Shaolin martial artist sent to infiltrate a fighting tournament hosted by the mysterious drug lord Han (Shih Kien). Joining him in a loose alliance are an American playboy (John Saxon) running from the mob and a black activist (Jim Kelly) wanted for fighting two racist policeman.
Lee and the others discover that Han’s tournament is only the tip of a much larger scheme, and must fight their way through his bodyguards to expose the truth and save their own lives. Lee’s final showdown with Han, set in the fortress’ hall of mirrors, has become iconic screen imagery. The first martial arts film financed by a major Hollywood studio, the film created a martial arts sensation in 1970s America, helping establish its enduring culture and paving the way for every American-financed martial arts actioner that followed.
A host of extra features accompany the new transfer, including the superb Lee documentary Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.
Mystery Train (Criterion Collection) (1989) – Jim Jarmusch’s trio of artfully self-conscious short stories electrified 1980s independent cinema, while its aesthetics and sensibilities resonated through the 90s and continue, to a lesser extent, to the present day. Set around a dingy Memphis hotel operated by a mysterious desk clerk (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins), the stories involve a Japanese couple (Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase) making a pilgrimage to see the city of Elvis; an Italian widow (Nicoletta Braschi0) trapped overnight while returning her husband’s body home; and a trio of small-time hoods (Joe Strummer, Rick Aviles, and Steve Buscemi) hiding out after a botched liquor store holdup. Memphis music legend Rufus Thomas also appears in a small role.
The Criterion Edition (Is it possible Criterion leans too heavily on art-house and festival darlings such as this?) includes a new digital transfer and uncompressed monaural soundtrack, as well as several extra features including a Q&A session where Jarmusch answers fans’ questions.
Flash Gordon (1980) – Thirty years after its release, we’re still hard-pressed not to love this campy, Disco-fueled wallow in excess as Star Wars’ skankier sister. When intergalactic tyrant Ming The Merciless (Max Von Sydow, savoring every bite of the scenery) begins his conquest of an unsuspecting planet Earth, it falls to New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) to thwart his plans and rescue the Earth woman (Melody Anderson) Ming wants for his bride/concubine. Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed co-star as, respectively, Flash’s allies Prince Barin and Prince Vultan, while no less than Topol appears as Flash’s scientist sidekick Dr. Zarkov. Director Mike Hodges (Get Carter) doesn’t know the meaning of the word “enough,” piling the action, violence, and sex appeal atop every kooky minute and setting it all to Queen’s balls-to-the-wall soundtrack.
Extra features include all of the same bonuses as the earlier DVD “Savior of the Universe” edition, as well as interviews with cover artist Alex Ross (for some reason) and screenwriter Lorenzo, Semple, Jr., and the first chapter of the 1936 Buster Crabbe serial.
Showgirls Fifteenth Anniversary Sinsational Edition (1995)- Speaking of wretched excess, this infamous mid-90s melodrama reteamed the writer and director responsible for Basic Instinct and set them loose on a sleazy story about a drifter’s (former Saved By The Bell star Elizabeth Berkley) ascent through the lurid world of Las Vegas dancing, rising from stripper to showgirl despite the usual sex-and-money potboiler obstacles.
The point of Showgirls isn’t the story so much as the presentation, and director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas serve up plenty of nudity, overheated theatrics, and soap opera-esque plot twists and turns that really only accompany the neon-lit, sweat and hairspray-soaked spectacle of it all. A kind of feather-soft porno from a time when Hollywood wasn’t afraid to indulge in a little eroticism (really, its last great attempt at such before the advent of the Internet), its release was accompanied by a storm of controversy regarding its explicit and overt sexuality, none of which helped to boost its disappointing box office results. But as proof of the old saying about “behind closed doors,” the film eventually made more than $100 million dollars in home video rentals.
Extra features include – no kidding – a tutorial on fitness-based pole dancing hosted by health instructor Teri Jaworski and a clinic on lap dancing presented by the girls of Scores. A production diary and pop-up trivia track are also included, as well as audio commentary by film celebrant David Schmader.
We’ll be back later this week.
- Michael Kabel