Given the plethora of low-budget 1970s documentaries exploring such phenomena as UFOs, Bigfoot, etc., it’s no surprise that Bram Stoker’s Prince of Darkness would become grist for the cinematic mill.
Based on a 1972 bestseller, producer/director Calvin Floyd’s low-budget 1975 exploration of the Count’s literary and historical origins is fairly elementary and hardly revelatory to Dracula devotees. Possibly made for television, it’s been padded to feature length with clips from vampire movies — particularly Scars of Dracula (1970), from which it borrows considerable footage.
It was undoubtedly a coup to secure the services of Christopher Lee, to many the screen’s greatest Dracula, as narrator and host, as he’d recently vowed never to play the character again. In addition to the Scars of Dracula clips, Lee also appears as the real Dracula, Vlad Tepes (“Vlad the Impaler”), in scenes filmed on location in Transylvania. The indefatigable Lee, who’ll be 91 this May (and still going strong), adds both his distinctive voice and a touch of class to an otherwise average endeavor.
Rated PG. **½
“ALCATRAZ”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Warner Home Video): Executive producer JJ Abrams wasn’t able to save this heavilyhyped Fox Network fantasy series from an early demise, despite a cast that includes Sam Neill, Parminder Nagra, Jorge Garcia, Jonny Coyne and semi-regular Robert Forster (a great guy). This DVD boxed set ($39.98 retail) includes all 13 episodes from the inaugural 2012 season plus special features.
THE ASSASSINS (Well Go USA Entertainment): Chow Yun-Fat toplines this historical adventure (originally titled Tong que tai) set against the backdrop of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, as an aging warlord of the Han Dynasty. In Mandarin with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.
ATM (IFC Films/MPI Media Group): On Christmas Eve, co-workers Alice Eve, Brian Geraghty and Josh Peck are trapped in a glass-enclosed ATM by a masked killer lurking outside, in director David Brooks’ feature debut, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail). Rated R.
BEL AMI (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A visually ornate but dramatically inert adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s novel, with Robert Pattinson smoldering ineffectually as a gigolo and journalist in turn-of-the-century Paris, wooing — but never winning — the glamorous likes of Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci and Uma Thuman. Rated R. *½
THE BEST OF FOYLE’S WAR (Acorn Media): A DVD boxed set ($49.99 retail) of six feature-length episodes from the longrunning, award-winning British mystery series aired by PBS in the US, as selected by Michael Kitchen, who stars in the title role of Christopher Foyle, a detective inspector investigating murder, mystery and espionage in England during the early days of World War II. In addition to series regulars Honeysuckle Weeks and Anthony Howell, guest stars include Edward Fox, Robert Hardy, James McAvoy and Ronald Pickup.
BRAIN OF BLOOD (Alpha Home Entertainment): Hollywood has-beens Kent Taylor, Grant Williams and Reed Hadley headline hack director Al Adamson’s cheap, cheesy, quite watchable 1971 schlock-fest, involving political skullduggery and illicit brain transplants… which, as we all know, never go according to plan. The cult-friendly cast includes big John Bloom, buxom Regina Carrol (the off-screen Mrs. Adamson) and diminutive Angelo Rossitto (cackling all the way). Impossible to recommend and just as impossible to resist. **
BROADWAY LIMITED (Alpha Home Entertainment): The title train is the setting for this lightweight 1941 comedy produced by Hal Roach, wherein movie star Marjorie Woodworth is persuaded to take a baby by her director/mentor (Leonid Kinskey) to gain publicity — unaware that the infant may have been kidnapped! Also on board: Victor McLaglen, Dennis O’Keefe, Zasu Pitts and Patsy Kelly… but the script isn’t particularly funny. **
COSMOPOLIS (Entertainment One):Adapted from Don DeLillo’s novel, writer/director David Cronenberg’s latest film stars Robert Pattinson as a young billionaire whose entire world comes undone while he travels through the city in a stretch limousine. Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric and Jay Baruchel round out the cast. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Bluray for $29.98. Rated R.
KILL ‘EM ALL (Well Go USA Entertainment): Stylish but repetitive trash in which international assassins (including Johnny Messner, Chia Hui Liu, Tim Man and Joe Lewis) are pitted against each other after being incarcerated in a high-tech dungeon known as the “Killing Chamber.” Think a chop-socky Saw. *½
LADY IN THE DEATH HOUSE (Alpha Home Entertainment): Criminologist Lionel Atwill (in a rare good-guy role) tries to save Jean Parker from being executed for a murder she didn’t commit in this engrossing, sometimes-stylish low-budget 1944 programmer. **½
PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION (Well Go USA Entertainment): Xun Zhou and Wei Zhao reprise their roles from the award-winning 2008 blockbuster for this sequel, which combines ancient Chinese lore with state-of-the-art special effects and high-flying martial-arts action. In Mandarin with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.
RARE WESTERN DOUBLE FEATURE (Alpha Home Entertainment): A DVD twin bill ($7.98 retail) of B Westerns, both starring Buddy Roosevelt and directed by Victor Adamson (AKA Denver Dixon): Boss Cowboy (1934) and Lightning Range (1933).
RING AROUND THE MOON (Alpha Home Entertainment): Reporter Donald Cook marries socialite Erin O’Brien-Moore in this indecisive 1936 adaptation of Vera Hobart’s novel, which starts off in a humorous mode then turns into a Depression-era melodrama. Sincere performances help. **
STAGECOACH TO DENVER (Alpha Home Entertainment): Allan “Rocky” Lane returns as Red Ryder in this 1946 B- Western film, trying to solve the murder of a land commissioner. That’s young Robert Blake (billed as “Bobby”) as Red’s faithful sidekick “Little Beaver.” **
TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (The Criterion Collection): The Blu-ray debut ($39.99 retail) of Monte Hellman’s 1971 cult classic, an existential road movie starring James Taylor (in his first and only film), Dennis Wilson (in his first and only film), Laurie Bird (in her screen debut) and Warren Oates. Rated R.
THE UNFINISHED TASK (Alpha Home Entertainment): Heavy-handed, faithbased 1960 melodrama (also known as I’ll Give My Life) with John Bryant as a young man who forsakes his family’s wealth for the ministry. Angie Dickinson, Ray Collins, Donald Woods and Katherine Warren round out a cast that deserves better. *½
WAR OF THE DEAD (Entertainment One): Fairly well-made if one-note shocker pitting Allied soldiers against the undead (the result of fiendish Nazi experiments) in 1941 Finland. **
WOMEN IN THE NIGHT (Alpha Home Entertainment): This surprisingly effective 1948 World War II potboiler (based on “top secret files”) focuses on atrocities visited upon female prisoners captured in Shanghai by Japanese and German forces — and their recourse. Acted with conviction by a cast including Tala Birell, Virginia Christine, Jean Brooks, William Henry and long-time Hollywood Asian mainstays Richard Loo, Benson Fong and Philip Ahn. The running time is far longer than the 58 minutes indicated on the DVD case. ***