- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

French emigre filmmakers Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa make an impressive stateside debut with Dead End, an imaginative descent into pure nightmare territory, new from Lions Gate Home Entertainment ($24.98). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

The Harringtons, your typical dysfunctional American family unit — weary dad Ray Wise, antsy mom Lin Shaye, mega-obnoxious teen son Mick Cain, sane collegiate sis Alexandra Holden and her Zen-like beau Billy Asher — are cruising down a deserted nocturnal back-country road on a circuitous Christmas Eve trip to grandmother’s house when things begin to go terribly wrong.

A lady in white (Amber Smith) wandering the blue highway cradling a dead baby provides the first clue that the Harringtons’ ride will not end with sipping eggnogs by a cozy fire (although dad will down nearly a full bottle of booze before the night is through).

“Dead End” combines darkly witty domestic psychodrama with a late-arriving “Twilight Zone”-type turn and several last-minute mini-twists (stick around past the end credits), resulting in one of the freshest fright films we’ve seen in many a full moon, sort of a “Wrong Turn” with brains.

Mr. Wise and Miss Shaye have a field day as the oft-bickering mom-and-pop tandem, while Miss Holden lends quiet authority to her role as the clan’s lone sensible member.

The horror elements are all the more effective for happening largely in the shadows as the filmmakers build a sure-handed sense of palpable dread and doom. (No shock, then, that “Dead End” copped Best International Feature Film honors at Montreal’s influential Fant-Asia Film Festival.)

Lions Gate releases “Dead End” sans extras or fanfare, but the disc is well worth seeking out for anyone in the market for honest holiday chills.

Tele-video

Three popular science-fiction series lead the way in the booming TV-on-DVD department:

• Gil Gerard dons futuristic crime-fighter gear in 1980’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, $89.98), a five-disc set containing all 32 episodes.

• Cosmic family adventures abound in 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s four-disc Lost in Space: Season Two Volume Two ($39.98), collecting 14 episodes of the ‘60s space show along with rare cast interviews.

• Next week, Star Trek Voyager: The Complete Sixth Season ($129.99) beams down via Paramount Home Entertainment in a seven-disc edition equipped with 26 episodes plus a wealth of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

More tele-video

MPI Home Video continues two vintage teleseries with its four-disc, extras-enhanced Dark Shadows Collection 15 ($59.98) and the three-disc British mystery show A Touch of Frost Season 4 ($49.98), while A&E Home Video unlocks the Down Under cult shocker Prisoner Cell Block H ($49.95) in a bonus-enriched three-disc set.

The ‘A’ list

In theatrical-to-DVD news, Tobey Maguire returns in Sam Raimi’s superhero sequel Spider-Man 2, available via Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment in both a double-disc Collector’s DVD Gift Set ($49.95) and a single “Superbit” disc ($29.96). Jim Caviezel stars as the eponymous golf great in the same label’s bonus-packed Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius ($26.96).

Elsewhere, Joseph Fiennes assumes the lead role in the historical drama Luther (MGM Home Entertainment, $25.98), while Miramax Home Entertainment debuts the surprise Jet Li hit Hero, along with Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman ($29.99 each).

Other new Asian imports worth checking out include cult auteur Takashi Miike’s Yakuza chiller Gozu (Pathfinder Home Entertainment, $24.98) and Takashi Shimizu’s “The Grudge” precursor Ju-on (Lions Gate, $24.98).

Collectors’ corner

Home Vision Entertainment contributes a digitally restored edition of the 1954 animated feature Animal Farm ($24.95), drawn from George Orwell’s bleak political satire and featuring informative audio commentary by film historian Brian Sibley, plus playwright David Hare’s 1985 directorial debut Wetherby ($19.95), with Vanessa Redgrave and Judi Dench.

Paramount Home Entertainment salvages a pair of powerful titles from videoblivion via new digital releases: the long-lost 1942 Orson Welles documentary anthology It’s All True and Lynne Littman’s grimly brilliant 1983 nuclear-holocaust drama Testament ($14.99 each).

Musical notes

W/S/M Video crams 10 hours of all-star rock entertainment into its four-disc Live Aid: July 13, 1985: The Day the Music Changed the World ($39.99), while Rhino Video serves up Crosby, Stills & Nash: The DVD Collection (three-disc $19.99).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Is there a hint of a release date for either the Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton TV series “Beauty and the Beast” or the current “Judging Amy” television series? Thanks for your great column.

Barbara Walters, Great Falls, Va.

No specific dates so far for either, though Video Library (vlibrary.com) still has long-withdrawn Beauty and the Beast” VHS tapes available on a mail-order rental basis.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or e-mail us at phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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