- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Those suffering from holiday consumer overkill may want to partake of some counter-programming via Lewis Jackson’s 1980 celluloid antidote, Christmas Evil, new from Synapse Films ($24.95, synapse-films.com). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Synapse’s version represents the restored director’s cut of a film (originally titled “You Better Watch Out”) mistakenly marketed as a slasher movie. It’s actually a character study of an unstable fellow with a serious Santa Claus complex.

Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart), a worker at the Jolly Dream toy factory, chafes at the hypocrisy surrounding his favorite holiday and seeks to embody what he believes to be the true Christmas spirit. To that end, he keeps careful tabs on those around him, doling out gifts to the deserving and death to serious malefactors, all the while clad in his elaborate homemade Santa suit.

During its sketchy initial release, the film irritated many mainstream detractors who thought it too irreverent, while disappointing horror fans who deemed it too tame in the blood-and-gore department. Taken on its own terms, though, “Christmas Evil” largely achieves its misunderstood aims.

Contributing greatly to the digital viewing enjoyment is once and future Baltimore bijou bad boy/avowed Christmas buff John Waters, who provides an appreciative audio commentary in conjunction with writer-director Jackson. Other extras include original audition tapes showing JoBeth Williams, Lindsay Crouse and other future names who failed to make the cut.

For viewers in the market for more yuletide mayhem, we also recommend the darker 1974 thriller Black Christmas, starring Margot Kidder and Keir Dullea and directed by Bob Clark (who would later helm the seasonal perennial, “A Christmas Story”), just out in an elaborate new special edition via Koch Entertainment, keyed to Glen Morgan’s upcoming remake.

Collectors’ corner

Vintage-film lovers enjoy a virtual audiovisual feast with this week’s digital offerings. 20th Century Fox releases Charlie Chan Volume 2 (four-disc, $59.98), collecting four 1930s mysteries starring Warner Oland as the famous shamus: Charlie Chan at the Circus, Charlie Chan at the Race Track, Charlie Chan at the Opera and Charlie Chan at the Olympics. Extras include four featurettes and restoration comparisons.

Warner Home Video returns to the wild and woolly pre-Code early ‘30s for a trio of candid features with its Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume One (two-disc, $39.92) — Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face (1933), Mae Clarke in James Whale’s Waterloo Bridge (1931) and Jean Harlow in Red-Headed Woman (1932).

Three Stooges boosters will want to check out a pair of rarities from Warner’s Classic Comedy Teams Collection ($14.98): the trio’s feature-film debut in the wacky 1933 time capsule Meet the Baron, where the boys play second fiddle to Jack Pearl’s Baron Munchausen, and 1951’s Gold Raiders, an extremely odd combo of slapstick comedy and generic B Western, costarring erstwhile action idol George O’Brien.

Other fresh oldies include Sony Pictures’ Dean Martin Double Feature: ‘Who Was That Lady?’/’How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life’” ($19.94), Paramount’s Shirley MacLaine showcase My Geisha ($14.99) and Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s Soldier Blue and Someone Behind the Door ($14.99 each).

MGM Home Entertainment scores a knockout with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition ($26.98), replete with new audio commentaries, a slew of featurettes covering every phase of production, and more.

Tele-video

Sitcoms lead the week’s TV-on-DVD parade, with Paramount presenting a pair of 1960s series: The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete Final Season and Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle USMC: The Complete First Season (five-disc, $39.99 each).

Warner Home Video chimes in with Full House: The Complete Fifth Season (four-disc, $29.98) and Pamela Anderson stars in an extras-enhanced Stacked: The Complete Series 3 (three-disc, $29.98).

Universal Studios strikes a more earnest tone with Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Season 2 (five-disc, $59.98), arriving with select commentaries and featurettes.

The ‘A’ list

Comedies likewise dominate the new theatrical-to-digital slate, with bonus-packed editions of the animated Barnyard (Paramount, $29.99), the seriocomic The Devil Wears Prada (20th Century Fox, $29.98), the teen-oriented Material Girls (MGM, $29.98), and the comic NASCAR blockbuster Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Sony Pictures, $28.95), starring Will Ferrell.

Also in are the period musical Idlewild (Universal, $29.98), Joan Plowright in the British drama Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (Westlake Entertainment, $19.99) and Nicolas Cage in Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, available in a single disc ($29.99) and a “2-Disc Commemorative Edition” ($34.99).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: In 1976 (I think), there was a Hallmark Hall of Fame special, “Beauty and the Beast,” which starred George C. Scott. Is that available either on DVD or VHS?

Susan Collins, Riverdale, Md.

Unfortunately, that well-received version of the famed fable has yet to land a homevideo release.

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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