- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Director and writer Jeff Burr, who has alternated between enterprising indies (“Eddie Presley”) and largely lackluster scare sequels (“Leatherface”), scores a major breakthrough with his harrowing, hallucinatory war movie Straight into Darkness, new this week from Screen Media Films ($19.98). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

In winter 1945, a jeep carrying three MPs hits a land mine, enabling the MPs’ two prisoners — the borderline psycho Deming (Scott MacDonald) and the haunted, enigmatic Losey (Ryan Francis) — to make good their escape. Their subsequent trek through Nazi-occupied rural France ultimately takes them to a farmhouse defended by an extremely odd force — two older teachers (David Warner and Linda Thorson) and 10 “special” orphan children.

Despite echoes of Cornell Wilde’s “Beach Red,” Sam Fuller’s “The Big Red One” and even Tod Browning’s “Freaks,” “Straight into Darkness” rates as a strikingly original exercise, particularly in tone and technique. Filmmaker Burr’s (often literally) dark imagery, frequent fast cutting, and nearly subliminal dreams and flashbacks, vividly capture the chaos and nightmare quality of combat.

Nor are the characters your standard-issue stereotypes, but tortured, conflicted souls doomed to play out what may well be a futile scenario. “Straight into Darkness” doesn’t stint on the elaborately staged action sequences either; the final Nazi assault is a masterful set piece of raging violence and fury.

A director’s commentary and behind-the-scenes featurette shed further light on the creation of this modestly budgeted but intricately constructed winner, one well worth a rental for adventurous viewers.

Collectors’ corner

Warner Home Video leads off a terrific week for vintage-film lovers with its John Ford Film Collection (five-disc, $59.98), assembling a quintet of classic titles: the excellent 1934 desert escapade The Lost Patrol; the Oscar-winning 1935 The Informer, set in Ireland; Katharine Hepburn as Mary of Scotland (1936); and two later Westerns, 1960’s Sergeant Rutledge and the restored edition of 1964’s Cheyenne Autumn. Audio commentaries, featurettes and trailers augment the set.

Paramount Home Entertainment offers the Batjac Suspense Collection (four-disc, $48.99), introducing a quartet of 1950s films produced by John Wayne’s company: the noir Man in the Vault, starring William Campbell; the Glenn Ford caper Plunder of the Sun; Mickey Spillane in the circus mystery Ring of Fear; and William A. Wellman’s brilliantly moody Robert Mitchum Western Track of the Cat.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment contributes the mysteries Boomerang! (1947), directed by Elia Kazan, and Betty Grable in I Wake Up Screaming (1941); Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s ensemble drama House of Strangers (1949) and Robert Aldrich’s long-awaited 1973 smackdown on the rails,Emperor of the North, pitting hobo hero Lee Marvin against vicious railroad bull Ernest Borgnine.

The same label spotlights an enduring Hollywood legend in its Marilyn Monroe: Special Anniversary Collection (six-disc, $39.98), assembling four wide-ranging films, the comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and The Seven-Year Itch (1955), the gripping thriller Niagara (1953) and the Western River of No Return (1954), along with the documentary Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days.

Tele-video

Paramount Home Entertainment leads the way in a busy TV-on-DVD week with three new sets: the supernatural series Charmed: The Complete Fifth Season (six-disc, $49.99), Star Trek: Fan Collective: Q (four-disc, $39.99) and Robert Conrad in The Wild Wild West: The Complete First Season (three-disc, $49.99).

Warner Home Video likewise revisits cathode frontier days with the Clint Walker Western series Cheyenne: The Complete First Season (five-disc, $39.98) and the Forrest Tucker/Larry Storch send-up F Troop: The Complete First Season (six-disc, $39.98).

Elsewhere, HBO Video releases the cable series Entourage: The Complete Second Season (three-disc, $39.98) and Tim Allen returns in Home Improvement: Season 4 (Walt Disney Home Entertainment, three-disc, $39.99).

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment launches the Lorenzo Lamas aviation adventure Air America — The Complete Series (six-disc, $49.95) and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment offers the 1960s sci-fi show Time Tunnel: Season One, Vol. 2 (four-disc, $39.98).

The ‘A’ list

Among recent theatrical titles joining the digital ranks, Warner Home Video goes the thriller route with the Harrison Ford showcase Firewall ($28.98) and the over-the-top caper Running Scared ($27.98), the latter arriving with director’s commentary and featurette.

Sony Pictures proffers bonus-packed editions of the sci-fi/fantasy sequel Underworld — Evolution ($28.95), headlining Kate Beckinsale, and the modern Western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada ($26.96), starring and directed by Tommy Lee Jones.

Walt Disney Home Entertainment releases an extras-enhanced edition of the fact-based 1960s college hoops drama Glory Road ($29.99), with Josh Lucas and Jon Voight, while Visual Entertainment spotlights the eponymous stand-up comic in Sarah Silverman — Jesus Is Magic ($24.99).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Looking for a cult movie, Liquid Sky.

Eric Walker, via e-mail—

That offbeat 1983 indie is now available via MTI Home Video ($24.95).

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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