- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

Remember the double features of yore? MGM Home Entertainment revives them with a series of new DVDs pairing popular genre pics in a $14.98 package. Our fave among the label's most recent twin-bill batch, due next week, is the yoking of the femme gothic duo Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and What's the Matter with Helen? They're our

Video picks of the week

Quirky filmmaker Curtis Harrington (known for "Night Tide") meets Hammer Films in "Auntie Roo," a slyly unsettling 1971 variation on "Hansel and Gretel." Shelley Winters is wonderfully unglued as nutzoid Auntie Roo, a former American showgirl who, we learn in a chilling prologue, keeps the body of her late daughter in a locked playroom in her "gingerbread house" in rural 1920s England. Roo also "communicates" with the spirit of said dead daughter with the dubious help of shifty con artist clairvoyant Mr. Benton (a top-flight Ralph Richardson) and her untrustworthy servants Albie (Michael Gothard) and Clarine (Judy Cornwell).

Each year, the kindly if crazy Roo invites 10 children selected from a local orphanage for an elaborate sleepover Christmas party. This particular year she also welcomes two stowaways, brother and sister Christopher (Mark Lester) and Katy (Chloe Franks), the latter a near dead ringer for her dead child. The wary Christopher quickly discerns Auntie Roo's dark side but too late to prevent Katy from becoming the mad matron's prisoner. With a droll tone established by Mr. Harrington's deft direction and a tight script co-written by veteran Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster, impeccable period decor and legit shock value, "Auntie Roo" is a winner from opening to fadeout.

Director Harrington and star Winters return for the following year's "What's the Matter with Helen?" Here, when the Midwestern mothers (Miss Winters and Debbie Reynolds) of two convicted murderers move to 1930s Hollywood to start life anew as dance academy owners, they find their links to their sons' crimes catching up with them. Miss Reynolds portrays the team's saner half, striking up a romance with wealthy oilman Dennis Weaver, while the not so quietly unraveling Miss Winters stirs up trouble for the pair.

"Helen" lacks the blackly whimsical quality and pedigreed British cast of "Auntie Roo" but still shapes up as a satisfying chiller and perfectly complements its sister feature. One caveat, though: The "Helen" poster gracing the DVD's cover gives away the film's ending, so shield your eyes from this visual faux pas. The discs may be light on extras, but the widescreen transfers looking dazzlingly pristine.

The 'A' list

Buena Vista Home Entertainment plans a treat for old-school adventure fans with Hollywood's latest adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, starring James Caviezel, Guy Pearce and Richard Harris. With CQ, a lighthearted homage to pop fantasy films like "Barbarella," writer-director Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford Coppola) revisits a more recent Parisian past 1969, to be precise; Jeremy Davies, Gerard Depardieu, Billy Zane and Giancarlo Giannini lead an international cast.

Meanwhile, serial-killer thrillers remain in fashion. Later this month, First Look Pictures presents Dahmer, a relatively restrained account of convicted murderer Jeffrey Dahmer's life and crimes. Lions Gate Home Entertainment sets a mid-September date for actor Bill Paxton's genuinely gripping directorial debut Frailty, co-starring Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe. Warner Home Video unleashes Murder by Numbers, featuring Sandra Bullock as a homicide detective up against two young thrill killers in a modern Leopold and Loeb mode. All will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

Dante's inferno

Warner Home Video grants the gala DVD treatment to two Halloween-targeted titles from genre specialist Joe Dante. The director's 1984 Gremlins, about furry trolls behaving badly, arrives with two feature-length commentaries, a behind-the-scenes documentary, 10 minutes of previously unseen footage, photo and storyboard gallery and more. 1990's Gremlins 2: The New Batch likewise comes with a wealth of fresh extras, including a gag reel. The DVDs are tagged at $19.98 each.


In classic-comedy developments, MPI Home Video debuts The Honeymooners Lost Episodes Vol. 21 and 22 ($14.98 each DVD). Columbia/TriStar offers the six-short collection The Three Stooges: Cops and Robbers ($24.95 DVD).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: The original copy of The Haunting (black-and-white), with Julie Harris? Thanks.

Dionne, via e-mail

That 1963 scare classic is available on VHS ($13.49) from Movies Unlimited (800/4-MOVIES, www.moviesunlimited.com).

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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