- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

While not quite as powerful as his striking 1997 urban vampire fable “Habit” (A-Pix), writer-director Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo, new from Artisan Home Entertainment, rates as a solid, unsettling and, like “Habit,” ultimately poignant indie chiller. It’s our
Video pick of the week
“Wendigo” (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD) follows an urban family unit frustrated commercial photographer George (Jake Weber), psychiatrist Kim (Patricia Clarkson) and young son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan, of “Malcolm in the Middle” fame) into upstate New York’s bleakly eerie wintry woods. Their intended long-weekend vacation turns ominous early when they encounter hostile local hunter Otis (John Speredakos) and, later, an American Indian legend about a mysterious evil spirit, the titular “Wendigo.”
Since we experience most of the action through Miles’ wide, impressionable eyes, we’re not always sure how much of what we’re seeing springs from his febrile imagination, a technique director Fessenden deftly employs to keep the viewer off balance throughout. Relying more on dark visual poetry than cheap jolts, Mr. Fessenden succeeds in creating a disturbing mood of isolation and mounting dread, one somewhat akin to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” The horror, and pathos, heat up in the film’s final reel, when Miles’ fears take root in a shattering reality.
In his insightful feature-length DVD audio commentary, Mr. Fessenden candidly discusses the movie’s varied cinematic influences, ranging from “Psycho” to “Phantasm,” and the triumphs and travails of indie filmmaking. Other entertaining extras include a separate Fessenden interview, the behind-the-scenes featurette “Searching for Wendigo,” and the original theatrical trailer. Fans of “quiet” horror won’t want to miss this one.
Killer thrillers
In upcoming thriller news, James Caan and Johnathon Schaech team up in Blood Crime (not to be confused with Clint Eastwood’s “Blood Work” and “True Crime”). Samuel L. Jackson dons a kilt in Formula 51. And kidnappers Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love snatch Charlize Theron’s asthmatic daughter in the fast-vanishing theatrical thriller Trapped. All are arriving from Columbia/TriStar.
Elsewhere, Rachel Leigh Cook and “The Sopranos” costar Lorraine Bracco topline in the killer love-triangle affair Tangled, while an unemployed businessman embarks on a shadowy journey to keep his recent “downsizing” secret from his family in the cerebral French suspenser Time Out (both via Miramax).
It’s No More Mr. Smarmy Guy as Robin Williams turns nutzoid stalker in One Hour Photo (20th Century Fox), while Billy Bob Thornton, Patricia Arquette and William Devane headline in The Badge (Trimark). All of the above will be priced for rental VHS and available on DVD.
More than a little romance
Warner Home Video gets a jump-start on Valentine’s Day with its early January release of a quartet of romantic titles making their remastered DVD debuts. The label reaches deep into the Warner archives for 1935’s Alice Adams, based on Booth Tarkington’s novel and starring Katharine Hepburn as a small-town girl with high-society dreams.
“Alice” joins three more recent films: Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek in 1997’s Breaking Up, River Phoenix and Lili Taylor in Nancy Savoca’s 1991 Dogfight and a teenage Diane Lane in George Roy Hill’s 1979 A Little Romance. The extras-enriched discs are tagged at $19.98 each.
‘Signs’ of the times
The high-profiled sci-fi chiller, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, debuts Jan. 7 ($29.99 DVD/$22.99 VHS), via Touchstone Home Entertainment. The combo alien-invasion/family drama stars a quietly effective Mel Gibson as a tormented former minister, Joaquin Phoenix as his younger brother, and Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin as his son and daughter. The DVD includes over a half-dozen behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, storyboards, companion booklet and more, all supervised by writer/director Shyamalan, who made his mark with “The Sixth Sense.”
Phan mail
Dear Phantom: The note in your column a couple of weeks ago from the person looking for “Manila Calling” sparked my memory. For years I have been looking for two old movies that were favorites of mine way back when. They are Split Second, with Stephen McNally, and The Steel Lady, with Rod Cameron. Any idea if either are available? Also, any word on any progress toward re-releasing on video or DVD The High and the Mighty?
Murray Welsh, via e-mail
The 1953 atomic noir “Split Second,” formerly out on the long-defunct RKO Video label, is available on a mail-order rental basis from Scarecrow Video (scarecrow.com) and Video Library (vlibrary.com). Neither “The Steel Lady” nor the oft-requested “The High and the Mighty” has yet landed a home video release.
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: phanmedia@aol.com Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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