- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

It may have been too subtle and textured to thrive during its wide multiplex run, but Frailty, actor Bill Paxton's directorial debut, stacks up as a nearly flawless fear film. It's our

Video pick of the week

The pic, due next week from Lions Gate Home Entertainment (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD), opens on a suitably ominous note when mystery man Matthew McConaughey pays a nocturnal visit to the FBI's Dallas headquarters to inform agent Powers Boothe that the heretofore unidentified "God's Hand" serial killer plaguing rural Texas is none other than his own brother.
In subsequent flashbacks, Mr. McConaughey relates the tale of his harrowing youth when his seemingly normal widowed dad (portrayed by Mr. Paxton, excellent in this capacity as well) suddenly experiences angelic visions summoning him to eliminate a list of local "demons" in human form. While younger brother Jeremy Sumpter goes along with their mad dad, a barely teenaged Mr. McConaughey (played in flashbacks by Matt O'Leary) watches in horror as pop chops a woman into pieces and buries the remains in their backyard. A couple of key twists await the viewer in the present, even as we witness dad's past reign of terror.
Debuting scenarist Brent Hanley (like Mr. Paxton and Mr. McConaughey a native Texan) serves up a taut, organic script that apparently escaped the studio committee rewrite ax: It has reached the screen with logic and integrity intact. Mr. Paxton serves the story perfectly with his dead-on but unobtrusive directing. The performances are first-rate, with Mr. Paxton drawing especially deft work from child thesps Matt O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter, who come across as truly credible youngsters with no phony Hollywood overlay, while genre vet Luke Askew registers well as a thickheaded small-town sheriff. Mr. Paxton and Mr. Hanley evoke both the present and 1979 past while avoiding atmospheric or pop-cultural overkill.
DVD extras include commentary with director Paxton and writer Hanley, behind-the-scenes featurettes, storyboards and more. In sum, "Frailty" arrives as a rare honest Halloween season treat for couchside thrill-seekers who have been tricked all too often.

And speaking of spooky stuff, MPI Home Video (800/777-2223, www.mpihomevideo.com) ushers in a reign of TV terror with its four-disc Dark Shadows DVD Collection Two ($59.98), containing 40 count 'em 40 episodes (numbers 251-290) from that 1960s cult soap opera that recounts the triumphs and travails of the immortal vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid). In addition to more than 14 hours of gothic scares, the set offers exclusive new interviews with series creator Dan Curtis, along with actors Alexandra Moltke, Nancy Barrett and Dennis Patrick.
In a related vein, the same label releases its Dan Curtis Macabre DVD Collection ($49.98), assembling four feature-length, made-for-TV fright films from the cathode creepmeister: Jack Palance in both Dracula and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, along with The Picture of Dorian Gray and Henry James' Turn of the Screw, starring Lynn Redgrave.
In a somewhat lighter vein, HBO Home Video introduces the PBS Masterpiece Theater series Rumpole of the Bailey: The Complete First & Second Seasons ($59.98), featuring the late Leo McKern as the eponymous barrister and amateur sleuth. The DVD set includes the feature-length bonus program "Rumpole's Return."

The 'A' list
Two recent romantic comedies head to video stores early next month: It Had to Be You (Lions Gate Home Entertainment), starring Natasha Henstridge and Michael Vartan, and Life or Something Like It (20th Century Fox), featuring Angelina Jolie and Edward Burns.
Elsewhere, actor-turned-director Joe Mantegna assembles an all-star cast, including Peter Falk, Denis Leary, Andy Garcia and Robert Forster, for the David Mamet-written comedy-drama Lakeboat, due this month via MTI/Artist View.
On a darker note, Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio and Deborah Kara Unger surface as desperate lowlifes in director D.J. Caruso's edgy crime caper The Salton Sea (Warner Home Video). All of the above will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

Rock rules
In sell-through news, The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) gets set to crush all comers in Universal Studios' "The Mummy" prequel The Scorpion King, arriving Oct. 1 in three versions VHS ($19.98), DVD ($24.98) and a Limited Edition DVD ($39.98) loaded with extras.

Phan mail
Dear Phantom: Any idea whether DVD releases are in the future for "The Carol Burnett Show"? Some of the "All in the Family" and "MASH" shows are out on DVD. How I love Ms. Wiggins.
Lynn McDonald, via e-mail
Paramount Home Video has announced an early October date for Carol Burnett: Show Stoppers ($19.98 DVD), featuring comic highlights from her long-running series.
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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