- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

David Lynch fans will want to pounce posthaste on the documentary Don't Know Jack, new from Had to Be Made Films ($19.98 DVD). It's an alternately jaunty and crushingly sad story of self-destructive character actor Jack ("Eraserhead") Nance's truncated life and career. It's our…

Video pick of the week

Relying primarily on film clips and talking-head interviews with the likes of Mr. Lynch and Dennis Hopper, debuting director Chris Leavens assembles a portrait of a talented iconoclast who left home for modest West Coast stage success and, later, serious cult-movie status. The latter was set in motion when Mr. Nance began a happy collaboration with director Lynch that led to his signature turn as "Eraserhead's" Henry Spencer; memorable cameos in "Dune," "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart"; and a recurring role on TV's "Twin Peaks."

What emerges as a given is that Mr. Nance would have earned far greater fame had it not been for his nearly constant and usually losing battles with alcohol. (A rare late '80s-early '90s dry stretch coincided with some of his best on-screen work.) The film concludes with an inquiry into Mr. Nance's still-unsolved death at a premature (but ancient-looking) 53 the result of a homicide, a terminal brain disorder or a possible combination of both.

The Special Collector's Edition DVD includes a featurette about the ongoing murder investigation, extensive production notes and a tribute photo montage. "I Don't Know Jack" likely will send both hard-core Nance fans and the newly curious scurrying to their local video stores to scope out some of the actor's lesser-known, non-Lynchian work in films such as Barbet Schroeder's "Barfly."

"I Don't Know Jack" also introduces a unique national vid-store-based film-festival concept; for the complete scoop, check out www.hadtobemade.com.

Horror horizon

In upcoming fright-video news, actress Debbie Rochon ("American Nightmare") battles the titular beasties in Bog Creatures (MTI Home Video). Busy Willem Dafoe ("Shadow of the Vampire") returns to the genre ranks in the demon-themed Bullfighter (Pathfinder Pictures). Arrow Entertainment releases the femme fear tale The Curse, and the Tooth Fairy (not Francis Dolarhyde of "Red Dragon") strikes in the recent theatrical release Darkness Falls (Columbia/TriStar).

Elsewhere, 20th Century Fox unleashes Darkwolf. A predatory alien terrorizes Florida's Everglades in Deadly Species (Artisan Entertainment). Accursed mental asylums supply a horrific hook for no fewer than three new shriekfests: Demon Slayer (New Concorde), Flashback (Trimark Home Video) and Sanitarium (MTI).

Next month, Dimension Home Video grants a home-video second chance to the unfairly fast-vanishing theatrical sci-fi fable Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale of "American Psycho" and Taye Diggs of "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." All of the above will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

Combat classics

Next week, Artisan Entertainment re-prices (to $14.98 each) an octet of well-received war films, each also available on VHS at $9.98 each:

• Delbert Mann's acclaimed 1979 remake of Erich Maria Remarque's celebrated World War I novel All Quiet on the Western Front, featuring Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgnine and Patricia Neal.

• The battle movie Behind Enemy Lines, set in Bosnia and starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman.

• John Sturges' 1977 World War II adventure The Eagle Has Landed, with Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Robert Duvall.

• The gritty 1987 Vietnam combat drama Hamburger Hill, with Don Cheadle and Dylan McDermott heading an ensemble cast.

• The World War II miniseries The Scarlet and the Black, top-lining Gregory Peck, Christopher Plummer and Sir John Gielgud.

• A trio of vintage 1940s John Wayne war dramas: The Fighting Seabees, Flying Tigers and Sands of Iwo Jima.

'Family' values

Likewise this month, PBS Video debuts the popular teleseries American Family: The Complete First Season, chronicling the triumphs and travails of the Gonzalez clan and cohort represented by, among others, Edward James Olmos, Raquel Welch, Sonia Braga and Esai Morales in a lavish six-disc set ($69.98). DVD extras include all-new introductions and audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, "Gonzalez Family Tree" interactive home movies, DVD-ROM components and much more.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I am seeking a VHS copy of The Shuttered Room, a 1960s British horror movie based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. It starred Gig Young and Carol Lynley.

Rob Herbert, via e-mail

1967's "The Shuttered Room" was originally released on video as "Blood Island" but has long been out of circulation. Scarecrow Video (scarecrow.com) has the title in its mail-order rental inventory.

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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