- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Halloween-minded viewers in the mood for first-rate old-school chills need look no further than effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen’s 1953 classic The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, one of three vintage terror titles making their DVD debuts via Warner Home Video ($19.98 each). It’s among our …

Video picks of the week

In “The Beast,” an atomic bomb detonated in the Arctic Circle stirs an outsized dinosaur from centuries of slumber. While scientists Paul Christian, Paula Raymond and Cecil Kellaway try to convince authorities of the behemoth’s existence, the Beast makes its lumbering way to its original home — New York City.

Even in our computer-imagery age, Mr. Harryhausen’s stop-motion work remains a marvel, as the dinosaur stomps through Wall Street (pausing to lunch on an unlucky policeman) and Coney Island’s famed amusement park.

In addition to the pulse-racing film, which served as the inspiration for Japan’s long-running “Godzilla” series begun the following year, the DVD includes two fun featurettes, a “making-of” segment and a filmed 2003 reunion between Mr. Harryhausen and his longtime friend, science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury, upon whose “Saturday Evening Post” short story “The Beast” was based.

The thrills continue with 1957’s The Black Scorpion, where, after a slow start, terror fans are treated to a giant-scorpion invasion of Mexico. Eerie effects chores are handled by Mr. Harryhausen’s mentor (and original “King Kong” designer) Willis O’Brien.

The disc also contains the short Stop-Motion Masters, animated dinosaur sequences from Irwin Allen’s 1956 The Animal World, and previously unseen footage from the unrealized genre projects The Las Vegas Monster and Beetlemen.

Mr. Harryhausen returns with the 1969 Technicolor adventure The Valley of Gwangi, an exotic cowboys-and-dinosaurs tale featuring further exciting stop-motion monster mayhem, along with a Harryhausen-hosted, behind-the-scenes documentary and a giant-monsters trailer gallery.

The 83-year-old, longtime London resident says Hollywood’s current CGI wizardry tends to draw too much attention to itself. “Today, they call special effects the stars, which they shouldn’t be,” he says during a recent interview. “We only used them to put on the screen things you couldn’t possibly photograph normally.”

As these discs eloquently attest, the wonders Mr. Harryhausen put on the screen have lost none of their ability to amaze.

Terror-video

In terrifying tube-to-disc moves, 20th Century Fox is offering James Cameron’s Dark Angel: The Complete Second Season ($59.98), containing all 21 episodes of that sci-fi specialist’s TV series, starring Jessica Alba as genetically enhanced rebel Max.

Extras include select audio commentary, three featurettes and a blooper reel. Universal Studios Home Entertainment counters with the complete Steven Spielberg alien-visitation series Taken ($119.95). The six-disc set also incorporates several behind-the-scenes featurettes, focusing on everything from the cast to special effects.

For more gothic goings-on, MPI Home Video (www.mpihomevideo.com) presents Dark Shadows Reunion: 35th Anniversary Celebration ($24.98), wherein celebs from the cult supernatural soap opera — from creator Dan Curtis to actors Kate Jackson, David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott — share their memories. The disc comes complete with episode highlights, vintage interviews and more.

Silent scares

Hollywood’s original bijou boogeyman Lon Chaney returns in a trio of remastered silent showcases — The Ace of Hearts; Laugh, Clown, Laugh; and the masterful The Unknown, wherein Mr. Chaney portrays an armless knife thrower — available in the handsome double-disc Lon Chaney Collection (Warner Home Video, $39.98). Extras include a photo reconstruction of his lost masterwork London After Midnight, audio commentaries by Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake and the documentary Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces.

Shock values

Elsewhere, Lions Gate Home Entertainment grants “10th Anniversary Special Edition” treatment to Guillermo Del Toro’s stylish 1993 vampire variation Cronos ($19.98), starring Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman. The DVD arrives replete with director’s commentary, a “making-of” documentary, photo and art galleries, and more.

Pioneer Home Entertainment adds the literal buzz movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the DVD ranks in a new special edition ($19.98), while Warner Home Video revives the sequel Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III($24.98). All three fright titles are available now.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I have been unable to find The Grey Fox. In my opinion, it is not only one of the most beautiful movies ever made, but has one of the finest acting portrayals I have ever seen by Richard Farnsworth as the lead character. Do you know of a source?

Larry Chisholm,

via e-mail

“The Grey Fox” (1982) is currently out of circulation, but Video Library (www.vlibrary.com) has VHS copies available for mail-order rental.

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 (www.videoscopemag.com).


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