- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

More than 30 years after his over-the-top 1971 cult chiller “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death,” director John Hancock, perhaps best known for his acclaimed 1973 baseball drama “Bang the Drum Slowly,” returns to the genre scene with Suspended Animation, out next week via First Run Features ($29.95 DVD only, firstrunfeatures.com). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

With enough goofy, gruesome twists to fill a half-dozen thrillers, “Suspended Animation” starts out as a double-barreled variation on Stephen King’s “Misery”: After a Midwestern snowmobile mishap, vacationing Hollywood animator Tom Kempton (Alex McArthur) finds himself a captive of a supremely scary middle-aged sister act — backwoods Baby Jane-type Vanessa Boulette (Laura Esterman) and her portly sibling Ann (Sage Allen).

After a couple of squirm-inducing vignettes, the film suddenly veers into icy “Deliverance” terrain before time- and place-shifting to Los Angeles and a profusion of additional shocks and surprises. To delve into specifics would seriously risk ruining the film’s unapologetic Grand Guignol pleasures; suffice it to say that Mr. Hancock and scripter spouse Dorothy Tristan pull off one of the most outlandish yet crowd-pleasing fearfests of recent years.

Among the performers, frequent television actor Mr. McArthur turns in strenuous work as ultra-victim Tom, while the Boulette family of the film — including serial-killer grandson Sandor (Fred Meyers) and creepy jailbird brother Philip (J.E. Freeman) — can take its rightful place beside the Sawyer clan of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as one of the nuttiest units in fright-film history. DVD extras are fairly light beyond a behind-the-scenes featurette and photo gallery, but the movie itself will fill the bill for viewers in the mood for imaginative thrills.

The ‘A’ list

This week, MGM Home Entertainment debuts the quirky drag romp Girls Will Be Girls ($29.98), complete with featurette, audio commentary and a deleted scene montage. Real gals Gina Gershon, Lori Petty and Drea de Matteo (of “The Sopranos” fame), meanwhile, take center stage in the hard-driving musical drama Prey for Rock & Roll (Lions Gate Home Entertainment, $24.99).

Also due this week is Alejandro Gonzalez Narritu’s complex thriller 21 Grams (Universal Studios Home Video), starring Sean Penn and Oscar nominees Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts. Next week, the same label unleashes wrestling thespian The Rock in the action movie The Rundown ($26.98 each), set in the Amazon and featuring Rosario Dawson, Seann William Scott and raft of bonus materials. All of the above are also available on VHS.

Raquel, alive and well

From 20th Century Fox Home entertainment comes The Raquel Welch Collection ($49.98). The five-disc set includes:

• the 1968 Western Bandolero!, co-starring James Stewart and Dean Martin;

• the 1967 spy caper Fathom;

• the 1974 comedy Mother, Jugs & Speed, with Bill Cosby and Harvey Keitel;

• the always welcome 1967 bikini-fur gruntfest One Million Years B.C.;

• 1970’s Myra Breckenridge, wherein the Mexican bombshell gets to stretch as a transsexual.

The discs, which contain the films’ original theatrical trailers, are also available individually ($14.98 each).

Diamond DVDs

MGM Home Entertainment warms up for the 2004 baseball season with its Grand Slam DVD Gift Set, sliding into vidstores this week. The four-disc collection assembles Ron Shelton’s 1988 comedy Bull Durham, complete with audio commentary by co-stars Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins; the same year’s Eight Men Out, scriptwriter John Sayles’ account of the infamous 1919 “Black Sox” scandal, with John Cusack and Charlie Sheen; and a pair of baseball biographies — Jackie Robinson as himself in 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story and Gary Cooper as fabled slugger Lou Gehrig in 1942’s Pride of the Yankees. The set is tagged at $49.95.

Tele-video

A pair of cult-TV comedy series likewise surfaces this month. Rhino Video debuts the latest Mystery Science Theater 3000 set (Volume 5, $59.95), wherein literal space case Mike Nelson and his wisecracking robots skewer a quartet of truly bad movies: “Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues,” “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders” (co-starring an understandably bemused Ernest Borgnine), “Timechasers” and “Touch of Satan.”

And on the subject of space, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment launches “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening’s animated Futurama Volume 3 ($49.95). The four-disc set includes 22 episodes, plus full-length audio commentary, deleted scenes, storyboard galleries and more.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Looking for a 1950s Audie Murphy Western, “Ride Clear of Diablo,” with Dan Duryea, that used to play on cable TV.

J. Keenen, via email

Unfortunately, that 1954 oater, once out via Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, is no longer in circulation. Let’s hope it will eventually resurface on DVD.

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

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