- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A largely unsung addition to the surreal thriller ranks, director Adam Simon’s 1990 Brain Dead makes its overdue DVD debut this month via Roger Corman’s New Concorde Home Video ($9.98). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

“Brain Dead” is updated from a previously unfilmed script (originally titled “Paranoid”) by the late, great genre scribe Charles Beaumont, who wrote many of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone” in the 1950s and ‘60s. It stars Bill Pullman as Dr. Rex Martin, a neurologist so in love with his work that he talks to the preserved, jar-encased brains that line his lab. Martin’s troubles begin when corporate creep Bill Paxton enlists him to retrieve a vital mathematical formula buried deep in the addled cerebrum of paranoid genius Bud Cort (in a memorably over-the-top turn).

No sooner does our hero start consorting with the Cort character than he, too, descends into total lunacy. Or does he? Only sinister psychiatrist Nicholas Pryor seems to know for sure, and he may be jiving, too.



Aside from brief nods to Stuart Gordon’s cult hit “Re-Animator” and Sam Fuller’s “Shock Corridor,” “Brain Dead” wisely plays its mad material straight. Add inventive nightmare imagery and a cameo by the always welcome George Kennedy as a craven corporate boss, and you have a witty, imaginative, literate fright film guaranteed to keep viewers both gasping and guessing.

“Brain Dead” arrives in a full-frame version free of frills beyond a couple of additional New Concorde trailers, but the movie itself is well worth the disc’s modest price.

Genre fans also will want to check out another of Mr. Simon’s highly recommended efforts, The American Nightmare: A Celebration of Films From Horror’s Golden Age of Fright, a 2000 documentary spotlighting George Romero, John Carpenter, Wes Craven and other veteran frightmeisters, which debuts on DVD next week via Docurama ($24.95).

Fear flashes

Elsewhere on the fear-film front, Halle Berry plays a psychologist turned patient in the atmospheric freakout Gothika (Warner Home Video, $27.95), co-starring Robert Downey Jr. and Penelope Cruz. The disc comes equipped with an audio commentary by director Mathieu Kassovitz and director of photography Matthew Libatique.

Keyed to the new remake of the same name, Anchor Bay Entertainment resurrects the original 1979 Dawn of the Dead ($19.98) in a special edition that incorporates lively commentary by director George Romero and other film personnel, theatrical trailers, TV spots and more.

Next week, MPI Home Video celebrates old-school ghouls and vampires with Dark Shadows DVD Collection 11 ($59.98), containing 40 color episodes from the popular 1960s gothic soap opera, along with bonus interviews.

Collectors’ corner

In a lighter vein, next week Warner Home Video bows a vintage comedy quartet on DVD. Art Carney stars in both Martin Brest’s Going in Style, co-starring George Burns and Lee Strasberg, and Robert Benton’s wry whodunit The Late Show, with Lily Tomlin. Playwright Neil Simon will be represented by The Prisoner of Second Avenue, with Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft, and The Sunshine Boys, starring George Burns and Walter Matthau.

Extras on “The Sunshine Boys” include rare makeup and screen tests with Jack Benny, originally cast in the flick, along with commentary by director Richard Benjamin. The discs are tagged at $19.98 each.

Tele-video

The comedy continues with a pair of new TV collections. Koch Vision’s Best of the Improv ($49.98) assembles six discs showcasing prime stand-up performances by a wide range of comics, including Ray Romano, Margaret Cho, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and even ‘80s icon Murray Langston, the Unknown Comic.

A&E; Home Video counters with Mr. Bean: The Animated Series ($29.95), a double-disc set offering 18 episodes detailing the misadventures of the cartoon counterpart to the original Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson), plus bonus material.

Howard hits

Touchstone Home Entertainment likewise taps a comic vein this week with Ron Howard’s Splash: 20th Anniversary Edition, featuring filmmaker commentary, the behind-the-scenes featurette “Making a Splash,” and co-stars Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah’s original audition tapes.

The label heads in a darker direction with Mr. Howard’s 1996 thriller Ransom, starring Mel Gibson as a mad dad on the trail of his young son’s kidnappers. Extras include a director’s commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes special and more. The discs are priced at $29.99 each.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Do you know if any of the Boston Blackie movies with Chester Morris are available on video?

Chris Ivusic, Washington, D.C.

While the 1927 silent The Return of Boston Blackie is available (moviesunlimited.com), the later Chester Morris series has yet to land a home-vid 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: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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