- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Like the recent Xenon Pictures DVD release, “It Came From Some- where Else,” 1982’s I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I. beams down as another undeservedly obscure deadpan genre parody/homage salvaged for the digital age. It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Adopting an old-school black-and-white six-part serial format, the 1950s-set flick from the archivists at Rykodisc (rykodisc.com, $19.95) pits intrepid FBI agents Rex Armstrong and Ace Evans (played by real-life cousins James Raspberry and Larry Raspberry, respectively) against arch-villains the Brazzo Brothers (Laurence Hall and co-screenwriter John Gillick), who form an uneasy alliance with evil aliens out to zombify the American citizenry with the aid of a soft drink called Uni-Cola.

The ETs, led by Rick Crowe, initiate their plot in the small town of Pleasantville, where, with the aid of their zombie-making “zomball” sphere and stop-motion enforcer “Zbeast,” they systematically turn the townsfolk into brainwashed slaves. It’s up to Rex and Ace, with the aid of intrepid reporter Penny (Christian Wellford), to foil the insidious conspiracy.

As director Marius Penczner points out in his informative audio commentary, the digital medium enabled him to vastly improve his original film by adding new chapter headings to punch up the cliffhanger angle, tweak the primitive-but-amusing special effects and, most importantly, trim the film from 107 minutes to a fast-paced 75 minutes. Other extras include three behind-the-scenes featurettes and deleted scenes. Withal, “I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I.” should score with viewers in the mood for low-key nostalgic fun.

Collectors’ corner

Speaking of genre treats, Universal Studios Home Entertainment jump-starts the Halloween season with a pair of chills-packed discs.

• The Bela Lugosi Collection ($26.98) assembles five of the horror legend’s films, including four team-ups with fellow screen fiend Boris Karloff: 1932’s offbeat Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar G. Ulmer’s brilliantly atmospheric 1934 The Black Cat, wherein good doctor Bela battles Satanist Boris; the pulpy 1935 thriller The Raven, with Bela in rare over-the-top form as a mad, Edgar Allan Poe-obsessed surgeon who bullies fugitive Boris; the moody 1936 sci-fi film, The Invisible Ray, with Bela playing a rational scientist pitted against tragic antihero Boris; and the only semi-ringer in the batch, the 1940 Boris vehicle Black Friday, wherein Bela is relegated to a minor though showy role.

• The same label’s double-disc The Hammer Horror Series ($29.98) collects no fewer than eight British imports: Peter Cushing in The Brides of Dracula (1960), Oliver Reed in both The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and Paranoiac (1963), Herbert Lom as The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Kiss of the Vampire and Nightmare (both 1964), and Mr. Cushing again in both Night Creatures (1962) and The Evil of Frankenstein (1964).

More for collectors

Not to be outdone, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment counters with the 1962 “Twilight Zone”-styled psychological thriller The Cabinet of Caligari; with Deborah Kerr in Jack Clayton’s excellent 1961 Henry James screen translation The Innocents (co-scripted by Truman Capote); with Timothy Dalton in the 1985 Dylan Thomas adaptation The Doctor and the Devils; and Vincent Price in a colorized edition of William Castle’s 1958 House on Haunted Hill, with new comic commentary by Mike Nelson. The discs are tagged at $14.98 each.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment does its bit via a digital upgrade of Ulli Lommel’s 1980 shock sleeper The Boogeyman, paired with the 1994 sequel Return of the Boogeyman ($19.94).

Tele-video

On the ever-busy TV-on-DVD front, Paramount Home Entertainment continues in a supernatural vein with the spell-casting series Charmed: The Complete Second Season (22 episodes, six-disc, $49.99). The label also resumes the adventures of Richard Dean Anderson as MacGyver: The Complete Third Season (20 episodes, five-disc, $38.99).

Buena Vista Home Entertainment introduces an extras-packed Lost: The Complete First Season (seven-disc, $59.99), while Sony Pictures Home Entertainment issues the three-disc, six-chapter combat documentary Battlefield Diaries: Extended Cut ($39.95), with a timeline ranging from WW II to Iraq.

WGBH Boston Video returns to school with the three-disc Degrassi Junior High: The Complete Third Season ($39.95), containing all 16 Season 3 episodes.

The ‘A’ list

In a thin week for recent theatrical releases debuting on disc, Lions Gate Home Entertainment leads the way with the L.A.-set ensemble drama Crash ($28.98), with Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock and Don Cheadle, while Universal introduces the adventure film Smile ($27.98).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Is “The Four Feathers,” with Richard Arlen and William Powell, available?

D.W., via e-mail

Paramount’s 1929 version, the last mainstream silent film released by a major studio, has yet to land a home video release but would be a natural for Paramount Home Entertainment.

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 phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.


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