DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: ROSEMARY’S BABY (The Criterion Collection)
Not just a perfect horror movie but a perfect movie, Roman Polanski’s peerless 1968 adaptation of Ira Levin’s bestseller kicked off Hollywood’s demonology cycle and remains a landmark in the genre.
Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes play Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, a young couple who move into an apartment at the Bramford in New York City and are befriended by elderly neighbors Roman and Minnie Castavet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon, who won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress). Rosemary becomes pregnant but begins to suspect that something’s wrong — that her unborn child is the target of a latter-day witches’ coven.
That the story is rooted in everyday reality is a key component of the impact of both book and film; the evil is palpable because it’s cloaked in banality. Polanski has always had a penchant for paranoia, and it’s in maximum effect here. Rosemary’s Baby has lost none of its dark power or its dark humor (a trademark of both Levin and Polanski).
Polanski earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and an outstanding cast includes Maurice Evans, Charles Grodin, Patsy Kelly, Angela Dorian (Victoria Vetri), D’Urville Martin, Elisha Cook Jr. and brilliant Ralph Bellamy as the obstetrician Dr. Sapirstein. Look fast for producer William Castle and listen closely for Tony Curtis.
The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95. Both with special features. Rated R.
“AMERICAN HORROR STORY”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Kate Mara, Frances Conroy and Zachary Quinto head a star-studded cast in all 12 episodes from the inaugural 2011 season of the award-winning FX Network series about a troubled family’s move to a new house with a troubled past of its own. Lange won the Emmy as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, with another win for Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or Movie and an additional 15 nominations including Outstanding Miniseries or Movie, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie (Britton), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie (Denis O’Hare) and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie (Conroy). The DVD boxed set retails for $49.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $59.99.
“THE BIG BANG THEORY”: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): The chemistry of comedy and romance continues to simmer in all 24 episodes from the 2011-’12 season of the top-rated, award-winning CBS sitcom starring Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and sexy Kaley Cuoco. Nominated for five Emmy Awards including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Parsons) and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Mayim Bialik). The DVD boxed set retails for $44.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $54.97.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (VCI Entertainment): A deluxe collector’s edition re-release ($14.99 retail) of the memorable 1981 chiller about four men (Charles Durning, Robert F Lyons, Lane Smith and Claude Earl Jones) acquitted of murder for killing a simpleton (Larry Drake) they mistakenly believed had committed a crime… only to meet their fates a year later, the scarecrow being the harbinger of doom. Durning’s in peak form as perhaps the meanest mailman in history, in one of the best made-for-TV horror films ever. An absolute gem.
FOREVER EVIL (VCI Entertainment): A two-disc collector’s edition ($9.99 retail) of a low-budget 1987 shocker about a murderous cult, including both the original video version and director Roger P. Evans’ cut, as well as special features. This is Evans’ last film to date.
IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN (VCI Entertainment): A serial rapist is at large near a private girls’ school in director Sidney Hayers’ 1971 thriller based on Kendal Young’s novel, then periodically re-released (as Tower of Terror, Assault or The Creepers) during the ’80s slasher boom, although it’s more whodunit than horror and smacks of routine ’70s cop show with added violence and nudity. A stalwart cast includes reliable Frank Finlay as the inspector on the case, Lesley-Anne Down (in her screen debut) as the first victim, Suzy Kendall, Tony Beckley, Dilys Hammett, Anthony Ainley, Allan Cuthbertson and perennial scene-stealer Freddie Jones as a sleazy reporter. Rated R.
JAMES BOND GADGETS (A&E Networks Home Entertainment): The title tells all in this DVD collection ($19.95 retail) of History Channel documentaries examining the gadgets and gizmos — some not entirely far-fetched — that have highlighted the wildly successful James Bond film series, the latest of which (Skyfall) is released next month.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Warner Home Video): The Blu-ray debut ($34.99 retail) of director Frank Oz’s slap-happy 1986 adaptation of the hit Howard Ashman/ Alan Menken off-Broadway musical based on Roger Corman’s 1960 cult classic about Audrey II, a monstrous plant — with the voice of Levi Stubbs, no less! — that wreaks havoc on the life of timid plant-shop employee Rick Moranis. A spirited cast includes Ellen Greene (reprising her stage role), Vincent Gardenia, Bill Murray, John Candy, Jim Belushi, Christopher Guest and a savagely funny Steve Martin as a demented dentist. Musicals weren’t much in vogue during the ’80s so this was not a big hit, although it did better than most and earned Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Song (“Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” — which should’ve won!). This is the original director’s cut, in which the plant wins. Rated PG-13.
STRIP MAHJONG: BATTLE ROYALE (Danger After Dark): Asian ladies are forced to compete in the title tournament in this low-rent softcore swill. Played mostly for laughs… although there aren’t any. In Japanese with English subtitles.
THAT’S MY BOY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Adam Sandler produces and stars in this tolerable comedy as an irresponsible father trying to reconnect with his estranged son (fellow “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Andy Samberg) on the eve of the latter’s wedding. Occasionally inspired but overlong, despite a star-studded cast including James Caan, Leighton Meester, Susan Sarandon and real-life daughter Eva Amurri Martno, Tony Orlando, Rachel Dratch, Will Forte, Milo Ventimiglia, Nick Swardson, Todd Bridges and, in undoubtedly his best screen performance, Rob Vanwinkle (AKA “Vanilla Ice”). Rated R.
THE WICKER TREE (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Filmmaker Robin Hardy adapts his 2006 novel Cowboys for Christ and revisits the territory he pioneered with the 1973 classic The Wicker Man, as he follows a pair of born-again American entertainers (Henry Garrett and newcomer Brittania Nicol) as they encounter a Celtic society with very different ideas about religion and faith. Hardy has a better feel for the Celtic characters than the American ones, who come off as caricatures — but there’s a subtle menace and some memorable imagery, as well as gorgeous Honeysuckle Weeks and a welcome cameo by Wicker Man star Christopher Lee (in the same role?). In any event, this is superior to the 2006 Wicker Man remake, which missed entirely. Rated R.
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2012, Mark Burger.