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Review: Stopping death is an uphill battle in this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

The Brides of Dracula (Blu-ray)


Scream Factory

Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), a beautiful young girl, is stranded en route to a teaching assignment in Eastern Europe. She is persuaded to spend the night at the nearly deserted castle of the mysterious Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt). In the castle, Marianne accidentally discovers a man chained to the wall in his room. The Baroness explains only that he is her “sick and feeble-minded” son. Unable to get any further information from her or the maid, Marianne steals a key and sets him free. But once unbound, the man — Baron Meinster (David Peel) — fiendishly recruits the undead for his evil purposes while Marianne and Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) try to stop him.

This 1960 Hammer film has a different feel than many of the studio’s earlier horror pictures. Director Terence Fisher had a distinctive style, while the script also seems more potent. The Baron’s seductive, hypnotic approach when luring in his female prey is not graphic, but still very sexual as he’s an attractive, young man and the women are, of course, beautiful. This innate sensuality and a desire to avoid taboos is probably why his encounter with his mother occurs off-screen. Marianne’s naiveté makes her an easy target, but Van Helsing is there to keep her on the right path. There are some very well-planned shots throughout the movie and the ending is as creative as it is far-fetched.

Special features include: commentary by author/film historian Steve Haberman and filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr; making-of featurette; “The Men Who Made Hammer: Terence Fisher”; “The Men Who Made Hammer: Jack Asher”; “The Eternal and the Damned – Malcolm Williamson and The Brides of Dracula”; “The Haunted History of Oakley Court”; still gallery; radio spot; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)

Cold Light of Day [Limited Edition] (Blu-ray)


Arrow Video

February, 1983. Detectives are called to a residential address in the London suburbs following reports that the drains have been clogged by human remains. One of the property’s residents, Dennis Nilsen (Bob Flag) — a mild-mannered and unassuming civil servant — is brought in for questioning, leading to the discovery of one of the most shocking and disturbing cases of serial murder ever to rock Britain. Offering a grim and gritty retelling of the story of “Des” Nilsen, often dubbed the “British Jeffery Dahmer.”

This picture is based on the true story of a serial killer whose method of disposing of his victims is not very effective. Flag’s portrayal of the mild-mannered murderer is chillingly effective. In spite of being a bit quiet and withdrawn, Nilsen is very compassionate and helpful to the building’s more elderly residents. He encompasses the essence of the stereotypical neighbour who turns out to have a fiendish, secret life. His story is recounted via a police interrogation in which they try to determine his motive. Writer/director Fhiona-Louise’s no-frills approach to the true-crime picture puts all the focus on Flag’s very capable performance. The film won the UCCA Venticittà Award at the 1990 Venice International Film Festival and is definitely on par with some of the most acclaimed American serial killer biopics.

Special features include: commentary by writer/director Fhiona-Louise; commentary by film historians/writers Dean Brandum and Andrew Nette; interview with actor Martin Byrne-Quinn; interview with actor Steve Munroe; original promo film made to raise financing for the feature; two short films starring director Fhiona-Louise and photographed by Star Wars DP David Tattershall; re-release trailer; limited edition die-cut o-card; and limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Jo Botting and a look at how the press reported Dennis Nilsen’s real-life crimes by Jeff Billington. (Arrow Video)

Josie and the Pussycats: The Complete Animated Series (Blu-ray)


Warner Archive Collection

All 16 episodes of the animated adaptation of the beloved comic-book series are here, as the all-girl rock band led by guitarist Josie, and Pussycats Melody and Valerie, sing their catchy tunes through exotic adventures and fabulous hair. They are joined by Josie’s devoted boyfriend Alan, their manager Alexander, his trouble-making sister Alexandra, and not to be forgotten, Alexandra’s mischievous feline Sebastian (voiced by Hanna-Barbera’s legendary Don Messick).

This series followed Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, which makes it feel a bit like a knock-off — especially since they share many of the same, distinctive voices. The group spends more time solving mysteries and escaping bad guys than they do performing concerts. In one episode, their musical aspirations are even used to lure them into a trap. It’s a bit strange that two of the characters have nearly identical names, but their personalities couldn’t be more different. Alexandra is like a meaner version of Shaggy as she similarly and regularly messes things up, while also being rude to everyone but her crush. It’s the one thing that really differentiates their group dynamics. Exchanging the dog for a cat is also interesting as they have very different natures. Sebastian is stubbornly helpful in most situations… as long as a mouse doesn’t cross his path.

Special features include: “The Irresistible Charm of Dan DeCarlo: The Man and his Art.” (Warner Archive Collection)

Marona’s Fantastic Tale (Blu-ray & DVD)


GKids & Shout Factory

Marona is an optimistic stray dog who looks back on the human companions she has loved throughout her life. Born the last in the litter, little Marona’s adventures take her through a series of names and owners, including a colorful acrobat, a sensitive construction worker, and a little girl.

This unconventionally animated film is one of the most moving tales of a dog’s life to grace the screen. Starting at the end and circling back to the beginning, the movie traces Marona’s existence from the ill-fated meeting of her parents to her various owners. As much as she finds happiness in the simple things in life, she also faces a lot of hardships and sadness. An uneasy initiation into the world is followed by many ups and downs, highlighting the difficulties of being a stray as well as the complications that come with having a human. However, the fluid and emotional animation style makes this work so much more affecting than many similar animated narratives. While all the scenes are still very clear and intelligible, it has a visual rawness that radiates from the screen and permeates its audience.

Special features include: interview with director Anca Damian; Q&A at Animation Is Film Festival; art gallery; and trailers. (Gkids & Shout Factory)

Mortal (Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

A sleepy Norwegian town erupts after Eric (Nat Wolff), an American backpacker, is arrested. Witnesses claim a teen died after touching the stranger, and that he inexplicably started a fire that engulfed a farm. He warns a psychologist, Christine (Iben Akerlie), that he has supernatural powers, and that anyone who gets too close to him dies. Is he a liar, a freak of nature, an angry god? Determined to find the truth, Christine draws nearer, and what she finds is beyond her wildest imaginings.

Director André Øvredal is making a name for himself by creating exceptional genre pictures that don’t follow typical formulas. Having tackled fantasy and horror, the filmmaker set his sights on the supernatural and superhero origins. Eric has an uncanny ability that he apparently cannot fully control. He’s not afraid to demonstrate his powers if it means someone may believe and find a way to help him, but these displays are dangerous for Eric and anyone in his vicinity. Wolff’s portrayal of the confused young man is very authentic. He’s attempting to find himself, but the task is difficult when he constantly leaves destruction in his wake. The special effects — though minimal at first — are convincing, but the last act really elevates the picture. This untraditional take on a popular genre is smart in its approach and memorable in its interpretation.

Special features include: making-of featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Spontaneous (DVD)


Paramount Home Entertainment

When students in their high school begin inexplicably exploding (literally…), seniors Mara (Katherine Langford) and Dylan (Charlie Plummer) struggle to survive in a world where each moment may be their last. As an unexpected romance blossoms between them, Mara and Dylan discover that when tomorrow is no longer promised, they can finally start living for today.

This is a romantic comedy on par with the similarly quirky Warm Bodies. Mara is a bit of a caricature of a sarcastic teen, which makes her a very entertaining narrator. Her relationship with Dylan is also a bit untraditional, but they seem perfect for each other as they complement each other’s unusualness. While exploding high school students would be sombre in some cases, it’s darkly humorous in this narrative. Even the montage of failed experimental drug treatments is funny in spite of all the lives suddenly cut short. The concept of having to live every day like it’s your last is one people may find more relatable nowadays, though this is more akin to unexpectedly getting into a fatal accident than catching a potentially deadly virus. It’s not difficult to predict the story’s direction, but the movie is still very engaging and enjoyable.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

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Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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