The Disc Jockey 

Poltergeists, puppets and prisoners populate this week's DVDs

Poltergeists, puppets and prisoners populate this week's DVDs

The Entity (now available) Anchor Bay blew a golden opportunity by not packaging this 1981 chiller with the two short films Austrian experimental filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky adapted from its footage—including the terrifying "Outer Space," in which the very sprocket holes and celluloid appear to attack star Barbara Hershey. But the film itself remains distinctly unsettling for its invisible sexual threat: an amorphous poltergeist that rapes and revisits single mother Hershey, despite the help of a concerned parapsychologist. Though based on a true story (detailed in a documentary extra on the DVD), the movie teeters on the edge of creepy exploitation, especially when director Sidney J. Furie uses prosthetic effects to show the unseen attacker manhandling Hershey's breasts. But Hershey's angry, wounding performance gives it raw force. Her convincing portrayal of violation and terror while facing a threat no one else can see—a powerful metaphor for a rape victim's trauma, both during and after—is what must have attracted Tscherkassky's attention.

Team America: World Police (now available) War isn't hell, it's a Hasbro commercial in this conceptually brilliant snot grenade lobbed by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Taking the war-toy satire of Joe Dante's Small Soldiers another step, Parker and Stone turn global unrest into Malibu Barbie's funhouse, dispatching a cast of marionettes to unleash toy carnage on America's HO-scale enemies. Are the filmmakers comparing America's troops to toy soldiers, dolls dangled by shadowy puppetmasters safely out of sight? Are they sneering at celebrity lefties whose response to terrorist aggression is a strongly worded monologue? The answer, as bellowed in the movie's sidesplitting meathead anthem, is a resounding "Fuck yeah!" Surprisingly, the movie bombed; perhaps less surprisingly, the celebrities the movie mocked for their humorless earnestness attacked the movie with humorless earnestness. By far the harshest criticism came from the left, with a how-dare-you tone permeating reviews even from normally perceptive critics. But Parker and Stone deserve credit for attempting to offend equally—for them, the center is just the position that lets you throw shit at every side. The DVD restores five seconds of hot puppet love cut to avoid an NC-17 rating.

A Face in the Crowd (now available) Wait until you see folksy, lovable Andy Griffith as snarling reactionary demagogue Lonesome Rhodes, a no-'count folk-singing prisoner who gets discovered by radio host Patricia Neal and becomes a nationwide phenomenon. What's weird is that Rhodes—who turns his good-ol'-boy act on and off as need be and despises his fans for the gullible rubes they are—isn't much different from Griffith's TV persona. It's hard to see Sheriff Andy in quite the same way once you've watched Rhodes screw, swindle and swagger his way to the top of the heap. Naturally, this being 1957, Rhodes ultimately takes a fall—but by that time he's seduced Neal, corrupted innocent teenage cheerleader Lee Remick (in her first movie role) and virtually muscled his way into the White House. Directed with crackling venom by Elia Kazan, the movie's indictment of TV-drugged sheep predated Network by two full decades. As scripted by Budd Schulberg, who wrote Kazan's On the Waterfront, the movie's a sometimes queasy mixture of cautionary populism and liberal contempt for the masses (just like Network), but Kazan's staging was never more crudely dynamic. Part of Warner's "Controversial Classics" boxed set, along with Fritz Lang's Fury, Mervyn LeRoy's I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent, Arthur Hiller's The Americanization of Emily, John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock, and Richard Brooks' The Blackboard Jungle.

Donkey Skin (now available) Neither as well-known as his 1961 debut Lola nor as beloved as his 1964 musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jacques Demy's lavish 1970 fairy tale deserves the kind of reappraisal that his much-maligned The Young Girls of Rochefort got a few years ago. Shot in brilliant blues and reds, it stars Catherine Deneuve in double roles: she plays a queen mother whose husband (Jean Marais from Beauty and the Beast) promises upon her deathbed to marry only a woman more beautiful than she. Guess who plays their daughter. Filled with fanciful elements—including a donkey that produces riches rather than dung—it's a colorful, childlike spectacle set to a Michel Legrand score. Koch Lorber's disc includes a segment from The World of Jacques Demy, the documentary portrait by his wife Agnes Varda, and an appreciation by producer Mag Bodard.

The Longest Yard (now available) Robert Aldrich transposed his smash The Dirty Dozen to a prison setting for this irresistible 1974 football yarn, as big an audience pleaser as they come; the upcoming Adam Sandler-Chris Rock remake prompted this special edition. Burt Reynolds, in one of his best vehicles, plays a former NFL star doing hard time in warden Eddie Albert's prison. The guards have a football team; Albert challenges Reynolds to put together an inmate team to play them in a pre-season scrimmage. The only catch: Albert commands Reynolds to throw the big game. Will Reynolds sell out his buddies for early release? Tracy Keenan Wynn's colorful script makes sure there are plenty of hard feelings on both sides before the kick-off; the resulting game is a rowdy mix of bone-crushing bravado, anti-authoritarian nose-thumbing, and good old-fashioned dirty tricks. (This remains the ne plus ultra in cinematic nut-whacking.) Aldrich's affinity for jocular machismo is ideally suited to the material: He'd been studying teams of men under pressure as far back as his 1956 antiwar classic Attack!, and his slugging style here matches his jailbird bruisers hit for hit. Reynolds and producer Albert S. Ruddy provide the play-by-play.

Forty Guns (Tuesday) The sexual dynamic of Samuel Fuller's wild 1957 psycho-Western makes Johnny Guitar look like a Tom Mix oater: voracious rancher Barbara Stanwyck, who commands a stable of 40 guns (read: conquered ex-lovers), clashes with lawman Barry Sullivan over her delinquent brother. According to Fuller's autobiography, Marilyn Monroe wanted the Stanwyck role, but Fuller explained her innocence would look ridiculous: "My forty guns were forty pricks. My powerful heroine had her way in the sack with all forty, then cast them aside for 'the forty-first gun.'" With hard-as-nails Stanwyck in the saddle, the movie plays its subtext of dominance, bedroom power politics and male sexual vanity so close to the surface that even Fuller called its gun-crazy imagery "stuffed with phalluses." Cinematically, it's one of Fuller's most exciting films, with complex crane shots, punchy editing, and an unforgettable scene in which Sullivan defeats a gunfighter by using the "stalking gait": fixing a cobra stare and walking straight toward the camera. Fox's pathetic "extras" include the trailer and a useless full-frame version—if only Criterion could pick up this title and give it the same luxurious treatment as their Pickup on South Street disc.

Coming soon: Class of 1984 (Aug. 23) Gutter trash from the days of punk paranoia, directed with tabloid flair by an unsung talent from drive-in exploitation's waning days, Mark L. Lester (Truck Stop Women). It's a mad-dog fusion of Death Wish and The Blackboard Jungle, with new high-school teacher Perry King and his pregnant wife menaced by a gang of quasi-Nazi teenage thugs. The ending, a death match between teacher and student in the rafters above a school orchestra recital, might have made even Samuel Fuller say, "A bit much, dontcha think?" But in this kind of the movie, too much is never enough. Before he became a skilled TV director (The Sopranos, The Wire), The White Shadow heartthrob Timothy Van Patten torched his TV image to play the gang's charismatic, psychopathic overlord; watch also for an early appearance by Michael J. Fox. Extras include a commentary by Lester.

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