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The Shelf: “Jack the Giant Slayer,” “The Howling,” “Lifeforce”

by on June 18, 2013

Shelf June 18th

This week here on the ol’ Shelf, we’ve got nasty giants, snarly werewolves, and nude space vampires. That’s most of the major food groups of monsters, right? Also, there’s some very old movies on very new Blu-ray, a Hitchcockian thriller by way of a Korean shock-master, and the continuing adventures of a guy in a dog suit. So, pretty much, it’s the best week of all time.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Another in the line of well-known fairy tales that get elongated and updated and made into epics, this Bryan Singer-directed film took the Jack and the Beanstalk story and made it about a bunch of giants and fighting for the hand of a princess and a lot of that stuff. Enjoyable enough, though not particularly groundbreaking (despite the giants… I tell funny jokes).

The Howling

Joe Dante is a director that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his satirical take on horror and sci-fi. He did a great job with the Jaws ripoff Piranha in 1980, made a fantastic creature feature (Gremlins) and an equally good satire of that movie with its sequel (Gremlins 2: The New Batch), and made a loving parody of ’50s sci-fi schlock with Matinee, to name but a few. He really is a smart director, and with his second horror film, The Howling, he was able to make a werewolf movie that was at once referential to the genre and genuinely scary. As with Piranha, Dante enlisted New World screenwriter John Sayles to take a pass at the already thrice-written screenplay for the werewolf yarn, and turned in a good-natured ribbing of the yuppies-turned-hippies of the time, only in this case, they’re actually werewolves. The effects in the movie, by pre-The Thing Rob Bottin, are really terrific, even if it does take the wolves forever to transform. The ending escape scene with a whole pack of the things is really harrowing. Special prize goes to the great character actor Dick Miller as the most cynical occult-book store owner in the whole world.

The special edition Blu-ray from Shout Factory is really fantastic. Along with compiling all the extras from the original MGM DVD release, they’ve included a whole bunch of new ones, including interviews with some of the actors, the producer of all the Howling movies, and the original screenwriter, a location retrospective, and a new commentary with the author of the Howling novel, Gary Brandner. Oh, and the transfer looks and sounds amazing.

Lifeforce

This movie from 1985 is cuckoo-pants bananas. A team of astronauts finds an object in the tail of Halley’s Comet that is 150 miles long, and, upon investigation, they find it’s filled with fossilized winged creatures and three perfectly-preserved nude humans, two men and a woman. Somehow (spoilers) the space shuttle returns to Earth with nobody in it except the three nude people, who quickly reveal themselves to be energy vampires who never seem to bother with putting on clothes. This movie is Lifeforce, and it was one of the most expensive films produced by Cannon Films (the ’80s’ most persistent schlock-factory) and directed by Tobe Hooper from a script by Dan O’Bannon. The creature effects are nice and gooey and the space effects (done by the great John Dykstra) are really fantastic. It’s a movie that mixes sci-fi wackiness with Gothic vampire lore, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch, even if it’s off-the-charts weird. Leonard Maltin called it “so bizarre, it’s fascinating.”

Another great release from Shout Factory, this set includes a DVD as well as the Blu-ray, audio commentary by Hooper, video interviews with some of the cast and crew, and vintage featurettes and trailers. The Blu-ray also has both the theatrical cut and the longer director-approved cut. Worth a look for sure.

ALSO AVAILABLE

Safety Last! – One of the funniest and most stunt-filled silent comedies of all time, this ranks among Harold Lloyd’s best.

Things to Come – The 1936 sci-fi epic based on an H.G. Wells novel about the world after a decades-long second world war. Eventually, we try space travel. Interesting look at what people in the ’30s thought we’d be like.

Stoker – Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, and Mia Wasikowska star in Oldboy director Chan-wook Park’s disturbing mystery that owes a lot to the works of Alfred Hitchcock.

Workaholics: Season 3 – The further comedic adventures of the guys addicted to workahol.

Wilfred: Season 2 – The further comedic adventures of the guy who sees a guy in a dog suit instead of a dog. He’s crazy.

VOD of the Week

Breakup at a Wedding – The first feature film from our friends at PERIODS. Films. On the eve of their wedding, Alison gets cold feet and decides to break up with her fiancé Phil. But rather than face the embarrassment of calling off the ceremony, Alison suggests to Phil that they proceed with a sham wedding. Phil is more than game to try, secretly hoping that a surprise gift he has for Alison will ultimately change her mind. Yet once the guests begin to arrive, more complications ensue than either of them could have ever imagined – even if they did know their wedding was bullshit.