Favorite DVD Releases of 2006 – Part II.

This is the second part of my 30 Favorite DVD Releases of 2006 list that I’ve been slowly working on putting together. You can find Part I. here.

Please keep in mind that these are all official NTSC Region 1 DVDs originally released between 1960 and 1979 and the numerical order means absolutely nothing except that I got the reviews written in the order that they appear.

30 FAVORITE DVD RELEASES OF 2006 PART II!

Lifespan
11. Lifespan (Mondo Macabro)
Lifespan (1974) is a fascinating, sexy and understated science fiction thriller that features two of my favorite actors from the period, Klaus Kinski and Hiram Keller, as well as the recently deceased Tina Aumont. The story revolves around Keller and Kinski who both look terrific in the movie as they search for a mysterious “elixir of life” that could hold the secret to longevity. In the meantime, they’re both distracted by the lovely Tina Aumont who may or may not have plans of her own. Lifespan is a thoughtful film that doesn’t offer easy answers to all the interesting questions it raises and I really appreciate it’s ambiguity. The film has a mesmerizing and eerie score by composer Terry Riley and the director creatively uses the film’s lovely Amsterdam location. The DVD looks great and comes with some really nice extras including an interview with the director Sandy Whitelaw, audio commentary with the director and a still gallery. This was easily my favorite Mondo Macabro DVD release of last year and that’s saying a lot since the company released a lot of quality films in 2006.


Petulia
12. Petulia (Warner Home Video)
Petulia (1968) is one of the most interesting films that I saw last year thanks to Richard Lester’s terrific directing, Nicolas Roeg’s wonderful cinematography and Antony Gibbs‘s impressive editing. The film stars George C. Scott as a middle-aged doctor who’s struggling to deal with a divorce that he’s not sure he wants, as well a world that’s quickly evolving around him. Scott meets a young and seemingly care free girl named Petulia (Julie Christie) who’s married, but she seems desperate to start a relationship with him. Scott soon discovers that Petulia’s husband (Richard Chamberlain) is abusing her and gets caught in the middle of their complicated and violent relationship. All the actors are terrific in the film, but Richard Chamberlain gives one of the best performances of his career as Petulia’s abusive and disturbed husband. And Julie Christie is perfect as the fragile and troubled Petulia. She’s also never looked lovelier and wanders around San Francisco is some stunning outfits. George C. Scott is also great in the film along with Shirley Knight who plays his ex-wife. Petulia creatively used its San Francisco location as well as the city’s music (Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company even make a brief appearance) to turn the city by the bay into an important character in the film, which at its center is about individual freedom and the choices we all have to make. The DVD comes with some fantastic extras including a vintage “making of” documentary called Petulia: The Uncommon Movie shot during the making of the film with lots of great behind the scenes footage and The Uncommon Making of Petulia which features new interviews with some of the cast and crew. The original trailer is also included with this terrific DVD.


Equinox
13. 17. Equinox (Criterion)
Equinox (1970) is a low-budget horror film that I first saw on late night TV many years ago. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Criterion,” but I really appreciate that a company like Criterion would take the time to clean up an old horror film like Equinox and offer it up to interested movie viewers and horror fans like myself. The story involves a group of college kids that go to visit one of their professors who happens to be living in a cabin deep in the woods. During their trip a strange old man offers them a mysterious ancient book of magic and the kids soon discover that the woods surrounding them aren’t exactly what they seem to be. When giant monsters start appearing, you know things are going to get nasty! The movie has few scares and the performances are forgettable, but it is entertaining and a lot of fun to watch. Just make sure you have lots of popcorn on hand! Despite its flaws, Equinox was actually a really influential movie that obviously inspired directors like Sam Raimi to make his popular Evil Dead trilogy. Criterion did an amazing job on the DVD release which comes with a lot of impressive extras including two audio commentaries, a video introduction by horror icon Forrest J. Ackerman, interviews with the cast and crew, deleted scenes and outtakes, archival test footage, an extensive gallery, the original trailer and radio spots, and much much more!


Night of the Iguana
14. Tennessee Williams Film Collection (Warner Home Video)
Warner really outdid themselves with this amazing Box Set containing six films based on the work of the great American playwright, Tennessee Williams. Why this DVD set didn’t make it to the top of every critics “best DVDs of 2006” list is beyond my comprehension since you’d be hard pressed to find a collection of recently released American cinema that equals it. This collection contains A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Baby Doll (1956) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) which are three of the finest American films from the 1950s. Three of the films in this set are from the ’60s and that’s why I’m including it in my list of favorite DVDs from 2006. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) stars Vivian leigh in one of her last starring roles as a washed-up movie star trying to find love and acceptance in Rome with a young gigolo played by Warren Beatty. Vivian Leigh is really terrific in the film and makes the desperate Mrs. Stone a very sympathetic character. Watch the movie for her memorable performance and try to ignore Beatty’s bad attempt at an Italian accent. Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) stars Paul Newman as Chance Wayne, a handsome fast talking aspiring actor who returns to the town he grew up in with an aging alcoholic actress in tow (played brilliantly by Geraldine Page) in an effort to further his acting career and impress his childhood sweetheart. Newman is always terrific playing a Tennessee Williams’ protagonist and he looks fantastic in the film, but Geraldine Page really steals the show with her frantic over-the-top performance as Alexandra Del Lago. The rest of the cast includes such talented actors as Rip Thorn, Shirley Knight and Ed Begley, Sr. who won an Oscar for his performance. The real treat in this excellent DVD collection for ’60s & ’70s cinema fans like myself is the incredible Night of the Iguana directed by John Huston. The film is definitely one of Huston’s best movies and it features Richard Burton in one of his greatest roles as a defrocked minister trying to find some kind of salvation in Mexico, where he becomes a tour guide for a group of frustrated spinsters that includes the wonderful Deborah Kerr and a teenage “Lolita” played perfectly by Sue Lyon. After the group finds itself at a rundown hotel owned by the vivacious Ava Gardner, human frustrations as well as sexual and romantic tensions start to stifle the group along with the hot Mexico air and in usual Tennessee Williams’ fashion, emotions are soon erupting with dramatic results. The acting is all top notch and Huston’s directing has rarely been better. Along with Reflections in a Golden Eye which I mentioned in the first part of My favorite DVD Releases of 2006 list, the release of Night of the Iguana is a real treat for Huston fans and makes 2006 one great year for fans of the director’s work. 4 of the 6 films in this terrific collection were released on DVD for the first time and the other 2 films in the set (A Streetcar Named Desire & Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) were both released in Special Editions with a ton of great extras, but all 6 films in this collection feature great extras such as “making of” docs, trailers, etc. and they can all be bought individually if you don’t want to purchase the set. The Tennessee Williams Film Collection also comes with an insightful documentary about the playwright called Tennessee Williams’ South which contains rare interviews with the writer talking about his work as well as a reading of The Glass Menagerie. The 6 films all look fantastic and are presented in widescreen when possible. Altogether this incredible collection from Warner is one of the best box sets I’ve seen released in recent years. Most of these films have been criticized for toning down the original plots of Williams’ plays, but considering the times that these movies were made in it’s understandable. The films still manage to deal with the complicated adult issues they address in creative and interesting ways. Watch them for what they are – great American movies offering some of the greatest performances ever captured on film.


Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
15. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (Paramount Home Video)
Eerie and haunting are two words that quickly come to mind when I think about Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1970), which is one of the most unusual and effective American horror films made during the 1970s. The movie stars Zohra Lampert who gives a memorable performance as Jessica, a woman just released from an institution after suffering a mental breakdown. Jessica moves to the Connecticut countryside with her husband and a friend to recuperate, but soon after arriving at her new home she begins to experience strange events that force her to start questioning her sanity again. I had only previously seen Let’s Scare Jessica to Death on a low quality VHS tape, so I was extremely impressed with this Paramount DVD release, which presents the film in widescreen and looks terrific. Unfortunately the DVD doesn’t come with any extras, but you can forgive Paramount since this is the first time this chilling horror film has been released on DVD.


The Illustrated Man
16. The Illustrated Man (Warner Home Video)
This thoughtful science fiction anthology stars the late great Rod Stieger in one of his most interesting roles as a tattooed man hunting for the woman who “illustrated” his body. The three short stories featured in the movie are all loosely based on original stories by Ray Bradbury and Stieger stars in each one, along with his real-life wife at the time, the talented actress Claire Bloom. Some creative set designs lend impressive eye-candy to the movie and the stories are all told in interesting ways. The Illustrated Man (1969) has long been one of my favorite science fiction films, but lots of critics seem to have very little regard for the movie and even author Ray Bradbury thought it was awful. If you enjoy unusual and stylish science fiction film from the late ’60s a much as I do, I highly suggest giving the movie a look for yourself and ignore any negative reviews you may have read. This is the first time the film has been available on DVD and Warner did a really nice job with the release. The DVD features a beautiful widescreen print, the original theatrical trailer and an interesting featurette from 1969 called Tattooed Steiger.


Sister Street Fighter
17. The Sister Street Fighter Collection (Ronin Entertainment / BCI Eclipse)
Ronin Entertainment / BCI Eclipse has a done a great job of gathering every Sister Street Fighter movie together for this nice new collection which contains Sister Street Fighter (1974), Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread (1974) Return of Sister Street Fighter (1975) and Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist (1976). All four movies star tough girl Etsuko Shihomi, a talented actress and graduate of Sonny Chiba’s famous Japan Action Club, which trained Japanese actors in the martial arts. Etsuko is terrific as Koryu Lee – the “Sister Street Fighter” – who takes on numerous bad guys with much success in the first three films that are all directed by the talented Kazuhiko Yamaguchi. The last film in the series differs a lot from the previous three and is helmed by a different director. In the last Sister Street Fighter movie Etsuko Shihomi plays another character called Kiku and it doesn’t really match the excitement of the previous Sister Street Fighter movies in the collection. This great DVD set comes with trailers for all four films as well as a really nice twenty page booklet with lots of information about the movies and an interview with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi. All four films are presented in widescreen and look great. The sound quality is also impressive which really helps you appreciate the terrific soundtracks. This set is a real treat for Sister Street Fighter fans like myself!


Murmur of the Heart
18. Murmur of the Heart (Criterion)
I’ve always been especially impressed with the way director Louis Malle dealt with the complex emotions of young people in his films and Murmur of the Heart (1971) is a wonderful example of this as well as one of the director’s finest films. This thoughtful movie about a young man named Laurent (Benoît Ferreux) coming of age in France during the early 1950s is loosely based on Malle’s own life, and in turn it offers an especially personal and unflinching look at growing up with plenty of warmth and humor as well. Many of the issues addressed in the film such as the rather infamous sexual encounter the young man has with his mother, are handled with an understanding that only a great director like Malle could manage. This is the first time Murmur of the Heart has been available on DVD in the US and as usual Criterion has done a great job with the DVD release. The film doesn’t come with a lot of extras but the print looks terrific and the film is presented in widescreen along with the original theatrical trailer and a new essay by film critic Michael Sragow.


Trilogy of Terror
19. Trilogy of Terror (Dark Sky Films)
Karen Black gives a tour de force performance in the terrific Trilogy of Terror (1975). This entertaining horror anthology is probably familiar to anyone who grew up in the 1970s and owned a television and now thanks to Dark Sky Films it’s finally available on DVD for everyone to enjoy. The last episode in the anthology is the most infamous thanks to Karen Black doing battle with a creepy Zuni fetish doll, but the other stories in the anthology are also worth a look thanks to Black’s interesting take on her various roles. The DVD looks great and is presented in fullscreen since it was originally shot for TV. It comes with some terrific extras including a featurette about Karen Black called Three Colors Black and another featurette about writer Richard Matheson called Terror Scribe, as well as an audio commentary with Karen Black and screenwriter William F. Nolan.


Pretty Poison
20. Pretty Poison (20th Century Fox)
Pretty Poison (1968) stars Anthony Perkins as a troubled man just released from a mental institution after spending many years locked away for arson. He moves to a small Massachusetts town and tries to start a new life for himself, but his overactive imagination soon begins to get the best of him. He becomes obsessed with a cute high-school girl played by Tuesday Weld and tries to convince the girl that he’s a CIA agent on a special mission, and she seems to believe him. When Perkins’ fantasy life begins to collide with his real life and spiral out of control, Weld becomes his willing partner in crime. This great black comedy takes a disturbing and somewhat sad turn since Perkins had the ability to create incredibly sympathetic characters who you should be repelled by, but can’t help rooting for. Tuesday Weld is really riveting as a less then innocent 17 year old and manages to give one of the best performances of her career in Pretty Poison. This is the first time this film has been available on DVD and it looks terrific! The original trailer is also included on the DVD.

10 more DVD reviews coming soon!

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4 thoughts on “Favorite DVD Releases of 2006 – Part II.

  1. cinebeats says:

    Thanks! I hope you’ll spot some flicks you haven’t seen yet to rent or buy. Lifespan was really terrific! I’m looking forward to watching it again soon.

  2. robert hubbard says:

    The R2 release of PRETTY POISON is even better – it includes a commentary with Noel Black, as well as a deleted scene (in script form) and a gallery including stills and pressbook.

    Well worth hacking your DVD player for!

  3. Will E. says:

    I adored Let’s Scare Jessica To Death when I finally saw it and was astonished to find out later that the director, John Hancock, was the original director of Jaws 2, but was fired over internal Hollywood politics. I can only imagine what kind of “eerie and haunting” version he would have made.

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