Fave DVD Archival Series & Boxed Sets of 2007, Part One
(And One Fave From Yore Returning to the Grave --
Get it Now, While You Can!)
OK, that said -- and more on "that," below -- we're shifting gears today and tomorrow from books to DVDs (I'll be coming back to more 2007 books later this week, though, stay tuned!).
I'm jumping into DVDs a little earlier than I'd planned due to the recent announcement from Fantoma about their pulling The Coffin Joe Trilogy from the market the end of this month. Yep, it's that good. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
As with the books, these are my favorites of 2007, not necessarily the best, mind you -- so take 'em all with a grain of salt, unless our tastes are in perfect accord.
"Diane, it's finally come together...."
Yep, 2007 was the year Twin Peaks Productions, Inc., CBS DVD and Paramount cleared up the knots of rights and released the Definitive Gold Box Edition of Marge's and my favorite TV series of all time, Twin Peaks (and thank to a generous Christmas gifting from amigo Mike Dobbs, we've been enjoying it greatly).
Die-hard Peaks fan that I am (through two marriages, and both wives are fans, too!), I've bought 'em all along the line: the meager and infuriating vhs releases (see below), the glorious and crystal-clear laserdisc boxed sets, and the 21st Century DVD releases. This isn't out of the bent collector's genetic makeup I no doubt harbor, but from a craving to relive the series as it was originally experienced -- and better, given the superior sound and image quality of the disc format(s). Coincidentally, not knowing of the impending Definitive Gold Box Edition release, Marge and I savored a complete home retrospective this summer and early fall via the previous DVD editions -- cited below, broadcast pilot included -- but this new release trumps 'em all.
Of course, Twin Peaks, Seasons One and Two, were already on DVD, though that wasn't a satisfactory experience for many.
Well, let's back up a little: Until the emergence of the DVD market in 1998-9, the only affordable legal release of the series available to the public were Worldvision Home Video, Inc.'s (a subsidiary of Spelling Entertainment, Inc.) notorious SP and EP vhs boxed sets of Season 1 and the EP-only boxed set of both seasons -- notorious because of its miserable transfer, rendering the EP releases in particular almost impossible to enjoy. Image Entertainment/Worldvision issued four laserdisc boxed sets in 1993; in terms of picture and sound quality, the laserdisc editions were glorious, but expensive and arguably out-of-reach of all but serious fans, and there were no special features. Laser never really caught on as a rental item save in a few choice urban markets; thus, the lasers remained a relatively rarified format for serious collectors only, those willing to drop some big bucks.
...slide off the slipsleeve, and there's Laura, "dead, wrapped in plastic"; note this is a scan of the German release.
So, on to DVD: Season One was first available on DVD in 2001 compliments of Artisan/Republic Pictures (when Artisan was still basking in the fading fiscal, market and prestige glow of 1999's The Blair Witch Project) in a handsome slipsleeved gate-fold packaging, which boasted the first crisp image and sound transfer available to series fans, novices and new audiences. Season Two was eagerly awaited, but for whatever reason Artison/Republic didn't issue the complimentary set: Season Two finally emerged from CBS DVD/Paramount Pictures six years later, early in 2007, long after Artisan/Republic's rights had lapsed and Season One was out of print.
Still, these were excellent showcases of the complete series, each with their perks and extras of value to fans. Both featured optional episode introductions by the 'Log Lady' (Catherine Coulson) and some episodes sported individual director interviews (Caleb Deschanel, DuWayne Dunham, Todd Holland, Tim Hunter, Stephen Gyllenhaal, Jennifer Lynch, etc.), as well as bonus interviews with cast and crew (Mark Frost, Kyle MacLachlan, Madchen Amick, David Duchovny, Sherilyn Fenn, and some of the writers, production designers, etc.) and various media scholars and critics (on Season One only). Season One also featured script notes ("The Unseen Twin Peaks"), Michael Anderson offering instructions on how to speak backward, and archival materials from the official series fanzine Wrapped in Plastic; Season Two's Disc 6 offers its cast interviews via an ingenious 'interactive interview grid' setup, allowing one to access them a number of ways.
Together, the two packages offered an excellent archive of Seasons One and Two -- a near-complete presentation of the complete Twin Peaks. Near complete...
So, why do we need the Definitive Gold Box Edition? Sure, the packaging itself is handsome, it's great to have it all in one set -- but it's the "all" that's critical here. The extras are sweet, repeating some from the previous DVD sets (the Log Lady introductions), losing others (meaning we're holding on to our Season One and Season Two sets), and offering some rich pickings that are altogether new. There's some fleeting but revelatory never-before-seen deleted scenes and production documents. The feature-length documentary Secrets from Another Place: Creating Twin Peaks is a gem, comprised of four chapters ("Northwest Passage: Creating the Pilot," "Freshly Squeezed: Creating Season 1," "Where We’re From: Creating the Music" and "Into the Night: Creating Season 2"). Lynch fans will savor the amusingly staged A Slice of Lynch retrospective roundtable discussion hosted by Lynch, marking his most expansive onscreen participation in any Twin Peaks release yet; non-Lynch fans will find this too casually paced, but I loved it. Marge couldn't make it through the Return to Twin Peaks featurette, which chronicles a recent fan convention in the original locations (as an old hand at comic conventions -- 30+ years -- I found it endearing). The Definitive Edition also offers additional ephemera: all thirteen TV spots, a trio of image galleries (The Richard Beymer Gallery, Unit Photography and Twin Peaks Trading Cards), a hilarious and disorienting procession of Japanese Georgia Coffee commercials shot with the original cast and sets, Julee Cruise's "Falling" music video, eight interactive maps, and Kyle MacLachlan's opening monologue and Twin Peaks parody sketch from Saturday Night Live. Lynch remastered these handsome transfers from the original negatives in the original full frame aspect ratio, with rich audio in both newly-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 and the original 2.0.
The cover art for the vhs release of the 'international version' of the original pilot, sporting an improvised different ending and confusing novice Peaks fans for almost two decades
Great as the new bonus features are, the major breakthrough in this set is the fact it features, for the first time ever, the complete, original broadcast version of the Twin Peaks pilot feature!
The Definitive Gold Box Edition offers both the broadcast version and the version the network required Lynch and Frost provide with a different final fifteen minutes capping the pilot as a self-contained feature -- just in case the pilot went nowhere, allowing ABC to at least broadcast it as a self-standing one-shot feature. At the network's behest, Lynch and Frost improvised a curious finale set in the basement lair of the demonic Bob, and which never meshed with the eventual solution to the mystery of "Who Killed Laura Palmer?"; it was this version that played theatrically in some overseas markets, and was previously released by Warner Bros. on vhs in the '90s -- the only legal version available in the US prior to the Gold Edition Box.
This video release flummoxed novice Twin Peaks fans for 15 years, prompting those of us with videos of the original broadcast taped off-the-air to hold on to those precious videocassettes, and bootleg copies of same to become the 'Holy Grail' of Peaks fandom. Lacking the original cliffhanger ending of the broadcast pilot (the gloved hand snatching the Laura's half-heart locket from under the rock where James and Donna buried it, and Laura's mother Sarah's psychic 'flash' of this), supplanted with the premature entrance (and quick exit) of Bob from the narrative, this version (known to many as the 'European Cut') made it difficult to enjoy the legal releases of the series. As previously noted, due to the poor quality of the Worldvision vhs releases of the series, the Image/Worldvision boxed-set laserdisc editions remained the only way to go -- though again, that absolutely essential broadcast-version pilot was unavailable on laserdisc, either. Only the Warner release of the 'European' edition was on laser.
Once Artisan/Republic marketed the official DVD release of Season 1 on DVD in 2001, the hunger for a legit release of the original broadcast pilot was amplified immeasurably, and now involved oblivious video retailers and shop owners who were caught blind by confused rental and sell-through customers wondering why the Season 1 DVD set was missing such a critical component. Artisan's attempt to address this massive gap with a full-page text piece in the packaging's booklet -- "A summary of the story so far..." -- simply wasn't sufficient, through no fault of Artisan.
That said, many attentive Peaks fans (and video retailers) snagged a Catalyst Logic/Republic Pictures all-region release of the broadcast pilot feature that popped up in some markets (including wholesale/retail distribution venues) in 2001; though presented as a legal release, it was in fact a professionally-manufactured dub (not a DVD2; the discs were manufactured and packaged like all studio fare) of the Republic Region 3 Asian release of the pilot. The adequate-only image and tinny sound betrayed its 'gray market' status, though many video retailers and fans snapped it up while it was available in tandem with the Artisan/Republic release of Season One. I was working as a manager/buyer for a video superstore at the time, and purchased copies for the store -- rental and sell-through -- and myself at the time, and the order and availability window for this was short indeed (like the Fat Cat vhs releases of Fritz the Cat, Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, Coonskin, American Pop and Heavy Traffic, and various unlicensed, illegal vhs editions of El Topo and Heavy Metal that surfaced from time to time in distribution in the '90s). As a member of the New England Buying Group at the time, I had the opportunity to ask both the Artisan and the Warner reps at the time what the legal status of the pilot was: both reported it no longer belonged to Warner, and that Artisan had been unable to negotiate for its inclusion in the Season 1 set. It was, for all intents and purposes, in legal limbo for a time -- a limbo the Catalyst Logic DVD version briefly took advantage of, and filled a market demand for.
Having the pilot, in both its incarnations, at last available and in lavish Dolby Digital Stereo, is a joy -- and no doubt a revelation to casual and new Peaks fans, who had no prior easy access to this seminal Lynch/Frost feature.
The Worldwide Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me Deleted Scenes on DVD Petition to MK2 Films and New Line Cinema was created and written by John Sullmeyer --
As noted in my Watchblog list, wherein the venerable #13 position was claimed by Casa Negra's excellent The Vampire Collection, the whole of the Casa Negra line of Mexican horror films has been a revelation. About The Vampire Collection alone, I commented:
"Casa Negra's procession of Mexican horror DVD releases have all been sheer pleasure, but this double-disc double-bill Fernando Méndez feast even beats Brainiac as their finest yet. Seeing 1957's The Vampire and The Vampire's Coffin with such clarity reorients one to the whole of the Mexican genre's permutations to follow, and bonus items in this set sweeten the package (the complete French photo novel of the sequel!) immeasurably."
That's the short and sweet version, but a bit more needs to be said. In his seminal book An Illustrated History of the Horror Film (1967) -- an important book whose value cannot be overstated, one of the key books of my reading life, bringing shape and coherence to my love for the genre -- Carlos Clarens elevated the interest sparked by the tantalizingly illustrated early 1960s articles in newsstand monster zines Famous Monsters of Filmland and Charlton's always-cheesy Mad Monsters by offering the first critical assessment of these films, which were filtering into our heads via late-night TV broadcasts and scant drive-in bookings of K. Gordon Murray's dubbed versions.
Clarens correctly cited the Mexican vampire opuses by director Fernando Méndez as essential (and immediate) contemporaries of the more celebrated and internationally popular Hammer Films/Terence Fisher Technicolor revamp Dracula/Horror of Dracula (1957/1958). Unlike Fisher, though, Fernando Méndez -- for budgetary reasons as well as adherence to the status quo of Mexican cinema conventions of the day -- adhered to the rich black-and-white atmospherics of the classic 1930s and '40s Universal horror films that clearly inspired El Vampiro/The Vampire (1957) and its sequel El Ataúd Del Vampiro/The Vampire’s Coffin (1958).
Just how rich and atmospheric Fernando Méndez's vampire films always were had been obscured by decades of shoddy prints, late-night TV transmissions and murky video dubs, just as the K. Gordon Murray dubs obfuscated the performances of Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter, Germán Robles, Carmen Montejo, José Luis Jiménez and the rest of the casts. With Casa Negra's new DVD restorations and transfers of these two gems, American audiences are at last able to experience what Clarens was responding to with such enthusiasm.
For lovers of gothic atmosphere over CGI and gore, these Mexican classics are a double-dip delight
The original Mexican one-sheet for El Mundo de Los Vampiros/The World of the Vampires (1960) is in fact in my hallway poster frame right now, and the lobby card for La Cabeza Viviente/The Living Head (1961) is framed in my viewing room. Having only seen these via dubbed TV prints, I'm looking forward to Casa Negra's official release of the originals. La Cabeza Viviente is a 'head' movie, the Mexican revamp of W. Lee Wilder's Man Without a Body (I kid you not) and companion to late 1950s gems The Thing That Would Not Die, The Brain That Wouldn't Die and The Brain, precursor to Madmen of Mandoras/They Saved Hitler's Brain -- well, you get the idea. Like the Wilder oddity and Universal's Thing That Would Not Die, this has a mythic orientation instead of the mad science laboratory antics of the other 'head' flicks of this period: archaeologists open the tomb of an ancient Aztec Indian warlord Acatl, waking the vengeful dead warrior’s noggin. Being immobile, Acatl has a zombie stoolie to do his dirty business. Better (and much livelier) yet is World of the Vampires, which even in its dupiest dupes always came across as a loopy, atmospheric gothic from its opening shots of toothy Count Subotai (Guillermo Murray) tickling the ivories on his human-bone-adorned pipe organ. Alas, Casa Negra likely won't have the dubbed version on their disc, which is too bad; it's among my favorite dub tracks on a MexiMonster opus. Guess I'll have to hold on to the old vhs dub, anal MexiMonster maniac that I am.
and the ticking clock of its re-burial...
Don't hesitate -- quick, click on that link. If you prefer, go to
As of January 31st, Fantoma will be pulling the set off the market, ending yet another chapter in the life of José Mojica Marins's amazing cinema legacy here in America.
Now, this set came out in 2002 -- you've had five years to pick it up. Soon, it's gone-o. Don't miss this set, it's the definitive release thus far in Region 1 markets -- it contains three Coffin Joe movies and features English-translated pint-sized editions of Marins's tres cool Zé do Caixão horror comics from the 1960s, which have never appeared in any other venue or release anywhere in the world! The set is worth picking up for those alone, all you horror comics fans and scholars out there reading this, but that's not to say the films aren't enough of an attraction. They're -- in a word -- incredible.
Zé do Caixão (known in English -- via Something Weird's Mike Vraney, the first licensed US distributor of Marins's films who suggested the new moniker -- as Coffin Joe) is the screen name and alter ego of José Mojica Marins.
Imagine the EC Comics Tales from the Crypt Crypt Keeper as a living person; no, really. As a person whose public persona was, 100%, the Crypt Keeper. Who lived and ate and breathed and walked around town as the Crypt Keeper, and had an extremist personal philosophy, and ran for public office as the Crypt Keeper, and won, and wasn't allowed to assume office because it was "The Crypt Keeper" on the voting ballots, not the Crypt Keeper's Christian name, José Mojica Marins. That's Marins -- and Zé do Caixão -- in spades; Marins was Brazil's Crypt Keeper of the 1960s and '70s, who also made his own low-budget transgressive, carnivalesque, heretical and absolutely outrageous horror movies as writer, director and star.
These Marins creations are curious horror films, by any tastes: for some, they may come across as too crude, too hand-made and shockingly impoverished; others will find their sheer audacity, intensity, delirious imagery and relentless intent to shock intoxicating. Count me among the latter, and hold onto your tophats -- you'll be blown away by what Marins accomplished with less than a single-day lunch catering budget on I Am Legend. These are horror films unlike any other ever made, anywhere in the world, and I love them unlike any other.
By all reports, Marins was lovingly hand-crafting his own horror movies from a tender age, a Brazilian 'monster kid' scraping deeper than American middle-class baby boomer 'monster kids' ever dreamed or dared. Like the Don Gluts of the world, Marins was a movie addict making his own films on 8mm and 16mm; he would project these to paying customers, performing the sound effects and narrative commentaries in the flesh. Unlike Glut and his kin, anticipating the subversive Baltimore shock-and-schlock glee of John Waters and his Dreamland cronies, Marins was eager to upset the delicate Catholic sensibilites of his audiences. As the Fantoma set amply demonstrates, his films still shock with the same savagery that upset Brazilian authorities in the '60s.
Do Unto Others: Bad fuggums happens to Zé do Caixão in these films, too!
Being raised Catholic myself -- and despite the abundant catalog of horrors in his debut feature (read on) -- I still gasp when the snarling Zé do Caixão (Marins) silences a bar patron by tearing the crown of thorns from a bust of Jesus Christ and wielding them like spiked brass knuckles, blinding his foe. However crudely staged, it's the blunt fusion and flaunting of gutter-level machismo and theological heresy that leaves me punch-drunk every time. In fact, Zé do Caixão is one of the few bogeyman with a philosophy, a Nietzschean superman lording over all, and one that cuts much deeper than the shallow Frankensteinian archetypes Western audiences tend to associate with black-and-white horror films: Marins's surrogate self boasts (and I do mean boasts) absolute and total contempt for Catholicism. Among his blasphemies, he openly eats meat on Good Friday, constantly mocks priests and ultimately denounces God. In his obsessive search for 'The Superior Woman" to sire his 'Perfect Child' (he idealizes and protects children, considering them innocents unblemished by adult corruption or the hypocricies of religion), Zé do Caixã has no patience whatsoever for common decency, morality or social convention, and he smashes the faces or gouges out the eyes of any who dare to cross his path or (pious fools!) stop him. Despite the gothic trappings and noisy funhouse imagery and bravado (cackling witches, pounding thunder, screams and screeching animals, etc.), Zé do Caixão doesn't blight some faux-European neverland, but then-contemporary Brazilian village life. This must have hit Marins's original audiences like a ton of bricks. Though the narrative skeleton is familiar (a monster seeking a bride, torch-wielding peasants threatened and threatening, the eleventh-hour triumph over evil), there's a truly subversive up-ending of political and theological mores en route. Zé do Caixão holds apparently unassailable power in the community, a "superior man" terrorizing all beneath him, braying his ideology with a pragmatic rationality that silences any who oppose him -- and if that doesn't work, there's always snakes, spiders, and violence (though that, too, is almost always ideologically driven). Hubris, transgression, blasphemy: by overtly assaulting almost every social tradition of culture, family, church and state, Zé do Caixã may pay the ultimate price (divine retribution is, in the end, all he fears), but he scores devastating blows against the empire every cadaverous step of the way. He is, indeed, out to steal your soul. Now, that's a bogeyman!
Reportedly based on a nightmare in which Marins saw his own grave, his first feature À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma/At Midnight I'll Steal Your Soul (1964) introduced the world to Zé do Caixão, he who Americans now know (if they have heard of him at all) as Coffin Joe. Fantoma's presentation is gorgeous, surpassing the original Something Weird video releases (though, again, we're forever in Mike Vraney's debt for bringing these films -- and Marins himself! -- to America in the first place) with extras that steep the films in an evocative historical context, thanks to the active participation of (and notes by) André Barcinski . An intrinsic part of that context are the film's sequels: reportedly, At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul was a huge success in Brazil, playing for over a year to packed houses. Zé do Caixão returned to blaspheme, breed and blow minds in Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver/This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967) . As in the Frankenstein, Dracula, werewolf and Godzilla movies, no worries that Zé landed in his grave at the end of the earlier epic: Zé is back from the dead and more dangerous than before. That said, the highlight of This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse is undoubtably Zé's nightmarish initial stirrings of doubt and faith, culminating in his plunge into a vivid full-color hell, the flamboyant Boschian imagery suddenly engorged with flesh -- pierced, torn, seared, flayed and twitching -- sprouting from bleeding walls and flogged by demons.
Zé do Caixão is still an astonishing character four decades later, a true eccentric with his Nosferatu-like fingernails (which are real; check out his left hand in the photo at left -- his nails were that long when Mike Dobbs, Doug Winter and I met, interviewed and dined with Marins and his official biographer, the personable André Barcinski, during his ChillerCon appearance over a decade ago!), his pontificating screeds, his monstrous ego and unchallenged central, heroic role in Marins's films. Again, I can think of nothing quite like it in Western cinema until John Waters and Divine, in which a countercultural figure so zealously revels in his monstrousness and prides himself on all that sets him apart and above the rabble he so disdains. No other character in Marins's films approaches his charismatic grip on the audience: he is presented as evil incarnate, but he is also the only protagnoist/antagonist, the only character we can emotionally invest in, however repugnant his iconography, philosophy, theology and actions. Zé do Caixão's claim that the townspeople hate him merely because he is different again brings Waters and Divine to mind; unlike other ideologically-driven cinema, which inevitably deified its zealots, Marins unapologetically grounds Zé in horrific imagery and activity, invigorated by (rather than hiding or flinching from) his contradictions (e.g., he protects the innocent, but this is at best a fringe benefit of his skewed philosophy). Self-invented and a rampaging free-will advocate (as long as another's will in no way contradicts his own), Zé is unlike anything else seen on the screen before the mid-1960s when these stunning films were made.
Zé do Caixão was a cultural phenomenon for a time in Brazil. An energetic, inventive acolyte of P.T. Barnum and William Castle, Marins bled his bogeyman into all available media -- publicity stunts for television, self-scribed newspaper articles, a lurid comicbook series and, naturally, more movies. Fantoma has generously published the only English-language reprints of Marins's horror comics I've ever seen anywhere herein -- again, reason enough to snag this set while you can! -- four issues in all, one in each of the individually-packaged features, and a bonus issue unique to the Coffin Joe Trilogy boxed set. Entitled O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão/The Strange World of Zé do Caixão, the comics series adopts the title of my personal favorite of Marins's films (1968) -- which, alas, Fantoma didn't choose for stateside release. Instead, Fantoma offers his oddest work, the hellish (literally) assault on modern society via the sex, heroin, LSD and drug-soaked O Despertar da Besta/Awakening of the Beast (1970), produced and released on the eve of Brazil's second military coup ("the coup within the coup"). Aggressive, self-reflexive (never before had Marins so transparently espoused and caricatured his own views onscreen) and eschewing the gothic devices of his earlier films to confront contemporary issues head-on, Awakening of the Beast was heavily cut by the censors before it was banned (for twenty years!) in Marins's native country. As a result, Marins never again exercised full control and final cut on his films, though he continued to find ways to make them and appear in features by other directors.
Before Awakening, Marins directed "Pesadelo Macabro," a self-standing piece for the anthology film Trilogia de Terror/Trilogy of Terror (1968), which may have inspired his own anthology opus O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão (1968), which spawned the afore-mentioned horror comic series and a hit TV series. After Awakening of the Beast, Marins made Finis Hominis/The End of Man (1971), O Exorcismo Negro/The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe (1974), Perversão/Perversion (1979) and others, along with sex films for São Paulo's Boca do Lixo underground film scene, while continuing to make appearances as Zé do Caixão.
As an avid fan of Marins and his films, I also tracked down a copy of Cinemagica's Brazilian limited-edition DVD boxed set, Coleção Zé do Caixão --
-- which fills out my desire for a solid Marins collection quite nicely. The perfect portmanteau primer O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão is here, along with all the titles in the Fantoma set plus Finis Hominis/The End of Man (1971) and Delírios de um Anormal/Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1974) and a ton of extras, though only the features themselves are subtitled in English.
But don't worry about what's now out-of-print -- while it's still in print, order your copy of The Coffin Joe Trilogy today!
I've now given you three possible venues via the links in this post -- Xploited, Fantoma and Amazon.com -- so don't say I didn't give fair warning. Recommended!