Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Three movies with hard-core cult followings have finally arrived on DVD, and boy are they swell.

First up is Cemetary Man. Dellamorte, the caretaker at the local graveyard, has an occupational hazard: the corpses reanimate themselves. No problem, usually, a shovel to the head can kill them permanently. But then he goes and falls in love with one of them. And then his reality really unravels.

Director Michele Soavi apprenticed under Italian horror auteurs Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava, and Cemetary Man is the work of a dazzling stylist. What starts out as a horror comedy in the Evil Dead vein becomes increasingly dreamlike, with an ending guaranteed to make you want to rewatch the whole movie to see if you missed something. One of the key horror films of the nineties, this should have led to great things, both for Soavi and for the genre itself. Unfortunately, it didn't.

Unlike Soavi, Robert Aldrich was a director with a long and glorious track record--everything from the bizarro noir Kiss Me Deadly to the iconic campfest What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? to guy's guy epic The Dirty Dozen--when he made Emperor Of The North. Here's the setup: It's the Depression, and railroad guy Ernest Borgnine is so determined that no hobo will ever hitch a ride on his train, he'll do anything--anything--to keep them off. Lee Marvin plays a drifter who accepts Borgnine's challenge.

That's pretty much all there is. Marvin hops on the train, Borgnine throws him off, Marvin figures out another way to get on the train, they fight, Marvin gets thrown off, et cetera. It's like a Road Runner cartoon, if Wile E. Coyote had been a hobo and the Road Runner had been a fat, hammer-weilding psycho. In any event, the story here is not so much simple as elemental, and Aldrich's direction is tough as nails. Plus, hey, Lee Marvin--one of the coolest guys ever to step in front of a camera.

Cemetary Man and Emperor Of The North are personal favorites, but no movie has been more desired on DVD by film fanatics everywhere than Russ Meyer's outrageous Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Described by its screenwriter (Roger Ebert!) as "a camp sexploitation horror musical that ends in a quadruple ritual murder and a triple wedding," BVD (as Ebert calls it) is a once-in-a-lifetime occurence, for only in the tumultuous Hollywood of the late sixties could a major studio (Fox) have given a director of soft-core trash like Meyer a large budget and complete artistic freedom.

There's never been anything quite like BVD. For a guy who trained himself in filmmaking by shooting pin-ups and stag reels, Meyer had an absolutely perfect sense of camera placement, and his complex editing rhythms were enormously influential. At the same time, despite Ebert's florid, endlessly quotable dialogue ("Ere this night does wane, you shall drink the black sperm of my vengeance!"), you have to wonder if the campy tone is partly due to the fact that Meyer can't direct actors, because there are fleeting moments here (not many) when you suspect he wants us to take this thing seriously.

You could spend a couple of days exploring Fox's DVD of BVD. And you should: Two seperate commentary tracks (one by Ebert, one by cast members, both worthwhile), a genuinely intersting making-of, a mini-doc on the film's rockin' score, an attempt to put the picture in historical perspective, plus tons more. But above all there's the movie itself, looking and sounding better than it ever has, ready to delight old fans and freak out new ones. To paraphrase one of its characters, who could resist its alabaster charms?