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Home Entertainment : Wood's Films Finding New Life on Video

October 21, 1994|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the recent release of Tim Burton's film "Ed Wood," a celebration of the director of '50s B-horror flicks, video store owners have been showcasing his movies.

Called by some critics one of the year's best movies, "Ed Wood" is spurring some fans to sample Wood's films for the first time. And with Halloween just around the corner, these movies will get even more attention.

But don't make the mistake for renting any of Wood's movies looking for a good scare. What you'll get instead is a good laugh. The scripts and acting are amusingly bad and the tacky special effects are a laugh riot. These cheapie flicks have been interpreted as parodies of the genre by a director with a perverse vision.

"Plan 9 From Outer Space" (1959, Rhino). The aliens' plan to take over Earth includes grave-robbing--from a cemetery in the San Fernando Valley, no less. The movie is famous for the flying saucers that are merely plates propelled by string. The famed horror star Bela Lugosi died while the film was being made and was replaced by an actor--face hidden by a cape--who only marginally resembles him. You really have to see this to believe it.

"Bride of the Monster" (1955, Video Home Library). Lugosi plays a mad scientist who tries to create a super race with a ray machine. In some ways it's funnier than "Plan 9"--particularly the special effects.

"Revenge of the Dead" (1960, LIVE). In this sequel to "Bride," a bogus mystic (Kenne Duncan) accidentally revives the dead, leading to a rampage by ghouls. The narration by Criswell, a well-known psychic back in the '50s, is hilarious.

"Jail Bait" (1954, Rhino). The story of this thriller has nothing to do with the title. It's really about a crook who gets a face lift. There aren't many thrills, but there are a lot of laughs. It's worth seeing just to catch Steve Reeves, famed for portraying Hercules, playing--very badly--a cop.

"Glen or Glenda" (1953, Video Yesteryear). Wood actually stars, under the name Daniel Davis, in this homage to transvestism. He plays Glen, a secret cross-dresser who yearns to come out of the closet. The strangest part of one of the strangest movies ever made is Lugosi's narration. For reasons known only to Wood, he does it from a haunted house.

If you want a closer look at this bizarre director, Rhino has just put out a documentary, at $20, called "Ed Wood . . . Look Back in Angora." It includes fascinating footage of Wood and Lugosi and a revealing commentary by Wood's widow, Kathy.

Halloween Videos

Low-budget horror movies such as Wood's are staples of the Halloween season. Here are three that are new to video:

"Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead" (MCA/Universal). Fifteen years after directing the original, Don Cosarelli returns with a film that's just as gruesome, nightmarish and barely coherent as the first two, featuring a colorful villain--the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm)--and those skull-piercing chrome balls. Mainly for fans of the first two.

"Puppet Master 5" (Paramount). The killer dolls in this B-horror series are heroes this time, tackling a villain from another dimension. Quirky, off-the-wall touches make it a delight for series fans.

"Cronos" (Vidmark). In this Spanish movie, an antique dealer nicked by a gold scarab turns into a vampire. It takes some weird twists but features some genuinely scary scenes. Available dubbed and subtitled.

Special Interest

There aren't many good instructional card-playing videos around, but the half-hour "Winning at Casino Blackjack" is certainly one of the better ones. The information is presented in an easy-to-understand manner, constantly making the point that a knowledge of rules and strategies enhances chances of winning. Good for beginners or occasional players. From Strategic Play Productions at $20; (513) 984-0433.

An excellent way to learn to tap dance, say some veteran tap enthusiasts, is watching "Tap With Ginger"--Reilly, not Rogers. The first volume, for beginners, effectively lays out the basics and makes learning rudimentary routines relatively simple. Intermediate and advanced programs available. From Step by Step, at $20; (800) 531-1320.

Parents convinced that their children are ideal for commercials should find a lot of useful tips in the 45-minute "Kids in the TV Commercial Biz." It features Vernee Waston Johnson, who's appeared in more than 200 commercials. From Wizards Production Group, at $20; (800) 500-2567.

What's New on Video

"Clean Slate" (MGM/UA). Flimsy farce--funny in spots but hardly a laugh fest. Dana Carvey stars as a detective who loses his memory whenever he falls asleep. When Carvey is not doing impressions, he's very bland.

"Crooklyn" (MCA/Universal). Although directed and co-written by Spike Lee, this is nothing like his usual controversial movies. Set in '70s Brooklyn, it's a fairly engaging, rather low-key comedy/drama, about the trials of a big, poor, constantly bickering black family. Mostly told from the point of view of a 10-year-old girl, well played by Zelda Harris, it's like a good TV sitcom.

"No Escape" (HBO). A convict (Ray Liotta) is dedicated to escaping from an escape-proof prison on a jungle island in 2022, but he gets caught in the middle of a bloody battle between the island's two factions. Simplistic script, slow pace but some great action sequences.

"The Inkwell" (Touchstone). The coming of age of a nerdish black teen-ager (Larenz Tate) during a summer visit to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., in the mid-'70s. Could have been a lively, acerbic examination of that era's black culture but 22-year-old director Matty Rich, so promising on "Straight Outta Brooklyn," opts for cliches and corny theatrics.

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