As the umbrella title implies, the films compiled in the first four volumes of Warner Brothers' new "Cult Camp Classics" series (a bargain at $29.95 each) were selected primarily for their high-cheese content. Some are bad enough to keep the crew of "Mystery Science Theater" in wisecracks for repeated voyages into the unknown.
Yet the compilers clearly gave serious thought to the task at hand. Each set contains at least one film noteworthy to fans of specific genres, films that are worth owning on disc. While any film whose title begins with "Attack of ..." is unlikely to have great artistic merit, there is little denying that 1958's "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" (1 star) is a certified classic of camp.
It is that surprisingly rare confluence of a ludicrous story - wealthy, nutty Allison Hayes, whose husband is conspiring with a tramp to steal her fortune, has an alien encounter that turns her into a vengeful colossus - and awful acting, plus laughable special effects. Nearly as awful is the same year's "Queen of Outer Space," (1 star) in which hunky space captain Eric Fleming and a crew that includes a scientist played by Zsa Zsa Gabor are kidnapped and taken to an all-female planet of man-haters. "The Giant Behemoth" (2 stars), also from 1958, is just a mediocre British yarn about a radioactive dinosaur that stomps London.
"Vol. 2: Women in Peril" comes close to ceding its camp credentials with the inclusion of 1950's "Caged" (3 stars), a melodrama starring Eleanor Parker as a 19-year-old innocent sent to prison for being an accomplice in an armed robbery her husband committed. Screenwriter Virginia Kellogg, who did research by spending time in an Illinois prison, won an Oscar nomination for her trouble, but the movie is in this collection because it's the grandmother of all those women-in-the-joint films that followed. 1968's "The Big Cube" (1 star) in which Lana Turner's inheritance-hungry daughter and seedy boyfriend attempt to drive her to suicide, is suitably ridiculous, as is 1970's "Trog" (1 star), in which Joan Crawford, in her last movie, plays an anthropologist who discovers the missing link.
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"Vol. 3: Terrorized Travelers" comes close to compromising the context with a film originally titled "52 Miles to Midnight," and starring Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain as the parents of a teenage girl who attracts the unwanted attention of some juvenile sociopaths when the family is on a road trip. What is initially truly tense goes so over the top that the producers were able to release it to the drive-in crowd in 1966 as "Hot Rods to Hell" (2 stars). It's joined by the in-flight thrillers "Skyjacked" (2 stars) and "Zero Hour!" (2 stars), famous for having inspired the great parody "Airplane!"
Even more problematic is "Vol. 4: Historical Epics," because packaged with 1955's biblically inspired "The Prodigal" (2 stars) is an early and often impressive Sergio Leone movie, "Colossus of Rhodes" (3 stars), whose only real drawback is Rory Calhoun, looking a little long-in-the-toga, and the serious, if seriously flawed, "Land of the Pharaohs" (3 stars) from 1955. Alongside the slaves heaving their way through the construction of the pyramids is the heaving bosom of Joan Collins, and if she's not camp, nothing is.
Also new this week:
In the tradition of movies so ludicrous they demand to be seen is "Black Snake Moan" (2 stars, Paramount, $29.99), writer-director Craig Brewer's follow-up to the 2005's terrific "Hustle & Flow," and it's an effort to evoke the sleazy appeal of 1970s exploitation movies. Samuel L. Jackson plays a former bluesman from Memphis, who, after being abandoned by his wife, finds a local woman (Christina Ricci) beaten and dumped unconscious on the road near his homestead. He takes her home to nurse her physical wounds and chains her to cure her of her "bad-mind" wickedness. Though sexually and racially charged, it's too silly to have much effect, but once you start watching it's hard to stop, especially when watched in Blu-ray ($39.95).
Paramount also re-releases some catalog items in Blu-ray, and while one can argue about the dramatic merits of director Brian De Palma's 1987 big-screen treatment of the classic TV series "The Untouchables" (3 stars), there is no denying its visual power. Also getting Blu-rayed is "Hustle & Flow" (4 stars); and Walter Hill's 1979 street gang epic "The Warriors" (3 stars), all $29.99, and the same price in the HDTV format.
TV on DVD:
Peter Morgan is not only one of the best writers in show biz, he's one of the hardest-working and most reliable. He wrote the scripts for last year's historically inspired films "The Last King of Scotland" and "The Queen" and the current Broadway hit "Nixon/Frost," and he wrote the acclaimed TV movie "Longford" (3 stars, HBO, $26.98) based on a true story of politics and unlikely personal alliances. Jim Broadbent stars as the title character, a British Lord and devout Catholic who se belief in redemption led him to befriend a notorious female child killer (Samantha Morton). The DVD contains a documentary on the so-called Moors Murders that inspired the drama.
Three fine TV documentaries with self -explanatory titles, "Spaghetti West," "Film School" and "Nixon: A Presidency Revealed" (all DocuRama, all $29.95).
"Psych _ The Complete First Season" (Universal, $59.98).
"Monk _ Season Five" (Universal, $59.98).
The animated "New Adventures of Batman" and "The New Adventures of Superman" (both Warner, both $26.98).
Family pick of the week:
First came "High School Musical," the Disney TV movie, about, uh, cute kids putting on a high school musical.
It became a DVD blockbuster that was followed by a CD of the songs, then a concert tour with the stars performing the songs, and now, a stage musical version of "High School Musical."
Soon there will be an actual soundtrack and DVD of that, but while you're waiting, there is "High School Musical: The Concert - Extreme Access Pass" (3 stars, Disney, $19.99), which captures a concert performance in 5.1 Surround and contains all the backstage business that goes into mounting the show.
Can "High School Musical - The Novel of the Play of the Concert of the TV Movie" be far behind?