Each week sees literally scores of new releases on DVD. Big-bucks advertising and studio clout propel sales of the most high-profile DVDs. But the oddball releases that fly under the radar are often the most fun. Those bottom-of-the-list releases have been spotlighted during 2013 in the “Under-the-Radar DVD Release of the Week.”
This week, here are 10 of the oddest of the odd DVD releases from the past year:
“30 Nights of Paranormal Activity With the Devil”
After the release of Marlon Wayans’ freewheeling horror spoof “A Haunted House,” the usual camp followers popped up on the home video market in the form of this slapdash, lowbrow parody. The straight-to-video spoof is the latest from writer-director Craig Moss, a guy who has built a shaky career on constructing collage spoofs from bits and pieces of popular movies. His previous credits have included “The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad” and a dubious short titled “Saving Ryan’s Privates.”
Move over Godzilla. The Japanese have nothing on the Chinese when it comes to big cheesy monster movies featuring humongous, rampaging reptiles as low-budget B-movie fans will see with this 2011 Chinese-language feature (dubbed into English) that was originally titled “Million Dollar Crocodile” but was assigned the much juicier and campier title of “Croczilla” for its video release. It’s performed with the same earnest, straight-faced bravado as its Japanese counterparts and features a cast of gung-ho Chinese actors that no one in the English-speaking world will recognize.
Trash cinema has a long and storied history, and one of its godfathers, John Waters (“Mondo Trasho,” “Pink Flamingos” and others), gets an off-handed homage in this down-and-dirty anthology. The gleefully tasteless collection of aggressively lurid tales is the first feature film of writer-director Brian Dorton, whose willingness to violate every taboo for the sake of a cynical snicker or a guilty laugh is downright breathtaking.
For most of his colorful, eccentric career William Castle was known as a master of gimmickry and director of scores of low-budget thrillers. But at the tail end of his career, the director, actor and producer (known for such trickery as “The Tingler” and such high-gloss horror as “Rosemary’s Baby,” which he produced) closed things out with this truly unique, quasi-silent film. Released in 1974, it was the last directing credit of Castle’s florid career and featured an unlikely teaming with French actor/mime Marcel Marceau.
“Moonshiners: Season 1”
Reality TV seems to have given in to a lowdown obsession with all things hillbilly (witness a recent succession of show such as “Bayou Billionaires,” “Hillbilly Handfishin’,” “Here Comes Honey Bob Boo,” “Duck Dynasty” and so on). One of the gnarliest and most obviously scripted is this Discovery Channel that show purports to provide a documentary view of Appalachian moonshiners practicing their primitive trade during the height of summer brewing season and the efforts of law enforcement agents (so-called “revenooers”) who try to stop this volatile and highly illegal activity.
“Hansel & Gretel Get Baked”
In keeping with a recent spate of fairy tale characters turned macho action heroes in movies (“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, “ “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “Jack the Giant Slayer,” etc.), now comes a spin on the Brothers Grimm that’s part horror flick and part stoner comedy. Directed by veteran cameraman Duane Journey from a script by David Tillman, this low-budget hybrid works more as a clever idea than as a fully realized blending of horror and comedy.
Fire Maidens of Outer Space”
In the realm of camp sci-fi cinema, the lowest cull line seems to be movies that are so bad they’re, well, not good but at least kicky fun to watch. In that category squarely falls this 1956 micro-budgeted B-movie from writer-director Cy Roth (“Combat Squad”). It possesses all the qualities required of intentionally kitschy cinema – low-grade production values, tacky special effects, amateur acting and cornball writing.
‘Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s’
It’s where the best-dressed one per-centers shop, and in the world of high fashion and Manhattan trendiness, it’s a kind of frou-frou mecca. The Bergdorf Goodman department store on glamorous Fifth Avenue boasts a rich trove of fashion history, which is dutifully detailed in this insider documentary. Pulling back the curtains to reveal the inner workings of this exclusive fashion emporium, director Matthew Miele’s witty film pays tribute to store’s lofty place among fashion’s elite, and trots out a who’s who of designers and celebrities to pay respects.
The messy mathematics of the ancient Mayan calendar give rise to z-grade horror nonsense in this unluckily titled, low-budget gore fest. According to the movie’s weird premise, humans have attempted to balance the calendar by adding an extra day every four years. “In doing so,” the prologue tells us, “they have violated the ancient Mayan calendar. Now, we are in the 13th month of the 13th year of the new millennium, and the few who survive will battle a world of demons.”
“Bronies: The Completely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony”
When the toymaker Hasbro attempted to reshape its My Little Pony line of girls’ toys with a new, hipper, cross-generational image with the 2010 release of the show “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic,” an unexpected phenomenon of pop-culture fandom was born. This weird demographic of adult male fans embracing the little girls’ toy franchise is examined in this strange documentary. Bronies (a melding of the words “bro” and “pony”) came to the attention of producers shortly after the animated series “Friendship Is Magic” began airing. The show, which aimed at expanding Hasbro’s little girl fantasy universe to be more parent-inclusive, had the unforeseen effect of enchanting an enthusiastic fan base of males from mid-teens to 35 years old.
- Dennis King