BLOOD ON SATAN? CLAW

Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5 This moderately-entertaining horror film hails from the early 1970s, when UK horror was still very much the domain of the bods at Hammer and Chris Lee? Dracula was camping it up in increasingly-silly romps and Peter Cushing was still manipulating the twitching corpse of Frankenstein? monster. BLOOD ON SATAN? CLAW is a curio in that it isn? a Hammer film and, whilst it? been largely forgotten over the years, those who remember it probably either think it? part of the Hammer canon or else remember it as a WITCHFINDER GENERAL wannabe with a few breasts thrown in because, hey, it? 1971!

17th Century England. There? no electricity and everyone speaks very determinedly in ?hees?and ?hous? A lowly farmworker uncovers some grisly demonic remains and inadvertently unleashes a terrible power which turns the whole village on its head when the locals – particularly the youngsters – start behaving oddly and growing hair where there should be no hair. Innocent youngsters are mutilated and sacrified and it seems that only the Judge (Wymark) can save the day with his big knife.

BLOOD ON SATAN? CLAW is an odd little piece. It? superbly atmospheric, thanks to lots of squawking crows and tasty location filming, and it? clearly inspired by the gritty feel of the classic WITCHFINDER GENERAL. But where the former was about the Witchfinder and not about the witchcraft, this is more firmly a supernatural horror film with the Behemoth (the Devil?) manifesting himself at the end as a bloke in a cloak with a naff mask. The narrative wanders all over the place, the script? focus shifting from Simon Williams?character, to the pouting temptress Angel Blake (Hayden) and then back to the farm-worker who started it all in the first place (Andrews). So the film seems a bit uneven and characters disappear after a while (Hayden? absence from the centre of the film is quite noticeable) and then return towards the end. But generally it? quite creepy stuff, the horror somewhat diluted by the terrible farting, parping score by Marc Wilkinson which would have suited CARRY ON SCREAMING better than a real horror film. The performances are pretty good and DOCTOR WHO fans will delight in spotting all sorts of guest stars from their favourite show – from Wendy Padbury to Barry Andrews by way of the uncredited Roberta Tovey (from the Peter Cushing movies). However, I think I may be permanently traumatised by the sight of the Master (Ainley) being seduced by Linda Hayden in a celebrated kit-off sequence. Hayden, that is, not Ainley – that would be too terrible to contemplate. BLOOD ON SATAN? CLAW is worth a look but it? hardly the celebrated classic the accompanying booklet and text features would have you believe.

THE DISC: Anchor Bay have done wonders for the DVD release. The picture looks good and there? a nice DTS track which, whilst a bit bassy, is far more than anyone could have expected from a 1971 movie. Just as I was wondering ?hatever happened to Linda Hayden??along pops a thirteen minute interview feature. Trailers, text stuff and photos complete a pleasing little package.

BLADE 2

Review By Paul Mount, 3 out of 5

Stephen Norrington’s original BLADE movie, starring Wesley Snipes as the leather-clad, mean’n-moody half-undead hi-tech vampire slayer, was one of the great high-octane, adrenaline-fuelled action movies of the late 1990s. There were high hopes for Guillermo Del Toro’s sequel. What a disappointment. It’s not that it’s a bad film, of course it isn’t. It’s just a bit bland and uninvolving. Part of this must be due to the fact that virtually all the protagonists are monsters. Here Blade has to team up with a group of vampires who are themselves being preyed upon by the Reapers, a new breed of super-vampire. As the Reapers are led by Nomak (played by former Bros teen idol Luke Goss) they’re probably right to be afraid. The problem is there’s no human interest, no real underdog to root for amidst all the carnage and blood-letting. Some vampires are in danger from other vampires? Ok…er, so what? Much of the film takes place in the dark, in sewers or undergound tunnels and lairs. There’s no humanity here and, contrary to Del Toro’s intentions, the film just ain’t scary despite the hideous Reaper vampires and all the CGI and tons of blood. It’s a cold and remote movie with little of the pulse-pounding excitement of the original. BLADE by numbers, in fact.

THE DISCS: This 2-disc set shows what can be achieved with the DVD format. Commentaries abound, there’s an exhaustive (if not exhausting) 83 minute ‘making of’ documentary which tells you probably more than you need to know about the making of any film. Twenty-odd minutes of deleted scenes – including one interesting sequence where Whistler (Kris Kristofferson, ludicrously resurrected in the film itself) meets a young Blade for the first time – press information, trailers, music video etc. Hours of stuff and probably far more than the film itself really deserves.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE MINI-SERIES

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 Forget everything you know about BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. This is easy for me because I know very little about it – apart from the universal truths that it was a cheesy late 1970s STAR WARS rip-off which ran for one brief series (before being reincarnated as the even more woeful GALACTICA 80) and that the BBC went through a curious phase a few years back of repeating it ad infinitum to the annoyance of the rest of us who knew it was taking up a valuable space in the schedules which could have been occupied by one of those alluring-sounding new American SF shows we? heard so much about in the genre press. But now I? rambling. A BATTLESTAR GALACTICA retooling has been on the cards for ages and now, at last, it? a reality. It? here in the shape of this two-part mini-series aired on Sci-Fi in the US recently and arriving with almost indecent haste on a budget DVD release in the UK. I? no great fan of space opera but I? here to tell you that I?e seen the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and I find it good.

The basic premise remains the same as the original. Mankind has spread out amongst the stars; Earth has long been forgotten. Man has created a new human empire but it? been enjoying an uneasy armistice with a ferocious robotic race called the Cylons, creatures which Mankind itself created. The truce ends brutally with a swift and sudden Cylon attack which wipes out the human colony worlds and most of the Battlestar cruisers. Only the Galactica remains, an old warhorse vessel about to be decommissioned. The Galactica and her crew set about gathering together the fractured survivors of humanity into a ragtag fleet and then face the ultimate decision; turn and fight the unstoppable power of the Cylons – who, handily, can now take on human form – or run away to fight another day.

The new GALACTICA is very much a creature of the 21st century. This looks as big as any recent major motion picture you may care to mention; the cast is enormous, the sets incredible, the special effects often breath-taking. Even the script is impressive, punctuated with some neat humour and some genuinely believable and interesting characters. You may remember the sub-Cybermen Cylons of the original series; they?e gone, thankfully, replaced by more TERMINATOR-like robots which appear in tantalisingly few sequences. Otherwise the Cylons can now make themselves human. What seems at first to be a cop-out budgetary decision eventually adds a new dramatic dynamic to the story, giving it an almost INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS-style sense of paranoia as the Galacticans realise that there? a Cylon spy in their midst and that any human they meet could easily be the enemy. It doesn? do any harm to the story that one of the humanoid Cylons is a slinky girly who spends a lot of time spilling out of her dress and trying to seduce feeble-minded scientist Baltar (Callis). Other heretical alterations to the original format include the transformation of Starbuck (Richard Hatch in the TV series) to a feisty female (Sackhoff). This, of course, adds a new frisson to her relationship with Leo ?pollo?Adama (Bamber), estranged son of the Galactica? world-weary Commander (Olmos). The mini-series deftly creates four-square characters of its main protagonists and introduces the dramas which will power their relationships in the recently green-lit new thirteen part series due to enter production shortly.

There? really very little to fault in the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Rymer? direction is tight and inventive, Richard Hudolin? production design is fabulous and there are some really exciting space dogfights as well as some rather chilling sequences as Mankind is utterly routed by the Cylon spaceships. Perhaps most uncomfortable of all is the sequence where the Galactica is forced to abandon several ships full of survivors in the face of an imminent Cylon attack when they realise that half the ships aren? equipped for light-speed travel. It?l bring a lump to your throat, I swear it. Although I? no great admirer of spaceship shows, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA has got me genuinely excited about the prospect of the series still to come.

THE DISC: Available online for about a tenner this is a real bargain. Technically it? a bit duff, though. The picture has a tendency towards grain and the 5.1 sound-mix, oddly enough, works better in ambient sequences than in the battle scenes as you might expect. Only one extra in the form of a twenty-odd minute making-of documentary full of enthusiastic talking heads.

ANGEL SEASON 3 BOXSET

Review By Paul Mount, 4.5 out of 5 ANGEL. To many it’s just BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER’s impudent offspring, the show which stands forever in the shadow of its bigger, spikier sister. To others it’s a dark, grim tale of the quest for redemption, a story much darker and visceral that the eternally sunny antics of the Slayer and her Scoobies, a series which uses horror and humour like unholy bloodbrothers to forge a tale quite unlike any other on contemporary television. I’m as guilty as you’ve probably been in undervaluing ANGEL, airing as it does in the UK either in a laughably-butchered version on Channel Four or scheduled directly after an hour of BUFFY one Sky One. ANGEL is far too intense and complex a show to be watched half-heartedly. It demands your undivided attention. I’m grateful to Fox for giving me the opportunity to sit and watch episode after episode of this wonderful, wonderful series complete and unedited and without annoying advertising breaks. I’m here to tell you that Season 3 of ANGEL is a staggering piece of work, the best season of television yet created by Joss Whedon and his Mutant Enemy whizzkids and, for that matter, the best television boxset yet released in the UK.

But why? Why is this season of ANGEL so awesome? It’s about the stories, people, as it always should be. Angel (the character) went to some pretty dark places in Season Two as Darla (Julie Benz) the vampire who sired him and who was dispatched in an early episode of BUFFY is supernaturally resurrected by Angel’s deadly enemies at lawyers Wolfram and Hartt purely to drive Angel crazy. It so nearly works as Angel turns against his detective pals Cordelia, Gunn and Wesley and, for a few weeks at least, seems to be about to return to the evil ways of his soul-free alter ego as Angelus the killing machine. By the end of Season two Angel is back in the fold and old friendships are slowly being reforged ?but not before Angel succumbs to Darla’s vampiric charms. The series ends with the frankly ghastly three-parter set in Pylea, the home dimension of friendly karaoke demon Lorne (are you still with me?). Returning to L.A. with new recruit Fred (Amy Acker) in tow, Angel and his team learn of the death of Angel’s old lover Buffy at the end of season five of her own show.

So to Season three. Angel’s off to a Sri Lankan retreat to come to terms with the death of his beloved. Returning to L.A. he’s immediately pitched back into a series of quirky investigations which cleverly develop the regular characters whilst laying the groundwork for the huge storyline which is to dominate the rest of the season. Darla’s backond she’s pregnant. The repercussions of this are enormous. Angel’s old foe from the 17th century, vampire hunter Holz (Keith Szarabajka) has been brought forward into the modern day and he has old scores to settle. Ancient prophecies pointing towards Amageddon force Wesley (Alexis Denisof) to apparently change his allegiances and when Angel’s newborn son Connor turns into a teenager (Vincent Kartheiser), the pieces fall into place for a truly chilling season finale with Angel investigations cast to the four winds and Angel facing a watery doom.

I guarantee that this is one series you just won’t be able to stop watching. The stand-alone episodes which kick off the season are captivating (particularly the hilarious bodyswap story ‘Carpe Noctum’) but when the action hots up in ‘Offspring’ it’s a non-stop rollercoaster right up to season finale ‘Tomorrow’. ANGEL Season three is packed with good stories well told. The scripts are sparkling, the imagery is breath-taking, the acting outstanding, the visual effects right up there with the best ever seen on television. This is one boxset you’ll return to again and again and the greatest tragedy is that ANGEL isn’t recognised as the work of genius it so clearly is. Practically faultless.

THE DISCS: Nice crisp transfers but with some grain evident during darker sequences. So what? Extras are plentiful and interesting. The Godlike Joss Whedon provides a commentary for his unusual ‘Waiting in the Wings’ episode and Tim Minear and Mere Smith and wonderfully disrespectful in their commentary for ‘Lullaby’. There are trailers galore (for other BUFFY boxets and, curiously, the ghastly Kirty Swanson film which started it all) and meaty features such as a seaon overview, a feature on Darlas, a couple of screentests, some amusing outtakes (where the bleep machine often doesn’t get in on time) and the usual stills gallery. There’s even a couple of deleted scenes. Go on, you know you want it?ou know you won’t be disappointed.

THE X FILES SEASON 7

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5

Seven seasons seems to be about the point at which most American SF/Fantasy shows reach their sell-by date. The majority of them bow out gracefully when their makers realise they’ve done their best work and that it’s probably a good idea to leave ’em wanting more. Season seven is clearly the place where Chris Carter and co should have called time on the adventures of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully but they (and Network interests) allowed THE X FILES to rumble on for two unnecessary and frankly rather dull further seasons. This leaves us with season seven as the original show’s last gasp and the episodes presented on this smart six-disc set show THE X FILES still capable of genuine shocks, thrills and genre-defying comedy. It’s very much the last essential series of THE X FILES and, even if the show had faded from the forefront of the public’s consciousness by now, it was still as vital and challenging as it was when it debuted all those years before.

After the slow-b urning two part opening ‘The Sixth Extinction’ Parts 2 and 3 (following on from season six’s cliffhangar) which spills much of the series previously well-hidden guts and manages to be an interesting conspiracy arc story, it’s business as usual as our heroes continue to explore the mysterious world of the paranormal. And in season seven they do it in style in a string of episodes right up there with the best in the show’s history. There are classy stand-alone horror stories like ‘Hungry’, twinkling pieces like the genie story ‘Je Souhaite’ and even an interesting if flawed cyberpunk thriller by William Gibson entitled ‘First Person Shooter’. More in evidence in this season though is the series’ willingness to push the envelope, to explore the boundaries of THE X FILES. This is done largely with sly, knowing humour, winks at the audience and at the conventions of the series itself. ‘The Amazing Maleeni’ turns out not to be an X File at all, ‘X Cops’ is a brave parody of the r eal-life COPS show which only fails because of the need to tell its story by at least some of the show’s usual narrative rules and, best of all, the Duchovny-written/directed comedy ‘Hollywood A.D’ where Mulder and Scully hit the big screen with Gary Shandling and Tea Leoni in the starring roles. Otherwise it’s business as usual; arc stories like ‘Closure’ are full of their own confusion, ‘Brand X’ and ‘Fight Club’ are routine thrillers and Gillian Anderson also contributes an episode in the hippyish ‘All Things’. The season ends with Mulder vanishing and Scully revealing a big secret to FBI head honcho Skinner. If only they’d had the sense to leave it therezp>

THE DISCS: Good quality picture and sound but a bit half-hearted on the extras front. A thirty-minute documentary races through the highlights of the season, there are a couple of commentaries and deleted scenes and perhaps the most useless extras on any DVDs yet – international clips. Er… for what purpose exa ctly?

THE X FILES 7

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5

Seven seasons seems to be about the point at which most American SF/Fantasy shows reach their sell-by date. The majority of them bow out gracefully when their makers realise they’ve done their best work and that it’s probably a good idea to leave ’em wanting more. Season seven is clearly the place where Chris Carter and co should have called time on the adventures of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully but they (and Network interests) allowed THE X FILES to rumble on for two unnecessary and frankly rather dull further seasons. This leaves us with season seven as the original show’s last gasp and the episodes presented on this smart six-disc set show THE X FILES still capable of genuine shocks, thrills and genre-defying comedy. It’s very much the last essential series of THE X FILES and, even if the show had faded from the forefront of the public’s consciousness by now, it was still as vital and challenging as it was when it debuted all those years before.

After the slow-burning two part opening ‘The Sixth Extinction’ Parts 2 and 3 (following on from season six’s cliffhangar) which spills much of the series previously well-hidden guts and manages to be an interesting conspiracy arc story, it’s business as usual as our heroes continue to explore the mysterious world of the paranormal. And in season seven they do it in style in a string of episodes right up there with the best in the show’s history. There are classy stand-alone horror stories like ‘Hungry’, twinkling pieces like the genie story ‘Je Souhaite’ and even an interesting if flawed cyberpunk thriller by William Gibson entitled ‘First Person Shooter’. More in evidence in this season though is the series’ willingness to push the envelope, to explore the boundaries of THE X FILES. This is done largely with sly, knowing humour, winks at the audience and at the conventions of the series itself. ‘The Amazing Maleeni’ turns out not to be an X File at all, ‘X Cops’ is a brave parody of the real-life COPS show which only fails because of the need to tell its story by at least some of the show’s usual narrative rules and, best of all, the Duchovny-written/directed comedy ‘Hollywood A.D’ where Mulder and Scully hit the big screen with Gary Shandling and Tea Leoni in the starring roles. Otherwise it’s business as usual; arc stories like ‘Closure’ are full of their own confusion, ‘Brand X’ and ‘Fight Club’ are routine thrillers and Gillian Anderson also contributes an episode in the hippyish ‘All Things’. The season ends with Mulder vanishing and Scully revealing a big secret to FBI head honcho Skinner. If only they’d had the sense to leave it therezp>

THE DISCS: Good quality picture and sound but a bit half-hearted on the extras front. A thirty-minute documentary races through the highlights of the season, there are a couple of commentaries and deleted scenes and perhaps the most useless extras on any DVDs yet ?international clips. Er?or what purpose exactly?

VAMPIRE PRINCESS

Review By Dom Conlon, 2.5 out of 5

Don’t be fooled by its ’12’ rating, Vampire Princess is hardly the type of animated series to keep the kids quiet. It’s subject matter and depiction are all remarkably dark and brooding and even the action has a resigned air of inevitability about it that undermines any sense of victory or conquest. Having said that, it is still a welcome change to the increasing onslaught of extended toy adverts that are cynically being pumped out of many animation houses these days.

Vampire Princess centres around the stuggle of Miyu (the titular ‘heroine’) and her sole companion Larva as they work to eliminate a race of demons known as Shinma from the Earth. Thematically, Vampire Princess explores what it means to be human, the nature of evil (and the consequences of weakness or vulnerability), relationships and of course the staple diet of light versus dark. Like much anime, the series sets out on a deliberate story arc which at times overwhelm the requirement to entertain within a single story but which does promise real development and real rewards for the faithful viewer.

The series begins, naturally enough, with disc one and three half hour stories. It’s a slow start with very little in the way of action but much in the way of character development as we are introduced to Miyu and the schoolgirl world in which she resides. The pacing only becomes an issue at times when you hope for a little less atmopshere and more actual insight into Miyu’s life. For the most part, however, we are content to be lulled along with the stories.

For those more used to Western animation it may come as a surprise to experience a script which whilst at times clumsily translated, refuses to restrict itself to simplistic good/bad terms. Just as in the superb Spirited Away, the notion that anyone is purely good or purely evil is shied away from. Some of what is presented as evil is done so in a way that suggests reason rather than nature. Yet again and again it is more the promise of what Vampire Princess could have been rather than what it is that keeps you watching.

By no means a bubblegum movie, the violence is occasionally more extreme than one would expect though, as with all the action in the series, it is confined to short, sharp bursts in an otherwise sedentary pool of reflection. Demons being cut in two, speared and otherwise mistreated are depicted in true line trembling detail. Such scenes continue only so long as is needed to make the point that a creature is wounded or dead and so the term gratuitous never becomes an issue. On top of the general downbeat hopelessness however it takes on a certain grimness.

In later stories, we learn much more about how Miyu came to be where she is, doing what she does and there are some enjoyable stories (though mostly after the first disc). The development cycle begins eventually to bring out some real supernatural thrillers that work well at unsettling occasionally.

Yet when the titles finally roll and the compulsory theme tune sounds, the feeling of frustrated dissatisfaction hangs in the air. Typical of much of the anime produced around this period it hints at more than it delivers. Art is competant but rarely anything beyond the generic. Storylines are mostly a little half hearted as though the writer wasn’t quite comfortable with the structure. When a story breaks through this then it does so in style and evokes a sense of creepiness and depth that should have been seen as a constant. In the end though, it seems the theme of teenage alienation was taken too seriously.

Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 1 – Initiation
Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 2
Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 3 – Illusion
Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 4
Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 5

TIME BANDITS

Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5

Terry Gilliam is probably up there with my favourite film directors. His films ?and his canon of work isn’t enormous ?are rich with bizarre imagery and his twisted, surreal imagination pervades every frame of his often dark, disturbing movies. But he’s also a very frustrating director because his films are invariably sloppy, formless, meandering works where story comes a very poor second to his own requirements to turn contemporary film on its head and create images which are quite unlike anything else out there. TIME BANDITS, released on DVD at the tail end of 2002 and now widely available at a reduced price at your local DVD retailer (thank you, God, for the concept of New Year Sales) is one of Gilliam’s first post-Python efforts ?and whilst the spirit of Python lives in the film’s style and themes, it’s a Gilliam film through and through.

Ostensibly a kid’s film, there’s enough darkness and violence here to satisfy even the hardiest adult fantasy fan. The story? Well, according to Gilliam and co-writer Michael Palin, a bunch of dwarves (am I still allowed to call them that? Look out for the politically-correct Police!) have taken possession of a cosmic map which enables them to jump through time holes to travel across the ages (and, it transpires, the domain of fantasy) committing heinous robberies. One of their trips takes them into the bedroom of a young boy named Kevin who ends up travelling with them on their breakneck adventures with the forces of the Evil Genius (David Warner), who craves the map, hot on their heels.

TIME BANDITS is maniac stuff but it’s classic Gilliam. Never less than superbly-directed, the story is all over the place, excusable here perhaps as the whole endeavour is about travelling from adventure to adventure, often not even pausing for breath. The visuals are remarkable considering the ? million budget and the cast bulges with star names and veterans like Sean Connery, John Cleese, Ralph Richardson, Katharine Helmond and a young Jim Broadbent. The whole thing falls apart at the end when it’s quite clear the story has run out and it all seems a bit ad-lib but, like Gilliam’s later legendary disaster THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (a beautiful but entirely insane film) it’s never less than watchable and it’s always a lot of fun.

THE DISC: The transfer is clean enough but there’s a little print damage with the odd flicker and fleck visible. The menu promises loads of extras but most of it is text-based stuff including, disappointingly, one ‘missing scene’. However, Gilliam provides a lively commentary and there’s an interesting newly-recorded twenty-odd minute ‘interview’ (more of an informal reminiscence session) with Gilliam and Palin. Biographies and picture galleries complete a nice package which is worth picking up at its current budget price

SPIDER-MAN

Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5

Was it really only five months ago that this long-awaited superhero flick was redefining the term ?ox office smash? Apparently so and here it is on shiny DVD just in time for Christmas stockings everywhere. I became a Spidey fan when Marvel UK opened its doors for business ion the early 1970? so whilst I haven? been waiting for this film as long as the fans who were around at the beginning, back in 1962, the film? been a long time coming. False start after false start has dogged the project for years and we?e had to make do with TV cartoons and the laughable short-lived TV series starring Nicholas Hammond. Fans were baffled when Sam Raimi was announced as the director of the SPIDER-MAN film when all those tedious legal difficulties were finally overcome and I was personally affronted when BUFFY? Nicholas Brendan didn? get the starring role he was surely born to play. The superhero super-role finally went to intense indie actor Tobey Maguire. And so the problems beginzp>

The trouble with superhero films is that, with the notable exception of X-MEN, they?e almost always origin stories. By the time the film? over and the hero? come to terms with his special powers and won his first battle, we just want more. We want the next one. We don? want to wait two years to see our hero in action again. So it is with SPIDER-MAN. The film? storyline is pretty flimsy, the villain (Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin) pretty weak and ineffectual and when the bad guy finally breathes his last, we?e into Spider-Man as a character enough to want to roll straight into his next adventure. This apart, there? a lot going on here but I still can? come to terms with mopey Tobey Macguire as the web-slinger and I just can? see this famous chemistry between him as top girl Kirtsen Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. The scripts is iffy in places, the pace is all wrong, some of the CGI is distinctly iffy. But it? an engaging, enjoyable film, if only because we?e waited so long for it. Just tell yourself, as I have, that the next one will be a lot betterzp>

THE DISC: A lavish 2 disc set which actually isn? as lavish as you might think. The film itself looks and sounds awesome, of course. Extras include commentaries and dozens of trailers and TV sports whilst disc 2 issplit into 2 segments concentrating on Spidey in the comics and Spidey in the movies. Much of the former is static text-based stuff and highlights from the comic book but there? an interesting half-hour documentary featuring creator Stan lee and some of the other luminaries who have worked on the comic book over the years. The film segment is made up of three puff promotional documentaries which gush and enthuse and tell you very little about the complexities of making a film starring a largely CGI character. Screen tests are interesting and there? a chuckle-free gag reel. A nice set, but the new STAR WARS and LORD OF THE RINGS sets will raise our expectations of special edition DVDs far above this standard.

SIGNS

Review By Paul Mount, 4.5 out of 5 This is a review of a Region 1 DVD for more info try here

M Night Shyamalan’s ingeniously low-key take on the alien invasion story, hugely successful on its theatrical release and yet still oddly underrated, arrives on DVD (R1 only, so far, sci-fi kids) and is a revelation. Unlike many big-budget FX extravaganzas which can look a bit anaemic when reduced to TV proportions, SIGNS benefits enormously by the home video experience and, if anything, is even more terrifying and thought-provoking than it was on the big screen. The reason is obvious; it’s a huge story told on an intimate scale and it just seems so much more involving in the comfort of your own home. Disillusioned widower priest Graham Hess (Mel Gibson on fine form) is faced with the impossible when crop circles inexplicably appear in his backyard field. Similar circles appearing all over the world are the forebears of the arrival of strange lights in the sky?he advance guard for an alien invasion. Graham has to protect his own family and fight against his own growing distrust in his old faith. Spaceship fans will be disappointed; there are no fleets of invading mother ships here, no Will Smith heroics to save the day. This is the story of one frightened family barricaded into its own home and struggling to stay alive when Mankind, entirely offscreen, is routed by largely unseen alien invaders.

I’d forgotten just how good SIGNS is. Stunningly written and directed by Shyamalan (surely the most exciting new director working in Hollywood today) with persuasive performances from Gibson, Joaquim Phoenix as his brother Merrill and the outstanding Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin as his brave yet terrified kids. There’s some wry humour, some genuine edge-of-the-seat moments and plenty of spine-chilling tension. There’s also a slightly disappointing ending, a man in a rubber suit and, refreshingly for Shyamalan, no twist in the tail. Thoroughly engrossing, SIGNS is brilliant film-making and totally unmissable.

THE DISC: No commentary but a nice bunch of bells and whistles. A handful of deleted scenes ?the best being Merrill and Graham’s attempt to barricade the attic ?a multi-angle storyboard feature, a brief snippet of an embarrassing early Shyamalan monster movie and a brilliantly-detailed six-part ‘making of’ which can be run as one long hour-plus documentary. A disc which already has pride of place in my collection.

SAPPHIRE AND STEEL

Review By Morgan Hart, 4 out of 5

Box Set 1 Assignments I,II,III

Box Set 2 Assignments IV,V,VI

Where as some people talk of hiding behind the Sofa watching the Daleks, I remember being disturbed by Sapphire and Steel. This is the only comparison that will be made to the other famous 70? Sci-fi dramas, as Sapphire and Steel was a very different animal. There are no Silver Clad Androids, or Swamp Monsters here, the enemy being time itself, which will ?reak through?at any opportunity. Consequently, though our Hero? have superpowers, the adventures are far more cerebral than say ?he Champions? The series also benefited from having two top notch leads, Joanna Lumley and David McCallum. Amazingly, both actors valued their parts of ?ime Travelling Extra Terrestrials? as being ?traight?escapes from their previous projects, ?he New Avengers? and ?he Man From UNCLE?

Box Set 1 contains the first three assignments (episodes, and series were not titled). The first being where nursery rhymes trigger an eruption in time resulting in the disappearance of a child? parents (like Dr Who, Sapphire and Steel was originally planned as a children? programme). Assignment II is set in a haunted railway station, whilst III involves strange goings on in an apartment block.

Box Set 2 contains Assignment IV, set in a junk shop, and commonly considered the best in the series. Assignment V is an ?gatha Christie?style country house mystery , and the only episode not written by PJ Hammond. Assignment VI completes the set, nicely bookending the series with a cliff hanger. No other episodes were produced, not through a lack of public demand, but due to TV franchise re-assignments in the early 1980?.

The disks are nicely presented with good cast biographies, and a nice overview to the series, but nothing earth-shattering. At around 7 hours each there is a good deal of material here, but at ?0-?0 per set it does not come cheap. In overview, if you remember seeing the series on transmission, it was as good as you remembered it to be. Also, unusually for television, the assignments really do require repeat viewing to gain full enjoyment. Consequently they do represent good value. Finally, there is very little chance of buying these disks only to find the same episodes filling the Saturday afternoon schedule of BBC2, or UK Gold.

DOCTOR WHO: RESURRECTION OF THE DALEKS

Review By Paul Mount, 3 out of 5

Hottish on the heels of the recent DVD release of ?he Aztecs? another tale of derring-do from TV? legendary death-defying Time Lord. Resurrection of the Daleks hailing from fifth Doc Peter Davison? third and final season in the role, is a grim beast indeed. Less a story and more a series of set pieces strung together, this is probably the weakest DOCTOR WHO DVD issue yet (bar the unwatchable Colin Baker yarn Vengeance on Varos. The Daleks returned to the screen in 1984 after a five-year absence and despite the fact that the production team were determined to make their return a spectacular, star-studded extravaganza, it? all a bit of a damp squib. The story is all over the place; Dalek creator Davros has been held in cryogenic suspension aboard a battered prison spaceship for nearly a hundred years. The Daleks set about releasing him to help them combat a lethal virus unleashed by their deadly enemies the Movellans. Meanwhile, there are mysterious goings-on in London? rundown docklands and when the Doctor and his companions Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) are dragged into a ?ime corridor? the scene is set for much whiz-bangery and corridor-running. Halfway through the Daleks reveal their plan to replace human leaders and the High Council of Gallifrey (?) with Dalek replicant agents and it all goes terminally pear-shaped when the Daleks start fighting one another and they start spurting foam. Davros lives to fight another day, by the way. It? bright and breezy enough but the scale of the narrative is way beyond DOCTOR WHO? meagre resources so the explosions are feeble and the gun-battles are unconvincing (despite the high death toll it? hard to care much because there are no real characters here). The cast is crawling with minor 1970s/80s thesps; Rodney Bewes, Rula Lenska, Del Henney, Chloe Ashcroft and Maurice Colbourne. But none of them – with the notable exception of Colborne – are remotely competent in their roles and when it all runs out of steam in a dismal Dalek gun battle we?e just left with memories of when DOCTOR WHO was much better than this and when the Daleks were a genuine TV phenomenon. Tegan leaves the TARDIS crew at the end of the story. ?t? stopped being fun, Doctor,?she whines at one point. It? hard not to imagine much of the Tv audience at the time saying much the same thing before turning over to watch CORONATION STREET.

THE DISC: Better extras than the story deserves. The highlight is the twenty-minute ?n Location?documentary where enthusiastic director Matthew Robinson marvels at how the Docklands locations have become a yuppie wonderland. He? joined by portly writer Eric Saward who doesn? seem particularly bothered about the whole thing and late producer John Nathan-Turner adds his own words of wisdom from a different location. Other features include a lumbering BREAKFAST TIME item featuring Nathan-Turner and Janet Fielding in a sweater scarier than anything ever seen in the series, yet another dull and pointless TARDIS cam, a trailer for episode one (I?e still got that on VHS somewhere!), extended/deleted scenes and a nice commentary by Davison, Robinson and Fielding who, it appears, has decided to succumb to the inevitable and rejoin the DOCTOR WHO fold after years of rubbishing the series. Nice extras, shame about the story. Oh, and that limited edition rubber sleeve?r,what? that all about then, Mr BBC?