Screens Armchair Cinephile 

Bring the Tarantino festival home

As of press time, I am 80 percent of the way through the sixth Austin Film Society-sponsored Quentin Tarantino festival of forgotten cinema. Judging from internet traffic, many film buffs are wishing they'd scored passes. For Current readers who'd like to replicate the experience at home, here's a round-up of recent DVDs that would fit right into "QT6." (Please note: Bad movies come with the territory here - the concept is to dive into the bucket of "grindhouse" fare with an open mind and lots of patience, trusting that there's treasure lurking within.)

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Two of this year's biggest crowd pleasers are readily available on disc: Psycho II, the trashy but surprisingly entertaining return to the world of Norman Bates, was just released by Universal; the trashier Silent Night, Deadly Night - a sometimes hilarious slasher flick in which a tramautized kid grows up to become a killer Santa Claus - has been out for some time on Anchor Bay.

But why watch what others have already watched? No Shame Films, as usual, is releasing two new Italian horror titles that would fit perfectly into Tarantino's all-night scare-fest. A Whisper in the Dark boasts the kind of unlikely combination the festival is known for: legit star Joseph Cotten, cult hero John Phillip Law, and composer Pino Donaggio. Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key would make the cut based on the title alone. Meanwhile, Blue Underground offers a coffin-shaped box of monster movies by Amando de Ossorio, The Blind Dead Collection.

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When Tarantino headed the jury at the Cannes film festival, he gave top honors to Oldboy (Tartan), the vicious and virtuosic revenge movie by relative newcomer Chan-Wook Park. I suspect he'd approve of pairing it with one the dozens of movies Takashi Miike has made in the last few years: Audition (Lions Gate) remains the most critically acclaimed, while Gozu (Pathfinder) is the newest. Artsmagic DVD offers the most accessible title with The Bird People in China, alongside the more genre-friendly Black Society Trilogy, of yakuza yarns.

Kung fu is a festival staple, of course, and this month's DVD releases run the gamut. The madcap Kung Fu Hustle (Sony) is a grab-bag of Looney Tunes-inspired slapstick CGI (not the most cohesive story in the world, but it has its moments), while Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (20th Century Fox) is the opposite, eschewing effects entirely for a hardcore chopsocky romp that comes with my high recommendation. From the past, Pathfinder offers the classic Master of the Flying Guillotine, in which a one-armed fighter takes on a blind guy wielding a highly original weapon.

Not much on the new-release shelf fits the mold of the '70s European crime movies Tarantino loves to show. For my money, though, this year's Layer Cake (Sony) is an heir to that tradition. Made by the producer of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Cake has more in common with the low-key nastiness of '70s British films than with Guy Ritchie's hyperactive caper. Speaking of the '70s, way back at the first QT Fest, Tarantino played Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, a Peter Fonda/Susan George car-chase feature that is now on disc thanks to Anchor Bay.

Finally, October 4 will see the arrival of a new series of releases that aims to explore the vast netherworld of American schlock. Geneon Entertainment's "Cinema Deluxe" releases will carry a price tag - from $5.98 to $7.98 - appropriate to the risk of picking up these random titles, some of which would definitely sound right if you saw them listed on next year's QT program: Bad Man's River, for instance, teams fan-favorite tough guy Lee Van Cleef with James Mason (!) and Gina Lollobrigida (!!) for a swindle set during the Mexican Revolution. Sticking in Mexico, how about Telly Savalas taking the title role in Pancho Villa? Aldo Ray, who starred in QT6's Four Desperate Men, pops up in both Men At War and God's Little Acre; and The Baby, in which a social worker comes across an infantilized full-grown man, might be weird enough to include for the plot's sake alone.

Now, if only somebody would put out a DVD of BMX Bandits, a family-friendly adventure shown this week starring a rosy-cheeked teenager named Nicole Kidman!

John DeFore on DVD

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