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Published: Thursday, 7/20/2006

Famous filmmakers tailor chills for the small screen

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Soldiers killed in war come back from the grave in Joe Dante s Homecoming.
Soldiers killed in war come back from the grave in Joe Dante s Homecoming.
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If only there was a remedial school for filmmakers, a place on TV where talented directors could learn the value of an hour-long story (or even a streamlined 45 minutes - after commercials). While you're sitting there this summer, watching Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and wondering why these movies need to nudge north of 2 1/2 hours, consider Amazing Stories: The Complete First Season (Universal, $49.95) and Showtime's Masters of Horror (Anchor Bay, $29.98).

Most episodes of Amazing Stories, launched by a very ambitious Steven Spielberg in 1985, run no longer than 24 minutes. And that includes those directed by Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, though neither is among the best highlights (that would be the horror-movie satire Mummy, Daddy and the chilling Doll, for which John Lithgow took an Emmy).

As for Masters of Horror, which debuted last fall as an inspired vehicle for rediscovering our often overlooked legends of scary movies, each brief 52 minutes or so per episode means a director can deliver a premise no matter how outlandish without milking it dry. (Horror, of course, works better without the overexplaining that is synonymous with padding.)

Amazing Stories, with 24 episodes in the set, gives more bang for the buck. The Masters of Horror series has one short per disc, but what's here is a dream team: Among those taking a stab are John Carpenter (Halloween), John Landis (American Werewolf in London), Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist), and Dario Argento (Suspiria). But may I direct your attention to Homecoming, directed by Joe Dante, of Gremlins and The Howling.

Easily the most provocative, it's ideal as a satiric short story: A presidential aide comforts a Cindy Sheehan-like mother on a new show. "If I had one wish," he tells her, "I would bring your boy back." And soon, her son returns from the grave, along with all the men and women killed in the Iraq war. They return and trudge into voting booths and proceed to vote the president who sent them to war out of office. The only way to stop them, it appears, is to allow them to vote.

Sounds nuts, huh?

It is, but leave it to a junky little horror movie (with the requisite amount of blood splatter, of course) to deliver the most uninhibited response to the war. The series is hit and miss - Carpenter's Cigarette Burns is his best work in years, Landis' Deer Woman is another sign of his decline. But that's the nature of these things. Even of the two Amazing Stories segments directed by Spielberg (both included here), only one works.

That's The Mission.

Of the countless hours of television he's either directed, produced, or just lent his name to as executive producer, The Mission stands tall with Duel (his first feature, made for television) and HBO's Band of Brothers epic. It's an hour. It stars Kevin Costner (before he was a star) and Keifer Sutherland, and again, we have a plot that would collapse on itself if the episode were 120 minutes long. A World War II bomber is struck with debris, trapping a solider in one of those gunner bubbles sitting on the belly of the plane.

They can't get him out.

Then, there's a problem with the landing gear. Then the fuel line. They have to land now. If Spielberg had gone past an hour, I would've lost consciousness. One can only hold one's breath so long.

•

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: There are three kinds of movies about teenagers: those for teenagers only (Sixteen Candles), those for adults (Election), and those that are hardest to make - the ones that play to everyone. These are rare, which is why it's vital that you don't dismiss ATL (Warner, $28.98) and She's the Man (Paramount, $29.95), both from last spring and new on video. Neither is anything special. ATL is a milder cross between American Graffiti and Boyz N the Hood. She's the Man, starring tween queen Amanda Bynes, is A Midsummer Night's Dream minus the insight.

Why do they work anyway?

Simple conviction.

That, coupled with a desire to be taken seriously without sacrificing what it is to be a teenager.

It's tougher than it sounds.

•

A CANDLE IN THE WIND: "Let's face it," reads the 1959 New York Times review of Some Like It Hot. "Two hours is a long time to harp on one joke." But, as the review goes on, Billy Wilder is a pro, and sometimes when you have too many good ideas, the audience could do a lot worse.

Nearly a half century later, the new two-disc Some Like It Hot: The Collector's Edition (MGM, $24.96), is a confirmation that a couple of hours of one-liners and punchy jokes can prove plenty. The elegance is in being able to leave it that way. You've seen this movie before. Watch it again. Notice the way Wilder never pretends the plot (a pair of swingers dress up like women and scam on Marilyn Monroe) is anything but ludicrous. No moral lessons are hinted at. It's just about sex.

Sex and wisecracks.

What's new this time?

The Collector's Edition eliminates some of the scratches from the 2002 Special Edition print, and the soundtrack is a bit more crisp. Otherwise, the extras are a reminder that studios tend to hold onto far less of their archives than you would think. And there's still no commentary.

Oh, well. Nobody's perfect.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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