The Descent (Maple, 2005) D: Neil Marshall, w/ Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza. Rating: NNNN
Six young women with a fondness for extreme sports assemble for an annual trip, a caving expedition in the Appalachians. When they discover that their leader, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), has led them into an uncharted cave system, the trouble starts. Then they learn that they aren't alone in the cave and that whatever it is they're not alone with has teeth.
The Descent works rather like a distaff version of director Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers, which set a platoon of British soldiers loose in the woods against a pack of werewolves. In a year that offered three caving horror movies, it makes the most devastating use of its claustrophobic setting.
It's the one that feels like it's happening in an endless series of dark, enclosed spaces. Watch it with the lights off... all the lights.
EXTRAS Director/crew commentary, director/cast commentary, making-of documentary, deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, director interview, stills gallery.
The Simpsons: Complete Ninth Season (20th Century Fox, 1997-98) C: Matt Groening, w/ Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright. Rating: NNNN
The common wisdom is that the Simpsons' great years ended after Season Eight. Okay, Season Nine includes The City Of New York Vs. Homer Simpson, The Cartridge Family (Homer buys a gun), The Two Mrs Nahasapeemipetilons (Apu gets married; Andrea Martin plays his mom!), Das Bus (despite the title, it's a Lord Of The Flies parody), The Last Temptation Of Krust (Krusty becomes an angry stand-up comic) and Natural Born Kissers (Marge and Homer discover a fondness for public sex). Oh, and U2 guest star when Homer becomes Springfield's sanitation commissioner. That's not a bad season.
It is a bit of a mixed bag; there were four show runners during the season and some new writers, but The Simpsons could fall a bit and still be the best show on TV. It's not any more, but in 97 it still was. And we finally get back the New York episode that was pulled from syndication after 9/11.
EXTRAS The Simpsons remains the gold standard for animated series DVD: full crew and cast commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, the occasional Easter egg, storyboards and clever package design. The program booklet is an issue of The Rocking Stone, and the package includes a set of postcard parodies of legendary album covers Simpsonized; I can't decide if my favourite is the obvious one (Bart on Nevermind) or the most bizarre (Homer with iPod on Axis: Bold As Love). English, French and Spanish soundtracks.
The Wicker Man: Collector's Edition (Anchor Bay, 1973) D: Robin Hardy, w/ Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland. Rating: NNNN
Several editions of this legendary British horror film have been issued on DVD over the past few years; it's Anchor Bay's second release this year. The difference is that we've finally got the 99-minute director's cut in Region 1, 11 minutes longer than the theatrical release.
Anchor Bay also has a commentary by director Robin Hardy and stars Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward. It was recorded sometime in early 2005; they refer to the American remake as a rumour. (If only it had been.) Christopher Lee, at 83, is still a man of strong opinions articulately expressed.
Woodward plays a Scottish policeman lured to an island to investigate the disappearance of a local child. He discovers that it's the last place on earth where the "old gods" are still worshipped. Yup, it's the best horror movie ever made about Druids.
With its unusual literary pedigree (screenwriter Anthony Shaffer was coming off Sleuth) and a truly baroque performance by Lee as the lord of the island, you must give Wicker Man credit. There's never been another film like it.
EXTRAS Theatrical and extended "director's" cuts of the film, director/cast commentary, The Wicker Man Enigma documentary, theatrical and TV trailers, radio spots.
Bon Cop Bad Cop (Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Erik Canuel, w/ Colm Feore, Patrick Huard. Rating: NNN
In the current issue of cinema scope, Reg Harkema and Don McKellar (Monkey Warfare) deride Bon Cop Bad Cop for fitting into an easy commercial formula. God forbid that Canadian filmmakers should actually produce an entertaining picture that makes money.
On the other hand, I wish director Erik Canuel and producer Kevin Tierney weren't so smug on the commentary track on this new DVD. They made a mismatched-partners cop picture where one's a rogue Quebecois with stubble and the other's a buttoned-down Toronto WASP. They didn't cure cancer.
The great treat here is Colm Feore, who does everything in a series of tiny, dismayed reactions. The second great treat is Rick Mercer's one-day shot as a belligerent sportscaster named Tom Berry. And that leads me to my complaint. The serial killers the heroes are chasing have ass-centred names like Grossbut and Buttman, as if scenarist/star Huard had asked his eight-year-old son for funny names.
It's slick, clever entertainment, but the filmmakers decided we wouldn't get the jokes if they didn't hit us in the face with them.
EXTRAS Listen to a producer and director stroke each other with pieces of velvet for two hours in this commentary. The second disc of extras has about 15 minutes of deleted scenes, some trailers and a music video.
The Last Kiss (Paramount) Zach Braff worries about turning 30. Hey, Garden State was pretty good, but who appointed this guy "the voice of his generation"? Out December 26.
Jackass Number Two (Paramount) Because there's nothing funnier than someone being gored in the groin by a bull. Johnny Knoxville -- him I can buy as the voice of his generation. Out December 26.
The Black Dahlia (Universal) Brian De Palma meets James Ellroy. Unfortunately, Josh Hartnett had to show up at the meeting. De Palma's still not doing commentaries. Out December 26.
Snakes On A Plane (New Line/Alliance Atlantis) Of course it died in theatres. Its natural demographic was waiting so they could download the DVD from BitTorrent. Out January 2.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb