Blu-ray Today: Monkeys, Dragons, Vampires and Thrills


Journey to the West Stephen Chow’s utterly insane origin tale for China’s popular legend of the Monkey King is an absolute must-see for fans of monsters, martial arts and weird comedy. A far-from-adequate amateur demon hunter must take on a pig demon, sea monster and the 500-years imprisoned Monkey King, all while much more experienced hunters with supernatural powers try to get there first. The Blu-ray includes six featurettes, but the film’s full title, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons suggests there may be more installments planned, and since there’s a lot of legend left to go, we can but hope that Chow gets to put his sublimely silly stamp on more installments.

Cheap Thrills – Along with Would You Rather and 13 Sins, Cheap Thrills is part of a subgenre that takes the concept formerly and unfairly known as torture porn and applies it to our age of economic downturn. Here, it’s not about pain for the sake of being alive or wanting to kill, but rather, how much torture you’d both endure and commit if enough money to solve all your daily problems were on the line? Pat Healy and Ethan Embry are the marks, with a disturbing, out-of-character David Koechner and Sarah Paxton as the absurdly rich couple bored enough to toy with people’s desperation. Uniquely among the three titles I mentioned earlier, this particular game allows the participants to walk away at any moment, cash in hand; that they mostly choose not to do so makes them even more complicit in their own damnation. Like much of the best horror, it’s entirely believable and connects to our real-world anxieties.

Dan Curtis’ Dracula – A made-for-TV movie version of the tale from the creator of Dark Shadows, who added in a familiar “reincarnated lost love” element that Francis Ford Coppola would later borrow from. Jack Palance plays Dracula, and that’s probably all you need to know, for good or ill – it’s otherwise fairly faithful to the original story. I enjoyed it when I was a kid, but would hesitate to apply that as a blanket endorsement today.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Original Epic Movie – I’m not sure what makes this rerelease different from previous versions, other than a slightly new cover and perhaps some movie-money to see the upcoming sequel. But it does give me a chance to mention that on DVD this week, we’re also getting part 2 of the TV series along with a couple of specials – having seen the first hour of movie 2, I don’t think you absolutely have to get caught up on everything to understand it, but it can’t hurt, right? Because unlike most other Dreamworks Animation attempts at franchise-building, this one’s actually good.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou: Criterion Collection – Wes Anderson’s mash-up of Moby Dick, Jacques Cousteau and Buckaroo Banzai, with stop-motion by Henry Selick, is also his first attempt at something resembling an action movie. In a conventional sense it’s still too weird for that, but as a skewed, Wes Andersony parody it works. Among the copious extras is a collection of ten David Bowie covers in Portuguese.

Sleepaway Camp – Newly scanned from the original negative, this classic slasher with the gender-bender twist includes a new commentary track by stars Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tierston, along with new cast and crew interviews.

Death Spa – A health spa full of computerized equipment gets possessed by the vengeful ghost of the owner’s dead wife, and I have not seen this yet because why?

Motto to Love Ru: Season 2 – I’m just going to post the official synopsis here and walk away slowly, in timely fashion, towards my TARDIS and Lego: “The insanity that began when a very naked (and very female) alien teleported into Rito Yuki’s bathtub (while he was in it) continues. And even though Princess Lala has finally started to admit her true feelings for the young man she’s inexplicably engaged to marry (as a result of what happened in said bathtub and Develuke customs,) her sometimes erratic technology and the snags and snarls of intergalactic politics and intrigue are still causing major problems. That transporter? Yeah, it still has the nasty habit of leaving the clothes behind. Alien bounty hunters? Yep, even more of them and they’re even more devious. Add body switches, alien skunks, a bathroom that changes size and shape, the inevitable sleepover that you just know it’s going to go horribly, horribly wrong, and worst of all, Valentine’s Day, and even in space you’ll be able to hear Rito scream!”

Those are my top picks for this week. What are yours?