Dazed and confused

Jan 16, 2008 at 12:00 am

Blood Car
Fake Wood Wallpaper Productions

Though the idea of a no-budget quasi-horror cult film designed around the no-budget quasi-horror cult films of Roger Corman might sound like a project running on empty, Blood Car is a full-throttle bit of high-octane comic blood and brilliance that lends itself not only to a damn good viewing, but pedal-to-the-metal automotive euphemisms.

The clever piece is from the assembly line of director Alex Orr and co-scripter Adam Pinney, and stars a group of young Atlanta-based talents you've never heard of (Mike Brune, Anna Chlumsky and Katie Rowlett), but don't let that strip your gears.

Set in a time when gas is virtually unaffordable, this is the futuristic saga ("two weeks into the future") of an intense, frustrated nerd-vegan (Brune) who creates a car that runs on blood. The group takes this premise into the thoroughly entertaining realm of sly to potty humor, with trunkloads of gore and a few delectable tit shots for the lads. What Cabin Fever was to woodsy camp horror, Blood Car is to, well, cars that run on blood. (And, speaking of the lads, noir vixen Katie Rowlett's superbly flat, dirty-mouthed slut take is a treat for the eyes, ears and pants.)

Star Brune proves an utterly capable, slightly unhinged comic lead (think a WASP-y David Cross, another Georgia boy), and director Orr brings in a great, subtly weird visual tempo along the lines of Wes Anderson; that his conflicted, murderous hero is a saintly grade-school teacher while butchering humans for fuel is perfectly in tune. —Peter Gilstrap

Dirt: The Complete First Season
Buena Vista Home Entertainment

It seems unfair to criticize a TV show — especially one about a Hollywood gossip magazine — for being cheap, tawdry and shallow, but in the case of Dirt, producers Courteney Cox and David Arquette are asking for it. The duo has found a way to vent some celebrity spleen with a show about the amoral nastiness that goes into keeping America abreast of every sordid detail in the dream factory. Watching the entirety of the show's first season, it's difficult to imagine that the same network responsible for such well-written content as The Shield and Rescue Me would schedule room for a second season of this tripe. The show aims for seedy and sultry, but winds up way too soapy and ridiculous. Subplots about stalkers, illicit office romances and — what else? — daddy issues are overshadowed by the simple fact that no viewer in their right mind should care about people as shallow, venal and just plain douche-y as these characters. It's a guilty pleasure to read the garbage in these rags; it's a character flaw to write it. And while the attempts to paint these paparazzi and rag-pickers as new journalists are laughable — the main photographer is a barely functional schizophrenic — it's the overabundance of sex (Cox gets it in the pooper!) and backstabbing intrigue that likely accounts for the show's appeal. When the star producers attempt to make grand statements about the never-intersecting roads of fame and humanity, they wind up with platitudes that only resonate with other famous people. —Jason Ferguson

The Mod Squad: Season 1, Vol. 1
CBS Video

Other than The Monkees, there are few better examples of a baffled mainstream media crassly attempting to cash in on youth culture — and succeeding despite themselves — than The Mod Squad. Running from late 1968 through the spring of 1973, the show was about three young ne'er-do-wells rescued from their roguish ways, recruited by the cops to infiltrate the ever-inscrutable world of "the kids."

Though the show's initial concept was quickly discarded — by Season 1's third episode, The Mod Squad is beyond the counterculture and into busting counterfeiting rings — the mix of action, melodrama and the then-shocking diversity of Peggy Lipton (in her role as Julie, she settled into the fantasy world of many teen boys), Clarence Williams III (Linc, but later Prince's dad in Purple Rain) and Michael Cole is undeniable. Although dumb Julie continually has trouble remembering any of that hard police stuff, the show was far from fluffy. A surprising number of people get killed in the first season, and the amount of gunplay and booze probably would keep it from the airwaves today. Still, the dialogue, with lines like "murder and money are never more than a switchblade apart," unintentionally suck much of the legitimacy from the show's hard-boiled vibe. This mix of silliness, sexiness and '60s-ness has made the show something of a legend, and this four-DVD set of its first 13 episodes proves its charm timeless. —Jason Ferguson

The Woods
Sony Pictures

Sometimes a flick's cast is so talented that you can't believe it went straight to DVD. Enter The Woods, which boasts an Oscar nominee, an Independent Spirit Award nominee and a Detroit-area hero. And if that ain't good enough, The Woods was directed by Lucky McKee, whose May (2006) is one of the best modern horror flicks in recent memory.

Set in 1965, The Woods begins with troubled teen Heather (Agnes Bruckner, Blue Car) getting dumped at the Falburn Academy by her shrewish mom and browbeaten pop (Detroit's own Bruce Campbell). She's barely at the school long enough to change her clothes before she's butting heads with principal Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson) and Samantha — the queen bitch of the student body, who calls Heather "Fire Crotch" on the account of her red hair. Of course, it doesn't take Heather long to see something's odd about her isolated new digs — uh, it's surrounded by trees and covered in ivy that creeps in every window. Then there's the gruesome story she's told of three orphaned sisters who stumbled out of the woods one day, accused of being witches. Before you can say "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble" it's damn clear The Woods is nothing more than a retread of Satan's School For Girls. Sure, McKee injects some style and scare into the flick's first half, but the ending is rushed — but with no payoff. Even ever-dependable Clarkson looks dazed by what her character's up to. — Paul Knoll