“The New York Ripper” (Blue Underground)
New York City’s finest follow a trail of brutal murders to track down a killer who’s going after–GASP!–young and beautiful women from the Big Apple! (Note to those considering a profession in murder: Go after the old and ugly, because apparently nobody cares about them.) Shot on location in New York in the early eighties, this film from Lucio Fulci is, in parts, exceptionally vicious. Unfortunately, in other parts, it’s also exceptionally slow. It’s a fine slasher film, but I found myself getting distracted in between the murders. But, hey, isn’t that always the case! An interesting DVD extra shows the film’s shooting locations as they appeared back then, and how they appear now. Gentrification, anyone?
“The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” (Blue Underground)
Also known as “Don’t Open The Window” (an inferior title) and “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie” (a superior title), this mid-seventies zombie flick follows a duo of travelers who just happen upon a small town of cannibalistic zombies! Fun for the whole family! Unlike most zombie films that feature some ridiculous excuse for the invasion, “Manchester Morgue” offers up a completely believable reason: radioactive farm equipment! But that’s a perfect example of what makes this movie great. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and offers up all of the required gore and violence that one expects from a quality piece of seventies horror schlock.
“Rage” (Liberation Entertainment)
More than a dozen actors make up this film’s stellar cast (including Steve Buscemi, Eddie Izzard, Judi Dench and Bob Balaban, to name a few), each performance serving as both a compelling character study and a pivotal role in a clever storyline. When an accident on the catwalk during New York’s fashion week leads to a murder investigation, suspicious eyes fall on the show’s participants. Directed by Sally Potter (who was nominated for “Orlando”), “Rage” is a successful example of what potential exists when a director breaks out of the normal restraints of film and has the freedom to experiment. To be honest, I couldn’t see a major distributor picking “Rage” up… and that’s exactly why you should see it. Oh, and to see Jude Law rocking some flamboyant drag. Awesome.
Scarier than any horror movie I’ve ever reviewed, “Secrecy” looks into the terrifying world of government… well, secrecy. What’s best for American citizens and what our government thinks is best for us is often two different things, especially when it comes to the facade that is the war on terror. “Secrecy” could have taken the easy road out and concentrated only on Bush-era atrocities (because, Christ knows, there’s enough material there to fill a 148-part PBS documentary series), but instead chose to look back deep into America’s sordid history of keeping information from its citizens… for our own good, of course. A must-have for anyone who doesn’t believe the crap being force-fed to them on a daily basis, “Secrecy”… what was that noise? Did you guys hear that? Hello? Is someone there? AH! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! HELP! SPREAD THE WORD, PEOPLE! DON’T LET THEM FOOL–
Brazos “Phosphorescent Blues” – The brainchild of a solo artist (Martin Crane) that eventually became a four-piece ensemble, the Austin-based Brazos brings jazz and folk together in a way that’s reminiscent of some of the more melodic work from Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire days. Brazos is less polished than Bird, more chaotic and raw in their sound, but it works to their advantage in every way. If you can, hunt down the track “We Understand Each Other.” If that doesn’t make you pick up the album, nothing will.
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis “White Lunar” – A two-disc set that features the collaborative soundtrack work of Nick Cave and composer (and fellow Bad Seed) Warren Ellis (no relation to the author). Deeply dark and richly layered, collected here are tracks from “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford,” “The Girls of Phnom Penh,” “The Proposition” and many more. How good is it? Next year you’ll be able to find it on this list. Yep, it’s that good.
The Blind Boys of Alabama “Duets” – I’ve often said that only two good things ever came out of religion: art and music. The Blind Boys of Alabama have proven the former to be true with their Grammy-winning gospel. Collected on this anthology are fourteen tracks of the group’s collaborative work. Most of the tracks have already been released on the albums of other artists; however, there are three previously unreleased tracks, including a great song titled “Jesus” which finds the fellas teaming up with Lou Reed. Most of the tracks hit (“None Of Us Are Free” with Solomon Burke; “Take My Hand” with Ben Harper; etc.), but there is a miss or two (“Nothing But The Blood” with Jars of Clay). Still, those couple of misses are because of the collaborator the Blind Boys are working with, not because of the work the guys themselves are contributing to the track. The rest of the album is such a solid collection that it almost makes me want to believe.
The Good Neighbors – Book Two: Kith by Holly Black & Ted Naifeh – I admit, this hardcover graphic novel isn’t my cup of tea, but I don’t think I’m exactly the book’s target audience (ages 12 and up). Written by Holly Black (“The Spiderwick Chronicles”), the book’s story about a girl heading out into an unknown realm to save her faerie mother is a solid read, and artist Ted Naifeh’s black-and-white illustrations add an appropriately dark element to the story. If you’re into fantasy, faeries and all things fantastical, pick it up. If you’re a balding Hungarian in his mid-thirties, maybe not so much; but least you can take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.