Review: 13 Sins (2014)

13 Sins

Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) is in dire straits. His fiancee (Rutina Wesley, True Blood) is pregnant. His brother (Devon Graye) is mentally handicapped and about to be shipped back to an institution. To top it all off, Elliot just lost his job as an insurance salesman because he was too mild mannered to soak customers for more money.

Then he receives a call from a mysterious stranger telling him he can change his life. The caller knows everything about him, including his financial troubles, and offers him a way out. Just swat the fly buzzing around his head and he’ll receive $1,000. Eat it and he’ll get an additional $3,000.

Those were just the first two of 13 challenges he must accomplish to win the grand prize of six million dollars. But here’s the catch–he can’t tell anyone about his actions or interfere in any way with the outcome.

Oh, and each additional challenge becomes a little more inventive–and a little more heinous.

Elliot accepts the challenge and finds himself growing bolder and more fearless even as he’s heading down a path of self destruction. Soon his antics gain the attention of a cop (Ron Perlman) who, thanks to a conspiracy theorist (Pruitt Taylor Vince), discovers someone might be playing a dastardly game that began many years ago.

The premise of 13 Sins is a cross between Richard Matheson’s story, “Button, Button” and 1997’s The Game. When a more recent film attempts to tread familiar ground, especially with material that’s originally groundbreaking, it can turn out poorly (in which case it’s denounced as a rip-off) or distinguish itself from the others (and it’s referred to as an homage).

I’m very happy to say that 13 Sins falls into the latter category.

Director Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism), who co-wrote the script with David Birke, has created a taut thriller peppered with moments of black comedy (in my opinion, anyway, but I have a pretty warped sense of humor) and a sense of momentum that builds to a satisfying resolution.

The cast is also top notch, with Webber’s performance standing out as a man in despair whose very personality adapts to the ever increasing demands of the game. It takes a lot to pull that off and Webber does a great service to the character throughout the course of the film.

13 Sins isn’t without flaws, however, but they are minimal. The biggest one lies with a particular character that you realize there’s more to than meets the eye. I can’t reveal which because it would give away a large part of the mystery, but viewers should be able to pick up on that immediately. The other relates to the revelation that Elliot isn’t the only one playing the game. When the other player is revealed (as well as the twist regarding former players), it seemed a bit of a stretch considering who it is and what physical actions they’ve performed. Then again, if there are more than one, the contestant that Elliot sees while playing might have been someone completely different than who we suspect.

The most interesting aspect of 13 Sins is that it touches upon current issues facing America–debt, the economy, conspiracy theories, reality television, the 1%–without being really overt or preachy. Instead, they all combine to create a sense of realistic tension that enhances the horrific nature of Elliot’s choices. After all, what would you do if you were in his shoes?

All in all, 13 Sins is a great movie that shouldn’t be missed. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and is available on both DVD and BluRay.

13 Sins grade: A

13 Sins [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)

Director: Daniel Stamm
Starring: Mark Webber, Ron Perlman, Christopher Berry, Devon Graye
Rating: R (Restricted)

List Price: $29.99 USD
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Release date June 17, 2014.
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Review: The Psychopath (1966)


When I have to repeatedly pause a film to determine how much time remains and I discover myself thinking “Too much”, it’s never a good sign.

Written by Robert Bloch (Psycho), directed by Freddie Francis (Tales From the Crypt, Torture Garden), produced by Milton Subotsky (The Monster Club, From Beyond the Grave), and released by Amicus, The Psychopath should have been a solid film considering the level of talent involved. In fact, as it started, I found myself acting like Flounder from Animal House when, excited, he said “Oh boy! Is this GREAT!”

Sadly, The Psychopath is not great.

Men who investigated a German millionaire after World War II are being systematically killed with the assailant leaving a small plastic doll that resembles the victim as a calling card. Inspector Holloway (Patrick Wymark) turns a suspicious eye toward everyone, including: Mrs. Von Sturm (Margaret Johnston)–the millionaire’s widow, her son Mark (John Standing), and several other players.

For the majority of the film, The Psychopath is more crime drama than horror film as the Inspector tracks down the killer while suspects are murdered. And it’s quite a dull murder mystery at that. Even clocking in at 82 minutes, The Psychopath feels longer with a plot no more elaborate than an episode of Castle. Though the ending does provide a bit of a shocker, it’s also indicative that Bloch went to the whole “mommy issues” well one too many times.

The Psychopath grade: D+

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Review: In The Mouth of Madness (1995)

Mouth of Madness

John Trent (Sam Neill) finds himself committed to an asylum, but why? In recounting his tale to Dr. Wrenn (David Warner), it’s revealed that he’s a whip smart, savvy insurance investigator called upon to determine the whereabouts of best selling author Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), who has vanished. Along with Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), Trent must track Cane down and retrieve the author’s latest manuscript entitled In The Mouth of Madness.

Styles informs Trent that Cane’s novels sometimes cause mental disturbances to some readers, an assertion Trent finds difficult to believe. Ever a skeptic, Trent assumes that this journey, which leads to a mysterious New Hampshire town called Hobb’s End, is nothing more than an elaborate publicity stunt.

What Trent is about to discover is something far more sinister than a publicity stunt or even insurance fraud–and he just may lose his sanity in the process.

Directed by John Carpenter (Halloween), In The Mouth of Madness is the third film in his “Apocalypse Trilogy”–which also includes The Thing and Prince of Darkness–and takes its inspiration from the works of horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. Trent, the main character, is considered insane and his tale about otherworldly creatures laying waste to the world doesn’t make his psychiatrist believe any differently. However, anyone who’s read Lovecraft knows that Trent is probably completely sane (at least in the beginning) and there are real horrors yet to come.

In The Mouth of Madness isn’t a bad film, but considering Carpenter’s body of work, it’s certainly not his strongest outing. The story is interesting–especially considering Cane’s role in the tale–but also a bit convoluted. To his credit, Carpenter does keep things moving at a relatively brisk pace and throws in some jarring imagery so it’s easier to forgive and forget that the film is weak in spots.

The cast does an admirable job holding it all together but Neill’s performance suffers a bit as he makes the transition from calm, collected insurance agent to potential madman. Julie Carmen is a bit too wooden in the role, particularly when she’s called upon to act as a temptress later in the film. Again, though, this may be the fault of the film itself as it’s not exactly tops in the coherence department as it unfolds.

While I really enjoy Carpenter’s early work (The Thing is in my top 5 horror films of all time as is Halloween and I could go on and on about the greatness of his other movies), In The Mouth of Madness isn’t among his best, though it is better than a lot of movies in the near barren wasteland that was 90s horror.

My advice? Rent it with 2005’s brilliant The Call of Cthulhu for a Lovecraft double feature.

In The Mouth of Madness grade: C

In the Mouth of Madness [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)

Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow, David Warner, John Glover
Rating: R (Restricted)

List Price: $19.98 USD
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The Call of Cthulhu (DVD)

Director: Andrew H. Leman
Starring: Sean Branney
Rating: Unrated

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Review: Blacula (1972)


I’m not even going to beat around the bush. Blacula is awesome on so many levels that I can’t believe it’s taken me 42 years to see it.

I tried so hard to wait for the upcoming Scream Factory Blu-Ray release of Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream but the street date isn’t until sometime in February so I relied upon my backup recorded from TCM.

The story’s pretty basic. In the late 18th century, Prince Mamuwalde (William H. Marshall) seeks Dracula’s help in stopping the slave trade. Dracula turns him into a vampire (hence the name Blacula) and imprisons Mamuwalde’s wife in the room to die as she looks upon his coffin.

Two hundred years later, interior designers purchase items from Dracula’s castle and ship them to Los Angeles. One of those items is the coffin containing Blacula, who, once released, begins to leave a trail of bodies and turned vampires in his wake as he woos Tina (Vonetta McGee), a dead ringer for Mamuwalde’s wife.

Again, the vampire story’s pretty standard. But the execution? A thing of joy.

Blacula wastes no time in telling its tale. Almost immediately, and without suspicion, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala, who played the dad in several episodes of What’s Happening?) knows something’s amiss and it doesn’t take him much longer to pin the blame on vampire attacks. Tina becomes enamored of Blacula rather quickly, even after he blatantly lays out who he is and she doesn’t bat an eye. Finally, there’s the pursuit of Blacula by Thomas and the authorities (also in a hurry to jump on the vampire bandwagon) that includes a multi-vampire attack in a warehouse where a random open box filled with kerosene lamps provides an array of handy available weapons.

Underneath it all, Blacula is really a love story with Mamuwalde’s pursuit of Tina acting as the main spine of the story. The vampire aspect of the story is just gravy, but a tasty one at that. In fact, modern day stories of the undead could use a lesson about pacing from Blacula. Get in and get out. There’s no need to linger.

While watching Blacula, I couldn’t help thinking of The Strain, the FX series I reviewed this past summer. In it, several of the main characters (including Eph, the one we’re supposed to identify most with) just can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that people are being transformed into vampires by a virus. It takes them forever to catch on to anything and, as a result, the show sometimes seems sluggish. Not so with Blacula–they know that vampires walk and will do anything to stop them.

Blacula arrived near the beginning of the 70s “blaxpoitation” craze and is completely a product of that era. There are slick talking guys, one with the name of Skillet (Ji-Tu Cumbuka, who I remember fondly from a very short lived 1979 series entitled A Man Called Sloane where he played Torque) that provide comic relief. Afros? Check, especially on Tina’s sister, Michelle (Denise Nicholas, Room 222). What about an appearance from a musical act on the film’s soundtrack that lasts much longer than it should? Yes–the Hues Corporation, best known for their #1 1974 hit “Rock The Boat”, are here as well performing two of their songs.

Blacula has it all. There’s nothing you won’t love about the film and I highly recommend purchasing the Blu-Ray upon its release in February. Scream Factory usually includes some cool extras on it, but even if the disc is sparse, the film’s content alone is worth the price!

Blacula grade: A

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Review: Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

mr sardonicus

Sir Robert (Ronald Lewis, who resembles a cross between David Hasselhoff and Kevin Kline), a renowned English physician, is summoned to the castle of Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe, Andre Toulon in several of the Puppet Master films) at the behest of Sardonicus’ wife–and Sir Robert’s ex-lover, Maude (Audrey Dalton)–to cure the Baron of a mysterious ailment.

Sardonicus informs Sir Robert that he wasn’t always a Baron. In fact, he once went by the name Marek Toleslawski, a farmer by trade like his father before him. Prior to his death, the elder Toleslawski purchases a lottery ticket which is accidentally buried with him. Unfortunately, it also turns out to be a winner and a vast fortune awaits Marek. To placate his wife, Marek resorts to what he believes to be the most reprehensible of acts in order to retrieve the ticket.

“And so that night, Sir Robert, I became a profaner of the dead, a robber of graves…a ghoul.”

The act has such a profound effect on Marek that it warps him, both physically and psychologically. He hopes that Sir Robert’s methods can help, or else Maude might just suffer the same fate.

Directed by cinema’s master of gimmicks, William Castle, Mr. Sardonicus reportedly had two different endings–one where Sardonicus was further punished for his atrocities and another where the character was shown a merciful fate. Members of the audience were given glow in the dark cards which allowed them to vote “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” and the theater played the corresponding ending. Rumor had it that only one ending was filmed and, this being a horror movie, you can probably guess which one that was.

Mr. Sardonicus, like The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, and all of Castle’s other movies, is a ton of fun to watch and one that I wish I could have seen in the theater upon its release. Most people want to travel back in time to change some historical event. Me? I want to go back to a time when there was a certain sense of innocence in the cinema, when going to the theater was an event and you felt more a part of the audience than isolated from them.

As a horror film, Mr. Sardonicus is very reminiscent of the macabre tales you would find in something like The Twilight Zone or Thriller, but that suits me just fine so if you’re a fan of the stories provided in those series, you’ll love this film. However, if those series never grabbed you, Castle’s solid direction, the film’s beautiful set design, and the stellar performances make Mr. Sardonicus a winner.

Mr. Sardonicus grade: B+

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Review: Doc of the Dead (2014)

Doc Dead

Since my last two entries–World War Z and The Walking Dead episode “Strangers“–have been about zombies, it’s only fitting to include a documentary about the genre as part of my movie marathon.

Doc of the Dead takes a look at the history of the zombie and its inclusion in pop culture. From its origins in places like Haiti (where the definition of what a zombie is is far different than that of a modern reference) all the way up to today’s cinematic, television, novel, and video game interpretations, this particular brand of undead monster has enjoyed various degrees of popularity over the years.

Zombies were probably first represented onscreen with 1932’s White Zombie, but it wasn’t until George Romero put a new spin on the zombie mythology with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead that people really started taking notice.

This was a different type of zombie–one that shambles, yes, but one that also consumes the flesh of humans–that was more terrifying than anything anyone had seen in the past.

Through interviews conducted with both the creators of zombie pop culture (such as Romero, Robert Kirkman, Max Brooks and more) as well as the everyday “consumers” of the craze that take part in things like the Zombie Walk and horror conventions, Doc of the Dead is by no means a comprehensive look at the genre, but it is an entertaining documentary that does touch upon a large part of our fascination with the undead. It’s a little shy on film clips, but it does include fun aspects of the zombie craze like information on surviving a zombie apocalypse and events that allow one to experience a zombie attack.

Doc of the Dead can currently be seen on both Netflix and Amazon streaming. At a running time of about 81 minutes, it’s definitely worth a look–especially as a lighthearted bit of entertainment before bed following a night of gore infested zombie movies.

Doc of the Dead grade: B

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Review: The Walking Dead – “Strangers” S05,E02


“Nowadays, people are just as dangerous as the dead, don’t you think?”–Gabriel

“No. People are worse.”–Darryl

I’ve been reading Image Comics’ The Walking Dead on a regular basis since issue #12. The great thing about having read it so far back is that I’ve forgotten a lot of events, which makes watching everything on the show unfold a pleasant surprise each week.

“Strangers” brought up a major plot line that had completely slipped my mind altogether–something that didn’t happen until the end of the episode, but we’ll get to that. And rest assured that I won’t issue any spoilers beyond this for two reasons: 1) I really can’t recall exactly how everything in the comic unfolded, and 2) the TV show has deviated from several storylines since the beginning so there’s no telling what will come after this anyway.

Written by creator Robert Kirkman, “Strangers” allows us a breather for the group to catch up with one another. Carol and Rick, Shasha and Bob (who are an item), Carl and Rick, and even Maggie and Tara (the latter of whom explains who she is and what role she played at the prison) are among the many who have conversations about the past, trying to put it behind them but realizing that these are the events that made them who they are now.

According to a rousing speech given by Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) later in the episode, they are “survivors”. Though that brings a smile to their faces, Abraham wonders if that’s all they want–to do the same thing everyday, struggling to just get by instead of going to Washington in an attempt to find a cure and change the future.


Rick (Andrew Lincoln), who just led a group to scavenge supplies from a local food bank suggested by Gabriel (Seth Gilliam)–a priest they rescued from walkers–realizes that their current method of just surviving is dangerous. During the expedition, two members of the group were almost lost. Gabriel runs from a female walker that is later revealed to be his wife (or at least it seemed so based on the way he looks at a picture of him and the woman near the episode’s climax) and Bob gets yanked under the watery basement by a skeletal walker before he pops up again, completely fine.

Or is he?

There’s a look on Bob’s face that alludes to something more happening under that water that we weren’t privy to. Later, he wants one more kiss from Sasha before he steps outside the church and starts to cry, further indicating that something is amiss. Finally, he’s knocked unconscious by an assailant that turns out to be someone from Terminus and we discover this because he wakes up to Gareth explaining to Bob that they have no home and are now hunters.

And they’re hungry.

Bob’s leg has been amputated by the Terminus survivors and his flesh is being roasted on an open fire. Gareth tells him that he tastes better than they thought.

“Strangers” is a really strong episode with a lot going on, even though it’s more subdued for the majority of the hour. In addition to the multiple plotlines listed above, Darryl (Norman Reedus) gets a glimpse of the car that abducted Beth last season so he and Carol (Melissa McBride) hop into a car they discover along the road and follow them*. Kirkman successfully weaves several stories together, linking them with events in the past but using everything to move the overall arc forward. Furthermore, his tightly plotted script allows many different characters to shine, bringing out more of the personalities of people like Sasha and Bob without sacrificing tense action sequences.

*I was wondering when Darryl (or Maggie or anyone, for that matter) would bring up Beth. Seems like mentioning what happened to her might be a little important. That was the one flaw of the early part of the episode.

So far, The Walking Dead has started off with a bang. Both episodes have combined to form an amazing entry into the fifth season and I really hope it can sustain the momentum going forward. The first two episodes are a really solid indication that it will.

Now for the big question: Does anyone think Bob was bitten and infected when he was pulled underneath the water? If so, how sweet would that karma be in regard to the Terminus group?

The Walking Dead – “Strangers” grade: A-

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Review: World War Z (2013)


Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN investigator, is tapped by his old agency to discover the cause of a sudden zombie pandemic that threatens to wipe out all life on earth. While his family is safe aboard an aircraft carrier, Lane trots around the globe in search of either a cure or a way to defeat the zombies.

I’ve never been a huge fan of films featuring running zombies (Return of the Living Dead being a notable exception), mostly because it seems illogical that a reanimated corpse would be able to move that quickly. You would think that they would be in a constant state of decay and motor skills would deteriorate over time. Also, zombies that shamble in large groups seem more terrifying somehow because if you can’t escape them by running away, you probably should just give up.

Basically, the templates for any zombie film should exist from Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

My affinity for slow moving zombies (along with the fact that the film version of World War Z varies greatly from the story in Max Brooks’ 2006 novel) probably kept me from seeing it in theaters. Also, it wasn’t really marketed as a zombie film. As I recall, it seemed more like an action-adventure film rather than a genre movie.

I’m actually sorry I missed it on the big screen because World War Z is a rollicking good time. The story (credited to Matthew Michael Carnahan, J Michael Straczynski, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof) is an original take on the zombie genre and superbly directed by Marc Forster.

World War Z doesn’t waste any time in the beginning, placing Lane and his family squarely in the thick of things within minutes. From there, it’s one escalating threat after another with the scenes in Jerusalem and on a plane being the most terrifying. The zombies move fast and furious, spreading the infection quickly, the bitten turning within seconds.

Just because World War Z is a really good time, doesn’t mean it’s without flaws, however. Though briskly paced, it does feel a little long at 2 hours (I saw the unrated version which does have approximately six minutes of extra footage) and probably could have used some editing to pare it down at least ten to fifteen minutes. In addition, while Lane’s character is perfectly suitable for the film’s adventures, he almost turns into an indestructible force at several points, surviving events people probably wouldn’t escape.

If you’re looking for a fun zombie film this Halloween and have exhausted all of your options in the genre, pick up World War Z. You won’t be disappointed.

World War Z grade: B+

World War Z (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD) (Blu-ray)

Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz
Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)

List Price: $39.99 USD
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Review: Death Bed-The Bed That Eats (1977)

Death Bed

I think the title is pretty self explanatory on this film. It’s literally about a bed that eats people, drawing them into the bed where yellow digestive juices dissolve their flesh. And the bed also has some sort of telekinetic powers. Oh, and there’s an artist once consumed by the bed that’s trapped behind a painting he once drew of it. People show up for various reasons and get eaten. The artist also remembers people in the past who were eaten by the bed.

This is truly a hungry bed. Here are some random scenes from Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

That probably makes as much sense as the entire movie did and it’s about 75 minutes shorter.

Now I’m not going to tell you not to watch Death Bed: The Bed That Eats because if you never saw this film, you’d be doing yourself a tremendous disservice. It’s one of those movies that’s beyond terrible, a surrealistic nightmare on celluloid that will sit near the apex of any bad movie lover’s list. A nonsensical plot, wooden acting, low budget effects, and an abundance of goofiness are the ingredients for what turns out to be one of the worst movies of all time.

And, if you get a group to watch this on a late October weekend night while enjoying some libations, you might have the best time providing your own running commentary on how truly awful Death Bed: The Bed That Eats really is. Pair it with the equally bad The Undertaker and His Pals to really round out your evening.

In the meantime, enjoy comedian Patton Oswalt’s take on the movie.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats grade: D-

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Review: The Hearse (1980)

The Hearse

“I’ll just tell them the truth flat out. Jane Hardy was on the edge…and she came back.”

In an attempt to regroup after the one-two punch of her mother’s death and a bad divorce, Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere) decides to stay the summer in a country house she inherited from her late aunt. Shortly after moving in, she’s terrorized by a hearse, learns that locals believe her house to be haunted, and discovers deep, dark secrets about her aunt.

Wow. That trailer is actually pretty exciting. It makes The Hearse look like a lost horror classic and something I figured I’d been missing out on after all of these years. In fact, as the movie began, it reminded me slightly of an early 70s horror film called Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. In both films, the female protagonist had suffered some sort of mental breakdown and relocated to the country to recuperate. However, in Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, Zohra Lampert’s performance lends credence to the main character’s plight; in The Hearse, there’s very little indication Van Devere’s Jane is little more than an empty vessel, floating through life without a care in the world.

That’s only one of the many problems with this film.

The Hearse is “based on an idea” by Mark Tenser, but, apparently, that idea involved regurgitating cliches from other horror films of the past decade or so. They took a watered down “heroine” with mental issues (see above), added a car which may or may not be possessed (Duel, The Car), threw in some stuff about the devil and priestly guidance (The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror), and topped it off with the prospect of a ghostly presence (The Changeling). Did we forget anything? You know what? We need a potentially evil chauffeur (Burnt Offerings). That should do it.

Except it doesn’t. The Hearse is a complete mess of a film that goes nowhere. In fact, there’s really little or no mention of devil worshiping until an hour into the movie. And the townspeople who all bristle in horror when “the old Martin place” is mentioned are there only to do just that. Some you never see again. The ones that do pop up again, that you thought might play some part in the grand, evil plan? Nope. They don’t add anything either.

It’s almost as if the filmmakers were making this story up as they shot the movie. There’s no way a completed script could have resulted in this atrocity. One moment Jane has a terrifying (and I’m being really kind in that description) vision, then she just blows it off and forgets about it. She talks about being on the edge but we never really believe it because she rarely breaks down expect when the script calls for it–and that’s few and far between and comes much too late in the film.

There’s a fine line between making a film that’s enigmatic and suspenseful and making one that’s irritating and goofy. The Hearse not only strays away from that line, it runs full speed toward the latter of the two.

My advice? Watch any of the others I mentioned above (especially Let’s Scare Jessica To Death and The Car as a double feature or even the other 1980 far superior The Changeling) and let The Hearse rust.

The Hearse grade: D

Let's Scare Jessica to Death (DVD)

Director: John D. Hancock
Starring: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O'Connor, Gretchen Corbett, Alan Manson
Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)

List Price: $14.98 USD
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The Car (DVD)

Director: Elliot Silverstein
Starring: James Brolin
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

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The Changeling (DVD)

Starring: George C. Scott, Melvyn Douglas, Trish Van Devere
Rating: R (Restricted)

List Price: $5.98 USD
New From: $2.74 USD In Stock
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