Presents for Your VCR

Video Gifts From the Master Procrastinator

I confess to being a master at the art of holiday procrastination. With the exception of a handful of acquaintances who actually begin to horde likely gifts every January 1, pretty much everyone I know falls into the trap of flustered, last-minute panicky shoppers. Which is fine. Without fail, I somehow manage to come up with the coolest items in the darkest recesses of the farthest corner of Wal-Mart at somewhere around 2am on December 23. Granted, not everyone can appreciate the pure gifting joy of locating a copy of Laurel & Hardy's Blockheads -- in Spanish, no less -- at the eleventh hour, but I can. I have to. In order to make it a bit easier on the rest of the free world, however, here's a list, in no particular order, of some of the best and the brightest (and occasionally pricey) video and laserdisc items up for grabs this holiday season. Hey, I happen to think I look good raving and drooling and skulking around Tower Records' rapidly dwindling aisles with a fevered gleam in my eyes, but that doesn't mean you will, too. So get going. Buy me stuff.

* Twilight Zone Christmas (CBS Video, $9.98)
This single shot of Serling perfectly fills the spaces left between such seasonal reruns as Frosty the Snowman and that one with the Heat Miser in it. This 1960 episode from the original series ("Night of the Meek") features Art Carney as a grungy department store Santa with a penchant for the hard stuff who realizes the true meaning of sobriety when the real deal swoops down from above and deposits that fabled overflowing grab bag o' joy within his reach. Granted, it's not Serling's best, but it sure beats the pointless Bloom County special from a few years back. For die-hard Zone fans, it's also interesting to note this was one of the few episodes shot entirely on video, giving the 27-minute fable a crisp, otherworldly glow.

* Jaws Collector's Edition Laserdisc Set (MCA/Universal, $149.95)

Forget Jurassic Park: The Lost World, this is Spielberg's monster movie masterpiece. This four-disc, CAV set has everything you'd ever want to see/hear/know about the film that singlehandedly led to cable channel A&E affectionately being dubbed "The Shark Channel" (at least around my house). You get the complete, letterboxed director's cut (at the correct aspect ratio of 2:35:1), a lengthy "making of" documentary, a supplementary section featuring stills, storyboards, trailers, pre-production sketches, and a very worthwhile collection of deleted scenes, some humorous, some gory. As if that weren't enough, the set also comes with a CD copy of John Williams' infamous score as well as a paperback of Peter Benchley's source novel. Whew. Jaws overload.

* Brazil Ultimate Special Edition Laserdisc Set (Criterion, $149.95)

Like the Jaws set above, this one comes with an overwhelming wealth of information and background in addition to Terry Gilliam's final, approved director's 142-minute final cut. Five full CAV discs of, well, everything, including a Production Notebook featuring notes on script development from scribes Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown; notes from the production designer, costume designer, and musical composer Michael Kamen; an on-set documentary (What is Brazil?); The Battle of Brazil: A Video History that traces the film's monumentally troubled U.S. release (and features the commentary of everyone from Sid Sheinberg to Gilliam himself); and finally, Brazil: The Love Conquers All Version, which is essentially the gutted, bastardized version drastically recut against Gilliam's wishes in order to make the film more "commercial." All in all the single most impressive laserdisc release of the last few years.

* 50,000,000 Elvis Videos Can't Be Wrong (MGM, $350)

Or can they? Whichever, MGM has seen fit to release their back catalogue of Elvisana -- everything from the cheesy Clambake to the cheesier Kid Galahad in one massive package. An Elvis-sized layout of $350 gets you all 18 MGM Elvis outings alongside a reproduced copy of the original Jailhouse Rock screenplay, an "exclusive" commemorative booklet chock-full of gooey memorabilia, and a signed (presumably not by The King himself, though at this price you never know) certificate of authenticity. Limited to a run of 5,000, this is more Elvis than even Mojo Nixon could handle.

* Switchblade Sisters (Criterion, $49.95)

From Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder laserdisc imprint comes director Jack Hill's snazzy, festive, and explosively naughty ode to Seventies Bad Girls. You want extras? You got 'em: running commentary from Hill and Tarantino, intro/outros from Q.T., clips from Hill's earlier work (including the wonderful Spider Baby), trailers for Foxy Brown, Coffy and other Q.T. faves, and, as if that weren't enough, Hill's student film The Host. One of the better ways to gear up for the Christmas release of Tarantino's Jackie Brown.

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