Something bard, and something much worse

VIDEO MONTHLY
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The Independent Culture
When a film goes straight to video, you know it will be an unclassifiable oddity, a misunderstood gem, or that it will star Dolph Lundgren and be called Nuneaton Ninja 4: the Revenge. This month's releases, fall into the first category - not bad, exactly, just bizarre.

Paul Schrader's Witch Hunt (Medusa), out on 5 June, is a political allegory- cum-science- fiction-fantasy-cum-Burroughs-esque horror. Number one in a field of one, you might say. In its vague, retro-futuristic setting, magic is everywhere: witches can wipe a murder scene clean of fingerprints and conjure historical figures out of the air.

The film's most barbed scene comes when Shakespeare is dragged into the present for a studio bigwig who wants to hire him as a screenwriter. "Someone get Bill a parking space," the boss barks, and the bewildered playwright is led off into the Los Angeles hubbub, never to be seen again.

Not everything is so pithy. The plot, which has private tec Dennis Hopper embroiled in movie business double-dealings, is hinged to a heavy-handed allegory about McCarthyism, with witches cast in the role of Communists (hasn't Schrader seen The Crucible for goodness' sake?). After a quirky first half in which plot-holes are filled with wit and wizardry, Witch Hunt becomes plodding and self-righteous. An interesting failure, but don't expect too much of any film in which Julian Sands appears talented.

If you're even considering renting Love and Betrayal: the Mia Farrow Story (Fox), then you should know better. Patsy Kensit has Farrow nailed, but the real punchline is Dennis Boutsikaris, who plays Woody like a prototype Allen nerd. The film envisages each stage of their relationship as a scene from an Allen film: when he and Farrow meet, it's Annie Hall; soon, they settle into the snugness of Manhattan Murder Mystery before it all comes over a bit Interiors. A laugh a minute, and few of them intentional.

Given its lacklustre prequels, you could be forgiven for passing over Wes Craven's New Nightmare (Guild), but it's actually the best of the Elm Street series, not least because it plays fast and loose with the conventions of the genre. This post-modernist puzzle has the star of the first film, Heather Langenkamp, playing herself, pestered by calls from Freddy Krueger and pressured by studio heads into agreeing to star in a sequel. It's rather like a horror version of Muriel Spark's The Comforters, and even the sound of Wes Craven patting himself on the back can't detract from the considerable thrills.

Killing Zoe (Polygram) is nasty in all the wrong ways, a mean-spirited little film about a bank job that ends in carnage. Don't be fooled by the Tarantino connection (he executive-produced): it's not fit to stand in the shadow of Reservoir Dogs (Polygram) which, as you'll know by now, reaches video at the end of June, over two years since its cinema release.

Nicolas Roeg's 1990 metaphysical thriller Cold Heaven (Fox-Guild) has also been rescued from purgatory. It's an overwrought tale of Catholic guilt with Theresa Russell as a woman whose husband is killed in a boating accident before she can confess her infidelities to him. Worse, his corpse keeps cropping up in some awkward situations; behaviour you'd normally find only on Brookside Close. James Russo is unexpectedly fragile as Russell's beleaguered macho lover. But as with all of Roeg's post-Bad Timing output, it's a bumpy ride, three parts lunacy to one part genius.

First Independent releases another little-seen Roeg curiosity - his film of Conrad's Heart of Darkness (pounds 12.99), starring Tim Roth and John Malkovich.

We have a copy each for five readers who can answer this question: In which film did Tim Roth first appear with his Rob Roy co-star John Hurt? Answers by 30 May to: Heart of Darkness Video Comp, Arts, The Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL.

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