VIDEO RELEASES Never trust a video by its cover

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The Independent Culture
Two new titles this month come packaged in dual covers, a practice that crops up in the video industry whenever it's thought that a touch more raunch might boost a title's chances. In some cases, the alternative covers are employed to target a specific audience. For example, Tartan Video's simultaneous rental / retail release of the excellent Mexican vampire film Cronos (£15.99) has one cover for the buyers - a moody black- and-white shot - and one for the renters - a brightly coloured design depicting a naked woman leaning heavenwards. The fact that there are no naked women in the movie doesn't seem to have deterred Tartan from going for the loins.

Their reasoning is honourable, even if the execution isn't: they have a potentially huge horror title on their hands which has been praised by big guns like James Cameron, only there's a snag - it's subtitled. So how do they convince a mass audience that it's still compulsive viewing? Slap a bit of flesh on the cover, of course.

Sometimes, the initiative is passed over to the retailer. When Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It was released a few years back, its reversible cover gave the stockist a choice between a crisp portrait of Tracy Camilla Jones and a near-pornographic top-shelf collage of naked bodies. It must have been a difficult choice. Tartan applied the same treatment to the rental release of The Cement Garden, which again gave stockists the art / sex conundrum, though shots of its pubescent, near-anorexic teenage stars nude can't have got anyone twitterpated.

It is less surprising to find Guild approaching the release of the Bruce Willis thriller Color of Night with kit off. The movie is surprisingly sex-less (its one burst of eroticism is as incongruous and contrived as its steamy cover), but why should that get in the way of a decent marketing campaign? Its cinema release was preceded by tabloid titbits about Willis revealing all (in case you're wondering, he doesn't, at least not to the naked eye). And the sexed-up alternative video cover features Willis and co-star Jane March in flagrante under porn-style gaudy lighting. It could all be a ploy to divert attention away from the movie (it almost worked with Body of Evidence) but it just goes to prove that the chasm between packaging and product is as wide as ever.

The coming months will yield video releases for a number of simple-minded blockbusters (The Flintstones in April, Forrest Gump in May) but the best, Speed, is available through Fox this month. When a Man Loves a Woman (Buena Vista) is a drama about alcoholism which veers between the touching and the mawkish. Andy Garcia looks tightly coiled as he endures marriage to inebriated Meg Ryan, but the film should have been tougher, uglier. Ryan puts her heart, soul and major organs into this textbook Oscar-baiting part. She must feel like draining the Teachers herself after being stood up by the Academy.

It's a dry month for rental, though, with only the Coen Brothers' buoyant comedy The Hudsucker Proxy (Columbia) worth your time. John Frankenheimer's Puttnam-produced eco-drama, The Burning Season (Warner), is another HBO production for American TV. It has an astute cast, including Sonia Braga and a doe-eyed Raul Julia in one of his last parts, and the story (the Brazilian struggle to keep Western developers out of the rainforests) has potential but its meandering makes you yearn for a great big dumb action picture with bombs and guns and tanks, and that can't have been the intention. It's heartening, meanwhile, to hear that two movies previously pencilled-in for straight-to-video release - Spike Lee's Crooklyn and Nobody's Fool, for which Paul Newman landed an Oscar nomination - will now hit the big screen at the end of this month.

Out to buy this month: Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way is the best £13.99 you could spend. It's like a mini-Godfather: a tiny canvas daubed with achingly resonant strokes. Also worth buying: Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (£15.99), a nerve-jangling 1954 thriller about the murder of a brutal headmaster, saturated in menace and tension; Lasse Hallstrom's likeable wedge of small-town melancholia, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (£12.99); a couple of vintage Jarmans in Jubilee and Sebastiane (both £15.99), the latter a contender for his most fully realised film; and The Wings of Honneamise (£13.99), an unusually contemplative Manga adventure which should entertain even those unimpressed by the genre.

Another postcard from the edge - well, the BBFVC anyway - and for once it's news of a title saved from video hell rather than consigned to it. A month ago, it looked as if James Cameron's True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was to be elbowed out of the release schedules while our moral guardians mused upon its "15" certificate. The cause for concern was the film's tasteless mid-section where Jamie Lee Curtis is blackmailed into performing a striptease for a stranger who is revealed as her husband.

It had been thought that this might earn the movie an "18" rating, but the release has now gone ahead. As usual, the deliberations that led to this decision remain hidden from mere mortals. Meanwhile, Pulp Fiction is up for parole, I mean video release, in April, which is surprising given the ongoing Reservoir Dogs saga. Perhaps if Dogs had attracted seven Oscar nominations and a Palme d'Or, you'd be allowed to see that in your own home too.

Ryan Gilbey