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The Shelf: Dark Shadows, Universal Monsters & Flying Swords

Welcome back to The Shelf, the weekly guide for what’s new and worth buying on Blu-ray and home video.

Dark Shadows

Fans of the original Dark Shadows soap opera and ’90s primetime series weren’t exactly head over heels for this comedic reimagining of their favorite series, but that doesn’t mean the Tim Burton camp fest is completely without charm. The story follows Barnabas Collins as he is transformed into a vampire and locked away for several hundred years after getting on the wrong side of an affair with a witch. Upon his release at the hands of a work crew, Barnabas meets his relations of 1972 at his family’s estate and begins the task of bringing his relatives’ honor to the level it deserves while also dealing with the witch he spurned centuries ago.

Johnny Depp’s campy and delightful Barnabas Collins may not be what fans had expected, but as the glue between the disparate members of the Collins family, he works. His love/hate/hate relationship with Eva Green’s Angelique provides for a unique set of laughs of its own and gifts us with the strangest love scene we’ve seen in quite some time. Michelle Pfeiffer and Chloe Grace Moretz are well utilized in their roles, but you can’t help but wish they had managed to eke out a little bit more screen time. The family comedy is loaded with imaginative visuals and a unique color palette that look great on Blu-ray. The special features include deleted scenes and nine behind-the-scenes “focus points” are a blast; the cast and director’s charm make the film hard not to like. Damn Eva Green, being all likable. For those fans that wrote it off, try it again in a double feature with The Addams Family and just enjoy the ride.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

A loose sequel to the mythos of 1992’s New Dragon Gate Inn and 1966’s Dragon Gate Inn, Flying Swords takes place after the titular Dragon Gate Inn was unceremoniously burnt to the ground, following Zhou Huai’an (Jet Li), a Ming Dynasty freedom fighter who cuts through corrupt officials like a knife through butter. Yet, all roads lead to the Dragon Gate Inn, which has risen from the ashes under new management – namely, a cadre of criminals disguised as do-gooders hoping to uncover a lost city in the desert to claim its untold riches. Throw in a healthy dose of wire-work martial arts action, Jet Li kicking butt in three dimensions, and Luke’s glowing review, and you have a recipe for one of the best action films of the year.

What makes this martial arts masterpiece so special? Well, for starters, the action is face-meltingly good because it was shot specifically for IMAX 3D, so those of you with 3D-capable televisions will finally be able to put them through their paces. You can rest easy that the action will be up to snuff because this wuxia whirlwind is directed by a legend of Chinese cinema, Tsui Hark, and the visual effects were supervised by Avatar‘s Chuck Comisky. Considering the film had such a limited theatrical run, it would be certifiably criminal to let it slip past now that it’s on DVD and Blu-ray. We’ll even lend you a helping hand by giving away some truly massive Flying Swords of Dragon Gate prize packs, including a $300 Chinese Warrior action figure customized to your likeness! – Dan Casey via TOKYOPOP powered by Nerdist Industries.

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection

For over 80 years, they’ve been the gold standard in monster movies: Dracula, FrankensteinThe MummyThe Invisible ManBride of FrankensteinThe Wolf Man,Phantom of the Opera, and Creature From the Black Lagoon, and now they’re all in one boxed set on Blu-ray. That’s four bolts in the neck, three pairs of fangs, two Claude Rains face-coverings, and one… mummy. Painstakingly restored to perfection, the films in the set are a master class in horror, and they look better than you’ve ever seen them. Each disc in the set is loaded with special features including commentaries, documentaries, production photographs and even a 3D presentation of Creature, the way it was originally shown in 1954. We’re giving away a copy of the Universal Classic Monster Collection!

Also out this week: 

Masters of the Universe

Often mocked as ’80s cheese, this 1987 live-action adaptation of the Mattel toys (it ignored the animated continuity almost completely) is better than it ought to be, mainly because of William Stout’s elaborate production design and the fact that Frank Langella took the role of Skeletor completely seriously. The man who would later be Nixon adds gravitas to a story that might feel like a bit of a cheat otherwise, in that it takes Eternia’s greatest warriors and has them battle for the fate of the universe inside a music store in Whittier, for budgetary reasons. Mattel felt so burned by Cannon Films on this one that they’ve yet to approve what you’d think would be an inevitable reboot (though Thor had a similar “cosmic battle in small-town Earth” thing going), but as a product of its time, the original still has charm to spare. – Luke Thompson

The Hole

Joe Dante’s The Hole had been on a backburner for several years as the market never quite seemed right for a new brand of “family horror.” Joe addressed some of those concerns in an interview with us last week, but don’t let the delay in getting to the screen stop you from checking out this inventive and charming throwback to the scary films of our youth.

Additional reporting by Dan Casey, Luke Thompson and Kyle Anderson.

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