Picks and Pans Main: Video

updated 05/06/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/06/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

CINEMATIC SKELETONS IN HOLLYWOOD CLOSETS

The box the tape comes in shows Joan Collins—that's right, our own Alexis Carrington Colby of Dynasty—down on all fours as a voracious monster ant crawls over her body. The copy on the box is even more improbable. "SEE," it fairly shouts in capital letters, "A Dynasty of Ants Terrorize Joan Collins!" It goes on. "SEE Joan Scream and Still Look Beautiful!" And finally, "SEE Joan's 'Past Imperfect' Revealed As Never Before!" Funny, yeah, but what gives? Collins makes about $40,000 per episode as Dynasty's resident bitch. Her character may be trash, but Collins never is. She wears the best Nolan Miller clothes, does love scenes with the tube's hunkiest specimens and has become something of a national treasure. Surely she'd have no part of a cheap sci-fi horror flick like this one. The box says the film is called H. G. Wells' Empire of the Ants (Orion, $59.95), and it's a new release, destined to show up this month at video stores around the country.

Well, let the buyer beware. Joan Collins and several other major showbiz names are victims of a new type of video exploitation. Collins most definitely did not interrupt her Dynasty duties to film this turkey. Though you'd never know it from a quick glance at the tape box, Empire of the Ants was filmed in 1977, long before Joan had ever heard of Alexis. She was 44 back then, not exactly in demand and willing to settle for less than the best in acting jobs. This video embarrassment has come back like a recurring bad dream. Empire barely made a dime during the time of its original release. But now, by exploiting Collins' newly exploitable name, the film company has an outside chance to make a bundle. Joan isn't pleased. But it's hard to quarrel with the excuse she once gave for making the film in the first place: "I had to eat."

Tom Selleck is another bankable star who won't be happy with this month's new arrivals at the video store. Tom's turkey, titled Terminal Island (Wizard Video, $49.95), makes Collins" Empire look like a film classic. Again the packaging of the tape gives no indication that this is not a recent Selleck film. In fact, Terminal Island is an alleged adventure film made in 1973, when our Magnum, P.I. was a mere stripling of 28 and obviously desperate for work. From the package you'd gather that Selleck must have had the starring role in this cheapie flick. Don't believe it. At the film's original release, Selleck was willing to accept billing behind such all-star names as Phyllis Davis, Don Marshall, Barbara Leigh and Sean Kenney. But try finding their names in the current advertising for the tape. The latest Video Shack catalog promotes Terminal Island this way: "Forty men and four women are imprisoned on an inescapable jungle island where the male convicts turn the women into sex slaves. Selleck stars as the recovered drug addict who leads the women in a desperate revolt. It really is a jungle out there." Okay, so the ad boys are just having fun. The fact is you won't if you make the mistake of renting or buying this movie.

Even more deserving of our sympathy are new stars Rachel (The Thorn Birds) Ward and Daryl (Splash) Hannah. They haven't yet achieved the clout of Selleck and Collins. Video embarrassments can hurt. And the release of The Final Terror (Vestron Video, $79.95)—an egregiously bad slaughtering-teens-in-the-woods Friday the 13th rip-off—is certainly not going to do their careers any service. Again the packaging is misleading. Ward, Hannah and Adrian (T.J. Hooker) Zmed are listed as the stars on the package. Actually the never-to-be-forgotten John Friedrich won top billing in 1981 when the film was made. At the time, Ward and Hannah were roommates in Hollywood, looking and waiting for the big break. Presumably they did this film to be seen, but it's amazing that they were. The Final Terror appears to have been filmed entirely in the dark, perhaps in an attempt to disguise the tacky special effects. You can barely distinguish faces, which may be the only consolation to offer these two actresses as the film is re-released on home video.

The list goes on. Debra (Terms of Endearment) Winger, one of the finest actresses of the decade, will have to live down Slumber Party '57 (Vestron Video, $69.95), a 1977 stinker that Video Shack bills as "the sexiest film ever made for adults about teenagers." Surely that's the reason why the title is so cemented in all our minds. And poor Jacqueline (Anna Karenina) Bisset has been trying for years to forget 1971's Secrets (Video Gems, $59.95). That's the one in which she does a nude love scene that has haunted her longer even than her wet T-shirt outtake ad for The Deep (Columbia, $69.95). As for Sylvester (Rocky, II, III, etc.) Stallone, he's had to duck whenever his X-rated film Italian Stallion surfaces. So should you. It is hardly a contender for respectability, let alone anything else.

Without exception, the movies mentioned here are worthless junk. They offer little to film historians interested in the latter-day stars who appear in them and still less to video addicts in search of good entertainment. Pretending that old movies are new and selling them with star names in bit roles is more than a new and disturbing trend. It's a kind of con game—the video sting of 1985.

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