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A Fistful of Psychopaths.

It has always been a truism that a good movie hero needs a formidable villain as an adversary. The furthest edge of cinematic evil has invariably been the true psychopath, one whose acts have no rational explanation other than in his own twisted mind. Audiences have been thoroughly repulsed by these repugnant creatures throughout film history--until recently. Call it the Hannibal Lecter Syndrome, if you will, but movie psychopaths have begun to dominate the pictures they are in, rather than being simply the object of the chase. As Anthony Hopkins' Oscar for "The Silence of the Lambs" is ample evidence of, such roles are juicy attention-getters. A quintet of films recently out on DVD demonstrate this trend.

Manhunter (Anchor Bay Entertainment, 124 minutes, $39.98) introduced Hannibal Lecter to the screen in 1986, although for some reason he is billed here as Doctor Lecktor. In this prequel to "Silence" and "Hannibal," Lecter plays more of a consultive role, aiding (for his own reasons) the FBI agent who captured him and is now in pursuit of Francis Dolarhyde, mordantly nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy." Tom Noonan's portrayal of Dolarhyde, who has butchered two families and is researching a third, is as physically and intellectually chilling as a thrill-seeking audience might desire.

The special, numbered Limited Edition (just 100,000 issued) contains two different versions of the movie--full- and widescreen--both the director's cut, plus a dossier containing what allegedly are investigators' notes and photos from the film. A special featurette, "The Manhunter Look," engrossingly reveals the ways the cinematography and sound were used to add to the eeriness. Cast interviews are more interesting than usual, especially British character actor Brian Cox, who plays Lecter in the movie, revealing that he was the fourth choice for the role--after Brian Dennehy, John Lithgow, and Mandy Patinkin! Moreover, William Petersen, who stars as FBI agent Will Graham, relates how none of the other actors were allowed to interact with Noonan until the scenes in which he appeared with them, their unfamiliarity adding to the tension.

Seven (New Line Home Video, 127 minutes, $29.95) arrives in a remastered version that is more than the usual cleaning up of the negative. The original 1995 film was so dark, audience members would complain to theater managers that the projection bulb needed replacing. The DVD has been considerably lightened so that scenes are sharp and clear, allowing viewers to see many of the horrifying details they missed the first time around. As victims are chosen because the killer feels they have committed one of the seven deadly sins, detectives Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt slog through a dank, rainy city in a dogged search for clues. After the fifth slaying, the killer, self-dubbed "John Doe," surrenders voluntarily, setting in motion the gut-churning ending of the film. Doe is played in a chillingly perverse and ultralogical manner by Kevin Spacey, lifting the film far above the usual police procedural as he demonstrates his ability to get inside of skewed characters, a skill that already has earned him two Academy Awards.

The two-disc set offers a cornucopia of extras, from cast and director commentaries to deleted scenes, alternate endings, and an inside view of the ravings within John Doe's notebooks. The latter takes you even deeper into a psychopathic mind, a place all but the most morbid will feel distinctly uncomfortable inside.

In the Line of Fire (Columbia TriStar Home Video, 127 minutes, $29.95) features Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent who had been unable to save Pres. John F. Kennedy and 30 years later is determined not to lose another president. Eastwood's Frank Horrigan is matched up against a brilliantly diabolical assassin who is a master of disguise, has seemingly unlimited resources, and has decided to challenge Horrigan to stop him, taunting the agent every step of the way. As the assassin, John Malkovich utilizes every skill in his acting bag of tricks, creating a chameleon-like character who is brilliant and mad as a hatter. (At no time does he ever express a motive for his actions.) The performance earned Malkovich a 1993 Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, losing to Tommy Lee Jones for "The Fugitive," a decision this reviewer wholeheartedly disagrees with.

A plethora of special features enliven the DVD, with a couple of documentaries lauding the Secret Service, obviously in gratitude for the cooperation the agency afforded in the making of the movie. The most fun is "How'd They Do That?," with the digital geniuses who worked on the film explaining how they took a 1992 Bill Clinton campaign rally, substituted the actor playing the president in the picture, shot Eastwood and other agents against a blue screen and stripped them into the scene, eliminated signs and buttons with Clinton references, and thus saved a fortune in not having to hire thousands of extras to duplicate such a scene.

The Cell (New Line Home Video, 107 minutes, $24.98) turns loose another cinematic chameleon, Vincent D'Onofrio, as a sociopathic serial killer of young women. Severely injured as he is being captured, the killer lapses into a coma, leaving the whereabouts of his latest kidnapped victim unknown, with the clock ticking down until the elaborate Rube Goldberg-ish diabolical device he has rigged will drown her. Psychological therapist Jennifer Lopez must enter the killer's brain through an experimental medical procedure to unlock his secrets. The resulting nightmares of his twisted psyche prove a deadly minefield for her and the cop (Vince Vaughn) who goes in after her. D'Onofrio chews the scenery with abandon as the childhood traumas that drove him to his psychopathic state are unpeeled like an onion and as his various personas manifest themselves in the inner-mind sequences.

The movie magic that went into creating this surreal universe is fascinatingly revealed in the special features, which include the usual potpourri of interviews, commentaries, and deleted scenes. A rather disturbing note, though, pops up in director Tarsem Singh's giggling through his description of how he wanted the victim terrorized in one of the scenes that ultimately was cut from the final release.

Hollow Man (Columbia TriStar Home Video, 113 minutes, $24.95) presents a more familiar psychopath, as Kevin Bacon's scientist seeking the secret of invisibility follows the path to madness that actors dating back to Claude Rains (in H.G. Wells' "The Invisible Man") have trod with delight for more than 60 years. Bacon has a good time disintegrating from brilliant man of science to paranoid killer, but the picture's success is a direct result of the marvelous technical effects that turn him invisible, eliminating layer after layer of skin, muscle, fat, bones, and internal organs like flipping overlays in an anatomy textbook.

The special features likewise provide the most interest through the digital methods of turning Bacon invisible, semivisible, translucent, and however else he must be depicted during various scenes--for instance, he is partially visible in steam. Bacon was painted, encased in skintight rubber suits, rigged with an assortment of electrical devices, and generally put through physical hell, leading to his wry comment, "And you thought acting was fun."
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Title Annotation:Review; movies starring psychopaths
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Video Recording Review
Date:May 1, 2001
Words:1186
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