What we tended to like or loathe on video in 1990 weren’t the big theatrical films — those hit the stores as familiar faces. Instead, it was the little-known treats and made-for-video specialty items that got a chance to bloom on the home screen, while the direct-to-tape dogs were always good for a few cheap laughs.
1. Elvis: The Great Performances (1990)
The finest antidotes to the bloated Presley myth are these two videos showcasing Elvis doing what he did best: singing. The tapes mix performances that have entered our collective unconscious (the Ed Sullivan shows in 1956, the ‘68 comeback special), innocent kitsch from the Hollywood years, and rare off-stage moments, for a career overview that said as much about the price of fame as about Elvis Aaron himself. Required viewing.
2. Tremors (1990)
The home video success of Ron Underwood’s tongue-in-cheek throwback to ’50s creature-features caught some people by surprise, but it just means a movie can find an audience if it’s well made and entertaining. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward lead a desert town into battle against killer worsens that are big, nasty — and hungry.
3. Carnival of Souls (1962)
The dead come back to haunt church organist Candace Hilligoss, and this eerie no-budget chiller came back from the grave to become one of the years most satisfying video revivals. The banal dreamscapes (it was shot in b&w around Lawrence, Kan.) remain surreally potent almost 30 years later.
4. Apartment Zero (1989)
Overlooked in theaters, this tale of a repressed young Argentinian (Colin Firth) who realizes his mysterious new hunk roommate (Hart Bochner) may be a hit man for the ruling dictatorship is creepy to the max. It’s a clammy, precise surprisingly deep psychological miniature from Martin Donovan, a director who bears watching in the future.
5. Vampire’s Kiss (1989)
Poisonous reviews greeted the theatrical release of this jet-black comedy — a sure sign that it was onto something. Nicolas Cage is amazing as an obnoxious New York yuppie who, in the throes of a breakdown, decides he’s becoming a vampire. The plot goes from the hilarious (Cage buys plastic fangs when real ones fail to materialized) to the disturbing: It’s a demented, high-camp remake of Polanski’s Repulsion.