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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Weird U.S., Vol. 2
Weird U.S., Vol. 2
A&E Video // Unrated // February 28, 2006
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 25, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman's newsletter cataloguing the weird and wonderful in their home state of New Jersey spiraled into an underground phenomenon, inspired them to scour the rest of the country for their book Weird U.S., and eventually culminated in a basic cable TV series that The History Channel and New Video are now issuing on DVD.

This second volume collects two episodes (right at an hour and a half total) from the series. "Weird Worship" opens with the two Marks trekking out to the Mojave Desert to visit Leonard Knight. This elderly and fiercely religious man lives out of his truck and has devoted the past couple of decades to sculpting and painting -- by hand, even -- Salvation Mountain, a four story tall, 100 foot wide proclamation of his faith. Their next stop is West Bend, Iowa to visit the Grotto of the Redemption, a series of nine enormous, cave-like grottos constructed by one man with no blueprints or schematics from a hundred railroad cars worth of small stones collected from across the nation.

Victorian cult leader and hollow Earth proponent Cyrus Teed set out to create something even grander than either of those awe-inspiring monuments, but his 'New Jerusalem', a utopian colony carved out of the swamplands of Estero, Florida, didn't swell to the ten million he'd hoped for. The remnants of Teed's Koreshan Unity are now a state park, and Mark and Mark are given a guided tour and chat with one of the descendants of the Koreshans. Last up on the hit parade is a visit to the understated offices of the Unairus Academy of Science, a group that believes that Earth is a fledgling planet that will one day be visited by our more advanced 'space brothers' who will guide us to true spiritual enlightenment. Or something like that. It's kinda complicated.

The second episode on this disc is "Weirdly Departed", and this one kicks off with...awwww...a love story. Fifty-something radiologist Carl von Cosel was so smitten with his barely-twenty year old patient Elena that he conducted Frankenstein-ish electro-therapy to try to cure her terminal tuberculosis. When his lady love finally succumbed, he stole the long-decomposing corpse, used piano wire and hot wax to mask her rotting appearance, and...yikes, the less said about their macabre post-mortem marriage, the better. From there, they attend a table-tossing seance in Cassadaga, Florida and learn how multimillionaire heiress Sarah Winchester hoped to thwart the spirits of those killed by her family's rifles by building a sprawling mansion filled with stairs that lead nowhere, one-way doors, and windows in floors. Finally, Mark and Mark sit in with The South Jersey Ghost Research Team for a ghost-hunting expedition at Fort Mifflin.

As someone with a long-time fascination with Roadside America-esque books and TV series, I really enjoyed Weird U.S.. Mark and Mark celebrate the strangeness of their subjects rather than poke fun at them (well, for the most part), giving the people involved -- or at least, whatever caretakers or experts they could dig up -- a chance to explain things in their own words. As you'd probably expect from a series on The History Channel, it's not just a travel log either, and Weird U.S. makes it a point to explain the historical context of each story. The off-kilter camera angles and lenses, a constant parade of corny puns, and the barrage of out-of-left-field public domain clips used as punctuation give Weird U.S. nearly as much personality as its two narrators-slash-hosts. Weird U.S. is a lot of fun, and...what was it Bill Cosby used to say? "If you're not careful, you may learn something before it's done. Hey, hey, hey!"

Video: The full-frame video has somewhat of a digital texture that becomes really apparent during pans and zooms, and viewers watching Weird U.S. on displays with little-to-no overscan will spot a thin black bar with white dashes that buzz throughout the entire length of each episode. The palette seems a little more robust than I'd expect from the analog signal through my lousy cable provider, especially in the colorful Salvation Mountain segment, but there's otherwise not the sort of leap you'd expect from broadcast to DVD.

Audio: Straightforward Dolby Digital stereo (224Kbps) that's almost completely indistinguishable from piping the show on cable through the built-in speakers on your TV. Unremarkable enough for me not to describe it using complete sentences. The DVD doesn't offer any subtitles or closed captions, so if that's a deal-breaker for you, you'd be better off waiting for these episodes to wind up back in circulation on The History Channel.

Supplements: Nothing, really -- just a set of 4x3 menus, episode selection, a 'play all' feature, a few chapter stops...that's about it.

Conclusion: Aside from the lack of commercials and the fact that you can pop this disc in whenever you want, watching these episodes of Weird U.S. on DVD really isn't any different than sitting through 'em on cable. Some extras or another episode or two would've made the $15-$20 sticker price easier to swallow, but Weird U.S. is fat-packed with info-tainment and worth a second look on DVD. Recommended.
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