Halloween is upon us and it’s time to start thinking about what to watch. Sure, the candy, parties and 12-packs of witches’ brew are all well and good, but it’s also the time of year when some of the best horror stuff comes out on DVD and Blu-ray. This season has been especially fruitful for horror titles of yore, both the classic stuff as well as some ultra-seamy cult titles. Read on for a few killer titles to make this Halloween extra scary.
Horror Classics, Volume One
Hammer Films studios cranked out a slew of sumptuous gothic-horror goodies during the ’60s and ’70s. Rife with killer Victorian costumes and sets, a vivid color palette—placing special emphasis on the crimson hues—and loads of statuesque Euro-vixens, the studio was also famous for employing the talents of horror legends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
This new set collects four of the studio’s films in sharp hi-def. The only issue here is that not all of them qualify as Hammer’s top offerings (pity, that). But on the bright side, all now come complete in their original, uncut formats. Out of the batch, The Mummy (1959)—the third in the sequence of Hammer’s horror films (after The Curse of Frankenstein 1957, and Dracula, 1958)—ranks the highest here. Starring both Lee and Cushing, the film is a masterpiece of mysticism and atmospherics, featuring loads of well-shot kills and a wistful undercurrent that sets it apart from so many other mummy-themed flicks. Also included are Hammer sequel films Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). (Warner Bros.)
Tales of Terror
First off, kudos to Kino Lorber Films for its deft reissues of late. The label has almost singlehandedly bought the gothic horror genre to hi-def. The ’60s-era Edgar Allen Poe films from Roger Corman are the perfect place to start (he made eight of them during the ’60s). This one features three separate stories starring three horror greats: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone. While more a little more on the comedic side, there’s plenty of authentic ambiance and spooks to go around. (Kino Lorber)
Poe’s story of paranoia takes cinematic shape in this gothic goodie starring Ray Milland, whose fear of being buried alive takes him to extreme places, literally and figuratively. The film’s use of lurid color and plush cinematography make it a standout. (Kino Lorber)
The Oblong Box
This late-’60s Poe retelling was an obvious vehicle for Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. Coming later in the sequence of Poe films, it lacks Corman’s skillful touch in director’s chair, but still features some creepy—and unintentionally funny—bits in its heady mix of Victorian-era sets, deceit, disfigurement and African voodoo. (Kino Lorber)
X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes
This Roger Corman classic (1963) was made on a shoestring budget in just a couple of weeks. Its unforeseen success at the box office then helped fund several more Corman Poe movies. Dr. Xavier (Ray Milland) develops x-ray vision with the intent of using it for good. But soon, things go awry and the effects of his new talent become a nuisance. Milland’s creepy persona and the campy Sci-Fi effects make this one a must-see. (Kino Lorber)
Burn Witch, Burn
Originally titled Night of the Eagle in overseas markets, this supernatural masterpiece triumphs with its organic atmospherics, superior acting and tight direction. A skeptical college professor (Peter Wyngarde) discovers that his wife has been using witchcraft to protect him from jealous rivals. When he forbids her from continuing her craft, it all goes south from there. Shot in stark black and white, the film is successful in conjuring up a feeling of horror without the need of elaborate special effects, gore or sensationalism of any kind. (Kino Lorber)
Tales From The Crypt Presents: Bordello Of Blood
Based on the HBO series Tales From The Crypt, this comedy/horror stars Dennis Miller as a detective who gets drawn into a bordello run by the mother of all vampires. Needless to say, all hell soon breaks loose. Rife with violence, gags, nudity and blood, it’s got something for everyone. (Shout! Factory)
The Return of Count Yorga
As the sequel to the hipster horror flick Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) this one sees the evil Count (played to hilt by horror icon Robert Quarry) revived and hard at work cultivating his harem. This is not your grandpa’s vampire. Yorga may seem suave on the surface, but he’s a snake with the ladies and ruthless with anyone who gets in his way. This sequel (1971) retains some of the ’60s hip factor from the previous installment and makes for an entertaining view. (Shout! Factory)
Army of Darkness
The third installment of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise finds our hero Ash Williams slaying the undead during the middle ages while trying to make his way back to the present. While not quite as creative, funny or unhinged as its groundbreaking predecessor Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness has enough gore and spectacle to keep things interesting. (Shout! Factory)
The Human Centipede: The Complete Sequence
Flagrant, controversial and wholly unique, Tom Six’s Human Centipede was not lacking for differing opinions. The first installment had a certain sick charm in its surgical horror, but then it became a bit hard to digest in the second and third installments. But for those seeking a thoroughly sick and twisted evening on the couch, The Complete Sequence has it all in one tidy package. (Shout! Factory)
American Horror Story: Freak Show
When it comes to horror on TV, American Horror Story is one of the best things going (next to The Walking Dead, or course). For its fourth season, the series centers on a traveling troupe of interesting folks that some might call freaks. Led by the incomparable Jessica Lange, the troupe sets up shop in Jupiter, Florida during the early ’50s—not a good place for freaks. And it all goes horribly awry. The show’s dark tones and ample skullf*ckery have made it a standout, and this season’s no exception. (FOX)
Tim Burton’s cinematic valentine to outsiders was both a cult favorite and a mainstream success. Very few films can straddle that line and Edward Scissorhands does so with a stealthy mix of black humor, death-rock makeup, amazing production design and the skillful portrayal of Edward by Burton’s future alter ego, Johnny Depp. This new Blu-ray release presents the film in all its glory, but with scant extras this time around. (FOX)
The Hunger (1983) was probably most famous for its inclusion of David Bowie as one of the vampire leads and the performance vignette from then death-rock idols Bauhaus. Goth kids far and wide pined for this movie based on those two elements, but in reality, the film starring Catherine Deneuve is a stunner from a visual standpoint. The film’s lush cinematography and polished sets are hard to miss, even if it’s a bit meandering from a plot perspective. Hard to find, even on DVD, now it can be had for a song, on pristine Blu-ray. (Warner Archive Collection)
My Favorite Martian
The Complete Series
To lighten things up a bit, I wanted to include one of TV’s earliest fantasy-themed comedies, My Favorite Martian. Running from 1963-66, the show followed reporter Tim (The Hulk’s Bill Bixby) who discovers a Martian named Martin (Ray Walston) and takes him in as a roommate while Martin attempts to repair his ship and return home. Martin’s special powers are impressive (especially in an early show like this), but he must be careful not to attract attention and blow his true identity, placing extra stress on young Tim.
Part comedy, part Sci-Fi, My Favorite Martian has remained a cult favorite and has proven to be highly influential on future alien and supernatural TV shows. This mammoth set features all 107 episodes, plus a slew of extras including home movies, commercials, test footage, star appearances and more. (MPI)
We Are Still Here
Released just earlier this year, the indie We Are Still Year makes quite an impression. Starring horror vet Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), the film follows a grieving couple that moves to the countryside to mourn in peace. What they don’t know is that their new house has an evil agenda all its own!
Incorporating influences of Lucio Fulci and David Lynch and others, the film thrives on its mesmerizing feel and stark visuals. It’s also great to see a seasoned actor in the form of Crampton, who brings a strong sense of style and gravitas to the proceedings. (MPI)
One of the oddest horror flicks to ever grace the screen, Spider Baby is a strange mix of horror, comedy and after-school special. Cult director Jack Hill drafted none other than Lon Chaney Jr. to play the caretaker for a family of deranged inbreds afflicted with a disease where they act insanely goofy and childish, in spite of their actual adult ages. The film also stars a very young Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses).
Hill—who also made a name helming a couple key ’70s Blaxploitation films—imbues the proceedings with a creepy, bargain-basement feel tempered with an almost endearing family quality. This new Blu-ray issue features a high-quality transfer supervised by Hill, plus scores of extras including several featurettes, a DVD version and a collectible booklet. (Arrow Films)
Mark of the Devil
Once declared: “the most horrifying film ever made” upon its 1970 release, Mark of the Devil can now be had in its rare original, uncut state. The film is a graphic retelling of the witch trials and murders in early 18th-century Austria. Part torture porn, part morality play on the religious corruption of the period, the film was certainly racy for its day, including scenes of graphic violence, including the violent removal of an accused witch’s tongue (ouch!).
While the film may be a bit too much for some to swallow, its striking look, mean-spirited tone and excellent performances from horror stalwarts Herbert Lom and Udo Kier make it a must for those into the hard stuff. This excellent new issue features the full film in all its sick glory, plus tons of extras. (Arrow Films)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. JK