With Halloween just around the corner, it’s time to dust off your decks and set the mood right. Here you’ll find some recent Blu-ray and DVD releases to help you do just that. Whether you’re into vintage shocks, maniacal baddies or gleeful gore, there’s something for everyone on this list. But first, we’ll start with a few standouts to get your blood pumping for the occasion.
When it comes to the gothic horror genre, Vincent Price is the man. While his larger-than-life persona is creepy in its own right, his work with Roger Corman on the Edgar Allan Poe films of the ’60s was a defining moment. The Vincent Price Collection III from the good folks at Shout Factory! features a couple of these goodies in the form of Cry of the Banshee, and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, the former an atmospheric spooker and the latter a series of staged performances of Poe short stories, performed by the master himself. The aptly tilted Diary of a Madman and Master of the World are also worthy additions. This set includes with loads of extras, and comes complete in newly remastered, hi-def transfers.
Going back a bit further into the catacombs of horror lore, Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection features six vintage titles produced by Warner Bros. and MGM during the 1930s. Featuring horror greats like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Fay Wray and even mainstream hero Humphrey Bogart, these films provide a glimpse into what was going on outside of Universal’s virtual monopoly on big-screen horror at the time. In this set you get Doctor X, The Return of Doctor X, Mad Love, The Devil Doll, Mark of the Vampire and the Mask of Fu Manchu. My faves are the outlandish Mad Love and the campy Mark of the Vampire. Avoid previous bargain-basement issues of these films, this set finally does them due justice (Warner Archive).
The 1970s were rife with post-apocalyptic, dystopian films depicting the end of civilization and its aftermath. Stuff like Soylent Green, Omega Man, Planet of the Apes and Logan’s Run all had socio-political undertones, which may could easily have been equated with turbulent times. Out of print for eons, Chosen Survivors falls somewhere below the aforementioned classics, but is still more than worth a look. This kooky Sci-Fi thriller chronicles the experiences of a small group selected by a computer to take refuge in a state-of-the art underground bunker during a nuclear attack. Much to their chagrin, they’re joined by a colony of vicious vampire bats! Strange, offbeat and fun-as-hell, this unsavory piece of ’70s cinema is a worthy addition to any horror/Sci-Fi/cult collection. And now you can grab a copy in crisp hi-def, courtesy of Kino Lorber.
Another decades-old shocker to get a new deluxe release is Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. The story of a family road-trip gone awry was a landmark for exploitation cinema during the seamy ’70s. When the Carter family decides to take a detour through the desert, they get far more than they bargained for—a savage brood of crazed cannibals. Featuring the inimitable Michael Berryman as Pluto—the twisted face of the franchise—the performances are completely unhinged, creating a world that is messed up beyond measure, thus taking horror and gore to new heights at the time. The film has been given a hi-def overhaul with loads of extras, from ace reissue label Arrow Video, giving us the definitive version, some 40 years after the fact.
Producer Val Lewton cranked out loads of effective and creepy horror films on the cheap during the 1940s. The story behind Mr. Lewton is an interesting one. In 1942 RKO Pictures was going through tough financial times and decided to follow Universal’s lead and start a horror department. The company hired Lewton to make a slew of inexpensive, B-movie horror flicks, that were shorter in length so that they could be sold as double bills. In turn, Lewton surprised everyone by rounding up great talent and making several future classics such as Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie.
A couple of 2-fer DVDs featuring Lewton films are now back in circulation, from Warner Archive. Isle of Dead and Bedlam both star Boris Karloff, the former an eerie vampire flick, the latter a stoic psychological thriller. The Leopard Man and Ghost Ship take things even further. Directed by ace horror auteur Jacques Tourneur, The Leopard Man’s shadow-drenched aura and exotic flair are key drivers of its twisted universe. The Ghost Ship doesn’t fare quite as well, but the story of an evil captain’s descent into madness still makes for a fun ride.
German film Masks hits a high mark with its fresh take on the Italian-flavored Giallo genre. Steeped in blood, sex and mystery, the Italians have cornered the market for decades—until now. Masks follows amateur actress Stella as she goes off to a small private acting school to hone her craft. She soon finds out that this institution doesn’t exactly teach method acting in the traditional sense by any stretch! Employing a rich color palette, some surreal imagery and a sexy swagger, Masks is a sight to behold—especially if you’re fond of crimson. This amazing package includes a DVD, Blu-ray, booklet, girly trading card, all packaged in a slick slipcase. Nice. (Reel Gore)
More Spooky Goodness:
Cold, dank, claustrophobic, John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing get s 2-disc refresh on Blu-ray. Featuring a break-out performance by Kurt Russell, this dark, atmospheric tale of a parasitic alien infiltrating an Antarctica research facility is rife with serious scares, creepy visuals and a dire sense of paranoia from start to finish. Influenced by the creepy tales of HP Lovecraft, this one’s a classic. (Kino Lorber)
As one of the most impactful horror films of the 1970s, Carrie still carries its weight even 40 years on. Deftly directed by Brian DePalma, the Stephen King story of a lonely outcast tormented by society, along with the portrayal of her final act of revenge spoke directly to multitudes of nerds and misfits, elevating it above most other films of its kind during the decade. Sissy Spacek is also amazing as the sad and vulnerable lamb with a murderous mother and supernatural powers to die for. (Shout! Factory)
Released in 1981, The Pit digs deep into guilty pleasure territory. Jamie is not quite your normal 12-year-old. Obsessed with his talking stuffed animal “Teddy” and his newly found fixation for the female sex, he just doesn’t gel well with others and thus, gets ridiculed at every turn. But, Jamie’s got a secret weapon that he uses to full effect in exacting his revenge, and it revolves around a deep hole inhabited by cheap-looking gangly creatures.
What makes this film shine is lead actor Sammy Snyders. The pesky kid is absolutely intolerable at times—the nasally voice, goofy bowl haircut and smart-ass attitude make everything groan-worthy, in a completely unintentionally funny way, of course. (Kino Lorber)
Last Girl Standing
Just when you thought everything’s been done before, Last Girl Standing pops up to flip the genre on its ear. Part slasher film, part character study that delves into post traumatic stress disorder, this low-budget sleeper is sure to turn some heads. After surviving a massacre that killed her friends, Camryn must deal with aftermath, struggling with depression, nightmares and alienation.
But when she finally makes a new friend, events from the past begin to resurface, and Camryn must face up to a new reality that may be even more fucked up. The interesting twist with Last Girl Standing is its focus on the survivor, after the big event goes down. Not only that, its thoughtful and insightful take on the genre is tempered by some solidly creepy moments that bring us back down to the reality of the horror universe we’ve stumbled into. (Dark Sky)
The Earth Dies Screaming
When killer alien robots invade the Earth, everything as expected, turns to shite, and it’s up to a small group of survivors to put things right. Shot in stark black and white, this early ’60s UK production was directed by horror legend Terence Fisher and features some excellent, tense performances and subtle shocks that move the story along at a brisk pace. While the special effects are minimal, this Nuclear Age hold-over thrive on a strong narrative and mood, making it a standout of the era. (Kino Lorber)
Season 5, Part 2
While so many attempts at TV horror fall absolutely flat, Teen Wolf is better than most. The plotlines, folklore and character development exceed expectations by far, and season 5 furthers the cause in spades, following our heroes into senior year. The trouble is the CGI. Like most cinematic werewolf renderings, Teen Wolf’s got some opportunities, but overall it doesn’t detract from the show too much. (FOX)
When giant black slugs invade small-town America, you know you’re in for a gory treat. Spanish director Juan Piquer Simon imbues this slippery tale movie with loads of squirm-worthy shocks that are sure to gross out even the heaviest of horror-heads. This pristine Blu-ray reissue from Arrow Video features a load of extras—interviews, promo reels and more, memorializing this 1987 burner in high style. (Arrow Video)
I know what you’re thinking. Another teen drama dipping its toes in horror to mix things up. To some extent you’re right. But Vampire Diaries has bit of gothic flair that harkens back—albeit minimally—to some of the gothic greats of the ’60s. Loaded with more-than-passable special effects, the show is not unwatchable. In fact, season 7 had more than a few effective moments, so check this one out if you’re looking for some slightly lighter fare this Halloween. (Warner Home Video)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz