Halloween beckons … are you ready?
Besides the candy, costumes and festive celebrations, Halloween brings a bevvy of offbeat blu-rays and DVDs, surfacing just in time for the big day. And if you’re a horror hound, it’s heartening to see some of the scarcer flicks of yore back in circulation in crisp—and crimson—hi-definition. Read on for a few standouts of this season’s releases.
Stephen King once proclaimed: “I have seen the future of horror; his name is Clive Barker.” And Barker certainly lived up to such high praise with the epic and eerie Hellraiser series (or least part of it) from the late 80s. Introducing a unique new villain into the horror lexicon in the form of “Pinhead,” the film explored dark, deviant fantasies that were new to the monster movie game. Resplendent in patent leather with nails protruding from every inch of his stoic face, Pinhead and his gang of malformed minions, the Cenobites, are still a dead scary sight, even some 30 years on.
The hapless Larry and his wife move into their rundown new home only to discover that something evil lurks below. The mayhem that ensues breaks with genre conventions, and it’s only a short time before some otherworldly chaos takes shape. Hellraiser was not only a favorite for its unique spin on the genre, but also for its imagery—the gothic, S&M stylings of the Cenobites resonated with death rockers and other alternative music factions of the day, giving it some cultural relevance as well.
Hellraiser was recently released by ace reissue label Arrow Films, in a plush, new blu-ray package with a newly restored version of the film, plus loads extras including the killer documentary Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser.
Speaking of killer, Arrow has also released a couple other ghoulish goodies guaranteed to raise hairs and leave you a little less sane this season. From 1979 comes Italian baddie Killer Nun. Starring former La Dolce Vita star Anita Ekberg as the damaged Sister Gertrude, the film follows her descent into madness via sex, drugs, violence, and other assorted niceties. Working in a hospital where patients drop like flies, the good sister soon becomes a prime suspect.
A minor classic in the Giallo genre (Italian 70s sex/murder mysteries), director Giulio Berruti imbues the film with a sense of foreboding, dank atmospherics, and out-of-nowhere shocks that enhance its twist ending. This new blu-ray also comes packed with extras, including a video essay Beyond Convent Walls, that covers off on the “Nunsploitation” movement of the steamy 70s.
An American Werewolf in London
Also, check out Arrow’s new issue of horror-comedy classic, An American Werewolf in London (1981). Directed by famed auteur John Landis, Werewolf was at the forefront of the horror comedies that would later become rampant throughout the decade. On a backpacking trip through England, two friends (B-movie practitioners David Naughton and Griffin Dunne), are attacked by a mysterious beast.
One of them is killed, while the other begins to notice his mangled body acting out in strange ways, only to later determine he’s moonlighting as a werewolf. Landis, who had recently hit gold with the likes of Animal House and The Blues Brothers, struck the perfect mix of shocks and snickers, with special effects and cosmetic artistry that was way ahead of its time. This new reissue comes with a slew of extras, including an interview with Landis on the making of the film.
The Fearless Vampire Killers
The Fearless Vampire Killers (or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck) was originally released in 1967. Directed by Roman Polanski, the film was a riff on the popular gothic horror films of the day, made popular by Hammer Studios. Starring Polanski and future wife Sharon Tate (yep, the same Sharon Tate later slaughtered by the Manson family).
The incompetent Professor Abronsius and his numb-nut assistant Alfred (played by Polanski), go on the hunt for vampires, only to soon find themselves woefully unprepared. A series of comedic bits follow, and the pair finds itself in the clutches of an evil vampire. The film’s most enduring quality is its stylized production, a perfect mix of haunting, gothic horror and swinging, 60s chic, featuring a colorful array of Victorian sets, racy costumes, and sardonic winks. The epic, undead ballroom scene is the perfect example of the various aesthetics working in tandem, its decadent-but-eerie aura making it a true standout. This new blu-ray release from the Warner Archive Collection features all the fun in vivid 1080p, which maximizes the hip, horror effect.
From Beyond the Grave
Eyeing the success of 60s and 70s horror powerhouse Hammer Studios, second-tier competitor Amicus Productions also put out its fair share of genre outings, many of mixed quality. Specializing in anthology films (movies with multiple, related episodes contained within), From Beyond the Grave (1973) was one of the better ones.
Starring British horror legend (and Hammer stalwart) Peter Cushing as the owner antique shop Temptations Ltd., the film follows the individual stories of four customers—or thieves—who frequent the shop. Thematically similar to other Amicus anthology flicks such as Vault of Horror, in From Beyond the Grave, each of the protagonists meets a certain fate that ties back to something they’ve either bought or stolen from the shop, making for some gruesomely fun outcomes. This new issue of the long out-of-print classic comes in a pristine, hi-def transfer (Warner Archive).
For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. And with that, Happy Halloween.