Summer always sees a flurry for new releases and keeping up with them all can be a challenge. So, this time out we’re keeping with a theme of sorts, to make it slightly easier. From dapper supernatural creatures to slap-dash monsters and fascist pricks, this one veers toward the slightly darker side. And not entirely surprisingly, it’s actually the real-life stuff contained within that’s the scariest.

Considered by some to be one of the worst movies of all time, nuclear-age horror From Hell It Came is not nearly as bad as it might seem on the surface. When an island price is wrongfully put to death for cooperating with American scientists, his corpse is buried in none other than a hollowed-out tree.

So when the corpse awakens, it’s in the form of—you guessed it—a tree monster! But in all of its lunacy, there are some truly unintentionally funny moments to be had in From Hell It Came and its tree-creature “Tabanga.” And as far as tree monsters go, this one’s not half bad, if you can look past its off-balance movements and goofy expressions. It’s things like this, along with the film’s corny dialog, cheap effects and campy acting that serve to heighten the experience. You can now experience it for yourself in high-def, courtesy of the sage folks at Warner Archive, who unearth this goodness full-time. (Warner Archive Collection)

TV series The Vampire Diaries has enjoyed a pretty long run. Hitting the screen about the same time as other vampire shows like the superior True Blood and things like Blood Ties and Being Human, and not to mention the Twilight films, Vampire Diaries was obviously aimed squarely at the teen market. Featuring a heady mix of angst and melodrama amidst some interesting twists and decent special effects, the show was not at all unwatchable and not usually boring.

Season 8—which marks the series’ finale—is packed with several unexpected developments and a mammoth ending that helped bring resolution to the soap opera that started with a mortal girl and a set of vampire brothers. The new Blu-ray for Season 8 includes bonuses such as a featurette on the finale, a Comic-Con panel, unaired scenes and more. (Warner Bros.)

What happens when a notorious pro-Nazi political leader in Hungry finds out he’s actually Jewish? That’s exactly what happens in the documentary Keep Quiet from filmmakers Sam Blair and Joseph Martin. After making a career out of spewing anti-Semitic and racist tirades, Csanad Szegedi, leader of the Jobbik party discovers that he is actually Jewish and that his grandmother was Holocaust survivor. He now sets out on a journey of self-discovery, exploring his newfound Jewish roots.

As he delves deeper into his family’s true past, Szegedi seems to embrace his heritage, and finds a true friend in a sympathetic rabbi. But there are those in the community who also think he’s a fraud, especially given his prior rhetoric. Either way, it’s a very interesting and intriguing story, and is more poignant than ever given these troubled times, especially in Europe where anti-Semitism and racism seem to be on the rise. (Kino)

WWII drama Alone in Berlin is based on a true story that was later chronicled in the novel Every Man Dies Alone from 1947. German couple Otto and Anna Quangel, are distraught after learning about the death of their son in the war, as well as by witnessing the mistreatment of an elderly Jewish woman in their building. To express their outrage, they wage a quiet war against the Fuhrer, by leaving anonymous postcards with anti-Hitler messages on them around town. Soon, things escalate and sure enough, the thin-skinned Fuhrer’s goons go on a manhunt.

It’s an interesting premise, and we don’t often hear about Germans that didn’t get caught up in the Fascist dream, but Alone In Berlin is pretty slow overall. While filmmaker Vincent Pérez has done a fine job recreating the period and the acting by Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson is convincing, the sluggish pace and lack of tension and excitement make it a bit of a sleeper. But Gleeson’s portrayal of the forlorn father is a standout and the film’s lush cinematography adds some polish to the proceedings. (IFC)

With the new Wonder Woman movie grabbing mass attention, it’s the perfect timing to unveil another badass female super hero. And that’s just what DC Comics has done with Vixen. Hailing from Africa, Mari McCabe became an orphan after her parents were murdered. Instead of withering away, she harnesses the powers of animals to use as her weapons (a family secret).

The culmination of two seasons of the fan-favorite web series, Vixen: The Movie brings the story together and is set in the same universe as Arrow and Flash. The film’s superior animation, storytelling and atmospherics serve to raise the bar for animated movies. Vixen’s original premise and dark aura should appeal to watchers of all stripes. (Warner Bros.)

The Assignment is something different altogether. From renowned director Walter Hill (The Warriors) comes this twisted film noir caper that is as unique as it may be offensive to some folks. A hit man (Michelle Rodriguez) is given an assignment, but things soon go awry when he’s double-crossed. When he wakes up, he quickly learns that he’s not the man he used to be…and in fact, he’s a woman. Yep, our friend Frank has had his gender surgically altered by a vengeful doctor, played to the hilt by Sigourney Weaver.

It’s certainly one of the more adventurous plotlines to come along in a while, and the noir-ish overtones help to further the film’s eerie mystique. But there are some issues—Rodriguez as a man is a bit hard to get past, and then there’s the gender issue that may come across as a bit insensitive when used as a high-concept narrative device, when there are those who struggle with these challenges on a daily basis. But all that aside, The Assignment is one helluva ride and packs enough purposeful twists to make it a must for fans of the hard-boiled crime genre. (Lionsgate)

For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a note at Cheers, Kaz

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