It’s hard to believe that another Halloween has come and gone. For some of us, it’s the best time of the year—in part, because of all the great horror films that make their way out of obscurity.
Here, you’ll find a killer clutch of them to keep the spirit of All Hallows Eve alive for quite some time. Best of all, most of this stuff is fresh off the presses and is easy to score on Blu-ray for some instant eeriness this season.
Few have done more to drive spooky theatrics in rock music than original shock-merchant, Alice Cooper. Before KISS, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, Cooper was spinning yarns about the dark side while creating a top-notch horror spectacle on stage, replete with guillotines, monsters, twisted ballerinas, straightjackets and much more. But beyond the theatrics, there was the truly great music, with albums like Killer, Love It To Death, Goes To Hell and Welcome To My Nightmare, the latter of which is also the title of a recent DVD release.
To promote the release of Cooper’s inventive 1975 solo release Welcome To My Nightmare, ABC aired a TV special that showcased the songs in a bizarre musical theater setting with a story that featured Cooper as the album’s main character Steven along with horror god Vincent Price. Long out-of-print on VHS, the whole campy show is now available on crisp DVD. While the quality is not as crisp as one might’ve hoped, songs like the title track, “Black Widow” and “Only Women Bleed” come across as extra-weird when embellished with dancing spiders and voodoo men. Also included in the release is a concert film from the accompanying 1976 tour. Professionally shot, it’s a solid document of Cooper at his diabolically best. (Eagle Rock)
When the subject of vintage horror comes up, most turn to the original Universal classics—Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, et al. But, there are so many other back-and-white gems from the era just waiting to be unearthed, one of which has just made its way onto pristine Blu-ray. Directed by James Whale—hot off the success of Frankenstein—The Old Dark House also features that film’s lead, Boris Karloff.
When a group of unsuspecting travelers takes refuge at a mysterious mansion in the countryside of Wales, they are greeted by the uncanny and idiosyncratic Femm family—a cast of kooky characters that includes a religious zealot, an unhinged pyromaniac, a smartass host and a strangely androgynous patriarch who was in actuality, played by an elderly woman. And then there was Karloff, who plays the mute alcoholic butler, who gets into troubles of his own. Part comedy, part gothic horror, the film was a success in Britain, but sadly overlooked in these parts, to the point where it almost literally became a lost title until finally being rescued and restored some time back. Now, it’s available in an excellent new package from Cohen Media. Beautifully restored in crisp 4K, it’s apparent that this film has played a role in shaping the horror family, like those who’d later appear in the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Rob Zombie’s films.
Death Line (1972) is one of those pictures that stays with you…in a depressing sort of way. From its dark narrative to disarming visuals and ultimately sad premise, there are no uplifting twists or surprise quirks that make everything alright in the end. Starring horror heroes Christopher Lee and Donald Pleasence, the film was released as a B-movie over here under the ultra-clever title Raw Meat. In spite of its not-so-subtle title, the film’s premise is an interesting one.
Many years earlier, a group of railway workers were buried underneath the London underground system during construction and were never found or rescued. The survivors subsisted on cannibalism and poor hygiene, and their descendants eventually became inbred and unkempt beasts.
Now, the last living underling is terrorizing the train lines for food, and when someone important gets snatched for prey, the police finally move in. Impossibly bleak with a fair share of tense moments, the film also injects some sly social commentary, and one could deduce that the remaining brute may not be as much of a villain as initially thought. Death Line thrives on its strong actors—Hugh Armstrong as the brute being a standout. This new combo pack features both Blu-ray and DVD formats, plus loads of extras, courtesy of the sage horror hounds at Blue Underground.
A couple of offbeat titles have finally made their way onto hi-def from Warner Bros’ Archive imprint. Innocent Blood (1992) combines horror, crime and dark comedy elements for a unique and somewhat corny experience. Starring Anne Parillaud as dishy French vampire with a conscious, the film follows her exploits as she only feeds on those who deserve it, but soon gets caught up with the Mob, and leader Robert Loggia, no less. Anyway, you can’t blame the filmmakers for at least trying something new. And top-tier director John Landis brings a deft touch with some sweet visuals.
Based on the work of Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man (1969) was a failure both critically and financially upon its original release. But in viewing it through decades of hindsight, it’s much better than original impressions. Rod Steiger plays a mysterious tattooed man who spins stories based on his body art, and thus, the film is broken out into three separate Sci-Fi tinged yarns with unsettling endings. While Bradbury purists might take issue, it’s a strangely entertaining experience nonetheless. (Warner Archive)
Gothic horror became popular again during the ’60s and ’70s, and Hammer Studios led the way. The studio often employed elaborate Victorian sets, makeup and costumes, a bevy of bountiful actresses, plus a vivid color palette highlighting the crimson hues. But even more than the eerie atmospherics and unreserved eye candy were its two main actors—Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Both these horror legends personified most every noteworthy Hammer film during the period, and both are featured in the new Blu-ray release of Hound of the Baskervilles (1959).
The vintage Sherlock Holmes story of deception and dogs gets an eerie boost in this cinematic retelling. While the special effects are pretty lo-tech—especially that of the monstrous dog in question—the ominous mood is set early on and Cushing delivers big as the famous sleuth, while Lee makes a worthy victim. This new Blu-ray release features the original restored release, plus a host of killer extras. (Kino)
Arrow Films has been doing an amazing job at excavating and re-packaging loads of classic horror, Sci-Fi and exploitation films of yore, often with tons of great bonuses, multiple formats and expansive packaging. A pair of recent goodies from the label makes for some perfect Halloween fodder. Based on a short story by Steven King, Children of the Corn (1984) may not be the greatest film ever made (it’s wrought with corny(!) lines and inane over-acting), but its over-the-top flair makes for some amusing viewing. The children of a Nebraska town are killing off the adults, driven by a maniacal deity in the hopes of bettering the corn harvest. Full of unintentionally funny lines and dramatic bloody deaths, it’s one of a kind.
Italian maestro Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling has also made its way onto hi-def in a similarly fashioned deluxe package. This violent Giallo (sex/murder mystery) marked a milestone in Fulci’s prolific career as one of the first films in his repertoire to pursue the gorier side of the screen. Imbued with black magic, politics, crooked clergy and more, it’s a truly insane look at the happenings in small-town Italy. (Arrow)
Clive Barker’s monster movie Rawhead Rex (1986) has just made its hi-def debut on Blu-ray. A departure from his successful Hellraiser series, Barker wrote the screenplay for this one, letting others take the helm in bringing it to life. The results were mixed. A cultish god in the form of a slip-shod monster terrorizes the Irish countryside after being inadvertently awakened by a careless farmer. Now, it’s up to an American historian to set things right. Like so many other films of the era, this one hasn’t necessarily aged well—the monster looks silly and the acting is often overdone. But the spacious cinematography and dark nuances are not without their charms. (Kino)
What Halloween discussion would be complete without George Romero? (Sure as hell not this one.) Just released on sharp Blu-ray, Land of the Dead (2005) transports Romero’s signature zombie universe into post-apocalyptic territory. As the fourth installment of his six zombie flicks, this one ranks as one of the stronger ones. After an apocalyptic event, a clutch of functioning humans sets up in various outposts across the country, including Pittsburgh where the story takes place. The film also works in the concept of intelligent zombies, and has some surprising twists that expand upon the genre. This new edition has loads of extras, including a second disc featuring the unrated version of the film. (Shout! Factory)
Lightening the load a bit, iZombie is one of the more interesting takes on the zombie genre, and it’s on TV no less. Loosely based on the comic book series of the same name, the show mixes comedy and drama with some cool dark visuals for a fun little small screen romp. Med student Liv Moore becomes a zombie and must deal with the aftermath. One of her new abilities is that she can experience elements of others’ lives upon eating their brains, which makes for an interesting premise. Season 3 injects some military and corporate conspiracies into the mix, putting Liv in some extra precarious positions, with an unexpected twist at the end. (Warner Bros.)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz