With Halloween on the horizon, now’s the time to dust off your decks and gear up for some serious screams. And, with a bevy of lost classics and obscurities hitting the shelves as of late, you may just find a few new all-time favorites in the process.
Italian director Dario Argento is one of horror cinema’s true visionaries. Often referred to as the “Italian Hitchcock” Argento is known for his eerie atmospherics, supernatural twists, flamboyant visuals and an almost poetic sense of the kill. The maestro has literally carved a niche for himself over the past few decades with a sub-genre he helped evolve: the giallo thriller (sex/horror mysteries). One of his most revered films is 1975’s Deep Red. When an English musician (David Hemmings) staying in Italy believes he’s witnessed a murder, his life begins to unwind in a variety of ways. In the end, the unexpected twist coupled with all the creepy visuals, skewed camera angles and erratic pace make it one of the top picks in the Argento canon.
Besides Hemmings’ presence, the film’s gothic feel also ties in with the throng of British horror films that had been blanketing the landscape for the prior 15 years or so, providing for a slew of killer offerings. Deep Red is now available in a pristine new Blu-ray edition, courtesy of Arrow Films that comes with a 4K transfer of the film and a clutch of special features.
When it comes to gothic horror, I’ve always been a sucker for vampire flicks, especially those from Britain’s Hammer Studios. Hammer churned out loads of plush gothic-horror gems. One of the key differentiators was the studio’s focus on sets and atmosphere. Many of these films were set in the 19th century Victorian era and the costumes and sets were always a stand-out. The use of an ultra-vivid color palette, with special emphasis on blood red hues, and the presence of a number of European beauties, the films gave the classic monsters of yore (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy et. Al.) a fresh new perspective. Most famously, the studio employed the talents of horror legends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, who’d make many films together.
Two of Hammer’s slightly less heralded vampire films are now making their way onto high-def. Released in the early ’70s—when the studio had begun to hit some bumps—both placed Christopher Lee’s Dracula into a contemporary setting. Dracula A.D. 1972 finds the fanged one preying upon a group of partying hipsters and attempting to exact revenge on the decedent of his arch enemy Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). A campier take on the franchise, the film was panned by critics at the time, but does pack some interesting visuals and twists, if you can get past Dracula’s rather overt namesake, “Johnny Alucard.” Now, you can enjoy all the shocks on Blu-ray, from Warner Archive.
A second seedy ’70s edition—The Satanic Rites of Dracula—came out a year later with a very similar premise and cast. Uniting Lee and Cushing for the third and final time in the vampire franchise, the film places the villain in the role of a rich industrialist, hell-bent on unleashing devastation around the globe, using Satanic elements to help accomplish is dastardly deeds. Even more far-fetched than its earlier companion piece, it still offers up some fun creepy bits. The forthcoming Blu-ray can be pre-ordered here.
In my book, The Exorcist still stands as one of the most unnerving films in existence. The transformation of Linda Blair into a demonically possessed minx, complete with spinning head and projectile vomit is an image that sticks with you. The sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) saw Blair reprise her role as the once-possessed Regan MacNeil, along with veteran Richard Burton as Father Phillip Lamont. Lacking the dark, visceral feel and stealth storytelling of the original, this film was largely panned by critics upon its original release but was a box office smash nevertheless. The story picks up somewhat from the first film and has a few interesting twists to further the story along, albeit, in a more predictable, commercial way. You can see the saga for yourself, courtesy of the pop-culture gurus at Shout! Factory.
Also, from Shout! Factory comes the obscure mid ’80s flick, The Bride. Starring Sting as the Baron von Frankenstein, and Jennifer Beals as his creation. A flop at the box-office and with critics, the film is full of patchy acting and has a campy ’80s flair. But for fans of The Police, new wave culture and plush production values, the film is not without its merits, especially in crisp high-definition.
For followers of dystopian Sci-Fi, 12 Monkeys remains one of the top picks. Based on the short French film La Jetée and directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, 12 Monkeys stars Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Don’t let the big-names fool you, Gilliam’s twisted headfuck of a film involving time travel and bio-terrorism is a bleak affair from end to end and left me clamoring for a shower upon first viewing. You can now experience all the dank fun in a brand-new 4K scan, plus extras. (Arrow Films)
Influenced by earlier macabre TV outings like the Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, the ’70s saw a few of its own made-for-TV bits such as the 1975 anthology film Trilogy of Terror. Starring horror luminary Karen Black, the ABC “Movie of the Week” was comprised of three segments all starring Ms. Black, and touching on topics such as sexual assault, sibling rivalry and voodoo magic. Racy for its time, the film doesn’t hold up as well as a whole, but there are some creepy and awkward moments to be had, not to mention the inclusion of Black herself, who’s always a treat. This new edition from Kino Lorber presents it all in a plush 4K transfer.
One of the oddest films to ever come to pass has just been released in a plush new hi-def package. I first caught The Baby (1973) one night in a seamy hotel room in London. Suffering from a bout of incurable insomnia at the thought of having to go back home, I stumbled upon this insane little film on the tube.
The Wadsworth family is dysfunctional at best, homicidal at worst. To start, the man-hating Mrs. Wadsworth and her two glamorous daughters are sadistic and mean-spirited. The object of their abuse? A twenty-something man-child simply known as “Baby.” This socially challenged adult speaks and acts like a gurgling infant, resides in a crib and even wears diapers. When he’s not being beaten or degraded, he’s used as a physical toy by one of his siblings—who could easily be getting that kind of attention through more traditional channels.
When a social worker gets involved, we begin to uncover even more bizarre—and criminal—aspects of this unconventional family, not to mention a few unflattering bits about the civil servant and her own mysterious motives. (Arrow)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, JK