Horror DVD and Blu-ray round-up - Halloween 2013
Featuring Creepshow, VHS2, My Amityville Horror, Smiley, The Wicker Man and The Mummy
There's always a glut of horror DVDs released in time for Halloween. Henry Northmore helps you pick your way through the bloody brilliant and the hideously horrible
We open the crypt with The Mummy (Icon) ●●●●, one of the first Hammer Horrors dating back to 1959. Hammer had two indisputable weapons in their arsenal: here, Peter Cushing stars as the stoic hero while Christopher Lee plays the silent lumbering monster. Lee hardly utters a word but it's all in the eyes, and is ten times more effective than Stephen Sommers' 1999 action reboot.
Next, more Hammer with the new restoration of The Witches (StudioCanal) ●●●●. Joan Fontaine takes the lead in this creepy tale of rural witchcraft in a 1960s English village. There's pastoral horror in a new cut of The Wicker Man (StudioCanal) ●●●●●, an eerie offbeat mystery with Edward Woodward's puritanical cop heading to a remote Scottish island in search of a missing girl. Woodward's journey into the dark side of Scottish paganism is still as disturbing as ever, and there's another appearance from Lee, this time as cult leader Lord Summerisle. After months of searching StudioCanal unearthed some lost footage and this package comes with three versions of the film (the original theatrical cut, the final cut and the director's cut) plus loads of extras. The picture quality does vary but it's a small price to pay to see the film as director Robin Hardy originally intended.
John Carpenter's chilling Halloween (Anchor Bay) ●●●●● set the blueprint for every slasher that followed. The film has never looked or sounded better than on this new Blu-ray and there are some new extras (including a new commentary from Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis), while the film itself is still shockingly effective as Michael Myers stalks and kills the teen population of Haddonfield. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Arrow Video) ●●●● certainly isn't the gut wrenching, gruelling experience the first movie was. It's played more for laughs as the Sawyer family set up camp in an abandoned amusement park. What makes this Blu-ray release a must for TCM and Tobe Hooper fans is the inclusion of the director's early films (including the feature length Eggshells) on the second disc – plus, where else are you going to see Dennis Hopper in a chainsaw duel with Leatherface (Bill Johnson)? Another household horror name is Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif), who stars in the sixth Child's Play movie Curse of Chucky (Universal) ●●●. Directed by series creator Don Mancini, we're back in darker territory after the broad comedy of the last two instalments, with a solid central performance from Fiona Dourif (Brad's daughter) as the killer doll's latest victim. Smiley (Signature) ●● is a very obvious bid to start a new slasher franchise with an internet twist, as college kids are stalked by a killer who's unleashed after typing 'I did it for the Lulz' three times into an internet chat room (like a technologically-savvy Bloody Mary). It's a great original design for the multiple murderer and there's a vague commentary on this generation's desensitisation to violence, but it's all undercut by obnoxious, paper-thin characters.
Making its Blu-ray debut is one of the greatest horror comedies of all time, Creepshow (Second Sight) ●●●●●. Inspired by EC's horror comics of the 50s, written by Stephen King (who also stars in one segment) and directed by George A Romero (with a selection of spectacular effects from Tom Savini), it really is a dream scream team, creating an anthology of five frightful shorts, each ending with a gleefully wicked punchline. The primary comic colour palette really pops on Blu-ray, boasting ghoulish giggles from start to finish, but when the film wants to be creepy there's a seamless transition to full on terror. The disc also holds tonnes of interesting extras including deleted scenes and a new 90 minute 'making of' doc.
Squirm (Arrow Video) ●●● is a 1976 'when animals attack' movie featuring killer worms. It certainly lives up to its title as tidal waves of the slimy critters swamp a small town in the deep south. It's kinda goofy but undeniably entertaining, although perhaps a bit slow for modern tastes. Director Jeff Lieberman orchestrates some gooey shocks all backed up by decent effects work by Rick Baker, who would go on to win an Oscar for his ground-breaking work on American Werewolf in London five years later. More mad monsters a-go-go in Ghost Shark (Signature) ●, another entry in the seemingly endless 'crazy shark' subgenre (also see Sharknado, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, 2-Headed Shark Attack, Sharktopus, etc etc ad infinitum). This time, you guessed it, the shark is a ghost who can pop out of any water source from the pool to the car wash to the toilet. As with its contemporaries, Ghost Shark fails to really run with its mental premise, instead offering a fairly boring experience interspersed with the occasional chuckle.
You can blame Paranormal Activity for making every numpty with a video camera think they can make a decent ghost story. Empty Rooms (Three Wolves) ● is a low budget haunted house flick but fails to add anything new to the genre. Just dull.
Fortunately Thanatomorphose (Monster Pictures) ●●●● proves you don't deep pockets to make something intriguing and original. A horribly claustrophobic film, it follows a young woman (an excellent Kayden Rose) who starts to decay while still alive in her oppressive pokey apartment. Uncomfortable, disturbing, sexually explicit, gross and horrific – but if you have a strong enough stomach you'll find bleak beauty amid the putrefying flesh.
For arthouse chills check out Simon Killer (Eureka!) ●●●●, which has a young American wandering the streets of Paris before becoming entangled in a destructive relationship with a prostitute. Despite the title and the lead character's displaying some definitively sociopathic tendencies, Simon Killer isn't really a full on horror, more a study of the descent into abuse and violence, and it's brilliantly played by Brady Corbet and Mati Diop.
Moving into trashier territory I Spit on Your Grave 2 (Anchor Bay) ●● is the sequel to the remake of the infamous video nasty. It's actually a standalone story following the template set out by its predecessors as an aspiring model is trafficked to Bulgaria from New York, then beaten, tortured and raped before extracting her righteous bloody revenge on her captors. It’s a fairly unpleasant film with absolutely nothing to say about any of the issues involved.
Luke Evans is an unstoppable killer on the warpath, slicing his way through a gang of backwoods thugs in No One Lives (Anchor Bay) ●●●. It's hard to know whose side your supposed to be on and the film doesn't always make sense, but you have to admire its gung-ho commitment to cinematic violence as throats are sliced, men are minced and limbs explode in hails of shotgun fire. It also presents an über gory take on the concept of a Trojan horse.
It's impossible to review horror DVDs in 2013 without a found footage section. The Dyatlov Pass Incident (Anchor Bay) ●● is a strange return from action director Renny Harlin, with college kids getting stalked by unseen forces in the Russian mountains. It's very watchable but the end doesn't really make logical sense (not helped by the crappy CGI). V/H/S/2 (Koch Media) ●●● features four short films – a ghost story, a mini zombie movie, an Indonesian cult and a dog's eye view of an alien invasion. The first two are kinda jokey and fun but Gareth Evans nails it with his segment 'Safe Haven'. The Conspiracy (Arrow Films) ●●● is a scary look at alternative theories concerning 9/11, shadowy cults and the New World Order as a film crew head down the rabbit hole in search of the truth. An intelligent and scarily believable mockumentary.
It's also impossible to run though horror DVD reviews without at least one zombie movie and Zombie Hunter (Signature) ●● is here to represent. It's not particularly good, just the usual rag tag band of survivors (including Danny Trejo) in a post undead apocalypse scenario, a dash of humour and some sub-videogame CGI.
The Amityville Horror was a huge box office success back in 1979, the biggest draw being that it was supposedly based on a true story. My Amityville Horror (Arrow Films) ●●●● is the story of Daniel Lutz: he was just a young boy when his family fled the supposedly haunted house. Whether it really was the supernatural or just an elaborate hoax is almost irrelevant – this documentary is still probably the scariest film in this round-up, as what most rational viewers will see is a portrait of a damaged individual who went through a horribly traumatic experience as a child that has unfortunately overshadowed the rest of his life.