Halloween Horrors on DVD
One of my favorite parts of the Halloween holiday season, ever since I was a young child, is the extra helping of horror films that always turn up on television around this time of year. With all the cable stations available now, this literally reached a point back in the late 80’s and early 90’s when there were more entertainment options than even the most die-hard fan could consume. These days, most channels have scaled back considerably and even resort to repeating the same films several times throughout the month. While there are a few surprises and old friends to be unearthed here and there, the offerings are nowhere near what they used to be. Thankfully though we have home video and the good folks at VCI Entertainment have outdone themselves this year with some awesome Halloween horrors, heavily rooted in one of m favorite decades – the 1970’s, for home viewing.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow – When I first reviewed VCI’s DVD release of this made for TV terror last year, I thought they had done just about everything they could to make that the ultimate release of this film. I am now happy to report that I was wrong! This Blu-Ray edition improves slightly on the visuals over the DVD but that transfer was impressive to begin with. Where this version excels is in the extras and that isn’t easy to do with film produced for television. In addition to the commentary track and network promo carried over from the DVD, the Blu-Ray contains a rebroadcast promo and a cast and crew reunion panel from a horror convention. The stand out extra though is a great production documentary that manages to include most of the surviving cast and behind the scenes personnel paying tribute to this minor cult classic. Even if you already own the DVD, I highly recommend this upgrade.
Ruby / Kiss of the Tarantula – Paired together on this 70’s Drive-In Horror Double-Feature DVD are a duo of female-centric fright flicks. Ruby (1977) is a well made Exorcist tag along with a great cast and a cool 50’s drive-in setting. Gory death’s pile up faster than empty popcorn boxes as the vengeful spirit of a murdered mobster returns to posses his daughter and take revenge on the ones who did him in. 1975’s Kiss of the Tarantula finds a disturbed young woman with a creepy collection of spiders getting back at her peers for tormenting her. While the kills are fairly pedestrian unless you have arachnophobia, she does manage to keep her father’s mortuary in business. Both transfers look nice but the only extras are the original trailers.
Don’t Look in the Basement / Don’t Open the Door – This double helping of horror comes courtesy of director S. F. Brownrigg, a graduate of the Larry Buchanan Texas school of low budget filmmaking. For better or for worse, this 2-disc DVD combo is probably the best representation of his limited theatrical output that we will ever have. The lead feature is also probably his best known, 1973’s Don’t Look in the Basement. This tale of inmates taking over an isolated rural asylum is the cinematic equivalent of eating a gas station burrito – it’s ultimately not very filling but it stays with you a long time and leaves you feeling disturbingly queasy! Six years later in 1979, Brownrigg turned out Don’t Open the Door with some of the same cast from Basement. This time out he tries to make a Southern gothic version of Psycho and pretty much falls flat. Basement is the stand out on this DVD with the best looking transfer I have ever seen, which makes the whole film seem greasier than ever! Extras include trailers for both films and a brief but informative S. F. Brownrigg biography. The trailers on Door were obviously ported over from an earlier release because they mention VCI products being available on both VHS and DVD!
Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde – It has been many years since I last watched this blaxploitation marvel and I am happy to report it hasn’t aged well at all! Bernie Casey stars as Dr. Pride, a dedicated physician working on a serum to re-grow damaged tissue with he help of his lovely assistant played by Rosalind “The Omega Man” Cash. After testing his formula on himself, he discovers that the side effects include turning into a mean tempered, ashen faced, hulking beast with a penchant for bashing pimps and harassing hookers! This delightfully dated monster romp from 1976 is now available in a bright clean transfer but this 35th anniversary edition sadly contains no extras other than the trailer for this and a couple of other soul cinema classics.
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things – While many of the DVDs in this batch of releases may be lean on extras, this “Exhumed Edition” of Alan Ormsby’s 1976 low budget zombie fest is absolutely loaded with gory goodies! In addition to a new and digitally restored transfer that puts all other home video releases to shame, we also get a feature length commentary, multiple interviews, a photo gallery and even a couple of music videos this fright flick helped to inspire. It’s nice to hear the multitalented Ormsby, along with actress Jane Daly and his former wife Anya, tell there own version of the story of this troubled and difficult Florida based film shoot and very few punches are pulled. Director Bob Clark is also given a fitting and heartfelt tribute. This new DVD edition appears to be a reissue of one from a few years earlier with the same extras and a new cover. If you didn’t pick up that one, this DVD is highly recommended.
Swamp of the Ravens – Somehow I managed to overlook this Spanish zombie flick from 1974 in my entertainment education but, while it does deliver a few interesting ideas, I wasn’t missing much. A mad doctor in a remote and fairly budget conscious lab tries to revive the recent dead and turn them into mindless slaves. He has his deformed assistant toss the rejects into the nearby swamp of the title until he discovers that his experiments were actually working better than he realized. Aside from interesting scenes of waterlogged undead and some supposedly authentic autopsy footage, Swamp is pretty dull. While listed as a bonus on this otherwise bare bones release and not an official co-feature, the real gem on the DVD is Del Tenney’s 1964 B&W voodoo vehicle Zombie. This film became infamous under its better known and more lurid title of I Eat Your Skin when it was released in 1971 as a co-feature to I Drink Your Blood. That version was clipped of ten minutes of footage that his been restored here in an excellent transfer that finally gives this kitchen sink opus a release to be proud of.
Horrors of the Black Museum / The Headless Ghost – Aside from the fact that both of these films were written by Herman Cohen and released in 1959, they could not be more different. Black Museum is a mean spirited murder spectacle with the scene chewing Michael Gough playing the kind of character he played best. He hypnotizes his assistant with drugs and orders him to commit murders so that he can write about them in his best selling crime novels. The innovative murders are all inspired by weapons in Gough’s private “black museum”, a collection of unsavory implements. Aside from that there are few surprises and very little actual gore in this garishly color production. Headless Ghost on the other head, I mean hand, is nothing like the horror story its advertisements tried to sell it as and much more of a comedy fantasy. Three students decide to spend the night in a haunted castle and end up helping the resident ghosts solve an ages old mystery and lift the curse that has bound them to Earth. While there are a few horrific elements, everything in this crisp B&W film is kept light and played mainly for laughs. This is a budget double-feature with no extras – not even the original trailers.
The Demon – Everyone has a few guilty pleasures in their cinematic closet and 1979’s Demon starring “anything for a paycheck” actor Cameron Mitchell is certainly one of mine. What I find the most intriguing about this schizophrenic shocker is just how little sense the film actually makes. It starts off like a gritty crime drama with Mitchell playing a psychic investigator called in to help find a missing little girl who appears to be the victim of a shadowy stalker. Then a subplot is introduced involving two school teachers and a string of mutilation murders. The filmmakers have one heck of time tying the two plots together and trouble deciding if the killer is just your standard psycho or some superhuman Michael Meyers-like being. One genuinely shocking scene towards the end will make you wonder if they didn’t run out of money for Cameron’s salary before shooting was completed. The final reel has one of heroines running around naked almost the entire time until the nonsensical finale. VCI’s new release is the cleanest this usually murky film has ever looked but, while it cries out desperately for a commentary to explain just exactly what was going on during production, there are no extras – not even a trailer.
There you have it folks, eight new DVD horror releases for this Halloween season. If you can’t find enough scares on the tube to satiate your appetite for scares then a couple of these should round out your menu nicely.