13 Blu-rays To Scream About This Halloween
A case could be made that devoted horror fans dive deeper into their preoccupations than anyone else. This is one of the reasons that, even with most people embracing streaming as their preferred moviegoing method, there’s still an abundance of exciting new horror Blu-rays in stores every month, offering sparkling restorations and enlightening new extras. If horror is one of your obsessions, it’s not enough to stream a highly compressed movie with no bells or whistles.
Which brings us to Scream Factory, the premiere label for horror on Blu-ray. When we covered their latest crop of releases in the buildup to Halloween 2016, that selection of films seemed tough to beat, but they may have out-done themselves in 2018. With that in mind, here’s a look at 13 new releases (actually 14) that will put the fright in your Halloween night—with particular emphasis on the extras that keep Scream a cut above the rest.
The first partnership of horror legends Stephen King and the late, great George A. Romero—and an optimal Halloween viewing experience –1982’s Creepshow has already been granted multiple Blu-ray releases, but this is the release fans have been waiting for. In addition to special collector’s packaging (complete with a lengthy booklet), Scream Factory has included two new commentaries and 95 minutes of new featurettes. The highlight of these new extras is Terror and the Three Rivers, a 30-minute panel discussion that gives four longtime Romero collaborators (John Amplas, Tom Atkins, Tom Savini, and Marty Schiff) a chance to pay tribute to their mentor and guiding light. However, the main reason to revisit Creepshow on Blu-ray is the stunning new HD transfer that was overseen by cinematographer Michael Gornick. He describes this as the “definitive version” of the film, one that finally delivers the comic-coloured visual scheme that was compromised on all previous home video editions.
Trick ‘r Treat
Inexplicably buried by Warner Brothers in 2007, this inventive horror anthology—part Creepshow, part Pulp Fiction—has slowly emerged as a seasonal favourite. While the original Blu-ray had no shortage of extras, Scream Factory has brought together several key crew members (including writer-director Michael Dougherty) for a series of four new featurettes. Taken together, these play like a single 54-minute documentary that offers a fresh perspective on everything Trick ‘r Treat-related—from the origins to the shoot to the botched theatrical release. In spite of the latter, Dougherty seems relatively accepting of the outcome. 11 years later, he’s back at Warner Bros. directing his third feature film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Of Unknown Origin
Best known for directing Rambo: First Blood Part II, Cobra, and Tombstone, director George P. Cosmatos (who also happens to be the father of Mandy filmmaker Panos Cosmatos) may have reached a career high with Of Unknown Origin, a stylish giant rat movie that also serves as a credible portrait of bourgeois malaise circa 1983. Long overdue on Blu-ray, this unsung gem gets the HD treatment it deserves from Scream Factory. In addition to an old commentary with Cosmatos (who died in 2005) and star Peter Weller, this disc includes trailers, stills, and three new interviews—with writer Brian Taggert, producer Pierre David, and actor Louis Del Grande. Between them, they touch on the film’s metaphorical underpinnings, its Montreal shoot, and the enthusiasm of Stephen King, who once offered high praise for Of Unknown Origin, calling it “my favourite rat movie.”
Piranha II: The Spawning
James Cameron has a nearly perfect record for delivering crowd-pleasing blockbusters, but there is at least one exception—his 1981 debut, Piranha II: The Spawning (aka Piranha II: Flying Killers). Unfairly derided as one of the worst movies ever made, this B-movie oddity has always been the victim of unfair expectations. In reality, this is a playful killer fish movie that offers revealing early glimpses of Cameron’s later preoccupations including Alien, underwater exploration, and Lance Henriksen. While the filmmaker is too busy making Avatar sequels and/or being ashamed to appear on this disc, Scream Factory offers new interviews with actor Ricky Paull Goldin and make-up effects artist Brian Wade. Both speak fondly of their collaboration with Cameron, though they’re also willing to admit that The Spawning’s flying piranha attacks are somewhat ludicrous.
Exorcist II: The Heretic
Speaking of widely derided sequels, Exorcist II: The Heretic was such a massive, oddball departure from its predecessor that audiences quickly exorcised it from theatres—and their memories. In some ways, the film works better as a continuation of the psychedelic exploration director John Boorman started a few years earlier on Zardoz, but no matter how you look at Exorcist II, there’s no denying that it’s a daring and original film. Making sense of its events is another story, but this disc gives you a fighting chance with two distinct cuts, three commentaries, and two new interviews—with star Linda Blair and editor Tom Priestley. Blair’s memories of the film are surprisingly conflicted. She praises her legendary co-star Richard Burton and the film’s original script (which was re-worked during the shoot) but remains uneasy about Boorman’s experimental approach, including his efforts to hypnotize his star in several key scenes.
Return of the Living Dead Part II
Return of the Living Dead Part II is an amusing and watchable horror sequel, but it has always paled in comparison to its predecessor. If nothing else, this disc makes the reasons for that discrepancy clear. While the hour of new interviews offer informative background on the production, the real gossip emerges in They Won’t Stay Dead, a surprisingly frank featurette that lays most of the blame at the feet of producer Tom Fox and takes writer-director Ken Wiederhorn to task for his ambivalence about the horror genre. (Mixed feelings notwithstanding, Wiederhorn did manage to direct several other notable horror films, including Shock Waves and Eyes of a Stranger.) In spite of the film’s shortcomings, fans should learn everything they ever wanted to know about Return of the Living Dead Part II—and more.
In the Mouth of Madness
John Carpenter fans differ on the precise moment that his directing career jumped the shark, but I take the slightly provocative position that it was all diminishing returns after 1988’s They Live (arguably his career peak), including this mid-’90s tribute to H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. However, if you’re a fan of In the Mouth of Madness, you should find plenty of reasons to enjoy this Blu-ray upgrade, as Scream Factory offers many extras including a new interview with actress Julie Carmen, an episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (which visits the film’s Ontario locations), and a new commentary with Carpenter and his wife/producer Sandy King. The latter is the highlight of this disc, as it finds the husband and wife team engaged in the kind of lively, occasionally caustic banter we associate with Carpenter’s filmmaking hero (Howard Hawks), not to mention his own characters.
Someone’s Watching Me!
For those looking for something closer to Carpenter’s glory days, Scream Factory has also released Someone’s Watching Me!, the Hitchcockian TV movie he shot right before 1978’s Halloween. While Carpenter was regrettably absent from the editing and scoring process, this is a lean, mean feat of cinematic suspense in line with his other ’70s triumphs. In addition to a featurette from the 2005 DVD, Scream has included another episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, an informative commentary by TV movie expert Amanda Reyes, and interviews with two actors Carpenter worked with repeatedly over the years: Adrienne Barbeau and Charles Cyphers. While Cyphers seems somewhat disappointed that his collaboration with Carpenter came to an end, Barbeau is still riding high on her time with Carpenter, which included a marriage from 1979 to 1984.
It’s Alive Trilogy
In the long, bizarre career of writer-director Larry Cohen (recently recapped by the excellent documentary King Cohen), the It’s Alive trilogy may seem relatively conventional or even safe. But by any other standard, these evil baby movies have humour and vitality to spare. Scream Factory’s release of the trilogy recycles commentary tracks from the 2004 DVDs while adding a 10-minute interview with special effects makeup designer Steve Neill, a 13-minute Q&A from a Los Angeles screening, and Cohen’s Alive, an 18-minute overview of the trilogy. The latter details the handmade nature of the first film (several key sequences were shot at Cohen’s house), the surprising influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the fluky turn of events that transformed a flop into a franchise.
The Tingler and Straight-Jacket
A crucial influence in the careers of filmmakers ranging from Wes Craven and Joe Dante to John Waters and Robert Zemeckis, William Castle was a master of gimmickry and self-promotion. This took many forms, from hiding buzzers under seats in order to simulate a creature unleashed in a theatre (The Tingler) to casting movie legend Joan Crawford in a deliriously campy/entertaining Psycho rip-off (Strait-Jacket). Filled with modern and archival context (the commentaries are especially worthwhile), these discs offer an enlightening intro to Castle that should leave you digging deeper into his distinctive body of work.
The Curse of the Cat People
Quite possibly the best film on this list, The Curse of the Cat People offers a fascinating glimpse inside the imaginative world of a child, resulting in a resonant and enigmatic drama with horrific undertones. A moody, evocative classic in the Night of the Hunter tradition, this film has been severely undermined by a disposable title that conceals its complex nature. Star Anne Carter makes precisely this point in a 19-minute interview from 2007 (she died in 2014), adding that she has uniformly positive memories of the experience. Additional extras include two audio commentaries and a video essay about co-star Simone Simon, but the real attraction here is The Curse of the Cat People itself, an overlooked masterpiece that should appeal to fans of classic horror—and just about everyone else.
An extremely unconventional twist on the Frankenstein story, The Bride navigates issues of male entitlement and female liberation in a way that feels more timely than ever in 2018. This fresh take on the Frankenstein myth is imperfect, but worthy of reappraisal. Extras include a commentary, a 30-minute interview with director Franc Roddam (Quadrophenia), and 41 minutes of interviews with the monster himself, Clancy Brown. Sadly, both interviews are haunted by a tragic event: the suicide of David Rappaport, the scene-stealing actor who plays the monster’s diminutive mentor Rinaldo. According to Brown, Rappaport’s contribution went far beyond his own performance, as he also covertly directed Clancy. In other words, Rappaport played a crucial role in the film’s two standout performances.
Scream for Help
So bad it’s good is a tiresome notion that gives arrogant filmgoers an excuse to laugh at movies that dare deviate from the norm. It wouldn’t be fair to dismiss Scream for Help as unintentionally hilarious because its bold lack of taste and restraint seems completely intentional. That may explain why this hyperbolic melodrama about a teenage girl’s violent, sexually charged feud with her stepfather somehow emerges as a wildly entertaining exercise in excess. Director Michael Winner was capable of making movies both credible (The Mechanic) and ludicrous (Death Wish 3), but his consistent preoccupation was keeping viewers engaged—and Scream for Help is a massive success in that regard. In the interviews on this disc, actor David Allan Brooks seems to take the film seriously while screenwriter Tom Holland (Fright Night) says he hated it so much that he decided to start directing his own scripts. Either way, Scream for Help is essential viewing for fans of extreme cinema. It might not scare you, but it will definitely get (and hold) your attention.