Movies Till Dawn: What You Could Be Watching This Pre-Halloween Weekend (Bite-Sized Sugar Skull Edition)

Land of the Dead” (2005, Shout Factory) The late George A. Romero‘s last solid zombie effort (two more lower-budgeted entries were released after it), which closes the door on civilization by suggesting that the dead may actually be more human than what remains of the living. Not up to par with “Night” or “Dawn,” but “Land” has pulp grit and gore, and Romero’s vision remains prescient (e.g., Dennis Hopper’s tower-dwelling, fence-loving strong man); the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray includes the theatrical and uncut version and numerous extras, including Roy Frumkes‘ documentary short “Dream of the Dead.”

Dawn of the Dead” (2004, Shout Factory) Romero dismissed Zach Snyder’s sort-of remake of his zombie apocalypse opus as a feature-length video game, which isn’t wrong, but also not necessarily a bad thing; it’s punchy and exciting and often morbidly funny, and its first ten minutes is a show-stopping compressed take on the world ending with a big, bloody bang. The Collector’s Edition Blu-ray offers both theatrical and uncut versions and a wealth of features, including highly caffeinated commentary by Snyder.

Also: Romero will be remembered by friends and fans on October 25 at the Alex Theatre, which will screen “Creepshow” as part of the official tribute.

Kill, Baby… Kill!” (1966, Kino Lorber) Rationalist doctor Giacomo Rossi-Stuart is at odds to explain a rash of deaths in a remote Eastern European village, which the locals attribute to a curse visited upon them by the silent ghost of a little girl. Director Mario Bava runs riot with funereal atmosphere and baroque color schemes for this elegant and eerie creepshow, cited as an influence on directors ranging from Fellini and Argento to Scorsese and David Lynch; Kino’s Blu-ray features in-depth commentary by premier Bava scholar Tim Lucas and a visit to filming locations.

The Old Dark House” (1932, Cohen Media Group) A storm drives a group of travelers – among them a garrulous Charles Laughton and Gloria Stuart, later in “Titanic” – to the titular manse and its very unusual family of occupants. Though more of a morbid comedy about British manners (or lack therof), director James Whale (“Frankenstein,” 1931) crafts some chilling moments, most notably whenever semi-human butler Boris Karloff lurches into view and the revelation of the maddest member of the household. The 4K restoration on Cohen’s Blu-ray is the impressive, and includes a commentary by Stuart and interviews with Karloff’s daughter, Sarah, and director Curtis Harrington (“Queen of Blood”), who rescued the film from oblivion.

Whispering Shadows/The Devil’s Assistant” (1921/1917, Undercrank Productions) Two obscure silent film on one disc, both tackling supernatural subject matter in very different ways: in “Shadows,” a woman is rescued from a loveless marriage by trance-inducing messages from her deceased father, while “Assistant” details the fate that awaits a woman hooked on morphine by her unscrupulous doctor. “Assistant” pulls out all the stops with its images of Death on horseback and a fiery Hell lorded over by Satan himself, stirring a cauldron of morphine, while “Shadows” is subtler, more mystery-oriented fare. Undercrank’s DVD presents remastered scans of both films from ultra-rare elements, including the 28mm format used for “Shadows.”

It Stains the Sands Red” (2017, Dark Sky Films) Stranded in the Nevada desert after a outbreak of the living dead, hard-luck Brittany Allen finds herself pursued – albeit very slowly – by a zombie (Juan Riedinger), who soon proves to be the least of her worries. Independent horror feature is an impressive physical and performance showcase for co-producer Allen, whose trek across the sands with Riedinger in pursuit alternates between bitter black comedy and endurance test; the Blu-ray includes behind-the-scenes and making-of featurettes.

The Paul Naschy Collection” (1972-1980, Shout Factory) I reviewed one title from this set, “Horror Rises from the Tomb,” here, but its other four films, all starring Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy, are also worth your time if you’re a Eurocult fan. The other titles – the overripe Satanic thriller “Vengeance of the Zombies,” the giallo-styled “Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll,” a grisly Spanish-Japanese crime-horror hybrid called “Human Beasts” and “Night of the Werewolf,” a late-inning showcase for his melancholy wolf man, Waldemar Daninsky – are all featured in uncut form with a wealth of extras, including commentaries, alternate and deleted scenes, and trailers.

Pulse” (2001, Arrow Video) Unsettling J-horror follows two converging stories about the unquiet dead using the then-new technology of the internet to contact the living, and much worse. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa employs some remarkably frightening images (especially in the first story), but what lingers, and keeps the film relevant, is the sense of inescapable loneliness, fostered by the isolation inherent to modern technology, that plagues both humans and spirits. Remade for American audiences, and to no great effect, in 2006; Arrow’s Blu-ray includes interviews with Kurosawa, special effects breakdowns and footage from its screening at Cannes in 2001.

Haunters: The Art of the Scare” (2017, Cinedigm) Both sides of the “haunter” coin are covered in this entertaining documentary about modern haunted house operators: elaborate variations on the traditional Halloween ghost house experience, which hopes to entertain in addition to frighten, and the more “extreme” element, which at times approaches something like psychological (and sometimes physical) sadism. Director Jon Schnitzer gives his subjects and their audiences room to expound on their particular visions, which are often rooted in deeply personal issues and lend a note of poignancy (or in some cases, alarm) to their creations. The DVD includes backstage looks at several L.A. based attractions, including Universal Halloween Horror Nights, the Haunted Hayride and Knott’s Halloween shows.

The Survivalist” (2015, Shout Factory) Overpopulation brings about the end of the world in this Irish feature, which follows a lone, unnamed survivor (Martin McCann) whose grim, paranoia-steeped life is upended by the arrival of a mother and daughter (Olwen Fouere and Mia Goth), who are far more hard-bitten than they appear. If you like your post-apocalyptic fare on the bleak side, this is your (dirty cup of) brew, but the unforgiving misery of the three leads’ existence is made watchable by writer-director Stephen Fingleton’s eye for visuals and talent for slow-boiling suspense. The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette and three short films written by Fingelton, including two that serve as prequel/dry run for the film.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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