“The Bird With the Crystal Plumage” (1969, Arrow Video) It’s all perspective, as writer Tony Musante learns – the hard way – when his accidental observation of a vicious assault puts him in the crosshairs of a serial killer. Dario Argento‘s directorial debut helped to lay the foundation for the wave of European thrillers known as gialli that followed by drawing on elements from Hitchcock and Bava (unseen killer, multiple red herrings, obsessive/forced voyeurism) and merging them with his audacious visual palette and penchant for stylized violence Arrow’s two-disc Blu-ray brings “Bird” out of OOP status and gilds the film with informative commentary, interviews with Argento, cast members and scholars, and multiple trailers.
“The Hidden” (1987, Warner Archives Collection) Clever science fiction thriller about an L.A. cop (Michael Nouri) who discovers that two different extraterrestrials are loose in the city – one, a slug-like being that takes over the minds and bodies of its victims, and the other masquerading as an FBI agent (Kyle MacLachlan) in pursuit of the creature. Smart, energetic direction and scripting by Jack Sholder and Jim Kouf is well matched by McLachlan, ideally cast as an otherworldly entity trying to pass for human. Great soundtrack (originally on IRS Records). featuring Concrete Blonde and Hunters & Collectors, and glimpses of Bleecker Bob’s on Melrose; the remastered Blu-ray offers commentary by Sholder with Tim Hunter (“River’s Edge”).
“The Crazies” (1973, Arrow Video) A plane crash in rural Pennsylvania accidentally infects the residents of a nearby town with its contents – an Army biological weapon – and turns them violent, prompting a hammer-down response from the military. Lesser-known horror-thriller by George Romero deserves a wider audience, since it delivers both the grisly violence and peeled-fisheye view at the establishment as his zombie efforts. Remade, to no good end, in 2010; “The Crazies” is included in the sprawling, six-disc “George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn” set, which includes two additional films – the ’60s counterculture drama “There’s Always Vanilla” and the supernatural themed “Season of the Witch” – as well as commentary, an interview with co-star Lynn Lowry and a visit to the “Crazies” locations.
“Children of the Corn” (1984, Arrow Video) Road-tripping couple Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton are waylaid in a Nebraska town overrun by a cult of children who sacrifice adults to a monster god in the cornfields. First in a seemingly endless string of unremarkable horror films spawned from the Stephen King short story, this take, directed flatly by Fritz Kiersch, is probably best enjoyed as ’80s nostalgia, though it has a few grisly images (the opening assault on the town’s adults). Arrow’s Special Edition Blu-ray is lavishly appointed with a making-of featurette, multiple commentaries, including Kiersch and Courtney Gains (memorable bad guy Malachai), an interview with a bemused Hamilton, and the rare 1983 short “Disciples of the Crow,” based on the same story.
“Re-Animator” (1985, Arrow Video) “Birth is always painful,” opines mad scientist-in-training Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), and he would know: his discovery – a serum that brings the dead to life — has produced a morgue full of enraged, homicidal zombies, including the college dean and a sanctimonious professor (David Gale) whose plan to discredit West is only slightly hampered when his head is removed from his body. Director Stuart Gordon loads H.P. Lovecraft’s novella with his own re-animating agent – buckets of gore, coal-black comedy, and the outrageous genre-bending theatrics of his origins in Chicago’s avant-garde stage scene – and creates his own gleefully mad monster: one that satisfied both the Fangoria and FilmForum crowd and revived interest in Lovecraft’s fiction. Arrow’s two-disc Blu-ray offers both the unrated and “integral” versions of “Re-Animator” (the latter merges the unrated and R-rated/TV cuts), as well as three commentaries (including a very funny cast track) and a look at “Re-Animator: The Musical.”
“Blood Feast” (1963, Arrow Video) Grisly murders baffle Florida police! Legs cut off! A maniac is loose – could the prime suspect be barking mad caterer Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold)? As director Herschell Gordon Lewis himself put it, this Ur-text gore film is no good, but it’s the first of its kind, and as such, deserves some recognition for setting the path for generations of grisly horror to come. Arrow’s Blu-ray is loaded with extras, including a second feature – Lewis’ overripe vice drama “Scum of the Earth” – and self-effacing commentary by Lewis and producer David Friedman, moderated by the late Mike Vraney (RIP) and ported over from Something Weird’s DVD/Blu-ray.
“The Unholy” (1988, Vestron Video) Surviving a multi-story fall from a building proves to be the right requirement for Catholic priest Ben Cross to take over a New Orleans parish church where all of his predecessors wound up dead from mysterious causes. Cross soon finds out that the parish gig is window dressing for his real job, which involves holding down God’s corner in a fight against Satanic forces. Wobbly ’80s supernatural thriller anchored mostly by an impressive cast, including Hal Holbrook and Ned Beatty, who manage to render some degree of believability from the material. Vestron’s Blu-ray includes commentary by and interviews with numerous members of the crew, including Cross, director Camilo Vila and scripter Fernando Fonseco, who rewrote an original draft by Oscar winner Philip Yordan.
“Don’t Torture a Duckling” (1972, Arrow Video) The murder of three young boys sends the residents of a remote Italian village into hysteria as they blame anyone who falls outside of their narrow, superstitious world view, including witch-in-practice Florinda Bolkan and newcomer Barbara Bouchet; reporter Tomas Milian, however, has other ideas as to the killer’s identity. Fans of director Lucio Fulci’s ultra-violent ’80s efforts (“Zombie”) might be dismayed to find that less blood is spilled in this thriller (though there are two standout violent setpieces); it also bites off far more than it can chew by addressing religious hypocrisy, sexual repression, blind faith and other topics, but when Fulci focuses on the paranoia that spreads with each killing, the film coalesces into a sort of cynical gialli with a bitter moral conscience. Arrow’s Blu-ray offers interviews with Bolkan, vintage audio interviews with Fulci and more.