“Hereditary” (2018, Lionsgate) A pair of deaths – one by natural causes, the other a horrible accident – appear to herald the arrival of a monstrous and possessive presence in the lives of an emotionally troubled family. Deeply unsettling feature debut/endurance test from writer/director Ari Aster has plenty of grisly effects and hard (some near traumatizing) shocks, but lands its strongest punches in decidedly non-genre scenes where the family crumbles under the weight of fresh and long-unattended pain alike; it’s abetted immeasurably by a uniformly excellent cast, with co-producer Toni Collette and Alex Wolff doing Herculean work as a fragile mother and son, though Milly Shapiro and Ann Dowd also make deep impressions as the family’s eccentric daughter and a seemingly benevolent stranger, respectively. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray/DVD combo includes a detailed making-of doc, deleted scenes (mostly focused on Wolff and dad Gabriel Byrne) and a photo gallery of the creepy art made by Collette’s character – an artist who reworks scenes from her life in miniature- in the film.
“Someone’s Watching Me!” (1978, Shout Factory) The view from television director Lauren Hutton‘s new high-rise apartment in Downtown Los Angeles (actually Neilson Way in Santa Monica) is spoiled by an unseen admirer whose attentions quickly escalate from spying to home invasion and finally, full-bore stalking. Modest but polished made-for-TV thrills from writer-director John Carpenter, which aired on NBC a month before the release of “Halloween”; it’s lightweight in terms of story and performance (save for Adrienne Barbeau as Hutton’s co-worker) but underscores Carpenter’s ability to deliver economic, effective suspense, even with the limitations of small-screen productions. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray features interviews with Barbeau and Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers, as well as commentary by TV-movie terror expert Amanda Reyes, original TV promos and a visit to several LA exteriors (633 Olive Street and the Bank of America Concourse Plaza on Hope Street).
“The Terror: The Complete First Season” (2018, Lionsgate) Production polish highlights this AMC series based on the audacious premise of Dan Simmons’ source novel, which blames the real-life disaster that befell two British warships searching for the Northwest Passage in 1845 on a colossal monster. The presence of Ridley Scott as producer allows for greater expense spared for sets, special effects (the monster, called the Tuunbaq, is an odd but impressive construction) and an all-pro cast led by Ciaran Hinds and Jared Harris as the ships’ captains and Inuk musician Nive Nielsen as a mystery woman; all are used to good effect here and elevate the material from violent creature feature to a frequently compelling survival story. Lionsgate’s three-disc set includes making-of featurettes and an interview with Scott.
“The Horror of Party Beach” (1964, Severin Films) Toxic waste dumped in the waters off an East Coast beach town transform the skeletons of shipwreck victims (!) into bloodthirsty reptile-fish monsters, which interrupt the locals’ non-stop regimen of dancing, slumber parties, making out and guzzling beer. Proudly and deliberately absurd regional production, shot on black-and-white in and around Stamford, Connecticut, delivers an embarrassment of no-budget riches for fans of low-brow entertainment, packaging googly-eyed rubber monsters, surf rock (courtesy of the Del-Aires), brawling bikers, beach dance parties, wobbly science and a smattering of gore into 78 minutes. Other horror/science fiction films have attempted a similar Country Town Buffet of genres, but writer-director Del Tenney manages to plate them all, slightly underdone but served with undeniable enthusiasm. Severin’s Blu-ray features an interview with the late Tenney from a previous DVD release and adds a new making-of doc featuring Tenney’s widow/production partner, Margot Hartman, an interview with the surviving members of the Del-Aires and a recap of horror/rock and roll hybrids by Tim Sullivan (“2001 Maniacs”).
“Village of the Damned” (1960, Warner Archives Collection) After being rendered unconscious en masse over a period of several hours, the residents of the small English town of Midwich recover to find that the women of the town are pregnant; the resulting offspring are uniformly blonde, emotionless and possessed of a hive mind that also allows them to manipulate the will of others, especially those that oppose their plans for domination. Time has not blunted little of the slow-building chills of this British-made MGM production, based on the novel by John Wyndham (“Day of the Triffids”); it’s possible that modern audiences may find the film’s best-known image – the glowing eyes of the children – quaint or clunky, but Wolf Rilla‘s documentary-style direction, some surprisingly shocking (for the period) violence and the primary performances – George Sanders as the children’s reluctant teacher, Barbara Shelley as his wife and Martin Stephens as David, his son and the children’s de facto leader (whose post-dubbed performance is unnerving) – help to preserve the picture’s atmosphere of icy dread. Warner’s Blu-ray includes the theatrical trailer and commentary by screenwriter/historian Steve Haberman, who discusses MGM’s history of horror films and interpretations of the film as a metaphor for Communism.