Movies Till Dawn: #MonsterSquadGoals2

Us” (2019, Universal Home Video) A middle-class family – mom Lupita Nyong’o, dad Winston Duke and two kids – is beset by what appear to be their mindless, murderous doubles, who seem to be a harbinger of a larger and equally sinister movement. Writer/director Jordan Peele‘s follow-up to “Get Out” is more of a straightforward scare machine than its allegorical predecessor, though there are oblique suggestions that this is the Worst Possible Case Scenario for the ever-widening gulf between the Haves and Have Nots in this country; having a firm grip on any throughline isn’t necessary to appreciate “Us,” which is at all times alarming, funny (especially Duke, Nyong’o co-star in “Black Panther,” and Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as hapless family friends), gruesome, genre-savvy (nods to ’80s genre pics are woven throughout) and ominously beautiful, courtesy of Mike Gioulakis (“Under the Silver Lake“). It also confirms Peele’s status as one of the most thoughtful (and thought-provoking) directors working in any genre right now. Universal’s Blu-ray/DVD/digital set is loaded with extras, ranging from deleted scenes to the cast discussing the challenges of playing their dual characters, Peele talking about his favorite horror films and influences, scene-specific breakdowns, behind-the-scenes footage and more.

Devil’s Nightmare” (1971, Mondo Macabro) A mystery woman (Erika Blanc) joins a busload of tourists waylaid at a gloomy castle and slaughters each of them in a manner corresponding with the Seven Deadly Sins. Belgian supernatural horror film benefits from an abundance of high-end elements – a slinky score by Morricone collaborator Alessandro Alessandroni; technical assistance by Andre Hunebelle, who directed the mid-’60s Fantomas films; the presence of Jean Servais and Daniel Emilfolk, favorites of Bunuel and Fellini; and Blanc’s chilly allure – that lend an arthouse patina to the barrage of grisly deaths. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray has an HD transfer of the extended European cut (read: more unsavory goings-on) as well as commentary by Troy Howarth and interviews with nonagenarian director Jean Brismee, production designer and fellow director Roland Lethem, and assistant director Robert Lombaerts.

The Land Unknown” (1957, Kino Lorber) Members of a Navy expedition to the South Pole encounter a hidden jungle where dinosaurs and other prehistoric threats continue to flourish. Lost World-styled thrills shot in Cinemascope, which highlights impressive optical effects but can’t do much about the woeful monsters, which include a floppy suitmation T.Rex; they, along with the relentless pursuit of reporter Shawn Smith (“World Without End”) by nearly every male character (among them stuntman Jock Mahoney), may provide some amusement, though Saturday afternoon creature feature devotees should find the whole thing delicious comfort food. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Tom Weaver, who discusses the film’s production (including the real-life discovery that inspired the film) and David Schecter, who covers the musical score.

Mountaintop Motel Massacre” (1986, Vinegar Syndrome) Fresh from the asylum, motel owner Evelyn (Anna Chappell) tends to an overflow of hormonally-charged guests at her remote establishment by turning local fauna (snakes, cockroaches) loose in their rooms or butchering them with various implements. Loopy regional horror film, filmed in Louisiana by the father-and-son team of Jim McCullough Sr. (director) and Jr. (writer), was lost in the deluge of early ’80s slasher films before surfacing in 1986 through New World (which provided its memorable tag line: “Please don’t disturb Evelyn. She already is”). Though there’s nothing new in its stalk-and-stab mechanics, “Mountaintop” does benefit from a surprising amount of Old Dark House atmosphere (courtesy “Roots” DP Joseph Wilcots) and the offbeat casting of the disarmingly diminutive Chappell as its monster. The presence of burly Texas character actor Bill Thurman, whose credits range from “Close Encounters” to “Zontar, the Thing from Venus,” is also a plus. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray pairs a 2K restoration with interviews with the crew.

The Manitou” (1978, Shout! Factory) I could tell you that the Manitou is the spirit of an evil Native American shaman reborn through a tumor on the neck of Susan Strasberg, and that her ex-boyfriend, faux psychic Tony Curtis, faces off against the spirit in an eruption of budget-conscious special effects, but as Michael J. Weldon once said, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Outrageous mishmash of New Age spiritualism and “Exorcist” pastiche by the late William Girdler, who adapted Graham Masterton‘s 1975 paperback thriller with gusto. His let’s-put-on-a-show enthusiasm is dampened by hammy performances – a deeply disinterested Curtis, grumpy Native American Michael Ansara, dotty professor Burgess Meredith and tanned medium Stella Stevens – and absurd make-up effects (as the reborn shaman, Felix Silla – Cousin Itt – is slathered in gooey rubber), but the finale, which features an indoor blizzard and Strasberg’s hospital bed floating in outer space, merits praise for sheer, out-to-lunch audacity. Shout’s Blu-ray includes interviews with Masterson and Girdler’s producing partner, David Sheldon, as well as detailed commentary by Troy Howarth and an array of promotional material.

The Uncanny” (1977, Severin Films) Writer Peter Cushing explains his fears about cats through three stories, in which several world-class heels – among them Donald Pleasance – receive their come-uppances at the hands (paws?) of malevolent felines. British-Canadian supernatural anthology co-produced by Amicus vet Milton Subotsky – who would later oversee “Cat’s Eye” – and Claude Heroux (“Videodrome”) suffers from woeful visual effects and plotting, as well as the sight of cats being awkwardly hurled at Susan Penhaligon to simulate an attack, but the all-pro cast, which includes Ray Milland, Joan Greenwood, Samantha Eggar and John Vernon, is entirely game, and some of the villains’ denouements are on par with E.C. Comics’ grisly pay-offs. Severin’s Blu-ray includes an interview with Penhaligon and the trailer.

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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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