Movies Till Dawn: Dr. Caligari’s Cabinet of Horrors (Halloween 2019, Part 2)

Anna and the Apocalypse” (2018, Cinedigm) High schooler Ella Hunt discovers that the only thing worse than unrequited romance or stubborn parents is a zombie outbreak. Director John McPhail‘s mix of living dead horror and teen musical never quite gels into a consequential whole: the songs by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly are pop-friendly but disposable, and the splatter is modest at best, which probably won’t win over fans of either genre. But Hart and her co-stars, especially teacher Paul Kaye and Malcolm Cumming as Hart’s Ducky, give the material their all, especially in an early number where she celebrates her hometown in song, unaware that it’s being torn to shreds behind her. Cinedigm’s DVD includes a making-of featurette.

Family” (2017, IndiePix Unlimited) The plan, as Lily (director Veronica Kedar) intended it, was to murder her family for a lifetime of mental and physical abuse and then confess the crimes to her therapist. The wrinkle? The therapist isn’t home, but her teenage daughter is more than happy to hear – and cast judgment – on Lily’s story. Stylish German-Israeli feature pulls off an impressive feat by not only presenting grisly set pieces, but also manages to evoke pity in and sympathy for Kedar, and even find humor (albeit coal-dark) in her response to her family’s endless catalog of cruelty.


Quatermass II” (1957, Shout! Factory) After saving England from a huge, gelatinous alien in “The Quatermass Xperiment,” Professor Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) discovers that a new extraterrestrial threat – this time tiny in size and numbering in the millions – has taken control of the government and science sectors. Adapted, like “Xperiment,” from a television series written by Nigel Kneale – whose script for Hammer’s feature version was reworked by director Val Guest – “Quatermass” stands afield from most ’50s science fiction by virtue of its chilly intelligence and sense of quietly mounting dread. Shout’s Blu-ray, taken from the only surviving print, features three commentaries, including one with Kneale and Guest (who discusses his other Hammer work in a separate interview) and a look at the studio’s rare sci-fi efforts.

Quatermass and the Pit” (1967, Shout! Factory) The discovery of ancient human remains near an alien spacecraft leads Professor Quatermass (played here by Scottish actor Andrew Keir) to theorize that extraterrestrials may have been responsible for human evolution. Nigel Kneale, who adapted his own TV serial for Hammer, swings for the fences with an audacious concept – that aliens not only got us down from the trees (an idea also explored in “2001”) but also gave us religion and superstition – and delivers science fiction that is not only thought-provoking but downright terrifying in both its core notion and execution by director Roy Ward Baker. A touchstone for numerous sci-fi and horror efforts (and mergers of the two) that followed (“Doctor Who,” “The X-Files,” the “Alien” franchise) “Pit” stands as one of Hammer’s best and most enduring films, and arguably one of the high points for both genres in the 1960s. Shout’s Blu-ray includes three commentaries, including a vintage track by Baker and Kneale, interviews with cast (Julian Glover), crew (special effects tech Brian Johnson), admirers (Joe Dante, Mark Gatiss, Kim Newman), alternate U.S. credits, trailers and stills.

An American Werewolf in London” (1981, Arrow Video) Bitten by a wolf while backpacking across the English moors, guileless tourist David Naughton discovers that lycanthropy is far more difficult – and painful – than depicted in the movies. Despite some uneven moments and lapses into odd surrealism, John Landis’s “Werewolf” is one of the rare horror-comedies in which both sides of the equation have equal footing: Rick Baker‘s Oscar-winning (and CGI-free) special effects still horrify and amaze, but the film’s humorous moments – epitomized by Naughton’s conversations with dead and decomposing but still quick-witted pal Griffin Dunne – are genuinely funny and never intrusive, and the soundtrack (“Moondance,” “Blue Moon”) is witty meta-commentary. Arrow’s Blu-ray lavishly appointed Limited Edition Blu-ray offers a new 4K restored image, new and vintage commentary (the latter with Naughton and Dunne), numerous interviews with Landis, Baker, essays (including one that posits the film as a Jewish allegory), hundreds of promotional items, and poster and lobby card reproductions.

“The Vineyard” (1989, Vinegar Syndrome) San Jose vintner/black magician Dr. Po (character actor James Hong, who also co-directed and co-wrote the film) discovers that the blood serum he has used to keep himself alive for centuries is losing its efficacy, which prompts him to pose as a producer in order to drain the vitality from a hapless group of aspiring actors. Gonzo mix of trashy U.S. horror and Chinese supernatural elements (zombies, martial arts warriors, actors spewing up bugs) has some atmospheric moments, but also bears the mark of extensive post-production revamps that render some of the already-out-to-lunch plot incomprehensible, which may add to its appeal to cult/junkfood film devotees. Vinegar’s Blu-ray/DVD includes amusing interviews with Hong (who has a talent for impressions) and co-star/producer Harry Mok, among other production members.

Alice, Sweet Alice” (1976, Arrow Video) Police and family members believe that the gruesome murder of an eight-year-old girl (Brooke Shields) on the day of her First Communion may be solved when her troubled older sister (Paula Sheppard) is sent away to a mental hospital – that is, until more bodies turn up. Unsettling independent psycho-thriller, heavy with Hitchcock influence and a virulent anti-Catholic vibe; writer/director Alfred Sole shows considerable grasp of suspenseful set pieces and directing performances that elevate “Alice” above the slasher fare of the period and after. Arrow’s Blu-ray – the most complete and best-looking video presentation to date – includes vintage anecdotal commentary by Sole, editor Ed Salier and “Maniac” director Bill Lustig, as well as a newer, more informative track by historian Richard Harland Smith; interviews with Sole and cast and crew and deleted scenes are included in the set.

The Wax Mask” (1997, Severin Films) A wax museum in Rome devoted to gruesome historical murders becomes the site of a real death – which pales in comparison to the goings-on in a secret laboratory beneath the museum, where its proprietor (Robert Hossein) perfects his statues with a mix of chemicals, wax and living subjects. Intended as a collaboration between Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, who died shortly before the launch of production, “Wax Max” – which is based on the same Gaston Leroux short story that inspired “House of Wax” – marks the directorial debut of special effects designer Sergio Stivaletti (“Cemetery Man”), who shows a capable hand at both ripe Gothic visuals and over-the-top gore. Severin’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Stivaletti, who is also featured, along with Argento and other members of the cast and crew, in numerous new interviews.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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