“Ringu Collection” (1998-2000, Arrow Video) By now, Koji Suzuki’s 1991 novel “Ringu” is an industry unto itself, spawning five print sequels, eight film adaptations in Japan and five more in the U.S. and elsewhere, two television series and a brace of games and manga. The best-known film version, at least for Westerners, is the 2002 U.S. remake by Gore Verbinski, but Hideo Nakata’s “Ringu” (1998) remains the most influential, having wielded considerable influence over the direction of horror in not only his native Japan but world horror cinema as a whole with its mix of traditional supernatural elements and modern technology – well, ’90s modern, since the vehicle used by the vengeful Sadako to enter the world of the living is a videotape – as well as a decidedly doom-laden vibe which assured no escape, relief from or happy ending after encountering spirits (itself culled from classic Japanese and European ghost stories – see Lafcadio Hearn, Edogawo Ranpo, M.R. James, et al). More importantly, “Ringu” – and to a lesser extent, its sequel “Ringu 2” (1999) and prequel “Ring 0: Birthday” (2000), all of three of which are included in Arrow’s collection – helped to launch the J-horror boom, which gave much hope to horror fans wearied by slasher films and spoofs, and informed much of the tone of international horror for the following decade. Arrow’s three-disc set features hi-def presentations of all three films as well as plentiful extras, including profiles of the film series, J-horror as a whole, Nakata’s c.v., an interview with Suzuki, deleted scenes, and best of all, Sadako’s complete and ineffably creepy video. No word on whether you need to pass the set in seven days after watching, though.
“Ultra Q: The Complete Series” (1966, Mill Creek Entertainment) An investigative team pursues cases involving giant monsters – colossal apes, spiders, birds, walruses and all manner of reptiles – as well as aliens and supernatural phenomena. Influential Japanese science fiction series from Eiji Tsuburaya, who created the special effects for many of Toho’s kaiju films, and which served as the springboard for the superhero series “Ultraman” and its many iterations. “Q” is closer in tone to “The Outer Limits” than its monster-bashing follow-up, and certain episodes are decidedly creepy, most notably the Bava-esque “Baron Spider.” But the monsters are most likely the main draw, and diehard Japanese fantasy fans will recognize several creatures as either reworked suits from Toho’s monster stable, or early forms of future “Ultraman” foes. Mill Creek’s four-disc Blu-ray set (which also comes in a tidy Steelbook edition) contains the entire 28-episode run and detailed liner notes from Keith Aiken.
“The Devil Rides Out” (1968, Shout! Factory) A suave, goateed Christopher Lee plays the hero as the occult-savvy Duc de Richleau, who’s pitted against Satanist Charles Gray (the Criminologist from “Rocky Horror”) for the souls of Patrick Mower and Nike Arrighi. One of director Terence Fisher‘s best titles for Hammer, “Devil” unfurls at a brisk clip as a period adventure, shot through with show-stopping horror sequences, including an appearance by a monstrous Satan at a Black Mass and the climax, which finds Lee and his companions holding off an assault by the forces of evil from within a pentacle. The only weak point is the special effects, which can’t measure up to the horrors suggested by Lee and Gray’s readings of Richard Matheson‘s script; Shout’s Blu-ray, culled from a 2K scan, includes vintage commentary by Lee and co-star Sarah Lawson, additional commentary by and interviews with critics and historians like Jonathan Rigby, Kim Newman and Steve Haberman, making-of featurettes and more.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (1973, Warner Archives Collection) As Kim Darby discovers, there is good reason to be nervous after sundown, or of the dimly lit spaces of her spooky new house, and it – or, I should say, they – means to do her something worse than harm. TV junkies of a certain age lost sleep after catching this 1973 ABC Movie of the Week (remade in 2010 by producer Guillermo Del Toro) as part of creature feature or Halloween screenings; I imagine that director John Newland (“One Step Beyond“) and scripter Nigel McKeand’s ability to wring maximum chills from a Greatest Hits list of childhood terrors (dark basements, whispery voices, unheeded warnings, things unseen by adults) should still ring true today, even for the most horror-hardened viewers. WAC’s hi-def Blu-ray pairs DVD commentary from Dread Central and “Fangoria” writers with a new track featuring Made for TV Mayhem chief Amanda Reyes, who knows her TV terrors.
“From Beyond the Grave” (1973, Warner Archives Collection) Those unwise enough to steal items from a curio shop overseen by Peter Cushing (which really should have been their first warning) discover that the items come with an unseen supernatural price tag that invariably costs them their lives. Final horror anthology by England’s Amicus Films follows the tried-and-true formula established in their previous portmanteau films like “Tales from the Crypt“: a quartet of stories by a horror author of some note – here, it’s R. Chetwynd-Hayes – each peopled with capable British actors playing world-class rotters who receive their comeuppance via supernatural means. The stories, directed by Kevin Connor (“Motel Hell”) are hit-and-miss, though “An Act of Kindness, with Donald Pleasance and real-life daughter Angela as a pair who provide a unique service, and “The Gatecrasher,” with David Warner paying dearly for tricking Cushing, have their share of chills. Warner’s Blu-ray offers a new 1080p transfer and the original trailer.
“The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967, Warner Archives Collection) Doddering professor Jack MacGowran (“The Exorcist”) and his hapless assistant (director/co-writer Roman Polanski) set off across 19th-century Transylvania in pursuit of maiden Sharon Tate and the aristocratic vampire (Ferdinand Mayne) that abducted her. If Polanski is persona non grata to you, please feel free to read on; otherwise, you can consider “Killers” both a broadly comic spoof of and sly satire on the rigidity (and absurdities) of both vampire lore and horror movie tenets. It’s also gorgeous to look at (courtesy cinematographer Douglas Slocombe) and boasts a wonderful Gothic score by Krzystof Komeda and terrific comic performances by all involved, especially Alfie Bass as Tate’s father. Warner’s Blu-ray, culled from a 2019 HD master, includes the original cut of the film, which was trimmed by 12 minutes when released in the U.S., as well as the animated prologue from the U.S. version and a 10-minute promo featurette with English comic Max Wall (who later toured with Mott the Hoople!).
“Flowers in the Attic” (1987, Arrow Video) The death of Marshall Colt leaves his wife (Victoria Tennant) and four impossibly blond children in dire straits, which forces them to turn to her mother (Louise Fletcher), a vicious harridan who harbors some ugly family secrets. Tawdry psychological thriller based on the popular, if decidedly icky series of Gothic novels by V.C. Andrews (who can be glimpsed in the film as a window washer!) has developed something of a cult following for its lapses in plot logic – the result of extensive script and plot changes (including the complete removal of the novel’s exploitative incest plotline) that eventually drove writer-director Jeffrey Bloom off his own set. The loss of the novel’s most sensational elements renders the end product more palatable, but there’s little else to enjoy beyond the uproariously ripe dialogue delivered with maximum volume and angst by Fletcher, Tennant and Kristy Swanson (as her eldest daughter), so what results is a glossy, sudsy slab of TV-style fromage (which for junkfood film fans, has its merit). Arrow’s Blu-ray includes interviews with cast and crew, commentary by Kat Ellinger and both the original and revised (read: ridiculous) ending.
A sizable thank-you to Warner Archives for providing the Blu-rays listed above for review.