Movies Till Dawn: It Gets Dark Early This Time of Year

Midsommar” (2019, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Reeling from a terrible family tragedy, an already-anxious Florence Pugh discovers, far too late, that a visit to a remote religious community in Sweden is a Very Bad Decision. Writer-director Ari Aster‘s second feature doesn’t assault the senses in the same way as “Hereditary,” though the tension here can also be vice-like and there are some truly horrible images. Plotting and characters, too, are simpler, and at times, what separates “Midsommar” from another body count chiller is the deliberately cautious pacing (which ratchets up the suspense) and performances, especially Pugh who, like Toni Collette in “Hereditary,” does Herculean emotional work (as does Jack Reynor as her phenomenally inept boyfriend, though his path to pain is quieter at first). If anything, “Midsommar” confirms Aster’s technical talent and ability to deliver a frightening experience without resorting to horror movie carnival tricks; Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes a making-of doc and a very funny/weird promo for a (faux) tie-in toy.

Cruising” (1980, Arrow Video) New York cop Al Pacino is sent undercover into the city’s leather bar scene to track down a serial killer preying on gay men. Suspenseful thriller, written and directed by William Friedkin and starring, among others Karen Allen, Paul Sorvino, James Remar, Don Scardino, Joe Spinell and briefly, Powers Boothe and Ed O’Neill, that can’t quite shake the seedy voyeurism of Pacino’s forays to S&M bars and an attitude that seems to imply that the victims were fated by their lifestyles (as well as a fade-into-nothing ending). With songs by the Germs, Willy De Ville and Rough Trade; Arrow’s Blu-ray includes two making-of featurettes and two commentaries by Friedkin (one with Mark Kermode) that that detail the difficult production (including Friedkin’s removal of 40 minutes that may have featured explicit footage) and controversy that dogged the film after its release.

Darlin’” (2019, Dark Sky Films) A feral teenager is brought to a Catholic boarding school, where the staff and students attempt to replace her homicidal and cannibalistic tendencies with Christian reverence, though not if her equally ferocious adoptive mother (writer-director Pollyanna McIntosh) has any say in the matter. Third in a series of gruesomely violent films based on novels by Jack Ketchum (“Offspring,” 2009 and Lucky McKee’s “The Woman,” 2011), both starring McIntosh (“The Walking Dead”) as their fiercely protective, flesh-eating anti-hero; her turn at the helm wants to touch on a number of social hot topics, from church scandals and women’s and gay rights to homelessness and addiction, while also maintaining the gore score and allowing for quieter moments between Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) and friend Maddie Nichols. And if she isn’t 100% successful at keeping all of those plates in the air at the same time, McIntosh does deliver a film that should hold interest for both the arthouse/indie-minded and the grindhouse faithful. Dark Sky’s Blu-ray includes commentary by McIntosh, a making-of and deleted scene.

Gaslight” (1944, Warner Archives Collection) Charming heel Charles Boyer coins a pop culture catch phrase by trying to convince wife Ingrid Bergman that her suspicions about his behavior – and his interest in her jewels – are all in her mind. High-gloss adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s play (known in the States as “Angel Street’), expertly executed by director George Cukor and anchored by Bergman, whose psychological unraveling won an Oscar – one of seven Academy noms earned by the film, including nods for Cukor, DP Joseph Ruttenberg and a 17-year-old Angela Lansbury in her film debut as Boyer’s scheming maid. WAC’s Blu-ray – forged from a 4K scan – includes a 1940 British film version (which was ordered to be destroyed when MGM bought the rights to the play!), a 1946 radio adaptation with Boyer and Bergman, and a making-of featurette with Lansbury and Bergman’s daughter, Pia Lindstrom.

Thank you to Warner Archives Collection for providing this Blu-ray gratis for review.

The New Kids” (1985, Mill Creek Entertainment) After the accidental death of military dad Tom Atkins, siblings Shannon Presby (now a LA deputy district attorney) and Lori Loughlin are shipped off to carnival-owning uncle (the late Eddie Jones) in Florida, where they run afoul of psychotic platinum blond James Spader. Cult author Harry Crews worked on the original script (completed by Maggie and Jake’s dad, Stephen Gyllenhaal) for this thriller directed by Sean Cunningham, who offers up a fatal dog mauling, immolation by gas pump, a skull crushed by a roller coaster (!) and other unsavory moments for gorehounds who remembered his earlier efforts as producer on “Friday the 13th” and “Last House on the Left.” Others may appreciate the critical-level ’80s nostalgia provided by Spader, Loughlin and Eric Stoltz (as her would-be boyfriend) in the same frame; Mill Creek’s Blu-ray -part of its Retro VHS line – includes the trailer.

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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