Movies Till Dawn: Spookshows for Shut-Ins

Come to Daddy” (2019, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Neurotic LA hipster Elijah Wood travels to Oregon at the behest of his long-absent father (the great Canadian character actor Stephen McHattie), but the visit quickly turns from awkward to terrifying when various truths – and in particular, what’s beneath a trap door in Dad’s weird house – are revealed. Impressive debut directorial effort from New Zealand producer Ant Timpson begins as an increasingly tense pas de deux between Wood and McHattie before a jaw-dropping plot turn spins “Daddy” into a grisly mix of anxiety attack and identity crisis. Were it all just ugly behavior and coal-black humor, “Daddy” would have been a well-crafted but ultimately forgettable freakout, but Timpson and scripter Toby Harvard (“The Greasy Strangler”) layer real hurt and anger beneath the chaos, which results in harder, more uncomfortable hits for the viewer. With Martin Donovan; Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes a digital copy code.

A Feast of Man” (2017, IndiePix) On paper, it seems easy: the will of the recently deceased Gallagher (Laurence Bond) guarantees a million dollars to each of his five friends on the condition that they meet a very unique requirement. The catch? They have to eat his corpse. Director/co-writer Caroline Golum ups the stakes for her very dark comedy of manners by giving each of the friends a wayward moral compass, which allows for them to at least consider the possibility of carrying out the deed. The characters are broadly drawn and performed, but the film itself sports impressive, Edward Gorey-esque production design (for a film with a $15,000 budget) and an air of arch morbidity that may work well for the Gothic-minded. IndiePix’s widescreen DVD includes the trailer.

The Black Cat” (1941, Shout! Factory) A gaggle of suspicious types, including Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Gale Sondergaard gather at the Old Dark House of Cecilia Loftus to await her death and distribution of her sizable estate. When the old gal refuses to give up the ghost, one of their number takes a more direct route to wealth by murdering the other guests, spurring real estate agent Broderick Crawford and sidekick Hugh “Woo Woo” Herbert to investigate, after a fashion. Any connection between the Edgar Allan Poe story and this film are microscopic, as the “New York Times” wrote upon its release; it also doesn’t approach the stylish 1935  “Black Cat” with Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but this horror/comedy remains watchable thanks to its parade of Hollywood heels (as well as a minor turn by a then-unknown Alan Ladd), who do their best to lend menace to the lightweight proceedings, and shadow-steeped camerawork by Stanley Cortez (“Magnificent Ambersons,” “Night of the Hunter”). The Shout! Blu-ray – part of its “Universal Horror Collection Vol. 3” – includes commentary by historian Gary D. Rhodes, a trailer and promotional material.

Hollywood Horror House” (1970, Vinegar Syndrome) Faded movie star Miriam Hopkins makes the unfortunate decision to invite knife-toting psychopath John David Garfield into her crumbling mansion (the Cedars/Norma Talmadge House), with the expected bloody results. Threadbare nods to “Psycho,” freakout sequences (including one during the Hollywood Christmas parade) and overwrought performances render this tawdry psycho-thriller from writer/director Donald Wolfe (who later penned hot-blooded Hollywood books on the Black Dahlia murder, among others) more goof than gross-out, though there are several gooey splatter setpieces. The cast of senior Golden Age stars also lend perverse camp appeal; in addition to Hopkins, Gale Sondergaard (again), Fatty Arbuckle’s ex wife, Minta Durfee, one-time Stooge Joe Besser (!) and KTLA reporter/Tournament of Roses announcer Bill Welsh all try to preserve their dignity (and heads). Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD set includes a 4k scan of the film and commentary by David Del Valle and David DeCouteau, who dish on its connection to other “psycho biddy” films and details about cast crew (Garfield, son of ’40s star John Garfield, later became a successful editor).

The Prey” (1980, Arrow Video) Campers in the Rocky Mountains (actually Idyllwild) run afoul of a disfigured stalker (Carel Struycken, Lurch from the “Addams Family” features), who fails to generate much resistance from park ranger Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester from the “Addams Family” series) and his banjo-playing subordinate. Filmed in 1979 by former adult filmmakers, this early slasher is padded to hallucinatory lengths by wildlife footage – apparently an attempt by director Edwin Brown to draw parallels between the human slaughter and the brutality of the animal world – and visual/script non sequiturs like a long scene of Coogan making and eating a cucumber sandwich or fellow ranger Jackson Bostwick playing the banjo (quite well, but come on). Ideal for junkfood film fans and gore devotees, who may appreciate John Carl Buechler‘s gloppy creations; Arrow’s two-disc Blu-ray includes the theatrical release of “Prey” as well as two additional, longer (!) edits, one of which attempts to provide a backstory for the killer, as well as interviews with the primary cast and crew and commentary by Amanda Reyes (Made-For-TV Mayhem) and Ewan Cant, who can be politely described as a “Prey” superfan.

And: should you need more distractions from the world, Magnolia Pictures is offering access to its documentary channel Dox for $14.99, which is half off the annual subscription price. The streaming service offers a wealth of documentary features and series; current highlights include “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” “The Wolfpack,” “Iris,” Werner Herzog’s “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” and “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.” And in keeping with this column’s theme, there’s plenty of creepy material on hand as well, including “Amazing Mysteries,” “Secrets of UFOs” and “Myths and Monsters.” There’s also a free seven-day trial period; the 50% reduced rate is available until March 31, 2020.

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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