Movies Till Dawn: More Spookshows for Shut-Ins

Tigers are Not Afraid” (2017, RLJE Films) For young Estrella (Paola Lara), orphaned in her unnamed Mexican hometown after her mother’s disappearance, death is not only a constant but tangible presence that takes many forms, from gun-toting cartel members to shadow figures that offer both help and menace and a seemingly sentient pool of blood that indicates where more senseless carnage has taken place. Much-lauded (and deservedly so) feature from Mexican writer-director Issa Lopez manages a rare feat in supernatural storytelling by delivering both the iciest of chills and emotional wallop; the shifting planes of reality experienced by Estrella and her fellow survivors are disorienting and frightening to us, but everyday occurrences to them and to anyone living with the daily threat of immediate and violent death. RLJE’s DVD includes commentary by Lopez with deleted scenes and a making-of doc; the Steelbok Blu-ray adds a hour-plus conversation with Lopez and Guillermo del Toro, an ardent support of the film.

“Zombi Child” (2020, Film Movement) Haiti, 1962: a dead man (Mackenson Bijou) appears to be revived for work in the sugarcane fields, but his resurrection seems to be the result of a paralyzing agent and not voodoo. Flash-forward a half-century to a French girls’ school attended by his granddaughter (Wislanda Louimat), who has her own take on her family’s connection to magic, and which catches the attention of a classmate (Louise Lebeque) in search of a solution for her intractable romantic troubles. Director Bertrand Bonello‘s penchant for dreamlike pace and plot works well with the film’s eerier moments (the concluding exorcism), but less so in his attempt to link the zombie myth to French colonialism and cultural appropriation. Film Movement’s DVD includes commentary by Bonello and the short, “Child of the Sky” (2017), which touches on magic, desert cults and ritual dance.

The Golem” (1920, Kino Lorber) Co-writer/co-director Paul Wegener stars as the titular creature, a clay statue brought to life by a rabbi (Albert Steinruck) to protect the Jewish residents of 16th century Prague from the Holy Roman Emperor’s efforts to evict them from the city, and which becomes a destructive force after Loew’s assistant (Ernst Deutsch), uses it to abduct the rabbi’s daughter (Lyda Salmonova, Wegener’s then-spouse). More fantasy than pure horror – though the ceremony that brings the Golem to life, and its subsequent rampage are both unsettling – “The Golem” is perhaps best appreciated for its influence on the horror genre; Karl Freund’s shadow-steeped photography wielded enormous influence on the German Expressionist film movement, and in turn, the look of Universal and Hammer’s horror cycles, while the Golem – at once indestructible and fragile – would inform every man-made monster story that followed. Kino’s Blu-ray includes restored versions of both the original German release and 60-minute US version, as well as detailed commentary by historian Tim Lucas and three music options, including scores by silent film accompanist Stephen Horne and Polish electronica producer Wudec.

The Stalking Moon” (1968, Warner Archives Collection) Calvary scout Gregory Peck offers shelter to Eva Marie Saint, an Anglo woman held captive by Apaches, and her half-Native American son, unaware that the boy’s father (Nathaniel Narcisco), a warrior with almost supernatural abilities, intends to bring them home. Director Robert Mulligan – reteamed with Peck and producer Alan J. Pakula, his collaborators on “To Kill a Mockingbird” – wants “Stalking Moon” to reach Western and thriller fans while also offering a moral compass on U.S.-Indian relations; it’s more successful in the former capacity than the latter, though the final siege is tense and violent, and cinematographer Charles Lang renders the Nevada locations as appropriately foreboding. The supporting cast, composed entirely of granite-faced actors like Robert Forster and Russell Thorson, add gravitas; Warner Archives’ Blu-ray is widescreen.

Thank you to the Warner Archives Collection for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.

Horror Island” (1941, Shout! Factory) Good-natured hustler Dick Foran and sidekick Fuzzy Knight seek to separate rubes from their folding money via a hunt for pirate treasure, unaware that a mysterious figure known as the Phantom also has designs on the alleged loot. Despite the title, this budget release from Universal is played predominately for laughs, with Foran, Knight and scene-stealers like Leo Carrillo (for whom the state beach is named) shouldering most of that burden. A lightweight goof, but still delivered with polish by George Waggner, who began at Universal with this title and “Man-Made Monster” before going on to direct “The Wolf Man”; Shout’s Blu-ray presentation – part of its “Universal Horror Collection Vol. 3” – includes commentary by Ted Newsom and promotional material (trailer, poster art).

Mind Games” (1989, MVD Rewind Collection) Marrieds Edward Albert and Shawn Weatherly decide that an RV drive along the California coast (mostly San Diego) with son Matt Norero is the best solution for their crumbling marriage, but they soon best that terrible idea by picking up flute-playing psychopath Eric (Maxwell Caulfield), who pits them against each other as a prelude to killing them. Overripe thriller from veteran producer Bob Yari (the “Crash” TV series) seems to willfully embrace plot illogic in favor of suspense (the family seems completely unaware of Eric’s constant and bald-faced homicidal behavior); still, Caulfield and Weatherly appear to enjoy playing against eye-candy type. MVD’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes a feature-length making-of doc with Yari, Caulfied and others.

Xtro 3” (1995, Vinegar Syndrome) Marines sent to remove munitions from a deserted island discover a hidden bunker containing the remnants of an experiment involving aliens, as well as the still-alive and understandably upset test subject. Though billed as a sequel to the icky UK horror/sci-fi hybrid “Xtro” (1983), this budget-strapped creature feature shares only a director (Harry Bromley Davenport) and the alien-on-the-loose/alien-fetus elements; the rest is a carbon of both “Aliens” and “Predator,” with Jim Hanks (Tom’s brother), Andrew Divoff and others suffering ugly deaths at the hands of Davenport’s wobbly extraterrestrial while also navigating the island’s dense rabbit population. Amusing movie junkfood for the psychotronic-minded; Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD combo bundles a 2K restoration of “Xtro 3” with self-deprecating interviews with Davenport and writer Daryl Haney, who also plays one of the ill-fated soldiers.

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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