Movies Till Dawn: Things Are Scary All Over

The Hunt” (2020, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) Conservatives – a mixed bag of middle America types, conspiracy nuts and one tough vet, played by Betty Gilpin – are hunted for sport by an elite cadre of wealthy liberals before turning the tables. The subject of much media/Twitter hysteria for its perceived bias towards the right, this grisly thriller-comedy from director Craig Zobel has a degree of sympathy for both sides of the political fence, but this being a Blumhouse production, shows greater interest in skewering them, both literally and figuratively. The satire is broad and the gore effects over-the-top, which blunts any points made by writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse‘s script about the toxic effects of extremism, but Gilpin and the cast, which includes Hilary Swank, Justin Hartley and Ike Barinholtz, embrace the chaos with considerable gusto. Universal’s Blu-ray/DVD/digital set includes making-of featurettes, including “breakdowns” of each murder.

One Cut of the Dead” (2017, RLJE Films) An outbreak of real and bloodthirsty zombies is just the latest problem to plague the cast and crew of a low-budget horror film beset by budgetary problems and a maniacal director (Takayuki Hamatsu). That’s only part of the premise for director Shinichiro Ueda‘s ultra-low-budget but clever horror-comedy which broke box office records in its native Japan; the opening zombie action, which unfolds in an audacious, 37-minute single take, dovetails into meta-territory which gives not only an amusing why and how for the movie and outbreak, but also pokes sly fun at the desperation and on-the-fly ingenuity required to make micro-budget films (like this one). Funny, gross and savvy in ways that most horror-comedies (or straight comedies, for that matter) rarely achieve; RLJE’s subtitled Blu-ray includes outtakes and promotional art.

The Mystery of the Wax Museum” (1933, Warner Archives Collection) A new wax museum, overseen by sculptor Lionel Atwill, opens in New York City at the same time that a wave of disappearances sweeps through its streets (and morgues). Coincidence? Fast-talking reporter Glenda Farrell and her roommate (Fay Wray, “King Kong”) think so, but the answer might cost them their lives. Considered a lost film for decades, this atmospheric chiller from Michael Curtiz – the last to be filmed with the two-color Technicolor process, and the source material for Vincent Price’s “House of Wax” (1953) – is no museum relic, but rather, a surprising mix of modern-dress terror (as opposed to the Old World Gothic trappings of the Universal cycle), gruesome body horror and unhealthy obsession that, in its headiest moments, seems like a primary building block for many subsequent mad artist movies (“Bluebeard,” “Driller Killer“) and the surgical horror films of Jess Franco. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray offers a stellar restoration of the original two-color photography by UCLA, whose head of preservation, Scott MacQueen, is featured alongside video audio clips of Farrell and Wray, in one of two audio commentaries (historian Alan K. Rode handles the other), and a new, 20-minute tribute to Wray’s film career by her daughter, Victoria Riskin.

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

Dream Demon” (1988, Arrow Video) Bride-to-be Jemma Redgrave and American New Waver Kathleen Wilhoite, both plagued by horrible dream that may be memories and/or visions of the future, find an interdimensional portal in Redgrave’s Old Dark House that may provide a solution or more terrors. British-made supernatural horror from director Harley Cokeliss aims for a wide array of targets, from the box office take of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series to the Falklands conflict and Britain’s predatory media (embodied here by Timothy Spall and TV star/singer Jimmy Nail); it hits few of these with any accuracy, but there is a wealth of gruesome/surreal images (melting skin, lopped-off heads) and a score by Bill Nelson of Be-Bop Deluxe to hold interest. Arrow’s Blu-ray offers both the theatrical and director’s editions of the film, along with partial commentary by Cokeliss, who’s also featured in interviews along with Redgrave and Nelson.

The Soul Collector” (2019, Shout! Studios) Married couple Garth Breytenbach and Inge Beckmann welcome an offer of help on their dilapidated farm from Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe), unaware that his interest lies more in their niece/adopted daughter (Keita Luna) and what’s in his ever-present bag. Debut feature by South African writer/director Harold Holscher earns its share of rattled nerves through cinematographer David Pienaar’s shadow-steeped images, but it’s the sense of sorrow – Lazarus’s terrible plan is fueled more by regret and desperation than menace – that runs through the film that leaves the most lasting impact. Available on digital and demand.

 

Horrors of Spider Island” (1960, Severin Films) A plane carrying impresario Alexander D’Arcy and a gaggle of showgirls crashes on a remote island, where the local fauna – a huge arachnid – has a fate in store for them that’s worse than any scare or bite. Black-and-white, German-made pulp adventure is frothy, mildly spicy (read: chaste by today’s standards) nonsense until the arrival of the spider, which while an ungainly puppet, is still memorably hideous); from there, director Fritz Bottger pushes “Spider Island” in a surprisingly tense and atmospheric direction that belies the film’s cheesecake interests. Severin’s Blu-ray bundles both the original German release (titled “A Corpse Hangs in the Web”) with the longer English-language take; an interview with the late D’Arcy (who claims to have directed part of the film) by David Del Valle, alternate footage and a video essay on the various incarnations of “Spider Island” round out the disc.

“Beyond the Door III” (1989, Vinegar Syndrome) Frying pan/fire: no sooner has Los Angeles college student Mary Kohnert and her classmates escaped death at the hands of a Yugoslavian devil cult (the unannounced part of a field trip) than they face death in a variety of (totally absurd) forms aboard a demonic train. European gorefest shares no connection with the underrated “Exorcist” carbon “Beyond the Door” (1974) * beyond its title and producer Ovidio G. Assonitis, and is instead its own wonderfully loopy entity, distinguished by a barrage of out-to-lunch murder set pieces (death by furnace is a highlight), its rampaging train, which gleefully disregards the laws of science and reality to slaughter its passengers, and the always welcome presence of Bo Svenson. The Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray bundles a 4K scan from the original camera negative with interviews with Svenson, director Jeff Kwinty and DP Adolfo Bartoli, all of whom look back on their participation with amusement.

* Currently available on Blu-ray from Arrow.

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 Amazon.com 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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