“Zombie For Sale” (2019, Arrow Films) The discovery of a zombie whose bite leaves the victim feeling rejuvenated provides a family of rural eccentrics with what they believe a get-rich-quick scheme. Amusing South Korean horror-comedy eschews the usual veins tapped by zombie laughfests – ridiculous outfits and fates for its animated dead – and instead focuses on the its eccentric humans, a craven bunch unopposed to theft, graft and sabotage to make a buck. Their broad awfulness, and their sweetly naïve zombie meal ticket (Jung Ga-ram), naturally bring to mind Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead,” but also the weirdo clans in “The Quiet Family” and Takashi Miike‘s “Happiness of the Katakuris” – all good company. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes a 2019 interview with director Lee Min-jae and commentary by filmmakers/historian Sam Ashurst and SPFX creator Dan Martin.
“The Room” (2019, RLJE Films) Delighted – and oddly, not the least bit worried – that a walled-off room in their new home can provide them with anything they desire, European ex-pats Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Janssens decide to ask for a child, and discover that there are some unpleasant wrinkles in the house’s magical arrangement. Supernatural thriller from French director Christian Volckman begins as an extended and effective treatise on/warning about limitless wishes before taking a hard left turn into freakout territory (and an unpleasant plot twist) that may not work for those drawn in by the atmospheric visuals and slow-boiling suspense. That seems to have been a largely moot poin for most viewers, who made this Shudder’s most-watched original feature in 2020, but your mileage may vary. RLJE’s DVD is widescreen
“The Wretched” (2019, IFC Midnight) What begins as a no-fun summer for teenager John-Paul Howard – stranded with a broken arm and a dead-end job with his newly divorced dad – takes an unexpected and unsettling turn when he discovers that his new neighbor (Zarah Mahler) is gradually developing a taste for stalking his neighborhood at night, animal butchery and, quite possibly, children. Writers-directors the Pierce Brothers wear their influences on their sleeves – ’70s/’80s-era Spielberg is most frequently cited – but they also have a creepy, folk-horror-tinged story fueled by very good performances (especially the teen cast) and production value (photography by Conor Murphy and unnerving music by Devin Burrows are standouts) and a memorably gross antagonist on which to hang their homage. IFC Midnight’s Blu-ray includes commentaries by the Pierces and Burrows.
“The Flesh and the Fiends” (1960, Kino Lorber) Law in 19th-century Scotland prevents well-intentioned anatomist Robert Knox (Peter Cushing) from experimenting on real cadavers, which forces him to turn to “resurrection men” Burke and Hare (Donald Pleasence and George Rose), who provide a steady stream of fresh bodies acquired through less-than-savory means. Black-and-white British thriller by Hammer vet John Gilling earned its reputation for surprisingly gruesome murders and surgical scenes, but the pic’s sympathic take on its lower class characters – most notably Billie Whitelaw‘s working girl, but even Burke and Hare, all of who are forced by high-minded morals into lives so untenable that their value only comes as killers or corpses – elevates it above grindhouse fare. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes informative commentary by Tim Lucas, who provides production history as well as the unfortunate story of his first viewing, as well as two versions of the film – the 75-minute U.S. version (titled “The Fiendish Ghouls”) and a more graphic 95-minute UK cut.
“Even the Wind is Afraid” (1968, VCI Entertainment) A recurring dream about a hanged girl in a tower spurs young Claudia (Alicia Bonet) and her fellow women’s college students to investigate, which reveals some unpleasant truths about their school. Gothic chills in modern dress from Mexico and supernatural specialist Carlos Enrique Taboada, a favorite of Guillermo del Toro (“Devil’s Backbone” is a more or less direct tribute to “Wind”). As others have suggested, the girls’ school location and attention to color schemes (recurring reds) bring to mind Argento’s “Suspiria,” but Taboada employs a lighter touch, favoring suggestion and shadow (well orchestrated by cinematographer and Bunuel collaborator Augstin Jimenez) over more explicit scares. But there are still plenty of shocks on hand, especially in the tumultous finale; remade in 2007, with Bonet playing Claudia’s mother. VCI’s Blu-ray is subtitled (which curiously drop out on several occasions).
“The Other Lamb” (2019, IFC Midnight) For the all-female members of a cult, life under its leader, the Shepherd (Michiel Huisman) seems fine, as long as you remain devoted to him and open to his every command and desire; for young Selah (British actress Raffey Cassidy), a series of disturbing dreams, which begin with the onset first period, has her questioning her faith and future. Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska‘s English-language debut moves at a glacial pace, and at times, remains elliptical (or obvious) when it could reveal (or rein in) more, but as a portrait of the toll taken by toxic masculinity, its best moments are as alarming as anything in Ari Aster’s more gruesome “Midsommar.” IFC’s Blu-ray includes the trailer.
“Pledge Night” (1990, Vinegar Syndrome) Frat brothers at an unnamed college (played by Rutgers University) are dismayed to find that their plans to humiliate new pledges have been interrupted by the appearance of a hapless maroon who died during Rush Week in the 1960s and has returned to get his revenge on the current brothers. Gleefully goofy supernatural slasher takes its cues from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, as evidenced by the undead killer’s penchant for wisecracks and tongue-in-cheek murder set pieces; the cartoonish gore is the film’s chief appeal, though an brief appearance by Anthrax singer Joey Belladona (!) as the ill-fated killer pledge is a close second. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD is heavy with extras for such an obscure film – which is, essentially, the company’s raison d’etre – including interviews with director Paul Ziller, producer/writer Joyce Snyder, and members of the cast, as well as a brief tour of the Rutgers locations and the trailer.