“The Deeper You Dig” (2019, Arrow Video) The deck is already stacked against loner Kurt (John Adams) – he’s accidentally killed teenager Echo (Zelda Adams), and despite many attempts, can’t seem to dispose of her body – when he discovers that the girl’s spirit has not only become an invasive presence in his bleak existence, but is also trying to contact her mother (Toby Poser), a faded psychic who, in desperation, has tapped into the occult to find her daughter. This micro-budgeted family project from co-writers/directors/partners John Adams and Poser and daughter/AD Zelda draws on a diverse range of sources – supernatural thriller, folk horror, noir – and delivers a visually impressive and frequently unsettling film that focuses on both the emotional underpinnings of a ghost story (fear, regret, loss) as well as its scare machinery. Arrow’s two-disc Blu-ray includes “Deeper” and the Adams’ 2018 Western-themed horror “The Hatred,” as well as commentary by and interviews with the unique family.
“Those Who Deserve to Die” (2019, Kino Lorber) The girl’s name is Berenice (Alice Lewis), and the fact that she’s dead doesn’t impact her fervent request to her brother, shell-shocked vet Joe Sykes: find and kill the people who murdered her and their family. Bleak and disturbing psychological horror from author/historian Bret Wood (who’s also Kino’s VP of restorations) has the look and feel of an extended hallucination or waking nightmare, a notion supported by scenes of horrific violence; both are intense enough to overcome some technical and performance limitations. Kino’s DVD includes deleted scenes and “Malice of Alice,” which looks at a striking and occasionally eerie photography project by Lewis and her mother.
“Carmilla” (2019, Film Movement) Fifteen-year-old Hannah Rae finds an escape hatch from her dull and stifling life – neglected by her father (Greg Wise) and molded into a proper 18th century lady by her severe governess (Jessica Raine) – in Carmilla (Devrin Lingnau), an unexpected and bewitching visitor who may also harbor a deadly secret. First-time feature director Emily Harris ditches much of the overt vampire tropes that have earmarked previous adaptations of J. Sheridan LeFanu‘s influential novel; the focus here is on the freedom from repression afforded by Rae and Lingnau’s growing affections, as well as the fear and anxiety inherent to first romantic and sexual experiences. There are some overt horror moments – mostly in gruesome dreams- but Harris’s take is a mostly languid, hothouse Gothic, and notable more for its two leads than any particular chills. Film Movement’s DVD includes a making-of featurette and “Three Towers,” a 2018 short co-directed by Harris.
“Killdozer” (1974, Kino Lorber) Construction workers on an island off the coast of Africa (actually Indian Dunes) are pitted against their own equipment when a sentient alien energy turns their bulldozer into a murder machine. Arguably one of the loopiest of all horror/fantasy-themed TV movies from the 1970s, “Killdozer” aims for the same man-against-vehicle thrills as Steven Spielberg’s “Duel,” but veteran TV director Jerry London can’t quite wring the same suspense from the premise, which is adapted from the short story by Theodore Sturgeon. He does have a capable and brawny cast of familiar faces, led by king-sized Clint Walker, to rely on (Robert Urich also appears briefly before he’s killdozered) and a creepy electronic score by Gil Melle to lend some otherworldly qualities to the action; the result is cheeseburger-grade entertainment for ’70s TV completists and psychotronic types (and fans of the eponymous band, no doubt). Kino’s Blu-ray offers a 2K master, commentary by critic/historians Lee Gambin and Jarret Gahan, and an interview with London.
“Primitives” (1980, Severin Films) Indonesian take on the European cycle of cannibal adventure-horror films (launched by “The Man from Deep River“) follows the subgenre’s basic template: anthropology students venture deep into a jungle to research indigenous subcultures and discover that some tribes prefer to be regarded as lost. The grisly violence – including some ugly footage of real-life animal slaughter – and antiquated (and probably racist) interpretation of various tribes encountered by the students are all present in “Primitives,” though this is somewhat balanced by an abundance of unintentional humor (an axe with unexpected boomerang properties is a highlight), the presence of toothy Indonesian action hero Barry Prima, and the (most likely unauthorized) use of Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” on the soundtrack. Severin’s Blu-ray includes interviews with producer Gope T. Santani and screenwriter Imam Tantawi, as well as an alternate title sequence.
“Pandemonium” (1980, Vinegar Syndrome) Two decades after the brutal (well, silly) murders of several cheerleaders forces a school to close its doors, a former student (Candice Azzara) decides to re-launch the location as a cheerleader camp, which draws the attention of a psychopath on the loose as well as a Canadian Mountie (Tom Smothers) and his grumpy deputy (Paul Reubens). Broad, slapstick horror spoof is directed by Alfred Sole, who did well with the creepy, Catholic-themed thriller “Alice, Sweet Alice,” but seems unsure of how to properly deploy an “Airplane!”-styled comedy. He is lucky to have an abundance of funny people on board, including Smothers, as well as Carol Kane (enjoying an extended riff on “Carrie” with Eileen Brennan as her mother), Judge Reinhold, Tab Hunter, David L. Lander, and Reubens’ fellow Groundlings Phil Hartman and Edie McClurg. All are well equipped to sell the machine-gun approach to gags, and the ratio of good (Godzilla as the flight attendant on Air Tokyo) to bad (anything involving Smothers’ horse) is appreciable. Vinegar Syndrome’s remastered Blu-ray includes an amusing interview with Sole and promotional art.