“The Cold Light of Day” (1989, Arrow Video) Grisly, low-budget dramatization of real-life crimes conducted by Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who gruesomely murdered at least 12 men and boys in London during the late ’70s and early ’80s. The film’s grimy 16mm photography, ugly violence, and actor Bob Flag‘s portrayal of Nilsen – who’s also the subject of a new British miniseries starring David Tennant – as a negative space, unaware of his own motivations, underscore how an atmosphere of neglect, secrecy, and obsession can serve as a hothouse for aberrant behavior. Writer-director Fhiona-Louise, who contributes commentary on Arrow’s Blu-ray, occasionally strays into exploitative material, but this is otherwise one of the darkest and bleakest of true-crime films, and probably not for casual viewing; the Arrow disc features a second commentary by historians Dean Brandum and Andrew Nette, interviews with cast members, two shorts by Fhiona-Louise, and a promo version used to raise financing.
“LX 2048” (2020, Quiver Distribution) Given the current state of affairs, a film set in a future where clones can not only replace but improve upon us, and the environment is actually lethal, may be more dystopian nightmare than most can bear, especially for Halloween movie fare. But Guy Moshe‘s sci-fi drama is actually more concerned with retaining our humanity in the face of environmental disaster and technological overkill, as evidenced by the fate of James D’Arcy, a husband and father whose terminal diagnosis requires him to either live in the world of 2048 – where cloning is commonplace, the sun is toxic and prescription meds allow the population to function – or embrace a totally digital existence. His quandary is handled with a quietly thoughtful script and solid performances, including Delroy Lindo as a cloning pioneer; it’s currently available through (ironically enough) various digital platforms.
“Neurosis” (1985, Kino Lorber/Redemption Films) 19th century medico Antonio Mayans/Robert Foster visits his mentor, Eric Usher (as in “House of,” and played by Howard Vernon), and finds the aging professor in a state of mental decline, which has manifested itself in a scheme to revive his dead wife (Fata Morgana) with the blood of abducted women. Extraordinary bit of cost-cutting/seat-of-pants production from the prolific exploitation film director Jess Franco, who stitched together disjointed plot threads, based very loosely on the Poe story, with scenes from his 1961 medical horror “The Awful Dr. Orlof,” also starring Vernon. Franco’s films have always operated on a twilight plane between hallucination and reality; the scales here are tipped more towards the former, but you do get Franco regulars, including his muse/wife Lina Romay, and lots of budget Gothic trappings. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by “Video Watchdog’s” Tim Lucas, who exhibits both exceptional scholarship and commendable patience while tying together all the loose production threads and biographical information.
“Mikey” (1992, MVD Rewind Collection) After slaughtering his family, ten-year-old Brian Bonsall (“Family Ties”) wreaks homicidal havoc in the lives of his new adoptive parents (John Diehl and Mimi Craven), neighbor Josie Bissett, and teacher Ashley Laurence (“Hellraiser”). Evil-kid thriller reverse engineers Joseph Ruben‘s “The Stepfather” but without its superior scripting or suspense; the primary draw is instead an exceptionally nasty tone, as evidenced by some grisly kills and a sequence in which Bonsall coolly watches – and re-watches – camcorder footage of one such death. MVD Rewind pulls out the stops for its Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, bundling a hi-def presentation with a 90-minute making-of doc featuring Bonsall, director Dennis Dimster-Denk, and members of the production team, as well as a mini-poster.
“Satan’s Slave” (1980, Severin Films) Pity poor teenager Tomi (Farchul Rozy) – no sooner has his mother been buried than he’s visited nightly by her floating corpse; his sister’s boyfriend and the faithful family servant soon join her in the undead brigade, and a shaman’s efforts to exorcise the house are met with gruesome supernatural resistance. Is the sinister new housekeeper behind the haunting – or is it the family’s abandonment of Islam? Wild black magic/zombie thriller blends Hollywood influences (cribs from “Phantasm” and “‘Salem’s Lot”), Indonesian mythology, and Islamic tenets with an impressive amount of atmosphere and the eruptions of mayhem often found in Southeast Asian/Oceanic productions; long unavailable outside of bootleg circles, Severin’s Blu-ray looks terrific and features interviews with producer Gope T. Samtani, co-writer Imam Tantowi (“Primitives“) and filmmaker Joko Anwar, who produced an award-winning remake of “Slave” in 2017; two of his short films (both fun) are also included.
“Welcome to the Circle” (2020, Artsploitation Films) Frying Pan/Fire: Father and daughter Matthew MacCaull and Taylor Dianne Robinson are rescued from an apparent bear attack (or is it?) by the seemingly beatific members of an all-female religious commune known as the Circle, but soon discover that their saviors – which favors cannibalism, mannequins, and a demonic leader with the improbable name of Percy Stephens (!) – have more sinister plans for them. Feature directorial debut of David Fowler, a writer for Disney’s nature documentaries, is ambitious, to say the least, folding an alternate reality thread and a secondary subplot involving one of the Circle’s members into the creepy-cult-in-the-wood plotline; budgetary and script limitations don’t allow all these elements to gel, but Fowler does get some shivery mileage out of those mannequins and the masks worn by the cult. Artsploitation’s Blu-ray is wide-screen.