First: “The Dead Ones” (2020, Artsploitation Films) opens on a harrowing note – a quartet of high schoolers are hunted down by gunmen dressed as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – and from there, manages to head into even darker territory. Full disclosure: I’ve known the writer/director, Jeremy Kasten, for many years, so I will simply say that if you prefer your Halloween viewing choices on the raw and uncomfortably personal side, you’ll want a plate of this indie, which apparently lingered in production for years prior to release due to the subject matter (see the interview in the Artsploitation link). Artsploitation’s Blu-ray features commentary by the director, cast, and crew, as well as an FX showcase and set tour.
“Pitch Black” (2000, Arrow Video) Marooned on a desolate planet and surrounded by hungry bat-like creatures, the survivors of a downed spacecraft discover that the only thing keeping the monsters at bay – the planet’s three suns – is about to eclipse, and their sole chance lies with a convicted killer (Vin Diesel) with the ability to see in the dark. Comic book/popcorn sci-fi with an agreeable level of noir/western grit and cynicism; Diesel forged here the mix of brawn and insouciant charm that boosted him to fame (though he’s far more likable here than in subsequent action efforts), and he’s well-supported by Radha Mitchell and Cole Hauser as strawman heroes, all well crafted by writer-director David Twohy, and an abundance of monster mayhem. Arrow Video bundles 4k restorations of both the theatrical and director’s cuts of the film with commentaries featuring Twohy, Diesel and others, multiple making-of featurettes and interviews, animated prequel and related shorts, early CG tests, and a wealth of promotional material.
“Fear No Evil/Ritual of Evil” (1969/1970, Kino Lorber) Two made-for-TV explorations into the occult, both featuring the debonair Louis Jourdan as a psychiatrist turned paranormal investigator and Wilfrid Hyde-White as his Watson. In “Fear,” Jordan investigates an antique mirror which may be harvesting the souls of its owners, while in “Ritual,” he’s drawn to the suicide of a patient and her family’s possible connection to a Satanic cult. Both films take their subjects seriously (despite a preponderance of ’60s counterculture talk and trappings), and unfold with a level of atmosphere and production design (nice use of the Bradbury Building in “Fear”) more suited to theatrical releases than TV-movies. It’s unfortunate that the proposed series that would have followed both films never came to pass, but the ratings success of “Fear” did lead to the ’70s-era boom in horror-related TV-movies (see “The Night Stalker,” “Trilogy of Terror“). Kino’s Blu-ray features 2K restorations of both films as well as commentary by Gary Gerani, whose knowledge of all things TV is unimpeachable, as well as trailers for both pictures.
“Aenigma” (1987, Severin Films) A cruel prank puts schoolgirl Milijana Zirojevic in a coma, but also provides her with a psychic conduit to a new student (Lara Naszinski), through which she appears to enact gruesome revenge on her tormentors. Italian horror favorite Lucio Fulci’s take on the teen-gets-psychic-payback trope (with “Carrie” and the Australian chiller “Patrick” most closely referenced here) suffers from a deficit of plot logic and budget (though the neon-hued cinematography is impressive), and instead works best as a catalog of completely bizarre murder set pieces, including death by animated statue, window pane, and a horde of slugs. It’s a far cry from both Fulci’s best and doomiest work (“Zombie“) and his head-spinning final efforts (“Touch of Death“), and is probably best appreciated by completists and Eurocult devotees; Severin’s 4K presentation includes interviews with screenwriter Giorgio Mariuzzo, an appreciation of Fulci’s later work by Kim Newman (among others), and commentary by Stephen Thrower and Mondo Digital‘s Nathaniel Thompson.
“The Ape” (1940, Kino Lorber) Small town medico Boris Karloff strikes upon a unique cure for paralysis – human spinal fluid – and an even more unique (to put it mildly) means of obtaining the serum by dressing up as a escaped circus gorilla (!) and murdering locals. Arguably one of the loopiest mad scientist films of the 1940s, which is saying a lot, “The Ape” actually benefits from its lunatic premise – without it, this is a standard-issue thriller distinguished largely by some amusing dialogue asides by scripter Curt Siodmak (“The Wolf Man”) – and from Karloff’s dedication to a role which requires him to keep a straight face while creeping around in a (literal) monkey suit. No one will mistake “The Ape” for one of Universal’s horror efforts, but it’s Saturday afternoon-style fun and at 61 minutes, reaches its end long before your patience. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray includes commentaries by historians Tom Weaver and Richard Harland Smith, who provide a wealth of info on the primary (primate?) participants.
“Brutal Massacre: A Comedy” (2006, Mena Films) Low-budget horror filmmaker David Naughton launches his latest production, which is hampered at every turn by inept crewmembers, dangerous locals (Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface from “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”), and his own inflated ego. Amusing indie mockumentary takes a broad swipe at horror tropes and the chaos of independent filmmaking; the gags are hit or miss, but the cast, composed of cult favorites including Ken Foree (“Dawn of the Dead”), Brian O’Halloran (“Clerks”), and Ellen Sandweiss (the ’81 “Evil Dead”), is entirely game and seems pleased with the chance to play for laughs. The Blu-ray/DVD from writer/director/co-producer Stevan Mena includes a new high definition transfer, a behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast reprising their on-screen roles, deleted scenes, and more.