Movies Till Dawn: Chills in Springtime

The Bloodhound” (2020, Arrow Video) “The Fall of the House of Usher,” transposed to Middle America, where Liam Aiken accepts an invitation from oddball friend Joe Adler (the 2017 “Twin Peaks”) to visit his lonely midcentury modern home, where Adler’s sister (Annalise Basso) remains behind locked doors and something from a nearby river crawls into Aiken’s room at night. Writer/director Patrick Picard focuses less on overt horror (though that is present) than on more nebulous but still unsettling elements: how fear, disconnect and isolation can pry one loose from reality. The resulting chills – mixed with some off-century but amusing humor – come quietly but still leave a mark; Arrow’s Blu-ray features commentary by Picard, four of his short films, and a making-of doc.

Dark Intruder” (1965, Kino Lorber) Way back in 2016, I wrote about this rejected NBC pilot, created by Jack Laird (“Night Gallery”) for Alfred Hitchcock’s Shamley Productions, which was released to theaters on a double bill with William Castle’s “I Saw What You Did.” The premise – occult investigator and bona fide swell Leslie Nielsen pursues a monstrous killer in 19th-century San Francisco – remains a lot of fun (despite an unfortunate bit of yellowface), and should please both vintage TV horror fans and Lovecraft devotees (its connections to the Mythos are detailed in this excellent article). Kino’s Blu-ray is a vast visual improvement over the TCM/Universal DVD, and adds smart commentary by historian Gary Gerani and an interview with Oscar-winning makeup artist Mike Westmore, whose family began creating makeup effects for Universal in the silent era, and whose uncle, Bud Westmore, is credited with “Intruder’s” effective creature design.

Tales of the Uncanny” (2020, Severin Films) Documentary detailing the history and highlights of the horror anthology film and television series, with appreciative commentary by filmmakers and historians alike. All the major titles are covered (the ’45 “Dead of Night,” the Amicus films, “Creepshow”) alongside some of the less well-known light – especially the glut of recent horror anthology features like the “V/H/S” franchise. Ample room is also given to small screen fare (again, notables like “Twilight Zone” and cult titles like “Trilogy of Terror”). Director (and Severin chief) David Gregory corrals an impressive array of writer/director talent to weigh in on their favorites, including Roger Corman, Ernest Dickerson, Joe Dante, and Larry Fessenden, as well as writers and critics like Kim Newman and Ramsey Campbell; their comments (many culled over Zoom, as the film was compiled during the pandemic) are informative and enthusiastic, and may direct casual and hardcore fans to some of the better or unsung efforts in this subgenre. Severin’s Blu-ray includes two anthology features – the 1919 German film “Unheimliche Geschichten” (“Eerie Tales,” more or less) with Conrad Veidt; and a 1949 French film, “Histoires extraordinaires a faire peur ou a faire rire…” (“Unusual Tales”). which offer atmospheric takes on stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Thomas De Quincey.

Panic Beats” (1983, Mondo Macabro) Grisly Gothic exercise from Spanish actor Paul Naschy, best known as the werewolf anti-hero Waldemar Daninsky; here, Naschy revives a different character, the medieval warlock Alaric de Marnac from 1974’s “Horror Rises from the Tomb,” to goad his ancestor (also Naschy) into murdering his wife (Julia Saly) and take up with his mistress (former Miss Spain Frances Ondiviela), who proves to be his cold-blooded equal. In addition to playing the lead, Naschy also wrote, co-produced (with Saly), and directed “Panic Beats,” and delivers an ’80s riff on the sort of revenge-from-the-grave thrillers that the Italians and French had done a decade prior (see “Nightmare Castle,” et al), which means more elaborately gruesome murders and an atrocious electronic score. But it’s also appreciably morbid and luridly overripe, which should please Naschy and Eurocult fans; Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray is remastered and uncut and offers two vintage interviews with Nascy and typically informative and entertaining commentary by Naschycast hosts Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn

“Dead Air” (2021) A ham radio, of all things, is the conduit between a terrible supernatural force and two lonely people in this slow-burn indie from producer-director Kevin Hicks, who also stars opposite his wife and the film’s writer, Vickie Hicks. Crafting a horror movie that can hold audiences’ interest purely through dialogue and suggestion (though there is a payoff in the finale) is a challenge that studio features might struggle to overcome, but the Hicks’ thriller manages to accomplish that by virtue of their solid performances and an appreciable amount of suspense. Available on demand through a variety of streaming platforms

Spell” (2020, Paramount Home Video) A Black cast horror movie anchored around folk traditions and superstitions of the Appalachians and a juicy central role handled by the underrated Loretta Devine should have been, at the least, an intriguing sleeper. Unfortunately, “Spell” is a by-the-books creepshow, despite Devine as the rural conjure woman who holds lawyer Omari Hardwick captive after his plane goes down near her mountain home. Director Mark Tonderai gives the film a lot of visual flair, but there’s nothing going on in his execution or Kurt Wimmer‘s script that you haven’t seen before. Paramount’s Blu-ray offers some appealing extras, including (lengthy) alternate openings and endings, deleted scenes, and making-of featurettes.

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 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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