Movies Till Dawn: Coffin Crisp Wafer Bar (Halloween 2021)

The Stand” (2021, CBS Home Video/Paramount Home Video) Miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling apocalypse novel for CBS All Access is a vast improvement over the 1994 TV version, but still struggles to present a coherent encapsulation of the story’s epic scope. Chief among its problems is the decision to present the first half of the book in flashback form; the choice is a more expedient path to the primary conflict  – between survivors of a global plague that have massed behind the forces of good (Whoopi Goldberg’s Mother Abigail) and evil (Alexander Skarsgard’s Randall Flagg) – but actually belabors everything that precedes it by constantly looping back to explain motivation or reason. That’s a counterproductive approach, given that it’s important to know why a) the world has been decimated, and b) powerful, world-changing supernatural forces have appeared. Additions to the story – including a new epilogue by King himself – also drag things past the point of patience; however, the cast is strong, especially Skarsgard as Flagg, James Marsden as hero Stu Redman, and Amber Heard as duplicitous Nadine Cross, and modern special effects are far more equipped to present a realistic End of the World than they were in the ’94 edition. The CBS/Paramount Blu-ray – a three-disc set –includes a making-of featurette and gag reel.

Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge” (1989, Arrow Video) Gaston Leroux’s enduring “Phantom of the Opera” goes to the Sherman Oaks Galleria (among other Southern California locations) in this amusing riff on Gothic horror and slasher tropes. The Phantom/Eric is a high schooler who suffers disfiguring burns when real estate developers (led by Jonathan Goldsmith, Dos Equis’s “Most Interesting Man in the World“) torch his family’s house over refusing to vacate for a mall project. Flash forward and the mall (also played the Promenade in Woodland Hills and locations in Valencia and Alhambra) has its Phantom, who dispatches bad guys while also watching over girlfriend Kari Whitman. As directed by Richard Friedman of “Doom Asylum” fame, “Phantom” ultimately boils down to a catalog of grisly murders carried out against the likes of Rob Estes and Morgan Fairchild, but the script (by “Good Wife” exec producer Rob King, among others) deserves credit for adhering as closely to the source material as an ’80s splatter framework will allow. The result has some amusing moments, including the unmasking of Eric while he pumps iron – as perfect a synthesis of ’80s self-obsession, teenage TLA fervor, and gonzo horror as you might hope for. Arrow’s two-disc Blu-ray set compiles three versions of the film (theatrical cut, TV cut, and fan cut which integrates the two), separate commentaries by Friedman and Amanda Reyes, alternate and deleted scenes, the original script and storyboards, and an interview with Joe Escalante of the Vandals (who perform the title song), which serves as a primer on the band’s arc from OC punks to Warped Tour vets.

A Day of Judgment” (1980, Severin Films) Obscure, faith-based regional horror film directed by and starring C.D.H. Reynolds as a downtrodden preacher who flees his small town flock in the 1920s over a perceived outbreak of immorality. He’s not incorrect – the town is populated with no-good types engaged in various forms of sin – which prompts the Grim Reaper himself to dole out good old-fashioned (read: bloody) punishment. One of many genre pics produced in North Carolina by local mogul Earl Owensby, “Judgment” is heavy-handed and rigidly moralistic – which may be its chief appeal for junkfilm fans, especially when the Reaper starts the slasher mechanics. Severin’s Blu-ray includes a featurette on Reynolds by Stephen Thrower and brief interviews with filmmaker Worth Keeter (an Owensby vet) and “Judgment” writer Tom McIntyre.

Last Gasp” (1995, Vinegar Syndrome) Real estate developer Robert Patrick kills off the Native American tribe interfering with a construction project and becomes possessed by the spirit of their chief, who sends him on a murder spree; the girlfriend (Joanna Pacula) of one of his victims sends a PI (Vyto Ruginis) to investigate. A solid cast anchors this supernatural thriller, which toggles between slasher pic, crime story, and late-night cable folly. The three elements struggle to mesh, but leads Patrick and Pacula, along with co-star Mimi Craven, pick up the slack; Don Edmonds of “Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS” fame, also appears briefly (and serves as co-producer). Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray bundles a restored image with numerous outtakes (featuring quite a bit more violence) and a trailer.

The Screaming Woman” (1972, Kino Lorber) No sooner has Olivia de Havilliand returned from a stint in an asylum, than she gives son Charles Robinson and daughter-in-law Laraine Stephens reason to send her back over claims that she hears a woman screaming from under the ground at her country estate (Casa Dorinda in Montecito). Jack Smight’s made-for-TV feature, based on a short story by Ray Bradbury, unnerved many viewers when it first aired on ABC in 1972 (and countless others through frequent syndication); de Havilland’s frantic state and the sound of the screaming woman are still rattling, though the telegraphing of a key plot point at the beginning of the film does dull the film’s sharper edges. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray – a sharp-looking 2K restoration – offers informative commentary by historian Gary Gerani, who notes the major players among the credits (scripter Merwin Gerard created the early supernatural anthology series “One Step Beyond“; John Williams is credited with the main theme, but the score is primarily composed of cues from another anthology series, the Boris Karloff-hosted “Thriller”).

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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