Movies Till Dawn: Peanut Butter Frankencup (Halloween 2021)

Yokai Monsters Collection” (1968-69/2005, Arrow Video) Trio of period supernatural fantasies from Daiei, home of Gamera and Majin, concerning Japan’s rich and bizarre tradition of ghosts and monsters, as well as a newer take from cult director Takashi Miike. The original trilogy – roughly titled in English as “100 Ghosts,” “Spook Warfare,” and “Along with Ghosts” – follow a similar story arc in which corrupt force desecrate rural religious shrine, prompting revenge by various spirits. Humans are to blame in the first and third films – a cruel landowner builds a brothel over a demolished shrine in “100,” and bandits commit murder on holy ground in “Along” – though “Spook” ups the ante by pitting the local ghosts against a blood-drinking Babylonian demon. The plots are largely secondary to the parade of creatures, all drawn from Japanese folklore – the most memorable of which is the kasa-obake, a umbrella-shaped ghost with a long tongue (others are a lot more scary, which might rule this out as kid-friendly viewing) – and rendered with impressive (for the period) suitmation and practical visual effects. Miike’s entry, “The Great Yokai War,” borrows from both “Spook Warfare” and the venerable folktale about Momotaro for its battle between a young boy and a demon angered by modern Japanese culture’s dismissal of yokai.

Miike invests his story with considerable energy and terrific effects for its vast array of monster flora and fauna; it’s a worthy addition to the series (and spawned a sequel this year, “Great Yokai War: Guardians“). Arrow’s three-disc Blu-ray set includes a documentary on yokai featuring (among others) Kim Newman and Zack Davisson, as well as trailers for all three of the original trilogy; “Great Yokai War” gets numerous interviews with cast and crew, footage from promotional events, and two shorts concerning the yokai characters.

Blood Ceremony” (1973, Mondo Macabro) Spanish director Jorge Grau (“The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue”) transports the story of “blood countess” Elizabeth Bathory to 19th-century Spain and adds a touch of sociopolitical commentary to the copious blood-letting. Arthouse favorite Lucia Bose is the marquesa who parlays fears in the nearby village about an outbreak of vampirism into her own beauty regime, which involves bathing in the blood of young women. Grau’s sympathies lie entirely with the underclass, which faces slaughter at the hands of both the gentry and the brutal and superstitious legal system. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray includes both the uncut international and Spanish versions of the film, vintage interviews with Grau, and two commentaries by Eurocult experts Troy Howarth, Nathaniel Thompson, Robert Monell, and Rod Barnett.

The Crime of Dr. Crespi” (1935, Flicker Alley) Loose adaptation of Poe’s “The Premature Burial,” with Eric von Stroheim as a mad medico who wreaks revenge on his wife’s new husband (John Bohm) while under his knife for surgery. Bohm appears to die but is actually in a cataleptic trance induced by von Stroheim, who plans to bury him alive. Black-and-white chiller released by Republic Pictures benefits from von Stroheim’s imperious performance and an impressive amount of shivery atmosphere, given the low budget; the fate of Bohm, in particular, defies the notion that black-and-white films can’t creep out modern viewers. “Crespi” is one of four films released on Flicker Alley’s “In the Shadow of Hollywood” set, which focuses on standout titless released by Poverty Row studios, including “Midnight” (1933), with Humphrey Bogart, the newspaper biz drama “Back Page” (1934), and “Woman in the Dark,” a Dashiell Hammett adaptation with Fay Wray. All four are restored from 35mm archival prints and feature commentary tracks.

The Comedy of Terrors” (1963, Kino Lorber) Inept undertakers Vincent Price and Peter Lorre strike upon a novel way of improving their business by murdering wealthy old men, but meet their match in their pompous landlord (Basil Rathbone) and doddering father-in-law (Boris Karloff). American International Pictures and screenwriter Richard Matheson paused in their Poe cycle for this slight but amusingly morbid comedy directed by Jacques Tourneur (“Curse of the Demon”); the humor and performances (especially Price) is broad but monster kids of a certain age will appreciate the quartet letting loose in a scenario that’s part French farce and part Edward Gorey illustration. Kino’s Blu-ray includes affectionate commentary by Tim Lucas, a brief vintage interview with Matheson, and high-def trailers for Price titles from Kino’s vast library.

Update Department: I wrote about the Warner Archives Collection’s DVD release of “Mad Love” (1935) back in 2016; the deliriously perverse thriller, with Peter Lorre as a lunatic surgeon on par with von Stroheim in “Dr. Crespi,” has been upgraded to Blu-ray with a stellar restored image  the commentary by Steve Haberman featured on the DVD.

Thank you to Warner Home Archives for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.

Those with UHD players should consider investing in Universal Home Entertainment’s “Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection,” which pairs 4K Ultra HD editions of “Dracula” (1931), with Bela Lugosi; “Frankenstein” (1931), with Boris Karloff; “The Invisible Man” (1933), with Claude Rains,” and “The Wolf Man” (1941) with Lon Chaney Jr. The excellent Spanish-language version of “Dracula,” filmed at the same time as the Lugosi take, is also included, along with a wealth of extras.

And from Arrow comes a UHD edition of Dario Argento’s seminal giallo, “Deep Red,” which offers two versions of the film (the theatrical and export releases), new and vintage commentaries, and hours of interviews with Argento and his primary crew. Here’s my review of the film from 2018. Arrow also has UHD editions of Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes,” with commentary by Craven and members of the cast, outtakes, and a making-of doc (among many other extras) and “Children of the Corn,” with multiple commentaries (including Courtney Gains, Malachi himself), interviews with star Linda Hamilton and members of the cast, a tour of the locations, and the short “Disciples of the Crow,” which predated “Corn.”

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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