“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931, Warner Archives Collection) Frustrated by a request by the father (Halliwell Hobbes) of his fiancée (Rose Hobart) to hold off on their wedding, kindly Victorian scientist Henry Jekyll (Fredric March) finds an outlet for his pent-up passions in an experiment which transforms him into Henry Hyde, a brutish monster with unchecked physical appetites. Stellar take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella is notable for March’s Oscar-winning performance as the titular hero/villain (ably assisted by Wally Westmore’s arresting makeup and clever use of photographic filters by director Rouben Mamoulian and DP Karl Struss; the skillful direction by Mamoulian is often overlooked, though a knockout opening sequence, shot entirely in POV, trimmed from reissue prints and restored here, should correct that perspective; what may also surprise first-time viewers is the raciness of the Pre-Code material, which fairly drips with unbridled sexual desire anchored around a prostitute played by Miriam Hopkins (who is briefly seen undraped); much of this was trimmed prior to release but has been restored to this Blu-ray release. Warner Archives – which also released the tamer 1941 remake – offers an exceptional 4K scan drawn from the original negative (and a duplicate of the trimmed scenes) and two commentaries – historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr on one and Gregory Mank on the other – as well as the very funny Looney Tunes short “Hyde and Hair” and a radio adaptation of “Jekyll” with March reprising his role.
“Evil Dead Trap 2: Hideki” (1992, Unearthed Films) Violent murder is the binding element for a trio of damaged souls: a misanthropic projectionist, her reporter frenemy (whose interest in the killing spree goes beyond the boundaries of professionalism) and a mystery man (veteran genre actor Shiro Sano) with a blighted home life. The ghost of a little boy and a doomsday cult adds exponential layers of weirdness to this deeply gruesome but visually striking Japanese horror film from “Akira” co-writer , which bears no resemblance to its notorious 1988 predecessor (or a third, equally unconnected sequel in 1993); the ugliness of the plot mechanics and special effects is balanced (for some viewers – your mileage may vary) by icily gorgeous photography. Unearthed’s Blu-ray bundles promotional items (trailer and stills) for the film with previews for other graphic Japanese horror titles in their library like “The Untold Story.”
“Massacre at Central High” (1976, Synapse Films) The reign of terror exerted over a California high school (played by Pomona College and Villa Cabrini) by a trio of teenage alpha males is upended by humorless new kid Derrel Maury, allowing the school’s flotsam and jetsam to take over and eventually replace them as the school’s oppressors. Curious mix of crime thriller, high school confidential, and body count picture from director Rene Daalder (of the ’80s LA sci-fi/music chronicle “Population:1”) has a long-standing cult following thanks to the subversive streak running through its plotline (though the violence and nudity are most likely equal selling points); the bite of its mordant politics elevates the material above the standard issue drive-in fare that it resembles, especially in its performances and scripting. Synapse’s Blu-ray presents “Massacre” in a remastered edition that overcomes a string of visual/technical problems with their print; a vintage interview with the late Daaler is paired with new and informative interviews with members of the cast and crew, as well as various promotional efforts.
“The Other Side of the Mirror” (1973, Mondo Macabro) Reeling after the suicide death of her father (Howard Vernon), musician Emma Cohen leaves their Spanish island home for a job with a jazz band on the mainland, while also nurturing her afterhours interest in multiple affairs that end in murder. Rarely seen thriller by prolific exploitationer Jess Franco, who applies admirable restraint in exploring whether Cohen’s crimes are psychologically or supernaturally motivated; that restraint may explain why “Mirror” is less well-known than his more surreal oneiric forays (“The Diabolical Dr. Z) or sleazier efforts (take your pick). He also benefits greatly from a strong cast of newcomers (Cohen) and vets (Robert Woods, Alice Arno) and better-than-usual photography and score (by Adolfo Waltzman). Mondo’s Blu-ray offers a digitally restored image, Spanish-language audio (with English subs), a wealth of information on the film and Franco from Robert Monell and Rodney Barnett’s commentary and Stephen Thrower’s interview, an amusingly candid interview with Woods, and footage taken from alternate versions of the film.
“Two Witches” (2021, Arrow Video) Two interconnected stories envision, in frequently frightening ways, the terrible influence of black magic practitioners on two women’s lives. First-time director Pierre Tsigaridis, who also produced, photographed and co-edited his film, follows the template of depicting witches as inhuman monsters established by films like “Suspiria”; he als adopts the nightmare neon palette and bone-rattling score of that film and other ’70s/’80s European horror, as well as their emphasis on gallons of blood and horrible ways to die, which do much to preserve audience interest (and unease) when the story itself feels unfocused. Placing the focus of the film squarely on women as both protagonists and antagonists is also a plus, both as a fresh perspective for horror and as an examination of women’s fears anchored to relationships, motherhood, aging, and more. The cast is uniformly solid, but the stories’ two leads – Belle Adams as an expectant mother and Rebekah Kennedy as a witch-to-be – carry the heaviest loads. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Tsigaridis and associate producer Maxime Rancon, cast and crew interviews, and a featurette on the film’s shivery score.
“Hotel Fear” (1977, Mondo Macabro) A mother (Lidia Biondi) and daughter (Lenora Fani) oversee a hotel in WWII-era Italy where bombs drop at a regular basis and the guests – among them Bunuel regular Francisco Rabal – exercise their base instincts. The fragile Fani is victimized by guest Luc Merenda (playing against his usual nice/tough guy type) and prays for the return of her long-absent hero father; soon after, the guests begin to die at the hands of a black-gloved killer. Unsettling thriller by Francesco Barilli is sometimes labeled as a gialli but plays more as a psychodrama hinging on Fani’s mental state than a body count picture; the violence is ugly and personal and invites little interest in reveling in its mechanics. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray features subtitled Italian and Spanish language options as well as commentary by the Fragments of Fear podcast crew, interviews with Barilli and Merenda, and a comparison of edits in the Italian and Spanish versions.
“Beyond Darkness” (1990, Severin Films) Never mind that Catholic priest Gene LeBrock is married and has a family: the real problem is their new house (the same Louisiana location seen in Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond”) rests above a mass grave for witches, one of whom flings about kitchen cutlery and possessing the family’s son. Italian haunted house pic from Claudio Fragasso of “Troll II” infamy (that film’s young hero, Michael Stephenson, appears here as the possessed kid) and producer Joe D’Amato gleefully pilfers the high points of American horror titles (“Poltergeist” and “The Amityville Horror,” in particular) and stitches them into a non-existant story; the result is an energetic but threadbare highlight reel of jump scares and spooky shenanigans without the intrusion of plot or character. Severin’s two-disc Blu-ray includes Italian and English audio, interviews with the garrulous Fragasso and spouse/co-writer Rosella Druidi, co-star David Brandon (who gets the film’s most uproarious scene), and a CD of Carlo Maria Cordio’s synth-heavy score.