Upgrade Dept.: Universal Home Video has released the second volume of its “Classic Monsters Icons of Horror Collection,” featuring several of its legendary creature features in new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray editions. Compiled on the set: James Whale’s “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), with Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester as the Monster and the Bride in what many consider to be a superior film to its 1931 predecessor; “The Mummy” (1932), with Karloff beneath striking makeup by Universal’s master monster maker, Jack Pierce; “The Phantom of the Opera” (1943), a slight adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s Gothic, heavy on the musical numbers but made watchable by Claude Rains in the title role; and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954), perhaps the greatest of all ’50s monster films, and presented here in 3D. As with the previous Legacy Collections, each film is loaded with extras, including commentaries, multiple making-of docs, production photos, and trailers. Just know that you need a 4K player to watch it.
“Barbarian” (2022, 20th Century Studios/New Regency) Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her house rental – located in an undeniably spooky stretch of Detroit – to find it already occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgaard of “It”). His presence is the first of several warning signs about the location, none of which telegraph the jaw-dropping reveal of the house’s awful secret. Genuinely nerve-rattling thriller by Zack Creggar (a member of the comedy group The Whitest Kids U Know) sets up “Barbarian” with considerable patience and pace before lowering a boom of considerably gross and violent proportions; British actress Campbell, Richard Brake, and Justin Long help sell his outré proposition with wholly believable variations on total freakout. Available now on all major digital platforms.
“Satan’s Little Helper” (2004, Synapse Films) Nine-year-old Dougie (Alexander Brickel) finds an outlet for his current obsessions – a video game which allows him to aid Satan himself in various deeds and the pretentious goof (Stephen Graham) dating his sister (Kathryn Winnick) – in a silent, masked killer preying on residents in his hometown. Amusingly blackhearted indie by Jeff Lieberman – director of such underrated ’70s horror films as “Squirm” and “Blue Sunshine” – delivers a horror-comedy that satisfies both sides of its equation through unpleasant murder setpieces and Dougie’s enthusiastic response to his creepy companion’s increasingly vicious murder spree, which he believes are elaborate Halloween pranks. Synapse’s uncut Blu-ray mixes new and vintage supplemental features, including commentary by Lieberman, making-of featurettes, and a visit to the film’s locations in New York’s Westchester County.
“The Boxer’s Omen” (1983, Arrow Video) When the venerable Hong Kong martial arts film studio Shaw Brothers turned its attention to horror, the results (see: “Black Magic,” “Human Lanterns,” etc.), the results were often an astonishing mix of pulp fantasy, rural superstition, outrageous visual effects and an avalanche of gruesome images. “The Boxer’s Omen” adds hallucinatory images to that heady mix. The story matters little, as evidenced by its careening from boxing drama to crime/revenge action before diving headlong into a series of tasks for gangster-turned-magician Philip Ko, who must best a cadre of evil wizards in order to assist a dead Buddhist monk, who also turns out to be one of his past lives. That headspinning information is made exponentially more disorienting by director Kuei Chih-hung, who unleashes a seemingly ceaseless string of seizure-inducing optical effects (lots and lots of lasers), hideous/hilarious puppet monsters (a reanimated bat and snapping crocodile skulls are highlights), real animals and insects interacting with humans in the most horrible ways, and gallons of gore and other fluids, capped by the sight of a man’s head separating itself from his neck and launching an aerial assault while trailing yards of entrails. If this sounds hard to believe or stomach, you are 100% correct, but those down for some extreme Asian horror this Halloween are directed to Arrow’s incredible “ShawScope Vol. 2” set, which offers “Boxer’s Omen” in a 2K restoration with commentary by Travis Crawford, an appreciation of Kuei Chih-hung’s bizarre catalog of films by Tony Rayns, extra footage from a Mandarian-language VHS release, and even a second feature, Wong Jing’s relentless shoot-em-up “Mercenaries from Hong Kong,”
“Sinphony: A Clubhouse Horror Anthology” (2022, Dark Sky Films) Nine horror shots culled from the social media platform Clubhouse, covering anxieties and fears anchored around real-world situations, such as relationships, families, childbirth, and environmental issues, as well as a few extreme scenarios (serial killers, witchcraft, possessed objects, etc.). The films compiled here are technically competent but frustratingly brief – probably a requirement of the platform, but with no fully (or even partially) developed stories or characters, the stories register only brief jolts. Still, there are some intriguing ideas that might have borne fruit, given more time, such as Steven Keller’s “Ear Worm,” about house cleaners encountering an insidious growth of mold, and Kimberley Elizabeth’s “Do Us Part,” which presents a unique take on the problems inherent to a breakup. On all major digital platforms.
“The Blancheville Monster” (1963, Arrow Video) A family curse has unfortunate implications for wide-eyed innocent Ombretta Colli, who finds herself targeted by a hooded figure upon returning to her ancestral home. Italian black-and-white thriller by Alberto De Martino borrows equally from Edgar Allan Poe and the film cycle by Roger Corman inspired by his work, as well as dashes and drips of Daphne Du Maurier (“Rebecca”) and the Brontes; the end result can’t quite match the doom-steeped atmosphere of the better Italian Gothich chillers (see: Mario Bava’s “Black Sunday”) but has enough creepshow elements to hold horror fans’ interest. Included in Arrow’s “Gothic Fantastico” set, the “Blancheville Monster” Blu-ray vastly improves on the A/V of previous grey-market releases and adds commentary by Paul Anthony Nelson and video essays/interviews with historians Keith Allison, and Antonio Tentori, as well as the U.S. opening credits, which flash the film’s alternate title (“Horror”).
“El Escapulario” (1968, VCI Entertainment) As part of her deathbed confession to a priest, a dying woman relays the power of her scapular –a necklace that indicates a Catholic believer’s devotion – and how it intervened in the lives of her son. Mexican fantasy film blends elements of traditional and folk religion and superstition with dashes of the supernatural; the latter aspect is delivered via stark black-and-white images by Gabriel Figuero, an Oscar-nominated cinematographer for Luis Bunuel, John Ford, and John Huston, among others. Paired with the wrestling/horror/sci-fi pic “Ladron de Cadaveres” on the VCI disc, “El Escapulario” includes a video essay by film historian by Dr. David Wilt.