*indicates that the film is also available to rent, buy, or stream on various platforms. Please note: streaming versions may differ from these home video presentations.
“Talk to Me” * (2023, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) For a group of bored Australian teens, the severed, embalmed hand of a dead medium is a new, social media-ready endurance test, allowing them brief access to the spirit world by possessing them; for Mia (Sophie Wild), it’s a conduit to her dead mother that proves irresistible but also dangerous. Feature debut by YouTube prank creators Danny and Michael Philippou is effective and assured on multiple fronts: as a genre film that delivers on both the terror (mental/emotional) and horror (physical) fronts, as a keen observation of the ever-present chance for disaster and death that hovers around teen social activity, and as a cautionary take on the morass that grief and loneliness can become. Wilde (from Netflix’s sudsy “Everything Now” is most effective in delivering on all of these fronts, and the Philippou’s restraint (not a strong suit for their online efforts) in onscreen bloodshed is impressive and appreciated; Lionsgate’s Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo includes energetic commentary by the Philippous along with deleted and extended scenes and a making-of EPK.
“Messiah of Evil” * (1973, Radiance Films) Arletty (Marianna Hill) visits Point Dume (played at various points in the film by Malibu and LA proper) in search of her missing artist father and encounters dandy Michael Greer and his companions (“Price is Right” model Anitra Ford and underground film ingenue Joy Bang) as well as the town’s abiding curse, which involves a plague of cannibalism/vampirism infecting the locals with the rise of a “blood moon.” Curious indie horror from Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (who wrote “American Graffiti”) went unfinished by the novice filmmakers and was edited into its current form by a distributor; that amorphous condition doesn’t make for a cohesive, linear film experience but does support the uncomfortable dream-state quality of its best scenes, the most memorable of which are the fates of Ford (which takes place in a Ralph’s) and Bang (in the Fox Venice Theatre) and oceanside gatherings of the townsfolk, who view the Moon with blood streaming from their eyes. Radiance’s all-region Blu-ray is perhaps the best-looking new release of the film (a staple of grimy-looking PD for decades) that to a 4K scan of elements from the Academy Film Archive; expert commentary by Kim Newman (a longtime champion of “Messiah”) and Stephen Thrower is paired with an audio interview with Huyck, a visual essay by Kat Ellinger, and a lengthy making-of featurette which positions the film as part of the American independent scene of the 1970s.
“Beast from Haunted Cave” * (1959, Film Masters) A quartet of criminals draws attention from their robbery of gold bars from a bank vault in South Dakota by setting off an explosion in a mine; the blast lets them pull off the heist, but also frees a spider-like monster that stalks the crew at their snow-laden hideout. Off-beat creature feature from writer-director Monte Hellman presages his genre-bending later work (“The Shooting,” “Two-Lane Blacktop”) in its pulpy, Beat-tinged dialogue (by regular Roger Corman writer Charles B. Griffith) and focus on the dynamics between boss Frank Wolff, jaded moll Sheila Noonan, and guide Michael Forest. Keeping the monster largely off-screen is a smart move, given that the Beast (created and played by future soap star Chris Robinson) is an awkward-looking mess; the wintry South Dakota locations (an unusual setting for monster movie and crime pic alike) add considerable atmosphere. With Frank Sinatra’s lesser-known cousin Richard; Film Masters’ Special Edition Blu-ray presentation is perhaps the best “Beast” to date, featuring a 4K restoration and the extended TV version of the film; a second feature, Roger Corman’s WWII actioner “Ski Troop Attack” (which features several “Beast” cast members), is also included, along with commentary by Tom Weaver and Larry Blamire on the theatrical version, as well as trailers, production stills, and an Easter Egg containing an amusing interview with Robinson (to access, click on the image of the Beast on the right side of the main menu).
“The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra” (2022, IndiePix) The lonely, disconnected side of the human condition, as observed by a sentient fungus that grows from a ratty mattress and feeds on the spines of its rotating list of owners while also attempting to understand and assimilate their confusing emotions and actions. Bizarre South Korean feature from first-time director Sye-young Park clocks in at just over an hour, which proves enough time to serve up some shivery body/contagion horror moments but also unexpected poignancy as the fungal creature attempts to evolve, armed only with the flawed logic it’s absorbed from its victims. Low on grisly horror (unless you find fungi particularly gross) but Park’s depiction of the thing’s perspective through fluctuating visuals and time shifts is impressive and unsettling.
“Black Sabbath” * (1963, Kino Lorber) Three stories of the supernatural, all involving vampires and vengeful ghosts, presented by Boris Karloff, who also takes the lead in the final segment. American edit of the well-remembered horror anthology by Italian director Mario Bava, who brings his singular (and influential) visual palette to the material; I detailed the differences between the Italian and American versions when I covered the (inferior-looking) MGM DVD presentation in 2015, but in short, they include trims to more adult subject matter in “The Telephone” (and the addition of a supernatural element), re-arranged story order, and a title change from “Three Faces of Fear” to the more pungent “Black Sabbath” (which, as all metal fans know, provided the band with its moniker). Kino’s 60th Anniversary Blu-ray release includes informative commentary by “Video Watchdog” chief Tim Lucas, who remains the go-to for all things Bava-related; an American trailer and O-card slipcase are included.