Movies Till Dawn: Return of the Like, Weird

*indicates that the film(s) are also available to view, rent, or purchase on various streaming platforms. Streaming presentations may differ from these home video releases.

Universal Classic Monsters Limited Collectors Edition” * (2024, Universal Home Video) You may ask yourself: do I need this deluxe repackaging of Universal’s best-known, best-loved horror titles like “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi and “Frankenstein” with Boris Karloff? Only you, dear reader, can answer that with total honesty, but I will say that this set compiles the aforementioned titles along with “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man” (41), “The Mummy” (32), “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” the majority of which are foundational titles in horror history and essential owns for any genre fan. These alone, along with 12 hours of commentaries, featurettes, interviews and other supplemental material that accompany them, would warrant purchase alone, were it not for the fact that Uni has issued these films in various iterations on numerous occasions over the past few years. But: the Limited Edition does include the eight films in 4K and digital presentations, and the extras include material penned and hosted by the late David J. Skal, who was (for my money) one of the best horror film and culture historians of the last 25 years. And you get eye-popping cover art by artist Tristan Eaton, whose monster murals decorate the Universal back lot, where many of these films were lensed long, long ago. So: if you don’t have Dracula, et al, in your collection yet, here’s a visually striking package to fill that gap.

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul” * (1964, Arrow Video) First screen appearance of Brazilian writer/director Jose Mojica Marins as his undertaker antihero Ze do Caixao – literally, Joseph the Grave, but better known in the English-speaking world as Coffin Joe – who here conducts a ceaseless campaign of murder, blasphemy, and relentless Nietzschean showboating on the residents of his small town before receiving a comeuppance by the supernatural forces he so adamantly refused to accept. Though crudely made (lots of out-of-focus shots), “Midnight” minted Marins and Joe as Brazilian pop culture icons with its unique combination of traditional Western spookshow iconography, extreme (for the period) gore, and Joe’s steadfast flaunting of Christian and folk religious taboos; Joe generates as much fear and disgust for poking out the town doctor’s eyes or murdering his bound wife with a poisonous spider as he does for eating meat on Easter and walking home after dark on Brazil’s Day of the Dead. Followed by two official sequels, the even more delirious “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse” (1967) and the less impressive “Embodiment of Evil” (2008), both of which are featured on Arrow’s staggering “Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe” set along with other Joe pics and related horror titles by the late Marins, who eventually took to playing Joe full-time off-screen. The “Midnight” disc features a stellar 4K restoration, commentary by Marins (with subtitles), several complete and excerpted short films, and two featurettes. One covers Joe’s connection to Sadean philosophy, while the other, from 2001, drifts through his odd life, touching on his harrowing approach to auditioning actors (bury them alive/throw snakes at them/pull out their teeth), battles with the Brazilian censors, brief and ridiculous forays into adult entertainment, and perhaps the most transgressive image of Marins ever: as a portly, real-life grandpa in his cozy apartment, still with Joe’s signature talons, but also with a Christmas tree festooned with toys.

The Boogens” * (1981, Kino Lorber) I first wrote about the still-unfortunately-named “The Boogens” way back in 2012 when it was released on Blu-ray by the now-defunct Olive Films. My opinion on this eccentric but totally enjoyable creature feature remains the same: helmer James L. Conway (now a prolific producer/director for TV) plays his monster cards correctly, building up the suspense with a creepy backstory (mysterious deaths in an old Utah mining town) and keeping them off-stage as they stalk a quartet of youthful tourists (including Conway’s wife, the late actress Rebecca Balding) until the last reel. As I mentioned back then, the Boogens themselves are a nice-try-but-not-quite combo of animatronics and budgetary restraints, but Conway laid enough groundwork to make their appearance less of a letdown. Kino’s new Blu-ray offers both remastered 4KUHD and Blu-ray presentations of “The Boogens” as well a vintage commentary track with Conway, Balding, and writer David O’Malley and a newer one with co-star Jeff Harlan; the Blu-ray also includes an interview with FX designer William Munns and promo material (trailer and TV spots).

The Blue Jean Monster” (1991, 88 Films) Hong Kong character actor Fui-On Shing – a steely presence in several John Woo titles, among hundreds more – gets a rare lead in this comedy-horror film from Golden Harvest about a dead cop revived by lightning (and a convenient stray cat) who seeks out the Triad gangsters that murdered him. In typical Hong Kong genre fashion, director Ivan Lai folds a disparate array of elements into his supernatural revenge pic, including forays into grisly violence and very weird comedy involving his pregnant wife (Pauline Wong) and endless bodily fluid/gay panic riffs that led to “Blue Jean” earning the restrictive Category III rating upon release. The gross-out/bad taste humor may be a detraction for some viewers; those that pass on the film, however, will miss some impressive action sequences and frequent tough guy Shing’s capable execution of slapstick comedy. The 88 Films release offers a remastered 2K presentation, English subs, and an interview with assistant director Sam Leong, who discusses working in Hong Kong during the late ’80s/early ’90s boom and the film itself.

Satanic Hispanics” * (2023, Epic Pictures) Horror anthology anchored around aspects/interpretations of Latino folklore and helmed by Latino filmmakers, with a wrap-around device involving a mystery man (Efren Ramirez from “Napoleon Dynamite”), who relays the stories to explain how he ended up in a house full of corpses. As with most anthologies, the stories here are hit-and-miss: the highs and lows are covered, respectively, by Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Nahuales,” a story about indigenous magic that lines up with the current trend in folk horror, and Eduardo (“The Blair Witch Project”) Sanchez’s “El Vampiro,” which is a wan extended joke about a hapless vampire’s home life. Resting somewhere between them is the final story, Alejandro Bruges’ “The Hammer of Zanzibar,” which tips into both tasteless and inspired territory in its story of a jilted boyfriend (Jonah Ray Rodriguez), a possessed ex, and the titular (and decidedly memorable) object. Since the horror is genuinely palpable and the yucks mostly forgettable, the uneasy mix upends the final product, though any pic solely focused on Latino culture and filmmakers is worth a look-see. Epic’s Blu-ray has commentary and a Zoom convo with several of the directions and Dread Central staffers.

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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