Wow, what a disappointing week for DVD releases! Despite the rapidly approaching Halloween holiday, this Tuesday sees a drought of high-profile horror titles coming to disc (sure, there is some low-budget, direct-to-video junk, but the less said about that, the better). There is only one title that comes close to being a "major" release; consequently, we will use most of this week's column to recommend some already available DVDs.
HIGH TENSION is a violent French thriller that came out in a recut and semi-dubbed form earlier this year. Perhaps the most moteworthy thing about the U.S. theatrical release was that, despite a major promotional push aimed at creating a buzz that would turn the film into a must-see cult item, no one bothered to go.
In any case, HIGH TENSION is not quite what we have in mind when we think of Halloween movies; we much prefer films that suggest the seasonal trappings: ghosts, witches, black cats, demons, vampires and other walking dead. With that in mind here are some recommendations.
For fans of classic black-and-white scare-films, we recommend the Bela Lugosi Collection, which contains five films featuring the original horror star, who became famous for playing the title role in DRACULA. All are worth seeing, but the one that really makes this set worth buying is THE BLACK CAT.
If you're looking for something more contemporary, you might try CONSTANTINE, a very entertaining combination of cynical comic book heroism and horror. The tone edges toward fantasy, preventing this one from getting too intense for squeamish viewers, but there are still some genuinely creepy moments mixed in with the action.
I actually prefer George Romero's sequel DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979), but 1968's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but with its black-and-white photography and isolated, spooky farmhouse setting, NIGHT seems more appropriate for Halloween. The Millennium edition DVD is a must have, with a great audio commentary and lots of other bonus features.
The horror of THE EXORCIST may be a bit too blunt and brutal for Halloween, but the film remains a favorite of mind, so I recommend it anyway. It's available on several DVDs, including a limited edition collector's set that features the 25th Anniversary Edition DVD (containing the original theatrical cut) packaged with the soundtrack CD, plus eight lobby cards, a commemorative booklet, and some other goodies.
THE GRUDGE is oen of our favorite horror films of recent years (although it is not quite as good as the Japanese original on which it is based, JU-ON: THE GRUDGE). Make sure you get the director's cut on DVD; the re-edited version of the movie is slightly better, and so are the bonus features.
If colorful contemporary horror is not to your taste, here's another black-and-white classic for you: HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, with Bette Davis and Olivia DeHaviland. This is one of those films that (like old-fashioned Gothic novels) disipates some of the horror by explaining it all away, but it's great nonetheless.
MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, starring Vincent Price as Prince Prospero, is probably the best film ever based on a story by Edgar Alan Poe. Considering that it was made as a drive-in movie that would appeal to teenagers in the '60s, it's a surprisingly sophisticated effort that mixes stunning color photography with Satanism and the plague, creating an atmospheric masterpiece. It's availabel on DVD on a double bill with THE PREMATURE BURIAL, a somewhat weaker but still decent film.
RING (a.k.a. RINGU) launched the modern horror rennaissance in Japan. This modern classic is now available in a excellent four-disc box set that includes its two sequels and one prequel. None measure up to the original, but all are worth seeing -- much better than the American remake THE RING and its follow-up THE RING TWO (not to mention the South Korean remake THE RING VIRUS).