October 29, 2010

Halloween horror highlights

13 of this year’s most horrifying horror titles for home consumption

This weekend offers choice screenings at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and costumed debauchery from dusk till dawn, but what’s left for anti-social Halloweeners? As luck would have it, 2010 has already given us scores of new and old spookies on DVD. In keeping with the spirit of the season, here are 13 of this year’s most horrifying horror titles for home consumption.

 (Criterion) You have not had your brain properly melted until you’ve seen a girl eaten by a piano in Nobuhiko Obayashi’s house of psychedelic horrors. The film is beyond description, but try to imagine Evil Dead by way of Tim and Eric and Takashi Miike (if you’re willing to reach the outermost regions of extreme movie-watching, pair this with Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris). Never before available on home video in North America, House is by far the strangest thing Criterion has ever put out, and their timing couldn’t be better. 

Maniac (Blue Underground) The famous tune from Flashdance was initially intended as homage to William Lustig’s 1980 gore-a-thon, until producers wanted it to be less serial killer-ish. (“He’s a manic, maniac that’s for sure / He will kill your cat and nail him to the door” was the original chorus.) This release marks the 30th anniversary of a once controversial cult item about a city stalker haunted by his dead mother. Familiar premise, but Lustig’s maniac is far sleazier than Hitchcock’s psycho.

The Slumber Party Massacre Collection (Shout! Factory) The Slumber Party Massacre films are a wild bunch, even by Roger Corman standards. Unique for slasher films in that they were written, directed and produced by women, they nonetheless feature a similar trajectory where girls get drunk, stoned and topless at their friend’s parentless house, only to be dispatched by a man and his phallic power drill. (Or, in the case of the astonishingly incoherent second chapter, an electric guitar with a drill for a neck and wielded by a dancing rockabilly.)

The Magician (Criterion) Compared to Bergman’s better-known stuff, The Magician may be light on lyricism, but it’s a wonderful and mysterious gothic gem. Max von Sydow plays a late-19th-century travelling magician who spars with a skeptical man of science. Not entirely unlike Bergman and von Sydow’s collaboration in The Seventh Seal, it’s at once an amusingly mounted chiller and an indication of what was to come from one of the medium’s foremost auteurs.

Frozen (Anchor Bay) Three skiers stranded on a chairlift might seem like a blasé concept, but when it comes to gruelling suspense, Frozen delivers big. No stranger to over-the-top gore, writer/director Adam Green for the most part holds back on the red stuff, offering it in calculated, if still very intense, doses. The upshot is a surprisingly crafty slow-freeze that bears a likeness to Open Water in terms of plausibility, swelling tension and lo-fi flair.

Galaxy of Terror (Shout! Factory) If you found the production values in Ridley Scott’s Alien a little too slick, you’ve come to the right place. This Corman–produced intergalactic underdog features a shit-tonne of memorable actors, including Ray Walston (“Aloha, Mr. Hand”), Erin Moran (Joanie from Happy Days) and Robert Englund (pre-Freddy), battling their innermost fears on the sinister planet Moganthus. It also contains a fairly notorious rape sequence with a giant maggot. 

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (CAV) From Dokken to the dude who played Super Freddy in The Dream Child, no one is left out in the most comprehensive doc about any horror franchise, ever. Clocking at an insanely ambitious four hours, all eight Freddy features plus one surreal syndicated series are explored with staggering detail that never grows tiresome. This project often surpasses its own subject in terms of giddy inventiveness (love the stop-motion intros) and sheer amusement (love the unintended gay subtext in Freddy’s Revenge).

Humanoids From the Deep (Shout! Factory) Chilly autumn weather isn’t the only reason why you should avoid taking a dip. You might find yourself ravaged by mutant fish-men! Schlockmeister Roger Corman takes on what was arguably the seminal summer blockbuster: Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. In fairness, it’s more akin to Creature from the Black Lagoon, but I’m fairly certain the latter was the culprit behind Humanoids’ seaside-town setting.

 (eOne) Cube director Vincenzo Natali has a few Freudian tricks up his sleeve in this clever Canadian creature feature that co-stars Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody. Upon secretly creating a multi-species hybrid in their lab, two scientists decide to secretly raise her too. Psychosexual horror ensues.

Class of Nuke ‘Em High (Troma) Ah, Lloyd Kaufman, the man who gave us such illustrious icons as Toxie and Sgt. Kabukiman. Set in the tattered academic halls of Tromaville, a gang called the Cretins peddle radioactive doobies to their classmates, one of whom orally expels her unwanted mutant baby down the school’s toilet, where it grows into a giant, revenge-seeking man-bug thing. If you like your comedy crass and your sleaze extra sleazy, you will find much to love in this retro oddity that blends sci-fi, comedy and horror with grungy glee.

 (Alliance) Here it is: Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse as it should be, complete with fake trailers and unappetizing snack ads. Out of the blue comes this über-faithful edition that best demonstrates all those artfully rendered a/v hiccups. The sum of this double-header is undeniably superior to its parts, and surrendering to the total experience is key. 

The Exorcist
 (Warner) And you thought the flying pea soup looked gross in standard definition. The original theatrical version and an extended cut boasting newly restored footage of William Friedkin’s 1973 supernatural blockbuster are both available in this Blu-ray that, according to the director, “represents the very best print ever made of The Exorcist.” The film’s visceral impact looks and sounds better than ever thanks to this newfangled presentation. 

House of the Devil (eOne) Ti West’s latest official work (avoid Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever at all costs) is a throwback to late-’70s/early-’80s horror. One major difference between this and the films it emulates is that it’s arguably better than most of them. If you plan on skipping the Lightbox screening, see it on DVD, Blu-ray or better yet, in proper limited edition VHS.