Archive for the ‘horror’ Category

‘The Vampire Bat’: ‘Horror’ Oldie is Back

April 17, 2017

Vampire Bat

Whatever happened to Fay Wray? Just before making a monkey out of the big ape of 1933’s original King Kong (“It was beauty killed the beast”) she made goo-goo eyes with a young Melvyn Douglas in a more appropriate same-species romance for the same year’s The Vampire Bat, getting a new Blu-ray and DVD Special Edition Tuesday, April 25.

In fact, romance and a steady dose of humor gets this creaky “horror” show off the hook for being a creature of its time, with horror simply subtly suggested, while gruesome gore is still decades away for the big screen.

That’s not to say The Vampire Bat lacks creepiness and atmospheric dread, which are its main genre strengths. It’s also reliably familiar, serving a tale of a bubbly mad-scientist lab, a fragile damsel in distress, a stalwart hero and panicky villagers, all in 1930s Germany.



‘Horror Hunters’ Debuts Wednesday

October 24, 2016


So cool! Netflix and Amazon have company in the realm of original TV programming for non-cable outlets. Shout! Factory TV’s unscripted series Horror Hunters debuts Wednesday, Oct. 26 in a live stream at 8 p.m. CST, 6 p.m. PST, then encores at 11 p.m. CST, 9 p.m. PST. Video on demand viewing starts Friday, Oct. 28 on Shout! Factory TV.

The show is from and for fans of horror entertainment, as hosts Adam Rockoff and Aaron Christensen explore notable collections of horror memorabilia. They’ll also try swapping items from their own collections for unique items they find.

The pilot show has them meeting Phil Meenan, a major Frankenstein collector, then horror blogger Jon Kitley.

After episodes, watchers can offer feedback and enter to win a Blu-ray prize package from Scream Factory. During screenings, conversations can be entered with the hashtag #HorrorHunters. Also note the purveyors’ Twitter handles of : @Scream_Factory and @ShoutFactoryTV.

I happen to know a mega-collector of horror memorabilia myself, and his house is my favorite place to visit — like walking into a horror museum lined with classic one-sheets, lobby cards and so much more. Thus, I know how frightfully fun this show can be. Count me in!

— Bruce Westbrook

Review: ‘Carrie’ 40th Anniversary Edition

October 4, 2016


If you, like me, are a fan of Stephen King, you should have a special place in your heart for Carrie, his first published novel (in 1974), which became the first film based on his now voluminous work (in 1976) and even a musical and a movie remake.

But Carrie is special beyond its firsts. The tale of a sweet girl whose religious zealot mother and cruel classmates push her to use her destructive telekinetic powers to the max, it’s simply a great King yarn, and it’s fascinating to explore how it changed, while keeping the same central characters and spirit, in director Brian De Palma’s film version.

You can do this by picking up Scream Factory’s new two-disc Blu-ray “Collector’s Edition” for the film’s 40th anniversary year, due Oct. 11. Along with a new 4K scan of the film’s original negative, it’s got loads of extras for dissecting and probing the production, some of which are repeats (trailers, TV spots, radio spots, still gallery, etc.) and some of which are new.


Blu-ray review: ‘The Terror’

May 30, 2016

The Terror

If 1963’s The Terror had been on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show’s movie-mockers would have wryly chimed “The terror!” during its many slow, meandering stretches punctuated by slight frights at best.

But though misnamed and mismanaged (the script is a mess), this nostalgic cheapie from Roger Corman and American International Pictures is satisfying in many ways — especially now, with a beautiful restoration by The Film Detective for reissue May 31 on Blu-ray.

For one thing, it shows where the great Boris Karloff’s career wound down and where the great Jack Nicholson’s career started out.

Horror great Karloff was 76 and ailing, yet gave a robust performance as Baron Von Leppe, a recluse wearing Hugh Hefner-worthy house robes while living in a huge seaside castle with only his servant (Roger Corman stalwart Dick Miller) in early 18th century France. Enter wandering soldier Andre (Nicholson — looking so young!), who seeks an elusive, mysterious, cleavage-brandishing woman he briefly encountered on the craggy, cliff-ringed beach over which the castle looms.


Blu-ray Review ‘Rue Morgue/Dunwich Horror’: Poe Meets Lovecraft

March 27, 2016

Rue Morgue

I love the double-feature concept of March 29’s Scream Factory (from Shout! Factory) Blu-ray disc with 1970’s The Dunwich Horror and 1971’s Murders in the Rue Morgue. What’s not to love about pairing dark, twisted authors H.P. Lovecraft (Dunwich) and Edgar Allan Poe (Rue Morgue)?

But in execution, the two films, which weren’t related in their original releases, fall short.

In part that’s because both were based on short stories expanded into movies, for which 1841’s Rue Morgue was wildly changed, morphing into less of a detective story and more of a Phantom of the Opera yarn, with a masked murderer haunting a Paris theater. As for 1928’s Dunwich, it loses Lovecraft’s brooding ’20s tableau in favor of a sunny setting in then-current day 1970.


Blu-ray Review ‘The Outing’: A Fright at the Museum

July 8, 2015

OutingWhen The Outing — then called The Lamp — was filmed in Houston in 1987, I covered the production as an entertainment writer for the Houston Chronicle. Unlike RoboCop 2 or The Evening Star, it was a homegrown effort, written and produced by Warren Chaney and starring his wife, Deborah Winters, who both still live here.

The production company was Fred Kuehnert’s H.I.T. Films — though the name did not prove prophetic. The Outing had meager theatrical distribution.

After minimal home video exposure over the years, The Outing comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory on Tuesday, July 14, topping a double bill with 1980 chiller The Godsend.

This is not the full-length 105-minute cut often cited for director Tom Daley’s The Lamp, but rather an 89-minute version, and the disc sports no extras. But sometimes the movie is enough, and The Outing, given its low-budget parameters, is a surprisingly effective horror romp with a cast that largely sells the premise, despite its shaky foundation.


‘Evil Dead’ DVD review: Gory, yet not as groovy

July 14, 2013

Evil Dead One of my favorite movie remakes of all time is 1987’s Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, a film which was no sequel but a pumped-up new spin on the ultra-low-budget The Evil Dead of 1981. It’s a favorite because, as a remake, it actually improved on the original. And in what ways? It made the bizarre horror-show lunacy at a tiny, remote cabin even more vivid — and even more funny.

That’s right, funny. Star Bruce Campbell and director and co-writer Sam Raimi are big Three Stooges fans, so they slipped twisted slapstick into their tale of giddy gore, as demonic forces at a remote cabin assailed a group of young people, including Ash, played by Campbell.

Cut to 26 years later, long after 1992’s Army of Darkness (a true sequel) made the series a trilogy, and we find what’s essentially the second remake of The Evil Dead, this time called simply Evil Dead. (It’s due on Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday from Sony.)

Should we be worried our beloved little franchise will be trashed? Well, this reboot is produced by Raimi, Campbell and Rob Tapert (a producer of the originals), so that bodes well. (more…)

DVD review ‘Trailers From Hell Volume 2!’: Not so hellish

July 4, 2011

I didn’t see the first volume of Trailers From Hell, so I can’t comment from that perspective, but I can say that seeing the second volume makes me wonder: How in hell did they come up with this title? I realize these little featurette commentaries first were made for a Web-based series, but that doesn’t change my perplexity.

First, the trailers, when shown, aren’t that bad, so why are they “from hell”? Second, the movies themselves aren’t necessarily bad, either. In fact, some are glowingly extolled by the guest commentators, who include such luminaries as Joe Dante and Guillermo Del Toro.

The 20 trailer commentaries zero in on such hoary horror, sci fi, monster and exploitation features as Gorgo and Premature Burial — cheap but fun stuff. And as noted, the filmmakers who comment are on board with gusto. Though critical when needed, they don’t see anything about these movies or their trailers which makes them slag-heap-worthy or “from hell.”

Oh well — it’s only a title. Just as these are only trailers. If you liked the first batch, chances are you’ll enjoy this one, as I did.

And by some chance if you can’t get enough of Roger Corman’s original Little Shop of Horrors (Nicholson or no Nicholson, gimme the musical any day), know that it’s presented here in “anamorphic widescreen!”

Come to think of it, maybe that “from hell” monicker fits after all.

DVD review ‘Red Riding Hood’: What big shivers you have

June 12, 2011

Director Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight was a smart choice to direct a re-imagining of the Little Red Riding Hood classic fairy tale as a gothic teen romance set in what seems to be Eastern Europe of a couple of centuries back but rooted in modern sensibilities, from the horror-show gore to the superb music score. She uses the fairy tale as a launching point for a far more elaborate yarn concerning monstrously large werewolves and, in the title role, a remote village’s prettiest girl (Amanda Seyfried of Mamma Mia).

Her Valerie’s beloved is a hunky woodcutter played by Shiloh Fernandez, but tearing them apart is an arranged marriage and the unpleasant intrusion of the beast. Will true love prevail or face haunting redefinition in the deep, dark forest?

Though fairly conventional in narrative, even with its necessary departures from the simple fairy tale, Red Riding Hood has much going for it, including superbly realized atmospherics and a cast that plays it earnestly and straight. The film is genuinely, legitimately creepy throughout, and it’s bolstered by a reliably strong performance by Gary Oldman as a werewolf killer who errs on the side of ruthless expedience.

You may shudder. You may shiver. You may fondly recall how much you enjoyed Tim Burton’s gloriously gloomy Sleepy Hollow in much the same way. But you’ll never consider Little Red Riding Hood again in quite the same manner. In this case, that’s the mark of true success.

Worthy Roger Corman B movies ‘Galaxy of Terror,’ ‘Forbidden World’ get lavish treatment on DVD

July 19, 2010

B-movie magnate Roger Corman may tend to get a bit too much credit for fashioning respectable exploitation fare — after all, how big of an achievement is that? But we can’t give him enough credit for the boldness, audacity and astuteness that enabled him to spot so many up-and-comers and give them first shots which led to bigger things.

In the case of Galaxy of Terror, new on DVD this week, that includes the director of the top two box office movies of all time (Titanic and Avatar), one James Cameron, who was second unit director and production designer on the Alien-wannabe starring Edward Albert (Butterflies Are Free), Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian, The Sting), Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Grace Zabriskie (Twin Peaks) and Sid Haig (House of 1,000 Corpses), among others.

I recall seeing the film originally at a seedy theater on lower Market Street in downtown San Francisco, which was the perfect setting — outside of a drive-in. Galaxy of Terror is violent, flashy, lurid entertainment with gratuitous nudity and big slimy monsters. One is a giant caterpiller who subjects one of the film’s females to a notorious ravaging. Any more questions?

Yet the film did have a semblance of a plot, with a crew of space enforcers sent to a strange and remote planet to seek crew members of a missing ship, and in the process being forced to face their own innermost fears. Think Forbidden Planet meets Alien and you get the picture.

Not only is this 1981 potboiler new on DVD, but so is companion film of sorts 1982’s Forbidden World (aka Mutant), which offers much the same in terms of a horror/sci-fi hybrid featuring ample exploitation (sex, violence, space hardware, monsters) and a fine, game cast including Jesse Vint (Macon County Line, Silent Running) and still more compliant actresses who are willing to disrobe for a steam bath even though terror lurks around the corner.

And not only are both films making DVD debuts on Shout! Factory discs, but each gets a lavish presentation, with lots of extras and a handsome illustrated booklet. Terror gets commentary, interviews, making-of materials, trailers, photo galleries, product designs, a PDF of the screenplay and more. The even cheaper World gets even more, with an unrated director’s cut running five minutes longer (Corman cut much of the humor after a test screening), a 34-minute making-of featurette, interviews with the cast and crew, including a now gray-haired Vint, a six-minute Corman interview, trailers, stills and more.

That’s the kind of thing you normally don’t associate with B movies, but these are special — first because they get the job done. I can’t recall how many times I’ve impatiently watched a horror or sci-fi film which clearly is in the exploitation genre yet doesn’t get busy and exploit. Hey, movie — we’re out here! Rolling, rolling, rolling — keep those monsters rolling.  Heeyahh!

Corman gets it. Corman delivers. And his films, notably these two, are ambitious little cinematic creatures which, for all their budgetary limitations (and now hopelessly dated computer screens and spaceship technology) make a valiant effort to spruce things up and entertain. You could do far worst than these flicks in today’s movie marketplace. In fact, I’d venture to say their plots are as good as Avatar’s (though that’s not much of a compliment).

So thank you, Roger. You’ve done the movie business proud in your own way. One needn’t be allegedly artsy and high-brow to entertain, and entertainment — each year’s Oscar night pretentiousness aside — is what movies are all about, or should be.