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13 for Halloween (2006)

In the Spooky Spirit

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This year's crop of scary movies on DVD runs the gamut, spanning the past 75 years and hailing from all over the world.

1. Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection (Warner Home Video, $39.98)
Four old MGM horror films appeared together in a mid-1990s laserdisc box set and here they are again: Charles Brabin's "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932), Karl Freund's "Mad Love" (1935), Tod Browning's "Mark of the Vampire" (1935) and Browning's "The Devil-Doll" (1936). Since MGM was never really interested in horror, the films all have histories of troubled productions. But nonetheless, they survive as genuinely wonderful classics. "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932) -- shown here uncut for the first time, transferred from the camera negative -- stands alone as the weirdest, most subversive of the set. Boris Karloff stars as the famous supervillian, while Myrna Loy appears in an early role as his daughter. Peter Lorre stars in "Mad Love" as a surgeon who replaces a pianists' hands with those of a killer. Bela Lugosi has a non-speaking role in "Mark of the Vampire," and Lionel Barrymore is excellent in both that and "The Devil-Doll." Warner Home Video -- which owns older titles from the MGM vaults -- has thrown in two more movies, Michael Curtiz's "Doctor X" and Vincent Sherman's "The Return of Doctor X" (1939). Five of the films come with fun, informative commentary tracks, including one by director Sherman, who died a few months ago, just weeks shy of his 100th birthday.

2. The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology (Warner Home Video, $42.98)
Warner Home Video has released the complete "Exorcist" collection in one place and for a very reasonable price. While it's true that none of the sequels live up to the original, they all have some cinematic value. The set includes both cuts of William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" (1973 and 2000), John Boorman's "Exorcist II: The Heretic" (1977), William Peter Blatty's "Exorcist III" (1990), and Renny Harlin and Paul Schrader's alternate takes on the prequel (from 2004 and 2005). Friedkin, Harlin and Schrader provide commentary tracks.

3. The Stephen King Collection (Paramount, $44.99)
Paramount has re-packaged four of its old King titles, including new "Special Editions" of David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" (1983) and Mary Lambert's "Pet Sematary" (1989). Cronenberg's film was his first job-for-hire, and it's a solid piece of work -- one of his most acclaimed films in the mainstream press. "Pet Sematary" was a huge success, but fails to capture the sheer terror of the book, mainly because the little zombie boy is just plain silly. The set also includes Daniel Attias' werewolf movie "Silver Bullet" (1985) and the ultimate guilty pleasure, Ralph S. Singleton's horrible, hilarious "Graveyard Shift" (1990).

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Two-Disc Infinifilm Special Edition) (1984, New Line, $26.98)
Though he has made better films throughout his career, this is still one of Wes Craven's most popular. By 1984, the slasher film had already been done to death, but Craven added a fresh take with his idea of a killer that attacks in dreams. Actor Robert Englund created an enduring beastie with his Freddy Krueger, clad in a black-and-red striped sweater and adorned with scraping, steel claws. Some of the teen stars lack charisma, however, and even a young Johnny Depp didn't appear to have much of a future. New Line's spruced-up DVD comes with two discs worth of extras (commentary tracks, featurettes, trivia track, etc.) There are no English subtitles and, for some reason, the fast-forward feature has been locked out. Also, the commentary tracks are not actually listed anywhere on the first disc; viewers can only access them by scrolling through with their "audio" button.

5. Heartstopper (2006, Anchor Bay Entertainment, $26.98)
Englund returns as a kindly sheriff in this well-made, but standard supernatural slasher film. In an idea borrowed from Craven's "Shocker" (1989), a serial killer survives the electric chair and comes out killing, stalking the patients and staff in a local hospital. The disc includes interviews with Englund and director Bob Keen. (This disc releases Halloween day.)

6. Next Door (2005, TLA Releasing, $24.99)
Dutch director Pal Sletaune ("Junk Mail") returns with this bizarre head-scratcher, about a young man, John (Kristoffer Joner) who discovers two sexy "sisters" (Cecilie A. Mosli and Julia Schacht) living next door. His girlfriend has just left for another man, and there's evidence that John may have abused her. Worse, one of the new girls begins to play into his abuse fantasies, and then the lines between reality, horror and fantasy really begin to get muddled. Shot mainly in interiors, Sletaune succeeds in suggesting a correlation between the twisty corridors and creepy rooms and the characters' fragile psyche. TLA's DVD comes with a making-of featurette and interviews. In Dutch with English subtitles.

7. Calvaire (2004, Palm Pictures, $19.98)
The title of this brutal horror film translates, appropriately, to "The Ordeal." Laurent Lucas ("With a Friend Like Harry") stars as a cheesy traveling singer who gets lost in the woods. The next thing he knows, he's trapped and at the mercy of a town full of creepy recluses. Writer/director Fabrice Du Welz and co-writer Romain Protat rely on Marc's stupidity to get their plot rolling, but they also manage to suggest some genuinely sexual menace right from the get-go. In French with English subtitles. Comes with a making-of featurette.

8. Rest Stop (2006, Warner Home Video, $24.98)
Nicole (Jaimie Alexander) and Jesse (Joey Mendicino) road trip from Texas to Hollywood to become movie stars. When they take a short cut and wind up at a run down rest stop, Jesse disappears, leaving Nicole to fend for herself as a mysterious, maniacal trucker tries to torture and/or kill her. Totally derivative and without any particular surprises, John Shiban's "Rest Stop" is still a skillful exercise, rippling with nervous tension. Warner's DVD includes the "unrated" version, alternate endings and other "deleted" goodies.

9. The Wicker Man (1973, Anchor Bay Entertainment, $14.98)
Timed with the recent ill-fated remake, Anchor Bay repackaged their very good 2001 DVD for newcomers. It's still one of the smartest, most chilling films ever made.

10. Cello (2005, Tartan, $22.95)
This Korean horror pic comes with a terrific box cover, but the film itself is fairly routine; about a former cello player haunted by her dead rival. Tartan has released a slew of Asian horrors lately, but the best one I've run across is still "The Booth" (2005).

11. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992, Paramount, $14.99)
Clive Barker withdrew from this sequel, taking only an "executive producer" credit, and the film is a definite step down from the first two films. But it's still a step above the standard slasher flick and comes with some unusual ideas (along with some silly ones). This new disc comes with an interesting 30-minute interview with Barker.

12. Groovie Goolies (1970, BCI Eclipse, $29.98)
This fun Saturday morning cartoon series was a spinoff from "Sabrina the Teenage Witch." Like a silly vaudeville show, it consists mostly of jokes and songs by Dracula, a hippie Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster (whose catchphrase is "I needed that"). BCI's three-disc set comes with 16 episodes and lots of extras.

13. Dracula" & "Frankenstein: 75th Anniversary Editions (1931, Universal, $26.98 each)
Believe it or not, both Browning's "Dracula" and James Whale's "Frankenstein" have reached their 75th birthdays this year. Universal has re-packaged both films in 2-disc sets with lots of new extras.

October 20, 2006

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