Halloween is a holiday that practically demands that at least at some point during the lead-up to the actual night, you stay in and watch some of your favorite horror movies. Not only has the weather just changed, facilitating an urge to stay indoors, but there always seems to be old school classics that are finally released from their vault to reign terror anew. That's certainly the case this year, with a whole host of scary movies making their way to the high definition Blu-ray, so that every frame of horror can terrify you with additional clarity. We've decided to run down a list of ten horror movies worth trick-or-treating for. Beware! It's spooky!
A shout out has to be given to both the major studios and the boutique labels, like Criterion and Scream Factory, for giving these movies the time of day. With the home video market dwindling, thanks to streaming options, it takes a lot to actually put in the work and release these movies, especially with the fine assortment of special features they've assembled. These companies go above and beyond. And it's nice to see some of the studios getting behind these releases too, with both Warner Bros. and Universal responsible for two beautiful box sets on this list.
And now, without further ado, start a crackling fire, turn down the lights, and prepare to be scared silly…
"Prince of Darkness" (Shout Factory/Scream Factory)
Scream Factory, the exploitation-centered imprint of Shout Factory, has brought a number of John Carpenter classics to deluxe DVD and Blu-ray packages in the last year (including, but not limited to, "The Fog," "They Live," and "Assault on Precinct 13"), but for some reason their release of "Prince of Darkness" feels the most like a genuine revelation: this movie is scary. Previously available in a pair of iffy, extras-free DVD versions, "Prince of Darkness" is in many ways Carpenter's bleakest, most philosophical film (and also his weirdest), about a group of grad students and religious types who hunker down in an old church to observe and document a vial of goo that might just be the swirling embodiment of the Antichrist. Amongst other things "Prince of Darkness" predicts the "found footage" craze that has recently swept horror cinema (except this footage, recorded on grainy camcorders, is actually terrifying) and features a supporting performance by Alice Cooper as a murderous vagabond. (Cooper's best moment is when he stabs a grad student with a long metal pole, which produces this great arching spray of blood. Supposedly it was based on a gag Cooper used in his stage show which Carpenter appropriated for the movie.)
The new Blu-ray is chock full of nifty features, in addition to that aforementioned transfer in which the movie's deep blacks and glowing greens have never looked better. Amongst the goodies included on the disc are interviews with Carpenter, Cooper, Visual Effects supervisor Robert Grasmere, co-composer Alan Howarth, a commentary with Carpenter, and a bunch of essential little features, including a fascinating alternate opening from the TV version of the movie that suggests the whole thing could be a dream, or er, nightmare. Hopefully this is one more step in the film becoming accepted as top tier Carpenter canon.
"Chucky: The Complete Collection" (Universal)
Yes, the "Child's Play" franchise has had its ups and downs over its 30 year run, although this is probably to be expected for a series built around the exploits of a foul-mouthed children's doll that's possessed by the spirit of a serial killer (voiced, eternally, by Brad Dourif). While the original films, especially the first (co-written and directed by genre great Tom Holland) were purely interested in scares, later movies tinkered with meta-textual dimensionality, particularly the unexpectedly brilliant fourth entry, "Bride of Chucky," directed with a wink and strong visual flair by Hong Kong filmmaker Ronny Yu, which might be the best post-"Scream" smart ass horror movie (Chucky, looking at John Ritter, his face riddled with nails to the point that he resembles "Hellraiser" baddie Pinhead: "This looks oddly familiar"). This somewhat pricey box set includes every movie in the franchise, including the delightful new entry "Curse of Chucky." It's almost been included as an afterthought, but it's the set's most special special feature. Elegantly written and directed by Don Mancini, who like Dourif has been there from the beginning, "Curse of Chucky" both serves as an elegant reboot and, shockingly, a part of the continuity of the series (sort of like 2009's "Star Trek"). It's a single-location haunted house take on the "Child's Play" mythos, and as a fresh start to the franchise, it's totally awesome, stripping away much of the humor in the last couple of movies and restoring the series to its bone-rattling roots. The other movies are great, particularly the first and fourth, but "Curse of Chucky" is a wonderfully wicked cherry on top.
"I Married A Witch" (Criterion)
This 1942 Rene Clair confection might not be the scariest option this Halloween but it's plenty bewitching just the same. In "I Married A Witch," a super foxy, insanely funny Veronica Lake plays a witch named Jennifer who seduces the descendent of a Puritan who burned her at the stake hundreds of years before (they're all played by Fredric March). Some of the jokes are occasionally dusty and the visual effects are rudimentary (especially during the section where Jennifer and her father, played by the velvety-voiced Cecil Kellaway, appear only as columns of white smoke), but the zippy humor is nothing short of infectious. You'll know what kind of movie it is when, in an early sequence, a witch trial is halted for an intermission, at which point a vendor sells confections to the bloodthirsty crowd. Combining elements of the fish-out-of-water comedy and supernatural romance, "I Married a Witch" is a breezy delight (interestingly, Preston Sturges was involved as a producer but left after clashes with Clair, with Joel McCrea originally tapped to play the lead before he decided he couldn't work with Lake again). There's not much in the way of special features on this newly minted Criterion edition, although an archival, 20-minute interview of Rene from the late '50s is incredibly interesting. In this interview, he describes "I Married a Witch" merely as one of the Hollywood movies he made "during the war," and discusses the differences between his purely artistic, avant-garde work and the more product-driven world of the studio. He comes off as incredibly smart and knowledgeable; he'll cast a spell on you.