"The Uninvited" (Criterion)
Described in the supplemental materials as one of the first Hollywood movies to "take ghosts seriously," this 1944 Universal chiller (directed by Lewis Allen and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Black and White Cinematography) concerns a brother and sister (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) who, in prewar England, fall under the spell of an abandoned seaside mansion. Milland falls in love with the former owner's young granddaughter (Gail Russell), who seems to have a direct line to the house's spectral occupants. In "The Uninvited," the past is the biggest ghost of all and both supernatural spirits and the heartache of history haunt the film's cavernous Windward House (the post-war psychology was a huge influence on the film's deathly outlook). Even when the movie doesn't make a whole lot of sense it's hard not to drink in the lush black-and-white cinematography, which has an almost velveteen lusciousness (served wonderfully on the new Blu-ray transfer, with blacks so deep they appear bottomless). There's a great, 30-minute visual essay about the importance of the movie's visuals, its enviable tonal peculiarities and the deep personal histories of the film's stars (particularly Russell's, a studio player plucked from high school). The essay is wonderfully detailed but never overtly dry or academic. Even if you don't find the occasionally creaky "The Uninvited" all that scary, it's easy to see the effect it could have on people (Guillermo del Toro and Martin Scorsese are counted amongst its many fans). The disc also includes two radio adaptations of the film, one released the year of the film's theatrical bow and another in 1949, both of which starred Ray Milland. Now that sort of commitment is downright scary.
The Vincent Price Collection (Shout Factory/Scream Factory)
If there's one person that embodies the spooky-fun nature of Halloween, it's Vincent Price, and this collection of six of the master of the macabre's most memorable efforts is perfect for both the die hard Price-head and the newcomers to his twisted, cobwebby world. Included here are three of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations Price starred in for producer/director Roger Corman and drive-in factory American International Pictures (we were kind of hoping for divine horror-comedy "The Raven" to be included, but alas, it is not); "The Haunted Palace," notable for utilizing the title of a Poe poem but in fact being the first cinematic adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story; and cult favorites "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" (but not "Dr. Phibes Rides Again," sadly) and the bleakly violent "Witchfinder General." It's a wonderful smorgasbord of ghoulish delights, with an equally impressive array of supplemental features, some of which were housed on previous DVD editions of the movies (like a terrific interview with Corman where he reassesses their Poe collaborations) and others which are new to this set (and completely amazing). When you watch a making of documentary about the regional film series that Vincent Price filmed the introductions to (also available in the set), then you know that you're through the looking glass; the dark and campy and devilish looking glass.
"Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection" (Warner Bros)/"Crystal Lake Chronicles" (1428 Films)
Up until now, only the first three "Friday the 13th" movies have been available in the high definition Blu-ray format (plus the shitty 2009 reboot and the still way-more-entertaining-than-it-has-any-right-to-be "Freddy vs. Jason"); thankfully we now have this astounding collection, which includes all twelve (!) films in the extended franchise (the remake and the team-up movie are included). This has got to be at least the third time that the films have been released since the advent of DVD, and it's by far the most comprehensive and complete. (Even as a triple-dip, it's worth the 100 bucks it will set you back.) The movies have never looked better and are presented in their uncut, blood-splattered glory and it's fun to watch them together, seeing how the fairly straightforward murder mystery format was twisted, first to reflect the slasher movie trends of the time and then continuing into loopy, supernatural dimensions, with murderous madman Jason becoming the iconic "hero" of his own franchise. (This is exemplified by the intro to "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives," which riffs on the opening of the James Bond movies.) What's amazing, too, is that the set compiles all of the special features from the previous editions, with additional features. But if you want an exhaustive look behind the scenes of the franchise, then pick up the stand alone release "Crystal Lake Chronicles," a 400-minute-long documentary spread over two discs and narrated by Corey Feldman (who appeared in "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter" and "Friday the 13th: A New Beginning"). Every bit of "Friday the 13th" minutiae is engaged with, no matter how big or small. That means that the same amount of time is given to the evolution of the unforgettable hockey mask and why there was a disco version of the movie's theme music in "Friday the 13th Part III" even though it was released in 1982, well past disco's sell by date. It gets a little tiresome, but it's also an indispensable asset. It's like the greatest, most all-star horror convention… in your living room. Yes.
"Tam Lin" (Olive)
Ever wonder why Roddy McDowall sat out "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" when he appeared in all of the other sequels, even the really crummy ones? Well, it was because he was directing "Tam Lin" (aka "The Ballad of Tam Lin" aka "The Devil's Widow") instead. A shagadelic '60s retelling of a classic Irish folk tale (that is oddly recited towards the beginning of the film), "Tam Lin" starred an older (but still reasonably foxy) Ava Gardner and a younger (but still reasonably foxy) Ian McShane. What's odd is that many of the beats from the original poem (including a very unwanted pregnancy), about a witchy woman who may or may not be requiring a human sacrifice to maintain her beauty, are translated to the new "mod" version, with the "magic" of the original replaced by the use of psychotropic drugs, which allows McShane, rightfully convinced that Gardner is going to murder him, to transform into a number of different forms. (The last act is very literally a trip.) Supposedly McDowall was unhappy with the way that American International Pictures re-cut the film, emphasizing the "big star slumming it" surge of the late '60s and early '70s over the more nuanced film that he was trying to tell, and for years the film was incredibly hard to locate or view. Thankfully, the good folks at Olive have rescued it from obscurity. And while it might not be everyone's cup of LSD-laced tea, it's hard not to be impressed by the candy-colored cinematography of Billy Williams and the shaggy score by Stanley Myers. Plus, the vampy performance of Ava Gardner has enough depth that it isn't just showy scenery chewing. McDowall knows when to take the material seriously and when to give it up to camp, which is very groovy indeed.