"Room 237" (IFC)
This knotty documentary from last year (one of our very favorites) was nothing short of revelatory: it featured five dedicated theorists who laid out their views on Stanley Kubrick's immortal horror classic "The Shining" in increasingly labyrinthine and involving ways. Now that Rodney Ascher's "Room 237" is on home video, it can act as the perfect double feature with "The Shining" (to be watched afterwards, possibly while high) and this presentation adds a wealth of fascinating new elements: a nearly hour-long roundtable discussion of the film from the Stanley Film Festival, a film festival that takes place inside the hotel from "The Shining" (especially good is the inclusion of Kubrick confederate Leon Vitali, who flatly refutes many of the outlandish theories presented by the other panelists), a number of deleted interviews which could have pushed the movie into trippy new territory, and, best of all, an audio commentary by Kevin McLeod, a videogame designer and Kubrick scholar who goes by the handle MSTRMND (and who refused to be interviewed for the actual film). This commentary is just as essential as the film itself, with McLeod laying out a lucid (if somewhat overtly "um"-infused) tapestry of ideas, focusing on how Kubrick was attempting to make films in the realm in between art and science. He references a number of scientific terms and texts and talks about how the film attempts to access the part of the brain that fills in information for itself, particularly when it comes to the sharp switches in tone and story and the geographic layout of the Overlook Hotel itself. Just when you thought "Room 237" couldn't suck you deeper into its obsessive wormhole, this commentary comes along.
"Dracula: Prince of Darkness" (Millennium)
The Hammer horror movies always ran parallel to their stateside Universal counterparts (produced, for the most part, many years earlier). Many of the Hammer movies featured the same Gothic monsters (at one point Hammer brokered a deal to appropriate some of the creatures' designs) but had a considerably higher amount of sex and blood, two things that the classier, more highbrow Universal movies tended to shy away from. Also, since they were more contemporary, they were also in color, something that made the blood and boobs pop even more. One of the most well known of these Hammer horror movies was 1966's "Dracula: Prince of Darkness," which starred the immortal (seriously, how is this guy still alive?) Christopher Lee as the legendary bloodsucker. On one of the supplemental documentaries, Marcus Hearn, a Hammer historian, calls the film the "quintessential Hammer horror because the film contains a veritable checklist" of all the things people remember about Hammer movies—English characters in a central European characters, a foreboding castle, a loyal manservant, a "hint of lesbianism and sexual perversion" (yes!) and, of course, Christopher Lee as Dracula. A sequel of sorts to Hammer's 1958 chiller "Dracula," the film was produced, in part, to satisfy a new coterie of distribution partners (including Fox in the United States), lushly shot in "Techniscope" by cinematographer Michael Reed. "Sherlock" co-conspirator, Mark Gatiss, was heavily influenced by the film but acknowledges (in the same documentary), that the film isn't perfect, remarking that the arc of Dracula is "up and down like a bride's nightie." Still, there are a number of thrills to be had with "Dracula: Prince of Darkness," and the Blu-ray gives you a fine presentation of the film in addition to a number of ace extras including a "World of Hammer" episode dedicated to Lee, the aforementioned documentary "Back to Black," a comparison of the new restoration, a new restored version of the trailer, and cast commentary featuring Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews and Barbara Shelley (whose foxiness in this movie can't be overstated).
"The Fly" (Fox)
While David Cronenberg's metaphorically rich 1986 remake has somewhat cast a shadow over the original 1958 original, that still doesn’t mean that the OG "Fly" isn't well worth a watch, especially in this glorious new high definition transfer. The original isn't as sophisticated or sexy as Cronenberg's take on the material, but it's still a nifty little movie, told in flashback after Helene (Patricia Owens) murders her scientist husband (David Hedison). As it turns out, the scientist is working on a teleportation device that will seamlessly move matter from one location to another, but a mix-up had his DNA getting scrambled with that of a fly. Even if you've never seen the film, chances are you know about the shocking moment when Owens takes off the shroud that is covering Hedison's face, revealing a hideous fly head (it's damn good). While the movie is somewhat creaky today, at 94 minutes it flies by and has a number of charmingly oddball flourishes, like Vincent Price wearing some kind of shiny smoking jacket as the scientist's concerned brother, well before he became the reigning king of horror, or the fact that the entire movie is vaguely French-Canadian (with names like Delambre). The special features on the disc are even more delightful, the best of which being a commentary track with actor Hedison and film historian David Del Valle. Hedison talks openly about how producer/director Kurt Neumann was "workmanlike" and how his ideas for the fly transformation, incrementally instead of all at once, were outright rejected by the studio. Elsewhere on the disc is an episode of "Biography" dedicated to Price, plus a retrospective documentary called "Catching a Fly," a Fox Movietone News reel about the film's premiere (hilariously showing rubbery-looking monsters descending on San Francisco). While the original "Fly" doesn't quite live up to the remake, this is still a lot of fun, with a disc that is even more impressive.
Additionally, there are a number of other recent releases well worth a spooky stay-in. Among them are a new, wholly restored edition of obscure 1961 Dennis Hopper mystery "Night Tide" (Kino), a new-to-Blu-ray edition of Robert Wise's great "The Haunting" (no, not the one with Liam Neeson and Owen Wilson), and, if we're talking about "Prince of Darkness" being a great film from John Carpenter's heyday, we might as well talk about his last truly great movie, 1995's "In the Mouth of Madness," now finally on Blu-ray (with a commentary track held over from the laserdisc). Additionally, just because it came out this year doesn't mean that it's not a new classic, and the Blu-ray presentation of "The Conjuring" is simply jaw dropping. That will be a movie that is trotted out at slumber parties for years to come. And oh how they'll jump.