Attention boys and girls, it’s almost that time again. The time of year when ghosts and goblins roam the streets on All Hallow’s Eve, and the rest of us adults stay inside and watch horror films (or so we say). Well fortunately, plenty of the major studios and boutique home entertainment labels have been popping out releases of some of our favorite genre fare. So without further ado, stare directly into your television screens and tune into any one of these superb flicks just in time for Halloween, all available on home video.
“Re-Animator” (Dir. Stuart Gordon, 1985)
Why You Should Care: With so many versions of Mary Shelley’s classic “Frankenstein” existing even prior to 1985, it’s a wonder that no one ever turned Shelley’s tale on its bloodied head before gore maestro Stuart Gordon. “Re-Animator” follows the dedicated medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Cabbot) and his girlfriend Megan (the lovely and bold scream queen Barbra Crampton) who become involved in bizarre experiments involving the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student named Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) becomes Dan’s roommate. Of course, not all is as it appears in that synopsis, as West (Combs turning in one the most inspired genre performance of the ‘80s) re-animates Megan’s dad along with a whole morgue full of bodies in his quest to perfect his Victor Frankenstein-like ways in bringing the dead back to life. It’s a masterpiece of blood, guts and all kinds of colorful goo that really pop on the Blu-ray release from Anchor Bay, leading up to the final moment when Dan injects his beloved Megan with the re-animation solution and we fade to black with a bright green syringe turning into a wonderful fluorescent as the credits start to roll. For all its gallons of gore, Gordon’s loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West, Re-Animator” remains almost poetically macabre 30 years after the fact.
What's On It: While Anchor Bay recycled most all the features from its 2007 release of “Re-Animator” on DVD, that’s not such a bad thing. Along with the film’s wonderful high-def transfer, there’s commentary from Gordon, Crampton, and Combs, along with the hour-long retrospective documentary “Re-Animator: Resurrectus,” which chronicles the beginnings of the cast and crew’s careers, along with the production of the film. There’s also a plethora of interviews and standard features like deleted scenes and various trailers for the film. For anyone looking for a complete look into the world of “Re-Animator,” you’ve found it.
Release Date: Available now from Anchor Bay
"Sleepwalkers" (Dir. Mick Garris, 1992)
Why You Should Care: "Sleepwalkers" was, and remains, the only original screenplay Stephen King, the leading voice in modern horror, wrote specifically for the big screen. Why he chose to entrust that script to Mick Garris, a middling horror director who has forged a bafflingly close connection with the writer, is obviously beyond us. Anyway, the movie is a drive-in romp about a mother (Alice Krige) and son (Brian Krause), who are incestuous, shape-shifting monsters called "sleepwalkers," whose true nature is revealed if they receive a scratch from a cat (don't ask). The logic is fuzzy but Krause has to seduce and then steal the soul of a comely classmate (played by Madchen Amick) and then get the fuck out of the small town where they're currently living. There are stabs at earnest horror (reminiscent of "Cat People" – both versions) that buttress uneasily against weird references like having Lynman Ward and Cindy Pickett play Amick's parents (they played Ferris Bueller's parents) and a succession of distracting cameos by horror heavyweights (and friends of Garris') like Tobe Hooper, John Landis, Joe Dante, and Clive Barker. King's own cameo, as a put upon cemetery caretaker, is at least pretty enjoyable, we must admit. "Sleepwalkers," however, nags as a tantalizing what-if; if a more capable, stylistically inclined director had gotten a hold of the material, then it could have been a genuine horror classic. As it stands, it's a fun, overtly cheesy romp with some truly questionable special effects (the sleepwalkers, in their natural form, look like greasy rubber Halloween costumes) and groaningly wooden performances. What stands out, too, re-watching it, is Garris' genuinely masterful and menacing use of the Enya song "Boadicea," a decade before David Fincher tried the same in last year's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Point, Garris.
What's On It: A theatrical trailer, and we're lucky to have it, although the movie looks sharper in high-definition than we would have expected (even if it does much to draw attention to its miniscule budget).
Release Date: Available now from Image
“Halloween II” (Dir. Rick Rosenthal, 1981)
Why You Should Care: Shout Factory has been delivering the home entertainment goods in the form of everything from the complete “Freaks and Geeks” series to retro Nickelodeon cartoons and so much more for years, so it should have come as no surprise that their genre imprint Scream Factory would do the very same, announcing an impressive assortment of titles that are often mistreated, misrepresented, or just have flat-out never been given a proper home entertainment release since they hit theatrically. One of the first titles up was the 1981 sequel to John Carpenter’s paramount 1978 thriller “Halloween,” which follows the murderous Michael Myers’ return to Haddonfield, Illinois to stalk and kill a group of babysitters on Halloween night after 15 years spent in a sanitarium for the murder of his older sister. Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis returned as Laurie Strode, a babysitter who stood up to Myers with the aid of his long time mental caretaker Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), with director Rick Rosenthal serving us one of the few sequels in cinema history that picks up right where its predecessor ended. While much of Carpenter’s technical prowess and ability to deliver scares derived purely from slow burn suspense is missing here, Rosenthal does an adequate job staging a film that delivers on the horror and “Halloween” goodness filmmakers would mostly fail to replicate for six more films (and two remakes) – including Rosenthal himself with the 2002 Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks-starring “Halloween: Resurrection.” With Carpenter and regular producing partner Debra Hill’s screenplay set mostly within the confines of a hospital (total Carpenter move), much of Myers’ actions fall into the realm of rote slasher films, but it’s great to see both Curtis and Pleasance flex their genre muscles in the last watchable pairing of the two in the series (Loomis would go on to do three more films with increasingly diminishing returns, with Curtis reappearing for two installments we’re better off forgetting altogether).
What's On It: “Halloween” fans will remember that it was just last year that Universal Studios pimped out their own 30th Anniversary edition of “Halloween II,” which earned some praise for the inclusion of the feature-length horror clip show hosted by Pleasance and Nancy Allen entitled “Terror in the Aisles” on the disc, but lacked pretty much anything else – and even removed recently deceased and beloved “Halloween” producer Moustapha Akkad’s name from the opening titles, a move that puzzled many. Well, Akkad’s credit is back intact and there’s a variety of new offerings in terms of features for “Halloween II” fans. You may want to hang onto your Universal release for 'Terror,' but here we get two commentaries featuring Rosenthal, Myers actor Dick Warlock, and foul-mouthed actor Leo Rossi, along with a pretty solid documentary chronicling all the behind-the-scenes bits and a handful of deleted scenes. Here we also get the “Halloween II” TV cut, which is really for the true “Halloween” nerd and features a variety of bits that were squeezed back into the film when it aired on television, and many of the scenes Carpenter reshot to make the film gorier had to be cut. It’s no “Terror in the Aisles,” but it’s certainly a bonus.
Release Date: Available now from Shout Factory
“Ed Wood” (Dir. Tim Burton, 1994)
Why You Should Care: While talented filmmaker Tim Burton has spent the better part of 2012 having the merits of his three box office duds “Dark Shadows,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (which he produced), and “Frankenweenie” debated, Disney has offered us a chance to look back and see what many believe to be Burton’s masterpiece in high-def this Halloween – enter “Ed Wood.” At once a story about a man whose passion for film is unrivaled, on the other hand, this true life tale of Edward D. Wood Jr. takes a look at the man who’s often referred to as “The Worst Director of All-Time.” Throughout the film, Wood (Johnny Depp) is on a quest along with his motley crew of hired hands to create often misguided but highly ambitious films on a budget, which ultimately lands him in the hands of “Dracula” actor Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) – who is struggling with a debilitating addiction to morphine and a withdrawal from the limelight -- but whom Wood sees a shot at attracting an audience by casting a recognizable face. More than a few times have Burton’s career choices been compared to that of Wood, but also it’s a deeply personal tale in that Burton has said it mirrors his close relationship with cinema icon Vincent Price prior to his death in 1993 (Burton’s 1990 film “Edward Scissorhands” would be his last feature appearance in the flesh). Landau rightfully snagged an Oscar for his performance as the heartbreaking Lugosi, along with make-up artist Rick Baker who walked away with a statue for turning Landau into the Hungarian actor, while Depp turns in his best Burton-helmed performance next to 'Scissorhands.' It’s also filled with all the familiar Burton trappings; a keen eye for Grand Guigonol production design (which here is grounded a bit more in reality), breathtaking black-and-white cinematography by regular collaborator Stefan Czapsky, and a rare Danny Elfman-less score by Howard Shore which is altogether surreal and haunting. It’s a suitable primer for a Halloween night full of classic Universal horror films or even Burton’s own films.
What’s On It: While the film packs a visual punch in its first outing on Blu-ray, it doesn’t exactly make up for it in the extra features. Virtually everything about the disc besides its high-def transfer is the same as the special edition DVD Disney released in 2004 – though the worthwhile commentary with Burton, Landau, co-writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, Czapsky and costume designer Colleen Atwood – most of the features ported over from the original release smell of the sort of needless extras DVDs were loaded with at the dawn of the format. Unless you don’t already own “Ed Wood” or desperately want a more vibrant, clearer transfer – stick with the DVD.
Release Date: Available now from Disney
"The Nightmare on Elm Street Collection" (Dir. Various, 1984-1994)
Why You Should Care: There are few "must-buys" this Halloween season, and this is one of them. A multi-disc, seven-movie retrospective of all the "proper" entries in the Wes Craven-originated "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise (discounting the dour remake and the gleefully absurd "Freddy vs. Jason"), in beautiful, brand-new high definition transfers (previously, only the first three films had been available), embellished with all of the special features from the overflowing late-nineties DVD set, plus a bonus disc featuring an all-new documentary and two episodes of the "Freddy's Nightmares" TV series (yes, seriously). This is about as definitive a collection as you get, barring inclusion of the expansive, four-hour retrospective documentary "Never Sleep Again," which, among other things, delves deep into the homosexual fantasia that is "Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge" and the reasoning behind Wes Craven's meta-textual return to the franchise. But with seven movies and two episodes of the television show, how could you have any time to even watch that long-ass doc? Re-watching some of the films, you get the sensation that, while the franchise was largely egged-on by financial reasons, it remains the most imaginative horror franchise of its era. The dreamscape premise and the low budget ingenuity that brought those concepts to the big screen were genuinely flabbergasting; the fact that the plot sometimes got lost in a series of never-ending gags, is understandable (if not entirely forgivable). It's also fascinating how many big time directors got their start in the series – among them Chuck Russell (who directed the series' best entry, part 3), Renny Harlin and Stephen Hopkins – and how the tone of the movies took on a different flavor as Freddy went from being a scary in-the-closet boogeyman to a genuine pop culture force.
What's On It: Too much to mention. But like we said – everything from that original DVD box set plus a new disc full of special features, including a new documentary on the history of the Freddy Kruger character and two episodes of the "Freddy's Nightmare" TV series ("It's a Miserable Life" and "Killer Instinct") and some bonus featurettes. "Never Sleep Again" would have been a great inclusion and is the most glaring omission. Well, that, and some kind of text reproduction of Peter Jackson's script for "The Dream Lover," which would have been the sixth film and concerned a Freddy so low on his powers that kids would voluntarily go to sleep in order to torture and abuse the one-time frightener. Amazing.
Release Date: Out now via Warner Home Video, although available exclusively at Best Buy stores