Greetings, Future Cadavers of America! It's time to call our annual Halloween meeting to order, and our agenda's fuller than an autopsy pan on "C. S. I. " We all know what happens...
Greetings, Future Cadavers of America! It’s time to call our annual Halloween meeting to order, and our agenda’s fuller than an autopsy pan on “C.S.I.” We all know what happens when you venture outside at night. Things can follow you, and some of them have garden tools. So barricade yourself indoors with a few of these fright flicks on DVD. Unlike the case with our regular video coverage, there’s not a stinker in this bunch because life’s short. And speaking of that, Future Cadavers, don’t worry about the club’s membership dues. You’ll pay ’em sooner or later.
We always knew that English cuisine was a bit on the nasty side. Hello black pudding anyone? These two just build our case:
“28 Days Later” (Fox, R): No, it’s not a product advertised on that O! channel. A bike messenger (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital to find London nearly deserted except for all the zombies who are infected with a “rage virus.” And crikey is it tense. Director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting”) has probably made something relevant to violence and disease in our time, and a statement about humans being the real brutes, but his real innovation is making zombies that run! The DVD includes the new ending tacked on to the U.S. re-release, as well as a couple of others (one of which is in storyboard form and acted out by Boyle and writer Alex Garland).
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“Raw Meat” aka “Death Line” (MGM, 1973, unrated): A cannibal is living in an abandoned segment of the London tube (that’s their subway, not one of their many questionable sausage products). And he occasionally helps himself to straggling commuters. Director Gary Sherman’s long-lost shocker is more laughable than scary, especially with a monster who keeps mumbling “Mind the gap!” because it’s the only English he’s ever learned. Donald Pleasance is great fun as a cantankerous Scotland Yard inspector.
Society will always owe an entertainment debt to pathetic outcasts who snap after too many bullies mess with them.
“Willard” (New Line, PG-13) is a surprisingly enjoyable remake of the 1971 thriller about the guy who makes friends with rats and gets them to do his bidding. (Bidding = revenge.) As an utter weirdo, Crispin Glover is perfect for the part. It’s even fun to hear him pronounce words like “food.” If you’re prepared for a true shock, Glover also sings and directs himself in the music video for the old Michael Jackson song “Ben.” Be sure to listen to his commentary.
“May” (Trimark, R): Director Lucky McKee’s word-of-mouth hit follows the descent of a lazy-eyed, socially inept young woman (Angela Bettis) whose best friend is her doll. When she gets a crush on a living guy, she realizes that nobody’s perfect, but parts of them are. Subtle and unsettling until the last whammo image.
It’s about time:
Finally on DVD from the last gasps of England’s legendary Hammer Studios: “Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter” (Paramount, 1974): Before “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” there was this hero from the team behind “The Avengers.” Elegantly made horror, swashbuckling action, intriguing twists on vampire lore, wry humor, the lovely Caroline Munro what more do you want to suck out of a single movie? Living young women are being turned into dead old crones, and it’s Kronos (Horst Janson) and his hunchbacked professor sidekick to the rescue.
Not to be confused with “Cronos” (Lions Gate, R): From Guillermo del Toro, the mastermind of “The Devil’s Backbone,” “Blade II” and the coming “Hellboy.” His unconventional take on vampirism involves an old Mexican antique dealer who changes when a beetle-like device hidden in a statue attaches itself to him. His granddaughter tries to look after him, and bad guys want the powerful mechanism.
Asians have been out-rotting us Yanks at horror for the past few years:
“The Eye” (Palm Pictures, R) is more like a variation on “The Sixth Sense,” but a little scarier. A young woman blind since the age of 2 gets a cornea transplant and begins seeing a shadowy figure who appears with people before they die. Plenty of dead people, too. Not content simply to hang out and get the living bejesus scared out of her all day, every day, she tries to unravel the mystery of the donor.
“Ringu” (DreamWorks, unrated) is not an ex-Beatle, but the 1998 original from which the U.S. hit “The Ring” was drawn. Director Hideo Nakata spells out much less in the tale of a reporter investigating a videotape that kills those who watch it within a week, and consequently it’s more mysterious, less like a music video.
If you can’t find a family with good breeding, you might have to settle for inbreeding. Just don’t accept any dinner invitations:
“House of 1000 Corpses” (Lions Gate, R): Rock star Rob Zombie’s gross-out homage to hard-edged horror of the ’70s. A group of young people five words that pretty much spell doom driving through America’s backroads go looking for the legend of “Dr. Satan” and find a family of inbred killer lunatics.
“The Hills Have Eyes” (Anchor Bay, 1977, R): Back from the time when “Scream” director Wes Craven still made real horror. A family on vacation with a trailer is irritating enough. But then their ride breaks down in the desert, and there’s a clash of family values with a family of inbred cannibals. During the struggle for survival, it gets hard to tell who the real savages are.
I’d like to see the busybodies on “Trading Spaces” give these houses makeovers. And you thought banks could get harsh about repossessions:
“Burnt Offerings” (MGM, 1976): How could you go wrong with Oliver Reed and Karen Black at their peaks as a couple with a kid who move into a haunted house that wants to own them? You think ol’ Steve King (“The Shining,” “Rose Red”) might have caught this one? Black and writer William F. Nolan suck up to director Dan “Dark Shadows” Curtis on the commentary.
“The Haunted Palace” (MGM, 1963, unrated): Vincent Price inherits a castle with one hell of a barbecue pit in its basement, while the ghost of his evil warlock-burned-at-the-stake ancestor gets under his skin. Directed by the great Roger Corman with a script from “Twilight Zone” vet Charles Beaumont, and billed as being inspired by Edgar Allen Poe but it’s really based loosely on H.P. Lovecraft’s chilling “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” It comes on a double bill with Price also starring in Corman’s “Tower of London” (1962).
“The Haunting” (Warner, 1963, G): One of the greats, and still effective, in perfect black-and-white. A scientist invites a group of characters to spend the night in a spooky old mansion, and plenty of things go bump in the night.
More reasons besides shoveling to dislike snowy weather:
A festive double-bill: “Silent Night Deadly Night” and “Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2” (Anchor Bay, R): Slaybells ring in these slasher flicks with killer Santas! As if it wasn’t already scary enough that parents trust their kids once a year on the lap of a total stranger in a disguise.
“The Thing From Another World” (1951, unrated): Producer Howard Hawks’ tense classic about a scientific crew in the Arctic who find a UFO in the ice. When its occupant thaws out, the suspense, paranoia and rapid-fire dialogue crank up.
Technically, these are family films, but not in the “Free Willy” sense, or even in the sense that many people from your family should watch them together:
“The Brood” (MGM, 1979, R): From twisted maestro David Cronenberg. “Spider” was arty and strange, but I miss his days of outright messed-up movies like this. Samantha Eggar is a patient in experimental “psychoplasmics” whose rage takes on physical form and kills. A post-birth scene will make you cringe.
“The Howling” (MGM, 1981, R): A nice special edition of Joe Dante’s winking werewolf tale with the mom from “E.T.” as a TV reporter who goes to a “colony” for post-attack therapy, then finds herself amid a family in serious need of an Epilady.
For your Halloween party or your short attention span: Something Weird Video’s “Extra Weird Sampler” (Image, unrated): More than 100 trashy trailers for such works of art as “Please Don’t Eat My Mother!” “Dracula the Dirty Old Man” and “Night of the Bloody Apes.”
And for our younger Future Cadavers:
“The Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors” (Fox): includes “The Shinning,” in which Homer tries to kill the family, and “Homer3” in which he’s a 3-D computer animation.
“Casper” (Universal, 1995, PG): The live-action version of The Friendliest Ghost You Know, with Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman.
“Scooby Doo and the Monster of Mexico” (Warner, unrated): Ruh-roh: Those meddling kids encounter “El Chupacabra,” which turns out to be a purple “Mexican bigfoot.” It includes a game called “Burrito Buffet Blitz.” Zoinks.
And that’s more than enough until next Halloween. In fact, my are my legs feeling stiff. Oh yeah: rigor mortis.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org