Monday, October 30, 2006

Give Give Give me More More More Horror on DVD

We horror fans are an insatiable lot, and video companies know it. Thus, DVD manufacturers have put out an astonishing amount of horror product over the years, so much so that you'd think a big nerd like me would have no need to create a wish list of horror flicks that have yet to make their digital bow here in the United States. You'd be thinking wrong.

Enclosed please find a short list of genre movies that, as of yet, have not made their way onto domestic DVD. Some are sublime, some are ridiculous. Some have made the digital translation in foreign countries, only narrowly missing these shores; some are so embedded in legal quagmire that the only way to find 'em is on a crappy sixth-generation VHS dupe with Greek subtitles (I speak from experience, God help me). Most of these can be located on out-of-print VHS if you look hard enough, But all of the included films could really benefit from the DVD format's improved picture quality, capacity for extras, and penchant for letterboxing as God intended (from this cramped and biased perspective, at least).

So, without further ado, My Wish List of Horror Movies that Need to Be on DVD, in chronological order...

The Uninvited (1944): Most of the great cinematic ghost stories--from Dead of Night to Robert Wise's original The Haunting to Kwaidan--have shown up on DVD by now, with the glaring exception of this one. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey play siblings facing a haunting in their newly-purchased English seaside house, and the resulting picture remains one of the most elegantly stylish spookshows ever committed to celluloid.

Blood and Roses (1960): Roger Vadim's distinctively gallic vampire tale (still my favorite adaptation of Le Fanu's classic short story Carmilla) forges an important link between the bloody comic book stateliness of the Hammer horror films and more sexually adventurous genre efforts like Daughters of Darkness and director Jean Rollin's gothic oeuvre. Of all of the films included here, this is the one whose absence on DVD probably hurts the most: its ravishing color palate and elegantly composed images just scream for proper letterboxing.

The Mask (1961): Julian Roffman's excellent psychological horror movie, canonized in these very electronic pages last Horrorpalooza, has STILL not shown up on DVD. A triumph of ingenuity over a shoestring budget to rival the much-praised Carnival of Souls, The Mask is ripe for rediscovery...and it'll scare you silly.

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965): Hammer Studios was the king of British horror in the fifties and sixties, but Amicus Films gave the Big Dog on the UK Horror Block a big run for its money for quite a few years. Amicus's forte was anthology horror films, with multiple scary stories tied together by one creepy opening setup. This one was the upstart studio's first anthology and arguably their best, with a divinely creepy Peter Cushing playing the title character, strongly written stories that still work today, and a super supporting cast (Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Roy Castle, Jeremy Kemp, and a young Donald Sutherland all do good work). Many of the Amicus anthologies have made the digital transition, but this godfather of them all is long overdue for a US DVD issue.

Witchfinder General (1968): Blunt, raw, and incredibly compelling, Witchfinder General enjoys a lofty cult rep in England (and has in fact been put out on DVD in the UK and Australia), but a stateside release has yet to come to fruition. Retitled The Conqueror Worm on this side of the pond (to cash in on the popularity of the Roger Corman/Edgar Allen Poe flicks in the sixties), Witchfinder General is a propulsively harrowing period drama about Matthew Hopkins, the real-life monster behind scores of witch hunts, interrogations, and executions in 1600's England. This corrosive treatise on the abuse of power features Vincent Price in one of his most subtle and utterly malevolent turns as the intelligent and bitter Hopkins. Even edited for TV in the seventies, it smacked me like a gauntlet-draped fist when I saw it on Nightmare Theatre as a kid: Credit the excellent direction of the too-soon-departed-from-this-earth Michael Reeves for its continued impact. With so many of the Corman Poe epics on DVD, someone really needs to share this gem with US audiences again.

The Bat People (1974): This earnest update to the Jekyll-and-Hyde story is no masterpiece, but it's better than its title implies, as a doctor (Stewart Moss) gets bitten by a bat while on a cave exploration, transforming into a bat creature with a thirst for hemoglobin. Definitely the best movie directed by veteran TV helmsman Jerry Jameson, The Bat People also features a surprisingly spiffy featured creature (created by future make-up guru Stan Winston).

The Incredible Melting Man (1977): It's out on DVD in England, but Americans need to see this deliciously nasty little Polyester-Era update on the old 'Astronaut-Comes-Back-to-Earth-in-Creepy-Ass-Shape' horror/sci-fi subgenre for themselves. The goopily-effective makeup by Rick Baker still rates a .9 on the Ick-ter Scale, and there's enough warped sci-fi dialogue to make any fan of, well, warped sci-fi dialogue deliriously happy (Scientist Burr de Benning upon discovering a piece of viscous goop snagged on a tree branch: "Oh, my God... It's his ear!").

The Manitou (1978): Rumor had it that this wild and wooly shocker was due for a deluxe DVD treatment by Anchor Bay in the very near future, but such glory still eludes US fans. Tony Curtis plays a psychic whose girlfriend (Susan Strasburg) develops a tumor on her neck. The tumor turns out to be a fetus, and the fetus may or may not be the reincarnation of a long-haired, pissed-off Native American Demon/God. The Manitou was the final film of beloved low-budget auteur William Girdler before Girdler's untimely passing in 1978, and it's a blast, packed with crazy special effects, pseudo-profound mysticism, and the requisite cluster of fab character actors (Michael Ansara, Burgess Meredith, Stella Stevens, and Ann Sothern, among others). Few things in life rival the simple joy of seeing a Native American Demon Dwarf go all Rambo on the asses of several hospital orderlies. If you're intrigued (and why wouldn't you be?) get thee post-haste to Patty Breen's excellent William Girdler tribute website for more details on this, as well as Girdler's other films.

Without Warning (AKA It Came Without Warning, 1981): This cross between The Most Dangerous Game, Alien, and Three on a Meathook was directed by Greydon Clark, who studied at the feet of the late great schlockmeister Al Adamson. A bulbous-headed alien (sporting a very smart macrame vest) lands in some rural American woodlands and begins taking down campers, boy scouts, and clueless teens by hurling what look like flying cheese omelettes at 'em. Then the otherworldly poacher hangs the corpses in a woodshed to cure like so much beef jerky. Pure drive-in good times, spiked with a liberal dose of gooey special effects and one oddball melange of a cast: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Cameron Mitchell, Ralph Meeker, Larry Storch, and a pre-TV-fame David Caruso. WW has the most chequered and spotty history of any of the movies I've included on this list; I don't think it ever came out on domestic VHS, and the only way to get it on DVD is via specious-quality DVD-R. Clark hinted in a recent Shock Cinema magazine interview that legal issues could keep it off US shelves indefinitely, which means I might have to hold onto my sixth-generation VHS dub with the Greek subtitles for awhile. Damn.

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