October is the best month for a horror fan. Not only is it a perfect excuse to watch scary movies for 31 days in the build-up to Halloween, it’s also the month when specialty Blu-ray companies put out some of their best and creepiest new releases. This year, there has been an absolute cornucopia of new releases; it’s a horror hound’s Christmas. So many in fact have come out this month that I couldn’t possibly do proper reviews of each of them, but I still want to give them their proper due. And so, here are the best new horror releases from favorite companies Scream Factory, Arrow Video, and Kino Lorber. (Below you’ll find a gallery of all of the cover art for the movies I’m talking about.)
When it comes to ’80s horror icons, your top tier consists of Freddy and Jason and Michael Myers hanging over from ’78, and the second tier has the likes of Pinhead and whomever, and one little red-headed doll with a penchant for stabbing people and chasing a little kid. Chucky wants to play. Yes, Child’s Play, the cheeky-weird horror flick from director Tom Holland (no relation to that Spider-Kid), has come to special edition Blu-ray, and it looks pretty damn great. And even after almost 30 years, it’s got the perfect mixture of silliness and true scariness. I mean, if you’ve ever seen the young lead (Alex Vincent) crying and pleading to be let out of the juvenile delinquent cell because “he’s coming to kill me!!!!” you know the movie can definitely veer into the disturbing. But then it goes away when you see a doll writhing on the floor after being set on fire.
—The Exorcist III—
William Peter Blatty, the author of the novel The Exorcist (check out our One Good Scare episode about it here!), got to write and direct the third film in the franchise, based on his novel, Legion. There’s really no reason for there to be an Exorcist connection other than the lead character being the cop played in the original by Lee J. Cobb and here being played (masterfully, I must add) by George C. Scott. If you ask me, this movie is just as scary as the original, and features the same kind of uber-creepy demonic action. There’s also a beautiful performance by the great Brad Dourif as a convicted murderer who seems to be channeling another killer. Such a good movie.
The world was riding a massive wave of J-Horror in the late-’90s and early 2000s which led to quite a few American remakes. The granddaddy of these is The Ring, which of course is a remake of Ringu by Hideo Nakata. A few years after the success of Ringu — and the same year of the American remake — Nakata returned to the “wet dead girl” J-Horror trope with Dark Water, based on the book by Ringu novelist Koji Suzuki, where a woman and her young daughter move into a creepy old apartment building with water everywhere. A truly unsettling ghost movie that will again get under your skin.
—The Hills Have Eyes—
In the 1970s, a decade in which film in general became much more realistic and gritty, horror moved from big costumed Gothic numbers or silly drive-in fare into material that was truly shocking, truly horrifying. Wes Craven can be credited with two of the hallmarks of this period with his 1972 film The Last House on the Left and this movie, the 1977 gut-punch of a horror movie, The Hills Have Eyes. If Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre created the idea of the backwoods cannibal clan, then Craven perfected it with one of the most intense and disturbing visions of middle class values getting torn apart by the unseemly. This movie pulls exactly zero punches, mothers are defiled and murdered in front of their children, and the fate of a baby hangs in the balance. The tagline is true: “The lucky ones died first!”
You’ve probably heard of the 1982 gore fest Pieces, which has become infamous at this point for being a Euro-slasher joint with true over-the-top violence and even more over-the-top brutality leading to the violence. The same Spanish director who gave us that movie — one Mr. J.P. Simon — turned out this 1988 gross-out, Slugs, which has an ever-growing mass of genetically enhanced and carnivorous slugs. There are some truly disgusting scenes in this movie, which has a similar structure to Jaws or The Blob, but also some unintentional hilarity because, well, Euro-horror flicks of the era weren’t always the best-scripted or acted. Still, it’s a must see if you like viscera, especially in full daylight often.
You know Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez‘s From Dusk Til Dawn about a strip club full of vampires? Well, this 1986 movie did it first! A couple of college dudes go out to a strip club to get a specific stripper for their fraternity pals, but unwittingly get caught up in a vampire plot and have to survive the night. It’s a fun little horror comedy at a time when horror comedies were actually fairly common, and vampire movies specifically, come to think of it. It also features a bonkers and fairly terrifying performance by Grace Jones as the main vampire stripper, Katrina. She scares me in every movie I’ve seen her in.
Very recently, the cult filmmaker Ted V. Mikels passed away. He directed some true schlock in the ’60s and ’70s, including titles like The Corpse Grinders, Blood Orgy of the She-Devils, and Ten Violent Women. None, however, have aged quite as well — if you can call it that — as his 1968 film, The Astro-Zombies, a nearly nonsensical drive-in oddity with mad scientists, aliens, and the undead. It didn’t help the movie that it came out the same year as Night of the Living Dead, but it’s certainly worth looking at. The main reason I’d recommend this disc is for the RiffTrax commentary track, but it also contains a fun scholarly track with historian Chris Alexander, and a track with Mikels himself.
—Daughter of Dracula—
If you’ve never seen a film by Spanish erotic-horror filmmaker Jess Franco, then you don’t quite know what you’re getting yourself into. Like his French counterpart Jean Rollin, Franco made super low-budget, almost experimental films that combined female sexuality and horror/gore. This movie, you’ll find out from the brilliant commentary track by film historian Tim Lucas, began as a giallo-style slasher movie but was re-tooled to be about a female vampire, who is actually a descendant of the Count himself (who barely features, but is present). It’s an odd re-working which gives the movie some off-balance storytelling, but Franco is an interesting enough filmmaker to have it all work out okay.
There’s not much you can say about this movie other than just a recommendation that you need to see the movie immediately. A weird lost Canadian horror flick about a kid whose teddy bear talks to him and tells him to feed everyone who’s done him wrong to the monsters that live in a massive sinkhole in the forest by his house. That’s it! Go watch it now.
Hopefully this gives you an idea or three of movies to watch in the final week of October; these are some great ones, both famous and lesser. Enjoy, and don’t watch them alone! (unless you want to)
Speaking of horror, let’s talk about The Blair Witch Project!
Images: MGM/Scream Factory/Kino Lorber/Arrow Video