We’re midway through October and that means we’re in the full swing of horror movie season. Really any time of year is horror movie season, but it’s always the most fun in the days leading up to Halloween. Or “Nerdoween” if you’re us. But what movies to watch? There are plenty of choices on streaming, surely, but some of the best, spookiest, and downright weirdest movies are on physical media. Specialty distributors are pulling out all the stops this year and we have a breakdown of the best of the bunch. Here now are the best horror Blu-rays hitting shelves this October.
Hercules in the Haunted World
Mario Bava is maybe the most important, yet still underrated horror maestro. Without Bava, we wouldn’t have Argento or Del Toro or even George Romero. And while his giallo movies have gotten their propers in recent years, his Gothic horror films are where he really shone. He even brought that macabre, colorful artistry to his sole entry in the massively popular Hercules movie series in 1961.
Starring British bodybuilder Reg Park as Hercules and none other than Christopher Lee as his nemesis (a vampire, a sorcerer, or the Lord of the Underworld depending on which translation you watch). A super low-budget affair, Bava nevertheless gave us a really creepy and effective depiction of Hercules’ journey into Hades. The finale which finds him fighting a cadre of flying zombie-ghouls is particularly awesome.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber comes with the English version, the longer, re-edited Italian cut, and a British export version. You also get a commentary from the absolute authority on Mario Bava and European cinema fantastique, Tim Lucas.
I assume most people have seen The Ring, Gore Verbinski’s 2002 megahit horror movie. I also bet most people have seen the original 1998 Ring film from director Hideo Nakata. But if you haven’t seen Nakata’s film in a while, Arrow Video has the perfect opportunity to do so again. Not only does it still fully hold up as a moody, creepy mystery, its themes of isolation and sadness feel even more resonant today. And yes, VHS tapes are a supremely dated technology, but everything else about it works brilliantly. Along with Dark Water, Ring is proof Nakata is a master of atmosphere and cosmic dread.
The Blu-ray’s special features offer a much deeper look at the movie and the sequels that followed than previous releases. Author David Kalat gives us a thoroughly researched commentary track about the origins of the movie and its source novel in addition to sequels. There is an interview with author and critic Kat Ellinger about Hideo Nakata’s career; author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas presents a video essay about the lengthy and complex Ring and Sadako film series; and we also have The Ring Legacy, a short featurette about the series’ influence in Japan and the west.
And despite what we in the U.S. call it, the movie’s called Ring not Ringu. Stop calling it Ringu everyone (including the Blu-ray box cover). In addition to the first movie, Arrow has also released a box set including Ring, Ring 2, and Ring 0.
One of the weirder slasher movies I’ve seen in quite a while, Nightmare Beach from 1989 is right at the tail end of the cycle and feels out of place in a number of ways. First, its director, Umberto Lenzi, an Italian exploitation master, didn’t even take a credit for it; second, while filmed in South Florida with a mostly American cast, it has a strange European sensibility; and third, the murderer (who may or may not be the ghost of an executed biker gang leader) drives around electrocuting people until they burst into flames.
It’s not the best slasher movie by any stretch but it’s weird and gory and sometimes that’s kind of all you need.
Two Evil Eyes
Horror collaborations were big in the 1980s and ’90s. From John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s team-up Body Bags to Twilight Zone: The Movie, there was big business for horror visionaries to take a piece of a movie. George A. Romero and Dario Argento teamed up for 1988’s Two Evil Eyes with each filmmaker adapting an Edgar Allan Poe story to modern day. They had the benefit of scores from none other than Pino Donaggio, so that definitely helped.
Romero’s “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar” finds Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog) as the wife of a very old, dying millionaire. She’s having an affair with her husband’s young, handsome doctor (Ramy Zada) who is using hypnosis to force the dying man to sign various papers and talk to lawyers on the phone. Eventually the old man dies, but before the doctor releases him from hypnosis, leaving him in a state of unrest. Paranoia, deceit, and undead bad stuff ensues. And Tom Atkins is in it!
Argento’s is “The Black Cat,” a particularly gruesome version of the Poe classic in which a sadistic crime scene photographer Rod (Harvey Keitel) who hates his girlfriend (Madeleine Potter)’s cat, who hates him right back. As their relationship begins to break down, Rod begins battle the cat and eventually kills it. And yet it keeps showing back up. He slowly goes crazy as he gets more and more dangerous, all with the police breathing down his neck.
Now this isn’t the best movie of either Romero or Argento, but each part does give us a lot of what each filmmaker did best. Romero with his social commentary and capitalism satire, and Argento with his look at depravity and supremely violent situations. It’s worth a look for fans of Poe, Romero, Argento, or Pittsburgh.
The “nunsploitation” genre is a weird one. They were big in Europe in the 1970s and usually focused on Catholic nuns in convents in the middle ages. Those movies generally tended toward the soft core or sexploitation and were basically mainstream fetish movies. Killer Nun from 1978 definitely has an element of those but with a couple of differences. 1) it takes place in the modern day; and 2) it heavily fused with the dying giallo and nascent slasher horror subgenre.
It’s a trip of a movie. Anita Ekberg plays Sister Gertrude, a nun working at a hospital. She just had brain surgery and spirals into drug addiction and psychosis when the Mother Superior urges her back to work quickly. In addition, Sister Gertrude begins a lesbian affair with a younger nun and begins to flirt with a handsome young doctor at the hospital. And then someone starts murdering people, and even Sister Gertrude isn’t sure if she’s guilty.
This was one of the infamous “Video Nasty” films in the UK in the ’80s and it’s definitely a weird one. But the score by Alessandro Alessandroni is one of the best in Italian genre cinema.
Watch Me When I Kill
More Italian movies! These gory thrillers from the ’70s are really having a Blu-ray renaissance lately and I couldn’t be more excited. This one, directed by Antonio Bido, finds a dancer who witnesses the slashing murder of a pharmacist. A cat-faced stalker begins pursuing her, and her boyfriend tries to solve it. The mystery goes all over the place, eventually leading to a World War II connection and a family of lunatics. It’s way better than its salacious title suggests.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
For whatever reason, there were a metric ton of horror TV movies in the 1970s. Some were better than others; one that people love is 1973’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. It stars Kim Darby as a young wife who moves with her husband into a large house she inherited. The problem is there are weird little, unexplained creatures living in there and they want to do her harm. Her husband (Jim Hutton) is a hotshot business guy and is kind of an a-hole who doesn’t believe her. This is a very, very spooky movie even if the monsters look like people in gorilla suits with heads made of tree nuts.
Warner Archive has released the film on Blu-ray and it looks marvelous. Guillermo del Toro produced a remake a few years back, but avoid that one.
Also Available Now
The Fearless Vampire Killers – Semi-parody of Hammer Horror vampire movies from Roman Polanski and co-starring Sharon Tate, made a year before Rosemary’s Baby.
Storm of the Century – The 1999 Stephen King miniseries comes to DVD from Kino Lorber.
The Hills Have Eyes Part II – Wes Craven’s 1984 follow-up to his ’70s classic. On Blu-ray from Arrow.
John Carpenter’s Vampires – Maybe not the best Carpenter, but the Scream Factory Blu-ray is well worth a look.
Featured Image: Toho