Creepy DVD Releases Just in Time for Halloween

Oh, the Horror
Just in time for Halloween: Turn your pad into a haunted house with these small-screen scares

Apart from the stray slasher flick, Halloween is traditionally a dead spot on the Hollywood calendar. This weekNs big release? The Michael Jackson tribute film This Is It—creepy in its own right. But Universal Studios has been raiding its catacombs for DVD reissues. LetNs brush the cobwebs aside.

Conventional wisdom says that horror often springs from hard times. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and UniversalNs other Golden-Age franchise monsters were creatures of the Great Depression, and N70s stagflation brought a new wave of malaise-era serial killers. But skip forward to ReaganNs sunny N80s, and youNll find that thatNs when John Carpenter was doing some of his best work. The Thing (1982) and They Live (1988) are both included in the John Carpenter: Master of Fear Collection, and both are parables for a social contract breaking down. Stalked by a shape-shifting, DNA-infiltrating alien on their Antarctic base, Kurt Russell and company dissolve into mutual suspicion and distrust in The Thing. The beast could be inside any of them, so you have to shoot your pal—or incinerate him with a flamethrower—to save your own skin. ItNs a reverse guys-on-a-mission flick, in which unit cohesion falters and leader turns against crew. ItNs morning in America, and utter darkness at the South Pole. In the more satirical horror of They Live, aliens have now taken over the planet and conspired with yuppies to keep the workingman—championed by wrestler Roddy Piper—down. Mind control is achieved through coded TV and advertisements, and the filmNs bleak end, like that of The Thing, implies that the system will prevail.

The N80s were also very good to John Landis, whose 1981 An American Werewolf in London has been reissued with many extras for a Full Moon Edition. A new companion doc makes clear how Landis always meant to mix yuks and gore, how he was both a student of the Lon Chaney Jr. originals and a wiseacre about horror conventions. (He wrote the first draft of the film at age 19.) Rick BakerNs Oscar-winning effects, lovingly detailed in the extras, give the film part of its visceral, pre-CGI charm. Not just applied with a mouse click, the werewolf transformations and gore feel more substantial. And young leads David Naughton and Griffin Dunne donNt have the stiffness that can come from acting in front of a green screen. (When fighting for his life, Dunne explains, he was very physically flailing against BakerNs puppet-operated wolfNs head.)

Less talented than Landis or Carpenter, Wes Craven was always a profitable gore-teur. Yet the trio of titles on the Wes Craven Horror Collection wasnNt a hit on the level of A Nightmare on Elm Street or Scream. Instead, packaged between The People Under the Stairs and The Serpent and the Rainbow, the weird standout is Shocker (1989), which seems to straddle both decades and technologies. A death-row killer inserts himself into the electrical grid to avoid the chair, then squirts in and out of televisions, wall sockets and other AC devices. This allows him to terrorize the citizenry and taunt a high school jock (a young Peter Berg, now director of The Kingdom and other action fare). ItNs a wonderfully nutty premise, particularly when Berg starts controlling his tormenter with a TV remote (what else?), and they fight through various television and movie scenes on the idiot box. Melodramatic at its core, the movie is like a weird cross between Videodrome and The Purple Rose of Cairo. The escaped killer (Mitch Pileggi) is ultimately less frightening than TV itself.

Even more humorous in his approach to horror is Sam Raimi, whoNs peddling both a Screwhead Edition of his 1992 classic Army of Darkness and this past MayNs Drag Me to Hell. The latter is a welcome departure from the “final girl” formula, because its heroine (Alison Lohman) has unquestionably done something wrong. More socially grounded than it needs to be, Drag Me makes her a mortgage banker—the horror of subprime lending!—who orders a repo to advance her career. Lohman may be victim to sexism, and subject to class anxiety, but her hands arenNt clean. Filthier still is the old gypsy woman she evicts, and Raimi delights in the grime, drool, effluvia and vermin that muss our tidy economy. EverythingNs going so well! Listen to Alan Greenspan! Who is this hag to resist? Lohman deserves the gypsy hex and the PG-13 plague of humiliation visited upon her. But Raimi implies the real torture is enduring a dinner party with the smug, rich parents of her fiancN. Gypsy magic is bad, but money is the real curse.

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