It’s not just the ghouls that come out for Halloween. Horror movies are a year-round genre but October is special, and perhaps not just because of the holiday. As sunny summer days gives was to the chill of autumn and early nightfall ushers in winter, maybe we’re more drawn to the cinema of shadows and the creatures lurking within. Or maybe it’s just a convenient marketing focus.

Regardless, tis the season for disc labels to bring out their marquee horror classics. Here are five stand-out horror releases for Fall 2013 along with a round-up of other burnt offerings for the season.

VincentPriceColBDThe Vincent Price Collection (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) is the season’s most impressive horror movie set. Price had a long and successful career before becoming an icon of American gothic horror but this set pays tribute to his later years, beginning with The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), the first of Roger Corman’s colorful Edgar Allan Poe films, and concluding with The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), the deliriously surreal revenge film of clockwork ingenuity and macabre humor. Six films on four discs in all, along with plenty of extras.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) established the tone and style of Roger Corman’s successful cycle of gothic horror film, most of them based on (or at least inspired by) the work of Poe and scripted by Richard Matheson. These are stories of madness and melancholia set in gloomy, crumbling mansions and shot in rich, bleeding color and CinemaScope by the great Floyd Crosby, and Price’s theatrical flourish gives his brooding heroes a sense of tragedy. In Pendulum, Corman creates something even more chilling in Barbara Steele’s savage eyes and feral smile, Price’s cackling transformation into a sadistic ghost, and the grandiose bladed pendulum set piece, but he saves his most chilling image for the wickedly ironic climax.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) is the greatest of the Poe films and Price trades in his haunting, haunted portraits to play the demented, debauched Prince Prospero. His castle is the sole sanctuary during the plague, but the price to enter is to become a plaything of the sadistic tormentor and he wields the power of life and death with no pity: his subjects are toys and he revels in their humiliation and torture. Based on two Poe stories (“The Masque of the Red Death” and “Hop-Frog, or the Eight Chained Orang-outangs”) and influenced by Ingmar Bergman, it was scripted by Charles Beaumont, another specialist in takes of fantasy and horror but with a more macabre sensibility than Matheson, and shot in Britain with a largely British cast and crew. The combination of greater resources (Corman used some sets leftover from Beckett, giving him grander sets than ever before) and new collaborators (Nicolas Roeg was his cinematographer), and perhaps the distance from AIP offices, enable Corman to make his most daring character study, his bleakest portrait of human deprivation and resignation in the face of fear, and most stylistically impressive film.

The Haunted Palace (1963) is not a Poe adaptation (despite the insistence of the film poster) but based on H.P. Lovecraft, and the set is rounded off with the grim The Witchfinder General (1968), directed by Michael Reeves (Don Kaye explores the film for Cinephiled here), and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971).


This is a fine set with good-looking transfers and a wealth of supplements, most of them carried over from previous DVD releases. Every film features commentary and interviews, with Roger Corman contributing tracks for Pendulum and Usher, director Robert Fuest on Phibes and producer Philip Waddilove and actor Ian Ogilvy on Witchfiinder, plus interviews with Corman and Vincent Price (conducted by David Del Valle) and video introductions to five of the films by Price (shot on videotape for PBS showings of the film decades ago) among the supplements.

UninvitedThe Uninvited (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) is Hollywood’s first great earnest ghost story (previous ghosts were the stuff of comedies). Ray Milland is a composer and Ruth Hussey is his sister, a pair of single siblings who buy a vacant manor on a coastal cliff and Gail Russell (in her first major role; she gets “introducing” credit) is the orphaned young woman who feels both pushed and pulled by the spirit of the home, which belonged to her deceased mother. Psychological readings aside, it has unmistakable echoes of Rebecca, right down to the powerful personality that hangs over the house even in death and loyal servant who carries on her memory (albeit from the remove of an asylum, where the great lady’s portrait hangs like some founding mother). But where Hitchcock’s film was a metaphorical haunting, the ghosts here are real. Director Lewis Allen goes for shivers over scares, an eerie atmosphere where candles dim or extinguish themselves and a woman’s wail can be heard some night emanating from the very bones of the house. There’s a séance, chilly breezes from out of nowhere, and gauzy apparitions added by the studio to give the audiences an ectoplasmic spirit to fixate on (but is, nonetheless, quite artfully executed), all things that earlier comic ghost stories and old dark house movies used to comic effect. Allen doesn’t refresh those tropes, he merely executes them with understated elegance (the dialogue can’t help comment, of course, but even that remains in the realm of skepticism) and leaves open the possibility of alternate explanations. At least until the special effect specters appear, but they are lovely enough in their own right to earn their appearance. Both the Blu-ray and DVD feature a visual essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda and two radio adaptations of the film (from 1941 and 1949), both featuring Ray Milland, plus a booklet with an essay by Farran Smith Nehme and an archival interview with Lewis Allen.

EyesWOFaceGeorge Franju’s perverse Eyes Without a Face (Criterion, Blu-ray) is at once lyrical, haunting, and deviant, an elegantly horrifying classic of sadism and shadowy grace. A famed plastic surgeon (Pierre Brasseur), wracked with guilt over disfiguring his once beautiful daughter (Edith Scob) in car wreck, lures young woman to his secluded mansion with the help of his mistress Louise (Alida Valli) and performs brutal, bloody experiments upon them, sacrificing their beauty and their lives to restore his daughter’s face. She wanders like a lost fawn through the house, her scarred face hidden behind a blank mask that exposes only her sad, lonely eyes. Franju creates an eerie poetry reminiscent of Cocteau’s fantasy imagery out of the doctor’s sadistic experiments, culminating in an astonishingly brutal and beautiful finale. The screenplay was co-written by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, authors of the novels which became Les Diaboliques and Vertigo. The Blu-ray features a new interview with actress Edith Scob plus the supplements from the earlier DVD release, including Blood of the Beasts, Franju’s 1949 short documentary about Paris slaughterhouses, archival interviews with Franju, and excerpts from the documentary Les Grands-pere du Cinema featuring screenwriters Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, plus a booklet with essays by novelist Patrick McGrath and film historian David Kalat

NightTideNight Tide (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD), Curtis Harrington’s 1963 feature debut, is an eerie little psychological fantasy with Dennis Hopper as a lonely sailor who falls in love with a young woman (Linda Lawson) who makes her living posing as a mermaid in a sideshow. She believes herself to be a siren destined to return to the sea, in part due to a mysterious woman who has a power over the dreamy girl. Dreamy imagery and atmospheric location shooting imparts a strange ambiance to this “Twilight Zone”-ish little piece. Past Kino classics from the public domain have come for preserved prints but this comes from an actual film restoration the Academy Film Archive (with support from The Film Foundation and Curtis Harrington) and it is lovely, by far the best release of a film that has not always been treated well on home video. Also features archival commentary by director Curtis Harrington and actor Dennis Hopper and a 1987 TV interview with Harrington conducted by David Del Valle.

HalloweenAnd no surprise that the newly remastered edition of John Carpenter’s Halloween: 35th Anniversary (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) was released weeks in advance of Halloween. Anchor Bay has been repackaging and re-releasing this contemporary classic on home video for decades. For this edition (its second Blu-ray release) it gets a freshly remastered transfer supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundy and it is superb, capturing the shadowy atmosphere and showcasing Carpenter’s careful compositions and lighting that give what could have been a cheap slasher picture a formal beauty and directorial intelligence. Also includes a new commentary track reuniting Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis and a new featurette on Curtis as she makes a special convention appearance among the supplements.

New releases:

The Conjuring (New Line, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD, On Demand), James Wan’s old-school haunted house thriller, was featured in this week’s column.

ManiacEarlier this month saw the respective releases of Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD) and Curse of Chucky (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD, On Demand), the sixth in the series but the first to go direct to disc. For completists, there is also Chucky: The Complete Collection (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD).

More from the B-side of the new release are the direct-to-disc remakes of Maniac (IFC, Blu-ray, DVD), with Elijah Wood in the Joe Spinell role, and Embrace of the Vampire (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray+DVD), a Canadian redo of the Alyssa Milano direct-to-disc erotic horror hit of the nineties, and the disc originals Red Clover (Lionsgate, DVD), with Billy Zane and William Devane and a St. Patrick’s Day twist, and the horror comedy 100 Bloody Acres (Doppelganger, DVD) from Australia.

And here are a couple of anthology horror films: Chilling Visions (Shout Factory, Blu-ray, DVD), with five short films based on the five human senses, and Horror Stories (Artsploitation, DVD), with four short horror stories from Korea.

Disc debuts:Corruption

Corruption (Grindhouse, Blu-ray+DVD), a gore-drenched British riff on Eyes Without a Face set in the culture of swinging sixties London, stars Peter Cushing as a mad doctor who goes around butchering people to harvest their pituitary glands to restore the beauty to his disfigured wife. Grindhouse Releasing presents the complete, uncensored version in a new restoration for its American home video debut, and it features commentary, interviews, alternate scenes, and other supplements.

Also from Britain comes House on Straw Hill (Severin, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), a 1976 shocker starring Udo Kier and mastered for disc from an uncut collector’s print, while The House of Seven Corpses (Severin, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), starring John Carradine and Faith Domergue, comes from Salt Lake City. Both feature commentary tracks and interviews.

Blu-ray debuts:

The Haunting (Warner, Blu-ray), the spooky 1963 feature adapted from the Shirley Jackson novel and directed by Robert Wise, is considered one of the great ghost stories of its era.

OtherThe Other (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), directed by Robert Mulligan from the Tom Tryon novel, is a tale of two twins in an adolescent Caine and Abel relationship (Jerry Goldsmith’s score is featured on an isolated audio track.

John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (Warner, Blu-ray) is another of the director’s underrated films, his tribute to H.P. Lovecraft with a streak of black humor. The disc carries over the commentary with Carpenter and the painfully resistant cinematography Gary Kibbe.

Mindwarp (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), a 1991 low-budget production starring Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm, was the first feature produced by Fangoria Films. Ami Dolenz stars in the sequel Witchboard 2: the Devil’s Doorway (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), and the disc includes commentary and a featurette.

The notorious (and notoriously bad) 1976 Snuff (Blue Underground, Blu-ray, DVD) was previously on DVD in a bare-bones edition. It’s remastered for Blu-ray and DVD and features new supplements, including an introduction by Nicolas Winding Refn.