Oh, Halloween. How we love your straddling of that line between crass, monster-themed commercialism, pagan traditions, and imagery that your conservative relatives really do worry comes from the devil. And the candy. And for people who love the color orange, separate from college football affiliations? October is the month. If you or your friends are one of those people—or you just happen to love scary movies and television—it’s also a good time to pick up special, deluxe, Blu-ray, etc. editions of your favorite tours de boo. Here are some box sets and new releases that will help you keep the commercialism in Halloween.
For American Horror Story, Season Five’s Hotel was very much a rebuilding season. Hotel brought AHS back to its straight horror roots, lost series star Jessica Lange and introduced Lady Gaga into the mix. Hotel is about as insane as AHS gets, full of vampire children, serial killers and all sorts of craziness that is to be expected from Ryan Murphy’s show and the recent BD/DVD release features special features that dig deeper into the best aspects of the series. Featurette “The Cortez: An Era of Elegance Gone By” looks at the intricate and gorgeous Hotel Cortez set built for the season, showcasing the brilliant detail that went into its various floors, while “An Invitation to Devil’s Night” focuses on the Season Five standout Halloween episode, in which the world’s most infamous serial killers get together for a yearly dinner soiree. The sequence is one of AHS’ finest, which allows for pure horror and large amounts of cheese—a perfect combination for this series. Hotel is one of American Horror Story’s craziest seasons, and this release showcases some of the most brilliant elements that deserve further exploration. —Ross Bonaime
Befitting his size and ostensible age, little Chucky has always been the pluckier—if nonetheless equally homicidal—of the 1980s slasher/horror film crew of Mike, Jason and Freddy. Shout! Factory’s new 2-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray features plenty of new features for horror buffs who like their murder sprees to be of the killer doll variety—the discs include new interviews with Ed Gale (the “body of Chucky”) and special effects guru Howard Berger, as well as new audio commentary from director Tom Holland. Along with a new 2K scan, there are also a few hours of previously released, but “oh-so-glad-to-have-it-gathered-in-one-place” material. (The bonus “Good Guys” slip cover will help you appreciate how many murder weapons one can pack into an assortment of toy accessories.) —Michael Burgin
As we mark the 40th anniversary of Carrie with this 2-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, let’s also take a moment to appreciate that this film marked the beginning of what would soon become ubiquitous—a novel by Stephen King gets made into a major motion picture! This is was the first. Beyond its role as probably the most influential horror green light of the decade (“I think this King guy has potential!”), Carrie remains a classic combination of adolescent angst, severe mother-daughter dysfunction and destructive psychokinetic powers. This particular release includes a bevy of new interviews with cast and crew, along with a few buckets of previously available content. —M.B.
Do you love John Carpenter’s 1982 classic? I mean, really love it? If so, you’ll probably want to get this new edition. With over five hours of extra material, including scads of new interviews and commentary, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll learn something you didn’t know about the film. And until they come out with a 2-disc VR edition, that’s probably the most you can ask for. And if somehow you are not familiar with The Thing, there are few 1980s films better suited to creep you out this Halloween. —M.B.
There are a lot of misconceptions about sex, but someone must’ve really told Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) a whopper because the New York City fashion designer thinks she’ll turn into a panther if sexually aroused. Crazy, right? Or is it…? A cult horror movie from when monsters like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man were teaming up to fight crime or something, Cat People was a dark and freaky film for the ’40s—and that’s not even accounting for the sexual implications of the plot—though it’s now regarded as a classic among horror aficionados. Newly available on Blu-ray from Criterion, this collection not only includes a new, 2K digital restoration of the film, but also a wealth of extras that includes Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, an informative documentary about the movie’s iconic producer (I Walked with a Zombie, The Body Snatcher. —Paul Semel
While Stephen King is no stranger to seeing his books turned into movies, this anthology film has the distinction of being scripted by him as well. Featuring two stories from his Night Shift short story collection (“Quitter’s, Inc.” and “The Ledge”), as well as an original tale (“General”), all three are loosely connected by a rather resourceful tomcat on a mission. In “Quitter’s, Inc.” James Woods (Videodrome) learns that trying to quit smoking can be bad for your health, while “The Ledge” has the furball hanging out with an sadistic gambler (Kenneth McMillan) and in “General,” the cat tries to protect a young Drew Barrymore (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial) from a breath-stealing troll. Besides the original movie, the Blu-ray edition also comes with an interesting commentary by director Lewis Teague (Navy Seals) as well as the original trailer. —P.S.
Originally made as a two-part movie for ABC, this adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name involves some kids bring terrorized by a supernatural being in the form of a clown, only to have it return years later when they’re adults. Besides Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Pennywise — the worst clown since Shakes — this scary miniseries also featured Annette O’Toole (Smallville), Richard Thomas (The Waltons), John Ritter (Three’s Company), Tim Reid (WKRP in Cincinnati), and even a teenage Seth Green (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Robot Chicken) as a younger version of Harry Anderson (Night Court). It has since become something of a cult classic, largely due to Curry’s freaky performance as Pennywise. As for this new Blu-ray edition, its only special feature is a commentary by director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch along with stars Ritter, Thomas, Reid and Dennis Christopher (Breaking away). —P.S.
Presented, over two nights, this 1980 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 vampire novel stars David Soul (Starsky & Hutch) as a writer who moves to the titular town in Maine to write a book about a local house rumored to be haunted. But when people start dying or disappearing, Soul starts to wonder if maybe that guy who looks like Nosferatu might be more than just an antiques aficionado. In true ’80s miniseries form, this two-part flick not only features the incomparable James Mason (North by Northwest) and veteran noir mainstay Elisha Cook Jr., whose almost 60-year career ranged from The Maltese Falcon to Magnum P.I., but also such odd casting choices (for a horror movie, anyway) as comedian Fred Willard (Anchorman). Besides the original version of the film, the new Salem’s Lot Blu-ray also includes a new commentary by director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) as well as the trailer for the European movie version. —P.S.
And then there’s Halloween according to Kino Lorber…
Like a crossover between a WWII-era submarine movie and James Cameron’s The Abyss, The Rift is an unusual blend of science fiction, drama and horror. Captained by the ever-grizzled R. Lee Ermey of Full Metal Jacket, the film also features the tanned perfection of Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, Robocop) and Jack Scalia (Fear City) as crew members of an experimental submarine descending to the deepest point of the ocean in search of what happened to their predecessors. Unraveling a mystery that reveals a harem of mutant monsters, the crew must fight for their lives. The Rift comes to us from cult horror director Juan Piquer Simon, creator of the highly recommended, batshit crazy 1982 slasher Pieces, as well as the infamous Slugs. —Jim Vorel
This cheesy apocalyptic tale captures a bit of the “trapped in an inescapable place with a monster” vibe you’d see five years later in Alien, only much sillier. On the eve of a nuclear holocaust, a computer selects 11 randomly chosen human beings to descend into a bunker and ride out the apocalypse, and then reemerge later to repopulate the Earth, genetics and small sampling sizes be damned. The only problem: The bunker is already home to a swarm of thirsty vampire bats! It stars grown-up former child star Jackie Cooper (all four Christopher Reeve Superman, films) who was the first child ever nominated for an Academy Award for Skippy way back in 1931. —J.V.
At the intersection of Hammer Horror and ’50s era American sci-fi flicks, you end up with the awesomely titled The Earth Dies Screaming. Directed by the great Terence Fisher, the visionary behind most of the great Hammer Horror monster movies such as Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and The Mummy, The Earth Dies Screaming is one-part alien invasion, one part zombie film. Unfortunately lower in budget than some of the big, lavish, gothic horror films that Hammer produced in the same period, it still boasts some appreciably goofy sci-fi visuals. With a story that revolves around a race of alien robots that invade the Earth and reanimate those they kill, it could be interpreted as a possible influence on Night of the Living Dead, alongside fellow Hammer film Plague of the Zombies, two years later. —J.V.
Astro Zombies would be fun enough on its own, starring a late-career John Carradine in his B-movie period, along with busty Russ Meyer vixen Tura Satana (of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! fame), but the real bonus is that this release also includes the accompanying Rifftrax commentary from the former stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000. And in a film that revolves around killer robots, Mexican secret agents and Communist spies, you know that the Rifftrax crew is going to be given plenty of ammunition. Astro Zombies is the midpoint where Meyer-style exploitation cinema meets George Romero-style horror. —J.V.
The Pit is a strange, strange film that has developed a bit of a cult audience over the years, mostly thanks to its oddly mesmerizing performance by “protagonist” and child actor Sammy Snyders. He plays a rather disturbed 12-year-old who fixates romantically on his babysitter and reveals to her a secret he’s found in the woods—a deep pit that seems to be filled with monsters. And of course, once the secret gets out, you know that quite a few people are going to end up plunging down that pit in the name of covering up various wrongdoings. The film combines some of the era’s “creepy kid” tropes (Snyders is actually dressed similarly to Danny in The Shining from a year earlier) with a fairy tale-like premise to create something that alternates between darkly humorous and genuinely creepy. —J.V.
In 1972, actor Larry Hagman (yes, J.R. Ewing from Dallas) directed his one and only feature film, and dared to answer the question: “What would happen if The Blob came back?” This, then, is actually a direct sequel to the 1958 original The Blob, and it’s made in much the same spirit: Cheesy, fun and in the grand tradition of giant monster movies. It’s certainly not nearly so grisly and genuinely terrifying and gross as the 1988 remake, which went all-in on the acidic nature of The Blob melting people’s faces off. Hagman’s Blob is a more gentle, funnier film, and one that functions as a broad critique of hippie counter-culture, as The Blob preys on quite a few peaceniks. As in the previous film, it stalks its way through town growing larger and larger until it’s as big as a building. Can anything stop … THE BLOB?!? —J.V.
This obscure film by prolific Spanish horror director Jesus “Jess” Franco is most definitely a product of its time. Coming during the Spanish horror boom of the early ’70s, it reflects the country’s loosening of cinematic restrictions on eroticism and titillation. Vampire films with lesbian themes had been common and greatly copied since Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers in 1970, and you get some more of that here as a young woman finds out that her family suffers from a centuries-old curse of vampirism. At times it also seems like an Italian giallo film a la Mario Bava, but you certainly can’t compare it to the greats put out by the likes of Fulci or Argento. Daughter of Dracula is a hodgepodge of genres that gives a good conception of the horror landscape in Spain in the early ’70s, in a film market that was undergoing rapid maturation. —J.V.
The live-action adaptation of popular manga Mai-chan’s Daily Life, this outrageous story pushes the boundaries of gleeful and erotic violence. A young maid gains employment with a rich family, unaware that they have some seriously sinister peccadillos. There, she meets the titular Mai-chan, a woman who can seemingly magically recover from any injury, no matter how grisly, and gets sucked into a world of sadomasochism that goes far beyond what would be possible when involving someone who wasn’t functionally immortal. As that description would likely make it sound, Mai-Chan’s Daily Life: The Movie; Bloody Carnal Residence is an exotic, highly sexualized Japanese film likely to challenge the unprepared viewer. —J.V.