The chilly winds and spook-filled atmosphere of Halloween are perfect excuses to curl up on the couch with a sizable pile of horror films. Here are a few recent DVD releases, which may have escaped your attention. These films run the gamut from old-school studio chillers to modern-day J-horror. Each one would make a fine addition to any horror-lover's library, and none of them features Paris Hilton.
(Fox Home Entertainment, List Price: $14.98) This long-lost film from the drive-in heyday of 1962 is an odd duck. Largely unrelated to the landmark 1919 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, this one plays out like an extended version of “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits.” (Small wonder, since it's written by author Robert Bloch of Psycho fame.) This slightly surreal tale finds a young woman (Glynis Johns from Mary Poppins) stuck at the creepy country estate of Dr. Caligari (Dan O'Herlihy from Robocop) following an auto accident. The inhabitants of the place are all pretty strange, and Caligari himself is like a perverted version of Sigmund Freud. The film is slow-going, but features an unforgettable atmosphere and a classic twist ending. Perfect for fans of twisty old psycho-thrillers.
(Dark Sky Films, List Price: $19.95) This 1964 cheapie is sometimes credited as the first “gore” film. Well, it's pretty tame by today's standards, but it does feature plenty of bikini babes, lots of kooky dialogue and even a few well-stripped corpses. The plot finds a bunch of youngsters stranded on a tropical island where a mad Nazi scientist (is there any other kind?) has created humongous flesh-eating microbes. I think you can imagine where this is going. The disc features an unedited version of the film (all the blood and cleavage intact), theatrical trailers and a deleted scene. Trivia note: Director/producer Jack Curtis went on to be the voice of Pops Racer in the American dub of “Speed Racer.”
(Warner Home Video, List Price: $19.97) I love DVDs. Who among us could ever have imagined a day when we'd see a digitally remastered anamorphic widescreen print of 1972's killer rabbit opus Night of the Lepus? Not I, for one. This one is pretty legendary in stupid movie circles--mostly because the filmmakers were serious. Think about it: Somebody, somewhere came up with the concept for a film about gigantic murderous bunny rabbits ... and thought it was a good idea. This is certainly the career low point for stars Stuart Whitman, Rory Calhoun and Janet Leigh (not to mention “Star Trek”'s DeForest Kelly). Sadly, there's no “making of” documentary, but the Dolby Digital soundtrack does allow you to hear the giant bunnies growl louder than ever. (Somebody forgot to tell the filmmakers that rabbits don't have voice boxes.)
(Warner Home Video, List Price: $59.95) During his tragically brief Hollywood career, Val Lewton never directed a single film. But he was so influential as a producer that the films he was involved in all bear that unmistakable “Val Lewton” style. Lewton's films were rarely all-out scare-fests, but they each possessed a Gothic, mist-shrouded, shadow-haunted look that made them classics of the supernatural thriller genre. This long-overdue boxed set features eight of Lewton's most atmospheric outings: Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, The Leopard Man, The Ghost Ship and The 7th Victim. Most of the films (all shot between 1942 and 1946) have modern commentary. (The Exorcist's William Friedkin, for example, weighs in on Leopard Man.) There's also a new documentary, Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy, making this one jam-packed set for the old-school horror lover.