Halloween is here, and nothing sets the mood better than a good horror movie--except maybe a bad horror movie. Frankly, I’m good with either this time of year. If you’re looking for something to watch this holiday while digesting all of those Tootsie Rolls, Smarties and mini Snickers bars, here are a few suggestions. These recently released box sets might be just the thing to stir up childhood memories of Halloweens past--no matter what decade you grew up in.
Grow up in the ’60s? Chances are you remember this show. MGM dusts off the cobwebs on a true TV classic. This set features 22 episodes from the first season of the famously morbid 1964 sitcom. The jokes are still way ahead of their time, and the cast (John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, Ken Weatherwax, Lisa Loring and Ted Cassidy) are absolutely iconic in their roles.
The set features a few extras (a pilot ep commentary by director Arthur Hiller, some original drawings/photos, a couple short documentaries and a theme song karaoke). Hardcore collectors should note that this set does not contain all of the shows in season one (which ran 34 episodes). Nonetheless, the entire series will eventually be released on three DVD collections (three discs each), and the price is certainly cheap enough. (I’ve seen it for under $20.)
Spend a lot of time at the drive-in in the ’70s? You couldn’t have missed this milestone. Yes, the increasingly cool folks over at Dark Sky Films have released yet another edition of Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 horror flick. What’s so “ultimate” about it? Well, the film looks better than it has in a hell of a long time, having been painstakingly restored and cleaned by Don May of Synapse Films. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is bright and full of contrast, reminding us that--once upon a time--this looked pretty damn good for a low-budget college film project.
As expected, there are loads of extras spread over the two discs in this set. Theatrical trailers, TV spots and radio commercials are all included. There are two complete audio commentaries: one with Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger and Robert A. Burns; one with Gunnar Hansen, Daniel Pearl and Tobe Hooper. This second audio track is the same one contained on the Elite DVD release of the film--but it’s a fantastic commentary, and we’re lucky to have it included. To that, you can add tons of documentaries, still galleries, bloopers, deleted scenes (26 minutes worth!), interviews with the cast and crew and a tour of the Texas Chainsaw house. If that’s not enough for you, It’s all wrapped up in a nifty tin case, and you can probably nab it for under $20. What are you waiting for?
Here’s something for those ’80s babies in the audience. Each of these discs features two films from the semi-classic syndicated TV show “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.” The films themselves are newly transferred from 16mm or 35mm sources and look about as sharp as cruddy Z-grade public domain horror films from the ’70s should look (in other words, not all that good--though viewers can reasonably assume these cheapjack films didn’t look all that great on their first day out of the processing lab). Double features in the collection include Count Dracula’s Great Love/Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, Legacy of Blood/The Devil’s Wedding Night and The Doomsday Machine/Werewolf of Washington.
Most of the original wraparounds featuring the cleavage-bearing cadaver are included (a few of the short commercial “bumpers” have been given the ax and a running gag with John Paragon on the Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks DVD is missing for some odd reason). Nostalgia is probably a little kinder to these segments than current-day reality. They’re corny, chintzy and look like they were produced in the back room of a UHF station in the early ’80s--which, well, they were. Elvira herself is still a fun character, though, spilling out a nonstop stream of cheesy sexual innuendo. Plus, it probably helps to remember that Cassandra Peterson, the comedienne underneath all that pancake makeup, was aiming for that corny, chintzy, back-
If you want, you can select a “view main feature only” option, which gives you the uncut feature all by itself minus the Elvira segments. Not that the main draw here is the craftsmanship of the films, which range from incompetent (The Doomsday Machine) to stupid (Werewolf of Washington) to truly bizarre (Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks). If you’re looking for quality horror or intentional laughs, you’re in the wrong zip code. Still, the price is right (if you dig around you can find them for under $10). And what bad movie fan doesn’t want to see Dean Stockwell run around Watergate-era D.C. as a werewolf working at the White House?