With Halloween nearly upon us, chances are that you are spending these October nights catching up with some of your favorite flight flicks. For the past couple of years, the Shout Factory imprint Scream Factory has dedicated themselves to resurrecting horror classics and cult favorites alike for an impressive assortment of special edition DVD and Blu-ray releases. Most of these feature stunning new cover art, as well as a truly stellar collection of special features that include cast and crew interviews, trailers, retrospectives and much, much more. Most recently, the company has issued a quartet of fright flicks from the 1980s that include George Romero’s Day of the Dead, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and the divisive (and way better than their reputations suggest, not to mention massively superior to the current Bates Motel TV series) Psycho sequels, Psycho II and Psycho III.
So how do these spooky classics hold up? Let’s take a look:
Day of the Dead
George Romero’s third “living dead” shocker is the most explicit and bloody yet! As the last camp of human survivors fight among themselves in an underground military base, the zombies begin to develop a rudimentary intelligence as they prepare for a final assault. Richard Liberty, Lori Cardille, and Terry Alexander star. While not as fondly regarded as Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead does have lots of interesting things happening–most notably Bub, a zombie who seems to possess rudimentary intelligence and gets the film’s most pleasing scenes–including an unforgettable final moment. Add to the mix some over-the-top performances by Joe Pilato and Gary Klar, and you’ve got a recipe for an underrated horror gem. Interestingly enough, the movie suffered from being released without a rating (the MPAA deemed it too violent to receive an R). But compared to the onscreen carnage of The Walking Dead, the gore in the movie now seems downright quaint. Go figure.
As for the new version of the film The film has never looked or sounded this good. Better still, the feature-length documentary World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead answers pretty much every question you had about the movie, chronicling the production, release and legacy of the picture. There’s some other featurettes to be found here as well, but this documentary is nothing short of zombie paydirt. Don’t miss this one, it deserves to be a part of your annual spooky film festivals.
Prince of Darkness
John Carpenter is responsible for some of the greatest horror/sci-fi flicks ever made. This is not one of them. Essentially, it is a story about a primordial essence unleashed from its prison of seven million years by scientists. We don’t know what the evil-looking liquid is in that ancient container, but with hordes of creepy crawlies around it, and a glow that turns folks into zombie-like creatures, you know it’s bad. Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker star. There are some downright fascinating ideas on display here, as well as some futuristic dream imagery that is downright unsettling. But for every creepy element of the film comes something that takes you right out of the onscreen events — such as leading man Parker’s ridiculous mustache that seems to have been transported from John Holmes’ face and a distracting appearance from Alice Cooper as a bum/evil minion. Great score though. Carpenter really tried to make things work here, but even though the story almost gels ultimately Prince of Darkness suffers from its low budget and lack of cohesive vision. Your mileage may vary.
That said, if you haven’t previously seen the flick, Scream Factory’s special edition is the only way to do so. The picture is crystal clear, which is a mixed blessing as it makes both the spooky imagery of the future broadcasts and some dubious special effects quite evident. There’s a rollicking commentary track with Carpenter and frequent co-star Peter Jason, as well as the requisite interviews, trailers and other features. Last year, Scream Factory released a special edition of the unfairly maligned Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Like that film, Prince of Darkness is a film that audiences either love or hate. If you consider yourself in the former camp, this release is a valentine to one of Carpenter’s most overlooked efforts.
Okay look, let’s get this right out of the way first thing: any sequels to Psycho were a misguided idea from the start. But in Hollywood commerce trumps creativity every time, so here he have the return of Norman Bates. Released from a mental hospital after 22 years, Norman returns to the Bates family mansion where he’s tormented by memories of his “mother.” And when the murders start up again, Norman is the obvious suspect. But is he really to blame? Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, and Dennis Franz star. That’s right, Dennis Franz. So if you’ve ever wanted to see Andy Sipowicz tussle with one of cinema’s greatest icons, you’re in luck. While nowhere near as great as Hitchcock’s genre-defining masterpiece, Psycho II is still a taut, respectable thriller that is worth revisiting.
As you may have guessed, Scream Factory went above and beyond with this one as well. Yep, it looks/sounds great, there are some interesting vintage interviews and an enlightening audio commentary track as well.
After the success of Psycho II in 1983, another sequel was inevitable. Thus we have this offering that featured Anthony Perkins skillfully handling directing duties. He’s great in front of and behind the camera here, but the story is a bit more slight and predictable. After re-opening the Bates Motel and hiring a brutally misogynistic assistant, Norman befriends a former nun while dodging a journalist seeking to report on his past murders. But when he begins hearing his mother’s voice, his delicate grip on reality once again starts slipping away. With Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell.
The highlights of this one are a compelling interview with affable co-star Jeff Fahey, audio commentary with screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue and some additional trailers and featurettes. The main problem with Psycho III is that it seems to be the most forgettable entry in the series. Norman Bates deserved better.
So there’s a roundup of recent Scream Factory releases. Do you have a particular favorite fright flick you’d like to see them give the special edition treatment to? (For me, it’s Basket Case). Then let us know in the comments!
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