Halloween Horror Roundup ’12

Who says they don’t make them like they used to?

In most cases, “they” are right. But there appears to be a new trend in horror films to go back to old school, and focus on scares and atmosphere and creepiness rather than gore and torture and gratuitous violence.

So, just in time for Halloween, comes this survey of recently issued DVDs for those who want to keep their holiday creepy.

Penumbra (2011): From Spain’s Bogliano brothers comes this atmospheric shocker in which a group of unusual characters rent a South American apartment from a harried real estate agent just as a solar eclipse hits. It’s obvious that the event has something to do with their gathering, but what, exactly?  The talented siblings take their time to tell their disturbing tale in serious Twilight Zone-style fashion.

The Victim (2011): More exploitation film than shocker, this film warrants attention because of its grindhouse elements that resemble a drive-in film from the 1970s. Michael Biehn (The Terminator) wrote and directed this story of a woman who discovers her best friend has been raped and killed by a cop. The woman flees the crime scene chased by two corrupt lawmen, and seeks haven in the cabin of reclusive ex-convict Biehn. Boasting sex, violence, suspense and action, this could be one of the better Roger Corman pictures Roger Corman never made. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Chained (2012):  Jennifer Chambers Lynch, daughter  of David Lynch and the director of the notorious Boxing Helena, wrote and helmed this brutal saga of a psychopath (Vincent D’Onofrio) who kidnaps a kid, keeps him hostage and eventually witnesses him going to the “other side,” abducting women and killing them. The forces of evil alive in D’Onofrio are eventually realized in this horrific tale, not for the squeamish. Julia Ormond and Gina Phillips also star. Available on DVD and in a DVD/Blu-ray package.

Hypothermia (2010): Something fishy is going on under the ice! Michael Rooker plays the fellow who takes his family on an ice fishing vacation. When they arrive, they encounter a father and son who seem to be scaring the fish away with their newfangled equipment. But everyone soon discovers that a dangerous creature is lurking under the frozen waters. In other words, it’s Grumpy Old Men Meets Jaws!

House of Dark Shadows (1970): Tim Burton’s big-screen Johnny Depp remake has prompted the release of both Dark Shadows movies. Here Barnabas is resurrected, goes on a killing spree and believes a local girl where he’s been unleashed is actually his bride Josette. Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall and Kathryn Leigh Scott star in this Dan Curtis production.

Night of Dark Shadows (1971): Jonathan Frid took a rest while David Selby’s Quentin takes new wife Kate Jackson to Collinwood, only to find Angelique (Lara Parker) attracted to him.

The Tall Man (2012): Jessica Biehl is a widowed nurse in a small Washington state town whose beloved daughter is swiped by a legendary figure known as “The Tall Man,” an individual with a history of stealing little ones away. This intriguing shocker comes from French helmer Pascal Laugier (Martyrs).

The Cabin in the Woods (2012): Advance hype preceded this Joss Whedon production into theaters. Was it a game changer that was going to alter the course of horror outings in the future? We wouldn’t say it achieved that, but it did offer some interesting angles on the genre. Two stories unfold at the same time—one about a group of horny college kids’ trip to a desolate cabin in the woods, and the other—well, we don’t want to give anything away. An ambitious survey on modern horror clichés and expectations, the film features Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Sigourney Weaver.  Available on DVD and on a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack.

Barricade (2012): WWE produced this outing, their first without any of their wrestling stars in the cast. Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) plays a psychiatrist who takes his kids to a remote cabin during a blizzard in order to take a break after McCormack’s wife dies. Instead, they encounter terror from unknown forces.

The Hole (2009): The latest from Joe Dante has been on the shelf for a few years, and while it was produced in 3-D (and is not available in that format on DVD or Blu-ray) we’re thrilled that is finally getting a release.  The story has two young brothers and the girl next door discovering a hole that leads to…who knows? Ample shudders, childhood fears realized, and some wild surprises abound.

Intruders (2011): Two stories are told at the same time. In Spain, a young boy is terrified by visions of a monster called Hollowface, and an exorcist is called on to cleanse the boy of his troubles. Meanwhile, in London, construction worker Clive Owen discovers his daughter has similar stories about seeing a creature named Hollowface. What is the connection between the two, and why are they haunted by this ghostly presence? Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) adds style and atmosphere to the proceedings, fashioning a film that mixes elements of gothic horror and Italian giallo. Available in DVD and Blu-ray.

The Pact (2012):  In this first-rate haunted house film, two twentysomething sisters have to tend to family affairs after their oppressive mother dies. One of them returns to the childhood home with her 9-year-old daughter, while the other one disappears. Strange noises, disturbing images and bizarre pictures put the spook on the woman and her child as the mysteries of the house—and her missing sister—are revealed. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Halloween II (1981): The sequel to John Carpenter’s indie sensation takes the original’s star, Jamie Lee Curtis, into the hospital where she again becomes the target of killer Michael Myers. Loads of extras here, too.  Available in DVD and Blu-ray.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982): This franchise entry got divisive reactions from ticket purchasers and horror fans, but is now viewed with a new enthusiasm by genre enthusiasts.  There is no Michael Myers here. Instead, the story focuses on a diabolical toymaker and a murderous ancient ritual. All sorts of extras are included. Available in DVD and Blu-ray.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012): Four score and seven years ago, our bearded 16th president fought bloodsuckers. Or at least that’s the premise of this film taken from the popular novel from the folks who gave you Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Benjamin Walker is the rail splitter/vampire killer, Mary Elizabeth Winstead his wife Mary, and Rufus Sewell the leader of the undead. Available in DVD, a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack and a DVD/Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3-D combo pack.

The Awakening (2011): In the tradition of The Haunting, The Others and The Devil’s Backbone comes this first-rate ghost tale set in 1922 London, in which Rebecca Hall (Vicky Christina Barcelona), a debunker of paranormal activity, is called to investigated reported appearances by ghosts in a school. Dominic West and Imelda Staunton also star. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.