10/27/09 Edition
Halloween '09 Edition
TRICK 'R TREAT, William Castle and More!
Plus: New Blu-Ray Terrors

Plenty of tantalizing cinematic treats are available this season for your Halloween viewing pleasure, including several noteworthy new titles making their debuts on DVD. A full-length rundown on the latest genre titles follows below (and don't forget my first Halloween round-up from last month, which includes Blu-Ray reviews of "Child's Play," "Misery," "The Hannibal Lecter Collection," "An American Werewolf in London," and the new DVD of the Rankin-Bass classic "Mad Monster Party").

KARLOFF & LUGOSI HORROR CLASSICS: The Walking Dead, Frankenstein 1970, You’ll Find Out, Zombies on Broadway DVD (Warner). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Splendid assortment of vintage B&W chillers from the Warner archives is highlighted by the DVD debuts of Michael Curtiz’s terrific 1936 Karloff offering “The Walking Dead” (noteworthy for mixing a Warner gangster-thriller with Universal-styled horror) and the entertaining 1940 RKO haunted-house musical “You’ll Find Out” with Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre swinging out to the sounds of Kay Kyser’s Band. Warner’s double-disc set also includes the talky but moderately amusing 1958 monster flick “Frankenstein 1970" with Karloff in Cinemascope as well as Lugosi romping through the 1945 RKO release “Zombies On Broadway.” CHILLING DVD SPECS: Remastered, crisp transfers (1.33 full-frame except for “Frankenstein 1970"’s 16:9, 2.35 widescreen presentation) and mono soundtracks are complimented by commentaries on “The Walking Dead” by historian Greg Mank and Tom Weaver, Bob Burns and Charlotte Austin on “Frankenstein 1970.” Trailers are also on-tap for the latter as well as “You’ll Find Out.” AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: Though not as instantly appealing as other collections starring both of these legendary horror stars, movie buffs are sure to enjoy all four features in this satisfying Warner anthology.

THE WILLIAM CASTLE COLLECTION DVD (Sony). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Exquisite archival release from Sony ranks with the year’s top catalog discs to date. Boasting all of the legendary horror filmmaker’s entire output for Columbia Pictures, including several titles that have never been released on video at all, the five-disc set includes “13 Frightened Girls” (1963), the original “13 Ghosts” (1960), “Homicidal” (1961), Joan Crawford in “Strait-Jacket” (1963), Tom Poston in the seldom-screened, comedic remake of “The Old Dark House” (1962), the immortal “Mr. Sardonicus” (1961), the memorable Vince Price programmer “The Tingler” (1959), and Tom Poston again in the wacky “Zotz!” (1961). CHILLING DVD SPECS: All titles have been remastered in generally excellent 16:9 (1.85) transfers with superb extras, including the feature-length documentary “Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story” (with its own commentary) plus ample supplements for most movies. “13 Frightened Girls” includes an alternate British trailer intro, Castle’s original intros and closing messages for the film, four alternate international openings and the trailer; “13 Ghosts” offers a “Making Of Illusion-O” featurette and the trailer; “Homicidal” includes a making of featurette and the trailer; “Strait-Jacket” sports a retrospective featurette, wardrobe tests, vintage featurettes and more; “Mr. Sardonicus” includes a pilot for Castle’s “Ghost Story” series; “The Tingler” includes an alternate drive-in sequence, and Making Of featurette; and all the other pictures include their respective trailers. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: Nostalgic horror fans will find this anthology to be utterly irresistible (with “13 Frightened Girls,” “Zotz!” and “The Old Dark House” making their DVD debuts here), with terrific supplements and crisp, satisfying new transfers. Highly recommended!    

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS DVD (***, 90 mins., 1986, Unrated; Sony). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Fred Dekker’s wonderfully nostalgic sci-fi/horror effort with ample doses of comedy at last arrives on DVD in a superlative package from Sony. In addition to the expected remastered transfer and soundtrack, along with a slew of extras, the movie is finally presented in Dekker’s preferred original version, with an ambiguous, cool ending that was shown for years in broadcast TV airings -- but inexplicably taken out of the theatrical version in favor of a cheapjack scare that ended the film on a sour note. With its proper finale reattached, “Creeps” can now be appreciated as one of the most purely entertaining genre films of the mid ‘80s. CHILLING DVD SPECS: Commentary with Dekker, a separate cast commentary, deleted scenes, multiple retrospective featurettes, a trivia track, the original trailer, and the theatrical release’s ending are all on-hand here. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer is excellent and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound likewise satisfying, offering a fine Barry Devorzon score. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: From Tom Atkins’ delightful performance as a determined police detective to a bevy of laughs and the movie’s B&W opening, “Night of the Creeps” has always been one of my favorite sci-fi/horror outings of its era...with the lone caveat being its theatrical release ending. With that coda now excised in favor of what Dekker intended all along, there’s a good chance “Creeps” might now become more widely embraced beyond its core group of fans.

TRICK ‘R TREAT DVD (***, 82 mins., 2007, R; Warner). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Completed in 2007 and shelved (for no discernable reason) by Warner Bros., this stylish and thoroughly entertaining Halloween anthology from writer-director Michael Dougherty and producer Bryan Singer is a great deal more satisfying than their prior collaboration on “Superman Returns.” Here Doughtery spins a delightfully ghoulish succession of vignettes all centered around an Ohio town celebrating October 31st, ranging from a girl just wanting to experience her “first time” (Anna Paquin) to a school principal (Dylan Baker) who enjoys carving a particular kind of jack o’lantern. The stories are deftly intertwined, the visuals by cinematographer Glen MacPherson and production designer Mark Freeborn are evocative of the season, while composer Douglas Pipes throws a nod to Herrmann with his brooding score. Add in a memorable creature anti-hero that’s bound to become a cult favorite and you have the recipe for a jolly good time. CHILLING DVD SPECS: Warner’s DVD edition of “Trick ‘R Treat” includes a decent 16:9 (2.35) transfer that pixilates badly during one sequence (where several young trick-or-treaters are in a spooky canyon), but otherwise is well composed. The DVD also houses an active 5.1 soundtrack, a pan-and-scan 1.33 version, and a hand-drawn animated short by Doughtery that proved to be the inspiration for the film. This is included either with or without the director’s commentary. The Blu-Ray version (which, alas, the studio did not provide for review) apparently contains more extras than what we have here. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: Gory but not needlessly explicit, with some enjoyable old-school moralizing (the film’s victims, either juvenile or adult, tend to either be guilty of playing tricks or neglecting the true spirit of Halloween), “Trick ‘R Treat” is a short and sweet, inspired horror ride that comes highly recommended!

THE CRAFT Blu-Ray (***, 101 mins., 1996, R; Sony). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Entertaining 1996 box-office sleeper stars Robin Tunney as a high school outsider who befriends a group of outcasts -- all with budding powers in the art of witchcraft. Tunney is fine but she’s completely overshadowed in director Andrew Fleming’s horror fantasy by Fairuza Balk’s gleefully bonkers performance as the group’s leader, who becomes increasingly unhinged as her powers develop. Screenwriter Peter Filardi and Fleming’s story, meanwhile, works as both a teenage thriller and a supernatural outing, with some moments of humor and effective F/X intertwined throughout. CHILLING BLU-RAY SPECS: Sony’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Craft” boasts a superb AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. Extras are all culled from prior editions, including commentary, deleted scenes, a vintage featurette and a retrospective produced for a later DVD release. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: Though a bit dated with its “grunge” soundtrack, “The Craft” has held up fairly well thanks to its performances. It’s unfortunate we haven’t seen more of Fairuza Balk as the years have gone by, but this one ranks with her most memorable work and remains a genre favorite among fans.

WOLF Blu-Ray (**, 125 mins., 1994, R; Sony). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Stillborn werewolf thriller was expected to be a massive smash, thanks to its top-notch cast (Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Plummer, Kate Nelligan, James Spader), Rick Baker make-up effects, and an esteemed director (Mike Nichols) who was supposed to bring a touch of class to the genre. Unfortunately all the talent in the world couldn’t make “Wolf” exciting, as outside of a few memorable lines Nichols’ tedious effort never gels, and shows obvious signs of post-production tinkering (apparently the last third was extensively refilmed). CHILLING BLU-RAY SPECS: A no-frills BD effort from Sony, offering the studio’s typically strong AVC-encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. The movie looks a bit aged but the presentation is still appreciably better than the DVD. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: As memory serves, John Williams was once scheduled to write the score for “Wolf,” but bailed due to a “scheduling conflict.” After seeing the finished product, it’s not hard to guess that Williams probably heard this one was in trouble prior to its release (Ennio Morricone’s final score comes off as by-the-numbers, particularly for the composer). A major disappointment that has not improved as the years have passed.

MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN Blu-Ray (**½, 123 mins., 1994, R; Sony). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Mary Shelley classic was expected, much like Mike Nichols’ “Wolf,” to be a major success. Unfortunately a convoluted plot filled with overpowering, operatic moments turned “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” into one of the year’s biggest flops, the film barely scraping up $22 million in box-office revenues domestically. Viewed now it’s not a total disaster, mainly due to Roger Pratt’s outstanding cinematography, a few plot twists (courtesy of the Steph Lady-Frank Darabont script) and interesting cast (from Robert DeNiro’s somewhat thankless role as the monster to Ian Holm, John Cleese and Tom Hulce in small supporting turns), but there are still too many scenes of Branagh shouting and running up and down staircases -- all to the strains of an equally bombastic Patrick Doyle score. Meanwhile, the bookending sequences involving Aidan Quinn and his frozen Arctic ship confirm that James Whale and other filmmakers were wise in their decisions to axe that element of the story from prior adaptations. CHILLING BLU-RAY SPECS: Another movie-only BD release from Sony, “Frankenstein” does offer a pleasing AVC encoded 1080p transfer that does justice to Pratt’s cinematography. Meanwhile, the DTS Master Audio sound is likely to give your home theater a workout. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: A surprise box-office misfire, intended by producer Francis Ford Coppola to be a companion to his “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” smash from a few years before, “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” is an interesting but not altogether successful attempt at elevating Shelley’s tale to a level of almost Shakespearian tragedy. Portions of it work, others fall flat, but Sony’s Blu-Ray at least enhances the film’s most positive attribute to a level that can now be better appreciated on home theater screens.           

THE STEPFATHER DVD (***, 89 mins., 1987, R; Shout! Factory). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Sleeper hit (which earned its share of critical kudos as well) boasts a taut script by novelist Donald E. Westlake and a terrific performance from future “Lost” star Terry O’Quinn as an unhinged new stepdad to troubled teen Jill Schoelen and mom Shelley Hack. Seems that O’Quinn has a knack of making his way into single-mother households and enjoying the American Dream, at least until his psychotic tendencies manifest themselves! Effectively directed by genre vet Joseph Ruben, “The Stepfather” is a superior genre entry from the mid ‘80s, with O’Quinn expertly balancing the story’s inherent horror with black humor, and the ever-underrated Schoelen making for a sympathetic heroine. Highly entertaining and finally on DVD courtesy of Shout! CHILLING DVD SPECS: Shout!’s DVD incredibly marks the first domestic DVD edition of “The Stepfather,” and it does not disappoint: the 16:9 transfer is well-composed and is only limited by the film’s modest budget, while the mono sound is perfectly acceptable as well. Extras include a half-hour retrospective on the picture boasting comments from Ruben, veteran producer Brian Garfield, Jill Schoelen and others, along with a commentary from the director and the original trailer. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: At long last available in the U.S .in a top-notch presentation, “The Stepfather” should be on every self-respecting horror fan’s DVD shopping list this Halloween. Forget the remake and check out the original -- it’s a definite treat!

THE GATE Special Edition DVD (**½, 85 mins., 1987, PG-13; Lionsgate). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Tibor Takacs’ 1987 horror fantasy is best remembered for its playful special effects and the fact that it came within $10,000 of beating Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman’s massively expensive “Ishtar” at the box office! A young Stephen Dorff and Louis Tripp play a pair of kids who stumble upon a group of tiny demons from a hole in their backyard, resulting in a PG-13 genre outing with the duo trying to stop hell from spilling over into their suburban neighborhood. CHILLING DVD SPECS: This long-overdue Special Edition of “The Gate” includes commentary wiht the filmmakers, cast and crew interviews, the trailer, a new 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 2.0 stereo audio. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: A fondly-remembered, if minor, genre outing, “The Gate” isn’t especially scary but it’s moderately entertaining and Lionsgate has presented it in a superb special edition DVD that the film’s fans are sure to enjoy.

BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE Blu-Ray (**, 89 mins., 2009, R; Sony). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Odd, live-action adaptation of a popular anime stars Korean superstar Gianna as an ages-old young vamp who arrives at a U.S. army base in Japan (just to work in Allison Miller’s American heroine) in order to slay some demons. Chris Nahon’s movie has a definite “international” air about it, as it seeks to rework elements which made its source material successful, but with more of an appeal to worldwide audiences. The end result boasts some nifty action sequences, but nothing in the way of a compelling plot to hold it together. CHILLING BLU-RAY SPECS: Sony’s Blu-Ray looks outstanding with a nicely textured AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. The sound design is active but Clint Mansell’s score sounds like temp-track-city. Extras include a pair of featurettes and a Blu Ray exclusive storyboard gallery. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: Anime fans may want to check out “Blood” just to see how the movie turned out, but it’s barely a step above a typical Sci-Fi Channel outing, with a threadbare plot that doesn’t pay off.

ORPHAN Blu-Ray (**, 123 mins., 2009, R; Warner). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Happy couple Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard opt to bring home an orphaned little girl so that their own son and deaf daughter have another sibling...of course, she turns out to be a homicidal maniac harboring a massive secret in this well-made but exploitive film with a tasteless premise on the part of writers Alex Mace and David Leslie Johnson. Jaume Collet-Serra directs this lengthy Dark Castle production with a sure hand, and one has to give him credit for allowing “Orphan” room to breathe with its two-hour running time and character development expanded beyond what we typically see in a genre film nowadays. That said, “Orphan” still gets progressively sillier the further along it goes, leading to a howler of an ending. CHILLING BLU-RAY SPECS: An excellent 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack comprise a fine technical presentation from Warner, while extras include additional scenes, an alternate ending, and one making of featurette. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: Superior to than the endless parade of “Saw” sequels but equally ridiculous and excessive in its own way, “Orphan” isn’t the worst choice for Halloween viewing this year...but that’s pretty much the best I can say about it.

WRONG TURN 3: LEFT FOR DEAD Blu-Ray (*½, 92 mins., 2009, Unrated; Fox). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Yet another direct-to-video sequel to the Eliza Dushku backwoods horror outing once again finds a group of unsuspecting campers running afoul of inbred cannibals. Mayhem ensues -- all of it fairly well executed by “Sci-Fi Channel movie veteran” Declan O’Brien (yes, the back packaging even boasts about that fact!), yet it’s all by-the-numbers with a spectacularly lame coda. CHILLING BLU-RAY SPECS: Fox’s dual-layer BD sports a crisp AVC encoded transfer, DTS Master Audio soundtrack, three featurettes and deleted scenes. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: Routine stuff through and through, even partially interested viewers ought to wait for the small-screen airings.

JACK KETCHUM’S OFFSPRING Blu-Ray and DVD (79 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: A group of cannibals head to Dead River, Maine (isn’t that the first place you’d want to go?) in this adaptation of a book by novelist Jack Ketchum, who also scripted “Offspring” for the screen. Fans of the novelist might find something in this short and forgettable outing from director Andrew Van Den Houten, which does boast a nice score by Ryan Shore. CHILLING DVD SPECS: Lionsgate’s first of four new releases from Ghost House Underground boasts an impressive array of extras, including commentary with the director, writer, and producer, plus a Making Of, photo gallery, printable script and other goodies, along with a 1.78 (16:9) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray enhances the picture and sound (1080p and DTS Master Audio) while including the same special features. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: “Offspring” is watchable but with a running time that staggers to meet the 79 minute mark, there’s not a lot here for the average horror fan.

THE THAW Blu-Ray and DVD (94 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: A group of ecology students -- along with “renowned environmental advocate” Val Kilmer -- finds a prehistoric bug in the carcass of a woolly mammoth in this silly, albeit moderately entertaining, programmer. Martha McAsaac and Aaron Ashmore make for a decent couple and Kilmer puts in a just-for-the-money performance, complete with global warning asides that are more preachy and horrific than the movie itself! CHILLING DVD SPECS: Not as many extras here as “Offspring,” this Lionsgate DVD boasts a behind-the-scenes featurette, a trailer gallery, music video and more. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Digital soundtrack are both excellent; the Blu-Ray offers the same presentation with a superior 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: More like a Syfy original movie than a theatrical feature, “The Thaw” is a passable timekiller but not much more.

THE CHILDREN Blu-Ray and DVD (85 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: A couple heads out to the country for a Christmas vacation, only to find a flu-like virus that turns their little ones into homicidal maniacs. This disturbing effort from writer-director Tom Shankland gets its jolts mainly out of watching little kids turn twisted and deadly, but the picture isn’t very satisfying, especially as far as its resolution goes. CHILLING DVD SPECS: A full slate of DVD extras include a Making Of, multiple featurettes, trailer gallery, 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Once again the Blu-Ray release ups the ante with a more detailed 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, along with identical supplements. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: A bit offensive and exploitive, “The Children” fails to make the grade for Halloween viewing.

SEVENTH MOON Blu-Ray and DVD (87 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Amy Smart and Tim Chiou picked the wrong time for a Chinese honeymoon in “Seventh Moon.” The duo’s trip is severely hampered by the dead coming back to life on the full moon of the seventh lunar month when the gates of hell open -- not exactly something you advertise in a travel brochure! This latest effort from “Blair Witch” filmmaker Eduardo Sanchez is a mostly watchable thriller with a few good scares and another pseudo-documentary visual approach, though fortunately there’s more style and artistry to “Seventh Moon” than Sanchez’s much-hyped debut feature. CHILLING DVD SPECS: Commentary with Sanchez and Smart, a Making Of, numerous featurettes, trailer gallery, 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack round out the package, while the Blu gets the same extras along with an enhanced 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: The best of the four Ghost House Underground efforts from Lionsgate, “Seventh Moon” is, for the most part, worth a look.

SCARE TACTICS, SEASON 3, Part 1 DVD (284 mins., Warner). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Tracy Morgan from SNL and “30 Rock” joins the Syfy original series “Scare Tactics” in season three of the reality-comedy show, where genre-flavored pranks are played on unsuspecting folks. CHILLING DVD SPECS: With this release Warner seems to be following on Paramount’s practice of dividing season sets into separate volumes – a practice that frustrates consumers to no end. This first volume from “Scare Tactics”’ third season includes full-screen transfers, mono soundtracks (really?), bloopers and extra footage. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: “Scare Tactics” is no great shakes, to be certain, but some of it is genuinely amusing. Still a little tends to go a long way, making this one recommended for fans only.

GODZILLA [GOJIRA] Blu-Ray (1954, 98 mins., Classic Media). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: It took decades -- far too long for most Toho fanatics -- for the long-awaited, original Japanese version of GODZILLA, formally entitled GOJIRA, to be released for the very first time in North America. Classic Media’s 2006 DVD finally did the trick, and now the label has brought the Big G to Blu-Ray for the first time as well. Kaiju fans raved for years about the Japanese version of “Gojira,” which moves at a slower clip but favors character development and a more somber tone -- with explicit commentary about the horrors of the Atomic Bomb and more overt parallels to Hiroshima -- than the movie’s better-known, shortened U.S. version with Raymond Burr. In fact, it’s fascinating to see how thoughtful this groundbreaking movie actually is (in its original version), particularly when the dozens and dozens of Toho films that followed offered so little in the way of intellectual attributes. CHILLING BLU-RAY SPECS: Classic Media’s transfer originates from the healthiest surviving print of the original Japanese “Gojira,” though there are a substantial amount of scratches and dirt visible throughout. In fact it’s possible the Blu-Ray version exposes the limitations of the source material even more than the prior DVD, though at other times the heightened resolution is an appreciable upgrade on the prior standard-def release. Certain extras have been carried over from that release as well, including commentary by Godzilla experts Steve Ryfle (who also contributes extensive liner notes) and Ed Godziszewski. Godziszewski also narrates a pair of superb featurettes on the film’s story development and the history of the famous Godzilla suit, with ample vintage photographs and production stills displayed throughout. Regrettably the U.S. print is not offered here. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: This is a tough call, because Classic’s prior DVD included the American release version with Raymond Burr (which has its shortcomings but also improves the film’s pace and comes off as more of a nostalgic ‘50s monster movie), while the transfer is only marginally enhanced on Blu-Ray. For die-hard Godzilla buffs only.

THE HAUNTED AIRMAN DVD (70 mins., 2006, E1). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Bland British TV movie adapts Dennis Wheatley’s “The Haunting of Toby Jugg,” and was undoubtedly imported by E1 to capitalize on star Robert Pattinson’s recent success with the “Twilight” movies. It’s a pretty sleepy tale of a WWII flier, scarred by his time in action, who recuperates in a Wales mansion under the care of a suspicious doctor (Julian Sands) and his aunt (Rachael Stirling). CHILLING DVD SPECS: E1's DVD offers a serviceable 16:9 transfer with 2.0 stereo sound. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: Teen fans of Pattinson are likely the only audience who will find this mundane BBC TV movie to be of much interest. Well acted but simply not very compelling.

THE HUNGER Season 2 DVD (616 mins., 1999-2000, E1). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Second and final season of the Showtime cable series, which has virtually nothing to do with MGM’s 1982 film of the Whitley Streiber novel outside of its new host: none other than David Bowie himself, who must have needed the money. CHILLING DVD SPECS: Full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks are on tap in this four-disc set, while Mr Skin is on hand to offer his favorite sequences from the first two seasons. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: I wasn’t a big fan of the original “Hunger” movie or this cable series, despite having decent production values and a few attractive female leads. For addicts only.

GNAW DVD (90 mins., 2008; Dark Sky/MPI). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: British slasher affair finds six friends encountering a group of unfriendly-neighborhood cannibals in this UK answer to the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” a debut film from director Gregory Mandry. Alas Mandry is no Tobe Hooper, and “Gnaw” is pretty ghastly without being suspenseful or interesting. CHILLING DVD SPECS: Mandry’s commentary, a Making Of featurette, the trailer, 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound comprise MPI’s technical offering here. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: Explicit but senseless, “Gnaw” is probably best left undigested.    

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME DVD (**, 111 mins., 1980, R; Sony). FRIGHTFUL PLOT SUMMARY: Studio-produced, early '80s genre film is better made than most (J. Lee Thompson directed the movie before he sank into the abyss at Cannon Films), but it's still an odd mix of mystery-thriller, teen horror, and gory slasher film. Melissa Sue Anderson plays a seemingly demure student whose friends are murdered -- in increasingly grotesque fashion -- at a Canadian college. Glenn Ford (yes!) plays her psychiatrist, who attempts to help Anderson cope with the trauma that she still suffers from a tragic accident the previous year. Is Anderson responsible for the murders? And, if not, will she find out the culprit before it's too late? Though the dated soundtrack is snappy and the performances perfectly adequate (Anderson makes for an ideal tortured heroine, and certainly has a great scream), "Happy Birthday to Me" ultimately succumbs to a ridiculous ending that leaves you with a bad taste in the mouth. DVD SPECS: Previously released by Sony in a compromised DVD that included a strange, odd alternate score (albeit credited to the same composers), Anchor Bay’s new disc includes the movie’s theatrical soundtrack along with an excellent 16:9 (1.85) transfer and mono sound. AISLE SEAT SCARE-TASTIC BOTTOM LINE: A cut above the usual hack ‘n slash of its era, “Happy Birthday to Me” is still a tedious thriller worth it for genre aficionados only.

STAN HELSING DVD (*, 90 mins., 2009, R; Anchor Bay): The latest lame parody movie, “Stan Helsing” didn’t even have the goods to make it into theaters -- which, given “Disaster Movie,” “Meet the Spartans” and “Scary Movie 4,” says quite a bit indeed. Bo Zenga’s film attempts to parody a litany of classic horror films, but the results are so bad that it makes “Meet the Spartans” look good. Yes, I actually did write that! Anchor Bay’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, commentary, a Making Of, alternate/deleted scenes, outtakes, and the trailer and assorted still/storyboard galleries.

THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE Blu-Ray (**½, 93 mins., 1974, Unrated; Blue Underground): Also known as “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie,” Spanish director Jorge Grau’s mid ‘70s zombie thriller boasts vivid imagery, shot in Britain’s Lake District, as well as Gianetto De Rossi make-up effects that hardcore horror fans still rank with the best zombie thrillers. The story itself is mostly predictable, and the ending is a disappointment, but zombie aficionados ought to be thrilled that “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” has hit Blu-Ray at long last in an excellent BD package from Blue Underground. The 1080p transfer is terrific, allowing the Spanish/Italian co-production to deftly show off both its cinematography and make-up effects. The movie’s original mono soundtrack is also on-hand along with DTS Master Audio and Dolby Digital EX stereo options, while extras include an interview with Grau, a conversation with star Ray Lovelock, plus a 2000 interview with Grau and a separate conversation with De Rossi. A slew of trailers and TV/radio spots rounds out the disc.

TERROR PACK, VOL. 1 DVD (Palisades Tartan): Three disc-box set includes Vincent Cassel in the gory torture-porn offering “Sheitan”; the Japanese horror effort “Carved” with Eriko Sato; and the Dutch horror favorite “Slaughter Night.” 16:9 transfers, English subtitles and a healthy stream of extras are on-hand in this Palisades Tartan release.

P DVD (110 mins., 2009, Palisades Tartan): Gruesome torture-porn tale of a young Thai girl, brought to Bangkok, who ends up turning tricks in a go-go bar while using black magic to get her way. Gory and explicit (and as far as I can tell pointless) exercise from writer-director Paul Spurrier. Palisades Tartan’s DVD includes director commentary, featurettes, a 16:9 transfer and 2.0 and 5.1 soundtracks.

THE BUTCHER DVD (75 mins., 2009, Palisades Tartan): Proof that torture-porn is as popular overseas as it is (hopefully was) here, Jin Won Kim’s “The Butcher” hits DVD in a Special Edition from Palisades Tartan boasting an alternate ending, behind the scenes photos, the trailer and storyboard sketches. Not for the squiemish, obviously.

Also New on BD and DVD
Warner Home Video offers Peanuts fans another sterling release this month (following the Blu-Ray edition of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the DVD of “I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown”): the PEANUTS 1970s COLLECTION Volume 1, which offers the first half of the vintage Charlie Brown specials from their second decade in production, including a pair making their DVD debuts in this set. Here’s a breakdown:

“Play it Again, Charlie Brown” (1971): One of the two specials exclusive to this release, this 1971 effort is one of the few to focus on piano prodigy Schroeder. “Play it Again, Charlie Brown” has never been available domestically on DVD.

“You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown” (1972): Good ol’ C.B. backs pal Linus for class President, and tries to keep his blanking-sucking buddy from sabotaging his campaign by referring to the Great Pumpkin! Previously available in a 2008 Warner DVD which I reviewed here.

“There’s No Time For Love, Charlie Brown” (1973): A funny, amusing entry with the gang mistaking a supermarket for a museum during a field trip (it also includes a goofy Vince Guaraldi score), “There’s No Time For Love...” makes its Warner DVD debut here, having previously been available in the out-of-print Paramount compilation “A Charlie Brown Valentine.”

“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” (1973): Popcorn, toast and jelly beans comprise the perfect Peanuts Thanksgiving dinner in this perennial favorite. Previously available in a Warner deluxe DVD edition released a year ago, and which was covered in The Aisle Seat in September of '08.

“It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown” (1974): The other Peanuts special making its domestic DVD debut, “It’s a Mystery...” finds Snoopy donning Sherlock Holmes gear an in effort to investigate what happened to Woodstock’s nest. A cute Charles M. Schulz story that finally makes its way to DVD in this country at last.

“It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” (1974): Another holiday favorite which Warner released in a Special Edition DVD earlier this year. Full coverage here.

The release is capped by a new featurette, “Woodstock: Creating Snoopy’s Sidekick,” which examines the creation of Snoopy’s favorite feathered friend. All the remastered transfers and soundtracks are top-notch, though fans should note that the respective special features from the standalone releases of Warner’s previously released DVDs (“Thanksgiving,” “Easter Beagle,” “You’re Not Elected...”) have not been carried over here.

TINKERBELL AND THE LOST TREASURE Blu-Ray/DVD Combo (**½, 80 mins., 2009, G; Disney): Sequel to last year’s “Tinkerbell” original direct-to-video movie continues Tink’s youthful adventures as a fairy-in-training, which takes her (via a homemade balloon -- unintended shades of the crazy hoax from a couple of weeks ago!) on an adventure to uncover lost treasure and set things right for the Pixie Dust Tree that she’s just accidentally put in jeopardy. As with the prior “Tinkerbell” Disney production, the story is better-than-average for direct-to-vid fare, and the CGI animation is really well-done, with superb textures and beautiful colors. Young viewers ought to eat it up. Disney’s Blu-Ray disc is a combo package also including a standard DVD, and sports a number of special features (on both platforms): “outtakes,” a music video, deleted scenes, a Making Of and interactive content perfect for its intended audience. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer, meanwhile, is sensational, and is backed by DTS Master Audio sound. The standard DVD contains a fine 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.    

MY LIFE IN RUINS Blu-Ray (**, 95 mins., 2009, PG-13; Fox): Nia Vardalos might have hit the jackpot with the sleeper smash “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” but she’s rolled snake eyes in projects since, including the ill-conceived “My Big Fat Greek Life” sitcom follow-up and this tepid romantic comedy from veteran director Donald Petrie. Vardalos plays a former history professor living in Greece who guides a group of obnoxious tourists through gorgeous Greek locales. While it sounds like a solid framework for a rom-com, the Mike Reiss script is painfully pedestrian in every way, even though Vardalos and Richard Dreyfuss (as a widower who shows our heroine the ways of true love) give it their all, and Jose Luis Alcaine’s cinematography looks breathtaking in HD. Speaking of that, Fox’s Blu-Ray disc boasts a lovely AVC-encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, sporting a nice score by David Newman, as well as an alternate ending, deleted scenes and commentary from Vardalos.

THE DEAD DVD (**½, 73 mins., 1987, PG; Lionsgate): John Huston’s final movie feels at times like the longest 73-minutes you’ll ever sit through, yet aficionados of the director will still appreciate Lionsgate’s long-overdue DVD of the master director’s “The Dead.” This stilted adaptation of the James Joyce short story does boasts fine performances from Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann, along with a top-notch supporting cast and cinematography from Fred Murphy, which can now be better appreciated in Lionsgate’s new 16:9 (1.78) transfer. Available next week.

RUBY-SPEARS SUPERMAN: Complete Series DVD (309 mins., 1988-89; Warner): Fans have been clamoring for an official DVD of this 1988 Saturday morning “Superman” cartoon, animated by Ruby-Spears and produced to coincide with The Man of Steel’s 50th anniversary celebration. Fortunately for all of us, even though the series was short-lived (lasting only one season and 13 episodes), the results were far more satisfying than “Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.” With solid animation, a rousing score by Ron Jones (that incorporates some of John Williams’ classic themes), and an interesting story line that turns Lex Luthor into a billionaire industrialist (a portrayal that influenced “Smallville” and other Luthor incarnations), this is an enjoyable and highly recommended purchase for Superman fans, and easily one of the finest animated Superman renditions. Warner’s double-disc DVD set offers the complete “Superman” by Ruby-Spears in colorful 1.33 transfers with mono soundtracks and one featurette, “The Rise of Lexcorp.” Highly recommended!

CHERI DVD (93 mins., 2009, R; Miramax): Michelle Pfeiffer stars in this latest effort from director Stephen Fears and writer Christopher Hampton, set in Paris during WWI and focusing on an aging courtesan (Peiffer) who ends up tutoring her rival’s 19-year-old son (Rupert Friend) about women. This barely 90-minute costume drama is watchable yet still comes across as a misfire given the cast and director, with Kathy Bates and Felicity Jones co-starring, and Alexandre Desplat turning in a fine score. Alas there’s not much to “Cheri,” which was barely released (and reportedly played in a longer version overseas) and hits DVD this week from Miramax in a fine 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, deleted scenes, and a Making Of featurette.

NEXT TIME: Our first Holiday DVD round-up (sorry folks, I'm not kidding!). Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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