Halloween Edition -- The New AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Now Live & Relaunched!

Review Wrap up of the Latest DVD & HD Frights

With Halloween looming this week, now is the perfect time to take a look at the various genre titles we’ve covered at The Aisle Seat over the last couple of months. Studios have recently released a variety of titles from ‘30s and ‘40s vintage thrillers to ‘80s horror staples and new high-definition editions of classics like “Halloween,” so whatever your trick-or-treat viewing persuasion happens to be, it stands to reason there’s something for every little creature out there this year!

Vintage Frights

Fans of classic horrors may do well to head down to Best Buy, where the chain is still selling (in limited numbers) a pair of in-house genre exclusives.

In early September Universal issued -- for Best Buy only -- their eagerly anticipated second anthology of genre favorites with THE CLASSIC SCI-FI ULTIMATE COLLECTION VOLUME 2, a three-disc set comprised of “Dr. Cyclops,” “The Land Unknown,” “The Deadly Mantis,” “Cult of the Cobra,” and “The Leech Woman.” No longer available for purchase at the store’s website, fans are urged to track remaining copies down now and soon, as the first volume (likewise limited to Best Buy locations) went out of print quickly and currently commands top dollar on the secondary market. In early October Universal issued another five-film anthology, THE CLASSIC HORROR ARCHIVE, again limited to Best Buy and offering ‘40s chillers “The Black Cat,” “Man Made Monster,” “Horror Island,” “Night Monster” and “Captive Wild Woman.” The latter’s availability should be wider than the former, though fans have seen both sets still on store shelves as recently as a week ago.

Even more exciting for Halloween 2007 has been the return of MGM’s beloved Midnite Movies series of sci-fi/horror favorites, which had gone on hiatus for several years while the studio’s DVD distribution was controlled by Sony. Now that MGM has partnered with Fox for distribution of their back catalog, the series is back in a big way, with Fox joining in the fun with their own Midnite Movies releases.

Regrettably, only two of the new arrivals were sent out for review, but fans are still urged to check out the new Midnite Movies Double Features, which include the following: “The Beast/Bat People,” “The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues/The Beast With A Million Eyes,”“Return of Dracula/The Vampire,” and “Yongary, Monster From The Deep/Konga,” all from MGM; and the Fox sets, which feature “Blueprint For Murder/Man In The Attic,” “Chosen Survivors/Earth Dies Screaming,” “Devils Of Darkness/Witchcraft,” “Gorilla At Large/Mystery At Monster Island,” “House On Skull Mountain/Mephisto Waltz,” and “Tales From The Crypt/Vault Of Horror.”

Newly available as a standalone entry in the Midnite Movies series is Burt I. Gordon’s hilarious adaptation of THE FOOD OF THE GODS (**½, 1976, 88 mins., PG; MGM/Fox), making its DVD debut in a splendid presentation courtesy of Fox and MGM. Gordon’s opus makes for a terrific companion piece to his 1977 follow-up “Empire of the Ants” (already available on a still in-print Midnite Movies Double Bill with the hysterical “Jaws” rip-off “Tentacles”), with Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, and Belinda Balaski as three of the poor souls who hole up in a Northwestern cabin while giant rats and roosters (you heard right!) wreck havoc.

The 16:9 (1.85) transfer is certainly pleasing, preserving all of the goofy shenanigans, while the mono sound is also fine. It might’ve been nice to see the original trailer, but alas, but it’s not on-hand here.

The other individual Midnite Movies release -- and the one of the most significance for horror fans -- is the long-awaited, restored version of WITCHFINDER GENERAL (***, 1968, 87 mins., Not Rated; MGM/Fox), aka “The Conqueror Worm” and previously only available in the U.S. in a cut version that played up the film’s loose connection with Edgar Allan Poe and star Vincent Price’s past association with American-International’s Poe series. Adding insult to injury was the hideous synthesizer score added to U.S. video releases, basically ruining the original intentions of director Michael Reeves.

It was a long time in coming, but MGM/Fox’s new edition preserves Reeves’ director’s cut, which includes the rousing orchestral score by Paul Ferris and his preferred edit of the movie, which some fans may lament is missing some of the topless nudity seen in European prints. That said, this is easily the finest version of the movie you’ll see on DVD anywhere, thanks to a razor-sharp new 16:9 (1.85) transfer with clear mono sound. The restored presentation of the movie is simply outstanding, and superb extras include commentary with producer Philip Waddilove and actor Ian Ogilvy, plus a featurette on the making of the film.

Price fanatics may also want to check out the new VINCENT PRICE: MGM LEGENDS COLLECTION box-set, which includes “Witchfinder General” as well as a number of previously released Midnite Movies favorites: “Tales of Terror,” “Twice Told Tales,” “The Abominable Dr. Phibes,” “Dr. Phibes Rises Again,” “Theater of Blood,” and “Madhouse,” plus a bonus disc featuring nearly 70 minutes of featurettes on its iconic star. All movies are presented in their prior widescreen renditions (either 16:9 or 4:3 letterbox) with the same supplements as their earlier DVD releases.

If the amount of new Midnite Movies wasn’t enough, Fox has also issued a number of other sci-fi/horror titles in time for Halloween, including a number of anticipated Special Editions:

FOX HORROR CLASSICS (Three Disc Box Set, Fox): Fully deserving of a place on the Golden Age horror fan’s mantle is this Fox box-set featuring John Brahm’s film noir favorites THE LODGER (***½, 1944, 84 mins.), HANGOVER SQUARE (***, 1945, 77 mins.) and THE UNDYING MONSTER (**½, 1943, 62 mins.).

The Laird Cregar-starring vehicles “The Lodger” (a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1920's silent film) and “Hangover Square” will prove to be of the most interest for fans -- both are heavy on atmosphere and offer a range of fine special features on DVD, including commentaries (from authors Alain Silver and James Ursini on “The Lodger” and Richard Schickel and Steve Haberman, separately, on “Hangover Square”), Making Of featurettes including tributes to Brahm and Cregar, and original radio productions of each story featuring Vincent Price. The weird werewolf tale “The Undying Monster” is the least of the group but might still appeal to horror fans who enjoy the Universal efforts of the same era, while transfers on all three pictures are as crisp as one could anticipate.

Audio offerings are 1.0 mono and a slightly re-channeled 2.0 stereo, making for a delectable Halloween viewing treat for old-school thriller buffs. Highly recommended!

THE BURNING (***, 91 mins., 1981, R; MGM/Fox): Outrageously good early ‘80s slasher from “creator”/producer Harvey Weinstein (yes, the future Miramax founder) follows a group of kids who accidentally set fire to a camp caretaker...who, in turn, promptly returns to those summer camping grounds to exact his revenge on the same counselors, including Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, and Brian Backer (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”). Excellent make-up effects from Tom Savini lend an able hand to this “Meatballs” meets “Friday the 13th” styled affair, offering the requisite gore but a more appealing tone than most of its genre counterparts of the period. MGM/Fox’s new DVD includes a terrific 16:9 (1.85) transfer with mono sound, plus the trailer, an interview with Savini, and commentary from director Tony Maylam and British writer Alan Jones. Recommended!

SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (**½, 1991, 98 mins., R; MGM/Fox): TV-movie adaptation of the Stephen King story from writers Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal (whose name is spelled incorrectly on the back cover) premiered on CBS in April of 1991 to solid enough ratings. Tim Matheson stars as a school teacher who returns to his Midwestern home town along with his wife (Brooke Adams) and son, only to find himself being haunted by the spirits of a gang that caused the death of his older brother decades before. Director Tom McLoughlin’s movie is effective in its evocation of small-town life and its development of Matheson’s demons, offering a few mild scares and a nice, understated score from Terry Plumeri along the way. MGM’s new DVD is oddly framed at 2.35 (16:9) widescreen, which seemed to be a major error until I compared it to the full-screen television version: surprisingly enough, information is added to both the left and right edges of the frame, while the top and bottom are cropped out. This would indicate the movie was likely shot in Super 35 (it apparently played theatrically overseas), and while I would’ve preferred the full 1.85 aspect ratio to be unmasked, this is still a “valid” presentation of the movie and its most satisfying DVD release to date.

SCARECROWS (**½, 1988, 83 mins., R; MGM/Fox): Low-key, effective, late ‘80s horror outing from writer-director-producer William Wesley follows a group of criminals who hijack a plane heading to Mexico and run afoul of some supernatural shenanigans once they land in the countryside. “Scarecrows” is no great shakes, but the movie’s leisurely pace and moody atmosphere make it a far more satisfying concoction than most late ‘80s direct-to-tape movies go, and MGM’s new 16:9 (1.85) transfer and stereo soundtrack are both top-notch.

THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: Collector’s Edition (**, 1985, 91 mins., R; MGM/Fox): Special Edition presentation of writer-director Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 half-spoof of the Romero classic offers a number of special features: two commentaries, three featurettes, retrospective interviews and more. Both the 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 2.0 stereo soundtrack are perfectly acceptable, but the movie is still best left for fans: despite a few laughs and the presence of veterans Clu Gulager and James Karen, the movie feels dated, and the light mood turns sour with an unsatisfying “serious” ending (which the cast even laments in their commentary). Not nearly as much fun as it sounds.

FROM BEYOND: Unrated Director’s Cut (***, 1986, 86 mins., NR; MGM/Fox): Stuart Gordon’s grizzly and demented take on H.P. Lovecraft’s book was a fan-favorite successor to the director’s acclaimed “Re-Animator,” reuniting most of that film’s crew and several cast members as well. “From Beyond” admirers ought to be delighted by MGM’s fine new DVD restoration, offering extra gore culled from the cutting room floor, a free-wheeling commentary with Gordon and cast members, an interview with composer Richard Band, and several featurettes on the making of the film. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer is exceptional, as is the 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

THE ROGER CORMAN COLLECTION (8 Films; MGM/Fox): Box-set release bundles eight previously released Midnite Movies favorites from director Roger Corman, including “The Premature Burial,” “X-The Man with the X-Ray Eyes,” “Bloody Mama,” “A Bucket of Blood,” “Gas-s-s-s!”, “The Trip,” “The Young Racers,” and “The Wild Angels.” Transfers, soundtracks, and supplements are all identical to previous DVD incarnations.

MISERY: Collector’s Edition (***½, 107 mins., 1990, R; MGM/Fox): Long overdue Special Edition package of Rob Reiner’s terrific 1990 filming of the Stephen King book boasts an Oscar-winning performance from Kathy Bates as a crazed “fan” who takes crippled author James Caan’s recovery after a car accident under her wing. Available overseas for some time, MGM/Fox’s new DVD includes commentary from Rob Reiner, another talk with William Goldman, three featurettes on the production of the movie (including a profile of composer Marc Shaiman), and several other, new exclusive featurettes about celebrity stalkers and anti-stalking laws. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both excellent, and the film’s original trailers are also on-hand. Highly recommended!

Ghosts, Ghouls and Gore from Warner

WARNER’S TWISTED TERROR COLLECTION (Six Film Box Set, Warner): Appealing grouping of terror titles, mainly from the ‘70s and ‘80s, all new (or at least newly re-available) on DVD. Though all the films are available individually, the low, sub-$40 price tag for the set makes it an attractive, economical pick-up for horror fans. Included in the anthology are:

-THE HAND (**, 1981, 105 mins., R): Demented, unintentionally funny hoot offers Michael Caine in his Irwin Allen-era “I’M SHOUTING EVERY LINE!” mode, portraying a cartoonist who loses his hand in an accident and....let’s just say numerous horrific (or are they comedic?) shenanigans ensue. James Horner’s decent score is one of the film’s primary assets, but writer-director Oliver Stone’s effort is easily one of the filmmaker’s weakest, albeit an amusing one (for all the wrong reasons). Warner’s DVD includes a sincere commentary by Stone plus the trailer and a new 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo sound.

-SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME (***, 1978, 97 mins.): Excellent John Carpenter-directed TV movie makes its long-awaited debut on video. Lauren Hutton plays a woman being victimized by a peeping tom in this taut suspense thriller, co-starring David Birney and Adrienne Barbeau, and boasting a solid score from Harry Sukman. Warner’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) matted presentation that’s a bit surprising since the film was produced for television, but at least there’s a neat featurette profiling the director and his early work on this network “Movie of the Week.”

-EYES OF A STRANGER (**, 90 mins., 1981, R): Crude, if watchable, early ‘80s slasher film finds newswoman Lauren Tewes (your “Love Boat” cruise director) trying to track down a Florida serial killer and Jennifer Jason Leigh (in her first role) as her blind younger sister. Tewes is appealing (yeah, I admit it, I’ve always had thing for Julie on the “Love Boat”) and director Ken Wiederhorn achieves his finest hour with this standard but effective enough chiller, sporting make-up effects from Tom Savini and a few excessively graphic attack sequences (some of which here contain more gore than the original release version). Warner’s no-frills DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with mono sound.

-DR. GIGGLES (***, 95 mins., 1992, R): Under-rated, over-the-top horror outing -- in many ways a spoof -- stars Larry Drake as a crazed surgeon who still practices his own brand of medicine in a small rural town. Loads of hilarious one-liners (in the Manny Coto-Graeme Whifler script) punctuate this free-wheeling vehicle -- directed by Coto and co-starring a pre-“Charmed” Holly Marie Combs -- that’s been long out of print on DVD. Warner (inheriting the film from Universal as part of a distribution deal with Intermedia, which purchased Largo Entertainment’s library) has produced a nifty new (albeit no-frills) DVD offering a fine 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. Plenty of fun, just in time for Halloween.

-FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (**½, 98 mins., 1973, PG): Decent Amicus anthology film (in the same vein as “Vault of Terror” and “Tales from the Crypt”) offers a number of horrific tales with a solid cast (Ian Bannen, Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasance, David Warner and Lesley-Anne Down among them).Warner’s DVD includes the trailer and a new 16:9 (1.85) transfer with mono sound.

-DEADLY FRIEND (**, 90 mins., 1986, R): Wes Craven-directed studio effort with Matthew “Whiz Kids” Laborteaux as a nerdy teen who befriends troubled neighbor Kristy Swanson, only to see her suffer a terrible fate that young Matthew has a hard time getting over -- so much that he tries to pull a Doc Frankenstein and bring her back to life! “Ghost” writer Bruce Joel Rubin’s script works well enough in establishing the likeable characters and their surroundings, but the movie goes downhill once it turns into a standard-issue horror flick. Warner’s DVD includes the trailer and a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 mono sound; the film is also apparently uncut, offering more gore than its original 1986 release print.

POLTERGEIST (****, 1982, 114 mins., PG; Warner): One would’ve hoped that this 25th Anniversary edition would have resulted in a Special Edition DVD that truly celebrated the original release of the seminal Steven Spielberg-produced ghost story -- a film that’s literally haunted a whole generation of viewers.

Regrettably, while Warner’s restored and remastered new DVD does boast a fresh 16:9 transfer superior to the original 1998 MGM edition and -- even more impressively -- an enveloping 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack that provides an effective soundstage for Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score, the disc comes up empty when it comes to meaningful extras.

Shockingly, not even the trailer is included on the DVD -- in fact, there’s nothing at all related to the movie itself in the entire package. No Making Of featurette (remember the vintage 1982 segment, seen on TCM and the 1994 laserdisc, that showed Spielberg instructing actors and establishing camera angles while credited director Tobe Hooper stood by, silently, on the sidelines?), no discussion about its production...the lone supplement is a simplistic, two-part featurette on real-life paranormal investigators that’s nowhere near as entertaining as your average “Ghost Hunters” episode on the Sci-Fi Channel.

All of this is perhaps unsurprising -- the issue over the creative involvement of writer-producer Spielberg and the debated contributions of Hooper has been hotly contested even prior to the film’s theatrical release in June of 1982 (check Aint It Cool News for a recent interview with Zelda “Tangina” Rubinstein, who implies that Tobe Hooper was basically “under the influence” and states that Spielberg handled directing chores on all six days of her shooting).

Yet after all this time, it’s disappointing Warner couldn’t have assembled a package that danced around the sensitive elements and given us as thorough a history of the film’s production as possible -- along with some deleted scenes and, at the least, its original advertising materials.

Considering the studio’s outstanding track record with special editions, you'd have to assume that long-standing "controversy" between Spielberg and Hooper was undoubtedly the reason for this disc's lack of content. And it's a shame, because “Poltergeist” -- still a perfect mix of thrills, chills, humor, and warm, likeable characters a quarter-century after its debut -- deserves more.

High Definition Horrors

Thanks to a decent array of modern horrors (from the fantastical “Underworld” movies to the putrid “torture porn” of Eli Roth’s “Hostel” films on Blu Ray and the recent HD-DVD of Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead”), the rival HD-based optical formats have seen their share of horrors, with one of the biggest hitting Blu Ray just a few weeks ago -- though not without controversy.

We’re obviously talking about Sony’s Blu Ray edition of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (***, 1992, 127 mins., R; Sony), a film could’ve easily been titled “Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula” for as much as this 1992 adaptation utilizes elements from the Stoker book that other cinematic versions omitted, it also takes numerous liberties with the original text -- including turning the beloved vampire tale into a love story, a conscious artistic decision the filmmaker made partially to capitalize on a younger audience (which he, in turn, accomplished by casting more youthful leads than your traditional Dracula rendition).

It’s a movie that’s simultaneously stunning and frustrating at the same time, showing Coppola at the top of his game in terms of implementing optical effects, sumptuous production design, evocative costumes, and other “old fashioned” filmmaking devices (all shot on sound stages, the result of Columbia wanting to hold costs down).

At the same time, some of the picture’s “contemporary” casting felt odd at the time, and now positively dates the picture as a product of its period: Keanu Reeves’ stilted performance as Harker is dead on arrival (to see how it could’ve been even worse, check out some of Keanu’s putrid unused takes in the Criterion laserdisc’s editing workshop), while Winona Ryder’s turn as Mina feels like a young girl playing “dress up” more than a believable period heroine (perhaps he owed her a favor after she bowed out of “Godfather Part III”). At the least, Ryder fails to generate any of the heat that Sadie Frost does in her memorable supporting role as the doomed Lucy, while Gary Oldman tries valiantly to ground his romantic Dracula against an over-indulgent succession of guises (from the world’s creepiest senior citizen to a John Lennon-esque chap) that ultimately get in the way of his central performance.

Supporting performances from Anthony Hopkins’ scenery-chewing Van Helsing to quirky but mainly disposable, minor turns  from the likes of Bill Campbell, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes and Tom Waits (a surprisingly dull Renfield) lend some support, but when it’s all said and done “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is entirely Coppola’s show, and admittedly there are some nifty moments along the way. Most impressive is Harker’s journey through the Count’s Transylvanian castle -- marked by a memorable meeting with Dracula’s succulent brides (including Monica Bellucci) -- all the while Eiko Ishioka’s extravagant costumes and the cinematography of Michael Ballhaus make for a film that’s always been pleasing to the eyes.

Long overdue for a proper Special Edition DVD, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” has been given the deluxe treatment courtesy of Sony and Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, with both the Blu Ray and regular DVD versions offering a new commentary from Coppola, roughly 30 minutes of unused workprint sequences (including a superior ending), and a new, four-part documentary culled from extensive documentary footage shot during pre-production and filming. Coppola’s commentary is a good deal more enlightening than the tedious Criterion commentary track from way back when, discussing the project’s genesis (Ryder brought him James V. Hart’s script when it was supposed to be a Michael Apted-directed TV film), while the documentary materials offer a thorough examination of the picture’s production. Two trailers are also on-hand, including the film’s memorable teaser, which features footage not used in the finished film.

The Blu Ray release even offers these extras in HD, though the movie’s eagerly-awaited high-definition 1080p transfer for the film itself proves to be something of a disappointment. Though encoded in AVC/MPEG-4 video, the Blu Ray release falls well short of the better catalog releases we’ve seen in both formats: the picture quality is superior to the standard-definition Superbit DVD, no question, but it’s surprisingly flat, lacking in three-dimensional detail and often downright grainy in places. One might have anticipated Coppola and Ballhaus’ visual design making for an aesthetic feast in high-definition, but more often than not the Blu Ray transfer is surprisingly limp: an upgrade on traditional DVD but nowhere near the eye-popping experience I was hoping for.

What’s also odd is that there seemed to be several instances on-hand here where the colors had been seemingly “tweaked.” The sequence in which Winona Ryder meets Sadie Frost for the first time in the courtyard seems to have been digitally altered in a way that the backdrop now appears completely monochrome, with the few colors in the sequence (a couple of flowers, Frost’s red hair) standing out strikingly against it. When I compared the Blu Ray to the Superbit DVD release the differences were striking in certain sequences (even though the Blu Ray has less contrast, its colors also seemed less natural), indicating that some intentional, new artistic choices might’ve been in Coppola’s mind when this new HD transfer was struck.

Either way, fans of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” will nevertheless want to add the Blu Ray release to their libraries for the deleted scenes, fine documentary materials and Coppola’s new commentary if nothing else. The transfer isn’t a total disaster but since the bar has been raised so high by countless superb new HD releases this year, it’s not an exaggeration to say the movie’s Blu Ray transfer is, if nothing else, a small disappointment.

More satisfying for horror fans is Anchor Bay’s very first wave of Blu Ray releases, which boast MPEG-4/AVC 1080p transfers and uncompressed PCM 5.1 sound.

At the top of the list is the HD debut of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (****, 91 mins., 1978, R) in a satisfying Blu Ray transfer that’s as crystal clear and spotless as you could possibly hope for. Dean Cundey’s outstanding cinematography has been preserved here in such a pristine manner that watching the Blu Ray disc truly felt like the first time I’ve really laid eyes on it -- while there have been some superb DVDs of Carpenter’s seminal 1978 film over the years, none compare to how fresh and vibrant this new master looks.

As with the “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” case, though, some fans have cried foul over the transfer: the original color was “tweaked” for a Divimax DVD that looked overly bright compared to the first DVD transfer (which was approved by Dean Cundey). The new Blu Ray release corrects some, though not all, of the Divimax “problems,” with daylight scenes seeming better-balanced but night-time scenes again appearing less “blue” compared to previous video and DVD editions. Overall, though, I doubt most fans will be complaining.

For extras, Anchor Bay has done a nice job porting over some of the best extras from prior DVDs: the mid ‘90s Criterion laserdisc commentary with Carpenter, producer Debra Hill and star Jamie Lee Curtis has been reprieved, while the 90-minute “A Cut Above the Rest” documentary has been retained from Anchor Bay’s later Divimax release. The original red-banded theatrical trailer, radio and TV spots, and various on-screen trivia factoids complete the must-have package.

Sam Raimi’s fan favorite EVIL DEAD II (***, 1987, 84 mins., Unrated) also hits Blu Ray on October 2nd in a similarly satisfying presentation from Anchor Bay. The HD transfer is crisper and better detailed than any prior video release of the film that I’ve seen, while two featurettes (culled from past Anchor Bay discs), the trailer, a jovial group audio commentary with Raimi, star Bruce Campbell and others, and another on-screen trivia track round out the package.

Also joining the Anchor Bay Blu Ray roster are George Romero’s second and third entries in his still on-going zombie saga: 1978's DAWN OF THE DEAD (***½, 127 mins., Unrated) as well as its disappointing 1985 follow-up, DAY OF THE DEAD (**, 101 mins., Unrated).

Since both movies weren’t as elaborately photographed as, say, “Halloween,” neither title shows off the benefits of high-definition the way Dean Cundey’s work does, though fans will be happy that both transfers nevertheless look as crisp as one could anticipate, while ample extras are also on-hand (numerous commentaries, trailers, and documentary materials).

Fans should also note that both “Dead” films offer the original mono soundtracks in addition to their stereophonic 5.1 PCM and Dolby Digital remixes, which ought to please purists.

Recently out from Anchor Bay are the first two Blu Ray volumes in their MASTERS OF HORROR: Season 1 series. Volume One contains John Carpenter’s “Cigarette Burns,” Stuart Gordon’s “Dreams in the Witch House,” and William Malone’s “The Fair-Haired Child,” while Volume 2 includes Dario Argento’s “Jennifer,” Lucky McKee’s “Sick Girl” and John Landis’ nutty “Deer Woman.”

Commentaries are carried over their standard-edition DVD releases, while PCM and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks compliment the superb 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfers.

Capsule Chillers

ALLIGATOR (***, 90 mins., 1980; Lionsgate): Top-notch creature feature with a smart script by John Sayles and a fine performance from Robert Forster finally hits DVD in the U.S. after having been available overseas in an Anchor Bay special edition. Lionsgate’s domestic disc offers the same commentary with Forster and director Lewis Teague found on the Anchor Bay disc, plus a new interview with Sayles. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and 16:9 (1.85) transfer are both excellent.

SPECIES: Collector’s Edition (***, 108 mins., 1995, R; MGM/Fox): Double-disc edition of the highly enjoyable 1995 Roger Donaldson-directed sci-fi romp offers most of the same extras as the previous DVD editions (two commentary tracks, featurettes), but adds a new Making Of and an alternate ending (more of an unused epilogue) with stars Michael Madsen and Marg Helgenberger. Visually the 16:9 (2.35) transfer is as vibrant as I recall the film appearing on past releases, while 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound compliment the audio presentation.

RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL: HD-DVD (**, 2007, 81 mins., Unrated; Warner): As direct-to-video sequels go this follow-up to one of the more watchable Dark Castle Entertainment efforts isn’t entirely bad, mainly due to the HD-DVD version’s “Choose Your Own Adventure”-like interactive elements: while watching the film you can choose (via optional on-screen menu prompts) the direction of the story in some touted 96 different “possibilities.” The latter is undoubtedly more fun than watching the film straight out, with its standard-issue shocks and gore. Warner’s HD-DVD edition (also on Blu Ray) features additional scenes, featurettes, a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer and Dolby Digital Plus audio.

THE INITIATION OF SARAH (2006, 90 mins., MGM/Fox): Watchable but bland remake of the ‘70s TV-film stars Mika Boorem and Summer Glau as the sorority sisters being recruited by a couple of different fraternities (including one presided over by Jennifer Tilly) for their supernatural abilities. Fox’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

CUJO: 25th Anniversary Edition (**½, 1983, 95 mins., R; Republic/Lionsgate): Decent adaptation of Stephen King’s dark novel from director Lewis Teague overcomes its relatively modest budget through strong performances (including Dee Wallace), Jan DeBont’s cinematography and Neil Travis’ effective editing. This tale of a couple (Wallace, Daniel Hugh-Kelly) trying to repair their marriage at the same time their son (Danny Pintauro of later “Who’s the Boss” fame) takes to a St. Bernard who turns into one mean puppy offers a decent number of shocks and an ending thankfully not as unflinching as the book (and was changed with King’s own consent). Lionsgate’s new 25th Anniversary DVD includes commentary with Teague and a three-part Making Of from DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau, which recounts the film’s troubled production history (Teague replaced Peter Medak after the project switched studios; Travis was brought onboard to re-cut the film during shooting) and status as one of the better Stephen King cinematic adaptations of its era. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer is fine, while the mono sound is also okay.

RISE: BLOOD HUNTER: Unrated Cut (**, 122 mins., Unrated; Sony): Overlong, direct-to-video effort from Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures stars Lucy Liu as a reporter who unknowingly becomes a vampire and later seeks revenge against the evil bloodsuckers who “turned” her (including James D’Arcy and Carla Gugino). Michael Chiklis, meanwhile, is wasted in a thankless role as the cop on her trail. Writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez’s film boasts a solid cast and cinematography from Oscar-winner John Toll (“Braveheart”), but the movie is so static, lengthy and toothless (for a vampire romp) that the mere fact that it’s watchable isn’t nearly good enough. Sony’s Unrated DVD runs nearly 30 minutes longer than the R-rated version (available separately), sporting a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and several Making Of featurettes.

NEXT TIME: RATATOUILLE, VERONICA MARS Season 3 and More! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the newly relaunched Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to our new email address. Cheers everyone and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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