Holiday Specials

TRICKS & TREATS: HALLOWEEN DVD’S 2001

By • Oct 30th, 2001 • Pages: 1 2 3

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DVDs are proliferating more quickly then the cane toads of Australia, and that, judging from the First Run Features DVD release (Cane Toads: An Unnatural History; 65 mins, color), is a pretty frightening phenomenon. I don’t know if it qualifies as Halloween screening material…but for a documentary it comes close. Very tongue-in-cheek, rather enlightening, and a bit too long for its own good.

In this country, when you’re making a film near an hour in length, they suggest tightening it to 55-57 minutes so that it can be shown on tv with room for commercials. What kind of a running time is 65? Besides, with seven or eight minutes less, or even five, its seams wouldn’t have shown.


From Universal we have perhaps fifteen recent spooky titles on DVD, and what’s mindboggling is that I believe the studio actually planned their release for the Holiday season. I’ll mention two here.

The remastered, more elaborate Collector’s Edition release of their previously distributed An American Werewolf in London, finds director John Landis in great form dolloping out devilish doses of black humor, and counterpointing the rock standard ‘Blue Moon’ with Rick Baker’s daringly overlit lycanthropic transformation, the absolute state of the art in Special Makeup until CGI stepped in several years later and complicated the issue. Landis isn’t on the commentary track, though he is present in an interview. Instead, the commentary features cast members David (the pathotic werewolf) Naughton, and Griffin (his unlucky friend and victim) Dunne. Rick Baker also discusses his work in a separate supplementary piece.

As a double bill with the above, also from Universal, check out the original 1935 Werewolf of London, featuring Henry Hull and Warner Oland as two lost souls out for blood. This one may creek a bit, but there are some clever effects, and what could be more satisfying than experiencing the history of it all? Since the orig lacks the humor of the remake, make it the first screening of the evening.

Universal has also chosen at this time to release Son of Frankenstein & Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman & House of Frankenstein, Dracula’s Daughter & Son of Dracula, The She-Wolf of London & Werewolf Of London, The Mummy’s Tomb & The Mummy’s Hand, and The Mummy’s Curse & The Mummy’s Ghost. Hopefully, from the way I used my ampersands, you deduced that these are double-bills. Gone are the extraordinary productions that we saw over the previous two years, spearheaded by David Skal and featuring remarkable documentaries and commentary tracks, but…I guess the trade-off is that we are being delivered so incredibly many of them. The transfers are excellent, the films are great fun, with a few less fun than others, and I bet there are collectors out there grousing about the omission of House of Dracula, or the Invisible Man sequels. But I think that’s really looking a gift horse in the mouth. (Although, come to think of it, I wish the 1934 Karloff-Lugosi-Ulmer The Black Cat would still be given the royal treatment.)

And though David Skal is nowhere to be found on these new releases, he is lurking at your neighborhood Barnes and Nobles, just in time for Halloween, with a revised edition of his comprehensive insight into the genre, ‘The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror.’ Watch the films in the evening, then read the book before you go to bed, and guarantee yourselves a nightmare or two.


MGM has given us a slew of goodies, mainly exploiters, for the holiday, and that’s fine, is it not? Several are Roger Corman concoctions, but I’d go with two of their ‘Midnight Movies’, It! The Terror From Beyond Space (69 minutes, 1958), and The Monster That Challenged the World (84 minutes, 1957), B’s, but damn good ones. You can sit there amused at the low budgets and B-film thinking and still revel at the tight stories and moderate amount of satisfying thrills.

I’m sure I’m the last one to inform you that It! is the indisputable source material for Ridley Scott’s Alien. Director Edward L.Cahn (1899-1963) spent his celluloid life toiling in second feature bins. He surfaced in ‘A’ territory briefly, in ’32, with the Walter Huston (as Wyatt Earp) starrer, Law and Order. However, later it was titles such as The Creature With the Atom Brain all the way. Clearly he had no pretentions in regards to his career. Which is alright; he made a nice little programmer anyway. The screenplay is by ‘Twilight Zone’ scribe Jerome Bixby. One thing to be aware of: on the back jacket cover the MGM home video people got a little carried away and identified the film as being in color. There was no color when I saw the film back in the theaters, still no color when I cherished my bootleg 16mm print, and there’s no color on the DVD either.

The Monster That Challenged the World, following in the podprints of such giant bug/mollusk delights as Them! and The Black Scorpion, has a serviceable performance from a somewhat bloated Tim Holt, whose career didn’t go forward in stellar fashion after either The Magnificent Ambersons or, somewhat later, The Treasure of Sierra Madre. It’s nice to see him again, even fighting giant sea snails. Director Arnold Laven, stuck in the exploiter swamps, rose above it by becoming a producer on Sidney Pollack’s The Scalphunters in 1968, which starred Burt Lancaster. Again, if you’re a lover of these little thrillers, you’ll feel, as I do, that the man had nothing to be ashamed of.

Double Bill these two, for a nostalgic return to the wonderful, terrible world of the 50s, when the fear was that science would go awry, and nature would strike back.

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