By Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY
Ridiculed, reviled, and reduced to the lowest rung of the cinematic ladder, the horror film has traditionally been regarded as Hollywood’s sinister stepchild. But few people appreciate the horror genre for what it really is—a breeding ground for some of the most imaginative, groundbreaking trends in filmmaking and a hatchery for many of moviedom’s greatest talents. True fans savor the ingenuity of the horror film, not to mention the innate appeal of a shiver running down their spine. Regardless of the barrage of censure and vilification it routinely faces, the horror genre will always survive, staggering forward like a Romero zombie and leaving more carnage in its wake than Carrie at the prom.
Through high-definition technology, the true classics of the horror genre have gained a new lease on life. The time-honored films now popping up on Blu-ray are as visually stunning as an alien exploding from a body, as resounding as an American werewolf howling at the moon, and as creepy as a clawed glove emerging from the bathwater.
Just in time for Halloween, here are 25 titles for LJ‘s Hi-Def Horror Hall of Fame. Pop some corn, turn down the lights, and bring on the Blu-ray. Just remember to keep telling yourself, “It’s only a movie…only a movie…only a movie…”
Alien Anthology. 6 discs. 20th Century Fox, www.foxmovies.com. 2010. Blu-ray UPC 024543702160. $69.99. Rated: R. SF/HORROR
The crew members of the spaceship Nostromo land on a distant planet in response to a distress call, which opens the door for alien invasion in Ridley Scott’s 1979 sf horror classic. The claustrophobic, paranoid atmosphere of the original Alien is replaced by big-budget special effects and breakneck action in writer/director James Cameron’s Oscar-nominated sequel Aliens (1986). This is the rare case where the sequel meets, possibly surpasses, the original film. Sadly, neither Alien3 (1992) nor Alien Resurrection (1997) lives up to its predecessors, but the eye-popping extraterrestrials envisioned by Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and designed by H.R. Giger are vicious, cunning, and as terrifying as ever. The anthology boasts a supersized set of extras, including more than 30 hours of bonus material and the excellent MU-TH-UR mode to keep track of your progress as you navigate through them. To date, no other release matches the splendor of this beautiful boxed set; the films look and sound magnificent. In space, no one can hear you scream…but, with these new DTS-HD 5.1 sound remasters, someone just might.
An American Werewolf in London (Full Moon Edition). 98 min. Universal Studios, http://www.universalstudios.com. 2009. Blu-ray UPC 2519595364. $19.98. Rated: R. HORROR
Americans David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking across the moors of northern England when they are attacked by a werewolf. David survives, though badly mauled, and Jack is killed. Soon enough, Jack’s back from beyond the grave to inform David that David, too, is a werewolf and must kill himself to end the curse. Rick Baker’s Oscar-winning visual effects, which include the very best man-to-wolf transformation ever caught on film and droll, dead Jack’s progressive stages of decomposition, have withstood both the test of time and the transfer to high definition. This edition includes Beware the Moon, a fascinating inside look at John Landis’s cult classic. Newly added surround-sound howls and the guttural growl of the wolf on the moor is guaranteed to scare at least a yelp out of you. Worth a revisit just to hear “A naked American man stole my balloons,” American Werewolf remains as hilarious, heartbreaking, and horrifying as it ever was. Even after 30 years, London is the place to be for lycanthrope lovers.
Black Christmas. 98 min. Somerville House, www.somervillehouse.org. 2008. Blu-ray UPC 880934124252. $24.95. Rated: R. HORROR
A series of frightening obscene phone calls have been bedeviling Pi Kappa Sig sorority, and as the sisters prepare to depart for the Christmas holidays, the deranged caller begins stalking the house. One by one, the residents (who include Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Andrea Martin) begin disappearing, only to resurface in the attic as part of the intruder’s collection of corpses. Bob Clark’s (yes, the same Bob Clark responsible for A Christmas Story) 1974 Canadian coup de maître remains one of the hidden treasures of the horror genre, largely unacknowledged and underrated, yet groundbreaking in its stark, hair-raising simplicity. Black Christmas (1975), which predated Halloween by four years, pioneered the holiday horror motif and was among the first to employ the killer’s point-of-view shot. Also, it stars John Saxon ten years before playing virtually the same cop in A Nightmare on Elm Street and features the creepiest crazy since Norman Bates. Spooky, suspenseful, and sleep-with-the-lights-on scary, Black Christmas is required viewing for all horror fans.
The Blair Witch Project. 82 min.. Lionsgate, www.lionsgate.com. 2010. Blu-ray UPC 00012236110491. $19.99. Rated: R. HORROR
Three film students (Heather Donohue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams) backpack into the woods of Maryland to investigate the legendary Blair Witch and are never seen again. One year later, their footage is discovered and spliced together to tell the story of the young filmmakers’ doomed excursion. Full of spooky scares that prey on the imagination, writers/directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez single-handedly launched the “found footage” subgenre with this 1999 gem of low-budget, independent filmmaking. Blu-ray doesn’t particularly enhance the picture, which was shot on a combination of black-and-white 16mm film and standard definition Hi-8 video, but the lack of bells and whistles is Blair Witch’s signature quality. It scares the daylights out of its audience using only shaky camera stylings, inventive sound effects, and the menace of what is not seen. All this, along with heart-stopping performances by the amateur cast, add up to a unique horror experience that preys on primal fears. Loved by many, reviled by others, The Blair Witch Project is a true milestone of horror cinema.
Carrie. 98 min. MGM, www.mgm.com. 2008. Blu-ray UPC 883904123484. $19.99. Rated: R. HORROR
It’s prom night at Bates (as in Norman) High School, and the graduating class of 1976 is in for an evening they’ll never forget, at least if they’re lucky enough to survive it. Outcast Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) has been the brunt of cruel humor for as long as she can remember, but when a sadistic classmate engineers a vile prank, Carrie lashes out with heretofore unknown telekinetic powers. One of horror’s true classics, Carrie (1976) was Stephen King’s first screen adaptation, garnered two Oscar nods (for Spacek and Piper Laurie, who plays Carrie’s psychotic mama), launched the careers of a bevy of now household names (John Travolta, Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, P.J. Soles), and put director Brian De Palma on the cinematic map. But perhaps the most notable contribution of this seminal film to its genre is the ending-that-isn’t-an-ending, the archetype for half the horror movies made today. Cloned by great (Halloween, 1978) and not-so-great (Mother’s Day, 1980) films alike, De Palma’s brilliant tour de force still has the power to leave its audience in a state of shock.
Dawn of the Dead. 127 min. Starz Home Entertainment, www.starz.com. 2007. Blu-ray UPC 013131216790. $19.99. Rated: R. HORROR
When the dead begin rising from the grave to feast upon the living, two SWAT team snipers (Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger), a helicopter pilot (David Emgee), and his pregnant girlfriend (Gaylen Ross) find sanctuary in a deserted shopping mall. The most ingenious and entertaining zombie film ever, George A. Romero’s landmark Dawn of the Dead perfectly blends horror and over-the-top gore with social commentary. In Romero’s 1978 apocalypse, the zombies are not evil, only machines of instinct acting according to their natures. The true depravity lies in the two bands of human survivors who slaughter each other over the booty in the mall. Showcasing stunning effects by Tom Savini, Dawn of the Dead remains one of the most important and controversial horror films in history. Romero equals, maybe surpasses, his seminal Night Of The Living Dead with this black, biting allegory of American consumerist society. Violent, gruesome, and a benchmark in the undead mythos, Dawn of the Dead is not for everyone. This film is about art, not good taste (unless you’re a zombie).
The Evil Dead. 85 min. Anchor Bay Entertainment, www.anchorbayentertainment.com. 2010. Blu-ray UPC 013132146690. $19.99. UnRated: HORROR
During a party weekend at an isolated cabin, a group of college students inadvertently invoke demons by playing a taped translation of the Necronomicon. One by one, they become walking dead vessels, and lone survivor Ash (Bruce Campbell) must battle his possessed friends, who are now “the evil dead.” Produced on a shoestring by a fledgling Sam Raimi (Spiderman; Drag Me to Hell), this film is a testament to what one can achieve with imagination, energy, and a passion for filmmaking. In 1981, the 21-year-old director led a group of friends into the wilderness of Tennessee and proceeded to make horror movie history with this masterpiece of independent cinema, which is at its core a loving homage to the genre. The film is a marvel of style and technique, with creepy, wide-angle camera shots, phantasmal sound design, gallons of cheerfully bright gore, and one truly mind-bending sequence in which a woman (Ellen Sandweiss) is raped by a tree. This latest reissue has been remastered in all its grainy glory and looks gorgeous. Really, what’s grindhouse without a little grain? Fans wouldn’t want it any other way.
The Exorcist (Extended Director’s Cut & Original Theatrical Edition). 2 discs. 132 min. Warner Home Video, www.warnerbros.com. 2010. Blu-ray UPC 83929007691. $39.99. Rated: R. HORROR
When a 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair) is possessed by a demonic force, her mother (Ellen Burstyn) enlists the aid of two priests (Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow) to save her. A record-breaking sensation upon its 1973 release, The Exorcist was the top-grossing movie of all time until being supplanted by Jaws. Critically acclaimed as well (nominated for ten Oscars, winning two, for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay), this cinematic landmark, based on William Peter Blatty’s best-selling 1971 novel, heralded both the advent of postmodern horror and a new generation of special effects. The Blu-ray edition features both the original 1973 release and 2000’s “Version You’ve Never Seen.” The latter should remain unseen, as it contains extensive unnecessary discourse, a bewilderingly changed ending (straight out of William Peter Blatty’s book but pointless in the movie), and a weird, jarring “spider walk” sequence that was rightfully excised from the original release. But the theatrical film holds up perfectly, from the opening chimes of Mike Oldfield’s eerie Tubular Bells to Dick Smith’s incredible makeup effects. Almost 40 years later, The Exorcist remains a brilliant film, one with a powerful—and apparently ageless—ability to horrify.
Friday the 13th Uncut. 95 min. Paramount, www.paramount.com. 2009. Blu-ray UPC 097361406046. $22.98. Rated: R. HORROR
Clueless camp counselors are stalked and slaughtered by an unknown assailant while they prepare to reopen the purportedly cursed “Camp Blood.” Who would have thought that a low-budget, exploitative gore-fest could spawn ten sequels, one reboot (so far), a TV series, and countless imitators? Produced on a shoestring with an unknown cast (including a stripling Kevin Bacon), this blatant 1980 rip-off of John Carpenter’s Halloween (producer/director Sean S. Cunningham freely acknowledges as much on the feature-length documentary here) remains a classic despite its questionable artistry. This inventive film ushered in the “creative death” motif that continues to inspire horror movies to this day (Saw; Final Destination; Hostel). Its drive-in schlock factor is mitigated by gore master Tom Savini’s ingenuity and further allayed by Henry Manfredini’s creepy score (also ripped off, this time from Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho arrangement). All criticisms aside, Friday the 13th remains an entertaining bit of teen campfire terror that is positively gleeful in its gory glory, even holding up fairly well by today’s standards.
Halloween. 91 min. Anchor Bay Entertainment, www.anchorbayentertainment.com. 2007. Blu-ray UPC 013138300782. $19. Rated: R. HORROR
It’s Halloween night 1963 in Haddonfield, IL. Six-year-old Michael Myers (Will Sandin) dons a clown mask, retrieves a butcher knife from the kitchen, and stabs his teenage sister to death. Fifteen years later, Michael (Nick Castle) escapes from a mental institution and returns to Haddonfield just in time to celebrate Halloween by stalking a trio of babysitters (Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, and P.J. Soles). One of the most successful independent films of all time, John Carpenter’s 1978 masterwork became the blueprint for the slasher genre it would help to pioneer. To this day, most of the genre’s conventions and bromides can be traced directly back to this movie (see Scream). But, unlike Friday the 13th, Prom Night, and other imitators, Halloween is almost entirely without graphic violence. It’s the boogeyman in the closet, the thing under the bed, the unseen terror behind the bushes that invoke its visceral terror. This Blu-ray version is stunning—brighter, clearer, and cleaner than ever before—which is fitting, because Halloween is one of the very best horror films ever committed to celluloid. Like Michael Myers himself, its legacy will not die.
Hellraiser. 93 min. Anchor Bay Entertainment, www.anchorbayentertainment.com. 2009. Blu-ray UPC 0014381732450. $19.97. Rated: R. HORROR
Larry and Julia Cotton (Andrew Robinson and Claire Higgins) unknowingly resurrect Larry’s late brother, the evil Frank (also Julia’s former lover). Frank exists as a formless monster under the watch of the Cenobites, gruesome leather-and-latex-clad demons that feed on human suffering. To take form, Frank (played in turns by Sean Chapman, Robinson, and Oliver Smith) requires blood, so the unfaithful Julia lures men to their house and bludgeons them to death. Enter Larry and Julia’s daughter Kristy (Ashley Laurence), who enlists the aid of the Cenobites to send Frank back where he belongs, and the family is plunged into writer/director Clive Barker’s magnificently depraved vision of the underworld. Barker’s blood-soaked 1987 brainchild changed the face of horror forever, with Frank’s reanimation remaining one of the finest special effects sequences in cinematic history and stately Cenobite Pinhead (Doug Bradley) becoming a horror icon. Viewers will be treated to all this in horrific, hi-def detail on the Blu-ray, which won a 2009 Reaper award for outstanding remastering. Get ready to go to hell.
Jaws. 2 discs. 124 min. Universal Studios, www.universalstudios.com. 2012. DVD/Blu-ray UPC 025192128882. $29.98. Rated: R. HORROR/ACTION-ADVENTURE
A giant great white shark arrives on the shores of Amity Island and wreaks havoc on the beaches until the sheriff (Roy Scheider) teams up with a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a flinty old salt (Robert Shaw) to hunt the monster down. Based on Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 epic sea saga set the standard for the Hollywood blockbuster while frightening moviegoers out of the water in droves. Jaws is a scary thriller, a sensationally effective action adventure, an absorbing drama filled with well-developed characters, and a behemoth monster movie more earthshaking than Godzilla. The film here jumps off the screen, thanks to a flawless transfer and thundering audio track. This heart-stopping edition—anchored by three outstanding performances now in hi-def, John Williams’s ominous soundtrack now in surround-sound, and more than four hours of fantastic bonus features—pays tribute to one of the all-time greats. Did you think it was safe to go back in the water? You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy. 3 discs. 348 min. Universal Studios, www.universalstudios.com. 2011. Blu-ray UPC 025192110160. $79.98. Rated: PG-13. HORROR/ACTION-ADVENTURE.
Dinosaurs roam the earth again. Though director Steven Spielberg vehemently denies that Jurassic Park is a horror film, there’s no shortage of raw terror as a T-rex on the rampage and rapacious raptors attempt to snack on visitors to John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) paleontological playland. The intensity, spectacle, and sheer wonder of this 1993 classic has never been matched, and it holds up well, as if it had been made yesterday. The two sequels pale beside Spielberg’s original masterpiece, but the effects in all three films remain astonishing. Jurassic Park changed the face of filmmaking with its vivid, photo-real CGI. These hi-def transfers are sharp and well defined, and the audio is brilliant. Jurassic Park was the very first film to feature DTS digital surround-sound, and its mix is jaw-dropping. Add in a slew of featurettes, extras, digital remasters, and John Williams’s iconic score, and you have movie magic that was millennia in the making. Welcome back to Jurassic Park.
A Nightmare on Elm Street. 91 min. New Line Home Video, www.warnerbros.com. 2010. Blu-ray UPC 794043138911. $14.98. Rated: R. HORROR
Child-killer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) was hunted down and burned to death by vigilante parents years ago. Now he’s back from beyond the grave, haunting the dreams of the teenaged children of the people who destroyed him. Nancy (Heather Langencamp) and her friends encounter his scarred visage and bladed glove in their dreams and, one by one, the teens begin to expire in spectacular bursts of technicolor carnage. Among the cliché-ridden claptrap that comprised most of the 1980s slasher fare, Wes Craven’s 1984 work stands out as truly innovative. His surrealist visions—a phone that grows a tongue, Freddy’s form emerging from the wall over Nancy’s bed, a hapless teen (Johnny Depp in his acting debut) sucked into his bed and spewed back out as a geyser of blood—are dark enough to keep the film out of the snip-and-quip genre that sequels would embrace. The transfer to hi-def and surround-sound is exquisite, and the fully loaded special features are exhaustive enough to satisfy the most rabid Craven connoisseur. Prepare to enter a nightmare. And, whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.
The Omen. 2 discs. 111 min. 20th Century Fox, www.foxmovies.com. 2008. Blu-ray UPC 024543533177. $16.99. Rated: R. HORROR
When his wife’s (Lee Remick) pregnancy ends in stillbirth in a Rome hospital, U.S. diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) substitutes an orphaned child for his dead son. By the time little Damien (über-spooky Harvey Stephens) is five years old, the bodies have begun to pile up and Richard realizes that something is horribly wrong with his son. Among the first of the creepy kid movies, Richard Donner’s (Lethal Weapon) 1976 anthem to the Antichrist is a chilling blend of suspense and gothic horror. It was one of the very first mainstream, big-budget films to feature graphic gore front-and-center; the periodic eruptions of blood were a cinematic breakthrough. The beheading of photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) in particular is a bit of cinematographic history, the most impressive decapitation ever depicted on film. For Omen junkies, a four-disc boxed set was released in 2010 consisting of this fine classic, two subpar sequels, and a pointless remake (which cashed in on its release date: 6/6/06). Since this hi-def double-disc contains most of the same items, skip the mediocre follow-ups and focus on the real deal.
Poltergeist. 114 min. Warner Home Video, www.warnerbros.com. 2010. Blu-ray UPC 883929148332. $19.99. Rated: PG. HORROR
They’re here! Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) and their children (Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, and Heather O’Rourke) are a happy family living the American dream. Their suburban lives are picture-perfect, at least until the onset of some strange phenomena in their house. Texas Chainsaw Massacre auteur Tobe Hooper directed this top of the line of haunted house movies, but Poltergeist still bears the unmistakable stamp of producer/screenwriter Steven Spielberg. According to Hollywood legend, he was contractually restricted from helming another film while ET was in production, but it’s clear that he had a hand in Poltergeist. Traces of both filmmakers appear, and the film is all the more powerful for them. The special effects were groundbreaking in 1982 and still hold up under hi-def scrutiny, as does the film’s intravenous line into our childhood nightmares. Intelligent, with strong performances and unfailing chills, Poltergeist is a modern classic that still terrifies. This crisp and polished remaster is a Halloween treat chock-full of Hollywood tricks.
Psycho (50th Anniversary Edition). 109 min. 2010. Universal Studios, www.universalstudios.com. Blu-ray UPC 025192046827. $19.99. Rated: R. HORROR
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from her employer and goes on the lam. Her crime seals her fate, leading her to the seedy motel where she meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and the shower of doom. Alfred Hitchcock deliberately made Psycho to resemble a cheap exploitation film, shot in black and white, with a minimal crew and a minimal budget. The Bates Motel and mansion were shells built on the back lot at Universal, yet no other Hitchcock film had a greater impact. This was the moment in cinema in which the master of suspense became the founder of horror as we know it. Psycho was the first modern horror movie, the signpost that everyone followed, the granddaddy of all slasher films. It’s been paid due homage in this anniversary edition, which features a nice hi-def transfer (considering that Hitch intended the film to look dingy) and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that makes the stings in Bernard Herrmann’s nerve-jangling score pierce your eardrums. It’s half a century old but, for its colossal contribution to the horror genre, Psycho remains immortal.
The Ring. 115 min. Paramount, www.paramount.com. 2012. Blu-ray UPC 097361470245. $22.98. Rated: PG-13. HORROR
Legend has it that a sinister videotape, a disturbing black-and-white montage of severed fingers, drowned horses, and burning trees, is a death sentence for anyone who watches it. After her niece falls victim to the curse, a journalist (Naomi Watts) delves into the legend. Yet when she discovers her small son watching the tape, her investigation becomes a race against time. This is highbrow horror, Gore Verbinski’s dark 2002 exercise in cerebral terror that launched the J-Horror (Japanese horror) craze of the early 2000s, a remake of the 1998 Japanese film Ringu. None of its imitators would achieve its power. The Ring has an atmosphere of dread that doesn’t let up. Bojan Bazelli’s elegant cinematography, bravura makeup effects by Rick Baker, and a chilling Hans Zimmer score add up to a visual stunner that serves up chills and shocks in comparable doses. The Blu-ray transfer is magnificent, enhancing the film’s cold, stylized look and eerie, bluish-green tint. Bonus features include a never-before-seen short by Verbinski that draws viewers even deeper inside the mysterious Ring.
Rosemary’s Baby. 136 min. Criterion Collection, www.criterion.com. 2012. Blu-ray UPC 715515100717. $39.95. Rated: R. HORROR
A waifish young mother-to-be (Mia Farrow) grows increasingly suspicious that her overly solicitous elderly neighbors (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon) and struggling actor husband (John Cassavetes) have made a deal with the devil, with her baby as the ante. Roman Polanski’s diabolical 1968 masterpiece has generated scores of imitators but has never been outdone for sheer psychological terror. The film alternates between eerie chills and black humor, but Polanski’s skillful direction makes it sometimes impossible to distinguish between the two. It was tremendously successful, meeting with enormous critical acclaim and earning a plethora of nominations and awards, including an Oscar for Gordon. This first foray onto Blu-ray comes just in time for Halloween, with a new high-definition digital restoration (approved by Polanski) and an uncompressed soundtrack. Rosemary’s Baby, based on Ira Levin’s 1967 novel, is a finely tuned narrative that creeps from scene to scene with the apprehension of a child stealing through a haunted house. You dread what’s coming, but you just can’t look away. In the horror kingdom, this is royalty.
Scream: Five-Film Set. 4 discs. 558 min. Lionsgate Miramax, www.lionsgate.com. 2011. Blu-ray UPC 031398142201. $29.99. Rated: R. HORROR
Teenager Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is being stalked by both a ghost-faced serial killer and a tabloid journalist (Courteney Cox) seeking a story for her next lurid best seller. All three Scream films feature a smart, savvy cast of characters hip to the conventions of the horror film. “To successfully survive a horror movie, you have to abide by the rules,” film geek Randy (Jamie Kennedy) intones to a group of teen partygoers. They don’t, of course, and proceed to investigate strange noises, have sex, do drugs, and engage in other activities guaranteed to lead to a splattery death scene. With this 1990s series, director Wes Craven struck gold for the third time, having already twice reinvented horror, first with 1972’s Last House on the Left and again in 1984 with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Kevin Williamson’s puckish script is both irreverent and affectionate, poking fun at teen slasher fare while simultaneously paying tribute to it. The Blu-ray set contains the first three films plus two feature-length documentaries. After viewing, treat yourself to 2011’s Scream 4. Wait, I’ll get it for you. I’ll be right back….
Se7en. 127 min. New Line Cinema, www.warnerbros.com. 2011. Blu-ray UPC 0794043151422. $19.98. Rated: R. HORROR/THRILLER
Newly minted detective Mills (Brad Pitt) and soon-to-retire homicide veteran Somerset (Morgan Freeman) are hunting a sadistic serial killer whose crimes follow the blueprint of the seven deadly sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, pride, lust, wrath, and envy. Though we never actually see the appalling murders, they become all the more ghastly in the dark recesses of our imaginations. Director David Fincher’s (The Social Network) combination of noir and horror is pushed into masterpiece territory by the brilliant performances of Pitt, Freeman, and a sociopathic Kevin Spacey. Darius Khondji’s moody photography and Rob Bottin’s stomach-churning special effects complete the package. One might think Blu-ray would be wasted on a film with such a somber color palette, but one would be wrong: doom and gloom never looked or sounded better. Se7en’s soundtrack is a sonic assault, with the relentless rain so immersive that viewers may need to dry themselves off. This is complex, figurative filmmaking at its best, a mesmerizing mosaic of dark themes and darker visuals coupled with an absolute gut-wrencher of an ending. Let he who is without sin try to survive it.
The Shining. 144 min. Warner Home Video, www.warnerbros.com. 2007. Blu-ray UPC 085391157106. $19.98. Rated: R. HORROR
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy or, rather, a psychopath in Stanley Kubrick’s eerie 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel. With his wife (Shelley Duvall) and psychic son (Danny Lloyd), frustrated writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as the winter caretaker of the remote Overlook Hotel. Soon enough the family is snowbound and spiraling into a phantasm of possession and/or madness, depending upon your interpretation. The movie is not about ghosts, necessarily, but about the pressures in a family teetering on the edge of mutual domestic abuse. Or maybe it is about ghosts. Either way, The Shining’s stealthy, gliding cinematography (courtesy of then-new Steadicam technology) creates suspense and movement even as the Torrances are frozen in place, with monotony and isolation increasing the tension. The remaster is pristine, with brilliantly crisp images and music cues, as the Overlook comes to life in majestic hi-def glory. Despite the Blu-ray version’s excellent quality, viewers will still be left unsure of what they’ve just seen but will be scared to death just the same.
The Silence of the Lambs. 118 min. MGM, www.mgm.com. 2009. Blu-ray UPC 027616071514. $19.99. Rated: R. HORROR/THRILLER
Imprisoned psychiatrist-cum-psychopath Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) joins forces with FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to apprehend Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a serial killer who waylays, slays, and flays young women. By turns bleak, disturbing, and spellbinding, Jonathan Demme’s landmark 1991 thriller, based on the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, set the standard by which all others are now measured, swept the “Big Five” Academy Award categories (only the third film in the history of the academy to do so), and forever changed Hollywood’s perception of horror. While Foster is the undisputed star of the film, it was Hannibal the Cannibal whom moviegoers fell in love with, despite his appearance in a mere 16 minutes of the film’s total 118. The exclusive Blu-ray commentary track, featuring pop-up interviews with Hopkins, Foster, Anthony Heald, Scott Glenn, and screenwriter Ted Tally, provides a wealth of fascinating facts, and the remaster is good enough that viewers will be able to spot cameos by horror greats Roger Corman and George A. Romero. Enjoy with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Ultimate Edition. 1 disc. 83 min. Dark Sky Films, www.darkskyfilms.com. 2008. Blu-ray UPC 078860953X. $29.99. Rated: R. HORROR
After reports that graves have been robbed in the remote Texas cemetery where her grandfather is buried, Sally (Marilyn Burns), her wheelchair-bound brother (Paul A. Partain), and a group of friends set out to see if his grave is intact. When they fall into the clutches of a chainsaw-wielding maniac (Gunnar Hansen as the iconic Leatherface), their trip becomes a terrifying encounter with madness. Even after almost 40 years, 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre ranks among the most powerful and controversial of films. Director Tobe Hooper relentlessly terrorizes his audience, who will remain horror-struck long after the credits roll. Daniel Pearl’s cinematography is ageless, coupling brutal yet surprisingly bloodless images with shots of startling beauty, while the gritty, grainy transfer to hi-def preserves the picture’s singular visual character. To this day, Hooper’s classic remains intelligent, absorbing, and deeply disturbing, a social commentary that has earned a place at the very top of the horror genre. There’s a reason this film is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art.
The Thing. 109 min. Universal Studios, www.universalstudios.com. 2008. Blu-ray UPC 5050582577013. $14. Rated: R. SF/HORROR
An Antarctic research team discovers an alien craft that has been frozen under the ice for more than 100,000 years. Soon enough, their camp is infiltrated by a shape-shifting monster that attacks at a subatomic level, assimilating and exactly replicating its victim in special effects so mind-blowing that effects wizard Rob Bottin’s creative genius has yet to be equaled. The men, led by take-charge helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell), descend into paranoia and panic, never knowing if one of their own doomed number is the Thing in disguise. John Carpenter’s 1982 film is both a spectacular remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby creature-feature The Thing from Another World and a re-adaptation of its source material, John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1938 novella “Who Goes There?” Expertly crafted, well acted, and one of the most visually spectacular horror extravaganzas to come to Blu-ray, The Thing is a masterly exercise in claustrophobic suspense, one that will linger long after the film ends.