Best Blu-ray & 4K UHD horror movies: ‘Beetlejuice,’ ‘Psycho,’ ‘The War of the Worlds,’ ‘District 9,’ ‘Elvira: Mistress of the Dark,’ and more
With Halloween nearly upon us, Count Zad offers a few Blu-ray and 4K ultra-high-definition movie suggestions for this terrifying season.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Rated PG to R, various aspect ratio, 473 minutes, $69.98) —
A quartet of the most terrifying films from the “Master of Suspense” debuts in UHD just in time to appreciate this Halloween season.
Alfred Hitchcock has tapped into various genres of subtle and potent horror over his legendary directorial career, and this macabre collection touches on manic obsession, deadly voyeurism, serial killers, and even monsters.
Specifically, viewers get restored versions of “Vertigo” (1958, starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak); “Rear Window” (1954, starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly); “Psycho: 60th Anniversary Edition” (1960, starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh); and “The Birds” (1963, starring Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren).
All four are riveting adventures. Be it meeting the odd proprietor of the Bates Motel, watching a wheelchair-bound photographer peeping at his terribly naughty neighbors, witnessing a private investigator paralyzed by acrophobia and vertigo while obsessed with his current case or seeing humans surviving in a small beach town as flocks of fowl attack, the set will more than satisfy fans of classic cinema.
As far as the restorations, ignore “Psycho,” shot in black and white and best served as stark and gritty as possible (which it handsomely succeeds, especially the infamous shower scene) and appreciate the absolute killer pallets of vivid color in the other three films.
“Vertigo” leads the pack, originally shot in high-fidelity VistaVision, offering the best opportunity for colors in its screen-filling presentation. “Rear Window” is equally visually intense (restored using Technicolor dye-transfer prints) while “The Birds” is not quite as vibrant but benefits from high dynamic range enhancements to admire outdoor settings.
Each, at any moment, dare to make a viewer forget about the plot and wonder how decades-old movies can look that great.
The eight-disc set unloads an incredible amount of previously released bonus content, most ported to the 4K disc but all on the included Blu-ray editions of the movies.
Some immediate favorites range from the feature length, 94-minute documentary “The Making of Psycho”; the 80-minute documentary “All About the Birds”; a 55-minute retrospective on “Rear Window” (that also discusses its restoration); and 55 minutes on Hitchcock’s collaborations over the years with costume designer Edith Head, composer Bernard Herrmann, graphic designer Saul Bass and his wife Alma.
Equally entertaining are such quirkier extras as an optional commentary track for “Vertigo” with director William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”); filmmaker Francois Truffaut’s interviewing Hitchcock in 1962 (14 minutes, audio only); and 69 minutes of art director Henry Bumstead’s designs for “Vertigo.”
The War of the Worlds (Criterion, not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 85 minutes, $39.95) —
The 1953 cinematic, Academy Award-winning modern adaptation of H.G. Wells’ literary sci-fi horror masterpiece gets a dazzling high definition restoration to remind viewers of a terrifying extraterrestrial invasion.
Produced by George Pal (“Destination Moon”), the film follows a Martian attack of Earth starting in Southern California. Renowned scientist Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) and new best friend Ann Robinson (Sylvia van Buren) go on a futile mission trying to find the aliens’ weakness before the monsters obliterate humanity.
The film is certainly not as intense or effects-realistic as the 2005 Steven Spielberg adaptation, more thought-provoking, but it certainly has a place in history as one of the best groundbreaking films in its genre.
Worthy of mention is the absurd care taken in the reintroduction of this classic to home theater viewers.
Specifically, the digital restoration was created in a 4K resolution on a DFT Scanity film scanner from the original three-strip Technicolor negatives with thousands of imperfections and visual disfigurements to the film elements being excised.
The result is perfection in both saturated color enhancements taking full advantage of its Technicolor roots and clarity especially when studying the hovering metallic alien spacecraft and the array of red laser heat ray (like a shower head spitting electrical sparks) and green skeleton plasma beam vaporizing humans.
By far the best treat is the inclusion of the Mercury Theater’s 58-minute radio adaptation of the 1897 novel on Halloween Eve in 1938 led by Orson Welles. It offered a version so scary that it managed to cause real panic in the U.S.
Criterion also tosses in another amazing collection of goodies, a staple of the company’s releases. These include a new 30-minute “Movie Archeologist” a documentary about the innovative use of the Academy Award-winning special effect in the film explored by sound designer Ben Burtt and visual-effects supervisor Craig Barron, and a new, 21-minute look at the 4K restoration of the movie also with help from Mr. Burtt and Mr. Barron,
Additionally, a 30-minute archival documentary from 2005 discusses the legacy of the film and offers some reflections from many actors.
And, well worth a listen, is a vintage 2005 optional commentary track with director Joe “Gremlins” Dante, author Bill Warren, and film historian Bob Burns, also from 2005.
The package also contains an eight-page, fold-out, illustrated pamphlet featuring an essay by critic J. Hoberman.
Beetlejuice (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Rated PG, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 92 minutes, $24.99) —
Director Tim Burton’s iconic supernatural comedy from 1988 debuts in UHD for the entire family to appreciate the antics of one crazy bio-exorcist.
Of course, Beetlejuice (played hilariously by Michael Keaton) is an unkempt, unpredictable poltergeist called upon by the ghosts of Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) to get rid of the eccentric Deetz family (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder) occupying their house.
The transfer, now sized in its original 1.85:1 screen-filling presentation, especially shines when visiting the office of the afterworld, rich with color and gore, as the Maitlands attempt to navigate the rules of the afterlife; or when watching some of the stop-motion animations.
Viewers will feel tricked after enjoying such a great visual presentation only to find the barest of bonus content on the included Blu-ray disc.
Culled from the 20th anniversary, no so deluxe Blu-ray edition, the extras offer three episodes from the Beetlejuice cartoon series from the late 1980s and a music-only audio track to appreciate Danny Elfman’s chaotic score.
If Elvira can get a 90-minute documentary on her movie (read below), how does Beetlejuice not warrant the same?
District 9 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Rated R, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 112 minutes, $30.99) —
Director Neill Blomkamp’s fantastic 2009 sci-fi-drama debuts in 4K to offer a horrifying look at an extraterrestrial species stranded on earth and forced to live in a slum in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Viewers are privy to the life of the Department of Alien Affairs’ bumbling bureaucrat Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) tasked with serving eviction notices to the mass of aliens and moving them to a new camp.
Things do not go well as violence erupts, and he accidentally inhales some mysterious black liquid made by one of the aliens. A transformation nearly as terrifying as Jeff Goldblum’s in “The Fly” slowly ensues while he learns what it like to be shunned and hunted for his new abilities.
Although visual creative choices often offer a guerilla documentary style of filmmaking mixed with grainier news footage and video surveillance, this UHD transfer, from a mixture of 2K and 4K sources, allows plenty of visual clarity and sizzle especially when examining the alien species close up and appreciating the bloody explosive firepower of the alien weaponry.
The 4K disc offers a new 17-minute look at the first screening of the film at the San Diego ComicCon in 2009 and subsequent panel discussion with producer Peter Jackson, Mr. Blomkamp, and Mr. Copley.
The remaining extras are on the included Blu-ray with the best being an optional commentary track with Mr. Blomkamp, a 34-minute, three-part featurette on making the film, and a dense, multimedia interactive map taking viewers into the world of “District 9.”
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (Collector’s Edition) (Shout Factory!, Rated R, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 93 minutes, $29.99) —
Based on the horror anthology TV series of the same name, this stand-alone movie debuts on Blu-ray tapping into the storytelling might of Stephen King, George Romero, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Wrapped around a tale of an imprisoned paperboy on a witch’s menu for dinner, he delays his execution by telling the creepy cook three stories of terror tied to a resurrected mummy, an immortal owner-killing black cat and a living stone gargoyle.
An all-star cast brings the tale to life including Steve Buscemi as the mummy’s mentor, Julianne Moore and Christian Slater as an ill-fated brother and sister, and even New York Dolls singer David Johansen as an assassin and Blondie’s lead singer Deborah Harry as the witch.
It’s not quite as clever and grotesque as the first “Creepshow” movie but still offers a monstrously good time for this year’s Halloween film fest.
A trio of excellent treats offers a complete deconstruction of the film.
First, a six-chapter, 75-minute retrospective covers memories on making of the film and packed with interviews from the likes of director John Harrison, editor Henry B. Miller, cinematographer Robert Draper, production designer Ruth Ammon, and special makeup effects team Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, and Robert Kurtzman, and even the man in the mummy suit, Michael Deak.
Next, a new commentary track features co-producer David K. Kappes, and a vintage track from the DVD release in 2001 has Romero and director John Harrison offering lots of entertaining memories.
Vestron Video Collector’s Series: Shivers (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, not rated, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 88 minutes, $17.99) —
David Cronenberg, known for “Scanners” and “The Fly,” offers a 1975 body horror cult classic. Remastered and debuting on Blu-ray with an abundance of extras sure to shockingly please an avid fan base.
Also called “They Came from Within” and “Orgy of the Blood Parasites,” this kooky creature feature stars a man-made, slug-like species invading an apartment complex on the outskirts of Montreal and infecting its inhabitants, turning them into sex-crazed lunatics.
Offering more smarmy gore than scenes of cohabitation, the cheaply produced film shows its age even with a restoration, and it’s as humorous as creepy as it satirically skewers human nature.
The film will be most remembered as not only the director’s first feature film but for those low-budget parasites (you can even see a string pulling one) and a cast that included gothic horror film star Barbera Steele and television staple Joe Silver.
The Collector’s Series provides an impressive collection of goodies starting with a pair of new optional commentary tracks — one from Mr. Cronenberg and the other with co-producer Don Carmody — and both moderated by Chris Alexander.
And, new stand-alone interviews feature 12 more minutes with Mr. Cronenberg, 17 minutes with actress Lynn Lowry (Nurse Forsythe) and 13 minutes with special make-up effects creator Joe Blasco who build the creepy crawlies.
Paramount Presents The Haunting (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Rated R, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 93 minutes, $29.99) —
Action film director Jan da Bont’s 1999 atmospheric adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s gothic horror novel (The Haunting of Hill House) gets a 4K restoration and Blu-ray release just in time for the spooky holidays.
The fictitious Hill House mansion co-stars in this ultimate poltergeist story featuring three subjects of a supposed insomnia experiment stuck in a vengeful mansion by a researcher with ulterior motives.
The veteran cast helps sells the mostly mild sometimes silly scares and stars Liam Neeson as Dr. David Marrow; Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor and Owen Wilson as the three subjects; and Bruce Dern as the groundskeeper.
The dynamic restoration allows for immersive inspection of cinematographer Karl Walter Linenlaub’s capturing of the outrageously detailed and antique mansion filled with ornate woodwork, statuary and paintings as well as the outer grounds stonework.
The plot’s most amusing miscue is thinking that anyone could ever fall asleep in such a creepy mansion, and some of the corny computer-generated creatures and specters that would make “Ghostbusters” proud.
The disc has a new, nine-minute interview with the director and a vintage, 27-minute promotional production featurette from the original 1999 DVD release hosted by Miss Zeta-Jones.
The cardboard package offers a fold-out cover of the movie poster, and the interior case has an insert with images of key moments from the film.
Blumhouse of Horrors (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13 to R, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $99.98) —
Fans of the frightening filmmaking powerhouse owned by Jason Blum can now appreciate 10 movies offering a variety of scares in a Blu-ray collection.
Owners get “The Purge,” (2013), “Ouija” (2014), “Unfriended” (2014), “The Boy Next Door” (2015), “The Visit” (2015), “Split” (2016), “Get Out” (2017), “Happy Death Day” (2017), “Truth or Dare” (2018) and “Ma” (2019).
The set offers its share of treats as well as a few unwelcome tricks and is a bit haphazard in its approach.
The best of the bunch is director Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” that explores race relations within doses of psychological and graphic horror, while equally potent is the inclusion of director M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” (split personality gone wild) and “The Visit” (grandparents gone really wild).
Certainly fun for the Halloween season is “Happy Death Day” (a clever twist on “Groundhog’s Day”), “The Purge” (humans get one night a year to kill anyone), and “Ma” (middle-aged woman terrorizes teenagers).
The good and the not so good
Not so great is “Ouija” (I would have preferred “Ouija: Origin of Evil”), the miserable “The Boy Next Door” (a student’s obsession with a teacher played by Jennifer Lopez) and “Truth or Dare” (based on the classic game with deadly consequences).
Also, unusual is the conspicuous absence of Blumhouse classics such as “Us,” “The Invisible Man” and the sequel “Halloween.”
However, what’s obvious while enjoying many of the movies is Mr. Blum and his band of macabre filmmakers have delivered movies that blend satire, horror, gore, and psychological thrills to become the new Hammer Films of our era.
Each disc offers all of the bonus content from the original Blu-ray release.
That translates into slim pickings throughout mostly offering deleted scenes and short featurettes on the film’s productions.
The only deeper extras are an audio commentary with Mr. Peele for “Get Out” and an audio commentary track on “Truth or Dare” with director Jeff Wadlow and actress Lucy Hale (Olivia).
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (Arrow Video, Rated PG-13, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 96 minutes, $39.95) —
Actress Cassandra Peterson’s famed late-night horror movie hostess Elvira spread her “unpleasant dreams” to the silver screen in 1988 with a movie now digitally restored to high definition for fans of her macabre style of humor.
A story that “SNL” critic Leonard Pinth-Garnell might call “buxomly bad” finds Elvira looking for stardom on a Las Vegas stage but in need of cash to make her dreams come true. Luckily, great aunt Morgana passes away and Elvira is entitled to an inheritance. But only if she can survive a visit to Falwell, Massachusetts, and an encounter with her warlock uncle.
The star of the show is really her pair of healthy attributes, made fun of to excess. To the point of a final musical number featuring those attributes in a flurry sure to mesmerize.
As Elvira has been a staple of Halloween for many a decade her film debut definitely warrants watching during this creepy holiday, especially by those young males looking for sophomoric laughs and titillation.
The 4K scan of the film using original 35mm interpositive elements certainly offers the cleanest and dynamic version of the movie available.
Now, considering the lame story is not quite up to Academy Award quality, it’s a head-scratcher that Arrow invested in such a bounty of extras from previous releases.
Specifically, a newly revised documentary that runs as long as the film covering the production, as well as Miss Peterson’s career, was originally released in 2018 for the 30th anniversary of the film.
Also, three, that’s right THREE, optional commentary tracks: one with Miss Peterson, actress Edie McClurg and John Paragon; one with director James Signorelli and Fangoria magazine editor Tony Timpone; and one with superfan and Elvira webmaster Patterson Lundquist.
Rob Zombie Trilogy: SteelBook Edition (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Rated R, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 316 minutes, $17.99) —
Heavy metal maestro turned horror cinema auteur Rob Zombie turned his penchant for black comedy and 1970s grindhouse gore into a three-film story arc covering the serial-killing exploits of the Firefly family.
The stand-alone Blu-ray compilation set features the blood-saturated “House of 1000 Corpses” (2003), “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005) and “3 From Hell” (2019).
Yes, enjoy the pain and suffering of the young and old as Baby Fireﬂy (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Mother Firefly (Karen Black) and Tiny (Matthew McGrory) rampage across America.
The gratuitous and generally disgusting collection of films revel in violence and presents the worst in humanity. It is only for fans of Mr. Zombie as well as those mature viewers obsessed with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” genre.
The Target exclusive offers a bloody red steel bookcase adorned by the art of Vance Kelly and the same discs plucked from the original Blu-ray releases.
That means no new bonus content, but vintage extras included optional commentary tracks on all three films by Mr. Zombie and a 90-minute documentary of the making of “3 from Hell.”
And, my favorite for some unknown perverse reason, is the Blu-ray player video game Zombitron. It has the player move a sheriff around, right or left and up or down, to tap and free tied-up females before zombies eat them. Anyone who remembers the play mechanics of the short-lived, 1976 arcade game “Death Race 2000” or who enjoys “Pac-Man” will appreciate the full-color action.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.