Thursday, June 28, 2007

Movie studios tease fans with Halloween DVDs

Summer has just begun, but, right on schedule, I’m getting my annual, premature bout of Halloween anticipation.

It’s not my fault. It’s simply that this is the time of year that movie studios announce release dates for the horror movies they plan to release on DVD in time for the Halloween season. Halloween is big business, and Americans spend more money celebrating it than on any other holiday except Christmas. Hollywood isn’t about to be left out of the cash bonanza.

In years past, I could count on MGM raiding its vaults and releasing at least half a dozen chillers from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Then Sony Pictures purchased a stake in MGM, and MGM’s “Midnite Movies” line went dormant.

Sony’s co-investors were not pleased. Not only did Sony fail to exploit MGM’s catalog of horror titles, Sony didn’t get anywhere with most of MGM’s movie library. So, the other investors took charge and sold the DVD rights to MGM’s films to Fox.

It’s taken a while, but that move is finally paying off for fans of vintage horror. Fox has more than a dozen releases planned for Sept. 11. The list includes MGM-owned films plus several of Fox’s own. Most retailers are already accepting pre-orders.

The bulk of Fox’s announced releases are two-disc double features:

  • “The Beast with a Million Eyes” and “Phantom From 10,000 Leagues”
  • “The Beast Within” and “The Bat People”
  • “Blueprint for Murder” and “Man in the Attic”
  • “Chosen Survivors” and “The Earth Dies Screaming”
  • “Devils of Darkness” and “Witchcraft”
  • “Gorilla at Large” and “Mystery at Monster Island”
  • “The House on Skull Mountain” and “The Mephisto Waltz”
  • “Konga” and “Yongary, Monster From the Deep”
  • “Pharaoh’s Curse” and “Curse of the Faceless Man”
  • “Return of Dracula” and “The Vampire”
  • “Tales From the Crypt” and “Vault of Horror”

The best of the double features is “Tales from the Crypt”/“Vault of Horror.” Produced by Amicus Productions and released in 1972 and ’73, respectively, both films are anthologies based on EC Comics stories. Amicus specialized in horror anthologies, and these are two of the studio’s best.

Like all Amicus films of the period, both boast casts filled with well-known British character actors, including Joan Collins (“Dynasty”), Peter Cushing (“Star Wars”), Denholm Elliott (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Tom Baker (“Doctor Who”).

Also on Sept. 11, Fox will release a three-movie set featuring the 1958 version of “The Fly” and it’s two sequels, “Return of the Fly” and “Curse of the Fly.” Horror icon Vincent Price takes a bow in the long-awaited DVD release of “The Witchfinder General” (aka “The Conqueror Worm”). And giant animals terrorize mankind in the 1976 schlockfest “Food of the Gods,” loosely based on an equally silly H.G. Wells story.

But I’ve saved the best for last: director Stuart Gordon’s second foray into the bloodcurdling tales of H.P. Lovecraft — “From Beyond.”

“From Beyond” reunites Gordon with “Re-Animator” stars Jeffery Combs (“Star Trek: Enterprise”) and Barbara Crampton (“The Young and the Restless”) for a tale of blood, guts and otherworldly monsters.

The “special edition” Fox/MGM DVD brings Gordon’s original version to America for the first time. The theatrical version released in 1986 omitted some gore and part of Crampton’s infamous “S&M” scene in order to get an R rating. The new disc restores the film to its intended glory.

That’s enough horror on DVD to frighten almost anyone, not the least of which is my bank account.

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