Dark Skies takes a different approach to alien abductions. A family that experiences weird phenomena in their house at first look like they are being haunted only to later discover that other types of beings may have designs on them. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play the beleaguered parents of two children, and his obsession over what is going on in the house—security cameras naturally come into play here—starts to freak her out. That is, until she realizes that there is more to her young son’s sleepwalking than meets the eye. Writer-director Scott Stewart, who previously made Priest and Legion, delivers some good chills in this low budget movie that uses effects sparingly and relies on the acting and story to set up the tension. The genre twist at the end is certainly fresh.
John Carpenter has easily earned his place in the horror hall of fame for classic chillers and thrillers, including Prince Of Darkness, his gory remake of The Thing, and of course, The Fog. His sixth film and first theatrical release following his breakthrough hit Halloween, it chronicles the two nights that a seaside community faces when a 100-year-old curse comes home to roost, with a sinister fog invading Antonio Bay and ghoulish figures seeking revenge for past sins. It’s a simple concept that works really well, with some sumptuous cinematography from long-time Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey, solid special effects, and fine performances from genre luminaries like Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook. Scream Factory has done a fantastic job with this two-disc set that serves up classy new artwork, a great restoration, and solid bonus features, including a very frank conversation with Curtis about working on the movie.
ONE BIG, GOOEY MESS
I vaguely remember seeing ads for The Incredible Melting Man when it came out in the late’70s, but I never got around to watching it during the home video boom of the ’80s. It’s not exactly a tv-friendly movie, and frankly, it was not great enough to show a lot on cable. This movie is known for showcasing the early work of makeup mastermind Rick Baker, who went on to win the first Oscar in his field for An American Werewolf In London and has had an amazing career ever since. Melting Man has a minimal story: an astronaut survives a bizarre, unexplained outer space experience that killed his three crewmates, but now he is succumbing to an illness that is turning his body into a gooey mess while making him crave human flesh. It sucks to be him. Or drips, rather. Some of the effects aren’t bad, but the acting and story generally are. It’s a total camp affair with gratuitous boobs and a decapitated head that falls and cracks open, if you’re into that sort of thing. (I know many of you are.) This is actually a movie that could stand to be remade with some digital manipulation. Check out the featurette with Baker and writer-director William Sachs offering differing views on the making of and intent behind the film. Parody or not? You be the judge.
A BEVY OF BAVA
Italian director Mario Bava is one of the most influential horror filmmakers ever, and with good reason. The man had a keen eye for beguiling gothic images and knew how to create an unsettling atmosphere that sucked you in. Kino Lorber has been revisiting a lot of his work on Blu-ray with great transfers, nice packaging, and audio commentaries from author and Bava expert Tim Lucas. Watching classic Bava films is like getting a mini master class on gothic horror in terms of his beautifully composed shots, color schemes, and creepy imagery.
The latest Blu-ray reissue is his 1963 anthology Black Sabbath, which inspired the name of one of heavy metal’s most famous bands. Three fearful tales are introduced by Boris Karloff, who co-stars in the second story, and they include vignettes about a woman who calls her ex-girlfriend for help when she is stalked by her psycho ex-boyfriend (it’s complicated), a young man visiting a rural family whose patriarch may have turned into a Wurdulak (vampire) that wants to turn them all, and a nurse who dresses then steals from a newly deceased client who just happened to have died in the middle of a séance, which leads to grim supernatural repercussions. The last story is the real gem here, with the unnerving corpse whose face is contorted in a chilling look of agony. A word of caution to longtime fans: this is the Italian version with Italian dubbing, so even Karloff unfortunately is dubbed over. However, the stories are in their correct order and the transfer looks beautiful. Just don’t get rid of your old DVD with the English tracks.
Bava’s 1960 debut Black Sunday is actually a stronger film, in which a vampire-witch (the luscious Barbara Steele) is resurrected 200 years after her murder and entombment to seek vengeance on descendants of her brother’s family after he condemned her to death. She needs her assistant to help kill off people one by one and allow her to regain her strength to rise from her crypt. The story works well in black and white, and Steele’s portrayal of both the witch and her modern descendant is inspired. It’s not outright scary considering it is over 50 years old, but there are some eerie segments here and a foreboding sense of dread. Tim Burton has said that this movie was a big influence on him, and the iron maiden sequence in Sleepy Hollow was certainly inspired by Steele’s mask impalement. Francis Ford Coppola replicated some shots in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.hOLLOW
Hatchet For The Honeymoon tells the story of a deranged serial killer named John Harrington who kills young brides to be. It just so happens that he is also a fashion designer whose business specializes in wedding gowns. That’s a good way to find fresh victims. This 1970 movie is clearly the forerunner to American Psycho and Dexter with its suave leading man struggling with the murderous impulses inside of him, and the movie takes an unusual turn when one of his victims (we won’t say who so as not to spoil it) comes back to haunt him in unusual ways. Even being 43 years old, Hatchet… has a creepy vibe, including a scene where Harrington embraces and kisses a bridal mannequin. He later dances with a future victim in the same room full of similar statues. Yeah, there’s nothing off about him.
In 1972’s Baron Blood, an American professor (Antonio Cantafara) and his assistant (Elke Sommer) visit the castle of his sadistic predecessor Baron Otto Von Kleist (Citizen Kane‘s Joseph Cotton) to learn more about his terrible deeds. When they read an old incantation aloud, his spirit returns to kill again. It’s a familiar story that’s told with style even if it’s not really that creepy anymore. I have a soft spot for this kind of movie, which is really more appropriate for Bava fans.
Many of Bava’s films have aged pretty well. That said, some elements have not, including some of the music, sound effects, a few melodramatic performances, and naturally certain dialogue. Yet they remain fun to watch because of the artistry and craft behind them. Kino has released many other titles in their Mario Bava Collection, and more are on the way. My favorite Bava film, Kill, Baby…Kill!, is coming to Blu-ray soon.
NETFLIX FIX: CLUE (1985)
Theater veteran Jonathan Lynn made his film directorial debut with this madcap comedy inspired by the famous Parker Bros. board game that a majority of us have played at one point in our lives. Six seemingly unrelated guests (including Michael Kean, Lesley Ann Warren and Christopher Lloyd) are invited to a dinner party in a New England mansion in 1954. The butler (Tim Curry) informs them that a Mr. Body has invited them there, but when Mr. Body shows up, he is as surprised as everyone else. It turns out he is blackmailing them all, and when the lights go out, someone kills him. From that point on, the group tries to figure out whodunit as other bodies start piling up. Clue is silly, over-the-top fun thanks to the animated antics of Curry and the tongue-in-cheek performances from the rest of the cast. Back in the day, the movie was screened in theaters with three different endings, and you could pick which one you wanted to go to. That gimmick did not help make Clue a hit, but it has developed a strong cult following over the years. All three endings are included one after the other in the home video version.