LIVE DIE REPEAT (2014)
The buildup: A charismatic solder (Tom Cruise) used for recruiting purposes is unwillingly sent to Europe to fight against an alien invasion. When he starts re-experiencing the same day again every time he dies, he must team up with a fierce hero (Emily Blunt) to solve the enigma and find a way to defeat a seemingly impervious enemy.
The breakdown: Released as Edge Of Tomorrow, this fast-paced and witty sci-fi thriller is a fun ride. Cruise and Blunt have good chemistry, and the constant repetition of events from failed experiments over multiple not only generates some humor but also shows the strain of enduring such revisited insanity. In the bonus features, the profile of director Doug Liman shows us a man who often creates without a finished script, which was surprisingly the case here.
THE PURGE: ANARCHY (2014)
The buildup: In 2023, on the annual night where Americans experience 12 hours of lawlessness with no repercussions to purge their individual anger, a cop sets out to hunt down the man who killed his son but unexpectedly saves a stranded couple and besieged mother and daughter. Together the group must survive the night while their savior wrestles with his conscience.
The breakdown: For his Purge sequel, original writer-director James DeMonaco wisely chooses a different local (urban rather than suburban) and takes the drama to the streets. He also ups the ante on the race and class wars that the Purge really represents. And it works. The Purge: Anarchy echoes the ugly, real life civil war that is brewing in America. Let’s pray it never reaches this level of insanity.
TOY STORY OF TERROR (2013)
The buildup: When their new owner Bonnie and her mother stay in a motel, Buzz, Woody, and five other pals get picked off one by one while exploring the motel in the dead of night. Scary hilarity is afoot.
The breakdown: Well written and fun, this 22-minute short is a nice Halloween treat for Toy Story fans, who get three other shorts along with “vintage” toy commercials with new characters, a making of featurette, commentary track, and deleted scenes. It seems to be part of a trend of TV shorts from the franchise, the next one being a Christmas special airing this December.
THE INNOCENTS (1961)
The buildup: In this black and white adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw, an inexperienced governess (Deborah Kerr) oversees two wealthy, orphaned children whose very lives are under siege by supernatural forces. It’s one of the eeriest haunted house movies ever and features one of the creepiest cinematic kisses.
The breakdown: Criterion gives this classic chiller a superb HD upgrade and includes some good special features, including a thoughtful essay by Maitland McDonagh and 2006 interviews with film editor Jim Clark, script supervisor Pamela Mann Francis, and late cinematographer Freddie Francis. If you think a 50-year-old movie won’t get under your skin, check out The Innocents. By the way, Black Sabbath cribbed the ghostly woman in black for their first album cover.
THE EXORCIST: THE COMPLETE ANTHOLOGY (2014)
The Exorcist is a franchise with a spotty history, but there is no denying that the original is a masterpiece. What others might now know is that Exorcist III is also a fantastic horror tale, with Lt. William Kinderman (George C. Scott) investigating a gruesome serial killer connected to a demonic presence, which is confirmed when he learns of the existence of a longtime mental patient looking like Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Original Exorcist writer William Peter Blatty capably directs the film, which features one of the biggest out-and-out scares I’ve ever experienced in a movie. As far as the other entries, John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic tends to get dismissed by fans, and the two prequels—Paul Schrader’s gritty but unscary meditation on evil, and Renny Harlin’s somewhat scary but shallow creepfest—would have worked together if they had been combined into one movie. They actually share some footage and cast members, and both have some interesting moments that hardcore fans will appreciate. With a set priced at $35 list, having all five movies, including the two versions of the original, is a good deal. If you want the original Exorcist set with the extra bonus features, you can buy that separately.
HALLOWEEN: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (2014)
The Halloween series, which encompasses some fearful highs and groan-inducing lows, has been reissued and repackaged so many different ways that it could make your head spin like Regan in The Exorcist. That being said, this Blu-ray collection is notable because the series has never been packaged together before as different studios released various entries. There are two versions of this box. The 10-disc set includes the theatrical cuts of all 10 films (Rob Zombie’s first remake comes with the unrated cut), and the 15-disc Limited Deluxe Edition includes a 42-page book with an essay by Michael Gingold, a disc of bonus features mostly related to parts 4 and 5, the extended and re-edited TV cut of Halloween II, and the long-awaited remastered Producer’s Cut of Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers that makes for a more cohesive story (although not a greater film). That Producer’s Cut of part 6 has made the bootleg circuit forever, so now you have a crisp, sharp copy to enjoy along with loads of new extras, which is great if you love that installment. (Please note that Halloween 4 has audio sync issues, but you can get a free replacement disc.) Although priced at $125 list, the set is available for much less online and a good price. While fans craving the deluxe Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers by itself will grumble about a $170 box price, I assume it will get a solo release in the future. The Deluxe Limited Edition box is certainly the ultimate collection of Halloween movies. The only new frill they could offer in the future is to have Michael Myers come watch them with you. But then your life would become a Limited Edition, and who wants that?
GHOSTBUSTERS I & II (1984, 1989)
The buildup: Oddball college professors turned spook hunters (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and their associate Ernie Hudson) become heroes battling paranormal threats to New York City in these two beloved horror comedies. Somehow Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis always get caught in the middle of things.
The breakdown: These new 30th and 25th anniversary edition Blu-rays, respectively, include 4K HD transfers, new roundtables with director Ivan Reitman and co-star Dan Aykroyd, music videos, and alternate takes or deleted scenes. While horror these days generally comes in the form of grim seriousness or utter parody, these two films deftly blended horror and humor (heavier on the latter) into a nice mix that has aged fairly well.
NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (2014)
The buildup: Clive Barker’s tale of misunderstood monsters threatened by redneck “justice” did not play well with studio executives back in 1990—which is ironic given that Hollywood often enjoys mocking rednecks—so the movie was butchered and featured some obvious narrative gaps. Thanks to the efforts of restoration producer Mark Alan Miller, long lost pieces were found and this renewed vision, which differs from the lower quality “Cabal Cut” that has been circulating for years, brings us Barker’s vision in a gloriously restored film. 40 minutes have been added while 20 minutes were excised in this two-hour version.
The breakdown: While some of the narrative elements are still not fully fleshed out, this striking new cut of Nightbreed makes more sense and flows more smoothly. The buildup to the climactic holocaust is also more believable, and fans will get to see new monsters that never appeared in the film’s original incarnation. The Director’s Cut is available in a regular one-disc edition with some bonus features and a three-disc Limited Edition (which may go out of print fast) that includes a whole disc of extras and another disc with the theatrical cut. While the $80 price tag for the latter has some fans balking, it must have cost a lot of time and money to bring this restored vision to everyone.