INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3 (2015)
The set up: In this jittery prequel, the backstory of powerful medium Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) is brought to light. Grieving the death of her husband and frightened of a demonic entity that attached itself to her from the other side, she has retired from doing readings and helping victims of supernatural predators. But when a teen girl (Stefanie Scott) is being stalked by a demon after she tries contacting her dead mother, Elise is spurred back into action to provide help and to conquer her own fears.
The breakdown: Series writer and supporting actor Leigh Wannell takes the directorial reins for this third installment in the dark franchise. While not as intensely chilling as James Wan’s previous directed entries, it still offers some fun scares and, rather nicely, a more personal tale of two women seeking to cope with major life changes. There is an emotional core to the story, and fans of Lin Shaye’s rich portrayal of Elise will be happy with the focus on her character here.
The set up: This Japanese anthology features four spooky stories taken from Lafcadio Hearn’s excellent book of the same name. “The Black Hair,” “The Woman of the Snow,” “Hoichi the Earless,” and “In a Cup Of Tea” are all poetical, moody works that do not outright terrify but beguile and get under one’s skin. The first story reminds us that creepy long haired women did not first emerge with The Ring and The Grudge. They have far, far older, pre-cinematic roots.
The breakdown: Finally making its Blu-ray debut, this is the original three-hour version that was cut down by 30 minutes for its American release. Kwaidan is a slow moving film that takes time for each story to build, but the pay off in each is worthwhile. Those who like Speedy Gonzalez type zombies and ghosts won’t have the attention span for it, but those who can appreciate the film’s pace and distinct look—mostly shot on studio sets with surreal painted backdrops—as well as the minimal use of live sound overlayed with Japanese folk instruments, will likely find it to be a fascinating experience. The special features include a 1993 interview with director Masaki Kobayashi and an examination of the book of folklore that inspired the film.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)
The set up: In the rundown Iranian oil town Bad City, which is filled with junkies, down and out characters, and bored young people, a young man (Arash Marandi) becomes intrigued by a beautiful, mysterious woman (Sheila Vand), unaware that she is a vampire who preys on the lowlifes around her.
The breakdown: Director Ana Lily Amirpour has Iranian roots, was born in England, and then raised in America, so it makes that this indie project was shot in California with the dialogue spoken in Farsi. Despite the appearance of cell phones and tattoos, the black and white movie feels retro in terms of location, and the titular subject has an affinity for ‘80s pop rock on vinyl. Co-executive produced by Elijah Wood and called an “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western,” this movie really feels like a romantic melodrama played out against a decaying industrial landscape devoid of law and order, with some fanged feasting thrown in for good measure. Through the special features we learn how the director’s affinity for Sergio Leone westerns, the work of David Lynch, and her affinity for fear fare spawned this unusual feature film debut. Kino Lorber’s handsome package includes a black and white graphic novel that delves into the titular vampire’s history.
DRESSED TO KILL (1980)
The set up: After his mother (Angie Dickinson) is killed by a razor-wielding psychopath, a young student teams up with a call girl (Nancy Allen) who witnessed the murder to track down her killer, who is still on the loose and may be the client of a psychiatrist (Michael Caine) his mother went to.
The breakdown: Brian De Palma’s raunchy, more violent take on Psycho is well made and certainly has its suspenseful moments, including a museum scene where a man and woman pursue one other before hooking up in a cab. But it’s also got elements of softcore porn and nasty violence towards women that will make some people squirm. What will be problematic for many viewers today is the ending. [MAJOR SPOILER ALERT] De Palma has been accused of misogyny and transphobia, and you can see why with Dressed To Kill. Criterion’s special edition addresses those issues and more in its featurettes and accompanying booklet.
OLD SCHOOL CHILLS
Scream Factory continues to roll out a plethora of major and minor horror hits that many of us fright fans hold near and dear to our hearts. One of the best is Ghost Story, adapted from the Peter Straub novel of the same name. The 1981 release was controversial for featuring Hollywood legends Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Melvyn Douglas in a film laced with profanity, nudity, and gore. They portray a group of four old men haunted by the ghost of a woman whom they all lusted after and wronged. The story moves between intense flashbacks and nerve-wracking current events as they all fear they will be the next to be taken by the vengeful spectre. This is one of the best horror films of the ‘80s and one of the best haunted house movies ever made.
On the flip side is The Sentinel, one of the many entries in the ‘70s wave of Satanic/supernatural horror. A young woman (Christina Raines) moves into an apartment with a lot of weird tenants and soon learns about the strange connection they all share with the building. The movie is best known for its eye-popping finale as well as its great cast, including future movie and TV stars like Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger, Jerry Orbach, Chris Sarandon, and Beverly D’Angelo, along with the renowned Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, and Eli Wallach. This is a curio rather than a classic but one dear to many cult movie fans of Gen X.
A weird and wonderful movie from 1989 is Vampire’s Kiss, in which a young Nicolas Cage went bat shit crazy on screen portraying a lonely, isolated yuppie who thinks a date (Jennifer Beals) is a vampire who has infected him, a notion that leads him to act stranger and stranger as well as viciously terrorize his petrified assistant (Maria Conchita Alonso). This is a love it or hate it kind of movie, but if you buy into its conceit it is a wild ride. Cage even munched a live roach on camera for the role. That’s dedication.
A newer release with a vintage spirit is Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers, a superlative werewolf movie that he made in 2002 (before the stellar cave monster movie The Descent), in which a British army unit training in Scottish woods becomes the target of furry fiends that trap them in a cabin. But with the solders in disarray inside their temporary fortress, their own animal instincts threaten them as much as the predators outside. Marshall knows how to mix the gore with compelling drama, and the result is one of the best werewolf movies ever made.
Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line has also been resurrecting some spooky gems, one of the best being the 1976 chiller Burnt Offerings. When two parents (Oliver Reed, Karen Black), their young son (Lee H. Montgomery), and a paternal aunt (Bette Davis) take care of an old house for an older couple during the summer, twisted goings-on, from possession to moving plants to the repeated appearance of a sinister chauffer, make them question their sanity. It’s still an edgy haunted house story today.