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DVD or big screen, no reason to miss out on Halloween fright-fest

By: M.V. Moorehead

Oct. 7, 2006

My favorite holiday season, Halloween, is upon us again. Opening in theatres this weekend is the “prequel” The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, yet another of the many follow-ups to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic. While I appreciate the raw, gruesome power of the original, I find its franchise unpleasant, and on the whole I prefer Halloween entertainment of an earlier and milder vintage. So here are a few DVD picks suitable for family entertainment above the level of very small children:


The Boris Karloff Collection—Last year saw The Bela Lugosi Collection, so it’s only fair that this year Universal would devote a DVD box set to Lugosi’s great rival and frequent costar William Henry Pratt, aka Boris Karloff. The set includes five of the tall, lisping Brit’s lesser-known and more offbeat explorations of the strange and sinister.

The first and possibly best of the films is Night Key (1937). This lively little gem is less a horror film than a sort of gangster-caper movie with a vaguely sci-fi twist. Karloff plays the gentle inventor of a security system who takes revenge on the man who cheated him out of an earlier invention. In Tower of London (1939), a retelling of the story of Richard III (Basil Rathbone), Karloff plays the bald and businesslike torturer and executioner of the title edifice. The Climax (1944), the set’s only offering in color, is a sort of cross between Phantom of the Opera and Trilby, with Karloff as a Svengali-like mesmerist obsessed with beautiful opera singer Susanna Foster.

Rounding out the set are The Strange Door (1951) and The Black Castle (1952), both of them engaging Gothic costumers about evil aristocrats menacing their guests with dungeons and implements of pain. Karloff has sympathetic roles in both, and the great Charles Laughton hams it up admirably as the rotten Sire de Maletroit in The Strange Door, which is based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story.

This is a no-frills collection—the movies don’t even have scene access menus. But it still offers plenty of creepy entertainment, and it’s also heartening to see with what disdain and revulsion torture was once held in this country.


Gojira—For those looking for something on a larger scale, the brooding 1954 Japanese film which we know, in an abridged and altered 1956 form, as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, has at last gotten a decent U.S. DVD release. This excellent and inexpensive two-disc set lets us see how the big honking lizard that came to be a figure of affectionate fun started out in this film, made less than a decade after Hiroshima, as a terrible, dead-serious symbol of the ravages that war had visited upon the Land of the Rising Sun. The set also includes the American version, as well as some fascinating documentary extras.


Available on October 10 is the Hollywood’s Legends of Horror Collection, featuring six non-Universal spookfests: Dr. X, with Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray, Mark of the Vampire with Lionel Barrymore, Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi, The Devil Doll with Lionel Barrymore, The Mask of Fu Manchu with Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy, the superb Mad Love with Peter Lorre, and the not-so-superb (but fun) Return of Dr. X, with Humphrey Bogart in his only horror role.

Not available on DVD until November 21—and not festive enough, I suppose, for Halloween—is An Inconvenient Truth, certainly the scariest movie I saw all year.


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