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Scary Halloween classics creep into DVD box sets
By M.V. Moorhead

October 22, 2005

Some enjoyable macabre stuff has risen from the pop-culture graveyard this season in the form of DVD box sets, just in time for creepy Halloween fun.

The longest-buried and most eagerly awaited of them is the complete run of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the short-lived but fondly-remembered ABC TV series from 1974-75 starring Darren McGavin.

McGavin played Carl Kolchak, a sort of 20th Century Van Helsing in a frumpy seersucker suit. Kolchak was a reporter for a Chicago wire service who somehow couldn’t show up to even the most routine story without stumbling across the modern-day manifestation of some paranormal horror—vampires, demons, witches, ghosts, zombies, werewolves, space monsters, killer robots, prehistoric lizard-beasts.

Carl seemed to have this beat all to himself, and to be almost exclusively devoted to it, much to the chagrin of his bellowing, ulcerated editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland).

Nor was our hero shy, in the journalistic manner, about making himself part of the story.

Almost every episode ended with Carl, having consulted some expert on the occult and learned the Achilles heel of the monster-of-the-week, creeping into its secluded lair for a desperate showdown with the forces of evil.

The Night Stalker’s 20 episodes vary widely in quality, from genuinely witty dark comedy to ludicrous, corny camp.

Probably the best of them is “Horror in the Heights,” in which Carl faces an Indian monster who appears to his victims as whoever they trust the most. But even the silliest is made amusing by McGavin, that extravagantly droll, eccentric ham best known as the father in A Christmas Story.

When he works opposite guest stars like Jim Backus, Larry Linville, Hans Conried, Severn Darden, Keenan Wynn, John Dehner, Tom Skerritt, Phil Silvers, Scatman Crothers, Nina Foch and Eric Braeden, to name only a few, the result is some shameless and highly enjoyable overacting.

Also recently released is The Hammer Horror Series: The Franchise Collection, featuring eight gems, all from the early ‘60s, from the British studio which specialized in slightly prurient shockers. Included is such spooky fare as Brides of Dracula, The Evil of Frankenstein, Kiss of the Vampire and the 1962 version of The Phantom of the Opera featuring Herbert Lom in the title role. There are also some lesser-known thrillers, like the 18th Century costumer Night Creatures and two lively psychological yarns in the Psycho vein: Nightmare and Paranoiac, the latter featuring fine scenery-chewing by Oliver Reed as a demented playboy.

Finally, there’s a box set celebrating arguably the greatest of all horror stars, albeit celebrating him imperfectly: The Bela Lugosi Collection offers five vintage films, all of them entertaining but only three of them with Lugosi in a lead role.

Lugosi has the first selection on the disc, Murders of the Rue Morgue, all to himself, and he has a grand time in the juicy part of the mad Dr. Mirakle.

In the other five, he shares the screen with his frequent costar and longtime rival Boris Karloff—he flays Karloff alive, avenging the murder of his wife and daughter, in Edgar Ulmer’s splendid The Black Cat, purposely disfigures Karloff as a mad plastic surgeon in The Raven, and tries to cure Karloff of radiation poisoning in The Invisible Ray.

His role in 1940’s Black Friday is minor, but it was connected to a bit of studio ballyhoo—he agreed to be hypnotized in order to play his death scene, with the idea that we would see him truly suffer the terrors of murder!

The DVDs: These box sets are all stripped-down affairs: The Lugosi Collection offers a few trailers—including the hokey one for Black Friday—while the Hammer and Night Stalker sets have no extras at all, apart from subtitle options. But for chiller-buffs, these collections are such prizes that no frills are required.

Older children of the right sensibility are likely to enjoy any of these, but they’re probably a bit much for younger kids.

Happily, there’s first-rate Halloween fare for the littlest ghosties and ghoulies to be found at the theaters this year: Wallace and Grommit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.

M.V. Moorhead is a former New Times film writer who now contributes regularly to Wrangler News.








































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