All Hallow’s Eve is upon us and a quick and scary Halloween home video round-up is in order. There are precious few good new titles — save for Lionsgate’s amazing The Cabin In The Woods, granted a fantastic special edition — and, with the notable exception of Universal, major-studio catalog titles were few and far between; Warner Bros. put out excellent (but at $35 way-over priced) “digibook” editions of Little Shop Of Horrors and the Bette Davis thrillers What Ever Happened To Baby Jane and Dead Ringer, while MGM (via Fox) put out passably decent editions of Killer Klowns From Outer Space and the underrated Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
Universal, however, delivered the goods with two incredible box sets: Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (delayed from September because of mastering problems on some of the titles) and Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection. The former is the high-def debut of thirteen classic Hitchcock titles — the previously-issued North By Northwest and Psycho are included here as well — including the still-terrifying The Birds and thrillers such as Rear Window, Vertigo and the shockingly grim Frenzy.
The Classic Monsters set gathers together the original Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Bride Of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, the Claude Rains Technicolor Phantom Of The Opera and both 2-D and 3-D versions of The Creature From The Black Lagoon. All of the titles look stunning, though some have complained about convergence issues with the 3-D Creature that causes eyestrain. The Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection is more of a mixed bag in terms of transfers — The Man Who Knew Too Much and Family Plot could have looked better — but the essential titles look fantastic.
Universal, however, seems to have farmed out some of their other catalog titles to Scream Factory, the subsidiary of Shout! Factory. Halloween II and Halloween III: Season Of The Witch came out in September and, this October, Scream brought us the1980 Jamie Lee Curtis thriller Terror Train and Tobe Hooper’s 1981 underrated The Funhouse in nice special editions that include interviews, trailers and audio commentaries. Terror Train is the lesser of the two, but it still holds up— directed by former Sam Peckinpah editor and later James Bond (Tomorrow Never Dies) helmer Roger Spotiswoode and shot by Stanley Kubrick’s cinematographer John Alcott, it’s extremely stylish and features supporting players as diverse as magician David Copperfield (!) and legendary Western actor Ben Johnson.
The Funhouse is less brutal and intense than you might expect from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper; there’s a childlike innocence to the story of a group of teens who find themselves trapped in an carnival with a maniac with a dark secret. Hooper and writer Larry Block have fun with the scenario and make the most of the limited setting, emphasizing the more baroque aspects of the old-school “funhouse” of the title. It’s not particularly gory (the "R" rating seems more for the nudity and language) and the thin storyline works as well as it does thanks to the efforts of actor Kevin (TV’s “Oz”) Conway, who plays four separate roles. As usual, Scream Factory does well by each title, with strong transfers, audio tracks and reversible covers that showcase the original poster artwork. The company has They Live up next on November 6.
The best Halloween title, however, is the just-released Criterion Collection edition of Rosemary’s Baby, which, even after nearly 45 years (!), has not lost its ability to shock and scare. Directed by Roman Polanski just after the significantly more outlandish The Fearless Vampire Killers, the film, based on the Ira Levin novel, is almost a tone poem, delving deep into Mia Farrow’s psyche as she and callous husband John Cassavetes move into a New York apartment complex and discover that the neighbors have some decidedly sinister plans for them. The film might have been produced by B-movie specialist William Castle, but avoids the shock jumps associated with Castle’s films— we barely ever see the baby of the title. The transfer is beautiful (when Rosemary falls ill, you can actually discern her pallor) and the supplements, including a documentary featuring Farrow, Polanski and leathery then-Paramount Pictures head Robert Evans and a feature-length piece on iconic composer Krzysztof Komeda, who died shortly after production, are fantastic.Barnes & Noble is having their bi-annual 50% off sale now through November 19; at $20, this version of Rosemary's Baby is a steal.
From classic Universal monsters to classy Hitchcock horror to slasher stories to demonic babies, you could do a hell of a lot worse this Halloween. Stay scared!