Keep the Halloween spirit alive with two spooky selections
By G. Michael Dobbs
Some seasonal creepiness is offered in this week's DVD review column.
Night of the Creeps
I had never heard of director and writer Fred Dekker's first film his second film, "Monster Squad," is a great horror movie for kids -- but "Night of the Creeps" delivered some completely satisfying low-budget 1980s thrills.
Although "Night of the Creeps" was not a theatrical hit, the film certainly won fans through a video release and cable television screenings. The film certainly influenced director and writer James Gunn and his hit film "Slither."
In 1959, a tube with an alien experiment was released from a passing UFO. When it falls to earth it releases what appears to be slugs that jump into a host's mouth, which kills him or her. The monsters then reproduce and look for another victim.
Fast forward to 1986 and two friends attempting to fulfill a pledge prank for a fraternity find the body of the original victim -- preserved and protected in a cryogenic container -- and unwittingly release the little monsters.
Their ally is a crusty police detective (played by Tom Atkins) who realizes the kids aren't crazy and something really bad is hitting the college town.
The film has humor, a very good monster and some nice shock sequences. Like any 1980s horror film, there's a dash of gore in the film as well, but not enough to alter the film's light feel.
Dekker also gets to present the film as he intended with his original ending on the new DVD release.
The disc has some great extras including cast commentary and a lengthy making-of feature. There is also an informative interview with Atkins, one of my favorite character actors.
If '80s drive in-style movies are your thing, you have to see "Night of the Creeps."
The William Castle Film Collection
I am just a few years too young -- that's a phrase I don't have the opportunity of saying very often -- to have experienced William Castle's most famous films in a theater during their original release, but I would have loved the opportunity.
Castle was a contract director at Columbia for years in the 1940s and '50s, making whatever B-movie the studio assigned him. He did entries in "The Whistler" and "The Crime Doctor" series as well as westerns and sword and sandal pictures. He yearned for independence and made his break with his first production, "Macabre," in 1958, to which he added a gimmick: a Lloyd's of London insurance policy protecting audience members' lives against death due to fright while watching the film.
The gimmick worked, the film was a hit and Castle soon established himself as a low-budget horror film director whose movies had an extra kick.
This new collection presents eight of Castle's films and a great new documentary on the man and his career.
The collection has some of his most memorable films. "The Tingler" stars Vincent Price as a scientist who discovers the effects of fear a slug-like creature who pinches our spine unless we scream. Castle actually had seats in theaters wired with a vibrating device so audience members could feel the Tingler for themselves!
"13 Ghosts" has a family inheriting an old house full of angry spirits and kids received a special ghost viewer to see them unfortunately not included in this collection.
"Mr. Sardonicus" told the story of a cruel nobleman whose fate the audiences determined with a vote at the end of the movie.
"Homicidal" was his answer to Hitchcock's "Psycho" and is just as twisted as the first film with an ending that out gender-benders the original.
Perhaps his greatest gimmick was getting Joan Crawford to star in "Strait-Jacket," in which the 60-something star played a 40-something axe murderer now trying to lead a reformed life.
I can't help but love a filmmaker who was so clearly enamored with making movies. This is a marvelous collection for anyone who can appreciate a director who winked at his audience and told them he's going to scare them to death. Whether or not he really did isn't the point.