The Devil Rides Out (Photo: Shout! Factory)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
THE BLOB (1988). The Steve McQueen starrer The Blob was a sizable hit back in 1958, but the box office wasn’t as kind to this new-if-not-improved remake, which proved to be a sizable flop. Kevin Dillon (badly miscast) and Shawnee Smith (aptly cast) are the teens who try to stop the gelatinous creature that’s destroying their town, and that’s former Playboy Playmate and future Baywatch star Erika Eleniak as the cutie who gets slimed by the blob while dozing in a car. The most memorable turns arrive courtesy of seasoned pros Jeffrey DeMunn (as an amiable sheriff) and Candy Clark (as a diner waitress). Director Chuck Russell keeps the proceedings moving at an appreciable clip, though the script he co-wrote with Frank Darabont often revels in its easy cynicism and rampant mean-spiritedness. After the masterful rat-tat-tat of 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1982’s The Thing, and 1986’s The Fly demonstrated that classic 1950s fantasy flicks could be reconfigured in new and exciting ways, The Blob took a step backward, offering gorier effects but little else to absorb.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Russell, cinematographer Mark Irwin, and special effects artist Tony Gardner; separate audio commentary by Smith; new interviews with Russell, Clark, DeMunn, co-stars Bill Moseley and Donovan Leitch Jr., and various crew members; and behind-the-scenes footage.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968). Also known as The Devil’s Bride, this adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s novel remains one of the most accomplished of all Hammer Film productions. Working from a script by I Am Legend author Richard Matheson, Hammer vet Terence Fisher serves up a potent tale of devil worship, with the film’s greatest strength resting in the casting of Christopher Lee as the hero rather than the villain. Lee (who loved his role and considered this one of his best films) stars as Duc de Richleau, who quickly suspects that his young charge Simon (Patrick Mower) has become involved with a satanic cult led by the menacing Mocata (Charles Gray). With the assistance — make that incompetence — of his friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene, portraying an impossibly stupid character), de Richleau must dig into his own expertise on the occult in order to save not only Simon but also a susceptible woman named Tanith (Niké Arrighi). The Devil Rides Out is both thematically bold and visually intriguing, offering up such tantalizing sights as the demonic Goat of Mendes, a gargantuan spider, and (as de Richleau notes), “the Angel of Death himself.”
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Lee and co-star Sarah Lawson; separate audio commentary by film historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr; a making-of featurette; a look at Wheatley’s contributions to Hammer; the World of Hammer episode “Hammer”; a still gallery; and theatrical trailers.
THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS OR: PARDON ME, BUT YOUR TEETH ARE IN MY NECK (1967). Viewers who were intrigued by the few glimpses of the real Sharon Tate (shown in scenes from 1968’s The Wrecking Crew) in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood might want to check out one of her only other feature-film appearances in this spoof co-written and directed by Roman Polanski just one year before they were married and just two years before she was murdered by Manson Family members. Originally released in the U.K. as Dance of the Vampires, the movie found itself largely butchered (both visually and aurally) for its stateside release; luckily, the Blu-ray edition being offered by the Warner Archive Collection is the original cut. Polanski himself plays Alfred, who accompanies Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) in a mission to seek out and destroy vampires. While staying at an inn run by the lecherous Shagal (Alfie Bass), Alfred becomes smitten with the innkeeper’s voluptuous daughter Sarah (Tate); after Sarah is snatched by the vampire Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) and whisked to his castle, it’s up to our bungling heroes to save her. The comedy runs hot-and-cold, but the film is unique in its structure and contains a handful of startling set-pieces.
Blu-ray extras consist of a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette; the animated opening added for the film’s U.S. release; and the theatrical trailer.
FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974). There was a stretch from the mid-’60s through the mid-’70s when anthology horror films were in abundance, and while From Beyond the Grave doesn’t quite rank with the best of them, it’s still a safe bet for suckers of this sort of thing (like me). Peter Cushing is the link between the four episodes, playing an antique-store owner who doles out fitting punishments to customers who try to cheat him. The best story is “An Act of Kindness,” largely because it’s the only one whose denouement isn’t glaringly obvious. Ian Bannen plays a henpecked husband who strikes up a friendship with a former military man (Donald Pleasence) and his odd daughter (Donald’s real-life daughter Angela Pleasence); to make a positive impression, he swipes a medal of distinction from the antique store (named Temptations Limited), thereby sealing his own downfall. As for the other tales of terror, “The Gate Crasher” finds David Warner as the owner of a demonic mirror, “The Elemental” casts Margaret Leighton as a clairvoyant hired to deal with a malevolent spirit, and “The Door” centers on the horrific events transpiring behind the titular construct. Incidentally, the director is Kevin Connor, who once had the (ha) honor of directing me in the TV miniseries Master of the Game (check out the backstory here).
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
THE HUMAN MONSTER (1939). Despite the title, despite the presence of Bela Lugosi, and despite the movie’s standing as the first U.K.-produced horror picture to earn the British Board of Film Censors’ newly introduced “H” classification (the “H” standing for “Horrific” and preventing admittance to anyone under 16), The Human Monster isn’t a horror flick as much as it’s a mystery. There is a misshapen and hulking brute (Wilfred Walter) who commits murder at regular intervals, but the title actually refers to Dr. Orloff (Lugosi), a disgraced doctor who now works as an insurance agent and kills men for their money. It’s up to a Scotland Yard inspector (Hugh Williams) and an American detective (Edmon Ryan) to crack the case with the assistance of the daughter (Greta Gynt) of one of the victims. Also involved is a kindly blind man who runs an institute for other sightless souls, but despite his voice being dubbed by another actor, it’s not hard to figure out who’s hiding under those whiskers and dark spectacles. Based on Edgar Wallace’s novel The Dark Eyes of London (the film’s original British title), The Human Monster is creaky in some spots and ludicrous in others, but it benefits from Lugosi’s presence, the amusing interplay between the British and American lawmen, and the notion of the mudbanks of the mighty Thames serving as the ultimate burial ground.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by author Gary D. Rhodes (Lugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers); a photo gallery; and the theatrical trailer.
MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957). In real life, silent screen superstar Lon Chaney emphatically did not want his son Creighton Chaney to become an actor. In Man of a Thousand Faces, Chaney bequeaths his offspring his legendary makeup kit, even scrawling “Jr.” after his own moniker that’s emblazoned on the bag. In other words, this is the usual Hollywood biopic that contains almost as much fiction as fact, but that doesn’t dim enjoyment of this celebration of one of the all-time great horror stars. James Cagney is too recognizable to completely sink into the part of Chaney, but he delivers a typically robust performance, and he was perhaps the only dramatic actor at the time who could approximate Chaney’s incredible physicality and ability to distort himself at will. All of the career highlights are noted — particularly Chaney’s phenomenal turns in 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera — although even more time is spent on his troubled first marriage to Cleva (Dorothy Malone) and his happy second marriage to Hazel (Jane Greer). Robert Evans, the legendary producer and studio executive who passed away earlier this week at 89, began his career as an actor, and here he has a notable supporting role as MGM head Irving Thalberg. This earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story and Screenplay.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film scholar Tim Lucas; a discussion of Chaney by film historian Kim Newman; and an image gallery.