Fredric March in a promotional still for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Photo: Warner Archive)
By Matt Brunson
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
THE BAT (1959). Although Vincent Price receives top billing, it’s actually Agnes Moorehead who essays the lead role in this fourth screen version of a once-popular Broadway play. She plays Cornelia van Gorder, a mystery writer who rents a house that’s soon being terrorized by The Bat, a masked murderer responsible for a series of slayings. Price appears in a supporting role as the local doctor who emerges as a prime suspect. The Bat is both preposterous and illogical, but its loopiness is the very quality that makes it a reasonably entertaining picture.
Blu-ray extras include film scholar audio commentary; a featurette on the film’s writer-director, Crane Wilbur; and nine archival radio broadcasts starring Price.
DOCTOR DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS (1973). A 1,000-year-old wizard (John Considine) who’s also quite the natty dresser offers his services as a transferrer of souls to Fred Saunders (Barry Coe), a businessman who has recently lost his wife (Jo Morrow). As Dr. D explains, her soul may be gone, but Fred can still enjoy her body! Only the dastardly doc has trouble finding a cooperative soul (“I command you, enter this body!”), so he has to kill and kill again. This tacky tale offers a few giggles if one catches it in the right frame of mind. That’s a 76-year-old Moe Howard (of The Three Stooges fame) as “Volunteer in the Audience.”
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Considine; an introduction by Doctor Death; and an interview with Considine.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931). Fredric March earned the Best Actor Academy Award for his dazzling performance(s) in this definitive screen version of the Robert Louis Stevenson story. Director Rouben Mamoulian fills this provocative pre-Code chiller with fascinating experimental touches (such as the opening p.o.v.), and Miriam Hopkins is excellent as the bar singer brutalized by the animalistic Hyde. In addition to March’s win, this box office hit earned two additional nominations for Best Writing, Adaptation and Best Cinematography.
Blu-ray extras consist of two film historian audio commentaries; the 1955 Bugs Bunny cartoon Hyde and Hare; and a 1950 radio production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring March.
EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978). In her final stellar performance before her career veered into camp, Faye Dunaway stars as a fashion photographer who develops a psychic ability to see the murders of her colleagues through the eyes of the killer. Tommy Lee Jones co-stars as the detective on the case, while Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois, and Raul Julia (billed as “R.J.”) are among the suspects. The mystery isn’t always compelling and ends in dopey fashion, but the quirky characters and the unique setting help immeasurably. The script is by John Carpenter; the director is Irvin Kershner, whose work on this kinky thriller somehow convinced George Lucas to hire him for The Empire Strikes Back.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Kershner; a vintage promotional piece; and the theatrical trailer.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981). Although it was released when slasher films were already becoming a dime a dozen, this does enough different to marginally stand out from the pack. Melissa Sue Anderson, a long way from that little house on the prairie, plays a college student whose friends are being murdered in lurid fashion (including death by shish kebab). Could these killings have something to do with a birthday party from the past? If the denouement makes little sense, that’s because the identity of the killer was changed during production. Still, director J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone) and Glenn Ford (as a psychiatrist) add some Hollywood heft to this schizophrenic Canadian production.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by co-screenwriter Timothy Bond and an interview with co-star Tracey E. Bregman.
THE KINDRED (1987). Oscar winners Rod Steiger and Kim Hunter can be found masticating the scenery in this mixed bag of a horror film. Hunter plays an ailing scientist who orders her son (David Allen Brooks) to destroy all her past experiments — he complies, only to discover the presence of a grotesque creature named Anthony. Steiger, sporting a ridiculous wig that almost outacts him, is a former colleague who seeks to continue the Anthony project. This makes a real effort to avoid being a routine monster movie (I was surprised by how many characters do not meet a grisly end) yet collapses in a heap of truncated subplots and haphazard climaxes.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by writer-directors Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter; a making-of feature; on-set footage; and original storyboards.
MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935). Director Tod Browning remade his own 1927 silent film London After Midnight (starring Lon Chaney) as Mark of the Vampire, although the film often seems as much a remake of the director’s Dracula. As with that 1931 classic, this finds Bela Lugosi cast as a bloodsucker terrorizing upstanding members of society. Occasionally creaky, it often plays like warmed-over Stoker, but Carol Borland strikes an eerie figure as the vampiric Luna, and the twist ending is a beaut and provides Lugosi with a treasured movie moment.
Blu-ray extras include film historian audio commentary; the 1935 short A Thrill for Thelma; and the 1935 Oscar-nominated cartoon The Calico Dragon.
NOPE (2022). Jordan Peele’s third film as writer-director can’t compete with the greatness of Get Out but does manage to get in the vicinity of Us. Daniel Kaluuya stars as OJ, a horse wrangler who, along with his sister Em (Keke Palmer) and neighbor Jupe (Steven Yeun), encounters mysterious happenings around his California ranch. The odd pacing and ofttimes disjointed storytelling will be off-putting to some, but they’re in the service of a variety of knotty themes, including the eradication of the black experience in U.S. history (a topic that couldn’t be more timely in today’s AmeriKKKa), the complexities of religious devotion, humankind’s fascination with the garish and the grotesque, and the vagaries and vulgarities of show business itself.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER (2004). On Halloween, Dougie (Alexander Brickel), an insufferable little twit who’s obsessed with a video game called Satan’s Little Helper, bumps into a masked man (Joshua Annex) he believes to be the actual Satan. It’s really an escaped lunatic, but the blissfully unaware Dougie is thrilled to pull pranks with his demonic hero, unaware that Satan Man is in reality killing scores of innocent people. This cynical horror yarn from writer-director Jeff Lieberman (whose Squirm I quite enjoy) is the type of film where the plotting only works if the characters are complete imbeciles, and everyone here is revealed to display no more brain power than an aglet. It’s as idiotic as it is ugly.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Lieberman; a making-of piece; and a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette.
TRANCERS (1984). The Terminator wasn’t the only 1984 release to hinge on time travel — there was also Trancers, which was popular enough to birth a slew of sequels as well as some comic books. Tim Thomerson is just right as Jack Deth, a futuristic cop who journeys from 2247 to 1985 to stop a psychic criminal (Michael Stefani) and his army of mindless followers (aka Trumpers; excuse me, Trancers) from altering the course of time. This is sci-fi done lo-fi and low-budget, and it’s impressive how much mileage director Charles Band gets out of the premise and out of his own resources.
Extras in Full Moon’s 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition include audio commentary by Band and Thomerson; the 1988 short film Trancers: City of Lost Angels, also starring Thomerson; a making-of piece; and a video essay.
TRICK OR TREAT SCOOBY-DOO! (2022). With nostalgia taking a hit with the wretched likes of Halloween Kills and Space Jam: A New Legacy, it’s understandable to approach a new Scooby-Doo film with a sense of dread. But the direct-to-video Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo! is definitely a treat, a smart update that modernizes the franchise without betraying its old-timey roots. Like SPECTRE with Bond, it turns out that villainous costume designer Coco Diablo was involved with all the crooks from Mystery Incorporated’s past. Once she’s behind bars, the cases dry up, leaving Fred in a state of depression. Meanwhile, Daphne contemplates her role in the gang, an out-of-the-closet Velma pines for Coco Diablo, and Shaggy and Scooby impatiently wait for Halloween. A few gags fall flat, but overall, this is a clever confection.
Blu-ray extras consist of three vintage Scooby-Doo episodes.
TWO WITCHES (2021). A film that’s perhaps a bit too ambitious for its own good, this relates two interconnected stories set in contemporary times. The first follows a pregnant woman (Belle Adams) who’s being stalked by a frightful hag (Marina Parodi) with strange powers; the second focuses on the tense relationship between a young witch (Rebekah Kennedy) and her wary roommate (Kristina Klebe). Some genuinely unsettling moments can be found in this choppy picture that is clearly planned as the first in a new franchise.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by writer-director-editor-cinematographer Pierre Tsigaridis; audio commentary by writer-producer Maxime Rancon; a Q&A with Tsigaridis and Rancon; an interview with Parodi; and two pieces on the music score.