Zombies, Russians, Vincent Price, and More in GeekDad’s Tales From the Halloween Watch List!

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halloween watch list 2017

I watch a lot of movies in the month of October. Like, a lot a lot. To me, that’s as much a part of the Halloween season as costumes and candy.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared some of my digital favorites, both public domain classics and more contemporary selections available via Netflix, but today I’m going to focus on good, ol’ fashioned physical media.

Now, on with the show!


Night of the Living Dead – 50th Anniversary Edition


[Mill Creek Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD reviewed below, but the opinions I share are my own.]

Romero’s groundbreaking 1968 classic was included in my list of freely viewable Halloween selections, but I was incredibly curious about Mill Creek Entertainment’s special 50th-anniversary Blu-ray release. Like many Mill Creek products, this one is a no-frills affair: simply a single Blu-ray disc with no bonus features and a redemption code to stream a digital version via the company’s website.

The contents of the disc—which are, let’s be honest, the selling point here—are fine. But that’s just it; this release is fine and nothing more. The movie looks ok with its inky blacks and luminescent whites, but the grey tones are a little muddy. Similarly, the audio is acceptable but never stellar. The thing that really holds this one back is that, while it is, indeed, a hi-def transfer, it seems to have been done with no real effort made to clean up the original print.

Scratches and other signs of wear are apparent throughout the film, and the relative fidelity of the scenes only calls more attention to this. That said, if you’re a collector, a true-blue Night of the Living Dead fan, or just a horror aficionado looking to replace your DVDs with Blu-rays, this one definitely hits the financial sweet spot. Though its MSRP is a tidy $14.98, you can scoop it up new from Amazon for just a hair above $8.


Vincent Price Collection – 5 Frightening Features

[Mill Creek Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD reviewed below, but the opinions I share are my own.]

Perhaps my favorite thing about Mill Creek is, as sure as the Great Pumpkin will arise from his patch, each year they favor us with new classic horror compilations. This year’s standout is the Vincent Price Collection. Its subtitle, 5 Frightening Features, may be a bit of a misnomer, but it’s still worth a look.

Again, with no extras to speak of—save Mill Creek’s streaming offerings—it’s a budget-priced collection that lives and dies (insert iconic Vincent Price “Thriller” laugh here) by its content.

First up, and the greatest of the bunch, is The Last Man on Earth, one of my personal favorites and another film you can also find freely distributed online. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, this 1964 release looks and sounds spectacular, with its beautiful black and white near-perfectly preserved and made all the better by the clear, crisp audio of Price’s narration as he navigates a vampiric apocalypse.

1959’s House on Haunted Hill is a close second. Presented in standard full frame, it’s neither as immersive nor as clear as The Last Man on Earth. Vincent Price’s stellar performance as snarky millionaire Frederick Loren, however, makes up for it. A William Castle production that deserves to be in every DVD collection, its appearance alone helps to boost the value of this set.

Sadly, Shock (1946) and The Bat (1959) don’t fare as well. The former, which casts Price as murderous psychiatrist Dr. Cross, is sort of a film noir conspiracy-horror film. The latter, a mystery thriller featuring our man Vincent as another killer (though not the killer) medical professional, originally served on double-bills with Hammer’s The Mummy. Unfortunately, they are both grainy and dim with uneven audio tracks. Both are worth a watch, mind you, I’d just wager you can find more lovingly preserved prints out there.

Its last selection, 1967’s The Jackals, is the odd duck of this collection. A full-color western—which I’m told is, itself, a remake of Gregory Peck vehicle Yellow Sky—it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb alongside the other films. Moreover, Vincent Price’s performance as South African prospector Oupa Decker is hammy even by Price’s notoriously liberal standards.

But even that doesn’t necessarily warrant a pass. Five films—two of them excellent, two fair, and one unintentionally hilarious—for the standard $15 price point is a fair shake. At Amazon’s current $7 price point, however, it’s a steal.


Guardians

[Shout Factory provided me with a free copy of the DVD reviewed below, but the opinions I share are my own.]

Longing for a break from all these macabre goings-on, I elected to jump into the unlikely realm of the Russian sci-fi flick Guardians. While the title might not ring a bell, you likely gasped at its delightfully over-the-top trailer when it popped up on YouTube last year.

Released domestically on Blu-ray and DVD by Shout Factory—no doubt hoping to make good somewhere after it bombed at the Russian box office—this one is an odd little import that nerdcore luminary MC Frontalot recently described to me as “a hoot.” Suffice it to say his was an accurate take.

With the airwaves constantly abuzz with slick scenes from Thor: Ragnarok and Rocket Raccoon still a big go-to on the convention cosplay circuit, I was looking for something a little different in a superhero feature. And I found it.

Conceived as a team of genetically engineered superhumans reflecting the various nationalities of the former Soviet Union, the Patriot program was created to defend the motherland from supernatural threats at the very height of the Cold War. Decades later, its members have become irrelevant and have shifted to lives of quiet anonymity and isolation or have merely faded into the stuff of myth.

All this changes when Professor August Kuratov goes rogue, destroying the remnants of the Patriot laboratories and turning himself into a deranged technomancer in the process. Major Elena Larina is called in to reassemble former Patriot members under the guise of project Guardian, and she locates her four former red defenders in an Armenian monastery, the savage steppes of Kazakhstan, the wilds of Siberia, and a Moscow circus.

At times I felt like there were cultural barriers that prevented me from understanding the true heart of this movie, but the idea that a fearful government had so radically altered these individuals as to make them tortured, misunderstood, ageless freaks was easy enough to parse. Also, at one point, they strap a Gatling gun to the back of a bear-man, which, despite its country of origin, seems like a pretty damn American concept.

Overall, I’d say this movie plays out more like a CW superhero serial than Marvel or DC feature film. From its sometimes-questionable digital effects to its shaky plot and pacing to its utter confusion regarding how, exactly, to handle its female characters, Guardians is more Legends of Tomorrow than Marvel’s The Avengers or Justice League.


iZombie: The Complete Third Season

[Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD set reviewed below, but the opinions I share are my own.]

As previously demonstrated, I am not above talking smack about the CW’s ever-growing lineup of color-by-numbers primetime comic book-based television series. I’m also quick to decry the overabundance of zombie media as a whole. (Yes, yes—we as a nation love our zombie fiction; I get it.) So please put all of that out of your mind as I gush about season three of the CW’s Vertigo Comics-inspired iZombie—available now on Blu-ray and DVD!

After a massive plot twist at the conclusion of its second season, season three opens with main character Liv now fully aware of the existence of paramilitary/zombie liberation organization Fillmore-Graves, former big bad Blaine a zombie no more, and present amnesiac, longtime ally Detective Clive Babineaux an emotional wreck as the result of a spate of recent zombie murders (meaning murders of zombies, not murders by zombies), and Liv’s boss Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti a broken-hearted mess.

Clearly, I was not about this noise, and, after a handful of slow-burner episodes, I was all set to jump ship. However, slowly, deliberately, these disparate plot pieces began to fall into place. Was Blaine really faking it and was his (undead) father again a major player in the Seattle underground? Did Ravi’s zombie cure work, and who stole his remaining doses? Was even our revenant heroine Liv safe from a growing movement of anti-zombie militiamen? And, most importantly, was the dreaded “Discovery Day,” the day when the general public would become aware of the existence of zombies, warned about by the leaders of Fillmore-Graves truly destined to occur?

By the end of season three’s cliffhanger finale, I was hooked anew, and, with a fourth season on the horizon, I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here. Boasting 13 episodes on three discs with bonus deleted scenes and the show’s 2016 Comic-Con Panel, iZombie season 3 continues to break away from the plotting of the original Chris Roberson-penned comic series, but it seems to know where it’s going, and I’m totally back along for the ride.

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