The Top Horror Blu-rays for Halloween 2009

Posted Fri Oct 9, 2009 at 11:30 AM PDT by Mike Attebery

In preparation for Halloween, High-Def Digest has scraped together a maggot-infested candy bowl of fun!

What's in the Goodie Bag? --- Horror Blu-rays for this Halloween season.

by M. Enois Duarte (The HDD Crypt Keeper)

Greetings, foolish mortals, we interrupt your regular terror-vision program to make a special announcement: It's that time of the year again! That's right, kiddies, instead of rotting your gray matter with useless moving pictures, full of romance and drama, I'm going to improve it with despicable tales of terror and nauseating festivities. It's a time to snuggle next to a warm body (you know, before it gets cold), light some hellish candles, and hang out in front of your crypt theater.

As the dead rise from their graves and bang away at your doors with frightful delight, here at High-Def Die-gest, your pal, the Crypt Keeper, has been invited to exorcise my top picks in celebration of the year's most fearsome season. 2009 has been a spooktacular year for some truly terrifying sights in high definition, as studios have opened their vaults and unleashed horror titles by the hearse-load!

To make things quesy-er, I've decided to grade, or should I say degrade, them into three stomach-churning categories according to their contribution to horror cinema and in alphabetical order, offering you ghouls the best variety in scares and creepy laughter. So, without further ado . . .

Frights! Camera! Hack-tion!


MILD DECOMPOSITION (Grade A Top Choice Flesh)


More than a decade in the making, 'Drag Me to Hell' marks Sam Raimi's return to his horror roots, a project he's long been waiting to film before his involvement with the 'Spider-Man' franchise. Showing that he hasn't lost touch with the fanbase that launched his career, this little diabolical tale, with his signature blend of gory humor, proves that kindness to old, curse-slinging gypsy women is usually the best medicine. Full of jump-out-of-your-seat shocks and eww!, gross-out laughter, Raimi succeeds in creating a celebratory pastiche to the drive-in B-movies of the 1950s. While theater screens continue to be bombarded with flimsy remakes, scare-less Asian retreads, and uninspiring torture flicks, 'Drag Me to Hell' reminds us that at least one person out there who knows how to do it right.



Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, 'Let the Right One In' is one of the rare genre films that's suggestive of larger issues at hand, mostly mature themes about politics and our modern existence. Tomas Alfredson's thoughtful film is a fresh and innovative take on vampire lore, distancing itself from romanticized and idealized conventions of the undead. Ultimately a bittersweet and tragic love story of two very lonely individuals, the film has quickly amassed a following with its plaintive narrative of two young outcasts and a climax that generates further discussion. Designing an atmosphere of tragedy and misery, the stylish and richly complex adult fable oddly and eerily captures teenage angst in a daunting way that most all teen movies fail to achieve.



Financed by a small distribution company that mostly worked in the soft porn industry, 'Repulsion' is Roman Polanski's first English-language production. And it made quite an impression on an unsuspecting audience. With its simple plot about a young woman's aversion to all things sexual, the film is an unnerving and unsettling journey through a disturbed and fragile psyche. Aided by the amazing photography of Gilbert Taylor and an accomplished performance from the lovely Catherine Deneuve, Polanski makes exceptional use of the shadows and the constricted design of the protagonist's London flat to portray an impressionistic and surreal disconnect with reality. He convincingly demonstrates that the mind can be a truly terrifying place. Insanity has never looked so beautiful.



It's no secret that 'Shaun of the Dead', from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, is an homage and parody of George A. Romero's 'Dead' films. (Foree Electronics anyone?) But this British romantic comedy with zombies is gut-wrenchingly hilarious, while not shying away from some gut-churning gore. With many other subtle references to Lucio Fulci, John Carpenter, and the 'Evil Dead' series, the story about a young man in search of himself while zombies destroy society provides cleverly comical insights into our modern society and culture. Taking advantage of our familiarity of the zombie genre, this surefire classic makes for an uproariously spooky time at the movies.



As the only film in the list to win Best Picture, along with other major top honors, 'The Silence of the Lambs' has rightfully and unquestionably earned its place as a brilliant masterpiece of horror cinema. With one of the most indelible psychopaths ever, the film is also the first of its kind to blur the line between suspense thriller and horror to create a spine-tingling tale about serial killers and dreams of screaming lambs. What starts as a basic story about saving the life of a senator's daughter, slowly turns into a battle of the wills between the two protagonists and their mutual interests. It's a brilliant and disturbing narrative about self-discovery for a young female FBI cadet. It works best when served in a dim-lit room with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.



Others Worthy of the Cleaver:
'An American Werewolf in London,' 'Audition,' 'The Bird with the Crystal Plumage,' 'Coraline,' 'Dead Calm,' 'Hannibal Lecter Anthology,' 'Hardware,' 'Hellraiser,' 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,' 'The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue,' 'Misery,' 'Night of the Creeps,' and 'Trick r Treat.'


MOLDY AROUND THE CORNERS (It's Still Good, Just Pick Off the Maggots)


Uniting two of the best-known names in the genre, George A. Romero and Stephen King, 'Creepshow' is a deliberately campy and kitschy horror-comedy anthology that's a must for any Halloween occasion. Weaving together five creepy tales of terror, the homage to E.C. comic books made possible the emergence of horror-themed television programs and continues a strong cult following with wickedly fun stories of poetic justice, all of them written by the master of the macabre Stephen King. While the performances add to the movie's enjoyment and hilarity, especially Adrienne Barbeau, it's the imitation of the comic book format in Romero's direction that glues everything together and gives the ghoulish comedy its devilish good looks.


FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)

Inspired by the success of John Carpenter's 'Halloween (1978)', Sean S. Cunningham made his own version of sexually promiscuous teenagers in need of some painfully gruesome disciplinary action. Made on a very small budget and unanimously panned by critics, 'Friday the 13th (1980)' is the slasher flick that surprised everyone by becoming a box office hit and ignited a craze which defined the 1980s: the horror sequel. With grisly special effects by gore-maestro Tom Savini and Harry Manfredini's 'Psycho'-influenced score, the plot is as simple as they come, but drags viewers along until the final, shocking revelation. Leaving behind a legacy that introduced Jason Voorhees as a household name of terror, the movie persists as enjoyable escapist entertainment.



Call me a softy, but 'Final Destination' has earned a spot in my horror heart. This Y2K entry may be a slasher flick through and through, but in terms of originality and intelligence, there's just something about this terror vision that tickles my morbid funny bone. A mix of good ole fashioned gruesome deaths, Hitchcockian paranoia and mystical premonitions, the Grim Reaper dons the role of the masked psychopath. Only this unseen maniac is more calculating, menacing and a truly unstoppable force of nature. Never disrupt the order of things. Stylishly directed at break-neck speed, it's an ambitious serving of graphic carnage and smarts, which peaks the intellect with concerns of mortality and fate. Oh, and most of the character names are a tribute to famous B&W horror filmmakers.



As if childbirth wasn't hard enough, writer/director Paul Solet makes his feature-length debut with an ultra creepy, disturbing film about a mother and her baby's grotesque craving. Just when you thought the zombie genre was sucked dry of all originality, 'Grace' is willed to life by her neo-hippie mother and takes horror buffs into a psychological trip through crazed maternal instincts of the Norman Bates variety. Though not one to shy away from the gory details, this tall tale is all about tone and atmosphere, of watching that permanent bond between parent and child reach the depths of the demented and perverse. This is a skin-crawling, seat-squirming freak show, pushing the limits of black comedy and irony with a vegan mother giving life to a carnivorous monster.



In terms of quality remakes, this Marcus Nispel/Michael Bay collaboration stands above the rest and is notable for starting the unfortunate trend of "reimaginings" which continues today. But this retread of the Tobe Hooper bombshell works by recreating the original's terrifying atmosphere and conveying a sense of an inescapable nightmare. Thought of more as a modernized version of a hugely-influential masterpiece, the drive-in shocker is grislier, gorier and quite possibly more frightening than its predecessor. With its highly-intense and frenzied visual pace, the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface and his deranged family of cannibals has never looked so good. Despite being unnecessary, the film is an effective revisit of a slasher classic which other remakes and reimaginings fail to duplicate.



Others Worthy of the Cleaver:
'Army of Darkness.' 'Child's Play,' 'Children of the Corn,' 'The Craft,' 'Dead & Buried,' 'Dog Soldiers,' 'Friday the 13th Part II,' 'Friday the 13th Part III,' 'The Grudge,' 'The Last House on the Left (2009),' 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,' 'The Midnight Meat Train,' 'My Name is Bruce,' 'Plague Town,' 'Quarantine,' 'The Stendhal Syndrome,'' 'Splinter,' 'Two Evil Eyes,' and 'Wrong Turn.'


(It's Okay, Just Keep Telling Yourself "It isn't real! It isn't real!")


One can only imagine how the pitch went down for this Jennifer Lopez classic: Put the then up and coming diva against the world's largest and wettest snake on the Amazon River. All Freudian implications aside, this elaborate creature-feature with an oversized CGI anaconda snake is about as menacing and threatening as the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. Then again, that boat ride seems a bit more perilous with crocodiles, dangerous hippos, and a tribe of headhunters. Ignoring the horrible Sci-Fi Channel special effects, the real mystery of this horror disaster is how John Voight and Ice Cube got involved.



If it weren't for the fact that Alexandre Aja, famed creator of 'High Tension' (aka, 'Switchblade Romance'), signed on to write and direct this ghostly tragedy, would horror buffs even care to watch Jack Bauer. . . err, Kiefer Sutherland wrestle with his own reflection in the mirror. Falling in line with the numerous others "this-is-not-a-remake" trend, the rehash of yet another scary Asian flick ('Into the Mirror') comes with a very creepy premise; but instead delivers typical cheap scares from the celebrated director. Supposing you have marital problems or a checkered past, best thing to do is never enter a spooky, abandoned building in the middle of the night, armored only with a flashlight. If not for the satisfying conclusion, which in all honesty is fairly predictable, this flick of tormented mall patrons should've been demolished the moment it was conceived.



The bigger question here is why bother with a sequel, when the first one was so mind-numbingly average and hackneyed? There's only so much that can be done with a raincoat and a random tool for picking at oversized ice cubes. And it was done a million times better in 'Basic Instinct' than in this repeat of part one! Chalk full of uninspired directing, terrible performances, and the most convoluted plot holes, this over-budgeted thriller minus all the thrills is best described as a comedy, because there are more laughs to be had than screams. The only cringe worthy moment in this bargain-bin purchase is when the busty femme fatale musters the chutzpah to utter the same line from the first movie --- but this time, at a grave site! There's definitely something wrong when a Rastafarian Jack Black and the king of B-horror acting Jeffrey Combs are the highlight of your scare tactics.



There was once a time when such drive-in trash was affectionately known as splatter film or gore film. But I suppose having to sit through five idiotic installments of this nonsensical dribble, the words "torture" and "porn" seem like appropriate estimations of the suffering inflicted upon the intellect of the audience. Is that too harsh? Well, it's not any worse than a feature lacking a compelling story or an intelligent plot and expecting the audience to enjoy all the pretty pictures. What started off as a clever idea to reignite the gruesomeness in horror movies is by the fifth installment coming off as insultingly dull and mechanical. Piece of advice to the minds (or lack thereof) behind this trek: You know it's time to retire the Jigsaw game when the awful acting and dreadful dialogue is more terrifying and obscene than the graphic death sequences.



It's truly a sad day when horror movies, no matter how well-intentioned or original, begin to feel like a remake of something else. Coming from the same imagination that conjured the likes of 'Blade' and 'The Dark Knight', many expected a shocking ghost story like no other. Instead, this limp-fest about paranormal possessions, Nazi experiments and the bond between twins should come with a manual on Jewish folklore to make better sense of the overly-complicated plot. While having little to do with the J-Horror approach, the movie is so heavily indebted to the subgenre that more time is spent trying to "name-that-scene" than being scared stupid. More emphasis on the stupid than the scared. The only frightful things in this mess are an eyeball that changes color, a kid that needs more sun, and a contortionist living in an old-folks home.



Others Worthy of the Cleaver:
'Amusement,' 'Book of Blood,' 'Freddy vs Jason,' 'Friday the 13th (2009),' 'Ghosts of Mars,' 'Ghost Ship,' 'The Haunting in Connecticut,' 'Midnight Movie,' 'My Bloody Valentine (2009),' 'Orphan,' 'See No Evil,' 'Surveillance,' 'The Uninvited,' 'Wolf,' 'Wrong Turn 2: Dead End,' and 'Van Helsing.'


WANTS FOR NEXT YEAR (Now, This is What I Can Sink My Teeth Into)

The list may look a bit daunting and comprehensive (this is actually the short version!!), but this past year saw quite an abundance of scary movies released in high definition. So, here's hoping for the best and that studios will take note of what horror aficionados really hunger for and of what will truly please our insatiable appetites. Some of these are available on Blu-ray in other parts of the world. But since they're region locked, here's hoping for a North American release. Please share your own wish list in the forums.

'Alien,' 'Aliens,' 'All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,' 'Alone in the Dark (1982),' 'The Birds,' 'Black Sabbath,' 'Blade,' 'Blood and Black Lace,' 'Braindead (Dead Alive),' 'Bride of Frankenstein,' 'The Brood,' 'The Burning,' 'Candyman,' 'The Changeling,' 'The Children (1980),' 'Dead Snow,' 'Dellamore Dellamorte (Cemetery Man),' 'Dementia 13,' 'Demons,' 'Les Diabolique,' 'Don't Look Now, Dracula (1931),' 'Eden Lake,' 'Evil Dead,' 'Feast,' 'The Fog (1980),' 'Frankenstein (1931),' 'Freaks,' 'Fright Night,' 'From Beyond,' 'Ginger Snaps,' 'The Haunting (1963),' 'Haute Tension (Switchblade Romance),' 'Horror of Dracula,' 'The Howling,' 'Idle Hands,' 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978),' 'Jaws,' 'Jeepers Creepers,' 'The Legend of Hell House,' 'Maniac,' 'Martyrs,' 'The Mask of Satan (Black Sunday),' 'May,' 'Night of the Living Dead (1968),' 'A Nightmare on Elm Street,' 'Nosferatu (1922),' 'Peeping Tom,' 'Pet Sematary,' 'Phantasm,' 'The Prowler,' 'Psycho,' '[REC],' 'Re-Animator,' 'Rear Window,' 'Return of the Living Dead,' 'The Ring,' 'Rosemary's Baby,' 'Scream,' 'Se7en,' 'The Serpent and the Rainbow,' 'The Stepford Wives (1975),' 'Shadow of the Vampire,' 'Suspiria,' 'A Tale of Two Sisters,' 'The Tenant,' 'What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,' 'White Zombie,' 'Zombi 2'.

Please note the following titles are set for release after the publication of this list and we eagerly await their arrival:

'100 Feet,' 'Angel Heart,' 'Blood: The Last Vampire,' 'Cujo,' 'Frailty,' 'Ichi the Killer,' 'Monster Squad,' 'My Bloody Valentine,' 'Near Dark,' 'Not Forgotten,' 'Offspring,' 'Satanic Panic,' 'Seventh Moon,' 'The Thaw,' 'Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead.'


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