Armchair Cinephile


28 Days Later (Fox)
Day of the Dead, Halloween (Anchor Bay)
The Crazies, Christopher Lee Collection (Blue Underground)
Lair of the White Worm (Artisan)
Cronos (Lions Gate)
Bowling for Columbine (MGM)
The Santo Collection (Rise Above Entertainment)


Flesh-eating zombies are coming back into vogue, it seems, and I'm not just talking about Donald Rumsfeld. The recent 28 Days Later (Fox), which hits DVD just in time for Halloween, is a stunning example of the genre - one that's actually scary, not just a goofy gore-fest. I didn't realize until last week, though, how much it owed to George Romero, whose Living Dead trilogy set the standard for undeaditude. Day of the Dead (Anchor Bay), the trilogy's last chapter, also puts the unchecked post-apocalyptic lechery of human soldiers on the same level of threat as walking corpses. It's not going to rattle you like 28 Days might, but it has a silly sense of fun to it, particularly concerning a mad professor who wants to domesticate the homicidal creatures.

Romero fans should also know that Blue Underground dug up his little-seen The Crazies not long ago to sate your hunger for pseudo-scientific scares. The label's obsession with trash cinema extends to its Christopher Lee Collection, a four-flick trove of oddities like Circus of Fear (co-starring immortal scenery-chewer Klaus Kinski), The Bloody Judge, and two installments of the Fu Manchu series. The Fu films in particular are pretty silly (natch, coming from director Jess Franco), but it's fun to see how classy Lee is about them in retrospect. In an interview shot recently for the DVD, he doesn't damn them, but he also refuses to claim they're something they aren't.

Speaking of silly: Ever wondered what Roman Polanski looks like in drag? Paramount's The Tenant contains that unsettling image - though that shouldn't dissuade you from seeing the film, a claustrophobic, quiet, little piece that exemplifies the creepy psychological atmosphere that first got Polanski noticed. That sensibility is all over Knife in the Water, the director's first feature, which was recently released by the Criterion Collection with an invaluable second disc full of his early short films.

I'm guessing Polanski would like Lair of the White Worm (Artisan), Ken Russell's camp classic that was allegedly inspired by a Bram Stoker novel, but clearly owes more to the legendarily skewed man behind Crimes of Passion and Altered States. Full of hallucinogenic sexual imagery, British weirdness, perversion, and religion, it's a kinky, kooky horror flick that might inspire more giggles than nightmares.

Not so with Cronos (Lions Gate), which has some very strange imagery but is completely serious - tender, even, in its story of an old man who builds a device to grant him immortality. The debut from Devil's Backbone director Guillermo Del Toro, it approaches classic horror themes from new angles; Del Toro once said he was dissatisfied with some of the effects in this independent Mexican production, but the drama here makes that concern irrelevant. Most horror films are happy just to startle or shock, but Del Toro is so in love with the genre that he begs you to think long and hard about it.

Back in cut-and-drysville, Anchor Bay recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the end-all, be-all slasher movie, Halloween. Naturally, they have done a sharp new video transfer, but they've also done what they couldn't do for their previous releases of the film - licensed the informative director's commentary that John Carpenter did (along with producer Debra Hill and star Jamie Lee Curtis) for Criterion back in the days of Laserdisc. Michael Myers may have come back to kill more unfortunate souls in sequels, but this is surely the one that matters.

Even after overdosing on fake blood and latex guts, the scariest thing I've seen on DVD all month is from real life: The security camera footage that Michael Moore includes in Bowling for Columbine (MGM) is chilling even years after the high-school massacre, and Moore's use of amateur footage from the World Trade Center attack is still like a slap in the face. The amazing thing is how he can weave such upsetting material into a film that is so funny, so affecting, and so provocative of intelligent thought. Moore is a jackass, but he's the jackass we need - and those who are put off by his personality would do well to take a serious look at the film, putting aside his theatrical flourishes (the ugly Charlton Heston confrontation, for instance) and considering the questions he's asking about a frightened, angry, violent America. Scary.

Wait! Halloween is supposed to be about fun monsters. And who better to take them on than Santo, the silver-masked hero of Mexican wrestling? In their growing Santo Collection (which can be had either as a boxed set or as individual DVDs), Rise Above Entertainment is reissuing vintage adventures with names that say it all: Santo Y Blue Demon Contra El Doctor Frankestein, Santo en Atacan Las Brujas, and Santo en La Venganza de La Momia. As with some of the titles above, the words "silly" and "slapdash" come to mind, but Mr. S is always sincere in his battle against the forces of evil, even if his screenwriters and directors should occasionally be on his list of enemies. At least he doesn't have to go shopping for a Halloween costume, which is what some of us should be doing, instead of watching all these movies. •


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