The Home Vidiot: Monsters lurk in Halloween videos

Hello, movie lovers. It’s a rough job, but I watch one film a day in the search for the offbeat, the arty, the foreign, the alternative, the classic, the cult and the positively tolerable. This monthly column shows the fruit of my labors.

Recent video releases have monsters fit for Halloween, not all of them supernatural. Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi actioner is an exciting movie with a dull title, Edge of Tomorrow. Cruise plays a PR guy who, for unlikely reasons, is dropped into a D-Day situation against an army of alien squids. For unlikelier reasons (but let’s not stop now), he’s trapped in a time loop, allowing him to become a super-soldier who’ll save the day while romancing Emily Blunt as the “full metal bitch.” The script is fast and ingenious, and Doug Liman directs with clarity and excitement.

The recent flood of time-loop stories is probably based less on Groundhog Day or Primer than on video games that demonstrate a faith in reincarnation, allowing endless deaths and resets on the way to mastery. If you like this type of mindbender, look for two no-budget indies from the last few years, Triangle and Prometheus Trap, plus the ingenious Spanish film Timecrimes and the out-of-order twister Shuffle.

Jim Mickle, who’s made movies about vampires and cannibals, now offers Cold in July, a Texas thriller (shot in New York!) based on Joe R. Lansdale’s novel. It’s packaged as a movie about a guy (Michael C. Hall) who shoots a burglar and then is terrorized by the man’s vengeful father (Sam Shepard). Fortunately, this only describes the beginning of a story with a few twists and a boost from Don Johnson. Although it settles into a drawn-out formula of shaky credibility, the violent set pieces work, as do the macho themes about manhood and fathers.

Katrin Gebbe’s German film Nothing Bad Can Happen, marketed as horror, focuses on a skinny, curly-headed, epileptic young Jesus freak who hooks up with an abusive family that he sees as a test of faith. In a style of handheld realism with expressionistic moments, it slowly escalates into disturbing events based on a real incident.

Viewers seeking more traditional monsters can check the eight episodes of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, Season One. Written by John Logan (Skyfall), it resurrects characters from the original tales of Frankenstein, Dracula and Dorian Gray for new exploits in Victorian England. Timothy Dalton, Eva Green and Josh Hartnett lead the cast.

Cult classics

Criterion puts out classics with bonus interviews and making-of’s, and two atmospheric goodies in time for Halloween are Roman Polanski’s brutal 1971 version of Macbeth, complete with some very ugly witches, and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), starring Deborah Kerr as the governess in charge of two children who might be possessed. This is a psychological and mannered version of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, and still very creepy.

David Lynch parlayed his avant-garde impulses into mainstream success, and those early works appear in the Criterion edition of Eraserhead, a black and white creep-out of a young man whose girlfriend has a horrifying baby in a bleak industrial landscape. Aside from that weird, icky, loud, grating classic of the midnight circuit, Lynch’s early shorts are also here. The Grandmother and The Alphabet are outstanding bits of dementia with animation.

Monte Hellman is among the most elusive American auteurs. Starting out with producer Roger Corman, he made several low-budget films with Jack Nicholson, including existential Westerns The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind. Long available in lousy public-domain prints, they’ve hit the big time as a Criterion double-feature with commentaries and interviews.

Hellman’s even more obscure and strange Iguana, whose protagonist resembles the title reptile, was nearly lost. This is the bizarre, violent tale of an angry, brutal, disfigured anti-hero (Everett McGill) who sets himself up as king of an island populated by his prisoners. The content is rough, the look elegant and eerie. As a study in tyranny and society in a bleakly beautiful setting, it plays like a retelling of The Tempest from Caliban’s viewpoint. It was issued on DVD by Anchor Bay years ago; unfortunately, the initial printing was missing a two-minute sequence. The restored effort is now back from RaroVideo.

Dark Sky’s 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre assembles a Criterion-worthy overkill in celebration of the 1974 cannibal classic, which is as much a family satire (and vegetarian message) as a hysterical explosion of running and screaming. Four soundtrack options range from original mono to a new 7.1 mix, and there are two older commentary tracks plus two new ones. It’s a four-disc Blu/DVD combo pack.

Need counter-programming? Well, the Audrey Hepburn Collection has three Blu-rays. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is irritating even when Mickey Rooney’s buck-toothed Japanese landlord isn’t onscreen, but Funny Face offers the pleasures of Fred Astaire and the fabulous “Think Pink” number, while Billy Wilder’s dazzling Sabrina stars Humphrey Bogart and William Holden in one of the all-time great romantic masterpieces. So there’s that.

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