It never fails: You and a group of friends get together for an all-night Halloween horror marathon with a stack of DVDs and a desire to scare the popcorn bowl out of your laps. But as you finger through the selections, an overwhelming sense of dread — and not the good kind — washes over you. You've seen all this junk before.
I mean, really: Friday the 13th, again?
Fear not. In the past few weeks, many unheralded, unheard-of and/or underrated horror gems have been released on DVD and Blu-ray, just in time for All Hallow's Eve. With choices ranging from Japanese pop-art shockers to cerebral Spanish mysteries, there's no reason your Samhain video spook-show has to be completely mundane. Check out one of the five following titles for a more satisfying fright night.
House: 1977's House (Criterion Collection) is every insane, incomprehensible, indecipherable Japanese pudding commercial on YouTube rolled into one fantastically bizarre 90-minute movie, where the traditional J-horror ghost story meets frenetic pop-art psychedelia, creating a masterpiece that is absurdly terrifying and terrifyingly absurd. "Gorgeous" and her six schoolgirl chums travel the cartoonish countryside to spend the summer at her aunt's creepy mansion. Hungry pianos nibble on fingers, lampshades drop from the ceilings, and paintings of fat fluffy cats spew comical torrents of blood.
The Oxford Murders: Pedro Almodóvar protegé Alex de la Iglesia, director of brilliant, genre-defying films like Accion Mutante and El Dia de la Bestia, returns with the astoundingly complex (but still immensely entertaining) The Oxford Murders (Magnolia Home Entertainment). When a serial murderer strikes the Oxford campus, a prestigious professor (John Hurt) and an envious graduate student (Elijah Wood) try to use esoteric philosophy and mathematics to solve the killings — think Sherlock Homes if written by Ludwig Wittgenstein. This should be worth at least three college credit hours.
Psychomania: Clad in black leather and fond of using black magic, the Living Dead biker gang roams the countryside, bored and looking for new violent kicks. The next logical step is, of course, using the dark side to blast full-throttle out of the grave after committing mass suicide — their new-found powers helping to terrorize the square establishment. Hell's angels, literally! 1972's Psychomania (Severin Films) has been called "the greatest British zombie biker movie ever made." And while I'm not sure if there are really any others, it's hard to argue with that assessment.
The Slumber Party Massacre: Acclaimed feminist poet and activist Rita Mae Brown is, in more educated circles, known for the classic LGBT tome Rubyfruit Jungle. To scads of unknowing horror-hounds, however, she is best known as the screenwriter of the largely misunderstood The Slumber Party Massacre (Shout! Factory). Directed by Amy Jones, Massacre plays almost like a parody of the mindless slasher films of the time — just wait for the locker-room shower scene — until the hyper-sleazy Driller Killer (with the comically long drill-bit) shows up and starts slaughtering nubile nymphets left and right. As an added bonus, this two-disc set also includes the even more outlandish (and female-directed) sequels — a marathon by itself.
Troll 2: Made legend by the documentary Best Worst Movie, Troll 2 (MGM, Blu-ray) continues to attract fans to its cult following, and with good reason: This is the Citizen Kane of bad movies. Sure, there are worse movies out there, but none of them are as watchable, as quotable or as fun as Troll 2. Little people running around in rubber masks, badly translated Italian-to-English dialogue and the shoddiest special effects this side of an Ed Wood flick all make for the perfect candy-sick nightcap to a rousing Halloween film-fest. And, don't forget: Nilbog is Goblin spelled backwards!