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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

Hell Plaza Oktoberfest III

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

John Carpenter: Master of Fear Collection
1982-1995 (2009) - Universal
Released on DVD on September 15th, 2009

The Wes Craven Horror Collection
1988-1991 (2009) - Universal
Released on DVD on September 15th, 2009

TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Horror
1932-1963 (2009) - Warner Bros.
Released on DVD on September 1st, 2009

John Carpenter: Master of Fear CollectionThe Wes Craven Horror CollectionTCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Horror

Now that DVD is being gently elbowed aside to make room for its sexier sibling, Blu-ray (and both formats' mysterious cousin, the digital download), studios are looking for new ways to separate you from your disposable income. Repackaging movies into themed collections appears to be a win-win situation for everybody. Studios can release a new product without much effort beyond commissioning new artwork. Brick-and-mortar stores can offer multiple titles without sacrificing shelf space. And consumers get a fistful of movies at low cost, occasionally even a hard-to-find title that's been on their wish list for years. But are these multi-movie collections really worth it?

Universal's recently released horror collections throws the spotlight on two genre heavyweights: John Carpenter and Wes Craven. At first glance, the Carpenter set appears to be the better deal, offering four movies instead of three. However, the first of these movies is 1982's The Thing (which I reviewed on Blu-ray last year). Now if you have even the slightest interest in John Carpenter as a filmmaker, odds are you've already bought this movie at least once before. If you haven't, you have to ask... are you sure you really even like John Carpenter's movies? The Thing is a real classic, arguably Carpenter's best work, but other, better editions have been available for years. At best, you're getting a backup copy in case the one you already own suddenly self-destructs.

The other three movies in the set, Prince of Darkness, They Live and Village of the Damned, were all in need of an upgrade. Decent special editions of Prince of Darkness and They Live have been available in Region 2 for awhile, so like me, you may have held off on purchasing one or more of these in hopes that something better would come along. Of these, I've always been fond of They Live and have wanted a copy of it for quite awhile. The lack of extras is disappointing but Carpenter's oddball sci-fi satire still holds up. It's a pretty goofy movie but it's a lot of fun and timely even today.

On the other hand, I remember hating Prince of Darkness when I saw it theatrically back in 1987. I revisited it here and, surprise surprise, it's grown on me quite a bit. There's still something missing but Carpenter builds suspense expertly and creates a real sense of foreboding. I may have never given Prince of Darkness a second chance if it weren't for its inclusion in this set, so there is a benefit to these collections. Carpenter's remake of Village of the Damned, on the other hand, hasn't gotten better with age. It starts off promisingly but once the glassy-eyed kids show up, it veers off into the ridiculous. The movie marked the beginning of Carpenter's long fallow period and he hasn't quite emerged from it yet. The only people who will celebrate its inclusion in this set are completists.

The Wes Craven set makes a bit more sense in that none of the movies here have enjoyed a particularly distinguished presentation on DVD. It also covers a more focused time span than the Carpenter set and you won't get quality whiplash going from the heights of The Thing to the depths of Village of the Damned. Unfortunately, this is because none of these movies are Craven's best. The Serpent and the Rainbow is the most ambitious of the lot, attempting to mix anthropologist Bill Pullman's quest for special zombie powders with political turmoil in Haiti. It never quite fits together but it works in a B-movie jungle adventure kind of way with some undeniably memorable images. Then there's Shocker, which is simply an outright failure of a movie. Craven tried to make a new Freddy Krueger out of executed serial killer Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) but his origin is far too detailed to be frightening. The movie makes precious little sense and is alternately cheap, boring and laughable. Really, what can you say about a movie that uses a TV remote as a weapon?

As for The People Under the Stairs, I've always kind of enjoyed this one. It's another tale of haves versus have-nots (and would actually make a good double feature with They Live), only this time the haves are a couple of seriously weird inbred S&M freaks (Everett McGill and Wendy Robie from Twin Peaks). It's pretty ridiculous at times too but at least this time, Craven seems in on the joke. Again, there are no extras but all of these Universal movies look and sound pretty good. So if all you want are the flicks, these are an OK cost-effective way to snatch them up.

Warner and TCM's Greatest Classic Films collections have spotlighted everything from musicals to Hitchcock. Their first set devoted to horror trumps the Universal collections in terms of extras (most everything that was on the individual releases of these films has been brought over). And while all of these movies are worth seeing, the set is all over the map... there's a movie from each decade from the 1930s to the 1960s and it covers the gamut from gimmicky 3-D chillers to one-of-a-kind classics.

House of Wax is the gimmicky chiller and it's great fun seeing Vincent Price in one of his first horror roles. But I imagine in the not-too-distant future, technology will exist to restore the third dimension to all these 50s 3-D flicks and when that happens, I'm sure I'll pick this up again. Extras include the trailer and footage from the film's premiere. The original DVD also included the 1932 movie Mystery of the Wax Museum but while the movie itself is gone, the instruction to flip the disc over to see it remains. Oooh... scary ghost extras!

If you do flip the disc over, you'll actually see Robert Wise's 1963 classic The Haunting. It's a great, spooky ghost story and still effective even today. This time, all of the original extras are here, including a terrific commentary by Wise, actors Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn, and screenwriter Nelson Gidding.

The second disc starts off with Tod Browning's 1932 Freaks, one of my favorite movies of all time. It's a bit of an odd inclusion for this set, as it is very much a love-it or hate-it film. Anybody picking this set up expecting four old-fashioned, family-friendly spook shows might be genuinely freaked out when they sit the kids down for Freaks. If you do like it, all the extras from Warner's terrific DVD of a few years back are here, including a fascinating documentary, alternate endings and a highly informative commentary by film historian David J. Skal.

Finally, side two includes Victor Fleming's 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Spencer Tracy. This is a handsome, well-acted production of the oft-filmed story, with some excellent, subtle makeup work and a few terrific scenes between Tracy and Ingrid Bergman. Even so, I've never seen a truly great Jekyll and Hyde movie (if you have, please tell me what it is because I'd love to see one) and Fleming's movie bogs down a bit too often. Once again, the 1931 movie with Fredric March (a co-feature of the original DVD) is missing despite the fact that the disc menu says it's there.

Admittedly, these budget collections are not aimed at die-hard movie collectors. Their target demographic is the impulse buyer at Wal-Mart or Target who wants to beef up their library at a reasonable price. For that audience, each of these sets is a winner. Both Universal and Warner deserve credit for presenting good-looking transfers and, in Warner's case, a handful of bonus features. But with the Carpenter and Craven sets, these are essentially the only way you can get a lot of these movies. And while I don't necessarily need a five-disc Blu-ray edition of Shocker, movies like They Live, Prince of Darkness and even The Serpent and the Rainbow deserve better.

Film Ratings (Thing/Prince/They Live/Village): A+/B-/B+/C-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/F

Film Ratings (Serpent/Shocker/People): C+/F/B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/F

Film Ratings (Wax/Haunting/Freaks/Jekyll): B/A/A/B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B-

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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