- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2017

A trio of recent home theater releases offers classic scares and horror for viewers.

The Monster (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Rated R, 91 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $24.99) — Director Bryan Bertino’s psychological horror film about the dysfunctional relationship between a divorced mother and her daughter offers two types of horror in a story that will rivet home theater viewers.

First, mom Kathy (Zoe Kazan) decides to go on a road trip to drop off her daughter, 10-year-old Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), to her estranged husband. They hit an animal and encounter a ferocious and aggressive creature that offers a steady supply of jump scares and violent confrontations.

Next, the heart-breaking rapport between the women, seen through numerous flashbacks, paints a frightening relationship. A substance abuser, the mother takes out her anger on a child who only wants to help her.

The digital transfer highlights cinematographer Julie Kirkwood’s appreciation of rain and shadows revealed on a dark deserted road surrounded by forest that showcases a ravenous beast that goes bump in the night.

Best extras: Unfortunately, the Blu-ray only gets a 7-minute-long production featurette that spends more time promoting the movie than offering behind-the-scenes details, such as more information about the costume and the man used to bring the monster to life. I would also have loved a director commentary track discussing this quirky but satisfying horror effort.

Ouija: Origin of Evil (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, 99 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $34.98) — An irresistible dose of supernatural horror from filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan gave audiences a nostalgic and well-crafted look at the frightening potential of Hasbro’s classic spirit-summoning, “talking board” game.

Serving as a prequel to the critically lambasted 2014 film, the story set in the late 1960s explores the relationship between a widowed, financially challenged mother Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) and her two daughters, 15-year-old Lina (Annalise Basso) and 9-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson).

They live in a fairly creepy house and are in the business of comforting humans by pretending to contact the dead.

After the mother buys a Ouija board to include in her medium shenanigans, Doris begins conversing with her dead father. That act leads the family down a terrifying path of possession and paranormal happenings.

For me, the film is a near-perfect example of period horror genre paying homage to classics such as “The Omen” and “The Exorcist.” It slowly simmers the story with plenty of character development and exposition, unleashes a selection of haunted house jump scares, offers a pinch of the grotesque, turns a young girl into a unstoppable evil force and even adds a subplot tied to World War II Nazis.

The digital transfer is not meant to impress through stunning high-definition clarity but rather to appreciate cinematographer Michael Fimognari’s and Mr. Flanagan’s visual homage to retro cinema through its screen-filling presentation.

Their choices include using a vintage Universal logo, mimicking shooting on film stock, using antique lenses, blocking homages to a 1970s Steven Spielberg and going so far as adding extra grain and cue marks in the corner of the screen that used to remind a projectionist to changes the reel of the film.

Best extras: Mr. Flanagan, the director as well as co-writer and editor, offers a definitive optional commentary track for his masterpiece.

He’s very talkative throughout and touches on his motivations for making the movie (explaining his appreciation for horror films as a child and his love of Harry Houdini’s debunking of mediums). He also discusses the decisions on what resources were used to shoot each scene down to lens types, the pacing of the movie scares and the performance strengths of the actors.

Viewers also get a trio of featurettes (roughly 18 minutes in total) covering a brief overview of Miss Wilson, the house and why movie audiences love to be afraid.

I would also highly suggest fans watch the 17 minutes of deleted scenes to get an extended ending of the film and enjoy an encounter with a doctor from the Third Reich.

Phantasm: Remastered (Well Go USA Entertainment, Rated R, 90 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $16.59) — Filmmaker J.J. Abrams and his company Bad Robot Productions help bring to Blu-ray a truly bizarre cult-horror, science-fiction film from 1979 with a newly upgraded digital transfer that will captivate hard-core fans.

Director Don Coscarelli exploration of death and grieving offers the story of a young boy named Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and his discoveries at the Morningside Cemetery and mausoleum.

Obsessed with following his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) after the death of their parents, he unintentionally runs into one of the creepiest characters in the history of the horror genre.

Specifically the lanky and powerful undertaker nicknamed the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who turns dead bodies into robe-wearing zombie dwarfs that handle his interdimensional bidding.

Mike, Jody and buddy Reggie (Reggie Bannister) attempt to shut down the creepy-looking Jawas and their master’s operation while ducking those metallic Sentinel Spheres that guard the mortuary.

The 4K digital restoration of the classic was supervised by Mr. Coscarelli and when viewing the near four-decade-old movie upscaled in an ultra high-definition player, the results will astound through clarity and vivid colors, especially with any character interactions taking place in the sterile mausoleum or during the day in the cemetery.

Best extras: An almost 30-minute-long, vintage local television interview from 1979 with a way-too-hip host, film professor George Capewell, offers an enlightening discussion with Mr. Coscarelli as well as Mr. Scrimm, who, unfortunately, is asked very few questions but does answer one as the Tall Man.

Additionally, an optional commentary track, culled from the 1995 laser disc no less, is equally enjoyable with Mr. Coscarelli, Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Scrimm and Mr. Thornbury sharing some fond memories and a few sour grapes about the shoestring budgeted project.

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