Best Blu-ray & 4K UHD horror movies: ‘Frankenstein,’ ‘American Psycho,’ ‘Unbreakable,’ ‘Doctor X,’ ‘Theatre of Blood’ and more
With Halloween knocking at the creaking gates, Count Zad offers a few Blu-ray and 4K ultra-high definition movie suggestions for this terrifying season.
Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, not rated 1.33:1 to 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 390 minutes, $79.99) — The studio responsible for bringing some of the most terrifying creations to the silver screen now offers four of its greatest movies in the ultra-high definition format for the first time ever.
The horror genre was arguably defined and forever influenced by the release of “Dracula” (1931) starring Bela Lugosi, “Frankenstein” (1931) starring Boris Karloff, “The Wolf Man” (1941) starring Lon Chaney Jr., and “The Invisible Man” (1933) starring Claude Rains.
These black-and-white classics have each been meticulously remastered with a nod to the original source material in their sometimes film grainy appearance but balanced to perfection with contrast and grayscale.
Suffice it to report, viewers will now own a definitive historical archive of these four groundbreaking films sure to be appreciated by nostalgic horror fans in the family.
Frightful extras: The eight-disc set (four 4K discs and four Blu-ray discs) arrives in a sturdy hardcover, 12-page cardboard book plastered with iconic black-and-white stills and a color movie poster for each film, all housed in a cardboard jacket.
The 4K and Blu-ray discs offer all of the previously released bonus content from the 2013 high definition versions of the films.
Just a few of the best include: six optional commentary tracks from film historians and creators; a 35-minute retrospective on “Dracula”; a 37-minute documentary on Lon Chaney Jr.; a 95-minute documentary on Universal Studios impact on the horror genre; and multiple pop-up trivia tracks (“Dracula” and “Frankenstein”).
Friday the 13th: 8 Movie Collection (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, Rated R, various aspect ratios, 737 minutes, $79.99) — The origins of the slasher movie genre, as well as the creation of a pop culture horror icon, come to light in this high definition, eight-movie set.
Viewers dive into the world of the lumbering hockey-masked, machete-wielding Jason Voorhees and his reign of terror at Camp Crystal Lake and beyond. His penchant for slaughtering camp counselors first and then any naughty teenagers is well known in a series of movies boasting sex, nudity, violence and bloody kills that “Halloween‘s” Michael Myers would admire.
The set includes “Friday The 13th: Uncut” (1980), “Friday The 13th: Part 2” (1981), “Friday The 13th: Part 3” (1982), “Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter” (1984), “Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning” (1985), “Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” (1986), “Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1987), and “Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” (1989).
The adventures of Jason and his mother’s serial killing are a mixed bag of cinema schlock moving from an almost clever first film to creepily more splatter violence mixed with unsettling comedy.
They featured some of the worst B-movie exploitation of its kind, at the time, to ultimately selling out for studio cash grabs that even found Jason stuck on a boat outside of the Big Apple.
Although the collection boasts the main movies of the franchise, it is not complete. Viewers in need of the ultimate collection should consider the 2020 deluxe set from Shout! Factory to get all 12 films including the epic horror icon battle “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003).
Frightful extras: An overwhelming selection of previously released bonus content arrives, but it is by far not definitive.
Highlights include no less than 10 optional commentary tracks, often featuring the film’s directors, and the eight-part “The Friday the 13th Chronicles,” which is spread out over the discs and offers a roughly hour-long overview of the franchise.
Once again, although the set will appeal to new fans of Jason, its main attraction is the addition of packaged codes to own and to digitally stream all of the movies via either Apple TV or Vudu.
Underworld: Limited Edition 5-Movie Collection (Sony Pictures’ Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 493 minutes, $95.99) — The live-action movie franchise that brought to the screen an epic, centuries-old war between vampires and werewolves returns in an ultra-high definition collection just in time for Halloween.
Owners get a quintet of films — “Underworld” (2003), “Underworld: Evolution” (2006), ” Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” (2009), “Underworld: Awakening” (2012) and “Underworld: Blood Wars” (2016) — delivering an action-driven, gothic-rich, dark fantasy that may not have impressed critics but garnered a loyal fan base.
Mainly starring Kate Beckinsale as the lithe and leathery Death Dealer named Selene, viewers learn that she is a revenge-driven vampire warrior out to destroy all Lycan for allegedly killing her family.
We follow many of her violent and gory adventures as she falls in love with a human, has a half-breed daughter, discovers her true origins, the history of her species and family’s demise, and battles vampire elders, the human race and a nasty amount of slobbering creatures.
Fans will really appreciate the set that now offers the middle three films in the UHD format to complement the previously released 2160p upgrades of the first and fifth chapters.
Frightful extras: Besides an extended unrated cut of the first film (134 minutes), the 10-disc set (five 4K discs and five Blu-ray discs) offers all of the previously released bonus content from the original high definition releases of the films as well as a small collection of once exclusive goodies.
Just a few of the best from the Blu-rays include: four optional commentary tracks featuring director and series creator Len Wiseman (first two films); directors Patrick Tatopoulos, Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (third and fourth film) and Miss Beckinsale (first film); a picture-in-picture, behind-the-scenes experience for “Rise of the Lycans” and “Awakenings”; and a digital version of the “Underworld: Blood Wars” graphic novel.
The more selective bonus content on the 4K discs offers the 24-minute featurette “Rise of the Lycans: Inside the Castle Walls” (formerly part of an exclusive to Walmart); a three-part, 18-minute animated series “Underworld: Endless War”; and a roughly 4-minute franchise recap.
The set arrives in a sturdy hardcover cardboard case simulating a marble tomb locked by an embedded sigil with a removable top to access all of the plastic cases.
American Psycho: Steelbook Edition (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, not rated 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 102 minutes, $27.99) — Director Mary Harron’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ controversial novel skewering 1980s yuppies’ culture returns to the UHD format in a two-disc set wrapped in a metallic case.
The horrifying black comedy from 2000 starred Christian Bale in a career-defining role as Patrick Bateman, a vapid Manhattan investment banker with a penchant for brutal serial killing and the torturing of women.
His sardonic take on the ability to slaughter without remorse while maintaining a quirky calm demeanor with friends, fiancée and business associates will cause viewers’ skin to crawl.
Viewers get the uncut version of the film in 2160p format highlighting some grotesque cartoony violence and offering only the minuscule of changes to the brutal social satire.
Frightful extras: This Best Buy exclusive offers bonus goodies culled from previous releases including a 2005 and a 2018 optional commentary track with the director as well as another track from 2005 with co-screenwriter Guinevere Turner.
Also worth a look is a 48-minute reflection on the classic with cast and crew (nothing from Mr. Bale or Mr. Ellis) and another more random featurette covering the fun to be had in the 1980s.
The packaging takes its cue from early in the film when Mr. Bateman explains his healthy skin regimen.
Specifically, a clear plastic slipcase covers the metal package with an illustration of hands tugging at an herbal mask that covers most of the killer’s face.
Remove the case to get a face now with blood splatters while the back shows a blood-streaked ax hiding behind his neck.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (Criterion, not rated, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 81 minutes, $39.95) — A classic Atomic Age sci-fi survival movie that offered a dose of existentialism to 1957 movie audiences returns in the high definition format built from a 4K digital restoration using the original 35mm negatives.
Director Jack Arnold’s adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel explores the unbelievable story of Robert Scott Carey (Grant Williams), a man exposed to a radiated cloud causing his body to decrease in size until his minuscule existence plunged him into a dangerous and terrifying new world.
The horror comes from not only Carey’s emotionally crushing realization of this fate, even eventually forced to live in a matchbox, but encounters as his size diminishes with creatures such as his family cat and a tarantula.
The restoration of the black-and-white classic sometimes ruins the magic of the special effects, especially s few times when an action-figure-sized Carey runs across a room, but overall is a definitive upgrade to previous releases.
Frightful extras: As expected, Criterion overloads viewers with a basket of treats that first includes a new optional commentary track with film historian Tom Weaver and horror-music expert David Schecter.
Next, and most notable among the over three hours more of extras, is a 51-minute documentary about the legacy of Arnold and the evolution of the Universal horror movie; a 25-minute look at the special effects with effects maestro Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt (“Star Wars”); a 24-minute conversation about the film with director Joe Dante (“Gremlins”) and comedian Dana Gould; and even a vintage radio play from 1959 about another shrinking man from the show Suspense called “Return to Dust.”
The plastic case also includes a fold-out pamphlet offering a retrospective essay by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien.
Super 8 (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 112 minutes, $25.99) — Filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg combined creative might to deliver a blockbuster sci-fi horror thriller back in 2011 finally available to appreciate in a newly remastered, UHD format.
The movie follows a group of teenagers (including Elle Fanning) in the small steel town of Lillian, Ohio, living a lower middle-class life and making an amateur zombie movie. They witness a terrifying train wreck that unleashes something unexpected on the town.
The U.S. military arrives to handle the situation but offers few clues as to the escalation of the chaos as the town experiences odd phenomena and the kids try to solve the mystery.
“Super 8” provides a “Stranger Things” vibe with the best of Mr. Spielberg’s twists, packed with emotional storytelling and showcasing an entertaining premise.
Suffice it to report, this childhood nightmare never looked more real and should captivate, and not overtly terrify, the family during the Halloween season.
Frightful extras: All of the treats from the 2011 Blu-ray release are ported over to the 4K disc led by an optional commentary track with Mr. Abrams, producer Bryan Burk and cinematographer Larry Fong.
Also add eight featurettes (roughly 100 minutes in total), almost 13 minutes of deleted scenes and an interactive on shooting the train-derailing sequence to give a well-rounded look at a great monster film.
Doctor X (Warner Archive Collection, not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 76 minutes, $34.99) — Director Michael Curtiz’s 1932 scary murder mystery debuts in the high definition format, meticulously restored and offering, by far, the definitive version of the first full-length color horror movie that used a two-strip Technicolor process.
Lionel Atwell stars as Dr. Jerry Xavier hounded by the police to apprehend a horribly disfigured cannibalistic serial killer in New York City who may have ties to his medical academy.
His strategy involves bringing colleagues (i.e., potential suspects) to his spacious mansion with a large laboratory that Dr. Frankenstein would feel at home in, and then reenacting the murders while he monitors the suspects’ electrostatic reactions.
Atwell’s efforts are complemented by the legendary Fay Wray as his daughter and featuring her famous scream as well as Lee Tracy as a nosy, wisecracking news reporter investigating Dr. Xavier.
The pre-code film shows off a pulsing heart, a bloodied lab coat, skeletons, loads of eerie green fog and features a killer’s face transformed with synthetic flesh and grotesque enough to definitely have sent shock waves through audiences at the time.
Viewers get the color version of the film (beautifully restored from the Technicolor master) as well as an alternate black-and-white version of the film (also restored but using the original nitrate camera negative) that offers an extra level of monochromatic creepiness.
Frightful extras: Warner embraces the historical significance of “Doctor X” by giving viewers an educational chunk of bonus content starting with a pair of solo optional commentary tracks from film historian Alan K. Rode and former head of movie preservation at UCLA Film and Television Archive Scott MacQueen.
Next, the disc includes a 27-minute documentary on Curtiz’s frightening trio of films — “Mystery of the Wax Museum,” “The Walking Dead” and “Doctor X” — and how they helped Warner Bros. establish credentials early on in the horror movie genre.
Also, equally interesting is an eight-minute look at the restoration process of this landmark film.
Theatre of Blood: Special Edition (Kino Lorber, Rated R, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, 104 minutes, $24.95) — Director Douglas Hickox’ 1973 British dark horror comedy starring the Merchant of Menace Vincent Price returns to the Blu-ray format with a pinch of new goodies.
After a pair of successful outings as the serial killer Dr. Phibes, Price once again tapped into the genre as master thespian Edward Lionheart, humiliated by critics and returning from death’s doorstep to seek vengeance in the most Shakespearean ways possible.
Dripping with camp clever kills and highlighting the acting range of Price, performing monologues from “Hamlet” to “King Lear,” the film also stars pop culture icons such as Diana Rigg (“The Avenger”) and Robert Coote (“My Fair Lady”).
Frightful extras: Viewers get a new optional commentary track with television writer and producer Alan Spencer who is obviously a big fan of the film and Price’s performance, as well as a second, previously released, commentary track with film historians David Del Valle and Nick Redman.
Although there is some overlap, both deliver a perfect critical and fact-packed exploration of this unusual horror film.
Also, Kino Lorber offers another one of Price’s best performances in “The Last Man on Earth” ($24.95), a post-apocalyptic horror drama about a lone survivor of a lethal viral plague that has turned all humans into vampiric zombies.
Dead and Buried: Limited Edition (Blue Underground, not rated, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 94 minutes, $59.95) — Welcome to the fictional creepy coastal town of Potters Bluff, home of director Gary Sherman’s 1981 horror mystery now available to appreciate in the UHD format.
The odd story features an alarming number of strangers being killed by a mob of town citizens wielding sharp instruments and cameras to capture their deeds.
Luckily, Sheriff Dan Gillis (an overtly dramatic James Farentino) is on the case, and he will need to unravel what’s behind the grisly murders with help from eccentric mortician and town coroner Dobbs (a diabolical Jack Albertson in his final film role).
The action, with enough smothering atmosphere to choke on, snowballs as the two men realize that the dead are not so dead and then devolves into a mildly clever but horrific final act that embraces gore and a suspected twist.
Thankfully, “Dead and Buried” was restored using a 16-bit 4K master created from the interpositive (a positive copy of the source made from an earlier generation negative) and approved by cinematographer Steven Poster, no less, to offer much-needed clarity under a muted color pallet, because the visual presentation is often either a shadowy or foggy or misty or very dark eye strainer.
Pop culture fans should pay close attention to the appearance of Robert Englund, aka Freddy Krueger, as one of the townsfolk; Melody Anderson, aka Flash Gordon’s Dale Arden, as the sheriff’s wife; and the visual effects provided by legend Stan Winston from “Jurassic Park” and “Terminator.”
Frightful extras: Zoinks, Blue Underground goes way overboard with goodies starting with no less than four optional commentary tracks featuring Mr. Sherman; co-writer Ronald Shusett and actress Linda Turley (the waitress Midge); Mr. Poster; and a brand new track with film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson.
Viewers will learn way more about a mid-level, 87-minute horror film than it ever deserved.
However, if not enough, follow up the tracks with seven featurettes (almost two hours in total) highlighted by Super 8 footage of the production (narrated by Mr. Sherman, Mr. Poster and assistant director Brian E. Frankish as well as a short interview with Winston.
Finally, the package, adorned with a lenticular slipcover, contains a CD of the musical score and a 20-page, full-color booklet highlighted by an essay by film historian Michael Gingold on Avco Embassy Pictures and its famed horror movies such as “Phantasm,” “The Howling,” “The Fog” and “Dead and Buried.”
Unbreakable: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 107 minutes, $34.99) — The first of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan’s three-part thrilling and psychological exploration of a terrifying supervillain universe debuts in a remastered UHD format.
Viewers learn of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), former star quarterback and survivor of a deadly train crash and now a lowly college stadium security guard. After an invitation by art gallery owner and comic book historian Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) to attend an event, Dunn’s life changes forever.
Specifically, the frail, wheelchair-bound Price, suffering from a condition that makes his bones as frail as glass, forces Dunn to reflect on his entire life and realize an unimaginable truth that forever ties both men together.
Mr. Shyamalan’s clever plot twists will suck viewers into the story and force them to seek out its continuation in the movies “Spilt” and “Glass.”
The 4K visuals do not disappoint often bringing to light many a darker scene with Dunn while overall crisp and full of a bluish, subdued color pallet.
Frightful extras: The included Blu-ray disc offers the remastered version of the film and select goodies culled from the 2008 high definition release including a 20-minute look at the importance of superheroes in today’s culture.
The Comedy of Terrors: Special Edition (Kino Lorber, not rated, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, 84 minutes, $24.95) — Director Jacques Tourneur reunited the triumvirate of terror — Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre — and added Basil Rathbone in 1964 to deliver a late 19th-century gothic tale of macabre murder and criminal hijinks complete with plenty of belly laughs.
Price played the alcoholic and cantankerous funeral director Waldo Trumbull who, along with assistant Felix Gillie (Lorre), attempts to resurrect the failing business by killing new clients and collecting cash from the families for the burial services.
Adding to the twisted fun, Karloff (in a nearly corpse-like pasty white facial make-up) plays a deaf and elderly former business partner of Trumbull and father to his opera-singing wife Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson). Even legendary screamer Joe E. Brown, in his final role, shows up as a crypt caretaker.
Equally crucial to the hijinks is Rathbone getting the meaty role of the cataleptic landlord Mr. Black who demands back rent from Trumbull but gets murdered, over and over again, for his efforts.
Naturally, it’s great to see these cinematic legends on the screen together in a less scary film. Their facial expressions and highbrow language are worth the price of admission.
However, what was horrifying was the lack of any restoration as dirt and scratches abound over the very colorful, high definition visual presentation.
Frightful extras: Film historian Tim Lucas offers a new, in-depth optional commentary track packed with facts and exuberance while covering one of his favorite movies from the American International Production catalog.
Viewers also get a 10-minute featurette on screenwriter Richard Matheson as he explains the origins of the film and working with the director and the cast.
Fans enjoying the nostalgia trip will also appreciate the high definition rerelease of “The Raven” (Kino Lorber, $24.95) starring the acting triumvirate and offering an odd adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe classic poem.