Videophiled Halloween Edition: Five Great Disc Releases for the Season

It’s not just the ghouls that come out for Halloween. Horror movies are a year-round genre but October is special, and perhaps not just because of the holiday. As sunny summer days gives was to the chill of autumn and early nightfall ushers in winter, maybe we’re more drawn to the cinema of shadows and the creatures lurking within. Or maybe it’s just a convenient marketing focus.

Regardless, tis the season for disc labels to bring out their marquee horror classics. Here are five stand-out horror releases for Fall 2013 along with a round-up of other burnt offerings for the season.

The Vincent Price Collection (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) is the season’s most impressive horror movie set. Price had a long and successful career before becoming an icon of American gothic horror but this set pays tribute to his later years, beginning with The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), the first of Roger Corman’s colorful Edgar Allan Poe films, and concluding with The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), the deliriously surreal revenge film of clockwork ingenuity and macabre humor. Six films on four discs in all, along with plenty of extras.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) established the tone and style of Roger Corman’s successful cycle of gothic horror film, most of them based on (or at least inspired by) the work of Poe and scripted by Richard Matheson. These are stories of madness and melancholia set in gloomy, crumbling mansions and shot in rich, bleeding color and CinemaScope by the great Floyd Crosby, and Price’s theatrical flourish gives his brooding heroes a sense of tragedy. In Pendulum, Corman creates something even more chilling in Barbara Steele’s savage eyes and feral smile, Price’s cackling transformation into a sadistic ghost, and the grandiose bladed pendulum set piece, but he saves his most chilling image for the wickedly ironic climax.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) is the greatest of the Poe films and Price trades in his haunting, haunted portraits to play the demented, debauched Prince Prospero. His castle is the sole sanctuary during the plague, but the price to enter is to become a plaything of the sadistic tormentor and he wields the power of life and death with no pity: his subjects are toys and he revels in their humiliation and torture. Based on two Poe stories (“The Masque of the Red Death” and “Hop-Frog, or the Eight Chained Orang-outangs”) and influenced by Ingmar Bergman, it was scripted by Charles Beaumont, another specialist in takes of fantasy and horror but with a more macabre sensibility than Matheson, and shot in Britain with a largely British cast and crew. The combination of greater resources (Corman used some sets leftover from Beckett, giving him grander sets than ever before) and new collaborators (Nicolas Roeg was his cinematographer), and perhaps the distance from AIP offices, enable Corman to make his most daring character study, his bleakest portrait of human deprivation and resignation in the face of fear, and most stylistically impressive film.

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