In the 1950s and '60s, there was always something creepy playing on Saturday afternoons. Any horror show worth watching had a host, the kind of semi-talented local TV guy spoofed by Count Floyd on SCTV.
M.T. Graves was the horror show emcee of my youth, out of Channel 7 in Miami. Graves, some kind of monster, lived in a dungeon and started each show by crawling out of a casket. This, my friends, was ghoul cool -- appointment TV for every boy on the block.
These days, people get their scares from DVDs. And of course there are enough horror discs out there to fill a Blockbuster. Still, I miss M.T.
Update: Read "The Top 10 Horror DVDs of 2009"
The weeks before Halloween signal the end of the horror year for DVD studios, as holiday cheer replaces the dark shadows and fog. And so ...
Here are my picks for the best horror DVDs of 2008.
10. Black House -- Way-over-the-top entry from South Korea, full of gore, psychological terror and Asian weirdness. An insurance investigator goes off the deep end investigating a claim made in the wake of a teen's suicide. "Black House" inspires a lot of eye-rolling, but go along with the story and it'll prove to be a real hell-ride. The film's great psycho killer put this one on the list. Director Shin Terra has studied his Takashi Miike. (Who? Well, then, go see Miike's "Audition" instead.)
9. The Mummy -- We never tire of Boris Karloff as the Mummy, and Universal never tires of putting out the old "The Mummy" DVDs. The latest double-disc release of the 1932 original came as part of the studio's Legacy Series. While the movie looks the same (pretty good), the upgrade here is in the impressive lineup of extra features. Be sure to catch the profile of make-up master Jack Pierce, inspiring and a bit sad, and the feature-length docu "Universal Horror," which makes the case for "the most European of studios" in its day. A generous trailer gallery tracks the promiscuous series.
8. Sublime -- This one comes straight-to-video, but it's no cut-rate horror show. Part of the Warner "Raw Feed" series, "Sublime" concerns itself with the nature of consciousness and is based, in part, by the Ambrose Bierce story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Instead of a rope, there are sharp shiny instruments. Guy checks into the hospital for a routine procedure, ends up in medical hell. Which of these horrors are real and which come from the hallucinations of a man in a coma? The deliberate pace gives you plenty of time to work on the mystery. Strong presentation on Blu-ray adds to the freak-out factor.
7. Rogue -- Aussie director Greg McLean ("Wolf Creek") revives the beast-from-below genre with this savage tale of a tourists who end up stranded on the turf of a killler crocodile. Scarier than "Jaws." By far. Short on gore and long on terror. You'll even forgive the sucky ending. Radha Mitchell is terrific as the boat tour guide, torn between panic and leadership. Michael Vartan is our reluctant hero. The photography of Australia's Northern Territory is astounding; the filmmakers say some of the land had never been captured on film before. The extras are unusually good; be sure to watch the one on the location region.
6. Brotherhood of the Wolf -- Couldn't get enough of this stylish period horror show from France? Welcome the director's cut, with eight minutes of footage not on the original U.S. DVD. Topped off with 40 minutes of deleted and expanded scenes. "Wolf" is great fun, with exciting fight scenes, a respectable amount of gore, a way-cool monster and lots of soiled villagers to terrorize. A royal taxidermist and his New World Indian companion track a werewolf who's slaughtering the local maidens. The film takes place on the eve of the French Revolution, ensuring lots of old European atmospherics and fog that look magnifique in widescreen.
5. Dark City -- Like "Blade Runner," this nightmarish bit of science fiction debuted in theaters with a studio-mandated voice-over intended to help viewers make sense of the film. Even horror-friendly New Line didn't know what to make of Alex Proyas' tale of a noir city reinvented nightly by alien scientists who act as gods. Proyas finally gets to show his cult classic as it was intended, in a director's cut that adds about 12 minutes. On Blu-ray, the renovated "Dark City" is a thing of terrible beauty. Take it along on your next trip to the beach.
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas -- Gorgeous animated visuals, this time out in anamorphic widescreen, but the star of the show on Blu-ray is the state-of-the art audio. All 7.1 channels of Dolby TruHD encircle the video room, with bold playful signals. Heard this way, Danny Elfman's score can make your heart race. Among the best home video audio I've experienced, if not the best. New commentary from Tim Burton and Elfman (recorded separately, alas). The regular DVD comes with cool seasonal packaging. Both come with "Frankenweenie," of course. Thrill the big kids and terrorize the tots with this truly fine Blu-ray.
3. The Orphanage -- What's a horror top 10 without a ghost story? Producer/preseter Guillermo del Toro pulls the strings on this haunted house movie directed by Spain's Juan Antonio Bayona. The dark, damp visuals are beautifully rendered on the New Line DVD. The audio packs a wallop with a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1-EX or DTS-ES 6.1. Plentiful extras. "The Orphanage" has a strong emotional pull, making it a great movie to share with kids old enough to absorb a good shock or two.
2. Psycho -- The mother of all horror movies gets all dressed up for Universal's Legacy Series. Two discs cover Alfred Hitchcock's black and white shocker to exhaustion. The film itself seems a bit brighter and less damaged than the previous release (2005's "The Masterpiece Collection"), but maybe not -- the A-B wasn't conclusive on picture quality. Still lots of wear and grain. The excellent hour-and-a-half documentary "The Making of Psycho" returns from the 1997 release, bolstered by the so-so short "Hitchcock's Legacy" and a highly listenable commentary from Stephen Rebello. As on the other two fine new Hitchcock releases, there are movie-specific snippets from the Truffaut/Hitchcock audio interviews. Plus, the shower scene footage with and without music, and the Saul Bass storyboards. And a bonus screening of the Hitch TV classic "Lamb to the Slaughter." The new "Psycho" DVD is pretty much definitive until there's a full restoration.
1. Vampyr -- All the way from 1932 comes the year's best DVD creepshow. The Criterion Collection did its thing on Carl Th. Dreyer's tale of the occult in a distant time and land, making for the best possible presentation. The German movie, as expected, suffers from a great deal of damage, such as scratches, vertical lines, speckling, flashing and even a stray hair or two. In this case, that's not all bad. "Vampyr" plays like a warning of evil afoot from 75 years ago, like shadows from hell picked up on some distant UHF station. One key element in the film's enduring strangeness is the seemingly stoned acting of a minor European aristocrat who plays the hero. "Dreyer makes astute use of his blankness," the extras point out. Special features include a solid commentary, a "video essay" that's an imaginative making-of docu, and a bio of Dreyer. The Criterion set includes the script and a copy of the original book about "the strange history of vampires." Essential horror.