Just in time for the Halloween season, Warner Archive is digging into their vaults to offer up four of their strongest adventures into the horrific in one value-priced Blu-Ray collection. These films offer up a variety of tones from the darkly comedic to the erotic to the paranoia-inducing. No matter your preferred flavor of thrill, this set should have something that satisfies your need to be frightened. Check out our thoughts on these four titles below:
Innocent Blood (1992)
This ghoul just wants to have fun! She also wants an occasional bad guy to sink her fangs into – because she never, ever takes Innocent Blood. Anne Parillaud is Marie, a vampire who imperils Pittsburgh when she fails to kill off one of her victims, mob boss Sal Macelli (Robert Loggia). Sal realizes what a lucky stiff he is: a vampire with deadly powers! If Marie and her undercover cop boyfriend (Anthony LaPaglia) can’t stop the mobster’s new “family” of goons, Pittsburgh will be the pits. As in his “An American Werewolf in London,” director John Landis saw in Michael Wolk’s script many “possibilities to be outrageous” – and transformed them into outrageous screen reality.
Innocent Blood is a fascinating engagement in tone from a director who has delicately tried to strike the right balance his entire career. While not as effectively realized as An American Werewolf in London, this film offers up an interesting take on what is essentially a mob film. The best part of the movie is Loggia as Sal “The Shark” Macelli, as the Big actor commits fully to the outlandish situation in which he finds himself. He gives the movie an oddball streak that keeps it effectively energized where other elements threaten to slow the momentum. Tony Sirico and David Proval both show up as a part of his crew in a fun bit of foreshadowing to their roles on The Sopranos. The weakest part of the film might just be our lead vampire herself, Anne Parillaud. Marie is a role that requires more charisma, but she never quite gets past sexy French detachment. The film is technically firing on all cylinders, as the special effects makeup work is wonderfully grotesque. This film combines many different genres in a way that does not fully service each one, but there is enough of a creative spark here from the gangster portion of the film to keep you engaged.
Body Snatchers (1993)
Don’t sleep. Don’t ever sleep. That’s when it happens. That’s when tentacles leave the alien pod and enter your ears and nostrils. Soon you’re not you anymore. You’ve been taken over, a victim of Body Snatchers. A science-fiction classic gets an eerie, modern update in this spellbinder inspired by 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and from the producer of the 1978 remake. Advances in screen special effects now enable director Abel Ferrara (King of New York, Bad Lieutenant) and his crew of wizards to depict the actual birthing of a pod – and its devastating effect on the human host. Who says there’s no rest for the wicked? As stars Gabrielle Anwar, Terry Kinney, Forest Whitaker and Meg Tilly discover, no one rests when the only way to sleep is to keep one eye open. And one foot out the door.
“Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere… ’cause there’s no one like you left.” These are the words uttered by Meg Tilly’s mother character, Carol, after she has been taken over by the aliens. It is one of the most truly chilling instances in a film that keeps you enshrouded in paranoia throughout its brisk sub-90-minute runtime. The 1955 novel The Body Snatchers has been adapted effectively several times, but Abel Ferrara is able to offer up his own worthy interpretation with a military bent. The story lends itself to the army base setting as the “for the greater good” ethos naturally at play in the military fits right into the alien philosophy. The social criticism on display is critically incisive, but it is made all the more effective by the genuinely unsettling and horrific sequences of alien takeover. For a film primarily focused on a teenager, a more-than-capable Gabrielle Anwar, it thankfully does not get too bogged down in unnecessary drama. Of the four films in the set, this may be the most tightly constructed and ultimately satisfying.
A real-estate tycoon, his coke-binging wife and a slum wino have something grisly in common: They’re the latest victims in a series of random murders. A veteran NYPD detective soon suspects the killings may be supernatural and deliberate – ages-old beings of cunning intelligence and incredible power defending their turf from the encroachments of humankind. Using a Steadicam camera and Louma crane to simulate the predators’ perspectives. director Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock) achieves a remarkable blend of New York City mystery and menace not captured on film before. With deft performances by Albert Finney, Gregory Hines, Diane Venora and Edward James Olmos, Wolfen is a full-fanged, full-throttle horror ride.
Michael Wadleigh’s lone non-documentary film is 1981’s Wolfen, and it is one heck of a film to have crafted for your only narrative feature. The late Albert Finney (Big Fish) delivers a sizzling performance in the lead role as a brilliant detective who is not afraid to open his mind to unbelievable possibilities. You might be tempted to label this a werewolf movie, but that is not exactly true. The movie is about wolves, but the specifics of their origins are more complicated, and socially engaging, than the average werewolf story. The way in which this movie uses the wolves sparingly ratchets up the tension that much more due to the fear of the unknown. Instead, the film employs first-person thermal imaging techniques that would later be popularized by films such as Predator. The use of (what appears to be) real wolves also quickens the pulse faster than even the best special effects. Every aspect of the production is well executed to make one of the finest hidden treasures of the early eighties.
The Hunger (1983)
Miriam Blaylock collects Renaissance art, ancient Egyptian pendants, lovers, souls. Alive and fashionably chic in Manhattan, Miriam is an ageless vampire. Although “vampire” is not a word you’ll hear in this movie based on the novel by Whitley Strieber (Wolfen). Instead, debuting feature director Tony Scott fashions a hip, sensual, modern-gothic makeover. Catherine Deneuve radiates macabre elegance as Miriam, blessed with beauty, cursed with bloodlust. David Bowie is fellow fiend and refined husband John. In love, in life, in longing, they are inseparable. But when John abruptly begins to age and turns to a geriatric researcher (Susan Sarandon) for help, Miriam soon eyes the woman as a replacement for John. The Hunger is insatiable.
Of the four films in this collection, this debut feature from Tony Scott is arguably the one most aiming for the arthouse crowd. This movie is a work of pure atmosphere, with its gothic ethos attempting to carry the lion’s share of the narrative. On that level, it succeeds in investing you into the mood and tone established early on. These are vampires that are living an upper-crust lifestyle filled with passion and reckless abandonment. The Hunger is built on eroticism, and the movie attempts to make you feel lost in the ecstasy that these characters are indulging in. The movie struggles somewhat on a story level, though. If some of the redundantly passionate scenes could have been dialed back slightly in favor of some more interesting plot developments, it would have helped the film a great deal. And, although it is more of an issue with advertising, the prominent billing of David Bowie left me wanting more of the actor, especially with so much of his performance being unrecognizable. The three main actors are all quite engaging in their roles, and the film is stylish as all get out, but Scott could have used a little bit of reigning in with this one. Nevertheless, the film can be quite transfixing and is worth a watch to see if you can settle on its wavelength.
These four 1080p transfers are all uniformly excellent in their own ways, and they will mostly be discussed as a whole with film-specific distinctions when necessary. The discs were derived from fresh 2K scans of the interpositive. The transfers maintain a nice amount of natural film grain, which lends itself to detailed backgrounds and clothing. The image across these discs is free from dirt or print damage, as well as pesky digital anomalies such as compression artifacting or banding. Skin tones look natural throughout each transfer. Due to the nature of each film, much of the content takes place at night, which is accompanied by deep black levels free of any crush. One of the most notable aspects of the transfers is the eye-popping colors on display, including intense reds in Body Snatchers. The impeccable visual style of The Hunger is beautifully represented here with deftly rendered density levels. The darkened interior of Innocent Blood may give pause to some with its apparent softness in low-lit scenes, but that is a directorial choice rather than a limitation of the transfer. Warner Archive did not cut any corners with these transfers, as they are all top notch.
As with the video quality, the audio portion of each disc is truly wonderful and will mostly be discussed in a similar fashion. The Hunger and Innocent Blood hit Blu-Ray with a 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix that is truly dynamic and really brings to life what each film was trying to accomplish. The tracks expertly presents all the different sound effects with an immediacy that immerses you into the story. Of the two films, The Hunger is the most daring on the audio front. Scott employs a dynamic mixing of sound effects that is quite kinetic in the early portion of the film. The dialogue for each film is clear and easy to understand without being clipped by any music or sound effects.
Body Snatchers and Wolfen come to Blu-Ray with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks that are quite lively. Both films are primarily dialogue driven, but there are also fairly frequent action-packed sequences such as shootouts or a foot pursuit that kick this track into overdrive. There is some nice ambient activity in the rear channels, especially during crowded sequences at the base in Body Snatchers or during the opening revelry of Wolfen. The dialogue primarily stays in front center channels and is reproduced clearly. These track do a good job of making sure neither sound effects nor the score ever overpowers dialogue. When the action kicks in, there is some heft to the low end that is appreciated by anyone with a decent home theater system. These tracks have a substantial dynamic range that should please fans of the films. All discs also include optional English (SDH) subtitles.
- Trailer: The two-minute trailer offers up a solid overview of the film and the tone it is trying to strike, but it reveals a bit too much, in my opinion.
- Trailer: The two-minute trailer captures a very ominous tone that gets you perfectly prepared for the story without revealing every beat.
- Trailer: The two-minute trailer offers up a few moments that are not actually in the film, so it is fun to get a glimpse at some of the unused material. Otherwise, it is another solid trailer that sells the film well.
- Audio Commentary: Director Tony Scott and Actress Susan Sarandon provide commentary for the film, although they were not present together. Scott dominates the track and provides a fair assessment of the film while noting some ways in which he would approach the material differently if he had been more experienced. Scott also reveals some of his influences and offers up some interesting tidbits from filming in London. Sarandon may have less input to offer, but her anecdotes are some of the best parts of the track, including how the sexuality in the film impacted her career and personal life.
- Trailer: The two-minute trailer mostly captures the atmosphere that this film evokes throughout its runtime without giving away too much in terms of plot.
Warner Archive’s new Horror-Thrillers: 4-Film Collection offers up a diverse range of films that vary from quite good to excellent. With works from the likes of Tony Scott, John Landis and Abel Ferrara, you really cannot go wrong with this set. Warner Archive delivers its typical 5-star A/V presentation for each disc in the set, bundled together for the first time at one attractively low price point. Those looking to get into the Halloween spirit should buy with confidence knowing you are getting some engaging films at an excellent price. Highly Recommended
Warner Archive’s Horror Thrillers: 4-Film Collection is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Archive has supplied a copy of this set free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.