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Under the Radar: Deep Cut Halloween Gems

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Oct 31, 2011 | 7:01am EDT

Happy Halloween!

No doubt as you make final preparations for this the most wonderful holiday on the calendar, you are looking at your tried-and-true horror shelf and mentally scheduling your yearly movie marathon. If you find you tend to revisit the same three or four titles every year and feel the itch to branch out this Halloween, here are a few recently-released horror films, both modern and classic and mostly Blu-ray, that should spice up your drab festivities and put the treat back in your trick-or-treat.

Zombie

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Available From: Blue Underground

Over the last few years, zombie fiction has permeated nearly every form of media from film to television to videogames. While most people may crack open that same copy of Dawn of the Dead they’ve had on their shelf for just this singular holiday occasion, a great film to be certain, I humbly submit this incredible Italian zombie film as a substitute. Based on equal parts Dracula and…an apparent gore-filled fever dream, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie features two of the most seminal moments in any zombie film. One involves a woman’s head—or more specifically her eyeball—being pulled toward a splinter of wood, and the other features a zombie fighting a shark. Watch all the Walking Dead or Shaun of the Dead you want, but you won’t find a moment that tops either of those.

Killer Party

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Available From: Warner Archives (Standard Only)

Warner Archive is a very handy tool for anyone wishing to branch out into obscure cinema. It is a service that prints DVD copies of the innumerable films in the Warner Brothers archive by request. One such film is 1986’s Killer Party. While the lewd humor and nudity of something like Piranha 3D was not as extreme in the late 80s, that same cheesiness is bred of the b-movies of this era. Killer Party is a true schlocky gem for those who enjoy that genre specific silliness. Also, the film features a pair of fake out false openings very reminiscent of this year’s heavily self-aware Scream 4.

Maniac Cop

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Available From: Synapse Films

For those who like a healthy dose of action with their horror, Maniac Cop comes highly recommended. This is the story of an ace New York police officer framed for a crime and murdered in prison who begins to exact revenge on the lawless and the law-abiding alike from beyond the grave. The Blu-ray transfer here is extremely crisp and the film matches the same crowd-pleasing mix of horror and wild action sequences as something like Zombieland or From Dusk Till Dawn. Tom Atkins, who recently appeared in My Bloody Valentine 3D, stars alongside The Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell.

Island of Lost Souls

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Available From: Criterion

One of the first incarnations of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, Island of Lost Souls is a somewhat lost classic from the glory days of Universal horror. If you have that stalwart friend who still keeps Dracula and Frankenstein in the regular Halloween rotation, and they’re getting a bit stale for you, Island of Lost Souls retains much of that gothic Universal Monsters style while incorporating the man-made-monster/science-gone-awry themes that were most recently explored in 2009’s Splice as well as, to much poorer results, any number of SyFy channel original films. The Criterion Blu allows for such a clear, sharp picture as to alleviate much of the aversion people can harbor toward watching black-and-white horror films.

Rare Exports

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Available From: Oscilloscope Laboratories

A movie about Santa Claus as part of a Halloween movie marathon? Have I been dipping into the spiked eggnog a touch early this year? Actually the 2010 Finnish holiday tale Rare Exports is about the true origin of Santa Claus, and the ancient evil threat he represents. The film is dark, suspenseful, but also stocking-stuffed with humor. If you enjoy Christmas-themed horror films like Black Christmas or Gremlins, you will eat up Rare Exports like so many gingerbread men.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow

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Available From: VCI Entertainment

Sometimes it seems modern horror films are far more interested in shocking audiences with extreme violence than they are telling a decent story. If you find yourself cringing at, more than actually enjoying, say, the Saw sequels, you should definitely give Dark Night of the Scarecrow a spin.

Made for television in 1981, the film is quite limited in how explicit it is allowed to be with its violence. Luckily, it has a truly great horror story to tell and creatively dances around its restrained rating. A mentally challenged man is wrongfully accused of a crime and murdered. Years later, his spirit inhabits a scarecrow and returns to take revenge. The film features several legitimately creepy scenes and the performances from its cast are incredibly strong. If you have younger or slightly squeamish attendees due at your Halloween party, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a winning selection.

Attack the Block

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Available From: Screen Gems

To cap this list of classic horror that you’ll enjoy based on modern fare, I offer a new film that harkens back to classic films of several different genres. Though it made a tremendous splash at every film festival it played, this sci-fi/horror darling never got a wide theatrical release so its recent Blu-ray release represents the first opportunity many of you will have had to see it. The movie follows a group of youths in a South London projects who must single-handedly fend off an alien invasion. If you are a fan of any of the classic Amblin films (E.T., The Goonies) mixed with a healthy dose of Aliens, then Attack the Block is going to fit you like a glove.

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