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Horrible wonders: A guide to gifting Halloween goodies, creepy movies and toys

Halloween Cover.jpg
Horrible wonders: A guide to gifting Halloween goodies, creepy movies and toys (Photo: Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, Funko)

Here we are neck deep into the horrors of wilting leaves, cooling temperatures and sugar cravings. To celebrate, here's a look at recent and classic horror Blu-ray and 4K UHD releases with a few tantalizing Funko toys thrown in for a bit of flavor.

Recently in Theaters

"3 From Hell" is Rob Zombie's latest opus and second sequel to "House of 1000 Corpses" following "The Devil's Rejects."

The Conjuring Universe has been an uneven excursion, but "Annabelle Comes Home" is one of the solid slices of horror to come from the franchise as the demonic doll torments an over-curious teen.

"Brightburn" takes the Superman origin story and turns it on its head as this intergalactic being isn't remotely as benevolent.

"Crawl," a classic survival horror from Alexandre Aja featuring a hurricane and a horde of alligators.

"Child's Play" is an updated remake of the 1988 horror film about single-mother who accidentally gifts her son a homicidal doll.

"Ma" sees Octavia Spencer star as a lonely woman who befriends a group of teens and provides them with a safe place to party while concealing her true nefarious intentions;.

Ari Aster made a name for himself with his debut feature "Herreditary." His second effort, "Midsommar," sees a group of college students travel to Sweden for a not-so-innocent midsommar celebration.

"Satanic Panic" finds a virginal pizza delivery woman stumbling upon a dark ritual where she is assaulted by a group of cultists. It's a comedy.

Jordan Peel shocked audiences (and his movie studio) with the socially conscious "Get Out." "Us" isn't nearly as focused when it comes to the subtext, but this story about a family tormented by doppelgangers is still wildly entertaining if you don't get too wound up in trying to figure out its subtext.

Contemporary Classics in 4K

Had it been released after the first Avengers film, "Cabin in the Woods" might have been a massive hit due to it starring Chris Hemsworth and being co-written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. It didn't and as a result the movie was only a modest success at the box office. A shame because its a hilarious send up of the horror genre by people who clearly love horror films and can laugh at the illogical choices that abound in the genre.

"Get Out" was a massive surprise for Universal Pictures who didn't quite know how or who to market the movie to. This tale of a black man who is brought into the very white world of his girlfriend is funny, scary and smart. Few horror films can claim two, let alone three, of those qualities.

Wash away your memories of 2019's attempt at rebooting "Hellboy" and return to the Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman version from 2004 that was far more interested in building a world, developing its characters and infusing the adventure with a sense of blockbuster fun than it was in being grotesque.

"Hereditary" was an instant hit at the Sundance Film Festivial and that translated into a surprisingly strong box office run as Ari Aster's tale about death and an unraveling of a family's matriarch (the brilliant Toni Collette) in this strange, original and unnerving movie.

2017's "It," a adaptation of Stephen King's novel, made history at the box office where it earned $700 million, more than any other horror film, world wide. It's also a fantastic movie that tells a story that is as much about the town it takes place in as it is about the characters who populate it. It's too bad that its sequel didn't follow the same blueprint.

Hollywood tried to pigeonhole John Krasinski, "A Quiet Place" changed the way audiences see him as he co-wrote and directed this post-apocalyptic tale about a family living in silence because they are being hunted by alien invaders with hyper-sensitive hearing.

"The Witch" finds a family living on the edge of the wilds when they are rejected by their puritan community. There, in the shadow of the unknown, a child is stolen and folklore and paranoia lead a teenage girl deep into the forest.

Television and Beyond...

When "American Horror Story" was announced, I wasn't convinced that a horror series that didn't feature the living dead was going to be embraced by the masses. Clearly I underestimated the insatiable hunger for frights that audiences have proven to have. The series is in its 9th year and while that might sound daunting to those who have yet to watch a single episode, each season is essentially a stand-alone story. From witches, dark circus characters to nuns and politicians, "American Horror Story" leaves no trope unused.

In 2018, the CW revamped the "Charmed" franchise with a new cast of spell-casting sisters who are tasked with keeping the darkness and evil of the world at bay.

"Tell Me a Story" is the dark version of "Once Upon a Time" as its narrative lifts aspects from stories like "The Three Little Pigs," "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Hansel and Gretel." It's more of a thriller than a straight up horror, but the creepiness is pervasive.

Based loosely on Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel, "The Haunting of Hill House" follows the Crain family decades after they were forced to flee their home in 1992 following a string of paranormal activity. The modern settings are a radical change from Jackson's tale, but it works because creator/director Mike Flanagan understands that what scared us about ghosts in 1959 is fundamentally the same as what scares us about ghosts in 1992 and 2019. The production values are fantastic, the cast is great and the ten episodes move along at a prefect pace. The Blu-ray and DVD release includes extended versions of three of the episodes.. What more do you need to lure you back into the Hill House?

Taking a wide swath through 1980s pop culture, "Stranger Things" is a tribute to the era I grew up in arcades, listening to synthpop, playing with Star Wars toys and watching Steven Spielberg films. I was destined to love the show or be its biggest critic. Thankfully, I'm more the first and only a little of the second. Hopefully this Halloween the streets will be populated with Dustin, Suzie and a horde of Scoops Ahoy employees. I'm not ready to leave Hawkins, Indiana.

In 1994 Steven King adapted his novel "The Stand" for an four-episode miniseries. It's a post-apocalyptic setting where mankind has been wiped out by a weaponized version of the flu. It's a classic tale of darkness versus light. CBS is about ro release a new version on its streaming platform, but this is a solid, if not somewhat dated, viewing experience. I'm not familiar enough with the source material to comment on how well the narrative fits into its 6-hour, but there is a sense that we are only seeing part of the big picture. Still, it never lulls.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

I knew a world without "The Nightmare Before Christmas," but I can hardly remember what it was like to not see Jack Skellington grinning back at me while "Kidnap the Sandy Claws" plays somewhere in the back reaches of my head. Of course there is a soundtrack, a dvd, a Blu-ray and decades worth of toys to pick from (sadly we're still waiting on a 4K release) . I'm particularly fond of the "Dapper Jack" Pez dispenser. Were I a rich man, I'd probably live in Halloween Town.

Family Friendly

Fans of the original "Scooby-Doo Where are You!" series will be ecstatic with the Warner Bros. box set that includes all three seasons (1969, 1970 and revisited in 1978). It's my second favorite configuration of Scooby-Doo! franchise, only "Mystery Incorporated" ranks higher in my book. Those who prefer the tone of the recent Scooby-Doo! feature-length releases might be better served with "Return to Zombie Island," the most recent entry from the franchise. If you haven't seen the original "Scooby-Doo! on Zombie Island" from 1998, I'd recommend that too.

You might know that an animated version of "The Addams Family" was just released in theaters, but the two films from the '90s were released as a double-feature Blu-ray as well. The first film is decent, but "Addams Family Values" is arguably the high point of any of the franchise's iterations. I'd actually forgotten how clever it was.

Earlier this year Funko introduced its Funkoverse, a collection of tabletop games featuring characters from the Harry Potter, DC, Golden Girls and Rick and Morty. Each character has unique abilities that come with cool down periods. It's a little more complicated than your traditional tabletop, but those who have played and round-based game will quickly catch on. I don't know how the Golden Girls ended up in this wacky universe, but I tend to be bemused by the show's enduring popularity.

Classics in 4K

Earlier this year, "Alien" celebrated its 40th anniversary with a gorgeous 4K UHD. Those familiar with the film needn't be told that it is one of the most frightening and beautiful films ever made. Director Ridley Scott's attention to detail is nearly as good as Sigourney Weaver's performance as Ripley.

Though presented as a sequel, Sami Rami's classic comedy horror "Evil Dead 2" feels more like a remake of the original film with a larger budget and more experienced crew. Made for less than $4 million, the film was still far from polished. You'd think a 4K release would be overkill. How good could the film really look? Better than you'd expect.

"Gremlins" is one of the greatest films ever made and no one is ever going to convince me otherwise. I'd argue that it might be more of a Christmas movie than a Halloween title, but its horror elements are more than enough for me to include this cautionary tale about a taking care of an exotic creature.

"Halloween" has a problematic history on home video, this 4K release however corrects the previous wrongs and presents the film as it was intended to be seen. It's one of the best slasher films ever made featuring one of the most iconic killers, a legendary heroine and a score that is equally as influential as the narrative itself.

"The Shining" may not be the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel, but it is one of the best psychological thrillers ever made. The teaming of director Stanley Kubrick and actors Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall makes for a claustrophobic nightmare that sees Nicholson's character quickly unravel in an isolated hotel that is closed for the winter season.

"Suspiria" sees a young American dancer accepted into a German ballet academy that harbors a sinister secret. The Synapse Films Blu-ray release of Dario Argento's 1977 classic is considered by most to be the truest and best release of the film. On November 19, they will be releasing a 4K UHD release of their restoration and I couldn't be more excited to see the results.

Maybe "Underworld" is more of an action film than it is a horror, but its narrative pits vampires against werewolves in a battle that dates back centuries. You could argue that "Underworld" is all style and little substance, but Kate Beckinsale makes for a fantastic action heroine.

With a sequel about to be released into theaters, it's the perfect time to revisit 2009's "Zombieland," a post-apocalyptic comedy featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone as a group of uninfected trying to survive in a world filled with the living dead.

Brooke Shields made her on-screen debut in Alfred Sole's "Alice, Sweet Alice," a 1976 slasher dominated with Catholic imagery and guilt. Sole's career quickly flat lined, but many regard this film as an overlooked genre classic.

Steve McQueen made his feature film debut in 1958's sci-fi horror yarn "The Blob." The narrative finds a gelatinous creature terrorizing small-town USA. It's silly, but captures the tone and paranoia of the era. In 1988 Chuck Russell ("Dreamscape") remade the film in the shadow of President Ronald Reagan, the cold war and a new sense of cultural fear. I prefer the original and the nostalgia for a world I never knew, but the remake is more grounded than you might expect. Shout! Factory is releasing the 1988 version on Blu-ray October 29, which means you won't have to pay $50 or more for the out-of-print Twilight Time release.

Director Frank LaLoggia's 1081 film "Fear No Evil" is a coming-of-age drama with horror themes. The movie sees outcast Andrew (Stefan Arngrim from "Land of the Giants") enduring the living hell of public schooling only to discover that he might actually be the Antichrist. We've all been there.

"Fright" is a influential British thriller from 1971 that sees a babysitter tormented by a the mentally ill ex-husband of her employer. The film is notable in that it is often credited as a proto-slasher that influenced films like "Halloween" and stars Susan George who also starred in Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" (which was also released in November of 1971).

Austrian director Michael Haneke's 1997 film "Funny Games" isn't funny, but its characters do play games as a pair of men hold a family hostage at their holiday home near a lake. It's an unusual film that features a character who often speaks to the audience, toying with their expectations.

Released in 1922, "Haxan" is a documentary that explores the role fear and superstition played in the misdiagnosis of mental illness in the 15th. Century. The film makes this list because it features numerous reenactments that are precursors to the sort of costumes and special effects that have appeared in horror and sci-fi films ever since. This new Blu-ray release from Criterion features a digital restoration that is unavailable elsewhere.

Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" explores the darkest corners of desire as its narrative is built around a puzzle box that unlocks a gateway to a sadomasochistic world of perpetual pain. It's a moving vision of the horrors that populated Hieronymus Bosch's art.

Released in 1943, "The Leopard Man" is one of cinema's earliest films to focus on what would later be known as a serial killer. The narrative is built around an escaped leopard and a series of dead bodies that all appear to be mauled by the animal.

Box Sets

"The Omen Collection" collects the five theatrical films released between 1976 -2006. The original trilogy concluded in 1981, but attempts to revive the franchise followed in 1991 and 2006. The story focuses on a adopted child who is revealed to be the Antichrist. The first film is the best of the lot as it teams director Richard Donner and actor Gregory Peck with a score by Jerry Goldsmith. It doesn't have the prestige of "Rosemary's Baby," but is certainly worth a look.

"The Phantasm Sphere Collection" collects all five films from the Phantasm franchise and includes a collectible replica of the film's classic sphere. Seeing as the previous box set has long since gone out of print, this is the best option for those looking to visit Don Coscarelli's cult classics that were made between 1979 and 1998 and David Hartman's "RaVager" from 2016. The franchise is built around Angus Scrimm's performance as the Tall Man, a undertaker with supernatural abilities. Little is revealed about the man, his deadly chrome spheres or the zombies who follow him, but that's part of the franchise's charm.

"The House of Hitchcock" is a 15-film collection that replaces the nondescript packaging of 2017's "The Ultimate Collection" with a box that looks like the classic home "Psycho" and includes "Saboteur" (1942), "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943), "Rope" (1948), "Rear Window" (1954), "The Trouble with Harry" (1955), "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956), "Vertigo" (1958), "North by Northwest" (1959), "Psycho" (1960), "The Birds" (1963), "Marnie" (1964), "Torn Curtain" (1966), "Topaz" (1969), "Frenzy" (1972) and "Family Plot" (1976).

"Universal Horror Collection Vol. 1" includes four films starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi including the Edgar Allan Poe inspired "The Black Cat" from 1934 and 1935's "The Raven" with 1936's sci-fi horror "The Invisible Ray" and the sci-fi gangster thriller "Black Friday" from 1940. These films were featured in "The Bela Lugosi Collection" on DVD, but this Blu-ray release is decidedly superior.

"Universal Horror Collection Vol. 2" switches up the formula of the first volume in that neither Karloff of Lugosi appear in the more obscure titles from the Universal vaults. This set includes "Murders in the Zoo" from 1933, "The Strange Case of Doctor Rx" and "The Mad Doctor of Market Street" from 1942 and "The Mad Ghoul" from 1943. "Murders in the Zoo" and "The Mad Doctor of Market Street" both feature Lionel Atwill who might be familiar to fans of this era of cinema.

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