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Halloween's Sets Appeal

New DVD collections offer plenty of shudders

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VINCENT PRICE: MGM SCREAM LEGENDS COLLECTION

The Scoop: One of the giants in the horror flick field is graciously given his due.

Availability: Seven films (and one bonus disc of extras) are included in this box set. Admittedly, six of the titles have already been released under the Midnite Movies banner (see next item), but it's nice to have them all packaged in one collection. For those only wanting specific titles, the Midnite Movies editions can still be purchased online, while the one new-to-DVD title is available separately.

Titles Worth Noting: That DVD newbie is a biggie: Witchfinder General (1968), a chilling tale of real-life witch hunter Matthew Hopkins (Price), who preys upon people's fears and superstitions in order to build his own power -- and executes a lot of innocent people along the way. Titled The Conqueror Worm upon its original U.S. release and thrown away by its distributor, this British gem, featuring one of Price's best performances, quickly gained a cult reputation and has been MIA on DVD for far too many years. The other titles in this set, especially 1973's Theater of Blood (with Price as a Shakespearean actor who gets his bloody revenge on the critics who panned him), are noteworthy, but the intelligent and atmospheric Witchfinder General is the main prize.

Extra Features: Bonuses on the Witchfinder General DVD consist of audio commentary by producer Philip Waddilove and actor Ian Ogilvy (director Michael Reeves died a year after the film was completed, at the age of 25) and a featurette. The set also includes a bonus disc that contains a Vincent Price documentary and a pair of Price featurettes.

Retail Price: $39.98

MIDNITE MOVIES

The Scoop: It's a story guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of any B-picture buff. A couple of years ago, MGM's home entertainment division released double-feature DVDs under the banner Midnite Movies, pairing up genre titles that would naturally fit together via theme or performers (e.g. Panic in the Year Zero / The Last Man on Earth, two end-of-the-world sagas; Psych-Out / The Trip, '60s acid flicks; The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant / The Thing with Two Heads, you figure it out). But after Fox took over the MGM catalogue, the future of the MM line became unclear. An online petition was started, and here we are, 5,000 signatures later, able to beam over the fact that the line has been continued with a slew of new product from the vaults of both MGM and Fox.

Availability: With rare exception (like the single-disc Food of the Gods, reviewed in CL's View From the Couch section a few weeks ago), each DVD contains two movies to promote the double-feature angle. However, there are no box set compilations that bundle all the titles; instead, all Midnite Movie twofers are sold individually.

Titles Worth Noting: I'm a sucker for horror anthology films, so it was enjoyable revisiting Tales from the Crypt (1972) and its follow-up, Vault of Horror (1973). Crypt is slightly better than Vault: In addition to a campy Joan Collins (as a murderous wife) and a hammy Ralph Richardson (as the Cryptkeeper), you also get a genuinely moving performance by Peter Cushing as a kindly old man who's driven to suicide (and who, of course, returns from the grave to exact his revenge). The Mephisto Waltz (1971), paired with the little-known The House on Skull Mountain, is a classy production that lays on the ambiance in its tale of a happy couple (Alan Alda and Jacqueline Bisset) who inadvertently get mixed up with a satanic cult. And Gorilla at Large (1954), a 3-D feature when originally released (and paired here with the Spanish cheapie Mystery on Monster Island), isn't great, but it's hard to resist a movie whose cast includes Anne Bancroft, Raymond Burr and Lee Marvin (all in the early years of their careers).

Extra Features: Most DVDs contain no extras; some include theatrical trailers and photo galleries.

Retail Price: $14.98

THE FLY COLLECTION

The Scoop: The original trilogy -- The Fly (1958), Return of the Fly (1959) and The Curse of the Fly (1965) -- together for the first time.

Availability: The three movies are included in one handsome box set; they're not available individually, though the first two entries were released together on DVD seven years ago (this marks the DVD debut of Curse).

Titles Worth Noting: The Fly remains the best of this series by a wide margin (though David Cronenberg's 1986 remake is even better). Al Hedison plays the scientist whose latest experiment results in mutation, while Vincent Price co-stars as his concerned brother. Price returns in Return, tsk-tsking at the late scientist's son (Brett Halsey) as he performs the same experiment. The belated Curse (sans Price) finds the original scientist's grandson (George Baker) carrying on the dubious family tradition.

Extra Features: A great-looking set, The Fly Collection also includes a fourth disc (billed as the "Disc of Horrors") filled with bonus material. Among the extras are a featurette, a Vincent Price Biography interview, theatrical trailers, and poster recreations. The set also contains a colorful 12-page booklet.

Retail Price: $39.98

SAM KATZMAN: ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION

The Scoop: In a career that spanned nearly four decades, Sam Katzman produced over 200 movies, including musicals with Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker, Hank Williams Jr. and Bill Haley (he also reportedly coined the word "beatnik"). But for the sake of horror fans, Sony has elected to pay tribute to four of his 1950s terror tales.

Availability: All four titles are included in a slim box set; they're not available individually.

Titles Worth Noting: The Werewolf (1956), never before available on DVD or VHS, adds a sci-fi spin to the well-worn monster movie staple, as two Atom Age scientists, searching for a way to survive the nuclear apocalypse they're sure is just around the corner, create a formula that instead turns their "patient," a car crash survivor (Steven Ritch), into a wolfman. The other three titles in the set are Creature With the Atom Brain (1955), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) and The Giant Claw (1957), the last-named featuring one of the goofiest movie monsters ever created.

Extra Features: The set includes theatrical trailers, a Mr. Magoo cartoon, a chapter from the Katzman-produced 1951 serial, Mysterious Island, and a 1936 comedy short.

Retail Price: $24.96

THE AMICUS COLLECTION

The Scoop: In the summer of 2006, the DVD outfit Dark Sky Films released three horror flicks produced in the early 1970s by Amicus Films, the upstart company that had found some measure of success as a lower-rent version of Hammer Films (its pictures often lacked the atmosphere and production values that distinguished the Hammer line, but they were rarely less than entertaining, bolstered by impressive casts and ghoulish plotlines straight out of a vintage EC Comics title). This is basically a re-release of the trio, offering the same DVDs but adding a box to surround 'em. Incidentally, that's Peter Cushing on the front of the package; he appears in all three movies in the set.

Availability: As noted, the movies are packaged inside a box; however, the titles can still be purchased individually, as they were when released during July of '06.

Titles Worth Noting: All three titles are of roughly equal quality, which is to say they're flawed but fun. The anthology film Asylum (1972) employs the title establishment as the backdrop for its tales of menace; And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973), set in 1795 England, finds a bride (Stephanie Beacham) trying to unlock the mysteries of her haunted mansion; and The Beast Must Die (1974) is more Agatha Christie than Lon Chaney Jr., as a millionaire (Calvin Lockhart) tries to reveal the werewolf among the weekend guests at his country estate.

Extra Features: All discs include director commentaries, cast and crew biographies, and theatrical trailers; Asylum also includes an interesting featurette on the history of Amicus.

Retail Price: $29.98

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