DVD Round-up, 22 March 2010

Forget remakes of 1970s slasher films, big budgets and star names: 2009’s Paranormal Activity (Paramount) cost only $10,000 to make but has already grossed over $100 million in its native America, features a couple of unknown actors and has enough chills to make you think twice about any noises you hear in the night.

The plot is simple: when a young couple, Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston), move into their new home they are soon bothered by strange sounds around the house as they try to sleep.

When Katie admits she’s felt haunted all her life, Micah decides to take control by buying video recording equipment and filming their days in the house, setting it up in their bedroom to try and capture footage of what’s happening around them.

Soon the pair are being tormented by something they can only hear but which is determined to cause them both pain, mental and physical.

While the all-American couple of Micah and Katie can be irritating at times, the actors do well to at least make them realistic, director Oren Peli adding layers of tension to each night’s happenings.

Watched at home with the lights out it’s a seasoned horror fan who won’t feel at least a few hairs raising on the back of the neck during the film, though it perhaps loses some of the thrills that might be felt during a visit to the cinema.

A UK-exclusive director’s commentary and making of documentary add to the package on the DVD and Blu-ray.

Another recent horror release is the latest in George A Romero’s series of zombie allegories which began way back in 1968 with the now-classic Night of the Living Dead.

Now, in Survival of the Dead (Optimum), Romero maintains the low budget but moves location to a small US island inhabited, for no apparent reason, by two Irish families brought into contact with the undead as well as a rogue military unit intent on destroying every zombie in sight.

Though the plot makes little sense, the actors, led by Kenneth Walsh as Patrick O’Flynn and Seamus Fitzpatrick as Seamus Muldoon, at least seem to be having some fun, hamming it up throughout. With zombies taken out by single bullets, there’s little actual horror here, the only real enjoyment to be had from the ridiculous plot and dialogue.

From modern horror we turn the clock back a few decades, Odeon Entertainment bringing us two gems in the shape of 1965’s Dr Terror’s House of Horrors and 1971’s Blood on Satan’s Claw.

Starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and directed by horror veteran Freddie Francis, Dr Terror opens in the carriage of an old fashioned train where five men are joined by Doctor Shreck (Peter Cushing) as he starts to tell them their destinies using a deck of Tarot cards.

Each man’s fate, involving werewolf legends, killer plants and voodoo curses, is described in detail by the Doctor as each one tries to work out how to avoid their fate.

Actors such as Donald Sutherland, Roy Castle and Bernard Lee pop up to add some class to proceedings, while Christopher Lee is brilliantly OTT as the art critic with a terrible temper who is having none of it. Original, creepy and blessed with a killer twist ending, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is must-see.

Blood on Satan’s Claw is an odd beast, the tale of a 17th century English village which is slowly possessed by by the Devil.

When a skull is found in a field by a local farmworker, a Judge (Patrick Wymark) is brought to see it, only to discover it has vanished.

As strange goings-on occur over the next few days, including fur growing on areas of people’s bodies and a change in temperament for many of the young, the suspicions of the elders grow.

Starring a number of familiar faces, from Upstairs Downstairs’ Simon Williams and Doctor Who’s Wendy Padbury, and backed by a terrific musical score, the film has plenty to offer the jaded horror fan who might despair at modern day offerings.

Away from the world of blood and curses, 1950’s The Clouded Yellow (Eureka) is an overlooked British thriller which deserves some reappraisal, especially as it stars two great actors in Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons.

Ex-spy David Somers (Howard) decides to take a break from the world of espionage by retreating to the English countryside to catalogue butterflies for a rich family.

Attracted to his employers troubled young niece, Sophie (Simmons), Somers is embroiled in a murder mystery which will see the pair go on the run from the authorities across the UK.

Taking its cue from John Buchan’s The 39 Steps in its man-on-the-run plot, the film makes up for its slightly pedestrian nature with fine performances from its two leads and a fun cameo from Kenneth More as Somers’ always-eating ex-colleague.

Winning the P’alme D’Or at Cannes in 1987, Sous le soleil de Satan (Under the Sun of Satan) (Eureka) is a story of religion and murder starring Gerard Depardieu as priest caught up in events which may or may not involve the Devil.

Set in 1926 rural France, the film follows young priest, Donissan (Depardieu) who meets a young woman who has had many affairs and carried out an act of murder. On his way to meet her, Donissan encounters visions of the Devil which tempt and taunt him.

This is a dark tale which is hugely rewarding thanks to Depardieu’s stunning performance as a man warring with himself and his God, a bleak story which says some interesting things about religion and humanity.

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