Chills and shudders on tap
Warner Home Video Horror Collection
Some classic examples of the horror genre -- “Freaks,” “The Bad Seed,” “Dead Ringer,” “Village of the Damned” and “Children of the Damned” -- make their DVD debut.
During the silent era at MGM, director Tod Browning teamed with the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Lon Chaney, for a series of bizarre, grotesque and fascinating thrillers like “The Unholy Three,” “London After Midnight” and “The Unknown.” And in 1931, he went to Universal to direct the seminal vampire film “Dracula,” with Bela Lugosi.
MGM lured Browning back to the studio but was shocked by his 1932 effort, “Freaks,” which lighted a firestorm of controversy, was severely edited and even removed from distribution. Over the years “Freaks” has grown in reputation and now is considered one of the most remarkable films of the 1930s.
But it’s really more of a soap opera than a horror film. Set in a low-rent traveling circus, “Freaks” revolves around a conniving high-wire artist (Olga Baclanova) who marries a wealthy performing little person (Harry Earles). The marriage is part of a scheme between the high-wire performer and her brutish bodybuilder lover (Henry Victor) to then poison her spouse and inherit his wealth.
“Freaks” freaked out audiences and critics because Browning cast performers with real physical deformities, including “living torso” Prince Radian, conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton and “pinheads” Elvira and Jenny Lee Snow.
Extras: Three alternate endings, a special prologue message that was shown during the theatrical release, a fascinating documentary (“Freaks: Sideshow Cinema”) and informative commentary from film historian and writer David J. Skal.
‘The Bad Seed’
One of the big Broadway hits of 1954 was Maxwell Anderson’s riveting play about a woman who discovers that her blond, blue-eyed “perfect” young daughter is really a murderer. Director Mervyn LeRoy saw the play on Broadway and brought six of its stars to Hollywood for the chilling 1956 film version. Nancy Kelly received a best actress Oscar nomination as the happy wife and mother who begins to break down when she realizes her daughter Rhoda may be a “bad seed.” But it is then-10-year-old Patty McCormack who steals the film as Rhoda. She received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination. Because of censorship problems, the play’s shocking ending was weakened for the movie version.
Extras: The “making of” documentary, “Enfant Terrible: A Conversation With Patty McCormack” and breezy commentary with actor-playwright Charles Busch (“Die Mommie Die!,” “Psycho Beach Party”) and McCormack.
A terrific campy wallow from 1964 starring Bette Davis as twins. And double the Davis means double the fun. The poor twin hates her wealthy sister because she stole the man she loved. Twenty years later, holding a grudge as heavy as an anvil, destitute Edie kills off her sister Margaret and takes on her identity. Paul Henreid, who had starred with Davis in “Now, Voyager,” directed “Dead Ringer.”
Extras: A vintage featurette, a fun new documentary, “Double Take: Bette vs. Bette,” and delicious commentary from author Boze Hadleigh and, as with “Bad Seed,” Charles Busch.
‘Village of the Damned’; ‘Children of the Damned’
Based on John Wyndham’s novel “The Midwich Cuckoos,” the 1960 “Village of the Damned” is an eerie, atmospheric horror film. One morning the residents of Midwich, a small English countryside village, mysteriously fall asleep. Months later, all the women of childbearing years give birth to blond, emotionless and brilliant children whose glowing eyes make people do things against their will. Directed by Wolf Rilla, “Village” stars George Sanders, Barbara Shelley and Michael Gwynne.
The 1963 “Children of the Damned” is a loose sequel to “Village.” Though not up to the original, it is still a watchable thriller about two London scientists who discover five children of different nationalities who have an extraordinary intelligence. Alan Badel stars.
Extras: “Village of the Damned” features commentary by film writer Steve Haberman; “Children” includes commentary from its screenwriter, John Briley.