Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From the cult and genre fare of Arrow Video to the artful cinema of Arrow Academy, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.
For this Halloween edition of Arrow Heads, we’re rounding up a few titles to fit the season. Since Arrow Video has a huge lineup of horror films and spooky picks, there’s plenty to choose from! I decided to go with a couple of straight-up horror films and a couple that are more comedic, for a nice solid and entertaining mix.
ZOMBIE FOR SALE (2019)
aka The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale
This hilarious and absurd Korean film mixes one of the most quintessentially modern Korean subgenres — dark, absurd family comedy — with a bold new take on a zombie story.
Set in a remote rural community, the film sets forth the tale of the Park family, who eke out a humble existence with a towing and auto repair operation. They’re not exactly exemplary protagonists, bickering constantly and fleecing customers, but are kind of charming in a roguish, hardscrabble way.
When their patriarch is bitten by a pale, feral teenager (in actuality an escapee from an illegal biological experiment), he starts changing — but not in the way you’d expect. Suddenly full of vigor, grandpa seems to shed years overnight — and all his elderly pals want in on his secret, Cocoon style.
The Parks cash in on the situation, offering de-aging treatments (zombie bites) from the shambling stranger whom they’ve trapped in their garage.
You might say that their popular venture goes viral.
Besides being a very funny family comedy, the film does turn a corner veering into a legitimate horror tale with lots of zombie action for its third act, and its take on zombies is very unique. It turns out the original zombie, whom the Parks christen “Jjong-Bi”, is actually rather gentle, and prefers a head of cabbage, preferably with a squirt of gochujang (red pepper sauce), to a head of human.
A lot of the film’s humor and charm derives from the family’s teen daughter crushing on the zombie, especially after cleaning him up and giving him a haircut. Turns out he’s kind of hot — you know, for a zombie. But it’s actually a rather sweet throughline as she tries to train him to regain his humanity and the family accepts him as one of them. Despite its zany humor and anarchy, the film is also deceptively affecting.
I really enjoyed this Korean horror-comedy, and Arrow Video’s Blu-ray disc has, among other features, an excellent video essay by Pierce Conran about Korean cinema, identifying the uniquely Korean “family in peril” subgenre which has emerged over the last couple decades, and placing where Zombie for Sale fits in among stories like The Quiet Family, The Host, Train to Busan, and Parasite.
DREAM DEMON (1988)
Arguably the most serious and dramatic of this round of picks, Dream Demon is a surreal headscrew of a movie which has been released on home video by Arrow for the first time since the VHS era.
Diana (Jemma Redgrave) should be feeling great. She’s moved into a beautiful new house in London and is set to soon marry her sweetheart, a respected war hero with deep pockets. By all accounts, she should be in bliss. But instead, her sleep is haunted by terrible nightmares.
Meanwhile, other strange characters become part of her waking life. Her high profile wedding as attracted media attention, and a pair of sleazy tabloid journalists (Timothy Spall and Jimmy Nail) hound her aggressively, looking for an angle on her story. She also finds a strange new friend in Jenny Hoffman (Kathleen Wilhoite), an American girl who has past ties to the house.
Diana’s nightmare begin spilling into her waking life, causing deep anxiety and making her question reality, and her beautiful new home becomes a place of dread and terror — especially its basement which, in her nightmarish visions, becomes a labyrinthine and hellish place of torment.
The film has a very surreal waking nightmare atmosphere which recalls the more dreamlike and terror-fueled aspects of A Nightmare on Elm Street (without the comedy), and also trades very heavily on the vibe and design of Hellraiser’s Hellworld.
Arrow’s Blu-ray edition of Dream Demon includes both Theatrical and Director’s Cuts of the film in addition to a making-of featurette and many interviews.
I’ll keep this one short as Ringu is already well-known and loved among horror fans. This original Japanese version of the film, which was remade as Gore Verbinski megahit The Ring, is one of my own longtime favorite horror films.
Its premise is simple; the investigation of a bizarre urban legend in which a haunted VHS tape causes all who watch it to die in seven days unless they show it to someone else, passing the curse on. Those killed are rumored to have died in excruciating fashion, their bodies frozen with expressions of utter terror. Reiko(Nanako Matsushima), a reporter, and her ex-husband Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), investigate the mysterious tape, uncovering an incredible backstory — but their investigation becomes devastatingly critical when their young son Yoichi watches the tape.
Director Hideo Nakata’s Ringu is one of the most influential horror films of all time, having spawned not only an ongoing series of sequels, and the American remake its its sequels, but numerous copycats — especially in its home continent. Its presence it still felt even in newer movies like It Follows, which is a uniquely different story, yet borrows the general conceit of a curse which can be passed on to others.
The film’s terrifying and now iconic encounter with the vengeful ghost Sadako entering the world through a television set is an especially noteworthy stroke of genius, which makes this a film perfectly suited to home video. Even after the film has ended and the TV is turned off, its menacing threat continues to haunt the viewer.
Arrow has released the film both in a standalone edition and a beautiful box set housing the original “4-film Trilogy” .
ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK (1988)
The deliciously silly and saucy horror hostess Elvira (Cassandara Peterson) stars in her first film, a rollicking horror “slob versus snobs” comedy. Elvira learns that she has been named as the successor in the will of a distant relative, suddenly coming into possession of an inheritance which includes a mansion.
Taking possession of her new home, Elvira descends upon its small, conservative town like a hurricane, stirring everyone up into on frenzy. The more prudish citizens take an immediate dislike their new gothically-inclined neighbor, but the younger generation loves her — especially the boys, wouldn’t ya know.
Elvira’s Uncle Vincent (William Morgan Sheppard) is not at all happy with the outcome either. Secretly a warlock, he had intended on taking possession of Aunt Morgana’s powerful book of witch’s spells for his own evil purposes, but instead it went to his clueless niece who mistakes it for a cookbook.
Mistress of the Dark is an utter delight. Cassandra Peterson, of course, is its key attraction, in terrific form as her quirky, hilarious, and incredibly sexy alter-ego. Elvira makes a glorious jump from TV hostess to full-fledged movie star, and the film fully embraces what makes her character so much fun. She’s full of corny quips, a sarcastic attitude, and of course the world’s most famous cleavage (in one of the film’s most celebrated sight-gags, she uses her chest to force open a locked gate).
The film trades mostly on being an enjoyable comedy in love with its star, but also culminates in an effects-fueled magic battle with the villainous Vincent.
Perhaps more so than any other film in Arrow Video’s catalogue, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is a quintessential Halloween movie, and its bonus-packed Arrow Video release is a wonderful celebration of both the film and its star.
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Except for Zombie For Sale, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system.