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 cult and genre fare to artful cinema, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.
Happy Halloween, Arrow Heads! It’s once again time to round up some terror classics from the Arrow Video vault. Here’s a mix of both new and catalogue releases for finishing out the spooky season.
Children of the Corn (1984) — 4K UHD
Children of the Corn is a relatively unassuming tale for one with such staying power, the launching point for a sprawling and still-continuing franchise (to date, 11 films and counting).
One of this country’s most prominent examples of folk horror, the film covers the earmarks of that subgenre: rural isolation, an insular community, dogmatic religious mania, and hatred and distrust for outsiders. But the premise, in which children have banded and killed all the adults in a small Nebraska community, adds additional layers of chilling subtext. It becomes a nightmare for an urban couple, Burt (Peter Hortin) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton), who make the mistake of passing through the town and must deal with the dangerous, and potentially supernatural, threat of the Children of the Corn.
“Like many other King stories, there’s a hideous monster behind all of this, here in the form of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” This demonic force is nothing in terms of frightening compared to these deluded kids, roaming free to slit the throats of The Unbelievers.“ — Rod Machen
Arrow previously released the film on a new 2K restoration in 2017 (from which these screens were captured), but have just followed it up with a wonderful new 4K restoration from the original camera negative with Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible).
Arrow’s editions include tons of features and interviews, but my favorite extras are the “Return to Gatlin” locations tour and the 19-minute short film Disciples of the Crow (1983) adapting the same Stephen King story.
Check out Rod’s review of the 4K Blu-ray edition:
100 Monsters (1968)
from the Yokai Monsters Collection
Arrow’s new Yokai Monsters Blu-ray box set features the original trilogy of classic Japanese folklore horror films about yokai (spooks and monsters), plus Takashi Miike’s contemporary reboot film, The Great Yokai War.
The first film in the series, entitled 100 Monsters, is a horror anthology of sorts, featuring a series of short, spooky jidaigeki tales set into a larger wraparound story about corrupt Edo officials conspiring to execute a real estate swindle. Besides razing an old shrine, they attempt to deceitfully wrest ownership of a flophouse, where many of the town’s poorest citizens reside. I didn’t really know what to expect on this one, but a parable about gentrification wasn’t near the top of the list.
The creature effects and reveals are surprisingly effective and unsettling: A woman’s neck stretches out in snakelike fashion and wraps around her victims. A ghost’s face looms large, filling the night sky and impossible to escape. Part of the fun is that the persons targeted by the ghosts typically deserve their fate, comeuppance for their transgressions of hubris and greed. It’s incredibly entertaining and satisfying, and given the terrific start, I’m eager to catch up with the rest of the series.
The Blu-ray edition of the film includes a terrific short documentary outlining the concept of yokai, historically and in popular culture.
Hitch-Hike to Hell (1977)
Howard is a young man who loves his momma and drives a delivery van for a dry-cleaning business. But when he sees a young lady with loose morals, something snaps inside him and he turns into a psychotic killer. Unfortunately this seems to happen whenever he picks up a hitchhiker in his red van (which happens almost comically often over the course of the film). Meanwhile, police detectives are closing in on their serial killer.
It’s not what you’d call good, but it’s oddly compellingly watchable, and has some unique perspectives. Centering the film around its villain is an unusual choice, and at one point (mild spoiler ahead) he even breaks from his pattern of slaying only women to a murder a promiscuous gay man.
Arrow describes the film as “influenced by the depraved crimes of the likes of ‘Co-ed Killer’ Edmund Kemper”, placing some real-life context on this sleazy, low-budget exploitation picture.
Arrow’s transfer is a 2K scan from original film elements; while such scans typically come from some form of “masters” (camera negatives or interpositives), this one looks and feels like an actual theatrical projection print — an aesthetic that I really dig on movies of this kind. The disc features both full frame and widescreen versions of the film as well as a slew of extras.
Creepshow 2 (1987)
The delightful anthology sequel (in concept only; there’s no narrative continuity so you can watch them in any in either order) serves up three ghoulish short tales of the macabre in a tribute to ghastly EC Comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, which were central to the comics panic of the 1950s (if you don’t know the story, please read up on it — it’s one of the most critical historical landmarks in understanding our consumption and censorship of popular media).
In true EC horror style, each segment has not only a story of mayhem or murder, but a central ethical conflict that anchors the horror by driving home a specific moral precept.
In Old Chief Wood’nhead, rural shopowners — literally mom and pop — are robbed and terrorized by miscreants. But all is seen by the figurehead of a Native American chief that stands outside their store. The goopily violent The Raft follows a group of teenagers who go out for a swim, but encounter something monstrous in the lake. The final segment, The Hitch-hiker, centers on a woman who accidentally hits a man with her car, then flees the scene. But the man follows…
The segments are bumpered by whimsically macabre mixed animated/live action segments that tell a fourth story of a comics-loving boy who is tormented by bullies. Tom Savini stars as ghoulishly garish host, “The Creep”.
“Like virtually every horror film of its day, Creepshow 2 is movie almost totally influenced by the mid-80s with every story containing some form of ideology reminiscent of the state of society during the era. The backdrop of “Chief Woodn’head” signified the end of small businesses in the age of shopping malls and Reagan-omics, while the danger and fear of pre-martial sex (spurred on by the growing AIDS epidemic) permeates all through “The Raft.” Finally, it’s the ever-present yuppie class that seemed to rule the country for the majority of the decade that’s being attacked during the course of “The Hitchhiker,” proving that the film overall served as a somewhat telling symbol of 1980s America.” — Frank Calvillo
Check out Frank’s review of the Blu-ray edition:
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Except where noted, 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. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.