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Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi: Halloween Roundup, Part 1

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, October 3, 2018 09:15pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to a special Halloween themed Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi, where I review recent Blu-ray releases. Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year because that’s when we get a glut of horror and sci-fi releases. I’m actually going to do two columns this month just to try and catch up with all of them.

The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, Arrow Video:
It seems that even the most obscure and barely seen movies are getting nice Blu-ray releases these days The Bloodthirty Trilogybut not if you're a fan of Toho studios. Many of us grew up with their sci-fi and monster movies like Godzilla. Sadly, only a handful of these films have been released on Blu-ray in this country. There's a few of the Godzilla films out on Blu-ray but most of their other monster and sci-fi classics like Rodan, Mothra, War Of The Gargantuas, or The Mysterians have never gotten Blu-ray releases and the old DVD copies have been out of print for years. Evidently, the studio is hard to work with when it comes to international releases of their films and that is very sad for those of us who love their movies. This new set helps rectify that situation. Here you get three Toho horror classics in one nice little package. I've been obsessed with this genre of Toho's films since I was a child and have long known of these movies but never got a chance to see them till this new Arrow Video release came out.

The first film, The Vampire Doll, was actually a little slow. It's kind of a traditional Japanese ghost story. There was a female vampire in the film that was actually quite effective but she didn't get enough screen time. There's also a kind of plodding pace to the movie. It was well made and had that classic weird Toho style but there was too much drama and not enough action. I was actually wondering if it was a good idea to buy this set after watching it. It was a perfectly good movie, just nothing great. Luckily, the second film in the set made me feel that my money was well spent. Lake Of Dracula is one of the best horror movies Toho ever made. It begins with a young girl having a nightmare about a vampire with blazing eyes. Eighteen years later though, this turns out to not be a dream when a mysterious package containing an empty coffin is delivered to a nearby lake. The vampire shows up early in this film and he is a vicious, hellish creature. Toho had been taking notes while watching the recent Hammer horror films and the vampire in the movie is obviously riffing on Christopher Lee's portrayal of Dracula. The film quickly builds a palpable suspense and there are a number of genuinely scary set pieces. The movie is also drenched with that funky weird visual style that I love so much about Toho. Like at the beginning there is a beautiful shot of the coastline, but instead of using the actual sky the director instead mattes in some completely weird and unnatural vista of surreal clouds. It looks completely fake and otherworldly beautiful at the same time. The film is filled with little visual flourishes like that, which make this movie a sumptuous feast for the eyes. The last film in the set, Evil Of Dracula, is not quite as good as Lake of Dracula, but it's pretty close. Toho kept it fast-moving and scary, and you actually get two vampires for the price of one and they are quite a team. There are lots of great set pieces and beautiful cinematography. It's filled with the same strange and memorable images that make this whole set such a great guilty pleasure. These were made during the heyday of Toho and the studio just knew how to put together excellent films. Arrow Video did their usual fantastic job with this release. Each film is beautifully remastered to the point where they probably look better on your home television than they ever did on the screen. The first edition of this set comes with a nifty little booklet of new writings on the films and it's all wrapped up in a lush matte finish slipcase. If you are a vampire or a Toho fan, you need this in your collection.

The Gate II, Scream Factory/Shout Factory:
While it is not as good as it's predecessor, the second Gate movie is still a pretty great little Gate IIhorror/monster movie. The original Gate was one of the most popular Canadian movies in history. "We were second only to Porkys," the director jokes on the documentary that comes with this set.

In the original, two kids -- Terry and Glen -- open a gateway to the underworld. Demons emerge, all hell breaks loose, and the world is nearly destroyed before they manage to reseal the gate. The second movie takes place five years later. Glen has moved away and his house where the original gate was opened is closed up and abandoned. Terry still lives in the neighborhood and his life has gone to shit. His mom has died and his dad is an unemployed drunk. Terry thinks he can turn all of this around by opening the gate again and summoning a demon to solve all his problems. Really bad idea, but Terry and three other teens reopen the gate anyway. A tiny minion demon slips through and they capture it, forcing it to grant their wishes. Unfortunately, wishes granted by demons always have unintended side-effects. On top of this, it starts to look like bigger demons from the underworld may have slipped through the gate as well...

This movie was released in 1990 and it has the look and style that was so popular in the 1980s. There are bright neony new wave colors. Most of the scenes take place at night and the film really works the teen horror themes that were big that decade in films like Slumber Party Massacre or Return Of The Living Dead. The real highlight of the film is, of course, the demons. There are a few of them and they are quite well done. Most of them are created with stop motion animation that's almost as good as the work of Ray Harryhausen. In fact, if you are a fan of Ray Harryhausen, I highly recommend purchasing both Gate films as they have some of the best stop motion animation that came out of the twentieth century. The minion, for example, is a major character even though he cannot speak. The new 2K scan of the film allows you to see every detail and one thing I liked was that this harsh clear view actually makes the special effects look better instead of worse. The demons are just beautifully designed and animated, and the matte paintings of the underworld are spectacular. Thanks go to Scream Factory/Shout Factory for doing their usual excellent job on the remastering of the film. As far as bonus features go, besides the usual trailers, stills, and promos, you get two documentaries on the making of the film.

Relevant Tags

Jon Longhi (27), Movie Moment (15), Cult Films (22), Horror Films (7), Toho Studios (3), Demons (4), October (4), Halloween (85), Vampires (10), Dracula (8)