Features and Columns · Movies

The MOD Quad: A Warner Archive Halloween

By  · Published on November 1st, 2011

MOD, or manufacturing on demand, means studios and DVD labels don’t press the DVD until you order it. MGM’s Limited Edition Collection and the Warner Archive Collection are the two big names in the MOD game right now, and each month they make dozens of titles available on DVD for the very first time.

And The MOD Quad will take a look at as many of them as we can handle on a semi-irregular basis. Which will probably average out to some number divisible by four.

This Halloween-themed installment includes eight horror films from the Warner Archive including one of the best made-for-TV horror films ever made (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), a freaky and timely movie about a madman who owns exotic animals (Black Zoo), one of the scariest TV mini-series (Salem’s Lot), the best killer pig movie to ever grace the screen (Razorback) and more.

* The discs are manufactured using the best source materials available and they’re strictly no-frills affairs, so the quality varies between releases. But remember, in many cases this may be the only opportunity to own these titles on DVD. These are all MGM titles, but Warner’s releases will be joining our coverage in the next couple weeks.

As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.

Bad Ronald (1974, WB)
Directed by Buzz Kulik; stars Scott Jacoby, Pippa Scott, John Larch, Dabney Coleman, Kim Hunter

Ronald is a special teenage boy who lives at home with his mother, but when he “accidentally” kills a girl who’s been making fun of him his mother decides to hide him in plain sight. He uses his trusty toolbox to wall in the downstairs bathroom converting it into a hidden room. Even HGTV’s Property Brothers would be impressed with his work. But when mom dies during an operation Ronald is forced to survive on his own… a task made all the more difficult when another family moves into the house unaware of the tenant in the walls.

As mentioned above, one of the best made for TV horror films is on this list. Bad Ronald is not that movie, but it is a pretty creepy effort. It was made for television in 1974, and while the premise offers the opportunity for some real scares, it goes the route of being unsettling instead. At least until the end at which point we’re given a pretty scary, high energy sequence.

Black Zoo (1963, WB)
Directed by Robert Gordon; stars Michael Gough, Jeanne Cooper, Rod Lauren, Virginia Grey

A woman walks alone at dusk on a city street when she’s suddenly attacked and killed by a tiger. Her death is just the first as a deranged animal lover with a private zoo sets out to kill his enemies with trained animals. His wife begins to suspect all is not right when she catches him slashing and punching the help… just imagine if she caught him feed the poor schlep to a lion. The pressure increases when the cops start moving in and his wife decides to leave with the chimps.

This is actually a solid but forgotten little film with a scene-chewing performance from Gough and some impressive wild animal footage. Well, the guy in the ape suit who boxes a woman to death is pretty silly, but the big cats are all real and convincingly ferocious. The movie could easily have gone a more exploitative route, but instead it offers a fairly compelling tale that mixes a man with a god complex, family drama, and brutal animal attacks into one dark, strongly acted gem.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973, WB)
Directed by John Newland; stars Kim Darby, Jim Hutton, Barbara Anderson, William Demarest

A young couple moves into a creepy old mansion where they discover a locked room and a walled up fireplace. The little missus gets curious and opens both. Women, am I right? She begins hearing voices and seeing beady little eyes staring back at her in the dark, but her husband thinks she’s simply gone hysterical.

Guillermo del Toro recently remade (as producer) this into a feature film starring Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, and while the movie has its own positives it still pales beside this made for TV chiller. Both Darby and Hutton were known more for Disney-type fare, but they do a stellar job selling the terror and wonder here. The effects work is dated but still effective, and the film’s ending remains just as chilling now as it was in the early seventies. Pair this with The Dark Night of the Scarecrow for a solid night of made for TV terror to rival the best that Hollywood has to offer.

Macabre (1957, WB)
Directed by William Castle; stars William Prince, Jim Backus, Christine White

Dr. Rodney Barrett has a had a string of bad luck in his small town recently including the deaths of both his wife and his sister-in-law. The latest calamity starts when his young daughter goes missing followed by a phone call to his housekeeper stating that she’s just been buried alive. The good doctor has just five hours to find her before her oxygen runs out and she dies. As his search plays out the film moves back and forth from the present to the past in an attempt to explain exactly what led up to the kidnapping.

Director William Castle famously took out (presumably fake) insurance policies on theater goers in an effort to market the film as a real shocker, but while the subject matter may have thrown some viewers for a loop in the fifties now we’re left with the actual story. And it is a convoluted mess. The time jumps are messy, the characters become easily interchangeable, and the audience is often left confused as to who’s who and who did what. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, it’s filled with characters you won’t care for who react in utterly unrealistic manners to events in front of them. Just about all of Castle’s films after this are far superior. Yes, even Zotz!

Razorback (1983, WB)
Directed by Russell Mulcahy; stars Gregory Harrison

A car-sized porker runs wild in the Australian outback killing infants and tourists alike, but when the beast slaughters an American journalist it’ll have to answer to her husband, Gregory Harrison. He comes to search for her and finds a a trail of carnage, a pair of murderous locals, and a sexy farmer’s daughter (the daughter’s sexy, not the farmer).

There have been many several a few killer pig movies in the years since Razorback, but none have come close to the high entertainment and sheer insanity of Russell Mulcahy’s Aussie classic. The film has brief echoes of the “Dingo ate my baby!” story from A Cry In the Dark as an old man is accused of murder when no one believes his grandkid was stolen by an angry pig, but don’t think for a second that it’s a serious flick. It’s a fun monster movie infused with an incredibly odd style that screams eighties, color filters, and Tangerine Dream. (TD doesn’t actually do any music for the film, but it does look like a movie they could have scored.)

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987, WB)
Directed by Larry Cohen; stars Michael Moriarty, Samuel Fuller, Andrew Duggan

A prickish anthropologist named Joe is called back to the US by his ex-wife to take care of his equally prickish son, Jeremy, but when the two stop off in the small Maine town of Salem’s Lot they find a bonding experience in vampires. The boy is quickly recruited by the fangbangers, and Joe is equally entranced when his high school crush, who hasn’t aged a day since she was seventeen, and now appears to seduce and screw him. The duo find themselves trapped, but the arrival of a Nazi concentration camp survivor offers a chance of escape.

Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is a vampire classic, but that miniseries bears little similarity to this dud from director/co-writer Larry Cohen. King’s original was filled with atmosphere, characters you cared about and real terror whereas this cash grab tries to rely on blood, boobs, and an incredibly cheesy-looking monster mask for its main villain. The situation isn’t helped by the poor acting on display from both leads. I like Moriarty as much as the next Law & Order fan does, but the guy turns off his thespian abilities when working with his buddy Cohen.

The Snow Devils (1966, WB)
Directed by Anthony Dawson; stars Jack Stuart, Amber Collins, Renato Baldini

A research station high in the Himalayan mountains is attacked by an unknown enemy, but when a trio of hotshot adventurers and their Sherpa guide Churro (probably not spelled right) goes looking for answers they find a shocking truth. A race of hairy, burly, unitard-wearing aliens has set up a base there after their own home planet is threatened. Their goal? The melting of the polar ice caps!

Dawson (aka Antonio Margheriti) directed 57 films between 1958 and 2010, and The Snow Devils is definitely one of them. It’s a pretty standard sci-fi/adventure film, and as is typical for the time period the greatest entertainment value on display comes from the special effects and costumes. Seriously. The Yeti-like aliens wear tight-fitting bodysuits and stockings, have faces painted blue (because they’re cold), and all have close cropped perms. Combine that with the film’s accidental environmental message (almost about global warming), and you have a slow starting but entertainingly goofy flick.

Two On a Guillotine (1964, WB)
Directed by William Conrad; stars Connie Stevens, Dean Jones, Cesar Romero

A famous magician’s trick goes horribly awry leaving his wife/assistant sans her head and his child without a mother. Thirty years later he dies and leaves his estate to his estranged daughter on one condition. She’s to spend seven nights in his mansion awaiting his return from the grave. If she makes it through the inheritance is hers, but if she leaves early (either willingly or not) she forfeits it all to the magician’s agent and housekeeper.

This is a rare combination of humor and chills that benefits greatly from a clever script and a sharp and talented cast. Connie Stevens plays both the deceased wife and the grown up daughter, and she’s a delightful charmer. Equally charismatic is future Disney staple Dean Jones as a reporter who’s either out to get a story, a girlfriend, or a slice of the proceeds. The film is playful and suspenseful in equal measure, and it’ll keep you guessing, laughing and entertained.

Catch up with The MOD Quad here.

Related Topics:

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.