Empire Blu-ray Special: Horror

EmpireHorrorSquareJohn Carpenter’s The Thing
It’s Steven Spielberg’s fault The Thing flopped. He didn’t do it deliberately, of course; it’s just that John Carpenter’s expertly crafted chiller was released barely two weeks after E.T., and the last thing audiences wanted in the summer of 1982 was a horrifying, shape-shifting parasite to sully their newly-minted image of aliens as cuddly, cheeky and childlike. It’s a pity, because The Thing was, and is, a superbly realized sci-fi horror, less a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, than a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the 1938 short story which inspired them both, John W Campbell Jr’s “Who Goes There?”. A quarter century on, Carpenter’s best film has aged not a jot, largely due to the film’s remote setting – a bunch of grizzled, bearded scientists snowed in at an Antarctic outpost look much the same now as they did in 1982 – but also to Dean Cundey’s crisp photography, a gift to Blu-ray’s sharpness. The talented cinematographer wasn’t the only one working at the top of his game, however: Rob Bottin’s exceptionally accomplished practical effects successfully banished all memory of the frankly silly Thing from Hawks’ version; the script, by Burt Lancaster’s son Bill, made the most of the story’s paranoid possibilities, populating it with an all-male cast of memorable characters, each with a nice line in quotable dialogue; finally, composer Ennio Morricone somehow managed to build an almost unbearable sense of dread through the repetition of a solitary note. ‘Making of’ material is laudably plentiful, but the highlight is undoubtedly the classic commentary from Carpenter and his friend and frequent collaborator Kurt Russell.

The Fly
David Cronenberg’s imaginative remake of an even schlockier ‘50s fusion of sci-fi and horror remains has, improbably, a tragic love story at its heart, as Veronica (Geena Davis) watches in horror as her beloved brainbox Seth (Jeff Goldblum) become a monster. A pristine transfer and exhaustive extras round out a superb package.

Silent Hill
Describing Christophe Gans’ disturbing horror as the best adaptation of a videogame isn’t saying much. A more impressive achievement is that it so perfectly captures the sinister atmosphere, hideous denizens and memorable music of Japan’s classic ‘survival horror’, whilst drawing inspiration from a real-life US ghost town where underground fires burn to this day.

Underworld
Empire critics have been underwhelmed by Len Wiseman’s tale, now a trilogy, about vampires and werewolves at war. But who can resist Kate Beckinsale in leather, Frost/Nixon’s Michael Sheen as a werewolf, and Bill Nighy as a vampire lord? Fans will revel in the blacks and blues of the Blu-ray’s stygian colour palette – and the extensive extras.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula
For the HD release, Francis Ford Coppola fiddled with the colour and grade of his operatic update of the seminal vampire novel, arguably rendering the film even more lavish. Equally opulent are the special features, introduced by Coppola, including commentary, ‘making of’ and 30 minutes of deleted scenes.

The Omen
Reliving the sound and fury of Richard Donner’s 1976 horror classic with this HD transfer should help to expunge the memory of the pitiful 2006 remake. Then you can explore every facet of the anti-christ saga’s birth with exhaustive documentaries, commentaries, an isolated score track, deleted and extended scenes.

The Orphanage (El Orfanato)
The titular children’s refuge provides the perfect setting for J.A. Bayona’s spine-chilling, heartbreaking Spanish ghost story, produced and clearly influenced by the gifted Guillermo del Toro. Cinematographer Oscar Faura’s moody atmospherics are exquisitely captured in hi-def, while the copious extras include UK-based interviews with Bayona and del Toro.

Sweeney Todd
Tim Burton proved to be the perfect fit for a visionary film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s bloody musical, with Johnny Depp as the fabled ‘demon barber of Fleet Street’. A razor-sharp and deliciously dark transfer helps to transform the ridiculous to the sublime, and there are extras aplenty.

The Sixth Sense
Everyone remembers the twist of M Night Shyamalan’s cleverly crafted, justifiably successful ghost story, about a young boy is cursed with the ability to see “dead people”. Subsequent viewings, especially on Blu-ray, offer a reminder of the film’s less showy elements, such as the understated cinematography and quietly affecting performances.

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