Dark Sky Films
A middle-school teacher and her writer boyfriend are assaulted in their home by ... what, exactly? They can't figure it out, but if they don't escape, they're surely dead. This Romanian horror film uses common genre conventions to establish terror: garbled phone calls, car doors that just won't stay locked, power turning on and off erratically. It's so expertly textbook in boiling the genre down to its very essence that it's amazing mainstream U.S. horror films still can't get it right — I can see the film's sonically sparse, existential suspense being reduced to ear-splitting torture porn in an inevitable American remake. At just 77 minutes, Them understands that great horror films don't forsake character development, creating flesh-and-blood people rather than two-dimensional slabs of meat. It also offers no explanation for its killers' (largely unseen) sadism, making it all the more chilling. A hotbed for horror theorists, the movie's title alone represents that proverbial "Other," a term intellectuals like to bandy about at pretentious cocktail parties. But more than anything, Them is a truly harrowing experience, the kind of film that makes you double-check your locks after viewing. —John Thomason
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
If ever a flick suffered an identity crisis it'd have to be The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. Never heard of it? Maybe one of its numerous other titles will ring a bell — Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead, Don't Open the Window, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Zombi 3. Multiple personality disorder aside, this nifty 1974 Euro-zombie yarn follows George, a "hippie" antiques dealer who leaves the polluted city for some rest and relaxation in the English countryside. There, he hooks up with the lovely, auburn-headed Edna — after she backs into his motorcycle. She offers him a lift while his bike gets fixed.
But country living isn't all it's cracked up to be — particularly when the recently dead rise with cravings for human entrails.
This flick was initially produced to capitalize on the success of Night of the Living Dead, but Spanish director Jorge Grau used it as his personal anti-fascist statement. (Grau, by the way, is a Spanish expat who bailed on Spain while it was under General Franco's rule.) George and Edna find it unwise to trust those in power. The two trace the sudden boom in zombie citizenry to a farm that's using a government-approved agricultural device that uses radio waves to eliminate pests. It fucks with an insect's brain and causes them to kill their own kind. But try explaining that to the Manchester police who're as bright as Keystone Kops. Even less helpful is the bigwig detective — an intolerant bully who accuses George and Edna of being big-city interlopers acting out Satanist rituals.
This new two-disc special edition contains a fully restored version of the film, remastered in hi-def from the original negatives plus a ton of extras. This well-made scare might be a minor entry in the pantheon of zombiedom but this package gives it the royal treatment it deserves. —Paul Knoll
First Look Pictures
If a 2005 movie featuring Jeff Bridges and Joey Pantaliano gets no advertising or even a Web site, scarcely makes it into U.S. theaters and endures at least one name change (perhaps the dumb-test audiences thought The Moguls sounded like a nature film?), do you really have to ask the Magic 8-Ball, "Will this movie suck verily?" But in this case "It is not so certain." Here's why:
You can't discount the likability of Jeff Bridges — who made even The Mirror Has Two Faces watchable — because you felt like he was a double agent working for you in your private war against Barbra Streisand. Here he brings a slacker-minus-the-stoner Big Lebowski sensibility to the lead role, as a small-town loser who for once wants to score big for his son, now with a rich new stepdad. His solution is to make a porn movie and the whole town carries out the harebrained scheme like Ethel unable to say no to Lucy.
Joey Pantaliano usually plays scumbags. Here he's a nice guy who would've been classified as a retard in a less special time. His character is a guy everyone calls "Some Idiot." He's middle-aged, single and lives with his mom. And he's not the obligatory gay character ...
That would be a mincing Ted Danson, who hauls every Sam-Malone-imitating-Diane Chambers flourish out of storage.
Isaiah Washington, the guy who slurred gays in real life, plays one of three black men the town procures for the white girl gang-bang scene but somehow they all come up short in the racial stereotype department.
This winds up being one of those quaint movies like The Full Monty or Calendar Girls that play well on the small screen, take a dirty, sordid business and turn into something as raunchy as an old Andy Griffith Show. One where Miss Crump gets just a little out of hand. —Serene Dominic