Halloween isn't just for scares, it's for fun! So, here are four recently released DVDs that deliver laughs and screams.
"Cannibal Girls" (Shout! Factory, $22.97, rated R): This schlocky, funny and minimally budgeted Canadian horror spoof from 1973 arrived with the "Warning Bell" -in which theatergoers would hear a bell sound just before a particularly violent and bloody scene, the better to close one's eyes. (The bell is an optional feature on the DVD.) It also introduced director Ivan Reitman ("Meatballs," "Stripes," "Ghost Busters") and future SCTV comedy troupe members Eugene Levy (a familiar face from the "American Pie" movies and many films directed by Christopher Guest) and Andrea Martin.
Levy and Martin play a couple seeking a romantic getaway at a cute little bed-and-breakfast run by three women. How could they know that the sweet-looking proprietors provide the bed so their guests can become breakfast?
This DVD marks the first time "Cannibal Girls" has been available on home video in the United States. It includes recent interviews with Reitman, Levy and producer Daniel Goldberg.
"Piranha" (Shout! Factory, $19.93/$26.97 Blu-ray, rated R): In 1978, Roger Corman's New World Pictures delivered this low-budget rip-off/homage/spoof of Steven Spielberg's "Jaws." Lots of sharp little teeth draw more blood from innocent human swimmers than the huge teeth of a single great white shark. Released on DVD and Blu-ray as part of the "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" series, "Piranha" marked some of the earliest screen work by director Joe Dante ("The Howling," "Gremlins") and screenwriter John Sayles, who wrote three films for Corman before launching a notable career as an independent filmmaker ("Return of the Secaucus Seven," "Eight Men Out," "Lone Star").
Sayles provided the clever scenario in which the U.S. military developed the piranhas as a biological weapon for the Vietnam War, a project that was abandoned and later covered up. But as we learned from Watergate and other scandals, cover-ups often go astray. This time, the deadly little munchers are accidently released from their top-secret military compound and swim upstream, where they conveniently discover a children's summer camp and a swanky new resort. Yum.
Other new DVDs in "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" series include "Humanoids from the Deep," "The Evil," "Twice Dead" and "The Slumber Party Massacre Collection."
"Lake Placid 3" (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $24.96, not rated): The original "Lake Placid" (1999) blamed little old Betty White for the giant species of Crocodylia appearing in Maine's peaceful Black Lake. Her character had been feeding them from her lakefront cottage. In "Lake Placid 2" (2007), Cloris Leachman played Betty's sister, another giant croc lover. This time around, the son of a forest ranger/biologist initially feeds a bunch of young reptiles -yes, that's plural. Soon the crocs grow really big and commence feeding on assorted attractive backpackers, who obligingly take off all their clothes before jumping into the seemingly calm lake.
These crocs are huge -at least 30-footers, I'd estimate. They also: hunt in packs, like the Velociraptors in "Jurassic Park"; and move as quickly on land as they do in water. It's all silly, gruesome, campy stuff, with full frontal nudity pushing the DVD into unrated territory.
"Psycho" (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, $26.98 Blu-ray, rated R): What is a cinematic classic from Alfred Hitchcock doing on a list with three schlocky/funny gore-fests? Well, in 1960, when the film was released, the Master of Suspense was delivering droll and macabre introductions for his hit TV series, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." He does so with the trailers and advertisements included here. According to Stephen Rebello, who supplies the audio commentary and wrote "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," the legendary director was impressed with the box-office success of cheap horror films being turned out by American-International (where Roger Corman worked at the time) and other small studios. Hitchcock wanted to see what he could do with similar material. Though he cast genuine Hollywood stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, Hitchcock filmed "Psycho" at a relatively low budget and primarily used his TV crew.
The director sprinkled his film with inside jokes, such as having Norman Bates (Perkins) tell Marion Crane (Leigh), "A boy's best friend is his mother" and Mother "isn't quite herself today." And he tried to keep Hollywood in the dark about the real nature of Norman's mother by issuing a casting call for actresses to play Mrs. Bates.
In the other three films discussed here, the terror teeters over the edge into parody. But in "Psycho," the scares are unforgettably real. No matter how often you've seen the film, every time Marion Crane starts to disrobe at the Bates Motel you want to yell out, "Don't take a shower!" When private detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) starts snooping around the Bates'