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Happily haunted: A Halloween gift guide for 2021

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Happily Haunted: A Halloween Gift Guide 2021 (Photo: Paramount, Microcosm Publishing, Arrow Films, Build-A-Bear, Severin Films, Funko, Universal, Asmodee)

I've always loved Halloween. The costumes, the creature features, and all the go bumps in the night. Even the guys with chainsaws who jump out from behind collapsed houses to chase 5-year-old kids with legs that are far too short to outrun maniacs. I escaped. Obviously.

Here's a tour through some recently released offerings that include a few classics that have been patched up and resurrected for old and new audiences alike.

Playful Haunts

Tabletop Games

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If you watch enough movies, you'll know that growing up in the 1980s was all horror movies, fluorescent spandex, tabletop games, roller skating and the occasional jaunt to the arcade. Not completely inaccurate.

While some of those trends have respectfully past with little hope of returning, tabletop games have defied whatever it is that nearly-forgotten pleasures defy to have a resurgence. I couldn't be happier.

  • Mysterium - Once upon a time there was "Clue," a detective game where players tracked clues to discover who among them was responsible for a murder. It inspired a spectacularly camp movie. Anyway, "Mysterium" takes the classic murder mystery scenario and injects it with a supernatural element as psychics and the ghost of the victim team together to discover the who, where, and with what weapon.
  • Arkham Horror - Based on H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, "Arkham Horror" takes players back to the jovial 1920s where they must come together to thwart the rituals that threaten to bring Ancient Ones, aliens creatures that will usher in an age of darkness and horror. "Arkham Horror" is unusual in that it can be played by a single person or up to six people. The mystery can take upwards of three hours making the game more of a central event, rather than a distraction.

Those craving craving a classic pen-and-paper experience but are at a distance from their party members or are in desperate need for some companions can turn to online resources like Roll20 to embark on campaigns without having to put on pants. The platform offers a variety of titles including the Halloween friendly classic Dungeons and Dragons: Curse of Strahd, which was the platform's first release a decade a go. Want to be a vampire, rather than hunting them? Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition Core Rulebook might be more to your liking as it offers unlimited vampires with no dwarves. Or how about a game that doesn't require extensive pre-adventure preparation and combines supernatural elements, the old west and cats? Evil Hat Production's Fate Worlds: Fangs and Claws Bundle offers all three and throws in a zombie apocalypse as well.

Modern Witches & Cinematic Sets

Throughout my life I've had the pleasure of meeting a variety of brilliant fools who dared to dream and found success through untraditional paths. What they had in common is focus and dedication. They had a ritual. So, seeing as we're already in the world of Macbeth's weird sisters, why not consider a daily planner like "Monthly Magickal Record: A 31-Day Spell Journal for Modern Witches?" Kelly Cree and Jessica Mullen have crafted a monthlong journey that is more about focus and self-fulfillment than it is about casting curses or making potions.

However, if it is potions that you are looking for, Kitchen Witch: Natural Remedies and Crafts for Home, Health, and Beauty by Katie Haegele and Nadine Schneider offers a variety of suggestions on how to concoct nontoxic personal care and cleaning supplies from household ingredients. Sadly, love potions and eternal-life elixirs are yet to be found. Mouthwash and clean living helps.

I'm certain that Agatha Harkness has both books in her personal library.

And with that, let's dive back into a place where I'm a bit more comfortable: movies with decorations provided by Funko (their Boo Hollow collection providing the cuteness here).

  • Underworld: 5 Movie Collection 4K UHD - 2003's "Underworld," a film that throws audiences into the middle of an unseen aspect of our world where vampires and werewolves are engaged in a conflict that spans centuries. Where else are you going to find the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, and Michael Sheen chewing up the scenery with a wonderous sense of panache? Like last year's Resident Evil 4K set, this 5-film set is something of a guilty pleasure. A guilty pleasure I'm more than happy to experience in 4K UHD. (Available October 26)
  • Universal Classic Monsters Icons of Horror Collection 4K UHD - Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe existed, Universal Studios built a fractured universe out of horror films featuring the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man, and the Invisible Man. Over the years Universal has released a variety of box sets paying tribute to the monsters of their past. This is the first set to include 4K versions of the films. This set includes 1931's "Dracula" (both its English and Spanish versions) and "Frankenstein," 1933's "The Invisible Man," and 1941's "The Wolf Man." Hopefully "Bride of Frankenstein," "The Mummy" and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" aren't too far behind.

Movies, Movies, Movies

  • Funko Pop! Dia de los DC - The likes of Batman, Harley Quinn, the Flash, the Joker, and more dressed i n their Day of the Dead best.

  • Batman: The Long Halloween Part One and Part Two - Based on the 13-issue series from writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale from 1996, "The Long Halloween" is a classic murder mystery that finds a young version of Batman tracking a killer who celebrates their holidays by murdering. The series features the greatest hits of Batman foes: The Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter and The Riddler. Loeb's story has been tightened down in this adaptation but the bulk of the story and the general feel of the original narrative is intact.

  • Little Vampire - Nominated for Best Animated Film at the 46th César Awards, "Little Vampire" explores the world of a vampire who has been 10 years old for 300 years. Bored with his life and his overprotective parents, Little Vampire sneaks out to explore the forbidden world and, if possible, make a friend or two. Previous adaptations of Angela Sommer-Bodenburg's series of books were terrible. This one is good.

  • Elvira's Haunted Hills - In 2001 Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) returned to the silver screen with this campy comedy that sees the horror icon get sidetracked en route to Paris and ends up at Lord Vladimere Hellsubus' medieval castle (Hellsubus is played by "Rocky Horror" scribe Richard O'Brien). "Haunted Hills" is a send up of the over-the-top horror films of the 1960s and a tribute to the late Vincent Price. This new edition of the film features a 4K restoration and a new introduction from Elvira herself.

  • Skull: The Mask - Thought lost, the Mask of Anhangá is discovered in an archaeological dig. The artifact is sent to Sao Paulo, but its route is filled with carnage and sacrifice as the power of the mask possesses those who transport it. Contemporary grindhouse cinema from directors/writers Kapel Furman and Armando Fonseca. (Available October 26)

  • No Man of God - Based on the real interviews between FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier and Ted Bundy as he sat on death row, "No Man of God" explores the unusual relationship the grew between the serial killer and a man who hoped to understand the psychology behind the murders. The film stars Elijah Wood as Hagmaier and Luke Kirby as Bundy.

  • Jakob's Wife - Genre icons Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden star in this bloody tale about Anne Fedder (Crampton), the wife of a minister (Fessenden), who wants more from life (even if that means she needs to take a few lives in the process). It's a vampire comedy with just enough seriousness to keep the narrative from flying completely off the rails.

  • Escape Room: Tournament of Champions - A direct sequel to the 2019 horror film, "Tournament of Champions" sees survivors Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) caught in another deadly game. The extended version of the film explore the origins of the puzzlemaker.

  • Don't Breathe 2 - Stephen Lang returns as blind man Norman Nordstrom in this sequel that takes place years after the events of the first film. Norman has become a recluse who has raised a young girl in an isolated cabin. When the girl is kidnapped, Norman is forced to revisit his violent past. (Available October 26)

  • Halloween 1-5 4K UHD - With "Halloween Kills," in theaters on October 15, Shout! Factory is releasing the franchise's first five films on 4K UHD and Blu-ray. These releases feature new 4K transfers from camera negatives and, for the very first time, each film includes a Dolby Atmos mix for the audio.

    I was introduced to the Halloween franchise by the television version of "Halloween III: The Season of the Witch." It has nothing to do with the Michael Myers storyline and while that annoyed fans at the time, the film has become a beloved touchstone for many of us who were far too young to see the Myers films in theaters. I would eventually see "Halloween," again it was a television version, and found it to be deeply frightening in the best of ways.

  • Children of the Corn 4K UHD - Arrow Films brings 1984's "Children of the Corn," an adaptation of a Stephen King short story, to 4K UHD for the first time. The film notoriously tells the story of a young couple who find themselves trapped in a rural town where the children worship a cruel deity known as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows" and murder anyone over the age of 19.
  • The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It - Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. This chapter sees the duo investigating a murder that may have been the result of a demonic possession. The Conjuring Universe has been a balanced mix of good and not-so-good horror films. "The Devil Made Me Do It" isn't nearly as good as the first film or the second and third Annabelle films but it is vastly better than "The Conjuring 2," "The Nun" and "The Curse of La Llorona."

  • Deep Red 4K UHD - Dario Argento’s classic 1975 Italian giallo about a musician who witnesses a murder and becomes the ax-wielding killer’s next target. Finally in 4K as it should be.

  • The Forever Purge - The Purge, a 12-hour period where murder and mayhem go unpunished, has become a cherished annual tradition. For some people 12-hours isn’t enough. America needs a constant, forever purge to make itself pure again. Yes, “The Forever Purge” looks white supremacy in the eye and the hyperviolence follows

  • I Spit on Your Grave 4K UHD - One of the most notorious exploitation films, "I Spit on Your Grave" is a revenge thriller starring Camille Keaton as a writer who is viciously attacked, raped, and left for dead by four men. Remakes, sequels (official and otherwise) have followed since the original was released in 1980. Ronin Flix is releasing a 4K version of the film based on a new transfer from the 35mm original camera negative.

  • A Quiet Place: Part II - The sequel to "The Quiet Place" arrived in theaters a year later than expected and while the box office returns might not have been as robust as they might have been in a pre-pandemic setting, the film managed a worldwide total of $279 million. More importantly, it's a good film that doesn't simply mimic the formula of the first movie. Where "A Quiet Place" was more of a thriller with sci-fi and horror elements, "A Quiet Place Part II" is more of an action film. The focus has also shifted from the adults to the children. I'll most certainly be adding this to my personal collection and look forward to whatever might come next for the franchise.

  • Santa Sangre 4K UHD - Alejandro Jodorowsky's "Santa Sangre" is a surreal experience that sees a young man act as the murderous arms of his armless mother. It's a hallucinatory experience awash with violence and circus performers. "Santa Sangre" sits at the intersection where art house and horror cinema meet. This 4K transfer was taken directly from the original camera negative.

  • Scream 4K UHD - In 1996 director Wes Craven teamed with writer Kevin Williamson to create "Scream," a self-aware horror film starring the likes of David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, and Drew Barrymore. The film revitalized the slasher genre, which had been relegated to straight-to-video bins, and spawned numerous sequels and inspired a landfill's worth of copycats of varying quality. (Available October 19)

  • The Thing 4K UHD - John Carpenter's adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.'s "Who Goes There?" is a spectacular sci-fi horror about a group of scientists working in the remote wasteland of Antarctica who are stalked by a parasitic life-form that is able to imitate other organisms. Essentially they're stuck with a murderous alien who can take the form of anyone it meets. Unappreciated during its original theatrical run, the film has since been reassessed as one of the best sci-fi horror films ever released.

  • Two Evil Eyes 4K UHD - George A. Romero and Dario Argento reteamed for this anthology film that features adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar" and "The Black Cat."

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  • The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee - Christopher Lee made his share of films and I've enjoyed my share of them. This set includes "The Castle of the Living Dead," "Challenge the Devil," "Crypt of the Vampire," "Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace," "The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism" and 24 episodes from the anthology series "Theatre Macabre."

  • Onibaba - Released in Japan in 1964, "Onibaba" is the story of an older woman and her daughter-in-law who survive the civil war conditions that surround them by killing lost samurai and selling their possessions. When Hachi, a neighbor who has deserted the war, returns, the old woman becomes convinced that he is responsible for her son's death. Soon after a mysterious, masked samurai appears. "Onibaba" is a film draped in atmosphere and primal impulses

  • Cold War Creatures: Four Films from Sam Katzman - Sam Katzman was a producer of numerous B-movie features. This set includes four films from the 1950s: "Creature with the Atom Brain," "The Werewolf," "The Zombies of Mora Tau," and "The Giant Claw."

  • Awakening - Rebecca Hall stars in this 2011 ghost story about a woman who in post-World War I England travels to a boarding school to investigate and disprove reports that the ghost of a child haunts the school's halls.

  • Phantasm I & II - The first two films from Don Coscarelli's Phantasm Franchise are paired in this double feature. The films feature the Tall Man, an undertaker played by Angus Scrimm, who transforms the dead into zombie creatures who act as his servants. This truth is uncovered by Mike (Michael Baldwin), a young boy, who desperately tries to convince his older brother. The sequel, released nearly a decade after the first film, follows Mike as he is released from a mental institution and sets out to defeat the Tall Man for good. The first film is surreal. The second is decidedly more traditional.

  • Alone in the Dark - This 1982 horror film sees a group of dangerous men break out of a mental institution during a power outage. Together, they terrorize the head of the asylum. Features Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence, and Martin Landau.

  • Legend - In 1986 director Ridley Scott released "Legend," a dark fantasy film starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara and Tim Curry. As with many of Scott's films, the theatrical release never quite delivered the story that the director intended to tell. A director's cut was released in 2002. Arrow's new set includes new 2K scans of both the U.S. Theatrical Cut (including the Tangerine Dream score) and the Director's Cut. Why no 4K? This mostly boils down to the quality of the film elements that are available. The Director's Cut was largely sourced from a secondary print, rather than the original negative. This is as good as it gets. At least for now.