Two spooky films, “The Conjuring” and “The Wall,” are both new to DVD this week.
“The Conjuring” (Warner/Blu-ray, 2013, R for violence, $35.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; featurettes). This horror film is quite a surprise, a scary picture that doesn’t gross out the audience with gore or other excesses, and in fact may cause you to come away asking, “Why is it rated R?” It's a Halloween treat — or maybe trick is the better descriptive choice — from, believe it or not, James Wan, the director of the ultra-gory “Saw”!
The story, allegedly fact-based, focuses on two couples, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as the parents of five young daughters, and Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as a pair of paranormal investigators called in when the large family moves into what appears to be a haunted house.
The film wisely focuses on the characters first, letting us get to know them before the chills begin to roll out. And until the horrifying climax, it’s a pretty straightforward story, allowing the tension to gradually build until it has you in its grip before you know it. All the actors are very well cast and it’s nice to see Taylor — who particularly stands out here — in a mainstream film again after a lengthy career spent largely in low-budget independents. (Also on DVD, $28.98)
“The Wall” (Music Box, 2013, not rated, $29.95, in English and German with English subtitles, trailers; booklet). Less mainstream but no less engrossing is this Austrian film, adapted from a popular allegorical novel published in the 1960s by Marlen Haushofer. This dystopian tale takes a decidedly feminist bent but is more akin to “Robinson Crusoe” or “The Wilderness Family” crossed with Stephen King’s “The Dome” than it is to “I Am Legend” or “The Road.”
A woman vacationing in the countryside finds herself literally cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible, impenetrable wall following some sort of holocaust. How she endures loneliness, eventually embraces her animal companions and thrives in this beautiful but seasonally unforgiving mountain region is the basis of a tale that is by turns lyrical and poetic, and freaky and chilling.
“Oka!” (Well Go/Blu-ray, 2011, not rated, $29.98; in English, and in French and Aka with English subtitles). In its way, this is also about survival in unfamiliar climes, the true story of an ethnomusicologist who travels from New Jersey to Central African forests to study music by Bayaka Pygmies and then tries to help them when their rainforest habitat is threatened. At its best when focusing on the African surroundings. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“Just Like a Woman” (Cohen/Blu-ray, 2013; R for language, sex; $34.98, photo gallery, trailer). Two women leave their husbands and hit the road together, one an aspiring belly dancer (Sienna Miller) and the other an Egyptian immigrant who has killed her mother-in-law. Sort of a belly dancing “Thelma & Louise.” (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“Primeval: New World: The Complete Series” (eOne/Blu-ray, 2012-13, three discs, $39.98, 13 episodes, featurettes). British sci-fi spinoff of the “Primeval” series, this one about a team tracking anomalous creatures invading Earth through time portals. (Also on DVD, $29.98)
“The JFK Collection” (History/Lionsgate, 2013, three discs, $19.98, eight films). These documentary films offer an overview of President John F. Kennedy’s life, along with his family, including hourlong biographies devoted to patriarch Joseph, brothers Bobby and Ted, and JFK’s widow Jacqueline.
“WWII: 3-Film Collection” (History/Lionsgate, 2013, five discs, $24.98, three films). The History channel documentaries pulled together for this set are the previously released “WWII in HD,” “WWII in HD: The Air War” and “WWII From Space.” (Also on Blu-ray, $29.99)
“Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics” (Warner, 2013, $19.98). Documentary focuses on villains in the DC universe, including Lex Luthor, Bane, the Joker, Catwoman, Doomsday, General Zod, Black Adam, etc. Narrated by Christopher Lee, with filmmakers Richard Donner (“Superman”), Guillermo del Toro (“Pacific Rim”) and Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel”), among others
“Barbie & Her Sisters in A Pony Tale” (Universal/Blu-ray, 2013, $26.98, outtakes, music video, webisodes, trailers). Latest animated entry in the straight-to-video series based on the popular doll takes Barbie and her sisters to a horse academy. (Also on DVD, $19.98)
“Dead in Tombstone” (Universal/Blu-ray, 2013, R for violence and language, two discs, $34.98; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; R-rated and unrated versions, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes). Traditional Westerns are out of favor so these days they come with gimmicks. In this blood-and-guts action film, Danny Trejo is double-crossed by his gang, dies and finds himself in hell where he literally makes a bargain with the devil (Mickey Rourke) to return to Earth, kill his gang and deliver their souls. (Also on DVD, $29.98)
“Red Clover” (Lionsgate, 2013, R for violence, $26.98, featurette). With horror films built around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, April Fool’s Day and, of course, Halloween, few are left. But instead of an Arbor Day massacre, this one is set against St. Patrick’s Day. Billy Zane, Courtney Halverson and William Devane star.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com