Author Archives: Peter Fuller

Seizure (1974) | Probably the strangest Oliver Stone film you will ever see!

You know even the greatest of filmmakers have to start somewhere – and multi-award-winning Oliver Stone is no exception. The director, screenwriter, film producer and author is best known for such cinematic highs as Platoon, Wall Street, Natural Born Killer, JFK and Nixon, but he actually cut his directorial teeth on the 1974 Canadian horror, Seizure.

It’s a film I’ve only ever heard about – until now! While attending Dark Fest IV in London recently, I stumbled across a copy of the 2014 Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray. Now, what sold me was that one of the film’s stars, Martine Beswick was also in attendance and she happily signed it for me. So what’s it like? Well, I thought it might be as cheesy and OTT as Stone’s other attempt at horror – the 1981 misfire The Hand starring Michael Caine – but you know what? It is very peculiar, but not that bad.

Jonathan Frid (AKA Dark Shadows‘ Barnabas Collins) plays horror writer Edmund Blackstone, who is experiencing a nightmarish Groundhog Day in which three murderous intruders target Blackstone’s family and friends who have gathered for a weekend at a lakeside retreat.

But these are no ordinary psychos: there’s the beautiful but deadly Queen of Evil (Beswick), a dwarf called Spider (played by a pre-Fantasy Island’s Hervé Villechaize) and their scarred executioner Jackal (Henry Judd Baker). Dressed in medieval attire, the trio all seem from some other time and place. Are they real or figments of Edmund’s imagination?

Yes, it’s got some rather clunky editing going on, and the performances are of the ‘chewing the scenery’ type, but Stone’s home invasion thriller has a weird adult fairy tale vibe going on that makes it so unique.

Along for the wild ride is Warhol superstar Mary Woronov (just before she joined Roger Corman’s indie gang) – who shows off her athletic body during a rather bizarre knife fight, fading sex symbol Troy Donahue, soap star Christina Pickles, voice-over king Joseph Sirola, and (making his first feature) Richard Cox, who would find fame as the gay serial killer in William Friedkin’s Cruising. What a cast!

The Blu-ray features a new HD master from the original vault elements, so it looks as good as it will ever be and I must say that Beswick steals the show in her Morticia Addams-styled black attire and luscious red lipstick. Although Sirola’s obnoxious Trump-like Charlie does come in a close second. Given that, for years, Stone has tried to erase this film from his credits, it’s certainly one to seek out. The Scorpion release also has a great interview with Woronov (whose description of Stone had me howling) and Cox (who has some fun memories of working on the movie).

The Sabata Trilogy | Gianfranco Parolini’s Wild Wild Spaghetti Westerns on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes Gianfranco Parolini’s Spaghetti Westerns, Sabata (1969), Adiós Sabata (1970) and Return of Sabata (1971) starring Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

‘Quick-cutting, lurid colours, elaborate gadgetry and acrobatic action’ all come to play in Parolini’s trilogy that fuses classic Western tropes with the frenzied visuals of the director’s 1960s espionage adventures Mission to Hell and Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill.

In Sabata (AKA Ehi amico … c’è Sabata, hai chiuso!) Lee Van Cleef stars as the eponymous gunslinger who calls the shots in the town of Daughtery, Texas when the villainous Stengel (Franco Ressel) engineers a plot to steal $100,000 in army money. Sporting pitch-black clothing and armed with some ingenious weapons (including a tiny, seemingly four-barreled gun), Sabata teams up with a mysterious bard called Banjo (William Berger) and his trick banjo rifle, Confederate Civil War veteran Carrincha (Ignazio Spalla AKA Pedro Sanchez) and silent Indian acrobat Alley Cat (Aldo Canti) to take down Stengel and his partners in crime. But no one can be trusted – even Sabata! Listen out for the melody from 1957’s 3:10 to Yuma.

Adiós Sabata was a vehicle for Yul Brynner that started life as Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…, (lit, “Indio Black, you know what I’m going to tell you… You’re a big son of a…“). It was planned to spawn its own series, but the success of Sabata resulted in Brynner’s character (Indio) being renamed for the international market.

Set in revolutionary Mexico, during the Juarez uprising against Maximilian in 1867, the ‘sequel’ casts Brynner as an inscrutable soldier of fortune chasing after a hoard of gold from a duplicitous Austrian army Colonel (Gérard Herter). But just as in Sabata, his character has Pedro Sanchez playing his corpulent sidekick, and there’s another shifty ‘partner’ in Dean Reed’s Ballantine. Wearing a tight-fitting black ensemble embellished with tassels, medallion and a Mexican serape slung over his shoulder; and armed with a sawn-off repeating rifle, Brynner cuts a stylish, imposing figure but makes the character all his own. There’s also a great score from Bruno Nicolai – and of course, the Flamenco of Death.

Return of Sabata (AKA È tornato Sabata … hai chiuso un’altra volta) sees Lee Van Cleef back in black as the enigmatic sharpshooter, who is revealed to be a former Confederate army officer. This time around, Sabata is working at a travelling circus as a stunt marksman. Arriving in a small Texas town, Sabata wants a debt paid, but soon finds himself up against another corrupt member of the establishment: land baron Joe McIntock (Giampiero Albertini). Luckily, Pedro Sanchez and Aldo Canti’s Bronco and Angel are on hand to help him win the day once again. Shot and edited with much theatricality and lit like a Mario Bava Gothic horror, this third and final film is a surreal end to the series. It’s played purely for thrills and spills, and not to be taken seriously at all! But I loved Van Cleef’s frilled shirt and waistcoat attire!

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • O-Card Slipcase 
  • Reversible Sleeve featuring original poster artwork for each film  
  • 1080p presentations on Blu-ray from High-Definition transfers 
  • English audio options 
  • Optional English SDH Subtitles 
  • Sabata – Brand new feature length audio commentary by author / critic Kim Newman 
  • Adiós, Sabata – Audio commentary by filmmaker and historian Mike Siegel 
  • Return of Sabata – Audio commentary by authors C. Courtney Joyner & Henry Parke 
  • New video pieces on each film by Austin Fisher, author of Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema
  • Trailers 
  • Stills Galleries 
  • PLUS: A Limited-Edition Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Western expert Howard Hughes [First Print Run of 2000 copies only] 

Dementia 13 | Francis Ford Coppola’s director’s cut is a must-have

I have been a huge fan of Dementia 13 ever since I bought it on VHS back in the 1980s. I’ve returned to it time and again because it just ticks so many boxes: the moody monochrome cinematography, the atmospheric harpsichord-heavy Ronald Stein score, the great use of the Sir Edwin Lutyens-styled 14th-century Howth Castle in Dublin, and another eccentric turn from one of my all-time favourite character actors, Patrick Magee. But the print I’ve been watching all these years has been quite poor.

So it was with much glee that I see Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released Francis Ford Coppola’s 1963 feature debut in a high-definition director’s cut (which was done back in 2017 by Coppola’s American Zoetrope) on Blu-ray as part of their Vestron Collector’s Series.

Luana Anders (who had just finished Roger Corman’s The Young Racers, and previously co-starred with Vincent Price in 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum) plays recently widowed Louise Haloran, who keeps her husband’s death a secret in a bid to secure his inheritance.

But as she plots to exploit her ailing mother in law (Eithne Dunne) who continues to grieve over the tragic drowning of her daughter Kathleen, Louise’s plans are put in jeopardy by a maniac stalking the family estate. But who could it be? Brothers Richard (William Campbell) or Billy (Bart Patton), family physician Dr Justin Caleb (Magee), or someone else entirely?

Having seen the film countless times, I went straight to Coppola’s audio commentary – which was a blast. I’ve now gained a new appreciation of just how much the film is very much Coppola’s own. He not only directed but wrote the screenplay (which he readily admits was a cash-in on William Castle’s Homicidal, which was itself a rip on Hitchcock’s Psycho), and was very much involved in the film’s visual imagery. He was also the body double for the heart attack victim in the chilling opening scenes, the hand model for the film’s protagonist, Louise; and best of all, the 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta that features heavily was Coppola’s own pride and joy. One he wishes he still had – so do I! Oh, and I love the story he tells of how he became a hero after managing to keep a local pub open after closing time.

Made on just $40,000 (half of which was money left over from Corman’s The Young Races production) at Ardmore Studios in Bray, Ireland, Coppola’s psychological axe-murder horror is a masterclass in effective economical film-making – but also one with great style, and some very haunting imagery (such as the transistor radio burbling distorted pop music as it sinks into the lake, and [spoiler] Louise’s tragic early demise a la Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane).

To preserve his vision, Coppola excised the additional scenes (filmed by Jack Hill) that producer Roger Corman had added. While it’s a shame they weren’t included as an extra, the film finally looks and sounds its best!

Special Features
• Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola
• Audio Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola
• Prologue (Dementia 13 Test): In a nod to William Castle’s gimmicks, and to extend the film’s running time, this features a ‘shrink’ inviting the audience to take part in a survey that tests their mental state.

Amazon Blu-ray: https://bit.ly/Dementia13Vestron

The Dark Eyes of London | The 1939 Edgar Wallace adaptation starring Bela Lugosi gets a remastered release

If ever you had your suspicions about insurance agents being just out for your money, then look no further than the British 1939 shocker, The Dark Eyes of London, starring Bela Lugosi, which is now out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Network, featuring a newly remastered print.

Hiding behind a veneer of respectability and charitable good deeds, insurance broker Dr Orloff (Lugosi) is killing off his customers for their policies.

Using the Dearborn Home for the Blind in London’s East End as his cover and disguised as the charity’s blind proprietor, Orloff gets his dirty work done by Jake (Wilfred Walter), a deformed blind resident.

But his murderous schemes come unstuck when his new secretary Diana (Greta Gynt) finds a vital clue to her father’s murder.

Produced by Pathé Films (via John Argyle Productions), this adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s 1924 novel, The Dead Eyes of London, was expected to usher in a wave of British-made horror – just as Universal was experiencing in the US following the successful re-release of 1931’s Frankenstein. But it got hit with a double-blow which stopped that idea dead in its tracks.

It became the first British film to receive the ‘H’ censor rating for being ‘Horrific for Public Exhibition’ (which meant no under-16 were allowed to see the film) and it was released in the UK in October 1939, when the country was preparing for a real-life horror show: World War Two. It would be another two decades before the genre bounced back, courtesy of Hammer.

However, The Dark Eyes of London is one of the best shockers of the 1930s. Featuring drownings, electrocutions, cold-blooded murder and a monster that echoes Conrad Veidt’s Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), Karloff’s monster in Frankenstein, and the killer ape in The Murders of the Rue Morgue (1932), it certainly earned its ‘H’ certificate.

Lugosi is excellent in the dual role of the cold and calculating Dr Orloff and the kindly Professor Dearborn (dubbed by English stage actor OB Clarence) and he gets excellent support from Shakespearean actor and playwright Wilfred Walter as the blind giant whose deformity mirrors Orloff’s dark soul. It is also effectively directed by Walter Summers (who helmed the last major British silent Chamber of Horrors in 1929) and atmospherically shot by Bryan Langley (who makes excellent use of Duncan Sutherland’s warehouse and riverside set).

Filmed in 11 days at Welwyn Studios in Hertfordshire in April 1939, the film was released by Monogram in the US in March 1940 as The Human Monster. It was later withdrawn from circulation following the release of a West German adaptation in 1961 (Die toten Augen von London). Network’s HD remastered release looks and sounds fantastic, which this landmark British horror, so deserves. I highly recommend adding this to your classic horror collection.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Brand-new high definition remaster from original film elements in its original theatrical aspect ratio
• Audio commentary with Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
• Kim Newman and Stephen Jones discuss Lugosi’s work in the UK at the Edgar Wallace pub in London
• US titles & US trailer
• Image gallery
• Booklet written by Adrian Smith

The Snake Girl and The Silver Haired Witch | This 1968 tokusatsu terror tale is a terrific delight

Japanese director Noriaki Yuasa is best-know for Daiei Studios’ iconic Gamera series which he helmed from 1965 to 1980. In 1968, in between Gamera films, he turned his eye to adapting Kazuo Umezu’s classic 1966 horror manga Hebi shōjo (AKA Reptilia), about a shape-shifting snake woman, for the big screen. The result was The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (Hebi musume to hakuhatsuma) – a tokusatsu terror tale that’s rarely been seen outside Japan since its release but gets a new life on Blu-ray from Arrow Video. And it’s a doozy.

A young girl called Sayuri (Yachie Matsui) is reunited with her scientist father and amnesiac mother after a long stay at a children’s home and is surprised to discover that she has an older sister, Tamami (Mayumi Takahashi).

With her father away on business, and her mother lost in her thoughts, Sayuri tries to befriend Tamami, who treats her with scorn, and is doted on by the family maid. Finding reptile scales on Tamami’s bed, Sayuri suspects her sister is a snake.

Moving to the attic, Sayuri begins having terrifying visions of a fanged creature and a witch that wishes to do her harm. But who is she? and why is she targeting her?

Yuasa’s 1968 horror is a revelation. I had never heard of the film before, and it doesn’t appear in any of my go-to reference books. But it’s got all the right ingredients to be a bona fide genre classic: a big house with shadow-lit passageways, a lab full of snakes and an attic draped in cobwebs, two genuinely scary monsters and a little girl heroine caught up in a nightmarish mystery.

Boasting haunting visuals, atmospheric production design and photography (that evoke Hammer’s psychological thrillers of the same period), a nerve-jangling score, and effective performances (especially Matsui, whose androgynous appearance serve to make this a Boys’ Own Adventure, too), The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is one to watch time and again.

Oh, and it doesn’t lack in shocks either: I had to turn away when poor Sayuri ends up having her hands repeatedly bashed while hanging for dear life from some scaffolding. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

● High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation, with original uncompressed mono audio
● Optional English subtitles
● Audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
This Charming Woman: Interview with manga and folklore scholar Zack Davisson
● Theatrical trailer
● Image gallery
● Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork by Mike Lee-Graham
● Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Raffael Coronelli

The Ape Woman | Marco Ferreri’s anarchic 1964 satire gets a 4K-restored release from CultFilms

Italian film-maker Marco Ferreri (11 May 1928 – 9 May 1997) made over 100 very personal films over his long, and often controversial career, but is probably best-known for his 1973 satire La Grande Bouffe and 1981’s Tales of Ordinary Madness based on the work of US outsider poet Charles Bukowski (two of my cult film faves). Now one of Ferreri’s earliest films, 1964’s The Ape Woman (AKA La Donna Scimmia), is in my sights after getting a 4K restoration release on Blu-ray.

The Ape Woman is inspired by the true story of 19th-century carnival performer Julia Pastrana, an indigenous woman from Mexico with hypertrichosis, a condition that meant hair covered her entire body. Like Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man), she was exploited as a freak by her manager. She died, aged just 25, from postpartum complications following the birth of her son (who only survived three days). But her story didn’t end there, for her corpse and the body of her baby were taxidermically preserved and ended up being displayed in museums, circuses and amusement parks around the world for over a century.

Ferreri’s film is set in contemporary (1960’s) Naples and sees Annie Girardot playing Maria, a shy convent novitiate whose condition attracts the attention of Ugo Tognazzi’s wannabe entrepreneur, Antonio. Persuaded with the promise of marriage and money to be made, Maria leaves the convent and moves into a ramshackle backstreet warehouse where she begins to ‘perform’ as a captive wild African ape that Antonio found in the jungle.

At first, Maria feels ashamed but soon becomes more self-assured, while the selfish Antonio begins to feel real love for his wife – especially so when a professor tries to buy her virginity and a famous impresario turns their act into an exotic striptease. But tragedy strikes when Maria falls pregnant, then dies.

Ferreri originally closed his drama with Antonio recovering the bodies of his wife and child from a museum and then putting them on display in a makeshift tent. Deemed too dark and challenging at the time, producer Carlo Ponti had another ending filmed, in which Maria’s hair falls out after giving birth, and she goes on to become a normal wife and mother, while Antonio gets a regular job. It was this ending that scored the film a Palme d’Or nomination. CultFilm’s Blu-ray includes both (which were restored in 4K for the 2017 Venice Film Festival). I must say I do prefer Ferreri’s stark take as it really underscores his anarchic vision.

I thought this might be a tough watch, but Girardot’s performance is captivating as is her character’s journey and development. Tognazzi also brings much depth to the misogynistic Antonio, who starts off cruel and calculating and ends up being just very sad. There’s also a couple of stand-out scenes, particularly so when Maria is forced to sing while being paraded through the streets on her wedding day and the couple’s cringe-worthy Parisian striptease.

If you are not familiar with Ferreri’s work, then the documentary that’s included here is very illuminating. As is the story that the film is based on, which has had me check out whatever happened to Julia Pastrana. Seems she got a much-belated burial in 2012 near her Mexican hometown, Sinaloa de Leyva, after spending decades in storage in Oslo University in Norway.

Available on Blu-ray and digital on-demand from CultFilms

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Full HD 1080p from 4K restoration
• 2.0 dual-mono LPCM Original Italian audio
• Two separate endings: Marco Ferreri’s director’s version and producer Carlo Ponti’s version
• Documentary on Marco Ferreri featuring Gerard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Christopher Lambert and Ornella Muti
• New, improved English subtitles

Order direct from CultFilms: https://cultfilms.co.uk/product/the-ape-woman

Cold War Creatures: Four 1950’s sci-fi horror treats from Sam Katzman

Arrow Video unleashes a quartet of 1950s monochrome terrors on Blu-ray that revisits the golden age of B-movie monsters! Welcome to the world of Sam Katzman and his Cold War creature features.

Katzman (July 7, 1901 – August 4, 1973) was one of Hollywood’s most prolific film producers and directors whose long career included serials, musicals, teen pictures, action movies and sex comedies, from the 1930s to the early 1970s. In the 1950s, Katzman navigated the zeitgeist of the Cold War era with a host of successful horror Columbia Pictures’ features aimed squarely at the teen market. This collection handpicks four that have left an indelible mark on contemporary culture and the bonus extras in this four-disc box-set include interviews and visual essays from an array of film historians that explain why. What Katzman, who only ever saw his pictures in terms of box-office receipts, would make of the in-depth analysis will make for great discussion when you break out this fabulous box-set.

Producer Sam Katzman on-set with Little Richard in Don’t Knock the Rock

In 1955’s Creature with the Atom Brain, a mob boss uses an ex-Nazi scientist’s atomic radiation reanimation machine to seek revenge on his enemies. An auto-accident survivor turns gnarly when he’s injected with an irradiated wolf serum in The Werewolf (1956). Treasure hunters battle the zombified crew members of a sunken ship while seeking a cache of diamonds in Zombies of Mora Tau (1957). And in The Giant Claw – one of the most infamous sci-fi’s of the decade – an extraterrestrial turkey creates worldwide havoc.

The Arrow Video box-set includes high definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of all four films (which were originally released together in a DVD box-set in 2008), with original uncompressed mono audio, optional English subtitles, an illustrated 60-page collector’s book and an 80-page collector’s art book. Plus, there are two double-sided posters by Matt Griffin, and reversible sleeves featuring original and new artwork by Matt Griffin. The bonus features on each disc are listed below.

DISC 1 – CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN
Written by Curt Siodmak (who also penned Donovan’s Brain and The Wolfman), this taut thriller about mind-controlled reanimated corpses successfully fuses sci-fi and crime noir and paved the way for Katzman’s subsequent creature features. Richard Denning (of Creature from the Black Lagoon fame) plays the all-American square-jawed devoted husband/dad/scientist who ultimately saves the day. Director Edward L Cahn also helmed genre faves The She Creature (1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957).

● Introduction by Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by Russell Dyball
Sam Katzman: Before and Beyond the Cold War Creatures, feature-length presentation on the life, career and films of Sam Katzman by Stephen R Bissette
● Condensed Super 8mm version of Creature with the Atom Brain
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

DISC 2 – THE WEREWOLF

This one has the distinction of being the first ‘werewolf’ film of the 1950s and went out on a double bill in the US in 1956 with Earth vs. Flying Saucers and Creature with the Atom Brain in the UK. Is it any good though? Well, it does make good use of the Big Bear Lake location in California’s San Bernardino National Forest, and the transformation scenes are also pretty OK. There’s also a couple of good turns from character actors Saul John Launer (best known as Perry Mason), Larry J Blake (who set up the first Motion Picture AA group in Hollywood) and Don Megowan (who played the on-land Gill-man in The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).

● Introduction by critic Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by Lee Gambin
Beyond Window Dressing, visual essay exploring the role of women in the films of Sam Katzman by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
● Condensed Super 8mm version of The Werewolf
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

DISC 3 – ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU
Creature with the Atom Brain director Edward L Cahn returns with this contemporary-set zombie thriller whose story is said to be the inspiration for John Carpenter’s The Fog. Watch out for Allison Hayes, who is best known for her lead role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, and check out those zombies (any slower and they’d be walking backwards). Bizarrely, the film is supposed to be set in Africa – but it looks more like the same swampy Louisanna backlot used in Universal’s The Mummy’s Curse (1944). The underwater diving sequences are the film’s hilarious highlight.

● Introduction by Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by critic Kat Ellinger
Atomic Terror: Genre in Transformation, a visual essay exploring the intersection of mythical horror creatures and the rational world of science in the films of Sam Katzman by Josh Hurtado.
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

DISC 4 – THE GIANT CLAW
Love it or hate it! This ludicrous sci-fi is one of a kind. Katzman had wanted Ray Harryhausen to devise the special effects (as he had co-produced Earth vs. Flying Saucers with Charles Schneer in 1956), but when that didn’t pan out he still went ahead. The result, a right ugly turkey puppet on very visible wires. The best part about his schlock-fest is that everyone plays it dead straight, which just makes it all the more hilarious to watch. Jeff Morrow, best known for This Island Earth (1955) and Kronos (1957), was so embarrassed at the film’s premiere, he went home and got drunk. I wonder if he did the same when he saw 1971’s Octaman (in which he had a cameo)? Playing the film’s brainy heroine is Mara Corday, who was married to House on Haunted Hill and Nanny and the Professor actor Richard Long. She was also a buddy of Clint Eastwood who gave her some notable cameos in The Gauntlet (1977) and Sudden Impact (1983).

● Introduction by critic Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by critics Emma Westwood and Cerise Howard
Family Endangered!, visual essay on Cold War paranoia in Katzman’s monster movies, by Mike White
● Condensed Super 8mm version of The Giant Claw.
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

The Monster (AKA I Don’t Want to Be Born) | The three Dame 1970s British shocker gets a HD remaster

From Hammer/Amicus director Peter Sasdy comes the 1975 Fox-Rank exploitation horror that totally deserves its cult reputation. If you haven’t seen it, then Network’s new remastered release (which is out on Blu-ray and DVD) is worth seeking out.

This unsubtle rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, sees Joan Collins cast as Lucy Carlesi, a London stripper who believes she has given birth to a demonic child, who possesses unusual strength. Ralph Bates plays her Italian husband Gino, who can’t decide whether Lucy is suffering from post-natal depression or not, Donald Pleasence is none-the-wiser as Lucy’s obstetrician, and Eileen Atkins is Gino’s nun sister, whom he turns to for guidance. But when Lucy realises that Hercules (George Claydon), a dwarf she once humiliated, has placed a curse on baby Nicholas, only an exorcism can save her child.

There’s much to deride this absurd slice of 1970s horror – including Bates’ and Atkins’ weird Italian accents, the obvious dubbing of Caroline Munro (as Lucy’s friend Mandy) and the laughable dialogue. But there’s also much to enjoy: the fab London film locations (I’ve passed the Chelsea house off the King’s Road many times); Collins looking ever so chic (in her own clothes, according to wardrobe supervisor Brenda Dabbs); and a gritty, atmospheric Ron Grainer score. You also get some memorable kills: including drowning, hanging and decapitation, and a great turn from Hilary Mason as the Carlesi’s no-nonsense housekeeper.

While Collins maybe the film’s star, Atkins, however, totally steals the show as Albana (who bizarrely conducts medical experiments on animals with her fellow convent nuns). After watching her steely performance, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was the inspiration for Dolly Wells’ Sister Agatha Van Helsing in 2020’s Dracula.

In the extras, director Sasdy proudly points out that his film (which he saved by pumping in his own money) boasts three Dame Commanders of the Order of the British Empire: Collins, Atkins and Floella Benjamin (who plays a nurse early in the film). Coincidentally, both Collins and Atkins are doing book events at the same time as this release – though I’m not sure this film will get much of a mention. But you never know.

Pre-order from Network: https://new.networkonair.com/british_horror_classics

SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition remaster from original film elements in its original theatrical aspect ratio.
• Audio commentary from the Second Features podcast team
Sasdy’s Baby: director Peter Sasdy gives an honest and gleeful look back at the film, and answers the long-asked question: why are Bates and Atkins’ playing Italian characters?
The Excisit: interview with editor Keith Palmer
Holding the Baby: fab interview with continuity veteran Renée Glynne, and wardrobe supervisor Brenda Dabbs
• Alternative titles (I Don’t Want to be Born)
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• Booklet written by Adrian Smith

The Brotherhood of Satan | The 1971 horror is devilishly good fun

Sam Peckinpah favourites Strother Martin and LQ Jones take the lead in the 1971 American indie horror The Brotherhood of Satan, which is now out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

After witnessing a gruesome traffic accident, widower Ben (Charles Bateman), his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) and daughter KT (Geri Reischl) find themselves unable to leave the southwest desert town of Hillsboro, where scores of families have been slaughtered and their children have mysteriously disappeared.

As the sheriff (Jones) and his deputy (Alvy Moore) try to make sense of the situation, the local priest (Charles Robinson) suspects a supernatural force is at work. The town’s physician Doc Duncan (Martin), meanwhile, is hiding a diabolical secret – he’s the head of a satanic cult whose elderly members are planning on transferring their souls into the bodies of the kids.

Filmed (in Albuquerque, New Mexico) in 1969, but not released until 1971 (through Columbia Pictures), The Brotherhood of Satan belongs in the top tier of the satantic panic movies of the 1970s – alongside my personal favourites Race With the Devil and The Devil’s Rain. Originally titled, ‘Come In, Children‘ it was produced by best buddies LQ Jones (who also wrote the script) and Alvy Moore (who is best known for his comic turn as Hank Kimball in TV’s Green Acres), and directed by Bernard McEveety (who did loads of TV shows like The Fall Guy and Charlie’s Angels).

The film certainly wears its indie credentials on its sleeve as Jones goes down the arthouse route with the film’s visuals and pacing; while also giving his actors loads of room to invest in their respective roles – just like John Carpenter would do in 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13.

Everyone is brilliant here, particularly so Reischl, who would find fame (and infamy) taking over from Eve Plumb as Jan Brady in The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976-1977). Martin also shows much light and shade with his duplicitous character, before launching into full-blown scenery-chewing in the climax; while the facial contortions of Helene Winston’s doomed witch Dame Alice will haunt you forever.

Jones and Co also seem to be paying homage to Roger Corman and his 1960s Poe films with one effective dream sequence (that uses distorted lens and colours) and with the design of the film’s set-piece – the coven’s lair featuring an enormous spider web and the kids displayed like mannequins on pedestals. It’s terrific, if incongruous to the film’s dusty desert setting and looks like a rock concert stage creation by way of Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare. But then, the reason why it does look so out of place does become evident in the closing scenes. Interestingly, director Peter Sasdy’s Nothing But the Night, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, shares a similar pay-off.

This is a super release from Arrow, with some excellent extras – especially the interview with Alvy Moore’s daughter, Alyson. Although it would have been great to hear from LQ Jones, too.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary by writers Kim Newman and Sean Hogan
Satanic Panic: How the 1970s Conjured the Brotherhood of Satan, a visual essay by David Flint
The Children of Satan: interview with actors Jonathan Erickson Eisley and Alyson Moore
• Original Trailers and TV and Radio Spots
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Richard Wells
• Booklet featuring new writing by Johnny Mains and Brad Stevens.

Prophecy | The 1979 creature feature bears its claws on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes the 1979 Paramount Pictures’ eco-horror Prophecy directed by John Frankenheimer on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range.

Government environmental advisor Dr Robert Verne (Falcon Crest‘s Robert Foxworth) and his pregnant wife Maggie (The Godfather‘s Talia Shire) travel to Maine to assess the environmental damage the lumber industry is having on a forest claimed by a local Native American tribe (dubbed the Opies).

When three lumberjacks are found mauled to death, the Opies blame a vengeful spirit called Katahdin – while the Vernes uncover evidence that the local paper mill’s use of mercury is causing birth defeats and making the wildlife grow to abnormal size.

After rescuing a mutated bear club trapped in a salmon fishing net, the Vernes and a couple of Opies (Armand Assante, Victoria Racimo and George Clutesi) find themselves under attack by the cub’s monstrous mutated mother.

I first saw Prophecy on its release on the big screen. It was one of the blockbuster summer releases of 1979 (alongside Alien) and this then 15-year-old monster kid was so excited to see it – mainly due to the poster featuring a mutant bear embryo, and that it was based on a novel by David Seltzer, who had penned one of my faves The Omen in 1976.

But I was pretty disappointed by what played before me. It all starts off great, with its interesting ecological storyline – but when the 15-ft momma bear appears with its melted pizza face, I just laughed – as did most audiences of the day.

Fast forward four decades and seeing it in this new Blu-ray release – its just as ropey. Which is a shame considering its sterling cast and credentials (especially Frankenheimer who had helmed such classic fare as Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate in the 1960s).

The big fault lies in its execution – particularly with the climactic scene that opts for a soundstage (complete with fake plants and wind machines) rather than where most of the film was shot (Crofton, North Cowichan in British Columbia), and the hilarious bear creature, which was a combination of a man in a suit (Tom McLoughlin) and a fur-covered model on wheels.

That saying, it’s still a fun watch with a gang of mates around. No bear hugs allowed though! Also welcomed are the great special features that accompany the Eureka Blu-ray (especially Seltzer and McLoughlin’s reminiscences).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a High Definition transfer
  • Optional English SDH Subtitles
  • New feature length audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith
  • New feature length audio commentary by film writers Lee Gambin & Emma Westwood
  • New interview with screenwriter David Seltzer
  • New interview with mime artist Tom McLoughlin
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann; and an archival interview
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