Category Archives: Horror

Night of the Creeps (1986) | The cult sci-fi zom-com gets a dual format release

Night of the Creeps

From Eureka Entertainment comes director Fred Dekker’s jokey 1980s sci-fi comedy Night of the Creeps, in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of the Eureka Classics range.

When an alien experiment goes awry, it crashes to Earth in 1959 and infects a college student. 27 years later, his freeze-dried body is unwittingly revived by nerds Chris (Jason Lively) and JC (Steve Marshall), which releases alien slugs that turn their fellow campus students into brain-hungry zombies. Chris, CJ and Chris’ new girlfriend Cynthia (Jill Whitlow) must then team up with a troubled detective (Tom Atkins) to find a way to defeat the zombie horde…

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Presented for the first time on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK, this deluxe edition of Night of the Creeps features the original director’s cut and the following special features…

DUAL FORMAT SPECIAL FEATURES
• High-definition remaster of the director’s cut
• Original stereo soundtrack and 5.1 surround audio options, presented in PCM and DTS-HD MA respectively on the Blu-ray
• Audio commentary by writer/director Fred Dekker
• Audio commentary by actors Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall and Jill Whitlow
Thrill Me: Making Night of the Creeps: an hour-long series of video pieces on the making of the film featuring new interviews with cast and crew
Tom Atkins: Man of Action featurette
• Video Interview with Fred Dekker
• Deleted Scenes
• Original theatrical ending (which I rather prefer)
• Trivia track subtitles
• Theatrical trailer
• Limited-edition booklet featuring a new essay by critic Craig Ian Mann
• Limited Edition O-Card slipcase

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Monkey Shines (1988) | George A Romero’s twisted Experiment in Fear is a cunning little beast indeed!

Monkey Shines

Drug-addled research scientist Geoffrey Fisher (John Pankow) is injecting human brain serum into monkeys, but goes too far with Ella, one Capuchin that he gives as helper to quadriplegic law student Allan (Jason Beghe), who has been left paralysed from the neck down after a road accident.

Monkey Shines

All goes well at first, as Allan and Ella bond with the help of animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil). But when the scientist steps up the dosage, Ella begins responding to Allan’s subconscious rages, including wanting to dispose of the girlfriend (Janine Turner) who dumped him for the surgeon (Stanley Tucci) who operated on Allan after the accident. Murder and mayhem follow as the twisted thriller builds towards a nail-biting climax. Can Allan stop the cunning critter before she fully takes over his mind?

Monkey Shines

George A Romero’s Monkey Shines is presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of the Eureka Classics range with the following special features…

• Limited Edition O Card slipcase
• 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray
• DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio options
• Optional English SDH subtitles
• New and exclusive audio commentary by Travis Crawford
• Audio Commentary with director George A Romero
• An Experiment in Fear – The Making of Monkey Shines: a lengthy retrospective with George A Romero, stars Jason Beghe and Kate McNeil, executive producer Peter Grunwald, and special effects legends Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero and Everett Burrell.
• Alternate Ending and Deleted Scenes
• Behind-the-scenes footage, original EPK featurette, vintage interviews and news reports
• Trailers and TV spots
• Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Craig Ian Mann; highlights from the film’s production notes: and rare archival material

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The Monster (2016) | This slow-burning creature feature is a tense, but flawed affair

MONSTER (2016)

Neglectful alcoholic mum Kathy (Zoe Kazan) is driving her 10-year-old daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) to her ex-husband’s home when she hits a wolf, which damages her car. An ambulance crew soon arrives, along with tow car mechanic, Jesse (Aaron Douglas), who starts fixing the car when he’s attacked by a monstrous creature. When a severed arm lands on the bonnet and a severly wounded Jesse is dragged under the car, Kathy and Lizzy must work together in order to survive the night…

MONSTER (2016)

This claustrophobic two-hander horror from director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) runs 91mins, but you have to wait for nearly 40mins before anything happens by way of action – even then it quietens down again before the final showdown. It certainly is a slow-burner, but most of the film’s running time is taken up with the kind of mother-daughter domestics that you’d expect from a weepie melodrama. It’s a bit of a drag, despite the effective man-in-a-furry-suit creature design and the engaging performances from both Ballentine and Kazan (who replaced original choice, Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss).

MONSTER (2016)

Still, the slow bits (and flashbacks) gave me time to wonder what this monster was, where it had come from and why attack now? At first I thought it might be a werewolf or even Bigfoot, then I wondered if it weren’t a manifestation of Lizzy’s internal anger, similar to the superb 2014 Oz shocker The Babadook, which also dealt with angst-ridden parent-child issues. Bertino doesn’t offer up any answers, which makes me think he may have missed a trick (or did I read this film all wrong?). Oh, and the pay-off (involving a large stick) is just a tad too silly after all that build-up. Lots of reviewers have given this four or five stars – I’m giving it ★★★

The Monster lurks onto DVD and Digital from Icon Film Distribution on 8 October

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Death Line (1972) | Mind the doors! – Gary Sherman’s grim but moving London Underground cannibal cult horror gets the HD remaster treatment

Death Line (1972)

Fans of classic British horror need no introduction to director Gary Sherman’s London Underground-set cannibal film Death Line. Nearly 50 years on from its release on 12 October 1972 (in the UK), this oddly moving cult still packs a mighty punch, and features a standout turn from Donald Pleasence.

Previously available only on DVD and VHS (remember those?), Death Line (which got recut and renamed Raw Meat in the US) has been newly scanned to 2k resolution from the original 35mm camera negative for an exclusive UK Blu-ray release from Network – and it looks and sounds bloody fantastic! Finally time to ditch my second gen VHS!

Here’s my take on the exploitation cult, ‘But first were gonna get some tea… MARRRRSHAL!!!’

Death Line (1972)

Following a visit to Soho’s strip joints, James Manfred, OBE (a sleazy James Cossins, from Fawlty Towers and Doctor Who fame) is attacked by a feral-looking bloke at Russell Square tube station. Finding him collapsed by a stairwell, university student Patricia (Patricia Gurney) and her American boyfriend Alex (David Ladd) alert a local police officer, but when they return to the scene – there’s no sign of the politician.

Assigned to investigate, Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence), takes an instant dislike to the youngsters and continues to question them, then finds himself being warned off the case by a secretive MI5 handler (Christopher Lee). Meanwhile, the assailant (Hugh Armstrong) is revealed to be one of the last surviving members of a family of railway workers who became trapped underground after a cave-in in 1892, and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. When his female companion dies, ‘The Man’ flies into a rage and kills three maintenance workers – then, when Patricia, finds herself alone on the tube at Holborn Station – he knocks her out and takes her back to his lair. Will she become his next meal – or does he just wants some company?

Writer/Director Gary Sherman has crafted a neat little fright film that belies its exploitation label, for at its dark heart lies a tragic class consciousness love story in which Armstrong brings great sympathy to the grotesque and violent cannibal, who resembles a destitute Jesus meets Rasputin, but with the shuffling gait of Boris Karloff’s drunken mute butler Morgan from James Whales’ Old Dark House. Despite his murderous impulses following the sad death of his partner, you can’t help but pity ‘The Man’ as he is credited in the film; and that’s compounded when he tries and fails to communicate with Patricia using the only words he knows: ‘Mind the doors!’.

Death Line (1972)

Then there’s Donald Pleasence’s fantastic turn as the abrasive, tea-loving, hippie-hating Inspector Calhoun – who loves Queen and country, but despises his upper class MI5 superiors and even more so philandering politicians. He has some great scenes (particular with Heather Stoney’s WPC Alice Marshall and Norman Rossington’s DS Rogers) and gets in some lines like: ‘That’s handy, pop round and see if he’s a nutter!’ and ‘Get ur bloody hair cut!’. Alongside Alfred Marks’ Superintendent Bellaver in 1970’s Scream and Scream Again, Pleasence’s Calhoun most certainly gave rise to the sweary likes of John Thaws’ DI Jack Regan in TV’s The Sweeney a couple of years later.

Cinematographer Alex Thomson (who became Nicolas Roeg’s favourite camera operator) provides the stylishly grim imagery, making atmospheric use of the dark and dingy real life London Underground locations (it was partly filmed at Aldwych). So effective where these scenes that London Underground took offence to the subject matter and banned its advertising on any station platform! Meanwhile, Wil Mallone and Jeremy Rose’s rumbustious soundtrack is another highlight, perfectly capturing the sleazy vibe of Soho’s strip joints, while also chiming with the film’s sadder moments.

Death Line (1972)

Keep an eye out for Keeping Up Appearances‘ Clive Swift as a detective and Christopher Lee (in just one scene) as the suited and booted bureaucrat.

Network’s exclusive UK Blu-ray release, includes the following special features…

Mind the Doors!: an engaging interview with actor Hugh Armstrong, talking about his life and career
• Theatrical Trailer
• Image Gallery
• PDF Material
• Collector’s booklet

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The Changeling (1980) | A superior ghost story best watched alone – with the lights out!

The Changeling (1980)In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it became an increasingly common sight to see veteran actors and former Hollywood heavyweights moving into in horror films and obscure independent oddities – including Richard Burton (The Medusa Touch), Kirk Douglas (The Fury), Ray Milland (The Pajama Girl Case), and Fred Astaire (Ghost Story). George C Scott joins them with this Canadian ghost story from 1980 directed by Peter Medak.

The Changeling (1980)

Based upon events that the film’s co-writer Russell Hunter claimed he experienced while living in an old mansion in Denver, Colorado in 1969, The Changeling sees Scott as famed composer, John Russell, whose wife and daughter die in a tragic car accident. In a bid to rebuild his life, John rents a big old Victorian mansion in a remote setting, but the peace and quiet he craves is soon disturbed by unexplained noises, an apparition of a drowned boy in a bathtub, and the discovery of an attic room containing a child’s wheelchair…

The Changeling (1980)

Convinced there’s a supernatural presence trying to make contact with him, he enlists the help local historian Claire (played by Scott’s real-life wife Trish Van Devere) and holds a séance. What John uncovers is a shocking tale of a sickly young boy called Joseph Carmichael who was killed for his inheritance and replaced with an orphan [no this isn’t a spoiler, btw]. Now a prominent US senator and business tycoon, ‘Joseph’ (Melvyn Douglas, who was also in Ghost Story) donated the house to the local historical society some 12 years ago and has never set foot in it again! But why?

Unlike many of the blood and gore-infused horror films of the era, The Changeling is a much more superior example of the haunted house story. Stephen King and Martin Scorcese are big fans, and love the movie because it’s filled with the kind of suspense and horror where you don’t know exactly what is happening or why. From the outset, when a member of the historical society tells Scott’s John, ‘That house isn’t fit to live in. It doesn’t want people,’ you know you are in for one helluva creepy ride. But the house does want people, especially John, as his loss and his innate empathy with music becomes his connection with the spirit world and to the ghost of the murdered boy who haunts the very essence of the old mansion.

The Changeling (1980)

Matching Scott’s brown corduroy attire is the muted palette of winter hues used throughout the proceedings; which only makes the deep red colours on the mansion windows and doors stand out, giving it the appearance of glowing eyes and a demonic grin; while the primary colours and chiaroscuro lighting used for the shadowy interiors provides a sense of the Gothic by way of Roger Corman’s 1960’s Poe films.

Cinematographer John Coquillion is no stranger in getting the best out of his landscapes having lensed Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971). In both instances, the Suffolk countryside and a Cornish farmhouse became his nightmarish playground, while here, his camera tracks relentlessly through the claustrophobic environs and over cobweb-covered furniture, resting only for some fear-inducing scenes, including one involving ‘that’ wheelchair, while the noisy plumbing, a hidden well and a little music box also have roles to play.

The Changeling (1980)

This is a ghost story best watched alone – with the lights out and features a first-rate performance from Scott, who would encounter even more frightening fare in The Exorcist III in 1990, while director Medak, who had previously worked on British TV (on Space 1999 and The Professionals), would go on to helm the crime thrillers The Krays, Let Him Have It and Romeo is Bleeding, and is now enjoying renewed career success with his very personal documentary The Ghost of Peter Sellers.

There’s also an interesting mix of cameos, including Star Trek’s John Colicos as a police detective, Space 1999’s Barry Morse as a psychic research scientist, Upstairs, Downstairs’ Jean Marsh as Scott’s late wife, and most bizarrely, The Flying Nun’s Madeleine Sherwood as one of the guests at the séance.

The Changeling (1980)

Second Sight has released The Changeling in a Limited Edition Blu-ray, with the following excellent special features…

• Brand new 4K scan and restoration
• Limited Edition packaging featuring poster, 40 page booklet and 
Original Soundtrack CD
• Audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B Michaels
The House on Cheesman Park: The haunting true story of The Changeling
The Music of The Changeling: Interview with music arranger Kenneth Wannberg
Building The House of Horror: Interview with art director Reuben Freed
The Psychotronic Tourist: The Changeling Locations featurette
• Master of Horror Mick Garris on The Changeling
• Trailer 
& TV Spot
• New English subtitles

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Outpost III: Rise of the Spetsnaz (2013) | The Nazi horror is back for another gory testosterone-fuelled adventure

Outpost3_DVD_cover

‘CRY HAVOC, LET LOOSE THE DOGS!’
On the Eastern Front during the dying days of World War Two, Sergeant Dolokhov (Bryan Larkin) and his Russian Red Guard raid a Nazi convoy, but are captured and detained in an underground facility, where they discover the Nazis are attempting to create an army of invincible undead soldiers.

Fearing the success of the Lazarus project could turn the tide of the war effort, Dolokhov and fellow soldier Fyodor (Iván Kamarás) try to find a way to escape. But first they must survive becoming the next subjects in the terrifying experiment.

Outpost III (2013)

‘DYING ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE’
If you like your horror dripping in blood and testosterone, then you’ve certainly come to the right place. I’ve never seen the first two instalments of this Nazi franchise, but the lure of beefy blokes engaging in some brutal bare-knuckle combat with some seriously pumped up zombies, I couldn’t resist.

Outpost III (2013)

On the plus side, the production values are pretty good, featuring some cool vintage soldier kit, uniforms, vehicles and armoury and an explosive opening. While the descent into the underground bunker is a genuinely spooky ghost ride. On the minus side, there are few surprises on offer, the dialogue is delivered badly, and the corny humour just doesn’t work in a film that wants to be a tough, brutal horror. The German accents are particularly laughable, while Larkin slips into his native Scottish tongue on more than one occasion.

Outpost III (2013)

Despite this – and the fact that the monstrous creations are no more than wrestlers bulging out of their uniforms – the film does exactly what it says on the tin, and kudos especially go to Larkin as the fearless Wolverine-inspired Russian fighter hero. He certainly gets my vote as Man of the Match.

Outpost III (2013)

FAVOURITE LINE
‘Asshole or bullet? In the end you’ll scream just the same’

Outpost III: Rise of the Spetsnaz is out on DVD in UK from eOne Entertainment (order from Amazon) and premieres on The Horror Channel (Sky 317, Virgin 149, Freeview 70, Freesat 138) today at 11pm.

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Miss Leslie’s Dolls (1973) | This demented schlock horror is a camp delight!

Miss Leslie's Dolls (1972)

Whatever you do, don’t go by the IMDb listing for this 1970s schlockfest, which is supposed to be about ‘a gay drag queen with a mother fixation who terrorizes a city, hunting down, killing and dismembering women’. While that sounds like something I’d rather like to see, Miss Leslie’s Dolls is actually about a maniac obsessed with transporting her spirit into the bodies of young women, while the ‘dolls’ of the title are the preserved corpses of the girls she failed to possess.

Miss Leslie's Dolls (1973)

With long black Morticia Addams hair, bushy eyebrows and five o’clock shadow, and dressed in a matronly purple robe, Miss Leslie looks like Aleister Crowley in Norma Bates drag. Now it’s pretty obvious from the outset that she’s being played by a bloke (Miami theatre actor Salvador Ugarte) being dubbed by a woman, but it all makes sense in the end and the road to the reveal is an absolute hoot.

Miss Leslie's Dolls (1973)

This trangressive spin on the Old Dark House and House of Wax sees students Martha (Kitty Lewis), Lily (Marcelle Bichette), Roy (Charles Pitt) and their teacher Alma (Terri Juston) seeking shelter from a storm at Miss Leslie’s remote home in the woods.

On setting eyes on the lonely middle-age woman’s tableaux of female statues, the teens suspect her of belonging to some weird love cult, but Miss Leslie explains that she has long held a fascination for dolls and for creating life size ones as her family once owned a doll factory that was burned down in a fire. Martha, meanwhile, is the spitting image of the girl Miss Leslie was in love with 20 years ago.

Miss Leslie's Dolls (1972)

Things go all Thundercrack meets Psycho as soon as the lights go out, with the students and their teacher getting in some bed swapping and heavy petty (Roy’s a bit of a sex god, and there’s some girl-on-girl action), while ‘girl worshipper’ Miss Leslie heads to the cellar for an emotional heart-to-heart with the skull of her dead mother, whom she blames for her murderous acts. We then learn that all Miss Leslie wants in life is to be desired – and to do that, she needs to be reincarnated into the body of a young woman. Oh dear… there are three potential candidates upstairs!

Miss Leslie's Dolls (1972)

What happens next is really ‘Out there!’ – with the standout scenes involving the waxwork ‘dolls’ coming to lurid life; Martha, Lily and Roy being chased by Miss Leslie armed with an axe dripping in blood, and a drugged Alma, dressed in baby doll negligee and fluffy mules, trying to escape from the deranged maniac. So does Miss Leslie succeed in her spirit swapping? Well you’ll have to see the film to find out. But I can reveal that’s there’s a neat twist at the end.

For decades this would-be cult classic was considered lost, and doesn’t even get a mention in any of my cult film reference books, including Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopaedia (my go-to book for the weird, the strange and the freakish). But kudos to Network Distributing and The Erotic Film Society’s Julian Marsh for unearthing this hidden gem (which I’ve now watched three times).

Miss Leslie's Dolls (1972)

As I’ve mentioned, the film shares its DNA with a host of other genre classics, with Psycho being the obvious one. Shot at the same studios in Florida where Hershell Gordon Lewis lensed his grand guignol offerings, it has the look and feel of the godfather of gore’s grindhouse flicks (especially Gruesome Twosome), but also has shades of Ed Wood’s Glen Or Glenda and even Beyond the Valley of the Dolls running through its exploitation veins.

There’s much debate as to who really directed this bizarre cinematic experience, which is all explained in the booklet, written by film historian Laura Mayne, which accompanies Network’s release, but that doesn’t matter, as this is a hugely enjoyable slice of cheap and sleazy 1970s horror, which also benefits from an unusual score by the film’s screenwriter (Ralph Remy Jr as Imer Leaf) that fuses the space-age electronic sounds of Bebe and Louis Barron’s music to Forbidden Planet (1955) with Bobby Beausoleil’s otherworldly orchestral score to Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising (1972).

Newly scanned from one of the few surviving prints in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Miss Leslie’s Dolls is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on 3 September from Network.

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Black Sunday (1960) | Revisiting Mario Bava’s Italian gothic horror in haunting HD

La maschera del demonio

As today (10 August) marks the 58th anniversary of the Italian release of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (aka La maschera del demonio) back in 1960, what better way to celebrate than by re-visiting the 2013 Arrow Video Blu-ray.

Black Sunday (1960)

In 17th-century Moldavia, princess Asa (Barbara Steele) is sentenced to a cruel death for sorcery and adultery – a spiked mask is driven into her face. Two centuries later, Asa and her devil-worshipping lover Igor rise from their crypts to destroy the descendants of Asa’s cursed family…

1960’s Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan) is one of the most significant films in the annals of horror cinema. It was Mario Bava’s directorial debut and launched Barbara Steele‘s career as the decade’s queen of horror. Evoking the Universal horrors of the 1930s and 1940s, while still offering the modern shocks found in Hammer films like The Curse of Frankenstein, Black Sunday gave Bava the chance to hone the romantic style that he had fashioned co-directing Riccardo Freda’s 1957 horror, I Vampiri.

The result is a hauntingly-beautiful gothic chiller, with a host of classic sequences – from Asa’s grisly execution (which resulted in the film being banned in the UK for eight years) to Igor’s frightening resurrection – that have become staples of the horror genre, influencing a host of film-makers, from Roger Corman to Tim Burton. And behind the fake cobwebs and fog-shrouded sets, the gothic horror also contained a key theme that would recur in later Bava films: the eradication of desire by men fearful of female sexuality. But that’s another story…

THE ARROW RELEASE
Vintage horror completists will certainly want to add Arrow Video’s dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) 2013 release to their collection as it greatly improves on the 1999 DVD version.

While that did contain the director’s cut (aka The Mask of Satan), Arrow’s release allows you the choice of either the English or Italian soundtrack. And, in a must-have first, it also includes the US theatrical cut of Black Sunday, featuring a score by exotica maestro Les Baxter, and dubbing that is marginally better than the director’s cut.

First up is the European (Mask of Satan) Director’s Cut with the option of either Italian with subtitles or English audio, next is the big-one (and unique to this release): the US AIP theatrical cut (under the title Black Sunday) with the option of either Italian with English subtitles or the English dub (which is different – and marginally better – to the European cut). It also features the US score by exotica maestro Les Baxter.

The extras maybe the same as the 1999 release (an 8-minute interview with Barbara Steele, and the excellent Tim Lucas audio commentary), but also included is the rarely-seen 1957 Italian horror, I Vampiri (in Standard Definition, but looks great), which was directed by Riccardo Freda but completed Bava. Topping it all is the suitably atmospheric artwork from British illustrator extraordinaire Graham Humphreys.

 

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The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) | Sergio Martino’s notorious exploitation cult looks ravishing on Blu-ray

From Shameless in the UK comes the 2k restoration release of Sergio Martino’s 1978 Italian horror The Mountain of the Cannibal God (minus the gratuitous animal cruelty) on Blu-ray and DVD.

Ursula Andress braves tarantulas, alligators, anacondas and treacherous terrain as she goes in search of her missing scientist husband, Henry, on a ‘wild and uncontaminated’ island in New Guinea.

Enlisting the services of Stacey Keach’s professor Edward Foster and jungle explorer Manolo (Claudio Cassinelli), Susan (Andress) and her brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina) set their sights on the mountain of Ra Ra Me, where Henry’s clandestine expedition was headed. But everyone have their own private reasons for reaching this mystical destination… and not everyone is going to survive the ‘orgiastic pandemonium’ that ensues…

Also known as La montagna del dio cannibale (in Italy), Slave of the Cannibal God (in the US) and Prisoner of the Cannibal God (in the UK), Martino’s exploitation flick was banned in the UK as a ‘video nasty’ until 2001 for its violent imagery. Shameless have now reinstated the long-missing original dramatic gore, but has wisely chosen to ‘soften’ the animal suffering visuals which were patently inserted, completely out of context, to cater for commercial stipulations of the day. However, that bestiality scene involving a ‘disinterested’ pig remains intact!

Frankly, I think this rebuild makes for much more suspenseful jungle adventure (like King Solomon’s MInes meets Emmanuelle), while Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography of the jungle and its wildlife, and the cave locations (all shot in Sri Lanka,) really shine in this restoration. The camera also loves Andress, who looks flawless despite her many ordeals, which include climbing a genuinely dangerous waterfall and being turned into a living goddess coated in honey. The music score, by Guido and Maurizo de Angelis, is also one I could happily listen to in its own right. My only niggle is the film’s unflattering portrayal of indigenous culture (but that is something that’s problematic of many Mondo-style exploitation flicks of the era).

Martino has fully supported Shameless’ efforts not to ‘pander to exploitative and unnecessary violence against animals’, and the director explains that in detail in the extras that are included in this release.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Cannibal Nightmare – Return to The Mountain of the Cannibal God: Documentary
• Sergio Martino on filming animal cruelty
• Theatrical trailer
• Italian credits

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The Old Dark House (1932) | James Whale’s macabre masterpiece restored and released at long last!

The Old Dark House (1932)

1932’s The Old Dark House is arguably director James Whale’s greatest cinematic feat, a macabre queer comedy disguised as a horror, delightfully acted (by lots of Brits abroad), and fused together with Whale’s stylistic, sardonic humour, well-knit scenario witty and insightful screenplay, and moody camerawork, lighting and production design. It is, quite possibly, the best British horror ever made – in Hollywood.

The Old Dark House (1932)

Taking its queues from JB Priestley’s 1927 novel, Benighted, and the ‘Old House’ chillers of stage and screen, Whale’s storm-driven adaptation finds five weary travellers becoming stranded at the ominous Welsh mansion of the reclusive and very strange Femm family, who are all quite possibly all insane. What follows is a wicked parody of the British class system, and one that features a performance from Ernest Thesiger that outshines even his iconic turn as Dr Pretorius in Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein a couple of years later.

The Old Dark House (1932)

Thesiger plays Horace Femm, a sniffy little man, who is probably wanted by the police (for crimes we can only imagine) and has seething contempt for everything and everyone. He owns the house along with his pious half-deaf sister Eva (beautifully played by Eva Moore), and their scenes together provide the film with its most memorable moments and best lines: like ‘Have a potato’ and ‘How reassuring’.

Gloria Stuart and Raymond Massey play married socialite couple Margaret and Philip, while Melvyn Douglas is their playboy friend Roger. When a landslide forces them off the road, they seek shelter with the Femms; and are soon joined by Charles Laughton (making his screen debut and speaking his in native Yorkshire tongue) and Lilian Bond, who play the self-made businessman Sir William Porterhouse and chorus girl Gladys. But with no beds on offer, they are all forced to spend the evening huddle together around a fireplace after a frugal meal of roast, gravy and – yes- potatoes…

The Old Dark House (1932)

But it’s not long before the Femms skeletons starting coming out of the closet as the lights go out and the group are soon menaced by Boris Karloff’s mute butler Morgan, who hits the bottle and goes on a drunken rampage, which results in the release of Femm’s pyromaniac brother Saul (Brember Wills) from his locked attic room…

Whale’s shows off his perverse sense of humour through the stylistic, expressionistic camerawork (by Arthur Edeson, who also shot Frankenstein) in some very memorable scenes: like when Horace announces, ‘My sister was on the point of arranging these flowers’, then summarily throws them into the fireplace. Another is when Morgan makes his menacing entrance, and a particularly surreal funhouse mirror shot of Margaret and Rebecca, their features distorted in a vanity mirror. Then there’s the terrific trick shot of Morgan coming down the stairs only to reveal the hand on the banister is not his…

The Old Dark House (1932)

Packed to the rafters with morbid mirth and a sly wink at class and society, this is one of the most entertaining horror films of the 1930’s. The Masters of Cinema Series special dual format edition of James’s Whales’ queer comedy horror features a stunning 1080p presentation from the Cohen Media Group 4K restoration (with a progressive encode on the DVD), uncompressed LPCM audio (on the Blu-ray) and optional English subtitles; and includes a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, archival material and previously unseen imagery and ephemera; and Limited Edition O-Card (first run only) featuring artwork by Graham Humphreys, created especially for the 2018 UK theatrical release. The special extras (below), however, are the icing on the cake, making this a must-have for any classic film collection…

The Old Dark House (1932)

Meet the Femms This video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns is exceptionally executed, with loads of informative back stories on the production, cast and crew, super behind the scenes photos, incuding Whales’ own set designs, and I really enjoyed hearing actors Steven McNicoll and Angela Hardie voicing the various characters in Priestley’s novel, Benighted, as well as the author himself and Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester.

Daughter of Frankenstein Sara Karloff talks candidly about her father and his work on this production, and has a great story about how Boris and Charles Laughton did not see eye-to-eye.

Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House This archival interview has the late-director (who became a close friend of Whale’s) recalling his efforts in rescing the film from oblivion back in 1968. Please, someone, give this man a posthumous medal for doing this!

Commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones This is a great listen, with some interesting bits of trivia  like that fact that Karloff was dubbed, and Kim makes a very interesting link between the film’s structure (and its class-based ensemble) to disaster movies. This was made prior to Gloria Stuart’s death (aged 100) in 2010, as the duo talk about her in the present tense, and their comments are all based on viewing an inter-negative print.

Commentary by Gloria Stuart This is absolutely riveting. Stuart is a joy to listen to and she provides huge amounts of personal insight (the film was a real high point in her acting career): admiring Whales’ sardonic humour, the uncomfortable shooting for the actors, her regrets at being a young 22 upstart making her second film who was unaware of Eva Moore’s pedigree (a suffragette, one of Edward VI’s favourites and the mother of Laurence Olivier’s first wife, Jill Esmond), and shedding light on some truths about why Karloff and Whale weren’t on friendly terms during the shoot.

Commentary by James Whale biographer James Curtis This has lots of great insight into the film’s production, and I certainly learnt a few things. Did you know that Karloff’s mute butler Morgan became the model for the butler Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons? These were subsequently published as Drawn and Quartered, with a Foreward by Karloff and thus effectively the character became Lurch in The Addams Family. Curtis also examines the similarities and differences between Priestley’s novel and Whale’s screenplay – which makes for an interesting analysis.

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