Category Archives: Horror

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).

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

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

Karloff at Columbia | Six classic chillers from the Master of Terror

From Eureka Entertainment comes KARLOFF AT COLUMBIA, six films comprising the entirety of the Master of Terror’s filmic output for Columbia Pictures, as a part of the Eureka Classics range from 3 May 2021.

All six are making their worldwide debut on Blu-ray, and it’s the first time they’ve become available on home video in the UK. There’s also a wealth of bonus content over the two discs, including four Inner Sanctum radio broadcasts, and a collector’s booklet featuring articles by Karloff expert Stephen Jacobs (author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster); film critic and author Jon Towlson; and film scholar Craig Ian Mann. 

DISC ONE

The Black Room (1935, dir. Roy William Neill)
Released in the same year as Universal’s The Bride of Frankenstein and The Raven, this excellent Gothic chiller sees Karloff taking on a dual role as the twin sons of a Czechoslovakian baron in early 1800s Europe. The eldest Gregor is a brutal sadist, who abdicates in favour of his gentle brother Anton when confronted by an angry mob after several village girls disappear. He then secretly murders Anton and impersonates him.

Karloff is in fine form here and plays each twin with much light and shade (and the double exposure camera trick really works a treat). The sets, lighting and cinematography are all wonderfully atmospheric – with Universal’s expressionist influence much evident. My standout scene is when Allen Seiger’s camera tracks servant Maska (Cecil B DeMille’s daughter Katherine) as she moves quietly through a local graveyard as the castle set looms menacingly in the background (it all looks like something out of a dark fairy tale book).

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939, dir. Nick Grinde)
Having been hidden under mountains of make-up in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein and a couple of Charlie Chan films, Karloff scored a role that proved so successful that Columbia went on the produce four more films with similar themes. These became known as Karloff’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle, and follow in this box-set. Here he plays Dr Savaard a dedicated scientist who is hanged after his experiments with an artificial heart resulted in the death of a volunteer. Brought back to life by a loyal assistant, he lures the six jurors that condemned him to his mansion which has been rigged with traps and kills them one by one.

Karloff pulls off a delicate balancing act here with aplomb, one that requires him to be kindly but also seething with vengeance, and to elicit sympathy even while he’s frying his victims with bolts of electricity or dosing them on poison. These set-pieces still hold up today, and I’m sure influenced films like 1973’s Theatre of Blood and the Saw franchise. Following this, Karloff was back in full-on horror mode with Universal’s Tower of London.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Man With Nine Lives (1940, dir. Nick Grinde)
In his second good-scientist-turn-bad role, Karloff plays the rather frosty Dr Kravaal, whose experiments in cryogenics could be a cure for cancer. But while testing the formula, Kravaal’s underground laboratory is invaded, and everyone ends up unconscious after the formula is dropped. A decade later, Kravaal is revived by medical researcher Dr Mason and his nurse Judith, but when his formula is destroyed by another revived patient, Kravaal plans to keep everyone prisoner and use them as guinea pigs until he can recreate the drug. Reviews at the time called this a ‘first-class shocker’ and like They Man They Could Not Hang drew on some controversial science – mainly American biologist Robert Cornish (who was a real-life Herbert West) and his ‘Lazarus’ experiments.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

Karloff on the Radio
The Corridor of Doom (12 October 1945) & The Wailing Wall (6 Novemeber 1945)

DISC TWO

Before I Hang (1940, dir. Nick Grinde)
After creating an artificial heart and finding a cure for cancer, seeking an elixir to restore youth and prolong life came next in Karloff’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle. Sentenced to hang after a mercy killing, brilliant scientist Dr Garth continues his experiments behind bars. Using the blood of a killer, he injects himself and becomes younger. When his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment, he kills the prison doctor (Edward Van Sloan), but another convict is blamed. Pardoned, he returns home to resume his practice, but with his mind and body contaminated – his lust for murder continues.

Originally titled Wizard of Death, this third entry is a much more ghoulish affair than The Man With Nine Lives, and its bolstered by Karloff’s winning turn (which he described as ‘a cross between a ghoul, a zombie and a vampire’. It also features Evelyn Keys (The Face Behind the Mask) and Bruce Bennett (The Alligator People).

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Devil Commands (1941, dir. Edward Dmytryk)
Karloff was somewhat tired of the crazed-scientist format by the time he filmed this last ‘serious’ entry. Here he plays Dr Julian Blair, who constructs a machine to communicate with his late wife, whom he believes has been trying to send out an electrical signal to him from beyond the grave. Working in secrecy in an old house in New England, he starts robbing graves for subjects in his experiments, which he carries out with the help of a medium (Anne Revere). After the death of a nosey housekeeper, however, the townsfolk rise up against him and just as he is about to achieve success (using his daughter as a conduit), his machine explodes.

While one reviewer called it ‘a hodge-podge of scientific claptrap’, The Devil Commands is one of the most inventive and thoroughly engrossing among Columbia’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle. While based on sci-fi/fantasy author William Sloane’s 1939 novel The Edge of Running Water, there’s a strong HP Lovecraft vibe in the offing. It greatly reminded me of Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond. I particularly like the lab scenes with all its gadgetry and those weird robot-like suits, and the final scene with the column of energy being sucked into the atmosphere is really ahead of its time. Karloff followed this with a hugely successful return to the stage – in Arsenic and Old Lace.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)


The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942, dir. Lew Landers)
Filmed on the back of Karloff’s success in Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway, Columbia’s homicidal screwball comedy cast Hollywood’s foremost ‘boogie man’ as Professor Nathaniel Billings, a scientist intent on creating a race of superman for the war effort in the basement of a historic 18th-century inn. But things getting messy when he sells the place to the enterprising Winnie, while also continuing his experiments with the aid of Dr Lorentz (Peter Lorre), the local sheriff and doctor. Mix in a powder-puff salesman, a fascist planning to blow up a munitions factory, and Winnie’s concerned husband, and all manner of craziness ensues.

This was Karloff last film under his contract with Columbia, and it scored mixed reviews. It is great to see both Karloff and Lorre share quality screen time, but watching this only underlines the questions: just how good would they have been if Karloff had been given a chance to reprise his Arsenic and Old Lace stage role in Frank Capra’s 1944 film adaptation.

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

Karloff on the Radio
Birdsong for a Murderer (22 June 1952) & Death for Sale (13 July 1952)

Godzilla: The Showa-era (1954-1975) | I’m roaring with excitement over Criterion’s beast of a Blu-ray box set

67-years-ago, Japan’s monster movie genre, kaiju-eiga, rose out of the sea in the guise of Godzilla. Over the following decades, Toho’s terrifying symbol of nuclear annihilation has transformed into a superhero in a series of films ranging from serious sci-fi to bubblegum pop. I’ve grown up with Godzilla and his many allies and adversaries, and count Mothra, Ghidora, Hedorah and Mechagodzilla among my favourites of the Shōwa-era (1957-1975).

With Godzilla vs Kong now streaming, I thought it would be the best time to share my thoughts about Criterion’s eight-disc box-set, which I have been watching whilst in lockdown. It features a bonanza of extra content as well as a monster-sized book featuring great artwork*** and new writing about each of the films. Let the roaring begin…

Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1954)
In June 1953, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms rampaged through New York where it unleashed a deadly prehistoric contagion before being burned alive in an inferno at Coney Island. Then, in October 1954, Japan faced another radioactive monster from the deep, Gojira.

This superior and deadly serious atomic age sci-fi is an all-time classic and looks better than ever in HD. The human story is a blunt yet purposeful metaphor for Japan’s post-war nuclear holocaust fears, and Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and miniature sets are and still look fantastic. But what I love most about this Japanese original is Akira Ifukube’s powerful, yet melancholy score. The US version, featuring Raymond Burr, is also included. 

Godzilla Raids Again (dir. Motoyoshi Oda, 1955)
Released in the US as Gigantis, the Fire Monster, this black and white sequel sees Godzilla going up against his first foe – an ankylosaurus called Anguirus. This time, Osaka’s ancient port city ends up in ruins after the two monsters do battle outside the historical caste. The human story involves a group of convicts whose escape plans go awry when the city’s subway is flooded (in one of the film’s best sequences). Meanwhile, two pilots (Hiroshi Koizumi and Minoru Chiaki) working for a tuna cannery company who end up the film’s unlikely heroes. Anguirus is no match for Godzilla, but the returning titan ends up buried in an avalanche of ice and rock.

King Kong vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, Thomas Montgomery, 1963)
After seven years in hibernation, Godzilla rampages once more – and this time in glorious colour. This Toho-Universal co-production (based on an original idea by Willis O’Brien) opens with one of the best sequences in the entire franchise – a giant octopus attacking an island village. Kong defeats the creature, then falls fast asleep after eating some irresistible berry juice. While resting, he’s transported to Japan by a pharmaceutical company who plan to put Kong on show. But with Godzilla on the warpath, it’s not before they engage in some rock-throwing and fire-breathing; with Tokyo once more facing destruction. The wrestling titans end up in an underwater battle after destroying Atami Castle, where the final battle score is 1:1.

Mothra vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
In the second of 11 films and a 1990s trilogy featuring Toho’s second favourite kaiju character – another slimy entrepreneur plans to turn one of Mothra’s giant eggs into a sideshow attraction. At the same time, Godzilla emerges from his muddy to lay waste the city of Nagoya. A news reporter, a photographer and a professor then head to Infant Island to request the Shobijin (again played by The Peanuts, AKA twin sisters Emi and Yumi Itō) to send Mothra to defeat Godzilla. The duo clash, but Mothra is ultimately defeated. However, all is not lost when the egg hatches two larvae, which then spin a cocoon around Godzilla, and dump him in the sea.

I love this film, almost as much as 1961’s Mothra (check out the Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment). Yuji Koseki’s catchy Song of Mothra gets revamped by Akira Ifukube, whose The Sacred Springs, sung by The Peanuts, is the film’s standout track. In the US, American Internation Pictures released an edited version under the title Godzilla vs The Thing.

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
Released eight months after Mothra Vs. Godzilla, this monster mash-up sees the franchise getting a bit of an overhaul, with Godzilla now taking on the role of Earth’s protector. This time around, the menace is the titular lightning-emitting space monster who would go on to become Godzilla’s arch-enemy in the Showa series and beyond.

In a nod to Roman Holiday, which did big business in Japan, the story sees a princess of a remote nation (future Bond girl Akiko Wakabayashi) saved from being assassinated by an alien intelligence and used as a prophet of doom. Action star Yosuke Natsuki is the detective tasked with protecting her. While assassins try to kill her, Mothra brokers a deal with Godzilla and the irradiated PteranodonRodan (one of my least favourite kaiju) to join forces to take Gihidorah down. The film’s highlight is Ghidorah’s fiery birth (overseen by an expedition wearing some fab colour-coordinated outfits), and check out the panto-worthy costumes worn by the princess’ royal courtiers.

Invasion of Astro-Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1965)
In the series’ first space adventure, two astronauts – Nick Adams (a dead-ringer for Vladimir Putin) and Akira Takarada – investigate a mysterious new planet under attack from King Ghidorah (Monster Zero). The United Nations agrees to help, by lending them Godzilla and Rodan, but the evil controller of Planet X plans to invade the Earth using all three monsters under his control.

Esi Tsuburaya and his special effects team create some winning designs here (it’s all very Gerry Anderson), mostly the alien landscapes, futuristic weaponry and Planet’s X’s flying saucers (which I’d love to have as a model). And the aliens look cool in their body-hugging vinyl suits and wraparound sunglasses. The monster fight sequences are well-staged (although the wires are very noticeable on Rodan and Ghidorah). There are also some comic antics from Godzilla when he does his victory dance (inspired by Fujio Akatsuka’s manga Oso Matsu-kun, where the main character jumps up in a particular pose while shouting ‘Shie!’).

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1966)
In this South Seas island-set James Bondian adventure, a new team took charge of the film’s direction, score and special effects and it’s quite the colourful confection all to the strains of some jazzy guitar riffs. The story follows young Ryota (Toru Watanabe) as he goes in search for his missing brother on a stolen yacht with two companions and a stowaway (Akira Takarada). After being attacked by the titular Ebirah (a giant lobster), during a storm, they get shipwrecked on an island where The Red Bamboo (a secret army) are building atomic weapons for a planned attack on Japan. Discovering this, the foursome and a young native girl try to help the island’s captive workforce (from Mothra’s Infant Island) to escape. At the same time, Godzilla gets a rude awakening beneath the island. The film’s standout scene is an aerial attack on Godzilla, while Mothra makes a welcome return.

Son of Godzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1967)
This second island adventure from Toho starts off a tad slow but pays off with some great monsters and comic turns from the lead players. A team of scientists are working on a weather control system on Sollgel Island when a mishap results in a radioactive storm, causing the island’s oversized mantises to grow to gigantic size. Godzilla then comes to the rescue when they unearth an egg that hatches a baby Godzilla. As Godzilla teaches his adopted charge, Minilla (AKA Minya), how to use its atomic ray (cue lots of humourous interplay), the scientists, reporters, and island native girls find themselves under attack by a giant spider. But guess who comes to the rescue? I loved the mantises’ design (Kamacuras – AKA Gimantis) and the spider (Kumonga AKA Spiga) here, and the jazzy music is a plus. The only downside for me was Minilla – but little kids loved him.

Destroy All Monsters (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1968)
Toho planned to end the Godzilla series with this monster mash-up and, wanting to out with a bang, reuniting the original 1954 creative team. It’s 1999, and the world’s monsters are now all housed on Monsterland island under the United Nations Science Committee’s watchful eye. But when an alien race called the Kilaaks (who wear a nice line in silver lamé) use mind control on the monsters, all hell breaks loose. Rodan attacks Moscow, Mothra Beijing, Manda London, Baragon Paris and Godzilla New York (beginning with the UN HQ). After the UNSC retaliate by destroying the Kilaaks lunar outpost, the aliens call in King Ghidorah to protect their secret base at Mount Fuji. Godzilla, Minilla, Mothra, Rodan, Gorosaurus, Anguirus, and Kumonga join forces to take down the fire-breathing serpent. But the Kilaaks have a new surprise: a Fire Dragon.

This was the first Godzilla film I saw (aged seven), and it made me a life-long fan. The action set pieces are well-orchestrated, while the primary coloured sets, costumes and special effects (courtesy of a returning Tsuburaya) are terrific, especially the Moonlight SY-3 spaceship and the Kilaaks saucers. Best scenes are the attack on Tokyo, the battle at Mount Fuji, and the climactic showdown. A massive hit in both Japan and the US (where American International Pictures distributed it), its success meant Godzilla would live to fight another day.

All Monsters Attack (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1969)
OK! This one is a bit of a dud in my book, as it uses footage from the previous films wrapped around the story of a little boy who some kids in his Kawasaki neighbourhood are bullying. At the same time, Godzilla’s annoying son Minilla has similar issues with an ogre-like creature called Gabara. Director Honda, who retired after making this film, regarded it as one of his favourites, as it directly spoke to children (its target audience). It went out under the title, Godzilla’s Revenge, in the US, initially on the same bill as the ‘underrated’ British sci-fi Night of the Big Heat starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Godzilla vs Hedorah (dir. Yoshimitsu Banno, 1971)
Yeah! One of my all-time favourites. Released internationally as Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, this 11th film in the series re-establishes Godzilla as an ecological hero as he comes up against a glowing red-eyed alien spawned from pollution. ‘Hedoro’ (which means polluted mud) is one of my favourite creature designs of the series, and quite similar to the one-eyed tentacle monsters in The Green Slime (1968). Although aimed at younger audiences, and again featuring a little boy at the centre of the action, this latest kaiju features some genuinely scary moments (all the better to highlight the very real problem of out of control pollution in Japan at the time). My fave is when a transformed flying Hedora’s toxic sludge and gas turns people into skeletons.

Set against a trippy hippie backdrop (the club scenes are ‘wild man!’, and check out the crazy paisley clobber and sealife masks!), it also features a kitschy catchy theme tune, Kaese! Taiyô wo (Return! The Sun), which was sung by Keiko Mari in the Japanese version and redone as Save The Earth, written and sung by Adryan Russ, on the US AIP edit (which is the version I first saw). Russ went on to score the Broadway hit Inside Out, and her music also features on TV shows Young Sheldon and WandaVision. It’s such a cool song; here are both versions to enjoy. It’s just a shame that the US edit isn’t included in this box set.

Godzilla vs Gigan (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1972)
Cockroach-like aliens, the Nebulans, take on human form and construct a theme park, World Children’s Land, to serve as their secret base. With their planet dying, they see a polluted Earth as the ideal place to colonise. To aid them in their plan to wipe out humanity, they electronically control two space monsters: King Ghidorah and a reptilian cyborg called Gigan. But a Manga artist stumbles on their plans and, with the help of his karate-kicking girlfriend and hippie sidekick; they alert the Japan Self Defense Forces. Meanwhile, planet protectors Godzilla and Anguirus ally to take down the space monsters and the aliens.

This 12th Godzilla film was a huge success, with returning director Jun Fukuda putting the franchise back on track after the disappointing box-office returns of Godzilla vs Hedora. Designed primarily as a marketing ploy for children’s toys, Gigan (who sports scythe-like claws, abdominal buzz-saw and pincer-like mandibles) is one of Godzilla’s most brutal adversaries, and also the first kaiju in the Toho series to make him bleed. Featuring lashings action and goofiness, and more bloodshed than any previous Godzilla film, this one also introduced a new trope to the series: monster tag teams facing off each other. It also marked Haruo Nakajima’s final performance as Godzilla, which he had played for 24 years.

Godzilla vs Megalon (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1973)
This film sees Godzilla turned into a fully-fledged monster-hero for kids, and with no female characters to speak of, it’s an entirely Boys’ Own adventure. The scenario sees Seatopia’s Emperor Antonio (The Green Slime’s Robert Dunham) retaliating against the surface dwellers nuclear testing by letting loose the underwater kingdom’s protector Megalon, a giant beetle with drillbit arms that spits napalm bombs and shoots death rays. He also calls on space monster Gigan (who looks way less sinister this time around due to the new suit) to join forces to create mass destruction.

Again, a little boy, Rokuro (Hiroyuki Kawase), is at the centre of the action along with his scientist brother Goro (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and his friend Hiroshi (Yutaka Hayashi). Meanwhile, Godzilla is shoved to the sidelines as the film-makers show off their equivalent to the many Ultraman heroes – Jet Jaguar, a flying super robot who gets his own theme tune (you can sing along with it below). Relying mostly on stock footage, it’s pretty unexciting on the SFX side, while the climactic tag-team looks like something out of a 1970s TV wrestling match. Oh, and look carefully during the big pyrotechnic scene as you can see the Godzilla suit catching fire.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1974)
This penultimate Showa-era kaiju finds Godzilla taking on his space titanium doppelganger. Created by the ape-like Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens, Mechagodzilla (with its head-spinning space beams and finger missiles) is one of my top fave Godzilla adversaries. The robotic menace proved a big hit when it made its debut and has continued to appear in films, comics and video games and is sure to garner a new generation of fans when it rises again in Godzilla vs Kong. Disguised as Godzilla, the giant robot attacks Tokyo but is soon confronted by the real Godzilla and forced to retreat to the alien’s crater base inside Mount Fuji. Much intrigue ensues involving an archaeologist, Interpol agents, and a mystical statue that awakens King Caesar – the ancient guardian of Okinawa’s royal Azumi family. Of course, Mechagodzilla is no match when King Caesar and Godzilla joins forces. 

Terror of Mechagodzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1975)
It’s the end of an era and what better way than to bring back the mighty Mechagodzilla. Again those simian aliens return to finish what they started – the conquest of the Earth. This time around, they rebuild their greatest weapon with living human brain cells and use a young woman, Katsura (Tomoko Ai) – who has been turned into a cyborg by her mad scientist dad – to control its circuitry. Again, Interpol is trying to stop the aliens while Godzilla battles with Mechagodzilla MK2 and one of the campest kaiju monsters of the Showa-era Titanosaurus, a pink-frilled aquatic dinosaur who uses its swishing tail to wreak destruction.

I have a soft spot for this final entry because the excellent production design (especially the alien’s base) reminded me of the early James Bond films and Thunderbirds. And as for Goro Mutsumi’s blue-shades wearing alien leader Akihiko Hirata’s crazed scientist – they are worthy of being in an Austin Powers movie. Great to see Honda back on board and Akira Ifukube composing another excellent score.

BONUS FEATURES
• HD digital transfers of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 US-release version of Godzilla; and the 1962 Japanese-release version of King Kong vs Godzilla (which is on disc 8)
• Audio commentaries from 2011 on Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters featuring film historian David Kalat
• International English-language dub tracks for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs Megalon, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla
• 1990 Directors Guild of Japan interview with director Ishiro Honda
• Featurettes on the creation of Godzilla’s special effects and unused effects sequences
• New interview with Alex Cox about his admiration for the Showa-era Godzilla films
• New and archival interviews with cast and crew members, including actors Bin Furuya, Tsugutoshi Komada, Haruo Nakajima, and Akira Takarada; composer Akira Ifukube; and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai
• Interview with critic Tadao Sato from 2011
• Illustrated audio essay from 2011 about the real-life tragedy that inspired Godzilla
• New English subtitle translations
• Trailers

*** THE ILLUSTRATORS
Arthur Adams, Sophie Campbell, Becky Cloonan, Jorge Coelho, Geof Darrow, Simon Gane, Robert Goodin, Benjamin Marra, Monarobot, Takashi Okazaki, Angela Rizza, Yuko Shimizu, Bill Sienkiewicz, Katsuya Terada, Ronald Wimberly and Chris Wisnia

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