Category Archives: Must See

Shock (1977) | Mario Bava’s final feature is an underrated gem – just watch out for the walking wardrobes!

More than two years after his 1974 thriller Rabid Dogs remained unfinished and the same year’s horror Lisa and the Devil went unreleased in Italy and was cut to shreds on its international release, 63-year-old Italian director Mario Bava was in a bad way.

After a glittering career spanning some 40+ years, he found himself in semi-retirement as young guns like Dario Argento were becoming the new face of Italian horror. But with the help of his son Lamberto, who was just finding his way in the family business, Mario went on to helm what would become his final feature, 1977’s Shock (AKA Schock in Italy and Beyond the Door II in the US) – a modern-day psychological thriller in which true horror lies from within.

Daria Nicolodi stars as the mentally fragile Dora, who moves back into her old family home on the Italian coast with her pilot husband, Bruno (John Steiner) and Marco (David Colin Jr), her young son from a previous marriage. When Bruno departs for work in London, Dora finds herself plagued by accidents and apparitions, as well as Marco’s increasingly bizarre behaviour, which inescapably leads her to a nervous breakdown.

Everything seems to be linked to Dora’s former dead husband Carlo, a drug addict who took his own life. Has his spirit come back to haunt her? Is he using Marco as a conduit to torment her? Is Dora manifesting some deep-set guilt? And what lies behind the brick wall in the cellar?

Now restored in high definition for the first time, Mario Bava’s cinematic swansong is ripe for rediscovery courtesy of Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release, which features some superb extras. These include an insightful audio commentary from Tim Lucas, who is, without doubt, the foremost authority on all things Mario Bava, and Lamberto Bava’s interview, which lays bare the ins and outs of his collaboration with his dad. Plus, much more.

I hadn’t seen Shock before (and I’ve seen most of Maria Bava’s films over the years) and I must say, it’s an underrated gem. There’s so much on offer here, despite its poor reception on its release. There’s a Repulsion-esque scenario that plays crazy mind games on you; an intensely engaging performance from Nicolodi (who was working through her own personal issues following her separation from Dario Argento); some inventive practical special effects (including walking wardrobes and a possessed Stanley knife), and one particular jump scare that certainly got me! (and inspired a scene in the original Scream).

Bava also conjures up a hauntingly beautiful sequence that is pure Bava – when Dora has an erotically-charged encounter with Carlo’s spirit and her hair seemingly comes alive. And to top it all, there’s the eerie synth-and-percussion score by Italian jazz-rockers I Libra, whose members included Goblin’s original drummer Walter Martino (who worked on Profundo rosso). It’s such an earworm, I’m now hunting down a reasonably priced vinyl. A must-have for any fan of Italian’s founding father of horror.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative by Arrow Films
• Original Italian and English front and end titles and insert shots
• Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
A Ghost in the House, a new video interview with co-director and co-writer Lamberto Bava
Via Dell’Orologio 33, a new video interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti
The Devil Pulls the Strings, a new video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Shock! Horror! – The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava, a new video appreciation by author and critic Stephen Thrower
The Most Atrocious Tortur(e), a new interview with critic Alberto Farina
• Italian theatrical trailer
• 4 US “Beyond the Door II” TV spots
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
• Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava

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 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 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.

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)

Viy (1967) and Sveto Mesto (1990) | Two visually-arresting Nikolai Gogol Euro horrors on Blu-ray

The macabre and grotesque fiction of Russian author Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) has long been a source for some classic (and not-so-classic) cinematic adaptations – and two of the best are now available in a two-disc Blu-ray edition from Eureka, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series: Aleksandr Ptushko’s Viy (1967), the first Soviet-era horror film, and Serbian director Đorđe Kadijević’s 1990 Yugoslavian adaptation Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place).

Based on Gogol’s influential 1835 horror novella, Viy follows a seminary student in 19th-century Russia who, while on a break from his studies, is asked by a wealthy merchant to pray over the body of his deceased daughter. Rising from her coffin each night, she evokes vampires, werewolves and even the dreaded Viy in a bid to stop him from completing his ritual.

Featuring striking visuals from Aleksandr Ptushko, this is a masterpiece of Soviet and fantasy cinema that requires multiple viewings to understand just how influential it has become on generations of film-makers – including Mario Bava (the I Wurdalak segment in Black Sabbath), Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth) and even Michael Winner (The Sentinel).

Eureka’s 1080p transfer (from an HD restoration of the original film elements) is simply stunning and the extras include a new commentary from Michael Brooke, a video essay on Gogol, an archival documentary on the film, and three Russian silent film fragments – The Portrait [1915, 8 mins], The Queen of Spades [1916, 16 mins], and Satan Exultant [1917, 20 mins].

The second disc features Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place) as a bonus extra – and what bonus it is. I had never heard of Djordje Kadijevic before, and having watched his perversely erotic take on Gogol’s classic tale, I need to see more of his fantasy films which he made for Serbian TV in the 1970s.

Again, it involves a student priest tormented by a young witch (called Catherine here) – but he also expands on the story with three flashback stories that reveal her to be the embodiment of the femme fatale.

Artfully shot, with evocative lighting, it has a 1970s Euro-horror and a rather catchy synth theme tune. Eureka’s set also includes a booklet containing a fascinating essay about Kadijevic by Serbian critic Dejan Ognjanovic, and one on Ptushko by Tim Lucas.

Inner Sanctum Mysteries | Universal’s Lon Chaney Jr showcase on Blu-ray

There is nothing more satisfying than settling down to a classic Universal horror when it comes to a cold, wet wintery day. I have quite a few on various formats, but when I see a new Blu-ray version coming out, I get as excited as I did when I first saw them as a kid on the big screen (as re-releases, of course!). So thank you Eureka Entertainment for adding another 1940s classic to my collection: the Inner Sanctum Mysteries starring Lon Chaney Jr. And what a treat they are.

These six features were based on a US radio show of the same name which ran from 1941 to 1952, whose creaking door opening became legendary. Universal bought the rights as a vehicle for Chaney, who wanted to showcase his talents by starring in each film. Having watched them all and the extras on the Eureka Blu-ray, I now have renewed fondness for Chaney. Filmed before the sad downturn in his career, Chaney is in his prime here. looking ever so suave; while his internal monologues give him the chance to stretch himself as an actor.

But the revelation here is the top-class production design and camerawork, which sparkles in this restoration and reveals ‘a full palette of monochrome’ (a great observation from Peter Atkins in his audio commentary). Also noteworthy is the fantastic supporting cast that graces each chilling mystery (there’s a quite a few fan favourites on show) and the wonderfully atmospheric Paul Sawtell scores. It’s an amazing achievement, especially considering each film was shot in under 12 days.

Here’s a breakdown of Eureka’s two-disc must-have.

DISC ONE

Calling Dr Death (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1943)
After a floating head in a crystal ball introduces us to the first story, Chaney (sporting a pencil-thin moustache) takes the lead as a neurologist who uses hypnotism to discover whether or not he killed his wife. House of Frankenstein‘s J Carrol Naish is the inspector in charge of the case, The Mad Ghoul‘s David Bruce is the man accused of the murder, and Faye Helm (the first victim of Chaney’s Wolfman) also features.

• Audio commentary: Film historian C Courtney Joyner and Regina Le Borg explore the film and TV career of Regina’s director father and how he enjoyed working Chaney. The best bit of trivia: Le Borg was up to direct Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein.
• Trailer

Weird Woman (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944)
Adapted from Fritz Leiber Jr’s Conjure Wife, this mystery finds Chaney cast as a university professor who marries an exotic young woman (Anne Gwynne) who uses witchcraft to further his career – but she comes up against some other practitioners with their own agendas. If you are familiar with Leiber’s book, then you’ll know it was also adapted for the screen in 1962 as Night of the Eagle (AKA Burn! Witch, Burn!). Handsomely mounted, this a faithful take, with a Scream Queen vibe. The Wolf Man‘s Evelyn Ankers and Cat People‘s Elisabeth Russell steal the show. The best bit of trivia: Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen (Phil Brown) features.

• Audio commentary: Justin Humphreys (The Dr Phibes Companion) and Del Howison (Dark Delicacies: Original Tales of Terror and the Macabre) have great fun while unearthing lots of trivia. Justin’s Les Baxter connection really made me smile.
• Trailer

Dead Man’s Eyes (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944)
Exotic beauty Acquanetta, who is best known for her starring roles in Captive Wild Woman, Jungle Woman and Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, plays the jealous Tanya who blinds Chaney’s artist with acid over his love for Jean Parker (The Ghost Goes West). Offered an operation to restore his sight, Chaney’s Dave but must wait until the donor dies. And when he prematurely conks it, Dave’s in the frame for murder.

  • Trailer
  • Kim Newman on The Inner Sanctum Mysteries – New interview
  • This is the Inner Sanctum: Making a Universal Mystery Series [55 mins] Watch this after you have viewed the films on the second disc, as there are lots of spoilers
  • Radio Episodes: The Amazing Death of Mrs Putnam; The Black Seagull and The Skull That Walked

DISC TWO

The Frozen Ghost (dir. Harold Young, 1945)
In this fourth mystery, Chaney’s a stage mentalist caught up in some weird goings-on in a wax museum. He’s quit his act believing his hypnotism caused an audience member’s death, then becomes the prime suspect when his new employer, a wax museum owner, disappears. Evelyn Ankers plays his heartbroken fiancé and Martin Kosleck (The Mummy’s Curse) is the weird plastic surgeon/sculptor who may or may not behind the shenanigans (see his extra below). This one has shades of Universal’s The Black Cat weaved into the plot.
• Trailer

Strange Confession (dir. John Hoffman, 1945)
Now here’s a tale that’s ripe for a Covid-19-themed update. Chaney’s a dedicated scientist working on an influenza vaccine. J Carrol Naish is the tycoon who cares more for profits and safety [remind you of anybody?]. He steals the formula and has Chaney blacklisted. But when he releases it before all the proper tests are done, it results in the tragic death of Chaney’s son. Loosely based on Jean Bart’s Man Who Reclaimed His Head, this features a young Lloyd Bridges and Mary Gordon (AKA Mrs Hudson from the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films).

• Audio commentary: C Courtney Joyner and (via Zoom) Hellraiser II, III, & IV screenwriter Peter Atkins impart lots of trivia about the film’s production. It’s a great listen, though their audio becomes out of sync with the film which is rather annoying.

Pillow of Death (dir. Wallace Fox, 1945)
The title sounds like a Monty Python sketch, and this final instalment does indeed feature some comic moments. Dispensing with the disembodied head in a crystal ball in the intro, it finds Chaney cast as another murder suspect. This time suffocation is the modus operandi, and the victim is Chaney’s wife. He walks free due to a lack of evidence, then more ‘pillow murders’ take place. But everything is not is what it seems. Along for the ride is Brenda Joyce (AKA Jane from the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies).

  • The Creaking Door: Inside The Inner Sanctum [15 mins] History of the radio series with author/radio historian Martin Grams Jr.
  • Mind Over Matter: Archival interview (20-min) with The Frozen Ghost actor Martin Kosleck, who looks back at his Hollywood career after fleeing Germany where he was targeted by the Nazi’s propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. A fascinating interview with an incredibly fascinating character, watch out for the expression on his face as he describes Chaney as the most dreadful, old, rude drunk he had ever seen in his life.
  • Radio Episodes: Skeleton Bay, The Man Who Couldn’t Die and Death of a Doll

Dawn of the Dead (4K UHD/Blu-ray) | Could this be the definitive home entertainment release of George A Romero’s zombie masterpiece?

George A Romero fans rejoice: Dawn of Dead is getting the home entertainment release it finally deserves courtesy of Second Sight Films.

This seminal cult classic, which brilliantly mixes biting political satire and black comedy with state of the art gore effects, has been painstakingly restored and arrives in two format releases: Limited Edition 4K UHD and Limited Edition Blu-ray on 16 November 2020.

Both box-sets include three versions of the film: The Theatrical Cut, The Extended (‘Cannes’) Cut and The Argento Cut, a host of special features (see the full specs below), the previously unreleased The Lost Romero Dawn Interview, brand-now featurettes, soundtrack CDs and a collector’s book.

Now, I have had the enormous pleasure of perusing this incredible box-set and I must say it has to be the best cult film release of 2020. I know Romero/Dawn/zombie fans are already raving about it and I certainly concur. For me, the highlight is bringing all three versions together for the first time. I had never seen the Argento Cut before and I was amazed by how different (and condensed) it is from the Theatrical Cut (the version I’m most familiar with).

Then there are those extras: WOW! I had the good fortune to attend the fan run George Romero convention, Weekend of the Dead, in Manchester just before the Covid-19 pandemic shut the world down. It was great to hear and meet Christine Romero and Ralph Langer who are amongst many who share their memories of working on the film in the extras contained here. Given that this kind of convention is shut down for the foreseeable future, this box-set is the perfect opportunity to hear what they have to say. Plus, the films looking stunning (especially on my home cinema screen).

Second Sight Films – you’ve done yourself proud!

HERE ARE THE FULL SPECS

4K UHD/BLU-RAY – DISC 1: THE THEATRICAL CUT (127 mins)

  • NEW 4K scan and restoration of the Original Camera Negative. Presented in HDR10+, with a new restoration of the original OCN Optical presented in Mono 1.0, Stereo 2.0 and 5.1.
  • Commentary by George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest
  • NEW commentary by Travis Crawford
  • NEW optional English subtitles

4K UHD/BLU-RAY – DISC 2: THE EXTENDED (‘CANNES’) CUT (137 mins)
Produced using 4K scan of the Theatrical Cut Original Camera Negative and 4K scan of the Extended Cut Colour Reversal Internegative. Presented in HDR10+, with DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
Commentary by Richard P Rubinstein
NEW optional English subtitles

4K UHD/BLU-RAY – DISC 3: THE ARGENTO CUT (120 mins)
4K scan of the Interpositive, with DT-HD Master Audio Mono 1.0 / Surround 5.1 / Stereo 2.0
Commentary by Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, David Emge
NEW optional English subtitles

4K UHD/BLU-RAY – DISC 4: SPECIAL FEATURES
NEW Zombies and Bikers: with John Amplas, Roy Frumkes, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest, Tom Dubensky, Tony Buba, Taso Stavrakis (59 mins)
NEW Memories of Monroeville: A tour of the mall with Michael Gornick, Tom Savini, Tom Dubensky and Taso Stavrakis (34 mins)
NEW Raising the Dead: The Production Logistics (25 mins) With Michael Gornick, Christine Forrest, John Amplas, Tom Dubensky (23 mins)
NEW The FX of Dawn with Tom Savini (13 mins)
NEW Dummies! Dummies!: An interview with Richard France (12 mins)
• NEW The Lost Romero Dawn Interview (20 mins)
• Super 8 Mall Footage by zombie extra Ralph Langer (13 mins)
• Document of the Dead: The Original Cut (66 mins)
• Document of the Dead: The Definitive Cut with optional commentary by Roy Frumkes (100 mins)
• The Dead Will Walk: 2014 Documentary (80 mins)
• Trailers, TV and Radio Spots

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
AUDIO CD DISC 1 – The Goblin Soundtrack – 17 tracks including Alternate and Bonus Tracks
AUDIO CD DISCS 2 & 3 – Dawn of the Dead: A De Wolfe Library Compilation
Dissecting the Dead: a 160-page hardback book featuring 17 new essays, archive article and George A Romero interview
Dawn of the Dead: The novelisation book by George A Romero and Susanna Sparrow with exclusive artwork

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