The Legacy (1978) | This British horror puts an Omen-esque spin on The Old Dark House classic
This 1978 British horror from Return of the Jedi director Richard Marquand fuses that mystery staple, the old dark house – seen in many a classic, including James Whale’s 1932 whodunit and the long-running Agatha Christie play The Mousetrap – with the in-vogue satanic frighteners of the day like The Omen and Race With the Devil.
Stepford Wives heroine Katharine Ross and Mission: Impossible‘s Sam Elliott play an American couple who become reluctant guests at the English country mansion of a dying Satanist, who believes Ross to be the reincarnation of his mother and next in line to head his powerful cult. But standing in her way is a group of odd houseguests, who soon meet with spectacular deaths including drowning, burning, impaling and a botched tracheotomy.
The cast boasts some famous faces, including The Who’s Roger Daltrey, playing a music impresario – of course; Charles Gray (still my favourite Blofeld) as a weapons dealer; and West End actress Margaret Tyzack (who’d go on to play Bianca and Ricky’s gran in EastEnders) as a nurse who can turn herself into a cat.
With its themes of reincarnation, possession and telekinesis, The Legacy follows in the wake of other occult-themed films like The Omen and Suspiria. But while it’s no masterpiece, and didn’t catch the box-office alight – unlike Gray’s character, it’s still a stylish exercise in suspense with some decent special effects and another great score from Theatre of Blood composer Michael J Lewis.
Today you can visit the film’s location, Loseley Park in Surrey, as the house and gardens are open to the public all year round. But if you do, watch out for any suspicious-looking nurses lurking about.
The Legacy is available on DVD through Screenbound Pictures in the UK and gets its network premiere on The Horror Channel today (Saturday 16 April) at 10.50pm.
Symptoms (1974) | The once lost British horror gets a world premiere restored release from BFI Flipside
A young woman (Lorna Heilbron) is invited to stay at the remote country mansion belonging to her girlfriend (Angela Pleasence). But the peaceful retreat is interrupted by the menacing presence of the local gamekeeper (Peter Vaughan)…
And so begins Symptoms, director José Ramón Larraz’s modern gothic horror story and the official British entry for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1974. Slipping into obscurity following its release, the film has long been considered lost, appearing on the BFI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list of 75 missing films. But with the negatives found and the film restored following a 2K remastering, Larraz’ eerie master class in suspense and terror will be released by BFI Flipside in a Dual Format Edition on 25 April 2016, with the following extras…
• From Barcelona… to Tunbridge Wells: The films of José Larraz (Andy Starke and Pete Tombs, 1999, 24 mins): Archive documentary, featuring interviews with Larraz, Brian Smedley-Aston and Marianne Morris.
• On Vampyres and other Symptoms (Celia Novis, 2011, 74 mins): Archive documentary on Larraz’s most acclaimed films.
• Interview with star Angela Pleasence (2016, 10 mins)
• Interview with actress Lorna Heilbron (2016, 18 mins)
• Interview with editor Brian Smedley-Aston (2016, 17 mins)
• Original trailer.
• Collector’s booklet.
Tales That Witness Madness (1973) | It’s not Amicus, but it’s still a chilly treat
It happens beyond madness – where your mind won’t believe what your eyes see or …Is it just your imagination or your sanity that’s in question?
At London’s Department of Psychiatric Medicine, Dr Tremayne (Donald Pleasance) believes he has unraveled the mystery behind four bizarre incidents of mental ‘aberration’. When a hospital colleague Dr Nicholas (Jack Hawkins) visits, the doctor related their case studies, which involve an invisible tiger, a time-travelling vintage bicycle, a jealous living tree, and ritual cannibalism.
An orgy of the damned? Not quite.
1973’s Tales That Witness Madness has always been regarded as the unwanted poor cousin in the British horror portmanteau genre that began in 1965 with Amicus’ Dr Terror’s House of Horrors and ended in 1980 with The Monster Club.
With director Freddie Francis on board and featuring a host of stars that had cropped up in previous entries, it’s also often mistaken for another Amicus offering. It was, in fact, an independent production by World Film Services, orchestrated by former Ealing Studios producer Norman Priggen, and written by Dr Terror’s actress Jennifer Jayne (under the pseudonym of Jay Fairbank).
Taking her cues from EC Comics’ cautionary tales from the crypt and the black comedy of Robert Bloch, Jayne’s four stories of the macabre are a mixed bag of horror and humour, and just as good as anything Amicus conjured up.
Mr Tiger updates the Aesop fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with elements of Val Lewton’s The Curse of the Cat People, and concerns young Paul who escapes his parent’s squabbling by manifesting an imaginary friend (with claws). While it might be predictable, it does give child actor Russell Lewis a chance to shine. In later life, Russell took up writing himself, and ended up creating the Morse prequel, Endeavour.
Penny Farthing, in which Peter McEnery’s antique store owner Timothy travels back in time to witness his late Uncle Albert’s fatal courtship of a young woman reminded me of Richard Matheson’s 1975 novel Bid Time Return (later filmed as Somewhere in Time). It’s an inventive and engaging mystery tale featuring a creepy turn by Frank Forsyth as Albert, whose changing portrait really gave me the shivers.
Mel is a curious looking tree which Michael Jayston’s art lover Brian installs in the front room of his modernist country bungalow. Joan Collins, attired in baby doll negligee and fluffy mules, is the jealous wife who ends up six feet under when she dares to take an axe to her wooden rival. This is my personal favourite as Collins plays up to her bad girl image in typical superbitch fashion, while the 70s-stylings are confirmation that this really was the decade that taste forgot.
The final story, Luau, echoes Stanley Ellin’s 1948 short story The Speciality of the House, only in place of lamb Amirstan we have a sumptuous suckling pig wrapped in banana leaves being served up to Kim Novak’s obsequious literary agent, who is unaware that she’s eating her own daughter (Mary Tamm, aka Doctor Who’s Romana No1). Novak was a last minute replacement for Rita Hayworth and broke a four-year hiatus to guest star in this film, and she doesn’t disappoint. But if the grisly premise doesn’t make you gag, then those outfits that Novak wears certainly will.
Whether it’s an antique shop, a catacomb, a haunted house or an asylum, what makes an anthology film a hit or miss is the wrap-around story. Unfortunately, it’s a miss here and the film’s weakest link. Noticeable also is the poor dubbing of Jack Hawkins, appearing here in his final feature film. The voice you actually here is Charles Gray as Hawkins had had his larynx removed in an operation for throat cancer in 1966.
Tales That Witness Madness is available on Blu-ray and DVD using a re-mastered print from Fabulous Films in the UK, and if you are as much a fan of British horror portmanteau as I am, then this is a must-have for your collection.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974) | Jack Palance bears his fangs in Dan Curtis’ macabre melodrama
In the 1970s, the name Dan Curtis was synonymous with horror and fantasy on TV. Having cut his fangs on the long-running Gothic soap Dark Shadows in the late-1960s, he gave many a young horror fan sleepless nights – myself included – with genuinely frightening TV movies like The Night Stalker and Trilogy of Terror, adaptations of Victorian horror classics, including Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, and big-screen forays (Burnt Offerings being my favourite).
And towering above them all (to use a line from the trailer) is this handsome adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from a screenplay by the legendary Richard Matheson, with Jack Palance (who’d previously done Jekyll & Hyde) pulling on the well-worn cloak and fangs.
While the influence of Universal and Hammer’s Gothic classics is evident, Curtis’ teledrama aims to be more faithful to Stoker’s source material, but flavors it with some high romance by fusing the Count’s connection to real-life 15th-century soldier statesmen Vlad Tepes with a subplot about him pursuing the reincarnation of his beloved Elizabeth, who died at the hands of an invading army (something Coppola would also do in his 1992 adaptation).
Jack Palance reigns in the over-acting to give a deeply affecting performance. He plays Dracula as an obsessed stalker and a caged animal waiting to explode. And boy, doesn’t he so when his coffins are set on fire and he looses his lost love (a sensuous looking Fiona Lewis) a second time? Nigel Davenport gives his Van Helsing muscle, guts and intelligence, but Simon Ward is quite insipid as the floppy-haired Holmwood. However, it’s Penelope Horner’s brave Mina (oddly pronounced here) who comes off the real hero when she puts herself up as bait so the vampire hunters can capture, corner and kill the bloodsucker.
Now Curtis always made his images count (I still cant forget Trilogy of Terror‘s Zuni doll), and this macabre melodrama provides many that continue to haunt: the mist rising from a black Transylvanian lake; the pack of Alsatians racing toward Dracula’s mountain-top castle; Lucy’s tear-stained corpse and her rain-swept funeral cortège decked in the finest Victorian mourning garb (Goths will love that one), not to mention Palance’s vengeful Dracula pacing the room in circles, his cloak flapping about like some hideous black spectre.
The classy period drama also makes splendid use of the British and former Yugoslavian locations; a fleet of vintage carriages; a real-life castle (Trakoscan in Croatia); and some grand homes – especially so that old favourite, Oakley Court, in Windsor, which serves as the exterior for Carfax Abbey.
This Screenbound Pictures presentation (available on region free Blu-ray and DVD) has been transferred and restored in 2K HD from the original 35mm camera negative which gives great justice to Curtis’ atmospheric cinematography and is a fitting addition to their Screenbound Classic Movie Collection.
Venom (1971) | This British horror obscurity weaves a tangled web indeed
Taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula legend and fusing it with a surreal Carnival of Souls waking nightmare, a dash of Euro-sleaze and a Blood Beast Terror creature feature, this British obscurity from future Hammer horror director Peter Sykes weaves a tangled web indeed.
The only thing Paul Greville wanted was a quiet and peaceful time – instead all he found was…VENOM!
Whilst travelling through Bavaria in his yellow Citroën 2CV, photographer Paul Greville (Simon Brent), encounters the enigmatic Anna (Neda Arneric), who sports a strange spider mark on her shoulder, but she runs off when he tries to takes pictures of her.
Checking into a local tavern (where a jukebox continually blasts out Hammond organ tunes), Paul discovers the superstitious Tyrolean villagers live in fear of a phantom called the Spider Goddess that is said to haunt the forest.
Obsessed by the elusive Anna, Paul is soon drawn into a complex web of intrigue involving those pictures he took of her and a priceless Hieronymus Bosch triptych found in the hands of man killed by the venomous phantom.
After being seduced by the mill owner’s daughter (Bouquet of Barbed Wired‘s Sheila Allen) and almost killed by a vicious hunter (City Under the Sea‘s Derek Newark), Paul ends up taking refuge at the home of Anna’s guardian, Frau Kessler (Bette Vivian), where he uncovers a startling truth: Anna is being used as cover for her Nazi scientist dad’s secret nerve drug experiments…
Shelved for nearly five years after completion (reputedly for tax reasons) in 1971, Venom (aka The Legend of Spider Forest) was the directorial debut of Peter Sykes, who went onto helm Demons in the Mind and To the Devil a Daughter.
The script by Donald and Derek Ford, based on an idea by the film’s editor Stephen Collins, is full of holes and even Christopher Wicking (fresh from making sense of three Vincent Price horrors for American International Pictures) has trouble filling them; but the visuals and direction are imaginative enough to help paper over the wide cracks in the story.
The green-tinted nude bathing opening, the red-tinted cobwebbed nightmare sequence and the atmospheric lighting creating spidery shadows lend an arthouse look to the film, while the full-frontal nudity and eroticism border on Euro-sleaze (the scene in which a bound Paul is sexually molested as pigeons flap about is quite something, while Johann’s bare back whipping seems to excite the female characters).
The film’s 11-minute climax is totally bonkers, as all the film’s disjointed plots finally come together – sort of – and everything goes up in flames. But as for Anna’s Nazi scientist dad going all Norman Bates after being paralyzed by his own nerve drug – what the hell was that about?
Why Pinewood chose to restore this is anyone’s guess, but it’s still a curious find for genre fans to seek out.
Venom is released on DVD in the UK through Fabulous Films
House of Whipcord (1974) | Pete Walker’s depraved exploitation horror remastered for your sick pleasure
Pete Walker’s sleazy masterpiece screens tonight at 9pm on The Horror Channel and gets a special retro screening at the Barbican on 22 November as part of the House of Walker season curated by Cigarette Burns.
Only young girls may enter and no one leaves…
Immoral young women are undermining the social fabric of Britain. What can be done about it? One couple think they’ve found the answer – buy a disused prison, fill it with women of loose morals and then degrade, flog and hang them until they see the error of their ungodly ways. When French model Ann-Marie (Penny Irving) causes a scandal for appearing naked in public, she accepts an offer from the dashing Mark Desade (Robert Tayman) to hide out at his family’s country estate. But she soon finds herself hurled into a secret women’s prison run by Mark’s parents – disgraced prison governess Mrs Wakehurst (Barbara Markham) and the blind, senile Justice Bailey (Patrick Barr). Now, she and her fellow inmates face the starkest of choices – submit or die. But Ann-Marie gambles…
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Mark of the Devil (1970) | Barf bags at the ready again as the sick cult horror gets an uncut HD UK release
Once proclaimed as ‘positively the most horrifying film ever made’, 1970 cult shocker Mark of the Devil finally arrives uncut in the UK on 29 September 2014.
WE MUST NEVER WEAKEN IN PERFORMING GOD’S WORK
A bloody and brutal critique of 18th-century religious corruption, Mark of the Devil sees horror icon Udo Kier play an apprentice witchfinder whose faith in his master Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) becomes severely tested when they settle in an Austrian village. Presided over by the sadistic Albino (a memorably nasty turn from Reggie Nalder), the film presents its morality not so much in shades of grey as shades of black.
LIKELY TO UPSET YOUR STOMACH
This notorious 1970 Euro-shocker, which was made to cash in on the success of Michael’s Reeves’ Witchfinder General, was British director Michael Armstrong‘s second feature and the film that established his international cult status. The film also had a great gimmick, getting cinemas to employ medical staff to handle fainting patrons and handing out vomit bags (they’re quite the collector’s item now).
Smashing box office records wherever it played, Mark of the Devil was a big hit despite it being either banned outright or heavily cut in many countries including the UK. Now acknowledged as a genre masterpiece, British audiences can once again revel in its vileness as Arrow Video presents Armstrong’s horror classic fully uncut in goretastic HD, alongside a selection of fantastic extras.
THE DUAL FORMAT UK RELEASE
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements in its original 1.66:1.
• Optional English and German audio (a real bonus)
• Optional English subtitles
• Newly-translated English subtitles for the German audio
• Audio commentary by Michael Armstrong, moderated by Calum Waddell
• Mark of the Times: Documentary on the ‘new wave’ of British horror directors that surfaced in the 1960s and 1970s, featuring contributions from Michael Armstrong, Norman J Warren (Terror) and David McGillivray (Frightmare)
• Hallmark of the Devil: Michael Gingold uncovers the history of controversial film distributors Hallmark Releasing
• Interviews with composer Michael Holm and actors Udo Kier, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schöner and Herbert Lom
• Mark of the Devil: Now and Then – a look at the film’s locations
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Illustrated collector’s booklet
M (1931) | Fritz Lang’s influential masterpiece remains the greatest psychological thriller of all time
For many cinephiles, the name Fritz Lang is synonymous with the futuristic 1927 silent classic Metropolis. For the director himself, however, his finest work can be seen in the 1931 German thriller, M (Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder). Written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou (who also wrote Metropolis, the superb Dr Mabuse series, and the sci-fi epic Woman in the Moon), M was a landmark in cinema. Not only was it Lang’s first sound picture (he started back in 1919), it was the sophisticated way he used the camera, the lighting, and the editing that proved film was more than just a new entertainment medium – it was an art form.
A spate of child killings has the citizens of Berlin terrified. Peter Lorre (long before he became a parody of himself in Roger Corman’s Vincent Price-led Poe vehicles) gives a powerhouse performance as the murderous Hans Beckert, who is chased by the authorities and a vigilante mob before the city’s criminals capture him and put on trial in their own court of law.
Whilst not the first film to deal with the hunt for a serial killer (Alfred Hitchcock did that in 1927’s The Lodger), Lang’s film is so multi-layered, the result is more than just a thriller. Part horror (Lorre’s Beckert whistling ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King‘ whilst luring an innocent into his web still chills); part procedural crime drama (the police use the new technique of fingerprinting in their investigation); part social drama (the city’s tenement dwellers turn vigilante mob); and part Brechtian (the guild of beggars judge one of their own), M remains one of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time and, 80-plus years on, is still a refreshing sight to behold today.
The original German version of Lang’s M was released in 2010 in the UK as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series in a special dual format release. The bounty of special features are superb, and includes the original 1932 British release, featuring alternate takes and Lorre’s first performance in English. Fritz Lang + Peter Lorre + A masterclass in the art of film = A must-have.
From tomorrow, 5 September 2014, Fritz Lang’s M also gets a limited run at the BFIn Southbank in London as part of the Peter Lorre season.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIj3Bk0bhL8%5D
Hands of the Ripper (1971) | Hammer’s ripping yarn is a grisly, stylish affair
THE RIPPER STRIKES AGAIN?
In the autum of 1888 the infant Anna watches as her father, the infamous Jack the Ripper, brutally murders her mother, after which he kisses her and leaves. Years later, the orphaned Anna (Angharad Rees) is now under the care of a fake psychic (Dora Bryan) and has been forced into prostitution. When the psychic is found gorily impaled on a spike, psychiatrist Dr John Pritchard (Eric Porter) suspects Anna killed her.
And he’s right, for whenever light reflections and an embrace coincide, Anna goes into a trance-like state and stabs whoever touches her. Unaware of this trigger and wanting to cure her homicidal impulses using new Freudian techniques, Pritchard takes Anna under his wing and into his home. But as the murders continue, Pritchard unwittingly puts himself and all those under his roof in mortal peril…
A NEW TERROR-FILLED X FILM
In Hands of the Ripper, director Peter Sasdy, who also helmed the excellent Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and the troublesome Countess Dracula (1971), gave Hammer his finest feature. Sasdy stages his Freudian-inspired psycho horror with suspenseful precision and lends the proceedings a perversely incestuous aura, which plays out through the paternal Pritchard’s obsessive desire to penetrate Anna’s mind. According to critic Phil Hardy, in his Encyclopedia of Horror Movies, this is also Sasdy’s reply to Michael Powell’s sadistic voyeuristic thriller Peeping Tom (1960), in which he makes Anna the victim of her father’s perversion, who then compulsively turns any expression of love into ‘spectacularly staged lethal penetrations’ (*). It’s a quite a mature, serious offering from Hammer and Sasdy, and grimer than horror fans had expected at the time.
The film’s Victorian sets and décor (left over from Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) and cinematographer Kenneth Talbot’s muted colour palette gives the film an authentic period look, while each grisly killing is executed in surprisingly stylish fashion, albeit quite shocking. Indeed, the violence is most graphic ever to appear in a Hammer horror with one scene, in which Lynda Baron’s lesbian prostitute gets a handful of hat-pins in her eye, not fit for US censors. The film was also banned in Finland and Norway because of its violence. For the film’s climax, the Whispering Gallery in St Paul’s Cathedral was recreated at Pinewood after the film-makers were refused permission to film there.
In the UK, Hands of the Ripper ended up as the support feature for Twins of Evil, the third entry in Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy, and never really got the praise it deserved. Thankfully, its home entertainment release on Blu-ray and DVD from Network in the UK and Synapse in the US gives newcomers the chance to revisit what is undoubtedly one of the last masterpieces from Hammer. Director Sasdy would go on to helm another classic in its own right, the 1972 TV play, The Stone Tape – now that’s a frightfest indeed.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Hands of the Ripper is presented on Blu-ray in a High Definition transfer made from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio as part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection. The extras are the same that appeared on Network’s 2006 Special Edition DVD release: an audio commentary with the late Angharad Rees (who died aged 68 in 2012 from cancer) and horror historians Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, an episode from the Thriller TV series, Once the Killing Starts starring Rees, theatrical trailer, gallery and commemorative booklet.
(*) The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies, Phil Hardy, 1986
The Hammer Vault, Marcus Hearn, 2011
The Complete Dr Phibes | A double diabolical dose of macabre thrills, black comedy and Vincent Price on Blu-ray
From Arrow Video comes the limited edition release of The Complete Dr Phibes, which includes both The Abominable Dr Phibes and its sequel Dr Phibes Rises Again starring horror icon Vincent Price.
‘What more could a horror freak desire?’ asked Motion Picture Guide of The Abominable Dr Phibes back in 1971, in which Vincent Price in one of his signature roles, played the wealthy and mysterious Dr Anton Phibes, a disfigured genius who elects to wreak revenge on nine doctors who failed to save his wife Victoria with a murderous campaign inspired by the Ten Plagues of Egypt, including death by bats, boils, blood and more.
Filled with wonderful Art Deco sets, dark humour and a legendary performance by Price, The Abominable Dr Phibes and its sequel Dr Phibes Rises Again have since gone on to become classics, and also prefigure the Saw movies with their increasingly fiendish set of murder devices…
Here’s what you get in the limited edition (3000) Arrow Video set:
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of The Abominable Dr Phibes and Dr Phibes Rises Again, transferred from original film elements by MGM, and both presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, region B/2.
• Original uncompressed 1.0 mono PCM audio.
• Optional English SDH subtitles.
• Audio commentary on The Abominable Dr Phibes by director Robert Fuest.
• Audio commentary on The Abominable Dr Phibes by the creator of Dr Phibes, William Goldstein.
• Audio commentary on Dr Phibes Rises Again by Video Watchdog‘s Tim Lucas.
• Dr Phibes and the Gentlemen: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson recall the horror classics.
• Daughter of Phibes: Victoria Price discusses her father’s career.
• The Doctor Will See You Now: Interview with David Del Valle.
•100-page booklet featuring new writing on the films by Julian Upton, Martin Jones, Little Shoppe of Horrors‘ Justin Humphreys and Trunk Records‘ Jonny Trunk, the on-set recollections of Caroline Munro, plus interviews with Tim Burton and American International Picture’s publicist Milton Moritz, illustrated with original archive stills.