The Bloodhound | Creeping dread is at the dark heart of this stylish Poe-esque chiller
From Arrow Video in the UK comes first-time director Patrick Picard’s The Bloodhound – a stylishly atmospheric modern take on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.
Down on his luck, Francis (Liam Aiken) accepts an invitation to visit his childhood friend, Jean Paul (Joe Adler), a wealthy recluse living with his twin sister Vivian (Annalise Basso) in the family’s secluded modernist home. On his arrival, Francis discovers JP is suffering from a deep malaise, while Vivian refuses to come out of her room. JP is desperate to form an emotional connection with the homeless Francis, so he has his belongings sent to the house. He then tests Francis by exhibiting some very cruel behaviour. All the while, something strange is happening inside the house — but what has it to do with JP’s dream about the Bloodhound (a masked figure that has crawled its way inside a wardrobe)?
Creeping dread is the name of the game in this slow-burn chiller that not only draws on the spirit of Poe, but also touches on issues relevant in a Covid-pandemic world — like the effects of social isolation and loneliness on our mental health, and our quest for true and meaningful friendships. With Vivian locked away for most of the time, it’s essentially a two-hander that could easily be adapted for the stage.
While I loved the film’s mid-century modern colour palette and minimalist design, the big highlight was Joe Adler. Channelling Truman Capote (intentionally or not), he is mesmerising as the self-absorbed eccentric, bringing much depth and shade to the role. It’s worth checking this out just to watch him at work.
• Audio commentary by director Patrick Picard and editor David Scorca
• Four experimental short films by director Patrick Picard
• On the Trail of The Bloodhound (45min): Making-of featurette
• Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel
A trio of classic 1930s Pre-Code shockers starring Bela Lugosi on Blu-ray
In 2019, Scream Factory’s first Universal Horror Collection included the all-time 1930s classics The Black Cat and The Raven – two of my favourites – plus The Invisible Ray (another fave) and Black Friday (not so) – starring the kings of horror Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The box-set was a must-buy for me as they included some stunning Blu-ray presentations, plus a stack of extras, including the fantastic documentary Dreams Within A Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe by Steve Haberman.
Now, I try to avoid double-dipping as best I can, but when I heard that the 1932 Pre-Code chiller Murders in the Rue Morgue was going to be released along withThe Black Cat and The Raven on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series, I just had to check it out.
Directed by Robert Florey as a consolation prize for losing out on Frankenstein, Universal’s third horror outing drew on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous 1841 story which introduced his fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin (played somewhat anemically here by Leon Waycoff – later Leon Ames). More Caligari than Poe, the twisted tale sees Lugosi’s mad scientist Dr Mirakle obsessed with creating a new human being by mating his carnival sideshow gorilla Eric (Charles Gemora) with Dupin’s fiancée Camille (Sidney Fox).
Lugosi is terrifically bonkers as the insane genius, cinematographer Karl Freund brings a nightmarish German Expressionist touch to Charles Hall’s Parisian sets (which include twisted buildings, narrow alleyways and a suitably macabre lab), and there are some genuinely unsettling sequences – especially when Lugosi experiments on one of his female victims. Magnificient!
In The Black Cat, Karloff (heading the bill as just Karloff) and Bela Lugosi (in second billing) paired up for the first time (they would go on to make eight pictures together). It has little to do with Poe or his original 1843 story but is fantastically original in both story and design, and directed with feverish flair by Edgar G Ulmer (who also created the wonderful modernist sets and costumes).
Cat-fearing Lugosi is respected Hungarian scientist, Dr Vitus Werdegast, out for revenge against his former friend, Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), who betrayed him during a bloody conflict and stole his wife while he was in prison. David Manners and Julie Bishop are the newlyweds who get caught up in the deadly game, which involves a cult of Satanists, dead women in glass cabinets, necrophilia, Karloff being skinned alive and a dynamite-filled cellar – all set to a soundtrack of classics by Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. Just wonderful.
With its ghoulish brew of lust, revenge and torture 1935’s The Raven was deemed so grotesque by the British censor that all American horror films were banned for two years. Lugosi (credited second as just Lugosi here) gives his definitive mad scientist performance as the crazed Poe-obsessed plastic surgeon Dr Richard Vollin, whose unrequited love for his latest patient, interpretive dancer Jean (Irene Ware) drives him to madness.
Luring Jean, her fiancé Jerry (Lester Matthews), who is also Vollin’s assistant, and her father, Judge Thatcher (Samuel Hinds), to his home along with some other dinner guests, he exacts his revenge with some devilish torture contraptions including a pendulum and a shrinking room. Karloff is the unfortunate murderer on the run, Bateman, whose face is purposely disfigured by Vollin so that he does his bidding – but ends up the hero of the piece.
While lacking the fantastical atmosphere of The Black Cat, this Universal outing is packed with thrills and has the look and feel of the popular action serials that director Lew Landers helmed around the same time. A timeless classic.
Eureka Entertainment’s two-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray set includes the following special content…
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations, with The Raven presented from a 2K scan
• Uncompressed LPCM monaural audio tracks
• Optional English SDH subtitles
• Murders in the Rue Morgue – Audio commentary by Gregory William Mank
• The Black Cat audio commentaries by Gregory William Mank (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Amy Simmons
• The Raven audio commentaries by Gary D Rhodes (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Samm Deighan
• Cats In Horror – a video essay by Lee Gambin
• American Gothic – a video essay by Kat Ellinger
• The Black Cat episode of radio series Mystery In The Air, starring Peter Lorre
• The Tell-Tale Heart episode of radio series Inner Sanctum Mysteries, starring Boris Karloff
• Bela Lugosi reads The Tell-Tale Heart (carried over from the Scream Factory release)
• Vintage footage (of Karloff and Lugosi inspecting black cats in a publicity stunt)
• New interview with author Kim Newman
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film critic and writer Jon Towlson; a new essay by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; and rare archival imagery and ephemera
Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973) | The beguiling Italian Gothic horror gets a 2k reanimation
With its enticing mix of black magic, bad science, vengeful ghost, murder, incest and voyeurism tied to a story inspired by Sheridan La Fanu’s Carmilla and the dark imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe, 1973’s Death Smiles on a Murderer (aka La morte ha sorriso all’assassino) is a beguiling Italian Gothic horror that owes as much to its mesmerising musical score as it does to its surreal, dreamlike imagery. But its also a twisted supernatural puzzle that will leave most viewers (including myself) scratching their heads.
Set in early 1900s Austria, and told in flashback, it centres on the enigmatic Greta (played by Swedish startlet Ewa Aulin of Candy fame), who dies in childbirth by her lover, Dr von Ravensbrück (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) and is then reanimated by her hunchback brother Franz (Luciano Rossi). Killing Franz, who subjected her to years of sexual abuse, Greta inveigles her way into the home of Ravensbrück’s son Walter (Sergio Doria) and his wife Eva (Angelo Bo), where she uses her charisma and beauty to win their hearts before seeking her revenge…
Now that all sounds simple enough, but I haven’t mentioned all the other sub-plots taking place, including the very odd presence of Klaus Kinski, who plays a perverted physician experimenting on a secret formula to bring the dead back to life – who suddenly gets killed off mid-way through. Frankly, his scenes are a bit of an obstruction to the haunting tale which was co-written and lensed by its director, Aristide Massaccesi (aka Italy’s legendary horror and sleaze exponent, Joe D’Amato).
The surreal nature of the narrative might be disorientating, but Massaccesi uses that to effectively capture the dread and terror of his source material, and these all play out in scenes which reference Poe’s The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, Ligeia and The Masque of the Red Death, as well as La Fanu’s Carmilla.
Massaccesi also has great fun with the genre. Not only does he pay homage to Roger Corman’s Poe chillers (Walter’s attire is so Vincent Price), Hammer horror, and Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby Kill! (which also starred Giacamo Rossi Stuart); he adds in lots of softcore sex (more than Hammer were attempting at the time), hints of giallo and some pre-splatter OTT gore (just witness Franz’s very bloody, very long death scene where he gets his eyes gouged out by a cat). But what will haunt me forever is composer Bert Pisano’s hypnotic score, that’s mournful and playful in equal measures. I just can’t get it out of my head.
Arrow’s 2K restoration is simply gorgeous and contains an illuminating audio commentary from Tim Lucas, whose research and indepth knowledge really pays off, as he puts all the pieces of Massaccesi’s Gothic horror puzzle together with a shot-by-shot appreciation and analysis. The other must-sees are Kat Ellinger’s excellent video essay which covers the full breadth of the director’s work (and its truly mind-boggling how much he has done) and the 40minute-plus interview with Ewa Aulin. Thanks Arrow for another keeper…
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original Italian and English soundtracks
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas
• D’Amato Smiles on Death: archival interview with the director
• All About Ewa: Newly-filmed interview with the Swedish star
• Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D’Amato, new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
• Original trailers
• Stills and collections gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic Stephen Thrower and film historian Roberto Curti
Pre-order in the UK via Arrow: http://bit.ly/2FiLyxd
Pre-order in the US via DiabilikDVD: http://bit.ly/2BLUKdL
The Black Cat (1941) | This vintage horror whodunit is a nostalgic laugh riot
There’s something wrong in the house of Winslow
Wealthy eccentric Henrietta Winslow (Cecilia Loftus) loves her cats more than anything or anyone, and when it comes to the reading of her own will, Henrietta discovers ‘she has more relatives hanging around her than a dead sheep has surrounded by vultures’, so remarks antique dealer Mr Penny (Hugh Herbert) when he accompanies estate agent Gil Smith (Broderick Crawford) to Henrietta’s crumbling mansion to take inventory of her estate.
But she’s not dead yet, fellas! Well that little matter doesn’t stop one of Henrietta’s money-hungry relatives from stabbing her to death with a hatpin… But what they don’t know is that there’s a clause in her will that prevents all of them getting anything until her beloved pets and housekeeper Abigail are dead. And that’s the killer’s cue to use secret passages and a storm as cover to do just that…
This 1941 black and white horror whodunit was Universal’s answer to Paramount’s 1939 comic creeper The Cat and the Canary, and it was just as successful at the box office.
Providing the sinister stares are Bela Lugosi as gloomy gypsy manservant Eduardo and Gale Sondergaard as surly housekeeper Abigail (who has a puss like a lemon rinse), while Basil Rathbone takes time out from his Sherlock Holmes’ duties to play an adulterous cad ‘who should have been actor’, (according to Henrietta). Of course, Universal’s resident ghouls are just red herrings as the real killer is eventually unmasked as… Alan Ladd, Claire Dodd, John Eldredge or Gladys Cooper (you’ll have to watch for yourself to find out).
As flirty niece Elaine, Anne Gwynne makes for a sparky heroine, while burly Broderick Crawford tries to be Bob Hope but comes off more like Lon Chaney Jr. Then there’s veteran comic Hugh ‘Whoo-hoo!’ Herbert who acts like he’s in another movie altogether.
Featuring atmospheric camerawork that landed Stanley Cortez the cinematography gig on Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (check out the cat lamps that turn a fireplace into a giant feline face); a script that crackles with one-liners; and a creepy mansion that comes with it own crematorium dedicated to deceased pussies, The Black Cat is a nostalgic laugh riot.
And while it may have nothing to do with the Edgar Allan Poe story, save for some eerie cat howls, and the film’s gags run out of steam towards the end, the energy of the classy cast certainly makes up for those minor oversights.
The Black Cat is released on DVD in the UK from Final Cut Entertainment
The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) | Roger Corman’s seminal American gothic classic rises again in lush HD
In this striking 1960 elaboration on Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story, Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) arrives at the crumbling New England mansion of the Usher family to seek out his fiancée Madeleine (Myrna Fahey) and is promptly warned by her brother Roderick (Vincent Price) against marriage because the family is cursed with ‘a history of savage degradations’ which sends them mad. When Madeleine suddenly dies, Philip goes into mourning and his intended bride is quickly interred in the family crypt. But he is unaware that Roderick has buried his catatonic sister alive…
At the end of the 1950s, rubber suit monsters were the mainstay of American horror films, while over the pond Hammer was packing cinemas with their full-blooded restaging of the Frankenstein and Dracula characters. Indie maverick Roger Corman quickly followed suit, combining America’s answer to the gothic, Edgar Allen Poe, CinemaScope and his trump card, Vincent Price.
The result was this minor masterpiece, which stays faithful to Poe as it tells the story of Roderick Usher (played by Price as a white haired, ashen faced aesthete, decked in a blood red robe) who longs for an end to his family’s curse which has impregnated the very walls of his crumbling mansion and distorted his psyche and that of his sister – this is chillingly echoed in the line: ‘The slightest touch and we may shatter’.
Price gives an intentionally concentrated, eerie and sad turn here and lends the film a mellifluous quality that brings to life Corman and Matheson’s Freudian take on Poe’s themes of inner corruption and moral decay. It was a performance that would solidify Price’s new status as the crown prince of horror – that had kicked when he worked on William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler – and which makes this film so chillingly memorable over half a century on.
Richard Matheson‘s intelligent script is enhanced by Floyd Crosby‘s atmospheric widescreen cinematography, whose psychedelic scenes tapped into the counter-culture movement of the day, while Daniel Haller makes the hired-in Universal sets look even more sumptuous. Coupled with Corman’s whip-smart direction and quick turnaround (the film was shot in 15 days), a rousing Les Baxter score and Price’s star quality, the style established here would be carried over in seven more Poe films, ending with The Tomb of Ligeia in 1964. But they would never have been made had Usher not set the box-office alight, which it did – earning in excess of $1 million back from its $250,000 budget ($50,000 of which was Price’s fee) when it premiered in the US on 18 June 1960. And it did even better business overseas and gave the Hammer studios a run for their money.
THE ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
In a world first, Arrow presents a Region B HD Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature, transferred and restored using the original film elements by MGM and original uncompressed 2.0 Mono PCM Audio. Optional SDH subtitles.
• The Roger Corman audio commentary is the same as on the previous MGM DVD release, but the maestro is still a joy to listen to. (79:19)
• Legend to Legend Director Joe Dante gives his thoughts on the film and on working with Corman. (26:47)
• Gothic horror expert Jonathan Rigby provides an informative insight into the history of the film, and on Corman and Price. (32:58)
• Fragments of the House of Usher This video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns is a super little film studies analysis. I never knew the original story had gay overtones or that the film was ‘the perfect marriage of the oneric to the economic?’ (10:47)
• This French interview with Vincent Price has popped up on other DVD releases, but the transfer here is the best yet. It was shot at Price’s Malibu cottage in July 1986, the same year that he was doing The Great Mouse Detective for Disney, which was one of his last best performances. Ever the consummate raconteur, he provides the interviewer with some wonderful quotes, like the following, about why his horror films have stood the test of time. (11:26)
‘The secret of those films and why they have lasted so well is that you scream at the terror of them, but then you find yourself ridiculous for having screamed and you laugh at yourself, maybe that’s the clue to life.’
• Unrestored US trailer with the most hilarious copy writing ever: ‘The screen’s foremost delineator of the Draculean!‘ (2:30)
• Reversible sleeve on the standard release, featuring artwork by Graham
• Booklet featuring Tim Lucas essay, Vincent Price autobiography extract, archive stills and posters.
DID YOU KNOW?
The opening shot of Mark Damon riding towards the Usher mansion through a bleak, blackened wilderness of charred trees, ash and fog was achieved by Corman filming the sequence in the aftermath of a forest fire that had torched part of the Hollywood Hills just prior to filming.
A Must See, of course and a Must Have in your classic horror film collection