Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) | The Hammer Horror that turned Valerie Leon into a legendary scream queen
After locating the tomb of Tera, Queen of Darkness in the Egyptian desert, archaeologist Julian Fuchs (Andrew Keir) returns to England with her mummy and sarcophagus where he secretly recreates her tomb under his house. But when he gives Tera’s ruby ring to his daughter Margaret (Valerie Leon), the ancient queen’s evil power tempts the young woman into helping her father’s rival, Corbeck (James Villiers), into restoring her to human form…
Based on Bram Stoker’s 1903 adventure novel The Jewel of the Seven Star, this supernatural shocker breathed sexy new life into the old mummy’s revenge plot and has become a enduring favourite amongst Hammer horror fans. It was also the fourth and last time that the company resurrected the ancient Egyptian avenger to join their stable of monsters.
The first, The Mummy, in 1959, saw a bandaged Christopher Lee crashing about Bray Studios; the second, 1964’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, found Dickie Owen shuffling about Elstree; and the third, 1967’s The Mummy’s Shroud, meant a return to Bray, where Eddie Powell pulled on the swaddling to take out members of an expedition team.
For Blood, their final Mummy film, Hammer ditched the bandages and got the tall, buxom Carry On actress Valerie Leon to play (rather brilliantly, I might add) the dual roles of Egyptian queen of darkness and professor’s daughter. She’s the best thing about the film, which has one bizarre piece of plotting: the recreation of a tomb in the cellar of a suburban North London house. Now, who constructs something like that without getting any attention from nosey neighbours or the council? Only in Hammer’s fanciful Home Counties horror universe could it exist.
Keir (who was my favourite Bernard Quatermass in Hammer’s Quatermass and the Pit) does a stalwart job playing the obsessed Fuchs, a role that was originally intended for Peter Cushing. He had to leave the production after one day’s filming to care for his ailing wife, Helen (who died on 14 January 1971). And the seemingly cursed production had another setback five weeks into the six-week shoot at Elstree when the director, Seth Holt, had a fatal heart attack, which forced Michael Carreras into completing the movie.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb was released in October 1971 as a support feature to Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, and now is available on Doubleplay (DVD & Blu-ray) from Studiocanal, newly restored in HD, as part of their Hammer Horror Collection. It looks and sounds superb on Blu-ray, even if it does show up how fake those sets look; but the liberal use of Kensington gore is a vivid treat for horror-hounds. Oh, and Leon looks just stunning.
The extras include a trailer and a single featurette The Pharaoh’s Curse: Inside Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, in which a handful of Hammer experts provide insight into the film’s production, while Leon also shares her recollections.
By the way, the motion pictures soundtrack, featuring music by composer Tristam Cary (The Ladykillers, Quatermass and the Pit), was released by GDI Records back in 2002, and having find it just recently myself, it’s well worth tracking down.
Valerie Leon is a fantastic regular on the convention circuit and appears frequently at many film fairs throughout the UK, she even has her own one-woman show. Check out her official website here: http://www.valerieleon.com/
Back in 1977, Dario Argento unleashed Suspiria, his intoxicating brew of black magic and murder in which Phantom of the Paradise’s Jessica Harper played an American ballet student who uncovers a deadly cover of witches at a prestigious German dance academy, overseen by Dark Shadows‘ Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc and Eyes Without a Face‘s Alida Valli as the butch dance instructor Miss Tanner.
Saturated with an expressive colour palette, hyper-real art deco production design and a ground-breaking score by The Goblins (as they were credited then), and punctuated by shocking, but expertly staged, violence, Argento’s symphony of terror is, without doubt, his horror film opus and a masterpiece of the modern macabre.
Now turning 40, Suspiria has been given a 4K makeover. Over in the US, Synapse Films spent four years working on their 4k restoration that was made from the uncut 98-minute 35mm Italian camera negative (and was overseen by cinematographer Luciano Tovoli). They have now released it as a Special Edition Steelbook (read more here) producing 6000 units, with bags of extras.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, CultFilms are releasing their own restoration, which is set to be the most complete and original looking, finally doing justice to Argento’s vision. The new 4K scan was painstakingly restored by TLE Films in Germany with the film’s crucially distinct colour palette reinstated in accordance with Argento’s original Technicolor Dye Transfer specification, using period film materials as reference. The restorers also reinserted all the missing frames which had degraded badly or were simply lost over the years.
CultFilms have got a crowd-funding campaign up and running to get the film its official UK/European Ultra HD home entertainment release. It’s got just under two weeks left, and has already passed its initial target of £15,000, thanks to some 700+ backers, which means some great bonus extras will be added. And 100 of those initial backers also got the chance to get their copy signed Argento himself (alas now sold out). If you live in Europe, or anywhere that isn’t region A and you do not have a region free player, then this 4k UHD release is one to look out for. Plus, it will also include the Blu-ray and DVD (see below).
UPDATE: On 4 December 2017, CultFilms announced that their campaign closed, reaching an incredible £33,705, which guarantees the creation of a third disc, filled with those promised bonus extras.
I was lucky to see the 4k print (which is simply stunning) at the sold out London screening at the Barbican, with Argento introducing film and giving an illuminating Q&A afterwards. Now, I have seen Suspiria more times than I can remember, and in many formats – from scratchy 16mm and faded VHS to dodgy DVD and the fab HD release back in 2009. But it’s always great to learn something new – especially from the master himself. So, thanks to some intelligent questions from the audience, I discovered that his main inspiration came from Disney’s Snow White, both as a dark fairytale of female empowerment and because of the animated feature’s vibrant primary colours; and that he drew from his own nightmares, one of which became the vicious dog attack sequence.
He also worked alongside Goblin to create what has become an iconic horror score, and even introduced the bouzouki, a Greek musical instrument, to link with the ballet school’s Directress, Helena Markos, a Greek émigré who is ultimately revealed to be Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs), the oldest and wisest of the Three Mothers.
The other interesting piece of trivia I discovered was that Jane Russell was in line for the role that eventually went to Joan Bennett, who got it only because she worked with Argento’s favourite director, Fritz Lang, and that she liked a drink or two. And, on a more personal side, Argento also said that he did not believe in magic, except as a narrative device in books and films; and that he had nothing to do with the poster design of the blood-splattered ballet dancer.
If you can’t wait to get your hands on the UK 4K edition, then CultFilms are releasing the Dual Format (Blu-ray/DVD) edition on 4 December, with the following extras…
• Dual format special edition: Blu-ray and DVD in a numbered, embossed slipcase
• New Extra: Long interview with Dario Argento
• New Extra: Exclusive Dario Argento Introduction of this new 4K restoration
• Audio commentary by critics Kim Newman and Alan Jones
• Fear at 400 Degrees: interview with Dario Argento and Claudio Simonetti
• Interview with Claudio Simonetti, Norman J Warren and Patricia McComack (Blu-ray only)
• New Extra: The 4K Restoration Process ‘utterly fascinating’
The Evil Within (2017) | Andrew Getty’s surreal Poe-esque psychological horror is destined for cult status!
Originally called The Storyteller, this surreal horror was 15 years in the making. Its writer/director Andrew Getty became a virtual recluse as he became consumed by the project, which he self-financed to the tune of some US$6million (courtesy of the family fortune). But he never saw it completed, as he tragically died, aged 47, in March 2015 from a bleeding ulcer. And it’s a real shame, as his twisted tale is more than just a billionaire’s vanity project – it’s a visually arresting psychological horror that’s worthy of cult status.
Special needs LA teen Dennis (Frederick Koehler) suffers from sleep paralysis, in which he sees a demonic entity (The Hills Have Eyes‘ Michael Berryman) at the foot of his bed, and is haunted by a childhood nightmare involving a carnival ghost train that never ends.
When his brother John (Dead Zone’s Sean Patrick Flanery) redecorates his room at their Hollywood Hills mansion [Getty filmed everything at his own home, which was once owned by composer Miklos Rozsa], Dennis gets upset over an antique mirror which he recognises from his nightmares. But the mirror soon begins to exert a malevolent influence over Dennis, who starts conversing with his articulate reflection – that may (or may not be) the demonic entity in disguise.
Offering to ‘fix’ his brain, his ‘reflection’ convinces him to turn to killing: starting first with animals and children, before graduating to adults. But when he’s then told to kill the object of his affection – an ice-cream parlor attendant, Dennis becomes convinced the entity is using him as a pawn to enter the real world… Meanwhile, John has his own inner demons to contend with – and they all rest on guilt. So what is he hiding?
Getty’s weird, disturbing tale is a contemporary fusion of split personality psychological horror, archetypal pact with the devil story, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. It’s visually inventive, thanks to Getty’s meticulous home-made special effects, which put a spotlight on Dennis’ turmoil of being trapped in a body that is not fully ‘right’ (you’ll discover why as the mystery thickens); while also serving to elicit some genuine scares (beware the giant spider!) and to disorientate the viewer as to what is real and what is imagined. And this really plays out when the film enters The Twilight Zone as John and his girlfriend Lydia (Dina Meyer) wander around a seemingly-deserted LA with only Will & Grace‘s Tim Bagley for company.
But the film rests soley on Koehler, who brings two very distinct characters to life: his awkward but likeable teen Dennis, in which he channels Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo, and his dominate and downright scary sociopath reflection. It’s a mesmerising dual performance that puts everyone else in shadow – even guest star Kim Darby, best known for fighting off goblins in the 1970s TV movie classic Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. I’ve watched this twice now and can’t wait to sit through it again. A true outsider cult hit in the making.
The Evil Within is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from 4 September 2017 from Screenbound Pictures.
Magic Circle (2017) | A trickster theatrical descent into the occult zone with Brother Wolf and Kim Newman
In what must be a first for the British stage, the Brother Wolf theatre company is conducting an arcane magic ritual for their latest production, Magic Circle, a two-handed mystery written by novelist Kim Newman, whose inspirations include real-life magician Aleister Crowley, the weird fiction HP Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley’s occult masterpiece The Devil Rides Out. And if you are a fan, then you are in for a treat.
It’s circa 1970 and in a room at Calme Manor, where some gruesome murders have taken place, a protective chalk circle has been drawn. Inside sits Professor Harry Cutley (Michael Shon), an academic and occultist who plans to spend the night undoing a dangerous spell cast by a former acolyte.
Outside the intangible barrier stands the no-nonsense Inspector Nicholas Gammell (James Hyland) who doesn’t like having an unsolved case on his books and considers Cutley a suspect. What follows is a battle of wills as Gammell interrogates Cutley and hidden agendas begin to emerge from out of the shadows…
This is the first full-length dramatic work for Kim Newman, best known as the author of the Anno Dracula novels (and comics) and for his insightful film reviews, and I must admit I was crossing my fingers that it would be better than his first stage production, The Hallowe’en Sessions – part of the portmanteau chiller The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore – which played at the Leicester Square Theatre but was stifled by mis-direction. But I got my wish, as director Phil Lowe has successfully breathed theatrical life into Newman’s intelligent and witty script (OMG! Sooty’s a satanic avatar!), which explores the power of words via an occult narrative (clever stuff indeed).
The intense proceedings are maximised by the use of the most minimal of sets, equipped with little more than that chalk circle, some ceremonial magic items, and a bundle of clothes neatly folded in a corner of the blacked-out stage – plus a pentagram designed with Newman’s own esoteric symbols. Such minimalism allows the audience to visualise the off-stage action (like the deaths describes in gory detail) and to ponder over the true intentions of Shon’s obsessive Professor of Comparative Religions and Hyland’s skeptical copper, who is trying to lure the hip occultist out of his circle, but never can cross (now why is it?).
Both actors excel in their respective parts, with Hyland’s surly copper coming off like a cross between Alfred Marks’ DS Bellaver in Scream and Scream Again (1970) and Laurence Olivier’s down-at-hell Archie in The Entertainer (1960), while Shon’s hippy occultit possesses the same arrogance as Dean Stockwell’s Wilbur Whateley in The Dunwich Horror (1970). And thanks to Newman’s trickster narrative, the duo get to showcase their vast range as they lure audiences into the author’s eerie mystery – one that’s guaranteed to leave you breathless by the end.
Catch Magic Circle next at…
BARTON UPON HUMBER – ROPERY HALL
Maltkiln Road, Barton upon Humber, North Lincolnshire, DN18 5JT
01652 660 380 www.roperyhall.co.uk
STAFFORD – GATEHOUSE THEATRE
Eastgate Street, Stafford, ST16 2LT
01785 254 653 www.staffordgatehousetheatre.co.uk
The Entity (1982) | The supernatural suspense pulsates and Barbara Hershey electrifies in Eureka’s HD release
From Eureka Entertainment comes the Blu-ray release of supernatural terror tale, The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey.
Hershey stars as single mum Carla who, one night, is sexually assaulted in her bedroom by someone – or something – that she cannot see. Met with scepticism by her attending psychiatrist Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver), she is repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath, and in front of her children.
Could this be a case of hysteria or something even more horrific? Now, with a group of liberal-minded parapsychologists, Carla agrees to take part in a bizarre experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately capture the spectral fury…
Penned by Frank De Felitta, the author of the disturbing reincarnation thriller Audrey Rose, who draws on a real-life 1974 case in California, and helmed by veteran director Sidney J Furie, this strange slice of spectrophilia horror hokum caused a protest when the film first opened in London cinemas.
Whether you believe in the film’s premise or not, you’ll be hard-pressed not to be gripped by Hersey’s genuinely moving performance (she’s in nearly every scene), or get angry at the male characters, who regard her (and all women) as merely hysterical and seem to be engaged in a macho pissing game between each other.
Interestingly, the film was made at a time when the feminist establishment in the US was becoming increasingly autocratic and puritan, espousing dogmatic views that were anti – men, sex, art, porn and censorship. And watching the film today, you can see a deliberately provocative anti-patriarchal subtext that warrants further analysis. And while Martin Scorsese regards The Entity as the scariest horror films of all time, maybe its not supernatural elements that unnerves, but male fears of a woman’s true sexual power? It’s certainly food for thought.
The HD remaster looks super, but it also shows up the so-so effects of the Entity when it’s finally trapped – it reminded me of a giant-sized Mr Whippy ice cream version of the Carroon-creature in The Quatermass Xperiment.
Kudos, however, go to the pounding sound effects by Nightmare on Elm Street composer Elmer Bernstein, whose evocative score can also be heard in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds.
The Entity is released on Blu-ray in the UK through Eureka Entertainment and is available from Amazon
From writer/director Caradog James and producer John Giwa-Amu, who gave us the inventive 2013 sci-fi The Machine, comes Don’t Knock Twice? starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton and Nick Moran.
Sackhoff plays American sculptor Jess, a former addict who has turned her life around and is now settled in the UK with her banker husband (Moran). When she decides to reconnect with Chloe (Boynton), the daughter she was forced to give up nine years ago, she’s shocked to discover that Chloe has only agreed to come and live with her because she’s terrified of a supernatural curse. Chloe claims her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) was taken by a vengeful child-eating witch and is frightened she’s next on the urban legend’s menu. At first, Jess disbelieves her Chloe, but when she learns that other children have gone missing, Jess sets out to uncover the truth…
I really really enjoyed James and Giwa-Amu’s The Machine (you can read my review here), so I was so looking forward to being surprised once again by the Red and Black Film gang, but their Welsh-filmed horror follow-up – which puts a contemporary spin on Hansel and Gretel and the Baba Yaga legend, with a dash of bit of estranged mother-daughter reconnecting – fails to deliver.
Yes, it’s got a couple of scary moments, as well as solid performances from all involved, but I was left feeling I had seen it all somewhere before. Now, the long-fingered witch make-up is terrific, but its physical movements were too much like The Ring‘s Sadako Yamamura or The Exorcist‘s Linda Blair in full possession mode to really stand out. It’s also very dark – not so much in tone, but in the excessive use of low lighting effects – which had me wondering if the film-makers had run out of budget as well as steam.
Don’t Knock Twice? is out on VOD and DVD from Signature Entertainment
Now, I haven’t seen any of the House films since their original releases, and while they’re a perfect example of ‘the law of diminishing returns’, they’ve been dusted off and given a sparkly 2k restoration by Arrow Video for a new Blu-ray/DVD release. Fans of trashy, cheesy 1980s comedy horror will certainly be adding the box-set to their collection, not only because they boast some might sine fine transfers, but for bonus content which includes new ‘making-of’ documentaries alongside some replicated Anchor Bay DVD extras.
So, for what its worth, here’s my take on these blasts from the past…
William Katt (TV’s Greatest American Hero) inherits his dead aunt’s neat Victorian gothic mansion where his troubled author Roger hopes to finish his novel about his experiences in Vietnam. But the house has other ideas, and soon Roger finds himself facing off monstrous apparitions and a vengeful spook…
Fusing spooky scares and funny thrills is certainly no mean feat when it comes to creating the perfect slice of comedy horror (Return of the Living Dead and Fright Night being of the superior kind), and while this first visit to the House franchise means putting up with a lot of silliness and some stage-bound Vietnam scenes with a bunch of extras that look like they belong in a gay porn, the pay-off (involving Roger trying to rescue his missing son from the great beyond) is worth putting up with the crappy bits. For me, the best scenes involve Katt (sporting a chest revealing 1980s cardi) teaming up with George Wendt (of Cheers fame) to battle a really cool Lovecraftian-inspired monster in the closet.
• Audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley
• Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House: documentary featuring interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailers
HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY (1987)
Arye Gross’ fit nerd Jesse gets into all sorts of inter-dimensional scrapes when he digs up his mummified great-great-grandfather (Royal Dano) while searching for a mystical crystal skull…
Coming off like a live-action episode of Scooby-Doo, this light-hearted supernatural sequel is pure 1980s, boasting a typically naff party sequences, lots of big hair and neon attire and really bad synth pop. It’s also got some cute Henson-styled puppets (a baby pterodactyl and a caterpillar-dog), which just adds to the cartoon-like atmosphere.
Another Cheers favourite, ohn Ratzenberger, has a cameo, but the film’s big star is the Stimson House, the 19th-century Richardsonian Romanesque LA mansion which stands in for the film’s Aztec-temple home (it’s also appeared in Mad Men, Pushing Daisies and the Vincent Price episode of The Bionic Woman).
• Audio commentary with writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham
• It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – documentary featuring interviews with Ethan Wiley, Sean S Cunningham, stars Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park Lincoln, and Devin DeVasquez, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up & creature effects artists Chris Walas, Mike Smithson, visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW (1989)
Lance Henriksen’s craggy cop Lucas McCarthy finally nails serial killer ‘Meat Cleaver Max’ (Brion James). But when Max is sent to the electric chair, he’s transformed into a vengeful evil spirit which sets his sights on putting Lucas in the frame for a new series of gruesome murders…
This schlocky shocker bears no relation to the previous two House entries apart from its production team. It’s also a much more serious affair. But while the execution scene is staged with flair and James (a favourite of director Walter Hill) brings some excellent crazy-eyed charisma to a role that hits all the right slasher movie buttons, it’s just not that great and pales against Wes Craven’s Shocker, which came out the year and had the exact same premise.
• Uncut Version, for the first time on Blu-ray.
• Audio commentary with producer Sean S. Cunningham
• The Show Must Go On – interview with actor/stuntman Kane Hodder
• House Mother – interview with actress Rita Taggart
• Slaughter Inc. – brand new featurette with special make-up effects creators Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger
• Behind-the-Scenes Footage
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
HOUSE IV: THE REPOSSESSION (1992)
This direct-to-video entry got William Katt back (albeit very briefly) as Roger Cobb who is killed in a car accident at the very start. The rest of the film has his widow Kelly (Terri Treas) and crippled daughter Melissa (Melissa Clayton) experiencing ghostly goings-on and the greedy machinations of Roger’s brother (Scott Burkholder), while a Native American spirit guide tries to help them contact Roger from the other side…
I think one of the reasons I’ve never really clicked with the House franchise is that there is a real lack of cohesion between them – unlike Cunningham’s more successful Friday the 13th series, which I return to time and again. This final nail in the coffin is by far the weakest of the lot and confusingly has Katt return as Roger Cobb, but he’s a completely different character with a different back story and family. Even the house is not the same as the original one. Instead, we have what looks like a studio set like the house in Tobe Hopper’s Eaten Alive (which is a real guilty pleasure, check it out here). The best thing to do is listen to the commentary as director Abernathy is far more entertaining than the movie.
• Audio commentary with director Lewis Abernathy
• Home Deadly Home: The Making of House IV: documentary featuring interviews with director Lewis Abernathy, producer Sean S Cunningham, stars Terri Treas and William Katt, actor/stunt coordinator Kane Hodder, and composer Harry Manfredini
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
US short’s director Jackson Stewart makes his directorial debut with Beyond the Gates, a nostalgic tribute to 1980’s horror films and board games that’s like The Big Bang Theory meets Jumanji and Fright Night.
Seven months after their drunken dad’s latest disappearance, estranged brothers Gordon (Tales of Halloween’s Graham Skipper) and John (The Guest’s Chase Williamson) have the task of clearing out his video store. Coming across a vintage VHS board game, the brothers decide to play the game for laughs, but are shocked to learn from its mysterious host Evelyn (Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton) that it is in fact a portal to an inter-dimensional world where their father’s soul has been trapped. With the help of Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Dexter’s Brea Grant), the trio set out to save him…
The DVD cover art makes this indie shocker look on par to Stranger Things. But while it can’t touch the thrilling heights of that Netflix sensation, it’s still an enjoyable ride. Now, not much actually happens when the trio are lured into the board game, but suspense and a sense of dread seem to be the name of the game here. And apart from an exploding head, there’s not that much in the way of gore.
Despite the lack of all-out shocks and action, I was drawn in by the story (which is basically about two geeky chalk-n-cheese brothers reconnecting) and the solid performances of the cast, especially Williamson as the moody John (he’s my one to watch, by the way) and everyone’s favourite scream queen Crampton as the spooky black-eyed host.
The shots of Crampton staring immobile, waiting for the lads to play their next move, really sent a chill up my spine, while her breaking the fourth wall inside the TV reminded me of 1986’s Escapes, in which an elderly Vincent Price played a similarly sinister role. The cool synth score is by Wojciech Golczewski, who also did Crampton’s 2015 horror We Are Still Here.
Burnt Offerings (1976) | Why does Dan Curtis’ American Gothic haunted house chiller still frighten me so?
This is the face of the man who scared the bejesus out of my 12-year-old self… and he’s coming back to haunt me once again with Arrow’s HD release of Dan Curtis’ 1976 horror Burnt Offerings – coming out tomorrow (17 October).
Ben (Oliver Reed) and Marian (Karen Black) can’t believe their luck when they rent a vast country mansion for just $900 for the entire summer. All they have to do is look after the house as if it was there own – and to take a daily tray up to the elderly and reclusive Mrs Allardyce.
But as they settle in with their son Davey (Lee Montgomery) and Ben’s beloved aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), the house begins to exerts a dark influence on the inhabitants – especially Marian, who becomes obsessed with the unseen old lady at the top of the stairs.
As more strange occurrences take place, it soon becomes evident to Ben that the house is an evil living presence… Can he convince Marian to leave with the family before its too late?
Burnt Offerings is one of the most underrated chillers of all-time. Co-written, produced and directed by the legendary Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, Trilogy of Terror), and adapted from the 1973 Robert Marasco novel by Logan’s Run author William F Nolan, its a rare thing indeed: being subtle in its horror, featuring a standout cast, and spinning social commentary in its inventive take on the old haunted house story: one in which the viewer becomes an unwitting voyeur as the family firstly fall under the house’s spell, then slowly being consumed by it.
There are scenes that have haunted me for decades: like the rough house play between father and son in the swimming pool that turns deadly dangerous, the house shedding its old shingles as it rejuvenates itself, and that grinning ghostly chauffeur that haunts Ben’s visions. The fact that the chauffeur was the spitting image of my own dad only added to my own nightmares. And don’t start me on that chimney…
From the cameos by Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart to child actor Lee Montgomery, everyone in the cast is brilliant, especially scary-eyed Karen Black whose transformation into the house’s clean-freak servant (in Victorian gothic garb, of course) is genuinely disturbing. But for me, it’s Bette Davis who really impresses. Watching her carefree, chain-smoking Aunt Elizabeth wither away before our eyes is terribly sad and truly terrifying.
It’s been decades since I first saw Burnt Offerings, and revisiting it, I prayed that I would not be disappointed. Thankfully I wasn’t. If anything, I’ve learned to appreciate it even more as it’s not only an excellent exercise in creeping terror, it also has an insightful underlying theme about the destruction of the American Dream in possessing material things.
THE ARROW SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by MGM. (This is the same print as the Kino Lorber release, and looks terrific. It’s so pristine, you can practically feel the sweat and blood pouring off poor Ollie Reed, and the shadowy cinematography really shines).
• Original uncompressed PCM mono audio.
• Optional English subtitles.
• Audio commentary with Dan Curtis, Karen Black and William F Nolan. I’m so going to nominate this for a Rondo. It’s not only informative and insightful, it’s an important historical record as both Dan Curtis and Karen Black are no longer with us.
• Audio commentary with film critic Richard Harland Smith. (After hearing Curtis and co, I haven’t really bothered with this… as yet).
• Acting His Face: Interview with actor Anthony James (aka that scary chauffeur).
• Blood Ties: Interview with actor Lee Montgomery. This is what I sought out first after revisiting the movie, and its great to hear about Lee’s experiences of working with theatrical giants like Bette Davis (who took him under her wing) and Oliver Reed (who got him drunk).
• From the Ashes: Interview with screenwriter William F Nolan (this guy is legend)
• Animated gallery
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
Lovelorn supermarket shelf-stacker and paramedic in training Holly (Abigail Hardingham), sets her sights on suicidal colleague, Rob (Cian Barry), who is still grieving over the death of his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). But during the couple’s first fumbling attempt at sex, Nina emerges from a blood-stained mattress to interrupt them. It soon becomes clear that the potty-mouthed Nina has no intention of letting Rob go, and wants Holly out of the way…
This quirky British indie horror comedy comes from writer/director brothers, Ben and Chris Blaine, who cut their teeth editing Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education UK TV sitcom. But it’s worlds away from that show’s irreverent humour, as guilt, loss and closure lies at the dark heart of this black comedy, played out through a bunch of characters who are all stuck in their own particular limbo.
As Nina, O’Shaughnessy (Utopia) steals the show and watching her I was reminded of another ghostly comedy in which a restless spirit comes between a couple: in Noel Coward’s quintessentially English comedy of manners, Blithe Spirit. And there are shades of Coward’s disruptive Elvira in O’Shaughnessy’s Nina, only with the added vocal mannerisms of Michelle Gomez’s Missy from Doctor Who.
Cian Barry (Doctor Foster) and Abigail Hardingham (Hollyoaks Later) bring a moody emo intensity to their dysfunctional wannabe lovers, Rob and Holly, while also getting their kit off for the film’s many sex scenes – which actually left me cold (probably on account of Nina’s constant corpus interruptus.
While the film does falter in parts, David Troughton’s forgiving dad and Elizabeth Elvin’s grieving mum are on hand to paper over the cracks, with one scene in particular, in which Troughton’s Dan lets slip his mask to vent his anger, supplying some genuinely raw emotion.
Nina Forever is released by StudioCanal on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from 22 February 2016