Halloween Blitz ’17: Killer Comedies…That Kill

Since the squeaky sound of hand-cranked cameras and projectors, embryonic movie-makers discovered flicker gold by mixing funny with scary.  Melies, Edison and others delved into the horror-comedy genre; hell – they invented it.  And it just grew more elaborate and sophisticated as the industry progressed.

By the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond, it was almost a rite of passage for successful screen comedians to do a spooky turn, and many of their efforts (from Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Bob Hope, Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis…on) became some of the comics’ most beloved classics.

By the 1980s, the horror comedy had evolved to the point where buckets of gore/the gross-out factor became a prerequisite.  Who wasn’t laughing at being slimed in Ghostbusters?  Well, just a couple of years before that, Carl Reiner and Steve Martin, the director and star of The Jerk and Dead Men Wear No Plaid, teamed up again for what many consider their finest collaboration, 1983’s THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS.

Nine years later, John Landis took black comedy one step further, melding the sexiness of the Anne Rice vampire phenomenon with Animal House hijinks, plus a dash of Goodfellas, for the underrated 1992 undead-romp INNOCENT BLOOD (a misleading title, since no one is innocent in this splat-for-all).

Both titles proved extremely popular past their sell-by dates, garnering big ratings on TV and impressive sales on home video.  Yet, they were never given the presentation they deserved.  Each 1.85:1 entry was released in full-frame 1.33.  Until now.

Just in time for Halloween, the Warner Archive Collection has gone the distance, finally getting it right with new spectacular widescreen transfers rendered onto 1080p High Definition Blu-Ray.  And they’re sicker and wackier (or whackier, in the case of BLOOD) than ever.

 

“Get that cat out of here!” commands genius head specialist Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (it’s pronounced like you say it), whose operating room is always in attendance of curious felines.

Conceited widower Hfuhruhurr is revered throughout the medical profession for his time-saving invention of zip-lock brain surgery.  His life is brains, he’s devoted to brains (his favorite movie:  Donovan’s Brain)…and now he LOVES brains.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, which is often embarrassing.

Across town from Hfuhruhurr is Dolores Benedict, a spectacularly anatomically arranged black widow (Kathleen Turner in a sizzling outrageous parody of her Body Heat character).  She hooks up with sick or elderly mega-rich men and, literally, fucks them to death (or almost, as she frequently merely has to taunt them with coitus).

Escaping from her latest victim (the great George Furth), she and the doc have a meet-cute moment when he runs her over with his car.  Fortunately, he’s the zip-lock go-to guy.  He saves her life, she has her new mark, and the rest is a swirlie of marital diss (Hfuhruhurr’s asking dead wife Rebecca for her opinion sends his home into paranormal shambles, “Just give me any sign of disapproval,” he beseeches as the walls come tumbling down – the irony of the brain man thinking with somethin’ else).

The honeymoon is a nightmare, as Dolores denies horny Dr. H carnal knowledge, resulting in a French windows dilemma that is one of the funniest sound effect moments since the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles.

When the near-sexually deranged cuckold catches Dolores with a strange perv, who has paid 15K to touch her ass, wifey plays the misogyny card “You don’t want me to work!”  That’s the last straw, the brief coupling has been unspliced.

Meanwhile, across the country and Europe, a serial murderer known as the Elevator Killer is on the loose. Victims are rendered comatose by an injection of window cleaner in their buttocks (including Estelle “I’ll have what she’s having” Reiner).  Then, their brains go missing.

How the determined but certifiably mad doctor discovers the connection between the slayings and fellow looney scientist Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner in a riotous role, living in papier mache Frankenstein castle co-op) paves the way for medicine’s Zip-Lock-invar’s finding true love again…unfortunately in the form of a disembodied medulla oblongata, floating in a jar of formaldehyde (it’s Sissy Spacek – well, her voice).  A victim of the EK maniac, Anne Uumellmahaye (also pronounced like you spell it), converses telepathically with Michael, and while there are some obvious complications (“I CANT FUCK A GORILLA!,” bellows Hfuhruhurr in response to Necessiter’s suggestion of a female-simian transplant), cherished romance ensues (a montage featuring a rowboat is especially hilarious, and a bit poignant).

It all intertwines in a crazed climax that is in its own way kinda sweet; it also contains one of the greatest celebrity guest appearances in cinema as the Elevator Killer is revealed to be…

THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS doesn’t scrimp on anything even remotely connected to screwball.  It’s pure Steve Martin (who cowrote the script with Reiner and George Gipe), and contains a plethora of comedic lines (“Into the mud, scum-queen!”) that have become movie-quote standards.  Michael Chapman’s pop-color photography never looked better, while Joel Goldsmith’s score perfectly captures the hilarity and genre spooky spoofery.  Adding this to your comedy/horror/Eighties collection is…well, a no-brainer.

 

As gorgeous transplanted (to 1992 Philadephia of all places!) French vampire Marie (c’est magnifique Anne Parillaud) tells us in her alluring narration, the undead live for one thing:  the comfort of the sexes, that is the meeting (or meating) where food and sex merge.  This is tres difficile for Marie, since she doesn’t like to mix business with pleasure (“Eeets not nice to play wiz za food”).

That said, her blood supply is low, and needs to be replenished.  Picky eater that she is, the svelte predator ponders her options; after all, what’s a ghoul to do?  Then she reads about the latest Mafia mob war that left an array of bodies strewn across every Rocky location imaginable.  Problem solved:  “I’ll eat Italian.”

And so she does.  But there’s a caveat; her chosen victim Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia), actually an undercover detective, has “zee sad eyes,” an attribute the bloodsucker’s a sucker for.  So off to another hitman, the very amenable Tony (Chazz Palminteri in a standout early role).

Aside from the award-winning international sensation Parillaud appearing in John Landis’ INNOCENT BLOOD, and frequently in full-frontal gloire, this movie had me hooked from the nocturnal aerial opening, featuring Jackie Wilson’s awesome rendition of Night.

And, indeed, while Parillaud is outstanding, as is the supporting cast (Angela Bassett, Tony Sirico, Kim Coates, Luiz Guzman and, in a standout role as a mob lawyer-turned-hockey-puck vampire, Don Rickles), the true star of this horror-com is Robert Loggia as Sal “The Shark” Macelli, grotesque head of the local goombas.  In his Leslie Nielsen bid for comedic stardom, Loggia seems to be having a blast.  Vulgar, disgusting, psychopathic BEFORE Parillaud “turns” him, Loggia becomes the ultimate gooddeadfella, gnashing pointy incisors, eating the competition, and uproariously coming to terms with a new aversion to garlic.

Landis, along with screenwriter Michael Wolk, pays visual fang service to a variety of genre faves, via some groovy clips from Horror of Dracula, Phantom of the Rue Morgue and even Strangers on a Train; there are also some wonderful cameos by the likes of Frank Oz, Michael Ritchie, Sam Raimi, Tom Savini, Forrest J. Ackerman, and, last but not least, Dario Argento.

The Blu-Ray of INNOCENT BLOOD is everything we freaks could hope for.  Razor-sharp 1080p imagery in the proper 1.78:1 dimensions (doing justice at last to Mac Ahlberg’s cool, clean compositions), plus a great surround track (featuring Ira Newborn’s jazzy score) in 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Best of all, this is the uncensored, complete international version.

I must note that Parillaud and LaPaglia’s sex scene is hot as hell (where it is likely to be repeated eternally), and the lady’s tough choice on whether to eat or eat her lover certainly comprises a vampire conundrum.  The resolution is (sort of) left up in the air, but, she’s French, so I assume it’s toujour, l’amour, toujour.  A warm, fuzzy sendoff, to be sure, but, for me, nothing is more heartrending than a misty-eyed Palmanteri eyeing a TV broadcast of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and tenderly remarking, upon Ray Harryhausen’s beloved Rhedosaurus devouring a cop, “I love that.”

THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS. Color.  Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.  CAT # 1000648351.  SRP: $21.99.

INNOCENT BLOOD.  Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 stereo-surround DTS-HD MA.  The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.  CAT# 1000652649.  SRP: $21.99.

Available from the Warner Archive Collection:  http://www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.

 

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Halloween Blitz ’17: Steele Magnolias

Even non-horror fans agree that one of the genre’s most beautiful cinematic apparitions is that of the stunning English actress Barbara Steele.  I try to use the word “icon” sparingly, but, in Ms. Steele’s case, it certainly fits.  The statuesque actress is fully the female equivalent of Karloff, Price, Cushing, Lee and others (but looks way better in a shroud).  For us panting dudes, no one has ever quite made evil so seductive and appealing.  Her piercing eyes visually define her surname, her raven tresses are exactly what Poe must have had in mind when writing of Morella and Lenore (in a lovely, ironic touch, the movie goddess, long considered the celluloid bride of the telltale author actually married Poe – well, writer James Poe; one of the myriad of trivial snippets I affectionately store in the brain that make my mostly meaningless existence palatable).

Steele’s emergence as a horror siren was the typical Hollywood “being in the right place at the right time” (or wrong time) scenario that seems to be the cornerstone for making film legends.

Put under contract to 20th Century-Fox in the late 1950s, she was magnificently miscast as Elvis Presley’s all-American squeeze in Don Siegel’s super 1960 western Flaming Star.  To make her more “yankee,” she was given a blonde wig; to make her more ‘Murican, they coached her in oater drawl, the result being a mishmash of y’all with a distinctive Birmingham accent.  The fact that Barbara Eden, a natural blonde and bona fide American, was sitting on the sidelines soon dawned on the dim producers who immediately replaced Steele, with the codicil of walking papers.

The thesp walked (or rather swam) all the way to Italy where she hooked up with novice director Mario Bava (who had seen her in a Life Magazine photo piece), about to helm his first feature, an adaptation of Gogol’s Viy, a tale of terror that had the inventive moviemaker hiding under his sheets for endless nights during his youth.

Steele’s participation in the project, now titled La Maschera del Demondo (The Mask of Satan), quickly became its prime source of hyperbole.  The movie exploded into instant blockbuster territory.  AIP’s Sam Arkoff saw the Italian cut and snapped it up for a song ($100K, more than the pic’s budget).  Under its new moniker, BLACK SUNDAY, it became American-International’s highest-grossing picture to date (the date being 1960).  Steele, in turn, was asked to return to the States to costar with Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s next Poe adaptation, Pit and the Pendulum.  For no discernable reason, like BLACK SUNDAY (which although was an Italian production, had the cast speaking phonetic English), Steele was dubbed in the Corman opus (thus denying her growing fanbase the delights of her quite fetching British accent).  Pit was another AIP smash, and Steele, suddenly in great demand, returned asap to Italy, where she began a string of memorable macabre outings including The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock, The Ghost, and Castle of Blood (to say nothing of a breather stint in Fellini’s 8 1/2 .

By 1968, the actress, in her own words, “had it.”  Her famous quote, “I never want to climb out of another fucking coffin again!” was simultaneous humorous and sad for the lady’s now legions of worldwide buffs.  She spent the 1970s in a slew of exploitation flicks (some for Corman, including Caged Heat and Piranha).  Then, like giallo queen Edwige Fenech, she turned her talents toward the opposite side of the camera, wearing the hat of producer (Steele coproduced the groundbreaking 1980s mini-series The Winds of War and War and Remembrance).

It’s with thumbs-up excitement that I discovered that Kino Lorber had spectacularly re-mastered and released two Steele masterpieces on Blu-Ray, the aforementioned BLACK SUNDAY and, in conjunction with Raro Video, the 1964 classic THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH, possibly the woman’s best non-Bava horror show.

 

So much has been written about 1960’s BLACK SUNDAY that for me to gush on about it now would simply be a waste of time.  Suffice to say that it is one of the most influential horror movies of all time (it remains Tim Burton’s favorite horror pic, and was used as a visual blueprint for Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula; in addition, Richard Donner studied the picture in prep for The Omen).

The movie, filmed in luxuriant black-and-white resonates with oodles of goth atmosphere in its telling of a traveling foreigner who, in the mid-19th century, happens upon a village cursed two hundred earlier by Princess Asa Vajda, a witch.  The sorceress (also by accounts, a vampire – tests were actually made with Steele-fitted fangs) was not only burned at the stake; she had her head encased in a mask imbedded with metal spikes (ergo, the Italian title).  Ouch.

A disruption of her grave site sets Vajda free, and she begins her revenge infection, targeting several specific members of the townsfolk, the remnants of the ancestors who did the demon dirt.

The gore (for its time) was truly lip-biting.  Of course, Steele is Asa (and her reanimated witch/vampiric counterpart, Katya), and she’s sensational.  The brilliant camerawork is by Bava himself (having begun in the industry as a d.p.).  The design of the movie is such that it is as much an integral part of the flick’s success as Steele, to say nothing of the excellent supporting cast, including fellow Brit John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garraini, Arturo Dominici and Enrico Olivieri.  The music by Roberto Nicolosi is excellent, but sadly mostly absent from the American cut, underscored by the overrated Les Baxter, whose work is at best serviceable; at least Baxter had the smarts to use several strains of the original moody Nicolosi soundtrack.

The script by Ennio De Concini and Mario Serandrei with uncredited assist from Bava, Marcello Coscia and Dino De Palma (English dialog by George Higgins), hits all the right shock points, and, when attached to Maestro Bava’s terrific direction (it’s no wonder that this movie put him on the map), unleashes a breathtaking supernatural rollercoaster ride that 57 years later still has fans and genre buffs concurrently gasping in terror and in awe.  LSS, BLACK SUNDAY is one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

The production was not without its choice moments.  Steele, admittedly, was a bit standoffish due to her belief that Bava was obsessed with seeing her naked, and would, at any moment, spring a hastily added nude scene upon her (he didn’t, but probably wanted to).  The mixed languages of the cast proved a bit awkward as well (script additions/revisions were delivered to the set daily).

But it obviously all paid off.  BLACK SUNDAY has been scarifying and thrilling international audiences for decades, a gorgeous cinematic nightmare that you seemingly can’t wake up from…nor want to.

The Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray of BLACK SUNDAY, as indicated, is the AIP cut, so, no complete Nicolosi score, and short of about three minutes (the Anglicized version also smoothed over an implied incestuous relationship between Steele’s and Dominici’s characters).  As it made box-office history in the U.S. (where it was top-billed with Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors), it’s an important addition to any horror library.  Understandably, completist collectors might want to seek out the uncut Mask of Satan (now also available from Kino); in any case, this beautifully re-mastered 1080p widescreen edition is a definite keeper.  A bonus supplement is a Kino/Bava trailer gallery, a savvy move if ever there was one.

 

In a bravura nod to BLACK SUNDAY, 1964’s I Lunghi Capelli della Morte/THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH once again showcases Steele in a dual role comprising resurrection vengeance.

This template for making the perfect goth horror pic, produced during Italy’s horror Golden Age, relates the unsavory goings-on of the degenerate royal Humboldt family.  In a greedy quest for power, the immoral son Kurt (George Ardisson) has murdered his uncle and blamed Adele, a local beauty (Halina Zalewska) a single mother with two daughters, for the crime (little do they know that she’s a member of the spectrally-gifted Karnstein family).  Kurt’s father (Giuliano Raffaelli), even more of a scumbag than his spawn, craves Lady K, but nevertheless condemns the innocent woman to be burned as a sorceress.  Adele’s stunning oldest daughter Helen (Steele) begs for her parent’s life, to which the aged Count retaliates by raping and murdering the girl.  Adele, meanwhile, dies cursing the village and all who accused her; Helen’s corpse is thrown into a river and later buried next to her mother’s ashes.  And it’s there the two hold an unseen supernatural kaffeklatsch.

The years pass, and the remaining now-orphaned child, now full-grown (also played by Zalewska) becomes the next predatory target of the Humboldts.  Kurt weds her, and on their honeymoon night, the mysterious, erotic and incredibly sensuous Mary (in reality, the reanimated spirit of Helen) returns, seduces her sister’s groom, and begins to accelerate the promise made by her mother decades ago.  Unlike Steele, it ain’t pretty.  As they say, revenge is a dish served best cold – and it doesn’t get colder than Mary’s wrath of violence and terror in THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH.  She is, to put it mildly, one helluva we-otch.

As one might surmise, LONG HAIR is motivated by both sexual politics and Machiavelian tactics.  The lifestyle of the revolting and decrepit Humboldts plays out like a satanic bitch-slap to the Borgias, to fascism and to the undeserving rich.  And it’s intentional, a theme long addressed in the works of Bertolucci, Leone, Pasolini, Visconti and others.  We’ve seen it in westerns, period melodramas, and even comedies.  To see it in horror is not only a revelation, but aptly just.  Steele, of course, is amazing in her two roles as Helen and Mary; can’t decide which one is more alluring.  That said, we can’t not mention some of the other fine performers either, particularly Zalewska, Ardisson and Raffaelli.

The script is by the movie’s director, Antonio Margheriti, and future director Tonino Valeri (from a story by the marvelous giallo scribe Ernesto Gastaldi), and it’s ruthless in its depiction OF the ruthless – and their delicious punishment.  The music by Carlo Rustichelli is another plus; but a key factor of LONG HAIR‘s success is the fantastic black-and-white photography of Riccardo Pallottini.  This must be specifically mentioned, as for ages, the American prints of this title have been nothing short of godawful.  Thanks to Kino Lorber and Raro Video, those days are now over.  The new Blu-Ray of LONG HAIR OF DEATH is a knockout, resplendent in its 1.85:1 1080p hi-def widescreen glory.

The major behind-the-scenes star of this macabre triumph is the underrated director Antonio Margheriti (often credited as Anthony M. Dawson).  This is without question my favorite Margheriti movie, and, quite possibly his finest effort; the sense of foreboding evil creepily waifs through the entire 94-minute running time.

Kino and Raro have jam-packed the Blu-Ray with stupendous extras, including interviews with Eduardo Margheriti and Antonio Tentori, an intro by Fangoria’s Chris Alexander, the Italian and English trailers, plus a fully illustrated booklet.  The movie is accessible in either the original Italian (w/newly translated English subtitles) or in an acceptable English dubbed version.  Your choice.

A joyous celebration of the Queen of Horror, BLACK SUNDAY and THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH are guaranteed to Steele your heart, if not your soul.

BLACK SUNDAY.  Black and white.  Widescreen [1.66:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 PCM Linear mono audio.  Kino-Lorber Classics.  CAT # K1570.  SRP: $19.95.

THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH.  Black and white.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition; 2.0 PCM Linear mono audio [Italian w/English subtitles; English dub track]; Kino-Lorber/Raro Video.  CAT# BRRVD-083.  SRP: $29.95.

 

 

Halloween Blitz ’17: Voo-Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

“Weird fuckin’ city ya moved into,” says police detective Robert Loggia to transplanted Manhattan shrink Dr. Cal Jamison in the 1987 horror chiller THE BELIEVERS, now on limited edition Blu-Ray from Twilight Time/MGM/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment. And whether you believe it or not – that’s an understatement.

Based on the unnerving novel The Religion by Nicholas Conde, THE BELIEVERS, as scripted by Mark Frost, paints New York City a garish hell-on-Earth red, as it methodically unfolds the freaky trappings that comprise the dark world of Santa Sangre.

Apparently, along with butt-ugly graffiti-vandalized walls/subway cars/monuments, offensive boom boxes, annoying Woody Allen types, spell-casting Hispanic help, and dead sacrificial animal carcasses on every street corner, 1980s New York was indeed the flip side of Club Med. Jamison himself could probably use some psychiatric aid, since he’s still recovering from having accidentally electrocuted his wife – certainly the worst kitchen-and-milk death since John Larch’s in Budd Boetticher’s The Killer is Loose. Honestly, after initially viewing this movie, I could never think of Mr. Coffee in the same way again.

Jamison’s rather unpleasant above faux pas was witnessed by the doc’s already-strange son, who then goes even further off the deep end. Soon the urchin (Harley Cross) is obsessing on violent drawings of disemboweled beings, exhibiting particularly nasty tendencies toward females, cursing, throwing tantrums, running helter-skelter into traffic – in short, exactly the sick, perverted behavior one would expect from the son of Martin Sheen (who perfectly enacts the role of the sad-sack therapist).

Fortunately, not ten seconds after moving into their new Big Apple digs, Jamison is canoodling with his super-hot Patricia Neal-ish landlady Helen Shaver. So much for the grief process.

Sadly, for Sheen, the movie doesn’t end here – it spirals downward, as the plethora of chicken sacrifices escalate from fowl play to foul play – with children being substituted for Perdue fodder or, in culinary terms, tater-tottery.

Loggia’s participation is accentuated due to the fact that their lead suspect is one of their own – a previously revered top cop (Jimmy Smits), now reduced to a writhing, dementia-plagued screwball, shrieking about how “they get right inside your body.” While this didn’t seem to bother Shaver, it does torment Smits, just a human paraphrase of that real-estate standard: location, location, location.

But who are “they?” “They” are an insidious cult of black magic fanatics, who use first-born kiddies as gateways to fame and fortune. It all comes under the auspices of a phony organization called ACHE (perhaps a more suitable moniker would have been OUCH), run by a slimy Koch/Trump-ian figurehead (realized via an especially high-octane brand of oiliness Harris Yulin). Their satanic key to power is the extremely creepy black leader Palo, brought to America from his mysterious primitive foreign homeland. Now, before you can say “Kenyan socialist,” let me stop you cold. This dude is coming from an entirely different direction, and, by that I mean he’s got Michele Bachmann crazy eyes.

Palo’s force is not only lethal, but excruciatingly painful. To be possessed (as Smits, Loggia and others graphically display) is not a pleasant experience. You twist and turn and sweat profusely, grabbing your stomach in screaming agony. I don’t know how else to describe it except by relegating the curse to desperately requiring a rest room whilst on the subway (sneakily adding a touch of realism to this accurate and not uncommon New York phenomenon).

There are many other cultural and scientific overlaps in this movie – the fatal price one pays for being a diss-believer; perhaps the one that comes immediately to mind is ably demonstrated by Shaver, who, in a brilliant show of powder-puffery, draws the fine line between cosmetology and entomology (and far be it for me to give away the gooseflesh-raising climax, which leaves its outcome up to audience – the options being bad or worse).

It also comes as no surprise to me that this prejudiced, frightening depiction of my hometown was orchestrated by none other than John Schlesinger. Ever since Midnight Cowboy, I pretty much suspected that the director was less than keen on Fun City, but THE BELIEVERS takes this metropolis of festering evil idea to a new level (this flick is so nasty that lawyers are presented as good guys!); concisely put, it’s his scariest movie since Darling.

I have to admit though that I enjoy this pic a lot more now than I did back in ’87. Back then, we were inundated with devil-approved contemporary malevolent fare, including Angel Heart, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Sect and the Reagan Administration. More than a quarter of a century later, THE BELIEVERS is a squeamish cinematic roller-coaster ride with much to offer. Aside from the aforementioned cast, there’s also excellent support from Elizabeth Wilson, Richard Masur, Lee Richardson and Raul Davila. There’s also some spectacular camerawork by the great Robby Muller – and, to this point, I must take umbrage with THE BELIEVERS’ original distributor, Orion Pictures. Back in 1987, the print I saw was grainy, washed-out and tinged with a barbecue pallor that I surmised was the director and d.p.’s conceptual intention. This was further deceptively foisted upon me by the subsequent laserdisc, which, for some bizarre reason, was time-compressed (which shouldn’t have been necessary for a 114-minute movie), full-frame (from a period in LV’s history when letterboxing was becoming the norm), and looking every bit as awful as its theatrical presentation.

Naturally, one would expect a 2010s Blu-Ray to be substantially better than a 1988 laserdisc, but this Twilight Time platter reveals a visual tapestry that transcends the first-run release. Yeah, it’s a not exactly the Manhattan of The Eddy Duchin Story, but it’s not that mess I saw way-back-when, either. Muller’s images are crisp, clear and even ebullient in its sinister palette of contrasting colors and ominous spooky lighting. The 2.0 stereo-surround audio nicely showcases J. Peter Robinson’s score, the gotcha sound effects and background music from the likes of Celia Cruz and Ruben Blades. Please also remember that this is a limited edition, and that movies in this genre tend to sell out rather fast.

Personally, I have to admit that what creeped me out about THE BELIEVERS in 1987 was the fact that while living in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, I used to regularly see the burnt-out candle (and other) remnants of Santa Sangre mishegos in the underpass leading to Emmons Avenue (a justification I chalked up to extreme ballyhoo from Orion’s publicity department, even though I knew better).

Giving a whole new meaning to the term “small fry,” THE BELIEVERS offers one the ideal Eighties Night opportunity to thoroughly confuse your friends by pairing it with the undeniably lesser (and cornier) Children of the Corn. After all, there are two sides to everything.

THE BELIEVERS.  Color.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; Stereo-surround 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  CAT # 903RJMGM0189.  UPC# 811956020147.  SRP:  $29.95.

Limited edition of 3000 available exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment [www.screenarchives.com].

believers_COVER

 

 

Halloween Blitz ’17: The Pig Bang Theory

In one of the most original cinematic takes on the Frankenstein story to date, Donald Cammell’s 1977 sci-fi cautionary tale, DEMON SEED, has at last been spawned on Blu-Ray, thanks to those swell folks at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Adapted from a Dean Koontz novel, screenwriters Robert Jaffe and Roger O. Hirson have fashioned a genuinely frightening albeit psychotronic freak show revolving around a super-successful upscale California couple, on the surface the definition of a perfect marriage.  Professor Alex Harris and his stunning spouse Susan have it all.  He’s an acclaimed genius spearheading advancement in computer science, specifically its ecological assist in saving the Earth via oceanographic exploration.  Say that five times fast!

And he ain’t kidding.  His obsession with computers has severely diminished his former obsession with Mrs. Prof. Harris, herself a renowned musicologist and teacher (apathy not helped by the pair’s schism over their deceased daughter).

To Harris’s credit, he has turned his home into a working laboratory, largely controlled by robotic hired (and non-union) help.  This only drives the ever-increasingly frustrated Susan further up the wall.

But Alex can’t be bothered; he’s refining his greatest achievement:  Proteus, the super-superSUPER computer, who not only can carry on conversations and ingest volumes of information in a nanosecond, but who is the recipient of Harris’s revolutionary accomplishment – the pre-DNA artificial intelligence transplant of actual humanistic traits, hormonal and all.

The irony of the term “A.I.” has obviously been lost upon the egghead, as he fails to see the potential danger of imbibing an ultra-powerful cyber-brain with moronic “think with your dick” fascination.

Soon, Proteus is invading the other computers, becoming their Alpha, and shutting off their obedience-to-the-humans switch.

Then, the manmade tyrant has second thoughts about our oceans, claiming that the mining of the seas in the name of environment is nothing less than “the rape of the Earth,” a procedure he/it wants no part of.  The rape of Harris’s wife is another story.

Taking over the abode, he locks the about-to-sue-for-divorce Mrs. H in, and makes her his sex slave.  Her rebuttal attacks on Proteus, comprising a series of cat-and-mouse shenanigans, are what give DEMON SEED its meat.  The discussions are scarifyingly cerebral, as Proteus scoffs at being compared to Hitler (“book burning equals nothing”).

You can imagine how she feels about his accelerating lust, that early-on spills over into S&M  “sick little games.”

Then Proteus lets loose.  Sex isn’t enough; the borg wants to create a quasi-human child.  And with the threat of killing off those close to her, including children she teaches – to say nothing of possibly destroying the planet – Susan has no choice but to give it up for Mother Earth.

The whole bizarro factor of DEMON SEED never gets stale; in fact, the movie gets better every time I watch it.  Natch, the crammed room full of clunky 1970s high-tech computers is a laugh, the kind of which (as I’m always first to note) could be currently embedded in any high-schooler’s iPhone.

Yet, much of DEMON SEED is prophetic; specifically the idea of a Smart House, totally controlled by owner’s operating a remote device.

Much praise has been heaped upon the two main performances in DEMON SEED, the The Harrises, Fritz Weaver and Julie Christie.  And, indeed, they do give what many consider to be among their best thespian accounts of themselves.  But there’s an unsung hero in DEMON SEED, the third performance that really needs to be addressed.  It’s pervy Proteus, or rather the voice of same, creepily enacted by the great Robert Vaughn.

The special effects are, not surprisingly, state-of-the-art (for 1977); in fact, one must give a nod to MGM, a studio who, up until 1956’s Forbidden Planet, purposely seemed to go out of its way to ignore the genre; now, post-2001, and perennially in deep financial turmoil, they opened the floodgates, unleashing a barrage of Seventies sci-fi fantasy flicks, including Westworld, Logan’s Run, The Green Slime and, last but not least, Night of the Lepus (mostly caught on The Deuce, often in addition to other non-celluloid things I’d rather not get into).  DEMON SEED may be the best of them all; it’s certainly the most disturbing, plunging the obligatory naked Christie in the worst, most horrifying sexual nightmare since she hooked up with Warren Beatty.

Warner’s Blu-Ray of DEMON SEED is all we sci-fans could have hoped for:  a terrific 2.35:1 scope 1080p High Definition transfer that properly does justice to one of the era’s premier d.p.s Bill Butler.  The Jerry Fielding score is another plus, and an underrated piece by the noted composer.

DEMON SEED.  Color.  Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 mono DTS-HD MA.  Warner Home Video/Turner Home Entertainment.  CAT # 1000639537.  SRP: $21.99.

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Available from the Warner Archive Collection:  http://www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.

 

Halloween Blitz ’17: Mo’ Guts, Mo’ Gory

Taking the term “cutting-edge entertainment” to its most extreme level, the 1980s horror flick is a genre that to this day fascinates, excites and even inspires aficionados and filmmakers (at least three 3-D remakes during the 2010s alone).  They also occasionally cause revulsion (a factor its legions of admirers check off on the plus column).  To be sure, these rather graphic depictions of (generally) not-too-bright doomed teens spawned tons of sequels, off-shoots, video games and an even occasional real-life serial killer.  Hoo, boy!  Careers have been made by many who appeared in these big hair/big phone-era nightmares via sold-out appearances at horror conventions.  With every holiday but Lincoln’s Birthday pegged as a celebration of evil and terror (aka, a green light to start carving up nubile victims like Christmas turkeys), this Eighties phenomena additionally coined a gaggle of new slang terms for the sanguine movie-inclined wordsmith, including “splatter pic,” “slasher pic,” “gore hound,” and others.

While admittedly, many of these forays into the darkest side of Americana are – how can one delicately say it? – crap, a hefty amount have enough genuinely compelling attributes to make them legitimate classics (albeit ones that often are proceeded by the words “guilty pleasure”).  Two of the rarest though most fondly remembered-dismembered entries have long been elusive, at least in viewable and complete versions.  They have now been beautifully re-mastered and set loose on Blu-Ray, no less, from the savvy folks at Kino Lorber, in collaboration with their Scorpion Releasing arm.  They are 1981’s SAVAGE WEEKEND and 1988’s SPELLBINDER.  This low-budget pair from the very excellent days of  entrails-tales, while essential, are nonetheless deceptive, as one is not low-budget at all, while the other isn’t even from the decade that immortalized it.  But, and here’s the only time these splatter-platters will be compared to John Ford, as they said in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

 

SAVAGE WEEKEND, an alleged 1981 release, is an independently made, ultra-low-budget affair, filmed in New York by The Upstate Murder Company.  While the scenario resembles the likewise-New York-lensed Friday the 13th, the plot concerns horny grown-ups in the wilds rather than horny teens.  So, why the big deal over slightly re-vamping the 1980 blockbuster?  Because SAVAGE WEEKEND wasn’t made in 1981, or in the rad decade at all.  It was filmed in 1976, marginally released post-Halloween in 1979, and then again, after the big slasher push in the early Eighties.

As such, the movie is quite remarkable in its own demented way, since it predates the entire slasher/splatter genre by nearly five years.  Was it incredibly fortuitous of its auteur, writer/producer/director David Paulsen?  Could be, but, frankly, it suspiciously bears a too-close-for-comfort deja-vu resemblance to Mario Bava’s bravura 1972 horror entry Bay of Blood (which really did predate the slasher onslaught), even down to the bullseye-targeted adults in the countryside.  This makes sense, as Paulsen is obviously a movie fan and knowingly seems familiar with the correct emotional movie-patron “jump” buttons to push.

The plot also differs to the meatier kind of fare, not always associated with this genre, particularly in its embryonic form. Several couples decide to escape Manhattan from a labyrinth of stress and angst, prime being mover-and-shaker duo Jay (Devin Goldenberg) and Marie (Marilyn Hamlin).  Jay is a successful attorney with property in upstate New York.  His lover, an abused single-mom divorcee, is in dire need…well, of everything.  You get a sampling of the hell her life was when Greg (David Pomerantz) her scumbag ex (albeit a caring father), arrives to pick up their son (Adam Hirsch) while she goes off with her new squeeze and their friends, Bobby (Jim Doerr) an architect specializing in restoring boats, Marie’s free-spirit sister Shirley (Caitlin O’Heaney), and Nicky (Christopher Allport) an admirable non-stereotypical gay character, who brilliantly asserts himself in a rural bar, baiting moron rednecks and then refreshingly kicking their inbred asses.

Upstate New York itself is depicted as a vast wasteland of horrific personalities.  My family and I used to spend our summers in the Jewish-emigre- friendly Fleischmann’s (where Gertrude Berg had a home, and, as far as I know, refrained from murdering anyone), and never experienced anything like this.  Paulsen’s upstate New York is apparently inhabited by the transplanted residents from Deliverance.  Although, I must say, the overall cast of SAVAGE WEEKEND is pretty amazing, and many of them went on to bigger and better things.  While I’ve already mentioned the primary thesps (soap opera maven David Pomerantz, Hamlin, Goldenberg, Doerr and Allport), the rock star of SW is the magnificent O’Heaney (billed as Kathleen Heaney), in her outstanding screen debut.  As slutty Shirley, she and screen sib Hamlin convey a perverse take on sexuality, suggesting a sick childhood (again, another rarity for this kind of picture).

Of course, key to the movie’s “Eeewww” success are unpleasant local-yokel creeps Otis and Mac.  The former is portrayed by William Sanderson, who a year after the “wide” release of WEEKEND would appear in Blade Runner, and then subsequently become a beloved TV icon due to his portrayal of Larry on the superb Newhart series.  Mac is enacted by the great and foreboding David Gale, himself a later 1980s horror favorite from the classic Stuart Gordon opus Re-Animator (he’s the rapacious professor who literally gives head to Barbara Crampton).

This Blu-Ray taught me (yet for the umpteenth time) to never judge a book by its cover (especially if it’s often seen sans jacket).  From the carrying-on O’Heaney brazenly displays, one would think she was recruited for the movie by a talent scout slumming on a Girls Gone Wild excursion.  Au contraire.  In a terrific supplemental interview (one of several with surviving cast members, including Sanderson), O’Heaney is revealed to be one snarky, hilarious Julliard grad, who gleefully admits she did the pic to get a SAG card (yeah, it’s a union flick, ya learn something new every day).  She riotously recalls running into her former teacher John Houseman (as he was exiting a restaurant with friends), happily announcing she got a movie!  Wary, Houseman countered with “What kind of a movie?” to which O’Heaney sheepishly sighed that she does have to show her breasts.  “Is it porn?!,” demanded the renowned producer and future Oscar-winning actor.  And no matter how many times O’Heaney adamantly denied it, Houseman relentlessly and ruthlessly insisted to know if it was an XXX skin flick.

This is underlined with mirth by O’Heaney’s dead-on Houseman impression.  The more she denied it (on the streets of Manhattan’s restaurant row, mind you), the more Houseman believed it was.  Truth be told, Caitlin, your second sex scene (yep, that’s right, folks, her SECOND sex scene) comes about as close to porn in a mainstream movie as I’ve ever seen.  No doubt, it’s what has added to the actress’s considerable fan-base.  For me, though, what makes the O’Heaney performance go from mood-swinging bimbo to bona fide goddess is a segment bereft of sex or gore entirely.  It’s an awesome sequence featuring O’Heaney, dressed up, primping and suggestively dancing to tango music as an enraptured Nicky watches and attempts to beta the alpha.  This imagery is so stylized that’s it’s almost out of a different movie, and truly is reminiscent of a major giallo moment, generally interpreted by the likes of Edwige Fenech or Femi Benussi.  This Italian connection once again makes me think that Paulsen had more than a passing interest in the works of Bava and his contemporaries.

Another O’Heaney memory conjures up authentic real-life horror, as she valiantly recounts working with Katharine Hepburn (again, riotously appended by her jaw-dropping impression); another plus, Scorpion spells the Grate Kate’s name incorrectly (INSERT Nelson Muntz laugh HERE)

SAVAGE WEEKEND was shot on a shoestring by a company manufacturing loafers.  Yet, the camerawork by Zoli Vidor is often surprisingly good (with the tango moment a standout) buttressed by Dov Seltzer’s workable score.  Paulsen’s script is the weakest link, but methinks the talented cast did enough improv to get it up on its feet (for example, a ludicrous sidebar with Sanderson talking to a dead relative in a cemetery is totally unnecessary).

To see this obscurity on Blu-Ray, and absolutely uncut, is a revelation; it’s about the best you’ll ever see (and hear) of SAVAGE WEEKEND.  And thanks, mostly to O’Heaney, it’s something to see.

 

From beach party movies to horror epics, whenever a major studio apes the minors, it’s a good sign that someone is doing something right.  Such is the case with SPELLBINDER, an impressive MGM 1987 fright entry disguised as a Times Square grindhouse offering.

How does one know this?

It’s easy, just check the cast and crew.  While director Janet Greek (who provides audio commentary) isn’t as celebrated as her coworkers (although she’s mostly known for her helming TV episodes of Max Headroom, Babylon 5 and Melrose Place), certainly the balance of her staff is.  From the cast (Tim Daly, Kelly Preston, Rick Rossovich, Audra Lindley) to d.p.Adam Greenberg (The Big Red One, The Terminator, 3 Men and a Baby) to the composer (the wonderful Basil Poledouris) to the coproducer (Joe Wizan), these are formidable names to reckon with.  And the production values show it!

The plot of SPELLBINDER (as contrived by coproducer Tracy Torme) is initially hard to take, as it attempts to be sympathetic toward lawyers.  Once this hurdle is cleared, the narrative becomes rather enticing if not wholly original (the twist ending has since become a template for every other Lifetime Movie).

Top echelon mouthpieces Jeff and Derek (Daly and Rossovich) are exiting an after-hours bar when they see Miranda, a beautiful woman (Preston), being assaulted.  Daly takes her defense, and is warned by the imposing abusive misogynist douchebag (Anthony Crivello) that “he doesn’t know what he’s getting into.”  It’s the one rung of decency SPELLBINDER has to offer.  Grateful Miranda, now having no place to stay, happily agrees to Jeff’s fantasy request to come home with him.  She proves to be even more grateful once they arrive at his dwelling; she even cleans the joint up, cooks the food and, most relevantly, appears to put personal hygiene at the top of her pantheon.

Of course, they become a couple.

SPELLBINDER then downwardly spirals into the cinematic definition of “if something seems too good to be true…” – with a vengeance.

Much of this ground had been previously tread in far more superior pics like the superb giallo/horror Perfume of the Lady in Black (also available through Kino, and well worth purchasing), but SPELLBINDER with its groovy look, game cast and overall execution, isn’t a bad flick to add to one’s Eighties terror-trove of titles.  It’s vastly entertaining, and like SAVAGE WEEKEND, kind of scarce.  So, having it in a fantastic, uncut 1080p Blu-Ray is quite a coup.

FYI, the reason for SPELLBINDER‘s acknowledged rarity is due to voluptuous female lead Preston.  As a member of the Church of Scientology, her “organization” strongly objected and boycotted the movie, due to her sex scenes – specifically citing her cowgirl performance nudity where her breasts arguably do appear to defy gravity, spinning around like two Fourth of July pinwheels (minus the sparks of garish colors).

As the same outfit hasn’t said peep about Elisabeth Moss’ far more graphic moments in Top of the Lake (and other vehicles), their objection seems rather lame.  I wonder if the actual reason might be her character’s belonging to a ruthless cult that demands total loyalty (including turning over of all funds and eschewing all outside relationships), with violent persecution as punishment for disobedience.  But that’s just me.

SAVAGE WEEKEND.  Color.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Kino-Lorber/Scorpion Releasing/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios.  CAT # K1684.  SRP: $29.95.

SPELLBINDER.  Color.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Kino-Lorber/Scorpion Releasing/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios.  CAT # K1660.  SRP: $29.95.

 

Halloween Blitz ’17: Harlot Fever

Underlining the term “guilty pleasure” with a vengeance, 1957’s SHE DEVIL, now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment, is a movie as sleazily seductive as its lead character.

Basically an EC Comics redux of the naughty mandrake root fable Hanns Heinz Ewers’ Alraune, SHE DEVIL valiantly (on a nothing budget) attempts to likewise update Frankenstein, as told by Mickey Spillane with a dash of BUtterfield 8 on the side (well, let’s say an exclamation mark). It’s the seriously damaged brainchild of writer/director Kurt Neumann, who coscripted the piece with Carroll Young, from the pretentiously titled story The Adaptive Ultimate by John Jessel (considering the result, it might as well have been George Jessel).

It’s the story of two bio-chemists, Bach and Scott, who suspiciously live together and specialize in fruit flies. Why, you ask?  Because these insects are the most adaptive and actually thrive when exposed to the planet’s most harmful elements. That Bach and Scott are portrayed by Albert Dekker and Jack Kelly (just a year or so before the latter reinvented himself as the witty, heroic Bart Maverick on the long-running TV series bearing his character’s surname) prove that they’re likely their own worst enemies. Dekker and Kelly are also fascinated by female sexuality, and, after developing a bat-guano crazy serum to go with their theory, they decide to find a suitable victim…ummm, patient.

Since some idiot allows Dekker to do yeoman service at the local poor people’s clinic (jeez, didn’t anyone see Dr. Cyclops?), he uncovers manna from heaven in the pleasing form of spectacularly named Kyra Zelas (Mari Blanchard), a comatose young woman dying of TB.

Taking the gasping babe into their home, Bach and Scott inject her with their formula right smack dab into her pineal gland (get out of the gutter – it’s her brain).  Yup, you can’t ask for anything better than this, and before you can say “trampire,” she magically turns into a severe version of Marie Windsor (with bleached-blonde hair that can only be classified as Diana Dors # 69, and explained away by the woman’s “insect adaptability”). Strangely enough, even her bland wardrobe undergoes a transformation – magically morphed into skin-tight stripper togs from Filene’s Barbara Nichols Collection.

The now belle-of-the-balls, Kyra seeks satisfaction from every male within skanking distance. Entering a fashionable boutique, she sidles up to elderly gentleman Paul Cavanagh, and without wasting time on her volcanic seductive charms, introduces herself, pushes him into a corner, grabs his wallet and bitch-slaps the hell out of him.

It’s the latter part that pounds Kyra’s g-spot to rapacious orgasmic heights, so she decides to switch to the even faster lane, skip robbery and ratchet her violent tendencies exclusively to homme-icide.

Of course this greatly disturbs Bach and Scott, particularly their study on the female animal which has instantly relegated them to a couple of fallopian boobs. Their attempt to stop her only results in their being caught in her amorous web themselves – along with Kyra’s wooing and screwing slimy adulterer/multi-millionaire John Archer (replete with pornstache).

SHE DEVIL is the type of movie that you can’t believe genuinely exists – even as you’re watching it. Its blatant stupidity is perfectly balanced by its loopy addictive qualities, buttressed by the fine cast and crew.

Dekker, whose private life would soon exceed his wildest on-screen performances, went on to play koo-koo Dr. Hochstader in the 1959 freak show Suddenly, Last Summer. His role as Bach is about neck-and-neck with his aforementioned turn as the teeny-weeny-obsessive Dr. (Cyclops) Thorkel. Blanchard, who, prior to SHE DEVIL, I only recalled as running saloons in about 120 million Universal-International Fifties westerns, has the role of her life in this exploitative germ…errr, gem (with the possible exception of her portrayal of Adah Issacs Menken in a Sugarfoot episode). She may be the screen’s greatest zom-be-otch!

Director Neumann was certainly on a roll. What can only be termed a Kurt Neumann special, SHE DEVIL was packaged as a double-feature for nabe/drive-in consumption with his more respectable giant robot sci-fi opus Kronos. The nice box-office raised his profile considerably resulting in Fox’s bumping him up the ladder to helm 1958’s The Fly.

SHE DEVIL was part of Fox’s low-rent offshoot company, Regal Pictures. Regal essentially offered up modest 75-minute programmers in black and white and scope (i.e., the stuff that they were too ashamed to release under their Fox banner). Regal’s catalog comprised westerns, horror pics and lurid thrillers (featuring second-string stars or performers on their way down the slippery celebrity slope).  Funnily enough, Fox even refused to let Regal use the CinemaScope logo; all their product was affixed with the RegalScope moniker (for more detailed RegalScope info, check out https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/for-a-few-dollars-less/).

The Blu-Ray of SHE DEVIL turned out a lot better than Bach and Scott’s experiment. Save for a few slight emulsion scratches, it’s in pretty good shape – and it won’t kill you. The crisp monochrome images look swell in 2.35:1, likely the first time available in the correct aspect ratio since 1957. The cinematography, I should mention, is by the wonderful cameraman Karl Struss, another reason for giving this delirious train wreck a peek. The audio features a score by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter, and it’s a hoot. It not only utilizes cliché slinky bad-girl horn/sax music, but cops riffs from Fox’s The Seven Year Itch soundtrack (a perk from working under the auspices of a big studio).

As a fan of movies where lead characters are both victim and villain, I find SHE DEVIL hard to resist. Cheap, tawdry and great celluloid trash, it certainly delivers the promised goods (or is it bads?). LSS, Mari Blanchard’s Kyra is one helluva damn-sel in distress!

SHE DEVIL.  Black and white [Letterbox:  2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; Mono DTS-HD MA.  UPC: 887090055604.  Cat #: OF556.  SRP:  $29.95.

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Halloween Blitz ’17: Homicidal Domicidal

It’s so cool to finally be privy to a fantastic transfer of Pete Walker’s last flick (to date), 1983’s THE HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, now available from the folks at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios.

Although promoted as an out-and-out horror outing, this comedy-mystery-thriller owes more to the old dark house chillers of the 1920s and ‘30s than the supernatural epics that distributors Golan-Globus tended to make it.  Can’t really blame them, when one considers the on and off camera pedigrees.  The cast is (no pun) to die for, and the director, none other than the sardonic Mr. Walker of House of Whipcord, Schizo and The Flesh and Blood Show fame.

If genre buffs find screenwriter Michael Armstrong’s script a bit familiar, it’s not mere cliché deja vu.  This suped-up update is an intentional grisly wink-wink-nod-nod take on that chestnut staple of “It was a dark and rainy night” thrillers, Seven Keys to Baldpate (Earl Derr Biggers’ 1913 novel, filmed approximately 9000 times by A and B producers since before movies learned to talk).  And how great is it to finally be able to link Pete Walker with George M. Cohan (the creaky creaker’s play adaptor, sans patriotic music and Jimmy Cagney) as co-conspirators?

The movie doesn’t miss a beat, checking off every goosebump-raiser, be it the sinister deserted mansion, relentless thunder and lightning, beautiful damsels in peril, and maniacs galore.  In fact, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS redefines the term “blood kin,” as the narrative’s hero early-on discovers.

The plot concerns writer Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz, Jr.), who, egged on by his unscrupulous publisher (or is that a redundant term?) agrees to spend the night in a possibly haunted manse where he’ll hopefully be inspired to pen a new page-turning cliffhanger.

But the joint ain’t deserted; there’s a gorgeous diversion (Julie Peasgood) – not so bad – and a fake caretaker (John Carradine) – not so good.  And before you can say “jeepers-creepers,” a secret panel opens, and out pop Peter Cushing and Vincent Price.  If that’s not enough of a lethal red flag, the next clap of thunder serves as an announcement for no less than Christopher Lee.

The three comprise the brethren known as the Brisbane clan, brothers-in-harm who may be attached to international terrorist organization, but certainly are involved in at least one gruesome murder, with the promise of more to come.

Author Magee’s solving the case may not terrify viewers along the lines of Psycho or a James Wan pic, but is definitely a fun ride, thanks the game participants and Walker’s deft direction.  In fact, one almost wishes they had filmed the on-set hijinks, as the fearsome foursome seems to be having the time of their lives (Price even merrily narrates the movie’s included trailer, one of several enticing extras that also includes audio commentary with Walker, as well as an on-camera interview).

Walker, who knows how to sweeten the caldron, further embellishes the teaming of American and British genre icons by bringing his own recipe for terror, the formidable Sheila Keith.  As Keith and Walker both hailed from English music-hall comedy, that set must have truly been a howl (Desi, Jr., looks like he’s having a blast as well).  And nothing warms the icy blood on a rain-drenched evening more than hearing the gang logically explain that when one lustily impregnates a serving girl, one must save the family honor by personally cutting the bastard child out of her stomach.  It’s what the Borgias called “bonding.”

THE HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS has a lousy reputation, not due to its execution, but rather its presentation.  For years a desirable video, LONG SHADOWS seemed doomed to exist in only smeary VHS dupes, or worse – godawful DVD-R bootlegs culled from smeary VHS dupes. Toss that junk in the garbage ‘cause here comes a newly-transferred 1080p widescreen Blu-Ray, offering up hi-def crystal-clarity, appended by excellent contrast and rich colors of Norman Langley’s camerawork.  The one fly in the ointment is the occasional murky audio, which I suspect is due to the original recording and not deterioration (it’s not unwatchable, or, more precisely, unhearable, so don’t fret).  And Richard Harvey’s suitable score remains intact.

Aside from the negligible handing by Golan-Globus and the changing trends in filmmaking (ironically veering from traditional gothic to splatter, a concept that Walker had explored a decade earlier with Flesh and Blood Show), it was the increasingly exorbitant costs of making a movie – even a low-budget one – that put the kibosh on Walker’s attraction to the business.  The stress of being constantly under observation by nervous suits drove the artist from directing into real estate, where he subsequently made millions.  In Steve Chibnall’s terrific 1998 book on the controversial figure, Making Mischief, Walker bemoans that fact (plus his dwindling profit points) and beautifully puts the whole process in long story short terms, i.e., making mischief just wasn’t fun anymore.

THE HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Kino Lorber Studio Classics/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios.  CAT# K1758.  SRP:  $29.99.

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