Gold as the Grave: Horror Honor Roll Classics

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

The continuing technological improvements that home video undergoes has come eons since the now-ancient, but one-time state-of-the-art, laser discs.  Even DVDs are now frequently referred to as a relic from the past (they really aren’t).  Blu-Rays and 4Ks are where the various companies are pointed – a move never more appreciated than when they turn to their classic movie libraries.  Thus, it is with great joy that I can announce the recent Blu-Ray re-masters of a pair of groundbreaking post-war British fright masterpieces, 1945’s DEAD OF NIGHT and 1949’s QUEEN OF HEARTS, now available from the gang at Kino-Lorber (in cahoots with Studio Canal).

Interestingly enough, both pics have often been paired together as a horror double-feature – although, while to many U.S. fans, the former is instantly recognizable, the latter still maintains an aura of obscurity.  This is understandable, since DEAD OF NIGHT had a major studio release (Universal-International), albeit in a shamefully abbreviated form (suffice to say, the Kino edition is complete and uncut).  Expertly mixing psychological elements (a big deal after WWII) and supernatural nightmares, each pic is a triumph of a literate narrative intertwined with atmosphere, art, chills and suspense.  Unlike many horror movies, both flicks achieved high critical kudos to match the audience appreciation.  Since their 1940s releases, DEAD OF NIGHT and QUEEN OF SPADES have influenced a plethora of motion picture and television writers, directors and cameramen including Rod Serling, Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Sangster, Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis, Quentin Tarantino, Masaki Kobayashi and continue to do so to this day.  How great to be able to add 1080p 35MM transfers to our library shelves!

DEAD OF NIGHT is, in a myriad of ways, one of the most misunderstood horror movies ever made.  Not in anything negative – I mean, it’s a great flick all-round.  Mostly, the confusion comes from inaccurate press and distribution faux pas.  For one thing, it’s heralded as the first omnibus horror pic.  Ain’t so.  As far back as 1924, the Germans did an Expressionistic pip with WAXWORKS, featuring a framing story of nefarious figures in history (including Jack the Ripper) whose tales are told via flashback one night in a Madame Tussaud’s-esque museum.  More bizarrely, Universal-International, who took on the American distribution for DEAD OF NIGHT didn’t argue that point even though they themselves released a trilogy of terror just several years earlier (1943’s Flesh and Fantasy)!  Yank critics were also perplexed by the references that seemingly made no sense to a pair of haunted golf buddies.  That’s because Universal, thinking the segment unnecessary, simply chopped it out of the U.S. prints (even more astoundingly, as the author of the piece was the most well-known to American audiences, no less than H.G. Wells!).  Notably, the movie spurred the later efforts of Amicus to create their series of omnibus horror movies in the 1960s and 1970s, beginning with Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors.  Oft imitated (and entertainingly so) but never bested.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Suffice to say that the new Kino-Lorber Studio Classics release is (as mentioned) the complete, uncut version.  The movie, the only Ealing horror venture, began shooting as the war wound down.  Its release in 1945/1947 (Europe and the U.S.) was of the blockbuster kind (horror really intrigued the postwar audiences; in the U.S., RKO’s modestly budgeted Body Snatcher was one of their biggest hits of 1945-46).

DEAD OF NIGHT was carefully constructed to cover all grounds.  Every type of nightmare was to be chronicled, in as many emotional colors as possible:  foreboding evil (a race car driver’s escape from death), creepy (ghostly participation invading children’s hide-and-seek playdate), suspenseful (a haunted mirror wields its influence upon a pair of honeymooners), comic (the aforementioned golf sequence) and terrifying (a ventriloquist’s dummy has a life of its own).  All of this is beautifully framed by a weekend outing at a country estate.  Architect Walter Craig arrives at the manor and disturbingly relates how he knows everyone there from a recurring nightmare he can’t shake.

To capture these frightening elements, Ealing relied upon four of the finest directors then working in the British motion picture industry (Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Alberto Cavalcanti).  Their endeavors were appended by a top-notch script (individually written by T.E.B Clarke, John Baines, E.F. Benson, Angus MacPhail and the aforementioned H.G. Wells) and spectacular atmospheric photography by Douglas Slocombe and Stanley Pavey.  A perfect accompanying tense score was composed for the fest by Georges Auric, and adds just the right macabre crescendos needed.

The cast, too, is a 1940’s Who’s Who of British cinema stars:  Mervyn Johns (as the tormented Craig), Roland Culver, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird, Sally Ann Howes, Judy Kelly, Miles Malleson, Barbara Leake, Ralph Michael, Esme Percy, Peggy Bryan, Hartley Power, Garry Marsh and Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as Parratt and Potter (the two elusive golfers, who had become an unofficial UK comedic team since their standout appearance in Hitchcock’s 1938 The Lady Vanishes).  Most prominently is the tortured and truly scarifyin’ performance by Michael Redgrave (as the ventriloquist).  Speaking of that episode, Universal-International again made a decision that changed the narrative of this segment (the most famous in the movie).  Elisabeth Welch, the wonderful African-American actress/songstress, and a recent ex-pat to the UK, plays the owner-operator of the nightclub where much of the action unfolds.  In the original American version, her non-singing scenes were shortened to imply that the woman was merely an entertainer at the club – and not the owner.  No doubt this was done to appease the Southern theater circuit (again, this is the unabridged 103 minute edition).

DEAD OF NIGHT, in the 75 years since its release, has lost none of its power to ghoulishly invade our post-screening dreams (even the original poster is goosebump-raiser – see the Blu-Ray cover below).

The Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Studio Canal High Definition platter of DEAD OF NIGHT is the best incarnation yet of this chilling classic.  Crystal-clear with terrific contrast, the generally excellent 35mm  transfer (from a new 4K restoration) gets a big bow. Only an intermittent emulsion scratch that lasts for a bit midway through the proceedings prevents the results from being pristine.  Extras include audio commentary by Tim Lucas, and a documentary Remembering Dead of Night.

LSS, DEAD OF NIGHT is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, and deserves to be included in any classic Blu-Ray/DVD collection.  It’s the stuff screams are made of.

THE QUEEN OF SPADES, a blood-freezing tale told in epic proportions, is a 1949 classic that almost plays like a feature-length spinoff told by one of the guests in DEAD OF NIGHT (possibly why they’re often paired together in revival screenings).

The frigid, icy background of 1806 Russia perfectly complements the narrative.  Herman is an impoverished officer in a military where gambling has become the rich man’s pastime of choice (in fact, it has swept the nation).  He is also a sociopathic specimen with a large superiority complex that more than makes up for his miniscule bank account.  The captain is, thus, the subject of ridicule.  When he does achieve modest success at cards, it only fuels his gambling addiction.  Soon, he learns of a tale regarding the Countess, a noblewoman, who, as a young beauty, caved to adultery – and lived to regret it ever since.  It’s the kind of living Herman would kill for.  While robbed of a portion of her riches, she replaced it by recouping it in a high stakes game of chance where she holds the winning cards – the result of a Faustian bargain.

Now decrepit, lonely, miserable (but filthy rich), the aged royal lives to taunt Lizaveta, a young woman she has adopted as her ward.  Herman, stunned to discover that this story is true, vies to seduce Lizaveta, gain access to the Countess, learn the secret of the cards and accrue untold wealth.  But fate is likewise playing, and the events fail to go to plan – taking a dark, hellish detour.  It’s a thoroughly Lewtonesque offering from the UK, with period trappings that precede the type of stuff that made Hammer so fiendishly delicious.

One of the finest ghost stories ever written, poet Alexander Pushkin’s iconic nail-biter is also one of the most filmed literary adaptations (possibly as many as 100 movie versions worldwide, since an early 1910 rendition to the latest evocation –  a 2011 television film).  This, however, is the best of them all, due largely to the excellent direction of Thorold Dickinson, the superb black-and-white photography of the brilliant Otto Heller, a fine script by Rodney Ackland and Arthur Boys and the magnificent performance of lead Anton Walbrook (best known as the tyrannical ballet head in The Red Shoes).  The supporting is equally impressive, and includes Edith Evans (as the Countess), Yvonne Mitchell (as Lizaveta), Ronald Howard, Anthony Dawson, Mary Jerrold, Miles Malleson, Michael Medwin, Valentine Dyall, George Woodbridge, Athene Seyler, and Pauline Tennant (as the young Countess).  A tense music score (once again, by DEAD OF NIGHT’s Georges Auric) perfectly appends the visuals – a matchless production supervised by Anatole de Grunwald (with Jack Clayton serving as associate producer).

The Kino-Lorber Studio Classics Blu-Ray is in beautiful shape with razor-sharp images and a strong mono soundtrack.  Excellent supplements include audio commentary by Nick Pinkerton, an analysis by Philip Horne, a 1951 interview with director Dickinson, as well as Dickinson’s 1968 introduction at a special screening, plus a current introduction by Martin Scorsese.

A must for horror fans, THE QUEEN OF SPADES is the ideal Halloween Eve (or any eve) choice for an engrossing, devilish good time.

DEAD OF NIGHT. CAT # K23632.

THE QUEEN OF SPADES. CAT # K24012.

BOTH TITLES: Black and white. Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Studio Canal.  SRP: $29.95 @.

Roman with Sharon Through Transylvania

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

Another Holy Grail title checked off my Blu-Ray movie “Want List,” 1967’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS comes to the High Def format, thanks to them groovy devils at the Warner Archive Collection.

Cowritten, costarring and directed by Roman Polanski, TFVK was the art house director’s increasing attempt to move toward mainstream – and prove he could tackle Hollywood (Repulsion was released two years earlier, Rosemary’s Baby would be his next year’s reward).  Nevertheless, MGM made it as difficult as possible – assigning the pic to troublesome producer Martin Ransohoff (who, as we had earlier this year discussed, mangled the great Moonshine War).  While having a nose for a good project, and occasionally (at Metro) bringing in a pic that can only be deemed Ransohoff Proof (The Cincinatti Kid), the producer and the upstart director mixed like oil and water.

Still, what remains is vastly entertaining, beautiful to look at, hilariously funny and often brilliant.

Polanski’s story and script (the former, coauthored with Gerard Brach) is a loving poke at/homage to Hammer Film goths – obviously a genre (and studio) he admired.  Devout movie fan that he was/is, Polanski also uses this pic to pay tribute to Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, Hal Roach and even the “Carry On” series (“Stick it where?,” asks a character, armed with a stake).  And marvelously so.

Boasting lavish production values, lush gorgeous scope photography (the great Douglas Slocombe), an addictive score by the director’s fellow Pole and future Rosemary‘s composer Christopher Komeda, TFVK tells the haphazard tale of Professor Abronsius, a bumbling near-senile Van Helsing figure (and writer of the definitive undead tome, The Bat – It’s Mysteries).  Along with his willing (and equally inept underling), Alfred (played to perfection by Polanski), they descend upon a wintry Eastern European hamlet, rife with toothy blood-suckers, their hunchbacked disciples, horny innkeepers and bodacious women.  The loony thrilling climax is bittersweet as the do-gooders/rescuers, in their negligent misuse of what we now call “social distancing,” inadvertently bring the plague they vowed to destroy to the centers of Europe.

The cast is terrific, knowing instinctively how much of the proceedings to take seriously and when to (literally) drop their pants.  As Abronsius, the wonderful Jack MacGowran nearly steals the show.  A sci-fi/horror fave since The Giant Behemoth, he would continue delight fans up to his final portrayal in 1973’s The Exorcist.  As the evil protagonist, the sinister Count von Krolock, Ferdy Mayne delivers the goods in spades, a perfect foil for MacGowran.  As the Yiddish innkeeping couple, The Shagals, Alfie Bass and Jessie Robins are outstanding, with coital-minded Bass bringing in the best line of the pic.  “Turned” during his adulterous prowling, vampiric Shagal is confronted by his adversaries brandishing a cross.  “Oy, do you have the wrong vampire!” is his riotous response, one that never fails to bring down the house.

Mention, too, must be made of the crazed hunchback Koukol (Terry Downes), and von Krolock’s gay son Herbert (Iain Quarrier), who becomes obsessed with Alfred.

Of course, (as alluded to above) no Hammer parody can survive without the drop dead gorgeous females, and FVK‘s are legendary, if not infamous.  Fiona Lewis is truly funny and ridiculously sexy as the inn’s outrageously endowed maid Magda – whose behavior is in stark contrast with the Shagal’s innocent daughter, Sarah, who nevertheless matches the servant in the looks department.  The latter is Sharon Tate, who met the director during the pic (up till that time, I had actually thought Tate to be British, having only seen her in another MGM horror pic that Ransohoff mismanaged, Eye of the Devil).  The rest is nightmarish history; suffice to say, she’s absolutely lovely in the movie.

What Ransohoff did to the picture is notorious – the ultimate betrayal by a producer to an artist.  The pic was originally titled Dance of the Vampires (a perfect moniker once you see it).  Not only did Ransohoff change it (to also include the subtitle, Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck), but chopped out several sections.  Some folks I’ve spoken to who had seen it in the brief 1967 release, recall it running under 90 minutes.  This Warner Archive Blu-Ray clocks in at 107 minutes.  I’m assuming some of the inn material is still missing, but who knows?  The distribution was so lackluster that I don’t even recall a theatrical run (an incident I would have thought impossible for me and this kind of picture in 1967).  I first became aware of it when I saw it listed in a 1968-69 Film’s Incorporated 16MM Rental Catalog.

The new Blu-Ray of THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS is a honey, with restored faded MetroColor bursting with ebullient colors.  The mono audio compliments the visuals and boasts theater quality sound.  A featurette, The Fearless Vampire Killers: Vampires 101, is included, as is the trailer.

For those who like to pepper their Halloween program with laffs (but still maintain a modicum of spooky stuff), ya can’t do much better than THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS.  As the late Forry Ackerman might say, “It’s fangtastic!”

THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The Warner Archive Collection/Turner Entertainment/Warner Home Entertainment. CAT # 1000748760. SRP: $21.99.

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

Foreign Bodies

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

It’s always fascinating to look at what non-Anglo countries do with classic genres – the results being frequently revolutionary, often even brilliant.  These are all praises that can be dealt out to a cinematic pair of fantastic phantasmagoria, France’s BABY BLOOD (1990) and South Korea’s THIRST (2009), both now available in outstanding Blu-Ray editions from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics, in consort with Studio Canal and Focus Features/Universal Studios, respectively.

Typical international movie ballyhoo is the old chestnut, “You’ve never seen anything like it!”  In the case of Alain Robak’s 1990 offering, BABY BLOOD, that hyperbole is totally justified, if not understated!

Director/cowriter Robak was obviously determined to crack the U.S. splatter market, but needed a unique hook.  Boy, did he come up with one!

Evil, it turns out in the pic’s prologue, is an actual entity – surviving on Earth for billions of years, and keeping alive by occupying female hosts.  It seduces them with supportive language (or sounds, as jellyfish, tigers, birds, etc., too, are fair game – as long as they’re female) and nurturing care, impregnating them with a growing embryo – that must have a constant supply of blood to evolve.  Once the monstrous creation bursts out, the force searches for a new body.  And so it goes through time eternal, from the deepest oceans in the far east to Africa to Europe, and so on.  The newest body is Parisian Yanka.  Her invasion is chronicled in minute detail, as are her stalking nocturnal prowls, looking for the title elixir to keep her going…and growing.  The undeniable wow factor is the demon talking to her, often culminating in conversations between the perp and the vic.  It’s important to mention that Emmanuelle Escourrou, the remarkable actress portraying Yanka, is outstanding.  She truly interacts with the disembodied voice commanding her body.  Frighteningly conflicted, Yanka tries to fight the evil, but frequently succumbs to the pleasures of the kill.  An amazing moment is her having to smoke a cigarette to salve the tensions – to which Evil chides her to not give in to a filthy and unhealthy habit.  We have to think of the baby, don’t we?  The voice, too, is likewise charming and alarming, promising Yanka not to harm her after the birth, telling her that she’s his all-time favorite (all lies, ‘cause that’s what Evil does).

Horror movies don’t get much weirder or creepier than BABY BLOOD.  And it’s a genuine “pull out all the stops” production.  Aside from Escourrou, the excellent cast includes Jean-Francois Gallotte, Christian Sinniger, Roselyne Geslot, Alain Chabot, and Thierry Le Portier (with director Robak himself voicing the entity of Evil).  The atmospheric (mostly nighttime) widescreen photography is by Bernard Dechet and a foreboding score by Carlos Acciari completes the macabre package.

It should be mentioned that BABY BLOOD has been somewhat of a Holy Grail for fans to track down in its uncut form (this version is complete and unabridged).  The new High Def master is aces, and includes both the original French soundtrack (with English subtitles), and the English-dubbed grindhouse-friendly audio for Anglo audiences who saw the pic as The Evil Within.

Extras include commentary by film historians/critics Lee Gambin and Jarret Gahan, plus the theatrical trailer.

What could logically be subtitled Womb Raider, BABY BLOOD makes Rosemary’s sprout look like Pollyanna (and I don’t mean McIntosh!).

One of the most extraordinary horror movies in recent years (or any year!), 2009’s THIRST, an epic 135-minute Grand Guignol odyssey, is an experience that I suspect will resonate with non-genre fans, as well as the core buffs (who deservedly have already deemed it a modern masterpiece).

Cowritten (with Chung Seo-kyung) and coproduced by maverick director Park Chan-Wook, auteur of the 2003 international smash Old Boy, THIRST follows the story of a Sang-hyun, a beloved priest, who is, by his own choice, exposed to a lethal disease.  Volunteering to test a new vaccine for a deadly virus, the man of the cloth discovers that the drug has had an amazing and devastating effect.  He is simultaneously miraculously emboldened with apparent super strength while developing an insatiable taste for blood.  Chipping away a dormant portion of the human condition that keeps evil in check, Sang-hyun goes full-blown vampire.

His new life comes with all the perks and perils of the affliction:  balancing the aforementioned feeling of invincibility is a deserved fear of sunlight.  Sang-hyun’s shyness among women is also bolstered as he carnally and fatally pleasures and drains them.

Boarding with the nouveux riche (translated as obnoxious rich trash) Ra family, the priest becomes attracted to their son’s young daughter-in-law (once their adopted ward) – who essentially functions as the house slave, comely, timid, and abused Tae-ju.  As he moves closer to her, she does the same – discovering his “secret,” and opening the door to her desired freedom (“Can you turn me?”).  As they literally soar through the skies at night, claiming victims, Tae-ju degenerates into something totally fiendish – relishing horrendous vengeance on the family who treated her like a dog.  The ending is tragically frightening…and romantic.

For those readers with a literary bent, the narrative may sound a bit familiar.  I’ll cut to the chase; it is indeed an intentional vampiric version of Zola’s Therese RaquinTHIRST, spectacularly directed by Chan-Wook and hauntingly photographed by Chung Chung-hoon, is the serious horror pic macabre aficionados have been waiting for.

The acting is as praiseworthy as the direction and visuals, so rousing applause to costars Song Kang-ho (as the priest), and especially the magnificent Kim Ok-bin (as Tae-ju, the wife/servant whose new thirst for blood is both literal and figurative; in case you recognize the name, she, too, is familiar, Ok-bin is the star of the cross-over 2017 action hit The Villainess).

The Kino-Lorber Studio Classic of THIRST is top-drawer, looking sleek and slick in 1080p scope.  It is presented in the original Korean w/English subtitles, that can be removed if one is fluent in the language (a fine stereo track features the music of Jo Yeong-wook).  Extras comprise running audio commentary by journalist Bryan Reesman, and the theatrical trailer.

Riveting, stylish entertainment, THIRST takes vampire cinema to a new level, and, as such, highly recommended.

BABY BLOOD. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA [English dubbed or French w/English subtitles]; Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Studio Canal CAT # K24002. SRP: $29.95.

THIRST. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD MA [Korean w/English subtitles]. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Focus Pictures International & Moho Film/Universal Studios. CAT # K23822. SRP: $29.95.

Spell-Wishers

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

A treat o’tricks, 1990’s THE WITCHES, a spooky (but kid-friendly) adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved classic, comes to Blu-Ray, thanks to the coven at the Warner Archive Collection.

This deliriously crazed modern fable follows the adventures of Luke Eveshim, who lives with his gran, Helga, in England.  Helga is a loving, adoring surrogate parent to the boy, and, in addition to giving the child the usual warnings (looking both ways before crossing the streets, not putting strange objects in your mouth, never talking to strangers), she adamantly places one non-negotiable rule above the others:  beware of witches.  And she ain’t kidding.  Helga regales young Luke of her childhood in Scandinavia, how it strengthened her for the great fight against the supernatural.  It has boiled down to one bucket list task:  to find and destroy Miss Ernst, the Grand High Witch.  And guess what?  Ernst is holding an international convention in the very hotel Helga and Luke are currently vacationing at.

Armed with a plethora of Sorceress-Hunting Romper Room Do-Bees and Don’t-Bees, Luke must remain always mindful that witches hate children, and love turning them into rodents – and then snuffing them out.

Discovering Ernst and her hellish cult emboldens Luke; however, his attempt to escape their ballroom meeting ends in tragedy when he and another boy guest, Bruno, are caught and “turned.” Another caveat: the recent sightings of “mice” overrunning the upscale hotel sends shivers through the spine of spineless up tight manager Mr. Stringer, one of the pic’s many hilarious sidebars.

It’s a race against time as Luke and Bruno elude the witches, the hotel staff and other dangers of humankind in their efforts to reach Helga, who has been waiting for this confrontation for most of her life.

THE WITCHES is a textbook movie game plan of how to make kid’s horror flick that equally appeals to the grownups.  It’s fun, creepy, and hilarious – sometimes all at once.

The cast is marvelous – with two great actresses leading the histrionics:  the wonderful Mai Zetterling, Swedish thesp extraordinaire (and sometime director), vs. the magnificent Angelica Huston, a svelte female embodiment of chic, snarky witchery (until she removes her real-skin face mask, revealing Ernst’s true horrific evil self). It should further be mentioned that Huston’s portrayal won her new legions of fans (as well as a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress at the 1991 Academy of Science-Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA).

Mr. Stringer, the James Finlayson-esque hotel manager, too, is expertly played by no less that Rowan Atkinson, and he’s a hoot!

The kids likewise are pretty terrific, in casting that could have cute-ruined the whole show; a bow to Jasen Fisher and Charlie Potter.  Other cool familiar faces in the show comprise Bill Paterson, Brenda Blethyn, Jane Horrocks, Jenny Runacre, Jim Carter, and Anne Lambton.  All are aces.

Alan Scott, screenwriter of the underrated Joseph Andrews, penned the script, which retains much of the flavor of the Dahl work, and the whole thing looks sumptuously gorgeous in the lush widescreen cinematography of Harvey Harrison (appended by the Halloween-y Stanley Myers music).  Of major note, natch, is the direction by (of all people) former d.p. Nicolas Roeg.  Truth be told, I’ve never been a big Roeg fan, finding much of his directorial work to be pretentious and often ill-paced.  That’s not the case with his previous vocation as a cameraman, where his photography was frequently brilliant; bizarrely enough, so much of Roeg’s directed movies don’t really look that great; as indicated, not here – THE WITCHES displays a tapestry of marvelous visuals.  Talons down, this is (in my opinion) his finest pic as a director.  It also must be mentioned that the Executive Producer of THE WITCHES is Jim Henson, so, no surprise, the special effects are truly special.

The Warner Archive Blu-Ray of THE WITCHES is everything its constantly increasing fan base could ask for – a perfect no-frills beautifully mastered 1080p release.  Interestingly, the movie arrived on home video prior to the unveiling of a Robert Zemeckis remake, costarring Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer, now showing on HBO/Max.  To quote Malcolm Nance, there are no coincidences, and the newbie’s gonna have to go far and wide to top the original.

THE WITCHES. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA stereo-surround; Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment. CAT # 1000747003.  SRP: $21.99.

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

Possession is Good for the Soul

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

A bona fide buried treasure obscurity from Hollywood’s pre-Code horror cycle, 1933’s SUPERNATURAL, directed by Victor Halpern, materializes on Blu-Ray from the folks at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios.

The mystery, as depicted in the movie, defies any explanation – ergo the title.  The real conundrum is why this movie isn’t better known, considering the cast and director.

I first came across SUPERNATURAL in the early 1980s, and I was immediately hooked.  The movie, after all, was helmed by Victor Halpern, who the previous year had scored a major coup with his indy low budget White ZombieZombie‘s greatest claim was its star (Bela Lugosi) and the oodles of atmosphere.  The result was entirely poetic, with a hefty side of sexual creepy (did we say it was pre-Code?).  SUPERNATURAL continues that vibe (particularly in the latter), with the added coup of a major studio behind it (Paramount), a bigger budget, and rising topline stars.

While Zombie took place in the Caribbean, SUPERNATURAL plays out in New York, diversely balancing the scenario between affluent Long Island and the Lower East Side tenements.

Ruth Rogen is a stunning, but dangerously psychopathic murderess arrested and thrown under the bus by her unscrupulous charlatan lover, Paul Bavian (a devilishly evil Alan Dinehart).  On the eve of her execution, she vows vengeance from the grave – a claim that fake clairvoyant Bavian sloughs off.  He shouldn’t have.  Doctor/therapist and paranormal aficionado Carl Houston has requested Rogen’s corpse to conduct experiments regarding the possible journey of the soul after death.

One of the doctor’s patients is wealthy, gorgeous socialite Roma Courtney – whose family have been longtime friends with Houston.  He is treating the traumatized young woman, who suffers from severe depression and morbidity, due to the recent sudden death of her beloved twin brother, John.

Her untimely visit to Houston’s lab coincides with Rogen’s demented soul searching for a conduit host, and Roma is beyond her wildest dreams – and everyone else’s nightmares.

Roma’s new aggressive persona takes control, as she hunts down Bavian to extract revenge – not difficult, as the creep’s a horndog predator and, as indicated, Courtney is gorgeous…in fact, drop dead gorgeous.

SUPERNATURAL is a no-holds-barred example of the horror genre unleashed in the early talkie era, and, (as indicated) being a pre-Code item, lets – if not demands – female sexuality to run rampant.  While the male stars are quite good (with the aforementioned Dinehart more so), the women are extraordinary.  Vivienne Osborne, an underrated and familiar face throughout the pre-Code years, is terrific as the maniacal Rogen.  Beryl Mercer, the renowned character actress, too, makes the most of her screen time as Bavian’s skeevy landlady (she meets a rather grisly end, as her notorious tenant finds a new use for the El that runs parallel to his apartment window).  Best of all is star Carole Lombard, in her only horror role, not quite yet the superstar she would become, but certainly an actress on the ascent.  Her changing from a morbid, but sweet innocent to a raving succubus demon is quite something to behold.  The key males in support are the accomplished H.B. Warner as Dr. Houston and Randolph Scott as Grant, the object of “nice” Roma’s affection (surprisingly, this would not be Scott’s only horror flick, he had appeared earlier that year in another Paramount pip, Murders in the Zoo).

Halpern is truly in his element, and the direction amongst the Deco architecture of Courtney’s home and Houston’s modern lab is wonderful – the eroticism shooting out sparks as fast and furious as one of the doctor’s electrical apparatuses.

The script by Harvey Thew and Brian Marlow (story and adaptation by Garnett Weston) goes for the jugular, and, fully living up the title, leaves no tombstone unturned.  The shimmering black and white photography by Arthur Martinelli adds to the effect, appended by the Paramount production values (an included fantastic trailer, one of the best pre-Code coming attractions I’ve ever seen, hits all the right buttons, down to comparisons to the Universal output and their own Oscar-winning smash Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).  While the studio may not have been known for horror, they did turn it out quite well during the years 1931-35 (here’s hoping for Blu-Rays of Murder by the Clock, Murders in the Zoo, Peter Ibbetson and The Witching Hour).

The Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray of SUPERNATURAL is…well, super.  It’s so great to see these flicks in 35MM and 1080p High Def.  In addition to the trailer, there’s also some nifty audio commentary by Tim Lucas.  And, jeez, that original poster art (serving as the B-D jacket) ain’t chopped liver either!

A swirling, carnal midnight ride into the unknown, SUPERNATURAL deserves a higher spot in the 1930s horror pantheon.  Let’s make that happen!

SUPERNATURAL. Black and white. Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K24488.  SRP: $24.95.

Blood Will Tell

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

A terror treat from the Seventies, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, a star-filled 1974 British omnibus ride of nightmarish proportions, rises from the vault in a spanking new 1080p Blu-Ray transfer, thanks to the frightfully delightful folks at the Warner Archive Collection/Warner Home Entertainment.

The final of a slew of multi-storied horror flicks from Hammer rival, Amicus, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE also may be the best.  While certainly, the others – all entertaining offshoots, inspired by the brilliant 1947 classic Dead of Night – have their moments, this entry doesn’t sag or falter from frame one (sadly, it doesn’t have the rep of the company’s more high profile forays, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and Tales from the Crypt; then again, who ever said unholy afterlife was fair).  It’s as if all the others were practice for the finale.  I can probably go one better and venture why:  FBtG succeeds because coproducer Milton Subotsky had no hand in the scripting (his abilities as a scribe were, shall we say, limited?).  Here we have a tight, diverse narrative that reasonably connects the quartet of horror to perhaps the finest framing story in the entire Amicus franchise.  Thank you, Robin Clarke and Raymond Christodoulou for your excellent screenplay (based upon stories by R. Chetwynd-Hayes).

Usually, for this fare, the framing story, while necessary for the “hook,” is fairly uninspired – actually removing any chills accrued throughout proceedings.  In FBtG, the connecting material is as fetching as the scenarios they unleash.  The lion’s share for this feat must go to master thesp Peter Cushing, who refuses to merely be a “cryptkeeper,” but actually turns in a wily, thoughtful performance as the wise, supposedly gullible elderly demonic proprietor of Temptations, Ltd., a curiosity shop in a London nabe.  Cushing’s character, The Proprietor, is almost a run-through for Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things.

Like Gaunt, The Proprietor knows what we all do:  that humans are essentially their own worst enemies.  In alignment with this bit of knowledge, he doles out the appropriate evil, depending on his customers’ personal levels of deceit, treachery and outright thievery (switching price-tags, low bidding on valuable items, etc.); only the one totally honest buyer comes out virtually unharmed, but shaken nevertheless.

The four stories (The Gate Crasher, An Act of Kindness, The Elemental, The Door) involve the purchases of a mirror, a war medal, a snuff box, and an antique portal, and run the gamut from absolutely scarifying to Beetlejuice funny (a sequence with the great Margaret Leighton as a dotty medium is wonderful, a magnificent comic performance without any ham).  The dialog, too, is often snarky.  Cushing’s marvelous delivery to the wealthy creep who just cheated him out of the aforementioned stimulant container is hilarious (“I hope you enjoy snuffing it,” he tells the rake.  The actor in question is Ian Carmichael and he and his wife Nyree Dawn Porter live (well…) to regret his shameful deed.  So do the rest of the cast – and what a cast:  Ian Bannen, Diana Dors, Donald Pleasence, his striking daughter Angela, David Warner, Ian Oglivy, Lesley-Anne Down, and Jack Watson.

That FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE admirably checks off all the horror detours is not only a tribute to the writing and acting, but to the no-nonsense directing by Kevin Connor.  He is assisted by excellent cinematography (Alan Hume)  and a suitably tingly score (Douglas Gamley).

The Warner Archive Blu-Ray of FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE looks and sounds swell.  It’s a title I was hoping would eventually arrive in a 1080p High Def rendition, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.  It definitely will be a platter that will be unearthed every October, and likely several times throughout the rest of the year.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Warner Archive Collection/Warner Home Entertainment.  SRP: $21.99.

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

Strictly Unorthodox

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

One of the most influential horror movies ever made, the 1920 German Expressionist version of THE GOLEM, comes to Blu-Ray on its 100th Anniversary, thanks to the mishpocha at Kino Classics, in conjunction with F.W. Murnau Stiftung/Cinematek/La Cinematheque Francaise/MoMA/Pondazione Cinemteca Italiana/Gosfilmofond of Russia/film museum Munchen/ Filmmuseum Potsdam/George Eastman Museum.

Based on an ancient Jewish legend, revolving around a monstrous creation of clay that can be summoned to protect the Chosen People from persecution, THE GOLEM is widely considered to have been an embryonic source for Mary Shelley when she authored Frankenstein in 1818.  It certainly was a cinematic gold mine for (mostly German) motion picture studios, who produced no less than two dozen versions and sequels throughout the silent era – spilling over well into the talkies and television (the latest to date being a 2018 Israeli evocation).

What makes the 1920 depiction “the” go-to GOLEM is the versatile director/writer/star Paul Wegener, who, as a thesp, owns the role for all eternity (it was actually the final and most elaborate of a trilogy that began in 1915, all starring Wegener; the ’20 entry is the only one that survives).

The story (subtitled: How He Came into the World) takes place in Medieval Prague.  In a ghetto, Jews struggle against the anti-Semitism of the royals, who rape, pillage and decimate the pogroms with ferocious lust and hate.  Rabbi Lowe (Albert Steinruck), aware of the ultimate choice, finally reveals the legend to his loyal assistant/famulus Ernst Deutsch).  Unbeknownst to Lowe, the famulus (only referred to as such) is evil – craving power and salivating at the thought of a personal unstoppable “messiah” to carry out his nefarious deeds.  High on his list is making the Rabbi’s beauteous daughter Miriam (Lyda Salmonova) a sex slave.  Miriam, BTW, isn’t your average nubile damsel in distress; she’s a woman yearning to be freed of the shackles of the male-written female guidebook.  She also writhes with passion, wanting to live out her carnal fantasies, not necessarily via a fairy tale romance; it’s an extraordinarily modern, sensual performance.  Miriam’s wishes are answered by her illicit relationship with Florian (Lothar Muthel), a sycophant of the King, sent to terrorize and punish the Jews, but ending up hopelessly addicted to the amorous woman.  Seriously, this ain’t your standard 1920 silent melodrama! 

The resurrection of the monster, under the auspices of the corrupt famulus, and his going on a rampage of killing and destruction is classic monster movie fare.  But even this is done with verve and originality, thanks to Wegener’s performance/direction.  The stunning camerawork (featuring innovative use of the cucoloris) is by the great Karl Freund, himself to later become an accomplished director of Hollywood horror masterpieces (The Mummy and Mad Love).

The brilliant set design and lighting, too, elevate the proceedings from the movie’s copied-but-never-equaled untold imitators.  The gorgeous gothic sets were designed by famed architect Hans Poelzig. Fourteen years later, the lair of the Boris Karloff character in German émigré Edgar Ulmer’s iconic The Black Cat lives in an architectural structure of striking triumph; his name : Hjalmar Poelzig, another nod to the 1920 pic.  Wegner’s work was so heralded that he was likewise given a passport to MGM, well-utilized by his on-screen histrionics in Rex Ingram’s fantastic horror pic The Magician, filmed in 1928 (although lensed in Europe, and not in Tinsel Town)!

For years, I’ve suffered through godawful copies of THE GOLEM, in every format from 8MM to DVD.  I had given up hope of ever enjoying a satisfying copy.  Well, hope springs eternal.  Thank you, Kino and the plethora of international film archives responsible for the (can’t think of any other word) resurrection of this must-see/must-have classic.  Who knew that 35MM even still existed!!!???  LSS, the new Kino 4K restoration Blu-Ray is sensational, bristling with 1080p clarity, detail and contrast (and some stunning use of hand tinting and tones, particularly effective via The Golem’s flashing eyeless eyes).  No less than THREE separate music scores (Stephen Horne, Admir Shkurtaj, Lukasz Poleszak) are accessible to play as accompaniment with the visuals; all work (I preferred the Horne composition).  Excellent optional English subtitles appear under the original German intertitles. There is also audio commentary by Tim Lucas, a U.S. release version (with another score by Cobdula Heth), and a comparison between the German and U.S. cuts.

The ultimate version in the ultimate home video edition, Kino Classics’ THE GOLEM will make even goyim scream “mechayeh!”

THE GOLEM. Black and white w/tints and tones.  Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; German Intertitles w/optional English subtitles; 5.1 DTS-HD MA music score(s).  Kino Classics/F.W. Murnau Nurnau Stiftung/Cinematek/La Cinematheque Francaise/MoMA/Pondazione Cinemteca Italiana/Gosfilmofond of Russia/film museum Munchen/ Filmmuseum Potsdam/George Eastman Museum. CAT # K24620. SRP: $29.95.

Lionel’s at Will

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

One of the greatest classic (and fun) horror flicks ever made, Michael Curtiz’ 1933 triumph MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM comes to the Warner Archive Collection in a superb stand-alone Blu-Ray edition!

Best known as the original version of the much-more famous House of Wax (directed by fellow sadist Andre de Toth), Curtiz’ vision remains “the” stylized, Germanic Expressionist cocktail of horror, rude pre-Code comedy, sex, and fetishist obsession (with the characteristic Warners fast-paced editing chaser).  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love House of Wax, but this creepier, more graphic and modern goth version may take, bake and shake the cake.

The script (based on Charles Belden’s story) by Don Mullaly and Carl Erickson (and a terrific one, too), WAX MUSEUM (as it was called during production and is id-ed on the reel leaders) tells the now-well-trod tale of a sculpting genius driven mad, who must use living models covered in molten wax to realize his artistic ambitions.  While Vincent Price certainly excelled in the remake (it is the pic that finally made him a major horror star), it is Lionel Atwill, who not only gives us the shivers, but does so with a side of pathos and sympathy.  Not an easy task.

In 1920 Paris, Ivan Igor is a brilliant, impoverished artist who has convinced scumbag conman investor Joe Worth to finance a wax museum of historic figures.  Refusing to go the Madame Tussaud route (Jack the Ripper, Bluebeard, etc), Igor takes pride in his “children” and is rewarded when a visiting entrepreneur offers to take over Worth’s note and re-open the museum in a wider venue.  While intrigued, the conman doesn’t want to wait for the dough, and has a better, quicker idea:  torch the place and collect the insurance.  This sends Igor over the edge; as he watches his creations melt, he attempts to attack Worth, who clobbers him into unconsciousness and leaves the artist for dead.  But is he?

Twelve years later, on New Year’s Eve in New York City, a mysterious wheelchair-bound professor prepares to open a Manhattan wax gallery of historical and newsworthy figures.  Yep, the dude is none other than Ivan Igor, his hands now disfigured and whose moldy molding team consists of disgraced albeit talented “hands,” aka perverts and drug addicts.  The one normal artiste is Ralph Burton, whose beauteous lover, Charlotte, is roomies with wise-cracking typical Warners pre-Code sassy lassie Florence; she’s a reporter on a local tabloid, chasing down a series of disappearances in the Big Apple.  When Igor eyes Charlotte, he nearly plotzes, she’s practically the ringer for his beloved lost Marie Antoinette.  She must join his redux corpse museum (not a good thing).  Yikes!  Sure, we love when worthless Worth eventually gets his, but the kidnapping of innocents and their mutilations – well, not so much.

The reporter, actually the lead, is soon-to-be Warners’ Torchy Blaine, aka Glenda Farrell, who trades raunchy barbs with her boss Frank McHugh and the standard array of dumb cops/detectives who try and crack the alarming rise of disappearing New Yorkers.

Of course, for horror buffs, the true stars are Atwill  and Fay Wray (as Charlotte); there’s also Allen Vincent, Gavin Gordon, Edwin Maxwell, Holmes Herbert, Claude King, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Thomas Jackson, William B. Davidson, Milton Kibbee, Robert Emmett O’Connor, and Pat O’Malley.  Liberties were definitely taken with the remake (set at the turn of the century), toning down the gruesome “lower depths” scenario.  In House, a brutally interrogated artist is an alcoholic; in WAX MUSEUM, he’s a coke addict.  Leave us also not forget that in the remake, the heroes were Paul Picerni and Frank Lovejoy; in the original it is female “don’t fuck with me” newshound Florence.

With the horror genre in full bloom in 1933, Warners wasn’t taking any chances.  They didn’t really make these kind of pictures, so, when they did, it had to have something extra.  The delicious snappy pre-Code dialog – certainly a trademark Warners attribute helps, but there was more.  Like the previous year’s Dr. X, also directed by Curtiz and costarring Atwill and Wray, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM was shot in two-strip Technicolor. And exquisitely, too.  While Dr. X looks ghoulishly groovy, WAX MUSEUM used the earlier exercise to improve on the lighting and color design.  Just when two-strip was being phased out, WAX MUSEUM mastered the technique.  Typical.  The movie was filmed by iconic Technicolor expert Ray Rennahan (already a color veteran by 1933).  The sets were by the equally celebrated Anton Grot.  The movie concurrently oozes goth atmosphere (the Paris stuff) and art deco modernity (absolutely stunning in color).  Massive kudos must be given to Perc Westmore’s and Ray Romero’s hideous face behind the mask of the burned and deformed Igor – still packing a fright wallop, nearly 90 years after MotWM‘s release.

For years, WAX MUSEUM and Dr. X in color were Holy Grail cinema pipedreams, long-thought forever lost like many two-strip pics.  Then, in 1973, 35MM prints of both were found in Jack Warner’s personal library.  I freaked back then (to put it mildly), but somehow missed a special MoMA screening.  What followed was an aberration. With CRIs not yet being the norm; UA (then distributing pre-1948 Warner product) slop printed terrible negatives on both.  When I first saw the new color WAX MUSEUM and Dr. X on TV in the mid-1970s, it looked like a black-and-white movie with a Winky Dink screen over the television tube.  Subsequent laserdiscs somewhat improved this mess.  DVDs, more so (by now all the pre-48s were back in Warners’ hands).  Then, in 2013, came the 3-D Blu-Ray release of House of Wax; as a supplement, a newly restored WAX MUSEUM was included.  It was the best I’d ever seen the movie look.  Until now.

The new Warner Archive Blu-Ray of MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM seemingly has meticulously restored each scene frame-by-frame.  The colors are rich, vibrant, and often hellishly spooky (Curtiz, even in pre-Code, couldn’t go extreme on the violence, so he adoringly languished on shots of the realistic wax figures melting – flesh and blood pigmentation giving way to eyeballs popping out of the sockets, etc.).  You’ve never seen this movie in its prime until you’ve viewed this transfer.  It shows you how wonderful two-strip could be – how it wasn’t merely a novelty, but added to the overall narrative.

If all of this wasn’t enough to get you to fork over your dough, there are a slew of new extras to add to the enjoyment of this chiller: a documentary on Fay Wray (featuring her daughter), a featurette on the restoration and separate audio commentaries by film historian Alan K. Rode and UCLA’s head of film/television preservation, Scott McQueen..

LSS, if you’re a fan of the director, the stars, early Technicolor, horror or pre-Code (I qualify for all of the above), you gotta add MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM to your library!  Repeat, gotta!

THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. Color. Full frame [1.37:1] ; 2.0 mono DTS-HD MA.  Warner Archive Collection/Turner Entertainment/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. SRP: $21.99.

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

Vamped and Bewitched

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

“It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear.  It begins with a discovery of witches.”  This is the admittedly farfetched opening of…you guessed it… A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, SEASON 1, the AMC and BBC America smash, now available on DVD from Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/skyvision/SHUDDER/Bad Wolf/Sundance Now.  Once you buy into this (and all fantasy fans should), it’s a guaranteed sexy, exhilarating ride into realm of dark romance and the macabre.

Based upon the wildly successful literary trilogy by Deborah Harkness, DoW benefits from tantalizing scripts (Katie Brooke, Sarah Dollard, Charlene James, Tom Farrelly), taut, dreamlike direction (Juan Carlos Medina, Alice Troughton, Sarah Walker) and excellent performances from a roster of great thesps.

The premise that three separate incompatible forces (vampires, demons, and witches) vie for supremacy of human Earth is engaging enough.  Key is control of a fabled book/manuscript, Ashmole 782.  This gets a flying monkey wrench thrown into the works when supposedly normal (but brilliant Oxford professor) Diana Bishop realizes her witch powers (likely to be the fiercest ever unleashed) and, while trying to suppress them, finds herself the victim of the uncontrollable energy of sexual attraction and full-blossomed forbidden love.  Red flag numero deux – it’s with Matthew Clairmont, a legendary vampire some eight hundred years her senior.  As factions on both sides Iago their “folks” to take appropriate action (supernatural interracial unions are savagely looked down upon), the two now inseparable lovers must battle prejudice, ancient magick and pure evil.

Of course, this would all be bosh, were it not for the dedication of the aforementioned cast, particularly the two leads.  Matthew Goode, who portrays Matthew Clairmont, was, I thought at first too stiff, pompous and (occasionally) ridiculous; then, it (BOING) dawned on me that it’s actually a perfect performance, as he’s someone from another age.  Teresa Palmer, on the other talon, is absolutely in tune with the times.  Furthermore, A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES has something I always yearned to see and hear in a horror romance:  where the scholarly Diana is ravenously fascinated to learn what a first-hand account of living in ancient times was like.  That’s what I’d want to know, too.  Her transfixed joy in hearing Matthew recount places and people he visited/knew from history is one of the best things about the series.  Big kudos to stars Palmer and Goode.

But, yes, there’s nasty, blood and gore a-plenty on display, too:  spell casting, feeding the hunger (the more liberal vamps relegated to wild game rather than people), satanic rituals/revenge, etc.  Again, this is enacted with relish by the great supporting players, specifically Owen Teale, Alysha Hart, Trevor Eve, Alex Kingston, Greg Chillin, Valerie Pettiford, Malin Bushka, Greg McHugh, Elarica Johnson, Tanya Moodie, Lindsay Duncan and Chloe Dumas.

The series, luxuriously filmed throughout the UK and Italy, bursts with production values.  My one complaint tips toward the photography of Suzie Lavelle, Christopher Nuyens and Petra Korner.  The interiors are dull, unappealing, musty visuals. Okay, I get it; however, any Hammer fan knows that interior color goth can be gorgeous.   Cue up the opposite extreme:  the exteriors, which are spectacular (particularly the scenes in Venice and Italy’s Monselice Castle).  I think the (no doubt, intentional) contrast was a decision that they might consider remedying for subsequent seasons.

The two-disc, eight episode Acorn Media DVD of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is, as are all their vids, aces.  The widescreen imagery does pop (at least the outside stuff) and the stereo-surround audio, brimming with creepy effects and a nice score by Rob Lane (whose original music is matched by intermittent classical pieces) fills the bill handily.  Supplements include 45 minutes of extras, comprising featurettes about the cast, mythology and special effects.

A total (and welcome) diss of Twilight bubblegum fare, A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES plays like a top-notch Machiavellian political thriller (it even tackles misogyny, thanks to the definitive feminist vibe nurtured by author Harkness and the mostly female-fueled production; a wonderful moment intoned by a character during a hierarchal discussion: “Every vampire appointed over the last 900 years has been a white male!”) – a House of Cards with phantasmagorical elements (and foreboding sensual, romantic ones:  “What would I taste like?” early-on teases a lustful Diana to Matthew).  It’s truly a Hell of a show!

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, SEASON 1. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 5.1 Dolby Digital-surround.  Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/skyvision/SHUDDER/Bad Wolf/Sundance Now. CAT # AMP-2789.  SRP: $39.99.

Comin’ Out Ya

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

A 3-D collector’s dream come true, Kino-Lorber, in concert with the splendid folks at the 3-D Film Archive/Studio Canal, have gone and done it:  a fully restored HD 3-D Blu-Ray of the 1982 grindhouse classic PARASITE.  How perfect for 2020!

The movie, a lofty effort by the Band family to cover all exploitation ground: horror, sci-fi, action, 3-D and gore, literally put it all out there for everyone to see…and duck.  In short, it’s loopy, goofy, and utterly the perfect on-screen confection to go with that dumpster-sized tub of popcorn.

The pic, ridiculously takes place in a rad (not so futuristic) post-apocalyptic landscape where Reagan has been replaced by ray guns – and the  populace comprises bikers, babes, and crazed dedicated scientists who eke out their existence in faded shag vans, watering holes, Bates Motel refuges, and secret labs.

One such member of the remainder of mankind is Dr. Paul Dean, a brilliant physicist with a problem.  His search for a vaccine cure-all has resulted in his being infected by a tenacious people-chewing organism that loves to grow inside folks…until it doesn’t.  Then, SPLAT.  And there’s a lot of splatting, as, we discover, the thing is quite aggressive (“Whenever a spore touches you, a parasite will grow!”).

That’s pretty much it – with the brave doc doing his all to fight the scum remnants of humanity while simultaneously trying to save it, all before he succumbs to the monster that will eventually explode out of him.

The movie that (along with the late spaghetti western Comin’ at Ya!) helped kick-start the brief but delicious Eighties 3-D revival is, as I often like to say, a hoot-and-a-half.  Embassy Pictures distributed PARASITE, and, aside from the nooooo-holds-barred direction by Charles Band (who also produced), and regulation 80’s era music score (by brother Richard Band) boasts an ambitious script by Alan J. Adler, Michael Shoob and Frank Levering .  Of course, the budget denies full-appreciation of the sprawling EWWW narrative, but surprisingly still manages a formidable support group on both sides of the camera.  No less than Stan Winston assisted with the excellent gross-out special effects, and the cast, usually negligible in this kind of stuff, is quite game.  Of note, is lead Robert Glaudini, who really is trying to make everything believable; supporting him is Luca Bercovici, Cherie Currie, Tom Villard, James Cavan, Joanelle Romero, Freddie Moore, Natalie May, Cheryl Smith and Joel Miller, all diversely hot, disgusting, vile and heroic.  Special mention must be given to the actress playing the wily, snarky landlady who runs the main joint where Dr. Dean & Co. seek safety.  It’s the great Vivian Blaine, of Guys and Dolls fame – her Miss Daley character snapping off one-liners like the veteran pro she was.  A lucky break for the Bands was the casting of Patricia, the sexy good girl – a then-unknown Demi Moore, whose participation ensured constant Times Square/Cable TV play/home video rentals throughout the decade.  Natch, this was sadly all in flat 2-D, so, again, we’re ecstatic about this stereoscopic release – the first time the flick has been available in three dimensions, since the March 1982 roll-out.

The 3-D, for the most part, is pretty good; that said, it’s the only 3-D Film Archive title that I have seen exhibiting some overlapping bleeding; its ever-so-slight, so don’t let that stop you from adding this to your collection (I wager it probably was like that in 1982).  Curiously, cheaper pics (also released by Kino/3-D Film Archive, and which I shall be discussing soon), like The Stewardesses and A*P*E* display none of this abnormality.  I suspect the problem may have been with either the d.p. (Mac Ahlberg, who nevertheless had several notable 3-D consultants, including Randall Larsen and Chris Condon) or the format (it was shot in StereoVision, a single-strip 35MM 2.35:1 over-and-under process).  Again, it’s nothing major.  In fact, some of the effects are quite extraordinary – and unusual.  Did ya ever think a doorknob could be suspenseful or scary?  It is in 3-D, one of the many bizarre uses of three dimensions that (no pun) stand out from the standard rifle barrels pointing into the audience and the (dare I say?) “exiting” moments.  The movie certainly paid off for the Bands, who were able to secure a bigger studio (Universal) for their subsequent 3-D journey, 1983’s Metalstorm.  Most prominently, PARASITE certainly helped the family of moviemakers ascend to the splatter peaks with their mid-Eighties super-slicker 2-D masterpieces, Re-Animator and From Beyond.

As expected, the Kino-Lorber/3-D Archive Blu-Ray is top-notch, living up to both companies’ high reputations.  And, regarding the latter, it’s loaded with fantastic extras, including interviews with the writers and SFX crew, audio commentary by coscripter Adler, documentaries on shooting the pic in 3-D, and its subsequent Blu-Ray stereoscopic restoration. There are also photo galleries, the original trailer, plus TV and radio spots.

Cheesy and sleazy, PARASITE is absolutely necessary for your 3-D horror night, a perfect co-feature with The Maze, Jaws 3, or such later guilty pleasures as Final Destination (4 or 5), Saw 3-D, Texas Chainsaw 3-D, My Bloody Valentine  3-D – all titles it (in some way, shape or form) influenced.

PARASITE. Color. Widescreen/3-D [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA (original mono or 5.1 remixed stereo-surround).  Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Studio Canal/3-D Film Archive.  CAT # K24014. SRP: $29.95.