Movies Till Dawn: Dusk to Dawn Terrorthon 2015 – Part 1

6 p.m. – “Eaten Alive” – Horror

51CdnBq9goL(1976, Arrow Video USA) While this second feature from Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”) lacks the terrifying, force-of-nature drive of its predecessor, it’s a unique experience unto itself for its blend of morbid comedy, berserk performances and surreal atmosphere. Originally conceived by producers Mardi Rustam and Alvin Fast as a “Jaws” carbon with an alligator, Hooper and “Chain Saw” co-writer Kim Henkel refashioned the script as a sort of E.C. Comics tale with Southern Gothic flair. Neville Brand gives an outrageous turn as the certifiable proprietor of a dilapidated hotel in the Louisiana bayou, where troublesome guests are messily dispatched by farm implements, or a giant crocodile that is always lurking nearby, a la “Peter Pan.” An eclectic array of supporting players turn up to be menaced, including Mel Ferrer, a very young Robert Englund (who gets a memorable introductory line), and William Finley (“Phantom of the Paradise”) and “Chain Saw” alum Marilyn Burns as a combative couple who become completely unglued after their daughter’s dog is gobbled up by the croc (“Snoopy!”). Stuart Whitman and Carolyn Jones are also on hand as the local sheriff and town madam, respectively, and their presence, along with the rest of the cast, lends credibility to what might play on paper as simple splatterhouse fodder. Hooper, too, imbues the picture with some fascinating directorial choices: perhaps sensing that he’d been handed a patently absurd premise, he chose to emphasize its inherent artificiality by constructing its entire universe – motel, swamp and all – on a soundstage (at Raleigh Studios) and bathing each scene in an audio-visual assault garish neon hues – vibrant crimson and queasy green – and his own nerve-rattling musique concrete score (with Wayne Bell). The end result plays like a mix of avant-garde theater and grossout horror, and if all the parts don’t work together harmoniously, the resulting din is startling and at times fascinatingly odd. (more)

Arrow Video’s Blu-ray presentation is an exhaustive treasure trove of production information and material on “Eaten Alive,” porting over much of the supplements from Dark Sky’s 2010 DVD release while adding an equal number of original extras. The former includes an informative commentary track featuring Mardi Rustam (now the publisher of the “Tolucan Times”), makeup artist Craig Reardon and cast members William Finley, Kyle Richards and Roberta Collins, interviews with Hooper, Englund and Marilyn Burns (all fun and low-key), and a featurette on Joe Ball, a real-life Depression Era Texas bootlegger and convicted murderer whose exploits gave rise to folk legend that inspired the picture. There are also an array of green band and red band trailers for the film under its variety of titles, including “Horror Hotel” and “Starlight Slaughter,” as well as radio spots, TV commercials, lobby cards and best of all, a collection of audience comment cards from a ‘70s-era screening which offer some viciously negative (and a few enthusiastic) responses. The new extras include another interview with the phlegmatic Hooper, who also offers up an introduction to the film (“Hope you like the colors…”), as well as a lively chat with Janus Blythe (“The Hills Have Eyes”), who plays one of Brand’s would-be victims, and a very thoughtful conversation with Reardon.

7:30 pm – “Our Mother’s House” – Suspense/Thriller

61pT8YqAuyL._SL1000_(1967, Warner Archives Collection) Not horror in the traditional sense, this strange British thriller about an elaborate deception that takes on a life of its own, but it does have a dead body, and a séance, and finally, a terrible crime, so it qualifies for our purposes. The body in question is that of a devoutly religious young mother, whose demise has put her seven children in danger of being sent to orphanages. The siblings hatch a plan: they inter their mother in the backyard garden and carry on with their lives as if she were still alive. At first, the scheme well enough, but as their lives grow more insular and paranoid, their story about their mother’s death becomes an obsession, and the children begin to consult her spirit in elaborate séances (called “Mothertime”). When the outside world threatens to upend the children’s existence, an unlikely savior is found in their long-lost wastrel father (Dirk Bogarde), who appears to not only embrace their plan but also bring them together as a normal, nuclear family. But Dad has a few deceptive cards of his own to play, as well as a terrible truth to reveal, but the children are far too along in the world of their creation to let anything take them away from Mothertime. The second in an unofficial trilogy about children and the supernatural by director Jack Clayton (the others being “The Innocents” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”), “Our Mother’s House” is an unsettling experience, long on atmosphere and slow-boiling tension, and expertly performed by Bogarde and a cast of young actors led by Diane Franklin, Mark Lester of “Oliver!” fame, and Margaret Brooks (now Leclere), the daughter of novelist and playwright Jeremy Brooks, who co-wrote the script with Clayton’s wife, Israeli actress Haya Harareet (“Ben-Hur”). The Warner Archives DVD includes the original trailer, which should be watched after the movie, as it telegraphs far too many of the plot twists.

9 p.m. – “Reptilicus” – Science Fiction

product_images_modal_T-RBRCover72dpi__7Bdc124286-bdbb-e411-bd0b-d4ae527c3b65_7D(1961, Shout Factory) Danish miners drilling in Lapland discover a segment of a huge prehistoric animal’s tail and send it to Copenhagen for study. The tail is accidentally thawed and regenerates into an entire beast – a winged and seemingly indestructible dinosaur with the unpleasant ability to spew up corrosive slime – which wreaks havoc throughout the country. Two identical versions of “Reptilicus” were filmed in 1961 – one in Danish by director Poul Berg for the hometown crowd, and another in English, by producer Sidney Pink for distribution in the States by American International Pictures president Samuel Z. Arkoff – who took one look at Pink’s version, which featured the original Danish cast pronouncing its English lines phonetically and a comic musical number, and pronounced it unreleasable. An extensive re-edit was ordered, including a rewrite by science fiction author Ib Melchoir (who wrote Pink’s “The Angry Red Planet’) and new dubbing for the actors (as well as an extended travelogue-style visit to the Tivoli Gardens amusement park), but nothing could be done about the film’s biggest liability – Reptilicus itself, which came in two forms: a stiff, wooden, marionette-like figure, and a larger rubber model, which writhes impotently and slams its knobby head into miniature buildings to little avail (scenes of Reptilicus flying, which you can see here, were also removed prior to the U.S. release). Very young viewers have been the most forgiving audience for “Reptilicus,” which has enjoyed cult status as a “bad movie” for half a century, thanks to regular rotation on Saturday afternoon creature feature slots; the picture generated both a novelization (now prized by collectors for some seedy sex scenes!) and a two-issue comic book, while clips turned up on “The Monkees” as part of the proto-music video for the song “Your Auntie Grizelda.” Shout Factory’s Blu-ray, which pairs the picture with the Italian giant octopus movie “Tentacles” (1977), is about as good as the picture is ever going to look (the special effects sequences are very worn), and includes the original trailer, a radio spot and photo gallery.

10:30 p.m. – “The Legacy” – Horror

product_images_modal_LegacyBRCover72dpi__7Ba0656319-646a-484a-a119-36824e776861_7D(1978, Shout Factory) Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of strangers, with no connection to each other, are brought together at the mansion home of a mysterious benefactor, where they each meet grisly ends. You probably have (“The Cat and the Canary,” “And Then There Were None”), which means you’ve also seen, more or less, this US/UK supernatural thriller co directed by Richard Marquand (“Return of the Jedi”). What makes “The Legacy” engaging, in a junk food sort of way, is a very game cast, led by Americans Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott, with Brits Charles Gray (“You Only Live Twice”), John Standing (“Game of Thrones”) and a mountainously coiffured Roger Daltrey, most of whom meet elaborate and hideous ends: Hildegard Neil is slashed to ribbons by an exploding mirror, Gray is incinerated in a fireball, and Daltrey dies from a botched tracheotomy – for a very long time – at the hands of sinister nurse Margaret Tyzack. The script, co-written by Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster, is less successful at grafting a grand, diabolical conspiracy onto the Old Dark House/slaughterhouse scenario, but that really doesn’t matter, since the point of “The Legacy” is to keep viewers wondering who will die next (and, more importantly, how). Shout Factory’s Blu-ray does the best it can with a slightly grainy print (the audio is excellent), and includes interviews with Oscar-winning editor Anne V. Coates and special makeup effects designer Robin Grantham, as well as the theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, and a photo gallery.

Midnight – “Hand of Death” – Horror/Science Fiction

61pz4I+alqL._SL1000_(1961, 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives) A laboratory accident exposes scientist John Agar to the nerve gas he is developing, which transforms him into a blackened, monstrous hulk whose touch causes instant and horrible death to anyone who crosses his path. This very short (60 minutes) exercise in pulp horror by actor-turned-director Gene Nelson features a very silly looking creature (created by prolific makeup artist Bob Mark) and no real context beyond “science can be dangerous,” but it’s never dull, thanks to fluid camerawork by Oscar winner Floyd (father of David) Crosby, and a menacing bongo-and-organ score by jazz arranger Sonny Burke. Agar, a familiar and fondly remembered presence in ‘50s and ‘60s B-science fiction, is his usual stiff but believable self, and even manages to not embarrass himself while wearing the monster suit, in spite of the fact that it resembles a malevolent California Raisin. Character actor spotters will note the presence of one-time Stooge Joe Besser (!) as an ill-fated attendant at a PCH gas station, and a pre-Eddie Munster Butch Patrick as a curious kid on a beach in Malibu; Agar’s lab assistant, John Alonzo, was later an Oscar-nominated cinematographer on “Chinatown,” among numerous other films. Following brief theatrical and syndicated TV runs, “Hand of Death” became something of a lost film, save for crummy fullscreen bootlegs; the Fox Cinema Archive DVD amends that situation with a crisp widescreen video transfer.

1:30 a.m. – “Burnt Offerings” – Horror

2822(1976, Kino Lorber) Creepy, underrated haunted house film by Dan Curtis of “Dark Shadows” and “Winds of War” fame, based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Robert Marasco, with Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Lee Harcourt Montgomery and Bette Davis as the Rolf family, who agree to serve as summer caretakers for a sprawling, 19th century California mansion (the Dunsmuir house in Oakland). The owners are the weird Allardyce siblings, played with great relish by Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart, who grant the family the full run of their home in exchange for one consideration: to leave daily meals for their mother, who lives, unseen, in an upstairs room. If that wasn’t enough of a red flag for the Rolfs, they are soon under siege from strange phenomena – a leaky gas heater in a room that locks its own windows, a diabolical swimming pool – which, while alarming, is all standard issue for haunted house movies. Where “Burnt Offerings” sets itself apart from the pack is depicting how the Allardyce house assault the social fabric of the Rolfs’ lives, breaking them down and rebuilding them to fit its own need: the mild-mannered Reed becomes a monstrous parody of a father, aggressive physically with his son and sexually with his wife, before he’s torn down and reduced to a shivering wreck, while Black’s modern mom façade is gradually replaced by a prim, fastidious Victorian matron whose behavior matches the 19th century décor of the house (Montgomery and Davis, the weakest of the quartet, offer little and are besieged by physical and mental threats). The psychic toll endured by the Rolfs is the strongest element of “Burnt Offerings,” and Curtis handles such a difficult depiction with patience and skill; he’s well aided by his production team (which includes production designer Eugene Lourie, who handled similar duties for Renoir and Chaplin while also directing “The Beast with 20,000 Fathoms) and a solid cast, especially Reed in a role against type, though the picture’s most memorable performance may be that of Anthony James as a spectral chauffeur with no lines but the most bone-chilling grin. Kino’s Blu-ray is chock-a-block with extras, porting over a commentary with Curtis, Black and co-writer William F. Nolan from the 2003 MGM DVD while adding a new and very informative track by historian Richard Harland Smith (TCM’s Movie Morlocks and, in full disclosure, my fellow Horror Dad), new interviews with Nolan, James and Montgomery (lots of great production stories), and the original trailer with commentary by Trailers from Hell’s Steve Senski.

3 a.m. – “The Oblong Box” – Horror

2847(1969, Kino Lorber) Save for the title and a body hidden in a coffin, this AIP production bears no resemblance to the Edgar Allan Poe short story on which it purports to be based. But it does offer both Vincent Price and Christopher Lee (in their first screen team-up) in a decidedly morbid story about a Englishman (played by Australian actor Alister Williamson), disfigured by an African voodoo curse, who avenges a series of wrongs committed against him by a score of heels, including his duplicitous brother (Price) and a vivisectionist doctor (Lee). Intended as a project to reunite director Michael Reeves (“Witchfinder General”) with Price and cinematographer John Coquillon, Reeves’ accidental death forced AIP to turn “Oblong Box” over to British television director Gordon Hessler, who, with writer Christopher Wicking, fleshed out the original script by Lawrence Huntington and added a note of critical subtext with the voodoo element, which lays the blame for the curse squarely upon English colonial greed (shades of Hammer’s “The Reptile” and “Plague of the Zombies”). The end result feels padded at times, but Hessler and Coquillion bring plenty of atmosphere and pace, and the presence of Price and “special guest star” Lee lend gravity and star appeal; Lee, in particular, imbues a nasty, dismissive edge to his character, which does much to draw attention away from his awful pageboy wig. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray enhances the rich color palette in Coquillon’s photography and adds some swell extras, including informative commentary by Steve Haberman, a very rare 1969 short film adaptation of Poe’s “Annabelle Lee” with narration by Price, and trailers for other Price horror titles in Kino’s library, including “House of Long Shadows” and “Tales of Terror.”

4:30 a.m. – “The Phantom of the Opera” – Horror/Suspense

2837(1925, Kino Lorber) There have been countless adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s novel about a sinister figure haunting the Paris Opera house, but this first film version, directed by Rupert Julian (among others) remains the definitive Phantom thanks to Lon Chaney’s remarkable performance, which elicits both fear and sympathy beneath his iconic deaths-head makeup. Kino’s two-disc Blu-ray presentation is similar to a single-disc edition issued by Image Entertainment, featuring three versions of the film: the original silent feature from 1925, a 1929 reissue which featured a synchronized soundtrack, and a 1930 reissue which added new scenes featuring synchronized dialogue. The 1929 edition, mastered from 35mm elements, is perhaps the best way to view the Chaney “Phantom,” as it preserves not only the remarkable two-color Technicolor process in the famed costumed ball sequence (where the Phantom brings the revelry to a screeching halt by appearing as the Red Death), but also offers three different score options – new soundtracks by the Alloy Orchestra and Gabriel Thibaudeau with I Musici de Montreal, and an organ score by Gaylord Carter from a 1974 reissue. The 1930 version is an interesting curiosity, combining the surviving fragments of sound footage, audio only scenes and silent footage, but all presentations allow the technical achievement and haunting qualities of “Phantom” to shine through. Kino’s disc adds two archival shorts from Paris life at the time of the picture’s original release, and commentary by Jon C. Mirsalis from the Image disc.

6 a.m. – “The Sentinel” – Horror

product_images_modal_SentinelBRCover72dpi__7B618010af-6060-48bb-804a-addcf25ef96f_7D(1977, Shout Factory) Crude, campy supernatural thriller from director Michael Winner (“Death Wish”) that aspires to be a high-end, modern story about ancient evil, like “Rosemary’s Baby,” but actually hews closer to the Satanic splatter of Italian “Exorcist” carbons like “Anticristo.” Fashion model Cristina Raines believes that the upscale Brooklyn brownstone with the skyline view she’s just moved into is a dream come true, despite the warning signs at every turn – recurring nightmares about murdering her father, a host of creepy neighbors (crazy cat guy Burgess Meredith, hungry-looking lesbians Beverly D’Angelo and Sylvia Miles), and most alarming of all, a blind priest (John Carradine) staring blankly out the window of a top-floor apartment in the brownstone. Suffice it to say that all Hell has to literally break loose to convince Raines that she got a bad deal on her new digs. Winner clearly wants to satisfy both sides of the horror movie demographic with a mix of atmospheric suspense a la “Rosemary” and gruesome shocks from the “Omen” playbook, but the hysterical tone of the performances and script undo any chance at the former, and while the makeup effects by Dick Smith are certainly arresting, the decision to present the legions of Hell as a mix of actors in Smith’s prosthetics and performers with real and extreme physical deformities (like the incredible Bob Melvin) comes across as more gross and cynical than horrifying. So the chief pleasures of “The Sentinel” come from watching its all-star g cast – which includes Ava Gardner, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Chris Sarandon Jerry Orbach, Jeff Goldblum, Jose Ferrer and Arthur Kennedy – and wondering what might have been playing through their heads while making the film. Based on the supplemental features on the Shout Factory disc, they were probably ticking off the days until their last scene; Winner, in his commentary track, spares no quarter in tearing down the cast members he didn’t like, while additional commentaries with producer Jeffrey Konvitz (on whose book the film is based) and Raines suggest that working with Winner was no picnic, either. The theatrical trailer and a gallery of stills round out the disc.

 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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