Movies Till Dawn: Dusk to Dawn Terrorthon 2015 – Part 2!

6 p.m. – “Black Sabbath” – Horror/Anthology

61ftoiS0moL._SL1000_(1963, MGM Limited Edition Collection) Boris Karloff is your host for three stories about the supernatural directed by Mario Bava: in “The Drop of Water,” a nurse believes that she is pursued by spirit of a deceased woman – which announces itself with the sound of dripping water – from whom she has stolen a ring, while in “The Telephone,” Michele Mercier is dismayed to learn that the person plaguing her with a series of threatening phone calls appears to be her former and very dead ex-lover. Karloff stars in the last and best of the three vignettes, “The Wurdulak,” as the patriarch of a Russian family who may or may not be the titular creature, a sort of Slavic vampire that preys on its relatives. American International Pictures (AIP) co-produced this horror anthology, which was released in Italy as “Three Face of Fear.” AIP then recut the film for Stateside audiences, reshuffling the order of the stories (“Wurdulak” moved from second to third story and “Drop of Water” from last to first), replacing Roberto Nicolosi’s score with (a more heavy-handed) one by Les Baxter, and shooting new intros with Karloff, among other changes. They also reworked “The Telephone,” transforming Mercier from a call girl to an innocent victim, eliminating suggestions of lesbianism and making the menacing caller a ghost instead of Mercier’s vengeful pimp. This Stateside version, dubbed “Black Sabbath” (and yes, this is where the band got its name), is featured on this fine-looking widescreen MGM disc, and despite the extensive post-production surgery, retains the atmosphere and carefully calibrated suspense of Bava’s original version.

7:30 p.m. – “Blacula” – Horror

product_images_modal_B-SBS.BR.Cover.72dpi__7Bc0a3e483-926e-e411-bad0-d4ae527c3b65_7D(1972, Shout Factory) 18th century African prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) makes the mistake of asking Count Dracula (Charles Mulcahy) for assistance in halting the European slave trade and ends up vampirized and entombed in this energetic ‘70s genre mashup from AIP. Flash forward 200 years, and Mamuwalde is unearthed and shipped to Los Angeles, where he indulges his thirst for blood while also stalking Tina (Vonetta McGee), whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his long-dead wife. Though it bears the earmarks of a rushed low-budget production – on-camera gaffs, goony performances (with the gay antiques dealers who discover Blacula a low point) – TV director William Crain manages to generate a few genuinely shivery moments, most notably the slow-motion assault by a freshly minted female vampire upon hook-handed morgue attendant Elisha Cook, Jr. The film also benefits hugely from William Marshall, whose acting career encompassed both Shakespeare and “Star Trek” (and the King of Cartoons on “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”), who brings both dignity and the same degree of funereal romanticism as Christopher Lee and Jack Palance’s turns as Dracula. As the very informative commentary track by writer/filmmaker David F. Walker (who published the late, lamented “BadAzz Mofo”) notes, Marshall was also responsible for refashioning Mamuwalde as a regal figure with a social conscience, which helps to give the picture a leg out of the grindhouse morass. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray pairs “Blacula” with its sequel, “Scream, Blacula, Scream,” which features Pam Grier and little else of note, as well as an interview with “SBS” actor Richard Lawson, trailers for both films and the usual impressive barrage of promotional material.

9 p.m. – “The Black Cat” – Horror

611qqjMVfmL._SL1024_(1981, Arrow Video) Italian director Lucio Fulci’s in-name-only adaptation of the eponymous Edgar Allan Poe short story features Patrick Magee (“A Clockwork Orange”) as a surly British professor with an apparent ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead. When bodies with animal claw marks begin turning up in Magee’s village, a local reporter (Mimsy Farmer) and two policeman (Eurocult stalwarts David Warbeck and Al Cliver, a.k.a Pierluigi Conti from Fulci’s “Zombie”) suspect that Magee’s psychic abilities might also extend to his equally bad-tempered black cat. Hampered by a ill-defined plot and an abundance of awkward stylistic flourishes – Fulci generates a lot of unintentional humor by zooming into Magee’s bulging eyes as a means of suggesting his mental powers – “The Black Cat” isn’t one of the director’s more memorable efforts (and apparently, Fulci didn’t think much of the finished product either), but there is enough of his trademark gore and fog-shrouded setpieces to satisfy Fulci completists and casual splatter fans. Arrow’s Blu-ray/DVD pairs “The Black Cat” with Sergio Martino’s wonderfully titled “Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key,” which hews closer to the source material, albeit filtered through truly surreal logic. The “Cat” disc offers commentary by former “Fangoria” editor Chris Alexander, as well as thorough perspective on the film’s production by historian Stephen Thrower; lengthy interviews with co-star Dagmar Lassander and Warbeck cover not only their involvement with the Fulci film, but also the whole of their screen careers.

10:30 p.m. – “The Return of Count Yorga” – Horror

product_images_modal_ROCYBRCover72dpi__7B028077f2-fd3c-483a-a9fe-08fef9522e2c_7D(1971, Shout Factory) AIP attempted to extend its other homegrown vampire franchise with this sequel, which brought back Robert Quarry as the debonair and decidedly undead Count. Like its predecessor, “Return” performed well at the box office, and a third “Yorga” entry was planned but never completed, which is unfortunate, as this film – directed, like the first “Yorga” by actor Bob Kelljan (who also helmed “Scream, Blacula, Scream”) – has some fine shuddery moments as well as an element of self-reflexive humor that lifts the picture, in parts, beyond the creature feature baseline. “Return” finds Yorga alive and well after his demise at the end of “Count Yorga, Vampire,” and back in Northern California – his arrival with the first gusts of the Santa Ana winds is a nice touch – where he sets up shop near a local orphanage. There, he discovers and fixates on one of the teachers (Mariette Hartley), and sets about to add her to his growing harem of vampire brides. “Return” hits a number of right notes on several fronts: Kelljan does a fine job of mixing Gothic atmosphere with more visceral moments, as seen in the film’s opening, where orphan Tommy (Philip Frame) idles in an abandoned cemetery, unaware that Yorga’s brides are rising silently from their graves behind him; his script, written with actress Yvonne Wilder (who plays the deaf-mute Jennifer) also acknowledges the inherent absurdity of a Gothic vampire, stalking 1970s San Francisco, through a combination of smart dialogue and a healthy sense of humor: Yorga arrives at the orphanage during a Halloween party dressed in full Continental bloodsucker garb, and makes no bones about being a real vampire, but fails to convince the crowd that his get-up is anything but a costume (he later loses a best-costume contest to a guy with a shoe polish widow’s peak and oversized plastic fangs). Moments like these give “Return” some depth and substance, and if the picture isn’t a total success – Kelljan and Wilder’s dialogue aims for poetic but often rings portentous, and the climax has too much on its plate to wrap out in a satisfactory manner – the high points are enough for recommendation, even if one hasn’t seen the first picture. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray includes commentary by historian Steve Haberman and actor and veteran comedy writer Rudy De Luca (“High Anxiety”), who’s teamed with a youthful Craig T. Nelson in the film as one of two investigating cops, as well as a trailer, radio spots and promotional art gallery.

12 a.m. – “The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant” – Horror/Science Fiction

2891(1971, Kino Lorber) There’s no good reason to declare whether this film or “The Thing with Two Heads” is the better man-with-two-heads movie in AIP’s catalog – they’re both ridiculous – but where “Thing” pretends that its ineptitude is intended as spoof, “Transplant” makes no bones about its movie-as-junk-food pedigree, with a loopy plot that harkens back to ‘50s mad scientist pictures and Bizarro World casting choices. A subdued Bruce Dern is a scientist struggling to perfect head transplant experiments in the basement lab of his suburban tract home; a solution presents itself in the form of escaped mental patient Albert Cole, who is injured during a home invasion that takes the life of Dern’s groundskeeper (Larry Vincent, aka KTLA horror host Seymour) and wounds his mentally challenged son (John Bloom from “Dracula vs. Frankenstein”). Dern saves both men by grafting Cole’s leering head onto Bloom’s broad shoulders, but the resulting creature runs amok, with both heads weeping and cackling as it tangles with bikers and murders teenagers before all parties run afoul of a conveniently timed cave-in. Pat Priest of “The Munsters” (who ends up in a cage) and Casey Kasem are featured as Dern’s wife and friend, respectively; Anthony Lanza, who collaborated with some of the more unfettered independent/exploitation filmmakers of the ‘60s – he co-produced Timothy Carey’s berserk “World’s Greatest Sinner” and edited films for Arch Hall, Sr., and Coleman Francis – but shows little of their energy in his own direction (his greatest success here may be keeping the lunatic action within the confines of the camera frame). Kino’s Blu-ray includes a commentary/comedy track by Rifftrax, which features former “Mystery Science Theater 3000” vets Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, as well as an interview with co-writer James Gordon White and the original theatrical trailer and radio spot. Our own Dukey Flyswatter paid musical tribute to “The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant” with an eponymous song on Haunted Garage’s “Mother’s Day” 7”.

1:30 a.m. – “Neon Maniacs” – Horror

2840(1986, Kino Lorber/Code Red) This exceptionally silly film operates on the notion that if horror audiences liked one theatrically costumed, gimmick-driven monster/villain, they’d fall madly in love with a dozen of them. The twelve in question here are a misshapen lot of humanoids, each with a “themed” look – there’s a samurai, a surgeon (played by future “Lost” alum Andrew Divoff), a “punk” biker and a sort of Neanderthal – that reside under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and messily dispatch anyone that stumbles upon them. Leilani Sarelle of “Basic Instinct” plays the sole survivor of one such massacre, which puts her in the monsters’ crosshairs; actor-writer Clyde Hayes is her clever suitor, who discovers the killers’ one (goofy) weakness and forces a showdown at a very long Battle of the Bands concert. Well-loved among circles of “bad” movie fans and ‘80s horror aficionados, “Neon Maniacs” is neither inept enough to deserve its inclusion in the first group (though not for a lack of trying from the script or direction) nor campy or dated enough for the latter (though again, the Battle of the Bands is certainly a qualifier). The creatures are ridiculous, but also have a certain Eerie Publications-style panache, thanks in part to makeup special effects creator Allan Apone (“Django Unchained”), and cinematographer-turned-director Joseph Mangine clearly enjoys creating situations for them to kill teenagers; the rest of the picture is unfocused and resembles, more than anything, the rushes from a more ambitious horror project (an amusing interview with Apone included on the disc suggests that money problems and production conflicts might have been to blame). As such, those appreciate their movies on the murky side might be its most appreciative audience. The Code Red DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.

3 a.m. – “Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary” – Horror

2843(1975, Kino Lorber/Code Red) Former fashion model Cristina Ferrare is Mary, an American artist living in Mexico who seduces both men and women as a pretense to stabbing them and then drinking their blood. Her murder spree attracts the attention of both the local police and the FBI, which already have their hands full with another rash of murders committed by a man in black with a similar taste for blood – her long-lost father, played briefly by John Carradine. This U.S.-Mexico production suffers from the usual quality control problems that plague low-budget films, not the least of which is Carradine’s stand-in during the murder scenes; the actor left the film early, which necessitated a masked replacement, a la Bela Lugosi in “Plan Nine from Outer Space. But it has an abundance of goopy gore and attractive Mexican locations, as well as a novel central premise: it’s never made clear whether Mary and her father are genuine vampires or suffer from a physical/mental condition (a device later explored, to better effect, by George Romero’s “Martin). Director Juan Lopez Moctezuma adds visual style where he can, though the picture never approaches the surreal flights of excess as his previous film, “Mansion of Madness” and, later, the outrageous nunsploitation effort “Alucarda,” both of which are worth your time and effort. Code Red’s DVD includes the original trailer and an interview with the film’s American producer, veteran publicist Henri Bollinger.

4:30 a.m. – “Face of Fire” – Drama

61lnrLZg6yL._SL1000_(1959, Warner Archives Collection) Not a horror film in the traditional sense – thought it was marketed as one – but this modest and well-acted drama delves deeply into tropes associated with the genre, specifically the nightmare of a terrible transformation, and the fear and mistrust such an experience can generate. Based on “The Monster,” a short story by Stephen Crane, “Face of Fire” stars the always dependable James Whitmore as a well-liked handyman in a small American town at the end of the 19th century. When a fire breaks out at the home of his employer, Dr. Trescott (Cameron Mitchell), Whitmore attempts to save the doctor’s youngest son and is rendered unconscious in Mitchell’s laboratory, where chemicals spill on his face. Whitmore is left horrible disfigured (excellent makeup by Borje Lundh) and forced to wear a veil to hide the remnants of his face; his appearance, and the psychological toll taken by the accident, quickly turn the town’s residents against him. In the original story, Whitmore’s character is black, which added potency to Crane’s observations on prejudice; the decision to cast a white actor in the role may be troubling for some viewers, but it doesn’t neuter the film’s ultimate critique of mob mentality fueled by fear and ignorance. Director and co-write Albert Band, who later oversaw the prolific Empire Pictures (home of “Ghoulies,” “Trancers” and “Troll’) with his son, Charles, in the 1980s, shot “Face of Fire” in Sweden, using many of the production team associated with Igmar Bergman’s films; his straightforward and capable direction is well supported by an excellent cast that includes Royal Dano, Lois Maxwell and Robert F. Simon and photography by Edward Vorkapich, who provided similarly excellent black-and-white images for Band’s creepy “I Bury the Living.” WAC’s widescreen DVD offers no extra features.

6 a.m. – “Children of the Night” – Horror

81vC6dFEbVL._SL1500_(2014, Artsploitation) This microbudget supernatural thriller from Argentina puts a blackly comic spin on vampire tropes with its offbeat premise: a reporter (Sabrina Ramos) investigates a colony for children with a mysterious disease discovers that the tenants are actually vampires, locked into eternal adolescence by the careless adults that turned and then abandoned them. Veteran Argentine actress Ana Maria Giunta, who died earlier this year, is the former nurse in charge of the colony, nurturing her lost charges through a combination of modified Catholic faith and harm reduction policy (letting them drink the blood of animals instead of people). The colony faces opposition from residents of a nearby town, but as Ramos discovers, the children have a secret supporter with a great deal of experience in contending with troublesome, superstitious humans. The notion of vampirism as a sort of social problem gives director Ivan Noel a platform from which to address and criticize a number of issues, most notably the Catholic Church, but adult hypocrisy at all levels seems to be his main target. Acting and production have their hit-and-miss elements, due largely to budgetary restraints, but the end result has an appealing sense of humor and freshness that transcends the limitations. Artsploitation’s DVD includes a making-of featurette.

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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