“Dementia-13” (1963, The Film Detective) Various factions of a landed Irish gentry reunite at their ancestral home under the pretense of paying homage to their deceased sister, but in actuality, to lay their hands on an inheritance; an unseen, axe-wielding murderer has other plans. Overripe “Psycho” carbon produced by Roger Corman benefits hugely from Francis Ford Coppola’s presence behind the camera; though hampered by budget, time and Corman himself (who disliked the end result and brought in Jack Hill for second unit work), what plays on paper as a stillborn thriller shows flourishes of genuine suspense and atmosphere, and in one notable set piece – duplicitous Luana Anders’ discovery of what lies at the bottom of the estate pond, and then, who is waiting for her on the shore – real shock. With William Campbell, Bart Patton, and the unwavering, unnerving gaze of Patrick Magee. Film Detective’s Blu-ray is a marked improvement on the scores of previous PD releases.
5:30 a.m. -“The Twilight Zone -The Silence” (1961, CBS/Paramount Home Video) Franchot Tone learns the lengths to which Liam Sullivan has gone to win a bet to remain silent for a year and claim a half-million dollar prize. Serling wrote this morbid morality play, which co-stars Jonathan Harris (“Lost in Space”). “The Silence,” along with all of the episodes included in this column, is included on the new 25- disc “Twilight Zone Complete Series” set.
“The Boy Who Cried Werewolf” (1973, Shout Factory) As the title suggests, a young man (Scott Sealey) has a hard time convincing his mother and other grown-ups that his father (Kerwin Mathews) has become a monster. There are interesting elements at work in this little-seen creature feature from veteran science fiction/fantasy director Nathan Juran (who directed Mathews in “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad” and “Jack the Giant Killer”): adults dismissing Sealey’s claims about his father’s transformation as psychological fallout from his parents’ divorce, and an inventive sequence where Mathews is prevented from entering a pentagram drawn by some Christian freaks (led by the film’s screenwriter, Bob Hormel). But these are few and far between, and the picture mostly plays as a tame homage to “The Wolf Man” and other lycanthrope titles from its distributor, Universal Pictures. Shout’s Blu-ray includes the trailer and a gallery of production stills.
“The Twilight Zone – Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (1963, CBS/Paramount Home Video) Nervous traveler William Shatner (in his second “Twilight Zone” appearance) finds, much to his regret, that there really is a man (acrobat Nick Cravat) – or something like it – on the wing of his plane. Another pop culture touchstone from the “Twilight Zone” ranks, delivered with skill by all involved, including writer Richard Matheson and director Richard Donner (“Superman”), but especially Shatner, who disproves much of the reputation for scenery consumption he’s earned over the past half-century.
“The Hills Have Eyes” (1977, Arrow Video) A family crossing the Nevada desert en route to California encounters their nightmare opposite – a tribe of inbred sub-humans who waylay and devour travelers. The late Wes Craven’s second feature as writer and director follows a path similar to his previous effort, “Last House on the Left,” albeit with greater technical and storywriting skill, and plumbs the transformative impact of violence on his opposing family with greater depth of emotion; the result is equal parts exciting and unsettling, and Craven’s most satisfying pre-“Nightmare on Elm Street” project. Arrow’s stellar Blu-ray offers a 4K restoration and a wealth of new extras, including commentary by and interviews members of the cast (including the great Michael Berryman) and crew, outtakes, trailers and the alternate ending, as well as items ported over from the Anchor Bay release, including commentary by Craven and a making-of documentary.
“The Twilight Zone – The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” (1960, CBS/Paramount Home Video) Power failure, and a young boy’s overactive imagination, turn the residents of a quiet neighborhood against each other in a search for alien invaders. Paranoia parable by Serling should be required viewing for this election season (as his closing narration notes, “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.”
“Surgikill” (1989, Frolic Pictures) Dr. Goode (Bouvier) attempts to rein in her slaphappy staff and patients at a small community hospital while a far less wacky psychopath reduces their numbers. The final effort of grindhouse director Andy Milligan, whose low-budget horror and sexploitation films were marked by atrocious production values, outrageous titles (“The Ghastly Ones,” “The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves are Here!”) and hateful characters endlessly screaming invective at each other. “Surgikill,” filmed in Los Angeles after Andy relocated there from New York in the ‘80s, definitely meets Andy’s ugly aesthetic: the gore is cheap and unconvincing and the images harshly lit and poorly framed. The script trades out his trademark spite-filled rants for a sort of Warner Bros./kitchen sink humor, which in Milligan’s hands, plays more like mental illness than madcap behavior. It’s possible that there may be Milligan completists or badmovie devotees whose iron constitutions will allow them to endure “Surgikill” – and if that describes you, I wish you luck.
“The Twilight Zone – The Eye of the Beholder” (1960, CBS/Paramount Home Video) The unseen staff of a hospital work feverishly to repair the face of a disfigured young woman (played by Donna Douglas of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and dubbed by Maxine Stewart). Another defining episode for the series, directed with subtle technique and atmosphere by Douglas Heyes, and a breathtaking reveal at its conclusion. The episode’s original title – “The Private World of Darkness” – occasionally appears at the conclusion of certain syndicated television broadcasts.