Movies Till Dawn: Silly Monsters and Super A*P*Es

Revenge of the Blood Beast” (1966, Kino Lorber) Italian-made supernatural horror which opens on a harrowing note, with 18th century Transylvanian villagers drowning a monstrous witch, before flashing forward to the present, where chic English tourists Barbara Steele and Ian Ogilvy accidentally pilot their VW Bug into a lake, reviving the witch to carry out her revenge on the descendants of her killers. Michael Reeves, who oversaw the grueling “Witchfinder General” in 1969, wrote and directed this hodgepodge of grisly violence and broad comedy; the gags, which mostly target locals like Mel Welles’ innkeeper, who have substituted blind faith in Communism for superstition, are laugh-free and undermine the surprising ferocity of the witch’s attacks. The end result is probably best enjoyed by Italo-horror completists and devotees of Ms. Steele, a morbidly glamorous presence in films by Mario Bava (“Black Sunday”) and others, though her screen time here is little more than an extended cameo. Kino’s Blu-ray, which bears the film’s British title – Americans know it as “The She-Beast” – features a stellar HD transfer and liner notes which detail Reeves’ brief career before dying of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 25. Oddly, both the notes and the cover art feature an image of a monster-face woman draped with a snake that’s from an entirely different film (1965’s “She Freak”).

Psychomania” (1973, Arrow Video) Tired of the usual earthbound mayhem, the jaded leader (Nicky Henson) of the Living Dead, a British motorcycle gang, decides that the ultimate kick is the hereafter, and with the help of his spiritualist mother (Beryl Henson) and her sinister butler (George Sanders), returns to life after a fatal accident as an unstoppable (if no less jaded) living corpse. Guilty pleasure horror from Hammer director Don Sharp feels sluggish, even at just 90 minutes (not one but two hallucination sequences don’t help) and labors at making several moments involving a frog seem anything but absurd, but “Psychomania” remains watchable thanks to a streak of gleefully morbid humor, evidenced in the various ways the other gang members follow Henson’s lead and dispose of themselves (skydiving without a parachute, jumping into a lake with and armful of chains) and the bemused performances of Henson and Sanders, both of whom chew their awkward dialogue (“The word, mother, is fuzz”) with relish. The creepy wah-wah and farfisa score by composer/arranger John Cameron is also a big plus, and the restored Blu-ray/DVD presentation by Arrow Video is a vast improvement over the countless previous pan-and-scan incarnation. The two-disc set unearths just about everything you’d hope or want to know about “Psychomania,” including interviews with Henson, on-screen love interest Mary Larkin and red-headed stooge Denis Gilmore, all of whom seem amused/bewildered to be talking about the film four decades later; interviews with Cameron (who later played in the jazz-funk outfit Collective Consciousness Society and arranged disco tracks for Hot Chocolate and Heatwave) and prolific folk singer Harvey Stephens, whose track “Riding Free” is warbled during Henson’s burial, are also included, as well as a detailed history of 20th century leather jackets, including the ones worn by the Living Dead, as provided by Derek Harris of the UK-based Lewis Leathers.

A*P*E” (1976, Kino Lorber) A 36-foot gorilla breaks free from its confines on a ship (headed for Disneyland) and after mauling what appears to be a very real and dead shark (a nod to/shot across the bow at “Jaws”), ambles through the countryside around Seoul, South Korea, where he abducts American movie star Joanna Kerns before facing the might of the South Korean military. Hastily assembled by American producer Jack H. Harris (“The Blob”) to beat the Dino De Laurentiis version of “King Kong” into theaters, this low-budget giant monster movie suffers from the usual problems related to budget – ratty, immobile ape suit, crappy building and vehicle models – and 3-D effects (endlessly repeated shots of a single soldier shoving the barrel of his rifle into the camera), while also struggling with a surfeit of goony dialogue, nonsensical editing, flashes of bad taste (the ape flipping the bird to the soldiers) and curious choices (<i>two</i> marionette shows?) on the part of American actor-turned-director Paul Leder, best known for such grimy exploitation pics as “I Dismember Mama” and “My Friends Need Killing” (his daughter Mimi, who served as second unit director here, went on to helm numerous high-profile TV shows). These flaws and eccentricities make “A*P*E” an ideal and pliable punching bad for armchair riff slingers and bad movie devotees, and even more so when seen in the 3-D version, which is included on Kino’s Blu-ray (you need a 3-D player to see it) along with the 2-D version. Trailers for other 3-D thrillers on Kino’s roster (“Gog,” “The Mask”) and an amusing commentary by ex-Fangoria editor Chris Alexander round out the set.

 

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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