Movies Till Dawn: Holiday House of Hairy Horrors

Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1932, Shout! Factory) Barking mad scientist Bela Lugosi attempts to put the crackpot evolutionary theory behind his sideshow act – which features Erik (career Hollywood apesuit actor Charles Gemora), a gorilla that can “talk” after being injected with human blood (!) – into action by abducting women from the streets of 19th century Paris and mixing their blood (!!) with that of his increasingly lustful ape. Lugosi and director Robert Florey received this bizarre loose take on the Edgar Allan Poe story after being ousted by Universal from “Frankenstein”; the results are a rung below the studio’s run of classic monster titles, but has retained cult status thanks to its palpable undercurrent of sexual obsession (which culminates in Lugosi’s sadistic crucifixion and murder of Arlene Francis), and the photography and set design by Karl Freund and Charles D. Hall, respectively, which echo the fevered dreamscape of German Expressionism. Shout’s Blu-ray of the 61-minute theatrical cut includes commentary tracks by historians and Lugosi scholars Gary D. Rhodes and Lugosi scholar Gregory William Mank.

The Thing” (2011, Mill Creek Entertainment) Prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 creature feature, which details the grisly fate that befell the Norwegian scientific team in whose ruined camp Kurt Russell found a not-so-deceased, shape-shifting alien menace. The 2011 “Thing” acts, at times, like its extraterrestrial antagonist, reproducing favorite moments (e.g., the blood test) from the original in hopes not of world domination but audience satisfaction; while it lacks the suffocating paranoia of the Carpenter film, this “Thing” – written by Eric Heisserer (“Arrival”) – benefits from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton, who split hero/antihero duties, and a barrage of practical and CGI effects for the monsters that approach, at times, the slimy psychedelic excesses created by Rob Bottin (and there’s a brief nod to Ennio Morricone’s shivery 1982 theme). Mill Creek’s Blu-ray includes commentary by director Mathijis van Hejningen and producer Eric Newman, as well as multiple making-of docs and deleted/extended scenes.

Konga” (1962, Kino Lorber) Borrowing a page from Dr. Mirakle, botanist Michael Gough – who is not only insane but also a world-class asshole to lovelorn assistant Margo Johns – wants to hybridize animals and plants, with his chimp, Konga, slated as Patient Zero; that scheme never comes to pass, but Gough does manage to turn Konga into a killing machine with the use of seeds from carnivorous plants (!), which also make the ape grow skyscraper-sized and run amuck. Deliriously fun Saturday afternoon-style science fiction from producer Herman Cohen (“I Was a Teenage Werewolf”), who neutralizes his head-scratching plot (co-conceived with Aben Kandel) with nuclear-strength ranting from future Tim Burton regular Gough and astonishingly inept special effects, both of which should win favor vintage creature feature and junkfood film fans. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray boasts a 2K remaster, the theatrical trailer and a radio spot.

The Abominable Snowman” (1957, Shout! Factory) British botanist Peter Cushing and opportunistic American explorer Forrest Tucker join forces to mount an expedition to the Himalayas in search of the titular creature. Early production from England’s Hammer Films may initially disappoint viewers familiar only with the company’s Gothic Technicolor horrors; the film’s genesis – as a one-act teleplay for the BBC – is echoed in Nigel Kneale‘s dialogue-heavy script and limited special effects, including an all-too brief glimpse of the Snowman. But those willing to see past those limitations will also find that Kneale’s script, like his Quatermass films, is intelligent and imaginative, suggesting an origin for the Yeti that again places mankind a few rungs down on the world-domination ladder. Shout’s Blu-ray is loaded with new and vintage extras, including commentary by Guest and Kneale and a second track by historian Ted Newsom; the always-informed Jonathan Rigby weighs in, as does Joe Dante on the trailer, and there’s a “World of Hammer” episode devoted to Cushing.

Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory” (1962, Severin Films) You can usher out whatever prurient images the American title for this black-and-white Austrian-Italian monster pic (filmed as “Lycanthropus”) has conjured in your mind: there’s a werewolf, and a fairly monstrous one (with a strong propensity for drooling) at that, and a girls’ dormitory, albeit at a reform school (again, keep it clean), but for the most part, said girls and werewolf only meet – violently, but chastely – in the darkened woods around the school. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi, who’s featured in an interview on Severin’s Blu-ray, doesn’t think much of the film, though for me, director Paolo Heusch brings a pleasing amount of atmosphere and suspense and some morbid Gothic touches – secret labs, clutching gloved hands and the link – that should satisfy Eurohorror fans. Severin’s Blu-ray includes commentary by star Curt Lowens (with David Del Valle), a CD of Armando Trovaioli’s spookshow score, the opening credits for the U.S. version, which features the Fortunes’ cheery/cheesy theme song “The Ghoul in School,” and a reproduction of the pun-laden American pressbook.


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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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