Boilerplate: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.
“The Awakening” (2011, Cohen Media Group) Writer Rebecca Hall’s skepticism in regard to ghosts is put to the test when she’s hired by boys’ school teacher Dominic West to determine if the recent death of a student is the result of supernatural phenomena. Period British spook show by director Nick Murphy and writer Stephen Volk (“Gothic,” “Ghostwatch”) is lovely to look and features an excellent cast led by the always watchable Hall (bedeviled by spirits again in the recent “Night House“), West, and Imelda Staunton as a housekeeper who knows too much. It has sufficient scares – a bit involving a cigarette case dropped into a lake is creepy – and does well in illustrating the idea of a haunting as a magnet/amplifier for traumatic experiences. “The Awakening” may also be too genteel for horror fans that like more aggressive ghost fare, “The Awakening” has the Gothic goods. Cohen Media Group’s Blu-ray offers deleted scenes introduced by Murphy, as well as two making-of featurettes.
“Night of the Animated Dead” (2021, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) Cartoon adaptation (though not the first) of the groundbreaking horror film about a zombie outbreak in rural Pennsylvania is apparently intended for those who find George Romero‘s source material outdated. In terms of improvements, director Jason Axinn does have the benefit of an excellent voice cast that includes Dule Hill, James Roday Rodriguez and Katee Sackoff. However, their efforts are undone by animation and direction that could be politely described as subpar – a surprise given Warner Bros.’ long history of excellent animated product. For zombie and “Night” super-completists only; Warner’s Blu-ray includes a making-of for the curious.
“The Power” (2021, Shudder Films) Set against a backdrop of rolling blackouts and civil unrest in early ’70s England, writer/director Corinna Faith‘s period UK supernatural thriller offers a great deal of atmosphere and an unnerving undercurrent about the danger of complicity. Student nurse Rose Williams is a new hire at a cavernous hospital with a hateful staff and a shivery secret made worse when the facility is plunged into total darkness by nightfall. The actual ghostly goings-on are fairly rote, though Williams does well with the strenuous physical requirements; what lingers instead, and remains as relevant today as it did during the film’s time frame, is the notion that secrets, rumors, and ignorance are as much a threat to one’s well-being as otherworldly powers. Shudder’s DVD includes commentary by Faith and Williams.
“Plague Town” (2008, Severin Films) The residents of a small Irish town teach squabbling American vacationers that there are far worse things than domestic disputes. Indie horror from British documentarian and Severin co-founder David Gregory has a gruesome premise: the real villain in the town are not the adults, but the children, made hideous and insane by errant genetics that the grown-ups hope to flush out of the population’s system by kidnapping healthy young men. The tortures visited upon the family are horrific, but Gregory also conjures more subtle but no less unsettling images, the most notable of which is Rosemary (Kate Aspinwall), a willowy young woman without eyes who waits patiently for a suitor/victim. Severin’s Blu-ray includes vintage commentary by Gregory and producer David Curl, as well as a making-of doc and visit to the film’s locations (Connecticut stands in for Ireland), as well as two shorts and promotional material.
“The Frenchman’s Garden” (1978, Mondo Macabro) Spanish horror star Paul Naschy‘s second effort as writer-director is a grim but effective thriller based on a real-life case, and apparently shot on location where the crimes took place. Naschy is the titular Frenchman (of sorts), a tavern owner who keeps the lights on by dispatching wealthy guests, whom he then buries in his vegetable patch. His well-laid plan is upended by the various women in his life – wife Julia Saly, mistress Agata Lys, and new hire Maria Jose Cantudo – as well as his own class aspirations. Naschy’s efforts outside his long-running Hombre Lobo series (see “Panic Beats”) don’t earn the same attention from horror fans, but “Frenchman” is a well-made shocker that focuses more on plot and suspense than its grindhouse elements; Mondo’s Blu-ray – which marks the film’s first legitimate release in the US – offers commentary by Troy Howarth, Troy Guinn, and Naschycast co-host Rod Bennett, as well as vintage interviews with Naschy from 2003.
“Deep Blood” (1990, Severin Films) Upon hearing a story from a Native American shaman-type about a supernatural shark monster, a quartet of goofy Florida pre-teens make a blood pact to always defend each other or the like (it’s not clear). Ten years later, the now-grown (but still hapless) friends discover that the ghost shark monster is not only real, but also gobbling up beachgoers, and decide to fight back. Italian sharksploitaiton thriller lensed in Florida and credited to Raffaele Donato, but actually directed by cinematographer and absurdly prolific exploitation filmmaker Joe D’Amato. All the earmarks of a low-budget international production are in evidence here – nonsensical plot, tin-eared dialogue from non-English speakers, disregard for the basics of production QC (D’Amato doesn’t bother to hide the fact that some of the shark attacks are filmed in a swimming pool). As such, “Deep Blood” is top-shelf material for junkfilm devotees and riff-happy types. Severin’s Blu-ray includes the theatrical trailer.