Movies Till Dawn: House of the Saturday Morning Strange

House of Terrors” (1965, Mondo Macabro) In the wake of her husband’s mysterious death, Yuko Kusunoki inherits the titular manse, a gloomy country estate on a mountain side with a hunchbacked caretaker (Ko Nishimura) and spirits intent on doing harm to Kusunoki and her companions, which include two highly suspicious doctor (one of whom is her creepy father-in-law), and her niece. Director Hajime Sato’s supernatural horror title for Toei is steeped to the rafters in black-and-white Gothic atmosphere (voices in the night, drifting fog, a murder of crows, Satanic statute) that favorably suggests, at times, the Italian efforts of the period – so much so that the only available print of the film prior to Mondo’s Blu-ray release was one dubbed in Italian – and not one but two particularly frightening and malevolent ghosts; in short, a must-have for fans of both early Asian horror and Gothic screen terror. Mondo’s Blu-ray delivers a 2K restoration of this extremely rare title and adds the original Japanese language track (with English subs), as well as typically informative commentary by Tom Mes and info on Toei’s horror efforts by author/historian Patrick Macias.

The Dunwich Horror” (1970, Arrow Video) I wrote about American International Pictures’ adaptation of this H.P. Lovecraft short story way back in 2016 when Shout! Factory issued it as a double-feature Blu-ray. Arrow Video has revived the title and outfitted its Special Edition Blu-ray with not only vastly improved picture – which benefit the film’s forays into psychedelic visuals – but numerous extras, including commentary by Guy Adams and AK Benedict (creators of the Arkham County podcast), a lengthy conversation about Lovecraft film adaptations between artist Stephen Bissette and Stephen Laws and with author Ruthanna Emrys about “Dunwich Horror” itself, as well as a scholarly chat with David Huckvale about Les Baxter’s mind-expanding score. As for the picture itself, I stand by my original assessment of the film as a moderately successful translation of the source material, with more highs (Baxter’s score, the direction by AIP production designer Daniel Haller, Dean Stockwell and Sam Jaffe as adherents of Lovecraft’s space gods, the Old Ones, and the visual effects) than lows (a game but miscast Sandra Dee as a potential sacrifice to said space gods).

Creature from Black Lake” (1976, Synapse Films) Low-budget Bigfoot feature lensed in and around Shreveport, Louisiana about two overage college students (Dennis Fimple and John David Carson, both familiar faces to ’70s TV audiences) researching rumors of a hairy, aggressive hominid in rural swamp country. Director Joy N. Houck Jr. and writer Jim McCullough, Jr. – both veterans of Southern-made independent horror titles – invest far too much of their film’s running time in goofball humor (Fimple’s dislike of chicken, guest star Jack Elam’s alcohol-fueled schtick) but also deliver several effective scenes of Bigfoot terrorizing the cast, which is, one guesses, the picture’s primary purpose. Synapse’s Blu-ray offers a 4K hi-def remaster and very enjoyable extras: commentary by Fangoria’s Michael Gingold and Chris Poggiali (Temple of Schlock) detail the film’s high points (Jaime Mendoza-Nava’s score and cinematography by Oscar nominee Dean Cundey), production and distribution history, and the primary participants, among many other subjects, and an interview with Cundey, who adds significant additional production details while also discussing his early career in low-budget films like this.

Murder in a Blue World” (1973, Cauldron Films) Nurse Sue Lyon spends her days working for medico Jean Sorel, who uses electro-shock therapy to rehabilitate violent criminals, but devotes her evenings to seducing and murdering men; her hobby draws the attention of Christopher Mitchum, a former member of a sadistic biker gang, who blackmails her before she turns the tables on him. Bizarre Spanish-French horror/science fiction hybrid from director Eloy de la Iglesia has a lot on its mind, from repressive science to psychotic murder, as well as numerous references to/reveries about Stanley Kubrick (with Lyon herself, the star of “Lolita,” among the reference points) and ” Clockwork Orange.” All the pieces do not connect comfortably, but Iglesias balances the abundant violence and aberrant behavior with the social commentary that fueled his best-known work (the grisly “Cannibal Man” and grim “Quinqui” films), including mordantly amusing nods to the sort of numbed-out future suggested in “Clockwork.” Cauldron Films’ Blu-ray offers a 2K restoration of “Blue World,” which has undergone numerous edits for content over the years (a UK cut from a VHS source, which trims down some of the violence, is also included), and features a host of solid extras, including informative commentary by Kat Ellinger, interviews with Mitchum and voice-over artist Ben Tatar (by Art Ettinger) on their respective adventures in European films, and an interview with Xavier Aldana Reyes on “Blue World’s” themes and comparisons to Kubrick.

Nick the Sting” (1976, Raro Video) Pinned with a murder rap by crime boss Lee J. Cobb, genial conman/clothes horse Luc Merenda enlists his friends to execute an elaborate scheme to relieve Cobb of his fortunes. Italian director Fernando di Leo, whose directorial output typically hewed towards grittier material, helmed this slight crime/caper film, which actually borrows very little from its Paul Newman/Robert Redford namesake beyond its hero’s chosen profession and an array of visual flourishes (split screen, wipes, iris shots). And if the actual sting itself is somewhat underwhelming, the film gets a great deal of mileage from its cast, which includes Luciana Paluzzi and Dagmar Lassander as women in Merenda’s orbit, Valentina Cortese as his far-too-affectionate mother, and Eurocult staples William Berger, Fred Williams, and Gabrielle Ferzetti. Raro’s Blu-ray includes a very enjoyable featurette on the use of split-screen in ’60s and ’70s films by historian/filmmaker/”tough-guy film expert” Mike Malloy.

.Com for Murder” (2002, Arrow Video) Wheelchair-bound Nastassja Kinski explores an internet dating site account held by her boyfriend (Roger Daltrey) and encounters an array of horny flora and fauna there, as well as one bona fide psychopath (Jeffrey Dean) with designs on her demise. As with many of co-writer/director Nico Mastorakis’s movies (“Hired to Kill,” “Bloodstone”), “.Com for Murder” is fueled by a woozy sort of dream logic which asks to fully accept its weird interpretation of the internet (where commands and links are read out loud), Huey Lewis as a FBI agent (“Fuck computers”), and the idea that this film was inspired in part by Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” is a more likely source, though Mastorakis’s focus is more on the sexy subtext (specially, the pros and cons of voyeurism) than suspense. Arrow’s Blu-ray offers a surprising amount of supplemental material, including vintage interviews with Daltrey and Lewis, and two making-of featurettes dominated by the garrulous Mastorakis.


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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