Movies Till Dawn: Scare Tactics 2

*indicates that this title is also available to view, rent, or purchase on various streaming platforms.

Dungeonmaster” (1984, Arrow Video) I covered this more-or-less anthology film from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures when it was released on Blu-ray by Shout Factory in 2016; it’s now featured in a vastly expanded presentation from Arrow Video as part of its sizable and enjoyable “Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams” box set, which features many of the company’s ’80s output. Regarding the movie itself: it’s a collection of shorts helmed by many of Empire’s in-house directors, including John Carl Buechler, Ted Nicolaou, stop motion animation legend David Allen, and Band himself, all anchored by a framing story involving computer jockey Jeffrey Byron’s attempts to retrieve girlfriend Leslie Wing from the clutches of evil wizard Richard Moll (“Night Court”). The stories are hit-and-miss – Allen’s segment naturally features a stop-motion giant, while Band pits Byron against the band W.A.S.P. (!) and Steve Stafford drops him in LA to hunt a serial killer – but never skimp on energy or special effects, no matter how compromised by budget. Arrow’s Blu-ray presents no less than three versions of the film: a pre-release cut titled “Ragewar,” which adds a racy opening sequence and features a different arrangement of the segnments, as well as the Stateside theatrical cut, which adopts the “Dungeonmaster” title, and a “Ragewar” international edit, both of which drop the opening bit, rearrange the segments, and reduce a lengthy riff on cat torture (really) by Moll. Their 2K remaster of the film is paired with commentary by and an interview with Byron, who drops a wealth of info on the film (such as the use of his own apartment and an uncompleted sequel).

The Seventh Grave” (1965, Severin Films*) Strangers gather at a shadow-steeped manse in “Old Scotland” (played by Castello Piccolomini in Balsorano, a familiar location to Italian horror fans) for the reading of a will. As is often the case at such functions, a killer stalks the assembled group, though matters are further complicated by the presence of a psychic, a long-dead scientist (with leprosy to boot) returned from the grave, and hidden treasure of Sir Francis Drake, no less. One of the most obscure titles in the Italian horror canon, Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo’s “Seventh Grave” is a capably made thriller, somewhat light in both the fright and atmosphere departments, but also with several stand-out moments, including a séance which suggests that Serra Caracciolo had untapped cinematic style. Severin’s Blu-ray – part of its excellent “Danza Macabra Vol.1: The Italian Gothic Collection” set, includes commentary by historian Rachael Nisbet and featurettes with critics Fabio Melelli and Rachel Knightley which fill in many of the blanks in this film’s history while also discussing its place within the Italian (and British) horror tradition.

Witchtrap” (1989, MVD Rewind Collection*) Reluctant psychic Kathleen Bailey joins a motley team of paranormal investigators as they attempt to root out the malevolent spirit of a magician/warlock/serial killer that frightens and occasionally murders visitors to his home (the Stonedene Mansion in Fairfield, CA). Low-budget fright fare by Kevin S. Tenney (“Night of the Demons”) – which takes pains to distinguish itself from Tenney’s “Witchboard,” despite the shared presence of several cast members – adheres of the 1980s DIY horror aesthetic formula, in which technical ineptitude (e.g., the entire film was dubbed in post-production due to various audio snafus) plus gonzo plotting (the final showdown between ersatz ghostbusters and Angry Dead Magician, which involves melting bodies, cremation consumption, and a heart in a box) and goofball special effects (Linnea Quigley is somehow killed with a shower head) equals Inverse Success and Maximum Enjoyment. Your appreciation for this algorithm and movies that abide by it will determine your enjoyment of “Witchtrap,” although MVD Rewind has pulled out the stops to win over naysayers with their Collectors’ Edition Blu-ray. Tenney and many of his cast/crew co-conspirators deliver a lively commentary track, while Tenney, Quigley, and other key crew members are profiled in individual interviews. A VHS version of the film (in full-frame and standard definition) is also included, along with numerous trailers for other ’80s horror films and MVD’s now-standard and always amusing mini-poster.

The House That Screamed” (1969, Arrow Video*) The titular house is a boarding school for girls in 19th-century France whose headmistress (Lilli Palmer) runs with an iron fist, aided by older students like Mary Maude’s Irene, who dole out corporate punishment to newcomers like Cristina Galbo’s Teresa. Handsomely appointed Spanish horror films, filmed in English, presages the European psycho-thriller (and in particular, the Italian giallo) with its Krafft-Ebing collection of perversities that fuel the primary action; Palmer is a particularly awful sex-negative villain, doling out sadistic abuse to her charges as a means of warding them away from (and therefore allowing her to brood incestuously over) her son (John Moulder-Brown), a baby-faced lunatic whose peeping activities obscure a much weirder hobby. “Psycho,” one of the primary Ur-texts for gialli and other Euro-thrillers, is referenced throughout, most notably in an abrupt shift in leading ladies that a lesser director might’ve fumbled, but which Narciso Ibanez Serrador (“Who Can Kill a Child?”) handles with skill and verve. Arrow’s Blu-ray – an improvement over the recent Scream Factory release – offers two versions of the film: a Stateside cut and a longer international edit (titled “The Finishing School”) with English and Spanish audio. The abundant extras include smart commentary by critic Anna Bogutskaya, who details Serrador’s career and the film’s connection to other girls’-school chillers; interviews with Moulder-Brown, Maude, and story writer Juan Tebar offer production anecdotes, while Serrador’s son, Alejandro, underscores his father’s influence on the new school of Spanish horror.

Scream” (1981, Code Red/Dark Force Entertainment) A dozen campers decide to spend a night in a ghost town, where an unseen force decimates their number. Low-budget horror film from stuntman turned director Byron Quisenberry is dogged to the point of near-perversion in presenting a supernatural slasher film with a glacial pace and rudimentary scripting and directorial choices; those with either superhuman patience or a taste for films that buck basic motion picture aesthetics in extremis will appreciate its occasional throws to left field, the best of which is an appearance by the great Woody Strode as a mysterious cowpoke with a vast amount of expository requirements. Strode isn’t the only veteran on screen in “Scream”: eagle-eyed MeTV fans will also note his fellow John Ford player Hank Worden on hand, as well as Alvy Moore of “Green Acres,” former wrestler turned actor Pepper Martin, TV and B regular Gregg Palmer, and one-time kid player Bobby Diamond. None of them have much to do, but their appearances may ground viewers when the film itself leaves them adrift. Code Red and Dark Force Entertainment’s Blu-ray – in 4K, no less – features commentary by Quisenberry with Mark Edward Heuck and Code Red’s late headman, Bill Olsen; however, you won’t find the option to watch the film in “Maria’s B Movie Mayhem Mode,” despite its prominent placement on the cover art.

Gnaw” (2008, Jinga Films*) A weekend getaway to a remote farm in Suffolk, England (played by areas other than Suffolk) spells death for six twenty-somethings in this low-budget UK splatter film. Extended riff on tropes from “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and other rural horror titles (including homegrown efforts like Pete Walker’s “Frightmare”) isn’t particularly well made or rooted in logic, which may improve the film’s chances with horror fans seeking simple yucks; the murder set pieces are also agreeably gross. Jingai’s DVD is widescreen.


Midnight Son” (2012, Jinga Films*) Is Jacob (Zak Kilberg) a vampire or not? His doctors believe that he’s anemic, but that diagnosis doesn’t account for his inability to withstand sunlight or his growing appetite for blood. His dawning self-realization is further complicated by a romance with a street vendor (Maya Parrish) who has her own problem cravings (of a chemical nature). Indie horror film by visual effects art director Scott Leberecht takes its time with its premise, dovetailing the primary focus into subplots involving unscrupulous doctors and dogged investigators (Larry Cedar) to expand the addiction metaphor by including the various predatory types that orbit those in the grip of dependency. The leads are appealing and the visuals appropriately grime- and gore-streaked, and if George Romero gave a more concise discussion of the vampire-as-mental condition with “Martin,” “Midnight Son” offers a worthy second take. Jinga’s three-disc set includes Blu-ray and DVD presentations as well as a CD of Kays Al-Atrakchi’s score; commentary by Leberecht, interviews with the cast and crew, and deleted footage 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 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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