Movies Till Dawn: Monsters Lead Such Interesting Lives

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Cemetery Man” * (1994, Severin Films) “I’d give my life to be dead,” says cemetery groundskeeper Rupert Everett, and who can blame him: the locals in his small Italian town are either idiots or bureaucrats and his attempts to find love go disastrously wrong. The dead would seem to offer less problems, but those buried at his cemetery have the unfortunate habit of returning to life, and require violent dispatching. Italian horror-comedy from Michele Soavi and based on the comic by Tizian Sclavi is largely satisfying on both sides of the genre equation, offering impressive makeup effects (by vet Sergio Stivaletti) and an off-kilter script that revels in upending audience expectations (especially the explanation-proof ending). That approach may not work for the hardcore zombie crowd (“Cemetery Man” did poorly during its U.S. theatrical release), but those seeking alternatives to the shoot-them-in-the-head approach (though there’s also enough of that here) may appreciate its lighter, weirder touch; Severin’s 4K/Blu-ray offers a Soavi-approved 4K scan from the original negative and features commentary by the director and writer Gianni Romoli, who detail the production challenges, criticism leveled at the film and that curious ending. New and archival interviews with Soavi, Everett, and co-star Anna Falchi, as well as English and Italian-language trailers, are also included.

Deathdream” * (1974, Blue Underground) More restless dead: small town boy Andy (Richard Backus) returns from a stint in Vietnam to his parents (John Marley and Lynn Carlin), who are understandably confused, having just received notice that he had been killed in combat. The couple soon finds out that like many fellow servicemen, Andy has been transformed by his wartime experience, though in ways even worse than imaginable. Director Bob Clark (about a decade away from mainstream success with “Porky’s” and “A Christmas Story”) and writer Alan Ormsby capped an impressive trifecta of offbeat and gruesome horror films (the others being “Deranged” and “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things) with this slow-boiling take on “The Monkey’s Paw” shot through with post-Vietnam angst; the presence of Marley and Carlin, who previously co-starred in John Cassavetes’ “Faces,” bolsters the film by lending emotional authenticity to the parents’ conflicted emotions, while Backus is an unnerving presence, both in and out of special effects makeup by Tom Savini and Ormsby. Blue Underground did an impressive job remastering “Deathdream” with their 2017 Blu-ray release; their 4K presentation gilds the visual lily and repackages all of that disc’s extras, including commentary tracks featuring the late Clark and Ormsby, as well as interviews with Savini, Backus, composer Carl Zittrer, and production John “Bud” Cardos (“Kingdom of the Spiders”), an alternate opening sequence, and a student short film by Ormsby. New to this release is a third commentary track by Nathaniel Thompson and Howard Berger and an interview with actor Gary Swanson, who was originally cast as Andy.

Pandemonium” * (2023, Arrow Video) A collision on a wintry road between motorist Hugo Dillion and motorcyclist Arden Bajraktaraj ushers both into the afterlife, which proves to be a dismal affair, as the stories of two current occupants illustrate in graphic terms. Imaginative French anthology of sorts by writer/director Quarxx examines, in broad strokes, issues of guilt and penance, and ultimately, how both make Hell a far worse place than the tortures of the damned, though the final scenes certainly delve into that territory in Clive Barker-ish fashion. Story qualities vary from ghoulish (little Manon Maindivide’s monstrous games with her parents) to tragic (overworked lawyer Ophelia Kolb ignores her daughter’s emotional trauma), and if they don’t entirely coalesce into a concrete idea, the story threads and especially the visuals are both striking and disturbing enough to merit a watch. Arrow’s Limited Edition Blu-ray includes interviews with Quarxx and FX supervision Olivier Afonso, making-of and premiere coverage (at a swell-looking Parisian theater), and a short explanation of the film’s real birth footage.

The Black Mass” * (2024, MVD Visual) Over the course of a 24-hour period in 1978,  a young man stumbles through a Florida suburb, indulging in petty crime and predatory (if ineffectual) behavior, before his gruesome fantasies spur him to descend on a sorority house for an eruption of horrific violence. That the young man is only revealed to be Ted Bundy in the film’s final frames – as played by Andrew Sykes, he’s billed as Me in the credits – is central to actor Devanny Pinn’s debut as co-writer/director:  though “Black Mass” is remarkably violent, Pinn and co-writers Eric Pereira and Brandon Slagle are less interested in taking the true-crime path of focusing solely on Bundy and his crimes (a cheap way to mask exploitation through a “documentary” approach) than on the victims, all real people who endured a nightmare and not bit players in a serial killer biopic. Pinn keeps Bundy/Me in the shadows throughout, viewing the action from his perspective or over his shoulder and playing up the pathetic elements of his persona; his supposed talent for smooth-talking his victims is punctured by repeated and disgusted rejections, and his alleged super-intellect and faux nice guy veneer are countered by highlighting his base existence – surviving through pickpocketing, stumbling drunk in the street, and so on. Pinn occasionally distracts from her message through a reliance on camera tricks, but the overall effect is chilling and often powerful. MVD’s Blu-ray includes only the trailer.

Valley of the Zombies” (1943, Kino Lorber) A rash of thefts from a laboratory’s blood supply leads intrepid doctor Robert Livingston and wisecracking girlfriend Adrian Booth to the wonderfully monikered Ormand Murks (Ian Keith), a vengeful psychopath brought back from the dead through voodoo rituals. Even the most devoted fan of black-and-white horror will note that this effort from Republic Pictures is mighty thin in the scares department – the whole voodoo/zombie element is relegated to a brief conversation and then dropped – but Keith (once a contender to play Dracula for Universal) is a wonderfully creepy presence and Reggie Lannister’s cinematography delivers an impressive amount of Gothic atmosphere for a budget-strapped production. An agreeable amuse-bouche (just 56 minutes long) for vintage horror fans, “Zombies” is featured on Kino’s two-disc “Republic Pictures Horror Collection,” on which it’s paired with three other equally short creepshows (all remastered in HD) from the studio’s library (“The Lady and the Monster,” “The Catman of Paris” and “The Phantom Speaks”) and features a pair of commentary tracks: one typically thorough track by Tim Lucas, and the other an informative two-fer by historians David Del Valle and Miles Hunter.

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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One Response to Movies Till Dawn: Monsters Lead Such Interesting Lives

  1. I LOVED Cemetery Man!

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