Have you gotten to a point yet where you have seen too many movies? I think I have. I seek movies out now that I haven’t seen before. Before you ask, “Too many movies? How is that even possible?”, I worked in 3 video stores that had unlimited rentals for their employees. I took all the film classes my university offered, even a course on documentaries. I have written about DVD and Blu-ray releases for the last nine years. Finally, I even help program three different film series at The Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville PA (home of The Blob). The eighties were sequelized to death off of films that once terrified us. The nineties suffered from the VHS and DVD boom where anyone could get a film on home video. If we go back to the seventies, before VHS and home entertainment, we might have a chance to find something different.
That being said, seventies horror films are a strange assortment of movies. There are big budget projects like The Omen (1976), The Exorcist (1973), Alien (1979) and The Amityville Horror (1979). Then you have the other end of the spectrum; low budget and career launching delights like Halloween (1978), Phantasm (1979), Piranha (1979), Carrie (1976), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Sure, there are plenty of Roger Corman films released in that era, plus numerous Hammer films, but many were just sequels building off what came before. What are the other great horror films, like Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, from the seventies?
This brings us to Arrow Video’s 6 disc release of American Horror Project – Vol 1. This limited edition (3,000) box set features three tales of seventies horror. Here are three American made horror films that promise a different perspective on the genre. They are also low enough on the budget scale that they escaped Hollywood’s watchful eye. That being said, there is always a reason that Hollywood didn’t scarf up these films, but that is a chance I am willing to take. Especially when I think I’ve seen too many movies.
MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (1973)
Christopher Speech’s Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a simple straight forward tale of a family looking for their abducted son. They believe that he is being held somewhere inside “Malatesta’s Carnival” and pose as Carnies to work the show with the hopes of finding him. Before they can begin to search, though, all hell breaks loose. It turns out that the carnival sits on a large series of underground caves which harbor zombies/ vampires/ freaks that are being controlled by both Mr. Blood (Jerome Dempsey) and Malatesta (Daniel Dietrich). The family starts to fight back, but the odds are overwhelming.
This film is a dark visual treat. The “carnival”, which is more of an amusement park than something you would see travel into town and set up shop, is a great location on which they filmed. The zombies/ vampires/ freaks are completely unnerving and supply their own nightmarish terror. In fact, the whole film feels like a bad dream you cannot wake up from. The problem is that great monsters, location, and visuals alone don’t supply a great story. We are not told what lies in those caverns. We are only to assume they are either zombies, vampires, or freaks. This is normally fine, but, here, it is too vague. We are also unsure of who is charge, Mr. Blood, or Malatesta. The quest of the family, to find their missing son, is also skipped before it even begins. There was so little set up, that the plot should have just been about a family going to this bizarre carnival. I kept waiting for the son to arrive. Speaking of arrivals, the daughter’s boyfriend enters the story and he then becomes the main character three fourths of the way through the film. The film is dark, but outside of giving you a realistic setting for Alan Moore’s “A Killing Joke”, it is forgettable.
THE PREMONITION (1976)
It would be easy to say that Robert Allen Schnitzer’s film was inspired by Brian DePalma’s Carrie. However, they were both made the same year. Perhaps screenwriter Anthony Mahon drew inspiration from Stephen King’s novel “Carrie”? Regardless, the psychic ability genre was huge in the seventies and whenever the horror genre needed it in the eighties. The Premonition begins with a Carnival Clown, Jude (Richard Lynch), locates his girlfriend, Andrea’s (Ellen Barber), long lost daughter. They have been searching for little Janie (Danielle Brisebois) and will do anything to get her back. The problem is that they plan to abduct Janie from her adoptive parents. As the film progresses, we learn that Jude and Andrea are not exactly 100% sane. What we also learn is that Janie’s stepmother, Sheri (Sharon Farrell) is having premonitions that something is going to happen to Janie.
The film has a great start as the story is told from Jude and Andrea’s perspective. The performance of Richard Lynch as Jude also helps. Lynch is one of those faces that you instantly recognize from movies and TV as the perpetual bad guy (Side note, my favorite role of his was Wolfe on the original Battlestar Galactica in “Gun on Ice Planet Zero”). He was an imprisoned Colonial solider that “volunteers” for a suicide mission. Lynch supplies the right amount crazy here, but poor choices by the director make his appearance in Sheri’s premonitions laughable. What also doesn’t help this film is how incoherently the story plays out. We are left wondering if certain characters are alive, why other ones are cheating on their spouses, and how any police detective would agree to anything Sheri and her husband propose. The final nail in the coffin for The Premonition is that a good person, good police work, and coincidence save Janie, and not an actual premonition.
THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)
Our third and final film features… well sometimes it’s better not to have any preconception of an actor/ actress before watching a film. Often times, that is very difficult because leads in films are often recognizable actors. For this one, let us not mention who Molly is played by. Why? Because the whole time it was extremely difficult to separate her from that other famous role. The role of Molly was very different from the other one she played. That film, which I won’t mention, was rated “Approved” by that era’s MPAA, The Witch Who Came in From the Sea was initially rated X. Yes, they are very different.
The film opens with Molly playing with her nephews on Venice Beach. Molly watches three men work out and director Matt Cimber takes us into a strange montage that is either a fantasy sequence or Molly’s ultimate desire for these men. It is extremely sexual and unnerving, and this is a contrasted by her playing with her two nephews. Molly breaks from her dark desires and speaks of the boys’ grandfather. She tells them that their Grandpa was lost at sea and was a real hero. As we learn, over the course of the film, Molly harbors more than dark desires and has a tortured past.
The film’s title is incredibly misleading. If you are expecting a tale about a Sea Witch, you are sadly mistaken. However, the issue here is that events of the film lead you to believe that Molly may be supernatural. She is not. She is just a modern Black Widow who starts hunting celebrities. She has unusual strength, attracts men of all sorts, and projects a dark creepy voice when she needs it.. It seems odd, being so poor and plain, that she attracts these various men, but with budgetary constraints, we just go with it.
The odd part to this one, is that there is a real story screaming to get out. Whether that be supernatural or not, it is for you to decide. Black Widow stories are nothing new to Hollywood, fiction and fact. This one is just played by that famous actress who was… well you’ll find out. There are two John Carpenter connections in The Witch Who Came in From the Sea. The first is the Director of Photography, Dean Cundey who shot Halloween (Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, as well). The other is one of John Carpenter’s favorite character actors, George “Buck” Flower.
The films look incredible, despite the scratches and lines. Then again, films like these should show their age a bit. Take also into consideration that movies of this nature and era are not going to be perfectly preserved. Arrow Video did an incredible job with their restoration and supplemental material. I cannot wait to see what they do with their Bride of Re-Animator (Director Approved 3-Disc Limited Edition) [Blu-ray + DVD] (out on April 12th). I’ve come to realize that there is a reason I haven’t seen many of these films. They aren’t any good. The hunt and thrill continues though, because you just never know when you are going to find that one that makes you love the genre all over again.
Order the American Horror Project – Vol 1 HERE.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
*Brand new 2K restorations of the three features
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations
*Original Mono 1.0 audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
*English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*Reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
*American Horror Project Journal Volume One – Limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new articles on the films from writers Stephen Thrower(Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents), Kim Newman (Nightmare Movies), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews)
MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD
*Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
*Audio Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith
*The Secrets of Malatesta – an interview with director Christopher Speeth
*Crimson Speak – an interview with writer Werner Liepolt
*Malatesta’s Underground – art directors Richard Stange and Alan Johnson discuss the weird, mysterious world of Malatesta’s underground
*Draft script (BD/DVD-ROM content)
THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA
*Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
*Audio commentary with director-producer Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
*Tides and Nightmares – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with Cimber, Perkins, Cundey and actor John Goff
** A Maiden’s Voyage – archive featurette comprising interviews with Cimber, Perkins and Cundey
*Lost at Sea – director Cimber reflects on his notorious cult classic
*Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
*Audio commentary with director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer
*Pictures from a Premonition – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with Schnitzer, composer Henry Mollicone and cinematographer Victor Milt
*Archive interviews with Robert Allen Schnitzer and star Richard Lynch
*Three Robert Allen Schnitzer short films: ‘Vernal Equinox’, ‘Terminal Point’ and ‘A Rumbling in the Land’
*4 Peace Spots
*Trailers and TV Spots
Blu-ray and DVD Releases for March 8th, 2016
Action/ Adventure/ Mystery
In The Heart of the Sea HD3D/BD
Invasion U.S.A. 1985
The Vikings 1958
Psycho-Pass 2: Season 2
When They Cry: Season 1
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
Open Season: Scared Silly
Peanuts Movie, The
Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast
The Manchurian Candidate 1962
Paris Belongs to Us 1961
Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival – Special Limited Blu-Ray/Dvd Edition Package Only 6,660 Made
Cherry Falls 2000
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane 1976
Monster Dog 1984
Species II 1998
Species III / Species: The Awakening
Victor Frankenstein 2016
Sic-Fiction / Superheroes / Fantasy
*Batteries Not Included 1987
Fantastic Four 1+2 Bd+dhd-df
Fantastic Four 2: Rise Of Ss
Howard the Duck 1986 – First Time on Blu-ray!
Snow White & the Huntsman
Once Upon a Time: Season 1
Once Upon a Time: Season 2
Once Upon a Time: Season 3