Screen Movies Magazine
DVD REVIEWS Issue 8
I have temporarily excused myself from the DVD Review section this issue, and have handed the whole thing over to Belfast contributor Dennis McCullough, while I go and do something else. Dennis has one release from the fifties and two from the sixties, and has made it an all-horror selection. Persons of a nervous disposition are advised to read no further.
Take it away, Dennis. Ed
THE RAVEN Region 2
MGM/UA Home Video is currently blazing the trail with bargain basement classic - and not so classic - movie titles, and large bunch of these can be snapped up for as little as £5.99. First, let’s take a peek at the Roger Corman 1963 release, The Raven.
Taken from a poem written by Edgar Alan Poe, the title, and a few character names, is all that this film has in common with Poe’s original. This movie belongs to the ‘horror comedy’ genre. Not an easy combination to pull off successfully, but The Raven manages it quite well.
The leading players are Vincent Price – acting with the assistance of his eyebrows in overdrive – Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre – who steals the show – Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, and a young Jack Nicholson, making one of his earliest appearances. Nicholson had previously played with Karloff in a straight horror film, The Terror (also 1963) – a segment of which was used by director Peter Bogdanovitch in his 1967 release, Targets.
The slender plot concerns two wizards, Price and Karloff, dueling for magical supremacy - and Hazel Court. One thing to note about the casting of Price, Lorre and Karloff is that they were from a strong theatrical background – rare combination in modern films.
The film is presented anamophically in a 2.35:1 ratio, though there are some shots where a character is partly outside the frame. This could be explained by a slight cropping of the image, or it may even be the way the movie was originally shot, but it doesn’t detract too much from the viewing pleasure. The print shows very little sign of wear and tear, except for the opening titles, but that’s nothing to feel cheated about. The sound is Dolby mono, clean and strong, with no fluctuations in quality, though the sleeve notes mention that there has been music edits. The Raven was shot in Pathecolor - an inferior version of Eastmancolor -which had a tendency to turn pink after a few years, but you wouldn’t think so to look at the quality of this print. The colour scheme is rich and vibrant for a movie of this vintage – must have been hermetically sealed!
The only extras featured are the original American trailer, four language and three subtitle options, but what do you want for little more than a fiver?
The Raven is a fine looking movie and the DVD does it proud. Run time: 83min.
DOCTOR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS Region 2
I’ve always had a fondness for portmanteau horror films - you know, the type where there are several stories wrapped around a linking device. The classic example of this particular sub-genre being, of course, Ealing Studios 1944 production, Dead Of Night (currently available as a region 1 single disc and a region 2 box-set). To my mind, though, Doctor Terror’s House Of Horrors runs it a close second.
Produced in 1965 by Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky – the latter being a long time fan of Dead Of Night – under the banner of their Amicus Productions, it was shot in Techniscope, to my knowledge their only production which used this system.
Five men, who have never met before, find themselves sharing a railway carriage with the sinister Dr. Shrek (Peter Cushing). We know he is sinister because he speaks with a studied European accent, and sounds as though he lives two doors down from Dracula. He is also adept at reading tarot cards, and to while away the time on their journey, he offers to give each of his companions a glimpse of their future in the cards… Suffice it to say that the unfortunate travelers can look forward to encounters with voodoism, vampires, crawling hands, triffid-like plants and a werewolf. How we miss good old British Rail.
Two visual in-jokes to look out for: Alan Freeman, who is featured in the Triffid segment, can be seen reading a gardening magazine in the railway carriage, and the Roy castle segment has Roy walking up a deserted street where a poster for ‘Doctor Terror’ can be seen on a nearby wall. I’m sure you’ll all be relieved now that these two vital facts have been revealed.
Anchor Bay have produced a very handsome package here, with a fine print presented anamorphically at 2.35:1, showing no signs of fading or wear and retaining its vibrant colour.
Sound is clean and punchy, offering Dolby 5.1 and, surprisingly, DTS too.
Extras include commentary by director Freddie Francis and ‘Dark Side’ editor Alan Bryce; photo gallery, film notes and bios. The cover features a reformatted copy of the original UK quad poster. Phew! What more could you ask for?
It’s always fun to spot an actor at the beginning of his or her career, more often than not looking a complete fool; happily that’s not the case here. A fresh-looking Donald Sutherland is featured in the vampire story and acquits himself very well with his performance. Also, if you look closely, you’ll spot Isla Blair as Christopher Lee’s personal assistant in the crawling hand story.
As a final note, the partnership of Rosenberg and Subotsky ended in a business dispute between the two men. Ironically, Amicus, the name of their company, means friendship.
Run time: 92 min. Anchor Bay.
THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS Region 1
The other day, a chap came up to me and asked me If I knew who Samuel Beckett’s favourite actor was. Why he picked on me I have no idea, but still… “Laurel and Hardy” I said – I did recall that he wrote a script for them called ‘Waiting For Hal Roach’. The stranger shook his head. Buster Keaton was my second guess. He shook his head once again. I gave up.
“Billie Whitelaw” he said, and walked off into the distance. He never did come back.
So what does this have to do with a simple DVD review? Why, Miss Whitelaw is one of the featured actresses, along with the ever so sweet June Laverick, in The Flesh And The Fiends. (1959).
I don’t know what Samuel Beckett thought of June Laverick, either.
William Burke and William Hare are two working class layabouts, played respectively by Donald Pleasance and George Rose, who decide to supplement their income by going into the business of re-cycling cadavers for the medical experiments of Dr. Knox (Peter Cushing) in Victorian-era Edinburgh. They start off with simple grave-robbing, but soon progress to murder – much fresher bodies with a longer sell-by date – until they are caught out and put on trial. Burke is acquitted because he turns King’s Evidence against his partner, Hare, who is hanged. Justice catches up with the unscrupulous Burke however, when he is subsequently blinded, by a member of the public, in revenge for his crimes. And the good doctor? Well, Knox is brought before the Medical Council and acquitted for his crimes – no surprise there – one law for the rich and another for the poor.
Fiends is released under the banner of ‘Euroshock’. The print is absolutely immaculate and sharp as a pin. There is no sign of print damage and even the reel dot markings are excluded. Anamorphic 2.35:1, with no loss of composition that I could spot, the disc features the original UK release along with the European version, which lasts one minute longer and features nudity and extra violence (yummy). Normally, when extra elements are inserted into a film of this vintage, you can spot the drop in picture quality (check out the recent release of WitchfinderGeneral ), but not in this case – it’s absolutely seamless.
Extras featured are the trailer, bios and the opening credit/title sequence of the American release, which was re-titled as Mania .
Performance-wise, George Rose hits the spot for me, with Donald Pleasance coming in a close second. Rose’s portrayal of Hare is mainly comic with a hint of malevolence, while Pleasance is full-on nasty. What really impressed me about their performances, though is their subtle use of Ulster, rather than Southern Irish accents, for immigrants Burke and Hare – perhaps to maintain the connection with the historic Ulster/Scottish immigration. The Flesh And The Fiends has been described by other critics as being not strictly a horror film, and I can see what they mean. Let’s call it a ‘Gothic’ entertainment and leave it at that.
No self-respecting fan of horror/fantasy should be without this film in their collection.
Dyaliscope/Regalscope, Black & White, Mono sound. Image Entertainment, 94/95 min respectively.
Copyright © 2002-2005, John Hayes/Wide Screen Movies Magazine
Last revised: 3 December, 2005
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