Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Inner Sanctum Mysteries (1943-1945)

Inner Sanctum - first a series of highly popular novels, then a highly popular radio show, and finally a short-lived film series dismissed by many older film guides (I'm looking at you - again - Leslie Halliwell) as not worth the effort of watching. Before Harry Alan Towers bought the rights to the Fu Manchu name but not the books or plots, Universal was way ahead of him doing something similar with this very successful franchise. Presumably they thought the title and the presence of star Lon Chaney, Jr in each one would be enough to sell them. And now there's the chance to discover the six films in the series for yourselves as Eureka releases them on Blu-ray in a two disc set. 

Each of the first five films is introduced by a floaty head in a goldfish bowl (oh all right a crystal ball), its distorted image resembling the effect one might obtain from looking into the convex surface of a highly polished spoon. This was intended to replace the creaking door and announcer of the radio show, neither of which Universal held the copyright to. The films themselves are a decidedly mixed bag although as Kim Newman says in one of the extras, no-one can agree on which are the best. Which of course means you'll just have to find out for yourself. Here's what I thought of each one:

Disc One

Calling Dr Death (1943)

Dr Mark Steele (Lon Chaney, Jr) is a successful neurologist who has done so well he only has to work four hours a day (check out the hours on his office door).  His wife Maria (Ramsay Ames from previous Universal-LeBorg effort THE MUMMY'S GHOST) is playing around behind his back but isn't willing to give up her title of 'Doctor's wife' (was that ever a thing?). But then Dr Steele wakes up with no memory of the last 24 hours while Maria's acid-scarred body has been found at an isolated mountain cabin. Did he do it? If not who did? And could his revolutionary hypnotherapy technique help?

Budget-wise and plot-wise CALLING DR DEATH is a pretty bare bones affair. The main reasons for watching it are a cast of familiar Universal faces (as well as the above, J Carrol Naish is the police inspector and David Bruce is the man accused of the murder) and director Reginald LeBorg's creative attempt at a dream sequence near the end on no money at all by using what looks like a couple of flats pushed at an angle. Eureka's transfer looks just fine and there's a commentary track from C Courtney Joyner and LeBorg's daughter Regina. 

Weird Woman (1944)

Rather better all round than CALLING DR DEATH is WEIRD WOMAN, the first film adaptation of Fritz Leiber's novel Conjure Wife. Sidney Hayers' 1961 NIGHT OF THE EAGLE is still the best but this isn't half bad, with HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN's Anne Gwynne as the 'exotic' new wife of a college professor (Chaney again) who may or may not be influencing her husband's academic success. Universal horror heroine Evelyn Ankers plays nicely against type and overall WEIRD WOMAN is an entertaining way to spend just over an hour. The commentary track on this one is from Justin Humphrey and Del Howison.

Dead Man's Eyes (1944)

The final Reginald LeBorg-directed entry in the series has Lon Chaney as an artist who every night washes his tired eyes with a Boric Acid solution. The bottle is right next to something far more corrosive. Bottles get mixed up (not by him) and disaster ensues, as does murder. The least of the series so far, DEAD MAN'S EYES is saddled with some bad acting (sorry Acquanetta but you took me right out of the action) and a daft way in which the killer is finally identified. 

Extras on disc one include a 30 minute Kim Newman talking head piece and another half an hour long documentary on the film series. Both should really be on disc two because both spoil films the unsuspecting viewer will not have watched yet if they are going through everything in order. You have been warned.

Disc Two

The Frozen Ghost (1945)

There's no ghost and nobody gets frozen (sorry) in this, another upswing in quality as Harold Young (THE MUMMY'S TOMB) takes over from Reginald LeBorg, cramming plenty of fun stuff into the rather slight and silly plot. The opening stage hypnotism act filmed from weird angles, plenty of action in a wax museum and best of all Martin Kosleck as a disgraced plastic surgeon who now makes the wax dummies all help make the rather fumbled climax easier to bear. There are plenty of familiar faces, too, including Evelyn Ankers, Elena Verdugo (the gypsy girl from HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN), Milburn Stone (CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN), and an uncredited Dennis Moore from THE MUMMY'S CURSE turns up as the radio announcer.

Strange Confession (1945)

Aside from our floaty-headed friend at the beginning and the presence of a bunch of Universal regulars (including J Carrol Naish, Brenda Joyce and of course Lon Chaney), STRANGE CONFESSION is the Inner Sanctum entry that feels the least like a quickie programmer and the most like an actual proper film. Chaney is a chemist developing a flu treatment that needs more work. Naish is his unscrupulous boss who wants the drug in the shelves now to capitalise on an approaching flu epidemic. To keep Chaney quiet he sends him off to South America to do 'research'. Meanwhile back at home disaster ensues. 

        Eschewing many of the elements of the other films - the voiceovers, the string of suspects, Chaney's character convinced he may have killed someone, STRANGE CONFESSION is the least pulpy Inner Sanctum film. It's actually an uncredited modern-day remake of Universal's 1934 THE MAN WHO RECLAIMED HIS HEAD (which starred Claude Raines) and is arguably the highlight of the series. C Courtney Joyner and Peter Atkins (on what sounds like the telephone) provide a commentary track.

The Pillow of Death (1945)

What kind of title is that for a film? It obviously wasn't a success or Universal would presumably have pushed forward a whole series of movies featuring cushions, comforters, divans etc. PILLOW OF DEATH has all the signs of a franchise that's run out of steam. Lon Chaney's attorney is accused of killing his wife. Brenda Joyce is the secretary everyone thinks he has designs on and she lives in an old dark house wherein much prowling around occurs. There are some half-hearted attempts at atmosphere and neither Joyce nor Chaney can do much to save this one which, along with DEAD MAN'S EYES, is a low point for the series.

Extras on disc two include an archival 11 minutes interview with Martin Kosleck, another featurette about the Inner Sanctum phenomenon, plus three half hour episodes of the Inner Sanctum radio series.

A curate's egg of a series, with highs of WEIRD WOMAN and STRANGE CONFESSION and lows of THE PILLOW OF DEATH and (especially) DEAD MAN'S EYES (so don't let that one put you off), this is still going to be an an essential addition to the library of anyone with an interest in films of this period, and especially to fans of Universal's output of the time.

Universal's Inner Sanctum Mysteries is out on Blu-ray in a two-disc set from Eureka on Monday 18th January 2021

Saturday, 2 January 2021

[Rec] 2007


 "Brutally Effective Modern Horror Classic"

One of the best zombie movies ever made gets a much deserved whistles and bells Blu-ray release courtesy of Arrow Films. I reviewed the DVD release of [REC] on here eight years ago, but to save you looking back through the archives here's what I said back then, with a few minor edits before we move onto the extras on Arrow's new release:

Out of the plethora of zombie movies made over the last 20 years, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza's [REC] remains one of the best. It's the best paced, the scariest, the most kinetic and the one with the power to still leave you shaking by the end. 

Taking the format of footage filmed for a documentary about a night in the life of the local fire service, [REC]'s narrative is told entirely from the point of view of Pablo, the cameraman whom we see only very intermittently, and who somehow manages to keep filming under the direst of circumstances. In this respect [REC] is a little bit like Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST but without the breaks from the filmed footage, and mercifully free of the mean-spiritedness. 

Manuela Velasco is the presenter (apparently her real job on Spanish TV) who does her best to provide a running commentary of events when the team gets called to a residential block where an old lady is apparently trapped in her flat. Once the team are inside the building and have discovered the woman covered in blood and keen to chew on anyone who comes within biting distance, the building is sealed by the authorities. 

Initially there is no explanation as to what is going on and the film becomes extraordinarily tense as more and more people succumb to the zombie plague that has been unleashed. The brief running time of less than eighty minutes means that once the action begins the only time the film truly pauses for breath is close to the end, and even that is just so something even more terrifyingly horrible than what we've already seen can appear. In fact the climax almost tops everything that has gone before as the film veers off into deliciously ambiguous territory regarding the cause of the disaster, and the ending is anything but comforting.

Arrow's new Blu-ray gives you then option of viewing [REC] at either 24fps (the 'theatrical' release) or at 25fps (the 'production version). You may think 1 frame per second difference wouldn't matter that much but it actually does, with the 25fps offering a smoother image and the 24fps being grainier. 

Extras include everything previously available on the two-disc UK DVD release, including a very informative 40 minute making of, archive commentary by the directors (who admit their individual styles are very different), panel discussion with JA Bayona (THE ORPHANAGE and JURASSIC WORLD 2), Gonzalo Lopez Callego and Plaza and Balaguero, interviews with DP Pablo Rosso, sound supervisor Xavi Mas and sound designer Oriol Tarrago plus a whole host of deleted & extended scenes, casting spots and Manuela Velasco's video diary. You also get a new commentary from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas as well as the usual trailers, TV spots and reversible sleeve. 

Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza's REC is out on Blu-ray on Monday 4th January 2021. What a great New Year present from Arrow 

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Top Ten Films of 2020

It's time once again for the traditional HMC Boxing Day round up of new movies that have found their way into the screening room this year. Of course, 2020 has been the worst year in living memory for many and the world of film was no exception. Cinemas closed, festivals went online and streaming services suddenly saw an increase in viewing figures as everyone was forced into spending a lot more time at home.

The world of film fought back as best it could. After a terrific Glasgow Frightfest in February the festival went digital for the rest of the year, delivering loaded programmes in both August and October. Other festivals followed suit, with HMC enjoying the digital experiences offered by both Manchester's Grimmfest and Abertoir as well. 

There were plenty of great movies out there (and some awful ones as well, more about which in a moment) and certainly enough for me to put together a top ten. The rules stay the same as for previous years - each film had to be shown in the UK for the first time during the year, either at the cinema or on disc, or at a festival screening. Also, bigger budget major studio successes don't get a look in because you already know Leigh Whannell's THE INVISIBLE MAN is a cracker, don't you? Other greats like HELD, Oz Perkins' GRETEL & HANSEL, Remi Weekes' HIS HOUSE and Charlie Kaufman's I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS were just bubbling under the top ten, and Brandon Cronenberg's POSSESSOR will have to wait until next year (and for the 4K disc to turn up).

Before we get to the best, however, by popular demand here are a few words about the worst. There were plenty of terrible films but only three really warrant a mention, so here we go:

The Worst Films of 2020

3 The Reckoning

Neil Marshall, director of THE DESCENT and DOG SOLDIERS scores his first entry on HMC's worst list with this, a Hallmark TV Movie version of MARK OF THE DEVIL saddled with the thinnest of plotlines steamrollered out to 110 minutes, cardboard cutout characters, and a vapid, uninteresting and ridiculously over airbrushed lead. Poor old Sean Pertwee does his best Peter Wyngarde channelling as the witchfinder but this does little to raise the bar that is constantly being dragged down by the central performance. On the plus side the music score is great, but it's for another film. You know a film is in trouble when everyone is outacted by a hat. 

2 Verotika

Currently available to watch on Shudder and directed by Glenn Danzig, VEROTIKA is an anthology movie consisting of three stories. The first is about a woman with enormous breasts that have eyes for nipples. Why is never explained. The nipple eyes cry tears that transform a tiny spider into an enormous neck-breaking anal sex fiend. Told with all the sensitivity of a Richard Driscoll on steroids (yes this feels like THE COMIC) the story is also set in France for no good reason. Second up is Mr Danzig's tribute to the worst failings of Jess Franco with a face-snatching female serial killer who dances at a strip club. A lot. Admittedly this does allow the viewer an opportunity for fast forwarding / going to the toilet / vacuuming the lounge / all three but not all at once unless you want to end up in Mr Danzig's next masterpiece. We end with a Countess Bathory tale filmed with all the authenticity of Nigel Wingrove's massive-breast-implant nun fetish epic SACRED FLESH. Every young female victim seems to have the circulatory capacity of a woolly mammoth as their blood fills a bath with ease. It's all terrible and all utterly mesmerising. Doubtless some people's favourite bad film of the year. But not ours. Oh no.

1 Blind

In the opinion of House of Mortal Cinema, if you are going to watch one example of Truly Terrible Film from 2020 then you have to watch BLIND, a film so entertaining that the live chat running concurrently on the Frightfest Facebook Group during its digital screening was a testament to how much this one is a cult item in the making that has the potential to reach THE ROOM-sized proportions. A blind woman who lives in a house filled with sharp edges and easily breakable objects? Who doesn't know if the lights work but has filled her house with lit candles? Who is in a support group run by a cut-price Jason Momoa who can't speak and has a machine that makes him sound like Ned from South Park? I haven't even mentioned the panty-sniffing sushi delivery man, the speech by the threatened heroine at the end that feels as if it goes on for longer than the running time of the film, the numerous full glasses of wine she drinks during the climax from a thin-stemmed easily knocked over and broken glass, how her makeup is suddenly immaculately restored after her shower, or the ending where everyone just gives up and sticks the credits on. My initial comments were met with such good humour by the director, the screenwriter and the stars that I cannot help but feel a tiny bit of love for BLIND. It's currently on Amazon Prime at no extra charge. One of the standout movies of the year in all the wrong ways. "Treat" yourself. 

Ok that will do for the bad films. Here are the films that I thought were the best of 2020:

10 Alien On Stage

THE feelgood low budget horror documentary of the year. A group of bus drivers from Dorset decide to perform ALIEN as their end of year pantomime and we get to see the rehearsals, the performance, and the outcome of them getting to take it to the West End stage. Utterly charming. Premiered at Frightfest where someone called it this year's ONE CUT OF THE DEAD and they're right.

9 It Cuts Deep

If you're a fan of the exquisitely perverse horror comedies of Richard Bates Jr (EXCISION et al) or Rob Grant (HARPOON) then definitely catch this. It's not easy to do comedy horror but IT CUTS DEEP makes it look easy, being both charming and disturbing in equal measure. Well written, well acted and very well put together. There's also a great synth score that manages to homage both Philip Glass and Joseph LoDuca. Loved it. 

8 Concrete Plans

High in the remote Welsh mountains five builders are employed to renovate a farmhouse. It's all part of a plan by their employer to avoid paying inheritance tax. As their work progresses and their pay still fails to materialise, the shady pasts of the five men begin to surface as the situation quickly escalates into violence.  A clever script and a talented cast including Steve Speirs (Upstart Crow's Mr Burbage himself) and James Lance from JANUARY (aka ESTRANGED) both elevate CONCRETE PLANS to the level of a superior thriller that never goes quite where you expect it to thanks to Will Jewell's directorial sleight of hand, giving this one the feel of a Welsh Coen Brothers movie.

7 Alone

Billed as DUEL meets THE VANISHING there's also something of the feel of Ted Kotcheff's FIRST BLOOD to this cat and mouse pursuit of recently widowed Jessica by a smiling serial killer through the wet and mud of an Oregon forest. One to look out for although as is so often the case these days there seem to be quite a few films with this title. You want the one directed by John Hyams.

6 Rent-A-Pal

A lonely 40 yr old man who cares for his Alzheimer's-affected mother picks up a VHS tape that promises him a new friend in the shape of an onscreen Wil Wheaton. Despite that his attempts to find love and his social care pressures mean his world starts to cave in on him and is his video friend making things worse or is it just in his head? RENT-A-PAL is a genuine surprise - the kind of subject matter that doesn't necessarily always work for me because the handling can be too relentlessly grim, but this was just perfect - well scripted and well-acted while delivering a real punch of a message. 

5 Relic

In which three generations of women (grandmother, mother and daughter) encounter a creeping manifestation of the oldest woman's dementia that threatens to rot the whole house. This has been compared to HEREDITARY by publicity machines that don't know any better. For me RELIC is by far the better film, has a lot more to say, and is sufficiently creepy with enough nightmarish imagery to make it a splendid immersive experience.


Joe Begos, director of last year's BLISS knocks it out of the park with this, a fine mix of and tribute to John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and Enzo G Castellari's BRONX WARRIORS, one which is so hip to its 1970s and 1980s inspirations it even has a cast featuring Fred Williamson, Martin Kove, and Stephen Lang. A veteran soldiers' bar is threatened by an army of drug-crazed lunatics. Much violence and mayhem ensues, all to Steve Moore's pounding John Carpenter-style synths. Begos' best yet.

3 St Maud

It's good to see the BFI & Film 4 funding British horror, and very excellent horror at that. Evoking the seedy, sexy strangeness of the stories of Robert Aickman, ST MAUD is about an overly religious nurse sent to look after a terminally ill choreographer. It all goes horribly, terrifyingly wrong from there. At Glasgow Frightfest writer-director Rose Glass told me the main literary influence was Iain Banks, especially The Wasp Factory.

2 Benny Loves You

"If, like me, you're Northern then you'll want every penny of value out of this screening, so there's a Q&A afterwards" said director Karl Holt in his very funny intro to this very, very funny film. A discarded cuddly toy becomes a vengeful killer in this unexpectedly brilliant British comedy horror. The last time I remember a festival response like this to a film that was five years in the making and all done by a bloke making it in his shed at weekends was in 1989 at Shock Around the Clock. It was BAD TASTE by Peter Jackson. So no pressure for Mr Holt's follow up there, then.

1 A Ghost Waits

A real surprise from first time-film-maker Adam Stovall, A GHOST WAITS is quite likely the funniest, most romantic, touching supernatural horror we'll see for some time. A man has to renovate a house where a female ghost has been given the job of driving away the occupants. Gradually they fall in love. This one is superb, evoking the best of writers like R Chetwynd-Hayes while never losing its profound emotional core. Really, truly, madly, deeply wonderful. Loved it.

And that's it. It goes without saying (but let's say it anyway in case it helps) that hopefully 2021 will be a better year for everyone. There's certainly plenty of interesting stuff coming out on Blu-ray. The review pile is already growing. But for now, take care, be nice to each other & I'll see you all next year. 

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Tremors (1990)

The spirit of 1950s giant monster movies is brilliantly realised in this, the first in the TREMORS franchise (there are now seven films and if you want the complete list click here) which is getting a special edition 4K UHD Blu-ray release from Arrow.

The tiny town of Perfection, Nevada (Population 14) is about to get a rude awakening as four giant earthworm-type burrowing monsters (eventually christened graboids by Victor Wong's Walter Chang character) converge on it, hunting by sound and eating anything that sets off vibrations. Can modern-day good old boy handymen Valentine (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) save the day with the aid of seismology student Rhonda (Finn Carter)?

Skilfully and entertainingly pulling off the challenge of making a monster movie with virtually no night scenes and a limited location, director Ron Underwood, working from a screenplay by himself and producers Brent Maddock and SS Wilson, crafted a well-paced, action-packed, light-hearted monster movie that was a big hit. This is thanks to a combination of excellent creature effects and decent acting from an ensemble cast that includes country singer Reba McEntire and Michael Gross, who went on to star in all the sequels. It's all splendid fun & if you've never seen it you're in for a treat.

Arrow's disc is a 4K (2160p) UHD presentation that's also going to be available in a Blu-ray release. That said, having compared both versions the UHD image looks fantastic in the outdoors shots but interiors had high levels of picture noise and colours were too bright, even on the lowest resolution HDR setting on our TV. On the other hand Universal's previous Blu-ray transfer, while not having quite the same amount of detail, did provide a warmer image that ultimately was more comfortable to watch. Maybe we're just either too used to Blu-ray technology or we're just getting old.

Where Arrow's release really does win out, of course, is in the extras. The old making of from Universal's disc has been ported over but there's loads of new stuff, including (deep breath):

Two new commentary tracks, one from Underwood, Maddock & Wilson and the other from Jonathan Melville, author of The Unofficial Guide to TREMORS; a new making of; new interviews with co-producer Nancy Roberts, DP Alexander Gruszynski, associate producer Ellen Collett and composers Ernest Troost and Robert Folk. You also get 16 minutes of TV overdubs, on-set camcorder footage of the graboids being animated, deleted scenes, trailers, TV and radio spots. 

There's also a second disc which includes more interviews and three short films which are all apparently Blu-ray rather than UHD but these were not provided for review. The set also comes with a 60-page book, two double-sided posters (one large and one small), six Front Of House still reproductions and limited edition packaging.

TREMORS is out on 4KUHD and Blu-ray in a two disc set from Arrow Films on Monday 14th December 2020

Saturday, 5 December 2020

Versus (2000)

"Tremendous, Ridiculous, Low Budget Entertainment"

Ryuhei Kitamura's cult classic is getting the 2K Blu-ray treatment from Arrow in a two disc edition that includes both the 2000 original and the expanded 2004 version ULTIMATE VERSUS, along with a host of special features.

Two men escape from police custody into a bleak and forbidding forest. A yakuza gang turns up, ostensibly to rescue the escapees but under instructions to wait for their boss to arrive. One of the gang members is killed and almost immediately rises from the dead, eventually to be killed once more.

Unfortunately for all concerned it turns out that the forest is the mythic Forest of Resurrection, one of the 666 gates to the other side (this one is number 444) and it's also the site of an eternal battle between a man who turns out to be the yakuza boss, and one of the escaped prisoners. We've seen one of the battles from 500 years ago before the opening credits.

The above storyline is the film's excuse for nearly two hours of gun battles, martial arts and gallons and gallons of blood to be spilled as our hero fights it out with the yakuza and armies of the dead who have been buried in the forest over the years, all while trying to protect a girl whose blood contains the 'power of resurrection'.

VERSUS isn't high art, or what you might term 'quality' cinema, in fact it's resolutely low budget and down and dirty. It's also immensely resourceful, keeping almost all its action to the same location. There's a home-made feel to it that's reminiscent of Peter Jackson's 1989 BAD TASTE and by the time you get to the end you'll be suspecting Steve MANBORG Kostanski was influenced by this one as well.

Arrow's discs come with new 2K scans of both VERSUS and ULTIMATE VERSUS, which is ten minutes longer, has some CGI to smooth things out and some new music. Extras include three commentary tracks (two on the original VERSUS), a documentary on the making of the film, Jasper Sharp's essay on director Kitamura's career, footage of the film being screened at festivals, deleted scenes, two short films (Nervous & Nervous 2) featuring characters from VERSUS and more. And if VERSUS itself feels a bit long at two hours there's a 20 minute condensed version for those with really short attention spans.

The kind of film that film festivals were made for, VERSUS is probably best watched in that kind of environment, but it's also good for a night in watching with friends who are also fans of the kind of utterly mad stuff that this very much is.

Ryuhei Kitamura's VERSUS is out on Blu-ray in a two disc set from Arrow on Monday 7th December 2020

Friday, 27 November 2020

He Came From the Swamp (1966 - 1977)


"Makes Al Adamson Look Like a Genius"

If someone had asked me to compile a list of movie directors whose work I never expected to see a Blu-ray boxset devoted to, then William Grefe would have been close to the top. And yet here we have, courtesy of Arrow Films, seven movies and a documentary about the Florida-based film-maker. Unfortunately it's sadly lacking two of his best-known films - STANLEY (famous for being the one about the snakes) and IMPULSE (famous for featuring William Shatner going full Shat as a sleazebag who marries women and then murders them for their money). So now I've told you what you don't get, let's take a look at what you do:

Disc One

Sting of Death (1966)

In which a man becomes a killer jellyfish monster through the miracle of special effects that consist of a repurposed wetsuit and a plastic bag placed on his head. Parents should advise their children that they should not copy this. Nor should they be putting plastic bags on their heads, or even watching STING OF DEATH, a pretty terrible film that alternates 'beach party'-style gyrating with attacks from Mr Jelly. There are a lot of crash zooms into young ladies' gyrating bottoms during the dance sequences. "What more do you want from filmed entertainment?" asks Frank Henenlotter in the documentary on disc four. Quite a lot actually, Frank. Quite a lot.

Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

In the good old days of double bills if you didn't make both movies you didn't get to keep all the money. And so we have DEATH CURSE OF TARTU, rustled up by William Grefe over a weekend and making use of the idea that a restless Native American spirit could manifest itself by the convenient ultra low-budget use of animals. It doesn't work and neither does the reanimated corpse that we finally get to see after a good hour of interminable wandering around that will have your finger wandering to the fast forward button. Or possibly the eject one.

Extras on disc one include new introductions for each film by William Grefe and commentaries on both films ported over from the Region 1 Something Weird DVD release with Grefe and Frank Henenlotter which are both worth a listen for nuggets of Drive-In movie gossip. Continuing the theme there's a look at Spook Shows (a cultural phenomenon more common to the US than the UK) by Doug Hobart while C Courtney Joyner gives us a history of the entertainingly-named rock and roll monster genre.

Disc Two

The Hooked Generation (1968)

There's plenty of drug taking, drug dealing and a fair bit of spaced out dancing, quite a bit of it on the inexpensive location of a motorboat as our three dodgy central characters turn on, tune in and drop out, although by the end of the film you'll be wishing they'd dropped over the side of the boat at the beginning. It's all dull, uninspiring stuff with a little bit of violence to try and spice up the mix. It doesn't work.

The Psychedelic Priest (1971)

A bit like being stuck with the spaced out person at a party who's no fun but just won't stop talking to you, this one is the interminable 80 minute tale of a priest who discovers the drug scene via a group of hippies and embarks on a variety of thoroughly uninteresting adventures. Another one for completists.

Extras include archive commentaries on both films with Grefe and Frank Henenlotter, new introductions from the director and behind the scenes footage from THE HOOKED GENERATION. You also get two short pieces (about eight minutes each) on the making of each film with Chris Poggiali

Disc Three

The Naked Zoo (1971)

The sex-filled drug-fuelled non-stop party lifestyle of the jobbing author (it's all true, you know!) is depicted with little coherence but a surprising star turn from Rita Hayworth in this psychedelic mishmash of double-crossing, murders and at least one quite terrible song. The print looks as if a couple of reels have been rescued from the jaws of a combine harvester and the opening shows that even films like ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER required some style and talent to make them work. Which is not the case here, unfortunately.

Mako Jaws of Death (1976)

It's time for some crap sharks! Actually that's not really fair. The sharks in this are likely just as good as any other sharks. The problem is that they've found themselves in a William Grefe movie. Richard Jaeckel is the man who develops a telepathic connection with them and trains them to kill. MAKO is kind of a cross between JAWS and WILLARD but is too slow moving to be anywhere near as good as either. It does however feature what must be the largest man ever to be eaten in a sharksploitation movie.

Extras include commentaries on both films, seven minutes on shark films by Michael Gingold, audio interviews with screenwriter Robert Morgan and star Jennifer Bishop, Barry Mahon's recut version of THE NAKED ZOO and MAKO on Super 8

Disc Four

Whiskey Mountain (1977)

I wish I could say the final film in the set is something good but sadly it isn't. WHISKEY MOUNTAIN probably looks better through the bottom of a bottle of J&B but I'm not going to test the theory. Instead I'll just say this immensely slow moving tale of its four lead characters riding around on their motorbikes, going off to search for treasure and encountering troublesome hillbillies can't even be saved by the presence of exploitation star Christopher George (from CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE EXTERMINATOR). 

They Came From the Swamp (2020)

Better than any of the films is this two hour plus documentary on the making of them, filed with interviews with key personnel, lots of remembrances from Grefe himself and the always energetic Frank Henenlotter to offer his opinion at every given opportunity. In some ways this is the film to kick off watching the set with as it helps contextualise everything else.

The Bottom Line: Arrow did a fantastic job with their Herschell Gordon Lewis set a couple of years ago. This year has seen Severin Films come up with the remarkable achievement that is their Al Adamson box set. Compared to such fare, He Came From the Swamp just doesn't really cut it. A major part of the problem is the films themselves, which aren't made with the skill (yes I said skill) of the Lewis or Adamson pictures and just aren't as watchable. While there are quite a few extras here, some of the featurettes could have been much longer. Arrow calls Michael Gingold's piece on shark movies a 'deep dive' but it's only seven minutes. Similarly the 'That's Drugsploitation!' piece deserves more breathing space.

If you find the history of late 1960s and early 1970s drive-in cinema fascinating, or if you find yourself watching all the films in your HG Lewis set over and over and are pining for more of the same (but of lesser quality) then this is the set for you. However, everyone else should probably have a long hard think before handing over the cash for this one. 

HE CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE WILLIAM GREFE COLLECTION is out from Arrow in a four disc Blu-ray set on Monday 30th November 2020