Friday 28 October 2022

The Spine of Night (2021)



After a successful festival run (including Nottingham's Mayhem Film Festival last year) and a release on Shudder's streaming service, Acorn Media International are releasing Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King's ambitious old-school animated fantasy THE SPINE OF NIGHT on Blu-ray.



Tzod (voiced by Lucy Lawless), a swamp witch, needs to find out more about a mysterious blue flower and its magical properties, and so she embarks on a journey, seeking out The Guardian (Richard E Grant). When she finds him, he has a number of tales to tell of the flower. They range from ultraviolent to weird to thought-provoking and we get to see them all via the stylised rotoscoped animation the film employs. Guest voices also include Joe Manganiello, Patton Oswalt and Larry Fessenden (as - what else? - the Prophet of Doom). 



It's always good to see animated epic fantasy aimed at grown-ups and THE SPINE OF NIGHT definitely isn't for kids or the overly sensitive. There's buckets of violence, lots of nudity (Tzod wears next to nothing for the entire film) and some of the terrifically trippy imagery is designed to give you nightmares. The animation style has been compared to that of Ralph Bakshi but THE SPINE OF NIGHT is actually quite a bit better and more interesting than fantasy efforts like WIZARDS or his version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Its plot is that of a lengthy fantasy book sequence (or perhaps even a 1970s concept album) and gets the whole thing done and dusted in 94 minutes.



Shudder's Blu-ray comes with an excellent thirty minute Making of which includes a lot of the filmed footage that was then rotoscoped, as well as interviews with the writers-directors, composer and assorted 'cast' members (but not voice artists) and which concludes with an excellent further recommend reading / watching list from those involved. You also get the two animated shorts that preceded the movie, EXORDIUM (8 minutes) and MONGREL (3 minutes) as well as trailers for PSYCHO GOREMAN, MANDY and ARCHENEMY. 


THE SPINE OF NIGHT is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from Acorn Media International now

Sunday 23 October 2022

Tales of Unease (1970)




Mention the phrase 'classic British anthology horror TV show' and titles like Thriller, Ghost Stories For Christmas, and Hammer House of Horror will come to mind. But there's also a number of other series out there, ones that often only lasted a handful of episodes and which have remained unseen since their original broadcast. 

One such show is TALES OF UNEASE, produced by ITV's London Weekend Television unit and lasting seven episodes. The title was taken from the Pan anthology series of the same name edited by John Burke and which lasted three volumes. Two of the seven stories broadcast were adapted from stories that appeared in the books (Michael Cornish's Superstitious Ignorance and Jack Griffith's The Black Goddess). Now Network have released TALES OF UNEASE on DVD the question remains - has it been worth the wait?



If you're a fan of the old Pan & Fontana paperback anthologies of the 1970s you'll probably appreciates the short but disturbing title sequence, featuring as it does a crudely fashioned wax head with one eye that emulates the covers of those old books. As for the stories the best, and the one that most evokes the feel of the newer stories that made it into those old anthologies, is Bad Bad Jo-Jo by James Leo Herlihy. Roy Dotrice plays a very successful and even camper and cattier writer whose success is based on the creation of a monstrous psychopathic killer and the old lady who controls him. He is visited by two fans who like to dress up as their favourite characters and want to 'play' with their creator, resulting in a decent, tense bit of studio-bound TV.



Other stories include John Burke's Calculated Nightmare, in which a computerised building is programmed to trap the two men responsible for a series of planned redundancies, Michael Hastings' Ride, Ride in which Susan George plays a ghost who spells death for a motorcyclist, and Superstitious Ignorance in which appallingly Bright Young Things Jeremy Clyde and Tessa Wyatt plan to buy a rotting old house only to find they may never leave. 



Comedy horror arrives in the form of Richardson Morgan's The Old Banger in which an abandoned car slowly makes its way back to its owners, while a writer's neglected wife locks him in his study in Andrea Newman's It's Too Late Now. Finally, miners have to deal with a cave-in in the Rhondda of 1932 in the Black Goddess.



If you're a fan of 1970s TV you'll want to have these. The transfers look as if they are mostly taken from tape transfers of 16mm film and you can see a thumb print at the bottom of the frame for most of one story. But it's classic TV and if you want more stuff that's in the vein of Brian Clemens' Thriller then you won't be disappointed. No extras were provided for review. Here's a trailer: 




TALES OF UNEASE is out from Network on DVD now

Saturday 22 October 2022

Brian and Charles (2022)



After its cinema run earlier this year, Mediumrare Entertainment are releasing the charming and eccentric British comedy BRIAN AND CHARLES on DVD & Blu-ray.

Painfully lonely Brian (co-writer David Earl) lives in a cottage on the outskirts of a tiny Welsh village. His fills his time inventing things and is keen to show them off in the semi docu-drama format the film employs. The problem is that Brian's inventions are utter rubbish (a pine cone bag, a device to suck all the air out of a diving helmet) and when he decides to build a robot out of a washing machine and mannikin parts nobody is more surprised than he when it comes to life.



The robot acquires the name Charles Petrescu (and is played by co-writer Chris Hayward) and despite being eight feet tall is very much a child in terms of what he needs to learn about the world, including its evils, which rear their head in the form of a nearby family who want Charles so they can burn him on the annual bonfire.



Based on an original short film that sadly isn't included on this disc, BRIAN AND CHARLES is the kind of comedy that British cinema excels at. Brian is initially painted as a sorry soul who lives in a ghastly house and has a life that's going nowhere, but as the film goes on both he and Charles and the people they interact with are allowed to develop as characters and by the end all have shown inner strength in a story that ultimately becomes quite poignant and life-affirming. It's a unique, charming affair with endearing characters and plenty of laughs to be had along the way.



Mediumrare's disc comes with a couple of extras: there's a three minute gag reel and another three minutes of Charles answering questions allegedly sent in on twitter. It would have been nice to have a commentary and as I said above, the original short film, but even so if you didn't catch it at the cinema BRIAN AND CHARLES is well worth picking up. 


BRIAN AND CHARLES is out from Mediumrare Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 24th October 2022

Friday 21 October 2022

Post No. 1000: The Count Yorga Collection (1970, 1971)



The Count Yorga Collection, consisting of 1970's COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE and its 1971 sequel THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA, both starring Robert Quarry as the title character and directed by Bob Kelljan, is due out in a bit from Arrow Films.

But hang on a minute, I hear you cry! Didn't Arrow Films already release The Count Yorga Collection back in 2016? And you'd be quite right. But the Count has had an upgrade, with both films getting brand new 2K restorations from 4K scans of the original negative (they look fantastic, by the way) and a whole host of new extras. So let's dive in and take a look.


Disc One: Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)



With the vampire being so much of the gothic it's perhaps surprising to realise that the USA has a long tradition of presenting movie vampires in modern-day settings. Even Tod Browning's 1931 DRACULA is set in the 'present day' and here we have Robert Quarry's suave Count Yorga, popping up in Los Angeles (or rather, being delivered in a crate from the docks) and setting himself up as a medium in order to avail himself of the city's bright young things.



Shot with virtually no money at all, COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE still holds up as a smart, witty, and dead serious when it needs to be, contemporary vampire tale. Quarry is excellent in a pitch-perfect performance, but I'd agree wholeheartedly with Tim Lucas in his brand new commentary that the secret weapon of this one is Roger Perry's haematologist who has to do the heavy lifting in getting the cast (and the audience) to take the vampire threat seriously and is the closest thing this movie has to a Van Helsing. He was always my favourite character when I watched this & it's good to see both the character and the actor getting some recognition.



As well as the extremely listenable Lucas commentary, David Del Valle's and C Courtney Joyner's 2016 commentary track has been ported over. Other new extras include The Count in California in which Heather Drain discusses the film for ten minutes, and I Remember Yorga in which Frank Darabont reminisces about watching the film both as a child and an adult. A Vampire in LA is ten minutes of Michael Murphy talking about the making of the movie, while Fangirl Radio is a 45 minute podcast in which Jessica Dwyer talks to Tim Sullivan, close personal friend of Robert Quarry and director of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR amongst others. You also get trailers, radio spots, an image gallery with 83 still and poster images, and another gallery of Tim Sullivan's own personal Quarry memorabilia.


Disc Two: The Return of Count Yorga (1971)



A year later Robert Quarry was back in what's most likely a sequel but could also be considered a 're-imagining with more money and a better director of photography' to quote David Del Valle from the 2016 archival commentary he does with C Courtney Joyner that's been ported over. There's a new commentary track as well, this time from Stephen R Bissette who is so clued up he's even listened to Tim Lucas' new commentary on the previous film to avoid repeating anything on the first disc. Now that's dedication, and the extra detail here makes this commentary track also well worth a listen. 



Despite there being more money this time around the music is still performed by a small group of only eight players. We learn this in David Huckvale's excellent 35 minute piece 'Chamber Music of Horrors' in which he goes almost note by note over Bill Marx's score to both films. I'll admit I've never taken that much notice of Mr Marx's score before but having the influences and structure pointed out means if you're a movie music nut (and I certainly am) and you've already seen the movies before you might like to watch this before revisiting them.



Maitland McDonagh provides an 18 minute piece on 'The Count and the Counterculture' in which she discusses vampires with specific reference to how America was changing at the time the Yorga movies were made. You also get a trailer, radio spots, and a massive gallery of 148 stills and another of poster and front of house images.



But that's not all. Arrow's new Yorga set comes with a perfect bound book featuring new writing on the films, double-sided fold-out posters for both films, twelve double-sided lobby card reproductions and a reproduction press book:



Bob Kelljan's The Count Yorga Collection is out on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 24th October 2022

Wednesday 12 October 2022

Two Witches (2021)




After its UK premiere at last year's Grimmfest, Pierre Tsigaridis' debut feature gets an extras-packed Blu-ray release from Arrow.

Consisting of two stories which eventually overlap, TWO WITCHES starts with 'The Boogeywoman', in which pregnant Sarah (Belle Adams) is convinced an old woman has given her the evil eye in a restaurant and is now pursuing her. A visit to her husband's new age friends and use of an ouija board means things soon take a turn for the worse. Meanwhile in 'Masha' the titular character is a young woman who will inherit her grandmother's powers when she dies. however, Masha already has a few of her own, and a cruel disposition to go along with them.



TWO WITCHES runs for nearly 100 minutes, but there's only enough real substance here to fill maybe one or two art house shorts. Tsigaridis has an excellent visual eye and there's a decent amount of blood and guts in a film that seems intended to emulate some of the Italian classics by Fulci et al, but by the end the film really does run out of steam, descending into confusion and ending on a note that's as inconclusive as it is frustrating. Add in a sound mix where much of the dialogue is recorded very quietly and the music very loud and the most suspense many will have with this one is whether or not they can get to the volume control in time to avoid upsetting the neighbours.



Modern micro-budget projects like these tend to be packed with extras to give plenty of value and TWO WITCHES is no exception. There are two audio commentaries, one from Pierre Tsigaridis and another from producer Maxine Rancon who both also feature in a Q&A at Grimmfest. There are also interviews with Marina Parodi who plays the old woman in the first story, and composer Gioacchino Marincola as well as Dina Silva who plays one of the new age couple. Finally there's test footage, trailers and image galleries, and if you get the first pressing there's a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel and a double-sided fold-out poster.



Pierre Tsigaridis' TWO WITCHES is out on Blu-ray from Arrow on Monday 17th October 2022

Tuesday 11 October 2022

The Ballad of Tam Lin (1971)


 

One of the most fascinating fantasy/horror films of the early 1970s finally gets a Blu-ray release in the country where it was made, courtesy of the BFI's Flipside label.

An adaptation of an ancient folk tale that's essentially about the rescue of the title character from the Queen of the Fairies by a mortal woman, this version stars Ian McShane as Tam / Tom, Ava Gardner as Michaela Cazaret (the Queen) and Stephanie Beacham as Janet, made pregnant by Tom and the one who eventually rescues him from Michaela and her murderous coven through the power of true love.



The only film to be directed by Hollywood star Roddy McDowall (and on the basis of this it's a great shame he didn't make more), THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN was shot in 1969 in London and Scottish locations but didn't see cinema screens until 1972 in a vastly re-edited and truncated version in the US, and not until even later in the UK. All of these details and more are covered in the excellent commentary track on the BFI's disc from William Fowler and Vic Pratt.

It's a film that belongs to a very special sub-sub genre of British horror films made by individuals from outside the UK who are able to bring a unique eye to the landscape. These include Jorge Grau's THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE and Jose Larraz's VAMPYRES (both 1974). McDowall's film is as mystical and strange and beautiful as both of those and, coupled with the songs by The Pentangle and excellent performances, THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN a fascinating one of a kind watch.



As well as the commentary, the BFI's Blu-ray ports over a couple of the other extras from the recent Imprint Blu-ray release (but by no means all). These consist of interviews with McShane (11 minutes) and Beacham (10 minutes), an 11 minute David Del Valle piece and the archival Legendary Ladies of the Silver Screen in which Roddy himself gets to wax lyrical about Ava Gardner.

New extras unique to the BFI release include Listening In, a 27 minute interview with Jacqui McShee, lead singer of The Pentangle, who discusses her career and the writing of the songs for the film. The music extras continue with an excellent 20 minute interview with Hans Zimmer talking about his association with composer Stanley Myers. It plays as an audio track accompanying the film and comes to an end just in time to segue into one of the romantic cues of which Mr Myers was apparently so fond of writing.



Adventures Along the Way is just over half an hour of Madeline Smith reminiscing about her part in the film, the luxurious hotel they all stayed in in Peebles and her encounters with Sean Connery amongst others.  Finally we get some short films. RED RED? RED (1971) is 34 minutes documenting a hippy commune in Devon, and we also get two Border County docu-shorts - O'ER HIL AND DALE and QUEEN O' THE BORDER.



The bottom line: If you're a TAM LIN enthusiast like I am you'll already own the recent Australian Imprint Blu-ray. But there's enough new material on the BFI's disc with specific relevance to the movie that this new release is going to be an essential purchase as well.


Roddy McDowall's THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN is out on Blu-ray on the BFI Flipside label from Monday 10th October 2022

Monday 10 October 2022

The Owl Service (1969)




I'll start this review of Network's new Blu-ray release of THE OWL SERVICE by admitting that, before I read Alan Garner's source novel or finally caught up with this TV version on DVD, I assumed it was about a WICKER MAN-style pagan religion that worshipped owls and had its own church where it conducted its services. Maybe I was alone in this but if not, and if you've never heard of this, the service in question is actually a set of dinner plates with intricate owl patterns on them that are discovered in an attic. 



The plates are discovered by teenagers Alison (Gillian Hills), and Gwyn (Michael Holden), and soon Alison's new stepbrother Roger (Francis Wallis) is involved as well as the reconstruction of the owl pattern as a paper model sets in motion the resurrection of an ancient love triangle with the three seemingly condemned to repeat it.



The original legend can be found in The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh myths first put together around the 12th century. You might want to read that and / or Alan Garner's source novel first, because the TV adaptation of THE OWL SERVICE, even though it's eight episodes long and was broadcast on a Sunday teatime, doesn't exactly spoon feed its audience. Hints are dropped here are there and some of the clues flash so briefly on screen its hard to believe this was shown in an era when you couldn't rewind to check things. 



That said, THE OWL SERVICE (book and TV show) is a mature, considered and extremely intelligent piece of work that has rightly acquired the status of a classic. If you've never watched it then Network's new Blu-ray looks better than their previous DVD release, plus you get commentary tracks from Tim Worthington on four of the episodes, and two interviews with Alan Garner (conducted in1968 and 1980) as extra.

And now to my minor quibble, which also extends to Network's Blu-ray of THE INTRUDER, both of which have some real issues with bad subtitling. At times it's non-existent, claiming dialogue is unintelligible when it actually isn't, and at other times getting the transcription completely wrong. I was happy to ignore this until episode eight of THE OWL SERVICE where, at a crucial point during the climax a character says "By Damn!" and the subtitles render it as "Boy dumb," which changes the meaning of the scene. This just after a sequence where. the subtitles trail off into "...(speaks Welsh)..." when a character is very definitely speaking English but just has a slightly stronger Welsh accent. Mild swearing in THE INTRUDER, eg "Damn" gets transcribed as 'unintelligible' and there are other mistakes in there too. I guess the take home message unfortunately is that if you're hard of hearing you may want to watch these with someone who can tell you when the subtitles are wrong. Otherwise these releases are excellent. Here's a trailer. Without subtitles:



Alan Garner's THE OWL SERVICE is getting a Blu-ray release from Network (networkonair.com) on Monday 17th October 2022

Sunday 9 October 2022

The Intruder (1972)



"More Classic Stuff From Network"


"You don't decide if you've written a children's book. The publisher does that," says author John Rowe Townsend in one of the extras on Network's new Blu-ray of the Granada Television adaptation of his source novel. Originally broadcast in the ITV Sunday Teatime slot over eight weeks in 1972, THE INTRUDER is a curious, bleak, and occasionally challenging work. Producer-director Peter Plummer had previously been responsible for the even more complex THE OWL SERVICE so presumably Granada were happy to let him tackle something else that would give families plenty to discuss over their cups of tea and Mr Kipling's farmhouse cake to divert them from the prospect of school / work the next day.



Arnold Haithwaite (James Bate) is a young man working as a sand pilot in a remote coastal town in the north of England. His job is to guide tourists across a treacherous stretch of intermittently-dry land to a small off shore island, and ensure they get back safely before the tide comes in. There's a fair bit of talk about how 'every sand pilot has lost a few' which makes you wonder quite why this fairly unremarkable destination is so popular given the death rate.



At the beginning of episode one Arnold meets a strange man (Milton Johns) who claims that he is the real Arnold Haithwaite. Thus is set in motion a story in which young Arnold is to discover he's not who he has always believed himself to be. 



A bleak and compelling mystery, THE INTRUDER isn't supernatural by any stretch of the imagination but it does have a strange atmosphere, created both by the location, and by the variety of characters with whom Arnold interacts. These include two young women who show interest in him - posh Jane (Sheila Ruskin who went on to appear in Blake's 7 and the Dr Who story The Keeper of Traken) who lives at the manor house and has a drippy boyfriend (Barry Stokes of Norman J Warren's PREY) whom she finds frustrating and unsatisfying, and not so posh Norma (Maggie Don) who works at the house as a maid. Arnold's 'father' refuses to be drawn on the young man's past and seems to ally himself with the Milton Johns character who also appears to be poisoning him. 



         Catherine Lacey (THE MUMMY'S SHROUD, THE SORCERERS) might have all the answers but is confoundingly cryptic. Everything builds to a massive storm (and well-executed flood of the island) in episode eight but what's most interesting about THE INTRUDER is how little resolution the ending provides for most of its characters, revealing most of them to be self-obsessed and in at least one case rather pathetic. Don't be expecting a conventional happy ending with this one.



THE INTRUDER was shot entirely on 16mm film and Network's HD transfer makes it look better than it ever must have on TV. Extras include commentaries on four of the episodes (1,3,6 and 8) from writer Tim Worthington. Writers' Gallery is a 20 minute episode from a 1970s TV series that looks as if it profiled a different author each week, in this case John Rowe Townsend talking about his work to Brian Trueman. Remembering Ravenglass is 21 minutes of actor Simon Fisher-Turner (Peter in the show) reminiscing about the location shooting of THE INTRUDER in Ravenglass in Cumberland. Finally you get a gallery of 47 images from the programme. Here's the trailer:





THE INTRUDER is out from Network (as an exclusive - order at networkonair.com) on Blu-ray on Monday 17th October 2022

Saturday 8 October 2022

Come Back Lucy (1978)



"Classic Stuff"


Wasn't 1970s TV great? You could understand all the dialogue, the music wasn't intrusive, and you didn't have to grab the remote every five minutes to turn it up to understand what people were saying or turn it down because the music and sound effects were too loud. Those who have been nodding at that will no doubt be amongst those delighted to learn that Network are releasing a plethora of obscure British TV goodies from that period in time for Halloween, so it's time for HMC to chill out, leave the remote alone, and kick off with 1978's COME BACK LUCY.




Like a number of kids' ghost stories filmed during the period, we begin with a character being orphaned. Young Lucy (Emma Bakhle) has been living with her Aunt Olive and embracing the somewhat archaic Victorian lifestyle Olive has practised. When Olive dies, Lucy has to go and live with other relatives who are decidedly more modern (for the late 1970s), almost to the point where her new Aunt and Uncle (Phyllida Law and Royce Mills) could be the inspiration for Viz's 'Modern Parents' characters.



Their three kids are 'modern' too but never obnoxiously or irritatingly so. One of the things UK TV of this period was excellent at was creating well-rounded sympathetic child characters and COME BACK LUCY is no exception. The new house Lucy comes to live in has a ghost. A spiteful, spoilt child of around her own age called Alice, and Alice wants nothing more than for Lucy to be her playmate forever, even if it means Lucy has to die for that to happen.



Less well-known than classics from HTV like CHILDREN OF THE STONES or KING OF THE CASTLE, if you liked those then this ATV production is going to be a must as well. Acting is decent, the story doesn't ever drag across its six episodes, and Ken Jones' music theme is so listenable I stayed for the end credits of each instalment. Big kudos to the writing team (and I'm guessing the source novel as well) for wrapping everything up at the end in a way that keeps you thinking about all that's happened.



Extras are on a second disc and consist of 'Coming Back' - a good retrospective making of that lasts 68 minutes and features interviews with some of the key personnel involved including director Paul Harrison, adapters Colin Shindler and Gail Renard, and actor Francois Evans. 'Through the Mirror' is a 53 minute podcast from Jill Nolan and Becky Darke who both admit at the beginning that they usually cover the Point Horror series of books. Actually this makes them ideally placed to discuss Pamela Sykes' novel both in terms of themes and relevance to fiction that came later. Finally there's the German title sequences and a set of German episode title cards. Here's a trailer:



COME BACK LUCY is out on DVD in a two-disc set from Network (order at networkonair.com) on Monday 17th October 2022


Saturday 1 October 2022

Gothico Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror (1963 - 1966)




"Excellent Presentation of Four Great Italian Gothic Obscurities"


Arrow are releasing a Blu-ray box set of lesser known (to me, anyway) black and white Italian gothics from the 1960s, a decade when that country's horror cinema was informed as much by its own pioneers, including Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda, as it was by the movies being made by Hammer in the UK and Roger Corman in the US. Four films are presented here over four discs, each one packed with fascinating extras, so let's dive and see what each has to offer:


Disc One: Lady Morgan's Vengeance (1965)



We kick off with this cracking, fast-paced, event-filled gothic from Massimo Pupillo, who was also responsible for the same year's BLOODY PIT OF HORROR and TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE before he decided he didn't want to be typecast and sadly (very sadly on the basis of this) didn't make any more.





LADY MORGAN'S VENGEANCE welds together two familiar gothic tropes: 'Let's drive a young woman mad to inherit her fortune' and 'Ghost gets revenge on its murderers.' Barbara Nelli plays the title character and Erika Blanc (THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE and THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE amongst others) and Paul Muller (LADY FRANKENSTEIN and some of Jess Franco's best work) are the two doing the driving mad, with the help of the servants. The acting is vigorous, the photography is atmospheric and the location is the same one used in Fernando Di Leo's ASYLUM EROTICA (or whatever of its myriad titles you prefer to call it). It also has an ending that's not at all typical for the time. Lovely.

Extras on Arrow's disc include Vengeance From Beyond which is a short four minute introduction to the movie by Mark Thompson Ashworth that's best watched before the film and sets up what you're about to watch succinctly and enthusiastically. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas provides commentary duties with an academic approach to the film's themes, including gaslighting and domestic violence. 



The Grudge is a 21 minute video essay by Kat Ellinger that discusses 1960s Italian horror's focus on female lead characters, drawing fascinating parallels with Japanese and South Korean cinema of the period. When We Were Vampires is 24 minutes with Erika Blanc who at 79 still has an amazing memory for detail, talking about the movie and DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE a bit as well. The Blanc interview is new, whereas Paul Muller's interview, Born to be a Villain, is from 2014. He remembers very little about the film but has plenty of stories about his life and career (and his meeting Bette Davis) that keeps this 20 minutes piece interesting. The Pupillo Tapes is a 20 minute audio interview with the director from 1993 recorded for Italian radio where the director talks about his career and clears up who 'Ralph Zucker' (credited director on one of his movies) actually was. 

You also get the 1971 Cineromanzo of the film - basically a photonovel in 59 pages, and an image gallery of eight stills and posters. 


Disc Two: The Blancheville Monster aka Horror (1963)



There's a heavy Poe influence to this Italian-Spanish co-production, in which Ombretta Coli (billed as 'Joan Hills') returns to her crumbling ancestral home to both mourn the death of her father and celebrate her 21st birthday. The fact her older brother is called Roderick (Gerard Tichy) suggests there's a family curse at work here and the presence of Helga LinĂ© as a stern-looking housekeeper suggests other shenanigans might be at work as well, which they most certainly are. 



Alberto De Martino's THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER (US title - I actually prefer the less specific HORROR as it was known in Italy) boasts some fabulous locations, including a crumbling Spanish abbey where you'd swear the Blind Dead are about to pop out of the ground. There's also a model castle and some matte paintings, all rendered more effective by the black and white photography. Carlo Franci's score provides some splendidly manic harpsichord. The film was directly influenced by Roger Corman's movies and there's a dream sequence present and correct here, as well as a premature burial.



The extra you should watch before the film starts is Mark Thompson Ashworth's seven minute Castle of Blood where he again talks a little about the production of the movie & sets the scene for what you are about to see. Film historian and film-maker Paul Anthony Nelson provides scene-specific commentary duties on this one. 



Other extras include Are You Sure It Wasn't Just Your Imagination?, a video essay by Keith Allison that covers the 1960s Poe cinema bases without adding anything new, and I cannot agree with him that 'there's nothing much to say about' the style of director Alberto De Martino, who I think gives us a number of memorable shots and set-ups in this one. In fact I enjoyed BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER more than his later HOLOCAUST 2000.

Welcome to the Manor is film historian Antonio Tentori talking about the film, its influences (including Riccardo Freda's HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK). You also get a trailer, an image gallery that consists of two posters, and the US opening titles from a rather scratchy print. 


Disc 3: The Third Eye (1966)



Franco Nero in a film that apparently inspired Joe D'Amato's BEYOND THE DARKNESS? Count me in! And yes, Franco does indeed play a rich, taxidermy-obsessed young man. When his fiance (Erika Blanc) dies in a car accident he hits on the perfect way to preserve her memory and, well, her body as well. Of course that's not enough and so off he goes to pick up strippers and prostitutes to take home. After he's finished with them Marta his evil sexy housekeeper (Gioia Pascal) disposes of them in acid. Gleefully perverse and unashamedly lurid it's a great shame director Mino Guerrini didn't make more films like this. 



You know the drill by now. Start with The Cold Kiss of Death which is Mark Thompson Ashworth's introduction. Rachael Nisbet's commentary track provides plenty of detail about the production, the cast and crew and the movie's influences. All Eyes on Erika is another 15 minutes with Erika Blanc who again demonstrates her amazing memory for movies made nearly 60 years ago. Nostalgia Becomes Necrophilia is a 12 minute video essay in which Lindsay Hallam essentially describes the onscreen action in selected scenes and then compares some of them to sequences in Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO. There's also an image gallery with a couple of posters and stills.


Disc 4: The Witch (1966)



As Mark Thompson Ashworth asserts in his introduction to this one, THE WITCH isn't like the other films in this box set. Instead of gloomy castles, Poe, Hammer and similar influences what we get here is a very modern gothic (for 1966, anyway) indeed, suffused with influences from contemporary 'mainstream' cinema of the period. 



Richard Johnson plays a character who could easily be a John Osborne-type Angry Young Man who has by happenstance found himself living La Dolce Vita, picking up and dropping women to suit his needs. He gets a job working in the library of elderly Consuela (Sarah Ferrati) and is soon finds himself under the spell of her beautiful daughter Aura (Rosanna Schiaffino at her most bewitching). His rival for her affections is the current librarian (Gian Maria Volonte) with whom she seems to have already established a relationship. But nothing is quite what it seems.



THE WITCH aka STRANGE OBSESSION is by far the most 'modern' of the films presented in this set. Even though most of the (dialogue heavy) action takes place in a huge old house, some of the scenes (especially between Johnson and Volonte) are reminiscent of British kitchen sink dramas. It all goes pleasingly gothically mad at the end, though.



The commentary track for this one is from Kat Ellinger who provides plenty of insight and opinion on this one, and plenty of enthusiasm, too. You need to watch Miranda Corcoran's 25 minute video essay on the history of witches in myth and folklore after the film because it's got plenty of spoilers - you have been warned. Antonio Tentori's piece is another 18 minutes about the film and its makers. His comment that director Damiano Damiani is best known for his social commentary movies might raise a smile amongst those who know him mainly for directing the best Amityville movie (not exactly difficult) AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. Finally you get an image gallery that concentrates on Rosanna Schiaffino and why not?


The bottom line: Arrow's box sets are far more often hit than miss but Gothico Fantastico really is something extra special, preserving and restoring four lesser known Italian classics that many fans will be surprised to learn exist and delighted to experience. That plus a wealth of extras makes this one of the releases of the year. A must buy.


Gothico Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror is out in a four disc Blu-ray box set from Arrow Films on Monday 17th October 2022, in plenty of time for Halloween