Blu-ray Review: ‘A Virgin Among the Living Dead’ (1973)

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I may be coming around to Jess Franco. My experiences with the director have been limited to his entries in Kino’s Redemption series of Euro-horror Blu-rays, and the first batch (Oasis of the Zombies, Female Vampire, Exorcism) were tired, dull little numbers, far more cheap than artful. Now with The Awful Dr. Orlof and A Virgin Among the Living Dead arriving on Blu, I can finally start to see what Franco’s appeal is all about. The disc for A Virgin Among the Living Dead is an interesting case, as it presents two different versions of the same film. Franco’s cut is Christina, Princess of Eroticism and the title version, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, is that same film with added zombie footage shot by Franco’s friend, director Jean Rollin.

Blu-ray Review: ‘The Awful Dr. Orlof’ (1962)

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After giving Jess Franco films a fair shake and coming to the conclusion that they just weren’t for me, along comes The Awful Dr. Orlof on Blu-ray to make me reconsider dismissing a body of work based on the half-dozen titles I’d seen previous to this one. Hey, The Awful Dr. Orlof is pretty good! Many of the Franco films I had seen were amateurish schlock, with extended stretches of lazily photographed nudity framed with the barest outline of anything you could call a plot. I didn’t get the impression Franco was much interested in these films either. They felt like junk to turn a quick buck, not misunderstood mini-masterpieces of intentional erotic horror. In the special features on the disc, we find that Franco had seen a cinematic passion project stall out for being too political, and, inspired by Hammer’s Brides of Dracula, Franco directed his energies toward producing something that could compete with the chillers of the time. The result was Spain’s first horror film, The Awful Dr. Orlof.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Hands of the Ripper’ (1971)

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I didn’t know much of anything about Hammer’s Hands of the Ripper when sitting down to watch it. I knew it was Hammer’s stab at a Jack the Ripper story, but that was it, and honestly? Going in blind is probably part of the reason I got so absorbed in the film. I didn’t realize it wasn’t really a Jack the Ripper movie at all, but an unusual blend of Hammer period horror and slice-and-dice slasher with the historical Ripper only showing up briefly in a pre-credits sequence.

From there, the film follows a little girl who witnessed the murder of her mother at the hands of the Ripper, now grown (Angharad Rees), and under the care of a charlatan fortune teller. She seems sweet enough, but goes catatonic with the sight of a specific visual cue and is compelled to kill in gruesome Ripper fashion. The girl can’t help it. Eric Porter plays a psychiatrist who takes the troubled woman in, fascinated by her urges and whether or not the girl is truly evil or just broken.

The Pros and Cons of the Zombie Apocalypse

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You see yourself standing at the crest of a hill, overlooking the empty streets of your next obstacle. It was once a town; not too large. Likely a simple place, where everyone knew everyone else. There was never any crime; never any reason to lock your doors. That is, until the dead came to walk the earth. Shambling corpses roam the landscape. A single bite, a single scratch, and it’s all over. You started out alone, but a small group has come to look upon you as their leader. You are the bravest. You are the best slayer of the dead. And that cute group member of the opposite sex has been eying you recently with a hunger greater than that of the hoard. And now, they are entrusting you to lead them through this newest obstacle. Chamber a round. Aim for the head.

Just who the hell do you think you are?

From the Shadows: Disney’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’

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What is horror? I could sit here and read the definition out of the dictionary, but what would that really mean? I could conjure images of monsters, specters, and behemoths with chainsaws, but what one may fear, another may laugh in the face of. So, what is horror? To me, horror is anything that makes me uncomfortable. Not the uncomfortable from sitting in a theater seat, but the uncomfortable that makes my stomach squirm. That gives me that sinking feeling in my chest. That form images in my head so disturbing, I fear for my own sanity. And yet, these mental monsters are not limited to the horror genre. So where else does horror bare its lethal fangs?

Movie_alice_in_wonderland_flowersHere is something you may not hear from too many horror fans. I love Disney. That’s right. Mr. They-Haven’t-Made-A-Scary-Horror-Film-In-Years still hangs out with the Mouse. Don’t judge me. He and I have held back the wrath of the Ancient Ones more times than I care to recall. And my wife and I have quite the collection in the homestead. Not just blu-ray, but we even have a decent collection of original Disney VHS tapes. The other night, my wife decided to pop in a film I had not seen in twenty years. She re-exposed my psyche to Alice in Wonderland.

The amount of material I could recall of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland animated feature would have been just enough to fill a boring Vine video. I may be able to recall the greatest one-liners in movie history, but twenty years is a long time. Surely I had simply forgotten everything, right?

Turns out, I had suppressed it.

Blu-ray Reviews: ‘The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine’ & ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ Arrive in High-Def

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I’m woefully ignorant of nunsploitation films, and The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine (available now on Blu-ray) ended up being my first dip into the unholy waters of the genre. Here’s what I expected from it: nudity, sacrilege, torture, and lesbians. And wouldn’t you know? The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine has all of those things (though light on sacrilege)! Surprisingly, it doesn’t have any one of those elements in excess, and it surprised me most as being a capable romantic adventure, light on sleaze…well, relatively speaking.

Blu-ray Review: The Grapes of Death (1978)

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dFJlhHCHere’s one for zombie completists – Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death aka Les Raisins de la Mort, so much better at being a zombie movie than his actual zombie movie Zombie Lake (reviewed here). Some bad, bad grapes are producing some bad, bad wine, making anyone who drinks it into a rapidly-decaying murderous psychopath. Elisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) gets on the wrong train at the wrong time and finds herself stranded in the French countryside, defending herself against wine-crazed villagers. It’s simple, and for Jean Rollin, certainly more on the accessible side than many of his dreamy, sexed-up, cheapie chillers.

I can’t help but think it has some subtext too, just going off of French stereotypes as a people obsessed with wine. I don’t know how regularly Rollin drank, but a strong case could be made that The Grapes of Death has a message about how drinking to excess transforms us into monsters. In a country where table wine is as ubiquitous as water, The Grapes of Death may have had more meaning and weight than its lurid monster movie approach would suggest. As an American, I can only guess at it, without providing any deeper thoughts than, “Huh. That’s interesting.”

Blu-ray Reviews: ‘Zombie Lake’ (1981) and ‘Oasis of the Zombies’ (1982)

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I don’t know where horror fans got the idea that “you can’t go wrong with Nazi zombies.” In my estimation, there’s one decent one – 1977′s Shock Waves – and everything else is bunk. Case in point, the one-two punch of Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies (aka Treasure of the Living Dead), staples of many a public domain DVD horror set, now brought to life in high-definition on Blu-ray by Kino. These are the best discs possible for a pair of clunkers that are of interest only to zombie aficionados and Jess Francophiles.

Blu-ray review: ‘White Zombie’ (1932)

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I assume that anyone reading a White Zombie Blu-ray review in 2013 is asking themselves one question, whether they’ve seen the film or not, “is White Zombie worth owning on Blu-ray?” The scrappy film has survived the ages through public domain proliferation and for providing the name for the band that made Rob Zombie famous. It has almost never looked or sounded good in the years since its release, so the job falls to Kino Classics to make White Zombie a relevant purchase when you could just as easily nab a crappy DVD version for a few bucks or stream it on YouTube for free.

Top 10: Horror Film Bloodbaths

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A great horror film doesn’t have to have flowing blood and the splatter of guts, but it certainly helps. The twisted minds of screenwriters and directors have brought some memorable moments of bloodshed to the screen for our retinal pleasures. Sometimes, they carnage is spread over the entire film, and sometimes, in one glorious fountain of red. Sometimes, the body count is high. Sometimes, it’s just the horrifying manner in which our victims meet their demise. And so, I bring you my Top 10 Horror Film Bloodbaths.

Interview: Jon Love, VP of House of Torment

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Last week, we brought you our review of the horrors that lurk beyond the doors of the House of Torment in Austin, Texas. But, mighty Cthulhu demanded more. I got the opportunity to sit down with Jon Love, the Vice President of House of Torment to answer some of the Ancient One’s burning questions.

Noah’s Top Horror Discoveries of 2012

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When asked to put together a top whatever list for the site, I knew I didn’t want to do another October/Halloween “Best Horror Movies of 2012” or even worse the “Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Heard Of” because inevitably, any decent horror fan has heard of all of the movies but one and the whole thing is absolutely insulting. Instead I’d rather showcase movies that I personally hadn’t known anything about until this year, whether old or new, and spotlight them as something I found particularly outstanding.

1. Mikey (1992)

Little Mikey is a troubled kid. So much so that he keeps killing off his adoptive parents. I’m a huge sucker for killer kid movies and this one came up on my radar thanks to Horror Movie Night (which our own Brian Kelly runs and Damon Swindall covers). The film itself was banned in the UK, although not as a “video nasty,” due to its featuring a murderous child, and the paranoid notion that kids could learn from this. Whatever the case, the movie is dark and effective, and the titular character played by Brian Bonsall does a bang up job of being a little creep.

2. Possession (1981)

I’m not sure how I heard about this, but it should be much more lauded than it is. It feels very much like a Cronenbergian nightmare and features stand out performances from the always excellent Sam Neill and his co-star Isabelle Adjani. A young wife grows increasingly restless and distant from her husband and leaves him. After sending out an investigator to find out what is going on, it’s learned she’s involved in something much worse than an affair. And it’s completely mind-bendingly weird! You will never view milk the same way again. I’m not going to spoil the ending but what I love is how effectively Possession builds its drama and how much of it is focused on the characterization and performances before it gut punches you into a bizarre black hole.

3. The Sentinel (1977)

A movie like this couldn’t even be made these days. Check out this list of actors in the movie and if this alone isn’t a prompt to see it right away, your taste has to be questioned: Chris Sarandon, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo and Tom Berenger. The Sentinel tells the story of a fashion model, played by the so stunning Christina Raines, who gets her own apartment in New York and then discovers that the apartment is full of scary occurrences that eventually build to a climatic, insane ending. This is another slow burn of a movie, but one that’s so effective and the payoff is so great that I instantly considered it a lost gem in my viewing list.
Watch it on Netflix!

4. Absentia (2011)

A movie I had picked up randomly off Netflix Instant Watch and then as soon as it was done made sure to recommend to friends. Absentia takes its low budget and creates a very eerie atmosphere and delves into a balls-out crazy horror story. It features all no name actors and through a very effective sound design and corner of the eye scares, makes for an uncomfortable and enjoyable watch. It tells the story of a woman who has lost her husband when he went out for a run one day, and now when she’s about to declare him dead learns the tunnel near her home may house something more sinister. Courtney Bell, who plays the lead, was actually pregnant through the shoot and puts forth a very convincing and terrific performance. I can only imagine what Mike Flanagan, the director, will come up with next, but I can’t wait to see it.
Watch it on Netflix

5. Dead Dudes in the House (1989)

I’m not going to claim that I found this to be a lost classic by any means. In fact, there really is nothing  contained within Dead Dudes in the House that hasn’t been seen before, but what I really loved about it was the absurdity of how everything plays out. When watched to enjoy more for it’s lost comedic genius, I think it’s quite a winner. A bunch of jocks, who can’t seem to open any doors or windows for the life of them, go to help a friend fix up an old house they discover something sinister, the previous owner’s ghost! Okay, yeah, it sounds awful and many will find it so (and many will be turned off by it being a Troma release), but when watched at Horror Movie Night we had a blast laughing along with it. Even more ridiculous than the movie itself is the cover art which has absolutely nothing to do with the movie.

6. Twisted Nerve (1968)

One of the craziest things about Twisted Nerve is that it stars Haley Mills who is well known for being a darling of early Disney family movies. In Twisted Nerve she plays a lovable young woman who takes pity on a young man whose family is dysfunctional to say the least. Her kindness is rewarded with him pretending to be mentally disabled so he can get close to her. A strange, off kilter film that at times is a bit disjointed but overall is well worth the time to watch.

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