It’s a good time to be a Blu-ray collectin’ horror fan. Almost all of the classics of modern horror have gotten solid high-def releases, while classics and curiosities continue to get released in a steady stream that reminds me of the heyday of DVD and companies like Anchor Bay. Kino-Lorber has really stepped up their game with the Redemption line, which I’ve praised before, most recently with the release of the forgotten Marquis De Sade adaptation Justine. The movies are unusual, the special features are robust when offered, and the picture quality of these films is taken from the best possible sources (some fare better than others).
There’s not a real unifying element in the Redemption line, other than the films’ European origins, and I appreciate their grab bag nature. Eight of the fourteen current releases are Jean Rollin films, but there’s also trash like The Virgin Witch and underrated chillers like The Asphyx. Burke and Hare (1972) and The Blood Beast Terror (1968) have only a director in common, Vernon Sewell, but they still feel right at home with the Redemption branding. Both have been forgotten by time, and both are worth viewing by curious horror fans.
Burke and Hare is the weaker of the two films — a bawdy retelling of Scotland’s most affable serial killers, William Burke and William Hare. Derren Nesbitt and Glynn Edwards play the title characters, who murder then sell the bodies of their victims for medical study. The movie has a playful, rowdy tone, fairly distanced from horror (other than the inherent horror in their actions), and is weak enough to be mostly overshadowed by its ridiculous theme song from the band The Scaffold. It’s all fairly low-brow and aimless stuff, and doesn’t really answer the question I’ve always been curious about, which is why the story of such horrible blokes is always portrayed with a deliberately light touch.
The Blood Beast Terror is a monster movie aiming squarely for the Hammer crowd. The casting of Peter Cushing is the film’s ace-in-the-hole, and he brings his usual dedication to the underwritten role of a detective who’s investigating a series of strange, animalistic murders. Cushing has played a dozen parts like this, where he’s not really given a character to work with, but does his best to ground the material anyway. It’s a blessing that the man is so magnetic and watchable, just showing up and being himself. Tigon, the production company, does an admirable Hammer impersonation, with a little more maturity and solid filmmaking craft than most B-horror flicks, but let’s face it — The Blood Beast Terror isn’t particularly scary and the title monster, while an interesting concept, is sadly pathetic-looking.
I can’t help but feel like its shoddy insectoid killer and its increasingly slow pace for no satisfying pay-offs have kept any potential audience for the film forever out of reach. It’s being given another chance, in the best possible format, so if you have a taste for Hammer or cheesy monsters, The Blood Beast Terror makes an interesting sideways addition to your collection. Sometimes you just need to see a Peter Cushing film you’ve never seen.
The Blood Beast Terror and Burke and Hare are numbered 14 and 15, respectively, across the spine to fit in with the other Redemption titles, but can be enjoyed on their own, just like the rest of the line. Oddly, there is no number 13 in the collection.