Blu-ray Review: ‘Two Orphan Vampires’ (1997)


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I have to admit – I was a little worried about Two Orphan Vampires. I’d never seen a Jean Rollin film from the 1990s and I imagined something with synthesized saxophone music and lots of softcore lesbian sex. Rollin wears this mantle from cinephiles as the king of lesbian vampire sexploitation, but I’d never really found that title fitting when examining his work. It’s mostly artsy, with only the briefest flirtations with sleaze. “Maybe this is the one,” I thought, picturing this later effort as something that would be right at home on Cinemax in 1997.

Well, Two Orphan Vampires is definitely not that. It’s unmistakably a Jean Rollin film, with its dual lead female roles and midnight jaunts through graveyards and train stations. Aside from the score (unimpressive noodling around with a synthesizer), it would be hard to pin a year to the film. It looks, sounds, feels, and tastes, for better or worse, like Jean Rollin.

There’s actually a pretty cool gimmick at the heart of Two Orphan Vampires, one that I’d like to see explored within a stronger narrative, in which the titular vampires (Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul) are blind during the day but have full vision at night. They’re taken in by a doctor who thinks he may have a cure for their blindness, unaware of the secret they share. He doesn’t realize they’re leaving the house every night to feed and generally get into trouble.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Twins of Evil’ (1971)


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I can imagine in the context of the time, with Hammer Films entering its final creaky decade and with the stunt casting of twin Playboy Playmates, that Twins of Evil would’ve been received as one of Hammer’s lesser efforts. No matter; time and distance have been kind to Twins of Evil. The Collinson Twins carry none of the baggage of their time, having faded from the public eye, and Hammer’s old-fashioned gothic approach feels appropriately classic now, not as dusty as it did in the wake of eye-opening contemporaries like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.

Synapse has brought the film to Blu-ray (in a Blu/DVD combo pack), the first time the movie has been available since the days of VHS (Synapse also did the same for Hammer’s Vampire Circus, which is a great disc, even if the feature isn’t as strong as Twins of Evil). For Hammer fans, Twins of Evil is a must-own. The HD transfer is vivid with sharp contrast and lively, organic film grain. It’s not that Twins of Evil has never looked better — it’s that no Hammer film I’ve seen has ever looked better. Synapse ups the game in the special features department by including a feature length documentary (also in anamorphic HD) that specializes on Hammer’s three-film approach to J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla story.

Ice Cream’s Not Dead: Little Baby’s Ice Cream Goes for the Total Freak-Out


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There ain’t no cure for the Summertime blues like ice cream! And this happens to be the single most disturbing, uncomfortable, creepy ice cream advertisement in the product’s history. Horror filmmakers, take note. This clip for Little Baby’s Ice Cream is more genuinely terrifying than most feature-length horror films.

(Source: The Laughing Squid)

Blu-ray Reviews: Redemption Presents the Original ‘Burke & Hare’ and Cushing in ‘The Blood Beast Terror’


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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.

‘Marquis De Sade’s Justine’ Blu-ray Review: A Gut-Punch of the Most Hateful Variety


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I can’t speak for how faithful this adaptation of Marquis De Sade’s Justine (aka Cruel Passion) is, but if it doesn’t stick directly to the text, I have to imagine it sticks to the author’s intent (the best it can, that is, without being pornographic). Under the direction of Chris Boger, and the lens of Coen Brothers stalwart Roger Deakins, Justine is an erotically-charged, bleak little number about a girl (Koo Stark, supposedly playing a pre-teen, though she’s obviously and thankfully in her 20’s) who clings desperately to her innocence while ricocheting from scene to scene where that chastity is put to the test in harrowing ways.

The film doesn’t skimp on the depravity, featuring rape, necrophilia, mother-son incest and more, but before you draw the conclusion that this is some despicable sleaze-fest, it really isn’t. Boger, perhaps limited by the censors, picks his battles, and when he does, he always chooses sexual frankness over outright titillation. Many things are discussed or implied without being directly shown. There’s not much nudity in here for an “erotic” film from the 1970’s, and Boger chooses to construct the entire film as little episodes of trouble for Justine, building up to its nihilistic, tough-as-nails conclusion.

‘Dark Shadows’ Review: Talky, Chalky Depp Leads 70’s Style Clash


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Dark Shadows fans, worried that Tim Burton has turned your beloved TV show into something funny? Don’t worry. He hasn’t. Welcome to Collinsport, a sleepy Maine fishing town, home of the supernaturally troubled Collins family and their long lost vampiric relative from centuries ago, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp). In his younger days, Barnabas made the mistake of fooling around with a jealous witch (Eva Green), and it cost him his humanity and the life of his one true love. He’s back now, and ready to take on the 1970’s fishing industry with gusto! Such is the plot of Dark Shadows, a hopeless mish-mash of weak comedy and even weaker melodrama, chained by the leg to its source material and tossed into a sea of gothic set dressing and meaningless, non-stop talking.

Barnabas Collins is presented on the written page (by screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith) as an insatiable cad, desired by nearly every woman he meets, and unable to control his own lustful urges. It feels appropriate of his soap opera character roots, where passionate sexual trysts are a near-daily activity. What Grahame-Smith may not have counted on is that Burton doesn’t have any interest (or possibly doesn’t even understand) sex at all. Through Depp and Burton’s interpretation, Barnabas is another cartoon character brought to life, influenced simultaneously by German expressionism and the Groovy Ghoulies. Many key scenes, in which Green’s Angelique is able to manipulate Barnabas’s carnal nature into situations that he immediately regrets, end up not making a lick of sense when deflated into an embarrassed rush of special effects and rimshot-ready dialogue.

‘Ganja & Hess’ Blu-ray Review: Artsy Vampire Film Casts a Confounding Spell


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First things first, I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen a film like Bill Gunn’s 1973 effort Ganja & Hess. Perhaps incorrectly labeled as “blaxploitation” because of the time period in which it was released, this vampire movie is about as far from something like Blacula as you can possibly get. Kino Lorber, along with the Museum of Modern Art, has restored the film from its abbreviated 78 minutes to the director’s 110-minute vision, and in doing so, has presented us with a soulful, difficult film that’s more of a loose collection of atmospheric sequences than a 1970’s shocker. The movie it reminded me of the most was Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, but even then, that film is more concerned with its narrative than Gunn’s avant garde take on horror.

Duane Jones, recognizable to horror fans everywhere as Ben from Night of the Living Dead, plays Hess Green, who we’re told is cursed with vampirism by being stabbed with a cursed dagger before the film begins. Hess treats his curse a little bit like one might treat a compulsive secret – with personal fulfillment and privacy. He meets Ganja (Marlene Clark), the widow of one of his victims, and she’s unusually tolerant of his vampirism (such is love). Soon, his private activity becomes a shared one.

‘Virgin Witch’ Blu-ray Review: Banned in the UK, Now Banned in My Living Room


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"SHE FANCIES BIRDS!"For a little while, I was fascinated by Mill Creek Entertainment’s 12-in-1 DVD horror sets. The movies were, by and large, pretty terrible, but every now and then, you’d come across one that had just enough production value and narrative interest to compel you to actually finish it. Those watchable films were rare. If you know what I’m talking about, then you’ll understand when I say that Virgin Witch is like one of the better movies in a Mill Creek set. Which is to say, it’s terrible.

Real-life sisters Ann Michelle and Vicki Michelle play a couple of wannabe models who fall under the spell of a lesbian modeling agent and are quickly seduced into her coven of witches. One of the sisters is especially attractive to the witches, her being a virgin and them needing a virgin for their ritual, but they don’t count on her burgeoning psychic powers to throw a kink into their plans.




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