Thursday, October 4, 2012

DVD Review: SCREAM THEATER VOLUME 8 - RUBY (1977) & KISS OF THE TARANTULA (1975)



SCREAM THEATER VOLUME 8

RUBY (1977) / KISS OF THE TARANTULA (1975)

LABEL: VCI Entertainment

REGION: ALL NTSC
DURATION: 85 Minutes
RATING: R
VIDEO: Letterboxed Widescreen (1.66:1)

AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 2.o
CAST:
Piper Laurie, Stuart Whitman, Janit Baldwin, Roger Davis
DIRECTOR: Curtis Harrington


SYNOPSIS: Piper Laurie (the mother in the horror classic CARRIE) plays Ruby, a mother whose mute daughter becomes possessed by the spirit of her murdered father. In one terrifying night of horror, he exacts his revenge on his assassins.



RUBY (1977) opens with a dreamy, off-kilter sequence featuring a gangster named Nikki (Sal Vecchio) and his pregnant dame Ruby Claire (Piper Laurie, David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS) as they prepare to take a a romantic midnight row on the swamp when Nicky is gunned down in a hail of gunfire by his gangster associates. The scene ends with Ruby on the ground in anguish as her water breaks. Years later Ruby has gone legit and is the proprietor of Ruby's Drive-In movie theater where she oddly employs several of the men responsible for Nicky's death, which puts into question whether she was involved in the crimel. The drive-in is quite a success and is now screening 50's sci-fi feature ATTACK OF THE 50 FT WOMAN (1958) to the delight of the locals. 


Weird shit starts to happen at the drive-in beginning with the apparent suicide of the projectionist Jess (Eddy Donno, INVADERS FROM MARS) who hangs himself with reels of 35mm film stock. Ruby tells her right hand man Vince (Stuart Whitman, from Tobe Hooper's EATEN ALIVE) to dispose of the body and to not report it to the police, she don't want the authorities snooping around her place. Pretty soon it's obvious that something supernatural is happening around the drive-in as one by one the employees start dropping dying in mysterious ways, stalked by an unseen force. One character named Barney is played my none-other than Len Lesser, that's right, "Uncle Leo" from TV's SEINFELD who ends up a corpse inside a soda machine that dispenses his blood into an unsuspecting customer's cup, which she sips before realizing that ain't no Cherry Coke, fun stuff.

It seems that Ruby's mute daughter Leslie (Janit Baldwin, BORN INNOCENT) might be at the center of the bizarre murders, possessed by the spirit of her late father out for revenge against those whom were responsible for his death sixteen years earlier. To assist in the strange matter Vince calls in a paranormal psychologist named Dr. Keller (Roger Davis, TV's DARK SHADOWS) and things just get weirder.



Not a perfect film by any means but what I loved about this movie was the great setting at a drive-in next to a swamp, as if mosquitoes weren't bad enough without setting it right on the swamp! The 1950's nostalgia was in full effect, a great period setting at a location that is all but gone from the modern cinema landscape. Secondly there's some great Southern Gothic atmosphere, particularly the fog saturated swamp scenes at night which are just eerie as shit, it's very well shot. There are some great effects , too, well they're hokey as Hell but great just the same. When it's quite clear that Leslie is possessed we get some fun EXORCIST-esque sequences including a take on the classic spider-walk. Several of the victims are attacked by an unseen force and the sequences were very nicely done, when Vince is running through the drive-in to escape whatever it is that's attacking him we get some speaker-box's attacking him like tentacled creatures and another, fun 70's drive-in fare, it must have been a blast to watch this at the drive-in for sure!

The film gets a bit pacey in places but doesn't drag too much except when we're focused on Ruby who's a wanna-be torch singer cum actress - that stuff just brought the movie to a halt. Piper Laurie plays a great crazy bitch, that's for sure but these scenes were just rote  The ending is a bit wham-bam thank you mam  but it's a decent watch with some great underwater shots, quite an entertaining supernatural thriller with some great Gothic atmosphere and a few nods to Brian De Palm's CARRIE (1977) and THE EXORCIST (1973). 



Why I hate "interlaced" transfers, rampant combing
DVD: VCI presents the film in a non-anamorphic letterboxed presentation (1.66:1). It's an interlaced affair (see the screenshot to the right) but colors are nicely saturated. The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is decent with minimal noise, dialogue and score sound good,  there are no subtitle options. The lone bonus features are trailers for each film. If you already own VCI's 70's DRIVE-IN HORROR DOUBLE FEATURE of the same two films presented here you can set aside your money - it's the exact same set with the same exact same menu as you can see from the screenshot below.



KISS OF THE TARANTULA (1975) 

LABEL: VCI Entertainment 
REGION: ALL NTSC
DURATION: 85 Minutes)
RATING: PG
VIDEO:
16x9 Widescreen (1.851)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 2.o
CAST:
 Eric Mason, Suzanne Ling, Herman Wallner, Patricia Landon, Beverly Eddins, Jay Scott Neal, Rita French
DIRECTOR:
Chris Mung

SYNOPSIS: Mommy and Daddy operate and live in a mortuary with their daughter, Susan, who collects tarantula spiders and has always been ostracized by her friends because… well she’s a little bit strange. In true schlocky b-movie horror fashion, this is a real All-American Dysfunctional Family! So when Susan discovers that mommy dearest is plotting to have dear old dad killed… well this puts sweet little Susie over the top and she pulls out all the stops, making good use of her father’s mortuary and her creepy little playmates to exact horrendous revenge! A 70's drive-in classic! 

Susan is a young daughter of a mortician (Eric Mason, GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE) who is right obsessed with eight-legged critters but her bitchy mother just hates the spiders with a passion. One night Susan overhears mommy dearest plotting with her lover (who just happens to be her father's brother) John to kill her husband so Suzanne and her hairy-legged friends do something about, she sneaks into mother's room and drops a tarantula into her sheets. The cold-hearted bitch awakens to the sight of the fuzzy eight-legged crawler and has a fatal heart-attack as Suzanne gleefully watches. 


Now a few years later Suzanne is a teen in high school, a bit awkward and still quite obsessed with tarantulas which might explain what she doesn't really have a lot of friends, the only problem there is she's super-cute - arachnid nut or not this girl would be mobbed by horny coming-of -age teens so right away there goes realism. Left alone for the weekend three teen punks beak into the mortuary and terrorize poor Suzanne killing one of her beloved tarantula and the rest f the film plays outta in proper b-movie fashion with her and her cadre of critters stalking and killing the offenders in a way that's just above and beyond what squashing a spider would seem to entail. 

My favorite scenario played out at the local drive-in with two of the teen offenders on dates with their female companion are crammed into a Volkswagen Bug and while they're busy necking Suzanne saunters up to the compact car and tosses in a handful of tarantulas - which are non-poisonous by the way - into the car and they proceed to crawl over the foursome before they even realize it. Once they finally take notice (10 minutes later) the shit hits the fan and the teens panic like you just wouldn't believe. Sandwiched in between the speaker-box they are unable to simply jump from the car and in the frenzied panic one teens throat is crushed against the steering wheel, another is strangled by the car door and one's throat is slashed on the jagged edge of a broken window leaving the last chic in a fear-induced catatonic state. 

The local authorities are baffled by these "accidents" till Suzanne's uncle John (whom I neglected to mention is a detective) finds a tarantula leg on a victim's body and starts to put prices together. The super-sleazy uncles uses her guilt to try to seduce sexual favors from her, ewww, that's just gross. I love it when he gets what's coming to him in the end, it's a fun twist that I didn't see coming, fun stuff. 

KISS OF THE TARANTULA is a fun 70's drive-in schlocker along the lines of WILLARD (1971) and STANLEY (1972). These killer pet features were pretty common fare on the early 70's drive-in circuit. I really think the film has limited appeal to horror fans but there's some inherent camp cheesiness to the proceedings and if that's your thing there's some fun to be had here, not great nor original but armed with a cheese-tastic electronic score and enough b-movie thrills to make this one worth a drunken midnight viewing. 

DVD: Both films on this double-feature are presented on a single-sided disc. The film is presented in it's original widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1) that 16x9 enhanced. There's print damage here and there, a few scratches, but colors are decent as are black levels are adequate for a drive-in cheapie that's been used and abused. Audio is on par with the visuals, not great but certainly watchable and we get a trailer for the film, too.

VERDICT: If you love 70's drive-in schlock this is about half a great watch with the EXORCIST/CARRIE mash-up RUBY (1975) with Laurie Piper, a spooky good time. KISS OF THE TARANTULA (1977) falls somewhere below the mark on the whole but has a few creepy moments. So, is it worth a purchase, well that depends on your tolerance for 70's cheese. All eight volumes of VCI's SCREAM THEATER double-feature's arrive on DVD October 19th. 3 Outta 5  

Verdict:

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