Wednesday, January 14, 2015

AT DEATH'S DOOR - 13 FRIGHT-FILLED FILMS (3-DISC COLLECTION)

AT DEATH'S DOOR - 13 FRIGHT-FILLED FILMS (3-Disc Set) 

Label: Mill Creek Entertainment
Duration: 1105 Minutes
Rating: R
Region Code: 1
Directors:  Andy Milligan, Eddy Matalon, Eddy Matalon, William Fruett, Roberta Findlay,  S.F. Brownrigg, Riccardo Freda, Carl Monson, Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Jack Nicholson, Massimo Pupillo, Alex Nicol, William Castle, Bert I. Gordon
Cast: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Barbara Steele, Jack Nicholson, Boris Karloff, Rosie Holotik, Christine Moore, Richard Carlson, Lesleh Donaldson

A brand new year means new budget-minded cult-classic movie sets from Mill Creek and the first one is the 3-disc set AT DEATH'S DOOR - 13 FRIGHT-FILLED FILMS. This one features a pretty great assortment of fright films based around creepy old house and their eerie inhabitants. Mostly recycled from previous collection  with the exception of the haunted schlocker CARNAGE (1983) from director Andy Milligan, a man who made quite a few awful movies during his tenure as a filmmaker before his AIDS related death in 1991. 


The 3-disc set is padded out with a few standard public domain classics like the classic William Castle spine tingler HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL with Vincent Price and the Roger Corman produced THE TERROR but they do cram some quality b-movie slices of cinema in here. I highly recommend the whodunit mystery MURDER MANSION and the fun PSYCHO homage FUNERAL HOME starring Lesleh Donaldson who would go on to star in the Canadian slashers HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and CURTAINS plus the ravenous rat shocker DEADLY EYES! The inclusion of these two make it an easy buy for just six bucks - that's a no-brainer. 

While I do love it when distributors like Scream Factory, Vinegar Syndrome and Severin who rescue films like these trashy cult-classic a new 2K restoration I do give Mill Creek quite a bit of credit for turning me onto many of these films with their cheap DVD collections long before they received the deluxe treatment. While I still cannot afford the Code Red DVD of the killer kids classic DEVIL TIMES FIVE I still have the CHILLING CLASSIC 50 MOVIE PACK on my shelf that I can enjoy anytime. 

Most of the films are are presented in sub par fullscreen digitized VHS transfers but you get a some serious bang for your buck with this one. If you already own a ton of the Mill Creek cult and horror collections you may not need this one, but just maybe you like myself just need to watch Andy Milligan's CARNAGE because you can never get enough bad cinema. 

Here's what's on the three-disc set...

DISC 1

CARNAGE (1983)
Director: Andy Milligan 
Cast: Leslie Den Dooven, Michael Chiodo, Deeann Veeder
Color 92 Minutes Rated R

Synopsis: A newlywed couple moves into their new home and are ready to settle into their new life together. After settling in, the couple begins experiencing some strange occurrences in the home and discovers, to their horror, the truth behind them. It seems the former owners of the home were a newlywed couple that committed suicide years before and are now haunting the place.

CATHY'S CURSE (1977)
Director: Eddy Matalon
Cast: Alan Scarfe, Beverly Murray, Randi Allen
Color 82 Minutes Rated R

Synopsis: After a terrible car accident twenty years ago killed his father and sister, a man returns to his family home with his wife and daughter. The daughter takes up residence in her deceased aunt’s room and, after finding some of her possessions, becomes possessed by her spirit. Soon strange happenings and mysterious deaths begin to occur in the household as the possessed girl lashes out at those around her. 


Review: Cathy is a young woman whom endured a truly nightmarish childhood and is haunted by visions of the dead, including her murderous mother. She sees "lurkers", damned souls warning her of danger, telling her not to go back to her childhood home. The film has a bit of a low-rent THE BEYOND or THE SENTINEL feel to it, but it's a bit too meandering and overly long to keep my attention.

FUNERAL HOME (1980)
Director: William Fruett
Cast: Kay Hawtrey, Lesleh Donaldson, Barry Morse
Color 93 Minutes Rated R

Synopsis: A young woman arrives at her grandmother’s place to help convert it over to a bed and breakfast inn from the funeral home which was operated by her recently departed grandfather. After completing the change and guests begin to arrive, the granddaughter hears strange noises from the basement and finds some of the guests have disappeared. Getting nowhere with the police, the granddaughter decides to get to the bottom of the mystery by going down to the locked cellar to see what’s inside.

LURKERS (1988)
Director: Roberta Findlay
Cast: Christine Moore, Gary Warner, Marina Taylor
Color 94 Minutes Rated R

Synopsis: A woman who had a nightmarish childhood due to her abusive mother has become engaged to a caring photographer. As her wedding date grows near, some mysterious occurrences cause the woman to fear her families’ legacy. The story her mother told her about ‘lurkers’ coming to get her may be more than an old wife’s tale. 


Review: Director Roberta Findlay, and husband Michael Findlay were pretty famous for a series of grindhouse-style sexploitation films, after her husbands death in ’77 she went on to direct hardcore pornos and again returned to the horror genre in the mid-80’s. Interestingly, Michael Findlay was killed in a helicopter accident on the roof of the Pan Am Building in NYC, slashed to death by the helicopters spinning rotor-blades during a botched landing.

DISC 2

DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT
(1973)
Director: S.F. Brownrigg
Cast: Rosie Holotik, Camilla Carr, Bill McGhee
Color 90 Minutes Rated R

Synopsis: A new nurse arrives to begin work at a mental hospital only to discover that the head doctor has been murdered by one of the patients and a new doctor is in charge. Faced with ever increasing harassment from the patients, the nurse fears she may have made a mistake in taking the job. The nurse soon discovers that the new head doctor is not whom they appear to be and that she is in terrible danger.


Review: A decent low budget drive-in asylum shocker from cult director S.F. Browning (DON'T OPEN THE DOOR) with some fun grisly gore, it's one of those inmates are running the asylum pics and starts off strong with a bloody ax murder and then a pretty young nurse named Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik) shows up for her first day at the asylum and of course things pretty strange and only get weirder from their, we get a nice dose of 70's sleaze with this one, fun stuff.

THE GHOST (1963)
Director: Riccardo Freda
Cast: Barbara Steele, Peter Baldwin, Elio Jotta
Color 96 Minutes Not Rated

Synopsis: A woman and her lover murder her invalid physician husband in order to take his fortune and live their lives together. Watched by the physician’s faithful housekeeper, the two lovers begin searching for the money they believe is hidden upon the grounds of the estate. When mysterious occurrences begin to happen to the couple, they suspect that the physician’s ghost has appeared to seek revenge for their crime.

LEGACY OF BLOOD (1971)
Director: Carl Monson 
Cast: John Carradine, Rodolfo Acosta, Merry Anders
Color 83 Minutes Rated R

Synopsis: An aged millionaire passes on and leaves his four children his large fortune. According to his will, the four heirs must spend one week at his estate in order to split up the fortune. If any of the heirs leave or die before the week is out, the remaining children will receive the money and if all the heirs are gone, the servants will gain the inheritance. Once everyone has arrived at the estate and settled in, strange things begin to happen and the heirs begin to turn up dead. Who is killing them and can the remaining heirs find out before it’s too late?

THE MURDER MANSION (1972)
Director: Francisco Lara Polop
Cast: Evelyn Stewart, Analia Gade, Anna Lisa Nardi
Color 84 Minutes Not Rated

Synopsis: A young couple joins a group of travelers stranded at a fog-bound mansion to wait out the bad weather. While everyone tries to deal with each other, they must also contend with the creepy surroundings of the ancient manor and its adjoining cemetery. When the guests are beset upon by the unliving residents from the graveyard, they must try to band together in order to survive the nightmare.
DISC 3

TORMENTED (1960)
Director: Bert I. Gordon
Cast: Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders
BW 75 Minutes Not Rated

Synopsis: A pianist dumps his singer girlfriend and becomes engaged to a young socialite from an affluent island community, which infuriates the singer. A confrontation, between the pianist and the singer at the top of a lighthouse, results in her falling to her death to the rocks below. The pianist tries to keep the death quiet while proceeding with the wedding plans but finds it impossible when the deceased singer begins to haunt him.

THE SCREAMING SKULL (1959)
Director: Alex Nicol
Cast: John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway
BW 68 Minutes Not Rated

Synopsis: A newlywed couple returns from their honeymoon to the estate of the man’s late wife. The bride, a wealthy but extremely neurotic woman, uneasily settles into the home, walking the gardens of the estate that are meticulously kept by a strange gardener following the wishes of the deceased woman. The new lady of the house is tormented by the sudden appearance of skulls throughout the house and grounds. Is it the deceased woman coming back to drive her away or are there more sinister motives behind the skulls?
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)
Director: William Castle
Cast: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long
BW 75 Minutes Not Rated

Synopsis: Eccentric Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and his wife have invited 5 guests to a “house” party at the mysterious mansion on Haunted Hill, which is reported to be inhabited by evil spirits. Each guest is given a small coffin holding a gun and is informed that those who remain in the house until sunrise will receive $10,000. Frights and thrills fill the night as nerves are put on edge and the guest’s secrets start coming to light.

THE TERROR (1963)
Director: Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Jack Nicholson
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Boris Karloff, Sandra Knight
Color 80 Minutes Not Rated

Synopsis: In an early career appearance, Jack Nicholson stars as Lieutenant Duvalier, a nineteenth century military officer whose dreams are haunted by a mysterious beauty (Sandra Knight). Those same dreams draw him to the sinister castle of Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff), but is it really the Baron or an imposter? Before he knows it, he finds himself a prisoner and frantically tries to solve the mysteries that surround him. Director Roger Corman collaborated with other directors, including Francis Ford Coppola, in the filming of this horror classic.


Review:Roger Corman's The Terror is set in France in 1806. Lt. Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) is a soldier in Napoleon's army who's become separated from his regiment, he awakens on a beach where he encounters a hauntingly beautiful woman named Helena (Sandra Knight) whom walks into the surf and disappears. Thinking she must have been overcome by the waves Duvalier follows her in and nearly drowns himself all the while being dive bombed from above by a vicious hawk. Losing consciousness he awakens (again) inside the villa of Katrina (Dorothy Neumann), an old witchy woman. He inquires if she knows of the young woman and she replies that he must have imagined her during his near fatal drowning.

Undeterred Andre further searches for the woman through the forest until he comes to the castle of Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff, Frankenstein) who reluctantly allows Andre to enter after he flashes his Napoleonic credentials. As if Nicholson and Karloff weren't enough for a ticket to this film legendary b-movie character actor Dick Miller (Bucket of Blood, Gremlins) also appears as the Baron's major domo. Inside the castle Andre happen upon a portrait of a woman whom bares an uncanny resemblance to the mysterious woman he seeks. The Baron informs him that he is mistaken as the woman in the portrait, his wife, died twenty years prior. Andre is obsessed with the young woman and continues to search for the woman's identity despite everyone's insistence that she is merely a figment of his distressed mind. He continues to encounter her but starts to wonder if he has gone mad, is she an apparition, a restless spirit, who is she really? And how does the witch Katrina figure into the story?

The acting is suitably melodramatic with pre-New Hollywood Nicholson giving a decent performance, he's definitely charming but not nearly French, fun stuff. Karloff seems a bit lost at times, he gives it a good go though but it's obvious this is just another paying gig. While the film is uneven, it's a wonder that the film is as watchable as it is given it's strange production, the sets are fantastic stuff. The towering Gothic castle, a macabre cemetery steeped in fog, creepy crypts and eerie red, green and blue lighting really go a long way towards creating an entertaining and atmosphere spookfest. It's a bit slow at times but the film's final 15 minutes are wonderfully twisted and memorable.

The legend of this film holds that once wrapping on The Raven, which starred Boris Karloff as Dr. Scarabus, Corman immediately went into production on The Terror utilizing sets from The Raven and A Haunted Place. He tossed Karloff a few extra bucks to remain on for four additional days of shooting. While Corman shot the bulk of the film with Karloff in four days the film's production went on for nine more months, making it one of the longest Corman shoots ever I would imagine. In those nine months Corman left it to a handful of aspiring directors on staff to shoot second unit, and they're notable names, too. They included star Jack Nicholson who would go onto direct the Going South among others, Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)who that same year would direct Dementia 13 and reportedly shot for 11 days only get 10 minutes of footage in this film, Jack Hill (Spider Baby, Coffy) and Monte Hellman (Two Lane Blacktop). Not too shabby. 

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)
Director: Massimo Pupillo

Cast: Walter Brandi, Marilyn Mitchell, Barbara Steele
BW 82 Minutes Not Rated

Synopsis: An attorney travels to his client’s castle to conduct some business when he learns upon arriving for the meeting the client died almost a year ago. The client’s widow and daughter then tell the attorney an incredible tale of how the owner was able to revive the spirits of long-deceased plague victims and how his spirit roams the halls of the castle. Doubting their story, the attorney begins to reconsider when a rash of mysterious deaths occur at the castle. 


Review: An attorney arrives at a castle to settle the estate of its recently deceased owner. The owner's wife and daughter reveal that the man had dabblings in the occult and was able to summon the spirits of ancient plague spreaders and that his spirit is also roaming the castle and is out for revenge on those who killed him. Italian beauty Barbara Steele features in this revenge from the grave thriller. The film has a promising starts as a man is stomped to death by a horse and it does features some okay deaths by plague, burnings with acid and a bit of gore as well. The major failings of the film are that it never shows the zombie plague spreaders other than there hands. The scares come from the victims shock and reactions and it's just not very effective. 

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