Saturday, March 19, 2016

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971) / THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970) (Blu-ray Review)

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971) / THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970) 


MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971) 


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 99 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Gordon Hessler 
Cast: Christine Kaufmann, Herbert Lom, Jason Robards, Lilli Palmer, Maria Perschy, Michael Dunn, Adolfo Celi


Synopsis: Your first frightening film is 1971's Murders in the Rue Morgue. In early 20th-century Paris, a theatrical company with a specialty in Grand Guignol undertakes their most gruesome production yet. But when a madman with an axe to grind arrives on the scene, the stage is set for real mayhem and murder most foul. Will the backstage bloodshed be quelled – or is it curtains for the cast? Jason Robards and Herbert Lom star in this marvelously macabre mystery.

To say that this adaptation is loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue is a bit like saying that Donnie Darko is loosely based on The Evil Dead because the movie appears within it. The movie takes place during the Victorian era in Paris where members of a theatre troupe lead by director Cesar Charron (Jason Robards, Something Wicked This Way Comes) begin to die off in a series of acid murders. The crimes would seem to indicate the culprit is a dead man, stage actor Rene Marot (Herbert Lom, Mark of the Devil) who died years earlier after being disfigured during a production of Edgar Allen Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue after being doused with sulfuric acid. 


At the same time Charron's wife Madeline (Christine Kaufmann) is plagued by nightmares of an axe-murderer, in reality her own mother was killed by an ax murder, a death which has been attributed to Marot, who returns as a disfigured ghost of vengeance throughout the movie, which seems to owe more to The Phantom of the Opera than to Edgar Allen Poe's original short story, which is only featured in the fringes of the movie, though those scenes are some of my favorites. 

This one has always proven very hard for me to make it through, which I attribute to the underplayed performance from Jason Robards, a fine actor but just not right for the role of Charron, the man has no chemistry with his love interest whatsoever. Originally Vincent Price was slated in the role and I can only imagine that Price would have more suited to the role in my opinion, there wasn't much that Price couldn't make better. In my opinion the best parts of this movie are the Grand Guignol stage performances of Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Madeline's surreal ax-murderer nightmares, but this one is still a bit of a snoozer. 



Murders in the Rue Morgue arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, the sub par movie benefits from the HD bump with nicely managed grain, transferred from a good source with only the most minor of film flaws. The DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0 audio sounds good, with everything nicely balanced and clean. Scream have brought over the Stage Tricks and Screen Frights Featurette with director Gordon Hesseler and trailer from the MGM disc plus added an informative commentary from  author and film historian Steve Haberman.

Special Features: 

- NEW Audio Commentary With Author And Film Historian Steve Haberman
- Stage Tricks and Screen Frights Featurette (12 Mins) 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) 

THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970) 


Label: Scream Factory

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 88 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Daniel Haller 
Cast: Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, Lloyd Bochner, Sam Jaffe, Sandra Dee, Talia Shire


Synopsis: From the City of Lights (and frights), our tour of terror moves on to a small New England town in 1970's The Dunwich Horror. When a beautiful student named Nancy catches the eye of the weird Wilbur Whateley, it's up to her professor, the good doctor and occult expert Dr. Henry Armitage, to warn her that no good will come of it. But as Armitage digs deeper into the Whateley family history, he uncovers a buried secret – and a plot intended to call forth an evil beyond imagination. A cult favorite that proves that The Old Ones are good ones, The Dunwich Horror stars Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, and Sandra Dee.

The Dunwich Horror stars a very young Dean Stockwell (Blue Velvet) as the odd Wilbur Whateley, the descendant of a man who once tried to summon The Old Ones into this world. The elder Whateley was accused of sacrificing a young local girl during a pagan ritual at the time and was hanged afterward during an act of vigilante justice by local villagers. 



We meet Wilbur while he is attending a lecture at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts where Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley) has spoken about some weird local history, including the Whateley family. In his possession is the ancient book of the dead, the infamous Necronomicon, which after the lecture he gives to his student Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee) to return to the school museum. Wilbur follows Nancy to the museum and introduces himself, asking to have a closer look at the ancient book, which she reluctantly obliges. He is interrupted by Dr. Armitage who puts the book away, afterward Wilbur and Nancy get to chatting with Nancy offering to give weirdo Wilbur a ride home to his home in Dunwich. 

Nancy and Wilbur strike up a friendly flirtation and he convinces her to stay the weekend at the Whateley home, the two become close, but Dr. Armitage begins to worry about her safety and drives out to the country to check on her, despite his warning to stay away from Wilbur she stays on. Of course Wilbur is up to no good, he has been drugging Nancy's tea, and it seems that he has plans to continue his grandfather's pagan rituals, to bring forth The Old Ones, through a ceremony that calls for human sacrifice, which is where young naive Nancy comes into play. 



The story strays quite a bit from the source material with numerous changes in character and story, but the main arc of it remains intact. Dean Stockwell is super creepy with his corduroy jacket, moustache and tight perm, plus he has the crazy eyes, as if he is a magician attempting to hypnotize you - which is equal parts funny and eerie. Sandra Dee is decent as the naive Nancy who falls under the spell of Wilbur, only to be put on the altar of sacrifice during the final moments, raped by  some creature kept in the closet for the duration of the movie, which is a thing of b-movie nuttiness. Sandra also experiences some hallucinogenic nightmares which are fun stuff, AIP were definitely gong for a bit of a drug-movie with this one I think, forgoing the usual acid trips for weird Lovecraftian nightmares achieved through cheap optical effects. .

The Dunwich Horror arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory looking appropriately grainy, maybe a bit thick at times but a definite improvement over the MGM Midnite Movies disc, offering the usual advancement in fine detail, sharpness and clarity. The source material does have some minor white speckling but that is about all I can complain about. The English DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0 audio does the job quite nicely, the dialogue is clean and clear, the awesome Les Baxter score comes through quite nicely, this is one Baxter's AIP scores I would love to own. Extras on the disc include a new commentary from author and film Historian Steve Haberman, plus a theatrical trailer, not a lot of bonus material but the commentary is top notch. 

Special Features: 

- NEW Audio Commentary With Author And Film Historian Steve Haberman
- Theatrical Trailer

Scream Factory have once again raided the MGM vaults to plunder more of these American International Pictures  b-movie goodies from the seventies, this time emerging with a double fisted helping of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, the results are varied but this double-feature is worth a watch for fans of '70 horror who don't mind scraping near and around the bottom of the cinema barrel, for semi-tasty morsels of cinema fromage . 3/5


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