Thursday, March 30, 2017

PSYCHO CIRCUS - THREE RINGS OF TERROR TRIPLE FEATURE (Blu-ray Review)

PSYCHO CIRCUS - THREE RINGS OF TERROR TRIPLE FEATURE

THE CREEPING FLESH(1973) / BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1971) / TORTURE GARDEN (1967)

Label: Mill Creek Entertainment
Region Code: A
Duration: 277 Minutes
Rating: PG, Unrated
Directors: Freddie Francis, 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 

STEP RIGHT UP AND EXPERIENCE THE TRILOGY OF TERROR THAT PEOPLE ARE DYING TO SEE!

THE CREEPING FLESH(1973) 

Duration: 94 Minutes 
Rating: PG
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Freddie Francis
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

In Freddie Francis' The Creeping Flesh (1973) horror icons Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are again reunited following their on screen team-up in Horror Express (1972), this time we have a Victorian era tale of madness, mayhem and Gothic science fiction. The opening titles play over a wonderful viewing of a macabre painting, the tale a begins with scientist Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing, Corruption) recounting the story of an expedition to New Guinea in 1894 where he unearthed the skeleton of a giant humanoid which he brought back to London for further examination. Upon arriving in London Hildern receives word from an asylum that his estranged wife has died while incarcerated there, the asylum is run by his cold half-brother James (Christopher Lee, Prince of Darkness), whom had agreed to keep his wife's insanity a secret from Hildern's daughter, Penelope (Lorna Heilbron, Symptoms), who believes her mother to have died years earlier. Hildern feared that learning of her mother's madness might ignite some latent form of the delirium within his daughter. Visiting the asylum in secret to make sure his wife's things are in order he is informed by James that he will no longer fund his science expeditions, and it is revealed that both men are vying for the prestigious science award, the Richter Prize, James for his study of psychiatry and Emmanuel for his study of the prehistoric giants.

Back at his London lab, while washing the skeleton in preparation of examination, Emmanuel wets the finger of the skeleton, which astoundingly begins to grow flesh around it, of course this is very peculiar, and warrant more study. Hildern begins reading local legends from New Guinea which tell of an ancient race of evil giants who once ruled the area, and he begins to fear he may have unleashed an evil upon the world. To that end he uses blood from the reanimated finger to develop a serum he believes will cure the world of evil - this part of the story is very convoluted, but hang in there folks. However, when his daughter discovers that her mother only recently passed away she freaks out, not unsurprisingly, and fearing that she may be heading down the same path of insanity as her mother, he injects her with his serum, in hopes it will stave off the threat of insanity. Of course it only worsens her hysterics, sending her into the night where she injures various people throughout the village, murdering one man with a broken bottle to the throat and another is pushed to his death from a height. Her crimes send her straight to the very asylum where her mother was incarcerated, her father's worst fears come to life.

Lee and Cushing are wonderful together in adversarial roles, they play off each other wonderfully, and Heilbron is quite good as Penelope, her descent into madness and violence unfolds very nicely, she sells the transformation from sweet and meek to hysterical and deadly convincingly. Eventually the skeleton of the evil one ends up drenched in rain and suddenly we have a cloaked skeletal figure roaming the woods, seemingly seeking his missing finger, it's good, gooey stuff. 

The movie looks great, Freddie Francis was at the peak of his powers here as a director, and with a game cast and an interesting Gothic horror story he lets the magic unfold in a way that is simply a good time. I hadn't seen this movie in at least thirty years, and hadn't remembered watching it until I saw the giant skeleton, then it all came back to me, but as I recall I watched it on a black and white TV as a kid at grannie's house, so it was a treat to see this Victorian shocker in color for the first time.

I love the ending of the movie, the way the story is framed it is sort of left open to interpretation, was it all the delusion of a madman or are key players the victims of a cruel and unethical family member, either way, this movie rock.    

BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1971)
Duration: 93 Minutes 
Rating: PG
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Director: Bernard McEveety
Cast: Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Charles Bateman, Ahna Capri

While not a William Castle production Bernard McEveety's The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) certainly owes a debt to the William Castle produced and Roman Polanski directed Rosemary's Baby (1968), a sweet slice of Satanic paranoia from producer L.Q. Jones who acted in many films including Martin Scorsese's Casino (1995) as well as producing and directing a few of his own, most notably the post-apocalyptic A Boy and His Dog (1975) featuring a very young Don Johnson (Django) and his telepathic dog, which I highly recommend!


The film begins with a great scene which sorta blurs the lines of reality and fiction as a bratty kid playing with a toy tank crushes and entire family in a station wagon, it's pretty bloody, too. Next scene we're onto a family outing in the desert with, there's the father Ben Holden (Charles Bateman) and his annoying daughter K.T. (Geri Reisch, I Dismember Mama), also along for the ride is Ben's girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri, Enter the Dragon). They're on the road when they come across the bloody and twisted wreckage from the start of the film, they do what pretty much anyone would and drive into the nearest village to alert the authorities. However, when they arrive the entire town is in a state of pure panic and paranoia, even the town Sheriff (L.Q. Jones) treats the family pretty hostile, a man attacks Ben with an ax screaming "You took them from me!" and the trio jump back in the car just barely escape the mob with their skulls intact. Driving down the road a ways Ben swerves to avoid striking the apparition of a young girl and the car is kaput, stranded on the side of the road as the noonday sun beats down they have few choices other than to head back to the strange village. 


Once there things are a bit less hostile but just as weird and only get weirder, the Sheriff and his Deputy (Alvy Moore, A Boy and His Dog) along with the priest (Charles Robinson, The Cable Guy) and the town doc Mr. Duncan (Strother Martin, The Wild Bunch) set about sleuthing the heinous murders of adult-population and the mysterious disappearance of the town's children. The townsfolk are stressed, sleep deprived, paranoid and at their wits end. It turns out a Satanic Cult is committing the ritualistic murders and turning the town's tots into Satanic occultists in an attempt to gain unholy immortality, and guess what, it's the grandfatherly doc that's the cult leader! 


This is such a great watch, Strother Martin is amazing as the feisty cult leader, maniacal and just chewing up the scenery while leading a group of satanic seniors bent on immortality in services the the Dark Lord. It's drenched in great 70's atmosphere and there's a ton of blood and dismemberment for a PG film, one victim is clawed to death like skinned rabbit tossed into a chicken pen, it's pretty grotesque for PG rating! This schlocky Satanic nightmare is peppered with murderous children, creepy killer dolls, and spooky woods oozing with fog, this was quite the occult production with some great set pieces.


The finale is superb and unhinged in all the right ways as the cult gather in an underground tomb to perform their unholy ritual with diabolically over-the top incantations "Greetings Dear One, 'Tis We!", only Burgess Meredith could have outdone Martin's elderly satanic MC, this is a fantastic watch and the only thing that irked me was Geri Reisch, who was quite an annoying child actor!


TORTURE GARDEN (1967)

Duration: 100 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Freddie Francis 
Cast: Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, Peter Cushing, Robert Hutton

Ah yes, the Amicus horror anthologies, I love 'em a bunch, and Torture Garden has always been a personal favorite, we begin with the framing story, were at a carnival and five people are attending the macabre show of performer Dr. Diabolo (Burgess Meredith, Burnt Offerings)who after the show promises the patrons the "thrill of a lifetime" for an additional five pounds, and that thrill turns out to be Atropos (Clytie Jessop), a motionless fortune teller holding a pair of scissors, or what Diablo calls the "shears of fate"! Each of the patrons for a few pounds stares into the shares of fate and glimpses a possible future scenario, which play out in four segments, plus the wrap-a-round story with der. Diablo. 

First up is "Enoch", a tale a familiar greed along the lines of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart or "The Drop of Water" segment from Mario Bava's Black sabbath (1963), wherein a younger man (Michael Bryant) visits his elderly uncle (Maurice Denham), causing his premature death by withholding medication, after the old codger is carted off the young man searches the house for hs rumored treasures, finding a creepy cat buried alive in the basement. The cat has evil powers and communicates with the young man, forcing him to do the unspeakable.

Second, we have "Terror Over Hollywood" wherein a young Hollywood wanna-be Carla Hayes (Beverly Adams) back stabs her roommate, usurping a meeting with a Hollywood legend which leads to her own stardom, but soon she discovers theirs a price to pay for Hollywood legend status, what she knows might end up killing her, or it might make her a Hollywood legend, but at what cost to her humanity?

Third entry is "Mr. Steinway"  about a concert pianist named  Leo (John Standing) who is obsessed with is piano, or is it the other way around? He becomes infatuated with journalist Dorothy Endicott (Barbara Ewing), but the beloved piano may have a problem with the pianist's affections for anyone else. 

The last of the stories is "The Man Who Collected Poe" starring Jack Palance (Shape of things To Come) as an obsessive fan and collector of author Edgar Allen Poe, he meets another collector, played by Peter Cushing (twins of Evil), a collector who is next level, and has a collection that is beyond comprehension, which makes Palance's character green with envy, driving the man to murder, and to the revelation that Poe is somehow still very much alive!  

The anthology finishes up properly by wrapping up the bookend device with a nice twist or two. The film is directed by Freddie Francis who does his usual good work, but these stories aren't as classic as some of the other Amicus anthologies, but they are good, campy fun, and always a treat to watch. 
REVERSIBLE ARTWORK 
Audio/Video: All three film arrives on Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment, licensed from Columbia Pictures, and crammed onto a single Blu-ray disc, the 1080p HD image looks surprisingly decent all things considered, though I would have preferred to have this spread across two discs, even three, these films definitely deserve some deluxe treatment on Blu-ray. Colors, skin tones and black levels are decent, though grain is a bit chunky and not all that well resolved. Fine detail, depth and clarity leave a lot to be desired, but the sources look good and with a minimal amount of dirt and debris.  Mill Creek have opted to forgo lossless audio and each film has an English Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, there are not subtitle options, extras, or trailers. 

The single-disc release comes housed in a standard blue keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, which is not something you see often from Mill Creek, but something i would love to see more of with future vintage titles - the alternate artwork option is fantastic, featuring original theatrical artwork for all three films, see above. My advice is to turn that artwork over and never look back! This triple threat slice of vintage 60s/70s horror cinema  comes highly recommended, and you can pick it up for $7 right now, that's a steal.  

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