Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blu-ray Review: THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES (1973)


Label: Severin Films
Region Code: 0
MPAA Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 88 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 
Video: 1080 Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Paul Harrison
Cast: John Ireland, John Carradine, Faith Domerque
Tagline: Eight graves! Seven bodies! One killer… and he’s already dead!

The cult 70's drive-in chiller The House of Seven Corpses (1973) opens with a witchy looking Gayle Dorian (Faith Domerque, Legacy of Blood) performing what appears to be a satanic conjuring of some sort in a room with Satanic symbols on the floor, suddenly weird things start to happen and just when we think something strange and supernatural might happen we hear a director scream "Cut!", irritated that someone has ruined the scene. Yup, it's all been a sort of cheat on the us, the audience, there's no Satanic ritual taking place just a low budget film crew struggling to finish a low budget production.

Director Eric Hartman (John Ireland, Satan's Cheerleaders) and a small film crew have arrived at an old spooky mansion with a storied past to recreate the mysterious deaths that occurred at that very same place years earlier, seven members of the Beal family met tragic ends. On-set we have the middle-aged actress Gayle Dorian (Domerque), an alcoholic thespian Christopher Millan (Charles Macauley, Three O'Clock High), the younger starlet Anne (Carol Welles, The Cheap Detective) and the hero David (Jerry Strickler). It's a fun cast, Gayle's demanding and unhappy with her fading career, her leading man Christopher is a pompous lush and the is just trying to get this low budget movie made, but life ain't easy for indie filmmakers. The mansion is maintained by the creepy caretaker Edgar Price (John Carradine, The Howling) who interrupts numerous takes with stories about the deaths that occurred at the mansion, all of which we get to see during a fantastic and gruesome opening credit sequences, it's a fun montage and probably the most entertaining sequence in the entire film, talk about blowing your load early!

Not only does the director have to deal with the daily struggle of keeping the low budget production on schedule and dealing with a bitchy cast but he experience more difficulties than he could have imagined when one of the actors recite passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Wouldn't you know it, the reading of the words actually resurrect a ghoul from the nearby graveyard who wreaks a terrible horror on the film crew. That's pretty much the whole story right there, a small crew shoot a film at haunted mansion, a zombie is resurrected and people start dying, that's it. It's a low budget drive-in cheapie with a fun veteran cast, plus it's always a blast to see Carradine in one of these 70's schlockers.

My favorite part of this 70's drive-in flick would be the film-within-a-film aspect, the small crew struggling with temperamental actors and weird happenings to get their low budget film made, eventually they wind up the victims of a supernatural force and it's good goofy fun, definitely the junk food of b-movie cinema. Watching it I was reminded of the late night chiller TV shows I would watch as a kid, fun stuff. 

Blu-ray: The House of Seven Corpses (1973) comes to Blu-ray with an AVC encoded in 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), the print is well worn and bares the scars of a well screened print. There are scratches, burn marks, print damage and a nice heavy layer of grain, the first reel looks the particularly bad but it improves and is quite watchable. Transferred in hi-def from original vault materials it's the best we're gonna get for this 70's drive-in obscurity, while there's some fading the colors seem pretty accurate, the transfer even affording some modest depth and occasional fine detail and texture. Darker scenes are murky and grain-heavy. 

The English language DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 1.0 is decent, the atmospheric score sounds very nice, dialogue was a bit of a chore to decipher at times, the levels dropping low occasionally and there's some distortion when the screaming starts, overall a decent if unremarkable audio presentation that compliments the visuals.

Extras start with an audio commentary from Associate Producer Gary Kent Moderated By The Alamo Drafthouse’s Lars Nilsen, and it's a fun track with a lot of bits of trivia about the location, production and cast. There's also a half-hour video interview with actor John Carradine recorded in 1983. He speaks about his film career and seems downright annoyed that people are so fascinated by his work in horror films, which make-up only a fraction of his 400 plus films. He speaks of working on a few of the later Dracula films for Universal and Joe Dante's The Howling (1981). The quality of the video seems like it's sourced from a 3rd generation VHS but it's a great watch, Carradine is a gifted storyteller as he speaks about his relationships with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. When questioned about his favorite horror film he names the silent classic The Golem (1920). The last extra on the disc is a rough looking trailer plus we get a DVD disc which mirrors the feature and extras on the Blu-ray. 

Special Features: 
- Rare Archive Interview With Star John Carradine (28:03)
-Audio Commentary With Associate Producer Gary Kent Moderated By The Alamo Drafthouse’s Lars Nilsen
-Theatrical Trailer (2:08)

Verdict: The House of Seven Corpses (1973) is a fun low budget 70's haunted house flick with a neat film-within-a-film element which I loved, there's also some decent atmosphere and a creepy score that enhance the proceedings. It's no masterpiece of genre cinema but it's definitely a fun slice of cult drive-in cinema that should appeal to fans of late night chiller TV from the 70's and early 80's. Gotta love Severin Films for digging deep for these cult gems and putting the love that they do into polishing 'em up with some decent extras, love it. 3.5 Outta 5 

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