Thursday, March 23, 2023

BOB CLARK: HORROR COLLECTION (1972-1974) (101 Films Blu-ray Review)

3-Film Blu-ray Set 

101 Films presents the ‘Bob Clark: Horror Collection’, featuring the director’s highly influential horrors of the early 1970s, brought together for the first time. Though he would achieve wider success in the 1980s with hit comedies such as Porky’s (1981) and A Christmas Story (1983), Clark’s run of three horror movies a decade earlier — low budget horror-comedy ‘Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things’ (1972), chilling Vietnam War critique Deathdream (AKA Dead of Night) (1974) and genre-defining slasher masterpiece Black Christmas (1974) — ensure his legacy as a master of the horror genre. 

Title 029 on the 101 Films Black Label, this limited-edition set also features new Bob Clark documentary ‘Dreaming of Death’, stunning newly commissioned artwork for all three titles with reversible sleeves, a booklet with new writing on the director’s career, a set of art cards, and extensive additional content.


Label: 101 Films 
Duration: 86 Minutes 34 Seconds 
Region Code: B
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English PCM Stereo 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Bob Clark
Cast: Alan Ormsby, Valerie Mamches, Jeffrey Gillen, Anya Ormsby, Paul Cronin, Jane Daly, Roy Engleman, Robert Philip, Bruce Solomon, Seth Sklarey, Alecs Baird

Back before Bob Clark hit box office success with the teen sex-comedy Porky's and the nostalgic yuletide classic A Christmas Story the director cut his teeth in the world of low-budget drive-in horror, and one of his earliest efforts was 1972's Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972). Using friends from college and working with a tiny budget of $50,000 Clark managed to complete Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things over the course of fourteen days, the fruits of his labor were an effective if off-kilter and wildly unbalanced zombie flick with an eerie psychotronic finale that creeped me out as a kid, more so because it starts out as a black comedy and evolves into a terrifying zombie siege flick. Alan Ormsby, who co-wrote the script and stars in the film, deserves a fair share of credit for crafting the film's creepy zombie special effects as well using what looks to lot of wadded up toilet paper, clay and spirit gum. 
Things kick-off with six members of a theater troupe lead by the mean-spirited douche-nozzle Alan (Alan Ormsby, screenwriter of Cat People) travelling by boat to an small island off the coast of Miami where the criminally insane have been buried for decadess. They arrive on the fog-drenched island and make their way through the canopy of overgrowth and crumbling headstones to a dilapidated shack where Alan dons a purple wizard's gown and informs the crew as to why they are on the island this eerie night... to perform a Satanic ritual meant to bring back the dead! 

The crew dig up the grave of the recently dead Orville Dunworth (Seth Sklarey) and prop him up on a cross-shaped headstone, as the performers look on Alan recites an over-the-top incantation meant to bring about the undead. When Alan's recitation does absolutely nothing the deliciously bitchy Val (Valerie Mamches) pushes him aside and performs her own sarcastic incantation in jest ...and the damn thing works, and while it's not immediately evident to the group the dead begin to crawl up from out of their graves! The group believing they've failed again make their way back to the run down shack, bringing with them Orville's rotting corpse, unaware that hordes of flesh-hungry undead will soon lay lay siege upon them. 

I'm not certain when I first saw Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, but I am sure it was on broadcast TV back in the '80s during one of those awesome horror matinees I loved so damn much on WPIX or WGN, and I do remember it unnerved me quite a bit. The movie has a very slow build-up, but I enjoyed it a bunch and the payoff of the zombie uprising is pretty damn great, erasing any issues I may have had with the funky pace up to that point 

Theatre-troupe leader Alan is such an arrogant and unapologetic asshole, and I sort of love that about him, he's one of those characters you absolutely love to hate and he's hamming it up big-time here. I also love how Val throws insults right back at him, she has a lot of spunk and is the only one among the group to stand-up to the jerk. There's also a hippy dippy type character named Anya (Anya Ormsby, Deathdream) who is a seemingly spirit-sensitive young woman who is so unnerved by the events that she has a meltdown, not unlike someone on a bad acid trip. You also have to love those groovy early seventies fashions - dig those vertical striped pants on Ormsby! The movie also has a real serious Scooby-Doo vibe about it, the colorful clothing worn by the troupe standing in contrast to the the pitch black darkness of the film. 

The movies goes to some weird places, for instance they hold a wedding ceremony for Alan and the corpse of Orville, with Alan taking an unnatural liking to his new found corpse pal, but this friendship will definitely come back to bite him on his arrogant ass, just you watch. The movie is oozing with low-budget atmosphere, the fog-drenched island location is creepy stuff as are the zombie designs, with Alan Ormsby who did double duty creating many of the undead make-up for the movie. This is a low-budget flick but the make-up applications are pretty effective, the standout being the undead star Orville, a flaky grey-skinned cadaver with a lot of presence about him for a dead guy.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is a fun, but not perfect, cult-classic, you can tell it was an early endeavor for director Bob Clark, who would go onto direct the more polished 'Nam horror-nightmare Deathdream and the stalk and slash classic Black Christmas before making the seminal teen boner-comedy Porky's and the beloved holiday favorite A Christmas Story, as well as the underrated Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper entry Murder By Decree. It's a bit shaky in it's construction yet it still works for me, I love the macabre sense of humor about it, deftly balancing the comedy elements as they transition into terror. 

Audio/Video: Children shouldn't Play with Dead Things arrives on region B Blu-ray from 101 Films, the source looks to be in great shape with no major blemishes. I didn not compare this to the US Blu-ray release from VCI but it looked comparable to me, without having A/B'd the pair. Audio comes by way of a lossless linear PCM 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles. The track does a good job with dialogue, and the Carl Zittrer (Black Christmas, Porky's, Deranged) psychotronic score, which at times can be very eerie, particularly during a few of the slow-motions shots. There are very minor some source related issues like audio levels that drop a bit and some source related hiss but in general this is a solid audio presentation. 

The disc has a solid, but not complete set of archival extras, kicking off with an Audio Commentary Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly and Anya Cronin which is moderated by David Gregory of Severin Films. Other archival extras carried over from various past releases include the 10-min Memories of Bob Clark: A tribute to the late Director with Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly and Anya Cronin reflecting on the legacy of Bob Clark. We also get the 11-min 2007 Grindhouse Q&A which took place during a double-feature screening of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and Deathdream (1974) featuring the participation of Ormsby, composer Carl Zittrer, and set decorator Albert Fisher. Confessions of a Grave Digger: Interview with Ken Goch runs 9-min, Goch who worked as part of the art department on the movie, and was promoted to A.D. while shooting Deranged. He speaks about working on the movie, offering insights about his late friend Bob Clark and swallowing lit joints to avoid being arrested. A new-ish feature is the 34-min 2022 Alan Ormsby Interview conducted via video conference call wherein the actor/writer/director dives into his career and collaboration with the late Bob Clark making this film and others. her talks about channeling Vincent Price for his character as well as shooting a low-budget film and doing double-duty as the make-up/FX designer. There are some audio issues with this featurette and subtitles are provided.  There's also a 5-min Photo Gallery, the 8-min "Cemetery Mary” and “Dead Girls Don’t Say No” Music Videos by The Deadthings, a brief 2-min Tribute Video, and the original 3-min Theatrical Trailer

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly and Anya Cronin
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 mins) 
- 2022 Alan Ormsby Interview (22 min) 
- Confessions of a Grave Digger: Interview with Ken Goch (9 mins)
- 2007 Grindhouse Q&A (11 mins)
- Memories of Bob Clark: A tribute to the late Director (10 mins)
- “Cemetery Mary” Music video by The Deadthings (4 mins)
- “Dead Girls Don’t Say No” Music video by The Deadthings (4 mins)
- Photo Gallery (5 min) 
- Sleeve of Reversible Artwork


Label: 101 Films 
Duration: 88 Minutes 13 Seconds 
Region Code: B
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Bob Clark 
Cast: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Anya Ormsby,  Henderson Forsythe 

Bob Clark's Deathdream (1974) (aka Dead of Night) was his second feature film following Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972) and before Black Christmas (1974). In this chilly anti-war horror film we have the Brooks family; father Charles (John Marley, The Godfather), mother Christine (Lynn Carlin, Faces), and teen daughter Cathy (Anya Ormsby, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things) gathered around the dinner table for supper when there's an ominous knock at the door, which turns out to be an Army recruiter delivering the worse news imaginable, that their son Andy (Richard Backus) has died serving his country in Vietnam. 

The family is devastated by the news but the mother Lynn refuses to accept this horrible truth, sitting alone in a room with a candle in the dark whispering that her son cannot be dead. Later that night a noise in the house awakens the family, and they are surprised to find Andy has returned, his mother's wishes seem to have come true. It seems that the military had been mistaken about his death, but the Andy before them turns out not to be the same young man they remember - is he simply changed by the horror of the war or is this some waking nightmare? 

The film is an allegory about PTSD and the war being fought at home during the Vietnam era, Clark and Ormsby crafted a haunting examination of how war changes a person and how sometimes families struggle with the return of loved one, who are changed in sometimes dramatic ways. Andy is subdued and spends hours alone in his room in a rocking chair, his emotions are erratic, and he scares the neighborhood kids, particularly  when he strangles the family dog.  The family physician Doctor Allman (Henderson Forsythe) begins to suspect Andy is involved in the murder of a truck driver who was found dead with his throat ripped open and his body drained of blood the night Andy returned. His suspicions are conformed when Andy later kills him, using a syringe to drain the doc's blood he ties off his arm and injects the blood into his veins like an addict shooting heroin, which was another affliction facing returning vets in the 70's, indulging in opiate drugs looking to numb themselves to the horrors they had experienced. 

The returning vet experience is exaggerated here to a macabre degree as Andy is shown to be a ghoul of sorts, requiring human blood to live, and also to stave off the rot of being dead. He seems sort of like a zombie with a blood lust, and when he doesn't get his transfusion blood terrible things happen, like when he goes on a double-date to the local drive-in, a strange brown liquid begins to leak from his head, his eyes and skin begin to change, his appetite for blood no longer deniable he kills his ex-girlfriend in the backseat of the car and then goes after his own sister, killing her boyfriend before driving off, running down another victim with the car in the process. As his father and sister fully come to realize Andy is a killer Mom clings to her son with desperation, leading up to a chilly and poignant final scene.

Deathdream has a creepy vibe that permeates from the opening scene to the final shot. It's not the most visceral horror film but it's one that gets under the skin, and was one of the first to address the issue of Vietnam on soldiers at home, though it's doesn't ever mention the war by name, it is steeped in it nonetheless. The special effects in the film were done by script-writer by Alan Ormsby who was assisted by a young Tom Savini (The Burning), this being Savini's first job on a film. As the film wears on Andy becomes a bit more zombie-looking, his skin becoming flaky and mottled, his eyes strangely discolored, and towards the end you can see bit of his skull exposed through his thinning skin, it's low-budget but very well-done, it definitely look more like Ormsby's work on Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972) than it does any of Savini's later work. The movie is also enhanced by an eerie score from Carl Zittrer (Black Christmas) with a taught piano/string accompaniment that is used sparsely but effectively. The odd strained-piano strings sounds got under my skin, deepening the dread, a ploy Clark also uses on Black Christmas as well.   

Audio/Video: Deathdream (1974) arrives on region B Blu-ray from 101 Films. I believe the film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm for theatrical, so the source-inherent grain is still an issue but this is still quite an attractive Blu-ray. Audio on the main feature comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track which sounds good within the limitations of the modest production, but dialogue and effects are well-balanced, the atmospheric and minimal score from Carl Zittrer (Black Christmas) comes through strong, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Sadly, we do not get any of the archival extras that appeared on the U.S. release from Blue Underground, but we get some decent bonus content. First up is an exclusive new Audio Commentary with Travis Crawford and Bill Ackerman that rocks just as hard as you would imagine a Crawford/Ackerman team-up would. Another nice add is the 63-min feature-length documentary Dreaming of Death: Bob Clark's Horror Films that is produced by 101 Films that previously appeared on the U.S. 4K UHD from VCI  Entertainment. This features Chris Alexander, Simon Fitzjohn, Paul Zaza, Richard Backus, Lynne Griffin, Art Hindle, and Ken Goch, who pay tribute to Clark, giving special attention to his earlier horror films. The disc is buttoned-up with the 4-min Theatrical Trailer

Special Features:  
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Travis Crawford and Bill Ackerman 
- Feature-length documentary Dreaming of Death: Bob Clark's Horror Films (63 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (4 min) 


Label: 101 Films 
Region Code: B
Duration: 97 Minutes 57 Seconds 
Audio: English PCM 5.1 Surround, English PCM 2.0 Stereo, English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Bob Clark
Cast: Andrea Martin, Art Hindle, Doug McGrath, James Edmond, John Saxon, Keir Dullea, Lynne Griffin, Margot Kidder, Marian Waldman, Olivia Hussey

I first watched Bob Clark's Black Christmas alone on late night cable TV (or was it VHS?) back in the late 80s or early 90s and it had quite an effect on me, it was unnerving, even though at the time I was deep into horror flicks chock full of gore and nudity, things this film doesn't deliver, but it does deliver an excess of dread and holiday chills. For years this movie was sort of a hidden gem, not much spoken of, but in the past 20 years or so it has become a beloved Christmas-horror classic, one that pre-dated John Carpenter's Halloween, and it's still one of the most effective and chilling slashers of them all. Directed by the late Bob Clark who has two undisputed Christmas classics under his belt, this dread-filled slice of stalk n' slash terror and the family-friendly A Christmas Story, you know, the one with the kid Ralphie on his quest for a mythical Red Rider BB gun? I still get a kick when people figure out the gut who made Porky's and Black Christmas also made A Christmas Story. 

The movie begins with an eerie POV shot of someone creepily stalking around outside the Phi Kappa Sigma sorority house, crawling up the side of the place on a trellis and making their way inside the house through an unlocked attic window. Inside the house a group of sorority sisters are drinking and enjoying a Christmas Party before Winter Break begins. During the celebration Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey, Stephen King's It) answers the phone to the sounds of a heavy-breathing obscene phone caller who has apparently called before, they;ve nicknamed him "the moaner" and listen in to his lunatic ramblings. The witty lush of the group Barb (Margot Kidder, Sisters) grabs the phone and eggs the caller on with her own brand of sailor-mouthed wit before hanging up on him in spectacular fashion. Meanwhile nice girl Clare (Lynne Griffin) heads upstairs to her bedroom to pack her stuff for Christmas break when she is distracted by the mewing sounds of what would seem to be the beloved house cat named Claude coming from within her closet. Entering the closet to find the feline she is attacked and suffocated with a sheet of plastic in a truly shocking and frightful scene. The killer then carries her corpse to the attic and places it in a rocking chair in front of the attic window with the plastic still wrapped around face, it's a frightening image and one that's referenced throughout the film, it's chilling stuff. 

The next day Clare's uptight father arrives looking to take his daughter home, but oddly none of the sorority sisters know where she's gone to. Coming up empty handed they go to the campus police station where they are assured that she has probably just run off with her boyfriend for he weekend, which is of no comfort to her stuffy dad. This turns out not be the case, which we find out when her boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) shows up at the police station confirming to Lt. Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon, A Nightmare on Elm Street). Soon after a young girl from town goes missing and is found murdered in a nearby park, at which point Lt. Fuller begins to suspect that the disappearance of the sorority sister might be connected. Once he finds out that the sorority house has been receiving strange phone calls he places a tap on the phone, which in the 70s seemed like quite a chore - there's  scene of someone from the phone company combing through a huge room full of vintage 70s electronics to track where the calls are coming from.

The creepy phone calls persist and escalate in intensity, the lunatic caller's weird and unnerving profanity laced calls are nightmare fuel and are still one of the most terrifying things about the movie. Hissing phrases like "juicy cock" and "pretty pig cunt" - words that must have been quite shocking to theater goers in the 70's, heck, it still is! We as viewers know that there's a lunatic in the attic, that there's an intruder in the home, but we don't know who it is, but the movie does throw a few possible suspects our way, Clare's boyfriend Chris seems like an alright guy, but Jessica's boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea, 2001: A Space Odyssey) is a bit of a high-strung weirdo, an aspiring pianist with a violent streak who is angered by Jessica's decision to terminate her pregnancy without his consent, and when the killer crank caller references the abortion it certainly seems like he could be the guy. Like the vulgarity laced prank calls the abortion issue was still pretty taboo in the 70s, and must have been a head-turner, not that abortion is exactly free of stigma these days with Roe having been reversed. 

The tone of the movie is creepy and dread-filled, the sorority house is a great setting and feels very Christmas-y, there's lots of strings of xmas light, there's Christmas carolers, cold winds and snow abound - this is a xmas movie that actually feels very Christmas-y. True to form director Bob Clark manages to sneak in some humor throughout the movie, beginning with Barb's near constant parade of inappropriate comments, such as when she points out sarcastically that "you can't rape a towney" or when she gives the dim-witted keystone cop Sgt. Nash (Douglas McGrath, the gym teacher from Porky's) a phone number with the false exchange of FE for "felatio", which never fails to make me laugh. Also golden are the interactions between the sorority housemother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) with Clare's stuffy father, which is always good stuff, with her trying in vain to cover up the racy counter-culture posters on the bedroom walls. Ms. Mac is a just a hoot, a fun old broad who hides bottles of liquor in the back of the toilet tank and inside of cleverly hollowed out books, she even rinses her mouth with whiskey after brushing her teeth, this broad might have a problem! 

The moments of humor serve to heighten the fear, this movie is a chiller through and through, as the killer continues to make the creepy phone calls, emerging from his hiding place within the house to claim more victim one by one until there remains only one, and only then does she realize with the help of the phone tap that the calls are actually coming from within the house! Sure, everyone seems to remember a similar scenario is When A Stranger Calls but this is the first movie to do the whole the-calls-are-coming-from-in-the-house thing. As frightful as this movie can be it is not a gore-classic by any means, the terror comes through the use of shadows, dread and some chilling sound design, though a few of the kills are rather inspired. The suffocating of Clare with the plastic wrap at the beginning is visceral and terrifying, the way her corpse is revisited throughout the movie is also eerily effective. The way poor Mrs. Mac goes out with an implied hook to the face is also just brutal, and another death by glass unicorn would not be out of place in a prime era Argento flick. While the movie is not a river of blood the imagery and execution is blood curdling stuff, a few scenes of the killer's eye peering through the darkness are potent images. 

One of the strongest aspects of the movie is the ensemble cast, the sorority sisters are a fun bunch, they feel realistic, not too over-the-top, beginning with Margot Kidder as the acerbic lush Barb, I loved her. Then we have Jessica played by Olivia Hussey who turns out to be the final girl at a time before we really had the final girl formula of the 80s, she does good work throughout. Andrea Martin from SCTV shows up as one of the more buttoned-down sisters, she doesn't do a whole lot or get a ton of screen time, but I love that you at least get a feel for these people before their numbers are up. Of course I have to mention one Mr. John Saxon (Tenebre) as the detective, this guy always classes up a picture! Black Christmas is a tense watch that does it without resorting to epic amounts of gore or nudity, but through the use of tone, shadow and crafty sound design, and it only gets better with age, and what an ending, the phone ringing over the closing credits, so chilling, so good! 

Audio/Video: Black Christmas arrives on region B Blu-ray from 101 Films in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. The movie is a low-budget 70s movie so it is never going to be pristine and overly crisp, but  grain is well-managed, black levels are pleasing, and colors look accurate. Audio come by way of English PCM 5.1 Surround, English PCM 2.0 Stereo, English DTS-HD MA Mono with optional English subtitles. 

As for archival extras we have three commentaries, the first and most essential is the Audio Commentary with director Bob Clark, a second Audio Commentary with actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea, and a third Audio Commentary with Billy (actor Nick Mancuso) who does the track inthe character of Billy, which really is a novelty. Other archival extras include the 26-min Film and Furs – Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle, the 27-min Victims and Virgins - Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin, 40-min Black Christmas Legacy, the 18-min 40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014 featuring John Saxon, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin and Nick Mancuso, the 20-min 12 Days of Black Christmas featurette, the 36-min Black Christmas Revisited featurette, 21-min Midnight Screening Q&A with Bob Clark, John Saxon and Carl Zittrer, plus 3-minutes of Original TV and Radio Spots

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with director Bob Clark
- Audio Commentary with actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea
- Audio Commentary with Billy (actor Nick Mancuso)
- Film and Furs – Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle (26 Min) 
- Victims and Virgins - Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin (27 min) 
- Black Christmas Legacy (40 min)  
- 40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014 featuring John Saxon, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin and Nick Mancuso (18 min)  
- 12 Days of Black Christmas featurette (20 min) 
- Black Christmas Revisited featurette (36 min) 
- Midnight Screening Q&A with Bob Clark, John Saxon and Carl Zittrer (21 mins) 
- Original TV and Radio Spots (3 min) 

We were only sent "check discs" for the purpose of this review so no comment in the packaging and ephemera, but retail copies also include newly commissioned artwork for all three titles with reversible sleeves of artwork, a booklet with new writing on the director’s career, a set of art cards - all of which add some collectability to the package. All three of the films have been released in the U.S. on Blu-ray, with Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things and Black Christmas even getting UHD updates, and notably those U.S. releases from VCI Entertainment, Blue Underground and Scream Factory have their own exclusive content that is absent from this U.K. set. The sole exclusive extra here is the new audio commentary on Deathdream, which is pretty terrific and not to be discounted. 

The 3-film, 3-disc Bob Clark: Horror Collection from 101 Films is a terrific UL set for those looking to own this trio of early Bob Cark trio of terrors on one attractive looking set, which is something we don't have available to us here in the US due to licensing being held by three separate entities. The set offers solid A/V presentations for all three films, plus we get some terrific new and archival extras, and the packaging looks top-notch.