Tuesday, June 18, 2024

CATACOMBS (THE WOMAN WHO WOULDNT DIE) (1965) (Imprint Films Blu-ray Review)

Imprint Collection #317 

Label: Imprint Films
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 90 Minutes 8 Seconds 
Audio: English PCM 2.0 Dual-Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1) 
Director:  Gordon Hessler
Cast: Gary Merrill, Georgina Cookson, Jane Merrow, Rachel Thomas, Neil McCallum

Brit-thriller Catacombs (1965) aka The Woman Who Wouldn't Die as it was re-titled h
ere in the U.S., is based on the 1959 novel by Jay Bennett and directed by Gordon Hessler, who made a quite a few memorable genre pictures in his time. He was the man behind such films as The Oblong Box (1969), Scream and Scream Again (1970), Cry of the Banshee (1970), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971), the Bette Davis made-for-TV thriller Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973), and of course the infamous TV film Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978), which is actually one of the first films I can remember seeing on TV as a kid. It's something terrible, but that sort of made-for-TV movie nostalgia lasts forever, I love it. It's like a Scooby-Doo cartoon brought to life complete with the band having super powers, robotic counterfeit band members, and an evil amusement park animatronic engineer - what's not to love? 

Anyway, Catacombs (1965) was Hessler's first feature film, and was apparently a story he came across while working on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV program, and while they passed on it he chose it as his directorial debut. In it 
wealthy businesswoman Ellen Garth (Georgina Cookson, Your Money or Your Wife) is completely devoted to her husband Richard (Gary Merrill, Destination Inner Space), but he is repulsed by her domineering ways. After meeting Ellen's much younger and more attractive niece Alice (Jane Merrow, Hands of the Ripper) who is visiting after graduating art school sparks fly almost immediately between the two, but when Ellen catches them in each other's arms she threatens to toss him out on his ear minus her wealth, and then insists that he carry her upstairs to their bedroom and and pleasures her so good that she forgets his little indiscretion. That night he ends up drowning her in the bathroom sink, then buries her corpse in makeshift coffin in the backyard shed. Also roped into the scheme is Ellen's crooked assistant Richard 'Dick' Corbett (Neil McCallum, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors), who is actually the one who first proposed a way to kill Ellen, whom he also despised, and fears would eventually discover his crooked ways. His plan involved Ellen's upcoming trip to Italy as the perfect opportunity to off her. With now Ellen dead they devise a way to make it look like she has left the country, Corbett hires an ametuer actress he's friendly with to disguise herself as Ellen, go to the airport under the guise of being her, and then travelling to Italy. In Italy Corbett meets up with her and takes a trip to the countryside where on a remote stretch of road he pulls over and bashes her on the head with a rock, stuffing her into the front seat of her car, soaking it in gas and rolling it off a steep embankment, making it look like Ellen has died in a fiery accident. 

After her death is announced Richard inherits everything and Alice comes to lives with him, but skeptical housekeeper Christine (Rachel Thomas) begins to have her doubts about Ellen's death, growing suspicious of Richard. Both Richard and Alice, the latter of whom in unaware of the murder plot, begin to feel the spirit of Ellen haunting them, offering some hysterical old dark house scares, the couple suspecting that they're either being haunted or cracking up. This leads to a finale that owes a lot to Henri-Georges Clouzot's murder-shocker Les Diaboliques (1955) with a disappearing corpse and unforeseen follies that threaten to spoil Richard's new life. 

I had a great time with this one, Gordon Hessler's direction is solid, there's plenty of of suspense and eerie happenings, and Gary Merrill is pretty solid as the murderous hubby whose skin crawls when he's made to show his wife affection, all the while not-so-secretly lusting after her niece, it's all very macabre and salacious. The scenes of the much younger Alice swapping spit with the older Richard is truly a gag-inducing sight, it's an inexplicable attraction, until it isn't, and the way that it all wraps up is spirited fun with EC Comics-esque comeuppance aplenty, and some not wholly unexpected twist and turns, but they are still quite engaging. 

Audio/Video: Catacombs (1965) makes it;s worldwide Blu-ray debut on region-free Blu-ray (only 1500 minted) from Imprint Films in 1080p HD framed in the original 1.66:1 widescreen, sourced from a 2023 4K restoration of the original nitrate negative. The black and white film looks marvelous, grain is filmic and well-managed, grayscale look wonderful, black levels and shadow detail are strong, and the image is crisp.The lensing from Arthur Lewis (The Earth Dies Screaming) probably has never looked better. Audio comes by way of uncompressed English PCM 2.0 dual-mono with optional English subtitles, the track is clean and well-balanced, it sounds appropriately dated with a narrow range but still impresses, the score from Carlo Martelli (The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb) is unobtrusive and complimentary. 

On top of the wonderful 4K restoration we also get brand new extras for the film;s Blu-ray debut, these come by way of an Audio Commentary by authors Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons (2024); “Merrow and Merrill” – interview with actress Jane Merrow (2024); “The Glynne-Miller Story” – interview with “continuity girl” Renée Glynne and sound editor Colin Miller (2024); “Martelli and Martell”- interview with composer Carlo Martelli (2024), and a Photo Gallery

The single-disc release arrives in an oversized clear keepcase with a 2-sided Non-Reversible Sleeve of Artwork housed inside a First-Pressing Only Slipcover with it's own unique artwork, looking to be the sexily macabre illustrated U.S. one sheet with a glossy finish. 

Special Features:
- 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-ray from a NEW 2023 4K restoration of the original nitrate negative
- NEW! Audio Commentary by authors Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons (2024)
- NEW! “Merrow and Merrill” – interview with actress Jane Merrow (2024) (10:25).
- NEW! “The Glynne-Miller Story” – interview with “continuity girl” Renée Glynne and sound editor Colin Miller (2024) (7:42) 
- NEW! “Martelli and Martell”- interview with composer Carlo Martelli (2024) (10:43) 
- Photo Gallery (4:43) 

Buy it!