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Bay of the Living Dead: A Shout Out For Scream Factory

BAY OF THE LIVING DEAD PART 2 copy

Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a twice-a-month column about horror movies and TV, past, present and future.

Scream Factory, Shout Factory’s wonderfully sublime horror label, brings four fondly remembered B chillers from the early 1970s to Blu-Ray.

DunRue

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) and The Dunwich Horror (1970), both from the drive-in mavens at American International Pictures,  are offered on a double feature disc. Rue Morgue is auteur Gordon Hessler’s “remake”  of Universal’s same named Bela Lugosi film of 1932. In actuality, Hessler’s film has nothing to do with the earlier film, or with the Edgar Allan Poe tale which inspired it. In an interview shot ten years ago and included on Scream Factory’s disc, Hessler admitted that the story was changed because he felt audiences were overly familiar with Poe’s original–Hessler wanted to give the storyline a “fresh” approach.

A Poe film in name only, Murders in the Rue Morgue offers beautiful art direction. Set in 19th century Paris but actually shot in an historic town in Spain, Murders features a lots of eye candy–it’s a sumptuously shot period piece about a series or murders taking place among a theater company who’s specialty is offering tales of horror and murder upon the stage. In one cleverly written scene the killer disguises himself by wearing an ape costume and appearing on the stage in place of the actor he’s just killed.

Unfortunately some deft touches to the screenplay cannot hide the fact that Murders isn’t scary. The film’s lighting is too bright and flat–the film doesn’t look or feel like a horror movie. It was a definite step down for Oscar winner Jason Robards –who was filling in for usual AIP Poe stalwart Vincent Price–to take the film’s leading role. But the actor, one of his generation’s greats–gives his all and is a strong, vital presence throughout the proceedings.

Shout Factory offers the restored 98 minute director’s cut of Murders in the Rue Morgue–the disc is eleven minutes longer than the theatrical release print and includes a few sequences deemed “too gruesome” for 1971 moviegoers. The film’s original trailer is included.

Hollywood eyebrows were raised when late 50s/early 60s teen idol Sandra Dee agreed to star in American International’s adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror–many in Tinseltown saw the film as a comedown for an actress who had co-starred in smash hits like A Summer Place and Imitation of Life (both 1959). Dee, who was 28 years old in 1970, saw Dunwich as a chance to segue into adult roles–according to film historian Steve Haberman’s superb commentary track included on Scream’s Blu Ray, the actress hoped that The Dunwich Horror would do for her what Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby had done for Mia Farrow two years earlier.

Sadly for the fading star, American International Pictures was no Paramount. The Dunwich Horror was released to second tier theaters and proved to be Dee’s final feature film–that the film was a moneymaker did not help the actress’ career.

So is the film a negative mark in the Sandra Dee filmography? 45 years after its release we can look upon The Dunwich Horror and see it as an atmospheric and spooky supernatural tale. Dee gives a strong performance as a young librarian who’s falling in love with a mysterious young man (Dean Stockwell)–he seeks to use her as a conduit to bring an ancient, supernatural race back into into the world.

Stockwell’s house, located in the fogbound, isolated town of Dunwich, is a creepy delight–a gargantuan Gothic monstrosity decorated in dark antiques. Stockwell is perfect as the film’s villain. Handsome and restrained, he exudes a sex appeal which attracts the young woman who cannot see what the audience can–the evil lurking beneath the surface of his polite exterior.

Ed Begley, Sam Jaffe and Lloyd Bochner, all largely forgotten today, were at the time well known and respected character actors–they make up the bulk of the film’s supporting cast. Jaffe is particularly good as Stockwell’s seemingly insane grandfather who doesn’t like what his grandson is up to. And look for a very young Talia Shire (The Godfather, Rocky) in a small role as a nurse.

Steve Haberman’s commentary track offers a wealth of information on the making of the film and it’s cast. We learn, among other things, that Sandra Dee’s career wasn’t destroyed by The Dunwich Horror–it was the star’s own inner demons which led to her downfall.

The Dunwich Horror‘s theatrical trailer is also included on the disc.

Ssssssss

The strangely titled Sssssss (1973) is not a film to watch if you have an aversion to snakes. For everyone else, its a dandy sci-fi/horror hybrid about a mad scientist (Strother Martin) engaged in some rather disconcerting experiments with reptiles: he wants to turn a human being into a King Cobra–the deadliest creature on earth. The doc thinks that humanity will soon die out and hopes that by turning people into cobras, they will survive the coming apocalypse.

Martin, at the time a well known actor, gives a bone chilling performance as a sociopath who honestly believes that he’s helping humanity–the doctor is oblivious to the pain he’s causing. Sequences in which he and his hapless lab assistant (Dirk Benedict) play with live snakes are cringe worthy–we can only hope that the poor slithering creatures we see onscreen weren’t made to suffer for their art.

Benedict, never a great actor, gives a decent performance as a not-to-bright young man who can’t see that the shots he’s being given (to make him immune to snake venom, he’s told) are in fact altering his body chemistry. When Benedict turns green and begins shedding his skin, the audience might gasp in shock along with him–the make-up applied to the young actor is quite effective.

While certainly no classic, Sssssss (Don’t say it, hiss it!!) manages to pull off a few good scares. It’s a fun B movie, worth checking out. Benedict appears in a newly shot interview in which he recalls the making of the film–he speaks quite eloquently about his co-stars. Again, the disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer.

Werewolf

The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973) is the weakest film in the bunch. This lycanthropic take on The Boy Who Cried Wolf fable is marred by a lack of scares and a sleepwalking cast.

Scott Sealey plays an annoyingly obnoxious pre-teen who witnesses his dad bitten by a werewolf while the two are on a camping trip–the werewolf looks like he’s wearing a Halloween mask that the producers might have bought at Walgreen’s. Soon, dad begins exhibiting strange tendencies–the kid knows his father has turned but no one believes him.

Kerwin Mathews gives a passable performance as the ill-fated dad who’s slowly forced to face what’s happened to him. The actor is best remembered for his starring roles in Ray Harryhausen‘s Sinbad films–Sinbad director Nathan Juran calls the shots here.

The Boy Who Cried Werewolf is very is too damn show, even by early 70s standards. There’s way too much set-up and not enough story–the film features an ridiculously long sidebar about a group of Jesus worshiping hippies which goes on-and-on and has little to do with the main plot. Those werewolf masks are laughably fake looking.

Shout Factory offers superb prints–with clear, sharp sound–on all four films. English subtitle options are available on all discs. 

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Tales_from_the_crypt_presents_demon_knight

Like many, I was delighted when the long shuttered New Mission Theater reopened under the auspices of the Alamo Drafthouse chain. First built in 1916 and remodeled in 1932, the New Mission is one of only a small handful of classic movie palaces currently operating. Alamo Drafthouse’s Mike Keegan tells us that programming will include a mix of first run fare and classic repertory. Those classics will include a few scary chillers on Terror Tuesdays and Weird Wednesdays.

Check out Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knighthosted by the charmingly creepy Crypt Keeper at the New Mission on Tuesday, August 16, and the shot-in-San Francisco demonic/zombie slasher flick Neon Maniacs on Tuesday, August 23.

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Creature_from_the_Black_Lagoon_posterAnd finally, Bobby Collins, adorably cute host of my favorite web series Dusty Old Movies, is back with another hilariously scary episode. This time Bobby looks back upon The Creature From the Black Lagoonthe perfect monster flick for those who enjoy looking at scantily clad, dripping wet bathing beauties–males and females alike are on display, so name your poison.

BOO!

 

 

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David Elijah Nahmod

David Elijah Nahmod

I, David-Elijah Nahmod am a Queer, American/Israeli half breed who has lived in New York City and Tel Aviv.
Currently in San Francisco, my eclectic writing career includes LGBT publications (news and entertainment) and monster magazines. In 2012 I was voted Film Reviewer of the Year at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Film Awards.
Look for me in Bay Area Reporter, Hoodline.com, South Florida Gay News, Echo Magazine, Outfront, Scary Monsters Magazine, Videoscope, and, of course, Broke Ass Stuart, (I'm so broke it's SCARY!)
Now, let's watch a horror movie!

  • Jeff Baker

    Poor old Lovecraft has not been served well by cinema, I’m afraid! I remember when “Sssssss” came out, I’ll avoid it! (Scared of snakes 🙂 ) As for “The Boy Who Cried Werewolf,” when I was about 13 the High School my Mom worked at would show movies in the evenings now and then. (That’s where I saw “Horsefeathers.”) I didn’t go see “Werewolf” when they showed it, but she did (she was kind of chaperone) and was unimpressed. I gather the werewolf bored his victims to death!

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