Double Feature disc
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
1:66 flat letterbox
Street Date May 11, 2004
In 1964 or 1965, a little outfit called Magna released this double bill of dubbed
European horror films. As the liner notes on Retromedia's DVD points out, we had no idea that
the pictures represented subgenres that wouldn't be fully defined until later: the German "krimi" and
the Eurohorror thriller.
Retromedia is a label that sometimes puts out disappointing discs, but they've given some care to
this double bill release. The prints used (Ghost 35mm, Dead Eyes 16mm) are not
perfect, but they're
basically intact and are transferred to look as good as possible. They're better than Reference
Quality, good enough to give us a solid idea of what the originals might look like, and they'll
do nicely until the titles are released in ideal versions with original foreign language tracks. 1
1963 / Color / 93 min. / Lo Spettro
Starring Barbara Steele, Peter Baldwin, Elio Jotta (Leonard G. Elliott),
Cinematography Raffaele Masciocchi (Donald Green)
Art Director Mario Chiari (Sammy Fields)
Editor Ornella Micheli (Donna Christie)
Original Music Roman Vlad, Francesco De Masi, Franco Mannino (Franck Wallace)
Written by Riccardo Freda and Robert Davidson
Produced by Luigi Carpentieri, Ermanno Donati (Louis Mann)
Directed by Riccardo Freda (Robert Hampton)
Eurohorror has been covered darn well by DVD in the last seven years, thanks to the great work of
pioneering independent labels that produced quality genre discs coveted by the younger early
adopters of the format. Almost everything by Mario Bava has been released on DVD, for instance. But
the work of Antonio Margheriti is still pretty thinly represented
(Castle of Blood), and for the
initiator of the Eurohorror movement, Riccardo Freda, there is just one (rather good) entry,
Freda's greatest horror film is
The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, a
wonderfully perverse and eerily atmospheric tale with a morbid delirium that overcomes its
narrative inconsistencies. The Ghost is about a Doctor Hitchcock, has Barbara Steele
and was made by almost the exact same crew, but it isn't a sequel. It's a straight gothic murder
thriller with greed at its core.
Spiritualism devotee Dr. John Hitchcock (Elio Jotta) is undergoing therapy for his
paralysis with Dr. Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin). The risky treatment involves taking the
poison curare to shock the system, followed quickly by an antidote. Livingstone connives with
Hitchcock's wife Margaret (Barbara Steele) to kill the older man and inherit his fortune. All
goes well until the safe with the loot turns up empty, and Charles and Margaret start seeing
frightening phantoms. Servant Catherine (Harriet White Medin) falls into trances and speaks
with John's voice, warning Margaret that Charles will betray her and telling her that she
can retrieve his fortune from its hiding place ... in the crypt.
The Ghost has plenty of Riccardo Freda's directorial problems. Once a director of top Italian
popular classics, when Freda reached the horror genre he appeared to hit some level of burn-out,
shooting only parts of films before jettisoning big sections of script, or leaving cameraman Mario
Bava to finish up for him. His films are noted for isolated scenes of exquisite funereal creepiness
surrounded by indifferent and slow-moving sections where the camera seems arbitrarily planted just
to get the scene over with.
This is a fairly well-organized tale of murder with the expected hauntings that unnerve the killers
and eventually lead to their undoing in as macabre a way as possible. There's a beautiful funeral
scene as in the first Hichcock film, and frequent stunning closeups of Steele that one
wishes one could frame. Just when things start looking sloppy, a great shot will appear to revive
our interest - an extreme color design or careful composition, or an interesting idea like having
the lens drip with blood as Steele lacerates her victim (us) with a straight razor.
The dubbing is better than usual and although there's no all-time great performance here like that
of Robert Flemyng in the first picture, the four principal actors are good. Barbara Steele's
acting is better than usual mainly because her character has a little more to convey
than just looking scared or perfidiously sensual. Returnee Harriet White (Medin) contributes a
less-mannered version of the same character. There's still the odd scene here and there that
makes us think nobody was in charge, including one where Babs enters her bedroom and gets ready
as if following step-by-step instructions from behind the camera. But her later breakdown scene
is quite an achievement for her. She's more iconographically evil in
Black Sunday and sexier in
Castle of Blood, but this is one
of her better "resumé" roles.
Phil Hardy goes over the deep end praising The Ghost's "delirious" visual qualities
in his Encyclopedia of Horror movies, and gets the ending wrong too. The windup is a great combo
of the end situation in Steele's
Pit and the Pendulum, combined with a
macabre variation on an un-filmed twist ending for Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion, the one
that actually got used for William Castle's noir When Strangers Marry. It reads
better than the way Freda films it, but it's still pretty good.
Retromedia's DVD presents The Ghost on the same side of a disc with its co-feature, but the
encoding is very good. There's none of the frame-blurring and blobbing in the black areas that
plague some "professional" DVDs that I am beginning to think are sometimes literally homemade. The
transfer is done on a good telecine, as evidenced by the slight distortion caused when splices go
through the gate, as opposed to jumping in the image. There are many little bumps like that,
but none that disturb the picture or interrupt the nicely cleaned-up audio track. The mix for
this export English language version is crude but effective; the score appears to be a collection of
borrowed tracks, as some very recognizable Roman Vlad cues from The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock
The color is not terrific but also not a washout. The contrast isn't good enough and can't be improved
because the blacks are already crushed to a dark gray, with little or no detail in them. The film
was originally released in Technicolor and I would guess that this is a good 16mm reduction from
a 35mm Tech print, or a so-so negative made from a splicy 35mm Tech print. No, it's nothing like
watching a really good color transfer, but we at least get a good idea of how beautiful the
original was. It's as close as we can get for now.
As discussed recently on the web's
The Mobius Forum, Retromedia has
actually corrected a problem that was built into most of the 16mm-sourced versions of this movie.
Astute viewers long ago noticed that the first two scenes were reversed, scrambling the sense of
the titles. With a quick rearrangement, the movie now has a smooth opening instead of a "Huh?"
stumble-start. In 1991 Savant tried to watch a Sinister Cinema VHS of this and gave up, it was
so poor. This Retromedia copy is far better, even if it isn't going to win any awards.
Dead Eyes of London
1961 / B&W / 98 min. / Die Toten Augen von London
Starring Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin Baal, Dieter Borsche, Wolfgang Lukschy,
Eddi Arent, Anneli Sauli, Klaus Kinski
Cinematography Karl Löb
Art Director Mathias Matthies, Ellen Schmidt
Editor Ira Oberberg
Original Music Heinz Funk
Written by Egon Eis from a novel by Edgar Wallace
Produced by Horst Wendlandt
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
The German popular thriller genre known as "krimi" hasn't been seen much in the United States. A
Krimi is a medium budget program whodunnit picture that typically has a large cast of would-be killers
and victims working their way through a bizarre series of crimes. Many are set in England,
especially those based on books by Edgar Wallace.
This particular story was made once before in 1940 as
The Dark Eyes of London aka The Human Monster, with
Bela Lugosi playing two roles. Once again, a thriller is dressed up with gothic horror overtones,
although there's nothing supernatural afoot this time. There's no horror star in sight (Lugosi was
excellent in the Associated British original) but there is a hulking, hairy killer with a grotesque
imbecilic grin to inspire nightmares.
High crimes in London town. Rich men are found drowned in the river and Inspector
Larry Holt (Joachim Fuchsberger) thinks that the monstrous "Blind Jack" Jack Farrell (Ady Berber)
is on the prowl again. Investigation uncovers a mix of characters both virtuous and unsavory: Nora
Ward (Karin Baal), a Braille expert who can decipher clues; Stephan Judd (Wolfgang Lukschy), owner
of an insurance company; Judd's suspicious clerk Edgar Strauss (Klaus Kinski); and a blackmailer
called Flicker-Fred (Harry Wüstenhagen). On Larry's side are his eccentric detective assistant
Sunny Harvey (Eddi Arent) and Paul Dearborn, the kind administrator of a home for elderly blind
men (Dieter Borsche). The clues fly fast and furious - even Nora looks culpable when she's
revealed as one of the insurance benefactors of a murdered man.
These thrillers must have been at the heart of the postwar German film industry. Fritz Lang's
Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse was
really a more fanciful and ambitious Krimi effort. Die Toten Augen von London employs a
battery of experienced actors who repeatedly turned up in Krimis. Comic relief Eddi Arent's jokes
didn't translate well into English in
Circus of Fear, but he's still making
Krimi-like TV movies in Germany. Handsome stars Joachim Fuchsberger and Wolfgang Lukschy were
exported as the "German name" for the international productions The Face of Fu Manchu and
Fistful of Dollars respectively.
Karin Baal also never stopped working.
Edgar Wallace's story is elaborated into a fancy insurance scam scheme that uses hidden relationships
between the characters to turn what should be obvious into a mystery thriller. No sooner does one
person mention a missing orphaned child, than another character talks about being an orphan unsure
of their identity. Various parties are hiding other crimes or manipulating evidence to shift
suspicion, enabling a serviceable level of suspense. Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity
have uncovered the guilty parties right away just by following the profit chain. And that old
Perry Mason rule applies here too: the most obviously malicious characters are never guilty. Slimy
blackmailer Flicker-Fred pokes his spring-loaded stiletto around but is an obvious patsy. Featured
player and future star Klaus Kinski is surely a villain, but is he the right villain?
The blindness gimmick is well-utilized to give the proceedings a gothic feel. 2
The murders only occur in the thick London fog, and the central location is a homeless mission for
single blind men that resembles something out of Dickens, or at least Fritz Lang's "M".
Gentle reverend Dearborn plays Beethoven for his boarders, sometimes to block out the sounds of
skullduggery elsewhere in his Thames-side establishment. Several characters have those spooky
collodion eyes with no pupils that make blindness look like an eerie curse.
Dead Eyes of London's monster is Blind Jack, a huge and gross Tor Johnson type played by
Ady Berber, who was also an ex-wrestler. He had a featured role (among 250) in Ben-Hur but
is best remembered as the dimwit circus strongman in the King Brothers' Carnival Story, the
one who threatens to kill Anne Baxter high on a carnival ride. Here he's gross and filthy and much
less pitiful; Blind Jack functions as a stooge assassin like the killer gorilla in the Florey
Murders in the Rue Morgue. Heavy matted hair covers his arms and hands and his big dopey
grin, egg-white eyeballs and bald head make him a particularly disturbing boogeyman. Blind Jack
locates his victims by sound just like the Blind Templars in the Spanish De Ossorio movies, a
stylish twist that can't be very practical. How does he get around in unfamiliar places, or
know that his killings are being witnessed?
Alfred Vohrer's direction is lively and certainly gimmicky enough to keep things popping. Most
scenes begin or end fixated on cogent details, and using the narrative shorthand of Fritz Lang
the tight script often cuts sharply from the mention of a person or place, directly
to that person or place. Few
opportunities for extreme angles are passed up. A macabre murder in an elevator shaft (with a
false elevator car floor made of paper, a diabolical trick) has no down-view showing the deadly fall,
but another scene starts with the silly camera point of view looking at a dentist at work - from
inside his patient's throat!
The story moves to an okay climax, with the very non-macho Eddi Arent pausing long enough from his
fussy knitting hobby to reveal himself as a crack shot and great action man. His comedy schtick
is thick but pleasant, and I imagine that the cumulative effect of the Krimis was like a
continuing TV show where predictable and familiar personalities returned to
make us feel more at home.
Retromedia's copy of Dead Eyes of London is a basic match for its co-feature, with an edge
because when the quality drops B&W doesn't lose viewability as fast as color does. Like The
it's not enhanced but is matted to a pleasing 1:66. There are few more splices here (with noisy
pops this time around) but most are in a single short section and only one non-essential dialogue line
is affected. Otherwise the track is good - the dubbing is very good, actually. The mix doesn't
hurt the moody music, which switches to corny organ tones whenever a killing is imminent.
Retromedia seems to be reaching for a better product here; although they haven't sprung for enhanced
transfers they're trying to do the best with what they've got. This time the liner notes are
accurate and serious, with Mirek Lipinski providing good information as well as a gallery of
production stills from the German movie. One shot of Berber strangling Baal is followed by an
amusing joke still of Baal strangling Berber! There's also an insert booklet that
reproduces the German pressbook from the popular Krimi, a frill atypical of Retromedia.
Each feature is preceded by the same "now for our feature presentation" theatrical herald used by
Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill Vol. One.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Dead Eyes of London rates:
Video: Fair ++
Supplements: Still montage
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 30, 2004
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Ghost rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Fair ++
Sound: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 30, 2004
1. Reference Quality
to Savant means something you watch when nothing better is available. In my case, seeing
The Ghost in any form is better than not seeing it at all.
2. Substitute wagons and buggies for a couple of modern trucks and
automobiles, and the story might as well be happening in 1920 or 1895.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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