With the passing of the late, great BCI, it seems that the Crown International library of drive-in, horror and trash films has shifted over to Mill Creek of all places. You know when you go into your local retailer and see those budget packs of fifty movies for ten bucks? Yeah, usually that's Mill Creek. They're not exactly known for their quality, but then again, neither was BCI before they went legit and they wound up being a cult film fan's best friend for a few years there. Will Mill Creek follow suit? Despite the fact that the audio and video presentation isn't all that and that there are no extras, this release (originally entitled Grindhouse Greats until 'someone' slapped'em for using a word they seem to think they own) is at least a step in the right direction, even if many of these films appeared on past BCI releases.
That said, you can't argue with the price. This set is a deal even with the lackluster A/V quality and crappy packaging - but more on that later. Let's take a look at the movies:
Blood Of Dracula's Castle:
In this 1969 feature from the late, great Al Adamson, a photographer Glen named Cannon (Gene O'Shane) and his sexy fiancé, a model named Liz Arden (Barbara Bishop) inherited a castle called when his strange uncle Thomas passes away. When they arrive, they find that Falconroc is already home to a strange old couple made up of Count Charles Townsend (Alex D'Arcy) and his wife, Countess Townsend (Paula Raymond). It seems that uncle Thomas was renting the old abode out to the pair for a few decades now and they're not really keen on leaving. Neither is Glenn really looking forward to the idea of kicking the old folks out.
What Glenn doesn't know, but which the title of the film really gives away, is that Count Townsend is actually Count Dracula and that he and the Countess have been using the castle to imprison all of the beautiful young women who seem to be so prevalent in the area. With some help from their man slave, Mango (Ray Young) and their butler, George (John Carradine), they've turned the castle's basement into a veritable prison of hotties who blood they drink and who they periodically sacrifice to their dark god, Luna! Making matters even worse is the appearance of the count's old pal, Johnny Davenport (Robert Dix) who has broken out of jail and decided to hide out at the castle despite the fact that the impending full moon will almost certainly transform him into a killer. When Glenn refuses to sell the castle to the Count, he and Liz find themselves in very dire straits indeed...
Goofy even by the ridiculous standards of Adamson's filmography, this is a fun time waster of a film. You can't take any of it too seriously as the entire cast overacts from start to finish and the dime store effects are about as convincing as your next door neighbor's Halloween decorations, but the picture moves at a good pace and features some pretty neat horror clichés in action. Spiders, monsters, girls in chains and fake blood - it's all here, and you get an extra hammy John Carradine on top of all that, the icing on this wonderfully retarded cake.
Going by the skin quotient in this one, it should have been called Boob Mania, as there's a lot more bare female flesh on display than there is bloodshed. Long a staple of the VHS discount bin since the advent of home video, Robert Vincent O'Neill's film takes place in 70s era Los Angeles where Dr. Craig Cooper (Peter Carpenter) toils away taking care of the aged Ridgeley Waterman (Eric Allison). The once mighty Waterman, a former hospital big wig, has been crippled by a stroke that has left him bedridden. Waterman's former right hand man, Larry (Arell Blanton), turns coat and decides to blackmail the poor old bastard by threatening to go public with some rather damning evidence that will prove he performed illegal abortions while interning.
Hunky Dr. Cooper, however, has his hands full trying to evade the lustful eye of Waterman's hot but spoiled daughter, Victoria (Maria de Aragon), the barer of the aforementioned boobs, and what a great pair they are. Cooper tells Victoria he needs to come up with a bunch of money for back taxes and, being madly in love with him, she figures her ailing father won't mind if she dips into his lush bank account to help out the object of her affections in return for some much needed lovin' from Cooper. When Waterman turns up dead, it seems Victoria went all the way and poisoned the old man, leaving Cooper wanting to call the cops on her, but with that sizeable amount of cash dangled in front of him, he keeps quiet and reports that a second stroke did the old man in. Everything looks like it's going to go in their favor until the family lawyer (Alex Rocco) shows up with Victoria's sister Gail (Vicki Peters), who looks set to inherit pretty much all of the family fortune. Victoria's understandably upset, while Cooper notices just how foxy Gail is, and so desperately in need of a hunky doctor's touch!
A fantastic animated opening credits sequence starts this poorly paced though moderately sleazy thriller off with a bang but from there it takes a good forty-five minutes or so for this picture to really go anywhere. The ample nudity helps a bit but the story is pretty tepid. The last half hour redeems the picture enough that it's worth waiting for but much of this one plays out like a bad soap opera, albeit one with considerably more cleavage than most.
Lew Landers' 1963 film is a fair bit more atmospheric and creepy than many of the pictures in this set. In a small, desolate town a hooded maniac is running around murdering people seemingly at random. A few poor saps are buried alive, another run off the road, and no one seems to know who's doing it or why! It turns out that the brother of a local woman, who happens to be the object of a few guys' affections, is quite insane and that he's out making all of this trouble. Thought to be dead, he's obviously alive and well and quite upset with the local populace. The cops get involved and all cooperate in an effort to catch the man before more people wind up dead, but he's craftier than they give him credit for, and oh so willing to do whatever it takes to keep up his murderous ways.
A little on the slow side, this is never the less a pretty atmospheric picture with plenty of mood and some really creepy camera work. The picture takes place almost entirely at night and the small town setting helps keep the creeps coming, it's just a strange looking place for all of this to play out in. The cast isn't anything to write home about, but Rod Lauren is good as the male lead and it's fun to see Denver Pyle show up playing the head sheriff. Not a classic, but like most of the film's in this set, reasonably entertaining.
Nightmare In Wax:
This undeniably fun picture from Bud Townsend (he of X-rated Alice In Wonderland fame) stars the perpetually cool Cameron Mitchell as Vincent Renard, the owner of a wax museum who has seen better days. Bitter and upset about the lot he's been cast in life, some of the actors that he's been tasked with recreating in wax start to wind up missing. Of course, Renard is behind it all, but the rest of the characters in the film have to figure out how and why it's all happening, where people are getting off to and what not.
Predictably bad, Nightmare In Wax is saved by Mitchell's squirrely performance. Playing a scarred and bitter old man would seem to be right up his alley and he's good in the part. The rest of the cast is entirely disposable and the film is lacking in atmosphere and essentially in plot as well but it does have a good sense of visual style highlighted by some rather remarkable color composition work. The score isn't all that memorable but if nothing else the movie looks cool. It's obviously borrowing from House Of Wax and it's nowhere near as good as that picture but a few stand out moments and plenty of unintentional humor and awkward dialogue make it a prime choice for fans of low budget bad horror films. It's also fun to see John 'Bud' Cardos (the genius behind Kingdom Of The Spiders) show up as one of the cops.
The Devil's Hand:
This black and white picture from 1962 is more of a mystery than a horror film and lumping it in as a 'Gorehouse Great' when there's really no gore at all in it is a bit of an odd choice, but here it is regardless. The film follows Rick Turner (Robert Alda), a suave dude who's lucky enough to be engaged to foxy Donna Trent (Ariadna Welter) but who is unfortunately plagued by vivid nightmares in which a strikingly beautiful and wonderfully photographed blonde chick (Linda Christian) dances for him. It doesn't sound all that nightmarish, does it? It's not, really, but what can you do.
At any rate, Rick mysteriously winds up at a doll store on night, and is compelled by the place enough that he decides to take Donna there again the next day figuring that this place is somehow tied in to his dreams. Upon their arrival he finds a doll that has an uncanny resemblance to his fiancé, but the store owner doesn't want him to have it, instead he wants him to have an entirely different doll, on that looks just like, you guessed it, the dancing blonde from his dreams. Rick decides to look for this woman and winds up seduced by her and eventually coerced into joining a cult all the while Donna's life is put into danger by the creepy store owner.
Cheap, goofy and not particularly scary at least this one moves at a good pace. It kind of has to at only seventy minutes in length. It's got a bit of atmosphere one the whole 'cult' angle kicks in but this isn't a particularly memorable film, though again, as a time waster it's alright. This is one of those movies that'll fit the bill when you want something on in the background that you don't have to pay too much attention to. At least Linda Christian and Ariadna Welter are fun to look at and the camerawork is competent and smart enough to show them off as much as possible.
Madmen Of Mandoras:
Better known as They Saved Hitler's Brain, this goofy 1963 schlock fest from David Bradley is set at the end of the Second World War and it follows Professor John Coleman (John Holland), a famous neurobiologist (is there such a thing?) who has the unfortunate luck of finding himself kidnapped. You see, this guy has just discovered a formula that renders nerve gas entirely harmless. At any rate, a bunch of high ranking Nazis have saved Hitler's brain and taken it to the remote island of Mandoras where they're hoping that they can get this doctor guy to help bring Der Fuhrher back to restore the Third Reich to its former glory. Thankfully the doctor's hot daughter (Audrey Caire) and her tough as nails husband hear what's happened to dear old dad and decide to launch a rescue mission to get him back and stop the Nazi's from launching another attempt at world conquest.
Remarkable in how cheap and completely terrible it is, this picture is never the less a whole lot of fun. The premise alone makes it worth a look, and it's made all the more unintentionally hilarious by the abundance of terrible acting and even worse dialogue. There are continuity gaffs galore, plenty of cheap jack props to marvel at, and yep, Hitler's head sitting there in a big old glass jar. Is it good? No, not even close, but it is a whole lot of fun.
Just when you were exclaiming out loud to yourself 'this boxed set doesn't have enough snakes in it,' it comes time to dive headfirst into William Grefe's criminally underrated Stanley. The picture tells the story of a Native American Vietnam veteran named Tim Ochopee (Chris Robinson). Since moving back to the good ol' U.S. of A. and leaving the 'Nam far behind, he's been having a tough time trying to live a normal life. Tim doesn't want anything to dowith the old Indian reservation he once called home, and he's plagued by horrible migraine headaches. It would seem that something is not quite right with Tim, who holds a serious grudge against local rich guy Thompkins (Alex Rocco again). See, Tim's dad got shot in a hunting accident in which he suspects Thompkins of deliberately setting up.
Alone in this world save for the snakes that he rounds up for the local hospital where they produce anti-venom, Tim becomes more and more antisocial, and he eventually starts talking to a big scary rattlesnake that he names Stanley. When Thompkins, who has made quite a good living for himself selling snakeskin goods decides to send two poachers (Mark Harris and Steve Alaimo) to steal all of Tim's snake buddies, our hero's fur understandably gets up. Thompkins then decides to send in a hired killer in the form of a guy named Psycho Simpson (Paul Avery) to kill him and, around the same time, a skanky looking stripper starts biting the heads off of snakes. Seriously. So yeah, you can see where this is all going. Snake loving Tim gets pretty pissed off at pretty much everyone around him and so he and his snake pals decide to set things right.
Kind of a cross between Billy Jack and the Shaw Brother's Killer Snakes, this is hands down the coolest movie in this set and in retrospect it's kind of surprising that this isn't more popular in cult movie circles than it is. Where else are you going to see strippers biting the heads off of rattlesnakes while an audience applauds as if they're just witnessed the greatest performance ever? Where else do you get to see Alex Rocco, who starred in The Godfather, slumming it with guys like Pyscho Simpson? And then there's the snakes - lots of them! Snakes show up everywhere in this movie: swimming pools, indoors, outdoors, in fact, Tim spends most of the time with his favorite snake Stanley wrapped around his neck. As it all winds up to its inevitable conclusion, set to something that sounds suspiciously like a Helen Reddy song (but isn't), you have to admire this film's bad-assedness. William Grefe should have got a medal for this one.
Directed by Norman J. Warren (the same man who did Inseminoid and Satan's Slave) this film was released theatrically in the United States by Crown and as such, it didn't go to Media Blasters like many of the other Norman J. Warren titles did.
After a fun 'movie within a movie' style opening scene we learn that horror movie director James Garrick (John Nolan) and his family have had to deal with a curse for years now. When he casts his cousin, Ann (Carolyn Courage), in his most recent movie, it seems that the curse becomes active again and essentially the witch that we see get decapitated in the opening scene, a woman named Mad Dolly, rises from the dead to cause problems again. It seems that Garrick has been, rather foolishly, mining the family history for movie ideas and the witch is none too happy about that. Soon enough, Ann is acting strange and people start winding up dead in increasingly gruesome fashion.
There isn't much story here and the film borrows very heavily from Dario Argento's Suspiria (it's hard not to notice the influence) though it doesn't work on the same level as its inspiration. There are some fantastic and rather bloody murders here that keep things moving along at a good pace and the film works well if you approach it expecting nothing more than a fun ninety minutes of trashy horror. There isn't much in the way of legitimate suspense and it's fairly easy to see where it's all going early on but the murder set pieces are definitely creative and the art direction is quite stylish.
Nolan and Courage are decent enough in their roles, and if they aren't remarkable they are at least believable enough. Interestingly enough, Peter Mayhew, best known as Chewbacca, shows up in a small part which will prove amusing to those who only know him when he's covered in fur and growling at Stormtroopers. Even if you've never seen him without his suit on, he's still pretty easy to spot - he's the big tall hairy guy. At under eighty minutes the movie goes by quickly and as such there's enough carnage and slickly shot mayhem in here to ensure that even if the characters are rather shallow and the premise a little hokey, the film is never dull.
Another Norman J. Warren picture, this film follows a pretty teenager named Catherine (Candace Glendenning) whose parents drag her off to visit Uncle Alexander (Michael Gough) who lives in a fancy old mansion out in the middle of nowhere. As luck would have it, they get into a nasty car accidents right in front of the hold house, and while Catherine escapes, her mother and father burn to death in the wreckage before she can get help. Uncle Alexander, helped out by his son Stephen (Martin Potter) and his secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman), do their best to console the poor girl and take care of her, but something is not quite right.
As Catherine's twentieth birthday draws near it becomes apparent that Alexander and the rest of his housemates are the leaders of a Satanic cult and that they intend to use poor Catherine in one of their upcoming ceremonies.
Not one of Warren's better efforts, the film takes a pretty nifty premise and drags it out. Plagued by some rather obvious pacing problems, the film does deliver a surprising amount of sex and violence, upping the ante considerably compared to the more respected 'Satanism' films made by Hammer Studios in the years prior, but it's not on the same level as those pictures in terms of atmosphere or suspense. The film has its moments and its worth checking out, especially if you've got a soft spot for British horror, but keep your expectations in check.
Trip With Teacher:
Written and directed by Earl Barton, this 1975 trash opus plays pretty well even by today's standards. When the film begins, a biker named Jay (Robert Gribbin) stops at a gas station where two other bikers, Al (Robert Porter) and Pete (Zalman King), are taking care of their hogs. They decide to travel together after a run in with a pretty young school teacher and her bus of equally pretty students on their way, along with bus driver Marvin (Jack Driscoll), to explore some distant Navajo ruins.
When the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the bikers show up and start flirting with the schoolgirls. At first they seem harmless enough, helpful even when they agree to tow the broken bus to a nearby shack, but soon their true colors start to show. Al and Pete start getting rough with the girls, raping the teacher and acting like scumbags, leaving the well meaning Jay to try and sort all of this out and save the girls from the evil sexual predators he has unwittingly helped unleash upon them.
Borrowing from films like Hitch-Hike though never really approaching that level of intensity, Trip With Teacher is pretty entertaining stuff thanks to a screwy performance from Zalman King. Wearing fly-guy sunglasses the entire time and leering at the female cast with salaciously convincing menace, he makes the movie a lot more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. On top of his great work, you get a fair bit of ample nudity and plenty of trashy dialogue. It's a pretty low budget affair and was obviously made on the cheap but it moves at a good pace and is considerably more tense towards the end than you'd probably expect it to be given its fairly slow opening third.
Directed by Roberta Findlay, this 1988 horror picture is a bit of a stinker. It's set in the New York City of 1988 and as such it features a bit of cool location footage but it's not scary, nor is it really all that interesting. A flashback alerts us to a monk who rebuked God and decided to worship the devil centuries ago. We cut back to the present day where the death of a Satanic priest spurs a curious nun to go undercover into the world of the occult to try and blow the lid off of these devil worshippers.
Soon enough we forget about the nun as we see a woman who was the victim of incest and sexual abuse at the hands of her father about to get married. It turns out that her grandfather is involved with the aforementioned devil worshippers and he plans to use her in an upcoming ceremony as a human sacrifice so that he can usurp control of the cult and give the devil the glory he feels he's due. At the same time, a guy from the cult is running around killing people.
Incoherent, poorly paced and goofy as goofy can be, Prime Evil is pretty boring despite a few nifty special effects that pop up in the last half hour or so. Kind of a poor man's Devil's Rain, Findlay's film is erratic, poorly edited and not much to look at. The performances are as uneven as the tone and while the idea of Satanic monks running around in Manhattan adds some novelty value, this picture is a chore to get through.
The last offering in the set is the most recent film in the collection - it's also one of the worst, though it's not without its entertainment value if you don't mind digging through ninety minutes of crap for a few minutes of unintentional humor and camp.
Written and directed by Jerry Sangiuliano the picture follows a smug college professor who is using his students as guinea pigs in an experiment in which he puts them into a sensory deprivation chamber where they're bombarded with bad early nineties computer generated effects. This causes them to freak out for reasons never very well explained and they run around and kill various people. Once they've done that, they start committing suicide one at a time.
Ripping off Brainscan might have seemed like a good idea on paper but without enough of a budget to really do, well, much of anything this one winds up at the bottom of the barrel. There are a couple of cool kill scenes here but the film lacks any real gore or any legitimate suspense for that matter. The horribly dated computer effects are giggle-worthy and the nonsensical plot is at times ludicrous enough to be pretty funny, but this isn't a film you'll probably want to invest too much time or effort with.
Mill Creek hasn't done any restorative work here, and they've crammed two movies per side, on both sides of the three discs in this set disc, which results in some compression artifacts on a pretty regular basis. The transfers are all interlaced, which is irritating. Here's a quick rundown on each film:
Blood Of Dracula's Castle: The transfer is in anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen. It's horribly scratched and there is some really nasty print damage during the first few minutes, but the image gets better as the movie goes on. There are scratches throughout as well as screwy color fading issues.
Blood Mania gets an anamorphic 1.85.1, it's fairly clean showing only a little print damage. All in all, it's one of the better looking films in this set and its very watchable.
Terrified! shows up in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio, black and white of course. This was taken from an okay looking source and print damage is never overpowering but the darker scenes get a bit murky.
Nightmare In Wax also gets an anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer that is a bit smeary, fairly soft, and heavy with grain and noise.
The Devil's Hand is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio, in black and white, and it looks reasonably clean despite some jitter and some murkiness in the shadows that appear in the movie.
Madmen Of Mandoras is also a 1.33.1 fullframe affair, black and white, and it too is quite clean though is shows some jitter and some bad compression artifacts that are particularly noticeable during opening credits.
Stanley is in anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen and for the most part it looks pretty good. There is some color fading but overall this is a fairly clean and stable image.
Terror 's anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer is a bit on the dark side and shows some obvious compression but otherwise clean and okay looking.
Satan's Slave arrives in an anamorphic 2.35.1 widescreen print that shows plenty of print damage but which is at least in its proper aspect ratio. This transfer won't wow you, but it's watchable.
The worst transfer of the bunch is sadly Trip With Teacher which gets a tattered fullframe presentations that's very soft and which suffers from some hefty print damage.
Prime Evil looks okay in its anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen presentation, it's reasonably clean, despite some annoying compression artifacts and some distracting smearing.
Last but not least, Brain Twisters is presented in anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen. The image is pretty clean, very little print damage, but again, some compression artifacts show up in the darker scenes.
Brain Twisters is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo while the rest of the films are in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. As it is with the video, there hasn't been any serious restoration done here. Expect to hear hiss and pop throughout pretty much each one of the twelve films in the set, and expect some fluctuations in the levels periodically as well. You'll be able to hear and understand everything well enough if you don't mind reaching for the remote to make adjustments now and then, but you can't really say that the movies sound 'good' - rather, most of them are serviceable and a few are rather poor.
There's nothing here except basic menus, kids. That's it. The packaging for this release sucks. Each disc sits inside a paper sleeve and the sleeves fit inside a square compartment inside the case. This makes the discs, which are easily scratched and way too easy to get finger prints on what with their being double sided and all, kind of a pain to get to.
As far as budget releases go, this one actually isn't half bad. Some of the transfers are terrible, but more often than not they're watchable enough and the ones that should be are at least anamorphic. There's no extras and the quality won't win any awards but Mill Creek's Gorehouse Greats collection does offer up twelve interesting films from the Crown International catalogue at a very reasonable price. If you're into low budget horror and exploitation and don't already have the bulk of this material from the various past BCI releases, then consider this set recommended - just don't expect wonders in terms of the presentation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.