Continuing in their efforts to offer up editions of those old Crown International Pictures titles that are actually worth upgrading on with improved transfers and extra features, Scorpion Releasing's latest double feature, part of their Katarina's Nightmare Theater line, teams up 1980's The Hearse with the 1969 cheese-fest, Blood Of Dracula's Castle. Here's a look at what you'll find underneath that snazzy cover art...
The story for our first feature follows a woman who lives in San Francisco named Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere ) whose aunt passes away and leaves her the old home in the country that she lived in thirty years ago. What Jane doesn't realize is that her dear old aunt used to practice Satanism in the house, and the local townsfolk, who were aware of what was happening out there, are none too pleased to see a relative take up residence in the home. Jane's not in the greatest of mental states either - she had a bad divorce not too long ago and still suffers from psychological after effects. Soon after she moves in, she starts seeing things, not the least of which is a creepy old funeral hearse that she quickly figures must be following her.
As Jane tries to figure out who could be stalking her and why, she notices some strange circumstances involving her late aunt's diary. She soon starts to meet some of the people in the town and quickly falls for one of the local men, Tom Sullivan (David Gautreaux). The local minister, Reverend Winston (Donald Hotton) might know more about what's going on here than he lets on, and then there's the matter of another local mane named Walter Prichard (Joseph Cotton), a surly drunken lawyer with a mean streak in him...
Directed by George Bowers who served a lot of time as an editor on Crown titles like The Pom-Pom Girls and Van Nuys Boulevard among others, The Hearse has some nice atmosphere and features a decent, if far from amazing, performance from the likeable Van Devere, who had recently starred in The Changeling (she was actually married to George C. Scott at this point in time) just before taking this role. Joseph Cotton is good when he's in the movie but is underused for the most part, but Gautreaux makes for an interesting love interest and Hotton is fun as the strange man of the cloth. A few other supporting players are worth mentioning, including an appearance by Chuck Mitchell (he of Porky's fame), a turn from a young Donald Petrie (who would later make a big career of directing mainstream films like Miss Congeniality and Grumpy Old Men) and an appearance from Christopher McDonald (who has appeared in everything from Thelma And Louise to the eighties revamp of Matlock) in his feature film debut.
The movie drags in a few spots and is about fifteen minutes or so longer than it probably needed to be given the quality of the premise, but the script by William Bleich, who worked almost exclusively on television scripts, manages to make things work for the most part. The movie is well shot and makes good use of the rural locations, while the camera work which involves the hearse itself is sufficiently spooky and eerie. The film plays things pretty safe and never moves past its PG rating but turns out to be a pretty solid B-picture when it's all said and done.
Blood Of Dracula's Castle:
In this 1969 feature from the late, great Al Adamson made for Crown International Pictures, 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, the monstrous looking Mango (Ray Young) and their suspicious butler, George (John Carradine sporting a pretty cool dye job), they've turned the castle's basement into a veritable prison of hotties whose 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.
The version included on this disc differs from the previous release in Mill Creek Entertainment's Gorehouse Greats collection in that it includes the werewolf footage. This footage was not included in the original version but added to the movie to pad the running time out to 91 minutes (as it is here). It's actually quite a welcome addition to the movie and it just helps to make all of this more fun than it already is. The script was by Rex Carlton who wrote The Brain That Wouldn't Die and Nightmares In Wax.
Both films are presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and look pretty good for the most part. The Hearse looks considerably better then the second feature. Newly restored from high definition masters taken from vault elements, the picture shows a natural amount of grain but only very mild print damage. Detail is strong as is color reproduction and all in all, fans of the film will be quite pleased, as it looks better than previous DVD releases have in the past. Dracula's Castle is soft in spots and occasionally shows some flat colors but it's miles above the aforementioned Mill Creek Entertainment release that came out a few years back. Minor print damage is present but it doesn't take away from the presentation much at all.
Both films are presented in Dolby Digital Mono in their native English language, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. Quality is fine for both movies, dialogue is easy to understand and the levels are well balanced. If things are occasionally flat here and there, chalk it up to these being older mono mixes and leave it at that. There's nothing to complain about, the audio quality is pretty good.
Extras for The Hearse include a twelve minute long audio interview with writer William Bleich in which he talks about working on this picture and the script that wound up being turned into the feature. The original theatrical trailer is also here and this movie has the option to watch it in Katarina's Nightmare Theater mode with an optional intro and outro from horror hostess Katarina Leigh Waters. This is all done tongue in cheek but it does provide some fun trivia about the movie and its cast and crew before it plays. Blood Of Dracula's Castle includes a lengthy half hour long on-camera interview with John 'Bud' Cardos in which he offers up some amusing stories about this bizarre production. Waters serves as the interviewee - this is definitely worth checking out for fans of this movie. It's done with the right amount of humor and it serves as a nice overview of Bud's career, not just a look at his work on this particular movie.
Scorpion Releasing's double feature release of The Hearse/Blood Of Dracula's Castle pairs up a fun couple of Crown International Pictures titles and offers them up in better condition than ever before and with some solid extras too. While a lot of these Crown titles have been released and re-released to death in single disc and multipack formats, the extras and improved transfers here make this one worth getting and this disc comes recommended.
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.