Shout! Factory's Scream Factory line has been dishing out some pretty impressive special editions on DVD and Blu-ray over the last couple of years but with this Scream Factory All Night Horror Marathon four movie collection, they seem to have taken the opposite route. This is basically four minor titles packaged together in less than stellar quality with no extra features at a low price. Don't go into this one looking for multiple commentary tracks or even trailers, but if bang for your buck if a concern, this bargain priced collection should fit the bill. Here's what you'll find…
What's The Matter With Helen?:
Curtis Harrington's 1971 film What's The Matter With Helen is a period picture set in the 1930s where we learn the story of two women, Adelle Bruckner (Debbie Reynolds) and Helen Hill (Shelly Winters) who leave their homes to start over in California. Why would two middle aged ladies do this? Because their two sons were just found guilty of murder, and obviously there's a stigma attached to something like that.
After they arrive in Hollywood they pool their resources and open up a dance school for children. Things seem to be going okay at first, particularly for Adelle who finds herself the apple of wealthy socialite type Lincoln Palmer's (Dennis Weaver) eye and the school is off to a pretty successful start. Helen, however, starts to look like she might be ready to crack. She starts to convince herself that a heavy breather she's heard is actually someone with ties to their past. As she becomes more and more obsessed with this, Adelle and Lincoln become more serious, which only serves to make Helen more paranoid and suspicious about what everyone is really up to…
This is well acted and fairly well paced. It obviously owes a few nods to Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, and that influence extends beyond just the similarities in its title, but judged on its own merits this is entertaining enough to watch. Harrington shows decent attention to period detail here, dressing his cast in appropriate attire and even going so far as to shoot the movie with an eye towards the period's color and style. It doesn't always work but it does at least set the mood properly. There are a few very obvious red herrings and Dennis Weaver's presence in the movie doesn't amount to as much as it should but Reynolds and Winters are fun to watch here. Both starting to get on in years and cast in this picture for that very reason, there are moments where the movie approaches high camp. When this happens we inevitably question how serious we should be taking all of this, but then Harrington, quite adapt at directing a good horror film when working off of a solid script, will throw in a decent scene of suspense to make us snap back.
This is not a perfect film, it's occasionally too derivative for its own good and occasionally it feels manufactured and contrived, but if you appreciate what Reynolds and Winters are able to do with their respective parts this is, if not a classic work or nearly as deep as it probably wanted to be, pretty entertaining.
Chris Walas, more prolific as a special effects man than a director, got behind the camera to helm this 1992 picture that stars Bill Paxton as a man named Graham Krakowski who is excited to be closing the deal on the purchase of his first house. Sure it needs some work, but he's looking forward to it and it's in his price range. Things seem fine until, during the move in process, an unnamed homeless man (Marshall Bell) breaks into the place. Graham tries to get rid of him but then he spots the guy taking a leak in his garden, at which point he understandably decides that it's time to bring in the police to deal with the matter.
The next day though, the titular vagrant is back and as the pressure Graham finds himself under from buying a new house collides with the fact that he just can't get rid of this guy collide, people start to go a little nutty, even Lt. Ralf Barfuss (Michael Ironside)…
A wildly uneven mix of horror and comedy, The Vagrant isn't a particularly good film but it does feature an amusingly unhinged Bill Paxton giving it is all, which winds up making this turkey pretty watchable in spite of itself. Paxton's character becomes unglued pretty quickly and watching him tackle the character as his frays become more obvious is fun. He overacts here to be sure, subtlety not always one of his strong points particularly in this era of his career, but damn if he isn't entertaining when he just goes for it. Michael Ironside is decent here as well, but he doesn't really seem as invested in his part as Paxton does, while Bell makes for a perfectly irritating antagonist.
Ultimately though, this just isn't a good movie. Neither scary as a horror film or all that funny as a comedy, the characters are more or less clichés or underwritten and the setup is fairly predictable. Bonus points for casting Colleen Camp as a horny real estate agent but outside of that and a bit of amusing gore, this is really for Paxton completists only.
Based on author Bernard Taylor's novel of the same name, 1980's The Godsend, spearheaded behind the camera by prolific TV director Gabrielle Beaumont, sees an unnamed woman (Angela Pleasance, who looks an awful lot like her father) show up at the home of Alan (Malcolm Stoddard) and Kate Marlowe (Cyd Hayman). Shortly after she coerces Kate into letting her in, she gives birth to a baby and then more or less mysteriously disappears. Unsure what to do about all of this, the Marlowe's care for the child and name her Bonnie (Wilhelmina Green) but soon realize that something is not right, made all the more obvious when the youngest of their own three children winds up dead.
This is the first of many unfortunate incidents that begin to plague the Marlowe's after Bonnie comes onboard and after a few more, they decide to move to London to hopefully get away from all of this. Of course, whatever is cursing them has followed the family, and as Alan starts to figure out just who is responsible for all of this, he and Kate come to blows as she refuses to believe that little Bonnie could ever have had a hand in something so devious as murder.
The Godsend is a decent enough slow burn horror picture even if it is absolutely predictable, and therefore devoid of some of the suspense it really needed to completely succeed. We get a few interesting murder set pieces and a couple of interesting twists to help create some tension, but ultimately we know very early on where all of this is going and who is behind all of the mayhem our poor unwitting Marlowe's are subjected to. The film is fairly slow, deliberately paced you could say, and at times it does feel padded but the performances aren't half bad. Cyd Hayman does a good job of showing us how her concerned mother would understandably not want to believe that a young child could kill, while Malcolm Stoddard does a fine job of showcasing the pressure that his Alan finds himself in once he's stuck between a rock and a hard place. We really do get the impression that he cares about what happens here, he never snaps into ‘action man' mode or anything like that. As such, it's easy to sympathize with him and with Hayman as Kate.
This isn't the most stylish or colorful picture you're ever going to see, sometimes it looks a little flat, but the camera work is, if never flashy, at least competent. The score is alright and while this was probably made on a modest budget, overall the production values are decent enough. Had this been a bit more original it likely would be better remembered but as it stands, it's a decent ‘killer kid' movie.
Last but not least is director Tom Daley's only feature film, 1987's The Outing, also known as The Lamp. The movie is, for lack of a better word, a mess. It's slow, strangely paced, ripe with bad effects work and goofy performances. If there's a mistake a movie can make, this one makes it. Yet, it features a killer genie, and that's not a particularly overdone subgenre, so for that reason alone, some out there might have a morbid curiosity towards it. But be warned, this is no Wishmaster…
When the movie begins, a gang of no good hoodlums break into the home of an elderly lady figuring she's easy prey, they'll make it out of there in plenty of time to avoid any issues and take with them whatever cash or valuables she's got. Things go south quickly and the woman winds up dead, which somehow unleashes a genie that in turn kills them and then promptly goes back into the lamp from whence it came. With the old lady dead and gone, her belongings wind up going to a museum where Alex (Andra St. Ivanyi), the daughter of the man in charge, Dr. Wallace (James Huston), frees the genie which, this time around, possesses her. After this, a bunch of teenage girls (who are obviously at least in their mid-twenties…) wind up locked in the museum overnight, with the killer genie roaming around up to his deadly old tricks. If that weren't bad enough, Alex's jerk of an ex-boyfriend Mike (Red Mitchell) sneaks into the museum as well, with his obnoxious friend Tony (André Chimène) along for the ride.
This one starts off as an entertaining enough B-picture with some quality murder and mayhem that sets up an amusing premise rather well, only to jump off the bridge face first with about forty-five minutes of talking that ultimately doesn't really go anywhere. Of course, the last half hour tries to make up for lost time and it does offer up a bit more carnage and horror but it's not very well done and it lacks any genuine impact. There are a few interesting bits and pieces and those who enjoy odd Claymation might get a kick out of a few scenes here and there, but this winds up being about twenty-minutes' worth of entertainment tacked onto sixty or so minutes worth of tedium.
What's The Matter With Helen? is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen in a transfer that, aside from that fact that it's interlaced, looks pretty good. It's a safe bet that this is just a recycled version of the transfer MGM used on their Midnight Movies release of the film a few years ago. Colors look good, there isn't much in the way of print damage and the image quality is pretty stable but skin tones are definitely too warm here.
The Vagrant is framed at 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen and it too is interlaced. It is a bit more crisp and colorful looking than the first feature, showing fair detail and nice color reproduction. Again, not much in the way of print damage here, just some minor specks in a few spots. Black levels look okay, this is perfectly watchable.
The Godsend is presented in 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen and it looks a little flat and a little smeary in spots. Again, it's watchable, but don't expect much here in terms of image quality as detail is soft and black levels runny, sometimes showing some crush. There isn't a lot of print damage to note, the source used was in decent enough shape, but this isn't very well encoded and leaves a fair bit of room for improvement. At least it's the right aspect ratio.
Last but not least, The Outing debuts on DVD in a fullframe interlaced tape sourced transfer that looks like a good quality VHS release, not really ideal. As such, the image quality is pretty soft but at least the colors fare reasonably well.
As far as the audio goes, Whatever Happened To Helen? is presented in Dolby Digital Mono, The Vagrant in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, The Godsend in Dolby Digital Mono and The Outing in Dolby Digital Stereo. All four mixes are in English, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. The tracks here are fine, if unremarkable. They get the job done and outside of a few spots where you might notice some mild hiss, the mixes are clean. Balance is fine in each of the four movies and dialogue remains easily discernible.
Outside of some basic menus, there are no extra features on this disc at all.
Shout! Factory's release of the Scream Factory All Night Horror Marathon Volume One isn't going to win any awards for presentation or extras but it does offer up four entertaining horror movies at a more than reasonable price. Given that the list price on this set is less than ten dollars, it's hard to get too bent out of shape about the video quality. The movies themselves are a lot of fun. If you can look past the fact that the quality here isn't amazing, there are four good movies here and the set comes recommended for that reason.
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.