When you review over a hundred films in a year, it's inevitable that you will see films you're indifferent to, dislike, or even hate (in fact, I just saw a bad film for review on the day that I write this, aside from the films in this set). Still, other than films where a negative reaction is more ideological than aesthetic, or those where the characters make agonizingly stupid choices (generally causing one to yell at the screen in frustration), the absolute worst kinds of films are the ones you're simply bored to tears by, the ones where each passing moment is another few feet in an ocean of tedium you're trying your best to swim across.
I did not know who Pete Walker was before taking this set. Now, I've reviewed films from the Redemption line by directors such as Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, which were both very enjoyable and no less of a dip into untested waters, so I didn't think anything of diving into a chunk of another filmmaker's filmography, especially if he had enough of a reputation among horror fans to deserve his own box set.
Unfortunately for me, three of the four films being collected here (previously released on Blu-ray by Redemption / Kino in individual editions) were quite a bust. The worst of the lot is the first, The Flesh and Blood Show, an incredibly uninteresting tale of a group of theater actors who arrive at an eerie playhouse for an upcoming engagement. Instead of paying for a hotel, the whole group agree to shack up in the theater itself, which works out fine until they start getting picked off one by one. Despite the requisite nudity and bloody murder, I honestly cannot remember a film I was less engaged by than this one. Walker contrives a way for the characters to not quite know that they're being murdered, so they hang around and talk about themselves, which turns out to be an incredibly dull turn of events. Theatrically, the main draw seems to have been a 3D sequence, preserved on the Blu-ray, but only in the extra features. Then again, the sequence is just as dull as the rest of the movie, despite revealing the identity of the killer.
This is second in tedium to House of Mortal Sin, about a young woman (Susan Penhaligon), who invites a priest and his sister (Norman Eshley, Stephanie Beacham) to live with her in the wake of a break-up, and gets more than she bargained for when a vengeful force starts enacting some sort of moral justice on the people around her. Walker makes the odd decision to reveal the identity of the killer right near the beginning. Instead of using this as grounds for a character study where we can learn more about the murderer and what drives them, the film allows them to talk and talk without digging very deep beneath the surface, plodding along while the viewer waits for them to get caught. Mercifully, most of Walker's movies (at least the ones included in this set) are on the short side, but House of Mortal Sin is second-longest in the set, and it feels as if at least 20 minutes of air could be let out, mostly in suspense sequences where we not only know what's going to happen, but who did it and most of their reasons, which is not exactly a recipe for a thrill a minute.
Home Before Midnight is the least boring of the three bad eggs, but the most disappointing, about a young man (James Aubrey) who ends up in a relationship with a beautiful young woman (Alison Elliot), only to discover she's quite a bit younger than he expected. It's entirely possible that a good movie could've been made from this premise, one that studied a new kind of exploitation, but Walker's brand of sleaze is nothing new, trying to suggest that what the guy is doing is wrong (which it is), while also giving the viewer plenty of opportunities to ogle Elliot's naked body. Obviously, a certain amount of understanding (if not actual leeway) should be given when it comes to films made in the early 1970s and their sexual politics, but it'd be hard to deny that this one didn't leave a bad taste in my mouth. I'm all for sexploitation, but the line this one attempts to cross in terms of having its cake and eating it too pushes the movie into some very uncomfortable territory.
The one decent film in the lot is Frightmare, which concerns a particularly twisted family and their buried secrets. Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) is a young woman left in charge of dealing with her rebellious younger sister Debbie (Kim Butcher), following the deaths of their parents. There's only one catch: Jackie and Debbie's parents aren't dead at all. Jackie sneaks out of the house in the early morning to go and visit her parents, who are holed up in a cottage far away. Her father Edmund (Rupert Davies) is friendly enough, but her mother Dorothy (Shelia Keith) is still afflicted with a terrible sickness, one which Edmund desperately hopes to hide from Debbie, as well as the world. Of the films in this box set, this is the only one that's well-paced enough, creates a decent atmosphere of paranoia and unrest, and builds to a haunting conclusion. It helps that the film features the most appealing actors of the four movies, including the convincingly resourceful Fairfax and Paul Greenwood as her psychologist boyfriend. The film's horrors are nothing particularly unique (not to mention spoiled on the box), but considering the rest of these movies, I'll take what I can get.
The Video and Audio
Man of Violence finds the debonair Moon (Michael Latimer) who ends up hired by two men who are battling over a pile of gold, stashed in a foreign country. As Moon is drawn further and further into the web of loyalties and deception surrounding the attempt to smuggle it back into the United States, Moon decides to steal it for himself, with the help of Angel (Luan Peters), who has ties to one of the bosses. Although the concept sounds as if it might draw something different out of Walker, at almost two hours, it's the longest of Walker's movies, and yet again, it could stand to be significantly shorter. Action beats, such as Moon driving his car back and forth to knock out a thug in his car, or a man being crushed inside a lift in a garage, take so long they're often sapped of their snappy energy. There are some interesting little touches here (Moon is just as happy to sleep with a man for crucial information as he is a woman), and Peters is smart and snappy (so much so, in fact, that I wish the movie were about her!), so it's not a total bust, but I was also kind of hoping Walker's other movies would be a revelation.
The Big Switch, conversely, is Walker's shortest picture, but it suffers from a lack of focus. John Carter (Sebastian Breaks) is a playboy who gets wrapped up in a racket after he is framed for the murder of a woman he meets in a nightclub, and he's left with only his own ingenuity to try and work his way out from under the thumb of the people trying to blackmail him. Despite seeming like it's going to be a breeze (or perhaps actually contain a bunch of the strip poker from the original title), this one sort of drifts along after awhile, startling awake for a fun (if sort of anti-climactic) shootout inside an arcade and the accompanying haunted house.
The bonus disc also includes one additional extra feature: "Pete Walker: Man of Action" (14:57, HD), an interview with Pete Walker about these two non-horror efforts. He discusses feeling like an outsider, how the trends of the day dictated his filmmaking choices, and what he learned making the two movies.
Both films were released in the UK on a region free disc by the BFI in 2009 (the disc was re-released as a combo pack in 2011). The BFI logo appears before the film on both of these presentations, so it seems almost certain that these are the exact same presentations as those films received across the pond. The one catch, however, is that the BFI version of the disc contained an extended cut of The Big Switch, which brought it up from 68 minutes to feature length. No such option is included here. On the other hand, the UK disc doesn't contain the new featurette that Kino Lorber shot for their release. Fans of Walker on a limited budget will have to consider whether they feel the additional footage or the interview is more important.