Largely forgotten as a lost horror-comedy for over five decades, Ralph S. Hirshorn's The Dismembered (1962) is an early example of the genre that contains a few laughs but even fewer scares. Shot in Philadelphia on a shoestring budget with an inexperienced cast and crew (the director was barely out of college), it nonetheless serves up a few interesting ideas and plot elements that aren't too far removed from The Twilight Zone or The X-Files. Our story revolves around three men who just pulled off a daring burglary, but chose the wrong house to hide out in: this one's haunted by a handful of ghosts who choose to take out the robbers by any means necessary.
But don't get too excited: there's a lot more talking and plot exposition than action (or horror) until the last 20 minutes or so, when dismembered corpses from a nearby cemetery finally spice things up. Before that, the ghosts plan out the thieves' demise as a committee and their attempted murders play out more like lightweight Road Runner gags than anything else. So while The Dismembered is wildly uneven at times and nowhere near as gruesome or horrifying as its cover artwork suggests, it is good for a few laughs and conceptually, it's respectable enough as a low-budget film obviously made for fun by a cast and crew just learning the ropes. Sadly, only one credited member of the cast ever did anything else in the industry: the late Frank Geraci ("Carlo", one of the burglars), who made his debut here, later appeared in a half-dozen or so TV series and a few minor film roles. Director Ralph S. Hirshorn, writer Joseph Scott, and everyone else from the cast started and finished their film careers with this one.
Depending on your tolerance for low-budget horror-comedy, the legend of "unearthed films", and misleading cover artwork, The Dismembered will either be a hidden gem or a forgettable waste of time...but at just over 60 minutes, at least it doesn't take long to find out. Assuming this one's up your alley, Garagehouse's new Blu-ray package offers a decent amount of support for the film, including a decent A/V presentation and a few solid bonus features. Those who fall for The Dismembered's modest charms will appreciate the extra effort put forth here.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, The Dismembered is advertised as being sourced from a 4K transfer of the director's only surviving 16mm print (never mind that the maximum resolution of said film is right around 2K). Either way, this is fairly rough looking material, with a general softness and murkiness that's nonetheless acceptable for a micro-budget film well over the 50-year mark. Textures and black levels are wildly inconsistent at times, and some of the most dimly-lit scenes exhibit mild amounts of ghosting and possible noise reduction. So, in short: this isn't a pretty picture, but in a lot of ways these shortcomings add to the film's modest charm and overall mystique. Established fans and curious newcomers alike should keep their expectations firmly in check, though.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track (split mono) fares slightly better in spots: it sports a more consistent level of quality, while the dialogue and piano-based score are generally balanced well with a slight amount of depth at times. Since The Dismembered is purely a dialogue-driven film, don't expect a lot of action or flourishes but some of the occasional jump scares are effective. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or captions have been included.
Menu Design & Packaging
The fairly basic interface is smartly designed but authored more like a DVD, with relatively quick loading time and very few logos and warnings beforehand. This one-disc, region-free release is housed in a clear keepcase with sharp (but misleading) cover artwork by Stephen Romano and an interior essay by film critic Dan Buskirk.
The fact that this obscure, 55-year old film includes an Audio Commentary
with director Ralph S. Hirshorn is, well, pretty amazing. Moderated by filmmaker Andrew Repasky McElhinney, it's an enjoyable track that favors personal memories and trivia over nuts-and-bolts technical info, which is perfectly fine under the circumstances. It also doesn't hurt that both participants are Philadelphia natives, as they're fully invested in the film's history, locations, and lore. Also included is The End of Summer
(11 minutes), a short made by Hirshorn during his college years.
The Dismembered is by no means a landmark film, though its status as an unearthed horror-comedy from the early 1960s obviously gives it a large handicap: there aren't many films that skipped VHS, laserdisc, and DVD for the green pastures of Blu-ray, but this is one of them. Whether or not it's worth all the fuss is up for debate, but any die-hard horror buff or Philadelphia native should give it a watch just for the time-capsule factor. Garagehouse offers a home video package with plenty of support, including a decent A/V presentation (under the circumstances) and two welcome extras including a director's audio commentary. Even so, it's priced high for a film that barely cracks the 60-minute mark, and the relative lack of replay value makes this more of a curiosity than a keeper. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.