Bedlam (Photo: Warner Archive)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
THE AMAZING MR. X (1948). It may not quite be amazing, but darn if it isn’t quite good. Also known under the title The Spiritualist, The Amazing Mr. X has the feel of a Gothic thriller (even though it’s set in the present; i.e. 1948), with dashes of film noir and ghost story also tossed into the brew. Lynn Bari is Christine Faber, still mourning the death of her husband Paul (Donald Curtis) two years earlier. Her fiancé Martin (Richard Carlson) and her younger sister Janet (Cathy O’Donnell) both want her to move on with her life, but that becomes even more difficult once she starts hearing the voice of her late hubby calling out to her. She hires a charming spiritualist known as Alexis (Turhan Bey) to help her communicate with Paul, but is the clairvoyant a phony or the real deal? The mystery is compelling enough, but then the movie raises the stakes with a twist that spins the story in a new direction. Almost every scene, from the beachside interludes to the séance sessions, contributes to the ambience, thanks to John Alton’s crisp camerawork.
Blu-ray extras consist of film scholar audio commentary and the new featurette “Mysteries Exposed: Inside the Cinematic World of Spiritualism.” A booklet is also included.
BEYOND DARKNESS (1990). Although it’s a standalone film, Beyond Darkness was cobbled together by its Italian distributors with six other unrelated movies (including The Evil Dead and House II: The Second Story) and released in that country as part of the La Casa (The House) series (this one was La Casa 5). That tidbit is more interesting than anything that actually occurs in this abysmal mishmash of The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, and Poltergeist. A priest (Gene LeBrock) and his family move into a new home, unaware that it rests over the spot where 20 witches were burned at the stake. The house comes alive, the young son (Michael Paul Stephenson) becomes possessed, and another priest (David Brandon) shows up to help out. There’s even a blond moppet (Theresa Walker) on hand, although she somehow resists the urge to declare, “They’re heeere.” It’s not surprising that a movie from the writer-director of Troll 2 (Claudio Fragasso) would be this awful; it is surprising that a movie from the writer-director of Troll 2 would be this boring.
Blu-ray extras consist of interviews with Fragasso, Brandon, and co-writer Rossella Drudi, and the theatrical trailer. A soundtrack CD is also included.
CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS (1948). Like The Amazing Mr. X above, here’s a movie in which the thick atmosphere probably should have received star billing alongside the actors. There’s mood to spare in this somber melodrama in which a woman meets a man who believes them to be reincarnated lovers. As Mifanwy (Edana Romney, who also co-wrote the script) quickly learns, Paul Mangin (Eric Portman) is an artist who lives in the past, stuffing his mansion with artifacts from an earlier era. The reason, she discovers to her dismay, is because Paul believes that they were sweethearts in a past century, with their relationship soiled by a murder committed when another man entered the picture. Corridor of Mirrors takes its time getting started — the early scenes of Paul and Mifanwy getting swoony in each other’s presence grow repetitious — but the drama kicks into high gear once Mifanwy learns of Paul’s fantastic beliefs and he in turn becomes increasingly lost in his visions. Not only was this the first movie assignment for director Terence Young (Dr. No, Wait Until Dark), it also marked the film debut of Christopher Lee, playing one of Mifanwy’s society friends.
The only Blu-ray extra is the trailer.
DARK SHADOWS AND BEYOND: THE JONATHAN FRID STORY (2021). Time for a personal anecdote. In the early 1970s, when I was a wee boy, my family’s home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contained the usual assortment of lovely paintings gracing the main living areas. Adorning the inside of my mother’s bedroom closet door, however, was a poster of Jonathan Frid as vampire Barnabas Collins in the daytime soap opera Dark Shadows. Like countless other women of the period, my mom was smitten (and I don’t think she even watched Dark Shadows!), and that fan frenzy is discussed in this overview of Frid’s life. Various celebrities appear to talk about the classically trained actor, among them Dick Cavett (who was Frid’s classmate at Yale Drama School), Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis (who reveals the lucky manner in which Frid landed the star-making role), and Dark Shadows co-star David Selby. The material surrounding the show is the highlight of this doc; the post-DS section can’t compare, although it further reveals Frid as a lovely human being.
Blu-ray extras include a vintage interview with Frid; Dark Shadows promotional spots; Frid reading from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”; and highlights from Frid’s stage performance in Henry VI, Part 1.
DEADLY FRIEND (1986). Belying his solid reputation, Wes Craven spent the majority of his career churning out subpar horror flicks, although the mediocrity that is Deadly Friend can’t really be blamed on him or scripter Bruce Joel Rubin (adapting Diana Henstell’s novel Friend). The pair wanted to make a PG love story with a twist, but Warner Bros. insisted on an R-rated horror flick with less character development, more gore, a couple of ludicrous dream sequences, and that awful ending. Paul (Matthew Laborteaux) is a teenage genius who has invented a robot named BB. Initially, this robot isn’t cool like Star Wars’ BB-8 but insufferable like Short Circuit’s Johnny 5. But BB is constantly evolving, so while he likes Paul and girl-next-door Samantha (Kristy Swanson), he grows wary of Samantha’s abusive father (Richard Marcus) as well as the harridan (Anne Ramsey) down the street. Once BB is blown to bits by the crotchety neighbor and Samantha is killed by her dad, Paul puts BB’s microchip in Samantha’s brain, thus allowing both the beauty and the bot to exact their revenge. Swanson is touching, and the death-by-basketball scene is … amazing? The rest is hogwash.
Blu-ray extras include interviews with Swanson and Rubin; TV spots; and the theatrical trailer.
DEMENTIA 13 (1963). After toiling in the background for Roger Corman on a couple of flicks — and helming the softcore romp Tonight for Sure on the side — Francis Ford Coppola was given the director’s chair by Corman for this ultra-low-budget chiller. While this doesn’t quite show off his filmmaking prowess, it remains an essential part of his filmography. Coppola used his own hastily assembled script about a wealthy family haunted by the memory of a tragic accident that occurred on the grounds of their Irish estate. Two brothers (William Campbell and Bart Patton) are twitchy in their own right, a trait they share with the family doctor (Patrick Magee) — but can one of these three men really be the axe murderer who suddenly appears on the scene? Comparisons to Psycho are a given (including the early death of a leading character), but the film is stylish enough to maintain modest interest.
This Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-ray contains Coppola’s Director’s Cut, which is a few minutes shorter than the version available all these years. Extras consist of audio commentary by Coppola; an introduction by Coppola; and the dopey prologue (Dementia 13 Test) that was included in some early cuts of the film.
DEMONS (1985) / DEMONS 2 (1986). Synapse Films has released the demonic duo in a groovy edition guaranteed to please the films’ fans.
Demons, a collaboration between writer-director Lamberto Bava (Mario’s son) and Dario Argento (here serving as producer and co-scripter), can best be described as disreputable fun. The setting is inspired: a Berlin movie theater offering a sneak preview to a new horror film. After one of the attendees gets nicked by a mysterious mask showcased in the lobby, she turns into a frightful demon whose bite in turn transforms her friend into a similarly snarling monster. Because the exits are blocked, it soon becomes the infected versus the uninfected, with the latter’s ranks growing smaller and smaller as more moviegoers get gored. Obviously, this is no match for the likes of The Evil Dead or Dawn of the Dead, but on its own terms, it’s the sort of horror show the ‘80s often did fairly well.
Demons 2 is more of the same, albeit with more narrative sloppiness and a change in venue. Here, it’s a high-rise apartment building, and a demon on a TV screen breaks on through to the other side and infects a woman throwing a birthday party. There’s no shortage of variety in the characters — a pregnant woman and her husband, a close-knit family (the daughter is played by 10-year-old Asia Argento), a gym full of bodybuilders, etc. — but the decision to include a ridiculous baby demon straight out of Ghoulies cheapens the mood, and a whole subplot involving a carload of angry punks leads absolutely nowhere. Still, the last survivors provoke a rooting interest, and the garage battle is pretty epic.
The Blu-ray set contains a reproduction of the movie ticket from Demons, a birthday invitation to the party in Demons 2, and a fold-out poster. There are also two versions of Demons: the original cut in English and Italian, and the U.S. version with alternate dubbing. Extras include film critic audio commentary on both films; audio commentary by Bava and other key personnel on Demons; visual essays on both films; a discussion on the history of Italian horror; and an interview with Dario Argento.
Demons 2: ★★½
EYE OF THE DEVIL (1966). Pagan worship is at the center of this middling, muddled, and morose chiller in which a French nobleman (David Niven, about as French as an RC Cola) returns to his family’s estate after learning that the vineyards are failing. There are hints from the locals as to what he must do to save the crops, and his wife (Deborah Kerr, about as French as a moon pie) is determined to find out what that entails. She seeks information from the local priest (Donald Pleasence) while avoiding a pair of sinister siblings (David Hemmings and Sharon Tate) who hang around the estate, he killing doves with his bow and arrow and she putting those around her in trances. Given the director (J. Lee Thompson, Oscar-nominated for The Guns of Navarone) and that cast, this adaptation of Robin Estridge’s novel Day of the Arrow should have been much better. Instead, only one scene (set upon the castle battlements) musters up any genuine suspense, while the performances are understated to the point of inertia.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER (1958). Had Frankenstein’s Daughter not included one of the staples of this type of fare — excruciating musical numbers performed waterside (pool or ocean) by a hip-to-be-square band while adults playing teenagers shimmy and shammy shamelessly — I might have considered going up to two stars. But it does, so I’m not. Donald Murphy delivers a suitably sleazy performance as Dr. Frank, a descendant of you-know-who who’s as interested in bedding the teenage Trudy (Sandra Knight) as he is in creating human life. After a test run during which he periodically turns Trudy into a beast with bushy eyebrows and big teeth, he kills her friend Suzie (Sally Todd) and makes her the first female Franken-monster. The notorious behind-the-scenes boo-boo is that nobody bothered to tell makeup artist Harry Thomas that the fiend was a woman, so he designed a male creature (played by Harry Wilson) and then applied some lipstick after the fact! Aside from John Ashley as Trudy’s patronizing boyfriend and Harold Lloyd Jr. as his doofus buddy, the acting isn’t bad, but this rarely escapes from its Z-movie zone.
Blu-ray extras include an archival interview with director Richard E. Cunha and a piece on Ashley. A booklet is also included.
THE GHOST SHIP (1943) / BEDLAM (1946). The Warner Archive Collection has released a Blu-ray Double Feature that contains two of the nine acclaimed genre films overseen by producer Val Lewton between 1942 and 1946 (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie among them).
For decades, The Ghost Ship was the “lost” film from the Lewton catalogue, thanks to a plagiarism lawsuit that kept the movie out of circulation. Finally freed thanks to the lapsed copyright, it’s easy to see that, of all the Lewton chillers, it’s the one that least qualifies as “horror.” Basically, it’s a cat-and-mouse drama in which a greenhorn officer (Russell Wade) discovers that his ship’s captain (Richard Dix) is so cracked that he makes Captain Queeg look sane by comparison. Cross Mutiny On the Bounty with The Sea Wolf and add a dash of Moby Dick, and that’s pretty much what you have here.
Set in 18th century London, Lewton’s Bedlam finds the sadistic head of an insane asylum (Boris Karloff in another top-flight performance) matching wits with a reform-minded society woman (Anna Lee), even going so far as to have her declared mad and tossed into his institute. William Hogarth’s painting series A Rake’s Progress so inspired this production that the 18th-century artist was given a writing credit on the film!
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary on Bedlam and theatrical trailers.
The Ghost Ship: ★★★
KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER (1974-1975). Released in 1972 as an ABC Movie of the Week, The Night Stalker, starring Darren McGavin as an intrepid reporter chasing a vampire in modern-day Las Vegas, was a ratings smash. This in turn led to another TV movie, 1973’s The Night Strangler (again starring McGavin), which was similarly a ratings bonanza. This in turn led to a weekly series that, alas, was decidedly not a ratings hit. But despite lasting only one season, Kolchak: The Night Stalker gained a following over the years, and it was largely responsible for inspiring Chris Carter to create The X-Files. With both TV movies having already been released on Blu-ray in 2018 by Kino Lorber, the label is now offering a set containing all 20 episodes from that solitary season. McGavin (perhaps best known as the dad in A Christmas Story) reprises his role as Carl Kolchak, the investigative reporter whose stories always involve him hunting down such creatures of the night as vampires, werewolves, zombies, and even Jack the Ripper. McGavin is terrific, and most of the episodes possess real bite.
Blu-ray extras include film critic/historian audio commentary on all 20 episodes; an interview with David Chase, co-writer of eight episodes; and TV spots for 14 episodes.
MAD LOVE (1935). Peter Lorre’s memorable turn as a child killer in Fritz Lang’s 1931 German classic M had already established the actor as a familiar face when he arrived in the U.S. to make his first stateside picture. In this adaptation of Maurice Renard’s novel Les Mains d’Orlac (The Hands of Orlac), he cuts a striking figure as Doctor Gogol, lusting after actress Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake). Yvonne is married to classical pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive, the doctor to Karloff’s Frankenstein monster), and when Stephen loses his hands in a train crash, Gogol replaces them with the hands of an executed murderer (Edward Brophy). Soon, Stephen finds that his appendages have a life of their own. Even considering that a major plot point (indeed, the major plot point) isn’t resolved by the fade-out, this is an appropriately lurid thriller strikingly assembled by director Karl Freund (The Mummy). The comic relief provided by Ted Healy (creator of The Three Stooges) as a reporter is unwelcome, but Lorre is phenomenal.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary and the theatrical trailer.
RETRIBUTION (1987). One of those ultra-‘80s horror yarns that didn’t gain much traction away from the VHS copies in the local video store, Retribution proves to be a pleasant surprise. Failed artist George Miller (a rare leading role for character actor Dennis Lipscomb) attempts suicide by hurling himself off a building, but he survives the fall. However, this act has left him vulnerable to some sort of possession, one which forces him to murder select people by particularly grisly means. The plot by writer-director Guy Magar eventually comes into focus, but along the way the film displays some humanizing grace notes usually exempt from this sort of gory thriller. George Miller is a fully developed character, and he’s allowed time to build relationships with the other residents of his apartment building, with his psychiatrist (Leslie Wing), and with Angel (Suzanne Snyder), a young prostitute with whom he unexpectedly bonds. While many will feel these character beats slow down the film, they actually enhance it, providing emotional resonance to go along with Magar’s eye-catching visuals.
The Blu-ray contains the theatrical cut and an extended version. Extras include audio commentary by Magar; an interview with co-writer Lee Wasserman; and interviews with Wing and Snyder.
WITCHING & BITCHING (2013). Álex de la Iglesia, the writer-director behind the gonzo horror yarn The Day of the Beast (reviewed here), offers more madness and mayhem with this delirious flick in which very little is taken seriously. The film begins with an armed robbery in which the participants are disguised as Jesus Christ, a green toy soldier, an invisible man, and Spongebob Squarepants. Only two of the robbers manage to escape: the volatile José (Hugo Silva), who has brought along his young son Sergio (Gabriel Delgado) because it’s his day to have the kid, and the sweet Antonio (Mario Casas). They hijack a taxi cab and force its driver (Jaime Ordóñez) to get them out of Spain and into France, but their journey experiences a road bump in the form of Zugarramurdi, a town inhabited by a coven of witches. Witching & Bitching could stand some trimming in the midsection, but overall it’s a wildly inventive comedy which even manages to take some shots at the eternal battle of the sexes.
Blu-ray extras consist of a trio of behind-the-scenes pieces and the theatrical trailer.
BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER (2021). Between the 31 interview subjects and the clips from over 50 movies and TV shows, this excellent documentary packs an impressive amount of information into its 99-minute running time. With such personalities as Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Plummer, Roger Corman, and Leonard Maltin contributing to the conversation, this covers the life and career of Boris Karloff (real name William Henry Pratt) from his childhood (he was born in 1887) to his death in 1969. This doesn’t only focus on his performances as the Frankenstein monster; indeed, ample time is spent on some of the 60-plus films he made before landing that star-making role in 1931, including Howard Hawks’ 1930 drama The Criminal Code (the film that Karloff often considered his real breakthrough). There are discussions centering around the films he made with producer Val Lewton (including 1946’s Bedlam, reviewed above, and 1945’s The Body Snatcher, which many critics feel should have earned him an Oscar nomination), his later collaborations with Corman (including the 1968 masterwork Targets), his Broadway triumphs in Arsenic and Old Lace (he always regretted not being let go from his stage contract to reprise the role in Frank Capra’s superb screen version) and The Lark (which nabbed him a Tony Award nomination), and his vast television appearances (particularly his voice work for 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, which later earned him a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album). This is a must-see not only for horror fans but for fans of cinema in general. (Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster is available for rental or purchase on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Microsoft, and Vudu.)