Judge Paul Corupe reviews a double bill of foreign horror flicks. Prepare to be creeped out!
"You've got to put an end to it Charles. I hate him! Help me. help me!"—Margaret (Barbara Steele)
If you're looking for a nice package of classic, chilling Euro-horror, this double bill featuring Dead Eyes of London and The Ghost is a good place to start. Retromedia has presented two better examples of the genre with passable transfers and a pleasing price tag.
Facts of the Case
Bloated bodies of wealthy businessmen keep washing up on the shores of the Thames in Dead Eyes of London. Scotland Yard inspector Larry Holt (Joachim Fuchsberger, Who Killed Solange?) is called in to investigate, and discovers Braille-encoded notes that seem to implicate the "Blind Killers Of London," a criminal gang led by the hulking Blind Jack (ex-wrestler Adi Berber). After hitting a brick wall at a home for the blind run by Reverend Dearborn (Dieter Borsche, Scotland Yard vs. Dr. Mabuse), Holt traces the victims back to the same life insurance company. Each of the men took out large life insurance policies days before they were killed, and suddenly Holt's attention turns to a sinister-looking employee named Edgar Strauss (Klaus Kinski, Grand Slam). As more people associated to the company turn up dead, Holt is desperate to connect the Blind Killers with the insurance company. But has he completely solved this mystery?
The Ghost is the story of Dr. Hichcock (Leonard Elliot, Buck Privates), a superstitious, crippled old man desperately seeking to prolong his life with a series of shots administered by his physician, Dr. Charles Livingston (Peter Baldwin, Love in Rome). His hope is that a dose of poisonous curare followed quickly by the antidote will reverse the ongoing paralysis of his limbs. Behind Hichcock's back, his wife Margaret (Barbara Steele, Fellini's 8 1/2) is having a torrid affair with Livingston, and pleads with the good doctor to withhold the antidote long enough to cut her husband out of the picture. He reluctantly agrees, but after the funeral, certain complications arise…from the grave!
It may be a little strange to see these two films paired on a DVD, as it appears that creepy atmosphere and a common continent are really the only things that Dead Eyes of London and The Ghost share. However, this is an authentic double bill that actually appeared in theaters—a nice change from some DVD companies who indiscriminately pair up marginally related films that never would have played together.
Part of a cycle of West German criminal thrillers known as "krimi," Dead Eyes of London is a nice little black and white murder mystery based on an Edgar Wallace novel. Although long dead by the time they started to appear, Wallace proved ample material for the krimis; more than 32 films based on his work alone were made. Like Dead Eyes of London, most starred Fuchsberger and Kinski and were directed with flair by Alfred Vohrer.
Although it would be a bit of stretch to call Dead Eyes of London a horror film, there are some nail-biting moments, mostly thanks to Adi Berber's portrayal of Blind Jack, a white-eyed character who threatens violence with every lumbering step. The plot itself is a bit convoluted; an elaborate story with touches of Double Indemnity that is more complicated than it needs to be in order to accommodate several twists. It still makes enough sense to satisfy though, and the picture boasts some attention-grabbing stylistic touches in order to offset its complexity. Several interesting scene transitions are included, and the camera always seems to be placed to allow skulls and black cats to sneak into the corner of the frame. One scene, shot from inside a character's mouth, quickly lets you know this is no ordinary low budget spook show.
Although typical of the gothic Italian horror flicks of the 1960s, The Ghost is clearly the better of the two films. It's an exercise in atmosphere that gives Italian scream queen Barbara Steele a chance to sink her teeth into the meaty role of femme fatale Margaret. The actual story is fairly clichéd, and the final twist can be easily ferreted out by observant viewers, but the fun in The Ghost is in getting there. Director Riccardo Freda pulls out all the stops in creating a supernatural ambiance that will convince you (just as it convinces Margaret) that Dr. Hichcock has returned to life to have his vengeance. Dripping blood, lightning storms, and midnight crypt visits are only a few of the tricks that The Ghost has up its spectral sleeve. One scene, in which Dr Hichcock's vacant wheelchair comes rolling down the stairs, was obviously the inspiration for the ghostly baby carriage in Peter Medak's classic 1980 horror film The Changeling.
By and large, these films look and sound adequate, especially for public domain films. There is a good deal of print damage to both films, and The Ghost suffers from faded colors and poorly rendered blacks. However, The Ghost has previously been issued by budget labels Brentwood and Alpha, and this version is far superior, even correcting a major issue in which the first two reels of the film were shown in the incorrect order. Dead Eyes of London is less satisfying, appearing a bit soft overall and containing several splices. The mono soundtracks on each film get the dialogue across without too much trouble, but both are flat and subject to underlying hiss and distracting audio artifacts.
There are even a few extras on this disc: trailers for each film, and a gallery featuring nine stills from Dead Eyes of London The most welcome addition is a reprint of the original German program from Dead Eyes of London tucked inside the keep case. I thought this was a great idea, and I'd love to see more companies include these kinds of materials with their DVDs.
Featuring two better than average features, this release would be welcome in the collection of any Euro-horror fan. It also serves as a nice introduction for anyone looking to explore the genre for the first time.
While these films don't look too bad, I certainly would have liked to see them cleaned up a little. Retromedia is sentenced to say "Klaus Kinski's kitschy krimis" five times really fast.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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