What's the matter with Judge Erich Asperschlager?
"Don't say see you later; say goodbye."
When it comes to Scary Movie Month, you've got plenty of options: remastered classics in feature-packed sets, old favorites pulled off the shelf, and diamonds in the blood-soaked rough. Shout! Factory's "Scream Factory" label has some of everything, exhuming forgotten horror films for a dedicated fan base in Blu-ray collector's editions as well as budget-friendly collections like the new four-film All Night Horror Marathon.
Movie marathons go with Halloween like fun size candy bars and UNICEF. Horror fans are a forgiving bunch, championing movies limited by budget or talent that do something new or have something interesting to say. This collection is aimed at the hardcore enthusiast on the lookout for the next hidden gem. The six-plus hours of horror viewing in this mixed bag two-disc set won't get you all the way to dawn, but they'll get you close.
The first movie in this "marathon" is 1971's What's the Matter with Helen? a thriller that comes with an impressive pedigree. The film was written by Henry Farrell, author of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and stars Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters as dance instructor and a pianist who flee 1930s New York for California after their sons are convicted of murder. Their fresh start in Hollywood is threatened by a mysterious stalker and one of the women's mental breakdown. The film also features Dennis Weaver as a dashing suitor, and Agnes Moorehead as a radio evangelist.
What's the Matter with Helen? has its share of blood, but it saves most of the scares for the end—building to a final shot that would be shocking if it wasn't on the movie poster and cover art. Despite the talent involved, the film is slow going in the middle act. If it wasn't for Winters' unhinged performance (which may or may not have been acting, according to set reports), the movie would barely count as horror. I can't think of many scary movies with this much singing and dancing. Then again, there's nothing quite so terrifying as watching an 8-year-old girl dressed like Mae West sing something called "Oh, You Nasty Man."
Next we jump all the way to 1992 for The Vagrant, a horror-comedy starring Bill Paxton as a homeowner who is terrorized by a scarred homeless man. Those who love crazy Paxton will love him here. His financial fears about buying a house feed into his obsession with an unsavory homeless man, spiraling into full-on paranoia once people around him start to die.
Directed by special effects artist Chris Walas, The Vagrant injects much-needed levity into the collection. Its dark sense of humor is as interested in creative dismemberment as pushing Paxton's buttons. It's hard to know how much involvement executive producer Mel Brooks (yep, the same) had in the final product, but the film has an infectious energy and sharp timing. It's unclear for most of the movie whether Paxton's character is victim or perpetrator, mixing over-the-top acting and dream sequences into a delightfully confusing cocktail shaken by Michael Ironside's equally obsessed police detective. The final act goes too far in spelling out exactly what's been going on—perhaps the result of studio interference—but even with the backpedaling, The Vagrant works. It's both black comedy and social commentary, playing off a yuppie fear of poverty and the poor.
Disc two changes gears with The Godsend, a British horror movie from 1981 that puts real children in fake peril. The story focuses on an English family who invite a mysterious pregnant woman into their country home. Just as the husband is about to drive her home, the stranger goes into labor and they have no choice but to let her stay in a guest room, where she gives birth to a baby girl. The next morning, the family awakens to discover the woman has vanished and left her child behind. Because this is the '70s, the parents adopt the abandoned newborn, whom they name Bonnie, and raise her as one of their own. Not long after, their own infant dies in his sleep. Heartbroken but grateful for Bonnie they soldier on, unaware that the death wasn't an accident and that their adopted daughter has murderous plans for their other children.
Based on a novel by Bernard Taylor, The Godsend does things you rarely see in American horror films. It puts the story on the shoulders of some very young actors, some only babies. It's usually a big deal when horror films put children in danger. This movie does nothing else. Malcolm Stoddard and Cyd Hayman play the parents as a mix of concerned and detached. Given how readily they let their children play by themselves around crumbling ruins and rushing rivers, it's a wonder any of them survived before Bonnie showed up. Poor parenting and lax British child labor laws aside, The Godsend is an effective horror movie that finds its own niche in the killer child genre. It also features Angela Pleasence, daughter of Halloween's Donald Pleasence, as the strange pregnant woman.
The final film in the collection is The Outing—also known as The Lamp, a much better name for a film that's not so much about gay pride as a killer genie offing teens in a science museum. The title lamp is an ancient artifact found by hoodlums who rob and murder an old woman, only to be murdered themselves. From there, the lamp ends up in the hands of a museum curator who is preparing for the arrival of his daughter's high school class field trip. Under the influence of the awakened genie, the girl convinces her friends to spend the night in the museum, an educational setting for the evil spirit to kill them one by one.
The Outing might be my favorite of the bunch. It follows a standard supernatural slasher template, with plenty of excuses for nudity and a bevy of screaming teens. It's not all goodnatured—a couple of nasty rapist bullies sour the mood—but the film succeeds in devising creative deaths. Some of the kills are inspired by the museum setting, with flying spears and a resurrected cannibal mummy, but others are just goofy fun. I've certainly never seen anyone murdered in a bathtub by reanimated cobras before. And while the genie is represented for most of the movie as a green glow that possesses people, they pay it off at the end with a hulking puppet monster than works way better than it should.
After Scream Factory's stellar Blu-ray output, this All Night Horror Marathon might be disappointing to fans. The video quality ranges from fine to terrible. The Godsend comes in at the very bottom with an opening title sequence that looks like a buffering YouTube clip. The others are fine considering their age and obscurity, although The Outing is presented as full-frame for some reason. The audio is likewise lackluster. The Vagrant is the only film in stereo; the rest are mono. None of which takes away from the low-fi fun of a budget four-movie collection. Just go in with the proper expectations. Don't expect any bonus features either, because there aren't any.
This All Night Horror Marathon isn't as impressive as recent Scream Factory releases, but if it's a choice between a barebones DVD set and these four movies never being available, I'm glad this exists. What's the Matter with Helen?, The Vagrant, The Godsend, and The Outing might be lesser horror entries, but they make for a fun, varied collection—whether you consume them individually or as part of the suggested serving size.
All night is all right. Not Guilty!
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Scales of Justice, What's The Matter With Helen?
Perp Profile, What's The Matter With Helen?
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, What's The Matter With Helen?
Scales of Justice, The Godsend
Perp Profile, The Godsend
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Godsend
Scales of Justice, The Outing
Perp Profile, The Outing
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Outing
Scales of Justice, The Vagrant
Perp Profile, The Vagrant
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Vagrant
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