Judge Gordon Sullivan tries to avoid castles when chasing women.
The Most Terrifying Screen Experience Of Your Life!
Whatever one thinks of Roger Corman's acumen as a filmmaker, as a movie mogul, he has an uncontested brilliance. He knew the secret to turning a profit generally meant turning a film around quickly to cash in on what was hot. He also knew that the best bang for the buck involves working with talent, but not talent that's too hot. Big stars cost big bucks, and his short shoots and sometimes-lurid subject matter kept him from the biggest names. Corman's solution was to still work with talent, but talent that's either very young or very old. He gave us Peter Fonda, Martin Scorsese, and a host of other film talents. Take The Terror, for instance. Without Corman's eye, it's just another goofy ghost story that no one would think twice about. However, Corman cast Boris Karloff, already seventy-five, and Jack Nicholson, who was in his pre-fame period at only twenty-six. They don't turn The Terror into classic cinema, but they do elevate a so-so premise into an interesting watch. The same is true for the other two films included in this set of Roger Corman's Horror Classics, Volume 1.
Three films are included in this set, and each gets its own disc:
• Bucket of Blood follows a beatnik waiter (Dick Miller, Gremlins) who accidently kills a cat. To hide the evidence, he puts the cat in plaster, earning him a reputation as a genius sculpture. Now there's demand for his work, but his work demands killing.
• Dementia 13 shows us Louise Haloran (Luana Anders, The Last Detail), who just lost her husband. She moves back to her ex-husband's family farm in Ireland, but finds herself trapped there with a lot of weirdness.
• The Terror gives us a young officer (Jack Nicholson, Batman) in pursuit of a beautiful woman (Sandra Knight, Thunder Road) in a decrepit castle owned by a sinister Baron (Boris Karloff, Frankenstein).
These films are all now more curiosities than they are classics of horror cinema. They're not the best work of anyone involved; Corman wouldn't hit his peak until his collaboration with Vincent Price on the Poe adaptations, made in between these films. Karloff was still a mighty presence, but had his iconic role as Frankenstein three decades behind him. Francis Ford Coppola (who directed Dementia 13) and Jack Nicholson had their best work years in the future. With that said, there's always at least one thing about each of these movies that feels unique or interesting. Bucket of Blood seems to prefigure Herschell Gordon Lewis' gore experiments later in the sixties, especially Color Me Blood Red, with its plot of killing young women for the purposes of art. Dementia 13 has a kind of Psycho-meets-Bava quality, with its strange black-and-white cinematography, natural settings, and copious body count. Even The Terror benefits from Corman's Poe sets and one of the final appearances of a famous face.
These are, at best, cult classics. Every one of these films has its fans, from those like the nonsensical (or perhaps nonexistent) plot of The Terror to those who point out the talent that Coppola brought to what could have otherwise been just another Psycho ripoff. I'm not going to hate on them, as long as viewers know what they're getting into. These are films that were shot on shoestring budgets in a handful of days just to have product to push to the gaping maw that was the drive-in circuit.
Of course the films have their fans, so much so that they've been released and re-released in various forms on home video. All three of these films have made their way onto those giant multi-disc compilation releases because they're in the public domain. The films are also available in numerous forms via video hosting sites. So, if these films are readily available for cheap or free, why pick up this set? In a word, re-mastering. Unlike all those public domain mega-releases, the folks at Film Chest have gone back to the original 35mm elements to create a hi-def re-master for each of the films. No one can work miracles, but the included restoration demonstrations indicate that a lot of cleanup has been done. Bucket of Blood looks the best, with a clear and bright black-and-white transfer. Dementia 13 is a bit more ambitious, so it hasn't aged quite as well, but its transfer is solid. The Terror will probably never look that great. Even as the most recent film of the three, it's super-low budget and short shooting schedule (at least for star Boris Karloff) doesn't lend itself to a good-looking image. Perhaps the only negative thing to be said about the transfers is that a bit of DNR has been applied, leading to some over-smoothing in some shots. Those sensitive to DNR might object.
Audio options include 5.1 except for the first film, which gets a stereo track. They show their age, and the 5.1 mixes are a waste, but dialogue, music, and effects are always audible and well balanced.
Extras include a trailer for each film, along with a restoration demonstration.
The biggest complaint about this set, really, is the lack of extras. I'm not sure what would be appropriate—A commentary or two from Corman? A documentary? An image gallery of posters?—but the restoration demonstration/trailer combo feels light for films so rich in history. However, to complain about the set, given the quality of the re-mastering and the fact that someone was willing to gamble on public-domain films would be silly.
Perhaps a full-bore restoration that spent a huge chunk of change could make these films look better, or perhaps a Blu-ray version from these same re-masters. On the standard-def front, these are the best Corman's films are going to look for a long while. Fans who've fallen in love with inferior, scratched-up versions will definitely want to upgrade to these re-mastered version. Those with any interest in Corman, independent filmmaking in the fifties and sixties, Coppola, or the actors should definitely give these films a chance.
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Scales of Justice, A Bucket Of Blood
Perp Profile, A Bucket Of Blood
Studio: Film Chest
Distinguishing Marks, A Bucket Of Blood
Scales of Justice, Dementia 13
Perp Profile, Dementia 13
Studio: Film Chest
Distinguishing Marks, Dementia 13
• Restoration Demo
Scales of Justice, The Terror
Perp Profile, The Terror
Studio: Film Chest
Distinguishing Marks, The Terror
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