Judge Brett Cullum's question of the day: How can anyone come out with a Twisted Terror Collection and not include Manos: The Hands of Fate?
Doctor Evan Rendell: If you think that's bad wait until you get my bill.
What is it about the horror genre that makes even the B-movie entries sort of fun to watch? Warner Brothers must know true-blue horror fans will sit through just about anything, and we can't resist the chance to get six titles in a box set which all feature either a favorite director or star dabbling in chills and thrills. Twisted Terror Collection gathers together Deadly Friend, Dr. Giggles, Eyes of a Stranger, From Beyond the Grave, The Hand, and Someone's Watching Me for your viewing pleasure. So will horror fans feel tricked or treated by this group of not-exactly classic, but enjoyable, terror?
Facts of the Case
Twisted Terror Collection features six movies:
• Deadly Friend is simply a story about the robotic ghoul next door, or I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, updated for the '80s by director Wes Craven of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame. A super-nerdy brainiac (Matthew Laborteaux, Little House on the Prairie) makes an artificial intelligence robot named BB, and falls for his abused hottie neighbor (Kristy Swanson, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Tragedy strikes, and both the robot and the girl have near-fatal accidents on Halloween. The nerd swings in to action and fuses their brains together. Unfortunately this radical medical procedure turns his girlfriend into a death-crazed zombie with scary strength. Deadly bloody mayhem ensues.
• Dr. Giggles is a campy take on the slasher genre featuring a maniacally deranged M.D. (Larry Drake) out to make fatal house calls. An escaped mental patient with a degree in anatomy and a dark sense of humor, he stalks a bunch of horny teens. He's nursing some serious daddy issues, rocking a nasty giggle, and working some very lame but deadly puns. Medical malpractice and bloody mayhem ensues.
• Eyes of a Stranger features a young Jennifer Jason Leigh as a blind and deaf teen being stalked by a killer. Her television reporter sister (Lauren Tewes, better known as Julie from The Love Boat) is tracking down a serial killer, and getting in way too deep. The killer comes after them. Can anyone stop the bloody mayhem from ensuing?
• From Beyond the Grave is an episodic anthology movie which revolves around an antiquities shop run by Hammer horror legend Peter Cushing. When you buy your old furniture from the man who played Grand Mof Tarkin (the highest ranking officer of the Death Star in Star Wars) are you shocked when bloody mayhem ensues?
• In The Hand Michael Caine plays a cartoonist who tragically loses his hand in a traffic accident. Luckily, he survives the incident. Unluckily, the disembodied evil appendage develops a mind of its own. His hand is out to get anyone who's ever wronged him. Oliver Stone (Alexander) directs as bloody mayhem ensues.
• Someone's Watching Me is a long-lost television project written and directed by John Carpenter of Halloween fame. Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton, American Gigolo) moves in to a swanky Los Angeles high rise to find a spectacular view. Unfortunately for her, someone else decides they like the view of her. But rather than let someone watch her, Leigh decides to try and trap the voyeur before he gets her. Can she stop the bloody mayhem before it ensues?
Can anyone ever stop the bloody mayhem?
The nice thing about the Twisted Terror Collection is it gathers six horror movies that aren't well known, but feature either a famous rising director or star in an ambitious unsung project. I wouldn't go so far as to call them gems, but they are nice entertaining diversions to round out your horror library. There is a chilling moment or idea found on each project, but none of them succeed entirely to be considered lost classics of the genre. Suggested pricing of the set comes out to just over six dollars for each disc, which means the whole thing is like raiding the bargain bin and coming out with six flicks of varying quality. Each film is also available separately for just about five dollars more each if you want to simply pick up one at a time, and that's a good way to go if you only want a title or two. So what's good, bad, and indifferent here?
• Deadly Friend is different for Wes Craven, because it's like John Hughes decided to make a horror movie. Imagine if Molly Ringwald's character died in detention during The Breakfast Club, and Anthony Michael Hall installed a microchip in her head that made her go on a bloody rampage. It's not creepy or scary, but it's kind of fun. Kristy Swanson's zombie act is not convincing, and she shows no menace apart from badly applied blue eye shadow and white face foundation. If you want a movie to scare your favorite makeup counter sales person, this is the way to go! The most famous scene involves a basketball used as a murder weapon. Deadly Friend features the extended half-court shot murder sequence which means it should be labeled unrated. The MPAA demanded trims to the scene for theatrical release, but it's on DVD uncut. Even if Deadly Friend isn't all that scary, it does earn points for being an inventive idea which isn't your typical slasher feature. True the dead girl kills people, but she's not a knife-wielding maniac punishing teens for having sex. Apart from a vintage trailer, there are no extras. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is solid enough with nice black and color levels, and the mono soundtrack is theatrically correct. I did long to hear the final credit's hilarious electronic "BB" song in all five speakers, but no such luck. It's one of the most recognizable titles in the collection thanks to Craven's hand in it, but it's one of the weakest in both content and presentation. Children of the '80s will find it most satisfying, and who knows how it escaped I Love the '80s treatment on VH-1. This whole thing reeks of the decade that brought us New Wave and Rubik's Cube mania.
• An all-too-familiar cliché of the '80s was the "slasher film," initiated by Halloween's dizzying financial success in the late '70s. Seemed everyone wanted to replicate it, and Eyes of a Stranger combined the serial-killer stalker with an even older thriller, Wait Until Dark. The film isn't all that inspired, but it is notable for the screen debut of Jennifer Jason Leigh in a small supporting role and a surprisingly strong dramatic turn from Lauren Tewes who carries the film. Eyes of a Stranger is presented in uncut form, and differs slightly from the theatrical version. It should be marked unrated as well. There are no extras for this disc. The transfer looks like a nicely done television movie, and includes the mono soundtrack of the original production. I appreciated the fact the heroines in the movie were smart enough to go after the killer, but it seems silly they never get the cops involved earlier. It has some nice suspense, but all in all it feels like just a well done movie of the week.
• Dr. Giggles was yet another Halloween-inspired slasher flick, but it aspired to be sardonically funny as well as scary. Made in 1992 it's closer in sensibility to the Wes Craven Scream series, in which the thrills were ironically funny as well as chilling. Fans of Dark Man will enjoy seeing Larry Drake take on the lead role as a killer doctor with a gleeful giggle who makes bad puns during murders. Holly Marie Combs of Charmed and Glenn Quinn of the first season of Angel both make appearances in this one. Again, we have a film that isn't all that scary. It moves at a frantic pace, but there's just no creep factor with a wisecracking killer who makes doctor jokes constantly. Dr. Giggles has accrued a lot of fans along the way, and it's a fun, memorably fluffy piece that's inventive with its kills. The film was notorious enough to be mentioned by the MST3K crew during their screening of Manos: The Hands of Fate as well as High School Big Shot, and it also was spoofed in the fifth season opener for Family Guy. Hell, in the second season of Lost Sawyer calls Jack "Dr. Giggles." The disc is as bare-bones as they come, without even a trailer. Visually we get another solid anamorphic transfer that looks better than most of the films in this set, thanks to its younger film stock. The sound is delivered in stereo with some okay surround effects.
• From Beyond the Grave is one of those horror anthology movies that seemed to thrive in England of the '70s. It's chock full of British actors known for horror such as David Warner (The Omen), Donald Pleasance (Halloween), and Peter Cushing (Star Wars). There are four separate stories all joined by sequences in an antique store run by Cushing. Each customer tries to cheat the old man, and somehow their purchases wreak havoc on their lives. It's a PG offering from producers Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky who did quite a few of these anthology movies, such as Tales From the Crypt. It's solid entertainment that moves quickly, and it's a nice find even if it is simply a quartet of short terror films. The transfer on this one is solid enough though soft at times, and again there is the monaural sound mix that was part of the original release. Fans should be pleased, but there are no extras, save for a vintage trailer.
• The Hand is a ridiculous idea that makes me think of Thing from The Addams Family going on a psychopathic rampage. We're treated in the flick to hysterical scenes of a disembodied hand taking people out easily as if nobody can easily throw it across the room and run away. Thirty mechanical hands were built to execute the fun if improbable murder scenes. What saves the film is some nice work by Michael Caine in the lead role; he was given the project after Christopher Walken and Jon Voight passed on it. Caine and Stone make the film a compelling character study of a man who has lost his way to make a living, and can't quite adjust. You have to applaud the film for being original, and seriously trying to creep us out while providing a strong character study. The Hand features the best extra of the set, a feature-length commentary by director Oliver Stone. For once we get to hear him spouting about something other than Alexander, and it's refreshing to hear him talk about something he simply had fun making. It was an early project in his career, and he does a nice job of explaining some of the most interesting aspects of the film. The transfer looks good, and there's a nice stereo mix. This may be the best choice for a stand-alone purchase since it's a fun, unique concept with a strong cast and a great commentary.
John Carpenter worked quite a bit in television during his early career. On DVD for the first time is a little small-screen thriller he wrote and directed called Someone's Watching Over Me which he completed two weeks before going on to shoot Halloween. He got a solid cast including Lauren Hutton, Adrienne Barbeau (Escape From New York), and TV star David Birney (Oh, God! Book II). You'll also recognize Carpenter regular Charles Cypher who was the sheriff in the first two Halloween movies. It's a broadcast production, so there's little gore and the transfer looks like something from '70s television. Surprisingly, though, it is in widescreen. There are some specks and digital noise, but it looks like it has been cleaned up enough to be passable. The sound is mono, and seems clear enough. Someone's Watching Me features an interesting short featurette called "John Carpenter: Director Rising" which includes a good interview with Carpenter about how he made the film and how it influenced his later work. Nice to see this one on DVD, even if it's small in scope and truly only notable for letting Carpenter cut his teeth before making some classics.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The set itself doesn't truly have a theme or unifying aspect to make sense of why they'd take these movies and put them together. Twisted Terror could mean "out of the ordinary," and that's all I could figure out to tie all of these works. These are six movies that are pretty much devoid of extras, other than The Hand and Someone's Watching Me. You're looking at a box set of bare-bones B movies. The set includes all six titles in standard cases, so it's not exactly a space saver by any means. Nice if you want to scatter them and file them separately into your library, but cumbersome if you keep the set together inside its slip-sleeve cardboard shell.
These scary movies in the Twisted Terror Collection are all interesting enough to merit a purchase for fans of the genre. It features some great "masters of horror," although their output here is decidedly middle of the road in comparison to the classics they made. All of them get solid enough anamorphic widescreen transfers, although only The Hand and Someone's Watching Me get significant extras. If you love Oliver Stone or John Carpenter, that's nice, but no such luck with the rest of the directors or casts. Still, I was entertained completely by every title here. There's just no stopping horror movies, even the bad ones.
Guilty six times over! Bloody mayhem for all!
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Scales of Justice, From Beyond The Grave
Perp Profile, From Beyond The Grave
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, From Beyond The Grave
• Vintage Trailer
Scales of Justice, Someone's Watching Me
Perp Profile, Someone's Watching Me
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Someone's Watching Me
• Interview with Director John Carpenter
Scales of Justice, Eyes Of A Stranger
Perp Profile, Eyes Of A Stranger
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Eyes Of A Stranger
Scales of Justice, The Hand
Perp Profile, The Hand
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Hand
• Commentary by Director Oliver Stone
Scales of Justice, Deadly Friend
Perp Profile, Deadly Friend
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Deadly Friend
• Vintage Theatrical Trailer
Scales of Justice, Dr. Giggles
Perp Profile, Dr. Giggles
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Dr. Giggles
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