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Case Number 22246: Small Claims Court

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Vampires, Mummies, And Monsters

The Velvet Vampire
1971 // 80 Minutes // Rated R
Lady Frankenstein
1972 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Time Walker
1982 // 83 Minutes // Rated PG
Grotesque
1988 // 79 Minutes // Rated R
Released by Shout! Factory
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // September 9th, 2011

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All Rise...

When Judge Paul Pritchard was offered an all-nighter, this DVD set wasn't what he had in mind.

The Charge

"This mummy hasn't been prepared in the standard manner!"

The Case

Vampires, Mummies, and Monsters continues Shout! Factory's Roger Corman's Cult Classics line with an "All-Night Marathon" of horror. Spanning seventeen years, this disparate collection brings together four obscure movies for the discerning horror fan.

Lady Frankenstein
When Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten, The Third Man) is killed by his own brain-damaged creation, his daughter, Tania (Rosalba Neri), takes up her father's mantle and creates a creature of her own. Using the body of her servant, and the brain of her father's assistant, she creates a creature not only powerful enough to destroy the monster that killed her father, but one that proves to be the perfect lover.

Everything about Lady Frankenstein, from the impressive set design to the performances of its cast, suggests that the duo of Mel Welles and Aureliano Luppi fully intended their picture to be seen as straight horror, but thanks to a central premise which is classic B-movie nonsense, it is impossible to take the film too seriously.

Tania Frankenstein is a woman torn between two men. She is attracted sexually towards Tom, a simple, yet handsome man who fails to stimulate her on an intellectual level. On the other hand, Tania loves her father's assistant, Dr. Charles Marshall (Paul Muller) for his brilliant mind, yet finds him as appealing physically as a plate of cold ravioli. To that end she devises a plan so ridiculous, it borders on the insane. Despite his supposed intellect, Tania is able to talk Dr. Marshall into letting her transplant his brain into the body of Tom, thus creating her ideal partner. Now, I know guys will go to some extreme lengths to get their leg over (I've even heard of men buying women flowers or taking them out for a meal), but surely this is just going too far?

Still, it all adds to the charm of this odd little movie. Despite my belief that the film is not much more than entertaining folly, it should be stressed that Edward di Lorenzo's screenplay is refreshing as it introduces a feminist slant to the genre with the introduction of a strong female lead in the form of Tania. Tania is a determined woman, smart enough to get what she wants from the male characters without ever giving away more in return. In fact, the monster, which one would normally assume to be of some importance, is very much a lesser concern in Lady Frankenstein. We get a few brief scenes of chaos as the creature causes havoc—often bumping off those involved in its creation—but until the film's finale, it has very little bearing on the onscreen events as di Lorenzo focuses his attentions on Tania's ability to manipulate those around her.

Like all good (read: cheesy) Seventies horror, Lady Frankenstein ensures a sexual undercurrent adds a little titillation to proceedings. In one scene Tania is seen to lure a man to his death by copulating with him whilst her accomplice strikes, and then continues to climax as her victim lies, er, stiff. Whether this adds to or detracts from the film's feminist slant is a matter for debate, as is the completely unnecessary, though not wholly unwelcome, nudity that punctuates the horror and helps divert attention when the film's momentum begins to slip. In much the same way, Neri's ample bosom is employed to ensure the overblown dialogue never becomes too troublesome.

The cast all commit to their roles, with Neri (going by the name Sara Bay) in particular having fun with the hammy dialogue, and plays up the film's sexual side to full effect. Director's Welles and Aureliano ensure their film follows the standard tropes of the Frankenstein brand, which coupled with their tendency towards the bizarre, creates an entertaining picture. The gothic setting is in keeping with Mary Shelley's creation, and owes much to the classic Universal Frankenstein movies of the Thirties. It's disappointing that the horror elements are never played upon to any satisfying degree, especially as the film is otherwise fun, but ultimately feels a little too lightweight to wholeheartedly recommend.

Lady Frankenstein is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Black levels are solid, and despite a little softness, the picture quality is rather good. The soundtrack suffers from an inconsistency, which sees the dialogue become almost inaudible during certain scenes. Otherwise it is serviceable.

Extras: TV Spot, Trailer, Photo Gallery. There is also the option of an extended version of the film, which adds little more than filler material and is unrated. That said, Shout! Factory should be commended for offering fans the chance to see this extended cut for the first time.

The Velvet Vampire
Released in 1971, The Velvet Vampire drops the gothic tone of Lady Frankenstein in favor of a (at the time at least) contemporary setting, but preserves the sexual overtones of its predecessor. The film sees the mysterious Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall, The Mechanic) invite a young couple, Lee and Susan Ritter (Michael Blodgett and Sherry Miles, respectively) to her desert retreat. Little does the couple realize that Diane is in fact a centuries-old vampire, who intends to use the two to satisfy her cravings for sex and blood.

This film's banalities permeate its every pore, and really shouldn't work at all. Were it not for Yarnall's performance there would be little to praise, yet somehow it crosses that line of "so bad, it's good," and offers a good time for all the wrong reasons.

The Velvet Vampire is cluttered with awkward dialogue, highlighted best in a scene where Diane attempts to seduce Lee by offering him a ride on her dune buggy. Her suggestion that once her buggy warms up it offers a great ride is sure to raise a few titters. Similarly, when Lee is caught slipping Diane a sly one by his wife, he simply informs her he was "just getting laid, baby," and everyone carries on as normal.

The main narrative is broken up by a series of sexually charged dream sequences the young couple share. Complete with acoustic guitar accompaniment, these sequences are like some kind of soft-porn music video, which in turn renders the film's erotic angle mute, no matter how often Miss Yarnell exposes her chest.

The biggest gripe must surely be the lapses in logic the viewer is forced to stomach if they are to have any chance of enjoying the film. The disappearances that surround Diane would serve as some warning to most people, but Lee is so driven by his pecker that he barely makes a fuss, even when he sees the gravestone of Diane's late husband, which shows the date of death as 1875; even more suspect is his lack of concern when a murdered body is found next to the grave, complete with teeth marks in its neck. Sure, he questions Diane's explanations for the odd goings on, and plans for him and Susan to leave, but following another wet dream, and the sight of Diane's cleavage, is quick to forget all about it. All these faults are mere distractions when set next to the plot, which is so lacking in incident that it's difficult to sit through The Velvet Vampire without drifting off, let alone caring. The film stumbles towards a fittingly cumbersome finale, ensuring the movies is at least consistent in its quality, or lack thereof.

Like Lady Frankenstein, The Velvet Vampire really fails to build on the horror premise, and does little with the vampire legend to make is stand out from an overcrowded genre. Its sole redeeming feature is the star turn of Celeste Yarnall, who exudes a sexual confidence that adds a level of believability to her character. Yarnall alone carries this film, and her performance makes it worth watching.

The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer has vibrant colors, and a good level of detail. The picture is sharp, with good black levels. The soundtrack is also impressive, considering the film's age and budget, with clear dialogue throughout.

Extras: Commentary, Trailer, Photo Gallery. The commentary is the obvious highlight, and has Celeste Yarnall discussing the film with Nathaniel Thompson with an infectious enthusiasm.

Time Walker
When Professor Douglas McCadden (Ben Murphy) returns from an expedition to Egypt with a stone sarcophagus, he little realizes the danger he is in. Upon opening the casket, McCadden discovers not just a Mummy but also a flesh-eating green fungus; further investigation also reveals five crystals, which are soon stolen by one of McCadden's students. Unbeknownst to McCadden, the X-rays taken of the Mummy reanimate both it and the fungus. Before long the Mummy has risen, and goes in search of its crystals, killing anyone who gets in its way.

1982's Time Walker also goes by the name Being From Another Planet, a title which kind of robs you of the film's twist in much the same way I have merely by mentioning it. Still, few who watch this dire little movie will care; fewer still will actually bother watching it through to the end. The film is deathly dull for the first two acts, with a Mummy going on a killing spree as it looks to get back the crystals stolen from its sarcophagus. An extremely low budget helps ensure the Mummy's appearances are severely limited, meaning most of the film is made up of either horny teens who are just begging for death, or scientists scratching their chins as they try to track down the reanimated killer. In keeping with the two previous films in the set, Time Walker also contains a little female nudity. Still, I'd expect no less coming from co-writer Jason Williams, best known for playing Flesh Gordon.

There's a reason TV stations run twenty-four hours a day, and that's so dross like Time Walker can get an airing every once in a while. It's an awful movie, yet like the rest of this set, will play well to connoisseurs of trash. The acting is…well, it's bad, how could it not be. Still, it's bad in an entertaining way, and no one entertains more than Ben Murphy and James Karen (Mulholland Drive), both of whom actually can act and seem determined to make the most of a bad situation by playing their roles with a real intensity. Talking of intensity, the film does contain one memorable scene where the Mummy attacks the occupant of an elevator, which almost results in one's heart rate increasing.

Time Walker builds to towards the inevitable showdown between McCadden, who is ridiculed when he suggests the Mummy is responsible for the spate of local murders, and the Mummy. This in turn leads not only towards a deeply unsatisfying reveal of the monster, but the truth behind its origin. The film ends somewhat abruptly, as the good professor and the Mummy/alien share an E.T.-Elliot-style coming together of hands, before cutting to black with the words, "To Be Continued…" thankfully, with nearly thirty years passed, I think we're safe from the threat of a sequel.

The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is much in keeping with the previous two movies in the set, as is the audio. The DVD also contains interviews with Kevin Brophy and Dimtri Villard.

Grotesque
Finally, after a long night, we come to Grotesque (not to be confused with the Japanese splatter flick from 2009), the most recent film in the set having been released in 1988. The film follows Lisa (Linda Blair, The Exorcist), who goes on vacation with her family. All is well, until a gang of crazed punks (or "punkers," as they are frequently called here) break into the holiday home, and subject the family to a night of torture before killing them all. With only Lisa left alive, the punks quickly come to realize something much worse than them lurks in this mountain retreat.

Joe Tornatore's Grotesque frequently transcends genres, moving effortlessly from horror movie to revenge flick without ever losing sight of what it really is: a piece of crap. That said, it certainly isn't lacking in ideas (if anything it has too many), it just lacks focus…and a good screenplay, competent direction, a decent score, quality acting; you get the idea. The film moves in fits and starts, never managing to find a consistent tone as the menagerie of ideas fail to gel into a cohesive picture. Though it lacks the grittiness of Wes Craven's classic, there are moments where Grotesque recalls The Last House On the Left. Following an opening hour which focuses on the torture of Lisa and her family, the film switches to Tab Hunter's uncle Rod, who seeks revenge on the punkers. Unfortunately this jump is jarring, and comes too late to have the impact one would assume was intended. There's also a hint of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to writer/director Joe Tornatore's film, with the introduction of a mentally deficient, and physically deranged family member who appears to have a scrotum hanging off his face, and whose rage sees him unleash a violent fury.

Despite being billed as a Linda Blair movie, Grotesque barely features the actress. Blair crops up infrequently, but did, however, act as an associate producer on the movie; suggesting her top billing was a rather unsubtle way of using her name to sell the movie to horror fans. Despite her brief appearances, Blair is still head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, with the notable exception of Tab Hunter, who delivers a memorable final ten minutes of insanity. The rest of the cast struggle during the dialogue heavy final act that sees the truth revealed through talk rather than action as the Police interrogate the punks. Having spent 20-odd minutes playing at a police procedural, Grotesque makes yet another shift as it becomes an early entry into the torture porn genre, before ending in total farce, as it makes one final genre shift into comedy.

There are no extras included for Grotesque, and it is the only movie presented in a 1.33:1 full-frame transfer, which suffers from occasional softness. The mono audio track offers a flat, but perfectly serviceable mix.

Individually each of these films is weak. Although Lady Frankenstein comes closest to being worthy of a standalone release, the strength of Vampires, Mummies, and Monsters really lies in its collecting of these movies together. Viewed as part of an all-nighter, or perhaps two double bills, they provide an entertaining experience. There are small moments, such as the finale of Time Walker; the big reveal in Grotesque; Lady Frankenstein's whacked out plan for her lover; or the smut of The Velvet Vampire that fans of cult cinema are going to revel in. Truly, a set that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Verdict

Oh so guilty, but in the best possible way.

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Genres

• Cult
• Horror
• Science Fiction

Scales of Justice, The Velvet Vampire

Judgment: 60

Perp Profile, The Velvet Vampire

Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, The Velvet Vampire

• Commentary
• Photo Gallery
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Lady Frankenstein

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile, Lady Frankenstein

Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Lady Frankenstein

• Alternative Cut
• Photo Gallery
• Promos

Scales of Justice, Time Walker

Judgment: 62

Perp Profile, Time Walker

Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Time Walker

• Interviews
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Grotesque

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile, Grotesque

Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Grotesque

• None








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