Saturday, March 30, 2019


A long-time home video staple, Ed Adlum’s delightfully absurd INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS (1972) has both confounded and amused viewers for decades, and now, thanks to Severin Films, this lowly regional-rarity makes its Blu-ray debut in a stunning new transfer.

According to the film’s opening narration—which sounds uncannily like respected British actor James Mason (!)—the Druids are an ancient culture or (quote) “the secret people… the Sangroid blood-eaters” located in the (quote) “remote corners of the world”, one of which just happens to be upstate New York. After the town drunk stumbles into the local watering-hole and haemorrhages to death right on the barroom floor (“Somebody help that man in here! Sounds like he needs a drink!”), pathologist Dr. Anderson (Norman Kelly) and his assistant Don Tucker (Bruce Detrick) begin an investigation, during which they discover that the dead man’s blood continues to reproduce itself at an incredible rate (“His hemostatic balance was so disturbed… he blew himself to pieces!”). It’s soon revealed that a small offshoot of the Druids, led by Creton (Paul Craig Jennings) and his underling, Egon (Jack Neubeck), have been kidnapping and draining the townspeople of their lifeblood in hopes of finding a special blood-type with which to resurrect their long-dormant queen…

In spite of its deceptively tame PG-rating, INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS still manages to pack a visceral punch into its threadbare, convoluted narrative. The blood-draining scenes in particular are quite effective in their simplicity, taking place in a rundown dirty shack with the so-called “blood farmers” utilizing a rickety old pump—highlighted by a highly distinctive syphoning noise—to drain their victims of blood. A nasty eye-gouging, a bludgeoning and a shower murder (which inverts the usual stereotype by featuring director Adlum as the male victim) most certainly push the envelope of PG (“Parental Guidance Suggested”) even further. In between all the periodic splashing of blood, much of the film’s, um, ‘ambitious’ plotline is never really clarified. Completely defeated by the meagre budget, the proceedings are made all the more confusing by a number of either mismatched or improperly-developed ‘day-for-night’ scenes wherein dialogue alludes to it being the ‘evening’ or the ‘middle of the night’ when in actuality it’s clearly broad daylight in everyshot! All continuity inconsistencies aside, this slapdash approach only adds the to the film’s lovably schizophrenic nature. 

A popular title on home video around the world, it first appeared on VHS in the United States in 1984 courtesy of Regal Home Video in a big over-sized box and was subsequently rereleased in 1986 by Goodtimes Home Video (“Superior Quality Reproduction in Color” ha!), recorded at the—almost always untrackable—LP (“Long Play”) speed. IOTBF first appeared on DVD in 2001 courtesy of Retromedia Entertainment, whose non-amamorphic transfer left plenty of room for improvement. In 2013, Code Red issued the film on DVD as a double feature paired-up with Theodore Gershuny’s SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1971), and, while the transfer was 16x9, it was taken from a much darker, heavily-beat-up print, leaving it up for debate as to which edition was preferable in terms of image quality. As a nice bonus, the DVD also contained an audio commentary with Ed Adlum, moderated by Lee Christian. 

There’s no need for debate when it comes to Severin’s Blu-ray, which features an all-new scan taken from the original camera negative. The results are spectacular, to say the least! While limited by the film’s original humble, scrappy nature, the transfer is nevertheless clean, crisp and quite colorful—just about perfect, in fact. It should be mentioned that, from 29m52s-to-30m23s and 31m53s-to-33m51s, the film becomes slightly darker and coarser in tone. These visual variations seem to have been inherent in the film’s original materials themselves, as the same anomalies were also present in Retromedia’s earlier DVD too. Nonetheless, Severin’s new transfer is an eye-opening stunner. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is equally clean and free of any issues, while optional English SDH subtitles are also included. 

Showcasing brand-new bonus features, the most significant of these is an audio commentary with director Ed Adlum and his wife Ortrum Tippel (she also served as the film’s costume designer), which is effectively moderated by Kier-La Janisse, the author of House of Psychotic Women. The three delve into the film with all sorts of great anecdotes and facts related to low-budget filmmaking, including its short shooting schedule, which was shot over a period of just six days at Briarcliff Manor, New York in Westchester County. Adlum goes on to talk about one of his early concepts, which was conceived around the film’s memorable title (“The title is half the battle”) and co-written with Ed Kelleher, one of his associates from Cashbox, a music industry trade paper for which they both worked. He also speaks about everybody in the cast, including that mysterious James Mason voice-impersonator, who it turns out is Joel Vance, yet another Cashbox associate. Also, the misconception that it was actually Roberta Findlay who shot INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS is quickly dismissed; however, it is revealed that’s Roberta’s husband Michael did in fact shoot a number of (quote) “inserts”. Adlum also freely admits—and laughsat—his technical deficiencies and explains that the film (quote) “happened by accident”, going on to profess his love for trashy B-movies, such as Harmon Jones’ GORILLA AT LARGE (1954) and Colman Francis’ THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS(1961). 

Nothin’ You’d Show Your Mom (22m08s) is a wonderful career-spanning interview with Ed Adlum put together by Kier-La Janisse, wherein he talks about his love of movies and his dream of one day making one himself. But Adlum also talks about his brief recording contract at Atlantic Records, where he and his band, The Castle Kings, recorded the single “You Can Get Him Frankenstein”; his work at Cashbox and how most of his work associates funded IOTBF; his initial meeting with Mike Findlay, their collaborations and friendship (“We became drinkin’ buddies”), as well as his shock over Mike’s tragic death. Lastly, he goes on to talk about Replay magazine, a trade paper which he and his wife started about the jukebox and video game (a term that he created) industry, which made (quote) “nothin’ but money” during the industry’s golden age between 1978 and 1982. In Painful Memories (4m43s), Frederick Elmes, who has since gone on to become a major DP in Hollywood, briefly discusses his time on the film. In Harvesting the Dead (11m57s), actor Jack Neubeck talks about his introduction to the film’s production through actor Norman Kelley; the lack of a thorough script which resulted in a lot of improvisation; his “Eddie the Yeti” song from Michael Findlay’s notorious SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1973); and also relates his personal recollections of the Findlays. The film’s memorable trailer finishes-off the disc’s superb slate of extras.

Without question, Severin’s Blu-ray is most definitely the final word on this oft-released film, which can be ordered directly from Severin on both Blu-ray or DVD, or if you wish, via DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Following a lengthy hibernation from the home video market, James L. Wilson’s PG-rated horror anthology SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT (1979) has finally resurfaced on Blu-ray thanks to Code Red, and not only does CR’s restoration look terrific, it also features the long-unseen director’s cut too.

Exceedingly simple in its set-up, SOAWN serves as an interesting bridge between the more innocent horrors of yesteryear and the splashier, gorier ingredients found in the slasher films of the ’80s. Although far from a polished production, the film is also refreshingly ambitious (the director’s cut runs just over 118m!) and atmospheric, highlighted by a palpable air of impending doom.

Five college couples led by John (Matt Borel) are heading to his parents’ long-abandoned woodland cabin for a winter weekend getaway. Located on Lake Durand, which is better-known under the more colourful name of Coyote Lake (quote) “because of the weird noise the wind makes”, and according to an ancient Indian legend, this remote area is also supposedly home to ‘Shabata’, a (quote) “very evil, very powerful spirit”, which allegedly wreaked havoc in the past—a legend which Matt sneakily plans on exploiting for one of his (quote) “great stories”. 

Settling-in for the night, everyone sits around the fire drinking beer, and, thanks to Matt’s persistence, ‘entertain’ each other with a number of scary stories. These begin with Matt’s ‘The Moss Point Man’, an undemanding tale about a young couple who are terrorized by a strange sasquatch-type beast after their car breaks-down on a desolate woodland road. Next up, Matt’s friend Steve (Gil Glasgow) gets in on the act, telling a tale about an old—and supposedly haunted, natch—hotel, which is used for a fraternity initiation when three pledges are ordered to spend the night there, with uniquely disastrous results. In the third story (the one that was missing from Dimension Pictures’ original theatrical prints), Lauri (Jan Norton) reminiscences about an old Catholic cemetery in her hometown, which is haunted by the spirit of an old witch named Lorraine. “I think everyone is letting their imagination run away with them!” exclaims Elaine (Mary Agen Cox), the lone cynic amongst the group, who relates a far different tale about a young woman who, following an attempted rape, suddenly snaps and becomes a knife-wielding killer. So engrossed are they in their storytelling that the group fail to notice the howling and increasingly violent wind outside the cabin…

One of the more unique anthology films, SOAWN’s rudimentary premise is well-anchored by the film’s overall uncanny atmosphere, which commences in terrifying style. Simple, non-distracting white credits on a black screen unfold over the sounds of what seems to be a family besieged by screeching howls, deafening winds and their subsequent screams of terror (“John, it’s back! Don’t go out there!”); it’s an imposing and gripping opener, which sets the ominous tone wonderfully. In yet another cleverly novel concept, the four stories (which do build the film’s dramatic tension nicely) are also cast with the same actors from the wraparound story, which takes up quite a sizable portion of the film’s running time and actually turns out to be far more riveting than some of the story segments themselves.

Shot in and around Natchitoches, Louisiana, the isolated wooded locales, heavy with Spanish moss-covered, cypress swamp trees that are so prevalent to the area, add immeasurably to the film, especially during some of the cost-effective day-for-night photography. In an early scene at an out-of-the-way gas station (a typical horror movie trope), local colour is provided by William Ragsdale in an early role (the actor would go on to star in Tom Holland’s essential ’80s horror classic, FRIGHT NIGHT [1986]), and, according to an interview with actor Gil Glasgow (found elsewhere on this disc), the rather striking ‘giant’ seen lumbering around the gas station was actually the local real-life sheriff. 

Prior to Code Red’s Region A Blu-ray, the only game in town—outside of shoddy bootlegs—was VCI’s long out-of-print VHS videocassette of the theatrical version, which was issued in both a standard slipcase edition and in a large clamshell box, both of which commanded large sums of money within the collector’s market, but whose dark and murky panned-and-scanned transfers left a lot to be desired. Released earlier this year, Code Red’s long-awaited Blu-ray of this oft-requested title is taken from a (quote) “brand new 2K scan of the original 16mm A/B roll camera negative of the never-before-seen uncut 124-minute director’s edition”, which is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and, despite some inherent damage here and there, it’s miles better than its videotape predecessor and far easier on the eyes especially during many of the aforementioned day-for-night scenes. It should also be noted that, despite the “124-minute” running time listed on the packaging, this director’s cut actually only runs 118m44s. In terms of audio, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track also sounds quite good, which not only enhances the various and—all-important—sound effects, but Don Zimmers' effective score as well.  

The BD’s extras kick-off with an on-camera interview with actor Gil Glasgow (21m33s), during which he discusses how he initially became involved in the project, as well as discussing the film’s locations and the rest of the cast, plus the multiple characters they played and how James L. Wilson and writer / producer Richard H. Wadsack (quote) “were very hands-on, and learning as they went.” As an extra bonus, Code Red have also seen fit to include the truncated original theatrical version (91m29s), which was mastered from a worn print with duller colours and lots more print damage. It nevertheless makes for a terrific and welcome addition to the package. A rough-looking TV spot for the film finishes off the extras, along with a number of TV spots and trailers for some of Code Red’s other available and/or upcoming titles, including Eddy Matalon’s BLACKOUT (1978) and Lucio Fulci’s CONQUEST (1983). 

Although not out-of-print, Code Red’s SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT is only intermittently available through the Dark Force Superstore, so keep trying!

Sunday, March 3, 2019


While ostensibly referred to as a giallo in most circles, Luigi Bazzoni’s and Franco Rossellini’s stunning film THE POSSESSED (1965) is actually closer in spirit to a moody film-noir, and although it does feature a number of key elements specific to gialli, it feels wholly unique and is difficult to categorize. Highlighted by some truly outstanding photography, this shadowy, eerily menacing film has finally received its definitive release thanks to Arrow Video, which is further highlighted by a number of illuminating extra features.

Novelist Bernard (Peter Baldwin) breaks-up with his girlfriend Claudia over the phone, and even though he feels that he should—and wants to—love her, he still calls it quits just the same. Upon feeling compelled to visit a small lakeside town he used to vacation at as a child, he is this time lured by the prospect of meeting Tilde (Virna Lisi), a hotel maid who fleetingly caught his eye and with whom he has since become infatuated. However, upon his arrival, he learns from the hotel’s owner, Enrico (Salvo Randone) that she has since committed suicide, which prompts him to conduct his own investigation with the help of Francesco (Pier Giovanni Anchisi), a local photographer and journalist who believes Tilde was actually murdered. Confused and frustrated, Bernard is also haunted by fragmented memories, daydreams and an increasing paranoia as he gradually comes to suspect that Enrico, or possibly his edgy, brooding son Mario (Philippe Leroy), might be the culprit(s) behind Tilde’s death, which is further emphasized by Enrico’s daughter Irma (Valentina Cortese), whose jittery behaviour only confirms his suspicions. And just why is it that Adriana (Pia Lindström), Mario’s despondent newlywed bride, takes late-night walks alongside the ghostly, moonlit lake…?

This is a film filled with loneliness—despite all their daily social interactions, every character is consumed by it, either searching for something or someone. Bernard, a talented novelist, seems to have it all: a thriving career, a loving girlfriend, but there is nevertheless a void in his life (“I don’t feel anything, not for you, not for me, not for anyone,” he tells Claudia.). Hence, he hopes that Tilde may be the answer to his unhappiness. Enrico, the hotel’s middle-aged owner wanders the hotel entertaining his few guests as best he can (“If I were younger, I would have remarried myself. Women are a closed chapter…”), while Mario and Adriana are completely indifferent towards one another, despite having only just returned from their honeymoon. Adding to the overall bleak and lonely air, the unnamed Italian lakeside resort whereon the bulk of the action unfolds is also mostly boarded-up for the winter, with only a few remaining locals populating the town, which only seems to accentuate everyone’s unease. At one point, Irma confesses that there is “something very powerful hanging over me and my family” and how “we have no more guests,” revealing that she too is precariously on the brink. On the other hand, Tilde—who is only shown via photographs and some very brief flashback recollections (or are they fantasies?)—represents the sole glimmer of life and happiness in this emotionally barren landscape.

Released in Italy as LA DONNA DEL LAGO (trans: “The Lady of the Lake”), THE POSSESSED was adapted from a novel by Giovanni Comisso (also titled La Donna del Lago), which itself was inspired by a series of murders during the ’30s in Alleghe, a small town in northeastern Italy. THE POSSESSED was Luigi Bazzoni’s first full-length feature as a director and remains a remarkable accomplishment, which is simultaneously hallucinatory and meticulous in its approach to detail, its ambiance further highlighted by a number of significant, eye-catching images (including some almost otherworldly high-contrast photography) that captures the bleakness of the climate perfectly. Aided by stellar performances from American actor Baldwin and Italian character actor Randone, the film never wavers nor wastes any time, even when the narrative is toying with the audience as it moves between reality and Bernard’s subconscious. It is a thoroughly convincing and dramatically mesmerizing film! 

Previously available on untranslated VHS videocassette through the Canadian-based Italian-language label Master Video, the film eventually appeared on DVD in both Italy and Spain via Sinister Film and Filmax, respectively, but neither of those editions were English-friendly either. Sinister Film eventually released it onto Blu-ray, but once again it lacked any English audio or subtitles. In 2016, German label Koch Media released an elaborate 5-disc Blu-ray / DVD set of Luigi Bazzoni’s equally impressive, offbeat giallo FOOTPRINTS ON THE MOON (1975), which also included a Blu-ray of LA DONNA DEL LAGO, but it only included Italian audio with optional German subtitles. Thankfully, Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray, which features a (quote) “brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative” looks absolutely stunning in every respect. Audio is provided in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono in both Italian (including newly-translated English subtitles) and English (a long-unheard audio track), which doesn’t have the same resonance as the Italian one, but it’s a fabulous—and very welcome—inclusion just the same. SDH subtitles are also included for the English track.

Aside from the immaculate transfer, Arrow have also included a number of worthwhile extras, beginning with a feature-length audio commentary from Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas. He goes on to discuss the film in great detail in terms of its unique structure (and also its initial screenwriter Giulio Questi, future director of DEATH LAID AN EGG [1968]) and, in an apt comparison, he discusses many of the film’s similarities with Pupi Avati’s THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976), another film about a small Italian town harbouring (quote) “terrifying secrets”. During his critique, Lucas also discusses just how (quote) “well-cast” the film is; much of the talented personnel behind-the-scenes and many of the details surrounding the real-life crimes in Alleghe, as well as how it was future director Pasquale Festa Campanile (at the time working for a newspaper), who encouraged journalist Sergio Saviane to investigate—and eventually expose the murderers—of this once long-forgotten case. This all makes for another thoroughly engaging and informative listen! 

In the first on-camera interview, Richard Dyer on The Possessed (25m12s), film critic Dyer focuses primarily on many of the film’s ‘arthouse’ traits, including some of its aesthetic similarities to Ingmar Bergman’s WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957). Next up we get Lipstick Marks (11m52s), an interview with makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi wherein he talks about his early career (although Bazzoni’s film is barely mentioned!) and many of his approaches to makeup effects in general, as well as relating a funny anecdote about Anne Parillaud on the set of Randall Wallace’s THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998). Also, in Youth Memories (16m20s), legendary production designer Dante Ferretti discusses his start working alongside his mentor Luigi Scaccianoce (the credited art director on THE POSSESSED) on a couple of Domenico Paolella swashbucklers, and how he went on to become of one Pier Paolo Pasolini’s regular crew members. In the final—and most substantial—featurette, The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers (30m36s), director Francesco Barilli talks about his relationship with both Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni and how they (and a young Vittorio Storaro) worked on Bernardo Bertolucci’s BEFORE THE REVOLUTION (1964), which is how everything began for them. He speaks most fondly indeed about these early days of his career, and can’t help but heap praise on both of them (e.g., “Storaro learnt everything from Camillo.”). Of Luigi’s debut feature THE POSSESSED, Barilli remarks, “The black-and-white is amazing and the atmosphere is malevolent.” The doc also features a number of clips from much of the filmmakers’ work, and is easily the best featurette of the bunch. 

Lastly, the Italian and English trailers for the film are also included, and in the disc’s first pressing, a hefty 38-page booklet includes essays from Andreas Ehrenreich and Roberto Curti, who give incredibly detailed accounts of the film’s production, the Alleghe murders and Bazzoni’s career in general, which serves as a wonderful bonus to what is already an outstanding package. As usual, Arrow Video includes a reversible sleeve highlighting the film’s original Italian art and Sean Philips’ outstanding new artwork, which only further strengthens the distinct film-noir connection. This must-have disc is available from DiabolikDVD or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video