Blu-Ray Review- Madhouse
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Street Date: July 21st 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 89 Minutes
Back in 1974, American International Pictures and Amicus Productions put in one last ditch effort to capitalize on the Gothic Horror genre they had so admirably brought to life on the silver screen with Madhouse starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. Though I personally adore the film (as many other Price fans do), Madhouse failed to impress at the box office, and AIP subsequently buried the genre. It’s a shame, because the film itself is utterly delightful for Horror fans. Not only because of the powerful onscreen presence of Lee and Cushing, but with standout sets, makeup, and costume design partnered with a unique macabre story that isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the horror genre and legendary careers of its stars.
In Madhouse, Vincent Price portrays Horror star Paul Toombes, an actor who is celebrating the release of his fifth film in the “Dr. Death” series at his private mansion. Donning a black cape, black fedora, and skeleton-like makeup, his character has terrified audiences on screen for decades. The release party also serves as an engagement announcement for Toombes, who is happy as can be with his beautiful fiancée Ellen at his side. Soon after the couple’s happy news is announced, a sleazy adult film producer informs Paul that Allen used to be in his films. A distraught and angry Paul disappears at the party, while Ellen is murdered by a shadowy figure that looks very similar to “Dr. Death.” The murder goes unsolved, and a heartbroken Paul’s life and career begin to fall apart.
Fast forward to several years later, and Paul is called to London by his best friend Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) to star in a brand new television series that will bring his character Dr. Death back to life for Horror fans. Production on the show begins, but the shadowy figure that murdered Ellen years prior is back with a vengeance! One by one, those around Paul soon begin to fall victim to a real-life “Dr. Death.”
Regular readers of the site know of my affection for Mr. Vincent Price, and Madhouse happens to be one of my personal favorites of his. The visual look of Dr. Death himself remains very sinister, and famously made for a legendary cover page for Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The movie itself is very suspenseful, with fantastic performances from everyone involved, but especially memorable is the chemistry between Price and Cushing. The story keeps the viewer guessing throughout, with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back then, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release from Kino Lorber.
Kino Lorber delivers Madhouse onto Blu-Ray with a fine high definition transfer that sports a period authentic color palette, plenty of crisp detail in facial features and clothing, and a generally clean print. There are occasional speckles, light damage, and noise, but those moments are few and far between. Madhouse looks better than it ever has on home video, and I’m very pleased with the results of Kino’s efforts here.
Unfortunately this is the one area of Kino’s Blu-Ray release where fans may be disappointed. There is an audio-sync issue that persists throughout the entirety of the film. Lips move before the dialogue audio kicks in, sometimes after, with only a few select scenes that seem to be correctly synced. Video issues can sometimes be easy to overlook, but unfortunately audio sync problems are so noticeable and distracting that fans may feel a little let down. Kino Lorber is aware of the issue and is currently investigating the error. At the time this review is being written, we’re waiting to hear back regarding the results of their investigation (i.e. possible replacement discs). Besides this issue, the audio itself sounds great, with dialogue front and center and plenty of spooky sound effects and score components sounding pristine in HD.
Kino Lorber has given Madhouse a solid selection of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary – Film Historian David Del Valle discusses the troubled production of the film, Vincent Price’s performance, and some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits that viewers will surely enjoy.
- The Revenge of Dr. Death: Making Madhouse– This nearly 11 minute featurette on the making of the film is short but exceptionally entertaining for fans of the film (and genre)! Beginning with American International Pictures and Amicus’ troubled pre-production process (where the initial adapted screenplay was flat-out refused by Vincent Price) to various participants’ thoughts on the last “hurrah” of the Gothic genre that Hammer Films and AIP helped to create, there is plenty for aficionados to enjoy here.
- Madhouse Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just under two minutes and is utterly delightful for fans of the film. From the scrolling warning that opens the trailer to the cheesy voice-over, this is fantastic stuff!
- Tales of Terror Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for another recent Kino Lorber release, Tales of Terror, is also quite a bit of fun. The trailer unfolds in typical AIP fashion with some of the standout scenes from the film complete with voiceover narration and exaggerated graphics work.
This Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber (Studio Classics line) features the utterly amazing original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover. From Dr. Death’s face paint to the bloody font design and gothic atmosphere, it’s everything a classic Horror fan could ask for. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc which also features the stylish cover design.
Madhouse remains one of my personal favorite Vincent Price films. The chemistry between Price and Cushing is fantastic and the story keeps the viewer guessing throughout; with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. The Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber features a fine transfer that remains true to the film source and a nice selection of bonus material. The Revenge of Dr. Death featurette, though short, is fascinating for fans of the film and genre. The one disappointing factor on this edition is the audio sync issue that unfortunately affects most of the film. Kino has promised fans that it’s looking into the issue, so hopefully a replacement program will be made available shortly. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back in 1974, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release and comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: July 14th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Runtime: 91 Minutes
Few would argue with the fact that Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is the very definition of a bad movie. One could also argue that this is the very reason why it’s so incredibly enjoyable. Absent from this sequel are the stylish storytelling, horrifying werewolf effects, and creeping suspense of Joe Dante’s original film. But what exactly does Howling II offer up for Horror fans? Horror legend Christopher Lee hamming it up with every line delivery, Sybil Danning’s incredible body and less-than-stellar acting abilities, random out-of-sequence editing that completely confuses the viewer, and an 80’s rock soundtrack complete with synthesizer and title-referencing music that is just about as cheesy as can be. It’s an endlessly enjoyable hodge-podge of self-referential humor, over-the-top performances, and terrible screenwriting. For B movie fans (those who get an insane kick out of MST3K style humor), Howling II is right up your alley!
The film attempts to pick up directly where Dante’s original left off, with the funeral for Karen White taking place and her brother Ben (Reb Brown) in mourning. Soon a mysterious man named Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee) appears and attempts to convince Ben that his sister’s death was more complicated than he realizes, and that his sister was, in fact, a werewolf. Though Dee Wallace is entirely absent from this sequel and the actress that replaces her will never be confused as her doppelganger, we’re soon introduced to the completely ridiculous “lost” footage of Karen’s violent death. Pay no mind to this sequence being completely different than the ending of the first film. No mind at all. Ben and Karen’s former colleague Jenny (Annie McEnroe) are soon not only convinced of his sister’s affliction, but of the entire underground existence of werewolves that threaten the human race. Stefan soon convinces Ben and Jenny to travel all the way to Transylvania to battle the queen of the werewolves, the incredibly sexy Stirba (Sybil Danning). This task, of course, turns out to be more difficult than any of them could imagine.
Howling II is one of those rainy day B movies that bad film aficionados can appreciate on so many levels. It’s also one that requires time to fully appreciate its awkwardness and charm. I remember seeing the first Howling as a teenager, absolutely loving it, and running straight back to the video store to get the sequel. Saying I was disappointed by what I saw that night would be an understatement when compared to the first film. But then something strange happened…I rented it again. Perhaps it was my burgeoning manhood craving countless playbacks of Sybil Danning’s best moments. Whatever the case may be, I’ve since been able to appreciate the film on that “next level”, savoring every moment of pure ridiculousness. With that being said, Howling II on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory comes highly recommended.
Rest assured Horror fans (and bad movie aficionados); Howling II looks fantastic on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory! The natural film grain is plentiful, colors look accurate for the time period, and digital manipulation is entirely absent from the print. It should, and does, look like film. Scratches and slight damage occasionally rear their head, but they are few and far between. Facial features and fine object detail, while not the strongest I’ve seen for the decade, look quite clear here in High Definition.
The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track is a solid one, regularly balancing dialogue, background effects, and the cheesy score in fine fashion. There is a lack of power and depth to the overall experience, which is to be expected, but when paired with the great video, it makes for a finely presented experience.
Scream Factory has given Howling II a fantastic array of bonus features that will surely make you bark at the moon with joy. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentaries (2) – Scream Factory has provided fans with two commentaries on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. The first commentary features Director Philippe Mora and the second has composer Steve Parsons and Editor Charles Bornstein. Both commentaries are informative for fans of the film and franchise!
- Leading Man: An Interview with Actor Reb Brown- This brand new HD interview from Red Shirt Pictures features actor Reb Brown and runs nearly 14 minutes. It’s an absolute blast hearing from Reb, who was a club bouncer and training to be a Sheriff when he was noticed by casting agents and hired as a contract actor at Universal. Reb comes across as a delightful man, more football coach than Hollywood actor, and offers up some insightful stories regarding his career and the making of Howling II.
- Queen of the Werewolves: An Interview with Actress Sybil Danning- This 17 minute interview has the still gorgeous Sybil Danning sharing her behind-the-scenes stories regarding the making of Howling II. Sybil is honest and forthright about her career, starting out as a model in Germany and making her way to Hollywood to star in films. Hearing Sybil discuss being a tomboy as a child and utilizing her imagination to “become” various characters growing up was especially enjoyable. Sybil’s stories about having dinner with Christopher Lee while being watched by the KGB is also a highlight! Great stuff!
- A Monkey Phase: Interviews with Special Make-Up Effects Artists Steve Johnson and Scott Wheeler- This featurette runs 15 ½ minutes and features fantastic interviews with the makeup guys behind the film. Both artists discuss the beginnings in the industry and films they worked on before joining the team behind Howling II, the unique special effects and challenges for their team behind the scenes, and much more.
- Alternate Opening-The alternate opening for the film runs 10 ½ minutes and features just a few alternate takes on specific scenes mostly consisting of some trimming of Christopher Lee and company talking after the funeral. There is really not too much of a difference here as I was straining to figure out exactly what had been cut or edited between the two.
- Alternate Ending- The alternate ending runs roughly 9 ½ minutes, and much like the aforementioned alternate opening, doesn’t offer very much as far as unique differences. A few shots are extended or trimmed compared to the theatrical cut. Both versions luckily still feature Sybil Danning tearing off her clothes.
- Behind the Scenes- This behind-the-scenes montage offers up some fun outtakes with the special effects crew and Director Philippe Mora work and runs nearly 4 minutes.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film lasts just over a minute in length and gives viewers a good general idea of the B-movie mayhem they’re in for with Howling II.
- Still Gallery- Just over 8 minutes of behind-the-scenes photos and production stills that play along to the rockin’ 80’s theme from the film.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover, which is one of my personal favorite 80’s posters. You definitely get the feeling of the silliness of the film (red lipstick and sunglasses) with the art included here. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the disc as well as some nice reversible artwork that fans can choose to display instead of the poster art.
Few would argue with the fact that Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is the very definition of a bad movie. One could also argue that this is the very reason why it’s so incredibly enjoyable. It’s one of those rainy day B movies that bad film aficionados can appreciate on so many levels, but also requires repeated viewings to fully appreciate its awkwardness and charm. The Blu-Ray presentation from Scream Factory is fantastic, with great video and audio that makes for a well-rounded presentation in High Definition. But it’s in the bonus features where Scream Factory will truly delight fans, with plenty of great interviews and featurettes with the cast and crew. Though disappointed with my first viewing as a young man, Sybil Danning kept bringing me back for repeat viewings. I’ve since been able to appreciate the film on that “next level”, savoring every moment of pure ridiculousness. With that being said, Howling II on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Mark of the Devil
Distributor: Arrow Video USA
Street Date: March 17th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio, Linear PCM Mono Audio
Runtime: 97 Minutes
The subject of Witchcraft throughout history, along with the truly evil individuals who accused the innocent, has long been a staple of Horror cinema. It is often the most nightmarish history of humankind that makes for the most captivating Horror films, and Mark of the Devil stands alongside Witchfinder General (a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm) as one of the genre’s best.
Based on “authentic documents” from three cases in British history, Mark of the Devil opens with disturbing brutality, as the accused townsfolk in an 18th century Austrian village are burned at the stake and tarred and feathered for their roles in supposed Witchcraft. Count Christian Von Meruh (Udo Kier) eagerly awaits the arrival of his master Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom); the Chief Witchfinder in the region. He respects his master as a good pupil does, but grows increasingly weary of the judgments they are forced to hand down with little evidence. It doesn’t help that Christian’s local love interest Vanessa (the lovely Olivera Vuco) has been accused of Witchcraft from a fellow Witchfinder named Albino (a truly nasty performance from Reggie Nalder). As the number of innocents accused grows substantially, the ulterior motives and hypocrisy of Christian’s superiors becomes more evident. Tensions build and relationships crumble as Christian leads the townspeople in an uprising against the Witchfinders he once aligned with.
Mark of the Devil is a handsomely produced film, aside from the English dubbing of what must have been hard to understand German and Italian accents, which can be quite absurd at times. In the end though, it strangely enhances the unique flavor of the film overall. The beautiful location scenery is truly something to behold, along with historical buildings that once held actual witchcraft trials and public executions that add to the “creepy” factor of some scenes. The score from Michael Holm is also a standout aspect of the film, consistently raising the tension and suspense as the film progressively grows more disturbing. The gore, for the time, must have been fairly difficult to stomach for audiences, and remains disturbing especially given the actual history behind the true cases the film used as inspiration. Mark of the Devil was a treat to revisit in High Definition, and makes for an impressive North American Blu-Ray debut from Arrow Video.
Arrow Video makes their U.S. debut with a stellar transfer for Mark of the Devil. Simply gorgeous is an understatement. To be honest, I was a little worried during the “fish-eye” lens opening credit sequence, which appears intentionally Vaseline-smeared, but features more than few unwelcome artifacts. But as soon as the credits are over, the vibrant colors light up the screen, the natural film grain is intact, and definition and detail in faces, clothing and scenery are pristine. The bright-orange blaze of the witch burnings, crimson red blood, and lush green summer scenery all add to the beauty of this transfer. Extremely well done!
The Linear PCM mono audio track does a fine job, even with the sometimes laughably bad dubbing that accompanies the print. It’s a front heavy track that captures the music, background effects, and subtle sound design well enough for fans, while never fully capturing the immersive experience of a multi-channel job.
Arrow Video has provided fans of Mark of the Devil with an incredible array of bonus material for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary by Michael Armstrong– The Director sits down (along with moderator) to discuss the Blu-Ray release of the Uncut version of his film. Fans will be incredibly pleased with Mr. Armstrong’s behind-the-scenes stories from the making of the film, its controversial subject matter and advertising in both Britain and America, and discussion of the actors from the film. Fantastic and informative!
- Mark of the Times: The New Wave of British Bloodshed- This documentary from High Rising Productions focuses on the “new wave” of British Horror directors from the 1960’s and 1970’s and features contributions from several experts in the field. Clocking in at over 47 minutes, this piece offers fascinating insight into the British Horror genre including the catalog of beloved Hammer films. Filmed in High Definition, this is a nice companion piece to this set and is endlessly engaging for fans of the genre.
- Hellmark of the Devil– This featurette has author Michael Gingold (of Fangoria fame) discussing the distributor of Mark of the Devil, Hallmark Releasing Corp., and runs just over 12 minutes. Hallmark’s unique advertising of their films released in America included the “barf bag” gimmick, posters featuring stills & actors from other films, and creative trailers that offered truly groundbreaking slogans that pulled audiences into theaters.
- Mark of the Devil: Then and Now- This featurette runs just over 7 minutes and features some truly gorgeous locations from the film, as seen in the film, and how they appear now in 2015. Set against the film’s score and a series of running images, it’s fairly simple but effective nonetheless, and makes one appreciate the lengths the filmmakers went to achieve some breathtaking location shoots among the landscapes and architectural beauty.
- Interviews- Several separate interviews are presented including Udo Kier, Michael Holm, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schoner, and Herbert Lom. Udo Kier’s take on the film’s production is especially fascinating, as he details the issues regarding Michael Armstrong being credited as the Director even though the production designer actually finished shooting the film. Udo felt that Michael had “too many artistic ideas” for the studio heads to deal with at the time. Great stuff!
- Outtakes- Just over 3 minutes of random footage/test shots from the film. Some of the “clapper” scenes and effects shots are seen here from production. I may add that the footage is in ridiculously good shape! Looks beautiful in high definition.
- Gallery- Posters, lobby cards, VHS sleeves, and other memorabilia from collector Christian Holzmann that lasts about 2 ½ minutes.
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs roughly 3 ½ minutes and is in pretty good shape! The gory trailer includes some of the great effects shots from the film, nudity, and plenty of thrilling suspense scenes.
This Blu-Ray edition from Arrow Video features impressive newly-commissioned artwork Graham Humphreys and has the likes of Udo Kier, Herbert Lom, and Reggie Nalder on the cover, along with some horrific witch-hunt imagery. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, production stills, a list of special features, and technical specifications. On the interior of the case is the Blu-Ray disc complete with a reversible wrap featuring the original theatrical artwork. Last but not least, an illustrated booklet is included featuring essays by Adrian Smith and Anthony Nield. This is quite the gorgeous package!
Mark of the Devil stands alongside Witchfinder General as one of the best the sub-genre has to offer. The film itself is handsomely produced, with beautiful location scenery and historical buildings that once held actual witchcraft trials, which add to its eerie effectiveness. The Blu-Ray edition offers up a gorgeous transfer with vibrant colors and natural film grain, along with an impressive audio track to boot. The special features are the absolute standout though, with the Mark of the Times documentary and captivating featurettes that will surely please fans of the film. Mark of the Devil was a treat to revisit in High Definition, and makes for an impressive North American Blu-Ray debut from Arrow Video.
Blu-Ray Review- The Doctor and the Devils
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: November 4th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
“A man of medicine. A pair of murderers. An unholy alliance.”
-Theatrical tagline for The Doctor and the Devils
Based upon the factual murders committed by William Burke and William Hare in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1828, The Doctor and the Devils comes from an original screenplay by Dylan Thomas and is Directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis. The film stars Timothy Dalton as Dr. Thomas Rock, an Anatomy Professor who has been paying local henchman to dig up the graves of the recently deceased for his fascinating lectures at the academy. Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea play Robert Fallon and Timothy Broom, two degenerate crooks who get word of Dr. Rock’s grave-robbing business and are looking to make a profit. When finding the right bodies proves to be more difficult than they imagined, they take to killing unsuspecting young lads in the area (as Dr. Rock pays more for fresh corpses).
Rumors soon begin to spread about Dr. Rock’s supposed late night activities, and his rival, Professor Macklin (Patrick Stewart), sends student “spies” to attend his lectures to gain proof of his access to dead bodies “not from the hangman.” Dr. Rock makes implications to the macabre shenanigans, but lack of clear proof in the matter holds the authorities at bay. As the murders begin to hit too close to home for Dr. Rock and his assistant, and moral tension mounts between Fallon and Broom, these colorful characters’ lives arrive at an inevitable climax that spells certain doom for all.
The Doctor and the Devils has that handsomely produced Gothic feel to it, thanks to Hammer and Amicus alumni Freddie Francis. From the period costume design to the gothic set dressing and talented array of performers giving it their all, the film is exceptionally well executed. Having ignorantly never seen Timothy Dalton outside of the Bond films he made in the late 1980’s, it was a treat to see his genuine commanding presence on display in a period piece. The score by John Morris is worth mentioning as well, with its gothic and mysterious tone that exudes curiosity and stays with you for days. There are also some genuinely disturbing moments in the film, in particular, when Fallon suffocates a young man to death for the first time as he relates how he was asked to put soldiers out of their misery during his time spent as an orderly in the war. Broom pleads with him; “wait Fallon….wait, wait. For God’s sake, wait.” It’s an unnerving scene, expertly acted by both Pryce and Rea. I assure you that you’re in for a fine evening with this one, and this release from Scream Factory makes for a classy addition to their ever-growing line of Horror gems.
Though I’ll admit I became a little worried during the 20th Century Fox logo and opening shot of Dalton walking against the Edinburgh skyline (which has its share of debris), it soon after becomes immediately clear that The Doctor and the Devils looks incredibly good on this High Definition presentation. For some reason I see a lot of 1980’s films that have some scratches and anomalies in the opening credits that soon clear up incredibly well (not sure why that is). But let’s get right to it: The Doctor and the Devils retains the authentic natural film grain of the source material, has incredibly solid black levels, and even exhibits surprisingly good detail in objects, facial features, and costumes. There are a handful of seemingly soft or unfocused shots, no doubt a result of the original negative, but worth pointing out. This is a fine presentation that really exhibits a solid upgrade to High Definition.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is solid, regularly balancing dialogue, background effects, and the lovely score from John Morris in fine fashion. There is some power and depth to the audio that is quite surprising at times, and paired with the great video, it makes for a finely presented experience.
Scream Factory has given The Doctor and the Devils some select bonus features for this non-collector’s edition release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman– Author Steve Haberman sits down to discuss The Doctor and the Devils in great detail. The commentary is incredibly informative, but comes off a bit too dry and robotic, sounding as if Haberman is reading directly from a script. It lacks the fun, off-the-cuff style of previous commentaries from the Scream line. This is in no way a knock on Haberman, who is clearly an absolute scholar on the film and its history, but it simply comes off a bit dull at times.
- Interviews- This phenomenal three-way interview has Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach discussing The Doctor and the Devils for nearly 16 minutes. There isn’t a moderator but the trio discusses the film in depth. From Dylan Thomas’ wonderful screenplay to various pre-production issues, reminiscing about filming and the acting talent, and even having the “Mel Brooks” name on a genre film other than comedy. This is very entertaining stuff, and I love the fact that Shout! Factory just let the trio carry on their discussion in their way. Brooks in particular is just so entertaining to listen to, especially when he reflects on the differences in filmmaking from then to now: “But during my time making movies, there were friendships. You could actually ask people for a favor.” Bittersweet and fascinating, this featurette is wonderful.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over 1 ½ minutes and though it’s in pretty rough condition, it offers an accurate glimpse at the type of movie that awaits you.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover, looking like a sepia toned sketch from an old book of medicine. The red title font provides a fine contrast to the drawing design, making for simple but effective cover art. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the disc as well as some nice background art featuring a grave-robbing scene from early in the film.
The Doctor and the Devils may just be Scream Factory’s classiest film released in their ever-growing line of Horror delights. Masterfully directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis and featuring fine performances from everyone involved, this polished cinematic version of the Burke & Hare murders is both clever and unnerving. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features an incredibly solid High Definition presentation, complete with authentic color grading and solid black levels, and the audio is surprisingly well balanced and dynamic. The special features department offers a wonderful conversation with Producer Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach, as well as an informative audio commentary. Though I felt that the included audio commentary was a bit robotic, it’s a small complaint on an otherwise great disc. The Doctor and the Devils remains an entertaining and gorgeously produced Gothic Horror entry that reminds one of Hammer films’ heyday, and this Blu-Ray edition comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Countess Dracula
Distributor: Synapse Films
Street Date: May 6th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
In 1971, Hammer Films took a chance on producing Countess Dracula, their fictional take on the very real story of Elizabeth Bathory (Elizabeth Nadasdy in the film), who is often referred to as the most prolific female serial killer in history. Born into a noble Hungarian family, the real Elizabeth was said to use her power and deception to lure innocent villagers into the castle, torture them for days, and eventually kill and dispose of their bodies. Depending on what story you read, the number of Bathory’s victims range anywhere from 30-600 women, as a precise number was never established. What is more than likely the truth of the matter is that the legends of Elizabeth Bathory (such as bathing in her victims blood to stay young) far outweigh the facts. It makes for a fascinating Horror story, a fact that Hammer Films knew well enough to produce Countess Dracula, a different kind of macabre tale for them after many repetitive outings featuring Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Count himself.
Countess Dracula begins with the funeral of Count Nadasdy, who has left little fortune to his wife Elizabeth (Ingrid Pitt) in his will. She is a crude, hateful old woman, who punishes her handmaidens for the slightest perceived misdeed. The funeral has also brought Lieutenant Imre Toth (Sandor Eles) to the family castle, a young friend of the late Count who Elizabeth is instantly taken with. After discovering the youthful effect that young blood has on her appearance, Elizabeth kills a female servant, bathes in her blood, and becomes youthful and beautiful once more. Conspiring with her faithful steward Dobi (Nigel Green), she hides her newly arrived daughter Llona away, fooling everyone into thinking that she is in fact, her own daughter. Elizabeth’s youthful appearance aids her in seducing Lieutenant Toth, but at a price, as more victims have to be sacrificed for Elizabeth to maintain this façade, and the castle historian begins to suspect something sinister is brewing.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson (incorrectly credited in the opening credits as Harry Robinson) just adds to the pleasure. This remains one of my personal favorite stand-alone films in the Hammer catalog.
The Blu-Ray presentation for Countess Dracula is about as impressive as it gets. It’s obvious that a lot of time and care went into making sure this High Definition release would impress Horror fans and Blu-Ray aficionados alike. Colors look accurate, scenery looks crisp and gorgeous, the wonderful costume design shows incredible detail and clarity, and the blood…the blood looks crimson red! The film grain has been kept intact and authentic throughout the restoration process, which is always appreciated! There is some slight damage to the print here and there, but these moments are few and far between, save for the occasional speckles. The lengths that Synapse has gone to in order to preserve this film is commendable, and it looks fantastic in High Definition.
The DTS-HD Mono track provided here is surprisingly powerful: regularly balancing dialogue, background sound effects, and Harry Robertson’s eerie score. It’s a bit jolting at first to hear so much power and balance from two channels. This is another standout area on this release.
Synapse Films has provided Horror fans with plenty of great special features to enjoy on this disc. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary- This commentary features actress Ingrid Pitt, Director Peter Sasdy, Screenwriter Jeremy Paul, and Author Jonathan Sothcott discussing nearly all aspects of production on Countess Dracula. Continuously engaging and fun, this is one of the more enjoyable commentaries I’ve experienced in some time.
- Countess Dracula Still Gallery- Roughly seven minutes of fantastic behind-the-scenes photos and production stills set to the brilliant piano score from the film. There are some really captivating pictures provided here, showcasing the elaborate costume and production design for the film.
- Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt– Running nearly eleven minutes, this featurette is extremely well made and showcases the career of the gorgeous and talented Ingrid Pitt. Several film scholars and noteworthy people contribute to telling her life story in brief, from the unimaginable horror she must have experienced spending the first few years of her life in a concentration camp, to her beginning acting career in film. I knew very little about Ingrid going into this, and came out knowing (and wanting to further research) so much more. It’s fascinating that she escaped Berlin by swimming across the river, being pulled out by a United States soldier, whom she would later marry. The featurette further discusses her roles in Where Eagles Dare, The Vampire Lovers, and finally, Countess Dracula. This is absolutely my favorite special feature on the set.
- Archival Audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt- Over eight minutes worth of audio featuring an interview with Ingrid Pitt. The audio is in rough shape, and a little hard to hear at times, but there are some interesting topics discussed including violence in film, her beginnings in Hollywood, and her Horror film roles.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Countess Dracula is a lot of fun, with a great rhyming voiceover, gothic Hammer title cards, and like most older trailers, showcases a bit too much of the final film.
Synapse has crafted a beautiful looking release for Countess Dracula with artwork featuring the original theatrical poster for the film, with the “Hammer Horror Collection” banner at the top. The reverse features a plot synopsis for the film, a list of special features, and technical specifications. Inside you will find some beautiful (and naughty) reversible artwork as well as the Blu-Ray and DVD discs for the film.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson just adds to the pleasure. Synapse Films has gone to great lengths to provide viewers with a beautiful restored print, surprisingly great sound quality, and a wealth of bonus material. The Immortal Countess featurette is a particular treat, providing viewers with a look at Ingrid Pitt’s beautiful life and legacy. This Blu-Ray release receives my Highest Recommendation.