American Horror Project Vol 1 – Arrow Video Blu-ray Review
AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT VOL 1
There is a bevvy of unseen horror gems out in the wild, some that are many years old. Arrow Video has the means and the potential to find these flicks and bring them forth so we lucky horror fans can finally watch them. That is the entire basis for the American Horror Project Vol 1. Arrow Video has found three films to bring to Blu-ray, in a stellar package full of extras. The three movies included are Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood, The Witch Who Came from the Sea, and finally The Premonition. However, the three flicks aren’t the best movies around, resulting in some mixed feelings towards this otherwise wonderfully put together collection. Read on to see how each movie fares and what the box set is all about…
DISCS: 6 (3 Blu-ray, 3 DVD) RUN-TIME: Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (74 minutes) The Witch Who Came from the Sea(83 minutes) The Premonition (93 minutes) ASPECT RATIO:Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1.85:1) The Witch Who Came from the Sea(2.35:1) The Premonition (1.85:1) RESOLUTION: 1080p AUDIO: Uncompressed PCM Mono 1.0 LANGUAGE: English SUBTITLES: English SDH REGION: All Regions RATING: NR PRODUCTION DATE: 1973, 1976, 1976 RELEASE DATE: Feb 23, 2016
Everyone knows the classic American horror titles: Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street, to name but a few. But we want to tell you a different story – a story of the unsung heroes of American terror… Whether it’s a film that has languished in obscurity, or a movie that’s at risk of being lost due to lack of source materials, American Horror Project is here to ensure that these unique slices of the American Nightmare are brought back into the public consciousness and preserved for all to enjoy.Volume I of this series presents three tales of violence and madness from the 1970s. Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (Christopher Speeth, 1973) sees a family arrive at a creepy, dilapidated fairground in search of their missing daughter, only to find themselves at the mercy of cannibalistic ghouls lurking beneath the park. Meanwhile, The Witch Who Came from the Sea (Matt Cimber, 1976), stars Mollie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) as a young woman whose bizarre and violent fantasies start to bleed into reality – literally. Lastly, every parent’s worst nightmare comes true in The Premonition (Robert Allen Schnitzer, 1976), a tale of psychic terror in which five-year-old Janie is snatched away by a strange woman claiming to be her long-lost mother.Newly remastered from the best surviving elements and contextualised with brand new supplementary material, with American Horror Project we can re-evaluate an alternative history of American horror and film heritage.
MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD
The first movie included in the box set is the absurdly wacky Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood. It’s a convoluted mess of a movie, with randomly strung together scenes featuring a rundown carnival and a bunch of cannibals bordering on being zombies. The plot, which is almost nonexistent, involves a family setting up shop at a carnival to make some money. Unbeknownst to them, the carnival’s owner, the creepy Malatesta, houses below the surface a bunch of zombies cannibals. The movie attempts to provide a narrative involving the daughter getting abducted by the leader, but really, though, the movie doesn’t have a story.
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood’s plot whenboiled down, is just a bunch of trippy looking set pieces, with scenes stitched together to get you from point A to B. The movie struggles to properly flow, throwing random nonsense your way, hoping to spook up a scare, but sadly fails. Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is most certainly a shoestring budget flick, however, the film manages to use that small amount of money effectively to give the viewer an interesting movie to look at, having been shot at a rundown amusement park in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The people behind the scenes went to town creating these wonderfully odd and frightening underground systems below the carnival, but even that wasn’t enough to save this movie from being anything but a mess.
THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA
The next movie is arguably the best of the three included films, much in thanks to a wonderful performance from Millie Perkins, and a story that keeps you interested. Molly (Perkins) is a woman on the edge of psychosis, all thanks to a traumatic past involving her father and the cruel acts he inflicted on her as a child. Molly lives in a fantasy world where she dreams of finding the perfect man, usually someone on TV, as she has an unhealthy obsession with television. She hopes to find someone who will love her, but her traumatic past takes hold and she feels she must bring these TV personalities down from the idolized perfection she has given them.
The Witch Who Came from the Sea employs a plot that skirts the boundaries of reality and make-believe, making the viewer second guess everything that is happening. This is all possible thanks to Millie Perkins’ performance, which teeters on the edge of innocence and insanity. It’s rare that a film can make you feel empathy for a killer, but Director Matt Cimber does just that. In addition to wonderful acting and directing, the movie also has the added bonus of having the expertise of Dean Cundey (Halloween) as Director of Photography. He, as we already know from his several other amazing films, has a keen eye and his use of anamorphic wide lenses gives the movie a nice wide open look.
The Premonition is the last movie in the box set and unfortunately, it just doesn’t bring home the horror goods. More drama than horror, The Premonition is about a recently released psychiatric patient and her attempts at trying to take her daughter back from having to give her up five years ago. She teams up with the even more crazy Jude (Richard Lynch) and attempts at kidnapping the little girl. The new mother of the child starts having crazy visions involving the crazy mother, which hints at both a paranormal and metaphysical situation, but in the end, the movie is a drama, with a tiny bit of something more otherworldly happening.
I will say this about The Premonition, it has some fantastic acting, with Richard Lynch as the psycho mime stealing the show. Sharon Farrell also does a wonderful job at playing the grief-stricken mother and Ellen Barber looks absolutely stunning in a red dress. It’s also a flick that has a mesmerizing score provided by Henry Mollicone. The Premonition uses music as plot device, so having a fantastic composer was a must and Mr. Mollicone passed with flying colours.
The movies might not be the best around, but that doesn’t stop Arrow Video from going crazy with special features, some wonderful video, and fantastic audio.
The video for all three movies is a bit rough around the edges, but given the low budget state of these movies, it’s completely acceptable and in my opinion, gives each movie a much-needed Grindhouse look and feel that only goes to enhance the viewing experience. According to the included booklet, the movies were in even rougher shape and to present the films in the state you see now, thousands of instances of dirt and debris were removed from the only available prints they could find. The audio fares the same, with a bit of distortion and hiss here and there, especially in The Witch Who Came from the Sea. It’s nothing that is terribly awful, as the dialogue comes through nice and clear. Arrow Video has done a stunning job on the restorations and all three directors have given their approval, so you know what you’re getting is the best it can be.
The special features for the American Horror Project Vol 1 is to put it bluntly, fantastic. Each disc has a bevy of features, including several interviews with cast and crew. Also, each movie comes with an optional introduction by Stephen Thrower, who provides plenty of information on the movies. This is one person I could sit down and listen to all day.
The biggest positive that comes out of watching the special features for each movie is the greater appreciation you have for the films. I may personally not have liked Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood, but after watching the interviews with Director Christopher Speeth and crew, I now have a better understanding of the work that went into making it and why it didn’t turn out so great. The movie’s script ended up being abandoned halfway through, which is never a healthy business practice. Thankfully, you can read the draft script when slapping the disc in a BD-ROM drive.
If you end up liking The Premonition, you’ll be happy to see that the disc has the most features on it. There is a nice interview with Director Robert Allen Schnitzer, musician Henry Mollicone, and cinematographer Victor Milt. There also a wonderful archive interview from 2005 with actor Richard Lynch, who was very passionate about all the work he did during his career as an actor. Also included are short films done by Schnitzer, which have nothing to do with the movie, but will provide Schnitzer fans more to watch.
Rounding out the entire package is a nice cardboard sleeve housing the three movies, each coming in their own cases with reversible artwork. In addition to some nice packaging, you have a 60-page booklet to read, which contains a ton of information about the movies.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:– Brand new 2K restorations of the three features
– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations
– English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– Original Mono 1.0 audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
– Reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
– American Horror Project Journal Volume I – Limited Edition 60-page booklet featuring new articles on the films from Kim Newman (Nightmare Movies), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990)
MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD – SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
– Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
– Audio Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith
– Brand new interview with director Christopher Speeth
– Brand new interview with writer Werner Liepolt
– Malatesta’s Underground – art directors Richard Stange and Alan Johnson discuss the weird, mysterious world of Malatesta’s underground
– Draft Script (BD/DVD-ROM content)
– Production stills gallery
THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA – SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
– Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
– Audio commentary with director Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
– Brand new interview with director Matt Cimber
– Brand new interview with Dean Cundey
– Brand new interview with actor John Goff
– Archive featurette comprising interview with Cimber, Perkins and Cundy
THE PREMONITION – SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
– Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
– Isolated Score
– Audio commentary with director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer
– Brand new interview with composer Henry Mollicone and cinematographer Victor Milt
– Archive Interview with actor Richard Lynch
– Three Robert Allen Schnitzer short films: ‘Vernal Equinox’, ‘Terminal Point’ and ‘A Rumbling in the Land’
– 4 “Peace Spots”
– Trailers and TV Spots
American Horror Project Vol 1 might not have the best movies around, but the passion that went into restoring the films, and with a mountain of special features to go through, the Blu-ray box set is definitely worth checking out. There will be something for everyone in this set, with my personal fav being The Witch Who Came from the Sea. Why not check it out and see which one you like the best.