Monday, January 30, 2012

On DVD: Katarina's Nightmare Theater Double Feature: THE DEVIL'S MEN (1976)/TERROR (1978)

Scorpion Releasing's latest in the "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" line of exploitation/horror/cult titles is a double feature of previously available titles, though THE DEVIL'S MEN is the original uncut version of the censored LAND OF THE MINOTAUR.

(Greece/UK - 1976)

Released in the US in 1977 in a cut, PG-rated version titled LAND OF THE MINOTAUR, THE DEVIL'S MEN is a shoddy, low-budget Greek/British addition to the '70s Satanist subgenre, top-lined by a slumming Donald Pleasence and Peter Cushing (just before playing Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS), both of whom were no doubt more interested in a paid Greek vacation than anything the script had to offer.  This marks the first time that director Costas Carayiannis' uncensored cut has been released in the US, restoring all the gore and nudity and excised from the MINOTAUR release.  Pleasence is possibly-Irish priest Father Roche (I say "possibly" because sometimes he sounds like Donald Pleasence, and sometimes he sounds like Lucky the Leprechaun), who calls upon his NYC-based private eye pal Milo (Costa Skouras) to take on a devil-worshipping cult that turns out to be led by obviously evil town elder Baron Corofax (Cushing).  Filled with cheap gore effects, bad dubbing of the Greek supporting cast, unintended laughs (like Roche and Milo's complete non-reaction to the zombified police chief), continuity errors (a right punch from Milo aimed at a dude's face immediately cuts to a left punch hitting the guy in the crotch), incompetent day-for-night shooting, and idiotic dialogue (when a woman is chased by some robed figures, Milo says "Maybe it was just a cow loose in the woods"), THE DEVIL'S MEN is given a bit of lift from some appropriately atmospheric Greek locales, the presence of two old pros like Pleasence and Cushing (though I doubt the sporadically-appearing Cushing spent more than a few days on the set), and a chilling electronic score by Brian Eno, of all people.  Hardly the most embarrassing picture Pleasence or Cushing ever made, but certainly in the "good Bad Movie" realm.  Scorpion's 1.78:1 transfer looks as good as it's probably ever looked, considering its budget-deprived origins.  And dig that funky jam over the closing credits!  (Unrated, 94 mins)

(UK - 1978)

Is Dario Argento a fan of British hack Norman J. Warren?  Warren is certainly a fan of Argento, and admits as much in a 40-minute (!) retrospective documentary on TERROR, a mildly diverting supernatural horror film with occasional nods to Argento's SUSPIRIA (1977).  But what I found interesting were a couple of shots that looked suspiciously similar to later Argento works:  one character's death from a pane of glass was probably intended as an OMEN knockoff but now looks a lot like Irene Miracle's fate in 1980's INFERNO, and another's death on a staircase brought to mind a demise from 1982's TENEBRE.  But Warren is nowhere near the stylist that Argento was back then (though, sadly to say for Argento, they're probably equals now, but that's another topic for another time), and TERROR isn't exactly some gem waiting to be dusted off for rediscovery.  The plot deals with a movie director (John Nolan, uncle of INCEPTION director Christopher) whose latest film is about a witch ancestor who swore vengeance after being burned at the stake.  Mysterious deaths start befalling everyone associated with the film.  Warren seems inspired more by THE OMEN than SUSPIRIA, but one delirious scene has a guy being attacked by unrolled film in a garishly-lit room that is clearly inspired by the barbed-wire room death in SUSPIRIA.  Aside from a few occasionally interesting bits--the unrolled film death; brief appearances by Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew as a mechanic and the hulking Milton Reid as a sunglassed strip joint bouncer; and a frightening stripper who looks like Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty--TERROR is a pretty laborious slog, indifferently-acted and cheaply-made (a scene with a levitating car is undone by clearly visible ropes hoisting it in mid-air).  Not without some decent moments, but largely forgettable.  Warren went on to make the infamous ALIEN ripoff INSEMINOID, a much more entertaining film which had a long life on pay cable throughout the '80s under its US title HORROR PLANET.  TERROR has been on DVD before, but the making-of doc is a new addition, and I assume the fairly nice-looking 1.78:1 transfer is as well.  (R, 84 mins)

Both films are on one disc, with the option of playing them with or without the introduction by horror hostess and former WWE star Katarina Leigh Waters.  Trailers for past and future Scorpion titles are also included.

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