American Horror Project Vol. 1 Blu-ray Review
You have to admire Arrow
A box-set of rarely seen and long-forgotten cult horror films, restored and returned from obscurityYou have to admire Arrow. The unsung heroes of the bizarre, brought to you on Blu-ray. Championing the long and forgotten, shining a light on the obscure and breathing life into that, which everyone else thought lost. Such is their commitment to any film (classic or not) that falls within their sights. By re-mastering and adding a plethora of additional material to films, that some, might deem unworthy, Arrow define the cult status and should be applauded. Their latest effort is a series of box-sets that showcase films that few have seen and even less remember. Under the banner of the American Horror Project, Arrow are bringing together a number of films, cleaning them up, supplementing them and releasing them with all the love and attention they normally give to an unsuspecting public with the sole aim of re-inventing them for a whole new audience. It is a laudable aim and one that I hope works out, which brings us to volume one of the project.The first set encompasses three films: Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (Christopher Speeth, 1973), which sees a family arrive at a creepy, dilapidated fairground in search of their missing son, only to find themselves at the mercy of the cannibalistic ghouls lurking beneath the park; The Witch Who Came from the Sea (Matt Cimber, 1976), which stars Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) as a young woman whose bizarre and violent fantasies start to bleed into reality; and The Premonition (Robert Allen Schnitzer, 1976), which is 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. Of these films, ‘Carnival’ is the most obscure, having been thought lost, ‘Witch’ is the most notorious, having been banned as a ‘video nasty’, whilst Premonition is just simply odd. None are particularly well known and all have been treated with a great deal of respect with regard to their transfer and extras.
Picture QualityAll three features are presented in their original aspect ratios: widescreen 1.85:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 respectively using the AVC codec and are Region free.
Detail is not too bad, close ups reveal a deal of skin texture along with some clothing weaves, check out the clown’s make up or outlandish attire, while medium to distance shots hold edges quite well. Don’t expect a revelation though, it’s simply not there, the film stock looks like old 70’s TV, thus softness and grain obscure any finite detailing. Colouring is good, flesh tones are a little pale, but the primaries are OK, little vibrancy throughout. Brightness and contrast are set to give very decent black levels that add some much needed depth to the frame, night shots look good but hide a smidgen of shadow detail. The original print has been cleaned up reasonably well, there are still plenty of nicks and scratches (as well as a curious stripe of coloured banding to the left in one scene) and the grain can become a tad intrusive on occasion. The whole thing has a ‘student cine-film’ look. Scores a 6.
Malatesta's Carnival of Blood
Detail manages to reveal some skin texture and clothing weaves if scrutinised close enough, but does soften quite dramatically in distance shots (faces become pinkish blobs), though edges of the various fairground rides maintain some defiance against the sky line. Colouring is quite vivid and bold, with a push towards the red, so that the underground world appears quite striking, red particularly so, blood spurts are terrific. Brightness and contrast give rise to decent enough blacks, though there is a wee bit of clipping in the whites. The original print is in OK nick, marks and tramlines are occasionally visible and grain is a constant companion; the whole thing has a ‘home-cine-film’ look, no colour grading has taken place. Also scores a 6.
Brand new 2K restorations of the three features newly re-mastered from the best surviving elements and approved by their respective directors.
The Witch Who Came From The Sea
Detail is pretty good with this one, once again skin texture and clothing weaves are well defined as are the edges of ties and razor blades – checkout the eye liner, or the tattoos. Medium shots fair just as well and distance shots are also reasonable, check out the rolling waves on the beach. Colour is quite weak, though, flesh tones are quite pale and the 60’s decor appears quite muted. Brightness and contrast give decent enough blacks to the interior shots, though exteriors (locations) tend towards grey. Of the three this one’s original print is in the worst state with plenty of damage throughout (early on is particularly bad) in the form of nicks, scratches and reel change marks, with grain masking a fair amount also. Scores just a 5.
Sound QualityAll tracks are presented as English LPCM 2.0 mono.
Dialogue and score are the significant portions of this track, the score actually getting its own independent track. There is a reasonable bass level which adds to the natural feel of the sound, dialogue especially and this adds even more to Henry Mollicone’s score which comes across very well indeed, despite the mono limitations. ADR and Foley effects are layered quite well, with a few stand out moments. The clean-up is reasonable, but there is an underlying hiss/hum with pops that only really becomes audible at higher volumes. Scores a 5.
Malatesta's Carnival Of Blood
Clean-up of this track reveals a decent amount of audibility with dialogue being the best feature which is clear and well layered into the mix. Bass is almost non-existent, meaning mid to high tones dominate, and whist this doesn’t detract from the natural sound of the dialogue it can make things a wee bit tinny at higher volumes. ADR and Foley effects sit a little bit high in the track drawing attention to themselves, which you don’t really want. The underlying hiss/hum was virtually inaudible with this one. Scores a 5.
The Witch Who Came From The Sea
Perhaps the most natural sounding of all the tracks, even if it was slightly lacking in the very high end, which reveals itself as a slightly ‘thick’ sound to the dialogue. Score was well layered into the mix as was the ADR and Foley which were perfectly natural. Slightly curious, though a stylistic choice, is the heavy reverb added to the dialogue in the dream sequences which makes for some uncomfortable listening – may have been the point – though this is all intentional. Sounds clean and clear even up high with only the merest hint of hiss. Scores a 6.
Introduction - Stephen Thrower, in the first of three introductions, speaks about the film’s genesis, the director, the story and its place in history.
Audio Commentary - Director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer gives us a chat of two halves: firstly explaining the scene in verbatim of what is going on, secondly anecdotal chat about the film, actors, locations shooting, production history. A reasonable chat, with an un-named (and mostly unheard) 2nd (and 3rd) party asking questions when he runs out of steam to close the pauses.
Pictures from a Premonition – A brand new making-of documentary that runs for about 20 minutes, featuring interviews with Schnitzer, composer Henry Mollicone and cinematographer Victor Milt; covers pretty much all of the bases.
Archive interview - with Robert Allen Schnitzer, and covers much the same ground as the above.
Archive interview - with star Richard Lynch, who is egotistical to the point of being Gary Busey.
Robert Allen Schnitzer short films – The director's first ('Vernal Equinox') and second ('A Rumbling in the Land') films as well as 'Terminal Point', showcasing the pretentious talent that would emerge.
Peace Spots – Four shorts speaking out against the Vietnam War.
Trailers and TV Spots
Reversible Sleeve art
Malatesta's Carnival Of Blood
Introduction - Stephen Thrower introduction to the film pressing the fact of the peculiar story telling devices and how to enjoy the film by looking at it as a series of images rather than a narrative – OK we get it!
Audio Commentary – From film historian Richard Harland Smith whose non-stop chat is more a list of what scene were inspired by what film or films in list-after-list of alternatives – interesting but ultimately irreverent.
The Secrets of Malatesta – A newly recorded interview with director Christopher Speeth who talks about the genesis of the film, locations and a bit about his career.
Crimson Speak – A newly recorded interview with writer Werner Liepolt, who talks about his collaboration with Speeth and the film in general.
Malatesta's Underground – The art directors (Richard Stange and Alan Johnson) discuss their respective works in relation to the film, their designs, locations and embellish upon the ideas they brought.
Outtakes – Brief scenes removed from the film.
Reversible Sleeve Art
The Witch Who Came From The Sea
Introduction - Stephen Thrower introduces the set itself before talking a little about the history of the film, is notoriety and its acting credentials.
Audio commentary - Director-producer Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey, who sound like they were recorded in a swimming pool, discuss the film, with plenty of pauses, in a scene-by-scene nature elaborating on the thoughts, themes and production of the piece.
Tides and Nightmares – A newly recorded making-of documentary which features interviews with Cimber, Perkins, Cundey and actor John Goff; covers all the bases if you can get over the overlap with the commentary.
A Maiden's Voyage - Archive featurette comprising of interviews with Cimber, Perkins and Cundey (looks to be Anchor Bay produced) and covers very similar gorund.
Lost at Sea - Matt Cimber reflects on this notorious cult classic in just three minutes, newly recorded for this release.
Reversible Sleeve Art
Limited Edition 60-Page Booklet – With an introduction to the American Horror Project and its aims as well as new writings on each of the three films from such scholars as Kim Newman, Kier-La Janisse and Brian Albright as well as detailing the restoration each film has undergone.
Blu-ray VerdictThe American Horror Project is a new venture by ‘champions of the under-seen’ Arrow whose aim is to bring together a selection of underappreciated, seldom seen and mostly forgotten horror films and shine a light on them for a new audience and hope to gain the recognition that they so deserve.
For this first release Arrow have an eclectic mix that few have heard of and even less have seen: Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (1973) sees a family arrive at a creepy, dilapidated fairground in search of their missing son, only to find themselves at the mercy of the cannibalistic ghouls lurking beneath the park; The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976) stars Millie Perkins as a young woman whose bizarre and violent fantasies start to bleed into reality; and The Premonition (1976) is 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. Of these films, ‘Carnival’ is the most obscure, having been thought lost, ‘Witch’ is the most notorious, having been banned as a ‘video nasty’ on the DPP’s 1984 list while Premonition is just simply odd. Whether or not you come to appreciate these films is open to debate; their age, filming style, content and atmosphere is a far cry from modern cinema; and whilst you can argue that is the point, they are so far left field that some might struggle.
Carnival is not just shot non-linear, but is deliberately dreamlike in its construction, existing more on a series of interconnected scenes, making any narrative construction pointless; Witch looks at some very uncomfortable subjects and whilst is very well acted, its leisurely pace and bizarre sound mix can prove challenging; and Premonition merely skirts the horror genre and travels down a psychic path with ideas that don’t really hold water or attention.
It is a laudable release and I hope it does well.
As a Blu-ray package this set is pretty good. The pictures on each of the three films are not great, although they were never going to be due to the age and vintage of the original elements, however each has been re-mastered and cleaned-up to look the best they possibly can; in the case of Premonition and Carnival, that is OK, with decent detail, colour and black levels, while Witch suffers from more print damage. The mono sound tracks are also reasonable, cleaned up well, removing most background anomalies while the remaining dialogue and score is layered well in the mix. The supplementary features are a mixture of old and brand new for this set. It is a laudable release and I hope it does well.
You can buy American Horror Project Vol 1 on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £39.99
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