The British horror film has always managed to stand out. With giants like Whitchfinder General and The Wickerman towering above the usual Hammer fodder, then, in 1975, a new face appeared in the guise of Norman J Warren. With only two tame skin flicks to his name, Warren teamed up with some producer friends and other colleagues to put together a new independent British horror film. That film went on to be Satan's Slave, and became hugely successful. On the back of that, the same team decided to take all the money they made and sink it into another horror, which became Terror. That too became hugely successful. It seemed that British horror had a new face; however during the late seventies and early eighties the British film industry was practically non-existent, though Warren did manage to make the sci-fi horror Prey during that time. His last good film (his own words) was one with a substantial budget (compared to anything previous); that film became Inseminoid. Anchor Bay has brought together these four films in a terrific box set to celebrate Warren's contribution to the British Horror film. With all new extras, new prints and restored sound this set promises to be one for the masses.
There's devilry afoot. Deep in the woods, ritual sacrifice of a young blond woman occurs, all to resurrect 'her'. A jump cut to several years into the future. Steven (Martin Potter) is entertaining a lady friend. After she professes to too much wine he leads her up to a room and attempts to rape her. Luckily she manages to get away, but unluckily Stephen has other ideas and promptly crushes her head in a door and then repeatedly stabs her with the frenzy of a madman.
We are then introduced to Catherine (Candace Glendenning), our heroine. She explains to her boyfriend (Martin Graze) she is only going for a week to visit her uncle because her 'premonitions' told her too. However the journey there is tragically cut short when she and her parents are involved in a car crash. On her father's insistence Catherine gets out of the car to find help, only to witness it explode. Her uncle Alexander (Michael Gough) takes her into his house and cares for her; he is a doctor. During her recovery, Catherine becomes intimate with Stephen, yet is plagued by horrific dreams of sacrifice and death. After a few days, Frances, (Barbara Kellerman) Alexander's live in help, confides in Catherine the danger she is in. They hatch a plan to escape but Stephen finds out and murders Frances, leaving Catherine to face the inevitable ritual. Using a nail file to deadly effect, Catherine makes one final attempt at escape, but is brought back to the house by someone she believed dead. Now in a complete state of confusion, the dark powers make their final move.
Satan's Slave was Warren's first horror film. And I will venture his best. Shot with the customary zero budget, but made with drive and enthusiasm of friends wanting to succeed, Satan's Slave is a brutal and sadistic film that still holds up in today's horror market. It is good to finally see the film in its director's cut - previous releases were always censored. And although a stronger 'foreign' cut exists (only one scene different) it is this cut that director Warren prefers. The scene in question is the attempted rape scene; the advertising paraphernalia and even in Warren's commentary say that this stronger scene is included on this DVD, however I couldn't find it. As with most first time horror directors they pour all they can into their first film, Craven with Last House, Hooper with Chainsaw, Romero with Night and Warren is no exception with Satan's Slave. There is nothing left to the imagination, all the brutality is up there on screen, and with such a wonderful location the atmosphere seeps gothic horror from the pores. Potter gives a commanding performance as the insane Stephen, Gough brings a gravitas to the role of the Uncle and Glendenning is charming as Catherine, showing vulnerability and believability in her performance. There is also plenty of gore, and horror of horrors the BBFC no no - blood on breasts - is seen for the first time here. Made in 1976 it is quite amazing to see such a terrifically horrific film, being produced by the British film industry, and it is one that thankfully is remembered well.
It is a dark and stormy night in the woods. The lynch mob track and catch the witch, and proceed to burn her at the stake. As she burns, she curses her tormentors and their descendants. For even in death the witch can exact revenge, her blacken body materialising to sever the head of the lady of the house. We fast forward 400 years to a party, and the 'plot' neatly described in the prologue, starts to take effect when Ann is hypnotised; she attacks her cousin using the same sword used for the beheading. Luckily, she is awoken before any real damage is done, but distraught she runs form the party. Following this it seems that all the guests are cursed as the run of the film is then devoted to the death of just about everyone there, until finally the curse catches up to Ann; all ends badly.Apologies for the lack of plot description, but there really isn't one for this particular film. Warren readily admits to being heavily influenced by Argento's Suspiria; and this is quite clear from the finished product. Like Argento's masterpiece there is an abundance of grizzly murders linked by the thinnest of plot lines, there are wild camera movements, extravagant use of colours and loud uncharacteristic sounds. What Warren failed to achieve though is the prevalent sense of eeriness so evident throughout Suspiria. That is not to say Terror is a bad film, in fact there is much to enjoy. Technically it is outstanding for its budget, acting is good, design is flawless and it does look great. I would say of all the films in this set this one looks the best, with Warren at his most experimental, Terror made the number one box office in England and Chicago upon its initial release; quite some achievement for a small independent film.
An alien (Barry Stokes) lands on Earth, close to a large house where two lesbians are living. After killing its first two human contacts, perceiving them a threat, and stealing an identity (Anders), the alien eventually wanders into the grounds of Jessica's (Glory Annen) house, looking lost and disorientated. Returning from their morning walk, Jessica and Josephine (Sally Faulkner) discover him, and after initial reservations take him into their home, thinking him hurt. This act introduces a weird 'love' triangle into the house, where Josephine perceives Anders a threat to her dominance of Jessica; Jessica sees Anders as a possible escape from her trapped situation; and Anders quietly observing them in his hunt for the perfect prey. During an impromptu party for the capture of a fox, the girls start to notice something is not right with their guest. The following morning, Josephine is intent in ridding herself of the threat, but when Anders nearly drowns in a river, is forced into saving his life when Jessica answers his cries for help. Tensions running very high now, a heated argument between the girls turns physical, and when Josephine mistakenly believes that she has killed her lover, she leaves the house to bury her. Awakening a little later, Jessica seduces Anders as a ruse for him to take her away to London, though this backfires when Anders reveals his actual motives. When Josephine catches Anders she runs and falls into her own grave, pursued by Anders. After cleaning up Anders delivers his last report to command ship, he has found the perfect prey.
Prey was shot over 10 days with only three weeks preparation and a miniscule budget. Even in such conditions Warren manages to produce a body of work that even today is eminently watchable. It is not without its flaws, most of which can be directly traced back to the tiny budget, but with a reasonably strong script and excellent acting from the three principles Prey remains a testament to Warren's ability. The film is deliberately slow moving, concentrating on the characters until reaching a sudden blood drenched climax. Some say too slow, and a modern audience brought up on the 'three minute action scene' may find it boring. Indeed, when the short climax is over some may feel a little cheated that as soon as the film actually gets going it's finished. When evaluating the film, it may be better as an hour TV special, but there are so many good moments during the development that you would not want to miss any of them. Perhaps all it really needs is a bit more action from the alien. As it is Prey is a fascinating little film, made with passion, remembered fondly by all concerned and appreciated by all that have seen it.
Captain Holly (Jennifer Ashley) runs a group of space explorers camped out in the underground caves of an ice cold alien planet. After a mysterious explosion, one of the crew caught in the blast comes into contact with some strange crystals. After making a quick recovery, it appears the crystals exhibit some weird power over him, because he rapidly descends into madness, trying to kill the entire camp by opening the air locks. To prevent this, onsite reporter, Kate (Stephanie Beacham) shoots him dead. Concluding that the crystal must somehow be to blame, officers Mitch (Trevor Thomas) and Sandy (Judy Geeson) go to investigate the caves. Here Mitch is dismembered by an unseen alien and Judy taken and 'inseminated' in a surreal rape scene resembling that of Rosemary's Baby. After this things take a turn for the worst for the crew, and one by one they are killed off as the now insane Judy thinks of ever more lavish ways to kill them in the name of motherly love. Will anyone survive?
Long has it been reviewed that Inseminoid is a cheap Alien rip-off. Even Anchor Bay's own literature in this set state it was an 'obvious cash in' on the lucrative Sci-fi horror market set up by Fox's film. Well, from the filmmakers themselves, Inseminoid was always intended as sci-fi horror, it was developed before Alien was released, and no one involved with it had even heard of Alien. Even Fox themselves, after reviewing Inseminoid, were satisfied that there was no similarity. So why then does this persistent comparison keep cropping up? Honestly, I don't know, the similarities begin and end with both films containing an alien, and both films have penetration of a human by said alien. That is it. Where as Fox's film went on to become one of the best sci-fi horror, if not horror films of all time; Warren's ditty remains parked on the low budget exploitation bench. There is, however, much to admire in Inseminoid, not least Geeson's performance as the alien controlled protagonist. She goes through numerous emotive states as she struggles to control the alien within her, and when it comes to the birthing scene, this does remain really quite harrowing. The sets within the caves are impressive considering the budget, but I can't get over the 'Doctor who' styling and occasional wobble. Though there are a few gruesome moments in the film, these are rather tame, even compared to Warren's own earlier work, and there is an awful lot of running around corridors towards the latter end of the film. Finally, John Scott's electronic score; though maybe special in 1980 it now sounds rather dated. So, inseminoid has good and bad points, but its inclusion was absolutely necessary it being Warren's last good film.