Monday, November 30, 2009

Mill Creek Quadracinema! Disc 11

As many a horror fan/DVD junkie knows, Mill Creek Entertainment puts out amazingly priced 50 or 100 movie packs filled with an assortment of public domain or incredibly cheap genre films. The cuts are usually fuzzy and drab, often trimmed to be less fattening than a Jenny Craig Thankskiling dinner (I’ve been hesitant to watch my copy of Unsane, aka Dario Argento’s Tenebre with good reason) but with so many rare films to choose from, you occasionally stumble upon a shiny piece of turkey meat well worth the grease. 
The biggest challenge in conquering those quadruple (sometimes quintuple) featured double discs is knowing where to start. Not only are some packs filled with obscure choices, you also have to research alternate titles and running length. If, that is, you actually care.
So in an early attempt to set and fulfill a New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided to devote one day a month (unless I get more proactive...or less) to a single disc from one of the four 50 packs I own (for the record, those are Chilling Classics, Tales of Terror, Nightmare Worlds, and Drive-In Movie Classics). What follows will be a loose and condensed review (plus, naturally, Lessons Learned) of the four-five films on any given disc to let you know what’s worth a watch and what will make better use as a coaster.
Today’s picks come courtesy of the 50 Chilling Classics edition, Disc #11

1. Edgar Allen Poe: Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon, aka The Mansion of Madness, Dr. Goudron’s System, Dr. Tarr’s Pit of Horrors, House of Madness, The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather (1973)

Plot: A reporter and a few friends travel to a forest set mental asylum to research the bizarre and experimental treatment practices of the infamous Dr. Tarr (rather, Dr. Maillard), whose efforts include allowing patients to enact their twisted fantasies to the fullest of their imagination. Colonial dressed looters tie men up and rape their wives, bird enthusiasts act as chickens, and most horrifically, naked women ride horses and undoubtedly encounter some very unpleasant itching. It all leads up to an interestingly climactic trial/feast/battle with a tortoise (seriously) reminiscent of Marat/Sade and what I dream my ThanksKilling dinner will be like from now on.
Notable Cred: Writer/director Jose Lopez Moctezuma also directed the better known Alucarda
Verdict: The grainy transfer does a terrible injustice to what is an oddly intriguing little film. Its 88 minute running time is inexplicably too long, particularly in early scenes that do little more than show a bunch of inmates prancing through the woods like wannabe merry men. Still, once it hits its third act, Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon is rich in surrealism, both in its wacky visuals and oddly overproduced (yet somehow maddeningly appropriate) instrumental soundtrack. Definitely one to watch when you’re in the mood for a little seen period film.
2. The Bloody Brood (1959)

Plot: A sadistic Beatnik gang decides watching and/or causing people to die is the hippest new cat on the skiddooing block (I wasn’t alive in the ‘50s; I’m trying my best to capture a dead language). After feeding a delivery boy a hamburger laced with ground glass, the unlucky kid’s big brother (and total square)  goes undercover (sorta) to investigate and bring those no goodnik daddios to justice.
Notable Cred: Peter Falk stars as Nico, the sociopathic leader of the murderous cool cats
Verdict: While my teenage days of Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathons have made it a challenge to view any black-and-white thriller without the help of snarky silhouetted robots, this is a decent little pick of a very different era of filmmaking. Not for those with no taste for black-and-white slow boilers, but it’s more than passable for 66 minutes. Dated? Of course, so pop it in if Beatnik badness is your thing. Scoo-pah!

1. Alien Zone, aka The House of the Dead, Last Stop on 13th St., Zone of the Dead (1978)

Plot: Anthology goodness! The framing story is set in a mortuary, where the keeper proudly tells a passing guest (and adulterer) four stories about his clients. Like any Tales From the Crypt or Creepshow tale, all feature nasty and selfish baddies who get what they deserve. A breakdown:

Story 1: A child-hating schoolteacher gets her comeuppance at the hands of out-of-season trick-or-treaters in cheap plastic masks. Short and surprisingly creepy

Story 2: A preppy killer lures women into his apartment to videotape himself strangling them. Nothing special, but quickly paced and to the point. Oh, and with no actual story to be told so there's that.

Story 3: The longest and probably best made, although in comparison to the others, it drags far too much for my taste. London’s two most esteemed criminal investigators (as rated by Rolling Stone Magazine) try to solve a case with a few twists at the final result. Standard detective story that fans of the sub-genre will probably enjoy more so than I did.

Story 4: A professional jerk who despised the idea that someone would take the time to choose between 23 different types of hamburgers gets trapped in an elevator shaft and tortured with near iron maiden action, only to instead become an alcoholic. Odd and underdeveloped, but interesting enough in a nonsensical way.
Notable Cred: I’ll point it out just because it’s a general rarity in ‘70s genre cinema (well, a general rarity still in a good deal of cinema): Alien Zone (a title which makes absolutely no sense, by the way) was directed by Sharron Miller, a female filmmaker better known for her work in television.
Verdict: Surprisingly fun, with highs and lows in the storytelling. There are a few dud performances (particularly in the framing story) and others that keep shaky material watchable, but overall, I enjoyed this anthology far more than I expected to. Minimal gore and no nudity; just a solid little collection of cheap and fun tales that’s way better than anything Uwe Boll ever made. A mediocre endorsement if ever there was one!
2. Slashed Dreams ahka (Also Hilariously Known As) Sunburst (1975)

Plot: A dime store knockoff of Joni Mitchell provides the soundtrack that blankets about 80% of this cutely awful rape flick, following a college couple as they spend 30 minutes going to class and campus parties before getting into an argument with their peers and deciding to escape to the woods to meet their Thorough-esque friend Michael. Yeah, ‘huh’ is the best description of the prologue. Once hiking, they meet a bear and two rednecks that make the Gogans from Pete’s Dragon look  as rough as the fellas from Deliverance. Kathrine Baumann (not awful) is briefly raped by the pair, but thankfully, hippie friend Robert England (giving a rather likable performance) is there to make tea, while the defeated boyfriend attempts to fight back. Then doesn’t. But according to the final song, it’s all good. Because there's poetry. And friendship. and sunbursts.
Notable Cred: Englund in plainface
Verdict: Unless you’re a diehard fan of folk music, a Robert England completist, or someone that really enjoys rape revenge but hates the whole unpleasantness about it (and actual revenge aspect), Slashed Dreams is not, I repeat, NOT worth your time. It does, however, make for some pretty fun viewing about how nice it is to have friends.

Lessons Learned
Rape takes about 90 seconds to suffer and fifteen minutes to overcome
No man gets a haircut before killing himself
Police in the 1950s just didn’t do fences
Any man that wants your stockings for a magic trick is up to no good
Never trust a burger served by Beatniks
Always wear a bullet proof vest when planning on making a casual arrest, as no gunman will ever think to shoot you in the head
Beatnik dancing is all about having a loose neck

Sexual abuse is a lot like making tea
If I’m ever on death row, my choice of execution method will now be “beheading at the hands of well-choreographed mental patients dressed as exotic birds”
Many private detectives find the term “private eye” mildly insulting

Never turn your back on an overcrowded holding cell filled with disgruntled people and ample arm holes

Yup, something about these things truly freak me out.


  1. Even though I haven't watched many of the films yet, I do have several budget packs. Anywhere from 3 movies per pack, all the way up to a 250 movie pack. Someday I might actually be able to watch some of them! Thanks for reviewing a few of the movies though.

  2. I had planned the other night simply to fall asleep to one, but ended up choosing Slashed Dreams and discovered that it was just too bad NOT to review. I doubt I'll ever get through even one of my four 50 packs, but I'm hoping to attack them with a little more aggressiveness this year.

  3. Wow...great idea and one that I am glad I didn't have! Very daunting task you have ahead of you, Emily, but I'm glad you are taking on his challenge. As for Unsane, please don't waste you time as I have heard it is a terrible version of Tenebre, a movie that needs to be seen correctly. 'Cause it's dope!

  4. I'm going to attempt to limit myself to one disc per month, so hopefully it's not as daunting as it could be. Then again, if just 5% are as awful as Slashed Dreams....Then again, if that's true, I get 9 more so-bad-they're-fun-to-review films ahead of me. Which has its merits.

    And thanks for the tip about Unsane. There's also a copy of Deep Red in there and it does measure a full 2 hour running length. Still, I'm hesitant to subject my eyes to Argento in Monet-vision.

  5. I have this set; it's decent as a sampler, although the movies I truely liked I tried to get on their own in better quality. If I remember correctly, this set includes what is one of my all-time favorite horror movies: Messiah of Evil.

  6. I think it does, although I still haven't watched Messiah of Evil. I'll definitely try to tackle that disc soon though.

    I like to think of the Mill Creek packs as placeholders in a way. A lot of the movies were put on them when they were still floating around the grey market with no distribution, meaning there are certain little gems that you still can't really find anywhere, or anywhere other than 8 minute increments on youtube. The better releases have mostly gone on to get deluxe DVD treatment in their proper format (most of the Argento, for example) so for almost any movie in that pack, if it has an actual release, I'll skip the Mill Creek version. But until I see a special edition Blu Ray of Devil Times Five, I will always raise a toast to the fine people at Mill Creek.

  7. It's worth a watch; Code Red did a special edition of Messiah of Evil a few years back, I jumped on my copy as soon as I could. I've only just discovered your site, but I like what I see. Keep up the good work.