Color, 1972, 90m. / Directed by Roy Ward Baker / Starring Stephanie Beacham, Ian Ogilvy, Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee / Dark Sky (US R0 NTSC), Anchor Bay (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Image (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)

Another rare foray into feature-length horror from Amicus Productions, And Now the Screaming Starts! was released the same year as their final anthology horror films, Vault of Horror and From Beyond the Grave. However, the anthology influence definitely shows here as the saga of an ill-fated married couple's horrific homecoming is splintered into a variety of subplots, flashbacks, and Brit-horror guest spots, all quite enjoyable even if it doesn't all quite click together in the end. In the late 1700s, Charles Fengriffin (Ogilvy) brings his new bride, Catherine (Beacham), home to his family estate where she immediately gets the shivers when looking at a painting of his brooding ancestory, Sir Henry (Lom). Meanwhile a disembodied, bloodstained hand skulks around the stairways, and during the night Catherine is molested by an eyeless, grinning apparition. No one believes her, of course, even when the domestics are also terrorized by various supernatural manifestations. Catherine's increasingly erratic behavior forces her husband to call on Dr. Whitte (Magee) and ultimately Dr. Pope (Cushing) to unravel the mystery, which is rooted in a barbaric act of upper-class sadism that still taints the Fengriffin name to this day.

Tying with The Legend of Hell House as the first film featuring rape by a ghost, this gothic potboiler plays like a fast-paced, R-rated version of those Victorian yarns by writers like J. Sheridan LeFanu, filled with swooning damsels terrorized by candlelight and elaborate, guilty ancestral secrets which play out in various ghoulish incidents. The period decor and costumes are never less than stunning, and the parade of top-notch performers keeps the potentially ridiculous storyline under control; in particular, the final morbid scenes are surprisingly powerful as both husband and wife are forced to directly confront their situation in the flesh, quite literally. Douglas Gamley's lush, swooning score is a major asset as well. While some genre fans still remain cool to this particular film, it's great fun in the right frame of mind and really only suffers from an erratic, patchwork script by TV scribe Roger Marshall, who drops plot strands left and right. (That great severed hand, for example, is never sufficiently explained and basically drops out of sight halfway into the film!)

Despite a decidedly lackluster VHS history (including a butchered TV print appearing from Prism) and a complete brush-off during the laserdisc era, And Now the Screaming Starts! has had a surprisingly long history already on DVD. It first appeared from Image in an okay but soft widescreen (flat) transfer, with a gallery of images from Del Valle archives and an Ogilvy commentary in discussion with Darren Gross that covers most of the basics of the film, from Ogilvy's recollections on the set to details about the shooting locations. Anchor Bay UK issued the film in an anamorphic transfer (alas, plagued by the same erroneous progressive flagging that demolished Asylum) along with hit-and-miss DTS and 5.1 mixes that maximize the score rather nicely but overdo the booming sound effects a bit. Recycling the Ogilvy commentary, it also includes a very entertaining second commentary with Beacham and director Roy Ward Baker (offering two additional perspectives on the production along with some really funny turns of phrase here and there), the Amicus featurette from AB's other titles in the series, and the theatrical trailer. Fortunately you get the best of all possible worlds with the second US release from Dark Sky, which features the best transfer of the film by a mile; be warned that this version is now so clear, you can't help but notice all the make-up putty lines around the ghost's hollow eye sockets! The period detail really stands out here perfectly, and it's a ravishing presentation all around. (And contrary to the back of the packaging, it's not in black and white!) Both commentaries are carried over along with the trailer, talent bios, a new still gallery with a couple of amusing behind-the-scenes shots, and Chris Gullo liner notes.

Color, 1972, 88m. / Directed by Roy Ward Baker / Starring Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Robert Powell, Patrick Magee, Charlotte Rampling, Britt Ekland, Richard Todd, Barbara Parkins, Barry Morse / Dark Sky (US R1 NTSC), Anchor Bay (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Image (US R0 NTSC)

During the heyday of British horror films in the '60s and '70s, a number of studios attempted to compete with Hammer Films for the international terror market. The best of these, Amicus, specialized in anthology films, with chilling stories linked together by a clever framing device. Along with their blood-freezing 1972 version of Tales from the Crypt, the studio's high point remains Asylum, an ingenious compendium of tales by Robert Bloch (Psycho) boosted by an astonishing international cast.

The presumptuous young Dr. Martin (Powell) arrives at a sprawling mental institution in the English countryside to apply for a position as head of the facility. The orderly informs him that the previous director, Dr. Starr, went completely mad and now resides within the asylum walls. In order to win the job, Dr. Martin must guess which of the inmates is actually the former Dr. Starr by listening to the case histories directly from the patients themselves. In the first, a young woman named Bonnie (Parkins) relates how her married lover (Todd) chopped up his wife and stored her carefully wrapped body parts in his basement freezer. Unfortunately, revenge has a nasty habit of striking from beyond the grave. Next, a kindly tailor named Bruno (Morse) is hired by an eccentric customer (Cushing) to design a most unusual, occult suit for his son. Then the beautiful Barbara (Rampling) explains how her return home after a period of mental treatment was upset by the arrival of Lucy (Britt Ekland), an impish prankster who ultimately turns to murder. Finally, the gruff Byron (Lom) shows off a series of miniature, anatomically correct robot-dolls which follow the bidding of their creator's will. So does Dr. Martin guess correctly? Watch the film and find out...

Thanks to its fast pacing, clever use of classical music, nasty black humor, and assured direction by Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit), this film (which was reissued as House of Crazies in the US) consists of many high points, with even the most predictable moments still pulled off with admirable panache. The third episode is the comparative weak point as its Blochian twist will be painfully obvious right from the beginning, but it's still enjoyable to watch the constrasting acting styles of Rampling and Ekland mixing together. The second tale, "The Weird Tailor," had previously been filmed as an episode of the classic horror series Thriller, but this remake doesn't suffer in comparison. Powell does well with a difficult role, while Lom steals every moment near the end of the film. The final twist is a delicious surprise and will not be discussed any further here.

A longtime staple of public domain video lines, Asylum received its first video treatment on DVD from Image using an old transfer from the Prism Video days, complete with an awkward, computer-generated title card to remove the old copyright information. The image is presented open matte, with plenty of extraneous headroom visible throughout the film. A sharper-looking transfer with the original title card finally appeared in the UK courtesy of Anchor Bay UK, who packed the film in their Amicus coffin-set. Unfortunately, while the requisite phony 5.1 and DTS mixes are less distracting than usual, the transfer is sabotaged by erroneous progressive flagging which causes jittery motion problems and other nasty video glitches when viewed in either interlaced or progressive modes; it's a real mess. Finally Dark Sky manages to get it right with their American incarnation, a beautiful transfer from the original negative that blows away any competitors. The opening exterior shots still look a bit grainy and drab (presumably on purpose), but otherwise it's a knockout all the way. The Dark Sky disc features the original mono track only, which is just as well. Both the Dark Sky and Anchor Bay releases contain a solid featurette, "Inside the Fear Factory," in which Amicus' Max J. Rosenberg, Baker, and Freddie Francis sketch out the company's interesting history in solid fashion for beginners, as well as an enjoyable commentary track with Baker and cinematographer Neil Binney, covering most of the film's technical aspects and doling out a few nifty stories about the production. The Dark Sky disc finally unearths the original theatrical trailer, an enjoyable bit of showmanship that rattles through the entire cast, along with promos for The Beast Must Die and And Now the Screaming Starts. The Dark Sky disc also includes a good still and poster gallery, cast bios, and liner notes by Peter Cushing scribe Chris Gullo.

Color, 1974, 93m. / Directed by Paul Annett / Starring Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Marlene Clark, Anton Diffring, Charles Gray, Michael Gambon, Ciaran Madden / Dark Sky (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1), Anchor Bay (UK R2 PAL)

Though best known for their outrageous omnibus horror films, Amicus Films occasionally ventured into full single narrative films with decidedly mixed results. Their last outing, The Beast Must Die, is sort of a shaggy werewolf cross between Ten Little Indians (even cribbing its "Werewolf Break" from a similar gimmick in the '60s version of that Agatha Christie classic) and The Most Dangerous Game; though imperfect, it ranks as one of the studio's more interesting attempts at mainstream acceptance and sports a bizarre cast that can't fail to impress.

Eccentric millionaire Tom Newcliffe (hilariously hammy blaxploitation vet Lockhart) has devised an ingenious plan to realize his ultimate goal of hunting a werewolf. He's invited six guests along with his wife, Caroline (Ganja and Hess' amazing Clark), to his isolated country estate, which has been outfitted with hi-tech cameras and detection systems. The proceedings are monitored in the control room by Calvin's right hand man, Pavel (Circus of Horrors' Diffring). At dinner Calvin announces that someone at the table is a werewolf; never mind how he determined this, since the plot never bothers to explain it. Could it be occult expert Dr. Lungren (Cushing)? Or perhaps the urbane and vaguely sinister Arthur Bennington (Gray)? Newcliffe explains that the touch of silver is enough to kill a werewolf, so they pass a silver candlestick around the table... to no avail. Perhaps the full moon isn't close enough to expose the furry creature in their midst, but soon murder and mayhem abound. Can you guess who the guilty party is?

Though it bears an aesthetic resemblance to a particularly insane television movie (no surprise given that director Paul Annett spent the rest of his time on TV shows), The Beast Must Die earns points for its imaginative roster of talent, including the always-watchable Cushing and a very young Michael Gambon as one of the suspects. While the werewolf's identity is so arbitrary it would even make Kevin Williamson blush, there is one interesting fake-out twist worth catching near the end, coupled with the kitschy but fun Werewolf Break device in the best William Castle tradition. The werewolf itself is mostly limited to brief glimpses of a big dog jumping on people in bad day for night lighting, but the killings are brutal enough to make one look back with nostalgia to the days when a PG rating really meant something.

The Beast Must Die has lurked around on video in various versions from Prism and a retitled edition as Black Werewolf, though the blaxploitation angle is tenuous at best. The first DVD from Image, mildly letterboxed at 1.66:1, contains the full theatrical cut with the Werewolf Break and some throat-gushing gore missing from the TV prints. The blaring music score right out of Starsky & Hutch sounds fine. For some reason, the much later UK release from Anchor Bay utilizes a vastly inferior full frame print and looks terrible; fortunately, things turned out right the third time around with the second US disc, courtesy of Dark Sky. Anamorphically enhanced and looking much better than before, this transfer still looks a bit dated (grain and softness abound in many shots, but that may be the cinematographer's fault) but easily outclasses its rivals. Once again this version is uncut, with all the minor gore intact. Annett pops up on both the AB and Dark Sky versions for a fun audio commentary and a video featurette ("Directing the Beast!") in which he talks about various casting options considered for the film and his reaction to certain impositions from Amicus after shooting was completed. Other goodies include that dupey TV spot that's been making the rounds for years, additional promos for Asylum and And Now the Screaming Starts, talent bios (be sure to click that "more" button on the extras page), and a nice gallery. Approach this one more as a murder mystery with campy gadgets and supernatural elements rather than a straightforward horror film, and you'll find this one a winner.

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