Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Color, 1972, 85m.
Directed by Julio Salvador & Ray Danton
Starring Andrew Prine, Patty Shepard, Mark Damon, Ihsan Gedik, Teresa Gimpera
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC), VCI (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Rhino (US R1 NTSC)

Color, 1974, 87m.
Directed by Ray Austin
Starring Mark Burns, Shirley Anne Field, David Oxley, Margaret Inglis
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Crypt of the Living DeadCrypt of the Living DeadThe demand for cheap horror product in the mid-'70s around the world seemed to be insatiable, and this limited double feature combo release from Vinegar Syndrome pairs up an especially appropriate pair you could easily imagine playing back to back on a double bill. Both have been frequent PD video staples for years but are presented here in far more impressive condition than ever before.

First up is the home video staple Crypt of the Living Dead, also released from various labels as Young Hannah: Queen of the Vampires among other titles. Chris Bolton (Simon, King of the Witches' Prine, looking uncomfortably similar to John Holmes courtesy of his long mustache) arrives on an island where his archaeologist father has disappeared while studying "primitive culture." Of course, the film's opening scene has already shown us that dad ran foul of a couple of psychos while intruding on a spooky remote tomb and ultimately lost his head in the process. Accompanying Chris is his his father's sinister assistant, Peter (Damon), who leads him to the spot where pop was killed (with most of his body still trapped underneath a heavy sarcophagus). To get the body out, they have to open the tomb belonging to a famous historical beauty Crypt of the Living Deadand reputed vampire named Hannah, whose remains were supposed to remain undisturbed until the next coming of Christ. Chris scoffs at the legends told by Peter's sister, Mary (Spanish horror vet Shepard), and insists they pull the tomb up, Crypt of the Living Deadfirst by opening and removing the lid. "Burying my father isn't meddling," he rationalizes, which tells you right away this isn't going to end well. Of course, that immediately turns out to be a bad idea as Hannah (Gedik) awakens and starts to exert a deadly spell on the area, while Chris is besieged by nightmarish visions and Peter starts to act very strange indeed. The locals start to get very ticked off as Hannah's vampirism is unleashed on the isolated island, which quickly starts to feel like a trial run for 'Salem's Lot. Soon it's a race against time to get Hannah sealed back up in her tomb before everyone turns into an undead slave.

An entertaining throwback to the gothic horror films of the previous decade, this Spanish/American co-production was lensed in Turkey and officially credited in its English-language release to Ray Danton, a TV actor who also dabbled behind the camera with films like The Deathmaster and Psychic Killer. Its true lineage is a little trickier to determine since other prints credit Love Brides of the Blood Mummy scribe Julio Salvador, and rumors persist that a slightly bloodier Spanish-langauge variant was prepared under the name La tumba de la isla maldita. In any case, it definitely exists in two very different English versions, a 75-minute one under the name Crypt of the Living Dead (frequently seen in PD video sets in black and white for some reason) and an 85-minute one as Young Hannah: Queen of the Vampires, which was released on DVD by VCI in 2011 in what was previously the best version available. (All VHS Crypt of the Living Deadversions and the DVD from Rhino should be avoided at all costs.) The Vinegar Syndrome edition manages to salvage the House of the Living Deadfilm's rather tattered reputation by presenting it in a fresh new HD scan from the English 35mm negative, sporting a very impressive and clean presentation of the longer version that increases the enjoyment value immensely. The film is loaded with rich gothic atmosphere you can finally appreciate by seeing everything in those dark scenes, and the DTS-HD mono audio is also much more clean and robust than before. This transfer actually bears the Hannah title, but the alternate Crypt opening titles are included as an extra along with a completely ridiculous theatrical trailer ("Can you dig it?") that manages to spoil the entire ending.

Paired up here is another much-maligned film released two years later, the South African mad scientist/monster romp House of the Living Dead (also known as Curse of the Dead). This one was also helmed by a TV actor/director, Ray Austin, who got his start calling the shots on episodes of The Avengers and The Saint before moving on to a tiny handful of features like this and Virgin Witch. Our sordid tale takes place in the late 19th century as the aristocratic Bratley clan exists in an uneasy alliance with the much happier and more stable, musical locals. Heading the family are twin brothers (both played by Mark Burns from Death in Venice and The Stud), nice guy Sir Michael and the decidedly more unstable, club-footed doctor, Breckinridge, who's conducting unholy experiments in soul transplantation involving monkeys (which is presumably faked but still really unpleasant to watch). Into this mix comes sweet Mary Anne (These are the Damned's Field), who's engaged to marry Michael but also winds up a potential target of the deranged doc who's decided to advance his experiments to human test subjects. Will he add the poor fiancée to his collection of jars containing the souls of his past victims? Or is the Bratley bloodline destined to die out before he can reach his goal?

Crypt of the Living DeadA bizarre melding of numerous horror elements ranging from voodoo to ghosts, this film relies heavily (perhaps too heavily) on dialogue and period atmosphere to carry it House of the Living Deadalong, often feeling like a more genteel version of an Andy Milligan film with its endless yapping and fixation on deformity. There's also some wild stylized lighting at times in the doctor's lab, a crazy glowing-eyed old lady filled with warnings about the family's antics, and a head-spinning ending involving a sunny field and a horse's spirit that has to be seen to be believed. In short, the perfect thing to watch very late at night when your brain isn't too picky about things like logic or tonal consistency.

This one's also been subjected to a number of dire PD editions over the years from companies like Alpha Video and Mill Creek since its original theatrical run courtesy of the short-lived Worldwide Films. The already dark and murky photography has frequently turned to mud courtesy of bad transfers, so it's nice that the Vinegar Syndrome release at least manages to make it watchable again. The vibrant color schemes are now back up to their original intensity, but the film still looks pretty drab compared to the pristine, crystal clear appearance of its co-feature. That's just the nature of the source material, and it's a very welcome addition to a package that should have fans of oddball '70s horror rushing to grab it before the limited run of 2,000 units runs out.

Reviewed on June 19, 2015.