LAST HOUSE ON MASSACRE STREET
Color, 1973, 76m28s
Directed by Jean-Marie Pélissié
Starring Robin Strasser, John Beal, Arthur Roberts, Iva Jean Saraceni
THE WILD LITTLE BUNCH
Color, 1973, 97 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by David Hemmings
Starring Jack Wild, June Brown, Liz Edmiston, Diana Beavers, John Bailey, Alun Armstrong
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1 / 1.66:1) (16:9)
Now here's an odd Blu-ray double feature, apparently devised because both films sport wildly misleading retitlings and were made in 1973. Otherwise they couldn't be more different, and anyone who springs for this one based on the drive-in-ready titles is going to be in for a surprise.
First up is Last House on Massacre Street, one of several subsequent names given to The Bride, a Connecticut-shot horror film also known as The House That Cried Murder and No Way Out. Running a fleet 76 minutes (rumors abound that a longer 85-minute version exists thanks to IMDb, though it doesn't seem to be on video) and sporting a surprising PG rating given the amount of blood on display, it's an odd chamber piece that starts off as an idyllic romance between the engaged Barbara (soap star Strasser) and David (Chopping Mall's Roberts) as they prepare their dream house out in the countryside. Barbara's grown up getting everything she wanted thanks to her pampering rich daddy (Beal), who's not entirely sure about this partnership. On her wedding day those fears turn out to be confirmed when she catches David getting intimate with his old flame Ellen (Saraceni) just before the ceremony, which sends a hysterical Barbara slashing at him with a pair of scissors. No major harm is done, but she stumbles outside with a huge bloodstain on her dress in full view of the attendees and takes off in her car. Seemingly vanished without a trace, Barbara soon haunts David's dream with vivid visions of the work-in-progress house... and Ellen is terrorized by a severed, bloody rooster's head in her bed. Plagued by weird phone calls on top of all this, David decides it's time he went back to the old house to find out what's going on, but he won't like what he finds there.
Weirdly haunting and filled with nightmarish imagery in its second half, this is just the kind of regional terror offering that's worth stumbling on for dedicated horror treasure hunters. The story's actually pretty effective in a Severed Arm kind of way courtesy of writer John Grissmer (Blood Rage), and coupled with an effective soundtrack by Peter Bernstein, it weaves a queasy spell that leads to an undeniably effective and very dark finale. This one's made the rounds on a handful of semi-PD DVD sets (Brentwood, etc.) from an ancient VHS-era source that turned the darker scenes into mud, but this fresh 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, while still obviously faded a bit, is in much better shape and far easier to make out during the dream-plagued middle section.
Originally released as The 14 and then issued as Existence, the kitchen-sink British drama now known as The Wild Little Bunch as the second feature on this Blu-ray stars Jack Wild (the talented and ill-fated star of Oliver!, H.R. Punfstuf) as the center of a group of fourteen children living in London's East End who are forced to fend for themselves when their mother dies. From shoplifting to grifting, their existence isn't the happiest one as they try to stay together under increasingly oppressive circumstances. This marked the second directorial effort for actor David Hemmings of Blow-up and Deep Red fame, following Running Scared and succeeded by such films as The Survivor and a lot of TV work. He does an excellent job here, using the basis of a true story to paint a riveting environment in which anything from a simple cold to a new friend could change the course of all the childrens' lives in the blink of an eye. In a demonstration of how radically times have changed since the early '70s, the film features a couple of scenes with lots of naked kids running around; it's completely innocent and played for giggles here, certainly something you'd see in several family films at the time, but a far cry from what would ever make it into a commercial release now.
As with the first feature on this disc, this one was released theatrically in the U.S. by Bryanston, and the film elements used here are obviously in less than optimal shape with the first reel in particular displaying an avalanche of damage including splices and green scratches galore. A restored open matte version (compared to the 1.66:1 version seen here) was issued on British DVD by Network in 2013 (and it runs four minutes longer even at PAL speed), so consider this version a bonus tossed in with the more desirable film accompanying it.
Reviewed on May 27, 2017.