Color, 1972, 90 mins. 11 secs.
Directed by Jim O'Connolly
Starring Bryant Haliday, Jill Haworth, Gary Hamilton, Mark Edwards, Anna Palk, Jack Watson, Dennis Price, Robin Askwith, Candace Glendenning, John Hamill
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1 / 1.85:1) (16:9), Odeon Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Elite Entertainment (US R1 NTSC), DD (UK R2 PAL), Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1)
Thanks to the diminishing censorship of the early '70s, horror films suddenly found themselves free to splash the screen with far more blood and nudity than drive-in patrons could have imagined less than a decade before. One prime example is this odd British horror entry, better known on U.S. screens as Horror of Snape Island and later reissued on the short coattails of a certain 1979 John Carpenter film under the title Beyond the Fog.
Here we have a fragmented, psychedelic take on the standard '60s "teens in a dark house" plot set on the desolate, foggy Snape Island, where a young nude girl named Penny (Satan's Slave's Glendenning) is found after she kills one of her would-be rescuers out of fright. Mutilated bodies litter the craggy surface of the island; what could be responsible? Well, thanks to a band of intrepid, horny teenagers, an ancient evil has been stirring and bumping off everyone in sight with a valuable Phoenician ax. When a private investigator and some treasure-hunting museum folk arrive at the island to get to the bottom of the mystery (when they're aren't busy getting high and having sex), the body count threatens to grow even higher.
More successful as a mood piece than a standard terror film, Tower of Evil offers some haunting moments of atmosphere discreetly tucked in during all of the usual horror cliches, gratuitous sex, and teen slang. The eerie opening credits (a model, but still effective) and jittery opening sequence show off the film's greatest strengths, and a cast of British horror pros helps give some class to the proceedings. In particular, look for future jiggle comedy regular Robin Askwith and Jess Franco favorite Dennis Price (both also seen in Horror Hospital from the same producer, the late Richard Gordon), top-billed Bryant Halliday (Gordon's Devil Doll), and Jill Haworth (The Mutations). The film also makes effective use of sound, with rushing wind, scuttling crabs, and eerie whistling creating a memorable horror soundscape, while the effective nighttime seaside locations may remind some viewers of Jean Rollin's similar poetic fondness for aquatic locales. Of course, it's also more than a little kitschy thanks to its weird depiction of teen culture (consisting mainly of constant disrobing and awkward accents), not to mention the far-out use of dance floor lighting to induce a state of hypnosis.
A longtime VHS staple thanks to Gorgon Video, Tower of Evil made the leap to DVD in 1999 with a non-anamorphic transfer from Elite Entertainment that still fared well for its time. The disc came with very enthusiastic liner notes that made it sound like a horror classic, which is stretching things a bit (though it is lots of fun). That same transfer was later issued in Europe and Australia, but fourteen years later a nice remastering finally came courtesy of the 2013 Blu-ray release from Scorpion (with a DVD counterpart as well). The HD transfer bearing the MGM logo looks quite solid and does what it can with a film that's deliberately foggy and soft much of the time; however, for the scenes in the doctor's office and the rare daylight exterior moments, it's pleasingly clear and a significant boost over the old transfer in every respect. As with the previous release, this is the longer, full-strength version with all of the shocking moments trimmed from the original British release prints. The DTS-HD mono track sounds excellent as well.
Naturally the Scorpion release is packaged as part of the endearing Katarina's Nightmare Theater line, with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters opening up doing a hypnotism routine and then launching into a rundown of the film's major players. The main video extra is a "Kats Eyes" interview (13m14s) with horror historian David Del Valle, who covers his memories of seeing this at a drive-in. His claim that this is the first teen slasher film is debatable; if this fits that definition, then so do Blood and Lace and Bay of Blood one year earlier. However, he does appropriately classify this as a proto-slasher film, though, even if it isn't the first, and the gore effects are actually quite impressive for the time with plenty of airborne plasma and severed limbs coming along every few minutes. This would actually play well with any of the early '80s slashers that came in its wake, particularly the similar Humongous which also involves murdered teens, an island setting, and a misshapen menace. Among the cast members, Del Valle also singles out the film's primary supply of beefcake, former male model John Hamill (whom he cites as the first guy to run around naked in a horror film, which is sort of true if you ignore Twisted Nerve and the same year's The Flesh and Blood Show, among others). Also included are the original MGM/EMI theatrical trailer and the far more lively Horror of Snape Island reissue trailer from Fanfare, which probably packed 'em in every time it played, as well as House on Sorority Row and Death Ship bonus trailers. In 2015, the film appeared on U.K. Blu-ray and DVD from Odeon sporting different extras: a great audio commentary with Gordon in conversation with Tom Weaver, a "Screaming Your Head Off" Seretta Wilson interview (12m21s) about the fun she had on the set, the level of nudity required, and the dubbing applied to multiple actors, and a 24m56s video overview of the film with the always incisive Jonathan Rigby.
In 2019, Scorpion revisited the film on Blu-ray in a remastered edition that improves on what was already a solid presentation. The blacks are deeper here with the correct day for night color timing applied to the final stretch of the film (see the fifth frame grab comparison below), and the framing has been opened up slightly from 1.85:1 to 1.78:1 and shifted down just a bit. Colors look richer as well, particularly blues and reds, which amps up the atmosphere in some interesting ways particularly the hypnosis sequences. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio is still in good shape as always, and English SDH subtitles are also provided. [Note: two dark scenes in the final third of the film have dialogue that appears to be half a beat out of sync; stay tuned for further details.]
The Katarina mode is retained here before and after the feature as a viewing option, though Del Valle's interview and brief addition to Kat's opener have been dropped. Ported over from the U.K. release and making their U.S. debuts here are the Gordon commentary and Wilson interview, while composer Kenneth V. Jones (The Tomb of Ligeia) appears for an interview (13m10s) about his approach to scoring horror films and the nature of audience response. Finally an interview with editor Henry Richardson (13m30s) features recollections about being hired through Gordon and working with director Jim O'Connolly to get the proper crowd responses as well as shooting some necessary material himself. The Horror on Snape Island trailer is also included along with bonus ones for The Psychic, Murderock, Death Ship, Silent Scream, House on Sorority Row, and Human Experiments. The limited edition first pressing also comes with a slipcover and a 9x11" poster available through Ronin Flix.
SCORPION RELEASING (2019 Blu-ray)
SCORPION RELEASING (2013 Blu-ray)
Updated review on February 1, 2019.